Such buzzing incidents have been common. In April 2016, the Daily Caller reported that the guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) was buzzed in the Baltic Sea by Su-24 Fencers while in international waters.
In June 2016, the USS Porter had entered the Black Sea to take part in NATO exercises. At the time, Russia threatened retaliation for the vessel’s entrance.
Arleigh Burke-class destroyers have a single five-inch gun, two MK 41 vertical launch systems (one with 32 cells, the other with 64), a Mk 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapon System, and Mk32 324mm torpedo tubes.
A newly released investigation from a submarine mishap in 2015 that caused some $1 million worth of damage shows that an inexperienced crew was given the go-ahead to complete a tricky return-to-port mission in the dark, despite warnings from the commanding officer that they weren’t ready.
The Ohio-class submarine Georgia ran aground in the predawn hours of Nov. 25, 2015, the day before Thanksgiving, as it prepared to return to port at Kings Bay, Georgia, to replace a failed towed array sonar. While conducting a scheduled pick-up of a new pilot at Fort Clinch, Florida, near the entrance to St. Marys River, which approaches the base, the sub inadvertently exited the channel, then collided with a buoy amid the crew’s efforts to re-orient. The grounding occurred as the crew worked to get clear of the buoy, the investigation shows.
Ultimately, the sub was able to return to port to assess damages, which were mostly cosmetic, save for the ship’s screw propeller, an acoustic tracking device and an electromagnetic log meter that measured the sub’s speed. The Georgia was taken into dry dock in December 2015 for assessment and the costly repairs.
The investigation, which was completed in March 2016 but just released to Military.com this month through a public records request, found that the “excessive speed” of the sub as it approached the pilot pick-up made it more difficult for the crew to control the ship, and that the tugboat carrying the pilot was positioned poorly, making the maneuver more complex.
Ultimately, though, blame for running aground is laid at the feet of the commanding officer. In the wake of the incident, the commander of Georgia’s blue crew, Capt. David Adams, was relieved of his post due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command. Like all submarines in its class, Georgia has two identical crews — a blue and a gold — that alternate manning and patrols.
“His inability to effectively manage the complexity of the situation and failure to respond to the circumstances in a manner sufficient to protect the safety of the ship and crew is beneath my expectations for any CO,” an investigation endorsement by Rear Adm. Randy Crites, then-commander of Submarine Group 10, reads.
In his detailed and thorough endorsement of findings, Crites also dismisses the notion that maneuvering in the dark and with a green crew was what led to the sub’s disastrous mishap.
“Ultimately, had this crew (and the Pilot) executed the same plan in the same manner during broad daylight, there is nothing in the ship’s planning effort, demonstrated seamanship, or response to tripwires that indicates the outcome would be any different,” he said.
While coming in for the brunt of the blame, Adams was not alone in being designated for punishment. Crites indicated his intent to take administrative action against the sub’s executive officer; chief of boat; navigation/operations officer; weapons officer, who was the officer of the deck; and assistant navigator. He also said he’d issue non-punitive letters of caution to the commander of Submarine Squadron 16 and his own chief of staff and director of operations — all Navy captains — for failure to take appropriate action toward resolution regarding Adams’ concerns around the sub’s transit into port.
The Ohio-class guided-missile submarine USS Georgia (SSGN 729) exits the dry dock at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia, following an extended refit period. Georgia is one of two guided-missile submarines stationed at the base and is capable of carrying up to 154 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles.
The 475-page investigation, which includes witness statements, logs and other supporting documentation, offers insight into what those concerns were. In a Nov. 24 email to the commodore of Squadron 16 marked “confidential,” Adams, the Georgia blue crew commander, lays out his qualms about the plan he has been ordered to execute, particularly the predawn return to port for a brief one-day stop with a crew that had spent just three weeks underway together on a new ship.
“CO/XO/NAV have not piloted into Kings Bay in the last 20 years. All of the untoward [incidents] I know of occurred between [St. Marys] and Fort Clinch,” he wrote. “My assessment is that this is not a prudent plan for [return to port] … Having just been at sea for a few weeks, I have not built enough depth. I am concerned about the fatigue level of my command element.
“Given an all day evolution and subsequent [underway], we will have spent the majority of 36 hours awake and are set to pilot out and submerge on the mid-watch at 0330.”
The two-page memo, it appears, was never received and read by Submarine Squadron 16’s commodore, Capt. John Spencer. But Adams testified he had relayed the same concerns face-to-face with Spencer days before, on Nov. 22. He also discussed the same issues, he said, in a follow-up phone call.
This much is clear: the plan wasn’t called off, and the mission was cleared to proceed. But murky communication dogged the lead-up to the operation, and later the mission itself.
Spencer and others testified that Adams had been given leeway to “slow things down a little” if he felt uncomfortable. Adams said he believed any delay would have been viewed as insubordination.
On the day of the mishap, communication was also flawed, in ways that underscore the crew’s unfamiliarity with each other, and possibly the sleep deprivation that had left some members running on just two to three hours of rest.
According to the investigation, as the Georgia approached the point at which it was to meet with the tug and pick up the pilot — the navigation expert who would drive the ship into port — it became clear that the tug was well west of its expected position. The sub, meanwhile, was approaching too fast and slowing too gradually. The investigation found it was still making 15 knots, or about 17 miles per hour, when it passed the set “all stop” point. That speed and positioning would make every maneuver that followed more risky and difficult.
Initial attempts to communicate with the tug and the pilot aboard via radio were unsuccessful, and the planned transfer happened late. Adams did not want to scrap the transfer and proceed into port without the pilot, the investigation found, because of the challenges of pulling into port without one.
When the sub exited the channel at the west end of the Fort Clinch basin, the crew’s communication skills faced a major test. The assistant navigator recommended to the navigator that the sub go to “all back emergency,” a call the navigator then passed to the bridge. The officer of the deck seemed to agree, but said nothing, the investigation found. Adams, however, overrode the order, believing it would not work, and ordered “all ahead full” instead. He started directing the officer of the deck, but did not fully take control of the sub or give direct orders to the helm, the report states.
Despite a series of maneuvers — right hard rudder, left hard rudder, all ahead full, right hard rudder — the sub collided with Buoy 23 in the channel. But the worst was still to come.
“When [Adams] asked [the lookout] if the ship hit buoy 23, [the lookout] informed the CO that he did not care about the buoy, but thought the ship was going to run aground on the beach forward of the ship,” the investigation states.
As grounding looked imminent, the Georgia asked the driver of the C-tractor tugboat if the tug could cross in front of the sub on the starboard, or right, side, and push the bow around. The tug master refused, according to the investigation, worried that the water was too shallow.
The sub ended up, as the lookout put it, “hitting Fort Clinch.”
In this file photo from July 12, 2018, Gen. John E. Hyten, commander, U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), views the dry dock at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia. The base is home to six of the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines that make up the most survivable leg of the nuclear triad and support strategic deterrence.
The mishap, and the misgivings that preceded it, came against the backdrop of a Navy grappling with a culture in which overworked and unready crews were regularly put underway in service of operational needs. After two separate deadly destroyer collisions in 2017, service leaders found, among other things, that a “‘can-do’ culture” had undermined safety and led to unduly high operational tempo and fatigue.
“The can-do culture becomes a barrier to success only when directed from the top down or when feedback is limited or missed,” the Navy’s comprehensive review of the destroyer mishaps, released in October 2017, found.
Whether these factors came into play with the Georgia is more difficult to say.
In a statement for the investigation, Adams emphasized that he took full responsibility for what had transpired.
“Despite my significant reservation – expressed face-to-face, on the phone, and In emails with staff and leadership … concerning the risks of proceeding Into Kings Bay In the dark with an inexperienced team, when my requests to delay [return to port] one hour later were denied, I failed in my command responsibilities by driving to achieve mission success at the expense of appropriately acting to mitigate risks to increase our margin of safety,” he said.
“In retrospect, I should have loitered at [St. Marys] until I was satisfied that the risks were commensurate with the mission gain.”
Reached for comment by Military.com, Adams, who retired in 2016, referred to a public statement he had released at the time of his relief, in which he called the actions that caused the grounding “mine alone.”
“I ask that my lapses not be used to denigrate the terrific service of the Sailors and families of GEORGIA BLUE,” he said at the time “After thirty years of serving in the world’s finest Navy, my only regret is that I will miss sailing with them again to stand against our nation’s enemies.”
But the fact that some above Adams were also warned offers insight into how the higher command viewed the incident.
Crites faulted Spencer, the Squadron 16 commodore, with “failure to provide his ship a plan with adequate margin to safety, specifically in not providing sufficient guidance and training to his staff that developed the plan in his absence and not aggressively pursuing complete resolution of the ship’s requested arriva through personal intervention with the Type Commander staff.”
The chief of staff and director of operations for Submarine Group 10, Crites said in the report, had failed to “pursue acceptable resolution to the concerns they had with the plan for the ship’s arrival.”
Holly Carey, deputy public affairs officer for Submarine Force Atlantic, declined to say whether all administrative actions recommended by the investigation were carried out.
“What I can tell you is that the Navy is confident that leadership took appropriate corrective actions against several personnel assigned to the squadron and submarine based on the findings of the investigation,” she said.
“Following the investigation, which concluded in 2016, leadership took appropriate accountability measures and has taken all necessary steps to prevent a recurrence in the future. USS Georgia, and her current crew, serve proudly today among the U.S. Submarine Force and has leadership’s full confidence to protect the interest of the United State and allies.”
For the first time in its history, the U.S. Navy has selected a female naval aviator to command a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Capt. Amy N. Bauernschmidt was selected for the position by the FY22 Aviation Major Command Screen Board. Naval Air Forces confirmed the selection on December 7, 2020. Although it’s unknown which of the Navy’s 11 aircraft carriers she will command, Bauernschmidt is no stranger to making history.
She graduated from the Naval Academy in 1994, the same year that women were allowed to serve on combat ships and planes. “That law absolutely changed my life,” Bauernschmidt told CBS during a 2018 interview. “We were the first class that graduated knowing and feeling honored with the privilege to be able to go serve along the rest of our comrades in combat.” After she graduated from flight school in 1996, Bauernschmidt was assigned to Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light 45 (HSL- 45) “Wolfpack” in San Diego. Her first deployment was on board the USS John Young (DD-973) in support of maritime interdiction operations in the Northern Arabian Gulf.
Over her 26-year career, she has served as an aide-de-camp to Commander, Carrier Strike Group 7, a department head with HSL-51 “Warlords” in Japan, an action officer executive assistant to the Director, J6 on the Joint Staff, and as the executive officer of HSM-70 “Spartans” before taking command of the squadron. In 2016, Bauernschmidt became the first female executive officer of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72). Her most recent command was of the USS San Diego (LPD-66).
Bauernschmidt has accumulated over 3,000 flight hours in naval aircraft. In addition to her military awards, including the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, she also earned the 2011 Admiral Jimmy Thach Award and Captain Arnold J. Isbell Trophy for tactical innovation and excellence. “For me, it is about supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States,” Bauernschmidt said in her 2018 interview. “But it’s also about these young men and women that I lead every day.” Her historic achievements have paved the way for future female sailors to continue to break barriers.
The Department of Defense has approved the Navy’s request for an extension to hardship duty pay for deployed sailors. Though the Navy requested the extra money for two years, the current funding expires in September, 2017, and does not include new money for Marines.
According to the Navy, an “extended deployment” consists of 221 consecutive days in an “operational environment” (aka: deployment), and the sailor assigned to those areas will earn $16.50 per day, “not to exceed $495 per month.” That amount is not dependent on rank or time in service. (Photo from U.S. Navy)
“The Navy is in high demand and is present where and when it matters,” said Vice Adm. Robert Burke, Chief of Naval Personnel. “Hardship Duty Pay – Tempo is designed to compensate sailors for the important roles they continue to play in keeping our nation safe during extended deployments around the globe.”
A Marine Corps financial office source said the reason the authorization was only approved for a year has more to do with politics than logistics.
During an election year, it is difficult to get additional funding for programs, he said.
“There are going to be budget cuts across the whole of the federal government in order for any progress on the national debt to be made,” the Marine financial office source said. “The next administration’s defense and fiscal policies will ultimately determine the fate of [Hardship Duty Pay- Tempo].”
A Navy spokesman said the service has paid out nearly $16 million over two years to about 24,000 sailors from 1,129 commands or units.
“This is something that the Navy wants for our sailors as we believe it positively affects sailors’ morale,” said Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, spokesman for the Chief of Naval Personnel. “It’s one small way to help them during long and difficult deployments away from home.”
(Photo from U.S. Navy)
The Marine officer, however, was hopeful that “since it was reauthorized after its first go or ‘trial run,’ I think we can conclude that it was determined to be a success by our legislators in Congress and by the Department of the Navy’s upper echelon decision makers. Thus, I’m optimistic that it will continue in the future.”
Right now the reauthorization only applies to the Navy and does not include the Marine Corps. The same financial officer noted that though the extension of Hardship Duty Pay- Tempo does not apply to Leathernecks, he is hopeful that the Corps will issue its own extension.
The Marine finance officer didn’t believe that the lack of guidance for Hardship Duty Pay for the Corps would be a morale hit.
“If it turns out that Marines are not given HDP-T, I’m sure there will be a small level of frustration at first,” he said. “But Marines have always and will continue to put the needs of their country first, and are honored to do so. I have no doubt that what little frustration does occur will dissipate quickly.”
This is an emotional realization for the whole family. Having grandma or grandpa move in isn’t a simple transition for all parties. It involves issues of space, money, privacy, freedom, and ego. There’s resentment with, “I didn’t ask for this,” and all opinions would be living under the same roof. And parents who want to start the discussion are in the middle, their folks on one side; their spouses on the other.
“It’s a tricky position, especially if there’s tension and conflict,” says Megan Dolbin-MacNab, associate professor of human development and family science at Virginia Tech University.
It certainly is. Before you start feeling disloyal to anyone, remember that this isn’t an inevitable event. It’s just a possibility, one that requires assessing and playing the scenarios. Before you start reconfiguring the house, it starts with a conversation about having your parents move in. Well, two actually.
Talking to Your Spouse About Having Aging Parents Move In
When deciding whether or not grandparents should move into your home, the first conversation should be at home, with your partner. This needs mutual buy-in, regardless of how dire the situation might seem.
When you start exploring the alternatives, you’ll see where moving in ranks and that can help make a decision. As you proceed, the main thing is to ask your spouse questions and listen — truly listen — to the answers, keeping in mind the essential fact that you’re making a big request, Satow says. Ask two fundamental questions. “How do you think this would work?” and “What would we expect from them?” This will get you thinking about everything from space allocations to sharing of bills to things you didn’t even consider.
You can’t nail down every detail, but you’ll get an outline and more comfort with the idea. You also want to ask your spouse, “What are your concerns?” Listen again without quickly reacting. You want your partner to be able to express reservations, even anger, and do so early in the process, because things won’t magically work out without intention.
“If you don’t talk about stuff, it festers and then it explodes,” Dolbin-MacNab says.
It’s important to also ask: “What can we do for us if this happens?” Kids already changed your relationship. Grandparents moving in will do it again, Satow says. You might not have any couple time now, but giving the two of you focus amid this discussion will again help with the consideration.
But don’t focus solely on concerns, by also examining, “What’s the upside?” There’s the potential for help with chores and childcare, maybe you two get a night out regularly, and there’s the chance for your folks and kids to deepen their relationship. Considering the positives gives a fuller picture.
Talking to Aging Parents About Moving Into Your Home
This issue may have never been broached before with your parents. If so, it’s not an easy topic to raise. If there’s the slightest opening, some show of worry, use it to start a conversation when you’re not all rushed and the kids are engaged with something else. Acknowledge the awkwardness, Dolbin-MacNab says, and approach it, like with your spouse, as not a done deal. This is not the time for foot-stamping declarations of “You’re moving in.”
Ask your parents, “What are you feeling and what do you want?” It’s their decision as well. As the conversation moves forward, you want to be clear with concerns and expectations, and that honesty might be a new dynamic for all of you, and just setting that standard might be the biggest component, Dolbin-MacNab says.
Ask them, “What do you expect?” as it relates to childcare, bills, household chores and time together. Let them give a sense of how it would look, then give them the picture of your day and your approach to parenting – awake by 6 a.m., no snacks after 5 p.m., we try not to compare the kids to others – and ask, “Do you think you could fit into that?”
Remember: If you’re asking them for something, you need to offer them room to make it their own, and that requires prioritizing what really matters and not caring so much about the rest, Dolbin-MacNab says.
But there’s no need to address every potential conflict. They’ll happen and are best handled in the moment. You’ve set the overall framework and the precedent of talking. Let them know that will continue where everyone can share how it’s working and what needs addressing, Dolbin-MacNab says.
And ask them, “What do you see as the benefits?” It’s a hard time for them. This may be a loss of everything from social networks to furniture and they may feel embarrassed, but getting them to consider the upsides might reduce the sadness and bring in the idea that something different is also something new.
Even when it’s just a potential, it’s easy for you and your spouse to see it as a burden and undue stress. But it’s not what anyone drew up. As much as it’s possible, try to approach it like a team by finding consensus, looking for solutions, and where.
As Dolbin-MacNab says, “We’re all working toward the same goal and we could make our lives easier.”
Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, sustained massive damage from a 70-ton crane falling on it after an accident at a shipyard, Russian media reports.
The Kuznetsov, a Soviet-era ship already known for having serious problems, now has a massive 214 square foot hole in its hull after a power supply issue flooded its dry dock and sent a crane crashing down against it.
Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Kuznetsov, is a floating hell for the crew
“The crane that fell left a hole 4 by 5 meters. But at the same time … these are structures that are repaired easily and quickly,” Alexei Rakhamnov, the head of Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation, told Russian media.
“Of course when a 70-tonne crane falls on deck, it will cause harm,” Rakhmanov continued, according to the BBC. “But according to our initial information, the damage from the falling crane and from the ship listing when the dock sank is not substantial.”
On Oct. 22, 2017, more than 30,000 people hit the pavement to run one of the largest marathons in the world. For 26.2 miles, runners tested their mental and physical fitness. A marathon forward was held for those deployed in the Middle East unable to run the 42nd Marine Corps Marathon in the nation’s capital. Among the people running the marathon were three Marines and a Sailor from Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Crisis Response – Central Command.
According to a Greek fable the first marathon ran was more than 2,500 years ago when Pheidippides, a Greek soldier, ran from the Battle of Marathon to Athens, Greece to announce the victory against the Persians. In 1896, the marathon was added to the Olympics and now more than 800 marathons are held worldwide each year, with one of the most popular being the Marine Corps Marathon. Today, runners compete in marathons for many different reasons.
“Setting a goal of a physical achievement, making a plan of how to reach that goal, then putting that goal into action is fulfilling in itself and makes for a great excuse to keep oneself active,” said U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey Cook, force surgeon, SPMAGTF-CR-CC.
The mobility officer for SPMAGTF-CR-CC, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jonathan Eaton, ran the Marine Corps Marathon because he wanted to inspire his Marines. He wanted to show them that every Marine should maintain a level of physical fitness to where they can wake up any day and run a physical fitness test.
Capt. Michael Nordin, the SPMAGTF-CR-CC adjutant, trained about two days a week for six weeks working up to the marathon.
“I’ve run a marathon every year since 2014 and didn’t want to miss a year. Half marathons and marathons are my hobby,” said Nordin. “There’s nothing like getting to mile 18-19 and hitting the wall and pushing yourself through and over it, discovering another part of you that you didn’t think you had a couple miles ago.”
Whether running it to be a good example for fellow Marines or running it as a hobby, the Marine Corps Marathon challenges each participant – and not everyone can say they ran it while deployed. It is the largest marathon in the world that doesn’t offer prize money, only the chance to demonstrate personal honor, courage and commitment. Despite the demands of deployment, runners with the SPMAGTF-CR-CC made the time to run the 42nd Marine Corps Marathon.
“I love to run marathons and what a great opportunity not just to run any marathon while deployed, but the ‘People’s Marathon,’ the Marine Corps Marathon,” said Cook.
The Marine at the center of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) search in the Mindanao Sea since Aug. 9, 2018, has been identified as Cpl. Jonathan Currier.
On Aug. 17. 2018, Currier who was previously listed as Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown (DUSTWUN) was declared deceased.
Currier, a New Hampshire native and a Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion crew chief, enlisted in the Marine Corps in August 2015 and graduated from Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Paris Island, in November of that year. He completed School of Infantry at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; Aviation and AC School in Pensacola, Florida; and Center for Naval Aviation Training in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
Cpl. Jonathan Currier
Currier was assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361 at Marine Corps Air Station, Miramar, and was deployed at the time of his disappearance with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 166 Reinforced, 13th MEU, aboard the USS Essex (LHD 2).
Currier’s awards include the National Defense Service Medal and Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.
“Our hearts go out to the Currier family,” said Col. Chandler Nelms, commanding officer, 13th MEU. “Cpl. Currier’s loss is felt by our entire ARG/MEU family, and he will not be forgotten.”
The extensive search effort concluded, Aug. 13, 2018. The search lasted five days and covered more than 13,000 square nautical miles with more than 110 sorties and 300 flight hours.
The circumstances surrounding the incident are currently being investigated.
An official photo of Cpl. Currier is not available.
There are many unfounded superstitions within the military. Don’t eat Charms candy. Don’t whistle on a Navy vessel. Pilots won’t take off without being given a thumbs up. The list goes on.
Many of these superstitions have traceable roots that run back to a time when someone did something and terrible results followed, but there’s seldom any empirical evidence behind the practices. To that end, Marines and Marine veterans from all eras and battlefields will all attest to one fruit being such bad luck that even uttering its name will cause them to freak out.
This fruit is, of course, the apricot.
Vietnam was bad enough. Even if you liked the taste of the fruit, you probably shouldn’t do anything to make everyone ostracize you.
While most troops tend to stay away from apricots — typically referred to as ‘cots, forbidden fruits, or A-fruits, to avoid being jinxed by uttering its true name — the biggest contributors to this superstition are Marine tankers and Marines on Amphibious Assault Vehicles.
Officially, the myth began in WWII. Many of the AAVs that were hopping around the islands of the Pacific would carry the fruit, as it was often found in rations. All the AAVs that were destroyed with their crewmembers inside were said to have a single piece of cargo in common: apricots. Of course, there isn’t much proof to back up this statement, as many vehicles that didn’t carry the forbidden fruit met the same fate.
The superstition continued into the Vietnam War. There, Marines were hesitant about even being near someone eating a ‘cotbecause they thought it meant that rockets or artillery were soon incoming. The belief was so strong that Marines would often force someone out of the tent if they tempted fate by biting into one of the stone fruits.
You still won’t find any of them in a Marine Corps chow hall. Just grab an apple, they taste better and probably maybe won’t cause everything to explode or break down. Probably.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Janessa K. Pon)
It was also said that ‘cots were to blame for many Marines vehicles breaking down during the Persian Gulf War and the early days of the Global War on Terrorism before they were all but banned by the military overseas.
Until apricots were removed from MREs in 1995, many Marine tankers would opt out of bringing MREs into their vehicles altogether on the off chance that the A-fruit was hiding in one of the sealed bags. The myth continues to this day, and most Marines won’t even utter the name of the fruit, let alone touch them.
Fifteen years after a 17-hour battle on an Afghan mountaintop, a pararescueman’s extraordinary heroism was recognized with an Air Force Cross, upgraded from a Silver Star, following a service-wide review of medals awarded since 9/11.
Then-Tech. Sgt. Keary Miller –against overwhelming odds and a barrage of heavy fire from Al Qaeda militants– dashed through deep snow into the line of fire multiple times to assess and care for critically-wounded U.S. service members, March 4, 2002.
Miller was previously awarded the Silver Star medal for these actions, Nov. 1, 2003. The Air Force Cross is the service’s highest combat medal for valor, second only to the Medal of Honor.
“We are blessed to have Airmen like Keary in the Special Tactics community,” said Col. Michael Martin, the 24th Special Operations Wing commander, who directed training for Miller’s pararescue team before their deployment in 2002. “In an extraordinary situation, Keary acted with courage and valor to save the lives of 10 special operations teammates. This medal upgrade accentuates his selflessness despite an overwhelming enemy force…although Keary may humbly disagree, he belongs to a legacy of heroes.”
Miller was deployed from the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, an Air National Guard unit based in Standiford, Kentucky. During the mission, he was the Air Force combat search and rescue team leader assigned to a U.S Army Ranger quick reaction force.
“I would describe Keary as a dedicated pararescueman – dedicated to his craft and dedicated to the motto ‘That others may live.’ That’s how he defined himself and that really defines his actions that day,” said Lt. Col. Sean Mclane, the 123rd STS commander, who was a second lieutenant in Miller’s home unit during that time. “We have a proud legacy and a tradition of valor, and Keary is a big part of that.”
On March 4, 2002, his team was tasked to support a joint special operations team on a mountaintop called Takur Ghar, occupied by Al Qaeda forces– an engagement commonly known as the Battle of Roberts Ridge after the first casualty of the battle, Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts.
One of the most significant events in recent Special Operations history began when a joint special operations team attempted to infiltrate Takur Ghar, which held a well-fortified and concealed force. The ensuing battle would result in the loss of seven special operations team members.
“We were notified there was a missing aircrew and we were launching a team to go find them,” said Maj. Gabriel Brown, a Special Tactics officer, formerly an enlisted combat controller. “It was unknown who exactly was missing, but we loaded up two helicopters full of Rangers and the (combat search and rescue) package, which included me, Senior Airman Jason Cunningham [pararescueman] and Keary, who was my team leader. I trusted him.”
As the quick reaction force helicopter made its approach over the landing zone, they were struck by rocket propelled grenades at close range –they returned fire with mini guns, but the helicopter impacted the ground hard, lurching into the snow.
“Once we landed, 7.62mm rounds ripped through the fuselage–the daylight popping through, smoke aglow; then the rotors decelerated to a grinding halt,” Brown said. “Immediately, we had several casualties; I remember seeing two Rangers face down. Keary and I were deep in the aircraft—and we made eye contact and shared kind of a ‘here we go’ moment.”
The team disembarked from the aircraft to combat the blistering fire of a waiting enemy. At great risk to his own life, Miller moved through the snowy terrain, crossing into the line of fire on several occasions in order to assess and care for critically wounded servicemen.
“I saw Keary taking action on the wounded, worried about collecting the casualties and triaging them,” Brown said, who was in charge of aircraft communications and precision strike. “He was careful in his thoughts and actions, conducting himself calmly and coolly – relaying the casualty information to me all morning.”
As the battle continued, Miller collected ammunition from the deceased to distribute it to multiple positions in need of ammo, moving through heavy enemy fire each time.
“I was listening to the updates as they were coming in; I was so proud because my friends were on that mountain and their future was so uncertain but they were rocking it – they were doing everything right,” Mclane said, who was listening real-time to satellite communications of the battle. “It’s like, these guys might not make it off this mountain, but by God, they’re going down swinging.”
When Cunningham was killed during another attack, the casualty collection point he was at was compromised. Miller assumed Cunningham’s role — providing medical aid under fire to the wounded – and braved enemy fire to move the wounded to better cover and concealment.
“I wholeheartedly believe the Air Force Cross accurately represents Keary’s actions that day,” said Brown. “I know those lives were saved that day were because of his efforts within that environment…the steps he took to ensure they made it off the battlefield.”
Miller is credited with saving the lives of 10 U.S. service members that day, and the recovery of seven who were killed in action.
Following his deployment, Miller returned to the 123rd STS as a mentor for the newest generation of operators. The events he experienced helped him to shape tactics, techniques and procedures for years to come.
“Keary was already a mature pararescueman before he went on that mission,” Mclane said. “But, when he returned, he really dedicated himself to improving our body armor, our equipment, our (tactics, techniques and procedures) when under fire – he was driven to be better, and to make his teammates better.”
No Hollywood war movie is perfect. No matter how long the production studio takes to develop the project or how long the crew is on set filming the movie, there’re always going to be some avoidable mistakes.
However, we have seen war movies flourish in the eyes of veteran audiences on several occasions. Even within those epic films, there are still areas that aren’t perfect because of a few important reasons.
Some military movies are better off burning their production budget.
“Blocking for the camera” is a film term that means, basically, how the actors move within the scene in relation to the camera’s position.
So, do you remember what Sgt. Horvath said before spearheading forward onto the beaches of Normandy on D-Day in Saving Private Ryan?
“I want to see plenty of feet between men. Five men is a juicy opportunity. One man is a waste of ammo.”
One of the most significant issues veterans have with war movies is how bunched up characters get in firefights or while maneuvering in on the enemy. Having a handful of troops crammed within a few meters of one another is a bad thing, but it’s commonly done due to a movie’s shooting schedule.
What direct Steven Speilberg nailed during the D-Day landing in Saving Private Ryan was showcasing the importance of proper dispersion. Unfortunately, other war films have failed to follow Sgt. Horvath’s advice — which sucks.
Sgt. Horvath and Capt. Miller mentally prepare for the worst. (Image from Dreamworks’ Saving Private Ryan)
3. Overly verbose dialogue
Hollywood commonly hires screenwriters with proven, successful track records to give a voice to their films. Which, for the most part, is the right thing to do. You wouldn’t hire a dentist to fix your back pain.
But, here’s the issue: Unless you’ve actually lived the life or were immersed in military culture for some amount of time, you won’t truly understand how we talk to one another. Many films want to continually remind the audience that the character is either a veteran or on active duty by using dialogue as exposition.
Good dialogue in a war film wins veterans’ hearts and minds, but we rarely see anyone nail it.
2. Misinformed actors
Actors do the best job they can to bring their characters to life and we respect them for that.
Unfortunately, we’ve seen, time and time again, production companies hire veterans as “military consultants” to train the actors to get it right. It is their job to turn actors into operators. That’s great in theory, but the so-called veteran often isn’t an actual operator themselves. Some Navy sailors have never been on a ship and most Marines have never been in combat, but they’ll wear the title of ‘consultant’ all the same.
Some consultants, like Marine veteran Capt. Dale Dye, are legit because they’ve seen the frontlines and survived it. Despite the expression, being a Marine doesn’t make you a rifleman. However, being a 0311 Marine does.
Here’s the kicker: Movies cost millions of dollars to produce, which most of it goes to the people who are the “above the line” talent. However, all of the standard military information producers need to satisfy veteran moviegoers is available on Google, because that information is public domain. It’s how we learn to don our uniforms if we forget something.
Screwing up the details of an on-screen uniform is the most prominent pet-peeve veterans have. It happens all the time.
What’s wrong with this photo?
You can look up Marine Corps rank insignia on your phone. No excuses.
Total devastation. No power. No running water. The scene on the ground at Tyndall Air Force Base was a grim, ‘post-apocalyptic’ one when a five man team from Keesler AFB’s 85th Engineering Installation Squadron arrived in mid-October 2018, just days after Hurricane Michael hit the Florida Gulf Coast.
Hurricane Michael was the strongest storm to hit Florida in nearly a century. Tyndall Air Force Base took a direct hit, resulting in catastrophic infrastructure damage.
“The closer we got to Tyndall, there was more and more devastation. All the trees were snapped and laid over, buildings completely devastated with no power, no clean water, when we first got to the base,” said Capt. Nathan McWhirter, 85th EIS operations flight commander.
Quickly getting to work, the engineering team began assessing the buildings for any useable equipment and materials to get base communications up and running.
“We were doing all of our inspections using headlamps and hard hats, going into these buildings that are completely gutted. It looked like a complete war zone honestly,” he said. “We were one of the first teams on base, so there were very few people here at the time too. It was kind of eerie and surreal surveying some of these buildings.”
Despite the power outages and limited communication material, the crew has been able to successfully restore connectivity and avenues of communication around base. The engineering team has been able to get the base-wide ‘giant voice’ mass notification system up and running, as well as patching up new antennae’s and fiber work to get air to ground communications connected. The biggest challenge to completing these projects McWhirter said, was the lack of usable equipment and lack of power.
Tech. Sgt. Skyler Shull, Airman Hunter Benson and Staff Sgt. Charlie Hegwer, 85th Engineer Installation Squadron, install three recycled antennaes on fabricated mounts for the Tyndall Enterprise Live Mission Operations Center facility at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., Nov. 2, 2018.
(US Air Force photo)
“The hurricane knocked out all sorts of antennae’s so we’ve been scrounging around, taking them off damaged towers and putting them on good towers. There’s no material here, so we are just trying to salvage what we can,” he said.
“A lot of the buildings don’t have power still so that’s a big limiter. [Civil engineering] is working super hard and trying to do it smartly. We don’t want to turn power on to a building that’s been destroyed and risk having a fire,” McWhirter added. “We are trying to work on relocating these large communication nodules safely and cost effectively.”
Although it has a long way to go before it’s fully functional again, McWhirter said the base has come a long way in the short amount of time their team has been there. A tent city has been set up, with places to sleep and hot meals being provided, as well as clean water for bathing and drinking, making life easier for the on the ground reconstruction teams and returning personnel.
“More and more people started coming in, we were able to bring more and more assets in,” he explained. “Just seeing the difference from when were first got here to today, is remarkable. There is still obviously tons of work that needs to be done, but just in these short couple of weeks things have gotten way better.”
As the team prepares to transition back to Keesler AFB, conditions at Tyndall AFB have improved dramatically. More and more resources and personnel are arriving, all dedicated to bringing Tyndall AFB back to life. While they were just one piece of the overall restoration effort, McWhirter acknowledges that his team played a key role in the early recovery efforts.
“I just want to say how proud I am of my team and the work they are doing and the support we are getting back home from the 85th EIS and the 81st Training Wing; getting us out the door quickly and making sure we have everything that we need,” said McWhirter. “The guys out here are really killing it and I’m proud to be part of a restoral effort. This is unprecedented thing to be able to build up a base that’s been devastated. We’ve come a long way.”