The real history behind Cinco de Mayo - We Are The Mighty
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The real history behind Cinco de Mayo

The real history behind Cinco de Mayo


Like most national celebrations and holidays, Cinco de Mayo started with honest intent, connected to some important historical event, but was eventually commercialized into a booze-filled party absorbed by outside cultures. While a majority of people explain Cinco de Mayo as “the Mexican Fourth of July” in-between margarita sips, this isn’t correct either. As David E Hayes-Bautista, Director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at the School of Medicine at UCLA, told Time, “Cinco de Mayo is part of the Latino experience of the American Civil War.”

In the early 1860s, Mexico had fallen in immense debt to France. That situation led Napoleon III, who had flirted with supporting the confederacy, to send troops to not only overtake Mexico City, but also to help form a Confederate-friendly country that would neighbor the South.

“The French army was about four days from Mexico City when they had to go through the town of Puebla, and as it happened, they didn’t make it,” Hayes-Bautista says. In a David-and-Goliath style triumph, the smaller and less-equipped Mexican army held off French troops in the Battle of Puebla, on the fifth of May of 1862. (The French army returned the following year and won, but the initial Mexican victory was still impressive.)

Head over to Time to read more.

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One of the F-35’s most expensive features was made possible by flying saucers

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An F-35B using its central lifting fan to perform a vertical landing | Lockheed Martin photo


The US Air Force’s push to develop operational flying saucers 60 years ago laid the conceptual groundwork for one of the variants of Lockheed Martin’s F-35, MIT Technology Review reports.

The F-35 comes in three variants, with key mechanical differences for the Air Force, Marines, and Navy – the F-35A, F-35B, and F-35C respectively.

Of the three models, the F-35B is the most technologically different.

Unlike the F-35A and F-35C, the Marines needed their variant to be capable of conducting short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) operations.

This request necessitated that the F-35B be given a lifting fan. And, as Desire Francine G. Fedrigo, Ricardo Gobato, Alekssander Gobato note in a paper at the Cornell University Library, the F-35B’s lifting fan has its conceptual roots in flying saucers.

Between 1954 and 1961, the US Air Force spent $10 million attempting to develop a flying saucer that became known as an Avrocar. The Avrocar was a vertical and/or short take-off and landing (V/STOL) saucer that was powered by one giant central fan.

Despite its seven years of development, the Air Force failed to make the Avrocar into a mission capable vehicle that could potentially replace helicopters.

MIT Technology Review notes that the aircraft was “hot and almost unbearably uncomfortable for the pilot. And it demonstrated various idiosyncrasies such as taking five seconds to turn 90 degrees to the left but 11 seconds to turn the same amount to the right, presumably because of its central rotating fan.”

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An Avrocar during flight testing. | Wikimedia Commons

However, despite the Avrocars’ failings, the technology did point researchers towards the feasibility of developing and embedding a central lift fan turbine within an aircraft for variations of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) technology.

“The concept of a lift fan, driven by a turbojet engine is not dead, and lives today as a key component of Lockheed X-35 Joint Strike Fighter contender,” Fedrigo notes, adding that the conceptual framework of the Avrocar helped General Electric’s own development of a booster fan propulsion system.

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US Air Force

Whereas the Avrocar’s development ultimately failed, though, GE’s “Vertifan” went on to prove the concept of successful lifting fan technology. This in turn lead to a DARPA sponsored development challenge that gave birth to lifting fans being used in the F-35B.

The F-35B was declared ready for combat by the Marine Corps on July 31.

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Air Force pilots drop bombs from F-35s for the first time

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An F-35B dropping a GBU-12 during a developmental test flight. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)


Air Force pilots attached to deployable squadrons have started dropping real bombs off of their F-35s during training missions, according to a report posted at CNN.com.

“This is significant because we’re building the confidence of our pilots by actually dropping something off the airplane instead of simulating weapon employment,” Lt. Col. George Watkins said in an Air Force statement.

The inert precision guided bombs were dropped from airplanes based at Hill Air Force Base in Utah.

The F-35, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter, could use whatever good publicity it can manage at this point. The test program has been plagued with failures at every turn, from wrestling with the millions of lines of code needed to make the cockpit suite communicate with the $500,000 helmet the pilot is supposed to wear to having to redesign the tailhook so the airplane will actually catch the wire across the flight deck and stop when trying to land on an aircraft carrier.

The program’s original “initial operational capability” or “IOC” date was in 2012, but that goal was missed due to setbacks. The overall program cost is currently at $400 billion, and that’s expected to go up to more than $1 trillion over the life of the airplane.

F-35 supporters marvel at the fighter’s “fifth generation” capability, which includes radar-evading stealth technology and data sharing between airplanes.  Critics say the Joint Strike Fighter is a procurement nightmare that can’t match the A-10 as a close air support asset or the F-16 as a dogfighter.

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14 amazing yet little-known facts about the Korean War

We call it “the Korean War;” the North Koreans call it the “Fatherland Liberation War.” Whatever you call it, on June 25, 1950, North Korean tanks rolled across the 38th Parallel, the border that separated the Communist-controlled and supported North from the capitalist and Western-backed South. It was the first test of Western adherence to the Cold War doctrine of containment, a strategy to stem the forced spread of Communism worldwide.


The real history behind Cinco de Mayo

It was a brutal war that pitted the Soviet Union, People’s Republic of China, and North Korea against the United Nations, led by the United States and South Korea. The war started with a wildly swinging pendulum of momentum that almost drove Western forces into the Sea of Japan. They were saved only by a heroic UN stand at the Pusan Perimeter and one of the most daring amphibious landings in history at Inchon. The Western counterattack drove the Communists all the way to the Yalu River, the North Korean border with China. The subsequent Chinese intervention pushed the then-heavily outnumbered Americans back to the original border and a subsequent two-year stalemate until an armistice ended the fighting in 1953.

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It was in Korea that some of the most legendary American military heroes said their most famous lines, made their most famous stands, and overcame seemingly insurmountable odds. The Korean War came just after the long, good fight of World War II, at a time when the world was weary of war. Just a few years later, the cultural fabric United States would be forever altered with coming of the war in Vietnam. Being sandwiched between and subsequently overshadowed by these other two, the Korean War has come to be called the Forgotten War, both by historians and the men who fought there. In an effort to relegate that nickname to the dustbin of history, here are some facts about the Korean War you may not have already known.

1. A U.S. Army sergeant in Moscow was the catalyst

Stalin prevented a war on the Korean Peninsula since the end of World War II, for fear of an all-out war with the West. When the KGB recruited an Army NCO from the code room at the U.S. Embassy, they discovered the U.S. had moved the bulk of its forces in the region to Japan. Stalin now believed the U.S. would not move to defend Korea and gave North Korean dictator Kim Il-Sung the green light to invade the South. Stalin was wrong. The Army sergeant’s identity was never discovered.

2. The South was far from Democratic

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Rhee with Gen. Douglas MacArthur

The first President of South Korea, Syngman Rhee, jailed or assassinated his political opponents. He also had an active secret police force to root out North Korean agents, but they detained, tortured, and killed many innocent civilians. Days after the start of the Korean War, he ordered the Bodo League Massacre, killing more than 100,000 suspected communist sympathizers and their families. Rhee was ousted when thousands of protesters overran the Blue House in 1960.

3. The U.S. knew about the North’s military buildup

The nascent CIA noticed the North Koreans moving their army toward their Southern border but thought it was more of a defensive measure. They reported to Secretary of State Dean Acheson that an invasion was unlikely. They didn’t know the Soviets already broke American military and diplomatic codes and knew the U.S. couldn’t mount an effective response to an invasion.

4. It was technically a “police action”

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President Truman never asked Congress for a declaration of war, and Congress didn’t offer one. That was back when we cared about these kinds of things. Instead, Truman placed the fighting under the aegis of the United Nations, since Korea itself was a construct of UN agreements. For the first time since WWII, U.S. troops fought in combat at Osan, thirty miles South of Seoul.

5. The U.S. dropped more ordnance on Korea than in the entire Pacific during WWII

The Korean War absolutely devastated North Korea, and this memory is a major reason why so much animosity still exists to this day. The United States dropped 635,000 tons of bombs on the North, compared to 503,000 pounds dropped on the entire Pacific Theater in WWII, killing an estimated 12-15 percent of the population. Curtis LeMay estimated an even higher proportion – he claimed 2o percent.

6. It featured the first all-jet dogfight

On November 8, 1950, 1st Lt. Russell Brown engaged a MiG-15 in his F-80 Shooting Star. The MiG was clearly a superior fighter and this discovery led to the development of the F-86 Sabre. It wasn’t superior enough to allow the MiG to win the dogfight, however. Lt. Brown downed the Communist jet. The skies over Northwest Korea featured many dogfights in the war years and soon became known as “MiG Alley.”

7. Frostbite was one of the most prevalent injuries

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Thousands suffered from frostbite, while many suffered from trench foot or a combination of both. Temperatures during some of the coldest fighting were as low as -54 degrees fahrenheit. The MASH unit (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) was just one of many battlefield medical innovations designed to stay close to the front and save the lives of more combat injured troops.

8. Seoul changed hands four times

The South Korean capital sits just 35 miles from the North-South border. It was first captured by the North Koreans on June 28, 1950, just three days after the North invaded. It was retaken by UN forces that September. The Chinese seized the city in January 1951 but lost it two months after that.

9. The first year was the deadliest

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Roughly a quarter of all Americans killed during the Korean War died between August and December 1950, during the battles of the Pusan Perimeter, the Chosin Reservoir, and Kunu-ri Pass. 178,426 UN troops died in Korea, compared to more than 700,000 Communists. The first American, Pvt. Kenneth Shadrick died near Osan.

10. Army Special Forces created an army of their own

The 8240th Army Unit, Army Rangers and other soldiers with experience in partisan warfare from World War II raised and advised local partisan armies in Korea on how to fight behind enemy lines and sabotage the Communists. The 8240th would advise more than 38,000 partisan fighters.

11. It was more than just Americans and Koreans fighting Communists

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Ethiopian troops fighting in Korea

Being a UN police action, other countries joined the coalition of forces fighting to keep the South safe for capitalism, if not democracy. Significant forces came from Great Britain and the Commonwealth countries, especially Australia and Canada. Turkish forces faced their biggest military challenge since World War I at the Battle of Kunu-ri Pass. Other countries who gave significant troops included Ethiopia, Colombia, Thailand and the Philippines.

12. Generals weren’t far from the fighting

These days, you don’t hear much about general officers in the thick of the action unless they’re visiting a combat unit or are on some sort of tour or inspection. That wasn’t true during the Korean War. General Douglas MacArthur went to Korea himself during the Battle of the Pusan Perimeter to assess the situation there and determine how to proceed (the Inchon Landing is what he came up with).

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From left to right: Puller, MacArthur, and OP Smith

Army General William F. Dean was among the last to retreat from Taejon as the North advanced. He wanted to make sure all his men and material made it out as orderly and safely as possible. While trying to help a wounded troop, Dean was knocked unconscious and captured by the Communists.

As the war raged on in and around the peninsula, a slew of Generals would find themselves in combat. Oliver P. Smith directed the breakout of the Marines surrounded at the Chosin Reservoir and led them back to the port of Hungnam. Chesty Puller was still racking up awards and decorations in Korea. He was promoted to Brigadier General after landing at Inchon and fighting at the Chosin.

13. The Korean War never ended

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Armistice talks took more than two years to complete. The real hang-up was over the repatriation of POWs. Eventually, the North conceded and an armistice was signed. The signatories didn’t end the war, however, just the fighting. The war continues to this day.

14. Korean War veterans are becoming just as rare as WWII vets

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The conflict itself fizzled out quietly. The men who fought in Korea didn’t come home to parades or parties and kissing in Times Square. The job of fighting the Communists fell to the generation who bore the burden of combat without hesitation or complaint, even after the world forgot the heroism they displayed or the people they kept safe. At the rate of an estimated 500 per day, they are slowly and silently passing into history, just as their war did.

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The Marine Corps’ F-35B is practicing in Nevada for future combat

For the first time ever, Marine Corps aviators will fly their short-takeoff and vertical landing version of the F-35 Lightning II in one of the world’s most intense aerial combat training exercises, the Red Flag Exercise in Nevada.


The F-35Bs will be focusing on flight safety and how to best employ the plane’s current suite of weapons and tools and will not seek to engage targets within visual range, 2nd Lt. Casey Littesy, a 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing spokesperson, told the Marine Corps Times.

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A US Marine Corps F-35B conducts a short take-off and vertical landing exercise in Oct. 2013. Photo: US Air Force Samuel King

All friendly fighters in the exercise go up against American jets and surface-to-air missiles tweaked to provide realistic training that simulates a war with a near-peer rival such as Russia or China. These advanced threats from rival nations are the exact adversaries that the F-35 — and its sibling, the F-22 Raptor — were designed to fly against.

A hot debate rages over whether the F-35s will work as advertised against advanced fighters, like Russia’s PAK FA, China’s J-20 and ground threats like the S-400 and HQ-9 surface-to-air missile systems. Red Flag — which runs from July 11-29 — represents one of the Corps’ best chances to see how the F-35B can play in airspace that an enemy is trying to control or take.

Red Flag trainers have even begun folding cyber attacks into the exercise, meaning F-35B pilots will have to deal with attacks on their network. But this could actually be a prime area for the F-35 to shine.

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The F-35 can connect to most any friendly force on the battlefield, feeding information from its sensors to friendlies and grabbing information from other planes and sensors. (Graphic: Lockheed Martin)

The Lightning II is outfitted with top-tier sensors, advanced software that sorts and compiles information and network capabilities that allow it to connect to other combatants. That means the F-35B may be able to ferry information for others when the battlefield network is attacked.

This isn’t the first time the Marines have taken the F-35B out of the stable and put it through its paces. The plane has been folded into the Marine Corps Weapons and Tactics Instructors course, an intense school for elite pilots that tests the F-35B and its operators.

During a recent test, 30 F-35Bs ran an exercise against 24 aggressor aircraft. Legacy aircraft that have attempted the test suffered losses of between 33 and 50 percent of their aircraft, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Jon Davis said during Congressional testimony on July 6. The F-35B chewed through the enemy instead, killing all 24 without suffering a single loss.

Detractors of the program believe that these battlefield exercises are either stacked in the F-35’s favor or that the results were tweaked or outright fabricated. The debate will likely continue until the Lightning II is first sent to war. Until then, it’s the Marine Corps’ job to make sure F-35B aviators are ready for that call.

(h/t Marine Corps Times)

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VIDEO: Pentagon Wants F-15 Jets Launching Satellites Into Orbit

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Photo: DARPA.mil


The Pentagon wants to launch satellites from a fighter jet as it seeks to lower the costs of sending Defense Department satellites into space.

Also Read: Can You Identify These Jets? Take The Quiz 

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is leading the project called Airborne Launch Assist Space Access, or ALASA. Bradford Tousley, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, said earlier this month the agency plans to  execute the program’s first flight demonstration by the end of the year and then 12 orbital tests in 2016.

Engineers have designed a launch vehicle that can be carried under an F-15. The F-15 would carry the launch vehicle to a high enough altitude before the launch vehicle would separate from the aircraft. The vehicle would then use its own rocket boosters to leave the Earth’s atmosphere before delivering the satellite into orbit.

DARPA officials hope the program can deliver satellites under 100 pounds within 24 hours notice and for a price tag under $1 million.

The Boeing Company, which builds the F-15, is the prime contractor for ALASA.

More from Military.com

This article originally appeared at Military.com Copyright 2014. Follow Military.com on Twitter.

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WWII-era female flyers are fighting for military burial honors (and you can help)

*This story was updated on 1/29 to reflect input from the Department of the Army*


Early in the world wars, many American women found roles open to them. While they were usually kept far from the direct combat (nurses excluded), the positions they filled were usually designed to “free a man to fight.” Female units formed throughout the U.S. military, though not without debate or criticism. Many of these were based on similar British organizations for women. After visiting Americans observed these female units in action, they brought the good ideas home.

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Nancy E. Batson, WAFS pilot. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Women’s Flying Training Detachment was one such unit. Created by Legendary Air Force (then-Army Air Corps) General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, these women pilots were hired to fill jobs flying aircraft stateside from base to base. They received hundreds of flying hours in training, but were not considered a real part of the Army and thus could not received veteran status. The WFTD and the Women’s Auxiliary Airforce Ferrying Squadron (WAAFS) were both formed separately in 1942.  The WAAFS would take fighters, bombers, and transports from the factories to stateside bases.  Both the WAAFS and WFTD would later be merged with the now-famous Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs.

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WASPs uniforms on display in the Air Power Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The first director of the WASPs was Jacqueline Cochran, a contemporary of famed pilot Amelia Earhart.  She was only woman to win the Bendix Transcontinental Aeronautical Race and also a five-time Harmon Trophy winner, which was awarded to the world’s foremost leading aviator. Cochran would also become the first woman to fly a bomber across the Atlantic Ocean, the first woman to break the sound barrier, and many more female firsts. She also currently holds more distance and speed records than any pilot of any gender, living or dead. If that wasn’t enough of a pedigree, Nancy H. Love, commander of the WAFS, was the Executive Officer for the new unit. Love was also an accomplished pilot by any metric. She was certified in 19 military aircraft and was the first woman to fly the B-17 Flying Fortress. After the creation of the independent Air Force, Cochran and Love would both joint the U.S. Air Force Reserve and rise to the ranks of lieutenant colonel.

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Nancy Love and Betty Gillies (U.S. Air Force photo)

The WASP program would train over a thousand pilots as light training instructors, glider tow pilots, towing targets for air-to-air and anti-aircraft gunnery practice, engineering test flying, ferrying aircraft, and other duties. They were considered civil services employees, never being accepted into the Army Air Forces despite their proven ability.  WASPs were capable of flying any aircraft in the U.S. arsenal, including the P-51 Mustang and B-29 Superfortress,, often remarked by men as being difficult to fly. In fact, the first person to fly an Army Air Forces jet was WASP Ann Baumgartner.

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A WAFS pilot flying a B-17 (U.S. Air Force photo)

WASPs were required to complete the same training as male Army Air Corps pilots, save for combat flying, such as gunnery and acrobatics. WASPs did their training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas and were stationed at 120 air bases across the U.S. They would deliver more than 12,000 aircraft of 78 different types.

Thirty-eight WASPs died during the program’s run. The accident rate was similar to that of males doing the same work. Hap Arnold himself would address the last class of WASPs to graduate from training.

“You … have shown that you can fly wingtip to wingtip with your brothers. If ever there was doubt in anyone’s mind that women could become skilled pilots,” Arnold said. “The WASPs dispelled that doubt. I want to stress how valuable the whole WASP program has been for the country.”

The WASP program was classified and sealed until 1977, when a false press release from the Department of the Air Force announced that the first women would be trained to fly military aircraft. Then-Colonel Bruce Arnold, son of General Hap Arnold, lobbied Congress for full recognition of the WASPs as veterans. President Carter ordered their recognition as veterans in 1977 and in 1984, they received their World War II Victory Medal. In 2009, the WASPs were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, with 300 surviving members on hand to receive them.

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(U.S. Air Force photo)

The family of WASP Elaine Danforth Harmon started a petition to get WASPs their recognition as veterans eligible for inurnment at Arlington. According to the Department of the Army, WASPs have never been eligible either for inurnment or burial at Arlington.

“The service of Women Air Force Service Pilots during World War II is highly commendable and, while certainly worthy of recognition, it does not, in itself, reach the level of Active Duty service required for inurnment at Arlington National Cemetery,” Lt. Col. Patrick Seiber of the Army’s Media Relations Division clarified.

“The confusion is caused, in part, by Public Law 95-202 Section 401,” Seiber continued. “Which authorized the Secretary of Defense to declare that certain groups be considered active duty for the purpose of allowing certain Veterans Affairs benefits, which include burial and inurnment at national cemeteries maintained by VA.”

“Arlington is not administered by the VA, and its eligibility criteria are far more stringent, due to space limitations. Burial space at Arlington National Cemetery is ultimately finite. Based upon current demand and capacity, Arlington will exhaust interment and inurnment space for any Active Duty service member or veteran in the next 20 years, by the mid 2030’s.”

Harmon was too young to volunteer for the war effort, but she got her parents’ permission to join. Her 40 hours of flight time earned her a training spot in Sweetwater, Texas, and then later a spot for more training at Nellis, in Nevada. It was a rare opportunity, only one woman was accepted for every ten males. Even then, they were treated like the backwater of the flying corps. WASPs did not even have uniforms until about seven months before they were deactivated. They wore coveralls when they flew and had to wash them in the showers.

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Elaine Harmon, one of just over 1000 women who served as WASPs, or Women Airforce Service Pilots.

“My grandmother was just a generally very adventurous person. When she saw an advertisement for a program to learn how to fly, she said ‘Oh that sounds like something I’d be interested in doing,'” Harmon’s granddaughter Erin Miller told PRI. “My grandmother and the women she served with, the other WASPs, were just really excited to be able to serve their country, like they would gladly have gone overseas if they had been allowed to — they had no hesitation about that. They were just very glad to serve their country.”

You can sign the WASPs petition here.

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The top 6 reasons civilians back out of military service

Anyone who’s ever served in uniform has probably heard someone say the immortal line: “I would have joined the military, but…”


Lots of civilians make a trip to the recruiter with an eye toward military service, full of patriotic zeal and martial courage. But many pull out at the last minute and give their friends and family some song and dance about why they couldn’t commit.

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…But the MRE bread is too good? A U.S. Marine recruit with Alpha Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, takes part in a Meal, Ready-to-Eat during the Crucible at Parris Island, South Carolina, Dec. 3, 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jamal D. Sutter)

No matter what excuse they give you for not signing on the dotted line, here are six real reasons recruiters tell us people decide not to join.

6. They’re physically disqualified

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The Marine Corps Bulletin 1020, released June 2, 2016, explains the new Marine Corps tattoo policy.

A recruit who wants to join but is physically disqualified is disappointing for both the recruit and the recruiter. Applicants can be physically disqualified because of asthma, bad eyesight, scoliosis, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and other causes. Sometimes people disqualify themselves with tattoos, ear gauges or other kinds of body art.

5. Friends and family talk them out of it

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Some occupations in the military are the most dangerous jobs in the world, but that doesn’t mean they will necessarily lead to death. The type of job and location of a recruit’s duty station will determine the risk that military personnel encounter. Approximately 80 percent of career fields in the military are non-combat related.

Still, some potential recruits are convinced their service will kill them.

4. They don’t want to leave a significant other

Being in a relationship while going through the process of enlisting is challenging. Getting married or having a child as a single parent may affect the process of enlistment and eligibility to serve. Some refuse to leave their partner behind and instead give up on a potential military career for love.

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They’ve apparently never heard of Army Wives. (Promotional photo/Lifetime)

3. They enlist and sign a contract but don’t get their dream job

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Everyone wants to be gangster, until there’s gangster poop to be burned. (Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Kowshon Ye)

Open positions are based on the needs and manning of the particular service. In the Navy, (my expertise) most jobs do not have to be permanent. Changing jobs can be easy if there’s a new job open and you can meet the qualifications. The Army has a program where a service member can re-enlist and change his MOS. But for some people, not having the ideal job is non-negotiable, so they never enlist.

2. The recruiting experience went south

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Photo: US Air Force Senior Airman Micky M. Bazaldua

Recruiters have a duty and job to fill the needs of the military, but they are also responsible for building a connection with applicants. The relationship between a recruiter and a candidate is often seen as a reflection of what the service will be like, but that shouldn’t not be the only thing to consider. Still, a negative recruiting experience can discourage people from joining.

1. Some people just back out

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That look tho. (photo by U.S. Army Recruiting)

The service is not for everyone and though the idea of joining seems attractive because of the honor, the uniform and the respect — it is a sacrifice. Some people may at some point feel they can make it but don’t. After weighing the pros and cons, people just change their mind.

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This time a selfless Army hero gets his turn at surprise

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.

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Medal of Honor recipient and community activist John Baca got the attention of former Marine and MOH recipient Dakota Meyer for his work with the community in San Diego. (Photo from Gidget Fuentes)

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.”

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Baca’s 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. (Photo from Gidget Fuentes)

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.”

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Glock puts the brakes on the Army’s new handgun

It came right down to the wire, but as expected, one of the competitors for the Army’s $580 million program to replace the 1980s-era Beretta M9 handgun has filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office.


Austrian handgun maker Glock — one of the finalists in the XM17 Modular Handgun System program — filed its protest over the selection of Sig Sauer Feb. 24, according to the GAO. No details were released with the protest filing.

The protest was first reported by the Army Times.

It is not uncommon for finalists in a program of this scale to file a protest, experts say. And with the Army forecasted to purchase up to 290,000 handguns — not to mention buys from other services following on the Army’s heels — the XM17 program is one of the most high-profile weapons buys in the past decade.

Read More: Here is how the Army’s XM17 handgun program will likely go down

But it’s surely a disappointing blow to New Hampshire-based Sig Sauer, who submitted a version of its P320 modular handgun and was tapped as the winner in mid-January. As is typical in these types of high-stakes contracts, Sig was tight lipped when asked for comment on the protest.

“Sig Sauer looks forward to providing our U.S. service members the very best tools to ensure mission accomplishment, but we have no comment related to the MHS contract at this time,” said Sig Sauer marketing director Jordan Hunter in an email statement to We Are The Mighty.

According to the GAO, government auditors have until June 5 to issue a ruling on whether the award complied with government contract law. The program is suspended until the GAO makes its ruling, officials say.

While Sig Sauer has offered the commercially-available P320 modular handgun since 2014, few have seen Glock’s submission. Glock has no commercially-available modular handgun that can change caliber and frame size using different parts.

But Glock handguns are increasingly popular among U.S. service members, with most special operations troops being issued Glock 19s and the Marine Corps phasing out its MARSOC 1911 pistols in favor of Glocks.

For years, SEALs carried Sig Sauer P226 handguns, but even that community is moving toward issuing Glocks.

In March 2016, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley warned against the service executing a costly, time-consuming program like the XM17 for something as simple as a new handgun.

“We’re not exactly redesigning how to go to the moon. This is a pistol,” Milley said. “You give me $17 million on a credit card, and I’ll call Cabela’s tonight, and I’ll outfit every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine with a pistol for $17 million. And I’ll get a discount on a bulk buy.”

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Thousands of troops overseas won’t know if their votes were counted on election day

The real history behind Cinco de Mayo
Service member fills out an absentee ballot during the 2008 presidential race. (Photo: DVIDS)


One of the presidential candidates has been on the campaign trail making claims about how the election is “a rigged deal.” And while Donald Trump tries to make a linkage between perceived media bias against him and his declining poll numbers as evidence of this so-called “rigging,” history shows that the American voting process is not as much rigged as it is flawed in some ways.

And nowhere is this truer than with military absentee ballots.

Absentee ballots started during the Civil War when Union soldiers complained that they couldn’t exercise their right to vote because they were stationed along battle lines far away from their home states. President Lincoln, knowing it was going to be a close election and sensing he enjoyed the support of the troops because he was commander-in-chief, pushed to make absentee voting possible. States responded along party lines; Republicans passed laws allowing soldiers to mail ballots home from the war, and Democrats resisted such laws.

The idea died after the war but came back to the attention of lawmakers some 85 years later during World War II. Both Democrats and Republicans figured GIs would support President Roosevelt, which is why Democrats liked the idea and Republicans did not. Most states passed a law allowing absentee ballots, and as a result, nearly 2.6 million service members voted during the 1944 election, according to Donald S. Inbody of The Washington Post.

Demand grew in the decades that followed and processes for absentee ballots, including those used by the military, varied from state to state. Finally, Congress passed overarching guidance in the form of the Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986.

That guidance was imperfect, however. States often mailed ballots out too close to the election to be returned from overseas in time to be counted. As a result, service members grew disenfranchised and often chose not to participate fearing that to do so would be a waste of time.

This sense came to a head during the controversial presidential election of 2000 between Bush and Gore. Gore, the Democratic candidate, conceded only to take it back after discovering that he was actually winning the popular vote and the count in the crucial state of Florida was only separated by several hundred votes. The Democrats demanded a recount, and lawyers sprang into action across polling places statewide. Suddenly words like “hanging chads” (referring to stuck cut-outs on punch cards used to tally votes on antiquated machines) were part of the national lexicon.

Several thousand military absentee ballots came into play in this winner-take-all scenario. Once again lawmakers came down along party lines. Democrats — fearing the military voters were mostly Republican — tried to have the ballots thrown out because they had arrived past the deadline or weren’t postmarked. The Bush campaign ultimately got the ballots counted, which allowed W. to win the election and become the 43rd president.

Because of that chaos, Congress created the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to better provide information about elections and passed the Military and Overseas Voting Empowerment Act of 2009, which forced states to overhaul election laws to allow troops to request ballots and register to vote electronically. States were also required to have ballots ready to mail 45 days before an election to ensure enough time for the service member to get it back to be counted.

But these actions have far from fixed the problem. As Eric Eversole wrote in The Washington Times, during the 2010 election cycle many local officials missed the 45-day-prior deadline by more than two weeks. The result was upwards of 40,000 military absentee ballots sent only 25 days before election day, not enough time to make it out to ships at sea or forward operating bases and then back to the U.S.

And that’s not the only problem. Military absentee ballots are supposed to be tallied by home states and sent to the EAC, which is charged with reporting the results to Congress, but an independent study of EAC data conducted by the Walter Cronkite School’s News21 national reporting project found that 1 in 8 jurisdictions reported receiving more ballots than they sent, counting more ballots than they received, or rejecting more ballots than they received.

According to News21, some local voting officials think the EAC’s forms for recording military overseas participation are confusing.

“How am I supposed to account for ballots that are sent to domestic addresses but are returned from overseas?” asked Paul Lux, the supervisor of elections in a Florida county with a large population of active duty Air Force personnel. “There are just too many potential anomalies in the way we have to provide service to these voters.”

The process is also complicated on the service member’s side, mostly because of the inherent challenges of the mail systems at the far reaches of America’s military presence around the world but also because the availability of voting information varies between commands.

Matt Boehmer, the director of DoD’s Federal Voting Assistance Program, told News21 that service member confusion “is exacerbated by the fact that military voters never receive confirmation that their ballots were counted.” FVAP has recommended that state election officials notify troops when their ballots are counted.

But in spite of all of the issues challenging the military absentee ballot process, military leaders urge their subordinates to participate in the voting process.

“It’s what you raise your hand to do, support and defend the Constitution,” Capt. Yikalo Gebrehiwet, a company commander at Ft. Bragg, told News21. “The best way to do that is by voting.”

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The US Air Force has an absurd plan for replacing the A-10 Warthog

The US Air Force has presented several plans for replacing the beloved A-10 Warthog close air support attack plane over the years, but their latest plan takes the cake as the most absurd.


As it stands, the Air Force wants to purchase or develop not one, but two new airframes to eventually phase out the A-10.

The real history behind Cinco de Mayo
U.S. A-10s and F-16s take part in an Elephant Walk in South Korea | US Air Force photo

First, they’d pick out a plane, likely an existing one, called the OA-X, (Observation, Attack, Experimental), which would likely be an existing plane with a low operating cost. Propeller-driven planes like the Beechcraft AT-6, already in use as a training plane for the Air Force, or Embraer A-29 Super Tucano, which the US recently gave to Afghanistan for counter-insurgency missions, are possible options.

Related: Here’s a friendly reminder of how big the A-10 Warthog’s gun is

The OA-X would fly with A-10s in low-threat air spaces to support the tank-buster, however this option appears to make little sense.

A sub-sonic, propeller-driven plane can perform essential close air support duties in much the same way a World War II era platform could, but it’s a sitting duck for the kind of man-portable, shoulder-launched air defense systems becoming increasingly prominent in today’s battle spaces.

The real history behind Cinco de Mayo
Mobile air defenses are already widespread, and only gaining ground. | YouTube screenshot

Next, the Air Force would look to field an A-X2 to finally replace the Warthog. The idea behind this jet would be to preserve the A-10’s CAS capabilities while increasing survivability in medium-threat level environments.

So while an update on the 40-year-old A-10 seems to make sense, the funding for it doesn’t.

The Air Force expects a “bow-wave” of costs in the mid-2020s, when modernization costs are looming and can’t be put off any further. This includes procuring F-35s, developing the B-21, procuring KC-46 tankers, and even possibly embarking on the quest to build a sixth-generation air dominance platform.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James seemed puzzled by the proposed plan to replace the A-10, saying in an interview with Defense News, “everything has a price tag … If something goes in, something else has to fall out.”

Air Combat Command chief Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, noted to Defense News his doubts that the proposed replacements would be a good use of limited public funds.

“If you look at the things within the combat Air Force portfolio that I’m responsible for in modernization and taking care of those systems, I don’t know where the money would come from,” Carlisle said. “And if we got extra money, in my opinion, there’s other things that I would do first to increase our combat capability before we go to that platform.”

The real history behind Cinco de Mayo
The US Air Force has a shortage of planes, where perhaps money could be better spent. | U.S. Air Force photo by Andrew Breese

Also, Carlisle doubted the need for a plane to operate in low-threat or “permissive” airspaces, as they are fast disappearing.

“Given the evolving threat environment, I sometimes wonder what permissive in the future is going to look like and if there’s going to be any such thing, with the proliferation of potential adversaries out there,” he said.

“The idea of a low-end CAS platform, I’m working my way through whether that’s a viable plan or not given what I think the threat is going to continue to evolve to, to include terrorists and their ability to get their hands on, potentially, weapons from a variety of sources.”

Furthermore, the Air Force’s proposal seems to run contrary to other proposals to replace the A-10 in the past. For a while, Air Force officials said that the F-35 would take over for the A-10, and though the F-35 just reached operational capability, it was not mentioned as part of the newest proposal.

The real history behind Cinco de Mayo
US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Corey Hook

Air Force General Mark Welsh told the Senate Armed Services Committee that other legacy fighters, the F-16 and F-15 could fly the A-10’s missions in Iraq and Syria until the F-35 was available, but that idea was also mysteriously absent from the Air Force’s two-new-plane proposal.

The Air Force, expecting huge costs in the near future, is wise to try to slash costs, and retiring an airplane and all the associated infrastructure makes an attractive target, but the A-10 represents just 2 percent of the Air Force’s budget, and has unique capabilities that no other aircraft in the fleet can hope to match.

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This American stands accused of fighting for ISIS

When Kary Kleman decided in 2015 to move his family from their home in Dubai to war-torn Syria, he assured relatives back in the U.S. that he had only good intentions.


“He said he could not live in a life of luxury knowing what was going on in Syria, and that nobody was helping the people there,” said his mother, Marlene, on April 26. “We believe he has a good heart.”

But the 46-year-old American now stands accused of fighting for the Islamic State, the terrorist group, and could face criminal prosecution on his return to the U.S.

Kleman was detained by Turkish border police late April while entering from Syria with his Syrian wife and two women whose spouses were killed in Syria or Iraq, according to Turkish officials.

When told of his situation by the Guardian, Kleman’s family denied that he had joined Isis and said he had been trying to make his way to the American embassy in Istanbul and return to the U.S.

The real history behind Cinco de Mayo
A line of ISIS soldiers.

Not long after arriving in Syria, Kleman told them he had learned the information that led him there “was all a scam,” according to his mother, and his situation became confusing to his family.

Relatives said that about 18 months ago, they alerted the FBI that Kleman may be in danger. An agent told them the bureau needed to look into whether he had become involved with wrongdoing, according to Kleman’s sister, Brenda, who said she “completely agreed” with their caution.

“I told Kary that you have to work with them, and if you’ve done everything right, be calm and it will work out,” she said.

The U.S. state department and the FBI’s field office in Jacksonville, Florida, had not responded to questions about Kleman and his alleged activities by the time this article was published.

Kleman, who converted to Islam about 15 years ago, was born in Wisconsin in July 1970, according to official records. He attended West High School in the city of Wausau. He later moved to northern Florida, where he met Denise Eberhardy, a divorcee. The couple had a son, Spencer, in June 1991.

Kleman and Eberhardy were married at the Glad Tidings church in Jacksonville in January 1997. But Kleman filed for divorce in 2001. In May that year, a circuit judge agreed that the marriage was “irretrievably broken”, and granted a dissolution.

The real history behind Cinco de Mayo
ISIS resisters have not released photos of themselves for understandable reasons. So, here’s a photo of an ISIS member photoshopped into a rubber duckie.

Marlene Kleman said on April 26 it was around this time that her son converted to Islam. A friend, whom she could only name as Dave, had converted after marrying a woman from the United Arab Emirates, and guided Kleman into the faith during a difficult time. Kleman grew a beard and became devout.

Through his mosque, Kleman met Maher Abdelwahab, a local Egyptian American businessman, and began working for Abdelwahab’s company, which imported and sold fresh produce.

Abdelwahab told him about a daughter he had back in Egypt, according to Kleman’s mother. He showed Kleman photographs, and soon the pair were talking over email. Kleman went to Egypt and the couple married and had a son. But the relationship soured and Kleman came to believe he was being exploited.

After a spell back in Florida, Kleman moved in 2011 to Dubai to be near his friend Dave, who had by then emigrated with his wife. He met a Syrian girlfriend; they married and had three children.

As the long civil war raged in his wife’s homeland, however, Kleman grew troubled, according to his family. He told his mother that he was taking his wife and children to Syria. As they departed around August 2015, he said wanted to help the people affected by the conflict, possibly working as a handyman or setting up a business.

At the time, Isis was continuing a brutal series of suicide bombings and massacres to defend territory it had seized in Syria, while coming under bombardment from U.S. airstrikes. Gruesome video footage of abducted Americans being beheaded by Isis fighters had shocked the U.S. public through 2014.

Initially his stated plan seemed to have gone smoothly. His wife had a job teaching English, according to Kleman’s mother, and things were going OK.

“Then everything went bad,” said Marlene Kleman. “They were saying Isis had taken control of the city and that Russia was bombing the city, so that’s when they planned to escape.”

Up to 30,000 foreign fighters are thought to have crossed into Syria to fight with Isis. The U.S. government estimates that as many as 25,000 of them have since been killed.

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