This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch - We Are The Mighty
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This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch

Bob DeFord really wanted to fly one of the iconic Spitfire airplanes that saved England from Nazi invasion during the Battle of Britain, but the things can sell for millions of dollars at auction, even in rough condition.


So instead he worked with a small group of friends for eight years and created a full-scale Spitfire Mk. IX, the plane that gave British pilots a better chance against the feared Focke-Wulf 190.

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch
(Image: YouTube/EAA)

DeFord’s creation isn’t a perfect replica. The wings and some other parts are wood where the true Mk. IXs are metal, and the engine is an Allison V-1710 instead of the Merlin 60.

But for what amounts to a flying model, DeFord’s piece is amazingly accurate. The distinct Spitfire wings are properly shaped and a rear-view mirror, improvised from a soup ladle and a car mirror, sits over the cockpit in a nearly picture-perfect imitation of the real thing.

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch
(Image: YouTube/EAA)

The rear-view mirror cost DeFord an estimated $12 — not bad when original mirrors from World War II sell for $300.

There are even stand-ins for the four 20mm cannons that gave the Spitfire its deadly punch.

DeFord tells his story in the video below. Cut to 3:09 to see the bird in flight:

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How one milspouse nonprofit rallied the community for wounded Airmen

Military relief organizations typically focus on their own service members and families. But on June 4, 2021, many of those organizations went all-in for wounded Airmen, instead.

In 2019, the Air Force saw unprecedented suicide numbers within their active duty force. It prompted a branch-wide stand down to address the alarming losses and opened an even deeper discussion on suicide prevention. The Air Force Wounded Warrior (AFW2) program saw success with their intense efforts that year but it was short lived. Known for their Warrior Care events and adaptive sports, much had to be put on hold the following year due to a global pandemic. COVID-19 quickly created increased isolation and caused negative mental health symptoms to skyrocket.

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch

The Inspire Up Foundation, founded by four military spouses each affiliated with a different branch of service, wanted to help. Their primary mission is to serve the military and first responder communities. Jessica Manfre, a Coast Guard spouse and CFO of the organization, said they had to do something. “We’re well-known for our Spark and Inspire boxes we give away so we thought this was a unique opportunity to create a warrior box just for them,” she explained.

Manfre said they brought the idea to their primary sponsor and partner, Caliber Home Loans. The goal was to create 500 boxes for Airmen identified as at-risk and the company immediately donated $7,500 to the cause.

“Caliber believes strongly in stepping forward to support our military and veterans. Being a veteran Air Force spouse myself, this project really hits home. I’m thankful we could step forward to kickstart this endeavor to uplift Airmen in need,” Brittany Boccher, National Director of Military Community Engagement for Caliber Home Loans stated in the press release.

Knowing they’d need more to fill those boxes, the networking began.

“I just finished reading Once a Warrior, written by Jake Wood. The book was an incredible journey through his Marine Corps service and his season of finding purpose outside his uniform,” Manfre explained. “I just couldn’t help but think this was the book these wounded Airmen needed to read. So, I emailed Jake and asked if he or his publishing company could help us with our project and they immediately said yes.”

Black Rifle Coffee company was approached next, known for their ongoing support of the military community. Manfre said the company immediately offered enough coffee for half of the boxes and gave the rest well below cost. The remaining funding was used to create a special warrior coffee mug and custom journal, a practice studies have linked to support healing.

The collaborating wasn’t done yet. Manfre said they had everything shipped to AFW2 headquarters in San Antonio, Texas — a city the Green Beret Foundation also calls home, too. “I called their executive director and asked if they’d be willing to host us to assemble and fill the boxes,” Manfre said. “He [Brent Cooper] said yes without hesitation. It didn’t matter that these weren’t soldiers or special forces, they were in.”

In the press release for the project, Cooper said they were proud to host. “Suicide is not exclusive to one branch of the military. Our service members and veterans continue to battle mental health every day and it’s critical for organizations to come together to accelerate the impact of reducing the suicide statistics,” he shared. “We are more than happy to be able to provide the workspace needed to the Inspire Up Foundation, one of GBF’s force multipliers, and work together to continue the fight against veteran suicide.”

On the day of the event, the building was filled with smiling volunteers from all walks of the military life. Samantha Gomolka, Army spouse and COO of the Inspire Up Foundation, said it was overwhelming. “The joy was palpable and it was so beautiful to see,” she explained. “Beyond immediately serving these wounded warriors, we want the world to know that taking care of our service members doesn’t stop when they take off the uniform. They deserve and need our support always.”

Maria Reed, Army Spouse and CEO of the Inspire Up Foundation, echoed that sentiment. “I get emotional talking about it but our warriors here at home need us just as much as those deployed do. Don’t forget them,” she implored through tears.

Also present for the event were local Air Force spouses like Verenice Castillo, CEO of the Military Spouse Advocacy Network, veteran special forces soldiers and the AFW2 Wellness and Resiliency team. It only took the group three hours to assemble and fill 500 boxes.

“We all just want this project to just be the beginning. Our military community was already hurting before this pandemic made it worse,” Manfre said. “It’s not even about a free box filled with nice things. It’s the gesture and the way we hope to show them they are loved and seen. As a therapist, I know the value of community and connection. For many, it makes a life or death difference.”

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A Russian fighter just buzzed a US reconnaissance plane

A Russian Su-27 Flanker came within five feet of an American reconnaissance plane over the Baltic Sea. The incident came shortly after a major multi-national exercise concluded.


According to a report by FoxNews.com, the advanced Russian fighter armed with air-to-air missiles buzzed an Air Force RC-135. Since June 2, there have been 35 encounters between American and Russian aircraft, but this incident was notable due to how close the Flanker came to the American plane.

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch
An underside view of a Soviet Su-27 Flanker aircraft carrying air-to-air missiles. (DOD photo)

It is not the first close encounter. Earlier this year, a Russian plane came within 20 feet of a Navy patrol plane. Russian planes also buzzed the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) in the Black Sea in February, and a Russian “tattletale” operated off the East Coast earlier this year.

The BALTOPS exercise this year was notable in that all three American heavy bombers in service, the B-52H Stratofortress, the B-1B Lancer, and the B-2A Spirit, participated, an Air Force release noted. A B-52H was intercepted by Russian fighters earlier this month.

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch
U.S. Air Force E-3 Sentry AWACS, an RC-135, and KC-135s sit at the CURACAO/ARUBA Cooperative Security Location. | Photo via SOUTHCOM.

USNI News had reported that Russia threatened to target any U.S. aircraft in Syria west of the Euphrates River in response to the downing of a Syrian Su-22 Fitter by a Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet. Russia has also deployed nuclear-capable ballistic missiles to Kaliningrad, an enclave surrounded by Poland and Lithuania.

It was not immediately clear which version of the RC-135 was intercepted by the Russians in this incident. The Air Force has three variants of the RC-135. The RC-135S Cobra Ball specializes in ballistic missile tracking. The RC-135U Combat Sent is an electronic intelligence aircraft that specializes in locating emitters for radar systems. The RC-135V/W Rivet Joint specializes in electronic intelligence – and is even capable of intercepting communications.

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Highly decorated Hawaii soldier arrested by FBI SWAT team for alleged ties to ISIS

An FBI SWAT team arrested Hawaii-based soldier Ikaika Erik Kang on July 8 for alleged ties to the Islamic State.


The FBI field office in Honolulu stated that the 34-year-old active-duty soldier is stationed at the Schofield Barracks and appeared in court July 10 regarding allegations of terror links, USA Today reports.

According to the criminal complaint filed in the US District Court of Hawaii, Kang, part of the 25th Infantry Division, pledged allegiance to ISIS. Kang also attempted to provide military documents to ISIS contacts, authorities allege.

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch
US District Court in Honolulu Image from Hawaii News Now.

Unlike other service members apprehended due to terror connections, Sgt. 1st Class Kang was highly decorated, having been awarded the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, and the Iraq Campaign Medal, among others. He deployed to Iraq in 2010 and Afghanistan in 2014.

“Terrorism is the FBI’s number one priority,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Paul D. Delacourt said in a statement. “In fighting this threat, the Honolulu Division of the FBI works with its law enforcement partners and the Joint Terrorism Task Force. In this case, the FBI worked closely with the US Army to protect the citizens of Hawaii.”

Prior to his arrest, Kang worked as an air traffic control operator.

The Army and FBI had been investigating Kang for more than a year. They believe he was a lone actor.

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The US military took these incredible photos this week

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:


AIR FORCE:

An aircrew walks the flightline after taking part an in-air refueling mission over Iraq. The aircrew unloaded 40,000 gallons of fuel to aircraft completing missions in Iraq.

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch
U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr./3rd Combat Camera Squadron

An F-22 Raptor and a T-38 Talon from Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., F-16 Fighting Falcons from Shaw AFB, S.C. and Eielson AFB, Alaska, and an F-35 Lightning II from Eglin AFB, Fla., sit on the flightline at Tyndall AFB Dec. 17, 2015, during exercise Checkered Flag 16-1. Checkered Flag 16-1 is a large force exercise that simulates employment of a large number of aircraft from a simulated deployed environment.

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch
U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sergio A. Gamboa

ARMY:

An AH-64 Apache helicopter crew, assigned to 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Official Page), prepares to take off for a training mission at Camp Humphreys, South Korea, Dec. 28, 2015.

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch
U.S. Army photo by PV2 Yeo, Yun Hyeok

An Army Military Working Dog (MWD) and his favorite toy.

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch
U.S. Army photo

NAVY:

YOKOSUKA, Japan (Jan. 1, 2016) Sailors observe fireworks behind the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold (DDG65) to celebrate the new year from the flight deck of the U.S. Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) at Commander Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Japan. Ronald Reagan and its embarked air wing, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5, provide a combat-ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interests of the U.S. and its allies and partners in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Paolo Bayas

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (Dec. 30, 2015) The Military Sealift Command expeditionary fast-transport vessel USNS Spearhead (T-EPF 1) departs Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story. Spearhead is scheduled to deploy to the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations to support the international collaborative capacity-building program Africa Partnership Station and associated exercises.

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Bill Dodge

ARABIAN GULF (Dec. 28, 2015) An F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to the “Fist of the Fleet” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 25 prepares to launch from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75). The Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group is deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, maritime security operations, and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class B. Siens

MARINE CORPS:

Aircraft rescue and firefighting Marines battle a controlled fire during a live-fire exercise at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, Jan. 22, 2015. The AARF Marines here fine-tune their techniques quarterly to maintain proficiency.

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Neysa Huertas Quinone

Marines with Alpha Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marines, currently assigned to 3/12, fire the M777-A2 Howitzer down range during Integrated Training Exercise 2-15 at Blacktop Training Area aboard Camp Wilson, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., Jan. 31st, 2015. ITX 2-15, being executed by Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force 4, is being conducted to enhance the integration and warfighting capability from all elements of the MAGTF.

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Aaron S. Patterson

Marines attached to 2nd Platoon, A Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment – “The Lava Dogs” take up position on a ridge top during Lava Viper aboard Pohakuloa Training Area, Hi., May 29, 2015. “The Lava Dogs” attacked an enemy compound in this simulated training event.

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Ricky S. Gomez

COAST GUARD:

Coast Guardsmen from the Coast Guard Cutter Stratton free a turtle from a make shift buoy off the coast of Guatemala Dec. 18, 2015. The turtle had a line wrapped around one of its fins about 20 times. A lookout from Stratton spotted the turtle while the crew was on routine patrol in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Bryan Goff.

Crew members of Coast Guard Air Station Los Angeles conducted emergency aircraft evacuation training at Loyola Marymount University on Dec. 16, 2015. Each member is harnessed into a simulated aircraft seat where he will be turned upside down before attempting to exit the aircraft.

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch
Official U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrea Anderson

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This circus song was supposed to be a badass military marching theme

Czech-born composer Julius Fucik was known for his love of military marches. So much so, he was the “Bohemian Sousa.”


The classically-trained music producer trained under such legendary composers as Antonín Dvořák and served in the Austro-Hungarian Imperial Army with the “Austrian March King” Josef Wagner.

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch
Julius Fucik in Imperial Army uniform.

Fucik so loved to compose marches, he pretty much served in the Austrian military just to do that. By 1897 he had joined the Army twice in order to play music.

It was that same year, while in the 86th Infantry Regiment in Sarajevo that he composed “Einzug der Gladiatoren” — “Entrance of the Gladiators.”

More than 120 years later, the cultural meaning of the song has sure changed. No longer associated with martial might, the song is now more easily teamed up with clowns, lions, and everything else in a modern three-ring circus.

What happened was his work was rearranged for a smaller band by Canadian Louis-Philippe Laurendeau in 1910, who called his version “Thunder and Blazes.”

The music website Sound And The Foley points out that this was the same time when circuses like PT Barnum’s and the Ringling Brothers’ were becoming a strong cultural phenomenon in the United States.

Though no one knows just how and when the song first became inextricably linked with the circus or even which circus used it first, the fact is that the two are now culturally linked.

Both Laurendeau and Fucik died in 1916, never knowing their work become synonymous with the circus…instead of being battle anthems.

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Time is running out to help thousands of American allies who’ve been left behind

UPDATE: On Jan. 27, President Donald Trump signed an executive order suspending the entry of immigrants from seven countries he said were “of particular concern” for terrorism, including Iraq. It is unclear how the immigrant ban — which is mandated to last 90 days pending a review of the visa issuing process — will affect Iraqis who have applied or been awarded Special Immigrant Visas for their service with U.S. troops during OIF. But No One Left Behind’s CEO Matt Zeller tells WATM: “This action imposes a lifetime moral injury on our Afghan and Iraq war veterans. … President Trump’s order permanently harms our national security.”


It was April 2008 during a patrol in Waghez, Afghanistan, and Army intelligence officer Matt Zeller was in big trouble.

Pinned down in an ambush outside the small village, he found himself outflanked by a group of Taliban fighters about to overrun his position. Rushing to his side, Zeller’s Afghan ally and interpreter Janis Shinwari raised his weapon and fired.

“I wouldn’t be alive today without my Afghan translator,” Zeller said during an interview with WATM. “My life was saved by a fellow veteran.”

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch
An Afghan man talks with Cpl. William Gill and his interpreter in a village in southern Uruzgan. (DoD Photo by CPL (E-5) Chris Moore Australian Defence Force /Released)

Five years later, Zeller decided he’d apply his warrior ethos to “leave no one behind” and established a non-profit to help relocate Afghan and Iraqi allies who worked alongside U.S. forces to the safety of America. So far Zeller and his partners have helped more than 3,200 allies obtain so-called “Special Immigrant Visas” to resettle in the United States and avoid being target by jihadists who are targeting them for helping American troops.

Since the SIV program began, more than 43,000 allies from Iraq and Afghanistan — along with their families — have been resettled in the U.S.

But advocates claim there are still about 30,000 Afghan and Iraqi citizens whose lives are at risk for helping U.S. forces, but Congress has so far refused to help in their return. Zeller and his colleagues, like Chase Millsap of the Ronin Refugee Project, are pushing lawmakers to authorize 6,000 more visas for Afghan allies left behind and to commit to keeping the visa program for them open “for as long as the United States commits military forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

“We made these people a fundamental promise that we would protect them,” Zeller said. “If we don’t do this now, it will haunt us in the future.”

 

But renewing the program is facing strong opposition for influential lawmakers who Zeller claims are running with an anti-immigrant political tide.

Some lawmakers claim the Obama administration’s refugee policy, and the SIV program specifically, puts Americans at risk for terrorism.

In an Aug. 10 statement, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s immigration subcommittee, Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions, claimed since 2001, 40 people admitted to the United States as refugees have been implicated in terrorism. Sessions claims 20 of those, including one SIV program recipient from Iraq, have been indicted or implicated for terrorist acts in the last three years.

“Instead of taking a sober assessment of the ‎dangers that we face, and analyzing the immigration histories of recent terrorists so that we can more effectively safeguard our immigration system from being infiltrated, the Obama Administration leads the United States down a dangerous path – admitting as many refugees as possible from areas of the world where terrorists roam freely,” Sessions said. “There is no doubt that this continuous, dramatic increase in refugees from areas of the world where terrorists roam freely will endanger this nation.”

Sources say Sessions and his staff have been instrumental in hollowing out the SIV program through parliamentary procedure in the Senate, and that House lawmakers have been powerless to stop it. Opponents point to the dangers of ISIS — which has claimed responsibility for several high-profile terrorist attacks by immigrants in European countries — and the Syrian refugee crisis, which they claim allows potential jihadis into the U.S. without a thorough background check.

Zeller says the Syrian refugee policy and the SIV program are two distinct programs, arguing Afghan and Iraqi partners who qualify for an SIV go through years of investigations and vetting before they’re admitted to the U.S. And that’s on top of the vetting they were subject to simply to work with U.S. forces overseas.

“It’s not like they just walked up to the gate and got a job,” Zeller says. “This is one of the most arduous security reviews of anyone.”

And the SIV program allows allies who directly aided U.S. forces in combat to get the “veteran” status through the immigration system advocates say they deserve.

“Granting more visas during this year specifically means the Afghan allies that we know are threatened will have a chance to be saved,” The Ronin project’s Millsap says. “Unless Congress increases this quota, these trusted Afghans will at best be at the mercy of a broken international refugee system, and at worst, they will be killed.”

The future of the SIV program is unclear as the National Defense Authorization Act languishes in committee and the clock is running out on the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. If Congress doesn’t act in the next few weeks to re-instate the SIV program, thousands of Afghans — and their families — will be at risk, Zeller says.

“I’m not optimistic, but I’m going to keep fighting until my last dying breath,” Zeller says. “I believe that no one should be left behind on the battlefield.”

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Here are the meanings behind 19 classic sailor tattoos

These days, tattoos are so commonplace in the U.S. military that every branch has its own policy as part of its uniform regulations, but a few years ago that wasn’t the case. The U.S. Navy, however, has a long tradition of tattoos.


Here’s the meaning behind a few of the classics:

1. Fully-Rigged Ships

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch

A tattoo of a fully-rigged ship from the age of sail means the sailor had been around Cape Horn, the rough, stormy waters around the southern tip of South America. A fully-rigged ship is one with three or more masts, square sails fully deployed.

2. Nautical Star

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch

The star is a symbol of a sailor always to be able to find his way home. The nautical star is a five-pointed star in dark and light shades counterchanged to resemble a compass rose.

3. Shellback Turtle

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch

Sailors can wear the Shellback Turtle when they get initiated into King Neptune’s Court after crossing the equator. If you’re unsure what exactly this means, We Are The Mighty has an explainer for you:

RELATED: 8 Weird ‘off-the-books’ traditions in the US military

4. Crossed Cannons

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch

The crossed cannons mean a veteran has seen military service as a sailor.

5. Swallows

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch

Sailors earn a new swallow tattoo for every 5,000 nautical miles traveled, which is about 5,754 regular miles, roughly the distance between New York City and Tel Aviv. The circumference of the earth is 21,639 nautical miles, just about 4.16 sparrows.

6. Anchor

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch

A single anchor means the sailor crossed the Atlantic or has been a member of the merchant marine, a fleet of civilian ships that carries military cargo. In wartime, this fleet is mobilized to carry war materiel, including troops and supplies.

During World War II, the Merchant Marine took a beating with high casualties, entering the European war long before the United States itself. Since the U.S. was delivering war supplies to Britain through Lend-Lease, Nazi u-boats targeted U.S. shipping bound for the UK. The Merchant Marine casualty rate was 3.9 percent, whereas the Marine Corps’, the next highest, was only 2.94 percent.

7. Rope on the Wrist

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch

A knot of rope on a sailors wrist identifies him as a deckhand, someone who maintains the hull, decks, superstructure, mooring, and cargo handling. Deckhands are still common in ocean-going vessels, though they’re far less likely to be maintaining wooden ships.

8. Hula Girl

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch

Hula girls signify the sailor has been to Hawaii.

9. Crossed Anchors

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch

Sailors wearing the crossed anchors on the webbing between their thumb and index finger are identifying themselves as boatswain’s mates, the guys who maintain the deck and take care of smaller boat operations and damage control parties.

10. HOLD and FAST

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch

These words are a charm spelled out on the four front-facing fingers on each hand. Sailors hope it brings them good luck while gripping the rigging. Holding fast means the sailor isn’t going to let the line go, no matter what. Sailors were a superstitious bunch and life on a sailing ship was tough (to say the least). Anything that gave them the edge in saving their own lives was worth doing.

11. Pig and Rooster

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch

The foot tattoos of pigs and roosters were worn by sailors in WWII in the hopes it would keep the sailor from drowning. The Navy shipped these animals in crates at the time. When ships went down, the crates floated, and the animals inside would sometimes be the only survivors

12. Compass Rose

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch

Another good luck charm that allows a sailor to find his way home.

13. Crosses

Worn on the soles of a sailor’s feet, these are thought to ward off sharks

14. Dagger through a Rose

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch
Sailors aboard the USS New Jersey (National Archives)

This tattoo means the sailor is loyal and willing to fight anything, even something as sweet and beautiful as a rose

15. Dragon

Wearing a dragon means the sailor has served in China.

16. Golden Dragon

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch

When a sailor crossed the International Date Line, he earns the right to wear the Golden Dragon tattoo. The International Date Line is the imaginary line of longitude that separates two calendar dates. When someone sails from East to West, they set their clock back one hour for every 15 degrees of longitude they pass. When they pass the date line, they’ve gained a full 24 hours.

17. Harpoon

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch

Sailors tattooed with harpoons were serving or had served in a whaling or fishing fleet.

18. King Neptune

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch

Another badge of honor earned for crossing the Equator.

19. Palm Tree

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch

The palm tree has two meanings, depending on your navy. Sailors in the Royal Navy during World War II could wear it after sailing on Mediterranean cruises. It can also be worn by U.S. sailors who served in Hawaii.

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2034: A Novel of the Next World War

Much of the current conversation about warfare in the veteran community revolves around our involvement in the Middle East which appears to be drawing to a close at the end of its second complete decade. Many veterans have been busy producing works that address the legacy of the Global War on Terrorism and how it has shaped our most recent generation of veterans. But Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis have turned their sights to the future to speculate on what might come next.

What they have produced is 2034: A Novel of the Next World War, a fast-paced thriller set in the year 2034, told from multiple perspectives as the world finds itself on the brink of a war the likes of which have not been seen since the rise of fascism in the mid-twentieth century. The novel attempts to merge present-day fact with an all too plausible future on a global scale. The effect is unsettling. It is wargames with literary flair and it wastes no time jumping into the action. 

At the beginning of the novel, two seemingly minor occurrences kick off a chain reaction of events that quickly escalate to global proportions with dire consequences. Lines are drawn. Sides are taken. The United States finds itself enmeshed in its first conflict with a near-peer adversary in decades. As the conflict continues to grow, the numbers of casualties rapidly lose meaning demonstrating the sheer scale of the war. A few hundred sailors lost at sea in one chapter becomes thirty-seven ships sunk during battle in the next chapter which then becomes ten million civilians vaporized through the use of a nuclear warhead. The reader is engulfed by the catastrophic numbers and left feeling haunted.

What is immediately appealing about this novel is that it resists over-intellectualizing the politics at play. It is accessible and unpretentious in its approach. They accomplish this through the use of a vibrant cast of characters. Each one is fully realized with impressive brevity. The reader recognizes their motivations because they are the desires any person can relate to. Sarah Hunt, a Commodore with the United States Navy, laments the premature end of her military career due to a medical board’s unfavorable decision. A disgraced Brigadier General with the Quds Force of Iran meditates on the true meaning of a soldier’s death as he considers the scars left on his body and his soul from a career spent serving a government that does not appear to appreciate his sacrifice. Their plights are relatable. They are human. It is easy for the reader to feel they understand the characters and their individual struggles more so than the global conflict that consumes them. At the same time, Ackerman and Admiral Stavridis handle the narrative with such weight of authority that it feels as if the events have already occurred in history. It is clear they are writing from an informed perspective with extensive experience to back up their vision.

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch

They portray the United States as a nation that has not learned from its mistakes. A nation that is too comfortable in its own opulence. The military is stymied by bureaucracy and betrays an over-dependence on technology to the point that these tools become obsolete through the use of cyber-attacks by the Chinese government before the halfway point of the novel. The Americans are burdened by their history and stifled by their own legacies. Readers are inundated with the names and trophies of past victories from bygone eras the country still clings to despite new threats bearing down on the nation. Many of the service members hold legitimate credentials but lack actual combat experience. The leadership is more concerned with what the public thinks rather than how to best retaliate. “Jesus! What will the country say?” exclaims the president after a large military defeat at sea which reveals her greatest fear: what others think of her. The novel makes a convincing argument that despite all the advancements of technology in the modern era it is still the men and women who control those devices that will decide the fate of our future. 

What makes this thriller so powerful is that it is written from the inside of the characters’ lives. They come from diverse backgrounds and many represent powers greater than themselves that have malicious intentions in the global theater. Yet we are drawn to them because we understand their motivations as individuals. We are invited into their interior lives and through that landscape we are offered a glimpse at their humanity. And it is through their humanity that they become fully realized on the page. Regardless of their allegiances, readers find themselves wanting each character to fulfill their desires. Admiral Stavridis and Ackerman succeed by rendering a fully engrossing picture of a reality that is subtle yet poignant and might be just beyond the horizon.

2034: A Novel of the Next World War

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Here’s a look at the likely finalists for the new XM17 modular handgun

For over a year, the U.S. military has been looking at options for replacing the decades-old Beretta M9 handgun. As with most DoD programs, the so-called “Modular Handgun System” program is a sprawling, multi-million dollar plan to find a new pistol that takes advantage of innovations in the current firearms market and delivers a sidearm that works well for a variety of missions and troops.


Listen to the WATM podcast to hear the author and our veteran hosts discuss what the XM17 modular handgun program means to the military:

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The M9 is a solid performer and is still popular among many in the U.S. military. But over the last 20 years, handgun technology — especially the use of polymers in handgun construction — has advanced well beyond the all-metal, one-size-fits-all frame of the flagship Beretta sidearm.

Both the Army and Air Force are running the search for an M9 replacement, dubbed the XM17, and have called for a do-all pistol that will fit in the hands of a wide range of troops, be more accurate and reliable than the Beretta and, most importantly, be configurable for different missions.

An ambitious goal to be sure, and some high-ranking officials in the Pentagon have argued it’s one that’ll wind up being too expensive and take too long to field, with the Army estimating it’ll take $17 million and 2 years to test the final version of the XM17.

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

Despite Milley’s frustration, the program is set for a so-called “downselect” next month to three competitor designs to move into field testing. The safe money is that the Army will settle on options from Sig Sauer, Glock and a team composed of General Dynamics and Smith Wesson.

So what do each of these companies bring to the table for a modular handgun?

Glock

By far the most popular handgun among law enforcement, military special operations and a huge swath of civilian shooters, the Glock series of polymer-framed pistols has been considered the gold standard of modern handguns since its introduction in the 1980s.

In fact, the Glock 19 is the standard-issue handgun for Army special operations troops, Air Force special operations Airmen and has recently been chosen to replace Naval Special Warfare Sig Sauer P226 pistols. Sources say the company submitted versions of its G17 (a 5-inch barreled, 9mm handgun) and the G22 (a 4.5-inch barreled, .40 caliber handgun) to the MHS program.

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch
A Special Forces soldier fires a Glock 19 pistol at a range during joint training with Hungarian special operations forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Tyler Placie)

While Glock doesn’t have a so-called “modular” gun, the pistol uses so few parts that swapping a barrel or switching the backstrap of the grip for smaller-handed shooters takes no time. Glock offers several handguns that look and operate the same as the G17 and G22 — namely the G19, G43 and G21 — that are more compact or are optimized for different shooting situations.

Smith Wesson

Long a close second to the Glock family of polymer pistols, Smith Wesson’s MP series of handguns have made serious inroads in the law enforcement and civilian markets.

Check out the utility belt of a local cop or stroll down the shooting bays of your local range, and you’re bound to see a bunch of MP 9s in holsters or on the bench. Similar to the Glock, the MP pistol is simple to operate, has few parts and fits a wide range of shooters with replaceable backstraps on its grip.

Smith  Wesson has teamed with General Dynamics to compete for the Army XM17 Modular Handgun System program. Smith Wesson MP 9. (Photo from Smith Wesson)

And, like Glock, Smith Wesson doesn’t have a truly modular handgun system. But the company makes a longer barrel MP in a variety of calibers and the wildly popular MP Shield for concealed carry. All are based on the same design as the MP 9 and have the same ergonomics — so troops shifting from the 5-inch MP 5-inch CORE on one mission to the MP Shield on another won’t have to deal with a learning curve.

Sig Sauer

Sig Sauer has been most widely known for its double action handguns (ones that have hammers instead of strikers), and the P226 is perhaps the most famous gun the company makes since it’s been the go-to pistol for Naval Special Warfare’s sailors for years.

That changed this year when the SEAL community let slip that it would be replacing its inventory of P226s with Glock 19s — in line with other special operations units in the U.S. military. In 2014, Sig announced its newest handgun, dubbed the “P320,” which uses a similar polymer frame and striker fire system as the Glock and MP.

But what makes the P320 unique among its closest competitors is that it is truly modular. Buy a stock P320 and a shooter can purchase new frames and barrels in different sizes and calibers; you can literally change the P320 from a 4.7-inch combat handgun into a 3.6-inch subcompact concealed carry gun in about a minute with a new frame, slide and barrel.

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch
Photo from Sig Sauer

You can even switch out a 9mm to a .40 with ease. The only common part of the Sig P320 is the “fire control group” which includes the trigger and internal safety module.

And it’s this off-the-shelf modularity that leads many to believe the P320 is the odds-on favorite to win the XM17 handgun program.

Will it happen?

The problem is the Army (and other services) don’t have a great track record of making solid decisions on new weapons that take advantage of modern technology.

For several years in the early 2000s, the Army spent a lot of time and money looking into a replacement for the M4 carbine — a rifle that derives from a pre-Vietnam design. Despite test reports that showed other options performed better than the M4, the Army decided it wasn’t enough of an improvement over the existing rifle, and the service shelved the program.

Likewise, the Mk-16 and Mk-17 SOCOM Combat Assault Rifle — or SCAR — program was originally billed as a modular rifle program, one that would eventually see a combat rifle capable of switching from, say, a short-barreled entry gun into a longer-barreled one for more distant engagements. That program was also shelved, with special ops forces mostly using the .308 caliber Mk-17 on some missions as a battle rifle.

It’s still unclear whether the XM17 program will suffer a similar fate. But it’s there’s no argument that the Beretta M9 is facing an age problem and is increasingly causing armorers headaches.

So whether it’s a Glock 19 from Cabela’s or a futuristic, modular pistol, U.S. troops should see some kind of new handgun in their armory within a few years.

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Why women should be allowed – and required – to register for the Selective Service

Women have been part of our all-volunteer service since the Revolutionary War when females worked as nurses in camps and dressed up as male soldiers. While nearly 2 million men were drafted to serve during Vietnam, more than 265,000 American women served during this time, and 11,000 served in Vietnam. Around 90% of women who served were volunteer nurses.

The role of women in the military has grown and evolved with new opportunities. Today, women have the ability to serve in all jobs within the U.S. military. Because of the increasing role of women in the military, there has been talk of requiring women to register for the Selective Service alongside men, as well. A U.S. Senate Committee has approved legislation that would accomplish exactly that, giving the potential for women to be drafted for the first time in the nation’s history.

Although women have been officially serving in the military for over 100 years, there are some who find this proposal as being a step too far.  As a veteran who advocates for young women considering military service, I believe this change is necessary. When I joined the military in 2007, although women were “welcomed” to join, there were still a number of limitations and an underlying culture that women didn’t belong.

While the military has a place for women, the culture of the U.S. still creates and provides for a gender bias toward women. As a woman veteran I regularly have to defend my service, even though I deployed to Afghanistan with the Army and received an Air Force Combat Action Medal. Women face an uphill battle while they serve and they often find more challenges than their male counterparts when they take off their uniform.

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch
U.S. Army photo

It may seem that changing the Selective Service registration requirement for women is not related to how women are treated both in and out of the military. However, just as the underlying issue of sexism toward civilian male military spouses is having an effect on women rising to the top, so is the underlying stigma that women don’t belong because their military service is not regarded as equal to a male’s. If a draft was implemented, women would be perceived as being unaffected and kept out of harm’s way.

Allowing women to be part of the Selective Service registration changes everything — and changes nothing. We haven’t implemented the draft since Vietnam, but this change will have an increasing impact on women who serve in the next generation. Being a service woman won’t be something they won’t consider just because they do not have to register for the draft. It will help normalize the role of women and their place in the military, and it will surely have an impact on how women who are veterans are viewed in future generations.

The more we adapt to an equal role for women in the military and normalize within our culture, the more equal the playing field will be. For example, new legislation authored by the Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., suggests we remove any reference to “male” in current law. 

An equal playing field

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan G. Wright

Without this change, women continue to be told their value is less than men’s. Our current system of a male-only draft tells women: You are not going to be relied on if the nation needs your service. It’s a system that discounts the value women provide and one that forgets that men sometimes are just as likely as women to not fit the mold of what military service requires.

President Biden said it best: “The United States does not need a larger military, and we don’t need a draft at this time…I would, however, ensure that women are also eligible to register for the Selective Service System so that men and women are treated equally in the event of future conflicts.” Opening the door to having women registering for the Selective Service is an open door to equality — something women have long since earned, but are still fighting for. 

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Congresswoman gives the best description of flying the legendary A-10

“A badass airplane with a big gun on it.”


That’s how Republican Congresswoman Martha McSally described the A-10 Warthog to President Donald Trump, as she told the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Tuesday.

McSally, the first female fighter pilot and a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, told the crowd at the CSIS event about her experiences as an A-10 pilot laying down close air support for US troops during the 2000s.

“It’s an amazing airplane to fly, but it’s really cool to shoot the gun,” said McSally. “The folklore as A-10 pilots that we pass around is that we built the gun, and told the engineers ‘figure out how to fly this gun.'”

Related: The ‘Chopper Popper’ scored the A-10’s first air-to-air kill…against an Iraqi helicopter

“The gun, 30 millimeters is just amazing.” said McSally. “When you shoot the gun, the whole airplane shakes. The first time you shoot the gun, you think the airplane’s breaking up.”

Perhaps better known is the iconic “BRRRT” sound of the A-10’s 30 mm, 1,174 round gun as heard from the ground, a sound that US infantrymen have come to equate with salvation and safety.

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch
The GAU-8/A Avenger Gatling gun next to a VW Type 1. Removing an installed GAU-8 from an A-10 requires first installing a jack under the aircraft’s tail to prevent it from tipping, as the cannon makes up most of the aircraft’s forward weight. | US Air Force photo

In practice, the A-10’s gun is actually more precise than even the newest, most accurate GPS or laser-guided bombs, which can often cost up to a million dollars each.

“In Afghanistan … we used mostly the gun,” said McSally, “It’s a very precise weapon and it allows for minimizing collateral damage and fratricide because the weapon’s footprint is so tight. We can roll in and precisely go after the target while it keeps Americans safe.”

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How a soldier earned a rare battlefield promotion during an ISIS fight

When Jeremy Penderman joined the Army, he wasn’t quite sure what his job would entail.


“I’m not even sure the recruiter knew what the job was,” he said.

But Penderman, a multichannel transmission systems operator/maintainer, said the job hasn’t disappointed.

Now serving in Iraq with Fort Bragg’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Penderman has an undeniable impact on his unit and the ongoing fight to retake the key northern city of Mosul from the Islamic State terrorist group, officials said.

So undeniable that Penderman, who has spent nearly seven years in the Army, was the recipient of a rare battlefield promotion in April of 2017.

In an impromptu ceremony near Al Tarab, Iraq, Sgt. Penderman became Staff Sgt. Penderman when Maj. Gen. Joseph M. Martin pinned the new rank to his chest.

Penderman, who was at the base repairing communications equipment, said the visit — and the promotion — were unexpected.

This guy built a flying Spitfire from scratch
U.S. Army Col. Pat Work, deployed in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve and commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, provides an operations update for Paratroopers at a patrol base near Al Tarab, Iraq, March 30, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Hull)

Martin, the commander of Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command — Operation Inherent Resolve and the 1st Infantry Division, was able to promote Penderman after determining that the soldier “demonstrated an extraordinary performance of duties” while filling a job that’s typically held by someone of a higher rank.

It was a special recognition for Penderman, who had spent nearly two years awaiting a promotion but still lacked the requirements for a typical bump in rank.

“It was a complete surprise,” Penderman told The Fayetteville Observer from Iraq last week. “I didn’t know anything about it.”

Penderman, 25, is a Durham-native who oversees communications for the 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute infantry Regiment, which has about 700 soldiers in Iraq and deployed late last year.

In that role, he leads a small team of soldiers who work to ensure troops can communicate across the battlefield, keeping a network in place to spur a constant flow of information from advise-and-assist teams embedded with Iraqi forces and between unmanned aerial vehicles and soldiers on the ground.

The job often sees him working with complex communications equipment, tapping into satellites and generally maintaining a tactical communications network in an austere and ever-changing environment.

Not bad for someone who knew little to nothing about his career when he joined the Army.

“I didn’t even know what an IP (address) was,” Penderman said. “I didn’t know anything about computers.”

Instead, Penderman had high hopes that baseball would be his future.

“I played everywhere,” he said of his time at the Durham School of the Arts. “But I went to college as an outfielder.”

That college was Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, where Penderman received a scholarship to play baseball.

But after being redshirted his freshman year, he began to reconsider another dream.

Penderman always wanted to join the military. He wanted to follow in his brother’s footsteps as a Marine, although his parents urged him to try college instead.

He made a promise that he would give college a year, and, if that didn’t work, he’d be free to enlist.

Today, Penderman might have been a Marine if it wasn’t for one more discovery.

“I found out about the airborne,” he said.

Over spring break his freshman year — March 2010 — Penderman walked into a recruiting center and enlisted in the Army.

At first, he wanted to be an airborne infantryman, but a recruiter instead guided him through a list of available jobs.

He described Penderman’s current military occupational specialty, known as a 25Q, as “half infantry, half radios” and promised he could still become a paratrooper. Also, the job came with an enlistment bonus.

Since enlisting, Penderman spent more than four years in Germany with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team before joining the 82nd Airborne Division about two years ago.

He has seven years in the Army and plans to apply to become a warrant officer in the Signal Corps. While he wants to stay in the Army as long as possible, he said the skills he’s learned have opened the door to a bright future no matter if he wears the uniform or not.

“It’s really set me up for success, whether I stay in or get out,” he said.

Penderman is noncommissioned-officer-in-charge of his battalion’s S6, or communications, shop.

Typically, that organization would have upward of a dozen soldiers, including an NCOIC and an officer. But Penderman’s shop has three soldiers and no officer.

That shows the faith and trust that leadership has in the soldier, officials said.

In training while preparing for the deployment, the battalion trained with the smaller force. But Penderman said little could have prepared him for another aspect of the deployment — a constant leapfrogging of the battlefield.

When Penderman’s battalion arrived in country, they set up more than 20 miles from Mosul to partner with the 9th Iraqi Armored Division, one of the local forces looking to take back the city.

“And we moved six times,” Penderman said. “As they gain ground and they move forward, we move forward with them.”

Today, he’s based out of a tactical assembly area near the village of Bakhira. From there, he’s near the border of the city and close to the fighting.

“We can hear them shooting off mortars,” Penderman said.

He’s also seen forces treating wounded. And he said that knowing he has played a role in the march into the city has been humbling.

“It’s fulfilling work,” Penderman said. “I get to impact the battalion on a daily basis… It definitely feels like I’m making a difference in my battalion and helping to make a difference in the fight in Mosul.”

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