These Combat Tracker teams were America's secret weapon in Vietnam - We Are The Mighty
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These Combat Tracker teams were America’s secret weapon in Vietnam

As American forces became embroiled in the conflict in Vietnam it was quickly apparent to commanders that they were fighting a war for which they were not prepared.


The guerrilla warfare and hit-and-run tactics of the Viet Cong were difficult to counter, especially for conventional forces. Luckily, our allies, the British, had already developed a tactic that they had used to great effect in Malaya.

Facing a communist insurgency of their own, but with limited resources, the British had developed specialized teams to track the enemy through the jungle and destroy them. This tactic was so effective the British would employ it against insurgencies all across the empire.

Knowing the French tactics had been insufficient, and not wanting to meet the same fate, Gen. Westmoreland sent observers to the British Jungle Warfare School in Malaya to see if the tactics could be adopted by American forces.

Impressed by what they saw the Americans made a deal for the British to train fourteen teams, to be known as Combat Tracker Teams, at the British Jungle Warfare School. Due to British neutrality, the soldiers to be trained traveled on official government passports and used only British gear while in training so as to maintain secrecy and low-visibility.

The basic organization of the Combat Tracker Teams consisted of two to four sections of five-men. The section was composed of a team leader, a visual tracker, a cover man, a radio operator, and a dog handler with a well-trained Labrador retriever. Not typical for combat operations the Labs were highly-effective in Vietnam. They were effective trackers, quiet in the field, and, most importantly, due to their even-temperament could more easily change handlers – a prized-quality for an army rotating men out of country, but often heart-breaking for their handlers.

These Combat Tracker teams were America’s secret weapon in Vietnam
Australian soldiers helped Americans train for combat tracking tactics in Vietnam. (Photo Bryan Campbell via Flickr)

The teams were in for intense training once they arrived in Malaya. For the dog handlers training was three months long, for everyone else it was two months. The cadre consisted of British and New Zealand SAS as well as Gurkhas, who usually played the enemy to add to the realism. Wash out rates were high.

The initial address to the trainees was often quite shocking to them. They were told the problem with the American army was that it was more focused on rank than knowledge. And that by the time they were done, they would feel more at home in the jungle than the North Vietnamese themselves.

After surviving the grueling training, the first teams returned to Vietnam in 1967 to be assigned to combat units. The team assigned to the 101st Airborne Division was told they must go through the division’s finishing school before they would be allowed in the field. Part-way through the first day it became obvious to the cadre that the trackers knew more than they could possibly teach them and they were passed through the course on the spot.

According to their group’s website, once in country, the Combat Tracker Teams were to “reestablish contact with the ‘elusive enemy’; reconnaissance of an area for possible enemy activities; and locate lost or missing friendly personnel.”

These Combat Tracker teams were America’s secret weapon in Vietnam
Americans in Vietnam adopted a tactic used by the British for decades during their insurgent wars throughout the empire. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Once the troops hit the ground, they knew why their trainers had pushed them so hard – keeping up with a dog in the jungle while staying absolutely silent, as well as being alert and constantly ready for action is very hard work.

But that work paid off for the Americans. It was common to hear from the grunts about how the enemy could just “melt back into the jungle.” And that was where the trackers came in. Pushing out well ahead of the line infantry units no detail was too small for either the visual tracker or the working dog to pick up.

John Dupla, a combat tracker with the 1st Cavalry Division, said “we were taught to develop a sixth sense, utilizing methods Native American scouts used, such as looking for broken twigs and turned over leaves and rocks.”

Depending on the conditions and situation either the visual tracker or the dog handler and his lab would lead the team. Always right behind him was the cover man. Since the point person’s attention was focused on searching for trails and clues the cover man became his lookout, providing protection.

Although the unit’s mission was often not to directly engage the enemy, sometimes it was unavoidable. As one combat tracker related “if you got into something, you shot your way out.” Ideally, the trackers would locate the enemy and call the infantry behind them into the fight.

However, as the Viet Cong became aware of the effectiveness of the trackers they sought ways to counter them. Retreating groups would often send a contingent off in a different direction to draw the trackers away from the main force and into an ambush. One Combat Tracker Team lost their visual tracker and cover man to enemy snipers in this manner.

In a further effort to disrupt the trackers, and a sure sign of their effectiveness, the North Vietnamese put out bounties on their heads. The fear they struck in the enemy gave the trackers great pride.

Despite their effectiveness many American commanders simply did not understand how to properly employ the trackers. Their small size and the secrecy of their training meant few in the infantry understood how they operated. They were sometimes thought of as scouts and to simply walk point for a larger formation.

The program was disbanded in 1971 as American drew down forces in Vietnam. The trackers were broken up and folded into their parent infantry units. Veiled in secrecy and lacking the notoriety of Special Forces the legacy of the Combat Tracker Teams quietly faded away.

There is no doubt though that the Combat Tracker Teams were effective, saved lives, and made life much harder for the enemy.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Army medic killed over a dozen insurgents in just 8 days

The battle for Shal Mountain, named Operation Rugged Sarak, went from October 8-15, 2011. Shal Mountain sat above Shal Valley and controlled two important supply routes, one vital to coalition forces for resupply and one critical to insurgent smuggling between Pakistan and Afghanistan.


The insurgents controlled the mountain for years, but the men of Bastard Company, 2-27th Infantry Regiment, decided to finally take it from them after the insurgents used it to attack two convoys, killing one Bravo soldier in each of the attacks. The battle for the summit would rage for eight days.

Spc. Jeffrey A. Conn was the medic that responded to the second convoy attack as well as the medic on top of Shal Mountain during the fight for the summit. On the mountaintop, he would earn a Silver Star for saving the lives of at least nine U.S. and Afghan soldiers while also taking the lives of many insurgents — at least 12 in a single attack.

October 11

Conn began the climb up the mountain on Oct. 8 with the rest of first platoon. While a dozen men ran up the mountain carrying minimal gear to begin constructing an outpost that morning, Conn and the bulk of the American platoon arrived on Oct. 11 after fighting up the mountain with the platoon’s heavy weapons and special equipment. Americans on the mountaintop still only numbered 23.

The enemy had made multiple attempts to take the summit before the rest of the platoon arrived, but on the night of Oct. 11 they attacked hard to try and keep the new arrivals from digging in. Using the terrain to sneak up in the dark, insurgents closed to within five meters of the perimeter and began an attack that opened with 12 machine guns firing into the small base. RPGs and recoilless rifle rounds pelted the defenders as they took cover and attempted to return fire.

 

These Combat Tracker teams were America’s secret weapon in Vietnam
A 101st Airborne Division medic engages targets in the Shal Valley in 2010. Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell

Conn climbed a Hesco barrier on the southern flank and began throwing grenades at enemy positions before initiating claymores positioned around the base. The platoon was ordered to collapse the perimeter. As Conn fell back, he saw RPGs striking the platoon’s Mk-19 fighting position, so he rushed to it and looked for wounded before moving to cover. Conn’s actions are credited with preventing the southern flank from collapsing and saving the lives of 30 Afghan and American defenders.

October 12

Enemy fire throughout the day had harassed the American forces, but the main effort to push the Americans from the mountaintop began in the late evening. Conn was nearly taken out in the opening salvo as RPGs and machine gun fire impacted within inches of him, according to his Silver Star citation. Conn moved first to the command and control position when he saw that the platoon’s radio was unmanned. He sent reports to the headquarters so they could coordinate the battle until he saw enemy fighters maneuvering their way into the outpost. Conn moved to a nearby 60mm mortar tube, put it in direct fire mode, and began engaging the fighters. He killed 12 of them.

These Combat Tracker teams were America’s secret weapon in Vietnam
A 101st Airborne Division medic scans his sector in the Shal Valley in 2010. Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell

On this day, another U.S. soldier struck two insurgents with a TOW missile, killing both of them. One was an Afghan commander whose death would become a rallying cry for the insurgents.

October 13

The following afternoon, the enemy launched its strongest attack of the battle after a funeral for the dead commander. Enemy elements managed to stage a base 100 meters from the OP, hiding in dips in the terrain. Enemy mortar and machine gun fire rained down onto the base. Two 82mm mortar rounds struck a fighting position on the northern flank, severely wounding five U.S. and three Afghan soldiers.

Conn rushed to the position from the opposite side of the OP, exposed to fire the entire way. He quickly stabilized the worst Afghan casualty. As the enemy focused on the new weak point in the flank and sniper fire pelted the ground near him, Conn engaged the assaulting forces with grenades before throwing smoke and pulling the casualties back to the casualty collection point. The casualty collection point gave little cover to the medic, but he stabilized his nine patients, the eight from the northern flank and another from elsewhere on the OP. All nine patients survived and Conn’s actions were again credited with preventing the collapse of a flank, saving the OP.

These Combat Tracker teams were America’s secret weapon in Vietnam
A 101st Airborne Division medic escorts a casualty off of a hilltop in the Shal Valley in 2010. Photo: Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell

Late that evening, amid accurate sniper fire from a nearby mountain, an air ambulance tried to evacuate some of the wounded. The flight medic, Staff Sgt. Robert B. Cowdrey, approached the helicopter from the front while bringing the casualties to the bird and was struck by a rotor blade. Conn arrived on site first, stabilizing the other medic and recovering the five other wounded on the flight line. The helicopter had left the landing zone amid enemy fire, and Conn kept the injured soldier alive for thirty minutes while waiting for another Medevac. Staff Sgt. Cowdrey later died of his wounds.

After the fierce attacks of that day, every member of the platoon showed signs of traumatic brain injury.

October 14

On Oct. 14, first platoon was finally being relieved of their duties on the mountain, but the enemy wasn’t ready to let them go. While the platoon sergeant was supervising the removal of equipment down the mountain, the insurgents sent ten suicide bombers under machine gun and sniper cover fire against the OP.

These Combat Tracker teams were America’s secret weapon in Vietnam
A 101st Airborne Division medic engages targets in the Shal Valley in 2010. Photo: US Army Army Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell

Conn took fire inside his firing position, but still further exposed himself by climbing out of it to check on other members of the platoon. After making a circuit to treat the wounded in their positions, he moved to the mortar pit and assisted in firing 60mm rounds against enemy positions while fully exposed to the continuing sniper fire. When the enemy came within range, he again threw fragmentation grenades into the advancing forces.

Combined with M4 fire from the platoon sergeant, this effort killed the suicide bombers before they could breach the OP. The enemy survivors soon began retreating into Pakistan.

In total during the Battle of Shal Mountain, 115 enemy fighters were confirmed killed and the U.S. lost two soldiers: the flight medic from the mountaintop and a wolfhound operator who was working near the middle of the mountain.

(h/t to Matt Millham of Stars and Stripes who wrote about this battle from the point of view of Staff Sgt. Anthony Fuentes, platoon sergeant for Spc. Conn. Staff Sgt. Fuentes also received the Silver Star for his leadership during the battle.)

NOW: 10 incredible Post-9/11 combat medics who risked their lives to save others

OR: 7 things you didn’t know about the First Battle of Fallujah

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How SAS commandos avoided ISIS capture in a vicious hand-to-hand fight

A recent ambush of British special operations forces in Mosul reportedly required hand-to-hand combat for survival.


Military sources told The Daily Star on July 2 that an intelligence gathering operation by Special Air Service personnel in Iraq turned into a firefight with roughly 50 ISIS terrorists. Over 30 were killed near a riverbed before the British troops ran out of ammunition.

“They knew that if they were captured, they would be tortured and decapitated,” a source told the Star. “Rather than die on their knees, they went for a soldier’s death and charged the ISIS fighters who were moving along the river bed. They were screaming and swearing as they set about the terrorists.”

The Daily Star reported that the SAS operators had roughly 10 rounds between them, so they charged the ISIS bad guys with knives, bayonets and improvised weapons.

One terrorist was reportedly drowned in a puddle by an operator.

“[The  warfighter] then picked up a stone and smashed it into the face of another gunman wrestling with one of his colleagues,” the source said. “Another killed three of the fighters by using his assault rifle as a club. Others were stabbing at the gunmen who wanted to capture the British troops alive.”

The team, all suffering injuries, eventually met up with Kurdish allies after the remaining ISIS fighters fled.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 inspiring Black vets who fought for civil rights

During World War II and the Korean War, the United States trained over 1.5 million African American soldiers. Aside from gaining the combat experience of a lifetime, the role of a soldier in patriotic America gave Black veterans an even bigger opportunity; specifically a much larger platform from which to fight for equality. 

Even in the military, Black and white soldiers were segregated.

While this was mostly true of American training bases in the south, even outside of segregated spaces, Black soldiers held fewer privileges than prisoners of war and faced increased hostility throughout the U.S military. Though both Black and white soldiers weren’t subjugated to different levels of combat and violence, Black soldiers were frequently given low-status positions such as cooks or janitors. 

Despite continuous discrimination, many African Americans in the military stepped up to the plate and persevered. The following are just a few of the remarkable Black vets who paved the way for a more equitable American military force.

1. Dorie Miller

Dorie Miller was a Mess Attendant, Third Class on battleship West Virginia. Miller enlisted in 1935 when African Americans were not allowed to be trained in combat, let alone wear the Navy’s insignia. During his time on the West Virginia, Miller witnessed Japanese fighter pilots attack Pearl Harbor. Despite only having trained as a cook, he manned an anti-aircraft machine gun, shooting down several enemy fighters and saving dozens of critically injured soldiers. He was one of the last three men to jump ship, continuing to seek out and retrieve injured servicemen before saving himself.

black vet dorie miller

However, when newspapers reported the heroes of Pearl Harbor, the Navy’s public relations official referred to Miller as “an unnamed Negro messman.” Though the Navy’s blatant discriminatory omission of Dorie Miller’s name might never have let his heroism go unrecognized, the Pittsburg Courier, a Black-owned newspaper, officially identified him in 1942. Yet while Miller continued to be denied accolades by persistent, white conservative politicians, his actions broke barriers in the Navy; Finally, allowing Black men were eligible to receive combat training and to hold rank. Miller continued his career in active service and through persistent lobbying from the NAACP, he became the first Black man to be awarded the Navy Cross. Although he died while on active duty during World War II, he was also posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor award. 

Though many African American soldiers were forced to navigate racism within the military, enlisting and being stationed in other countries also allowed them to experience new perspectives. The military provided opportunities to escape poverty and meet more open-minded people and cultures where legalized segregation didn’t exist. In addition, Black veterans were given educational opportunities many may have never gotten otherwise. Though discrimination kept a lot of Black veterans from receiving benefits, the GI Bill of 1944 gave veterans and servicemen free college tuition. 

When WWII ended, Black soldiers returned home to much of the same.

Despite their accomplishments on the field, they faced the same discrimination at home as they always had. Now, however, they had something they didn’t have before they joined the military; perspective. Now that they had witnessed the ideological landscape of the rest of the world, they found a renewed determination to fight for civil rights. If other countries had civil rights, why not America?

African Americans’ combined fight against fascism and racism was referred to as the “Double V” by the famed Black newspaper, the Pittsburgh Courier. White supremacists fired back at the fight for equal citizenship, threatening Black veterans with violence if they ‘stepped out of line’. Black veterans were dissuaded from going out in uniform, as it supposedly implied they were too confident in their own presence. Several Black veterans were murdered.

2. Amzie Moore

Amzie Moore, a Mississippi native, was already an established business owner in Cleveland and had been one of the first Black men to register to vote in 1935 in the state of Mississippi. However, upon visiting Mississippi after finishing his service overseas, Moore discovered that white men had organized a ‘home guard’ as a way to protect women from African American veterans. Though Moore had already become involved in midwestern politics before enlisting, the white backlash against Black veterans pushed him to involve himself more in the blossoming civil rights movement. Moore’s success in business had put him in the spotlight for collaboration with other civil rights leaders, which ultimately led him to be elected as president of the Cleveland chapter of the NAACP.

3. Medgar Evers

In 1946, Medgar Evers, who was also from Mississippi, gathered a group of fellow Black veterans together to try and register to vote. They were forcibly ejected from the courthouse by an armed mob of white men, but this didn’t stop Evers from pursuing equality. He later attempted to integrate the University of Mississippi law school. He was rejected yet again, so rather than become a lawyer, Evers chose a career with the NAACP. There, he served as the organization’s first field secretary in Mississippi.

Evers and Moore shared past experiences working together as two of the four founders of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership. Moore and Evers continued working together, interviewing witnesses of the Emmett Till trial. The two were a perfect team and used the knowledge they’d acquired while in the military, with one NAACP organizer stating that veterans werw specifically scouted because they “don’t scare easy.”

Black vet hosea williams

4. Hosea Williams

Another black veteran, Hosea Williams had gone into battle under the command of General George Patton and was the only member of his unit to survive a Nazi bombing. After spending over a year in a hospital recovering from his severe injuries, Williams returned to the U.S. However, rather than being thanked for his service and respected, he was beaten “like a common dog,” for using a whites-only water fountain. Williams is quoted as saying “At that moment, I truly felt as if I had fought on the wrong side…Then, and not until then, did I realize why God, time after time, had taken me to death’s door, then spared my life … to be a general in the war for human rights and personal dignity.” It was then that Williams joined the NAACP and later became a trusted colleague of Martin Luther King Jr. He’s best known for carrying out voter registration initiatives in 1964 and marching with John Lewis on the infamous “Bloody Sunday.” 

5. Grant Reynolds

One can’t talk about Black veterans and their influence on civil rights without mentioning Grant Reynolds. Reynolds was incredibly ambitious and was prepared to defend his country during WWII no matter the cost. He trained as a chaplain but soon resigned, citing “brazen racism” as his primary reason for leaving. Later on, Reynolds worked with A. Philip Randolph to record his experiences. In 1947, he also founded the Committee Against Jim Crow in Military Service and Training. Reynold’s efforts in the organization paid off, as it led to President Truman’s order to integrate the military in 1948. 

All in all, Black veterans played a pivotal role in civil rights in America. They broke barriers, made strides for racial equality, and never backed down from a fight- not even when it happened in their own backyard.

Articles

7 struggles these veterans know all too well about humping gear

SAPI plates, hundreds of rounds of ammo, and as much water as you can haul is just a fraction of the gear our ground troops carry on their back as they move through their objectives every day.


Related: This is why grunt gear isn’t for the average man

Not too long ago, WATM ran a story featuring a TV show host who wanted to know what it felt like to carry the typical combat load a Vietnam War GI would haul. If you didn’t get a chance to see it, click here: This is why grunt gear isn’t for the average man

Many members of our loyal audience took the opportunity to chime in after reading the article and commented about what the heavy equipment they had to lug around during their time serving “in the suck” and here’s what they had to say.

1. The veteran grunt

These Combat Tracker teams were America’s secret weapon in Vietnam

2. The motivated Corpsman

These Combat Tracker teams were America’s secret weapon in Vietnam

3. The usual checklist of gear for this grunt was…

These Combat Tracker teams were America’s secret weapon in Vietnam

 

Related: 8 things Marines love to carry other than their weapon

4. The proud and seasoned machine gunner

These Combat Tracker teams were America’s secret weapon in Vietnam

5. Packing some major heat

These Combat Tracker teams were America’s secret weapon in Vietnam

6. He’s down to do it all over again

These Combat Tracker teams were America’s secret weapon in Vietnam

7. Ready for just about anything

These Combat Tracker teams were America’s secret weapon in Vietnam

 

What gear did you carry? Comment below.

Articles

A ceasefire begins in Syria as WH eyes anti-ISIS cooperation with Russia

US President Donald Trump called for expanded cooperation with Russia on July 9, as a cease-fire brokered by the two powers and Jordan for southern Syria came into effect.


The cease-fire covering three war-torn provinces in southern Syria is the first tangible outcome following months of strategy and diplomacy between the new Trump administration and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Moscow.

Trump tweeted that the cease-fire, which came into effect at noon July 9, “will save lives.”

“Now it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia!” he posted on Twitter shortly after the agreement came into effect.

These Combat Tracker teams were America’s secret weapon in Vietnam
Putin and Trump meet in Hamburg, Germany. July 7, 2017. Photo from Moscow Kremlin.

A resident and local opposition activist in Daraa, near the Jordanian border, reported an uneasy calm hours into the truce.

“There’s still a lot of anxiety,” said Ahmad al-Masalmeh. “We’ve entered the cease-fire but there are no mechanisms to enforce it. That’s what concerns people.”

Six years of fighting and siege have devastated Daraa, one of the first cities to see large protests against President Bashar Assad in 2011.

It remains contested by US-backed rebels and Syrian government forces supported by Russia and Iran. Large swaths of the city have been reduced to rubble by government artillery and Russian air power.

The truce also covers the Quneitra and Sweida provinces, where the government and the rebels are also fighting Islamic State militants, who are not included in the agreement.

These Combat Tracker teams were America’s secret weapon in Vietnam
Anti-Asaad protests in Daraa. Photo from Freedom House on Flickr.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict through a network of on-the-ground activists, reported calm across the three provinces as dusk fell July 9.

The cease-fire agreement followed weeks of secretive talks between the US, Russia, and Jordan in Amman to address the buildup of Iranian-backed forces, in support of the Syrian government, near the Jordanian and Israeli borders.

Israel has repeatedly said it would not allow Iran, which is a close ally of the Syrian government, to set up a permanent presence in Syria. It has carried out a number of airstrikes in Syria against suspected shipments of “game-changing” weapons bound forHezbollah in Lebanon.

It has also struck Syrian military installations on several occasions this year after shells landed inside the Israeli-controlled side of the Golan Heights.

These Combat Tracker teams were America’s secret weapon in Vietnam
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said July 9 that Israel would welcome a “genuine cease-fire” in southern Syria so long as it doesn’t enable Iran and its proxies to develop a military presence along the border.

The Trump administration also ordered airstrikes against the Syrian government and Iranian-backed militias, in a break with Obama administration policy. The strikes, including one on a government air base in central Syria, drew only muted responses from Moscow.

No cease-fire has lasted long in the six-year-old Syrian war, and no mechanisms have been publicly set out to monitor or enforce this latest endeavor.

It was announced July 6 on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Hamburg after a meeting between Trump, Putin, and their top diplomats.

The Syrian government maintains it is fighting a war against terrorist groups. The Al-Qaeda-linked Levant Liberation Committee is one of the most effective factions fighting alongside rebels in Daraa.

Articles

The fascinating origin of Arlington National Cemetery

The final resting place of presidents, bandleaders, war heroes, astronauts, inventors, civil rights leaders, Pulitzer Prize winners, boxers, Supreme Court justices and sports stars, Arlington National Cemetery stands as a memorial to the melting pot of the United States. With connections to some of our nation’s most influential people and pivotal events, its history is as interesting as its denizens.


These Combat Tracker teams were America’s secret weapon in Vietnam
A serene image of Arlington National Cemetery in the spring. (Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Ingfbruno)

Arlington is situated on 624 acres overlooking the Potomac River directly across from Washington, D. C. Although today it is surrounded by the nation’s capital, at one time, Arlington was a bucolic estate with a neoclassical mansion, Arlington House. Still presiding over the grounds today, the mansion was built by George Washington’s (yes, that Washington) grandson and marks the beginning of the cemetery’s history.

Before she married George, Martha was married to Daniel Parke Custis. After he died and she wed the “Father” of our Country, George adopted her two surviving children. The oldest, John Parke Custis (JPC), died in 1781 while serving with the Revolutionary Army. He left behind four children, the youngest of which, George Washington Parke Custis (GWPC), was born only shortly before his father’s death.

Related: These ladies attend every funeral at Arlington so no one is buried alone

GWPC and one sister went to live with the Washington’s. When he became of age in 1802, GWPC inherited wealth and property from his deceased father (JPC), including the Arlington land. Hoping to build a home that could also serve as a memorial to his grandfather, George Washington, GWPC hired an architect and built a Greek revival mansion believed by some to be “modeled after the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens.”

The home was built in pieces, with the north wing being completed in 1802, and the south in 1804. These two stood as separate buildings until the central section connected them in 1818. During GWPC’s life, a portion of the mansion was reserved to store George Washington memorabilia, which included portraits, papers and even the tent Washington used while in command at Yorktown.

GWPC and his family lived and died on the property, where many of them were buried.

In 1831, GWPC’s only surviving child, Mary, married Robert E. Lee (yes, that Lee). The Lee’s lived on the property with the Custis’s where they raised their seven children. At her father’s death, Mary inherited Arlington. Robert E. Lee loved the property and once described it as the place “where my attachments are more strongly placed than at any other place in the world.”

Prior to the Civil War, Lee had attended West Point (graduating second in his class) and saw service for the U.S. in the Mexican War (1846-1848). A respected and well-liked officer, Lee struggled with his decision to resign his commission of 36 years in order to take command of Virginia’s confederate forces. When he did in April 1861, this choice was seen as a betrayal of the Union by many of his former friends including Brig. Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs.

As Arlington, on high ground overlooking the capital, was critical to either the defense or defeat of D.C., Union leaders were eager to control it. After Virginia seceded in May 1861, Union troops crossed en masse into Virginia and soon took command of the estate. The grounds were quickly converted into a Union camp.

These Combat Tracker teams were America’s secret weapon in Vietnam
American flags adorn the graves at Arlington. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

By 1862, Congress had passed a law that imposed a tax on the real property of “insurrectionists.” Mary was unable to pay the tax bill in person, and her proxy’s attempt to satisfy the debt was rebuffed. As a result, Uncle Sam seized Arlington, and at its auction, the federal government purchased the estate for $26,800 (about $607,000 today, far below market value).

Not only a good bargain, Union leaders felt that by seizing the estates of prominent Rebels, they would, in the words of Gen. William T. Sherman: “Make them so sick of war that generations would pass away before they would again appeal to it.”

In 1863, after thousands of former slaves, freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, converged on D.C., a Freedman’s Village was established on the estate “complete with new frame houses, schools, churches and farmlands on which former slaves grew food for the Union war effort.”

As one journalist described it:

One sees more than poetic justice in the fact that its rich lands, so long the domain of the great general of the rebellion, now afford labor and support to hundreds of enfranchised slaves.

As Union casualties began to mount in the spring of 1864, Gen. Meigs suggested burying some of the dead at Arlington. The first, on May 13, 1864, was Pvt. William Christman, a poor soldier whose family could not afford the cost of a burial. Soon, many other indigent soldiers were laid to rest on Arlington’s grounds, near the slave and freedman cemetery that had already been established. Realizing the efficacy of this system, Gen. Meigs urged Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton:

I recommend that  . . . the land surrounding Arlington Mansion . . . be appropriated as a National Military Cemetery, to be properly enclosed, laid out and carefully preserved for that purpose.

Serving the dual goals of paying homage to the dead and making “Arlington uninhabitable for the Lees,” Meigs had prominent Union officers buried near Mrs. Lee’s garden. He also placed a mass grave of over 2000 unknown soldiers, topped with a raised sarcophagus, close to the house.

After the war, the Lee’s tried in vain to regain Arlington. Mary wrote to a friend that the graves: “are planted up to the very door without any regard to common decency.” After Robert E. Lee’s death in 1870, Mary petitioned Congress for the return of her family home, but this proposal was soundly defeated.

Shortly after, other monuments and structures honoring the dead were erected including numerous elaborate Gilded Age tombstones and the large, red McClellan Gate at the entrance to the grounds.

The family was not done, however, and in January 1879, following six days of trial a jury determined that the requirement that Mary Lee had to pay the 1862 tax in person was unconstitutional. On appeal, the Supreme Court concurred, so the property was once again in the hands of the Lee family.

Also read: Arlington National Cemetery is running out of room to bury America’s vets

Rather than disinter graves and move monuments, however, the federal government and Mary Lee’s son, George Washington Custis Lee, agreed on a sale. On March 31, 1883, Uncle Sam purchased Arlington from the Lee family for $150,000 (about $3,638,000 today).

Today, Arlington shelters the remains of over 400,000 souls. In addition to its famous sea of somber, beautiful white headstones, Arlington also hosts numerous monuments including the Tomb of the Unknowns, the Rough Riders Monument, the Pentagon Group Burial Marker and two memorials to the Space Shuttle tragedies Challenger and Columbia.

One of the National Cemetery’s most well known gravesites is that of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy with its eternal flame. Two of his children and Jackie Kennedy are also interred there.

These Combat Tracker teams were America’s secret weapon in Vietnam
The eternal flame at the grave of John F. Kennedy. (Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Wknight94)

William Howard Taft is the only other U.S. President buried on the grounds, and he along with three other Chief Justices and eight associate justices represent the Supreme Court at Arlington.

Of course, war heroes abound and famous generals buried at Arlington include George C. Marshall (father of the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after WWII) and Omar N. Bradley.

Famous explorers interred at Arlington include Adm. Richard Byrd (the first man to fly over both poles) and Rear Adm. Robert Peary (another arctic explorer). John Wesley Powell (of Lake Powell fame) is also laid to rest at Arlington, as are several astronauts including Lt. Col. Virgil “Gus” Grissom and Capt. Charles “Pete” Conrad, Jr. (the third man to walk on the moon).

Other famous Americans buried at the National Cemetery include Abner Doubleday (who, in fact, had nothing to do with baseball contrary to legend), big bandleader Maj. Glenn Miller (who went missing in action on Dec. 15, 1944, so he really just has a headstone there), boxing’s Joe Louis, inventor George Westinghouse and civil rights leader Medgar Evers.

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Former US Navy vessel attacked by Yemeni rebels in Indian Ocean

These Combat Tracker teams were America’s secret weapon in Vietnam


HSV-2 Swift came under attack off the coast of Yemen this past weekend and suffered serious damage from what appears to be multiple hits from RPG rockets. Photos released by Emirates News Agency show at least two hits from rockets that penetrated HSV-2 Swift’s bow, in addition to substantial fire damage.

According to media reports, HSV-2 Swift is being assisted by the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers USS Mason (DDG 87) and USS Nitze (DDG 94) as well as USS Ponce (AFSB(I)-15). The vessel is currently being towed away from Yemen.

These Combat Tracker teams were America’s secret weapon in Vietnam

HSV-2 Swift was acquired by the Navy from Incat, a shipbuilder in Tasmania, in 2003, where it served for a number of years in Pacific Command, European Command, and Southern Command until 2013, when the first Joint High-Speed Vessel, USS Spearhead (JSHV 1) replaced it. During its deployments, HSV-2 Swift primarily carried out humanitarian missions, including for relief efforts in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the 2006 Israel-Lebanon War. The vessel also took part in a number of deployments, like Southern Partnership Station while in U.S. service.

These Combat Tracker teams were America’s secret weapon in Vietnam
HSV-2 Swift in happier times. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

In 2013, the vessel was returned to Incom, where it was refitted and then acquired by the National Marine Dredging Company in the United Arab Emirates, where the ship was used to deliver humanitarian aid. HSV-2 Swift was on such a mission to not only deliver medical supplies but to extract wounded civilians when it was attacked this past weekend. Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, claimed to have sunk the vessel.

HSV-2 Swift displaces 955 tons of water, has a top speed of 45 knots, and has a crew of 35. The vessel can carry over 600 tons of cargo on  nearly 29,000 square foot deck.

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Air Force secretary worried about a US alliance with Russia in Syria

These Combat Tracker teams were America’s secret weapon in Vietnam
Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James at AFA. (Photo: Breaking Defense)


NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Air Force’s top civilian leader didn’t mince words Sept. 20 when she doubted Moscow’s ability to make good on potential military cooperation with the United States in targeting Islamic State forces in Syria, saying Russia likely can’t be counted on to stick to the deal.

“This would be a ‘transactional’ situation, it’s not a situation where there’s a great deal of trust,” Air Force Sec. Deborah Lee James said during a briefing with reporters at the 2016 Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber Conference here.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced a deal with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov in mid-September, saying that coalition and Russian aircraft would work together to target terrorist forces in Syria after a week-long cease-fire. It is unclear whether the deal will stick after reports that an aid convoy was targeted during the lull in fighting, with both sides pointing fingers at the other for breaking the terms of the short truce.

Wading into diplomatic waters, James also warned that allying with Russia could anger U.S. partners in the ongoing operations against ISIS in Syria, hinting that countries like Turkey and Baltic state partners would balk at cooperating on strikes if Russians are in the room.

“Coalition cohesion will be important,” James said. “We have more than 60 countries participating in this — we wouldn’t want to lose coalition members.”

But James offered her starkest critique of the Russian military on an issue that has increasingly plagued American military efforts overseas in the court of public opinion. Top U.S. military officials are worried that if Russia and the U.S. are jointly running air strikes, America will share the blame for bombs that go astray.

“We are extremely precise with our weaponry, Russia is not,” James said. “So we would want to have some form of accountability for the dropping of these weapons to ensure that if there are civilian casualties, clearly it’s not us.”

Military officials have been increasingly pressed on how the U.S. and its allies would work alongside Russian forces in Syria on everything from coordinating air strikes to sharing intelligence on enemy positions. Most military leaders, particularly in the Air Force, have taken a wait and see attitude, wondering whether the diplomatic rapprochement will ever result in a military alliance.

“Once the decisions are made on how this cooperation will occur … and we see that the cease-fire holds for the time that the secretary of state has laid out, then we’re going to step very carefully to make sure that what is said in terms of the intent actually results in actions,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein.

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Top military doc is open to changing obesity standards

The Army is likely catching a lot of grief lately, after a news story reported that Pentagon data showed Joes are fatter than their brethren in other services.


But are they really?

According to the head of the new Defense Health Agency, the way the military measures obesity using the so-called Body Mass Index might be a bit behind the times.

These Combat Tracker teams were America’s secret weapon in Vietnam
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Senna, assigned to Joint Multinational Training Command, performs push-ups during the Army Physical Fitness Test at U.S. Army Europe’s Best Warrior Competition in Grafenwoehr, Germany, July 30, 2012. (Photo from U.S. Army)

“I know that Navy has looked at this in terms of modifying what they say is a healthy weight and a healthy body mass and I think that’s appropriate,” said Vice Adm. Raquel Bono, Director of the Defense Health Agency told WATM during a breakfast meeting with reporters Oct. 20.

“Do I have any indication that [obesity] is hurting readiness? No,” Bono added. “But I would actually say that is one of the hallmarks of being in the military is that we’re always ready.”

According to the services, a Body Mass Index of 25 or over is considered unsat (the BMI is determined by a simple calculation of height and weight). The National Institutes of Health define obesity as a BMI of 30 or over.

A 44 year-old male who weights 215 pounds and is 74-inches tall has a BMI of 27.6, for example. That’d be considered “clinically obese” to the DoD.

Some in the services argue measuring weight standards using the BMI is a blunt instrument, putting perfectly fit and healthy servicemembers on notice for not being up to snuff.

And while she’s all in favor of modifying how the level of fitness to serve is calculated, Bono is concerned about the overall trend on obesity, with the Pentagon reporting nearly 10 percent of its troops are overweight. And Bono recommended healthier choices in chow halls, regular exercise (not just for the PFT), and stopping smoking.

“My job is to make sure I’m enabling the department to have the healthiest troops possible,” Bono said. “I struggle with encouraging troops to make healthier choices — even when we activate servicemembers with health data or scary pictures of what smoking can do to you they still persist in those behaviors. I don’t know what the right answer is.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why Hiroshima and Nagasaki are safe, but Chernobyl isn’t

On Aug. 6 and 9, 1945, U.S. airmen dropped the nuclear bombs Little Boy and Fat Man on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On April 26, 1986, the number four reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukraine exploded.

Today, over 1.6 million people live and seem to be thriving in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, yet the Chernobyl exclusion zone, a 30 square kilometer area surrounding the plant, remains relatively uninhabited. Here’s why.


Fat Man and Little Boy

Dropped by the Enola Gay on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, Little Boy was a uranium-fueled bomb about 10 feet long and just over two feet across, that held 140 pounds of uranium and weighed nearly 10,000 pounds.

When he exploded as planned nearly 2000 feet above Hiroshima, about two pounds of uranium underwent nuclear fission as it released nearly 16 kilotons of explosive force. Since Hiroshima was on a plain, Little Boy caused immense damage. Estimates vary but it is believed that approximately 70,000 people were killed and an equal number were injured on that day, and nearly 70% of the city’s buildings were destroyed. Since then, approximately 1,900 people, or about 0.5% of the post-bombing population, are believed to have died from cancers attributable to Little Boy’s radiation release.

These Combat Tracker teams were America’s secret weapon in Vietnam

A mock-up of the Little Boy nuclear weapon dropped on Hiroshima.

Little Boy

Squat and round, Fat Man, so named for its resemblance to Kasper Gutman from The Maltese Falcon, was dropped three days later on the city of Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945. About two pounds of Fat Man’s 14 pounds of plutonium fissioned when it detonated about 1,650 feet above Nagasaki, releasing 21 kilotons of explosive force. Because the bomb exploded in a valley, much of the city was protected from the blast. Nonetheless, it is estimated that between 45,000 and 70,000 died immediately, and another 75,000 were injured. No data on subsequent cancer deaths attributable to radiation exposure from the bomb is readily available.

Chernobyl

Sadly, Chernobyl was likely preventable and, like other nuclear plant accidents, the result of decision-makers’ hubris and bad policy that encouraged shoddy practice.

The design of the reactors at Chernobyl was significantly flawed. First, it had a “built-in instability.” When it came, this instability created a vicious cycle, where the coolant would decrease while the reactions (and heat) increased; with less and less coolant, it became increasingly difficult to control the reactions. Second, rather than having a top-notch containment structure consisting of a steel liner plate and post-tensioning and conventional steel reinforced concrete, at Chernobyl they only used heavy concrete.

On April 26, 1986, engineers wanted to run a test of how long electrical turbines powered by the reactor would continue operating when the reactor was no longer producing power. To get the experiment to work, they had to disable many of the reactor’s safety systems. This included turning off most automatic safety controls and removing ever more control rods (which absorb neutrons and limit the reaction). In fact by the end of the test, only 6 of the reactor’s 205 control rods remained in the fuel.

As they ran the experiment, less cooling water entered the reactor, and what was there began to turn to steam. As less coolant was available, the reaction increased to dangerous levels. To counteract this, the operators tried to reinsert the remaining control rods. Sadly, the rods also had a design flaw in the graphite tips. This resulted in the displacement of the coolant before the reaction could be brought under control. In a nutshell, as these tips displaced the coolant, within seconds the reaction actually increased drastically due to the heat, creating even more steam, and thus getting rid of more coolant.

This might have not been so bad had the control rods been able to be inserted fully to perform their function of absorbing neutrons and thus slowing the reaction, except the heat became so intense, that some of the graphite rods fractured, jamming the rods at about one third of the way in.

These Combat Tracker teams were America’s secret weapon in Vietnam

A mockup of the Fat Man nuclear device.

Fat Man

So, in the end, when the nearly 200 graphite tips were inserted into the fuel, reactivity increased rapidly, rather than slowed as was supposed to happen, and the whole thing blew up. It is estimated that about seven to ten tons of nuclear fuel were released and at least 28 people died directly as a result of the explosion.

It is further estimated that over 90,000 square miles of land was seriously contaminated with the worst effects being felt in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. However, radiation quickly spread in the wind and affected wide swaths of the northern hemisphere and Europe, including England, Scotland and Wales.

Hard data on the number of people who died as a result of the radioactive release are difficult to find. It is known that of the 100 people exposed to super high radiation levels immediately after the accident, 47 are now deceased. Additionally, it has been reported that thyroid disease skyrocketed in those countries closest to Chernobyl; by 2005, 7,000 cases of thyroid cancer were recorded in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.

Radiation contamination

Most experts agree that the areas in the 30 kilometer Chernobyl exclusion zone are terribly contaminated with radioactive isotopes like caesium-137, strontium-90 and iodine-131, and, therefore, are unsafe for human habitation. Yet neither Nagasaki nor Hiroshima suffer these conditions. This difference is attributable to three factors: (1) the Chernobyl reactor had a lot more nuclear fuel; (2) that was much more efficiently used in reactions; and (3) the whole mess exploded at ground level. Consider:

Amount

Little Boy had around 140 pounds of uranium, Fat Man contained about 14 pounds of plutonium and reactor number four had about 180 tons of nuclear fuel.

Reaction efficiency

Only about two pounds of Little Boy’s uranium actually reacted. Likewise only about two pounds Fat Man’s plutonium underwent nuclear fission. However, at Chernobyl, at least seven tons of nuclear fuel escaped into the atmosphere; in addition, because the nuclear fuel melted, volatile radioisotopes were released including 100% of its xenon and krypton, 50% of its radioactive iodine and between 20-40% of its cesium.

Location

Both Fat Man and Little Boy were detonated in mid-air, hundreds of feet above the Earth’s surface. As a result, the radioactive debris was taken aloft and dispersed by the mushroom cloud rather than being drilled into the earth. On the other hand, when reactor number four melted down at ground level, the soil underwent neutron activation, where the already active neutrons in the burning fuel reacted with the soil causing it to become radioactive.

Uncertain future

Lately, some weird reports have been coming from the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone – wild animals have returned, and, for the most part, they seem fine. Moose, deer, beaver, wild boar, otter, badger, horses, elk, ducks, swans, storks and more are now being hunted by bears, lynx and packs of wolves, all of which look physically normal (but test high for radioactive contamination). In fact, even early effects of mutations in plants, including malformations and even glowing are now mostly limited to the five most-contaminated places.

Although not everyone is ready to agree that Chernobyl is proof that nature can heal herself, scientists agree that studying the unique ecosystem, and how certain species appear to be thriving, has produced data that will ultimately help our understanding of long term radiation effects. For example, wheat seeds taken from the site shortly after the accident produced mutations that continue to this day, yet soybeans grown near the reactor in 2009 seem to have adapted to the higher radiation. Similarly, migrant birds, like barn swallows, seem to struggle more with the radiation in the zone than resident species. As one expert explained, they’re studying the zone’s flora and fauna to learn the answer to a simple question: “Are we more like barn swallows or soybeans?

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

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The new Army jungle boot borrows its design from the beloved Vietnam-era M1966

The standard-issue combat boot that most soldiers wear today — the one most commonly worn in Iraq and Afghanistan — is great for sandy dunes, hot dry weather and asphalt. But it’s proven to be not so good in hot and wet environments.


These Combat Tracker teams were America’s secret weapon in Vietnam
The Army Jungle Combat Boot, now under development, features a low-height heel to prevent snags on things like vines in a jungle environment; additional drainage holes to let water out if it becomes completely soaked, speed laces so that soldiers can don and doff the boots more quickly, a redesigned upper to make the boots less tight when they are new, an insert that helps improve water drainage, a lining that helps the boot breathe better and dry faster; a ballistic fabric-like layer under a soldier’s foot to help prevent punctures, and a foam layer between the rubber sole and the upper to provide greater shock absorbing capability. The boot will initially be issued to two full brigade combat teams in Hawaii, part of the 25th Infantry Division, for evaluation. (Army photo by C. Todd Lopez)

So the Army has developed a new jungle boot that some soldiers will see this year.

In September, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley directed the Army to come up with a plan to outfit two full brigade combat teams in Hawaii, part of the 25th Infantry Division there, with a jungle boot. The Army had already been testing commercial jungle boots at the time — with mixed results — but didn’t have a specialized jungle boot, so Program Executive Officer Soldier, headquartered at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, had to get a plan together to make it happen.

By October of last year, the Army had made a request to industry to find out what was possible, and by December, contracts were awarded to two U.S. boot manufacturers to build a little more than 36,700 jungle-ready combat boots — enough to outfit both full IBCTs in Hawaii.

“This is important to the Army, and important to soldiers in a hot, high-humidity, high-moisture area,” said Army Lt. Col. John Bryan, product manager for soldier clothing and individual equipment with PEO Soldier. “We are responding as quickly as we possibly can, with the best available, immediate capability, to get it on soldiers’ feet quickly, and then refine and improve as we go.”

Right now, the new jungle boot the Army developed will be for soldiers at the 25th ID in Hawaii — primarily because there are actually jungles in Hawaii that soldiers there must contend with. The new boots look remarkably similar to the current boots soldiers wear — they are the same color, for instance. And the boots, which Bryan said are called the “Army Jungle Combat Boot” or “JCB” for short, sport a variety of features drawn from both the legacy M1966 Vietnam-era jungle boot and modern technology.

These Combat Tracker teams were America’s secret weapon in Vietnam
And Army Special Forces soldier in Vietnam wearing M1966 jungle boots. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The M1966 Jungle Boot — which featured a green cotton fabric upper with a black leather toe that could be polished — had a solid rubber sole that soldiers reportedly said had no shock-absorbing capability. The new boot uses a similar tread, or “outsole,” as the M1966 “Panama style” — to shed mud for instance and provide great traction, but the added midsole is what makes it more comfortable and shock absorbing, said Albert Adams, who works at the Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Massachusetts.

The outsole of the new boot is connected to the leather upper via “direct attach,” Adams said. That’s a process where a kind of liquid foam is poured between the rubber outsole and leather boot upper. It’s “a lot like an injection molding process,” he explained.

The foam layer between the rubber sole and the upper portion of the boot not only provides greater shock absorbing capability, but he said it also keeps out microbes in hot, wet environments that in the past have been shown to eat away at the glues that held older boots together. So the new boots won’t separate at the soles, he said. “It provides a high level of durability, and it also adds cushioning.”

Also part of the new boot is a textile layer that prevents foreign items from puncturing through the sole of the boot and hurting a soldier’s foot, Adams said. The M1966 boot accomplished that with a steel plate. The new boot has a ballistic fabric-like layer instead.

Army Staff Sgt. Joshua Morse, an instructor at the Jungle Operations Training Center in Hawaii, said the puncture resistance is welcome, noting that punji sticks, familiar to Vietnam War veterans, are still a problem for soldiers.

“They use these punji pits for hunting purposes,” he said. “In Brunei, you are literally in the middle of nowhere in this jungle, and there are natives that live in that area, and still hunt in that area, and it can be an issue.” And in mangrove swamps, he said, “you can’t see anything. You don’t know what’s under your feet at all. There are a lot of sharp objects in there as well.”

These Combat Tracker teams were America’s secret weapon in Vietnam
The Marine Corps is testing its own version of a jungle combat boot. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

The new JCB also features a heel with a lower height than the M1966 model, to prevent snags on things like vines in a jungle environment. That prevents tripping and twisted ankles. Among other things, the boot also has additional drainage holes to let water out if it becomes completely soaked, speed laces so that soldiers can don and doff the boots more quickly, a redesigned upper to make the boots less tight when they are new, an insert that helps improve water drainage, and a lining that makes the boot breath better and dry faster than the old boot.

“You’re going to be stepping in mud up to your knees or higher, and going across rivers regularly,” Adams said. “So once the boot is soaked, we need it to be able to dry quickly as well.”

Morse has already been wearing and evaluating early versions of the JCB and said he thinks the efforts made by the Army toward providing him with better footwear are spot-on.

“The designs were conjured up in a lab somewhere, and they were brought out here, and the main focus was the field test with us,” Morse said. “A lot of us have worn these boots for a year now, different variants of the boots. And all the feedback that we’ve put into this, and given to the companies, they have come back and given us better products every single time.”

Morse said he hadn’t initially worn the new jungle boots that he had been asked to evaluate. On a trip to Brunei, he recalled, he went instead with what he was familiar with and what he trusted — a pair of boots he’d worn many times, the kind worn by soldiers in the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I wore a pair of boots I’d had for a couple of years,” he said. “I wore them in Brunei and I had trench foot within a week. But then I thought — I have this brand new pair of test boots that they asked me to test; they are not broken in, but I’m going to give them a shot. I put them on. After 46 days soaking wet, nonstop, my feet were never completely dry. But I wore those boots, and I never had a problem again.”

The Army didn’t design the new JCB in a vacuum. Instead, it worked with solders like Morse to get the requirements and design just right — to meet the needs of soldiers, said Army Capt. Daniel Ferenczy, the assistant product manager for soldier clothing and individual equipment.

These Combat Tracker teams were America’s secret weapon in Vietnam
A U.S. Army Soldiers assigned to Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division runs across an obstacle of the Jungle Warfare School obstacle course in Gabon, June 7, 2016. (US Army photo)

“We worked with soldiers to come up with this boot. We take what soldiers want and need, we boil that down to the salient characteristics, hand that over to our science and technology up at Natick; they work with us and industry, the manufacturing base, to come up with this product,” Ferenczy said. “This is a huge win, a great win story for the Army, because it was such a quick turnaround. Industry did a fantastic job. Our product engineers are also top of the line. And we had a ton of soldier feedback. … We really dealt very closely with what the soldier needs to get where we are.”

In March, the Army will begin fielding the current iteration of the JCB to soldiers in the first of two brigade combat teams in Hawaii. During that fielding, the boots will be available in sizes 7-12. In June, the Army will begin fielding the JCB to the second BCT — this time with a wider array of sizes available: sizes 3-16, in narrow, regular, wide and extra wide.

They will also go back and take care of those soldiers from the initial fielding who didn’t get boots due to their size not being available. A third fielding in September will ensure that all soldiers from the second fielding have boots. Each soldier will get two pairs of JCBs.

In all, for this initial fielding — meant to meet the requirement laid out in September by the Army’s chief of staff — more than 36,700 JCBs will be manufactured.

By December, the Army will return to Hawaii to ask soldiers how those new boots are working out for them.

“Al Adams will lead a small group and go back to 25th ID, to conduct focus groups with the soldiers who are wearing these boots and get their feedback — good and bad,” said Scott A. Fernald, an acquisition technician with PEO Soldier. “From there, the determination will be made, if we had a product we are satisfied with, or if we need to go back and do some tweaking.”

Fernald said that sometime between April and June of 2018, a final purchase description for the JCB will be developed — based on feedback from soldiers who wore it. He said he expects that in fiscal year 2019, an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract will be signed with multiple vendors to produce the final version of the JCB for the Army.

Bryan said the JCB, when it becomes widely available, will be wearable by all soldiers who want to wear it — even if they don’t work in a jungle.

“From the get-go we have worked… to make sure we all understood the Army wear standards for boots,” he said. “One of the pieces of feedback we have gotten from soldiers before they wear them is they look a lot like our current boots. That’s by design. These will be authorized to wear.”

While the JCB will be authorized for wear by any solider, Bryan made it clear that there will only be some soldiers in some units who have the JCB issued to them. And right now, those decisions have not been made. Soldiers who are not issued the JCB will need to find it and purchase it on their own if they want to wear it.

“We are not directing commercial industry to sell them,” Bryan said. “But if they build to the specification we’ve given them for our contract, they can sell them commercially and soldiers are authorized to wear them.”

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Will the Air Force build more new F-22s?

These Combat Tracker teams were America’s secret weapon in Vietnam
John Dibbs | Lockheed Martin


Several prominent leaders in the national defense community are calling upon the Pentagon to re-start production of the high-speed F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jet which began air attacks against ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria.

Citing Russian and Chinese stealthy fighter jet advances, Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., and former Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne wrote an OPED in the Wall Street Journal describing the current fleet of F-22s as massively insufficient to address today’s fast-changing global threat environment.

The F-22’s recent performance in combat missions for Operation Inherent Resolve over Iraq and Syria have led observers and analysts to emphasize the importance of the fighter.

The OPED argues that the Pentagon needs to resurrect production of the Lockheed-Boeing-built Raptor or replace it with a new aircraft with comparable capabilities; Forbes is the current Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee and Wynne served as Secretary of the Air Force from 2005 until 2008.

“Raptor incorporated cutting-edge technologies that had never been combined in a single aircraft: composite materials, computer avionics, thrust-vectoring engine nozzles, and radar countermeasures. It became the first “fifth generation” fighter, a high-speed, super-maneuverable stealth aircraft that still outclasses everything else in air-to-air combat,” the OPED writes.

The Air Force had originally planned to build more than 700 F-22s, however ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan inspired new, more immediate thinking regarding the global threat calculus – leading the Pentagon to ultimately truncate the fleet sized down to only 187 jets, the OPED says.

The move was part of a Pentagon culture fostered by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates wherein developers were suffering from what he called “next-war-it is” and not sufficiently focused upon the pressing needs on ongoing ground wars.

“By the time the Raptor started rolling off the production line in 2002, the high-tech threats it had been designed to defeat had faded from view. Instead of Russian MiGs, Pentagon leaders were worried about improvised explosive devices,” the essay writes.

Writing that the U.S. Air Force’s fleet is the smallest and the oldest it has ever been, Forbes and Wynne point out that Russia and China have been developing, fielding new fighters and, in some cases, and exporting sophisticated air defenses to countries like Iran.

“Russia rolled out its first fifth-generation stealth fighter, the PAK-FA, in 2010. China followed in 2011, flight-testing the J-20, an F-22 look-alike, while Secretary Gates was visiting Beijing. Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force’s chief of staff, warned last year that future Russian and Chinese jets “will be better than anything we have today,” Forbes and Wynne write.

In addition, the House Armed Services Committee recently added language to a draft version of the proposed defense authorization bill requiring the Air Force to study the issue of restarting F-22 production.

Air Force officials have explained that, as much as the service may want more F-22s in the fleet, the money to build them again would most likely need to come from elsewhere in the budget.

As evidence of the current Air Force position on the issue, the service’s Military Deputy for Acquisition Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, recently told Congress that restarting F-22 production would require billions of dollars.

Bunch cited a recent Rand study on the issue, explaining that the service was no longer analyzing the possibility due to budget realities.

“We viewed it, in the light of the balancing act we’re already doing between readiness and modernization, as something that would be cost prohibitive and we would have to take something else out that we value right now to try to meet the requirements to be able to do that. And so we have not put any further analysis into that,” Bunch said.

On this topic, however, the Forbes-Wynne letter cites the Rand study’s finding that it would cost over $500 million (in 2008 dollars) to restart production on the F-22.

“If the Air Force ordered 75 additional jets, Rand estimated they would cost $179 million each,” the letter states.

If lawmakers were somehow able to increase the budget or secure the requisite funding for additional F-22s, it certainly does not seem inconceivable that Air Force and Pentagon developers would be quite enthusiastic.

These Combat Tracker teams were America’s secret weapon in Vietnam
F-22 Raptors sit on the flight line at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. | U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo

Inside the F-22’s Mission in Iraq

Air Force F-22 Raptor fighter jets delivered some of the first strikes in the U.S.-led attacks on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, when aerial bombing began in 2014, service officials told Scout Warrior.

After delivering some of the first strikes in the U.S. Coalition-led military action against ISIS, the F-22 began to shift its focus from an air-dominance mission to one more focused on supporting attacks on the ground.

“An F-22 squadron led the first strike in OIR (Operation Inherent Resolve). The aircraft made historic contributions in the air-to-ground regime,” Col. Larry Broadwell, the Commander of the 1st Operations Group at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, told Scout Warrior in an interview.

Even though ISIS does not have sophisticated air defenses or fighter jets of their own to challenge the F-22, there are still impactful ways in which the F-22 continues to greatly help the ongoing attacks, Broadwell said.

“There are no issues with the air superiority mission. That is the first thing they focus on. After that, they can transition to what they have been doing over the last several months and that has been figuring out innovative ways to contribute in the air-to-ground regime to support the coalition,” Broadwell said.

As a fifth-generation stealth fighter, the F-22 is specifically engineered for air supremacy and air dominance missions, meaning its radar-evading technology is designed to elude and destroy enemy air defenses. The aircraft is also configured to function as the world’s premier air-to-air fighter able to “dogfight” and readily destroy enemy aircraft.

“Air superiority, using stealth characteristics is our primary role. The air dominance mission is what we will always do first. Once we are comfortable operating in that battlespace, our airmen are going to find ways to contribute,” Broadwell explained.

F-22 as “Aerial Quarterback”

The F-22’s command and control sensors and avionics help other coalition aircraft identify and destroy targets. While some of the aircraft’s technologies are not “publically discussable,” Broadwell did say that the F-22’s active and passive sensors allow it to function as an “aerial quarterback” allowing the mission to unfold.

“Because of its sensors, the F-22 is uniquely able to improve the battlefield awareness – not just for airborne F-22s but the other platforms that are airborne as well,” he said. The Raptor has an F-22-specific data link to share information with other F-22s and also has the ability to use a known data link called LINK 16 which enables it to communicate with other aircraft in the coalition, Broadwell explained.

For example, drawing upon information from a ground-based command and control center or nearby surveillance plane – such as a Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System – the F-22 can receive information or target coordinates from nearby drones, Broadwell explained.

Newer F-22s have a technology called Synthetic Aperture Radar, or SAR, which uses electromagnetic signals or “pings” to deliver a picture or rendering of the terrain below, allow for better target identification.

The SAR technology sends a ping to the ground and then analyzes the return signal to calculate the contours, distance and characteristics of the ground below.

“The addition of SAP mapping has certainly enhanced our air-to-ground capability. Previously, we would have to take off with pre-determined target coordinates. Now, we have an ability to more dynamically use the SAR to pinpoint a target while airborne,” Broadwell added.

Overall, the Air Force operates somewhere between 80 and 100 F-22s.

“The F-35 is needed because it is to global precision attack what the F-22 is to air superiority,” he added. “These two aircrafts were built to work together in concert. It is unfortunate that we have so few F-22s. We are going to ask the F-35 to contribute to the air superiority mission,” he said.

The F-22 is known for a range of technologies including an ability called “super cruise” which enables the fighter to reach speeds of Mach 1.5 without needing to turn on its after burners.

“The F-22 engines produce more thrust than any current fighter engine. The combination of sleek aerodynamic design and increased thrust allows the F-22 to cruise at supersonic airspeeds. Super Cruise greatly expands the F-22’s operating envelope in both speed and range over current fighters, which must use fuel-consuming afterburner to operate at supersonic speeds,” Broadwell explained.

The fighter jet fires a 20mm cannon and has the ability to carry and fire all the air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons including precision-guided ground bombs, such Joint Direct Attack Munitions called the GBU 32 and GBU 39, Broadwell explained. In the air-to-air configuration the Raptor carries six AIM-120 AMRAAMs and two AIM-9 Sidewinders, he added.

“The F-22 possesses a sophisticated sensor suite allowing the pilot to track, identify, shoot and kill air-to-air threats before being detected. Significant advances in cockpit design and sensor fusion improve the pilot’s situational awareness,” he said.

It also uses what’s called a radar-warning receiver – a technology which uses an updateable data base called “mission data files” to recognize a wide-range of enemy fighters, Broadwell said.

Made by Lockheed Martin and Boeing, the F-22 uses two Pratt Whitney F119-PW-100 turbofan engines with afterburners and two-dimensional thrust vectoring nozzles, an Air Force statement said.  It is 16-feet tall, 62-feet long and weighs 43,340 pounds. Its maximum take-off weight is 83,500.

The aircraft was first introduced in December of 2005, and each plane costs $143 million, Air Force statements say.

“Its greatest asset is the ability to target attack and kill an enemy without the enemy ever being aware they are there,” Broadwell added.

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