This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas - We Are The Mighty
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This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas

U.S. troops and their playing cards have a long history. A large chunk of deployment is spent killing time until the action starts – and card games have long been the weapon of choice for that mission.


This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Troops in WWI playing cards.

Also read: 7 things you actually miss from deployment

After more than a century, the U.S. Playing Card Company, manufacturer of playing card brands like Bee, Aviator, and Hoyle, is still the world’s leading card company. In that time, the company has been very good to U.S. troops. Its original brands were decks of Army and Navy cards, later merged to one “Army Navy” brand, featuring military imagery.

The USPCC even made a cheap deck so soldiers in World War I could easily purchase one for the battlefields.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
An Army Navy deck (World of Playing Cards)

It was the company’s signature brand, Bicycle, that did the most for troops in the field. During World War II, Bicycle teamed up with British and American intelligence agencies to create a deck of cards that peeled apart when wet. The cards then revealed secret escape maps so downed pilots and captured soldiers could navigate their way back to Allied lines.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
(Bicycle Playing Card Co.)

Once the map pieces were revealed, all it took was to assemble the cards in the right order to get the full map layout.

The decks were given to POWs in Europe through the Red Cross’ special Christmas parcels, which contained (among other things) a deck of playing cards. Cards were a common occurrence among troops, so they aroused no suspicion from the Nazi camp guards.

Decks of these cards are said to have helped at least 32 people escape from Colditz Castle and prompted some 316 escape attempts. No one knows for sure how many decks were produced, but the only two known surviving decks are in the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
(Bicycle Playing Card Co.)

To commemorate its history, Bicycle recently created a special “Escape Map” throwback deck, complete with map artwork – no water necessary.

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Today in military history: First American killed in Korean Wart

On July 5, 1950, the first American was killed in the Korean War.

The Korean War began on June 25, 1950, when 75,000 North Korean soldiers pushed south across the 38th parallel to attack the pro-Western South. Within days, the United States and the United Nations approved the use of force in the conflict to prevent the spread of Communism. 

By July, American troops arrived on the peninsula, and on July 5, Private Kenneth Shadrick, a 19 year-old soldier, was killed in action by machine-gun fire while engaging an enemy Soviet-made tank with a bazooka. 

Shadrick was the first of 36,574 Americans to die in theatre, with another hundred thousand wounded. Nearly one million, six hundred thousand civilians from the Korean peninsula were killed, with another million combatants from South Korea, North Korea, and China.

Nearly five million soldiers and civilians lost their lives in a war that many remember as “the Forgotten War” for the lack of attention it received compared to the “great” World Wars or even the Vietnam War. The most famous representation of the war came from the iconic television series M*A*S*H, which was set in a field hospital in South Korea during the war. The series ran from 1972 to 1983 and still today remains one of the most accurate military satires created.

For all the violence and brutality, the Korean peninsula remains divided at the 38th parallel still today and only an uneasy armistice keeps the peace while North Koreans endure a brutal dictatorship under the feckless Kim dynasty.

Featured Image: M24 Chaffee light tanks of the U.S. Army’s 25th Infantry Division wait for an assault of North Korean T-34-85 tanks at Masan. (U.S. Army image)

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24 photos that show US Navy flight ops up close and personal

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
(Photo: U.S. Navy)


America’s aircraft carriers are the heart of the US Navy and serve as American territory floating around the world, allowing the US to project massive air and sea military might.

During flight operations, an aircraft carrier’s deck is an extremely dangerous place with expensive fighter jets and helicopters landing and taking off on a short runway. However, sailors and airmen mitigate risks by fine tuning the chaos with coordination and precision.

Here are 27 pictures to prove there is really nothing quite like America’s aircraft carriers.

Tiger cruise participants commemorate their voyage with a spell-out on the flight deck on the USS Carl Vinson.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class James R. Evans

An MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron takes off from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Navy Photo

An aircraft director guides an F/A-18C Hornet onto a catapult aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kilho Park

An aircraft prepares to launch from the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ryan J. Mayes

An F/A-18F Super Hornet from the Black Aces of Strike Fighter Squadron 41 lands aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Navy Photo

Sailors stow an aircraft barricade after flight deck drills aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Navy Photo

Sailors conduct a special patrol insertion/extraction exercise aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Paolo Bayas

Ship executive officer addresses Sailors on the flight deck during an all-hands call on the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Zachary Bell

USS Bonhomme Richard conducts flight operations.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Stacy M. Atkins Ricks

A pilot confirms the weight of his jet prior to launch on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Navy photo

Airman position model aircraft on a planning board in the flight deck control center aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Sarah Murphy

Chief Aviation Boatswain’s Mate signals a C-2A Greyhound on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Navy photo

USS Theodore Roosevelt conducts vertical replenishment.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Navy photo by Naval Air Crewman (Helicopter) 2nd Class Christopher Harris

USS Essex sailors scrub the flight deck.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Adam M. Bennett

A landing craft air cushion enters the well deck of USS Kearsarge in Gulf of Aden.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Corbin J. Shea

USS Essex conducts deck landing qualifications.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Bradley J. Gee

USS John C. Stennis conducts helicopter operations.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Ignacio D. Perez

A Super Hornet launches from the deck of USS Enterprise.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Scott Pittman

Sailor signals for sailors to set up the aircraft barricade during a drill aboard USS George Washington.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jacob D. Moore

MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter lands aboard USS Essex.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Adam M. Bennett

An AV-8B Harrier launches from USS Makin Island.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kory Alsberry

Sailors conduct a chock-and-chain evolution with an SH-60 Sea Hawk aboard USS Wasp.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Rawad Madanat

An airman directs an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter on the flight deck of aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Navy Photo

Sailors prepare an F/A-18E Super Hornet on the USS Ronald Reagan.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Navy photo

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China’s trying to push around American bombers flying in international airspace

An Air Force B-1B Lancer strategic bomber taking part in a training exercise with South Korean forces was threatened by the Chinese while in international airspace.


This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jacob Skovo

According to a report by FoxNews.com, the threat came while the Lancer was over the East China Sea. China set up an air-defense identification zone over the East China Sea in 2013, according to the state news agency Xinhua.

The B-1B Lancer carried out its training mission despite the threat. The United States and South Korea are carrying out Foal Eagle, an annual joint exercise held with South Korea. The exercises have long been protested by North Korea. According to a DOD release from earlier this month notes that over 30,000 American and South Korean troops are taking part.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Army Soldiers assigned to 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 2nd SBCT, 25th Infantry Division, fire M795 projectile 155 mm rounds on Rodriguez Live Fire Complex, South Korea, March 22, 2015. U.S. Army Solders run a live-fire exercise during joint training exercise Foal Eagle 2015. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Samantha Van Winkle)

China has had a history of harassing American aircraft and naval vessels in the South China Sea, including the 2001 EP-3 incident, when an EP-3E Aries II electronic surveillance plane collided with a People’s Liberation Army Navy J-8 Finback fighter. The Chinese pilot was killed in the collision, while the EP-3E made an emergency landing. The crew was held for ten days by the Chinese.

While the South China Sea is a well-known flashpoint, the East China Sea is also the location of maritime disputes, including one between China and Japan over the Senkaku Islands.

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These airmen made the first non-stop helicopter flight across the Atlantic

At 0105 hours on May 31, 1967, two Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant helicopters took off from Floyd Bennett Field, New York. Serial numbers 66-13280 and 66-13281, the two helos were crewed by airmen of the 48th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron. Their mission: to make the first non-stop transatlantic helicopter flight.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
The route of the Jolly Green Giants across the Atlantic compared to Lindbergh’s route (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

Majors Herbert Zehnder and Donald B. Murras commanded the two HH-3Es and each aircraft had a crew of five. The 4,271-mile flight took 30 hours and 46 minutes. To perform the non-stop flight, the helos had to perform nine in-flight refuelings. During the flight, Zehnder set an FAI World Record for Speed Over a Recognized Course for helicopters with an average speed of 118.3 mph (189.395 kph). His record still stands to this day. At 1351 hours on June 1, both helicopters landed safely at the Paris Air Show at Le Bourget, France.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Maj. Zehnder lands his HH-3E at Le Bourget (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

Despite their accomplishment, both HH-3Es remained in active Air Force service. They were reassigned to the 37th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron. Both aircraft were lost in combat during the Vietnam War. 66-13281 was shot down over Laos on October 24, 1969. The pararescueman, Tech. Sgt. Donald G. Smith, was awarded the Air Force Cross for successfully rescuing the downed pilot of “Misty 11.” All airmen were recovered and the HH-3E was destroyed to prevent its capture. 66-13280 crashed at Kontum on April 15, 1970. Pilot Capt. Travis H. Scott Jr. was killed and flight engineer Gerald E. Hartzel later died of his wounds. Co-pilot Maj. Travis Wofford rescued the surviving crew members from the burning aircraft. Both he and Scott were awarded the Air Force Cross.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
(Left to right) Maj. Herbert R. Zehnder, Igor Sikorsky, and Major Donald B. Murras at Le Bourget, 1 June 1967 (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

Zehnder went on to volunteer to fly during the Son Tay Prison Camp raid. During the Special Forces operation, the raiders came under heavy anti-aircraft fire as they flew in. Although Zehnder skillfully evaded the enemy fire, he knew that the prison guards may have been alerted to the raiders’ approach. To speed up the insertion, he intentionally crash-landed his helicopter inside the camp in an area too small for a safe landing. Zehnder then assisted the assault group in the ground mission. He was awarded the Silver Star for his actions.

The achievement of the Jolly Green Giants and the airmen who crewed them is an incredible feat. Their historic flight displayed the versatility and endurance of the helicopter. Incredibly, the first helicopter flight was made just 28 years prior by Igor Sikorsky himself.

Featured photo: Flight crews of the two 48th ARRS Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant helicopters at Le Bourget after a non-stop transatlantic flight, 1 June 1967. Maj. Zehnder is in the back row on the left (U.S. Air Force)

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Air Force says F-35A ready and waiting to be unleashed on ISIS

A U.S. Air Force Operational F-35A may soon attack ISIS over Iraq and Syria, fly to the Baltics as a deterrent against Russian aggression or deploy to the Pacific theater as part of a key force posture build-up, service leaders said.


“We have a global force management process. The F-35 move into the Middle East is scheduled further down the road. If a combatant commander needed it sooner they would ask for it,” Gen. Herbert J. “Hawk” Carlisle, Commander of Air Combat Command, told reporters last year.

Related: Marine Aviators will fly in the F-35 Vs. Super Hornet review

While actual combat deployment could be imminent orseveral years away, declaring the new stealth multi-role fighter operational means Combatant Commanders around the globe do now have the ability to request the F-35A when mission demands require its abilities, he explained.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
The F-35 doesn’t sleep. It waits. | U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Stormy Archer

This means that the operational aircraft is now ready for combat and could soon be called upon to meet mission requirements in the ongoing air campaign against ISIS. Although the US-led coalition already enjoys air superiority over Iraq and Syria, the F-35 could be useful firing laser-guided air-to-ground weapons or drop GPS-guided bombs on identified ISIS targets.

This would involve the additional combat deployment of Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or JDAMs. Precision and laser-guided air-to-ground weapons such as the Paveway II, a dumb munition converted into a precision-guided missile which made up more than one-half of the air-ground precision weapons fired during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The weapon has already been sucessfully test fired from an F-35.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas

Alongside the Middle East and Europe, Carlisle also addressed the prospect of moving F-35s to the Pacific Theater, explaining that groups of F-35s could go to the region as part of what the Air Force calls “Theater Security Packages.”

“These small deployments of about four ships are dispatched rapidly to global hotspots when needed. It’s kind of like providing the Combat Air Forces on tap. It’s possible that the F-35A’s first combat deployment will be in one of these TSPs,” Benjamin Newell, spokesman for Air Combat Command, told Scout Warrior.

Also read: This is how the F-35 is being tested against Russian and Chinese air defenses

Carlisle explained the potential deployment of F-35s to Europe and other strategic locations in terms of a prior move to deploy the F-22 to Europe as a deterrent against Russian aggression.

“When you send F-22s to the European theater last fall, it was great messaging that goes along with that.

Sending an F-35 would reassure friends and allies. It is a deterrent to potential adversaries. I don’t think it is provocative at all,” Carlisle said.

He went on to describe the stealth F-22 Raptor as the best air-to-air platform in the world and the F-35 as the best air-to-ground fighter in the world.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
F-35s and F-22s. Dream team? | US Air Force photo

In addition to functioning as a deterrent in key global locations, the F-35 could readily be called upon to perform the widest possible range of missions, Carlisle added.

“When you have airplanes you have pre-planned strike missions, interdiction offensive counter air, defensive counter air and air superiority. Many of these are missions I could use it for. It would depend upon the threat environment,” he said.

For instance, should the F-35 attack ISIS, it would be in a position to use both high-altitude precision-guided air-dropped bombs and also use its 25mm gun and other weapons to perform close-air support missions.

The Air Force is now preparing to increase its number of operational F-35s in order to better refine tactics, techniques and procedures, or TTPs.

“The F-35A is fully combat capable now, and can perform missions as requested by combatant commanders. Our next hurdles are to ramp up the forces to provide an adequate number of aircraft to create a working fleet, on which we build TTPs, test new weapons and most importantly, train adequate numbers of Airmen who are the experts in their assigned platform,” Newell explained.

In order to make this happen, the service would need 2 full fighter wings consisting of 144 aircraft and 6 squadrons.

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Glock puts the brakes on the Army’s new handgun

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


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

The protest was first reported by the Army Times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Here are the best military photos for the week of Feb. 18

The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:


AIR FORCE:

An F-22 Raptor performs a heritage flight during the 2017 Heritage Flight Training Course at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Feb. 9, 2017. The program was established in 1997, allowing certified civilian pilots and Air Force pilots to perform flights together.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Kimberly Nagle

Army Spc. James Williams, an 801st Engineer Company horizontal engineer, awaits the go-ahead for Humvees to be backed into a C-17 Globemaster III prior to its takeoff from Travis Air Force Base, Calif., during Patriot Wyvern Feb. 11, 2017. Patriot Wyvern is a hands-on, bi-annual event conducted by the 349th Air Mobility Wing designed to hone combat skills and improve organizational interoperability.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Daniel Phelps

ARMY:

U.S. Army Sgt. Michael Babbin, left, and Spc. Michael Richards, right, combat engineers, 572nd Brigade Engineer Battalion, 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Mountain), Vermont National Guard, place C4 explosives for a live demolition training at Camp Ethan Allen Training Site, Jericho, Vt., Feb. 11, 2017. The Soldiers learn how to do this safely and correctly by training both in the classroom and field environment.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Staff Sgt. Ashley J. Hayes

Soldiers assigned to 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), are currently deployed to Kosovo, providing a secure environment, strengthening relationships with our allies, while simultaneously building combat readiness.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Army photo

NAVY:

PHILIPPINE SEA (Feb. 11, 2017) Air department Sailors transfer an MH-60S Sea Hawk, assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 25, from the flight deck to the hanger bay of amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) during flight operations. Bonhomme Richard is conducting unit-level training to ensure warfighting readiness in preparation for a routine patrol in support of security and stability in the Indo-Asia Pacific region.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Diana Quinlan

GUAM (Feb. 11, 2017) Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) Seaman Stephen Mugo and Logistics Specialist 3rd Class Jeremy Boling perform evening colors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70). The ship’s carrier strike group is on a western Pacific deployment as part of the U.S. Pacific Fleet-led initiative to extend the command and control functions of U.S. 3rd Fleet.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sean M. Castellano

MARINE CORPS:

Recruits with 2nd Battalion, Recruit Training Regiment, spar during Marine Corps Martial Arts training at Leatherneck Square at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island. The Marine Corps Martial Arts Program helps to create the warrior ethos by utilizing armed and unarmed techniques from various styles of martial arts.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Richard Currier

Marines with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit Maritime Raid Force discuss their individual movements during Marine Expeditionary Unit Exercise at Camp Pendleton, Calitfornia Feb. 8, 2017. The 15th MEU’s MEU-EX is the first major exercise conducted since the MEU composited earlier this year. The 15th MEU’s MRF bears substantial force and is capable of a high degree of tactical mobility while delivering significant, sustained firepower within an objective area.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Timothy Valero

COAST GUARD:

A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew forward deployed in Cold Bay, Alaska, surveys the area around the fishing vessel Predator prior to hoisting three people off near Akutan Harbor, Alaska, Feb. 13, 2017. The predator ran hard aground, causing it to take on water through an eight inch crack on the hull. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Coast Guard photo

Coast Guard members aboard a 45-foot Response Boat-Medium from Station Maui conduct a patrol in support of Operation Kohola Guardian offshore Maui, Feb. 14, 2017. Operation Kohola Guardian is a cooperative operation between state and federal partners to protect the humpback whale migration to the Hawaiian Islands.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Melissa E. McKenzie

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Here’s the real story about how the Air Force’s MC-130J got its name

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
MC-130J operating from desert airstrip. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)


After polling members of the U.S. Air Force community, the service announced the name of the upcoming B-21 would be Raider on Sept. 19. Unlike the stealth bomber’s crowd sourced moniker, most of the flying branch’s planes get their official nicknames through a much less public process. In usual circumstances, some aircraft even get more than one.

On March 9, 2012, the Air Force announced Commando II as the formal name for the specialized MC-130J transport. For five months, crews had called the plane the Combat Shadow II.

“This is one of the first name changes we approved,” Keven Corbeil, a Pentagon official working at Air Force Materiel Command told Air Force reporters afterwards: “I think ‘Commando’ had historical [significance].”

The Air Force leads the shared office within Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base that approves all official aircraft and missile designations and their nicknames. According to records that We Are The Mighty obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the Air Force’s top commando headquarters felt both Combat Shadow II and Commando II had important significance. These were not the only names in the running either.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
A 71st Special Operations Squadron, CV-22 Osprey, is refueled by a 522nd Special Operations Squadron MC-130J Combat Shadow II. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman James Bell)

Starting in 1997, the flying branch had explored various options for replacing the MC-130E Combat Talon and MC-130P Combat Shadow. Both aircraft first entered service during the Vietnam War.

With the Combat Talons, aerial commandos could sneak elite troops and supplies deep behind enemy lines. The Air Force Special Operations Command primarily used flew the Combat Shadows to refuel specialized helicopters, though they could also schlep passengers and cargo into “denied areas.”

The Air Force’s new plane would take over both roles. For a time, the flying branch considered a plan to simply rebuild the older MC-130s into the upgraded versions.

More than a decade after the first studies for a replacement aircraft, the service hired Lockheed Martin to build all new MC-130s based on the latest C-130J aircraft. Compared to earlier C-130s, the J models had more powerful engines driving distinctive six-bladed propellers, upgraded flight computers and other electronics and additional improvements.

A basic C-130H transport has a top speed of just more than 360 miles per hour and can carry 35,000 pounds of equipment to destinations nearly 1,500 miles away. The regular cargo-hauling J variant can lug the same amount of gear more than 300 miles further with a maximum speed of more than 415 miles per hour.

So, on Oct 5, 2009, the Maryland-headquartered plane-maker started building the first of these MC-130Js. By the end of the month, the Air Force was already debating the plane’s name.

Four months earlier, Air Force Lt. Gen. Donald Wurster, then head of Air Force Special Operations Command offered up three possible nicknames: Combat Shadow II, Commando II and Combat Knife.

“The MC-130J mission will be identical to the Combat Shadow mission,” the top commando headquarters explained in an email. “The MC -130E already has its namesake preserved in the MC -130H, Combat Talon II.”

Keeping around well-known monikers is important both to Air Force history and public relations. The nicknames are supposed to both reflect the plane’s mission and help make it catchy during congressional hearings and interviews with the media.

Combat Shadow II would easily convey to lawmakers and the public that the plane was the successor to existing MC-130s. And otherwise, there wouldn’t be another Combat Shadow anytime soon.

Dating back to World War II and when the Air Force was still part of the U.S. Army, Commando II had different historic relevance. Largely obscured from common memory by the Douglas C-47 Skytrain, Curtis’ C-46 Commando was a vital contributor in the China, Burma India theater.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
A modified MC-130J awaits its next mission at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The aircraft has been fitted with vertical fins on each wing, called winglets. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

“The Commando was a workhorse in ‘flying The Hump’ (over the Himalaya Mountains), transporting desperately needed supplies from bases in India and Burma to troops in China,” the Air Force noted in the same message. “Only the C-46 was able to handle the adverse conditions with unpredictable weather, lack of radio aids and direction finders, engineering and maintenance nightmares due to a shortage of trained air and ground personnel and poorly equipped airfields often wiped out by monsoon rains.”

Though a Commando hadn’t flown in Air Force colors in more than four decades, the name fit with the air commando’s dangerous missions in unknown territory. In addition, the type had a storied history flying covert missions for the Central Intelligence Agency with contractors such as Air America.

The last option, Combat Knife, was a reference to the codename for the first unit to get the original MC-130E Combat Talon. In 1965, the Air Force created the element inside the 779th Troop Carrier Squadron at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina.

As the unit evolved, it took over responsibility for training all Combat Talon crews. On Nov. 21, 1970, one of the group’s MC-130s flew into North Vietnam as part of the famous raid aimed at freeing American troops at the Son Tay prison camp.

As Lockheed began building the MC-130Js, Air Force Special Operations Command decided to try and have it both ways. In another memo , the top commando headquarters proposed calling the aircraft set up to replace the MC-130Ps as Combat Shadow IIs, while the planes configured to take over for the MC-130Es would become Combat Talon IIIs.

The only problem was that there weren’t really two different versions. The entire point of the new plane was to have a common aircraft for both missions.

Back at Wright-Patterson, the officials in charge of names balked at the idea of two names for one plane. Air Force Materiel Command ultimately approved Combat Shadow II for all MC-130Js.

This solution wasn’t really what Air Force Special Operations Command wanted for the newest member of its fleet. As early as March 2009, the elite fliers had argued in favor of Commando II if they had to pick a single moniker.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
(Photo: U.S. Air Force)

“If the MC-130J will ultimately take on both the Talon and Shadow missions, then perhaps ‘Commando II’ is a nice compromise,” the vice commander of Air Force Special Operations Command Wurster in a hand-written note. “I like it better regardless!”

Censors redacted the officer’s name from the message.

On Oct. 25, 2011, Wurster’s successor Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel asked Air Force Materiel Commando to change the name to Commando II. Over the course of the debate, air commandos had also put Combat Arrow into the running.

Until 1974, Combat Arrow was the nickname applied to the Air Force’s Combat Talon element based in Europe. Combat Spear was the moniker for the element flying missions in Asia, particularly in Southeast Asia, during the same period. However, the MC-130W – a less intensive upgrade of the MC-130H Combat Talon II – had already gotten that nickname.

With new plans to eventually replace the Combat Talon IIs with MC-130Js as well, Fiel wanted “a new popular name that embodies the broader lineage of special operations force aircraft,” according to his message. “[Commando II] best reflects the multimission role of the aircraft and the units that will fly them.”

The officials responsible for naming agreed with Fiel’s request. They no doubt appreciated his suggestion of a new, single name.

Since then, the Air Force has clearly considered the matter settled. No one is likely interested in going through another drawn-out debate to change the MC-130J’s nickname anymore.

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This Q-n-A reveals the hard-fought wisdom of paratrooper who dropped into D-Day

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
(Photo: Nat’l Archives)


WATM recently had an audience with 92-year-old WWII Army veteran Clark Johnson of Floreville, Texas. At the time Johnson had just gotten back from visiting his late wife’s family and his disabled son who he hadn’t seen in eight years, a trip he was given courtesy of Dream Foundation.  Despite the fact that he has lung disease and has been given two months to live, he was very upbeat and candid during an amazing conversation that revealed hard-fought wisdom of an old vet.

Q: What was your rank?

A: Staff Sergeant.  I was in Airborne, and 2-3 days after my jump in Normandy, I hurt my leg pulling a soldier out of the swamp. [He was] drowned but we needed the material on his back over and above that even the ones drowned that didn’t have nothing we pulled them onto shore so the Red Cross could come pick ’em up later.

My job mainly was a demolition man, but for the first 3-4 days in Normandy, there was so much confusion you would kill anyone that got in your way [laughs]; you wanted to say alive.

Q: What have your learned from your time in the military?

A: I don’t know, but I’ll tell you the government can pull anything out of a hat.

Q: What advice do you have for current members of the military?

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Carl Johnson (Photo: Dream Foundation)

A: If you get in front of a machine gun, like I did, and they take the knuckle out of your middle finger – don’t pull your hand away. Leave it up there, even let them get the other three fingers too. Because today – that knuckle out of my little finger pays me a thousand dollars a month.

I got two Purple Hearts and each one of ’em pays me a thousand bucks. That’s $2,000 a month [laughs]; you know, at least that puts food on the table.

Q: How did you cope with what you saw during your time in combat?

A: Silence is the best thing that I know. Because, now and then, you can say something, and then later on they ask you the same thing you said and they’re mixing stuff up. That’s not good for nobody.

Q: Do you remember when you got drafted?

A: Yeah, I got a letter that was typed, “Greetings!” (laughs)

Q: What went through your mind when you got that letter?

A: I was gonna lose my job. Hey, you know when you were a teenager and you got a job, you were lucky if you got a good one that paid big money.

Q: How old were you when you got drafted?

A: 18

Q: What years did you serve?

A: 1943-1946

Q: What is your advice to young Americans?

A: If you can’t go to college, due to money, whatever, there is nothing wrong with going to the Army or the Navy and getting out in about four years with a discharge that will help you for the rest of your life. I can’t lay it any cleaner than that.

Q: What is your definition of patriotism?

A: No politics.

 

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Shopping malls were created with nuclear war in mind

Ah, the American shopping mall — filled with department stores, gag gifts, and five or six pretzel shops per floor. It’s hard to imagine a United States that isn’t anchored around these retail utopias.


But the shopping mall is only 60 years old, and — while they were partially envisioned as a way to get people to stay near stores and spend money — they were designed to spread the American population away from industrial centers and provide shelter in case of nuclear war.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Southdale Mall, designed to entice shoppers and shelter survivors in the 1950s, still exists as Southdale Center. Photo: Wikipedia/Bobak Ha’Eri

The first was Southdale Mall near Minneapolis, Minnesota. Southdale and many of the malls that followed were designed by Victor Gruen, an Austrian immigrant who fled Nazi Germany in 1938.

Gruen’s main goal when designing malls was that they should act as self-contained downtown areas. All the best parts of 1950 cities without any of the cars, crime, and unrest that he loathed. Climate-controlled to an eternal spring, his designs featured green space and were surrounded by apartments and office centers.

When Gruen began proposing his indoor malls to civic and business leaders, he packaged it as a civil defense measure. It was to be a perfect cornerstone of the “life belts” around major cities.

The idea for “life belts” had been gaining traction since 1950. It called for a circle of civil defense infrastructure, like shelters and hospitals, to be built just far enough from city centers that they would survive a nuclear bomb strike on the city.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Civil defense in the 1950s called for people to take what shelter they could. Photo: Wikipedia/Library of Congress

When plans were made for Southdale Mall, civic leaders asked for it to be built at a location 10 miles from Minneapolis’s city center, two miles from the edge of an expected blast. It was nestled between two highways so people could arrive quickly during an attack.

It was constructed of steel and reinforced concrete. A large fallout shelter and a 10,000-kilowatt generator sat underground in case they were needed for an emergency. Plans were drawn to turn shops into food production centers during a crisis.

Other malls, like Randhurst Mall near Chicago and Park Lane Mall in Reno, incorporated shelters and other aspects of Gruens’s designs. But the shopping center as fallout shelter concept didn’t really catch on.

As the Cold War progressed civil defense leaders instead called for shelters beneath other types of buildings. Schools, fire and police stations, and even churches were designed and constructed with built-in shelters.

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Battle brewing to build the U.S. Army’s next rotary wing aircraft

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An artist’s conception of V-280 Valors supporting a tank battle. (Photo: Bell Helicopter)


The U.S. Army is hosting a fly-off starting a year from now, and some of the biggest names in defense manufacturing are working in earnest to win it.

The Army put out a “request for proposals,” better know in procurement circles as an “RFP,” last year as the first step in their Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator (JMRTD) program, and the competition is down to two efforts: The V-280 “Valor” by Bell Helicopter and the SB-1 “Defiant” by Boeing and Lockheed-Martin. The two designs take wildly different approaches to meet the JMRTD performance requirements that include the ability to reach an airspeed of 230 knots and fly a combat radius of around 275 miles. The Valor is a tiltrotor aircraft, which builds on Bell’s experience and learnings with the V-22 “Osprey,” and the Defiant is a coaxial rotor design, which uses two rotors spinning in opposite directions above the fuselage and a thruster aft.

The two designs take wildly different approaches to meet the JMRTD performance requirements that include the ability to reach an airspeed of 230 knots and fly a combat radius of around 275 miles. The Valor is a tiltrotor aircraft, which builds on Bell’s experience and learnings with the V-22 “Osprey,” and the Defiant is a coaxial rotor design, which uses two rotors spinning in opposite directions above the fuselage and a thruster aft.

“We realize there’s still a pretty significant filter out there about the troubled history of the tiltrotor,” said Robert Hastings, Bell’s EVP for communications and government affairs . “But the Marines today would tell you it’s transformational. Younger pilots who never had to unlearn bad habits from other airplanes are flying the V-22 in ways we never imagined.”

Hastings, who flew Cobras and Blackhawks in the Army and also served as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs during Robert Gates’ tenure at the Pentagon, related a conversation he had with a V-22 squadron commander during the most recent Singapore Air Show. The CO told him that at that moment he had Ospreys in Australia, Okinawa, and the Philippines as well as at the show.

“He was a lieutenant colonel with an operational sphere of influence as big as what an admiral had a generation ago,” Hastings said. “To quote Gen. Davis, the Marine Corps’ assistant commandant for aviation: ‘The V-22 has not only changed the way we operate; it changed the way the enemy worries about us.'”

But while Hastings readily lists the V-22’s successes in the nation’s most recent conflicts, including how the CV variant has been used by the Air Force Special Operations Command, he is quick to point out that the V-280 is what he called a “clean sheet design.”

“The V-22 is largely a 1980s product,” he said. “Manufacturing is different today.”

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
The first Valor on the assembly line in Amarillo. (Photo: Bell Helicopter)

Hastings explained digital designs along with more precise machining allows parts “to slip into place very nicely” instead of having to be sanded down and otherwise manipulated by technicians along the assembly line as they had to while making the Osprey. With these sorts of improvements, Bell is striving to make the V-280 cost half of the V-22’s $71 million unit flyaway cost.

Bell has partnered with Lockheed-Martin to give the Valor a state-of-the-art cockpit suite, building on what engineers and test pilots have learned during the development of the F-35. While there’s no plan for helmet visor symbology (which has been a challenge to develop during F-35 testing), Hastings said the cockpit’s “open architecture” could afford V-280 pilots that capability in the future. The cockpit also accommodates a wide array of sensors and mission packages, which are designed to give the Valor a lot of combat agility.

Bell is calling their JMRTD candidate a “third generation” tiltrotor. (V-22 is second generation.) The V-280 differs from its predecessor in a number of ways: It’s much lighter because it’s constructed entirely of carbon-based materials. It has a straight wing instead of the Osprey’s forward-swept wing. It has a side door instead of an aft ramp.

Hastings also pointed out that — with an internal fuel cell added in the cabin area — the Valor can fly 2,100 miles, which will give the Army a self-deploy capability it’s never had before.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Artist’s conception of a section of Valors ingressing during a mission. (Courtesy of Bell Helicopter)

“Imagine a future where the 82nd Airborne is told to deploy, and the aviation division commander says to his aviation unit commander, ‘Meet me at the Horn of Africa in three days,'” Hastings said. “He doesn’t have to worry about a third of his strategic lift assets being tied up by those helicopters.”

The JMRTD fly off program will last two years, and at the end of it the Army will pick one of the two airplanes to replace its force of 2,000 Blackhawks and 800 Apaches. (And Hastings pointed out that the utility and attack variants of the Valor have 85 percent commonality beneath the prop-rotor — another cost-saving feature, he said.) The Army wants the new airplanes ready for war by 2029.

“We believe that helicopters will be around forever,” Hastings said, “but we think helicopters have reached as far as you can expand them. We think tiltrotors have a ton of growth in terms of what you can do with them.”

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Navy puts plans to buy more ships and planes on hold

The Navy’s 2018 budget request is out – and it looks like more new ships and aircraft are going to be on hold for at least a year. However, if this proposal holds up, the recent trend of short-changing training and maintenance will be reversed.


According to a report by BreakingDefense.com, the Navy will get eight ships: A Ford-class aircraft carrier (CVN 80, the new USS Enterprise), two Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, a littoral combat ship (or frigate), two Virginia-class submarines, a salvage tug, and an oiler.

Aircraft procurement will include two dozen F-35B/C Lightning II multi-role fighters and 14 F/A-18E/F Hornets. Despite reducing the F-35C buy by two aircraft, the Navy still expects to be on pace to achieve initial operating capability with the carrier-based variant of the Joint Strike Fighter in 2019.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem (DDG 63) receives fuel from the fleet replenishment oiler USNS Rappahannock (T-AO 204) during a replenishment-at-sea in the western Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kelsey L. Adams/Released)

The big focus on the fiscal 2018 budget, though, is restoring readiness. The Navy is getting a $1.9 billion increase in a category known as “Other Procurement, Navy.” This fund is used to purchase new electronic gear, and more importantly, spare parts for the Navy’s ships and aircraft.

The biggest winner in the budget is the operations and maintenance account, which is getting a $9.1 billion boost to a total of $54.5 billion. This represents roughly a 20 percent increase, with no category getting less than 87 percent of the stated requirements. Most notable is that Navy and Marine Corps flight hours have been funded to “the maximum executable level” – breaking a cycle of shortchanging training.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
A F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 115 conducts a touch-and-go landing on Iwo To, Japan. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. James A. Guillory)

The Navy and Marines have been hard-hit with readiness issues, particularly in terms of aviation. Last year, the Marines had to pull a number of F/A-18 Hornets out of the boneyard to have enough airframes for training. The Marines also had to carry out a safety stand-down after a series of mishaps in the summer of 2016. Even after the stand-down, the Marines lost four Hornets from Oct. 1, 2016 to Dec. 7, 2016.

“We tried to hold the line in our procurement accounts,” Rear Adm. Brian Luther, the Navy’s top budget officer, told BreakingDefense.com. He pointed out, though, that under Secretary of Defense James Mattis, “the direction was clear: fill the holes first.”

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