Chris Kyle, formerly a Navy SEAL, was America’s top sniper of all time with 255 kills, displacing Adelbert Waldron, who racked up 109 kills with the 9th Infantry Division in the Vietnam War. He’s earned so much recognition that his autobiography, American Sniper, became a hit Hollywood blockbuster. But before his untimely death, he had finished a second book, in which he listed the ten firearms that helped define America’s history. Here are the picks he made for his book, American Gun: A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms.
1. Kentucky Long Rifle
During the era of the American Revolution, the typical arm for an infantryman was a musket, like the famous Brown Bess. These smoothbore muskets had an effective range of anywhere from 50 to 100 yards. The Kentucky rifle doubled that range, easily. While its rate of fire was slower, British troops didn’t do so well when their officers were taken out early.
2. Spencer Repeating Rifle
The muzzle-loaded musket gave way to the muzzle-loaded, rifled musket by the time of the Civil War. In 1860, though, Christopher Spencer developed a rifle that used a metallic cartridge. The Spencer Repeating Rifle held seven rounds. Only 100,000 of these rifles got to Union troops, but the rifle made a big difference at Gettysburg, where Union cavalry used it to great effect.
3. Colt Single-Action Army: ‘The Peacemaker’
As the old adage states, “God made all men – Sam Colt made ’em equal.” The Singe-Action Army was one of the first mass-produced revolvers to make use of the metallic cartridge. It provided cowboys with portable firepower for self-defense. It also was, sadly, used by outlaws, like Butch Cassidy.
4. Winchester Model 1873
This rifle was, arguably, “the gun that won the West.” It was a reliable rifle, and the lever-action allowed its user to fire 14 rounds very quickly. It also was chambered for the same round used by the Colt Single-Action Army, which not only provided ease of logistics for a rancher but added more range and accuracy as well.
5. M1903 Springfield
This rifle replaced the “trapdoor” Springfield and Krag-Jorgenson rifles, giving American troops a rifle that used smokeless powder. It really came into its own with the arrival of the .30-06 Springfield cartridge, which added accuracy due to the advanced shaping of its bullet.
6. Colt M1911
This pistol has been the icon of American GIs since World War I. It still hangs around today within some special operations units. Unlike most pistols of its time that used 9mm rounds (or weaker ones), its .45 ACP round could stop an enemy soldier cold.
7. Thompson Submachine Gun
The gun that “made the Twenties roar” earned its reputation in the hands of Al Capone’s thugs. It packed the same .45 ACP punch as the M1911, but it had a bit more range. Over 1.5 million were made, and the gun’s firepower made it a favorite of the American GI.
8. M1 Garand
While the United States Army adopted the M1903 to simply maintain parity with the rest of the world, the M1 Garand gave American infantryman an advantage. This time, it allowed rapid follow-up shots. This rifle was praised by many, including George S. Patton. Its one drawback, a “ping” sound that told people that it needed to be reloaded.
9. .38 Special Police Revolver
The .38 Special didn’t become a primary service weapon (it was passed out to pilots as part of their survival kit in some cases), but it was the first gun that was a standard-issued sidearm for police officers. While the revolver is not used often today, it has become an icon.
10. M16 Rifle
This rifle changed the way rifles were made. Prior to its introduction, rifles usually were made with wood and heavy steel, but the selective-fire M16 used plastics, composites, and aluminum. When it entered service, it came in two and a half pounds lighter than the M1 Garand but held almost four times as many rounds in a detachable magazine. The hotly-debated AR-15 bears a resemblance to the M16, but it is only capable of semi-automatic fire — civilian sales of the M16 have been strictly regulated since 1934.
Which guns do you think have helped define American history? Let us know in the comments.
Laser-guided bombs had proven to be a winner during the Vietnam War. There was just one minor problem: Their range was relatively short. This was actually a big deal for pilots, who had to deal with surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft guns trying to shoot them down.
Some geeks at the Naval Weapons Center in China Lake, though, had a thought. They took a typical GBU-16 Paveway II laser guided-bomb, which was centered on the Mk 83 1,000-pound general purpose bomb. Now, a 1,000-pound bomb might seem small compared to the 2,000-pound bombs many planes carry today, but in World War II, the 1,000-pound bomb was good enough to sink carriers.
But what these geeks did was add a rocket motor from the AGM-45 Shrike, an anti-radar missile used to shut down enemy air defenses, to the back of the Paveway. The result was a weapon that gave the A-6 Intruder one heck of a punch. It certainly worked out better for Navy pilots than that JATO rocket did for a Chevy Impala driver who may or may not have existed.
The Skipper’s primary component is, for all intents and purposes, a GBU-16 laser-guided bomb. Engineers at China Lake stuck a Shrike’s rocket motor on the back, and got a weapon that could hit a target 14 nautical miles away.
(US Navy photo)
The missile took some time to win over the brass, but they eventually gave it a designation – the AGM-123 – and a name: Skipper. Over 2,500 were purchased. The Skipper got its name because of the way the guidance fins on the Paveway worked: They tended to make very sharp turns, so it would appear like the missile was skipping like a stone across a pond.
The Skipper was primarily intended to take out enemy ships from beyond the range of their defenses. They had their moment in the sun during Operation Preying Mantis, the American retaliation in the wake of the mining of the guided-missile frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58).
The Iranian frigate Sahand was on the receiving end of two Skippers and a bunch of other weapons during Operation Preying Mantis.
(US Navy photo)
Four Skippers were used against the Iranian frigate Sahand, which was eventually sunk. The Skipper also saw some action during Operation Desert Storm. It had an effective range of almost 14 nautical miles, although its rocket could propel it up to 30 nautical miles. The real limitation came not from its improvised nature, but from the range of laser designators currently in service.
The Skipper was retired in the post-Cold War drawdowns of the 1990s, which also claimed the plane that wielded it most of the time, the A-6 Intruder. Still, for a while, it gave the Navy a very powerful and precise punch.
These days it’s hard to think of a veteran who could have served from WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. It’s happened, of course.
But imagine a veteran of the War of 1812 and the Mexican War fighting in the Civil War. That’s a span of more than 60 years — much longer than the 24 years that separated the beginning of WWII and the Vietnam War. Then again, during the 20th century, pivotal battles weren’t literally in our front yard.
An average 69-year-old might be happy to ride out his golden years from a rocking chair.
See, Burns already lived twice as long as the average American of the time and was ready to do more for his country. But Gettysburg was much further north than the Confederates could ever attack – or so he thought.
Burns was considered “eccentric” by the rest of the town. That’s what happens when you’re fighting wars for longer than most people at the time spent in school.
When Confederate Gen. Jubal Early captured the town, Burns was the constable and was jailed for trying to interfere with Confederate military operations. When the Confederates were pushed out of Gettysburg by the Union, Burns began arresting Confederate stragglers for treason.
His contributions to the Union didn’t end there.
On the morning of July 1, 1863, Burns watched as the Battle of Gettysburg began to unfold near his home. Like a true American hero, he picked up his rifle – a flintlock musket, which required the use of a powder horn – and calmly walked over to the battle to see how he could help.
He “borrowed” a more modern musket (now a long-standing Army tradition) from a wounded Union soldier, picked up some cartridges, then walked over to the commander of the 150th Pennsylvania Infantry and asked to join the regiment.
Herbst Woods was the site of the first Confederate offensive of the battle. Burns, sharpshooting for the Iron Brigade, helped repel this offensive as part of a surprise counterattack.
John Burns was mocked by other troops for showing up to fight with his antiquated weapon and “swallowtail coat with brass buttons, yellow vest, and tall hat.” But when the bullets started to fly, he calmly took cover behind a tree and started to shoot back with his modern rifle.
He also fought alongside the 7th Wisconsin Infantry and then moved to support the 24th Michigan. He was wounded in the arm, legs, and chest and was left on the field when the Union forces had to fall back.
He ditched his rifle and buried his ammo and then passed out from blood loss. He tried to convince the Rebels he was an old man looking to find help for his wife, but accounts of how well that story worked vary. Anyone fighting in an army outside of a uniform could be executed, but the ruse must have worked on some level–he survived his wounds and lived for another 9 years.
The Battle of Gettysburg was a major turning point in the Civil War. The Confederates would spend the rest of the war – two years – on the defensive.
“So raged the battle. You know the rest. How the rebels, beaten and backward pressed, Broke at the final charge and ran. At which John Burns — a practical man — Shouldered his rifle, unbent his brows, And then went back to his bees and cows.”
Burns became a national hero after the battle. When President Lincoln stopped in the Pennsylvania town to deliver the Gettysburg Address, he asked to speak with Burns and met the veteran at his home.
He was photographed – a big deal at the time – and a poem was written about his life. A statue of Burns was erected at Gettysburg National Military Park in 1903, where it stands today.
The base reads “My thanks are specially due to a citizen of Gettysburg named John Burns who although over seventy years of age shouldered his musket and offered his services to Colonel Wister One Hundred and Fiftieth Pennsylvania Volunteers. Colonel Wister advised him to fight in the woods as there was more shelter there but he preferred to join our line of skirmishers in the open fields when the troops retired he fought with the Iron Brigade. He was wounded in three places. – Gettysburg report of Maj.-Gen. Doubleday.”
Even after decades of observations and a visit by NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft, Uranus held on to one critical secret — the composition of its clouds. Now, one of the key components of the planet’s clouds has finally been verified.
A global research team that includes Glenn Orton of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, has spectroscopically dissected the infrared light from Uranus captured by the 26.25-foot (8-meter) Gemini North telescope on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea. They found hydrogen sulfide, the odiferous gas that most people avoid, in Uranus’ cloud tops. The long-sought evidence was published in the April 23, 2018, issue of the journal Nature Astronomy.
The detection of hydrogen sulfide high in Uranus’ cloud deck (and presumably Neptune’s) is a striking difference from the gas giant planets located closer to the Sun — Jupiter and Saturn — where ammonia is observed above the clouds, but no hydrogen sulfide. These differences in atmospheric composition shed light on questions about the planets’ formation and history.
“We’ve strongly suspected that hydrogen sulfide gas was influencing the millimeter and radio spectrum of Uranus for some time, but we were unable to attribute the absorption needed to identify it positively. Now, that part of the puzzle is falling into place as well,” Orton said.
The Gemini data, obtained with the Near-Infrared Integral Field Spectrometer (NIFS), sampled reflected sunlight from a region immediately above the main visible cloud layer in Uranus’ atmosphere.
“While the lines we were trying to detect were just barely there, we were able to detect them unambiguously thanks to the sensitivity of NIFS on Gemini, combined with the exquisite conditions on Mauna Kea,” said lead author Patrick Irwin of the University of Oxford, U.K.
No worries, though, that the odor of hydrogen sulfide would overtake human senses. According to Irwin, “Suffocation and exposure in the negative 200 degrees Celsius [392 degrees Fahrenheit] atmosphere made of mostly hydrogen, helium, and methane would take its toll long before the smell.”
Read more on the news of Uranus’ atmosphere from Gemini Observatory here.
This article originally appeared on NASA. Follow @NASA on Twitter.
The Air Force is giving its historic B-52 bomber a massive weapons enhancement by engineering an upgrade to the aircraft’s internal weapons bay, which promises to substantially enhance its attack mission options.
The 1760 Internal Weapons Bay Upgrade, or IWBU, will allow the B-52 to internally carry up to eight of the newest “J-Series” bombs in addition to carrying six on pylons under each wing. This initiative not only increases the weapons delivery capacity for the bomber but also enables it to accommodate a wider swath of modern weapons.
IWBU uses a digital interface and a rotary launcher to increase the weapons payload, service officials said.
“The B-52 1760 Internal Weapons Bay Upgrade provides internal J-series (smart) weapons capability through modification of Common Strategic Rotary Launchers and upgrade of aircraft software,” Air Force spokeswoman Maj. Emily Grabowski told Warrior Maven.
The B-52 has previously been able to carry JDAM weapons externally, but with the IWBU, the aircraft will be able to internally house some of the most cutting-edge, precision-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions and Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles, among others.
Air Force weapons developers have told Warrior Maven that the IWBU effort will bring a 66-percent increase in carriage capability for the B-52.
Service developers also explain that having an increased internal weapons bay capability affords an opportunity to increase fuel-efficiency by removing bombs from beneath the wings and reducing drag.
The move is a key modernization step for the Air Force which, for many known reasons, no longer views the B-52 in its historic role as a “carpet bombing” aircraft. The demands and challenges of modern warfare, both counterinsurgency as well as the possible force of large-scale mechanized warfare, now require precision. This weapons upgrade will help expedite the integration of an even larger arsenal of precision-guided or (smart) weapons, as Grabowski explained.
While the B-52 can, of course, still blanket an area with bombs should it need to do so, more likely challenges in a modern threat environment would doubtless use long-range sensors, guided weapons, or even lasers to achieve both greater standoff and precision in possible engagements.
Also, given that the size and “not-so-stealthy” configuration of the B-52, it is primarily intended to operate in areas where the US Air Force already has air supremacy. Longer range, more precise Russian-built air defenses would also be expected to pose a significant threat to even high-altitude bombing missions.
Given the fast pace of advances in command and control technology, manned-unmanned teaming, and artificial intelligence, it is entirely feasible that manned bombers, such as the B-52, will soon be able to control nearby drones from the air. (A former Air Force Chief Scientist discussed this at great length in previous interviews with Warrior Maven.)
The first increment of IWBU integrates an internal weapons bay ability to fire a laser-guided JDAM. A second increment, to finish by 2022, will integrate more modern or cutting-edge weapons such as the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, or JASSM, JASSM Extended Range (ER) and a technology called Miniature Air Launched Decoy, or MALD. A MALD-J “jammer” variant, which will also be integrated into the B-52, can be used to jam enemy radar technologies as well.
Engineers are now equipping all 76 of the Air Force B-52s with digital data-links, moving-map displays, next-generation avionics, new radios, and an ability to both carry more weapons internally and integrate new, high-tech weapons as they emerge, service officials said.
The technical structure and durability of the B-52 airframes in the Air Force fleet are described as extremely robust and able to keep flying well into the 2040s and beyond – so the service is taking steps to ensure the platform stays viable by receiving the most current and effective avionics, weapons, and technologies, Air Force weapons developers told Warrior Maven over the course of multiple interviews with program managers in recent years
Just a few feet away from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., is a life-size statue called “Three Soldiers.”
Crafted in bronze by sculptor Frederick Hart, he portrayed the men garbed in uniforms representative of the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps, carrying weapons of the Vietnam War era and facing the memorial wall. The man on the left, his body draped with ammo belts, carries an M-60 general purpose machine gun.
Other than the M-16 rifle, perhaps no other firearm is as closely associated with the Vietnam War as the M-60. Portrayals of the M-60 in the hands of Vietnam War soldiers range from the sublime dignity expressed by the “Three Soldiers” statue to the over-the-top destruction of the fictional town of Hope, Washington, by Sylvester Stallone’s character, John Rambo, in the film “First Blood.”
The M-60 is a weapon that has faithfully served American soldiers in many battles since 1957. Far from perfect, the early model of the M-60 had so many design flaws that soldiers jerry-rigged fixes using everything from wire coat hangers to empty C-ration cans. The M-60 is also heavy — the machine gun weighs about 23 pounds, and those belts of ammo aren’t exactly lightweight, either.
No wonder the M-60 earned an unflattering nickname: The Pig.
But one thing is certain. Even with its flaws, a soldier armed with an M-60 can lay down a lot of lead, whether he is fighting in the jungles of Southeast Asia or the badlands of Afghanistan.
The M-60 is an air-cooled, disintegrating belt-fed, gas-operated general purpose machine gun. It fires the 7.62 mm round with a cyclic rate of about 550 rounds a minute — a rate of fire that requires the crew to change the M-60’s barrel about every minute. In addition, the M-60 has an integral, folding bipod, but it can also be mounted on a folding tripod.
The M-60 was — and is — a fixture in the U.S. armed forces, serving as a squad support weapon, vehicle-mounted machine gun and as a “flex gun” mounted in the doors of helicopters like the UH-1 Huey and the CH-47 Chinook.
Development of the M-60 started after World War II. American generals held a grudging admiration for the German MG-42, a machine gun so powerful that it was nicknamed “Hitler’s Bone Saw” by the Wehrmacht troops that fired it. The MG-42 had a blinding rate of fire and was belt fed—both qualities were considered desirable by weapons designers. The Fallschirmjägergewehr 42, or FG 42 battle rifle, also had equally desirable qualities, such as a gas-operated bolt, which were closely scrutinized by the Americans.
Ordnance experts took the best Germany had to offer and developed a prototype machine gun. Some argued it wasn’t an ideal machine gun compared to foreign models such as the FN MAG—but it could be domestically produced, which made congressmen with defense industries in their districts very happy.
In 1957, the Defense Department adopted the machine gun and dubbed it the United States Machine Gun, Caliber 7.62 mm, M60. It’s been in the arsenal ever since.
But the three-man crews who served the M-60 during the Vietnam War discovered the machine gun had its idiosyncrasies.
First of all, no one designing the M-60 remembered to put a wire carrying handle on the barrel. That made barrel changes an agonizing affair—in order to remove the red-hot steel, an assistant gunner was expected in the heat of battle to don asbestos gloves that looked like oven mitts. Also, ammo belts would sometimes bind in the weapon. Then, some G.I. got a brilliant idea: just lash an empty C-ration can to the left side of the receiver so the belt would flow smoothly over the curved surface.
By the 1980s, the military adopted the M-60E3, a version of the machine gun with added improvements and (most of) the bugs worked out.
Although the Defense Department ordered the phase-out of the M-60, it is still used by U.S. armed forces personnel. SEALs favor the M-60, the Navy and the Coast Guard often have it on board their ships, and Army reserve units frequently have an M-60 in the weapons room.
And 45 nations — many of them NATO or East Asia allies — continue to use the M-60 as their heavy-hitting general purpose machine gun.
China is not an enemy, but it is certainly an adversary of the United States, and the Defense Department’s 2018 report to Congress examines the trends in Chinese military developments.
Congress mandates the report, titled “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China.” While the report highlights military developments, it also addresses China’s whole-of-government approach to competition.
China’s economic development is fueling extraordinary changes in relationships it maintains around the world, according to the report. On the face of it, China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative sounds benign – it looks to build infrastructure for developing countries and Chinese neighbors.
Chinese leaders have funded serious projects as far away as Africa under the initiative. They have built roads in Pakistan and made major inroads in Malaysia. China has a major stake in Sri Lanka. Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Laos and Djibouti also are involved.
People’s Liberation Army troops demonstrate an attack during a visit by Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to China, Aug. 16, 2017.
(DoD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro)
The Chinese government seeks to overturn the established international order that has kept the peace in the region since World War II and allowed Asian countries to develop.
But “One Belt, One Road” money and projects come with strings. The “one road” leads to China, and nations are susceptible to Chinese influence on many levels – political, military, and especially, economic.
In 2017, China used its economic clout in South Korea as a bludgeon to get Seoul to not allow the United States to deploy the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system in the country as a counterweight to North Korea’s nuclear missile program. The Chinese government informally lowered the boom on South Korea economically to influence the THAAD decision.
South Korean cars and other exports were embargoed. About a quarter of all goods South Korea exports goes to China, so this had an immediate effect on the economy. In addition, tourism suffered, as nearly half of all entries to South Korea are from China, and South Korean retail stores in China were crippled.
The South Korean government decided to allow the THAAD to deploy, but China’s economic muscle movement had to be noted in other global capitals.
South China Sea
“In its regional territorial and maritime disputes, China continued construction of outposts in the Spratly Islands, but also continued outreach to South China Sea claimants to further its goal of effectively controlling disputed areas,” the DoD reports says in its executive summary. In other words, China is using military power and diplomatic efforts in tandem to claim the South China Sea.
The People’s Liberation Army has come a long way from the human-wave attacks of the Korean War, and Chinese leaders want to build a military worthy of a global power. “Chinese military strategy documents highlight the requirement for a People’s Liberation Army able to secure Chinese national interests overseas, including a growing emphasis on the importance of the maritime and information domains, offensive air operations, long-distance mobility operations, and space and cyber operations,” the report says.
Defense Secretary James N. Mattis meets with China’s Defense Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe at the People’s Liberation Army’s Bayi Building in Beijing, June 28, 2018.
(DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)
Chinese military planners looked at what the United States accomplished in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1990 and 1991 and charted their way forward. The PLA is fundamentally restructuring to challenge and beat any military in the world.
The PLA – still the largest force in the world – actually cut people to streamline command and control and modernize forces. The Chinese seek to win at all levels of conflict, from regional conflicts to wars with peer competitors. “Reforms seek to streamline command and control structures and improve jointness at all levels,” the report said. The PLA is using realistic training scenarios and exercising troops and equipment regularly.
China is investing billions in new capabilities including artificial intelligence, hypersonic technology, offensive cyber capabilities and more. China also has launched an aircraft carrier and added many new ships to the PLA Navy. The Chinese Navy is more active and making more port calls than in years past. Further, the PLA Marine Corps is expanding from 10,000 personnel to 30,000.
The PLA Air Force has been reassigned a nuclear mission, giving China a nuclear triad — along with missile and subs — for the first time.
Cyber operations play a significant role in the Chinese military. The PLA has a large corps of trained and ready personnel. Cyber espionage is common, and there are those who believe China was able to get plans of the F-35 Thunderbolt II joint strike fighter, which they incorporated into its J-20 stealth fighter.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Aug. 17, 2017.
(DoD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro)
The U.S. National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy recognize that China and Russia are strategic competitors of the United States. Still, the United States must engage with China, and maintenance of cordial military-to-military relations is in both nations’ best interests.
“While the Department of Defense engages substantively with the People’s Liberation Army, DoD will also continue to monitor and adapt to China’s evolving military strategy, doctrine and force development, and encourage China to be more transparent about its military modernization,” the report says.
The United States military will adapt to counter and get ahead of moves by any competitor, DoD officials said.
After a mission had been planned out, the pilots of the Japanese “Special Attack Corps” received a slip of paper with three options: to volunteer out of a strong desire, to simply volunteer, or to decline.
On Apr. 11, 1945, just 10 days into the battle of Okinawa, a Japanese kamikaze pilot reportedly named Setsuo Ishino began his final mission at the young age of 19.
Ishino flew with 15 other pilots on their mission to directly nose dive into the USS Missouri — known as the Mighty Mo — and kill as many Americans as possible.
Around noon, the Mighty Mo spotted the inbound aircraft on their radar and fired their massive anti-aircraft weapons in defense.
The well-equipped battleship nailed Ishino’s plane, but somehow the motivated pilot regained control of his fighter and managed to crash into the USS Missouri, causing hot debris to rain all over the deck.
The surviving crew cleared the wreckage and discovered Ishino’s dead body inside the plane. The deckhands planned on tossing the Japanese pilot overboard until Capt. William M. Callaghan, Missouri’s commanding officer ordered his men to render the enemy a proper burial.
While not unheard of, there really wasn’t a precedent for rendering military funeral honors for an enemy.
Nonetheless, the ship’s medical staff prepared Ishino’s body, respectfully wrapping him up in his flag. As the lifeless body slid overboard, the crew members saluted and the Marines fired their weapons toward the sky, giving the Japanese kamikaze pilot full military honors.
Europe will soon have a rapidly-deployable military force of its own. The powers that used to be have finally teamed up to coordinate military responses to developing crises and defense issues. France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Denmark, The Netherlands, Estonia, Portugal, and even the UK all signed off on the upcoming continental QRF.
It’s an initiative spearheaded by French President Emmanuel Macron, according to The Guardian. France’s chief executive has long advocated for Europe’s military autonomy as part of a greater European integration – with major European powers calling the shots.
An all-European military force also answers questions about the defense culture of the European Union, where France’s Defence Minister says decisions and deadlines take much too long, getting gummed up in the bureaucracy of the 28-member organization.
The effort of raising this military force is called the “European Intervention Initiative” and is outside the structure of the European Union and its defense cooperation agreement, known as the Permanent Structure Cooperation on security and defence, or PESCO for short. There are 25 PESCO members
This new initiative comes as an effort to build the force while sidestepping the bureaucracy of the EU and allowing for the entry of the armed forces of the United Kingdom to take part, something London is “very keen” on entering with Europe, despite the Brexit vote.
Europe’s new initiative is also outside of NATO and excludes the United States, with U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis worrying that it would pull resources and capabilities away from NATO. But the Secretary-General of the Brussels-based military alliance welcomed the news.
“I welcome this initiative as I believe it can strengthen the readiness of forces,” said NATO head Jens Stoltenberg. “We need high readiness and that is exactly what NATO is now focusing on.”
Though later Stoltenberg stressed the importance of cooperation between the EU and NATO for any military initiative.
“We need to be able to move forces quickly throughout Europe, when needed,” he said.
The European Union’s armed forces, the European Defence Union, is currently organized into four multinational battle groups consisting of 546 ships, more than 2,400 aircraft, and almost 7,500 main battle tanks. None of the battle groups have ever deployed, but EU ships do participate in anti-piracy operations in the Horn of Africa.
Comprised of more than 100 islands in the East China Sea, Okinawa is one of Japan’s 47 prefectures with a population of 1.44 million people (as of May 2018).
A year-round warm climate and overall tropical landscape, Okinawa is considered a leading resort destination and home to multiple U.S. military installations. Here are five ways to explore the archipelago.
Eat and drink
There is no shortage of places to enjoy good food in Okinawa and nearly every type of international cuisine is represented.
“You have to try Coco’s Curry House, Arashi, Pizza In The Sky, Yoshi Hachi, Sea Garden, Gen, Thai In The Sky and Little Cactus,” KT Genta, a Navy spouse who was previously stationed in Okinawa shared.
Craving a good cup of coffee? Stop into Patisserie Porushe, and be sure to order a croissant to go with it.
The traditional spirit of Okinawa is Awamori, which dates back to the dynastic era, and is made by combining water, test and rice malt with korokoji mold and steamed rice. Get a free tour and tasting at Chuko Distillery.
Historical sites and landmarks
The history of Okinawa is robust — from dynasties to American rule — and the various historical site and landmarks throughout the prefecture tell the region’s story. Be sure to visit:
Okinawa Peace Memorial Park– Located on Mabuni Hill, Peace Memorial Park was a heated battleground during WWII.
Japanese Naval Underground Headquarters – During WWII, Japanese forces constructed an elaborate series of underground tunnels that were used as military headquarters.
Katsuren Castle Ruins – Just a couple in-ruin walls remain at this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Tower of Himeyuri – The emotional monument honors the Himeyuri medical corps of female students who perished in WWII.
Ikema Ohashi Bridge– A 4,675 ft. bridge with panoramic views of the ocean, it connects the islands Miyako-jima to Ikema-jima and was formerly the longest bridge in Okinawa.
Beaches and water sports
Trademarked by cerulean shaded waters, Okinawa’s beaches are world-renowned for enjoying a sun-soaked day on the sand or diving in to admire the marine life. Both public and private beaches pepper the coastline, and with hundreds of beaches to choose from across the main and more remote islands, there is a stretch of sand for everyone to enjoy.
Northern Okinawa Island – Uppama Beach, Kanucha Beach, Ie Beach
Central Okinawa Island – Zanpa Beach, Ikei Beach
Southern Okinawa Island – Aharen Beach, Nishibama Beach
Not only does Okinawa offer residents and visitors pristine beaches, the underwater views are attractive for avid divers and snorkelers. Top spots include Manza Dream Hole, Zamami Island and Kabira Bay.
Okinawa is a destination with deep-rooted cultural history, thus a strong appreciation for traditional and performing arts.
Yachimun – The Okinawan name for pottery is Yachimun and can be traced back to more than 800 years.
Bashofu – Made from the fibers of a Japanese banana-like tree call the Basho, Bashofu is a thin textile that is woven and dyed to make into garments.
Sanshin – The literal translation of Sanshin is “three strings” and is a musical instrument that looks a bit like a banjo.
“There is so much to do,” Genta said. “Head to Cocoks for pedicures, hike Hiji Falls, explore Bise Village, which is a peaceful seaside town with sand roads lined with Fukuhi trees, or just drive and get lost. There are so many hidden gems on the island.”
Other must-see spots include Churmai Aquarium, Pineapple Park, Orion Beer Factory, Urashima Dinner Theater, Kokusai Street and Fukushu-en Garden.
This is just a small sampling of ways to explore Okinawa. It’s important to note that one could live their entire life in Japan’s tropical oasis and not see or do everything, so be sure to make the most of your time and have fun!
Area 51 is highly classified, mysterious Air Force base in Nevada. It’s been at the center of numerous conspiracy theories pertaining to aliens and UFOs.
Over 1 million people have responded to a Facebook event to “storm” the site. The event is supposed to take place on Sep. 20, 2019, with the end goal of getting the group to “see them aliens.”
The event is likely a joke, but it’s also led to memes. From spy planes to tourist attractions, here’s how the military base became associated with the theories.
Area 51 is an active Air Force base in Nevada.
Very little is known about the highly classified, remote base, making it the perfect object of fascination and conspiracy.
The extraterrestrial highway cuts through the desert near Area 51 but not into it. It is a tourist attraction.
It’s unclear why the base is even called Area 51.
According to the CIA, Area 51 is its map designation. But it begs the question — are there other “areas?”
As National Geographic notes, there are many other names for the base. One of those names, is Groom Lake, a reference to the dry lake near the base, while another is the sarcastic moniker Paradise Ranch. Its official site name is Watertown, but it’s sometimes referred to as Dreamland, after the Edgar Allen Poe poem of the same name.
The base is not open to the public, but there are plenty of nearby tourist attractions that capitalize on its history.
The active base has high security 24 hours a day. This means if a person — or, say, 1 million — wanted to storm the base in an attempt to see aliens, it would be incredibly dangerous.
But, as Travel Nevada notes, there are several attractions around the state that have glommed on to the alien-theme, playing up the secrecy of the base, including the Extraterrestrial Highway. Stops along the highway include Hiko, Nevada, where you can visit the Alien Research Center and purchase ET Fresh Jerky, and Rachel, Nevada, which is considered the “UFO Capital of the World.”
Area 51, from up above.
Until 2018, you couldn’t view satellite images of Area 51. Now you can.
The base is located relatively far off from any public roads. According to a 2017 Business Insider video, some Area 51 employees have to fly to work on personal planes out of the Las Vegas airport.
A 1966 Central Intelligence Agency diagram of Area 51, found in an untitled, declassified paper.
The government won’t say what exactly goes on at the site.
It’s unclear what the base is used for these days. The secrecy has led to a great deal of public speculation and, in turn, conspiracy theories — especially those relating to aliens and space.
The U-2 can fly higher than 60,000 feet.
We do know that it was used for military training during World War II.
The remote location was later used by the US government to test high-flying U-2 planes during the 1950s.
The base was used to build prototypes and run test flights for the vessels, which could reach higher altitudes than standard crafts of the time, as declassified documents would later reveal.
After the U-2 was implemented, the Air Force continued to use the base to test other aircraft, like the OXCART and F-117 Nighthawk.
But, at the time, the American public had no idea.
The US government didn’t confirm that Area 51 was an Air Force base until 2013.
After the National Security Archive at George Washington University filed a Freedom of Information Act in 2005 about the U-2 spy plane program, the CIA was forced to declassify documents related to Area 51 in 2013.
The area is also linked to conspiracy theories — mostly pertaining to aliens, space, and UFOs.
Although the supernatural theories have been debunked, the base is still associated with aliens and UFOs. Some of the excitement around the area have to do with the aircraft flying in, out, and around the base.
As a 2017 Business Insider video notes, there was an increase of supposed UFO sightings in the area in the 1950s — around the same time the U-2 planes were being tested. The secrecy of the program prohibited Air Force officials from publicly refuting the UFO claims at the time.
Jeffrey T. Richelson, the man who filed the FOIA that confirmed the existence of the base, explained this theory.
“There certainly was — as you would expect — no discussion of little green men here,” Richelson told The New York Times in 2013. “This is a history of the U-2. The only overlap is the discussion of the U-2 flights and UFO sightings, the fact that you had these high-flying aircraft in the air being the cause of some of the sightings.”
And then there are the rumors started in the 1980s by a man named Robert Lazar, who claimed to have worked near the base.
In an interview with reporter George Knapp from the time, he described working on propulsion systems for “nine flying saucers of extraterrestrial origin,” according to archival footage reviewed by Vice.
Lazar is also the subject of a documentary called “Bob Lazar: Area 51 and Flying Saucers,” which was released in December 2018. In the documentary, he goes into further details about his claims about what he alleges happened while he worked at Area 51 and what life has been like for him since.
Lazar’s claims may have cemented the base’s association with aliens and inspired others to come forward with stories and theories of their own.
In the music video for the “Old Town Road” remix, Young Thug, Billy Rae Cyrus, Lil Nas X, and Mason Ramsey storm Area 51.
It’s likely a joke. The event comes from a Facebook group called “Shitposting cause im in shambles.” It’s even spawned its own meme cycle, complete with an “Old Town Road” music video, because why not?
But not everyone is so amused.
Namely, the Air Force.
“[Area 51] is an open training range for the US Air Force, and we would discourage anyone from trying to come into the area where we train American armed forces,” Air Force spokeswoman Laura McAndrews told the Washington Post. “The US Air Force always stands ready to protect America and its assets.”
This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.
In our increasingly divided political world, it’s important to take the time to realize that no President of the United States takes office hoping to be remembered as the worst to ever hold the office. And even though one out of our 45 historical Presidents has to hold that position, I’m sorry to tell you that it’s not one of the Presidents who ever held the office in our lifetimes.
Part two of this series that highlights the most patriotic moments of every Presidency covers Presidents 12-22, from Zachary Taylor to Grover Cleveland. It also includes James Buchanan, which is interesting because Buchanan jokes have been hard to come up with since 1881.
Zachary Taylor had been serving the United States in the Army all the way back to the War of 1812. But by the time came for war with Mexico, Taylor was a general – and a good one. Beating the Mexicans paved his way to the White House.
What’s more patriotic than 30-plus years destroying America’s enemies? As President, Taylor didn’t serve long, but like Andrew Jackson, he asserted the authority of the federal government over the states at a time when it was most important. When Texas and New Mexico entered a border dispute, Taylor stepped in and settled the land boundary. When Texas refused to comply, Taylor threatened to lead an Army – himself – down to Texas, saying everyone there “taken in rebellion against the Union, would hang with less reluctance than hanging deserters and spies in Mexico.”
That’s a Commander-In-Chief.
Not terribly good with handling ongoing domestic trouble, Millard Fillmore was definitely not going to take shit from some other country.
Fillmore took office after Taylor died from an intestinal ailment involving fruit and iced milk. Fillmore, true to the duties of Vice-President took office to finish up Taylor’s term. It was lucky for France and Portugal that President Taylor was uninterested in foreign affairs, but President Fillmore certainly was.
When Fillmore found out that France, under Napoleon III, was meddling in the affairs of Hawaii, he issued them a stern warning – those were in the American sphere of influence. He also sought money owed to the U.S. from Portugal and sent Commodore Matthew Perry to Japan to open the island nation up for trade… American trade.
The second installment of this list will include many Presidents that are in the running for the title of “worst.” Franklin Pierce is perpetually nominated for the dubious honor. While the former general’s patriotism is beyond reproach, his skills in office definitely are not. To make matters worse, his tenure is also ranked as one of the least memorable.
What’s most patriotic about Pierce’s tenure is that Pierce ended up losing his party’s nomination for re-election and he accepted that outcome, stepping aside for the election of 1856. The peaceful transfer of power is a central tenet to American Democracy and Pierce more than upheld that tradition.
Called “Old Buck” in his later years.
Here it is: the actual worst president ever. As I’ve noted time and again, even James Buchanan didn’t enter office wanting to be the worst. He genuinely thought he was doing what was best for the United States. What he did, however, was absolutely not the best thing for the United States. Even though his tenure is overshadowed by his inaction on the eve of the Civil War, it wasn’t entirely without patriotic moments.
In 1855, the USS Water Witch was fired on by guns from a Paraguayan fort while surveying the Rio de la Plata basin. The attack killed the Water Witch’s helmsman. In response, Buchanan sent a U.S. Navy Squadron of 19 ships to Paraguay (which included the refurbished Water Witch). Paraguay apologized to the United States, paid an indemnity to the family of the Water Witch’s helmsman, and granted favorable trade status to the U.S. — all without firing a shot.
Finally, a President with a beard takes office.
The night is darkest just before dawn. When Lincoln took office, seven states already seceded from the Union. Lincoln tried many last-minute measures to hold the Union together, including writing a letter to each governor individually, reminding them that he wasn’t coming for them and that a Constitutional convention to make an amendment respecting the rights of the states was possible. It was all for naught.
When he determined the Civil War was coming whether he liked it or not, he was decisive. He quickly authorized the formation of the Union Army, helped create a Union strategy to blockade and attack the Confederacy, soothed the fears of border states that might have otherwise seceded, and paid close attention to foreign policy to keep foreign powers from supporting the Confederacy. He eventually found the right combination of Army leadership in Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman, who helped bring the South to its knees.
Lincoln’s deft political prowess and patience allowed him to free the slaves in the states that were in rebellion and then, after the Election of 1864, when the Congress was packed with fellow Republicans, freed the slaves everywhere in the United States.
“Man, Abraham Lincoln is a tough act to follow. How am I supposed to compete with that?” – Andrew Johnson
Johnson had none of Lincoln’s finer qualities – no wisdom, no popularity, no beard. Even though Johnson wanted a swift reconstruction after the Civil War as Lincoln did, he had none of the power Lincoln could muster through sheer force of will. As a matter of fact, Congress repeatedly overrode his vetos and the House of Representatives even impeached him. He barely avoided conviction. His entire term was spent in fights with Congress.
The one shining moment of American Union patriotism was in his dealings with former Confederate President Jefferson Davis. While many former Confederates were allowed to simply resume normal life after the war, Johnson put a bounty on the head of the Chief Confederate — to the tune of id=”listicle-2610056421″.6 million in today’s money.
Ulysses S. Grant
Grant would be the first to tell you that he wasn’t the best President, but he was dedicated to the rights and principles of the United States and its Constitution. From the moment he took office, he advocated for voting rights for every man (yes, just men), but specifically extended it to the newly-freed African-Americans and Native Americans. But a new terrorist group in the south was trying to disrupt that effort — the Ku Klux Klan.
Grant created the badass-sounding Department of Justice whose sole purpose (back then) was to enforce Reconstruction laws by any means necessary — along with Federal troops and U.S. Marshals. He actually appointed former Confederate officer Amos Ackerman as the first Attorney General. Ackerman indicted 3,000 Klansmen and convicted 600 offenders. He also forced thousands of other to flee Georgia, fearing for their freedom. That was just the first year. Grant had no problem sending U.S. troops to the south to enforce Federal laws.
Don’t let that cold stare fool you. Beneath it is actual ice.
Rutherford B. Hayes
Hayes was a wounded Civil War vet who rose to the highest office in a controversial deal that ended Reconstruction and cast doubt on Hayes’ legitimacy. All that aside, Hayes still expended every possible effort to welcome newly-freed former slaves and Native Americans into U.S. Citizenship.
Hayes’ most American moment came when he, General William T. Sherman, and their wives travel West on the Transcontinental Railroad, physically bringing the country closer together by becoming the first sitting president to travel west of the Rocky Mountains.
At this point, you pretty much have to be a Civil War veteran to get elected.
James A. Garfield
The 20th President was only President for a few months before he was shot in the back on a train. But in those months, Garfield devised a plan to increase the prestige (and pocketbook) of the United States through increased trade, a planned canal across Panama, and a new look for an expanded U.S. Navy that would protect American merchant vessels while challenging the supremacy of the British Fleet.
But he was shot in the back on a train.
No one ever grows Chester A. Arthur beards anymore. This needs to change.
Chester A. Arthur
Arthur was a longtime fan of political patronage, especially in the corrupt political system that existed in New York City during his age. Even though he came to power unelected, he still determined to change this. Inexplicably, one of the biggest beneficiaries of the civil service “spoils system,” in place since the age of Andrew Jackson, was the one to change it.
Under the new system, civil service in the United States became a meritocracy. Arthur forced resignations and even had the Justice Department try to convict the worst offenders of the corrupt spoils system. In its place, a civil service examination requirement was passed and Arthur created a special board of former rivals to ensure its enforcement and expansion.
It takes a big man to get elected when the other party is dominant. Advantage: Cleveland.
Grover Cleveland #1
Cleveland was a Democrat elected during a period of Republican domination of American politics. As a President, he understandably used the executive veto power more than anyone else until that time. But what he and the Congress could agree on, they also acted on: Defending America.
Even though the United States had no real external threats at the time of Grover Cleveland’s first term, the coastal defenses and U.S. Navy hadn’t really seen a major upgrade since the Civil War, more than 30 years prior. After all, land wars inside the United States against native tribes had been the focus. Cleveland upgraded the coastal defenses of 27 different sites. And while the Navy received a few good new, steel ships during Arthur’s administration, Cleveland ensured they were completed and ordered 16 more. The forts would last until the outbreak of World War II, while the new U.S. Navy ships would come in handy defeating Spain just a decade later.
If a conflict in U.S. history ever came with baggage, it has to be the Vietnam War. Although the service and actions of the millions of Americans who fought in Southeast Asia have been slowly recognized, the unpopularity of the war at the time, and for many years after, left a scar in American society. This unpopularity also meant that extraordinary men and units, such as the Military Assistance Command Vietnam-Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG), have fallen through the cracks of America’s consciousness, and are only known to a few old comrades, their families, and a handful of military history enthusiasts.
The innocuous-sounding MACV-SOG is such an organization, although its obscurity also has to do with its highly secretive nature.
SOG operators pulled off some of the most impressive special operations of the entire war; including some that seemed to defy logic itself. As successive U.S. administrations claimed that no American troops were outside South Vietnam, several hundreds of special operations troops fought against all odds, and against an enemy who always enjoyed a numerical advantage that sometimes exceeded a ratio of 1:1000.
The most secret unit you’ve never heard of
Activated in 1964, MACV-SOG was a covert joint special operations organization that conducted cross-border operations in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and North Vietnam.
Composed of Army Special Forces operators, Navy SEALs, Recon Marines, and Air Commandos, SOG also worked closely with the Intelligence Community, often running missions at the request of the CIA.
During its eight-year secret war (1964-1972), SOG conducted some of the most daring special operations in U.S. history and planted the seed for the creation of the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).
SOG’s main battleground and focus was the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail, a complex stretching for hundreds of miles above and below ground, from North Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia into South Vietnam, which the North Vietnamese and Vietcong used to fuel their fight in the south.
What was peculiar about SOG operations was the fact that they happened where U.S. troops weren’t supposed to be. Successive U.S. administrations had insisted that no American troops were operating outside South Vietnam.
SOG commandos, thus, wore no name tags, rank, or any other insignia that might identify them as Americans. Even their weapons had no serial numbers.
Duty in SOG was voluntary and strictly confidential. SOG troops weren’t allowed to disclose their location, missions, or any other details surrounding their covert outfit and they couldn’t take photographs—like all good commandos. However, SOG broke that rule frequently, as the numerous pictures from the time suggest. But as far as the general public was concerned, they were each just another American soldier fighting Communism in Vietnam.
SOG was commanded by an Army colonel, called “Chief SOG,” reflecting the predominance of Green Berets in the organization, and divided into three geographical sections: Command and Control North (CCN), Command and Control Central (CCC), and Command and Control South (CCS).
Service in the unit was highly selective. Not only did it recruit solely from special operations units, but the inherent risk required that everyone had to be a volunteer. Approximately 3.2 million Americans served in Vietnam. Of that number, about 20,000 were Green Berets, of those, only 2,000 served in SOG, with just 400 to 600 running recon and direct action operations.
Service at SOG came with an unspoken agreement that you’d receive either a Purple Heart or body bag. SOG had a casualty rate of 100 percent—everyone who served in SOG was either wounded, most multiple times, or killed.
Our “Little People“
What enabled SOG operations was a steady supply of loyal and fierce local fighters who passionately hated the North Vietnamese—and sometimes each other. These local warfighters worked with the American commandos as mercenaries. The “Little People,” as the Americans affectionally called them, proved their worth on the field, against impossible odds time and again.
These local partner forces included Montagnards, South Vietnamese, and Chinese Nungs, among other tribes and ethnicities. Indeed, local mercenaries made up most of SOG recon teams and Hatchet Forces (more on them later). For example, most recon teams would run cross-border operations with between two and four Americans and four to nine local mercenaries. Locals had an uncanny ability—some SOG operators would say a sixth sense—to detect danger. This ability made them perfect point men during recon operations.
Usually, when launching a cross-border recon operation, SOG teams would enter a pre-mission “quarantine,” much like modern-day Army Special Forces operational detachments do before deploying. During this quarantine period, they would eat the same food as the North Vietnamese, that is mostly rice and fish, so they—and their human waste—could smell like the enemy while in the jungle.
Today, where pre-workout and energy drinks are borderline mandatory, even on active operations, such measures might sound extravagant. But in a moonless night, in the middle of the Cambodian jungle, surrounded by thousands of North Vietnamese trackers and troops, something as trivial-seeming as your smell could mean the difference between a SOG team getting wiped out or making it home.
The local troops, having a great understanding of the operational environment, were crucial in the survival of many SOG recon teams. When the war ended, some of them, such as the legendary “Cowboy,” managed to escape to the West and come to the U.S.
Death-defying special operations
SOG specialized mainly in strategic reconnaissance, direct-action, sabotage, and combat search-and-rescue.
Although SOG’s primary mission-set was strategic reconnaissance through its recon teams, it also specialized in direct-action operations, such as raids and ambushes. For these larger operations, there were different outfits within SOG.
The “Hatchet Forces” specialized in raids and ambushes, but also acted as a quick-reaction force for recon teams. Usually, Hatchet Forces were platoon-size and composed of five Americans and 30 indigenous troops. Sometimes, several Hatchet Forces would combine to create a company-size element, called either “Havoc” or “Hornet,” that could be very effective against known enemy logistical hubs or headquarters.
In addition to the Hatchet Forces, there were also the “SLAM” companies, standing for Search, Locate, Annihilate, Monitor/Mission, which were full-sized SOG companies with a few dozen Americans in leadership roles and a few hundred indigenous mercenaries who SOG had recruited.
The first SOG recon teams were called “Spike Teams” (ST), for example, ST Idaho, with the term “Recon Teams” (RT), for instance, RT Ohio, becoming more popular later in the war. Usually, SOG commandos named teams after U.S. States, but they also used other titles, such as “Bushmaster,” “Adder,” and “Viper.” The number of active recon teams fluctuated throughout the war, reflecting casualties and increasing demand. For example, at one point, CCC ran almost 30 recon teams.
Some notable SOG missions include Operation Tailwind, a Hatchet Force operation in Thailand and one of the most successful missions in SOG’s history; the Thanksgiving operation, when SOG operator John Stryker Meyer’s six-man team encountered and evaded 30,000 North Vietnamese; the Christmas mission, when Meyer’s team went into Laos to destroy a fuel pipeline but almost got burned alive by North Vietnamese trackers who lit the jungle on fire; Operation Thundercloud, in which SOG recruited and trained captured North Vietnamese troops and sent them to recon operations across the border dressed like their former comrades; and Recon Team Alabama’s October 1968 mission that accounted fora whopping 9,000 North Vietnamese killed or wounded in action.
What stands out about SOG is how much responsibility was placed on its young operators. Legendary SOG operator John Stryker Meyer, for example, was running recon as a One-Zero (team leader) at the age of 22 and just an E-4. And rules of engagement were quite different, with less bureaucracy impeding the guys on the ground.
“The Bright Light missions [combat search-and-rescue] would seldom be deployed under today’s Rules of Engagement,” Meyer told Sandboxx News.
“And, today, they call can’t believe lowly E-4s were directing air strikes, total control on the ground, and experienced troops had final say on teams, regardless of rank. Experience over rank.”
Although techniques, tactics, and procedures were generally the same among the three SOG subcommands, SOG teams adjusted their approaches according to their geographical area. Laos, for example, has more mountains and jungle than Cambodia, which is flatter and more open.
Saviors from above: SOG’s Air Commandos
Pivotal to the success and effectiveness of MACV-SOG operations across the border were several aircraft squadrons from across the services and also South Vietnam.
The Air Force’s 20th Special Operations Squadron was dubbed the “Green Hornets.” They flew the Sikorsky CH-3C and CH-3E and Bell UH-1F/P Huey. First Lieutenant James P. Fleming, a Green Hornet pilot, earned the Medal of Honor for saving a SOG recon team from certain death in 1968.
The Green Hornets’ Hueys came packed with an assortment of weapons, including M-60 machine guns, GAU-2B/A miniguns, and 2.75-inch rocket pods. If ammo ran out, door gunners would lob grenades or shoot their individual rifles.
In addition to the Green Hornets, the South Vietnamese Air Force 219th Squadron, which flew H-34 Kingbees, was a dedicated supporter of SOG operations. These South Vietnamese pilots and crews were truly fearless, always coming to the rescue of compromised recon teams regardless of the danger. Captain Nguyen Van Tuong, a legendary pilot, stands out for his coolness and steady hand under fire.
Other notable rotary-wing units that supported SOG missions were the USMC Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367, which flew the AH-1 Viper attack and the UH-1 Venom transport helicopters; the 189th Assault Helicopter Company “Ghost Riders,” which flew assault and transport variants of the UH-1 Huey helicopter.
SOG commandos on the ground could also rely on fixed-wing close air support, with the turboprop A-1 Skyraider being a favorite platform for close air support and the F-4 Phantom a good choice on any given day.
“Military politics always interfered, and our leadership had to fight from close air support assets, such as the A-1 Skyraider squadrons,” Meyer told Sandboxx News.
“For example, SOG brass had to fight to keep the 56th Special Operations Wing, operating from Location Alpha in Da Nang.
“That unit’s SPADs [A-1 Skyraiders] were consistent and fearless and were considered the backbone of CAS during Operation Tailwind. On day 4, for example, the NVA were about to overrun the HF [Hatchet Force] when Tom Stump made devastating gun runs that broke the back of those frontal attacks, giving McCarley time to get them off the LZ and out of the target as weather closed in.”
Close air support was vital and probably the most important factor in the survival of numerous SOG teams. However, although SOG commandos enjoyed air superiority and North Vietnamese aircraft never posed a danger, the Air Commandos supporting SOG had to face the extremely potent anti-aircraft capabilities of the North Vietnamese, which included anything from light machine guns to heavy anti-aircraft cannons to surface-to-air missiles. Every hot extraction forced a penalty of downed helicopters and fighters/ or bombers, or at least a few riddled with bullets.
SOG commandos called in close air support themselves, usually by using a compass and smoke canisters. Forward air controllers, nicknamed “Covey,” flew overhead and assisted in coordinating with the team on the ground and controlling all air assets and close air support. In CCS, Covey usually flew solo, doing both tasks while also flying his plane. In CCN, however, Covey was a two-man affair, usually entailing an experienced SOG operator joining the pilot and helping out with his unique experience, having been on the receiving end of close air support numerous teams.
Years after the Vietnam War ended, it was discovered that there was a mole at the SOG headquarters in Saigon who had been passing information on team missions and locations to the enemy.
SOG operators, including special operations legends like Colonel Robert Howard and Master Sergeant Roy Benavidez, earned 12 Medals of Honor throughout the conflict.
Although service at SOG came with the unspoken agreement of a perilous life full of danger and risk, it also came with an unbreakable sense of loyalty and trust between the men who served there. A sense of loyalty and trust that time and again SOG operators proved through their commitment to leave no man behind, dead or alive. That effort, that commitment, continues to this day.