This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

Marooned. Left on a sandbar or other island in the middle of nowhere with just a little food, water, and a loaded pistol to end your suffering. In the world of pirates, it was a punishment for breaking the pirates’ code – and was usually fatal. But the real-life Robinson Crusoe survived his marooning and lived to tell the tale of life on an island in the middle of nowhere, completely alone.


This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

Not a Wilson in sight.

Alexander Selkirk was a Scottish sailor with William Dampier’s second expedition to circumnavigate the globe while privateering; legally pirating Spanish ships. Selkirik was aboard a 16-gun ship named Cinque Ports, a ship that was rather unseaworthy. When Selkirk repeatedly complained to Dampier and the captain of the Cinque Ports, the men decided to maroon him on an island off the coast of Chile.

Selkirk didn’t die there, however. While the Cinque Ports later sunk with almost a total loss of her crew, Selkirk survived and was rescued by English privateer Woodes Rogers… four years later. All that for wanting to make repairs to the ship – a ship he was right about needing repairs. The crew that did survive the ships founding off of Colombia were captured by the Spanish and imprisoned.

This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

Which, historically, does not end well.

The islander spent much of his time at first at the shoreline, scanning for ships and eating seafood. But eventually, the sounds of mating sea lions drove him further inland. Despite suffering from crippling loneliness, he managed to domesticate the island’s wild goats and cultivate the local vegetation. He was eventually attacked by the island’s wild rat population, but simply domesticated feral cats to stave off the attackers. He even built two huts from the trees that grew pepper plants.

He soon began to hunt by hand and spear, as his gunpowder was in limited supply anyway. He also began to make new clothes from the skins of his goats. The only ships that stopped on his island were Spanish. Not only did he not get a rescue, he had to hide lest the men torture and imprison him. But eventually, he was rescued by British seamen.

This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

Which, historically, does not end well.

The British sailors were astonished at the life Selkirk made for himself. He had survived an accidental fall from a cliff, learned to hunt and clean the wild animals of the island, and was the picture of physical fitness. Selkirk was even able to address the ships’ illnesses and clear its sailors of scurvy. Selkirk was able to maintain his sanity because the captain of the Cinque Points left him a bible to read and entertain himself. By the time the English came for him, he was still of sound mind, able to command a prize ship and even returned to privateering against the Spanish.

Selkirk was even one of Daniel Defoe’s inspirations for the title character of Robinson Crusoe. The story of the marooned sailor just goes to show no matter how tough things might seem, a little perseverance might see you through. Alexander Selkirk became a national hero while the people who marooned him died tragically, despite his warnings.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Budweiser will brew George Washington’s 1757 beer recipe

We need a batch of good news. A little hops in our step. Something to sip on that takes us to a different time. 1757 to be exact.

Budweiser has done it again. Making history. And this is just straight up awesome. Using the original recipe from George Washington’s handwritten notes found in a notebook from 1757 during the French and Indian War, Budweiser has crafted the next edition in their Reserve collection. Here is the page from the notebook:


This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

So cool! And it just gets better.

This limited edition Freedom Reserve Red Lager is brewed exclusively by veteran brewers who brew for Budweiser.

“We are incredibly proud of our Freedom Reserve Red Lager because it was passionately brewed by our veteran brewers who have bravely served our country,” Budweiser Vice President Ricardo Marques

Proceeds from the beer go to support Folds of Honor, whose mission is to provide scholarships to spouses and children of fallen and disabled service members.

America, ladies and gentlemen.

The 5.4 ABV lager is described as “a rich caramel malt taste and a smooth finish with a hint of molasses.”

Ok, fine, you’ve convinced me. OMW to get some right now. Hopefully you live close enough to snag up some of this speciality brew, too. Enter your zip code here to find out where you can buy it.

This 2018 Memorial Day, toast to the men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice so that we can enjoy our lives safely in our back yards with the peace of mind to sit and have a beer this weekend.

This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.

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8 weird ‘off-the-books’ traditions in the US military

The U.S. military is awash in regulations, laws, and official traditions. How troops march and salute, what uniform to wear to what event, or what you are supposed to say when greeting a superior are all examples of “on-the-books” behaviors expected of service members.


And then there are the “off-the-books” traditions. They are the unwritten rules: traditions that go back way before the books were printed. These activities — especially the ones involving hazing — are often frowned upon, but still continue to happen, usually without any official recognition.

Here are eight examples.

1. Fighter pilots (or members of flight crew) get hosed down after their final flight.

The “fighter pilot mafia” is definitely a thing in the Air Force and Navy, which is the nickname for the pilot sub-culture within each service. Soon after aviators get to a new unit they will go through an unofficial ceremony of receiving their callsigns, and they usually are not very flattering.

On the flip side is the final flight. Much like a football coach gets a giant cooler of Gatorade dumped over their head at the end of a game, pilots sometimes will get hosed down with water by their comrades. In some cases, they’ll be doused with champagne.

In the case of Maj. Vecchione (shown below), his peers also threw string cheese, flour, and mayonnaise on him. Personally, I would’ve thrown in some ketchup and mustard, but hell, I wasn’t there.

This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

2. At a military wedding with a sword detail, the wife gets a sword-tap to her booty to “welcome her” to the family.

Nothing like a little tradition that allows some dude to tap your brand new wife on the butt. When a service member wants to go through the pageantry of having a “military wedding” — wearing their uniform at the altar and bringing along a sword detail — they can expect that at the end of it all, some random dude will be sexually harassing his wife for the sake of tradition.

It goes like this: On the way out right after the ceremony, the couple passes over an arch of swords on both sides. They go through, kiss, go through, kiss, then they get to the last one. Once they reach the final two and pass, one of the detail will lower their sword, tap the bride, and say “welcome to the Army [or Marine Corps, etc]!”

Here’s the Navy version:

3. When a Navy ship crosses the equator, sailors perform the “crossing the line” ceremony, which frankly, involves a lot of really weird stuff.

The Crossing the Line ceremony goes far back to the days of wooden ships. According to this Navy public affairs story, sailors were put through this hazing ritual designed to test whether they could endure their first time out at sea.

These days, sailors crossing the line for the first time — called Pollywogs or Wogs for short — can expect an initiation into the club of those who have done it before, referred to as Shellbacks. During the two-day event, the “Court of Neptune” inducts the Wogs into “the mysteries of the deep” with activities like having men dress up as women, drink stuff like a wonderful mix of hot sauce and aftershave, or make them crawl on their hands and knees in deference to King Neptune. I swear I’m not making any of this up.

In the modern military that is decidedly against hazing rituals, the events have toned down quite a bit. In 1972 a sailor may have expected to be kissing the “Royal Baby’s belly button,” which again, is totally a real thing.

Nowadays however, there’s much less of that sort of thing, and the Navy stresses that it’s all completely voluntary (ask any sailor, however, and they’ll probably tell you it’s “voluntary” with big air quotes).

shellback ceremony Photo: Wikimedia Commons

4. Before going on deployment, Marine infantrymen who have never deployed need to shave their heads.

Don’t ask me where this unwritten rule came from or why — other than to distinguish who the total boots in the platoon were — but Marine grunts who have never done a deployment are often told to shave their heads before they move out.

Again, this is one of those “voluntary” you-don’t-have-to-do-this-if-you-don’t-want-to kind of things, but there were 3 guys in my platoon who decided to keep their hair before deploying to Okinawa in 2003. Interestingly enough, they were put on plenty of cleanup details and other not-so-fun jobs as a result.

5. When achieving the next rank or earning parachute wings or other insignia, a service member may get “blood-pinned,” though it’s rare these days.

Soldiers who get through five successful jumps at Airborne School in the past could expect to get “blood wings,” but that practice has died down in recent years as the public has learned of it. After a superior pinned their wings on, a soldier would get their new badge slammed into their chest, which often draws blood.

This kind of thing is frowned upon — and prohibited under military regulations — but it still sometimes happens. In some cases, it’s considered a rite of passage and kind of an honor. I personally endured pinning ceremonies that I volunteered for when I picked up the ranks of lance corporal and corporal.

Volunteer or not, it’s a ritual which the brass has endured plenty of bad press over, so they tend to discipline anyone involved whenever it happens.

6. Some units have mustache-growing contests in training or on deployment to see who can achieve the most terrible-looking ‘stache.

The military regulations on facial hair offer little in the way of good looking when it comes to shaves. Most men are not allowed to grow beards (except for some special operators) and although they are allowed, mustaches are generally frowned upon. Why they are frowned upon usually comes down to how terrible they often look.

This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail
Photo: MCB Hawaii

Don’t expect any mustache greatness ala Rollie Fingers; troops usually have to keep the mustache neatly trimmed within the corners of their mouth. Those regulations give way to the terribleness derived from the “CAX ‘stache,” which is what Marines refer to as the weird-looking Hitler-like mustache they’ll grow out while training at 29 Palms.

These contests sometimes extend overseas, especially when junior troops are away from the watchful eyes of their senior enlisted leaders. But whenever the sergeant major is around, you might want to police that moostache.

7. First-year West Point cadets have a giant pillow fight to blow off steam after the summer is over.

Before they become the gun-toting leaders of men within the United States Army, first year cadets are beating the crap out of each with pillows in the school’s main courtyard. The annual event is organized by the students and has occurred since at least 1897, according to The New York Times.

While it’s supposed to be a light-hearted event featuring fluffy pillows filled with things that are, you know, soft, some [blue falcon] cadets have decided to turn the event bloody in recent years. One first-year cadet told The Times in September: “The goal was to have fun, and it ended up some guys just chose to hurt people.”

That quote came from a story that broke months ago after the “fun” pillow fight ended with at least 30 cadets requiring medical attention, 24 of which were concussions.

8. Naval Academy midshipmen climb a lard-covered monument for a hat.

Around the same time that first-year West Point cadets are beating each other and causing concussions, 1,000 screaming Navy midshipmen are charging toward a 21-foot monument covered in lard with a hat on top. The goal: Retrieve the first-year “plebe” hat and replace it with an upperclassmen hat, a task which signifies their transition to their next year at the Academy.

Beforehand, upperclassmen hook up the plebes with about 200 pounds of greasy lard slapped on the sides of the Herndon Monument, making their task a bit more difficult. They need to use teamwork and dedication to climb their way to the top, which can take anywhere from minutes to over four hours (Class of 1995 has the longest time 4 hours, 5 minutes).

According to the Academy’s website, the tradition is that the first guy to make it to the top will likely rise to the rank of admiral first. That is if he or she doesn’t get themselves fired first.

This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

MIGHTY TRENDING

Trump’s 8 potential targets in Syria await destruction

As President Donald Trump has cryptically hinted at looming action on Syria, a new report says he may have nailed down eight potential locations to strike.

Citing an unnamed source, CNBC reported on April 12, 2018, that the US had selected eight possible targets in Syria, including two airfields, a research facility, and a chemical weapons facility.


Such a strike would amount to punitive action against Syria for what the US and its allies consider a blatant use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians. But it would still carry the risk of sparking a war with Russia.

Ryan Bohl, a Middle East analyst at the geopolitical consulting firm Stratfor, told Business Insider that though Syria’s chemical weapons facilities lay under the umbrella of Russia’s air defenses, they were not actually close enough that a strike on the facilities would endanger Russian troops.

Russia has threatened to use its air defenses against US missile strikes, and Russian officials have threatened to counterattack if US missiles fly over Syria, potentially by attacking US Navy ships or submarines.

Dmitry Gorenburg, a senior research scientist at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, told Business Insider that Russia had flown aircraft specializing in anti-submarine warfare to Syria. Russia has also moved its warships out of a naval base in Syria out of concern for their safety after Trump threatened strikes.

This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail
Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Russia operates out of airfields in Syria, but it’s unclear whether the US would target those. Syria has moved most of its jets to bases with Russian protection for fear of a strike, the CNBC report said.

The White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, indicated on April 11, 2018, that the US wasn’t afraid to target Russian assets in a strike on Syria. But a Russian newspaper reported that the US had been coordinating with Russia to avoid hitting its troops and would provide a list of targets before a strike to avoid escalating conflict between the world’s two largest nuclear powers.

Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, urged the US on April 12, 2018, to avoid military action, saying the “immediate priority is to avert the danger of war.”

Asked whether he was referring to a war between the US and Russia, Nebenzia said: “We cannot exclude any possibilities, unfortunately, because we saw messages that are coming from Washington — they were very bellicose. They know we are there. I wish there was dialect through the proper channels on this to avert any dangerous developments.”

He added: “The danger of escalation is higher than simply Syria because our military are there … So the situation is very dangerous.”

Trump is trying to punish Syria, not start World War 3

This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail
President Donald Trump
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Several experts have told Business Insider that despite Russia’s tough talk, Russian President Vladimir Putin does not want a war with the US.

“Putin is not interested in a shooting war with the West,” Gorenburg said.

Gorenburg said that because a war could escalate into a nuclear conflict between the US and Russia, and because “the Russian conventional forces just aren’t as strong as the US forces,” such a fight “would not be a good outcome for Russia.

So far, Trump has played coy about the timing of a strike on Syria.

“We’re looking very, very seriously, very closely at that whole situation, and we’ll see what happens, folks,” he said April 12, 2018, adding that a strike could happen “fairly soon.”Meanwhile, France and the UK have been openly considering participating in a strike and sending forces to the region.

The US, with or without allies, has enough military presence across the Middle East to crush Russian forces in Syria — but a direct attack on Russian forces carries a risk of escalating a conflict into nuclear war.

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If military branches were Harry Potter houses

It’s got violence. It’s got magic. It’s got teen angst up the ying yang. We’re talking about Harry Potter. The seven-book series was a massive bestseller in the early 2000s, and the movies were just as popular. 

Admittedly, the series could have ended in book one if any of the characters had owned a gun, but apparently, no one thought of that. (How do wizards have a superiority complex when a muggle sniper could have taken out Voldemort in one shot? Seriously?! I digress.) Whatever you think of the series or its now hotly-debated author, odds are you’ve wondered what Harry Potter house you would be in at some point or another. Are you cunning Slytherin? Clever Ravenclaw? Brave Gryffindor? Or Hufflepuff, whatever they do? Keep reading to find out which house you’d be in based on your military branch of choice.

Disclaimer: The Harry Potter series is fictional, and so is this list. 

Marines: Slytherin

harry potter house
(AlyssaBradac, ImgFlip)

Before you protest, give Slytherin a chance. They might get a bad rap for being disloyal or even evil, but those are just stereotypes. After all, Marines don’t really eat crayons, do they? (If you do, no judgment. But please stop.) Slytherins are known for being ambitious, goal-oriented, adaptable and assertive. They’ve been called ruthless, but so are Marines when enemies get in their way. Just like Slytherins, they’re only mean if you deserve it. If you do, start running.

Alternatively, Marines might belong to another school of Wizardry altogether; Durmstrang. It’s pretty much the definition of masculinity, as far as dudes who believe in magic go. I mean, just look at them. 

Army: Gryffindor

harry potter house
(u/quantumshrarry, Reddit)

Gryffindor, much like the Army, is the default choice. Everyone wants to be in Gryffindor. It’s for the wizards who can’t decide exactly what to be, so they’re a little of everything; brave, practical, blunt and stubborn. They have a strong moral compass, and they never back down from a challenge. It’s the default choice, but that’s not a bad thing. Gryffindors tend to be a little reckless and idealistic, so they need strong leadership to reign them in– just like recruits in Army boot camp.

Navy and Coast Guard: Hufflepuff

This isn’t meant to be an insult. Really, it’s not. Hufflepuff is the house of those who are hard-working, good-hearted, practical and dependable. The movies make them out to be wimps, but that’s not what Hufflepuff was about at all. Hufflepuffs are loyal, accepting and genuinely want to help others. Considering most people who join the Coast Guard do it in hopes of saving people during search and rescue missions, Hufflepuff is the house for them. Sailors also have Hufflepuffish tendencies, with SEALs being a big exception. SEALs are not Hufflepuffs. If we had to guess, they’d be in Gryffindor or Slytherin. Or, again, Durmstrang. 

Air Force: Ravenclaw

Ravenclaw is essentially the Harry Potter house of academics. Ravenclaws live for analytical thinking, logic and learning. In other words, they’re nerds. But don’t be deceived by their preference for reading rather than fighting. Their quick wits are exceptionally useful when you’re in a bind. The Air Force is no different. While they aren’t known for being the brawn of the U.S. military, every good military needs some brains to balance everything out. Make fun of the Air Force all you want, but you’ll be thankful for their quick thinking and technological aptitude when you need it. 

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P-47 Thunderbolt versus P-51 Mustang: Which legend wins?

The P-47 Thunderbolt and the P-51 Mustang fought side-by-side with the Allies in World War II. They even divided the job of kicking Axis ass between them by the end of the war. The Mustang became known as an escort fighter, while the Thunderbolt took more of a role as a fighter-bomber.


That said, how would they have fared in a head-to-head fight? It might not be as fantastical as everyone thinks.

The Nazis captured several P-51s during World War II, usually by repairing planes that crash-landed. They also captured some P-47s. This means there was a chance (albeit small) that a P-47 and P-51 could have ended up fighting each other.

This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail
The P-51 and P-47 sit side-by-side. (Photo by Alan Wilson via WikiMedia Commons)

Each plane has its strengths and weaknesses, of course. The P-51 had long range (especially with drop tanks), and its six M2 .50-caliber machine guns could take down just about any opposing fighter.

In fact, the P-51 was credited with 4,950 air-to-air kills in the European theater alone. During the Korean War, the P-51 also proved to be a decent ground-attack plane.

That said, the secret to the P-51’s success, the Rolls Royce Merlin engine, was also, in a sense, the plane’s greatest weakness. The liquid-cooled engine was far more vulnerable to damage; furthermore the P-51 itself was also somewhat fragile.

By contrast, the P-47 Thunderbolt was known for being very tough. In one sense, it was the A-10 of World War II, being able to carry a good payload, take a lot of damage, and make it home (it even shares its name with the A-10 Thunderbolt II).

In one incident on June 26, 1943, a P-47 flown by Robert S. Johnson was hit by hundreds of rounds of German fire, and still returned home. The P-47 carried eight M2 .50-caliber machine guns, arguably the most powerful armament on an American single-engine fighter.

The “Jug” shot down over 3700 enemy aircraft during World War II, proving itself a capable dogfighter.

This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail
P-47 P-51 — Flying Legends 2012 — Duxford (Photo by Airwolfhound)

Which plane would come out on top in a dogfight? The P-51’s superior speed, range, and maneuverability might help in a dogfight, but the P-47 survived hits from weapons far more powerful than the M2 Browning — notably the 20mm and 30mm cannon on German fighters like the FW-190 or Me-109.

What is most likely to happen is that the P-51 would empty its guns into the P-47, but fail to score a fatal hit.

Worse, a mistake by the P-51 pilot would put it in the sights of the P-47’s guns, and the Mustang would likely be unable to survive that pounding.

All in all, we love ’em both, but we’d put money down on the Thunderbolt.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These are the rebel wars where Chesty Puller got his start

Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller is probably known best for his legendary actions in World War II where he led Marines at Guadalcanal and in Korea when he and his men broke out from the Chosin Reservoir.


But Puller originally enlisted in the Corps to fight in World War I.

He was eventually assigned to train new Marines and then sent officer school — which combined to keep him away from the front lines of The Great War.

But in 1919 he was offered a deployment to Haiti if he came back to active duty.

 

This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

 

The trip was described to young Marine officers as a sort of consolation prize after their trip to France was canceled. Writing about Puller and another Marine officer in Counterinsurgency and the United States Marine Corps, Leo J. Dougherty III wrote:

They saw service in Haiti as a means of compensation for not having served in the World War, and, as then Capt. William H. Rupertus told the young second lieutenants, as a way to “make money and have some fun.”

But Haiti was a real war zone.

Most of the recent Marine Corps officer training graduates were sent to Haiti as American noncommissioned officers who held officer ranks in the Gendarmerie d’Haïti. This was basically a police and counterinsurgency force whose enlisted ranks were filled with local soldiers but whose officers were mostly Marine Corps officers and noncommissioned officers.

 

This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail
U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler served as the commander of Nicaragua’s national guard when he was a major. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

 

The first commander of the Gendarmerie d’Haïti was then-Maj. Smedley Butler, another Marine Corps legend. And the Marines and their gendarmerie fought tooth and nail against determined Caco rebel attacks.

The rebels would hit targets — usually government buildings and forces — and then escape into the jungle.

To catch the rebels, Puller and other gendarmerie officers led their men on hard marches through the jungle and into the mountains, fighting off ambushes along the way.

Puller — who was deployed to Haiti from 1919 to 1924 — later estimated that he fought in about 40 engagements against the Caco rebels in Haiti and learned a lot of lessons, which helped him later in Nicaragua.

Puller was promoted to second lieutenant in 1924 and deployed to Nicaragua for the first time in 1926.

Nicaragua had been racked by political turmoil for over a decade despite an American intervention in 1912, causing instability in Latin America and headaches for American fruit companies. The Marines arrived in 1927 to protect American interests in the country.

 

This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

 

In 1928, Puller arrived and again led a local force, this time it was an element from the Guardia Nacional of Nicaragua. These government forces and their Marine mentors were tasked with disrupting rebel operations.

During his first tour of Nicaragua, Puller served for over two years and was awarded a Navy Cross for leading his men through five major engagements from February to August of 1930. Puller’s element was successful in each of the engagements, killing nine of the enemy and wounding more.

After a year break for training at Fort Benning, Puller returned to Nicaragua and commanded local forces once again. He received a second Navy Cross for actions taken in 1932. Puller was leading 40 Nicaraguans alongside Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. William A. “Iron Man” Lee.

 

This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

The men forced their way into rebel territory a full 80 miles from their base and any reliable reinforcements or lines of communication. Rebels ambushed them, and Puller was in the center of the first attack. When a Nicaraguan fell right next to him and Lee was hit with what were thought to be mortal wounds, Puller quickly rallied the men and got them fighting against the 150 or more rebels.

Despite the fact that they had been ambushed by a numerically superior force, the Marines and Nicaraguans were able to throw off the attack. They killed 10 of the enemy.

Puller led his men back to their base to the south, a full hundred miles away.

But on Sept. 30, 1932, 10 days after the first ambush, the rebels attempted two more attacks designed to wipe out Puller and his men. Both attacks were rebuffed with heavy losses for the rebels, allowing the American-Nicaraguan patrol to arrive at the base on Oct. 31.

Lee survived his wounds and later fought in World War II where he became a prisoner of war. He was awarded the Navy Cross three times for his actions in Nicaragua.

Puller would later take a series of staff and command positions, including a deployment to guard Americans in China, before leading Marines throughout the Pacific in the World War II and Korea battles that made him an icon of the Corps.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Private Care Program allegedly enriched companies and hurt vets

For years, conservatives have assailed the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as a dysfunctional bureaucracy. They said private enterprise would mean better, easier-to-access health care for veterans. President Donald Trump embraced that position, enthusiastically moving to expand the private sector’s role.

Here’s what has actually happened in the four years since the government began sending more veterans to private care: longer waits for appointments and, a new analysis of VA claims data by ProPublica and PolitiFact shows, higher costs for taxpayers.


Since 2014, 1.9 million former service members have received private medical care through a program called Veterans Choice. It was supposed to give veterans a way around long wait times in the VA. But their average waits using the Choice Program were still longer than allowed by law, according to examinations by the VA inspector general and the Government Accountability Office. The watchdogs also found widespread blunders, such as booking a veteran in Idaho with a doctor in New York and telling a Florida veteran to see a specialist in California. Once, the VA referred a veteran to the Choice Program to see a urologist, but instead he got an appointment with a neurologist.

The winners have been two private companies hired to run the program, which began under the Obama administration and is poised to grow significantly under Trump. ProPublica and PolitiFact obtained VA data showing how much the agency has paid in medical claims and administrative fees for the Choice program. Since 2014, the two companies have been paid nearly billion for overhead, including profit. That’s about 24 percent of the companies’ total program expenses — a rate that would exceed the federal cap that governs how much most insurance plans can spend on administration in the private sector.

This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

(Lucas Waldron/ProPublica)

This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

(Lucas Waldron/ProPublica)

This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

(Lucas Waldron/ProPublica)

According to the agency’s inspector general, the VA was paying the contractors at least 5 every time it authorized private care for a veteran. The fee was so high because the VA hurriedly launched the Choice Program as a short-term response to a crisis. Four years later, the fee never subsided — it went up to as much as 8 per referral.

“This is what happens when people try and privatize the VA,” Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, the ranking Democrat on the Senate veterans committee, said in a statement responding to these findings. “The VA has an obligation to taxpayers to spend its limited resources on caring for veterans, not paying excessive fees to a government contractor. When VA does need the help of a middleman, it needs to do a better job of holding contractors accountable for missing the mark.”

The Affordable Care Act prohibits large group insurance plans from spending more than 15 percent of their revenue on administration, including marketing and profit. The private sector standard is 10 percent to 12 percent, according to Andrew Naugle, who advises health insurers on administrative operations as a consultant at Milliman, one of the world’s largest actuarial firms. Overhead is even lower in the Defense Department’s Tricare health benefits program: only 8 percent in 2017.

Even excluding the costs of setting up the new program, the Choice contractors’ overhead still amounts to 21 percent of revenue.

“That’s just unacceptable,” Rick Weidman, the policy director of Vietnam Veterans of America, said in response to the figures. “There are people constantly banging on the VA, but this was the private sector that made a total muck of it.”

Trump’s promises to veterans were a central message of his campaign. But his plans to shift their health care to the private sector put him on a collision course with veterans groups, whose members generally support the VA’s medical system and don’t want to see it privatized. The controversy around privatization, and the outsize influence of three Trump associates at Mar-a-Lago, has sown turmoil at the VA, endangering critical services from paying student stipends to preventing suicidesand upgrading electronic medical records.

A spokesman for the VA, Curt Cashour, declined to provide an interview with key officials and declined to answer a detailed list of written questions.

One of the contractors, Health Net, stopped working on the program in September 2018. Health Net didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The other contractor, TriWest Healthcare Alliance, said it has worked closely with the VA to improve the program and has made major investments of its own. “We believe supporting VA in ensuring the delivery of quality care to our nation’s veterans is a moral responsibility, even while others have avoided making these investments or have withdrawn from the market,” the company said in a statement.

TriWest did not dispute ProPublica and PolitiFact’s estimated overhead rate, which used total costs, but suggested an alternate calculation, using an average cost, that yielded a rate of 13 percent to 15 percent. The company defended the 5-plus fee by saying it covers “highly manual” services such as scheduling appointments and coordinating medical files. Such functions are not typically part of the contracts for other programs, such as the military’s Tricare. But Tricare’s contractors perform other duties, such as adjudicating claims and monitoring quality, that Health Net and TriWest do not. In a recent study comparing the programs, researchers from the Rand Corporation concluded that the role of the Choice Program’s contractors is “much narrower than in the private sector or in Tricare.”

Before the Choice Program, TriWest and Health Net performed essentially the same functions for about a sixth of the price, according to the VA inspector general. TriWest declined to break down how much of the fee goes to each service it provides.

Because of what the GAO called the contractors’ “inadequate” performance, the VA increasingly took over doing the Choice Program’s referrals and claims itself.

In many cases, the contractors’ 5-plus processing fee for every referral was bigger than the doctor’s bill for services rendered, the analysis of agency data showed. In the three months ending Jan. 31, 2018, the Choice Program made 49,144 referrals for primary care totaling .9 million in medical costs, for an average cost per referral of 1.16. A few other types of care also cost less on average than the handling fee: chiropractic care (6.32 per referral) and optometry (9.25). There were certainly other instances where the medical services cost much more than the handling fee: TriWest said its average cost per referral was about ,100 in the past six months.

Beyond what the contractors were entitled to, audits by the VA inspector general found that they overcharged the government by 0 million from November 2014 to March 2017. Both companies are now under federal investigation arising from these overpayments. Health Net’s parent company, Centene, disclosed a Justice Department civil investigation into “excessive, duplicative or otherwise improper claims.” A federal grand jury in Arizona is investigating TriWest for “wire fraud and misused government funds,” according to a court decision on a subpoena connected to the case. Both companies said they are cooperating with the inquiries.

Despite the criminal investigation into TriWest’s management of the Choice Program, the Trump administration recently expanded the company’s contract without competitive bidding. Now, TriWest stands to collect even more fees as the administration prepares to fulfill Trump’s campaign promise to send more veterans to private doctors.

This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail
(US Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

Senate veterans committee chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said he expects VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to discuss the agency’s plans for the future of private care when he testifies at a hearing on Dec. 19, 2018. A spokeswoman for the outgoing chairman of the House veterans committee, Phil Roe, R-Tenn., didn’t respond to requests for comment.

“The last thing we need is to have funding for VA’s core mission get wasted,” Rep. Mark Takano, a California Democrat who will become the House panel’s chairman in January 2019, said in a statement. “I will make sure Congress conducts comprehensive oversight to ensure that our veterans receive the care they deserve while being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”

Many of the Choice Program’s defects trace back to its hasty launch.

In 2014, the Republican chairman of the House veterans committee alleged that 40 veterans died waiting for care at the VA hospital in Phoenix. The inspector general eventually concluded that no deaths were attributable to the delays. But it was true that officials at the Phoenix VA were covering up long wait times, and critics seized on this scandal to demand that veterans get access to private medical care.

One of the loudest voices demanding changes was John McCain’s. “Make no mistake: This is an emergency,” the Arizona senator, who died in August 2018, said at the time. McCain struck a compromise with Democrats to open up private care for veterans who lived at least 40 miles from a VA facility or would have to wait at least 30 days to get an appointment.

In the heat of the scandal, Congress gave the VA only 90 days to launch Choice. The VA reached out to 57 companies about administering the new program, but the companies said they couldn’t get the program off the ground in just three months, according to contracting records. So the VA tacked the Choice Program onto existing contracts with Health Net and TriWest to run a much smaller program for buying private care. “There is simply insufficient time to solicit, evaluate, negotiate and award competitive contracts and then allow for some form of ramp-up time for a new contractor,” the VA said in a formal justification for bypassing competitive bidding.

But that was a shaky foundation on which to build a much larger program, since those earlier contracts were themselves flawed. In a 2016 report, the VA inspector general said officials hadn’t followed the rules “to ensure services acquired are based on need and at fair and reasonable prices.” The report criticized the VA for awarding higher rates than one of the vendors proposed.

The new contract with the VA was a lifeline for TriWest. Its president and CEO, David J. McIntyre Jr., was a senior aide to McCain in the mid-1990s before starting the company, based in Phoenix, to handle health benefits for the military’s Tricare program. In 2013, TriWest lost its Tricare contract and was on the verge of shutting down. Thanks to the VA contract, TriWest went from laying off more than a thousand employees to hiring hundreds.

This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

Senator John McCain.

(Photo by Gage Skidmore)

McIntyre’s annual compensation, according to federal contracting disclosures, is .36 million. He declined to be interviewed. In a statement, TriWest noted that the original contract, for the much smaller private care program, had been competitively awarded.

The VA paid TriWest and Health Net 0 million upfront to set up the new Choice program, according to the inspector general’s audit. But that was dwarfed by the fees that the contractors would collect. Previously, the VA paid the companies between and 3 for every referral, according to the inspector general. But for the Choice Program, TriWest and Health Net raised their fee to between 5 and 0 to do essentially the same work on a larger scale, the inspector general said.

The price hike was a direct result of the time pressure, according to Greg Giddens, a former VA contracting executive who dealt with the Choice Program. “If we had two years to stand up the program, we would have been at a different price structure,” he said.

Even though the whole point of the Choice Program was to avoid 30-day waits in the VA, a convoluted process made it hard for veterans to see private doctors any faster. Getting care through the Choice Program took longer than 30 days 41 percent of the time, according to the inspector general’s estimate. The GAO found that in 2016 using the Choice Program could take as long as 70 days, with an average of 50 days.

Sometimes the contractors failed to make appointments at all. Over a three-month period in 2018, Health Net sent back between 9 percent and 13 percent of its referrals, according to agency data. TriWest failed to make appointments on 5 percent to 8 percent of referrals, the data shows.

Many veterans had frustrating experiences with the contractors.

Richard Camacho in Los Angeles said he got a call from TriWest to make an appointment for a sleep test, but he then received a letter from TriWest with different dates. He had to call the doctor to confirm when he was supposed to show up. When he got there, the doctor had received no information about what the appointment was for, Camacho said.

John Moen, a Vietnam veteran in Plano, Texas, tried to use the Choice Program for physical therapy in 2018 rather than travel to Dallas, where the VA had a six-week wait. But it took 10 weeks for him to get an appointment with a private provider.

“The Choice Program for me has completely failed to meet my needs,” Moen said.

Curtis Thompson, of Kirkland, Washington, said he’s been told the Choice Program had a 30-day wait just to process referrals, never mind to book an appointment. “Bottom line: Wait for the nearly 60 days to see the rheumatologist at the VA rather than opt for an unknown delay through Veterans Choice,” he said.

This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

(Flickr photo by Rob Bixby)

After Thompson used the Choice Program in 2018 for a sinus surgery that the VA couldn’t perform within 30 days, the private provider came after him to collect payment, according to documentation he provided.

Thousands of veterans have had to contend with bill collectors and credit bureaus because the contractors failed to pay providers on time, according to the inspector general. Doctors have been frustrated with the Choice Program, too. The inspector general found that 15 providers in North Carolina stopped accepting patients from the VA because Health Net wasn’t paying them on time.

The VA shares the blame, since it fell behind in paying the contractors, the inspector general said. TriWest claimed the VA at one point owed the company 0 million. According to the inspector general, the VA’s pile of unpaid claims peaked at almost 180,000 in 2016 and was virtually eliminated by the end of the year.

The VA tried to tackle the backlog of unpaid doctors, but it had a problem: The agency didn’t know who was performing the services arranged by the contractors. That’s because Health Net and TriWest controlled the provider networks, and the medical claims they submit to the VA do not include any provider information.

The contractors’ role as middlemen created the opportunity for payment errors, according to the inspector general’s audit. The inspector general found 77,700 cases where the contractors billed the VA for more than they paid providers and pocketed the difference, totaling about million. The inspector general also identified .9 million in duplicate payments and .5 million in other errors.

TriWest said it has worked with the VA to correct the payment errors and set aside money to pay back. The company said it’s waiting for the VA to provide a way to refund the confirmed overpayments. “We remain ready to complete the necessary reconciliations as soon as that process is formally approved,” TriWest said.

The grand jury proceedings involving TriWest are secret, but the investigation became public because prosecutors sought to obtain the identities of anonymous commenters on the jobs website Glassdoor.com who accused TriWest of “mak[ing] money unethically off of veterans/VA.” Glassdoor fought the subpoena but lost, in November 2017. The court’s opinion doesn’t name TriWest, but it describes the subject of the investigation as “a government contractor that administers veterans’ healthcare programs” and quotes the Glassdoor reviews about TriWest. The federal prosecutor’s office in Arizona declined to comment.

“TriWest has cooperated with many government inquiries regarding VA’s community care programs and will continue to do so,” the company said in its statement. “TriWest must respect the government’s right to keep those inquiries confidential until such time as the government decides to conclude the inquiry or take any actions or adjust VA programs as deemed appropriate.”

The VA tried to make the Choice Program run more smoothly and efficiently. Because the contractors were failing to find participating doctors to treat veterans, the VA in mid-2015 launched a full-court press to sign up private providers directly, according to the inspector general. In some states, the VA also took over scheduling from the contractors.

“We were making adjustments on the fly trying to get it to work,” said David Shulkin, who led the VA’s health division starting in 2015. “There needed to be a more holistic solution.”

Officials decided in 2016 to design new contracts that would change the fee structure and reabsorb some of the services that the VA had outsourced to Health Net and TriWest. The department secretary at the time, Bob McDonald, concluded the VA needed to handle its own customer service, since the agency’s reputation was suffering from TriWest’s and Health Net’s mistakes. Reclaiming those functions would have the side effect of reducing overhead.

“Tell me a great customer service company in the world that outsources its customer service,” McDonald, who previously ran Procter Gamble, said in an interview. “I wanted to have the administrative functions within our medical centers so we took control of the care of the veterans. That would have brought that fee down or eliminated it entirely.”

The new contracts, called the Community Care Network, also aimed to reduce overhead by paying the contractors based on the number of veterans they served per month, rather than a flat fee for every referral. To prevent payment errors like the ones the inspector general found, the new contracts sought to increase information-sharing between the VA and the contractors. The VA opened bidding for the new Community Care Network contracts in December 2016.

This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

David Shulkin.

But until those new contracts were in place, the VA was still stuck paying Health Net and TriWest at least 5 for every referral. So VA officials came up with a workaround: they could cut out the middleman and refer veterans to private providers directly. Claims going through the contractors declined by 47 percent from May to December in 2017.

TriWest’s CEO, McIntyre, objected to this workaround and blamed the VA for hurting his bottom line.

In a Feb. 26, 2018, email with the subject line “Heads Up… Likely Massive and Regrettable Train Wreck Coming!” McIntyre warned Shulkin, then the department secretary, that “long unresolved matters with VA and current behavior patterns will result in a projected million loss in 2019. This is on top of the losses that we have amassed over the last couple years.”

Officials were puzzled that, despite all the VA was paying TriWest, McIntyre was claiming he couldn’t make ends meet, according to agency emails provided to ProPublica and PolitiFact. McIntyre explained that he wanted the VA to waive penalties for claims that lacked adequate documentation and to pay TriWest an administrative fee on canceled referrals and no-show appointments, even though the VA read the contract to require a fee only on completed claims. In a March 2018 letter to key lawmakers, McIntyre said the VA’s practice of bypassing the contractors and referring patients directly to providers “has resulted in a significant drop in the volume of work and is causing the company irreparable financial harm.”

McIntyre claimed the VA owed TriWest million and warned of a “negative impact on VA and veterans that will follow” if the agency didn’t pay. Any disruptions at TriWest, he said, would rebound onto the VA, “given how much we are relied on by VA at the moment and the very public nature of this work.”

But when the VA asked to see TriWest’s financial records to substantiate McIntyre’s claims, the numbers didn’t add up, according to agency emails.

McIntyre’s distress escalated in March 2018, as the Choice Program was running out of money and lawmakers were locked in tense negotiations over its future. McIntyre began sending daily emails to the VA officials in charge of the Choice Program seeking updates and warning of impending disaster. “I don’t think the storm could get more difficult or challenging,” he wrote in one of the messages. “However, I know that I am not alone nor that the impact will be confined to us.”

McIntyre lobbied for a bill to permanently replace Choice with a new program consolidating all of the VA’s methods of buying private care. TriWest even offered to pay veterans organizations to run ads supporting the legislation, according to emails discussing the proposal. Congress overwhelmingly passed the law (named after McCain) in May 2018.

“In the campaign, I also promised that we would fight for Veterans Choice,” Trump said at the signing ceremony in June 2018. “And before I knew that much about it, it just seemed to be common sense. It seemed like if they’re waiting on line for nine days and they can’t see a doctor, why aren’t they going outside to see a doctor and take care of themselves, and we pay the bill? It’s less expensive for us, it works out much better, and it’s immediate care.”

The new permanent program for buying private care will take effect in June 2019. The VA’s new and improved Community Care Network contracts were supposed to be in place by then. But the agency repeatedly missed deadlines for these new contracts and has yet to award them.

The VA has said it’s aiming to pick the contractors for the new program in January and February 2019. Yet even if the VA meets this latest deadline, the contracts include a one-year ramp-up period, so they won’t be ready to start in June 2019.

That means TriWest will by default become the sole contractor for the new program. The VA declined to renew Health Net’s contract when it expired in September 2018. The VA was planning to deal directly with private providers in the regions that Health Net had covered. But the VA changed course and announced that TriWest would take over Health Net’s half of the country. The agency said TriWest would be the sole contractor for the entire Choice Program until it awards the Community Care Network contracts.

“There’s still not a clear timeline moving forward,” said Giddens, the former VA contracting executive. “They need to move forward with the next program. The longer they stay with the current one, and now that it’s down to TriWest, that’s not the best model.”

Meanwhile, TriWest will continue receiving a fee for every referral. And the number of referrals is poised to grow as the administration plans to shift more veterans to the private sector.

This story was produced in collaboration with PolitiFact.

This article originally appeared on ProPublica. Follow @ProPublica on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A brief history of the legendary HH-60 Pave Hawks

Based on the Army’s UH-60 Black Hawk, the HH-60G Pave Hawk is a highly modified version with upgraded communications and navigation suite. The forward-looking infrared system, color weather radar and an engine/rotor blade anti-ice system, enables the Pave Hawk to fly in bad weather. The in-flight refueling probe and auxiliary fuel tanks allow the Pave Hawk to outdistance other rescue helicopters.

The Pave Hawk’s crew of pararescue airmen can utilize its hoist, capable of lifting 600 pounds, to perform personnel recovery operations in hostile environments. The HH-60G is also used for civil search and rescue, medical evacuation, disaster response, humanitarian assistance, security cooperation/aviation advisory, NASA space flight support, and rescue command and control.


Design and development

In the early 1980s, the Air Force began its search for a replacement of the aging HH-3E Jolly Green Giant helicopter. The Air Force acquired UH-60 Black Hawks and modified them with a refueling probe, additional fuel tanks and .50 XM218s machine guns. These helicopters were renamed “Credible Hawks” and entered service in 1987.
In 1991, the Credible Hawks and new Black Hawks were upgraded again and re-designated to Pave Hawk.

After almost 40 years of service, the HH-60G Pave Hawk will be replaced by the HH-60W. Increased internal fuel capacity and new defensive systems and sensors will provide increased range and survivability during combat rescue missions. The fleet of HH-60Gs will be fully replaced with 112 HH-60Ws by 2029 with the first delivery scheduled for 2020.

Operational history

The HH-60 has operated during operations Iraqi Freedom, New Dawn, Enduring Freedom, and continues to operate in Resolute Support and Operation Inherent Resolve, supporting coalition ground operations and standby search and rescue for U.S. and coalition fixed-wing combat aircraft.

This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

U.S. Air Force pararescuemen, 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, secure the area after being lowered from a U.S. Air Force HH-60 Pave Hawk during a mission Nov. 7, 2012, in Afghanistan.

(Photo by staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder)

Personnel from 305th Rescue Squadron flew HH-60 Pave Hawks to rescue “Lone Survivor” Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, after his four-man team was ambushed in the mountains of Afghanistan and he was the only one to survive.
After Hurricane Katrina in September 2005, more than 20 active-duty, Reserve, and National Guard Pave Hawks were deployed to Jackson, Miss., in support of recovery operations in New Orleans and surrounding areas. Pave Hawk crews flew around-the-clock operations for nearly a month, saving more than 4,300 Americans from the post-hurricane devastation.

Within 24 hours of the Tohoku, Japan, earthquake and tsunami in 2011, HH-60Gs deployed to support Operation Tomodachi, providing search and rescue capability to the disaster relief efforts.

Since then Pave Hawks have been instrumental in saving lives during natural disasters and major floods.

This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

An HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter from the 129th Rescue Wing, California Air National Guard, flies over Pardee Reservoir, in Lone, California, Saturday, April 14, 2018, during interagency aircrew training with CAL FIRE. Cal Guard helicopter crews and support personnel gathered for three days of joint wildfire aviation training to prepare for heightened fire activity in the summer and fall.

(Photo by Senior Airman Crystal Housman)

Did You Know?

  • PAVE stands for Precision Avionics Vectoring Equipment
  • To improve air transportability and shipboard operations, all HH-60Gs have folding rotor blades.
General Characteristics:
  • Primary Function: Personnel recovery in hostile conditions and military operations other than war in day, night or marginal weather
  • Contractor: United Technologies/Sikorsky Aircraft Company
  • Power Plant: Two General Electric T700-GE-700 or T700-GE-701C engines
  • Thrust: 1,560-1,940 shaft horsepower, each engine
  • Rotor Diameter: 53 feet, 7 inches (14.1 meters)
  • Length: 64 feet, 8 inches (17.1 meters)
  • Height: 16 feet, 8 inches (4.4 meters)
  • Weight: 22,000 pounds (9,900 kilograms)
  • Maximum Takeoff Weight: 22,000 pounds (9,900 kilograms)
  • Fuel Capacity: 4,500 pounds (2,041 kilograms)
  • Payload: depends upon mission
  • Speed: 184 mph (159 knots)
  • Range: 504 nautical miles
  • Ceiling: 14,000 feet (4,267 meters)
  • Armament: Two 7.62mm or .50 caliber machineguns
  • Crew: Two pilots, one flight engineer and one gunner
  • Unit Cost: .1 million (Fiscal year 2011 dollars)
  • Initial operating capability: 1982
  • Inventory: Active force, 67; ANG, 17; Reserve, 15
  • This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.

    MIGHTY CULTURE

    Here are 13 military animals that outrank you

    Sure, you may have been in the military for years and you may have worked hard for your rank. But it may surprise you to learn that you will always be outranked by at least one of these animals, who have earned military rank, medals, and awards. And these aren’t just cuddly mascots — some of them have seen combat action!

    Here are the most impressive and high-ranking military animals of all time:


    1. Nils Olav

    Nils Olav, a penguin, is colonel-in-chief and official mascot of Norway’s Royal Guard. In 2008, he was knighted — yes, knighted — by King Harald V. The original penguin named Nils Olav first served in 1972, and was named in honor of two great Norwegians: Nils Egelien and King Olav V. This high-ranking mascot lives in the Edinburgh Zoo, in quarters befitting his rank.

    2. King Neptune

    King Neptune the pig was originally just Parker Neptune. He received a promotion to King (that’s a rank, right?) during World War II when he was sold to an Illinois Navy recruiter. Although the pig was originally intended to be served at dinner, the Navy instead made him a star by promoting him to King and sending him on tour to sell war bonds. He wore a crown and a blue Navy blanket, and would stand on stage as his parts were “auctioned off” to the highest bidders. Ultimately, King Neptune helped raise over million for the Navy!

    When he died in 1950, he received a Navy funeral with full military honors.

    3. Sergeant Major Fosco

    Sergeant Major Fosco was one of the first military working dogs to complete an airborne jump while being held by his handler. Military working dogs are traditionally awarded one rank higher than that of their handler, as a reminder that the handler must always treat their animal with respect. Because Sgt. Major Fosco’s handler was a 1st Sgt., this dog bears the rank of someone who has already served a full, 20-year career!

    Perhaps in dog years, that’s about right.

    This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

    4. Staff Sergeant Reckless

    Staff Sergeant Reckless was a Marine pack horse during the Korean War. She was purchased in Korea and carried supplies and ammunition for the Marines of 5/1 Recoilless Rifle Platoon. During one battle, she made 51 solo (unguided) trips to resupply the lines and bring wounded men to safety. During her time in service, she received a battlefield promotion to sergeant, two Purple Hearts, and a Good Conduct Medal. She was the first horse known to have participated in an amphibious landing. After the war, Reckless was brought back to America and promoted to staff sergeant. A metal statue in her honor was recently unveiled at Camp Pendleton.

    This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

    5. Sergeant Chesty XIV

    Sgt. Chesty XIV, named after the most highly-decorated Marine, Chesty Puller, is the current official mascot of the Marine Corps. He has his own dog-sized National Defense medal.

    He also has sergeant responsibilities, like training the junior Marines in his charge. Private Chesty XV is the official Marine Corps mascot apprentice. I wonder if he causes as much trouble for his sergeant as the average private does on any given weekend?

    6. Sergeant Major Jiggs

    Sergeant Major Jiggs was the original Marine Corps bulldog mascot. His owner was the famous Maj. General Smedley Butler — one of the only Marines to earn two Medals of Honor. Jiggs began his career in 1922 as a private and advanced through the ranks to reach E-9. If you already have two medals of honor, you can probably give your dog any rank you want, right?

    This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

    7. Lance Corporal Billy Windsor

    Lance Corporal Billy Windsor the Goat is a salaried member of the British Army in the Royal Welsh Regiment. The position includes membership in the Corporal’s mess and the right to be saluted by subordinates. However, the goat was demoted to fusilier in 2006 after an unfortunate head-butting incident against a drummer in the 1st Battalion.

    8. Sinbad, the Chief Dog

    Sinbad, the Chief Dog, was an enlisted member of the U.S. Coast Guard for 11 years and saw combat during World War II. He served on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter George W. Campbell. His handler originally intended to give the dog to his girlfriend as a gift, but soon discovered she wouldn’t be able to keep him. The only way to keep him on board was to enlist him, so Sinbad’s pawprint was stamped onto his own unique set of enlistment papers, and he became an official member of the crew.

    This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

    9. Master Sergeant Big Deuce VI

    Master Sergeant Big Deuce VI, the Army’s official donkey mascot, retired after 20 years of service. The Army has long used the donkey as a mascot because it’s a reminder of how the beasts of burden have long moved Army supplies, such as howitzers and ammunition. The 2-2nd FA Battalion “Mule Soldiers” out of Fort Sill, OK, have had a mascot named Big Deuce since 1950. During his 20-year career, Master Sgt. Big Deuce VI received several promotions, but his handlers report that he was demoted twice and received several Article 15s for attempting to go AWOL and for assaulting a commissioned officer in his change of command.

    This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

    10. Corporal Short Round V

    Corporal Short Round V is the Army’s goat mascot, who accompanies their donkey mascot Big Deuce at official events. He recently retired, and was replaced by Private Short Round VI, who had her enlistment ceremony at Fort Sill in 2018.

    11. Sgt. 1st Class Boe and Sgt. 1st Budge

    Sgt. 1st Class Boe and Sgt. 1st Class Budge were the first trained therapy dogs to be deployed to Iraq in 2007. Budge eventually contracted cancer and passed away in 2010. A memorial service was held for him at Fort Gordon, Georgia. Boe was reassigned to Fort Benning, Georgia.

    12. Master Sergeant Maverick

    Master Sergeant Maverick is a trained therapy dog who works with America’s VetDogs. Since 2009, he has been assigned to the Traumatic Brain Injury clinic at Eisenhauer Army Medical Center.

    13. Sergeant Stubby

    Sergeant Stubby the dog was adopted by soldiers of the 102nd Infantry Regiment and smuggled to France during WWI. He was trained to raise his paw in salute, which secured his place as the regimental mascot. Stubby helped his unit in the trenches by sniffing out poison gas attacks and warning of incoming artillery. He once helped capture and imprison a German spy, for which he received a medal for heroism.

    MIGHTY TACTICAL

    The F-35 is about to get a lot more lethal in air-to-air combat

    Lockheed Martin has developed a new weapons rack meant to give the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter a boost in firepower without sacrificing stealth, the defense contractor announced May 1, 2019.

    The fifth-generation stealth fighters today carry four AIM-120 radar-guided air-to-air missiles, but the new weapons rack — Sidekick — will allow the aircraft to hold an additional Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile in each of the aircraft’s two internal weapons bays, Lockheed’s F-35 test pilot Tony “Brick” Wilson said at a media briefing, according to Seapower Magazine.


    That would raise the number of Amraams the F-35 can carry to six from four, giving the fighter more to throw at an enemy fighter or drone in air combat.

    This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

    An F-35A Lightning II test aircraft during a live-fire test over an Air Force range in the Gulf of Mexico on June 12, 2018.

    (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Michael Jackson)

    The F-35 stores weapons internally to maintain stealth. Presently, a strictly internal loadout allows the fighter to carry up to 5,700 pounds of ordnance.

    Internally, the planes can carry a full set of Amraams or a mixture of air-to-air missiles and air-to-surface Joint Direct Attack Munitions.

    The aircraft can also operate in “beast mode,” a combined internal and external loadout that allows the F-35 to fly into battle with up to 22,000 pounds of weaponry — but this configuration degrades the jet’s stealth advantage.

    This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

    Three F-35C Lightning II aircraft over Eglin Air Force Base in Fort Walton Beach on Feb. 1, 2019.

    (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Shannon E. Renfroe)

    Lockheed’s new Sidekick weapons rack will reportedly be available for the Air Force F-35As and Navy F-35Cs but not the Marine Corps F-35Bs. These planes have smaller weapons bays because of a lift fan needed for short takeoff and vertical landing, a requirement for operations aboard US amphibious assault ships.

    The F-35 program office first mentioned efforts to add capacity for another Amraam in each weapons bay two years ago. “There’s a lot of engineering work to go with that,” the program’s director explained at the time, according to Air Force Magazine.

    Speaking with reporters May 1, 2019, Wilson said the “extra missiles add a little weight but are not adding extra drag.” He also said the F-35 had the ability to eventually carry hypersonic missiles should that capability be necessary.

    This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

    MIGHTY HISTORY

    A baby girl is entombed on the USS Utah at Pearl Harbor

    On the morning of December 7, 1941, USS Utah (BB-31) was moored off of Ford Island in Pearl Harbor. Utah was struck by two torpedoes during the infamous attack and quickly took on water. The order to abandon ship was given. Chief Watertender Peter Tomich stayed below decks to ensure as many of his shipmates could escape and keep the pumps going for as long as possible. Tomich would posthumously earn the Medal of Honor for his actions. Utah took only 14 minutes to capsize. Fifty eight men would perish on board the battleship and remain entombed there to this day. These men also stand eternal watch over an unexpected visitor, a two-day old baby girl.

    This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail
    USS Utah was in service for almost 32 years before she was sunk (U.S. Navy)

    Chief Yeoman Albert Thomas Dewitt Wagner was one of the hundreds of men assigned to the USS Utah at Pearl Harbor during the attack. Four years earlier, on August 29, 1937, Wagner’s wife gave birth to twin girls while they were stationed in the Philippines. Nancy Lynne and Mary Dianne Wagner were born prematurely. Sadly, Nancy Lynne lived only two days. Her body was cremated and brought back to Hawaii when Chief Wagner was assigned to the Utah. Wagner was hoping to give his daughter a proper burial at sea and was waiting for a new chaplain to join the crew to perform it. Unfortunately, the ceremony was not to happen.

    Wagner had just finished his breakfast when the Japanese surprise attack started. “Suddenly, the air was bent by a terrific explosion,” Wagner wrote in his journal. “Rushing to a porthole I saw a huge column of black smoke bellowing high into the heavens.” Wagner hurriedly rushed to his battle station on the third deck at the ship’s aft. Suddenly, Utah was rocked by a torpedo explosion that threw Wagner off of his feet. He was forced to abandon ship with his daughter’s ashes still in his locker in the chief’s quarters.

    According to the surviving twin sister, Mary Dianne Wagner Kreigh, attempts were made to recover Nancy Lynne’s ashes. “Frogmen did go down about two weeks after the attack and tried to enter the quarters,” she recalled, “but it was too badly smashed to get in.” It was not until 1972 that Nancy Lynne and the 58 sailors about the Utah received a proper monument. The Navy erected a concrete pier and memorial slab and dedicated it to those that remain entombed aboard the Utah. “I don’t think there is a better tribute to my twin sister than to have all of those wonderful and brave men guarding her,” Kreigh said. “I could not have asked for anything better than for her to be tenderly, carefully looked after by America’s finest.” In 1990, Kreigh started a Thanksgiving tradition to visit the USS Utah memorial and place a lei in the water in her sister’s honor.

    USS Utah next to the memorial at Pearl Harbor
    Utah‘s rusted hull lays exposed above the water next to the memorial to those that remain entombed on board (U.S. Navy)
    MIGHTY HISTORY

    Why the USS Missouri is the most famous battleship ever built

    The USS Missouri has been described as the most famous battleship ever built.

    Nicknamed “Mighty Mo,” the Missouri was an Iowa-class battleship that saw combat in World War II, the Korean War and the Gulf War.

    Before finally being decommissioned in 1992, the Mighty Mo received three battle stars for its service in World War II, five for the Korean War, as well as two Combat Action Ribbons and several commendations and medals for the Gulf War.

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    And throughout the Mighty Mo’s long service, the warship was barely scratched.

    Here’s the story of the Missouri.


    This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

    Margaret Truman christens the USS Missouri with then-Sen. Truman in the background at the New York Navy Yard on Jan. 29, 1944.

    (US Navy photo)

    Laid down in January 1941, the USS Missouri was the last Iowa-class battleship to enter service, and was actually christened by then-Sen. Harry S. Truman’s daughter, Margaret Truman.

    Source: US Navy, The National Interest

    This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

    The Mighty Mo fires a salvo from the forward 16/50 gun turret during her shakedown period in August 1944.

    (US Navy photo)

    As an Iowa-class battleship, the most powerful class of battleships, the Missouri was armed with nine huge 16-inch guns, 20 five-inch guns, 80 40mm anti-aircraft guns, and 49 20mm anti-aircraft guns.

    The Mighty Mo’s 16″/50 caliber Mark 7 guns fired 1,900 and 2,700 pound projectiles up to 24 miles away.

    In fact, the guns were so powerful that they recoiled four feet when fired, with the blast pressure pushing the water out, creating the illusion that the ship was moving sideways.

    Source: US Navy, Business Insider

    This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

    View along the Mighty Mo’s port side during a high-speed run while on her shakedown cruise in August 1944.

    (US Navy photo)

    This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

    The Mighty Mo fires its center 16″ guns during a night gunnery exercise in August 1944.

    (US Navy photo)

    During World War II, the Missouri supported the landing at Iwo Jima with her 16″ guns, the bombardment of Okinawa and the island of Hokkaido, and more.

    Source: US Navy

    This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

    A Japanese A6M Zero Kamikaze about to hit the Mighty Mo off Okinawa on April 11, 1945, as a 40mm quad gun mount’s crew is in action in the lower foreground.

    (US Navy photo)

    In April 1945, the Missouri took one of its only known hits when a Japanese Kamikaze pilot evaded the Mighty Mo’s anti-aircraft guns and hit the battleship’s side below the main deck. But the impact caused minor damage.

    Source: US Navy

    This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

    General of the Army Douglas MacArthur signs the Instrument of Surrender on the USS Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945.

    (US Navy photo)

    This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

    The Mighty Mo fires a salvo of 16-inch shells on Chongjin, North Korea, in an effort to cut enemy communications in October 1950.

    (US Navy photo)

    The Mighty Mo sailed the Mediterranean in 1946 in a show of force against Soviet incursion. Four years later, in September 1950, the battleship joined missions as part of the Korean War.

    As the flagship of Vice Adm. A. D. Struble, who commanded the 7th Fleet, the Missouri bombed Wonsan, and the Chonjin and Tanchon areas in October 1950. For the next three years, the Mighty Mo would bombard several other areas too, including Chaho, Wonsan, Hamhung, and Hungnam.

    The Mighty Mo was later decommissioned, for the first time, in February 1955 at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.

    Source: US Navy

    This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

    Large harbor tugs assist the battleship USS Missouri into port for recommissioning with the San Francisco skyline in the background in 1986.

    (US Navy photo)

    But in 1986, with the Cold War still raging, the Mighty Mo was brought back to life as part of the Navy’s new strategy that sent naval task groups into Soviet waters in case of a future conflict.

    The Navy also modernized the Mighty Mo as part of its recommissioning, removing some of its five-inch guns and installing Harpoon and Tomahawk cruise missiles, Stinger short-range surface-to-air missiles, and Phalanx close-in weapons systems.

    Source: US Navy, The National Interest

    This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

    The Mighty Mo fires a Tomahawk cruise missile at an Iraqi target in January 1991.

    (US Navy photo)

    And these new weapons were put to use during the Gulf War, where the Mighty Mo fired at least 28 cruise missiles, as well as several hundred 16″ rounds, on Iraqi targets.

    In fact, the Mighty Mo had a fairly close call when it was firing 16″ rounds in support of an amphibious landing along the Kuwaiti shore.

    The Missouri’s loud 16″ guns apparently attracted enemy attention, and the Iraqis fired an HY-2 Silkworm missile at the ship. But the British frigate HMS Gloucester came to its rescue, shooting the missile down with GWS-30 Sea Dart missiles.

    Source: US Navy

    This is what it was like to be marooned in the age of sail

    The USS Missouri arrives in Pearl Harbor, where it now permanently rests next to the USS Arizona, in June 1998.

    In 1992, the Mighty Mo was decommissioned for the second and last time. The battleship was removed from the Navy’s reserve list in 1995, and moved to Pearl Harbor as a museum and memorial ship in 1998.

    This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

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