This is why grunt gear isn't for the average man - We Are The Mighty
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This is why grunt gear isn’t for the average man

Throughout military history, the gear our ground troops wear has depended on different aspects, for instance: the available technology, budget, and the weather (for the most part).


The needs of the mission and the environment determine what gear our infantrymen haul on their backs, around their waists, and even what they stuff into their many cargo pockets.

But the endgame of the mission always remains the same — win the war at all cost.

Related: These were the terrifying dangers of being a ‘Tunnel Rat’ in Vietnam

Today, the modern battlefield of Iraq and Afghanistan has prompted our military to change what our troops take with them. “SAPI” plates (Small Arms Protective Insert) were added to help protect the service members vital organs from small arms fire.

This is why grunt gear isn’t for the average man
All that gear adds up. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jorge Intriago)

Travel back in time where medieval Knights wore several layers and different types of heavy body armor to protect themselves from sharp swinging swords to the accurately shot arrows. These fearless men would spend countless hours training while cloaked in their protective garments, acclimating their bodies for war.

Fast forward to the rice patties of Vietnam where Marines, Sailors, Airmen, and Soldiers bravely left the wire typically sporting only their thin layered green t-shirts due to the constant humidity of the jungle while still toting pounds of extras.

Also Read: That time American POWs refused a CIA rescue mission in Vietnam

One 155-pound TV show host wanted to experience just how heavy the gear of an American GI in Vietnam was. So after donning the full Vietnam War style combat load — complete with ammo, an M-16 rifle, an individual medical bag, and 2 quarts of water — the TV show host’s total weight amounted to just under 235 solid pounds of gear. It was an 80-pound difference.

Check out the Smithsonian Channel‘s video below to see this TV show host play grunt for an afternoon.

(Smithsonian Channel, YouTube)
MIGHTY TRENDING

These 3 Air Force bases will get the new B-21 bomber

The Air Force said on May 2, 2018, that the new B-21 Raider bomber will go to three bases in the US when it starts arriving in the mid-2020s.

The service picked Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, and Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri as “reasonable alternatives” for the new bomber.


The Air Force said using existing bomber bases would reduce operational impact, lower overhead, and minimize costs.

“Our current bomber bases are best suited for the B-21,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said in a release. Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota has said Ellsworth is a candidate to be the first to get the new, next-generation bomber.

This is why grunt gear isn’t for the average man
Airmen perform preflight checks on a B-2 Spirit and signal to the mission commander that he is clear and free to move to the runway at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, April 24, 2017.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jazmin Smith)

The B-21 will eventually replace the B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit at those bases, as well — though the Air Force doesn’t plan to start retiring those bombers until it has enough B-21s to replace them.

Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota will continue to host the B-52 Stratofortress, the workhorse bomber that was first introduced in 1952 and is expected to remain in service until the 2050s.

A final basing decision is expected in 2019 after compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and other regulations.

“We are designing the B-21 Raider to replace our aging bombers as a long-range, highly survivable aircraft capable of carrying mixed conventional and nuclear payloads, to strike any target worldwide,” Air Force chief of staff Gen. David L. Goldfein said in the release.

Air Force Brig. Gen. Carl Schaefer, commander of the 412th Test Wing, said in March that the B-21 will head to Edwards Air Force Base in California for testing “in the near future.” His announcement appeared to confirm that the Raider would undergo operational testing sooner than expected.

This is why grunt gear isn’t for the average man
Aircrew members perform preflight checks on a B-1B Lancer as part of a standoff-weapons-integration exercise at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, August 13, 2014.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Zachary Hada)

The B-21 is being engineered to have next-generation stealth capability to allow it to elude the most advanced air defenses in the world, and it has been developed under a high level of secrecy.

There are no known photographs of the bomber, and few details about it have been released. A report in November 2017, suggested the Air Force could have been preparing Area 51 to host the bomber for testing.

The name “Raider” was selected from suggestions submitted by airmen in a contest in early 2016. The name refers to the daring Doolittle raid over Tokyo on April 18, 1942.

The raid was the first US strike on Japan in World War II, and it boosted morale in the US and led the Japanese military to divert resources for defense of its homeland. Lt. Col. Richard Cole, who was Lt. Col. James Doolittle’s copilot and the last surviving member of the raid, announced the new name in September 2016.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The US slammed Russia for moving more weapons into Syria

Russia has ratcheted up military tensions in Syria by announcing it would send the advanced S-300 missile defense system to Syria, and the US military had a savage response.

Asked for comment on the announced movement of the missile defense batteries to Syria, Maj. Josh T. Jacques of the US Military’s Central Command, which covers the Middle East, said Russia “should move humanitarian aid into Syria, not more weaponry.”


Another Pentagon official similarly had words for Russia, responding to Russian claims that Soviet-era Syrian defenses blocked 83 missiles from a US-led strike early April 2018.

“This is another example of the Russian disinformation campaign to distract attention from their moral complicity to the Assad regime’s atrocities,” Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon told Business Insider, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

This is why grunt gear isn’t for the average man
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

Russia stands accused by international observers of bombing humanitarian aid convoys on their way into besieged Syrian towns and stifling efforts to ease suffering in the country while they support Assad and allegedly cover him while he conducts chemical warfare against his own citizens.

Experts tell Business Insider that the S-300 likely could not stop another US strike like the one on April 14, 2018, where 105 missiles hit three suspected chemical weapons sites in the country. Russia claims its defenses can down “any” US missile.

Syria has been mired in a brutal civil war since March 2011. Russia, Syria’s ally, has provided air support and training for Assad’s military since late 2015, during which time it has been linked to several war crimes involving the death of civilians.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.



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7 military things that somehow get you fired in the civilian world

Getting your paperwork to Fort Couch seems like the sweetest gig in the world. However, you’ll soon realize that while you’ve spent the last however-many years having the civilian broken out of you, the rest of them have kept their “civilian mentality” completely intact.

You may think the military trained you well enough to handle a world full of PowerPoint presentations, but that’s not even scratching the surface. These are some of the many roadblocks you’ll run into in the civilian workplace that may have you explaining to HR that you’re, in fact, not crazy, just military-raised.

7. Breaking highly sensitive equipment

In the military, everything is expendable from a certain point of view. If you smash something, there’s almost always someone on standby to fix it. Weapon? Armory. Radios? Radio guy. Everything else? Supply.


In the civilian world, wanton smashing will get you a stern talking-to.

This is why grunt gear isn’t for the average man
We get all “accidentally” break things sometimes. (Image via GIPHY)

6. Crashing the company vehicle

If you crash a Humvee and you didn’t destroy anything too valuable in the process, you’ll get chewed out and maybe a reduction in rank, but you’re still going to be around the following week.

If you go joyriding in the company vehicle and don’t track the mileage, let alone smash it into a fire hydrant because you were trying to tactically park it as expediently as possible, you might end up in a performance-evaluation meeting.

This is why grunt gear isn’t for the average man

5. Inter-office pranks

Sure, it may seem like fun to throwdown in random Nerf wars between cubicles, but when you join in, kick in the break room door, flip the table over for a hasty firing position, and lay down suppressive fire so you can bound to the fridge to get a more sturdy firing position, you might get a few stares.

This is why grunt gear isn’t for the average man
Especially if you’re the one who starts it… and the only one doing it… (Image via GIPHY)

4. Telling off your coworkers

Apparently, civilians don’t appreciate being called “f*ckface” in the middle of a meeting on Monday morning because they didn’t answer their emails on a Saturday.

In the civilian world, if you do slip up and call that f*ckface a “f*ckface,” blame it on a lack of morning coffee. That seems to work.

This is why grunt gear isn’t for the average man
Yes. Lack of coffee. Perfect excuse. (Image via GIPHY)

3. “Tactically acquiring” (totally not stealing) office supplies

Fraud, waste, and abuse is considered a thing in the outside world. You can’t just pocket supplies on the down-low to trade them for other supplies with the guy in the cubicle on the third floor. Especially if these supplies are more than just pens, batteries, or Gerber multi-tools.

This is why grunt gear isn’t for the average man
“Gear adrift is a gift” totally counts for food in the break room. (Image via GIPHY)

2. Walking into any establishment with a weapon

Back in the day, if you heard someone scream “WHERE THE HELL DID I PUT MY RIFLE!?” no one batted an eye. If you reacted, it’s because someone who wasn’t armed should’ve been.

For some reason, civilians get antsy around weapons. Rifles, handguns, and even the 7-inch KA-BAR strapped to your ankle are all no-nos.

1. Showing up hungover every single weekday

Everyone wants to pretend that it’s cool to drink or that it’s hip to have a nightcap or two before bed until they run into someone who’s made alcoholism a dedicated profession.

If you find yourself hungover beyond function, blame it on the previously mentioned “lack of morning coffee.” Civilians are so accustomed to coffee that they have more than your standard “sh*t” and “decent” varieties of coffee.

*Bonus* Letting your sense of humor show

It’s all fun and games until you have to stop and explain why your sense of humor isn’t crazy. Sometimes, civilians just don’t get your dark and f*cked up sense of humor — so play it close to the chest.

This is why grunt gear isn’t for the average man
(Image via GIPHY)
Articles

New ‘Dunkirk’ trailer focuses on pilots, civilians who saved thousands

The main trailer for ‘Dunkirk’ is out, and it seems that Christopher Nolan will be telling the amazing story of Operation Dynamo from all angles as weekend sailors, Royal Air Force pilots, nurses, fishermen, and others appear in the footage.


Operation Dynamo, often called “The Miracle at Dunkirk,” was the evacuation of nearly 400,000 British and allied troops from the coast of France in 1940 after the German blitzkrieg cut through Allied defenses much faster than anyone anticipated.

The German invasion was expected to take months, but Nazi forces slashed a corridor through France to the English Channel in just over two weeks before they halted their advance. But the Nazis hadn’t been stopped by force of arms.

This is why grunt gear isn’t for the average man
French troops fill a ship evacuating Dunkirk. (Photo: Public Domain)

Rather, the high command decided that they didn’t want to risk panzers in pitched fighting near Dunkirk. So the German army kept the expeditionary force pinned down on the beach and sent the Luftwaffe to kill British ships in the English channel and strafe and bomb survivors on the beaches.

On May 26, the British launched Operation Dynamo, a Hail Mary attempt to rescue those dying troops through Royal Navy assets and, when those proved to be too few, hundreds of small fishing and pleasure boats piloted by civilians. Nearly 340,000 troops were evacuated from May 26 to June 4.

This is why grunt gear isn’t for the average man

Previous trailers for Nolan’s movie about the event have focused on the plight of soldiers on the beach who waited for days, sometimes in shoulder-deep water while under fire from the Luftwaffe, for rescue. The new trailer shows them, but it also spends a lot of time on a father crossing the channel with his sons, as well as the nurses and pilots who made the mission possible.

It looks like World War II buffs may get to see one of the war’s most miraculous moments played out on the screen through perspectives of everyone who made it possible. Many of the troops rescued from the beaches went on to fight in North Africa, the D-Day landings, and on to Berlin.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This World War II vet finally got his commission after 76 years

There’s an old U.S. Marine adage: “The only color that matters in the Corps is green.” That saying got its start in the 1970s under the guidance of Gen. Leonard Chapman, Jr. In the 20th Century, the U.S. military was far ahead of the rest of the country in terms of race relations.

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its shameful moments.

There are so many stories of American troops overcoming racial bias in World War II because Chapman is right: the only color that mattered was (and still is) green. It would be years before these stories became widespread. It would take even longer for the stories of racial bias without happy endings to come to light.


One such story is that Cpl. John E. James, Jr. James, an African-American drafted in 1941, attended officer training school at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1942. But instead of graduating with the deserved rank of second lieutenant, he was given corporal’s stripes and shipped overseas with an all-black unit.

The U.S. Army rectified that error in judgment on June 29, 2018, according to the New York Times. James was promoted to the rank of second lieutenant at age 98.

“It’s unbelievable,” James, who comes from a military family dating all the way back to the Revolution, told the New York Times. “I thought it would never happen.”

James’ daughter spent three years fighting the Army Review Board to get her father his promotion. It was originally denied because his OCS records were lost in a fire – but they resurfaced in the National Archives. His daughter even had a photo of his graduating class as proof.

This is why grunt gear isn’t for the average man
James at Benning in 1942.
(Museum of the American Revolution)

When James was told he wasn’t going to be an officer, he did his duty like any U.S. troop might have during World War II. He took the racial injustice and became a typist in a quartermaster battalion. When he got home after the war, he didn’t even tell his wife.

But 76 years later, with the support of his family and his senator, he found himself reciting the officer’s oath to retired Air Force General and former Chief of Staff John P. Jumper at the Museum of the American Revolution.

There is no word on his date of rank and if it comes with back pay.

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This is why no one uses water-cooled machine guns anymore

It was a common sight in World War I – the image of a machine gun spewing bullets from a barrel protruding from what looks like a giant canister. That canister is a healthy indication that the barrel of the machine gun in question is being cooled by water in the canister and that the water will soon be as hot as the barrel.


For the troops who wanted to continue using the machine guns to keep wave after wave of enemy troops in their own trenches and not coming into yours and sweeping you all out with shotguns, this was going to become very important, very fast.

This is why grunt gear isn’t for the average man
“The Kaiser says this will not be a problem!” The Kaiser was wrong.

Water-cooled machine guns, as it turned out, required water to cool them. And the more you used them, the more they needed that water changed out. This may not have been terribly difficult during World War I, when movement along the front was restricted to just crossing no man’s land into the next series of trenches a hundred yards away. Unfortunately for everyone’s infantrymen, the water-cooled MG lived well past the Great War. So, the infantry were stuck hauling water for the guns, well into the Korean War.

But eventually, the guns were replaced with the less efficient but more manageable air-cooled guns. The problem with those was the barrels did not disburse heat quite as well as water-cooled weapons. So if a gunner isn’t shooting in bursts to prevent overheating, there is a chance the barrel could melt or become deformed during use. The solution? Interchangeable barrels. Watch U.S. troops do it:

That video is sixteen seconds long. So as efficient as water cooling those barrels really is, asking machine gunners to carry the weapon, its ammo, and tanks of water on a journey to Mordor is just not as effective as swapping out the actual problem: the barrel.

MIGHTY CULTURE

We have to talk about this week’s ‘SEAL Team’ death

WARNING: This post contains spoilers from Season 2 Episode 19.

This week, SEAL Team tackled one of the most dangerous threats to military veterans: suicide.

U.S. veterans have a higher suicide rate than civilians — and the number is staggeringly higher among female veterans. According to a 2016 study by the Department of Veterans Affairs, on average 20.8 service members commit suicide every day; of those, 16.8 were veterans and 3.8 were active duty, guardsmen, or reservists.

Since 2001, the total number of fatal casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan is 6,995.

There were more than 6000 veteran suicides each year from 2008-2016 alone.

It’s a critical threat, one that must be acknowledged and addressed — which is why it’s important that shows like SEAL Team tell their stories.

According to ‘former frogman’ and SEAL Team writer Mark Semos, the suicide in the episode ‘Medicate and Isolate’ was inspired by the death of a real U.S. Navy SEAL.


[instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/Bwr-5VXnzA3/ expand=1]Mark Semos on Instagram: “For those of you who tuned into last night’s episode of @sealteamcbs: Brett Swann’s character was based on Ryan Larkin, a former SEAL who…”

www.instagram.com

In the episode, Brett Swann (played perfectly by Tony Curran) struggles with many issues that are common among veterans — and he’s lucky enough to have a buddy helping him navigate the labyrinth of the VA system: long waits, over-taxed doctors, and confusing procedures are among the basics of what can be expected.

Swann is certain he has an undiagnosed TBI (traumatic brain injury) but the VA doctor is unable to treat it because there’s no proof that it is service-connected. A 45-minute episode isn’t long enough to get into the details of Swann’s options, so the writers deftly cut to the finish: Swann wasn’t going to get the treatment he desperately needed. Certainly not right away.

I can’t communicate strongly enough how disorienting and discouraging it is to finally seek help only to be turned away, especially for veterans, who were trained by the military to “suck it up.”

Some get lucky and find advocates (I highly recommend the DAV, a non-profit that, among other initiatives, helps veterans with disability claims), some patiently wade through the murky system, but others…

…well, it’s becoming painfully clear that others give up hope.

[instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/Bwp5pE8n0L0/ expand=1]Tyler Grey on Instagram: “It’s hard to promote tonight’s episode as it’s about a subject that is sadly more truth than fiction. Rather than entertain I hope that it…”

www.instagram.com

Just this month, two more veterans died by suicide at VA facilities. So while the Department of Veterans Affairs does provide treatment for millions of veterans, the truth is that it isn’t enough.

For a country that spends more on its defense budget than the next seven countries combined (China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, France, the United Kingdom, and Japan), it reflects the DOD’s priorities when VA hospitals and facilities don’t have the funds to meet the staffing and medical needs of its veterans.

There is hope

I have seen a trend where veterans are coming together to support each other, to maintain the strong community we had during service. As more and more veterans lose friends, the fear of talking about suicide is diminishing.

This is critical because veterans have to know where to turn for help.

There is a crisis hotline: 1-800-273-8255 (or anyone in need can send a text message to 838255)

There are organizations like 22KILL, which raises awareness and combats suicide by empowering veterans, first responders, and their families through traditional and non-traditional therapies.

And there are shows and films depicting these stories, raising awareness, and removing the stigma of unseen injuries and mental health.

There are many who are wary of sending the message that veterans are all traumatized or unstable; if anything, this episode is further proof of the opposite. SEAL Team employs a lot of veterans who are professionals in the entertainment industry.

Who better to tell the story of those among us who need our help?

MIGHTY CULTURE

How the Marines select their military working dog handlers

Military occupational specialties are the foundation of the Marine Corps. Each MOS is a cog, working with and relying on each other to keep the fighting machine that is the United States Marine Corps running. The military working dog handlers are one such dog.

Military police officers have many conditions they have to fulfill to effectively complete the mission of prevention and protection in peace and wartime. One aspect of their duty is to be handlers for the military working dogs.


“To even have the opportunity to be a military working dog handler, you have to be military police by trade,” said Cpl. Hunter Gullick, a military working dog handler with Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Installations Pacific – Marine Corps Base Camp Butler, Japan. “We go to the school at Fort Leonard Wood for roughly three months before graduating and joining the fleet. After that you can put a package in to request the chance. This process is long since they screen you with background checks, schooling history and recommendations. If they accept you, you are sent to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas for another three months of school, this time strictly for military working dog handler training.”

The tradition of using dogs during war dates back thousands of years, but the U.S. military did not officially have military working dogs until World War I. Since that time the partnership between the canines and their human has grown.

This is why grunt gear isn’t for the average man

Lance Cpl. Joseph Nunez from Burbank, Calif., interacts with Viky, a U.S. Marine Corps improvised explosive device detection dog, after searching a compound while conducting counter-insurgency operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan, July 17, 2013.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Alejandro Pena)

“We utilize the dogs for a number of things,” said Cpl. Garrett Impola, a military working dog handler with Headquarters and Support Battalion, MCIPAC. “The dogs are trained for substance location, tracking, and explosive device detection. During festivals and events we use them as security to do sweeps and to detrude conflicts. No other single MOS can do everything our dogs can.”

The handlers spend most of their working day with their partner to keep at top performance. This can be both a struggle – as much as it is a joy — for the Marine partner.

“The best part about my job is the dogs, for sure,” said Gullick. “They give everything they have to you, so we give everything to them in return. The most challenging aspect of my job would be that sometimes the dogs are like kids. It can get frustrating so you have to have patience. You also have to be humble because as a handler you have to be able to take constructive criticism.”

The Marine and military working dog are a team. The job of being a handler is always a work in progress. Marines are encouraged to push their limits and learn more when it comes to doing their jobs. They are always learning new techniques and procedures when it comes to performing their job to the best of their abilities.

“You will never know everything because each dog is different,” said Gullick. “With one, you think that you have the dog world figured out and then another one comes along and throws a curve ball at you. You have to continually learn and adapt.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Marine Corps. Follow @USMC on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

More leaders need to get punched in the face

“Kick his ass!” was one of the multiple jeers I heard through the litany of booing as I stepped on the mat at Dragoon Fight Night, the 2d Cavalry Regiment’s combative showcase. A few weeks prior, I had posted a video on social media to over 4,000 Dragoons challenging any Soldier to fight their Command Sergeant Major. My opponent, Sergeant Zach Morrow, stood across the ring, he was 50 pounds heavier, nearly 20 years younger, and had a cage fighting record. I was about to be punched in the face.

Getting punched in the face is exactly what I needed and what the 700 people in attendance and those watching online needed to see. Often young leaders hear, “Never ask Soldiers to do something you are not willing to do,” but how do leaders, echelons above the most junior Soldiers on the front line, demonstrate this?


As NCOs and officers move up in positions the number of opportunities to exhibit leadership by example diminishes. Getting past the fear of failure, identifying opportunities to highlight priorities with action, and understanding Soldiers are always watching their leaders provides us the chance to inspire and positively impact the formation.

As leaders, we cannot be afraid of failure. When Sergeant Morrow approached me about my challenge, I knew the odds were against me. I was overmatched and fully understood I could be twisted into a pretzel or even worse, knocked out in front of my entire formation. But why shouldn’t I step into the ring? I didn’t make it to this position without losing a few battles or failing occasionally. Fear of defeat or failure cannot dissuade leaders from setting the example, it should inspire them to be better!

Recently, two majors in the 2d Cavalry Regiment attempted to get their Expert Soldier Badge (ESB). As they passed event after event the staff buzzed with excitement. Here were two staff primary officers who had taken time out of their schedule, risking failure to earn something they didn’t even need. They accepted risk and delegated responsibilities to ensure they could accept a challenge. Even after they failed on the third day of testing, their peers and subordinates saw them with a level of respect and admiration.

It would have been easier for those officers to avoid a challenge or risk of failure using busy work schedules as an excuse. Their evaluations were already written by their senior rater at that point. But they stepped in the ring and took a punch in the face earning respect and loyalty of their Soldiers even in failure. Any leader taking a risk and puts their reputation on the line is more inspirational than one who just shakes Soldiers’ hands after a fight.

There are many ways officers and NCOs can set the example at all echelons of leadership. As leaders accept challenges, it provides them with an opportunity to highlight command emphasis. Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Fortenberry (United States Army Infantry School) earned his Ranger Tab between battalion and brigade command. It echoed the importance his command team placed on the fundamentals and leadership lessons all Soldiers, regardless of rank, can learn at Ranger School.

Recently, Command Sgt. Maj. Frank Lopez (Brigade Support Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division) earned his ESB. He didn’t need it for a promotion or another badge on his chest. By earning it, he demonstrated to the NCOs and Soldiers the ESB is important and if he is willing to take a figurative punch in the face, so should every subordinate below him.

Soldiers always watch their leaders. They see the ones who “workout on their own” instead of joining them for challenging physical fitness training. Soldiers notice leaders who are always in their office while they face blistering wind during weekly command maintenance in January or scorching heat during tactical drills in July. In addition, senior leaders have fewer chances to lead from the front. They must actively look for opportunities to get punched in the face.

After three brutal rounds, Sergeant Morrow connected with a perfect strike to my upper eye. While the physician assistance superglued my eyebrow back together an unsettling quietness took over the gym. When I stepped back onto the mat the crowd erupted, it wasn’t about the Sergeant Major getting his “ass kicked” it was about a leader who accepted a challenge and wouldn’t quit or accept defeat. A few minutes later, I stood beside Sergeant Morrow, the referee raised his hand. The standing ovation was the loudest of the evening. The audience didn’t care their Command Sergeant Major was defeated, they were excited to see a good fight and a leader enter the ring and take a punch to the face.

MIGHTY HISTORY

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters

When I frequented my Marine Corps recruiting office from 1999 until I enlisted in 2003, Staff Sgt. Molina used to welcome me with a familiar, “Ey devil,” and Staff Sgt. Ciccarreli would echo with “Eyyyyyyy.” Vintage recruiting posters were sprinkled among more modern propaganda. The message they consistently reinforced was that the Corps’ values—especially service above self—are timeless.

In one of the old posters, a strong, black Marine standing tall in his dress blue uniform with gold jump wings stared back at me. I couldn’t tell whether he was grinning or scowling—welcoming a potential recruit or warning me. Scrawled in bold typeface across the bottom third of the poster were the words “Ask a Marine.” My reaction was visceral. Where do I sign?


This is why grunt gear isn’t for the average man

The iconic Marine recruitment ad campaign featuring Capers. He was the first black man to be featured in such a campaign.

The man in the poster was James Capers Jr., a now retired major whose 23-year career was defined by breaking barriers and blazing a path of excellence in the Marine Corps special operations community. Capers recently published “Faith Through the Storm: Memoirs of James Capers, Jr.,” and the book is a powerful portrait of an extraordinary life.

As the son of a sharecropper in South Carolina, Capers had to flee the Jim Crow South for Baltimore after his father committed some petty offense, which he feared might get him lynched. Capers describes his flight in the back of an old pickup driven by a white person as a sort of “Underground Railroad.” His trip to Baltimore is reminiscent of Frederick Douglass’ escape north because not much had changed for black people in the South since 1830.

We get a vivid picture of Capers’ early years and family life in Baltimore before he joins the Marine Corps. In the Marines, Capers finds an organization where men are judged by their actions, and he excels. He polishes his boots, cleans his weapons and learns what he can from the old salts, who mostly respect his effort. Early on, Capers commits himself to a standard of excellence that distinguishes him above his peers. That struggle is a consistent theme throughout his career.

When applying for special operations swim qualification, an instructor cites pseudo-science to explain that black people can’t swim. Capers has to beg to be let into the class. When a white student fails the test required to graduate, Capers pleads with the cadre to allow the student to swim it again. Then he swims with the Marine, motivating him to muster up the fortitude and faith in himself to pass.

At one point, Capers can’t find an apartment in Baltimore even though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had recently passed and was promoted to end housing discrimination based on race. While assigned the temporary lowly duty of a barracks NCO, a white Marine flicks a cigarette butt at Capers—already trained as an elite Force Reconnaissance Marine—and tells him to pick it up. The slight weighs heavily on Capers until he tracks the Marine down and does something about it.

As Vietnam approaches, Capers is eager to get in the fight. A seasoned veteran of more than 10 years, he volunteers to return to special operations, and in the spring of 1966, he deploys with 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company.

This is why grunt gear isn’t for the average man

Capers (bottom right) with his Marine Corps 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company in Vietnam.

The section about Capers’ Vietnam tour is harrowing and crushing. He survives and thrives as a warrior and leader through several months of brutal combat in the jungle. Eventually, he receives a battlefield commission to 2nd Lieutenant and becomes the first black officer in Marine special operations. By the heart-pounding final mission in Vietnam, I couldn’t help but feel like the book is a 400-page summary of action for a Medal of Honor.

Heart is the book’s central theme. Its most moving parts focus on overcoming adversity and heartbreak. In one chapter, Capers leads his men through two minefields to avoid the enemy. His inspiring leadership carries them through alive against all odds.

Characters frequently appear only briefly enough to become attached to before they die. Capers recalls fondly an old black first sergeant who had fought on Iwo Jima in World War II and saved Capers from some trouble. He dies in Vietnam.

In another scene, a Marine hollers a cadence on a medevac transport out of Vietnam to raise the spirits of wounded Marines who join the sing-song before the Marine dies somewhere along the way.

These wrenching memories reminded me of returning to the recruiting office after my first combat deployment and asking Staff Sgt. Alvarado whatever happened to Staff Sgt. Molina, whose son had fallen under my supervision when I was an assistant karate instructor before I enlisted. Alvarado’s eyes looked to the ground, “You didn’t hear?” I’d seen enough death on my deployment to suddenly know without having to be told, and a mental image of his cherub-faced child still tugs my heart because that kid had an especially wonderful dad.

The death surrounding Capers takes its toll on him, and though he is a hard charger and maybe the best Marine in Vietnam, he is not a machine. His pain is complicated. The book’s strength is in Capers’ brutal honesty about his emotional state, which deteriorates as the death toll mounts and the misuse of his recon team by new out-of-touch officers costs more than he can bear.

This is why grunt gear isn’t for the average man

Retired Marine Corps Maj. James Capers II.

(Photo by Ethan E. Rocke)

This memoir may not break into the mainstream like a Matterhorn or Jarhead because it’s steeped in Marine culture that may not translate to readers outside of those bounds. It deserves a mini-series due to its dramatic story arc and relevance regarding the unique historical experience of a black U.S. Marine who is able to achieve in the Marine Corps what most likely would not have been accessible to him in the society of his time.

“Faith Through the Storm” should be required reading for Marine infantry officers. It’s the perfect book for The Commandant’s Professional Reading List. This book ultimately adds another dimension to one of the Corps’ most famous recruiting posters.

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The ‘Darkhorse’ Marines are not actually in combat right now

Although thousands upon thousands of well-meaning Americans on Facebook and Twitter are asking people to pray for the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, the grunts aren’t suffering any casualties in Afghanistan. They’re home at Camp Pendleton, preparing to deploy to sea.


The latest hoax seems to have broken out on Facebook in late February before dying down in mid-March. It has come roaring back in recent days, however, triggering a flood of social-media support for the “Darkhorse” battalion that once suffered heavy losses in Afghanistan but isn’t actually in combat now.

“We are asking everyone to say a prayer for ‘Darkhorse’ 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines and their families. They are fighting it out in Afghanistan and have lost nine Marines in four days. Please repost this,” reads the typical message being circulated on social media.

This is why grunt gear isn’t for the average man
They probably all look like this right now.

As the rumors circulated in March and April, the battalion was training for a future deployment with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. Between March 24 and April 4, for example, 3/5 Marines underwent a Marine Corps Combat Readiness Evaluation at Camp Pendleton.

This week, elements of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit have been participating in a Composite Unit Training Exercise — “COMPTUEX” — off the coast of Southern California aboard the Navy’s amphibious assault ship America.

The urban legend about 3/5 Marines currently suffering major combat losses in Afghanistan has roots in truth.

Deployed to Afghanistan’s restive Helmand Province in 2010-11, 3/5 Marines and the 1st Combat Engineers suffered 25 deaths and nearly 200 wounded. Some of the most brutal fighting was concentrated near the district of Sangin, triggering widespread support on the social media from well-wishers at the time.

Also read: This battle between US Marines and ISIS was largely kept secret — until now

After the Darkhorse Marines rotated home, calls for prayers for their safety continued to flare up in late 2012, both the summer and late winter of 2013, the summers of 2014 and 2015, late December of 2015 and then again two months ago, according to a San Diego Union-Tribune analysis of Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Twitter and Facebook followers often have demanded to know why the “mainstream media” or “MSM” refused to cover the old story, failing to realize that the Union-Tribune and other news outlets reported extensively about the Darkhorse battalion’s real deployment of 2010-11 in Afghanistan.

Internet rumor-slayer Snopes.com updated a special page on the Darkhorse dilemma on May 1, pointing to articles about the earlier deployment in the Union-Tribune and its sister paper the Los Angeles Times. Snopes rated the latest eruption of 3/5 prayer requests “outdated.”

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These are some of the most fascinating discoveries of lost ships and planes

There has always been something alluring about lost ships and planes. Maybe it’s the massive treasure some wrecks hold in their belly, or maybe it’s the clues to lost history that some ghost ships provide.


Some of these wrecks were civilian vessels, like the former USS West Point (AP 23), which also had names like SS America. Others were planes that crash-landed like the Akutan Zero did. Mostly, there is just this sense of mystery around them.

This is why grunt gear isn’t for the average man
The ill-fated crew of the B-24D Lady Be Good. (USAF photo)

Take for instance the Lady Be Good, a B-24 Liberator that got lost during a sandstorm that ended up flying two hours south of its base. It was missing for over a decade until discovered by an oil exploration crew. All but one of the crew were accounted for, but when parts of the B-24 were used on other planes, several suffered mishaps. A curse? Or just coincidence?

The Lady Be Good is not the only B-24D on the list – another one, which landed on Atka Island in the Aleutians, also made the list. This time, the plane was found sooner but left in place. It now constitutes part of the Valor in the Pacific National Monument.

Also on the list is an RB-29 called Kee Bird, whose crew survived, but which caught fire during a salvage attempt.

This is why grunt gear isn’t for the average man
The wreck of the SS American Star, formerly USS West Point (AP 23), among other names. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Perhaps the craziest story is that of the Sverdlov-class cruiser Murmansk. This was a powerful ship, with a dozen 152mm guns in four triple mounts, 10 533mm torpedo tubes in two quintuple mounts, 12 100mm guns in six twin mounts, and 32 37mm anti-aircraft guns. However, her end was sad.

Sold to India to become razor blades, she broke from her towline and ended up on the Norwegian coast.

So, check out the video below to see some of the world’s most fascinating ghost ships and planes.

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