New Army body armor is lighter, more flexible than before - We Are The Mighty
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New Army body armor is lighter, more flexible than before

The average Generation II Improved Outer Tactical Vest weighs about 26 pounds. But the new “Torso and Extremity Protection System” or TEP, under development now at Program Executive Office Soldier, sheds about five pounds of weight and also adds a wide degree of scalability that commanders can make use of depending on threat level and mission.


New Army body armor is lighter, more flexible than before
The Torso and Extremity Protection System

The TEP is part of the new “Soldier Protection System” under development now at PEO Soldier. The SPS includes both the TEP and the Integrated Head Protection System.

The TEP can replace the IOTV, at less weight and greater scalability, depending on the mission. It includes the “Modular Scalable Vest,” the “Ballistic Combat Shirt,” the “Blast Pelvic Protection System,” and a “Battle Belt,” which is aimed at getting weight off a Soldier’s shoulders and onto the hips.

With the TEP, commanders can require Soldiers to go with full protection — which provides the same level of protection as a fully-loaded IOTV — or go all the way down to wearing soft armor under their uniforms for missions that require less protection.

“It’s about giving commanders on the battlefield the ability to use the modularity capability of the equipment to fit their particular mission profile or protective posture level,” said Lt. Col. Kathy Brown, the product manager for Personal Protective Equipment at PEO Soldier, Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

The IOTV sometimes required Soldiers to wear the Deltoid Auxiliary Protection — cumbersome parts that snapped on to the IOTV and protected their shoulders. Soldiers might have also been asked to wear the smaller, easily-lost collars that also snapped on to the IOTV. Both are gone with the TEP. They’ve been replaced by the Ballistic Combat Shirt, which is a shirt with breathable fabric and which also includes those smaller ballistic protection parts built in. Soldiers would wear the BCS under the TEP’s Modular Scalable Vest.

“We have tested it,” Brown said of the Ballistic Combat Shirt. “Soldiers like it. There is 95 percent Soldier acceptability of it. What we are working on now is tweaking the sizes.”

The TEP also includes the Blast Pelvic Protection System, which is designed to protect a Soldiers thighs and groin against ballistic threats and burns. The BPPS is meant to replace the current combination of the pelvic undergarment and the pelvic outer-garment, or “PUG” and “POG.” The PUG has sometimes been referred to as “ballistic underwear.”

Brown said the BPPS “provides the same level of protection” as the PUG and POG combined, including both burn and fragment protection. She said Soldiers have reported that it feels more like it is “part of the pants.”

The “Battle Belt” included with the TEP is part of a weight management system, but it also offers some protection as well.

“It’s designed to remove the weight from your shoulders and put it on your hips,” Brown said. Whereas Soldiers might strap a radio or other gear onto their IOTV in the past, the Battle Belt can now take that gear and move the weight onto a Soldier’s hips.

Brown said that after successful ballistic testing, production of the TEP will begin in probably May of this year, and that Soldiers could see it in 2018 or 2019.

Another part of the Soldier Protection System is the Integrated Head Protection System, or IHPS. In its full configuration, it looks similar to a motorcycle helmet.

The IHPS consists of a base helmet, similar to the polyethylene “Enhanced Combat Helmet” that some Soldiers are already wearing. The IHPS also includes add-ons for the base helmet, including a visor, a “mandible” portion that protects the lower jaw, and a “Ballistic Applique” that is much like a protective layer that attaches over the base helmet. The complete ensemble is known as the “high threat configuration.”

Brown said that eventually all deploying Soldiers will get the IHPS with the base helmet, which is the standard configuration. Other Soldiers, vehicle gunners in particular, will also get the mandible portion and the ballistic applique as well, known as the turret configuration.

The IHPS currently has a Picatinny rail mounted on the side for attaching gear, and will also provide for attaching head-mounted night vision goggles.

The visor portion on the IHPS provides ballistic protection to a Soldier’s face, but doesn’t provide any protection against the sun. So Soldiers wearing it will need to wear darkened sunglasses underneath the visor if they are in bright environments.

Maj. Jaun F. Carleton, also with PEO Solider, had a pair of new sunglasses that are authorized for use by Soldiers if they want to buy them, or if their commanders buy them for them.

The sunglasses, which also come in a face mask version as well, start off as un-darkened — offering no protection against the sun. But with the press of a button, LCD modules that adhere to the lenses darken and provide protection against the sun. That happens in less than a second.

“The benefit is that using one pair of protective eyewear, you wouldn’t have to switch from a clear goggle to a dark goggle — you’d have one protective eyewear for all conditions,” Carleton said.

Brown said the goggles will be available for units to be able to requisition as part of the Soldier Protection System.

“If we are able to drive the price down, the Army could eventually make a decision to include that on the list of items that we carry for deploying Soldiers,” Brown said.

Brown said the IHPS will likely be available to deploying Soldiers sometime between 2020 and 2021.

As part of extensive human factors evaluations, Brown said that PEO Soldier has used Soldiers, extensively, to evaluate the new gear.

“We had a massive scale of Soldiers to evaluate the equipment, usually over a three-week to month-long timeframe, where they would perform their different mission sets, where they will execute basic rifle marksmanship, and ruck marches,” she said.

Afterward, she said, those same Soldiers were asked what they think of the gear through a qualitative evaluation methodology (Soldier survey).

“They would give us the good, the bad, the ugly,” Brown said. “It’s extremely important to get Soldiers’ input. First, Soldiers are brutally honest and they are going to tell you exactly how they feel about the equipment. Second, why buy equipment Soldiers won’t wear? And third, who’s better to give us the best answer about how the kit should be designed than the Soldier who will actually wear the equipment?”

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The incredible story of Maj. Jim Capers, a Marine hero still fighting for the Medal of Honor

Heroism

New Army body armor is lighter, more flexible than before


Maj. Jim Capers fought valiantly in Vietnam, was severely wounded, and literally became a recruiting poster Marine.

But for more than 40 years, Capers and his supporters have been fighting for an award they believe he was wrongfully denied: The Medal of Honor.

“He was always the last man on the chopper,” former Sgt. Ron Yerman told Marine public affairs in 2010. “I was the second to last man. I’d get aboard and I’d nod. If I didn’t nod, he’d know that all the men weren’t there, and we wouldn’t leave.”

Now Capers’ case is receiving more attention after the publication of the story “The Hero Who Never Was” by former Marine journalist Ethan Rocke in Maxim Magazine. In the story and accompanying video, Rocke gives an excellent account of a Marine who took part in some of the most secretive and dangerous missions of the Vietnam war.

From Maxim:

Within minutes, the dog alerted again, and Capers noticed three NVA soldiers just a few feet away. He opened up on full automatic, dropping all three in a single stroke. Capers’ M16 jammed, but Team Broadminded had already initiated its well-rehearsed contact drill, unleashing a barrage of grenades and bullets as the enemy platoon scrambled. Capers, struggling to unjam his rifle, saw two more NVA soldiers emerge, full tilt in a desperate counterattack. He drew his 9 mm and gunned them down. Then he ordered his men to finish off what remained of the enemy platoon. When the battle was over, at least 20 NVA soldiers lay dead, their corpses obscured beneath a haze of gunpowder and smoke. From the surrounding vegetation, the screams of the wounded rang out.

On the chopper back to Khe Sanh, the team was subdued. “There was no backslapping,” Capers recalls. “For us, death and killing had become business as usual.” They’d be back in the jungle in just a few days.

That was just one story among many. Team Broadminded engaged in numerous combat engagements throughout its time in Vietnam, culminating in the vicious fight that would ultimately earn Capers the Silver Star.

On April 3, 1967 near Phu Lac, a large enemy force ambushed Capers’ nine-man patrol with claymore mines and small arms. They were immediately pinned down, and every member was wounded — including Capers, who took more than a dozen pieces of shrapnel to his abdomen and legs.

“Despite his wounds, Capers directed his team to lay down suppressive fire to gain fire superiority and set up a hasty defense,” reads a Marine Corps news release. “He called for mortar and artillery strikes against the enemy, directed the treatment of the wounded and called for the team’s evacuation, ensuring all his men made it out alive.”

Read more of Capers’ incredible story at Maxim

NOW READ: This single Afghan battle resulted in 10 Silver Stars and an Air Force Cross

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This Air Force prototype had a long life as a comic book fighter

The Blackhawks are one of the lesser-known superheroes in the DC Comics pantheon today, but from the 1940s to the 1960s, they were big names. The only hero who outsold them during the early years of their run was Superman.


Part of the appeal was their planes. In the 1950s, their primary mount was the Lockheed F-90, which they used to fight off their monster and alien foes.

But here’s the kicker – the plane they flew has some origin in fact, but it never got past the flight test stage.

New Army body armor is lighter, more flexible than before
F-90 with the Blackhawks. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Dubbed the “XF-90,” the experimental plane’s tale is one of the few real failures that came from Lockheed’s legendary Skunk Works.

According to aviation historian Joe Baugher, the Air Force was looking for a long-range jet fighter to escort bombers to targets. Lockheed went with the F-90, and proceeded to build it in a very sturdy fashion.

The good news was that this was one tough plane, and had six 20mm cannon (enough to blast just about any plane out of the sky), but it weighed 50 percent more than its competitor, the XF-88 Voodoo from McDonnell.

From the get-go, the XF-90 had problems. The plane was underpowered and was outperformed by the F-86A — even when afterburners were added to the plane’s two XJ34 jet engines. The Air Force chose the XF-88 Voodoo to be its penetration fighter, but that never went into production.

Only two XF-90s were built.

New Army body armor is lighter, more flexible than before

Lockheed had tried a number of other options, including the use of a single J47 engine to boost the F-90s performance, but there was too much re-design work involved. The first F-90 version the Blackhawks used, the F-90B, did feature a single engine. The second version, the F-90C, was said to be lighter version of the F-90B.

The Blackhawks eventually faded — partially due to some bad 1960s storylines — and the super hero team was eventually eclipsed by Batman and many of the superheroes who are familiar today.

And as for the XF-90 prototypes? One was tested to destruction by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, and the other was banged up in the nuclear tests of the 1950s.

That second plane is currently in storage at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.

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Bill requiring women to register for the draft passes Senate

New Army body armor is lighter, more flexible than before
A Marine Corps drill Instructor commands a recruit to run in place during a function in Van Nuys, California, on March 12, 2016. Marine Corps photo by Alicia R. Leaders


A provision that would require women to register for the military draft alongside men for the first time in American history was included as part of the massive 2017 National Defense Authorization Act that passed the Senate handily on Tuesday with an 85-13 vote.

The language requiring the draft for women was added in committee and received little debate on the Senate floor, but has created a firestorm of controversy on and off Capitol Hill. It comes as the military services welcome women into previously closed ground combat units in keeping with a mandate from Defense Secretary Ash Carter given late last year.

On Feb. 2, a panel of top military leaders including Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller, and Navy Secretary Ray Mabusall told the Senate Armed Services Committee they supported drafting men and women in light of the changes to combat assignments.

“It is my personal view that based on this lifting of restriction for assigning [job specialties], that every American that is physically qualified should register for the draft,” Neller said at the time.

In the House, which previously passed its version of the NDAA, an amendment requiring women to register for the draft passed narrowly with a 32-30 vote, even though its author, California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, voted against it.

“I’ve talked to coffeehouse liberals in San Francisco and conservative families who pray three times a day,” Hunter said April 27, as the House Armed Services Committee marked up the bill. “Neither of them want their daughter to be drafted.”

The Senate proposal was hotly debated on the floor June 7 by Republicans Ted Cruz, from Texas, and John McCain, from Arizona.

Cruz complained that the provision including women in the draft entered the bill through committee, rather than in public, open debate.

“I’m the father of two daughters. Women can do anything they set their mind to, and I see that each and every day,” Cruz said. “The idea that we should forcibly conscript young girls in combat to my mind makes little or no sense. It is at minimum a radical proposition. I could not vote for a bill that did so without public debate.”

McCain countered that including women in the draft was a matter of equality.

“Women who I have spoken to in the military overwhelmingly believe that women are not only qualified, but are on the same basis as their male counterparts,” McCain said. “Every leader of the United States military seems to have a different opinion from [Cruz], whose military background is not extensive.”

Currently, U.S. law requires most male citizens and immigrants between the ages of 18 to 25 to register in the selective service system. The Senate NDAA would require all female citizens and U.S. residents who turn 18 on or after Jan. 1, 2018, to register as well.

Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah introduced an amendment that would have removed the draft language from the bill, but it was unsuccessful. Another Republican, Rand Paul of Kentucky, filed an amendment that would have gotten rid of the draft altogether, but it too failed to get traction.

The House and Senate must now reconcile their versions of the NDAA in conference before final passage.

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This is how China plans to ‘defend the world’

Chinese President Xi Jinping on July 30 presided over a massive military parade from an open-topped jeep, declaring, “The world is not peaceful, and peace needs to be defended.”


And as China’s show of force demonstrates, Beijing may have the will and the strength to replace the US as the world’s defender of peace.

“Our heroic military has the confidence and capabilities to preserve national sovereignty, security, and interests … and to contribute more to maintaining world peace,” Xi said at the parade, one day after US President Donald Trump lashed out at Beijing for its inaction regarding North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

New Army body armor is lighter, more flexible than before
Chinese President Xi Jinping. Photo from Moscow Kremlin.

China’s massive military modernization and increasing assertiveness have irked many of its neighbors in the region, and even as the US attempts to reassure its allies that US power still rules the day, that military edge is eroding.

China showed off new, mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles that it says can reach the US in 30 minutes, along with its J-20 stealth interceptor jets. And Xi inspected thousands of troops drawn from the 2 million-strong People’s Liberation Army on its 90th anniversary.

The historian Alfred McCoy estimates that by 2030, China, a nation of 1.3 billion, will surpass the US in both economic and military strength, essentially ending the American empire and Pax Americana the world has known since the close of World War II.

New Army body armor is lighter, more flexible than before
Sailors aboard the Chinese Navy destroyer Qingdao. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist David Rush.

But China could achieve this goal patiently and without a violent struggle. China has employed a “salami-slicing” method of slowly but surely militarizing the South China Sea in incremental steps that have not prompted a strong military response from the US. However, the result is China’s de facto control over a shipping lane that sees $5 trillion in annual traffic.

“The American Century, proclaimed so triumphantly at the start of World War II, may already be tattered and fading by 2025 and, except for the finger pointing, could be over by 2030,” McCoy wrote in his new book, “In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power.”

China’s J-20 jet also most likely borrows from stealth secrets stolen from the US through a sophisticated hacking regime. Though China hasn’t mastered stealth technology in the way the US has, the jet still poses a real threat to US forces.

New Army body armor is lighter, more flexible than before
Flypast of the Chengdu J-20. Wikimedia Commons photo by Alert5.

Meanwhile, the US is stretched thin. It has had been at war in Afghanistan for 16 years and in Iraq for 14, and it has been scrambling to curtail Iranian and Russian influence in Syria while reassuring its Baltic NATO allies that it’s committed to their protection against an aggressive Russia.

Under Xi, who pushes an ambitious foreign policy, China’s eventual supremacy over the US seems inevitable.

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Here’s the bizarre way Saddam Hussein spent his last days in power

Former CIA Senior Analyst John Nixon’s new book “Debriefing the President: The Interrogation of Saddam Hussein” provides never-before-seen details into the daily life of Iraq’s deposed dictator in the months before the 2003 US invasion wrenched him from power.


Also read: The 9 day jobs of brutal dictators

Nixon, who wrote his master’s thesis on Hussein, and whose full-time job at the CIA was to study him, was shocked to find out that common intelligence on Hussein had been wrong.

New Army body armor is lighter, more flexible than before
Iraqi-American, Samir, 34, pinning deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to the ground during his capture in Tikrit, on Saturday, December 13, 2003. | US Army photo

From The New York Times review of Nixon’s book:

His most astonishing discovery was that by the time of the United States-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Hussein had turned over the day-to-day running of the Iraqi government to his aides and was spending most of his time writing a novel. Hussein described himself to Mr. Nixon as both president of Iraq and a writer, and complained to Mr. Nixon that the United States military had taken away his writing materials, preventing him from finishing his book. Hussein was certainly a brutal dictator, but the man described by Mr. Nixon was not on a mission to blow up the world, as George W. Bush’s administration had claimed to justify the invasion.

Hussein’s own abdication of authority in lieu of his more artistic pursuits did little to make up for his prior brutal actions as the leader of Iraq. However, it did call into question the overall value of removing the dictator from power in the first place.

“Was Saddam worth removing from power?”  Nixon asked himself in the book. “I can speak only for myself when I say that the answer must be no. Saddam was busy writing novels in 2003. He was no longer running the government.”

Since 2003, the mainstream political consensus in the US has turned on George W. Bush’s 2003 decision to invade Iraq, with both major party presidential candidates this election cycle condemning the invasion and ensuing occupation of Iraq.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Russia will challenge any UN ban of killer robots

Russian diplomats delivered a message for those who want to ban killer robots: Russia will build them no matter what. That is the sum total of what happened during a week of discussion on the issue of weapons and vehicles operated by artificial intelligence in Geneva.


According to a report by DefenseOne.com, a statement by the Russian government on Nov. 10 laid out a very hard-line position against the ban on what the United Nations is calling “lethal autonomous weapon systems,” or LAWS.

New Army body armor is lighter, more flexible than before
This screen capture fro a video released by the Russian Republic of Dagestan shows a robot equipped with weapons. (Youtube screenshot)

“According to the Russian Federation, the lack of working samples of such weapons systems remains the main problem in the discussion on LAWS,” the statement said. “Certainly, there are precedents of reaching international agreements that establish a preventive ban on prospective types of weapons. However, this can hardly be considered as an argument for taking preventive prohibitive or restrictive measures against LAWS being a by far more complex and wide class of weapons of which the current understanding of humankind is rather approximate.”

The Russians also claimed that there was a risk of harming civilian artificial intelligence capabilities, saying, “It is hardly acceptable for the work on LAWS to restrict the freedom to enjoy the benefits of autonomous technologies being the future of humankind.”

New Army body armor is lighter, more flexible than before
An Endeavor Robotics 710 Kobra checks out a vehicle. (Youtube screenshot)

The Russian hard line comes as questions percolate about Russian compliance with other arms control treaties. Russia has already been accused of violating the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, prompting the United States to begin development of a new ground-launched cruise missile. A report from RealClearDefense.com noted that Russia’s force of Tu-22M3 Backfire bombers may have been modified in a manner that fits the definition of strategic bombers under the New START Treaty.

In the past, some arms control treaties have not prevented bad guys from using banned weapons. The Chemical Weapons Convention did not prevent the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria from using mustard agent against American troops in 2016.

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Trump proposes budget cut from already-besieged Coast Guard

President Donald Trump’s proposed budget guidance is asking for $1.3 billion in funding cuts to the U.S. Coast Guard at a time when the service is doing more than ever, and is already severely under-resourced.


Trump’s budget would cancel a $500 million ship that is already in production, and would likely hit other areas of the Guard, which specializes in interdicting drugs, human trafficking, and keeping a close eye on what Russia is doing in the Arctic.

“Last year, we removed more cocaine than any other year in history — well over 200 metric tons — and by all accounts, it looks like this year we are on target to at least reach, if not exceed, last year’s total,” Adm. Paul Zukunft, the commandant of the Coast Guard, told Business Insider in a phone interview, adding that even with its success and consistent operational tempo, the service is strained.

“With all the success we had last year, there were over 500 events that we had great information on, but we just did not have enough planes, enough ships, to target all 500-plus events,” Zukunft said. “We are really besieged down there,” he added, referencing Coast Guard operations off the coast of Colombia.

Also read: The state of Coast Guard icebreakers

In addition to its operations targeting drug smugglers and human traffickers, the Coast Guard has been in and out of the Arctic region with its ice-breaking ships, especially as Russia attempts to claim parts of the region, and its rich resources, for itself.

The Arctic, which has roughly 13% of the world’s oil and about one-third of its natural gas, could potentially turn into a South China Sea-like situation. That’s because, like China has done with its creation of artificial islands in that region to gain control of shipping lanes, Russia and its fleet of 40 icebreakers has exerted itself in the Arctic to become the dominant player.

New Army body armor is lighter, more flexible than before
The Polar Start icebreak. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

“We’re starting to see militarization of some of their outposts,” Zukunft said.

The Coast Guard has only two icebreakers, one medium and one heavy — the latter being nearly 40 years-old.

“We’re challenged in our ability to exert leadership when, you’re the world’s most prosperous nation, yet we can only seem to afford two icebreakers,” Zukunft said. He said that ideally, the service would need a fleet of 3 heavy and 3 medium icebreakers to remain competitive.

Cuts to the budget are likely to strain other parts of the Guard, such as its coastal maritime security teams, which help to the protect the president when he’s near the shore in Mar-a-Lago, and the service’s inland fleet that maintains navigational aides and markers on waterways and in ports.

“That’s been neglected probably for a half-century,” he said of infrastructure which sees roughly $4.5 trillion in commerce pass through.

New Army body armor is lighter, more flexible than before
Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Cory Langston fights the boat fire from the Coast Guard 29-foot response boat in Hopkins Point Marina in Jonesport, Maine on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016. The was no one aboard at the time of the fire. (Photo by U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 3rd Class Stephanie Horvat)

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) said in a letter to President Trump that such cuts “egregiously” conflict with his stated goals to strengthen national security.

“These proposed cuts … will guarantee negative consequences,” Hunter wrote, adding that it would “create exposures that will most certainly be exploited by transnational criminal networks and other dangerous actors.”

The Coast Guard occupies a unique role as a military branch within the Department of Homeland Security. President Trump is seeking to up the Pentagon’s budget by $54 billion by taking money from non-defense areas, such as the State Department.

Since the budget has not been finalized, a spokesman for the Coast Guard declined to comment on the matter.

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The cast of ‘Star Trek’ goes to the White House to say thanks to troops and families

On July 19, the stars of Paramount’s “Star Trek Beyond” joined First Lady Michelle Obama in hosting more than 100 service members, veterans and their families for an advance screening of the upcoming film.


The screening was a part of the First Lady and Dr. Jill Biden’s Joining Forces initiative. The cast dropped in as part of their publicity blitz for the movie’s July 21 premiere. This was an exceptional screening for the cast, as the Star Trek franchise has always held members of the military and their families in high esteem.

New Army body armor is lighter, more flexible than before
Have you ever seen anyone so happy?

The previous Star Trek film, “Star Trek Into Darkness” was dedicated to The Mission Continues, an organization dedicated to helping troops as they return home from war. It featured cameos from several veterans dressed as Starfleet officers in the film’s final scenes. Members of the cast also showed the first film of the Star Trek reboot series to active-duty service members in Kuwait.

At the White House, Chris Pine, Simon Pegg, and Karl Urban were humble in their brief introductions to the film and the First Lady. The actors joked that the veterans made better actors than the Hollywood stars.

New Army body armor is lighter, more flexible than before

In her remarks at the screening, the First Lady highlighted the important role that military families — especially the children of service members — play in allowing active duty servicemen and women to do their jobs. She ended with the Vulcan salute and a heartfelt “May the force be with you!” (wrong movie, of course) to the delight of the crowd.

 

For the cast, the screening was a small way to thank service members and their families. They also seemed a little star struck themselves; Urban interrupted Pine’s speech with an excited “We just met the first lady!” Pine referred to them as “a bunch of 8-year-olds” while touring the White House.

Pine, Pegg and Urban stuck around after the showing for photo ops and to say thank you to the veterans and their families.

New Army body armor is lighter, more flexible than before
Simon Pegg with Coast Guard veteran and WATM contributor Mary-Elizabeth Pratt

“Star Trek Beyond” premieres in the U.S. on July 21.

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This book chronicles how women served alongside special ops in combat

People who like compelling, well-crafted tales of America’s soldiers in action will like Ashley’s War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield. Gayle Tzemach Lemmon’s recently released book tells the story behind the first team of female soldiers to join American special operators on the battlefield. The key to this book, however, is not simply that they are strong females, but that they are strong soldiers.


That message appears in the very first pages of the book, where she follows two soldiers on their first mission. The “newbies,” as she calls them, are preparing to go on a dangerous operation with an aggressive, seasoned Ranger team to capture an insurgent leader deep in Afghanistan. Lemmon identifies the newbies as “Second Lieutenant White” and “Staff Sergeant Mason,” sharing only at the very end of the introduction that White and Mason are women.

New Army body armor is lighter, more flexible than before

 

The book then flashes back to the story behind the creation of this unique unit, called Cultural Support Teams or CSTs. In 2010, the military’s Special Operations Command faced a problem – due to cultural mores that at best frowned on male-female interaction, American combat troops were effectively prohibited from communicating with Afghan women. That left half of Afghanistan’s population – potential sources of intelligence and partners to build lasting relationships – out of reach to American troops. So senior special operations commanders developed the CSTs to place female soldiers with American special operators in combat situations and engage with Afghan women on sensitive missions.

In describing the genesis of the CSTs as a unit, Lemmon also presents several of the individuals who volunteered for the pilot program. They are a cast of real characters, but make no mistake – these are smart alpha-women who are as fit and committed to success as any elite athlete. Readers learn about Anne Jeremy, the “serious, no-nonsense” officer who proved herself in combat by leading her convoy through a Taliban ambush of heavy arms fire that endured intermittently for 24 hours; Lane Mason, the 23-year-old Iraq War veteran who was a high-school track star in Nevada and volunteered for the CSTs to face down some demons in her past; Amber Treadmont, the intelligence officer from rural Pennsylvania who printed out the CST application within one minute of learning about the program; and Kate Raimann, the West Point grad and military police officer who played on her high school’s football team for all four years even though she hated football, just to prove that she could do it.

Lemmon’s depictions of these women are vivid, giving readers a textured understanding of who they are and what drove them to volunteer for an unprecedented program that would place them in incredibly dangerous situations.  In fact, these nuanced profiles raise my sole problem with the book – namely, that there were so many interesting personalities that I couldn’t keep track of them all. Lemmon used a few Homeric epithets, like reminding readers late in the book that Lane was “the Guard soldier and track star from Nevada,” but a few more mental cues might have helped keep everyone straight.

But those are small drops of concern amidst an ocean of good writing and compelling moments. Lemmon deftly draws readers through the brutal candidate assessment (“100 hours of hell”), the women’s anxiety about whether they would be selected, their post-selection training at Fort Benning, and their subsequent deployments to Afghanistan.

One scene in particular encapsulates the challenging nature of the CSTs’ role. Kate, the football-hating football player, was on a raid of a compound to capture a key Taliban fighter. Her job, like all of the CSTs, was to assemble the compound’s women and children, gather as much information from them as possible, and protect them if necessary. Soon after the Afghan and American forces entered the compound, heavy contact erupted, and Kate began shepherding the group of women and children to a building nearby.

As she directed [the interpreter], Kate scooped up a small baby, barefoot and crying. She threw the little guy over her left shoulder and took off running as the sound of gunfire grew louder behind her. Using her right arm she grabbed the hand of a small girl and drew her close to her body.

“Stay with me, stay with me!” Kate urged, hoping the child would trust and understand her movements even if she didn’t understand her words.

Suddenly Kate felt the jagged terrain take hold of her left foot. She began tumbling forward as one of her boots got trapped in a deep hole she hadn’t detected through the green film of her night-vision goggles.

The baby, Kate thought. Instinctively she held him tight against her chest as the momentum of her fall sent her spinning into a diving, forward roll. She released the little girl’s hand just in time to keep her from falling, too.

A second later Kate lay on her back with the baby tucked up against her body armor. He hadn’t moved despite the somersault and was now just looking at her wide-eyed and silent.

Kate felt the baby’s warm breath on her neck, looked up at the twinkling stars above, and heard the rat-a-tat-tat of gunfire around her, maybe three dozen feet away.

What the fuck is my job right now? she asked herself as she hugged the baby tight and again took the hand of the little girl who was standing nearby. This is crazy.

The book juxtaposes “crazy” moments like that with poignant moments that further illustrate the CSTs’ unique position as women in combat environments. In one anecdote, a female civilian interpreter from California named Nadia meets three new CSTs, and they bond over perhaps the most non-military item of all: mascara.

The four women – Ashley, Anne, Lane, and Nadia – were in the washroom getting ready for the first meeting of the day when Anne and Lane broke out their traveling cosmetic kits. It was a small gesture, but for Nadia, it spoke volumes.

During her years overseas she had been around a lot of military women who frankly frightened her. They conveyed the impression that any sign of femininity would be perceived as weakness. But here, in this tiny bathroom, were three incredibly fit, Army-uniformed, down-to-earth gals who could embrace being female and being a soldier in a war zone. She found it refreshing – and inspiring.

“Oh my God, you wear makeup!” she burst out.

Anne laughed as she put the final touches on an abbreviated makeup regimen.

“Oh, yes, always have to have mascara on,” she replied. “I am blond and look like I have no eyelashes. I don’t want to scare people!”

Lemmon also peppers the book with several sidebars that add interesting and important context, like the value of interpreters and the history of military dogs. While a discussion about the evolution of female soldiers’ uniforms may not seem terribly interesting on its face, she deftly weaves it into the story because it mattered to the CSTs – the ill-fitting gear was obviously designed for men and therefore had bulges in places where the women didn’t need them and lacked material where they did. That seemingly whimsical anecdote illustrates just how unprecedented their mission was.

The book builds to an emotional climax with – spoiler alert – the first death of a CST soldier. It’s an undeniably tough moment, and Lemmon treats the subject – the agonized reaction of the soldier’s family and her sister CSTs – with appropriate respect. The Rangers serving with the deceased soldier sent the family a condolence card, with an important quote:

“Having a woman come out with us was a new thing for all of us,” wrote her weapons squad leader. “Being one of the first groups of CST, she really set a good impression not only on us, but also the higher leadership. I am sorry for your loss, but I want you to know that she was good at her job and a valuable member of this platoon.”

That statement, to me, seemed to summarize the whole point of the book: these women are not just strong females – they are strong soldiers.

* * *

Mark Lee Greenblatt is the author of Valor: Unsung Heroes from Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front, (Taylor Trade, 2014), which is available on Amazon and at Barnes Noble and independent bookstores across the country.  Mark has been appeared on NBC, CBS, MSNBC, Fox News Radio, CSPAN-Book TV, Wall Street Journal TV, Forbes​.com, and dozens of other media outlets.  Visit Mark’s website to learn more about the heroes in Valor or to send an email to the heroes.

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This article originally appeared at Military.com Copyright 2015. Follow Military.com on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How the legendary .50-cal. actually kills you

There’s a reason that the M2 .50-caliber machine gun design has endured since John Browning first created it 100 years ago, in 1918: The mechanical reliability of the weapon and ballistics of the round are still exactly what a soldier needs to kill large numbers of people and light vehicles quickly at long range.

Here’s how it works and how it affects a human body.


New Army body armor is lighter, more flexible than before

A mounted .50-cal. fires during an exercise in Germany in September 2018.

(U.S. Army Capt. Joseph Legros)

First, the M2 and its ammunition can be legally used to target enemy personnel, despite apersistent myth that states it can only be aimed at equipment. That said, it isn’t designed solely for anti-personnel use. An anti-personnel specific weapon usually has smaller rounds that are more likely to tumble when they strike human flesh.

See, there are three major effects from a metal round hitting flesh that are likely to cause severe injury or death. First, there’s the laceration and crushing from the round’s traversalthrough the flesh.

Then, there’s the cavitation,which has two parts. The first cavity is the permanent one:the open space left from the laceration discussed above. But there’s a second, temporary cavity. As the round travels through the body, it’s crushing the flesh and pushing it out of the way very quickly. That flesh maintains its momentum for a fraction of a second, billowing out from the path of the bullet. The flesh can tear and cells can burst as the tissue erupts outward and then slams back.

New Army body armor is lighter, more flexible than before

In this GIF of ballistics gel taking a .50-cal. round, you can see all three effects. There’s the laceration and crushing immediately around the bullet, the huge cavity as the gel flies apart, and the shockwave from that expansion as it forces the gel to fly outwards before re-compressing. The cavitation and re-compression is so violent that you can see a small explosion in the first block from the compressing air.

Finally, there’s the shock wave. That temporary cavity discussed above? The flesh all around it is obviously compressed as the cavity expands, and that’s where the shock wave starts. The cavity pushes outward, compressing the flesh and the energy in the compressed flesh keeps traveling outward until it dissipates. This can also cause separations and tears. In extreme situations, it can even cause damage to nerve tissue, like the spinal cord and brain.

Typical rifle rounds generally aim to maximize the first two effects, laceration and crushing and cavitation. A relatively short, small round — 5.56mm or .223 caliber in the case of the M16 — travels very quickly to the target. When it hits, it quickly begins to yaw and then tumble, depositing all of its kinetic energy to create a large, temporary cavity. And the tumble of the round allows it to crush and cut a little more flesh than it would if flying straight.

But maximizing design for cavitation is maximizing for tumble, and that can make the round more susceptible to environmental effects in flight, making it less accurate at long range.

New Army body armor is lighter, more flexible than before

A 5.56mm NATO round stands to the left of a .50-cal. sniper round.

(U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Lawrence Sena)

But Browning wanted the M2 to be accurate at long ranges, so he opted for a big, heavy round with a sharp tip. That’s great for flying long ranges and punching through the skin of a vehicle, but it can cause the bullet to punch right through human flesh without depositing much kinetic energy, meaning that it only damages the flesh directly in the path of the round.

But there’s a way to still get the round to cause lots of damage, even if it’s going to pass right through the enemy: maximizing its speed and size so that it still sends a lot of energy into the surrounding flesh, making a large cavity and creating a stunning shockwave. Basically, it doesn’t matter that the round only deposits a fraction of its energy if it has a ton of energy.

The M2 fires rounds at a lower muzzle velocity than the M16 and at similar speeds to the M4, but its round is much larger and heavier. The M33 ball ammo for the M2 weighs almost 46 grams, while the M16’s NATO standard 5.56mm round weighs less than 4 grams. That means, flying at the same speeds, the M2 .50-cal. has 11 times as much energy to impart.

New Army body armor is lighter, more flexible than before

A Jordanian soldier fires the M2 .50-cal. machine gun during an exercise near Amman, Jordan in 2018.

(U.S. Army)

It also maintains more speed during flight. So, when the M33 round from the M2 hits a target, it does usually pass through with plenty of its kinetic energy left with the exiting round. But it still cuts a massive path through its target, doing plenty of damage from the first effect. And it compresses plenty of flesh around it as it forces its way through the target, creating a large permanent cavity and a still-impressive, temporary cavity.

But it really shines when it comes to shock wave damage. The M33 and other .50-cal. rounds have so much energy that even depositing a small fraction of it into the surrounding tissues can cause it to greatly compress and then expand. With a large round traveling at such high speeds, the shock wave can become large enough to cause neurological damage.

New Army body armor is lighter, more flexible than before

A soldier fires the M240B during an exercise. The M240B fires a 7.62mm round that carries more energy than a 5.56mm NATO rounds, but still much less than the .50-cal. machine gun. The amount of kinetic energy in a round is largely a product of its propellant and its mass.

(U.S. Army National Guard Spc. Andrew Valenza)

Yeah, the target’s flesh deforms so quickly that the energy can compress nerves or displace them, shredding the connections between them and potentially causing a concussion.

And all of that is without the round hitting a bone, which instantly makes the whole problem much worse for the target. All rounds impart some of their energy to a bone if they strike it, but with smaller rounds, there’s not all that much energy. With a .50-cal, it can make the bone explode into multiple shards that are all flying with the speed of a low-velocity bullet.

The M2 can turn its target’s skeleton into a shotgun blast taking place inside their body. The harder the bone that takes the hit, the more energy is imparted to the skeleton before the bone breaks. On really hard bones, like the hip socket, the huge, fast-moving round can leave all or most of its energy in the bone and connected flesh.

This will basically liquefy the enemy it hits as the energy travels through the nearby muscles and the organs in the abdominal cavity. There’s really no way to survive a .50-cal. round if it hits a good, hard, well-connected bone. Not that your chances are much better if it hits anything but an extremity.

In fact, the .50-cal. hits with so much energy that it would likely kill you even if your body armor could stop it. The impact of the armor plate hitting your rib cage would be like taking a hit from Thor’s Hammer. That energy would still crush your organs and break apart your blood vessels and arteries, it would just allow your skin to keep most of the goop inside as you died. No laceration or cavitation, but so much crushing and shock wave that it wouldn’t matter.

So, try to avoid enemy .50-cal. rounds if you can, but rest confident in the effects on the enemy if you’re firing it at them. The ammo cans might be super heavy, but causing these kinds of effects at over a mile is often worth it.

There are a lot of vets sharing their stories of bodies hit by .50-cal. rounds on Quora, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Articles

New petition aims to honor alleged USS Fitzgerald hero

An ongoing petition on Change.org is seeking at least 15,000 signatures to convince Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley to name DDG 127, an as-yet unnamed destroyer, after Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary L. Rehm, Jr., who allegedly gave up his own life while attempting to rescue six sailors in a flooding compartment on the USS Fitzgerald.


According to the family, they were told the story of Rehm’s death by the Navy, which also told them that the sailor successfully helped 20 other sailors escape before perishing while attempting to save the last six men in the compartment.

New Army body armor is lighter, more flexible than before
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) returns to Fleet Activities Yokosuka following a collision with a merchant vessel while operating southwest of Yokosuka, Japan. (Photo: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Peter Burghart)

The Fitzgerald was struck by the ACX Crystal, a Philippine container ship, on June 17. The much larger Crystal impacted the Fitzgerald almost squarely on the sleeping berths, causing massive damage to the area where a number of sailors were resting.

The Navy has not yet completed its investigation of the incident, but Rehm is thought to have gone into action right after the collision. The fire controlman helped get the first 20 sailors out and, despite knowing that the hatch may be closed to save the ship if the flooding continued, returned to the compartment to search for six sailors still trapped inside.

New Army body armor is lighter, more flexible than before
(Photo U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kryzentia Weiermann)

As the water rushed in, the rest of the crew was forced to close the hatches while Rehm was still inside.

DDG 127, the ship which petitioners hope will be named after Rehm, is an Arleigh-Burke Class destroyer like the Fitzgerald. The guided-missile destroyers can fire a variety of missiles against everything from land targets to aircraft to submarines to other ships and even missiles in flight.

Other Arleigh-Burke vessels have been named after everything from politicians, such as the USS Winston Churchill, to a group of five brothers killed in a single battle in World War II (USS The Sullivans), to other sailors who gave their lives to save others.

The Fitzgerald is named for Lt. William C. Fitzgerald, an officer who began his career as an enlisted sailor before graduating from the Naval Academy. He later gave his life to cover the retreat of civilians and other sailors under attack by the Viet Cong on Aug. 7, 1967. The ship’s motto is “Protect Your People.”

New Army body armor is lighter, more flexible than before
Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr., 37, from Elyria, Ohio. Rehm was one of seven Sailors killed when the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) was involved in a collision with the Philippine-flagged merchant vessel ACX Crystal. The incident is under investigation. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Rehm’s actions, if proven during the Navy’s investigation, surely upheld the ship’s traditions and motto.

Readers can learn more about the petition and add their signature here. It had 11,149 of a necessary 15,000 at the time this article was written.

The other six sailors who died in the June 17 crash were Sonar Technician 3rd Class Ngoc T Truong Huynh, 25; Gunner’s Mate Seaman Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19; Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25; Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, 26; Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan, 23; and Personnel Specialist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24.

The remains of all seven sailors killed in the crash were recovered from the flooded berthing compartment.

Articles

8 troops who kept fighting after they were wounded

New Army body armor is lighter, more flexible than before

To observe Purple Heart Day, WATM is celebrating some of the heroes we’ve featured on the site who kept fighting after they were wounded:


1. Air Force combat controller Robert Gutierrez thought he would die within three minutes after being shot through the lung in Afghanistan, but he kept calling in air strikes, saving his element and earning himself the Air Force Cross.

More: This combat controller kept taking it to the enemy after he was shot in the chest

New Army body armor is lighter, more flexible than before
Photo: US Air Force

2. Joe Pinder left professional baseball to volunteer for the Army in World War II. He was wounded almost immediately after leaving his boat on D-Day, but refused medical aid and searched through the surf and chaos to find missing radio equipment. He finished finding and assembling the missing equipment right before he was killed.

More: Meet the 4 heroes who earned Medals of Honor for heroism on D-Day

3. Marine Cpl. Brady Gustafson kept directing heavy fire on insurgents despite an RPG partially amputating his leg.

Now check this out: 8 post-9/11 heroes who should have received the Medal of Honor — but didn’t

New Army body armor is lighter, more flexible than before
Photo: US Marine Corps Pfc. Michael T. Gams

4. Jack Lummus shrugged off wounds from two grenades to take out three hidden Japanese positions in World War II.

More: 13 professional baseball players who became war heroes

5. Nine Green Berets and Afghan Commandos were seriously wounded but kept fighting in the Battle of Shok Valley, including Staff Sgt. Daniel Behr who had his leg nearly amputated by enemy fire at the start of the conflict but stayed in the fight for another 6 hours.

More: This single Afghan battle resulted in 10 Silver Stars and an Air Force Cross

New Army body armor is lighter, more flexible than before
Photo: US Army Sergeant David N. Gunn

6. Five of the medics on this list continued aiding other wounded after they were injured themselves, some continuing to render medical attention until they died of their own wounds.

More: 10 incredible Post-9/11 combat medics who risked their lives to save others

7. The possible first casualty on D-Day was an airborne lieutenant who was mortally wounded before jumping into Normandy, meaning he could have stayed on the plane and sought medical attention. He led his paratroopers out the door anyway.

More: 7 crazy facts you didn’t know about the D-Day invasion

New Army body armor is lighter, more flexible than before
American paratroopers wait to depart their aircraftPhoto: Wiki Commons

8. 2nd Lt. Daniel Inouye was shot just before he took out two German machine gun nests with grenades and a Thompson submachine gun. Then, after his arm was nearly severed by an enemy grenade, he took out a third machine gun nest.

Now: This World War II hero was shot multiple times and still managed to destroy three machine gun nests

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