You need to see this GoPro video of Marines in the jungle - We Are The Mighty
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You need to see this GoPro video of Marines in the jungle

Everyone remembers the 1980s war movies with their action-packed jungle sequences and grunt lifestyle. “Full Metal Jacket,” “Hamburger Hill,” “Apocalypse Now,” and others were products of the most recent conflict at the time — the Vietnam War.


Related: Here’s the way-funnier version of what the Marine PFT is really like

Today, movies like “Black Hawk Down,” “American Sniper,” and others represent the wars of this generation. It seems like the only jungle fighting Americans get into nowadays is in video games. But just because U.S. troops aren’t involved in a jungle conflict right now doesn’t mean its troops don’t train for it.

Armando Nava, a Marine and fitness enthusiast stationed in Okinawa, Japan, captured his jungle warfare training on his GoPro camera. The video, “Military Real Life FIRST PERSON SHOOTER | Jungle Warfare Experience,” is exactly what you’d expect.

It captures the aura of most first-person shooters — the instructional phase.

You need to see this GoPro video of Marines in the jungle
NavaTheBeast, YouTube

Then it’s off to repelling off a cliff …

You need to see this GoPro video of Marines in the jungle
NavaTheBeast, YouTube

… crawling through mud …

You need to see this GoPro video of Marines in the jungle
NavaTheBeast, Youtube

… and grabbing some field chow.

You need to see this GoPro video of Marines in the jungle
NavaTheBeast, YouTube

After chow, it’s off to crossing the jungle on this bridge made out of rope …

You need to see this GoPro video of Marines in the jungle
NavaTheBeast, YouTube

… and back on this minimal version.

You need to see this GoPro video of Marines in the jungle
NavaTheBeast, YouTube

There’s nothing like passing out in a woobie after a long day of training.

You need to see this GoPro video of Marines in the jungle
NavaTheBeast, YouTube

But don’t be the first to fall asleep.

You need to see this GoPro video of Marines in the jungle
NavaTheBeast, YouTube

Nava’s video of Marines in the jungle captures the side of the Corps only some would understand. Surely if GoPros existed in the 1980s, the soundtrack would be “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N Roses, but the bangin’ electronic dance music paired with his footage perfectly represents modern times. We’re fans. Keep it up, Nava.

Watch:

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This is why it’s actually illegal to shoot at pilots who’ve bailed out

Okay, you’re relieving some stress by playing some video games and you just downed an enemy plane.


The pilot bails out.

You’ve got him in your sights — one less bad guy to deal with later, right?

Wrong.

According to the law of war, it is a crime to gun down a pilot who’s bailed out of his plane. While the video game world might give some allowances on this, in the real world it’s a major no-no.

Field Manual 27-10, “The Law Of Land Warfare,” says that a pilot who has bailed out of his plane is a non-combatant. That’s different from a paratrooper who’s notionally armed on his way down and is technically engaged in combat while under canopy.

 

You need to see this GoPro video of Marines in the jungle
Don’t do it Fritz! (Photo from Wikimedia Commons).

 

Here is the exact quote: “The law of war does not prohibit firing upon paratroops or other persons who are or appear to be bound upon hostile missions while such persons are descending by parachute. Persons other than those mentioned in the preceding sentence who are descending by parachute from disabled aircraft may not be fired upon.”

This was formalized in 1977, in Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions.

But even before all that legalese was codified in the Geneva Conventions, some militaries had already adopted a similar code of conduct. During World War II, the Nazis — whose crimes against humanity were legion — generally forbade its pilots from shooting downed enemy airmen.

One German commander, famously told his pilots, “You are fighter pilots first, last, always. If I ever hear of any of you shooting at someone in a parachute, I’ll shoot you myself.” Even Hermann Goering found potential orders from Hitler to carry out such acts as distasteful, approving of Adolf Galland’s characterization of such an act as “murder.”

On the American side, General Dwight D. Eisenhower issued orders that shooting at enemy aircrew who had bailed out as forbidden.

 

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These guys are fair game. (Photo by Elena Baladelli/US Army)

Pilots on the Japanese side had no such hesitation, partially stemming from a code that viewed surrender as dishonorable. Many Allied airmen in the Pacific found that bailing out from a crippled plane was sometimes like going from the frying pan into the fire.

One airman, though, was able to shoot a Japanese pilot trying to machine gun him with his M1911!

In short, if you’re even playing a video game and you’re tempted to shoot at the folks who bailed out, don’t do it.

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The age of aircraft carriers could be coming to an end

Since World War II, flat-topped aircraft carriers have been the backbone of US power projection and military might at sea, but a new generation of long-range missiles being developed by the US’s adversaries could push these mechanical marvels off the frontlines.


The US’s massive aircraft carriers have a problem. The F-18s aboard US aircraft carriers have a range of about 500 nautical miles, as noted by Ben Ho Wan Beng at the US Naval Institute.

The incoming F-35Cs are expected to have a marginally better range of about 550 nautical miles.

At the same time, China’s aptly named DF-21 “Carrier Killer” antiship ballistic missile is said to have a range of 810 nautical milesand is capable of sinking an entire1,100-foot carrier with 70 aircraft and 6,000 sailors on board.

You need to see this GoPro video of Marines in the jungle
The DF-21D rolling through China’s 2015 military parade. | William Ide via Wikimedia Commons

Such long-range antiship missiles create areas (also established in the Baltics by Russia) in which the US can’t position its most powerful assets, the aircraft carriers.

Aircraft carriers, which have been the star of the show since their emergence during World War II, may therefore end up taking a back seat to smaller vessels.

The US Navy has long been working toward achieving “distributed lethality,” or a strategy that entails arming even the smallest ship with missiles capable of knocking out enemy defenses from far away. Engaging enemies with smaller ships also helps to keep extraordinarily valuable targets like carriers out of harm’s way.

You need to see this GoPro video of Marines in the jungle
Photo: US Navy Lt. j.g. David Babka

In fact, the Navy plans to have at least 40 littoral combat ships with a “full suite of anti-ship and anti-submarine sensors and weapons … Plus such improvements as a medium-range ‘over the horizon’ missile to sink enemy ships,” as Breaking Defense notes.

So instead of putting a carrier in harm’s way, the Navy will most likely look to use longer-range platforms, like cruiser-destroyers that carry the Tomahawk land-attack cruise missile, which have a range of about 900 nautical miles.

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The guided-missile destroyer USS William P. Lawrence. | US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nathan Burke

In the end, a carrier strike group would no longer lead with the carrier.

Instead, destroyers firing Tomahawk missiles would initiate the attacks, softening up enemy anti-access/area-denial capabilities before the big carriers moved in closer to shore.

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The US wants this new defense for its tanks, but a weapon to defeat it is already out there

The US Army is considering various systems to better shield tanks and armored vehicles from RPGs, antitank missiles, and other enemy fire.


But the latest version of the RPG, a staple in the arsenals of Russia and other forces, may already be a step ahead of the active-protection systems the US may soon adopt.

The Pentagon has purchased active-protection systems to test out on Abrams tanks and Bradley and Stryker armored vehicles, and may even mount them on lighter vehicles, like the successor to the Humvee, according to a report from Scout Warrior.

“The Army is looking at a range of domestically produced and allied international solutions from companies participating in the Army’s Modular Active Protection Systems (MAPS) program,” an Army official told Scout Warrior.

The Army intends to outfit Abrams tanks with the Israeli-made Trophy APS and Bradley vehicles with the Iron Fist system, which is also Israeli-made. It plans to put the US-made Iron Curtain system on Stryker vehicles. (The Army leased several of the Trophy systems last spring, working with the Marine Corps to test them.)

“The one that is farthest along in terms of installing it is … Trophy on Abrams,” Lt. Gen. John Murray, the Army’s deputy chief of staff, said in a statement. “We’re getting some pretty … good results. It adds to the protection level of the tank.”

The US’s look to APS comes as other countries adopt the technology.

Israeli’s Merkava comes standard with the Trophy, as does Russia’s new T-14 Armata. Both Israel’s and Russia’s tanks, as well as the UK’s Challenger 2, are considered by US officials to be close to or at parity with the US’s mainstay, the Abrams tank. (Though some officials don’t consider the Armata fielded.)

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A tank crew in an M1A2 Abrams belonging to 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Micah VanDyke, 4th ID MCE Public Affairs/Released)

As militaries have adopted active-protection systems and other means to up-armor tanks, arms makers have looked for new antitank weaponry to counter them. Whenever US vehicles equipped with APS join similarly outfitted vehicles in the field, they will face a new challenge from an old foe, the RPG.

Russian arms manufacturers first introduced the RPG — short for Ruchnoy Protivotankovyy Granatomet, meaning “handheld antitank grenade launcher,” not “rocket-propelled grenade” — in 1949, updating it over the decades since.

The most recent variant, the RPG-30, unveiled in 2008, has a 105 mm tandem high explosive antitank round, and features a second, smaller-caliber projectile meant to bait the active-protection systems that have become common on armored vehicles in recent years.

A tandem HEAT round carries two explosive charges. One neutralizes a vehicle’s reactive armor (which uses explosions to counter incoming projectiles), and the other is designed to penetrate the armor of the vehicle itself.

“The novelty of the Russian rocket launcher is that two rockets are fired at the target at the same time. One is a so-called ‘agent provocateur’ 42 mm in caliber, followed a bit later by a primary 105-mm tandem warhead rocket,” Vladimir Porkhachyov, the director general of arms manufacturer NPO Bazalt, told Russian state news agency Tass of the RPG-30 in September 2015.

The RPG-30 reportedly cleared testing and went into active service with the Russian military sometime between 2012 and 2013. At that point, according to a 2015 report by Russian state-owned outlet Sputnik, the Pentagon put it on its list of “asymmetrical threats to the US armed forces.”

You need to see this GoPro video of Marines in the jungle
A U.S. Soldier of the 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, Joint Multinational Readiness Center fires a simulated Rocket Propelled Grenade Launcher while role-playing as opposing force during Exercise Allied Spirit V. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Caleb Foreman)

The effectiveness of the RPG-30 against active-protection systems, and whether those systems need be upgraded to adapt to the RPG-30 and similar munitions, remains to be seen. But the RPG — though limited by the size of its warhead — has long been potent on the battlefield, even against modern tanks.

The previous model, the RPG-29, was introduced in 1991 and is still in service with the Russian armed forces. It fires a 105 mm tandem HEAT round and can also fire a thermobaric fuel-air round against bunkers and buildings.

Russian RPG-29s were used by Hezbollah in the mid-2000s, deployed against Israeli tanks and personnel during the 2006 Lebanon War.

According to a Haaretz reportfrom the time, Hezbollah antitank teams using RPG-29s managed on some occasions to get through the armor of Israel’s advanced Merkava tanks.

In other cases, Hezbollah fighters used the RPG-29 to fire on buildings containing Israeli troops, penetrating the walls.

“The majority of Israel Defense Forces ground troops casualties, both infantry and armored, were the result of special antitank units of Hezbollah,” which used other antitank missiles as well, according to the Haaretz report, published in the final days of the conflict and citing intelligence sources.

You need to see this GoPro video of Marines in the jungle
A French paratrooper aims his antitank weapon at an enemy. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Juan F. Jimenez)

Those RPG-29s were reportedly supplied to Hezbollah by the Syrian military, which got them from Russia. Moscow disputed those origins, however, with some suggesting they were exported from former Communist bloc countries after the fall of the Soviet Union.

In August 2006, a RPG-29 was used successfully against a British Challenger 2 tank in southern Iraq.

During operations in Al Amarah, an RPG-29 rocket defeated the reactive armor installed on the Challenger, penetrating the driver’s cabin and blowing off half of one soldier’s foot and wounding several other troops.

UK military officials were accused of a cover-up in 2007, after it emerged that they hadn’t reported the August 2006 incident.

Two years later, during fighting in Baghdad’s Sadr City — a Shiite neighborhood in the Iraqi capital — a US M1 Abrams tank was damaged by an RPG-29. (The US has long avoided reactive armor systems but accepted them in recent years as a cheap, easy way to up-armor vulnerable parts of the Abrams, particularly against RPGs.)

During fighting in Iraq, RPG-29s penetrated the armor on the Abrams tanks twice and the Challenger once, according to The National Interest. Other Abrams tanks in Iraq were knocked out by antitank missiles, like the Russian-made AT-14 Kornet.

You need to see this GoPro video of Marines in the jungle
Britain’s Challenger 2 tank (Photo by U.K. Ministry of Defense)

The threat goes beyond tanks. Seven of eight US Army helicopters shot down in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2009 were brought down by RPGs.

RPGs remain in service around the world, filling the arsenals of both state and non-state actors, according to the Small Arms Survey. The weapon and parts for it have popped in arms bazaars in Libya in recent years.

The RPG-7, the RPG-29’s predecessor, would be or would likely be used by forces in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, as well as Central, South, and East Asia.

Regular and irregular forces in Latin America also have RPGs, and the weapons have made their way into the hands of criminal groups in the region. The Jalisco New Generation cartel reportedly used one to down a Mexican military helicopter in early 2015.

 

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Trump really wants to end North Korean nuclear threat

U.S. President Donald Trump has asked officials to give him options for removing the threat of a nuclear-armed North Korea, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said April 9.


As a U.S. Navy strike group steamed toward the Korean Peninsula to send a message to North Korea, McMaster told Fox News, “This is a rogue regime that is now a nuclear-capable regime…so the president has asked us to be prepared to give him a full range of options to remove that threat to the American people and our allies and partners in that region.”

You need to see this GoPro video of Marines in the jungle
The test-fire of Pukguksong-2. This photo was released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency on Feb. 13, 2017. (KCNA/Handout)

McMaster described the U.S. decision to send the Carl Vinson Strike Group to safeguard U.S. interests in the Western Pacific as “prudent.” He said that Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed at their summit in Florida early April that Pyongyang’s “provocative behavior” developing nuclear weapons was unacceptable.

“Presidents before and President Trump agreed this is unacceptable, that what must happen is the denuclearization of the peninsula,” McMaster said.

A South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman said April 10 the deployment of the Carl Vinson to the Western Pacific region was in response to the “serious situation on the Korean Peninsula.”

Moon Sang-gyun said it is understandable that the U.S. and South Korea are “fully preparing for possible provocations by North Korea, considering that possibilities of Pyongyang’s strategic provocations, including nuclear and missile tests, are increasing.”

North Korea has been trying to develop a long-range missile carrying a nuclear warhead that is capable of hitting the U.S. mainland, a distance of about 8,000 kilometers. It has staged five nuclear tests so far and could be preparing a sixth.

North Korea recently conducted a ballistic missile test in spite of U.N. Security Council resolutions banning such launches.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, without directly naming North Korea, told ABC News, “If you violate international agreements, if you fail to live up to commitments, if you become a threat to others, at some point a response is likely to be undertaken.”

The Carl Vinson Strike Group was making a port call in Singapore and was scheduled to sail for Australia when the U.S. Pacific Command ordered the ships to sail north instead.

You need to see this GoPro video of Marines in the jungle
An SH-60F Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 15 flies past the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson during an air power demonstration. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class James R. Evans)

“Third Fleet ships operate forward with a purpose: to safeguard U.S. interests in the Western Pacific,” Commander Dave Benham, Director of Media Operations for the U.S. Pacific Command Third Fleet, told Voice of America.

“The number one threat in the region continues to be North Korea, due to its reckless, irresponsible, and destabilizing program of missile tests and pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability,” Benham said.

The strike group includes its namesake aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, as well as three guided-missile destroyers.

Pyongyang’s reaction

Pyongyang has repeatedly defied international warnings about conducting missile launches and testing nuclear devices.

On April 9, a North Korean Foreign Ministry official was quoted on state-run media as vowing to step up the country’s defenses to protect itself from airstrikes like the U.S. carried out against Syria on April 6.

The unidentified official told the Korean Central New Agency the airstrikes were “absolutely unpardonable,” and proves Pyongyang is justified in having nuclear weapons.

You need to see this GoPro video of Marines in the jungle
North Korea continues to develop missiles that could potentially strike America. (Photo: The Heritage Foundation: 2016 Index of U.S. Military Strength)

While Trump has not set out a clear strategy for dealing with the isolated nation, he has criticized the administration of former President Barack Obama for its policy of “strategic patience,” in the face of North Korea’s ongoing efforts to develop long-range nuclear strike capability.

Trump has also called on China, North Korea’s strongest ally, to take stronger action to curb those nuclear ambitions.

Unilateral action?

Earlier in April, Trump suggested the U.S. might take action unilaterally if China wasn’t willing to do more.

“If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will,” Trump told The Financial Times on April 2. ” China will either decide to help us with North Korea or they won’t. If they do, that will be very good for China, and if they don’t, it won’t be good for anyone.”

Tillerson said that Xi, at his summit with Trump, signaled a willingness to do more to rein in North Korea.

“They have indicated that they will and I think we need to allow them time to take actions,” Tillerson said of China.

Voice of America Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb contributed to this report.

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Navy patrol plane has ‘safe’ close encounter with Russian fighter

A Russian fighter came within 20 feet of a United States Navy maritime patrol aircraft over the Black Sea. However, unlike past encounters, this close approach doesn’t have the Navy angry.


According to a report by FoxNews.com, the Russian plane was armed with six air-to-air missiles.

Despite that, the plane’s crew described the encounter as “safe and professional,” a marked contrast to incidents such as the buzzing of USS Porter in the Black Sea earlier this year.

Last year, another P-8 had a Russian plane come within ten feet of it.

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A P-8A Poseidon assigned to commander, Task Force 67 participates in a photo exercise during Exercise Dynamic Manta 2017. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ford Williams/Released)

The incident comes about a month before planned Black Sea exercises that the United States will be involved in. Russia has expressed concern over the deployment of American ships to the Black Sea in the past, claiming they are a threat to Russia.

“After approaching a plane at a safe distance the Russian pilot visually identified the flying object as a U.S. surveillance plane P-8A Poseidon,” the Russian military claimed in a statement.

American military officials noted that the Russian plane approached the P-8 “slowly” during the hour-long encounter.

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Dmitriy Pichugin. (Creative Commons)

“While this one was considered by the flight crew to be safe and professional, this sort of close encounter certainly has the possibility to become dangerous in a hurry,” an anonymous American defense official said.

Yesterday saw a Russian Su-24 Fencer come within 70 miles of the Carl Vinson carrier strike group, prompting the South Koreans to scramble two F-16 Fighting Falcons to intercept the plane.

The Fencer has been used in many of the buzzing incidents the Navy has claimed were “unsafe and unprofessional” in recent months.

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A pair of Russian Air Force Su-27 Flanker aircraft. (Dept. of Defense photo)

Russian aircraft have also approached Alaska a number of times in recent weeks, prompting the United States to scramble F-22 Raptor air dominance fighters on at least one occasion.

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The Coast Guard could have the solution for a bigger US Navy

With the push for a 350-ship Navy as a centerpiece of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, many wonder how the U.S. can expand its surface fleet quickly and without breaking the bank.


The Coast Guard may have an answer — or at least a starting point for the answer — with its Bertholf Class National Security Cutters. A Dec. 30, 2016, release from Huntington Ingalls noted that a ninth cutter of what was originally planned as an eight-ship class had been ordered.

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U.S. Coast Guard National Security Cutter Bertholf

However, at the SeaAirSpace 2017 Expo, Huntington Ingalls displayed a model of the FF4923, also known as the Patrol Frigate. Using the same basic hull and propulsion plant as the Bertholf-class cutters, the FF4923 adds a lot more teeth to the design.

According to the “16th Edition of Combat Fleets of the World,” a Bertholf Class cutter carries a Mk 110 57mm main gun, a single Phalanx Close-In Weapons System, and some .50-caliber machine guns. Not bad for a patrol ship — and roughly comparable to the armament suite on a littoral combat ship.

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A closer look at the biggest visible difference (aside from the paint job) of the FF4923 as opposed to the Bertholf-class national security cutter: The 76mm gun and 16-cell Mk 41 Vertical Launch System. (Photo by Huntington Ingalls)

The FF4923, though, offers a 76mm gun, a 16-cell Mk 41 Vertical Launch System, two triple Mk 32 torpedo tubes, a launcher for the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile, two Mk 141 quad mounts for the RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile, and a half-dozen machine guns. In this ship, the Mk 41 VLS would only use RIM-66 SM-2 missiles, RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles, and RUM-139 Vertical-Launch ASROCs.

The 76mm gun, incidentally, offers the option of using guided rounds like the OTO Melara’s Vulcano for surface targets and the DART round against aircraft and missiles.

You need to see this GoPro video of Marines in the jungle
The Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided-missile frigate USS Reuben James (FFG 57) at Pearl Harbor. The FF4923 patrol frigate displayed at SeaAirSpace 2017 could be a true replacement for these vessels. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Mark Logico)

This is not the only offering that Huntington Ingalls has made. According to an April 2012 report from DefenseMediaNetwork.com, in the past, HII offered the FF4921, which used a Mk 56 Vertical-Launch System for the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile that is best known for its use on Canada’s Halifax-class frigates, and the PF4501, a minimal-change version of the Bertholf.

Even if the United States Navy doesn’t order some of these Bertholfs with teeth, export orders could find American workers very busy – even after the larger-than-planned Bertholf Class order for the Coast Guard is fulfilled.

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This family fought for survival after the ship they were on was torpedoed in the Gulf of Mexico

In May of 1942, U-boat 506 sank the freighter “Heredia” approximately 40 miles off New Orleans. Most of the crew onboard were merchant seamen, but there were also a handful of civilians including the Downs family, consisting of the parents, Ray and Ina, along with their two children, eight-year-old Sonny, and eleven-year-old Lucille.  When the ship exploded, chaos ensued and Ina and Lucille were separated from Ray and Sonny who found refuge in a four-foot balsa wood life raft. Father and son were joined by the Heredia’s captain, Captain Edwin Colburn, and civilian George Conyea.  The following narrative, excerpted from Michael Tougias’ new book “So Close to Home,” chronicles their final hours in the life raft when all hope seemed lost.


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The Downs family after their rescue.

The baking rays of the sun pounded down on the four souls clinging to the square life raft, that was now partially submerged. If we don’t drown, thought Ray Downs, we’re going to die of dehydration.  They had been drifting in the Gulf of Mexico for over fourteen hours, and Ray worried his boy Sonny wouldn’t last another hour.

Sonny was lost in his own exhausted stupor. Then he felt something against his leg. He glanced down and could not believe what he saw: a banana, perhaps the same one he had lost earlier, was bobbing in the water.

“Dad, look!” he gasped, reaching out and snatching the green banana.

“I knew you’d find it. I think that banana is really going to help us. Why don’t you unpeel it and take a big bite and then pass it around for all of us to share?”

Sonny did as he was told. It was a struggle to swallow his piece of the banana with his mouth and throat so dry. Twenty seconds later, he felt nauseous and vomited the banana bite back into the sea.

“Well, that didn’t work so well,” Ray said. “The banana wasn’t ripe anyway.”

Sonny only nodded. He was slumped forward with his head hanging so low that it almost reached his knees.

A few minutes later, Sonny said, “Dad, can we go in now?” He said it as if they were on a fishing trip and it was up to his father when to call it quits.

Rather than try to explain the situation, his father answered, “Soon, son, soon.”

Sonny looked up at his father and just nodded.

It wasn’t long after this exchange that Ray noticed fellow survivor George Conyea staring at something directly behind where Ray was sitting. Ray turned his head and saw not one but four grey shark fins lazily cutting through the sea just five feet away from the raft. When he looked over at Conyea and the captain, he saw another couple of fins. By now, all four of the survivors could see the sharks. No one said a word.

One shark turned toward the raft and then glided directly under it. The group could see the outline of its body as it passed directly beneath them. It looked to be about five to six feet long.

Sonny quickly pulled his feet out of the water.

“Take it easy, Sonny, don’t thrash around,” said his dad. “They’ll move on.”

But they didn’t move on.

The four survivors now counted seven different sharks making slow half-loops around the raft before making a pass directly underneath it. This was by far the most terrifying experience of the ordeal for both Sonny and the three adults. The raft was too small for the men to try and get their legs on top of the balsa wood. Ray was right: their best defense was not to make a commotion.

The men did not know what kind of sharks they were, only that they were as big as themselves. The life raft probably acted like a magnet for sharks, attracting their interest simply because it was a floating object, and the sharks, with their keen sense of smell, could also have been drawn in by the scent of the blood from the wound on Ray’s leg. And any movement the group made, such as switching position, would have caused a vibration in the water, and that too would attract sharks. It’s also possible that smaller fish were holding position under the shade of the raft, and the sharks came in to investigate this potential prey, and then became inquisitive about the humans.

Whatever kind of sharks were circling the Heredia survivors, they were curious and gradually moved in closer to the life raft, making their lazy half-loops just a couple of feet off the side of the raft before they submerged and swam directly under it. One shark, when passing under the raft, rolled on its back, and an anxious Sonny could see its half-opened mouth. The boy almost let out a scream, but his dad, who had seen the same thing, reached over and put his hand on Sonny’s shoulder.

“Don’t worry, they are just checking us out. We are something new to them.”

Ray had no idea if what he was saying was true or not, but the last thing he needed was for his son to go into a panic. He also hoped his words calmed the captain and George Conyea, because they were as wide-eyed as Sonny, watching every move their new visitors made.

Ray felt despair like he had never known. Sundown was just three and a half hours away, and the thought of the sharks gliding beneath them at night was too terrible to contemplate. He felt absolutely helpless.

Minutes crawled by and the four survivors kept still, eyes glued on the fins lazily cutting through the water on all sides of the raft. The behavior of the sharks stayed the same; they came within a foot or two of the castaways but there was no direct contact with either the raft or the group’s legs or feet.

“How long will they stay?” asked Sonny, looking at his father.

“Don’t know, Sonny; but like I said, they are just curious.” Ray paused and continued his calming words: “If we don’t bother them, they won’t bother us.”

An hour went by and the group tried to ignore the sharks, but with little success. There was nothing else to look at, nothing else to take their mind off the seven fins circling them.

About two hours after the sharks first arrived, more fins appeared in the water not far from the raft. Sonny was terrified, thinking, not more sharks. . . .

Captain Colburn spoke up. “Hey, those are dolphins.”

Like the U-boat that had caused their ordeal, the sharks submerged and were not seen again.

Sonny experienced an incredible sense of relief and joy with the dolphins’ arrival and the sharks’ departure. He felt as if he had been holding his breath for the past two hours, afraid to move a muscle. There was no doubt in his mind that the dolphins had driven the sharks off to help him.

The dolphins’ presence not only relieved Sonny’s concern over the sharks, they also gave him something new to watch. Unlike the sharks, the dolphins swam quickly around the raft, their entire backs almost coming out of the water, and then briefly submerge and repeat the process. Up and down came their fins. But after just three or four minutes, they moved on and were gone from sight.

The group didn’t speak. Without the fear of sharks, their minds went back to the predicament of time running out for a rescue. It would be dark within the hour. Their thirst was unbearable and all felt extremely weak. Sonny was in the worst shape because of his small body. Now that the sun was low in the sky, he was shivering again. His father noticed and had him move back on his lap where he wrapped his big arms around the boy, trying to stop his shaking.

Sonny looked up at his father. “Shouldn’t a boat be here by now?” he asked.

Ray needed to keep his son’s mind occupied. So instead of discussing the lack of a rescue boat, he said “Let’s play a game. See those seagulls way up there? You choose one and I’ll choose one and we’ll count how long they go without flapping their wings. Whoever’s bird flies the longest without using its wings wins.”

Sonny perked up a bit. He didn’t really want to play the game because he was so chilled and his mouth so parched that he’d rather not talk. But he thought maybe this game was what his father needed to do.

“Okay, I’m picking the one over there,” Sonny said as he lethargically pointed at a shape off to the west.

“And I’ve got the one straight up,” answered Ray.

With heads tilted back, father and son watched the birds they had chosen. It was easy to look up because the sun was almost touching the ocean.

“Mine just flapped,” said Ray. “You win.”

Sonny gave a half-hearted nod.

“Well, let’s play another round,” said Ray.

Again they chose birds. Sonny chose one high in the sky and way off on the eastern horizon. This time the captain and George Conyea also looked up to see which birds the father and son chose. Anything to take their minds off their body’s demands for water.

Again Ray’s bird flapped its wings quickly. “You win again,” he said.

Sonny kept his eyes on his own bird. “Wow, Dad, mine is still going along without flapping.”

Ray looked closer at the bird in the distance.

“Captain, let me use your binoculars,” Ray said.

The captain removed the strap from around his neck and handed them to Ray, who hurriedly put the binoculars to his eyes. He adjusted the focus and stared intently at the bird far in the distance.

“That’s no seagull, it’s a plane!” he shouted.

“Yes, yes!” shouted the captain.

The survivors still could not hear its engines or tell what kind of plane it was, but there was no doubt it was a plane and that it was heading toward the raft.

“Quick, Sonny, take off the captain’s coat! I’ve got to get it on the board.”

Within seconds, Ray was waving the board with the white coat on it, and the others were waving their arms.

Ray couldn’t tell if the pilot had spotted the white coat, and the tension was unbearable. Please, please, he said to himself. His son’s very life was at stake. The boy could not make it through another cold night. He waved the white coat wildly.

As the plane drew closer, its metal skin briefly glittered when the sun’s rays hit it. Now they could hear the dull drone of the engine, and Sonny shouted “Help!”

“Keep waving the flag!” shouted the captain, his excitement growing. “It’s got to see us. It’s our last chance. I think it’s coming our way.”

Ray could make out the outline of the plane and, because of its unique construction, realized it was a Navy PBY. The single wing was elevated on a pylon above the fuselage rather than coming straight out from the sides. This allowed unobstructed visibility for its aviators to scan the ocean during either patrols for U-boats or search-and-rescue missions. Two engines with propellers were mounted on the wing, one on each side of the aircraft.

The plane came ever closer but it did not descend. Ray thought maybe it was going too fast to see them.

But Sonny’s heart soared. He was certain the plane was coming for them. And he was right. In one swift motion, the PBY started descending and adjusting its course slightly so it was just fifteen feet off the ocean and heading right toward the raft, banking hard so that Sonny could actually see the pilot, who was giving a thumbs-up. The boy let out a croak of joy along with the cheers of his father, the captain, and George Conyea.

The four raft passengers watched with awe as the plane circled back toward them. Its 104-foot wingspan and 63-foot length made it appear enormous so close to the water. Just as the plane was barreling over their location, they saw the pilot drop a package out the window, landing just ten feet from the raft. Using the board and their hands, all four survivors paddled furiously toward what they hoped was their salvation floating in the water.

The captain grabbed the package and ripped it open. Inside were two flares, a large container of water, and a note. The captain read the note out loud: “We will send shrimp boats to come and get you. If anyone is seriously hurt, wave me in and I’ll pick them up.”

Ray thought for a minute. He knew the plane was going to search for other survivors in the few minutes of daylight left and he didn’t want to slow it down. Someone, maybe Lucille or Ina, might be hurt and the plane could rescue them. He thought Sonny could make it the half hour or hour that he expected the shrimp boat to take to arrive.

The plane made a broad circle above the raft and then moved off.

“We made it, son,” said Ray; “we’ll be on the boat in no time.”

Then the captain passed the water container to Ray, saying, “Let’s all take a drink. We may want to let our bodies adjust to the water before we take a second drink.”

When Sonny took his gulp of water, he thought he had never tasted anything so good, so sweet. It was as if the water had magical powers, because he felt better immediately. He couldn’t wait for the container to come around again for his second drink of the life-giving fluid. But the captain said again that they shouldn’t drink too much all at once, and the other adults agreed.

A few minutes later the plane reappeared, then moved off. The survivors had no way of knowing that the pilot had dropped a note to shrimp boats a few miles off that said: “Watch my direction. Follow me. Pick up survivors in water.”

A half hour went by and the survivors bobbed on their little raft in the darkening shadows. They all had another drink of water, and the captain said that he thought a shrimp boat could reach them within the next half hour.

Sonny shivered in his father’s arms. The hydrating water had eased his thirst but did nothing for his growing hypothermia.

“That plane can land on water, right, Dad?”

“Yes.”

“Then why didn’t they just do that and pick us up?”

“They needed more time in the air to find others. But the boat will be here soon.”

“What if the boat can’t find us?”

“They will. And remember, we’ve got flares to use if we see a boat.”

Sonny had forgotten about the flares. But he also wondered how his dad would see a boat in the distance in the pitch black of night.

More time went by. The sun had set, but the survivors could still differentiate between the horizon and the ocean in the twilight. Sonny had forgotten all about the sharks, but Ray hadn’t. Ray still scanned the dark ocean around the raft for any sign of a fin. He wondered what to do if a shark appeared and thought that should one come, he could use the strong light from a flare to scare it off. But with only two flares. . . .

The prospect of another night in the water scared Ray to the core—not for himself but his concern over Sonny, who he could feel shivering in his arms. He second-guessed himself about not waving in the plane. Now there was nothing he could do to change that decision.

You need to see this GoPro video of Marines in the jungle

Editor’s note: Michael Tougias is a New York Times bestselling author and co-author of 25 books including “The Finest Hours,”  “A Storm Too Soon,” “Rescue of the Bounty,” “Overboard,” “Fatal Forecast,” “Ten Hours Until Dawn,” and “There’s a Porcupine in my Outhouse.”

His latest work is an inspiring historical narrative titled “So Close to Home” that tells the story of all four members of the Downs family as they struggle for survival.  Their story is contrasted against that of the daring U-boat commander, Erich Wurdemann, who pushed his crew to the limit of endurance as he laid waste to ships throughout the Gulf.  

To see more visit Michael Tougias’ website.

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Guess which branch of the military a new poll shows Americans like best

All five branches of the U.S. military have earned high marks from American adults, according to a Gallup poll.


More than three in four of Americans surveyed who know something about the branches have overall favorable views of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard, according to Gallup. More than half have a strongly favorable opinion.

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Photo from Wikimedia Commons

In Gallup’s annual Confidence in Institutions poll released May 26, at least 72 percent of participants expressed “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the military in the past eight years.

“This Memorial Day, Americans will once again have the opportunity to honor those who fought and died in service of their country,” Gallup’s Jim Norman said. “It comes at a time when the percentage of Americans who are military veterans continues to shrink, even as the nation moves through the 15th year of the Afghanistan War — the longest war in U.S. history.”

Broken down by branch, Air Force had the highest favorability rating of 81 percent — 57 percent “very favorable” and 24 percent “somewhat favorable” rating. Other branches were Navy and Marines each at 78 percent, Army at 77 percent, and Coast Guard at 76 percent.

Differences exist by political party, race, and age.

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The Air Force had the highest ratings according to the Gallup poll – US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Couillard

The biggest gap is among Republicans and Democrats with about a 30 percentage point difference. The largest is for the Navy with 74 percent favorability rating by Republicans and 39 percent among Democrats.

Republicans, non-Hispanic whites, and those aged 55 have more favorable views of each of the five branches than Democrats, non-whites, or those younger than 35.

Those surveys also were asked to list the most important branch. Air Force was No. 1 (27 percent) followed by the Army (21 percent), Navy and Marines (20 percent each), and 4 percent say the Coast Guard is the most important branch to national defense.

Gallup conducted telephone interviews April 24-May 2 with a random sample of 1,026 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The margin of error is 4 percentage points.

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The mystery of the French Foreign Legion totally exposed

In 1831, King Louis Philippe of France expanded his country’s military by establishing a service branch made up of mostly foreigners: the French Foreign Legion. Immediately after its creation, the Foreign Legion recruited fighters from Switzerland, Germany, and other countries to protect and expand the French colonial empire. Despite the Foreign Legion’s involvement in most of France’s wars since being established, the French don’t get too bummed about their losses. Let’s just say it’s complicated.

Music licensed by Jingle Punks
 

Read more: 

French Foreign Legion website

• 5 surprising facts you probably didn’t know about the French Foreign Legion

• Stereotypes aside, the French know how to finish a fight

• The 7 most bizarre foreign military uniforms

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The US Navy might pull these old combat ships out of mothballs

In order to meet the goal of a Navy numbering 355 ships, Naval Sea Systems Command will consider resurrecting a number of retired combat vessels from the dead and refitting them for active service.


Though nothing has been set in stone just yet, some of the “younger” ships parked at the various Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facilities around the country could get a new lease on life, thanks to dialed-down purchases of Littoral Combat Ships and the next-generation Zumwalt class destroyer.

Upon decommissioning, warships are often stripped for reusable parts, and sensitive equipment and gear are removed, along with the ship’s weapon systems. Frigates, destroyers and cruisers could lose their deck guns, their radars, and electronics suites — some of which will be used as spare parts for active ships, and the rest of which will be stored until the Navy determines that it has absolutely no use for these retired vessels anymore, heralding the start of the process of their dismantling.

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The inactive USS Kitty Hawk berthed near Bremerton, WA (Wikimedia Commons)

A number of ships will also be sold to allied nations for parts or for active use.

Currently, the Navy retains less than 50 ships within its inactive “ghost” fleet, among them Oliver Hazard-Perry frigates, Ticonderoga guided missile cruisers, Kitty Hawk-class aircraft carriers, and a variety of other types, including fleet replenishment ships and amphibious assault ships.

Among the ships to be evaluated for a potential return to service are a handful of Oliver Hazard-Perry class frigates and the USS Kitty Hawk, a conventionally-powered super carrier mothballed in Bremerton, Washington.

The Kitty Hawk, now over 57 years old, is apparently the only carrier in the Navy’s inactive fleet worthy of consideration for a return to duty. Having been retired in 2009, the Kitty Hawk was modernized enough to support and field all Navy carrier-borne aircraft currently active today.

However, the ship has since been heavily stripped down; many of her combat systems destroyed or sent around the Navy for use with other vessels. The extensive refurbishment this 63,000 ton behemoth would have to undergo would likely prove to be the limiting factor in bringing it back to duty.

This wouldn’t be the first time the Navy has explored the possibility of returning mothballed ships to active duty. In fact, in the 1980s as part of then-President Reagan’s 600 Ship initiative, the Navy recommissioned the legendary WWII-era Iowa class battleships, three of which had been inactive since the late ’50s and one of which had been retired in the late ’60s. All four vessels underwent a costly multi-million dollar overhaul and were ushered back into service.

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An aerial view of the Bremerton Ghost Fleet, circa 2012 (Wikimedia Commons)

Two of these battleships — the Wisconsin and the Missouri — would go on to see action during the Persian Gulf War before being quickly retired in 1990 along with their sister ships, the Iowa and the New Jersey.

Bringing back the Hazard-Perry frigates could be far more of a distinct possibility than any of the other ships in the inactive fleet. With the Navy reducing its planned buy of LCS vessels, originally designed to be the successor to the Hazard-Perry boats, and constant engineering issues plaguing the active LCS fleet, a gap has gradually emerged with many clamoring for a more effective frigate-type vessel… or a return to the ships which were previously to be replaced.

A number of Hazard-Perry ships have indeed been sold for scrap, or have been earmarked for a transfer to allied nations, though a few still remain in the inactive reserve, ready to be revamped and returned to service should the need arise.

Ultimately, it will be the bean counters who determine the final fate of the ships in the ghost fleet, and whether or not un-retiring them is a viable option. The cost of refitting and overhauling these vessels to be able to stay relevant against more modern threats, including boat swarms, could prove to be too much for the Navy to foot, especially for a short term investment.

Further options could include hastening the construction of current combat vessels on-order, while retaining more of the older ships in the fleet for an extended service term. However, given the Navy’s needs at the moment, it’s safe to say that NAVSEA will give returning some of these old veterans back to duty serious consideration.

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That time West Point kidnapped the Academy’s mascot and started its losing streak

Around Veterans’ Day, 2002, a crack team made its way towards a high-value target located in a farm near Gambrillis, Maryland.


They’d gone in mufti, and waited until the coast was clear before they carried out their plan. In a few minutes, the daring personnel carrying out this special operation had succeeded: “Bill the Goat” was now a prisoner of the United States Military Academy.

A New York Times report shortly afterwards quoted a Navy academy spokesman as saying, “I can confirm that one of our goats is missing. However, we would be surprised that a West Point cadet is involved, given that we have had an agreement for a number of years that mascots will not be stolen.”

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The Naval Academy soon got a photo showing an Army cadet next to Bill. The cadet was in uniform – albeit he had hidden his identity with a ski mask.

“It behooves us to keep a low profile until the game, but we’re trying to keep this lighthearted and not get in anyone’s face,” the anonymous cadet told the New York Times. “And we want to assure Navy that we’ve been treating our guest with utmost deference. In fact, he’s been putting on weight.”

Bill was later returned to the Navy. Plans to shave an “A” for Army on him were not implemented, and the cadets were given amnesty in exchange for coming forward and revealing where they had stashed Bill the Goat.

He was returned before the Army-Navy game. That year, Navy beat Army, 58-12. Since then, the Navy has not lost to Army in the annual game.

That said, since then, the Navy has twice been victimized by operations aimed at this high-value target. In 2007, the Washington Examiner reported that Army cadets again pulled off this masterpiece of pranks, posting the video on YouTube (it was called “Operation Good Shepherd”).

In 2012, unidentified individuals snatched Bill and left him tied to a pole near the Pentagon, according to the Navy Times.

Past kidnappings also included the first in 1953, which prompted an order from President Dwight D. Eisenhower for the animal’s return. In 1960, the Air Force Academy captured Bill and flew him to a Colorado farm. An A-26 Invader was used as the getaway plane. A 1995 operation by Army cadets resulted in the capture of all three Navy mascots.

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That time a Marine mechanic took a joyride in a stolen A4M Skyhawk

How much could a Marine Corps fighter cost? That was probably one of the questions running through 21-year-old Lance Cpl. Howard Foote’s mind as the enlisted flight mechanic climbed into an unarmed A4M Skyhawk in the middle of a July night.


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An A4M Skyhawk taking off in 1989. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

In case you were wondering, the cost is roughly $18 million. Rather, that was the cost back in 1984, when Foote stole one of them from Marine Corps Air Station El Toro. Today, that would be the equivalent of $41 million, adjusted for inflation.

Sentries tried to stop Foote as he taxied the aircraft for takeoff, but they just couldn’t get his attention.

“Foote joined the Marines to go the Corps’ Enlisted Commissioning Program, hoping to attend flight school,” Lt. Tim Hoyle, an El Toro public affairs officer, told the Los Angeles Times. “However, while flying at 42,500 feet in a glider he suffered an aerial embolism similar to the bends suffered by divers.”

The bends is the divers’ term for decompression sickness, where gasses in the body (like nitrogen in the compressed oxygen tanks used by divers) come out of the blood in bubbles because the body doesn’t have time to adjust to the pressure around it.

Flight school was not going to happen. Foote became a mechanic instead. Still, he had to realize his dream of going up at the helm of a fighter.

“I had worked my entire life for this flight,” Foote told the LA Times, four years later. “There was nothing else.”

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An LA Times Clipping of the incident. (Tactical Air Network)

The young Marine drove up to the plane in a vehicle used to take pilots to their aircraft. He even wore a flight suit to dress the part.

He flew the fighter for 50 miles, roughly a half hour, doing loops and barrel rolls over the Pacific Ocean. He then landed it after making five passes of the runway.

No one tracked the plane. They didn’t send any other fighters to intercept it. Foote brought it back all on his own.

That’s integrity.

Foote was sent to the stockade at Camp Pendleton. He served four and a half months of confinement and was served an other-than-honorable discharge.

He tried to fly for Israel and for Honduras after his discharge. Foote later qualified as a test pilot in more than 20 different military and civilian aircraft, and became a contractor to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He holds patents in aviation design and engineering technology.

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