Master Sergeant George Hand US Army (ret) was a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. He is a now a master photographer, cartoonist and storyteller.
There is a saying among the airborne forces (words to the effect): “The sky, even more so than the land or the sea, is terribly unforgiving to even the slightest mistake.”
I have been in ground combat units, airborne units both low and high-altitude operational in nature, and have extensive experience in both maritime undersea and surface operations. I agree that airborne operations are likely more dangerous than those maritime, but I insist that the land is by far the safest of all; in fact, I’m conducting a fairly safe land operation right this very minute!
Combat diving puts one in many claustrophobic situations. I happen to be mildly claustrophobic; I think a great percentage of us are, but I also happen to be clinically horrified of heights to the point of near incapacitation. For me, therefore, parachute training was the most stressful. That notwithstanding, I have ~800 parachute jumps to boast of.
While I know of many deaths, near deaths, and injuries from parachute operations (mostly broken limbs from landing and spinal injuries from hard parachute openings), I also have personal experience with two fatalities just in the basic training course for Special Forces underwater operations. In both cases the deaths were attributed to heart attacks. I should mention that the Army’s diving school is one of the most stressful, mentally and physically, in the world.
One of the concerns in airborne operations are early or late exits from the jump aircraft. As you may know, paratroopers try to land in a pre-designated area of land know as a Drop Zone (DZ) that is largely devoid of structures and obstacles like trees and communications lines. Therefore urban areas are avoided and deserts make for great DZs indeed. High altitude jumpers with highly maneuverable parachutes fancy the motto: “The whole world is a Drop Zone.”
In a jump aircraft, the pilot turns over control of the jump to the Jump Master in charge by way of a simple pair of lights located at the jump doors; one is red and the other green. Minutes from the DZ, the pilot will illuminate the red light indicating “no jump”. Once the pilot feels he is safely over the DZ, he will illuminate the green light indicating “safe for jump.”
(Sweet shot of a paratrooper just out the jump door with the green “Go” light illuminated.)
Paratroopers exiting on a red light is considered a major safety violation and is not tolerated across the community. Each incident warrants some measure of investigation to determine fault and safety conditions at the time. Such was the case of Red Light Randy.
Delta does very few if any low-level static lines drops, favoring the greater potential of drops from altitudes of 12,500 feet Above Ground Level (AGL) and above. Red Light Randy had a mission for which a low-level drop was needed, so he set out for a couple of rehearsal jumps prior to the mission.
The practice jumps went well, but on the night of the actual mission, the pilot failed to put the red light to green once over the DZ. Randy had positive visual recognition of his DZ reception party below, but had no jump authority. Frustrated at the sight of his DZ wasting away below him, he stuffed his team out the door with a frustrated enthusiasm. At a point along the exit the green light finally came on.
(A low-level drop has a much greater penchant to keep men less dispersed ever ground than a high-level drop.)
There was never a decent explanation given by the pilot for the late green light that caused Randy, the last to exit, to come down in some modest scrub past the far edge of the drop zone. There were no injuries or loss of equipment, and Randy and his men enjoyed a mission success for the night.
The Air Force reported the “incident” as an early exit on a red light, but the swift and efficient investigation that ensued determined that the pilot gave a late green, threatening a separation in Randy’s team. In combat it is not the prerogative to circle back and drop the rest of the team, so inevitably the loss of so many men of Randy’s team would have monumentally jeopardized mission success.
So the early red light incident was over… or was it? The “potential ball-breaking” alarm sounded. The details of the event were rocketed off to me, and I got to work straight away producing the feature cartoon:
The drop aircraft is depicted still on departure field runway with Randy announcing the command to jump, The first man exits only to splat face-down on the tarmac. Early exit on red for Red Light Randy!
When you hide behind a keyboard and computer screen, it’s easy to lie about who you are or what you’ve done. Almost anyone can go on the internet and say they’ve done this, that, and the other thing — and the veteran community is just as guilty of this.
There are shameless veterans everywhere who will go on the comments section and start shooting off lies faster than a GAU-8 Avenger dispenses 30mm rounds.
But honest veterans everywhere know the truth because they’ve been there and they know which lies are the most common.
This one is just plain stupid. If you’re proud of your service, there’s absolutely no reason to lie about what you did while you were in. Everyone plays a part in the big picture, so nothing you did is better or worse than what someone else did. Maybe you didn’t go to combat — so what? Take pride in the fact that you helped others prepare for it.
2. What they did “in-country”
No matter when or where troops are deployed, there tons of POGs out there who never see direct combat. For whatever reason, these veterans will lie to make their deployment sound like a Call of Duty mission. Maybe they feel ashamed. Or maybe they want to seem cool because they have that Afghanistan Campaign Medal on their chest but not a Combat Action Ribbon.
3. How badass they are at shooting/fighting
If someone really is a great shooter, they’ll have proof. Someone who made rifle expert will have the badge to prove it and those who are just really good shots will have pictures of their targets.
But veterans who were always garbage on the rifle range will not only lie about their skill but, when cornered, they’ll throw out excuses for why they didn’t do well on the range.
4. That time they were with Special Forces
POGs will read this and go, “but I was with Special Forces,” conveniently leaving out the fact that they were administrative specialists who just made sure the operators got paid on time. Chances are, they didn’t spend much time — if any — sleeping outside or eating MREs.
Veterans who are insecure about their service will do everything mentioned above and then go on to say that they did a ton of other things. They’ll tell you about that one time they rescued a cat out of a tree or saved an Afghan child from a whole squad of Taliban while carrying their best friend on their back.
They’ll tell you Medal of Honor-worthy stories, but what they won’t tell you is that the cat was in the Patrol Base and their platoon commander ordered them to get it out — or that they couldn’t carry the wounded the whole way and the child was never there.
Some veterans will go on the internet and make it seem like it was an easy day after they got the infamous peanut butter shot. But every other veteran knows damn-well they couldn’t sit down or walk properly because they were in so much pain.
*Bonus* How much free time they had
Some veterans like to go online and claim that they were always “in the sh*t,” but everyone knows they had a ton of free time.
They probably spent an unholy amount of time watching adult films, playing video games, or playing cards with their buddies.
In June 1982, Israeli tanks rolled across their border into neighboring Lebanon. Their mission was to stop the terrorist Palestine Liberation Organization from repeating further attacks on Israeli officials and civilians.
All this was in the middle of Lebanon’s Civil War, which raged from 1975 to 1990. When their tanks tried to roll through the U.S. Marines’ camp in Beirut, one Leatherneck told them they could do it “over his dead body.”
The Lebanese Civil War was in many ways like Syria’s civil war today. The country was a fractured group of religions, sects of those religions, political parties, refugees, and outright armed militias. The various factions vying for power were also aided by the patronage of other countries, like Iran, Iraq, Syria, Israel, the Soviet Union, and their Cold War adversary, the United States.
It was a mess.
Israel Defense Forces began to surround Beirut within a week of the invasion. The siege was particularly brutal. Of the more than 6,000 Lebanese and Palestinians who died in the siege, 84 percent were civilians. It was so bad, then-President Ronald Reagan reportedly called an August artillery barrage on Beirut a “holocaust” in a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.
The brutality of the war as a whole is what prompted Reagan to send Marines to Lebanon’s capital as part of a multi-national force of peacekeepers. The MNF were there to protect foreigners and civilians while trying to protect the legally-recognized government and restore its sovereignty.
Later in 1982, Israel again drew worldwide condemnation for failing to stop the massacre of Lebanese and Palestinian civilians in refugee camps Sabra and Shatila. A militia allied with Israel began killing inhabitants of the camps as Israeli forces stood by. The PLO also blamed the United States for not living up to the MNF agreements to protect civilians.
So when three Israeli Centurion tanks rolled to the MNF perimeter manned by the Marines, Capt. Charles B. Johnson stood still as the tanks stopped only within one foot of his face. A full five minutes later, the IDF commander dismounted to talk to the captain. The Israeli told the Marine the tanks were on their way to nearby railroad tracks. He then demanded to speak to a Marine general.
Johnson replied by repeating he had orders not to allow the tanks to pass. The Israeli told him he would drive through anyway and began to mount his tank. That’s when the Marine drew his sidearm, climbed the lead tank and told the Israelis they could pass “over his dead body.”
One account in the Washington Post even recalls Johnson jumping on a tank as it raced toward his checkpoint, warning the Israelis that the likelihood of shooting each other was going to increase. A UPI report at the time says Johnson “grabbed the Israeli lieutenant colonel with his left hand and pointed his loaded pistol into the air.”
After a 50-minute stand-off, the tanks backed down and left the perimeter.
In response, the United States summoned then-charge d’affaires Benjamin Netanyahu to protest Israeli provocations against American forces in Beirut. The tank incident turned out to be one of many. The Israelis denied the incident occurred, saying tanks were in the area to investigate the death of an Israeli soldier.
Johnson was lauded for his “courageous action” by Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger.
The next month, a car bomb was detonated next to the Marine barracks at Beirut airport, killing 241 Marines (Johnson survived the attack) and 58 French paratroopers. By Feb. 26, 1984, the Marines withdrew to ships offshore and much of the MNF departed from Lebanon entirely.
It started out as an unguided air-to-air rocket. Then, someone had the idea to put a sensor on it that could pick up the heat put out by an airplane’s engine. Add a control system and you’ve got yourself an effective, deadly missile — one that has been relied upon for decades by American pilots and their allies.
That missile is the AIM-9 Sidewinder, and it’s come a long way since its combat debut in 1958. The Taiwanese scored this missile’s first kill when it was carried on and fired by North American F-86 Sabre fighters. Today, the missile is a key part of the weapons suite for the Lockheed F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning stealth fighters.
The AIM-9 wasn’t even called AIM-9 when it was being designed. Its original name was the AAM-N-7, which is fairly decipherable for those familiar with missile naming conventions. It was designed as an Air-to-Air Missile (AAM) for use by the Navy (N) and it was the seventh in the sequence (7). The old naming system was in use until 1963, when it was replaced by the one used today.
The missile was solely a Navy weapon for its first few years. The United States Air Force backed the GAR-2 Falcon, which later got the designation AIM-4. Eventually, the Navy’s missile won out and the Air Force adopted it.
Since then, the Sidewinder has been one missile that American pilots can rely on. During the Vietnam War, it scored 82 kills. The missile also saw action in the Falklands War, Desert Storm, and even scored the first air-to-air kill for the F/A-18E Super Hornet over Syria. The missile has gone from a short-range (maximum range of 2.6 nautical miles for the AIM-9B) tail-chase missile to an all-aspect medium-range (22 nautical miles) missile in the form of the AIM-9X.
The AIM-9X will be around for a long time, with an improved version of the missile slated to enter service in 2022.
Learn more about the Sidewinder in the video below:
The Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) is a slingshot on steroids.
Compared to steam catapults, the new launch system is lighter, smaller and requires less maintenance while increasing controllability, reliability, and efficiency, according to the Naval Air Warfare Center. The system is designed tolaunch up to 25 percent more aircraft – manned or unmanned – with greater precision.
By eliminating the use of steam, the EMALS system may contribute to the quality of life for sailors sleeping below decks. “The water brake has been removed, so from that perspective, the [catapult] will get quieter,” said Donnelly in an interview with Defense Media Network. “You’ll continue to hear the shuttle noise, jet blast deflectors and hooks hitting the flight deck in the arresting gear area.”
The EMALS system is over 15 years in the making. The system was tested from land-based sites, but this video shows the system being tested from the pre-commissioned USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78).
Kim Jong Un warned two months ago that if the US didn’t ease sanctions on North Korea that he would seek a new, potentially military, way to defend his country’s sovereignty.
On Feb 28, 2019, President Donald Trump said he was unable to strike a deal with Kim at their meeting in Vietnam because Kim was only willing to give up some of his nuclear sites in exchange for total sanctions relief, which Trump refused to concede.
In his 2019 New Year’s Day speech, Kim said that his country “may be compelled to find a new way” to defend itself if the US didn’t lift sanctions. Trump confirmed to reporters on Feb. 28, 2019, that all of current US sanctions are still “in place, yes.”
President Donald J. Trump is greeted by Kim Jong Un Feb. 27, 2019, at the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel in Hanoi, for their second summit meeting.
Sitting on a leather chair with a black suit and grey tie in January 2019, Kim hinted that the lack of sanctions relief — as was seen in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Feb. 28, 2019 — could merit a military response or escalation.
“If the United States does not keep the promise it made in the eyes of the world, and out of miscalculation of our people’s patience, it attempts to unilaterally enforce something upon us and persists in imposing sanctions and pressure against our Republic,” he said, according to a translation by the state-run Rodong Sinmun, “we may be compelled to find a new way for defending the sovereignty of the country and the supreme interests of the state and for achieving peace and stability of the Korean peninsula.”
Prior to the summit US intelligence and North Korea experts repeatedly warned that Pyongyang is unlikely to give up its nuclear arms. An intelligence report published January 2019 reiterated the idea that the country’s leaders view nuclear arms as “critical to regime survival.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
In November 2018, I completed a grueling three-day training for journalists and aid workers heading into countries with tenuous security situations and war zones.
I learned a ton during the training — what worst-case scenarios look like, how to avoid them, and, perhaps most important, how I might act when it hits the fan. But the most important thing I picked up was an easy-to-learn tactic anyone could use.
Held at a nondescript warehouse in suburban Maryland, the training was led by Global Journalist Security, an organization founded in 2011 to help people going to dangerous places acquire what it calls the “physical, digital, and emotional aspects of self-protection.”
I had some vague idea of what I was getting myself into. I’m traveling to Egypt, Nigeria, and Ethiopia over the next couple of months, and fellow journalists had recommended the course as preparation for the worst-case scenarios: kidnappings, terrorist attacks, active-shooter situations, and war zones. How a three-day course in suburban Maryland could credibly do that was anybody’s guess.
Training prepares people not to freeze or panic in worst-case scenarios
The chief trainers Paul Burton and Shane Bell, a former British Army sergeant and a former Australian Armed Forces elite commando respectively, are experts at putting people in distressed mindsets. The two have accompanied journalists and aid workers in the world’s most dangerous places, been kidnapped, and negotiated kidnapping releases. They know what they’re talking about.
Female war correspondents during World War II.
Over the course of the training, Bell, Burton, and the rest of the GJS team thrust attendees — yours truly, included — into simulations designed to trigger your adrenaline.
“You want to give people skills to stay in the moment and not freeze or go into panic mode,” Smyth told Columbia Journalism Review in 2013. “Some people will forget to yell, ‘Hey, she’s being dragged away — we have to help her!’ [The training] plants seeds, things to remember.”
I had to save a fellow aid worker from an “arterial puncture wound” that was squirting a fountain of (very real-looking) “blood” from a gaping “flesh wound.” Hooded actors interrupted PowerPoint presentations firing blanks into the class as we scrambled to find cover and escape. There was a kidnapping during which I was told to “slither like the American snake that I am.” And finally we were put through a final course across fields and hiking trails designed to mimic a war zone with grenades thrown, artillery shelling, landmines, and snipers.
My 13-year-old self thought it was pretty wicked. My 28-year-old self was shook. By the end, I was praying I would never have to use any of it, particularly after I “died” in the first active-shooter scenario.
But that scenario came before I learned the most valuable skill Burton, Bell, and company imparted upon us: tactical breathing.
U.S. Army Spc. Chad Moore, a combat medic assigned to 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Dustin Biven)
Combat troops, police officers, and first responders are trained in tactical breathing
The idea behind it is simple: When you enter high-stress situations, your sympathetic nervous system throws your body into overdrive. Adrenaline kicks in, your body starts to shake, and your mind races to solve the problem.
It doesn’t just happen in war zones. If you hate public speaking, it’s likely to happen before you get onstage. If you’re nervous about an important exam, it may kick in as the timer starts.
What Burton and Bell hammered home is that you can’t prevent this response. It’s instinctual. Your brain’s three options are fight, flight, or freeze. And while you may know enough about yourself to know how you’ll react when you have to make the big speech, you probably have no idea what your reaction will be during an active-shooter situation or in a war zone.
Usually, in that state, you aren’t thinking logically, if you are thinking at all. Flubbing the speech may not be a big deal, but if you enter that state in a war zone, it could get you killed.
Tactical breathing overrides that stress response by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, slowing down your heart rate and calming you down so you can make a rational decision.
It works like this: Breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, and exhale for four seconds. Repeat as necessary until your heart rate slows and your mind calms. Yes, it is very similar to yogic meditation breathing.
Once your mind calms, you can make a rational decision about whether it is best to keep hiding or whether you need to run, rather than flailing in panic.
A new video offers a look at the inside of the B-2 Spirit bomber for the first time in the three-decade history of one of America’s most secretive aerial weapons.
The US Air Force allowed a civilian journalist to board a B-2 stealth bomber and record the flight from inside the cockpit, capturing exclusive footage of one of the service’s most closely-guarded secrets.
The video was taken by documentary filmmaker Jeff Bolton aboard a B-2A with the 509th Bomb Wing out of Whiteman Air Force Base, Miss., the only operational base for the Spirits.
Exclusive First Look: Step inside the cockpit of a B-2 stealth bomber
“In an era of rising tensions between global nuclear powers — the United States, China, Russia, and North Korea — this timely video of is a vivid reminder of the B-2’s unique capabilities,” Bolton said in a statement. “No other stealth bombers are known to exist in the world.”
Another video from Bolton shows external footage of the B-2 refueling in flight, in addition to more shots from inside the cockpit.
The B-2 Spirit is a multi-role stealth bomber capable of penetrating sophisticated enemy defenses to strike targets with both conventional and nuclear payloads. The unmatched aircraft is a cornerstone of America’s nuclear deterrence capabilities.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Remember your initial indoc school to the military? I do: It was hot and heavy, and not in a good way, like at a rave or water park. You were asked in a short period of time to learn the entire guiding doctrine of your service of choice, so much so that you could easily fold into the operational forces upon completion of the school.
That is no small task.
How was this accomplished? We weren’t given textbooks and told to read. We weren’t even put into classes and told to take notes. Nope.
I’m just walking bro, no need to yell.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class William Blankenship/Released)
We were taken under the wing of professionals who have already lived and breathed that which we were about to undertake.
I fully understand that that is a rose-colored-glasses approach toward the DI, MTI, RDC, or Drill Sergeant that you still have nightmares about. Hear me out though: an argument can be made that an instructor, who I’ll affectionately refer to as a “coach” from now on, is the one thing standing between you and your personal and professional goals.
He wants you to hate him. It’s his coaching style.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. David Bessey)
The body of literature on the topic of coaching is dense and complicated, but suffice it to say that the question is not if a coach is effective. It’s how can coaches be most effective.
Two of the main factors discussed are attitude and control.
The attitude evoked by the person who is teaching you dictates how well you perform. You and your coach need to be on the same page. In your basic training, your “coach” did this whether you realized it or not. It was most likely in an “us vs. them” approach. Meaning your instructor made you want to prove him or her wrong. The dirty secret is that they wanted you to prove them wrong as well. #reversepsychology.
Control is simple. The person learning needs to have some sense of control over their outcome. In the beginning of your schoolhouse, undoubtedly you had little to no control. Over time, you were given choices and tasks that directly impacted whether or not you chose to be successful.
These are the fundamentals of great coaching in a high volume way.
Civilian life has its pitfalls too. Don’t wait until it feels like its too late.
The assumption of a coach is that you are going to get better, and faster than you would with no one helping. Eventually, you would have figured out the rules of the military well enough to “graduate” to the active forces, but it would not have been as cleanly or efficiently as it was with the guiding force of your instructor.
It’s quite common for former service members to decide they can do everything alone upon separation. That’s a mistake. We assume that we are now the commander of our own lives until we eventually hit a wall. Then we start looking for guidance.
Don’t wait for that moment.
Pro athletes know this truth. They can’t do it alone.
If you want to be an entrepreneur, find someone who has done it and learn from them. They will keep you from falling into all the typical pitfalls.
If you want to stay home and raise a family, read from the best and learn from your friends and family that have the types of children you want.
If you wanna get in killer shape, find someone who makes that happen for people.
Don’t waste your time.
You are always in the basic training of something.
Don’t spend more time on Parris Island getting eaten by sand fleas than necessary. Find and follow the coach that will lead you past your goal.
How would he know where to crawl if it wasn’t for explicit guidance?
(Photo by David Dismukes)
Tips for finding a keeper
For many service members, the whole reason they get out is because they are sick of other people telling them what to do.
Now you have the choice as to what type of person you want to get your guidance from. If you don’t like the volatile gunny with bad breath and a worse temper, you don’t need to work with him anymore. Here are five things to look for in your coach of choice for any endeavor you may have.
This kid knows what’s up. What’s his economy of force coach?
Every sports team needs their very own cartoony mascot to get the fans going. Sure, it’s a goofy tradition, but it gets the people cheering and those cheers spur the players on to victory, so no one ever questions it. Military academies are no different.
The Air Force Academy sports the high-flying falcon because it’s the apex predator across much of America’s sky. West Point is represented by the mule because it’s a hardy beast of burden that has carried the Army’s gear into many wars. The Naval Academy, in what seems like a lapse of logic, decided long ago that the best representation of the Navy and Marine Corps’ spirit is a goat.
The use of a goat as their mascot began in 1893 with El Cid the Goat, named after the famed Castilian general. Eventually, they settled on the name “Bill” because, you know, billy goats… And it just gets weirder from there.
From 1847 to 1851, the Naval Academy used a cat as their mascot, which we can presume would’ve hated being paraded in front of large crowds.
In the Navy’s defense, goats actually served a purpose on Navy vessels back in the days of fully rigged ships. Unlike most livestock that required specialized food, a goat can eat just about any kind of scraps, which is handy on a long voyage. And, once it fulfilled its purpose as a walking garbage disposal, as grim as it sounds, it provided the cooks with a fresh source of meat.
Yet, when the U.S. Naval Academy was founded in 1845, then-Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft chose his favorite animal to be the official mascot of his newly established military academy: the monkey. This didn’t last long because the logo was actually of a gorilla and, as most people know, gorilla’s aren’t monkeys. The next idea was a cat (which actually have a place in Naval history), then a bulldog (before the times of Chesty Puller), and then a carrier pigeon.
Ever since, sailors have enjoyed a long tradition of giving their goats the clever name of ‘Bill.’
(U.S. Navy Historical Center)
There are two different versions of the story of how the Navy finally got the goat.
The first of those version is simple: The previously mentioned El Cid the Goat appeared at the 1893 Army-Navy football game and its presence, supposedly, helped carry the team to victory. The Navy continued to bounce back and forth between mascots until officially sticking with the goat in 1904. Said goat was re-branded as “Bill,” named after the Commandant of Midshipmen, Commander Colby M. Chester’s pet goat, and the rest is history.
The biggest takeaway from the legend is the difference between becoming a legend and getting a Captain’s Mast is whether or not you can attribute a Navy victory over West Point on your actions.
(U.S. Navy photo by Joaquin Murietta)
The other version is steeped in legend — and is entirely bizarre. As the story goes, a ship’s beloved pet goat had met its untimely end. Two ensigns were tasked with heading ashore to bring the goat to a taxidermist so that its legacy could live on. The ensigns got lost on their way to the taxidermist, as most butter bars do, and wound up at the Army-Navy game.
The legend never specifies who, exactly, came up with this brilliant idea, but one of them apparently thought, “you know what? f*ck it” and wore the goat’s skin like a cape. During halftime, one ensign ran across the sidelines (because sporting arena security wasn’t a thing then) donning the goat skin and was met with thunderous applause.
Instead of reprimanding the two idiots for clearly doing the exact opposite of what their captain had asked of them, the Naval Academy rolled with it and attributed their victory over the Army to the goat.
This version is kind of suspect because El Cid the Goat was at the fourth game so the goat-skin midshipman would have had to been at one of the three games prior. The first and third games were held at West Point (which is clearly far away from any wandering ensigns) and second Army/Navy game was a victory for Army. But hey! It’s all in good fun.
The young pilot struggled against dust and wind that swirled 10,000 feet above valleys sandwiched between Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains. He had only a rudimentary pair of plain glass goggles to protect his face. Yet he was determined to find the trail of the rebel bandit Pancho Villa who had recently led a raid into New Mexico that killed eight U.S. Soldiers and 10 American civilians.
That young pilot, Capt. Benjamin Foulois, was in one of eight Curtis JN-3 “Jenny” biplanes participating in the search. The planes were powered with 90-horsepower engines that had a rough time just staying airborne, but they led a reconnaissance mission to kick off Gen. John J. Pershing’s punitive expedition into Mexico.
It was March 1916, little more than a decade after the Wright Brothers’ inaugural flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and only seven years after Foulois was taught to fly by Orville Wright himself, becoming the first military aviator. He later became a major general, and in 1931 was appointed Chief of the U.S. Army Air Corps.
That small unit of Jenny biplanes, in search of Villa and his Mexican marauders more than 100 years ago, were members of the 1st Aero Squadron, the first aviation unit to participate directly in a military action, flying 346 hours on 540 flights during Pershing’s expedition. The first mission covered more than 19,300 miles, and included aerial reconnaissance and photography as well as transporting mail and official dispatches.
The first Curtiss JNÐ2s of 1st Aero Squadron at the Signal Corps Aviation School, North Island, Cali. Sgt. Vernon L. Burge stands under the propeller. In the cockpit is Capt. Benjamin Foulois and second man from the right is Jacob Bollinger.
The squadron was formed March 5, 1913, giving it the distinction of being the oldest flying squadron still in existence.
The unit has alternated between reconnaissance and bombing missions and had its name tweaked 14 times since the provisional 1st Aero Squadron unfurled its colors in Texas City, Texas. Its Airmen have flown 47 different types of aircraft and served in more than 50 locations throughout the world.
In the year of the 1st Aero Squadron’s formation, Lt. Thomas D. Milling, instructor, and Lt. Fred Seydel, student, are at the controls of a Wright C., SC-16 Trainer on airfield in Texas City, Texas, May 1913. In front of the plane, 8 other soldiers in uniform and a civilian in white shirt and bow tie stand posed facing the camera.
Today, it’s the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron, a part of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base, California, with the responsibility of training high-altitude intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance RQ-4 Global Hawk and U-2S pilots and sensor operators.
The squadron has a reputation for being a pioneer in establishing ISR capability and establishing a legacy of supplying critical information to combatant commanders across the joint force.
“The legacy of the 1st Recon Squadron is a microcosm of the legacy of the Air Force,” said Richard Rodrigues, former 9th RW historian. “It was the organization that pioneered the first tactical deployment of U.S. military airpower, and it helped create some of our early leaders that had an impact on the Air Service and later the Air Corps.”
U.S. Air Force U-2S Dragon Lady Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Aircraft instructor pilots from the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron pose for a photo in front of a two seat U-2S Aug. 17, 2012 at Beale Air Force Base, Calif. Less people have piloted the U-2 than have earned Super Bowl rings.
A little over a year after its famous recon mission over Mexico, the squadron would enter World War I, traveling from New Mexico to New York, then by ship across the Atlantic to land in Le Havre, France and become the first American squadron to enter the war. The 1st Aero Squadron took on the role as an observation unit, initially flying the French Dorand AR 1 and 2 aircraft, a two-seater recon plane, and later the Salmson 2A2.
According to Rodrigues, the squadron was in constant action throughout the “Great War” supplying divisional commanders vital information as to where the front line elements actually were, where artillery barrages need to be laid down in advance of the infantry and for causing disruption to enemy forces behind lines. Later, as positions became stabilized, photographs were obtained behind enemy lines to learn the dispositions of enemy forces.
A Salmson 2A2 of the 1st Aero Squadron over France during WWI, 1918.
“The unit aided the stand of the Marines at Chateau-Thierry and prevented the German army from crossing the Marne River. The squadron also fought at Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne, all important campaigns for the allies,” said Rodrigues. Those campaign victories represent the four Maltese crosses found on the 9th RW’s unit emblem.
Rodrigues added that although reconnaissance and artillery surveillance were the primary duties of the 1st AS, squadron pilots flying French SPAD fighters scored 13 aerial victories, represented by 13 Maltese crosses on the 1st Recon Squadron’s emblem. A total of 16 officers lost their lives, with three more missing in action.
After the war, the mission and the name of the unit changed to the 1st Observation Squadron, with the unit relocating to Camp Mills, New York. Its base would change names to Mitchel Field, and observation aircraft would be updated to the Douglas O-2, Curtiss O-1 and O-39. The unit would keep its observation role until 1935. They even used Douglass O-35s to deliver the U.S. Mail.
The unit then made a huge overhaul, going from observation unit to bomber squadron: the 1st Bombardment Squadron. The observation planes were replaced with Martin B-10 and Douglas B-18 bombers and the Airmen began learning new tactics at large training sites in Maryland, Florida, California, Michigan, and Virginia.
At the outset of World War II in 1942, the 1st BS moved to the island of Trinidad to strengthen defenses around the Panama Canal and defend against German U-boat attacks in the Caribbean and Atlantic. In October 1942 the squadron set up a tactics and bombing school in Florida.
A 1st Bombardment Squadron Boeing B-29-50-BW Superfortress tail number 42-24791 nicknamed the “Big Time Operator.” After storage at Naval Air Station, China Lake, Cali, the nose of the bomber was acquired by the Air Force Museum and was grafted onto museum building at Beale AFB, Cali. in 1986.
In February 1945, the squadron began flying B-29s from Tinian Island in the Marianas chain as part of the 20th Air Force. The squadron completed 71 combat missions, including bombing raids over Iwo Jima in preparation for its invasion by U.S. Marines and night incendiary raids on the Japanese home islands, winning two Distinguished Unit citations. After the Japanese surrender in 1945, a round-robin of assignments throughout the Pacific kept the squadron fully employed.
While stationed in Guam in 1947, the newly created Department of the Air Force issued orders to deactivate the unit.
However, the Air Force rescinded those orders and instead moved the unit to Topeka, Kansas, where it joined Strategic Air Command and became the 1st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron. The squadron’s unbroken lineage remained intact.
With U.S. and the Soviet Union entering a global standoff known as the Cold War, the squadron returned to its bombing role, armed again with B-29s, including three nuclear-capable B-29MR bombers. It participated in several rotations between Travis AFB, California, and Guam during the Korean War. Then in 1953, it was transferred to Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, where it flew the B-47 Stratojet bombers.
Crew members in front of a B-47E Stratojet of the 1st Bombardment Squadron, 9th Bombardment Wing at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho in 1956.
For the next 12 years, the squadron would play an important part in America’s nuclear deterrent force and began a series of deployments to England, Guam, Okinawa and Alaska. Then the squadron’s mission would dramatically change once again with the secret development of a new plane by Lockheed Aircraft Company.
The SR-71 “Blackbird” was announced by President Lyndon B. Johnson and joined the Air Force inventory in 1966. This new, advanced surveillance aircraft gave the Air Force an intelligence weapon that could fly three times the speed of sound, at altitudes higher than 80,000 feet. The SR-71’s versatility included simple battlefield surveillance, multiple-sensor high-performance interdiction reconnaissance, and strategic surveillance over large areas of the world. It used the most advanced observation equipment in the world, carrying sensors with a 45 degree viewing angle on each side that could survey 100,000 square miles in an hour. It would totally change the future for the Air Force’s oldest flying squadron.
The 1st SRS was now in its heyday, gathering photographic and electronic intelligence products over Southeast Asian nations during the Vietnam War. The unit moved to its current location at Beale AFB in June 1966, and the 1st SRS was on its way to conducting missions that supported national intelligence-gathering requirements.
Retired Lt. Col. Tony Bevacqua was one of those early SR-71 pilots at Beale AFB and said what he and other pilots did in the 1960s was no different from Orville Wright or the Global Hawk flights today.
“We made history then, and we continue to make history today,” Bevacqua said.
He and Maj. Jerry Crew were on their first mission over Hanoi, their third over North Vietnam, when a SA-2 missile fired on them, passing just ahead and below their aircraft. It was the first time an SR-71 had ever been fired upon. By the time Bevacqua retired in 1973, he had logged nearly 750 hours in the Blackbird.
An SR-71B Blackbird sits on the runway after sundown.
After the war, 1st SRS Airmen logged some spectacular accomplishments. Of these the most notable were the SR-71 speed runs from New York to London and from London to Los Angeles. On Sept. 14, 1974, Maj. James Sullivan, pilot and Maj. Noel Widdifield, RSO, flew their SR-71 from New York to London in 1 hour, 55 minutes, 42 seconds for an average speed of 1,817 mph.
The SR-71 crew of Capt. Harold Adams, pilot, and Maj. William Machorek, RSO, established a record for the London to Los Angeles route when they flew the 5,645 mile leg in 3 hours, 48 minutes on Sept. 13.
For budgetary reasons, the SR-71 was retired from the Air Force inventory in 1990. The Blackbird’s final journey was from California to Washington D.C. where it became part of the collection at the Smithsonian Institution. It was an SR-71 flown by the 1st SRS crew, which made the coast-to-coast trip in a record time of 68 minutes, 17 seconds—at a record speed of 2,242.48 mph.
Today, the squadron is the formal initial training unit for the U-2 Dragon Lady and RQ-4 Global Hawk.
The squadron recruits and trains all the U-2 pilots that fly high-altitude reconnaissance flights around the world. After initial interviews, orientation flights, and selection for the program, new pilots undergo approximately six months of extensive training, including 20 sorties in the U-2. The rigorous flying training programs produce 24 U-2S pilots, 48 RQ-4 pilots, and 36 RQ-4 sensor operators annually.
Upon graduation, crewmembers are not only mission-ready in the U-2, but also checked out in the T-38 companion trainer. They then transfer to the 99th Reconnaissance Squadron and prepare for a tour at one of the overseas detachments.
Airmen work on an RQ-4 Global Hawk after it returned to Beale Air Force Base, Calif., as part of a four-ship rotation out of the theater.
The 1st RS also trains mission planners. Mission planners have to know the wing’s mission, the aircraft and sensors capabilities, plus detailed information on target and threat assessment at specific locations. After planners complete training, they deploy to the overseas detachments and design flight tracks that allow pilots to gather the best data with the least personal risk.
According to former squadron commander Lt. Col. Stephen Rodriguez, the 1st RS’s mission isn’t that much different from the one over New Mexico 100 years ago.
“It’s interesting because the first mission with aircraft was to be the eyes for the troops on the ground,” said Rodriguez. “The old mission was an extension of the ground troops, but it’s evolved. We organize, train and equip our squadron members to be leaders in the ISR mission. We are the eyes and ears of the nation and our fighting forces, and we operate over a broad spectrum of conflict.”
The 1st RS aims to increase their level of experience with a new, innovative Aviation Fundamentals Training program funded through the Squadron Innovation Fund.
“We are having our RQ-4 student pilots receive additional training flying with the Beale Aero Club while they are going through the Formal Training Unit,” said Maj. Daniel, 13th Reconnaissance Squadron FTU flight commander. “It is a continuation of the training they receive in Initial Flight Training.”
The FTU partnered with the Beale Aero Club to ensure pilots receive more experience in the local airspace by taking to the cockpit and flying aircraft closer to those flown early in the previous century: Cessna 172s.
“We started it to give the new pilots more experience in the air,” said Daniel. “AFT is designed to essentially improve airmanship, communication and situational awareness. We just wanted to give them more experience for when they show up to their operational Global Hawk units.”
AFT has already shown promising signs, and if it continues to receive funding, it could become an integral part of Global Hawk pilot training.
“I think the more experience we can give a pilot flying in the air will pay dividends years down the road,” said Daniel. “They are going to be better pilots operationally flying the Global Hawk, which is a mission with huge implications. They will also be better pilots when they become instructors themselves.”
For nearly a century, the 1st RS, the Air Force’s oldest squadron, continues to play a vital role in America’s defense.
Crew members of the 1st Aero Squadron next to a Salmson 2A2 painted with the American flag squadron emblem during WWI in France in 1918.
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
For almost 40 years, the Irish people endured a constant state of fear stemming from a low-level war that killed thousands of Irish civilians, British troops, and Irish fighters – all in a stunningly understated conflict called “The Troubles.” While British and U.K. loyalist forces were well-equipped and armed for the task, the Irish Republican Army, fighting for a united Ireland, had to improvise a little.
This is why “Irish Car Bombs” are a thing.
The Irish Republican Army was a homegrown paramilitary organization that was at best outlawed, and at worst, designated a terrorist organization. They were committed to a fully united Ireland by any means necessary and resisted the United Kingdom’s occupation of Northern Ireland, also by any means necessary. This usually meant improvised guns, bombs, and even mortars. That’s how they created what British troops called the Mark 15. The IRA called it the “Barrack Buster.”
Barrack Busters first started to appear in the IRA arsenal in the 1990s and was an improvised 36-centimeter mortar capable of firing three-foot-long propane tanks filled with high explosives. The Mark 15 was usually made of a cooking gas container created for use in rural areas of Ireland. It was capable of launching one of these powerful explosive containers nearly a thousand feet.
The IRA improvised mortars of various sizes and power, and hit not only military barracks, but bases and even 10 Downing Street.
The Mark 15 was described as having the effect of a flying car bomb, that has taken down barracks, helicopters, and even Royal Air Force planes. It was the fifteenth in a line of development that stretched as far back as the early 1970s. It was the largest homemade mortar developed by the Irish Republican Army. The development does stretch to a Mark-16, but that weapon was more of a recoilless rifle than it was a traditional mortar.
Introduction of the giant mortar did have an impact on British forces. The United Kingdom was forced to pull its checkpoints away from the Irish border after the introduction of the Mark 15 mortar. It was so effective as a weapon it was adapted for use by paramilitary forces in other countries and conflicts, including the FARC in Colombia and the Free Syrian Army in Syria.
Not everyone can maintain composure when the aircraft he’s in starts to lose control. But that’s just what this Medal of Honor recipient did, despite being severely wounded while it was happening.
Rodney Yano was born on the Big Island of Hawaii nearly two years to the day after the U.S. entered World War II. His grandparents had immigrated to the U.S. from Japan well before that.
According to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, he’s one of 33 Asian-Americans to receive the Medal of Honor.
Yano joined the Army in 1961 before graduating from high school. He rose to the rank of staff sergeant and was on his second tour of Vietnam when he became an air crewman with the 11th Air Cavalry Regiment.
On Jan. 1, 1969, Yano was the acting crew chief and one of two door gunners on his company’s command-and-control helicopter as it fought an enemy entrenched in the dense Vietnamese jungle near Bien Hao.
The chopper was taking direct fire from below, but Yano managed to use his machine gun to suppress the enemy’s assault. He was also able to toss grenades that emitted white phosphorous smoke at their positions so his troop commander could accurately fire artillery at their entrenchments.
Unfortunately, one of those grenades exploded too early, covering Yano in the burning chemical and causing severe burns. Fragments of the grenade also caught supplies in the helicopter on fire, including ammunition, which detonated. White smoke filled the chopper, and the pilots weren’t able to see to maintain control of the aircraft. The situation wasn’t looking good.
But Yano wasn’t ready to go down with the ship, as they say. The initial grenade explosion partially blinded him and left him with the use of only one arm, but he jumped into action anyway, kicking and throwing the blazing ammunition from the helicopter until the flaming pieces were gone and the smoke filtered out.
One man on the helicopter was killed, and Yano didn’t survive his many injuries. But his courage and concern for his comrades’ survival kept the chopper from going down, averting more loss of life.
For that, Yano was posthumously promoted to the rank of sergeant first class. On April 7, 1970, his parents received the Medal of Honor for his actions from President Richard Nixon.
In his honor, the cargo carrier USNS Yano was named for him, as well as a helicopter maintenance facility at Fort Rucker, Alabama, and a library at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.