The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

“I want to make sure that the Coast Guard people in Vietnam know that I am hearing about them often and that I am pleased with what I hear.”
–General Wallace Greene, Jr., commandant, U.S. Marine Corps, 1967

As indicated in the quote above, the Coast Guard played a vital role in the Vietnam War, but the service’s combat operations in South East Asia remain unknown to most Americans.


On April 29, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed a “Memorandum for the President” that required “U.S. Coast Guard operating forces assist U.S. Naval Forces in preventing sea infiltration by the communists into South Vietnam” stating “…that the U.S. Coast Guard has operating forces which are well-suited to the mission…” The same day Johnson signed his memorandum, the service announced formation of Coast Guard Squadron One (RONONE). The squadron consisted of 26 “Point”-class 82-foot patrol boats. In five years, RONONE patrol boats cruised over four million miles and inspected over 280,000 vessels. The 82-footers, which were designed for search-and-rescue and law enforcement, were operational approximately 80 percent of their time in theater.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago
Fireman Heriberto Hernandez, who was killed in action, posthumously received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals, and is the namesake for one of the service’s Fast Response Cutters.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

In early 1967, the Navy requested that the Coast Guard provide five high-endurance cutters for duty with the Navy’s Coastal Surveillance Forces. On April 24, Coast Guard Squadron Three (RONTHREE) was formed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and, in May, the high-endurance cutter Barataria fired the first RONTHREE naval gunfire support mission of the war. In February 1968, cutters Winona and Androscoggin engaged enemy trawlers and destroyed them with the aid of Coast Guard and Navy patrol boats while cutter Minnetonka drove off another. This action was the largest naval engagement of the Vietnam War.

Coast Guard cutters made a vital contribution to the Navy’s effort to limit coastal infiltration, forcing the communists to use the Ho Chi Minh Trail to sustain the insurgency in the South. Wartime statistics show that Coast Guard cutters boarded a quarter of a million junks and sampans and participated in 6,000 naval gunfire support missions causing extensive damage to the enemy. Of the 56 cutters that served in Vietnam, 30 were turned over to South Vietnam and Coast Guardsmen trained their Vietnamese crews to operate the vessels. Former cutters and the Vietnamese who crewed them formed the nucleus of the South Vietnamese Navy for the remainder of the war.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago
Coast Guard pilots Jack Rittichier and Lonnie Mixon received medals for their role in flying helicopter rescue missions in Vietnam.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Port Security and Waterways Details and Explosives Loading Detachments (ELDs) also proved important to the war effort. On Aug. 4, 1965, the U.S. Military Assistance Command in Vietnam requested a Coast Guard Port Security Officer for the Port of Saigon and two Coast Guard ELDs. The Coast Guard sent the officer to Saigon and two ELDs, assigning one to Nha Be and the second to Cam Ranh Bay. These ELDs were highly trained in explosives handling, firefighting, port security, and small boat operations and maintenance. The ELDs were authorized to do anything necessary to enforce regulations. ELD personnel also taught U.S. Army and Vietnamese personnel in small boat operation, port firefighting, pier inspection, and proper cargo handling and storage.

In 1966, the Military Assistance Command in Vietnam requested a Coast Guard buoy tender to install, maintain and service aids-to-navigation (ATON) in South Vietnam. Soon, a buoy tender arrived to set petroleum buoys for offloading fuel. In all, five buoy tenders marked South Vietnamese channels and maintained lighthouses along the South Vietnamese coast. Buoy tender duties included marking newly-dredged channels and coral reefs, positioning mooring buoys, and training the Vietnamese in ATON duties. Vietnamese lighthouse service personnel were assigned to temporary duty aboard Coast Guard buoy tenders that reactivated and automated all South Vietnamese lighthouses.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago
An aerial photograph of the LORAN station located at Tan My in Vietnam.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

The service built and manned Long Range Aids to Navigation (LORAN) stations allowing mariners and aviators to accurately fix their positions. LORAN’s original purpose was to provide electronic aids to mariners and aviators in areas where surface aids were nonexistent, waters relatively uncharted, or skies frequently overcast. Under Operation “Tight Reign,” LORAN stations were established at Con Son Island and Tan My in Vietnam; and at Lampang, Sattahip and Udorn in Thailand. Tight Reign continued until April 29, 1975, a day before the fall of South Vietnam, when the station at Con Son Island discontinued operations.

The escalation of the Vietnam War meant that supplies had to be transported by ship, which increased the need for merchant vessels under Military Sealift Command (MSTS) contracts. Merchant officers and shipping companies complained about the lack of a Coast Guard Merchant Marine Detail and, in August 1966, MSTS requested a Merchant Marine Detail. By December, a marine inspection officer was assigned to Saigon. Merchant Marine Detail personnel kept merchant vessels in theater moving by providing diplomatic, investigative and judicial services. Coast Guard officers assigned to Merchant Marine Details had the authority to remove sailors from ships, order violations corrected, or stop a ship from sailing.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago
A Coast Guard aids-to-navigation expert works on a range marker for ship navigation in Vietnam.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Coast Guard aviators participated in the Coast Guard-Air Force Aviator Exchange Program. Two Coast Guard C-130 pilots took part in the program, but the rest of the aviators were HH-3 helicopter pilots. In the spring of 1968, the service assigned the first of many Coast Guard helicopter pilots to the Air Force’s 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron at Da Nang. The resulting honors and awards presented to Coast Guard aviators included four Silver Star Medals, 15 Distinguished Flying Crosses, and 86 Air Medals.

Today, over 50 years after the service joined the fight in Vietnam, we commemorate the Coast Guardsmen who went in harm’s way, several of whom paid with their lives in a land far from home shores. In all, 8,000 Coast Guardsmen served in Vietnam. Their efforts curtailed maritime smuggling and enemy infiltration, saved hundreds of lives, and proved vital to the war effort in Vietnam.

This article originally appeared on the United States Coast Guard. Follow @USCG on Twitter.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

WATCH: MilSpouse in quarantine performs hilarious coronavirus balcony concert

Emily Krieger Cabana is the military spouse hero we need right now and don’t deserve. Her impromptu balcony performance of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s ‘Think of Me’ from Phantom of the Opera is quite simply put: magical. Oh, and also, incredible. Emily has a musical theater degree and was working professionally in New York City before she met her husband, a Marine pilot, during Fleet Week.

Emily rewrote many of the lyrics to reflect her family’s mandatory quarantine and how they’re handling it: “Remember me, once in a while, please promise me you’ll try. When you find that once again you long to share your wine or booze with me, if you ever find a moment, to share a glass with me.”


We saw this video and knew we needed to talk to this woman. When we reached out to Emily to talk about her incredible performance, Emily laughed and said she couldn’t believe that this many people were interested. She gave us the scoop on how it all transpired from base housing stairwell apartments at Patch Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany, where their family has been stationed for almost three years.

WATM: What prompted this?

Emily: My family is actually in quarantine because we came in direct contact with someone who tested positive for the virus. So we can’t leave our apartment until next Friday at 2:00, not that I’m counting!

I was informing my moms on the street in our group message [that we were quarantined] and one of them happens to know I am a singer and she said they now expected balcony performances, after seeing all the posts from other countries.

Well, with lots of moms agreeing and a bit of pressure put on, I said ‘why not!’ So, I couldn’t do just any song … I had to make it humorous and relatable to our situation.

One of my mom friends on the street was so excited to go and see Phantom of the Opera in London. She was so excited. And since everything is cancelled, I kind of got the idea of using one of those songs and making it humorous to lift our spirits. I believe laughter and music are incredible healing tools!

So I got on a ball gown, gave my moms message thread a 15 minute warning, and never ever expected it to be appreciated as much as it was.

And better yet, I got beer and booze delivered and placed outside our door!

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

Photo courtesy of Emily Krieger Cabana

WATM: You have an incredible voice. Tell us about your background in music.

Emily: I have a Musical Theatre degree and was working professionally in New York when Fleet Week happened. That’s how I met my Marine pilot. Yes, an actual Fleet Week success story!

So I put my career on hold and focused on family life and Marine Corps spouse life. I still teach voice lessons and help direct shows whenever the time allowed in whatever duty station we were at.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

Photo courtesy of Emily Krieger Cabana

WATM: You are amazing! How is quarantine going?

Emily: Hearing we were in direct contact actually wasn’t super surprising to us. This is such a small community and we figured it was going to happen to quite a lot of people we knew. No need for us to worry as nobody has any underlying conditions. We are just trying to stick with the guidelines of sanitizing and also trying to be as healthy as can be. We tend to live our lives more in the moment and try not to stress about what could be. Stress doesn’t help anyone!

Our neighbors and friends have completely gone out of their ways to help with shopping or just dropping off meals or treats for us. The military community takes care of each other and they are coming out in full force during this time. It’s really humbling. And makes us proud to be a military family in such a supportive community.

WATM: Any advice for other military spouses facing quarantine life?

Emily: Well, I think the booze and wine requests speak for themselves.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

Photo courtesy of Emily Krieger Cabana

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a Congressman’s press conference killed 800 US sailors

Loose lips sink ships, the old saying goes. Nothing could be more true. And the combination of an international audience with highly classified intelligence along with a complete lack of understanding for what’s important and what’s not can be disastrous. It should come to no surprise for anyone reading that a Congressman learned this the hard way.

Back then, at least, it was enough to cost him the next election.


The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

This f*cking guy.

In the early days of World War II, the Japanese didn’t really understand Allied submarine technology. Most importantly, they had no idea American and British submarines could dive so deep. When fighting Allied subs, the Japanese set their depth charge fuses to explode at a depth roughly equivalent to what their submarines could handle, which was a lot more shallow than American and British subs could dive. As a result, the survival rate of Allied submarines encountering Japanese ships was amazingly high.

For the first year or so of the war, the Americans enjoyed this advantage in the Pacific. Japanese anti-submarine warfare was never sophisticated enough to realize its fatal flaws, and American sailors’ lives were saved as a result. Then Kentucky Congressman Andrew J. May made a visit to the Pacific Theater and changed all that.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

Droppin’ charges, droppin’ bodies

The Balao-class submarines of the time could dive to depths of some 400 feet, much deeper than the depth Japanese ships set their depth charges to explode. Congressman May was informed of this during his visit, along with a ton of other sensitive war-related information. Upon returning from his junket in the war zone, May held a press conference where he revealed this fact to the world, informing the press wires that American sailors were surviving in incredible numbers because the charges were set too shallow. The press reported his quotes, and eventually, it got back to the Japanese.

Who promptly changed their depth charge fuses.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

A depth charge-damaged submarine.

Vice-Admiral Charles Lockwood was understandably livid when he heard the news, not just because a Congressman had leaked sensitive information to the press for seemingly no reason, but because he knew what the tactical outcome of the reveal would be. And Admiral Lockwood was right. When the Japanese changed their fuses, it began to take its toll on American submarines, which might have normally survived such an attack. He estimated the slip cost ten submarines and 800 crewmen killed in action.

“I hear Congressman May said the Jap depth charges are not set deep enough,” Lockwood reportedly told the press. “He would be pleased to know that the Japs set them deeper now.”

When the time came for May’s re-election campaign after the war in 1946, the reveal (which became known as The May Incident) along with corruption allegations became too much for the Kentucky voters, and May lost his seat in the House of Representatives. May served nine months in a federal prison for corruption.

popular

Inside the mind of former Delta Force soldier Pat McNamara

It takes about 2 seconds to figure out when you talk with 22-year special operations veteran Pat McNamara that he’s about as straight a shooter as they come.


But it’s more than just the trigger squeeze, proper sight alignment and firm grip honed over many years as the senior marksmanship NCO for the world’s top counterterrorism unit that makes him hit the bullseye every time. In an exclusive interview with We Are The Mighty, McNamara demonstrates why he’s such a popular trainer and mentor beyond the world of tactical shooting and athletic strength training.

“I’m always on the up and up. I’m always brutally honest,” McNamara said in a phone interview July 14.

And it shows when he’s talking about veterans who use their former service to get perks.

“Here’s the thing, I’m not a fan of ‘professional veterans.’ Guys who rest on their laurels and say ‘I’m a vet, be nice to me, I’ve done this for the country,” McNamara says. “F$%ck you, get a job, figure it out for yourself. I did my service voluntarily. I did it for myself and my country, I wasn’t doing it for accolades.”

Not long after he left the storied Delta Force special operations unit in 2005 as a Sgt. Major, McNamara established his own training and fitness company, dubbed Tactics-Marksmanship-Adventure-Concepts-Security, based in his hometown of Pinehurst, North Carolina. Since then, McNamara has emerged as one of the most innovative — and edgy — tactical trainers in the business.

With an aggressive in-your-face style that doesn’t suffer fools, McNamara has never been afraid of challenging the tactics of other high-profile competitors.

 

 

A photo posted by Pat McNamara (@tmacsinc) on Mar 1, 2016 at 11:06am PST

 

 

In one video, McNamara shreds the long-taught concept of “scan and assess” after a shooter hits his target. Calling it “theater through institutional inbreeding,” McNamara argues practicing the scan and assess is the same as yelling “I quit!” in a gunfight.

But McNamara’s skills go well beyond the range or the gym. A student of sports psychology and leadership under stress, the former commando is always trying to find ways to teach students better and challenge the status quo.

“The guys I’m training, I want them to be stronger and more effective, because I need them to be stronger and more effective,” McNamara says. “I’m always trying to be a more effective instructor … and to present a more powerful delivery so that learning takes place more effectively.”

Despite his Athenian physique and distinctive, pointed goatee, McNamara does have a softer side as well — he’s a diehard fly fisherman, musician and an graphic artist who’s unapologetic about his new mission as a family man and husband.

To get a better look inside the mind of Pat McNamara, we asked him five questions about his job and his life as a soldier.

Okay, right out of the gate, where do you come down on the age-old debate of 9mm versus .45 ACP?

9mm.

Now, I have a love affair with my 1911. But the caliber debate is f$%cking dead. It’s all about bullet placement. And the thing is you can get 9mm all over the world.

I’m not going to hold back here. Which is better in a fight, an AK-47 or an AR-15?

Easy one, AR, that’s not even close. That 7.62×39 is a devastating round. It’s going to go right through a lot of stuff — it’s really freaking bad ass. But ergonomically, the AK-47 is just not sound — that’s a conscript army freaking gun. To me the AR is just a more professional platform, and there’s a lot more you can do with it. And when it comes to accuracy … if you have a good barrel and good ammo, you can group at 500 with that thing easy.

You did a lot of cool things as a Delta operator, I’m sure. But what was the most annoying mission ever?

It was the Balkans. We were waiting “on the bubble” for 36 days. Just waiting for 36 frickin’ days, and we never got to hit our target. There were others that were [worse], but they didn’t last as long. And the conditions on that one were horrible.

What is your #1 tip for good leadership?

Show up before everyone else and be the last one to leave. You know, never be late, light and out of uniform.

Another one is always have an ear — you gotta look people in the eye and listen to them, you can’t blow people off. You have to be genuinely frickin’ concerned.

It’s beach reading season. What’s on the top of your stack of books to read this summer?

Right now I’m reading something called “Mindset.”

I’m always trying to read stuff that’s applicable to my job and my guys because I’m training — I have a vested interest.

People tell me to read this book or that, but I like to read sports psychology and science.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Pictures from the world’s forgotten Venus landers

On July 20, 1969, the United States won the space race. America had put two astronauts on the moon, secured the ultimate high ground, and put an end to decades of back and forth victories won by American and Soviet scientists. While many Americans saw the space race as a matter of national honor and prestige, many involved in the race for each nation’s government knew the truth: the space race was an extension of the Cold War in every appreciable way, and there was far more at stake than simply bragging rights.


Perhaps it’s because of this struggle for space supremacy, or what felt like the very real possibility that the Soviets might win it, that makes American audiences tend to gloss over the incredible achievements of the Soviet space program. It certainly makes sense not to celebrate the victories of your opponent, but in the grand scheme of things, many of the incredible feats put on display in both Russian and American space programs were victories for the human race, even if the politics of the day made it impossible to appreciate such a concept.

There may be no better example of this idea than the Soviet Venera program that took place between 1961 and 1984. The Soviets’ Mars efforts may have been marred in failure, but many Americans may be surprised to learn that they actually had a great deal of success in sending orbiters and even landers to Venus.
The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

This might be one of the toughest little space robots you’ve ever seen.

(Venera 10 courtesy of WikiMedia Commons)

Over the span of just over two decades, the Soviets managed to put thirteen probes in orbit around Venus, with ten hardened devices reaching the planet’s hell-like surface to send back scientific data and even images of the planet. Because of the Soviet practice of keeping their space-endeavors a secret until it was politically beneficial to announce them, very little was known about these missions for decades, and it seems that much of the data acquired by these landers was lost during the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, but some treasures did manage to survive. Color photos of the Venusian surface taken by Venera 13, for instance, offer us a rare glimpse of what it’s like on the surface of a world many of us may have never thought we’d get to see.

Unlike the arid and cold environment of Mars that allows for the extended use of landers and rovers, Venus’ harsh environment made the long-term survival of any equipment utterly impossible. Instead, Soviet scientists hardened their landing platforms using the best technology available to them with a singular goal: they only had to last long enough to gather some data, snap some pictures, and transmit it all back to earth. If a lander could do that before the extreme atmospheric pressures and temperatures as high as eight hundred and seventy degrees Fahrenheit destroyed it, it was deemed a success.

It took Venera 13 four months to reach the surface of Venus, but once there, it survived for only around 120 minutes. During that time, it sent back fourteen color photos, eight more in black and white, and it drilled for a few soil samples which it analyzed internally. A duplicate lander, the Venera 14, was launched five days later and also managed to reach the surface, but survived only about an hour before succumbing the extreme environment.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

Venera 13 lasted around 2 hours on the surface of Venus before the heat and pressure destroyed it.

(Roscosmos)

While other Venera landers reached Venus, no others were able to transmit back color photographs of the environment. A number of them did. however, transmit back black and white images.

The pictures we have of the surface of Venus taken by the Soviet Venera program may not offer the same sweeping panoramic views we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from NASA’s Martian efforts, but they do offer an almost uncanny glimpse into a world that, upon getting a good look, doesn’t appear as alien as we may have expected. In a strange way, seeing Venus makes it feel that much closer, and although these images were captured by the Soviet Union during an era of extreme tension and a world on the verge of conflict, from our vantage point firmly in the future, it’s hard not to appreciate the incredible accomplishment these photos truly represent.

Besides, we did end up winning the space race, after all.

Humor

5 things recruits screw up the most in boot camp

The majority of recruits who ship out to boot camp are just a few months removed from graduating high school. They are, for the most part, still pretty wet behind the ears and haven’t had experience with the amount of structure they’re about to be exposed to.


We get it — recruits are flustered upon entering the intense world of boot camp. Don’t feel too bad; many newbies these make simple mistakes during their initial training.

Related: 5 ways troops always screw up a simple formation

1. Forgetting their lefts and rights

It’s a simple mistake, but in boot camp, any time is a crappy time to have a brain fart.

 

2. Not shaving properly

The military instills the value of paying close attention to detail. Leaving one, single hair uncut before a boot camp inspection is, in fact, a big deal. However, it’s not unheard of for the military to teach classes for those newbies who have never been clean-shaven before.

3. Not hydrating enough

Drinking water is one of the most important elements to staying healthy. Unfortunately, many recruits are so used to pounding sodas and energy drinks that they tend to forego water and end up falling out of simple hikes.

It’s probably because they don’t like the taste of high-quality H2O.

Also Read: 6 dumb things veterans lie about on the internet

4. Calling their drill sergeant “sir”

Unless you’re in Marine boot camp, where the first and last thing out of your mouth must be “sir,” you should always address your training instructors by their rank or proper title.

In the event you call one of them “sir,” you’re probably going to get the same response:

“Don’t call me, ‘sir.’ I work for a living.”

5. Taking a dump during morning clean up

Recruits are responsible for cleaning their squad bays and restrooms every day.  There’s always one person who has to use the “head” during cleanup or right afterward.

Nobody will like that recruit — at least not for the rest of the day.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Warrior culture: America’s class of warfighters

There exists a population within America’s bravest. A culture of warriors who heard and answered the call throughout history- American warfighters.


The military is an expansive network, full of various roles and professions. While any service is honorable, there’s no arguing that some join for the battle- to run as fast as possible toward the danger.

We call upon these warriors in times of conflict, to utilize their fighting spirit, ready to charge into any battle without hesitation. During times of peace, this subculture faces rejection when the focus shifts to training for a mission in the unknown future instead of the dependable cycle of deployments during surges. To the warrior, who gains self-worth in their ability to live through combat, the blank space where a deployment slot belongs destroys the mind and soul. War rages on within them, awaiting the time when they can again serve to their true potential.

“I don’t have an answer for why I keep going back, why ‘getting into it’ is what I feel I need to do. There’s nothing else to do with the intensity or specific skillset I’ve acquired, so I guess it’s more like- why not” explains Staff Sergeant Bradford Fong, Army Infantryman and aptly known warfighter to those who served with him.

With several combat deployments, he is among a rare breed of active-duty leaders today – those who embarked on combat deployments to remote combat outposts.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

“Yes, I’m intense, but I have a good damn reason for it. Training soldiers now is frustrating, to be honest. I was ‘raised’ through a lineage of leaders who when things varied slightly from the books, you knew it was due to their fresh combat experience.” The aggravation was clear in his tone when he explained how this once invaluable knowledge has become borderline unwanted and potentially misunderstood by leadership and peers without the same background.

“The Army has this tremendously valuable crop of soldiers- as we age, we clearly aren’t the fastest, but we damn sure have a lot to offer mentally, developing other combat leaders and the kind of knowledge you won’t find in any FM guide” he states. “I wish there was a space where that’s all I could do because anything less feels a bit meaningless.”

Training those in his command specifically for combat as an Infantryman is a conversation that brought an audible smile to his face. “I’m not here to train them into textbook soldiers,” he says. The training of his men clearly means a great deal to Fong, who has no problem with discussing the blunt reality of the job.

On his second deployment to Afghanistan, Fong was one of the only members of his platoon that had seen combat before. While the other Soldiers awaited their own baptism by fire and showered him with questions about combat and how to react, Fong knew what was coming. The men around him naively prayed for a chance to prove themselves. Toward the end of their tour, they got their wish.

“I’d been there already (Afghanistan), seeing and experiencing what this new platoon had waited ten months for. After it happened, there were a lot of them who didn’t come back mentally,” said Fong while recalling his 2010-2011 deployment.

Operational tempo changes during times of drawdown or withdrawal pose a significant risk to the warrior culture. Schedules are intense but intently purposeful with a clear goal in mind- to remain a highly capable and rapidly deployable unit. The aftermath of coping with what is witnessed in war remains a struggle, one which Fong admits he’s put away, but not packed neatly enough to never surface.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

“A lack of empathy is required to remain in this profession. It’s not nice to say, but it is true.” Fong explains how shutting off parts of himself for his job has become slightly problematic with the new dynamic of adding a family in the last few years.

Stories like Fong’s remind us all of the reality of what’s being asked of soldiers. We sound the horn for these men and women to rush in when we need it most. We will always need true warriors, unafraid and unapologetic of their calling. And now, during a new era, we must find an honorable space for them to thrive, for their purpose to continue to feel fulfilled within the ranks- creating the next line of warriors within.

Articles

3 heroes who gave all for their friends at Saipan

When American forces stormed ashore at Saipan on June 15, 1944, they knew they were in for a fight. Saipan was strategically important to both the Americans and the Japanese. It is the largest island in the Marianas chain and close enough to the Japanese mainland for American B-29’s to launch bombing missions.


Though it is often overshadowed by other battles, the battle of Saipan was the most costly operation for the Americans in the Pacific up to that point. 31,000 Japanese stood ready to defend the island from some 71,000 Americans of the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions and the Army’s 27th Infantry Division.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago
Army reinforcements arrive in Saipan, June/July 1944. (U.S. Army photo)

Through June and into July, American forces made slow but steady progress across the island. Brutal fighting occurred in places that earned names such as “Death Valley” and “Purple Heart Ridge.”

By July 6, the situation was desperate for the Japanese. With the defeat of the Imperial Japanese Navy at the Battle of the Philippine Sea, there was no hope of rescue or reinforcement for the remaining defenders on Saipan.

Gen. Saito, the Japanese commander on Saipan, ordered all remaining defenders, wounded or not, and even civilians on the island to conduct a massive banzai charge against the American positions. “There is no longer any distinction between civilians and troops,” Saito said. “It would be better for them to join in the attack with bamboo spears than to be captured.”     

Saito would not join his troops in the attack, though. After transmitting an apology to Tokyo for his failure, he committed ritual suicide.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago
The aftermath of a banzai charge on Guadalcanal, 1942. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

At 0445 on July 7, 1944, a human wave of Japanese soldiers descended on the positions of the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 105th Infantry Regiment, 27th Infantry Division. It was the largest banzai charge of the Pacific war.

Leading the way were soldiers carrying a massive red flag, followed by sword-wielding officers and the rest of the infantry. Behind them came the wounded and what civilians decided to join the attack. There was an insufficient number of rifles for all, so many wounded came with bamboo spears, rocks, or anything else they hoped could do damage.

As some 4,000 Japanese swarmed over the American lines, intense close quarters combat broke out.

Leading the 1st Battalion was Lt. Col. William O’Brien. Since the first days his unit had landed on Saipan, he had shown his bravery and skill as a commander. O’Brien had personally led several assaults to reduce Japanese strongpoints while continually exposing himself to enemy fire.

When the Japanese came at the 1st Battalion that morning, O’Brien was once again in the thick of the fighting and leading from the front.

As the enemy swept over his lines, O’Brien steadfastly held his ground and rallied his men. Like a modern-day Call of Duty character, he dual-wielded two .45 caliber pistols and shouted encouragement to his men as he blasted the onrushing attackers.

As the attack continued, O’Brien received a painful wound to his shoulder but refused to quit. When his pistol ammunition was exhausted, he picked up a discarded rifle and continued to fight. When he again ran out of ammunition, he manned a .50 caliber machine gun and poured fire into the advancing Japanese.

O’Brien was last seen alive surrounded by sword-wielding Japanese, blasting the .50 caliber machine gun and yelling at his men, “Don’t give them a damn inch!”

Elsewhere on the 1st Battalion line, one Thomas Baker, a private in A Company, was also giving the Japanese hell. Like O’Brien, from the early days of his unit’s involvement on Saipan he had exhibited tremendous bravery in fighting the Japanese.

As the Japanese rushed his position, Baker delivered deadly fire with his rifle. When he was wounded he refused to be evacuated and continued to fight on. With his ammunition exhausted, Baker turned his rifle into club and desperately fought off the Japanese attackers until his weapon was battered beyond use.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago
U.S. Marines take cover as Japanese snipers attack. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

At this point, a fellow soldier withdrew him from the line, but in carrying him from the field was himself wounded. Baker refused to be taken any further due to the risk to his friends. He made a simple last request — to be left propped against a tree, facing the Japanese, with a .45 pistol with eight shots.

When friendly forces retook the position in the following days, they discovered Baker’s body, just as they had left it, with eight dead Japanese laying in front of him — each killed with a single shot from his .45.

Further down the line from the 1st Battalion, the 2nd Battalion was having problems of its own. Japanese forces had breached the perimeter and were attacking the battalion aid station just behind the front lines.

Seeing Japanese soldiers bayoneting wounded Americans, the battalion surgeon, Capt. Benjamin Salomon, sprang into action. Salomon, a former infantry soldier and the regimental dental officer, had volunteered to take the original battalion surgeon’s place when he had been wounded. Letting his former infantry training take over, Salomon began to fight back.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago
U.S. Marines secure their first hold on the beach of Saipan. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

As Japanese continued to infiltrate his aid station, Salomon, with the help of wounded soldiers, expertly dispatched them until he realized the situation was untenable. Ordering the wounded to make their way back to the regimental aid station, Salomon joined the defenses and manned a machine gun.

Salomon was later found slumped over the machine gun, his body riddled with bullet and bayonet wounds, with scores of Japanese dead in front of his position. It was later determined that he had been wounded over 20 times and had moved the machine gun four times in order to get a clear field of fire around the bodies before he was overcome.

The battle for Saipan would be declared over two days later. Afterwards, O’Brien, Baker, and Salomon would all be awarded the Medal of Honor.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How the legendary .50-cal. actually kills you

There’s a reason that the M2 .50-caliber machine gun design has endured since John Browning first created it 100 years ago, in 1918: The mechanical reliability of the weapon and ballistics of the round are still exactly what a soldier needs to kill large numbers of people and light vehicles quickly at long range.

Here’s how it works and how it affects a human body.


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A mounted .50-cal. fires during an exercise in Germany in September 2018.

(U.S. Army Capt. Joseph Legros)

First, the M2 and its ammunition can be legally used to target enemy personnel, despite apersistent myth that states it can only be aimed at equipment. That said, it isn’t designed solely for anti-personnel use. An anti-personnel specific weapon usually has smaller rounds that are more likely to tumble when they strike human flesh.

See, there are three major effects from a metal round hitting flesh that are likely to cause severe injury or death. First, there’s the laceration and crushing from the round’s traversalthrough the flesh.

Then, there’s the cavitation,which has two parts. The first cavity is the permanent one:the open space left from the laceration discussed above. But there’s a second, temporary cavity. As the round travels through the body, it’s crushing the flesh and pushing it out of the way very quickly. That flesh maintains its momentum for a fraction of a second, billowing out from the path of the bullet. The flesh can tear and cells can burst as the tissue erupts outward and then slams back.

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In this GIF of ballistics gel taking a .50-cal. round, you can see all three effects. There’s the laceration and crushing immediately around the bullet, the huge cavity as the gel flies apart, and the shockwave from that expansion as it forces the gel to fly outwards before re-compressing. The cavitation and re-compression is so violent that you can see a small explosion in the first block from the compressing air.

Finally, there’s the shock wave. That temporary cavity discussed above? The flesh all around it is obviously compressed as the cavity expands, and that’s where the shock wave starts. The cavity pushes outward, compressing the flesh and the energy in the compressed flesh keeps traveling outward until it dissipates. This can also cause separations and tears. In extreme situations, it can even cause damage to nerve tissue, like the spinal cord and brain.

Typical rifle rounds generally aim to maximize the first two effects, laceration and crushing and cavitation. A relatively short, small round — 5.56mm or .223 caliber in the case of the M16 — travels very quickly to the target. When it hits, it quickly begins to yaw and then tumble, depositing all of its kinetic energy to create a large, temporary cavity. And the tumble of the round allows it to crush and cut a little more flesh than it would if flying straight.

But maximizing design for cavitation is maximizing for tumble, and that can make the round more susceptible to environmental effects in flight, making it less accurate at long range.

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A 5.56mm NATO round stands to the left of a .50-cal. sniper round.

(U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Lawrence Sena)

But Browning wanted the M2 to be accurate at long ranges, so he opted for a big, heavy round with a sharp tip. That’s great for flying long ranges and punching through the skin of a vehicle, but it can cause the bullet to punch right through human flesh without depositing much kinetic energy, meaning that it only damages the flesh directly in the path of the round.

But there’s a way to still get the round to cause lots of damage, even if it’s going to pass right through the enemy: maximizing its speed and size so that it still sends a lot of energy into the surrounding flesh, making a large cavity and creating a stunning shockwave. Basically, it doesn’t matter that the round only deposits a fraction of its energy if it has a ton of energy.

The M2 fires rounds at a lower muzzle velocity than the M16 and at similar speeds to the M4, but its round is much larger and heavier. The M33 ball ammo for the M2 weighs almost 46 grams, while the M16’s NATO standard 5.56mm round weighs less than 4 grams. That means, flying at the same speeds, the M2 .50-cal. has 11 times as much energy to impart.

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A Jordanian soldier fires the M2 .50-cal. machine gun during an exercise near Amman, Jordan in 2018.

(U.S. Army)

It also maintains more speed during flight. So, when the M33 round from the M2 hits a target, it does usually pass through with plenty of its kinetic energy left with the exiting round. But it still cuts a massive path through its target, doing plenty of damage from the first effect. And it compresses plenty of flesh around it as it forces its way through the target, creating a large permanent cavity and a still-impressive, temporary cavity.

But it really shines when it comes to shock wave damage. The M33 and other .50-cal. rounds have so much energy that even depositing a small fraction of it into the surrounding tissues can cause it to greatly compress and then expand. With a large round traveling at such high speeds, the shock wave can become large enough to cause neurological damage.

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A soldier fires the M240B during an exercise. The M240B fires a 7.62mm round that carries more energy than a 5.56mm NATO rounds, but still much less than the .50-cal. machine gun. The amount of kinetic energy in a round is largely a product of its propellant and its mass.

(U.S. Army National Guard Spc. Andrew Valenza)

Yeah, the target’s flesh deforms so quickly that the energy can compress nerves or displace them, shredding the connections between them and potentially causing a concussion.

And all of that is without the round hitting a bone, which instantly makes the whole problem much worse for the target. All rounds impart some of their energy to a bone if they strike it, but with smaller rounds, there’s not all that much energy. With a .50-cal, it can make the bone explode into multiple shards that are all flying with the speed of a low-velocity bullet.

The M2 can turn its target’s skeleton into a shotgun blast taking place inside their body. The harder the bone that takes the hit, the more energy is imparted to the skeleton before the bone breaks. On really hard bones, like the hip socket, the huge, fast-moving round can leave all or most of its energy in the bone and connected flesh.

This will basically liquefy the enemy it hits as the energy travels through the nearby muscles and the organs in the abdominal cavity. There’s really no way to survive a .50-cal. round if it hits a good, hard, well-connected bone. Not that your chances are much better if it hits anything but an extremity.

In fact, the .50-cal. hits with so much energy that it would likely kill you even if your body armor could stop it. The impact of the armor plate hitting your rib cage would be like taking a hit from Thor’s Hammer. That energy would still crush your organs and break apart your blood vessels and arteries, it would just allow your skin to keep most of the goop inside as you died. No laceration or cavitation, but so much crushing and shock wave that it wouldn’t matter.

So, try to avoid enemy .50-cal. rounds if you can, but rest confident in the effects on the enemy if you’re firing it at them. The ammo cans might be super heavy, but causing these kinds of effects at over a mile is often worth it.

There are a lot of vets sharing their stories of bodies hit by .50-cal. rounds on Quora, if you’re into that sort of thing.

popular

This is why the terminology matters between firearms

In just about every discussion, precise terminology matters. Take the term ‘troops,’ for example. Both Soldiers and sailors fall under the ‘troop’ category, but they’re drastically different. Even within sailors, a ‘submariner’ is very different from a ‘Seabee.’ When two types of troops have responsibilities that overlap, such as an Army combat engineer and a Navy Seabee, the preciseness of terminology is even more important to avoid confusion. Weapons also call for the same type of specific language, as there are many tools to fill similar — but not identical — roles.


Author’s note: There are many classifications and categories of firearms. This is only meant to be a brief intro sprinkled with a dash of comedy. In the following article, there will be things missed and things discussed that don’t have a universally accepted term — like a slug-barrelled, magazine-fed, semi-automatic shotgun which is totally not a rifle. 

Anything can become a weapon in the right hands. Hell, as many of us know, a sandal is a terrifying weapon in the hands of an angry mother. This is also a perfect explanation for what constitutes an assault weapon. If your mother is wearing the sandal, it’s just footwear. If your mother saw your sh*tty report card, she’s now reaching for her “assault sandal.” ‘Assault’ is just the descriptor for a weapon being used against someone.

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Any slipper can become an assault chancla in the wrong hands.

Now, a weapon is only considered a firearm if it uses a burning propellant to cast a bullet, missile, or shell. This is the universally accepted term for everything ranging from a Howitzer to a pistol. Then there’s the term ‘gun.’ Most people use this as the catch-all, but it’s not. A gun is a weapon with shells or rounds manually-loaded into the chamber through a breach (or muzzle for older firearms). Typically, this term is used for crew-operated cannons, like field guns and artillery.

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Does it take more than one person to fire it? It’s a gun. (Photo by Sgt. Aaron Ellerman)

Some long guns (like muskets or light machine guns), most shotguns (especially breach-loaded ones), and some handguns (like revolvers) can be called guns and no one will bat an eye. These fall under either small arms (single-operator firearms) or light weapons (designed and typically team-operated). “Light weapons” includes your heavy machine guns and portable rocket launchers.

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Easily the largest source of confusion, however, is the small arms category. A rifle gets its name from the helical pattern cut into bore wall (the rifling) of the barrel. Back when rifling was introduced on a musket, it was known as a “rifled gun.” The rifling makes the round more accurate at further distances. It’s the same reasoning behind throwing a football in a spiral.

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Is it a rifle? Is it a gun? The answer is: yes. (Photo by Sgt. Scott Akanewich)

Rifled barrels are used in a wide assortment of firearms, from small arms to crew-serviced weapons. Handguns can have them, and so can the aforementioned slug-barrelled shotguns. But without any other distinguishers, the term ‘rifle’ covers a huge categorical umbrella. It covers anything that’s a single-user, magazine-fed firearm with a long, rifled barrel. Carbine is a fairly loose term, but it generally applies to rifles with shorter barrels.

To sum up the terminology used in today’s firing ranges as Barney-style as possible: Call the firearm what it is. In general, a rifle is a firearm that only needs one operator. A gun is intended for two operators but can be used by one.

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Now you understand this joke a little bit more. (Warner Brothers’ Full Metal Jacket)

Fun fact: The term “assault rifle” comes from the German Sturmgewehr. It was named that because Hitler wanted his new weapon to sound more intimidating, even though it was nearly identical to other selective-fire rifles of the time. So yes, It is very much fascist German propaganda to call a rifle an “assault rifle” to make it more terrifying.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This reconnaissance unit has flown since before World War I

The young pilot struggled against dust and wind that swirled 10,000 feet above valleys sandwiched between Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains. He had only a rudimentary pair of plain glass goggles to protect his face. Yet he was determined to find the trail of the rebel bandit Pancho Villa who had recently led a raid into New Mexico that killed eight U.S. Soldiers and 10 American civilians.

That young pilot, Capt. Benjamin Foulois, was in one of eight Curtis JN-3 “Jenny” biplanes participating in the search. The planes were powered with 90-horsepower engines that had a rough time just staying airborne, but they led a reconnaissance mission to kick off Gen. John J. Pershing’s punitive expedition into Mexico.


It was March 1916, little more than a decade after the Wright Brothers’ inaugural flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and only seven years after Foulois was taught to fly by Orville Wright himself, becoming the first military aviator. He later became a major general, and in 1931 was appointed Chief of the U.S. Army Air Corps.

That small unit of Jenny biplanes, in search of Villa and his Mexican marauders more than 100 years ago, were members of the 1st Aero Squadron, the first aviation unit to participate directly in a military action, flying 346 hours on 540 flights during Pershing’s expedition. The first mission covered more than 19,300 miles, and included aerial reconnaissance and photography as well as transporting mail and official dispatches.

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The first Curtiss JNÐ2s of 1st Aero Squadron at the Signal Corps Aviation School, North Island, Cali. Sgt. Vernon L. Burge stands under the propeller. In the cockpit is Capt. Benjamin Foulois and second man from the right is Jacob Bollinger.

The squadron was formed March 5, 1913, giving it the distinction of being the oldest flying squadron still in existence.

The unit has alternated between reconnaissance and bombing missions and had its name tweaked 14 times since the provisional 1st Aero Squadron unfurled its colors in Texas City, Texas. Its Airmen have flown 47 different types of aircraft and served in more than 50 locations throughout the world.

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In the year of the 1st Aero Squadron’s formation, Lt. Thomas D. Milling, instructor, and Lt. Fred Seydel, student, are at the controls of a Wright C., SC-16 Trainer on airfield in Texas City, Texas, May 1913. In front of the plane, 8 other soldiers in uniform and a civilian in white shirt and bow tie stand posed facing the camera.

Today, it’s the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron, a part of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base, California, with the responsibility of training high-altitude intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance RQ-4 Global Hawk and U-2S pilots and sensor operators.

The squadron has a reputation for being a pioneer in establishing ISR capability and establishing a legacy of supplying critical information to combatant commanders across the joint force.

“The legacy of the 1st Recon Squadron is a microcosm of the legacy of the Air Force,” said Richard Rodrigues, former 9th RW historian. “It was the organization that pioneered the first tactical deployment of U.S. military airpower, and it helped create some of our early leaders that had an impact on the Air Service and later the Air Corps.”

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U.S. Air Force U-2S Dragon Lady Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Aircraft instructor pilots from the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron pose for a photo in front of a two seat U-2S Aug. 17, 2012 at Beale Air Force Base, Calif. Less people have piloted the U-2 than have earned Super Bowl rings.

A little over a year after its famous recon mission over Mexico, the squadron would enter World War I, traveling from New Mexico to New York, then by ship across the Atlantic to land in Le Havre, France and become the first American squadron to enter the war. The 1st Aero Squadron took on the role as an observation unit, initially flying the French Dorand AR 1 and 2 aircraft, a two-seater recon plane, and later the Salmson 2A2.

According to Rodrigues, the squadron was in constant action throughout the “Great War” supplying divisional commanders vital information as to where the front line elements actually were, where artillery barrages need to be laid down in advance of the infantry and for causing disruption to enemy forces behind lines. Later, as positions became stabilized, photographs were obtained behind enemy lines to learn the dispositions of enemy forces.

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A Salmson 2A2 of the 1st Aero Squadron over France during WWI, 1918.

“The unit aided the stand of the Marines at Chateau-Thierry and prevented the German army from crossing the Marne River. The squadron also fought at Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne, all important campaigns for the allies,” said Rodrigues. Those campaign victories represent the four Maltese crosses found on the 9th RW’s unit emblem.

Rodrigues added that although reconnaissance and artillery surveillance were the primary duties of the 1st AS, squadron pilots flying French SPAD fighters scored 13 aerial victories, represented by 13 Maltese crosses on the 1st Recon Squadron’s emblem. A total of 16 officers lost their lives, with three more missing in action.

After the war, the mission and the name of the unit changed to the 1st Observation Squadron, with the unit relocating to Camp Mills, New York. Its base would change names to Mitchel Field, and observation aircraft would be updated to the Douglas O-2, Curtiss O-1 and O-39. The unit would keep its observation role until 1935. They even used Douglass O-35s to deliver the U.S. Mail.

The unit then made a huge overhaul, going from observation unit to bomber squadron: the 1st Bombardment Squadron. The observation planes were replaced with Martin B-10 and Douglas B-18 bombers and the Airmen began learning new tactics at large training sites in Maryland, Florida, California, Michigan, and Virginia.

At the outset of World War II in 1942, the 1st BS moved to the island of Trinidad to strengthen defenses around the Panama Canal and defend against German U-boat attacks in the Caribbean and Atlantic. In October 1942 the squadron set up a tactics and bombing school in Florida.

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A 1st Bombardment Squadron Boeing B-29-50-BW Superfortress tail number 42-24791 nicknamed the “Big Time Operator.” After storage at Naval Air Station, China Lake, Cali, the nose of the bomber was acquired by the Air Force Museum and was grafted onto museum building at Beale AFB, Cali. in 1986.

In February 1945, the squadron began flying B-29s from Tinian Island in the Marianas chain as part of the 20th Air Force. The squadron completed 71 combat missions, including bombing raids over Iwo Jima in preparation for its invasion by U.S. Marines and night incendiary raids on the Japanese home islands, winning two Distinguished Unit citations. After the Japanese surrender in 1945, a round-robin of assignments throughout the Pacific kept the squadron fully employed.

While stationed in Guam in 1947, the newly created Department of the Air Force issued orders to deactivate the unit.

However, the Air Force rescinded those orders and instead moved the unit to Topeka, Kansas, where it joined Strategic Air Command and became the 1st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron. The squadron’s unbroken lineage remained intact.

With U.S. and the Soviet Union entering a global standoff known as the Cold War, the squadron returned to its bombing role, armed again with B-29s, including three nuclear-capable B-29MR bombers. It participated in several rotations between Travis AFB, California, and Guam during the Korean War. Then in 1953, it was transferred to Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, where it flew the B-47 Stratojet bombers.

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Crew members in front of a B-47E Stratojet of the 1st Bombardment Squadron, 9th Bombardment Wing at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho in 1956.

For the next 12 years, the squadron would play an important part in America’s nuclear deterrent force and began a series of deployments to England, Guam, Okinawa and Alaska. Then the squadron’s mission would dramatically change once again with the secret development of a new plane by Lockheed Aircraft Company.

The SR-71 “Blackbird” was announced by President Lyndon B. Johnson and joined the Air Force inventory in 1966. This new, advanced surveillance aircraft gave the Air Force an intelligence weapon that could fly three times the speed of sound, at altitudes higher than 80,000 feet. The SR-71’s versatility included simple battlefield surveillance, multiple-sensor high-performance interdiction reconnaissance, and strategic surveillance over large areas of the world. It used the most advanced observation equipment in the world, carrying sensors with a 45 degree viewing angle on each side that could survey 100,000 square miles in an hour. It would totally change the future for the Air Force’s oldest flying squadron.

The 1st SRS was now in its heyday, gathering photographic and electronic intelligence products over Southeast Asian nations during the Vietnam War. The unit moved to its current location at Beale AFB in June 1966, and the 1st SRS was on its way to conducting missions that supported national intelligence-gathering requirements.

Retired Lt. Col. Tony Bevacqua was one of those early SR-71 pilots at Beale AFB and said what he and other pilots did in the 1960s was no different from Orville Wright or the Global Hawk flights today.

“We made history then, and we continue to make history today,” Bevacqua said.

He and Maj. Jerry Crew were on their first mission over Hanoi, their third over North Vietnam, when a SA-2 missile fired on them, passing just ahead and below their aircraft. It was the first time an SR-71 had ever been fired upon. By the time Bevacqua retired in 1973, he had logged nearly 750 hours in the Blackbird.

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An SR-71B Blackbird sits on the runway after sundown.

After the war, 1st SRS Airmen logged some spectacular accomplishments. Of these the most notable were the SR-71 speed runs from New York to London and from London to Los Angeles. On Sept. 14, 1974, Maj. James Sullivan, pilot and Maj. Noel Widdifield, RSO, flew their SR-71 from New York to London in 1 hour, 55 minutes, 42 seconds for an average speed of 1,817 mph.

The SR-71 crew of Capt. Harold Adams, pilot, and Maj. William Machorek, RSO, established a record for the London to Los Angeles route when they flew the 5,645 mile leg in 3 hours, 48 minutes on Sept. 13.

For budgetary reasons, the SR-71 was retired from the Air Force inventory in 1990. The Blackbird’s final journey was from California to Washington D.C. where it became part of the collection at the Smithsonian Institution. It was an SR-71 flown by the 1st SRS crew, which made the coast-to-coast trip in a record time of 68 minutes, 17 seconds—at a record speed of 2,242.48 mph.

Today, the squadron is the formal initial training unit for the U-2 Dragon Lady and RQ-4 Global Hawk.

The squadron recruits and trains all the U-2 pilots that fly high-altitude reconnaissance flights around the world. After initial interviews, orientation flights, and selection for the program, new pilots undergo approximately six months of extensive training, including 20 sorties in the U-2. The rigorous flying training programs produce 24 U-2S pilots, 48 RQ-4 pilots, and 36 RQ-4 sensor operators annually.

Upon graduation, crewmembers are not only mission-ready in the U-2, but also checked out in the T-38 companion trainer. They then transfer to the 99th Reconnaissance Squadron and prepare for a tour at one of the overseas detachments.

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Airmen work on an RQ-4 Global Hawk after it returned to Beale Air Force Base, Calif., as part of a four-ship rotation out of the theater.

The 1st RS also trains mission planners. Mission planners have to know the wing’s mission, the aircraft and sensors capabilities, plus detailed information on target and threat assessment at specific locations. After planners complete training, they deploy to the overseas detachments and design flight tracks that allow pilots to gather the best data with the least personal risk.

According to former squadron commander Lt. Col. Stephen Rodriguez, the 1st RS’s mission isn’t that much different from the one over New Mexico 100 years ago.

“It’s interesting because the first mission with aircraft was to be the eyes for the troops on the ground,” said Rodriguez. “The old mission was an extension of the ground troops, but it’s evolved. We organize, train and equip our squadron members to be leaders in the ISR mission. We are the eyes and ears of the nation and our fighting forces, and we operate over a broad spectrum of conflict.”

The 1st RS aims to increase their level of experience with a new, innovative Aviation Fundamentals Training program funded through the Squadron Innovation Fund.

“We are having our RQ-4 student pilots receive additional training flying with the Beale Aero Club while they are going through the Formal Training Unit,” said Maj. Daniel, 13th Reconnaissance Squadron FTU flight commander. “It is a continuation of the training they receive in Initial Flight Training.”

The FTU partnered with the Beale Aero Club to ensure pilots receive more experience in the local airspace by taking to the cockpit and flying aircraft closer to those flown early in the previous century: Cessna 172s.

“We started it to give the new pilots more experience in the air,” said Daniel. “AFT is designed to essentially improve airmanship, communication and situational awareness. We just wanted to give them more experience for when they show up to their operational Global Hawk units.”

AFT has already shown promising signs, and if it continues to receive funding, it could become an integral part of Global Hawk pilot training.

“I think the more experience we can give a pilot flying in the air will pay dividends years down the road,” said Daniel. “They are going to be better pilots operationally flying the Global Hawk, which is a mission with huge implications. They will also be better pilots when they become instructors themselves.”

For nearly a century, the 1st RS, the Air Force’s oldest squadron, continues to play a vital role in America’s defense.

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Crew members of the 1st Aero Squadron next to a Salmson 2A2 painted with the American flag squadron emblem during WWI in France in 1918.

This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

Of all the nuclear weapons in all the world, quite possibly the weirdest, most ridiculous is the nuclear torpedo which has been envisioned and developed as everything from an anti-submarine weapon to a city-ending doomsday weapon. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin even claims that he’s brought it back (more on that later).


After the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the entire world realized that a new paradigm existed. It was like the morning the first Dreadnought battleship was built. Once the Dreadnought existed, every ship built before it was essentially obsolete. Same with the nuclear bombs. Your massive armored corps don’t mean jack when a single bomb could’ve won the Battle of Kursk.

But where the construction of the Dreadnought kicked off a battleship race, the dropping of Little Boy and Fat Man kicked off a nuclear arms race. In addition to the nuclear bombs you would expect, designers in the U.S. and Soviet Union got creative, eventually creating everything from atomic cannons and recoilless rifles to atomic “mines.”

The underwater nuclear test Hardtack Umbrella was an 8-kiloton explosion. Most nuclear torpedoes were 10-kilotons or greater.
(U.S. Navy)

Another weird weapon on that list: the nuclear torpedo. The Soviet Union was the first to investigate the concept and came up with two designs dubbed the T-5 and T-15 from 1951 to 1952. The T-5 was a sort of tactically useful weapon, fitting in standard 21-inch torpedo tubes but featuring a nuclear warhead with a 5-kiloton payload.

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A Mark 45 nuclear torpedo previously in service with the U.S. Navy.
(Cliff, CC BY 2.0)

But the T-15 was supposed to be an absolute beast. It would require a specially modified submarine with a 61-inch diameter torpedo tube elongated to carry the weapon. Inside its shell would’ve been a thermonuclear warhead capable of creating a tsunami at a targeted shore, destroying the city or naval base there.

But the project was kept secret, even from the Soviet Navy, until July, 1954. When Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, Fleet Adm. Nikolai Kuznetsov, was briefed on the concept, he reportedly said, “I don’t need that kind boat.” One of his major sticking points: Most U.S. cities were either too well protected or too far inland for the T-15 to work.

Apparently, purpose-building a submarine with a large crew in order to carry a weapon that likely could never be used in combat is a bad idea. Who knew?

But Kuznetsov was cool with the T-5 which would fit in a standard tube. It was a new option for commanders without straining logistics or construction outside of building the weapon itself. And so the Soviets got a nuclear torpedo into testing in 1955, detonating a 3-kiloton warhead.

The weapon was primarily aimed at destroying surface ships, but was thought to be plenty capable of taking out enemy subs by compressing their hulls. One of these torpedoes was almost used during the Cuban Missile Crisis when a Russian sub was bombarded with training depth charges by U.S. destroyers trying to force it to surface.

If the nuclear torpedo had been launched, it likely would’ve destroyed the American warships and could’ve pushed the crisis into a full war.

The U.S. developed their own nuclear torpedo, the Mark 45. The Mk. 45 was designed in 1957 and first produced in 1959, though the design was tweaked in 1960. These torpedoes fit in standard tubes but had an 11-kiloton W-34 warhead on the front. They were made to travel up to 12,000 yards before being triggered by an operator.

At the moment of the blast, the weapons would crush the hulls of ships and submarines as well as crack the keels of enemy ships if detonated properly. This is like breaking a ship’s back, and it drastically increases the speed at which a ship will typically sink.

Russia later developed an even more powerful nuclear torpedo. The Autonomous Special Combat Warheads boasted a 20-kiloton warhead. Luckily, neither it nor its U.S. and Russian predecessors were ever used in combat.

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A nuclear depth charge delivered via anti-submarine rocket detonates with an approximately 20-kiloton warhead, similar to Russia’s highest-yield nuclear torpedo during the Cold War.
(U.S. Navy)
 

But, of course, Russia once bragged that it has a new nuclear torpedo, a city killer that could wipe out U.S. coastal cities and make their surrounding area radioactive for decades. It was originally announced during a speech by Putin where he bragged about a number of supposedly functional doomsday weapons.

While the hypersonic nuclear missile famously was lost in a failed launch soon after the announcement, the nuclear torpedo isn’t nearly as technically challenging as the nuclear hypersonic missile.

The torpedo was called Status Six, later renamed Poseidon, and is remotely guided. So, it’s basically a drone and carries a warhead of up to 100 megatons. And it has an insane range and speed, capable of being launched from 6,200 miles away and swimming at 56 knots, faster than most U.S. torpedoes. And, it’s supposedly stealthy to boot, nearly undetectable.

Putin has desperately overhyped all of the weapons from that press conference, and so it’s unlikely that all the braggadocio will hold up, but nuclear torpedoes are technically very feasible, and so there’s no reason to think that Russia can’t build and launch one. A 100-megaton warhead is pretty feasible as well. A stealthy, fast, large torpedo is pretty unlikely though.

The good news is, though, that a strategic nuclear torpedo isn’t actually a game-changer, anyway. Russia has a history of overestimating U.S. missile defenses, and so they compensate by trying to create weapons that can pierce them. The nuclear torpedo is one of those, a city-killer designed to keep us from firing out city killers.

But it’s just a different flavor of mutually assured destruction, similar to ballistic missile silos and nuclear missile subs or nuclear bombers. Except nuclear torpedoes are, actually, just a little weaker since they can only engage coastal cities.

So, sleep tight, unless you sleep on the water.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Army Military Police receive new Sig Sauer M17 and M18 pistols

The U.S. Army began fielding M17 and M18 Modular Handgun Systems to the Military Police School at Fort Leonard Wood in December 2018 to replace the force’s aging Beretta M9, a weapon that has been in use since the mid-1980s and is quickly reaching its serviceability limits.

Sporting an integrated rail system, a polymer grip module and self-illuminating sights, the modernized 9 mm pistol produced by Sig Sauer couldn’t have come at a better time, according to Mark Farley, USAMPS deputy commandant.


“The (Beretta M9s) we currently have are breaking more often, which causes readiness issues,” Farley said. He explained that the school’s M9s have fired on average about 20,000 to 30,000 rounds when a typical handgun will last through only about 10,000 before they start to have significant issues.

Gary Homer, USAMPS instructor, added, “With these 17 and 18s, you won’t get degradation of the barrel until after 25,000 rounds. The new MHS has an exponentially longer lifespan or life expectancy.”

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Sig Sauer M18 Modular Handgun Systems

(Sig Sauer)

Homer said every MHS is test fired before leaving the factory with 13 rounds — three to break in the weapon and 10 to test accuracy. He said each one must hit 10 out of 10 at 25 meters in a smaller than 3-inch group attesting to the gun’s accuracy level.

Both Farley and Homer agree one of the biggest selling points of the new MHS is the modular grips, which come in small, medium and large that allow for the pistol to be modified to the individual shooter.

“The Military Police Corps, is about 16 percent female soldiers, so this is a big deal when you’re talking about soldier lethality and accuracy,” Farley said. “For all soldiers to be able to hold that weapon with a proper grip and use the right fundamentals of firing — it’s very important in order for them to be able to engage the target and thereafter. One size does not fit all.”

In addition to being able to add lights to the guns with the rail system, John Scarbrough, USAMPS instructor/writer, said another thing he likes about the modernized weapons is the consistent trigger. He said this will help the MP students coming through the school’s many courses.

“There is a more consistent trigger so you don’t have to get used to 12 and then a 4 1/2 or 5 1/2 pound trigger,” Scarbrough said. “Your first shot is the same as your 17th shot.”

He said the trigger pull in conjunction with the modular grips will improve overall accuracy.

“We have had students before who had to use two fingers to pull the trigger due to strength because of their hand position, or they’re holding the gun in an awkward position so it’s not managing recoil,” Scarbrough said. “Those are the two biggest things that I think will help out whomever is shooting them.”

Farley agreed and said it’s not just the equipment that’s being modernized. He said USAMPS recently changed their qualification tables as well.

“It came at the right time where we were trying to make training a little more stringent and harder. This gun won’t make it easier, but it will ease some of the transition on this new qualification table that is just now being exposed to soldiers in the field,” Farley said. “It wasn’t coordinated but it worked out well.”

Farley said they are excited about the new gun, adding that it’s long overdue. “The sooner we can get it fully fielded to the operational units and the full training base then operational readiness will be enhanced.”

So far the school has only received a few hundred of these systems, but is expecting to receive approximately 1,400.

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