Wyatt Gillette, an 8-year-old boy with a rare genetic disease, died July 31 — just one day after being made an honorary Marine.
Wyatt received his Marine Corps eagle, globe, and anchor in a formal ceremony at School of Infantry-West aboard Camp Pendleton, California. At the ceremony, Wyatt wore cammies in his wheelchair as he proudly accepted his a certificate and an official Marine Corps insignia. A drill instructor saluted the new recruit as ranks of Marines proudly looked on.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller approved the honorary ceremony after an online petition for the boy reached nearly 5,000 signatures.
“The courageous fight that Wyatt continues is absolutely ‘Marine,’ ” Neller told Marine Corps Times on July 28. “I hope this small gesture will bring Wyatt and his family a bit of joy during their tremendous battle.”
Jeremiah Gillette – Wyatt’s father who is a Marine drill instructor at Camp Pendleton — posted in the petition that, “Nothing could make me happier than to see my son Wyatt Seth Gillette become an honorary Marine. He has fought harder in the last almost eight years than I will ever have to. If I earned the title, I believe he has as well.”
Wyatt was diagnosed with Aicardi-Goutieres syndrome as a 4-year-old. The disease affects the brain, immune system, and skin, and it can cause seizures and kidney failure. His father began reaching out to fellow Marines for prayers on social media last month. His command staff started the formal petition process shortly thereafter, said Capt. Matthew Finnerty, a spokesman at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego.
Gillette told KABC-TV that he has no doubt his son could have grown up to be a Marine if he were healthy.
“He’s the toughest kid I’ve ever met,” he told the TV station. “He’s the toughest person I’ve ever met.”
Their savings gone, the Gillette family is currently accepting donations to help with bills and funeral expenses.
Experts may debate trajectories, payload weights, and re-entry shields, but North Korea’s claim that the entire United States is within range of its rapidly improving missiles just got a lot more credible.
The Nov. 29 launch of what the North called the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile demonstrated a greater range than other missiles it’s tested and showcased several capabilities the North must master if it were ever to actually try to unleash them at the United States.
Here is a quick look at the advancements made, the developments still to come, and the implications for the United States and its Asian allies:
The missile itself
According to North Korea’s announcements about the launch, the Hwasong-15 can be tipped with a “super-large heavy warhead” and is capable of striking anywhere in the U.S. mainland. The North claims it reached an altitude of 4,475 kilometers (2,780 miles) and flew 950 kilometers (600 miles) from its launch site just outside of Pyongyang. It was airborne for 53 minutes before splashing down in the Sea of Japan.
The launch data coincides with what foreign experts observed. U.S. scientist David Wright, a physicist who closely tracks North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs, estimates the Hwasong-15 has an estimated range of more than 13,000 kilometers (8,100 miles) if flown on a standard trajectory — putting it within reach of Washington, D.C.
Pyongyang claims the missile has significant tactical and technical improvements from the Hwasong-14 ICBM it tested in July and is the North’s “most powerful” to date. KCNA also said Kim Jong Un “declared with pride that now we have finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force.”
The repeated claim in the announcement that North Korea has now completed its “rocket weaponry system development” is new and important. It could be bluster, but might also suggest a shift away from tests — at least of these kinds of missiles — toward production and deployment.
The North’s arsenal is still a far cry from the quality and quantity of what the United States can field. The Air Force’s development of the Minuteman ICBM goes back to the late 1950s. It now has about 400 of the latest version, the Minuteman III, which also has a maximum range of about 13,000 kilometers.
How it was launched
The timing and location are important. It was launched in the dead of night, most likely from a mobile launcher, near the capital. That indicates the North was trying to show it can launch whenever and wherever it pleases — a capability that makes it more difficult to take pre-emptive action. It’s impossible to blow up a North Korean missile on the launch pad if the missile can be moved and there isn’t any launch pad at all.
Interestingly, however, Japanese media reported on Nov. 28 their government had intercepted radio signals from the North suggesting a launch was imminent. It’s not clear if that was a first, since details on such intelligence are normally not made public. But it does suggest the North’s neighbors are having some success with surveillance efforts.
The trajectory of the launch is also significant. The missile was “lofted” at an extremely sharp angle and reached an altitude more than twice as high as satellites in low Earth orbit.
North Korea needs to launch toward the Pacific because it would otherwise be shooting its missiles at Russia or China — a very unwise proposition. And lofting avoids flying over Japan, which could prompt Tokyo or Japan-based U.S. missile-defense facilities to attempt an intercept, and hits open seas instead of other nations.
But lofting doesn’t closely simulate conditions of a real launch. Experts can roughly gauge the range of the missile from its lofted performance, but a missile on an attack trajectory would fly a lower, flatter pattern that presents some different challenges, particularly in the crucial re-entry stage of the nuclear payload.
So what now?
North Korea claimed, as it always does, that the test is part of its overall strategy to defend itself against Washington’s “nuclear blackmail” and that its development of missiles and nuclear weapons does not pose a threat to any country “as long as the interests of the DPRK are not infringed upon.” DPRK is short for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
In an equally familiar manner, the move was immediately condemned in the strongest terms by Tokyo and Seoul. President Donald Trump said Washington “will handle it,” while giving no indication of how or what handling it actually would mean.
Clearly, however, the problem isn’t going away.
The launch broke a two-month lull in what has been a record pace of tests for the North. While some claimed that was the result of pressure from the United States and its allies, it’s common for the North to re-focus its energies to farming activities during the harvest season and for its military to shift into a lower-profile mode for its winter training cycle.
North Korea still needs to conduct further missile tests, particularly of its submarine-launched missile systems, to improve its overall arsenal. But having now demonstrated what it claims to be the primary missile it needs to deter attack from the United States, Pyongyang may turn to more testing of its nuclear weapons.
So far, five of its six nuclear tests have been conducted in a series of tunnels under Mount Mantap, a 2,205 meter (7,200 foot) tall granite peak in the northeast part of the country. But Pyongyang has hinted it might attempt an atmospheric test over the Pacific Ocean.
That would be a far more provocative move than the Nov. 29 missile test and might prompt a military response.
Veteran Tom Zurhellen was hoping to write a novel this summer. Instead, he’s walking 22 miles a day across the U.S. to raise awareness about veteran homelessness and suicide.
Zurhellen is a Navy veteran who teaches English at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. He’s breaking his journey of about 2,860 miles into segments of 22 miles a day. The daily goal matches an [outdated] number of veterans who commit suicide each day.
“I had a year off [for] sabbatical and I was just going to write another novel,” he said. “But then I got this commander job at the Poughkeepsie Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 170. I’m a veteran, but I had no idea how much support was needed by our local veterans with mental health and homelessness.
“I figured if that was happening in my hometown, it had to be happening all across the country. So instead of writing just another silly novel, I decided to use my sabbatical to embark on this crazy adventure.”
Air Force Veteran Erin Ganzenmuller and Zurhellen.
Maintaining the pace
Since leaving Oregon in mid-April 2019, Zurhellen has doggedly maintained his 3-mph pace through all kinds of weather.
“It was 100 degrees in Sioux City, 98 degrees in Beloit, I hit a snowstorm three or four times, sub-freezing temperatures, so yeah, I’ve seen it all,” said Zurhellen.
His journey brought him along the Hank Aaron Trail, which winds through the campus of the Milwaukee VA Medical Center.
He kicked off his walk through the Milwaukee metro area in a local coffee shop.
On hand to offer support was Navy veteran Mike Waddell, who said he had learned of Zurhellen’s walk that morning on Facebook.
“I just figured I’d come down and show him a little love and encourage him, keep him going,” Waddell said. “I think what he’s doing is great.”
Erin Maney, a social worker at the Milwaukee VA, said raising awareness with a goal of prevention is extremely important.
“I think there’s a lot of media coverage when, unfortunately, there’s a veteran death by suicide,” Maney said. “But there’s not always coverage when every day, Veterans are coming in asking for help, getting the help that they need, and going on to live meaningful lives. What he’s doing is extraordinary.”
Erin Ganzenmuller, an Air Force veteran and environmental consultant, thanked Zurhellen.
“I think it’s an incredible journey to raise awareness for struggles that our veterans face,” said Ganzenmuller, who also volunteers at Stars and Stripes Honor Flight. “It’s awesome that he came to Wisconsin.”
Zurhellen at the Milwaukee VA greeted by employees and well-wishers.
Never giving up
“There was a time up until about a month ago, I was hitting the wall at about mile 15. And I thought, ‘What am I doing, experiencing pain? It would be so easy to go home.’
“But then I remembered the pain of the veterans I’m walking for. The people who are dealing with mental health issues. The people who are dealing with homelessness.
“Their pain’s a lot worse than mine. I can go home anytime. It’s like I’m just playing at being a homeless veteran, but they’re doing it for real. So, when I put in that perspective, it gets a lot easier.”
And with that, it was time for Zurhellen to hit the road and walk another 22 miles — a distance that to him means something far greater than just a number.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
Sailing saved Ronnie Simpson’s life. He was an 18 year old high school senior in Atlanta, Georgia when the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq began in March 2003. Drawn to service by the events of September 11, Ronnie joined the Marine Corps Infantry the day after the war started.
Less than a year later in March 2004, he deployed to Iraq with the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines.
“I was a .50 cal gunner on top of a Humvee,” he recalls. “Four months into my deployment, we were ambushed during a night-time convoy, and an RPG hit the ground near my Humvee. The rocket bounced up and exploded in the air one meter from me. I had broken ribs, detached retinas, a bleeding brain which created sub-retinal fluid, a traumatic brain injury (TBI), a blown-out left lung and my tongue was blown into my airway. I was temporarily knocked unconscious. Because I wasn’t breathing and was unresponsive, Marines in my truck thought I was dead. It was actually a textbook blast injury. The Corpsman in my Humvee, Doc David Segundo, was injured too but he got up, cleared my airway, and saved my life.”
Simpson, now 30 years old, spent a lot of time recovering both physically and mentally. Most of his TBI symptoms weren’t permanent (he credits the helmet technology for that). Despite having burns over 10 percent of his body, many of those scars aren’t visible.
“It fucked me up pretty good,” he says. “Unless you knew me though, you’d never know I’m hurt. I have no visible scars unless I take my shirt off. Then I have many.”
Simpson is legally blind and can’t obtain a driver’s license. Though his body healed, his mental state took much longer. He reevaluated his life and experiences through a 9,000-mile bike trek across Europe and Asia in 2009 and more than 50,000 miles at sea, both healing counterpoints to his experiences in Iraq.
“My time in theater and my travels have shaped my perspective,” Simpson says. “There’s a lot of good and beauty in this world, and I want to add to that. Our program is about helping the men and women that are coming back – the veterans – the people we should be looking out for. We in the veteran community have these experiences and while we may interpret them differently, this shared experience can bring us together. We can come together to create profound and impactful programs to help the veterans from these two wars as well as something permanent and sustainable for veterans of future conflicts.”
Sailing is the catalyst for Simpson’s initiative. Not only his love for sailing but how he changed his life and how he aims to change the lives of others.
“I joined the Marines at 18, was injured in combat at 19, my dad died four months after I got hurt, and by 20 I was medically retired,” Simpson says. “By 22 I was a lost soul. I had reached my deepest, darkest point. I’m fearful of what would have happened if I hadn’t flipped the script. I broke off an engagement, sold my house, and moved from Texas to California. That move was my re-birth as a new person.”
On the California coast, he found his calling. After living so recklessly, he became completely focused on becoming a racing sailor and making the most of his life. Seven years later, Simpson now travels the world as a professional sailor and sailing writer.
“It helped me heal,” Simpson says. “These adventures help you positively adrenalize yourself in a sustainable manner. Guys who come back from places like Fallujah have experienced adrenaline like most will never know, and again need to achieve that heightened state of existence. But where will they find it? Drugs, alcohol, or doping the pain away with pills? I can put you on the helm of a racing sailboat in the middle of the night and it will rock your world. This is a healthy way to get that fix.”
It’s not just about giving people the fix of adrenaline they were accustomed to while in combat. For Simpson and his sailing nonprofit – Coastal and Offshore Recalibration Experience, or CORE (www.medicinalmissions.com/CORE), that community of veterans is the most important result.
“Because that’s what it is: a Community,” he says. “On a sailboat you can put anyone into a job they can do, regardless of their injury. It’s a sport that doesn’t care if you have arms or legs. That’s a big part of it. Everyone has an assigned, defined role. There’s a chain of command, a defined mission, teamwork is critical and constant risk management is all part of the game. The parallels between racing sailboats and combat are incredible. When you combine that with the peacefulness and serenity of heading to sea with your brothers and sisters, it’s a powerful experience.”
Simpson and his best friend Army veteran Walter Kotecki, created a sailing program within an existing wounded-veteran nonprofit, raised $50,000 through yacht clubs and private donors, and gave a sailing experience to 30 veterans over the course of four clinics in 2012 and 2013.
“There’s always a steep learning curve when you start your own thing. We flew vets to San Francisco,” he says. “They had the whole range of injuries from PTSD to multiple amputees to blindness. We used sailing, surfing, yoga, nature walks, kayaking, art and more to help these guys look past their injuries and realize that anything is possible, no matter their injury, while re-establishing that sense of camaraderie and community that so many have lost since leaving the service.”
It was so successful and the veterans so responsive Simpson and Kotecki decided to strike out on their own earlier this year, forming CORE.
“I had a Vietnam vet hook me up with a racing sailboat and an opportunity,” says Simpson. “He passed that torch to me and told me to pay it forward. Here’s my chance to hook somebody else up. Let’s re-build that community and keep that torch going.”
CORE is seeking veterans of the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan to participate in more sailing clinics throughout California, with the first being in San Francisco in October of this year. They will be accepting applications until August 31. For 2016, CORE is planning six to eight clinics up and down the California coast.
The most ambitious plan for CORE is participating in the 2017 Transpacific Yacht Race – where they will train a full crew of combat-wounded veterans to sail from Los Angeles to Honolulu, the first time ever that such a crew would be assembled.
“Our goal is to help reduce the rate of veteran suicide in this country. Sailing is one of the tools that we use,” he says.
Simpson is now featured in a series of short films produced by Craftsman, We Are The Mighty, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), showing how IAVA empowers veterans as they transition back to civilian life.
“It’s admirable for companies like Craftsman to reach out to veterans groups to benefit the guys and girls that are coming back,” Simpson says. “I see a positive shift in awareness about issues that affect veterans, how we can improve the care of veterans, and how we can achieve a more holistic healing approach instead of pumping them full of drugs.”
Craftsman is donating $250,000 to IAVA and from May 25 – July 4, for every new follower of @Craftsman on Instagram, Craftsman will donate an additional $1 to IAVA (with a minimum donation of $5,000).
“I am honored to be part of this and stoked that a big corporation is out to make a difference of stemming the tide of 22 veterans a day,” Simpson says. “I’m excited that they believe in what we’re doing, and to work on this next mission of saving lives by reaching out to the veteran community.”
By now, everybody has seen the picture. A tan dog in a tactical vest, sitting up at the position of attention, perky ears framing a black face. The mouth wide open, the tongue hanging out the side of the mouth, the dog looks happy, almost goofy.
This is the dog that chased down ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi this past weekend, leading to al-Baghdadi’s death when he detonated a suicide vest he was wearing. The dog was injured in the blast, but has since returned to duty. Assigned to Delta Force, the dog’s identity is classified, even as the dog is being hailed as a hero, with the picture shared on Twitter by President Donald Trump, who called it Conan.
Read on to find out what we know about this dog.
U.S. Marine military working dog Argo rides into the ocean on a combat rubber raiding craft at Red Beach.
(US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Andrew Cortez)
They are the special forces of military working dogs, attached to special operations forces, such as the Navy SEALS and Army Rangers. Trained to find explosives, chase down human targets, and detect hidden threats, these Multi-Purpose Canines, or MPCs, are also trained to rappel out of helicopters, parachute out of airplanes, and conduct amphibious operations on Zodiac boats. Highly skilled, an MPC named Cairo even assisted in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011.
These dogs are specially selected and trained to handle the most stressful situations while keeping their cool. In the spirit of the Marine Recon motto, these dogs are swift, silent, and deadly. Barking is forbidden. With the secretive nature of their work, much of the information regarding the selection and training of these dogs is classified.
A military working dog chases a suspect during a demonstration.
(Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jacob Derry)
Four times per year, a team of canine handlers, trainers, veterinarians, and other specialists from the 341st Training Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio Texas — the home of the Military Working Dog Program — make the trip abroad to buy dogs. They evaluate each dog to ensure that they will not have any medical issue that will prevent them from serving for at least 10 years. They perform x-rays to ensure that there is no hip or elbow dysplasia or other skeletal defects. Dogs with skin conditions, eye issues, or ear problems are ruled out.
If they pass the medical screening, they are further assessed on their temperament. Over up to 10 days, the dogs are judged on their ability to search and detect, their aggressiveness, and their trainability. While the special forces have their own programs to procure dogs, which are confidential, the traits that they look for are the same. The standards are just higher.
Caro, a five-year-old Belgian Malinois with the 96th Security Forces Squadron, stands by her handler.
(US Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)
This hero dog from the al-Baghdadi raid is a Belgian Malinois, one of the most popular breeds among working dogs.
This hero dog from the al-Baghdadi raid is a Belgian Malinois, one of the most popular breeds among working dogs. W
While the military uses labs, retrievers, and other breeds including a Jack Russell or two for detection, the most popular breeds of war dogs are Belgian Malinois, Dutch Shepherd, and the ever popular German Shepherd. These dogs are valued for their intelligence, trainability, work ethic, and adaptability.
The Malinois in particular is valued for its targeted aggression, speed, agility, and ability to survive in extreme heat. Handlers are known to refer to their dogs as either a “fur missile” or a “maligator.”
A Multi-Purpose Canine with U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC), prepares for Zodiac boat training inserts on Camp Pendleton, Calif.
(US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Maricela M. Bryant)
The dogs are hand selected from the best kennels in Europe and around the world, brought to the United States, and trained to the highest level.
They are taught patrolling, searching, explosive or narcotic detection, tracking, and are desensitized to the types of equipment around which they will work. They are familiarized with gunfire, rappelling out of helicopters, riding in Zodiac boats, or even skydiving. All said, the dogs and their training cost up to ,000 each. Including the highly specialized gear of MPCs, the cost can be tens of thousands of dollars higher.
Wearing bulletproof vests outfitted with lights, cameras, communications equipment, and sensors, the dogs can operate off leash, providing a real-time view to the handler while taking verbal commands through the radio.
A Multi-Purpose Canine handler with U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command prepares his canine for a parachute jump.
(US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Scott Achtemeier)
Over their years of service, a multipurpose canine will conduct dozens of combat missions over multiple deployments, most of which the public will never hear about.
One of these missions resulted in the death of Maiko, a multi-purpose canine with the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment. Leading the way into a secure compound in Afghanistan in November 2018, Maiko caused the Al Qaeda fighters to open fire, giving away their position, allowing the Rangers to eliminate the threat without injury.
A multi-purpose canine handler with U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command, checks for a pulse while administering medical care to a realistic canine mannequin.
(US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Bryann K. Whitley)
When dogs are injured on the battlefield, their handlers are trained to provide first aid.
Using specially developed, highly realistic dog mannequins, the handlers are trained to treat massive bleeding, collapsed lungs, amputations, and more. The mannequins respond by whimpering and barking.
Many of the developers of this dog mannequin came from the Hollywood special effects world, working on productions like the Star Wars or Harry Potter films. The simulated dog, with its pulse and breathing responding to the treatment, costs more than ,000.
Military working dog handlers with the U.S. Army Rangers and U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command multipurpose canine handlers fast-rope from a U.S. Navy MH-60 Seahawk helicopter.
(US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Drake Nickels)
If a dog is injured in combat or in training, or is showing signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, he can be sent to a dog hospital at Lackland Air Force Base for surgery, rehabilitation, or assessment for retirement.
While PTSD is not well understood in dogs, veterinarians, dog trainers, and specialists at Lackland Air Force Base agree that dogs show symptoms of combat stress as much as humans do. Whether they become fearful of loud noises, become more aggressive, forget how to do tasks, or decide that they don’t want to work, these dogs are rehabilitated with the goal of returning them to service. If this is not possible, the dogs are evaluated for transfer to non-combat jobs or potential retirement.
Nero proudly displays his U.S. Military Working Dog Medal during his retirement ceremony aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. on May 21, 2018. During his five years of service, Nero served two deployments. Nero will be adopted and spend his retirement as a companion to his handler.
(US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Bryann K. Whitley)
Before being retired, the dogs are assessed to ensure that they do not pose a risk to the public.
After up to a decade of devoted service, the goal is to let the dog live out its life on a soft bed, preferably with one of its former handlers.
This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.
Russian propaganda outlet RT has created a docu-reality series called “Tanks: Born in Russia” that follows prospective tank constructors as they compete for a job manufacturing and repairing armored vehicles and tanks.
The show follows the men through the factory floor and the test ranges, allowing viewers an inside look at the factory. It also shows some of the personal drama in the men’s lives as they juggle work with girlfriends and families.
The English version of it features English narration and subtitles. The first episode is available below and the full series can be downloaded from RT’s website.
The sheer magnitude of traumatic brain injury in the military is enough to make anyone’s head hurt. Troops can get TBI from any number of actions. Everything carries a TBI risk, from routine training to combat operations, so it’s no surprise the injury is getting more attention in recent years. The U.S. military has counted the number of TBI cases suffered by its troops since 2000, and the numbers are sadly very big.
More than 383,000 American troops have suffered some form of TBI, either in daily operations or in a theater of combat. What is most startling about the numbers isn’t just how many, it’s how many people in each branch suffered such injuries. Soldiers of the U.S. Army are far more likely to suffer a traumatic brain injury.
While the numbers of overall penetrating and severe TBI are thankfully relatively low, mild injuries make up a bulk of the cases, even when the injuries are broken down by branch. And while “moderate” TBI may not seem as dire as the word “moderate” sounds, those with moderate brain injuries can find themselves with reduced mobility, motor function, and unable to speak effectively. A recent video highlighting caretakers of TBI veterans by AARP Studios and the Elizabeth Dole Foundation highlights just how hard life can be for a victim of moderate TBI.
Unfortunately, moderate brain injuries are the second largest number of injuries suffered by U.S. troops. But the real tragedy is how many TBI sufferers are in the U.S. Army.
Of the more than 383,000 troops that have suffered TBI since 2000, a staggering 225,144 of them have been in some component of the Army. Some 15.8 percent of that was National Guard troops, while 7.3 percent were Army Reserve. The rest, 76.9 percent, were active-duty troops. The numbers on what types of TBI mirror the numbers of all branches put together, with mild being the most widespread, followed by moderate, penetrating, and severe cases.
The rest of the branches hover between 52,000 and 54,000, the Marines have slightly more TBI reports, probably by nature of what they do. This data also reflects an update to the definitions of TBI, more information about the injuries, and subsequent reviews of existing Pentagon data.
By all accounts, Vietnam combat veteran John P. Baca has lived a quiet, humble and selfless life in the decades since he made the split-second decision to jump on an enemy grenade.
The fragmentation grenade landed amidst the soldiers of his recoilless rifle team responding to help an Army platoon facing a nighttime barrage of enemy fire inPhuoc Long province on Feb. 10, 1970. Then-Specialist 4th Class Baca, a 21-year-old drafted the previous year, removed his helmet, covered the grenade and prayed through what he thought was his final moment on Earth.
Baca, seriously wounded by the concussion and shrapnel from the exploding grenade, survived the blast. So did eight fellow soldiers. His actions didn’t go unnoticed. The following year, President Richard Nixon placed the Medal of Honor medal, the nation’s highest award for combat valor, around his neck in the nation’s recognition of the “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.”
Baca’s “gallant action and total disregard for his personal well-being directly saved eight men from certain serious injury or death,” states the award citation.
On Oct. 29, Baca, now 67, stood among a crowd of several hundred attending the first-annual “Ride to Live.”
The American Soldier Network, a Mission Viejo, California-based, all-volunteer non-profit group, and the all-veterans Forgotten Sons Motorcycle Club organized the fundraiser in Oceanside to raise awareness about suicides, post-traumatic stress and struggles of military veterans. About a dozen motorcycle clubs joined in the event outside the Elks Lodge, where scores of motorcycles crowded the parking lot.
“It seems like we flock to our own,” said Dave Francisco, a retired Marine and member of all-veterans Forgotten Sons MC who helped organize the event.
Annie Nelson, ASN’s founder, told the crowd the broader message of the day is about “keeping your battle buddies alive and living for them and fulfilling their bucket list.”
Unbeknownst to Baca, who arrived with friends from San Diego, the organizers were about to fulfill one wish tailored just for him: A fully-loaded, red Toyota Tundra Platinum 4×4 pickup truck.
The reluctant hero, who keeps busy volunteering and working with many veterans’ groups and military-related causes — and once insisted a Habitat for Humanity house meant for him be given to the next person on the list — has been getting around with the help of friends. His need for a set of reliable wheels to attend events, visit injured vets and even deliver local apple pies got the ear of others, including fellow Medal of Honor recipient and Marine vet, Dakota Meyer, who mentioned it to Michael Smith of Toyota USA, himself a former Marine rifleman.
Baca’s story of service and “sacrifice deserves a lifetime of stuff for us to pay him,” said Smith, president of the Toyota Veterans Association. Toyota and San Diego-area dealers joined in providing the truck along with an extended-service contract and $3,500 for gas, he said. The company also presented a large banner honoring Baca and signed by workers at the San Antonio, Texas, plant where the truck was assembled. The Nice Guys of San Diego, a local charity organization, will pay the taxes Baca will owe in receiving the donation, and another donation will cover a year of insurance for him. And Baca also gotdonatoins for his trusty companion and service dog, Jo-Jo, with a year’s worth of dog food and basket of treats, toys, a blanket and seat cover for the truck.
“I no longer have to give you a ride,” a woman in the crowd said as Baca, with the light-blue and starred ribbon and medal around his neck, took hold of the microphone.
Baca, visibly moved, spoke softly as he relayed some moments of his post-war life, reconnecting with a former North Vietnamese soldier and with his estranged daughter and connecting with families through Snowball Express. He is a dedicated volunteer, as reflected by the cap on his head of the nonprofit group that helps the children of the military’s fallen men and women.
Jumping on that grenade was a moment, too. “It was no pain,” he said. “You crossed that veil… I believe we all had that Guardian Angel with us, and mine was holding me that night.” His lieutenant, John Dodson, “wouldn’t let me go to sleep. The angels were ready to take me to heaven and my mom was going to be mad at me for getting myself in this stupid situation,” he said. “But, um, it wasn’t my time.”
Baca returned to Vietnam in 1990 and helped build a village health clinic with former North Vietnamese soldiers, including a former teenage soldier who he had encountered on Christmas Day 1969 and instead let him surrender.
“And I’ll always remember this moment,” Baca said, choking up as he pointed out longtime friends, some who knew him from high school days outside of San Diego. “Thank you so very, very, very much.”
When Baca checked out the truck, the crowd swelled around him. He peered inside and then climbed into the back seat of the quad cab, and Jo-Jo soon followed. “Get in the driver’s seat, John,” insisted a women, who said she first met him when he visited her husband in a local hospital earlier this year. “When another brother’s in need, he’s always there.”
Today, the Silver Star, Navy Cross, Distinguished Service Cross, and Air Force Cross are known as awards that recognize heroic actions by service members in combat.
But they were created on the heels of serious controversy over other awards.
During the Civil War, Congress created the Medal of Honor to recognize valor. But some of the awards were seen as questionable by some. Perhaps the most egregious of these was the case of the 27th Maine Regiment.
According to HomeofHeroes.com, the 864 men of this regiment were awarded the medal en masse due to a poorly-worded order by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and a bureaucratic snafu.
So, in 1917, there was an effort to clean up the mess that had been created. A total 911 Medals of Honor were revoked, including those from the 27th Maine. But there was also an effort to make sure that the Medal of Honor would not be so frivolously awarded in the future, while still recognizing gallantry in action.
As America entered World War I, it was obvious there would be acts of valor. So Congress created the Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Citation Star (Which would later become the Silver Star Medal) in 1918, and the Navy Cross in 1919 to address valor that didn’t rise to the level of the Medal of Honor. It was the start of the “Pyramid of Honor,” which now has a host of decorations to recognize servicemen (and women) for valor or for other meritorious actions.
So, what sort of courageous actions warrant which medal? Perhaps one indicator of today’s standards can come from the sample citations in SECNAV Instruction 1650.1H.
Historically, though, it should be noted that in the Vietnam War, Randy “Duke” Cunningham received the Navy Cross for making ace (an Air University bio reports that he was nominated for the Medal of Honor for his actions on May 10, 1972).
Or, one can look at the actions of Leigh Ann Hester to get a good idea of what would warrant a Silver Star.
“I don’t know how many people were outside the vehicle, but I heard them counting down ‘three, two, one, lift!’ while they moved the weight of the tree off the car. I pushed up on the roof with my back to allow just enough room to get the boy out without causing further injury to him,” said the corpsman of 15 years. The boy’s head had been lodged into the side of his own left knee. The vehicle’s roof was also pushed into the child’s back.
At this point, Rory Farrell had already saved the boy’s mother who was not breathing in the front seat of the vehicle. He was now determined to save her trapped son.
Farrell, a native of Colchester, Connecticut, had always shown compassion and the willingness to help others even at a young age, according to his family.
“In that time, there have been moments that hinted to the amazing young man he would become. Sparks of light in moments of darkness that were ignited by Rory,” said Alexandra McGrath, one of his sisters.
Farrell had never been to Yosemite National Park in California before deciding to vacation there. After suffering a hand injury, he thought a simple camping trip would help him “push the reset button.”
Tree involved in the accident at Yosemite National Park.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)
It was Labor Day weekend 2017, a very busy time to visit the park. Farrell left a day earlier than anticipated. The U.S. Navy special amphibious reconnaissance corpsman finished up on a weapons range the day prior, where he supported U.S. Marines at Camp Pendleton, California, and decided it would be a good idea to keep his medical bag with him on the trip nearly 400 miles away. He did not know just how important that choice would be.
The following day soon after arriving in the park, he realized just how crowded it could be. Not wanting to be around that many people, Farrell decided to drive farther up north in the park.
After some time on the road, he eventually decided to turn around and started to backtrack his way toward the crowds once again for no particular reason.
“To this day, I still look back and say ‘wow that was a big decision,'” said Farrell.
It was only 15 minutes after he turned around that a tree, later measured to be 33 inches in circumference and 110 feet high, fell onto a parked Toyota Prius, crushing the car no more than 100 meters in front of him.
“It didn’t make sense at first, because you’re just seeing a giant tree crush a car,” said Farrell.
He got out of his truck and ran toward the vehicle to figure out how he could help.
Farrell saw two occupants outside of the vehicle and breathed a sigh of relief, thinking everyone made it out OK. He then saw the facial expression and desperation of the driver, clearly panicking – speaking no English – made it clear to Farrell that there were still people in the car.
Running up to the crushed vehicle, he could see a woman unresponsive in the front passenger’s seat and just behind her a 4-year-old little boy pinned down by the roof of the car, trapped in his booster seat.
“In a situation like that, time is of the essence,” said Farrell.
Because there were two people, he had to make the immediate decision of who to assess first. The mother was not pinned in the vehicle. He saw this as an opportunity to get her out of there quickly, according to Farrell.
He gave a single rescue breath to the mother, who responded. He then directed a few bystanders who had arrived at the scene to take the mother out of the vehicle and get her to safety, according to the accident report.
Because of the boy’s position and not wanting to risk further injury to him, Farrell decided to get into the vehicle and push up on the roof with his back while bystanders outside lifted the tree off the car just enough for the child to be removed from his booster seat.
Rear view of white Toyota Prius involved in the accident at Yosemite National Park. Photo taken after the tree and occupants have been removed from the vehicle.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)
With the boy free from the weight of the tree, Farrell could start a more detailed assessment. He felt for a pulse, which was high.
“As a medic, this is a good sign, a really good sign,” said Farrell.
The boy was not breathing, and his jaw was locked in place. Farrell’s attempted rescue breath did not work as it did with the child’s mother.
Realizing the increasing danger of the tree pushing into the roof, Farrell called for a bystander to come grab the boy as he passed him through the window. After getting out of the car himself, he immediately took the boy back and put him next to his mom, according to Farrell.
After manipulating his jaw enough to get it open and clearing the airway of any blockage, Farrell gave another rescue breath. This time the boy responded, taking a breath.
Remembering he had his medical supplies in his truck, he sprinted to retrieve the bag and return to the boy and his mother to further administer first aid.
Farrell heard a bystander on the phone with emergency services and requested to speak with the dispatcher. He disseminated vital information to the 911 operator, including a recommendation to fly the patients out instead of using ground transportation. The dispatcher requested a medevac, according to the accident report.
An ambulance arrived shortly after to transport the two to their respective helicopters. Farrell was asked by the paramedics to ride with the boy and further assist until they reached the medevac crew. He hopped into the ambulance and continued his efforts. He did so until the boy was turned over to the helicopter crew.
Farrell’s preparedness for this situation stems from his occupation as a special operations independent duty corpsman.
“Since Rory was a little boy, he has dreamed of being in the military,” said Megin Farrell, another one of his sisters.
With this goal in mind and the aspiration to help others, he joined the Navy in 2004 to be a corpsman. From there, he worked his way into the special operations community.
He became a special amphibious reconnaissance corpsman or SARC, giving him a unique opportunity to complete additional and more challenging schooling, furthering his personal goal of being able to help others, according to Farrell.
Whether during this incident or when helping an injured Marine or sailor on one of Farrell’s multiple overseas deployments, his reaction is no different.
On his behalf, Farrell’s family traveled to Washington, D.C., Sept. 12, 2019, and accepted the U.S. Department of the Interior Citizen’s Award for Bravery for his actions and heroism.
“I was at the right place at the right time with the right training to make a difference, and that’s what’s important in a situation like this,” said Farrell.
Farrell is currently deployed aboard the USS Boxer with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
This article originally appeared on Marines. Follow @USMC on Twitter.
Since at least 2015, the Air Force has been talking about mounting lasers on planes and jets, such as AC-130s and F-15s and F-16s. Lockheed Martin was recently awarded a $26.3 million contract to develop lasers for fighter jets.
It’s unclear what capabilities a sixth-generation fighter would have, but some have speculated it could have longer range, larger payloads, and an ability to switch between a manned and an unmanned aircraft. It might also be able to travel at hypersonic speeds, carry hypersonic weapons, and more.
Defense News reports that the Air Force hasn’t selected a developer for the F-X, also known as Next-Generation Air Dominance or Penetrating Counter Air, but hopes to put it into service around 2030.
The AFRL says it will “listen and learn from the scientific community, higher education and business professionals through a series of conversations and outreach events” at universities across the US this spring and summer.
“In order to defend America, we need your help to innovate smarter and faster,” the AFRL’s website says. “Our warfighters depend on us to keep the fight unfair and we will deliver.”
In addition to the F-X, the AFRL video features the Air Force’s Loyal Wingman initiative, in which a manned fighter jet commands and controls a swarm of attack and surveillance drones.
It also showcases the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Gremlins program and the Air Force’s Counter-electronics High Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project, known as Champ, a conceptual missile designed to cause electronic blackouts.
Deadly tensions between India and Pakistan are boiling over in Kashmir, a disputed territory at the northern border of each country.
A regional conflict is worrisome enough, but climate scientists warn that if either country launches just a portion of its nuclear weapons, the situation might escalate into a global environmental and humanitarian catastrophe.
On Feb. 14, 2019, a suicide bomber killed at least 40 Indian troops in a convoy traveling through Kashmir. A militant group based in Pakistan called Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility for the attack. India responded by launching airstrikes against its neighbor — the first in roughly 50 years — and Pakistan has said it shot down two Indian fighter jets and captured one of the pilots.
“This is the premier nuclear flashpoint in the world,” Ben Rhodes, a political commentator, said on Feb. 27, 2019’s episode of the “Pod Save the World” podcast.
For that reason, climate scientists have modeled how an exchange of nuclear weapons between the two countries — what is technically called a limited regional nuclear war — might affect the world.
Though the explosions would be local, the ramifications would be global, that research concluded. The ozone layer could be crippled and Earth’s climate may cool for years, triggering crop and fishery losses that would result in what the researchers called a “global nuclear famine.”
“The danger of nuclear winter has been under-understood — poorly understood — by both policymakers and the public,” Michael Mills, a researcher at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research, told Business Insider. “It has reached a point where we found that nuclear weapons are largely unusable because of the global impacts.”
But the most frightening effect is intense heat that can ignite structures for miles around. Those fires, if they occur in industrial areas or densely populated cities, can lead to a frightening phenomenon called a firestorm.
“These firestorms release many times the energy stored in nuclear weapons themselves,” Mills said. “They basically create their own weather and pull things into them, burning all of it.”
Mills helped model the outcome of an India-Pakistan nuclear war in a 2014 study. In that scenario, each country exchanges 50 weapons, less than half of its arsenal. Each of those weapons is capable of triggering a Hiroshima-size explosion, or about 15 kilotons’ worth of TNT.
The model suggested those explosions would release about 5 million tons of smoke into the air, triggering a decades-long nuclear winter.
The effects of this nuclear conflict would eliminate 20% to 50% of the ozone layer over populated areas. Surface temperatures would become colder than they’ve been for at least 1,000 years.
Photograph of a mock-up of the Little Boy nuclear weapon dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in August 1945.
Still, the number of weapons used is more important than strength, according to the calculations in this study.
How firestorms would wreck the climate
Most of the smoke in the scenario the researchers considered would come from firestorms that would tear through buildings, vehicles, fuel depots, vegetation, and more. This smoke would rise through the troposphere (the atmospheric zone closest to the ground), and particles would then be deposited in a higher layer called the stratosphere. From there, tiny black-carbon aerosols could spread around the globe.
“The lifetime of a smoke particle in the stratosphere is about five years. In the troposphere, the lifetime is one week,” Alan Robock, a climate scientist at Rutgers University who worked on the study, told Business Insider. “So in the stratosphere, the lifetime of smoke particles is much longer, which gives it 50 times the impact.”
The fine soot would cause the stratosphere, normally below freezing, to be dozens of degrees warmer than usual for five years. It would take two decades for conditions to return to normal.
This would cause ozone loss “on a scale never observed,” the study said. That ozone damage would consequently allow harmful amounts of ultraviolet radiation from the sun to reach the ground, hurting crops and humans, harming ocean plankton, and affecting vulnerable species all over the planet.
But it gets worse: Earth’s ecosystems would also be threatened by suddenly colder temperatures.
Change in surface temperature (K) for (a) June to August and (b) December to February. Values are five- year seasonal averages.
The fine black soot in the stratosphere would prevent some sun from reaching the ground. The researchers calculated that average temperatures around the world would drop by about 1.5 degrees Celsius over the five years following the nuclear blasts.
In populated areas of North America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, changes could be more extreme (as illustrated in the graphic above). Winters there would be about 2.5 degrees colder and summers between 1 and 4 degrees colder, reducing critical growing seasons by 10 to 40 days. Expanded sea ice would also prolong the cooling process, since ice reflects sunlight away.
“It’d be cold and dark and dry on the ground, and that’d affect plants,” Robock said. “This is something everybody should be concerned about because of the potential global effects.”
The change in ocean temperatures could devastate sea life and fisheries that much of the world relies on for food. Such sudden blows to the food supply and the “ensuing panic” could cause “a global nuclear famine,” according to the study’s authors.
Temperatures wouldn’t return to normal for more than 25 years.
Pakistani Missiles on display in Karachi, Pakistan.
The effects might be much worse than previously thought
“You’d think the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies would fund this research, but they didn’t and had no interest,” he said.
Since his earlier modeling work, Robock said, the potential effects of a nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan have gotten worse. That’s because India and Pakistan now have more nuclear weapons, and their cities have grown.
“It’s about five times worse than what we’ve previously calculated,” he said.
Because of his intimate knowledge of the potential consequences, Robock advocates the reduction of nuclear arsenals around the world. He said he thinks Russia and the US — which has nearly 7,000 nuclear weapons — are in a unique position to lead the way.
“Why don’t the US and Russia each get down to 200? That’s a first step,” Robock said.
“If President Trump wants the Nobel Peace Prize, he should get rid of land-based missiles, which are on hair-trigger alert, because we don’t need them,” he added. “That’s how he’ll get a peace prize — not by saying we have more than anyone else.”
Kevin Loria and Alex Lockie contributed to this article.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Green Beret Lt. Col. Brian Decker led a unit in Iraq. Then he was assigned to run the Special Forces Assessment and Selection program in North Carolina. He decided to improve the Army’s selection process and reduce the washout rate for men who made it through the initial screening.
Decker wanted to develop tools that would allow the Army to identify soldiers who could make good decisions in chaotic situations and have the necessary devotion to teamwork. He overhauled a process that had been static since its launch in 1988 and introduced new standards that collected over 1,200 data points on each candidate, including physical and mental processes. After three years, Decker’s program had reduced the washout rate by 30%.
He met former Cleveland Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski when the coach came to a Special Forces camp looking for training tips. That turned into an reciprocal invite to Browns camp. Team president Joe Banner was fascinated by Decker’s philosophy and convinced him to retire from the Army and join the team as a special advisor, in hopes that Decker’s analysis could help correct the NFL’s notorious 50% failure rate for first round draft picks.
He kept the job even after the Browns fired that management team. Their successors kept him on and he spent a couple of years advising the team on its draft. How did that turn out?
ESPN.com’s Seth Wickersham tells Decker’s story in a 3600-word profile that details Decker’s career and investigates how his football project has been going. It’s definitely worth a read.