The US-led annual multinational military exercise Cobra Gold kicked off in Thailand on Monday, despite a faltering relationship between the two countries following Thailand’s military coup in May 2014.
Cobra Gold 2015 is scaled down due compared to past years because of the frosty relations between Thailand’s ruling military junta and the US. But it’s still a massive military exercise even in a reduced form. This year 13,000 personnel from 7 participating nations have joined in the exercises, the AP reports.
The participant countries are Thailand, the United States, Singapore, Japan, Indonesia, Republic of Korea and Malaysia, while India and China are taking part in humanitarian training missions. Even though the exercise is smaller than in the past, the scope of Cobra Gold has grown since the first one was held in 1982 and involved only the US and Thailand.
Exercises in Cobra Gold 2015 include jungle survival training and civic assistance programs in underdeveloped regions of Thailand.
Survival training is a big part of Cobra Gold. Thai Marines demonstrate how to capture a cobra in the wild.
US Marines then help decapitate the cobra and take turns drinking its blood. Cobra blood is surprisingly hydrating and can be used as a temporary replacement for water if a Marine is lost without supplies.
Thai Marines also teach their counterparts how to recognize edible jungle fruits.
Like cobra blood, several of the fruits can serve as an improvised source of hydration.
Marines are also instructed in the proper way to eat scorpions and spiders. Spiders are eaten after their fangs are ripped off, while scorpions are edible once the stinger is removed.
Aside from survival lessons, participant countries also take part in construction projects to build greater regional cooperation in the event of disasters like typhoons or plane crashes. Here, Chinese and US soldiers work together to build a school as part of Cobra Gold 2015.
How many of you science fiction buffs have fantasized about zipping around town in your very own flying car? Sure, a trip in a helicopter or airplane has now become the standard or even mundane mode of long distance travel, but imagine taking your very own flying machine on a trip across town, presumably withThe Jetsons‘ theme song blasting in the background. With advances in modern technology, it is only a matter of time right? What may surprise you though, is that way back in 1942, twenty years before Americans were meeting George Jetson and marveling at The Jetsons‘ flying car, the British Military actually had their very own flying jeep.
It was right smack in the middle of the Second World War and the military needed to find a way to airdrop more than messages, medical supplies or rations. They wanted to sky dive off-road vehicles to provide transportation for their infantry soldiers and other military personnel. They had previously tested the Hafner Rotachute, a rotor equipped parachute towed by an airplane with the objective of delivering armed soldiers more precisely to the battlefield, and they figured they could apply similar technology to a large vehicle.
So they looked to Raoul Hafner again. Hafner was an Austrian engineer – a contemporary and admirer of Juan de la Cierva, that Spanish pioneer of rotary-winged flight – with a passion for helicopters. Hafner first designed the Rotachute and later conceptualized its spin-off the Hafter Rotabuggy. While both machines used rotor technology, the Rotachute was actually a fabric-covered capsule with room for one pilot and a notch for his weapon with fairing in the rear and an integrated tail. After various modifications, the first successful launch occurred on June 17, 1942 from a de Havilland Tiger Moth. Taking off, the airplane towed the Rotachute on a 300 foot towline and released it at an altitude of 200 feet. A rough landing necessitated further improvements in the form of a stabilizing wheel and fins to improve stability.
In the case of the Rotabuggy the question was how to build a vehicle that they could fly and drop from a height without causing damage. They did some tests using a regular (non-flying) 4×4 wartime jeep- a Willys MB- loaded with concrete and discovered that dropping it from heights up to a pretty impressive 2.35 metres (7.7 ft) could work without damaging the unmodified jeep.
With durable jeep in hand, they then outfitted it with a 40 ft rotor as well as a streamlined tail fairing with twin rudderless fins. For added toughness, they attached Perspex door panels, while stripping it clean of its motor. Inside they installed a steering wheel for the driver and a rotor control for the pilot and other navigational instruments. So visually you had the now-bantamweight jeep in front with two guys inside, a driver and a pilot, a rotor on top and a tail bringing up the rear. Welcome to the Blitz Flying Jeep!
In November of 1943, the flying trials started at Sherburn-in-Elmet, near Leeds. The first challenge was how to get the jeep up in the air. As so often happens with first attempts, during the first test flight the jeep literally failed to get off the ground. It ended miserably as they used a lorry to tow the flying jeep but it couldn’t get enough speed to lift the Willys MB airborne. During the second attempt, the jeep was towed by a heavier and more powerful Bentley automobile and it flew, gliding at speeds of reportedly about 45 to 65 mph. Later, they tested the jeep behind an RAF Whitley bomber, managing to achieve an altitude of about 122 meters (approximately 400 ft) in one ten minute flight in September of 1944.
While the records show that in the end the Flying Jeep worked very satisfactorily, there is an account of a witness who observed a rather shaken and exhausted pilot emerge to lie down relieved after one terrifying test flight. Apparently it had taken superhuman effort for him to handle the control column on that particular flight, which led to a rather scary, bobbing and weaving, bumpy ride. When the jeep finally dropped safely to the ground, the driver took over. After the vehicle came to a stop, reports say the ensuing silence was protracted, then the pilot was helped out to a spot adjacent to the runway where he lay down to rest and collect himself.
Although the Flying Jeep machine was improved with upgraded fins and rotor functionality, perhaps it was just as well that its further development was abandoned after military gliders, like the Airspeed Horsa, that could transport vehicles, were introduced.
Raoul Hafner was an Austrian national and thus was classified as an enemy alien and placed in an internment camp in England during the start of WWII. He obtained his naturalization and was soon released and put to work by the government as previously described. He later became interested in applying his knowledge to sailboat design and died in a sailing accident in 1980.
Raoul Hafner’s daughter Ingrid became a British actress. She was best known for playing Carol in the TV seriesThe Avengers.
In the 1950s, the Americans developed a prototype of a flying jeep known as the Airgeep but like it’s British predecessor it didn’t make it to the battlefield.
In the 1950s France, in the midst of dealing with insurgencies in its colonies in Algeria and Indochina, recognized a military need for easily transportable artillery that could quickly be deployed to the front lines. It happened upon one very novel solution: a militarized Vespa scooter with a built-in armor-piercing gun.
The Vespa 150 TAP, built by French Vespa licensee ACMA, was designed expressly to be used with the French airborne special forces, the Troupes Aéro Portées (TAP).
The Vespa TAP was designed to be airdropped into a military theater fully assembled and ready for immediate action. This high level of mobility made the TAP the perfect anti-guerilla weapon, since enemy irregulars could appear at a moment’s notice even in remote locations.
Outfitted with an M20 recoilless rifle, the TAP proved more than capable of destroying makeshift fortifications used by guerrillas in Algeria and Indochina. The M20 was designed as an anti-tank recoilless rifle that was outfitted with a high-explosive anti-tank warhead. Under ideal circumstances, the rifle could penetrate 100mm of armor from 7,000 yards away.
The M20 outfitted on the Vespa was never actually meant to be fired while the vehicle was in motion. Instead, the Vespa frame functioned as a way of transporting the artillery to the front line. Once there, the rifle would be removed from the Vespa and placed on a tripod for accurate firing.
Remarkably, aside for a slight overhaul of the engine, plus the inclusion of the rifle and ammunition mounts, the standard Vespa and the TAP were designed almost identically. The TAP had a strengthened frame and lower gearing, but besides that it drives just as any Vespa would.
About 500 total TAPs were produced throughout the 1950s.
However ingenious the TAP was, the vehicle was never used outside of the French military during engagements in Algeria and French Indochina.
Inter-service rivalry is very common in the military. But one Navy SEAL Team 6 vet with a long service record is openly admiring an Army hero.
According to the blog of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, Montana Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke, President Donald Trump’s nominee to serve as Secretary of the Interior, applauding the values former President Theodore Roosevelt brought to conservation and land management.
“I am an unapologetic admirer of Teddy Roosevelt and believe he had it right when he placed under federal protection millions of acres of federal lands and set aside much of it as National forests,” Zinke said during his confirmation hearing.
Zinke, who spent 23 years in the Navy, was the first SEAL to win a seat in the House of Representatives according to law360.com. The San Diego Union-Tribune noted when his nomination was announced that he would also be the first SEAL to hold a Cabinet position. According to his official biography on his congressional web page, Zinke’s decorations include two awards of the Bronze Star for service during Operation Iraqi Freedom, which included a stint as acting commander of Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Arabian Peninsula. Among the SEALs who served under him were Marcus Luttrell (of “Lone Survivor” fame), Rob O’Neill (who claims to have killed Osama bin Laden), and Brandon Webb (founder of SOFREP.com).
Roosevelt, though, also had a keen interest in naval affairs before serving with the Army. Prior to becoming Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President William McKinley, the Theodore Roosevelt Association noted that he wrote a history of the War of 1812, publishing it at age 24. Roosevelt would help turn the United States Navy into the global instrument of power projection it is today.
So, yeah, while inter-service rivalry has its place, in this case, we can understand – and approve – of a SEAL admiring a soldier like Teddy Roosevelt.
Filmmakers would love just to pick up a camera, press record, and film the most realistic performances from their hired actors. In many cases that is considered possible (after a few takes), but not when you’re dealing with military-based movies. Winning over the veteran audiences is a struggle; comments about how Hollywood “got it wrong” tend to start flying as the end credits roll.
Veterans critique the hell out of any movie that contains our troops — most of the time they have issues with uniforms and tactics. Face it — we have every right to.
However, there are a few films out there (like “Platoon,” “Saving Private Ryan,” and “Blackhawk Down”) that, for the most part, won over even those tough-to-reach veterans. That’s not to say they didn’t have their fair share of issues, but they had well-written scripts supported by research and outstanding technical advisors.
Since replicating the real-life grittiness of war is next to impossible, it’s the technical advisor’s job to train the actors on how to make their combat maneuvering authentic and feel like they’re really in the thick of battle. That means putting the cast through some extreme training scenarios before heading to set.
So check out how these advisors turned their actors into military operators:
In 1986’s “Platoon” directed by Vietnam Veteran Oliver Stone, retired Marine Captain Dale Dye took his cast of actors into the jungle, 85 miles away from all communications with only an entrenching tool so they could acquire a thousand yard stare.
Marine veteran Capt. Dye stands with actors Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, and Mark Moses on the set of “Platoon” deep in the Philippines jungle (Source: Orion Pictures | Screenshot)
2. “Saving Private Ryan”
Capt. Dye would repeat a similar practice for director Steven Spielberg in 1998’s “Saving Private Ryan” as he led the A-list cast on a six-day field training exercise, conducting land nav, physical training, and weapons training just to name a few.
Tom Hanks (left) stands with Capt. Dye (right) on the set of “Saving Private Ryan” (Source: Dream Works | Screenshot)
3. “Black Hawk Down”
Not all movies use this method to nail the combatant mind-set.
In 2001’s “Black Hawk Down,” producers chose a different approach by sending actors such as Josh Harnett, Ewan McGregor, and Orlando Bloom on a civilian mission to Fort Benning to attend a crash course orientation class of intense physical training, intro to demolition, and ground fighting led by the elite Army Rangers.
The cast of Black Hawk Down receives a few some words of instruction before raiding an M.O.U.T. or Military Operations Urban Terrain. War Games! (Source: Sony | Screenshot)
The cast also got to listen to words from the veterans of the Mogadishu raid, including Chief Warrant Officer 4 Michael Durant, who is famously known for piloting one of the Black Hawks that was shot down during the raid and was taken prisoner but was released 11 days later.
Comment below on how you’d like to see Hollywood represent your branch of service.
The USS Sailfish was a silent assassin in World War II that struck Japanese military and civilian freight ships. The submarine sent eight of them, including an escort carrier, to the bottom of the ocean. That combat record is impressive on its own and netted the crew a Presidential Unit Citation, but the really surprising thing is that all this happened after the sub sank in a 1939 accident.
Originally christened the USS Squalus, SS-192 was a cutting-edge submarine that could dive to a depth of 250 feet and patrol for 75 days and 11,000 miles while hunting enemy ships and subs. Unfortunately, while the Squalus was undergoing a diving test in 1939 it suddenly flooded and sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.
Twenty-six men were killed in the initial sinking but 33 were able to survive in the stern of the ship by closing the hatches. At the time, no one had successfully rescued submariners from depths of greater than 20 feet. The Squalus was sitting under 240 feet of cold Atlantic waters.
Re-christened the USS Sailfish, the submarine was sent to the Asiatic Fleet. Sailfish was operating out of Luzon in the Philippines when the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor and America was dragged into the war. Sailfish began conducting wartime patrols the same day.
The sub struggled to find and engage enemy ships on the first few patrols. But, on Feb. 28, 1942, Sailfish was operating out of a Dutch base in Java when it spotted a Japanese aircraft transport escorted by four destroyers. Sailfish fired four torpedoes and landed two hits on the transport, destroying it.
Sailfish went on to destroy seven more Japanese ships over the course of the war and damage another. A few of the kills were cargo and transport ships, relieving a little of the pressure on Marines and soldiers fighting ashore.
As the Japanese ships counterattacked, Sailfish dove for safety but didn’t leave the battle. Five hours later, Sailfish fired a three-torpedo spread at the damaged carrier and scored two more hits. Finally, at 9:40 that morning, Sailfish hit the ship with two more torpedoes and the escort carrier Chuyo sank into the Pacific.
The crew received a Presidential Unit Citation for this engagement, but they later learned that American POWs had been aboard the Chuyo. Unfortunately, 21 American submariners from the USS Sculpin, the submarine that helped rescue the crew of the Squalus, were aboard and 20 died when the Chuyo sank.
Unexploded ordnance, often called “UXO,” has long been a problem after wars. In World War II, the Allies dropped almost 1.6 million tons of bombs on Germany – the equivalent of 6.4 million 500-pound bombs. Every major city was hit.
The problem is that not all the bombs exploded — not surprising when so many were dropped. These have been hanging around – and even now, 72 years after V-E Day, some of them still turn up.
And in Hanover, Germany, on May 7, 2017, three of those UXOs were found by construction crews, according to the BBC.
With so many people affected, the city decided to throw a big UXO party. Numerous events were set up, including screenings of films for kids, sporting events, and museum tours. There were also efforts made to provide food and other essential supplies to the evacuees while the Allied bombs were secured.
There’s no doubt about it, UXO can still kill, even after decades under ground. The BBC reported that in 2010, three German EOD techs were killed while trying to defuse a World War II leftover. In 2012, a construction worker was killed when his equipment hit an old bomb. Old World War II ordnance has sometimes been discovered during training exercises, notably in the Baltic Sea.
In the United States, most of the UXO is from the Civil War. In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, a number of cannonball left over from that conflict were unearthed.
Team Rubicon launched what they call “Operation Nirman,” in mid-March 2016. The mission is to rebuild a school and restore services in areas of Central Nepal damaged by last year’s devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake. Team Rubicon members from the U.S., United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Germany deployed to assist with Nirman. They will also receive help from the Prince of Wales.
Prince Harry is in the country on an official tour to see the many initiatives supporting the people of Nepal in the wake of the earthquake’s widespread destruction. After his official tour ends, the prince, himself an Afghan War veteran, will remain in Nepal with Team Rubicon on their relief efforts.
The 31-year-old royal is known for his dedication to veterans from all countries and his support for tackling the challenges they face. He runs the Endeavor Fund with his brother, Prince William and his wife, Princess Catherine. Endeavor Fund is a UK-based nonprofit to help service members overcome these challenges while “keeping Armed Forces issues in the public consciousness.”
Prince Harry will be embedded with a group of Team Rubicon volunteers in a remote village to help with the reconstruction of the new school. The team will trek into the mountains of Central Nepal with all the necessary equipment to assist the local community in repairing and rebuilding their school.
Since the earthquake struck, students have been taking their classes in makeshift classrooms made of poles, tarps, and tin sheets. These temporary facilities will provide little defense against the difficult weather conditions in the rainy season to come.
“The people I have met and the beauty of this country make it very hard to leave,” Prince Harry said. “The team I’m joining will be working with the community to rebuild a school damaged in the earthquake. I’m so grateful to have this opportunity to do my small bit to help.”
Team Rubicon UK was formed in response to the Nepal earthquake. General Sir Nick Parker, former Commander in Chief of the UK Land Forces and now Chairman of Team Rubicon UK, called for veterans in the United Kingdom to volunteer their time and skills in the immediate aftermath. A team quickly joined their Team Rubicon USA counterparts to provide medical aid, search and rescue support, and translation assistance in several remote regions of Nepal.
Former British Army gunner Christopher Lyon cleans up a local playground in Shermathang, Sinduhupalchok. (Team Rubicon photo)
By the end of the 2015, Team Rubicon UK responded to calls for help after floods in Cumbria and Yorkshire, as well as undertaking rebuilding projects in Nepal and the Philippines.
The recent incident involving the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Mahan (DDG 72) and an Iranian speedboat is a reminder that the South China Sea is not the world’s only maritime flashpoint.
The Persian Gulf is such a hot spot as well — mostly with the many instances where Iranian vessels have harassed American ships, with the closest encounter being within 150 yards. When you are talking about ships weighing thousands of tons, that is getting awfully close. Ships cannot turn and stop on a dime. As a result, an incident like the one involving USS Mahan could very well touch off a war.
First there’s the risk of the warning shots actually hitting the incoming vessel.
There’s also the possibility that a suicide speedboat will hit an American ship. The October 2000 attack on the destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) took place in port with a small fiberglass boat.
Iran’s “fast attack craft” that have a history of harassing American ships are, in some cases, larger, and pack heavy machine guns and rocket launchers. Those incidents have also produced warnings of a “tactical miscalculation” that could lead to an armed conflict.
Something like the Boghammer, which became notorious for its attacks on tankers in the Iran-Iraq War, displaces about six and a half tons. It has a top speed of 45 knots (or nautical miles per hour). When these speedboats get within 1,000 yards, they are less than half a knot away — and at top speed, an American ship could have as little as 40 seconds to react. A Boghammer could easily carry a murder-suicide bomb similar to that used to attack the Cole.
The damage one of those boats can do is best reflected in the Cole attack. Only this time the damage would be suffered while at sea, not while refueling in a port where assistance is readily available. It cost $250 million to repair the Cole, which was out of action for 14 months, according to MaritimeTerrorism.com.
Understandably, an American ship commander would be very nervous about the possibility of such an attack.
All it would take would be one commander deciding that the Iranian “fast attack craft” posed a threat to his ship; defensively sinking the craft could kick off Iranian retaliation. American and Iranian forces would start exchanging fire in small naval and air actions. The United States would probably win most of those — albeit in some cases, there might be damage to ships or aircraft.
Iran, though, would likely start launching ballistic missiles at Israel, trying to use the same gambit Saddam Hussein did in 1991.
The Iranian-American War would then be on in earnest.
In May of 1942, U-boat 506 sank the freighter “Heredia” approximately 40 miles off New Orleans. Most of the crew onboard were merchant seamen, but there were also a handful of civilians including the Downs family, consisting of the parents, Ray and Ina, along with their two children, eight-year-old Sonny, and eleven-year-old Lucille. When the ship exploded, chaos ensued and Ina and Lucille were separated from Ray and Sonny who found refuge in a four-foot balsa wood life raft. Father and son were joined by the Heredia’s captain, Captain Edwin Colburn, and civilian George Conyea. The following narrative, excerpted from Michael Tougias’ new book “So Close to Home,” chronicles their final hours in the life raftwhen all hope seemed lost.
The baking rays of the sun pounded down on the four souls clinging to the square life raft, that was now partially submerged. If we don’t drown, thought Ray Downs, we’re going to die of dehydration. They had been drifting in the Gulf of Mexico for over fourteen hours, and Ray worried his boy Sonny wouldn’t last another hour.
Sonny was lost in his own exhausted stupor. Then he felt something against his leg. He glanced down and could not believe what he saw: a banana, perhaps the same one he had lost earlier, was bobbing in the water.
“Dad, look!” he gasped, reaching out and snatching the green banana.
“I knew you’d find it. I think that banana is really going to help us. Why don’t you unpeel it and take a big bite and then pass it around for all of us to share?”
Sonny did as he was told. It was a struggle to swallow his piece of the banana with his mouth and throat so dry. Twenty seconds later, he felt nauseous and vomited the banana bite back into the sea.
“Well, that didn’t work so well,” Ray said. “The banana wasn’t ripe anyway.”
Sonny only nodded. He was slumped forward with his head hanging so low that it almost reached his knees.
A few minutes later, Sonny said, “Dad, can we go in now?” He said it as if they were on a fishing trip and it was up to his father when to call it quits.
Rather than try to explain the situation, his father answered, “Soon, son, soon.”
Sonny looked up at his father and just nodded.
It wasn’t long after this exchange that Ray noticed fellow survivor George Conyea staring at something directly behind where Ray was sitting. Ray turned his head and saw not one but four grey shark fins lazily cutting through the sea just five feet away from the raft. When he looked over at Conyea and the captain, he saw another couple of fins. By now, all four of the survivors could see the sharks. No one said a word.
One shark turned toward the raft and then glided directly under it. The group could see the outline of its body as it passed directly beneath them. It looked to be about five to six feet long.
Sonny quickly pulled his feet out of the water.
“Take it easy, Sonny, don’t thrash around,” said his dad. “They’ll move on.”
But they didn’t move on.
The four survivors now counted seven different sharks making slow half-loops around the raft before making a pass directly underneath it. This was by far the most terrifying experience of the ordeal for both Sonny and the three adults. The raft was too small for the men to try and get their legs on top of the balsa wood. Ray was right: their best defense was not to make a commotion.
The men did not know what kind of sharks they were, only that they were as big as themselves. The life raft probably acted like a magnet for sharks, attracting their interest simply because it was a floating object, and the sharks, with their keen sense of smell, could also have been drawn in by the scent of the blood from the wound on Ray’s leg. And any movement the group made, such as switching position, would have caused a vibration in the water, and that too would attract sharks. It’s also possible that smaller fish were holding position under the shade of the raft, and the sharks came in to investigate this potential prey, and then became inquisitive about the humans.
Whatever kind of sharks were circling the Heredia survivors, they were curious and gradually moved in closer to the life raft, making their lazy half-loops just a couple of feet off the side of the raft before they submerged and swam directly under it. One shark, when passing under the raft, rolled on its back, and an anxious Sonny could see its half-opened mouth. The boy almost let out a scream, but his dad, who had seen the same thing, reached over and put his hand on Sonny’s shoulder.
“Don’t worry, they are just checking us out. We are something new to them.”
Ray had no idea if what he was saying was true or not, but the last thing he needed was for his son to go into a panic. He also hoped his words calmed the captain and George Conyea, because they were as wide-eyed as Sonny, watching every move their new visitors made.
Ray felt despair like he had never known. Sundown was just three and a half hours away, and the thought of the sharks gliding beneath them at night was too terrible to contemplate. He felt absolutely helpless.
Minutes crawled by and the four survivors kept still, eyes glued on the fins lazily cutting through the water on all sides of the raft. The behavior of the sharks stayed the same; they came within a foot or two of the castaways but there was no direct contact with either the raft or the group’s legs or feet.
“How long will they stay?” asked Sonny, looking at his father.
“Don’t know, Sonny; but like I said, they are just curious.” Ray paused and continued his calming words: “If we don’t bother them, they won’t bother us.”
An hour went by and the group tried to ignore the sharks, but with little success. There was nothing else to look at, nothing else to take their mind off the seven fins circling them.
About two hours after the sharks first arrived, more fins appeared in the water not far from the raft. Sonny was terrified, thinking, not more sharks. . . .
Captain Colburn spoke up. “Hey, those are dolphins.”
Like the U-boat that had caused their ordeal, the sharks submerged and were not seen again.
Sonny experienced an incredible sense of relief and joy with the dolphins’ arrival and the sharks’ departure. He felt as if he had been holding his breath for the past two hours, afraid to move a muscle. There was no doubt in his mind that the dolphins had driven the sharks off to help him.
The dolphins’ presence not only relieved Sonny’s concern over the sharks, they also gave him something new to watch. Unlike the sharks, the dolphins swam quickly around the raft, their entire backs almost coming out of the water, and then briefly submerge and repeat the process. Up and down came their fins. But after just three or four minutes, they moved on and were gone from sight.
The group didn’t speak. Without the fear of sharks, their minds went back to the predicament of time running out for a rescue. It would be dark within the hour. Their thirst was unbearable and all felt extremely weak. Sonny was in the worst shape because of his small body. Now that the sun was low in the sky, he was shivering again. His father noticed and had him move back on his lap where he wrapped his big arms around the boy, trying to stop his shaking.
Sonny looked up at his father. “Shouldn’t a boat be here by now?” he asked.
Ray needed to keep his son’s mind occupied. So instead of discussing the lack of a rescue boat, he said “Let’s play a game. See those seagulls way up there? You choose one and I’ll choose one and we’ll count how long they go without flapping their wings. Whoever’s bird flies the longest without using its wings wins.”
Sonny perked up a bit. He didn’t really want to play the game because he was so chilled and his mouth so parched that he’d rather not talk. But he thought maybe this game was what his father needed to do.
“Okay, I’m picking the one over there,” Sonny said as he lethargically pointed at a shape off to the west.
“And I’ve got the one straight up,” answered Ray.
With heads tilted back, father and son watched the birds they had chosen. It was easy to look up because the sun was almost touching the ocean.
“Mine just flapped,” said Ray. “You win.”
Sonny gave a half-hearted nod.
“Well, let’s play another round,” said Ray.
Again they chose birds. Sonny chose one high in the sky and way off on the eastern horizon. This time the captain and George Conyea also looked up to see which birds the father and son chose. Anything to take their minds off their body’s demands for water.
Again Ray’s bird flapped its wings quickly. “You win again,” he said.
Sonny kept his eyes on his own bird. “Wow, Dad, mine is still going along without flapping.”
Ray looked closer at the bird in the distance.
“Captain, let me use your binoculars,” Ray said.
The captain removed the strap from around his neck and handed them to Ray, who hurriedly put the binoculars to his eyes. He adjusted the focus and stared intently at the bird far in the distance.
“That’s no seagull, it’s a plane!” he shouted.
“Yes, yes!” shouted the captain.
The survivors still could not hear its engines or tell what kind of plane it was, but there was no doubt it was a plane and that it was heading toward the raft.
“Quick, Sonny, take off the captain’s coat! I’ve got to get it on the board.”
Within seconds, Ray was waving the board with the white coat on it, and the others were waving their arms.
Ray couldn’t tell if the pilot had spotted the white coat, and the tension was unbearable. Please, please, he said to himself. His son’s very life was at stake. The boy could not make it through another cold night. He waved the white coat wildly.
As the plane drew closer, its metal skin briefly glittered when the sun’s rays hit it. Now they could hear the dull drone of the engine, and Sonny shouted “Help!”
“Keep waving the flag!” shouted the captain, his excitement growing. “It’s got to see us. It’s our last chance. I think it’s coming our way.”
Ray could make out the outline of the plane and, because of its unique construction, realized it was a Navy PBY. The single wing was elevated on a pylon above the fuselage rather than coming straight out from the sides. This allowed unobstructed visibility for its aviators to scan the ocean during either patrols for U-boats or search-and-rescue missions. Two engines with propellers were mounted on the wing, one on each side of the aircraft.
The plane came ever closer but it did not descend. Ray thought maybe it was going too fast to see them.
But Sonny’s heart soared. He was certain the plane was coming for them. And he was right. In one swift motion, the PBY started descending and adjusting its course slightly so it was just fifteen feet off the ocean and heading right toward the raft, banking hard so that Sonny could actually see the pilot, who was giving a thumbs-up. The boy let out a croak of joy along with the cheers of his father, the captain, and George Conyea.
The four raft passengers watched with awe as the plane circled back toward them. Its 104-foot wingspan and 63-foot length made it appear enormous so close to the water. Just as the plane was barreling over their location, they saw the pilot drop a package out the window, landing just ten feet from the raft. Using the board and their hands, all four survivors paddled furiously toward what they hoped was their salvation floating in the water.
The captain grabbed the package and ripped it open. Inside were two flares, a large container of water, and a note. The captain read the note out loud: “We will send shrimp boats to come and get you. If anyone is seriously hurt, wave me in and I’ll pick them up.”
Ray thought for a minute. He knew the plane was going to search for other survivors in the few minutes of daylight left and he didn’t want to slow it down. Someone, maybe Lucille or Ina, might be hurt and the plane could rescue them. He thought Sonny could make it the half hour or hour that he expected the shrimp boat to take to arrive.
The plane made a broad circle above the raft and then moved off.
“We made it, son,” said Ray; “we’ll be on the boat in no time.”
Then the captain passed the water container to Ray, saying, “Let’s all take a drink. We may want to let our bodies adjust to the water before we take a second drink.”
When Sonny took his gulp of water, he thought he had never tasted anything so good, so sweet. It was as if the water had magical powers, because he felt better immediately. He couldn’t wait for the container to come around again for his second drink of the life-giving fluid. But the captain said again that they shouldn’t drink too much all at once, and the other adults agreed.
A few minutes later the plane reappeared, then moved off. The survivors had no way of knowing that the pilot had dropped a note to shrimp boats a few miles off that said: “Watch my direction. Follow me. Pick up survivors in water.”
A half hour went by and the survivors bobbed on their little raft in the darkening shadows. They all had another drink of water, and the captain said that he thought a shrimp boat could reach them within the next half hour.
Sonny shivered in his father’s arms. The hydrating water had eased his thirst but did nothing for his growing hypothermia.
“That plane can land on water, right, Dad?”
“Then why didn’t they just do that and pick us up?”
“They needed more time in the air to find others. But the boat will be here soon.”
“What if the boat can’t find us?”
“They will. And remember, we’ve got flares to use if we see a boat.”
Sonny had forgotten about the flares. But he also wondered how his dad would see a boat in the distance in the pitch black of night.
More time went by. The sun had set, but the survivors could still differentiate between the horizon and the ocean in the twilight. Sonny had forgotten all about the sharks, but Ray hadn’t. Ray still scanned the dark ocean around the raft for any sign of a fin. He wondered what to do if a shark appeared and thought that should one come, he could use the strong light from a flare to scare it off. But with only two flares. . . .
The prospect of another night in the water scared Ray to the core—not for himself but his concern over Sonny, who he could feel shivering in his arms. He second-guessed himself about not waving in the plane. Now there was nothing he could do to change that decision.
Editor’s note: Michael Tougias is a New York Times bestselling author and co-author of 25 books including “The Finest Hours,” “A Storm Too Soon,” “Rescue of the Bounty,” “Overboard,” “Fatal Forecast,” “Ten Hours Until Dawn,” and “There’s a Porcupine in my Outhouse.”
His latest work is an inspiring historical narrative titled “So Close to Home” that tells the story of all four members of the Downs family as they struggle for survival. Their story is contrasted against that of the daring U-boat commander, Erich Wurdemann, who pushed his crew to the limit of endurance as he laid waste to ships throughout the Gulf.
On the morning of Oct. 6, 2010, three villages in the Arghandab River Valley of Afghanistan were filled with insurgents and dozens of IEDs.
A few hours later the villages were gone as if they’d never existed at all, destroyed by over 25 tons of U.S. Air Force bombs.
Artillerymen with the 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment had taken numerous casualties in the months they spent trying to clear the surrounding fields on foot. Special Forces soldiers turned back after they ran out of explosives attempting to blow the IEDs in place. Mine-clearing line charges were fired, opening up lanes into the town but leaving soldiers without “freedom of maneuver” in a heavily-contested area.
The ground commander, Lt. Col. David Flynn, took another look at the problem. He talked to the local elders and told them that his plan to clear the villages could cause extreme damage to the buildings. The elders said that was bad but acceptable as long as the nearby pomegranate trees survived.
Flynn then turned to the U.S. Air Force and requested that Lower Babur, Tarok Kolache, and Khosrow Sofla be destroyed. Surveillance was conducted to be sure that there were no civilians in the area, only insurgents. The mission was approved, and the bombing campaign began.
The Air Force dropped 49,000 pounds of bombs on Tarok Kolache alone, leveling it. The other two villages were completely destroyed as well.
No civilian casualties were reported, though the pomegranate fields were severely damaged and had to be replanted. (USAID planted 4,000 trees, but they take five years to bear fruit.)
Many of the bombs in the area were destroyed by the operation, and soldiers with the 1-320th were able to set up 17 small bases and outposts in the valley, gaining security around the 38 remaining villages. Mine clearance operations had to continue though as not all the explosives were destroyed in the bombing.
Two years later, the Army erected new buildings, but they were weak concrete structures that the villagers refused to live in. Even worse in a war designed to win hearts and minds, local Afghan police chiefs reported that the bombings switched the loyalties of the villages who went on to become supporters of the Taliban.
Representative Martha McSally, R-Az., an Air Force veteran, launched into the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at a recent House Armed Services Committee hearing in the Capitol after they testified that manning levels were too low and budget cuts were too high. According to a story posted at Air Force Times, McSally called their logic the “newest excuse” for prematurely retiring the venerable A-10 “Warthog” attack aircraft, and she questioned if it wouldn’t be wiser to cut non-essential personnel like “the hundreds of people playing tuba and clarinet.”
“If we really had a manning crisis, from my perspective, we would really tell people to put down the tuba and pick up a wrench or a gun,” McSally said during the hearing. “But we’re not at that place, and I’m just concerned over these conflicting statements.”
“We’ve mothballed the equivalent of four A-10 squadrons since 2012, we have only nine remaining, and there are actually less airplanes in them than we used to have,” McSally said.
“It’s not just a platform issue, it’s a training issue,” Gen. Joseph Dunford, CJCS, replied. “As the advocate for close-air support and joint capabilities, I absolutely believe we need a transition plan, and there needs to be a replacement for the A-10 before it goes away.”
“We need a fifth-generation fighter, but when it comes to close-air support, the F-35 having shortfalls in loiter time, lethality, weapons load, the ability to take a direct hit, to fly close combat … and … needs evaluation,” she said.
McSally knows a thing or two about the topic of military aviation. She graduated from the Air Force Academy and then spent 22 years serving as an attack pilot, including commanding an A-10 squadron. In 2001 she famously sued DoD over the policy of making female service members wear veils while stationed in Saudi Arabia. She retired at the rank of lieutenant colonel and spent a year as a college professor in Germany before running for Congress. She lost a close race for Arizona’s 8th Congressional District in 2012, and then won a close race two years later.
And, for the record, the Air Force says it currently has about 540 enlisted airmen and 20 officers assigned to band billets.