On Friday, August 24, the illustrious Chesty XIV retired from the Marine Corps after five years of service as a ceremonial animal. While Chesty XIV is an illustrious Marine veteran, some aren’t sure if he quite measures up to his namesake, Lt. Gen. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, a hero of World War II and Korea who led the 1st Marine Regiment during the breakout from the Chosin Reservoir.
So, which is the real “Chesty,” the true hero of the Marine Corps? We find out in five easy steps:
1. Body composition
Chesty Puller was famous for his stature and ramrod posture. A physically imposing man, he inspired the loyalty and rallied the spirits of thousands of Marines over his nearly four decades of service. He also had two feet.
Chesty XIV has four feet, approximately twice as many as Chesty Puller.
Chesty Puller received five Navy Crosses for heroics performed during things like leading national guardsman in Haiti and Nicaragua through devastating ambushes deep in the jungle and personally leading the naval artillery to rescue his Marines under fire during a Japanese ambush on Guadalcanal.
Chesty XIV, meanwhile, is a dog assigned to ceremonial duties who once wore a drill instructor’s hat.
3. Time in service
Chesty XIV served for five years. The general guideline for dog years is that one human year equals seven dog years, meaning the Chesty XIV would be credited with a joint-aching 35 years. That’s a long time to march with Marines in (modified) dress blues.
Meanwhile, Chesty Puller served for… let’s see… 37 years. Yeah, the human Chesty tried to deploy to World War I, but was assigned to training instead in 1918, then served in Haiti and Nicaragua, then the Pacific Theater of World War II, and, finally, Korea before retiring in 1955 as a two-star general.
4. Battle scars
Chesty XIV has a small black spot under his eye that the Wall Street Journal said looked, “…as if he stepped out of a bar fight while on shore leave.” It’s a cool look.
But, Lt. Gen. Chesty Puller had a Purple Heart and was so well known for standing in the heat of battle and rallying his troops that some Marines claimed his nickname of “Chesty” was in reference to his steel prosthetic chest, which was installed after Haitian rebels hacked away his old bony chest, but still failed to kill the man.
5. Ranks and demotions
Chesty the XIV rose from recruit to sergeant in just five short years, an impressive rise to be sure, but not unheard of. He managed to hold onto his rank despite being physically incapable of properly wearing the rank according to Marine Corps Order 1020.34H.
Chesty Puller, meanwhile, rose all the way to two-star general on active duty and three-star general after retirement. But, he only did this after rising from recruit to corporal to second lieutenant multiple times until finally entering the officer ranks to stay.
Sure, all the demotions for Puller were either due to downsizing or the removal of foreign ranks that he held while leading local national guard forces, but still. Only one of the Chestys was demoted.
Seriously, no one needs a final tally. Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller is deservedly a legend of the Marine Corps who trained and led Marines from World War I to Korea, became one of America’s most decorated heroes, and was a class act that nearly anyone could inspire to, despite the fact that they’d almost certainly fall short of his example.
But Chesty XIV did, and Chesty XV now does, represent the tenacious spirit of Puller himself and the Marine Corps as a whole. Hopefully, Chesty XIV will enjoy his well-deserved retirement, and Chesty XV will bring high morale to the young Americans under his charge.
On Dec. 18, 1944, Pfc. Harry Miller was cold, exhausted, and covered with grease. His hands were numb from the cold and he was bone tired after working all night. He and his fellow Soldiers from the 740th Tank Battalion had toiled around the clock to piece together three American tanks from an ordnance depot in Belgium.
With only the three refurbished tanks, Miller and the 740th was asked to stop the 1st SS Panzer Division, the German spearhead in the Battle of the Bulge.
Even before the Germans launched their surprise Ardennes offensive that December, Miller was not thinking about Christmas. His only thought was on keeping warm, he said. Northern Europe had been gripped by record-breaking cold.
When the German tank columns first approached, Miller and his fellow Soldiers were in Neufchateau, Belgium, but they had no tanks. At the beginning of the battle, the 740th was ordered to proceed to an ordnance depot in nearby Sprimont. Miller was hopeful, as he believed tanks would be issued at the depot. However, upon arrival, there were no functional tanks.
Depot personnel had left town in a hurry, leaving all of their equipment and tools behind. Miller and the 740th worked throughout the night and by morning, three tanks and a tank destroyer rolled out the gate. They were ordered to Stoumont to stop the German advance.
The 740th’s three tanks faced the lead element of Battle Group Peiper and the 1st SS Panzer Division. One M-1 Sherman tank fired and destroyed a German Panther. A second Sherman destroyed a second German tank. A third tank, a restored M-36, destroyed a third German tank. With the three German tanks out of action, and the narrow road blocked, the attacking German column retreated. Thus, a few restored tanks within their first one-half hour of combat had turned the tide of the German attack.
Miller was part of a specialized unit. A few days later he crewed one of six Sherman tanks that formed the Assault Gun Platoon. His tank had a 105mm gun.
Miller remembers the snowfall was especially heavy. Members of 82nd were cold and exhausted. Marching through four feet of snow was laborious. A few lucky Soldiers from the 82nd jumped on his tank to hitch a ride to avoid walking in the deep snow. Suddenly the tank took on enemy fire. When they heard audible dings from enemy bullets hitting the tank, the 82nd Soldiers scrambled off to take defensive positions.
The Battle of the Bulge lasted from Dec. 16, 1944 to Jan. 25, 1945. It was the last major German offensive campaign on the Western Front during World War II. For the Americans, out of 610,000 troops involved in the battle, 89,000 were casualties. It was the largest and bloodiest battle fought by U.S. troops in World War II.
The 740th Tank Battalion was formed at Fort Knox, Kentucky, on March 1, 1943. It had mostly men from Texas and Oklahoma. They trained at Knox and at the Desert Training Center in Bouse, Arizona.
Miller is a veteran of 22 years in the Army and Air Force. The Columbus, Ohio-native had always wanted to serve in the Army and enlisted at the age of 15 in 1944. Besides being a veteran of World War ll, he served in the Korean War with Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters, in the communications center.
Miller later served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War with the Strategic Air Command. He was in charge of codes and cryptology used for command missions, including bombing runs in Vietnam. He retired from the Air Force in January 1966 as a senior master sergeant and a communications operations superintendent.
Upon retirement, Miller worked as a private investigator, director of security and safety at St. Vincent Hospital in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and as a safety inspector at the University of Texas in Arlington, Texas, where he again retired in January 1989. He took up jazz and swing drumming lessons at age 69 to play with Seattle, Washington bands.
Miller, 89, resides at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington, D.C. He laments that out of 800 Soldiers from the 740th, only six were able to attend this year’s reunion on Labor Day.
Miller said he is proud of all of his military service and wishes he could do it all over again. He advises Soldiers who are serving today to stay in and retire.
Master Sergeant George Hand US Army (ret) was a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. He is a now a master photographer, cartoonist and storyteller.
(The featured cartoon courtesy of the author. A flash-bang is a concussion grenade that does not produce primary fragmentation, only extreme sound and blinding flash that serves to stun an enemy momentarily upon a room entry.
Depicted is a team preparing to enter a room of unknown threat posture, substituting the flash-bang preparation drill with a can of “explosive” spray adhesive. “Lid’s off!” replaces the usual “Pin’s out!” referring to the flash-bang’s safety pin whose removal is the last step before throwing the grenade.
In the final scene, the threat is neutralized by the exploding can of “spooge” rendering the threat stuck to walls, floors, and other incapacitating postures.)
(A typical Flash-Bang grenade used by Law Enforcement; no fragmentation, just loud extreme loud noise and flash. Flash-Bangs are categorized as non-lethal riot control devices.)
“Spooge” somehow became the nickname for the cans of spray adhesive we used to stick paper targets, bull’s eyes, and the like to a target stake downrange. It simply was the quickest and most convenient way to stick paper to cardboard and get on to the business of sending maximum rounds down range on a near-daily basis.
(In all its glory, the 3M Super 77CA Multipurpose spray adhesive can)
Spray adhesive was for paper on cardboard. For attaching cardboard to a wooden target, slat roofing tacks were used. Roofing tacks are a short nail with a very wide and flat head. It happened that when our Delta brother, Cuz, was hurriedly attaching a fresh target paper he noted his target backing was pulling apart from the wooden target slat.
Not wanting to lose the time to run the 150 meters back to the target shed to retrieve a proper hammer, Cuz decided that the spooge can already in his hand possessed sufficient merit to serve to pound in the tack. Within a few smacks on the roof tack with the bottom edge of the can it burst, completely engulfing his head and face.
Cuz’s ballistic eye protection was glued to his face, and his hair was covered. He staggered around blindly and calling out:
“Little help… a little help over here — we have a situation!”
We quickly engage in the attempt to pull his eye protection away from his face so he could see again, a ponderous and painful process.
“Well guys… that’s why we wear this safety equipment, you know?” he recited flatly, mimicking a certain redundant preaching that was certain to result from the incident.
“Cuz, I think you better just head on straight home from here and see about getting that spooge out of your hair; there’s not much else you can accomplish here… unless you want to finish hammering that nail with a fresh can…” our Troop Sergeant joked.
As fortune would have it, Cuz’s Mrs. was a hairdresser and knew just how to work the glue from out of Cuz’s hair and off his face. She did a remarkable job; when Cuz returned to work the next day, there was not so much of a hint of the adhesive in his hair, a vision that I found truly extraordinary.
For sure I endured the nagging and pining need for a cartoon to portray the event. As bizarre as it was, it was sure to be a cinch to find the humor…the humor in a can of target spooge that blew up in Cuz’s face like a… a flash-bang grenade. There it was; the vision in my head of spooge cans replacing bangers in a tactical building entry, the bad guys glued to the walls, floors, and fixtures. I stuck a fork in it *cuz* it was done.
Soon enough, I felt Cuz’s eye on me for a time, then he finally approached me when I was alone; I felt I already knew what was coming and was right:
“Yo Geo… this isn’t going to find its way into the cartoon book, is it?”
Oh, the shame! Yet again a man was missing the glory of being immortalized in the Unit cartoon book. I had to remind him; I had to remind them all that they WANTED to be in the cartoon book for the balance of time, though it might not be a thing they recognized immediately. I had to explain to Cuz the same way I had to explain it to every candidate:
Just because you got hurt or injured or humiliated due to an unfortunate blunder committed while on the job… do NOT think you should get a pass for that from the unit Cartoonist. That will not happen — if you dance you’re going to have to pay the band, and if you have to pay the band you might as well make sure it plays your favorite tune!
“Recall if you will that the cartoonist has a measure of reputation to maintain with his public. The fact that you make the cartoon book is purely a business decision, one entirely devoid of any emotion or sympathy… a cold, impersonal, heartless business decision. I am the cartoonist; I AM THE BAND!
With modern technology, US soldiers can learn the essentials of operating everything from grenade launchers to .50-caliber machine guns before they ever set foot on a firing range.
Soldiers with the New Jersey National Guard’s D Company, 1-114th Infantry Regiment recently conducted virtual-reality training on a number heavy weapons at the Observer Coach/Trainer Operations Group Regional Battle Simulation Training Center at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey.
Capt. James Ruane, the company’s commander, explained the virtual-reality system to Insider, introducing how it works and how it helps the warfighter.
This virtual-reality system, known as the Unstabilized Gunnery Trainer (UGT), gives users the ability to operate mounted M240B machine guns, Mk 19 grenade launchers, and .50-caliber machine guns — all heavy weapons — in a virtual world.
“When the gunner has the goggles on, he’s able to look around, and it is almost like he’s in an actual mission environment,” Ruane told Insider.
The virtual-reality system is designed to mimic a heavy weapon mounted on a vehicle. In the simulated training environment, users can engage dismounted and mounted targets, as well as moving vehicles and stationary targets.
“It’s the same type of targets they would engage on a live-fire range,” Ruane said.
The “weapon” is designed to feel and function much like an actual machine gun or grenade launcher.
“When you pull the trigger and actually fire this thing, it moves,” the captain said. “It has the same recoil as a weapon system would. So it gives the gunner as real of an experience as you could have in a virtual environment.”
In addition to the single gunner training system, there is also a convoy trainer for three vehicle crew members and a dismount.
“In this setup, you have a driver, you have a vehicle commander, and you have a gunner,” Ruane told Insider. “You also have the ability to have a dismount, and all members of that crew are plugged into the same virtual system.”
“They are all wearing the goggles,” Ruane added. “They all have weapons systems attached to the [VR] system, including a dismount who would have an attached M4.”
“They operate like a crew,” he said, telling Insider that while the training, usually carried out over the course of a weekend, is focused on taking troops through the gunnery tables, the simulator can also be used to train forces for convoy protection missions and other more complex mission sets.
The training normally involves two vehicle crews, but it could be connected to other systems for training with a platoon-sized element.
The company commander said he has seen marked improvements in performance since the introduction of the virtual reality trainer a few years back.
“I’ve definitely seen a dramatic improvement over the last five years,” the captain said.
“In the beginning, crews would have to go two or three times through gunnery,” Ruane, who has been with his company for five years now, told Insider, explaining that soldiers would make “simple mistakes.”
“Now,” he said, “crews are able to get through their engagements and get qualified as a crew” with some of “the highest scores that we’ve seen in the scoring cycle over the last five years.”
Ruane says virtual reality has enhanced their training in a big way.
“A lot of people think, especially some old-school military people, think that the virtual-reality stuff takes away from the actual live-fire ranges, when in fact this is actually an enhancer,” he explained, adding that “when you get out to the live-fire ranges, it is going to be muscle memory at that point, and it’s going to go flawlessly.”
The 3-year-old daughter of Petty Officer 2nd Class Jerome Cinco, a hospital corpsman with Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, holds her father close before his departure from Marine Corps Base Hawaii on a seven-month deployment to Afghanistan. Unlike their last two deployments — supporting Task Forces Military Police in Iraq — 1/12 will revert back to its primary mission and provide artillery fire support to 2nd Marine Division (Forward) during ongoing counterinsurgency operations in the province.
On Tuesday night, the nation watched as President Trump praised a military spouse for her sacrifices and efforts, and then surprised her and her children. “I am thrilled to inform you that your husband is back from deployment. He is here with us tonight and we couldn’t keep him waiting any longer!” The woman looked genuinely surprised.
She gathered her two young children close and they watched as her husband, handsome in his dress uniform, walked down the stairs toward them, as members of Congress and millions of television viewers cheered.
But some of us in military families saw something different.
As pleased as we were for that family, and we were very pleased, we were also cringing. We knew more, much more, was happening under the surface, and would be happening for many days to come. I’ve been married to a soldier for 17 years, and he has deployed nearly every year of our marriage. I know this subject well.
Some of us call these public homecomings “reunion porn” because they’re shared for the entertainment of the spectators, not for the health of the family. Surprise public reunions are such a part of our culture now, after 18 years of war have overlapped with 15 years of YouTube, that in the later weeks of a deployment, well-meaning friends and family members will start asking us what our plans are for the reunion. They look on expectantly, hoping for details of jumbotrons — like we’re supposed to be organizing a flash mob on top of taking care of absolutely everything else. For them, these are grand milestones that should be celebrated en masse, like over-the-top engagements and increasingly complex gender reveals.
But a deployment reunion does not have the unfettered joy of an engagement or a birth announcement. It’s a complicated stew. There is joy, undoubtedly, but there is also trauma. There is survivor’s guilt, and resentment, and weeks of awful reintegration that loom, in sleepless nights after endless fights. On some level, I wish that every reunion video was paired with a deployment video, bookends of the war experience, and that you didn’t get to celebrate the hello until you had agonized through the goodbye. I wish people saw that many months before that child was surprised by a smiling, uniformed parent in an elementary school classroom, he had to be peeled and pulled off that deploying soldier by the parent who was staying home. I wish people saw that service member gulp, blink back tears, and force him or herself to turn and walk away. Not out of indifference or cruelty, but out of duty.
I wish people could hear the screams – the actual screams – military teens and tweens make when they are told their parent is deploying. Again. I wish the cheering crowds knew what it feels like to give birth alone, in a town where you know no one, and to take that baby back to an empty home without a clue of what to do, but having to do it anyway.
I wish they knew what it feels like for a service member to meet his own child on Skype, and not get to hold her in his arms until the baby is already crawling. Or to not be at the bedside when their child goes into surgery. Or to miss a graduation, and every game, recital and play.
I wish they saw me, sitting in a patio chair in the July heat, trying to hear my husband over a spotty satellite phone connection, with gunshots and mortar rounds perforating the conversation. Then hanging up and putting on a brave face to go back inside the house, because it was time to give my dad more pain medicine so that he wouldn’t feel the cancer that killed him.
I wish they heard the three volleys. I wish they watched the flag being crisply folded. I wish they hugged strangers at military funerals because it was obvious those strangers needed hugs. I wish they pushed the wheelchairs and suffered through the night terrors and witnessed the humiliation of a brain-injured warrior trying to remember his own address.
But, of course, I don’t actually wish everyone could see all of these raw moments. No one should have the worst days of their lives televised. I suppose what I really wish is that the same good-hearted, well-intentioned people who are sincerely happy to see our military families reunited would pay more attention to the war. I wish they knew where our service members were deploying to, and why.
I wish they knew our lives, even when the scenes aren’t pretty or heartwarming, so it wouldn’t feel like we were carrying these burdens alone.
A little over a month after the Helge Ingstad sank after colliding with a tanker in a Norwegian fjord, the Norwegian military has released footage from the submerged frigate.
The warship was rammed by a Malta-flagged tanker in the early morning hours of Nov. 8, 2018, in the port of Sture, north of Bergen, which is Norway’s second-largest city.
The frigate displaces 5,290 tons, and the tanker displaces over 62,500 tons when empty. But when the tanker is fully loaded, as it was at the time of the collision, that jumps to about 113,000 tons, more than an aircraft carrier. The collision tore a large hole in the starboard side of the frigate’s hull, which caused other compartments to flood.
Footage released by the Norwegian military, which you can see below, shows the damage sustained by the frigate.
A Norwegian rescue official said at the time of the collision that the frigate was “taking in more water than they can pump out. There is no control over the leak and the stern is heavily in the sea.”
According to a preliminary report released at the end of November 2018, control of the frigate’s rudder and propulsion systems was lost, which caused the ship to drift toward the shore, where it ran aground about 10 minutes after the collision.
Recovery operations for the Helge Ingstad on Nov. 28, 2018.
(Norwegian armed forces photo)
Running aground prevented it from sinking in the fjord, but later, a wire used to stabilize the sunken vessel snapped, allowing it to sink farther. Only the frigate’s top masts remain above the surface.
In December 2018, Norwegian explosive-ordnance-disposal divers returned to the ship to remove the missile launchers from its foredeck.
Below, you can see footage of them detaching the launchers and floating them to the surface.
“All diving assignments we undertake require detailed planning and thorough preparation. We must be able to solve the assignments we are given, while providing as low a risk as possible,” diving unit leader Bengt Berdal said, according to The Maritime Executive.
“Our biggest concern [during this mission] is any increased movement of the vessel.”
With the missiles off the ship, all its weapons have been removed. Recovery crews are preparing to raise the ship, putting chains under the hull to lift it on a semisubmersible barge that will take it to Haakonsvern naval base.
The frigate will not be raised until after Christmas, according to The Maritime Executive.
Chains being readied aboard the heavy-lift vessel Rambiz to lift the sunken Norwegian frigate Helge Ingstad on Dec. 7, 2018.
(Norwegian armed forces photo by Jakob Østheim)
The oil tanker was not seriously damaged in the incident and didn’t leak any of its cargo. Only eight of the 137 crew aboard the Helge Ingstad were injured, but the multimillion-dollar ship was one of Norway’s five capital Nansen-class frigates and was one of Norway’s most advanced warships. (It also leaked diesel and helicopter fuel, but that was contained and recovered.)
The preliminary report found that the warnings to the frigate, which was headed into the port, went unheeded until too late, allowing the outbound tanker to run into it.
According to the report, the frigate’s automatic identification system was turned off, hindering its recognition by other ships in the area, and there was confusion on its bridge because of a change in watch — both of which contributed to the accident.
The preliminary report also raised questions about other ships in the class and the Spanish shipbuilder that constructed it.
The review board “found safety critical issues relating to the vessel’s watertight compartments. This must be assumed to also apply to the other four Nansen-class frigates,” the report said.
“It cannot be excluded that the same applies to vessels of a similar design delivered by Navantia, or that the design concept continues to be used for similar vessel models.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The above photo is of an 82nd Airborne Division paratrooper, Spc. Michael Tagalog, firing an 84mm Carl Gustaf recoilless rifle from an observation post in Afghanistan’s Nangahar Province in September 2017.
The specialist apparently fired the Multi-Role Anti-Armor, Anti-Personnel Weapons System, or Carl Gustaf, in defense of a US base in Afghanistan. Originally used by special operators, the US Army began issuing the Gustaf to soldiers in 1991 in response to an Operational Needs Statement from Afghanistan.
The Saab-made bazooka is 42 inches long, weighs about 25 pounds and can hit targets from 1,300 meters away, according to army-technology.com.
It fires a variety of munitions, including high explosive anti-tank, high explosive dual purpose, and high explosive rounds. The Gustaf can even fire smoke and illumination rounds.
Army and industry weapons developers are also currently working with the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency to develop a guided-munitions round for the Gustaf.
The US is quietly ramping up the nearly 17-year war in Afghanistan that has been criticized by many as a “forever war” and a game of “whack-a-mole.”
Many great warriors throughout history enjoyed having rare, exquisite weapons. The fictional King Arthur had his “Excalibur.” The real-life Charlemagne had “Joyeuse.” But it was some unknown Inuit tribesman who had the rarest, most magical weapon of all – a spear made from the horn of a Narwhal, tipped by iron from a meteor.
For centuries, the horn of what we know today as the Narwhal was a pretty uncommon sight in European countries. European kings as recent as just a couple of centuries ago believed the “horns” sold to them by Viking traders were from the mythical unicorn and used them in everything from crown jewels to their drinking goblets. In reality, they were actually the tusks of a medium-sized whale; what we know today as a Narwhal. While this didn’t make the tusk any less rare, it did mean the source was less mythical and just really cold – the Narwhal preys on other sea life in the cold Arctic waters of the North.
Meanwhile, much further back in Earth’s history, a particular meteorite collided with Earth. The iron-based ball hit what we know as Cape York, Greenland today. It left a chunk of iron ore that weighed 31 metric tons embedded in the Earth’s surface. The local Inuit called it Saviksoah, or “Great Iron” and used it as a source of metal for hunting and building their communities.
The tusk of the now-endangered Narwhal can grow anywhere from five to ten feet in length and is a sensory organ, covered with nerves on the outer part of the tusk. So that tusk (which is actually a long, spiral tooth) doesn’t just fall out or shed naturally. For every Narwhal tusk, there’s a dead Narwhal out there somewhere. For the Inuit, they use the occasion to make hunting weapons from the tusks, and the length is ideal for making a spear.
To form an arrowhead, the natives need a source of metal, and, being unable to mine iron ore, they used the meteor as a source of the metal. Instead of using the blacksmithing techniques we all know through movies, televisions, renaissance faires, and whatnot, the Inuit had to use cold forging techniques – that means they just stamped the cold metal until it was beat into the shape they needed.
So it’s not impossible that this lance is the only example of a spear-like weapon forged from the cold iron of a million-year-old meteor then wedged atop the rare ten-foot tooth of a near-mythical Arctic whale. It’s just highly unlikely. And while people have been making weapons from the Ivory of Narwhals for decades now, know that killing one for its tusk is just as illegal as killing anything else for its ivory – only the Inuit are still allowed to hunt the creatures.
It’s included in that giant bucket of information dumped on you in briefing after briefing right before deployment:
Exactly what will happen if your service member or another member of his unit is killed? What should you expect? What happens if they are injured?
We get a lot of questions about this at SpouseBuzz. Readers want to know what to expect from the notification process, can’t remember what was said in those briefings or maybe never made it to one. They want to know who will show-up at their door, what they will say and when they will arrive. They want to be empowered with information.
We understand the predeployment mental block on this stuff. While it may be the most important part of any predeployment briefing, it’s probably the part you most want to forget. Who wants to dwell on the possibility that their service member may not come home before he even walks out the door?
But it is so important. And whether this is your first or fifteenth deployment, a refresher from the casualty affairs folks is probably a good idea.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Adam Dublinske)
But we’re not PowerPoint people here. So instead of making you sit through an acronym riddled briefing the next time we see you, we’ve gone straight to the source at the Pentagon to get you as cut and dry a run down here as we can.
Look at this as a point of reference. Forward it to other members of your unit or include it in your FRG newsletter. And if you have any questions, leave them in the comments and we’ll do our best to get you the official answer and get back to you.
But first, a caveat: The policies and information we’ll talk about below are the Pentagon’s military-wide standard, straight from Deborah Skillman, the program director for casualty, mortuary and military funeral honors at the Defense Department. However, like almost everything else in the military, each service has the ability to change things at their discretion. We’ll note where that is most likely to happen. In a perfect world, though, the below is how things are supposed to be done.
What to expect if your service member is killed:
Two uniformed service members will come to your door to tell you or, in military speak, “notify you.” One of them will actually give you the news, the other one will be a chaplain. Sometimes a chaplain may not be available and so, instead, the second person will be another “mature” service member, Skillman said. If you live far away from a military base there is a chance the chaplain may be a local emergency force chaplain and not a member of the military, she said.
These people will come to your door sometime between 5 a.m. and midnight. This is one of those instances where the different services may change the rule in limited instances. Showing up outside this window is a decision made by some very high ranking people. If it happens it’s because it’s absolutely necessary.
You are supposed to learn about your spouse’s death before anyone else. A different team of notification folks will deliver the news to your in-laws – but only after you’ve been told. Same thing goes for any children your spouse has living elsewhere or anyone else he’s asked be told if something happens.
The news is supposed to reach you within 12 hours of his death. The services use that time to get their notification team together, find your address and send someone to your home. If you live near the base and have all your contact information up to date with your unit, they’ll arrive at your home very quickly. If you’ve moved and live far away from any base, it may take the full 12 hours. If you live in a very remote location (for example our past unit had to send a team to notify in the Philippines) it could take more than 12 hours.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Zachary Hada)
You’re supposed to hear the news first from the notification team. There’s a reason for that, and it’s not just because it’s solemn and respectful. Telling you in person makes sure you are in a safe place to hear such life changing news. And it makes sure that the information they are giving you is accurate, not just a rumor. After they notify you, the team will stay with you until you can call a friend or family member to be with you or until the next official person – the casualty assistance officer – can arrive.
If you hear the news first from someone else, the notification team will still come. In that case instead of delivering notification they will deliver their condolences, Skillman said. Even though the unit goes into a communications blackout after someone dies or gets seriously injured, sometimes word sneaks out anyway through a well meaning soldier or wife who doesn’t know the rules. The team, however, will still come and do their duty.
What happens after notification? You will be assigned a casualty assistance officer who will walk you through all the next steps, including the benefits you receive as a widow. You can read all about those here. That service member has been specially trained for this duty. His or her job is to make sure you get everything you need from the military.
What if your service member is wounded?
The notification process for a injured service member is different but the result is still the same — you are supposed to learn the news before anyone else (other than his unit) stateside. Here’s how it works:
You’ll receive a phone call. If at all possible, Skillman said, the phone call will be from your service member himself. If that’s not possible a military official will call you with as many details as he has and then give you regular updates by phone until they are no longer necessary. If they cannot reach you (let’s say you dropped your iPhone in the toilet again) they will contact your unit to try to reach you through whatever means necessary.
If your service member is severely wounded and will not be transferred stateside quickly, you may be able to join him wherever he is being treated outside the combat zone, often Germany. The official will let you know whether or not this is an option.
You’ll be regularly updated with how and when you will be able to see him. If he is transferred to a treatment facility stateside far away from you, the military will help you arrange travel to wherever he is being sent.
What if someone else in your unit is injured or killed?
Some of the hardest moments you’ll have as a military spouse will be spent wondering if your service member is the one who has been injured or killed. Because the unit downrange goes on blackout until all the notifications stateside are made, you may be able to pretty well guess when something has happened based on a sudden lack of communication. Will it be you? Will the knock be on your door this time?
That can be very a scary time. In my experience, the best thing to do is to choose to not live in fear. When our unit lost 20 soldiers in four months, it became very easy to predict when something had happened and sit in dread in our homes alone — just waiting, watching and praying. However we knew that wasn’t healthy. So instead, a small group of us purposefully spent time together instead.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chris Willis)
Specifically what happens in the unit when a service member is injured or killed probably differs from unit to unit and base to base. But most of the processes look something like this:
The unit goes on blackout. That means that all communication from downrange to families is supposed to abruptly and without warning stop. That blackout will likely last until notification to the families has been made.
You will receive a phone call or an email from your unit that someone has been killed or injured. After all the family has been notified, the unit will let you know who has been killed or injured by either email or phone. If it has been less than 24 hours since the last family member was notified, the message will only tell you that someone was killed or injured — not who. If you are told about it via a phone call, the person making the call — possibly a point of contact from your family group — will likely read you a preset script. An email could look like the below, one of the many our unit received during our 2009-2010 deployment:
Families and Friends of 1-17 IN,
On Sept. 26, 2009, 1-17 IN was involved in an incident that resulted in 1 soldier who was Killed in Action. The soldier’s primary and secondary next of kin have already been notified.
On behalf of the soldiers of 1-17 IN, I send my condolences to the soldier’s Family. We will hold a Memorial Ceremony for this soldier at a time and place to be determined.
Please remember to keep the soldiers of 1-17 IN and all other deployed soldiers in your thoughts and prayers. Thank you for your continuous support.
The Defense Department will release the name of the person killed no less than 24 hours after the family has been notified. That buffer gives the family some private time. However, you may learn who it was before that. The family may choose to tell people. If blackout is lifted downrange, your servicemember might tell you. The most important thing during this time is to respect the family’s privacy. If you do happen to know who was killed before the family or the DoD has released the name, for the love of Pete don’t go blasting it all over town.
You will receive details from your family readiness group on how you can help support the family and when the military memorial will be. Above all us, respect the family’s privacy and needs. Attending the military memorial can be a great way to show that you care without being intrusive.
Milesperawesome asks: Could you get in trouble legally if you murdered someone in space? Asking for a friend.
While it might seem like something out of science fiction, given that humans are presently in space and soon enough mass space tourism is going to open up the possibility for many, many more, it’s only a matter of time before someone commits a crime in space, with it being alleged the first already occurred in 2019, which we’ll get to shortly. So what exactly happens if someone does break the law in space? Could you, say, commit murder and get away scot-free?
To begin with, while you might think it can’t actually be possible to commit a crime in space because no country seemingly has jurisdiction there, you’d be wrong. Much like the myth that you can do whatever you want in international waters because no country holds sway, it turns out, among other agreements and rules, International laws are a thing.
On that note, while aboard a given vessel, the ship you’re on officially hails and is registered from some nation or group of nations (like the European Union) and the laws from said entities are binding aboard it in most cases while it’s out at sea. This is outlined in the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea, “every State shall effectively exercise its jurisdiction and control in administrative, technical and social matters over ships flying its flag.”
Mare Liberum (1609) by Hugo Grotius is one of the earliest works on law of the sea.
While obviously there isn’t exactly a court case history to back this up, the general consensus is that the same basic idea will hold true for ships in space, and certain agreements to date concerning space ships do seem to bear that out, as well as help give a partial framework for judges to work with.
For example, in the Outer Space Treaty, beyond more or less attempting to ensure space stays free from any claim of national sovereignty, most pertinent to the topic at hand, it notes,
State Party to the Treaty on whose registry an object launched into outerspace is carried shall retain jurisdiction and control over such object, and over any personnel thereof, while in outer space or on a celestial body.
More or less mirroring this idea, on the International Space Station, the partnered nations came up with the Intergovernmental Agreement on Space Station Cooperation, which states, in part, the nations, “may exercise criminal jurisdiction over personnel in or on any flight element who are their respective nationals.”
As Joanne Gabrynowicz, the editor of Journal of Space Law- which is totally a thing by the way- elaborates, “The law of the nation that contributed and registered the module applies to that module… Further, each astronaut is governed by the law of the nation they represent. Therefore, which nation’s criminal jurisdiction will apply depends on which nation’s module the alleged crime was committed and which nation the alleged perpetrator is from.”
It’s also noteworthy that this Space Station Agreement has already anticipated countless other things that may happen in space and how various nations can work together amicably to resolve them, leading many space lawyers- which are also totally a thing- to speculate that elements of this agreement are likely to get adopted into a more general, universal agreement at some point down the line. And in the meantime, judges may well lean on it, among other existing agreements and analogous cases here on Earth, when attempting to decide legal matters as they begin happening outside of the ISS.
Speaking of these analogous cases, much like when a person travels to another nation and then commits a crime, there are plenty of existing agreements and fodder for authorities to draw from when crimes are committed in space. While there certainly will be the occasional dispute, as even happens between nations on Earth over such matters today, there is a pretty good outline already in place as to how it will probably be sorted out.
On top of this, even should you renounce your citizenship and be aboard your own vessel that likewise has no ties to any nation (perhaps even with you declaring said ship a nation of its own), it is likely if you did anything serious, especially against someone who does still have citizenship with some nation, you would still face prosecution for any crimes, perhaps via an International Criminal Court or even a special tribunal. (Although, in this case, we’re hoping such a court will be given the new, much cooler moniker of Galactic Criminal Court at some point.)
As the director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, Henry Hertzfeld, states,
Although there is no sovereignty outside a spacecraft, there are analogies to the law on ships in international waters and also to issues that might occur in Antarctica; both places with no national sovereignty. So, although this is not a settled issue, my reading is that being in space and technically outside of any nation’s sovereignty or jurisdiction is not sufficient to avoid being charged with a crime…
Of course, even then there still is a lot of potential for gray area. For example, one of the world’s leading space lawyers, Joanne Gabrynowicz, outlines one such scenario for people on the International Space Station, which has a pretty well defined set of rules as previously noted,
Each of the modules is registered by a different country, so that means that if you’re in the US laboratory, you’re on a piece of US territory… If you mosey over to the Japanese module, you are now in Japan. So, it’s like an embassy. It’s national territory….What happens if it’s been a long hard day at the American lab, and a European astronaut punches a Canadian in the American module, but then runs over to the Japanese module? Who has jurisdiction over that? …
But, of course, that is just a jurisdictional issue. If a serious enough crime was committed, the person’s going to get prosecuted somewhere. It just might be a bit of a bureaucratic nightmare in some cases to sort out where.
When moving over to scenarios like actual colonization of places like Mars, once a colony is setup, it will no doubt enact its own laws, which those living there will have to agree to, whether explicitly or implicitly, not too dissimilar to moving to a new country on Earth. And likewise it is probable that extradition agreements and the like will be setup little different from agreements between nations on Earth.
Coming back around to the question of if there has ever yet been a crime committed in space, this allegedly occurred during astronaut Anne McClain’s six month stint on the ISS in 2019. During that span, she supposedly accessed her recently ex-wife’s bank account several times, allegedly to double check there was enough money in the accounts to cover bills and to care for the pair’s son. On the other hand, her ex, Summer Worden, took the matter more seriously, viewing it as illegal access to her accounts, thus potentially subjecting McClain to certain identity theft laws.
NASA astronaut Anne McClain.
Because McClain is an American citizen, was aboard the American module of the International Space Station when she allegedly committed the crime, was using one of NASA’s computers at the time, and her supposed victim is likewise American, she was very clearly under the jurisdiction of the United States. However, as far as we can find, nothing ever came of these accusations other than a NASA investigation and a whole lot of news reports. McClain is still an astronaut for NASA and otherwise no further updates on the matter have ever been made public, so presumably either it was decided no crime was actually committed or the former couple settled the matter amicably and the investigation was dropped.
But to sum up, no matter where you are in the universe, you can be fairly sure that judges the world over will be happy to cite similar type scenarios that have happened on Earth and existing agreements in making sure you are prosecuted for crimes, assuming said crimes were serious enough to be worth the effort involved, or someone kicks up enough of a stink about it. And while there still is plenty of gray area, as soon as space tourism becomes a relatively common thing and people start committing crimes in space, it seems likely that the various nations the world over will quickly develop a comprehensive and more definitive set of rules to govern such things when the need arises.
All that said, there are an awful lot of ways a seemingly innocuous sequence of events can lead to someone’s death in space. Accidents happen- a faulty valve isn’t necessarily proof someone murdered someone else, even if they loathed each other. In some such ways someone could die in space, any halfway decent lawyer could instill reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors, especially if hard evidence couldn’t be attained. After all, the expense of investigating such a crime thoroughly may well be enormous in some cases, thus making it so such a detailed investigation may not be done, or even possible.
So let’s just say in many cases it’s going to be a lot more difficult to tell if there was someone behind such an event, or if it was just an accident… Leading us to perhaps one of the cooler new jobs that are going to be a thing in the coming decades- space detectives.
Ever wonder what the longest prison sentence ever given out is? Well, wonder no more. This was a whopping 141,078 years. It was given in 1989 in Thailand to Chamoy Thipyaso and each of her seven accomplices for defrauding more than 16,000 Chinese investors as a part of a massive Ponzi scheme.
If you’re wondering, in the United States, the longest sentence for some form of corporate fraud was only 845 years. This was handed down in 2000 to Sholam Weiss, for his role in the collapse of National Heritage Life Insurance. By contrast, Bernie Madoff was only given 150 years for his 2009 conviction of defrauding thousands in a multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme.
The second and third longest prison sentences (for any crime), globally, were given to Jamal Zougam (42,924 years) and Emilio Suárez Trashorras (49,922 years) for their roles in the 2004 train bombings in Madrid.
As for the longest prison term overall in the United States, it was given in 1994 to Charles Schott Robinson who was convicted of six counts of rape garnering him 5,000 years in prison each- a whopping 30,000 year sentence.
Also in Oklahoma, Darron B. Anderson and Allan W. McLaurin each had in the thousands of years ranges of prison time imposed for the kidnapping, robbery and rape of an elderly woman. Anderson was initially only sentenced to 2,200 years, but upon his second trial (he appealed and won a new one), that second jury imposed a sentence of 11,250 years. McLaurin was initially sentenced to 21,250 years, but the appellate court reduced it to a mere 500 years.
The longest prison sentence imposed in Australia was given to Martin Bryant in 1996 for the Port Arthur, Tasmania massacre where he killed 35 and injured 23 others. His sentence included 1,035 years without parole plus 35 life sentences, one for each life he took.
U.S. involvement in Iraq has gone on for far longer than you might have thought. In the heat of World War II, Hitler had his eyes on the Middle East for resources. However, the British had laid claim to the area with the Sykes-Picot Agreement, and America was doing whatever they could to help their allies.
Although the circumstances for landing troops in the country were far different back then than they were in 1990 and 2003, elements of the local culture have remained the same. Surprisingly, the troops’ 1942 guide to Afghanistan still holds up fairly well today.
To prepare any American soldiers for their time in region, the U.S. Army printed several pamphlets, like the Short Guide to Iraq. The guide covered many things you’d expect to find in a pocket guide: general do’s and don’ts, translations and a pronunciation guide, and little snippets about daily life in Iraq.
Despite being more than a half-century old, the guide holds up surprisingly well. If you were to take the WWII-era pamphlet and swap out any use of “Nazism” with “Extremism,” you’d have a pretty useful modern tutorial. The goal back in the 40s was cull the spread of Nazi influence, just as today’s goal is to cull the spread of terrorism. The way to do this was, as always, by winning the hearts and minds of locals while keeping a military option on the table.
(Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Todd Frantom)
Societies change over the years, but many of the “do’s and dont’s” in Iraq have a lot to do with religion and culturally appropriate reactions to hospitality. Certain things have proven timeless: It’s rude to refuse food, so, if you don’t want it, just take a small amount. Don’t gawk at two men holding hands while they walk. Don’t stare at people and accidentally give them the “Evil Eye.”
Even the little things about Iraq, like the fact that every price can be bargained and cigarettes make the best bribes, were known back then. Of course, like any good Army guide, it ends by reminding us that “every American soldier is an unofficial ambassador of good will.”
Massive missile strikes conducted by US, UK, and French air and naval assets on April 13, 2018, hit three targets that were allegedly related to the Syrian government’s chemical weapons program. The strikes appear to have been largely successful.
US Marine Corps Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, the director of the Joint Staff, described the operation as “precise, overwhelming, effective,” and said that it “significantly crippled” the Syrian government’s chemical weapons capabilities.
In all, 105 weapons struck the Barzah Research and Development Center outside of Damascus, the Him Shinshar bunker, and a storage site near Homs.
“Taken together … these attacks on multiple axes were able to overwhelm the Syrian air defense systems,” he said.
(U.S. Department of Defense photo)
McKenzie also said that Syrian air defenses fired up to 40 surface-to-air missiles “without guidance,” and that they were “largely ineffective” as they had not managed to shoot down any US aircraft or prevent the intended targets from being destroyed.
Often overlooked in the assessment of the operation is the fact that two new weapons, the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range, known as the JASSM-ER, and the Virginia-class nuclear attack submarine both made their combat debuts during the operation — and appear to have performed perfectly.
The JASSM kept bombers out of Syrian airspace
The JASSM is a standoff air-launched cruise missile made by Lockheed Martin. It is usually dropped from a bomber like a B-1B Lancer or B-2 Spirit, but can also be carried by F-15s and F-16s.
Its standoff capability enables it to be launched well away from its target, meaning its carrying vehicle may not even need to enter hostile airspace. This appears to be what happened in Syria, as Air Force spokesman Lt. Col Damien Pickart told Military.com that the B-1B was able to “launch stand-off weapons from outside Syrian airspace.”
(Lockheed Martin photo)
The JASSM has a range of 200-500 nautical miles, a 1,000 pound penetrator/blast fragmentation warhead that can strike within 10 feet of its target, and a stealthy airframe that, in Lockheed Martin’s words, make it “extremely difficult to defeat.”
The missile has been in service since 2009, and at least 2,000 of them were delivered to the US Air Force. They are also in service with Australia, Finland, and Poland.
A total of 19 JASSMs were launched from B-1 bombers on April 13, 2018, all of which struck the Barzah Research Center. The bombers flew from the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar with an escort of EA-6B Prowlers that are designed for electronic warfare.
The Virginia-class nuclear attack submarine is one of the quietest submarines in service
Made by General Dynamics Electric Boat and Huntington Ingalls Industries, the Virginia-class nuclear attack submarine is one of the newest classes of submarines in the US Navy, and is considered by some to be one of the quietest submarines in service.
It has 12 vertical launch missile tubes that can fire 16 Tomahawk submarine-launched cruise missiles, as well as four 533mm torpedo tubes.
(U.S. Navy photo)
A Virginia-class submarine, the USS John Warner, was one of four US Navy vessels that took part in April 13, 2018’s operation, firing six Tomahawks. The other vessels were the Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS Monterey, and Arleigh Burke-class destroyers USS Higgins and USS Laboon.
USS Laboon and USS Monterey fired 37 Tomahawk cruise missiles from the Red Sea, while USS Higgins fired 23 from the Persian Gulf.
The Warner was notably the only US Navy vessel firing weapons from the Mediterranean Sea, where Russia reportedly has a considerable naval presence. Before the strike, a former Russian navy admiral said the Russian navy would sink the USS Donald Cook, a guided-missile destroyer in the Mediterranean, if it carries out a strike on Syria.
In the end, the Cook didn’t fire, and the Warner, a submarine, fired missiles while submerged, presenting a much more difficult target than a destroyer on the surface.
The Navy released footage of USS John Warner launching its cruise missiles, which you can see here:
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.