In 1933, a certain group of wealthy businessmen were very upset at the idea of Franklin D. Roosevelt being elected President. These titans of American industry thought the U.S. would be better off with a Fascist-style government akin to Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy.
But America thought Hoover sucked.
So these early one-percenters teamed up to allegedly overthrow the government and FDR’s impending New Deal reforms. And while newspapers at the time called it a “gigantic hoax,” a House of Representatives Committee found the allegations “credible,” according to Today I Found Out.
The conspirators included the leaders from Maxwell House coffee, General Motors, Standard Oil, Goodyear, DuPont, Chase Bank, and famously, Prescott Bush, forerunner of America’s own Bushes 41 and 43. They also included the President of Heinz… And we make fun of Canada for using mayo instead of Ketchup.
But Americans don’t change governments through coups d’état. And because of then-retired Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler, America never has. A two-time Medal of Honor recipient, Butler was also a patriot and a fan of FDR. Butler supported the rights of veterans from the First World War to receive their promised benefits early, given the state of the economy at the time. Those veterans marched on Washington in a demonstration as a group now known as the Bonus Army.
In 1932, Butler was a widely respected military figure, along the lines of how Colin Powell is thought of today. When Hoover ordered Gen. Douglas MacArthur to destroy the makeshift camps of the Bonus Army, Butler threw his support to Roosevelt in the election of that year.
As the story goes, the businessmen planned to raise a coup army of 500,000 men through various American Legion posts, and then present Roosevelt with an ultimatum which would end with Butler holding absolute power with Roosevelt as a figurehead.
The businessmen failed to anticipate Butler’s reaction to the plot. If they had even tried to anticipate this, they would have noticed Butler actually was a vocal supporter of FDR. Butler let Congress in on the business plot in 1934 and the conspirators avoided being charged for their disloyalty to the United States.
Congress appointed the McCormack-Dickstein Committee to investigate. They found the plot actually did exist, but never made it past the planning stage. The conspirators were still not brought up on charges, even though asking a Marine general to lead the coup seems as if it’s well beyond the planning stage.
That’s all the explanation you really need when you watch this clip of a former British SAS soldier going up against a US Recon Marine in a sensationalized “boxing” match.
In 1998, an obscure company called Universal Warriors hosted the “Commando Knockout Challenge,” where contestants, all of them elite servicemembers hailing from several different countries, went head-to-head in spectacular fashion.
This gloriously America-themed event centered around a pentagon-shaped ring and even had its score card labeled “USA vs The World”.
Wearing camouflaged pants, Carl Richardson — the 5’9″ and 171 pound former SAS instructor, faced against Matthew Ortiz — the US Recon Marine at 5’11” and 168 pounds.
“I’m gonna bring America back to Britain and show [them] who’s boss,” said Richardson prior to the fight.
In response, Ortiz struck back with, “We kicked the British out once — and we’ll do it again.”
On this particular night, however, history failed to repeat itself as Richardson (wearing the red gloves) dealt Ortiz a knockout blow.
When it comes to self-defense, what do SEALs recommend? Well, Jocko Willink – a former Navy SEAL who served alongside Chris Kyle and Michael Monsoor in Task Unit Bruiser, earning the Silver Star and Bronze Star for heroism – has some answers. And they are surprising.
When it comes to self-defense, Willink’s top recommendation isn’t a martial art in the strictest sense. It’s a gun and concealed carry.
“If you are in a situation where you need to protect yourself, that is how you protect yourself,” he said, noting that potential adversaries will have weapons, they will be on drugs or suffer from some psychotic condition. “If you want to protect yourself, that is how you do it.”
Okay, great. That works in the states that have “constitutional carry” or “shall issue” carry laws. But suppose you are in California, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, Rhode Island, or Delaware which the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action notes are “Rights Restricted – Very Limited Issue” states where obtaining a concealed carry permit is very difficult?
Willink then recommends Brazilian jujitsu, followed by Western boxing, Muay Thai, and wrestling (the type you see in the Olympics, not the WWE – no disrespect to the WWE). Willinck is a proponent of jujitsu in particular – recounting how he used it to beat a fellow SEAL in a sparring match who had 20 years of experience in a different martial art.
He noted that people should not buy into the notion of a “magical instructor” who can help them defeat multiple attackers. He said martial arts like Krav Maga can augment jujitsu and other arts.
He also noted that you have more time than you think. The attack isn’t likely to happen next week – it could be a lot longer, and one can learn a lot by training in a martial art two or three times a week for six months.
Willick notes, though, that martial arts have a purpose beyond self-defense. They can teach discipline and humility. He notes that few who start jujitsu get a black belt – because it takes discipline to go out there on the mat constantly, especially when you are a beginner.
In early April 2016, U.S. Marine Corps veteran Charlie Linville departed the U.S. with The Heroes Project founder Tim Medvetz. Their destination was Nepal and their third attempt to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the top of the world.
Linville is an Afghanistan veteran and father of two who had his right leg amputated below the knee as a result of an IED attack. Medvetz is the founder of The Heroes Project and a former member of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle club. They arrived at the Everest base camp on April 17 and reached the summit of the mountain on May 19, making Linville the first combat wounded veteran to make it to the top.
Their first two attempts to summit the mountain failed. In 2014, they made it to Lobuche Peak just above Everest Base Camp when a serac, a huge ice tower, separated from the Khumbu Icefall. The resulting avalanche killed 18 sherpas. They opted not to proceed out of respect for the dead.
And in 2015, they were once again on the mountain when a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Nepal, killing thousands and devastated the region. Linville and Medvetz decided to link up with Team Rubicon’s Operation Tenzig, distributing food and first aid to villages in the Nepalese countryside that the Red Cross couldn’t access.
Linville and Medvetz climbed the mountain with videographer Kazuya Hiraide and producer Ed Wardle. The team is currently descending the mountain.
How many ships does the U.S. Navy need to accomplish its goals? Tough to say. Sometimes it feels as though all I do is count ships and airplanes for a living. You’d think there would be no simpler chore than toting up rival navies’ strength and calculating who wins and who loses in sea combat. After all, it’s elementary-school arithmetic. But you would be wrong. Estimating relative naval strength is harder than tallying up numbers of hulls, airframes, and munitions.
And it’s harder by an order of magnitude.
That’s because high-seas competition is not a game of Battleship, an enterprise governed by rules and artificial constraints. Unlike the board game, sea combat doesn’t pit fleets of identical size and firepower against each other on a featureless oceanic battleground with fixed boundaries. Seldom are commanders intimately familiar with an adversary’s order of battle. No one exchanges fire in orderly fashion. Each side tries to pile up comparative advantages in numbers, capability, land-based fire support, and tactical excellence—biasing the outcome in its favor.
Few victors fight fair.
The multifaceted, ambiguous, impassioned nature of maritime war explains why experts still bicker about controversies such as how strong the Soviet Navy was. If the science isn’t settled about how an erstwhile foe matched up—if we can’t predict how some past conflict would have turned out, even after the facts are in—how likely are we to gauge future opponents’ strength accurately? How likely are we to calibrate our naval strength precisely, buying just enough forces and manpower to overcome foes without wasting taxpayer dollars?
Not very. And the consequences of discovering a shortfall could be dire. Better to field surplus capability rather than run a deficit that’s exposed only amid the din of battle—too late, in other words.
That rule—err on the side of excess naval power—applies in peacetime and wartime alike. Let’s look at peacetime nautical diplomacy first. Deterrence is the peacetime U.S. Navy’s chief purpose. After the navy faces down aggression, it does the wonderful things navies can do with freedom of the sea. Showing the flag in foreign seaports, alleviating human misery following natural disasters or other emergencies, scouring the sea of unlawful trafficking—such worthwhile endeavors depend on free use of the global commons.
Deterrence demands physical might, to be sure, but it’s about more than tabulating numbers of ships and warplanes. It’s about issuing threats and flourishing the wherewithal to follow through on them. Henry Kissinger defines deterrence as amassing heavyweight capabilities, displaying the resolve to use them, and convincing an opponent we have the resolve to use those capabilities should he defy our will. That’s a product, not a sum: if any factor is zero, so is deterrence.
It behooves naval officials and officers intent on deterrence to drive up those three variables—capability, will, belief—as high as possible. To impress rivals with one’s material prowess, heed a proverb from strategist Carl von Clausewitz: “The best strategy is always to be very strong; first in general, and then at the decisive point.” Sounds a bit like buy low, sell high, right? It’s common sense. Want to win a test of strength? Hie thee hence to Gold’s Gym and make yourself musclebound!
But like all good proverbs, this one’s at once simple and profound. Creating strong forces—making the nation’s military “very strong,” to repeat Clausewitz’s words—is the province of society and government. Lawmakers and government officials decide what kind of navy toprovide and maintain, and how abundantly to furnish it with manpower, equipment, and armaments. Once a fleet is fitted out, mustering sufficient might at the decisive place and time to stare down or vanquish adversaries becomes the province of sea-service commanders.
Deterrence, then, demands both forces in being and the artistry to harness them for operational and strategic effect. In a sense this is what Clausewitz calls a “war by algebra,” a passionless struggle whereby the correlation of forces determines the result. It’s war by the numbers. Whoever boasts the most and most potent implements of war tends to prevail—chiefly by persuading the opponent and bystanders the outcome would be a foregone conclusion were battle joined.
Or as strategist Edward Luttwak puts it, the victor in peacetime encounters is whoever observers think would have won in wartime. How can Washington convince onlookers it would win? Well, it could field a U.S. Navy of unchallengeable size and capability. A big, capable navy can deter even if the bulk of the fleet is dispersed, remote from hotspots, or both. The United States, that is, can discourage mischief if would-be aggressors know U.S. commanders can bring overbearing combat power to bear.
Virtual deterrence comes with a world-beating navy—if you can afford one. Let’s say a local antagonist outmatched an American naval detachment—say, the Japan-based Seventh Fleet. Deterrence might hold anyway if the antagonist were certain that the remainder of the U.S. Pacific Fleet would soon fight its way into the theater to reverse the result. If it were clear that any victory would be fleeting, he might refrain from provocative actions in the first place. Why bother?
Short of constructing an unbeatable navy, naval officials could concentrate an outsized fraction of a lesser fleet on the expanses that matter most. That would mean setting priorities among theaters, exercising the self-discipline to stick with them, and telegraphing them to foreign audiences that need deterring. It would also mean admitting that some theaters matter less, and letting allies and partners in secondary theaters know they’ll have to make do without Big Brother. Trying to be all things to all friends around the world is a hard habit to break for a superpower.
So much for the factors that muddle the process of fleet design. How big should the inventory be for peacetime purposes? Well, the number of hulls counts most in a war-by-algebra, whether they’re on scene or over the horizon. It conveys power and resolve. The more numerous fleet holds the advantage in a contest for political impressions. But size and even capability aren’t everything. Luttwak observes that a ship’s outward appearance can augment or detract from its political impact—especially its impact on lay audiences.
A fighting ship festooned with guns and missile launchers may make a political sensation, then. Its more lethal peer may underwhelm if its combat punch resides in flat, unobtrusive vertical launchers embedded in its decks. Ho, hum.
How much is enough, then? There’s no fixed rule or ratio. The quantity of assets, their fighting power measured in objective terms, and how darned awesome they look all shape the outcomes of peacetime showdowns. The narrower the U.S. Navy’s margin of superiority along any of these axes, the smaller its chances of deterring mischief. The more, better, and more impressive its platforms, the easier it is to make an antagonist a believer.
Next time we’ll return to this topic, considering how many ships the navy needs in times of strife.
The Battle of Waterloo changed the course of history.
On June 18th, 1815, Napoleon suffered his final and most crushing defeat. For over a decade, the French emperor had conquered or invaded much of Europe, using his seemingly super-human charisma, leadership, and strategic thinking to threaten Europe’s conservative, monarchical order.
Even his defeat and exile in 1814 couldn’t stop him. By mid-1815, Napoleon had returned to mainland Europe and raised an army. And so had his enemies.
Waterloo was one of the most massive single-day battles in modern history, with an estimated 60,000 total casualties. Today, “Waterloo” is shorthand for a pivotal confrontation — or for massive defeat.
Here’s the story of one of the most important battles of all time.
Napoleon abdicated as emperor of France on April 6, 1814, after troops from the Sixth Coalition entered Paris. The French monarchy was restored to power a quarter-century after the French Revolution began — and Napoleon, who had once conquered much of Europe, was exiled to Elba, an island off the west coast of Italy.
He didn’t stay there for long. On February 26, 1815, Napoleon left the island. His goal: to depose the French monarchy and regain his position as emperor.
Napoleon landed on the European mainland on March 1st, 1815, with 1,000 men at his command. By the time he reached Paris on March 19th, the king had fled. By June, Napoleon had nearly 250,000 troops at his command.
War was inevitable when Napoleon reclaimed power in Paris. The winners of the last war were already planning what Europe would look like without him: at the Congress of Vienna, which began in November of 1814, diplomats from European monarchies were busy redrawing the continent’s borders after Napoleon’s 1814 defeat. Napoleon was a dangerously charismatic figure capable of raising enormous armies and dead-set on overturning Europe’s anti-republican order. He had to be stopped.
By early June, the “Seventh Coalition,” consisting of Prussia, Austria, the United Kingdom, Spain, and others had 850,000 soldiers at its command. In a March 25th, 1815 treaty, the major European powers agreed to dedicate 150,000 troops each to Napoleon’s defeat. The march to Waterloo — to a final confrontation, all-out between Napoleon and his enemies — had begun. In this map, the Coalition countries and their overseas holdings are shaded in blue. Napoleon and his lone major ally, the Kingdom of Naples, are shaded green.
Outnumbered by the Seventh Coalition and realizing it was only a matter of months until the allies would march into France, Napoleon decided on an offensive strategy. He calculated that quick victories against a nascent and disorganized coalition would force them to sign a peace agreement that left him as ruler of France. He sent his armies into Belgium, parts of which had a sympathetic French-speaking population, in early June.
The Seventh Coalition mobilized in response. Their leaders included Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington, who at 46 was the same age as Napoleon and had led troops into battle in India and throughout Europe. Waterloo turned him into one of Britain’s greatest military heroes, and he later served as Prime Minister. He was voted the 15th-greatest Brit of all time in a 2009 BBC poll.
Gebhard von Blucher, who had defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Lepzig two years earlier, commanded the Prussian army.
Prince William II of the Netherlands commanded the 1st allied corps.
It rained the evening before the battle. Napoleon had a slight numerical advantage. He commanded 72,000 troops. The allies had 68,000. And Wellington once said that Napoleon’s “presence on the field made the difference of 40,000 men.”
Wellington chose to meet Napoleon behind a ridge in a valley, which offered his troops protection from direct artillery fire. It also gave him a defensible position where he could hold out until Prussian reinforcements arrived.
Wellington was in a defensive crouch and the Prussians were still far from the battlefield. But Napoleon delayed the start of the battle for 2 hours. He thought the ground was too muddy from rain to effectively deploy cavalry and artillery. This pause benefited the allied troops by allowing the Prussian reinforcements to draw nearer.
A day earlier, Prussian general Blucher’s army had been forced into retreat at Ligny, south of Brussels, in a battle that would prove to be Napoleon’s final victory. But rather than retreat into Prussia, as Napoleon had anticipated, Blucher was determined to reinforce Wellington’s position. His troops’ presence was decisive to the Seventh Coalition’s success.
Napoleon opened with a wave of attacks on Hougoumont farm, one of the most heavily-defended British positions. Napoleon thought that he could overwhelm Wellington’s army, spread its defenses for attacks on other fronts, and knock out one of Wellington’s strongholds. The British held the position throughout the day in the face of a French onslaught that nearly succeeded.
Napoleon sent wave after wave of troops at the center of Wellington’s line, hoping to break it before the Prussians arrived. He nearly succeeded around midday of the battle — but the Prussians finally arrived. They had gained crucial high ground as the French closed in on the British positions.
When Napoleon’s feared cavalry finally charged, the British let loose with musket fire and grapeshot.
The muskets of the day were extremely inaccurate and slow to reload. To ensure an effective volley of fire, the troops stood in a line and fired all at once.
A single cannonball would routinely rip through an entire file of troops. At close range, cannons fired grapeshot, or a bag of hundreds of musket balls which would spray like a shotgun blast.
British battlefield tactics were key to the battle’s outcome. They formed “infantry squares,” lined with soldiers pointing their muskets outwards. The horses would not dare to charge at a wall of blades, and the French were forced to file between the squares. As a result, Napoleon’s army was slowly picked off.
As the battle turned, Napoleon deployed his famous Old Guard, a regiment entirely composed of war veterans that was famous for never retreating. When the Old Guard was repelled, the French army lost heart.
The battle was decided by nightfall. Napoleon, one of Europe’s most prolific conquerors and a leader who had irrevocably changed the face of the continent, had been defeated for good. Over a decade of war in Europe were over.
The allied victory made a hero out of Wellington, who went on to serve as Prime Minister. It allowed Prussia to reclaim the lands Napoleon had once annexed.
But the immediate result of the Battle of Waterloo was absolute carnage. The French suffered a staggering 41,000 casualties, while the Seventh Coalition had around 24,000 casualties.
A cowed Napoleon returned to Paris. Realizing total defeat was looming, Napoleon abdicated as emperor on June 22nd. Considered an outlaw and wanted dead or alive by the Prussians, Napoleon thought about fleeing to the US — but eventually surrendered to the commander of the British frigate Ballerophon on July 15th.
The Battle of Waterloo led to the final surrender of Napoleon, the end of the Napoleonic Wars which had started in 1803, and the Emperor’s exile to the island of Saint Helena, where he ultimately died in 1821.
Saint Helena is still one of the most isolated places in the world. The allies didn’t want to risk a repeat of the Hundred Days and sent Napoleon as far away as humanly possible.
Here’s what Jamestown, the island’s largest settlement, looks like today:
… and here’s the house where Napoleon lived in exile for the last 5 years of his life. He was kept in an especially cold and windy part of the British-controlled island, under constant watch to ensure that he wouldn’t try an escape.
Napoleon’s ushered in a resurgence of conservatism throughout Europe, chiefly through the Russian-led Holy Alliance of Austria, Prussia, and Russia, which focused on restraining republicanism on the continent.
For European monarchs, Napoleon had embodied a dangerous wave of political change and an existential threat. At the Congress of Vienna, an agreement signed nine days before the Battle of Waterloo set the post-Napoleon borders of Europe and formed the basis of superficially stable monarchical and conservative order in the continent. But the Congress of Vienna was arguably a catastrophic long-term failure, since the regimes it preserved came apart disastrously in World War I, less than 100 years later.
In the medium term, though, these alliances and agreements and Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo led to nearly four decades of relative peace throughout Europe — a quiet spell that ended with the republican revolutions that swept Europe in 1848, and the Crimean War in 1853.
To commemorate the battle that vanquished Napoleon and changed Europe, King William I of the Netherlands had the Lion’s Mound built at Waterloo in 1826. The hill, created from soil from the battlefield, captures the momentousness of what took place at Waterloo — but it also changed the physical geography of the historic battlefield.
Today, “Waterloo” is a byword for epic confrontation, or, more specifically, for overwhelming defeat. Napoleon “met his Waterloo” 200 years ago — an event that set the stage for the next century of European history.
Flexible Attack Innovations is a California-based company that’s come up with an idea it calls Precision Container Aerial Delivery System, or “PCADS,” which it says can deliver cases of 250 gallons of fire retardant – a ton of liquid apiece – onto a target from 300 feet.
The Flexible Attack fire-killing method takes advantage of something that looks pretty close to the Container Delivery System that the military has used to airdrop supplies to troops on the ground since the 1950s.
The video shows a 4,000-gallon drop from a C-130. When the containers of liquid hit the airstream behind the plane, the containers fall apart and the liquid forms a rain effect.
The addition of the PCADS would be significant support for the Forest Service, whose aging air fleet is ill-equipped to fight the number of wildfires they unit faces. A 2015 ABC News report found the Forest Service’s fleet is down to 11 planes from 44 a decade ago.
Since no plane has ever been designed specifically to fight wildfires, a package designed to integrate into the CDS is a distinct step forward.
The U.S military’s current efforts to augment Forest Service firefighting efforts is the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System. Reserve and National Guard components put these in C-130s to convert them into tankers.
The palletized MAFFS tanks carry as much as 3,400 gallons of fire retardant, whereas the PCADS can carry up to 12,000 gallons. The MAFFS also act as more of a spray effect than a localized rain.
The problem is, the MAFFS takes 24 hours to spool up for a mission and get the plane on the scene. That’s a lot of time for a fire to go from manageable to out of control.
Reading this, you might be a little disappointed that the Air Force isn’t using actual explosives to extinguish wildfires. Luckily, there are some Australians working on that method.
Researchers at the University of New South Wales are woking to harness blast waves from high explosives to put out fires, preventing their spread while moving the fire away from its fuel source.
The Hungarians strapped MiG-21 jet engines onto a Russian T-34 tank. When it came time to put out the fire, water is put into the jet stream and they open the throttle. The “Big Wind,” as the tank is called, blows the fire out like a candle.
So the Forest Service may not only get air cover in the near future, they might get some armor as well.
As veterans, we’ve all thought about signing back up at one time or another. But what would it take to truly get us back in uniform, to don all that heavy gear and take the fight to the enemy as we’ve always done?
Though we all have to take into consideration all the formations, bull-sh*t we receive from the chain of command — and let’s not forget all those wonderful uniform inspections. Everyone loves those.
With all the crap that comes with serving, many veterans still miss some aspects of military life.
Let’s gear up and go to war! (Images via Giphy)
Check out our reasons why we would gear back up to take on the bad guys.
1. If another major terrorist attack happens
The Sept. 11 attacks stirred up patriotism in millions of Americans, and some joined the military during that period just to get a little revenge.
I represent ‘Merica! (Image via Giphy)
2. For a huge bonus check
Everyone wants to line their pockets with extra beer money.
And a case of beer! (Image via Giphy)
3. If your military family went as well
The military brother and sisterhood have a very tight bond, you f*ck with one brother or sister — you f*ck with whole while family.
You said it girl. (Image via Giphy)
4. If you just couldn’t find a good enough job that suits you
Because office work just didn’t satisfy that inner combat operator in you.
These guys were all former snipers. True story. (Image via Giphy)
5. To feel that combat adrenaline rush again
Shooting and blowing up the bad guys makes an operator feel great about themselves. It’s a morale booster.
He nailed every shot too. He’s that good. (Image via Giphy)
6. To get some adventure
Post-military life is hard to adjust too. Sometimes you just want to leave the homeland and get back into the sh*t.
Can we go with you? (Images via Giphy)To all of our military family already forward deployed — we salute you.
Can you think of any more reasons to throw those cammies back on? Comment below.
As American forces became embroiled in the conflict in Vietnam it was quickly apparent to commanders that they were fighting a war for which they were not prepared.
The guerrilla warfare and hit-and-run tactics of the Viet Cong were difficult to counter, especially for conventional forces. Luckily, our allies, the British, had already developed a tactic that they had used to great effect in Malaya.
Facing a communist insurgency of their own, but with limited resources, the British had developed specialized teams to track the enemy through the jungle and destroy them. This tactic was so effective the British would employ it against insurgencies all across the empire.
Knowing the French tactics had been insufficient, and not wanting to meet the same fate, Gen. Westmoreland sent observers to the British Jungle Warfare School in Malaya to see if the tactics could be adopted by American forces.
Impressed by what they saw the Americans made a deal for the British to train fourteen teams, to be known as Combat Tracker Teams, at the British Jungle Warfare School. Due to British neutrality, the soldiers to be trained traveled on official government passports and used only British gear while in training so as to maintain secrecy and low-visibility.
The basic organization of the Combat Tracker Teams consisted of two to four sections of five-men. The section was composed of a team leader, a visual tracker, a cover man, a radio operator, and a dog handler with a well-trained Labrador retriever. Not typical for combat operations the Labs were highly-effective in Vietnam. They were effective trackers, quiet in the field, and, most importantly, due to their even-temperament could more easily change handlers – a prized-quality for an army rotating men out of country, but often heart-breaking for their handlers.
The teams were in for intense training once they arrived in Malaya. For the dog handlers training was three months long, for everyone else it was two months. The cadre consisted of British and New Zealand SAS as well as Gurkhas, who usually played the enemy to add to the realism. Wash out rates were high.
The initial address to the trainees was often quite shocking to them. They were told the problem with the American army was that it was more focused on rank than knowledge. And that by the time they were done, they would feel more at home in the jungle than the North Vietnamese themselves.
After surviving the grueling training, the first teams returned to Vietnam in 1967 to be assigned to combat units. The team assigned to the 101st Airborne Division was told they must go through the division’s finishing school before they would be allowed in the field. Part-way through the first day it became obvious to the cadre that the trackers knew more than they could possibly teach them and they were passed through the course on the spot.
According to their group’s website, once in country, the Combat Tracker Teams were to “reestablish contact with the ‘elusive enemy’; reconnaissance of an area for possible enemy activities; and locate lost or missing friendly personnel.”
Once the troops hit the ground, they knew why their trainers had pushed them so hard – keeping up with a dog in the jungle while staying absolutely silent, as well as being alert and constantly ready for action is very hard work.
But that work paid off for the Americans. It was common to hear from the grunts about how the enemy could just “melt back into the jungle.” And that was where the trackers came in. Pushing out well ahead of the line infantry units no detail was too small for either the visual tracker or the working dog to pick up.
John Dupla, a combat tracker with the 1st Cavalry Division, said “we were taught to develop a sixth sense, utilizing methods Native American scouts used, such as looking for broken twigs and turned over leaves and rocks.”
Depending on the conditions and situation either the visual tracker or the dog handler and his lab would lead the team. Always right behind him was the cover man. Since the point person’s attention was focused on searching for trails and clues the cover man became his lookout, providing protection.
Although the unit’s mission was often not to directly engage the enemy, sometimes it was unavoidable. As one combat tracker related “if you got into something, you shot your way out.” Ideally, the trackers would locate the enemy and call the infantry behind them into the fight.
However, as the Viet Cong became aware of the effectiveness of the trackers they sought ways to counter them. Retreating groups would often send a contingent off in a different direction to draw the trackers away from the main force and into an ambush. One Combat Tracker Team lost their visual tracker and cover man to enemy snipers in this manner.
Despite their effectiveness many American commanders simply did not understand how to properly employ the trackers. Their small size and the secrecy of their training meant few in the infantry understood how they operated. They were sometimes thought of as scouts and to simply walk point for a larger formation.
The program was disbanded in 1971 as American drew down forces in Vietnam. The trackers were broken up and folded into their parent infantry units. Veiled in secrecy and lacking the notoriety of Special Forces the legacy of the Combat Tracker Teams quietly faded away.
There is no doubt though that the Combat Tracker Teams were effective, saved lives, and made life much harder for the enemy.
Soviet military weapons have an odd tendency to stay both dangerous and relevant decades after they’re issued. They might lack the creature comforts and modularity of modern firearm designs, but whether a bullet finds its mark from a World War I Mosin Nagant rifle, or a next generation Russian bullpup SVD sniper rifle, the result is the same.
The largest example of this, is the infamous AKM/AK-47. Every tin-pot dictatorship or ex-Soviet satellite nation has churned out terrifying numbers of these reliable automatic rifles. While the AKM is a deadly adversary at close and medium range, it is handily outclassed (both in accuracy, and effective range) by modern Western-made military rifles like the M4A3 and M16A4.
That said, there is one Soviet firearm that continues to confound and frustrate American military forces in the Middle East: the PKM.
The PKM or Modernizirovanniy Pulemyot Kalashnikova (PK Machinegun Modernized) is a belt-fed, open-bolt, long-stroke light machine gun chambered in the hard-hitting 7.62x54R cartridge — the same round used by Russian infantry in World War I, Vietcong snipers in Indochina, and modern Russian Federation snipers wielding the infamous Dragunov.
The internal workings of the PKM aren’t dissimilar to those of the AK, and because of this, the PKM is remarkably reliable and resilient to negligent treatment. This robust construction combined with its powerful cartridge, make for an extraordinarily dangerous weapon against Western militaries — especially since the PKM has an effective range of 1,000-1,500 meters, putting it on par or surpassing most DMR rifles, and light machine guns in service.
Personally, after firing less than 100 rounds through a stateside PKM at an ordnance-testing facility in Nevada, I was able to successfully engage human-sized steel targets with iron sights at 600 yards with frightening regularity. This was with 60-year-old ammunition out of a PKM built in the 1970s with more than a half-million rounds fired through it.
The threat posed by this LMG to American and NATO forces is not lost on military thinkers or modern weapon-makers. In fact, the PKM is the impetus behind the latest evolution of the medium machine gun – the lightweight, medium machine gun, or LWMMG.
Historically, machine guns are grouped into three categories: light, medium and heavy (and occasionally general purpose). The last two, medium and heavy, are crew-served weapons, normally fired from either a tripod or vehicle mount. These are generally not considered man-portable, but are designed to provide constant fire on an area.
The light machine gun, or LMG generally fires a smaller caliber round than the medium or heavy machine gun, and is designed to be used and transported by a single soldier. These weapons are fired from a bipod, but are light enough to be quickly repositioned in the field.
The 5.56mm caliber M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) is a prime example of a light machine gun, while the .50 BMG M2 is a perfect example of a heavy machine gun. The M2 is tremendously more effective at all ranges than the M249, but its tremendous weight and size make it a poor choice for urban environments. The M240B almost splits the difference, but its 7.62 cartridge is still out-ranged by the Soviet PKM.
Thus the idea behind the LWMMG, is to combine the lightweight, portable nature of the the LMG with the extended range, and increased ballistic effectiveness of the MMG.
The engineers at General Dynamics are attempting this by incorporating a new “Short Recoil Impulse Averaging” method of operation coupled with a new modified .338 cartridge. At first glance, this seems like the scribblings of someone with no practical experience behind any of these weapon systems. On paper, a man-portable machine gun with the effective range of a .50 BMG, that weighed at little as the M240B with no more recoil than the 240, seems impossible.
If the footage of the new LWMMG released by General Dynamics is any indication, the new machine gun is more than just a concept. What remains to be seen, is whether or not the Pentagon puts enough importance on infantry combat and their equipment, to justify spending millions on upgrading it.
If nothing else, the likelihood of the General Dynamics LWMMG finding its way into the hands of US Special Forces is all but guaranteed. And while the increased effective range of the new cartridge is very impressive, the .338 round lacks the ballistic effectiveness of the .50 BMG. After all, it isn’t intended to double as an anti-material round, nor does it have the anti-vehicle lineage of the .50 BMG cartridge.
That said, the .338 is designed with an ideal ballistic coefficient in mind — meaning the projectile itself sails through the air with minimal resistance. In effect, this means the rounds travel closer to where the soldier aims them.
In the traditional role of an MMG or HMG, this is sometimes seen as detrimental, as the weapon is supposed to be used to provide a field of fire to an area. If the rounds are too precise, the area might be under less wide-spread fire, and potentially leave some enemy combatants unsuppressed.
However, in this case, precision is key. Since the impetus behind the design is to counter insurgent PKM/PKP light machine guns. Conceptually, this should allow our soldiers to out-range insurgent elements, as well as provide more accurate counter-fire.
As for results, we’ll have to wait and see if the idea gains more traction – and if it does, wait a few months or years for an official reports of its combat effectiveness to surface.
George Lucas Hartsuff served as a Union general during the Civil War, but his first brushes with death happened years before he faced off against the Grey. On December 20, 1855, then-Lieutenant Hartsuff and a ten-man detachment of soldiers rose at daybreak and prepared to return to Fort Myers, Florida, after a routine survey mission. As Hartsuff and his soldiers made ready to break camp when a party of forty hostile Seminole Indians ambushed the camp. Four died in the initial exchange and two were wounded, including Hartsuff – a musket ball passed through his left arm and lodged in his chest. As his arm dangled at his side, Hartsuff took cover behind one of the mule-drawn wagons with three of his men.
One of the wounded soldiers loaded and handled muskets for Hartsuff to return fire with his one good arm. Another musket ball suddenly slammed into Hartsuff’s left side. He grasped his side to pinpoint the entry wound but discovered his leather holster and revolver stopped the bullet from piercing his thigh. Short on ammunition, Hartsuff ordered his men to disperse into the swamp and escape.
He tore through the dense foliage of the Everglades as his left arm dangled, limp at his side. He dripped with blood and the discomfort of his chest wound radiated with each step. Hartsuff suddenly fell into a deep lily pond concealed in tall grass. He stayed there, too exhausted to extract himself from the murky water sitting level with his neck. He remained still as one of the Seminole attackers called out in broken English, “Come out, come out.”
He stayed in the pond for three hours until alligators attracted by his blood forced him out. He stumbled toward a grove of palmettos 200 yards away and dropped there from sheer exhaustion. Hartsuff remained there until nightfall, then traveled a half a mile further under the cover of darkness, dragging his body along, too exhausted to stand upright.
Fort Myers was still fifty miles away and he was growing weaker with each passing hour. Hartsuff constructed a makeshift tourniquet to stop the bleeding and prevent an infection. He tore a page from his pocketbook and wrote his name and a brief account of the disaster on it by dipping his finger in his own blood. He pinned the piece of paper on his pant leg, and lay down, too weak to go on.
A detachment under Major Lewis Golding Arnold stumbled upon the unconscious soldier who refused to die. Arnold’s surgeon probed for the ball lodged in Hartsuff’s chest but decided that it would be best to leave the bullet. Hartsuff recovered by February of 1856 and was soon back in an active field command.
From September of 1856 to June of 1859, Hartsuff served a quiet position at the United States Military Academy. He requested to rejoin his company stationed at Fort Mackinac, Michigan, uninterested with the monotony of academia. Hartsuff left Chicago via Lake Michigan on September 7, 1860, aboard the wooden side-wheeler Lady Elgin.
The Lady Elgin held 300-400 passengers that included members of a militia unit accompanied by their wives, children, and friends. Also crammed on the vessel were fifty head of cattle stored below deck. Hartsuff was awakened by a large boom around 2:00 a.m. The 350-ton schooner Augusta, blinded in the heavy rain and shadow of the night, rammed into the side of the Lady Elgin. The bow of the Augusta penetrated the hull of the Lady Elgin below the water line. Hartsuff ran to the deck and began to pass life preservers down to the panicked passengers one-by-one.
Within fifteen or twenty minutes, the damaged ship began to break apart. Rather than go down with the ship, Hartsuff grabbed hold of a six-foot-long board and plunged into the frigid water. He paddled with all of his strength to escape being pulled under with the wreckage as so many others failed to do. Flashes of lightning revealed hundreds struggling to hold anything that could float. Hartsuff floated along until morning with the other survivors. He kept from succumbing to hypothermia by “thrashing my arms upon my breast” and by “keeping my body and limbs continually in motion.” All around him, other passengers floated on fragments of the vessel, furniture, and bloated carcasses of the cattle thrown overboard.
He paddled toward a fragment of the hurricane deck from the Lady Elgin the next morning. As it washed up aside him, he climbed onto it with four other male survivors. Hartsuff assumed a commanding role and gave specific orders to the survivors: “To avoid the similar capsizing of our frail bark, I instructed the men with me so to sit on it as to keep the edges under water; this enabled us to float faster with the tide, we passing many of the other rafts.”
Hartsuff and the others remained on the large piece of debris until it was within a half mile of the shore. The sight of land gave them a false sense of security. A wave crashed into the makeshift craft, throwing two of the survivors to their deaths. A moment later, the raft overturned. Hartsuff grabbed hold of a plank but when close to the shore, he crashed into the bluffs and was thrown into the water by the surf. He struggled to keep his head above water and was buried under the waves. Although the water was no more than three or four feet deep, after ten hours, he was so exhausted he was tossed around in the sand before he could gain his footing. Fewer than 250 passengers survived the wreck.
Hartsuff’s grit allowed him to overcome both encounters with death. He later saw extensive service as a Union general during the Civil War. In May of 1874, he contracted pneumonia, which surfaced in the scar tissue of his old wound to his chest. On May 16, 1874, Hartsuff’s providence finally ran out and he died at the age of 44. He is buried at West Point Cemetery.
By the time Nate Ellis reached the sixth grade he knew there were two things he wanted to do with his life: make movies and fly airplanes for the military.
Ellis was raised in a family with military experience. His father had joined the Coast Guard during the Vietnam era as a way to avoid the draft and his older brother had joined the Air Force ROTC program as a way to pay for college. He says he was the first among them to go in actually motivated to serve.
“All I wanted to do was Army aviation,” he said.
Ellis attended Austin Peay State University in Tennessee on a ROTC scholarship and wound up the top-ranked cadet nationwide among aviation selectees. Three days after graduation he found himself at Fort Rucker ready to start flight school. A year or so later he was a Blackhawk pilot.
In time he found himself in Afghanistan, stationed at Shindand Air Base in the western area of the country as part of the 4th CAB contingent there. He was assigned as the “battle captain,” overseeing all of the unit’s air operations, a position of great responsibility.
He was also flying Blackhawk sorties, and one night he launched as part of an air assault package comprised of three Blackhawks and two Chinooks. The helicopters carried a total of 99 troops — Italian special operators and Afghan National Army regulars — for a raid to capture a “high-value target,” one of the Taliban’s bad guys.
The helicopters touched down at the LZ around 3 AM, and after the troops jumped out they immediately came under fire. The helos took off and held nearby.
“We were at the holding point listening to the chaos, waiting, burning gas,” Ellis said. “It was the worst.”
There were two Apache attack helicopters on station, but one ran out of ammo and the other took an enemy round through the cockpit. The ground force, facing overwhelming numbers, wanted to get out of there immediately. But, by the helicopters’ operating procedures, it was too hot for them to fly back in to pick them up.
The mission commander, a lieutenant colonel, made the call to go in, but only after taking a quick survey of his fellow pilots over the radio to see what they thought about the risk.
“We went up and down the line, and all aircrews said they wanted to go in,” Ellis remembered. “But everyone was concerned at the same time. Everyone knew what they were getting into.”
The LZ was in the middle of a valley, what Ellis described as “the worst place to fly into.”
He saw the gunner in the Blackhawk ahead of him return fire on a group behind a wall as his own gunner froze, unable to pull the trigger. Sixty of the troops came running at them trying to load up. The Blackhawk only had room for 12 of them, so Ellis’ crew chief heroically jumped out and sorted the situation out as the bullets landed around them. After “the longest 3 minutes of my life,” they lurched back into the air at the Blackhawk’s maximum takeoff weight.
“Because we were heavy we couldn’t yank and bank,” Ellis said. “We had to fly straight ahead. My missile warning gear was going off the whole time.”
Once he was out of harm’s way, he had an epiphany.
“I was more present than I ‘d ever been in my life,” he said. “It was like all of the bullshit in my life came to the surface and skimmed off. I heard my inner voice: ‘Life is short. Live with a purpose. Do what you love.'”
And Ellis realized — along with flying Army helicopters — that he loved making movies, something he’d continue to dabble in even during the most demanding parts of his military life.
“I was always working on something while I was in,” Ellis said. “Short films — writing and directing. I’d edit them on my computer and post them to YouTube or wherever.”
After his war tour, he was stationed in South Korea while his marriage to another Army helicopter pilot came apart. “Long story short, we were separated for 18 months,” he said.
He was ready for a change in his life. So after 7 years of active duty, he resigned his commission and entered USC to get a master’s degree in filmmaking. While he immersed himself in the curriculum, he also found himself processing a lot of anger.
“I’d lose my temper if somebody jumped in front of me at a bar or cut me off in traffic,” he admitted. “I felt this sense of entitlement, like, who are they to treat me like that? Don’t they know who I am and what I’ve done?”
By his own account, it took him three years of grad school to process his emotions.
“I don’t want to be that person,” he said. “I don’t want to feel that way. Now it’s more like who cares? That guy, that girl, they have their own thing going on. They have their own path.”
He made a name for himself among the talented grad students at USC. He created five short films, including “10,000 Miles,” his thesis film that had a $30,000 budget plus a $350,000 Panavision grant.
Ellis also made “The Fog,” which he describes as “very personal,” another short that won a faculty screenwriting award and “Best Narrative Short” at the 2016 GI Film Festival. “The Fog” was also a semi-finalist for the student Academy Awards.
Ellis left USC with an impressive body of work, and an effective Hollywood network that included his USC-assigned mentor who also happened to be the president of a major studio. With his master’s degree in hand, he’s wasted little time in making some things happen. He wrote a screenplay based on “Chickenhawk,” the classic Vietnam-era story about a helicopter pilot, and he said Harrison Ford is “interested.”
At the same time, he worked as a production assistant on “The Wall,” directed by Doug Liman (who also directed “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and “Bourne Identity”), wrote another screenplay targeting both Chinese and American audiences, and co-created an animated web series called “Thrift Video” that he described as “‘Adult Swim’-type humor.”
And, somewhat ironically, Ellis’ work in Hollywood placed him behind the controls of a helicopter again.
“My USC mentor introduced me to the president of Studio Wings, Steve Stafford, a Marine vet,” he explained. “I’ve been flying a Huey, one of the types of helicopters I flew during my time in the Army.”
And the Studio Wings Huey is owned by one Vince Gilligan, the creator of the hit series “Breaking Bad.” Ellis and Gilligan have co-piloted the Huey on several occasions.
“Vince is a super-nice guy and very interested in my active duty experience,” Ellis said. “He’s also interested in my screenplay.”
Ellis is quickly learning that success in the movie business is about two things: who you know and how much talent you have.
“All this stuff is just coming out of the blue,” Ellis said. “But I love the non-linear aspect of Hollywood. You’re thrown into the big mix with everybody. How do you set yourself apart?”
Ellis has also learned when and where to leverage his military experience and the limits of it.
“The whole reason I’m flying helicopters with Vince Gilligan is because I flew helicopters in the Army,” he said. “But after that, it’s about the quality of my work.”
As such, they can not only strike within six feet of their aim point thanks to their precision guidance (an optional low-cost laser seeker will give the rounds the ability to engage a moving target), they can also travel over 12 miles when fired from a baseline mortar like the M120 120mm mortar or the M252 81mm mortar.
Now, imagine if these were dropped from a UAV from, say, 25,000 feet, as opposed to being fired by a mortar on the ground. During a presentation at the 2017 Armament System Forum in Fredericksburg, Virginia, hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association, Alan Perkins of UTC Aerospace Systems discussed how these mortars could be used on UAVs like the MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper instead of the usual AGM-114 Hellfire missile.
The reason: The mortar rounds will have long range – in excess of 30 miles – when dropped from a UAV’s normal altitude. Furthermore their warheads are much smaller than the Hellfire’s. The 120mm mortar’s M57 round has about four and a half pounds of high explosive. Compare that to the 20-pound warhead on a Hellfire. That greatly reduces collateral damage, but when a 120mm mortar round lands six feet away from some ISIS terrorists, it still ruins their day.
In short, the old way of hitting ground targets for airplanes has become new again.