CLEMSON, S.C. — Expect to be impressed when you meet a Marine, but when that Marine is a 96 year-old Pearl Harbor survivor who challenges you to a pull-up contest, prepare to be blown away.This is one of many things Clemson University student Will Hines of Spartanburg has learned in conducting the Veterans Project, an ongoing undergraduate research project to collect and preserve the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations can hear those stories directly from the men and women who lived them.
Former Marine Staff Sgt. Robert A. Henderson’s story begins in Hawaii on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, as a plane with a perplexing paint job thunders overhead “close enough that I could have thrown a rock and hit it” toward a row of U.S. Naval ships docked in the harbor, he said.
He thought it was part of a drill until the plane dipped and released a torpedo. The violent chaos in the two hours that followed would define much of the 20th century.
Henderson, relaxed in a comfortable chair in his Spartanburg living room, describes in gripping detail the 51 months of combat he experienced, culminating in the Battle of Okinawa.
“I was in the first and last battles of the war,” he said.
Hines videotapes every word. One copy will go to Henderson and his family, and one copy will go to the Library of Congress to be preserved forever.
When asked how he stays so healthy at 96. Henderson takes Hines out to his garage to show off his home gym, where he exercises three times a week. He demonstrates by doing 12 pull-ups without breaking a sweat, and dares Hines to match him.
Interactions with truly amazing veterans like this are just some of the fringe benefits students who participate in the project enjoy. The Veterans Project is an example of community-engaged learning at Clemson, which has a military history dating back to its founding in 1889.
Hines, a junior business management major from Spartanburg, became involved in the project because of his life-long fascination with history.
“I’ve been interested in veterans since I was little. I met my great uncle when I was about 7 years old. I found out he landed on five islands in the Pacific, and I asked him a ton of questions,” he explained. “I was able to interview him in high school — for fun, not for anything specific — which helped me become closer to him. He was wounded twice — once on Okinawa from a grenade rolled down a mountain. Meeting him really influenced how I became interested in studying the history of America’ s conflicts.”
Some of the most consequential actors in past wars weren’t the soldiers storming the ramparts, the generals issuing orders, or even engineers who designed the weapons and armor necessary to win. Sometimes, wars were decided by much smaller combatants: bugs and worms.
Before the rapid increase in medical knowledge around World War II, parasites caused epidemics that claimed entire formations and tipped campaigns forcefully for one side to the other.
From the Revolutionary War to World War I, here are five times that pests defeated an army:
1. Constant fevers spread by mosquitoes crippled British forces in the Revolutionary War
Both British and American forces in the Revolutionary War scheduled offensives in the South around “the sickly season,” the hot summer months where mosquitoes and the diseases they spread were likely to claim hundreds or thousands of lives in an army on the march.
This slowed the progress of the British Army and forced it to fight at times it otherwise would not have. Patriots, who were less affected, capitalized by forcing battles when the British were sick and claiming victory when the British pulled out of diseased areas. By mid-1781, the generals were done fighting mosquitoes in the South and moved most of their forces north to Virginia.
2. Lice and typhus saved Russia from Napoleon
The Russian winter and the burning of Moscow get a lot of credit for destroying Napoleon Bonaparte’s army, but top honors should probably go to the Polish summer and the legions of lice it created in 1812. Lice secrete the typhus germ in their feces, and typhus causes severe fever, vomiting, and death.
When Napoleon and his 680,000 men went on the march into Russia, they had to cross through Poland and its lice epidemic. It was there that his men began to catch typhus which spread through the ranks. The disease and the resulting desertions as soldiers fled the infected camps took away half of Napoleon’s fighting force before he fought any major battles with the Russian Army.
3. Napoleon’s men also got whooped by mosquitoes and yellow fever
Before Napoleon’s Grande Armée fell to lice, a smaller force sent to Haiti – then known as Saint-Domingue – was destroyed by yellow fever carried by mosquitoes. The emperor sent 33,000 men to put down the government of Toussaint Louverture in Haiti and turn the island back into a French slave colony.
Unfortunately, the Haitians they would fight were largely inoculated to yellow fever, but the French were not. France initially gained the upper hand by recruiting support from factions in the Haitian forces. But the French lost 90 percent of their men to mosquitoes and the disease. When their local allies learned about the re-introduction of slavery and turned on the French, Napoleon recalled the survivors.
4. Civil War soldiers in the South were often afflicted with hookworm
Southerners before the Civil War had a reputation for being dimwitted and lazy, something doctors later found out was due to the epidemic levels of hookworm that existed there. Hookworms invade through bare feet or fingernail beds and spread throughout the human body where they can live for five years, causing malnutrition and exhaustion while slowing brain function.
5. Lice and typhus massacred the Russians in World War I
Seriously, body lice are just the worst. In World War I, every army had to deal with constant lice infestations. But most were lucky in that only more mild diseases like trench fever were spread. Typhus struck Serbia in 1914 though, and the disease spread across the Eastern Front.
Green Berets, SEALs, MARSOC — these are all well-known operator groups in the United States military. But not many know much about the Rhodesian Selous Scouts.
Named after the famous hunter Fredrick Selous, they possess the teamwork mindset of the Rhodesian Light Infantry and the skills of the Rhodeisan Special Air Service; but with harder training requirements than both, the Selous Scouts became monumental in anti-terrorist operations.
The selection process was so difficult that the recruits wouldn’t believe the instructors when they were informed they had passed.
Their boot camp was named “Wafa Wafa Wasara Wasara” which is Shona for, “Who dies — dies, who survives — remains.”
4. Extensive Training
The Selous Scouts were raised as a special forces regiment when Rhodesia was facing a terrorist threat that was armed by the Soviet Union to eliminate many European colonies in Africa. The Scouts’ mission was the clandestine elimination of these threats both in and out of Rhodesia.
For this purpose, they were not only taught tracking and survival, but they were also trained by former terrorists in the language, songs, and mannerisms of their enemies on top of learning to parachute.
3. Expert survival skills
Selous Scouts were trained to hunt and forage for their own food and water supplies.
Their survival skills allowed them to operate without external support.
2. Could shoot targets in rapid succession — without looking
Trained to shoot well-known enemy hiding spots, they eventually became so skilled that they no longer needed to look at their targets in order to hit them.
Selous Scouts went out in 5-10 man teams, which meant they were always outnumbered against their enemies, but their training proved to be more efficient, allowing them to inflict a high number of enemy casualties.
*Bonus* Infiltrated enemy units just to eliminate them
After being trained by former terrorists, Selous Scouts were capable of infiltrating enemy terrorist units by joining their factions. These scouts would eventually turn on the terrorists, capitalizing the elements of surprise and shock to mitigate the cells.
Other times, Selous Scouts would infiltrate enemy encampments and “expose” themselves by leaving clues behind of scout hiding places and encampments, ultimately leading terrorist troops into deathtraps.
While Rhodesia ultimately fell to the Zimbabwe African National Union, the Selous Scouts remain a monumental example in the world of anti-terrorist operations and helped write the book on being operator AF.
By the 1970’s, the Rhodesian Security Forces were facing a growing and determined insurgency in the civil war known as the “Rhodesian Bush War.” Faced with increased threats, manpower and equipment shortages, and a large territory to cover, they needed a new tactic to deal effectively with rebel groups. This led the Rhodesian Light Infantry to the development of the fireforce, a vertical envelopment technique involving light infantry, helicopters, and paratroopers in a rapidly deployable posture.
A fireforce was equipped with four helicopters, one C-47 Dakota transport aircraft, and a light attack aircraft. The helicopters were of two types; the K-Car and the G-Car. The K-Car was so called because it was the ‘killer’ with its 20mm cannon and functioned as the command and control aircraft. The G-Cars served as gunships with machine guns and as transports for heliborne troops, though they were only capable of carrying four combat loaded troops at a time. The unit was also supported by vehicles, called the ‘Landtail’ that supported the deployment of the airborne component. Weapons were standard for Africa at the time – FN FALs and FN MAG machine guns.
A unit set to a fireforce mission was distinctly organized from standard infantry units. Instead of fire teams, squads, and platoons, the Fire Force was composed of ‘waves’ that were broken down into stops, also known as sticks, each consisting of four men, due to the space constraints on the G-Cars. Each stop had a stick leader, machine gunner, and two riflemen, one of which was also trained as a medic. The fireforce airborne component was composed of eight stops. Stops one through three were assigned to the G-Cars while stops four through eight were assigned as paratroopers. These forces, along with the light attack aircraft, constituted the first wave. The remaining men assigned to the fireforce were in vehicles as the ‘Landtail,’ or second wave.
There were three main fireforce units located at three bases throughout the country, ready to respond to a contact or sighting of enemy forces by the Selous Scouts. That’s when the excitement began. Once contact was reported, a siren would sound alerting the fireforce. The first three stops would board helicopters while the rest would quickly don parachutes with the help of off-duty team members. The airborne component would rush to the objective where the fireforce commander would determine a drop zone and position the heliborne stops to encircle the rebels. Once on the ground, the stops would attempt to stop the enemy. They would act as blocking positions for the sweep element, usually paratroopers, creating the classic hammer and anvil movement. Combined with circling gunships and close-air support, this method proved deadly effective, resulting in a kill ratio of better than 80:1.
The fireforce became the primary tactic of the Rhodesian security forces. By 1977, all infantrymen would be trained as paratroopers. While on a ‘bush trip’ – usually lasting about six weeks – the men on a fireforce would rotate between heliborne insertion, paratrooper, landtail, and off-duty. After a bush trip, the men were given ten days rest before returning to the field. This allowed for a very high ops tempo. As the fireforce was perfected and the insurgency gained strength, this meant that Rhodesian soldiers were called on more and more to conduct missions. In his book Fireforce: One Man’s War in the Rhodesian Light Infantry Chris Cocks tells of men making three combat jumps in a single day. This led to a truly staggering number of jumps for many members of the Rhodesian Light Infantry, unmatched by any other unit in the world.
The fireforce was not enough to keep the Rhodesians from losing the war and the method was never adopted by other militaries. The French had used paratroopers extensively in Indochina while the Americans preferred to use only helicopters. With Rhodesia turning over to majority African control and becoming Zimbabwe, the Rhodesian Light Infantry and fireforces were disbanded. Though it would go down in history as one of the most effective counter-insurgency forces ever conceived.
Every now and then, the pricks known as ‘Blue Falcons’ come and ruin things for everyone else. They break the rules and make everyone else suffer. They rat out their brothers- and sisters-in-arms. They even damage the reputation of others to make themselves look better.
Blue Falcons (also known as Buddy F*ckers) are the most hated people within the military. But as much hate as these troops get from others, most of the time, it’s not done on purpose. Even if they do it with the best of intentions, when a troop f*cks over their buddies, they’re a Blue Falcon and will receive hate accordingly.
Just what everyone wants to do right before they were supposed to get out of there…
(Photo by Capt. John Farmer)
Reminding the chain of command anything before close-out formation
Every Friday afternoon, every troop looks to their clock, counting down the minutes. The weekend is to begin just as soon as the weekend safety brief is done. Then, the Blue Falcon chimes in with something like, “weren’t we supposed to be helping in the motor pool today?”
Okay, so it’s not always as obvious as that — that’s actively being a Blue Falcon. Most of the time, it’s something small like, “man, I can’t wait until me and my buddy Jones go out drinking tonight!” The platoon sergeant hears this and remembers Jones is in second platoon, which reminds him that second platoon is doing lay-outs because First Sergeant said so.
And the military tends to use a sledgehammer-sized solution for a nail-sized problem.
(Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class William Cousins)
Making a mistake and saying “but we didn’t know that”
When troops mess up and accept responsibility for their actions, they get their wrists slapped, take their punishment, and move on. No one’s perfect and the chain of command knows this (even if they like to pretend otherwise).
Blue Falcons who try to cover their tracks and hide behind ignorance might get a pass if they genuinely do not know better. This, in turn, forces the chain of command to verify that everyone knows what the Blue Falcon did was wrong.
You really can’t tell when dental appointments end. Best to assume it’s all day unless you know for sure.
(Photo by Lance Cpl. Ricardo Davila)
Telling the truth when silence is better
Honesty is a well-respected quality in a subordinate. If something is wrong, it’s great to have someone who tells the truth and speaks out to correct problems. This becomes an issue, however, if the problem isn’t that big of a deal and it involves others in the unit.
Now, don’t get this twisted. Speak out if you ever see something unsafe, criminal, or unbecoming of a service-member. But if it’s something like, “when did Sgt. Jones say that his dental appointment would end?” You don’t need to answer and screw him over. Just shrug.
Seriously. If you must fulfill your cactus-destroying urges, do it in New Mexico.
Breaking some bizzare, off-the-wall law that nobody knows about
Certain laws are pounded into everyone’s head at every safety brief. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t physically or sexually assault anyone. Don’t do dumb sh*t. And every now and then, the commander needs to brief the entire unit because one person screwed up.
Let’s pretend that a soldier stationed at Fort Huachuca, Arizona accidentally destroys a saguaro cactus. That’s actually a 25-year prison sentence. If one troop screws up and gets charged, the commander must throw “don’t destroy cacti” into their weekly safety brief and everyone else has to sit and listen.
At least with “Soldier of the Whenever” boards, just attending is good enough.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. John Etheridge)
Going above and beyond what’s required
Every leader wants their unit to be the best possible unit, both for bragging rights and for pride. When one troop does amazing work, they’re showered with praise rarely given in the military. Most troops strive to be the best they can give to earn praise and accolades. BZ! Good job! Keep up the good work!
The problem comes when leaders see how great one troop is and questions why the rest aren’t at that same level. This tip isn’t meant to discourage everyone from trying hard, it’s meant for leaders who try to push unrealistic expectations.
The myth states that when hearing 153.0 Hz at a thunderous volume, your guts will shake to the point where you can’t control your bowels. Jaime Hyneman and Adam Savage of “MythBusters” busted this all the way back in 2005.
Savage, who conducted the test, felt the long waves vibrating through him and it felt awkward. Yet, the show concludes that a sound alone couldn’t make you crap your pants.
“Even with the help of some of the world’s best audio technicians, the MythBusters just couldn’t produce the brown note,” concludes the narrator, Robert Lee.
There is no way to literally shake the sh*t out of you with sound. That we know of.
However, this isn’t the only time anyone conceived of and developed sound as a weapon.
The use of sound weapons has been a concept that has been in development stage since 1944. Currently, the military and law enforcement both use the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD). The LRAD is a non-lethal loud speaker that works more as a mass notification system than a weapon.
Sound has more of a psychological effect than physical. Instead of a specific frequency, it’s songs that have a long history in psychological warfare.
In the Vietnam War, troops played “Ghost Tape Number Ten.” They would blast it from helicopters and loudspeakers at the dead of night in deep in the jungle. The tape played funeral music and heavy-distorted voices that sound like ghosts.
In Vietnamese, the “ghost” would say eerie things such as “My friend, I come back to tell you I am dead,” and “Go home, my friend, before it’s too late.”
Bob DeFord really wanted to fly one of the iconic Spitfire airplanes that saved England from Nazi invasion during the Battle of Britain, but the things can sell for millions of dollars at auction, even in rough condition.
So instead he worked with a small group of friends for eight years and created a full-scale Spitfire Mk. IX, the plane that gave British pilots a better chance against the feared Focke-Wulf 190.
DeFord’s creation isn’t a perfect replica. The wings and some other parts are wood where the true Mk. IXs are metal, and the engine is an Allison V-1710 instead of the Merlin 60.
But for what amounts to a flying model, DeFord’s piece is amazingly accurate. The distinct Spitfire wings are properly shaped and a rear-view mirror, improvised from a soup ladle and a car mirror, sits over the cockpit in a nearly picture-perfect imitation of the real thing.
The rear-view mirror cost DeFord an estimated $12 — not bad when original mirrors from World War II sell for $300.
There are even stand-ins for the four 20mm cannons that gave the Spitfire its deadly punch.
DeFord tells his story in the video below. Cut to 3:09 to see the bird in flight:
The cacao seed was used as currency in pre-colonial times to trade for goods and services. It’s a little hard to imagine that the deceptively simple bean that comes out of the Theobroma Cacao tree could have a value greater than gold. Yet, when you consider the indigenous creation myth across various Mesoamerican cultures, you can see why it was held in high esteem.
Food of the Gods
Behind the fruit there are reasons that made it especially valuable at the time. In mythology “his arrival” is attributed to Quetzalcóatl. The story goes that he brought it to earth to show men a food that was not disdained by the gods.
Diego Perez, Editor, Dinero en Imagen
For the European settlers engaging in trade, nothing could be more advantageous: trade goods for chocolate and sell it across the Atlantic to the aristocracy at a high price. To the traders from Spain, England, Italy and the American colonies, cacao was in high demand, and since it was also a currency, money literally grew on trees.
The word cacao means “food of the gods.” At 50,000 years old, it is one of the oldest words in the world. Its origins stem from South America and travel into Central America up to Mexico. It was consumed as a drink by the Aztec nobility and was a universal currency across North, Central and South America. Theoretically, if you could travel in the Americas, the cacao would have been the Dollar of the ancient world.
Growing cacao today is a challenge, but was even more so in pre-colonial times. Cacao plantations are small operations of up to five acres to prevent the spread of disease and pests. However, the plant is very sensitive and growers are mentally prepared to lose their whole crop yield – because it happens often. Hazards like too much wind or too much water can kill trees younger than two years old.
Many varieties of cacao exist, and they can be grouped into three general divisions: forastero, criollo, and trinitario. Forastero varieties are most commonly used in commercial production, whereas criollo varieties are very susceptible to disease and are not widely grown. Trinitario is a hybrid of the forastero and criollo varieties and produces a flavourful bean that is used in high-quality dark chocolate.
L. Russell Cook, President, Chocolate and Confectionery Division, W.R. Grace & Company, New York City, 1965–73. Author of Chocolate Production and Use
For the first five years of their lives, the flowers and budding cacao seeds are trimmed. This is done to ensure the most nutrients and energy are used to grow and strengthen the tree. It is at this five-year mark when the seed pods can be harvested. When harvesting the cacao pods workers cut them off instead of ripping them off. The pods will grow again during the next season in the same location, so harvesters are careful to cause as little damage to the branches as possible.
The tree is also susceptible to pests such as the broad mite, flower-eating caterpillars, helopeltis and the yellow peach moth. Growers must trim excess branches and leaves to make sure it is as healthy as possible and energy isn’t diverted from essential areas. All of this, frankly, is a pain in the a** even with today’s technology, so one can appreciate how valuable the seeds were before modern agricultural practices.
Another benefit of the cacao seed as currency was that since it was biodegradable, it prevented hyperinflation by disintegrating after one year or so. However, the seeds are bulky and can get destroyed by accident when transported over long distances.
What could you buy with cacao seeds?
1 bean equals one tamale, large sapote fruit, or 20 small tomatoes.
3 beans equals a turkey egg or an avocado
3 beans equals one fish in a maize husk
30 beans equals a small rabbit
100 beans equals a female turkey or a rabbit
120 beans for shrunken beans
200-300 beans a male turkey
Additionally, in Mayan civilization you could buy:
The 6th Marine Regiment color guard marches towards the parade field at Aisne-Marne American Memorial Cemetery in Belleau, France, May 29, 2016. The ceremony marks the 98th anniversary of the Battle of Belleau Wood and continues as a symbol of the everlasting brotherhood between the U.S. Marines and the French military. The cemetery, lined with epitaphs, marks hundreds of plots where military members from all around the world rest after giving the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Photo/Preston McDonald
I nearly died just days after arriving in Iraq. This was my first deployment and although I had never seen combat, I was a well-trained, physically fit, mentally prepared Marine. None of that mattered when a grenade landed near us. Luckily, we all walked away. That first patrol seemed like a blur at the time but years later the memory is still scarred into my brain, like a small burn on a child’s hand. It’s not about what happened that day but the reminder of what could have.
That reminder came just days after I returned home. One of my fellow Marines, a friend, was killed by a sniper’s bullet, then, another fell from a roof and died, and yet another lost his legs in an IED attack. I had survived months without a scratch but my friends who were just as well-trained were killed and injured within a week. My brain couldn’t understand the logic of what happened … because there is no logic in war.
You don’t get to pick where the bullet goes, you just have to face it. Since the founding of the United States, thousands of men and women have stared down our enemies. Many have paid the ultimate sacrifice and are still buried on the battlefields where they said their last words.
Sunrise in Section 35 of Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, Oct. 25, 2018. (U.S. Army photo by Elizabeth Fraser/ Arlington National Cemetery / released)
Today, the living reminder of the fallen remains in places like Gettysburg, Arlington National Cemetery and Aisne-Marne, France. Over 100 years before I stepped foot into Iraq, thousands of Marines patrolled the forests of Belleau Wood. They were all that stood to protect Paris, and the war effort, from a German assault. Outnumbered, isolated and low on ammunition, they fought and held the line. Their tenacity in battle earned them the name “Teufel Hunden” or “Devil Dogs” by the Germans. This is a name that Marines proudly still use today.
In battle, words matter. “Covering fire” has a completely different meaning than “take cover.” “Fix” is different from “flank” and so on. In peace, words matter even more. When we think of war in terms of winning and losing, we not only do ourselves the disservice of simplifying the chaos of battle but we negate the reminder that the fallen give us.
A Sailor assigned to Special Operations Task Force West folds an American flag during a memorial marking the anniversary of the death of Petty Officer 2nd Class Tyler Trahan, an explosive ordnance disposal technician. Trahan was killed in action April 30, 2009 in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. U.S. Navy photo/Aaron Burden
While war may have a clear victor, there are no winners on the battlefield. The gravestones, memorials and scars – both physical and invisible – that veterans carry are the reminders of that.
We are the land of the free because of the brave. Countless men and women have raised their hand to serve our country with nothing expected in return. As it’s said, “All gave some, some gave all.” The very least we can give those who paid the ultimate price is to honor their memory, acknowledge their unyielding patriotism and cherish their last great act with awe and humility, for they willingly gave their lives in service of our great nation.
The Navy’s newest destroyer, USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000), broke down while transiting the Panama Canal and is now pierside at the former Rodman Naval Station awaiting repairs. The destroyer suffered what USNI News reports as “minor cosmetic damage” as a result of the engineering failure.
According to the USNI News report, the destroyer’s engineering casualty was caused by water induction in bearing for the ship’s Advanced Induction Motors, which are driven by the ship’s gas turbines, and which generate the electric power to turn the two shafts on the vessel. The Advanced Induction Motors also provide electrical power for the ship’s systems.
The water induction caused both shafts to stop, and the Zumwalt had to receive assistance from tugboats to complete its transit of the canal. The vessel had mechanical problems in September, prior to its commissioning on Oct. 15 of this year. In both the September incident and this one, the apparent cause seems to be leaks in the ship’s lube oil coolers. The destroyer also took a hit when the Long-Range Land Attack Projectile for its Advanced Gun Systems was cancelled due to rising costs.
The Zumwalt is not the only vessel to have had engineering problems. Since late 2015, at least five Littoral Combat Ships have also had engineering issues, and the Navy’s new aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), has had trouble with its flight systems, including the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG), the weapons elevators and the ship’s radar systems, including the AN/SPY-3 radar.
USS Zumwalt is slated to remain in Panama for ten days while the repairs are affected. It will then head to San Diego, where it will spend most of next year spinning up its weapon systems. In addition to the Advanced Gun Systems, the destroyer also has two Mk 44 30mm Bushmaster chain guns, and twenty four-cell Mk 57 vertical-launch systems (VLS). The ship can also carry two MH-60 helicopters.
Two sister ships to USS Zumwalt, USS Michael Monsoor (DDG 1001) and USS Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG 1002), are under construction. The class was originally planned to consist of 32 ships.
To say that Amber Smith comes from a military family is an understatement. Her great-grandfather was in World War I, her grandfather was in World War II, and her father was a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne. Both of her parents were pilots. Both of her sisters are military pilots.
Her parents’ love of flying sparked her interest, and she started flying private planes at a young age. As she got older she started considering a career in aviation, specifically military aviation. Then in 2003, she was introduced to a future she didn’t know was possible.
“I talked to the Marines, I talked to the Air Force, and I talked to the Navy because I didn’t even know the Army had aviation,” Smith says. “I grew up in fixed wings. Never once did the thought of helicopters cross my mind.”
The other three branches told her the same thing: get a college degree and then come talk. But Smith just wanted to join the military as an aviator. When she spoke to the Army they told her could still be a pilot, just flying helicopters instead of planes. Smith’s experience as a civilian pilot allowed her to join before finishing her degree through the Warrant Officer Flight Training Program.
While still in college and before joining the Army, Smith met her parents at an air show where helicopter rides were offered. She hopped in to see if a helicopter was really something she wanted.
“I went on this helicopter flight and I was immediately hooked,” she remembers. “I was like, ‘this is for me. I love it!’ I didn’t even want planes anymore, give me a helicopter.”
After basic training and Warrant Officer Candidate School, she went to flight school where she met her bird: the OH58 Kiowa Warrior Helicopter. The Kiowa Warrior is a light attack reconnaissance helicopter; a two-seater carrying a fifty cal machine gun and 7-shot 2.75 in (70 mm) Hydra-70 rocket pods, configurable for Hellfire missiles.
“I loved my time flying the Kiowa,” Smith recalls. “I knew that was the best and most bad ass flying I would ever do in my life.”
Her mission was direct support for ground forces, looking for IEDs, providing aerial security for convoys, and responding to troops in combat (TICs). Smith deployed with her unit, the 101st Airborne Division, to Iraq from 2005, where she made Pilot in Command. She went to Afghanistan in 2008, where she made Air Mission Commander, seeing combat in a combat arms role years before the ban on women in combat ended.
“Before they lifted the restriction, aviation was the only branch within what was called Combat Arms – now it’s maneuvers, fire, and effects – but it was the only Combat Arms branch that allowed women,” Smith says.
Her views on women in combat is simple: there needs to be a mission standard, not a gender standard.
“As long as the standards remain the exact same as today, I think women should be given the opportunity to try it,” Smith says. “I don’t believe in quotas or lowering standards but I don’t think it should matter if you’re a man or a woman. If you can do the job and contribute to the mission that’s what matters.”
The Army’s proposed integration plan includes first adding female officers to leadership roles within combat units. Amber Smith think it’s a smart move but the plan for and acceptance of women in combat jobs will take time.
“Reducing the standards creates resentment,” she says. “When I got to my unit in 2004, women were very rare in the Kiowa Warrior community. I worked very hard to do my job and contribute to the mission. As soon as they realized that, I was a part of the team.”
Smith left the military in 2010, but while she was in, she completed a Bachelor’s in Professional Aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. After transitioning, she earned her Master of Science in Safety, Security, and Emergency Management with a specialization in Homeland Security from Eastern Kentucky University.
While in graduate school, she noticed that too often the media lacked a credible veteran’s point of view.
“It’s important the American people need to hear the perspective of people who have been on the operational side of national security,” she says. “People who have been to war and have seen the enemy everyone talks about on TV every day.”
Smith started a blog and got published wherever she could. Within three months, the calls for television appearances started. Her career just took off from there. She just completed her first book, Danger Close: One’s Woman’s Epic Journey as a Combat Helicopter Pilot in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“2015 was the year of my book,” Smith says. “I wrote it myself, I didn’t have a ghostwriter or anything. I wanted to preserve my voice. The Kiowa Warrior is an incredibly effective tool on the battlefield, essential in the two theaters of war. Nobody knows about it, all anybody knows about is the Apache. So I want people to know who we are and what we did.”
Smith is now a Senior Fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and Senior Military Advisor for Concerned Veterans for America. She is also a writer and television commentator on national security issues, foreign policy, and military operations. She regularly appears on Fox News, Fox Business, CNN, and MSNBC.
The last place anyone would expect to watch the Blue fight the Gray in Civil War combat is the fields of Western Europe. After all, they have centuries full of historical battles of their own to re-enact for the delight of families, students, and amateur historians alike. Yet, Civil War re-enactors bring those historical battles to life again and again.
Hundreds of re-enactors come from Poland, Italy, France, and Canada to take part in the spectacle. Like any good re-enactor in the United States, the actors are sure to keep all of their clothing, gear, and weapons in good shape – and to make sure they’re historically authentic (as authentic as they can be, fighting the American Civil War in Europe). After all, no one wants to be known as a “Farb” around these dedicated troopers.
After all, re-enactors are a dedicated group. The more historically accurate they are in movement, fighting, and dress, the more enjoyment everyone gets from the actor recreating the event. Onlookers learn more about history as well.
Union troops advance on a Confederate position.
The Europeans who are enthusiastic about the battles are no less dedicated than any American re-enactor. They’ve been to the U.S., they’ve visited the battle sites, they’ve seen the uniforms up close. Many of these soldiers have every detail accurate, right down to the last button.
In the recreation in the video above, the 1864 Battle of Bethesda Church, the Europeans are recreating a real European battalion, recruited from immigrants to the United States. But the battle they’re recreating isn’t the only one they do year after year. Every year they come to recreate a different battle, often from a different year of the war. The battles last for days, and the field commanders often determine the outcomes.
Unlike in the actual Civil War, however, these days end with beer and sausages shared between the two groups.