42-year-old Isao Machii is a Japanese Iaidoka, master of Iaido. Iaido is martial art focused on controlled movements in drawing a sword, striking an opponent, cleaning the blood from the blade, and then re-sheathing the sword. Iaido started during the Japanese feudal system and is the foundation of modern Japanese swordsmanship.
Machii holds Guinness World Records for the most martial arts sword cuts to one mat (suegiri), the fastest 1,000 martial arts sword cuts, the most sword cuts to straw mats in three minutes, and the fastest tennis ball (820 km/h) cut by sword.
“This is about processing it at an entirely different sensory level because he is not visually processing it,” said Dr. Ramani Durvasula, who was on hand for the BB pellet event. “This is a different level of anticipatory processing. Something so procedural, something so fluid for him.” Machii agreed, saying he doesn’t use his eyes, but can instantly visualize the trajectory of the object in his mind.
He is now headmaster of his own samurai school. See more of his swordsmanship, and enjoy the reactions of people watching him:
For over 20 years, American warfighters have worn the Joint Services Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology (JSLIST) on the battlefield and during training for their CBRN protection. But its days are numbered. Brought into service in the 1990’s and now nearing the end of its shelf life, the JSLIST will be replaced by the Uniform Integrated Protective Ensemble, Increment 2 (UIPE II) in the very near future. What will UIPE II look like? That’s not certain at the moment, but there are some new technologies and advancements that are likely to have an impact:
Better materials – Anyone who has worn the JSLIST remembers the black powder residue that coated your skin and uniform after taking it off. That’s because it had layers of activated charcoal that consisted mostly of carbon. Nowadays, carbon beads are all the rage and can provide adequate protection at a lighter weight.
Lamination of materials – A recent breakthrough in research proved that removing the air gap between layers of materials can lower the thermal burden on the soldier by a large margin. Picture this…future CBRN suits will most likely be layers of materials. So if you have an outer shell, a carbon bead layer, an aerosol barrier, and a comfort liner sewn together in one suit, the thin layers of air in between those materials will heat up. But laminating them together squeezes out all the air and ends up making the soldier cooler. And not just a little, but a lot. That’s huge.
Undergarments – Using the same concept as lamination, undergarments can keep the warfighter cooler than an overgarment by removing the air next to the skin. Research has shown that wearing an undergarment as close to the skin as possible reduces the heat stress. It will take some getting used to, but the UIPE increment 1 suit consists of an undergarment under the duty uniform and is being fielded now.
Conformal fit – Once again, getting rid of all that air brings the temperature down, so a closer fitting uniform with less material reduces the thermal burden on the warfighter while also reducing the potential for snagging on surfaces as he does his mission.
Better seams and closures – Contamination doesn’t get through a suit unless it has a path and those paths are almost always along seams and closures. Seams and closures are frequently the weakest points that allow particles to get through, but several advancements will counter that.
Omniphobic coatings – Have you ever seen that video of ketchup rolling off a dress shirt? Well, it’s out there and it works. Now think of how effective that concept can be for chemical agents. If 50% of the agent sheds off the uniform and falls to the ground before it has a chance to soak into the suit, that’s half the contamination that can reach the trooper. Omniphobic coatings are still in their early stages of development, but they could be game changers when matured.
Composite materials – Just because you can make a suit out of one material doesn’t mean you should. Future suits will have different materials in different areas, like stretchy woven fabrics in the torso (where body armor is) and knit materials that offer less stretch but more protection in the arms and legs.
Overall lower thermal burden – Here’s where the money is. Almost all of these factors contribute to the one big advantage everyone who’s ever worn MOPP 4 wants to hear – less heat stress – which equates to warfighters being able to stay in the suit and do their jobs longer with a lower chance of being a heat casualty. Break out the champagne.
Flame resistance – Because catching on fire sucks. Most uniforms these days have flame resistant coatings or fabrics, but therein lies the challenge. When you add up all the other technologies, the big question is how do you do it all? How do you coat a suit with omniphobics and flame resistance while also laminating composite materials, making it conformal fitting and lowering the thermal burden while also providing an adequate level of CBRN protection, which is the most important aspect of all? Really smart people are working on that.
A family of suits – Common sense tells us one size does not fit all. The DoD has a history of procuring one suit for everyone, like the JSLIST is now fielded to all warfighters. But slowly that has been changing. Everyone has a different job to do while wearing CBRN suits. Some warfighters need a low level of protection for a short period of time while others need more protection for longer periods. A family of suits instead of one is the answer.
MOPP 4 sucks. It’s just a basic tenet of warfighting. We embrace the suck and drive on, but with the progress CBRN suits have made recently, we won’t have to embrace quite as much suck as before.
Taliban rebels killed seven people and kidnapped another six along a highway in western Afghanistan, official sources told EFE Ingles July 12.
The incident, in which 10 rebels were also killed, took place on July 11 along a national highway near Farah, capital of a province by the same name, when the Taliban stopped several vehicles and captured more than 10 people, according to Nasser Mehri, spokesperson for the provincial governor.
“According to initial information, they killed seven of the kidnapped passengers,” explained Mehri, adding that five of the victims were former members of the Afghan security forces.
Mehri added the insurgents were planning to capture more people when the Afghan troops arrived and there was a shootout.
A police official from the province, who asked not to be named, told EFE that at least seven passengers are still being held hostage by the Taliban, and that security forces have launched a rescue operation in areas around the incident spot.
In 2016, the Taliban abducted hundreds of people from the country’s unsafe highways, including members of the security forces traveling in buses or in specific vehicles.
Afghanistan is witnessing its most violent phase since 2001, when the Taliban regime was overthrown with the help of the United States.
Since then, insurgents have been gaining ground in various parts of Afghanistan and currently control, influence, or are in dispute with the government over at least 43 percent of the territory, according to the US.
With more than 6,000 ships and 150,000 troops involved, along with nearly 12,000 aircraft, D-Day stands as the largest amphibious assault in history. The Allies pulled together every resource available to breach Hitler’s Fortress in Europe, but they had to do so without America’s experts in amphibious warfare. The U.S. Marine Corps was busy pushing back the Japanese in the Pacific, island by island. Here’s how Eisenhower and his generals did it.
Planning for D-Day pits allies against each other
The demands of D-Day caused fights for resources. The Americans and British fought over when to make Normandy the priority while the Army was pitted against the Navy for resources, according to historical essays from “Command Decisions.”
The stress between the American and British leadership centered on an American belief that the British wanted to spend more time consolidating gains in the Mediterranean rather than pivot to France and open the new front in the war. The Americans thought that British leadership wanted to spend more time in Southern Europe to gain political power there, while British planners thought the focus should remain in the area a little longer to force Germany to move more reinforcements away from Normandy.
For the Army and Navy, the fight was over how shipbuilding assets should be used. The Army wanted more landing craft while the Navy needed shipbuilders focused on repairing and rebuilding the deepwater fleet that had been diminished by Pearl Harbor, submarine warfare, and escort duties for convoys.
Both problems were settled at the Cairo-Tehran conferences in 1943. British leaders assured the U.S. that they were committed to crossing the English Channel in 1944. The issue of new landing craft was settled due to two factors. First, the Navy had reduced need for new ships as German submarines were sinking fewer craft. Second, Churchill decried the shortage of landing craft, pledging his country would focus on constructing ships for the landing if the Americans would increase their effort as well.
Heavy German defenses force the Allies to do the unexpected
The obvious points for an Allied force to invade Normandy in the 1940s were the large port at Pas-de-Calais or the smaller ports at La Havre and Cherbourg. German defense planners reinforced these zones to the point that invaders would either fail to reach the beaches or be immediately pushed back upon landing. Instead, the Allies created a plan to land at a beach instead of a port.
The final plan was to land between Le Havre in the east and Cherbourg in the west. The invading forces would spread from there while airborne troops would jump ahead onto key objectives, securing bridges, destroying artillery, and wreaking havoc on the enemy communications. The plan faced numerous challenges, though two stood out.
This would leave the Allies with relatively lightly-defended beaches, but a huge logistics problem once they had landed. Large ships would have no deepwater piers to pull up to and no cranes to remove supplies from cargo holds.
The Allies would ultimately get around this through the construction of “Mulberry Harbors,” prefabricated, floating piers protected by sunken World War I ships and caissons. The first piers were operational by June 14 and allowed vehicles and supplies up to 40 tons to drive from deepwater ships to the shore.
Weather delays D-Day but also saves it
The movement of supplies and soldiers to Britain had taken place over two years, culminating in a massive troop buildup in 1944. But the day of the invasion had to be set for small, three-day windows centered on proper tides and moonlight. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, set the invasion date for June 5, 1944 and trusted British Capt. James Stagg to make the weather decision for proposed invasion dates.
Stagg and the British meteorologists found themselves in disagreement with the Americans as to the weather for June 5. Stagg recommended delaying the invasion due to storms the British predicted, while the Americans thought a high pressure wedge would stave off the storms and provide blue skies. Luckily, Eisenhower only heard directly from Stagg and accepted his recommendation. D-Day was pushed to June 6.
The Germans, meanwhile, also predicted the storms but thought they would last for at least a week or more. With this weather forecast, the German high command went ahead with war games and pulled its troops away from the coastal defenses so they could practice defending the coasts. The head of German land defenses, Gen. Erwin Rommel, left to give his wife a pair of birthday shoes. The beaches would be more lightly defended and lack key leadership when the Allies arrived.
June 6, 1944: D-Day
Though the weather wouldn’t clear for hours, Stagg recommended to Eisenhower that he go ahead with the June 6 invasion. Just after midnight, the invasion of Hitler’s Fortress Europe began.
Prior to the beach landings, 23,000 American, British, and Canadian paratroopers dropped through heavy cloud cover to begin securing what would become the flanks of the main force at the beaches. They also struck at key logistics and communications hubs, allowing for the eventual push from the beach while also weakening the Germans’ ability to organize their counter attacks. Allied bombers struck targets on the beaches, preparing the objectives for the main force.
The landings on the Normandy coast began at 6:30 a.m. with the 8th Regimental combat team under Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt at Utah Beach. Soldiers at Utah experienced a successful, relatively light invasion. Over the next few hours, Allied troops were landing at Gold, Juno, Sword, and Omaha Beaches.
“As our boat touched sand and the ramp went down, I became a visitor to hell,” said Pvt. Charles Neighbor, a veteran of Omaha Beach. By nightfall, the other four beaches were held with forces pushing between two and four miles inland. At Omaha, Allied soldiers continued to fight against pockets of resistance.
D-Day cost the lives of 4,413 Allied soldiers and between 4,000 and 9,000 Germans. The remaining pockets of resistance on Omaha Beach were conquered on June 7, and the Allies began the long push to Berlin. The War in Europe would rage for nearly another year before Victory in Europe Day, May 8, 1945.
When Jean Bennett joined the Air Force only three percent of its ranks were women. She went to basic training at Lackland Air Force Base as the Vietnam War came to a close. After a battery of aptitude tests, she was sent to technical training, hoping to become an accountant because of her bookkeeping background.
“The [Air Force] said, ‘No we don’t need you to do that’ but I did have one of two choices,” she told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I could be a jet mechanic or a missile mechanic.” She chose to be a missile mechanic because they made more money.
In 1974, Jean was a divorceé with a child, living with her mother. She joined the Air Force so she wouldn’t be forced to marry again just to have someone support her and the baby.
“My mother of all people approached me and suggested military service as an option,” she recalled. She would be only the fifth woman ever to train to be a missile mechanic. She trained at Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, Illinois before moving on to her permanent station in Wyoming for the next nine years. She rose in rank quickly, and in five years she had outranked her first team chief.
“We went into training on the Minuteman Missile III, where we were responsible for removing or replacing the warheads, guidance system and propulsion systems,” Bennett said. She would also train on ground-launched cruise missiles in Tucson, and be sent to Sicily, Whiteman AFB, and after President Ronald Reagan signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1987, she traveled around Russia as part of an on-site inspections crew to ensure the Soviet Union was complying with its part of the treaty.
Many of the men she worked with were “some of the best men who ever walked.” Others, she told her local newspaper, didn’t cope well with her success.
“I had to explain to one, you can’t call me ‘Sergeant honey,'” Bennett said. “A lot of guys called me ‘Mom.’ That was cool.”
“We would go to various missile bases in Russia … and we would watch them destroy them by either blowing them up or cutting them into pieces,” Bennett said.” She left the Air Force in 1993 as a Senior Master Sergeant (E-8).
“When I retired, I think I was the only woman Senior Master Sergeant in my field. For years, I was the highest ranking woman that worked on missiles because I was one of the first.” Men in Italy and Russia were unaccustomed to seeing a woman drive trucks or working in a leadership capacity. they often brought or threw flowers to her as she drove around local towns.
When she left the Air Force, Jean went back to college where she earned a Masters in Information Technology. She then took a job at the Weatherford, Texas Public Library, quietly living out the deserved retirement of one of the Air Force’s best ICBM maintainers.
“I was offered lucrative positions in defense contracting, but I didn’t want to do that,” Bennett said. ” I’m always hanging out in libraries anyway.”
It was a dynamic, often turbulent, year around the military community. 2015 saw domestic terrorism, growing aggression from former Cold War adversaries, and the Pentagon dealing with unprecedented budgetary and cultural challenges. Here are WATM’s picks for the top 15 stories of the year:
1. The “American Sniper” controversy
The Clint Eastwood-helmed biopic from real-life American sniper Chris Kyle divided the U.S. like a red Starbucks cup. The film earned a whopping $100 million during its opening weekend, but inconsistencies from the book and the depictions of certain onscreen combat actions (like taking aim at a child in Iraq, for example) sparked a few anti-war tweets from actor Seth Rogen and filmmaker Michael Moore. The movie also caused a backlash about how much of a hero Kyle really was, bringing into question whether the all of the events Kyle wrote about really happened.
As much as military experts lauded the film for “getting it right” in terms of technical detail and overall atmospherics (including the challenges of reintegration) “American Sniper” also exposed that the civilian-military divide is alive and well.
2. Troops deployed to fight Ebola outbreak return from West Africa
In 2014, President Obama ordered 2,800 U.S. troops and Department of Defense personnel to West Africa to help combat the Ebola epidemic there. Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea were the hardest hit, with more than 22,000 reported cases and more than 8,000 confirmed deaths from the virus. U.S. troops were vital to the mission to contain the victims and maintain the quarantines. In February 2015, all but 100 of those troops deployed returned home, not a single one infected by the virus.
“Military engineers oversaw the building of new Ebola Treatment Units; military logisticians directed the deployment of life-saving resources from across the globe; and military doctors supported the brave men and women who treated patients every day,” said Rajiv Shah, then-head of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
3. Bowe Bergdahl faces general court martial
The Army, for more than a year, deliberated on just how to deal with the aftermath of the Bowe Bergdahl incident. Though it is clear Bergdahl walked away from his post during his last deployment to Afghanistan in June 2009 and was held until his release in a prisoner exchange with the Taliban in 2014, the Army stated its belief that there is no evidence Bergdahl engaged in any misconduct while held captive by the Taliban and Haqqani Network. The matter was sent before a four-star general to review the facts for a possible court martial.
In March, the Army charged Bergdahl with “desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty” and one count of “misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place.” Sgt. Bergdahl’s story is now the subject of the wildly popular “Serial” podcast, featuring interviews with those for Bergdahl’s unit, as well as his Taliban captors.
4. Donald Trump blasts Sen. John McCain’s service record
Trump was speaking at the Family Leadership Summit in Iowa in July when moderator Frank Luntz asked the Presidential candidate about an incident where McCain referred to Trump’s supporters as “the crazies.” Luntz referred to the Arizona Senator as a “war hero.”
“He’s a war hero because he was captured… I like people who weren’t captured,” Trump replied and then told the audience that McCain “graduated last in his class at Annapolis (Naval Academy).” After the event, Trump released a statement:
“I am not a fan John McCain because he has done so little for our veterans… I have great respect for all those who serve in our military including those that weren’t captured and are also heroes.”
The statement was condemned by the Republican Party, other GOP hopefuls, and much of the American media. Sen. McCain did not immediately comment. McCain, who was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967, spent the next six years being beaten and tortured as a POW in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.” He appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joeshortly after Trump’s remarks, but did not demand an apology.
“I’m not a hero,” the 78-year-old senator said. “But those who were my senior ranking officers … those that inspired us to do things we otherwise wouldn’t be capable of doing, those are the people I think he owes an apology to.”
“I think he may owe an apology to the families of those who have sacrificed in conflict and those who have undergone the prison experience in serving their country,” McCain added. “When Mr. Trump says he prefers to be with people who are not captured, the great honor of my life was to be in the company of heroes.”
5. Marines who lowered the American Flag in Havana raise it again
In January 1961, three U.S. Marines in Havana, Cuba lowered the U.S. embassy flag for the last time. The day before, President Eisenhower severed diplomatic relations with Cuba after a coup brought dictator Fidel Castro to power. Castro ordered all but 11 U.S. diplomats to leave Cuba.
6. U.S. troops Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos prevent terror attacks on a Paris train
In August 2015, a heavily armed Moroccan national was set to shoot up a Paris-bound train, killing as many people as possible. As he exited the bathroom, two Frenchmen attempted to wrest the would-be shooter’s AKM rifle away. One was shot through the neck, the other fell to the floor. At that point three Americans — a civilian named Anthony Sadler, U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone and U.S. Army Specialist Alek Skarlatos — jumped the gunman. Stone put the man in a choke hold, taking repeated stab wounds from a box cutter, while Skarlatos took the attacker’s rifle, beating him in the head until the man lost consciousness.
As others restrained the attacker, Stone (who is an Air Force medic) tended to the wounds of the first passenger, pushing his finger on the neck artery to stop the bleeding. All survived. Sadler, Skarlatos, and Stone were named Knights of the Legion d’Honneur by French President Francois Hollande. Sadler received the Secretary of Defense Medal for Valor (civilian equivalent of the Distinguished Service Cross). Skarlatos received the Soldier’s Medal (the highest non-combat award). And Stone was awarded the Airman’s Medal, and Purple Heart. Stone also received a STEP promotion to staff sergeant after his regular promotion to senior airman.
7. First female soldiers earn Ranger Tabs
The two female officers, Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver, became the first women to complete the U.S. Army’s grueling Ranger school at Fort Benning, Georgia amid the ongoing debate about the roles of women fighting in combat. Griest is a military police officer and Haver is an Apache helicopter pilot. Both are graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The two were among 19 women who started the course. A third woman graduated in October.
8. Russia enters the Syrian Civil War
In September, Russian military aircraft carried out the country’s first airstrikes in support of President Bashar al-Asad’s regime in Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin maintained his forces were attacking ISIS positions, but there were many reports of Russian forces attacking anti-regime positions. Russia’s support for Syria goes back to the Cold War and the Soviet Union’s support for Asad’s father, Hafez al-Asad who ruled Syria for almost 30 years before his death in 2000. The issue was made even more complicated after Turkey shot down a Russian aircraft for violating Turkish airspace.
9. Marine Corps publishes a study about gender-integrated units
The Marine Corps released a summary of results in September 2015 based on a nine-month study of gender-integrated units in combat situations. Called “Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force,” the four-page summary described how all-male units performed significantly better on 69 percent of tactical tasks and how female Marines were injured at twice the rate of men. The study also claimed that all-male units were faster, stronger, had less body fat, and were more accurate with every standard individual weapon like M4 carbines and M203 grenade launchers.
The study’s summary did note the performance of female Marines in individual combat situations and in current overall combat operations, saying: “Female Marines have performed superbly in the combat environments of Iraq and Afghanistan and are fully part of the fabric of a combat-hardened Marine Corps after the longest period of continuous combat operations in the Corps’ history.”
10. Training “Moderate” Syrian rebels falls apart
The first round of American-trained “moderate” Syrian fighters made their way into Syria in September 2015. They were quickly routed by or defected to the al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra Front, a Sunni Islamist group. Al-Nusra stormed the rebel headquarters and took some of the fighters hostage. Later the same month, 75 more American-trained Syrian rebels entered the country via Turkey, where the majority of the training takes place. Almost immediately, those U.S.-backed fighters surrendered to the al-Nusra front. The “vetted” U.S.-backed leader, Anas Obaid, told al-Nusra he intentionally deceived the U.S. to get the weapons.
The U.S.’ $500 million dollar plan to arm and train “moderate” Syrian rebels was a disaster. CENTCOM, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East, reported of the 5,400 rebels planned to be in Syria fighting ISIS this year, there were only “four or five” active fighters in country. The CENTCOM spokesman went on to say there is no way the goal could be reached in 2015. The Obama Administration nixed the plan to train rebels by October 9th.
11. Congress saves A-10 from the Air Force
The A-10 Thunderbolt II is the only aircraft built specifically for a close-air support mission. The signature feature is its 30mm gatling gun, the GAU-8 Avenger. The distinctive sound made by the weapon (the BRRRRRT – created as rounds fire faster than the speed of sound), has been music to the ears of the troops on the ground, so much so that the plane has earned the nickname of “the grunt in the air.” The Air Force wanted to retire the slow-moving but stout plane to make room in their budget for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III says is “designed for the whole battlespace.” But critics claim the F-35 ill-suited for the close air support mission.
In the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress ordered the Air Force to produce a reliable, independent study on how they will replace the A-10’s CAS mission while providing the necessary funds to keep the Warthog flying.
12. President Obama extended U.S. military’s Afghan mission into 2017
They won’t have a direct combat role, but U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan through 2017. When President Obama leaves office in 2017, 5,500 troops will remain in Afghanistan. A resurgent Taliban and a growing ISIS threat will keep the U.S. forces busy as they work to keep the Afghan government in power.
The Obama Administration announced the extension in October. The War in Afghanistan is almost 15 years old and claimed the lives of 2,230 service members and cost more than $1 trillion. The new yearly plan costs upwards of $15 billion per year.
13. ISIS and China hack DoD computers, stealing troops’ personal data
In mid-October, a native of Kosovo was detained in Malaysia and alleged to be the hacker who had forced his way into the U.S. government software that held the personal information of U.S. troops and federal workers. The Kosovar, said to have ties to ISIS, stole data belonging to 1,300 people and gave it to the terror group’s hacking division.
One month prior, Chinese hackers forced their way into the systems of the Office of Personnel Management, and stole 5.6 million fingerprints, which, in turn, affected the compromised the records of 21.5 million Federal employees and applicants. The personal data also potentially contained information about intelligence agents posted overseas. The data included the employees’ biographical forms used when applying for sensitive or classified jobs.
14. All Combat Jobs are opened to women
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter ordered the Pentagon to open all military combat roles to women, rejecting limitations on the most dangerous military jobs. The secretary’s orders gave the branches until January 1st to plan their changes and force those combat roles open to women by April 1st, including infantry, reconnaissance, and special operations forces.
Women already have access to most front-line roles in the Army, Navy and Air Force. Earlier in 2015, women were integrated into the Navy’s Submarine Service. Women have been serving as fighter pilots in the Air Force and Navy since 1993, and the Army has been fighting to open its infantry positions to women since September 2015. The defense secretary’s rationale was simply that any qualified candidate should be allowed to compete for the jobs.
15. U.S. deploys special forces ground troops to fight ISIS
In a departure from the U.S. military’s policy of providing air support and “advisors” to support Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces fighting ISIS (Daesh) in Iraq and Syria, Defense Secretary Ash Carter authorized the deployment of additional special operations forces in Iraq to conduct raids to free hostages, capture Daesh leaders, and gather intelligence.
Earlier in the year, the U.S. deployed 3,300 troops to Iraq in training and advisory capacities, as well as support for air operations. The new standing force will be based in Iraq but conduct operations in Iraq and in Syria. The total special force could number up in the hundreds. In October, U.S. special forces and Iraqi troops conducted a raid on an ISIS compound to free 70 Iraqi prisoners, resulting in the first U.S. castualty in the war against ISIS.
On October 14, 1947, U.S. Air Force Captain Chuck Yeager became the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound.
Yeager, a West Virginia native, was a combat pilot during World War II, flying 64 missions over Europe. He claimed 13 Axis kills and was shot down over France. He evaded the Nazis on the ground with aid from the French Underground. After the war ended, he was one of the pilots to test-fly the experimental X-1 rocket plane, built by the Bell Aircraft Company specifically to attempt to break the sound barrier, something many thought impossible.
Many thought the drag from supersonic speed would tear an airplane apart until Yeager flew his X-1 over Rogers Dry Lake in Southern California. A B-29 carried his X-1 to 25,000 feet and then released it through the bomb bay, blasting to 40,000 feet and then to 662 miles per hour which is the sound barrier at that altitude. The rocket plane, nicknamed “Glamorous Glennis,” was designed with a .50 caliber bullet in mind.
The project was still classified however, and Yeager’s speed was not announced until June 1948. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1975 with the rank of brigadier general. Yeager, now 92, tweeted this on the 2015 anniversary of his first supersonic flight:
Today, 68 years ago, at 10:24am,I broke the sound barrier w/ only 1.5 minutes of fuel. I told Ridley: Something wrong with this Mach meter
The USS Enterprise aircraft carrier (CVN 65), also known as the “Big E,” was decommissioned at Newport News Shipbuilding on Feb. 3 after 55 years of service. Now, the question is: What is the Navy supposed to do with it?
The Navy has been trying to come up with an answer since 2012, when the ship returned to its home port Naval Base Norfolk for the last time, reports DOD Buzz.
Initially, the Navy planned to have the ship towed to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard Intermediate Maintenance Facility in Bremerton, Wash., where the reactors would be removed and the rest of the ship would be recycled, but officials realized the ship is more than the workforce at the shipyard can handle.
The next move was to solicit bids from private commercial recycling operations to properly and effectively dispose of the aircraft carrier’s non-nuclear components, but officials from the Naval Sea Systems Command announced Monday it was canceling its request.
“The Navy has identified that it requires more information to determine the approach for the disposal of CVN 65, including the reactor plans, that is more technically executable, environmentally responsible and is an effective utilization of Navy resources,” explained NAVSEA spokesman William Couch, adding the Navy will be “taking no action at this time.”
Radioactivity, which is still a factor even after defueling, makes disposal difficult, but there are several options on the table right now.
The Navy could turn the USS Enterprise over to a commercial company for partial or full recycling. The former would involve the disposal of the non-nuclear components; the latter, however, would require the dismantling of the eight defueled reactor plants.
Another option is to place the carrier in “intermediate-term storage for a number of years” and put off recycling the ship. The Navy is still searching for a suitable location.
Environmental impact studies are being carried out for the various options.
“The Navy is taking these steps to ensure CVN 65 is recycled in a cost-effective and environmentally responsible manner,” Couch said. “Given the complexities of the issues involved in recycling CVN 65, the Navy remains committed to a fully open and public process for conducting the first-ever disposal of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.”
The USS Enterprise is a ship in a class of its own. It completed its last deployment in 2012 after sailing 81,000 miles over a 238-day deployment to the Persian Gulf.
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By now, many of us have seen the new Wonder Woman movie. If you haven’t, you probably know the basics anyway: Amazon warrior-princess who braves the battlefields of 1918 to save humanity from the depredations of Ares, God of War. It’s a fun movie, even if I had to set aside my critical military historian’s eye for a couple of hours (not like that’s a rare occurrence where Hollywood is concerned). You may also know that the title character is portrayed by one Gal Gadot, who served in the Israeli Defense Forces, so it has that going for it, too.
One thing I particularly liked about the movie was the theme that Diana (Wonder Woman’s real name, in case you haven’t seen the movie or ever read a comic book), though an elite, hard-ass warrior, only fought because she believed it was necessary. The Western Front in Belgium was represented fairly realistically as the muddy, bloody, ruinous Hell that it was. Diana fought not because she liked fighting, but to end that Hell once and for all.
I don’t want to spoil the plot, so I won’t go any further, but, like those who fought in the “War to End All Wars,” Diana’s outlook undergoes a change as the movie progresses. Significantly, though she is reluctant, Diana never loses her conviction that violence is sometimes necessary to prevent greater evil from wreaking havoc on the world.
One of the more humorous elements of the movie is the innate sexism Diana encounters as she moves forward. She is constantly forced to prove herself on and off the battlefield. Of course, being an immortal Amazon princess, with its attendant abilities, helps. But super powers are not required to be a warrior, whether one is male or female.
There’s a lot of controversy these days about the role of women in the US armed forces, specifically, whether women should serve in combat units. Recent months have witnessed the first two female graduates from Ranger School, and the nature of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have put females clearly in the line of fire for well over a decade.
Female warriors, however, are not a new phenomenon, nor are they only the stuff of legend or Hollywood fancy. They’ve been around for literally thousands of years. Without taking a position on the role of females in combat (other people here are far more qualified than I to speak on that subject), here’s a look at some women who fought, and fought well, from the American Revolution through the Global War on Terror. This list is by no means complete, or even close to being so. It’s merely intended to offer a glimpse of women in combat over the last 240-odd years.
The American Revolution
Records for female soldiers who fought in the Revolution are scarce. That many women, usually disguised as men, did fight is beyond question. Most of their names and deeds are lost to us thanks to their enforced anonymity, but a few records survive. The most common theme for the service of these women is that they followed their husbands to war, passing themselves as teenage boys, which were not uncommon in the ranks. Some women volunteered for the bounty paid to enlistees or just in the hope of steady meals. Some didn’t like sitting at home and wanted to fight for their country, like the first soldier on our list.
Deborah Samson enlisted on 20 May, 1782, at age 22, in Captain George Webb’s company of the 4th Massachusetts Regiment of Foot, a light infantry unit. She gave her name as Robert Shurtliff. Rising to the rank of corporal, she fought with the Continental Army in several engagements, including the Battle of White Plains.
Samson was wounded several times. In a skirmish near Tarrytown, she took a saber cut to the head. When her unit was ambushed by Loyalists near East Chester, Samson was hit by two musket balls in the thigh. Probably afraid of discovery if she sought medical aid, Samson crawled into the woods and removed one ball herself. The other was left in the leg while she soldiered on.
Samson was finally revealed as a female while serving as a clerk for General John Patterson in Philadelphia. She became sick and was treated by Dr. Barnabas Binney. Dr. Binney outed her to General Patterson, who recommended to General George Washington that Samson be discharged due to being a female. Deborah Samson was honorably discharged in October, 1783. In 1792, along with other veterans, Samson received back pay due her for her service. In 1805, Samson was awarded a veteran’s pension by the Massachusetts legislature, which stated “that the Said Deborah exhibited an extraordinary instance of female heroism by discharging the duties of a faithful, gallant soldier.” She received that pension until she died in 1827.
The legend of Molly Pitcher is hard to pin down. According to the story, she was carrying pitchers of water to the soldiers, one of whom was her husband, serving a cannon at the 1778 Battle of Monmouth. When her husband collapsed, Molly immediately took his place, swabbing the barrel and helping reload the gun.
It appears that “Molly Pitcher” is a composite figure built on the stories of Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley and Margaret Corbin. Mary Hays (as she was known at the time) was present at Monmouth and a witness claimed that a British cannonball bounced right between her legs while she was serving the American gun, ripping away part of her petticoat. She supposedly quipped that it was lucky the ball wasn’t aimed a little higher and went on with her work.
Hays remained with the Continental Army until the end of the war, though it seems that she served in a support role, as many women did. After her husband’s death, she married a former Continental soldier named John McCauley. She died in Carlisle, Pennsylvania in 1832, where a monument commemorates her valiant service.
Margaret Corbin’s story is similar to the better-known Mary Ludwig Hays. At the 1776 Battle of Fort Washington, Corbin was carrying water to her husband’s gun crew when he fell. She stepped into his place and helped keep the cannon operational by swabbing and helping to reload. During the battle, Margaret was hit by grapeshot in the arm and chest, disabling her for life.
Corbin was one of the first members of the Invalid Corps, created by Congress in 1777 to care for wounded and disabled soldiers. She was granted a pension in 1779, the first American woman to receive a disabled veteran’s pension.
Anna Maria Lane followed her husband to war in 1776, when he enlisted in the Connecticut Line under General Israel Putnam. Records of her service are sketchy, but it is known that she fought in the Battle of Germantown in October, 1777, where she was severely wounded. After the war, Anna and her husband John moved to Virginia, where they were both recognized for their service by the Virginia legislature and granted soldiers’ pensions.
The American Civil War
The story of female soldiers in the Civil War is akin to those who fought in the Revolution. Women disguised themselves as men and marched off to war for pretty much the same reasons as their forebears. Women served in both the Union and Confederate armies, and most seem to have gone undetected, but we do know the stories of a few.
Sarah Emma Edmonds was a Canadian by birth. To escape an abusive father and an arranged marriage, she disguised herself as a man and fled to the US, where she found work in Hartford, Connecticut as a travelling Bible salesman. When the war broke out in 1861, Edmonds was in Michigan and promptly volunteered for the 2nd Michigan Infantry Regiment on a three-year enlistment. She used the name Franklin Thompson, which had been her assumed name for the previous couple of years.
Sarah Emma Edmonds. Photo from Breach Bang Clear.
Edmonds was nearly captured at First Manassas when she stayed behind to care for the wounded when the Union Army retreated. In 1862, Edmonds served in the Peninsula Campaign, the Battle of Second Manassas, and the Battle of Fredericksburg as a courier, often braving long solo rides through contested territory. Her horse was shot from under her at Second Manassas, forcing her to ride a mule, which subsequently threw her, breaking her leg.
Edmonds’ memoirs claim that she performed espionage missions behind Confederate lines, disguised as a male Irish peddler, though there is no official record of those missions.
The 2nd Michigan was sent to Kentucky in the spring of 1863, where Edmonds came down with malaria. Afraid of discovery, she requested convalescent leave as opposed to seeing a military doctor. Her leave request was denied. Feeling she had no choice, Edmonds deserted and never returned. “Franklin Thompson” was charged with desertion, though no further action was taken. Following her recovery, Edmonds served as a female nurse until the end of the war.
Edmonds, now known as Sarah Edmonds Seelye, attended a reunion of the 2nd Michigan in 1876, where she was welcomed by her former comrades. They helped her have the charge of desertion expunged from her records and supported her pension application, which was approved in 1884. Seelye was the only female to receive a soldier’s pension from the Civil War. In 1897, a year before her death, she became the only female member of the Grand Army of the Republic. In 1901, she was reburied with full military honors in Houston’s Washington Cemetery.
Jennie Hodgers (a.k.a. Albert D.J. Cashier) is remarkable not only for her wartime service, but for the fact that she continued to live as a man for the rest of her life. Hodgers was born on aChristmas Day, 1843, in Ireland. Little is known about her life from then until she enlisted in the 95th Illinois Infantry under the name Albert D.J. Cashier.
Jennie-Hodgers AKA Albert-D.J. Cashier. Photo from Breach Bang Clear.
Hodgers fought in over forty engagements, including the Vicksburg Campaign, the Battle of Nashville, the Red River Campaign, and the Battles of Kennesaw Mountain and Jonesborough. An account exists of her escaping capture by overpowering a Confederate guard. She mustered out on 17 August, 1865.
Living as a man apparently agreed with Hodgers, and “Albert Cashier” worked several jobs, voted in elections, and drew a soldier’s pension. Hit by a car in 1910, “Cashier’s” true gender was discovered by the local hospital, which, remarkably, agreed not to give away her secret. She was sent to the Soldiers and Sailors Home in Quincy, Illinois to recover. It was here, in 1913, that dementia finally caused her to be revealed as a woman. Sadly, she was sent to an insane asylum where she was forced to wear a dress.
On the plus side, when the story was published in the local newspapers, Hodgers’ former comrades protested her treatment and defended her service. Upon her death in 1915, Hodgers was buried in full uniform and her grave was marked with the name Albert D.J. Cashier and her service dates. A second marker with the name Jennie Hodgers was placed beside the original in the 1970s.
Sarah Rosetta Wakeman is another whose story is well-known, thanks to her family’s preservation of her letters. With her father in debt and no prospects of marriage, the nineteen-year old Wakeman left home in 1862 to seek work as a man. While working as a laborer, she met recruiters from the 153rd New York Infantry Regiment, who offered a $152.00 enlistment bounty. Wakeman accepted and enlisted on 30 August, 1862 under the name Lyons Wakeman.
The 153rd New York saw action during the Red River Campaign of 1864 and Wakeman stood on the firing line at the Battles of Pleasant Hill and Monett’s Bluff. The Red River Campaign featured marches of hundreds of miles through muggy heat and disease-ridden swamps, which Wakeman endured as well as her male counterparts.
Sarah Rosetta Wakeman. Photo from Breach Bang Clear.
Before the campaign, Wakeman had written home, “I don’t know how long before I shall have to go into the field of battle. For my part, I don’t care. I don’t feel afraid to go.” Wakeman finally succumbed to disease in May, 1864 and died on 19 June. She is buried in Chalmette National Cemetery in New Orleans. The grave marker bears the name “Lyons Wakeman.” No record exists of her sex ever being discovered.
Mollie Bean is a bit more elusive than Sarah Edmonds and Jennie Hodgers, and, in her anonymity, is likely more representative of the majority of female Civil War soldiers. In fact, Mollie Bean may not have been her name at all.
Mollie was arrested on 20 February, 1865 while hitching a ride on a railroad car near Danville, Virginia. Riding a military rail car required permission from the provost marshal so, when she was discovered, the guard demanded her papers. Mollie replied, “I’ve got no papers and damn if I want any.” She was arrested and, shortly thereafter, discovered to be a female dressed as a soldier. Mollie claimed to have enlisted in the 47th North Carolina Infantry Regiment in 1863 and to have been twice-wounded in battle. She was sent back to Richmond and imprisoned in Castle Thunder. The story was picked up by newspapers in Richmond and Charlotte. Mollie was portrayed sensationally and her claims of service were discounted, with at least one paper describing her as “manifestly crazy.” The general opinion was that she could not have served for over two years without her true sex being discovered. Upon her imprisonment, Mollie vanishes from history. There are no records of her incarceration and examinations of the 47th North Carolina’s muster rolls reveal nothing. The census records of females with the surname “Bean” provide no real evidence. “Mollie Bean” may well have been a made-up name given to the authorities upon her arrest.
She does, however, make a fanciful reappearance in the alternate history novel The Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove. If you haven’t read it, and you’re into that sort of thing, it’s very well-done. The premise is built around South African time-travelers who provide Robert E. Lee’s army with AK-47s in the winter of 1864. Don’t be deterred by the fantastical scenario; Turtledove is a serious historian. The book is outstanding and thought-provoking.
Two more female soldiers from the Civil War merit our attention, though we don’t, and likely never will, know their identities. The remains of a Confederate private were discovered on the Gettysburg battlefield on 17 July, 1863 by a burial detail from the Union II Corps. The private was female. She was likely killed while taking part in Pickett’s Charge on 3 July. Finally, a 1934 excavation of a mass grave on the Shiloh battlefield revealed the remains of a female with a minié ball lodged in her pelvis, likely her death wound. Plainly, females not only served in the Civil War, they were in the thick of battle and some were killed. Due to the nature of their service, we’ll never know how many.
World War I
By the time the First World War rolled around, medical exams for prospective soldiers were more thorough. It was far more difficult for would-be female soldiers to disguise themselves. As far as we know, only one, 20-year old Dorothy Lawrence, actually pulled it off. Lawrence was a British journalist who managed to join a tunneling outfit of the British Expeditionary Force for ten days. At that point, she gave herself up out of a desire to report on the horrible conditions under which her fellow soldiers worked. Lawrence was treated rather poorly by the British authorities, who accused her of being a camp-follower (AKA prostitute). Still, two female soldiers, one British and one Russian, stand out for their wartime service.
Flora Sandes was the daughter of an Irish priest. As a child, she read and re-read Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade and dreamed of being a soldier. As an adult, she traveled throughout Europe, North America, and Egypt, working as a typist to fund her adventures. She was an experienced rider and, according to her family, “a capital shot with the big service revolver.”
Upon the Austro-Hungarian declaration of war against Serbia on 28 July, 1914, the 38-year old Sandes volunteered as a nurse for a Serbian ambulance unit. Serbia was overrun in late 1915 by the combined forces of Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Bulgaria. The Serbian Army forced marched across the mountains to Albania, where Sandes enlisted in the Serbian Iron Regiment.
Flora Sandes. Photo from Breach Bang Clear.
A year later she was a sergeant major and had published an English language book about her exploits to raise money and support for the Serbs. At the end of 1916, Sandes was involved in the vicious hand-to-hand combat in the mountains of Macedonia, where she was wounded by a grenade. Forced to retire from combat duty, she spent the rest of the war running an army hospital and conducting public relations tours to promote Western awareness of the plight of the Serbs. After the war, Sandes remained with the Army, eventually retiring as a captain. In 1917, she was awarded the Order of the Star of Karađorđe, Serbia’s highest combat decoration.
Sandes rode out the Second World War in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Though aged 65, she was recalled to active duty. She was willing, but the Germans overran Yugoslavia before she could do anything. She was arrested by the Gestapo as an enemy alien and imprisoned with fourteen other women. One of Sandes’ fellow prisoners later said “She possessed a wonderful fund of Serbian swear words which she launched at the guards with such devastating effect that they behaved almost respectfully.” She was eventually released, but had to report to the Gestapo weekly until the war ended.
Sandes finally left Belgrade following the passing of her Serbian husband a few months after the war. She was nearly 70, but went to Rhodesia to stay with her nephew, who was a Rhodesian police officer. She was unpopular with the colonial authorities, however, who complained about her “fraternizing with the African peasant population, sitting around an open fire and drinking beer made from sorghum.” Flora Sandes returned to England, where she died in 1956.
Maria Bochkarevka was a Siberian peasant girl who survived an abusive father and two abusive husbands to join the Russian war effort in 1914. Women were not allowed to serve at that time, but Maria wrote a personal letter to Tsar Nicholas II asking for special permission. Her request was granted and Bochkarevka was sent to the front in 1915.
Her first combat saw Maria, despite being hit in the leg, pull dozens of wounded men from No-Man’s Land, for which she was decorated. She was soon promoted to corporal and began leading 30-man patrols into No-Man’s Land. On one of her patrols, she killed a German soldier with her bayonet. In the spring of 1916, Bochkarevka was wounded three times, including taking a piece of shrapnel near the base of her spine, paralyzing her from the waist down. Determined to fight, she learned to walk again and returned to the front, where she was promoted to sergeant. She was captured not long afterward, but she escaped, killing ten Germans in the process with grenades. She was decorated again.
Maria Bochkareva. Photo from Breach Bang Clear.
Bochkarevka is most famous for raising and training the Women’s Battalion of Death in 1917. The battalion was an all-female combat unit designed to shame the male soldiers of the Russian Army into fighting harder. The Russians were reeling from the fall of the Tsar and repeated defeats at the hands of the Germans, and desperately needed a morale boost. Buchkarovka started with 2000 women, but her iron discipline soon whittled it down to around to around 250.
The battalion participated in the summer offensive of 1917, going over the top with the men. Led by Buchkarovka, now a captain, they penetrated three German trench lines before being repulsed. After the battle, the women’s morale was reportedly far better than their male comrades, and their casualties lower, though they had spearheaded the assault in their sector.
In October, the battalion defended the Tsar’s Summer Palace in Petrograd against the Bolshevik revolutionaries. They were ultimately overrun and Buchkarevka was captured. Through the machinations of some friends, she was released and allowed to leave the country. She traveled to the US and England, where she met with Woodrow Wilson and King George V, who promised to aid the White Russians against the Bolshevik Reds. Buchkarevka was captured in 1919 while fighting the Bolsheviks and convicted of being an “enemy of the people.” She was executed by firing squad on 16 May, 1920.
World War II
The Second World War provided more opportunities for women to serve, but female combat soldiers were few and far between. Many women served with the British Special Operations Executive and the American Office of Strategic Services, but, due to concerns about length, I’m staying as close to the front lines as possible. With that in mind, one woman stands out above all others.
Lyudmila Pavlichenko was the deadliest of the scores of female snipers deployed by the Red Army in World War II. In just under a year of combat, Pavlichenko notched 309 confirmed kills, after which, she was pulled from the front and sent to the US and Great Britain to drum up support for a second front against Germany.
Lyudmila Pavlichenko. Photo from Breach Bang Clear.
Pavlichenko was a university student in Kiev when the Germans invaded in June, 1942. She immediately enlisted in the Red Army. She had won medals in a civilian marksmanship program and applied for the infantry. Nonetheless, the recruiter tried to convince her to become a nurse. Pavlichenko’s insistence on becoming a rifleman caused the army to test her. She was taken to the front, handed a rifle, and told to shoot two Romanian soldiers. Two shots: two kills. Pavlichenko was trained as a sniper and attached to the 25th Rifle Division. She never claimed the first two kills as part of her official count, since she said it was a test, not real combat.
Pavlichenko served in Moldavia and in the Siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean Campaign. She was known for tying the occasional strip of cloth to surrounding trees and brush to distract the eyes of enemy spotters. She also planted mannequins to serve as bait. Her first 75 days of combat yielded 187 kills. By the time she arrived at Sevastopol, she was known as “Lady Death” and the Germans starting targeting her with counter-snipers. She once made the mistake of climbing a tree to get a better view and was grazed by a German sniper round. She allowed herself to fall twelve feet to the ground, lying still for hours, before crawling away after dark. She eventually won every sniper duel in which she was engaged, accounting for 36 German snipers.
Pavlichenko became so famous, thanks in no small part to Soviet propaganda, that the Germans started addressing her directly by loudspeaker. They tried to lure her to defect, offering her honors and chocolate (seriously). When that failed, they threatened to catch her and tear her body into 309 pieces, one for each kill.
In a later interview, Pavlichenko laughed, saying how delighted she was that the Germans knew her score. She was evacuated from the Sevastopol by submarine before the city fell in July, 1942. She was awarded the USSR’s highest honor, Hero of the Soviet Union, and sent on her PR trip, where she became fast friends with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. She told one reporter that “Every German who remains alive will kill women, children, and old folks. Dead Germans are harmless. Therefore, if I kill a German, I am saving lives.” Upon her return, Pavlichenko was assigned to train snipers and boost morale on the home front. She even had her own postage stamp, issued in 1943. After the war, she returned to university, earning her degree in history. Eleanor Roosevelt visited Pavlichenko in Moscow in 1957. Pavlichenko died in 1974. A movie of her exploits was released in 2013. As far as I know, it’s only available in Russian, titled “Battle for Sevastopol,” and in Ukrainian, which is called “Indestructible.” There’s an English language trailer on YouTube.
Afghanistan and Iraq
The asymmetrical nature of the Global War on Terror has blurred the lines between the combat and non-combat roles of troops deployed to places like Afghanistan and Iraq. Troops who are technically slated for the support role have been thrust squarely into the line of fire. As a result, the US ban on women in combat units has not spared females from being tested under fire. Here are a few of the many who passed with flying colors.
Rebecca Turpin. Photo from Breach Bang Clear.
Marine 2LT Rebecca Turpin was leading her logistics convoy through 80 miles of desert in the Helmand Province when they were ambushed in a small village between Camp Bastion and the FOB at Musa Qala. They had hit an IED earlier in the march and were slowed by the necessity to tow the damaged vehicle and by maneuvering through a hamlet with no real streets. While moving through the hamlet, Turpin saw men herding women and children into the houses. “I had this sinking feeling,” she said later. Then an RPG hit her refueling truck, cuing a hail of small arms fire and grenades. Marshaling her convoy to provide cover, Turpin called for air support, which came in the form of two Cobra attack helicopters. Once the enemy fire was suppressed, the Cobras moved off and Turpin turned her column around to an alternate route. When they were hit again during the turnaround, Turpin called the Cobras back and directed a fighting exit from the hamlet. Going by a different route, her convoy arrived safely at Musa Qala with no serious injuries. Despite her insistence that “What I did was my job,” Turpin was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with “V” for her leadership under fire. Lt. Colonel Michael Jernigan, Turpin’s battalion commander, said “She could have made bad decisions, and perhaps Marines would have died. But she didn’t and they didn’t.” Turpin left the Corps as a captain in 2011.
On 20 March, 2005, Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester was escorting a supply convoy on a run east of Baghdad as a vehicle commander in the 617 Military Police Company, a Kentucky National Guard unit. When the vehicle in front of hers was hit by an RPG, Hester led her vehicle through the kill zone into a flanking position. She and her team then took the enemy positions under fire with an M203. Hester and her squad leader then assaulted the dug-in insurgents, clearing two trench lines. Hester personally killed three insurgents with her M4. After the 45-minute fight, 27 insurgents were killed, six wounded, and one was captured. All US personnel survived. Hester and her squad leader, SSG Timothy Nein, were awarded the Silver Star. Hester became the first female Silver Star recipient since World War II and the first ever for actions in direct combat.
Leigh Ann Hester. Photo from Breach Bang Clear.
Being under fire was nothing new for Hester, who, predictably, claims she just did what she was trained to do. According to all accounts, Hester is a bit embarrassed by the fact that she has her own action figure and a wax likeness at the Army Women’s Museum at Fort Lee. Hester left the Guard in 2009 and became a cop near Nashville, Tennessee, but missed being a soldier and reenlisted in the Tennessee National Guard in 2011. In 2014, she deployed to Afghanistan for 18 months as part of a Cultural Support Team. She is now an E-7 with the Tennessee National Guard.
First Lieutenant Ashley White-Stumpf was part of the first class of the Cultural Support Teams sent to Afghanistan to support special ops troops. Assigned to the 75th Rangers, White-Stumpf served two months in Afghanistan before being killed by an IED in an ambush on 22 October, 2011. She was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star. I was unable to find much on her activities in Afghanistan, perhaps because of her association with special ops forces. But there is a book about White-Stumpf and the CSTs called Ashley’s War, which looks to be pretty good. Still, I felt that she merited inclusion here.
Ashley White-Stumpf. Photo from Breach Bang Clear.
Private First Class Monica Lin Brown was the second woman, after Hester, to earn the Silver Star since World War II. Brown was a combat medic with the 82nd Airborne in Afghanistan’s Paktika Province in 2007. On 25 April, she was part of a convoy which was ambushed on its way to a meeting with tribal leaders. One HUMVEE hit an IED, sending it into a wadi and igniting its fuel load. Brown moved to the wreck and treated the soldiers wounded in the blast, shielding them with her body from small arms fire and the 15 mortar rounds which impacted near her. By this time, the ammo in the HUMVEE began to cook off, prompting Brown to shield the wounded once more while continuing treatment.
Monica Lin Brown. Photo from Breach Bang Clear.
Brown’s platoon sergeant arrived, amazed to see Brown still alive. Seeing the danger from the engulfed HUMVEE and continuing enemy fire, he loaded Brown and the wounded onto an Afghan Army truck and moved them to a safer location. An enemy mortar shell impacted on Brown’s former position just seconds later. All the while, Brown treated the wounded soldiers, continually shielding them from falling brass and enemy fire until the MEDEVACs arrived. Brown’s actions earned her the Silver Star. They also resulted in her being removed from her assignment because of the ban on females in combat.
As I said, I’m not taking a position on women in combat. Honestly, I’m not qualified to offer an informed opinion on the subject. It is clear, however, that women have served, and served well, in combat environments throughout history. So, taking advantage of the publicity from the Wonder Woman movie, here’s an opportunity to raise a glass to all the women who have answered the call and laid it on the line. Thanks for your service.
A Marine helicopter was illuminated by a laser fired from an Iranian vessel in the Strait of Hormuz June 14. The incident occured days after a U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle shot down a drone over Syria that was later determined to be from Iran.
“Illuminating helicopters with lasers at night is dangerous as it creates a navigational hazard that can impair vision and can be disorienting to pilots using night vision goggles,” Commander Bill Urban, a 5th Fleet spokesperson said.
USNI News reported that the Iranian vessel was a missile boat, and approached the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5), the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) and the Lewis and Clark-class dry cargo ship USNS Washington Chambers (T-AKE 11) on the night of June 13.
According to the report, the Iranian missile boat shined a spotlight on the Cole, then painted a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter with a laser, before running a spotlight on the Bataan. The Iranian missile boat came within 800 yards of the U.S. Navy vessels.
More than 100 midshipmen man the rails for a photo on the foícísle of the guided-missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) during the 2016 Professional Training for Midshipmen (PROTRAMID) Surface week. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan Seelbach)
According to MilitaryFactory.com, the CH-53E is a heavy-lift cargo helicopter capable of carrying up to 55 troops. It has a top speed of 195 miles per hour and a range of up to 1,140 miles. It is capable of being refueled in midair by tankers like the KC-130. For self-defense it carries chaff and flare dispensers to defeat enemy missiles, and it has three ,50-caliber machine guns.
ISIS-linked militants in the Southern Philippines have conducted a series of violent clashes with government forces, killing at least 7 soldiers but suffering the loss of over a dozen fighters.
The militants come from at least three separate groups that have pledged allegiance to ISIS. One of the smaller groups launched an attack on a small army outpost on Mindinao, an island in the southern Philippines. The Philippine Army repelled the attack and then countered, killing 12 militants but losing six of their own soldiers.
Despite Philippine forces finding ISIS flags, bandanas, and other items on the battlefield, other experts assert that the Philippine groups’ allegiance to ISIS is just a ploy for the Islamic State’s money and weapons.
“It really has nothing to do with ideology,” Zachary Abuza, a professor at the National War College, told reporters. “This is all about resources.”
The groups involved in the worst of the fighting have existed for years longer than ISIS, and their violence has been going on for years.
In May 1941, the United States was on the brink of war.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed an “unlimited national emergency” and ordered American forces to prepare “to repel any and all acts or threats of aggression directed toward any part of the Western Hemisphere.”
While the situation seemed grim, at least one commanding officer decided to lighten the mood. He allowed his men to grow their beards in what would be the most hirsute event in the U.S. military until Robin Olds headed to Vietnam.
Japan attacked the Philippines on December 8th, 1941. Six months later, the Philippines fell and the American troops who survived were submitted to the harshest treatment of any POWs in the Pacific War. The Allies did not retake the Philippines until October 1944.