The U.S. has made a name for itself launching humanitarian missions around the world when disaster strikes. The operations save thousands of lives, relieve suffering, and burnish America’s reputation.
Here are six of the largest relief operations the U.S. has launched outside of its borders:
In Operation Tamadachi, Marines rushed into the Sendai Airport and cleared broken vehicles and tons of debris from from runways to reopen the airport. The Navy sent in the USS Ronald Reagan and 21 other ships to help ferry supplies from international donors and relief agencies and to search the ocean for survivors swept into the sea.
Navy aircraft also moved Japanese personnel when necessary.
Unique to Operation Tamadachi was a nuclear component as the reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plant were heavily damaged. The U.S. assisted with coordinating and conducting aerial monitoring while Japanese forces evacuated the surrounding areas and worked to stabilize the facility.
The relief effort helped save thousands of lives, but the country still lost more than 20,000 people to the three earthquakes and follow-on tsunami in 2011.
Thirty military helicopters were pressed into the effort alongside a fleet of C-130s and C-17s. The C-17 is the U.S. military’s second-largest plane and can carry 90,000 pounds per lift.
The USS Carl Vinson sailed to Haiti in January 2010 after a massive earthquake killed 230,000 people and devastated the local infrastructure. Air Force special operators controlled a huge amount of air traffic while the Navy assisted with logistics and Marines helped shore up buildings and clear debris.
In 2009, Indonesia was once again rocked by earthquakes. This time, a special operations group was already present in the country when the earthquakes hit and it provided coordination for follow-on forces. Emergency supplies quickly flowed into the country.
When an earthquake in the Indian Ocean sent a massive tsunami into 14 countries in late 2004, the Republic of Indonesia was the worst hit. Over 280,000 people were killed but the USS Abraham Lincoln ferried food, water, and medical supplies to the worst hit areas.
The largest humanitarian assistance operation in history was actually launched to overcome a man-made shortage, not recover from a natural disaster. The Soviet blockade of West Berlin caused a massive food shortage in the Western-government occupied sectors of the city.
It was a typical winter morning in northern Afghanistan. The sky was clear, and the blinding sun slowly climbed into it. The sun was bright, but it didn’t do much to fight the biting cold that pumped down the turret opening in our Humvee and chilled us all.
I was in a light infantry reconnaissance platoon, made up of an almost even split of snipers and recon guys. We were on our way to a large forward operating base just south of Kabul. Our specific skill set had been requested by the commander there so we crammed into our cold Humvees and headed into the unknown.
We pulled into the base later that morning and were shown to the tent that we’d call home for at least a day or two. After unloading all of our gear and equipment, me and the other lower enlisted guys made ourselves at home while our senior leaders went to work out the specifics of the mission we’d be supporting.
We hadn’t been there long before sudden pounding winds seemed to threaten the integrity of our tent. One soldier leapt up from his cot and ripped open the door flap of our tent. The clear sunbathed sky had faded behind a thick sheet of dark clouds and snow was collecting quickly on the ground outside.
The soldier fastened the door flap shut as we all looked at each other in amazement. “This mission has got to be scrapped” quipped one soldier. “There’s no way we’re going out in this” added another. Assuming the mission was a no-go, we settled back into our cots and pulled out our books, iPods, magazines and other essentials needed to ride out the storm.
Just as we were all getting comfortable and cozy in our sleeping bags, a red-faced and snow covered staff sergeant barreled into our tent. “Get your cold-weather gear on and get outside”. The staff sergeant stormed out of the tent just as rapidly as he’d come in.
We tossed our creature comforts to the side and began tearing through our bags for heavy jackets, pants and beanies. Questions and confusion filled the frantic tent. Once suited up, we all funneled out of the tiny tent opening into the storm and lined up in front of the two stone-faced staff sergeants.
We stood there silently as they divided us up between them. Reading our confused expressions, the staff sergeants laughed and explained what was about to happen.
“You guys go with him” he said gesturing at the other staff sergeant and his group. “And you guys come with me. We’ll have 15 minutes to build up our arsenal of snowballs and then it’s on. If you get hit, you’re out. You can be revived by a teammate once, but if you’re hit again, you’re out until the next round”.
Before our shock could fade, we were elbows deep in snow mounds, hastily and inefficiently shaping snowballs with our gloved hands. The 15 minutes were up and my group had established three separate caches of snowballs in case one were to be compromised. Our hodgepodge of recon and sniper guys made it difficult to establish a quick plan of attack. Me and the other recon guys suggested we move between tents to find a good ambush point. The snipers suggested we push to a small hill top and take advantage of the high ground. The infighting put us at a disadvantage.
When the other team started lobbing snowballs, strategy turned into self-preservation and it was every man for himself.
A number of my recon teammates had been taken out of the game so I retreated to the hill top where a few snipers were dug in. The high ground gave us the upper hand, and the continuing snowfall guaranteed we wouldn’t run out of ammo. We had the other team pinned down and just when we thought we had the game won, we were flanked and wiped out.
The snowball fight went a few more rounds and the longer we were out in the storm the more exhausted we got. Our honed military training and tactics gradually devolved into a laughter filled display of “soldiers on ice” as we slipped and fell endlessly.
When the snowball fight was over, we sluggishly made our way back to our tent, shed our cold weather gear and collapsed onto our cots.
The mission we came for had officially been scrapped, so we quietly retrieved the creature comforts we had discarded earlier and tucked ourselves into our sleeping bags. The next morning the bright sun rose and melted most of the snow. We gathered all of our equipment crammed ourselves back into our cold Humvees, and headed to the next outpost.
That day was rarely talked about in the months that followed. It was as if we were all safeguarding a cherished memory and if we spoke about it, the day would somehow seem less special.
I’m sure the snowball fight meant something different for everyone on the battlefield that day. For me, its meaning has evolved over the years. What was once just another story from my time in Afghanistan has grown into a meaningful narrative about the human moments soldiers often experience while deployed but are rarely reported.
For me this day was important because it helps me show that not every war story is a tale of heroism or tragedy.
When the winter months creep by here at home, I look forward to an impromptu moment where I’ll look out on a large snow covered field, and I’ll tell whoever will listen, about my snowball fight with snipers.
If a bad guy wants to mess with someone, they should probably make sure that someone is not a Gurkha.
Gurkha are a legendary class of Nepalese warriors whose lineage dates back to the Middle Ages. Gurkhas fought first against the British during the colonial era, and the Brits were so impressed by their ability in combat, they decided to enlist them in their military efforts.
They’ve been with the British since the days of the British East India company, through to World War II, and even through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their distinctive knife, the Khukuri, is symbolic of their heroism, bravery, and skill in combat.
A true testament to their ability is praise for their prowess from friend and foe alike. Indian Army Chief of Staff Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, once stated “If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or is a Gurkha.” Prince Charles once said, “In the world there is only one secure place, that’s when you are between Gurkhas.” Osama bin Laden once claimed he would “eat Americans alive” if he had Gurkhas on his side. Adolf Hitler said of them, “If I had Gurkhas, no armies in the world would defeat me.”
On Sep. 2, 2010, when Bishnu Prasad Shrestha was returning home after a voluntary retirement from the Indian Army, the train incident happened. At around midnight on the Maurya Express train from Ranchi to Gorakhpur, 40 armed bandits boarded the train and started looting the passengers. He allowed himself to be robbed by the gun- and knife-toting train robbers. When they soon began to mess with an 18-year-old girl in front of her parents, who were watching helplessly, he couldn’t sit down any longer. Shrestha lost it.
He took out his Khukuri and fought the entire group of 40 robbers single-handedly, killing three of them and injuring eight others. The rest fled. After the incident, he explained:
“They started snatching jewelry, cell phones, cash, laptops and other belongings from the passengers. They had carried out their robbery with swords, blades and pistols. The pistols may have been fake as they didn’t fire. The girl cried for help, saying ´You are a soldier, please save a sister.’ I prevented her from being raped, thinking of her as my own sister.
During the fight, he took a serious knife wound on his left hand and the girl took a small cut on her neck. He was able to recover what the bandits stole, 200 cell phones, 40 laptops, a significant amount of jewelry, and nearly $10,000 in cash.
When the intended rape victim’s family offered him a large cash reward, he refused it, saying:
“Fighting the enemy in battle is my duty as a soldier. Taking on the thugs on the train was my duty as a human being.”
Bishnu Prasad Shrestha held himself to the traditions of his Gurkha regiment and training. Today, Gurkhas fight with British, American, Indian, Nepalese, and Malaysian forces all over the world. After their service ends, they usually return to Nepal to become subsistence farmers. In 2009, the United Kingdom granted pensions at settlement rights to any Gurkha who served the UK for at least four years.
Check the WATM podcast to hear the author and other veterans discuss how the Gurkhas became feared warriors.
If there ever was a candidate for history’s real “Most Interesting Man In the World,” the frontrunner for the title would have to be famed writer, boxer, veteran, and adventurer Ernest Hemingway. He drove an ambulance in World War I, covered the Spanish Civil War, hunted Nazi submarines in the Pacific, gave relationship advice to F. Scott Fitzgerald, and even drank with Castro after the 1959 Cuban Revolution.
That brief paragraph barely scratches the surface of the man’s epic life. But truthfully, Hemingway should have died many, many times during his epic journey. In the end, he was the only one who could have ever ended such a life. The Grim Reaper was probably afraid to come around.
As the man himself once said, “Death is like an old whore in a bar. I’ll buy her a drink but I won’t go upstairs with her.”
Hemingway on crutches in World War I.
He was hit by a mortar in World War I
While driving an ambulance on the Italian Front of the Great War, Hemingway was hit by an Austrian shell while handing out chocolate. The blast knocked him out cold and buried him in the ground nearby. He was peppered from head to toe by shrapnel while two Italian soldiers next to him were killed almost instantly.
Just not all at once.
He carried more diseases than an old sponge.
Throughout his life, Hemingway was struck down hard by things like anthrax, malaria, pneumonia, dysentery, skin cancer, hepatitis, anemia, diabetes, high blood pressure, and mental illness. Even so, he hunted big game in Africa while suffering from malaria, and even boxed the locals.
Hemingway sparring with locals in Africa.
He got into a lot of fights.
The original Big Papa was a fan of fisticuffs. He took any and every opportunity to accept challenges to his boxing prowess, fighting the aforementioned African locals, Caribbean friends, and even contemporary authors who besmirched his good name. If anyone challenged his manhood, they could count on a physical challenge of their own.
“Never sit at a table when you can stand at the bar.”
“I drink to make other people more interesting.”
Hemingway enjoyed a good cocktail or three. An entire book has been published with just the cocktails Hemingway enjoyed the most. His favorite was a double frozen blended daiquiri from his favorite bar in Havana, the Floridita. On one occasion, he and a friend drank 17 of the double-strength concoctions. Eventually, he had to stop drinking to mitigate liver damage. No kidding.
Hemingway giving pointers on growing a vet beard. Probably.
The Nazis couldn’t kill him.
Hemingway was writing in Madrid when Spain was devastated by Fascist bombers and was in London when the Luftwaffe bombed that city. He was covering the D-Day landings of World War II, coming onto the beaches with the seventh wave and then moving inland through hedgerow country, moving with the Army through the Battle of the Bulge – all while suffering from pneumonia. All this after hunting Nazi submarines off of Cuba.
He even formed French Resistance members into a militia and helped capture Paris.
God couldn’t kill him.
While on vacation in Africa, Hemingway and company were nearly killed in a plane crash. On their way to Uganda to receive medical care, their plane exploded upon takeoff. The resulting concussion caused him to leak cerebral fluid, and he suffered from two cracked discs, a kidney and liver rupture, a dislocated shoulder, and a broken skull. He still went on a planned fishing trip… where a brushfire burned his legs, front torso, lips, left hand, and right forearm.
He responded by getting up and winning a Nobel Prize.
While hiding in a fortified two level 3,000-square-foot underground bunker, one of history’s most brutal tyrants promised the world that his empire would reign for 1,000 years.
Hitler’s Third Reich lasted 12 years, and officially ended on April 30, 1945, when the Führer committed suicide in his bunker with his new wife after learning Allied Forces had surrounded Berlin.
Hitler’s last hours
The day before his death, 56-year-old Hitler married his long-term mistress, 33-year-old Eva Braun.
After his brief wedding ceremony Hitler began preparing his last will and political statement with his secretary Traudl Junge at approximately 4:00 p.m.
“What I possess belongs – in so far as it has any value, to the Party. Should this no longer exist, to the State; should the State also be destroyed, no further decision of mine is necessary,” Hitler’s will stated.
“I myself and my wife, in order to escape the disgrace of deposition or capitulation, choose death. It is our wish to be burnt immediately on the spot where I have carried out the greatest part of my daily work in the course of a twelve years’ service to my people.”
Later on that day Hitler learned his Italian counterpart Benito Mussolini was executed by a mob of anti-fascist partisans.
Here’s a summary of Hitler’s last day as reported by MentalFloss:
1 a.m.: Field Marshal William Keitel reports that the entire Ninth Army is encircled and that reinforcements will not be able to reach Berlin.
4 a.m.: Major Otto Günsche heads for the bathroom, only to find Dr. Haase and Hitler’s dog handler, Fritz Tornow, feeding cyanide pills to Hitler’s beloved German Shepherd, Blondi. Haase is apparently testing the efficacy of the cyanide pills that Hitler’s former ally Himmler had provided him. The capsule works and the dog dies almost immediately.
10:30 a.m.: Hitler meets with General Helmuth Weidling, who tells him that the end is near. Russians are attacking the nearby Reichstag. Weidling asks what to do when troops run out of ammunition. Hitler responds that he’ll never surrender Berlin, so Weidling asks for permission to allow his troops to break out of the city as long as their intention never to surrender remains clear.
2:00 p.m.: Hitler and the women of the bunker—Eva Braun, Traudl Junge, and other secretaries—sit down for lunch. Hitler promises them that he’ll give them vials of cyanide if they wish to use them. He apologizes for being unable to give them a better farewell present.
3:30 p.m.: Roused by the sound of a loud gunshot, Heinz Linge, who has served as Hitler’s valet for a decade, opens the door to the study. The smell of burnt almonds—a harbinger of cyanide—wafts through the door. Braun and Hitler sit side by side. They are both dead. Braun has apparently taken the cyanide, while Hitler has done the deed with his Walther pistol.
4:00 p.m.: Linge and the other residents of the bunker wrap the bodies in blankets and carry them upstairs to the garden. As shells fall, they douse the bodies in gas. Joseph Goebbels, minister of propaganda, will kill himself tomorrow. Meanwhile, he holds out a box of matches. The survivors fumble and finally light the corpses on fire. They head down to the bunker as they burn.
itting on a sofa next to each other in the living room of the Führerbunker, Hitler and his new bride Braun poisoned themselves with cyanide pills and then for good measure, the Nazi leader reportedly shot himself in the head.
While various historians dispute the scenario of Hitler actually ending his life with a gunshot, the Russian government claimed they had a portion of Hitler’s alleged skull complete with a bullet hole, The Guardian reports.
The fractured skull, which was reportedly taken from the bunker went on public display in Moscow in 2000. Paired with the skull was what Russian intelligence said is Hitler’s jawbone.
Almost a decade later, American researchers claimed by way of DNA testing that the cranial fragment actually belonged to a woman approximately 40 years old, The Guardian reports.
The orders to be “burnt immediately” were reportedly followed when SS officers wrapped the bodies of the Führer and Braun in blankets and then placed them on a small pyre where SS officer Otto Günsche set the remains ablaze.
Confederate Col. John S. Mosby was one of the world’s greatest guerrilla leaders, deploying cavalry against Union forces in lightning raids. In one impressive raid, he even managed to kidnap the Union general who commanded forces sent to stop him.
The engagement took place in March 1863, when Mosby was new to his command. He and his men were interrogating prisoners when a Union deserter laid out the location of the brigade’s picket lines and other defenses.
As it turned out, the Union 2nd Vermont Brigade had moved camps, but its general decided to stay at a local doctor’s house about three miles from his closest regiment. It was the 2nd Vermont that had so often sent its cavalry forces to try and catch Mosby — and Mosby saw an opportunity to end the harassment.
Mosby created a daring plan to slip through the nearby picket lines and kidnap both Brig. Gen. Edwin Stoughton, the commander of 2nd Brigade, as well as the colonel who commanded the brigade’s cavalry regiment.
Surprisingly, both the men of the 2nd Brigade and officers in nearby units had predicted that Stoughton would be captured if he didn’t move his headquarters, and Stoughton himself expressed concern about the thin manning of the picket lines.
The deserter stayed with Mosby’s Rangers for a year before he fell in combat.
Stoughton’s fall was, for obvious reasons, very quick. His capture was an embarrassment for the nation and his rank had not yet been confirmed by the Senate as a brigadier general. Lincoln withdrew his nomination. When Stoughton was traded back to Union lines two months later, he found that he had no military rank or position.
This is the third in a series about how branches of the military hate on each other. We’ll feature all branches of the U.S. military, written by veterans of that branch being brutally honest with themselves and their services.
The military is like a family that gets together and holds backyard wrestling tournaments every once in a while. They’re violent, they protect one another from outsiders, and are ridiculously mean to each other.
We’ve already shown how the other branches make fun of the Air Force and the Marine Corps. Here’s how the other branches hate on the Army (and how they should).
The easiest ways to make fun of the Army
Like the Marine Corps, the Army gets called ‘dumb’ a lot. Since they gave out a lot of waivers for the military entrance test in the early 2000s, this isn’t without merit. Also, soldiers try to defend themselves by pointing out all the tough Army jobs that require a surprising amount of intellect such as Special Forces or Satellite Communications Operator. Coming from most soldiers, this is kind of like a mailroom employee pointing out how smart the computer engineers at Google are.
Soldiers also get ridiculed for the admittedly useless uniform they wore for most of the Global War on Terror. All sorts of reasons were given for why it was secretly brilliant, but two other camouflage patterns outperformed the ACU in the Army’s own tests before it was fielded. Since the Marine Corps had just gotten their own sweet digital camouflage before the ACU was fielded, there were a lot of (quite possibly true) accusations of copy-catting.
Body fat is another area the Army takes a lot of flak. Even though their body fat standards are actually in line with the other services, photos like the one below and an Army motto of “Army Strong” just made the jokes too easy.
Speaking of which, quite a few Army slogans have been duds with service members. “Army of One” worked for recruiting the video game generation, but it supported a lone warrior ideal that is the opposite of how the Army fights. “Be All You Can Be,” was extremely successful and ran for twenty years, but like “Army Strong” it’s perfect for memes with fat soldiers.
Why to actually hate the Army
As the largest ground force in the U.S., the Army has a lot of control over what gear and weapons go to both soldiers and, in a few cases, the Marines. When they choose correctly, all troops from all the branches usually end up with better gear for patrols like these weapon sights that let shooters see enemies through smoke and dust.
This is stupid since soldiers screw this stuff up too. Regularly. And when they crash a truck in the mountains or desert, they can’t even use the excuse that their equipment was primarily designed for fighting amphibious battles.
Then there’s the fact that they operate not only on the ground, but also in the water, the air, and space. Army Airborne units provide contingency response forces for both the European/African theaters and the entire world. That’s before you count the Army Rangers who can break into an enemy country and topple its land forces in hours or days of fierce fighting with little rest.
When it’s time to fight more subtle conflicts, Green Berets can slip into foreign countries and begin training up friendly militias and armies, safeguarding American interests while limiting risk.
One of the signature wounds of the War on Terror has been the traumatic amputation of limbs.
Today, advanced prosthetics help wounded troops recover much of their independence and live their lives more fully than those who’ve lost limbs in the past.
And while the science and engineering of prosthetics has markedly advanced, the military is working on ways to make those prosthetics flesh and blood.
According to military doctors and scientists, Army medical researchers are trying to figure out how salamanders are able to re-grow their limbs, and apply that to wounded troops who have lost limbs.
“What we’re trying to do is develop a toolkit for our trauma and reconstructive surgeons out of various regenerative medicine products as they emerge to improve long-term outcomes in function and form of injured extremities,” Lt. Col. David Saunders said during a recent Military Health System research symposium.
The symposium also featured technologies closer to current science. A number of projects involving synthetic grafts have shown amazing potential, including one involving bone fillers that are treated to reduce the possibility of infection. Other projects have focused on recovering or preserving nerves, or regrowing muscle.
One researcher is even looking at a mouse to help improve the treatment of burn victims. In this case, the African spiny mouse has been known to lose much of its skin to escape a predator, yet it can quickly recover the skin with a minimum amount of scarring.
“Warfighters and civilians alike suffer large surface [cuts] and burns, and these result in medically and cosmetically problematic scars,” said Dr. Jason Brant of the University of Florida. “The ability to develop effective therapies will have an enormous impact not only on the health care system but on the individuals as well.”
One Army officer, though, is developing biocompatible sponges that can also reduce scarring by promoting better skin healing. Major Samuel Tahk of Fort Detrick noted that in addition to the sponges being a step along the path towards furthering regenerative medicine, the devices could also cut costs by making treatment of patients simpler.
With this host of new technologies, it’s no wonder Saunders is excited, not only noting that wounds to limbs have become far more survivable, but also about the many advances “emerging in the field of regenerative medicine to restore form and function to our wounded warfighters.”
The U.S. Army made a lot of training videos for World War II. Think of them as the PowerPoints of yesteryear. And when it was time to teach infantry to fight tanks, the Army hired an actor that looks suspiciously like the character Gaston and then filmed him drinking beer in a hunting lodge.
Seriously, even the lights hanging from the ceiling are similar. He’s one dentally-challenged sidekick away from being this guy…
Considering the fact that the new Beauty and the Beast revealed that Gaston was a veteran, it’s starting to look like Disney based their character on an old War Department training film.
But while Gaston is known for being an idiot, the staff sergeant in the training film knows his stuff. He’s a tanker who takes a little time out to teach infantryman how best to destroy armor.
He starts with how small arms can be used to force tankers to “button up,” diving into their hatches. Once the tanks are buttoned, they can be completely blinded by rounds hitting the view slits and periscopes:
Then, it’s time for grenadiers to try and shoot the crew through the armor with anti-tank rifle grenades:
But if the tanks make it past the grenadiers, the rest of the riflemen can throw Molotov Cocktails at the fleeing armor:
All of these were real weapons and tactics in the fight against German armor, and Gaston helped make it happen.
You can see the whole clip — and learn how to destroy Axis tanks — below:
Before the advent of stealth technology, the variable that mattered more than any other in terms of tactical aircraft survivability and lethality was speed. So in 1955 the U.S. Air Force issued a request for a high-altitude, long-range bomber that could go Mach 3 while carrying either a conventional or nuclear payload. After a few trips to the drawing board and some mods to the Air Force’s requirements, North American Aviation was awarded a developmental contract based on their submission.
Enter the B-70 Valkyrie, a revolutionary scream-machine that was nearly four times as fast as the legacy B-52s it was designed to replace. The Valkyrie was huge — 185 feet long and 30 feet tall with a maximum takeoff weight at a whopping 542,000 pounds. The bomber was powered by six General Electric J-93GE turbojet engines that could each deliver 30,000 pounds of thrust in full afterburner. But it’s massive size and power was belied by sleek lines that made it arguably the most aesthetically-pleasing aircraft ever built.
The B-70 had a crew of four — a pilot, co-pilot, bombardier, and defense systems operator each seated in comfortable cocoons with clamshell doors. In the event of an emergency each cocoon could rocket away from the aircraft individually.
The Valkyrie used “compression lift” — a phenomenon that occurs when a conical body (the fuselage) under the center of a wing pushes air to the sides, which increases pressure and therefore lift — to travel upwards of 7,500 nautical miles supersonic. At takeoff the wingtips were straight, but a high speeds they’d angle down as much as 65 degrees to create the necessary compression.
The bomber had a number of unorthodox moving parts including movable canards on the nose and a ramp in front of the windscreen that would raise at high speed to create a more aerodynamic airframe (and it also gave the pilot very poor visibility in that regime).
Mach 3 creates a lot of air friction, and friction creates heat, so the Valkyrie was built with honeycomb stainless steel and (sparingly, like 9 percent) titanium, which was expensive and in short supply back in those days.
North American was funded to built a single test aircraft — designated the XB-70 — at a cost of $750 million. The inaugural test flight was delayed by maintenance and other technical issues by three years. All of the Valkyrie’s revolutionary subsystems came with their own problems — honeycomb structures broke, hydraulic systems hemorrhaged fluid, and control surfaces didn’t fit right.
At the same time the tactical world began to change. Better ICBMs made Air Force planners wonder whether they needed long-range bombers at all. And the introduction of the Soviet-made SA-2 surface-to-air missile rendered even the speedy B-70 vulnerable. Based on these factors as well as the projected cost of the Valkyrie, the Eisenhower administration grew sour on the program. The Air Force reduced the program funding to a single asset that would be used for experimental research testing only.
But the presidential election of 1960 changed the landscape. President Kennedy believed the Valkyrie was important in the arms race. The program budget was upped by $265 million and the test plan was reworked to include warfare capabilities and not just research.
A year later the Kennedy administration understood the Eisenhower administration’s issues with the airplane, and the Valkyrie was once again relegated to a research program — however the requirement was reworded with the caveat that if the Air Force requirement necessitated the need for the B-70 the program would be quickly modified to also test for combat operational capabilities.
The Valkyrie’s maiden flight occurred on May 11, 1964 out of Edwards Air Force Base. The plan was to take the airplane supersonic on the first flight, but a landing gear problem kept them subsonic. The XB-70 also had a minor hydraulic fire but managed to land safely.
North American XB-70A Valkyrie in flight. (Official USAF photo)
The airplane finally went supersonic on it’s third test flight and eventually broke a number of speed records including 70 sustained minutes of supersonic flight, 50 of them at greater than Mach 2.
But the test team also discovered that extended supersonic flight punished the airframe beyond its existing design limits, and they had to modify parts of the intake system and fuselage as the test plan went forward.
The first XB-70 reached Mach 3 only once — on it’s 18th test flight on October 14, 1965 — and that speed did substantial damage to the leading edge of one of the wings. (Luckily nothing was sucked into the intakes.) After that the airplane was limited to no greater than Mach 2.5.
A second XB-70 was built after comprehensive wind tunnel testing that yielded a modified design of the intake system, the hydraulics, and the wings. The new design made the airplane more stable, especially at high speeds. On May 19, 1966 the second Valkyrie flew Mach 3 for 33 minutes.
But test problems persisted. One flight forced test pilot Joe Cotton to jump a circuit breaker with a paper clip to get the landing gear to come down. (Basically, a $750 million airplane was saved with a 39 cent paperclip.)
Then one of the contractors pushed the notion of a “family photo,” an idea that proved to be the true beginning of the end for the Valkyrie. General Electric wanted to use a private Learjet to shoot both film and still photos of the XB-70 flying in formation with a T-38, F-4, F-104, and an F-5 — all GE-powered jets.
The requisite approvals were obtained, and on June 8, 1966 the four Air Force test jets launched to rendezvous with the XB-70 at the end of a test event. The five-jet formation flew around the Edwards AFB airspace for about 40 minutes without incident while the Learjet got the desired footage and photos. But as the formation was breaking up to return to base, disaster struck.
The F-104 drifted left until its left wing hit the XB-70’s right wing. At that point the Starfighter flipped over and rolled inverted over the top of the Valkyrie, striking the vertical stabilizers and left wing of the bomber. The F-104 exploded, destroying the Valkyrie’s rudders and damaging its left wing. With the loss of both rudders and damage to the wings, the Valkyrie entered an uncontrollable spin and crashed into the ground north of Barstow, California. NASA Chief Test Pilot Joe Walker (who was flying the F-104) and Carl Cross (the XB-70’s co-pilot who was on his first Valkyrie flight) were killed. Al White (XB-70 pilot) ejected, sustaining serious injuries, including one arm crushed by the closing clamshell-like escape crew capsule moments prior to ejection.
The investigation concluded that Walker was unable to properly perceive his motion relative to the Valkyrie, leading to his aircraft drifting into contact with the XB-70’s wing. The accident investigation also pointed to the wake vortex off the XB-70’s right wingtip as the reason for the F-104’s sudden roll over and into the bomber. There was also a lot of CYA and finger-pointing among Air Force leadership regarding who had actually approved the “family photo,” and ultimately the punishment for improperly vetting the event fell to the lowest levels of the chain of command.
Although the remaining Valkyrie continued to fly test events, the mishap crushed any chance of the airplane being used as an operational asset. On February 4, 1969 the XB-70 flew to Wright-Patterson AFB to be made into an exhibit at the National Museum of the United States Air Force — the final flight for a powerful and visually stunning airplane the likes of which will never be seen again.
This week in 1974, the country saw both the Watergate scandal come to an end and Richard Nixon’s presidency come to a close. The scandal that began on June 17, 1972, took two long years to unfold. In the end, the sitting President was impeached and subsequently resigned the office of the presidency, making him the first and only President ever to do so.
It’s been 46 years, but to this day, Watergate remains one of the most infamous political scandals in American history, complete with intrigue, cover-ups, money trails, secret informants and proverbial smoking guns.
For today’s history lesson, here’s a quick refresher and a timeline of events in the Watergate Scandal leading up to the resignation of former President Richard M. Nixon.
June 17, 1972
Five men — James McCord, Frank Sturgis, Bernard Barker and two accomplices — were arrested while trying to bug the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters at the Watergate hotel. Among their possessions were rolls of film, bugging devices and thousands of dollars in cash.
Bob Woodward, a young Washington Post reporter, was sent to the arraignment of the Watergate burglars, and another young reporter, Carl Bernstein, starts to do some digging of his own.
June 20, 1972
Bob Woodward had his first contact with “Deep Throat,” his source and informant for the story. Deep Throat’s identity remained hidden for 30 years. In 2005, (at the age of 91) Mark Felt, the Associate Director of the FBI (as the scandal played out), admitted that he was, in fact, Deep Throat.
Alfred Baldwin, a former FBI agent involved with the scandal, agreed to cooperate with authorities in the investigation. Baldwin names E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy as two of Nixon’s campaign aides who were involved in the burglary.
Aug. 1, 1972
The Washington Post reported that a ,000 check (funds intended for Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign) was deposited in the bank account Bernard Barker — of one of the Watergate burglars.
In the same news conference, Nixon insists that there is no need for a special Watergate prosecutor.
Deep Throat told Bob Woodward that the money for the burglary was controlled by assistants to Former Attorney General John Mitchell, who incidentally was now serving as the chief of Nixon’s re-election campaign. In words that would become Rule #1 in any good investigation, Felt told Woodward to “follow the money.”
September 29, 1972
The Washington Post reports that John Mitchell did, in fact, have control over that secret fund, while he was serving as Attorney General. When they reached out to Mitchell for comment, instead of cooperating, an enraged Mitchell threatened the reporters and Katherine Graham (publisher of The Washington Post). Woodward and Bernstein did not back down; instead, they printed Mitchell’s threat in the Post.
Oct. 10, 1972
Woodward and Bernstein report that the FBI made the connection between Nixon’s aides and the Watergate break-in.
November 7, 1972
Richard Nixon is elected to a second term in office; winning by a landslide against George McGovern.
Jan. 8, 1973
The Watergate break-in trials begin. Seven men go on trial, five of whom plead guilty.
Jan. 30, 1973
G. Gordon Liddy and James McCord were convicted for their roles in the Watergate break-in.
March 23, 1973
James McCord wrote a letter to Judge Sirica, who presided over the Watergate trial. The letter points to a conspiracy and a cover-up in the White House. The letter is read in open court.
April 30, 1973
President Richard Nixon accepted responsibility for the scandal but maintained that he had no prior knowledge of it.
Archibald Cox was appointed as a special prosecutor to lead the investigation into both Nixon’s re-election campaign and Watergate.
July 23, 1973
President Nixon was known to have recorded his calls in the Oval Office. It was believed he was in possession of dozens of tapes that proved his involvement in the cover-up; those tapes became known as the “Nixon Tapes.” The Senate Watergate Committee issues subpoenas for The Nixon Tapes after the President refused to turn them over.
July 27 -30, 1974
The articles of impeachment were approved by The House Judiciary Committee and proceedings begin. The articles of impeachment included obstruction of justice (impeding the Watergate investigation), abuse of power and violating public trust, and contempt of Congress by failing to comply with congressional subpoenas.
August 5, 1974
Folding under intense pressure, President Nixon finally releases the transcript of his conversations with then chief-of-staff, H. R. Haldeman. These transcripts proved that the President ordered a cover-up of the burglary at the Watergate Hotel on June 23. 1972, six days after the burglary.
August 8, 1974
In a nationally televised speech, the 37th President of the United States formally resigned, making him the first and only President ever to do so.
August 9, 1974
Richard Nixon signed his letter of resignation, and Gerald Ford was sworn in as the 38th President of the United States.
All jobs in the military carry real risks, but some jobs are much riskier than others. Here are 10 of the most dangerous:
Pararescue jumpers are basically the world’s best ambulance service. They fly, climb, and march to battlefields, catastrophic weather areas and disaster zones to save wounded and isolated people during firefights or other emergencies.
2. Special operations
While this is lumping a few separate jobs together, troops such as Navy SEALs, Army green berets, Air Force combat controllers and others conduct particularly risky missions. They train allied forces, hunt enemy leaders, and go on direct action missions against the worst of America’s adversaries. They get additional training and better equipment than other units, but the challenging nature of their mission results in a lot of casualties.
3. Explosive ordnance disposal
The bomb squad for the military, explosive ordnance disposal technicians used to spend the bulk of their time clearing minefields or dealing with dud munitions that didn’t go off. Those missions were dangerous enough, but the rise of improvised explosive devices changed all that and increased the risk for these service members.
Not exactly shocking that infantry is one of the most dangerous jobs on the battlefield. These troops search out and destroy the enemy and respond to calls for help when other units stumble into danger. They are the primary force called on to take and hold territory from enemy forces.
The cavalry conducts reconnaissance and security missions and, if there is a shortage of infantry soldiers, is often called to take and hold territory against enemy formations. Their recon mission sometimes results in them fighting while vastly outnumbered.
6. Combat Engineers
Combat engineers do dangerous construction work with the added hazard of combat operations going on all around them. When the infantry is bogged down in enemy obstacles, it’s highly-trained engineers known as Sappers who go forward and clear the way. The engineers also conduct a lot of the route clearance missions to find and destroy enemy IEDs and mines.
Artillery soldiers send massive rounds against enemy forces. Because artillery destroys enemy formations and demoralizes the survivors, it’s a target for enemy airstrikes and artillery barrages. Also, the artillery may be called on to assume infantry and cavalry missions that they’ve received little training on.
Medics go forward with friendly forces to render aid under fire. While medics are protected under the Geneva Convention, this only helps when the enemy honors the conventions. Even then, artillery barrages and bombing runs can’t tell which troops are noncombatants.
9. Vehicle transportation
Truck driving is another job that became markedly more dangerous in the most recent wars. While driving vehicles in large supply convoys or moving forward with advancing troops was always risky, the rise of the IED threat multiplied the danger for these soldiers. This was complicated by how long it took the military to get up-armored vehicles to all units in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Aircraft provide a lot of capabilites on the battlefield, but that makes them, their crews, and their pilots targets of enemy fire.
11. Artillery observers
Like medics, these soldiers go forward with maneuver forces. They find enemy positions and call down artillery strikes to destroy them. The enemy knows to take them out as quickly as possible since they are usually carrying radios.
The failed coup in Turkey has thrown that country into a very high state of tension. What makes the stakes even higher is that according to the Federation of American Scientists, the United States military has about 50 “special stores” stored at Incirlik Air Base, bout 25% of the total stockpile in Europe. Those “special stores” are B61 gravity bombs.
The B61 is America’s primary tactical nuclear weapon that can be carried by just about all of the U.S. military’s attack aircraft, from Marine Corps AV-8B Harriers to the Air Force’s B-2 Spirit bombers. NATO aircraft like the Tornado flown by the Royal Air Force, Luftwaffe, and Italian Air Force can also carry it.
The bomb first entered service 50 years ago, and weighs about 700 pounds – slightly smaller than the M117 bomb often used by the B-52 Stratofortress for “grid square removal.” It features a “dial-a-yield” capability – setting the weapons to deliver as much as 340 kilotons (depending on the version), about 20 times the power of the bomb that destroyed Nagasaki. The United States produced over 1300 of these weapons. The B61 can be set with a variety of fuse options, but the most common delivery is a lob-toss method, using a parachute to delay its fall.
Since its introduction into service, the B61’s received upgrades to keep up with the times. The proposed B61 Mod 12 would give it a tail-guidance kit similar to that of the Joint Direct Attack Munition. The B61 Mod 12 has a yield of up to 50 kilotons, about one-seventh of earlier versions. Then again, when GPS guidance puts a nuke within 20 feet of its aiming point, 50 kilotons will be more than enough to deal with most targets. So far, plans are for about 500 B61s to be upgraded to the Mod 12 standard.
The B61 became the basis for a number of other warheads in American service. The B83,a strategic nuclear weapon with a yield of up to 1.2 megatons, is one derivative. The AGM-69 Short-Range Attack Missile’s W69 warhead was also based on the B61. So were the W80 warheads used on the BGM-109 Tomahawk, AGM-86 Air-Launched Cruise Missile, and the AGM-129 Advanced Cruise Missile. The W84 warhead used on the Ground-Launched Cruise Missile was also a variant of the B61 by way of the W80. The W85 used on the MGM-31C Pershing II was another derivative of the B61, and after the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty was signed, the W85s were recycled into B61 Mod 10 gravity bomb.
The B61 Mod 12 will have a design life of nearly 20 years – meaning this bomb will likely serve until 2035, around the time the B-52 will be ready to retire.