With possibility of a huge troop surge to Afghanistan coming from the Trump administration, We Are The Mighty asked several OEF combat vets what they missed most from their time “in the suck.” Here’s what they had to say.
Getting a chance to put all your tough training to use and put rounds down range at the bad guys was freakin’ epic.
It was that fun. (images via Giphy)
7. Getting jacked
When you’re stuck out in the middle of nowhere and have 24 different of high-calorie MREs to choose from, there’s no better way to pass the time than hitting a gym made of sand bags, 2x4s, and engineer sticks.
1,2,… 12 (images via Giphy)
8. Movie night
Huddling around a small laptop watching a comedy or “Full Metal Jacket” was considered a night out on the town. And we loved it.
And felt like you’re in a real theater… not really. (images via Giphy)
Just after noon on Jan. 8, 2005, the USS San Francisco, U.S. Navy nuclear-powered Los Angeles-class submarine collided with an undersea mountain while moving at maximum speed. The crew, most of them injured, one of them killed, fought for their lives to get the ship afloat. Someone messed up big time.
The ship was moving at its top submerged speed, anywhere from 20-25 miles per hour. While this may not seem like much, it was more than 6,000 tons of nuclear-powered ship ramming into a mountain, enough to cause significant structural damage, ground the boat, and heavily damage its ballast tanks and sonar dome.
The USS San Francisco in drydock after the collision.
(U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Mark Allen Leonesio)
To say that the collision injured 98 people and killed one is somewhat misleading. That is what happened. With a complement of 118 and 12 officers, the ship had 98 injured, 80 of whom were seriously injured and/or bleeding significantly. One sailor, 24-year-old Machinist’s Mate Second Class Joseph Allen Ashley was killed by his injuries. The sailor who was able to pull the “chicken switches” (handles that force the submarine to immediately surface – an “emergency blow”) did it with two broken arms.
Once the switches are pulled, the submarine’s ballast tanks are supposed to fill with high-pressure air, making the sub positively buoyant (up to two million pounds lighter) and pop above the surface of the water.
You’ve definitely seen this before.
But the San Fransisco didn’t immediately pop up. For a full 60 seconds, she waited before moving to the surface. That may not seem like a lot of time, but it probably felt like forever while waiting to see if your boat was also going to be your underwater tomb. But she did surface. Later, the boat’s engineers were able to rig the auxiliary diesel engine to use the exhaust to keep the damaged ballast tanks full, and after making temporary repairs in Guam, she was able to move to Pearl Harbor.
A Navy investigation found the ships crew were not using the most up-to-date charts to plot their course. The charts it did use, however, noted the presence of “discolored water,” which was indicative of a seamount. The latest charts did indicate the mountain, though, and the commander should have had the latest charts. Further, when operating in stealth, Navy submarines don’t use active sonar, and the sub was going too fast for the passive sonar to be effective.
The Los Angeles-class submarine USS San Francisco shown in dry dock is having repairs made on its damaged bow. A new large steel dome about 20 feet high and 20 feet in diameter was put in the place of the damaged bow.
The ship was still salvageable. After being moved to Puget Sound, her bow was replaced with that of the USS Honolulu, which was being retired later that same year. The San Francisco is now a training ship for the Navy nuclear engineering school in Charleston, South Carolina. The captain, Cmdr. Kevin Mooney was relieved of his command following the collision, and six other sailors were reprimanded with him, receiving reductions in rank.
For the rest of the crew, their quick response to accidentally ramming a mountain at sea and saving the ship along with their own lives while heavily injured, earned them medals from on high.
Earlier this month the US Air Force told Reuters that America’s most expensive weapons system ever built is on track for “initial combat use” by September 2016.
Designed and manufactured at Lockheed Martin’s massive production facility in Fort Worth, Texas, the F-35 Lightning II can carry an impressive 18,000 pounds of lethal ammunition.
Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program includes three variant aircrafts (the F-35A, F-35B, and F-35C), each designed to meet the specific needs of America’s sister service branches and a number of foreign military buyers like the United Kingdom, Australia, Netherlands, Norway, Japan, South Korea, and Israel.
Lockheed Martin says that each F-35A jet, also referred to as the Conventional Takeoff and Landing (CTOL), costs $108 million (including engine) and is the most requested of the three aircrafts. Thus far, approximately 65 of the anticipated 1,763 F-35A jets have been delivered to the Department of Defense.
The F-35’s carry a similar arsenal except that the F-35A is the only variant to feature an internal cannon, which is located on the left side of the jet between the cockpit and wing.
Here’s an infographic of the weapons the jets are designed to carry:
The 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade deployed in March 2018 to Afghanistan to carry out the inaugural mission for the newly-created SFAB concept. The brigade returned in November 2018, and leaders say their experience there has proven successful what the Army hoped to accomplish with the new kind of training unit.
Army Brig. Gen. Scott Jackson, 1st SFAB commander, spoke May 8, 2019, at the Pentagon as part of an Army Current Operations Engagement Tour. He said the Army’s concept for the new unit — one earmarked exclusively for advise and assist missions — was spot on.
During their nine-month deployment to Afghanistan, Jackson said the 800-person brigade ran 58 advisory teams and partnered with more than 30 Afghan battalions, 15 brigades, multiple regional training centers, a corps headquarters and a capital division headquarters.
“That’s nearly half of the Afghan National Army,” he said. “I believe we could only accomplish our mission and reach these milestones and validate the effectiveness of an SFAB because the Army got it right — the Army issued us the right equipment, and provided us the right training to be successful. But most importantly, we selected the people for this mission . . . the key to our success is the talented, adaptable, and experienced volunteers who served in this brigade.”
Jackson outlined two key lessons learned from the unit’s time in Afghanistan. First, they learned their ability to affect change within those they advise and assist was greater than they thought.
Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah Velez, center, an advisor with the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade’s 3rd Squadron, interacts with Afghan Command Sgt. Maj. Abdul Rahman Rangakhil, left, the senior enlisted leader of 1st Kandak, 4th Brigade, 203rd Corps, during a routine fly-to-advise mission at Forward Operating Base Altimur, Afghanistan, Sept. 19, 2018.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
“As our Afghan partners began to understand the value of 1st SFAB advisors, they asked us for more,” Jackson said. “So our teams partnered with more and more Afghan units as the deployment progressed.”
Another lesson, he said, was that persistent presence with partners pays off.
“Units with persistent partners made more progress in planning and conducting offensive operations and in integrating organic Afghan enablers like field artillery and the Afghan air force than unpersistent partnered units,” Jackson said.
Those lessons and others were passed to the follow-on unit, the 2nd SFAB, as well as to the Security Force Assistance Command.
Another observation: the Afghan military is doing just fine. They’re in charge of their own operations. And while U.S. presence can provide guidance when needed — and it is asked for — the Afghans were proving successful at doing their own security missions without U.S. soldiers running alongside them. It turns out that just having an SFAB advise and assist presence has emboldened Afghan security to success.
“We saw enormous offensive maneuver generated, and not just at the brigade level,” said Army Lt. Col. Brain Ducote, commander of the 1st Battalion, 1st SFAB. “They weren’t overdependent. They were able to execute offensive operations themselves. It was a huge confidence builder when we were sometimes just present. Even if we didn’t support them, just us being there gave them the confidence to execute on independent offensive operations.”
Confidence is contagious
Ducote said that the confidence moved from brigade level down to battalion, or “kandak” level. Commanders there also began running their own offensive operations, he said.
“They believe in themselves,” the lieutenant colonel said. “The Afghan army has tremendous freedom of maneuver and access to areas where they want to go. If they put their mind to it and they say we’re going to move to this area to clear it . . . they are good at it. And they can do it. Would they, given the choice, want advisors with them? Absolutely. Why not? But let there be no mistake: the Afghans are in the lead, and the Afghans can do this.”
Advisors with the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade’s 3rd Squadron and their 3rd Infantry Division security element exit UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters during a routine fly-to-advise mission at Forward Operating Base Altimur, Afghanistan, Sept. 19, 2018.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
Ducote said Afghan success is evident by their expansion of the footprint they protect, such as in Kunar and Kapisa provinces, for instance.
“[There are] all sorts of provinces where they expanded their footprint and influence,” he said. “And the people absolutely support their security forces.”
Also a critical takeaway from Afghanistan and an indicator of the value of the SFAB mission there is the authenticity of relationships between SFAB advisors and Afghans.
Building real relationships
During their nine months in theater, the 1st SFAB lost two soldiers to insider threats. Army Capt. Gerard T. Spinney, team leader for 1st Battalion, 1st SFAB, said that what happened after the attacks revealed the strength and sincerity of the relationship between Afghan leadership and SFAB leadership.
Army Cpl. Joseph Maciel was working for Spinney in Tarin Kowt District, Afghanistan. He was killed there by an Afghan soldier in July 2018 — a “green on blue” threat.
“His sacrifice will never be forgotten,” Spinney said. “But we still had to continue advising afterward. That day, my partner, a kandak commander . . . wanted to come see me.”
Spinney said the Afghan soldier who had killed Maciel didn’t belong to this commander — but that commander still wanted to meet with him.
Afghan soldiers listen to a map reading class taught by Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Davis, an advisor with 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade, Sept. 18, 2018.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
“He was very adamant coming to see me,” Spinney said. “He was angry. He was embarrassed. He was determined to rid [his own] unit of anything like this. And it was sincere. During the deployment he lost many soldiers. I had to sit with him and almost echo the same sympathies. I think the relationship got stronger.”
“You have to be there with them, good times and bad times, successes and failures,” the captain said. “That’s how you build trust, that’s how you show you care. He was there for us that day. Our relationship survived. And I’d say from that point on he wanted to make us feel safer. From that point on we saw differences in security . . . they took care of us because they wanted us there.”
Jackson said that insider threat might have derailed the 1st SFAB mission. In fact, he said, he suspects that was the intent of the enemy that carried out those threats. But it didn’t happen that way, he said.
“It didn’t derail the mission,” Jackson said. “Despite a brief pause maybe, as we reassessed what happened and what we needed to do both on the Afghan side and the American side, in the end our relationship was stronger.”
The SFAB concept was first proposed by Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley. And since then, Jackson said, the Army has put a lot of effort into ensuring the success of the SFAB mission. That includes, among other things, training, people and gear.
Ducote said the equipment provided to 1st SFAB was critical to its success in Afghanistan.
Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Davis, an advisor with 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade, teaches a map reading class to Afghan soldiers Sept. 18, 2018.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
“These teams are operating at distance, in austere environments,” Ducote said. “In some cases without electricity. We need the right equipment to be able to extend the trust that we give to them, and the trust that we extend to them. We want that to be manifested through the right equipment — communications specifically.”
He said the gear that proved essential to SFAB success included medical, communications and vehicles — and all were adequately provided for by the Army.
“The Army got it right what they gave us,” Ducote said. “We were able to do that mission, at distance.”
Back home now for six months, Jackson said the brigade is back to repairing equipment, replacing teammates and conducting individual and small-unit training to prepare for its next mission. He said their goal is to provide the Army a unit ready for the next deployment, though orders for that next mission have not yet come down.
The advise and assist mission is one the Army has done for years, but it’s something the Army had previously done in an ad hoc fashion. Brigade combat teams, for instance, had in the past been tasked to send some of their own overseas as part of security transition teams or security force assistance teams to conduct training missions with foreign militaries. Sometimes, however, the manner in which these teams were created may not have consistently facilitated the highest quality of preparation.
Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah Velez, an advisor with the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade’s 3rd Squadron, flies in a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter on his way to Forward Operating Base Altimur, Afghanistan, Sept. 19, 2018.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
The SFAB units, on the other hand, are exclusively designated to conduct advise and assist missions overseas. And they are extensively trained to conduct those missions before they go. Additionally, the new SFABs mean regular BCTs will no longer need to conduct advise and assist missions.
The Army plans to have one National Guard and five active-duty SFABs. The 1st SFAB stood up at Fort Benning, Georgia, in early 2018. The 2nd SFAB is based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, but is now deployed to Afghanistan. The 3rd SFAB, based at Fort Hood, Texas, is now gearing up for its own first deployment. The 4th SFAB, based at Fort Carson, Colorado, is standing up, as is the 54th SFAB, a National Guard unit that will be spread across six states. The 5th SFAB, to be based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, is still being planned.
“As subsequent SFABs come online, it creates a huge capacity for the rest of the combatant commands in the world,” Jackson said. “I would be confident to say that there are assessments ongoing to see where else you could apply SFABs besides Afghanistan.”
Tiffany Marquis is no stranger to serving her community through volunteerism. Together with her active neighborhood, she’s turned quarantine walks into decorative art treasure hunts with sidewalk chalk displays, massive egg hunts, and even painted sign photo ops.
When Marquis learned from another Family Readiness Group leader that troops were seeking resources for incoming troops facing quarantine after deployment, she quickly pulled resources together.
“Another FRG leader had seen my spouse of the year Facebook page and thought I might be able to help her and reached out. We had never met before, but this is just what you do. We are all here for the same mission, the same cause,” said Marquis.
All returning soldiers were facing a 14-day quarantine in the barracks no matter what their living or marital status was.
“You want them to be comfortable. You want to make what they are going through easier if you can,” Marquis said.
Marquis called upon her contact at NC Packs 4 Patriots, a nonprofit organization supporting service members and families out of North Carolina through care and comfort item donations.
“I met the organization at a back to school drive years earlier. Immediately you get the understanding that they are there to help, to show up. When I called them, they were immediately on board asking me what I needed,” Marquis said, who volunteers her time at the organization whenever possible.
Marquis didn’t stop at calling upon just one organization; she put the ask out to her community Facebook page where the group has regularly shown up for each other throughout the pandemic.
“People were excited to help however they could. Within a few days I had over 15 packs of toilet paper and facial tissue.” While these items may seem obvious on the list of comfort, given the scarcity of local stockpiles nationwide, it speaks volumes to the love and selflessness of those contributing to the project.
“Not only did we get hygiene kits, but we had plenty of favorite snack items donated as well,” she explained. Snacks represent normalcy in America for soldiers. Receiving the comforts of home upon arrival is one small way to help with the reintegration process.
The efforts of Marquis and her neighborhood throughout this tough season is a prime example of how capable and strong the military community is no matter what obstacle they are facing. “We weren’t going to let this pandemic stop us from supporting each other,” stated Marquis confidently.
“The FRG overall is a team. As a leader your goal is to support the unit however you can throughout deployments, homecomings, or with fundraisers.” Marquis and the FRG leader who reached out for support are now mutually invested in the success of each other and their missions, exchanging help and resources to rise to meet the need.
In uncertain times and with plenty of units across all service branches facing similar situations, the example set here is one to follow.
“It starts with one person,” Marquis shared. “One person to form a team and the team then moving forward in the right direction.”
Fear is not in John Nixon’s dictionary. Nor should it be. An elderly man, Nixon, who fought in the Korean War, had no reservations about stepping in to stop five armed punks from mugging a young woman in the Kentish Town area of London — despite being 88 years old.
There’s no age limit on bravery, and the old Korean War vet has had plenty of reason to be brave over the years.
Nixon was interviewed by the London Evening Standard after intervening in the attack. He told the newspaper that he saw five young men attacking a young woman, trying to rob her of her purse and ripping at her clothing.
He shouted at the men to leave her alone, in an attempt to divert their attention away from the screaming woman. His plan worked. They quickly switched their sights onto the old man and the girl ran off, still screaming.
A mural welcomes visitors to Kentish Town. Photo by Danny Lines on Unsplash. “But they turned on me, saying ‘We’ll take your money instead,’ and I said ‘No you don’t,’” Nixon told the newspaper. “Kids this age are full of bravado, you see, they weren’t expecting a surprise.”
The surprise was that over the years Nixon had seen a lot worse than five hooligans harassing one young girl. He was trained as a special operator at Commando Training Depot Achnacarry in Scotland’s West Highlands. The setting was particularly brutal for trainees, given the severe weather in the area. Those conditions would serve him well.
He was later shipped off to fight communists during the 1950-53 Korean War as a commando. He also served in British Commando units in Egypt, occupied Germany, and the greater Middle East. After he left the British military, he joined Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) as a bodyguard in Nigeria.
He couldn’t have survived those kinds of environments and the dangers he faced there without the hardcore training he picked up as a young man in the 1940s.
That training “kicked in” Jan. 27, 2018, when one of five attackers came at Nixon, who took down the attacker with a single karate chop to the back of the man’s head. The blow knocked the punk down to the ground, half-dazed and half-conscious. Then one of the muggers pulled a knife on the old man.
“It was more of a pocketknife,” Nixon said. “He wasn’t trained.”
Nixon, a widower with an adult daughter, was only interested in helping the vulnerable young woman. He didn’t think of his own safety. He’d been shot in the leg long before this encounter on a London street, and even a bite from a venomous snake couldn’t kill the old man.
“The venom lay dormant in my spine for years,” he said. “I’ve been near death so many times that situation just doesn’t worry me.”
When the knife-wielding assailant came after him, Nixon attempted to defend himself and took a number of stab wounds to his arms. He was bleeding profusely but told reporters his wounds were shallow.
A local resident finally witnessed the altercation, shouted at the men, and called the police. By the time cops arrived on the scene, the attackers had fled. Nixon was taken to a nearby hospital and treated for his still-bleeding wounds. His only other injury came from where his hand met the back of that criminal’s skull. Five harsh lessons were learned that day.
The hoodlums were never arrested for the crime, and the female victim of the attack was never identified.
“I hope she is okay,” Nixon told the Evening Standard.
The Department of Defense (DoD) has granted a temporary exception to policy to allow select service members to transfer their Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits to dependents until July 12, 2019.
NAVADMIN 020/19, released Jan. 24, 2019, announces that for a limited time, sailors with at least 10 years of service who are unable to serve four additional years, due to statute or standard policy, may transfer their education benefits to dependents if they agree to serve the maximum time authorized. For example, enlisted sailors within four years of high year tenure or officers within four years of their statutory limit of service are eligible.
The policy exception is retroactive to July 12, 2018, and ends July 11, 2019, after which sailors will need to commit to the full four years of service to transfer their benefits.
Sailors aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Billy Ho)
Sailors with at least 10 years of service whose transfer of education benefits applications were rejected due to the policy changes announced in NAVADMIN 170/18, and who are still serving on active duty or in the selected reserve (SELRES), must reapply for transfer of education benefits by following guidance in NAVADMIN 236/18, including completion of the new statement of understanding at https://myeducation.netc.navy.mil/webta/home.html#nbb.
On May 12, airmen at Travis Air Force Base, like the rest of the USAF, participated in a series of “Wingman Day” exercises. Wingman Day is a long-running annual event where the Air Force attempts to remind airmen that the Air Force cares about its people. It’s also a day to remind airmen to take care of each other. The day is usually filled with team building events, training, and exercises designed to improve the mental, spiritual, social, and physical well-being of those in the U.S. Air Force. One such exercise at Travis this year was a full-scale version of the popular children’s game Hungry Hungry Hippos.
The photo caption indicates this game is designed to train airmen to help fellow airmen in distress, using the PRESS (Prepare, Recognize, Engage, Send, and Sustain) model. While we aren’t entirely sure how this game helps impress that model on airmen, we’re willing to give the planners of Travis’ Wingman Day the benefit of the doubt. We’re not experts.
Before everyone goes nuts with making fun of the Air Force, we at Team Mighty recognize that this game was probably not the airmen’s idea. And who is going to say “no” to the question of “Who wants to play a life-size game of Hungry Hungry Hippos?”
Also, this is not the first government agency to play a life-size game. The Department of Veterans Affairs (infamously) did it first. The game they played? Hungry Hungry Hippos.
Admit it: The Air Force did it better. Anyway, there’s nothing wrong with goofy fun office games, even at work, even in the military. This isn’t even the most humiliating thing Air Force Public Affairs allowed to go on the internet. Remember that time Team Charleston posted photos of Joint Base Charleston airmen making things out of construction paper on Facebook, then immediately had to take it down because of the public backlash? They sure hope you don’t.
Have fun, Air Force, just don’t post it on DVIDS. Saying it’s supposed to help airmen recognize others in distress may fly to get the commander’s approval but the media isn’t going to understand, especially when no one else is posting these things. Context is important – and all we see is airmen wearing helmets and carrying laundry baskets to catch plastic balls.
In all honesty, who isn’t wondering if they have the required space and/or equipment to do this at work?
If you have any video of these games, email it to email@example.com.
A recent overhaul of the defense commissary program aboard military installations will result in higher costs for its customers, according to a recent MilitaryTimes report.
New rules, which were put in place as part of the latest annual defense authorization act allow the defense commissaries, or DeCA, to up the prices on about 1,000 products in 10 stores. Additionally, all 238 commissaries were authorized to raise prices on national brand products.
According to MilitaryTimes, this will allow officials to explore how the overall impact of raising these prices might help them to reduce operating costs that taxpayers cover, which currently sits at about $1.3 billion annually.
Before the rollout of the overhaul, DeCA was able to sell items at the commissaries at cost plus 5 percent. Under the new system, DeCA is able to purchase items at a reduced rate, but sell them at their previous rates or higher.
For example, if DeCA purchases a product at $.10 cheaper than before, it might not sell that product for the reduced price at the commissary, MilitaryTimes explains.
That extra cash might go, instead, toward operating costs or toward lowering the price of a different product, or both.
One of the issues with this new system, according to MilitaryTimes, is that the consulting company who designed it may be benefitting financially. MilitaryTimes claims that “unofficial reports from members of industry” say that Boston Consulting Group (or BCG) stands to make between 50 and 60 percent of the amount prices are reduced.
So that dime savings per sale of a particular item might net BCG between a nickel and 6 cents per unit sold.
DeCA officials are unable to confirm those claims, saying instead that the details of extra awards, fees or incentives for BCG won’t be available until they are “determined at a later date”, MilitaryTimes says.
Chris Burns, the executive director of business transformation at DeCA, told MilitaryTimes that the money DeCA saves is going toward reducing product prices or toward operating costs, but MilitaryTimes could not determine if consulting fees were included in those operating costs.
The effects of the overhaul are being felt elsewhere, as well. Some national brands who are pressured to lower prices below cost are pulling their items from the commissary altogether, MilitaryTimes reports. They claim that “multiple sources” are saying that other programs, like scholarship donations, could be cut.
Some good news does come out of the overhaul, however. DeCA will begin rolling out store brand items later this month that should be cheaper than national name brands.
While Congress approved the Department of Defense’s DeCA program, they are keeping a close eye on it and on whether it actually saves anyone money, MilitaryTimes says.
Russia says it has received the genome of the coronavirus from China and is working jointly with its neighbor to develop a vaccine against the illness as the number of deaths and confirmed cases continues to jump.
Chinese authorities said on January 29 that there are 5,974 confirmed cases nationwide in the country, from which 132 people have died.
Another 9,239 suspected cases of the respiratory illness are being monitored, the government’s National Health Commission said on January 29.
Dozens of cases have been confirmed outside mainland China as well, including in Europe, North America, the Middle East, and elsewhere in Asia, prompting Russia, which has no confirmed cases, to join the race to stop the illness.
“Russian and Chinese experts have begun developing a vaccine,” the Russian consulate in China’s Guangzhou Province said in a statement on its website.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has said it believes China is able to contain the coronavirus, but mounting concern over the jump in cases has prompted hundreds of foreign nationals to leave the provincial capital, Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak.
The total number of confirmed cases now surpasses that of SARS, another respiratory illness that killed more than 600 people worldwide in 2002-2003.
Symptoms of the new kind of coronavirus include fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
Authorities have sealed off access to 17 cities in Hubei Province, where the pathogen is believed to have originated and was first reported in December.
Australia plans to quarantine its 600 returning citizens for two weeks on Christmas Island, some 2,000 kilometers from the mainland.
Whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. For retired commander Jack Schwartz, that seems to be the case.
The 22-year navy Veteran spent 1,367 days in captivity as a prisoner of war during World War II. He turned 103 years old April 28, 2018.
For Schwartz, it all started just three days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. On Dec. 10, 1941, he was a navy lieutenant junior grade stationed in Guam as a civil engineer responsible for the water supply, roads, the breakwater and some construction.
“We only had 100 marines on the island – about 400 of us total, to include those who worked at the naval hospital,” Schwartz said. “And there were about 4 or 5,000 Japanese soldiers. They sank one of our ships, a mine sweeper, and nine sailors were killed.”
“We didn’t put up much of a fight.”
Schwartz said he was held by the Japanese there in Guam for about 30 days.
“There was plenty of food on Guam, but they deliberately starved us to make us weak,” he said.
After 30 days, they were transported by ship – all 400 U.S. POWs to include Schwartz – to Shikoku Island in Japan. They stayed there for about eight months, in some old barracks left over from the Japanese war with Russia, before being moved again.
The next place Schwartz was sent to was Kawasaki, between Tokyo and Yokohama. There were already POW camps and prisoners there when Schwartz including U.S. service members captured in the Philippines and from U.S. ships.
More than 300 prisoners were there, but just a few were officers, he said.
“I was the senior U.S. officer there so they put me in charge of the camp,” Schwartz said. “As a prisoner, I had absolutely no authority to do anything, but if anything went wrong it was my fault.”
“Every month or two I got a beating by the Japanese guards – nothing too serious – just to show me they’re in charge.”
After two years, Schwartz said he was sent back to Shikoku Island to the same POW camp he was at previously.
“This was a camp for officers – not just U.S. but English and Dutch. This was where the Japanese would invite the Red Cross to show how nice the conditions were,” Schwartz said. Schwartz would be separated, segregated and moved several times before the Japanese finally surrendered to the Allies on Aug. 14, 1945.
“The day the war with Japan was over, a Japanese officer lined us up outside and told us hostilities have ceased,” Schwartz said. He and the other Japanese officers and guards just walked away.
They made a big sign in white paint on the roof that read POW. After a couple of weeks, a U.S. B-29 bomber spotted us, and a few hours later they started dropping parachutes full of food. “Naturally we all started stuffing ourselves and got sick.”
Upon release – after being held POW for 3.75 years – Schwartz made the decision he would not end his career with the Navy and instead, he continued serve for another 18 years.
The Caltech graduate – who was born in San Francisco but moved to Hollywood with his parents at an early age – would eventually retire from the Navy with honors and distinction and move to Hanford, Calif., in 1962. He then worked for 18 years as Hanford’s Public Works Director and city Engineer before retiring a second time.
Schwartz said he now receives his medical care from the VA Central California Health Care System and is treated very well. “I still remember my first doctor there at the VA, Dr. Ron Naggar. And Dr. Ivance Pugoy is one of my current doctors,” Schwartz said. “You get a feeling they actually care. They make you feel like you are not just a name. You are a person. They do an excellent job for all the POWs,” he said.
Schwartz and several of his fellow POWs from the Central Valley were honored April 9 at VA Central California as part of National Former Prisoners of War Recognition Day.
We Are The Mighty sat down with Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters and Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello to chat about the ‘Music Heals’ concert that was held last week in DC to create awareness about MusiCorps — a program that uses the healing power of music to assist wounded vets with their rehabilitation.
And here’s the setlist from the amazing show held at DAV Constitution Hall on October 16:
And check out this video from the show of the band playing the Pink Floyd classic, “Comfortably Numb,” featuring wounded warrior and former Army captain Greg Galeazzi on lead guitar:
On Mar. 21, 1962 a B-58 Hustler from the U.S. Air Force erupted in flames as a large, bright red capsule shot out of it, carrying a passenger to safety. But the passenger wasn’t a pilot, and the plane wasn’t crashing. The event was a test of the B-58’s experimental ejection capsules and the occupant of the capsule was a bear.
The Air Force had been struggling to figure out a safe way for pilots to eject at supersonic speeds. Initially, they had tested new ejection seat designs by hiring people they recruited out of unemployment lines to act as test dummies.
The Air Force soon switched to using live animals for the tests, including six bears and a chimpanzee. At first, the bears and other animals tested ejection seats and capsules on rocket sleds. Once the Air Force was relatively sure of the design, they began flying the aircraft and ejecting the animals at altitude.
The animals were given drugs and rigged with sensors before being placed in the ejection capsules.
Most were fine, if a bit loopy, when they landed.
There was one fatality among the animals during testing. One bear had a brain condition that wasn’t detected prior to the flight and the physical strain during the ejection killed the animal. Two other bears suffered minor fractures and bruising during their flights.
Unfortunately, the Air Force needed to be sure that there were no hidden injuries before they returned to human subjects and ordered autopsies, which resulted in the deaths of the animals that had otherwise survived testing.