The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War - We Are The Mighty
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The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War

“The job of the Ravens was to, literally, look for trouble. And they often found it . . .”


—Orr Kelly, FROM A DARK SKY, The Story of U.S. Air Force Special Operations

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
The Cessna O-1 Bird Dog FAC aircraft was unmarked when flown by Raven Forward Air Controllers. Photo: Wikipedia/US Air Force

Two wars were being waged in Southeast Asia in the 1960s and early 1970s. One was the “public war” in Vietnam. Highly publicized and highly controlled from Washington, it had all the media trappings associated with major military operations. The other was a “secret war” in Laos. Waged under the tightest of security, little oversight and with minimal assets compared to the conflict in Vietnam, its objective was to interdict and destroy the flow of men, equipment and supplies along the Ho Chi Minh trail from North Vietnam to South Vietnam. Responsibility for conducting day-to-day air operations, in what one pilot called a “high risk, no-bullshit war,” was assigned to volunteers operating under the call sign Ravens, a small group of unconventional and incredibly fearless air combat controllers thinly disguised as civilian operatives.

The reason the campaign in Laos had to waged in secret was the terms of the Geneva Accords signed between the United States and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) on July 23, 1962, that guaranteed the neutrality of the Kingdom of Laos, a land-locked nation abutting Vietnam’s western border. One of the provisions in the Accords was the requirement that all foreign military forces had to leave Laos. Though the United States complied North Vietnam ignored it. Laotian Prime Minister Price Souvanna Phoumo’s request for American military aid against North Vietnam’s violation presented President John F. Kennedy’s administration with a quandary: how to comply with the prince’s request without violating the accords. Another concern was that official American military involvement might inspire a tit-for-tat response by China and the Soviet Union that risked escalating hostilities, touching off World War III.

But Laos’ strategic location, along with the fear that doing nothing would cause the country to go communist, caused President Kennedy to direct the Air Force to formulate a plan to assist Laos. Working in partnership with the CIA, the result was a covert operation placed under the command of America’s ambassador to Laos, William Sullivan, and later his successor G. McMurtrie Godley, who closely controlled all American activities there. Air Force Attaché Colonel Gus Sonnenburg and his successors directed air operations. The covert air program began modestly with the deployment in 1963 of four combat control team sergeants, call sign Butterfly.

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
A CIA U-10D Helio Courier aircraft sits on a covert mountaintop landing strip (LS) “Lima site” in Laos. The planes were owned by a CIA front company, Air America. Photo: Wikipedia

To get around the Geneva Accords restrictions, the Air Force Butterfly NCOs (and all subsequent volunteers) were scrubbed of their military identity and given a new civilian cover for the duration of their deployment in Laos, a process colorfully referred to as “sheep dipping.” Sitting in the co-pilot’s seat of the spotter aircraft, Butterflies would issue targeting instructions to Thai, Laotian, and later Hmong pilots trained through Project Water Pump. Originally created to teach indigenous and Thai pilots how to conduct Search and Rescue missions from forward bases along the Laotian border with Vietnam, Water Pump was soon expanded to train pilots for combat roles.

The Butterfly program came to an abrupt end in April 1966 when General William Momyer, the 7th Air Force commander, learned that the Butterflies were NCOs, and not jet fighter pilots, per doctrine. The following month, on May 5, 1966, Air Force lieutenants Jim F. Lemon and Truman (“T.R.”) Young, upon returning to Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base after directing air strikes at the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Vietnam, were presented with an offer they couldn’t refuse by their commanding officer: volunteer for a secret program, and a variety of minor disciplinary breaches including “rat-racing” (unauthorized acrobatics in O-1 Bird Dogs) and furniture broken during an excessive outburst of enthusiasm at a recent party would not appear in their personnel files. The lieutenants volunteered and the Raven program was launched.

The Ravens were part of a new air campaign in Laos begun in 1967 under the code name Palace Dog/Project 404. FACs for the program included pilots trained by Colonel Henry “Heinie” Aderholt following his tour of duty as commander of the 56th Air Commando Wing at Nakhon Phanom. After that deployment he was assigned deputy chief of staff for operations at the Special Air Warfare Center (now Air Force Special Operations Force) at Eglin Air Force Base.

After completion of their training and upon arriving for duty in Vietnam the FACs were informed that after six months they could volunteer for special duty through the Steve Canyon Program. After being successfully vetted and screened, the volunteers were sent to the American embassy at the Laotian capital of Vientiane where they were sheep dipped and assigned.

Mavericks, with an aggressiveness and courage bordering on the foolhardy, and stamina to endure flying twelve or more hours a day under some of the most harrowing combat and weather conditions, the Ravens and their Hmong counterparts the Nokateng (Swooping Bird) fought the war from bases at Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Pakse, Savannakhet, and Long Chieng, flying O-1 Bird Dogs, O-2 Skymasters, modified for combat AT-28 Trojans, Porter Pilatus and other aircraft.

To say that the flights were dangerous is an understatement. Of the 191 who served as Ravens, thirty-one paid for their dedication with their lives.

Major Mike Cavanaugh was a Raven in 1969. He recalled that the intensity of action over Laos caused them to become extraordinarily adept at spotting signs of enemy presence. “One time,” he recalled, “I saw bushes which came to a ninety- degree angle. The clever devil that I am, I know that bushes don’t grow in ninety- degree angles. That’s all I had to go on; I hit it with a set of fighters. I uncovered pallet after pallet of 122 mm rockets. . . . [W]e had secondary explosions for two solid days.”

One Raven’s routine was to do a dawn patrol scouting flight before breakfast,looking for such signs of enemy activity as smoke from cook fires that might indicate an enemy bivouac, or trails where the early morning dew had been brushed away by troop traffic. Upon returning for breakfast, he’d have a checklist of locations to investigate later that morning.

On one flight another Raven, Captain Karl L. Polifka, spotted a suspicious mound in the Plaine des Jarres (Plain of Jars), so named for the thousands of megalithic stone jars scattered throughout it. After alerting the base of his finding, he was informed that Intelligence indicated it was the entrance to a cave storing 500 barrels of fuel. Polifka called in a fighter-bomber who dropped a guided bomb on the mound. The resulting explosion created a fireball 1,000 feet across and was so hot that a passing rain cloud was sucked into its vortex.

While the Ravens participated because they were volunteers, their Hmong counterparts fought because it was their country. Polifka said that the Hmong pilots’ dedication was “unsurpassed by any combat pilot anywhere. . . . They seemed to have no fear, although I do think they had a vision of early mortality.” Raven Darrel Cavanaugh said, “In close, they were damned accurate. They liked to get down there and mix it up with the bad guys.”

The best pilot among the Hmong, and his admirers argued the best combat pilot in Laos regardless of nationality, was Ly Leu (also spelled Lee Lue). A schoolteacher and son-in-law to the charismatic Hmong leader General Vang Po, Captain Ly Leu was the first Hmong to volunteer for Project Water Pump. After completing T-28 training and earning his wings at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base, he returned to Laos to wage war against the communists. His motto was “Fly ’til you die”

The Ravens who worked and fought with him loved him. One Raven who observed Ly Leu in action recalled that in strafing runs it was not unusual for him to fly twenty feet above the ground and that his idea of strafing “was to stick a .50 caliber gun in the enemy’s ear and pull the trigger.” From dawn to dusk, Ly Leu flew non-stop, as many as ten missions a day. After returning from a mission, to reduce downtime he’d assist in loading ordnance for the next mission before flying off again. When he landed at dusk he was so tired he had to be lifted out of the cockpit. Ly Leu averaged 120 missions a month and racked up more than 5,000 sorties during his career. On July 12, 1969, the newly promoted Major Ly Leu flew his final mission. Attacking Pathet Lao forces in Moung Soui, northwest of the Plaines des Jarres, he was shot down and killed by enemy anti-aircraft fire. Posthumously promoted by General Vang Po to lieutenant colonel, in gratitude the Americans posthumously awarded Ly Leu the Silver Star.

Though Ravens operated throughout Laos, their major base was at Long Chieng (or Long Tieng). Located southwest of the Plaine des Jarres in Xiangkhouang Province in the north central highlands of Laos, Long Chieng (officially code-named by the Americans Lima Site 30, but usually referred to as Lima Site 20 Alternate, or just “Alternate”) was located in a mountainous valley at an elevation of 3,100 feet. The Hmong are mountain dwellers and General Vang Pao made Long Chieng his headquarters, eventually gathering 30,000 troops into his guerilla army.

At its peak of operations, Long Chieng had a population of more than 40,000, and its airfield conducted about 400 flights a day, making it one of the busiest in the world. Long Chieng gained a reputation of being “the most secret place in the world” because despite its size (it was the second largest city in Laos after the capital, Vientiane, and had the world’s largest Hmong population), it never appeared on any map.

Compared to the air war over Vietnam, the forces available in Laos were negligible—the number of Ravens in Laos at any one time was always small, and General Vang Pao’s air arm often numbered less than a dozen serviceable aircraft. That was a major reason why Hmong pilots flew the high number of missions they did. Even so, they were not alone in the skies. Raven FACs, who also flew a grueling schedule, became expert in calling in Air Force assets when needed, whether it was to aid Hmong ground troops in danger of being overrun or taking out a target of opportunity.

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
An armoured North American T-28D-5 Nomad plane at Long Tieng airfield in Laos. Photo: Wikipedia

In some cases, the enemy ironically helped the Ravens in their interdiction missions. Polifka recalled that enemy troops had been taught that an AK-47 was capable of shooting down an F-4 Phantom, something that was possible if it was flying a low-flying strafing mission. Cruising at 12,000 feet or more was another matter. But Polifka said the enemy troops didn’t take that difference of distance into account.

He recalled there would be times that he’d be on a Raven mission, flying between 2,500 and 3,000 feet and he’d look down and suddenly see a ridge line light up with muzzle flashes. “[Enemy troops] wouldn’t really be shooting at [me]; they would be shooting at a bunch of F-4s flying somewhere.” With the enemy soldiers having revealed themselves, Ravens would then call in an air strike. He said, “We know of one case where there were three survivors of a five-hundred-man battalion that straggled into a regimental command post.”

By 1969 Raven guided air operations had become so deadly and successful that Vang Pao was able to switch from guerrilla to conventional war and launch an offensive that wrested control of the Plaine des Jarres from the Pathet Lao. Though because of what happened in Vietnam ultimate victory in Laos was not achieved, the record of the Ravens’ accomplishment demonstrated that when the time came, a handful of highly skilled, dedicated, resourceful, and courageous men could accomplish a mission others regarded as impossible.

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What would happen if the Battle of Little Bighorn was fought today

The fall of Custer and five of the companies under his command at the Battle of Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876, known by the Sioux Nation as the Battle of Greasy Grass, was as much a failure of reconnaissance and intelligence as of strategy and tactics, and a modern battle between the 7th Cavalry and the Sioux Nation would play out differently.


First and foremost, modern military formations have better intelligence gathering assets. While Gen. George A. Custer labored under the false impression that Sitting Bull, the Lakota leader, had only 800 warriors with him, it’s more likely that he had well over 1,000 and possibly as many as 2,500.

When Custer first spotted the signs of the camp on June 25, he wanted to spend time scouting and resting his men before attacking but thought his presence had been detected by Sioux forces and would soon be reported. So, he ordered hasty preparations for an attack.

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
The Battle of Little Bighorn. (Lithograph: Library of Congress by Charles Marion Russell)

But modern drones and listening devices would have let him know that the fighters who spotted his men were actually leaving the encampment and not reporting to Sitting Bull. Once Custer knew that and was able to spend time gathering intelligence, he would have learned of the size of the enemy force and at least hesitated to attack with his 647 men without getting reinforcements.

His force was just part of one of three columns of U.S. government forces in the area.

But if he did press the attack anyway, that battle would be most similar to a clash between uneven forces of cavalry and mounted infantry. While Custer’s men would likely have enjoyed a technological advantage, the four-to-one numerical advantage of the Lakota, Dakota, Sioux, and Northern Cheyenne forces would have been too much to overcome.

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
Photo: U.S. Navy Journalist 2nd Class John J. Pistone

While Custer tried in 1876 to break through to the civilian parts of the camp to force the enemy to either fire in the direction of their loved ones or surrender, a modern Custer would likely try to draw out the enemy forces instead.

To help overcome his shortage of manpower, Custer would likely do this with a careful attack, trying to minimize civilian casualties while inflicting maximum damage on enemy vehicles.

Custer’s best chance would likely have been to send anti-armor missile teams into cover and concealment near the Sioux while one or two mechanized infantry companies deployed their Strykers just below the peak on nearby ridge lines.

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
Photo: U.S. Army Pfc. Victor Ayala

Then, at a prearranged signal, the Strykers would roar over the ridge and fire TOW missiles at the Sioux vehicles. To keep the technological gap between the U.S. and Sioux forces, we’ll say the Sioux predominantly have Bradleys and HMMWVs.

As the Sioux, who were mostly sleeping or resting at the start of the battle, rushed to their vehicles and started moving them to the battlefield, the hidden anti-armor teams could start hitting the vehicles as they passed through chokepoints in the camp and the terrain around it, penning up vehicles.

The mortars embedded in the infantry companies could then start laying it on thick, slamming rounds into the top armor of enemy vehicles and hitting treads and tires with shrapnel to get mobility kills.

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
Paratroopers fire a mortar system during a call-for-fire exercise at Camp Lejeune, N.C., March 3, 2016. (Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. Anthony Hewitt)

But Custer’s force of almost 650 troops would find it nearly impossible to keep over 2,000 enemies penned in for long, and the Sioux vehicles would make it into the open sooner or later. Once they did, their superiority in numbers would quickly turn the tide.

Custer could claim a victory at this point, satisfy himself with the large losses already inflicted and conduct an orderly withdrawal while radioing other U.S. government forces to be ready to attack the Sioux forces if they dispersed across the area.

If the Sioux followed him as a large group, he would be able to draw them to a larger government force and wipe them out.

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
The Bradley main armament is the M242 25mm (Bushmaster) Chain Gun. The standard rate of fire is 200 rounds per minute, and has a range of 2,000 meters, making it capable of defeating the majority of armored forces including some main battle tanks. (Photo: Department of Defense)

If, instead, he pressed his luck, and continued to fight near the Little Bighorn River, it’s likely that the final result would once again be a victory for the Sioux. Once the government anti-tank Strykers and anti-armor teams had expended their missiles, attempts to take the Bradleys out with the Stryker guns would take much longer.

Sitting Bull would be able to get a force assembled, likely by staging it behind one of the hills that dominate the area, and then launch it from behind cover and into the American flank.

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
An M2A2 Bradley in action during a mission in Iraq. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

Once the American lines were properly disrupted, more and more Sioux vehicles would be able to escape from the camp and launch additional attacks against the beleaguered 7th Cavalry.

While the Sioux would have suffered much heavier losses than in the actual 1876 battle, the end result of a standing battle between the 7th Cavalry and the Sioux nation would always be subject to the huge numbers disparity on the ground.

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‘The Wall’ takes the classic sniper duel to a whole new level

It’s the classic battle between masters of the martial arts.


Snipers embody the best of stealth, reconnaissance and camouflage and are at the top of their game when it come to dispatching targets with precision from a great distance.

“One shot, one kill” is no joke.

And when it comes to the best way to combat an enemy sniper, there’s no better weapon than a good guy sniper.

But what happens when the bad guy turns the tables and the good guy becomes the hunted? That’s exactly what happens in the new film from Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions titled “The Wall.”

Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson and WWE superstar John Cena, “The Wall” depicts a sneak attack on a U.S. sniper team in Iraq by a diabolical enemy sharpshooter called “Juba,” played by Laith Nakli. The movie explores the psychological jiujitsu from each side as they try to outmaneuver one another in a battle where moving an inch in the wrong direction could mean certain death.

The enemy sniper from “The Wall” is loosely based on the infamous insurgent sharpshooter with the Juba nom de guerre in Iraq. The real Juba was reportedly killed by ISIS in 2013.

“The Wall” will be released in theaters May 12.

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This commander prepped for war by organizing a beard growing contest

In May 1941, the United States was on the brink of war.


The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
National Archives

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed an “unlimited national emergency” and ordered American forces to prepare “to repel any and all acts or threats of aggression directed toward any part of the Western Hemisphere.”

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
National Archives

While the situation seemed grim, at least one commanding officer decided to lighten the mood. He allowed his men to grow their beards in what would be the most hirsute event in the U.S. military until Robin Olds headed to Vietnam.

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
National Archives

Related: This Air Force fighter pilot is the inspiration for ‘Mustache March’

 

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
Your winner, ladies and gentlemen. (National Archives)

Japan attacked the Philippines on December 8th, 1941. Six months later, the Philippines fell and the American troops who survived were submitted to the harshest treatment of any POWs in the Pacific War. The Allies did not retake the Philippines until October 1944.

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ISIS just became the latest victim of the red mercury hoax

Arms smugglers and ISIS buyers are hunting for red mercury, a substance that can make dumb bombs smart, hide anything from a drone, and allow for the creation of miniaturized nuclear weapons. If ISIS actually manages to get their hands on the material, it’s likely they could develop weapons that would wipe out any force sent to destroy them.


The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
Imagine this coming from a bomb the size of a suitcase. Photo: FEMA

Luckily, red mercury is a hoax and ISIS is just its latest victim.

Searches for red mercury are like snipe hunts. Those in the know get a good laugh while the new kid tries desperately to find something that doesn’t exist.

As with the legendary snipe, the physical description of red mercury changes depending on who is telling the tale. Sometimes it’s a powder, sometimes liquid. It’s always some tint of red or brown, but it may change to yellow at high temperatures.

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
This is mercury iodide, a compound that is red until it is heated about 258 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point it turns yellow. There is no temperature at which it becomes a nuclear weapon. Photo: Wikipedia/W. Oelen CC BY-SA 3.0

Likewise, its abilities change in every telling. When references to it first appeared in the 1970s, it was an essential ingredient for boosting the yield of nuclear weapons. As its myth grew, it became capable of guiding missiles to their target or hiding aircraft from enemy radar. It was later described as a nuclear material, capable of fueling a bomb on its own.

The legend of red mercury was boosted through the work of Sam Cohen, a U.S. nuclear physicist. Cohen claimed that red mercury served as a containment vehicle for nuclear reactions, allowing enough pressure and temperature to build for deuterium-tritium fusion bombs to become a reality.

North Korea, Iran, South Africa and others have all searched for the substance to accelerate or enhance their nuclear weapon programs. Now ISIS has joined them, even though the British, Russian, and American governments have all investigated it and determined it is an urban legend.

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
An Army major and another research look at something that isn’t red mercury, because red mercury is not real and so can’t be properly researched in labs. Photo: U.S. Army Africa Rick Scavetta

In a recent New York Times piece, journalist C. J. Chivers compiled a number of stories about the element. Men in the Middle East discuss a test of red mercury where a bit of the powder was mixed with chlorine. The resulting gas supposedly filled the room and then the building, forcing all the viewers from the area.

There is also a tale of different types of mercury, from green to red to the “Blood of the Slaves.” That last one can be used by magicians to summon a genie, allegedly.

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War

ISIS is looking specifically for the weaponized version of red mercury, and has a photo of what they think it looks like. From the C. J. Chivers piece:

The images showed a pale, oblong object, roughly the length of a hot-dog bun, with a hole at each end. It bore no similarity to the red mercury that smugglers often described — a thick liquid with a brilliant metallic sheen. It appeared to be a dull piece of injection-molded plastic, like a swim-lane buoy or a children’s toy. But it had an intriguing resemblance that hinted at how the Islamic State’s interest might have been piqued: It was the exact likeness of an object that in 2013 the Cihan News Agency, one of Turkey’s largest news agencies, had called a red-mercury rocket warhead.

So what is the government doing to prevent ISIS getting red mercury? Mostly just celebrating that ISIS is expending time and a lot of money to get it. With the International Atomic Energy Authority declaring red mercury “a bunch of malarkey,” there are much worse and very real things ISIS could be hunting for instead, like yellow cake or weaponized anthrax.

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World War II saw the last major cavalry charge in military history

The Soviet Union’s fighting with Fascist Italian forces is not the most widely read or written area of World War II history, but in August 1942 the two sides met along the Don River. On one side was a backward force, seemingly in a place outside of time. On the other side was the Soviet Red Army.

Benito Mussolini sent an Italian army of 235,000 troops to assist Nazi Germany with its invasion of the USSR. The ARMIR, as the Soviets called the Italian force, was not particularly well-suited for the job. Many of them were trained for mountain fighting and the wide expanses of the Asian steppe were not their forte. 

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
Italian Army in Soviet Union, winter of 1942 (Wikimedia Commons)

Some of the Fascists troops were old-style saber-wielding cavalrymen, complete with horses in an age of increasingly mechanized warfare. But by August 1942, the Soviet Union had yet to become the raging war machine that would cripple the Wehrmacht and roll over Germany on its way to Berlin. 

Fresh from assisting the Germans in the conquest of Eastern Ukraine, the Italians made their way to the banks of the Don River. Their next target after crossing the Don would be a city that would soon engulf the Italians and Germans alike, a major manufacturing and transportation hub which sat on the Volga River: Stalingrad. 

To get there, however, they first had to contend with the 2,000 Red Army infantrymen armed with machine guns and mortars that were standing in between them and the Don. The Soviets were trying to exploit a gap that had opened between the advancing German and Italian forces. 

To end the Soviet threat on August 23, 1942, 600 Italian cavalrymen mounted up and came at the foot soldiers, crashing into the Red Army line in a traditional, tightly-packed formation. They came at the communist troops with sabers flashing, but also lobbing grenades as they galloped – a modern twist on an old idea. 

Unlike some of the other cavalry charges of World War II, the Italian gamble worked. The cavalry rode right over the line of infantry and into its flanks and rear. The Red Army made the Italians pay dearly for the effort, but were forced back from their intended goal anyway. 

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
The U.S. 9th Cavalry at Ft. Riley, Kansas in May 1941 (U.S. Army)

The charge of the Italian brigade was not the last charge in history. It wasn’t even the last cavalry charge of World War II. But it was the last major cavalry charge in a large pitched battle. The United States would effectively use a relatively small cavalry charge in the Philippines against the Japanese and the Japanese would use a cavalry charge against the British in Burma. Both of these also did the job. 

But there was no doubt that horse-mounted cavalry was on its way out of the military playbook. The U.S. charge in the Philippines would be the last one used by the Americans. Future cavalry charges wouldn’t meet foot soldiers, they would meet armored tanks – a lopsided effort if there ever was one.

The ARMIR was also on its way out. It was effectively disbanded after the Axis defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad, where much of it was sent into the Red Army’s meat grinder and either killed or captured. What was left of the Italian force walked back to Italy.

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This is why Navy medics get combat first aid training in US cities

They call parts of Chicago “Chiraq” for a reason.


The Chicago Tribune tracks the insane number of shooting victims in the area, broken down by year, month, and location.

And the numbers are staggering.

As gangs inflict casualties on other gang members and innocent bystanders in cities like Chicago, it’s tragically similar to a war zone — so similar, U.S. military medics have been training in the most dangerous parts of America’s cities since at least 2003.

Many of the armed forces’ medical personnel just do not get trauma training they need on the battlefields overseas, so they get it working the battlefields at home.

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
U.S. Navy corpsmen from 1st Medical Battalion rush a casualty during a simulated combat-related trauma at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Pfc. Nadia J. Stark)

“It’s important to get them this kind of training here, so they can see how to stop that bleeding and save that life,” Lt. Cmdr. Stan Hovell, a Navy nurse who worked at Chicago’s Cook County hospital, told the Chicago Tribune. “They pick up those skills and carry it back to the Navy.”

Gangland violence is keeping up with the times when it comes to wounds of warfare. Gang members sometimes even use military-style rifles in their assaults, according to Dale Smith, the chair of the Medical Military History Department at the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda. And they’ve inflicted bayonet-like stabbing wounds.

Hector Becerra of the LA Times wrote in 2003 about the “Juke” – a stabbing move “patented by gangs” that entered below the collarbone, then thrust down into the belly in a twisting motion.

“The first night I took calls here, it was unbelievable,” Navy Cmdr. Peter Rhee, director of the Trauma Training Center at the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center emergency room told the LA Times. “We ended up opening five chests; we had 10 people shot in the chest. We were operating all night long. It was truly as bad as any kind of wartime experience you could have.”

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
U.S. Navy corpsmen from 1st Medical Battalion assess the extent of injuries on a victim of simulated combat-related trauma aboard Camp Pendleton. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Pfc. Nadia J. Stark)

The doctors, nurses, and administrators love having medics and corpsmen rotating through their staff because U.S. military personnel are fearless.

“Some of them are very experienced,” Faran Bokhari, the head of Chicago’s Stroger Hospital trauma department told the Chicago Tribune. “They’re not green medical students out of la-la land. They’ve seen the blood and guts.”

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The North Korean nuclear threat is looming larger

The only nation to have used nuclear weapons this century will be able to strike Seattle in four years, former CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden said on Wednesday.


“I really do think that it is very likely by the end of Mr. Trump’s first term the North Korean’s will be able to reach Seattle with a nuclear weapon onboard an indigenously produced intercontinental ballistic missile,” Hayden said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

Also read: As North Korea gets more ambitious with missiles, Japan looks to US for backup

“Now, will it be a high-probability shot, they have technical issues, so probably not. But then again, what kind of odds are you comfortable with when it comes to Pyongyang?” Hayden said.

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War

So far this year, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has conducted 25 ballistic-missile tests and two nuclear tests.

Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow of Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation and former CIA deputy division chief for Korea, says the North Korean threat isn’t four years away — it’s nearly here.

“Hayden is a bit behind the curve on the North Korea ICBM threat,” Klingner told Business Insider.

“After the December 2012 launch, the South Korean navy dredged up off the ocean floor the stages of the North Korean missile, Klingner explained. “South Korean and US officials assessed the missile had a 10,000 km range which covers a large part of the US.”

Fast forward to this year, on February 7, a month after North Korea’s purported hydrogen-bomb test, the rogue regime fired a long-range rocket it claimed was carrying a satellite for its space program.

The launch, which was largely viewed as a front for testing an intercontinental ballistic missile, was not only successful but also showcased the North’s technological advancements.

“After the February 2016 launch, experts assessed it could have a range of 13,000 km, covering the entire US,” Klingner said, which makes the Seattle range estimate “outdated,” he added.

According to Klingner, even the rocket with a range of 10,000 km would compromise approximately 120 million people.

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
A graphic showing the range of the North Korean rocket launched on February 7, 2016. | Courtesy of The Heritage Foundation

What’s more, in 2015, US commanders of US Forces Korea, Pacific Command, and North American Aerospace Defense Command publicly assessed that Pyongyang is able to strike to the US with a nuclear weapon.

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Follow the West Point Class of 1966 to Vietnam in ‘The Long Gray Line’

Historian Rick Atkinson has become famous as one of our greatest chroniclers of war with his World War II Liberation Trilogy, and he’s off to a strong start to his Revolution Trilogy with the 2019 best seller, “The British Are Coming.”

More than a decade before he won the Pulitzer Prize for “An Army at Dawn” (Liberation Trilogy, Book 1), Atkinson caught the attention of military history readers with 1989’s “The Long Gray Line,” a chronicle of 25 years in the life of the West Point Class of 1966.Advertisement

The book captures a shift in military culture. These young officers were born in the waning days of World War II and inevitably brought a different perspective that sometimes clashed with senior officers whose experiences were defined by that conflict.

Some of these men didn’t make it back, and others were instrumental in remaking the Army in the years after Vietnam. Atkinson uses their experiences to tell an epic story of how U.S. forces redefined their mission in the late 20th century.

Since the book was published, we’ve lived through a terror attack on U.S. soil and a pair of wars that lasted far longer than the conflict in Southeast Asia. Even though no one profiled in the book nor the author could have imagined what was coming, “The Long Gray Line” nonetheless offers a lot of perspective on why we’ve conducted the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan the way we have.Advertisement

Atkinson’s Army officer father was stationed in Munich when the writer was born there in 1952. He turned down an appointment to West Point himself and built a career as a reporter at The Washington Post, winning a journalism Pulitzer for a series of articles about the West Point Class of 1966. Those articles are the basis of “The Long Gray Line.”

If you weren’t around in 1989 or weren’t listening to audiobooks back then, you probably don’t know that almost anything over 300 pages was abridged for its audio version so that it wouldn’t require too many cassette tapes. CDs helped a bit, but the unabridged audio standard didn’t hit until we started streaming and listening to books on our iPods and phones in the early 2000s.

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War

So, here we are in 2021, and we’ve finally got an unabridged version of “The Long Gray Line.” The full 28 hours include an introduction read by Atkinson and a conversation between the author and Ty Seidule, the former head of the history department at the United States Military Academy. Narrator Adam Barr reads the book for you.

You can listen to Chapter 1 below. It’s only nine minutes long, but you are likely to find yourself hooked before it’s over.

https://www.military.com/off-duty/books/2021/05/13/follow-west-point-class-of-1966-vietnam-long-gray-line.html

If you’re into reading instead of listening, “The Long Gray Line” is available in ebook or paperback editions.

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Featured photo: US Military Academy

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US may deploy Patriot missile defense to Russian border

U.S. defense officials say a long-range Patriot missile battery may be deployed to the Baltic region later this year as part of a military exercise.


If the move is finalized, it would be temporary, but still signal staunch U.S. backing for Baltic nations that are worried about the threat from Russia.

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
A Patriot Air and Missile Defense launcher fires an interceptor during a previous test at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The latest configuration of the system, called PDB-8, has passed four flight tests and is now with the U.S. Army for a final evaluation. | Raytheon

U.S. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis is visiting one of the Baltic countries — Lithuania. And he’s declining to confirm the specific deployment.

But Mattis says “we are here in a purely defensive stance.”

U.S. officials say the Patriot surface-to-air missile system could move into the Baltic region during an air defense exercise in July. They say it would be gone by the time a large Russian military exercise begins in August and September.

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The 13 Funniest Military Memes This Week

Yup, it’s Friday. After another week of tough searching, we’ve been able to find 13 military memes that made us laugh.


Good morning, fellas!

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
Yeah, Marines. You may be up first, but it doesn’t make you cool.

Of course, the Army doesn’t mind the early wake up …

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
… since they’ll be napping at every halt anyway.

Actually, anytime they are left unsupervised.

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
Hmm, I wonder what happened right after this picture was taken.

Except for picnics. They love picnic time.

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
What, no MREs?

Oh, Coast Guard!

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
Always trying to be in the club.

SEE ALSO: 27 Incredible Photos of Life On A US Navy Submarine

To be fair, service members ask for the Air Force all the time.

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
Mostly because they act like the military’s travel agency.

Fine, yes. We also call them for that one other thing.

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
And by one other thing, I mean constant close air support.

And, yeah, that one other, other thing.

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
I swear to god, Air Force, it was just a joke.

It’s all about knowing your weaknesses …

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
… and overcoming them through brute force.

U.S. Army Infantry

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
What can’t be done in columns and ranks will be done with brooms and rakes.

Meanwhile, in the Corps.

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
Too cool for school Marine.

Oh Marines, you’re tough, but you’ll never be an MP with kittens tough.

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
This selfie is for Mittens.

Regardless of your time in service, this will be you a few years after you’ve served.

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War

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The A-10’s most famous movie moments

Some aircraft are practically motion picture stars unto themselves — see the Grumman F-14 Tomcats of Top Gun. Perhaps the most prolific military plane on the silver screen is the B-17 Flying Fortress of countless World War II films. Then there’s the F-35 stealth fighter, which has had a disastrous movie career up to (and including) getting ripped apart by The Incredible Hulk.


The A-10 Warthog’s movie career is more subtle. Its on-screen appearances are in supporting roles that reflect its status as America’s best close-air support aircraft. The low- and slow-flying A-10 is tough, durable and anti-glamorous. Its design is utilitarian — and not pretty to look at.

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
Battle-scarred A-10s head toward their doom in ‘Terminator Salvation.’ | Warner Bros.

Really, it’s a flying 30-millimeter Gatling gun with an armored frame built around it and an enormous compliment of missiles and bombed slung underneath the wings. When directors need something that flies and can blow up objects on the ground, the Warthog is a reliable character.

Not that the A-10 has always done well on screen.

Courage Under Fire (1996)

The Warthog made its first appearance — from what we can tell — in this Denzel Washington-led drama which served as Hollywood’s opening exploration of the Persian Gulf War. While not a classic and (at times) a bit maudlin, Courage Under Fire is a weighty and serious meditation on the inherently confusing nature of combat and the unreliability of eyewitnesses.

Washington portrays a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel tasked with investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of Medevac Huey commander Capt. Karen Walden, played by Meg Ryan, during combat with Iraqi troops. The White House wants to award her the Medal of Honor, but there are questions about what happened in the moments before her death — which may implicate another soldier. The investigation also forces Washington’s character to confront buried trauma in his past.

The A-10s are only in the film for a brief few seconds, where they napalm the West Texas desert which stands in for the Iraqi battlefield.

Jarhead (2005)

We have mixed feelings about this film. To be sure, Jarhead is a good movie — although Marine veterans will point out errors in detail. It’s a mood picture that gets at the feeling of being in the Marines while the movie Marines do things real ones would never do. The film deserves praise, but it’s not perfect.

Jarhead is heavily adapted from the 2003 book of the same name by Marine veteran Anthony Swofford, who served during the Persian Gulf War. In the film version, the Marines advance into Iraq when they see five A-10s flying past them. “Warthogs, baby! Those things are fucking tank killers,” one Marine shouts. “That shit’s a fucking monster!”

Pumped up at the sight, he falls out of formation, which triggers two of the planes to turn around and attack the unit. Note that none of this ever happened. In the book, Swofford references an A-10 strike on a Marine LAV during the Battle of Khafji, which killed 11 U.S. troops. There was no Warthog friendly fire attack on Swofford’s unit in real life.

The scene also flubs several other details. Listen closely.

Transformers (2007)

Fans of the Transformers franchise are more familiar with A-10s appearing in toys depicting shape-shifting alien robots from the 1980s. The A-10 does not turn into a robot in the 2007 Michael Bay ode to military hardware pornTransformers, but they do arrive for a battle with Scorponok.

It’s easy to see why — the Pentagon provided an unprecedented level of support for the film, helped rewrite the script and provided (paid) uniformed extras. The A-10 scene was even filmed at the U.S. Army’s White Sands, New Mexico testing range, which stood in for an Egyptian village.

Don’t expect 100 percent accuracy with sound effects and combat tactics — but the aircraft are real. Remember that the Pentagon doesn’t concern itself so much with unerring accuracy in movies. It cooperates with studios as a recruiting tactic (the military prefers films that have a generally positive take on the institution) and to boost morale for service members and their families.

Terminator Salvation (2009)

It’s a compliment to the A-10’s durability that director McG included it in his post-apocalyptic take on the Terminator franchise. Skynet has nuked the planet and the Resistance relies on the slow-flying planes for close-air support owing to their (relatively) low maintenance requirements.

But the results are … mixed. The United States built the Warthog to destroy Soviet tanks in Europe, so it seems like a perfect fit for striking back at the metal-boned terminators. But when the planes appear in the film, they’re easily shot down by Skynet’s air defenses.

Pentagon watchers will recall that the A-10 is at a center of a heated debate between Congress and the Air Force regarding the future shape of American air power. Terminator Salvation, in a way, illustrates the argument for scrapping the Warthog.

Proponents of retiring the aircraft argue that the A-10 is only useful when the enemy can’t shoot back, as the Warthog is too visible and slow to survive over a battlefield featuring sophisticated radars and surface-to-air weapons, like the kind fielded by Russia and China. Advocates for keeping the aircraft note that the U.S. military largely fights insurgencies and hybrid enemies, which the A-10 is well suited to combat owing to its ability to loiter for long periods.

OK, true, Terminator Salvation is just a movie. But we can expect robotic armies — with sophisticated sensors to boot — to slowly become an emerging reality over the 21st century. Arguably, they’re already here … if you include drones.

Iron Sky (2012)

The absolutely ludicrous Nazi-sploitation film Iron Sky by Finnish director Timo Vuorensola features a President Sarah Palin (portrayed by Stephanie Paul), a soundtrack by Slovenian industrial band Laibach and an invading fleet of Nazi flying saucers launched from a secret moon base.

That’s on top of the space-battleship USS George W. Bush … and a cameo by A-10 Warthogs (digital, of course).

We could complain about the Warthogs acting as the first line of defense in an air battle. The A-10 can carry air-to-air weapons but is a dedicated ground attacker. But this is a movie about Nazis invading the planet from the moon. At the least, you’d want to fight back with everything you’ve got.

I have seen this movie against my better judgement. (I’m a Laibach fan.) But I couldn’t finish it, and would not recommend it. I’ve put up with a lot of schlock-filled action movies — but I have my limits.

Man of Steel (2013)

We’ve previously observed that the U.S. Air Force gets its ass royally kicked in Zack Snyder’s Superman reboot Man of Steel. F-35 Joint Strike Fighters fly en masse toward the invading Kryptonian forces of General Zod only for them to do more damage to the civilian population than the enemy. Same goes for the Warthogs.

Two A-10s feature briefly during the battle for Smallville but get blown out of the sky. The U.S. Air Force assisted the production of Man of Steel, which curiously features perhaps one of the worst on-screen performances by the American military in a film — although it’s a valiant effort considering the otherworldly enemy threatening the planet. That’s ultimately a job for Superman, with terrible consequences for humanity.

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Navy Secretary said the F-35 will likely be the last manned strike fighter

The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War
Photo: Wikimedia


Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will likely be the last manned strike fighter ever bought or flown by the Navy.

“Unmanned systems, particularly autonomous ones, have to be the new normal in ever-increasing areas. For example, as good as it is, and as much as we need it and look forward to having it in the fleet for many years, the F-35 should be, and almost certainly will be, the last manned strike fighter aircraft the Department of the Navy will ever buy or fly,” said Mabus, speaking to the Navy League’s 2015 Sea Air Space symposium at National Harbor, Md.

Citing unmanned systems as a key element of needed innovation in a fast-changing global technological environment, Mabus said he plans to stand up a new Navy office for unmanned systems and appoint a new Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Unmanned Systems. The new office, called N-9, will seek to streamline various unmanned systems efforts and technology, Mabus told the crowd.

Mabus specified 3-D printing as an example of encouraging progress in innovation, holding up a small hand-held drone called the Close-In-Autonomous Disposable Aircraft, or CICADA.

“This Close-In Autonomous Disposable Aircraft can be made with a 3-D printer, and is a GPS-guided disposable unmanned aerial vehicle that can be deployed in large numbers to ‘seed’ an area with miniature electronic payloads, such as communication nodes or sensors,” he said.

“The potential for technology like this- and the fact that we can print them — make them – ourselves, almost anywhere, is incredible.  This is going to fundamentally change manufacturing and logistics, not just in the Department of the Navy, but also in the entire U.S.”

The creation of a new Navy UAS office could carry implications for a handful of high-profile developmental programs for the service. For instance, it could impact the ongoing debates about needed requirements for the Navy’s carrier-launched drone program, the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike program (UCLASS).

Some members of Congress are demanding the platform have maximum stealth and weapons capability so the drone can penetrate advanced enemy air defenses and deliver weapons as well as conduct long-range intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR, missions.

In addition, Mabus’ comments seem to indicate that the Navy’s conceptual developmental effort to envision a new carrier-launched fighter to replace the F/A-18 Super Hornet – called the F/A-XX program – may wind up engineering an unmanned platform for the mission.

Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., Chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee, told Military.com he supported Mabus’ announcement to create a new UAS office and Deputy Secretary of the Navy for Unmanned Systems.

“Creating a senior post focused on unmanned aviation is an important recognition by the Navy that this technology will do much to determine the service’s future and requires senior leadership within the Department to ensure its successful utilization. The future of the Carrier Air Wing is linked with the development of an unmanned system able to execute long-range, penetrating strike missions in anti-access environments. I am hopeful that whoever fills this new post will take a holistic, strategic look at the Navy’s unmanned portfolio and be a strong advocate for that vision moving forward,” Forbes said in a written statement.

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