In 1997, 10 years after retiring from a 34-year career in the Army Reserve and Air Force Reserve, Edward Kosakoski was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Though his last assignment in the Reserve was as commander of the 74th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron at Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts, it was during the mid-1970s and early 1980s that Lt. Col. K was exposed to Agent Orange while flying training missions on several C-123 aircraft previously used for spraying the chemical defoliant in Vietnam.
Last week, VA service connected Col. K’s prostate cancer, awarding him compensation for his C-123 Agent Orange claim.
I’ve never met Col. K, but his story is captured in the claim file that his wife, Ingrid Kosakoski, filed on his behalf. That file shows a man who was drafted into the Army in 1953 and, after serving two years in France, had joined the Army Reserve, and who had received a commission in the Air Force Reserve after graduating from the University of Connecticut Pharmacy School in 1959. That file also shows that VA received Col. K’s claim prior to the recent regulation change.
After spending decades searching for proof of a connection between C-123s and the conditions known to be caused by Agent Orange, the Institute of Medicine issued a review that provided the supporting evidence VA needed to provide care and compensation to the Air Force and Air Force Reserve personnel who were exposed to Agent Orange through regular and repeated contact with contaminated C-123s and who also developed an Agent Orange-related disability.
“I have only praise for the VA personnel who handled Ed’s claim in Baltimore and St. Paul,” Ingrid said. “They were professional and compassionate, and I would urge others exposed to Agent Orange with known disabilities to file claims as soon as possible.”
In a recent phone conversation, longtime C-123 advocate and close friend of Col. K, Wes Carter, also stressed the importance of not waiting.
“The Secretary and his staff have worked hard, along with C-123 veterans in getting to this point,” said Carter, who also chairs the C-123 Veterans Association. “VA is ready and eager, already reaching out and helping our aircrews and maintenance personnel who are ill.
“This is the time for C-123 Veterans to get their claims to VA if affected by any of the Agent Orange-associated illnesses. Call the C-123 hotline at 1-800-749-8387 for any questions. I also recommend that vets ask their local VA medical center’s environmental health coordinator for an Agent Orange Registry exam.”
If you or someone you know was exposed to Agent Orange (whether in in Vietnam or its inland waterways, an area the Department of Defense has confirmed use of AO, or as in Col. K’s case aboard a C-123) AND you have a condition presumed to be related to AO, please file a claim for compensation.
If you need help filing a claim or want to talk to someone, you have many options:
Speak with an accredited Veterans Service Officer who can help you gather records and file a claim online
Call VA at 1-800-827-1000 for advice
If you want the fastest decision possible, consider filing a Fully Developed Claim through ebenefits.va.gov. An FDC allows you to submit all your evidence up front, identify any federal records for VA to obtain, and certifies that you have no other evidence to submit.
If you (or your loved one) meet certain conditions, such as financial hardship, advanced age, or terminal illness, VA can expedite your claim – just make sure we are aware of your situation. You or your VSO can notify us in writing, or by calling 1-800-827-1000. If your situation is dire, don’t wait!
The Army is working to engineer a sleek, high-speed, first-of-its-kind long-range ground-launched attack missile able to pinpoint and destroy enemy bunkers, helicopter staging areas, troop concentrations and other fixed-location targets from as much as three time the range of existing weapons, service officials said.
The emerging Long Range Precision Fires, slated to be operational by 2027, is being designed to destroy targets at distances up to 500 kilometers.
“The Long Range Precision Fires Missile will attack, neutralize, suppress and destroy targets using missile-delivered indirect precision fires. LRPF provides field artillery units with 24/7/365 long-range and deep-strike capability while supporting brigade, division, corps, Army, theater, Joint and Coalition forces as well as Marine Corps air-to-ground task forces in full, limited or expeditionary operations,” Dan O’boyle, spokesman for Program Executive Office, Missiles Space, told Scout Warrior.
The new weapon is designed to replace the Army’s current aging 1980’s era MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System, a ground-launched missile able to fire at least 160 kilometers.
“The LRPF will replace the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) capability, which is impacted by the age of the ATACMS inventory and the cluster munition policy that removes all M39 and M39A1 ATACMS from the inventory after 2018,” O’boyle added.
A key aspect of the strategic impetus for the long-range LRPF weapon is to allow ground units to attack from safer distances without themselves being vulnerable to enemy fire, Raytheon and Army officials explained.
LRPF missile will have a newer explosive warhead and guidance technology aimed at providing an all-weather, 24/7, precision surface-to-surface deep-strike capability, O’Boyle added.
In addition, the LRPF will fire from two existing Army launchers, the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System and the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System, O’Boyle added.
The new weapons system will fire two missiles from a single weapons pod and uses a more high-tech guidance system than its predecessors.
Although additional competitions among vendors are expected in future years, however the Army did award a $5.7 million risk-mitigation contract to Raytheon for the LRPF program.
“We’re looking to replace a design originally from the 1980s,” said Greg Haynes, a Raytheon manager leading the company’s campaign for a new long-range weapon. “Missile technology has come a long way.”
The US Army was among the first-ever to deploy land-fired precision weaponry such as the GPS-guided Excalibur precision 155m artillery round and the longer-range Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, or GMLRS. These weapons, which were first used in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2006 through 2009 timeframe, ushered in the advent of a new kind of weapon engineered to give Commanders more attack options and pinpoint enemy targets with great precision from long distances. In fact, among other things, GMLRS successfully destroyed Taliban targets in Afghanistan.
While precision fires of this kind would, quite naturally, be useful in full-scale mechanized force-on-force combat – they proved particularly useful in counterinsurgency attacks as Taliban and Iraqi insurgents deliberately blended in with innocent civilians among local populations. As a result, precision attacks became necessary, even vital, to US combat success.
Since the initial combat debut of these weapons, however, the fast pace of global technological change and weapons proliferation has fostered a circumstance wherein the US is no longer among the few combat forces to have these kinds of weapons. As a result, the US Army sees a clear need to substantially advance offensive ground-attack technology.
“Adversaries are already equipped with long-range weapons that could inflict substantial damage at distances beyond the Army’s striking power,” said former Army colonel John Weinzettle, now a program manager in Raytheon’s Advanced Missile Systems business.
Nearly 17,000 World War I veterans and some of their families had made camp on the shore of the Anacostia River south of Capitol Hill by the summer of 1932. They were all unemployed, and many of them had been so since the start of the Great Depression in 1929. They wanted the money the government had promised them as a function of their wartime service, and they wanted it immediately.
But the benefit they were due was a little more complicated than that. In 1924 Congress overrode a veto by President Calvin Coolidge and passed the World War Adjusted Compensation Act. According to the act each veteran was to receive a dollar for each day of domestic service, up to a maximum of $500, and $1.25 for each day of overseas service, up to a maximum of $625 (about $7,899 in current dollars). Amounts of $50 or less were immediately paid. All other amounts were issued as Certificates of Service maturing in 20 years.
3,662,374 military service certificates were issued, with a face value of $3.638,000,000 ($43.7 billion today). Congress established a trust fund to receive 20 annual payments of $112 million that, with interest, would finance the 1945 disbursement of the $3.638 billion due the veterans. Meanwhile, veterans could borrow up to 22.5 percent of the certificate’s face value from the fund.
But in 1931, because of the Great Depression, Congress increased the maximum value of such loans to 50 percent of the certificate’s face value.
Although there was congressional support for the immediate redemption of the military service certificates, President Hoover and Republican congressmen opposed such action on the grounds that the government would have to increase taxes to cover the costs of the payout, and that would slow down any potential recovery.
On June 15, 1932, the House of Representatives passed the Wright Patman Bonus Bill which would have moved forward the date for World War I veterans to receive their cash bonus, but two days later the Senate defeated the bill by a vote of 62-18.
The Bonus Army, as the veteran squatters were known, decided to protest the Senate vote by marching from Anacostia to Capitol Hill. Once the march was over a number of vets decided not to return to Anacostia and instead they set up camp on Capitol Hill. They lived there for over a month waiting for lawmakers or President Hoover to do something on their behalf.
On July 28, 1932, Attorney General William D. Mitchell ordered the police to remove the Bonus Army veterans from their camp on Capitol Hill, and during that effort the vets rushed two policemen trapped on the second floor of a building. The cornered police drew their revolvers and shot at the veterans, two of which, William Hushka and Eric Carlson, later died.
When President Hoover heard about the incident he ordered the U.S. Army to evict the Bonus Army from Washington DC. The task fell to the 12th Infantry Regiment, commanded by one General Douglas MacArthur, who was supported by six tanks, under the charge of one Major George S. Patton who was attached to the 3rd Calvary Regiment.
When the vets saw the Army force they cheered, thinking they were there to support their cause. But MacArthur quickly showed them that wasn’t the case. The Army waded into the vets with tear gas and fixed bayonets. The vets retreated back to Anacostia, and President Hoover ordered the Army to stop the eviction. However General MacArthur, in a move that foretold his infamous showdown with President Truman years later during the Korean War, ignored Hoover’s order and continued his assault on the Bonus Army.
Fifty-five veterans were injured and 135 arrested. A veteran’s wife miscarried. A 12-week-old boy died in the hospital after being caught in the tear gas attack. The veteran shantytown was burned to the ground.
MacArthur later explained his actions by saying that he thought that the Bonus March was an attempt to overthrow the U.S. government.
Though the Bonus Army incident did not derail the careers of the military officers involved, it proved politically disastrous for Hoover. He lost the 1932 election in a landslide to Franklin D. Roosevelt.
MGM released the movie “Gabriel Over the White House” in March 1933, the month Roosevelt was sworn in as president. Produced by William Randolph Hearst’s Cosmopolitan Pictures, it depicted a fictitious President Hammond who, in the film’s opening scenes, refuses to deploy the military against a march of the unemployed and instead creates an “Army of Construction” to work on public works projects until the economy recovers.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt quipped that the movie’s treatment of veterans was superior to Hoover’s.
American troops are no exception. The only problem is that from the moment we join the service, we get indoctrinated into a world of shouting and expletives.
It turns out World War I was no different, and it wasn’t even the beginning.
Etymologists – people who study the history of languages and trace word meanings – found it difficult to follow the lineage of the word “fuck” for a long time. The word itself is so taboo in the English language that no one would ever write it down — even for historical documentation.
Luckily for us, the Oxford English Dictionary started following it in 1897, just in time for the First World War.
The OED only followed the word’s history but never included it in its dictionary – it was illegal to print in publications by the Comstock Act of 1873. The law stopped absolutely no one from using it in everyday speech, least of all the military troops in the trenches.
Some of the OED’s research includes this line from John Brophy’s “Songs and Slang of the British Soldier: 1914-1918.”
“It became so common that an effective way for the soldier to express this emotion was to omit this word. Thus if a sergeant said, ‘Get your f—ing rifles!’ it was understood as a matter of routine. But if he said ‘Get your rifles!’ there was an immediate implication of urgency and danger.”
Sometimes what you don’t say really is as important as what you do.
The definition of the word itself survived intact from its initial meaning, “to have sexual intercourse with,” and has been similarly pronounced and spelled since its first appearances in the 16th century.
OED found mention of the word as “fuccant” in a “scurrilous” Latin-Middle English hybrid poem, called “Flen Flyys,” about what local monks did with the wives of the nearby town of Ely, and thus why they did not get into heaven.
The global proliferation of Russian and Chinese weapons massively increases the likelihood that US Army forces will confront tanks, drones, electronic warfare systems, precision munitions, armored vehicles and artillery made by near-peer competitors.
Although the prospect of major-power mechanized ground war between the US and Russia or China may not seem likely, the US Army is tasked with the need to be ready for any ground-combat scenario. What this means, Army leaders explained, is that the current and future combat environment the globe is both increasingly urban and armed with Russian and Chinese-made tanks and weapons.
Russian-built T-72 and T-90 tanks, Chinese drones, fighters, and missiles are now part of Armies around the world who might wind up in conflict with the US. In particular, Pakistan is armed with Type 85-IIAP Chinese-built tanks and Iran is equipped with Russian-made T-72s. Even smaller countries, such as Bangladesh, have Chinese tanks. In addition, a far greater number of smaller countries such as Cuba, India and Lybia have Russian tanks. North Korea, not surprisingly, has both Russian and Chinese tanks.
Also, senior Army officials explained that if US Army ground forces wind up on the ground in Syria, they will definitely wind up confronting Russian-built weapons. Although such a scenario may or may not happen, the prospect presents a very real threat to Army analysts and trainers.
“If the Army goes into ground combat in the Middle East, we will face equipment from Russia, Iran and in some cases China,” a senior Army official told Scout Warrior.
Re-focused Army Training
The Army’s “live-fire” combat exercises involve large-scale battalion-on-battalion war scenarios wherein mechanized forces often clash with make-shift, “near-peer” enemies or enemy weapons using new technologies, drones, tanks, artillery, missiles and armored vehicles.
The Army is expanding its training and “live-fire” weapons focus to include a renewed ability to fight a massive, enemy force in an effort to transition from its decade-and-a-half of tested combat experience with dismounted infantry and counterinsurgency.
Recent ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have created an experienced and combat-tested force able to track, attack and kill small groups of enemies — often blended into civilian populations, speeding in pick-up trucks or hiding within different types of terrain to stage ambushes.
“The Army has a tremendous amount of experience right now. It has depth but needs more breadth. We’re good at counterinsurgency and operations employing wide area security. Now, we may have to focus on ‘Mounted Maneuver’ operations over larger distances,” Rickey Smith, Deputy Chief of Staff, Training and Doctrine Command, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
While senior Army leaders are quick to emphasize that counterinsurgency is of course still important and the service plans to be ready for the widest possible range of conflict scenarios, there is nonetheless a marked and visible shift toward being ready to fight and win against a large-scale modernized enemy such as Russia or China.
The Army, naturally, does not single out these countries as enemies, train specifically to fight them or necessarily expect to go to war with them. However, recognizing the current and fast-changing threat environment, which includes existing tensions and rivalries with the aforementioned great powers, Army training is increasingly focused on ensuring they are ready for a mechanized force-on-force type engagement.
At the same time, while large-scale mechanized warfare is quite different than counterinsurgency, there are some areas of potential overlap between recent warfare and potential future great power conflict in a few key respects. The ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, over a period of more than a decade, involved the combat debut of various precision-guided land attack weapons such as GPS guided artillery and rocket weapons.
Weapons such as Excalibur, a GPS-guided 155m artillery round able to precisely destroy enemy targets at ranges greater than 30-kilometers, gave ground commanders an ability to pinpoint insurgent targets such as small gatherings of fighters, buildings and bomb-making locations. Guided Multiple-Launch Rocket System, or GLMRS, is another example; this precision guided long-range rocket, which can hit ranges up to 70-kilometers, was successful in killing Taliban targets in Afghanistan from great distances, among other things.
These kinds of precision munitions, first used in Iraq and Afghanistan, are the kind of weapon which would greatly assist land attack efforts in a massive force-on-force land war as well. They could target key locations behind enemy lines such as supplies, forces and mechanized vehicles.
Drones are another area of potential overlap. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan featured a veritable explosion in drone technology and drone use. For example, the Army had merely a handful of drones at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Now, the service operates thousands and has repeatedly relied upon them to find enemy locations, spot upcoming ambushes and save lives in combat. These are the kinds of platforms which would also be of great utility in a major land war. However, they would likely be used differently incorporating new tactics, techniques and procedures in a great power engagement.
“This is not back to the future…this is moving towards the future where Army forces will face adaptive enemies with greater lethality. This generation of Army leaders will orchestrate simultaneous Combined ArmsManeuver and Wide Area Security” Smith said.
Nevertheless, many Army leaders now experienced with counterinsurgency tactics will need to reexamine tactics needed for major conventional warfare.
“You have a generation of leaders who have to expand learning to conduct simultaneous ‘Combined Arms’ and ‘Wide Area Security” Smith said.
“The Army has to be prepared across the entire range of military operations. One of these would be ‘near-peer’ operations, which is what we have not been fighting in recent years,” Smith explained.
Massive Land War “Decisive Action”
The new approach to this emerging integrated training is called “Decisive Action,”senior Army leaders explained.
Live-fire combat at Riley, Kan., affords an opportunity to put these new strategies into effect, service officials said.
“Every morning I could put a battalion on the north side and a battalion on the south side – and just joust working “Combined Arms Maneuver.” I can do battalion-on-battalion and it does involve “Combined Arms” live fire,” a senior Army official said. “Because of the airspace that we have here – and use the UAS – I can synchronize from 0-to-18,000 feet and do maneuver indirect fire.”
This includes the use of drones, Air Force air assets, Army attack aviation along with armored vehicles, artillery, tanks and infantry units equipped for small arms fire, the official explained.
Some of the main tactics and techniques explored during “Decisive Action” live fire exercises include things like “kill what you shoot at,” “move to contact,” “synchronize indirect fire,” and “call-in 9-line,” (providing aircraft with attack coordinates from the ground), Army leaders said.
Army developers explained that “live-fire” combat exercises now work to incorporate a wide range of emerging technologies so as to better anticipate the tactics, weapons and systems a future enemy is likely to employ; this includes the greater use of drones or unmanned systems, swarms of mini-drones in the future, emerging computing technology, tank-on-tank warfare tactics, electronic warfare, enemy aircraft and longer-range precision weaponry including anti-tank missiles, guided artillery, and missiles.
In order to execute this kind of combat approach, the Army is adapting to more “Combined Arms Maneuver.” This warfare competency seeks to synchronize a wide range of weapons, technologies and war assets in order to overwhelm, confuse and destroy an enemy force.
Smith likened “Combined Arms” to being almost like a symphony orchestra where each instrument is geared toward blending and contributing to an integrated overall musical effect.
In warfare, this would mean using tank-on-tank attacks, indirect fire or artillery, air defenses, air assets, networking technologies, drones, rockets, missiles and mortar all together to create a singular effect able to dominate the battlespace, Smith explained.
For example, air assets and artillery could be used to attack enemy tank or armored vehicle positions in order to allow tank units and infantry fighting vehicles to reposition for attack. The idea to create an integrated offensive attack — using things like Apache attack helicopters and drones from the air, long-range precision artillery on the ground joined by Abrams tanks and infantry fighting vehicles in a coordinated fashion.
Smith also explained how preparing for anticipated future threats also means fully understanding logistics and sustainment — so that supplies, ammunition, and other essentials can continue to fortify the war effort.
Current “Decisive Action” live fire training includes an emerging emphasis on “expeditionary” capability wherein the Army is ready to fight by tonight by rapidly deploying over large distances with an integrated force consisting of weapons, infantry, armored vehicles and other combat-relevant assets.
At the same time, this strategy relies, to some extent, on an ability to leverage a technological edge with a “Combined Arms” approach as well, networking systems and precision weapons able to destroy enemies from farther distances.
In order to incorporate these dynamics into live-fire training, Army trainers said the battalion -on-battalion combat exercises practice a “move to contact” over very large 620 kilometer distances.
“This builds that expeditionary mindset,” he explained.
A State Defense Force (SDF) is a state militia under the command of the chief executive of that state only. Twenty-five states in America have some kind of SDF, and all states have laws allowing one. Whether they call it state guards, state military reserves, or state militias, they are not a part of the National Guard of that state and only partially regulated by the federal government and cannot come under federal control.
In addition to its National Guard, if any, a State, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, Guam, or the Virgin Islands may, as provided by its laws, organize and maintain defense forces. A defense force established under this section may be used within the jurisdiction concerned, as its chief executive (or commanding general in the case of the District of Columbia) considers necessary, but it may not be called, ordered, or drafted into the armed forces.
During World War I, Congress authorized states to create Home Guards as reserve forces aside from the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe. During WWII, the 1916 legislation was amended to allow state militaries to defend their own states. Now called State Guards, they were trained and equipped by the federal government but maintained their separation. It wasn’t until 1956 that Congress allowed for the continual existence of these units outside of a wartime role. For a time, these SDFs existed only on paper. During the Reagan Administration, that changed. Reagans Department of Defense wanted SDFs in all states.
The last part of the legislation says an SDF cannot be drafted into the Armed Forces of the United States, but that same legislation says that an individual member can. This is to ensure the independence of the SDF from the state National Guard. While typically organized as Army units, the SDFs vary, with some akin to the Navy and Air Force.
Before rushing to join your state’s SDF, be advised there are a lot of controversies surrounding SDFs. In the late 1980’s, the governor of Utah had to fire 31 officers for creating an SDF full of neo-nazis, mental patients, and felons. After September 11, 2001, Alaska disbanded its SDF because their lack of actual military training was more of a liability. New York’s SDF was full of Generals who have never had any military training, they were appointed by the governor as a reward for support. Some SDFs have no fitness or weight standards (California) while others are highly restrictive (Tennessee requires its SDF members be honorably discharged from the U.S. military).
State Defense Forces have assisted in many disaster-related capacities, however. They augmented forces in support of Hurricane Katrina relief, especially in states surrounding Louisiana, to assist with the expected influx of refugees. In Texas, the SDF responds to local emergencies (like flash floods) that aren’t declared disaster areas but need help anyway. They provide security augmentees for regular military forces and provide emergency medical training to National Guard units and other areas of the U.S. military.
The state SDF could be a good way for a military veteran to continue serving their country while providing those without that experience their much-needed expertise. Every state has a different enlistment process and requirements, so there isn’t a single portal to joining, but be sure to do the research on the training and operations for your home state before applying.
The U.S. Army destroyed a flying drone target with a Hellfire missile fired from a truck-mounted launcher designed to protect ground troops from enemy rockets, mortars, artillery fire, cruise missiles and aircraft, service officials explained.
The live-fire test, which took place at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., a Multi-Mission Launcher shot the Hellfire out of one of 15 rotating launch tubes mounted onto a mobile tactical truck.
“The MML is mounted on a medium tactical vehicle. The launcher can rotate 360 degrees and elevate from 0 to 90 degrees. It consists of fifteen tubes, each of which can hold either a single large interceptor or multiple smaller interceptors,” an Army statement said.
With ISIS rocket fire killing a U.S. Marine at a firebase in Iraq recently, this emerging ground-based troop protection is the kind of system which could quickly make and operational difference for forces in combat situations.
The firing represents an adaptation of the Hellfire missile, a 100-pound tank-killing weapons typically fired from aircraft such as Gray Eagle, Predator and Reaper drones and Apache attack helicopters, among others.
The Hellfire was fired as part of a development force protection technology called “Indirect Fire Protection Capability Increment 2-Intercept (IFPC Inc. 2-I).” The live fire exercise demonstrated the ability to fire a second interceptor type because the Multi-Mission launcher has also fired a ground-launched Stinger anti-aircraft missile and a AIM-9X missile, an air-to-air attack weapon adapted for ground-fire troop protection.
“We are fully integrated with AIM-9X and Longbow (Hellfire). This is a monumental effort by our PEO family,” Col. Terrence Howard, Project Manager, Cruise Missile Defense Systems Project Office, PEO Missiles and Space told Scout Warrior.
The Multi-Mission launcher works in tandem with radar and fire-control software to identify, track, pinpoint and destroy approaching enemy air threats with an interceptor missile.
IFPC Inc 2-I is a joint collaborative effort between the Army’s Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space’s Cruise Missile Defense Systems Project Office and the Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center, an Army statement said.
“This is a capability that, when fully matured and fielded, will match and counter a very wide variety of sophisticated airborne threats. MML will greatly help protect our ground troops from harm’s way under the most stressing battlespace operating conditions,” James Lackey, Director of AMRDEC, told Scout Warrior in a statement.
The IFPC Inc 2-I System will use a technology called Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System for its command and control along with a Sentinel radar system to provide 360-degree protection with the ability to engage simultaneous threats arriving from different angles of attack, Army officials said.
“MML (Multi-Mission Launcher) gives me confidence we can do more of these types of efforts when it comes to future prototyping,” Lackey added.
The live-fire demonstration involved Army subject matter experts, industry participants and international partners interested in the systems’ development.
“This is a marked achievement that proves the open systems architecture of the IFPC capability works as designed. We have demonstrated the ability to offer a multiple interceptor solution to defeat multiple threats. True multi-mission capability” Lt. Col. Michael Fitzgerald, IFPC Product Manager.
Weapons development experts are now using telemetry and data collection systems to assess the results of the live fire with a mind to quickly preparing the system for combat use. The weapon should be ready for combat within three to five years.
The 1968 World War II film “Where Eagles Dare” thrilled some viewers — and scared the bejesus out of others — with its tale of commandos storming a snow-covered mountain fortress and a scene of Richard Burton wrestling with Nazi thugs on the roof of a swaying cable car.
But for an Omaha teen named James Stejskal, seeing the movie inspired his life’s work as an Army Green Beret.
“I was always interested in that kind of life,” said Stejskal, 63, now retired from careers as a soldier and CIA agent and living in Alexandria, Virginia. “A small unit fighting against the bigger enemy (using) a combination of military and intelligence operations, not just brute force.”
Green Berets standing proud. (U.S. Army photo)
This spring, Stejskal published a book called “Special Forces Berlin: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the U.S. Army’s Elite, 1956-90,” about the secret unit with which he spent nine of his 23 years in the Army. Its work was so sensitive that the Pentagon didn’t acknowledge its existence until 2014.
“That’s when we finally came in from the cold,” said Tom Merrill, 63, of Martinsburg, West Virginia, who served with Stejskal in Berlin and remains a friend.
Stejskal enlisted in the Army in 1973, a year after graduating from Central High School. Soon he became a Green Beret, serving on small special ops teams. He was a weapons sergeant and a medic, known to his buddies as “Styk.”
“He was the consummate operator — natively smart, well-educated, thought well on his feet,” said Merrill, who lived in Council Bluffs as a boy.
The Berlin unit, created in 1956, was blandly named Detachment “A.” It disbanded in 1990, after the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War ended.
The soldiers of Detachment “A” didn’t look much like soldiers. They dressed in modish clothes, wore beards and long hair, made local friends, lived in off-base apartments. All spoke German, many of them fluently.
“Working in civilian clothes, blending in with the locals, doing cool stuff in West Berlin and the middle of (Communist) East Germany,” recalled Stejskal, who served in the unit from 1977 to 1981, and from 1984 to 1989. “It was a very ambiguous kind of duty.”
They were expert at soldierly skills like marksmanship, wilderness navigation, rappelling from helicopters, urban combat. But they also learned the tradecraft of spies, including surveillance and secret messaging.
In the event of a Soviet-led invasion of Western Europe, the detachment’s job was to melt into the population of Berlin and engage in acts of sabotage behind enemy lines. In his book, Stejskal describes it as a “Hail Mary plan to slow the (Soviet) juggernaut they expected when and if a war began.”
Each of the detachment’s six teams was to be responsible for sabotaging bridges and railroads, harassing the enemy in designated slices of East Berlin and East Germany.
The work evolved as new threats emerged in Europe, and encompassed training in guerrilla warfare, direct-action precision strikes, and counterterrorism.
As radical groups spread terror across Europe with kidnappings, mass shootings and hijackings in the 1970s, Detachment “A” practiced rescuing hostages from trains and airplanes. Pan Am let them drill using airliners stored in its hangars at Berlin’s Tegel airport.
The detachment’s highest-profile mission had little to do with the Cold War and didn’t even take place in Europe. In 1980, the detachment was tapped to help rescue 52 U.S. diplomats held hostage in Tehran by radical Iranian students.
Soon after the embassy was captured Nov. 4, 1979, the U.S. military began developing a plan to seize the hostages. Most were held in the main embassy compound, but the job of Detachment “A” was to snatch three who were being held separately at the Iranian Foreign Ministry.
The first rescue attempt, Operation Eagle Claw, ended in disaster when a plane and a helicopter collided in the dark in the Iranian desert.
Operation Eagle Claw ends in failure, 1989. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)
The military quietly began planning a second rescue attempt, again including members of Detachment “A.” Stejskal and Merrill, who hadn’t been part of Eagle Claw, were involved in the second, Operation Storm Cloud. It involved using Air Force transport planes to fly partly disassembled helicopters into an airfield commandeered in the desert. The helicopters would be quickly reassembled and used to assault the Foreign Ministry.
The team traveled to Florida to conduct live-fire drills and spent weeks rehearsing with helicopter crews. They honed their weapons skills with extra-long hours on the shooting range.
“We were blowing (our weapons) up, we were firing them so much,” Stejskal said.
They ran a dress rehearsal in late November 1980, but soon the word came down: The mission had been scrubbed.
“It was deflating, extremely,” Stejskal said. “It’s like preparing for a big game and then being told you can’t play.”
The hostages were released Jan. 20, 1981, the same day President Ronald Reagan was inaugurated.
President Reagan’s inauguration, 1981. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)
Stejskal soon rotated out but returned to the unit in 1984. The 1980s are remembered now as the death throes of the Soviet empire. But at the time, it wasn’t clear whether popular movements like Poland’s Solidarity might provoke a Soviet crackdown.
“No one was really sure how it would all play out,” he said.
Stejskal left Berlin in the spring of 1989, but he flew back in November when he heard that the Wall had fallen. He wanted to see the end of the Cold War icon that had shaped his life.
“In one way, it was a relief: The mission as I knew it in Berlin was over, or soon would be,” Stejskal said. “On the other hand, there was a bit of nostalgia for the way things were.”
Not that his life on the razor’s edge ended when the Wall fell. In December 1992, Stejskal was badly wounded when his car drove over a land mine in Somalia.
Stejskal suffered a serious head injury and a shattered leg.
“I basically had 3½ inches of bone that was turned to confetti,” he said.
Stejskal returned to duty a year later. But he knew he would never regain his former strength. So he retired in 1996.
Green Berets. (U.S. Army photo)
That was the same year he married Wanda Nesbitt, a State Department foreign service officer he had met five years earlier during an evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa, in the country then known as Zaire.
At his first overseas posting with Nesbitt, Stejskal said, someone handed him a sticky note with a telephone number on it and said to call if he wanted a job. That led to a 13-year stint with the CIA.
In recent years, Stejskal has attended Detachment “A” reunions, where the stories flow along with the beer.
“Somebody said, ‘We need to get this down on paper. We’ve got a history. Who’s going to write it down?'” he said.
Stejskal volunteered. Merrill said the book, published in March by Casemate Publishers, has taught him a lot he didn’t know about the unit’s history.
“He gave it the respect it deserved,” Merrill said. “He was able to take his insider knowledge and transfer it to something an outsider can understand.”
Getting through the door on an enemy-held compound can be one of the most dangerous parts of a military operation. Luckily, the Simon is a rifle-fired grenade that allows soldiers to blow the door open from 15 to 30 meters away. The weapon, which is currently in testing, is pretty crazy in action.
The Army has chosen a new semi-automatic sniper rifle, replacing the M110 which entered service in 2008.
According to reports by the Army Times, the winning rifle was the Heckler Koch G28. According to the the company’s website, the G28 is a version of the HK 417 battle rifle — itself a variation of the AR-10 rifle.
This came after a 2014 request for proposals for a more compact version of the M110. The M110 is being replaced despite the fact that it was named one of the Army’s “Best 10 Inventions” in 2007, according to M110 manufacturer Knight’s Armament website.
So, what is behind the replacement of a rifle that was widely loved by soldiers after it replaced the M24 bolt-action system? According to Military.com, it was to get something less conspicuous as a sniper rifle. The M110 is 13 inches longer than a typical M4 carbine, something an enemy sniper would be able to notice.
Being conspicuous is a good way to attract enemy fire.
The new M110A1 does provide some relief in that department, being about 2.5 inches shorter than the M110. More importantly for the grunt carrying it, it is about three pounds lighter than the M110.
Both the M110 and the M110A1 fire the NATO standard 7.62x51mm cartridge, and both feature 20-shot magazines. The Army plans to spend just under $45 million to get 3,643 M110A1s. That comes out to $12,000 a rifle, plus all the logistical and support needs for the Army, including the provision of spare parts.
The Army has long made use of semi-automatic sniper rifles. During the Vietnam War, a modified version of the M14 known as the M21 was used by the service’s snipers. One of those snipers, Adelbert Waldron, was America’s top sniper in that conflict, scoring 109 confirmed kills.
The U.S. Army is investigating allegations by a military researcher that the late Command Sgt. Major Basil Plumley — a legend in the airborne and infantry communities — wore unauthorized combat and valor awards that exaggerated the wartime achievements that made him famous.
Plumley, who died Oct. 10, 2012 from cancer at the age of 92, was a major figure in the 1992 book, “We Were Soldiers Once … and Young,” coauthored by Joseph L. Galloway and retired Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore.
The book was moving account of the November 1965 Battle of Ia Drang Valley in the Vietnam War and the heroic fight that 450 soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, put up against a superior force of 2,000 North Vietnamese soldiers at LZ X-Ray.
Brian Siddall, an independent researcher whose father and uncle served during World War II — the latter as a paratrooper who was killed during the D-Day invasion of Europe — leveled the allegations against Plumley after an extensive study of his service records. He said he has been doing research for his website for the last decade.
“It’s been a lifelong thing for me,” he told Military.com. “My uncle was killed on June 6, 1944. He was a paratrooper in Company B of the 307th Airborne Engineers.”
Siddall added, “Even as a kid, I used to ask my father — because it was his kid brother — what happened to him, and he didn’t have an answer. And by the way, my dad was a navigator on a B-17 in World War II.”
His research into Plumley’s famed exploits in the 82nd Airborne Division during World War II later prompted him to write two online articles in 2015 that show discrepancies between Plumley’s service records and the awards and actions he took credit for.
According to Siddall, who obtained Plumley’s service records, Plumley inflated his heroism in battle by wearing two Silver Stars and Bronze Star medals for valor in combat instead of wearing the single Silver Star he was awarded in Vietnam.
Plumley also exaggerated the number of Combat Infantry Badge awards he was authorized, Siddall maintains. The CIB is a sacred award only bestowed upon infantrymen for engaging in direct combat with the enemy.
In light of Siddall’s research, officials at Fort Benning, Georgia, are investigating the allegations and are considering Siddall’s request to have the information on Plumley’s headstone corrected.
AN AIRBORNE LEGEND
In “We Were Soldiers Once … and Young,” Plumley is described as “a two war man and wore master parachutist wings with five combat-jump stars,” referring to Plumley’s service in World War II and the Korean War.
“Plumley had survived all four combat jumps of the 82nd Airborne Division in World War II: Sicily and Salerno in 1943, and then in 1944, D-Day at Normandy, and Market-Garden in the Netherlands,” according to the book. “For that matter, he also made one combat parachute jump in the Korean War, with the 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment.”
In the 2002 Hollywood movie “We Were Soldiers,” Actor Mel Gibson, playing then Lt. Col. Moore, gave a similar description of Plumley, who was played by actor Sam Elliott.
Siddall argues Plumley’s records show that he served in 320th Glider Field Artillery Battalion as a scout. Plumley was Glider, meaning he was an 82nd Airborne Division gliderman, not an 82nd Airborne Division paratrooper, Siddall writes.
As a scout, Plumley’s job was to search out locations for emplacements for the 105mm guns, according to Siddall.
The 320th participated in two glider assaults in the European Theater, Siddall writes. Plumley’s first was on June 6, 1944, during the invasion of Normandy, he writes. Plumley’s second was for Operation Market Garden on Sept. 18, 1944, he writes. Plumley was shot in the hand the same day, according to copies of Army records in Siddall’s articles.
Glider operations in WWII were extremely dangerous. The plywood Waco and Horsa gliders presented larger targets to enemy ground fire and often crash landed, resulting in heavy casualties, according to historical sources.
Plumley was authorized to wear the glider badge and master parachutist wings, according to Army records. Plumley graduated a jump school set up by the 82nd Airborne Division in 1943, Plumley’s records show.
But Plumley never served in Korea during the Korean War, so he couldn’t have participated in one of the two combat jumps of that conflict, according to Siddall’s research.
“When you look at his overseas assignments it speaks for itself,” he wrote. “Look where Plumley was between 1951 through 26 February 1953, Ft. Campbell, Kentucky then he went to Germany,” he wrote, adding that Plumley’s service records show him serving in Korea in 1972-73.
“When I spoke with him in July of 2011, he never claimed to have jumped out of an airplane in combat in WWII or any other wars,” Siddall writes. “He did talk briefly about that he jumped out of helicopters but never an airplane in wartime.”
Talking to Military.com, Siddall said, “We talked for seven minutes on Skype. I asked him about the four jumps and he laughed and said ‘no'” he had never jumped from a plane in combat.
The reason he got really interested in doing research on Plumley was after he noticing Galloway’s obituary on Plumley contained the same exaggerations about Plumley’s career, Siddall said.
The best-selling book and the Hollywood movie elevated Plumley to celebrity status long after his retirement from the Army in 1974.
A May 2010 photograph of Plumley appearing at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in an Army Dress Blue uniform shows him wearing a Combat Infantry Badge with two stars — which means three CIB awards — one for WWII, one for the Korean War and one for the Vietnam War, Siddall maintains.
Plumley’s service records show he was only authorized to wear one CIB for his service in Vietnam, Siddall argues.
“When Plumley retired December 31, 1974 on his DD 214 he had 2 CIBs listed not three,” Siddall wrote. “When Plumley was interviewed by Galloway for the book he said he had three CIBs by that time (early 1990s). The Awards and Decorations Branch has Plumley listed as one, not three CIBs. Plumley didn’t meet the criteria for WWII and wasn’t in Korea so his first and only CIB was in Vietnam.”
Among the many documents Siddall provides in his research is an Oct. 2, 2015, letter from Army Lt. Col Wil Neubauer, chief of Awards and Decorations Branch, confirming that Plumley was authorized to wear one CIB and states that “we are unable to verify” the Combat Infantry Badge with “one star” listed on Plumley’s DD Form 214.
Click here to see the Army’s Oct. 2, 2015, memo on Plumley’s awards.
In that same photo, Plumley wore valor awards he did not earn, Siddall wrote. Plumley wore a Silver Star with a bronze oak leaf cluster, which indicates a second Silver Star. Plumley also wore a Bronze Star with a V device for valor and one bronze oak leaf cluster for two awards.
The October 2015 letter from the Army states Plumley was authorized only one Silver Star and the Bronze Star with one oak leaf cluster, not two OLCs. The letter also states that Plumley was not authorized to wear the V device with his Bronze Star medals.
What’s indisputable is that Plumley did earn a Silver Star for courage and valor he showed during the Battle of Ia Drang Valley.
In the early-morning hours of Nov. 16, 1965, the command post of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, fell under heavy attack.
“The command post was being savagely attacked by an unknown number of Viet Cong,” according to a copy of Plumley’s Dec. 27, 1965, Silver Star Citation.
Enemy automatic weapons fire was pouring into the forward command post and aid station area, which was located about 150 meters behind the “line of contact,” it states.
“At approximately 0500 at the height of the savage attack, a flare, still burning landed in an open box of fragmentation hand grenades in the pile of small arms, mortar and other ammunition less than 10 meters from the battalion command group,” according to the document.
“Sergeant Major Plumley, voluntarily and unhesitatingly, rose up in the face of intense small arms and automatic fire, dashed to the burning flare, lifting it with his bare hands out of the box of grenades and threw it. He extinguished the flare with his feet as well as other small fires which it had ignited around the ammo area,” it states.
Plumley’s brave action, it goes on, “performed under fire with complete disregard for his own personal safety, undoubtedly prevented the complete ammunition supply from exploding.”
In his research, Siddall acknowledges that “Plumley received the Silver Star Medal for what he did, and it was important,” Siddall writes. But, he adds, “that wasn’t enough for someone like Plumley. Plumley had to build himself up even more. For Plumley to be seen wearing the Combat Infantryman’s Badge with the 3 CIB Badge at West Point in 2010 was disgusting.”
Military.com contacted Galloway about Siddall’s research and why Plumley’s service records contradict what Galloway, the only journalist present at LZ X-Ray, wrote about Plumley. Military.com sent Galloway Siddall’s two articles, which contained hyperlinks to Plumley’s service records.
Galloway wrote the following response by email:
“I don’t know a thing about Mr. Siddall and his research that slanders a fine old soldier who died four years ago and can’t speak for himself.
“My co-author Lt. Gen. Hal Moore vouched for CSM Plumley when we were working on the books. I read the Plumley biography when Moore and Plumley received the Doughboy Award quite a few years ago. It sure looked official to me and matched details I had been told about his service. I have no interest in commenting on this any further.”
The Doughboy Award is presented annually to recognize an individual for outstanding contributions to the United States Army Infantry. The award is a chrome replica of a helmet worn by American Expeditionary soldiers during World War I and the early days of World War II.
Siddall sent his findings to Fort Benning in late 2015 and asked if the information on Plumley’s headstone was going to be corrected.
Fort Benning officials eventually referred Siddall to Army Human Resources Command’s Awards and Decorations Branch.
Military.com contacted Benning on May 4 about Siddall’s request.
Col. Andy Hilmes, the garrison commander for Fort Benning, said his office is reviewing the request and that it’s possible Plumley’s headstone will be corrected.
The issue is the information in question on Plumley’s headstone — which reads “Silver Star with OLC” and “BSM W/V 2nd OLC” — comes from Plumley’s DD 214, the Army’s separation of service form.
Hilmes acknowledged Siddall’s research of Plumley’s records shows several discrepancies and that Plumley’s DD 214 does not match the official letter from the Army’s Awards and Decoration Branch stating there is no verification that Plumley is authorized more than one Silver Star or the Bronze Star Medal with V Device for Valor with a second oak leaf cluster.
“I want to do the right thing,” Hilmes said. “I have looked at how do we go about changing the headstone. … I can’t change the DD 214 at Benning; that is really up to the Department of the Army.”
Fort Benning reached out to Plumley’s daughter, who is currently looking through her father’s records.
Among the records she sent to Benning is a diploma from the 82nd Airborne Parachute School, stating that Plumley became a qualified parachutist on March 11, 1943. The document is signed by Maj. Gen. James M. Gavin, commander of the 82nd Airborne during World War II.
The documents she sent, however, contain no mention of any combat jumps in WWII or the Korean War.
The plan is to forward all of Plumley’s personal records to Army Human Resources Command for a further review, according to Benning officials.
Military.com tried to contact retired. Lt. Gen. Harold Moore, who commanded the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, in the Battle of Ia Drang Valley, but he “suffers from advanced dementia and is unable to discuss this matter,” according to his son Dave Moore in an email to Military.com.
“Having read the allegation and scanned portions of Mr. Siddall’s extensive research, it is clear that discrepancies exist,” Dave Moore wrote the email. “The fact that the DoD could not verify all of the CSM’s awards is not surprising given the lack of rigor in the maintenance of records in the 1940s. I am confident that my father wrote the truth as he knew it, and that Mr. Galloway accepted that truth. I am confident there was no willful intention to deceive readers.”
Steve Moore, another son of Lt. Gen. Moore’s sons, said even his own father was the victim of poor record-keeping when he was being added recently to Fort Leavenworth’s International Hall of Fame.
“As part of that process, they coordinated with the family to obtain [Moore’s] bio and other material,” Steve Moore wrote in an email. “One of the items they shared with us was the current bio the General Officer Management Office (GOMO) had for Dad. We were horrified. It showed him with a CIB with 2 stars and added an extra award of the BSM/V and other medals.
“Apparently, the clerk who assembled the list years ago did not know that an oak leaf cluster represented the 2nd and subsequent award. So “CIB(2Awd)” on Dad’s DD214 became a CIB with 2 stars, added extra BSM/V … Thank goodness we fixed this before there were any stolen valor accusations.”
Siddall says he just wants the record about Plumley to be corrected.
“I just want the correct information out there because there are so many people that are really heroes, and it is so frustrating when they give the hero status to someone who was anything but,” he said.
Military.com also reached out to Doug Sterner, curator for Military Times Hall of Valor, for his insight into this story. Sterner, who has been compiling and digitizing military awards for more than 20 years, has exposed many individuals for stolen valor, or wearing unauthorized military awards.
Sterner said he doesn’t see the point in bringing up the discrepancies about Plumley, a man he calls a “genuine hero” because he earned a Silver Star in battle. He said he knows of hundreds of cases in which soldiers have been awarded Silver Stars or other valor awards and the records cannot be found.
“I don’t see the point in trying to be so historically accurate we destroy a genuine hero,” Sterner said.
The military has very talented photographers in its ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. This is the best of what they shot this week:
KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii (July 14, 2015) LT Christopher Malherek, assigned to the “Golden Eagles” of Patrol Squadron (VP) 9, prepares to land a P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft during a routine training flight for the squadron’s advanced readiness program.
MIAMI, Fla. (July 14, 2015) Steel Worker 1st Class Jesse Hamblin, assigned to Underwater Construction Team 2 (UCT-2), makes a vertical fillet weld on a half inch steel plate.
Lance Cpl. Chance Seckenger with 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, rides in a Combat Rubber Raiding Craft during launch and recovery drills from the well deck of the USS Green Bay, at sea, July 9, 2015.
FOG BAY, Australia – Australian Army soldiers, assigned to 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, and U.S. Marines, assigned to Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, work together during an amphibious assault exercise during Talisman Sabre 2015 at Fog Bay, Australia, July 11, 2015.
Cutter Cypress sits front and center during a practice session for the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels.
Two adults and two children were found alive following an extensive search by Coast Guard crews off the coast of South Carolina. The four did not return as scheduled from a fishing trip, and were found this morning clinging to an ice cooler. More on this case: http://goo.gl/GCRulc
C-17 Globemaster IIIs assigned to the 437th Airlift Wing await training missions at Joint Base Charleston, S.C.
An F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot assigned to the 555th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron from Aviano Air Base, Italy, waits as Airmen from the 455th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron complete a final check of the aircraft’s weapons before taking off on a combat sortie from Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, July 14, 2015.
An F-16 Fighting Falcon from the 80th Fighter Squadron, Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, takes off at Jungwon Air Base ROK, during Buddy Wing 15-6.
Army engineers, assigned to 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division (Iron Brigade), employ a M58 Mine Clearing Line Charge (MICLIC) during a breaching exercise, at Udairi Range Complex, Kuwait.
A soldier, assigned to 4th Squadron, 2D Cavalry Regiment, fires a Polish RPG-7D rocket-propelled grenade alongside a Polish paratrooper from the 6th Airborne Brigade during live-fire training, part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, at Nowa Deba Training Area, Poland.
U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers, assigned to the 416th Theater Engineer Command, conduct night land navigation during a Sapper Leader Course prerequisite training exercise on Camp San Luis Obispo Military Installation, Calif., July 15, 2015.
Seriously, as if the first viral video of actor Keanu Reeves slamming steel like a freaking Delta Force ninja wasn’t badass enough, now famed tactical firearms instructor and 3-Gun maestro Taran Butler has released more footage of the “John Wick” star getting his pew pew on.
Butler is a world champion 3-Gun competitor (a shooting sport that requires mastery of a shotgun, handgun and AR-style rifle) and frequently trains actors to properly handle weapons for Hollywood blockbusters.
An earlier video of Reeves slinging lead like a boss exploded online last year, with the actor demonstrating some serious skills in weapons handling and accuracy. In the newest video made up of more clips from the training last year — and includes some help from WATM friend Jaqueline Carrizosa — Reeves displays skills and speed that would make any top-tier competitor (and even some of America’s elite special operators) smile.
His transitions are lightning fast, his shot placement is about as “down zero” as it gets, and his trigger speeds are borderline full-auto, with minuscule splits and solidly low stage times. He even executes difficult “with-retention” handgun shots and moves from a close-in optic to a distance shot with his AR and drops steel every time.