This Tuskegee Airmen instructor became the first African American airline pilot - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This Tuskegee Airmen instructor became the first African American airline pilot

Perry Henry Young Jr. was born on March 12, 1919, in Orangeburg, South Carolina. In 1929, the family moved to Oberlin, Ohio where his parents hoped that Young and his siblings would receive better education. Young graduated in the top quarter of Oberlin High School’s 1937 class. Following high school, he attended Oberlin College, the country’s oldest coeducational liberal arts college, with the intent of becoming a doctor.

However, in the summer between high school and college, Young went for a ride in an airplane and developed a love for flying. During his freshman year, Young worked part-time to fund his pursuit of a private pilot’s license. Earning $9/week, Young bought flight lessons at the airport for $5.25/20 minutes. With just three hours and 20 minutes of instruction, he made his first solo flight. On August 14, 1939, Young earned his private pilot’s license at the age of 20.


Young developed such a love of flying that he dropped out of Oberlin College to attend the Coffey School of Aeronautics in Chicago to earn his commercial pilot’s license. Founded in 1938, Coffey was America’s first flight school to be African American owned and operated. It was also one of the only schools in the country guaranteed to accept African American students. Despite earning his commercial pilot’s license, Young was unable to find work as a pilot due to racial discrimination.

With a second world war looming, Congress passed the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938 which created the Civilian Pilot Training Program. Under the CPTP, African-Americans were required to be included in civilian pilot training, Additionally, Public Law 18 provided for an expansion of the Army Air Corps and the creation of an African-American military flying unit. However, the Army maintained the belief that blacks could not learn to fly as well as whites, and allowed African Americans to train and fly only in segregated units under the command of white officers.

This Tuskegee Airmen instructor became the first African American airline pilot

Young (right) with colleagues at Tuskegee (NASM/Courtesy Linda Young-Ribeiro)

Young was able to find work as one of the 40 African American flight instructors at Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute. “Very few of us knew anything about flying—few blacks did—and we thought our instructors were going to be white,” then-cadet Lee Archer recalled. “When I saw men like Perry Young, I was surprised and proud. They were like minor gods to me.” Despite his position as an instructor, Young was actually younger than most of the men that he instructed.

Young wanted more than to just teach though; he wanted to serve and fight overseas. However, instructors were too valuable to risk in combat and were barred from joining deploying units. Shakeh Young remembered of her husband, “He didn’t want to be an instructor who trained cadets. He wanted to be a cadet. He wanted to fly.” Of the 992 pilots trained at Tuskegee, Young instructed 150, including George “Spanky” Roberts who would become the first commander of the famed 99th Pursuit Squadron.

After the war, a surplus of military transport planes and a booming economy allowed many ex-military pilots to find jobs in civilian aviation. Despite his extensive experience, Young was unable to find employment as a pilot. He later told a reporter, “I had come up with a different-colored skin, and there wasn’t much I could do about it.”

This Tuskegee Airmen instructor became the first African American airline pilot

(Left to right) Young’s mother, Edith, Willa Brown, one of the first female African American pilots, and Young at Chicago’s Harlem Airport, June 1941 (NASM)

Yearning to return to the skies, Young moved to the Caribbean where he and two friends set up a small airline named Port-au-Prince Flying Service. However, the airline went bust after just two years. Young remained in Haiti and found work flying for the Société Haïtienne-Américaine de Dévelopment Agricole until 1953 when he secured a position as an executive pilot for the Puerto Rico Water Resources Authority. In 1954, he was sent to Connecticut to qualify as a helicopter pilot. Afterwards, Young flew for the Puerto Rico Water Resources Authority for one more year. He would go on to work as an aircraft mechanic for Seaboard World Airlines in Canada and as a pilot for KLM in the Virgin Islands. By December 1956, he had accumulated 13,000 flight hours, 200 of which were in helicopters.

This Tuskegee Airmen instructor became the first African American airline pilot

Young with the Beech Bonanza that he flew for the Puerto Rico Water Resources Authority (NASM/Courtesy Linda Young-Ribeiro)

Founded in 1949 as a mail and cargo carrier, New York Airways became the first scheduled helicopter airline to carry passengers in the United States. Young had previously applied to NYA, but was rejected because he did not meet their 500 hour helicopter flight time minimum. However, as NYA expanded their routes and upgraded their fleet of single-pilot Sikorsky S-55s to S-58s, which required copilots, the airline needed to hire more pilots. The growing company was also looking to earn some good publicity so, on December 17, 1956, they tracked Young to the Virgin Islands and hired him.

After weeks of intense training, Young made his first official flight as a copilot on February 5, 1957. With this flight, he became the first African American pilot of a regularly scheduled commercial airline in the United States. The New York Mirror was aboard the historic flight and reported:

With Perry Young as the co-pilot, the 12-passenger helicopter rose three feet from the ground, hovered gently for a moment, then, pointing its snub-nose down, soared straight up from LaGuardia Airport. In nine easy “bumpless” minutes we were at Idlewild… Perry Young is unique because he is the first Negro pilot hired by any scheduled airline in America.

Young had broken through a major color barrier in aviation. His achievement made him the face of African American aviation. He even posed for cigarette and razor advertisements in Ebony magazine.

This Tuskegee Airmen instructor became the first African American airline pilot

One of the magazine advertisements featuring Young (Viceroy)

Not everyone was pleased with Young’s hiring though. Initially, two white pilots refused to take him as a copilot. NYA was too short-staffed to indulge in their prejudices, and Young was given command of an aircraft within months of his hiring. He went on to fly for NYA for 23 years until the airline filed for bankruptcy in 1979.

This Tuskegee Airmen instructor became the first African American airline pilot

Young with an NYA Sikorsky S-58 (NASM/Courtesy Linda Young-Ribeiro)

At 60 years old, Young wasn’t ready to retire just yet though. He returned to the skies as the chief pilot of the Island Helicopter Corporation, flying sightseeing tours from Long Island. Young flew until he was grounded by the FAA’s mandatory age restrictions in March 1986 at the age of 67.

Young retired with his wife to Pine Bush, New York. Ever the aviator, he spent much of his time at the Orange County Airport talking with other pilots and going up for flights with them. His friends and family remember him as always doing something. He died on November 8, 1998.

Young lived for the sensation of flight. His passion for aviation took him beyond both the pull of gravity and the barriers of racial discrimination. Through his achievements, Young opened the door for other black pilots and inspired the next generation of colored aviators to follow their dreams into the skies.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Why you need hydrogen peroxide in your emergency kit

When it comes to being prepared for a disaster, there are a few things on just about everybody’s lists: clean drinking water, shelf-stable food, and maybe a firearm for security. There are some other things, however, that aren’t as commonly considered essential, but ought to be–like hydrogen peroxide.

While your neighbors with a flair for the dramatic prepare for the zombie apocalypse instead of more looming potential threats like long-term power outages or natural disasters, leave the spike sharpening up to them and swing by the pharmacy section of your local retail store to stock up on those brown bottles of goodness… because when the shit hits the fan (as people in the prepping community are so fond of saying) it’ll do you a lot more good than another stack of samurai swords.


This Tuskegee Airmen instructor became the first African American airline pilot

It’s going to take more than some peroxide to bring this mannequin to life, boys. ​

(U.S. Navy photo by Jacob Sippel)

Clean stuff like your scraped knee (with or without your mom’s help)

The obvious use for hydrogen peroxide is as a mild antiseptic for minor cuts and scrapes. It works just like it did when your mom was nursing your skinned knee, bubbling up as it releases oxygen that can ferry dead skin and anything else that doesn’t belong away from your cut. In fact, you can pretty effectively use hydrogen peroxide to clean just about anything outside your body as well, including clothing, eating utensils, and water carriers.

It’s important to note, however, that hydrogen peroxide is not intended for cleaning deep wounds, so although it is an antiseptic, you’ll need to find an alternative for cleaning out zombie bites or serious cuts.

This Tuskegee Airmen instructor became the first African American airline pilot

We’re not all as manly as Ron Swanson

Keep your grill intact

Depending on who you ask, hydrogen peroxide is either a solid tool for mouth care (even in a non-disaster situation) or a terrible idea, and that really boils down to one factor: you absolutely cannot swallow the stuff. As long as you’re sure you can be trusted to remember that, that brown bottle can go far in keeping your mouth from becoming a magnet for infection once your bathroom sink stops working.

Swishing a bit of bubbly from the brown bottle mixed with water can help treat canker sores and other small mouth wounds that could be prone to infection in a bad situation, help ease the symptoms of a sore throat, and even keep your pearly whites white in the absence of toothpaste. Just mix 1 part standard 3% concentrate hydrogen peroxide with 2 parts water, swish, spit, and rinse. And again, kiddies, don’t swallow the stuff.

This Tuskegee Airmen instructor became the first African American airline pilot

I wouldn’t use two Nick Offerman gifs in a row if they weren’t just so damn perfect.

Use it as a fertilizer to grow some food

This may be the most unusual use for hydrogen peroxide that you’ll come across, but it actually works. If you find yourself in a long-term survival situation, cultivating your own food could become essential. Tending a garden can be tough enough, but it’s tougher when your soil isn’t up to the task of producing healthy plants.

That’s where hydrogen peroxide comes in: simply mix that same 3% concentrate brown-bottle peroxide with water at a ratio of about one cup per gallon of water (or 1.5 teaspoons of peroxide per cup of water) and then use that to water your plants.

The hydrogen peroxide will help fertilize the soil and prevent fungus or mildew from developing on the plant itself. Keep that water-to-peroxide ratio in mind though, as too much will quickly kill your new tomato plant.

This Tuskegee Airmen instructor became the first African American airline pilot

It’s not just a concern for the ladies.

Use it to ditch the (fungal) itch

Some of the most pressing threats in a long term survival situation aren’t the dramatic shootouts and bear attacks we often see in movies–the truth is, the slow and steady degradation of your health will keep making day to day tasks harder if you aren’t careful about managing things like hygiene.

Fungal infections like Athlete’s Foot are a nuisance in our comfortable American lives, but could quickly become a serious issue in the absence of modern amenities and treatment — and as many unfortunate souls can attest to, fungal infections aren’t relegated to the feet. Yeast infections, for instance, can become serious business, and can feel nearly debilitating even under normal conditions.

The hydrogen peroxide you get in the brown bottle (3% concentration) can safely be used as a douche for women suffering from yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis, and while it won’t work as quickly or effectively as specific treatments, it’ll do a lot more than nothing. Don’t dismiss this one, fellas – you’re able to get yeast infections too.

MIGHTY HISTORY

World War I created millions of conscripted Veterans, improved benefits

World War I marked the fourth time Congress declared war, but just the first time America instituted a draft. The “Great War” also created a new series of benefits for Veterans–some that exist in different forms today.


This Tuskegee Airmen instructor became the first African American airline pilot

A story from The Cook County News-Heraldfrom Grand Marais, Minnesota, July 4, 1917, referring to World War I registration slackers.

VA

World War I and the draft

April 6 marks the start of the U.S. involvement in World War I, which 4.7 million Americans fought in.

President Woodrow Wilson asked for a declaration of war April 2, 1917. The Senate voted April 4 and the House of Representatives voted to adopt the war resolution April 6.

Despite the declaration, American men did’nt volunteer in large numbers. Because the U.S. needed to organize, train and equip a force to fight Germany, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, which started U.S. conscription.

Following the May 18 passage, the first draft registration day was June 5, 1917, for the 48 states and Washington, D.C. In July, the first draft registration for Puerto Rico, Alaska and Hawaii started. This period also started the round up of draft evaders, called “slackers.”

According to the Library of Congress, over 70% of American Army troops were conscripts.

Of the 4.7 million Americans who fought, 116,000 died in service and 204,000 were wounded.

New benefits

Veterans did see new benefits arise out of their World War I service. Congress amended the War Risk Insurance Act of 1914 in 1917 to offer government-subsidized life insurance for Veterans. Additional legislation provided Veterans a discharge allowance at the end of the war.

The War Risk amendments also established authority for Veterans to receive rehabilitation and vocational training. The benefits focused on Veterans with dismemberment, sight, hearing, and other permanent disabilities. Injured service members remained in service and trained for new jobs.

The Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1918 provided vocational rehabilitation training for honorably discharged disabled World War I Veterans. The act also gave special monthly maintenance allowances for Veterans who couldn’t carry on a gainful occupation. In 1919, a new law fixed Veteran medical care. It gave the Public Health Service greater responsibility, transferred military hospitals to the Public Health Service and authorized new hospitals.

The war also produced another benefit for service members: information. For 17 months, The Stars and Stripes newspaper informed American service members about the war. Over 100 years later, the publication still provides independent news and information to active duty, Department of Defense civilians, Veterans, contractors and families.

Current day

For information on VA life insurance, visit https://www.va.gov/life-insurance/options-eligibility/.

To learn about VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment, see https://www.benefits.va.gov/vocrehab/.

To read about the current Military Selective Service Act, last amended July 9, 2003, go to the Selective Service System website.

Listen to what the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service is working on to report to Congress on the military selective service process.

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

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This is what it felt like to be the ‘FNG’ in Vietnam

Intense humidity, leeches, and snakes were just a few of the dangers our Vietnam Veterans faced while in the jungle — besides getting shot by bad guys. In all, 2.7 million Americans suited up for The Nam, and the average age of an infantryman was just 19-years-old.


And every single one of them at one time or another claimed the title of “f*cking new guy,” or “FNG.”

Patton, Schwarzkopf, and Mattis didn’t start out on day one of their military careers by making all the right decisions, they had to learn from their mistakes time and time again, adapting to them before ultimately succeeding.

Like every story, every man whose served has a beginning — a seed.

“I didn’t know squat, I wasn’t prepared for this,” Larry “Doc” Speed, a Combat Medic from 173rd Delta Company, explains in an interview about his first few days in the bush.

This Tuskegee Airmen instructor became the first African American airline pilot
Doc Speed takes a moment for a photo op during his time in Vietnam. (Source: Mark Joyner/YouTube/ Screenshot)

Entering the grunt world as an “FNG” is a stressful time in every new infantryman’s life.

Having to prove your worth from the moment you step onto the battlefield was just as difficult as shaking off those first dramatic moments of being pinned down by accurate enemy gunfire. Until you prove yourself, you’re just another blood bag with a name stenciled on a uniform.

“It’s a different world when you’re brand new, you’re just scared,” Jesse Salcedo, an M60 machine gunner admits. “It took three or four firefights before I could function before I could see the enemy.”

Also Read: That time American POWs refused a CIA rescue mission in Vietnam

Watch Mark Joyner‘s video below to hear the direct words from Vietnam Veterans about their first days in “The Nam.”

(Mark Joyner, YouTube)

MIGHTY FIT

How my transition impacted my health

It’s been nearly three years since I officially ended my Active Duty service. The first six months of my transition were rough. After speaking to a lot of fellow former service members, I realize that my experience is not an outlier, but rather, it’s the norm.


This Tuskegee Airmen instructor became the first African American airline pilot

Hardest part about the military… logging into sites that don’t take a CAC card.

(Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash)

Civilian stress vs. Military stress.

In the Marine Corps, I was trained to deal with all sorts of tactical stresses. But civilian stresses? Not so much. When it came to work, insurance, or liberty, I could blame Uncle Sam for everything:

  • “Sorry, can’t make that baptism/wedding/ graduation/ (insert family event here). I have to move to Japan for work.”
  • “Yeah, the healthcare system is fugged; I’m on Tricare though, watch anything good on Netflix lately?”
  • “I put my name on a list to live off base, but if it doesn’t work out, we’ll just be put in the tower, end of story.”
  • “I PCS in June. I’ll either go to Camp LeJeune or get sucked into the vortex that is the Pentagon. Not much I can do.”

In the military, every moment of my life was planned out for me, until suddenly… it wasn’t. When I “got out,” all I had was choice, and I didn’t always make the right ones. In fact, it sometimes seemed like there were no right choices–just varying degrees of wrong.

This Tuskegee Airmen instructor became the first African American airline pilot

There wasn’t a big picture for me anymore.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Robert Knapp/Released)

I lost my sense of purpose.

I was actually embarrassed about these realizations for a long time. I was a Marine Corps Officer. I did alpha stuff for a living. There are literally thousands of movies made about my old job.

How could I fess up to being lost and stressed? It felt like I would be admitting defeat to an enemy that hundreds of millions of Americans deal with every single day. That’s not very alpha.

On top of the stress and state of general lostness, my sense of purpose was gone. I felt that my time in uniform had been helping the greater cause. I was helping people. At the very least, I was impacting my Marines’ lives and helping them become better every day.

It’s a lot harder to become excited about sending emails and filing TPS reports in the civilian world when it seems that the only people that are being helped are the company owners or stockholders. That’s not really a mission statement I can get behind.

This Tuskegee Airmen instructor became the first African American airline pilot

1 turns into 10 very quickly.

(Photo by Quentin Dr on Unsplash)

My health suffered.

I had spent the most testosterone-packed years of my life under the government’s thumb. I signed up at 17. For a decade, I was expected to be: sober, on time, awake at 0600, on-call 24/7, and never take more than 96 hours of liberty/leave.

As soon as I was let off the leash, I had some catching up to do. I slept when the sun was up and spent all night howling at the moon for months. It took a toll on my body; I gained weight, I lost energy, and I got sick a lot.

This Tuskegee Airmen instructor became the first African American airline pilot

My cornerstone was gone.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Drake Nickels)

Worst of all, I stopped training.

Staying up late and spending all day stressing about “coulda, shoulda, wouldas” made me lose sight of the one thing I actually had control over. Me. More specifically, my training and diet.

This was the hardest-hitting of all my issues because it made everything else worse. It’s a lot harder to stay healthy if all you’re putting into your body is junk food and not moving.

Exercise is a natural stress reliever. Without it, I was living in a state of chronic stress.

I had the all too common reaction to physical training that I’ve seen dozens of times first hand. No more PFT…no more PT for me. The overwhelming majority of us do it. It’s like the military induces some traumatic memory of what exercise is supposed to make us feel like as well as how much we should hate ourselves for not working out.

It becomes a physical punishment when we train and a mental punishment when we don’t train.

Recognizing that it doesn’t have to be either one of those punishments was the key to me getting back in the gym.

This Tuskegee Airmen instructor became the first African American airline pilot

Great advice.

(Photo by Johnson Wang on Unsplash)

Combating civilian stress with training.

I knew I had to make changes. I wasn’t in the position to come up with some grand overarching ethos that would cure all my woes. I needed something simple.

I started by making my training mandatory. I knew it made me feel better. Having stress hormones pumping through my veins 24/7 was the literal reason I felt like I was failing. Training hard helps relieve some of that cortisol and frees up the body to actually repair itself. That was the state I needed to get into regularly if I ever wanted to think clearly enough to actually turn my business into a success.

I started losing some of the extra fat I had put on, I got stronger, my performance increased, but the most important benefit of training hard was that I didn’t hate myself anymore.

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Getting your sense of purpose back.

My military service was a high-point in my life, but it isn’t the summit I need to plant my flag on. That’s much higher, and I have a lot more work to do. I was great then, but I’m greater every day that I decide to train and sink my teeth into another bite-sized piece of life.

The Marine Corps made it easy to feel like I was part of something bigger and helping people. Military service isn’t the only option in life to help other people though. By taking care of myself first, getting my training in line, and staying healthy, I’m able to take all the skills and discipline I gained from my service and directly apply them to my current mission.

I know that objectively my life looked fine, but internally, I felt like I was crumbling. Plenty of us live our whole lives with that feeling. I’m lucky that I managed to shift my perception after only six months of the vicious cycle.

Maybe it took you years.

Maybe you’re still in it.

Maybe you never served in the military, but you experienced a different transition that made you feel helpless, alone, and chronically stressed.

It doesn’t matter. Our perception is our reality. If your reality isn’t great, the only thing you can do is change your perception.

The best perception shifter I know of is…training hard.

If you aren’t training, start training.

If this resonates with you at all, I’d love to hear your story no matter what stage of the process you’re currently in. This link will take you to a survey that will allow you to do just that.

This Tuskegee Airmen instructor became the first African American airline pilot
MIGHTY HISTORY

Navy battleships pulled off the biggest military deception of Desert Storm

The Desert Storm portion of the 1990-1991 Gulf War lasted only 100 hours, not only because the combined land forces of the Coalition gathered against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was overwhelming and talented – it was – but it was also the contribution of two of the U.S. Navy’s biggest floating guns that drew a significant portion of Saddam’s army off the battlefield.


Shelling from the 16-inch guns of the USS Missouri and USS Wisconsin made it all possible, playing a crucial role in a conflict that would end up being their last hurrah.

This Tuskegee Airmen instructor became the first African American airline pilot

Here comes the boom.

Everyone knew a ground assault on Iraqi-occupied Kuwait was coming and had been for months. The only question for the Iraqis was where it would come from. Iraqi forces had been on the receiving end of a Noah’s Ark-like deluge of bombs and missiles for the past 40 days and 40 nights. Iraq believed the Coalition would make an amphibious landing near Kuwait’s Faylaka Island, when in reality the invasion was actually going into both Iraq and Kuwait, coming from Saudi Arabia.

If the Coalition could make the Iraqis believe an amphibious invasion was coming, however, it would pull essential Iraqi fighting units away from the actual invasion and toward the Persian Gulf. It was the ultimate military rope-a-dope.

This Tuskegee Airmen instructor became the first African American airline pilot

Here’s what really happened.

The best way to make Saddam believe the Marines were landing was to soften up the supposed landing zone with a naval barrage that would make D-Day look like the 4th of July. The USS Missouri and USS Wisconsin were called up to continuously bombard the alleged landing beaches – and they sure made a spectacle of it. The Iraqi troops were supposedly shocked and demoralized, surrendering to the battleships’ reconnaissance drones as they buzzed overhead, looking for more targets.

It was the first time anyone surrendered to a drone. No one wanted to be on the receiving end of another Iowa-class barrage. But the Marine landing never came. Instead, the Iraqis got a massive left hook that knocked them out of the war.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a sailor remembered 250 prisoners of war through song

Douglas Hegdahl walked freely around the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” prison camp, one of many American prisoners of war held there in 1967. He was sweeping the courtyards during the prison guards’ afternoon “siesta.” The American sailor that fell into their laps was known to the guards as “The Incredibly Stupid One.” They believed he could neither read nor write and could barely even see. But the “stupid” Seaman Apprentice Hegdahl was slowly collecting intelligence, gathering prisoner data, and even sabotaging the enemy.

He even knew the prison’s location inside Hanoi.


Hegdahl was a South Dakota native who was blown off the deck of the USS Canberra as the ship’s five-inch guns fired on nearby targets of opportunity. Once overboard, he floated in the South China Sea for 12 hours before being picked up by fishermen, who turned him over to the North Vietnamese.

This Tuskegee Airmen instructor became the first African American airline pilot

Hegdahl’s enlistment photo and a photo of the sailor in captivity.

Certain he could be tortured for information, the Communists tried to get Hegdahl to write anti-American and anti-war propaganda. They showed him similar documents that other captives – higher ranking captives – wrote for the North Vietnam. Hegdahl thought about it for a moment, then agreed. The Communists were amazed. No other captured American did this voluntarily. They went off to get ink and paper.

The young sailor was thinking quickly. He figured the officers who wrote the propaganda material were probably coerced into doing it. He decided the best thing he could do was play dumb. He was very, very successful. The North Vietnamese thought Doug Hegdahl was a developmentally challenged “poor peasant” and set out to teach him to read and write. After failing at that, they decided to write a confession for him to sign, which he did:

“Seaman Apprentice Douglas Brent Hegdahl III United States Navy Reserve, Commanding Officer, USS Canberra.”

The sailor was first put into a cell with Air Force officer Joe Crecca, who taught Hegdahl 256 names of other POWs and then taught him how to memorize the information to the tune of “Old McDonald.” After that, Hegdahl was imprisoned with Dick Stratton, who was the ranking officer for a time.

Because they thought Hegdahl so developmentally challenged, the Hỏa Lò Prison guards essentially gave him free reign to do a lot of the cleaning and sweeping around the prison yard. He was even allowed to go and clean up around the front gates of the prison itself. That’s how he was able to later tell U.S. intelligence where the prison could be found within the North Vietnamese capital.

This Tuskegee Airmen instructor became the first African American airline pilot

Hegdahl on sweeping duty at “The Plantation,” Hanoi.

But the sailor didn’t stop there. As the sailor swept the prison grounds, when the single guard assigned to him took his afternoon siesta, Hegdahl would add a little bit of dirt to the gas tank of the nearest truck. Over the course of his captivity, he managed to disable five NVA prison trucks this way.

Eventually, it came time for the NVA to offer early releases to some of the prisoners of the Hanoi Hilton. Even though there was a strict order among the POWs to not accept any early releases, Hegdahl was ordered to accept an early release — the only Hoa Lo prisoner ever ordered to do so — by his senior officer, Lt. Cmndr. Dick Stratton. He was not only the most junior prisoner in the camp, he also had all the information the U.S. government needed to expedite the release of the POWs — all of them. He didn’t want to, but someone needed to tell the U.S. about the torture they were receiving there.

When he was released, not only did Hegdahl recite the names of the 256 men who were shot down or captured in North Vietnam, he could say their dog’s name, kids’ names, and/or social security numbers. These were the means by which other POWs verified the information given. He picked up all of this information through tap code, deaf spelling code, and secret notes.

Released in 1969, Hegdahl was able to accuse the North Vietnamese of torture and murder of prisoners of war at the Paris Peace Talks in 1970. Flown there by H. Ross Perot, he accused the North Vietnam delegation of murdering Dick Stratton, assuring Lt. Cmndr. Stratton would have to be repatriated alive at the war’s end.

But the prisoners back in Hanoi didn’t have to wait long for treatment to change. Once Hegdahl described the treatment of POWs in public and to the media, the ones he left behind saw their treatment improve, receiving better rations and less brutality in their daily life.

In his memoirs, Stratton wrote of Hegdahl:

“The Incredibly Stupid One,” my personal hero, is the archetype of the innovative, resourceful and courageous American Sailor.
MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the Army let loose a plague of feral camels on the Wild West

They brought the herd of camels into unfamiliar territory as part of an experiment, but when things went wrong, they accidentally let them loose to terrorize the countryside. No, that’s not the plot of a campy, direct-to-DVD horror film, that’s a true piece of US Army history.

Following a siege at Camp Verde, Texas, just before the onset of the American Civil War, nearly forty camels escaped US Army custody. These camels turned feral, reproduced, and roamed the southwest for years, damaging farms, eating crops, and generally wreaking havoc wherever they went. A few of them even ended up as the basis for a handful of ghost stories.


The sad and bizarre history of the U.S. Army Camel Corps
www.youtube.com

The experiment technically started back in 1836 when U.S. Army Lt. George H. Crosman came up with a brilliant solution to traversing the stark deserts of the American Southwest before the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Horses could only take them so far through the sands and would eventually refuse to work in extreme heats. His solution? The Arabian camel.

In 1855, his plan began to take shape. In theory, the imported camels were to replace horses in the region. They were far more accustomed to heat, they could go great distances with little water, and they preferred to eat the shrubbery that other livestock and horses wouldn’t.

This Tuskegee Airmen instructor became the first African American airline pilot
I mean, if it worked for the Ottomans, it’ll work for us… right?
(Imperial War Museum)

Unfortunately, they were still camels. Giant, goofy, smelly camels. As it turned out, they weren’t any faster or able to carry any more weight than a horse or mule — and they had a tendency to scare smaller livestock nearby. But they were able to go more than a few hours without water, so the plan was labelled technically a success.

The Army gave it the stamp of approval and the Camel Corps was unofficially green-lit.

This Tuskegee Airmen instructor became the first African American airline pilot
Even today, troops aren’t the biggest fans of camels.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. James Clark)

The camels were housed in Camp Verde, Texas, which is roughly half way between San Antonio and El Paso. Since camels were very expensive to buy and maintain and had niche applications, the Camel Corps never really went anywhere.

Instead of being useful assets in the desert, the camels were more something that soldiers stationed at Camp Verde just had to deal with. Their smell wasn’t pleasant, to say the least, and were generally apathetic towards doing anything useful. When camels get agitated, which would obviously occur when their handlers mistreated them, they tend to spit, kick, and will outright refuse to do anything. The camels were basically just contained within either Camp Verde or at Fort Tejon, wherever the guy advocating their use was stationed.

This Tuskegee Airmen instructor became the first African American airline pilot
Imagine you were a 19th century pioneers would have absolutely no knowledge of what the a camel was and you see one out of your ranch… You’ve got yourself a recipe for many horror stories.
(Photo by Pelican)

Then, just months before the Civil War broke out, Confederate troops overthrew Camp Verde on February 28th, 1861. In the chaos of the battle, the camels were set free to cause a distraction. They did exactly that and the camels scattered. Of the over one hundred original camels stationed there, the Confederate troops were only able to capture 80 of them — meaning plenty were scattered to the wind.

The camels were said to be spotted all across the west. Sightings were reported from Iowa to California to even British Columbia. In the following decades, the camels would periodically destroy and the locals would look on, many of whom had no idea what a camel even was. To them, these were odd, giant, humped beasts that occasionally spat at them.

These camel sightings continued until 1941. For the most part, their sightings were often met with confusion or wonder as they would happen upon a random farm here and there. Weird, but they are gentle giants, after all.

This Tuskegee Airmen instructor became the first African American airline pilot
Just because there’s a logical explanation for it doesn’t mean it’s not creepy.
(True West Magazine)

But the most remarkable tale came from a lonely ranch outside of Eagle Creek, Arizona. It was called “The Legend of the Red Ghost.”

As the story goes, two ranchers went out for the morning and left their wives back home with the kids. The dogs started barking at something and one of the wives went to go check on it. There, she saw a terrifying, reddish monster (one of the Camel Corps’ camels) stampeding through the farm. It is said that the woman’s dead body was found trampled on with hoofprints left behind were larger than those of nearby horses.

A few nights later, a group of nearby prospectors were awoken to thunderous stomping and a terrifying scream (if you haven’t heard a camel make noise, I guess it’d sound creepy on a moonlit night.) They saw the beast and corroborated the ranchers’ tale. Of course, as with all tall tales, there was a good deal of exaggeration involved — one miner said they saw the “Red Ghost” kill a grizzly bear. Camels are tough, but they’re not that tough.

The story continued to evolve until, eventually, storytellers spoke of a ghostly figure riding atop the red beast — but this part might have been true. The “Red Ghost” was eventually tracked down and killed by a hunter nine years later. Oddly enough, the hunter found the beast with a saddle attached. Attached to those straps was a long-deceased corpse.

Who that person was or how long the camel was carrying them is still shrouded in mystery.

Writer’s Note: Some of the information about camels in the original version of this article were a bit incendiary towards the lovable goofy beasts. As a few people who’ve worked with camels have informed me, they’re rarely aggressive unless seriously agitated.

What may have also been a contributing factor to their aggression past that was left out of the original version was their extremely poor handling and maltreatment by the troops at Camp Verde. If you treat them well, they really are gentle giants. If you beat the camels, as was done by their “handlers” in those times, it will definitely win that fight.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The time a nuclear aircraft carrier ran aground right before homecoming

Homecoming for a naval vessel is a huge deal. After months at sea, the ship’s crew don their sharpest uniforms and stand on deck to catch a glimpse of their loved ones before they dock and are finally reunited. Homecomings were an even bigger deal in the days before email, phones, and video calls were more common aboard ships. Imagine, then, the frustration felt by sailors and family members alike when a ship ran aground right before it docked. That was the situation for the crew and family of the USS Enterprise in 1983.

Launched in 1960, USS Enterprise (CVN-65), was America’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. A technological marvel for the time, she served with distinction during the Vietnam War and survived a catastrophic fire in 1969 that killed 27 sailors and injured 314 more. In 1982, Enterprise made her 10th WESTPAC deployment. The ship sailed an eight-month tour before returning to San Francisco in April, 1983.

The carrier sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge at dawn. Enterprise was steered into port by a civilian pilot, but was turned back over to the hands of a Navy pilot before she ran aground. At about 9:30 a.m., the 90,000-ton ship missed the edge of a 400-yard wide, 40-foot deep ship channel while maneuvering through the morning overcast and wind. Enterprise was stuck on a sandbar just 1,000 yards from her berthing.

4,500 sailors and 3,000 family members could now just see each other, but were still far from being reunited. “It was a real drag, being so close and yet so far,” recalled Capt. Jack McAuley, “We couldn’t do anything but sit around and grin and bear it.” The ship’s skipper, Capt. Robert J. Kelly, sprung the crew into action to dislodge the carrier. In an effort to shift the ship’s center of balance, the crew assembled on the port side of the flight deck. Nine military and civilian tug boats joined the effort to free Enterprise. After nearly six hours of rocking, and with the help of the tide, Enterprise made it off the sandbar at 3:12 p.m.

This Tuskegee Airmen instructor became the first African American airline pilot
USS Enterprise in 1982 (U.S. Navy)

After another 90 minutes of maneuvering, Enterprise was finally docked and her crew was released ashore. Frustration turned to relief as sailors and family members embraced each other after months of separation. Sadly, many crewmen missed their flights out of San Francisco as a result of the ordeal. Ironically, there was one individual on board who was a crewmember of a different Enterprise.

Actor George Takei, best known for his role as Sulu on Star Trek, flew out on a Navy helicopter to join the crew of the Enterprise at 7 a.m. that morning and welcome them home. “Our vessel is the Starship Enterprise and this is the USS Enterprise,” he later said, “We’ve got a new drink—Enterprise on the Rocks.” Jokes aside, while Enterprise suffered no obvious damage, she underwent a thorough stress check to ensure her seaworthiness before her next deployment.

Capt. Kelly took full responsibility for the incident. “I am the captain and I was in control. I am totally responsible for what happened,” he said during a news conference. “Naturally, it’s embarrassing.” Although collisions and groundings are usually career-enders for Navy ship captains, Capt. Kelly, who had been selected for promotion to commodore, was eventually promoted all the way to four-star admiral and served as the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet from 1991 to 1994.

Eight months at sea, running aground in sight of loved ones, rocking the ship off of a sandbar, and all while George Takei was on board. The 1982-1983 WESTPAC tour was a truly unforgettable experience for the crew of the USS Enterprise.

This Tuskegee Airmen instructor became the first African American airline pilot
USS Enterprise listed 10 degrees to port when she ran aground (U.S. Naval Institute)
MIGHTY CULTURE

How Joker fighting the evil within resonates with veterans

Most people don’t think about evil. The force of evil is certainly out there, but it’s on a different street, a different city or across the ocean. Evil is something we see as a plot in Hollywood, in movies like Joker. It isn’t something most people give much thought to.

But for veterans, it’s different.


I sat at a table with a veteran friend of mine, sipping coffee in a local cafe. He looked around as we talked about where we’d been and things we’d done. “They’ll never know,” he said. “I mean, how could they?” Our fellow patrons were having conversations a million miles away from ours, talking about things like kids, yoga and groceries, not darkness or things that haunt us. “I suppose it’s better that way,” he added.

Maybe it is, I thought, but maybe not.

The recent depiction of The Joker has become the highest grossing R-rated release in box office history. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is now an Oscar front-runner for his personal dive into villainy. For a society that doesn’t understand or talk about evil, The Joker has clearly found an audience. Phoenix’s rendition of Arthur is not the villainous story you might guess though, instead, it’s a man driven by his quest for love and entertainment; he hardly seems like a villain.

Phoenix said he prepared for this role by identifying with “his struggle to find happiness and to feel connected. To have warmth and love.” It’s an interesting juxtaposition: how does one end up being evil if all they want is love? This is the question and the genius of Joker. The same question haunts many veterans today. What is the difference between the pursuit of love and evildoing? Seems obvious, right? Maybe not, if evil never seems to be the aim. Yet, somehow people end up there – doing things that destroy the world around them. Even Hitler, a real life villain, once said, “I can fight only for something that I love.”

People want to believe that evil is something they can spot, as if it wears an enemy’s uniform and is clearly recognizable as “the bad guy.” The reality is, evil isn’t just lurking in a dark alley, waiting to sneak up on you when you least expect it. For some veterans, evil isn’t only external, although it certainly may have started that way. Evil isn’t something in a far-off land for us. It’s something we’ve carried home and something with which we have to deal. Carl Jung once said, “Knowing your own darkness is the best method of dealing with the darkness of other people.” What most veterans don’t know, but soon find out, is that facing evil out there means facing it inside of ourselves, too.

I have witnessed this realization many times in veterans, sitting next to them as they struggle with how the world could be this way. How could it be? Where is the good? As a chaplain and a social worker, I have seen, even been part of, people losing their hold on a world that they can picture themselves living in. The feelings of helplessness and sadness are overwhelming when facing a world with all its deficiencies.

It can be horrifying to think that we have something in common, even sharing the air, with the Jokers of the world. The genius of Phoenix’s performance is that most of us can see parts of ourselves in his character. This is what makes coming back from war so difficult; there is no shutting your eyes. Facing the realities of evil post-war is harder in a society that also wants nothing to do with it.

Service in the military shocked my own naiveté, forcing me to grasp with my own encounters with evil around me, even in me. War, more than any other environment, is the great tester. It reveals all of the little cracks and strengths. It is the great kiln of life. Perhaps facing these demons is a reason for the stubborn rising suicide rate and extreme isolation we see in veterans post-war. It also explains why veterans so often take roles in protecting people from it — serving in law enforcement and security.

For those who haven’t served, who has not felt the pain of betrayal, neglect or helplessness at an abuse of power? Allowing ourselves to experience the abyss of evil is “fearless”, as one critic said of Phoenix’s performance. Who has not found themselves filled with thoughts of revenge? Perhaps a better question then is: Why aren’t all of us Jokers? Why don’t we all go mad? Maybe we are. Maybe there’s a little villain in all of us.

Not all veterans can face their demons. Not facing the villain, outside and in, leads to a space you can’t share, a place where you join the Jokers of the world. This would explain why some veterans think of suicide as an honorable thing, saving the world from the Joker they have become. Some just drive faster, drink more, turn up the music and close their eyes when these evils start to appear.

There is good reason to avoid looking – we might not be prepared to fight the evil we see. Heath Ledger’s plunge into the character of evil may have led him to places that he could not find his way out from. Encountering true evil and the thin veil that separates us leads most to question our own capacity to overcome it.

Evil hides in omission — our lack of doing as much as our acts of doing. Stopping evil does not mean that we weaken or blind ourselves. Instead, as many veterans do, they choose to see the enemy, even if it’s within, rather than hide. The confrontation is fraught; not just with evil’s existence but in the failure to do good when they can. Veterans who find their way back home learn this. Veterans like Chase Millsap who saw local nationals murdered after working with U.S. soldiers and created a way for them to be safe with nooneleft.org. Veterans like Noel Lipana, who couldn’t make sense of his actions and has found a way to tell his story and shape others through an art performance piece. They could not omit. They decided that the way back is to do good. To exert agency over their helplessness in the face of evil. Is this not the only way? To do good, in the face of evil.

The last decade has brought new thinking on this as well, rethinking post-traumatic stress disorder toward a term called Moral Injury because it tracks better to veterans’ experience of war — that evil, sometimes our own, shocks our worldview. To see evil and the ugliness of humankind can shake you to your core and leave you with lingering questions. An abbreviated definition of Moral Injury refers to the lasting impacts of actions that violate a service member’s core moral values and expectations of self or others. Perhaps another definition is that Moral Injury is the impact of coming face to face with evil, even if it’s our own. Facing evil in the world can leave you with more questions than answers. Fortunately, these questions aren’t new, they just aren’t often talked about. Maybe that’s why evil and veil are just letters rearranged differently; both are thinly seen.

The story of the Joker is the story that veterans know all too well. Today’s society leaves most willfully blind to the struggles and evils in the world, leaving many veterans grasping for answers to questions that their neighbors are not asking. At first glance, it does seem easier to omit them, but closing our eyes to them will not save us. Perhaps the reason the Joker has garnered so much international attention is because it’s telling a story we all know, but don’t like to look at. A story that needs to be told.

We don’t say things we should. We don’t look at injustice if we can avoid it. We avoid confrontation when possible. We choose to close our eyes, rather than see.

The Joker invites all of us, not just veterans, to manage our own shadows by doing the good we know to do. Veterans don’t have the market cornered on this, most just signed up for it and are learning how to live with the evil around us.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Israeli airmen and a US Marine attacked 10,000 Egyptians and won

In November 1947, the United Nations voted to partition what was then called “Palestine.” The plan called for a complete British withdrawal, separate Jewish and Palestinian states, and an international regime to control the ancient, holy city of Jerusalem. The partition plan was rejected by Arab nations in the region on the grounds that it violated the UN charter’s principles of self-determination. Before May 1948, the conflict consisted of separate Arab and Jewish fighting for supremacy and fighting to expel the British. On May 15, 1948, the Jewish people of the region declared independence as the state of Israel and the world hasn’t been the same since.


 

The Partition of Palestine passed in the UN General Assembly in November 1947. Immediately after the partition vote passed, the country descended into a civil war for control of the political and cultural hearts of the region. May 14th, 1948 was the day the British announced their intent to end their UN mandate. Shortly before midnight that day, Jewish political leader David Ben Gurion declared an independent Israel.

This Tuskegee Airmen instructor became the first African American airline pilot
Ben Gurion (center)with Israeli forces in the Negev during the 1948 war.

The Jewish people in Palestine didn’t just get independence handed to them. The conflict that started the day after the partition vote now exploded into a full-scale war, the day the British were to leave. The neighboring Arab states Egypt, Transjordan (now modern Jordan), Iraq, and Syria immediately invaded the territory declared to be Israel. Jewish paramilitary groups that were once considered terrorists under the British Mandate coalesced into the Israel Defence Forces. These groups were already engaged in conflict with Palestinian Arab units throughout the area, including the Arab Liberation Army and Holy War Army. The British were functionally gone anyway and the major cities of Tiberias, Jaffa, Haifa, and Acre had already fallen to the Israelis.

This Tuskegee Airmen instructor became the first African American airline pilot

Syrian forces would invade from the North, linking up with Iraqi and Jordanians forces in Nazareth, then pushing West to take the coastal city of Haifa. The Egyptians were supposed to capture Tel Aviv from the South. The Jordanian King Abdullah I didn’t want to invade any area given to the Jewish state under the UN partition, and the plan was changed. The Egyptians, by far the largest of the invading armies, were still to invade from the South and capture Tel Aviv. Two weeks after the Israeli declaration of independence, Egyptians were knocking at the door, ready to move on Tel Aviv. The defense of the city fell to one man, Lou Lenart. Lenart would enter the history books as the man who devised and executed the IDF’s first aerial strike.

Lenart was a seasoned combat airman. He joined the Marine Corps in 1940 with the singular goal of killing Nazis. He would go to flight school later in his career, which saw him serve as air support for Marines on Okinawa and participate in bombing raids over Japan. After the war, he found out he lost 14 family members in the Holocaust. That loss galvanized his feelings on an independent Jewish state. By the time he arrived in Israel, he was an experienced combat pilot.

Lenart and three fellow pilots (Ezer Weizmann, Mudy Alon, and Eddie Cohen) flew four Czech Avia S-99 airplanes, cobbled together with the remains of Nazi Messerschmitt fighters. Armed with a machine gun and four 150-pound bombs, the four flew south to Ashdod where they’d heard the Egyptians were camped. They had no radar, no radios, and communicated with hand signals. Finding masses of Egyptian troops, trucks, and tanks, the Jewish pilots dropped low, dropped their bombs and shot up anything they could see.

This Tuskegee Airmen instructor became the first African American airline pilot
Avia S-99 being fitted for combat in 1948.

 

“They didn’t even know Israel had an air force,” Lenart would say later. “The Arabs had everything, we had nothing. And we still won. When I’m asked how we did it, I say: ‘We just didn’t have a choice. That was our secret weapon.'”

 

This Tuskegee Airmen instructor became the first African American airline pilot

They encountered what turned out to be an armored column of 10,000 Egyptian troops and 500 vehicles. Cohen was killed in the attack and Alon was shot down (he would be killed later in the war). The Egyptians were stunned and scattered. By the time they recovered, Egypt had lost the initiative.

This was the beginning of Operation Pleshet. Israeli forces would then harass the Egyptians and group for a counter attack. Though that counter was not successful, Egypt’s strategy turned from offensive to defensive and to this day, the bold Israeli airstrike is credited for saving Tel Aviv. The (first) war for Israel’s existence would drag on until March 1949 but Tel Aviv would never fall to an Arab army.

Lenart died in 2015 at the ripe old age of 94. His efforts in the 1948 war were never forgotten.

MIGHTY FIT

7 of the most common mistakes you’re making in the gym

Every day, when we hit the gym, we see the same thing: Men and women of various ages doing everything they can to bulk up or lean out. Getting in the gym and doing a solid workout helps relieve all the stress you’ve accumulated over the last few days or hours.


However, there are countless gym patrons who show up and don’t know what they’re doing. They lift heavy weights to impress the cute girl wearing yoga pants or count by threes while doing a set of push-ups.

There’s a long list of mistakes we see happening at the gym, but addressing even half of them would take too damn long. So, here are the top seven.

Locking your joints out

Contrary to popular belief, your joints don’t contain muscles — but they are attached to a few nearby. When unprofessional gym scholars hit the bench and raise their weighted bar, many think that completing a rep means locking our your joints.

The fact is, stopping the rep right before you straighten out that joint is the sweet spot. Fully extending your elbow or knee joints takes physical stress off the muscle group you’re trying to work.

So, please stop.

Swinging the weights

Many people in the gym want to look as strong as possible. There’s an unspoken air of competition that blankets the gym, born of peoples’ egos, which can flourish out of control.

Using bad form to up the weight impresses nobody. In fact, to people who often exercise, you’ll just look stupid.

Taking too long between reps because you’re looking at your phone

Taking a short break allows us to briefly recover between sets. However, don’t keep checking the messages on your phone because you’ll end up losing track of time.

Challenging your muscles means causing them to tear in a controlled manner. It’s harder to get them to tear if you rest for too long between sets.

Not using manageable weight

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Lifting heavy weights to look cool will, ultimately, make you look dumb. It’s easy to laugh at someone in the gym when they’re trying to lift beyond their physical stature, but it’s dangerous for everyone

Not focused on the ‘negative’

Outstanding, you lifted the bar! Now, lower that sucker down even slower than you raised it. Many uneducated people believe that lifting a weight is their only battle — not true. It’s actually only half the fight.

When we say “negative,” we’re talking about the process of lowering the weight back to its original position, not the opposite of the word “positive.”

The negative portion of the rep helps to tear the muscle a lot more in a controlled setting. More controlled tear, the more muscle we will build during the recovery cycle.

Using a gym machine the wrong way

This one’s pretty self-explanatory. No? Okay, well check out the gif below for a better understanding. We’re not sure what this exercise is called.

Stopping the set before hitting failure

If your set requires you to push out 12 reps and you do it without much of challenge, you’re wasting your time. You can only build muscle if you challenge the sh*t out of yourself and push your muscle beyond its limit.

This limit literally means you’ve reached muscle exhaustion. If you’re not using a manageable weight, you might as well just text on your phone because you’re not accomplishing anything.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Women & standards in special operations and special mission units

SOFREP recently published an exclusive piece covering the journey of the first female candidate set to graduate the Special Forces Qualification Course and earn her coveted green beret — an amazing achievement. Similarly, recent years have seen the services open their previously male-exclusive roles, including the opportunity to attend Ranger School and others, to women as well.

Women absolutely belong in Special Operations, and it would be narrow-minded to limit their opportunities to serve in special operations roles due to gender stereotypes: In SOF, this primarily refers to the different physical capacities between men and women, and the rigorous physical standards that must be met to serve in a special operations role.


It is the author’s opinion that there is a significant net benefit gained by reasonably adjusting female physical standards in a manner that accounts for the natural biological differences between men and women. What women physically lack in relative strength, vis à vis their male counterparts, they far compensate for in other unique qualities that SOF desperately requires.

For historical reference of the unique value proposition women offer, one only need to study the various exploits conducted by women such as Virginia Hall, a World War II-era Special Operations Executive (SOE) and Office of Strategic Services (OSS) operative, who conducted clandestine special operations for the Allies in Nazi-occupied France. Often disguised as a peasant woman, Ms. Hall skillfully employed her feminine prowess against the Nazis, resulting in unfettered freedom of movement throughout the French countryside.

Other special operations units have long relied on the value of women to conduct operations, noting that the coupling of male and female operatives during missions greatly reduced scrutiny from security services during the conduct of sensitive activities abroad.

SOF assessment and selection processes must evolve to reflect this. While traditional physical standards certainly have their place in special operations, the opportunity cost of not adjusting physical standards is too significant for the SOF community to bear. Does this mean standards are removed, curtailed, or made “easy?” Certainly not. It simply implies a measured and scientifically relevant culture shift that better enables women to succeed in special operations, beginning with physical standards.

It is important in this discussion to also frame the understanding of the largest limiting factor in SOF “production” — time. The oft-quoted SOF truths identify that SOF cannot be mass-produced and that humans are more important than hardware. The reason SOF cannot be mass-produced is due to the specific, rigorous, and just plainly lengthy screening and RAST (recruitment, assessment, selection, and training) processes required to produce a special operations professional.

That said, the notion of gender should have little to no discriminatory role in special operations manning. There simply is not the manpower to exclude a large population that offers unique value to special operations missions. Countless units experience significant manpower shortages and are being asked to “do more with less” because their RAST process cannot keep up with demand and attrition. This leads to burnout, which perpetuates the increased demands and greater stress on an already taxed force. This ultimately leads to greater attrition.

In the author’s experience, it took a grand total of about three years to transition from conventional operations to special operations, not counting the years of personal preparation beforehand. That process included an extensive remote screening; chain of command vetting and recommendations; an invitation to attend a lengthy assessment and selection course; an extensive security screening; completion of inter-service manning adjudication at the service component level; assignment to the unit; completion of an almost year-long training course; and additional follow-on qualification training to reach “fully mission capable” (aka mission-ready/deployable) status.

If that sounds like a lot, that is because it certainly was. And it is critical that women have equal opportunity to attempt such journeys alongside their male counterparts. The crossroads at which equal opportunity and SOF production meet are the reasonable adjustments of physical standards for women.

Much of traditional SOF processes focused on largely physical and mental capacities. Long rucks, hours wearing kit, and the ability to manipulate one’s body over, through, and around tricky terrain were paramount. The Army appears to have a penchant for long, solo rucks through tough terrain; the Air Force limits your ability to breathe through liberal use of “water confidence training” (aka supervised drowning); and the Marines like to ingest large quantities of drawing implements (particularly crayons).

Joking aside, however, it is the author’s opinion that these physical standards do not need to be exactly the same for men and women. Indeed, while recognizing the intrinsic differences between men and women, standards should rather reflect the reasonable demands of the special operations role future SOF professionals are expected to fill. Furthermore, a greater emphasis on personality traits and attributes is required. We are reminded of the wisdom, “the final weapon is the brain, all else is supplemental.”

As was recently identified (comically so) in the differences between Rangers and Green Berets, there are different folks needed for different strokes in special operations. If there ever was a “traditional” GWOT-era SOF image, it would probably include a tattoo-sleeved, Taliban-style beard-wearing Freedom Fighter wearing Oakleys, early-gen multi-cams, and riding a horse. Yet, that image is outdated and demonstrates but a snapshot in time. The error we now risk making is to project this archetype onto current and future conflicts.

The GWOT, while still ongoing in the form of counter-VEO missions across the globe, must also make room for Great Power competition. In this space, SOF are not calling for fire against insurgent positions in the mountains of Afghanistan. Rather, they are conducting sensitive, “low-visibility” operations across multiple domains and in low-intensity conflict regions that manifest themselves through multiple mechanisms of state power projection.

What does this mean?

Operating environments are evolving, and SOF must evolve along with these changes. This should include the evolution of certain norms and standards of what traditionally comprises a SOF professional. The target dictates the weapon, and the weapon dictates the tactics. Start with your desired end state and work from there.

In the realm of Great Power competition, it is less critical that an individual can carry a 65-pound rucksack through the West Virginia mountains at night using a map and compass: Rather, it is more critical that they be able to rapidly process vast quantities of complex datasets while performing real-time analysis of the ground truth before them.

Do those traditional methods have their place? Most certainly. The author would not significantly change them given the value of such experience. But do those methods need to be reasonably adjusted in order to increase opportunities for women to fill SOF positions and thereby add unique value to the SOF enterprise? Yes: We cannot afford inaction.

Thanks for listening.

This article originally appeared on SOFREP. Follow @sofrepofficial on Twitter.

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