Combat medics courageously fought to save lives as the war raged around them in Vietnam. Helicopters became virtual hospitals in the air, buying the combat medic valuable time to heal the wounded. When lives were on the line, it was a combat medic’s quick thinking that determined the fate of their fellow troop.
Max Cleland, who would later go on to be a US Senator, was saved by such courageous men after losing three limbs to an explosion. This is his story:
You might be wondering — what did these brave ‘docs’ carry with them on a daily basis? They played a vital role in operations, but you just might be surprised by the scarcity of their toolkit. Here’s what they were expected to carry on patrol.
Hospital Corpsman James Kirkpatrick (my handsome dad, on the right) gearing up to head out on patrol in Vietnam, 1968.
No such luck.
For the most part, the ground-pounders wore t-shirts, flak jackets, and many donned WW2-style helmets due to a lack of budget.
The helmets weren’t bullet-proof and were only intended to protect the troop from flying shrapnel — sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.
Primary weapon system
Just like today, the docs of Vietnam served as riflemen until one of their brothers was injured. Most Corpsmen and medics carried M16A1 rifles with 10-14 magazines of 18 rounds. Their magazines could carry up to 20 rounds, but the majority of the grunts didn’t fill them to capacity in order to avoid a weapons malfunction.
The average doc carried a .45 caliber pistol with five to seven magazines of seven rounds each.
Medics SP4 Gerald Levy and Pfc. Andrew J. Brown with a wounded soldier and a paratrooper of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, Bien Hoa, Vietnam.
(Photo by Horst Faas)
Docs also carried three to five hands grenades, which were worn either on the flak jacket or stuffed into cargo pockets, two to five flares to properly mark landing zones, and a “woobie” or poncho to stay as dry as possible.
And, of course, you couldn’t go on patrol without bringing enough packs of smokes to last you the duration. In the Vietnam era, patrols could last up to several days, depending on the mission.
Also, just like good docs today, they didn’t forget to stash away plenty of dry pairs of socks.
An unmarked med-bag
These green pouches were stuffed to the brim with abdominal dressings (large bandages), battle dressings (medium-sized dressings), four to five rolls of gauze, and five to ten morphine syrettes.
Today, morphine syrettes are considered serialized gear and a medic can be punished for losing one in the field.
Some corpsmen and medics carried an I.V. solution — if they could manage to hustle a bag or two away from the local medical aid station. In some cases, medevac helicopters would transport them to the on-ground medical personnel instead, as needed.
Fort Bragg-based paratroopers recently concluded an intensive training exercise requiring them to test what may be the U.S. Army’s next step in Mission-Command technology.
Paratroopers of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, in cooperation with the Joint Modernization Command, recently executed Network Integration Exercise 18.2 from late October to early November 2018.
“The best way to test a paratrooper and his or her equipment is to replicate the demanding crucible of ground combat,” said Col. Arthur Sellers, commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team. “NIE provided the brigade an excellent environment to evaluate the Army’s future Mission Command Systems and associated technologies, with the purpose of creating shared understanding and enabling the BCT to be more lethal”.
A paratrooper assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division launches a PUMA Unmanned Aerial Surveillance Vehicle during the recently concluded Network Integration Exercise at El Paso, Texas.
(Photo by Sgt. Cody Parsons)
Network Integration Exercise, spearheaded by JMC, examines concepts and capabilities addressing three of the six Army modernization priorities — soldier lethality, long-range precision fires, and the future network.
Paratroopers with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division operate a tethered drone during the Network Integration Exercise 18.2 in El Paso, Texas, Oct. 30, 2018.
(Photo by Pfc. Andrew Garcia)
“Our main objectives are to facilitate the execution of operationally realistic warfighting assessments for over two weeks and assess multi-domain operations while obtaining feedback from paratroopers on the ground,” said Rodger Lemons, Chief of Strategic Plans at the JMC.
Paratroopers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division conduct a security check, Nov. 2, 2018, during Network Integration Exercise 18.2 at El Paso, Texas.
(Photo by Cpl. Deven Waller)
The exercise’s keystone concept focused on equipping 3rd Brigade paratroopers and units with emerging technology and equipment while setting them through a series of combat scenarios. Those using the equipment were then encouraged to provide candid criticism of the shortfalls and benefits of the technology.
“Paratroopers on the ground are able to give developers immediate feedback,” said Lieutenant General Bruce T. Crawford, the Army’s chief information officer. “This allows the Army to move away from the monolithic programs of record and move into a more iterative approach that allows us to keep up with technological advancements.”
We are pushing towards a culture of innovation and the role these Paratroopers are playing is a game changer, continued Crawford.
Military Marriage Day will be celebrated for the first time August 14th! In preparation of the holiday, I looked for a word to sum up military marriage. I knew my limited perspective couldn’t possibly take on the task alone, so I reached out to a vibrant military spouse group on Facebook to find my answer. Surely I’d see a pattern of responses that would lead to that one magic word I was looking for. Maybe it would be a short word like fun or more interesting words like amorous or idyllic. I posted my prompt asking, “How would you describe your military marriage in one word? Bonus if you add a gif.” Once it posted I closed my phone and finished making dinner for my littles.
Hopeful to get some great feedback, I opened my phone to see 600 comments and many more rolling in. Success! This is just what I needed. Surely there will be a clear outcome with a few outliers of course. I started scrolling fully expecting gifs of hugging teddy bears or Fez from That ’70s Show drawing a heart with his figures while mouthing “I Love You,” you know the ones. That was until I read the comments that busted the bubble of a one-sided reality filled with hot air and laughing gas, which clearly had me in this delusional state. My rose colored glasses cracked and all I could say was, DANG!
For perspective, the spouses who responded are roughly between 20 and 46 years old. Some have been married for over a decade while others are still in their honeymoon of under a year of marital bliss. This beautiful array of perspective was the reality check I needed. The truth is that there was no one word to describe military marriage. Although the majority of military spouses are women married to men, the military is not a monolith. We have male military spouses that are married to women as well as a growing LGBTQIA population meaning that everyone brings a different word to the conversation. On top of that, each branch, rank, career field, and current event experienced within a couple’s marriage will determine the challenges faced or encounters they’ll walk through. That one single word became more and more impossible to reach as I scrolled.
I did see some themes, which I believe gives a good array of what military marriage really is. Nearly everyone responded using a gif. Below is a breakdown of the groupings of words the milspouses shared.
10% – Confused/Mixed Emotion
I love this population that posted the confused gifs. I’m leading with them as not only because they were the smallest percentage, but mostly because they were the most honest. The perplexed faces of Ice Cube, Bill Cosby and other celebrities were popular in this group along with bipolar expressions like Anne Hathaway using a fan to transition her facial expression from happy to sad. This group alone shows that there is not one word for our relationships.
15% – On the Down Side
Lonely, sad, patiently or impatiently waiting. These are the gifs that showed the reality of the down side of military marriage. A popular gif was the character Oleg of Compare the Meerkat’s. Oleg’s sweet yet sad face outstretched hands had a caption of “Come Back.” A sucker punch to the gut of emotion I felt as a young spouse counting down yet another deployment. Others used SpongeBob or Pikachu to relay their feelings of grief due to separation.
17% – Illusion or Adventure
Rollercoaster rides, circus acts, and oblivious characters sitting calmly amongst chaos was a common description for military marriage. Although most are referring to military life in general, it definitely tells the story of how military marriages endure. The crowd favorite was a cartoon gif of a room on fire while the dog calmly sips coffee from a mug with a captain that says, “That is fine.” The clip comes from a 2013 webcomic called On Fire, but is a humorous depiction of the fires that surround military marriages as we try to maintain an illusion of an unbothered attitude.
28% – Letting Off Steam
From actress New York of Flavor of Love rubbing her temples to Stitch of the Disney movie Lilo Stich scratching his eyes out, this majority was not afraid to show some frustration. Gifs depicting chaos through dumpster fires, disasters and screaming let loose the realities of the stress that military couples deal with. Marriage takes work and is definitely not a simple cake walk. It takes intentionality and overcoming obstacles thrown at you from different directions. The emotion shared in these posts were real.
30% – Positive Vibes
I was relieved to see that the highest percentage of responses were in a range of positivity. Everything from a simple “okay,” thumbs up or Finding Nemo’s Dory singing “Just Keep Swimming” to dynamic duo gifs like Batman flapping Superman’s cape as if he were flying, hand holding and romantic gifs for grownups eyes only.
In the end, love wins!
A gif is worth a thousand words and the fact that I was looking for just one made it an impossible task. Many responses were sent in humor, yet there is a lot of truth in those pictures of sadness, anger, and lack of desire to acknowledge troubling realities. Military marriage is complex and filled with highs and lows. Those who expressed love and excitement where not the overwhelming majority, which tells me that there is some work to do in our relationships. I may have been searching for one word to describe military marriage for Military Marriage Day, yet what I discovered is all the more reason why our couples need a reason to celebrate.
The M107 self-propelled howitzer hasn’t gotten much attention. The M109 series of 155mm howitzers, on the other hand, is reaching its 55th year in operational service with the United States Army. Meanwhile, the M107 is fading into obscurity. Despite its (lack of) reputation, this howitzer was crucial for both the United States and Israel, among other nations.
The M107 and M110 shared the same chassis, but both were equipped with different guns — the M107 packed a 175mm gun and the M110 used an eight-inch cannon. Sharing a chassis was a boon in terms of both maintenance and logistics, since it meant the supply clerks had fewer categories of parts to handle.
A M107 self-propelled gun reaches out to touch the enemy during a fire mission in South Vietnam.
That also meant the guns were swappable — a M107 could become a M110 and vice versa depending on the mission. Want to deliver a particularly big punch? The M110 was your choice. Need to reach out and touch someone up to 25 miles away? The M107 is your choice for that.
The M107 entered operational service with the United States Army in 1962. By 1979, it had been retired, but it served for a while in a number of other militaries. Its most notable service was with Israel, which pushed its maximum range to 30 miles thanks to the efforts of Dr. Gerald Bull. M107s shelled Damascus during the Yom Kippur War, destroyed at least 15 surface-to-air missile sites, and are still held in reserve by the Israeli military.
The Israelis were able to use M107 to hit targets up to 30 miles away.
The M107 also saw action in the Iran-Iraq War, where it was used by Iranian forces. The M107 was first replaced by the M110A2, a longer-range eight-inch gun, and, ultimately, by the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System.
You can see how the Army introduced this long-range gun to America in the video below!
Hitler, oddly enough, seemed obsessed with America in many ways. He admired Henry Ford and American industrialization. He liked American films and Mickey Mouse cartoons. And, perhaps most oddly for a man of Hitler’s obsession with perception and propaganda, he even named his rolling fortress of a train after the rival country, calling it “Amerika.”
Hitler had a few iconic pieces of transportation, from a famous Mercedes to the SSS Horst Wessel sailing vessel, but his headquarters train was one of the most famous during the war. Nazi soldiers would march along routes ahead of the train to make sure no one was lying in wait for it, and there were multiple decoy trains that would run up to 30 minutes ahead of or behind Hitler’s train.
And each train was a beast. Hitler had a car for meetings as well as a living car with space for his bath and sink, complete with gold-plated faucets, according to the above documentary about it. There was also a communications car and multiple cars for defense against air and land attacks. It could house up to 200 leaders, staff, and soldiers.
Hitler set an example by rolling out his train, and other Nazi leaders began buying their own top-tier trains complete with command wagons and defenses. They all had individual names, but only Hitler’s was named for a future Allied power. But it wasn’t out of respect for the American nation or people. Hitler had named the train for the destruction of Native Americans by western settlers.
Hitler holds a meeting in his personal train during World War II.
(YouTube/World at War)
Keeping these trains moving required regularly changing out the engines. After all, Hitler couldn’t be left cooling his heels on a train platform as wood and water was loaded onto the train when it ran low. Instead, the train would pull into a station, and railway workers would quickly swap out the nearly empty engine with fully fueled cars. The Fuhrer could be back on his way in minutes instead of hours.
And these swaps were required multiple times per day. Every 30 miles or so, the train would run low on fuel, partially thanks to the massive weight of all the armor on some of Amerika’s cars.
Of course, the train had to be renamed when America entered the war on the side of the allies. The name changed from Amerika to “Brandenburg,” and Hitler reduced his use of the train for meetings, instead primarily using it as secure transportation. The meetings that were held on the train were held in bunkers instead.
As the Allies started to retake territory from 1942 to 1944, the trains themselves got bunkers. One is still in decent shape in Poland, an enormous concrete bunker surrounded by grass and trees in southeastern Poland. These bunkers were primarily needed for protecting the trains from attack by air.
After all, the Allies developed tools to crack apart sub pens by using bombs that mimicked the effects of earthquakes, cracking the concrete foundations of the structures. Destroying a train is relatively easy, needing just a few lucky bomb hits to destroy even an armored engine or the tracks themselves.
For security reasons, crews were required to destroy much of the paperwork generated in support of the train; everything from supply paperwork to schedules. And the train itself was partially destroyed in May 1945. The surviving components of the train passed into civilian use after the war.
The US Army in Europe has made a number of changes in recent months as part of a broader effort by the Pentagon to prepare for a potential fight against an adversary with advanced military capabilities, like Russia or China.
The latest move came on November 28, when the Army activated the 5th Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, in a ceremony at Shipton Barracks in Ansbach, near the city of Nuremberg in southern Germany.
The battalion has a long history, serving in artillery and antiaircraft artillery roles in the War of 1812, the Civil War, World War II, and the Vietnam War. It was deactivated in the late 1990s, after the US military withdrew from the Cold War.
Lt. Col. Todd Daniels, commander of the 5th Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, uncovers the battalion colors during the activation and assumption of command ceremony at Shipton Kaserne, Germany, on November 28, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jason Epperson)
Its return brings new and important short-range-air-defense, or SHORAD, capabilities, according to Col. David Shank, the head of 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command, of which the new unit is part.”Not only is this a great day for United States Army Europe and the growth of lethal capability here. It is a tremendous step forward for the Air Defense Enterprise,” Shank said at the ceremony.
The battalion will be composed of five battery-level units equipped with FIM-92 Stinger missiles, according to Stars and Stripes.
Three of those batteries will be certified before the end of the summer, Shank said, adding that battalion personnel would also “build and sustain a strong Army family-support program, and become the subject-matter experts in Europe for short-range-air-defense to not just the Army, but our allies.”
Those troops “will have a hard road in from of them,” Shank said.
Stinger missiles are fired from the Avenger Air Defense System.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)
Air Defense Artillery units were for a long time embedded in Army divisions, but the service started divesting itself of those units in the early 2000s, as military planners believed the Air Force could maintain air superiority and mitigate threats posed by enemy aircraft.
But in 2016, after finding a gap in its SHORAD capabilities, the Army started trying to address the shortfall.
In January, for the first time in 15 years, the US Army in Europe began training with Stinger missiles, a light antiaircraft weapon that can be fired from shoulder- and vehicle-mounted launchers.
Lightweight, short-range antiaircraft missiles are mainly meant to defend against ground-attack aircraft, especially helicopters, that target infantry and armored vehicles. Unmanned aerial vehicles — used by both sides in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine — are also a source concern.
A 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade member loads a Stinger onto an Avenger Air Defense System.
(U.S. Army photo by Capt. Rachael Jeffcoat)
US Army Europe has been relying on Avengers defense systems and Stinger missiles from Army National Guard units rotating through the continent as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, which began in 2014 as a way to reassure allies in Europe of the US commitment to their defense.
Guard units rotating through Europe have been training with the Stinger for months, but the 5th Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, will be the only one stationed in Europe that fields the Avenger, a short-range-air-defense system that can be mounted on a Humvee and fires Stinger missiles.
The Army has also been pulling Avenger systems that had been mothballed in order to supply active units until a new weapon system is available, according to Defense News, which said earlier this year that Army Materiel Command was overhauling Avengers that had been sitting in a Pennsylvania field waiting to be scrapped.
A U.S. Army Avenger team during qualification in South Korea, October 24, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Capt. Marion Jo Nederhoed)
The Army has also fast-tracked its Interim Short Range Air Defense (IM-SHORAD) program to provide air- and missile-defense for Stryker and Armored Brigade Combat Teams in Europe.
The Army plans to develop IM-SHORAD systems around the Stryker, equipping the vehicle with an unmanned turret developed by defense firm Leonardo DRS. The system includes Stinger and Hellfire missiles and an automatic 30 mm cannon, as well as the M230 chain gun and a 7.62 mm coaxial machine gun. It will also be equipped with electronic-warfare and radar systems.
Final prototypes of that package are expected in the last quarter of 2019, according to Defense News, with the Army aiming to have the first battery by the fourth quarter of 2020.
The activation of the 5th Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, is part of a broader troop increase the Army announced earlier this year, saying that the increase in forces stationed in Europe permanently would come from activating new units rather than relocating them from elsewhere.
The new units would bring 1,500 soldiers and their families back to Europe. (Some 300,000 US troops were stationed on the continent during the Cold War, but that number has dwindled to about 30,000 now.)
A member of the Florida National Guard’s 3rd Battalion, 265 Air Defense Artillery Regiment, uses a touchscreen from the driver’s seat of an Army Avenger.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)
In addition to the short-range-air-defense battalion and supporting units at Ansbach, the new units will include a field-artillery brigade headquarters and two multiple-launch-rocket-system battalions and supporting units in Grafenwoehr Training Area, and other supporting units at Hohenfels Training Area and the garrison in Baumholder.
The activations were scheduled to begin this year and should be finished by September 2020, the Army said in a statement.
“The addition of these forces increases US Army readiness in Europe and ensures we are better able to respond to any crisis,” the Army said.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
When a soldier is wounded on the battlefield, medics get the call.
Medics are sort of like paramedics or emergency medical technicians in the civilian world, except paramedics and EMTs are less likely to carry assault rifles or be fired at by enemy forces. When everything goes wrong, soldiers count on the medics to keep them alive until they can be evacuated to a field hospital.
Ninety percent of soldier deaths in combat occur before the victims ever make it to a field hospital; U.S. Army medics are dedicated to bringing that number down.
To save wounded soldiers, the medic has to make life or death decisions quickly and accurately. They use Tactical Combat Casualty Care, or TCCC, to guide their decisions. TCCC is a process of treatment endorsed by the American College of Surgeons and the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians.
First, medics must decide whether to return fire or immediately begin care.
Since the Geneva Convention was signed, the Army has typically not armed medics since they are protected by the international law. But, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have mostly been fought against insurgencies who don’t follow the Geneva Convention and medics have had many of their markings removed, so they’ve been armed with rifles and pistols.
When patients come under fire, they have to decide whether to begin care or return fire. The book answer is to engage the enemies, stopping them from hurting more soldiers or further injuring the current casualties. Despite this, Army medics will sometimes decide to do “care under fire,” where they treat patients while bullets are still coming at them.
Then, they treat life-threatening hemorrhaging.
Major bleeding is one of the main killers on the battlefield. Before the medic even begins assessing the patient, they’ll use a tourniquet, bandage, or heavy pressure to slow or stop any extreme bleeds that are visible. If the medic is conducting care under fire, treatment is typically a tourniquet placed above the clothing so the medic can get them behind cover without having to remove the uniform first.
Now, they can finally assess the patient.
Once the medic and the patient are in relative safety, the medic will assess the patient. Any major bleeds that are discovered will be treated immediately, but other injuries will be left until the medic has completed the full assessment. This is to ensure the medic does not spend time setting a broken arm while the patient is bleeding out from a wound in their thigh.
During this stage, the medic will call out information to a radio operator so the unit can call for a medical evacuation using a “nine-line.” Air evacuation is preferred when it’s available, but wounded soldiers may have to ride out in ambulances or even standard ground vehicles if no medical evacuations are available.
Medics then start treatment.
Medics have to decide which injuries are the most life-threatening, sometimes across multiple patients, and treat them in order. The major bleeds are still the first thing treated since they cause over half of preventable combat deaths. The medics will then move on to breathing problems like airway blockages or tension pneumothorax, a buildup of pressure around the lungs that stops a soldier from breathing. Medics will also treat less life-threatening injuries like sprains or broken bones if they have time.
Most importantly, Army medics facilitate the evacuation.
Army medics have amazing skills, but patients still need to get to a hospital. Medics will relay all information about the patient on a card, the DA 7656 and the patient will get on the ambulance for evacuation. The medic will usually get a new aid bag, their pack of medical materials, from the ambulance and return to their mission on the ground, ready to help the next soldier who might get wounded.
In January 2012, an area outside the remote town of Gadaado, Somalia briefly erupted with the din of a firefight as commandos entered a compound in the area, killed nearly everyone inside, and made off with their intended target. The locals may not have known it at the time, but the pirates inside the compound should have expected it.
The invaders were members of the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team Six and their targets were two hostages held ransom for nearly four months. No one was wounded. All nine pirates were dead.
American Jessica Buchanan and Dane Poul Thisted were aid workers who were captured by pirates while trying to remove landmines in North-Central Somalia. The pirates had already turned down a $1.5 million ransom offer and rebuffed the efforts of local elders and religious leaders for their release.
When President Obama was informed that one of the hostages had a potentially life-threatening medical condition, he gave U.S. Special Operations forces the green light to do what they do best. Navy SEALs parachuted into Somalia and after the President delivered the State of the Union Address that night, he was able to call the family of Jessica Buchanan with the good news.
Jessica Buchanan and Poul Hagen Thisted were capture in October 2011.
(Danish Demining Group)
With the increased presence of the international naval forces off of the Horn of Africa, and increased security aboard ships traversing those waters, Somali pirates have had to take a different tack in order to continue the “work” that sustains them. Instead of capturing hostages at sea, they’ve begun taking them among aid workers who are trying to improve the lives of Somalis, especially those who are from wealthy western countries.
These hostages were guarded by between nine and twelve pirates at a walled-off compound in a remote northern area of Somalia. This is especially convenient for U.S. troops, because a large force of special operators just happen to live at Camp Lemonnier in nearby Djibouti as well as on any number of them aboard ships off the coast. Raining on the pirates’ parade was just a stop on the way home.
All I’m saying is if you don’t want to be raided by special operators while you sleep, don’t take Americans hostage.
According to locals, the pirates spent all of the previous evening chewing Qat, a plant that gives the chewer an amphetamine-like effect. As they slept, the SEALs parachuted into the area and made their way to the compound on foot. As they assaulted the compound, the pirates began to return fire. The intense fighting was over almost as fast as it had begun, leaving nine pirates dead, and, according to one source, three captured.
Afterward, the two hostages were flown to the U.S. Naval Mission in Djibouti. SEAL Team Six, who were still riding high from the successful raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound the previous year, had another feather in their collective caps.
Buchanan wrote her story and the story of her rescue in a memoir titled “Impossible Odds.”
At home in Jessica Buchanan’s native Ohio, Jessica’s father John answered a surprising late-night phone call:
“He said, ‘John, this is Barack Obama. I’m calling because I have great news for you. Your daughter has been rescued by our military.’
The Buchanan family had no idea the rescue mission would take place at all, let alone that night.
“I’m extremely proud and glad to be an American,” John Buchanan told CNN. “I didn’t know this was going to transpire. I’m glad it did.”
Encephalitis lethargica is a disease that seems to belong in a horror movie, complete with brain damage that causes victims to sleep for years or to hack away at their own bodies — and it all started in Europe during World War I.
It was first described by World War I pilot and noble, Constantin von Economo, who switched to a career in medicine at the request of his parents after family members died in the war. As a physician, he served both civilians and the Central Powers, and his historical significance comes from being the first to describe a neurological disorder that popped up during the war.
His first patients reported constant exhaustion despite constantly sleeping, leading some people to call it the “sleeping disease” or “sleepy sickness.” This wasn’t exactly correct, though, as many patients never truly slept. They remained aware of their surroundings even when seemingly in deep sleep. As the disease progressed, patients also began exhibiting symptoms like abnormal eye movement, delirium, headache, or paralysis.
The paralysis and other symptoms were sometimes limited to one side of the body, giving off the surreal result that one side of the face and body became sluggish and tired while the other side remained relatively alert and functional.
From here, patients’ symptoms would progress in a couple directions. 5 million people were afflicted with the disease from 1917 to 1928. Approximately a third died, a third survived, and the final third were trapped in endless sleep. But the scary part for survivors was that symptoms could return years later — or they could suffer from Parkinson’s brought on by the disease.
Dr. Oliver Sacks, a physician famous for his work with encephalitis lethargica patients who slept for decades before awaking for a short period.
(Luigi Novi, CC BY 3.0)
And that endless sleep thing wasn’t a euphemism or anything. Some patients went to sleep for decades, only coming out of their near-endless rest when given an anti-Parkinson’s medication in 1969 through an effort led by Dr. Oliver Sacks. Unfortunately, Sack’s treatment with L-DOPA only provided a temporary relief of their symptoms. All patients eventually regressed back to permanent sleep or a catatonic state.
Oddly enough, those afflicted with long-term catatonia did get one benefit: They aged much more slowly than people awake.
People attacked members of their own family, authority figures, or random passersby, often with little visible emotion afterwards.
Encepheilitis lethargica could strike people of any age, and it often caused long-term Parkinson’s in the months or years after a patient had seemingly recovered from the condition.
(British Medical Journal 1925, Gullan)
Obviously, for troops in the war and returning veterans, the idea that exhaustion could be a sign of their imminent demise was terrifying, and the fact that their families could be afflicted by this mysterious disease was terrifying, but another outbreak pushed the sleepy sickness to the back of most people’s minds.
The Spanish flu pandemic broke out in 1918 and eventually killed between 20 and 50 million victims of the roughly 500 million people affected.
Today, we still don’t know the cause of encephelitis lethargica, but new cases fortunately fell off a cliff in 1926 and continued to dwindle in the 1930s. Now, new cases are extremely rare, but the exact symptoms of encephelitis lethargica were so varied that it’s hard to even be sure that new cases are from the same cause.
The title page of Constantin von Economo’s 1931 description of encephalitis lethargica.
(Wellcome Images, CC BY 4.0)
There does appear to be an auto-immune element to the disease with nearly all sufferers showing damage to the brain stem consistent with it coming under attack from the body’s immune system. This, combined with the disease’s first appearance around the same time as the flu pandemic, has led to speculation that it comes from the body’s overreaction to a virus. But that’s still not certain.
Analysis of other influenza and viral outbreaks, both before World War I and after, show some connection between viral outbreaks and the onset of encephelitis lethargica.
It’s still possible that the world could see a sudden resurgence of encephelitis lethargica, especially if there’s a new influenza outbreak, but our luck has held for over 70 years — fingers crossed.
As the United States shifts its posture away from ongoing counter-terror operations and back toward great power competition with nations like China, the U.S. is being forced to reassess it’s aircraft carrier force projection strategy. If U.S. carriers find themselves on the sideline for such a conflict, it may be worth revisiting the idea of a different kind of aircraft carrier: the flying kind.
China’s arsenal of hypersonic anti-ship missiles have created an area denial bubble that would prevent American carriers from sailing close enough to Chinese shores to launch sorties, effectively neutering America’s ability to conduct offensive operations against the Chinese mainland. Without the ability to leverage the U.S. Navy’s attack aircraft, combat operations in the Pacific would be extremely difficult. It is, however, possible (though potentially impractical) to develop and deploy flying aircraft carriers for such a conflict–the United States has even experimented with the concept a number of times in the past, and is continuing to pursue the idea today.
Gremlins air vehicle during a flight test at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, November 2019 (DARPA)
DARPA’s Gremlins Program
The most recent iteration of a flying aircraft carrier comes from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, and has seen testing successes as recently as January of this year.
In January, DARPA successfully launched a Dynetics’ X-61A Gremlin UAV from the bay of a Lockheed Martin C-130A cargo aircraft. The program is aiming to demonstrate the efficacy of low-cost combat-capable drones that can be both deployed and recovered from cargo planes. DARPA envisions using cargo planes like the C-130 to deploy these drones while still outside of enemy air defenses; allowing the drones to go on and engage targets before returning to the airspace around the “mother ship” to be recaptured and carried home for service or repairs.
The test showed that a drone could be deployed by the C-130, but the drone itself was ultimately destroyed when its parachute failed to open after the completion of an hour-and-a-half flight. A subsequent test that would include drone capture was slated for the spring of this year, but has likely been delayed to due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
Between the success of this test and other drone wingman programs like Skyborg, the concept of a flying aircraft carrier has seen a resurgence in recent years, and may potentially finally become a common facet of America’s air power.
The plan to turn a Boeing 747 into a flying aircraft carrier
The Boeing 747 has already secured its place in the pantheon of great aircraft, from its immense success as a passenger plane to its varied governmental uses like being a taxi for the Space Shuttle or as a cargo aircraft. The 747 has proven itself to be an extremely capable aircraft for a wide variety of applications, so it seemed logical when, in the 1970s, the U.S. Air Force began experimenting with the idea of converting one of these large aircraft into a flying aircraft carrier full of “parasite” fighters that could be deployed, and even recovered, in mid-air.
Boeing AAC design sketch
Initial plans called for using the massive cargo aircraft Lockeed C-5 Galaxy, but as Boeing pointed out at the time, the 747 actually offered superior range and endurance when flying with a full payload. According to Boeing’s proposal, the 747 could be properly equipped to carry as much as 883,000 pounds.
Sketch of a micro fighter inside a 747 fuselage.
The idea behind the Boeing 747 AAC (Airborne Aircraft Carrier) was simple in theory, but incredibly complex in practice. Boeing would specially design and build fighter aircraft that were small enough to be housed within the 747, along with an apparatus that would allow the large plane to carry the fighters a long distance, drop them where they were needed to fight, and then recover them once again.
This graphic from Boeing’s proposal shows different potential flying aircraft carrier platforms and their respective ranges. (Boeing)
Boeing’s 60-page proposal discusses the ways such a program could be executed, but lagging questions remained regarding the fuel range of a 747 carrying such a heavy payload and about how the fighters would fare in a combat environment. Previous flying aircraft carrier concepts showed that the immense turbulence from large aircraft (and their jet engines) made it extremely difficult to manage the fighters they would drop, especially as they attempted to return to the aircraft after a mission.
Potential “micro-fighter” design (Boeing)
Further concerns revolved around how well these miniature “parasite” fighters would fare against the top-of-the-line Soviet fighters they would conceivable be squaring off with.
Ultimately, the proposal never made it off the page — but it did establish one important point for further discussion on this topic. According to the report, Boeing found the concept of a flying aircraft carrier to be “technically feasible” using early 1970’s technology. Technically feasible, it’s important to note, however, is not the same as financially feasible.
The insane Lockheed CL-1201: A massive, nuclear-powered flying aircraft carrier
The Skunkworks at Lockheed Martin have been responsible for some of the most incredible aircraft ever to take flight, from the high-flying U-2 Spy Plane to the fastest military jet ever, the SR-71. But even those incredible aircraft seem downright plain in comparison to Lockheed’s proposal to build an absolutely massive, nuclear powered, flying aircraft carrier–the CL-1201.
The proposal called for an aircraft that weighed 5,265 tons. In order to get that much weight aloft, the design included a 1,120 foot wingspan, with a fuselage that would measure 560 feet (or about two and a half times that of a 747). It would have been 153 feet high, making it stand as tall as a 14-story building. According to Lockheed, they could put this massive bird in the sky using just four huge turbofan engines which would be powered by regular jet fuel under 16,000 feet, where it would then switch to nuclear power courtesy of its on-board reactor. The flying aircraft carrier could then stay aloft without refueling for as long as 41 days, even while maintaining a high subsonic cruising speed of Mach 0.8 at around 30,000 feet.
The giant aircraft would carry a crew of 845 and would be able to deploy 22 multirole fighters from docking pylons installed on the wings. It also would maintain a small internal hangar bay for repairs and aircraft service while flying. Unsurprisingly, this design didn’t make it past the proposal stage, but the concept itself stands as a historical anomaly that continues to inspire renewed attention to this day.
Convair GRB-36F in flight with Republic YRF-84F (S/N 49-2430). (U.S. Air Force photo)
The B-36 Peacemaker
This massive bomber weighed in at an astonishing 410,000 pounds when fully loaded with fuel and ordnance (thanks to its large fuel reserves and 86,000 weapon capacity). Development of the B-36 began in 1941, thanks to a call for an aircraft that was capable of taking off from the U.S., bombing Berlin with conventional or atomic ordnance, and returning without having to refuel. By the time the B-36 made it into the air, however, World War II had already been over for more than a year.
The B-36 had a massive wingspan. At 230 feet, the wings of the Peacemaker dwarf even the B-52’s 185-foot wingspan. In its day, it was one of the largest aircraft ever to take to the sky. Despite it’s incredible capabilities, the B-36 never once flew an operational mission, but the massive size and range of the platform prompted the Air Force to consider its use as a flying aircraft carrier, using Republic YRF-84F Ficon “parasitic” fighters as the bomber’s payload.
The idea was similar to that of the later proposal from Boeing, carrying the fighters internally to extend their operational range and then deploying them via a lowering boom, where they could serve as protection for the bomber, reconnaissance assets, or even execute offensive operations of their own before returning to the B-36 for recovery.
View of the YRF-84F from inside the B-36 — the pilot could enter and exit the cockpit from within the bomber. (U.S. Air Force photo)
The U.S. Air Force ultimately did away with the concept thanks to the advent of mid-air refueling, which dramatically increased the operational range of all varieties of aircraft and made a flying aircraft carrier concept a less cost effective solution.
Using rigid airships as flying aircraft carriers
Although we very rarely see rigid inflatable airships in service to national militaries today, things were much different in the early 20th century. Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin’s airships (dubbed “Zeppelins”) were proving themselves to be a useful military platform thanks to their fuel efficiency, range, and heavy payload capabilities. These massive airships were not only cost-effective, their gargantuan size also offered an added military benefit: their vast looming presence could be extremely intimidating to the enemy.
However, as you may have already guessed, it was that vast presence that also created the rigid airship’s massive weakness: it was susceptible to being shot down by even the simplest of enemy aircraft. England was the first nation to try to offset this weakness by building an apparatus that could carry and deploy three Sopwith Camel biplanes beneath the ship’s hull. They ultimately built four of these 23-class Vickers rigid airships, but all were decommissioned by the 1920s. The U. S. Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics took notice of the concept, however, and set about construction on its own inflatable airships, with both the USS Akron (ZRS-4) and USS Macon (ZRS-5) serving as flying aircraft carriers.
The airships were built with an apparatus that could not only deploy F9C-2 Curtiss Sparrowhawk biplanes, they could also recover them once again mid-flight. The airships and aircraft fell under the Navy’s banner, and the intent was to use the attached bi-planes for both reconnaissance (ship spotting) and defense, but not necessarily for offensive operations.
USS Akron (ZRS-4) Launches a Consolidated N2Y-1 training plane (Bureau # A8604) during flight tests near Naval Air Station Lakehurst, New Jersey, 4 May 1932. (U.S. Navy)
The biplanes were stored in hangars on the airship that measured approximately 75′ long x 60′ wide x 16′ high — or big enough to service 5 biplanes internally.
Sparrowhawk scout/fighter aircraft on its exterior rigging (U.S. Navy)
After lackluster performance in a series of Naval exercises, the Akron would crash on April 4, 1933, killing all 76 people on board. Just weeks later, on April 21, its sister ship, the USS Macon, would take its first flight. Two years later, it too would crash, though only two of its 83 crew members would die.
How does one start a revolution? It begins with a group of like-minded individuals who are bold enough to carry out an action against a superior entity, ultimately to change control of power. In the days of the American Revolution, these individuals were known as the Sons of Liberty, and their supporters — patriots like Sarah Bradlee Fulton, among others — predicated their success on secret preparation. How could they lead a rebellion against England’s powerful King George III and inspire townspeople to join their cause?
It didn’t happen overnight, but a series of events emboldened them to launch into action with an idea that was formed behind closed doors. It became known as the Boston Tea Party and is one of the most impactful political protests in history.
1773: Working men disguised as Mohawks throw chests of tea into the harbour in protest against direct taxation by the British.
(Original Artist: Robert Reid. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images.)
In the 1760s, the colonists living in Boston, Massachusetts, felt that the British were taking advantage of them. Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers who later penned America’s first political cartoon under the namesake “Join, or Die,” saw firsthand the strength and influence of a unified people. He shared these observations about his displeasure with the British through the written word, including poetry:
We have an old mother that peevish is grown,
She snubs us like children that scarce walk alone;
She forgets we’re grown up and have sense of our own,
Which nobody can deny, which nobody can deny.
Meanwhile, Boston’s economy thrived; they had successful taverns, the richest shipyard on the waterfront, 3,000 wooden and brick homes, and some 500 shops. The population of 16,000 were hardworking and young — half of them were teenagers. The majority in Boston were educated enough to read the ever-popular Boston Gazette newspaper and follow updates on how the British bullied and used them as pawns to fund their wartime debts (from the French and Indian Wars).
In 1765, Parliament, England’s governing body of the colonies, imposed the Stamp Act, which taxed Americans for anything made from paper after it arrived in colonial shipping ports. The Quartering Act followed, which demanded that citizens open their businesses and homes to British soldiers for housing and food. Two years later, the Townshend Act added paint, glass, lead, and tea to the list of taxable goods.
Join, or Die. by Benjamin Franklin (1754), a political cartoon commentary on the disunity of the North American British colonies, was later used to encourage the former colonies to unite against British rule.
(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)
The American colonists were naturally angry, and tensions were consolidated to an upheaval in anarchy. By this time, the secret society of rebels known as the Sons of Liberty had formed. Frontman Samuel Adams — among other members such as John Adams, John Hancock, and Paul Revere — held public gatherings at Faneuil Hall to gain notoriety. In secret, the future Founding Fathers also held private meetings at the Green Dragon Tavern or the “House of the Revolution,” previously located on Union Street in Boston’s North End. Samuel Adams’ individual actions had the British publicly cast him as “the most dangerous man in Massachusetts.”
Their freedoms were being infringed upon, writes Kathleen Krull in her book “What Was The Boston Tea Party?” They protested in small boycotts and skirmishes against loyalist businesses (those who sided with the British), which made the headlines in the next day’s newspaper — but, most importantly, it caught the attention of the royal tyrants. Adams encouraged other patriots who believed in their cause to act in defiance. They used intimidation, vandalism, and even defamation of tax collectors through a shameful punishment called tarring and feathering.
On Feb. 22, 1770, one of these strong-armed attempts turned violent when British customs officer, Ebenezer Richardson, fired his musket upon a group in his backyard, killing 11-year-old Christopher Seider. A month later, on March 5, 1770, Private Hugh White, a British soldier, used his bayonet against a patriot at the Custom House on King Street.
White escalated the verbal altercation to a physical one, and the angry mob countered with a volley of snowballs, rocks, and ice. Bells rang signalling a disturbance, and loyalists and patriots entered the street to see the commotion. As the riot ensued, the British fired their muskets, killing five colonists in what is today known as the Boston Massacre.
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. “Boston Massacre” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1870.
After these two incidents of bloodshed, the final straw was the imposition of the Tea Act, which was passed in May 1773. The Sons of Liberty had illegally smuggled tea from Holland because anything associated with the British infuriated them. Parliament countered with the enforcement of the British East India Company, the only tea that could be purchased. The once-adored tea from India and China, all 18 million pounds of it, had been outcasted by the colonists. So a group of American women began to make their own.
Women also played important if lesser-known roles in the events leading up to the Boston Tea Party. Similar to the Sons of Liberty, a group comprised of approximately 300 women was referred to as the Daughters of Liberty, and they had significant influence. Sarah Bradlee Fulton was an important figure who became known as the “Mother of the Boston Tea Party”; she later became one of the first women to come under the orders of George Washington as a spy during the American Revolution.
Fulton’s role in the Boston Tea Party wasn’t the infamous actions of dumping tea into Boston Harbor — it was more subtle, though equally important. Fulton is credited with suggesting that the patriots wear disguises during their great tea-dumping campaign to ensure that they couldn’t be recognized from a distance and would remain incognito when they ditched their outfits after the event.
Colonists also spread propaganda about British tea in the newspapers, instead valuing “Liberty Tea” made by American women in homemade batches. “Let us abjure the poisonous baneful plant and its odious infusion,” wrote one colonist. “Poisonous and odious, I mean, not on account of the physical qualities but on account of the political diseases and death that are connected with every particle of it.”
The Green Dragon Tavern, the meeting place where the Sons of Liberty planned the Boston Tea Party.
The Liberty Tea used the red root bush herb found growing on riverbanks. Red sumac berries and homegrown leaves were used to make Indian Lemonade Tea. Other recipes meticulously crafted delicious Raspberry Leaf Tea. It was declared “as good as any other tea, and much more wholesome in the end.”
While the Daughters of Liberty generally voiced their dissatisfaction with the British in quieter ways, they occasionally had to get a little rowdy. One such incident involved a merchant who was hoarding coffee, which was later dubbed the “Coffee Party.” Abigail Adams wrote about it to her husband, John, on July 31, 1777.
“There has been much rout and noise in the town for several weeks. Some stores had been opened by a number of people and the coffee and sugar carried into the market and dealt out by pounds. It was rumoured that an eminent, wealthy, stingy merchant (who is a bachelor) had a hogshead of coffee in his store which he refused to sell to the committee under 6 shillings per pound. A number of females some say a hundred, some say more assembled with a cart and trucks, marched down to the warehouse and demanded the keys, which he refused to deliver, upon which one of them seized him by his neck and tossed him into the cart. Upon his finding no quarter he delivered the keys, when they tipped up the cart and discharged him, then opened the warehouse, hoisted out the coffee themselves, put it into the trucks and drove off. It was reported that he had a spanking among them, but this I believe was not true. A large concourse of men stood amazed silent spectators of the whole transaction.”
But what happened in Boston Harbor four years prior was a pivotal moment in the fight for American independence.
On Dec. 16, 1773, an assembly was called at the Old South Meeting House, the largest building in colonial Boston. This is where John Hancock made a passionate demand: “Let every man do what is right in his own eyes!” The historic meeting amassed an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 colonists unified together against tyranny. The Boston Tea Party was put into motion to resist British oppression and to rally against taxation without proper representation.
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. “Destruction of the tea” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1881.
That evening, disguised as American Indians, “Adams’ Mohawks” marched toward Griffin’s Wharf carrying axes and tomahawks, wearing feathers on their caps and warpaint on their faces. The only opposition between the liberators and 342 chests of tea was a British officer who had drawn his sword. He was no match for them and simply stepped aside as he was heavily outnumbered. The men split into three groups and boarded the three ships: the Dartmouth, the Eleanor, and the Beaver. They ordered the crew below deck, then used ropes and pulleys to hoist 90- to 400-pound chests of tea up from the cargo area, onto the deck, and into the harbor.
A large crowd gathered on the shoreline and cheered on their patriots as they emptied the tea into the shallow harbor. With low tide, the harbor’s height was only two feet, therefore the “Indians” had to stomp the piles of overflowing tea leaves to get them to sink. Some of the raiding force tried to sneak tea into their pockets — one was even brave enough to use a rowboat to collect his stash, but these canoes were overturned. After they emptied all of the crates, enough to fill 18.5 million teacups, the “Indians” ducked into safe houses, through the help of the Daughters of Liberty, and were home by 10 that night.
John Andrews, an observer, later wrote, “They say the actors were Indians… Whether they were or not to a transient observer they appear’d as such, being cloth’d in blankets with the heads muffled and copper color’d countenances, each being arm’d with a hatchet or ax, and pair pistols, nor was their dialect different from what I conceive these [sic] geniusses to speak, as their jargon was unintelligible to all but themselves.”
To this day, due to a pledge of secrecy, it remains unclear of who was directly involved in the historic action of dumping tea into Boston Harbor. But the event — known now as the Boston Tea Party — has become one of the most iconic events of the American Revolution, igniting a revolt against British rule and the beginning of a new unified nation.
Buy a Bag, Give a Bag: Our first donated bags arrive to deployed troops in Iraq
Russia and its President, Vladimir Putin, have made a lot of waves and headlines in recent days with their claims of magnificent weapons that can fly faster than the speed of sound, hit targets with untold destructive capability, and deliver a stunning Bolshoi suplex that just knocks the Guile right out of opponents.
The last example was actually from Street Fighter, but Putin’s plans for the promised miracle weapons are just as real as Zangief.
This is the real Cold War.
The prime case in point is a recent, incredibly deadly nuclear explosion near a weapons site in Severodvinsk, Russia on Aug. 8, 2019. It killed two people, and emergency responders had to get to the site in hazmat suits. This was no rocket engine test, unless that engine is nuclear-powered. Which it was.
The United States has tested a missile like the one Russia was testing in August. NATO has dubbed the Russian nuclear-powered missile the SSC-X-9 Skyfall. When the U.S. put a nuclear reactor on a missile, we called it Project Pluto. Whatever you want to dub it, know that it’s basically a nuclear missile with a nuclear reactor, spreading nuclear material from its engines wherever it goes.
American scientists scrapped it because it would be an environmental disaster. Putin seems to have no such reservations. But that doesn’t matter.
Whatever the test was, there are nuclear weapons experts who cast doubt on the idea that Russia has the finances or technical ability to create such superweapons. One of these experts believes the Russians are just throwing weapons ideas at a wall like spaghetti to see what sticks.
“I don’t think it can all stick,” Ian Williams, the deputy director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Foreign Policy. “It’s just the novelty of it. No other country is even considering this kind of thing. It’s the most technologically unproven, probably the most expensive in the long run.”
More likely, Putin is trying to sell the idea of Russian superweapons, hearkening back to the good old days of the Soviet Union, where Russians had pride, dammit, even if they couldn’t always buy cucumbers. Putin is promising as much in recent days, introducing the superweapons in a March 2018 address to the nation. It’s only been a couple of years since Russia emerged from a financial crisis caused by the devaluation of the Russian Ruble – but with more and more economic sanctions imposed on it, the country is hardly out of the woods.
When Putin introduced the weapons last year, he challenged Russia’s top brass to name the weapons. I’m sure we could do better – how about the Pipe Dream torpedo or the Fukushima Missile?
The major surface combatants in the United States Navy (plus a number of ships in foreign navies) use the Aegis combat system. Centered around the AN/SPY-1 radar, this system has been used to protect the United States Navy’s aircraft carriers from aerial threats. But this system is now being used to protect more valuable things – on land – like your city.
The Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Lake Erie (CG 70) launches a RIM-161 SM-3 surface-to-air missile.
(U.S. Navy photo)
According to materials obtained at the 2018 SeaAirSpace expo in National Harbor, Maryland, one active-duty system is already active in Romania — and by the end of this year a second system will be active in Poland. These systems use the RIM-156 Standard SM-2 Extended Range Block IV missile, the RIM-161 Standard SM-3, and the RIM-174 Standard SM-6 Extended Range Active Missile.
The primary missile is the RIM-161. This missile has already proven it can hit targets in orbit – one was used by the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Lake Erie (CG 70) to shoot down an errant satellite in 2008. The missile is designed primarily for the anti-ballistic missile role, and is designed to secure a direct impact on targets.
A RIM-161 SM-3 launches from a Mk41 vertical launch system.
(Missile Defense Agency photo)
Japan has also acquired Aegis Ashore to protect against North Korean missiles. The system has been involved in 46 tests, and has succeeded 37 times, an 80.4 percent success rate against ballistic targets. With a track record like this, it’s hard to understand why Aegis Ashore is not being placed on land in the United States.
This has not been a new development. A number of U.S. Navy ships – and some Japanese ships – with Aegis have been modified to shoot down ballistic missiles. But Aegis is also going ashore for active duty, protecting against the threat of ballistic missiles. This seems to be a very natural approach, after all. Much research and development has already been done on the system, and it’s easy to train personnel to use it.