Puppies are fluffy and adorable and cuddly companions. Companions who are capable of sinking long, sharp teeth into the flesh of enemy skulls and pulling muscle from the bone.
And in honor of National K9 Veterans Day celebrated on March 13, we took a look at the history of dogs in warfare.
While dogs are known as man’s best friend, they’re also fur missiles that have served in mankind’s wars since at least 600 B.C when the Lydian king deployed dogs to help break the invading army of Cimmerians.
In the early days, the dogs were used to break up enemy formations, charging into the ranks and tearing down as many enemy soldiers as possible. Friendly forces would either hit the enemy just behind the dogs or would wait, letting the dogs sow chaos before the humans hit with maximum force.
As warfare modernized, so did the service of dogs. They gained armor for avoiding injury in combat (think large dogs in little knight costumes) and breeders tailored new generations of dogs better suited for fighting. Dogs were pressed into new roles, acting as couriers, sentries, and scouts.
During World War I, dogs originally appointed as unit mascots distinguished themselves in open combat. One of America’s greatest animal war heroes served in World War I. Stubby the dog started hanging out with Connecticut soldiers drilling for service on the front lines.
Stubby went overseas with the 102nd Infantry and gave soldiers early warning of artillery, gas, and infantry attacks. During a raid against German defenses, Stubby was wounded by a hand grenade. Stubby stayed in the war and later apprehended a German spy. He was later promoted to sergeant.
Of course, the introduction of true industrial war in World War I brought other changes to animal service, including the beginning of dogs acting as engineers. Dogs were fitted with cable-laying equipment and would place new communication lines when necessary, providing a smaller target for enemy soldiers trying to prevent Allied communication networks.
In World War II, dogs returned to their old roles, but they were also pressed into new ones. In one of the more horrific moments for animal combat, Soviet forces trained dogs to scurry under German tanks while wearing magnetic mines. The mines would detonate against the hull, disabling or killing the tank but also the dog.
America’s greatest dog of its greatest generation was likely Chips, a German Shepherd, Collie, Husky mix that forced the capture of 14 Italian soldiers in one day during the invasion of Sicily despite being wounded.
Throughout Korea and Vietnam, dogs continued to serve next to their humans.
In Vietnam, an Air force sentry dog named Nemo was patrolling the airbase perimeter with his handler when they were attacked by Viet Cong guerillas. The handler killed two enemies and Nemo savagely attacked the rest while the handler called for reinforcements. Nemo lost an eye and the handler was injured, but Nemo kept him safe until reinforcements arrived.
In this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast, Blake, Tim, and Chase speak with stand-up comedian Mitch Burrow about what simple luxuries we wished we had while on deployment.
Mitch is a Marine Corps veteran that served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. He then started a career in manufacturing before realizing that it sucked. Now, Mitch has found his true calling in acting silly on a stage in front of strangers on a nightly basis.
Being forward deployed without the amenities that service members are used to from back home can suck. While some military branches have chow halls with an all-you-can-eat menu, others are forced to eat highly-processed foods from heavy duty plastic bags — a.k.a. MREs.
Although we wish for the most part that our livelihood will remain the same while on deployment, it’s the simple things service members miss the most.
Afghan pilots will soon be attacking Taliban forces with machine guns and 20mm cannons firing from airplanes in Afghanistan — flying U.S.-provided A-29 Super Tucano aircraft, Air Force officials said.
Loaded with weapons to attack Taliban forces and engineered for “close air support,” the A-29s are turboprop planes armed with one 20mm cannon below the fuselage able to shoot 650 rounds per minute, one 12.7mm machine gun (FN Herstal) under each wing and up to four 7.62mm Dillion Aero M134 Miniguns able to shoot up to 3,000 rounds per minute.
Super Tucanos are also equipped with 70mm rockets, air-to-air missiles such as the AIM-9L Sidewinder, air-to-ground weapons such as the AGM-65 Maverick and precision-guided bombs. It can also use a laser rangefinder and laser-guided weapons.
Four A-29s have been delivered so far as part of an effort to equip the Afghan Army with up to 20 aircraft, Heidi Grant, Under Secretary of the Air Force, International Affairs, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
“Afghan pilots have been training here and learning English in the U.S. A class of eight pilots recently graduated a class at Moody AFB. They are back in Afghanistan. My hope is that in the next month or so you are going to see them doing some close air support for their Army,” Grant added.
Close air support will enable the Afghan Army to better target and destroy groups of Taliban fighters in close-proximity to their forces, giving them a decisive lethal advantage from the air.
The Super Tucano is a highly maneuverable light attack aircraft able to operate in high temperatures and rugged terrain. It is 11.38 meters long and has a wingspan of 11.14 meters; its maximum take-off weight is 5,400 kilograms. The aircraft has a combat radius of 300 nautical miles, can reach speeds up to 367 mph and hits ranges up to 720 nautical miles.
The U.S. is buying them for the Afghans through a special Afghan Security Forces fund that Congress has appropriated, she explained. They are being built by Sierra Nevada out of Jacksonville, Fla. – an effort which brings jobs to the U.S., she added.
“They are right now doing top off tactics training. They trained here in the U.S. but they needed to get into country to do the top-off tactics training,” Grant said.
The presence of armed “close air support” aircraft for the Afghan Army could have a substantial combat impact upon ongoing war with the Taliban – who have no aircraft.
Also, the arrival of the air support comes at a time when some observers, military leaders and lawmakers are concerned about combat progress in Afghanistan, openly questioning President Obama’s plan to reduce U.S. forces from 9,800 to 5,500 by 2017. Outgoing CentCom Commander Gen. Lloyd Austin III and Sen. John McCain have been among those expressing concern.
At the same time, the presence of combat-changing air-attack ability for Afghan forces could engender a circumstance wherein the U.S. could reduce its presence without compromising ongoing progress in the war against the Taliban.
The head of America’s Africa Command, Marine General Thomas Waldhauser, has expressed concern over China’s growing military presence in Djibouti.
He said that China’s claim that it was building logistical facilities in Djibouti was not correct because Beijing was actually creating a full-fledged military base that would sit alongside U.S. and French bases in the strategic Indian Ocean country.
It would be the first time that NATO allies — France and the U.S. — would have to contend with a military base under the command of a competing nation in the same location.
“We’ve never had a base of, let’s just say a peer competitor, as close as this one happens to be,” Waldhauser said. “So there’s a lot of learning going on, a lot of growing going on.”
“Yes, there are some very significant operational security concerns, and I think that our base there is significant to us because it’s not only AFRICOM that utilizes [it],” he told Breaking Defense.
In January 2016, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei told journalists in Beijing that the facilities were to back up China’s escort missions in the Gulf of Aden and would not lead to a military base.
He explained: “Vessels have been sent by China to the Gulf of Aden and the waters off the Somali coast for escort missions in recent years. In fulfilling escort missions, we encountered real difficulties in replenishing soldiers and resupplying fuel and food, and found it really necessary to have nearby and efficient logistical support. China and Djibouti consulted with each other and reached consensus on building logistical facilities in Djibouti, which will enable the Chinese troops to better fulfill escort missions and make new contributions to regional peace and stability.”
“The nature of relevant facilities is clear, which is to provide logistical support to Chinese fleets performing escort duties in the Gulf of Aden and the waters off the Somali coast,” the Spokesman said,
But Gen. Waldhauser told journalists in Washington at the end of March, “You would have to characterize it as a military base. It’s s first for them. They’ve never had an overseas base.”
Speaking to the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee early in March, Gen. Waldhauser said, “Just as the U.S. pursues strategic interests in Africa, international competitors, including China and Russia, are doing the same. Whether with trade, natural resource exploitation, or weapons sales, we continue to see international competitors engage with African partners in a manner contrary to the international norms of transparency and good governance.”
“These competitors weaken our African partners’ ability to govern and will ultimately hinder Africa’s long-term stability and economic growth, and they will also undermine and diminish U.S. influence — a message we must continue to share with our partners,” Gen. Waldhauser added.
President Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti has been steering a new course as he strengthens relations with China at the apparent expense of long-time allies, France and the U.S..
The U.S. now has Special Forces members in Djibouti under its Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) to counter the increased activities of al-Shabaab in East Africa.
The French and American military dominance in Djibouti was whittled down in February 2014 when China’s Defense Minister, General Chang Wanquan, signed a security and defense strategic partnership agreement with Djibouti’s Minister of Defense, Hassan Darar Houffaneh.
Under the agreement the country offered military facilities such as the use of Djibouti’s port by the Chinese navy.
Mr. Houffaneh said that in exchange Djibouti had asked for military co-operation to be expanded in order that the operational capacities of the country’s armed forces could be built “in order to safeguard security in the country and help consolidate peace and security in the sub-region”.
But an analyst in Nairobi, speaking to the Ghana News Agency in 2014, wondered how this arrangement would work, given that the U.S. and France more or less had entrenched security roles in Djibouti.
“The American and the French governments have interests in Djibouti that are completely different from China’s,” he said. “This could lead to contestations between France and the U.S., on the one hand, and China, on the other, which could compromise the security of East Africa. Djibouti is a crucial member of the East African Standby Force, which will dovetail with the African Union’s African Standby Force, and as such President Guelleh should ensure that his country remains steadfast to the ASF’s mission of maintaining peace and security in the region.”
Under President Barack Obama, the U.S. had skirted round the issue of a Chinese military base in Djibouti, but now under Donald Trump and his hard-line stance on Beijing’s global influence, the issue of the Djibouti base has taken center stage.
Every country’s military has their own version of Special Forces. However, none of them are quite like the 14th Intelligence Detachment, ‘The Det,’ which was formed as part of the British Army Special Forces during a time known as The Troubles in Northern Ireland. The Det was tasked with mounting surveillance and intelligence gathering operations against the Irish Republican Army and their allies.
They worked in the shadows. No one knew who they were or what they did. They received no acknowledgement or fanfare. The world will never know who they were. But, this dedicated force of highly-trained plain-clothes operatives worked to gather the intelligence needed for the British Army and others to maintain their peacekeeping role between the IRA and the unionist paramilitary forces.
The Det was formed after the British Army’s intelligence unit, the Military Reaction Force, was compromised. The MRF was compromised when IRA double-agents were discovered and then interrogated. They spilled details about a covert MRF operation out of Four Squares laundry in Belfast. This led to an IRA ambush of a MRF laundry van, which killed one undercover soldier.
With the MRF compromised, the Det was set up in 1973. The Det was open to all members of the armed services and to both genders. For the first time, women were allowed to be a part of the UK Special Forces. Each candidate had to pass a rigorous selection process. Members of the Det were expected to have excellent observational abilities, stamina and the ability to think under stress, as well as a sense of self-confidence and self-reliance as the majority of surveillance and intelligence gathering operations were solo missions.
The IRA treated the conflict like guerilla warfare for national independence. They used street fighting, sensational bombings and sniper attacks, which led to the British government classifying their aggressions as terrorism. The Det’s main focus during this time was utilizing their unique talents and training to gather information on the members of the IRA so that the British Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary could then intervene.
The skills and training of the members of the Det included the disciplines of surveillance, planting bugs and covert video cameras, and close quarters combat. They were also experts in the use of pistols, sub machine guns, carbines and assault rifles. They were also trained in unarmed combat, as well as techniques to disarm and neutralize knife or gun-wielding assailants. It was important for each member to be adept in these skills in order to be able to protect themselves while undercover.
Along with this specialized training, the Det was also equipped with unique equipment much of which could be considered ahead of its time. This included a fleet of ordinary looking saloon cars called ‘Q’ cars. These vehicles were specially equipped with covert radios, video and still cameras, concealed weapons packs, brake lights which could be switched on and off, and engine cut off switches to prevent hijacking. All of these worked to aid in the surveillance missions of the operators. The Det also had their own flight of Army Air Corps Gazelles, which were referred to as ‘The Bat Flight.’ The Gazelles carried sophisticated surveillance gear which was uniquely suited to the operations of ‘The Det.’
From the time of its inception until the end of The Troubles the Det performed numerous operations, mostly following and observing suspected terrorists. These painstakingly planned intelligence operations often led to the arrest of the suspected terrorists and/or the discovery of weapons caches. Occasionally the members of the Det would find themselves in a firefight with terrorists, this was usually due to their cover being blown. Unfortunately, several Det operators tragically lost their lives in Northern Ireland.
The highly-trained members of the Det did not do what they did for glory. They didn’t do it for the accolades, as there were none offered. These elite members put themselves in danger because they believed in what they were working for. They wanted to do their part to protect their country and those they loved. They believed in justice. They believed in the greater good. They knew going into it that no one would ever know what they did or the sacrifices they made in the name of Queen and country. But, they went in anyway. They didn’t see themselves as heroic. But, the elite members of the Det can truly be considered the unsung heroes of The Troubles.
The Det has now been absorbed into the British Army’s Special Reconnaissance Regiment, with a mission to fight the global war on terrorism.
This may seem like blasphemy to some, but Popeye started his professional career as a civilian mariner and then Coast Guardsman. The famous sailor did join the Navy, but as of 1937, Popeye was firmly in the Coast Guard. A two-reel feature titled Popeye the Sailor meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves introduces Popeye serving at a Coast Guard station. The sailor man’s creator did not live to see the United States enter World War II, but it was in 1941 that his creation joined the Navy and the legend of Popeye the rough and tumble U.S. Navy sailor was born.
Popeye the Sailor meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves wasn’t Popeye’s first feature. He started life as a character in the comic strip Thimble Theater in 1929, a comic actually centered around his off-and-on girlfriend, Olive Oyl. When it became obvious that Popeye was the real star, he made a jump to feature films. In the aforementioned 1937 film is when we see Popeye in the Coast Guard, on guard duty and deploying to intercept “Abu Hassan” (aka Bluto), who is terrorizing the Middle East.
It was during WWII that Popeye reached his incredible popularity. After enlisting in the Navy in 1941’s The Mighty Navy, Popeye’s clothing changed and reflected his status as a U.S. Navy sailor, wearing the distinctive white crackerjack uniform. Popeye would remain in uniform until 1978, when new cartoons put him back in his original outfit, with one exception: the white yachting cap he used to wear was replaced with a standard issue Navy “Dixie Cup” cap.
It should be noted that Popeye and Bluto once attempted to join the Army in a 1936 film short called I’m In the Army Now, but they really just ended up fighting in the recruiter’s office. Popeye left the office after beating Bluto to a surrender, but without actually joining. Popeye also regularly beats Bluto to the tune of “The Army Goes Rolling Along.”
Despite his dedication to service, Popeye never once tried to join the Air Force.
Donald Large had one of the aptest last names in the history of last names. He was a beast, 6-ft. 6 inches tall and 240 pounds by the time he went through SAS selection the first time (more on that in a moment). But his road to military service started when he was just an over-sized tyke.
Born in 1930, he was just a boy when British troops preparing for service in France and Germany began training near his home. He watched the men readying to take the fight to Hitler and decided he would be a military man as well, a goal made even easier by his frame, and the frequent hunting trips his dad took him on.
He started as an Army Cadet, a sort of military-affiliated Boy Scouts in Britain, and then managed to get into the real British army at just 15 years old. As he trained in the military and then served Britain, he grew to his adult height and received the nickname “Lofty,” but he still craved combat.
But Large was wounded from a gunshot and shrapnel in the fighting and was taken prisoner, surviving a 10-day forced march to a prisoner of war camp. He survived another gunshot wound, disease, 80 pounds of weight loss, and two years of muscle atrophy and near starvation before he was swapped in a wounded prisoner exchange.
Despite all the scar tissues, Large reportedly did quite well in selection, only struggling with jumping out of the plane due to his being oversized for the plane and parachute. He weighed enough that he fell faster than other paratroopers, and this combined with a fear of heights made falling the hardest part for him.
But he was a stalwart man and made the jump anyway. He had proven himself capable and was on his way to the SAS.
Except that he rode a motorcycle soon after and crashed, crushing his ankle. The SAS told him that he would need to go back through selection to prove he was still capable of meeting the unit’s high standards. While most people would’ve probably waited a few months if they ever went back, Large simply re-bandaged his ankle, found out what his new boot size was with the swelling and bandages, and went back.
Yeah, he went back through selection while his ankle was still injured. He had only taken four weeks from crash to his second selection process.
He would serve with the SAS around the world and retired in 1973. He died in 2006.
After three combat deployments to the Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghanistan, something as simple as the smell of hay could trigger Rick Burth’s post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.
The smell of gunpowder and jet fuel put him on edge, too. He’d known he had PTSD for a long time, but he never talked about it.
“There was this stigma, so you didn’t want to say anything,” said Burth, 49, a Roseville resident and threat assessment specialist with the state Office of Emergency Services. “You just kept your head down and kept doing your job, but after awhile, it just got bad.”
Other treatments hadn’t worked, so Burth opted for a novel procedure that some say is a quick and effective way to quiet the anxiety and agitation that PTSD patients frequently experience. He traveled to the Chicago area, where a doctor injected a local anesthetic into his neck, targeting the nerves that regulate the body’s “fight-or-flight” response to perceived threats.
The treatment, called stellate ganglion block, has typically been used for pain management, but Dr. Eugene Lipov, an anesthesiologist, said he discovered in 2005 that it has the potential to relieve PTSD symptoms.
The 10-minute procedure halts the nerve impulses to the brain that trigger anxiety and jitters in trauma victims, Lipov contends.
Experts disagree on its effectiveness, but some doctors and patients say it seems to be a useful tool in combination with therapy and other medications, which may not always provide relief.
Burth said it helped calm his mind to the point where he could think more rationally about the traumatic events in his past.
The former Marine said he started noticing symptoms after returning from the Gulf War in 1991, and that his symptoms grew worse when he went to Iraq, where he was part of the anti-terrorism team for the California Army National Guard.
“The day-in, day-out fighting — getting shot at, shooting back, things blowing up around us — that compounded the issue,” he said.
When Burth came home, he couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t stand being in crowds. He was abusing alcohol. And it was all wearing on his wife and two young sons, he said. He’d been on anti-anxiety medication for years but never noticed much difference, he said.
“I was just really short-tempered. Always go, go, go. Didn’t have time to stop and listen to folks because I was always so anxious,” he said.
There are nearly 8 million Americans like Burth suffering from PTSD, many of them military veterans, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. PTSD is the third most common psychiatric diagnosis in the Veterans Health Administration.
People can develop PTSD months after they experience a life-threatening event or trauma such as a mugging, sexual assault, or the sudden death of a loved one. Its symptoms are broad because everyone’s PTSD manifests differently, said Dr. David Schafer, acting associate chief of staff for mental health at the Sacramento VA Medical Center.
People can relive a traumatic event such as an ambush or bomb attack in nightmares or flashbacks. They might also avoid places and situations that remind them of the trauma. Feeling anxious, jumpy, and experiencing panic attacks are common symptoms.
Burth, for instance, would become agitated at the smell of hay because he’d been in gunbattles in fields and orchards.
“For many, the easiest and safest thing to do is stay home with the door locked, sleeping on the floor by the closet,” Schafer said. “The challenge with avoidance is that it works.”
Approved treatments of PTSD include reintroducing patients to the people, places, and things they might find distressing. To work through the trauma, they attend therapy sessions for 10 to 15 weeks as they try to understand their reactions to events. Medications may also be prescribed to help take the edge off, Schafer said.
Burth had gone through months of therapy, including a month-long stint in a Texas rehabilitative treatment center, but his PTSD symptoms always returned, he said.
“It was helpful,” he said, “but after you get back home and get back into the same old routine, things pop up again, and you try to remember how to work through it on your own.”
Burth learned of stellate ganglion block through his mother-in-law, who volunteers with the Global Post Traumatic Stress Injury Foundation, which pays for veterans to receive the $1,600 treatment because it isn’t recognized or covered by the VA. The foundation is having a fundraiser at the Granite Bay Golf Club on Sept. 11.
Chris Miller, a local developer and philanthropist, was moved by the testimonials he heard at a foundation event in Washington, DC, last year, where soldiers and veterans spoke of their symptom relief after receiving the anesthetic treatment. Because there is a large military population in the Sacramento area, he decided to host his own fundraiser for the foundation, he said.
In March, helped by the foundation, Burth went to Lipov’s clinic near Chicago. After the first injection, he said he didn’t feel much different.
If patients don’t feel relief after the first injection, Lipov said, he’ll give them another injection higher in the neck. The second injection has a 90 percent success rate, he said.
After the second injection, “I didn’t feel different physically, but I felt different mentally,” Burth said. “Things slowed down. I didn’t have a million thoughts. I didn’t have that anxious and paranoid feeling, always looking over my shoulder. All of that kind of dissipated.”
Lipov said he’s performed stellate ganglion block procedures on 500 veterans with a 70 to 75 percent success rate.
So far, the anecdotal evidence about the procedure is mainly positive, but the scientific data is inconclusive as to whether stellate ganglion block is widely effective at treating PTSD, said Dr. Michael Alkire, an anesthesiologist at the VA Long Beach Healthcare System, who is studying the treatment with Dr. Christopher Reist, a psychiatrist.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has launched studies into the procedure because the long-term side effects remain unknown. One study is being conducted at the VA Long Beach Healthcare System.
In February, the VA Portland Health Care System found there was insufficient evidence to say stellate ganglion block was an effective treatment for PTSD. In trials, at least 75 percent of the subjects reported improvement. But when the treatment was tested against a placebo, a shot of the local anesthetic fared no better than a saline injection.
“The pattern suggests that, while it is possible that some patients benefit, the response rates seen in case series will not hold up in actual practice,” the researchers said. “Substantial uncertainty remains about the potential harms of (stellate ganglion block) as well.”
At VA Long Beach, Reist and Alkire have been performing stellate ganglion blocks to collect better data and understand when it can be effective. Their research has included 17 patients who are selected according to whether they’ve tried medication or psychotherapy without improvement. Of the 17 subjects, 13 reported immediate or gradual relief from their symptoms, the doctors said.
While the sample size is small, Reist and Alkire have found the blocks are most successful for patients who have symptoms of hyperarousal, which is like being in a constant state of fight or flight. The stellate ganglion block eases the patients’ tension and anxiety so they can engage in traditional therapies for PTSD, Reist said.
Alkire said it’s important to note that the treatment doesn’t work for everyone. He recalled the case of one patient who wanted it to work so badly that, when it didn’t, he spiraled into a deeper depression.
No treatment erases the memory of trauma, Schafer said. “Part of trauma-focused work is walking through the trauma and putting it in context, expanding people’s understanding of what happened.”
Burth agreed. “This is not a be-all, cure-all,” he said. “This is something that calms your mind and allows you to deal with the memories that are always there.”
“Since the injection, I can look at things in a different light and deal with it. I had someone ask me if this is a miracle, and I said, I don’t know if it’s a miracle, but it’s working for me.”
The residents alleged they were being intimidated into not fighting the overages, and sources told WATM Navy investigators were looking into the issue.
But according to a Feb. 14 statement from Naval Criminal Investigative Service spokesman Ed Buice, Navy officials closed the inquiry into accusations of over billing “after it became evident the allegations being made were unfounded.”
“No criminal misconduct was discovered,” Buice added in the email statement to WATM.
Buice did not reply to a request for additional comment.
Residents of the San Onofre II neighborhood at Camp Pendleton say they were within the margins for monthly electricity use that would preclude an overage charge.
Military families there pay a lump sum rent that includes a certain amount of energy usage. When they consume less electricity than the allotted amount, they are refunded; when they go over, they receive bills, officials say.
Several residents told WATM that they had seen sudden sharp increases in their electric bills and were threatened with eviction if they didn’t pay up. Many claimed they were rebuffed when they approached base housing officials about the alleged billing problems.
Marine Corps Installations West spokeswoman 1st Lt. Abigail Peterson told WATM in a Feb. 16 email that “all of the official complaints received regarding this situation were addressed and resolved,” adding that Lincoln Military Housing had “implemented a new process to monitor requests to ensure all concerns are addressed in a timely manner.”
“We take feedback very seriously and want to ensure responsible measures are followed to alleviate any issues for our Marines, sailors and their families living here on base,” Peterson said.
Military family advocate Kristine Schellhaas — who originally brought the billing allegations to light — wasn’t satisfied Pendleton’s response, arguing base residents aren’t simply misreading their bills.
“There are systematic flaws with how this program has been implemented,” Schellhaas told WATM. “The facts are that this program needs to get audited.”
Each of these enclosures was a virtual fortress, and the Germans had spent months preparing their defenses. They practiced moving through the hedges, selected areas for machine guns and anti-tank weapons, and practiced firing from trees into nearby enclosures.
Perhaps most importantly, they had planted stakes near the most likely routes of American troops and had mapped the locations of the stakes by coordinates, allowing defenders to quickly and accurately call fire onto the advancing Allies.
Compounding the problem was the irregular shape of the enclosures. The rows weren’t laid out in a proper grid. Instead, they were roughly rectangular as a whole, but with a variety of sizes even among adjoining fields. And all of these fields were connected primarily by thin wagon trails that wound through the irregular enclosures.
All of this combined to form a defender’s paradise and an attacker’s hell. In the first days of the Battle for the Hedgerows, American troops would assault an enclosure at full speed, attempting to use velocity and violence of action to overwhelm the defenders. German machine guns pointed directly at these openings cut them down instead.
While the German defenses in the hedgerows greatly delayed the American advance, the Allies did eventually find a way to breakthrough. At first, armored and infantry units had worked largely independent of each other. The tanks had tried to stay on the move to avoid German anti-tank weapons and artillery while the infantry had slowed down to try and avoid ambushes.
Pentagon budgets are shrinking (or growing at a smaller rate than they had during the previous few decades). And while there’s not a lot of money to procure new weapons systems, the threats to the nation aren’t going away. The U.S. military still has a job to do. There are no bucks, but the American public still expects Buck Rogers.
Here are six improvements — “tweaks,” if you will — to existing platforms that would improve military readiness without breaking the increasingly small bank:
1. An internal gun for the F-35B/C variants of the Lightning II
The Air Force’s F-35A has a gun — the GAU-22, a 25mm Gatling Gun, with 182 rounds. The GAU-22 is based off the AV-8B’s GAU-12, and it gives the F-35A an offensive edge. But the F-35B and F-35C don’t have an internal gun (only a gun pod with 220 rounds).
The same situation existed with the F-4 Phantom – probably America’s first real joint strike fighter, which saw action during the Vietnam War with the Air Force, Navy, and Marines. As Navy ace (and convicted congressional felon) Randy Cunningham noted in his memoir, Fox Two, the lack of a gun cost him kills.
2. The Penguin anti-ship missile for the MH-60R Seahawk
This chopper is an advanced version of the SH-60B. Equipped with a choice of lightweight torpedo (either Mk 46, Mk 50, or Mk 54), and Hellfire missiles, it serves as additional eyes and ears for surface combatants. But the Hellfire has only a 20-pound warhead and a range of about five nautical miles.
The SH-60B, though, had the Penguin anti-ship missile. This weapon had a 265-pound warhead and a range of 15 nautical miles. In other words, it can handle bigger targets – and would be very useful additions to the MH-60R’s arsenal.
3. More bomb capacity for the B-1B Lancer
While the B-1B already has the largest bombload of any American combat plane, it could have even more. Presently, it has a bomb bay that can hold 84 Mk 82 500-pound bombs. The venerable B-52 can only carry 51 such bombs. In other words, the B-1 can deliver about 60 percent more hurt to the bad guys.
But it could be even more. The B-1B, when designed, had the capability to carry up to 14 cruise missiles or 44 more Mk 82s on external pylons. Restoring those external pylons would give the B-1 50 percent more firepower.
4. Harpoon launchers for the Flight IIA and III Arleigh Burke-class destroyers
While the Flight IIA and Flight III Arleigh Burke-class destroyers are very capable vessels in anti-air warfare and anti-sub warfare. But the earlier Flight I and Flight II versions of this destroyer have something the later ships don’t: A pair of Mk 141 launchers for Harpoon anti-ship missiles. Boeing’s latest version of the Harpoon has a range of 130 nautical miles and a 300-pound warhead. The Mk 141 launchers don’t take up a lot of space, and it never hurts to have more anti-ship firepower as China and Russia are adding modern ships to their naval arsenals.
5. Laser-guided bombs for the B-2 Spirit
What more could you want on America’s most advanced bomber in service? The B-2 Spirit has stealth technology and the ability to deliver precision-guided weapons including the AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, as well as nuclear weapons – excuse me, “special stores.” It’s also expensive – a flyaway cost of just over $700 million per plane caused the production run to stop at 21 airframes.
That said, they have a couple of gaps in their capabilities. All of the B-2’s weapons are either dumb bombs or GPS-guided. So, perhaps the best upgrade they could get would be to give the B-2 the ability to drop laser-guided bombs like the GBU-24 and to use Harpoon anti-ship missiles and the Standoff Land-Attack Missile, giving them more options to target ships like the Chinese Type 52C destroyer.
6. Bushmaster cannon for the M1126/M1127 Stryker
The Stryker’s proven itself in combat operations during Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. The M1126 and M1127 have a remote weapons station that can use an M2 heavy machine gun or a Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher.
But now, it could be asked to help fight Russian aggression against NATO allies. Here it has a problem. The Stryker is outgunned by the BMP-3 or BTR-90, Russia’s most modern infantry fighting vehicles. The former has a 100mm gun and a 30mm coaxial cannon. The latter has a 30mm cannon and an AT-5 Spandrel anti-tank missile.
So, to give the Stryker a better chance in a fight against the Russians, the best option would be to give it the same chain gun that the M2 and M3 Bradley Fighting Vehicles carry: the 25mm Bushmaster cannon.
These six weapons systems serve with our troops – and have done so with excellence. But some small improvements to each of them would give our troops even better odds on battlefields around the world.
2. The French and Spanish Siege of Gibraltar in 1779
The Siege and Relief of Gibraltar. Painting: Public Domain/John Copley
France and Spain attempted to invade England via the English Channel and the Rock of Gibraltar. The English Channel fleet never bothered to attack anything the Gibraltar campaign was an abysmal failure.
Starting in 1779, the Franco-Spanish fleet attacked the Rock of Gibraltar for nearly four years, losing 6,000 lives and 10 ships without taking a bit of ground.
But logistical failures and mismanagement slowed the German army’s advance despite a series of battlefield successes. The Soviets capitalized with a series of counterattacks and by raising 200 new divisions, four times what the Germans planned for. The Axis lost nearly a million men of the 4.5 million it sent to Russia and was then stuck in a two-front war.
Instead, Castro knew about the operation ahead of time, American involvement was exposed the morning of the first attacks, and the Cuban forces captured and killed nearly all of the Cuban exiles assaulting them.
5. Japanese invasion of Midway
In the summer of 1942, Adm. Yamamoto Isoroku attempted to draw the surviving American aircraft carriers into a trap by invading Midway Atoll, a U.S. island near Hawaii.
But U.S. Navy had intercepted the Japanese plans and laid their own ambush. In the resulting battle Jun. 4, Japan lost all four carriers involved in the battle and a heavy cruiser while the U.S. suffered the loss of one carrier. The battle was a tipping point in the overall Pacific Theater of World War II.
6. U.S. invasion of Canada in 1775
In its first major offensive, the Continental Army sent two major forces to take Quebec and convince the rest of Canada to join the rebellion.
Early successes were followed by catastrophe at the siege of Quebec City. One commanding general was killed and the other wounded before a hasty retreat gave the British back all the territory the Americans had taken.
Though the Soviets would achieve victory in the Winter War of 1939-1940, their first thrust into Finland was a disaster. 450,000 Soviets with approximately 4,000 planes and 6,000 tanks and armored vehicles were stopped by 180,000 Finnish troops operating 130 outdated aircraft and 30 armored vehicles.
While the military part of a soldier’s life may end, the drive to continue to serve does not. For many veterans, like the both of us, reintegration back into the civilian world was predicated on finding ways to continue to serve our communities through work or volunteerism, or both.
Yet, reintegration can be hard, especially when a veteran is unable to take care of their health – particularly their oral health. The appearance of one’s mouth and teeth can affect a lot of things, including their self-esteem, view on life, and ability to interview for a job. In fact, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), one in four adults with poor oral health avoid smiling and feel embarrassed, which can be exacerbated for a veteran since, at times, they feel separated from civilian society.
What’s worse: of the 21 million-plus veterans across the United States today, fewer than 10 million are enrolled in U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health benefits, and more than 1.2 million lack health insurance altogether. The disparity is even more pronounced when it comes to dental care since veterans do not receive dental benefits through the VA unless they are classified as 100 percent disabled, have a service-connected dental condition, or have a service-oriented medical condition that is affected by their mouth.
Without these benefits, there are a lot of barriers for veterans, for instance, the cost and lack of insurance to the distance and accessibility of a dentist. The ADA found that only 37 percent of American adults actually visited the dentist within the last year, and veterans are, more often than not, part of the 63 percent who did not. Unfortunately, this lack of dental care can influence a veteran’s employment opportunities, their overall body’s health, and their confidence.
Recognizing the importance of oral health for our nation’s veterans, and to combat the barriers to care, Aspen Dental is partnering with Got Your 6, the military term for “I’ve got your back,” a highly influential campaign that empowers veterans to help strengthen communities nationwide. Together, we are continuing the third annual Healthy Mouth Movement, a community giving initiative launched by Aspen Dental Management, Inc. and the dental practices it supports to deliver free dental care and oral health education to people in need across the United States.
As part of this effort, veterans across the nation will receive free dental care at nearly 400 participating Aspen Dental practices on Saturday, June 25, as part of Aspen’s national Day of Service. Dentists and teams will volunteer their time and talents that day with the goal of treating 6,000 veterans, focusing on treating the most urgent need of each veteran – including fillings, extractions, and basic denture repair – to help free them of dental pain.
In addition to the efforts of local volunteers on June 25, the Healthy Mouth Movement is also reaching veterans through its MouthMobile, a 42-foot mobile dentist office on wheels that drives directly into the communities where veterans need oral health care the most to provide free care. In its third year, the MouthMobile is stopping at 32 locations in 26 states from February through November.
Through the Healthy Mouth Movement, we have had the pleasure of meeting and hearing the stories from the men and women who have served our country and to get to know the issues they experience in getting health care. It has become an honor to lend a hand and help make a major difference in the lives of so many of our fellow veterans. By getting those veterans in need back on their feet, we are empowering them to pay it forward through their own service to their communities.
Let’s empower our veterans to not only get the care they need but feel like they can still make a difference on and off the battlefield by smiling a little bigger. For more about Aspen’s Day of Service or to schedule a free appointment for a veteran, visit www.healthymouthmovement.com.
Dr. Jere Gillan is an Air Force veteran and Aspen Dental practice owner in Orlando, Fla., and Bill Rausch is an Iraq War veteran and the Executive Director of Got Your 6.