MIGHTY CULTURE

7 things you’ll have to learn when you first take a leadership position

Congratulations! You’ve either finally been pinned or you’ve been laterally transferred to a position where you’re placed over someone else. You’ve either worked your ass off to finally accrue the dreaded 798 promotion points… or you’ve been “hey, you”ed into it. Either way, from here on out, your entire career will change for the better.

You stand now at a crossroads and your very first act as a leader will determine which road you move down.

Some days, you’ll have to be the bad guy. You’ll be responsible for breaking the bad news, like the fact that no one is leaving until those NVGs are found. But on the flip side, there’s no greater feeling than the moment you train a troop up, they achieve a goal once thought to be impossible, and they sincerely thank you for getting them there.

For all you new leaders out there, listen up — these are the lessons you’ll need to learn.


Don’t get that twisted — NCO academies teach you a lot about being an NCO. It’s just that the best way to learn to lead troops is, well, leading troops.

(U.S. Army photo by KATUSA Pvt. Seung Ho Park 2ID/RUCD Public Affairs)

You’ll appreciate everything your previous leaders have done for you

No amount of leadership schools can fully train you for actually leading troops. All of that fancy book-learning will be tossed out the window as soon as you’re signing your first initial counseling statement. There’re just so many minor things that you can’t possible be prepared for — the only reference you’ll have is what your NCO did.

If they were fantastic leaders, emulate them. Take them aside and ask for pointers. There’s no shame in asking for advice, and I’m willing to bet they’d be happy to help you out.

But even bad leaders can teach you something. Mostly, they serve as examples of what not to do. Learn from those that came before you.

How it feels when your toxic leadership calls everyone into the training meeting.

(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Capt. Paul Stennett)

You’ll have to sidestep the pitfalls that every toxic leader has fallen into

As much as it’s painful to admit, there’s toxicity in military leadership. From the bottom of your heart, you should despise each and every one of those so-called “leaders” that give the NCO corps and officers a bad name. Ask anyone who blew off the retention NCO why they’re getting out and you’ll see a staggering amount of outstanding troops leaving the military because of terrible leadership. It sucks, but it’s reality — and it should be a call-to-action for every leader to do their part in weeding out this toxicity.

The first step in not becoming a toxic leader is managing one simple distinction: which is the easy path and which is the right path. It’s hard to jump into the 110 degree Connex and finish a layout when you could more easily hold a clipboard and simply supervise. It’s hard to take an asschewing from higher up when you could just let your troop deal with it. It’s hard to not care about your own ribbon rack when you could recommend others for rightfully earning it.

Unfortunately, the right path is often the hardest path, but it’s the one you must walk.

Now, if only there was a reading list compiled by one of the greatest minds the military has seen in ages… Oh wait, there is.

(DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jette Carr)

You’ll have to study just enough of everything to have (at least) a slight understanding

There is a metric f*ck-ton of regulations that you’ll need to be well-versed in and follow. Not only that, but you’ll also need to make sure that your guys are following them, too. Sure, you’re never going to need to know the Army regulation on non-appropriated contracting funds — until, one day, you do.

You don’t need to know everything about every subject, just enough — or where to find that info. As long as you get the gist of things, like keeping good order, discipline, and appearance down, you can take it from there.

It’s much easier, legally in the clear, and more rewarding if you just invite everyone to go drinking. If the guy that you don’t want to come doesn’t show up, oh well…

(U.S. Army photo by Maj. Matthew Fontaine)

You’ll find the line between friendship and authority

There’s a reason that the “fraternization between the ranks” rule is a thing. Normally, the rule is reserved for people in power that try to sleep with their troops, but it’s also enforced for squad leaders who elect to go to the bar with just one or two of their squad and not everyone.

You can never, ever, ever show any sign of preferential treatment towards any of your guys. That is the single fastest way to immediately lose the respect of everyone else not given said treatment. Every order you’ll give will be met with, “well, why isn’t Specialist So-and-so doing it?”

Your opinion does matter if something makes its way up to a court martial, after all.

(Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Katherine Dowd.)

You’ll learn which rules are worth enforcing

No one wants to drop the hammer of the UCMJ — not even leaders. One day, you may have to counsel your Joe because they got caught doing something you thought you’d never have remind a grown-ass adult not to do. They played stupid games and, surprise, won stupid prizes. (We’re not naming names, but get ready for people to get roaring drunk, rip barracks doors down at 0200, use them as sleds to slide down the company area, and, somehow, manage to hit the staff duty van).

Regardless of their stupidity, you are now going to have to enforce the rules. If what they did warrants needing to put them on the chopping block, so be it. But you don’t always have to bring the ax down — especially if someone was just 2 minutes late to work call and they had a valid excuse.

You can never let them see you hurt. They’ll believe you if you say the impossible is possible.

(U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Andrew Kosterman)

You’ll figure out how to hide your faults so no one can ever see them

No one is perfect, but now that you’re a leader, you have seem like it. The slightest mistake will be remembered by your guys from now until the end of time. If they see that you can’t meet the standard or you don’t keep in regulation — neither will they.

This means that there will be days off-duty where you do nothing but train. If you fail a PT test, they won’t take PT seriously. If you don’t know how first aid, they won’t see it as important either. Give everything 110 percent and your troops will subconsciously try to do the same.

We’ll leave this on a quote from the great General Patton. “If you can’t get them to salute when they should salute and wear the clothes you tell them to wear, how are you going to get them to die for their country?”

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Candace Mundt)

You’ll place your troops’ needs above your own.

This rule is baked into the Army’s NCO Creed, but it’s something that everyone from every branch has to come to terms with eventually. This is why something as small as, say, letting your Joe’s cut in front of you at the chow hall separates you as a leader from the so-called “bosses.”

Small gestures are important, but the biggest piece of advice I can offer is that you must be the shield when sh*t rolls downhill. Take the brunt of the First Sergeant’s asschewing. Let them focus on the mission while you bounce between the front line and training meetings that the good idea fairy insisted on starting. The best leaders I’ve had the honor of serving under have all shared a single, collective mentality: The only people that should matter in the chain of command are the little guys at the very end. Embody this.

MIGHTY TRENDING

SMA conducts battle challenge at annual AUSA meeting

Surrounded by a small group of soldiers all dressed in physical training gear, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey kicked off the 2018 Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition with a Battle Challenge event.

“Our soldiers need to be ready,” Dailey said. “Ready to do the basic skills necessary to fight and win on the battlefield. Soldiers need to have the physical … and technical skills to do their job, fight and win.”


Soldiers who participated in this year’s Best Warrior competition were among the first to run the Battle Challenge at AUSA. The winners of the Best Warrior competition will be announced at the Sergeant Major of the Army’s awards luncheon.

Surrounded by a small group of soldiers all dressed in physical training gear, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey kicked off the 2018 Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition with a Battle Challenge event in Washington D.C., Oct. 8, 2018.

(U.S. Army photo by Devon L. Suits)

“PT is the most important thing you do every day. PT is a primary and fundamental thing soldiers do to fight. That is our job — fight and win our nation’s wars,” Dailey said. “AUSA put this together for us, and we couldn’t be happier.”

During the Battle Challenge, soldiers raced against the clock to be the fastest to complete a series of nine different soldier tasks. There is no prize for the winner — just bragging rights knowing that they bested some of the Army’s fiercest competitors.

Soldiers participate in a Battle Challenge event at the 2018 Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington D.C., Oct. 8, 2018.

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. P.J. Siquig)

“The Battle Challenge was fun,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Machado, a platoon sergeant with the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, and one of the Best Warrior competitors.

“During Best Warrior, we were working with some amazing competitors and the battle challenge capped off the event,” he added. “(AUSA) is a lot of fun and great opportunity to see all the things going on (in the Army), and in industry.”

Soldiers participate in a Battle Challenge event at the 2018 Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington D.C., Oct. 8, 2018.

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. P.J. Siquig)

AUSA’s annual meeting is the largest land power exposition and professional development forum in North America, according to event officials. With the theme, “Ready today — more lethal tomorrow,” AUSA is driven to deliver the Army’s message through informative presentations from Army senior leaders about the state of the force.

Soldiers participate in a Battle Challenge event at the 2018 Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington D.C., Oct. 8, 2018.

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. P.J. Siquig)

The event also hosts more than 700 exhibitors, giving the estimated 300,000-plus attendees a hands-on opportunity to interact with some of the latest technologies from the Army and industry partners. Further, AUSA provides attendees with a variety of networking opportunities and panel discussions that define the Army’s role in supporting military and national security initiatives.

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

Articles

21 of the strangest weapons people have tried to sneak past the TSA

Most travelers have a number of things to worry about during the holiday season.


For TSA agents at the country’s airports, there’s also a variety of things to worry about — knives, fake grenades, swords hidden in canes, knives hidden in guns, throwing stars, and all sorts of other contraband.

The TSA has taken to documenting some of the weapons and other prohibited items it encounters at security checkpoints, posting them on the agency’s Instagram account, which has accumulated more than 500,000 followers and rave reviews.

“I knew it would be popular and I knew we’d have a never-ending source of content,” Bob Burns, who runs the Instagram account, told The Washington Post. “But I didn’t know how popular we’d be.”

Below, you can see a selection of strange weaponry or look-alike weaponry that the TSA has come across and put on its Instagram, which Rolling Stone recently ranked as the fourth-best account on the social-media site.

“We’re pretty sure this isn’t a letter opener. A bladed dragon claw perhaps??? Whatever it is, it should be packed in checked baggage. It was discovered in a carry-on bag at Atlanta (ATL).”

“Is this some kind of confangled rotisserie contraption for turkeys? Nope. These are Sai. If you’re a #TeenageMutantTurtle fan, you’ll know the Sai as Raphael’s weapon or choice. If you still have no clue, a Sai is a weapon used for striking, bludgeoning and punctures. Whatever it is you use them for, please know they must be packed in checked baggage. These were discovered in a carry-on bag at Boise (BOI).”

“This ornate flask of black powder was discovered in a carry-on bag at Allentown (ABE). While it is a fancy flask, the black powder contained within is an explosive and is strictly prohibited in both carry-on and checked bags.”

“Packing list: Socks. ✅ Toothbrush. ✅ Curling Iron. ✅ Post-apocalyptic bullet-adorned gas mask. ❌ While gas masks are allowed in carry-on bags, replica bullets are not. This was discovered in a carry-on bag at Miami (MIA). Maybe he was catching a one way flight to #FuryRoad?”

“Don’t pack your homemade replica suicide vest. The traveler who packed this vest in his checked bag at Richmond (RIC) stated it was a prop intended for use in a live-action role-playing game (LARP). TSA explosives experts raced to the checked baggage room and the airport police were called immediately. Fortunately, the explosives experts determined the vest posed no danger. It has yet to be determined if the officer who searched the bag needed a change of clothing.”

“While about to receive a pat-down after opting out of body scanner screening, a Chicago O’Hare (ORD) traveler remembered that he had a throwing knife necklace under his shirt. All knives are prohibited and concealed knives can lead to fines and arrest.”

“While some travelers are worried about packing nail clippers (they are allowed), others pack a pair of five-bladed floggers. You guessed it; these are not allowed in carry-on bags. If you’re in a situation where you’re going to need your floggers, they’ll have to be packed in checked baggage. These were discovered last week in a carry-on bag at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas (IAH).”

“You’ve likely heard that you’re not supposed to bring a knife to a gunfight? Well, you’re not supposed to bring either in your carry-on bag. Both replica weapons and knives are not allowed in carry-on bags. If you find yourself needing to travel with your gun knife, please pack it in your checked bag. This gun knife was discovered in a carry-on bag at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW).”

“This 4-bladed throwing star was discovered in a carry-on bag at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO). These must be packed in your checked bags. Sorry Prince Colwyn. #Krull”

“This belt buckle knife was discovered in a traveler’s carry-on property recently at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport (CAE). Concealed weapons can lead to fines and arrest.”

“Naruto’s ninja gear was discovered in a carry-on bag at Las Vegas (LAS). Please pack all ninja gear in your checked bags.”

“This knuckle knife was discovered in a carry-on bag at Memphis (MEM). Knives of any size are not allowed in carry-on bags. They must be packed in checked bags.”

“This impaler cane was discovered amongst a traveler’s carry-on property in Baltimore (BWI). These must be packed with checked baggage. Concealed weapons can lead to fines and arrest.”

“Many things can be hidden in shoes, but explosives are what concern us the most. This shoe is a replica of the bomb Richard Reid attempted to use in 2001 on his flight from Paris to Miami.”

“Your trailer hitch hand grenade is prohibited from both carry-on and checked bags. So what’s the big deal if it’s inert? First off, we don’t know it’s inert until explosives professionals take a closer look, and that takes time and slows down the line. It can even lead to a complete shutdown and evacuation. Also, imagine the person sitting next to you on the plane pulling this out of their carry-on. For these reasons, anything resembling a bomb or grenade is prohibited from both carry-on and checked bags. #TSATravelTips This inert grenade was discovered in a checked bag recently at the SBP airport.”

“And yet, another confounded #batarang has been discovered in a carry-on bag. This time it was discovered at the Charlottesville–Albemarle Airport (CHO). Batarangs, along with most other items on your utility belt must be packed in your checked bag. #Bam #Kapow #Zok #Biff #Zowie”

“These swords and throwing knives were discovered recently in a carry-on bag at the William P. Hobby Airport Houston (HOU). You guessed it! Swords and throwing knives are prohibited in carry-on bags. It perfectly acceptable to pack them in your checked bags, though.”

“This knife was discovered concealed in a bottle of pills at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Concealed knives can lead to fines and arrest. Please pack them in your checked bag.”

“#TBT November, 2007 – These knives were discovered concealed in a PC/DVD-ROM game case at Gulfport (GPT). Knives are prohibited, and concealed knives can lead to fines and arrest. You may pack knives, swords, machetes and other bladed items in your checked bags.”

“It’s a cane. It’s a sword. It’s a cane sword, and it’s prohibited from being packed with your carry-on items. Cane swords may be packed in your checked bag. This cane sword was discovered at LaGuardia (LGA).”

MIGHTY CULTURE

Ministering to spiritual needs on the front lines of COVID-19

Over the past few months, our lives have radically changed in ways both large and small. From how we go about our weekly errands to how we socialize with our wider communities. Social distancing has quickly brought to the forefront just how intrinsic human interaction is to our mental and emotional well-being.

As is always the case in times of crises, we can find hope in the examples of resilience and adaptability shown by people across the country. To see how this crisis is bringing people together in solidarity, you need only look at the selflessness of our health care workers and essential-service employees.


Beyond the physical and emotional tolls, these uncertain times have naturally affected our spiritual and religious lives, as well. Our new reality of social distancing affects weekly services, prayer and support groups and even religious holy days.

Spiritual Labyrinth at Nashville VA Medical Center.

Comprised of 775 men and women, VA Chaplaincy tends to the spiritual needs of Veterans and VA staff across the VA health care system. Their primary role is to provide advocacy and spiritual support for VA patients.

The photo above is of the South Texas VA chaplain staff in 2017.

Chaplaincy turns to communications platforms

VA Chaplaincy, like other aspects of VA, has been challenged to think-outside-the-box, be innovative and be creative in the manner of providing spiritual care.

Like many of us, VA’s chaplains have turned to various communications platforms to connect with the people they serve. Using video conferencing tools and VA Video Connect, chapel services, group meetings and other interactions have continued largely uninterrupted.

By broadcasting services, many chaplains have even noticed a rise in attendance. More people are attending virtually than could physically fit in the hospitals’ chapels.

Chaplains in the Central Texas Health Care System began sending out “daily devotionals.” These short messages of hope and encouragement are sent via email throughout their health care system.

“The responses have been so overwhelmingly positive,” said Chaplain Byron Singleton. Singleton is chief of chaplains for the Central Texas Health Care System. “Those daily emails are circulating to active duty U.S. military personnel around the globe.”

Oftentimes, our spiritual, emotional and mental well-being are far more personal, rather than based in a broader community. With social distancing in place, families can no longer visit their loved ones in hospitals. Chaplains routinely facilitate video calls with patients’ families, wearing the necessary PPE, of course.

Chaplains call every Veteran at high-risk for self-harm

In San Antonio, chaplains have gone out of their way to individually telephone every Veteran in their health care system who may be at high risk for self-harm. They check on Veterans and offer any assistance they might need. Chaplain Kerry Haynes, chief of Chaplain Services at San Antonio VA: “A simple phone call seems to lift their spirits and remind them they are not alone.”

This personal touch isn’t just for VA patients. Chaplains, who routinely support clinicians on their rounds, also have begun to hold daily meditations for VA staff at the beginning or end of their shifts. This provides a moment of calm in their busy days.

These are exceptional times. Now more than ever, we need to remember that compassion and empathy are indispensable. We’re all in this together, and together we will persevere.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.


MIGHTY CULTURE

Here’s why Elon Musk is wrong about fighter jets (but right about drones)

Last week, Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk ruffled some feathers during a discussion with Air Force Lt. Gen. John Thompson at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium. The controversial tech mogul, who is no stranger to drawing headlines and occasionally criticism, voiced concerns over America’s apparent love affair with Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, first calling for competition for the advanced fighter, and then going further to say that the era of manned fighter jets was over.


“Locally autonomous drone warfare is where it’s at, where the future will be,” Musk said. “It’s not that I want the future to be this, that’s just what the future will be. … The fighter jet era has passed. Yeah, the fighter jet era has passed. It’s drones.”

Elon Musk, chief engineer of SpaceX, speaks with U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. John Thompson, the Space and Missile Systems Center commander and program executive officer for space.

(Senior Airman Christian Conrad/U.S. Air Force)

Musk went on to say that even the F-35 wouldn’t stand a chance against a sufficiently advanced drone that coupled computer augmented flying with human control.

When the story broke, we here at Sandboxx pointed out that Musk is right that a technologically advanced drone could potentialy do a lot of things a manned aircraft couldn’t — including manage hypersonic maneuvers that would leave most human pilots unconscious as a result of the G-forces. Scramjet technology has proven effective at propelling unmanned aircraft to hypersonic speeds in the past, and it seems entirely feasible that this tech will find its way into UCAVs (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles) in the future.

An X-51A WaveRider hypersonic flight test vehicle is uploaded to an Air Force Flight Test Center B-52 for fit testing at Edwards Air Force Base.

(U.S. Air Force photo/Chad Bellay)

But, we noted, the problem with Musk’s bright idea is that information traveling at the speed of light is actually too slow for the sort of control drone operators would need for such a platform. Even with a somewhat local operator, as Musk pointed toward, the time it would take to relay sensor data from the drone to the operator, followed my the operator processing the information and making a decision, followed by those commands being transmitted back to the drone is simply too slow a process for the split-second decisions that can be essential in a dog fight.

In other words, Musk’s plan is hypothetically right, but likely won’t work in practice for some time to come.

“For a long time, we’re still going to need the manned aircraft on the fighter and bomber side,” Air Combat Command chief Gen. Mike Holmes, an F-15 Eagle pilot, said Wednesday during the annual McAleese Defense Programs Conference. “We will increasingly be experimenting with other options, [and] we’re going to work together.”

U.S. Air Force Gen. Mike Holmes, commander of Air Combat Command, watches a mission video during a visit to the 363rd Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance Wing at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Areca T. Bell)

The future of air combat likely will include some combination of manned and unmanned aircraft, which is exactly the future the Air Force’s Skyborg program is aiming for. Using “loyal wingman” armed drones like the Kratos Valkyrie, the Air Force hopes to couple fighters like the F-35 with support drones that can extend sensor range, engage targets, and even sacrifice themselves to protect the manned aircraft. In theory, one F-35 could control a number of drones that bear the majority of the risk, flying ahead of the manned jet.

“We can take risk with some systems to keep others safer,” the Air Force’s service acquisition executive, Dr. Will Roper said. “We can separate the sensor and the shooter. Right now they’re collocated on a single platform with a person in it. In the future, we can separate them out, put sensors ahead of shooters, put our manned systems behind the unmanned. There’s a whole playbook.”

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jesenia Landaverde)

The combination of the sort of technology in play in Skyborg and rapidly developing hypersonic propulsion could put the power of hypersonic platforms in the hands of fighter pilots, just likely not in the jets they’re flying.

Of course, doing so would greatly increase the mental load on pilots in the fight, particularly if their means of controlling their wingmen drones is too complex. One of the selling points of the F-35 that doesn’t get much play in the press is its ability to fuse data from disparate sensors into an overlapping augmented reality display. Prior to this advancement, pilots had to read and manage multiple displays and gauges, combining the data in their minds to make decisions. In the F-35, friendly and enemy assets are clearly identified with colored indicators, as are air speed, altitude, and other essential information. At night, pilots can even use external cameras with their augmented reality helmets to look through the aircraft at the ground below.

This is what an F-15 pilot has to keep track of while flying combat missions.

(USAF Photo)

A complex drone-control interface could be a step backward in a pilot’s ability to manage the flow of data, but a DARPA experiment first revealed in 2018 might just be able to solve that problem.

At the time, Justin Sanchez, director of DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office, explained that two years prior, DARPA had successfully utilized what he called a “Brain Computer Interface” to put one volunteer in control of not one, but three simulated aircraft at the same time. The “N3 System,” as they call it, could give pilots the ability to manage their drone wingmen using only their mind.

“As of today, signals from the brain can be used to command and control … not just one aircraft but three simultaneous types of aircraft,” he said at the “Trajectory of Neurotechnology” session at DARPA’s 60thanniversary event

(DARPA)

In later experiments, volunteers even experienced feedback from the aircraft, transmitted into their brains to feel like a tingling sensation in the hands when the aircraft was pushing back against steering in a certain direction. The only problem is, currently, this system only works for volunteers who have had surgically implanted electrodes in their brain. The volunteers were all people with varying levels of paralysis, as this same technology could feasibly be used to control exoskeletons that could help a patient regain the ability to walk.

“The envisioned N3 system would be a tool that the user could wield for the duration of a task or mission, then put aside,” said Al Emondi, head of N3, according to a company spokesperson. “I don’t like comparisons to a joystick or keyboard because they don’t reflect the full potential of N3 technology, but they’re useful for conveying the basic notion of an interface with computers.”

So, while it’s true that a drone isn’t subject to same physical limitations a manned aircraft is, the tradeoff is that a drone would need to have an extremely advanced, fully autonomous flight system in order to execute maneuvers at the fuzzy edge of its capabilities, because communications lag would make such performance impossible in a human-controlled drone at a distance. If the drone weren’t under the control of a nearby pilot, the only choice would be to give the drone itself decision making capabilities, either through an on-board processor, or through an encrypted cloud computing process.

To date, that level of tech simply doesn’t exist, and even if it did, it would pose significant moral and ethical questions about what level of war fighting we’re comfortable relinquishing to a computer. Friendly fire incidents or unintentional civilian casualties are complicated enough without having to defend the actions of a Terminator drone, even if they were justified.

In the future, it seems entirely likely that drones will indeed be more capable than manned fighters, but they still won’t be able to fly without their cockpit-carrying-counterparts. A single F-35 pilot, for instance, may head into battle with a bevy of hyper-capable drone wingmen, but the decision to deploy ordnance, to actually take lives, will remain with the pilot, rather than the drone, just as those decisions are currently made by human drone operators.

Elon Musk is right that drones can do incredible things, but he’s wrong about the need for human hands on the stick. The future doesn’t look like Skynet, but it may look like the terrible 2005 movie, “Stealth.”

Elon Musk may be good at building rockets, electric cars, and even tunnel boring machines, but when it comes to predicting the future of warfare, he’s just as fallible as the rest of us.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This soldier collected 500 pairs of sandals for barefoot orphans

Sgt. 1st Class Robert Rodriguez and his platoon patrol the sandy streets of Djibouti, the hot East African sun scorches their path with temperatures upwards of 115 degrees. Passing through impoverished villages, Rodriguez began to notice a devastating trend — most of the children are barefooted.

It was during his visit to an orphanage that, Rodriquez immediately thought of his own two daughters and made it his personal mission to do something about the shoeless orphans.

“While on patrol, every few weeks we passed a local orphanage where children gather for their meals,” Rodriguez said. “Children aged 5-8 sleep along the walls outside and wake up to shower in the orphanage. They eat cups of peanut butter for protein with crackers. Since there is no refrigeration, that is the most protein they are able to get. That’s their lunch — crackers. So I thought you know what? This would be a great mission for my church back home.”


While on emergency leave due to his father’s passing, Rodriguez pushed past his grief to talk to students and coordinate a sandal drive with the school that his daughters attend, Blessed Sacrament Elementary School in Laredo, Texas. Their Catholic school is part of the parish that Rodriguez and his family belong to.

Sgt. 1st Class Robert Rodriguez, a platoon sergeant for the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 36th Infantry Division of the Texas Army National Guard, stands with several of the children in Djibouti. Rodriguez gifted 500 sandals to barefoot orphans and children during their deployment.

(Photo by Capt. Nadine Wiley De Moura)

“I am very active in my daughter’s school and I wanted to get my daughters involved and proactive in something in Africa as well,” Rodriguez, a platoon sergeant for the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 36th Infantry Division of the Texas Army National Guard, said. “I talked to the principal, who said she would talk to Father Wojciech, the priest in charge of his church in Laredo. The school sent out flyers thru the National Junior Honor Society asking parents to donate one pair of sandals.”

On Veteran’s day, Rodriguez who is completing his fourth deployment, visited his daughter’s school to talk about his service in the military and the children in Djibouti.

“I described how the weather was there, how hot it was and asked them to imagine standing outside, barefooted in Laredo,” Rodriguez said. “My daughters and their classmates are at that age where they are learning to help others and how to ask for help as well. I want them to learn a sense of compassion.”

From September to December, his daughter’s school collected six boxes filled with roughly 500 sandals of varying sizes. After the sandals were collected, the students raised money to send the two by three-foot shipping boxes to Djibouti for Rodriguez and his unit to deliver to the children.

Sgt. 1st Class Robert Rodriguez, a platoon sergeant for the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 36th Infantry Division of the Texas Army National Guard, hands out sandals to barefoot orphans and children with his platoon during their deployment, February 2019 in Djibouti.

(Photo by Capt. Nadine Wiley De Moura)

“This is the first time that we have done something so big that reaches out of the country,” Cynthia Sanchez, math and science teacher at Blessed Sacrament School. “It’s a trickle-down effect, from parents, and at school they are learning how to help others so that they can teach their own kids.”

Normally, the school participated in blanket, canned food and sweater drives, and periodically will make trips to feed the homeless.

“They feel good and warm inside about helping others with no incentives but because they want to give it,” said Sanchez. “We weren’t expecting that amount. A lot of parents and kids wanted to do their part and National Junior honor Society members went outside of the school into their communities to get donations.”

Anxiously waiting for the packages to arrive, Rodriguez received the sandals in February.

In order to distribute the sandals in the community, Rodriguez coordinated with the local orphanage and the village elder for approval.

After he received approval, Rodriguez and his platoon set out to deliver the sandals to the children of the community.

“When we handed out the sandals the children were so surprised,” Rodriguez said. “Their happiness turned into overwhelming joy, to trying to be next, I made sure they all were good. It got chaotic at times but these children had nothing but what they were wearing and most were barefooted.”

Rodriguez, who kept close contact with his daughter’s school immediately alerted the school, via e-mail, that he had handed out the sandals to the children.

Children from Djibouti pose for a photo after receiving sandals from Texas Army National Guard Soldier, Sgt. 1st Class Robert Rodriguez and his platoon, February 2019 in Djibouti.

(Photo by Capt. Nadine Wiley De Moura)

In response, Anacecy Chavez, a Blessed Sacrament School teacher wrote:

“When I read this my heart jumped. You are a super hero for me and many others for serving our country and helping those around you.”

The Director of the orphanage, Caritas Djibouti, also thanked Rodriguez and his daughter’s school for their donation.

“We had the good surprise a few days ago to receive, through Mr. Rodriguez, a nice and generous donation of shoes for the street children here at Caritas,” said Francesco Martialis, director of Caritas Djibouti. “It was such a generous support which will be usefully used for sure! And also many thanks for the Church support that we feel, from here Djibouti, an isolated place, through your donation. It is precious to us.”

Rodriguez, who has been a soldier on the Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force for 18 years, is no stranger to getting involved into the community. Task force members routinely support local law enforcement agencies and community-based organizations in an effort to detect, interdict and deter illicit drug activity.

In addition to being an involved member of his church, Rodriguez said that his experience as a task force member enhanced his ability to build relationships on an international level, communicate and coordinate with partners in order to make the drive a success.

Although Rodriguez’s tour is coming to a close, he has continued to solidify the connections of his church at home with the local Djibouti church — which coincidentally are both named Blessed Sacrament.

Rodriguez spoke to the Bishop of the Djibouti Catholic Church about maintaining contact in the case that they may be able to provide more donations for the children.

“It is great to hear that our young youth are striving to be humanitarians as that is something this world is missing more of,” Rodriguez said. “It gives me great pride to know that the sacrifices we make as soldiers to protect our country is giving our youth the opportunity to grow into caring, responsible and giving citizens of our communities.”

This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

6 reasons being E-4(ish) mafia is the best

Every military branch makes it plain where exactly you stand. It is worn on your uniform, printed on your CAC, you are greeted by it every day. “It” is rank and it plays a significant role as it entails your duties and expectations, job notwithstanding. It seems one rank reigns supreme in every service, though.


Below are 6 of the top reasons why being top of the lower enlisted ranks is the best rank.

Related:5 reasons MPs hate on firefighters

6. It’s the “25” of ranks

25 is the age that many of us have the time of our lives. We are far enough removed from teenage angst and the crap that often associates with it but still a lot more than a few wake-ups away from the big three-oh.

Old enough to get good insurance rates, but young enough to fit in most everywhere.

That is the Air Force’s Senior Airman. That is the Marine’s Lance Corporal. That is the Army’s Specialist. This is the Navy’s Seaman (heh). It’s far enough removed from boot but quite a ways from retirement.

A toast to the good life. (Image from Warner Bros’ The Great Gatsby).

5. Watch and learn

This is the perfect rank to watch and learn.

You may have been mentored and exposed to some supervisory duties earlier (if you weren’t assigned to a POS) but it’s at this level where you are allowed to flex some of what you’ve learned.

Sometimes that power comes in an official supervisory capacity, sometimes as a makeshift assistant to your actual supervisor. It’s like being a Non-Commissioned Officer, but with training wheels.

A SrA trying to explain how things go to a brand new Airman. (Image from Warner Bros’ Caddyshack).

4. Respect

The opinion of the Senior Airman/Specialist/Lance Corporal is respected. Those beneath the look up to them, or they should anyway, and those who outrank them will look to them as the bridge between the NCO and junior enlisted tiers.

It is literally the best of both worlds.

When you finally gain respect. (Image from Toonami’s Dragon Ball Z).

3. Introductory supervisory roles

As stated above, you may have some actual, official supervisor duties depending on how long you’ve been there and what type of performance you’ve turned in to that point.

Even if you haven’t been granted such access, you are still going to be entrusted with certain responsibilities just based on the necessity for you to grow up and fill the role.

A SSgt explaining the basics to their prized SrA.

2. You know all the tricks

At this point, you know what you’re supposed to be doing and how to do it, most of the time. You also know exactly what you’re not supposed to do…and what rules will really get you in trouble.

You know how to maximize your sleep and how to quickly get your uniform together. You can commit large passages of regulation to memory, verbatim. You know what you’re doing and what you want to do.

Good news is you’ve mastered this rank just in time to promote. Now the game changes.

All SrA watching younger Airmen think they’re getting away with something. (Image from Paramount Pictures’ Willy Wonka the Chocolate Factory).

Also read: 7 of the top surprises veterans face going to school

1. Perfect purgatory

You rest in nearly a perfect position.

You’ve been in for a some time now and have likely earned a good amount of respect and responsibility and that feels great. Conversely, you’re still junior enlisted yourself and won’t be thrown into the deep end just yet.

How is this better than being an NCO? From my experience in the Air Force, Staff Sergeants are typically viewed in a more infantile manner than the Senior Airman.

I know, it doesn’t make any sense. Still, it is a fact of life.

Glorious freedom. (Image from Warner Bros’ 300).

MIGHTY TRENDING

Mormon colonies are fighting drug cartels in Mexico

Early one morning in Galeana, Mexico, a series of pickup trucks pulled up to a small, unassuming house. It was like many houses in the state of Chihuahua, except this one was occupied by the family of a man who decided to stand up to the drug cartels that had for so long terrorized his friends and neighbors. The man (along with a friend who had come by to check on the commotion) were dragged away at gunpoint. The narcos drove them down the street and shot them.


That was the last straw. Now there’s a new force standing up to the cartels terrorizing the people and government of Mexico, a resistance is coming from what you might think of as an unlikely source: The Mormon Church.

The war on drugs in Mexico has seen an uptick in violence in recent years. When the government switched its tactics to take down the higher-ranking members of the cartels, their successes left power vacuums in their wake, which sparked wars for dominance among individuals inside the cartels. As a result, the drug-related violence has only gotten more widespread and more intense as time wore on. The violence is ten times deadlier in Mexico than in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Vice reporter and founder Shane Smith drove down to Chihuahua to talk to the long-established Mormon colony run by the Lebaron family, descendants of the first Mormon settlers in the region. The Lebaron family, like most who stand up to bullies, were just pushed around once too often, as a result of kidnappings, extortion, and ultimately, murder.

Vice founder Shane Smith with the Mexican Federal Police at a Chihuahua road block.

(Vice News)

Mormons first came to Mexico in 1875 to escape persecution from the U.S. government for their beliefs, specifically plural marriage – also known as polygamy. Those who refused to adhere to the United States’ demand to end the practice came to Mexico where they could continue what they saw as not only a divine right, but a commandment. Their descendants still live there to this day, just south of the border.

The murders in Galeana were the result of the Mormon colonies who put pressure on the cartels through their political partners in the Mexican government. After one of their own was kidnapped, they told the government to do something about it, or they would do it themselves. The kidnapped child was returned unharmed, but shortly after, the Mormons paid the price with the lives of Benjamin Lebaron and his friend Luis Widmar.

Firearms smuggled from the United States into Mexico and captured by the Federales.

(Vice News)

That changed the game. The Mormons went through the process of getting gun ownership rights in the country, no small feat. Then they called in the Federales, who use their colony – a known safe haven from narcos – as a base of operations, intercepting drug smugglers on major highways in Chihuahua, conducting patrols and raids, and watching the traffickers as they work. The Mormons themselves have also joined the fight, they have adopted the tactics of U.S. troops fighting insurgents in the Iraq War, setting roadblocks and observation posts of their own.

Word got around to the narcos, eventually. Rumor has it the Mormons employ scouts and snipers to defend their colonies. The drug traffickers are all known to the Mormons now, their vehicles and faces easily identifiable to Church leaders, who work in close concert with the Mexican federal police. Their enduring vigilance has led to an uneasy stalemate in violence and kidnappings. They still occur, but with much less frequency.

For now.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why you need to know about Juneteenth

There are moments in history that are nothing short of monumental, but they aren’t broadly celebrated or acknowledged. Juneteenth is one of those days.

You may have heard the word Juneteenth at some point in your life but have no idea what it’s about. It’s a turning point in our country that isn’t emphasized in history books, so it’s easy to skate past the day with little care. But it’s time we give the respect it deserves.


Here’s the story about Juneteenth, and why we all should know it.

Remember learning about when President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery during the Civil War? The executive order went into effect on January 1, 1863, but it wasn’t an immediate victory. It would take two and a half more years before the news that slavery had ended would reach remote Texas.

Up to this point, black people (who were captured and brought to America) were viewed and treated as property and animals, not humans with rights. Their purpose was that of free labor for farming, working as servants and basically doing whatever their owners commanded. Many people saw slavery as immoral and wanted to end it. Confederates didn’t agree that the federal government had the right to do so, which was a major factor in them separating from the Union. Subsequently, the Civil War began.

In 1865, the Confederate states were defeated.

Two months after the Civil War ended, General Gordon Granger announced federal order in Galveston, Texas, the last Confederate state holding onto their human property. Granger declared that all previously enslaved people were free, and he was backed by Union troops to enforce the decree.

This climax of freedom took place on June 19, 1865, therefore, Juneteenth. It is the annual celebration of African Americans being released from the last shred of slavery in this country. Some communities hold gatherings, parades and festivals in commemoration.

The happenings of June 19 were major progress, not just for black Americans, but for our nation! It was a beginning step toward equality and to be treated as people and not property.

Our country explodes in celebration recognizing July 4, 1776 (Independence Day). But black people were still enslaved. Juneteenth is the African American day of freedom. To acknowledge it is to say, this happened, and it is a day we honor, value and will make noise about in celebration together.

Changes are happening as Americans of varying nationalities are screaming in the streets that Black Lives Matter and demanding social justice. Recognizing Juneteenth is a part of that package.

Nike, New York Times, Target, Lyft, JCPenney and many other companies are making Juneteenth an annual paid holiday. They encourage employees to use this time to reflect on the many injustices black people have faced in America, and to connect to the community.

While 47 of the states acknowledge Juneteenth in some capacity (North Dakota, South Dakota and Alaska do not), Texas, Virginia, New York and Pennsylvania are the only ones recognizing it as an official paid holiday for state employees.

While Juneteenth is not yet a national holiday, the significance of this time is starting to catch hold. While many white Americans are acknowledging the pattern of struggle that African Americans still face daily, we have long strides to make.

Recognizing the ending of slavery as a nation is a good start! Happy Juneteenth!

MIGHTY CULTURE

6 ways to beat cabin fever this winter

This can be a hard time of year. The holidays are over, and we’re ready for spring — but it’s still winter. For many people that means not leaving the house, or the couch, until the middle of March. But let’s face it, there are only so many shows you can binge watch on Netflix and Hulu. You need to get outside, breathe in the cold air, let the sun shine on your pale face, put the snow or cold earth between your fingers, and get the blood pumping through those stiff muscles.


It may seem like a chore to get up and moving, but you won’t be sorry. From exploration to exercise, a lucrative side hustle to just kicking back and relaxing with friends in a shanty, there are plenty of things to do during these final months of winter.

The author snowboarding at Monarch Mountain, Colorado.

(Photo courtesy of Michael Herne.)

1. Skiing or Snowboarding

As soon as the first snow of the year begins to fall, my mind immediately goes to the slopes. Skiing and snowboarding are two of America’s most popular winter sports, and for good reason. Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie who wants to see how fast you can bomb a double black diamond or a beginner on the bunny slope, you’re going to get some great physical exercise. No slopes? No problem.

2. Cross-country Skiing

This type of skiing can be done on flat land — all you need is a set of skis and some motivation. Similar to hiking with skis on your feet, you use your own locomotion to traverse the snow-covered countryside. It requires a bit of skill and practice, but it’s a great introduction to its downhill counterpart and will get your blood pumping.

A rainbow trout caught while doing some winter fishing in Colorado.

(Photo courtesy of Michael Herne.)

3. Snowmobiling

Riding a snowmobile — also known as a sled or snowmachine, if you’re from Alaska — is an absolute thrill and a great way to get an adrenaline boost. Many current stock machines boast speeds of 95 to 125 mph, raw power at the squeeze of the throttle. If speed isn’t your thing, they’re also a great way to get out and tour the countryside. Many towns in the northern states have groomed trails that allow you to ride from town to town and even to restaurants and bars. Don’t have a couple grand to drop on a seasonal vehicle? Many places offer snowmobile tours and rentals. Get out and shred!

4. Hiking and Shed Hunting

No, I’m not talking about raiding your neighbor’s shed; shed hunting refers to antlers. Every year from January until about March, members of the deer family shed their antlers. Why go out in search of cast antlers in the winter? A matching pair of freshly shed antlers from a big whitetail can be sold for over 0 if you find the right buyer. Their value decreases after they’ve laid in the woods for a while and become bleached from the sun. Shed hunting also gives you a reason to get outside and hike! A great place to start when searching for these elusive bones is along fence rows, as antlers will sometimes fall off from the force of a deer jumping the fence. Make sure you have permission from landowners and check your local and state regulations.

The author’s view while searching for shed antlers in western Nebraska.

(Photo courtesy of Michael Herne.)

5. Ice Fishing

Most people think of warm, sunny days as ideal fishing weather, but ice fishing provides the perfect excuse for getting outside and relaxing with your buddies. For those who haven’t experienced it, you just need to find some safe ice — at least 4 inches — drill a hole, and drop a line with either bait or a jig on it. It can be as comfortable or as rugged as you make it. We usually take popup shelters, heaters, and a cooler full of our favorite beverages and snacks, then spend the day catching fish and bullshitting. By the time we’re done, we usually need to call someone to come get us — but that’s half the fun!

6. Snowshoeing

Like hiking, snowshoeing is a beginner-friendly sport. You already know how to walk, so there is no need to learn a new skill, just adjust your stride to accommodate the oversized snowshoes. Snowshoeing can allow you to access areas that are crowded by tourists in fair weather by allowing you to move on top of the snow. It’s also inexpensive compared to many other winter activities — all you need to be on your way down the trail are warm winter clothes, snowshoes, and poles. Though not hard to learn, snowshoeing will definitely elevate your heart rate!

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How people give Abraham Lincoln the last laugh at his killer

It was not an ending befitting a man of Lincoln’s personal stature. He died in a bed at the House of a local tailor, William Petersen. He didn’t die right away, instead dying the next morning after a night of labored breathing. His assassin, John Wilkes Booth, bolted out the door and made for Maryland, crossing the Navy Yard bridge after the evening curfew. From there, he and his conspirators made their way to Virginia, where they were captured and eventually executed.


The killing was dramatic, public, and caused a popular outcry that has persisted for generations – and continues to this day.

The manhunt for Booth and the co-conspirators, those who also attacked Secretary of State William Seward and failed to murder Vice-President Andrew Johnson, was the largest in American history. It was personally led by Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton. A reward for a sum equal to more than 0,000 when adjusted for inflation was offered for Booth and searches were conducted by the U.S. goddamn Army.

You know you maxed-out your wanted level when the U.S. military is after you.

Booth and accomplice David Herold made it to a Virginia farm one night and were asleep in the barn when the 16th New York Cavalry came calling. Herold surrendered when the cavalry ordered the men to come out, but Booth would not be taken alive. As soldiers set fire to the barn, the assassin gathered his weapons and made for the back door. Unfortunately for Booth, Sgt. Thomas “Boston” Corbett was already there, having snuck around to the back earlier. He shot Booth in the back of the head just below where Booth hit President Lincoln. The assassin was paralyzed immediately and died outside the farmhouse, surrounded by Union cavalry two hours later.

Of the eight people arrested for the conspiracy, four were hanged (including Herold), three were given life sentences, and one served six years. Booth’s body was rolled into a horse blanket and eventually buried next to the four who were hanged for their crimes. They were moved briefly before being turned over to his family in 1869. They moved his body to their family plot near Baltimore. There, in that plot, you’ll find a small, unmarked stone – one likely covered in pennies.

Visitors believe this to be John Wilkes Booth’s final resting place, and leave pennies on top of the marker as a means to mock the assassin, more than a century after his death. The penny (in case you don’t use cash) usually features the image of President Lincoln. It’s far more economical to get your kicks in with a penny than with a bill.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Kim Jong Un may be on the way to New York City next

White House officials are reportedly looking to schedule a second meeting between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump in New York City in September 2018, in an attempt to progress from the two leaders’ first summit in Singapore.

The meeting would take place during the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), an annual gathering for world leaders in New York’s Midtown East, Axios reported on July 2, 2018. This year’s UNGA will take place from September 18 to September 30 2018.


Trump and Kim pledged after their June 12, 2018 summit to work toward “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula, but experts have criticized its vagueness and absence of language committing North Korea to the US’s goal of “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization” — which Pyongyang has routinely refused to carry out.

John Bolton, Trump’s national security advisor, said on July 1, 2018, that the US plans for North Korea to dismantle its chemical, biological, nuclear, and ballistic missile programs in a year’s time.

Trump could dangle a second meeting in New York as an incentive for North Korea to follow that timeline, officials told Axios.

A June 21, 2018 satellite image of North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear reactor suggests that the country is still improving its nuclear facilities.
(Airbus Defense and Space and 38 North)

Some North Korea experts, however, have questioned Pyongyang’s willingness to make good on Trump’s nuclear goals.

Satellite images taken nine days after the Singapore summit showed North Korea continuing to build on the infrastructure at a key nuclear reactor.

A senior US intelligence official also said that Pyongyang was continuing to “deceive us on the number of facilities, the number of weapons, the number of missiles.”

Victor Cha, the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, also told Axios that the Trump administration “needs to get a commitment to a full declaration” and have international experts in North Korea “sealing stuff and installing cameras” to ensure North Korea sticks to its promises.

If Kim does visit New York in September 2018, it will be the longest journey he has ever taken as North Korean leader.

Kim has sent his officials to UNGA in the past, but never been himself. At the gathering in 2017, the country’s foreign minister, Ri Yong Ho, called Trump “a mentally deranged person full of megalomania” who made a North Korean nuclear attack on the US “inevitable all the more.”

2017’s UNGA was also where Trump publicly referred to Kim as “Rocket Man” for the first time, which resulted in Kim’s calling the US president a “mentally deranged US dotard” in response.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

A Green Beret’s thoughts on the Great Debate: 5.56mm vs. 6.8mm SPC

The Department of Defense is conducting trials for a new general-purpose 6.8mm round, something that I think is long overdue. Anytime a new caliber comes up, we see much gnashing of teeth from two separate camps. On the one side is the “good enough for grandpappy at Khe San” crew, who will deride the waste of tax money and preach shot placement.


And on the other will be the “I knew 5.56 was an underpowered poodle shooter round, we should all have 300 Winchester Magnum carbines.” Often accompanied by stories of shooting a bad guy 50 times, but he still ran off with the guidon. But just for a moment, let’s get our underwear out of a bunch, and take a critical look at 5.56 as a caliber.

The first thing we need to understand is how we got here. Most people already know the story of how the M-16, and its new 5.56 bullet, were first adopted by the Air Force for security forces at airfields. Painful as it is to admit, the Air Force is often smarter than the rest of us. The Army and Marine Corps were having none of it, sticking to the traditional obsession with a .30 caliber bullet. The M1 Garand, chambered in 30.06, won WW2.

New technology in the 1950’s allowed the development of .308 Winchester (aka 7.62×51), which in layman’s terms is ballistically identical to 30.06, in a shorter case. Add to that the idea of a detachable magazine, and you get the M-14.

The resemblance of an M-14 to an M1 Garand isn’t coincidental. John Garand designed the M1, and actually started working on its perceived shortcomings in 1944. Eventually, the M-14 would emerge, which is essentially a .308 caliber, magazine-fed, M1 Garand.

It was everything the Army and Marine Corps ever wanted, while notably, allies such as NATO did not. (The British were pushing hard for a .280, which we will address further in a bit.) In 1957 it was announced the M-14 would replace the M1. And this is what set the stage for the great 7.62 vs. 5.56 showdown.

5.56 Strengths

Though it is not the iconic weapon of the war, the M-14 was the standard service rifle when Vietnam started. The Air Force was fielding the M-16 in 1962, but everyone else had some good old wood and steel. But the jungle is an entirely different environment. Special Forces, with those abnormal acquisition channels and mustaches, saw the M-16 as solving multiple problems and became early adopters.

The M-16, fully loaded, was two pounds lighter than a loaded M14. Per hundred rounds, 5.56 also weighs around half as much as .308. This matters for a couple of reasons. First, in Special Forces terms, it made sense for our allies. One of the principle jobs of Special Forces in Vietnam was training and fighting with South Vietnamese and Montagnard soldiers. Both of whom, on average, are far smaller in stature than the average American. The Montagnard’s, in particular, would be nicknamed “the little people.” The M-16 was much easier for them to handle, and became very popular with these brothers in arms.

Second, the same weight per bullet made sense for everyone. While Vietnam has a wide variety of geography, a lot of it is jungle. Fighting in dense jungle vegetation presents unique problems. While I am much too young to have been in Vietnam, I have spent some time in other jungles. And I distinctly remember how claustrophobic it feels when you are new to it. You often can’t see ten feet in front of you, which may be the case when a firefight breaks out. Jungle foliage is also notoriously thin, which means bullets zip right through it.

A lot of people are shocked to find out US troops fired around 50,000 bullets per enemy killed during Vietnam. That, in my opinion, is not a reflection on “poor marksmanship” of U.S. forces at the time. Far from it. But it is likely a reflection of how the terrain influences how you fight.

Imagine, for a moment, you are in the middle of a patrol in that same jungle. (Some of you reading this may actually have been. Give us young bucks a minute to catch up.)

You know where your guys are, because you know the direction of march. You can likely see the man in front of you, and the one behind, but that is all. All of a sudden, automatic weapons fire is shredding the jungle around you. Leaves and vines are falling like rain, dirt is kicking up all around you, and you spot the tell-tale muzzle flash of an AK-47 through the veil of green. It isn’t steady, but it gives you a vague idea of where the enemy is.

Are you going to carefully line up your irons sights, and wait for a distinct helmet (actually camouflaged perfectly with foliage, and quite possibly dug in) to appear while you slowly squeeze the trigger like you learned on the range? Or are you going to dump a magazine and hope for the best? Me too. I’ve been in a couple of gunfights where I am absolutely positive I shot at nothing, and I don’t regret it a bit.

So while early M-16’s had some teething problems with reliability, Vietnam showed the value of having lots of lightweight bullets. The lethality out of a 20-inch barrel was fantastic, and 5.56 would gain popularity around the world as a military caliber.

5.56 Weaknesses

While some diehards would still never accept 5.56 because it isn’t .30 caliber, it did do pretty well in the original design. But when we started chopping the barrel down to 14.5 inches for the M-4, and 10.5 inches for some Special Operations variants, we started running into trouble.

As far back as the Battle of Mogadishu, if you look carefully enough, you can find reports of 5.56 being unreliable in lethality terms from the short barrels. (SFC Randy Shughart, one of the men posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor from that battle, was notably carrying an M-14.)

5.56 does most of its damage through spalling, kind of a happy accident of design. Above a certain velocity threshold, the bullet positively comes apart in tissue. Even the much maligned “green tip” M855 steel penetrator round shatters into three pieces. This is well known, and backed up by research from giants such as Dr. Martin Fackler, founder and head of the Wound Ballistics Laboratory. But, velocity threshold is the key point here. And 5.56 sheds velocity at every inch of barrel below 20.

Now, as a GWOT era soldier, don’t think I am completely negating the 5.56 round. In the last 20 years, ballistics have done a lot for improving the round. While it isn’t ideal out of something like a 10-inch barrel, it is still much improved over even the bullets used Oct 3, 1993. Since 9/11, it has put a lot of bad guys in the ground.

And even among troops that have options about what to carry, the debate still rages of 5.56 vs. 7.62. I’ve used both, and both have merits. But so do a monster truck and Prius. My point isn’t that one is better, or both aren’t good in certain roles. My point is that both are old, and maybe it is time to evolve.

6.8 as a caliber was first tried at the beginning of the GWOT. A special project between the Army and commercial manufactures yielded the 6.8 SPC round back in 2002. It wasn’t quite ready for prime time, but did catch on with the civilian market. Remember the British .280 caliber bullet from way back at the top of this article? 6.8 SPC is remarkably similar.

While we don’t know exactly the new bullet parameters the DOD has specified, we do know it has to be 6.8mm. And therefore, 6.8 SPC at least gives us a starting point for understanding. How would, in a hypothetical shoot off, commercial 6.8 SPC fair against 7.62×51 and 5.56×45?

Overall, it would seem to be a pretty good compromise. With barrel, bolt, and magazine changes, it fits in the standard M-4. While it does get crushed at long range compared to 7.62×51, it is also significantly lighter. While it does weigh slightly more than 5.56, it delivers more energy on target at 100-300 meters, and leaves a bigger hole, if we are counting on that.

While on paper, a specialized 5.56 round like Mk262 77 grain will outperform it at longer ranges, that 77 grain bullet is still behind in terms of energy. From shorter barrels designed for CQB, 6.8 SPC will absolutely stomp on 5.56, and at a minimally increased amount of recoil.

So will our troops soon be outfitted with some variant of 6.8 mm rifles? Only time will tell. We spent 12 years and three tests to decide on a new pistol. But at least we are looking. Currently, SIG SAUER, Textron Systems, and General Dynamics are still in the running. Little is known about how things are going, though clues do occasionally pop up.

And some of what we see is borderline science fiction. General Dynamics entry uses a proprietary polymer case design, that would be a huge weight savings. Textron Systems is said to be fielding a cased telescoped round, which wouldn’t look out of place in the HALO franchise. And SIG has won so many DOD contracts as of late that only a fool would count them out.

All in all, this is going to be exciting to watch. Weapons evolve, whether we like it or not. If we always settled for good enough, we would still be using musket balls and cannons. Our guys deserve the best option available, whatever the price. If we can afford F-22 Raptors, we can certainly afford new rifles for the ground pounders. Get out the popcorn; it is going to be an interesting year.