For the uninitiated, the USS Pueblo was a Navy Signals Intelligence ship which was attacked and boarded by North Koreans in international waters in 1968. The crew didn’t just give up; they deftly maneuvered away from the attackers. It took two North Korean
It took two North Korean subchasers, four torpedo boats, and two MiG fighters to stop Pueblo, even allowing for the fact that the crew didn’t man the ship’s guns due to restrictive Navy regulations. The crew destroyed all the classified material they could, but they were simply outgunned and outnumbered. One sailor was killed and eighty-three others were held by North Korea for 335 days before being returned to the U.S.
The Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum was founded right after the 1953 armistice was signed. (Note: The U.S. is still technically at war with North Korea as the armistice ended the conflict but not the Korean War.) As Communists often do, the North Koreans wanted to put their spin on the war immediately, and thus the museum was born.
Ten years later, it was moved to a building built just to house the museum’s collection, a massive trove of North Korean tanks, weapons, and aircraft, along with captured American equipment, jeeps, and downed planes, all supporting the North’s consensus that they actually won.
Of course, with the Pueblo comes the newest exhibit in the Museum, the Pueblo section.
If you’re wondering how the war became a “liberation“war to the North, young North Koreans are taught that a joint South Korean-U.S. army started the war, and not that it was started by a North Korean sneak attack.
The North is not likely to return the ship, considering how immensely proud they are of having captured it.
The United States started to deliver weapons to Kurdish fighters closing in on the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa, Syria, the Pentagon said.
Spokesman Eric Pahon said the May 31 weapons delivery to the Syrian Kurds included small arms and ammunition. It marks the beginning of a campaign to better equip Kurdish allies that the U.S.-led coalition believes are the best fighting force against the Islamic State, even though arming them has infuriated NATO ally Turkey.
Turkey considers the Kurdish fighters to be terrorists. The U.S. has promised to mete out the equipment incrementally, based on the mission, to ensure weapons aren’t used by Kurdish groups in Turkey.
On May 30, Kurdish-led fighters in Syria closed within about 2 miles (three kilometers) of Raqqa, where they expect to face a long and deadly battle. Roadside bombs and other explosive devices are believed to be planted along their routes and inside the city.
U.S. officials have said the weapons deliveries will include heavy machine guns, ammunition, 120mm mortars, armored vehicles and possibly TOW anti-tank missiles. They said the U.S. would not provide artillery or surface-to-air missiles.
Separately May 30, the Pentagon ratcheted up threats against pro-Syrian government forces patrolling an area near the Jordanian border where the U.S.-led coalition is training allied rebels. Officials described the pro-government forces as Iranian-backed.
The U.S. dropped leaflets warning the forces to leave the area and American military officials said the same message was conveyed in recent calls with Russian commanders. Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said the leaflets told the pro-government forces to leave the established protected zone, which is about 55 kilometers around an area where U.S. and coalition forces have been operating.
Less than two weeks ago, the U.S. bombed Iranian-backed troops who were in that same area of Syria and didn’t heed similar warnings to leave.
According to Syrian and U.S. officials, the bombing killed several soldiers and destroyed vehicles and other weapons and equipment.
Davis said the U.S. has seen the militias operating in the desert around Tanf. The area has been considered a “deconflicted” zone under a U.S.-Russian understanding.
“Hundreds” of pro-government forces are in the region, Davis said, but he was unsure how many are actually inside the zone.
Pentagon officials said they were not certain if those troops are Syrian, Iranian, Hezbollah or from other militias fighting on Assad’s behalf. At the Tanf military camp near the Jordanian border, U.S. special operations forces have been working with a Syrian opposition group in operations against IS.
One veteran will receive the medals earned during Vietnam thanks to the nephew of his late battle buddy.
Three years ago, Curtis Sidwell of Watson, Illinois decided to research his uncle Donald Sidwell’s experience in Vietnam. Donald passed in 2009, and never shared his experiences behind enemy lines with his family.
While searching through his uncle’s effects, Curtis found that Donald had written two letters to the wife of a man named Phillip Taylor. In the first letter, Sidwell had written the worst news any friend might have to deliver to a loved one. Donald’s letter said that Taylor had been killed in a helicopter crash. The second letter corrected the first. It wasn’t true; her husband was not dead. Sidwell had been misinformed. Taylor was in fact, alive.
Stars and Stripes described the situation in an article titled, “A Whisker”:
“Severely injured during a firefight south of Pineapple Forest on Oct. 18, 1968, Taylor waited for an medevac chopper to transport him to a hospital in Chu Lai. When a chopper came, it took fire as it hovered over a row of trees, went into a tailspin, and then crashed. Taylor was thrown from the chopper, and was the only survivor of that accident.”
Curtis Sidwell was able to track down Taylor, and during a phone conversation Taylor recounted his ‘lone survivor’ incident. He also said that one of his superiors had promised he would receive a citation for how he’d conducted himself. Sadly, decades had gone by and no such thing happened.
“You could tell in his voice that he was bothered about that,” Curtis said in an interview with The Edn.“Knowing the day that Philip had and what he went through for the United States of America and for us, it only seemed fair to get him his medals.”
Sidwell embarked on a three-year effort to ensure Taylor got the recognition he was due, and his work paid off in the form of Taylor receiving a Purple Heart, an Army Commendation Medal, a National Defense Service Medal, a Vietnam Service Medal with four Bronze Star awards, a Combat Infantryman Badge, a Republic of Vietnam Campaign Ribbon, a Sharpshooter Badge, and a Marksman Badge. According to The Edn, a review is underway at Fort Knox for a Bronze Star related to Taylor’s bravery.
“It’s the least I can do,” said Sidwell. “And I think my uncle would be tickled if he could know what I’ve done.”
Life may have gotten worse for the LCS. According to NavyRecognition.com, Russia’s Derzky-class combatants are on the way – and the Russians may have gotten the concept right.
Officially known as Projekt 20386, the 3,400-ton Derzky has a single 100mm gun, two eight-cell launchers for the Redoubt system, two four-cell launchers for the Kalibr anti-ship missiles, two quad torpedo tube mounts, and two AK-630 close-in weapon systems. It also has the ability to carry a helicopter, a multi-mission bay, and a top speed of 30 knots.
What does the LCS bring to the table? A single 57mm gun, a RAM launcher (either the Mk 31 or the SeaRAM), and a few .50-caliber machine guns. The Freedom-class LCS displaces 3900 tons, the Independence-class, about 3,100. They both have top speeds in excess of 40 knots (44 for the Independence, 47 for the Freedom). Both can also carry two MH-60R helicopters. Earlier this year, the Navy test fired both the Harpoon and NSM anti-ship missiles from USS Coronado (LCS 4). The Navy’s Small Surface Combatant program is slated to add heavier armament to either the Freedom or Independence design.
The Russian vessel is packing a lot more firepower into a hull that is a little smaller than the LCS. The Derzky gives up anywhere from 14 to 17 knots of speed when compared to the LCS, but the LCS cannot outrun the Kalibr anti-ship missile. The LCS has more helicopter capacity, but the MH-60s are only equipped with the AGM-114 Hellfire anti-ship missile (older SH-60Bs had the AGM-119 Penguin). Some off-the-shelf systems could make the LCS a much closer match for the Derzky.
The good news is that the Russians will not get the Derzky until 2021, and they are only planning to buy 10 of these vessels. By then, the United States will have most of the Flight 0 littoral combat ships in service and those ships will have some upgrades.
The bad news for the United States is that Russia may have built the better LCS.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Franciscoadan Orellana, a Gretna, Louisiana, resident assigned to the Louisiana Air National Guard’s 159th Mission Support Group, donated one of his kidneys to his sister, Alejandra Orellana, April 11.
Alejandra’s health issues began 10 years ago when she was pregnant with her son. She suffered from eclampsia, high blood pressure, and gestational diabetes, which caused her son to be born premature at 31 weeks.
Although her son was healthy, the doctors said her veins had collapsed and her organs were shutting down. During the following years she experienced further complications, including being diagnosed with stage four chronic kidney disease.
“The whole family was there for me, but mainly my brother took the role of, ‘What do you need? or What can I do for you?'” she said. “He was really wonderful.”
Not wanting to continue with hemodialysis because of the stress on veins in her neck and chest, her doctor recommended peritoneal dialysis which uses the lining of the stomach as a natural filter. Ultimately, her kidney disease progressed and her case was presented to the kidney transplant board.
In November 2016, after numerous tests and reviews of her medical history, Alejandra Orellana’s case was accepted and she was placed on a transplant waiting list. That’s when Franciscoadan took action and informed his family that he would donate one of his kidneys.
“I still remember telling my family the good news, and my sister responding, ‘No, I couldn’t live with myself if something were to happen to you,'” Franciscoadan said. “That’s when I told them I wasn’t asking them for permission and immediately started the process of testing to see if we were a match.”
Out of five siblings, Franciscoadan and Alejandra are particularly close. Franciscoadan describes his sister as the backbone of the family, a confidant who is very supportive of his career in the military.
Franciscoadan was determined to donate a kidney to his sister, regardless of personal health risks or career consequences. Knowing that a health issue could potentially have an effect on his military career, he met with his commander and the 159th Medical Group for advice.
“When Staff Sgt. Orellana first told me about his desire to determine his compatibility I was not surprised he was contemplating this,” said Air Force Col. Brian Callahan, the 159th Mission Support Group commander. “When he sees a need, he automatically goes into a ‘fix it’ mode.”
Over the next few months, Franciscoadan underwent a series of tests and interviews. To ensure he was a match and was healthy enough to donate, he had between 20-30 vials of blood drawn, X-rays, CAT scans, and MRIs.
He also had to meet with social workers, psychologists, financial advisors, and the transplant team to make certain he wasn’t being coerced and to assure he was acting of his own free will.
“The fact that it was his sister only increased his desire to find a successful outcome. He went through all of the testing and when it was determined he was a match, there was no turning back,” Callahan said. “He went through all of the proper steps to determine if this would impact his military service and, upon hearing there wouldn’t be, he went full speed ahead to help his sister. He attacks his work with that exact fervor.”
Franciscoadan said his military training and mindset is what allowed him to act swiftly and expedite the screening process.
“Warrior ethos came into play. This is a mission,” he said. “It’s a confidence, being in the military. There’s a warrior mind frame and sometimes you don’t get a chance to the think; you just execute.”
The seven-hour surgery was successful, and the siblings were soon on the road to recovery. Overcoming this challenge has strengthened their relationship and allowed them to grow even closer.
“Our relationship is stronger than ever, just like my family’s relationship is stronger than ever,” Franciscoadan said. “It’s humbling to know that you have that support always.”
Alejandra’s new kidney took effect immediately. She was retaining fluid before the surgery, but that is now going away and she hopes to soon reach an ideal weight to be eligible for a pancreas transplant as she continues her battle with diabetes.
Today, she looks to the future as an advocate for organ donations and plans to speak at schools, businesses, and fundraisers to educate people about the screening process and motivate them to act.
As for Franciscoadan, he wants people to understand that donating a kidney was a privilege and an honor. He has a healthy life, and continues to serve his country, and be an active community volunteer with one kidney. He is scheduled to deploy next year, once he is fully recovered.
“I have noticed that life will put you in situations where all you can do is act. It is at those times when you must stop thinking and simply execute,” Franciscoadan said. “I truly feel God gave me two healthy kidneys knowing that when the time came, I would have the ability to give one up.”
So, it’s a combination: equal parts invisibility cloak, smoke screen, and decoy system. And it can work in conjunction with a hard-kill system that literally shoots down the incoming rounds if they aren’t tricked or blinded.
The hard kill is necessary even if the soft kill system is perfect because many weapons, like most rocket-propelled grenades, don’t have any sensors to spoof. But the system would work against most modern anti-tank missiles which are led to their target by a laser or follow the tanks infrared or electronic signatures.
If U.S. Abrams and other vehicles don’t get their own protections, they could find themselves outmatched in future armored conflict even if they aren’t outgunned. The Modular Active Protection System could put American crews on equal footing.
The history of drones goes back much further than most people are aware. Not only were unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) — aka drones — used against targets in World War II, but four competing programs were tested during the first World War.
The first two were in the United Kingdom and focused on gliders that would explode when they impacted the ground. Both designs were unsuccessful and neither were used in the war.
The first American program was led by three scientists working for the Navy to create an “aerial torpedo.” They were Elmer Sperry, inventor of auto-pilot; Dr. Peter C. Hewitt, a specialist in radio signals and vacuum tubes; and Carl Norden, who would go on to create the Norden bombsight for World War II bombers.
The men initially tried to create a radio-controlled aircraft that could fly to its targets, essentially attempting to create the suicide drones of today almost 100 years ago. When remote control failed, they settled on mechanically “programming” the drones to fly to their targets and detonate.
The resulting aerial torpedo could fly 50 miles with a 300-pound payload.
A successful test was conducted on November 21, 1917. Army Maj. Gen. George Squier was at the demonstration and ordered that the Army begin its own program.
The Army developed the “Kettering Bug” with the help of Charles Kettering and the famed Orville Wright. The “Bug” relied on an auto-pilot system to maintain steady flight, but had a mechanical system to shutoff its engine and jettison its wings after a set distance. The fuselage, filled with explosives, would then impact the target.
Unfortunately, both systems were plagued by problems with accuracy and neither was completed in time to aid the war effort. Research did continue though, leading to the drone missions of World War II.
In World War II, the British needed a special group of men to tip the scales in North Africa and they came up with the Special Air Service.
The SAS, originally put together as L Detachment of the Special Air Services Brigade in an effort to mislead the Germans and Italians as to the size of the unit, was tasked with conducting desert raids behind enemy lines.
The paratroopers of the SAS failed in their first mission but were stunningly successful in their second when they destroyed 60 enemy aircraft on the ground with no casualties.
Shortly before the outbreak of World War I, U.S. troops occupied the Mexican port at Veracruz. The occupation came at a cost to both sides: the Americans lost 20 sailors over the course of killing 150 Mexicans.
The violence leveled off after a few weeks, and life in the city became relatively routine. War correspondents traveling with the U.S. Atlantic Fleet became bored with the calm and started to focus on the troops’ everyday life in the hopes that that might yield something their readership would respond to. One of these headlines was “The ‘Happy Hour’ Aboard Ship Makes Tars Contented.”
According to the Early Sports Pop Culture History Blog, one well-meaning Navy officer, Lieutenant Jonas Ingram, originated the practice of “Happy Hour” aboard his ship, the USS Arkansas. Since the Arkansas was the flagship of Admiral Charles Badger, the commander of the Atlantic Fleet, officers encouraged its spread to the other ships of the fleet and into the ships of the wider U.S. Navy. The practice would carry on throughout the coming world wars.
The Arkansas‘ Happy Hours included athletic competitions (usually boxing), dancing, and a band while at sea. The enlisted men on board couldn’t drink, as per Navy regulations since 1899 (though officers could). In port, dancing girls from local bars were the center of the fun. The sailors ashore had easy access to liquor. Navy regulations at the time only prohibited the sale or issue of booze aboard ship, not the consumption on land.
When sailors and soldiers returned home from the Great War, they introduced the idea of “Happy Hour” into the American vernacular. The idea of “happy hour” as we know it came from the use of the term in a “Saturday Evening Post”article in 1959, entitled The Men Who Chase Missiles. The article was about U.S. Air Force airmen working at remote island outposts in the Caribbean and how they saved money by not having anywhere to spend it… unless they spent it all at the local watering hole.
“Except for those who spend too much during “happy hour” at the bar – and there are few of these – the money mounts up fast.”
The USS Arkansas, once a state-of-the-art modern battleship, found itself obsolete at the end of World War II and did its country one last service – this time in a more of an academic research role.
More than a year after a mandate for the Pentagon opened previously closed ground combat and special operations jobs to women, officials say the Navy has its first female candidates for its most elite special warfare roles.
Two women were in boot camp as candidates for the Navy’s all-enlisted Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewman program, Naval Special Warfare Center Deputy Commander Capt. Christian Dunbar told members of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Service in June.
Another woman, who sources say is a junior in an ROTC program at an unnamed college, has applied for a spot in the SEAL officer selection process for fiscal 2018, which begins Oct. 1, and is set to complete an early step in the pipeline, special operations assessment and selection, later this summer, he said.
“That’s a three-week block of instruction,” Dunbar said. “Then the [prospective SEAL officer] will compete like everyone else, 160 [applicants] for only 100 spots.”
A spokesman for Naval Special Warfare Command, Capt. Jason Salata, confirmed to Military.com this week that a single female enlisted candidate remained in the training pipeline for Special Warfare Combatant Crewman, or SWCC. The accession pipeline for the job, he added, included several screening evaluations and then recruit training at the Navy’s Great Lakes, Illinois boot camp before Basic Underwater Demolition School training.
Salata also confirmed that a female midshipman is set to train with other future Naval officers in the SEAL Officer Assessment and Selection, or SOAS, course this summer.
“[SOAS] is part of the accession pipeline to become a SEAL and the performance of attendees this summer will be a factor for evaluation at the September SEAL Officer Selection Panel,” he said.
Because of operational security concerns, Salata said the Navy would not identify the candidates or provide updates on their progress in the selection pipeline. In special operations, where troops often guard their identities closely to keep a low profile on missions, public attention in the training pipeline could affect a candidate’s career.
It’s possible, however, that the first female member of these elite communities will come not from the outside, but from within. In October, a SWCC petty officer notified their chain-of-command that they identified as being transgender, Salata confirmed to Military.com.
According to Navy policy guidance released last fall, a sailor must receive a doctor’s diagnosis of medical necessity and command approval to begin the gender transition process, which can take a variety of different forms, from counseling and hormone therapy to surgery. Sailors must also prove they can pass the physical standards and requirements of the gender to which they are transitioning.
These first female candidates represent a major milestone for the Navy, which has previously allowed women into every career field except the SEALs and SWCC community. A successful candidate would also break ground for military special operations.
Army officials said in January that a woman had graduated Ranger school and was on her way to joining the elite 75th Ranger Regiment, but no female soldier has made it through the selection process to any other Army special operations element. The Air Force and Marine Corps have also seen multiple female candidates for special operations, but have yet to announce a successful accession.
The two women now preparing to enter the Navy’s special operations training pipeline will have to overcome some of the most daunting attrition rates in any military training process
Dunbar said the SEALs, which graduate six Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL classes per year, have an average attrition rate of 73 to 75 percent, while the special boat operator community has an average attrition rate of 63 percent. The attrition rate for SEAL officers is significantly lower, though; according to the Navy’s 2015 implementation plan for women in special warfare, up to 65 percent of SEAL officer candidates successfully enter the community.
But by the time they make it to that final phase of training, candidates have already been weeded down ruthlessly. Navy officials assess prospective special warfare operators and special boat operators, ranking them by their scores on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB, physical readiness test, special operations resiliency test, and a mental toughness exam. The highest-ranking candidates are then assessed into training, based on how many spots the Navy has available at that point.
“We assess right now that, with the small cohorts of females, we don’t really know what’s going to happen as far as expected attrition,” Dunbar, the Naval Special Warfare Center deputy commander, told DACOWITS in June.
Dunbar did say, however, that Naval Special Warfare Command was considered fully ready for its first female SEALs and SWCC operators, whenever they ultimately arrived. A cadre of female staff members was in place in the training pipeline, and the command regularly held all-hands calls to discuss inclusivity and integration.
“All the barriers have been removed,” he said. “Our planning has been completed and is on track.”
Salata said the Navy had also completed a thorough review of its curriculum and policies and had evaluated facilities and support capabilities to determine any changes that might need to be made to accommodate women. As a result, he said, minor changes were made to lodging facilities and approved uniform items.
Nonetheless, Salata said, “It would be premature to speculate as to when we will see the first woman SEAL or SWCC graduate. Managing expectations is an important part of the deliberate assessment and selection process; it may take months and potentially years.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated in the third paragraph to correct the school the SEAL officer candidate attends. She is a junior in an ROTC program at an unnamed college, not the Naval Academy.
Notorious former Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has held talks with government representatives in eastern Afghanistan after years outside the country, his first public meetings with officials from the Western-backed government since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
The meetings on April 28 came after Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e Islami militant group signed a peace agreement with President Ashraf Ghani’s government in September. Under the deal, he was granted amnesty for past offenses in exchange for ending his violent 15-year insurgency against the government.
The controversial peace deal has been criticized by many Afghans and by Western rights groups, which accuse Hekmatyar’s forces of gross human rights violations during Afghanistan’s civil war in the 1990s and cite their deadly attacks on U.S. and Afghan forces since 2001.
The war in Afghanistan began in 2001 with the aim of removing the Taliban from power. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Dexter S. Saulisbury/Released)
Hekmatyar met on April 28 with Laghman Province Governor Abdul Jabar Naimi and Ghani’s security adviser, Juma Khan Hamdard.
He arrived two days earlier in the province, which lies between Kabul and the border with Pakistan, where he is believed to have been in hiding.
Naimi said Hekmatyar had “promised full cooperation” with the government and added that he hoped the peace deal would “revive hopes for enduring peace in Afghanistan,” according to a statement.
Hekmatyar had been expected to make a public appearance in Laghman on April 28, marked in Afghanistan as the 25th anniversary of the defeat in 1992 of the formerly Soviet-backed government by armed insurgents known as the mujahedin.
But the event was canceled without explanation.
A Hezb-e Islami spokesman told RFE/RL that Hekmatyar’s appearance had been rescheduled for April 29.
Hekmatyar’s supporters have erected large billboards across Kabul in anticipation of his first public appearance.
Hekmatyar founded Hezb-e Islami in the mid-1970s. The group became one of the main mujahedin factions fighting against Soviet forces following their invasion in 1979, and then one of the most prominent groups in the bloody civil war for control of Kabul after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989.
Hekmatyar, a former prime minister under the mujahedin government, was one of the chief protagonists of the internecine 1992-96 war. Rights groups accuse Hekmatyar of responsibility for the shelling of residential areas of Kabul in the 1990s, as well as forced disappearances and covert jails where torture was commonplace.
He was designated as a terrorist by the U.S. State Department in 2003.
Under the peace agreement, Hekmatyar will be granted amnesty for past offenses and certain Hezb-e Islami prisoners will be released by the government. The deal also includes provisions for his security at government expense.
In February, the UN Security Council lifted sanctions on Hekmatyar, paving his way to return to Afghanistan.
The controversial peace deal was a breakthrough for Ghani, who so far has had little to show for his efforts at ending the country’s 16-year war.
While the military wing of the Hezb-e Islami led by Hekmatyar has been a largely dormant force in recent years and has little political relevance in Afghanistan, the deal with the government could be a template for any future deal with fundamentalist Taliban militants who have also fought Kabul’s authority.
Air Force veteran, founder of the Make-A-Wish Foundation and absolute giant of a man, Frank Shankwitz, passed away earlier this week at the age of 77.
This is his story.
To say Frank Shankwitz had a rough childhood is an understatement. Shankwitz was born in Chicago and his mother left him when he was young. His grandparents took him, which he recalled as “happy times,” until one day his mother kidnapped him off a playground and told him they were heading back to Arizona.
They stopped in Michigan for five years.
When he was 10, they finally reached a tiny town in Arizona on Route 66. “We were broke,” Shankwitz said. “We had no gas, no food, no money, but a family took us in. We slept on their kitchen floor. It was the first time we’d ever been permanent somewhere, kitchen floor or not. A man named Juan became like a father-figure to me, and he introduced me to the idea of giving back. This was the 1950s – ‘give back’ was not a real popular term yet. But he taught me that you can always give back. It doesn’t have to be money – it can be your time or your talents.”
In the seventh grade, Shankwitz’s mom informed him that she could no longer afford to keep him; she was moving and he needed to find a new place to live.
Juan found him a place to stay in town with a widow and Shankwitz paid the weekly rent by finding a job as a dishwasher that paid per week. “All of a sudden I had an extra a week,” he said. “Juan taught me how to turn a negative into a positive and that has been something I’ve carried with me through my entire career.”
Shankwitz went to the Air Force after high school. “It was the Vietnam era,” he recalled, “but they decided I needed to protect England. I remember when we were informed we were not to wear our uniforms during traveling – they were afraid we’d offend the public. I’m so proud today to see our service members wearing their uniforms at airports. I love hearing people thanking them and clapping for them. You should never be embarrassed of the uniform. It’s so important that our military always be proud of their service.”
Following his time with the Air Force, Shankwitz went to work for Motorola. He describes himself then as “somewhat of an adrenaline junkie,” so when a friend of his suggested joining the Arizona Highway Patrol, he jumped at the chance. Shankwitz got involved with the Special Olympics in his off time. “I began to think about Juan,” he shared, “and how maybe I was starting to give back. I enjoyed that so much.” At work, Shankwitz was asked to join a motorcycle patrol that traveled to schools to teach kids about bike safety and he felt like he was getting closer to where he needed to be in serving others.
In 1978, Shankwitz was in a high speed chase with a drunk driver when another drunk driver broadsided him going 80 miles per hour. “I was pronounced dead immediately,” he explained, “and they’d already radioed in ‘963, Officer killed in the line of duty.’ An emergency room nurse from California stopped at the scene and did CPR for four minutes, and brought me back to life. I love California! They said the crash was spectacular. I’d gone through the tunnel and I saw the light. And then I came back. I remember when my senses came back. The sense of smell was first. I smelled this very nice perfume. Then the sense of touch; something was tickling my face. Then the sense of hearing – sirens all around and someone saying, ‘We’ve lost him.’ Last was the sense of sight. And I saw that a beautiful blonde had her lips locked on me and I thought it was heaven! Later, I was told I was saved for a purpose, and that God believed I had more to do. I needed to find out what that purpose was.”
Not two years later, Shankwitz received a radio call from his dispatcher saying she needed him to find the nearest telephone, which was 40 miles away. She put him through to a border patrol agent who had an assignment for him. Shankwitz remembers verbatim: ‘There’s a little boy named Chris. He’s 7 years old. He has leukemia, and he has 2 weeks to live. He likes to watch a show called CHiPs and he wants to be a motorcycle cop just like Ponch and Jon. We’re going to pick him up and have you standing by so he can meet a real motorcycle cop.’ I was in. I got on the bike and flew to the hospital.”
When the helicopter landed, Shankwitz was surprised that Chris wasn’t super sick looking. “Instead,” he said, “this tiny pair of red sneakers jumped out and came running over. He knew every button and switch on that motorcycle. I am watching him thinking, ‘He’s a typical 7 year old, and yet he’s going to die.’ Then I saw his mom, tears in her eyes, seeing her little boy again instead of just this sick patient. Chris became the first and only honorary officer of the Arizona Highway Patrol. We felt pretty good about what we’d done but we knew there was more for him.”
The troopers rallied around Chris. “We went to the uniform store, and asked if they could make Chris his own uniform,” Shankwitz said. “Two women spent all night custom-making a uniform for him. The next morning, we took several motorcycles and cars, lights going, and brought the uniform to him and a smokey hat. He was ecstatic. He asked if he was an official motorcycle police officer, but we told him that he had to earn his wings. We set up traffic cones for him in his driveway and gave him a test, which of course he passed.”
Chris told Shankwitz, “I’m so happy my wish is coming true.” It was the first time Shankwitz had really ever heard that: “my wish.”
Shankwitz and his team went to pick up the custom-made wings they had commissioned for Chris when he got a radio call: the little boy had been taken to the hospital and was in a coma. Shankwitz was devastated.
“We took the wings to his room anyway,” he said, “and just as I pinned his wings on the uniform, Chris came out of the coma. He started giggling. ‘Am I a motorcycle officer now?’ he asked. I told him yes. A few hours later he passed away. I like to believe those wings carried him to heaven.”
The Arizona Highway Patrol did a full police funeral for Chris. Shankwitz explained, “In Chris, we lost a fellow officer that day. When we got to Illinois where he was going to be buried, we were pulled over by the Illinois State Police. When we told them what we were doing, they escorted us. We were met at the cemetery by Illinois Police, all in dress uniform. Like I said, we lost a fellow officer that day.”
“Chris was buried in his uniform. His tombstone reads Chris Greicius, Arizona Trooper. It was a truly unbelievable sight. When we got home, we asked, ‘Why can’t we do this for other children?’ And Make-A-Wish was born. It started with in a bank account. There are now 60 chapters in the United States and Make-A-Wish International has 39 affiliates, serving children in nearly 50 countries on five continents. Over 500,000 wishes have been granted.
Shankwitz said, “Every 34 minutes a child gets a wish, because of one little boy. Never underestimate the difference one person can have on the world.”
More about Frank Shankwitz and the Make-A-Wish Foundation can be found in his memoir, Wish Man, which has also been developed into a movie by the same title, available on Netflix. Rest in peace, good sir.
Russia’s Mil Mi-26 is one of the world’s largest helicopters and an absolute beast, capable of carrying 44,000 pounds, including 90 soldiers or 60 stretchers, anywhere. The 8 rotor blades are powered by two engines to generate the necessary lift.
Often called the world’s largest helicopter, it’s actually based on a prototype that was larger, the Mil V-12. The V-12 never went into full production, so the Mi-26 is the largest helicopter ever mass produced.
It was originally designed to carry heavy vehicles and ballistic missiles flown into country on large cargo planes. Now, the Mi-26 is used for a variety of military and civilian heavy-lift tasks, including sling loading large helicopters and carrying them to maintenance facilities.
Watch one of these monsters carry a Chinook in the video below: