In a very special three-minute ceremony, Spencer Stone, one of the heroes of this summer’s thwarted train attack in France, received a promotion to Senior Airman (E-4 for you military types), holding that rank for a very effective one minute, before his subsequent promotion to Staff Sergeant (E-5).
Staff Sgt. Spencer Stone, 60th Medical Operations Squadron medical technician, listens as the responsibilities of non-commissioned offers are read during a promotion ceremony at Travis Air Force Base, California, Oct. 30, 2015. Stone was promoted to the rank of staff sergeant by order of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III. According to Air Force Instruction 36-502, the chief of staff of the Air Force has the authority to promote any enlisted member to the next higher grade. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken Wright)
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III decided to promote Stone to E-5 because Stone already had a date to put on E-4. Stone’s promotion was not without controversy from some within the Air Force.
“I’m not going to give it the time of day,” Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody said during a recent USAF town hall meeting. “If someone wants to personally come up to me and be educated about how we came to that decision and why, I’m happy to do so in a professional manner.”
Stone and friends (Army Specialist Alek Skarlatos and civilian Anthony Saddler) stopped Moroccan-born Ayoub El-Khazzani from carried out an alleged mass shooting with an AK-47 on a Paris-bound train. Stone was stabbed in that incident. For his actions, Stone received the Purple Heart and Airman’s Medal as well as France and Belgium’s highest honors. The Airman’s Medal is the USAF’s highest non-combat decoration.
Stone was until recently recovering from serious wounds sustained during a late-night altercation outside of a Sacramento, California night club. He was stabbed four times in this most recent attack, in the heart, left lung, liver, and in the back. He had to have open heart surgery to save his life from the knife wound to his heart.
“It is an honor to be promoted to Staff Sergeant,” Stone said in a statement provided by the Air Force. “And I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to lead my fellow Airmen. I am ready for the growth and challenges that are ahead of me.”
Russia has recently been in the news for its aggressive bomber patrols. Well, the United States has apparently flipped the script with the Russians and done a little bomber patrolling of its own.
According to a report by Reuters, at least one Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker was scrambled to intercept a Air Force B-52H Stratofortress that was flying in international airspace over the Baltic Sea along Russia’s border.
Russia Today reported that the B-52 intercept was followed by Moscow scrambling a MiG-31 Foxhound to intercept a Norwegian P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft. The Norwegian plane was operating in international airspace over the Barents Sea, a location where Russia deploys its force of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. The Russian media outlet also noted that NATO is conducting exercises in Romania.
Russia has carried out a number of similar operations against the United States, Japan, and Europe, prompting their own fighter alerts and intercepts. Russia has usually used the Tu-95 “Bear” bomber capable of firing cruise missiles, like the AS-15, in these missions.
The B-52H has been part of America’s arsenal since 1961. According to an Air Force fact sheet, 58 B-52s are in the active inventory, with another 18 in reserve. The B-52 has a top speed of 650 miles per hour, an unrefueled range of 8,800 miles, and can carry up to 70,000 pounds of nuclear or conventional ordnance, including long-range cruise missiles like the AGM-86. It is expected to remain in service until 2040.
At a recent conference at the Center for American Progress, Chief of Naval Operations John M. Richardson discussed at length naval operations in Asia and the Pacific, touching on how he’d like to deal with the Iranian navy, which has made a habit of harassing US Navy ships in the Persian Gulf.
However, the US and Iran have no such agreements, or even a diplomatic relationship for establishing them.
In fact, Iran seems rather content to provoke the US.
In January of this year, Iranian fast attack craft surrounded a broken down US Navy ship and captured 11 sailors. The incident was shown on Iranian TV and has been consistently milked for propaganda purposes. Reports indicate that Iran plans to build a statue commemorating the incident as a tourist attraction.
While Cliff Kupchan, chairman of Eurasia Group and an expert on Iran, told Business Insider that Iran’s naval posturing and provocations are “one of the ways the Iranian political system lets off steam,” the threat of miscalculation, fatalities, and escalation remains very real.
How the Navy wants to deal with Iran
When asked what the Navy is prepared to do when being harassed by Iranian vessels, and if there were any limits on the way it could respond, Richardson responded unequivocally.
“Nothing limits the way they can respond,” said Richardson, leaving kinetic, or shooting solutions to this problem firmly on the table.
When asked what the Navy is prepared to do when being harassed by Iranian vessels, and if there were any limits on the way it could respond, Richardson responded unequivocally.
“Nothing limits the way they can respond,” said Richardson, leaving kinetic, or shooting solutions to this problem firmly on the table.
As far as capabilities go, the US wields the greatest Navy in the world, which Iran couldn’t really hope to challenge in a conventional fight.
“Is our navy ready to respond? Yes. In every respect.”
“In some super dynamic situations, and you’ve seen some of these unfold in video, the decisions are often made in extremely short periods of time,” said Richardson, referencing videos that have been released of close encounters at sea with swarming and harassing Iranian speedboats.
“We always strive to make sure that our commanders have the situational awareness, the capability, and the rules of engagement that they need to manage those situations.”
So essentially, in any given incident, if a ship’s commander makes the choice to sink an Iranian vessel, he’s well within his rights to do so, as the fast, unexpected incidents don’t “allow time to phone home to get permission.”
However, sinking and likely killing Iranians at sea doesn’t represent a diplomatic or stabilizing solution, and as such it isn’t Richardson’s preferred route.
In this case, what the US Navy can do and what it would like to do couldn’t be more starkly different. Richardson repeatedly stressed the need for the US and Iran to come to an understanding about encounters at sea, like the US and China have established.
The incidents at sea are “destabilizing things, and risking tactical miscalculations,” that could result in injury, the loss of ships, and the loss of life, Richardson said.
“Nothing good can come from it,” Richardson said of the incidents. “This advocates for the power of a leader to leader dialogue, we’re working to see our way though to what are the possibilities there.”
Officials with U.S. Pacific Command concluded the two Chinese J-10 jets that intercepted an Air Force RC-135 spy plane during a routine patrol over the East China Sea were flying unsafely and improperly, but not being intentionally provocative.
In a statement released Wednesday by the command, officials said the Defense Department planned to address the problem with Chinese authorities using appropriate diplomatic and military channels.
The intercept, officials said, was unsafe because one of the Chinese jets approached the American aircraft at an excessive rate of speed.
“Initial assessment is that this seems to be a case of improper airmanship, as no other provocative or unsafe maneuvers occurred,” they said in a news release.
A spokesman for the command, Cmdr. David Benham, told Military.com that the speed with which the J-10 had closed on the RC-135 had not been determined.
“We’re still reviewing the details of the incident,” he said. “Generally speaking, when assessing the intercept, we evaluate factors such as distance, closure, weather, maneuvering and visibility.”
The release cited the chief of Pacific Command, Navy Adm. Harry Harris, who emphasized that unsafe intercepts by Chinese aircraft were a rare occurrence, and that most recent U.S.-Chinese maritime interactions “had been conducted safely and professionally.”
But this intercept maneuver comes less than a month after a May 19 incident in which two Chinese J-11 aircraft conducted an unsafe intercept of an American EP-3 reconnaissance plane over the South China Sea. In that incident, the Chinese planes came within 50 feet of the American aircraft, according to media reports.
This most recent incident comes as U.S. and Chinese officials exchange stern words over the contested South China Sea.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter said last week at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore that China risked building a “Great Wall of self-isolation” if it continued to alienate neighbors with aggressive sovereignty claims and militarization activities in the region.
China fired back on Monday, when Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying
accused “certain countries” of conducting a “negative publicity campaign” regarding Chinese activity in the South China Sea.
“By sensationalizing the so-called tensions in the South China Sea, and driving wedges between countries in the region, they are trying to justify their political and military involvement in the South China Sea issue,” Hua said. “That is what they really want.”
For 241 glorious years, the Marine Corps has courageously fought in every clime and place where they could take a rifle. Known for being “the first to fight,” the Corps was born in a small brewery in the city of brotherly love called Tun Tavern on November 10th, 1775.
On that day, two battalions of American Marines were created and would be known as the fiercest fighting force the world has ever seen.
The Marine Corps birthday is a prized and celebrated tradition throughout the Corps, regardless of where it’s celebrated. Here’s a few facts about the Marine Corps birthday you may not know about.
1. First to be commissioned
Captain Samuel Nichols was commissioned as the first Marine officer by the Second Continental Congress on November 5th, 1775, but he wasn’t confirmed in writing until November 28th, 1775. Soon after, Nicholas took office setting up a recruiting station at Tun Tavern, the birthplace of the Corps.
There isn’t an official record of the first enlisted Marine, though. Imagine that.
2. Did somebody say cake?
During the cake cutting ceremony every Marine Corps birthday, the first three pieces are presented to the guest of honor, the oldest living Marine present, and the third is handed to the youngest Marine present — a perfect way to display brotherhood and connection. This tradition is also part of the Marine Corp birthday celebration on the battlefield if possible.
There’s even a formatted script to maintain uniformity.
A lesser know fact is the Marine Corps was disbanded in 1783 after the Revolutionary War and didn’t exist for 15 years. It would make its return on July 11th, 1798, and brand its self as the Corps we’ve come to know today.
5. You could take a celeb to the Ball
Let’s face it; it’s your best shot.
Service members have made it a trend and a mission to go on social media to ask their favorite celeb crushes to escort them to the once a year birthday bash. It works for some people.
Why not you? Here’s TMR to tell you a few steps how:
WATM wishes every Marine a happy and safe birthday. SEMPER FI MARINES!
WATM author Tim Kirkpatrick entered the Navy in 2007 as a Hospital Corpsman and deployed to Sangin, Afghanistan with 3rd Battalion 5th Marines in the fall of 2010. Tim now has degrees in both Film Production and Screenwriting. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Airborne soldiers have some particular fears that most other troops don’t have to worry about. Total malfunctions of the parachute like a “cigarette roll” can cause them to hurtle into the earth at terminal velocity while mid-air entanglements can leave them with broken bones or worse.
One of their most unique fears is that of becoming a “towed jumper,” something that happens when their chute fails to separate from their static line and they are literally towed behind the plane like the pet dog from “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”
(Younger readers should not Google that reference. Instead, just imagine the worst possible version of parasailing.)
For Army Ranger Spc. Brian Hanson, the nightmare became a reality during a training jump under the stars of Fort Benning, Georgia. He and the rest of his company were under strict orders to conduct the perfect nighttime jump, to include not losing any gear.
But Hanson’s chute failed to separate and he became a towed jumper.
This left Hanson flying through the night sky as he fervently tried to keep all of his gear as close as possible despite the wind rushing over him while he dangled 1,200 feet above the surface of Benning. Watch the video above to learn how he made peace with these developments as well as the moment when he realized he was truly screwed.
Compounding the M16’s troubles was its lack of a proper cleaning kit. It was supposed to be so advanced that it would never jam, so the manufacturer didn’t feel it needed to make them. But the M16 did jam.
“We hated it,” said Marine veteran John Culbertson. “Because if it got any grime or corruption or dirt in it, which you always get in any rifle out in the field, it’s going to malfunction.”
The troops started using cleaning kits from other weapons to unjam their rifles.
“The shells ruptured in the chambers and the only way to get the shell out was to put a cleaning rod in it,” said Wodecki. “So you can imagine in a firefight trying to clean your weapon after two or three rounds. It was a nightmare for Marines at the time.
Towards the end of 1965, journalists picked up on mounting reports of gross malfunctions. The American public became outraged over stories of troops dying face down in the mud because their rifles failed to fire, according to a story published by the Small Arms Review.
Thankfully, the reports did not fall on deaf ears. The manufacturer fixed the jamming problems and issued cleaning kits. The new and improved rifle became the M16A1.
This video features Vietnam Marines recounting their first-hand troubles with the M16:
On paper, the J-20 represents a “big leap forward in terms of the capabilities of the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) have on scene,” Bronk said.
Compared with the US’s fifth-generation fighter jets, the F-22 and the F-35, the J-20 has “longer range, more internal fuel capacity, and larger internal weapons capability,” Bronk said.
This combination of factors presents a real risk to US forces in the Pacific. Long-range, capable strike fighters like the J-20 put the US AWACS, or airborne warning and control system, as well as “refueling tankers, and forward bases at risk much more than current types if flying in relatively large numbers” should any kind of kinetic conflict flare up in the Pacific, Bronk said.
David Goldfein, the chief of staff for the US Air Force, told Breaking Defense he was not overly troubled by the new Chinese jet.
“When I hear about F-35 versus J-20, it’s almost an irrelevant comparison,” Goldfein said in August.
Indeed, nothing indicates that the Chinese have built in the type of hyper connectivity and sensor fusions that make the US’s fifth-generation fighters so groundbreaking. Of the F-35 in particular, Bronk said: “Pilots are not spending a huge amount of time managing inputs — the machine does it for him. It produces one unified picture, which he can then interrogate as required.”
“We don’t know how much F-35 technology the Chinese have managed to steal,” Bronk said, adding that while it was “impossible to say for sure” what the J-20 is capable of, common sense dictates that the “the sensor fusion and network integration is significantly behind what the US has managed with the F-35 and F-22.
“This is purely based on the fact that sensor fusion has taken the most effort, time, and money,” he continued.
But one-on-one combat scenarios or feature-for-feature comparisons don’t capture the real threat of the J-20.
Long-range stealth fighters, if fielded in large numbers along with older Chinese aircraft, surface-to-air missile batteries, radar outposts, missiles, and electronic-warfare units, present another wrinkle in an already complicated and fraught operating envelope for US and allied forces in the Pacific.
But is it real?
Whether the Chinese will actually be able to field this plane by 2018, as Beijing has projected, remains the real question.
Bronk pointed out that it took a decade between US developers building a flying model of the F-22 and getting real, capable F-22s in the air. Even if the Chinese have accelerated the process through espionage, Bronk says, “We know how much money and time it takes to make a lethal and effective fighter like the F-22,” and it’s “very unlikely that China is that far along.”
Additionally, the J-20s in Zhuhai flew for only about one minute. They didn’t do low passes. They didn’t open up the weapons bay. They didn’t do much except fly around a single time.
“We learned very little,” Greg Waldron, the Asia managing editor of FlightGlobal, told Reuters. “We learned it is very loud. But we can’t tell what type of engine it has, or very much about the mobility.”
Bronk speculates that the models on display at Airshow China were not much more than showpieces: “It’s possible that the aircraft that were shown are still instrumented production aircraft,” or planes with “loads of sensors to monitor performance” instead of in a combat-ready formation.
Bronk points out that the aircraft most likely flew with underpowered engines and not the engines that would fly on the final version. “Engine performance is a key function of any aircraft,” he said, adding, “China and Russia continue to lag behind because of the really top-end manufacturing processes you need” to create and tune high-quality aircraft engines.
So while China’s new “impressive low-observable heavy strike” fighters could change the balance of power in the Pacific, whether they can field the planes in significantly large numbers at any time in the near future remains an open question.
“We will not be conducting offensive ground combat operations,” Col. Curtis Buzzard said in a phone interview Friday. “Anything we do will still be in an advise and assist role (with the Iraqi military). We’re helping them plan and execute these operations.”
Buzzard will lead the paratroopers from the 82nd’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team. They will deploy in the next few weeks for a nine-month deployment. Their mission is to train and advise the Iraqi military as it prepares for a summer offensive to retake Mosul.
President Barack Obama said U.S. combat troops would not be used in Iraq in the past, but told Gen. Lloyd Austin, the head of Central Command overseeing the fight in Iraq and Syria, told The Wall Street Journal Thursday no decision have been made on sending U.S. advisers forward with Iraqi divisions.
“I am going to do what it takes to be successful, and it may very well turn out…that we may need to ask to have our advisers accompany the troops that are moving on Mosul,” he said in a Wall Street Journal interview.
U.S. officials told The Wall Street Journal Thursday two Iraqi divisions would be part of the offensive to retake the northern Iraqi city in the spring after completing four to six weeks of training. Buzzard’s men will be part of the training program. As he prepares to leave Fort Bragg, NC, his biggest concern is protecting his trainers, who will be based at Iraqi bases.
“Over nine months, you have to make sure you don’t get complacent,” Buzzard said. “We’ve seen incidents in Afghanistan over the last couple of years from an insider threat standpoint.”
There have been no inside attacks to date. The training program is off to a rocky start, according to recent news reports. There is a shortage of ammunition, forcing Iraqi soldier to yell “bang bang” to simulate firing and classes on “the will to fight’ are being taught after Iraqi fighters deserted their positions, according to a Washington Post report.
Buzzard said his men are focused on training the Iraqi leadership. He is bringing his most senior leaders, who will work closely with their counterparts as the offensive is planned.
“We’re looking forward to building relationships with our partners,” Buzzard said. “The feedback I’m getting so far is that it is very well received and it is having a significant impact at least on the planning stage of the counter offensive right now.”
On Thursday, Kurdish forces cut a key supply line to Mosul and pushed Islamic State fighters out of parts of northern Iraq, according to media reports. But US officials told The Wall Street Journal Thursday that this summer’s fight for Mosul will be difficult with booby-trapped houses and roadside bombs expected. Buzzard said he has been focused on the deployment and not on the current intelligence reports, but he said air power and ground forces have degraded the Islamic state.
“We’re still in the condition setting stage for the counter-offensive,” Buzzard said. “The Iraqi army still has to build up some combat power and decide which forces they are going to use and ensure they are properly trained and equipped, but I think they will be fully capable of executing the mission.”
This is gear porn bulletin from WATM friends The Mad Duo at Breach-Bang-Clear.
Remember. At the risk of sounding unnecessarily contumelious, we must remind you – this is just an be advised, a public service if you will, letting you know these things exist and might be of interest. If you have questions about it, you’ll need to reach out to the respective organizations.
Surfers and guns — sometimes it’s a thing, ‘specially when those surfers are former pipe-hitters who love the sea, surf, and spray.
That’s why U.S. Navy veteran Alex West launched One More Wave, a non-profit that hand builds specialized surfboards that accommodate different veterans’ injuries. They want to make it easier for those disabled veterans to get back to riding waves. It’s therapeutic.
As you can imagine, it’s hard to surf with just one leg, even if you have a badass prosthetic leg.
The new blaster is called the OMW Rifle. It’s a Noveske Gen III 300BLK with a 16 in. barrel (full specs below), and a large portion of proceeds from its sales will be donated to One More Wave.
They’ll use that money to help rehabilitate wounded vets — not just physically, but emotionally as well.
Here’s how Noveske describe their decision to help One More Wave.
“One More Wave is a non-profit charity started by US military veterans with the focus of enhancing the recovery of wounded or disabled vets via ocean therapy. They work with vets who have a wide range of disabilities, and hand craft surfboards to suit the specific injury. These surfboards are customized with graphics, and when needed, customized for performance- working with specific physical disabilities. Noveske is proud to partner with One More Wave to help raise money for the creation of these fully customized surfboards. A large portion of the profit of the One More Wave rifle will be donated to aid in offsetting the cost of building the boards, and providing each vet with a special, life changing experience.
It’s a story that moved us so much that we hit the drawing board with the One More Wave crew to cook up a new Gen III Noveske rifle, where a portion of their proceeds will go directly to aiding them in their mission of creating custom surf equipment to help veterans find that next wave and discover the therapy they need.”
About the Author: We Are The Mighty contributor Richard “Swingin’ Dick” Kilgore comes to us from our partners at BreachBangClear.com (@breachbangclear). He is one half of the most storied celebrity action figure team in the world. He believes in American Exceptionalism, holding the door for any woman and the idea that you should be held accountable for every word that comes out of your mouth. He may also be one of two nom de plumes for a veritable farrago of CAGs and FAGs (Current Action Guys and Former Action Guys). You can learn more about Swingin’ Dick right here.
1. Federal laws still limit legal use of marijuana
Though several states have approved the use of marijuana for medical and/or recreation use, veterans should know that federal law classifies marijuana — including all derivative products — as a Schedule One controlled substance. This makes it illegal in the eyes of the federal government.
That being said, the VA is actually more progressive here than one might have expected. According to their website, veterans will not be denied VA benefits because of marijuana use and they are encouraged to discuss marijuana use with their VA providers.
2. Medical cannabis can help treat PTSD, anxiety, and pain
And there are clinical studies in the works to prove it, specifically in the case of combat veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan — but because cannabis remains a federally controlled substance, widely recognized research is hard to come by.
Meanwhile, a study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence explored the use of marijuana to relieve anxiety, and found that a low dose of THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, a main active ingredient of cannabis) produces subjective stress-relieving effects, but that higher doses could actually increase negative mood. This means the user needs to find the right dose.
3. There are more ways to imbibe than just smoking
You’ve heard of edibles (magic brownies… mmmm), but there are so many sophisticated ways to enjoy marijuana without smoking it. Infused food and beverages are just one way (one easy and delicious — but super potent way. Again, educate yourself about doses — more on that later).
I personally still categorize vape pens and vaporizers in the “smoking” category but, technically, they do not involve smoke inhalation. Vaporization methods raise the temperature of the product just enough to create a light vapor.
Topicals are some of my favorites for pain relief. Oils, lotions, or balms infused with cannabis (and quite often essential oils like lavender, mint, or citrus — they don’t teach you about these things in boot camp, but dammit, they should) to soothe aches in the body.
4.20 There are potential side effects — so use with caution
Look, marijuana contains chemicals called cannabinoids that affect the central nervous system. Scientists are still exploring its impact over short- and long-term use. Tread lightly.
WebMD lists some of the possible side effects (as well as a more comprehensive list of “other marijuana names” than I would have expected, which I found very amusing: Anashca, Banji, Bhang, Blunt, Bud, Cannabis, Cannabis sativa, Charas, Dope, Esrar, Gaga, Ganga, Grass, Haschisch, Hash, Hashish, Herbe, Huo Ma Ren, Joint, Kif, Mariguana, Marihuana, Mary Jane, Pot, Sawi, Sinsemilla, Weed).
As with any substance, marijuana should be explored carefully and with proper research. There are so many strains and so many ways to imbibe and so many ways for the body to absorb the chemicals, which is why it’s recommended that you start slowly and consult your physician.
The first time I tried an edible, I thought I was supposed to eat the whole thing. Next thing I knew, I was time traveling and I was convinced there was a rabbit in the closet that wanted to bite my ankle. I spent the night perched on my dresser like a cartoon character that just saw a mouse. My mom thought it was hilarious, but I wasn’t thrilled about the experience.
I now know that the edible I ate contained 100mg of THC — today, I take about 2mg at a time to treat anxiety. So, yeah, you could say I had too much.
The bottom line is to educate yourself and enjoy safely.
In 1949, the French freighter Magellan steamed into New York Harbor with “Merci, America” painted on its bow. The ship was carrying 49 railway cars filled with thousands of gifts donated by the people of France — a thank you for the food donated by American citizens to help rebuild Europe after WWII.
Just two years before the Magellan arrived, the Marshall Plan inspired Americans to collect food and put their donations aboard what they called the “Friendship Train.” The train’s journey began in Los Angeles on Nov. 7, 1947, and arrived in New York City to a ticker-tape parade before shipping off to Europe.
Along the way, it stopped in many major cities on its 11-day route from sea to shining sea. When the cars arrived in the French city of Le Havre, it was 700 cars long and valued at some $40 million ($435 million adjusted for inflation).
Pearson’s idea for the American train would make certain the Russians couldn’t take credit for western aid. He organized a grassroots effort through American newspapers, that effort resulted in the Friendship Train.
The people of France were so grateful that they responded with a train of their own — the Merci Train. French war veteran Andre Picard organized 49 WWI-era boxcars, one for each state (Hawaii and Washington, D.C. shared a car). The cars were filled with personal gifts from individual French citizens.
When the Magellan arrived with the boxcars in 1949, delegations from each state received it, then sent its train on a tour of their state. The boxcars bore a ribbon reading “gratitude train,” along with every crest from the provinces of France. They came to rest in public locations that vary from state to state — parks, museums, schools — for the public to view.
We’ve all heard about those legendary astronauts and fighter pilots who did those things that live in the annals of history, but here are five lesser-known and seldom-told tales about noteworthy airmen who served around the Wild Blue Yonder:
1. The Tuskegee Airman Who Almost Shot Muammar Qaddafi
Wheelus Air Force Base was located right outside the city of Tripoli in Libya. In 1968, a coup brought then 27-year-old Muammar al-Qaddafi to power. The young dictator demanded the closing of the American bases in what he now considered his country.
Before the base could be formally closed and handed to the Libyans, Qaddafi ordered a column of half-tracks to drive at full speed right through the middle of the base’s housing area. Qaddafi himself waited outside of Wheelus’ main gate for the armored column to return.
Unfortunately for Qaddafi, the commander of Wheelus Air Force Base was already legendary – he was Colonel Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr., one of the original Tuskegee Airmen. “Chappie” was a veteran of World War II and had also flown missions in Korea and Vietnam. And he was not happy with the Libyans. When he found out what was happening, James strapped his .45 onto his belt and went right to the base’s main gate. He immediately shut down the barrier and walked to face off with Qaddafi. The Tuskegee Airman was not impressed with the dictator.
“He had a fancy gun and holster and he kept his hand on it,” James recalled. He ordered Qaddafi to move his hand away from the weapon. The dictator complied with Colonel James. “If he had pulled that gun, he never would have cleared the holster.”
Qaddafi never sent another column.
2. The Original Airman Snuffy
By the time airmen leave Joint Base San Antonio, they have come to know the stories of Airman Snuffy; he’s the Every-Airman, the average Airman, sometimes the slacker Airman. Airman Snuffy is the example Air Force instructors use to describe a situation. “Let’s say you’re charge of quarters duty one night and Airman Snuffy reports a fire…” or “Airman Snuffy applies a tourniquet to the injured area. What else should he do?”
Airman Snuffy is not just an example… he’s a real person who did something legendary. During WWII, Sgt. Maynard “Snuffy” Smith was the 306th Bomber Group’s slacker in residence. Before joining the Army Air Corps, Smith was known as “spoiled,” living off an inheritance and was forced to join the Army by a judge as a sentence for failure to pay child support. No one wanted to fly with him. He didn’t like taking orders, especially from younger officers. He chose to be an aerial gunner because it was the fastest way to make rank and thus, pay.
His first mission took him over St. Nazaire, France – aka “Flak City.” On the way back from the mission, the pilot mistook what he thought was Southern England for the heavily fortified city of Brest, France. German fighters suddenly ripped his plane to shreds: the wing tank had been shot off and was pouring fuel into the plane. The fuel caught fire, and then everything else caught fire. The plane became a flying inferno. Soon, the fire on the plane started to burn so hot it set off ammunition and melted a gun mount, camera, and radio. Airman Snuffy started to throw whatever wasn’t bolted down out of the plane, lest it melt or explode.
When the German fighters returned, he manned the B-17’s machine guns to repel them. Then he had to start putting out the fire. When the extinguisher ran out, he dumped the plane’s water and urine buckets on the fire. He even peed on the fire in the middle of repelling another German fighter attack. When all else failed, he wrapped himself in available clothing and started to put out the fire with his body.
Airman Snuffy administered aid to the six wounded men on the plane. So, he spent 90 minutes alternatively shooting down German fighters, putting out fires, throwing hazardous material out of the plane, and giving first aid to his wingmen. The plane made it back to England and landed with 3,500 bullet and shrapnel holes in the fuselage and nothing but the four main beams holding it together. Ten minutes after landing, the whole thing collapsed. For his actions on board the plane, Airman Snuffy was awarded the Medal of Honor, the first enlisted Airman to receive the award.
When Secretary of War Henry Stimson arrived to give Airman Snuffy the Medal of Honor, he was noticeably absent from his own ceremony, having been put on KP duty for disciplinary reasons.
3. The Combat Cameraman Who Lived the Entire History of the US Air Force
Douglas W. Morrell was a US Army Air Corps (and later US Air Force) combat cameraman with a long service record. In World War II, he was assigned to bombers in Europe and North Africa. He flew 33 combat missions over German, Austria, Italy, Hungary, France, Yugoslavia, and Albania. In March 1944, his B-24 was shot down over the Iron Gates of Romania. Evading capture in Romania (an Axis country from the beginning of the war), he walked for 25 days across occupied Yugoslavia and Albania where he bribed fishermen his .45-caliber pistol and $100 in gold certificates for a lift to Italy across the Adriatic Sea.
Two months later, he was documenting bombing raids against the oil fields of Ploesti when his bomber was knocked out of formation. He bailed out right before it exploded, killing half the remaining crew. He was immediately captured by the Germans upon landing and was held as a POW in Bucharest. Morrell made an escape attempt from his POW camp via a trap door in the mess hall.
He walked halfway through Bucharest before a German army truck stopped him. Morrell told the Germans he was Italian pilot, trying to make it back to Bulgaria. He caught a ride with the Germans until he reached a post near the Danube, where he was outed by an Italian kid who spoke to Morrell in Italian.
“I couldn’t understand him, ” Morrell recalls. “He told the Germans I wasn’t Italian and they took me back.”
Morrell was held in the POW camp until Romania capitulated in August of 1944. He stayed in Bucharest for a few days until the Russians, who treated the American POWs as allies, liberated it.
“They found out I was an ‘Americanski’… they got me in there, said ‘we drink!’ and poured glasses of vodka. They’d toast: ‘ Stalin. Roosevelt. Churchill,'” he remembered. “I’ve never been that blasted in all my life.”
He left the US Air Force in 1947. This was not the end of his combat career, however. Morrell was soon right back in, re-enlisting in 1952. He saw service in the Sahara documenting missile tests, the Pacific islands documenting nuclear tests, Iceland documenting Russian movements, and even the Panama Canal Zone.
By the time the Vietnam War started to heat up for the US, Douglas Morrell had become Chief Master Sergeant Morrell. At age 50, he was documenting operations over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos, when his O-2 Skymaster’s wing was shot halfway off by anti-aircraft fire. He and the pilot bailed out at 5,000 feet, taking fire the entire way down. He landed in the jungle, just yards from a truck depot on the Ho Chi Minh Trail itself, guarded by six anti-aircraft gun positions. For nine hours, he called in rescue teams and directed fire on the enemy positions, before finally allowing himself to be rescued.
4. The Racecar Driver Who Taught Himself to Fly, Then Broke all the Records
Teaching yourself to fly seems like a terrible idea, especially during World War I when most pilots were college-educated and you’re an enlisted aircraft mechanic. Not so for Eddie Rickenbacker, the racecar driver-turned Airman who learned to be an engineer through a correspondence course.
Rickenbacker enlisted immediately after the US entered The Great War and arrived in France in June of 1917. By May of the next year, he had taught himself to fly, earned an officer’s promotion, and had shot down his fifth enemy craft, earning the title of “Ace.”
By September 1918, Rickenbacker was in command of his entire squadron, the 94th Aero Squadron. By the time of the Armistice on November 11, 1918, he had racked up 26 victories, a record he held until World War II, and had flown 300 combat hours, more than any other US pilot in the war. Captain Rickenbacker was known for flying right at formations of enemy aircraft, no matter how outnumbered he was, and winning every time. Through the course of the War, Rickenbacker was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross with six oak leaf clusters, the Croix de Guerre with two palms, the Legion d’Honneur, and was later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
After the Great War, Rickenbacker went on to found his own car company, his own airline, and wrote a popular comic strip – which became a film and radio program.
5. Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler, Enemies Who Became Friends
In 1943, Second Lieutenant Charlie Brown was piloting his B-17 Flying Fortress, Ye Olde Pub, back to England after bombing industrial centers in Bremen. During its run, the nose was torn apart by flak fire, causing the plane to drop out of formation and come under attack from fifteen enemy fighter planes. The plane lost sixty percent of its electric capacity, lost its oxygen, and half its rudder. Of the ten crewmen on board, the tail gunner had been killed, the rest wounded. Brown himself was hit in his right shoulder. He then passed out from oxygen deprivation and woke up to find the bomber in a 4,000-foot dive. He pulled the plane up and headed home, having been left for dead by the pursuit fighters.
On the way back to England, Germans on the ground spotted the bomber. The Luftwaffe dispatched ace fighter pilot Oberleutnant Franz Stigler to finish it off. He had already shot down two B-17s that day and needed one more kill to earn the Knight’s Cross – the highest Iron Cross award for bravery and leadership. Stigler easily caught up to the Allied plane in his Messerschmitt 109, but wondered why the Flying Fortress hadn’t started shooting at him. From his cockpit, he could see how badly damaged the plane was, how the crew struggled to care for the wounded, and even Brown’s face as he struggled to bring Ye Olde Pub and its crew back home alive with one good engine. He’d never seen a plane so badly damaged and still flying.
“You are fighter pilots first, last, always,” A commander had told Stigler’s unit when he was stationed in North Africa. “If I ever hear of any of you shooting at someone in a parachute, I’ll shoot you myself.” He looked to the man struggling at the bomber controls. Brown looked back. To Stigler, these men were like men in parachutes. Even though getting caught letting the bomber go would mean execution, he just couldn’t shoot them down.
Stigler moved to fly in a formation on Brown’s left, a formation German ground spotters would recognize as friendly. He escorted Brown’s bomber halfway over the North Sea and departed with a salute.
After the war, Stigler moved to Canada. Brown returned to the US. Over forty years later, Stigler responded to an ad Brown placed as he searched newsletters of former Luftwaffe pilots for the German ace who spared his crew. One day, Stigler responded:
“Dear Charles, All these years I wondered what happened to the B-17; did she make it or not?”
The two became close friends after meeting (on the ground) in 1990. The story of Stigler and Brown is told in detail in the 2012 book A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II.