The military has very talented photographers in its ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. This is the best of what they shot this week:
An MC-130J Commando II from the 9th Special Operations Squadron airdrops a Maritime Craft Aerial Delivery System over the Gulf of Mexico during a training exercise Nov. 12, 2015. This was the first time aircrews from the 9th SOS successfully completed an MCADS airdrop.
Maj. Cristina Moore Urrutia, the commander and conductor of the U.S. Air Force Band of the Pacific, walks to a podium during the Japan Self-Defense Force Marching Festival at the Nippon Budokan Arena in Tokyo, Japan, Nov. 13, 2015.
An Army tank crew, assigned to 2nd “Black Jack” Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, fire an M1 Abrams tank during gunnery at the Rodriguez Live Fire Complex, South Korea, Nov. 23, 2015.
Soldiers, assigned to 1-2 SBCT, 7th Infantry Division, select items for their Thanksgiving meal at the Ghost Dining Facility at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., Nov. 26, 2015.
Soldiers, assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade, sing during their Thanksgiving celebration at the Caserma Del Din Dining Facility in Vicenza, Italy, Nov. 24, 2015.
Happy Thanksgiving from your U.S. Navy and the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) at sea.
USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) departed Naval Station Norfolk, Monday, in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in U.S. 5th and 6th fleets. Along with Truman, guided-missile cruiser USS Anzio (CG 68) and guide missile destroyers USS Bulkeley (DDG 84), USS Gravely (DDG 107) and USS Gonzalez (DDG 66) are also deploying.
Middle of Nowhere: Marines with the Marine Air-Ground Task Force load a simulated casualty on to a waiting MV-22 Osprey during Integrated Training Exercise 1-16 aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., Oct. 23-Nov. 15, 2015. The Aviation Combat Element provides additional mobility, reconnaissance and firepower capabilities to the MAGTF.
Hydration is Continuous: Pfc. Beto Chavarria sucks the blood from the head of a python in a jungle survival course during Malaysia-United States Amphibious Exercise 2015. Chavarria is an automatic rifleman with Kilo Company, Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. During the course, Marines learned how to trap, clean, and cook wildlife.
“Semper Paratus” means USCG members must train to maintain mission readiness. Members train on a variety of weapons including pistols, shotguns and rifles.
Wishing everyone a happy and safe Thanksgiving. Semper Paratus from USCG Air Station Detroit.
Last month’s failed coup in Turkey has sparked substantial unrest, a crackdown on opposition to the Erdogan regime, and a downward spiral in relations with the United States. With the refusal (to date) of the United States to extradite cleric Fethullah Gulen and interference with operations at Incirlik Air Base (including a halt in air operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), concern centered around an estimated 50 B61 “special stores.” (Official United States policy is to neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons on an installation.)
Now, according to reports from Euractiv.com, those bombs have been evacuated from Incirlik and are now in Romania, where components of an American missile defense system for NATO is being deployed. As might be imagined, it isn’t easy to move up to fifty special stores. It’s also understandable that the security is a big deal – some variants of the B61 have yields of 340 kilotons – over 20 times the power of the device used on Hiroshima 71 years ago.
The Euractiv.com report came two days after Ibrahim Karagul, the editor of Yeni Safak, a Turkish newspaper, said that Turkey should seize the nuclear weapons at Incirlik if the United States refused to hand them over in a post on the microblogging site Twitter. Karagul also claimed that the United States was an “internal threat” to Turkey. The tweets came the day after a study by the Stimson Center claimed that the nukes at Incirlik were at risk in the wake of the failed coup.
“From a security point of view, it’s a roll of the dice to continue to have approximately 50 of America’s nuclear weapons stationed at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey,” Laicie Heeley of the Stimson Center told Agence France Presse‘s Thomas Watkins. The Stimson Center’s study recommended the removal of all United States tactical nuclear weapons from Europe.
“We do not discuss the location of strategic assets. The [Department of Defense] has taken appropriate steps to maintain the safety and security of our personnel, their families, and our facilities, and we will continue to do so,” a DoD statement in response to the study said.
After an intense four-day manhunt, authorities tracked down the two suspects (brothers) who they believed were behind the deadly terrorist attack (one died during a shootout) that shocked the world.
Fast-forward to four years later and something special happened. Staff Sgt. Jose Luis Sanchez, a Marine who lost his left leg during an IED attack in Afghanistan, completed the 26.2-mile run while holding an American flag signed by many service members he was deployed with.
Although Sanchez’s injuries sidelined him, he battled his way back to not only strengthen his mind but his body.
After gaining national attention for the patriotic act, this decorated warrior has become an instant inspiration to those with and without physical disabilities.
Approximately two months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the war department to relocate thousands of Japanese and force them to live in internment camps — reportedly one-half were already U.S. citizens.
In Hawaii (which wouldn’t become an American state until 1959), more than one-third of the island’s population were first and second generation Japanese. They faced similar scrutiny as those living in the continental United States.
High ranking military advisors expressed concern with the Japanese currently serving in the armed forces because they believed their allegiance was with the enemy. This ideology caused many Japanese men and women to be relieved of their military duties.
Back in the States, many second-generation Japanese men, known as Nesei, detained in the internment camps wanted to show their devotion to the U.S. and decided to volunteer for military service.
Impressed with the Japanese volunteers, the war department created an all-Nisei combat unit — the 100th infantry battalion. After a year of intense infantry training, they first deployed to North Africa and then took part in attacks on enemy forces in Monte Cassino, Italy.
In 1943, the 100th was reorganized and became part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which included Nisei volunteers from Hawaii. The next year, they moved to the battlefields of France where they fought in eight major campaigns, and played a pivotal role the rescue the Texas 36th infantry division known as the “Lost Battalion.”
The following year, the proud unit helped liberate the Jews from the first established Nazi concentration camp in Dachau, Germany.
In the Pacific, several Nisei troops worked as Japanese translators and were frequently mistaken for enemy combatants.
A Nisei troop discusses terms of surrender with a Japanese officer.
Shaolin Kung Fu is one of the oldest and most intense forms of Chinese martial arts. Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and a number of other martial arts movie stars have also made Kung Fu one of the most famous forms.
As a part of a religious order, the Shaolin monks were persecuted by Chinese Communists during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. The temple was mostly destroyed and stayed that way for years. But when Jet Li made “Shaolin Shi,” it was enough to make Mao give in: the temple was rebuilt and some much-needed tourism revenue came in as Kung Fu made a comeback.
Here are a few things you may not have known about Kung Fu and the elite Shaolin Monks.
1. The founder of Shaolin Kung Fu was from India.
Legend has it that the founder of the Shaolin order, a Buddhist monk from India named Bodhidharma, spent nine years meditating in a cave near his monastery. The legend has it that to keep him from falling asleep, the monk cut off his eyelids and threw them on the ground.
Pre-Workout would not be invented for another 1,500 years.
Green Tea began to grow from the spot where he threw his eyelids and now Buddhist monks use green tea to maintain their focus during meditation.
2. Kung Fu is studied in a “Kwoon.”
The word “dojo” is reserved for places that teach Japanese martial arts, like Aikido. When entering a kwoon, bow at a 45-degree angle with your hands at your chest — the right in a fist, and the left open-palm.
This represents the yin and yang and that your heart is at peace.
3. Kung Fu practitioners wear a different uniform.
Again, much of the look of the loose-fitting
gi and colored belts comes from the Japanese practice. Traditional Chinese Kung Fu doesn’t use colored belt levels (though some Western teachers might use them as a teaching tool). Chinese Kung Fu uses a uniform that is tight at the ankles and sometimes even at the wrists.
4. The most elite Shaolin monk was a werewolf.
Ok, he wasn’t an
actual werewolf. In the late 19th century lived a monk named Tai Jin. The poor guy suffered from a condition known as hypertrichosis. Also known as “Werewolf Syndrome” because of the insane amount of body hair that grows on affected areas.
It might have helped his self-esteem to know that, according to legend, he was the best fighter in all of China.
No comfort for Chewbacca here.
Tai Jin was abandoned at the monastery as a baby because of his body hair. The monks raised him and trained him. He eventually dedicated himself to one form of martial art. Legend also has it that upon meeting the 12 masters of Shaolin, the boy threw a dagger into the ceiling, killing a would-be assassin. He explained to the masters that he could hear 13 people breathing, not just 12.
For more about the Shaolin monks and their founder, check out the above episode of Elite Forces.
In a unanimous vote, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would allow WWII-era Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) to be interred at Arlington National Cemetery. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Martha McSally (R-Az.), a former A-10 pilot who flew missions over Iraq.
“The WASPs opened the door for people like me being able to serve,” McSally said.
The women were denied burial rights when the Army reinterpreted a bill from the 1970’s. The decision excluded the WASPs, who ferried combat aircraft and trained male pilots from 1942-1944. The female WWII pilots were not considered active duty troops under the reinterpretation despite having since received the Congressional Gold Medal, as well as benefits under the VA system.
Space at Arlington is becoming increasingly scarce as time goes by. The acting Secretary of the Army Patrick Murphy insists only Congress can change the internment rules. The bill now goes to the Senate, where similar bills have been introduced.
In the 1988 presidential campaign, Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, the Democratic nominee for President, had a problem: he needed to look credible as a commander-in-chief during a time when Democrats were being criticized for their defense policies.
Throughout the 1980s, the Reagan Administration had been pushing through a major peace-time military build-up.
According to CQ Researcher, a large portion of the Democrats in Congress had opposed that build-up in the 1984 elections. That caused the perception that the Democrats were being weak on defense, which led to Reagan’s 49-state landslide.
Dukakis had been among those who were critical of the buildup, the mainstays of which — the B-1B Lancer, the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine, and a host of other weapon systems – are in service today (with a few exceptions).
Worse, according to a 2013 article in Politico, during the month of August, Dukakis had gone from leading Vice President George H.W. Bush by 17 points to trailing him, and one big reason was that 54 percent of Americans felt that then-Vice President Bush would do a better job on national security, while only 18 percent thought Dukakis would.
To counter that, Dukakis went on a swing that discussed defense, but one event was marked by defense workers jeering him. Then, he went on a visit to a General Dynamics plant in Michigan where he planned to ride in an M1 Abrams tank, a key part of the buildup that Democrats had criticized.
Aerial drone image of an M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank crew. (Dept. of Defense image)
However, to do the ride, Dukakis was told he had to wear protective headgear. He did so, and ended up sealing his fate.
Within a week, the photo of Dukakis in the helmet had become a joke (think Kushner in his vest), but the worst was to come when operatives with Bush’s campaign developed an attack ad. Using 11 seconds of footage, they highlighted Dukakis’s opposition to the Reagan buildup and foreign policy.
Dukakis, who had already been trailing, and already saw 25 percent of Americans less likely to vote for him, was now in freefall. He eventually lost the 1988 election by seven million votes.
It was the Red Army’s “Iwo Jima” moment, Soviet troops fixing the flag of the Soviet Union on top of the most infamous symbol of the Nazi rise to power. On May 2, 1945, Soviet photographer Yevgeny Khaldei snapped the now-famous photo of Alyosha Kovalyov and Abdulkhakim Ismailov raising the hammer and sickle over the Reichstag.
But the truth behind the photo, who was in the photo, and who actually raised the Soviet victory banner, was clouded in the fog of war and muddled by the Russian propaganda machine for decades. The first to raise the flag were a Kazakh, Lt. Rakhimzhan Koshkarbaev and Pvt. Georgij Bulatov, a Russian from Sverdlovsk.
At first, the Kremlin announced that Georgia-born Meliton Kantaria and Russian Mikhail Yegorov were the men in the photo. The men were hailed as heroes and lived the rest of their lives in the glory created by Soviet propaganda.
Only after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 did the truth come out. Kovalyov and Ismailov were really the ones who hoisted the flag on the building… in the photo. But they weren’t the first to raise one. One story has it that a Sergeant Mikhail Menin, part of a five-man fire team led by Vladimir Makov raised a flag on the building first.
In 2007, the Russian Institute of Military History announced that honor went to Koshkarbaev and Bulatov. The only problem was they hoisted the red banner at 10:30 at night. No one believed these two, however – it was too dark for photos.
A documentary film titled “The Motherland Calls” about Kazakhs in the Great Patriotic War (the Soviet term for WWII), relayed anecdotal evidence from other Red Army veterans that described Koshkarbaev and other men from the 674th regiment moving on the parliament building – including the Soviet filmmaker and combat cameraman Roman Karmen.
“You see, we received an order from Moscow: the Victory Banner over the Reichstag should be hoisted by representatives of Georgia and Russia, but it was difficult to stop. I was told to cut the frames [of Koshkarbaev], but they are preserved, in the archives.”
Soviet leadership began pressuring their troops to capture the building in preparation for the International Workers Day celebrations for May 1st. The Soviets tried to drape red banners on the building via aircraft, but came up short when the banners were caught on the girders of the roof.
But as of May 30th, the Nazis still controlled the Reichstag.
The German parliament building, Hitler’s rubber stamp, was defended by 1,000 Nazi troops, so Soviet leadership ordered nine divisions to attack the building. Red Army troops used mortars fired horizontally to punch through bricked-up doorway throughout the building. They fought room by room until Soviet fire teams could make their way to the stairs and the roof of the building.
By May 2nd, the only Germans left in the building surrendered from the basement. That’s when the photographer Yevgeny Khaldei made his way up to the roof and enlisted Kovalyov and Ismailov to help raise the now-famous red banner. He burned through a whole roll of film taking the image.
A recent report from the US Congressional Research Service details how China’s navy, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), has undergone a stunning modernization push that puts it near parity with the US.
In fact, China’s military posture and prowess in the Western Pacific presents the US with a challenge unseen since the end of the Cold War.
By perfecting deadly ballistic and cruise missiles, by buying and designing submarines, planes, and surface ships, by cracking down on corruption and improving internal organization and logistics, the PLAN presents US naval planners with plenty to think about going forward.
Though few expect a military conflict to emerge between the world’s two biggest economies, China’s brinkmanship in the South China Sea has lead observers to describe their strategy of escalation as a kind of “salami-slicing,” or steadily taking small steps to militarize the region without taking any one step that could be viewed as a cause to go to war.
However, the US military, with its global network of allies, doesn’t have the luxury of choosing which conflicts to get involved in, and therefore must take every threat seriously.
In the slides below, see how the PLAN has shaped into a world-class navy capable of dominating the South China Sea, and even the entire Western Pacific, if left unchecked.
China’s naval mission
Those who observe China’s specific modernization goals, as well as their expressed intents in their actions, have determined that the PLAN’s mission most likely focuses on the following goals:
1. To possibly curb Taiwan’s continued attempts at independence militarily.
2. Asserting or defending China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea and generally exercising more control over the South China Sea, through which trillions of dollars of trade passes every year.
3. Enforcing China’s assertion that it has a legal right to regulate foreign military activities in its 200-mile maritime exclusive economic zone, despite the protestations of their neighbors in the region.
4. Defending China’s commercial sea lines of communication with military and trading partners.
5. Usurping the US as the dominant regional power in the Western Pacific, and promoting China as a major world power.
China’s DF-21D “Carrier Killer” ballistic missile is the cause of much concern for US naval planners. The missile has a tremendous range of about 810 nautical miles, far beyond the range of a US aircraft carriers’ highest-endurance planes, effectively denying them the luxury of lurking off China’s coast in the Western Pacific while in striking range.
The DF-21D uses a range of sensors to adjust its course during firing. This means that it can hit a moving target at sea in sub-optimal conditions and presents difficulties to any missile trying to intercept it. The DF-21D can deliver a high-explosive, radio-frequency, or even cluster warheads, which all but guarantee a kill, even against a formidable target such as a US aircraft carrier.
The PLAN’s submarine fleet continues to undergo a modernization push that focuses on “counter-intervention” tactics against a modern adversary. The force has acquired 12 of Russia’s Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines and launched no fewer than four new classes of indigenously made submarines, all of which are vastly more capable than the Cold-War era vessels they’re replacing.
The PLAN has launched two diesel-electric (Song and Yuan class), and two nuclear classes (Jin and Shang class). But the Shang class was stopped after only two hulls were produced, which led the DOD to speculate that the PLAN may be exploring an updated version of this class.
As the DOD states:
Over the next decade, China may construct a new Type 095 nuclear powered, guided-missile attack submarine (SSBN), which not only would improve the PLA Navy’s anti-surface warfare capability, but might also provide it with a more clandestine, land-attack option.
Additionally, the Jin class can be armed with 12 JL-2 nuclear-armed submarine-launched ballistic missiles, which, given the submarine’s range, could potentially hit any of the 50 states in the US from locations in the Pacific.
The PLAN’s Russian-bought submarines remain some of the most capable in the fleet. Eight of the 12 Kilo classes (presumably the newer ones) carry the Russian-made SS-N-27 Sizzler cruise missiles, with a range of over 180 miles.
The PLAN possesses a large, varied inventory of cruise missiles. Some of their most capable missiles are Russian made, like the SS-N-22 Sunburn and the SS-N-27 Sizzler, but their indigenously made missiles are also rated highly.
China’s YJ-18 cruise missile goes into a supersonic-sprint phase when approaching a target, making it harder to stop. Other rangy platforms like the YJ-62, fired from surface ships, and the YJ-12, that can be fired from bombers, complicate the US’s naval plans with their versatility.
The PLAN’s sole carrier, the Liaoning, has been referred to as a “starter” carrier, as its limited range and capabilities have made it primarily useful as a training craft. Having an aircraft carrier allows the PLAN to test carrier-launched aircraft and carrier-strike-group procedures in a realistic way.
The Liaoning has a displacement of about 50,000 tons and can support about 30 aircraft. US Nimitz-class carriers double both of those figures, and also provide catapults to launch planes with heavier weapons and fuel loads, increasing their range.
As the Liaoning is conventionally powered, and not nuclear-powered like the US carriers, it’s ability for long-range power projection is greatly diminished.
China is thought to be making rapid progress toward building additional aircraft carriers. Little is known of China’s future carriers, but they will most likely also feature the ski-jump platform of the Liaoning.
With the help of the Liaoning, the PLAN has succeeded in fielding the J-15 “Flying Shark” carrier-based aircraft.
The J-15 is modeled after Russia’s Su-33 “Flanker,” just as much of China’s military hardware borrows from Russian designs. On land, the J-15 has a range of about 745 miles, but launching the plane from a ski-jump-style carrier platform means that it cannot carry as much fuel, and therefore has a reduced range. Only eight production J-15s are known to be flying at this time.
It has been previously reported that the PLAN seeks to create a short takeoff, vertical-landing plane for carrier-based use in the future. However, they still lack carrier-based reconnaissance plane like the US’s E-2 Hawkeye.
The PLAN’s Air Force has been steadily developing new aircraft for “missions including offshore air defense, maritime strike, maritime patrol, antisubmarine warfare, and, in the not too distant future, carrier-based operations.”
The PLAN has been replacing their aging Chengdu J-7 variants and Shenyang J-8B/Ds with 24 Su-30MK2s, which were purchased from Russia in 2002.
Additionally, the PLAN has a licensed copy of Russia’s Tu-16 Badger bomber, the H-6 Badger, of which they likely have 30. The bombers are escorted by JH-7 Flounder fighter/bombers.
The PLAN, like most modern navies, is also pouring money into drones.
“Some estimates indicate China plans to produce upwards of 41,800 land- and sea-based unmanned systems, worth about $10.5 billion, between 2014 and 2023,” according to the DOD.
Much like the submarine program, the PLAN’s fleet of surface combatants has grown rapidly since 1990, with the purchase of four Sovremenny-class destroyers from Russia and the launch of 10 new classes of indigenously built destroyers and frigates, as well as a new class of corvettes.
US naval planners consider several of the newer frigate classes to be nearly as capable as Western models, and note that shipboard air defense have notably improved in the newer classes.
China’s coast guard, which it wields as a sort of paramilitary force for enforcing their maritime claims, has also benefited from a large number of new cutters.
The newer ships have sophisticated radar and missile capabilities across the board, and future vessels are expected to truly rival the systems used by the US.
China has built four large YUZHAO class amphibious transport docks, which provide a considerably greater and more flexible capability than the older landing ships, signaling China’s development of an expeditionary warfare and OTH (over the horizon/long range) amphibious assault capability, as well as inherent humanitarian assistance/disaster relief and counter piracy capabilities.
The Yuzhao class vessels carry helicopters as well as two Russian-designed Zubr class cushioned landing ships, the largest military hovercraft of its kind.
However, after conflicts in Africa, the PLAN was unsatisfied with the firepower aboard the Yuzhao class and reportedly thought to create a new vessel, the Type 081 (pictured above).
Perhaps one of the more novel ideas being explored by the PLAN is very large floating sea bases. Only in the concept stage currently, these floating bases could host airstrips, barracks, docks, helipads, or security bases across their massive proposed 2-mile-long surface.
But experts on the topic speculate that these platforms would have ample peacetime uses, like supporting offshore oil rigs or even tourist destinations with duty-free shops.
The DOD cites Bill Gertz, writing for The Washington Times, as saying the following:
China’s military is developing electromagnetic pulse weapons that Beijing plans to use against US aircraft carriers in any future conflict over Taiwan, according to an intelligence report made public on Thursday [July 21]…. The report, produced in 2005 and once labeled “secret,” stated that Chinese military writings have discussed building low yield EMP warheads, but “it is not known whether [the Chinese] have actually done so.”
China also possesses a nuclear triad, or the ability to launch nuclear-armed warheads from submarines, land-bases silos, and bomber aircraft.
China’s development and deployment of advanced and long-range radars in the South China Sea is well documented.
The PLAN can use these sensors, which “reportedly include land-based over-the-horizon backscatter (OTH-B) radars, land-based over-the-horizon surface wave (OTH-SW) radars, electro-optical satellites, radar satellites, and seabed sonar networks,” to guide their ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as more conventional forces.
China’s military writing does not specify how they would use cyberwarfare in a naval conflict, but it should be assumed that network warfare would be part of any sea battle. The PLAN is known to have invested heavily in cyberwarfare.
The PLAN and the other branches of China’s massive military have made impressive progress in modernizing they forces, but they still lag behind in some key areas.
The US Navy, unlike the PLAN, has commitments around the world. Currently two carrier-strike groups are stationed in the Mediterranean as the fight against ISIS rages on and Russia continues to threaten NATO territory and personnel.
The US would face extreme difficulties in abandoning their posts worldwide to focus on the Pacific, whereas China would leverage every possible dimension of warfare (psychological, informational, legal, cyber, conventional, and possibly even nuclear or electromagnetic) to assert their dominance in their immediate region.
However, the US has a built-in advantage that the Chinese cannot hope to design or buy — alliances. Through the US’s solid support of democratic and Western-leaning nations in the region, they have built a network of strong and determined allies that can band together against a rising authoritarian power like China.
A specialized VA lender, a military-friendly real estate agent and a national homebuilder joined forces to help a disabled veteran use his VA loan benefits with a government grant to build the home he’d dreamed of for almost 2 decades.
John Swanson comes from a long line of military members. He was born at Southern California’s Fort MacArthur. His grandfather was in WWII and retired as a full bird Colonel. His father was an Army Sergeant in the Korean War, and his Uncle was an Army Captain. John was determined to carry on the family tradition. The Vietnam War was in full swing in 1971, and while he was more than ready to join, he was too young. Just before his seventeenth birthday, John enlisted in the U.S. Army Delayed Entry Program (DEP) to ensure an active duty slot when he came of age.
During an infantry training exercise, John fell 50 feet repelling from a helicopter. The medics found nothing broken, so John was ordered to keep training under advisement. He was ordered on a 10-mile compass run in shower shoes, during which John’s ankles collapsed underneath him. This time, the doctors determined he could not continue training. He was released under the discharge category “undesirable conditions. ”
“My whole purpose was to serve my country, but it wasn’t meant to be,” John shares. The Vietnam Era veteran had to fight for his honorable discharge, which he eventually received. Meanwhile, he had darting pain and decreased mobility in his arms and legs. Upon further medical examination, he was diagnosed with a chronic neurological syndrome called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). Now confined to a wheelchair, John was upgraded from 60 percent to 100 percent disability.
“It was hard not to notice the wheelchair,” says John’s finance Terry Kaut, whom he met at a singles club 13 years ago. “But John was so full of life and joy. Later I found out how much pain he was in, which made his outlook even more amazing,” she added. After 10 years of dating, John and Terry decided to live together in a two-bedroom apartment near Sacramento. The only room suited for John’s disability was the bathroom.
“I’ve bruised my knee caps and broken several toes,” shares John, referring to the narrow halls and doorways in typical rentals. “I chased the American Dream for a long time, but accessible homes just don’t come up that often,” John explains. “So I lived in what was available.”
John’s housing frustrations turned to hope when he heard of a grant administered under the VA Loan Guaranty Division. Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grants help veterans with certain service-connected disabilities build or modify homes to best suit their needs. He applied for the grant in 2012 and searched for a VA-approved mortgage lender to help him use his VA benefits.
John applied for a loan with iFreedom Direct®, a nationwide lender that specializes in home loans for veterans. Later John was connected to Sherry Dolan, a Sacramento-based Keller Williams® real estate agent familiar with the VA loan process. Sherry says, “I’ve sold a lot of homes to a lot of veterans, but this was the most challenging and most rewarding.”
The first issue was the grant. It had been months and John still hadn’t heard back from the VA. Debbie had a connection at the Department of Veterans Affairs that reported the paperwork had either been lost or never received. Together, Sherry and Debbie helped John reapply. Sherry enlisted the help of Sacramento Congresswoman Doris Matsui’s office to expedite the second application to make up for lost time. Within just a few months, John was awarded the fully-allotted $67,555.
Meanwhile, Sherry set out with the couple to look for a house. She saw John struggling. “Terry and I lugged a heavy ramp around just so he could get up the front steps,” she explained. “He couldn’t access back rooms or step-down garages.” Sherry also saw that sunken living rooms, common in California, were a problem.
Then another issue surfaced regarding renovation. John’s respiratory problems required that they live in their apartment until any construction dust settled. With John’s fixed disability income and Terri ‘s modest income as a middle school registrar, they could afford rent or a mortgage payment. Not both.
Sherry thought to seek help from a builder. She approached several, but only one took an active interest in helping John. Lennar Homes had a new subdivision in Rancho Cordova with six model homes. The company agreed to adapt a single-story floor plan under SAH guidelines to suit John’s disability. Lennar® also financed the construction phase so John and Terri could keep renting until the home was finished.
The original blueprint was modified with John and Terry in mind. The specially-adapted model resulted in a 1,794 square-foot, three-bedroom home with 42-inch doorways, wheelchair-friendly flooring, an accessible master bathroom with roll-in shower, a ramped garage, flat front and back entrances, left-handed light switches, and many more customized details.
“The home represents a unique situation for us, but the project has definitely increased our awareness and the need for adaptable homes,” says Division President Gordon Jones. “We were honored to be able to serve a veteran in this way.”
Given the venture’s success, the builder welcomes the opportunity to serve other veterans. According to Lennar®, John’s house was the first-ever specially adapted home built by the Northern California division with money from an SAH grant.
“Thanks to this dedicated team of professionals who worked together, Mr. Swanson was finally able to get into a home,” shares iFreedom Direct’s Customer Experience Director Tim Lewis, a Retired U.S. Army Major.
John may have never gotten the opportunity to serve on foreign soil, but, as fiancé Terry relays, he has served for years from his wheelchair. “He counseled GIs and other individuals with RSD and answered a hot line for years,” says Terry. “And, now because of John, the way is paved for other disabled veterans to build a Lennar® home to fit their needs.”
A housewarming party took place shortly after John and Terry moved into their new home. The entire team came together to celebrate, along with many of the couple’s new neighbors and some local veterans. To honor the special occasion, iFreedom Direct had installed a 20′ flagpole in the front yard and Tim Lewis presented John with an American flag during an emotional dedication ceremony.
(Left to Right: In front of the specially-adapted Lennar home after flag raising ceremony are iFreedom Direct loan officer Debbie Losser, Keller Williams real estate agent Sherry Dolan, homeowner John Swanson and fiancé Terry Haut and Dolan’s real estate partner Belinda Mills)
When asked what this house meant to him, John fought his emotions to get these words out, “It means the world. It’s hard holding back the tears when I think how everybody came together to make it happen for us.”
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Retired Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills went out on a foot patrol on April 10, 2012. It was his third tour in Afghanistan. He woke up on his 25th birthday to find that he’d stepped on on improvised explosive device, or IED, and that he’d suddenly become a quadruple amputee.
David Vobora was an NFL athlete who’d been dubbed “Mr. Irrelevant” after being the last draft pick of the season in 2008. While playing for the Seattle Seahawks, Vobora blew out his shoulder. It would ultimately force him to retire from the NFL at just 25 years old.
In the intervening years, Mills and Vobora forged an unlikely friendship.
“I had 25 good years with my arms and legs, and now I got the rest of my life to still keep living and pushing forward,” Mills said during an interview on “The Ellen Degeneres Show” yesterday.
“Something was missing,” Vobora, who is now a personal trainer, said. He noted that his work with professional athletes and wealthy clients was failing to fill a void in his life.
When Vobora met Mills, “I just knew I had to work with him.”
Mills talks about his predicament with lots of humor. When thanked for his heroism, Mills somewhat shrugs and replies, “I didn’t do more than anyone else. I just had a bad day at work, you know; a case of the Mondays.”
His wife, with whom he is expecting their second child, is equally humorous. “I’m in it for the handicapped parking,” Mills quotes her as having said shortly after his leg had to be amputated.
In May 2004, about 20 British troops were on the move 15 miles south of al-Amara, near the major city of Basra in Iraq. They were on the way to assist another unit that was under fire when their convoy was hit by a surprise of its own.
Shia militias averaged five attacks per day in Basra when the U.K. troops arrived. British soldiers tried to arrest Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr for supporting the violence and the locals were not happy about it. An unpredictable level of violence broke out. British troops were frequently under assault – an estimated 300 ambushes within three months.
“We were constantly under attack,” Sgt. Brian Wood told the BBC. “If mortars weren’t coming into our base, then we were dragged out into the city to help other units under fire.”
Wood and other troops from the 1st Battallion of the Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment were on their way to aid Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders who were attacked by 100 militiamen from al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army when their vehicle struck an IED. The surprise attack actually hit two vehicles carrying 20 troops on a highway south of Amarah. Mortars, rockets, and machine guns peppered the unarmored vehicles.
Rather than drive through the ambush, the vehicles took so much punishment they had to stop on the road. The troops inside dismounted, established a perimeter, and had to call in some help of their own. Ammunition soon ran low.
The decision was made: the British troops fixed bayonets.
They ran across 600 feet of open ground toward the entrenched enemy. Once on top of the Mahdi fighters, the British bayoneted 20 of the militia. Fierce hand-to-hand combat followed for five hours. The Queen’s men suffered only three injuries.
“We were pumped up on adrenaline — proper angry,” Pvt. Anthony Rushforth told The Sun, a London-based newspaper. “It’s only afterwards you think, ‘Jesus, I actually did that.’ ”
What started as a surprise attack on a British convoy ended with 28 dead militiamen and three wounded U.K. troops.
Jihadi propaganda at the time told young fighters that Western armies would run from ambushes and never engage in close combat. They were wrong. Irregular, unexpected combat tactics overwhelmed a numerically superior enemy who had the advantage in surprise and firepower.
During the Cold War air-to-air warfare was alive and well. The Soviets had a huge air force, and their fighters were a viable threat to NATO aircraft. As a result, American fighter crews trained extensively in matters pertaining to shooting down other airplanes.
We trained using Top Gun’s “defense in depth” theory that was built around the idea that no matter how many forward-quarter, long-range missiles a fighter was carrying, there was a good chance the threat would make it into the visual arena. This arena had many nicknames – “getting into the phone booth” or “putting the knife in your teeth” – but was (and still is) best-known as “dogfighting.”
The first trick of a dogfight is getting sight of your opponent. The oft-repeated maxim is “You can’t shoot what you don’t see.” That trick gets trickier when fighting multiple aircraft at the same time, what we call a “many v. many” or “Battle of Britain” scenario.
I was a Tomcat radar intercept officer (the guy in the backseat like “Goose” in the movie “Top Gun”). The problem of dogfighting multiple aircraft at once was made easier in the F-14 because there were two of us in the airplane. Good crew coordination allowed the pilot to go after one bandit while the RIO made sure no other threats were in a position to take a shot.
Dogfighting is the most exhilarating part of tactical aviation. The hard turns, the crush of the G forces, and the intensity of the comms over the radio between wingmen make it a wild, heart-pounding experience. And because of the variables – different pilots flying different airplanes in different conditions – every dogfight is unique.
To simulate the threat aggressor squadrons existed at all the major fighter bases. The squadrons flew American assets that supposedly replicated the flying qualities of Russian airplanes. For instance, an F-5’s characteristics were a lot like those of a MiG-23, and the A-4 was somewhat like a subsonic MiG-21.
Those of us in fighter commands at the time – the mid-1980s – dreamed of going up against the real thing. And one day while conducting training out of Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada we found out that our dream was going to come true – sort of.
We were scheduled to participate in a secret program called “Constant Peg.” In the late ’70s the U.S. Air Force had come into the possession of a few Soviet aircraft that Israel had captured from Syria. Over the years that inventory grew to more than a dozen airplanes acquired from places like Pakistan and China.
The Constant Peg aircraft were assigned to the 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron – “The Red Eagles” – based at Tonopah in the Nevada desert, a place I’d never heard of until the day of our first missions when pilots from the Red Eagles came to Fallon to brief us.
The Red Eagle reps reviewed the performance characteristics of the aircraft we’d be flying against. In our case that day we were doing 1 v 1s against a MiG-23 (what they had designated the YF-113 for OPSEC purposes) and a MiG-21 (what Constant Peg designated the YF-110).
As much as the brief focused on the dogfights it emphasized the admin around the mission, specifically the fact that, although we would be dogfighting closer to Tonopah than Fallon, in case of an aircraft emergency in no case were we to consider Tonopah a suitable divert field unless the emergency was so serious that not landing at Tonopah meant we’d crash. And if we would end up landing at Tonopah we were warned that we’d wind up spending at least two weeks there before we’d be allowed to fly back.
These rules struck us as pretty intense, but we figured it was what a secret program like Constant Peg demanded.
A few hours later we launched and flew south until we rendezvoused with the MiG-23. It was surreal to see an airplane we’d only seen in photographs for years before that, and the airplane looked smaller than we’d expected.
We went through the choreography of the dogfight as we’d planned, taking advantage of the fact that the MiG-23 was a “bleeder” in terms of turn rate, which meant that the airplane lost a lot of airspeed (compared to the Tomcat) when attempting hard turns. We also did a speed demo that showed us trying to outrun the MiG-23 was potentially a bad idea.
Then we joined up with the MiG-21 and did another dogfight, this one quicker than the first because we needed to conserve some gas to get back to Fallon. Again, it was surreal to fly formation on an enemy aircraft, studying the details that the Red Eagle pilot pointed out to us (in cryptic terms for OPSEC purposes) over the radio. The MiG-21 wasn’t as fast as the MiG-23, but it had a better turn rate.
When we got back from the flight my pilot and I debriefed over a classified phone with the Red Eagle pilots we’d flown against. After we hung up, we went over the high points with each other, both remarking that it had been very cool to go against the real airplanes for once.
Then my pilot, who was the squadron operations officer and senior to me, said something that struck me as curious: “I’ll bet Constant Peg isn’t the only thing going on at Tonopah,” he said. “There’s something else there they care about more than MiGs.”
I didn’t give the comment another thought until months later when the Air Force finally admitted that “the secret test aircraft” that had crashed in the middle of the Nevada desert in 1984 killing the pilot who also happened to be a three-star general – too senior for normal test flights – had actually been a MiG-23.
I asked my operations officer what he thought about the Air Force admission, and again he hinted at the idea that there was something else bigger going on a Tonopah. “They would’ve stuck with the original story otherwise,” he said. “I’m pretty sure they offered up the MiGs hoping the press would stop digging beyond that.” I asked him to put a finer point on the thought, but he just shrugged and said he didn’t know anything more.
Just less than three years later the operations officer’s hunch was proved correct as the U.S. Air Force introduced the F-117 Nighthawk – the first stealth fighter – to the world. It turned out that the Air Force had been developing that amazing new capability since the late 1970s conducting test flights mostly at night out of Tonopah. Those involved with the program were stationed hundreds of miles away at Nellis Air Force Base outside of Las Vegas and would fly in on a special airliner at the beginning of the work week and fly back home at the end of it. Families had no idea what their service members did during that tour.
The F-117 carried the day during Desert Storm in ’91, and the world watched in wonder as DoD released the cockpit footage that showed bombs hitting exactly where the crosshairs were placed while the airplanes penetrated enemy defenses totally unseen by radars.
Even more amazing, especially when considering how information flows in today’s internet age, is how the Air Force managed to keep the Stealth Fighter a secret all those years. (There were a couple of reports of UFOs made by locals over the years, but the Air Force managed to dismiss those.)
Not only was Constant Peg great training for American fighter crews, it provided a cover for the super-secret development of the F-117 – a stroke in sneaky brilliance that saw to the success of a platform that is arguably the most effective and revolutionary in the history of highly classified programs.