There’s a reverence that surrounds Memorial Day in the military community. A day that’s typically associated with summer barbecues and mattress sales has a very different meaning to those of us who understand that “the fallen” we’re all asked to honor are our brothers and sisters in arms, husbands, wives, mommies, daddies, friends.
It’s a day that feels heavy, weighted with nostalgia and fraught, wanting to honor their sacrifice by living, but wanting the rest of the world to pause alongside us, to bear some of the burden of the grief and to mourn our collective, irreplaceable loss.
This year, we’re asking you not just to pause, but to act.
In 2018, USAA, in partnership with The American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, created the USAA Poppy Wall of Honor to ensure the sacrifice of our military men and women is always remembered, never forgotten. The wall contains more than 645,000 artificial poppies – one for each life lost in the line of duty since World War I. Red flowers fill one side while historic facts about U.S. conflicts cover the opposite.
The exhibit was installed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., over the Memorial Day weekend in 2018 and again in 2019. This year, USAA is making it available to more people by presenting the educational panels of the wall digitally. We encourage you to take the time to look at the wall, to teach your children and grandchildren about service and sacrifice. But more than that, we’re asking you to dedicate a poppy.
WATM had the opportunity to sit down with Wes Laird, Chief Marketing Officer at USAA, to talk about why this event matters, not just to the company, but to him.
“I tell people I grew up in a Ranger Battalion,” Laird said. “A long, long time ago in a land far, far away. Just eight and a half months after I enlisted, I was in combat on a tiny island called Grenada. I lost five people from my company, including a young man named Marlin Maynard, who was a PFC. When I got back, I was asked to eulogize PFC Maynard. I just turned 19 and I had to talk about the sacrifice he’d given. It was a very formative, impactful moment in my life.
Wes Laird in his Army days. Photo courtesy of Wes Laird.
“Every Memorial Day since, every 4th of July, every time I hear the National Anthem, I think about PFC Marlin Maynard. I think about how I went to college with my veteran benefits. I think about how I went on to have a family, to raise two boys — one who is in the Air Force — how I had a career and a whole life, and how he, and 645,000 other soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, Coast Guardsman, how they didn’t. But that’s why this – why Memorial Day, and what we’re doing at USAA – is so important. I want Marlin’s family to know that he is remembered and honored. That his sacrifice, all these years later, has never been forgotten.
PFC Marlin Maynard, Grenada Company A, 1st Battalion (Ranger)
75th Infantry, kia October 25, 1983. Photo via Sua Sponte Foundation.
“This Memorial Day and every Memorial Day, I dedicate a poppy to him and the four others we lost in Grenada that day. What we’re doing at USAA with the USAA Poppy Wall is giving others an opportunity not just to honor, but to act. This year especially, with the COVID crisis, we are providing people the ability to come together, to unify around something we can all agree on — the importance of remembering the ultimate sacrifices of so many men and women.
“We are proud to partner with the incredible team at the Tragedy Assistance Survivors Program (TAPS) to provide meaningful opportunities for Gold Star families. You see these kids come in who have lost a parent, and the fact that we’re able to assist in their journey is so humbling. These kids need to know that their moms and dads are remembered and honored by all of us. Yes, it’s the right thing to do, but it’s also part of our DNA. We were formed by the military for the military. We say we know what it means to serve and we do know what it means to serve. It’s part of who we are, why we exist — to honor the great sacrifices of so many thousands of men and women who have served before us, alongside us and will continue to serve after us. Memorial Day is the most important day of the year for us. We hope you’ll join us this year by honoring through action.”
For more information about the USAA Poppy Wall, click here.
The commanding general at the US Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune is facing criticism for not issuing a mandatory evacuation order as Hurricane Florence barrels directly towards his North Carolina base, but he’s issued a series of statements defending the move.
“Since 1941, this base and its Marines have been postured to deal with crises at home and abroad and Hurricane Florence is no exception,” Brig. Gen. Julian D. Alford said in a message posted to the base’s Facebook page on Sept. 11, 2018. “Marines take care of each other, and I will expend every available resource to make sure that happens.”
Alford also said Lejeune is not in a flood prone area and seems confident the base can keep the remaining personnel there safe. “I give you my personal assurance we are going to take care of everyone on this base,” he said.
Thousands of Marines have reportedly left the base as nonessential personnel were released from duty, but it’s not clear how many personnel remain there. Camp Lejeune’s public affairs office did not immediately respond to a request from Business Insider for updated figures on who will remain on base.
Due to the size and severity of the storm and the fact the base is at sea level near inland bodies of water, many on social media have mocked and criticized Alford’s decision not to order a mandatory evacuation.
Meanwhile, Marine recruits at Parris Island in South Carolina were ordered to evacuate on Sept. 11, 2018, but those orders were later rescinded based on changes in the trajectory of the storm. Personnel who’d already evacuated Parris Island were ordered to return to their permanent duty station no later than 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 12, 2018.
“As of now, all Marines assigned to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island will resume normal base operations on Thursday. This includes commanders and troops alike,” the base’s commanding general, Brig. Gen. James F. Glynn, said in a statement on the termination of the evacuation order.
Florence is a Category 4 hurricane and is expected to make landfall on Sept. 14, 2018, and could dump as much as 40 inches of rain on North Carolina. The storm is expected to bring catastrophic flooding across the Carolinas.
More than one million people in the region are under mandatory-evacuation orders, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
With the apparently successful test of an ICBM by North Korea, questions arise about what can be done about the regime of Kim Jong Un. This is understandable. After all, he did threaten Sony over the 2014 movie “The Interview.”
Also, the whole humanitarian crisis thing.
According to an op-ed in the Washington Times, there are some high-tech options that could shut down the North Korean threat. Investigative reporter Ronald Kessler stated that the Pentagon was looking at a cruise missile that could fry electronics. He reported that the Pentagon is also exploring micro-robots capable of delivering a lethal toxin to the North Korean dictator.
The cruise missile is known as the Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project, and it comes from Boeing’s Phantom Works — a lesser-known advanced aerospace projects division than the Lockheed Skunk Works. The missile uses microwaves to knock out radios and other electronic equipment. Boeing released a video about a 2012 test that you can see here.
Kessler also mentioned the use of insect-sized robots as potential weapons. While assassinations are currently prohibited by an executive order signed by President Gerald R. Ford, such a policy could be reversed by President Trump “with a stroke of the pen.” The advantage of using the micro-drones to bump off Kim Jong Un would be the fact that no American lives would be put at risk for the operation.
FoxNews.com reported that since the North Korean test, the United States tested the Terminal High-Altitude Air Defense system in Alaska. The system continued a perfect record on tests when a battery stationed in Alaska took out a missile launched from Hawaii. Two launchers from a battery of six have been deployed in South Korea.
U.S. media outlets say terrorist groups have been testing explosive devices that can be hidden in a laptop and that can evade some commonly used airport security screening methods.
CNN and CBS said on March 31 that U.S. intelligence officials had told them militants with al-Qaida and Islamic State have been developing innovative ways to plant explosives in electronic devices.
Military Police Company conduct security at entrance to Main Command Post, Rafha Airport, Northern Province, Saudi Arabia, Feb. 8, 1991. (XVIII Airborne Corps History Office photograph by SSG LaDona S. Kirkland)
The news organizations said the new intelligence suggested that the terror groups have obtained sophisticated airport security equipment to test how to conceal the explosives in order to board a plane.
They said the intelligence played a significant role in the Trump administration’s recent decision to prohibit travelers flying out of 10 airports in eight countries in the Middle East and Africa from carrying laptops and other electronic equipment onboard in the cabin area.
Earlier in March, the U.S. government banned laptops and other large electronic devices, including iPads and cameras, from the passenger cabin on flights to the United States from 10 airports in Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
Britain also took similar measures.
Passengers on those flights must place electronic devices larger than cellphones in their checked luggage.
In a statement to media outlets, the Department of Homeland Security said, “As a matter of policy, we do not publicly discuss specific intelligence information. However, evaluated intelligence indicates that terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation, to include smuggling explosive devices in electronics.”
CNN said the intelligence that contributed to the ban on electronic devices was specific, credible and reliable, according to three officials who used the same words to describe it. One official called the intelligence “hair-raising.”
In 2001, communities near Hill Air Force Base in Utah showed a high risk of developing brain cancer, while Fallon Naval Air Station was investigated for acute childhood leukemia incidents, and Kelly Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas, was revealed to have contributed to water and air pollution when clusters of cancer and leukemia popped up.
At the time, however, officials kept to a firm statement: Correlation does not equate causation.
In other words, it was clear that military bases were contaminating the water, air, and environment. It was clear that there were higher-than-expected cases of severe illness. It was not clear that one caused the other.
Air Force bases, in particular, show high cases of contamination for a few reasons: jet fuel is extremely toxic by itself, but it is also highly flammable, requiring toxic flame retardants. These leak into the ground and contaminate water supplies; jet fuel is also known to pollute the air, especially in areas like airports or flight lines, where there are high volumes of active engines.
So, while it has been clear since the first World War that the United States and its military has a global impact, and therefore an imperative to maintain military superiority so we may continue to defend not only our way of life, but the livelihoods of our friends and allies, the question remains: at what cost?
The Pentagon’s accelerated development of a “nuclear-armed” F-35 Joint Strike Fighter attack envelope is of critical importance to a new sweeping strategic nuclear weapons modernization and development strategy aimed at countering Russia, China, and North Korea — and addressing a much more serious global nuclear weapons threat environment.
Adding a nuclear-capable F-35 to the air portion of the nuclear triad — to supplement the existing B-2, B-52, and emerging B-21 — will bring a new dimension to US nuclear attack options and potentially place a new level of pressure upon potential adversaries.
Discussion of the F-35’s role in nuclear deterrence emerged recently during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the Pentagon’s recently published Nuclear Posture Review.
In written testimony, Defense Secretary James Mattis cited the F-35 as an indispensable element of US and NATO nuclear deterrence.
“Modernizing our dual-capable fighter-bombers with next-generation F-35 fighter aircraft will maintain the strength of NATO’s deterrence posture and maintain our ability to forward deploy nuclear weapons, should the security situation demand it,” his testimony states.
Mattis also cited the emergence of the F-35 as a “nuclear delivery system” in the context of expressing grave concern that US nuclear weapons modernization has not, in recent years, kept pace with a fast-changing global threat environment.
“Nuclear delivery system development over the last eight years shows numerous advances by Russia, China, and North Korea versus the near absence of such activity by the United States, with competitors and adversaries’ developing 34 new systems as compared to only one for the U.S. — the F-35 aircraft,” Mattis wrote.
Officials with the Office of the Secretary of Defense confirmed to Warrior Maven that Mattis here is indeed referring to an emerging “nuclear variant” of the F-35. Multiple news reports, such as Business Insider, cite senior officials saying a nuclear-armed F-35 is slated to emerge in the early 2020s, if not sooner. The F-35 is equipped to carry the B-61 nuclear bomb, according to a report in Air Force Magazine.
It makes sense that the F-35 would increasingly be called upon to function as a key element of US nuclear deterrence strategy; in recent months, F-35s deployed to the Pacific theater to participate in military exercises over the Korean Peninsula. The weapons, ISR technology, and multi-role functions of the F-35 potentially provide a wide range of attack options should that be necessary in the region.
Utilizing speed, maneuverability and lower-altitude flight when compared to how a bomber such as a B-2 would operate, a nuclear-capable F-35 presents new threats to a potential adversary. In a tactical sense, it seems that a high-speed F-35, fortified by long-range sensors and targeting technologies, might be well positioned to identify and destroy mobile weapons launchers or other vital, yet slightly smaller on-the-move targets. As part of this equation, an F-35 might also be able to respond much more quickly, with low-yield nuclear weapons in the event that new intelligence information locating a new target emerges.
The F-35 recently completed a series of weapons separation tests and is currently able to be armed with the AIM-9X, AIM-120, AIM-132, GBU-12, JDAM, JSOW, SDB-1 and the Paveway IV, Lockheed Martin data states. While it is not yet clear exactly how a nuclear weapon might integrate onto the platform, the F-35 is configured to carry more than 3500 pounds of ordnance in stealth mode and over 18-thousand pounds uncontested.
While senior Pentagon leaders are understandably hesitant to discuss particular contingencies or attack scenarios, the NPR is quite clear that a more pro-active nuclear weapons posture is aimed at strengthening “deterrence.”
After analyzing the global threat calculus, the NPR calls for rapid inclusion of two additional nuclear weapons options – to include a sea-launched nuclear-armed cruise missile.
“A nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile and the modification of a small number of existing submarine launched ballistic missile warheads to provide a low-yield option – will enhance deterrence by ensuring no adversary under any circumstances can perceive an advantage through limited nuclear escalation or other strategic attack,” Gen. Paul Selva, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters.
Senior Pentagon leaders stress that neither of these new nuclear weapons recommendations in the NPR require developing new nuclear warheads or will result in increasing the size of the nuclear stockpile. NPR DoD advocates further stress that the addition of these weapons does align with US non-proliferation commitments.
Mattis and other senior leaders seem aware that elements of the NPRs strategic approach may reflect a particular irony or paradox; in response to questions from lawmakers about whether adding new low-yield nuclear weapons could “lower the threshold” to nuclear war and therefore introduce new elements of danger, Mattis told Congress that increasing offensive nuclear-weapons attack capability will have the opposite effect, meaning the added weapons would improve deterrence and therefore enhance prospects for peace.
Specifically, Mattis explained that a new, low-yield Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile could likely provide pressure on Russia to a point where they might be more inclined to negotiate about adhering to the INF treaty they have violated.
“We have an ongoing Russian violation of the INF. We want our negotiators to have something to negotiate with because we want Russia back in compliance,” Mattis told lawmakers.
Alongside this strategic emphasis, Mattis also stressed that the NPR stipulates that nuclear weapons will only be used in the most extreme cases, adding that the “use of any nuclear weapon is a strategic game changer. Nuclear deterrence must be considered carefully.”
Citing the rapid technological progress of adversary air-defense systems, Mattis further elaborated that a sea-launched cruise missile option might be necessary to hold potential enemies at risk in the event that air-dropped low-yield weapons were challenged to operate above necessary targets.
“To drop a gravity bomb that is low-yield means a bomber would have to penetrate air defenses. Air defenses are very different than they were 20 years ago,” Mattis told Congress.
For instance, Russian-built S-400s and an emerging S-500 are potentially able to detect aircraft at much further ranges on a larger number of frequencies. Furthermore, faster computer processing and digital networking enable dispersed air defenses to hand off targets quickly across wide swaths of terrain.
This phenomenon also provides indispensable elements to the argument in favor of the Pentagon’s current development of a new nuclear-armed, air-launched cruise missile – the Long Range Stand-Off weapon (LRSO). In similar fashion, a nuclear cruise missile could hold enemy targets at risk in a high-tech threat environment where bombers were less able to operate.
Some critics of the LRSO maintain that the introduction of the LRSO brings a “destabilizing” effect to the possible use of nuclear weapons. In a manner quite consistent with the current NPR, senior Air Force weapons developers told Warrior Maven over the course of several interviews that, by strengthening deterrence, the addition of a new LRSO is expected to have the reverse – or “stabilizing” – effect by making it more difficult for a potential adversary to contemplate a first strike.
NPR proponents say a strengthened and more wide-reaching nuclear weapons approach is necessary, given the current threat environment which does, without question, seem to be raising the possibility of nuclear confrontation to a level not seen in years.
“We’re concerned about: some of the adjustments in potential adversaries’ thinking about nuclear weapons. With a greater reliance on nuclear weapons, a featuring of them, in some cases — for example, in the Russian nuclear doctrine, called “Escalating to De-escalate”. John Rood, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy told reporters when discussing the NPR.
From the Nuclear Posture Review
Russia’s belief that limited nuclear first use, potentially including low-yield weapons, can provide such an advantage is based, in part, on Moscow’s perception that its greater number and variety of non-strategic nuclear systems provide a coercive advantage in crises and at lower levels of conflict. Recent Russian statements on this evolving nuclear weapons doctrine appear to lower the threshold for Moscow’s first-use of nuclear weapons.
The text of the report specifically cites the importance of dual-capable aircraft (DCA) in Europe and states that the F-35 is fundamental to deterring Russia.
“We are committed to upgrading DCA with the nuclear-capable F-35 aircraft. We will work with NATO to best ensure—and improve where needed—the readiness, survivability, and operational effectiveness of DCA based in Europe,” the Nuclear Posture Review states.
Nuclear weapons modernization
The NPR also seeks to accelerate ongoing efforts to modernize the air, sea and ground portions of the nuclear triad. DoD is immersed in current efforts to fast-track development and prototypes of a new Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent ICBM, Air Force developers have told Warrior Maven.
Early prototyping, including expected prototype “shoot off” testing is slated for 2020, service developers have told Warrior Maven in recent interviews. Northrop Grumman and Boeing are both now under contract to build the new weapon. The Air Force plans to build at least 400 GBSDs, Air Force senior leaders have said.
Critical elements of the new ICBM, developed to replace the decades-old Minuteman IIIs, will feature a new engineering method along with advanced command control, circuitry and guidance systems, engineers have said.
Regarding the Air component, the Air Force recently completed a critical design review of its new B-21 Raider nuclear-capable stealth bomber. As is often the case with nuclear weapons, many of the details regarding the development of this platform are not available, but there is widespread discussion among US Air Force leaders that the bomber is expected to usher in a new era of stealth technology; much of the discussion focuses upon the bomber’s ability to operate above advanced enemy air defenses and “hold any target at risk anywhere in the world,” the Air Force Military Deputy for Acquisition Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch has told Warrior Maven in past interviews.
Early available renderings of the bomber show what appears to be an advanced, B-2-like design, yet possibly one with a lower heat signature and improved stealth properties. However, service leaders are quick to point out that, given advancements in Russian air defenses, stealth will surge forward as “one arrow in a quiver” of nuclear attack possibilities.
Concurrently, the Air Force is surging forward with a massive B-2 modernization overhaul, involving new digital nuclear weapons capability and the integration of a developing system called the Defensive Management System. This enables the B-2, which Air Force developers acknowledge may indeed be more vulnerable to advanced air defenses than in earlier years when it was first
built, to more quickly recognize locations of enemy air defenses at safer ranges as a means to avoid detection.
New nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine
Finally, shifting to a program widely regarded as among the most significant across the DoD enterprise, the Navy is already underway with early development of the new nuclear-armed Columbia-Class ballistic missile submarines. Several key current efforts with this, including early “tube and hull” forging of missile tubes, work on a US-UK common missile compartment – and little-discussed upgrades to the Trident II D5 nuclear missiles.
Undersea strategic deterrence, as described by Navy and Pentagon leaders, offers a critical means to ensure a second strike ability in the event of a catastrophic first-strike nuclear attack impacting or disabling other elements of the triad.
While it may seem obvious, nuclear deterrence hinges upon a recognizable, yet vital contradiction; weapons of seemingly limitless destructive power – are ultimately employed to “keep the peace” – and save lives. Along these lines, Senior Navy and Air Force nuclear weapons developers routinely make the point that – since the advent of nuclear weapons – the world has managed to avoid massive, large-scale major power force on force warfare.
While Pentagon leaders rarely, if ever, offer a window into current nuclear-strike capabilities, it is widely discussed that the current North Korean nuclear threat is leading US military planners to envision the full spectrum of nuclear weapons contingencies. Even further, the US did recently send B-2 bombers to the Asian theater – stationing them in Guam.
The word “Dependa” has often been a derogatory label put on military spouses. The word itself insinuates that they sit on the couch all day collecting the benefits while their service member works hard and risks their lives for this country’s freedoms. There’s an even uglier way of saying that word but that term doesn’t deserve a discussion.
Guess what? The married military member themselves are just as much a “Dependa” as their spouse is. You read that right – turns out in a marriage, it’s supposed to be that way.
The role of a soldier, guardsman, Marine, sailor, airman, or coastie is simple: mission first. The needs of the military will always come before their spouse, children, and really – anything important in their life. This is something that the military family is well aware of and accepts as a part of the military life.
Often the spouse will hear things like, “well, you knew what you signed up for.” Yes, the military spouse is well aware of the sacrifice that comes along with marrying their uniformed service member. But are you?
While the military member is off following orders and doing Uncle Sam’s bidding – the spouse is left with the full weight of managing the home, finances, and carrying the roles of being both parents to the children left behind, waiting. Both depend on each other to make it work – and that’s how it should be. Here are 5 reasons why servicemembers depend on their spouses:
When a married service member deploys, they typically leave behind not only a spouse but children as well. While the service member is off focusing on their mission, for many months on end, life at home doesn’t stop just because they are gone. It’s just taken care of by the spouse. Without the home front being handled by the spouse, the service member cannot remain mission-ready or deploy.
Even when they are home, they aren’t really home
Just because a service member isn’t currently deployed doesn’t mean they are completely present for the family. Between training exercises, TDY’s, and the needs of the service, they are never really guaranteed to be home and of help to the military spouse. Military spouses face a 24% unemployment rate due to a number of factors like frequent moves but also lack of childcare. Did you know 72% of military spouses cannot find reliable childcare for their children?
The PCS struggle is real
The military family will move every 2-3 years, that’s a given. While the military member is busy doing check-outs and ins – the spouse is typically handling all of the things that come along with moving.
Organizing for the PCS
Researching the new duty station area for best places to live, work (if they can even find employment), and good schools for the children
Gathering copies of all the medical records
Finding new providers for the family
Unpacking and starting a whole new life, again
Blanchella Casey, supervisory librarian, reads the book, “Big Smelly Bear” to preschool children at the library as part of Robins Air Force Base’ summer programming.
U.S. Air Force
Many of the support programs for the military are run off the backs of volunteers – the military spouses, to be exact. The Family Readiness Group (Army and Navy), Key Spouse (Air Force) program, or the Ombudsman (Coast Guard) programs are all dependent on the unpaid time of the military spouse. These programs all serve the same purpose – to serve the unit and support families.
More than 2.5 million United States service members have been deployed overseas since 9/11. Service to this country comes with a lot of personal sacrifice for the military member. Half of them are married, many with children. They leave a lot behind all in the name of freedom. It comes at a heavy price. That service to the country affects every aspect of their lives – including their mental health. Their spouse becomes their secret keeper, counselor, and advocate. 33% of military members and veterans depend on their spouse to be their caregiver.
The military spouse serves their family, community, and are the backbone of support for their military member to have the ability to focus on being mission ready. They are both a “Dependa” to each other and cannot be truly successful without the other’s support – and that’s okay.
The report details a situation in which Russia’s navy, behind only those of the US and China in size, may soon be capable of denying the US Navy access to the Black and Baltic seas.
Russia’s landgrab in Crimea as well as its enclave in Kaliningrad could lock US forces out of the Black or Baltic seas.
US Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges spoke to this in a Pentagon news briefing earlier this month, saying the nearly 25,000 Russian troops illegally stationed in Crimea had “the ability to really disrupt access into the Black Sea.”
Earlier this year, Russia’s defense ministry announced plans to revive and increase the size and scope of the country’s Black Sea submarine fleet.
The new submarines are designed to excel at warfare in shallower water while being arguably the quietest submarines in the world.
“The new submarine and ship classes will incorporate the latest advances in militarily significant areas such as: weapons; sensors; command, control and communication capabilities; signature reduction; electronic countermeasures; and automation and habitability,” the report states.
The report also describes Russia’s Kalibr missiles, which were put on display in October when Russian boats in the Caspian Sea fired missiles at ground targets in Syria.
The report also speculates that Russia’s fifth-generation aircraft, the PAK FA aka T-50, could be ready for deployment as soon as 2016.
The increased stealth capabilities of the plane, as well as its potential role aboard a new Russian aircraft carrier, could spell big problems for the US.
According to the report, Russia is “reorganizing its personnel structure to more accurately reflect the needs of modern warfare” and will do so by attempting to transition to an all-volunteer force.
The report acknowledges that Russia is under heavy financial strain because of sanctions and historically low oil prices, but the country is nonetheless determined to create a modern navy that is capable of undermining the military superiority of the West.
The ferocity of the Tet Offensive, which began 51 years ago, surprised most Americans, including service members manning the television station in Hue, Vietnam.
Detachment 5 of the American Forces Vietnam Network (AFVN) was located in a villa about a mile outside the main U.S. compound in Hue, in a neighborhood considered relatively safe from attack.
After the AFVN crew had signed off the air that night and settled into their billets, they heard an explosion down the street. Some of them were already asleep, but a few were still up watching fireworks through their window, since it was the first night of Tet, the Vietnamese lunar New Year.
“Then the real fireworks started,” said Harry Ettmueller, a specialist five and broadcast engineer at the time.
Mortars and rockets began to blast the city landscape and tracer rounds could be seen in the distance.
“It was quite a light show,” said former Spc. 4 John Bagwell, a broadcaster who jumped out of bed once he heard the noise.
Spc. 4 John Bagwell broadcasts for the 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam before he was transferred to AFVN Det. 5 in Hue during January 1968.
(U.S. Army photo)
One mortar round hit the maintenance shed next to their TV station, which was located behind the house where the AFVN team of eight slept.
The team then pulled out their weapons: World War II carbines along with a shotgun, three M14 rifles, and an M60 machine gun that jammed after two shots.
They took up positions in doorways and windows to stop possible entry. They even handed a carbine to a visiting NBC engineer, Courtney Niles, who happened to be an Army veteran.
Battle for Hue
Station commander, Marine 1st Lt. James DiBernardo, called the Military Assistance Command-Vietnam, or MAC-V office in Hue, and was told to keep his crew in place. A division-sized force of the North Vietnamese army, along with Viet Cong guerrillas, was attacking locations all across the city.
They had even captured part of the citadel that once housed Vietnam’s imperial family and later became the headquarters of a South Vietnamese division.
The NVA attack on Hue was one of the strongest and most successful of the Tet Offensive. Even though more than 100 towns and cities across the country were attacked during Tet, the five-week battle for Hue was the only one where communist forces held a significant portion of the city for more than a few days.
On the second day of Tet, the power-generating station in Hue was taken out and the telephone lines to the AFVN compound were cut. The crew became isolated.
AFVN had begun augmenting its radio broadcasting with television in Saigon in early 1967. Then TV went to Da Nang and up to Hue.
The U.S. State Department decided to help the Vietnamese set up a station for local nationals in what had been the consulate’s quarters in Hue. AFVN set up their equipment in a van just outside the same villa and began broadcasting to troops in May.
Following the Tet Offensive, not much remained of the house where members of AFVN Det. 5 held off the North Vietnamese in a 16-hour firefight.
Hundreds of TVs were brought up from Saigon and distributed to troops. Ettmueller said he was often flown by Air America to units near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) to distribute them.
In January 1968, with the 1st Cavalry Division and elements of the 101st Airborne Div. moving up to the northern I Corps area of operations, AFVN decided to add radio broadcasting to the TV station in Hue.
Broadcasters Bagwell and Spc. 5 Steven Stroub were sent from 1st Cavalry to help set up the radio operation. They arrived a day and a half before Tet erupted.
For the next five days, sporadic fire was directed at the AFVN billets, Ettmueller said. The staff members remained in defensive positions at doors and windows.
Bagwell said they were hopeful MACV would send a rescue mission for them, but by the fifth day, they were running out of food and water.
As night fell Feb. 4, the North Vietnamese launched a company-sized assault against the AFVN compound. Dozens of Vietnamese rushed the house and the Americans kept up a steady fire through the windows.
Each time the WWII carbines were fired, though, the magazines fell out and had to be reinserted, Ettmueller said. But he had an M14 and put it on full automatic.
During the assault, a young boy appeared in the window where Bagwell was on guard. The boy was trembling as he pointed his weapon at Bagwell, who hesitated.
“He shot and one bullet came close to my ear and I could hear it whiz by,” Bagwell said. “The next bullet he shot came close to the other ear. I realized if I didn’t kill him, he’d kill me.”
He pulled the trigger on his M14 and the boy fell backward.
North Vietnamese rushed the house repeatedly during the night. Sgt. 1st Class John Anderson, the station’s NCOIC, was awarded a Silver Star for manning the living room door with a shotgun to turn back assault after assault.
“He personally was responsible for inflicting deadly fire on the attacking enemy force,” reads the citation, adding that Anderson held his post despite being severely wounded by enemy grenades.
At one point, a Vietnamese soldier came running toward the door with a satchel of explosives strapped around him. Ettmueller said when one of their bullets hit the soldier’s satchel, it exploded, taking him out and a couple of others near him.
During the course of the night, at least three rocket-propelled grenades were fired at the house and a B40 rocket went right through the front window and hit the back wall. The wall collapsed on Ettmueller and Marine Sgt. Tom Young, forcing both men to crawl out from underneath the debris.
“They pretty much… leveled the house,” Bagwell said.
Breakout and capture
By morning, the house was on fire and the AFVN crew was beginning to run low on ammunition.
They decided their best chance was to try and make a run for the MACV compound. NBC engineer Niles said he knew the layout of the city the best, so he volunteered to be the first one out the door. Bagwell was close behind him.
The plan called for both men to cross the road into a ditch so they could lay down covering fire for the rest of the team. However, Niles was fatally shot. Bagwell applied a quick tourniquet, but said it did not help much.
Anderson and others in the house saw the direction of the gunfire. After a brief pause, the seven of them ran out the door and turned in the opposite direction. They made it through a hole in the fence line and sneaked around a North Vietnamese team manning a machine gun on the second floor of a building under construction.
They made it through another hole in a fence into a small rice paddy, when they came up to the U.S. Information Services library next to a concrete wall topped with barbed wire.
There, the North Vietnamese caught up to them.
Young stepped out to lay down covering fire and was killed by automatic gunfire from the machine-gun position.
Ettmueller described the chaotic situation: “There we were, trapped. More rounds coming in; more grenades being thrown. Chickens running all over the place, jumping up in the air and flying. More rounds coming in.”
Stroub was shot in the left arm and had an open fracture. He passed out, Ettmueller said. Anderson was shot with a bullet that penetrated his flak jacket and grazed his diaphragm. He began to hiccup.
As the AFVN team began to run out of ammo, the North Vietnamese closed in and captured them.
The prisoners were bound with wire and had their boots removed, and then ordered to march forward. Ettmueller helped Stroub up, but it was not long before he stumbled and fell. An NVA soldier opened fire from above with the machine gun and executed him.
Meanwhile, Bagwell was left alone outside the station after Niles was fatally shot. The North Vietnamese had taken off in pursuit of the rest of the AFVN team.
Bagwell, who had been in Hue only a few days, had no idea which way to go and he was out of ammunition.
He wandered the streets, not sure what to do. “I was quite amazed with all the fighting going around that I hadn’t been shot.”
Then he looked down at his boot and spotted a hole. With his adrenaline pumping, he had not felt anything, but “the next thing I knew I was in pain.”
Bagwell looked up and saw a Catholic church. He knocked on the door and pleaded with a priest to help him. About 100 Vietnamese civilians were already hiding in the church.
The priest insisted Bagwell change his clothes. They buried his uniform and M14 in the courtyard. Then the priest wrapped Bagwell’s face in bandages.
“His idea was to make me look as much like a Vietnamese as possible,” Bagwell said.
Not long afterward, North Vietnamese soldiers burst into the church looking for Americans.
“They came by and started pointing their rifles right at my face,” he said. “I just closed my eyes and thought, ‘there’s no way they’re not going to know I’m not Vietnamese.'”
Broadcast Engineer Staff Sgt. Donat Gouin sits behind the television van for Detachment 5 of the American Forces Vietnam Network in Hue.
(U.S. Army photo)
But the North Vietnamese walked on past him. Bagwell was then taken by the priest up into the bell tower of the church to hide.
Other American forces, however, had been told that NVA fighters were hiding in the church, Bagwell said. So, they began to shell the church and hit the bell tower.
Part of the tower collapsed. “I just crawled out of all the mess and crawled back downstairs,” Bagwell said.
The priest then rushed up to him and said, “You know, you’re kind of bad luck. We need to get you out of here.” He pointed across rice paddies to a light in the distance and said he thought that was an American unit.
As he crawled through the rice paddies, Bagwell said a U.S. helicopter began circling him and shining its search light down, thinking he was Vietnamese, since he had no uniform.
“Actually, during that time, I counted about 12 times that I should have been shot and killed,” Bagwell said. “Six by the North Vietnamese and six by the Americans.”
When the sun came up, Bagwell was near a U.S. signal unit. He took off his white shirt and put it on a stick, yelling “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot! I’m an American!”
They held a gun to him and asked if he was really an American.
“You can’t tell with this Okie accent?” Bagwell replied.
“Well, what were you doing out there?” a soldier asked.
“I was with the TV and radio station,” Bagwell said.
“No, I don’t think so; they’re all dead or prisoner,” the soldier insisted. “The only body we haven’t found is Bagwell.”
The North Vietnamese executed an estimated 3,000 South Vietnamese civilians in Hue during Tet for sympathizing with American forces. Bagwell said he learned that a Catholic priest was executed for hiding a U.S. soldier in a church, and he knew that soldier had to be him.
The prisoners of war from AFVN Det. 5 — Ettmueller, DiBernardo and Anderson, along with Marine Cpl. John Deering and Army broadcast engineer Staff Sgt. Donat Gouin — were forced to walk 400 miles barefoot through the jungle over the next 55 days.
For five years, they were tortured, interrogated and moved from one POW camp to another, until released from the infamous Hanoi Hilton in the 1973 prisoner exchange.
Bagwell and Ettmueller were inducted into the Army Public Affairs Hall of Fame in 2008. The Army Broadcast Journalist of the Year Award is named in Anderson’s honor.
Editor’s note: Bagwell and Ettmueller were interviewed this month by phone. Retired Master Sgt. Anderson was interviewed in 1983 when he was a civilian public affairs officer at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.
Nearly 4 million veterans and caregivers who were granted privileges to shop at commissaries and exchanges Jan. 1 can finally enjoy access to online features, a Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) news release said Friday.
However, the new patrons’ access to American Forces Travel (AFT), the official Morale, Welfare and Recreation travel site, is still spotty, according to the latest AFT Facebook post.
Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners of war, veterans with any service-connected disability, and caregivers registered with the VA’s Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers program became eligible to shop at commissaries, exchanges and MWR facilities beginning Jan. 1.
Since then, these new shoppers have experienced issues, including not being able to bring guests on base and trouble accessing MyCommissary and AFT online portals.
DeCA officials said they had to work with Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC), which is used to confirm shopping privileges, to let new patrons register their Commissary Rewards cards online to access coupons and to use, as available, the Click2Go curbside service.
“In the event a new shopper is still receiving an error message when trying to create an account, they should check with the [Department of Veterans Affairs] to ensure their information and privileges are correctly entered into the system,” DeCA system engineer Clayton Nobles said in a statement. “For those receiving a new Veterans Health Identification Card (VHIC), there may be a delay between when the veteran receives the card and when the system allows them access. This delay can take up to 30 days.”
Eligible veterans must have a VHIC to access bases for shopping or MWR use.
Customers who had access before Jan. 1, such as retired service members, Medal of Honor recipients and veterans with a service-related disability rating of 100%, are not affected.
Meanwhile, AFT is still updating its customer database of “millions of records.”
“We have sent examples to DMDC and they were able to see why some patrons are having issues,” AFT said on Facebook, the only place it is providing updates on the issue. “We will let you know when that resolve has been made and then ask you to try logging on again. Records are being updated every hour.”
But some veterans are getting tired of waiting.
“No luck today. Last week they said it would be fixed this week,” one Facebook user wrote. “The week before, it was going to be fixed last week. I sent a private message this afternoon and got an automated response to call the DMDC help desk at 1-800-727-3677. That number is for the Commissary. After 35 minutes, someone answered the phone and said they could not help me to get verified.”
It was 2006, and Army Staff Sgt. Brett Johnson of the 1st Ranger Battalion peered through night-vision goggles, slowly moving with his squad toward a house in Iraq with a high-value target inside. They knew there were armed militants nearby, but they had no idea they were about to run into one.
“Right as we were about to break the corner of the building, a guy — unbeknownst to us — was literally coming around the corner with an AK-47,” now-Sgt. Maj. Johnson of the 3rd Ranger Battalion recalled 13 years later.
But the insurgent didn’t make it, thanks to a sniper.
“As we broke the corner, he took the most perfect, well-aimed shot and put him down,” Johnson recalled. “Had he not been there, that guy … definitely would have shot one of us.”
“It was pretty incredible for him to take that shot. An error of one foot to the right could have hit one of us,” Johnson continued.
Things happen quickly in a firefight, and even the best technology can’t always keep up with the changing battlefield environment. That’s why the sniper’s reconnaissance skills and ability to relay intelligent information to the commander are crucial.
“We’ve got drones, we’ve got robots, we’ve got all kinds of stuff … but we still need that real-time battlefield information that keeps soldiers safe,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Turner, a sniper course instructor.
Becoming a sniper isn’t easy. The qualification course at the Army Sniper School in Fort Benning, Georgia, is seven weeks long, and any military branch or federal agency can send candidates. Instructors say there’s currently about a 60 percent attrition rate.
An Army Sniper School graduate prepares for a final challenge at Fort Benning, Ga., Feb. 28, 2019.
(Photo by EJ Hersom)
“As you go through it and see the maturity and discipline that it takes in order to take a shot and execute the orders … that takes an emotional toll on you, Turner said. “That’s why you need a more disciplined, intelligent soldier to process those emotions.”
It takes someone who knows how to manage resources and someone with serious patience — there’s a lot of observing and waiting for something to happen.
“They’re some of the most patient people I’ve ever met in my life,” Johnson said.
Take the stalking portion of the course. Using their homemade ghillie suits — camouflage uniforms they’ve personally retrofitted for durability and protection in all sorts of weather conditions — the sniper candidates get to “veg out” by incorporating vegetation into those suits to blend in with their surroundings. They then spend the next couple of hours moving at a snail’s pace through an area of woods. The goal — take a shot at the instructors who are looking for them in the brush, hoping to find them first.
An Army sniper school graduate walks past spotters after completing a stalk course where snipers try to evade detection from the course instructors at Fort Benning Fort Benning, Ga., Feb. 28, 2019.
(Photo by EJ Hersom)
But school instructors said a lot of candidates fail that part. When we visited, not a single sniper team got to take their shot.
“The hardest part about this school so far has been stalking for me, because I’m a big, gawky guy, so crawling through the woods is tough,” explained Staff Sgt. Johnnie Newton, who passed the course.
Then there are the technical aspects. They’re always refining their skills for every possible circumstance, like wind and distance.
“If I’m operating in a rural environment like Afghanistan, I have longer lines of sight and I’m at higher elevation. What that means is I’m able to extend the capability of my weapons system to a greater distance,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Rance, team leader of the Army sniper course. “In an urban environment, things are a lot quicker, a lot more dynamic, with shorter field of views.”
As anyone who’s ever deployed with a unit that required an interpreter knows, language barriers make a tough mission tougher. And considering how the U.S. military has treated the locals hired to do interpretation for U.S. ground forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s a wonder we’re able to recruit ‘terps’ at all.
“He says: ‘So… this is the guy we kill when you leave yeah’?” (U.S. Marine Corps photo)
So it makes sense the Pentagon would have a need for something that provides real-time translation to the boots on the ground. It should come to no surprise to anyone who regularly shops around on FedBizOpps.gov (the U.S. government’s business opportunities site with a name as legit as any Cash4Gold site), to see the Air Force Research Laboratory posting a need for what it calls “human language technologies.”
Meanwhile, the Navy continues to pursue its strange obsession with dolphin language . (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Brien Aho RELEASED)
The Air Force wants to conduct research and development in “automatic speech recognition, machine translation, natural language processing, information extraction, information retrieval, text-to-speech synthesis, and other speech and language processing technologies.” Maybe the military should just ask Skype how they made theirs.
The Air Force’s mind-blowing rationale is that “much of the information needed to effectively understand, anticipate, manage, and operate in the global environment is found in foreign language speech, text, videos, and images” and the military is especially interested in “lesser spoken languages that have high military interest but lack sufficient linguists and automated language processing capabilities.”
Basically, everything we want to know for via signals intelligence and human intelligence is another language and we don’t have enough people who will help us translate it and the Air Force will spend $10 million over a five-year span to develop the technology to do it without human help.
Considering the neighborhood Iran is in, the country has experienced relatively few terror attacks. In fact, much of Iran’s military strategy seems centered around keeping terrorism and external aggression outside of Iran itself, even if the attacks target Iranian forces.
All that is changing in recent days as Iran reels from another attack on its Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. This one killed more than a dozen of the highly-trained members of the powerful Iranian military force.
The remnants of an IRGC bus after an explosives-laden car rammed it on Feb. 13.
A car filled with explosives was rammed into a bus carrying dozens of IRGC personnel on Feb. 13, 2019, in Iran’s Sistan-and-Baluchestan Province, near the border with Pakistan. Some 27 members of the IRGC were killed, and 13 others were wounded in the attack. An al-Qaeda-linked Sunni Muslim group calling itself Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice) took responsibility for the attack.
Iran is an Islamic Republic made up of predominantly Shia Muslims. External Sunni groups say the Sunni minority inside Iran is discriminated against by the Shia majority government. Sistan-and-Baluchestan is filled with members of the ethnically Baluchi people, who practice the Sunni form of Islam. Jaish al-Adl has been committing acts of terror inside Iran since 2012 to fight the systematic oppression of Sunni Muslims.
Balochi people outside of Iran have protested Iran’s government of the province for decades.
In January 2019, Jaish al-Adl set off two bombs that wounded three police officers in Baluchi city of Zahedan. In October 2018, the group kidnapped 10 at a border post in Mirjaveh. A month prior to that, the group killed 24 at a military parade in Ahvaz. That’s just from one group. On Dec. 6, 2018, a suicide car bomb carried out by the Salafi terror group Ansar al-Furqan killed two and wounded 48 more in Chabahar, in the same province. In 2017, ISIS-linked terrorists carried out a series of bombings across the capital city of Tehran, killing 17.
Between 2010 and 2017, Iran had no terror attacks within its borders. Prior to that, it saw only a handful of scattered attacks and bombings. The latest attack was one of the deadliest experienced by the Islamic Republic in years.
Iran’s special forces are currently deployed in Syria.
Iran currently projects power from Afghanistan in the East to Lebanon in the West, including its presence in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan. The Islamic Republic supports the Asad Regime in Syria, as well as the anti-Israel terror groups Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon. In the past, anti-Shia terror groups have been funded and armed by Pakistan’s ISI intelligence service, whom Iran blames for the latest attack on Iranian soil.
The rhetoric between Iran and Pakistan has risen so high in the days following the attack, Iranian officials are meeting with Pakistan’s forever-rival India to discuss anti-terror cooperation between the two countries.