This Army wife's wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband

During World War II, Maj. Claude Hensinger had to bail from his B-29 bomber. When he jumped out of his plane, he was packing a parachute that turned out to suit a number of purposes for a wayward pilot, not the least of all ensuring he came to Earth with a thud instead of a splat. It also turned out to be a blanket, a pillow, and a wedding ring.


This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband

Just making that jump is no small feat.

Hensinger and his crew had just successfully made a bombing run over Yowata, Japan but on the way back to base, one of their engines caught fire. Instead of heading home, everyone had to bail out over China. In 1944, survival was anything but guaranteed in that part of the world. Much of China was still occupied by the Japanese, who were always on the lookout for down Allied aviators.

As if roving Japanese troops wasn’t enough, the nights were cold, dark, and long on the ground there. He didn’t know if he was even in occupied territory. Hensinger was also injured from landing on a pile of sharp rocks and was bleeding. He kept a hold on his parachute, even after landing. It was a good thing, too. The chute kept him warm and kept his bleeding to a minimum.

Eventually, he made it to safety and then the comfort of the United States.

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband

Hensinger and his wife, married after the war.

When the war ended, he returned to his native Pennsylvania, where he reconnected with a friend from his childhood — a girl named Ruth. The two began dating and in 1947, Hensinger wanted to propose to his lifelong friend. When he got down on one knee, he proposed to her without a ring. Instead, he held his lucky parachute in his hands. He told Ruth how it saved his life and that he wanted her to fashion a wedding dress from the dirty, blood-stained nylon.

Of course she said yes. To both questions. As she pondered how to make the paratrooper’s dream gown, she began to worry about how she could ever turn the nylon into a real wedding dress. One day, walking by a store, the inspiration came to her. She passed a frock that was itself inspired by one worn on Scarlett O’Hara in the 1939 film Gone With the Wind. She patterned the dress to match that while designing a veil and bodice to boot.

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband

Vivian Leigh wearing the dress that inspired Ruth Hensinger’s parachute dress in “Gone With The Wind.”

While another local seamstress sewed the veil and bodice, Ruth sewed the skirt, using the parachute strings to lace the skirt higher in the back than in the front. Keeping with tradition, Hensinger didn’t get to see his wife’s parachute dress until she walked down the aisle. He was a happy man, according to Ruth.

The couple was married for 49 years before Hensinger died in 1996. In the years between, two other generations of women were married in Ruth Hensinger’s parachute dress. The dress is now on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History.

Lists

5 planes the Navy should bring back

(Header photo by Scott Dworkin)

The Navy’s got some planes that are capable of doing some amazing things. But, even with these amazing aircraft, are there some planes the Navy should bring back from retirement? For the following airframes, we think that answer is a resounding, “Yes!” Let’s take a look.


5. Lockheed S-3 Viking/ES-3 Shadow

The S-3 Viking was more than just a submarine hunter. This plane also could carry out aerial refueling missions, electronic intelligence, and carrier onboard delivery. The plane had a range of almost 3,200 miles and could carry anti-submarine torpedoes, anti-ship missiles, bombs, and rockets. With Russia and China deploying advanced attack submarines, this is a plane that would be very useful on carrier decks.

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband
A S-3 Viking attached to Sea Control Squadron Two One (VS-21) conducts routine flight operations from aboard USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63). Kitty Hawk is operating in the Sea of Japan. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Alex C. Witte)

4. Douglas EKA-3B Skywarrior

The Skywarrior, often called the “Whale” due to its size, was a superb tanker and also served as a standoff jammer. This plane would still be very useful for the Navy and Marine Corps in either role. The baseline A-3 had a range of roughly 2,100 miles. As a tanker and jammer, it would help protect the carriers.

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband
The A-3 Skywarrior may be the most underrated airplane of the Vietnam War. (Photo from U.S. Navy)

3. Douglas A-1 Skyraider

If you’re looking for an aircraft suited for COIN, let’s dispense with the OA-X program. None of those planes bring the firepower needed, but the A-1 Skyraider is a very intriguing option. You have a plane that can haul 8,000 pounds of bombs and packs four 20mm cannon. In terms of firepower, the OA-X competitors can’t keep up.

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband
A-1 Skyraider over Vietnam. (USAF photo)

2. Grumman EA-6B Prowler

Yes, the EA-18G Growler has entered the fleet, but you can never have enough jammers. The return of the EA-6B would be useful, if only to further bolster those numbers. The Marines even equipped it with a targeting bod to designate for laser-guided missiles and bombs.

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband
A U.S. Navy EA-6B Prowler from the Electronic Attack Squadron-133 (VAQ 133), out of Woodby Island, Washington, takes off from Eielson Air Force Base (AFB), Alaska, in support of exercise Northern Edge 2002. (USAF photo)

1. Grumman F-14D Tomcat

No, this is not a case of Top Gun nostalgia. The F-14D was actually a superb strike fighter on par with the F-15E in the 1990s thanks to the addition of Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night, or LANTIRN. With Russia and China becoming threats, the Tomcat’s long range (1,840 miles), powerful weapons, and high performance (top speed of 1,544 miles per hour) would be very useful, even today.

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband
A U.S. Navy (USN) F-14D Tomcat aircraft flies a combat mission in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. (USAF Photo)

What planes do you think the Navy should bring back?

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Why troops love and hate aluminum vehicles

Aluminum has served in war since ancient times, but its most common application today is as armor, allowing for well-protected but light vehicles that can tear through rough terrain where steel would get bogged down. But aluminum has an unearned reputation for burning, so troops don’t line up to ride in them under fire.


This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband

Crewmen in the coupla of an M-2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle elevate the barrel during a 1987 exercise.

(U.S. Army Pfc. Prince Hearns)

Aluminum got its start in war as alum, a salt composed of aluminum and potassium. This was one of the earliest uses of aluminum in military history. Ancient commanders learned you could apply a solution of the stuff to wood and reduce the chances it would burn when an enemy hit it with fire.

As chemists and scientists learned how to create pure aluminum in the 1800s, some military leaders looked to it for a new age of weaponry. At the time, extracting and smelting aluminum was challenging and super expensive, but Napoleon sponsored research as he sought to create aluminum artillery.

Because aluminum is so much lighter than steel, it could’ve given rise to more mobile artillery units, capable of navigating muddy lanes that would stop heavier units. Napoleon’s scientists could never get the process right to mass produce the metal, so the ideas never came to fruition.

But aluminum has some drawbacks when it comes to weapon barrels. It’s soft, and it has a relatively low melting point. So, start churning out cannon balls from aluminum guns, and you run the risk of warping the barrels right when you need them.

Instead, the modern military uses aluminum, now relatively cheap to mine and refine, to serve as armor. It’s light, and it can take a hit, making it perfect for protection. The softness isn’t ideal for all purposes, but it does mean that the armor isn’t prone to spalling when hit.

But aluminum’s differences from steel extend deep into the thermal sphere. While aluminum does have a lower melting point than steel, it also has a higher thermal conductivity and specific energy (basically, it takes more heat to heat up aluminum than it does to heat up steel). So it can take plenty of localized heat without melting away.

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband

An armored personnel carrier burns in the streets of Egypt during 2011 protests.

(Amr Farouq Mohammed, CC BY-SA 2.0)

So why don’t troops love the stuff? It has a reputation for burning, for one. It’s not fair to the material. Aluminum actually doesn’t burn in combat conditions, needing temperatures of over 3300 Fahrenheit to burn and lots of surface area exposed to keep the reaction going.

(In industrial applications that rely on aluminum burning, the process is usually started by burning another metal, like magnesium, which burns more easily and releases enough heat, and the aluminum is crushed into a fine powder and mixed with oxygen so that the soot doesn’t halt the reaction.)

But that hasn’t stopped detractors from blaming the metal for all sorts of vehicles that were lost. The Royal Navy lost nine ships in the Falklands War, and three of them had aluminum superstructures. Aluminum detractors at the time claimed it was because the ships’ aluminum hulls burned in the extreme heat after being hit, even though the ships had steel hulls and aluminum does not burn outside of very certain conditions.

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband

U.S. Army armored vehicles leave Samarra, Iraq, after conducting an assault on Oct. 1, 2004.

(U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo)

All these reports of burning aluminum were spurred on in the ’80s and ’90s by a very public fight between Army Col. James G. Burton, a man who didn’t like the M113 in Vietnam and hated the M2 Bradley while it was under development. He repeatedly claimed that the Army was rigging tests in the Bradley’s favor, tests that he said would prove that the vehicles would burn and kill the crew in combat.

In a book published in 1993, after the Bradley became one of the heroes of Desert Storm, he claimed that the vehicles survived because of changes made after those tests. But while the Army might have switched the locations where ammo was stored and other design details, they didn’t change the hull material.

But, again, aluminum does melt. And the few Bradley’s that did suffer extended ammo fires did melt quite extensively, sometimes resulting in puddles of aluminum with the steel frame sitting on top of it. This spurred on the belief that the aluminum, itself, had burnt.

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband

The M2A3 Bradley is capable, but troops don’t love its aluminum hull.

(Winifred Brown, U.S. Army)

But aluminum melts at over 1,200 Fahrenheit, hot enough that any crew in a melting aluminum vehicle would’ve died long before the armor plates drip off. Aluminum is great at normal temperatures, providing protection at light weights.

And so aluminum protects vehicles like the M2 Bradley and the M113 armored personnel carrier. The new Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle that is slated to replace the M113 has, you guessed it, an aluminum hull. But while troops might enjoy the increased space, they’ll probably leave off any discussion of the vehicle’s material while bragging.

Military Life

4 things you should never say to a military spouse

Words matter. And sometimes well-meaning words can sting. It’s been almost 2 decades since I said, “I do” and entered the military family — and its rather unique lifestyle.


Here is my list of the 4 biggest offenders in the “things never to say to a military spouse” category.

4. “You knew what you were getting into.”

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband
A spouse kisses her husband prior to a welcome-home ceremony. (Ohio National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Carden)

Actually, most of us did not. I would go as far as to say that even a military brat who grew up surrounded by the culture didn’t know exactly what it feels like to send their spouse off to war. We didn’t know what it would be like to move our own children across the country multiple times or to sacrifice our career goals for another person’s military service. It’s kind of like having your own kid — you can read all the books and take all the classes, but nothing truly prepares you for the moment when you’re the one rocking a sick child to sleep in the middle of the night.

This is mostly a veiled attempt to say, “stop complaining, you signed up for this.” I get it. No one likes a complainer. But venting is healthy and we all need to get things off our chest from time to time.

3. “Suck it up, Buttercup.”

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband
Jessica Rudd, Marine veteran and Armed Forces Insurance Marine Spouse of the Year 2017 presented by Military Spouse Magazine, with her children. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Medina Ayala-Lo)

Embracing the suck is sometimes a necessity. But frankly, a military spouse doesn’t need a reminder of how to do this. Just because he/she puts up a tough front doesn’t mean they aren’t scared, upset, worried, or a combination of all three at times. It’s normal to miss home. It’s normal to be scared about a deployment. It’s normal to be overwhelmed with everything.

If your milspouse friend is becoming isolated or seems to be negative constantly, it’s perfectly fine to reach out and offer resources or just show up and take them to get coffee. Wanting to help is wonderful, but telling someone going through something very real and challenging to “suck it up” is rarely helpful. Tough love in this situation is mostly just lacking in the “love” department.

Also read: 10 memes that pretty much describe life as a military spouse

2. “I could never be a military spouse.”

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband
Sonar Technician (Surface) 2nd Class Matthew Underwood shares a first kiss with his wife after returning to Naval Base San Diego after a 7-month deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Abby Rader)

Yes. Yes, you could. I didn’t marry my husband because I wanted to be a military spouse, I married him because I love him. I haven’t stayed with him for 19 years because I adore the retirement check, I stay because I love him. I didn’t have two children with him because I think the term “military brat” is cool, we had kids because we love one another and wanted to grow our family.

Military families love each other, just like any other family does. And when we love someone, we do things for that person. Do you love your spouse? Then, yes. You could do it, too.

1. “Thank you for YOUR service.”

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband
Capt. Millie Hale and Capt. Ralph Hale pose for a photo on a T-38 Talon Aug. 13, 2017, at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. (Photo by Airman 1st Class Alan Ricker)

I don’t know why this one bothers me so much — maybe it’s just me. I know where the sentiment is coming from and, on some level, I appreciate people who recognize that spouses and children also face challenges due to military service. Regardless, the word “service” always makes me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t step on those yellow footprints. I have not deployed. I haven’t sacrificed my own health for this country. I did not agree to die in defense of it.

So, for me, the word ‘service,’ while well-meaning, seems off. When a kind stranger says this to me, I thank them and gently say, “thank you so much. It’s been my pleasure to support my husband in his service.”

What are the phrases that bug you the most?

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Air Force special ops can’t afford the AC-130 gunship lasers

The Air Force is short of funding to speed development of a laser weapon for what is already one of the most lethal platforms in the U.S. arsenal — the Special Operations AC-130J Ghostrider gunship, Air Force Lt. Gen. Marshall Webb testified April 11, 2018.

“We’re $58 million short of having a full program that would get us a 60-kilowatt laser flying on an AC-130 by 2022,” Webb, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, said at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging threats.


Webb was responding to questions from Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico, who said at the current pace of testing, and funding, a laser weapon for the AC-130 would not be operational until 2030.

“I’m quite concerned with the crawl-walk-run approach when I think we’re reaching a point in the technology where we could literally jump from crawl to run” on the laser weapon, Heinrich said.

Heinrich said the current plan called for progressive demonstration steps in moving from a four-kilowatt laser to a 30-kilowatt version, “which really isn’t operationally relevant.”

If the previous steps were successful, the Air Force would then move to a 60-kilowatt device, and “at that rate the system would not be fieldable until 2030,” Heinrich said.

“What’s wrong with skipping the 30-kilowatt demo entirely and moving to something that could be used in the field?”

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband
An AC-130.
(Photo by Josh Beasley)

“I would couch this as a semi-good news story,” Webb said. “I don’t disagree with your assessment at all,” he told Heinrich, adding that “we’re starting to see funding that would accelerate what you’re talking about” but there was still a $58 million shortfall.

Webb earlier pointed to the funding problem in a February 2018 roundtable discussion with reporters at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida.

Military.com reported then that Webb said “The challenge on having the laser is funding.”

“And then, of course, you have the end-all, be-all laser questions. Are you going to be able to focus a beam, with the appropriate amount of energy for the appropriate amount of time for an effect?” Webb said.

“We can hypothesize about that all we want,” he continued. “My petition is, ‘Let’s get it on the plane. Let’s do it, let’s say we can — or we can’t,”

The AC-130J Ghostrider’s current suite of armaments led retired Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold, the former commander of Air Force Special Operations, to dub it “the ultimate battle plane.”

In 2015, a 105mm howitzer was added to the existing arsenal of AGM-176A Griffin missiles, GBU-30 bombs, and a 30mm cannon.

MIGHTY TRENDING

China and Russia formed a military bloc to oppose the US

China’s defense minister met his Russian counterpart in Moscow on April 3, 2018, to “let the Americans know about the close ties between the armed forces of China and Russia,” according to the Associated Press.

“I am visiting Russia as a new defense minister of China to show the world a high level of development of our bilateral relations and firm determination of our armed forces to strengthen strategic cooperation,” China’s new defense minister, Gen. Wei Fenghe, said, according to CNN.


“The Chinese side has come [to Moscow] to show Americans the close ties between the armed forces of China and Russia … we’ve come to support you.”

The two defense ministers met for the seventh Moscow International Security Conference, according to Russian state owned media outlet TASS.

“To my memory, this is the 1st time in many years that a senior Chinese military leader says [something] like that publicly,” Alexander Gubev, a Senior Fellow and Chair of Russia in Asia-Pacific Program at Carnegie Moscow Center, tweeted on April 4, 2018.

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband
China’s defense minister, Wei Fenghe.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also met in Moscow on April 5, 2018, where they expressed the same sentiment of a forged “strategic partnership” against a “unipolar” world dominated by the US, the Associated Press reported.

In the last year, Russia and China have held joint naval drills in the South China Sea and the Baltics, as well as joint missile defense drills, according to the AP.

China and Russia have long supported each other’s positions on North Korea and Syria at the United Nations, and Beijing increased its support for Moscow after the West imposed sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Crimea, CNN reported.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Here are all the features on the new Air Force OCPs

In addition to a new camouflage pattern, the Air Force‘s new utility uniform will offer different features from the current Airman Battle Uniform.

The service announced in May 2018, it will adopt the Army Combat Uniform, known as the ACU, which sports the Operational Camouflage Pattern, or OCP. The Air Force plans to have all airmen wearing the new uniform by April 2021.


“The decision to move to this new uniform outfits our airmen in the best utility uniform available in the inventory,” Maj. Kathleen Atanasoff said in a statement.

So far, the Air Force is calling the uniform the OCP.

“The [OCP] is proven for better form, fit and function and will be an important part in preserving our service and squadron identities,” Atanasoff said

Here’s a look at the different features of the new Air Force Uniform:

The OCP has two slanted front chest pockets compared to the ABU‘s four pockets on the blouse, which date back to the Battle Dress Uniform design. It has two shoulder pockets, with side zippered closures and Velcro for mounting unit patches.

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband
(U.S. Air Force photo)

The rank identification patch for both officers and enlisted personnel is located in the center of the chest instead of on the sleeves for enlisted and collars for officers on the ABU. Name and service tapes, rank and patches are all attached with Velcro.

Airmen will have the option to sew on their name tape and service tape, Air Force officials say.

Officers will wear their rank on their patrol caps. The OCP’s patrol cap features a Velcro-mounted name tape on the back.

The Air Force uniform will differ from the Army’s in Velcro patches, name tape and insignia by using a “spice brown” color, service officials said. The Air Force will redesign patches used for commands down to the squadron level so they incorporate the spice brown color.

The OCP’s blouse has a front zippered closure instead of the ABU’s buttons. Similar to the ABU, the OCP has a two pen slots on the blouse sleeve.

The OCP’s trousers feature slanted cargo pockets as well as smaller pockets above each ankle.

For female airmen, the OCP is less boxy and includes multiple sizes for women.

Airmen will also be required to wear the same coyote brown boots as the Army, Air Force officials said.

Both the OCP and the ABU fabric weight and same 50/50 percent nylon-cotton blend, Atanasoff said. There is no permanent press treatment on the OCP like the ABU. In addition, the OCP has an “insect shield” permethrin treatment.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.

MIGHTY FIT

7 best NBA servicemen of all time

The NBA playoffs are heating up, and you know what that means…

Every on-base basketball court in the country now has some dude who: screams for the ball, dives at your knees, and calls a foul whenever anyone gets near him. He wears brand new Jordans, knee-high socks, and probably has some (also new) sweatbands on. He constantly wipes the bottom of his shoes with his hands. His only passes are conveniently missed shots. He calls you “chief.”

These dudes are not that guy.

They served their country—and they balled out at the highest level.


This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband

Mike Silliman

Mike Silliman was a beast for West Pointe. He took them to the NIT semifinals in 1954, 1955, and 1956. That was the equivalent of taking a team to the “Final Four” three consecutive times. He then won a gold medal with the USA Olympic basketball team in 1968. He also, perhaps, more importantly, became a captain while serving with the adjutant general corps in Korea.

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband

Bernard James

The most intriguing player on our list, Bernard James, didn’t play professional OR collegiate basketball until after serving in the military. In fact, James didn’t even play high school ball.

James dropped out of high school, earned his GED, and then enlisted in the Air Force at 17. He served six years in the Air Force as a security forces specialist, and became a Staff Sergeant. He was deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom to Iraq, Qatar, and Afghanistan.

It wasn’t until he played on his intramural Air Force team (and had a surprise 5-inch growth spurt—seriously) that he realized he had a knack on the hardwood. He then played in community college before transferring to FSU, where he was eventually drafted by the Dallas Mavericks where he would spend most of his 3 year NBA career.

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband

Tim James

Tim James is a Miami hero. He played at Northwestern High School in Miami, then “the U” (The University of Miami), and was later drafted by the Miami Heat in the first round of the 1999 NBA draft. He played for 3 years in the league, and then joined the military after 9/11.

After enlistment, he served in Iraq and, according to an article by Dan Le Batard, even decided not to tell any of his fellow soldiers about his time in the NBA. Like Shakespeare said, “discretion is the greater part of valor.”

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband

Bill Bradley

To say Bill Bradley was a renaissance man is an understatement. Bill Bradley’s achievements included: attending Princeton, attending Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, winning an Olympic gold medal in basketball, playing for the New York Knicks, winning two NBA championships, serving in the United States Air Force Reserve, becoming an NBA Hall of Famer, becoming a senator, and running for president… I pray he doesn’t DM my girl.

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband

George Yardley

Don’t let the milkman look fool you– George Yardley is an NBA Hall of Famer and two-time All-American. After being drafted (to the NBA, that is) in 1950, he served in the Korean War for two years. When he got back, he played for the Fort Wayne Pistons and became the first player to score 2,000 points in a season.

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband

Elgin Baylor

Rightfully credited as one of the greatest NBA players of all-time, Elgin Baylor turned around a struggling Minnesota Lakers franchise (and set the pace for what would become one of the winningest franchises in all of sports) by leading them to the NBA finals his rookie season. During his fourth year in the purple and gold, he served as a U.S. Army Reservist, living at Fort Lewis. His duties as an army reservist prevented him from practicing or participating in weekday games—and he still posted up 38 points per game.

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband

David Robinson

David “The Admiral” Robinson never achieved the rank of Admiral—but he was a Lieutenant for the Navy. His time in the Navy almost never happened as he was almost not accepted on account of “being too tall” (the Navy limit at the time, 6’8″, was two inches shorter than Robinson). In spite of this, he was accepted and balled out at the Naval Academy where he won the coveted Naismith and Wooden awards. He was a 10 time all star, 2 time NBA champion, a member of the legendary 1992 Olympic gold medal “Dream Team,” and had perhaps the most defined shoulder muscles of the 1990’s.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Here’s one of the hardest Army courses you’ve never heard of

In the thick heat of a Missouri summer, the number of Army Engineer Dive School dropouts rises faster than the steamy temperature.

“Does anyone want to DOR (drop out on request)?” said Staff Sgt. Andrew Holdner, as soldiers in soaked combat uniforms push through the pool’s waters in the early hours of a muggy July morning.

Holdner, a diving cadre instructor, looks over at the soldiers struggling in the pool. Two raise their hands. Four leave the class before noon.


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By the time the physical training session finished in the late afternoon, another five followed.

One day into the first week of Engineer Diver Phase I course, a class of 12 has dwindled to two: the first, a soldier who had already passed the course two years ago. He left the Army and worked his way back. The other: a soldier who struggled swimming the endurance laps necessary to be a deep-sea diver but passed other aspects of the course, including the classroom lessons and physical training exercises.

The cuts come swiftly. Some quit out of their own accord. Others simply did not meet the rigid standards of the course. The Army designed it this way; to weed out the weak-minded, weak-willed and those unable to remain calm during extended hours underwater. In maritime conditions, Army divers must be prepared to act in seconds; they must react to sudden changes in currents, waves and the elements.

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband

Staff Sgt. Andrew Holdner pours water on students as they attempt to complete flutter kicks. The water simulates the sensations of drowning. The exercise tests students’ ability to perform under extreme duress.

(Photo Credit: Joe Lacdan)

More than 90 percent of students won’t advance past the school’s first phase at Fort Leonard Wood. Among those who didn’t make the first week: recruits who had years of competitive swimming experience and former high school athletes.

The instructors know oceans, rivers and lakes can be a brutally cold, unforgiving places.

They attempt to make the course as unforgiving. At Davidson Fitness Center’s 25-meter pool, divers face two crucial initiation tests. Holdner said the majority of students don’t make it past these two exercises.

The first, students must swim the width of the pool in a single breath — underwater. Then the new recruits jump off a high dive board, surface, and swim to the far side of the pool and back and tread water for 40 minutes.

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband

Pfc. Nolan Hurrish, right, emerges from the pool with other students during an Army engineer diving training exercise at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

(Photo Credit: Joe Lacdan)

During the first half, students keep their heads out of water while using their hands and feet. During the second 20 minutes, they perform the “dead man’s float” — a survival technique where soldiers bend at the waist facing the water with arms out while holding their breath, simulating a floating corpse. When they need to breathe, they collapse arms and legs at the same time to raise their head above the water before dipping their faces back in the water.

In the second test, soldiers must swim 500 yards in 12 minutes and 30 seconds using breast stroke or side stroke, then do 50 pushups, 50 curl ups and six pullups. Finally, they must run a mile and a half in 12:30 or less.

As students attempt each exercise, they face the possibility of being dropped from the course and being reclassified into another career field.

“Every single time I’ve got to drop somebody,” said Sgt. 1st Class Eric Bailey, the lead instructor. “I feel bad because I know that they got into something that they knew nothing about. Because we’re a small field, very few people know that we exist.”

Students spend up to three and a half hours per day in the water, but also spend time in the classroom, learning about diving physics and how to maintain their equipment.

Dive instructors put students through a series of rites of passage, and ultimately test whether students can remain calm in situations that often cause heightened panic. The first such test came on the third day of training.

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband

In addition to remaining calm underwater and developing breathing skills, diving school students must maintain rigid physical fitness standards.

(Photo Credit: Joe Lacdan)

Test of Wills

A soldier’s exasperating screams echoed in the swimming complex as he struggled to retrieve his equipment at the bottom of the pool. Instructors removed the diver’s mask, fins and air regulator and tossed them into the deep end of the pool. When the course began earlier that week, he lagged behind classmates during endurance laps.

Now at 1:30 p.m., the weather conditions in central Missouri hovered at around 95 degrees.

Inside the swimming complex the heat and humidity make the poolside area feel like a pressure cooker, not making the training any easier. During the test, instructors rip off pieces of the students’ scuba gear. soldiers must descend 14 feet and retrieve the gear in a single breath.

Holdner and Bailey bobbed at the surface, shouting instructions. They slapped water into the faces of the two remaining students in an attempt to simulate the unpredictable sway of an ocean current.

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband

Pfc. Stephen Olinger dons swimming fins before a training exercise at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., in July 2018.

(Photo Credit: Joe Lacdan)

Here both instructors attempted to escalate the stress level to a fever pitch. Their screams, combined with the splashing water, simulate what instructors call a “rough sea state.” On missions, a diver’s rig might fail and they would no longer be able to breathe. Or divers may get bumped by an obstruction, falling debris, marine life or land they didn’t see. The current can also knock their air regulator off their suit.

When faced with the possibility of drowning, the diving instructors said water fills a swimmer’s nostrils, invoking feelings of nausea and sometimes vomiting. It can cause extreme panic, breaking down even the best of athletes and the most confident swimmers.

“We say water is the great equalizer,” Bailey said. “We have plenty of people that come here that are great physical specimens … They can do everything on land … But then, you put them in the water and guess what? They fall apart. They become two different people.”

Water can create extreme panic causing soldiers to lose their bearing, forcibly shoving fellow swimmers out of the way in order to reach for the shore. The violence of the water currents can push some soldiers to the edge.

“If you’re not comfortable,” Bailey said. “Water will bring out the worst in people.”

Bailey, a soldier with a neatly-combed crew cut and a stocky, fit build, teaches the class with a cool demeanor. He barks instruction with stern authority, but minutes later will crack a joke to put the students at ease.

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband

Army divers must be able to communicate with the crew above before going on a deep-sea dive. Though they must operate underwater with little instruction, a deep-sea diver will have the only view of the operation.

(Photo Credit: Joe Lacdan)

An experienced veteran diver of 13 years, he tested his mettle at sea on a diverse array of maritime missions across the globe. He faced one of his most difficult challenges during a deployment to Iraq along a river. A vehicle-borne improvised explosive device had damaged a bridge and infantry units needed engineer divers to perform reconnaissance underwater.

At the river’s center in the shadow of the bridge, Bailey, then a young soldier, entered the water. He and another diver descended nearly 40 feet into the river’s depths. Almost immediately after he entered the river’s pitch black waters, disaster struck.

“As soon as I hit that water, I lost my grip,” Bailey said. “The current took me and immediately just threw me back.”

As he felt the pull to the bottom, the river broke his helmet’s seal. Cold water rushed into his head gear. His suit remained attached to an umbilical air supply cord, restricting his movement. He waited for a teammate to pull him back to shore while calming his nerves in the face of extreme conditions.

“I couldn’t swim to the shore,” he said. “I wasn’t moving. The only way I was getting out of there is if I was getting pulled out. And now my helmet was flooded. So what would have happened if I had panicked or I was not able to remain calm?”

Soldiers must face the fear of drowning and their own mortality on each mission. And each time, Divers must tame their emotions or lives will be at stake. In the worst conditions, soldiers will operate with limited visibility while carrying up to 80 pounds of underwater gear.

“I’ve been in situations where I’m using my hands as my eyes,” Holdner said. “One little mistake can be an injury for you. It’s not an environment that’s going to go easy on you.”

Holdner, a youthful-looking staff sergeant with slicked back dark hair who sports a cascade of tattoos on his right arm, graduated from the course in 2010. He entered with a larger class — 96. Only six made the cut and advanced to Phase II. Holdner said the mental hurdles the course poses can be the most difficult to overcome.

Even the second-time student looked visibly rattled as the two jockeyed for position before descending below. Athletically built with a wide upper body, the student easily passed the physical fitness tests and he seemed likely to survive to the next phase in Panama City, Florida.

Then the unexpected happened.

Inexplicably, he swam to the poolside and signaled to the instructors he wanted to drop out. He decided he had enough.

One student remained.

The private’s panicked expression reflected his extreme duress. Of the 12 students who attempted the course, he was the only remaining soldier. The shortest student in the class, this soldier struggled to finish the swimming endurance drills earlier in the week. But he persevered to make it to the third day.

But his chances have dimmed.

As the private spent more time bobbing his head above the surface, he lost valuable time that could have been spent underwater searching for equipment.

An instructor then blew his whistle. The soldier didn’t make the cut.

Slowly, the soldier swam toward the pool’s edge. Still breathing heavily, he gingerly exited the pool and walked toward his gear. He must now wait for the Army to reclassify him into a new career field.

About 12 to 20 students begin each class. Only 1 to 3 normally graduate. Sometimes, as with the July 2018 students, none make it.

Although instructors must cut the majority of the students, they don’t take each decision lightly. Often before they pull recruits from the course, they have counseling sessions. They sit down with each student and explain why they cannot advance to the next phase.

Often, emotions spill.

“They’re in tears,” Bailey said. “This is something that they’ve wanted to do for a long time or this is something that they’ve told their family about and everyone is rooting for them and they don’t want to disappoint their family.”

Bailey said recruiters and drill sergeants often don’t have accurate accounts of engineer diver training. Soldiers then arrive at Fort Leonard Wood with misconceptions about the realities of training.

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband

Navy instructors check Soldiers’ scuba equipment. Equipment management and maintenance is critical for diver safety, instructors said.

(Photo Credit: Joe Lacdan)

Promising Pair

Two Phase I diving school graduates joined the class of students who trained here in the July heat. Instead of sporting the black Army shirts with gold letters, they donned white shirts and brown swimming trunks to distinguish themselves from the current class. They continued to train with incoming classes to keep their skills fresh as they waited for Phase II in Panama City.

Pvts. 1st Class Stephen Olinger and Nolan Hurrish are only months into their Army careers.

Olinger, a bright-eyed recruit who was raised partially overseas, carries a swagger and self-confidence as he approaches each exercise. He graduated in March. Hurrish, a soft-spoken but diligent recruit from Wisconsin, has quietly passed each test. They don’t know if they will survive the next six months at Panama City. But they remain optimistic that in less than 16 weeks they will join the fewer than 150 Army divers worldwide.

“I have an attitude like ‘this is it,” Olinger said. “This is what I came here to do. If I fail out, I fail out. But I’m going to give it everything.”

The world’s five oceans, where many of the 12 dozen or so Army divers throughout the world must perform, can be ruthless.

The sea is an unpredictable, faceless adversary unlike any other soldiers face in the battlefield, and no less deadly.

Students will get their first taste of that adversary off the shores of the Florida Panhandle in Phase II of the diving school.

(Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part series on the Army’s engineer diver training. For part two, click here.)

MIGHTY HISTORY

What it was like to land behind enemy lines in a glider on D-Day

D-Day, June 6, 1944, the largest amphibious invasion in history. Over 150,000 American, British, and Canadian troops stormed the beaches of Normandy, but over 15,000 airborne soldiers dropped in behind enemy lines on D-Day. Most parachuted in, but over a thousand landed in Normandy inside gliders made of plywood.

Ninety-seven-year-old Millcreek, Utah, resident John “Jack” Whipple piloted one of the hundreds of gliders to set down in the fields of France on that June morning.


Tow planes delivered Jack and hundreds of other fearless flyers to the air over Northern France. Whipple was behind the controls of an Airspeed Horsa the day of the invasion.

“When we came over Utah Beach we received some ground fire,” said Whipple. “Then we flew over the Germans, and received a lot more fire.”

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband
Horsa Glider

Allied forces used two gliders in the invasion: the Waco CG-4A and the Airspeed Horsa. These were not the modern sail planes of today, but cargo and troop carriers. The CG-4 carried a pilot and co-pilot, 13 soldiers and their equipment, or a jeep and two or three soldiers.

Whipple’s Horsa carried him and co-pilot, a jeep, an anti-tank gun, four soldiers that morning, but the Horsa could also be configured to carry 30 soldiers and their gear. The total weight of a loaded Horsa hovered around 15,000 pounds.

After the tow planes cut the gliders loose, pilots had just moments to find their landing zone.

“The quicker the better,” said Whipple. “They were shooting at us – probably 3 to 4 minutes.”

To make matters worse, reconnaissance photos given to pilots were months old.

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband
Jack Whipple, 1944

“The photos had been taken in January or February and the trees had no leaves,” Whipple recalled. When we got there, the trees were in full leaves and we missed our main check point.”

Losing altitude, Whipple picked a field to land in, but quickly realized it wasn’t big enough. He slammed the glider in to the ground, ripping off the landing gear. He then performed an intentional ground loop, digging one wing into the ground, thus slowing the glider and protecting the fuselage. A maneuver, which all these years later, Whipple points out, was authorized.

“We landed, didn’t hurt anybody or the major equipment,” he said.

At this point, his role shifted.

“Glider pilots did the flying, and right after we landed we became infantry men. Most glider pilots were trained as infantry men, but we couldn’t wear the infantry badge because we weren’t in their unit. We were still in the air corps.” Whipple said.

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband
Troops aboard a Horsa glider

“We landed behind enemy lines. We had about perhaps five or six Horsa gliders. We got together after landing and helped those who were injured. We got attacked that night, but we were able to keep the group together and able to keep the enemy away.”

The airborne assault on German forces was a key part of the allied invasion.

“It made it easier because the Germans then had to fight both sides of a squeeze,” said Whipple, squeezing his hands together. “The people coming on the beach—and the airborne.”

And while hundreds of gliders may not sound like a lot, the gliders provided the airborne units equipment to combat heavy and mechanized infantry, and needed supplies to operate behind enemy lines. Whipple flew two additional combat glider missions—one in Holland and the final one as part of the Rhine Crossing.

After returning from the war, he earned his private pilot license, and flew all over the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

This article originally appeared on U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY MONEY

USAA to Return $520 Million to Members

SAN ANTONIO – USAA, the country’s fifth largest property-casualty insurer, will be returning $520 million to its members. This payment is a result of data showing members are driving less due to stay-at-home and shelter-in-place guidance across the country. Every member with an auto insurance policy in effect as of March 31, 2020, will receive a 20% credit on two months of premiums in the coming weeks.

As a member-owned association, USAA historically returns a portion of profits to members. In 2019, we returned $2.4 billion in dividends, distributions and bank rebates and rewards. This brings the total amount returned to members since January 2019 to nearly $3 billion.


This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband

“We understand the impact this pandemic is having on our country, and especially our military community and their families, many of whom also are working on the front lines of the crisis. Returning premiums provides timely help for our members,” said USAA President and CEO Wayne Peacock. “USAA has been facilitating the financial security of military members for nearly 100 years, and this is another way we can serve them well.”

Early data trends show USAA members are heeding the calls to suspend nonessential travel, leading to fewer miles driven and fewer accidents.

How it works

Members will automatically receive a credit applied to their bill. They do not need to call, and no additional action is required.

Ways USAA is providing financial relief for members

This is just one of several steps USAA has taken to provide financial assistance to members, including:

  • Special payment arrangements are available to assist members experiencing financial difficulties. USAA will not cancel members’ auto or property insurance policies or charge fees due to late payments on USAA auto and property insurance coverage through June 17, 2020.
  • Expanded auto insurance coverage for members who use their personal vehicles to deliver food, medicine and other goods for commercial purposes.
  • USAA Bank is offering special payment assistance programs for eligible members including a 90-day credit card payment deferral, a 60-day payment extension on consumer loans, and special mortgage and home equity line of credit payment assistance.
  • USAA Life Insurance Company is offering special payment arrangements on life and health insurance policies, including a 60-day extension to the 30-day grace period.
  • USAA Life Insurance Company is waiving and reimbursing deductibles and co-payments for coronavirus-related testing received on or after Feb. 4, 2020, for members who have USAA Medicare Supplement plan.
  • USAA Investment Management Company is reducing managed portfolio fees 50% (effective April 1 through May 20‚ 2020).
This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband

Additionally, USAA has taken steps to help ensure its employees stay safe and able to serve members by enabling nearly all 35,000 employees to work from home and committed .4 million to help military-focused and other nonprofits respond to this pandemic.

More information is available at www.usaa.com/coronavirus.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The women who volunteered to make donuts on the front lines of World War I

Over the last century, there have been some crazy deliveries made to war zones to raise morale—usually beer. Whether it’s the Royal Air Force hauling it in their fuel tanks, a vet dropping it off in Vietnam for his buddies, or one soldier surrounded by German forces ferrying it in his helmet into a makeshift hospital for his wounded friend, there is nothing troops appreciate as much as a risky beer run.


Well, maybe not quite nothing.


In 1917, the women of the Salvation Army were sent to the front lines of the western front with the American First Division. Knowing that what the troops probably missed the most was the kindness of home, they devised a way to bring that to them. And what says American homefront better than fresh pastries?

Donuts are great motivation to make it through somewhere you don’t really want to be. Ask any kid who’s ever sat through a Sunday church service.

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband

Salvation Army

They had planned to make pies and cakes, but very quickly discovered that the camps really didn’t have the capacity for that kind of baked good. Donuts, however, were made with basic ingredients and, most importantly, were fried, which made them a lot easier to cook anywhere with a pot and some oil.

Only miles from the trenches of eastern France, a few women started making donuts—at first only 150 a day, which was way too few for the number of troops who began to line up to get the treats. They quickly managed to double that amount, and once they were fully equipped, they could make between 2,500 to 9,000 donuts per day.

That’s a lot of happy soldiers.

The troops, who would stand in line everyday to pick up their donuts, got more than just a warm, fresh pastry. They got a reminder of home, often reminiscing on their childhoods as they ate. Every bite was a little bit of peace in a place often described as hell on earth.

The impact was so immediate at the first location that volunteers all over Europe began to make donuts as well, and even the folks at home heard about it. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. was quoted as saying, “Before the war I felt that the Salvation Army was composed of a well-meaning lot of cranks. Now what help I can give them is theirs,” after he returned from serving in France.

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband

www.worldwar1centennial.org

The “Doughnut Lassies” or “Doughnut Girls” eventually expanded to making other baked goods when people stateside started sending more supplies, but the name stuck, and the American Expeditionary Force was nicknamed “the Doughboys” along with them. With their popularity, the Salvation Army also became the most popular organization among the troops in France, cementing their place in American culture.

The Doughnut Girls inspired songs written by the soldiers they were serving, and are mentioned in the official Salvation Army song, written in 1919, two years after the first donuts were fried.

Of course, the Salvation Army didn’t get all the good publicity; donuts themselves went from a fun treat to an American staple, creating a huge boost in demand even at home. We’ve all got the Doughnut Girls to thank for inspiring the popularity of one of everyone’s favorite treats.

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband

Soldiers lining up to get their donuts.

scalar.usc.edu

Across the western front, stations of as few as two women apiece could create enough baked goods to feed an army, and though the Salvation Army only sent a total of 250 volunteers, they had a huge impact on the soldiers’ wellbeing. In fact, Helen Purviance, one of the original Doughnut Girls, reportedly cooked at least a million donuts for the boys in France.

They were also only one of many organizations that brought women into the war effort, often risking their lives to do so. The Doughnut Girls carried .45 revolvers and sometimes cooked through shellfire or while wearing gas masks, due to their close proximity to the front lines.

“Can you imagine hot doughnuts, and pie and all that sort of stuff?” one soldier wrote, in a letter that was published in the Boston Daily Globe, “Served by mighty good looking girls, too.”
MIGHTY HISTORY

This train thief earned the first Medal of Honor

Army Pvt. Jacob Parrott was only 19 when a civilian spy and contraband smuggler proposed a daring plan, asking for volunteers: A small group of men was to sneak across Confederate lines, steal a train, and then use it as a mobile base to destroy Confederate supply and communications lines while the Union Army advanced on Chattanooga.


This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband

It was for this raid that the Army would first award a newly authorized medal, the Medal of Honor. Jacob Parrott received the very first one.

The military and political situation in April, 1862, was bad for the Union. European capitals were considering recognizing the Confederacy as its own state, and the Democrats were putting together a campaign platform for the 1862 mid-terms that would turn them into a referendum on the war.

Meanwhile, many in the country thought that the Army was losing too many troops for too little ground.

It was against this backdrop that Union Gen. Ormsby Mitchel heard James J. Andrews’ proposal to ease Mitchel’s campaign against Chattanooga with a train raid. Mitchel approved the mission and Andrews slipped through Confederate lines with his volunteers on April 7, 1862.

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband

An illustration for The Penn publishing company depicting the theft of the “General” locomotive by Andrews’ Raiders.

(Illustration by William Pittenger, Library of Congress)

The men made their way to the rail station at Chattanooga and rode from there to Marietta, Georgia, a city in the northern part of the state. En route, two men were arrested. Another two overslept on the morning of April 12 and missed the move from Marietta to Big Shanty, a small depot.

Big Shanty was chosen for the site of the train hijacking because it lacked a telegraph station with which to relay news of the theft. The theory was that, as long as the raiders stayed ahead of anyone from Big Shanty, they could continue cutting wires and destroying track all the way to Chattanooga without being caught.

At Big Shanty, the crew and passengers of the train pulled by the locomotive “The General” got off to eat, and Andrews’ Raiders, as they would later be known, took over the train and drove it north as fast as they could. Three men from the railroad gave chase, led by either Anthony Murphy or William Fuller. Both men would later claim credit for the pursuit. Either way, “The Great Locomotive Chase” was on.

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband

An illustration for The Penn publishing company shows Andrews’ Raiders conducting sabotage.

(Illustration by William Pittenger, Library of Congress)

For the next seven hours and 87 miles, the Raiders destroyed short sections of track and cut telegraph wires while racing to stay ahead of Fuller, Murphy, and the men who helped them along the way. The Raiders were never able to open a significant lead on the Confederates and were forced to cut short their acquisition of water and wood at Tilton, Georgia.

This led to “The General” running out of steam just a little later. The Raiders had achieved some success, but had failed to properly destroy any bridges, and the damage to the telegraph wires and tracks proved relatively quick to repair.

Mitchel, meanwhile, had decided to move only on Huntsville that day and delayed his advance on Chattanooga. All damage from the raid would be repaired before it could make a strategic difference.

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband

An illustration for The Penn publishing company depicting the Ohio tribute to Andrews’ Raiders.

(Illustration by William Pittenger, Library of Congress)

The Raiders, though, attempted to flee the stopped train but were quickly rounded up. Eight of them, including Andrews, were executed as spies in Atlanta. Many of the others, including Parrott, were subjected to some level of physical mistreatment, but were left alive.

Parrott and some of the other soldiers were returned in a prisoner exchange in March, 1863. Despite its small impact on the war, the raid was big news in the North and the men were received as heroes. Parrott was awarded the Medal of Honor that month, the first man to receive it. Five other Raiders would later receive the medal as well.

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“The General” went on an odd tour after the war, serving as a rallying symbol for both Union and Confederate sympathizers. “The General” was displayed at the Ohio Monument to the Andrews’ Raiders in 1891. The following year, it was sent to Chattanooga for the reunion of the Army of the Cumberland.

In 1962, it reprised its most famous moments in a reenactment of the raid to commemorate the centennial of the Medal of Honor. It now sits in the Southern Museum of Civil War Locomotive History in Kennesaw, Georgia, the same spot from which it was stolen and the chase began.