But there were other heroic deeds during the attack.
According to the 9/11 Commission report, when word reached North American Aerospace Command, also known as NORAD, of the first hijacking, two F-15 Eagles from the Massachusetts Air National Guard were scrambled to try to intercept the planes. They took off just as Flight 11 hit the North Tower – WTC 1 – at 8:53 AM on that Tuesday morning.
NORAD had last dealt with a hijacking in 1993. One thing that worked against NORAD during that terrible day was the fact that that there were very few sites from which interceptors could launch.
During the Cold War, the 9/11 Commission Report noted, there had been 26 sites.
Other military jets — F-15s from the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton Virginia, and F-16s from the District of Colombia Air National Guard based at Andrews Air Force Base — had also scrambled. Pilots from the latter unit were armed only with dummy rounds for their M61 Vulcan 20mm cannon.
The F-15 pilots, according to the commission report, didn’t even know they were looking for hijacked airliners. The lead pilot would later be quoted in the report as saying, “I reverted to the Russian threat. …I’m thinking cruise missile threat from the sea.”
It as a credit to NORAD, that even though they were unable to keep the airliners from hitting targets, military personnel were able to face an unprecedented threat and challenge with an improvised air-defense system cobbled together in a matter of hours, despite having never trained to face that threat.
On the first day of what one unidentified officer called “a new type of war,” they reacted with skill and professionalism.
War correspondent Sebastian Junger, most famous for his documentaries “Restrepo” and “Korengal” that followed paratroopers in the Korengal Valley, has teamed up with Nick Quested to create a new documentary with National Geographic detailing the hell that is life in ISIS-controlled territory.
“Hell on Earth: The Fall of Syria and the Rise of ISIS” is cut together from over 1,000 hours of footage, most of it filmed inside the so-called caliphate.
This 13-minute teaser tells the story of families trying to escape, at first with smugglers and then on their own when their smuggler is caught by ISIS.
(Be warned that some of the images in the documentary are disturbing)
Previous reporting has shown how ISIS maintains control in its territory, how it makes its money, and how it recruits and deploys fighters.
None of it is good.
Torture and public executions are used to keep populations cowed, and money is raised through debilitating taxes, sex slavery, robbery, and other pursuits. And its fighters are recruited through international networks and then deployed at half pay or less, often as undertrained frontline fighters that amount to little more than human shields.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) works on some very outlandish projects. One of its stated mission goals is to cause “technological surprise” for America’s enemies. Basically, they want enemy fighters to get to the battlefield, look at what they’re facing off against, and go, “What the hell?”
These are the DARPA projects that make that a reality.
1. Airships that can haul 2 million pounds of gear
Yeah, they’re back. DARPA’s attempt at new airships was scrapped in 2006 due to technology shortcomings, but the project was revived in 2013. The goal is for a craft that can carry up to two million pounds halfway around the world in five days. This would allow units to quickly deploy with all of their gear. Tank units would be left out though, unless they suddenly had a …
2. A super-fast lightweight vehicle that drives itself
The Ground X-Vehicle looks like a spider mated with a four-wheeler. Troops could directly control it or simply select a destination and focus on the intel the vehicle provides. Either way, the vehicle would decide how to deal with incoming attacks, ducking, sidestepping, or absorbing them as necessary.
3. Aerial platforms that allow drones to land and refuel
Flying platforms for landing and fueling drones would keep the U.S. drone program well ahead of its enemies, especially combined with the project to have drones fight as a pack. Hopefully these will be more successful than the last airborne carriers the military made.
4. Robots that gather intel and eat plants for fuel
The unmanned ground vehicle programs at DARPA want a UGV that could conduct reconnaissance indefinitely without needing to be refueled. The Energy Autonomous Tactical Robot will do that by eating plants and converting them to energy. It would also be able to steal enemy fuel when necessary.
5. Remote-controlled bugs that spy on the bad guys
Basically, remote control bugs that provide power to sensor backpacks. DARPA has already implanted control devices into pupae (insects transitioning into adults) and created electrical generators that use the insects movements for power. Now, they just have to couple those technologies with tiny sensors and find a way to make them communicate with each other and an operator who would collect intelligence from the insects.
6. Cameras that can see from every angle
DARPA isn’t sure yet how this would work, but they’re looking for ways to use the plenoptic function to create a sensor that can see an area from every angle. Though it would work differently, this would give capabilities like Jack Black has in “Enemy of the State.”
7. Nuclear-powered GPS trackers
Don’t worry, the nuclear material is for determining velocity, not powering anything or exploding. The military has trouble directing vehicles and missiles in areas where GPS signals might be blocked or scrambled, like when submarines are underwater. Chip-Scale Combinatorial Atomic Navigator (C-SCAN) is very technical, but it would allow precise navigation without a GPS signal by precisely measuring atoms from nuclear decay.
8. Brain implants that could hold the key to defeating post-traumatic stress.
Strictly for therapy, DARPA promises. The idea may be a little unsettling, but SUBNETS (Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies) would allow electrical currents in the brain to be mapped and then altered. This could be a major breakthrough for PTSD and traumatic brain injury sufferers.
9. Pathogens that fight back against enemy biological weapons.
One of the emerging threats to U.S. operations is biological weapons using antibiotic resistant bacteria. DARPA wants to nip it in the bud before an enemy can cause massive infections to American forces or civilians. To do so, they’re investigating pathogens that could be cultured and deployed in victims of attacks. These killers would seek out the bacteria wreaking havoc and murder it on a microscopic level.
Dude, your enemy sucks. I don’t know who they are (is it ISIS? Are you fighting ISIS right now?), but they’re really dangerous and I’m pretty sure they just said something untoward about your mother. It’s time to take out most of the leadership in one fell swoop by hitting their headquarters.
But how do you blow up an entire castle/fortress/tent (again, I don’t know who your enemies are. Nazi Germans? They liked castles…)? Here are seven plans that will always work, but you may want to pack some ear plugs. Spoiler alert: there will be explosions:
1. Cruise missile to the face
You still have at least three days of killing the enemies’ goons before you can get inside the building to send them to their makers, but all the leadership may flee before you arrive. What should you do?
Time for a cruise missile. These bad boys fly at low levels below most radar coverage, turning and winding their way through mountain passes and other obstacles until they reach their target. Once they arrive, they’re going to “disrupt” the headquarters pretty hard.
2. Sustained artillery barrage
Of course, if you’ve already gotten your forces close to the enemy headquarters, it can be fun to put on the world’s most lethal fireworks show and all-percussion concert. Just give your artillerymen a few minutes warning, and they’ll be ready to orchestrate a masterpiece.
3. Bombing mission
If you already own the airspace (which, with the F-22, is likely), then you can get all the pyrotechnics of a cruise missile strike at a fraction of the cost per weapon. Just send a few fighters to keep your bombers and ground attack planes safe and let nature take its course.
Warheads on foreheads.
4. Close combat air/close air support
The Warthog in all her glory. Sorry, sorry–the Thunderbolt II. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)
If you realize that the castle/fortress/tent is a headquarters only at the last minute, you may not have time to do the full integration and planning needed for a standard bombing mission. All of a sudden, that JTAC in your unit stops being the butt of all those Air Force jokes and starts being the answer to your prayers.
The JTAC will tell all those nearby air assets where the guys who need to die are, where the nearest friendlies are, and from what angle you will be filming them for the YouTube video. The pilots will take care of the rest.
5. Clear the HQ with infantry, then let the engineers go nuts
No air assets at all? Feel like you didn’t coordinate this attack very well but now isn’t the time for armchair generals. Let the infantry run wild and take the building by force. You won’t get the immediate satisfaction of an air strike, but the combat engineers come with the grunts and are pretty good at destroying literally anything. Expect your C4 stock to fall low very suddenly.
Of course, if your infantry is carrying enough missiles and mortars, you may not need the engineers.
6. Tanks at close range
Hey, if you brought a bunch of armored beasts with 120mm cannons on the front, you know what to do. High explosive rounds are the obvious choice for the mission, but this writer humbly suggests trying canister shot. It takes longer and there’s no tactical advantage, but watching the building get chewed up by a constant barrage of steel balls would be pretty entertaining.
7. Screw it–hit it with nukes
Is the building too thick for canister shot? And high explosive rounds? And bunker busters and artillery and engineers? Oh well. Time for the ultimate trump card. Just be sure to accurately measure the effects of any lithium included in the mix. That stuff can quickly ruin your day at the beach.
Emergency rescue workers on Friday continued their search for four soldiers who went missing after their truck overturned in a rain-swollen creek at Fort Hood, an official said.
Five soldiers died in the vehicle accident at the sprawling Texas base and three others were rescued and taken to an Army medical center, where they were listed in stable condition and expected to be released later in the day.
That’s according to Maj. Gen. John Uberti, deputy commanding general III Corps and Fort Hood, who held a press conference Friday morning in front of a main gate to the base, one of the service’s largest installations and home to more than 41,000 active-duty soldiers.
“Our priority has been, since the first report of this incident and continues to be, the search for our four missing teammates,” Uberti said.
Due to the storm, commanders were in the process of closing roads on the post on Thursday when a 2.5-ton truck known as a Light Medium Tactical Vehicle overturned in a fast-flowing creek during a training exercise, according to The Associated Press. The flatbed truck is regularly used to carry troops.
The portion of road on the northern edge of the base near Owl Creek where the truck overturned hadn’t flooded in previous storms, Fort Hood spokesman Chris Haug told reporters, according to AP. A “swift-water rescue call” came in around 11:20 a.m. local time.
Three bodies were recovered during initial rescue operations and two more were located later in the night. The Army hasn’t yet identified the victims, pending notification of next of kin.
The four missing soldiers were from the 3rd Battalion, 16th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. The search for them continues and involves ground, air and dog teams from base, local and state agencies.
“I’d also like to thank the many emergency services personnel, not only Fort Hood emergency services, but the state and local community emergency services personnel who have so willingly come forward and have professionally been searching for our soldiers,” Uberti said.
The base’s Directorate of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation and the American Red Cross are accepting donations to assist Fort Hood families affected by the tragedy. For more information, call the center at Fort Hood Family Assistance Center at (254) 288-7570 or (866) 836-2751 or contact the Red Cross at (254) 200-4400.
The focus of the operation, “was to go after al-Qaida-related targets in the area, and there was an indication that there may have been a hostage being held with them,” U.S. Army Brig. Gen Charles Cleveland told the AP. “So it was a nice surprise to get that.”
Gillani and his father are members of the Pakistan People’s Party, a group which has sponsored and led several major offensives aimed at Islamic militants.
Gillani was originally kidnapped in May 2013 while campaigning for the Punjab provincial assembly. Pakistani leaders are often threatened or attacked by the Pakistani Taliban, especially if the leaders are perceived as likely to threaten the Taliban.
The kidnappers had been attempting to negotiate the release of several high-profile al-Qaeda prisoners in exchange for Gillani’s safe return.
Gillani was flown to Bagram for medical evaluation and is scheduled to return to Pakistan once cleared by doctors.
Pentagon budgets are shrinking (or growing at a smaller rate than they had during the previous few decades). And while there’s not a lot of money to procure new weapons systems, the threats to the nation aren’t going away. The U.S. military still has a job to do. There are no bucks, but the American public still expects Buck Rogers.
Here are six improvements — “tweaks,” if you will — to existing platforms that would improve military readiness without breaking the increasingly small bank:
1. An internal gun for the F-35B/C variants of the Lightning II
The Air Force’s F-35A has a gun — the GAU-22, a 25mm Gatling Gun, with 182 rounds. The GAU-22 is based off the AV-8B’s GAU-12, and it gives the F-35A an offensive edge. But the F-35B and F-35C don’t have an internal gun (only a gun pod with 220 rounds).
The same situation existed with the F-4 Phantom – probably America’s first real joint strike fighter, which saw action during the Vietnam War with the Air Force, Navy, and Marines. As Navy ace (and convicted congressional felon) Randy Cunningham noted in his memoir, Fox Two, the lack of a gun cost him kills.
2. The Penguin anti-ship missile for the MH-60R Seahawk
This chopper is an advanced version of the SH-60B. Equipped with a choice of lightweight torpedo (either Mk 46, Mk 50, or Mk 54), and Hellfire missiles, it serves as additional eyes and ears for surface combatants. But the Hellfire has only a 20-pound warhead and a range of about five nautical miles.
The SH-60B, though, had the Penguin anti-ship missile. This weapon had a 265-pound warhead and a range of 15 nautical miles. In other words, it can handle bigger targets – and would be very useful additions to the MH-60R’s arsenal.
3. More bomb capacity for the B-1B Lancer
While the B-1B already has the largest bombload of any American combat plane, it could have even more. Presently, it has a bomb bay that can hold 84 Mk 82 500-pound bombs. The venerable B-52 can only carry 51 such bombs. In other words, the B-1 can deliver about 60 percent more hurt to the bad guys.
But it could be even more. The B-1B, when designed, had the capability to carry up to 14 cruise missiles or 44 more Mk 82s on external pylons. Restoring those external pylons would give the B-1 50 percent more firepower.
4. Harpoon launchers for the Flight IIA and III Arleigh Burke-class destroyers
While the Flight IIA and Flight III Arleigh Burke-class destroyers are very capable vessels in anti-air warfare and anti-sub warfare. But the earlier Flight I and Flight II versions of this destroyer have something the later ships don’t: A pair of Mk 141 launchers for Harpoon anti-ship missiles. Boeing’s latest version of the Harpoon has a range of 130 nautical miles and a 300-pound warhead. The Mk 141 launchers don’t take up a lot of space, and it never hurts to have more anti-ship firepower as China and Russia are adding modern ships to their naval arsenals.
5. Laser-guided bombs for the B-2 Spirit
What more could you want on America’s most advanced bomber in service? The B-2 Spirit has stealth technology and the ability to deliver precision-guided weapons including the AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, as well as nuclear weapons – excuse me, “special stores.” It’s also expensive – a flyaway cost of just over $700 million per plane caused the production run to stop at 21 airframes.
That said, they have a couple of gaps in their capabilities. All of the B-2’s weapons are either dumb bombs or GPS-guided. So, perhaps the best upgrade they could get would be to give the B-2 the ability to drop laser-guided bombs like the GBU-24 and to use Harpoon anti-ship missiles and the Standoff Land-Attack Missile, giving them more options to target ships like the Chinese Type 52C destroyer.
6. Bushmaster cannon for the M1126/M1127 Stryker
The Stryker’s proven itself in combat operations during Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. The M1126 and M1127 have a remote weapons station that can use an M2 heavy machine gun or a Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher.
But now, it could be asked to help fight Russian aggression against NATO allies. Here it has a problem. The Stryker is outgunned by the BMP-3 or BTR-90, Russia’s most modern infantry fighting vehicles. The former has a 100mm gun and a 30mm coaxial cannon. The latter has a 30mm cannon and an AT-5 Spandrel anti-tank missile.
So, to give the Stryker a better chance in a fight against the Russians, the best option would be to give it the same chain gun that the M2 and M3 Bradley Fighting Vehicles carry: the 25mm Bushmaster cannon.
These six weapons systems serve with our troops – and have done so with excellence. But some small improvements to each of them would give our troops even better odds on battlefields around the world.
The World War One Centennial Commission was created in January 2013 and is responsible for planning, developing, and executing programs to commemorate the centennial of World War I, including a national memorial to the soldiers who fought the war.
Unfortunately, none of the veterans of the Great War are alive today to see their honor, but despite bad weather, the Centennial Commission will formally announce the winning design team for the national World War I Memorial design competition on January 26, 2016.
Below are the five finalists for the memorial competition. Just click on the photo to get a closer look of the full-size proposal. The designs are open to public comment. Contact the World War I Centennial Commission here.
Concept 1: Plaza to the Forgotten War
Situated on a seam between the National Mall and the dense urbanity of downtown DC, the Plaza to the Forgotten War commemorates the service of World War I American Forces by creating a place that devotedly holds onto the memory of the tragic losses endured by the United States. The concept is simple, elegant and open with a strong and integrated form and meaning that reveals itself in layers. The memorial message is clear and there is great potential for the creation of an outstanding park. The field of lights presents a technological challenge that will need to be resolved and the Pershing Statue and walls will need to be integrated into the evolving design.
Concept 2: Grotto of Remembrance
The style of the monument is inspired by the time of the Great War. It is neoclassical in form and concept, the space and elements combine to create a narrative about the current condition and the historic precedent of monuments. The plan develops a strong park concept and includes a number of elements that add interest and focus. The challenge in evolving the design will be creating a sense of openness balanced against the enclosure of the central space, a continued evaluation of the scale of the elements, and relationships of non-traditional elements (like the grotto) with memorable historic forms.
Concept 3: The Weight of Sacrifice
A simple intervention of a platform into the existing landscape of Pershing Park provides a quietly elegant place within the park. Relocation of the walls and statue of the Pershing complex give new meaning to the individual elements. The result is an integral expression of park and memorial. The subtleness and art of the sculpted relief walls will enhance the narrative of the place—utilizing art as architecture. To execute a memorial and park that maintains the inherent elegance of the concept, a strong collaboration between designer and artist will be the key.
Concept 4: An American Family Portrait
The design concept is founded on paying tribute to the American men and women who participated in World War I through a memorial collage of photographs integrated into the park design. By seamlessly blending framed memories into the landscape, it provides an experience that is both park and memorial, open and inviting exploration. The park is organized by a northwest-southeast axis visually connecting it to the Capitol. While this concept has the potential of a truly unique park, the thematic, technical, and curatorial issues of the story boxes will require resolution. The statuary design, scale, and execution will need to be an integral part of the interpretive and memorial experience.
Concept 5: Heroes’ Green
The concept seamlessly blends memorial, park and garden into a new type of public space. There is a strong sense of movement through the space, balancing park-like qualities with memorial episodes and providing opportunities for integration of art as an integral part of the memorial experience. The sculptural landscape in itself is symbolic and will provide a welcome respite to the visitor. The inherent potential of “inventing” a new typology of civic space that works well as a memorial is the challenge.
The Marine Corps has announced today that revisions have been made to its physical fitness program, to include the Physical Fitness Test (PFT), Combat Fitness Test (CFT), and the Body Composition Program (BCP). Changes to BCP will take effect immediately, while PFT and CFT changes will be implemented starting Jan. 1, 2017.
The PFT changes are among the most profound since 1972 and the changes to the CFT standards are the first since its inception in 2009.
“Last November we began a comprehensive review of physical fitness and body composition standards,” said Gen. Robert B. Neller, the 37th Commandant of the Marine Corps. “Subsequent efforts focused on developing a physical fitness program that incentivizes behavior toward an end state of a healthy and fit force able to better answer the call in any clime and place.”
Immediate changes to the BCP include an increase in the height and weight standards for females, better equipment for determining height and weight for all Marines and the BCP waiver authority will be passed from the deputy commandant of Manpower and Reserve Affairs to the first general officer in a Marine’s chain of command.
The Marine Corps has taken physical performance into consideration when considering BCP. Marines scoring 285 and higher on both the PFT and CFT will now be exempt from height and weight standards. Marines who score between 250 and 284 will have their maximum body fat percentage increased by one percent.
So for example if a Marine has a maximum body fat percentage [of] 19 percent, with a score between 250 and 284 on both the PFT and CFT, he or she will be allowed to go up to 20 percent body fat.
Changes to the PFT include a pull-up/push-up hybrid for both males and females. This eliminates the option for the flex arm hang for females starting in January.
Although Marines can earn points by doing either of the exercises, the maximum amount of points a Marine can earn doing push-ups is 70 points versus 100 if they chose to do pull-ups. This means the highest PFT score a Marine can earn if they chose to do push-ups is 270. The primary benefits of incorporating the pull-up/push-up option for all Marines is that it incentivizes Marines to improve their pull-ups while ensuring gains of upper body strength across the force.
Marines will also have to complete more crunches for maximum score on their next PFT, with scoring being age and gender normed. There will be a slight adjustment to the three-mile run for Marines in high age brackets, too. The PFT and CFT age brackets will change from four age groups to eight. The new groups are as follows: 17-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40, 41-45, 46-50, and 51+.
Changes to the CFT will consist of adjusted scoring for all three events to correspond with the eight age brackets. The most drastic change will be with the ammo can lifts (ACL) where male Marines age 31-35 will have to complete 120 ACLs for a perfect score vice 97, and female Marines age 26-30 will have to complete 75 ACLs for a perfect score vice 63.
Another change to the CFT is all Marines will perform five push-ups instead of three push-ups during the maneuver under fire portion of the test.
“The new PFT and CFT standards raise the bar on physical fitness for all Marines,” said Maj. Gen. James W. Lukeman, commanding general, Training and Education Command. “Marines today are stronger, faster, and fitter than ever and these changes reflect that. Bigger and stronger often means heavier, so tying performance on the PFT and CFT to changes to the Body Composition Program are improvements that we think the Marines will appreciate. In the end, it’s all about improving the readiness and combat effectiveness of our Corps and the physical fitness of every Marine contributes to that.”
TECOM will monitor the effects of these adjustments for two years and then adjust if required to ensure the standards contribute to the effectiveness of the force.
Additional details, including the new PFT/CFT scoring tables, physical fitness training recommendations and BCP adjustments are available at: https://fitness.usmc.mil. Follow-on MARADMINS and instructional products will further address details of the changes and the associated Marine Corps Orders will be updated accordingly.
If a conflict in U.S. history ever came with baggage, it has to be the Vietnam War. Although the service and actions of the millions of Americans who fought in Southeast Asia have been slowly recognized, the unpopularity of the war at the time, and for many years after, left a scar in American society. This unpopularity also meant that extraordinary men and units, such as the Military Assistance Command Vietnam-Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG), have fallen through the cracks of America’s consciousness, and are only known to a few old comrades, their families, and a handful of military history enthusiasts.
The innocuous-sounding MACV-SOG is such an organization, although its obscurity also has to do with its highly secretive nature.
SOG operators pulled off some of the most impressive special operations of the entire war; including some that seemed to defy logic itself. As successive U.S. administrations claimed that no American troops were outside South Vietnam, several hundreds of special operations troops fought against all odds, and against an enemy who always enjoyed a numerical advantage that sometimes exceeded a ratio of 1:1000.
The most secret unit you’ve never heard of
Activated in 1964, MACV-SOG was a covert joint special operations organization that conducted cross-border operations in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and North Vietnam.
Composed of Army Special Forces operators, Navy SEALs, Recon Marines, and Air Commandos, SOG also worked closely with the Intelligence Community, often running missions at the request of the CIA.
During its eight-year secret war (1964-1972), SOG conducted some of the most daring special operations in U.S. history and planted the seed for the creation of the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).
SOG’s main battleground and focus was the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail, a complex stretching for hundreds of miles above and below ground, from North Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia into South Vietnam, which the North Vietnamese and Vietcong used to fuel their fight in the south.
What was peculiar about SOG operations was the fact that they happened where U.S. troops weren’t supposed to be. Successive U.S. administrations had insisted that no American troops were operating outside South Vietnam.
SOG commandos, thus, wore no name tags, rank, or any other insignia that might identify them as Americans. Even their weapons had no serial numbers.
Duty in SOG was voluntary and strictly confidential. SOG troops weren’t allowed to disclose their location, missions, or any other details surrounding their covert outfit and they couldn’t take photographs—like all good commandos. However, SOG broke that rule frequently, as the numerous pictures from the time suggest. But as far as the general public was concerned, they were each just another American soldier fighting Communism in Vietnam.
SOG was commanded by an Army colonel, called “Chief SOG,” reflecting the predominance of Green Berets in the organization, and divided into three geographical sections: Command and Control North (CCN), Command and Control Central (CCC), and Command and Control South (CCS).
Service in the unit was highly selective. Not only did it recruit solely from special operations units, but the inherent risk required that everyone had to be a volunteer. Approximately 3.2 million Americans served in Vietnam. Of that number, about 20,000 were Green Berets, of those, only 2,000 served in SOG, with just 400 to 600 running recon and direct action operations.
Service at SOG came with an unspoken agreement that you’d receive either a Purple Heart or body bag. SOG had a casualty rate of 100 percent—everyone who served in SOG was either wounded, most multiple times, or killed.
Our “Little People“
What enabled SOG operations was a steady supply of loyal and fierce local fighters who passionately hated the North Vietnamese—and sometimes each other. These local warfighters worked with the American commandos as mercenaries. The “Little People,” as the Americans affectionally called them, proved their worth on the field, against impossible odds time and again.
These local partner forces included Montagnards, South Vietnamese, and Chinese Nungs, among other tribes and ethnicities. Indeed, local mercenaries made up most of SOG recon teams and Hatchet Forces (more on them later). For example, most recon teams would run cross-border operations with between two and four Americans and four to nine local mercenaries. Locals had an uncanny ability—some SOG operators would say a sixth sense—to detect danger. This ability made them perfect point men during recon operations.
Usually, when launching a cross-border recon operation, SOG teams would enter a pre-mission “quarantine,” much like modern-day Army Special Forces operational detachments do before deploying. During this quarantine period, they would eat the same food as the North Vietnamese, that is mostly rice and fish, so they—and their human waste—could smell like the enemy while in the jungle.
Today, where pre-workout and energy drinks are borderline mandatory, even on active operations, such measures might sound extravagant. But in a moonless night, in the middle of the Cambodian jungle, surrounded by thousands of North Vietnamese trackers and troops, something as trivial-seeming as your smell could mean the difference between a SOG team getting wiped out or making it home.
The local troops, having a great understanding of the operational environment, were crucial in the survival of many SOG recon teams. When the war ended, some of them, such as the legendary “Cowboy,” managed to escape to the West and come to the U.S.
Death-defying special operations
SOG specialized mainly in strategic reconnaissance, direct-action, sabotage, and combat search-and-rescue.
Although SOG’s primary mission-set was strategic reconnaissance through its recon teams, it also specialized in direct-action operations, such as raids and ambushes. For these larger operations, there were different outfits within SOG.
The “Hatchet Forces” specialized in raids and ambushes, but also acted as a quick-reaction force for recon teams. Usually, Hatchet Forces were platoon-size and composed of five Americans and 30 indigenous troops. Sometimes, several Hatchet Forces would combine to create a company-size element, called either “Havoc” or “Hornet,” that could be very effective against known enemy logistical hubs or headquarters.
In addition to the Hatchet Forces, there were also the “SLAM” companies, standing for Search, Locate, Annihilate, Monitor/Mission, which were full-sized SOG companies with a few dozen Americans in leadership roles and a few hundred indigenous mercenaries who SOG had recruited.
The first SOG recon teams were called “Spike Teams” (ST), for example, ST Idaho, with the term “Recon Teams” (RT), for instance, RT Ohio, becoming more popular later in the war. Usually, SOG commandos named teams after U.S. States, but they also used other titles, such as “Bushmaster,” “Adder,” and “Viper.” The number of active recon teams fluctuated throughout the war, reflecting casualties and increasing demand. For example, at one point, CCC ran almost 30 recon teams.
Some notable SOG missions include Operation Tailwind, a Hatchet Force operation in Thailand and one of the most successful missions in SOG’s history; the Thanksgiving operation, when SOG operator John Stryker Meyer’s six-man team encountered and evaded 30,000 North Vietnamese; the Christmas mission, when Meyer’s team went into Laos to destroy a fuel pipeline but almost got burned alive by North Vietnamese trackers who lit the jungle on fire; Operation Thundercloud, in which SOG recruited and trained captured North Vietnamese troops and sent them to recon operations across the border dressed like their former comrades; and Recon Team Alabama’s October 1968 mission that accounted fora whopping 9,000 North Vietnamese killed or wounded in action.
What stands out about SOG is how much responsibility was placed on its young operators. Legendary SOG operator John Stryker Meyer, for example, was running recon as a One-Zero (team leader) at the age of 22 and just an E-4. And rules of engagement were quite different, with less bureaucracy impeding the guys on the ground.
“The Bright Light missions [combat search-and-rescue] would seldom be deployed under today’s Rules of Engagement,” Meyer told Sandboxx News.
“And, today, they call can’t believe lowly E-4s were directing air strikes, total control on the ground, and experienced troops had final say on teams, regardless of rank. Experience over rank.”
Although techniques, tactics, and procedures were generally the same among the three SOG subcommands, SOG teams adjusted their approaches according to their geographical area. Laos, for example, has more mountains and jungle than Cambodia, which is flatter and more open.
Saviors from above: SOG’s Air Commandos
Pivotal to the success and effectiveness of MACV-SOG operations across the border were several aircraft squadrons from across the services and also South Vietnam.
The Air Force’s 20th Special Operations Squadron was dubbed the “Green Hornets.” They flew the Sikorsky CH-3C and CH-3E and Bell UH-1F/P Huey. First Lieutenant James P. Fleming, a Green Hornet pilot, earned the Medal of Honor for saving a SOG recon team from certain death in 1968.
The Green Hornets’ Hueys came packed with an assortment of weapons, including M-60 machine guns, GAU-2B/A miniguns, and 2.75-inch rocket pods. If ammo ran out, door gunners would lob grenades or shoot their individual rifles.
In addition to the Green Hornets, the South Vietnamese Air Force 219th Squadron, which flew H-34 Kingbees, was a dedicated supporter of SOG operations. These South Vietnamese pilots and crews were truly fearless, always coming to the rescue of compromised recon teams regardless of the danger. Captain Nguyen Van Tuong, a legendary pilot, stands out for his coolness and steady hand under fire.
Other notable rotary-wing units that supported SOG missions were the USMC Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367, which flew the AH-1 Viper attack and the UH-1 Venom transport helicopters; the 189th Assault Helicopter Company “Ghost Riders,” which flew assault and transport variants of the UH-1 Huey helicopter.
SOG commandos on the ground could also rely on fixed-wing close air support, with the turboprop A-1 Skyraider being a favorite platform for close air support and the F-4 Phantom a good choice on any given day.
“Military politics always interfered, and our leadership had to fight from close air support assets, such as the A-1 Skyraider squadrons,” Meyer told Sandboxx News.
“For example, SOG brass had to fight to keep the 56th Special Operations Wing, operating from Location Alpha in Da Nang.
“That unit’s SPADs [A-1 Skyraiders] were consistent and fearless and were considered the backbone of CAS during Operation Tailwind. On day 4, for example, the NVA were about to overrun the HF [Hatchet Force] when Tom Stump made devastating gun runs that broke the back of those frontal attacks, giving McCarley time to get them off the LZ and out of the target as weather closed in.”
Close air support was vital and probably the most important factor in the survival of numerous SOG teams. However, although SOG commandos enjoyed air superiority and North Vietnamese aircraft never posed a danger, the Air Commandos supporting SOG had to face the extremely potent anti-aircraft capabilities of the North Vietnamese, which included anything from light machine guns to heavy anti-aircraft cannons to surface-to-air missiles. Every hot extraction forced a penalty of downed helicopters and fighters/ or bombers, or at least a few riddled with bullets.
SOG commandos called in close air support themselves, usually by using a compass and smoke canisters. Forward air controllers, nicknamed “Covey,” flew overhead and assisted in coordinating with the team on the ground and controlling all air assets and close air support. In CCS, Covey usually flew solo, doing both tasks while also flying his plane. In CCN, however, Covey was a two-man affair, usually entailing an experienced SOG operator joining the pilot and helping out with his unique experience, having been on the receiving end of close air support numerous teams.
Years after the Vietnam War ended, it was discovered that there was a mole at the SOG headquarters in Saigon who had been passing information on team missions and locations to the enemy.
SOG operators, including special operations legends like Colonel Robert Howard and Master Sergeant Roy Benavidez, earned 12 Medals of Honor throughout the conflict.
Although service at SOG came with the unspoken agreement of a perilous life full of danger and risk, it also came with an unbreakable sense of loyalty and trust between the men who served there. A sense of loyalty and trust that time and again SOG operators proved through their commitment to leave no man behind, dead or alive. That effort, that commitment, continues to this day.
The largest naval exercise in the world is underway in the Pacific, and to show the world that it means business, China officially commissioned its fourth vessel of a new model of guided-missile destroyers on Tuesday.
Equipped with advanced weapons that can engage other ships and submarines, the independently developed Yinchuan will be China’s most advanced guided-missile destroyer in service. The ship will be able to engage in all manner of operations, including aerial defense, anti-sea operations, and antisubmarine missions.
But other unnamed experts, according to China.org.cn, have speculated that the Yinchuan would outperform the Japanese Atago-class, the South Korean Sejong the Great-class, and the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.
The Yinchuan is the fourth ship in its class to be unveiled by China to date.
1979 was a tumultuous year in the Islamic world. The year opened with the overthrow of the Shah and a revolution in Iran. The year ended with chaos in Islam’s holy city of Mecca when radical terrorists took over the Grand Mosque.
The terrorist group, led by Juhayman al-Otaybi, believed that the Mahdi (Arabic for “the redeemer”) arrived on earth in the form of al-Otaybi’s brother-in-law, Muhammad Abdullah al-Qahtani.
On the morning of Nov. 20, 1979 al-Otaybi led some 500 armed insurgents into the mosque just as the Imam was preparing to lead 50,000 followers in their morning prayers. The terrorists killed two unarmed policemen before barricading the gates and taking up defensive positions around the mosque and in the minarets.
Within hours, a large force of police from Mecca assembled and attempted to retake the mosque. However, they were outgunned and exposed and were forced to fall back after taking heavy casualties.
Soon, Saudi Army and Saudi National Guard troops joined the surviving police and cordoned off the mosque. The remainder of the city was evacuated by that night. However, further response was delayed due to several issues: Two important Saudi princes were out of the country and unable to give direction. Additionally, violence inside the Grand Mosque is strictly prohibited by Islamic Law. Any kind of violent action required the issuance of a fatwa from the ulema – Islamic intellectuals – to allow for troops to retake the mosque.
In the meantime, Saudi, Pakistani, and French Special Forces arrived in the area to prepare for retaking the mosque.
According to Lawrence Wright, since non-Muslims are barred from entering the holy city of Mecca, the three French commandos converted to Islam in a brief ceremony before continuing with their mission.
With the approval of the ulema to commit violence against those holding the mosque, Saudi forces attempted another assault against the insurgents. Again, the Saudi’s were thrown back with heavy losses. The insurgent snipers in their perches easily picked off approaching troops.
After their second defeat, the Saudis turned to the French to devise a plan that would allow them to retake the mosque.
The French solution was to use gas – pumped into the underground tunnels beneath the mosque – to incapacitate the insurgents so assault forces could then make their way in and kill the terrorists. Unfortunately, the twisting, expansive nature of the tunnels failed to keep the gas concentrated enough to work.
Eventually, Saudi forces drilled holes in the walls and used tear gas and grenades to drive the insurgents away from their strongpoints. In conjunction with Pakistani Special Forces, the assault was renewed.
Those caught in the open were quickly killed. However, many insurgents retreated into the catacombs below the mosque and put up a staunch defense. The Saudi and Pakistani forces fought a bloody battle, oftentimes indiscriminately killing insurgents and hostages alike, in order to retake the mosque.
The siege and battle had lasted more than two weeks and resulted in 255 killed inside the mosque on top of some 127 military personnel killed. Total casualties, including wounded, exceeded 1,000.
68 insurgents, including their leader al-Otaybi, were captured following the battle. Al-Qahtani, the supposed Mahdi, was killed during the recapturing of the mosque.
The insurgents were shown no leniency and were found guilty of seven crimes: violating the sanctity of the Grand Mosque, violating the sanctity of the month of Muharram, killing fellow Muslims and others, disobeying legitimate authorities, suspending prayer at the Grand Mosque, erring in identifying the Mahdi, and exploiting the innocent for criminal acts.
They were divided up into four groups and sent to four cities around Saudi Arabia. The convicted were then publicly executed by beheading.
The seizure of the Grand Mosque also had the effect of drastically changing policies in Saudi Arabia. Even though the attack was carried out by religious fundamentalists, the king turned to more religion in society to placate any more fundamentalism. These fundamentalist reforms hold sway in Saudi Arabia to this day.
When the Nazis steamrolled into the Netherlands in May of 1940, Jannetje Johanna “Hannie” Schaft and Truus and Freddie Oversteegen were just 19, 16, and 14 years old respectively.
As for the Oversteegen sisters, their mother, Trijn, had left their father years before. Freddie states of this, “She was just fed up one day—we lived on a large ship in Haarlem, but my father never made any money and didn’t pay anything for the barge. But it wasn’t an ugly divorce or anything—he sang a French farewell song from the bow of the ship when we left. He loved us, but I didn’t see him that often anymore after that.”
Immediately after the Nazis came to town, despite the risks, Freddie goes on, “During the war, we had a Jewish couple living with us, which is why my sister and I knew a lot about what was going on…”
At the same time, their mother also had her daughters join in with her in the rather dangerous task of posting and distributing anti-Nazi and communist literature around town.
Given their brazen activities, word soon got around to the resistance that the girls might be open to joining, with one Frans van der Wiel coming calling in 1941. Freddie states, “A man wearing a hat came to the door and asked my mother if he could ask us [to join the resistance]. And he did… she was OK with it. “
She also states her mother simply requested of them that no matter what the resistance asked them to do, to “always stay human.”
Of the sisters’ personal decision to join, Truus stated,
A war like this is a very raw experience. While I was biking, I saw Germans picking up innocent people from the streets, putting them against a wall and shooting them. I was forced to watch, which aroused such an enormous anger in me, such a disgust… You can have any political conviction or be totally against war, but at that moment you are just a human being confronted with something very cruel. Shooting innocent people is murder. If you experience something like this, you’ll find it justified that when people commit treason, such as exchanging a four-year-old Jewish child for 35 guilders, you act against it.
Needless to say, they were all for it, though not quite realizing at that point everything they’d be asked to do. She states, “I thought we would be starting a kind of secret army. The man that came to our door said that we would get military training, and they did teach us a thing or two. Someone taught us to shoot, and we learned to march in the woods. There were about seven of us then—Hannie wasn’t a part of the group yet, and we were the only girls.”
Indeed, in the beginning because of their age and gender, the authorities paid little attention to them. Thus, they were natural message runners between resistance members, as well as ideally suited for smuggling and stealing identity papers to help various Jewish people escape; they also occasionally were tasked with transporting weapons and even helping escort Jews to hiding places- generally Jewish children as they blended in with the girls well and the authorities on the whole weren’t suspicious of the young girls walking along with kids. Also thanks to Freddie’s ultra youthful look, particularly when she did her hair up in pigtails, she was often used for reconnaissance missions, as nobody paid attention to her.
Things escalated from these sorts of tasks, however, with assignments such as helping to burn down various enemy installations. In these cases, the girls were sometimes tasked with flirting with any guards while other resistance members slipped in and set the fires.
In 1943, the sisters were joined by a third female member of their resistance cell, Hannie Schaft- a woman who would go on to be one of the most famous Dutch resistance members in all of WWII, with her activities seeing her marked for death by Hitler himself.
When the Nazis invaded, the then 19 year old Hannie was studying international law, and particularly human-rights law, at the University of Amsterdam. Unfortunately for her, she would soon be given the boot from university owing to refusing to sign a declaration of allegiance to Germany- a requirement to remain a student and something over 3/4 of the rest of the students did. As you might imagine even if you knew nothing else about her but her choosing to study human-rights law at school, and given the activities the Axis were getting up to in the country, she almost immediately joined the resistance.
In the interim since the start of the war and being assigned to the same resistance cell as Truus and Freddie, Hannie had worked with the resistance in various capacities and countless missions, even learning German to aid in her activities.
Naturally, the three girls became fast friends and frequently teamed up for the remainder of the war, with their missions having been expanded to something few women in the resistance were tasked with- directly eliminating enemy targets.
Their big advantage over their male compatriots was their age and gender allowed them to get close to enemy soldiers without garnering any suspicion. Thus, the girls were eventually trained with weapons and set to, as Freddie put it, “liquidating” the enemy.
As for the number of people they killed- a question they were frequently asked- they never disclosed, with the sisters’ stock answer to that question being, “You never ask a soldier how many people he’s killed.”
Perhaps their most famous method was flirting and convincing a mark to join one of them for a stroll. For example, in one instance, their target was an SS soldier who they scouted and, once he entered a restaurant to eat, a slightly drunk acting Truus entered and struck up a conversation. At a certain point, she then suggestively asked if he’d like to go for a walk in the woods with her- a prospect he apparently eagerly accepted.
When they got there, however, Freddie states,
Then they ran into someone—which was made to seem a coincidence, but he was one of ours—and that friend said to Truus: “Girl, you know you’re not supposed to be here.” They apologized, turned around, and walked away. And then shots were fired, so that man never knew what hit him. They had already dug the hole, but we weren’t allowed to be there for that part.
Beyond luring unsuspecting enemy soldiers and Dutch collaborators to their deaths, sometimes they just killed them outright. As Truus once said after watching horrified as a Dutch SS soldier grabbed a baby from the child’s family “and hit it against the wall. The father and sister had to watch. They were obviously hysterical. The child was dead… I pulled out a gun and shot him dead. Right there and then. This wasn’t an assignment. But I don’t regret it.”
Other times they would simply ride along on their bike- Truus on the front, and Freddie on the back with a hidden gun. As they passed their mark, if no one was around, Freddie would pull out the gun and shoot him. After this, Truus would peddle off as fast as she could; once out of sight, they were once again to all the world just a couple of young girls out for a bike ride.
Other times they’d follow the mark home and then come a-knocking, again with their young, innocent look helping to ensure their targets’ guard would be down when they’d kill him.
Beyond this, the trio also took part in bombings and other sabotage efforts, reportedly only refusing one mission in which they were asked to kidnap the three children of Riech Commissioner and former Chancellor of Austria Arthur Seyss-Inquart. The children were then to be used to get the commissioner to release certain prisoners in exchange for their safe return. If he refused, the children would be killed. Said Truus of their refusal of this mission, “Resistance fighters do not kill children.”
As for Hannie, while the two young girls often went overlooked, she was not so lucky, with her bright red hair and the many missions she took part in helping her stand out. The authorities soon caught on and she was initially marked as the “the girl with the red hair.” As the heat turned up on her and Hitler himself ordered efforts towards her capture ramped up, she began dying her hair black and changed her name. Unfortunately her real name was accidentally revealed to an undercover Nazi operative working as a nurse. What followed from this was her family being detained; though eventually when it became clear they didn’t know where she was or anything about her activities, they were let go.
The Axis got her in the end, however, when she was picked up at a random military checkpoint on March 21, 1945, having been caught with copies of the communist newspaper de Waarheid. She was subsequently tortured for a few weeks, but apparently never broke. Given the war was in its final stages, she may have survived if not for her bright red hair giving her away as it grew and with no dye to keep the roots black. Once the Germans figured out who she was because of this, the then 24 year old Hannie was slated to be immediately executed- a sentence carried out on April 17, 1945, a mere 18 days before the Germans withdrew from the Netherlands.
Apparently defiant to the end, it is reported that when the two soldiers tasked with killing her shot her, she fell, but both had missed their mark for a killing shot. Her last words were reported to be mocking the soldiers, allegedly stating after the first volley, “Idiots! I shoot better!”
The Oversteegen sisters in 2014.
As for the sisters, they survived the war, but suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, with Truss burying herself in art and Freddie stating she quickly got married and started a family as her way to cope. Her son, Remi, would state of this, “She shot… people… but she hated it, and she hated herself for doing it.” Freddie would also state, “I’ve shot [them] myself and I’ve seen them fall. And what is inside us at such a moment? You want to help them get up.”
Truss added, “It was tragic and very difficult and we cried about it afterwards. We did not feel it suited us… I wasn’t born to kill. Do you know what that does to your soul? …One loses everything. It poisons the beautiful things in life.”
In the end, both sisters lived to the ripe old age of 92, with Truus dying in June of 2016 and Freddie following her in September of 2018, the day before her 93rd birthday.