MIGHTY STORIES: Vietnam's Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

MIGHTY STORIES: Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

Mighty Stories is a weekly WATM feature highlighting the stories of veterans, active duty and military families. This week’s feature is Art Jetter, Vietnam Veteran.

“I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. I was the oldest of six boys, no girls, in middle class America. My dad was a great man and my mom was a wonderful mother.

My dad was a B-17 pilot in World War II. He flew 35 missions out of England. He volunteered to fly in the Pacific, but thankfully the war ended as he finished his training. My mom’s two brothers were also pilots. My grandfather joined the Signal Corp in the Army and was also in pilot training during World War I. My dad didn’t really talk about the war.

He was the youngest of 9 kids. I read some letters he sent back to his family during World War II. Whatever the Army paid him, he sent home. Here’s a guy who did all his country ever asked him, and I don’t think he had time to be scared.

The 8th Army Air Corps had a reunion in Omaha about 25 years ago. His crew all came. They fought together, they came home together, and they stayed connected. They all came over to dinner at my parents that night and invited us kids to join them. My dad was pretty hard of hearing, so imagine a long dinner table with my dad at one end. One of the guys, Marty, was at the other end. And Marty said, ‘Now boys, I just want you all to know that the reason that we all are able to have dinner here tonight – the reason that we all came home alive – was because of your dad. I asked, ‘What did my father do,’ I mean these B17s flew in formation, ‘What did he do to provide protection?’ And Marty explained that my dad always flew toward the flack.

There was some room between the bombers, and the Germans would aim their anti-aircraft at a particular aircraft and when my dad would see the flack, he would turn toward it. The Germans would adjust, trying to guess where they should have shot, and they’d always guess wrong. My dad turned to me and said, ‘What did Marty just say?’ I said, ‘He said that in order to avoid getting shot you would fly toward the flack.’ And my dad said, ‘You know I used to do that.’ We all had a pretty good chuckle about it. He expected me to do the right thing. He was a very honorable, truthful, loyal guy.

I remember in 1965, our student body was all sitting in the auditorium for some kind of program. One of my favorite friends, Charlie Lee, was sitting next to me. His dad was a major in the Army. He turned to me and said, ‘My dad says we should join the Reserves.’ And I said, ‘Why would we do that?’ And he said that as soon as we turned 18 then we could join the Reserves, and we could pick our jobs instead of just getting sent to Vietnam as an infantry guy. I didn’t really even know what Vietnam was. Charlie joined the 173rd Transportation Company in the Reserves and as soon as he joined his whole unit was called up and sent over. He’d been trained as a lifeguard at a swimming pool at the Officers Club and got to Vietnam as a convoy commander. He remains to this day one of the most organized guys I’ve ever met in my life. Charlie stayed in the Reserves and was called to most of the battles after Vietnam. He achieved the rank of Command Sergeant Major before he retired.

I didn’t follow his instructions and I got drafted. I wanted to be an architect. I got accepted to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, but my grandpa was on the Board of Trustees at a small college in Iowa and he wanted me to go there. So, I went, but I shouldn’t have gone. I left and couldn’t get back into UNL. I was selling men’s and boy’s clothes at a retail store for id=”listicle-2645885448″ an hour. I went to Wentworth Military Academy for 12 months and soon after, I got a letter welcoming me to the United States Army.

MIGHTY STORIES: Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

Photo courtesy of Art Jetter

I went to Fort Lewis for basic training. They put us all in a line and asked anyone who had been through ROTC to take a step forward. I did, and then they asked if anyone had gone to a military academy. Since I had, I took another step forward. And so, they made me the acting drill sergeant for one of the platoons. I thought, ‘holy crap.’ I was a little guy when I graduated from high school. I was almost 5’2 and 120 pounds. I think I could do about three pushups.

I worked hard and pretty soon I was maxing the PT test. At the end of basic, they put an article in the Omaha World Herald that I was the top in my class and they promoted me to E3. I went to my senior drill sergeant and told him I was the best guy he had. He replied that I shouldn’t be bragging. I said, ‘Make no mistake, I’m not bragging. I’m saying if I’m the best you have you’re in big trouble.’ He said, ‘You don’t think the training was adequate.’ I said, ‘I’ll be lucky to make it down the stairs of the airplane in Vietnam without getting shot.’ We talked about needing better training and a week later I found myself as a candidate in the Infantry Officer Candidate School (OCS).

After I applied for Ranger and Airborne school (which I didn’t get), they told me I had the aptitude to be a pilot. I thought it was pretty nifty with so many pilots in my family. I did my troop duty and then went to flight school in Texas. Then I spent four months at Fort Rucker learning to fly Hueys. I graduated from flight school as one of the top guys. I tell you that not to brag, but it was because I was more afraid of what could happen to me than anybody else, so I studied harder. It was more about being able to live than grades. I was picked to fly the Cobra, which was like going from a family minivan to a full-tilt Ferrari.

I knew I was going to Vietnam. I had a month off, so I went home. Every girl I knew took me to the airport on my way to Vietnam. The whole time I was in helicopter school I knew they weren’t training me to stay home. It’s an interesting thing about getting ready to go. You know in one regard, I was scared. Another, was, with all this training, I really wanted it to be put to use.

MIGHTY STORIES: Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

Photo via Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association

I’m not a fan of war. But I’d put everything into training that I could – for my own survival and for the survival of everyone I’d be associated with. I requested to be in the 1st Air Calvary Division. When I got to Vietnam I went to the 1st Air Calvary reception station. The smart thing would have been to ask which is the unit where nobody got shot at, but I had heard people talking about the legendary Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit, and I requested that. I wasn’t disappointed. Maybe a little overworked, but I was in a unit with exceptional human beings.

That experience and those guys stuck with me. Many of them are dear friends of mine. We only had 32 pilots in our unit. Just after I left, eight of them got killed. It was a weird way of thinking about those guys. And I think I had survivor’s guilt. Like I left too soon. By the time I was there about nine months, I had been the flight lead in most organized attacks. I told my commander, Major Larry McKay, I’m going to extend for six months. I felt like I belonged to this unit. Larry said great, company clerk said great, and the day after I was originally supposed to leave Vietnam – the day my year was up – the Department of the Army called up my commander and said, ‘Where is he? My commander said I was on a mission, that I’d extended for 6 months, and the Army said no. So, my commander sent out another Cobra to relieve me. He and I went to the 1st Calvary Division Headquarters and I was told I had to report to Fort Riley, Kansas. I left Vietnam and tried like crazy to go back. Those guys were that important to me.

Our mission was this: They parked us within 5 minutes’ flight time of our guys in the field. We sat with a radio operator who would have contact with the guys on the ground. If the radio operator yelled, ‘Fire Mission,’ we’d run to the aircraft and have to be off the ground in less than two minutes. As soon as we took off, the guy would give us a heading to follow and then he’d read the mission. If there was a Medevac, part of our mission was security. We’d provide security for the medevac helicopter to come in.

I flew 1,032 combat missions but there are a bunch that stand out, all for different reasons. When I first got there, I was a co-pilot. You strive to become an aircraft commander but when you start out you’re a co-pilot. It was an incursion in Cambodia. A command and control helicopter got shot down and landed on a road. Just an ocean of people came out of the treeline; enemy soldiers, running toward the Huey.

MIGHTY STORIES: Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

Getting that would have been a prized treasure. Parts of war are treacherous, and parts are bizarre and humorous in a dark humor kind of way. We were shooting so many people. We weren’t very high off the ground and we were looking at them shooting at us. The devastation was just insane. And I just kept thinking, ‘What is wrong with these soldiers – they just keep coming. We’re taught to disperse.’

While all this shooting is going on, a two-and-a-half-ton truck is coming down the road. The truck stops and picks these guys up and they just keep going down the road to Vietnam. I think just the memory of all those enemy soldiers in the open … that will never go away.

I had a co-pilot, Ernest Rickenbacker, who had a famous last name because of his great uncle, Eddie, the World War I flying ace and Medal of Honor recipient. I went to my commander and told him that Ernest needed his own aircraft – he was unbelievable. And my commander did it. We called Ernest “Fast Eddie” because he became an aircraft commander so quickly. He won a Silver Star for rescuing his co-pilot. But let me tell you about that mission, first.

There was a Fire Support Base called Pace, right next to the Cambodian border where the Ho Chi Minh Trail came into Vietnam. For political reasons, the Army was supposed to evacuate this Fire Support Base. Left to its own devices, the Army never would have sacrificed it because of the strategic advantage. But, some guy wouldn’t go on patrol and he wrote his senator, so they shut it down for being “too dangerous.” Not the way you should fight a war, but anyway. We were supposed to take 12 helicopters to the Tay Ninh airport for a briefing and we’re being told about all this anti-aircraft all over the place and that nobody could get into Pace – it was too deadly.

We were working out how to get these guys evacuated. The plan was that the next day, a Huey with a smoke generator would fly around and mask trucks coming up to pick up the guys and get them out of there. I don’t tell this story very often, so I might miss parts of it. But the bunch of us that were walking back were supposed to brief the other pilots. But then the airport came under a rocket attack.

First thing we had to do was get our helicopters out. So, we did, and then we’re all supposed to land. As we’re coming in for final, the guys at Pace start yelling that they’re taking incoming. I said to my wingship, ‘Let’s take care of this.’ So, we went low-level up to the treetops until we got next to Pace. We popped up to about 1500 feet and we see 6 guys and a mortar tube on the other side of the border. The border right there was marked by a creek. Everything on the west side was Cambodia and the east was Vietnam.

We always had to call to get clearance to fire, so I called. I think the guy I had to call was an Air Force guy, and I requested flying over the border to Cambodia in order to save the men at Pace who were taking mortars. He denied my request. I said, ‘We’re in hot pursuit,’ and he said, ‘Nobody’s crossing. Out.’ Just like that, and that was the last I heard from him.

I pulled the nose of my helicopter up and launched about 6 rockets in the direction of the mortar tube. I shot across the border instead of crossing it. As luck would have it, the rockets fell right by the guys. I killed three and three hobbled off. We both dove at those three guys. My wingship, who was ahead of me, shot the other three guys. We took a hard left and and I called the guy back at Pace and told him something stupid like, ‘Send the Congressional Medal of Honor to Blue Max 1-2.’ And just as I’m saying this, I’m probably at 800 feet and there’s a loud kablamo and a big flame shoots out the left side of the nose of my helicopter. And my helicopter whips about 30 degrees to the left and then snaps back. I said to my wingship, Blue Max, 1-8, 1-2, we just got hit. And my wingship says Roger that 1-2, we just got hit.

My co-pilot in the front seat is pointing down and just yelling really loud. He’s not on the intercom; he’s just pointing and yelling. And I look down and I see this big orange garbage can coming toward me and I thought, ‘The hell is that.’ It looked like a Star Wars kind of thing. It took a lot slower than you’d think a bullet would go and it went right past us. I’m thinking, ‘That’s a 23-millimeter antiaircraft cannon round tracer.’

So, I was an infantry guy – What do you do in a near ambush? You assault. I flipped the cobra over and dove on the gun. None of my weapons would work.

I pushed the rocket launch button, nothing.

I pulled the trigger for the mini-gun, nothing.

I pushed the button for the 40-millimeter grenade launcher, nothing.

I called my wingship and said, ‘See where I’m going to hit the ground? Blow that up!’ I pulled up my nose and he hit where I was trying to and there was a huge secondary explosion from where we took out munitions. But then my cockpit filled with smoke.

I thought this was really bad because the helicopter is made of magnesium and would just burn up. So, I was flying really low – a few feet off the ground – because I thought that when the thing goes up like a match, I’ll set it down and skid down the road and open the canopy and we’ll just jump out. But as we’re coming on final, the smoke cleared out and I landed. It was the weirdest thing. The 23 millimeter came up through the nose of the helicopter. It went through the heavy steel cartridge ejection shoot for the mini gun and just shredded that, and then it went through this wire loom that controlled all the weapons systems, and it was a big heavy bundle of wires. Because it was a tracer, it started the insulation on fire and that somehow got sucked into the cockpit. And that’s all that happened.

But for my wingship commander, the 23 millimeter went through his engine compartment and took out the Environmental Control Unit and turned it into shrapnel and clipped a hydraulics line. You can fly a helicopter if you can’t shoot, but you can’t fly the Cobra without hydraulics.

All this is a lead up to what happened the next day to fast Eddie Rickenbacker.

The next morning, they told me they got my rockets fixed but they haven’t fixed my mini-gun or my 40-millimeter grenade launcher. My wingship can’t go. I shouldn’t go because I don’t have all my weapons.

Somebody needs to be back up so that’s me.

Rickenbacker’s job was to provide security for the smoke generating Huey to mask the extraction. Rickenbacker is flying about 400′. In Vietnam they would always tell us to fly below 50′ or above 1500′ because between 50′ and 1500′ a guy can shoot you down with a rifle. Rickenbacker’s helicopter gets hit about 15 times by a 51-caliber machine gun. His engine quits, his helicopter starts on fire and he crashes into the woods directly east of Fire Support Base Pace, across the road.

He crashes, and the helicopter is leaning a bit to the right, sitting there on fire. Rickenbacker gets out and runs away from the helicopter. He turns around and he looks back and Mac, his co-pilot is still in there and he’s on fire, thrashing about. He’s not getting out. Understand that you don’t want to be standing in front of one of these things when it’s on fire because it’s got all these rockets on it ready to launch.

MIGHTY STORIES: Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

Photo courtesy of Art Jetter

Rickenbacker runs back over there, reaches into the fire, unbuckles Mac, picks him up bodily and yanks him out of the helicopter and puts him behind a dirt mound as the ammo starts to explode. So, all this is going on and the other 11 cobras that are there can only fly for about an hour and a half and then they’re out of fuel. I get the call that they’re out of fuel and that they’re heading back, and I have to go find Rickenbacker. I said, ‘What do you mean, find him?’

Well, there was a patrol that left the support base to rescue the crew, but what they found was Mac laying there with a compound fracture of his femur and he’d broken his pelvis and he was badly burned. He had Rickenbacker’s pistol – Eddie had this really fancy revolver with a pearl handle, like a cowboy that he had brought with him. Rickenbacker had given it to Jim and told him he would go to the base to get help and have them come back for him.

The patrol walks over and finds Mac and ask him where his pilot is. He points east. East is 80 miles to the ocean through jungle, which would be the absolute wrong thing to do. I’m flying in little circles and only my rockets work. The guy in the front seat and I are trying to see where the hell Rick is.

The guy on the radio says, ‘We think our ground surveillance radar found your guy in some elephant grass across the road.’ So, my plan was to land in the Fire Support Base and my co-pilot would get out and I’d hover over there to where the elephant grass was and hopefully I’d find Rickenbacker. I’m on final to the Fire Support Base and one of the guys who flies the air ambulance, the Medevac, who’s a dear friend of ours, calls and says, ‘I’ve been listening to all this on the radio, and I’m coming up to get Rick. You just provide me with security.’ And so that’s what happened.

We get Rick out and God Bless Him. He had yanked Mac right out of there. Fast Eddie Rickenbacker had a stellar military career after that.

MIGHTY STORIES: Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

Photo courtesy of Art Jetter

Eddie was a Harley guy. He drove his motorcycle to Omaha and stayed a couple days with my wife and me. This was eight years ago maybe. He drove clear across the country and back and when he got home, he checked into the hospital for problems with cancer from Agent Orange. He probably shouldn’t have made the trip and he didn’t even say anything to me about his health problems. We had a good visit.

He was dead shortly after that.

We went to his ceremony at Arlington and my wife said, ‘I don’t care if you knew who was getting buried here or not, you’d be crying just standing here.’

It was very touching. Mac showed up and that was really touching to watch him say goodbye. I’m still in touch with him. He’s a great guy. You know he says that Rick gave him the rest of his life, which he did.

That day sticks out in my memory because I’ve been reminded of it so many times over the years, having seen Mac and Fast Eddie. Even in the Arlington National Cemetery website eulogy for Ernest Rickenbacker said that I had given him the name Fast Eddie. So, if I’m proud of one thing, it’s that his son, Scott, who was also a helicopter pilot, had told the writer that.

I don’t think you ever become immune to the missions. You don’t become jaded, you become more professional with how to handle missions. And you learn when to break the rules, because sometimes it’s the right thing to do.

Going from selling clothes for id=”listicle-2645885448″ an hour to flying around Vietnam in a million-and-a-half-dollar helicopter with all this elaborate training and going through all this craziness, I think I’m much better for it. I don’t know how I would have turned out otherwise, but it really helped me set my course and make good decisions. Between the training and the camaraderie with the guys in my unit and with my high school buddy Charlie Lee, it really prepared me for life. Not that life should be about killing, but the education experience, the leadership, well, it made me a better person.

Being around those guys was strengthening. A year ago, I was in Salado, Texas. I met up with my commander, Jerry, who was commander the first part of my tour, and my co-pilot and another aircraft commander. Jerry told us that we’d all been hand selected by our commanders. You know we had to wait 47 years to hear that but that was wonderful to hear. I don’t think he was making it up.

MIGHTY STORIES: Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

Photo courtesy of Art Jetter

It was a very special unit. Wings, the History of Aviation even did a little 10-minute thing on my unit. I don’t see the guys too often. I’m 70 now. Some of them have died.

In 1993, the Army had a new Apache helicopter company. And the new commander’s name was Timothy Solms. And I know this because he called me and said, ‘The Army gave me a new Apache unit and because I’m the charter commander, I get to name it. I looked through Army history and of all the stood down helicopter units so that I could give the members of my unit a legacy. I picked your unit. We’re calling our guys ‘Blue Max’ in your honor and we’re going to have a black-tie dinner in Fayetteville, North Carolina and we’d like you to come out for it.’

He found about 15 of us, and we went out for this dinner. The guest speaker that night was General Bill Miller, and Larry McKay who was the commander the second half I was out there. McKay was just a wonderful guy. He had decided it had been too long since we had seen each other after that night, so he started hosting a dinner the night before Veterans Day every year in Washington DC. Then on Veterans Day, we’d have a sunrise service at the wall, and then go have breakfast with the 1st Calvary Division.

Larry died in 2014. I don’t see the guys as a group like when Larry was doing those dinners, but we stay in touch and my crew chief even flew in from Alaska to see us. In 1995, I took my wife and daughter to a Vietnam helicopter pilots’ reunion and she saw that about 8 of these guys had Blue Max t-shirts on. And so, my wife went up to one of them, a guy named Jet Jackson. She asked if he knew me, and he replied, ‘No ma’am, he was just a legend when I got there.’ I pulled him aside and said, ‘Where did that come from? What do I owe you for that?’ And he said, ‘Just remember what to say to my wife when you meet her.’

Blue Max was truly a special group of guys. I think about them often. I guess I always will.”

MIGHTY STORIES: Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

Photo via Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association

Art Jetter Jr Veterans History Project

www.youtube.com

Art Jetter Jr Veterans History Project

Art Jetter, Jr. on his experience as a US Army Cobra Helicopter Gunship pilot flying in Vietnam. This interview was done for the Veterans History Project of …
MIGHTY CULTURE

4 lessons on how to handle the 2020 holidays from military families

As the pandemic continues to sweep the globe and follow us all into the holidays, everyone is struggling. December is filled with moments traditionally celebrated with big family gatherings – something that just isn’t safe right now, for anyone. Hard as it may be to swallow, it’s something military families have been dealing with for a lot longer than just the year 2020. 

I come from a large Italian family, one that had “family night” every Wednesday like clockwork growing up. Leaving them behind for the first move with my husband was hard. I remember the deep pit of loss, especially during the holidays I missed. The second move taking me from my home state of Florida to Alaska just about broke me. It doesn’t matter how beautiful the adventure is or how incredible the opportunities are, your heart still aches. It was 2008, long before Facebook Lives or Zoom were a thing. Instead, we bought expensive web cameras and celebrated Christmas Eve through a shaky internet connection. Although I would never stop missing them, we learned to adapt because we had to. I also learned how expensive long-distance phone calls were, oops.

family
Christmas Eve 1985 with my family, a yearly tradition I began to miss with regularity beginning in 2008

Watching Americans on social media complain about the restrictions and “cancel culture,” I can’t help but laugh and shake my head. As military families, we live in a world where anything can happen and you control none of it. My husband has worked numerous special days, been underway for Christmas and missed so many important moments. If I sat and dwelled in the despair of those times, I would never get out of bed. Seriously. This is the reality of the majority of military families throughout the world, we don’t have the luxury of complaining about it – we just do it. So, here are my lessons learned and words of advice for celebrating the holidays during a pandemic.

  1. Stop complaining

Did you know that when you complain, your body releases cortisol, which is a stress hormone? Yep, truth. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought enough stress to everyone’s lives, don’t add any more to yours. Instead of focusing on the negative, look towards the positive things. Traveling during the holidays sucks, for one – so now you don’t have to. Win!

2. Add new traditions 

Maybe your Aunt Karen makes the best Christmas dinner and you are really mad about missing it. Make it. Yeah, you heard me. This is your chance to not only really embrace your own traditions that are familiar in a different way, but you can also add new ones. Bake the dish that no one else would usually eat, make the crafts because you have time and decorate more. Embrace the good, not the bad. 

3. Adopt a family or shelter

I am not trying to make you feel like scrooge but for many the holidays are never good, even without a pandemic wreaking havoc. Rates of negative mental health symptoms during the holidays skyrocket and so do suicides. By finding a way to give back to those less fortunate than you it will not only take your mind off missing your family or “normal”  but it will bring a boost of feel-good hormones to your brain, known as the “helper’s high”. There are angel trees, Toys for Tots and endless shelters in your community that need you. Find one.

4. Embrace small moments of joy

Sometimes it’s really not about the big elaborate get together’s and parties. Take this time to focus on your own home or community and breathe in small moments of joy. Watching old holiday movies together, having more time to decorate outside or watching your kids smile while doing crafts. Video chat with your family, take the time to make phone calls to people you haven’t seen in a while and write letters. These are small things that can create not only good memories but also feed happiness and not negativity.

The FDA just approved the second vaccine for emergency distribution. This means there really is hope on the horizon, even though all of this isn’t over yet. I know that we are all feeling fatigued from COVID and quarantine, but we can get through this. Remember that even when there isn’t a pandemic, military families are almost always far from their loved ones. It’s a sacrifice that is made because freedom is worth it. It is my hope that you’ll all take the same approach with staying home for the holidays. The lives you will save are worth it too. 

MIGHTY CULTURE

This viral letter from Santa helps military, first responder parents

When Stephanie Lynn found out that her husband had to work on Christmas, she came up with a way for her family to still celebrate the holiday together. In a letter from Santa that’s going viral, the mom explains to kids of military and first responder families that Christmas will be happening on a different day this year.

“I know sometimes your mom or dad can’t be home on Christmas Day because they’re working — keeping us safe and healthy,” the letter, which Lynn shared to Facebook on Dec. 11, 2018, reads. “I want your whole family to have a very special Christmas morning — together.”


Santa goes on to explain that he and the elves have set up special delivery days for the kids, from Dec. 23 to 27, 2018 (Lynn and husband Brent will be celebrating with her kids on the morning of the 24th, she says). There’s also an “other” option for families who aren’t able to be together during Christmas week.

MIGHTY STORIES: Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

“Always remember, Christmas isn’t about a box on the calendar, but the feeling we keep in our hearts,” Santa writes. “Thank you for being such great children, and sharing your moms and dads with us all when we need them the most.”

Lynn’s letter is receiving a lot of attention on social media, with almost 42,000 shares so far and over 7,100 likes, as parents in similar situations understand the struggle of “juggling shift work… on-call hours, deployments, TDYs, etc.”

Even NORAD, the popular Santa tracker, is spreading the word about Mr. Claus’ special deliveries, noting that while they do not report on them, those days are “no less special than the date of December 24.”

Because of the letter’s popularity, Lynn has since created other versions (the original was just for military and first responders) for medical professionals, pilots and flight crews, divorced families and just general use. “Merry Christmas- whatever day that may be for your family!” she writes.

This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

A Vietnam Veteran Reflects On Service, Then and Now

As a young man growing up in the 60’s I wrestled with some of the same issues many young people did at that time. What was I going to do with my life?  What was really important to me and what were my priorities? I had difficulty narrowing it down to a specific path, so I decided to go to college. I figured I may find something that would pique my interest and give me a little more definition to my search.

Little did I realize that definition would come from negative experiences and not positive ones. I graduated from high school in June of 1967 and attended college that fall. It was a time of great protest against the Vietnam war and the nightly news showed the intensity these protestors showed towards their country. It was a confusing time for myself and some of my best friends.  On campus, I discovered the professors mostly felt the same way as the protestors and they showed favoritism towards those with the same views and condemnation towards those that differed from their own.

MIGHTY STORIES: Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit
John Ruehle and a buddy in Vietnam.

Having traveled out of the country some during my teenage years, I could not understand how individuals could burn the flag of their own country when that very same country provided so much more protection and freedom than others. Especially while young men were dying overseas to help protect that very freedom that seemed to be taken for granted. It turned out that one of my best friends at another college was feeling the same way, and that summer of ’68 we decided that we would quit college, join the Marines and serve our country. We felt it was our obligation as a citizen and that we needed to do our part.

The Marine Corps turned out to be everything I had hoped for and then some. In boot camp I was one of just four individuals out of 80+ in my platoon who had enlisted. The vast majority of the rest were there because they had a choice of jail time or the Marines. It made for an interesting melting pot.

Through all the training, one learned to depend on others, considering myself an independent cuss, this concept was quite difficult to grasp but once bitten, it develops a feeling of camaraderie that lasts a lifetime. I was accepted into the Scout Sniper group and we shared a building with the Recon group. Even though we were all in the Marines, we brawled with each other about once every 3-4 weeks in the common area in the middle of the barracks. But when we were outside that area, we were brothers to the core.

Regardless of whether we were enlistees or draftees, we all felt a common respect for our flag and detested those that would defile it. With no TV’s or radios allowed, conversations at night became very intense and focused. But that respect was a common thread.

In Vietnam, the respect for the flag did not change but respect for some of the leadership took different courses. In the Scout Snipers, there were only some 20-or-so of us per regiment so we were a pretty tight group. Typically, we worked in 2-man teams and were assigned to companies as needed. Those assignments rotated and so there was never much time to develop close friendships with others outside the Sniper community. But we were all Marines and that bond never goes away.

This was proven to me on many occasions but was definitely driven home to me the night I was wounded. It was a nighttime attack and bullets and explosions were coming from every direction. My partner was trying to navigate with me to an aid station and a young Marine grabbed us and pulled us into his hole for some protection. It was not big enough for the three of us so he climbed out and laid across the edge of the hole, offering us more protection while seriously exposing himself. I was evacuated to a hospital ship that next morning and never had a chance to properly thank him or get his name.  That is my only regret of the war.

Returning home, I was not prepared for the disdain I was to receive from so many different quarters of society. I proudly wore my Marine Corps patch on my favorite jacket but after so many fights and arguments that ensued, I had to finally decide to take it off. That was a tough decision. I was still proud to have served my country, but I felt a little like I was betraying my brothers by not wearing my patch.

I returned to college and started over as a freshman. (Of course, those upperclassmen, who liked to haze freshman, got a little different response this time, then they were used to) I also found that the issue with professors had actually gotten worse over time. But this time I had the foundation, confidence, and independence to fight back, and I decided to slug it out with them and let the chips fall where they may. Sometimes successfully and sometimes not. While attending college I wanted to still serve in some capacity, at that time the Reserve and National Guard seemed to me somewhat of a joke, so I steered clear.

After getting married and starting a family I volunteered with the Cub Scouts and the Boy Scouts. I also volunteered with several community agencies as my career progressed. After my children were grown and gone, I volunteered with the U.S. Forest Service, work which I still do.

Then I discovered Team Rubicon, and everything I have been trying to accomplish has seemed to come together in one organization: Volunteer work that can actually make a difference. The camaraderie of shared experiences and the desire to serve. Respect for flag, country, and individuals. All that which I have sought, from various channels throughout my career, I have found in one organization: Team Rubicon.

Editor’s Note: John Ruehle was featured in our 4th of July 2020 story “Life, Liberty, and the Freedom to Serve.”

This article originally appeared on TEAM RUBICON. Follow TEAM RUBICON on Twitter @TEAM RUBICON.

MIGHTY CULTURE

6 people general officers should have in their entourage

All senior officers, but especially generals and admirals, have entourages that exist solely to ensure that the general is as effective and safe as possible. They do everything from managing the general’s calendar to grabbing his dry cleaning. But in addition to their stated duties, the entourage can grease the wheels of command.

Here are 6 people generals should always have in their entourage, whether they want them or not:


MIGHTY STORIES: Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

“A colonel lifting iron” is the closest thing I could find to an iron colonel, so here you go.

(U.S. Army Sgt. Erik Warren)

Iron colonel is a key component of any entourage

An “iron colonel” is a colonel with little hope or ambition to advance to a general officer. They’re key to military innovation and all general officers should be connected at the hip to one.

There are two major things you’ll need the iron colonel to do: First, they’re there to intercept all sorts of traffic that’s addressed to the general but not really worth their time. More importantly, they’re needed to shoot down all sorts of “good ideas” originating from the general and the staff that would hamper brigade commanders and below.

See, iron colonels are no slouches. They may not be destined to wear stars, but they’ve nearly always commanded brigades in the past and they did well. They have decades of military experience, but they don’t have much reason to fear pissing people off. So, if the general proposes something insane, like pushing machine guns to all the squads — even the human admin office, it’s this colonel who calls the general on his crap. The perfect entourage addition.

MIGHTY STORIES: Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

An Army specialist who is definitely practicing land nav and not just waiting for the photographer to leave so he can trade points data with his buddy.

(U.S. Army)

E-4 Mafia/Lance Corporal Underground liaison

Officers don’t love the junior-enlisted networks for obvious reasons. They’re often known for helping members dodge work and dodge official punishment.

But they can also be super useful additions to the entourage, for the general or admiral who inspires the junior service members. A member of the underground can explain any weirdness from headquarters directly to the other junior guys in billeting. They can also create shortcuts through the bureaucracy and, best of all, do drug deals on behalf of the staff.

MIGHTY STORIES: Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

An Army specialist reaches for a training grenade in a competition. These aren’t nearly as valuable as a rare ink cartridge.

(U.S. Army National Guard Spc. Alan Royalty)

Drug dealers as part of the entourage? 

Not literal drug dealers, of course. The personnel who conduct off-the-books exchanges in order to get needed resources while giving up the unit’s surplus are known as “drug dealers.” This can be the exchange of anything from ink cartridges to range time to borrowing another units’ NCOs.

These types of troops can be amazingly useful for a headquarters. Rare resources, like the ink or replacement parts for plotters (the massive printers that produce maps), are hard to come by and harder to stockpile. So, if you suddenly need resources like that, you need a drug deal — and that means a drug dealer.

(Note: The Navy sometimes call this “comshaw.” Same thing, older term.)

MIGHTY STORIES: Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

Filling out forms accurately and honestly is important, but sometimes you have to help someone out with a little Skillcraft assist.

(U.S. Navy)

Gun decker

“Gun decking” is a Navy term for filling out forms with made-up information, usually to fulfill a mandatory but arbitrary requirement. This is similar to the Army saying that someone “Skillcrafted” the test — that they used a standard-issue pen to make it look like something was done.

This is obviously dishonest — and, on some occasions, it’s technically a crime — but it’s sometimes essential in the bureaucracy. Need to get a soldier to school before deployment, but they haven’t been able to get to the range in the last few weeks? Well, someone has to gun deck or Skillcraft the paperwork (assuming that you’re sure they could actually succeed at the range given a chance; don’t use this to get bad troops into good schools). We could use a few gun deckers in civilian life, too.

MIGHTY STORIES: Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

Soldiers share a meal and, likely, gossip. Having a couple of lower enlisted people advocating for you in the rumor mills can be essential.

(U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith)

PNN Reporter/Scuttlebutt master

One of the best soldiers a general officer can have working on their behalf is a credible Private News Network reporter. This reporter can be anybody known around the rumor mill for having accurate info, and any general NEEDs one of these in their entourage. Like the E-4 Mafia or Lance Corporal Underground rep, this troop can relay what is happening in the headquarters accurately to people who usually only get the information a few degrees removed.

But, more importantly, they can intercept and counter incorrect rumors flowing through the scuttlebutt or PNN. Generals often have to deal with rumors about their decision making flying around their unit. Having someone in their entourage who rubs shoulders with the rest of the junior enlisted and accurately relays what’s going on can keep everyone marching on the same foot.

MIGHTY STORIES: Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

(Editor’s note: There’s no evidence that this guy is a FNG. It’s just an illustrative photo. But he was the FNG at one point, so screw ‘im)

(U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kenny Nunez)

FNG

Finally, every general officer should include a f*cking new guy somewhere in their entourage and check in with them from time to time. Obviously, this guy will typically be somewhere on the periphery instead of in a key position — maybe a comms guy who helps with the radio or a security guy.

But having someone who hasn’t yet consumed too much of the unit’s Kool-Aid allows the general or, more likely, the iron colonel to get an idea of how the headquarter’s decision making seems to an outsider — a needed perspective in a headquarters that might otherwise trip into a cult of personality around a charismatic or talented general.

MIGHTY TRENDING

How Russia & Turkey could destroy the F-35 program

The US’s F-35, from the Joint Strike Fighter program, is the most expensive weapons system of all time and a fighter jet meant to revolutionize aerial combat, but Turkey, a US NATO ally, looks poised to let Russia destroy the program from within.

Turkey, a partner in the F-35 program, has long sought to operate the fighter jet and Russia’s S-400 surface-to-air missile-defense system at the same time.

But experts have told Business Insider that patching Russia through to NATO air defenses, and giving them a good look at the F-35, represents a shocking breakdown of military security.


As such, lawmakers have tried to get the US to stop selling F-35s to Turkey, but Turkey already has two of the fighter jets, and said the S-400 is a done deal.

MIGHTY STORIES: Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

(Russian Defense Ministry)

Generals are sounding the alarm

On March 5, 2019, US Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the head of US forces in Europe, told a Senate Armed Services Committee that the idea was as bad as it sounds.

“My best military advice would be that we don’t then follow through with the F-35, flying it or working with an ally that’s working with Russian systems, particularly air-defense systems, with what I would say is probably one of most advanced technological capabilities,” Scaparrotti said.

“Anything that an S-400 can do that affords it the ability to better understand a capability like the F-35 is certainly not to the advantage of the coalition,” NATO Allied Air Commander Gen. Tod Wolters said in July 2018.

NATO worries about “how much, for how long, and how close” the F-35 would operate near the S-400s. “All those would have to be determined. We do know for right now it is a challenge,” he continued.

Retired US Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula told Business Insider that NATO countries “don’t want to be networking in Russian systems into your air defenses” as it could lead to “technology transfer and possible compromises of F-35 advantages to the S-400.”

Russia wouldn’t just sell Turkey the radars, batteries, and missiles and then walk away, it would actively provide them support and training. Russian eyes could then gain access to NATO’s air defenses and also take a good look at the F-35.

MIGHTY STORIES: Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The F-35’s fate in Turkey’s hands?

Because NATO is an alliance formed to counter Russia, allowing Russia to learn information about its air defense would defeat the purpose it and possibly blunt the military edge of the most expensive weapons system ever built.

But the US has little choice now. Turkey has pivoted away from democracy and has frequently feuded with its NATO allies since a 2016 attempted coup prompted the country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to consolidate power.

Turkey holds millions of Syrian refugees and has helped stem the number of refugees entering Europe. Turkey has expressed fury at the White House for years over the US support of Kurds in Syria and Iraq during the fight against ISIS. Turkey brands the militant Kurdish units “terrorists.”

The F-35 holds advantages besides stealth, including a never-before-seen ability to network with other fighters, but the S-400 remains a leading threat to the fighters.

Russia, if it spotted an F-35 with its powerful counter-stealth radars, would still face a steep challenge in porting that data to a shooter somewhere that could track and fire on the F-35, but nobody in the US military wants to see Russia looped in to the F-35’s classified tactics and specifics.

Russia has failed to field a fifth-generation fighter jet to compete with the US’s F-22 and F-35 in any meaningful way, but if its missile-defense systems can get an inside look at the F-35, it may not need to.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Search underway for Marine lost overboard

An all-hands effort is underway to find a Marine believed to have gone overboard Aug. 8 during routine operations off the coast of the Philippines.

The Marine, who was aboard the amphibious assault ship Essex with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, was reported overboard at 9:40 a.m. The incident occurred in the Sulu Sea, according to a Marine Corps news release.


MIGHTY STORIES: Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

A search and rescue swimmer aboard USS Chosin (CG 65) stands by in preparation for an underway replenishment with USNS John Ericsson.

(U.S. Navy photo by FC2 Andrew Albin)

The Marine’s family has been notified, but the service is withholding his or her identification while the search is ongoing.

The ship’s crew immediately responded to the situation by launching a search-and-rescue operation. Navy, Marine Corps, and Philippine ships and aircraft are all involved in the search, which will continue “until every option has been exhausted,” according to a post on the 13th MEU’s Facebook page.

“As we continue our search operation, we ask that you keep our Marine and the Marine’s family in your thoughts and prayers,” Col. Chandler Nelms, the MEU’s commanding officer, said in a statement. “We remain committed to searching for and finding our Marine.”
MIGHTY STORIES: Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

A P-8 Poseidon flies over the ocean.

(US Navy)

Multiple searches have been conducted aboard the ship to locate the missing Marine as round-the-clock rescue operations continue in the Sulu Sea and Surigao Strait, according to the news release. Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft and Philippine coast guard vessels have expanded the search area, covering roughly 3,000 square nautical miles.

“It is an all-hands effort to find our missing Marine,” Navy Capt. Gerald Olin, head of Amphibious Squadron One and commander of the search-and-rescue operation, said in a statement. “All of our Sailors, Marines, and available assets aboard the USS Essex have been and will continue to be involved in this incredibly important search-and-rescue operation.”

The Essex Amphibious Ready Group deployed last month from San Diego with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, becoming the first ARG to deploy from the continental United States with Marine Corps F-35B Joint Strike Fighters aboard. The Essex is en route to the U.S. 5th Fleet, where the Marines’ new 5th-generation fighter may participate in combat operations in the Middle East for the first time.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @Militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Committing to gender integration: Get rid of the female tent

Over the past decade, the U.S. Army has taken steps to fully integrate women into all positions in its formations. Last month, the Army announced female infantry and armor Soldiers will integrate into the last nine brigade combat teams by the end of the year. In light of these initiatives and the open-mindedness of my leadership, I competed for and served as a light infantry brigade assistant S2 and, more importantly, an infantry battalion S2, a position open to women since 2014.

Gender integration has had its challenges but in my experience, leaders at all levels are trying to embrace this evolution. It is not unusual for a group of officers to experience awkward initial counseling sessions with their maneuver commander wherein the commander overemphasizes their support of female integration directly to the one female officer in the room. Although it may seem uncomfortable for all parties involved, these maneuver officers are still learning and while it may not be perfect, at least they’re trying..


However, even with the best of intentions, military leaders occasionally make decisions that inadvertently segregate women, leading to the unintended consequence of isolating them from their units.. This article addresses how a commander’s simple decision on troop billeting can have an adverse impact, and how commanders and leaders can more successfully lead gender-integrated teams.

The female tent: A flawed good intention

When a unit deploys to a Combat Training Center (CTC), Soldiers are housed in “tent city” while conducting Reception, Staging, Onward movement and Integration (RSOI), Leaders are responsible for allocating tents, ensuring they account for all personnel on the ground. Sometimes as an afterthought, someone asks the question “Where is the female tent?”

The idea that women require their own tent is an antiquated tradition that many senior leaders (and often junior leaders) have yet to break from and likely causes more harm than good . This issue may initially seem benign within the context of integrating women into combat arms units. After all, it’s “just” a tent, it is only temporary, and you only go there to sleep and then show up to the next formation. This issue is about much more than a tent. The decisions leaders make can help or hinder their ability to build a cohesive team that sees beyond gender.

The female tent exists mainly as a safety precaution to protect the female Soldier population. Sexual assault and harassment continues to be a large issue in the military. However, as we look deeper into the effects of gender-segregated tents, we will start to identify how our separate treatment of genders only exacerbates the issue. Studies in the past decade, including one conducted on the Norwegian Army’s Unisex living spaces in 2014, concluded that integrating genders for training and in living quarters increased team cohesion between genders by breaking the “us versus them” mentality, decreased sexual harassment and assault claims, and made gender difference less significant. Instead of training separate teams of male and female Soldiers, the integrated training and living arrangements created teams of Soldiers comprised of men and women.

The segregation of women from their platoon, company, or battalion leads to them missing critical events, and team building and bonding built during times of uncertainty when leaders make decisions and plans change. The female tent creates an additional barrier to communication where a portion of the unit does not receive updates on the evolving operational conditions because men and women are hesitant to enter each other’s tent to get information. Women show up to meetings being caught off guard by changes in the plan that were made among the male officers at 2300 but failed to make it back to the female battalion staff lead because they forgot, they figured it could wait, or it was too inconvenient to send a runner to inform them of the change. This communication barrier creates an overall disadvantage to the commander who now has a population in the formation that is unable to inform the decision-making process and in the end hinders the unit in achieving mission success.

More importantly, the female tent denies female Soldiers equal access to the esprit de corps and cohesiveness building reality of shared accommodation, and often imposes a gender divide on teams. In the end, this causes women to miss the stories told in their team, invitations to the gym, and group meals. They miss the inside jokes and become an outsider in their own unit. They struggle to get to know their unit and their unit struggles to bring them into the fold. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle of damaging isolation that most women do not want, but are forced to endure.

How do we fight the female tent?

1. Prioritize mission success over comfort. Key to mission success is enabling your commander’s ability to exercise command and control over the formation. The female tent takes women of different ranks across the formation and puts them in one tent geographically separated from their organic teams. We, in turn, hindered multiple leaders’ ability to lead effectively by complicating the flow of communication, reducing ability to receive feedback from a select population, and decreasing the flexibility of a unit to rapidly adapt and execute operations. The female tent becomes more unfeasible as we integrate more women into company commander, executive officer, and platoon leader positions in combat arms formations.

As leaders in charge of planning training events, we need to focus on how to enable mission success. In 2018, my light infantry brigade had one battalion commander, one command sergeant major, two brigade staff primaries, five brigade staff senior NCOs, at least one battalion staff primary officer or NCO per battalion, and five company commanders or first sergeants who were women. That equaled 20 leaders at the company level and above that were integral to the brigade’s success at our CTC rotation. Since then, the number of female leaders in today’s brigade combat team continues to increase.

Focusing on mission success means all leaders are able to be with their Soldiers through all aspects of a training environment. Integrated tents allow leaders to better take care of their Soldiers because they are together in one place where they can monitor the well-being of each Soldier as the unit goes through stressful training exercises. It allows leaders to identify and address sexism issues in their ranks because they can monitor the interactions among all of their Soldiers.In a segregated environment, leaders may not be present when their female Soldiers are harassed while they are isolated in separate areas. Integrated tents build better teams that communicate more effectively, provide feedback to their commanders, and react quicker to rapid changes because they are a cohesive unit that treats everyone as a valued member of the team.

2. Use informal leadership. As described in ADP 6-22 Army Leadership, part of informal leadership is taking the initiative to advise formal leaders on decisions based on previous experience or expertise. Informal leadership takes initiative and some courage, because it usually involves an individual speaking up to leaders who outrank them. In one experience at a CTC exercise, my company leadership was trying to remove the female Soldiers from our unit’s tent because the brigade’s designated female tent did not have enough females in it. A female lieutenant I supervised looked at me with disappointment and asked me if there was anything I could do to stop it. I decided to work with another female captain located in our company to make it clear to our leadership that we did not want to leave our sections to live in a separate tent. The company leadership relented but not without some offhand remarks about how we were an inconvenience.

After that experience, the female officers made it a point to teach our staff sections how the separation of women into female tents affects women because our male peers honestly did not understand. How could they? In their military career, they never had to be separated from their team because of their gender. The effort we made to stay in the tent was worth it because our section became a more cohesive team and it was a leadership opportunity that enabled us to discuss a gender issue with our male counterparts that they will never experience firsthand. Informal leadership is a powerful tool that leaders can use to prevent segregation in their units, regardless of gender.

3. Be comfortable asking “What’s best for the team?” You may not know all the right answers when it comes to how best to integrate women and that’s okay. It is a learning process for everyone. What Soldiers do not want to hear is what one of my peers told me as he shrugged his shoulders, “We forgot to account for you guys (for bed space). Sorry, I’m infantry.” Instead, leaders should exercise humility and ask their female peers or subordinates for input. More often than not, they have been through these situations multiple times and they will appreciate your willingness to learn about how best you can assist your formation. It is as simple as something an infantry major once said to me, “I’m new to this. Do I need to make special accommodations for you or do you feel comfortable staying with the unit?” Yes, it can feel awkward to ask, but there is a certain amount of respect you gain when you open yourself up to learning how best to ensure everyone feels like a valued member of the team.

If a living situation is poorly planned or seems like it may be an issue, present the options. “We can let you stay in the open bay with the males and everyone will just use their sleeping bags or the latrines to change, or we can cordon off an area in the bay for privacy so that we can keep you with the team.”

4. Keep everyone in the loop. Sometimes it is inevitable to be forced to split your unit into gender-specific tents, especially while traveling through different locations with transient barracks or if the final decision is made above your level. When this happens, it is important to take steps prior to the unit splitting apart to make sure that the isolated personnel stay in the loop. Leaders should develop a clear communication plan and battle rhythm to distribute information. It is imperative to ensure inclusiveness of the isolated population for both work- and social-related events. If a squad goes to eat together, it is the responsibility of that squad and team leader to include the female squad members. If a platoon is tasked for a working party, the platoon sergeant needs to get everyone involved in helping. If the battalion staff needs to talk through some minor decisions, make the effort to get those female staff officers involved. It can be demoralizing to hear the stories of what someone missed because no one bothered to let her know what the unit was doing.

It’s a learning process

Gender integration will continue to be a learning process for the military. To build better integrated teams, units need to train, eat, and sleep in harsh environments together. As leaders, we are responsible for making decisions that enable mission success, providing feedback on gender integration, and remaining open to new ways to improve integration. No part of ADP 6-0 Mission Command and ADP 6-22 Army Leadership suggests that any type of segregation is good for the Army. Segregation of any type creates resentment, isolation, and ultimately an unsafe environment for everyone. Instead, leaders need to focus on building cohesive teams based on mutual trust, and unit integrity through shared hardship is essential to that cohesion. We should be able to reach solutions that allow all Soldiers, regardless of gender, to feel like an equal member of the team and trust that they can depend on each other for anything.

Captain Ashley Barber is a military intelligence officer currently serving in the 10th Mountain Division G2. She has previously served in MI brigades and IBCTs (LI). She completed her KD time in 2/10 IBCT (LI) as the brigade AS2 and the 2-87 Infantry Battalion S2 through iterations of LTP, JRTC, and a deployment to Afghanistan.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How the military taught fighter pilots when to eject

The recent, fatal crash of a F-16 Fighting Falcon at Nellis Air Force Base that claimed the life of a Thunderbirds pilot is the latest in a string of accidents. We all know that flying high-performance jets comes with an element of risk — but many don’t realize just how dangerous these powerful vessels truly are.

The same people who denigrate former President George W. Bush’s service with the Texas Air National Guard forget that of the 875 F-102 jets produced, 259 crashed, leading to 70 pilot fatalities. No matter the conditions, flying these high-powered war-fighting tools comes with a great deal of risk.


MIGHTY STORIES: Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

An ejection seat saves Lieutenant (Junior Grade) William Belden after the brakes on his A-4 Skyhawk failed.

(U.S. Navy photo series)

You might wonder how pilots get killed, especially when they have ejection seats. Well, in some cases, pilots will choose to ride a plane in to avoid dropping several tons of steel out of the sky, potentially harming people on the ground. But when the crew does punch out, even modern ejection seats, like the ACES II, offer no guarantee of safety.

In Top Gun, Goose was killed despite hitting the loud handle in his F-14. Why is that? For the answer, let’s take a look at how ejection seats work. In essence, after the hatch or canopy is blown open, a catapult fires the seat away from the plane. Then, a rocket ignites, further propelling the seat. Then, if all goes well (which can be a big “if”), the seat then separates from the pilot, the chute opens, and the pilot drifts safely down.

A pilot with the Thunderbirds ejects from his F-16C Fighting Falcon during a 2003 air show,

(USAF photo by by Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III)

Ejection seats have limits

So, why are some pilots still killed in crashes? In some cases, the ejection simply doesn’t go well — as was the case with Goose. Other times, though, it’s a different problem entirely. Ejection seats, like planes, have envelopes. A plane can be going too fast for a seat to reliably work (one F-15 pilot survived ejecting at Mach 1.4 and later returned to flight status). The fact is, it takes a lot of force to get a pilot out of a high-performance fighter, like the F-15, safely.

Other times, pilots are determined to save their plane. Such was the case recently for the crew of an EA-18G, and their superb skills resulted in earning Air Medals for acts of non-combat heroism. Sometimes, however, pilots will try to save their vessel for too long and, by the time the ejection seats get the pilot out, they’re badly injured or even killed.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PctPYyoSy0

www.youtube.com

Timing matters when you punch out

To avoid this, it’s become very important to train pilots on when they should pull the handle. Timing matters — and even a perfect ejection can compress a pilot’s spine.

To find out how pilots learn when to leave a disabled aircraft, watch the video below.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Air Force Academy sees most female applicants in 5 years

When the Brie Larsen blockbuster “Captain Marvel” rolled out earlier this year, the Air Force launched an all-out recruiting effort, hoping to capitalize on the story of female fighter pilot-turned superhero Carol Danvers.

The Air Force placed pre-show ads in more than 3,600 theaters nationwide, bought space at geek hubs such as Fandom.com, and hosted its own press events with Larsen, as well as a red-carpet screening in Washington, D.C.

From at least one perspective, the Air Force effort to hitch its wagon to Captain Marvel’s star was an unreserved success.


An inspirational 30-second commercial titled “Origin Story,” timed to coincide with the film’s release in March, was the most popular piece of social media promotional content published by any service in 2019, Lt. Col Jacob Chisolm, deputy chief of strategic marketing at the Air Force Recruiting Service (AFRS), told the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS) during its December meeting.

USAF Female Fighter Pilots: March 8 recruitment campaign upcoming movie

www.youtube.com

Through paid media promotion, “Origin Story” received 173,000 visits, 11 million views of the video itself, and 200 million impressions overall, according to Air Force statistics.

“We couldn’t ask for a better movie to do that,” Chisolm said. AFRS is currently run by Brig. Gen Jeannie Leavitt, the service’s first female fighter pilot upon whom Danvers’ character is loosely based. Leavitt was commander of the 57th Wing at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, as the movie was filming.

“It was a huge success. We had a fantastic media campaign,” Chisolm said.

But has the movie hype and messaging translated to recruiting numbers? It may be too soon to tell.

The proportion of female applicants to the Air Force Academy’s class of 2023 will be the highest in the last five years — 31.2%, according to statistics provided to Military.com. By comparison, 913 men, or 73.5%, and 329 women, or 26.5%, made up the 2019 graduating class.

The academy is one of the main accession hubs for the service.

“In 2014, the Secretary of the Air Force and Chief of Staff of the Air Force set applicant pool goals for all officer accessions sources,” Maureen Welch, Air Force Academy director of public affairs, told Military.com via email. “The guidance was used to influence our marketing and outreach efforts.”

So far, the remaining classes have also seen a slight bump: Women make up 28.6% of the 2020 applicant class; 29.3% in 2021; and 30.5% in the 2022 class, according to statistics.

MIGHTY STORIES: Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

U.S. Air Force Academy, CO — Basic Cadet Victoria Wyler attacks the monkey bars on the Jacks Valley Assault Course.

(U.S. Air Force Photo by Dennis Rogers)

Welch said the marketing efforts do not necessarily seek out applicants for a particular class composition, which is why the academy “has not seen an out of the ordinary increase in female applicants, nor female applicants interested in aviation careers” despite the film’s debut.

The popular movie and Air Force advertising campaign came in the midst of a multi-year effort by the academy to diversify its cadet population.

But Marvel did bring more eyeballs to the service’s career website during a time of renewed push to inspire young women to join the Air Force’s ranks.

The Air Force says it capitalized on the opportunity to work with the “Captain Marvel” filmmakers to showcase a leading female aviator, Danvers, who started out as a young trainee only to become a top-notch F-15 Eagle pilot, and ultimately, liberator of the universe.

In a round table with reporters at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber conference in September, Leavitt cited the effect of advertising around Captain Marvel, reporting anecdotally that officials were seeing more interest from women in Air Force pilot careers.

“Quite honestly I think it’s going to be one of those things that is going to take some time to show, kind of the return on investment,” she said. “Because a lot of these people being inspired are kind of high school, college age, where we might not see that for a little while later. … We do have an increased number of women who want to be pilots. But I don’t know if that’s because of Captain Marvel. … I don’t know the why behind it.”

MIGHTY STORIES: Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit
(Marvel Studios)

As of July, the Air Force had 778 female pilots, accounting for roughly 6% of the pilot force, according to the Air Force Personnel Center.

The “Origin Story” ad used the “Captain Marvel” framework to present real female airmen who “all got their start somewhere.”

“For us, it was the U.S. Air Force,” a group of women say in the commercial.

“We’re looking for what’s going to follow this, but we’re going to ride this wave as long as we can,” Chisolm said.

Other efforts to boost Air Force female outreach in 2019 incorporated Air Education Training Command’s Women’s Fly In Conference in Texas; a partnership with SuperGirl Surf Pro, the world’s largest female surf event and festival; roughly a dozen regional events with First Robotics to promote women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM); and the annual TED Women speakers conference program, a three-day event in which audience goers correspond with female entrepreneurs, creators and leaders in their respective industries.

“We’re going to try to get involved in everything … and we’re going to do what we can do to get out and make sure we get our message across,” Chisolm said.

He added that the Air Force’s plan is to “jump on the ‘Top Gun 2’ bandwagon, too,” despite the film showcasing naval aviation.

“We’re not going to let that slide, either,” he said.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Surprise! Service members drink more on average than any other profession

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in conjunction with analysis from the Delphi Behavioral Health Group, showed that military service members drink more than any other profession — much to the surprise of absolutely nobody.


MIGHTY STORIES: Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

A tale as old as time…

It’s no secret that heavy drinking is a staple of military culture in the U.S. In fact, it’s so significant that military consumption of alcohol can seem like something out of an Onion article — like the time Iceland ran out of beer to serve troops.

The CDC study has confirmed just how severe it is, especially when ranked against literally any other profession.

The study covered over 27,000 people from 25 separate industries, focusing on their drinking frequency from 2013 to 2017. It discovered that the average person has at least one drink on about 91 days of the year.

MIGHTY STORIES: Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

(Photo by Sgt. Rebekka Heite)

However, military members lead all other professions with a whopping 130 days of drinking per year. That’s a drink a day for more than one third of the year.

The next closest profession was miners at 112 days, followed by construction workers at 106 days. Unsurprisingly, manual labor jobs round out the majority of the heaviest drinking jobs.

Okay, so that’s the rate of knocking off for a beer after work — but what about binge drinking?

MIGHTY STORIES: Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

(Photo from US Army)

The Department of Defense, using data from 2015 and 2016, discovered that about 30% of military members reported binge drinking in the month preceding the survey. Marines, specifically, reported doing so at an astronomic rate of 42.6%.

Veterans’ rate of binge drinking has reportedly risen from 14% in 2013 to about 16% in 2017.

This is alarming, as the initial study has also determined that drinking in the U.S. is trending downward. This has not been the case for service members: the number of days that military members drink has risen steadily since 2014.

Researchers attribute PTSD as one of the major factors causing veterans and active duty personnel to drink. Another reason for the surge could be a systemic culture that has allowed casual binge drinking as a rite of passage, or simply a way to pass time in isolated areas.

Whatever the reasoning, one thing is clear, drinking culture in the military is not going away without some major changes.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The big, bad list of Coronavirus cancellations

As government and health officials scramble to contain the spread of COVID-19, also known as the novel coronavirus, events around the country are being shut down or modified. Officials, after seeing the spike in cases (and fatalities) in Italy and the subsequent shutdown, are now implementing the same measures to major events in the U.S., whether it be canceling, postponing or barring fans.


This is major news in that sports, entertainment and travel are very important keys to the national economy. The loss of revenue to the teams, leagues, television partners and corporate partners will be big but there are many others too that will have a rough couple of months.

Hotels, airlines, arena workers, concession workers, arena security , front office employees, merchandise vendors, food and beverage companies, Uber and Lyft drivers and local establishments all canceled events….The list goes on.

We Are The Mighty will continue to update this list, but here are major national (and some international for fans) events that so far have been affected by the coronavirus.

A full list of all sports events that have been canceled can be found here. This list is mostly international but gives an idea of the scope of event cancellations.
MIGHTY STORIES: Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit
  • A coronavirus conference in New York was canceled because of the coronavirus.
  • MLB operations suspended indefinitely
  • NHL season suspended
  • NBA season suspended
  • MLS season suspended
  • NCAA Tournament canceled
  • NCAA Women’s Tournament canceled
  • Big Ten Tournament
  • SEC Tournament
  • Pac 12 Tournament
  • Big 12 Tournament
  • ACC Tournament
  • A-10 Tournament
  • Conference USA Tournament
  • MAC Tournament
  • WAC Tournament
  • American Conference Tournament
  • UEFA Champions League (Tuesday matches postponed)
  • Serie A (Italian soccer)
  • La Liga (Spanish soccer)
  • Formula 1 has had the McLaren team withdraw from the Australian Grand Prix this week. Next week the Bahrain Grand Prix is due to be raced with no fans.
  • U.S. Women’s and Men’s friendly matches canceled
  • Coachella postponed until October
  • Stagecoach postponed until October
  • E3 video game concert
  • Miami Open
  • SXSW Conference
  • Pearl Jam tour postponed
  • Adam Sandler tour postponed
  • Indian Wells 2020
MIGHTY STORIES: Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

Universities have been either moving classes online, telling students to move out of dormitories and postponing spring classes and canceling classes outright in some instances.

Military Life

See the Navy haul its crew’s vehicles on the USS Ronald Reagan

The United States Navy’s aircraft carriers are huge ships. This isn’t just for show; they need to be large to operate four squadrons of multi-role fighters plus other assorted planes, like EA-18G Growlers, E-2 Hawkeyes, and helicopters. But all of that space is useful for transporting other things, too. After all, we’re talking over four acres of sovereign United States territory.


MIGHTY STORIES: Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit
Sailors direct the movement of vehicles onto an aircraft elevator of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Charles D. Gaddis IV)

For instance, when the Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) was switching homeports from Bremerton to San Diego (before being deployed to Japan as the forward-based carrier), she did a solid for all of the sailors who man her — she gave their rides a ride.

MIGHTY STORIES: Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit
Sailors’ vehicles are parked on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Charles D. Gaddis IV)

Many sailors have vehicles. But when you’re sailing a ship, your options for vehicle transportation are limited. Sure, you can have your vehicle shipped — but you’ll have to pay a fee. Yeah, you can ask a buddy to make the road trip out to your new home port, but what if something happens along the way? Or, you could always sell your car and buy a new one, but that’s a hassle and a half — plus, you don’t want to shed that sweet Mustang, right?

MIGHTY STORIES: Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit
Sailors direct the movement of vehicles on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Charles D. Gaddis IV)

Since it was just a short trip up the coast and since they didn’t need to operate the air wing, the sailors aboard the USS Ronald Reagan were allowed to park on the ship. Without the air wing, there’s a lot of room for helping the crew get their vehicles to the new home port.

For one brief coastal cruise, the Ronald Reagan became a $5 billion, nuclear-powered car carrier. The sailors saved money, the Navy didn’t have to pay contractors to move the vehicles, and we got some cool photos out of the deal. That’s a win-win-win all around.