Noted astronomer and satellite expert Ralf Vandebergh of Nijswiller, Limburg, Netherlands, spent months searching the skies for one of the Holy Grails of sky spotting, the secretive U.S. Air Force Boeing X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle. In May 2019, he finally succeeded.
Remarkably, on June 30 and July 2, 2019, that Vandebergh finally captured some rare photos of the secret military spacecraft. Fifty-year veteran space journalist and author of the new book, “Moon Rush: The New Space Race”, Leonard David broke the story about Vandebergh’s sighting and photos on Saturday, July 6, 2019 on LiveScience.com. The photos are now being republished and shared around the world.
Journalist Leonard David quoted astronomer Ralf Vandebergh in his story on LiveScience.com as saying, “When I tried to observe it again [in] mid-June, it didn’t meet the predicted time and path.” Vandebergh went on to tell Leonard David in his article that, “It turned out to have maneuvered to another orbit. Thanks to the amateur satellite observers’ network, it was rapidly found in orbit again, and I was able to take some images on June 30 and July 2.”
The Air Force’s X-37B began as a test project with NASA in 1999 but was acquired by the U.S. Department of Defense in 2004. Most sources list two operational X-37B spacecraft and a single X-37A. The fact that only three exist, their missions and roles are classified and they operate in space makes them incredibly difficult to get photos of, especially when performing an active mission as in Vandebergh’s photos.
Even more remarkably, according to Vandebergh’s photo analysis, he may have actually captured the X-37B with its cargo bay door open, performing some type of experiment or operation.
Vandebergh told reporters, “It is really a small object, even at only 300 kilometers [186 miles] altitude, so don’t expect the detail level of ground-based images of the real space shuttle. We can recognize a bit of the nose, payload bay and tail of this mini-shuttle, with even a sign of some smaller detail.”
Vandebergh used a 10-inch F/4,8 aperture Newtonian telescope fitted with an Astrolumina ALccd 5L-11 mono CMOS camera to capture his photos. He tracked his elusive quarry across the sky by hand using a small 6×30 spotting scope to line up his telescope for the photos.
Official USAF photo of X-37B (left) and astronomer Ralf Vandebergh (right).
(USAF and Ralf Vandebergh)
Little is known about the current role of the two X-37Bs and the single X-37A. Most likely the X-37Bs are in some form of “operational test” use with the USAF while the X-37A reportedly remains a combined Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and NASA spacecraft with an equally secretive role.
While most information in the public domain lists both the X-37B and X-37A as “test” vehicles, the X-37B has performed unusually long duration space flights for testing. Remarkably, the current mission being performed by the X-37B in Vandebergh’s photos is designated “Mission OTV-5”. This mission began 670 days ago on September 7, 2017 when it was boosted into orbit on the SpaceX Falcon 9 orbital delivery spacecraft that launched from the NASA facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
While little is known about the actual mission of this current X-37B flight, author Leonard David may provide some insights in his report for LiveScience.com where he wrote:
“X-37B missions are carried out under the auspices of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, and mission control for OTV flights is handled by the 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado. This squadron oversees operations of the X-37B and is tagged as the Air Force Space Command’s premier organization for space-based demonstrations, pathfinders and experiment testing, gathering information on objects high above Earth and carrying out other intelligence-gathering duties.”
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.
Russia has two advanced helicopter gunships in service – the Kamov Ka-50/Ka-52 Hokum, and the Mi-28 Havoc. The obvious question – one thankfully never answered in real life – is how well they’d take out American (or Western) tanks and fighting vehicles?
The two helicopters competed against each other near the end of the Cold War — just as the Soviet Union was teetering but was still desperate to find something to match the tank-killing AH-64 Apache.
The Mi-24 Hind, which had earned a fearsome reputation as a “flying tank” in Afghanistan, was quickly becoming out-classed.
According to GlobalSecurity.org, the Mi-28 has a top speed of about 162 knots, and a range of 130 nautical miles. It is armed with the same 30mm cannon as the BMP-2, and carries about 250 rounds of ammunition. RussianHelicopters.aero notes that the Havoc can carry a wide variety of rockets and missiles.
The Kamov Ka-50 and Ka-52 are two versions of the Hokum attack helicopter. According to GlobalSecurity.org, the Hokum was officially named the winner of the competition with the Havoc in 1995, but in post-Cold War Russia, the production was slow.
Like the Mi-28, it has the same 30mm cannon used on the BMP-2 and can carry rockets and anti-tank missiles.
That is a total of 251 attack helicopters. This creates a problem for the Russians.
Having so few chopper means that they have two options: To either disperse the Havocs and Hokums, and let them be taken out piecemeal, or to concentrate them, and accept that the presence of Havocs and Hokums will be a big indication of where a Russian attack would take place for NATO intelligence.
So, how well would the Hokum and Havoc do in combat? One big problem is that the Russians will likely not have air superiority, largely due to the fact that many NATO planes are better.
While American and NATO F-22s, F-35s, Rafales, and Typhoons take air superiority from Russian Flankers and Fulcrums, a lot of F-16s and A-10s will be carrying out air support missions. The F-16s will feast on the Russian choppers when they aren’t dropping bombs themselves.
While those that reach the front will kill some Abrams, Leopard, Challenger, or LeClerc tanks, they will likely be wiped out as NATO takes advantage of air superiority.
The US Air Force has apologized for a tweet referencing the ongoing social media debate over the Yanny vs. Laurel viral sound clip.
“We apologize for the earlier tweet regarding the A-10. It was made in poor taste and we are addressing it internally. It has since been removed,” the Air Force tweeted on May 17, 2018.
The initial tweet, which was apparently meant to be a joke about the viral trend, said the Taliban in Farah, Afghanistan would have much rather heard “Yanny” or “Laurel” than the sound of approaching A-10 Warthogs sent to repel the insurgents.
“The Taliban Forces in Farah city #Afghanistan would much rather have heard #Yanny or #Laurel than the deafening #BRRRT they got courtesy of our #A10,” the tweet said.
The Yanny vs. Laurel trend has seemingly driven the internet crazy, as people continue to argue over what is actually being said in the clip. The debate began after a short, one-word audio clip was posted on Twitter and Reddit. Some people believe the robotic voice in the clip is saying “Yanny,” while others hear “Laurel.”
It seems the Air Force wanted in on all the fun, but now regrets its attempt to join in.
The battle in Farah has been intense as the Taliban has launched a series of attacks to take the city. The Air Force sent the A-10s in to help Afghan forces on the ground push the insurgents back.
Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White on May 17, 2018, told reporters she hadn’t seen the tweet but said it shouldn’t be forgotten that Afghans are “dying to secure their own future.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
President Theodore Roosevelt formed the Boone and Crockett Club and many other conservation organizations because of his love of all things natural. In the 1870s, fishing and hunting organizations urged local governments to restrict encroaching corporations from violating America’s natural resources. There was hope for the wilderness with an ally like Roosevelt in Washington.
John Muir was a naturalist who had been advocating for increased protections for Yosemite, as it was under threat of commercialization, overgrazing, and logging. Muir was one of the chief lobbyists to make Yosemite a National Park. On October 1st, 1890, it earned official status. He then founded the Sierra Club in 1892 to protect the sanctuary; however, it was still an uphill battle to preserve America’s natural beauty.
Meanwhile, other lobbyists were gaining momentum to further their own agendas (many of which were bad for the land) because even though Yosemite was a National Park, protections and regulations were administrated at the state level. Yosemite needed a champion and, in 1903, halfway through his presidency, the park found one in Teddy Roosevelt.
Roosevelt arrives at the Wawona Hotel
Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt looked forward to his stop in California because for three politic-free-days, he had a private tour of Yosemite with John Muir. Muir was an active voice in the realm of conservation, and his passionate ideals caught the attention of the President himself. Roosevelt loved the outdoors, and he personally wrote a letter to invite Muir to schedule the three-day camping trip through the park.
The favor of the President would surely land the support in Washington the park desperately needed. Muir replied, “…of course, I shall go with you gladly” via mail.
Mariposa Grove, then and now.
On May 15, 1903, Theodore Roosevelt arrived at Raymond, California to begin his adventure into the Sierra Nevada. He and his entourage had rooms at the Wawona Hotel, but he only ate lunch there. He was far more interested in mounting his horse and seeing as much of the park as he could. He visited the Mariposa Grove of giant trees, taking pictures, and set camp for the first leg of his stay.
Roosevelt and Muir discussed their shared beliefs on conservationism over fried chicken.
The following day, the President and Muir were up at dawn, determined to explore more of the trails and Glacier Point. When they reach the summit at 7,000 feet above sea level, they were hit with a snowstorm. They made camp at Washburn Point, marooned together amid the pine trees and snow-covered peaks.
The final day was spent with more exploration of the park’s majestic natural wonders. They rose horses until dusk before deciding to set up camp one last time at Bridalveil Fall. When Teddy laid eyes on Yosemite, it was love at first sight. By the third day, he was convinced that the park needed his influence in D.C. to preserve and protect it.
“We were in a snowstorm last night and it was just what I wanted,” he said later in the day. “Just think of where I was last night. Up there,” pointing toward Glacier Point, “amid the pines and silver firs, in the Sierran solitude in a snowstorm. I passed one of the most pleasant nights of my life. It was so reviving to be so close to nature in this magnificent forest…”
All of Teddy’s clubs had connections in Washington D.C., and his first-hand experience brought passion and determination to the subject. He signed the American Antiquities Act of 1906 that transferred the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove back under federal protection and control. A decade later, when the National Park Service formed in 1916, Yosemite had its own agency to protect it, thanks to Roosevelt’s efforts.
Developed by German Engineers during the 1930s as a defensive strategy of the Third Reich, the self-contained anti-personnel mine was originally named Schrapnellmine or S-Mine. Considered one of the deadliest tools on the battlefield, the French first encounter this version of bouncing mines in 1939 as it devastated their forces.
Dubbed the “Bouncing Betty” by American infantrymen, these mines were buried just underground, only exposing three prongs on the top which were usually camouflaged by the nearby grass vegetation.
Once these prongs were disturbed by a foot or vehicle, the mine would shoot itself upward to around 3 feet or at its victim’s waist level using its black powder propellant. The fuse was designed with a half a second delay to allow its aerial travel.
As it detonated, ball bearings contained inside flew out rapidly and acted as the casualty producing element. The S-mine was lethal at 66 feet, but the American training manuals stated that serious casualties could be taken up to 460 feet.
The landmine had great psychological effects on ground troops as it was known to inflict serious wounds rather than kill.
Although the Schrapnellmine was highly effective and constructed mostly out of metallic parts, detection was quite simple using metal detectors. However, at the time, such heavy and expensive gear wasn’t available to all infantry units as they fought their way through the front lines.
So allied forces had to probe the soil with their knives and bayonets to search for the dangerous mines. When they were discovered, a soldier could disarm the Bouncing Betty with a sewing needle inserted in place of the mine’s safety pin.
Production of the Bouncing Betty ended in 1945 after Germany had manufactured 2 million of the mines.
Joining the military is a great opportunity for many young adults. There are countless benefits for those serve, ranging from financial security, means for obtaining a higher education, developing skills desired by future employers, and, most importantly, a way for someone to participate in something bigger than themselves.
If you want to sign your name on the dotted line in hopes of making a better life for yourself — you’re making an excellent decision.
If your sole purpose in enlisting is to collect fat paychecks… just know that literally everyone under the rank of general is still waiting for get-that-check-engine-light-looked-at kind of money. That being said, enlisting for cash is just scratching the surface of dumb, preconceived notions that troops come in with.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t meant to stop anyone from enlisting — after all, Uncle Sam needs that butt in OD Green. Just know that if you’re dead set on some of the following, it’s going to be painfully hilarious to everyone around you when the truth sets in.
The military also provides enough options to help you float until pay day, if you’d like.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Victor Mincy)
The pay is great
As mentioned above, troops don’t get paid all that well — especially when first entering the service. It’s been long joked within the military that you don’t actually break minimum wage until you reach E-3 (which usually takes a year without waiver) when you factor in work call at 0500 for PT and close out formation at 1700 — a 12-hour work day.
This number obviously doesn’t include overtime pay, 24-hour duties, weekend and holiday pay, or the fact that being in the military is a 24/7 job. If you do look at it like a 24-hour job, you’re looking more towards E-7 (at over 8 years time in service) or O-3 just to break minimum wage.
On the bright side, you’ll get two weeks of paid vacation if you use your leave days correctly!
To be honest, unless you become a drill instructor/drill sergeant, you’re not going to do much yelling for the sake of yelling.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Bryan Nygaard)
You’ll get to boss others around
If you thought that joining the military was the pathway to position where you can just yell at people and order them around, you’re absolutely wrong and would be a craptastic leader.
The only way for you to actually “yell at and boss people around” without getting some wall-to-wall counselling from your peers is to be in a position over someone — which won’t be simply handed to you. Even then, no one will respect you — your superiors, peers, and subordinates alike — if you don’t offer them that same respect.
Everyone wants to talk about the awesome moments of being in the infantry but never acknowledges all of the suck that comes with it.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith)
You’ll be killing bad guys all the time
There’s always that one kid who played too much Call of Duty or watched too many war films and came away with the wrong idea about the military. The fact is, killing bad guys accounts for (maybe) the tiniest fraction of your time spent — even if go infantry.
Let’s overlook, just for a moment, the serious mental issue at play here and say that when this doofus says he wants to “kill all the bad guys,” he means he wants to be a grunt. First, they’d need to be part of the 20% of the military considered combat arms. Then, they’d need to be a part of the 60% of troops that actually deploy at least once. Then, they’ll have to be one of the 10% of troops who actually see combat — and this is skewed because it includes every troop that’s seen combat even just a single time, not the sustained badassery that most of these would-be killers expect. That number is astronomically low.
Then you’ll run into the old, “you’ve already got 10 years in, you might as well stay until retirement!” …And we do…
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Yasmin D. Perez)
You can simply collect the benefits and bounce
If you think you’ll just come in for the three years and get your full ride of the GI Bill, I won’t stop you. Good luck with that — the military has a way of keeping troops in.
It’s not really clear why it works so well, but the one of the most repeated lines by senior NCOs when retention numbers are low is, “you won’t find a job out there in the real world except Walmart greeter!” That one phrase has done more to keep troop numbers up than any motivational recruitment ad.
You’ll be so acquainted with the world’s deserts that you can tell exactly where someone is in the world just by the color of the dirt and sand around them…
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel Garas)
You’ll travel the world
Oh, you’ll travel the world alright. There’s no denying that. It’s just that none of the locations on your bucket list match up with anywhere Uncle Sam wants to send you.
Sure, there’s a possibility that you’ll get stationed in Hawaii, Europe, or East Asia. But chances are far better that you’ll get sent to the exotic Fort Sill, Oklahoma, or tropical Minot AFB, North Dakota, before going to Trashcanistan.
If you haven’t played
Red Dead Redemption II, we highly recommend it. The game has some great storytelling and features some amazing characters. The most notable of the cast is the protagonist and player-character, Arthur Morgan. Easily one of the best characters in video game history, Arthur Morgan’s set of skills puts him in line with special operators around the world.
Special operators must be equipped to carry out the most dangerous missions the country has to offer. This is why they’re required to undergo rigorous training. Arthur Morgan, on the other hand, developed his skills while trying to survive in the days of the American frontier, a.k.a. The Wild West.
While there’re plenty of things to say about Arthur Morgan, here are some of the top reasons he’s operator AF:
Oh, and before we begin, this is your official spoiler warning.
Yes, he can even use a bow.
He can use just about any weapon
From your standard lever-action rifle to a tomahawk, Arthur can pick up any weapon and use it with deadly proficiency. He’s also a very skilled boxer and knife-fighter. His previous life as an outlaw put him through numerous fights against all sorts of enemies, and he learned from those experiences.
Being outnumbered is actually fun in this game.
He fights against overwhelming odds
Not unlike our very own Green Berets, who are trained to take on entire battalions with a single team, Morgan is no stranger to being outnumbered and still managing to shoot his way out of the situation, relatively unscathed.
In fact, on several occasions throughout the game, you fight around 20 people by yourself. That may not seem like a lot, but when your fastest firing weapon is a lever-action, it’s quite a challenge.
You’re alone most of the game anyway.
He goes on covert missions
Numerous times throughout the game, you’re sent on missions to steal or destroy things without being detected. Hell, there’s even a mission where you and another character, the famous John Marston, secretly blow up a railroad bridge. Another mission takes you into an Army camp to steal some items.
Of course, you can choose to make some noise, but when you do it quietly, you really get the feeling that Arthur is a true operator of his time.
Look at that thing!
He can grow a sick beard
While it may not be a requirement, most operators are definitely capable of growing nice, thick beards. If you choose to let it grow, Arthur’s beard can challenge even the most operator beards.
It’s honestly heartbreaking, though.
He gets tuberculosis… and keeps on fighting
The man gets diagnosed with TB and is even told by a doctor to get plenty of rest, but what does Arthur do? He goes about living his life as though nothing has changed. He struggles, sure, but he doesn’t let the sickness become a liability and fights all the way to the very end.
For an average service member, it takes an obligation of 20 years to retire from the military. For their furry four-legged counterparts, it takes over 30 years to accomplish the same goal in dog years of course. Marine Corps working dogs date back to Nov. 1, 1943, during World War II when 1st Marine War Dog Platoon out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina attacked the beach of Bougainville, Solomon Islands.
Today, working dogs lead regular Marine Corps careers by deploying, taking official photos and even attaining rank. A Marine Special Operations Command working dog, however, has much more rigorous training, increased mission capability and known as a Multi-Purpose Canine (MPC).
“A dog handler is around for about five years,” said U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. John Koman, multi-purpose canine handler, Marine Special Operations Command, “around the same time as them leaving we try to retire their dog.”
U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. John Koman, multi-purpose canine handler with Delta Company, 1st Marine Raider Support Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, awaits command during the retirement ceremony of his multi-purpose canine, Roy, at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, March 29, 2019.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Drake Nickels)
Roy is one such multi-purpose canine with MARSOC, and Koman just so happens to be his handler. On March 29, 2019, the command held a formal retirement ceremony to honor Roy’s five years of faithful service as a specialized force multiplier within the special operations world. After spending 16 weeks developing skills in explosives detection, tracking, controlled aggression, Roy’s amphibious capabilities, such as water insertion and extraction techniques, prepared him to serve in combat. For this accomplishment, Roy received the Military Working Dog Service Award, an award presented to working dogs and MPCs that deploy into combat.
As a Marine receives a ceremony after 20 years, MARSOC conducts the same for MPCs. Once the MPC retires, it is put up for adoption and given priority to the owner. According to results from recent data from the Department Of Defense Military Working Dog Adoption Program, more than 90 percent of military working dogs and MPC’s adopted by their handlers.
“The handler and dog have been through so much together,” said an unnamed MPC master trainer with MARSOC. “It’s a no brainer for the dog to go to the handlers.”
Before Roy was ready to transition into civilian life, the unit was required to ensure that there are no signs of aggression towards humans and animals. After this assessment, Koman was able to proceed in filing the necessary paperwork for adoption.
“When I first saw him I knew he was the dog I wanted,” added Koman, “it’s just surreal that he’s officially mine today!”
When asked about his and Roy’s plans for the future, Koman stated that he plans to give Roy the most relaxing life possible.
This article originally appeared on Marines. Follow @USMC on Twitter.
The exposure of troops to burn pits and open-air sewage pits is a black eye on the Global War on Terrorism. While troops were fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, a quick and easy solution to getting rid of garbage and sewage was to simply set it on fire. Years later, this has resulted in wide-spread health issues that affect many of our veterans.
The use of burn pits and the subsequent failure to address them as a serious issue has been likened to the struggles that Vietnam vets faced with Agent Orange in countless headlines. And, frankly, there is truth to this comparison.
(photo by Sgt. Anthony L. Ortiz)
Agent Orange was a powerful herbicidal chemical used to defoliate the jungles of Vietnam. Countless veterans suffered from leukemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and various cancers as a direct result of being exposed to Agent Orange. It took until 1991, eighteen years after U.S. involvement in Vietnam, for the Agent Orange Act to pass. It took eighteen years for veterans to be declared eligible for medical treatment for issues resulting from exposure to a known toxic chemical.
History is repeating itself with the veterans of the post-9/11 generation who are walking in frighteningly similar footsteps. The IAVA has been making strong headway in getting burn pits and open-air sewage pits recognized as hazardous to troops’ health. But full recognition requires proof and an accurate count of exactly how many veterans this practice has effected.
If you’ve been affected by burn pits or open-air sewage pits, it is of the utmost importance that you — and every veteran who has been affected — make your voice heard. At the time of writing, over 144,000 veterans (not even 1/20th of the number of veterans who’ve been to Iraq or Afghanistan) have completed their registry questionnaire.
The questionnaire will take around 40 minutes to complete and it’s very thorough in documenting every base, FOB, COP, and anywhere else you’ve deployed. If you took R&R, you’ll even have to document your one-week stay at Ali Al Salem before getting back into the details about your deployment.
(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Erick Studenicka)
Even if you were just slightly affected for a little bit (let’s say you took a jog around the Sh*t Pond at Kandahar Airfield), you should register. If you were asked only once to burn garbage, you should register. If you dealt with these hazards on a daily basis, you should definitely register.
This is much bigger than any individual. Every questionnaire filled out is one step closer to getting our brothers and sisters the medical treatment that they need. While only the affected veteran can fill out the form, anyone can help by spreading awareness of the Registry and its significance.
Last year marked the fifth consecutive year I’ve visited France, but this time, the mood was markedly different. Terrorist attacks had changed both the topics and the nature of civil discourse, and there was a dramatic increase in physical security around all public events. It was noticeable as soon as I stepped off the plane.
In years past, you’d see pairs of uniformed soldiers of various noncombat arms strolling around Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris looking bored, checking out the young women, and trying to feign interest in a largely symbolic duty. In contrast, last summer I saw squads of jocked-up infantry veterans deployed to even second-string airports, where they were actually patrolling and even — horror of horrors — had magazines in their weapons.
The rifle they carried was the FAMAS, the iconic “Bugle” and the last service weapon to be produced in a nation that at one time led the world in firearms innovation. In 2016, France was in the process of selecting a replacement, which would come from either Belgium — on whose soil hundreds of thousands of French servicemen died — or from Germany, whose conscripts faced them across artillery-scarred mud and from behind the sights of K98 Mausers. France wound up choosing the HK version of America’s service rifle. But hey, we’re all Europeans now.
It seemed appropriate, therefore, to visit the city in which France produced the millions of rifles, bayonets, machine guns, and pistols needed to equip their armed forces, who just 100 years ago were locked in a bloody, existential battle for their nation’s survival. The factory where thousands of workers toiled in a desperate race to put weapons in the hands of those who were battling the Teutonic hordes had been shuttered and bulldozed in the 2000s, but their remarkable product line had been placed behind glass for visitors to gawk at.
Saint-Étienne was, during the latter part of the Industrial Revolution, one of the most important manufacturing centers in Europe, producing textiles, machine tools, bicycles, and farm equipment, but its history as an arms maker dates to the Middle Ages. Swords and armor were manufactured for French kings and emperors to equip their armies, and as edged weapons transitioned to powder, the musket of 1777 became the most prolific firearm ever produced until the advent of WWI.
Over 7 million examples were made (though not all by Saint-Étienne), and troops so equipped faced off against those armed with the Brown Bess in Europe and Asia. French firearms featured prominently in the early days of American history too. Although the famed Charleville musket of the Revolutionary War was named after the eponymous state arsenal in the Ardennes, many were produced in Saint-Étienne and made their way across the Atlantic. Later, in the Civil War, France supplied cannons, Minie rifles, pistols, submarines, and ironclads to both sides.
Pair of presentation pistols from the workshop of maître Nicholas Boutet.
While the history of French firearms development in Saint-Étienne could easily fill its own building, the collection shares space with other notable local trades and is housed almost entirely on the upper floor of the Musee d’Science et Industrie. The building itself is reached by crossing a small town square that’s quintessentially French; while we were there, the weekly market was well underway and townsfolk were stocking up on locally grown produce, meat, and cheese.
Climbing a few limestone steps to the entrance, the ballistic pilgrim enters the usual foyer-slash-gift-shop, ponies up their entrance fee, and then climbs the stairs past displays of glass and lace.
Examples of medieval armor, swords, and halberds greet the museum’s visitors as they enter the third floor space of the Museum of Science and Industry. Inside, displays cover both combat and jousting, with examples of both highly decorated plate armor and mail in evidence, along with the lances and shields every well-equipped nobleman needed in order to win the heart of a fair maiden.
The period where armor was being supplanted due to the ability of commoners to punch big frickin’ holes in it with their comparatively cheap matchlocks overlaps the birth of several of the most notable area workshops. Locks from this time are displayed in wall-mounted cases and some are quite stunning in both design and execution. The earliest service firearms on display are a pair of wheel-lock cavalry pistols dating from 1550, while a suit of Maximilian armor dates all the way back to 1415.
Although Alexandre Dumas’ characters were fictitious, his father was an honest-to-God general in the French revolutionary wars, and there really were two companies of Musketeers who served as the king’s bodyguard. The only remaining example of a Musketeer pistol is on display in the MSI, along with corresponding Mousquetons, or cavalry carbines.
Fusil d’Assaut de la Manufacture d’Armes de Saint-Étienne.
At around the same time, an enterprising gunsmith by the name of Nicholas Boutet was hiring the best artisans he could find to produce what could be fairly considered some of the finest guns the world has ever seen. As arquebusier, or gunsmith to the court of Louis XVI, he was given free reign to create extraordinary works of art, such as the pair of cased pistols shown here.
As the industrial age progressed, cartridge arms replaced flintlocks in a process familiar to amateur historians on both sides of the pond. Production became both codified and centralized, with Saint-Étienne’s place as a strategic asset to the French Empire cemented in place with every one of the bricks laid to enclose the new factory. Revolvers from the 1870s are showcased and demonstrate just how advanced their designs were in comparison to contemporaries on the world stage.
While we were taming the west with Colt single-actions, the French were fielding their first sophisticated D/A revolver, which for a military pistol was exquisitely made (in the officer’s variant anyway — rank has its privileges). The 11mm 1873 Chamelot-Delvigne was made until 1886 and continued in service until well into the Second World War. Civilian versions were widely distributed, with Belgian copies hitting the market soon after the military adopted the pistol; we encountered examples of both at a local flea market, where, due to being over 100 years old with no currently manufactured ammunition, they’re freely traded.
The MSI has numerous, well-preserved samples of drop-dead gorgeous French sporting arms from the golden age of gun making, but it’s the oddballs and one-offs that are particularly eye-catching. Such as the carbide-powered rifles and the high-powered airguns, along with early semi-auto shotguns that show a level of development that surpass their American counterparts. This is, after all, the country that was the first to field a self-loading service rifle, over 20 years before the Garand stepped onto the stage.
As visitors make their way past case after case of well-preserved and displayed products of the gunmakers’ craft, they eventually fetch up at the usual Euro-bullshit display of modern art, the message being, of course, that guns are bad m’kay? It’s ironic then that the last exhibit before having to suffer the artists’ smug self-righteousness is of the final products of the Saint-Étienne factory, which is, of course, where our story started. We can only hope that the gamble of neglecting and then destroying the remnants of their domestic arms industry doesn’t come back to bite them. History’s a bitch, ain’t it?
Going out on the town with a group of veterans is definitely an experience that all civilians should try at least once. Not only will it dispel any preconceived notions that a civilian might have about the troops — we’re not all crazy, loud as*holes — it’s also a crash course in military culture and etiquette.
It’s the best way to learn all of the little details, like where veterans naturally position themselves in a bar (to get a better view of everyone coming in and out) and how they’ll instinctively form a wedge formation as they walk (a secure way of moving from one place to another).
(Photo by Sgt. Matthew Troyer)
After you’ve settled in and you’re throwing back a few cold ones, one question that’s sure to surface from the civilian tag-along is why veterans solemnly make a toast and tap their drink or shot on the bar before resuming a night of heavy drinking. This tradition actually has roots that extend all the way back to ancient times.
The toast is a piece of international bar culture, but the military takes it to the next level. The first part is standard: Someone raises their glass and either dedicates the drink to group’s collective health or says something silly like,
“Life is a waste of time, and time is a waste of life. So let’s get wasted all of the time, and have the time of our life.”
(Photo by Master Sgt. Jeffery Allen)
This brief, poignant message is a way for the person making the toast to appreciate everyone with them. If a veteran is giving that toast, they’ll next tap the drink on the table or bar to appreciate everyone not with them — the fallen. Think of this as a less-messy version of pouring one out for the dead. The veteran first shows respect to those around him or her, then to their fallen comrades, and then, finally, to his or herself by knocking one back.
It’s also seen as a sign of respect to the bartender and the house — who are some of the select few people that a veteran never wants to anger. This same tradition was also seen in ancient Irish times as a way to scare off evil spirits.
So, if you see a veteran do this, by all means, join them. Keep the moment solemn as they are, nod, smile, tap your drink with them, and enjoy your night.
After five days, over 70 tested events and hundreds of evaluated standards, the U.S. Army named its top drill sergeant in a ceremony hosted by the Center for Initial Military Training, or CIMT, the lead in the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, or TRADOC, for all initial entry training.
Staff Sgt. Earnest J. Knight II, representing Fort Jackson, S.C. and the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy, is the 2019 U.S. Army Drill Sergeant of the Year.
Staff Sgt Benhur Rodriguez, representing Fort Sill, Okla. and the Fires Center of Excellence, was named runner up to the 2019 Drill Sergeant of the Year and also received an award for the highest physical fitness score during the competition. In the event the primary selectee is unable to perform his duties, Rodriguez will assume the role.
By design, the competition is one of the most physically demanding and mentally tough challenges any soldier may face in a competition. The Army level event tests and highlights the professionalism and readiness of the U.S. Army by testing the drill sergeants that are responsible for training the total force.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Earnest J. Knight II, Drill Sergeant Academy, with camouflage face paint at a Camp Bullis shooting range. Knight is the 2019 U.S. Army Drill Sergeant of the Year.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
The annual event was conducted at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston and Camp Bullis, Texas for the first time since the Drill Sergeant of the Year was established 50 years ago.
Not only did the Health Readiness Center of Excellence, based at Fort Sam Houston, have a candidate in the competition, but the support of their staff and soldiers, along with CIMT planners, were crucial to the success of the event.
Sgt. 1st Class Kyle Specht, HRCoE’s Senior Drill Sergeant and Sgt. 1st Class Gabriel Hulse were the CoE’s lead planners for the event. They were both honored with an Army Commendation Medal presentation during Aug. 22, 2019’s ceremony. Six other HRCoE soldiers were also recognized for their significant contributions to the planning and execution of the competition.
U.S. Army Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Edward Mitchell, CIMT Command Sergeant Major (right), presents U.S. Army Sgt. Earnest Knight II, Drill Sergeant Academy with the Drill Sergeant of the Year award.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
Specht, who was recently selected for promotion to Master Sgt. and was himself a Drill Sergeant of the Year competitor in 2018, discussed how HRCoE was honored to conduct the 50th Anniversary of the Drill Sergeant of the Year Competition on behalf of CIMT and TRADOC as the newest CoE within the Combined Arms Center and TRADOC.
“Every Drill Sergeant competitor gave 100% and it was inspiring to see their individual resolve and how each rose to the challenge and represented their respective CoEs and the noncommissioned officer corps as a whole,” said Specht. “Command Sergeant Major Mitchell and his staff outlined the expected standards of excellence and vison and allowed us, the mission command, to take ownership and host this historic event.”
U.S. Army Sgt. Earnest Knight II, Drill Sergeant Academy, firing an M9 at the mystery event.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
The 2017 Drill Sergeant of the Year, Sgt. 1st Class Chad Hickey and the 2017 Platoon Sergeant of the Year, Staff Sgt. Bryan Ivery, as the CIMT representatives, conducted two site visits, multiple initial planning reviews, and were on site over a week prior to the event validating test components. Specht continued, “The success of the event is really a demonstration of what cohesive teams can accomplish with 61 dedicated support noncommissioned officers, CIMT and our staff.”
The 2019 Drill Sergeant of the Year competition was rigorous, highly structured and covered a broad base of subject areas at a relentless pace. The noncommissioned officers were evaluated in marksmanship, unknown distance road marches, individual warrior tasks, collective battle drill tasks, modern Army combatives, written exams, drill and ceremony, leadership, oral boards, and much more for the honor of being recognized as the top drill sergeant in the Army. The competitors, who truly had to be prepared for anything also took the Army Physical Fitness Test that is the current test of record and the new Army Combat Fitness Test that becomes the Army’s physical test of record in October 2020.
U.S. Army Sgt. Earnest Knight II, Drill Sergeant Academy on a ruck march.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Edward Mitchell, CIMT Command Sergeant Major, said each event is designed to stress the candidates and push their limits physically and mentally to determine if the drill sergeant’s performance, abilities or professionalism become degraded.
Mitchell believes the competition is an extreme example of what all drill sergeants face in their daily tasks of training the Army’s newest recruits. He said that though many things in the Army have changed since he was a Drill sergeant from 1995 to 1998, “the soldierization process has not changed in the last 50 years. Drill sergeants are still tasked with turning ordinary citizens into soldiers.”
U.S. Army TRADOC hosts the 2019 U.S. Army Drill Sergeant of the Year (DSOY) Competition
(Photo by Sean Worrell)
On the first day of competition, Mitchell described the logic of putting these “soldier makers” to such an extreme test to determine the best of the best. “The drill sergeant that we select will be the number one drill sergeant in the Army as well as the TRADOC enterprise,” said Mitchell. “Sometimes you are going to be tired from what you do [as a drill sergeant], but we need that individual to still be able to be in front of soldiers and be able to be professional, no matter the conditions.” He explained how drill sergeants across the Army epitomize that type of endurance and professionalism each day.
Knight’s road to victory story makes for a good example. He said, “I started my quest to become the Drill Sergeant of the Year in 2017 when I was assigned to Fort Leonard Wood. I made it to the 2nd quarter Maneuver Support Center of Excellence Competition that year and lost.” Hickey, who helped plan this year’s competition eventually became the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence, or MSCoE’s winner that year and subsequently the 2017 U.S. Army Drill Sergeant of the Year.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Benhur Rodriguez, Fires Center of Excellence (right), with Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Edward Mitchell, CIMT Command Sergeant Major, receiving the award for the highest physical fitness score during the competition.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
When he was transferred to Fort Jackson last year, Knight was, once again, encouraged to pursue the top drill sergeant prize through a competition at the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy; he won the Fort Jackson competition earlier this year to allow him to compete and win this week.
“I really appreciate moments like that,” Knight recalled, speaking of his original loss at the MSCoE. “As drill sergeants we are expected to be subject matter experts so we can tend to think we know everything. Having a humbling experience like competing against other highly qualified people who just out performed you, leaves you two options: better yourself or just accept that someone got the better of you.”
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Benhur Rodriguez, Fires Center of Excellence, going through the low crawl obstacle at Camp Bullis.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
The 2019 Drill Sergeant of the Year Competition began with 12 of the most proficient, determined and rugged drill sergeants in the Army representing Basic Combat Training, One-Station Unit Training, and Advanced Individual Training. There was one reservist, the rest were active duty noncommissioned officers. They had all won division level competitions at their home stations to earn the right to compete at the Army level.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Benhur Rodriguez, Fires Center of Excellence, runner up at the 2019 Army Drill Sergeant of the Year Competition, instructs Soldiers on the correct method of conducting a drill and ceremony maneuvers.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
Officially, the competition lasts four days with most evaluated events conducted in a field environment at Camp Bullis beginning on Monday, Aug. 19, 2019. The last field event was completed by six o’clock in the morning on Day Four. In actuality, tested events began on Sunday with “Day Zero” elements that included height and weight measurements, written tests and an oral board held at Fort Sam Houston. Board questions, from seven command sergeants major, led by this year’s board president, Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Michael Gragg, U.S. Army Medical Command Sergeant Major, were exhaustive on a variety of military and U.S. government related questions.
All of the remaining 10 competitors that outlasted the rigors of the week were honored during the recognition ceremony at Fort Sam Houston mere hours after they completed their last event at Camp Bullis: a 12 mile road march.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jeffrey C. Lullen, Health Readiness Center of Excellence, firing an M9 at the mystery event. In this lane while firing from the standing, kneeling, and prone positions the competitors first fired the M4 rifle then transitioned to the M4 pistol.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
When Knight was asked how he thought he was able to win over so many other highly qualified candidates, he said it came down to who was able to be more resilient, the most well-rounded, and maybe even who wanted it the most. Knight said he spent any small windows of free time during the competition studying and refreshing his memory on a wide range of subjects.
Knight explained, “Some [competitors] would take the opportunity to eat, some would take naps or got on their phones. I just spent a lot of time studying during the downtime to make sure I stayed in the zone; I didn’t want to open the door to distractions or self-doubt.” Though the competitors weren’t aware of what would be required of them at any given time, he said that many of the notes he studied ended up being on test events so that made him even more energized to put his time to good use.
U.S. Army Sgt. Michael B. Yarrington, 108th Training Command, on the reverse climb obstacle during the first day of competition.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
“I kept the junior soldiers, the trainees, in mind at all times,” said Knight. Soldiers in training are often in situations where they don’t exactly know what is going to happen next. “They don’t have the privilege or luxury of just taking a nap or picking up their phone when they want to.” He explained that soldiers are always told to study during any break in training, “During downtime a drill sergeant will always tell a trainee, ‘pull out your smart book’ so I just felt like this was a great opportunity to bring myself back to the basics.”
Knight pointed out that this strategy for success is not a technique he invented for this competition, it is in the Drill Sergeant Creed: “I will lead by example, never requiring a soldier to attempt any task I would not do myself.”
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. John K. Cauthon, Maneuver Center of Excellence drill instructor, Ft. Benning, Ga., cools himself down after the M4 stress shoot event.
(Photo by Sarayuth Pinthong)
As the 2019 Drill Sergeant of the Year, Knight will be reassigned to CIMT and TRADOC; he will report to Fort Eustis, Va. in 60 days. Knight, a 25 Victor, Combat Documentation Production Specialist, “Combat Camera” by trade is used to telling the Army story through photos. For 12 months, his tenure as the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant of the Year, he will serve as a sort of ambassador, called upon to be the example of the resilient, professional, and highly proficient drill sergeant that he just proved himself to be.
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class William Hale (left), Foxtrot Company 232nd Medical Battalion range safety officer, Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, hands out ammunition for the M4 stress shoot event.
(Photo by Sarayuth Pinthong)
List of 2019 U.S. Army Drill Sergeant of the Year Nominees in alphabetical order:
Staff Sgt. Mychael R. Begaye, Army Training Center, Fort Jackson, S.C.
Staff Sgt. John K. Cauthon, Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning, Ga.
Sgt. 1st Class Frank D. Dunbar III, Combined Arms Support Command, Fort Lee, Va.
Staff Sgt. Ariel D. Hughes, Army Aviation Center of Excellence (USAACE), Fort Rucker, Ala.
Staff Sgt. Lillian C. Jones, Cyber Center of Excellence, Fort Gordon, Ga.
Staff Sgt. Earnest J. Knight II, Drill Sergeant Academy, Fort Jackson, S.C.
Staff Sgt. Jeffrey C. Lullen, Health Readiness Center of Excellence, Fort Sam Houston, Texas
Staff Sgt. Matthew T. Martinez, Intelligence Center of Excellence, Fort Huachuca, Ariz.
Staff Sgt. Matthew A. Mubarak, Defense Language Institute, Monterey, Calif.
Staff Sgt. Benhur Rodriguez, Fires Center of Excellence, Fort Sill, Okla.
Sgt. 1st Class Marianne E. Russell, Maneuver Support Center of Excellence, Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
Sgt. Michael B. Yarrington, 108th Training Command, Charlotte, N.C.
Let’s be completely honest: Getting veterans the help they need is a tricky task. What works for one person may not work for another. Simply telling veterans they have the option to seek help if they need it is important, yes, but it’s not going to pull those who are blind to their own struggles out of the shadows.
There are many veterans who can personally attest to the successes and benefits of the fine mental health professionals within the Veterans Administration. There are others, however, who end up opt for heart-breaking alternatives to talking about their feelings with a stranger. There’s no easy solution to getting help to those who don’t seek it and there’s no magic wand out there that can wish away the pain that our veteran community suffers daily.
But the first step is always going to be opening up about the pain.
As a community, we’re trained to never, ever be a burden on anyone else while also being willing to move Heaven and Earth if it means saving our comrade. At its heart, that’s what Operation Resilience is about.
(U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Jose A. Torres Jr.)
A new pilot program within the Veterans Health Administration called “Operation Resilience” aims to get veterans who’ve been lost since exiting the service to open up to the people who understand their struggles most: their comrades.
The idea behind Operation Resilience is simple. The VA has partnered with an advocacy group, The Independence Fund, to create events that bring veterans who served in a unit together again. Of course, one of the topics on the agenda at these events is a group therapy session, but it’s much deeper than that.
Dr. Keita Franklin, executive director of the department’s suicide prevention efforts, said in a statement that of the roughly 20 veterans who commit suicide a day, most have little-to-no contact with official VA programs. Finding at least one avenue of approach where someone is willing to talk is the key.
Having those who were there with a troubled veteran during the moments that still haunt them can help on countless levels. And surrounding it all with an event that’s legitimately appealing to veterans makes it a hard opportunity to pass up. When you frame event as a chance for veterans to, let’s say, go drinking at some all-expenses-paid ski resort or something — who could say no?
The group dynamic of the event also plays into the stubbornness of most veterans who have a disdain for seeking help. Now, it’s not just about helping yourself, it’s about helping your brothers- and sisters-in-arms — even if they are the one most in need of help.
There’s no one on this planet that veterans would rather talk about what’s on their mind than with their fellow veterans.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kevin Wallace)
The details of the events are still being worked out, but the pilot event will be with Bravo Company, 2-508 Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division this coming April.
It looks like the VA has caught onto the human element of what brings a group of combat veterans together. If, at the end of the day, a single veteran is able to be pulled out of the hole because their guys came together and got them to talk, well that’s a victory in my book.