MIGHTY HISTORY

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones

Karuika asks: Who was the first person to figure out what dinosaur bones were?

From around 250 to 66 million years ago various dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Today the only dinosaurs left are birds, which are coelurosauria theropods — funny enough the same sub-group Tyrannosauruses belong to. (Think about that the next time you’re enjoying a McDinosaur sandwich or scrambling up some dinosaur eggs for breakfast.)

Beyond their avian progeny, all that mostly remains of these once dominate creatures are fossilized bones, footprints, and poop. While many dinosaurs were actually quite small, some were comparatively massive, bringing us to the question of the hour — what did people first think when they pulled huge dinosaur bones out of the earth?


To begin with, it is generally thought humans have been discovering dinosaur bones about as long as we’ve been humaning. And it appears that at least some of the giant creatures of ancient legend likely stemmed from the discovery of dinosaur bones and fossils, and the subsequent attempts of ancient peoples to explain what they were.

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For example, 4th century BC Chinese historian Chang Qu reported the discovery of massive “dragon bones” in the region of Wuchen. At the time and indeed for many centuries after (including some still today), the Chinese felt that these bones had potent healing powers, resulting in many of them being ground down to be drunk in a special elixirs.

As for the exact medicinal purposes, in the 2nd century AD Shennong Bencaojing, it states,

Dragon bone… mainly treats heart and abdominal demonic influx, spiritual miasma, and old ghosts; it also treats cough and counterflow of qi, diarrhea and dysentery with pus and blood, vaginal discharge, hardness and binding in the abdomen, and fright epilepsy in children. Dragon teeth mainly treats epilepsy, madness, manic running about, binding qi below the heart, inability to catch one’s breath, and various kinds of spasms. It kills spiritual disrupters. Protracted taking may make the body light, enable one to communicate with the spirit light, and lengthen one’s life span.

While fossilized bones may not actually make such an effective cure-all, all things considered, the classic depictions of dragons and our modern understanding of what certain dinosaurs looked like are actually in the ballpark of accurate.

Moving over to the ancient Greeks, they are also believed to have stumbled across massive dinosaur bones and similarly assumed they came from long-dead giant creatures, in some cases seeming to think they came from giant human-like creatures.

Moving up to that better documented history, in the 16th through 19th centuries, the idea that the Earth was only about six thousand years old was firmly entrenched in the Western world, leading to these fossils creating a major puzzle for the scientists studying them. Even Meriwether Lewis of the famed Lewis and Clark expedition found a dinosaur bone in Billings Montana, but in his case, he decided it must have come from a massive fish, which was a common way they were explained away given that no creatures that then walked the earth seemed to match up.

The various ideas thrown around around during these centuries were described by Robert Plot in his 1677 Natural History of Oxfordshire:

[are] the Stones we find in the Forms of Shell-fish, be Lapides sui generis [fossils], naturally produced by some extraordinary plastic virtue, latent in the Earth or Quarries where they are found? Or, [do] they rather owe their Form and Figuration to the Shells of the Fishes they represent, brought to the places where they are now found by a Deluge, Earth-quake, or some other such means, and there being filled with Mud, Clay, and petrifying Juices, have in tract of time been turned into Stones, as we now find them, still retaining the same Shape in the whole, with the same Lineations, Sutures, Eminencies, Cavities, Orifices, Points, that they had whilst they were Shells?

Plot goes on to explain the idea behind the “plastic virtue” hypothesis was that the fossils were some form of salt crystals that had by some unknown process formed and grown in the ground and just happened to resemble bones.

Triceratops mounted skeleton at Los Angeles Museum of Natural History.

However, Plot argues against this then popular notion stating,

Come we next to such [stones] as concern the … Members of the Body: Amongst which, I have one… that has exactly the Figure of the lowermost part of the Thigh-Bone of a Man or at least of some other Animal…a little above the Sinus, where it seems to have been broken off, shewing the marrow within of a shining Spar-like Substance of its true Colour and Figure, in the hollow of the Bone…

After comparing the bone to an elephant’s, he decided it could not have come from one of them. He instead concluded,

It remains, that (notwithstanding their extravagant Magnitude) they must have been the bones of Men or Women: Nor doth any thing hinder but they may have been so, provided it be clearly made out, that there have been Men and Women of proportionable Stature in all Ages of the World, down even to our own Days

Thus, much like is thought to have happened with certain ancient peoples, he decided some of these bones must have come from giant humans of the past. During Plot’s era, the Bible’s mention of such giants was often put put forth as evidence, such as in Numbers where it states,

The land that we have gone through as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people that we saw in it are of great size. There we saw the Nephilim… and to ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.

Though the bone Plot was describing has since been lost to history, he left detailed drawings, from which it’s thought to have come from the lower part of the femur of a Megalosaurus (literally, Great Lizard).

Modern restoration of Megalosaurus.

But before it was called the Megalosaurus, it had a rather more humorous name. You see, in 1763 a physician called Richard Brookes studying Plot’s drawings dubbed it “Scrotum Humanum” because he thought it looked like a set of petrified testicles. (To be clear, Brookes knew it wasn’t a fossil of a giant scrotum, but nevertheless decided to name it thus because apparently men of all eras of human history can’t help but make genital jokes at every opportunity.)

While hilarious, in the 20th century, this posed a problem for the International Commission for Zoological Nomenclature when it eventually came time to formally classify the Megalosaurus as such. The problem was, of course, that Brookes had named it first.

Eventually the ICZN decided that since nobody after Brookes had called it Scrotum Humanum, even though he was the first to name it, that name could safely be deemed invalid. Thus Megalosaurus won out, which is unfortunate because discussion of the rather large Scrotum Humanum would have provided great companion jokes to ones about Uranus in science classes the world over.

Moving swiftly on, humanity continued to have little clear idea of what dinosaurs were until William Buckland’s work on the aforementioned Megalosaurus in 1824.

As for the word “dinosaur” itself, this wouldn’t be coined until 1842 when British scientist Sir Richard Owen noted that the few dinosaur fossils that had been scientifically studied at that point all shared several characteristics. For the curious, those species were the Megalosaurus, Hylaeosaurus and Iguanodon. He further concluded that the fossils could not have come from any creature that currently roamed the Earth and thus came up with a new name — dinosaur, meaning “terrible/powerful/wondrous lizards”.

Of course, it should be noted that despite being knighted for his life’s work in 1883, Owen was renowned for stealing other people’s ideas and calling them his own, in at least one case even after having previously ridiculed the person he stole the ideas from — paleontologist Gideon Mantell. In several instances, Owen would attempt to take credit for some of Mantell’s pioneering work on the Iguanodon, while downplaying Mantell’s contributions in the process.

paleontologist Gideon Mantell.

To add insult to injury, it is speculated that the much more distinguished Owen actively worked to stop some of Mantell’s work and papers from getting published.

To further illustrate Owen’s character and rivalry with Mantell, after near financial ruin in 1838, his wife leaving him in 1839, and his daughter dying in 1840, Mantell would become crippled after a fall from a carriage on October 11, 1841. Previous to the accident, he had frequently suffered from leg and back pain, but the source of it was dismissed as likely due to the long hours of work he put in and the like. Things got worse when a coach he was on crashed, shortly before which Mantell leapt from it. In the aftermath, his former pain became extreme and he ceased to be able to use his legs properly. As he writes, “I cannot stoop, or use any exertion without producing loss of sensation and power in the limbs… and could I choose my destiny, I would gladly leave this weary pilgrimage.” He later laments in his journal, “my long probation of suffering will be terminated by a painful and lingering death.”

What does any of that have to do with Owen? To add insult to injury, after Mantell died from an opium overdose taken to help relieve some of his constant and extreme pain, several obituaries were published of Mantell, all glowing — except one…

This one was anonymously written, though analyses of the writing style and general tone left few among the local scientific community with any doubt of who had written it.

In it, Owen starts off praising Mantell, stating, “On Wednesday evening last, at the age of about 63 or 64, died the renowned geologist, Gideon Algernon Mantell…” It goes on to note how Mantell’s memoir on the Iguanodon saw him the recipient of the prestigious Royal Medal. Of course, later in the article, Owen claims Mantell’s work for which he won that medal was actually stolen from others, including himself:

The history of the fossil reptile for the discovery of which Dr. Mantell’s name will be longest recollected in science, is a remarkable instance of this. Few who have become acquainted with the Iguanodon, by the perusal of the Medals of Creation would suspect that to Covier we owe the first recognition of its reptilian character, to Clift the first perception of the resemblance of its teeth to those of the Iguano, to Conybear its name, and to Owen its true affinities among reptiles, and the correction of the error respecting its build and alleged horn…

The article then goes on to outline Dr. Mantell’s supposed various failings as a scientist such as his “reluctance to the revelation of a truth when it dispossessed him of a pretty illustration”, as well as accusing him of once again stealing people’s work:

To touch lightly on other weaknesses of this enthusiastic diffuser of geological knowledge… we must also notice that a consciousness of the intrinsic want of exact scientific, and especially anatomical, knowledge, which compelled him privately to have recourse to those possessing it… produced extreme susceptibility of any doubt expressed of the accuracy or originality of that which he advanced; and in his popular summaries of geological facts, he was too apt to forget the sources of information which he had acknowledge in his original memoirs.

It finally concludes as it started — on a compliment, “Dr. Mantell has, however, done much after his kind for the advancement of geology, and certainly more than any man living to bring it into attractive popular notice.”

It’s commonly stated from here that, out of spite, Owen also had a piece of Mantell’s deformed spine pickled and put on a shelf in the Hunterian Museum in London where Owen was the curator. However, while this was done, the examination and study of his spine was done at the behest of Mantell himself.

British scientist Sir Richard Owen.

Thus, an autopsy was performed and an examination of Mantell’s spine showed he had a rather severe and, at least at the time, peculiar case of scoliosis. As to what was so interesting about this case, one of the physicians involved, Dr. William Adams, states, it was discovered “that the severest degree of deformity of the spine may exist internally, without the usual indications in respect of the deviation of the spinous processes externally.”

In other words, in other such cases, it was clear the spine was not straight from visual observation of the person’s back where a curve could be observed. Mantell’s spine, however, exhibited severe scoliosis, but in such a way that upon external examination methods of the day where the person was lying down or standing up, it otherwise appeared straight.

To Adam’s knowledge, such a thing had never been observed before, but if Mantell had this particular brand of scoliosis, surely many others did as well. But how to detect it. Mulling over the problem inspired Dr. Adams to come up with a method to make such a deformity visible with external examination, thus giving the world the Adam’s forward bend test which many a school student even today has no doubt recollections of being subjected to periodically.

Going back to Owen, as to why he seems to have hated Mantell so much, this isn’t fully clear, though it may have simply been Mantell’s work sometimes resulted in showing Owen’s to be incorrect in various assumptions, jealousy of a scientist he deemed inferior to himself, or it could just be that Owen was a bit of a dick. As noted by famed biologist Thomas Henry Huxley, “[I]t is astonishing with what an intense feeling of hatred Owen is regarded by the majority of his contemporaries, with Mantell as arch-hater. The truth is, [Owen] is the superior of most, and does not conceal that he knows it, and it must be confessed that he does some very ill-natured tricks now and then.”

Of course, if you steal other people’s work long enough, eventually you’ll get caught, especially when you’re one of the world’s leading scientists in your field. Owen’s misstep occurred when he was awarded the prestigious Royal Medal from the Royal Society for his supposedly pioneering discovery and analyses of belemnites, which he called the Belemnites owenii, after himself and gave no credit to anyone else for the ideas in the paper. It turns out, however, four years previous he’d attended a Geological Society get together in which an amateur scientist by the name of Chaning Pearce gave a lecture and published a paper on that very same creature…

While Owen was allowed to keep his medal even after it was revealed he’d stolen the work of Pearce, the rumors that he’d similarly “borrowed” other ideas without credit and this subsequent proof resulted in the loss of much of his former academic prestige. Things didn’t improve over the following years and Owen was eventually given the boot from the Royal Society in 1862 despite his long and rather distinguished career.

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While he would never again do any scientific work of significance, his post plagiarist career did prove to be a huge boon for those who enjoy museums. You see, up until this point, museums were not places readily open to the public, and to get access, you usually needed to be an academic. They were places for research, not for random plebeians to gawk at things.

After losing any shred of respect from his peers, he eventually devoted his energies into his role as the superintendent of the natural history department of the British Museum. Among other things, as superintendent, he pushed for and helped develop London’s now famed Natural History Museum, London. He also instituted a number of changes such as encouraging the general public to come visit the museum at their leisure, devoted the majority of the displays for public use, had labels and descriptions added below each display explaining what each was of so anybody, not just the educated, could understand what they were looking at, etc. Many among the scientific community fought against these changes, but he did it anyway, giving us the modern idea of a museum in the process.

In any event, after Owen, Mantell’s, and their contemporaries’ work finally revealed these long extinct creatures for what they were, interest in dinosaurs exploded resulting in what has come to be known as the “Bone Wars” between rival paleontologists in the 1890s which got so heated, some paleontologists literally resorted to dynamiting mines to beat their rivals in discoveries.

The most famous such rivals were Othniel Marsh of the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale and Edward Cope of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.

While the pair started out friendly, even choosing to name species after one another, they eventually became bitter enemies, and when they weren’t doing everything in their power to find dinosaur bones as fast as possible, they were writing and giving talks insulting one another’s work, attempting to get each other’s funding canceled, stealing discoveries from one another or, when not possible, trying to destroy the other’s work. In the end, the product of this rivalry was the discovery of a whopping 142 different species of dinosaurs. (For the record, Marsh discovered 86 and Cope 56.)

Before ending, any discussion of this wild west era of dinosaur bone hunting and scholarship would be remiss without noting the unsung hero of it all — Mary Anning, who is credited with finding many of the fossils used by other scientists for “their” discoveries like of the long-extinct Ichthyosaur, Plesiosaurus (in fact finding the first complete Plesiosaurus), and the flying Pterosaur.

Anning was also noted to be popularly consulted by scientists the world over for her expertise in identifying types of dinosaurs from their bones and various insights she had on them, with many world renowned scientists actually choosing to make the journey to her little shop in person where she sold these bones in Dorset England.

Almost completely uneducated formally and having grown up relatively poor, with her father dying when she was 11, Anning’s expertise came from literally a lifetime of practice, as her family lived near the cliffs near Lyme Regis and from a little girl she helped dig out bones and sell them in their shop.

Portrait of Mary Anning.

Without access to a formal scientific education, she eventually took to dissecting many modern animals to learn more about anatomy. She also was an insatiable reader of every scientific paper she could get her hands on related to geology, palaeontology and animals. In many cases, unable to afford to buy copies of the papers, she’d simply borrow them from others and then meticulously copy them herself, with reportedly astoundingly exact replication of technical illustrations.

On that note, Lady Harriet Silvester would describe Anning in 1824,

The extraordinary thing in this young woman is that she has made herself so thoroughly acquainted with the science that the moment she finds any bones she knows to what tribe they belong. She fixes the bones on a frame with cement and then makes drawings and has them engraved… It is certainly a wonderful instance of divine favour—that this poor, ignorant girl should be so blessed, for by reading and application she has arrived to that degree of knowledge as to be in the habit of writing and talking with professors and other clever men on the subject, and they all acknowledge that she understands more of the science than anyone else in this kingdom.

Despite finding some of the best known specimens of these creatures and risking her life on a daily basis during her hunt for fossils around the dangerous cliffs, Anning got little public credit for her discoveries owing to a number of factors including that she was a woman, from a dissenting religious sect against the Church of England, and otherwise, as noted, had no real formal education. So it was quite easy for scientists to take any ideas she had and the bones she dug up and claim all of it as their own discovery. As Anning herself would lament, “The world has used me so unkindly, I fear it has made me suspicious of everyone.”

A companion of hers, Anna Inney, would go on to state, “these men of learning have sucked her brains, and made a great deal of publishing works, of which she furnished the contents, while she derived none of the advantages.”

That said, given the esteem she was regarded among many scientists, some of them did desire she be given credit for her contributions, such as famed Swiss palaeontologist Louis Agassiz who was one of many to visit Anning’s shop and to pick her brain about various things, ultimately crediting her in his book Studies of Fossil Fish.

Further praising her work a few years later was an article in The Bristol Mirror, stating,

This persevering female has for years gone daily in search of fossil remains of importance at every tide, for many miles under the hanging cliffs at Lyme, whose fallen masses are her immediate object, as they alone contain these valuable relics of a former world, which must be snatched at the moment of their fall, at the continual risk of being crushed by the half suspended fragments they leave behind, or be left to be destroyed by the returning tide: – to her exertions we owe nearly all the fine specimens of Ichthyosauri of the great collections …

Of the dangers of her work, Anning once wrote to a friend, Charlotte Murchison, in 1833,

Perhaps you will laugh when I say that the death of my old faithful dog has quite upset me, the cliff that fell upon him and killed him in a moment before my eyes, and close to my feet … it was but a moment between me and the same fate.

Beyond academic credit, in one lean stretch where Anning’s family was unable to find any new fossils and they had to start selling off all their worldy possessions just to eat and keep a roof over their heads, one of their best customers, Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas James Birch, decided to auction off many of the bones he’d bought from them and instead of keeping the money, gave it to Anning’s family.

Of this, in a letter to the Gideon Mantell, Birch stated the auction was,

for the benefit of the poor woman… who… in truth found almost all the fine things which have been submitted to scientific investigation … I may never again possess what I am about to part with, yet in doing it I shall have the satisfaction of knowing that the money will be well applied.

Beyond the approximately £400 this brought in (about £48,000 today), this also significantly raised the awareness among the scientific community of the family’s contributions to this particular branch of science.

Further, when she lost her life savings apparently after being swindled by a conman in 1835, the aforementioned William Buckland managed to convince the British government and the British Association for the Advancement of Science to give her a pension of £25 per year (about £3,000 today) in recognition of her work’s importance to science.

On top of this, when she was dying of breast cancer in the 1840s and couldn’t continue on in her work as before, the Geological Society provided additional financial support to make sure she was taken care of.

After her death, they also commemorated a stained-glass window in 1850 in her memory with the inscription:

This window is sacred to the memory of Mary Anning of this parish, who died 9 March AD 1847 and is erected by the vicar and some members of the Geological Society of London in commemoration of her usefulness in furthering the science of geology, as also of her benevolence of heart and integrity of life.

The president of the Geological Society, Henry De la Beche, would also write a eulogy for her, which stated in part,

I cannot close this notice of our losses by death without adverting to that of one, who though not placed among even the easier classes of society, but one who had to earn her daily bread by her labour, yet contributed by her talents and untiring researches in no small degree to our knowledge…

This was the first eulogy for a woman the society had ever published, and the first time such a eulogy had been given for a non-fellow.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

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Articles

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers

The “Flying Tigers” (formally known as the American Volunteer Group or AVG) were famous for being in the fight very early in World War II. They were recruited to fly for the Republic of China — with the quiet approval of the United States government.


Despite the fact many had no flight experience in fighters like the P-40s made famous by the AVG, they were able to inflict heavy casualties on the Japanese — even as they had to fall back due to being badly outnumbered.

So it’s not surprising that some of the Flying Tiger pilots became legends later in the war and beyond.

1. Gregory Boyington

Probably the best-known Flying Tigers alum (due to the TV series “Baa Baa Black Sheep” or “Black Sheep Squadron”), Boyington claimed six kills while with the Tigers — although CAMCO gave him credit for only 3.5.

Some historians dispute that total, but what is beyond any doubt is the fact that Boyington would later become the top Marine ace of all time with 28 kills. He would also receive the Medal of Honor for his service.

2. James H. Howard

Howard was recruited for the Flying Tigers from the Navy. His kill total with the Flying Tigers was six and a third, per CAMCO bonus records (pilots received a $500 bonus for every confirmed kill).

Not bad, but his real moment of glory came when the son of American missionaries in China was all that stood between 30 German fighters and a group of B-17 Flying Fortresses on Jan. 11, 1944.

At least three of the Nazi fighters were shot down in that incident, and Howard probably put lead in more. He would receive the Medal of Honor for his actions.

He modestly said, “I seen my duty and I done it.”

James H. Howard, after returning from combat duty in Europe. (USAAF photo)

3. Robert L. Scott

The Georgia native unofficially flew with the Flying Tigers before he took command of their successors, the 23rd Fighter Group, and was known as a “one-man air force.” Scott ultimately scored 13 kills with the 23rd Fighter Group, but was better known for writing the book “God is My Co-Pilot,” which later became a movie.

4. Robert W. Prescott

A 5.5-kill ace with the Flying Tigers, Prescott was best known for being among those who founded the Flying Tigers Line. While that aviation firm is now part of Federal Express, it did gain a measure of immortality in an episode of the 1960s iteration of Dragnet.

A 747 with the Flying Tigers airline founded by Robert Prescott, an AVG veteran. The airline was later bought by FedEx. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

5. Robert Neale

Neale scored at least 15 kills with the Flying Tigers, per AVG records. Had he accepted a commission from the United States Army Air Force, he could have racked up a much higher total.

Instead, he stayed on, and was the first commander of the 23rd Fighter Group — while still a civilian — until Robert Scott officially took command. Neale then became a civilian ferry pilot for the duration of the war.

6. David “Tex” Hill

Hill was born in Korea — like Howard, the son of missionaries.

Prior to joining the AVG he served in the Navy, where he flew two planes that were notable during the Battle of Midway: The TBD Devastator torpedo bomber (notable for the losses suffered by torpedo squadrons) and the SB2U Vindicator (the plane flown by Richard Fleming, the only Medal of Honor recipient for the Battle of Midway).

Hill scored 10.25 kills with the AVG, then stayed on afterwards with the Air Force.

Hill ended the war with 18.25 kills, and not only commanded the 23rd Fighter Group, but later commanded an Air National Guard fighter group during the Korean War.

7. Charles Older

Older wasn’t only a double ace with the Flying Tigers, he scored eight more later in World War II.

Then he flew a night intruder bomber in the Korean War before graduating from law school and becoming a judge, presiding over the Manson trial.

Manson took a swing at the former Flying Tiger, but bailiffs restrained him. Probably lucky for Manson…with his experience of fighting against long odds, Older probably could have taken the punk down.

A Flying Tiger in front of Charles Older’s P-40. Older had 10 kills with the Flying Tigers, and added eight more later. (AVG photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Military Life

Why it’s a terrible idea to mess with the Queen’s Guard

There are many similarities between America’s Sentinels of the Tomb of the Unknown and the United Kingdom’s Queen’s Guard. Both are highly respected positions within their respective armed forces, both remain stoic in the face of terrible weather conditions, and both will readily put disrespectful tourists in their proper place.


The Queen’s Guard silently stands watch at the Royal Residences and, throughout the years, have become more ceremonial than practical, as the task of protecting the queen has been given to the Metropolitan Police. Still, they remain outside in case the worst happens.

Silly hats, serious-as-f*ck attitudes. (Ministry of Defense photo by Mark Owens)

Of course, this doesn’t stop tourists from trying to provoke the motionless sentries. Many tourists try to get a smile out of the guards with silly jokes and faces — there even reports of women flashing them just to get a reaction. The highly trained sentries will bite their tongue at mild distractions. Former sentries joke that this is just part of the position. They can’t ever show it, but they like it when tourists take photos and act politely.

Related: 6 ceremonial military units that are actually badass (when they aren’t wearing funny hats)

It’s when the tourists really get in their face — poking them with pins, putting cigarette butts out on their rifles, anything like that — then they can act accordingly. In the case of tourists getting way too handsy in photographs, they’ll wait until the last moment to ruin the picture by marching away. If you block their movements, they’ll shout, “make way for the Queen’s Guard!” If you get in their face or if they have to shout too many times, they’ll knock you out then stoically resume their post.

In case you were wondering: No. Their bayonet-tipped rifles are not just ceremonial. (Image Courtesy of Scot’s Guard)

If idiots act threateningly towards the Royal Family, the Queen’s Guard, or the general public around them, they will stop you. If you touch their bear-skin hat, they’ll probably ignore you or shout at you. If you grab their rifle, the next thing you’ll see is the end of their barrel.

For more information on the Queen’s Guard and how they react to disrespectful tourists, watch the video below.

 

(Today I Found Out | YouTube)

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Air Force awards $9.2 billion for new fighter, bomber trainer

The Air Force awarded The Boeing Company a contract worth up to $9.2 billion for the Air Force’s new training aircraft Sept. 27, 2018.

The Air Force currently plans to purchase 351 T-X aircraft, 46 simulators, and associated ground equipment to replace the Air Education and Training Command’s 57-year-old fleet of T-38C Talons.

The indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract allows the Air Force to purchase up to 475 aircraft and 120 simulators. The contract is designed to offer taxpayers the best value both today and in the future should requirements change.


“This new aircraft will provide the advanced training capabilities we need to increase the lethality and effectiveness of future Air Force pilots,” Secretary of the Air Force Heather A. Wilson said. “Through competition we will save at least billion on the T-X program.”

The original service cost estimate was .7 billion for 351 aircraft.

The T-X program is expected to provide student pilots in undergraduate- and graduate-level training courses with the skills and competencies required to transition to 4th- and 5th-generation fighter and bomber aircraft.

(Boeing photo)

“This is all about joint warfighting excellence; we need the T-X to optimize training for pilots heading into our growing fleet of fifth-generation aircraft,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein. “This aircraft will enable pilot training in a system similar to our fielded fighters, ultimately enhancing joint lethality.”

The first T-X aircraft and simulators are scheduled to arrive at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, in 2023. All undergraduate pilot training bases will eventually transition from the T-38 to the T-X. Those bases include: Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi; Laughlin AFB, Texas; Sheppard AFB, Texas and Vance AFB, Oklahoma.

An initial delivery order for 3 million provides for the engineering and manufacturing development of the first five aircraft and seven simulators.

The contract supports the Air Force’s objective of an initial operational capability by 2024 and full operational capability by 2034.

“This outcome is the result of a well-conceived strategy leveraging full and open competition,” said Dr. Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics. “It’s acquisition’s silver bullet.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Air Force. Follow @usairforce on Twitter.

Articles

NASA nerds made a Franken-bomber, but they weren’t the first to do it

Recently, NASA made the news when its engineers managed to cobble together a new WB-57 Canberra out of parts from multiple other planes. This is a particularly notable achievement as one of the airframes had spent roughly 40 years at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.


These NASA nerds set a record for how quickly a plane was returned to flight status after being sent to AMARC. They did an impressive job of grafting together parts from the WB-57 Canberra from the boneyard with parts from a second Canberra near Warner Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, as well as F-15 parts for the main wheels, the ejection seats from the F-16, and the tires from an A-4 for the nose wheel.

But some Army Air Force mechanics in Australia pulled off something similar in World War II, and did such a good job that their Franken-bomber is still around today. That plane is currently at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio.

She’s called “Swoose,” and she is not only the only B-17D to survive, she is the oldest surviving B-17.

Swoose started out being assigned to the Philippines in 1941, flying in combat from Dec. 7, 1941, to Jan. 11, 1942. The plane suffered serious damage, but the mechanics used a tail from another damaged B-17 and replaced the engines. The plane then served as an armed transport for the rest of the war, including as a personal transport for Lt. Gen. George Brett (no relation to the star baseball player from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s).

DAYTON, Ohio – The B-17D The Swoose rests next to the B-17F Memphis Belle in the restoration area of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

After the war, the Swoose narrowly avoided the scrapyard. According to a 2007 Washington Post article, the plane was stored in various locations before the Smithsonian handed it over to the Air Force. The plane is currently being restored for eventual display alongside the famous Memphis Belle.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is what it was like to train right next to North Korea

With things starting to look up on the peninsula, it’s hard to believe that, in 2014, we were sitting around waiting to see what, exactly, was going to be the straw to break the Korean camel’s back reignite the (technically still-ongoing) Korean War. Thankfully, the North was wise enough to know not to f*ck with a Marine Corps infantry battalion. Regardless, we kept training for the worst.

We don’t have to tell you it’s cold on the Korean peninsula; you can read about that elsewhere. No, what you’re here for is to know what it was like for a Marine to be sitting three miles from the Korean Demilitarized Zone for a month and a half.


We took the training more seriously at the time.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

Scary at first…

Yeah, it was. At the time, of course, we continuously called NK’s bluff because they did bark a lot for decades following the Armistice, but they’re enough of a loose cannon that some of us didn’t want to get complacent. It was better to assume that they were going to do something and we would be the first on the scene.

We went on a DMZ tour and found out just how close it actually was.

(Photo courtesy of the author)

Of course, we didn’t realize how close we were to the DMZ until North Korea launched a few missiles. My company had been out on a range, police calling in the middle of the night when we noticed a couple of shooting stars streak across the sky. It was a beautiful site. That is, until we went back to base and saw that they were definitely missiles…

It didn’t help that the base didn’t have any ammunition for the first couple of weeks. We were basically sitting ducks, and if North Korea had known any better, it could have been huntin’ season.

The biggest training challenge was the temperature.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Caleb T. Maher)

…then it was boring…

After the edge wore off, we became super bored. It didn’t help that we were on a base that was small enough for you to be able to throw a rock from one end and hit some POG working on a Humvee on the other. The training itself wasn’t bad. It was all easy stuff. But it was the heavy amount of downtime that really threw us for a loop.

Seriously, so much Friends.

External hard drives containing anything from games to movies to adult entertainment were passed around the platoon. Cigarettes, smoked all the way to the butt, were deposited into the butt can at least five times per day (more when the temperature was above 50 degrees). In fact, we probably broke the record for how many times you can watch Friends from beginning to end in a single week.

The ROK Marines were honestly pretty cool.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Ryan Mains)

…until the ROK Marines showed up.

It was a major snoozefest up until the Republic of Korea Marine Corps showed up. Then it quickly turned into a dog-and-pony show on top of the snooze fest. Then, training became much more frequent, so it quelled our boredom. We ended up forgetting that North Korea existed during that time, you know, except when our Battalion Commander reminded us during every formation.

My platoon before a major training op that was called off because the range was set on fire.

All in all, training next to North Korea was hyped up beyond what it actually was. There was a lot of anxious excitement at first and then it was just, “what show are we watching today?” For a first deployment, I definitely expected a lot more, but, thankfully, it wasn’t any more exciting than it was because, you know, fighting in the cold would suck.

So, that’s what it’s like to train next to North Korea.

MIGHTY CULTURE

5 moments when you know the mess hall is about to serve the good stuff

Being a meal card holder has its benefits. It’s awesome to have the perfect excuse to get out at 1730. It’s food you get to enjoy without having to cook it. All you have do is overlook the fact that the meals are deducted from your pay when you’re assigned a barracks room and the fact that there’s barely any chow left by the time you get there —but outside of those details, it’s great!

That optimism starts to wane, however, after eight months of eating the same seven entrees ad nauseam. Then, one glorious day, the cooks throw you a curve-ball by turning what’s normally a grab-and-go dinner into an elaborate, fine-dining experience.


You’ll rarely hear the lower enlisted complain when they’re about to get something that’s not just decent but actually really good. (In reality, lower enlisted troops would probably complain about being given a brick of gold because it’s “too heavy,” but that’s beside the point).

It might seem like random chance, but there’s a method to the madness.

Also, your chain of command will usually pop in to serve the food on the line. Savor that moment.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Brian Lautenslager)

Holidays

No one likes being stuck on-post during a holiday. If your leave form got denied or you just didn’t feel like putting in for a mileage pass, it often means your ass will be stuck on staff duty.

Thankfully, the cooks also get screwed out of block leave and work holidays with us. Even if it’s not a big holiday that revolves around a massive meal (we’re look at you, Thanksgiving), the cooks will still serve something festive.

If you thought Air Force dinging facilities were leagues above the rest during the rest of the year…

(U.S. Air Force photo by Lan Kim)

The lead-up to best-chef competitions

In the service, there’s a competition for cooks in which they’re expected to deliver a gourmet meal to a judge that has the emotionless vile of Gordon Ramsey with the knife-handing ability of a Drill Sergeant.

They don’t want to mess it up and will prepare the only way possible: by practicing. And that practice tastes delicious.

“Can we get you anything else, Specialist? Steak sauce? Another drink? Another three months in this god-forsaken hellhole? How about some cake? We got cake!”

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Epperson)

Right before the unit is about to get bad news

It’s basic psychology. If you outright tell the troops that their deployment got extended, they’re going to flip the tables over. If you break it to them gently over a steak-and-lobster dinner that somehow found its way to Afghanistan, they’ll take it slightly better.

This is so common in the military that any time the commander shows up and asks for a crate of ice cream bars for the troops, the Private News Network and Lance Corporal Underground buzz with rumors.

You think they’ll serve the same scrambled eggs that they serve the average boot to the Commandant of the Marines? Hell no. Especially not if they get some kind of warning. That’s you cue to grab food and dash.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Mallory S. VanderSchans)

When high-ranking officials make the rounds

Not even the cooks are exempt from the dog-and-pony show that comes with a general’s visit. In fact, while the other lower enlisted are scrubbing toilets in bathrooms the general will never realistically visit, the cooks know that the mess hall is the go-to spot to bring the generals to give them a “realistic” view of the unit.

If you’re willing to stomach the off-chance of being dragged into a conversation with a four-star general about “how the commander and first sergeant 100% absolutely always treat you like a real human being and that, oh boy, do you definitely love the unit,” then you’re in for one of the best meals the cooks can offer.

Everyone loves the cooks on Taco Tuesday.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Valentina Lopez)

Taco Tuesday (and any other themed meal days)

There’s no way in hell any troop would willingly miss Taco Tuesday at the DFAC. Even if you don’t post flyers about it, troops will magically crawl out of the woodwork if it means they’re getting free tacos.

As much as everyone in the unit uses their cooks as punching bags for jokes, they can deliver some mighty fine meals when they try.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This vet was nominated for the Nobel Prize 84 times, but never won

Personally nominated for the Nobel Prize a record 84 times, Arnold Johannes Wilhelm Sommerfeld was one of the most influential physicists of all time, both because of his own accomplishments in the field and the many dozens of his students who turned into superstars in the world of science (including having four doctoral students go on to win the Nobel Prize, along with three of his other postgraduate students also taking home the award- the most eventual Nobel laureates all taught by one person).


Born on December 5, 1868 in Königsberg, East Prussia, Sommerfeld began his career as a student of mathematics and the physical sciences at Albertina (aka University of Königsberg) in his hometown, where he received a Ph.D. on October 24, 1891.

After a year of compulsive military service ended in 1893, unlike so many academics of his era, Sommerfeld continued to serve as a volunteer for the next eight years on the side. Physically impressive, with a Prussian bearing and wearing a fencing scar on his magnificently mustachioed face, while in the service, Sommerfeld was famously described as managing “to give the impression of a colonel of the hussars,” rather than a book-worm academic.

Arnold Johannes Wilhelm Sommerfeld was nominated for the Nobel Prize a record 84 times. (Image Wikicommons)

As for that scar, in his first year of study, the near “compulsory drinking bouts and fencing duels” not only resulted in said scar, but also hindered his studies significantly, which he later came to regret as wasted time.

Apparently making up for lost efforts in his youth, Sommerfeld left Königsberg for the University of Göttingen and after two years as an assistant to more experienced mathematics professors, he earned his Privatdozent (authorization to teach at the university level) in 1895. Rapidly moving up the ranks, he was appointed to chair the mathematics department at the Bergakademie in Clausthal-Zellerfeld in 1897. The following year, he became editor of the famous Enzyklopädie der mathematischen Wissenschaften, a post he held through 1926.

Sommerfeld moved on to become Chair of Applied Mechanics at the Königliche Technische Hochschule Aachen, and it was in Aachen that he produced his theory of hydrodynamics. Also at Aachen, Sommerfeld mentored Peter Debye, who later won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1936 for “his contributions to the study of molecular structure.”

In 1906, Sommerfeld accepted the position as director of the new Theoretical Physics Institute at the University of Munich, where he mentored Werner Heisenberg in hydrodynamics theory; Heisenberg later won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1932 “for the creation of quantum mechanics.”

While in Munich, Sommerfeld also mentored Wolfgang Pauli on his thesis on quantum theory, and Pauli also went on to win a Nobel Prize in Physics, in 1945, for his discovery of the eponymous Pauli exclusion principle (which stated that two or more identical fermions can not be in the same quantum state within a quantum system at the same time).

If all that wasn’t enough, he also mentored Hans Bethe while at the University of Munich; Bethe was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1967 for his theory of stellar nucleosynthesis (i.e., when chemical elements in stars change due to nuclear fusion).

While his own direct contributions to advancing the world of physics were prodigious, including his pioneering work in quantum theory, it was arguably for his teaching ability that Sommerfeld was most revered in his lifetime, with Albert Einstein once remarking, “What I especially admire about you is that you have, as it were, pounded out of the soil such a large number of young talents.”

Mathematician Morris Kline further stated of Sommerfeld that he “was at the forefront of the work in electromagnetic theory, relativity and quantum theory and he was the great systematizer and teacher who inspired many of the most creative physicists in the first thirty years of this century.”

Famed Jewish mathematician, physicist, and Nobel Prize winner Max Born (who was forced to flee Germany in 1933) went on about Sommerfeld’s talent for cultivating young minds who so often went on to great scientific achievements of their own:

Theoretical physics is a subject which attracts youngsters with a philosophical mind who speculate about the highest principles without sufficient foundations. It was just this type of beginner that he knew how to handle, leading them step by step to a realisation of their lack of actual knowledge and providing them with the skill necessary for fertile research. … He had the rare ability to have time to spare for his pupils, in spite of his duties and scientific work. … In this friendly and informal way of teaching a great part was played by invitations to join a skiing party on the ‘Sudelfeld’ two hours by rail from Munich. There he and his mechanic … were joint owners of a ski hut. In the evenings, when the simple meal was cooked, the dishes were washed, the weather and snow properly discussed, the talk invariably turned to mathematical physics, and this was the occasion for the receptive students to learn the master’s inner thoughts.

Going on about the man himself, Born stated,

Arnold Sommerfeld was one of the most distinguished representatives of the transition period between classical and modern theoretical physics. The work of his youth was still firmly anchored in the conceptions of the nineteenth century; but when in the first decennium of the century the flood of new discoveries, experimental and theoretical, broke the dams of tradition, he became a leader of the new movement, and in combining the two ways of thinking he exerted a powerful influence on the younger generation. This combination of a classical mind, to whom clarity of conception and mathematical rigour are essential, with the adventurous spirit of a pioneer, are the roots of his scientific success, while his exceptional gift of communicating his ideas by spoken and written word made him a great teacher.

Adding to his list of achievements, Sommerfeld eventually became chair of the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft in 1918, a position previously held by Albert Einstein.

Arnold Sommerfeld at Stuttgart on the occasion of a physicists congress, 1935. (Photo via wiki user GFHund)

With the rise of the Nazi party in Germany, however, Sommerfeld was forced to watch many of his esteemed colleagues have to flee the country. As the aforementioned Morris Kline notes,

Sommerfeld’s life was saddened toward the end of his career by events in Germany. Anti-Semitism, always present in that country, became virulent in the Hitler period and Sommerfeld was obliged to witness the emigration of famous colleagues, including Einstein. All he could do was use the friendships he had built up during a one-year stay in the United States and a one-year round-the-world trip to help place the refugees. The loss of so many of its best men in this way together with World War II, destroyed the scientific strength of Germany, and Sommerfeld felt obliged to continue teaching until 1947, long after the usual retirement age of 65.

On that note, Sommerfeld had intended to retire much earlier, in 1936, putting forth one of his prized pupils, the aforementioned Nobel Prize winner Werner Heisenberg, as his hoped successor. However, as Heisenberg, like Sommerfeld, was considered by the Nazi party to be a Jewish sympathizer, ultimately the decidedly unaccomplished anti-Semite Wilhem Muller, with a lot of help from the Reich Education Ministry, was very controversial appointed to replace Sommerfeld as Professor of Theoretical Physics, despite Muller not even being a theoretical physicist. (Unsurprisingly, Muller was dismissed from the position in 1945 as a part of the denazification process that followed WWII.)

As for Sommerfeld’s once patriotic views, he wrote to Einstein shortly after Hitler took power,

I can assure you that the misuse of the word ‘national’ by our rulers has thoroughly broken me of the habit of national feelings that was so pronounced in my case. I would now be willing to see Germany disappear as a power and merge into a pacified Europe.

In any event, as for his own Nobel Prize aspirations, as alluded to, Sommerfeld’s contributions to theoretical physics were many and included groundbreaking work in quantum theory (including co-discovering the Sommerfeld-Wilson quantization rules in 1915), electromagnetism and hydrodynamics, and significantly advanced knowledge of X-ray wave theory, among other things.

Among his many awards were the Max-Planck Medal, the Lorentz Medal and the Oersted Medal, and he was also a member of the Royal Society, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Indian Academy of Sciences and the Academy of Sciences of the USSR.

However, although he was nominated an astounding and record setting 84 times (the only other person close is Otto Stern, who was nominated 82 times before finally winning in 1943), Sommerfeld never won a Nobel Prize. His nominations for Physics were made in 1917, 1918, 1919 (twice), 1920, 1922 (four times), 1923 (twice), 1924, 1925 (six times), 1926 (three times), 1927 (three times), 1928 (three times), 1929 (nine times), 1930 (four times), 1931 (twice), 1932 (five times), 1933 (eight times), 1934 (six times), 1935, 1936 (twice), 1937 (eight times), 1940, 1948, 1949 (three times), 1950 (three times) and 1951 (four times).

Sommerfeld died on April 26, 1951 at the age of 82 as a result of a traffic accident that occurred while taking his grandchildren for a walk. At the time, he was quite hard of hearing and did not hear shouted warnings before he stepped in front of a moving truck. The distinguished scientist died two months later as a result of the injuries sustained in that incident.

Originally published on Today I Found Out in November 2017.

MIGHTY SPORTS

Watch a West Point athlete destroy the indoor obstacle course test

In under two minutes, Cadet Trevaun Turner made history at the United States Military Academy at West Point. The track and field athlete ran the Indoor Obstacle Course Test, a full-body functional fitness test given to all cadets throughout the year – and they must pass.

Cadets pass the IOCT with a minimum time of 3:30 for men and 5:29 for women. But according to the Twitter account for the USMA’s Commandant of Cadets, one cadet not only passed, but set an almost unbeatable record.


Since 1944, West Pointers have been running the IOCT, and the test itself hasn’t changed much since 1948. Cadets are as excited to take the test as they are to watch other cadets traverse it. They can take the test multiple times to try and score better and better times. Anyone scoring under 2:38 for men and 3:35 for women is authorized to wear a special badge on their PT uniform. Needless to say, Trevaun Turner will get that badge.

On Nov. 20, 2019, Turner ran the 11-part obstacle course, completing a low crawl under barrier, tire footwork, a two-handed vault, an eight-foot horizontal shelf, a horizontal bar navigation, the hanging tire, a balance beam, eight-foot vertical wall, a 20-foot horizontal ladder, a 16-foot vertical rope, and a 350 meter sprint (first carrying a six-pound medicine ball for 120 meters, then a baton for the second 120 meters, and running empty-handed for the remaining 110 meters. He did it all in an incredible 1:54.

The previous record of cadets passing the IOCT was held by then-Cadet Joshua Bassette in 2014, with a time of 2:01, beating the previous cadet record by one second. Bassette hoped to beat his own record by getting his time under two minutes. He never did, and he graduated in 2016. The previous all-time record for the fitness test was held by Capt. Austin Wilson, a physical education instructor at the U.S. Military Academy, whose score of 1:59 stood for years. Until now.

Trevaun Turner ran the IOCT during his plebe year at the academy, earning a time of 1:59, almost beating the all-time record. Cadet Madaline Kenyon broke the female IOCT record in 2017, a record held strong since Tanya Cheek set the record in 1989. Kenyon broke it with an incredible 2:26. As for Trevaun Turner, Navy better hope he doesn’t start playing football.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The insane USAF flying saucer-shaped missile

The wizards who brought you the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank have been serving the U.S. military’s needs for more than a century. In that time, General Dynamics, the multi-billion dollar defense contractor responsible for many amazing technological advances, has made history many times over, from developing the Navy’s first submarines to the Air Force’s first ICBM.

They may have even develop the flying saucer UFO.


In the late 1950s, the Air Force was looking to replace the B-52 Bomber with a nuclear-capable hypersonic upgrade. For this mission, the air service wanted the experimental XB-70 Valkyrie. The Valkyrie could fly at speeds of Mach 3 while dropping nuclear bombs on the unsuspecting or unprepared Soviet Union.

But how can the Air Force protect its bombers while they’re flying at three times the speed of sound in an unfriendly territory? The answer was to give it a defensive missile system, code named Pye Wacket, after a local Massachusetts urban legend involving a witch’s familiar who protected her master.

The XB-70.

(U.S. Air Force)

The Valkyrie didn’t actually need defensive missiles. The Soviets didn’t have anything that could actually threaten the XB-70, but the airframe was considered a long-term solution and the Air Force wanted to ensure it had defenses should the need materialize. The missiles wouldn’t just need to hit interceptor aircraft, it would need to be capable of hitting SAM batteries and surface-to-air missiles themselves.

It also needed to be able to fly at seven times the speed of sound. So, General Dynamics engineers developed a wedge missile, in the shape of a lens – a kind of flying saucer – that could be fired from the aircraft in any direction and was capable of deft maneuvering.

Pye Wacket at the Arnold Engineering Development Center, in Tennessee.

The Air Force tested the new weapon between 1957 and 1961. The weapon was based on a saucer propulsion design from NASA’s Alan Kahlet, who wanted to use it for manned spacecraft. For the missile, designers wanted to include a small nuclear warhead, one that would neutralize the target but also be able to prevent an enemy nuclear warhead from exploding, a process called “dudding.”

Unfortunately for the future of the Pye Wacket missile, the Air Force ultimately decided that the best way to hit the Soviets with a barrage of nuclear devices was a series of rockets that used extremely unstable fuel and could be fired by any fool who knew the key combination was “000000000.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

Honoring the life of one of the ‘richest and most beloved men in America’

Ross Perot, the self-made billionaire, philanthropist and third-party presidential candidate, died July 9, 2019, at his home in Texas. He was 89.

Henry Ross Perot was born in Texarkana, Texas, on June 27, 1930. His story is the epitome of hard work, and one that has rarely been equaled: He rose from Depression-era poverty to become one of the richest and most beloved men in America.

Read the tributes, the stories, interviews, memoirs, and what pops up most, the one constant is that Perot never stopped working.


As a boy, he delivered newspapers. He joined the Boy Scouts at 12, then made Eagle Scout in just 13 months. In his US Naval Academy yearbook, a classmate wrote: “As president of the Class of ’53 he listened to all gripes, then went ahead and did something about them.” At 25, he personally “dug his father’s grave with a shovel and filled it as a final tribute to him.” At 27, after leaving the Navy, he went to work at IBM where he soon became a top salesman. One year, he met the annual sales quota by the second week of January. At 32, he’d left IBM and formed his own company, Electronic Data Systems. By 38, when he took the company public, he was suddenly worth 0 million. In the 80s, Perot sold the company for billions, then started another company, Perot Systems Corp., that later sold for billions more.

Ross Perot, 1986.

“Every day he came to work trying to figure out how he could help somebody,” said Ross Perot Jr., in an interview.

And that’s another thing that pops up, another constant: Perot’s connection to people, to his employees, to POWs in North Vietnam and their families, to Gulf War Veterans suffering from a mysterious illness, and to the millions of Americans he reached in self-paid 30-minute TV spots in the 90s when he ran for president.

“Ross Perot epitomized the entrepreneurial spirit and the American creed,” said Former President George W. Bush, in a statement. “He gave selflessly of his time and resources to help others in our community, across our country, and around the world. He loved the U.S. military and supported our service members and veterans. Most importantly, he loved his dear wife, children, and grandchildren.”

That’s the last thing, the most important thing — his family.

“I want people to know about Dad’s twinkle in his eyes,” said daughter Nancy Perot. “He always gave us the biggest hugs. We never doubted that we were the most important things in his life.”

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

popular

This is what it’s like to fire an 81mm mortar

Artillery is the king of the battlefield, but the big artillery pieces can’t be everywhere at once – and sometimes their response time is pretty long. Thankfully, for the grunts of today, the mortar is available. Think of this as portable artillery – capable of providing some very quick-response fire support for grunts.


The M252 Medium Weight Extended Range Mortar fits right into a vital niche, especially for lighter infantry units like the 10th Mountain Division, 82nd Airborne Division, and Marine units. According to a fact sheet from the Minnesota National Guard, this system weighs 91 pounds and is operated by a crew of three. That said, usually there will be other guys assigned to help carry additional rounds.

Spc. Scott Davis, mortarman with 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, adjusts the sights of an M252A1 mortar system. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joshua Petke/released)

The system can fire up to 30 rounds a minute, but you’re more likely to sustain a rate of 16 rounds a minute. A wide variety of ammo is available as well – anything from high explosive rounds to illumination flares to smoke rounds to white phosphorous. In short, this mortar, usually held at the battalion level of the light units, can do anything from concealing friendly troops to marking targets to blowing bad guys to smithereens.

As is the case with Ma Deuce and machine guns, mortar crews need proper training and plenty of practice to make the most of these systems. The procedures can be rehearsed sometimes using the M880 short-range round, but other times, you need to go out to the range and do the live-fire “full Monty.”

U.S. Army soldiers fire mortar rounds at suspected Taliban fighting positions during Operation Mountain Fire in Barge Matal, a village in eastern Nuristan province, Afghanistan. (US Army photo)

You can see troops train on the M252 at the mortar range at the Grafenwoehr training area in the video below.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Watch Marine rocket artillery send Taliban dope up in smoke

While the fall of the “caliphate,” as proclaimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, marked one ending in the Middle East, the fight against the Taliban continues. Between President Trump’s recently announced strategy and the MOAB making its combat debut, it’s clear that the gloves are coming off. But now, the Taliban are taking hits to their wallet.


ISIS used oil to raise money — the places they’d based out of (Iraq and Syria) were rich in the black liquid. However, Afghanistan, the base of operations for the Taliban, doesn’t have a drop. So, the Taliban turned to another means to generate income. After all, radical Islamic groups who harbor terrorists still need to make payroll every month.

A field filled with opium poppy plants can be seen April 11, 2012, in Marjah, Afghanistan. Heroin is derived from raw opium gum, which comes from opium poppies. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt Michael P. Snody)

To pay their fighters, the Taliban have turned to drug production. Specifically, they’re making heroin. A September 2017 article from the Quad City Times notes that two kilograms of black tar heroin seized in a bust was worth $600,000. While the Taliban likely doesn’t pocket 300 grand per kilo, the lower amount they do receive likely goes a long way in funding their operations.

Part of the strategy to weaken the Taliban has been to cut off their income. With Secretary of Defense James Mattis loosening rules of engagement, American troops now have a much freer hand when it comes to using artillery and air strikes. As a result, the Taliban’s drug labs have become fair game.

Crews from the 4th Battalion of the 133rd Field Artillery Regiment (HIMARS), attached to the 71st Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade, 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard hosted a Family Day on Saturday, June 25, at Fort Hood, Texas. (U.S. Army Photo by Maj. Randall Stillinger, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)

The video below shows how such strikes are being carried out in Afghanistan. A M142 HIMARS is used to send the Taliban’s drugs up in smoke. The HIMARS fired five of the six rockets it can carry. Based on the impacts, unitary warhead versions of the rockets were used in this particular strike. The Taliban will have to figure out if their fighters will accept smoke signals as payment.