The Navy has the mission of securing American interests on the ocean, otherwise known as “most of the planet.” Here are 7 weapons that help them fight battles across the globe:
1. Tomahawk Land Attack Missile- one of the most dangerous weapons
At $569,000 apiece, Tomahawks are expensive cruise missiles that pack a huge punch. They fly at 550 mph and have a maximum range between 700 and 1350 nautical miles, depending on which version of the missile is used. They can carry either 166 bomblets, a 1,000-pound conventional warhead, or the W80 nuclear warhead with a 5-150 kt yield. The Block IV Tomahawk missiles can even be reprogrammed in flight to hit different targets.
2. MK 48 Heavyweight Torpedo
The MK 48 heavy torpedo has 650 pounds of high-explosives packed into its warhead. It can swim at 28 knots for more than 5 miles to reach its target, homing in on it with an advanced sonar system. The Mod 7 version has new sonar and guidance for better engaging targets in both deep and littoral waters while getting past enemy countermeasures.
3. Trident II Ballistic Missile
Deployed aboard Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, each Trident II can carry 14 independently-targeted nuclear warheads. The warheads can be the W76 with a yield of 100 kt or the W88 which yields a 475-kt explosion. The submarines were built to carry 24 each. The number of nuclear warheads on a Trident II was limited to eight and the number of missiles on each submarine was limited to 20 by nuclear treaties.
4. Standard Missile- There’s really nothing standard about this weapon.
The Standard Missile has a boring name but awesome capabilities. It’s a family of missiles that are primarily for shooting down planes and helicopters but can also attack ships, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles. One even took out a satellite.
Currently, different missiles are needed for different missions. The SM-2 can cripple an enemy ship while the SM-3 focuses on ballistic missiles. The youngest member of the family may change that. The SM-6 has successfully engaged cruise and ballistic missiles and may be tested against surface ships in the future.
5. MK 50 Advanced lightweight torpedo
While the MK 50 is much lighter than the MK 48 above, it still hits with an impressive 100-pound warhead and can swim at a blistering 40 knots. Designed to chase down and destroy double-hulled nuclear submarines, the MK 50 was created to get past torpedo countermeasures and kill the enemy, even in shallow water. It’s one hell of a weapon.
6. Laser Weapon System
Yes, this weapon is exactly what it sounds like. Already deployed aboard the USS Ponce, the Navy’s Laser Weapon System concentrates light into a fine point, heating a target until it burns or explodes. So far, the laser has only been used in tests but the crew of the USS Ponce is allowed to use the laser to defend the ship from actual threats. The laser can fire at different targets in rapid succession. Since shots cost less than a dollar each, double-tapping is probably fine.
Like the laser above, the railgun is currently serving on only one Navy ship. The USNS Millinocket carries the prototype weapon, essentially a cannon that uses magnets instead of chemical propellents to fire a round over 110 nautical miles. Because the round is moving so fast, it can bust bunkers and other hard targets without the need for explosives. Also, the railgun is expected to be able to engage missiles, speedboats, and aircraft at a fraction of the cost of other weapons.
As radical terrorist groups continue to wreak havoc around Afghanistan, a group of women are taking up arms against them.
The Afghan National Police have resorted to arming and training local women to fight the Taliban and Islamic State militants. In many cases, the women had lost their sons, husbands, and other loved ones to the ongoing violence.
“If we fear [ISIS] and the Taliban today, our future will be ruined tomorrow,” one unnamed woman told Al Jazeera.
Female members of the Afghan National Police train the local women in small arms and basic tactics, specifically in the northern reaches of Afghanistan.
Army photo by Sgt. Chloé Barnes.
“Every week, around 40 or 50 people join,” said Najiba, a female police officer.
Some Afghans do not approve of women fighting in the army or police, but the increasingly desperate situation has forced the security forces to take desperate measures. Afghan forces only control or influence approximately 60 percent of the country’s districts, according to a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
ISIS’s Afghan branch, known as Islamic State-Khorasan province, holds significantly less territory, but the group has been able to engage in several deadly terrorist attacks across the country.
Army photo by Sgt. Chloé Barnes.
“It’s been forced on us,” Gen. Rahmat of the Jowzjan province police told Al Jazeera in an interview. “It’s not a woman’s job to fight. But that’s the situation now. Women have joined the police and army, too.”
Fighting the Taliban and ISIS is a risky proposition for the women, but many see it as their duty. Sara Khala, one of the women training to fight the militants, lost her son to the Taliban, forcing her to care for his orphaned children.
“I have to take revenge for him,” she told Al-Jazeera. “I’ll cook dinner and give it to them. Then I’ll go wherever the Taliban and Daesh are. I’ll take my gun and fight them.”
Matt Baetz is a comedian, actor, writer, and host and a veteran of six Armed Forces Entertainment and USO tours across the world. He’s performed his standup routine for the troops in Afghanistan, Africa, Bahrain, Cuba, Greenland, Kosovo, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. He’s also done numerous television and radio appearances on shows like “The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson” and Playboy Radio. He was awarded Best of the Fest Performer from the NY Fringe Festival for his role in the 2014 play, “Kemble’s Riot.”
“Not just anyone can hack these tours,” Baetz said. “The schedule is demanding and the living conditions are sometimes not the best. But I explain to the talent right up front that, wherever we go, I don’t want them coming right out of the gate and asking whether there’s wifi or complaining about the coffee. We’re there for the people serving away from home.”
Here’s a look at four of the stops on the recent tour:
Today, Armed Forces Entertainment is the single point of contact for the Department of Defense for providing entertainment to troops overseas. More than 60 tours are sent out providing over 600 performances per year to 400,000 soldiers.
Here’s a brief history of the organization:
World War II-1951: The United Service Organizations (USO) Camp Shows program recruited and fielded live entertainment for military personnel. Camp Shows usually consisted of well-known celebrities who were recruited to entertain military personnel serving overseas. For many entertainers, this was their first time performing and traveling abroad. However, the Camp Shows scheduling, which was coordinated by each Service, was considered inconsistent.
1951-1970: Before the establishment of the Department of Defense (DoD) in 1951, the Military Services agreed to provide a single point of contact for the USO. The Secretary of the Army was designated as the administrative agent for the DoD’s relationship with the USO. Operational responsibility rested with the Adjutant General, then transferred to the Commander, U.S. Army Community and Family Support Center. In 1951, Service representatives were assigned to the new Armed Forces Professional Entertainment Office (AFPEO) to administer the fielding of USO Shows, provide shows where the USO Camp Shows were unable, and establish a regularly scheduled program. Units consisted of celebrities, professional artists, college groups sponsored by the American Theater Association (ATA) and the All American Collegiate Talent Showcase (ACTS). The USO and DoD sent thousands of entertainers, celebrity and non-celebrity, to entertain U.S. military personnel, DoD and Department of State civilians, and their family members worldwide. By the end of the Vietnam era, virtually all of the programmed shows were non-celebrity with DoD fielding over half of the units.
1982: USO canceled the non-celebrity program to concentrate on the recruitment and fielding of well-known celebrity entertainment. The DoD directed the Secretary of the Army to assume responsibility for the non-celebrity program. In June, all non-celebrity entertainment units sent abroad were participating in the Armed Forces Professional Entertainment Program overseas, nicknamed “DoD Overseas Shows”. In addition to the non-celebrity program, the AFPEO continued to uphold DoD’s portion of the celebrity show responsibilities with the USO. These shows were renamed “USO/DoD Celebrity Shows.”
1989: The Assistant Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness) assumed operational control of the AFPEO with the Secretary of the Army remaining the Executive Agent. This assumption was designed to elevate the AFPEO’s authority, facilitate coordination, and increase program visibility.
1997: The U.S. Air Force was assigned the Executive Agent for providing celebrity and non-celebrity programs to troops serving overseas, creating the jointly-manned office, Armed Forces Entertainment.
A former US Military Academy at West Point cadet who sought judicial relief from what she described as a sexually oppressive culture that included crude chants during campus marches was told Aug. 30 by an appeals court to seek help from Congress instead.
The 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2-1 ruling cited past court decisions, some decades old, in saying “civilian courts are ill-equipped” to second-guess military decisions regarding the discipline, supervision, and control of military members.
Circuit Judge Debra Ann Livingston wrote that the former cadet, identified only as Jane Doe, couldn’t pursue damages from two former superior officers she claimed ignored or condoned a sexually hostile culture before her alleged 2010 rape by another cadet. She requested and was granted an honorable discharge two years after entering West Point with 200 women in a class of 1,300 cadets. She later graduated from a civilian college.
In her 2013 lawsuit, the woman alleged that the men, a lieutenant general and a brigadier general, created a culture that marginalized female cadets, subjecting them to routine harassment and pressure to conform to male norms.
The 2nd Circuit said it did not “discount the seriousness” of the woman’s allegations nor their potential significance to West Point’s administration.
“As the Supreme Court has made clear, however, it is for Congress to determine whether affording a money damages remedy is appropriate for a claim of the sort that Doe asserts,” the court said.
Dissenting Circuit Judge Denny Chin said the lawsuit should proceed, noting West Point promotes itself as one of the nation’s top-ranked colleges.
“While West Point is indeed a military facility, it is quintessentially an educational institution,” Chin said. “When she was subjected to a pattern of discrimination, and when she was raped, she was not in military combat or acting as a soldier or performing military service. Rather, she was simply a student.”
The lawsuit sought unspecified damages, claiming West Point’s leaders failed to protect women or punish rapists after accepting women in 1976. It said West Point officials openly joked with male cadets about sexual exploits and faculty members routinely expressed sympathy with male cadets over a perceived lack of sexual opportunities, urging them to seize any chance.
Female cadets coped with a misogynistic culture that included cadets marching to sexually demeaning verses in view and earshot of faculty members and administrators, the lawsuit said.
It said West Point officials required mandatory annual sexually transmitted disease testing only for female cadets, saying diseases harmed women more than men and it was the responsibility of women to prevent their spread.
A spokeswoman for lawyers for the officers declined comment. West Point didn’t comment.
A spokeswoman for Yale Law School, representing the ex-cadet, said the woman was disappointed and didn’t know if she will appeal.
Sandra Park, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney, said the judges stretched the meaning of prior court rulings to cover service academy cadets.
“It raises a question whether students in effect are waiving their constitutional rights when they decide to join a military academy,” she said.
QUANTICO, Va., Dec. 11, 2014 – The Marine Combat Instructor of Water Survival course is a grueling training evolution that requires Marines to swim a total of 59 miles over three weeks.
Just six of nine course students were able to complete the challenge and graduate Nov. 25. One of those six course students had the deck stacked against him from the beginning, but he overcame adversity and graduated with his classmates.
Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Adam Jacks, company gunnery sergeant for Headquarters and Service Company at The Basic School here, is a motivated, extremely fit, Marine who said he quickly volunteered to attend the course when approached by the chief instructor trainer, Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Marshall. The fact that Jacks’s right leg was amputated at the mid-thigh in 2011 did not faze either Marine.
Injured in Afghanistan
Jacks, a native of Newark, Ohio, was serving in Afghanistan with 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, when he stepped on a pressure plate April 3, 2011, and was hit by an improvised explosive device blast. Among other injuries, Jacks suffered a traumatic brain injury and lost two-thirds of his right leg.
Though he easily could have medically retired, Jacks said, he “fought pretty hard” to stay on active duty, believing he had much more to contribute to the Marine Corps.
“Why I wanted to stay in is pretty simple: I wasn’t ready to hang up the uniform and turn the page into a new chapter,” he said. “I felt that I had a lot of fight left in me, and that I could help shape the Marine Corps into this new-age style of fighting, even with half of a leg, and to show Marines of all ranks and ages that it still can be done.”
Jacks asked to be placed in an expanded permanent limited duty status, a request that only the commandant of the Marine Corps can grant. Jacks said he met the commandant — Gen. James F. Amos at the time — and that Amos said to him, “If you want to stay in, I won’t push you out.” After about nine months of evaluations and paperwork, Jacks was granted permission to continue serving on active duty.
Specific Prosthetics for Specific Activities
Jacks said he has about 20 different prosthetic legs, each with a unique purpose. He has one for everyday activities, one for patrolling and one for running, among others.
“If I don’t have one that works well for the situation, that will set me up for failure,” he explained. He also has one prosthetic decorated with a blood stripe and some Marine graphics that he said he doesn’t like to wear much, because he doesn’t want to damage it.
What he lacked before starting the course, however, was a leg that would help him swim. The asymmetry in his body caused him to roll in the water when swimming, Jacks said.
“The first week [of the MCIWS course] was pretty hellacious,” he said, “because I had to relearn how to swim properly and use my upper body.”
He recounted having to fight feelings of vertigo from the lack of balance. Marshall said he and Jacks worked together to improvise a buoyant prosthetic that would enable him to stay at a level position in the water. Even with the buoyant leg, Jacks had to put in dozens of extra training hours to become more proficient, frequently staying at the pool until 6:30 or 7 p.m., up to two hours after the other students had left for the day.
“We were not going to lower the standard,” Marshall said. “We were going to work with him to help him reach it.” And the standard was high. Marines had to complete conditioning swims up to 1,900 meters in length, including three that were timed. They also had to swim 25 meters underwater, complete four American Red Cross rescues with the aid of lifesaving equipment and four without, and pass all academic classroom evaluations.
“There were naysayers” who told him he wouldn’t be able to complete the course missing a limb, Jacks said, but he kept a positive outlook.
“You press on with it,” he said. “You use the adversities as fuel to get you through.”
Jacks and his fellow graduates are now certified as MCIWS instructors and American Red Cross lifeguards.
The military has very talented photographers in its ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. This is the best of what they shot this week:
An MV-22 Osprey takes off from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6).
MARINETTE, Wis., (July 18, 2015) The littoral combat ship Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) Little Rock (LCS 9) is launched into the Menominee River in Marinette, Wisc. after a christening ceremony at the Marinette Marine Corporation shipyard.
Lance Cpl. David Sellers, a refrigeration mechanic with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, embraces his wife with a kiss during the Command Element’s homecoming at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
I SAW You
A Marine with Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines provides cover for fellow Marines moving between buildings during a military operations in urban terrain training event aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C.
SOUTHWEST, Asia – U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Zachary Claus and Lance Cpl. Luis Alvarez, avionics technicians with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron – 165 (VMM – 165), Special Purpose Marine Air – Ground Task Force – Crisis Response – Central Command, take multimeter readings from the engine of an MV–22 Osprey.
Marines assigned to 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, and an Army instructor assigned to U.S. Army Alaska‘s Northern Warfare Training Center, conduct military alpine operations, at Black Rapids Training Site and Gulkana Glacier.
A soldier, assigned to the Georgia National Guard, fires a Mark 19 40-mm grenade machine gun from a Humvee during mounted weapons qualification, part of the unit’s annual training, at Fort Stewart, Ga., July 21, 2015.
The Thunderbirds Delta Formation flies over Niagara Falls, N.Y., July 20, 2015.
Five members of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds fly in formation behind a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to McConnell Air Force Base, Kan, July 23, 2015. The Thunderbirds are the Air Force’s premier air demonstration team and perform at different events across the country every year.
Line handlers from the Coast Guard Cutter Spencer moor the Coast Guard Barque Eagle in Boston, Thursday, July 23, 2015. The Eagle was operated by the pre-World War II German navy and taken as a war reparation by the U.S., is now a training ship where cadets and officer candidates learn leadership and practical seamanship skills.
The Coast Guard Barque Eagle is in Boston Harbor, Thursday, July 23, 2015. The Eagle, operated by the pre-World War II German navy and taken as a war reparation by the U.S., is now a training ship where cadets and officer candidates learn leadership and practical seamanship skills.
In 1933, a certain group of wealthy businessmen were very upset at the idea of Franklin D. Roosevelt being elected President. These titans of American industry thought the U.S. would be better off with a Fascist-style government akin to Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy.
But America thought Hoover sucked.
So these early one-percenters teamed up to allegedly overthrow the government and FDR’s impending New Deal reforms. And while newspapers at the time called it a “gigantic hoax,” a House of Representatives Committee found the allegations “credible,” according to Today I Found Out.
The conspirators included the leaders from Maxwell House coffee, General Motors, Standard Oil, Goodyear, DuPont, Chase Bank, and famously, Prescott Bush, forerunner of America’s own Bushes 41 and 43. They also included the President of Heinz… And we make fun of Canada for using mayo instead of Ketchup.
But Americans don’t change governments through coups d’état. And because of then-retired Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler, America never has. A two-time Medal of Honor recipient, Butler was also a patriot and a fan of FDR. Butler supported the rights of veterans from the First World War to receive their promised benefits early, given the state of the economy at the time. Those veterans marched on Washington in a demonstration as a group now known as the Bonus Army.
In 1932, Butler was a widely respected military figure, along the lines of how Colin Powell is thought of today. When Hoover ordered Gen. Douglas MacArthur to destroy the makeshift camps of the Bonus Army, Butler threw his support to Roosevelt in the election of that year.
As the story goes, the businessmen planned to raise a coup army of 500,000 men through various American Legion posts, and then present Roosevelt with an ultimatum which would end with Butler holding absolute power with Roosevelt as a figurehead.
The businessmen failed to anticipate Butler’s reaction to the plot. If they had even tried to anticipate this, they would have noticed Butler actually was a vocal supporter of FDR. Butler let Congress in on the business plot in 1934 and the conspirators avoided being charged for their disloyalty to the United States.
Congress appointed the McCormack-Dickstein Committee to investigate. They found the plot actually did exist, but never made it past the planning stage. The conspirators were still not brought up on charges, even though asking a Marine general to lead the coup seems as if it’s well beyond the planning stage.
Get a group of people off the street, throw them in some cammies, make them do a ton of pushups, put TV cameras in front of them and see if they have what it takes to become Delta Team 6 Air Commandos.
Does anyone ever win those?
But the HISTORY network is trying it again, and this time they may just have gotten it right.
With a roster of no-joke pipe hitters serving as instructors, it’s as if HISTORY took BUD/S, Ranger School, Special Forces Qualification and SERE school, baked them in a cake and fed it to 30 wannabes with extreme prejudice.
That, combined with the fact that the show dubbed “The Selection: Special Operations Experiment” is backed by Peter Berg — the dude who directed “Lone Survivor” — and how can you go wrong?
“Throughout the history of our nation, Special Operations training tactics has played an integral part in our military endeavors and this series gives viewers a rare glimpse into what it takes to be selected among the elite,” said Paul Cabana, Executive Vice President and Head of Programming for HISTORY. “‘The Selection’ will offer civilians the unique opportunity to take part in an immersive, authentic course instructed by different branches leading together, while giving viewers insight into the origins of these challenges.”
With the instructors challenging them both mentally and physically, including tear gas, interrogation simulation, and psychological warfare among other tests, the participants are driven to the point of breaking and are able to remove themselves from the program at any stage. This is not a competition series – no cash rewards – only a test against oneself to see if the mind has the will and strength to push the body to complete the challenges.
“The Selection” will run for eight episodes and premieres December 8. Check out the trailer below and see full episodes on the HISTORY website.
The Army has announced new body armor, helmets, combat shirts, and pelvic protectors that weigh less, allow soldiers to move more easily, and provide better protection from blasts and bullets than the current kit.
The Army’s current body armor, the Improved Outer Tactical Vest, was originally fielded in 2007 and many vests are reaching the end of their service life. Rather than replace them with identical units, the soldiers who oversee procurement for the Army at the Program Executive Office Soldier wanted new vest designs that would provide better protection.
What they came up with is the Torso and Extremities Protection system, which is expected to reach soldiers in 2019. The TEP armor features greater protection for soldiers’ torsos while reducing weight from an average of 31 pounds to only 23. The armor can be further lightened by removing certain elements when greater mobility is essential, like for troops scouting enemy positions or sneaking through dangerous areas.
An effort to develop new ballistic plates could reduce the weight even further. The new materials being tested perform at the same level or higher than IOTV plates and weigh 7 percent less.
Soldiers will also be getting new protection for the pelvic areas. IEDs greatly increased the threat to soldiers from wounds to the genitals and femoral arteries, and the Army developed ballistic undergarments and overgarments, often jokingly referred to as “combat diapers,” to protect troops.
“Combat diapers” reduce injuries to soldiers but are uncomfortable on long patrols and chafe the skin in sensitive areas. The new Blast Pelvic Protector is a sleeker outer garment that connects directly to the body armor does not rub as badly against troops.
One of the biggest changes for soldiers is the Army’s new Ballistic Combat Shirt. The current combat shirt is basically a relatively comfortable T-shirt for wear under the IOTV. The new BCS provides ballistic protection to troops’ arms, necks, and upper torsos without sacrificing mobility. It also eliminates the need for the bulky and uncomfortable DAPS and ballistic collars that made it hard to shoot and move.
The Army’s helmet is also undergoing redesign, though the program is still in the research and development stage. The new helmet aims to increase protection and reduce weight, and may include add-ons like jaw protection, incorporated eye protection, and improved night vision setups.
Col. Dean Hoffman IV at PEO Soldier told Military.com that the new helmet may even include armor add-ons like special protection for turret gunners exposed to sniper fire or a facemask to stop sharpnel.
Memorial Day is a time to remember the lives lost to preserve American freedom. It’s a solemn holiday most often spent by sharing a day off with loved ones, usually around a grill with a cold one in your hand. But as you enjoy a burger and a beer and share laughs with friends and family, take a minute to remember everyone who can’t be with their loved ones.
It’s really astonishing just how many people celebrate Memorial Day in America by having a cookout, watching a parade, and enjoying a frosty beverage. In fact, a staggering sixty percent of American households will spend one day during the Memorial-Day weekend at a barbecue — second only to Independence Day. Memorial Day is the second biggest period for beer sales in America and $1.5 billion will be spent on meat and seafood.
Even more astonishing is the number of volunteers that go out to cemeteries to plant the Stars and Stripes on the graves of fallen troops and veterans. While 1.5 million people watch more than a thousand active duty service members in the National Memorial Day Parade and 900,000 people gather for the Rolling Thunder Memorial Day motorcycle rally in our nation’s capital, over 260,000 graves at Arlington National Cemetery will be adorned with flags by volunteers.
More than 45 million men and women have served the United States in a time of war (you know, doing that thing we all got our National Defense Service Medal for) and more than 1.35 million American men and women have died fighting in armed conflicts around the globe. So, with all these numbers in your head, remember that the most important of all is “three.” At 3:00 p.m. on Memorial Day, Americans everywhere will put down the burger, turn off the TV, and take a moment in silence.
The National Moment of Remembrance is where we forget our personal and political differences for and come together as a nation to remember those who lost their lives fighting for our rights, freedoms, and privileges as Americans — so we can enjoy that burger, watch that TV, and ride our motorcycles.
So, take a moment. 3pm, Memorial Day. Be there.
Here are a few more interesting numbers surrounding Memorial Day.
The former Navy SEAL who says he shot Osama bin Laden in a 2011 raid had his address made public while being named the “number one target” by a purported member of the ISIS terrorist group, Military Times reports.
After monitoring extremist chatrooms, the UK’s Daily Mirror reported a British ISIS member giving out the SEAL’s name and address to others, which has been shared by jihadis in recent days.
“I leave this info of Robert O’Neill for my brothers in America and Al Qaeda in the U.S., as a number one target to eventually hunt down and kill,” the ISIS supporter wrote.
Since O’Neill is no longer on active duty, the Defense Department told the Times it would likely not be opening an investigation. But the SEAL, who retired in 2012 as a senior chief petty officer, doesn’t appear to be worried.
“All soldiers who serve their country assume certain risks. It’s part of the deal,” O’Neill told The Daily Caller. “But I am alert, I am vigilant and I take precautions. My bigger concern is a lack of a clear strategy for containing and or neutralizing ISIS as a national security threat.”
A look at where the United States has fought in the 21st century:
After al-Qaida attacked the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. led an invasion of Afghanistan that ousted the Taliban. Though the U.S. and NATO formally ended their combat mission in Afghanistan at the end of 2014, the war — now in its 16th year — drags on.
Under President George W. Bush, the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 and toppled Saddam Hussein. Bush’s successor, President Barack Obama, pulled U.S. troops out of Iraq in 2011 after failing to reach an agreement with Baghdad to leave a residual U.S. force behind.
Under Obama, the U.S. dramatically increased the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones, to launch counterterrorism strikes without the need for a large U.S. military presence on the ground. The CIA and Defense Department have launched strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya, some of them covert.
Intense criticism from civil liberties advocates led Obama to create legal parameters for drone use that he hoped future presidents would respect. At least 117 civilians were killed from 2009 to 2016 by drone strikes outside of traditional warzones, the U.S. intelligence community has said. Other estimates place the toll higher.
The U.S. and European allies launched an air campaign in Libya in 2011, aiming to prevent atrocities by strongman Moammar Gadhafi against Arab Spring-inspired opponents. The bombing campaign toppled Gadhafi, but Libya slid into chaos and infighting. The Islamic State group later gained a foothold.
After IS captured a wide swath of Iraq and Syria in 2014, Obama announced the U.S. could target the group “wherever they are.”
The U.S. started sending small numbers of military advisers to help Iraq’s weakened military fight IS. The number has crept up to around 7,500 U.S. troops. IS has lost much of its former territory.
In Syria, the U.S. has conducted airstrikes against IS since 2014. More recently, the U.S. has dispatched growing numbers of special operations forces to assist Kurdish and Arab forces fighting IS. Roughly 500 U.S. fighters are in Syria, plus additional, “temporary” forces that rotate through.
Even while fighting IS in Syria, the U.S. has avoided wading into Syria’s civil war by directly confronting Syrian President Bashar Assad — until now. On April 6, U.S. warships in the Mediterranean Sea launched some 60 Tomahawk missiles at an air base in response to a chemical weapons attack blamed on Assad’s forces.
The strikes mark the first direct U.S. attack on Syria’s government, which has waged a six-year civil war against opposition groups. It also puts the U.S. into a de facto proxy battle with Russia’s military, which is on the ground in Syria and has propped up Assad.
If not for a twist of fate, the 1948 VC-121A Lockheed Constellation that once transported the nation’s 34thpresident might have become a crop duster or turned into scrap metal.
The Columbine II was the first plane to fly with the call sign “Air Force One” when it carried President Dwight D. Eisenhower for the first two years of his administration. However, the aircraft would have been lost to history without the intervention of three men – one who bought the plane almost 50 years ago, the friend who helped save it from the scrap heap, and the man whose aviation company purchased it two decades later with plans to restore it to its 1950s glory.
“I didn’t want to see somebody drinking a beer and wonder if the metal from that can came from that plane,” said Karl D. Stoltzfus, whose Dynamic Aviation Company purchased the “Connie,” as Lockheed Constellations are commonly called, in 2015.
In March, Stoltzfus had the aircraft flown for the first time in 13 years, except for a brief test flight a few days earlier, to Dynamic Aviation in Bridgewater, Virginia. Lockie Christler, son of the late Mel Christler, who bought the plane from the Air Force in 1970, flew the Columbine II from Marana Regional Airport, Arizona, where it had sat since 2003, to Virginia. The almost 60-year-old plane made a stop at the Mid-America Flight Museum in Mount Pleasant, Texas, before Christler made the final four-hour flight to Bridgewater, with Stoltzfus piloting the chase plane, a Beechcraft King Air.
Christler gives most of the credit for the Columbine II’s restoration to his father, who died in 2005, Stoltzfus and Harry Oliver, who emphasized the importance of saving the plane and was the majority owner when it was sold.
“If it weren’t for men like my father, Harry and Karl, along with others, a lot of these airplanes wouldn’t be around,” Christler said. “Once we realized this was Eisenhower’s airplane, we couldn’t let it be scrapped.”
The plane was built as a C-121A at Burbank, California, and converted to a VC-121A-LO to carry VIPs in 1953. The Columbine II, named after the Colorado state flower by first lady Mamie Eisenhower, became the official presidential aircraft later that year. Over New Charlotte, North Carolina the following year, an Eastern Airlines flight had the same call numbers as the Columbine II, and confusion ensued when both planes shared the same airspace. Because of the incident, the “Air Force One” call sign became used for any plane the president was on board.
The plane, while hardly resembling the Air Force One flown by presidents from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama, included marble floors and a mahogany desk where Eisenhower wrote the “Atoms for Peace” speech he gave to the U.N. General Assembly in 1953. The Columbine II also took him to Korea, both as a president-elect and during his administration.
In 1954, the aircraft was replaced by the Columbine III, which Eisenhower used for the remainder of his presidency. The Columbine II continued in service as a VIP transport for Eisenhower’s vice president, Richard M. Nixon, and others, such as Queen Elizabeth II, before it was finally retired to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, in 1968. The Air Force stripped the aircraft and fitted it with mismatched landing gear, an error that, in an odd twist of fate, led to the aircraft being spared from destruction long enough for its historical value to be discovered by its new owners.
Up for auction
The Columbine II was sold to Christler as part of a package lot with four other Connies for $35,000 in a surplus auction at the Davis-Monthan AFB aircraft “boneyard.” He didn’t know one of the five planes had a presidential past and planned to make it part of his crop-dusting operation. Christler rebuilt the other four VC-121s for spraying operations, but didn’t convert the Columbine II because its starboard main gear had been replaced with the wrong part from a Lockheed 1049 Super Constellation. The incorrect landing gear, again, saved the Columbine II from being converted to a crop-duster. Instead, it was used for supplying the other four Connies with parts.
Mel Christler was considering cutting the aircraft up as scrap when Robert Mikesh of the Smithsonian Institution contacted him in 1980 and informed him that his Connie with the serial number 48-610 was a former presidential aircraft.
“The first time we saw it, we obviously didn’t realize whose plane it was,” Lockie Christler said, “but when you find out it was Eisenhower’s, now you’re stuck with it. You have a presidential plane you can’t melt up because people wouldn’t think very highly of you. So, for all of these years, it’s kind of been a liability, and it finally turned into an asset.”
Christler tried to find a buyer who could restore the Columbine II, but couldn’t find one. He was struggling to decide what to do with the plane when Oliver visited him at his Greybull, Wyoming, home in August 1989, and asked about his plans for the Columbine II. Oliver said Christler planned to send the plane to the smelter if he didn’t have a buyer by November.
“I just said, ‘Now we can’t do that,'” Oliver said. “‘It’s a little bit of history, and it should be saved.”
At Christler’s request, Oliver drove to Tucson, Arizona, with a friend to look at the plane and saw the damage, but thought it wasn’t anything that couldn’t be repaired. The two men completed a $150,000 functional restoration of the Columbine II in 1990 and had it flown to Abilene, Kansas for Eisenhower’s centennial celebration. Afterward, they moved the Connie to Roswell and Santa Fe, New Mexico, before it was flown to Marana, where it remained under a lease agreement until it was sold to Stoltzfus in 2015.
Stoltzfus, a self-proclaimed history buff, learned about the Columbine II from an article in an aviation magazine and wanted to see the plane restored to its 1950s condition so he asked one person what he should do – his then-8-year-old grandson. “I think we should buy it,” the boy told him.
Then Stoltzfus asked his twin brother Ken to check out the plane in Arizona. After hearing that there wasn’t any damage that couldn’t be overcome, he sent Dynamic Aviation mechanics to begin repairs. When he first saw the plane, it was in rough condition.
“Every hose, I mean every piece of rubber was bad,” Stoltzfus said. “There were a lot of things about the airplane that gave you reason to say this was going to be a lot of work. They hadn’t really run the engines, but you knew there was going to be a lot of trouble with them, and there was. But the good part was it didn’t have any corrosion. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have bought the airplane.”
Although he can’t divulge the actual price he paid, Stoltzfus said it was less than the $1.5 million listing price. Dynamic Aviation will begin a full restoration project on the Columbine II in three to six months, which Stoltzfus expects to be completed in two to three years. He has obtained drawings and documentation that he hopes will help him restore the plane to its original color codes and original manufacturer materials.
“I think the airplane can be used to educate people on the 1950s, not just about Air Force One and not just about Eisenhower,” he said. “These were generally considered to be good years in America. They weren’t perfect, but they were generally good. We got out of the Korean War, so it was a peaceful time, and it was a good time economically and was when we started to build the interstate. So it was just a good time in American history.”
When it’s fully restored, Stoltzfus hopes to take the historic aircraft to air shows and display it for the public at the company’s airport in Bridgewater. In the meantime, he’s looking for anyone who might have aircraft parts or stories to share from the Connie’s era.
Oliver is grateful that somebody was interested enough in saving the plane.
“When I started this project, I was 52 years old, and I’m 77 now,” he said. “I don’t have the energy to do it anymore, and I’m just glad that somebody does. It is a piece of history, and now it’s going to be where people can see it, smell it and touch it.”
Once the silver Connie with the purple flower on its nose is restored to its Air Force One glory, it will have three men to credit for saving this piece of American history for future generations.
Even though one of the three didn’t live to see the Columbine II’s restoration, his son thinks it would have made him proud.
“Oh, he’s got a big smile on his face right now,” Christler said. “I know he’s proud that it has a great home where it’s supposed to be. It’s within a hundred miles of Washington, D.C, where it had some important flying to do.”