How the "Little Groups of Paratroopers" became airborne legends - We Are The Mighty
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How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends

When paratroopers assaulted Sicily during the night of Jul. 9-10, 1943, they suffered some of the worst weather that could affect that kind of a mission.


The men were supposed to conduct two airborne assaults and form a buffer zone ahead of the 7th Army’s amphibious assault on the island, but winds of up to 40 knots blew them far off course.

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
Paratroopers board a Douglas C-47 Skytrain for Operation Husky. Photo: US Army

The 3,400 paratrooper assault took heavy losses before a single pair of boots even touched the ground. But what happened next would become airborne legend, the story of the “Little Groups Of Paratroopers” or “LGOPs.”

The LGOPs didn’t find cover or spend hours trying to regroup. They just rucked up wherever they were at and immediately began attacking everything nearby that happened to look like it belonged to the German or Italian militaries.

They tore down communications lines, demolished enemy infrastructure, set up both random and planned roadblocks, ambushed Axis forces, and killed everything in their path. A group of 16 German pillboxes that controlled key roads was even taken out despite the fact that the attacking force had a fraction of their planned strength.

This mischief had a profound effect on the defenders. The Axis assumed that the paratroopers were attacking in strength at each spot where a paratrooper assault was reported. So, while many LGOPs had only a few men, German estimates reported much stronger formations. The worst reports stated that there were 10 times as many attackers as were actually present.

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
Troops and equipment come ashore on the first day of the invasion of Sicily. Photo: Royal Navy C. H. Parnall

German commanders were hard-pressed to rally against what seemed to be an overwhelming attack. Some conducted limited counterattacks at what turned out to be ghosts while others remained in defensive positions or, thinking they were overrun, surrendered to American forces a that were a fraction of their size.

The Axis soldiers’ problems were made worse by a lack of supplies and experience. Fierce resistance came from only a handful of units, most notably the Hermann Goering Division which conducted counter-attacks with motorized infantry, armored artillery, and Tiger I heavy tanks.

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
World War II paratroopers jump into combat. Photo: US Army

The Allied soldiers used naval gunfire to break up these counter-attacking columns whenever possible and fought tooth and nail with mortars and artillery to delay the tanks when naval gunfire was unavailable.

The American campaign was not without tragedy though. On Jul. 11, paratroopers from the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment were sent in to reinforce the American center which had struggled to gain much ground. Some naval and shore anti-aircraft batteries, weary from constant German bombing missions, had not been told that American planes would be coming in that night.

The gunners downed 23 of the transport planes packed with paratroopers and damaged 37 more. Of the 2,200 paratroopers scheduled to drop onto Sicily that night, 318 were killed or wounded by friendly fire.

Still, the operation was a success, thanks in large part to the actions of little groups of paratroopers wreaking havoc across the island until they could find a unit to form up with. Italian forces began withdrawing from the island on July 25 and Lt. Gen. George S. Patton took Mesina, the last major city on Sicily, on Aug. 17 only to find that the rest of the Axis forces there had withdrawn as well.

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This is the most revered dagger in military history

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
An example of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando dagger. (Wikipedia photo)


In London’s Westminster Abby there is St. George’s Chapel, where on one of the chapel’s walls hangs the Commando Association Battle Honors flag that lists where the Commandos fought and died during World War II from 1940 to 1945.

Under the word COMMANDO in gold letters is a stylized portrayal of a singular knife – the Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife.

Soldiers throughout history have always carried blades as weapons and as tools. Yet, no other knife is more commonly associated with WW II elite forces or possesses more mystique than the Fairbairn-Sykes knife.

Commonly referred to as the “F-S knife” or “F-S dagger,” it is still issued to British Royal Marine Commandos, the Malaysian Special Operations Force, Singapore Commandos and Greek Raiders. In addition, the image of the knife is part of the emblem of United States Army Special Operations Command (Airborne) as well as the emblems of special forces units in Holland, Belgium and Australia.

Yet, it is a weapon born out the experience of dealing with 1930’s knife fights in Shanghai and developed by two men who had no scruples about dirty fighting. In fact, William Fairbairn and Eric Sykes taught an entire generation of warriors that one of the quickest, quietest and deadliest ways to kill Germans was cold steel thrust into Nazi vitals – preferably from behind.

“The Commando dagger would become a symbol not just to the men who were issued it, but also to British civilians at a time when Britain was on the back foot, and any deadly way to strike back at the Germans was considered a boost for morale,” wrote Leroy Thompson is his book Fairbairn-Sykes Commando Dagger.

Whether it was the Roman pugio (a short-bladed dagger that served as a legionnaire’s backup weapon), bowie knives wielded on both sides of the U.S. Civil War, or the “knuckle duster” trench knives of the Great War, soldiers have always carried blades for use in close-quarters fighting.

However, from the late 19th century until World War II many European generals thought it was unseemly for soldiers to bring personal knives into combat. Some thought it would reduce reliance on the bayonet and diminish the fighting spirit of soldiers.

Other commanders deemed rough-and-tumble knife fighting downright “ungentlemanly” – there’s a reason why betrayal is often called a “stab in the back.” Killing face-to-face with the bayonet was considered the more honorable way to dispatch the enemy.

However, the beginning of World War II reinvigorated belief in the close-combat knife as an essential weapon.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill was less fussy about how British troops killed the soldiers of the Third Reich. He placed great stock in commando forces, covert operations, and what he called “ungentlemanly warfare.”

The newly created Special Operations Executive taught knife-fighting as part of agents’ training. So did the British Commandos and airborne forces.

That meant there was a demand for a specific kind of knife that would be used to quietly kill the enemy, preferably in a surprise attack.

“In close-quarters fighting there is no more deadly weapon than the knife,” Fairbairn wrote in his manual Get Tough! How to Win in Hand-to-Hand Fighting (1942). “An entirely unarmed man has no certain defense against it, and, further, merely the sudden flashing of a knife is frequently enough to strike fear into your opponent, causing him to lose confidence and surrender.”

Fairbairn would have known: During his 20-year career with the Shanghai Municipal Police, he fought in hundreds of street fights against assailants armed with knives and daggers. His friend and colleague Sykes served on the same police force and faced the same adversaries in what was at the time one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

In 1941, both men collaborated on the knife’s original design. Although the knife went through several variations during the war, it remained a double-edged stiletto well-balanced like a good sword and suited to thrusting and cutting more than slashing an opponent.

The models made by high-quality cutlers were manufactured from carbon steel so they could be honed razor sharp.

David W. Decker, a U.S. Navy veteran, knife-fighting expert, and collector of F-S knives, said a man trained in the use of the Fairbairn-Sykes knife learned confidence and aggression. In the hands of a properly-trained individual, it is a fearsome weapon.

“The knife has tremendous capacity for penetration of an enemy’s clothing, web gear and person,” Decker said. “A vital part of the training was the instruction in hitting lethal targets on the human body. Many of these targets had to be reached through the rib cage, so the slender blade was most efficient. The approximately seven-inch blade is capable of reaching all vital organs. Fluid in the hands, the grip was designed like that of a fencing foil to enhance the maneuverability of the knife.”

Another advantage of the F-S dagger was its ease of carry, said Decker, whose website chronicles the development of the knife and has photographs of many examples.

Relatively lightweight compared to other combat knives of the time, it was easily concealed or secured in a battle dress cargo pocket. Some men carried them strapped to their legs, tucked behind their pistol holster, or in a boot.

The needle-nosed point and razor-like edges of the dagger sometimes caused problems, Decker said. For example, one British commando could not pull the dagger out of the body of a German sentry because the knife was stuck in his ribs.

“At least one knife-maker was quoted as saying he made knives for stabbing Germans, not peeling potatoes,” Decker said, indicating some manufacturers made F-S knives with smooth edges so a soldier could remove the blade more easily from the enemy’s body.

Despite differences in quality and manufacture, the F-S knife gained popularity with both British and American soldiers during the war.

Members of the U.S. Army Rangers and Marine Raiders carried versions of the knife. U.S. Army Gen. Robert T. Frederick, commander of the 1st Special Service Force known as The Devil’s Brigade, based his design for the V-42 stiletto issued to his troops on the F-S knife.

Today, the F-S knife remains an iconic symbol on both sides of the Atlantic of what it means to qualify as an elite soldier.

At Fort Benning, Georgia, there is the Ranger Memorial. Behind two stone pillars holding a stylized Ranger tab are two smaller pillars and a knife sculpted in stone – a Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife.

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Why Iran is ‘playing with fire’ in the Persian Gulf against US Navy ships

For the fifth time in about a month Iranian fast-attack craft have harassed US Navy ships with “unsafe and unprofessional” maneuvers at sea in the gulf between Saudi Arabia and Iran.


While experts acknowledge that Iran is “playing with fire” against the best navy in the world, don’t expect these incidents to stop any time soon.

“The number of unsafe, unprofessional interactions for first half of the year is nearly twice as much as same period in 2015, trend has continued. There’s already more in 2016 than all of 2015,” Commander Bill Urban of the Navy’s 5th fleet told Business Insider in a phone interview.

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
Iranian fast-attack boats during a naval exercise in 2015. | Wikimedia photo by Sayyed Shahaboddin Vajedi

Urban stressed that despite the Iranian navy fast-attack craft being several orders of magnitude less potent than US Navy ships, the threat they pose in the gulf is very real.

“Any time another vessel is charging in on one of your ships and they’re not talking on the radio … you don’t know what their intentions are,” said Urban.

Urban confirmed that Iran sends small, fast attack ships to “swarm” and “harass” larger US Naval vessels that could quite easily put them at the bottom of the ocean, but the ships pose a threat beyond firepower.

According to Urban, these ships are “certainly armed vessels with crew-manned weapons, not unarmed ships. I wouldn’t discount the ability to be a danger. A collision at sea even with a much larger ship is always something that could cause damage to a ship or injure personnel.”

In the most recent episode at sea, Urban said that an Iranian craft swerved in front of the USS Firebolt, a US Coastal Patrol craft, and stopped dead in its path, causing the Firebolt to have to adjust course or risk collision.

“This kind of provocative, harassing technique risks escalation and miscalculation.”

The messages Iran wants to send

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
Picture of US Sailors captured by Iranian fast-attack craft in the Gulf. | Released by Iranian Revolutionary Guards on Jan. 13, 2016.

“In my view, Khamenei (Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic) decided it’s time to send a message — I’m here and I’m unhappy,” Cliff Kupchan, Chairman of Eurasia Group and expert on Iran, told Business Insider in a phone interview.

According to Kupchan, the Iranian navy carries out these stunts under directions straight from the top because of frustrations with the Iran nuclear deal. Despite billions of dollars in sanction relief flowing into Iran following the deal, Kupchan says Iran sees the US as “preventing European and Asian banks from moving into Iran and financing Iranian businesses,” and therefore not holding up their end of the Iran nuclear deal.

But despite their perception that the US has under delivered on the promises of the Iran nuclear deal, Kupchan says Iran will absolutely not walk away from the deal, which has greatly improved their international standing and financial prospects.

The lifting of sanctions on Iran’s oil has resulted in “billions in additional revenue … They’re not gonna walk away from that.”

So Iran seems to be simply spinning their wheels to score political points with hardliners, but what if the worst happens and there is a miscalculation in a conflict between Iranian and US naval vessels resulting in the loss of life?

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
The coastal patrol ship USS Squall, one of the ships harassed by the Iranians. | US Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist Michelle Turner

“The concern is miscalculation,” said Kupchan. “Some guy misjudges the speed of his boat, people could die. There is a lot on the line.”

According to Kupchan, as well as other experts on the subject, Iran’s navy doesn’t stand a serious chance against modern US Navy ships.

“Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps boats and the Iranian Navy are not very capable or modern,” said Kupchan. The fast-attack craft we’ve seen challenge US Navy boats have simply been older speed boats, some Russian-made, outfitted with guns.

The Iranian craft can certainly bother US Navy ships by risking collisions and functioning as “heavily armed gnats, or mosquitoes” that swarm US ships, but a recent test carried out by the Navy confirms that the gunships wouldn’t have much trouble knocking them out of the water. The ensuing international incident, however, would dominate headlines for weeks.

“The wood is dry in US and Iranian relations,” said Kupchan, suggesting that a small miscalculation could spark a major fire, and that harassing these ships is “one of the ways the Iranian political system lets off steam.”

“Hardliners on both sides would go nuts,” said Kupchan, referencing both the conservative Islamist Iranians and the conservative US hawks who would not pass up any opportunity to impinge Obama over his perceived weakness against the Iranians.

Yet Kupchan contends that even a lethal incident would not end the deal. Both sides simply have too much riding on the deal’s success: Obama with his foreign policy legacy, and Iran with their financial redemption and status in the region as the main adversary to Western powers.

However Iran’s Khamenei may be sending a second message to incoming US leadership, specifically Hillary Clinton, who seems likely to be the next commander in chief. “They know Clinton is tough,” said Kupchan, and Khamenei may be addressing Clinton with a second message, saying “Madame Secretary, I’m still here, I know you’re tough, but I’m ready.”

For now, Kupchan expects these incidents at sea to carry on as Iran vents about their larger frustrations, and that a violent exchange would “not be the end of the deal,” or the start of a larger war, “but a serious international incident.”

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4 photos of soldiers chilling in dictators’ houses

Long before the Facebook profile was a thing, American soldiers saw the value of photos taken in historical landmarks like Hitler’s retreat or Hirohito’s palace.


1. The Band of Brothers hung out together in Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest.

View post on imgur.com

As World War II was ending, American soldiers coming off of frontline conflict were assigned to guard important structures from both looting and attempts by criminals to destroy evidence of war crimes. 101st paratroopers from the famous Easy Company were given the task of guarding Kehlsteinhaus, Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest.”

2. American troops toured, lived in, and worked in Saddam’s palaces.

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
Photo: US Army Pfc. Jason Jordan

After the fall of the Baath Regime, U.S. commanders looking for headquarters turned to buildings abandoned by the Iraqi Army in their retreat. Among those repurposed for American military operations were a number of Hussein family palaces. The “Victory Over America Palace” was a part of many tours.

3. An Italian Palace became a way station for Allied troops pushing up through the “soft underbelly” of Europe.

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
A US Army soldier is baptized by a chaplain in the fountain at the Palace of Caserta. Photo: US Army

The Palace of Caserta was originally commissioned for Charles VII of Naples but he abdicated his thrown and so it passed to his son Ferdinand IV of Naples in the late 1700s. Ferdinand’s two major claims to fame were being curb-stomped by Napoleon twice and executing a bunch of his own citizens.

The palace of this amazingly ineffective dictator was one of the largest palaces in the world and was in good shape when World War II rolled around. Allied soldiers moving up the Italian peninsula moved into the palace grounds and used the fountains for swimming and baptisms as shown above.

4. Gen. MacArthur hung out with the Japanese emperor.

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
Photo: US Army Lt. Gaetano Faillace

Gen. Douglas MacArthur was tasked with occupying Japan after the island nation’s surrender that ended World War II.

As part of the effort to both diminish the emperor in Japanese eyes and to raise the stature of the American occupiers, MacArthur had photos taken of himself and the emperor together, a surprising visual for the Japanese people. He also had men stationed on the palace grounds.

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This man in Georgia restores WWII airplane turrets in his garage

Plane turrets got their combat debut in World War II but were nearly obsolete by the time the war ended as jet planes could fly too fast for most gunners to hit them.


Most turrets were scrapped after the war, but one enthusiast in Georgia is collecting those that survived and restoring them to working conditions.

In his workshop in Georgia, Fred Bieser has thousands of turret parts and, as of 2013 when this video was shot, had restored seven turrets. Most of them are kept in his workshop, but some have gone on display at military museums.

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
American ball turret gunner Alan Magee poses in his station. (Photo: U.S. Army Air Force)

In this video from Tested, Bieser takes a video crew through his workshop and shows the guts of turrets and how they worked.

The video includes a lot of cool history on turrets, like how pilots worked with gunners to ensure accuracy and how Britain and America used different technologies for power and control.

Check out the full video below:

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Pentagon releases name of Delta Force soldier killed by ISIS in Iraq

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends


The Defense Department has identified the U.S. Army Delta Force soldier killed during a hostage rescue in Iraq as Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler, Army Times reported.

Wheeler, 39, was killed by enemy gunfire during a raid to free approximately 70 hostages being held by ISIS (also know as Islamic State, ISIL, or Daesh). His death marked the first American combat death since troops returned to Iraq for Operation Inherent Resolve in mid-2014.

The hostage rescue operation — which involved U.S. special operations troops along with Kurdish and Iraq forces — took place in northern Iraq’s Kirkuk province in the town of Hawija, according to CNN. At around 3 a.m., the area was bombed by coalition air power in support of two helicopters used to land in the vicinity of the makeshift prison, The Guardian reported.

Commandos entered the makeshift detention facility, killing several ISIS militants, and detaining five others, according to Army Times. Four Peshmerga soldiers were wounded in addition to Wheeler.

Wheeler joined the Army as an infantryman in 1995, later joining the 75th Ranger Regiment which he deployed with three times in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was later assigned to Army Special Operations Command where he deployed 11 times, the Army said.

Wheeler’s decorations included four Bronze Star Medals with Valor Device and seven other Bronze Star Medals. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.

Two military officials told ABC News that Wheeler was currently assigned as a team leader for the Army’s Combat Applications Group (CAG), better known as “Delta Force.”

“We deeply mourn the loss of one of our own who died while supporting his Iraqi comrades engaged in a tough fight,” Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of U.S. Central Command, told the BBC.

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How Jimmy Doolittle nearly revealed the biggest American secret of WWII

He’s famous for leading the nighttime aerial bombing raid on Tokyo in the opening days of World War II, a feat that earned him the Medal of Honor. He commanded the Eighth Air Force and broke the back of the Luftwaffe.


But James H. Doolittle also nearly blew the biggest intelligence advantage the Allies had – ULTRA.

So, how in the world did this hero manage to do that? The big problem was that Doolittle had a habit of leading from the front. In fact, an obituary in the Los Angeles Times revealed how he lead the Tokyo Raid.

Though General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, the Army Air Corps Chief of Staff, wanted Doolittle to hang back and act as his chief aide, Doolittle made a run around the Army Air Corps staff and got the spot to lead the raid.

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
James H. Doolittle (Photo: Wikipedia)

Doolittle survived the Tokyo Raid and escaping China ahead of Japanese forces. But he wasn’t quite done going too far forward.

While commanding the 12th Air Force in Africa, he drew the wrath of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. According to Dik Daso’s biography “Doolittle,” Eisenhower had called Doolittle’s HQ to talk with the general. Doolittle wasn’t in the HQ, he was in a Spitfire taking it for a test flight. Eisenhower expressed his displeasure with his subordinate.

But Doolittle just didn’t take the hint. Even when he commanded the Eighth Air Force, he kept flying missions. Retired Navy Capt. G. H. Spaulding noted that Doolittle would continue to fly even after he was briefed on ULTRA – the Allied codebreaking effort that targeted Germany’s Enigma machine.

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
A U.S. Army Air Forces Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress flying through flak over a target. A hit by flak lead to the capture of Brigadier General Arthur Vanaman, placing ULTRA at risk. (USAF photo)

On June 27, 1944, Doolittle allowed his new intelligence officer, Brig. Gen. Arthur Vanaman — who also had been briefed in on ULTRA — to fly what was supposed to be a “milk run” over Germany. Doolittle had flown a number of times, and made it back, but Vanaman would not be so lucky.

German flak scored a hit on Vanaman’s plane. The pilot ordered the crew to bail out. About half did before control of the plane was restored. The plane returned to base, with news that Vanaman had bailed out over enemy territory.

In his 2007 book Masters of the Air, Donald L. Miller needed only one word to describe Eisenhower’s reaction to Doolittle’s decision to let Vanaman fly that mission: Furious. Luckily, the Germans didn’t ask Vanaman any questions at all. They kept him as a POW until the end of the war. Vanaman would retire from the Air Force as a major general in 1954, according to the Air Force’s official biography of him.

According to an official biography on the Air Force web site, Doolittle would retire from the Air Force as a lieutenant general in 1959. In 1985, he would receive a fourth star from President Reagan. A very lengthy and remarkable career for a man who almost blew the biggest secret of the war.

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Here’s what you need to know about China’s new light tank

China has long history of using light tanks – many of which have been discarded. Light tanks have become rarer as people have discovered that they need the same crew as a main battle tank, while offering said crew less protection.


China’s primary light tanks have been the Type 62 light tank and the Type 63 amphibious light tank. Both feature 85mm main guns (the Soviet/Russian T-34 used a main gun of this caliber as well), and each hold 47 rounds for that gun. But like many light tanks today, they are light in the protection department.

The Type 62 has about two inches of armor at most.

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
Type 63 amphibious light tank. (Wikimedia Commons)

China has now pushed the light tank to the VT-5. This is a much more powerful system. It is centered on a 105mm rifled gun with up to 38 rounds. This gun is pretty much what was used on the early models of the M1 Abrams, and prior to that, on the M60 Patton main battle tanks. ArmyRecognition.com notes that this tank will weigh between 33 and 36 tons. Secondary armament is a 12.7mm heavy machine gun and a 40mm automatic grenade launcher.

The last light tank in United States service was the M551 Sheridan. This vehicle saw action in the Vietnam War, Operation Just Cause, and Desert Storm before being retired in the mid-1990s. Called the Buford by some sources, the Army had the XM8 Armored Gun System ready to roll out, but it was cancelled as well.

Today, the United States Army uses the M1128 Stryker Mobile Gun System. It has the same 105mm rifled gun as the VT-5, but only holds 18 rounds.

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
Armor Soldiers assigned to 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, fire their Main Gun Systems (MGS) Stryker’s 105 mm main gun during a live fire range 28 March 2011, at Yakima Training Center, Wash. (U.S. Army photo)

Below, you can see video of the VT-5 as it is put through some live-fire paces in Inner Mongolia. A number of military attaches witnessed this performance. Did China build the light tank that units like the 82nd Airborne Division need?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQtH4L0LsDM
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This Marine says ‘bravo’ to an opera about the battle of Fallujah

An opera titled “Fallujah” opened among critical acclaim Nov. 17 in New York City, stunning audiences composed of civilians, veterans, and active duty alike.


One of the active duty service members in attendance was this writer’s husband, Marine 2nd Lt James Foley, now a student naval aviator.

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
Photo by Tim Kolczak

Foley is a former enlisted infantryman with three deployments to Iraq with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines and one deployment to Sangin, Afghanistan, with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines under his belt.

Foley writes:

Let me start off by saying that I am biased. I have spent 14 plus years in the Marine Corps, so naturally I had my reservations about an opera that is about Marines in Fallujah.

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
Photo by Tim Kolczak

It turned out to not be as much about the battle in the city, but the battle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that a Marine had as a result of the war.

I found myself captivated with the message.

Philip (played by LaMarcus Miller) wants to be a good person, but the war has made him numb.

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
Photo by Tim Kolczak

He keeps reliving the gruesome images he went through in Fallujah and it is tearing him apart. He feels alienated from all those that love him.

I served in four combat deployments, to include a deployment to Fallujah. I can relate to Philip and all the emotions he is dealing with.

It is a moving story that highlights the struggles our veterans go through. They are separated from their families to fight a war, and when they come home, they start fighting new battles.

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
Photo by Tim Kolczak

None of their friends from before the military understand what they have been through. Their families don’t understand either.

When they finally fulfill their obligation and leave the military, there is no one there that understands their struggles.

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
Photo by Tim Kolczak

“Fallujah” isn’t just about the military service members struggles, it also addresses the struggle of the Iraqi people in that city.

It explains the impact that this battle had on those that lived there. It shows the frustration of the Iraqi people.

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
Photo by Tim Kolczak

This opera also shows the struggles that families deal with trying to love and support their veterans when they do not know how to.

War is ugly, and whether or not you agree with the Iraq war, it happened.

Some of these men and women who served may not have agreed with the war, but they went and served. This brilliant production captures the emotions of that war and what those who have experienced it are going through.

I have never been a fan of opera, I can remember telling myself that I would never go to one.

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
Photo by Tim Kolczak

I went to see “Fallujah” twice and I would go again.

I strongly recommend that everyone see this opera.  It can shed some light on what war can do to military members, their families who support them at home, as well as the innocent civilians caught in the middle.

It is a must see performance.

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4 things that got a Nazi an automatic Iron Cross

Germany’s highest awards for valor, the Iron Cross, was the most awarded of the top tier medals of any nation in World War II. But Germany awarded more top-tier valor awards than any other country for two very good reasons. First, most German troops fought for the duration or the war unless they were crippled.


As German ace Gunther Rall put it, that meant Third Reich troops’ destiny “was either the Iron Cross or the wooden cross.” They would be heroes or they would die in the attempt.

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
The Iron Cross second class. (Photo: Public Domain)

Second, German troops could earn the Iron Cross with a series of events, like succeeding in enough aerial battles, rather than for just a single act of extreme valor like in most militaries. While the medal was awarded for singular military achievements and bravery, it was also automatically warranted after a service member completed a challenging act.

Here are four things that would get a World War II German soldier an automatic Iron Cross:

1. Destroying a set number of enemy tanks

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
A German Tiger tank rolls forward in the Battle of Kursk. (Photo: German Army archives)

For German tankers, the “easiest” way to earn an Iron Cross was to achieve enough tank victories to qualify. While the number required increased as the war ground on, 50 was the magic number for a few years. That’s 50 Allied tank kills before a single tank managed to kill them.

2. Killing a set number of Allied planes

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
(Photo: Public Domain)

German Luftwaffe pilots could net an Iron Cross by accruing an ever-increasing number of points. Single-engine aircraft were worth one point, dual-engines netted two points, and four engines were worth three points. Fighters could get the Iron Cross second class for becoming an ace (downing five enemy aircraft).

3. Sinking a set amount of Allied shipping

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
Photo: German Federal Archives

For submariners, the Iron Cross was usually awarded for sinking tons of Allied supplies. The Iron Cross second class usually required sinking 50,000 tons of shipping, while the Knight’s Cross, a higher level of the same award, would be granted to those who sank 100,000 or more tons.

4. Downing a “Night Witch”

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
(Photo: Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0 Douzeff)

Oddly enough, pilots could earn an Iron Cross for downing a single wooden biplane, as long as it was being flown by the Night Witches.

These were older, frail planes piloted by Soviet women who would carry a few bombs at a time and drop them on Nazi massed forces, breaking up German attacks on Soviet positions. But the planes were so slow and quiet that they were hard to find and harder to fight, so the Luftwaffe promised an Iron Cross for a single kill.

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This Navy vet and wheelchair basketball player is one to watch at the Warrior Games

The 2016 Warrior Games held their opening ceremony on June 15. The games are an adaptive sports competition for veterans and service members who are ill, wounded, or otherwise injured. Two hundred and fifty athletes on six teams (Army, Marine Corps, Navy Coast Guard, Air Force, Special Operations Command, and the UK Armed Force) will compete for just over a week at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The events include Archery, Cycling, Track, Field, Shooting, Sitting Volleyball, Swimming, and Wheelchair Basketball.


How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
Jason Reyes at the 2016 Invictus Games

One of the competitors to watch is Jason Reyes, a retired Navy Fire Controlman, who was in a motorcycle accident in 2012. He suffered a severe spinal cord injury as well as a traumatic brain injury. He was in a coma for ten days.

In the four years since he has been a fierce competitor in wheelchair basketball, learning the ins and outs with the San Diego Wolfpack. He didn’t even know about Wheelchair Basketball until he met the Wolfpack.

“Yeah, they’re professional, a pro team,” Reyes recalls. “Personally, it was about trying to be healthy, to do more than just sitting around. When a person is in a wheelchair and they’re not healthy, there’s a decline in their well-being. I didn’t want that for me.”

His remarkable recovery and interest in wheelchair athletics led to even more competition. The Warrior Games inspired his interest in the Cycling and Track events. In 2015, Reyes received a sponsorship to compete in Wheelchair Motocross, or WCMX. He is the only veteran to compete in WCMX at a pro level.

“Basically it’s a wheelchair in a skate park,” Reyes says. “I went to the 2015 world championships where I placed fourth in the world in WCMX. I’m the eighth person in the world to do the back flip in a wheelchair.”

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends

Reyes joined the Navy because he felt like it was his calling. He wanted to be part of something greater than himself. He was always an athletic guy. While serving as a Fire Controlman for missiles, he prepared to go into Special Operations, with the goal of one day being an officer. He was running five miles a day, hitting the gym every day because he felt like it was his calling.

“I wanted to live for something, Reyes says. it was just something that I just latched onto easily. I felt like it was my calling, and it was going to be a lifetime thing.”

Now, his calling is slightly different but he approaches it with the same zeal. His mission is to help others in wheelchairs understand their life isn’t over because of the wheelchair.

“I feel like some guys just need that little bit of motivation,” he says. “Sometimes I’ll go volunteer and speak to kids that are born with Spina Bifida or veterans that I know have PTSD and depression. I try to get them to open their mind up to other things.”

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
Navy Fire Controlman 3rd Class (ret.) Jason Reyes poses with his family and Dario Santana, Warrior Games’ Family Programs and Charitable Resource Coordinator, after the U.S. team wins the gold in wheelchair basketball at the Invictus Games May 12, 2016 in Orlando, Fla. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Marissa A. Cruz)

 

That’s what brings him to events like the Invictus Games, the Warrior Games, and – soon – the International Paralympics. Reyes wants to represent my branch and his country but loves to be around his brothers and sisters in uniform. The military community is where he feels he belongs.

“No matter what branch, we all go together no matter what,” he says. “I would have never thought that something like this could be possible. I just feel blessed that I was given the opportunity to be able to do what I’ve done. ”

Reyes still feels he has much to learn. At the Warrior Games, he has met people who have used wheelchairs for as long as twenty and thirty years. Every time he meets someone, he finds it broadens his experience and he learns a lot.

“When I first got hurt, there weren’t a lot of people there to help me,” he remembers. “Not a lot of people were around to help push me or educate me as to how the paraplegic world functions, so I try to do that for others, to open their eyes up to the idea just because you’re in a wheelchair doesn’t mean it’s over. You just have to find your calling and what makes you happy.”

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
Navy Fire Controlman 3rd Class Jason Reyes (ret.) shares an embrace with a fellow U.S. team member after winning the gold medal in wheelchair basketball against the United Kingdom at the Invictus Games May 12 in Orlando, Fla. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Marissa A. Cruz)

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Vet goes from sailor to singer/songwriter

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends


Logan Vath left the Navy in 2012 to be pursue a career as a singer/songwriter. Crowdfunding his first album, Logan started to find success, playing wherever he could, building relationships in the music industry, and keeping up with old friends.

Vath has a unique take on his experience thus far: “I visited a recruiter’s office, and, what happened to me usually happens to most people who visit a recruiter’s office — I joined the Navy,” Vath laughed. “On my 2nd deployment, on the USS Monterey, I was actually performing weekly when the ship would pull in. We were doing ‘Show Your Colors’ tours on the boat and the Captain, Captain Jim Kilby, had me playing in the corner, in my dress uniform during receptions. I was lucky, everyone I’ve ever encountered in the military was always really supportive of my music. I think they all knew that this was what I was going to do at some point, or try to do at the very least.”

He says that what he learned in the Navy wasn’t always directly related to the skill set he maintained in order to perform his duties. “Playing to a crowd of people can teach you a lot about how to win over an audience if the subject matter isn’t something that is totally interesting to them,” he said. “Still to this day I use a lot of humor in shows in between songs just to keep people involved — to let them know that I’m not that sad of a person actually. The music can be, but I think performing on the ships is something that helped build my style.”

As he frequently laid topside, looking up at the stars, Vath admits that his lyrics frequently reference his own experience.  “I think lyrically, things still sneak in from being out there and spending so many nights staring at the stars,” he said. “I think it’s extremely easy to romanticize the ocean and even songwriters that weren’t in the Navy do it frequently. I’ve never written specifically about things that have happened, but I would say there are definitely some themes from my experience.”

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends

However, not every part of his career was a cakewalk. At one point, Vath let on that the ship he was stationed on, the USS Nassau, suffered from a fuel leak and simultaneous air-conditioning snafu off the coast of Africa. “I lived off of powered milk and Red Bull for a while even though they said the water was good,” Vath recounted. “Something in my body would not allow me to drink water that tasted like fuel for some reason, I don’t know why [laughing]. But that lasted a while; that was horrible. I just remember so many horrible, horrible sweaty nights in those racks with no A/C, just in a giant, baking tin-cup.”

Setting out to get out of Nebraska and make his own way, Vath remembers the day he chose what he would do in the Navy. “When I was at the recruiter, they gave me four jobs,” he said. “What prompted my choice of AG, (Aerographer’s Mate), was the recruiter saying, ‘This never comes up; you gotta do this job. You’ll love it.’ So, I signed up and said I’d do it — and he was correct. We had such a small community. The beautiful thing about being an AG, was that when you went out to a boat, nobody really knew what you did, so you can fly under the radar often. You have a lot of things that you have to take care of, but it’s a very isolated, quiet job.”

Vath says the turning point in his life started in boot camp. “The most important part was being cut off from everything,” he said. “That shaped me for so much about life. I always think about that, the most scared I ever was, was surrendering that cell phone after the first call because I had gone from a life of complete connection to nothing. I didn’t have anybody, I didn’t know anybody yet. And I think that that’s really good for people to be put in those situations because so many people aren’t. It’s terrifying to be a situation with no way out. You learn a lot about yourself in that.”

Admitting that maybe his expectations weren’t completely accurate when imagining who he would be as a result of his service, Vath says he thought the Navy was going to be a cure-all. “I thought I was going to become cleaner, faster, more efficient and abandon all my old habits,” he admitted. “That didn’t really happen. What I liked about the Navy, and everyone says you get what you put into it, and that’s so true. If you do it correctly, the Navy allows you to take whatever personality traits you have that are strong and utilize them in a lot of different ways.”

He discovered not only himself, but a new perspective on the world around him as he experience what life in the Navy entails. Says Vath, “I think everything I thought I would get out of the military, I got. It taught me that things can be a lot worse sometimes, things can be a lot better, you don’t always get to do what you want, sometimes you just have to do things that are completely against the way you would do them just because it’s just the way it is. Which I think is a really good skill to have and that people don’t often have it. I anticipated it would make me a harder worker — it did. I anticipated it would make me not take home or family for granted — it did, which is huge for me. I anticipated I would make great friends and see the world — I did. And I anticipated that after four years, I would come out a more rounded individual with better critical thinking and life experience and I did. I am in debt to it for that, as an organization because it gave me a lot of opportunities.”

Reminiscing on his first experiences, Vath admits that the part of his service that he misses the most is the ‘firsts’ of everything. “When you hop on your first boat, I remember that feeling of just being overwhelmed; going out to sea for the first time,” he said. “And there’s so many things you get to do like that in the Navy such as the first time you take off from a flight deck. You’ll never get that first feeling back, and so many first feelings that you’re given the opportunity to feel. I miss that a lot. I have goosebumps right now, thinking about coming home on the USS Nassau for the first time and playing ‘City of New Orleans’ by Arlo Guthrie while coming in, getting ready to dock.” He began signing,”‘Good Morning America, How are you?‘” He paused for a moment and took a deep breath, Beautiful song — I’ll always associate that song with that feeling. And you can never get that back.”

Once known for a satirical song entitled ‘The Fraternization Song’, Logan chose to remove the tune from the public eye after receiving a lot of publicity for the song’s comedic twist on enlisted-officer relationships in the Navy. Says Vath, “It was kind of a spur of the moment thing. I was playing a show in Charlottesville, VA and there was a big media writeup in Charlottesville and a lot of it focused on the song. I didn’t want to use the military as a novelty. I’m happy to be a veteran and I had such a good time in the Navy, it was nothing but good to me. I have nothing but good things to day about it and I didn’t want to use that in the music. Any fans I gained, I wanted to gain organically. I wanted to earn their respect instead of them listening to be because I was a sailor.”

Logan has recently been working with a record label in Brooklyn, NY to record his next album. Vath declines to pigeonhole his music into a genre, choosing instead to focus on its substance. “I sing about personal experience but not in a storytelling way,” he said. “It’s more drawing parallels of everyday things and trying to view them differently. Putting myself in a genre is hard. People who do what I do usually say Indie Folk, but I’m not sure that that’s where I am.” He takes a sip of his beer and looks up, “Being able to hold a room of 50 people for an hour to an hour and a half and they are genuinely interested in what you’re saying is an incredible feeling. Of course the next time you’re in town, hopefully that number is 75, and eventually you’re moving into a venue that can fit 100. It’s a cool progression to watch. The trend is, for me, that if there is good music, people are going to listen to it; regardless of genre. Good music is good music.”

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
Brittany Slay is the Editor of American Veteran Magazine and a US Navy veteran, completing a 9 month deployment to Bahrain in 2014. She’s a fan of dark humor and enjoys writing, visiting breweries, and meeting people.

 

 

For more information on Logan Vath, please visit loganvath.bandcamp.com.

And check out American Veteran Magazine at amvets.magloft.com.

Now: This Army veteran uses powerful images to show the realities of war

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The complete hater’s guide to the US Coast Guard

This is the last in a series about how branches of the military hate on each other. We featured all branches of the U.S. military, written by veterans of that branch being brutally honest with themselves and their services.


The branches of the U.S. military are like a very large family. They deal with one another because they have to, not because they always get along. This is a family that gets together and holds backyard wrestling tournaments every once in a while. They’re violent, they protect one another from outsiders, and are ridiculously mean to each other. When it comes to downrange operations, we put the rivalry behind us. When the ops-tempo isn’t as hectic, that’s when the rivalry resurfaces. That’s what the Hater’s Guide is for.

We’ve already shown how the other branches make fun of the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and Navy. Here’s how the other branches hate on the Coast Guard, how they should actually be hating on the Coast Guard, and why to really love the Coast Guard.

The nickname “Silent Service” may have been claimed by submariners, but the Coast Guard is a close second. Serving without glory or even sometimes a mention, it is only fair that they get the last installment of “The Hater’s Guide.”

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends

The easiest ways to make fun of the Coast Guard

Puddle Pirates, Shallow Water Sailors, no matter what way you slice it, it’s pretty easy to come up with a nickname or two for the sailors who rarely venture into the deep, open ocean.

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends

Not being part of the Department of Defense has always been a primary reason for the Coast Guard’s weird place in military culture. After falling under the Departments of the Treasury, Transportation, and even a brief stint with the Navy, we finally settled into our current place with the Department of Homeland Security, making us the armed services’ version of that kid who has been to five high schools in four years. To make matters worse, when most people think of the Department of Homeland Security, they picture the TSA, not the Coast Guard, and that’s not an association that anyone wants.

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
They are at attention.

While the Navy Working Uniform (NWU) gets hate for blending a sailor into the water, the Coast Guard’s uncomfortable and less-than-useful Operational Dress Uniform, or ODU, manages to be even worse than the NWU. Luckily, there are units in the Coast Guard, such as Port Security Units (PSUs) that wear the Navy’s Type III uniform just to look tacticool.

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
Maybe no one will notice.

When people start making fun of us and we run out of comebacks, we just kind of throw the “Search and Rescue” card and hope it sticks.

Why to actually hate the Coast Guard

You’re out on the water, having a good time and enjoying a beer or two, and suddenly the blue lights come on and the Coast Guard wants to board your vessel. Before you know it, you’re racking up fines for anything from not having enough lifejackets to drinking behind the wheel of your boat. While they’re just doing part of their job as America’s water cops, no one likes the cops shutting down their party.

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends

Most of the movies made about the Coast Guard have just been flat-out awful, and caused a lot of grief. The Soviet escort vessel in The Hunt for Red October is actually an active Coast Guard vessel that someone allowed to be repainted. The incident reportedly almost got several officers kicked out of the Coast Guard. No one can forget The Guardian with Ashton Kutcher and Kevin Costner, which is the Coast Guard’s version of Top Gun, except without the volleyball scene or any likable characters. For generations past, Onionhead ruined Andy Griffith’s already floundering career.

There is no real “bad” duty station in the Coast Guard. Sure, there’s Alaska, one of the most beautiful states in the union. There’s also all the picturesque port cities across the U.S. and Puerto Rico, like Charleston, Miami, Tampa, San Juan, Honolulu, and San Diego. If there’s a place where people buy vacation homes, you bet there’s a Coast Guard station there.

We’re smarter, and we know it. To join the Coast Guard, you need a higher ASVAB AFQT score to join than you do with any other branch. While the minimum requirements for all the branches change with the needs of the service, a score of a 30-40 will get a prospective recruit into any of the other services, the Coast Guard expects a minimum of 40-50 from their applicants. Even with this, the wait list for Coast Guard boot camp is regularly six to nine months long, and even after boot camp, it can be two years before an E-2 or E-3 ever sees their “A” school.

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends

Why you should love the Coast Guard

While reindeer have become a staple in the culture of wintertime America, there would have been no reindeer – and possibly no Alaska – if it weren’t for the Coast Guard. After a failed attempt by the Army to create order in Alaska, the Revenue Cutter Service was tasked with keeping the territory in line. Over the course of the next 100 years, they would save natives and settlers alike from death by starvation and illness. From Capt. “Hell Roaring” Michael Healy, who brought reindeer to Alaska from Siberia to save starving natives, to the crew of the Cutter Unalga who set up an orphanage for children left parentless by the Spanish Influenza, the Coast Guard has always had the best interest of the people in mind. With a commitment that persists to the modern day, the Coast Guard is closely tied to Alaska, its people, its industry, and its unpredictable weather.

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
The Coast Guard in its natural habitat.

After the American Revolution ended, the U.S. Navy was disbanded. From 1790 through 1801, while also acting as the only source of revenue generation for the nation, the U.S. Revenue-Marine was the only naval force that the fledgling nation had to protect them from terrors of the seas like as the Barbary pirates until proper frigates could be commissioned.

Even the Marine Corps needs heroes. On September 28, 1942, Signalman 1st Class Douglas Munro saved the lives of nearly 500 Marines at Guadalcanal by using his Higgins boat as a shield to protect the last men being evacuated from the beach. He was killed by enemy fire, but his last words were supposedly “Did they get off?”

One of the Marines that he saved that day was none other than then-Lt. Col. Chesty Puller. For his bravery, Munro posthumously became the only Coast Guardsman to receive the Medal of Honor.

How the “Little Groups of Paratroopers” became airborne legends
Remember: No Coast Guard, no Chesty.

There are less than 43,000 active duty Coasties and 7,000 reservists. The yearly budget is less than $10.5 billion, which is man-for-man 60 percent less funding than the Navy. But every day, in every weather, the Coast Guard will be there to protect and defend the shores, rivers, and lakes of the U.S. Doing so much more than we should be able to with so much less, $3.9 billion worth of drugs are taken off the street every year. Thousands of lives and millions of dollars in maritime assets are saved. There are pilots to fly when there are no other pilots willing or able to. Though people may not remember that we’re part of the U.S. military, it doesn’t ever stop us from having pride in what we do.

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