So, what was the Massachusetts State Police doing with a robot dog?
The loan agreement between Boston Dynamics and Massachusetts State Police explains it’s being used, “For the purpose of evaluating the robot’s capabilities in law enforcement applications, particularly remote inspection of potentially dangerous environments which may contain suspects and ordinances.”
Videos of Spot in action depict the dog-like robot opening doors and performing surveillance — it was used by the Bomb Squad and only the Bomb Squad, according to the lease agreement.
Though Spot was loaned to the Massachusetts State Police for testing, a representative told WBUR that Spot was deployed in two “incidents” without specifying details.
Both Boston Dynamics and the Massachusetts State Police say that the agreement didn’t allow robots to physically harm or threaten anyone.
A fleet of Boston Dynamics’ SpotMini pull a Boston Dynamics truck.
“Part of our early evaluation process with customers is making sure that we’re on the same page for the usage of the robot,” Boston Dynamics VP of business development Michael Perry told WBUR. “So upfront, we’re very clear with our customers that we don’t want the robot being used in a way that can physically harm somebody.”
State police spokesman David Procopio echoed that sentiment. “Robot technology is a valuable tool for law enforcement because of its ability to provide situational awareness of potentially dangerous environments.”
Moreover, that’s how Boston Dynamics is handling the first commercial sales of Spot.
“As a part of our lease agreement, for people who enter our early adopter program, we have a clause that says you cannot use a robot in a way that physically harms or intimidates people,” Perry told Business Insider in a phone call on Nov. 25, 2019.
Boston Dynamics announced earlier this year that Spot would be its first robot to go on sale to the public.
Those sales have already begun through the company’s “Early Adopter Program,” which offers leases to customers with certain requirements. If a customer violates that agreement, Boston Dynamics can terminate the relationship and reclaim its robot — it also allows the company to repair and replace the Spot robots it sells.
Perry said the Massachusetts State Police is the only law enforcement or military organization that Boston Dynamics is working with currently.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
An MQ-4C Triton experienced a technical failure that forced it to perform a gear up landing at Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC) at Point Mugu on Sept. 12, 2018, the U.S. Navy confirmed
“The Navy says as a precautionary measure, the pilots shut down the engine and tried to make a landing at Point Mugu but the aircraft’s landing gear failed to deploy and the aircraft landed on the runway with its gear up, causing some $2 million damage to the plane,” KVTA reported.
No further details about the unit have been disclosed so far, however, it’s worth noticing that two MQ-4C UAVs – #168460and #168461 – have started operations with VUP-19 DET Point Mugu from NBVC on Jun. 27, 2018.
Here’s what we have written about that first flight back then:
The U.S. Navy’s MQ-4C “Triton” Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) is an ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) platform that will complement the P-8A Poseidon within the Navy’s Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Force family of systems: for instance, testing has already proved the MQ-4C’s ability to pass FMV (Full Motion Video) to a Poseidon MPA (Maritime Patrol Aircraft). An advanced version than the first generation Global Hawk Block 10, the drone it is believed to be a sort of Block 20 and Block 30 Global Hawk hybrid, carrying Navy payload including an AN/ZPY-3 multi-function active-sensor (MFAS) radar system, that gives the Triton the ability to cover more than 2.7 million square miles in a single mission that can last as long as 24 hours at a time, at altitudes higher than 10 miles, with an operational range of 8,200 nautical miles.
The U.S. Navy plans to procure 68 aircraft and 2 prototypes. VUP-19 DET PM has recently achieved an Early Operational Capability (EOC) and prepares for overseas operations: as alreadt reported, Point Mugu’s MQ-4Cs are expected to deploy to Guam later in 2018, with an early set of capabilities, including basic ESM (Electronic Support Measures) to pick up ships radar signals, for maritime Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance mission.
The Triton is expected to reach an IOC (Initial Operational Capability) in 2021, when two additional MQ-4Cs will allow a 24/7/365 orbit out of Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.
Featured image: file photo of an MQ-4C of VUP-19 Det PM during its first flight (U.S. Navy)
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.
China is preparing to lock down potential oil and gas assets in the resource-rich, but hotly contested South China Sea by effectively banning exploration by countries from outside the region.
The Nikkei Asian Review reports that China, as part of a longer-term strategy that seeks to divide its South East Asian neighbors on the issue, has embedded the proposal in part of a long-awaited code of conduct for the contested waters.
Beijing’s proposal, which is helping drag out tense negotiations over the code with southeast Asian nations, is a likely deterrent targeting US oil interests from securing access to the seas claimed by a host of nearby Asian powers.
China hopes its talks with southeast Asian nations on a code of conduct in the South China Sea will bear fruit in about three years, visiting Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said in Singapore on Nov. 13, 2018.
Xinhua reports that Li said in a speech at the 44th Singapore Lecture, titled “Pursuing Open and Integrated Development for Shared Prosperity (“在开放融通中共创共享繁荣”) that China reckons it would like to draw a line under talks on the COC by 2021.
According to a report in the Nikkei on Nov. 11, 2018, people close to the COC negotiations said China inserted the oil exploration ban into a working document proposal in August 2018.
With officials from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including US vice president Mike Pence gathering this week in Singapore, calls have grown for the language’s removal, suggesting the ban is at odds with standard international maritime laws.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Codie Collins)
The South China Sea is a critical commercial gateway for the world’s merchant shipping, and consequently an important economic and strategic flashpoint in the Indo-Pacific.
Moreover it is the growing focus of several complex territorial disputes that have been the cause of conflict and angst.
China, as it continues to develop its energy technologies and oil extraction infrastructure has in all likelihood inserted the latest sticking point language knowing full well that any delay suits its long-game strategy.
Knowing that a bloc of ASEAN members can and will not accept the proposal, secures China more time ahead of a finalized code of conduct while Beijing’s power in the South China Sea grows and its influence among sympathetic ASEAN nations grows.
ASEAN members are already split when it comes to making space for China and on its role in the region, particularly the South China Sea.
Cambodia and Laos have in recent years fallen further and further under Beijing’s dynamic influence as China has invested heavily in supporting public works that secure the regimes in Phnom Penh and Vientiane.
Meanwhile, firebrand Filipino President Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte, has enjoyed his role as a regional disrupter, at once isolating the US while hedging on Beijing.
Filipino President Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte.
Duterte has embraced the confusion apparent in ASEAN waters as leverage for Manila, leaving a fractured bloc at the table with US and Chinese negotiators ahead of the East Asia Summit in Singapore.
The South China Sea comprises a stretch of roughly 1.4 million square miles of Pacific Ocean encompassing an area from the strategically critical passage though Singapore and Malacca Straits to the Strait of Taiwan, spanning west of the Philippines, north of Indonesia, and east of Vietnam.
Countries as diverse and numerous as Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and, of course, China are all connected to the South China Seas, which goes some way to explain the waters’ inherent dangers to regional security.
It’s quite a minefield.
The major contested island and reef formations throughout the seas are the Spratly Islands, Paracel Islands, Pratas, the Natuna Islands, and Scarborough Shoal.
The islands are mostly uninhabited and have never been home to or laid claim by an indigenous population, making the issue of historical sovereignty a tricky one to resolve —China for example likes to say it has historical roots to the region established sometime back in the 15th century.
But their are many other aggravating maritime and territorial factors in this increasingly dangerous part of the world.
As ASEAN’s economic intensity has continued to build under the shade of China’s decades-long economic boom, so has the waterway become a critical channel for a growing percentage of global commercial merchant shipping.
China itself still depends heavily on access through the Malacca Straits to satiate its appetite for energy and resources.
Nearby Japan and South Korea, both net importers, also depend enormously on free access to the South China Sea for unhindered shipments of fuel, resources and raw materials for both import and export.
On top of that, these are oceans rich and unregulated when it comes to natural resources. Nations like Vietnam and China furiously compete through fleets of private fishing vessels organizedwith state backing in a rush to exploit fishing grounds in dire need of governance.
Yet, the source of the most intense friction is the widely held belief that the South China Seas are home to abundant, as yet undiscovered oil and gas reserves.
China and ASEAN have been discussing changes to a 2002 declaration on the peaceful resolution of disputes in the South China Sea that would give the rules legal force.
As it stands, the declaration has proved wholly unable to stop Chinese island-building in the waters.
The Spratly Islands, where China has been reclaiming land and building strategic assets, 2016
South China Sea nations including China, Vietnam and the Philippines seek opportunities to develop the plentiful reserves of energy that the sea is thought to hold.
But with the notable exception of China, backed by its heaving state-owned behemoths, like Sinopec and CNOOC these countries independently lack well-developed oil industries.
Which is where the US enters the frame.
Beijing has obvious and probably well founded concerns that the US will seek to engage and then use joint oil development projects with ASEAN countries to build a legitimate commercial toehold and thus a greater presence in the sea.
The Nikkei Review noted that the South China Sea’s lack of clear maritime boundaries makes it a difficult place to ban oil exploration by outside countries, according to a specialist in international law.
As part of the code of conduct, China has also proposed barring outside countries from taking part in joint military exercises with ASEAN countries in the South China Sea.
ASEAN members including Singapore have not agreed to this provision, creating another obstacle to concluding the negotiations.
ASEAN is moving to strengthen ties with China, as shown by October’s first-ever joint military exercises. At the same time, the Southeast Asian bloc plans to hold naval exercises with the US as early as 2019.
Meanwhile, this week Chinese president Xi Jinping will travel to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea to meet with the leaders of the eight Pacific islands that recognise China diplomatically and welcome Chinese investment.
Beijing warned no country should try to obstruct its “friendship and cooperation” with Pacific nations that have already received over billion in Chinese investment.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
A lot of crazy sh*t happened in the Iran-Iraq War. The backbone of the Iranian Air Force at the time was the beloved F-14 Tomcat, a plane the Iranians still fly. Purchased by the Shah of Iran before the rise of the Islamic Republic, Iran’s Air Force consisted of dozens of the two-seat fighter aircraft, which gave them an edge in the air war against neighboring Iraq.
But tech can only take you so far. And it was the skills of Iranian pilots that allowed the IRIAF to claim three kills with one missile.
Iranians are really good behind the stick of the Tomcat. In fact, the highest scoring ace in a Tomcat is an Iranian named Jalil Zandi. According to the U.S. Air Force, Zandi is credited with 11 kills in an F-14 — an amazing achievement for any fighter pilot. But he was in good company during the Iran-Iraq War because his fellow pilots were keeping the skies clear of any offending Iraqi aircraft.
The Iran-Iraq War was in full stalemate by the end of 1981 and the fighting on the ground was so brutal, it might literally have been illegal. Iraq invaded Iran in 1980 for a number of reasons, mostly to take advantage of political instability following the fall of the Shah, but also to keep Shia Islamic Revolution from being exported to neighboring countries.
Before the Iraqi ground troops crossed the border, however, Saddam’s air forces attempted to destroy the Iranian Air Force while it was still on the ground. They missed and it cost them big time. From that point on, Iraqi MiG and Sukhoi fighters were flying the highway to the danger zone every time they flew into Iran – Tomcats were on patrol.
Iranian F-14 Tomcats carrying Phoenix missiles.
In the opening days of the war, Tomcats took their toll on the Iraqi Air Force, downing fighters and bombers alike. Their most deadly weapons, Phoenix missiles, carried an explosive payload that was much larger than other anti-aircraft missiles. They were designed to take down Soviet-built Tupolev bomber aircraft, the same kind the Iraqis were trying to fly over Tehran.
By 1981, the war on the ground had devolved into an exchange of chemical weapons against human wave attacks. The war was just as brutal in the air, but the Tomcats gave Iran a decisive edge. A single F-14 in the area was enough for Iraqi pilots to scatter and head for home. What happened on Jan. 7, 1981 was a clear example of why.
Iranian pilot Asadullah Adeli and his Radar Intercept Officer Mohammed Masbough responded to reports of unidentified aircraft headed toward Kharg Island in the Persian Gulf. The Tomcat determined the intruder was actually three Iraqi MiG-23s, presumably headed toward an oil rig near the island. Iranian ground radar couldn’t see all three, but authorized Adeli and Masbough to engage the MiGs anyway.
“They were flying really low,” Adeli recalled. “Even though it was night, they were flying at around 2,000 feet.”
Masbough told him to target the one in the middle, just hoping to damage the other two enough that they might break off. That’s almost what happened. The American-built Phoenix missile’s explosive delivery was so powerful, it downed all three enemy aircraft. The wreckage of all three MiGs was found on Kharg Island the next day.
A gear porn bulletin from WATM friends The Mad Duo at Breach-Bang-Clear.
Remember. At the risk of sounding orgulous, we must remind you – this is just an advisement, a public service if you will, letting you know these things exist and might be of interest. It’s no more a review, endorsement or denunciation than it is an episiotomy.
We’ll warn you in advance—we don’t know too much about this WML (Weapon Mounted Light) from Firefield (@firefieldtm). The PR company that notified us about it doesn’t do the best job of explaining things, or of providing decent imagery (at least, not the correct imagery, though that doesn’t necessarily have nuthin’ to do with the quality of the ole’ lumens) but we’ll tell you what we do know.
Given how they describe it, and the pitiful number of lumens it pushes out, it’s going to be hard not to make fun of it…though we shall endeavor to persevere.
BLUF: This is a gear porn bulletin, provided as a public service to you epistemophiliacs out there by the Mad Duo. It’s not a review, nor is it an endorsement. Neither is it approbation or denunciation.
The Charge AR works off a single CR2 battery, pushing 180 lumens of “blinding light” for up to 3.5 hours, activated by either a push-button or pressure pad. You’re gonna want one because, “Low-light shooting situations call for an easily accessible flashlight accessory. Whether in a home defense, tactical or hunting situation, clear line of sight and quick target acquisition are extremely important.”
Plus, it kinda looks like an AN/PEQ 4.
As you can read, Firefield has the dramatic prose down pat! Not surprising. After all, their gear is Forged in victory. “Transform fear to power, panic to excitement and chaos to glory with Firefield.”
The Charge AR is 2.2 ounces and manufactured of aluminum, with an anodized matte black finish. It’s compatible with both Weaver and Picatinny rails (a distinction they felt important to make) and designed to throw light offset from the rail to allow use unimpeded by an AR front sight post.
The MSRP on the Charge AR is $35.99 on the Fire-field website, which is good news for everyone saving their dollar bills for the dancing moms.
You can probably find it online for even less if you look.
Operating temperature, F/C – -17° to 48° / 0° to 120°
Shockproof – Yes
Weight (oz) – 2.2
Width (in/mm) – 1.65/42
Note—if you were wondering, Pic rails and Weaver rails are damn near the same thing. Pic rails are MIL-STD-1913; their grooves are to be .206-inches wide and should have a center-to-center width of .394-inches to be considered in spec.
No Hollywood war movie is perfect. No matter how long the production studio takes to develop the project or how long the crew is on set filming the movie, there’re always going to be some avoidable mistakes.
However, we have seen war movies flourish in the eyes of veteran audiences on several occasions. Even within those epic films, there are still areas that aren’t perfect because of a few important reasons.
Some military movies are better off burning their production budget.
“Blocking for the camera” is a film term that means, basically, how the actors move within the scene in relation to the camera’s position.
So, do you remember what Sgt. Horvath said before spearheading forward onto the beaches of Normandy on D-Day in Saving Private Ryan?
“I want to see plenty of feet between men. Five men is a juicy opportunity. One man is a waste of ammo.”
One of the most significant issues veterans have with war movies is how bunched up characters get in firefights or while maneuvering in on the enemy. Having a handful of troops crammed within a few meters of one another is a bad thing, but it’s commonly done due to a movie’s shooting schedule.
What direct Steven Speilberg nailed during the D-Day landing in Saving Private Ryan was showcasing the importance of proper dispersion. Unfortunately, other war films have failed to follow Sgt. Horvath’s advice — which sucks.
Sgt. Horvath and Capt. Miller mentally prepare for the worst. (Image from Dreamworks’ Saving Private Ryan)
3. Overly verbose dialogue
Hollywood commonly hires screenwriters with proven, successful track records to give a voice to their films. Which, for the most part, is the right thing to do. You wouldn’t hire a dentist to fix your back pain.
But, here’s the issue: Unless you’ve actually lived the life or were immersed in military culture for some amount of time, you won’t truly understand how we talk to one another. Many films want to continually remind the audience that the character is either a veteran or on active duty by using dialogue as exposition.
Good dialogue in a war film wins veterans’ hearts and minds, but we rarely see anyone nail it.
2. Misinformed actors
Actors do the best job they can to bring their characters to life and we respect them for that.
Unfortunately, we’ve seen, time and time again, production companies hire veterans as “military consultants” to train the actors to get it right. It is their job to turn actors into operators. That’s great in theory, but the so-called veteran often isn’t an actual operator themselves. Some Navy sailors have never been on a ship and most Marines have never been in combat, but they’ll wear the title of ‘consultant’ all the same.
Some consultants, like Marine veteran Capt. Dale Dye, are legit because they’ve seen the frontlines and survived it. Despite the expression, being a Marine doesn’t make you a rifleman. However, being a 0311 Marine does.
Here’s the kicker: Movies cost millions of dollars to produce, which most of it goes to the people who are the “above the line” talent. However, all of the standard military information producers need to satisfy veteran moviegoers is available on Google, because that information is public domain. It’s how we learn to don our uniforms if we forget something.
Screwing up the details of an on-screen uniform is the most prominent pet-peeve veterans have. It happens all the time.
What’s wrong with this photo?
You can look up Marine Corps rank insignia on your phone. No excuses.
Since 2015, when images of a Russian nuclear torpedo first leaked on state television, the world has asked itself why Moscow would build a weapon that could end all life on Earth.
While all nuclear weapons can kill thousands in the blink of an eye and leave radiation poisoning the environment for years to come, Russia’s new doomsday device, called “Poseidon,” takes steps to maximize this effect.
If the US fired one of its Minutemen III nuclear weapons at a target, it would detonate in the air above the target and rely on the blast’s incredible downward pressure to crush it. The fireball from the nuke may not even touch the ground, and the only radiation would come from the bomb itself and any dust particles swept up in the explosion, Stephen Schwartz, the author of “Atomic Audit,” previously told Business Insider.
But Russia’s Poseidon is said to use a warhead many times as strong, perhaps even as strong as the largest bomb ever detonated. Additionally, it’s designed to come into direct contact with water, marine animals, and the ocean floor, kicking up a radioactive tsunami that could spread deadly radiation over hundreds of thousands of miles of land and sea and render it uninhabitable for decades.
In short, while most nuclear weapons can end a city, Russia’s Poseidon could end a continent.
Even in the mania at the height of the Cold War, nobody took seriously the idea of building such a world-ender, Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told Business Insider.
So why build one now?
A briefing slide captured from Russian state TV is said to be about the Poseidon nuclear torpedo.
Davis called the Poseidon a “third-strike vengeance weapon” — meaning Russia would attack a NATO member, the US would respond, and a devastated Russia would flip the switch on a hidden nuke that would lay waste to an entire US seaboard.
According to Davis, the Poseidon would give Russia a “coercive power” to discourage a NATO response to a Russian first strike.
Russia here would seek to not only reoccupy Eastern Europe “but coerce NATO to not act upon an Article 5 declaration and thus lose credibility,” he said, referring to the alliance’s key clause that guarantees a collective response to an attack on a member state.
Russian President Vladimir Putin “has made it clear he seeks the collapse of NATO,” Davis continued. “If NATO doesn’t come to the aid of a member state, it’s pretty much finished as a defense alliance.”
Essentially, Russia could use the Poseidon as an insurance policy while it picks apart NATO. The US, for fear that its coastlines could become irradiated for decades by a stealthy underwater torpedo it has no defenses against, might seriously question how badly it needs to save Estonia from Moscow’s clutches.
Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Putin may calculate that NATO will blink first rather than risk escalation to a nuclear exchange,” Davis said. “Poseidon accentuates the risks to NATO in responding to any Russian threat greatly, dramatically increasing Russia’s coercive power.”
Davis also suggested the Poseidon would make a capable but heavy-handed naval weapon, which he said could most likely take out an entire carrier strike group in one shot.
But Russia has frequently engaged in nuclear saber-rattling when it feels encircled by NATO forces, and so far it has steered clear of confronting NATO with kinetic forces.
“Whether that will involve actual use or just the threat of use is the uncertainty,” Davis said.
While it’s hard to imagine a good reason for laying the kind of destruction the Poseidon promises, Davis warned that we shouldn’t assume the Russians think about nuclear warfare the same way the US does.
Doctors at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Maryland announced the first-ever successful total penis and scrotum transplant was performed on an Afghanistan veteran recently. The recipient was wounded in an IED attack that left him without sexual or urinary function but left his internal organs unharmed.
The procedure was performed on March 26th and the unidentified “sergeant” will have urinary function by the end of the week.
The wounded warrior will also regain complete sexual function in roughly six months. Testicles that could contain semen were not part of the procedure due to the ethical issues associated with having children through the donor’s genetic material.
Though there have been successful partial operations performed elsewhere, this is the first total penis and scrotal transplant, with more tissue transplanted than ever before. The 14-hour procedure required a number of considerations.
1. The donor.
The donor was a recently deceased man whose identity has not been released. According to USA Today, a statement from the donor’s family (which includes a number of veterans) was read by the President and CEO of New England Donor Services.
“We are so thankful to say that our loved one would be proud and honored to know he provided such a special gift to you,” the statement reads. “We hope you can return to better health very soon and we continue to wish you a speedy recovery.”
The recipient’s body could possibly reject the foreign tissue at any time. The sergeant will likely have to take immunosuppressants to ensure the acceptance of the new tissue. To further diminish the likelihood of rejection, the recipient was infused with the donor’s bone marrow to reduce the level of medication necessary to prevent a rejection.
3. Complete sexual function.
The sergeant’s body was connected to his donated organ through three arteries, four veins, and two nerves in order to give him full blood flow and sensation.
4. Hundreds of similarly wounded servicemen.
Between October 2001 and August 2013, an estimated 1,367 male service members sustained injuries to their genitals and urinary system. 73 percent of those included scrotal injuries, 33 percent included the testes, and 31 percent included the penis.
When people talk about the aircraft carriers of World War II, some names jump out right away. Maybe the USS Enterprise (CV 6), both versions of the USS Yorktown (CV 5 and CV 10), or the USS Hornet (CV 8)?
But one carrier that was present at the start of World War II and survived throughout the war isn’t that well known. Meet America’s first purpose-built aircraft carrier, the USS Ranger (CV 4).
The Ranger, like many pre-war American ship designs, was heavily influenced by the Washington Naval Treaty. This limited aircraft carriers to 27,000 tons per ship, and the United States Navy’s carrier force could have a total displacement of 135,000 tons. The conversion of the under-construction battle cruisers Lexington (then-CC 1) and Saratoga (then-CC 3) to CV 2 and CV 3 put them both at 33,000 tons.
As such, the Ranger was limited to 14,500 tons – and the U.S. wanted to cram as much as it could on this ship. She received eight 5-inch, 25-caliber guns, as well as a host of M2 .50-caliber machine guns. She also could carry around 75 aircraft.
Nine Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat fighters and five Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless dive bombers are visible on the flight deck of USS Ranger (CV 4) prior to Operation Torch. Note Ranger´s distinctive stacks in the left foreground. (US Navy photo)
When World War II broke out, the USS Ranger was in the Atlantic as part of the Neutrality Patrol, along with the carrier USS Wasp (CV 7). According to the “Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships,” the Ranger was sent to patrol the South Atlantic. After returning for repairs, the Ranger then was tasked with delivering P-40 Warhawks to Africa. She made two runs in the spring and summer of 1942, delivering 140 of those planes – some of which were destined to reinforce the Flying Tigers.
In November of 1942, the Ranger took part in Operation Torch, launching 54 F4F Wildcats and 18 SBD Dauntless dive bombers. Her planes sank or damaged two French warships, and also gave the landings fighter cover.
After Torch, the Ranger was overhauled, then delivered 75 more P-40s — this time for the North African Theater of Operations. She carried out training missions during most of 1943, until she was attached to the Home Fleet.
In October, 1943, the USS Ranger joined the British Home Fleet, and carried out a number of strikes on German naval forces around Norway. After that, she again served as an aircraft ferry, delivering 76 P-38 Lightning fighters to the Mediterranean Theater of Operations.
After making that delivery, the Ranger finally went to the Pacific, where she was a training carrier until the end of the war. After the war, the USS Ranger was decommissioned and sold for scrap.
Back in 1987, the world was a very different place. While the Soviet Union was on a crash course with destiny, the power the nation wielded–backed by a massive nuclear arsenal–had left it in a decades-long staring match with the United States.
Mutually Assured Destruction, a doctrine of military strategy that left the two nuclear powers in a stalemate President Ronald Reagan described as a “suicide pact,” had left the world in an uneasy state of both peace and war simultaneously. And nowhere was this dichotomy more present than in the homes of residents of East and West Germany. The nation had been divided since the end of World War II, with NATO’s Western powers in West Germany, and a Soviet puppet-state called the German Democratic Republic in the east.
East German students sit atop the Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate in front of border guards in 1989 (University of Minnesota Institute of Advanced Studies)
By 1987, the wheels that would ultimately tear down the Berlin Wall dividing East and West Germany physically and ideological were already turning, and a young man named Mathias Rust was keen on playing his part in history. Like many young adults, Rust was increasingly politically minded. Unlike most 18-year-olds, he also had a pilot’s license and access to a Cessna 172 airplane that had been modified by removing the rear seats for added fuel capacity.
In October of 1986, Rust had watched the Reykjavík summit between U.S President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev. As that summit ended in a stalemate, Rust felt the overwhelming urge to find a way to make a difference.
“I thought every human on this planet is responsible for some progress and I was looking for an opportunity to take my share in it,” he would go on to tell the BBC.
Rust soon began forming a plan. President Theodore Roosevelt once famously said, “Do what you can, where you are, with what you have,” and while it’s unlikely that Rust was aware of the axiom, his actions embodied the premise. He took stock of the skills he had, the resources he had available, and the situation to begin forming an idea. He’d take his little Cessna directly into the heart of the Soviet Union in a political spectacle he hoped would inspire others.
“I was thinking I could use the aircraft to build an imaginary bridge between West and East to show that a lot of people in Europe wanted to improve relations between our worlds,” Rust said.
Rust’s rented Cessna 172 (WikiMedia Commons)
By May 13, 1987, Rust was ready to put his plan into action, but he still harbored understandable doubts. Today, Russia is renown for their advanced air defense systems, and the same was true of their Soviet predecessors. The USSR maintained the most elaborate and largest air defense system anywhere on the globe and they had demonstrated a propensity for using it against civilian aircraft. Only about five years earlier, the Soviets had shot down a South Korean airliner that had strayed into their airspace, killing all 269 passengers on board.
Rust told his parents he was leaving on a tour of Northern Europe that would help him accumulate more hours toward his professional pilot’s license, and for the first few days, that’e exactly what he did. After a few days of traveling, he stayed in Helsinki, Finland for a few days and pondered what he was about to do. He wanted to make a big public statement, but he wasn’t keen on dying in the process.
“Of course I was afraid to lose my life. I was weighing if it is really responsible, reasonable, to take this kind of risk. At the end I came to the conclusion, ‘I have to risk it.'”
He filed a flight plan that would have taken him to Stockholm and took off just like he would on any other day. As Rust recalls, he still wasn’t really sure he would go through with it until well after he was already airborne.
“I made the final decision about half an hour after departure. I just changed the direction to 170 degrees and I was heading straight down to Moscow.”
Rust’s flight path (WikiMedia Commons)
It wasn’t long before Soviet air defenses were alerted to his presence. They were tracking him on radar, and within an hour of diverting from his flight plan, fighters had been scrambled to intercept his little Cessna. He was flying low–only about 1,000 feet off the ground or 2,500 feet above sea level, and donned his crash helmet.
“The whole time I was just sitting in the aircraft, focusing on the dials,” said Rust. “It felt like I wasn’t really doing it.”
Fate was on Rust’s side, however, and one of the fighter pilots reported seeing what he believed was a Yak-12–a Soviet plane that looks similar to a Cessna 172. Either the pilot or his air traffic controllers decided that the plane must have been allowed to be there, because they broke off pursuit. At around the same time, Rust descended below the clouds to prevent them from icing up his wings, which also made him disappear from Soviet radar. Once he passed the clouds, he climbed back up to 2,500 feet and popped back up on their radar scopes.
Suddenly, he spotted fighters emerge from the cloud cover in front of him.
“It was coming at me very fast, and dead-on. And it went whoosh!—right over me. I remember how my heart felt, beating very fast,” he explained. “This was exactly the moment when you start to ask yourself: Is this when they shoot you down?”
Before he knew it, Soviet Mig-23 interceptors pulled up alongside him from both beneath him and his left. The single-seat, swing-wing Mig-23 was capable of speeds in excess of Mach 2.3 (more than 300 miles per hour faster than an F-35) and was positively massive compared to Rust’s little Cessna. In order to flank him, the Migs had to lower their landing gear and extend their flaps to scrub their speed enough not to scream past Rust and his single-prop 172.
“I realized because they hadn’t shot me down yet that they wanted to check on what I was doing there,” Rust said. “There was no sign, no signal from the pilot for me to follow him. Nothing.”
Rust would later learn that the pilots were indeed trying to contact him, but were using high-frequency military channels. Finally, the Migs pulled their landing gear in, dropped their flaps and screamed off into the distance again, circling rust twice in half mile loops before departing. Rust had once again made it through a brush with Soviet interceptors and was still flying straight for the Soviet capital.
A later investigation would confirm that, either the pilots assumed the Cessna was indeed a Soviet Yak-12, or their command didn’t think the situation warranted any concern. Shortly after the fighters departed, luck would once again deal in Rust’s favor. He unknowingly entered into a Soviet air force training zone where aircraft with similar radar signatures to his own were conducting various exercises. His small plane got lost in the radar chatter, which would save his neck in the following minutes.
The Soviet Yak-12 looks very similar to a Cessna 172 (WikiMedia Commons)
Protocol required that all Soviet pilots reset their transponder at frequent intervals, and any pilot that didn’t reset theirs would immediately show as hostile on radar. At 3pm, just such a switch was scheduled, but because Rust was flying among a group of student pilots, the Soviet commander overseeing radar operations assumed he was a student that had absent-mindedly forgotten to switch his transponder. He ordered the radar operator to change Rust’s radar return to “friendly,” warning that “otherwise we might shoot some of our own.”
An hour later, Rust was little more than 200 miles outside of Moscow, and subject to a new region’s radar and air defense scrutiny. Once again, radar operators spotted the small aircraft and intercept fighters were dispatched, but the cloud cover was too thick and they were unable to find the small Cessna visually. Soon thereafter, another radar operator would mark Rust’s plane as “friendly,” mistaking it for a search and rescue helicopter that had been dispatched to the region.
As Rust approached Moscow’s airspace, the report that was forwarded to the air defense in the area listed a Soviet aircraft seemingly flying with its transponder off, rather than anything about a West German teenager infiltrating hundreds of miles of heavily guarded Soviet airspace.
Rust then flew his small plane over Moscow’s infamous “Ring of Steel,” which was made up of multiple overlapping air defense systems built specifically to protect the Soviet capital from American bombers. Air defense rings surrounded Moscow at 10, 25, and 45 miles out, all capable of engaging a fleet of heavy bombers, but none the least bit interested in the tiny plane Rust piloted.
Shortly thereafter, Rust entered the airspace over the city itself–an area that had all air traffic heavily restricted, even military flights. As Rust flew over Moscow, Soviet radar operators finally realized something was terribly amiss, but it was too late. There was no time to scramble intercept fighters; Rust was already flying from building to building, trying to identify Moscow’s famous Red Square.
“At first, I thought maybe I should land inside the Kremlin wall, but then I realized that although there was plenty of space, I wasn’t sure what the KGB might do with me,” he remembers. “If I landed inside the wall, only a few people would see me, and they could just take me away and deny the whole thing. But if I landed in the square, plenty of people would see me, and the KGB couldn’t just arrest me and lie about it. So it was for my own security that I dropped that idea.”
Moscow’s Red Square
Rust spotted a 6-lane bridge that led into Red Square with sparse traffic and only a few power lines he’d need to avoid. He flew over the first set of wires, then dropped the aircraft down quickly to fly below the next set. As he nearly touched down, he spotted a car directly in his path.
“I moved to the left to pass him,” Rust said, “and as I did I looked and saw this old man with this look on his face like he could not believe what he was seeing. I just hoped he wouldn’t panic and lose control of the car and hit me.”
With his wheels on the ground, Rust rolled directly into Red Square. He had wanted to park the plane in front of Lenin’s tomb, but a fence blocked his path and he settled for coming to a stop in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral. He shut down the engine and closed his eyes, taking a deep breath as the reality of his situation slowly engulfed him. He had done the impossible.
“A big crowd had formed around me,” Rust recalled. “People were smiling and coming up to shake my hand or ask for autographs. There was a young Russian guy who spoke English. He asked me where I came from. I told him I came from the West and wanted to talk to Gorbachev to deliver this peace message that would [help Gorbachev] convince everybody in the West that he had a new approach.”
Rust next to his Cessna 172 in Moscow’s Red Square
He had anticipated being captured immediately by the KGB, but instead found the crowd confused and delighted by his stunning entrance. One woman gave him some bread. A young soldier chastised him for not applying for a visa, but credited him for the initiative. What Rust didn’t realize was that the KGB was already present, and agents were already worming through the crowd, confiscating cameras and notebooks people had Rust sign.
An hour later, two truck loads of Soviet soldiers arrived. They mostly ignored Rust as they aggressively pushed the crowds back and put up barriers around the teenager and his plane. Then three men arrived in a black sedan, one of whom identified himself as an interpreter. He asked Rust for his passport and if they could inspect the aircraft. Rust recalls their demeanor as mostly friendly and even casual.
The plane was then taken to the nearby Sheremetyevo International Airport where it was completely disassembled during its inspection, and despite the friendly demeanor of the Soviets, he was immediately transported to Lefortovo prison. The prison was infamous for its use by the KGB to hold political prisoners.
A modern view of the Lefortovo prison (WikiMedia Commons)
Initially, the Soviets refused to believe that Rust had accomplished his daring mission without support from NATO forces. The date he chose, May 28, was Border Guards Day in the Soviet Union, and they accused him of choosing the day intentionally to embarrass them. Then they accused him of getting the maps he’d used to reach Moscow from the American CIA… that is, until the Soviet consul in Hamburg confirmed that they could purchase the very same maps through a mail order service.
After realizing Rust was not the world’s youngest and most ostentatious CIA operative, they finally charged him illegal entry, violation of flight laws, and “malicious hooliganism.” Rust pleaded guilty to the first two charges, but refused the third, claiming he had no malicious intent. Nonetheless, he was found guilty on all counts by a panel of three judges and sentenced to four years in the same Lefortovo prison. Despite the prison’s harsh reputation, Rust was mostly well cared for, and even allowed to have his parents visit every two months.
In 1988, Rust was released from prison in a “goodwill gesture” following a treaty between Reagan and Gorbachev that would have both nations eliminate their intermediate range nuclear missiles. It was not quite such a happy ending for many Soviet officials however.
Rust’s re-assembled Cessna on display in the German Museum of Technology (WikiMedia Commons)
In a way, Rust’s flight did exactly what he’d hoped. The stunt had seriously damaged the reputation of the Soviet military and provided Gorbachev with the leverage he needed to outfox those who opposed his reforms.
Almost immediately following Rust’s landing in Red Square, the Soviet defense minister and the Soviet air defense chief were both removed from their posts for allowing such an egregious violation of Soviet airspace. Shortly thereafter, hundreds of other officers were also removed from their positions. Rust’s flight led to the single largest turnover of Soviet officers since the 1930s, according to Air Space Magazine.
Rust would never sit behind the stick of an aircraft again, but would go down in history as the only pilot to defeat the entirety of the Soviet military using a rented, single prop, trainer plane. Unfortunately, Rust’s seemingly heroic stunt has been overshadowed by the troubled man’s continued run-ins with the law. In the early 90s, he received another prison sentence for assaulting a woman that refused his romantic advances. In 2005, he was again convicted of a crime–this time for fraud. Today he describes himself an analyst for an investment bank, seemingly keen to leave his high-flying theatrics behind him.
It’s an airframe that dates back to the Vietnam War, but it’s served for nearly 50 years and is still a comforting presence for those protected by its missiles, guns, and rockets: Meet the AH-1 SuperCobra.
Pilots aboard an AH-1W SuperCobra helicopter fly into a forward arming and refueling point at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows, Hawaii, May 6, 2014.
(U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Matthew Bragg)
The AH-1 Cobra was the first dedicated attack helicopter, though it was technically an interim solution, filling a gap in capabilities until the AH-56 could make it to the field. The AH-56, however, was never constructed, so the Army stuck with the AH-1.
The Marine Corps, meanwhile, was looking for an attack helicopter of their own, and they were interested in what the Army had to offer. There was one glaring problem, though: The Army AH-1 had only one engine. The Marine Corps wasn’t comfortable with this since their helicopters might have to fly dozens of miles across open ocean to reach beachheads. If you lose an engine six miles from the ship or the shore, you really want a second engine to close the gap.
And so the Marine Corps asked Bell helicopters for an AH-1 with two engines, thus creating the AH-1 SeaCobra, which later became the SuperCobra. It first went into service in 1971, which the math nerds will note is 47 years ago.
An AH-1W SuperCobra, with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 775, Marine Aircraft Group 41, 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, performs a break turn after conducting a close air support mission in an exercise at Twentynine Palms, California, June 18, 2018.
(U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Samantha Schwoch)
The reason the AH-1 SuperCobra has lasted so long — and the reason that it’s being replaced by the AH-1Z Viper, which is basically just an upgraded version — is that it’s very effective. The first Marine variant, the AH-1J SeaCobra, was originally fielded with a three-barrel 20mm cannon in 1969. But the Marines wanted more power and weapons, and they’ve upgraded the helicopter multiple times over the decades since.
Now, the AH-1W can carry everything from from TOW missiles and Hellfires, both of which are very good at killing enemy tanks. The AGM-114 Hellfire is a potent weapon, carrying an up to 20-pound warhead. It uses either a shaped charge warhead, tandem warhead, or a HEAT warhead. The tandem warhead is the most effective and is thought to be able to defeat all current tanks and armored vehicles.
The TOW, meanwhile, is heavier and has even more variants, but can also open up pretty much any armored threat in the world today.
U.S. Marines assigned to Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 load a 2.75-inch rocket configured with Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System II, a hydra 70 rocket motor and M282 High Explosive Incendiary Multipurpose Penetrator Warhead onto an AH-1Z Viper at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., March 29, 2018
(U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Ashley McLaughlin/Released)
The helicopters can also fire rockets in support of the Marines on the ground, sending out Hydras against troop and vehicle concentrations. These rockets were historically unguided, but kits are now available when necessary. The rockets can carry fast-flying flechettes, small darts that shred enemy combatants, as well as explosive warheads, infrared flares, or smoke.
Zuni rockets, meanwhile, are technically an air-to-air or air-to-ground weapon, but since they’re unguided, the U.S. uses them pretty much only against the ground and ships nowadays. The rockets can carry warheads of almost 50 pounds, and can be sued to rip apart tanks, personnel, or pretty much any target that isn’t heavily fortified.
The rockets can also deploy chaff to throw off enemy radar-guided munitions.
U.S. Marine Cpl. Michael Michehl, a line noncommissioned officer with Marine Wing Support Detachment 24, controls forward arming and refueling point operations during a field test for the Expeditionary Mobile Fuel Additization Capability system at Pohakuloa Training Area, Hawaii, July 18, 2018.
(U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Adam Montera)
Finally, the SuperCobras can fire Stinger Missiles, a potent, short-range air defense missile that can send shrapnel flying through enemy helicopters and planes, shredding the engines, wings, or cockpits of the target.
All of this combines to make the SuperCobra a Marine’s deadly big brother in the sky. They can tackle slow-moving air threats, armor, and personnel, protecting Marines under attack from nearly anything, though the helicopters can be made vulnerable themselves by enemy air defenses or air interdiction.
Of course, that doesn’t stop the pilots from laying waste, even when the enemy has their own weapons in play. Marine Capt. John Patrick Giguere earned the Silver Star for flying his AH-1T, a TOW-equipped variant, over enemy air defenses while protecting a downed aircrew in Grenada.
An AH-1W SuperCobra, attached to Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 167, takes off from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima, March 8, 2017.
(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Andrew Murray)
First Lt. Sydney Baker also earned a Silver Star. His came while flying an AH-1G supporting the insertion of Marines in Vietnam. Despite ground fire so fierce that it knocked out his communications gear and threatened to down the bird, he kept up a heavy volume of fire to protect Marines on the ground.
So, while their younger, sexier AH-64 Apache counterparts get all the love, the AH-1 SuperCobras and Vipers are out there saving Marines every day, so raise a glass for these old school infantrymen of the sky. They’ll be happy to save you if you’re ever in trouble.
The Marine Corps is a department of the Navy, there’s no question about it. But when Marines go on ship, it can be a frustrating time for them. Being separated from the rest of the world, getting sea sick, or just wasting time on your command’s idea to make itself look good in front of the Navy makes the experience horrendous.
Some Marines might actually like the idea of going on ship. It gives you the chance to experience the world in a way not many others will be able to. What usually ends up killing the enthusiasm, however, is what ends up happening on ship. It usually causes Marines to hate their lives even more than they already do.
Here are just a few of those things.
You’ll just have to find the time.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jasmine Price)
It’s important to note that larger ships will have plenty more gyms but on smaller ships, the options are extremely limited. Given the fact that you’ll be at sea for a long periods at a time, exercise is crucial. While the option to do cardio-based workouts exists, the ability to lift weights is one that many Marines choose to supplement the other options.
What trips you up is that the Navy sets specific time frames to allow Marines the chance to get their work-out in. The problem is that they take it upon themselves to take the best hours and give Marines the time slots where they’ll likely be working. What’s worse is you’ll find sailors working out during “green side” hours but Lord help you if you get caught during “blue side” hours.
You will end up paying at some point.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Immanuel Johnson)
We get it. Every unit on ship MUST give up a few bodies to assist in day-to-day tasks but it doesn’t change the fact that Marines get annoyed over having to go sort the trash.
Rude higher ranks
Before you go on ship, your First Sergeant will hammer you with learning Navy rank structure so you can give the proper greeting to whomever rates it. But you’ll find gradually that you won’t get the greeting back. Now, a Navy Chief isn’t required to return your “good morning” but it’s usually just common courtesy. This is what separates Marines from Sailors.
If you tell a Marine Staff Sergeant “good morning” they’ll return it happily, usually with a “good morning to you, devil dog,” but on ship, Sailors will just kind of scoff and keep walking. But rest assured, if you don’t give a proper greeting, your First Sergeant will hear about it.
The solution is simple: tell the other platoons to get off their asses and do some work.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Juan A. Soto-Delgado)
“Breakouts” are when the mess deck needs to get food out of storage so they’ll set up a line of Marines and Sailors from one place to another to pass the supplies along in the easiest way possible. The annoying part actually comes at the fault of other Marines. A problem you’ll likely face is having to be the on-call Marine for every ship duty, every day.
You still have to show some respect, though.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Angel D. Travis)
Lack of respect
If you’re a Marine grunt on a Navy ship, don’t hold your breath waiting for respect from Naval officers because you’ll rarely get it, if at all. They’ll act like that snobby rich kid you knew in high school whose parents bought them everything and who never had to worry about any real problems, and they’ll treat you like the dirty trailer park kid who wears clothes from the second-hand store.
This isn’t the case for every officer on ship; some will be pretty down-to-Earth, but plenty will just look at you like a peasant and avoid you like the plague. At the end of the day, though, their job exists to support yours.
This makes you wonder what the hell happened and it adds to an already growing disdain toward the Navy.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Juan A. Soto-Delgado)
Replenishment at sea
A RAS is where another ship pulls up next to yours to send supplies so you don’t find yourself starving or throwing a mutiny aboard the USS whatever. This usually comes just at the right time and you’ll be able to buy chips or whatever at the store. It’s a few hours of work but it’s well worth it.
Where the problem lies is that the ship will call upon every available person to line up and help with the effort and the Navy will send people to help but, over time, you’ll notice the Sailors have disappeared and only Marines are left.
The screams of a fellow soldier trapped inside his armored vehicle pierced through the radio.
Apparently surrounded by the enemy with no more ammunition, the soldier cried for help saying his crew had all been killed.
But with his radio keyed open and no one able to talk back to him, then-Spc. 4 Dave Garrod and others in Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, could only listen to the desperate pleas.
“It was a knee knocker,” Garrod recalled as his 25th Infantry Division unit raced down to Tan Son Nhut Air Base, which was under siege by enemy forces. “I had no idea what we were driving into.”
On Jan. 30, 1968, the Vietnam War escalated as enemy forces launched surprise attacks during the country’s New Year holiday.
Then-Spc. 5 Dwight Birdwell, middle, seen on top of a tank during the Vietnam War. Birdwell and other Soldiers with the 25th Infantry Division’s 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment helped defend Tan Son Nhut Air Base in a Tet Offensive attack Jan. 31, 1968.
About 85,000 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese army fighters rushed across the border to attack over 100 cities and towns in southern Vietnam in an attempt to break a stalemate in the war.
Weeks of intense fighting ensued causing heavy losses on both sides.
Before they could repel many of the attacks, thousands of U.S. and South Vietnamese troops would die. Tens of thousands of enemy fighters were also killed.
While not largely deemed a victory for the enemy forces, which suffered a greater toll, the attacks did trigger many in America to rethink U.S. involvement in the protracted war.
Tan Son Nhut
One of the enemy’s main targets was Tan Son Nhut, a key airbase near Saigon where the Military Assistance Command Vietnam and the South Vietnamese air force were headquartered.
After reports of Viet Cong fighters attempting to invade the airbase on Jan. 31, 1968, soldiers with 3rd Squadron’s Charlie Troop responded to the call.
As they drove toward the airbase in the early morning hours, then-Spc. 5 Dwight Birdwell remembers seeing no civilians along the highway — typically a bad omen.
Photos of Dwight Birdwell before he deployed to Vietnam.
Birdwell had seen attacks before during his tour, he said, but they were mainly mines or other small arms weapons fired by a hidden enemy. This day would be different.
When they arrived just outside the airbase, his unit’s column of tanks and armored personnel carriers suddenly stopped.
As if on cue, thousands of tracer rounds began to pepper the vehicles in front of his tank from both sides of the highway. Enemy fighters then jumped onto the vehicles, shooting inside of them.
“All hell broke loose,” Birdwell recalled.
A bullet then struck Birdwell’s tank commander right through the head and he collapsed inside the tank. Birdwell pulled him out, he said, and passed him over the side for medical treatment, which kept him alive.
Birdwell took command of the tank. By that time, all the vehicles ahead of him had been wiped out or were unable to return gunfire. Enemy fighters also set some ablaze after they failed to drive off with them.
“There was a lot of confusion and pandemonium,” he said.
His tank fired its 90 mm cannon toward the enemy while he shot off rounds from the .50-caliber machine gun to hold the enemy back.
Birdwell’s unit was stuck in the middle of an enemy invasion as hundreds of fighters had already crossed the highway and penetrated the airbase to his left. On his right side, even more fighters — some just 50 feet away — prepared to join the assault.
“They were getting close,” he recalled. “I could see their faces quite well.”
Around the same time he ran out of ammunition, a U.S. helicopter was hit and made an emergency landing behind his tank.
Spc. 4 Dave Garrod, left, poses for a photo with Spc. 5 Ed McKenna and Spc. 4 Joe Carlton during their tour in the Vietnam War.
“I thought that this is unreal,” Birdwell said. “Somebody is filming a movie.”
He jumped down from the tank and ran toward the helicopter. Once there, he grabbed one of the helicopter’s M-60 machine guns the door gunners had been using and returned to his position.
After a few minutes of firing rounds at the enemy, something hit the machine gun — likely an enemy bullet. The impact, he said, sprayed shrapnel up into his face and chest.
With the M-60 now destroyed, Birdwell said he took cover in a nearby ditch. He and a few soldiers then grabbed some M-16 rifles and grenades and moved to a closer position behind a large tree.
There, they exchanged gunfire and tossed grenades over the road until the enemy started to fire a machine gun at them.
As the barrage of bullets cut into the tree, it sounded like a chainsaw chewing it down.
“We were in a very desperate situation,” he said.
Around that time, Garrod’s Bravo Troop began to roll into the area.
Soldiers in a different platoon within Charlie Troop also arrived to suppress the attack from inside the base.
“After pulling on line we started laying down fire,” Garrod recalled, “and trying to keep it as low as possible so as not to fire on Charlie Troop on the road.”
Garrod and other soldiers were then pulled away to help wounded crewmen near a textile factory from which the enemy had been commanding its attack.
Once there, he ran over to a tank that had been hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. Inside, he could see the tank’s loader who could not move due to his legs being seriously wounded.
“Being a small, skinny guy, I jumped down in the hatch and without thinking put him on my shoulders and stuck him up through the hatch,” he said.
Later that day, the intensity of the battle hit home for Garrod as he rested in the shade of his vehicle.
Dave Garrod, fifth from right, poses for a photo in front of a Vietnam War memorial near where the Tan Son Nhut Air Base attack occurred on Jan. 31, 1968.
He lifted his canteen up to take a drink when an awful smell overcame him.
“When I looked down on my flak jacket, there was a hunk of flesh from that loader,” he recalled. “It’s something that’s etched into your mind forever.”
Almost 20 soldiers from the squadron were killed and many more wounded as they defended the airbase that day. About two dozen South Vietnamese troops were also killed along with hundreds of enemy fighters.
Garrod earned an Army Commendation Medal with valor device for his actions and a Purple Heart in another mission a few days later. Birdwell earned a Silver Star and a Purple Heart.
The squadron was also awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.
Thirty years later, Garrod and other veterans traveled back to the site on the anniversary of the offensive as a way to find closure for what they saw that day.
They also visited a statue in a nearby park that honors those who were lost or suffered as a result of the battle.
Because of the devastation the war had caused, Garrod expected to see animosity on the faces of the Vietnamese people.
“Instead we found gracious, friendly people,” he said. “Even the veterans from the north whom we met … greeted us with hugs. It was very surprising. They had definitely moved on.”