The Marine Corps’ top leaders are wishing Marines everywhere a happy 240th birthday in a new video released on Oct. 23.
Though the nearly 10-minute video is a bit early — the Marines’ birthday isn’t until Nov. 10 — the video message from the Commandant and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps have become a staple of the Corps in recent years.
This year is no different, with a message from new Commandant Gen. Robert Neller and Sgt. Maj. Ronald Green filmed at Marine Barracks Washington, D.C.
“We hope each of you will have a chance to reflect on our history, remember those who sacrificed and reaffirm your commitment to the strengthening of our Corps,” Neller says in the video.
The video features interviews with other Marines, along with historical footage from past battles, including The Battle of Iwo Jima, which was fought 70 years ago.
“Happy birthday Marines, wherever you are. … We must continue to uphold the legacy of those who have gone before, and we remain Semper Fidelis,” Neller says in closing, using the Marine Corps Latin motto, meaning “Always Faithful.”
A sixth branch of the United States Armed Forces may be a reality soon. But it will likely still be decades before “Star Trek’s” Starfleet becomes a thing.
On June 21, The House Armed Services Committeeproposed forming the U.S. Space Corps. Both Republican and Democrat representatives suggested cleaving the current Air Force Space Command away from Big Blue and forming its own branch of service.
Alabama Republican Rep. Mike Rogers is spearheading the Space Corps into the 2018 Defense Authorization Bill. Rogers spoke with NPR and said “Russia and China have become near peers. They’re close to surpassing us. What we’re proposing would change that.”
Opposition to the Space Corps comes from the confusion that it would create at the Pentagon. Both Air Force Sec. Heather Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein argued against the proposal. Gen. Goldfein said in May “I would say that we keep that dialog open, but right now I think it would actually move us backwards.”
The formation of new branches of the military isn’t new. The Air Force was of course part of the Army when it was the U.S. Army Air Corps. Even still, the Marine Corps is still a subdivision of the Navy.
Funding for the Space Corps would be coming from the Air Force. The budget for the existing Air Force Space Command would increase before it would become its own branch.
With the ever growing sophistication of war, the “red-headed step children” of the Air Force would be in the spotlight. The Space Corps would most likely be absorb The Navy’s space arm of the Naval Network Warfare Command into its broader mission.
There has not been a proposed official designation for Space Corps personnel yet. Air Force personnel are Airmen so it would be logical for Space Corps troops to be called spacemen.
To crush the dreams of every child, the fighting would mostly be take place at a desk instead of space. It costs way too much to send things and people into space. Until there’s a great need to send troops into space, Spacemen won’t be living out any “Halo,”“Starship Troopers,” or “Star Wars” fantasies.
In all likelihood, spacemen would focus their efforts on the threats against cyber-security, detection of intercontinental ballistic missiles, and maintenance of satellites in the early days. No major changes from what currently exists today, but the Space Corps would have more prestige and precedent in future conflicts.
Did you know that every 65 minutes a veteran takes their own life? Or that over 30 percent of all veterans have considered suicide? And that more US personnel have died by suicide since the war in Afghanistan began than have died fighting there?
One week changes everything. Save A Warrior(SAW) is the original warrior-led conversation that provides a well-grounded and commonsense week-long healing experience for active duty military, veterans, and first responders who are struggling with post-traumatic stress (PTS). On Tuesday, May 24 at 7:00 pm, a nationwide screening of award-winning journalist Soledad O’Brien’s acclaimed documentary “The War Comes Home: The New Battlefront” will be shown in movie theaters around the country.
This moving film follows the journeys of Delon Beckett and Garrett Combs, two young men who came home from war, and their personal battles of the wars that came home with them. For both veterans, within months of returning, their relationships were crumbling, their children were frightened of their rages, and suicide became a choice they both thought could be a solution for their anguish.
These two men are not alone. One in five veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, or severe depression, cited in a Rand Corporation study. Post-traumatic stress is a significant predictor of suicide among all veterans. Almost 8,000 veterans of all U.S. wars commit suicide each year, and more than 22 veterans take their own lives each day, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The film chronicles their experiences and powerful transformations as they make their way through the Save A Warrior program (www.saveawarrior.org). SAW is an innovative program founded and led by Jake Clark, a U.S. Army veteran, and former Secret Service, LAPD, and FBI. The intensive week-long residential program includes equine therapy, training in Warrior Meditation, and physically and emotionally demanding trust exercises. Warriors access their own internal adaptive mechanisms and experience profound life-changing transformations.
Two months following their participation in SAW, both men appear remarkably changed as they describe the progress they have made. Combs speaks optimistically about pursuing his career dreams and becoming a better father; Beckett talks about reconnecting with his children and pours the alcohol down the drain that he had grown dependent upon to medicate his pain.
“The War Comes Home: The New Battleground” is produced by SoledadO’Brien‘s Starfish Media Group.The nationwide Fathom Event will be shown only on Tuesday, May 24 at 7:00pm at nearly 300 theaters across the country. For tickets visit FathomEvents.com.
“You always get enemy snipers,” says Roy Cadman, a WWII veteran of Britain’s No. 3 Commando, talking about fighting the Nazis in Europe. “… And they’re a bloody nuisance.”
Cadman is a 93-year-old Chelsea pensioner, a resident at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, which is a nursing care facility for veterans of the British Army of an advanced age.
In the video below, he explains that you hear the crack of the bullets before the discharge of the sniper’s rifle in the distance. The distance between the two sounds helps determine how far you are from the sniper shooting at you.
“You can work out the distance,” Cadman continues, “but you can’t work out the angle of where he is. You have to look out at that distance from your right. If you were him, where would you go?”
The idea is to find a place where a sniper would hide himself in a European battle, things like bushes, houses or roofs. Cadman explains that it’s a skill the Tommies learned and honed over time, learning exactly where to look.
In other interviews, the old, bold commando also told the Army Museum about his landing at Sword Beach on D-Day, how he joined the British Army at age 17, and how to scale cliffs, build bridges, and span rivers with a simple length of rope.
He notably returned to Normandy in June 2016 to spread the ashes of his departed No. 3 Commando comrade Fred Walker.
The video is one of many from the U.K. National Army Museum’s “The Old and the Bold” series, where veterans of World War II and the Korean War share their stories and experiences from the battlefield.
In what the participants call a “unique” collaboration, government agencies and aerospace corporations are working together to develop advanced platforms and technologies for vertical lift that are intended to replace virtually all the current rotary wing and tilt-rotor aircraft being used by the four U.S. military services.
The results of those efforts are likely to also influence future civilian and international vertical lift programs.
The ultimate goal is to produce a family of vertical lift aircraft that can serve as transports for personnel and cargo and perform attack, scout, search and rescue, anti-submarine and anti-surface ship missions from land or sea at speeds and ranges far exceeding existing capabilities.
During a forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., Sept. 23, the industry and government representatives said the focus was on achieving the maximum commonality of aircraft components and open architecture in mission systems to reduce production and sustainment costs and promote interoperability among individual aircraft and services.
The coalition of talent is working on two separate but closely related programs: Future Vertical Lift and Joint Multi-role Technology Demonstration, which are managed by the Army with participation by the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force.
Under the FVL part of the effort, Bell Helicopter is working on an advanced tilt-rotor aircraft called the V-280 Valor, which advances the technologies produced for the V-22 Ospreys that are operated by the Marines and Air Force Special Operations Command and in the future by the Navy.
For FVL, Boeing-Sikorsky team is building a “coaxial” helicopter called the SB-1 Defiant, which uses counter-rotating rotors for vertical operations and a rear-mounted propeller for high-speed level flight. It builds on technology demonstrated by Sikorsky’s X-2 that hit speeds of 260 knots, or 300 miles an hour.
At CSIS, Chris Van Buiten, vice president of Sikorsky Innovations, and Vince Tobin, VP for advanced tilt-rotor systems at Bell, said their aircraft will fly next year in preparation for a competitive “fly off” for the FVL program.
Both of those firms, Rockwell Collins and other companies are participating in the JMR program, which is focused on developing a new generation of mission systems and avionics that would go into any future vertical lift aircraft and, the panelist said, could be retrofitted into some of the legacy platforms that are likely to remain in service for decades.
The Rockwell Collins officials said the advanced computer systems being developed in the JMR effort would allow the future vertical lift platforms to be “optionally manned,” meaning they could be operated as unmanned systems as well as flown by humans.
Bell has also introduced an unmanned tilt-rotor proposal, the V-247 Vigilant, with a folding wing and rotor for the Marines.
Dan Bailey, program director of JMR/FVL for the Army, said the technology demonstration program is expected to culminate in 2020, and will “set the conditions for the future” as they seek to replace all the military’s vertical lift systems over decades.
The FVL competition for the air frame should conclude in 2019, he said.
Bailey said the vertical lift “airframe designs we have today are very limited on what we can get out of them.” And the ability to increase efficiency in those platforms “is limited.”
“We need new platforms,” he said.
Bailey and the others stressed the importance of pushing open architecture capabilities in the systems developed under JMR. Open architecture generally means the software within mission systems and other aircraft avionics is independent of the hardware. That allows rapid and relatively inexpensive changes in the systems as technology improves or mission requirements change.
Bailey said the FVL/JMR program provides the ability to partner with industry “that is unique” and will allow the government “to do this efficiently.”
To meet the multi-service requirements of the FVL program, Van Buiten and Tobin said their aircraft could be produced with the rotor and wing folding capabilities that the Navy and Marines require for shipboard operations.
The Dream Team has nothing to do with basketball. On a 2009 episode of Charlie Rose, former Soviet Premiere Mikhail Gorbachev was a guest, commemorating the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall. During the interview, Gorbachev made a number of interesting statements. He wasn’t impressed with President Reagan’s challenge to tear down the wall.
But he did think Reagan was a great leader. Joining Gorbachev on the show was Reagan’s Secretary of State George Schultz, who brought up Reagan and Gorby’s famous Lake Geneva Summit. Schultz admitted he wasn’t present when the two leaders ducked out to a nearby cabin to talk. Gorbachev remembered their conversation very clearly.
“From the fireside house, President Reagan suddenly said to me, ‘What would you do if the United States were suddenly attacked by someone from outer space? Would you help us?’
“I said, ‘No doubt about it.'”
“He said, ‘We too.'”
President Reagan was an avid fan of science fiction films, like The Day the Earth Stood Still and even once got an advance screening of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Reagan repeated the story to a group of Maryland high school students after his return to the US. Deputy national security adviser Colin Powell used to go through the President’s speeches and remove mentions of what he called “the little green men.”
Ever since the Greeks met the Persians at Thermopylae, it has been the iconic standard of a small force pinning down a much larger army for the greater good. Though the movie 300 would have us believe that the number of Greeks defending the pass was just 300, the actual number of defenders was more like 7,000.
Still, a great victory, even though the odds were slightly better. The Polish Army at the beginning of World War II in Europe had much larger odds to contend with, given their circumstances. Though it lasted little more than a month, the stories of Poland’s stalwart defenders are so numerous, despite being outnumbered, outclassed and outgunned by the German Wehrmacht and being invaded from almost all sides.
The Battle of Wizna is one of those astonishing stories.
In the first week after German forces invaded Poland, they came across a small fortified Polish position near the town of Wizna. Though reinforced, the position was manned by only 700 soldiers armed with just two 76mm anti-tank guns, 42 MGs and 2 anti-tank rifles. Coming at them was 42,200 infantry, 350 tanks and 657 artillery pieces from the German 10th Panzer Division.
Though massively outnumbered, its commander, Capt. Władysław Raginis, knew he had to delay the Germans to prevent the encirclement of Independent Operational Group Narew and allow for time to prepare for the defense of Warsaw. Raginis swore he would hold the position as long as he was still alive, a promise he kept.
The Pole occupied a series of 12 bunkers arranged along the line of Narew River. Though the position was small, it was an important hub given its position along major roads and waterways. The Germans could not go around it nor could they simply blast it to bits with artillery. When the assault began, the Germans were able to force the Poles to escape from the field trenches around the fort or retreat over a nearby bridge that was burned to keep it from the Germans.
The Germans paid a high price for that action and the Poles were now left to the series of bunkers with no relief in sight. Time and again the Germans assaulted the bunkers as engineers systematically destroyed parts of the fortifications. For three days, the Poles held on, taking a heavy toll on their attackers. Each bunker that fell to the enemy only came as a result of heavy fighting.
After three days, only two bunkers were still standing. Most of the Poles were wounded and they’d lost most of their heavy weapons keeping the Germans at bay. The Wehrmacht commander, Heinz Guderian then gave Raginis an ultimatum: either surrender the fortifications or he would start shooting Polish prisoners of war. A cease-fire came only after a German envoy approached under a flag of truce.
Considering his situation, Raginis – Poland’s King Leonidas – decided that his wounded and tired men should surrender to the Germans rather than be killed to a man, or risk losing the Polish POWs. Being nearly completely out of ammo, they surrendered – all except Raginis.
True to his promise of holding the bunker as long as he was alive, Capt. Raginis placed a grenade under his chin and pulled the pin.
No one really knows what happened to the Poles taken prisoner by Guderian that day. Only 70 defenders of Wizna survived. Guderian wrote in his diary that 900 Germans died at Wizna, along with 10 tanks and even one aircraft being destroyed.
Today, just one of the ruined bunkers still remains on the site and the heroic stand of the Polish at Wizna is well-known in Poland. For his part, Capt. Władysław Raginis is still a national hero in Poland.
In one sniper duel, Hathcock found the trail of an NVA sniper hunting him. While following the sniper, Hathcock tripped over a tree and gave away his position. The NVA sniper took a shot but hit Hathcock’s spotter’s canteen.
Trooper Billy Sing was an Australian who volunteered for service in World War I and found himself in Gallipoli fighting the Turks. Most days, he and a spotter would find a spot in the trees overlooking the enemy’s trench and then kill a soldier or two.
By the time he had amassed 200 kills, he was well known to the Turks who sent their own sniper, Abdul the Terrible. Abdul managed to kill Sing’s spotter, Tom Sheehan. Sing later spotted Abdul and avenged Sheehan. The Turks then attempted to shell Sing’s hiding place, but the sniper had already withdrawn to the trenches.
3. Simo Häyhä and the Soviet snipers sent to kill him
Simo Häyhä, a Finnish sniper from World War II who was known for scoring more than 500 Soviet kills in only 100 days. Of course, the Russians weren’t okay with this and sent sniper after sniper to kill him.
In another Carlos Hathcock battle, Hathcock hunted “Apache.” She was a sniper and interrogator who tortured Marines to death within earshot of the base that Hathcock stayed at.
After one Marine was tortured, skinned alive, and castrated, Hathcock watched for weeks for his target. He was watching an NVA patrol from 700 yards away when he saw her.
“We were in the midst of switching rifles,” he said. “We saw them. I saw a group coming, five of them. I saw her squat to pee, that’s how I knew it was her. They tried to get her to stop, but she didn’t stop. I stopped her. I put one extra in her for good measure.”
5. Adelbert Waldron takes out a sniper in a coconut tree from 900 meters.
Staff Sgt. Adelbert Waldron had a confirmed 109 kills during the Vietnam War. One of them was a stunning shot from the back of a boat as he took fire from an enemy sniper.
During the Battle for Stalingrad, top Soviet sniper Vassili Zaitsev had over 400 confirmed kills, a number he was adding to throughout the battle. The Germans also had a top sniper there, Maj. Konig.
Zaitsev studied the battlefield and Konig’s kills until he deduced Zaitsev was hiding under a sheet of metal in a pile of bricks. Zaitsev used a friend as bait to draw out Konig and then picked off the German sniper when he exposed himself.
The story was adapted for the Hollywood movie “Enemy At The Gates,” but some have called the historical battle a piece of fiction as well. The story is good, but it may have just been Soviet propaganda.
Over the past four months, a small team of air advisors, deployed in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve to Qayyarah West Airfield, Iraq, combined its efforts to enhance and improve the US Air Force’s compound, changing the working conditions for the airmen assigned there.
When the 370th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group replaced the 123rd Contingency Response Group at Qayyarah West Airfield in early March 2017, they inherited bare bone facilities. The prior contingency response groups had built the US Air Force’s part of Qayyarah West up from scratch to start operations, but their mission was not long term.
There was a small, open tent used for a passenger terminal that exposed waiting service members to the heat, a canopy spread across two conex boxes used as a vehicle maintenance area, which provided limited protection from the sun, and some of the enclosed tents had mold and rotting wood floors.
The air advisors immediately identified that the air terminal operations center tent had a mold issue that needed to be addressed, said Tech. Sgt. Joseph Tenebruso, the 370th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group, Detachment 1 expeditionary maintenance flight chief.
After Qayyarah West Airfield, commonly referred to as “Q-West,” was recaptured from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in October 2016, the US Air Force promptly established a presence, repaired the destroyed airfield, and made it ready to be used as a strategic launching pad for the offensive in Mosul.
From mid-October until early March, the 821st and 123rd CRGs deployed personnel to quickly open the airfield and establish, expand, sustain, and coordinate air mobility operations in the austere environment.
The current team from the 370th AEAG was the first air expeditionary force rotation or permanent party to call Q-West home outside of the short-term deployed CRG units assigned to rapidly establish operations.
“Everyone wanted to make this place better than what we came into,” said Staff Sgt. Peter Johnson, the NCO in charge of vehicle maintenance assigned to the 370th AEAG, Det. 1. “We identified the needs to better the compound trying to make things more efficient and safer. Everything we’ve done has a purpose and we worked together as a team to make the improvements happen.”
The small team of air advisors worked together to procure and establish tents to be used as a new passenger terminal, morale facility, vehicle maintenance tent and tactical operations center. With the assistance of their joint-service partners, the tents were placed on flooring designed to reduce future mold issues.
The new passenger terminal helped improve the 370th AEAG’s daily facilitation of large passenger movements for both rotary and fixed wing aircraft in support of CJTF-OIR.
The new vehicle maintenance facility improved efficiency for the maintainers as they can now not only get out of the sun to work on their vehicles, but also complete tasks during all hours of the day.
In order for the compound’s expansion to take place, the power grid needed to be upgraded.
“Staff Sgt. Benton took the lead on expanding the power grid,” said Tenebruso. “He is an AGE guy used to working on flightline equipment, but here he is working on power production and distribution. Thanks to his capabilities we are now almost as close to uninterrupted power as possible, which make our operations much more sustainable.”
Staff Sgt. Shawn Benton, an aerospace ground equipment craftsman, as well as the other maintenance personnel, often work outside of their scope to assist with facility upgrades and sustainment at Q-West.
“We want to make this the best place that we can for future rotations,” said Tenebruso. “Everyone here is under the mentality that we leave this place better than we found it and make it so the next rotation does not have the issues we did. Things are very different than when we first got here.”
Initially, there was not a cargo grid yard for the 442nd Air Expeditionary Squadron’s aerial port function, but the aerial porters worked with the Army to procure Hesco barriers and enclose a 32,000 square-foot grid yard to secure its assets.
With limited resources, the aerial porters scrounged up supplies from around the base to create a gate for the cargo yard and a flag pole out of reconstituted metal. The flag pole, which the whole aerial port team helped place in the ground, is the tallest flag pole on the base, Master Sgt. Cliff Robertson, the 442nd AES’s aerial port superintendent, proudly stated.
Another proud achievement of the Q-West Airmen is their “Iron Paradise” makeshift gym. According to Tenebruso, prior to their arrival there was just a wooden bench and a bar with chains duct taped to it that weighed in at a standard 135 pounds. The air advisors have since built a makeshift squat rack and preacher curl bench and acquired more weights, creating an area often filled with Air Force and Army personnel trying to maintain physical fitness in their austere location.
“I am amazed at how well this team has come together to improve the FOB’s conditions since they got here,” said Maj. Dave Friedel, the 370th AEAG, Det. 1 commander. “They made the camp much more livable while still performing their primary advise and assist mission. It’s all about teamwork here and there are a lot of people working well outside their expertise level to make things happen.”
The Veterans Affairs home loan can be incredibly confusing, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all of the information found on the VA website. So we have broken it down into six basic questions for you: who, what, when, where, why, and how?
*As always, when making decisions that impact your personal finances, make sure you’re sitting down with a financial advisor. Most banks have financial advisors on staff who are always willing to work with customers.
The VA home loan program is a benefit for eligible service members and veterans to help them in the process of becoming homeowners by guaranteeing them the ability to acquire a loan through a private lender.
Utilizing the VA home loan, lendees do not make a down payment and are not required to pay monthly mortgage insurance, though they are required to pay a funding fee. This fee varies by lender, depends on the loan amount, and can change depending on the type of loan, your service situation, whether you are a first time or return lendee, and whether you opt to make a down payment.
The fee may be financed through the loan or paid for out of pocket, but must be paid by the close of the sale.
The fee for returning lendees and for National Guard and members of the reserve pay a slightly higher fee.
The fee may also be waived if you are:
a veteran receiving compensation for a service related disability, or
a veteran who would be eligible to receive compensation for a service related disability but does not because you are receiving retirement or active duty pay, or
are the surviving spouse of a veteran who died in service or from a service related disability.
Lendees may utilize the loan program during or after honorable active duty service, or after six years of select reserve or National Guard service.
Veterans Affairs helps service members, veterans and eligible surviving spouses to purchase a home. The VA home loan itself does not come from the VA, but rather through participating lenders, i.e. banks and mortgage companies. With VA guaranteeing the lendee a certain amount for the loan, lenders are able to provide more favorable terms.
Eligible lendees should talk to their lending institution as each institution has its own requirements for how to acquire the loan.
Sgt. 1st Class Charles Martland is being forcibly separated from the U.S. Army because officials say he beat up an Afghan commander, but he recently received a extension on the period in which he can appeal this decision.
In 2011, the Green Beret and Bronze Star recipient admitted to assaulting a local Afghan police commander who he says laughed about raping a boy in Kunduz province. Martland was recommended for involuntary separation through the Army’s qualitative management program in 2015, but wishes to remain in the Army. Then-Army Secretary John McHugh gave him a temporary reprieve. He now has until May 1, 2016 to file an appeal.
Martland, an 11-year veteran currently assigned to the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, had the support of California Representative Duncan Hunter, himself a Marine Corps veteran, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Hunter sent a letter to Senator Pat Roberts stating that Martland he has “the full support of his command and immediate leadership.”
Capt. Daniel Quinn was with Martland during the assault and has since left the army.
Quinn and Martland were told by the boy and his mother that the boy was tied to a post and raped repeatedly. Quinn verified the story with locals from other villages. The two Green Berets invited the commander to their base. Martland says he and Quinn only roughly removed the commander from their shared base, while the commander alleges Martland beat him up.
“After the child rapist laughed it off and referenced that it was only a boy, Captain Quinn picked him up and threw him,” Martland wrote in a statement ordered by Rep.Hunter. Martland then proceeded to “body slam him multiple times,” kick him in the rib cage, and put his foot on his neck. “I continued to body slam him and throw him for fifty meters until he was outside the camp,” Martland writes. “He was never knocked out, and he ran away from our camp.”
The incident lasted no more than five minutes, according to the statement.
Flying missions out of Takhli Air Force Base, in Thailand, Maj. Harold Johnson served as an Electronic Warfare Officer of an F-105 Wild Weasel, which due to its dangerous, top-secret missions had about a 50 percent survival rate.
“Everyday you were shot at very severely,” Johnson states in an interview. “I’d have a lot of the electronics there and hopefully do the job that I’m supposed to do to protect the rest of the flights.”
In April 1967 — and just seven missions shy of rotating back home — the North Vietnamese fired a heat-seeking missile that struck Johnson’s Wild Weasel. While both crew ejected safely, they were later captured.
Before being taken to a POW camp, the Vietnamese paraded Johnson through a village where the locals poked and prodded him with sharpened bamboo sticks.
“I still got scars on my legs. The kids were the worst, they could slip through the guards and get at you,” Johnson calmly admits. “I had a lot of holes in me when I got to the camp.”
After eight days of intense daily beatings, torture, and hallucinations from lack of sleep, Johnson began falsely pointing out targets on a map.
Due to Johnson being constantly isolated in his cell, he learned to secretly communicate with other prisoners using an alphanumeric tapping system. “If you can picture a box with five units that you put your letters in, one would be your first line, and then you go ABCDE,” Johnson states.
After six long agonizing years, Harold Johnson was released from the prison camp and sent back to the US.
“Well, it finally happened, when you’re being interrogated that was the thing that gave us strength was you’re gonna to have to stay here, one of these days I’m going out of here.”
For my crime of earning a Naval Flight Officer’s Wings of Gold and being selected for training as an F-14 Tomcat radar intercept officer (like “Goose” in the movie “Top Gun”) I was sent to the Navy’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape – SERE – School in Brunswick, Maine during the winter of 1984.
My fellow trainees and I stepped off the C-9 from Norfolk and were hit by a biting wind, the kind that’s normal for Maine in January. I immediately wondered why I hadn’t tried to push off SERE School until June or July.
The first couple of training days were conducted in a classroom. The lead instructor had been in the backseat of an F-4 Phantom that was shot down over Hanoi and had spent nearly three years as a POW. He explained that since we were all aviators there was a likelihood that we could fall into the hands of the enemy as well, therefore we needed to pay attention and take SERE training to heart. “This is the most important school the Navy will ever send you to,” he said.
The crux of the classroom training was an in-depth review of the Code of Conduct, a list of six “articles” created after American POWs suffered at the hands of their captors during the Korean War. They were all tortured in one form or another. Many were brainwashed; some even refused to return to the United States after the war.
Here are the six articles of the Code of Conduct:
I am an American fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.
I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender the members of my command while they still have the means to resist.
If I am captured I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.
If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners. I will give no information nor take part in any action which might be harmful to my comrades. If I am senior, I will take command. If not I will obey the lawful orders of those appointed over me and will back them up in every way.
When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am required to give name, rank, service number, and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability. I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country and its allies or harmful to their cause.
I will never forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.
The night before we were bussed across Maine and dropped in the mountains that border Canada, we decided to stuff ourselves with KFC, hoping that would give us the energy we needed to get through the field portion of SERE. Early the next morning we were issued cold weather clothing and reminded that it was more than we’d have if we’d had our jets shot from under us. And the fact we were also given snowshoes should have been a warning sign that the weather where we were going was more brutal than the already miserable weather at Naval Air Station Brunswick on the Atlantic Ocean side of the state.
After a four-hour drive westward into higher elevations we wandered off the bus and were greeted by a group of “partisans,” friendly locals who welcomed us to the Peoples Republic of North America – PRONA. The partisans explained that PRONA was a Soviet satellite (remember, this was 1984 and the Cold War was still in full swing) and that they were a small band of rebels fighting for freedom. (We found out later that the partisans, like everyone else in the land of PRONA, were actually a combination of local outdoorsmen on retainer and DoD personnel on loan to SERE School.) The partisans spoke English with thick eastern European accents. (They were acting, of course, but it was believable.)
The partisans broke us into groups of 10 and led us into the forest where they gave us instruction in some of the basics of survival, including how to use the snowshoes to navigate the massive snowdrifts we encountered. That night we were allowed to make a campfire and eat meat of unknown origin and huddle as a group to stay warm.
The next day our partisan told us that the army of PRONA was looming and we needed to break up the group and attempt to evade individually. I spent the balance of the daylight hours crunching through the forest trying to be sneaky in spite of the fact there was no way to be while wearing snowshoes. Right before it got dark I fashioned a quick snow fort as our partisan had instructed and climbed into my sleeping bag for a few hours of trying to keep the exposed part of my face from freezing.
At daybreak one of the partisans came and got me –obviously my hiding place sucked – and said that the enemy threat was gone for the time being and we were going to form up the entire group and march to a safe place. It was actually a trap (and a lesson in who not to trust during wartime).
The formation was interrupted by gunshots. The partisans disappeared into the forest and suddenly we were surrounded by military trucks and dudes in uniform yelling at us in a foreign tongue. Whatever training scenario context remained in our minds evaporated as our new captors slapped us – like hard – and threw us to the ground.
We were forcibly loaded into the back of the troop transports and driven along a long road down the mountain, repeatedly told during the trip not to look out the back of the trucks or we’d be shot. When the trucks stopped and we were yanked to the ground again I got a quick glance at my surroundings – a prison camp – before I was blindfolded and led to a cell.
The guard removed my blindfold and forced me to sit on a box that was barely a foot tall and place my arms along my legs with my palms facing upward – what he called “the po-seesh.” “Get in po-seesh!” he yelled, Prona-ese for “position,” I assumed.
The guard told me I was “War Criminal Number One Five” and that I should refer to myself as such. Then he pointed to a tin can lined with a plastic bag in the corner and explained that it was my “sanitary facility” in the event I had to use the bathroom, but I was not to use it without permission.
He slammed the door to my cell shut and then peered through the small hatch in the door and, seeing I was not in the po-seesh, promptly re-entered the cell and roughed me up for a bit. I spent the next hours doing the calculus of holding the uncomfortable po-seesh and relaxing with the understanding that if the guard caught me I’d weather another beating.
As I sat there wondering what was going to happen next a wide variety of psyops stuff blared through the speaker mounted high in one corner of the small cell. A mind-numbing cacophony of an out-of-control saxophone was followed by Rudyard Kipling reciting his poem “Boots” over and over in a very haunting voice. (No one who ever attended Navy SERE will forget “Boots.”)
Give it a listen (and try not to go insane in the process):
Occasionally instructions from the guards were piped over the speaker, for instance, the rules for heeding calls of nature: “War criminals wishing to use the sanity facilities must ask permission by saying, ‘War criminal numbering whatever wishes to urinate or defecate.’ Do not do so until you are told to do so!”
At some point a guard entered my cell, blindfolded me, and led me to an interview with the camp commander. His friendly demeanor led me to believe this was the “soft sell” portion of my interrogation. He asked me how I was feeling. I joked I was hungry. He looked concerned and said he’d get me some hot food right after I got back to my cell. I also joked that the music was terrible and I’d prefer the Beatles, and he said he’d make that happen right away too.
Then he asked me where I was stationed. I said I couldn’t answer that. He asked me what kind of airplanes I flew. I said I couldn’t answer that either. After a second round of refusals his friendly mood shifted into anger, and he ordered the guard to take me back to my cell, saying I was “insincere” and needed to see the provost marshal for further “re-edu-ma-cation.”
After another extended period in solitary confinement in my cell accompanied by “Boots” on repeat, I was blindfolded again and taken to another part of the camp. As I was led through the snow I heard loud banging and people screaming. Once inside the building my blindfold was removed and one of the guards told me to climb into a small box, barely big enough for me to fit.
Once I’d wedged myself in, the guard slammed the lid. He instructed me that when he banged on the box once I was to yell my war criminal number, and when he banged twice I was to yell my social security number. This went on for a while, and fortunately I don’t get claustrophobic, cause if I did the confined space would have freaked me out.
The box treatment was followed by some “up and jumps,” known to the rest of us as jumping jacks, and other calisthenics punctuated by guards slapping me and throwing me to the floor. When I was good and winded a guard led me to a room where a big burly man with a red beard was waiting.
Red Beard asked me a few questions about my military profile, and each time I didn’t answer he slapped me. He produced an American flag and threw it on the ground and told me to dance on it. I tried to avoid it but he pushed me and I wound up stepping on the flag and as I did a photographer appeared and snapped a shot.
After another round of questions I didn’t answer, Red Beard decided it was time for stronger measures. He pushed me to the floor and made me sit on my hands. He straddled my legs as he fired up some pipe tobacco and started blowing smoke into my face using a large rubber tube.
I couldn’t breathe. The room started spinning. My head hit the floor. I puked.
And to my horror – even though I’d hadn’t quite finished puking – Red Beard blew more smoke in my face.
This felt like real torture, and I was convinced he was going to kill me. As I fought to get a clean breath of air, I managed to beg him to stop and offered to tell him something, hoping to employ the technique where you try to bend but not break by throwing out some meaningless bullshit.
I told him I was stationed in Florida even though I was really stationed in Virginia and that I flew helicopters even though I flew jets. Red Beard laughed and called the guard back in, telling him to give me as much food and water as I wanted because I’d been very helpful.
As I was led back to my cell blindfolded I felt like a total pussy who’d caved too easily.
After another period in solitary with my morale at an all-time low, a guard came and got me and led me back to the camp commander’s office. The camp commander told me about a junior enlisted man who’d gone through the same torture but instead of talking he’d come off the floor screaming “Article Five!” – a reference to the Code of Conduct where it states a POW should only give name, rank, and date of birth. “You are supposed to be an officer, but an enlisted man is stronger than you,” he said. “And you are insincere. You told us wrong information. I am sending you back to the provost.”
Sure enough, after more time in my cell to contemplate my shortcomings as an officer, I was back in front of Red Beard.
I hated Red Beard. I hated PRONA. And I felt another emotion that was like an epiphany: I wasn’t about to let America down again. The nation was depending on me to be strong. That’s why they’d given me my Annapolis education and put me through flight school. (Seriously, all of these things ran through my brain in that torture chamber.) If I had to die, so be it. Let the smoke blow . . .
After some more passing out and puking followed by more passing out and puking, Red Beard let me go.
The next day we were let out of solitary confinement and forced to do hard labor around the camp where our tasks included carving a “heli-mo-copter pad” in the ice-covered ground – an impossible task for which we were beaten for our lack of progress. One guy was stripped to his underwear and forced to stand at attention as his clothes were burned in front of him.
The camp commander gathered us together and, holding a Bible aloft, told us our beliefs were bullshit and that the only religious figure Americans truly worshiped was St. Walt Disney. He threw the Bible down and stomped it, which caused some of the prisoners to react enough that the guards felt obliged to slap them and throw them on the ground.
This cycle of hard labor in the freezing cold followed by “re-edu-ma-cation” sessions from PRONA’s propaganda machine went on for hours and hours, until the sun was about to set on our miserable existence once again. Morale was low. We were sure we were never getting out of there and our lives as we knew them were over.
Suddenly there was another burst of gunfire and a group of guys in cammies rappelled over the walls of the compound at various spots. They took the camp personnel into custody and announced that they were Navy SEALs. The flag of PRONA hung against the main guard tower was replaced by the Stars and Stripes as the National Anthem played over the camp PA.
There wasn’t a dry eye among us as we sang along. We were Americans, and we were free again.
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s recent report on the CIA’s enhanced torture techniques during the early years of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has restarted discussions about DoD’s methods and where they’re taught and learned. The SERE School curriculum has been lumped into those discussions.
But for me SERE wasn’t about the torture. It was about the realization that the pomp and ceremony, the pageantry and adulation that surrounded wearing a Navy officer’s uniform was meaningless without the courage and commitment that underpins them.
SERE taught me a big lesson in sacking up, and I can say without any hesitation that it was, in fact, the most important school the Navy ever sent me to.
(Editor’s note: This story deals with a specific SERE curriculum that no longer exists.)