In 1999, writer/director Todd Robinson was at Kirtland Air Force Base to attend a PJ graduation ceremony. In attendance was William F. Pitsenbarger, the father of Airman 1st Class William H. Pitsenbarger, a PJ who was killed in action on April 11, 1966, when he volunteered to stay behind with the soldiers of the Big Red One during Operation Abilene.
During his speech, Mr. Pitsenbarger lamented the things his son, who died at the age of 21, would never do: fall in love and have a son of his own, and in doing so, understand his father’s love for him.
“I was floored,” recalled Robinson, “I remembered my own father’s fear for me during the Vietnam War and I thought about my own son.” He reflected on the brutality of the draft during the Vietnam War and what the experience was like for the veterans who were called to serve — and their families they left behind.
Robinson didn’t know if he wanted to make a war film until that moment. He became committed to the veterans. “If I could make a small contribution by looking into what the personal experiences were like for these men, it would be the least I could do,” he shared.
“I began to interview the veterans of that battle. Their stories were just so tragic, brutal, moving, unrequited…and they were looking for purpose: it was so important to them to see that this man’s valor was recognized before his father passed.”
He spent the next 20 years creating The Last Full Measure, a powerful retelling of the courageous acts of Airman 1st Class Pitsenbarger and the men who fought for his Medal of Honor.The Last Full Measure – Arrives on Digital 4/7 and on Blu-ray, DVD, and On Demand 4/21
The Last Full Measure is best described as a military movie made by a director who “gets it” — who understands that war is chaotic and that the complexities of PTSD for combat veterans require a conversation from our society as a whole.
One of the biggest takeaways he gained about the military community through the making and screening of this film was the notion of “service greater than self,” Robinson told WATM. Screening the film for veterans across the country, Robinson saw the spirit of Pitsenbarger’s sacrifice reflected in the men and women in uniform today. When it comes down to the wire, service members are there for the person at their side.
He also noticed that the film triggered a real need to have a conversation about the wellness of veterans — especially combat vets.
“We, as civilians, the people who benefit from the service of these people, don’t understand what they’ve been through. We don’t always embrace our own complicity in sending service members overseas. If you’re a taxpayer or voter, whether you agree with the policy or not, you’re responsible. We’re also responsible for bringing them home. They need to be given more attention than just a pat on the head, a business-class trip home, and some medication from the VA. We need to embrace our military community when they come home. We need to employ them. And we need to say, ‘You’re not alone,'” Robinson affirmed.
Robinson felt like he owed something back and this film was part of what he could give. Of course, it came with many challenges. In his own words, “Making a movie is organized chaos.” Robinson and his producing partner Signey Sherman, noticed a uniform error in one scene and a folded flag that was coming undone in another. They spent ,000 out of pocket to correct the errors in post-production. “It just looked disrespectful to me,” Robinson lamented.
Somehow a bootleg copy was released overseas containing the original errors and viewers complained. “Those kinds of things pop up. I suppose the real challenge is trying to explain to an audience, without feeling too sensitive, that a film is an impression of a story. My job was to identify the metaphor of the story and what we could say about the men who fought in Operation Abilene. It always came back to service before self.”
To help accomplish that goal, Robinson hired veterans on and off camera. In the Medal of Honor ceremony scene, real PJs wear their maroon berets while veterans of Charlie Company fill the audience. There that day was retired Air Force Senior Master Sergeant John Pighini, a decorated Vietnam War-era PJ and active member of the Pararescue community.
After that scene, Pighini came on-board as a technical advisor for the shoot on location in Thailand, where Robinson and his cast and crew had six days to shoot the entirety of the Vietnam scenes for the film — no small undertaking.
He had a crew of 300 with battle scenes featuring helicopters and explosions. There was no luxury of time. He gives credit to his editor, Richard Nord, and the expertise of his cast and crew. At the end of the day, the film, decades in the making, wasn’t done for financial profit or gain.
“We made this film for our veteran community. We tried to reflect back and let them know that people see them and we want to be part of the solution to whatever problems they face when they come home.”
The Last Full Measure is available now on Blu-ray/DVD and Digital from Lionsgate and features several special features such as a “Medal of Honor Ceremony Shoot” featurette and “The Others May Live: Remembering Operation Abilene” featurette.
Badass nicknames become even better when they have a great backstory like being bestowed by an enemy who faced the unit in battle. While the Marines probably weren’t dubbed “Devil Dogs” by the Germans, a number of other military organizations claim their nicknames come from the enemy. Here are 7 of them:
The 9th Armored Division was deployed to the northern front of the Battle of the Bulge as it was beginning in 1944. The Germans began referring to the unit as “Phantom” because it seemed to appear everywhere along the front.
2. “Bloody Bucket”
Soldiers with the 28th Infantry Division were known for vicious fighting tactics during the Normandy Campaign. Since they wore a red patch that was shaped like a bucket, the Germans began calling the division the “Bloody Bucket.”
3. “Devils in Baggy Pants”
During the invasion of Italy in 1943, the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment were defending the right flank of the 3rd Infantry Division and conducted regular raids into the enemy’s outposts. A dead German officer’s diary supposedly contained the nickname for the airborne infantrymen.
4. “The Blue Ghost”
Japanese propaganda kept reporting that the USS Lexington had been sunk and kept being proven wrong when the blue-hulled aircraft carrier came back and whooped them time and time again. This eventually led Tokyo Rose to dub it “The Blue Ghost.”
5. “Grey Ghost”
“Grey Ghost” was applied to a few ships because the Tokyo Rose writers were apparently lazy. The USS Hornet, the USS Pensacola, and the USS America all claim the nickname and the story for each is the same, Tokyo Rose bestowed it on them in World War II.
6. “Black Death”
Iraqi troops resisting the American advance in Desert Storm learned to fear the Apache helicopter even before the “Highway of Death.” After the Apache destroyed their radar stations and many of the tanks and troops, Iraqi soldiers began calling it the “Black Death.”
7. “Steel Rain”
Iraqi soldiers who survived the first combat deployment of the Multiple Launch Rocket System, which can fire rockets that explode over the enemies head and releases hundreds of lethal bomblets, dubbed the weapon “Steel Rain.” The 3rd Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment soldiers who fired on the soldiers adopted “Steel Rain” as their official unit nickname.
After you sink money into travel, tickets, and blue milk at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge you might not have much cash left over for a customized lightsaber or droid. Thankfully, there’s one souvenir you can take home that won’t cost you a dime: an only-available-at-Galaxy’s Edge drink coaster.
The coasters are available at Oga’s Cantina. As you can see in the images below, shared by some of the lucky few who’ve experienced the park pre-opening day, there are several different designs to choose from, with Star Wars icons like Ewoks and Banthas. Designs featuring a Rancor and the T-16 Skyhopper are also available.
There’s already a fairly vibrant market on eBay for the coasters, along with the souvenir mugs you can also pick up at the bar. There’s the Endor mug that holds the Yub Nub, a concoction of pineapple and spiced rums, citrus juices, and passion fruit, and the Cliff Dweller, a kid-friendly blend of citrus juices, coconut, hibiscus-grenadine, and Ginger Ale.
Parents who don’t want the upcharge of a souvenir mug can sip on cocktails like the Jedi Mind Trick, the Dagobah Slug Slinger, and Fuzzy Tauntaun. There are also beers brewed especially for the bar with names like White Wampa Ale, Gamorrean Ale, and Bad Motivator IPA.
And if you don’t feel like getting tipsy at a theme park, opt for a sugar rush from non-alcoholic beverages like the Hyperdrive (Punch It!), a mixture of Mountain Berry Blast Powerade, white cranberry juice, black cherry puree, and Sprite. (Your kids will probably like those too.)T
his article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
In 1987, Warner Brothers released Full Metal Jacket, a film that follows a young Marine as he endures the hardships of basic training and gets thrust immediately into the brutality of the Vietnam War.
This film, which is hailed as one of history’s most powerful, is a hit especially among service members. As with any movie, questions pop up into our minds as the story plays out and we’re left wondering long after the credits roll. Since it’s very doubtful the film will ever get a sequel, let’s talk about a few questions that we don’t think the movie ever answered.
One of the most iconic screw-ups that Pvt. Pyle committed in the first act of the film involved a certain pastry. He got busted for having a freakin’ jelly donut in an unlocked footlocker. We can’t help but wonder how the hell Pyle was able to sneak the jelly donut into the open squad bay and not smash it in the process? Every uniform they wear in the boot camp scenes is pretty skin tight. So, how did Pyle do it?
We all know that jelly squirts out of those suckers after just one nibble! On a lighter note, aren’t you in the mood for a jelly donut now?
It’s no secret that Pvt. Pyle put a hot one into Gunny Hartman’s chest before swallowing the next round in the magazine. This murder-suicide is a huge plot point in the film, but Joker never brings this back up as the story continues.
Does Joker not talk about it moving forward because of a mental block, or perhaps a resulting stress syndrome?
What’s the consequence of getting your G.I.-issued camera stolen?
Remember that epic scene where Rafterman’s camera gets ripped out of his hands and stolen?
Why didn’t the two Marines get in trouble for letting that G.I.-issued camera get away? Service members are always held accountable for their gear, but I guess the Marine Corps took exception to their dilemma?
Joker becomes a machine-gunner during the Tet Offensive?
We understand wanting to make your protagonists look as badass as possible. However, when the Marines start to take incoming fire during the Tet Offensive, the grunts dash ahead and we see Joker get inside of a bunker, place an ammo belt into an M60 machine gun, and send rounds downrange, killing the enemy. We’re curious where a Stars and Stripes reporter, like Joker, got the machine-gun in the first place? Are we to assume that the whole Marine base in Da Nang was short of machine-gunners, causing him to take up arms? If that’s the case, then belay our last.
Why was Animal Mother so angry when Joker and Rafterman showed up?
One of the best scenes in the film is when Joker and Cowboy meet up and share a brother-to-brother moment. Then, once Cowboy introduces Joker to his squad, Animal Mother comes up and verbally attacks the reporters — which was hilarious.
What we don’t understand is why was he being such a dick? We understand that grunts don’t get along with POGs, but was this sh*t-talking banter just to showcase Animal Mother’s quick temper? This rivalry doesn’t carry over to any other scenes, after all.
Ten years after the two countries fought a short but deeply formative war, Russia is quietly seizing more territory on a disputed border with Georgia as it warns NATO against admitting the tiny Eurasian nation as a member state.
Despite warnings from Washington and the fact Georgia is a top US ally, Russia and local allies have been swallowing more and more territory in recent years. The Georgian government and international community have continuously decried this ongoing practice as illegal.
The ongoing, incremental seizure of land has had a detrimental impact on many locals, as the Russia-backed “borderization” has split communities and led some Georgians to literally find their homes in Russian-controlled territory overnight, NBC News reports
Areas around Abhazya and Guney Osetya currently occupied by Russia
Russia occupies 20 percent of Georgia’s internationally recognized territory
Since 2011, there have been at least 54 instances of “borderizaton” on the border separating South Ossetia and Georgia, according to the Heritage Foundation . The “borderization” process “includes constructing illegal fencing and earthen barriers to separate communities and further divide the Georgian population,” the conservative think tank said in a recent report.
It’s not clear whether this is being directed by Moscow or the pro-Russian government in South Ossetia, but the Kremlin hasn’t done anything to stop it.
Russia has 19 military bases in South Ossetia alone and its activities in the region, on top of its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, have continued to raise alarm bells in the West. The Russian military and its allies currently occupy roughly 20 percent of Georgia’s internationally recognized territory.
The ongoing dispute over these territories has made the normalization of relations between Georgia and Russia impossible.
It’s also a large part of the reason the US has continued to provide Georgia with 0 million in aid every single year, which is also linked to the country’s active role in supporting the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Afghanistan as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
Georgia has sent more troops to Afghanistan per capita than any other US ally.
With Russia to the north, Turkey to the west, and Iran not far to the south, Georgia is at the crossroads of Europe and the Middle East. It’s also an important route for oil from the Caspian Sea.
In short, Georgia may not be on the forefront of every American’s mind, but the country is of great geopolitical significance to the US.
A Georgian soldier with the Special Mountain Battalion takes a knee and provides security after exiting a U.S. Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter Feb. 16, 2014, during Georgian Mission Rehearsal Exercise
Georgia’s NATO woes
Prior to the 2008 conflict, Georgia received assurances it would soon join NATO. The war complicated this process, but NATO’s General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg recently reaffirmed the alliance’s intention to accept Georgia as a member state. Subsequently, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned he would respond aggressively if this occurred.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Monday echoed Putin and said if NATO admitted Georgia it could trigger a “terrible conflict.”
“This could provoke a terrible conflict. I don’t understand what they are doing this for,” Medvedev told the Russia-based Kommersant newspaper.
The Russian prime minister added that Stoltenberg’s recent reiteration of NATO’s intention to admit Georgia is “an absolutely irresponsible position and a threat to peace.”
‘The United States support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is unwavering’
The US government has spoken out against Russia’s activities in the region, but seems reluctant to offer a more forceful response.
“The United States support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is unwavering,” Elizabeth Rood, chargé d’affaires at the US Embassy in Tbilisi, told NBC News.
“We strongly support Georgia in calling out Russia and the de facto separatist regimes on human rights abuses in the occupied territories,” Rood added, “and on the continued violation of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Vice President Mike Pence made similar remarks on a visit to Georgia last year.
“Today, Russia continues to occupy one-fifth of Georgian territory,”Pence said . “So, to be clear — the United States of America strongly condemns Russia’s occupation on Georgia’s soil.”
A decade later, a six-day war is still on Georgia’s mind
The subject of who fired the first shots in the 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict is a subject of great debate. But the conflict ended in a matter of days after Russian troops pushed past the disputed territories and marched well into Georgia, sparking international condemnation.
The conflict resulted in the deaths of roughly 850 people and displaced hundreds of thousands more.
The six-day war was largely fought over two disputed territories in the region: South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Russia has occupied these territories since the conflict ended, though the vast majority of the international community recognizes them as part of Georgia. The Russian government at one point agreed to remove its troops from the territories, but has not followed through with this pledge.
Tuesday marked the 10th anniversary of the war. Georgians marked it by taking to the streets in Tbilisi and protesting against Russia’s ongoing occupation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
You’ve been trained to recognize threats. You can spot an IED, read an unruly crowd, identify enemy armor from klicks away, and you know a predatory car loan when you see one. But what about those threats that don’t keep you up at night? What about the threats you can’t see?
The operational tempo of the last two decades has exposed military personnel to a myriad of dangers on and off the battlefield. While the conducting of combat operations poses the most obvious direct threat to our service members’ health, the existence of more discreet threats should not be overlooked. Respiratory health risks exist, both on the battlefield and in training environments, and mitigation should be prioritized to ensure both the health and safety of our service members and the combat effectiveness of our nation’s armed forces.
Fortunately, unseen doesn’t mean unidentified. Here are a few examples of the most pervasive invisible threats:
Lead dust exposure
Exposure to lead is an inevitable byproduct of firearms training. When a weapon is fired, small amounts of lead particles are discharged into the air, posing a risk to shooters and weapons instructors alike. These particles are expelled through the ejection port on the firearm as the spent casing is ejected, as well as from the muzzle as the bullet leaves the barrel. Although invisible to the naked eye, these particles can be inhaled and accumulate on skin and clothing.
Because of the occupational necessity of range training time for military, law enforcement and security personnel, this population may be at risk for higher BLL (Blood Lead Levels). Lead is a heavy metal that has long been associated with a variety of health risks ranging from heart and kidney disease to reduced fertility, memory loss and cancer. Children tend to be more susceptible to lead poisoning and may be exposed second-hand through interaction with personnel in contaminated uniforms. These risks can be mitigated by eliminating food and drink at firing ranges, promptly changing clothes after a range session, and of course, proper ventilation at shooting ranges and facilities.
The threats posed by lead dust exposure are very real, and the Department of Defense has taken notice. As of April 2017, DoD made their lead exposure levels more restrictive than the OSHA standard, in an effort to limit the prolonged exposure of personnel. The Army has also published guidance to their personnel as to ways to reduce the risks to themselves and their families.
Burn pits have been used extensively in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to dispose of waste products, and their use has generated a lot of media attention over the last several years, and with good reason. Thousands of veterans were likely exposed to the harmful fumes caused by the burning of waste products, food scraps, trash, tires, plastics, batteries, and a whole host of other items. Since the Veterans Administration established the voluntary burn pit registry to keep track of burn pit exposure, more than 180,000 veterans have registered. While there are several potential causes of respiratory health problems while deployed, ranging from sandstorms to exposure to diesel exhaust, burn pits are suspected of causing a variety of problems. Some of these include asthma, chronic bronchitis, heart conditions, leukemia and lung cancer.
While less of a concern today, asbestos was a commonly used material for a variety of construction-related purposes from the 1930s to the 1970s. Although the practice of using asbestos ended in the 1970s and the military has made a concerted effort to limit personnel to its exposure, the material remained in buildings for the following decades. The material was used as insulation in walls, floors and pipes, and even in aircraft and vehicle brakes and gaskets. Asbestos exposure is the primary cause of mesothelioma, a type of cancer that develops from the thin layer of tissue that covers many of the internal organs, notably the lungs and chest wall. There are many MOS’ that are at higher risk of asbestos exposure to include carpenters, pipefitters, aircraft mechanics, welders, electrician’s mates, and Seabees. For more information regarding asbestos exposure and the benefits available to you, please visit https://www.va.gov/disability/eligibility/hazardous-materials-exposure/asbestos/
Service in the military is undoubtedly an honorable profession that comes with inherent hazards to both health and safety. Service members should take control of their safety when it is possible to avoid dangers that are both seen and unseen.
Companies like O2 Tactical are at the forefront in addressing these threats. The company, which is comprised of engineers, designers, veterans and industry experts, has developed the TR2 Tactical Respirator II respiratory system with the operator in mind.
My “one night in Da Lat” was a pleasant reprieve from the war and normal combat operations that we had been conducting. I’d heard of the city, but never believed all of the stories I’d heard. Stories about the beautiful architecture, the green and lush gardens, cool weather, and about the graceful people — certainly a Shangri-La such as this couldn’t exist in the Vietnam I’d come to know. But low and behold, it did.
In stark contrast to what I had come to expect, this beautiful city, now grown into a true metropolitan area filling much more of the mountain encircled bowl, represented a softer, subtler side of Vietnam.
Not found in Da Lat were the loud bars and crowds of rowdy people. In their place were quiet enclaves where people would meet, have a drink, and talk in a quiet atmosphere. Here couples and families would stroll down the wide boulevards and enjoy the fragrant air and quiet neighborhoods. Also included was the central market area where you could find virtually anything you needed, from sweaters to shoes to fast food.
40 years later and none of that has changed in Da Lat, it’s only gotten bigger and it was a pleasure to see that the city and people were as I remembered them.
The deployment is significant because it will mark the first fighter jet landing on a British aircraft carrier in eight years.
Shortly after leaving, the crew carried out their first relief effort: two baby pigeons were found on board, which had to be fed porridge through a syringe and returned to land in a helicopter, the Royal Navy said.
“While our focus for the deployment is getting the new jets onboard for the first time, we are also prepared to conduct humanitarian relief, should we be called upon to do so. We just didn’t think that would be quite so soon,” Lieutenant Commander Lindsey Waudby said.
The jets will be flown by four F-35B pilots from the Integrated Test Force, a unit that includes British and American pilots.
On this mission, three British pilots — a Royal Navy Commander, a Squadron Leader from the Royal Air Force, and one civilian test pilot — will be joined by a Major from the US Marine Corps, UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “As the US’s biggest partner in the F-35 programme, we jointly own test jets which are on track to fly off the deck of our new aircraft carrier later this year.”
He said the training will “strengthen our special relationship with US forces.”
HMS Queen Elizabeth is the third largest aircraft carrier in the world at 280 meters long and a weight of 65,000 tonnes. In total, there will be about 1,500 people on board, the Portsmouth News reported.
It is expected to be on active duty in 2021.
Before leaving for America the carrier was in Portsmouth, running helicopter tests using Chinook Mk 5 helicopters and Merlin Mk 2s:
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Near-peer competition and the United States retaining its military competitive edge were among the issues the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff discussed in an interview with Washington Post associate editor David Ignatius.
The interview — broadcast as part of the Post’s “Transformers” series — looked at the ways warfare and security are changing.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford addressed the challenges coming from Russia and China first off, using the Russian seizure of Ukrainian boats off Crimea as an example. “What took place in the Sea of Azov is consistent with a pattern of behavior that really goes back to Georgia, then Crimea and then Donbass in Ukraine,” he said.
Russia is stopping short of open conflict, the general said. Instead, he explained, Russian leaders push right to the edge. “What the Russians are really doing is testing the international community’s resolve in enforcing the rules that exist,” Dunford said.
Army Sgt. Samuel Benton observes and mentors soldiers during the Bull Run V training exercise with Battle Group Poland in Olecko, Poland, May 22, 2018.
(Army photo by Spc. Hubert D. Delany III)
In this case, he said, clear violations of sovereignty and signed agreements have taken place. The international community “has got to respond diplomatically, economically or in the security space,” he added, or Russia “will continue what it’s been doing.”
No discussion of military response
The chairman stressed there has been no discussion about a military response to the Sea of Azov incident. The United States has assisted Ukraine in defending its sovereignty, he said, and will continue to do so.
Russia is in material breach of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed in 1987, and the United States will withdraw from the treaty if Russia does not get into compliance with it, Dunford said, noting that the arms-control treaties negotiated starting in the 1980s have provided strategic stability.
“In a perfect world,” he said, “what I would say would be best is if Russia would comply with the INF, it would set the conditions for broader conversations about other arms-control agreements, to include the extension of [the Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty].”
Ignatius asked Dunford about China, and more specifically, how China is challenging U.S. military dominance. America’s greatest military advantages are its network of allies and the ability to project military power worldwide, the chairman said. Both China and Russia understand that, he added, and Russia is seeking to undermine NATO while China is seeking to undermine America’s network of allies in the Indo-Pacific region.
On the military side, China is working on capabilities that would stop American power projection capabilities in the Pacific in all domains: sea, land, air, space, and cyberspace. “China has developed capabilities in all those domains to challenge us,” Dunford said. “The outcome of challenging us in those domains is challenging our ability to project power in support of our interests and alliances in the region.”
China’s clear aspirations
Reading China is tough, he acknowledged. The nation has been “opaque” with what it spends on defense, the chairman said, but Chinese leaders have not been opaque with their aspirations. “[Chinese] President Xi [Jinping] was very clear last year … where he wants China to be a global power with global power-projection capability,” Dunford said. “Among the capabilities they are developing is aircraft carriers, which would certainly indicate a desire to project power beyond their territorial waters.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping.
China’s technological advances concern U.S. officials. China has sunk enormous sums into artificial intelligence research, and Dunford said the nation that has an advantage in AI will have an overall competitive advantage. Speed of decision is key in today’s warfare, he said, and a usable man-machine interface would give the country that perfects it an advantage.
The U.S. competitive advantage has reduced over the past decade, the chairman said. “I am confident in saying we can defend the homeland and our way of life, we can meet our alliance commitments today, and we have an aggregate competitive advantage over any potential adversary,” he said. “I am equally confident in saying that if we don’t change the trajectory we are on, … whoever is sitting in my seat five or seven years from now will not be as confident as I am.”
The U.S. military depends of private firms to provide the military advantage. Today, that means getting the best in the world to get behind artificial intelligence research. Yet, employees at Google — arguably the best in the world — protested and backed away from engaging with the Defense Department. Ignatius asked Dunford what he would say to those employees.
“If they were all sitting her right now, I would say, ‘Hey, we’re the good guys,'” he said. “It is inexplicable to me that we would make compromises to make advances in China where we know that freedom is restrained, where we know China will take intellectual property from companies and strip it away.”
The United States has led the free world since the end of World War II, and even with some failings, the values of the United States infuse the free and open world order today, the general said, and if the United States were to withdraw, someone would fill that gap. “I am not sure that the people at Google would enjoy a world order that is informed by the norms and standards of Russia or China,” he said.
A 60-day stop-movement order from the Pentagon in late March, meant to help stem the spread of the coronavirus, threw the lives of many US military personnel into uncertainty, keeping them from leaving for or returning from deployment or from traveling to new duty stations.
But the military remains a vital to the US government’s response to the pandemic, of which its mobility element, the air component in particular, has been a major part.
“There are critical missions that cannot stop,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, the service’s top uniformed officer, said last week. “I don’t believe that we’re going to get any relief, nor should we expect any relief, on the global mobility [mission].”
Transportation Command, which manages that mobility mission, has seen “a reduction in movements” because of that order, Army Gen. Stephen Lyons, head of Transcom, told reporters on March 31. “But we are also seeing a necessity to continue to operate for mission-essential tasks and operations.”
Transcom is focused on protecting the force against the outbreak, maintaining mission readiness, and remaining ready to support the FEMA and other interagency efforts to counter the outbreak, Lyons said.
Operations by Air Mobility Command, Transcom’s air component, are “consistent” with the those priorities, Lt. Gen. Jon Thomas, AMC’s deputy commander, told reporters on April 3.
Below, you can see what Transcom and AMC are doing to safeguard their aircrews as they carry out that response.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Jon T. Thomas, deputy commander of Air Mobility Command, briefs the media via telephone at the Pentagon, April 3, 2020.
The Air Force has given local commanders authority to act to stay ahead of the threat and is encouraging airmen to follow CDC guidelines, Thomas said.
“We’ve implemented staggered shifts, exercised telework options, and employed Health Protection Condition Charlie measures at all our installations to promote physical distancing” to help limit the spread of the coronavirus, Thomas said.
87th Medical Group members screen patients outside as a preventative measure to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, March 30, 2020.
To maintain operational capability, Thomas said, “we’re doing things like medical screening, temperature checks, and other measures for aircrew and passengers transiting areas of COVID-19 risk.”
“As necessary, for certain locations, we’re also taking measures to ensure that AMC forces that are moving globally from one location to another do not pose undue risk for the host units as we transit those locations,” Thomas told reporters at the Pentagon.
1st Lt. Bryan Burns and 1st Lt. James Conlan shut down their C-17 at the Memphis Air National Guard Base after delivering COVID-19 test kits from Aviano, Italy, April 2, 2020.
“Obviously when you’re in the cockpit, there’s no way to get 6 foot apart,” Lyons said when asked about social distancing in aircraft. “The way that we’re managing our flight crews is unique in many ways, and we’re trying to create an isolated system of systems, if you would, even in motion.”
“Where we billet them is controlled. Where they eat from, their food is delivered. So we’re trying to create a very concerted cocoon, if you would, over our entire flight crew apparatus,” Lyons told reporters at the Pentagon.
“And knock on wood, that seems to be working to date. It allows us to continue mission and protect the force at the same time,” Lyons said. But “you can’t telework and fly a plane,” he added, “so there are exceptions that we’re working through.”
437th Maintenance Group instructors teach squadron flying crew chiefs how to disinfect the interior of a C-17 at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, April 2, 2020.
Lyons said Transcom was working to keep aircrews “very, very isolated” to avoid picking up the disease. “You might characterize it as isolation in motion.”
Those crews go “straight from the aircraft into billets” upon arriving in another country, Lyons said. “They don’t go out for food. They don’t leave the billet until their next mission, and it’s a very, very controlled environment.
“That’s how we mitigate moving from a country that might be a level-three country,” a designation that covers much of Europe, Lyons added. “They never actually leave that base. And even inside that base, they’re very, very controlled.”
US Air Force aircrew unload COVID-19 testing swabs at the Memphis Air National Guard Base, March 19, 2020.
Transcom and AMC continue to support the coronavirus response by moving supplies and equipment across the country and around the world.
Air Mobility Command C-130s have moved equipment and personnel to help set up Army field hospitals in New York and Washington state, Thomas said.
“We’ve got Air Mobility liaison officers that are helping to coordinate those movements as well as commercial air movements totaling nine missions, transporting 7.8 tons of cargo and hundreds of personnel to those locations,” Thomas added.
Since mid-March, Air Force C-17s have also delivered 3.5 million swabs for coronavirus test kits from Italy to Memphis, Tennessee, for distribution in the US.
The seventh shipment arrived on April 2, when a C-17 landed in Memphis with about 972,000 swabs, Thomas said on April 3, adding that the eighth mission was to arrive that day and the ninth was scheduled to arrive this week.
A 437th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron flying crew chief prepares to simulate disinfecting a C-17 at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, April 2, 2020.
Transcom and AMC have also moved COVID-19 patients, which poses a different set of challenges.
“We did move a COVID-positive patient this past weekend AFRICOM, specifically from Djibouti, up to Landstuhl in Germany to get the level of support that particular patient needed,” Lyons said March 31.
“We are also working, candidly, to increase our capacity to be able to meet these kind of requirements because we know they’re increasing.”
A US Air Force C-17 is prepped to transport a Transportation Isolation System during a training exercise, March 6, 2019.
“Our approach to patient movement for COVID, particularly for highly contagious patients, is to move them in an isolation system,” either via air ambulance or with the Transportation Isolation System developed during the Ebola crisis, Lyons said.
“We’re working with scientists around the Air Force and Defense Threat Reduction and NASA and some others to really study the aircraft circulation flow and implications of the movement of those particulates and potential impacts on crews, so that we can indeed move COVID-positive patients and passengers without an isolation unit adequately protecting the crew,” Lyons added.
Flight nurses and critical-care air-transport team members prepare a Transport Isolation System for simulated Ebola patients during an exercise at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, October 23, 2019.
The TIS allows in-flight treatment of infected patients without exposing the aircraft’s crew. Thomas said Friday that his command hadn’t gotten specific requests to move a patient in that system and that AMC had “not conducted any evacuations of a COVID-19-infected patient to date.”
“But the combination of transporting large volumes of patients with a highly infectious disease — the transmission of which we still don’t completely understand — on a pressurized aircraft within which the air constantly circulates, and potentially making these movements from remote and austere locations over intercontinental distance, all while protecting the flight and medical crew from infection so that they remain available for future missions is a challenging task even for the Air Mobility Command,” Thomas said.
An airman picks up lunch at the Patterson Dining Facility at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, March 30, 2020. The tables in front of the counter are meant to help enforce social distancing and mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
AMC has interim COVID patient movement capability on alert in several places around the planet, Thomas said, adding that “in the event increased volume of patient flow is required, AMC will be prepared to increase throughput using other means.”
Asked about coronavirus outbreaks within AMC, Thomas avoided specifics, saying there had been “manifestations of COVID-19 on our military installations” but no manifestation “on our installations that would suggest that we’ll have any difficulty executing our missions at this point.”
“The extent of it, I don’t think I want to get into a significant amount of detail on,” Thomas said. “It is something that we have to be cognizant [of] and constantly watching.”
A C-17 on the flight line during an Air Mobility Command exercise at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, August 16, 2016.
Lyons also declined to discuss specifics when asked how many Transcom personnel had tested positive for COVID-19. But he said his command’s positive rates were “very, very low — single digits across the entire mobility enterprise.”
“That will change over time. I acknowledge that,” Lyons added. “Every day we’re making a concerted effort to understand how do we protect the force and maintain a level of resiliency to operate this global mobility enterprise for the department.”
By December 1944, Allied armies had reached the western border of Germany itself. The US Army’s 99th Infantry Division, recently arrived in Europe and untested in combat, was assigned to the northern “shoulder” of the Allied front line in the Ardennes Forest.
The three regiments of the 99th ID—the 393rd, 394th, & 395th Infantry Regiments—were thinly spread across this frigid but quiet portion of the front. A few miles to the east lay the Siegfried Line, the enemy’s final defensive line guarding the German heartland.
99th Infantry Division soldiers putting up a winterized squad hut.
(Source: U.S. Army)
The 3rd Battalion of the 395th Infantry Regiment (3/395), commanded by Lieutenant Colonel McClernand Butler, occupied the town of Höfen on the German border. Höfen, along with the nearby town of Monschau, was strategically vital because it sat on elevated terrain overlooking an important road junction.
Although 3/395 had only 600 men to defend a large area, they had been told that the German army, or Wehrmacht, was no longer capable of major offensive operations and that their winter in the Ardennes would be a quiet one.
99th Infantry Division vehicles en route to the battle zone.
(Source: U.S Army)
Unknown to the Allies, the Germans were preparing a surprise counter-offensive through the Ardennes with the goal of splitting the Allied armies and recapturing the Belgian port city of Antwerp. The Germans planned to use massed infantry assaults to punch holes in the American lines, after which the feared German tanks, or panzers, would race through these gaps while the winter weather kept Allied planes grounded. Höfen-Monschau was vital to the operation’s success because the nearby road junctions would enable rapid movement of tanks.
This northern shoulder of the American line where the 99th ID was entrenched would be the hinge on which the German assault would pivot northwest toward Antwerp. The Germans were counting on something else, too—they knew that this sector was thinly manned by untested troops.
German Panzer tanks en route to the Ardennes.
(Source: US Army)
In the pre-dawn hours of December 16th, Hitler’s final major offensive began. The ferocious assault caught the Allies off-guard and the rapid German advance famously caused a “bulge” on Allied maps.
The Germans were operating under a tight timetable, however, and the assault’s center of gravity—the 6th Panzer Army—had only one day to breach the 99th ID’s line. Any delay would jeopardize the plan to cross the Meuse River and advance on Antwerp before the skies cleared and the Allies regained their balance.
German troops pass burning American equipment during the Ardennes offensive.
(Source: US Army)
The German pre-dawn artillery bombardment on December 16th destroyed 3/395’s communication wires at Höfen, but the stunned soldiers soon witnessed an even more ominous sight: enemy searchlights, reflecting off the dense clouds, illuminated the snowy open ground east of Höfen. Through this eerie artificial moonlight, the 326th Volksgrenadier Division advanced on 3/395’s position.
This, however, was the moment that Hitler’s master plan collided headfirst with American fortitude. 3/395 greeted the Volksgrenadiers with a punishing hail of bullets, mortars, and artillery. The Germans, moving across illuminated open ground without cover, fell by the hundreds against the murderous American fire. Some toppled directly into US foxholes as American troops engaged them at point-blank range. Those Germans who made it into the town itself were quickly mopped up. Höfen remained in American hands—for now.
American troops from the 290th Regiment near Amonines, Belgium.
(Source: US Army)
Despite mauling the Germans on their first attempt to take Höfen, 3/395’s situation was grim. The battalion was badly outnumbered and nearly surrounded.
To make circumstances worse, just beyond the bloodied-but-not-beaten Volksgrenadiers waited the tanks of the 6th Panzer Army. It was not just the lives of 3/395 at stake; a German breakthrough here would have enabled the Sixth Panzer Army to outflank the 2nd ID and 99th ID and achieve a direct route to the Meuse River.
Location of the 99th ID sector (red box) on a map of the “Bulge”.
(Source: US Army)
The Germans were not finished with Butler’s men, either. After failing to capture Monschau on the battle’s second day, the 326th Volksgrenadier Division turned its attention back to Höfen on December 18th. The Germans threw wave after wave of infantry, and a unit of panzers, at the town. The situation became so dire that Butler deliberately called in artillery on his unit’s own position to prevent them from being overrun—one of six times this would occur at Höfen.
When the Germans finally broke through 3/395’s lines and established a foothold in the town, the Americans recaptured the buildings by firing anti-tank guns through the walls. Later that night, another enemy assault was similarly unsuccessful. One Wehrmacht officer captured at Höfen asked his interrogators which unit had defended the town. When told it was 3/395, the prisoner replied, “It must be one of your best formations.”
Lieutenant Colonel McClernand Butler, commander of 3/395.
(Source: US Army)
The Germans would never take Höfen, nor most of their other ambitious objectives in the Ardennes, due in large part to the soldiers of 3/395 and the 99th ID as a whole. The failure to breach the 99th ID’s sector stalled the entire German advance and a decisive breakthrough was never achieved. 3/395, soon to be nicknamed “Butler’s Blue Battlin’ Bastards”, was one of the only US Army units that did not retreat in the opening days of the battle.
For their actions the battalion was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation which read, in part: “outnumbered 5 to 1, [3/395] inflicted casualties in the ratio of 18 to 1. Despite fatigue, constant enemy shelling, and ever-increasing enemy pressure, [they] guarded a 6,000-yard front and destroyed 75 percent of three German infantry regiments.”
Captain Ned Nelson, veteran of 3/395 and the battle at Höfen.
This isn’t the first time troops and veterans have rushed head-first into danger to aid civilians. During the horrific Las Vegas shooting in October, many veterans risked their lives to bring innocent people to safety and treated their wounds. In 2015, two Marines overpowered a gunman on a train in France. There are many examples of troops and veterans going above and beyond for citizens; but today, Second Lieutenant Robert McCoy, this one goes out to you.
Around 7:40 a.m. Dec. 18, an Amtrak train took a turn too fast, going 80 mph (129 kph) in a 30 mph (48 kph) zone, and derailed, plunging into the Southbound I-5 outside of Tacoma, Washington. On the scene was Second Lieutenant Robert McCoy from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, just next to the derailment site.
“I saw many people that were just paralyzed with fear and I don’t blame them at all. I mean, it was kind of a hard situation to watch unfold.” He tells KCPQ of Dupont, Washington. “The train is going south and I’m just kind of driving, just driving, and I hear a loud noise and I look up and I see the train and it hits the concrete walls on the side and when it hits the walls — the walls kind of exploded— and the train just falls off. I see the train fall and it kind of falls on itself… and it hits three vehicles that were in front of me — a semi, an F-150, and a Kia Soul.”
“I couldn’t afford to be scared, I couldn’t afford to be shocked. I had to do what I am called to do and focus and channel that and help these people around me get to safety as best as possible.”
He grabbed what gear he had in his truck — tourniquets and a CPR mask — and rushed to the teetering train cars. He and another volunteer climbed on a damaged semi-truck to reach survivors. They carried people who were ejected from the train to safety, away from the highway. Next, he noticed a woman dangling out of a train. Her daughter was trying to bring her back in so McCoy picked her up and brought her to a safe spot.
Second Lieutenant Robert McCoy saved 15 people before the police and firefighters arrived.
When troops deploy overseas to places like Iraq and Afghanistan, they usually get a pay increase thanks to combat and hazardous pay bonuses. And given that they are working longer days and away from most of the comforts of home, they usually save a bunch of money in that time.
Usually returning with a large balance in their bank account, they are what some would call “post-deployment rich.”
But that wealth usually doesn’t last forever. Some troops save their money for the future, while others making big purchases soon after they are home. These are the six things they are usually buying.
1. A new car or motorcycle
The barracks parking lot is guaranteed to be filled with new cars and bikes shortly after a unit returns from deployment. The vehicular staple of the returning Marine, soldier, sailor, or airman usually spans the gamut of Ford Mustang to Jeep Wrangler.
That’s it. The barracks parking lot is just filled with Mustangs and Wranglers. That and a ton of crotch rockets.
2. Post-deployment booze
I’m not going to lie. When I came back after a seven-month deployment to Afghanistan, I drank a lot. Think—drinking at a minimum a six-pack of beer every night for months—a lot. Was it healthy? No. A good idea? No. Helpful during morning PT? Oh, good lord no.
But hey, I hadn’t drank in a long time and I had to make up for lost time. At least that made sense in my then-21-year-old brain. My story is not unique, however. While the military tries to crack down on binge-drinking, for many troops, it’s still a big part of the lifestyle.
3. Epic parties in Vegas (or some other awesome place)
When you are post-deployment rich, it’s no problem picking up the tab at the bar. “Oh yeah! I got this,” the young private says. “Drinks are on me!” Come back to this same young private about two months later and he probably won’t be saying this one again.
That’s definitely true of throwing big parties. While they initially start out in the barracks and involve kegs, beer pong, and midget-tossing (no? that’s not allowed Sergeant Major?), the parties eventually head off base to a better location. Sometimes this means the strip club, but let it be known: Las Vegas is always the best option.
Just don’t buy the next item while you are drinking.
4. Engagement rings
Spending seven to 12 months (or more) overseas can get some service members thinking about elevating their relationships to the next level of marriage. For some, that means saving up their deployment cash to buy an expensive engagement ring for their honey. Hopefully it all works out, because if it doesn’t, the post-deployment splurge may be spent on…
5. Divorce lawyers are, unfortunately, another common deployment side effect
Most service members have heard a horror story or two about a fellow soldier returning home with no greeting at the airport, a completely empty refrigerator (even sans ice cubes), and an empty bank account. The sad homecoming for some troops means one thing: Divorce.
There’s a good reason why tattoo parlors are strategically located near military bases. Troops love ink (including this writer). Whether it’s a simple U.S. Army or USMC on your arm to show pride in your service, or a listing of fallen friends, tattoos are a big part of the military culture.
Just make sure you get it spell-checked.
What did you buy right after deployment? Let us know in the comments.