Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY MOVIES

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing

Critics who say the Pentagon doesn’t give the press enough briefings had their prayers answered — even if they didn’t necessarily get their questions answered. On Oct. 15, the Pentagon gave a presser led by actor Gerard Butler. If you know anything about popular culture news, you probably guessed the brief focused on the Navy.


The actor has been doing a full-court press around the military community in support of his new film, Hunter Killer. Butler’s October Pentagon press briefing was the first one given by the Defense Department since August of 2018.

At the time of the actor’s briefing, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Pentagon Spokesperson Dana White were not at the Pentagon. They weren’t even in the United States. The two were on their way to Vietnam when Butler took the podium.

He came to thank the Department of Defense for their help with his new film, due in theaters October 26th. In the film, Butler plays a U.S. Navy submarine commander with the mission of taking Navy SEALs into Russian waters to rescue a deposed Russian president from a coup plot.

“It was one of my childhood dreams to be on a sub,” the actor told the gathered press room. “I didn’t think it would happen the way it did, taking off from Pearl Harbor and sitting on the conning tower with a submarine commander.”

Butler spent three days aboard a Navy submarine in preparation for the film. While on the boat, the actor learned about how a submariner’s small, metal world works and took part in numerous training drills. He told reporters it was incredible to see how sailors are constantly being tested and must think creatively and intuitively.

“What I really took out of it was the brilliance and the humility of the sailors I worked with,” he said. This isn’t the first time Butler has made visits and appearances in the military community.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing

Marines demonstrate Marine Corps Martial Arts techniques for actor Gerard Butler at Camp Pendleton during his 2016 visit — though we’re sure he already knew this move in particular.

(Marine Corps Photo by Pfc. Emmanuel Necoechea)

In 2016, the actor also flew with the Thunderbirds, the U.S. Air Force’s fighter demonstration squadron, visited Marines at Camp Pendleton, and toured guided missile destroyers at Naval Base San Diego in support of other films.

For Hunter Killer, he wanted to be sure to show his support to the Navy.

“I’d like to thank the Navy for all their help because we couldn’t have done it without them – or we could, but it would not have been a good movie,” Butler said.
MIGHTY HISTORY

Did you know a Soviet physicist is behind all of America’s stealth?

Pyotr Ufimtsev was a scientist associated with a number of prestigious universities and labs in Moscow. Listen to a few of the institutions he was at, and it becomes pretty clear what his primary interests were. He worked at the Central Research Radio Engineering Institute, the Institute of Fundamental Technical Problems, the Moscow Aviation Institute, the Institute of Radio Engineering and Electronics of Academy of Sciences, and more.


Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing
The Northrop B-2 Spirit.
(U.S. Air Force)

Notice the combination there? Aviation, radio engineering, and technical problems? That’s because he was very interested in how radio waves reflected off of objects; how radar actually worked at the most detailed and precise levels. He didn’t know it, but his work would put him at the forefront of a new American industry: stealth engineering.

Ufimtsev wrote a number of important papers as he studied exactly how radio waves bounced off of two-dimensional and three-dimensional objects. One of the most interesting things he found was that it wasn’t just the size of an object that determined how it appeared on radar; shape was actually more important.

And certain shapes were unlikely to reflect much energy back to the radar, meaning you could make a large object appear very small if you just gave it the right shape.

Much of Ufimtsev’s work was quietly translated into English where a number of American scientists read it. A 1962 paper translated as Method of Edge Waves in the Physical Theory of Diffraction was of particular interest. Many U.S. scientists simply saw the paper and incorporated it into their own research, or they rebuffed it and went about their day. But there was one team of engineers who saw the paper and saw it as potentially groundbreaking.

Lockheed engineers working in the “Skunk Works” division, the same engineers who made America’s first jet fighter during World War II, saw the chance to create something entirely new and novel. What if they could create an entire plane with the shapes and materials that sent little energy back to a radar?

Such a plane could be large, like the size of a bomber or fighter, but would show up on radar as a little bit of electromagnetic noise. It would be invisible as long as no one knew to look for it, and it would still be challenging to detect even after its existence was disclosed.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing
(U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Thomas Barley)

Best of all, the growing number of homing missiles that American pilots would face would become essentially useless. Homing missiles needed a strong radar signal to get within range of an enemy target before switching to a seeker built into the missile. This process would almost certainly not work against a stealth aircraft, making the pilots much safer.

There were plenty of possible uses for such a plane, but Lockheed started by building a ground-attack plane, though they further camouflaged the program by labeling it a fighter, the F-117 Nighthawk dubbed the “Stealth Fighter.” The same lessons were later used in the B-2 bomber and are now present—in new forms—the F-22 and F-35. And some of Ufimtsev’s work will undoubtedly be recognizable in the B-21 Raider.

Other branches have gotten in on the stealth made possible by Ufimtsev, like the Navy with its Sea Shadow project that created stealthy boats.

Ufimtsev has gotten recognition from the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation, and even the U.S. for his work. He has been named to prestigious positions at universities like UCLA in California. He is 90 years old. 

MIGHTY CULTURE

A sailor’s worst nightmare: Surviving a sinking ship

With millions of boats and ships plying the waves, it’s easy to forget that mankind isn’t made to survive in the ocean — and the dangers inherent to the sea are compounded when you’re trapped a few decks below the waterline in a huge iron bubble filled with ammunition and fuel that’s on fire as it sinks into icy waters.


Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing

A ship goes down, circa 1943.

(John Atherton, CC BY-SA 2.5)

For sailors, attempting to save their vessel and then, if necessary, abandoning it while trying to survive is a real process that they must be prepared to complete. Based on testimony from those who have survived torpedo hits and other attacks that doom a ship, the experience is even more nightmarish than most would imagine.

First, there’s the attack or the crash. For many in war, they see the threat too late to do anything about it. German U-boat Capt. K.G.E. von Spiegel described an attack in his memoirs:

“The steamer appeared to be close to us and looked colossal. I saw the captain walking on his bridge, a small whistle in his mouth. I saw the crew cleaning the deck forward, and I saw, with surprise and a slight shudder, long rows of wooden partitions right along all decks, from which gleamed the shining black and brown backs of horses. ‘Oh heavens, horses! What a pity, those lovely beasts!’ ….

“The death-bringing shot was a true one, and the torpedo ran towards the doomed ship at high speed. I could follow its course exactly by the light streak of bubbles which was left in its wake….

“I saw that the bubble-track of the torpedo had been discovered on the bridge of the steamer, as frightened arms pointed towards the water and the captain put his hands in front of his eyes and waited resignedly. Then a frightful explosion followed, and we were all thrown against one another by the concussion, and then, like Vulcan, huge and majestic, a column of water two hundred metres high and fifty metres broad, terrible in its beauty and power, shot up to the heavens.”

For men not on the deck, the end of the ship can come as even more of a surprise.

Dr. Lewis Haynes, chief medical officer on the USS Indianapolis, described his experience when his ship was torpedoed:

“I awoke. I was in the air. I saw a bright light before I felt the concussion of the explosion that threw me up in the air almost to the overhead. A torpedo had detonated under my room. I hit the edge of the bunk, hit the deck, and stood up. Then the second explosion knocked me down again. As I landed on the deck I thought, ‘I’ve got to get the hell out of here!’ I grabbed my life jacket and started to go out the door. My room was already on fire.”
Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing

The German battleship Admiral Graf Spee in flames after being scuttled in the River Plate Estuary off Montevideo, Uruguay.

(Imperial War Museums)

For men on sinking ships, fire is a real hazard despite the water rushing to fill the ship. The water is the greatest threat to the ship floating for the moment, but fire can quickly kill all life aboard and cause explosions or melt bulkheads, disabling pumps or allowing even more water in.

Damage control parties move through the ship, attempting to patch holes, pump out flooded compartments, and douse fires. But if they can’t get the damage under control, the ship’s captain has to make one of the hardest decisions: to abandon ship.

Sometimes, it’s the only way to save the crew, giving them the chance to fight another day or to return to their families, but it consigns thousands of tons of American steel and aluminum to the sea, along with the remains of any sailors already dead or too injured or trapped to escape.

The rest of the crew heads for the lifeboats, helping each other through listing decks and smoke-filled compartments that are often without power and light.

But there’s not always room enough for everyone in the lifeboat. This is extremely dangerous, even when the water is warm. The water is often filled with oil and diesel, and the sinking ship is drawing literal tons of water towards itself, creating a situation where even the strongest swimmer can get slowly pulled under and drown.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing

The HMS Legion, at left, rescues survivors from the slowly sinking HMS Ark Royal near the coast of Gibraltar.

(Royal Navy photo by Lt. S.J. Beadell)

From Dr. Haynes’ account of the Indianapolis sinking:

“I slowly walked down the side of the ship. Another kid came and said he didn’t have a jacket. I had an extra jacket and he put it on. We both jumped into the water which was covered with fuel oil. I wasn’t alone in the water. The hull was covered with people climbing down.

“I didn’t want to get sucked down with the ship so I kicked my feet to get away. And then the ship rose up high. I thought it was going to come down and crush me. The ship kept leaning out away from me, the aft end rising up and leaning over as it stood up on its nose. The ship was still going forward at probably 3 or 4 knots. When it finally sank, it was over a hundred yards from me. Most of the survivors were strung out anywhere from half a mile to a mile behind the ship.

“Suddenly, the ship was gone and it was very quiet. It had only been 12 minutes since the torpedoes hit. We started to gather together. Being in the water wasn’t an unpleasant experience except that the black fuel oil got in your nose and eyes. We all looked the same, black oil all over — white eyes and red mouths. You couldn’t tell the doctor from the boot seamen. Soon everyone had swallowed fuel oil and gotten sick. Then everyone began vomiting.”
Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing

USS Indianapolis survivors are moved to the hospital in August 1945.

(U.S. Navy)

Best case scenario, the sailors are now safely in the water, attempting to tend to wounds and keep people afloat while awaiting rescue. But, they may still be under attack or could be captured by enemy forces. In the case of the Indianapolis, the crew was returning from the top-secret mission to deliver the atomic bomb to Allied forces for use against Japan.

No one knew where the ship was, and the men were left at sea for four days in shark-infested waters. The crew had 1,195 members when it went down in 1945. 300 men are thought to have gone down with the ship, and nearly 600 more died in the water while waiting for rescue. Only 316 survived.

popular

This insane pilot conducted first combat search and rescue

It was Nov. 19, 1915. British pilots were attacking Ottoman forces at Ferrijik Junction, a rail and logistics hub. The tiny planes involved in the attack swooped and dove as they dropped bombs and fought off enemy fighters. But then, one of the bombers took heavy fire as it conducted its bombing run, crashing into the nearby marshes. But then a hero emerged.


Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing
Richard Bell Davies earned the Victoria Cross as a squadron commander in World War I. He would later rise to rear admiral and serve in World War II. (Public Domain)

The attack on Ferrijik was focused on cutting Turkish supply lines, and a large mix of planes had been assembled to conduct the attack. One member of that aerial force was Royal Navy Squadron Cmdr. Richard Bell Davies. Davies had already proven himself earlier that year, pressing a bombing attack on German submarine pens in Belgium despite taking heavy damage to his plane and a bullet wound to his thigh, flying for an hour after his injury before landing safely.

During the attack on Ferrijik, Davies was flying a Nieuport fighter, helping to protect the bombers so they could do their mission as effectively as possible.

A younger pilot, Flight Sub-Lt. Gilbert F. Smylie was one of those tasked with actually dropping the bombs. His plane was equipped with eight, and he came in low and slow over the railway to get his ordnance on target. But the heavy ground fire of the Turkish defenders got to him before he dropped his load.

Smylie quickly began losing altitude, but he kept his plane headed toward the target and then released all of his bombs at once over the rail station. One failed to separate, but the other seven fell to the earth from low altitude. Despite shedding all that weight, Smylie couldn’t get his plane back up to altitude, so he turned it toward a dry marshbed and carefully set the plane down.

He attempted to restart his plane, but that failed, and so he decided to take the machine offline permanently to prevent its capture. Smylie set the bird on fire, trusting the fire to set off the bomb and destroy the plane completely. But then he saw something he almost certainly could not have predicted.

A Nieuport fighter was descending toward him. At the time, an airplane had never been used to rescue a downed airman, so the idea of a one-seater descending to save him must have seemed like insanity to Smylie. But, to ensure that this pilot wouldn’t be killed by the exploding bomb, he pulled his pistol and shot the munition to set it off, destroying it before the other plane was too close.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing
A Nieuport 10 scout plane. (Colorized by NiD.29, CC BY-SA 2.5)

 

The Nieuport, with Davies at the controls. landed in the marshbed with Smylie even as Bulgarian rifle fire began to crack overhead. Davies’ Nieuport 10 had only one seat, but was originally designed and constructed with two. Important flight controls had bars running through the converted cockpit, and the whole thing was covered with a cowl.

Smylie scrambled into the tight quarters of the former cockpit, contorting himself around a rudder bar and pressing his head against an oil tank, and Davies took off. The explosion of Smylie’s plane had temporarily slowed the enemy fire, and the two pilots were able to escape before the Bulgarians ramped their fire back up.

After about 45 minutes, the pair reached safety, but it took two hours to extract Smylie from the confined quarters.

Smylie received the Distinguished Service Cross for his work that day, and Davies earned the Victoria Cross with his bravery. This first search and rescue from the air would spur the development of dedicated tactics and techniques that have carried forward to today.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The survivalist’s guide to fashioning a blade from scraps

As far as useful tools in a jam go, it’s tough to beat the general practicality of a knife. Whether it’s marking a trail, field dressing an animal, or defending yourself, a sharp piece of steel on your hip can solve a number of problems you may face in a survival situation; which is exactly why so many people maintain a good quality knife in their EDC (Everyday Carry) loadout. But what if you find yourself stuck in a long-term survival situation without ready access to a knife?


You could go on without one, or you could make one, using nothing but a few common hand tools and some scrap metal.


Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing

I found this scrap carbon steel in a metal recycling bin behind my neighbors shop.

Scrap metal

The first thing you need to do is find yourself a suitable piece of metal. While you can usually get a sense of the sort of metal you’re working with with a visual inspection (stainless steel holds a shine while carbon steel will brown or rust, for instance), your top priority is finding a sturdy piece of metal that’s somewhat close to the size and shape of a knife. The closer it starts in size, the easier a day you’ll have. For a good survival knife that fits well in my hand, I usually prefer a piece of metal that’s somewhere between 10 and 12 inches long, less than a half inch thick, and 1.5 to 2 inches wide, but it may take some work to cut your piece into those dimensions.

Low carbon scrap steel is soft and doesn’t make for excellent knives, but in a pinch, even a rusting blade that needs sharpening is better than no blade at all.

Tools

There’s no getting around the need to have a hack saw when working with metal. In fact, if the scrap metal you locate is too long, it’s the only tool you can’t do without. Beyond that, all you really need is a metal file or access to plenty of sidewalks or blacktop. Any of the three will do.
Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing

Other tools that could help are a C-clamp or vice, sharpie, clips, and sandpaper.

Cut the steel into the general shape of a blade

Use your hacksaw to cut your scrap steel until it meets your general length and width requirements. The harder the steel (based on carbon levels and if it’s been treated) the harder the cutting will be. Be patient and careful not to hurt yourself. If you need to make this knife, chances are good no ambulances will be coming if you suffer a nasty gash.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing

If you don’t have a clamp, you can step on the handle and saw near your feet for leverage.

Once you’ve got it cut somewhat to shape, saw off a corner to create what will become the point of the blade. If the steel is too wide to fit into your hand comfortably, you can keep on hacking to narrow down the handle portion as well. This is a lot more work, but can also provide a ridge if you’d like to add a handguard down the road.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing

The ridge between the handle and blade creates a stop on one side for a handguard when you’re making more elaborate knives.

Grind, grind, grind

If you have a metal file, hold the knife in one hand while carefully using the file to shape the profile of the blade. Be careful, if you have access to a vice, put the blade in it while you work. If not, finding a pair of work gloves can help keep the skin on your fingers.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing

By using the width of the metal to dictate the size of the blade, you only need to shape one corner.

Once the rough profile of the blade has been shaped, re-orient how you hold the knife to work on the blade’s edge. This will take a long time, and if you’re so inclined, you could spend a whole day or more making one very pretty, even edge. If you’re in a hurry, however, file it down until you have a reasonably fine point and a good sharp edge and leave looking pretty for the guys that aren’t making their own knives out of garbage.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing

If you don’t have a metal file, you’re not out of luck. Sidewalks and black top are very abrasive surfaces, and you can whittle away at the metal edge of your blade using either with enough patience and care. This is a great way to shave your knuckles, and you will ruin your driveway, but I’ve managed to fashion a workable blade or two using this method.

Making a handle

Depending on the tools you have on hand, there are probably rough metal splinters hanging off the edges of your knife and once your hand gets sweaty (or bloody) keeping a grip will be impossible. Fortunately, there are lots of materials that make for decent handles.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing

You can put some real time in to weave a leather strap, or just tightly wrap 550 cord around the handle.

Lots of military guys are familiar with making things out of paracord, and knife handles are no exception. Leather belts, rope, and duct tape are all excellent knife handle materials. Wrap the material around the handle of the knife as tightly as you can, overlapping it by however many layers as necessary to make the handle a comfortable girth.

Then get your ass out of dodge with your new prison-shank in hand.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Flying aircraft carriers are totally possible (and sort of crazy)

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.


Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing
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.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing
(DARPA)

 

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.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing

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.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing
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.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing
Sketch of a micro-fighter inside the 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.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing
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.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing
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.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing
(Concept illustration)

 

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.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing
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.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing
The YRF-84F flying underneath its B-36 carrier aircraft. FICON modifications included installing a hook in front of the cockpit and turning down the horizontal tail so it could partially fit into the B-36 bomb bay. (U.S. Air Force photo)

 

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.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing
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.

USS Macon (ZRS-5) Flying over New York Harbor, circa Summer 1933. (U.S. Navy)

 

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.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing
The USS Akron in flight, November 1931 (U.S. Navy)

 

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.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing
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.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing
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.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

 

MIGHTY TRENDING

How Bush climbed from Navy’s youngest pilot to president

His background was a little different than most who join the military at the age of eighteen, but his warmth, love of country and drive to serve made him a leader respected up and down his chains of command.

Service members who worked with former President George H.W. Bush, first as Ronald Reagan’s vice president and, later, during his presidential term, spoke of the way he remembered their names and would ask about their families. They were loyal to him and he was loyal right back.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w1ffz7RWFZs
President George H.W. Bush: Remembering 41

www.youtube.com

Bush himself said it best in his inaugural address on Jan. 20, 1989: “We are not the sum of our possessions. They are not the measure of our lives. In our hearts we know what matters. We cannot hope only to leave our children a bigger car, a bigger bank account. We must hope to give them a sense of what it means to be a loyal friend, a loving parent, a citizen who leaves his home, his neighborhood and town better than he found it.

“What do we want the men and women who work with us to say when we are no longer there? That we were more driven to succeed than anyone around us? Or that we stopped to ask if a sick child had gotten better, and stayed a moment there to trade a word of friendship?”

Bush, who died last night at age 94, was born June 12, 1924, in Milton, Massachusetts. He graduated from Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, on his 18th birthday in 1942 and immediately joined the Navy. With World War II raging, Bush earned his wings in June 1943. He was the youngest pilot in the Navy at that time.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing

George H.W. Bush seated in a Grumman TBM Avenger, circa 1944.

(U.S. Navy photo)

Flew Torpedo Bombers

The future president flew torpedo bombers off the USS San Jacinto in the Pacific. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for a mission over Chichi Jima in 1944. Even though his plane was hit by antiaircraft fire, he completed his bombing run before turning to the sea. Bush managed to bail out of the burning aircraft, but both of his crewmen died. The submarine USS Finback rescued him.

On Jan. 6, 1945, Bush married Barbara Pierce of Rye, New York. They had six children: George, Robin (who died of leukemia in 1953), Jeb, Neil, Marvin, and Dorothy Bush Koch.

After the war, Bush attended Yale and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1948. He and his wife moved to Texas, where he entered the oil business. Bush served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1966 to 1970.

In 1971, then-President Richard Nixon named Bush as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, where he served until becoming chairman of the Republican National Committee in 1973. In October 1974, President Gerald R. Ford named Bush chief of the U.S. liaison office in Beijing, and in 1976, Ford appointed him to be director of central intelligence.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing

Chief Justice William Rehnquist administers the Presidential Oath of Office to George H. W. Bush during his Jan. 20, 1989 inauguration ceremony at the United States Capitol.

Vice President, Then President

In 1980, Bush ran for the Republican presidential nomination. Ronald Reagan won the primaries and secured the nomination, and he selected Bush as his running mate. On Jan. 20, 1981, Bush was sworn in for the first of two terms as vice president.

The Republicans selected Bush as presidential nominee in 1988. His pledge at the national convention — “Read my lips: no new taxes” — probably got him elected, but may have worked to make him a one-term president.

Bush became the 41st president of the United States and presided over the victory of the West. During his tenure, the Berlin Wall – a symbol of communist oppression since 1961 – fell before the appeal of freedom. The nations of Eastern Europe withdrew from the Warsaw Pact and freely elected democracies began taking hold.

Even more incredible was the dissolution of the Soviet Union itself. Kremlin hard-liners tried to seize power and enforce their will, but Boris Yeltsin rallied the army and citizens for freedom. Soon, nations long under Soviet domination peeled away and began new eras.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing

President Bush participates in a full cabinet meeting in the cabinet room.

(U.S. National Archives photo by Susan Biddle)

Military Action

In 1989, Bush ordered the U.S. military in to Panama to overthrow the government of Gen. Manuel Noriega. Noriega had allowed Panama to become a haven for narcoterrorists, and he subsequently was convicted of drug offenses.

But Bush is best remembered for his swift and decisive efforts following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990. The Iraqi dictator claimed that Kuwait historically was his country’s “19th province.” His troops pushed into Kuwait and threatened to move into Saudi Arabia.

Bush drew “a line in the sand” and promised to protect Saudi Arabia and liberate Kuwait. He put together a 30-nation coalition that liberated Kuwait in February 1991. Operation Desert Storm showed Americans and the world the devastating power of the U.S. military.

At the end of the war, Bush had historic approval ratings from the American people. But a recession – in part caused by Saddam’s invasion – and having to backtrack on his pledge not to raise taxes cost him the election in 1992. With third-party candidate Ross Perot pulling in 19 percent of the vote, Bill Clinton was elected president.

Bush lived to see his son – George W. Bush – elected president, and he worked with the man who defeated him in 2006 to raise money for millions of people affected by an Indian Ocean tsunami and for Hurricane Katrina relief.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing

President Bush visits troops in Saudi Arabia on Thanksgiving Day 1990.

‘Freedom Works’

In his inaugural address, the elder Bush spoke about America having a meaning “beyond what we see.” The idea of America and what it stands for is important in the world, he said.

“We know what works: freedom works. We know what’s right: Freedom is right. We know how to secure a more just and prosperous life for man on Earth: through free markets, free speech, free elections and the exercise of free will unhampered by the state,” he said.

“We must act on what we know,” he said later in the speech. “I take as my guide the hope of a saint: in crucial things, unity; in important things, diversity; in all things, generosity.”

It was the mark of the man.

popular

How sailors keep their warships from breaking down

American warships are capable, lethal, and imposing, so much so that it can be easy to forget that they are still just lumps of metal floating through highly damaging saltwater while running at high power as hundreds or thousands of sailors prowl their decks.

Here’s how sailors make sure that all the sailing, work, and seawater doesn’t doom the ship before it can shoot its way through enemy fleets:


Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing
Hull Maintenance Technician 2nd Class Ryann Galbraith brazes piping aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.
(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Michael Hogan)

One of the most important parts, besides avoiding enemy missiles and shells, obviously, is making sure that the saltwater stays in the ocean and doesn’t get inside the ship. That’s why the Navy has hull maintenance technicians like Ryann Galbraith, above. They work on all the plumbing, decks, structures, and hulls, patching, welding, riveting, etc. to keep fluids and steam in dedicated pipes.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing
U.S. Navy divers, assigned to Southwest Regional Maintenance Center, drop a cofferdam into the water prior to performing underwater hull maintenance on the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer.
(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Trevor Welsh)

Of course, the hull itself can be vulnerable, accumulating barnacles and other sea life and rusting from the exposure to water and salt. To deal with this, the Navy sends sailors around the ship, often in small boats, to touch up paint or clean off risky accumulations. Also, they send divers under the water to clean the hull and perform more maintenance.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing
Chief Fire Controlman Ryan Pavelich and Fire Controlman 2nd Class Robin Norris inspect the closed-in weapons system on the USS Wayne E. Meyer.
(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kelsey L. Adams)

But the ship also needs to be able to hit back if it comes under attack, and weapons like the Phalanx close-in weapons system allow it to knock the enemy’s missiles and other airborne threats out of the sky. But, you guessed it, all those moving parts and sensitive electronics need a lot of maintenance as well.

Wires fray, parts wear out, electronics degrade. Fire control sailors make sure their weapons will protect the ship when called upon.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing
Chief Machinist Mate Benjamin Carnes and Gas Turbine Systems Technician 1st Class Johnathan Hovinga make final inspections in preparation to start the main engines on the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth.
(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Antonio P. Turretto Ramos)

The maintenance can get a lot more complicated when you go inside the ship. The engines on Navy ships, whether fueled by diesel, gasoline, or nuclear, are pretty complicated. They need to be regularly inspected, pumps and belts have to get replaced, oil and other fluids need to be changed.

And that’s all if everything goes according to plan. When engines experience a real breakdown, it can necessitate people crawling through the engine or the ship getting towed into port for drydock maintenance. So, doing the maintenance is worth the effort.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing
Gas Turbine System Technician Fireman Steven Garris, from Youngsville, Pennsylvania, changes a burner barrel to prevent soot build up in a boiler aboard amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard.
(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Diana Quinlan)

But Navy engines actually have a lot of maintenance needs with few civilian equivalents. The sailor above is changing out the burner barrel on an amphibious assault ship. Do any of your vehicles have burner barrels? Mine don’t. And few people need specially trained staff to keep their nuclear reactors from poisoning the passengers.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing
Onboard USS Wasp, Petty Officer 2nd Class Jarrod Prouse conducts repairs on the handle of a Collective Protective System hatch.
(U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Rebekah Adler)

Other routine maintenance on ships is much more sensitive and demanding as well. Navy ships have doors that need to be welded properly, or else lethal substances could leak through when the ship is in a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear environment.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing
Hull Maintenance Technician 2nd Class Alexander Fleischer, from Crystal Lake, Ill., assigned to the submarine tender USS Frank Cable, welds a gusset while performing repairs to the cradle of a crane aboard the ship.
(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Heather C. Wamsley)

By the way, there are so, so many pictures online of sailors welding. That’s not surprising since ships are made of metal and that metal needs to be repaired. But still, so many pictures. This particular one shows a hull maintenance technician repairing a crane cradle on a submarine tender.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing
Aviation Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Scott Skeate, Aviation Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Darryl Johnson, Aviation Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Luke Hart, and Airman Apprentice Mccord Brickle perform maintenance on a waist catapult shuttle on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz.
 (U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jacob Milner)

Most Navy ships have specialty systems not seen on civilian vessels or even on most other vessels of the fleet. For instance, carriers have catapults that, except for the USS Gerald R. Ford, are powered by steam. The catapults have to be repaired as parts wear out, and they have to be carefully calibrated even when everything is working properly.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How to get your own free ‘Space Force’ ringtone

If you’re in the military or are a veteran and haven’t heard about the Space Force yet, it’s time to climb out from under that rock you’ve been living in. There’s a sixth branch of the U.S. military now, and it’s going to be a department of the Air Force.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing
The men’s department.

Although the Air Force has released very limited guidance on what the new branch will do, how it will roll out, or basically anything at all except that it’s called the ‘Space Force’ and will exist one day, the excitement the idea of a space force brings the military community is palpable.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing
Judged solely by the sheer volume of Space Force memes.

Also Read: 5 boring details a Space Force private will get stuck on

So if you’re excited to do your part, you can fully engulf yourself in the burgeoning Space Force culture, you can now enjoy the first Space Force song, sure to be shouted at the top of many a Spaceman’s lungs every morning during Space-ic Training.

This songified version of President Trump’s Space Force announcement was created by The Gregory Brothers, whose YouTube page is packed with pop culture songification. Due to the popular demand for the song to be made into a ringtone via the popular Air Force Facebook page Air Force amn/nco/snco, the Gregory Brothers responded immediately.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing
Thanks Air Force amn/nco/snco.

Check out: Why the name of the space-based branch should be Space Corps

Good luck getting this song out of your head now that it goes off every time your mom or dad calls you. You can get your free Space Force ringtone from The Gregory Brothers at their Patreon page.

MIGHTY MOVIES

This veteran comic has a tip to get New York City to buy your next plane ticket

Clifton Hoffler is an Army veteran and alumnus of the Armed Services Arts Partnership (ASAP) Comedy Bootcamp program. ASAP is an organization based in Virginia that builds communities for veterans, servicemembers, and military families through classes, performances, and partnerships in the arts. As part of their mission, ASAP offers a Comedy Bootcamp for veterans to explore and develop their comedic abilities.
Clifton is a minister, chef, and Army veteran who served more than twenty years – including multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, with the help of ASAP’s Comedy Bootcamp program, he’s adding standup comedian to his resume. For Clif, getting up on stage is another opportunity to adapt and overcome. It’s an important form of therapy and a way to better his health, and he encourages other veterans to learn to laugh because laughter “is the best medicine that’s out there.” 
MIGHTY GAMING

The Legion was always doomed in Fallout: New Vegas

The Fallout game series does a great job of giving the player choices. Particularly, they give you the option to choose whatever faction is warring over the region of the post-apocalyptic wasteland you’re playing around in. New Vegas is no exception. The thing that stands out is the fact that, out of the factions warring over the New Vegas Strip, none of them are really that awesome. The worst of them, however, is Caesar’s Legion.

At the start of the game, the looming threat of a second battle of the Hoover Dam is coming with Caesar’s Roman Empire inspired Legion and the New California Republic’s Troopers and Rangers. Caesar’s Legion, with or without the help of the Courier, was doomed from the beginning. Even if they win the battle, eventually, they’re bound to fall.

Here’s why:


Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing

Here’s what the Legion has to say about it.

(Bethesda/Obsidian)

Women aren’t welcome… at all

The issue here is that Caesar is automatically cutting a large potential portion of his ranks by only limiting them to males. In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, any army should be open to taking as many bodies as they can get. If most of the human population has already been wiped off the planet and the survivors face worse dangers than other humans, why not include women? After all, two guns in a fight are better than one.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing

Oh, and they’ve got slaves.

(Bethesda/Obsidian)

Human atrocities

The Legion built an infamous reputation by tearing up enemy tribes and killing those who didn’t want to fall under their banner. Anyone else was tortured and killed. Ruling with an iron fist is a great way to get the civilians to rise up against you and usurp you from command.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing

There’s that old saying about bringing a knife to a gunfight, right?

(Bethesda/Obsidian)

Minimal use of guns

The Legion absolutely uses guns. However, they find it more honorable to fight with bladed weapons or meet their opponents in close combat. While one may commend this mentality, it’s just not sensible.

When the Legion’s greatest adversary, the NCR, finds its strength in the use of snipers, when will your best get to fight if they get dome-pieced 500 yards away?

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing

They’ve also got cool armor.

(Bethesda/Obsidian)

Enemy willpower

The NCR, though not in the best shape during the events of New Vegas, have greater willpower and cause. While they may not be perfect, they’ve still got a much stronger will than the Legion. Even if the Legion beat the NCR back, the NCR would find a way to regroup and strike back harder than before.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the US raided a Soviet arctic base in the Cold War

The U.S. and Soviet militaries in the Cold War both understood the importance of the Arctic. Their submarines moved under it, their bombers moved over it, and both sides kept radar stations to track each other’s planes and potential missile launches. But after the U.S. figured out how to track Soviet submarines from drift stations, they wanted to know if the Soviets had figured out the same trick.


The problem was that drift stations were small bases built on floating ice islands. It’s hard to sneak onto such isolated and small installations. Luckily, drift stations are a bit dangerous. As the ice shifts on the island, it can crack and rupture. Drift station commanders had to keep firm eyes on their runways. Otherwise, the ice could crack too badly and make escape impossible.

So they had a tendency to get abandoned every once in a while, but only as they were becoming inaccessible. Well, inaccessible to the Russians, who couldn’t get personnel out of the remote areas without a runway. But America had a new trick up its sleeve in 1962 it wanted to try out.

That was the Skyhook, an ingenious but dangerous tool that allowed planes to scoop people off of the ground using a system of hooks, wires, and balloons. A famous Batman clip actually shows the concept in very exciting detail. And, Russian Station NP 9 had recently been abandoned.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing

An instruction comic for the Robert Fulton Skyhook.

(CIA)

But the mission would be dangerous. A small team would need to parachute into Arctic conditions, scrounge through the rubble of the rapidly breaking base, and then get extracted with a Skyhook before it all fell apart. This was Operation Coldfeet.

Two men were selected for the mission. Air Force Maj. James Smith was a Russian linguist with experience on American drift stations, and U.S. Navy Reserve Lt. Leonard LeSchack, an Antarctic geophysicist. LeSchack had to learn to jump out of planes, and both men had to train on the retrieval system.

But as the men trained, the target drift station was shifting further from their launch point at Thule Air Force Base, Greenland. Luckily, something even better came along.

Station NP 8 was a more modernized station, but its runway rapidly degraded and the Soviets abandoned it. America found out in March 1962 and shifted the planned operation to target NP 8.

But the operation was short on time. NP 8 wasn’t expected to last long. It was drifting quickly and would soon be crushed in the ice. And the training and the surveillance of NP 9 and then NP 8 had used up the funds allotted for the operation. So the military went shopping for partners, and the CIA was happy to help. They had their own questions about Soviet drift stations.

So an aviation company and CIA front, Intermountain Aviation, got a polar navigator and prepared to drop the men.

The insertion took place on May 28, and the two investigators got to work. They searched through piles of documents, technological equipment, and other artifacts to piece together what was happening at the drift station.

They discovered that, yes, the Soviets were tracking American subs. Worse, they were developing techniques to hunt them under the ice.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing

The Fulton Skyhook being used by the men of Operation Coldfeet in 1962.

(CIA)

Smith and LeSchack made a prioritized set of documents and items they needed to get out, and they carefully packed it into bags. Over six days and five nights, they cataloged, documented, and packed. Then they attached them to balloons, filled the balloons with helium, and sent them into the sky where the plane snagged them up.

Once they were sure the bags were safe, they sent their own balloons up and got pulled out by the plane.

The Soviets wouldn’t know for years that their secret was out.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Fighting fire with chainsaws

The sun was already bright and warm when I pulled up at the Twin Springs Preserve in Williamson County, Texas just before 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Stepping out of my car, I shielded my eyes to take in the dense stands of ash juniper and white oak trees against the cloudless blue sky. It felt unusually spring-like for early February; I opted to shuck my jacket.

With my back to the road and neighborhood, I could imagine this area north of Austin as the verdant forest it once was. But the human population of Williamson County has tripled over the last several decades, encroaching on the wildland. In 2009, the county bought 175 acres to create a preserve and mitigate against the destruction of natural habitat. In addition to wild turkeys, foxes, deer, and raccoons, Twin Springs is home to several threatened or endangered species, including the bone cave harvestman spider, Salido salamander, and golden-cheeked warbler.


The beauty and peacefulness of the preserve belie a hidden danger. Here, the forest floor is strewn with grasses, shrubs, and the litter of fallen leaves and branches. In hot, dry conditions, those materials become tinder. All it takes is a sustained wind and an errant spark—from a discarded cigarette, say, a car’s exhaust system, or a lightning strike—for the tinder to catch fire. Unchecked, the flames can climb to the upper canopy and then quickly spread from tree to tree.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing

Cleaning up after the West Fire that hit Alpine, CA, in 2018.

Canopy fires are intense, fast-moving, and virtually unstoppable says Kyle McKnight, an Emergency Management Specialist with Williamson County. “A canopy fire could very rapidly progress to these homeowners, causing millions of dollars of losses and potentially loss of human life as well,” he said. “Look at what is happening in California. We’ve seen a huge loss of life and property.”

id=”listicle-2646945029″ OF PREVENTION VS. OF CURE

Greater Austin, which includes Williamson County, ranks fifth in the nation among metropolitan areas at risk for wildfires according to a recent report by CoreLogic, an online property data service. The only areas at greater risk are all in California.

Rather than wait to react to the inevitable wildfires, Williamson County officials put together a comprehensive plan to mitigate risk. “According to FEMA, [the Federal Emergency Management Association], on average, every id=”listicle-2646945029″ spent in mitigation results in of saved cost from fighting the fires and recovery from damage,” says McKnight. In some areas with more expensive real estate, he says, the return is as high as for every id=”listicle-2646945029″ invested in prevention.

The Williamson County mitigation plan calls for creating a 50-foot wide shaded fuel break along the perimeter of Twin Creeks Preserve, McKnight explains. The idea is to take out debris and shrubs, and remove tree limbs up to about 8 feet above ground, leaving the shaded canopy to keep the forest cooler and discourage the growth of flammable understory plants.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing

Clearing a blowdown on a road after Colorado’s Spring Creek fire.

What Williamson County didn’t have, however, was the budget or manpower to carry out the work. That’s where Team Rubicon came in. For two weekends in February, teams of about 50 volunteers—known by Team Rubicon as Greyshirts—worked steadily to make the forest and surrounding neighborhoods safer by creating a shaded fuel break.

A BLUE-SKY OPERATION

The morning I arrive, the preserve is a beehive of activity. The insistent buzz of chainsaws and mechanical drone of woodchippers cut through the morning air. It smells amazing, like walking into a freshly built cedar closet.

Oscar Arauco, the Texas State Administrator for Team Rubicon, has me don a hard hat, goggles, and earplugs before we survey the worksite. As we walk, he explains that Team Rubicon coordinates “gray skies” operations to provide relief after disasters such as Hurricane Harvey, which roiled the Gulf coast in 2017, and “blue skies” prevention operations such as this that help mitigate risk. Often, Team Rubicon uses such mitigation work to further educate and train sawyers and other Greyshirts, too.

Like 70% of the people involved in Team Rubicon, Arauco is a military veteran, having served for 28 years as a U.S. Army artillery officer and chaplain. (The remaining members are affectionately known as kick-ass civilians, he explains.) Once Team Rubicon identifies a need and defines a project, a call for help goes out to members living within a 450-mile radius. With the exception of a couple of paid project managers, everyone here is a volunteer. Most have driven in for the weekend and are bunking on cots at the nearby First Baptist Church of Georgetown.

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing

Clearing debris for fire mitigation in the Twin Springs Preserve.

Arauco points out that the busy work site is well organized into sets of three teams, each supervised by a strike leader. People known as “sawyers” use pole saws and chainsaws to take out tree limbs and vegetation up to the 8-foot mark. “Swampers” carry the woody material to the perimeter where the “chippers” feed it into wood chippers to turn it into mulch that goes back into the preserve.

I’m struck by the diversity of Greyshirts and the lack of traditional hierarchies—a young woman is just as apt to be leading a team as an older man. That’s one of the things Arauco says he likes most about his work. “I love that Team Rubicon values service over any other factor,” he says. “There are no age- or gender-specific roles. It’s all about pulling your weight and getting the job done.”

FORMER ARMY MEDIC TURNS HER FOCUS TO HEALTHY FORESTS

M.D. Kidd, who takes a break from the chainsaw to talk, is one of the younger faces in the group. She served as a medic in the U.S. Army from 2011 to 2015 and then trained as a wildland firefighter for the Southwest Conservation Corp in Colorado. In 2017, she joined Team Rubicon and underwent training to become a regional chainsaw instructor. Now a full-time college student majoring in sociology and public health, Kidd says she would eventually like to work for the Peace Corps. For her, volunteering with Team Rubicon is the way to serve both people and the environment.

She points out that fire is a natural part of the cycle for healthy forests, but for more than a century people have focused on suppressing fires, leaving the tinder-like material to build up. “The longer we suppress fires and leave the fuel sitting there, the worse it is in the long run,” she said. “So efforts that mitigate the risk of fire are hugely important. As with medicine, I think prevention is really the way to go.”

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing

To mitigate against fire, Greyshirts take tree limbs out up to the 8-foot mark.

Kidd and others say a big reason they volunteer on mitigation projects like this for Team Rubicon is the break from routine it provides, and the camaraderie. “The reason I am so passionate about this organization is that it provides a purpose for veterans,” says Patrick Smith, a 23-year U.S. Army veteran who is coordinating logistics for the operation. Smith works as a Deputy Sheriff in charge of animal cruelty for Harris County and as a physician’s assistant at Memorial Herman Hospital in Houston. “Team Rubicon takes our skills and experience and finds a place where they can be put to good use,” he says.

Greyshirt Keith Elwell, a former project engineer for the defense industry, joined in 2018 after seeing people in Houston trying to cope with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on the news. “Man, I’m sitting there just watching. I’m thinking ‘I’ve got some skills. I can help. I can do stuff’,” he says. He has now gained enough training and experience as a sawyer to mentor others.

Since then, he says, he’s “been all over the place”—from clearing trees felled by a fierce storm in Wisconsin to tearing down homes destroyed by Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida to cleaning up after the Mississippi River Flooded in Vicksburg, Tennessee. “There are all different roles and no two situations are the same,” he says. “I’ve been fortunate enough to help people on the worst day of their lives.”

OVER TWO WEEKENDS, MONTHS GET WHITTLED AWAY

It’s hard to put into words how meaningful the mitigation effort is to the county officials and inhabitants of this scenic area, says Mark Pettigrew, a Trails and Preserves Steward for Williamson County. We sat down on a couple of flat rocks in front of the trailhead and he gestured to the activity around us. “I’m one of only two main employees for the Williamson County Conservation Foundation. To get all this done would have taken us months and months,” he says.

Pettigrew points to the area in front of us, where the preserve abuts a busy road and neighborhood. The teams are mostly finished here and it looks like an arboretum with a wide, mulched path shaded by a graceful canopy of trees. “The most hazardous area is along this road and we’ve got the whole place completely cleared out and ready to go,” he says. “It’s phenomenal.”

Without the help of the Team Rubicon Greyshirts, it’s not clear when—or if—fire mitigation in the preserve would get done. As the county’s Emergency Management Specialist, McKnight says he knows that there’s currently no budget for the work. Grants often require extra steps and cost matching. “It’s a creative strategy for getting projects like this done,” says McKnight. “It requires a minimal investment on our behalf—some food and porta-potties—and we’re saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in labor costs. It’s a win-win.”

By the time I’d wrapped up, the day had shaped up to be unseasonably warm with low humidity—pleasant, but concerning, too, given what I had learned about wildfire risk. Climate change is bringing wave after wave of record heat to the Austin area. Last September was the hottest on record, with nearly three straight weeks of triple-digit temperatures.

On the way back to my car another Team Rubicon Greyshirt, Sam Brokenshire, stopped me. He wanted me to leave with a sense of scale for just how much the group had accomplished. At the end of the two-weekend project, he says, the team will have removed about 4,000 cubic yards—about 90 dumpsters worth—of brush.

Seeing people out working for the common good means a lot, says Brokenshire. “Yesterday, a guy from the neighborhood pulled up to thank us for the work we are doing,” he says. “That makes it all worth it.”

Why Gerard Butler gave a Pentagon press briefing

Some of the Team Rubicon Greyshirts who worked on the Williamson County fire mitigation project.

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.


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