The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) works on some very outlandish projects. One of its stated mission goals is to cause “technological surprise” for America’s enemies. Basically, they want enemy fighters to get to the battlefield, look at what they’re facing off against, and go, “What the hell?”
These are the DARPA projects that make that a reality.
1. Airships that can haul 2 million pounds of gear
Yeah, they’re back. DARPA’s attempt at new airships was scrapped in 2006 due to technology shortcomings, but the project was revived in 2013. The goal is for a craft that can carry up to two million pounds halfway around the world in five days. This would allow units to quickly deploy with all of their gear. Tank units would be left out though, unless they suddenly had a …
2. A super-fast lightweight vehicle that drives itself
The Ground X-Vehicle looks like a spider mated with a four-wheeler. Troops could directly control it or simply select a destination and focus on the intel the vehicle provides. Either way, the vehicle would decide how to deal with incoming attacks, ducking, sidestepping, or absorbing them as necessary.
3. Aerial platforms that allow drones to land and refuel
Flying platforms for landing and fueling drones would keep the U.S. drone program well ahead of its enemies, especially combined with the project to have drones fight as a pack. Hopefully these will be more successful than the last airborne carriers the military made.
4. Robots that gather intel and eat plants for fuel
The unmanned ground vehicle programs at DARPA want a UGV that could conduct reconnaissance indefinitely without needing to be refueled. The Energy Autonomous Tactical Robot will do that by eating plants and converting them to energy. It would also be able to steal enemy fuel when necessary.
5. Remote-controlled bugs that spy on the bad guys
Basically, remote control bugs that provide power to sensor backpacks. DARPA has already implanted control devices into pupae (insects transitioning into adults) and created electrical generators that use the insects movements for power. Now, they just have to couple those technologies with tiny sensors and find a way to make them communicate with each other and an operator who would collect intelligence from the insects.
6. Cameras that can see from every angle
DARPA isn’t sure yet how this would work, but they’re looking for ways to use the plenoptic function to create a sensor that can see an area from every angle. Though it would work differently, this would give capabilities like Jack Black has in “Enemy of the State.”
7. Nuclear-powered GPS trackers
Don’t worry, the nuclear material is for determining velocity, not powering anything or exploding. The military has trouble directing vehicles and missiles in areas where GPS signals might be blocked or scrambled, like when submarines are underwater. Chip-Scale Combinatorial Atomic Navigator (C-SCAN) is very technical, but it would allow precise navigation without a GPS signal by precisely measuring atoms from nuclear decay.
8. Brain implants that could hold the key to defeating post-traumatic stress.
Strictly for therapy, DARPA promises. The idea may be a little unsettling, but SUBNETS (Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies) would allow electrical currents in the brain to be mapped and then altered. This could be a major breakthrough for PTSD and traumatic brain injury sufferers.
9. Pathogens that fight back against enemy biological weapons.
One of the emerging threats to U.S. operations is biological weapons using antibiotic resistant bacteria. DARPA wants to nip it in the bud before an enemy can cause massive infections to American forces or civilians. To do so, they’re investigating pathogens that could be cultured and deployed in victims of attacks. These killers would seek out the bacteria wreaking havoc and murder it on a microscopic level.
The U.S. Navy has suspended its search for nine missing sailors from the USS John S. McCain after looking in vain for more than 80 hours.
Despite help from other countries, the Navy was unable to find the nine sailors within a 2,100-square mile area. However, the Navy will continue to look for any sailors who may have been trapped inside the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, which collided with a Liberian merchant vessel Aug. 21 east of the Malacca Strait.
In the aftermath of the collision, divers recovered the body of another one of the sailors, Electronics Technician 3rd Class Kenneth Aaron Smith, a 22-year-old from New Jersey.
Electronics Technician 1st Class Charles Nathan Findley, 31, from Missouri
Interior Communications Electrician 1st Class Abraham Lopez, 39, from Texas
Electronics Technician 2nd Class Kevin Sayer Bushell, 26, from Maryland
Electronics Technician 2nd Class Jacob Daniel Drake, 21, from Ohio
Information Systems Technician 2nd Class Timothy Thomas Eckels Jr., 23, from Maryland
Information Systems Technician 2nd Class Corey George Ingram, 28, from New York
(no official photo available)
Electronics Technician 3rd Class Dustin Louis Doyon, 26, from Connecticut
Electronics Technician 3rd Class John Henry Hoagland III, 20, from Texas
Interior Communications Electrician 3rd Class Logan Stephen Palmer, 23, from Illinois
The Navy is still investigating the collision, and following the crash, the commander of the 7th Fleet Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin was dismissed Wednesday, a rare event. Notably, Aucoin was set to retire in just a few weeks.
Rear Adm. Phil Sawyer has subsequently assumed command.
An investigation is still underway into the incident, but a Navy official told CNN that the USS John S. McCain was hit by a steering failure and the backup steering system was not activated.
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The United States Navy had some of its greatest moments in World War II — the Battle of Midway is the most notable. But about two months after that “Incredible Victory,” the Navy had a very bad night.
The Battle of Savo Island was not one of the Navy’s shining moments. In fact, it was downright awful.
The United States Navy had transported elements of the 1st Marine Division to Guadalcanal – and the initial invasion went pretty well. Samuel Eliot Morison noted in “The Struggle for Guadalcanal” that, despite the rapid progress in the first two days, August 7-8, 1942, which included taking the partially-complete Henderson Field, seeds for the upcoming disaster were being sown.
Air strikes the day of the attack sank a transport and a destroyer. Then, Vice Adm. Frank Jack Fletcher pulled the carriers back.
This time, the invasion force was left high and dry – and nobody noticed that five heavy cruisers (HIJMS Chokai, HIJMS Aoba, HIJMS Kako, HIJMS Furutaka and HIJMS Kinugasa), two light cruisers (HIJMS Tenryu and HIJMS Yubari), and a destroyer were en route.
Disaster struck in the early morning hours of August 9. The Allies had two picket forces, one north of Savo Island, one to the south. The one to the north had the cruisers USS Astoria (CA 34), USS Quincy (CA 39), and USS Vincennes (CA 44) with two destroyers. To the south were the cruisers HMAS Canberra and USS Chicago (CA 29).
In the early morning hours, the Japanese first hit the southern group.
The Chicago was hit by a torpedo and damaged. HMA Canberra took it worse: At least two dozen major-caliber hits left her badly damaged and unable to fight.
The Japanese ships went around Savo Island, then hit the northern group. The Astoria and Quincy were both hit bad in quick order, taking many shell hits. The cruiser Vincennes followed shortly afterward, taking at least 85 hits from enemy gunfire, and three torpedo hits.
Quincy and Vincennes sank by 3:00 a.m. The Canberra was ordered scuttled after it was obvious her engines could not be repaired, and it took over 200 more five-inch shells and four torpedoes to put her down. The Astoria sank a little after noon.
The Battle of Savo Island served as a wake-up call. During 1942, four more major surface battles would be fought off Guadalcanal before the end of November. But none were as bad as the night the United States Navy lost three cruisers.
British volunteer fighters combating the Islamic State group in Syria have vowed to avenge the victims of the Manchester attack by defeating the extremists in their de-facto capital.
British volunteer fighters combating the Islamic State group in Syria have vowed to avenge the victims of the deadly suicide attack at a pop concert in Manchester on May 22.
The British combatants, who have been fighting among the ranks of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units [YPG] in Syria, promised on May 23 to soundly defeat the extremists in their de-facto capital of Raqqa.
IS has claimed responsibility for the the massacre that killed 22 people including one girl aged just eight at a concert by US pop star Ariana Grande.
“We’re taking it to them. When I go to Raqqa I’m giving them no quarter. I will expect no mercy from them and I will not give them no mercy,” said Michael Enright, a YPG fighter from Manchester.
“I will remember Manchester,” he swore in a video posted on Twitter.
He added that he had become accustomed to death while fighting in Syria but the attack targeting children and teenagers in his hometown was “heartbreaking”.
Macer Gifford, another YGP volunteer, said in an online statement that IS would soon be crushed in Raqqa, adding that the British government must back Kurdish forces their fight.
“We will destroy their military capital which will effectively cut off the snake’s head,” Gifford said.
“We must urge the UK government to do more to defeat [IS] in Syria. Terror has been brought to London and Manchester. Our children have been targeted!”
He added that British authorities should follow the lead of the US and send military aid to the YPG’s ally the Syrian Democratic Forces [SDF].
In November last year, the SDF — a Kurdish-Arab alliance — began an offensive aimed at taking the city of Raqqa.
The fighters are still 40 kilometres from Raqqa to the west, and have not controlled any territory directly to the city’s south, which is bordered by the Euphrates river.
The SDF has said the long-awaited attack on Raqqa would start at the beginning of the summer, probably in June.
The Kurdish forces have received a steady stream of recruits from the West to help in the fight against IS extremists.
In December last year, a 20-year-old British YPG fighter was killed during the ongoing Raqqa offensive, making him the third Briton to die fighting IS in Syria.
Critics have however cautioned that the YPG and its allies are committing human rights abuses, and pursuing an agenda for Kurdish independence including by collaborating with the Syrian regime, despite its atrocities that eclipse those of IS.
The FGM-148 Javelin is portable and cheap when it is relatively compared to the targets it was designed to destroy: tanks. Developed in the 80s and implemented in the 90s, it’s one of the most devastating anti-tank field missiles. Here are seven cool facts about the shoulder anti-tank missile system:
Texas Instruments – the same company known for their scientific calculators – developed the Javelin.
To be precise, two companies developed the Javelin: Texas Instruments and Martin Marietta (now Raytheon and Lockheed-Martin).
A Javelin launcher costs $126,000, roughly the same price of a new Porsche 911 GT3.
The Javelin is a fire-and-forget missile; it locks onto targets and self-guides in mid-flight.
The gunner identifies the target with the Command Launch Unit (CLU) – the reusable targeting component of the Javelin system – which passes an infrared image to the missile’s onboard seeker system. The seeker hones in on the image despite the missile’s flight path, angle of attack, or target’s movement.
The CLU may be used without a missile as a portable thermal sight.
The Army is working on a new CLU that will be 70 percent smaller, 40 percent lighter, and have a 50 percent battery life increase.
The Javelin has two attack modes: direct attack and top attack.
In direct attack mode – think fastball – the missile engages the target head-on. This is the ideal mode for attacking buildings and helicopters.
In top attack mode – think curveball – the missile sharply climbs up to a cruising altitude, sustains, and sharply dives onto the target. This is the mode used for attacking tanks. A tank’s armor is usually most vulnerable on its top side.
The main rocket ignites after achieving about a five to ten yard clearance from the operator.
The Javelin system ejects the missile from the launcher using a conventional motor and rocket propellant that stops burning before it clears the tube. After a short delay – just enough time to clear the operator – the flight motor ignites propelling the missile to the target.
A Javelin missile costs approximately $78,000; about the same price of a base model Range Rover.
Because launching a Javelin missile is about the equivalent of throwing away a Range Rover, most operators never get the opportunity to fire a live Javelin round.
The day after a collision between the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer John S. McCain (DDG 56) and a tanker in the Strait of Malacca east of Singapore, the Navy is ordering an operational pause.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson announced the order on a Facebook video as search-and-rescue efforts for 10 missing sailors have been hampered by a storm.
According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, the collision is the third since the beginning of May. That month, the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain (CG 57) was struck by a South Korean fishing boat. On June 17 of this year, the McCain’s sister ship, USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62), collided with a container ship off Japan, killing seven sailors.
Damage to the portside is visible as the Guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) steers towards Changi Naval Base, Republic of Singapore, following a collision with the merchant vessel Alnic MC while underway east of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore on Aug. 21. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joshua Fulton/Released)
“I want our fleet commanders to get together with their leaders and their commands to ensure that we are taking all appropriate immediate actions to ensure safe and effective operations around the world,” Richardson said, during his video announcement.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis is supporting the investigation, noting that it will address “all factors, not just the immediate ones” surrounding the collisions. Senator John S. McCain of Arizona, the son and grandson of the Navy admirals for whom USS John S. McCain is named, stated that he expects “full transparency and accountability from the Navy” regarding the reviews and investigations.
The John S. McCain has been notable for taking part in “freedom of navigation” exercises in the South China Sea this past November. Ironically, the ship suffered the collision with the tanker near an island that is the subject of a dispute between Singapore and Malaysia. A Singaporean helicopter airlifted four casualties off the McCain.
The Strait of Malacca is a notable maritime chokepoint, through which substantial merchant traffic travels, including oil imports for countries like China, Japan, and South Korea. Singapore served as a base for British forces for many years, enabling them to control that chokepoint, much as Gibraltar helps control the western entrance into the Mediterranean Sea.
The Second World War saw the creation, fielding, and use of some of the most powerful weapons. From massive battleships armed with guns that will never again be matched in size to the atom bomb, these weapons were built to cause shock and awe and bring about destruction like we’ve never seen. England’s legendary “earthquake bombs,” or seismic bombs, were one such invention.
Barnes Wallis was an engineering graduate of the University of London and an incredibly creative mind. Well known for his bouncing bomb of Dambusters fame, Wallis was an integral part of British and Allied war machine programs, churning out improvements in aircraft and munitions design. He came up with the concept of the earthquake bomb in the early years of the War.
These bombs arose out of a need to hit “hardened” targets — reinforced structures designed to withstand heavy bombardment — and underground installations. Before the deployment of the earthquake bomb, these targets were, in theory, impenetrable.
Wallis took their impregnability as a challenge.
At the time, area bombing was the prevailing method employed by Allied forces to hit German targets in the European Theater. Large cells of bombers would drop hundreds, if not thousands, of bombs with the hope that at least a few would hit their mark. This did little to destroy or even inflict damage upon hardened targets.
Instead, Wallis hypothesized that the ideal way to take out these structures and military installations was with an accurate, concentrated attack using a smaller number of extremely powerful munitions.
Speed and momentum would be the new bomb’s method of penetration. Extremely heavy and built with an armored casing and guiding fins, once dropped from its bomber, the munition would reach near-supersonic speeds as it hurtled toward the ground. This force would be more than enough to punch through the layers of thick concrete used by German military engineers to protect their facilities.
After boring through the ceiling of its target, the seismic bomb would fall as far as its momentum would take it. Only then would it detonate, giving whoever was inside or nearby a glimpse of utter hell. Aircrew who dropped these bombs reported that, at first, it looked as though the bomb merely punched a hole in the target. Within seconds, entire targets seemed to crumple in on themselves and fall into a sinkhole.
When the seismic bomb detonated deep within its target, the shock waves from the gargantuan warhead didn’t just obliterate anything nearby, it destabilized entire structures, shaking and moving the very earth beneath them, destroying and collapsing their foundations. Soon, a new term for these weapons would surface — “bunker busters.”
The Royal Air Force fielded two types of seismic bombs over the course of the Second World War — the Tallboy and the Grand Slam. Both were used against submarine pens, factories, and underground German bunkers to great effect. The US Army Air Force followed suit not too long after with similar bombs of their own. Tallboys were famously used to disable and sink the legendary Bismarck‘s sister battleship, the Tirpitz, in 1944.
‘Tis the season for the giving of gifts. ‘Tis also the season of FOMUG (Fear Of Messed Up Gifting). We get it. It’s hard out there for an elf. Team WATM would like to offer you some guidance.
For the Most Interesting Man in the World or your beard-curious buddy:
~the brand of whisker oils created and prefered by Special Ops ~
Beard Oil, made by and for h-to-G* operators. (*honest-to-God — was that clear or unclear? Just wanna know for future use…)
Nicholas Karnaze is a man-lotion mixologist. A master craftsman of oils for beards. With his company, stubble ‘stache, he works to single-handedly elevate grooming standards for the bewhiskered gentlemen of the civilized world. How did this happen? How did Karnaze come to be your chin-wig’s Furry Godfather?
In 2012, Karnaze was a retired Marine Special Operator adjusting to civilian life, when he got the call that everybody fears. His close friend and fellow Raider, Sgt. Justin Hansen, had been killed in combat in Northwest Afghanistan.
Five stages of grief notwithstanding, everybody deals with the death of a comrade differently. For Karnaze, honoring Justin meant, among other things, forsaking the razor and letting his facial hair fly free and easy until the funeral. Justin was, himself, the proud owner of a truly mighty war beard. Karnaze’s gesture would prove to be both fitting tribute and an unexpected path forward.
Karnaze found that civilian #beardlife suited him. But the growth process was no picnic and there didn’t seem to be anything available to help him curb the itchiness or tame the unruliness of his rapidly maturing man-mane. So he improvised.
“I have fond memories of standing in my kitchen watching AMC’s Breaking Bad. Walt was making meth and I was making beard lotion.”
And when his Special Ops buddies caught wind of his efforts and started bugging him for samples, the cycle was complete and Heisen-beard was off to the entrepreneurial races.
These days, stubble ‘stache isn’t so much tending to individual beards as it is grooming a movement. Nobody’s saying you have to man-sprout a thick, bushy jowl-pelt in order to be awesome, much less masculine. The military has grooming standards for a reason and the squared-away men and women of the United States Armed Forces have been holding it down on Planet Earth for years now.
But if you are going to forge a path through the rich, peety byways of beardlife, all Karnaze is saying is, let him teach you how to show that mug-rug the respect it deserves. But most important of all–and this is evident in his company’s ardent financial support of organizations like the Marsoc Foundation – Karnaze wants warriors suffering from combat trauma of any kind to understand that a crucial aspect of masculinity–of awesomeness in general–is the willingness to ask for help.
The 2017 We Are The Mighty Holiday Gift Guide is sponsored by Propper, a tactical apparel and gear company dedicated to equipping those who commit their lives to serving others. All views are our own.
Speaking of Propper, they’re giving away twelve tactical packs filled with gear from our Holiday Gift Guide. Click this link to enter.
The seven-month odyssey of a “blue-green” flotilla that saw combat in Yemen and Syria and conducted training exercises across a large swath of the globe demonstrates the enduring importance of the Navy-Marine Corps team overseas, commanders of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit said May 24.
Departing San Diego on Oct. 14, the 11th MEU and the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group reportedly supported a Jan. 29 raid in Yemen in which a Navy SEAL — Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens — was killed. They also brought artillery and infantry troops to Kuwait for later duty, providing firepower to Kurdish partners besieging Raqqa, the Syrian city that doubles as the capital for the terrorist Islamic State.
The howitzers manned by the Marines conducted more than 400 fire-support missions in Syria, firing more than 4,500 shells at ISIS targets, according to the 11th MEU.
“It was the right Marine air-ground task force to provide supportability, mobility, and lethality,” 11th MEU spokesman Maj. Craig Thomas said during a news conference May 24 at Camp Pendleton. “The Marines supported local Syrians who are fighting to rid ISIS from their country.”
Citing the classified nature of the Yemen operations, Thomas said he couldn’t comment on that raid.
His report card for the MEU comes during a series of debates not only about America’s policies toward Yemen and Syria but also grumbling concerns about the future of Marine expeditionary units.
Experts continue to fret about how Marine battalions will conduct their amphibious missions in an age of super-fast and precise, long-range anti-ship-air missiles, plus Pentagon budget woes that appear to prioritize submarines and destroyers over amphibious assault ships like the Makin Island.
That flagship vessel returned to San Diego on May 15. It and the fellow amphibious assault ships Somerset and Comstock combined to carry more than 4,500 sailors and Marines, spending three months in the Pacific Ocean and four months in the waters off the Middle East and Africa.
Beyond the combat operations in Syria, the group held exercises in Hawaii, Guam, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, Djibouti, Oman, and the Persian Gulf. Marines also stood ready to evacuate the embassy in the South Sudanese capital of Juba during hostilities there — the sort of mission that makes an amphibious ready group and Marine expeditionary unit “the 9-1-1 organization from the sea,” 11th MEU commander Col. Clay Tipton said.
Retired Marine Col. Mark Cancian — a senior adviser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C. — echoed Tipton’s perspective that the MEU remains a lasting example of flexible armed response from the sea.
“What makes a Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force so valuable is the ability of the Marines to mix and match capabilities,” Cancian said. “That’s what they’re doing and that’s what they should be doing.”
And that’s particularly important for Syria because how the Marines were used dovetails with President Donald Trump’s foreign policy goals — defeat the Islamic State without putting too many boots on the ground, he added.
“The thing that the Marine Corps can provide that’s really needed is fire power for allies like the Kurds or Iraqis — artillery, mortars, aircraft,” Cancian said. “So far, Trump’s policy has been adamant about not using infantry, except in a limited role to protect artillery and other units that are on the ground to add firepower for allies.”
If the mission in Syria grows, Cancian could envision Marine and Navy logistical heft toting more supplies to Kurdish militias or the Free Syrian Army, perhaps even occupying an airfield and using it as a forward operating base. The Corps also could deploy more artillery observers and so called “Joint Terminal Attack Controllers” who call in airstrikes, but Cancian doubts the White House would land a large number of “boots on the ground.”
Potential rivals at sea such as Russia, China, and Iran increasingly field anti-ship and surface-to-air missiles that can be fired from hundreds of miles away. Large amphibs, their hovercraft and lumbering armored troop carriers that take hours to wade ashore and unload, would be punished by precision missiles, experts contend.
The Makin Island is one of the world’s largest amphibs. But it’s also considered a transitional vessel, with similar but superior high-tech “Big Deck Amphibs” like the San Diego-based America poised to share space in the piers.
“The answer, to me, is that we had better prepare to fight for command of the sea,” said James Holmes, a professor of strategy at the U.S. Naval War College and a former Navy surface warfare officer who is widely considered one of the world’s top experts on maritime battle. “As the greats of sea power tell us, you have to be able to win command of the sea if you want to use the sea to do things like conduct amphibious landings.
“So we need to be ready to do these things, but chances are there will be delays while we fight our way into the theater, reduce shore-based missile batteries and on and on. Sea power is no longer just about navies,” he added.
Holmes believes the Marines might fret about the future of the amphibious fleet because ongoing studies have called for converting some assault ships into light aircraft carriers and replacing them with other vessels when they’re retired, but the Navy must strike the right balance.
“As far as priorities, certainly the types of ships we need to defeat our enemies and take command of the sea must take precedence,” he said, adding that it’s “a lot easier to improvise a fleet of amphibious transports than it would to improvise destroyers or nuclear-powered attack submarines.”
Holmes said Marines could be called to seize islands, much as they did in World War II. Cancian added that the Corps also might return to traditional missions like coastal artillery batteries, working alongside the Army and other services to to defend anti-ship missile batteries on the islands and shoals peppering the Pacific Ocean.
That concept is still a work in progress.
“The bottom line is that there’s no answer about the ultimate future of the ships and the marine expeditionary units, but we do know that in peacetime they’re very useful,” Cancian said. “You’re seeing in the Middle East just how useful they are.”
When Master Sgt. Mike Maroney was a staff sergeant he rescued 3-year-old LeShay Brown a few days after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005. An Air Force Combat Photographer happened to be on the mission, and snapped a now-iconic photo.
“They just happened to snap a photo of this little girl who really, for me, made the day. It was a rough day,” Maroney told the cast of The Real, a nationally syndicated daytime talk show. “It was seven days into Katrina. Earlier in July, I just got back from a deployment to Afghanistan, it was my worst deployment. To see New Orleans under water and destroyed just really took a toll on me, so when she gave me that hug I wasn’t even on the planet at that point.”
Maroney saved 140 people in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina but the memory of that hug stayed with him. Maroney, now 40 years old and a 19-year Air Force Veteran kept that photo on his wall for the past decade which he says helped him through a lot of dark times stemming from his service.
He never knew that little girl’s name. One day, he decided to find her and posted the photo on Facebook, hoping it would go viral. Someone reached out to Maroney after noticing the search for the girl had not gone very far.
“I had the idea to put it on Facebook to see if anyone is looking for her,” Maroney said. “It got 42 likes. Nothing. Up ’til last year, nothing. Then a young man named Andrew [Goard] wrote me and said, ‘Hey, its my life’s goal. I’m gonna help you find this little girl.”
Goard is a high school student in Waterford, Michigan whose grandfather served in Vietnam, and he idolized Pararescue Jumpers (he even has an Instagram page devoted to them). He helped the hashtag #FindKatrinaGirl go viral. The story was eventually picked up by Air Force Times and distributed around to smaller news outlets, until it ended up in front of LeShay Brown, who is now 13 and living in Waveland, Mississippi.
“I wish I could explain to you how important your hug was,” Maroney told LeShay Brown. “Your small gesture helped me through a dark phase. You rescued me more than I rescued you.”
“In my line of work, it doesn’t usually turn out happily,” Maroney said. “This hug, this moment, was like – everybody I’ve ever saved, that was the thank you.”
For many Americans, military service was their pathway to citizenship. For their service during the Revolutionary War, three foreign generals have been declared honorary citizens of the United States. Citizenship can only be granted by an act of Congress or by a proclamation issued by the President. Although purely ceremonial, the awarding of citizenship highlights the enormous contribution that these men made to the United States of America in its struggle for independence.
1. Marquis de Lafayette
Arguably the most important foreign national in American history, Lafayette was born into one of the oldest and most distinguished French families. Following family tradition, he commissioned as an officer in the Musketeers. In 1776, the 19-year-old Lafayette was put in contact with American agents by King Louis XVI. The French hoped to regain influence in North America and exact revenge against the British for the Seven Years’ War by covertly supporting America in its revolution. However, Britain learned of these backroom dealings and threatened France with war if support was provided to the colonies. Against the orders of his commanding officer (and father-in-law) and a decree by the king, Lafayette was determined to join America’s fight and bought a ship with his own money for the trip across the Atlantic. Agreeing to serve without pay, he was commissioned by Congress as a major general on July 31, 1777. During the revolution, Lafayette was wounded at the Battle of Brandywine and endured the harsh winter at Valley Forge. His commands at the Battles of Rhode Island and Yorktown were instrumental in America’s victory and independence. Lafayette was awarded honorary citizenship in 2002.
2. Casimir Pulaski
Another foreign military officer who served in the Continental Army, Casimir Pulaski was a Polish nobleman and skilled cavalryman. He was involved in the revolution within the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth for which he was exiled. Upon Benjamin Franklin’s recommendation, Pulaski traveled to America to help in its own revolution. After arriving in America, he wrote, “I came here, where freedom is being defended, to serve it, and to live or die for it.” Like Lafayette, Pulaski served alongside General Washington at the Battle of Brandywine. When the Continental Army was forced into a retreat, Pulaski led a charge that prevented a British encirclement and saved Washington’s life. For this action, Congress commissioned him as a brigadier general in the Continental Army cavalry. Pulaski was a strong believer in the superiority of cavalry over infantry. He organized the Continental Army’s cavalry units and wrote the first doctrine on its formations. For this, he is known as the father of the American cavalry. Pulaski was killed leading a charge at the Battle of Savannah on October 11, 1779. For his service to the nation, Pulaski was made an honorary citizen in 2009.
3. Bernardo de Gálvez
Like France, Spain had strategic interest in helping America achieve its independence from Britain. On January 1, 1777, General Gálvez was appointed governor of Luisiana (the colony’s name under Spanish rule). Under his command, the Spanish practiced an anti-British policy by inhibiting British smuggling in the region and promoting trade with France. Moreover, Gálvez sold desperately needed supplies like gunpowder, muskets, uniforms, and medicine to Americans. Although the British blockaded the colonial ports, Gálvez allowed the patriots use of the Mississippi River via New Orleans. The city also served as a safe haven for American raiding parties after attacking British ships. Following Spain’s declaration of war on Britain in 1779, Gálvez carried out an impressive military campaign against the British. He scored major victories at Fort Bute, Baton Rouge, and Natchez that year. This campaign eliminated the British presence in the lower Mississippi Valley. At the Battle of Fort Charlotte in 1780, he recaptured Mobile from British control. His most important victory was the land and sea campaign that captured Pensacola. This left the British with no military bases on the Gulf Coast. Although his contributions are not commonly taught in American history, his campaigns against the British and support for the patriots on the Southern Front were vital in America’s victory over Britain. Gálvez was awarded honorary citizenship in 2014.
Feature image: Charles Henry Jeans/ Wikimedia Commons
According to the Hartford Courant, a Russian naval vessel is operating off the coast of Connecticut. The vessel, described as a “spy ship,” has been operating up and down the East Coast.
A FoxNews.com report identified the Russian ship as the Viktor Leonov, noting that it was also been loitering around Norfolk Naval Station, the largest naval base in the world.
“The presence of this spy ship has to be regarded very seriously because Russia is an increasingly aggressive adversary. It reflects a clear need to harden our defenses against electronic surveillance and cyber espionage,” Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said in a press release.
The Viktor Leonov is a Vishnya-class intelligence ship. According to GlobalSecurity.org, Vishnya-class vessels are very lightly armed with two SA-N-8 missile launchers and two AK-630 close-in weapon systems. The ship has a top speed of 16 knots, and is loaded with gear for carrying out signals intelligence (SIGINT) and communications intelligence (COMINT).
The Soviet Union built seven of these vessels in the 1980s, and all remain in service with the Russian Navy until 2020, when they will be replaced by a new class of vessels. The Leonov carried out a similar operation in early 2015 with much less fanfare.
In May of 1942, U-boat 506 sank the freighter “Heredia” approximately 40 miles off New Orleans. Most of the crew onboard were merchant seamen, but there were also a handful of civilians including the Downs family, consisting of the parents, Ray and Ina, along with their two children, eight-year-old Sonny, and eleven-year-old Lucille. When the ship exploded, chaos ensued and Ina and Lucille were separated from Ray and Sonny who found refuge in a four-foot balsa wood life raft. Father and son were joined by the Heredia’s captain, Captain Edwin Colburn, and civilian George Conyea. The following narrative, excerpted from Michael Tougias’ new book “So Close to Home,” chronicles their final hours in the life raftwhen all hope seemed lost.
The baking rays of the sun pounded down on the four souls clinging to the square life raft, that was now partially submerged. If we don’t drown, thought Ray Downs, we’re going to die of dehydration. They had been drifting in the Gulf of Mexico for over fourteen hours, and Ray worried his boy Sonny wouldn’t last another hour.
Sonny was lost in his own exhausted stupor. Then he felt something against his leg. He glanced down and could not believe what he saw: a banana, perhaps the same one he had lost earlier, was bobbing in the water.
“Dad, look!” he gasped, reaching out and snatching the green banana.
“I knew you’d find it. I think that banana is really going to help us. Why don’t you unpeel it and take a big bite and then pass it around for all of us to share?”
Sonny did as he was told. It was a struggle to swallow his piece of the banana with his mouth and throat so dry. Twenty seconds later, he felt nauseous and vomited the banana bite back into the sea.
“Well, that didn’t work so well,” Ray said. “The banana wasn’t ripe anyway.”
Sonny only nodded. He was slumped forward with his head hanging so low that it almost reached his knees.
A few minutes later, Sonny said, “Dad, can we go in now?” He said it as if they were on a fishing trip and it was up to his father when to call it quits.
Rather than try to explain the situation, his father answered, “Soon, son, soon.”
Sonny looked up at his father and just nodded.
It wasn’t long after this exchange that Ray noticed fellow survivor George Conyea staring at something directly behind where Ray was sitting. Ray turned his head and saw not one but four grey shark fins lazily cutting through the sea just five feet away from the raft. When he looked over at Conyea and the captain, he saw another couple of fins. By now, all four of the survivors could see the sharks. No one said a word.
One shark turned toward the raft and then glided directly under it. The group could see the outline of its body as it passed directly beneath them. It looked to be about five to six feet long.
Sonny quickly pulled his feet out of the water.
“Take it easy, Sonny, don’t thrash around,” said his dad. “They’ll move on.”
But they didn’t move on.
The four survivors now counted seven different sharks making slow half-loops around the raft before making a pass directly underneath it. This was by far the most terrifying experience of the ordeal for both Sonny and the three adults. The raft was too small for the men to try and get their legs on top of the balsa wood. Ray was right: their best defense was not to make a commotion.
The men did not know what kind of sharks they were, only that they were as big as themselves. The life raft probably acted like a magnet for sharks, attracting their interest simply because it was a floating object, and the sharks, with their keen sense of smell, could also have been drawn in by the scent of the blood from the wound on Ray’s leg. And any movement the group made, such as switching position, would have caused a vibration in the water, and that too would attract sharks. It’s also possible that smaller fish were holding position under the shade of the raft, and the sharks came in to investigate this potential prey, and then became inquisitive about the humans.
Whatever kind of sharks were circling the Heredia survivors, they were curious and gradually moved in closer to the life raft, making their lazy half-loops just a couple of feet off the side of the raft before they submerged and swam directly under it. One shark, when passing under the raft, rolled on its back, and an anxious Sonny could see its half-opened mouth. The boy almost let out a scream, but his dad, who had seen the same thing, reached over and put his hand on Sonny’s shoulder.
“Don’t worry, they are just checking us out. We are something new to them.”
Ray had no idea if what he was saying was true or not, but the last thing he needed was for his son to go into a panic. He also hoped his words calmed the captain and George Conyea, because they were as wide-eyed as Sonny, watching every move their new visitors made.
Ray felt despair like he had never known. Sundown was just three and a half hours away, and the thought of the sharks gliding beneath them at night was too terrible to contemplate. He felt absolutely helpless.
Minutes crawled by and the four survivors kept still, eyes glued on the fins lazily cutting through the water on all sides of the raft. The behavior of the sharks stayed the same; they came within a foot or two of the castaways but there was no direct contact with either the raft or the group’s legs or feet.
“How long will they stay?” asked Sonny, looking at his father.
“Don’t know, Sonny; but like I said, they are just curious.” Ray paused and continued his calming words: “If we don’t bother them, they won’t bother us.”
An hour went by and the group tried to ignore the sharks, but with little success. There was nothing else to look at, nothing else to take their mind off the seven fins circling them.
About two hours after the sharks first arrived, more fins appeared in the water not far from the raft. Sonny was terrified, thinking, not more sharks. . . .
Captain Colburn spoke up. “Hey, those are dolphins.”
Like the U-boat that had caused their ordeal, the sharks submerged and were not seen again.
Sonny experienced an incredible sense of relief and joy with the dolphins’ arrival and the sharks’ departure. He felt as if he had been holding his breath for the past two hours, afraid to move a muscle. There was no doubt in his mind that the dolphins had driven the sharks off to help him.
The dolphins’ presence not only relieved Sonny’s concern over the sharks, they also gave him something new to watch. Unlike the sharks, the dolphins swam quickly around the raft, their entire backs almost coming out of the water, and then briefly submerge and repeat the process. Up and down came their fins. But after just three or four minutes, they moved on and were gone from sight.
The group didn’t speak. Without the fear of sharks, their minds went back to the predicament of time running out for a rescue. It would be dark within the hour. Their thirst was unbearable and all felt extremely weak. Sonny was in the worst shape because of his small body. Now that the sun was low in the sky, he was shivering again. His father noticed and had him move back on his lap where he wrapped his big arms around the boy, trying to stop his shaking.
Sonny looked up at his father. “Shouldn’t a boat be here by now?” he asked.
Ray needed to keep his son’s mind occupied. So instead of discussing the lack of a rescue boat, he said “Let’s play a game. See those seagulls way up there? You choose one and I’ll choose one and we’ll count how long they go without flapping their wings. Whoever’s bird flies the longest without using its wings wins.”
Sonny perked up a bit. He didn’t really want to play the game because he was so chilled and his mouth so parched that he’d rather not talk. But he thought maybe this game was what his father needed to do.
“Okay, I’m picking the one over there,” Sonny said as he lethargically pointed at a shape off to the west.
“And I’ve got the one straight up,” answered Ray.
With heads tilted back, father and son watched the birds they had chosen. It was easy to look up because the sun was almost touching the ocean.
“Mine just flapped,” said Ray. “You win.”
Sonny gave a half-hearted nod.
“Well, let’s play another round,” said Ray.
Again they chose birds. Sonny chose one high in the sky and way off on the eastern horizon. This time the captain and George Conyea also looked up to see which birds the father and son chose. Anything to take their minds off their body’s demands for water.
Again Ray’s bird flapped its wings quickly. “You win again,” he said.
Sonny kept his eyes on his own bird. “Wow, Dad, mine is still going along without flapping.”
Ray looked closer at the bird in the distance.
“Captain, let me use your binoculars,” Ray said.
The captain removed the strap from around his neck and handed them to Ray, who hurriedly put the binoculars to his eyes. He adjusted the focus and stared intently at the bird far in the distance.
“That’s no seagull, it’s a plane!” he shouted.
“Yes, yes!” shouted the captain.
The survivors still could not hear its engines or tell what kind of plane it was, but there was no doubt it was a plane and that it was heading toward the raft.
“Quick, Sonny, take off the captain’s coat! I’ve got to get it on the board.”
Within seconds, Ray was waving the board with the white coat on it, and the others were waving their arms.
Ray couldn’t tell if the pilot had spotted the white coat, and the tension was unbearable. Please, please, he said to himself. His son’s very life was at stake. The boy could not make it through another cold night. He waved the white coat wildly.
As the plane drew closer, its metal skin briefly glittered when the sun’s rays hit it. Now they could hear the dull drone of the engine, and Sonny shouted “Help!”
“Keep waving the flag!” shouted the captain, his excitement growing. “It’s got to see us. It’s our last chance. I think it’s coming our way.”
Ray could make out the outline of the plane and, because of its unique construction, realized it was a Navy PBY. The single wing was elevated on a pylon above the fuselage rather than coming straight out from the sides. This allowed unobstructed visibility for its aviators to scan the ocean during either patrols for U-boats or search-and-rescue missions. Two engines with propellers were mounted on the wing, one on each side of the aircraft.
The plane came ever closer but it did not descend. Ray thought maybe it was going too fast to see them.
But Sonny’s heart soared. He was certain the plane was coming for them. And he was right. In one swift motion, the PBY started descending and adjusting its course slightly so it was just fifteen feet off the ocean and heading right toward the raft, banking hard so that Sonny could actually see the pilot, who was giving a thumbs-up. The boy let out a croak of joy along with the cheers of his father, the captain, and George Conyea.
The four raft passengers watched with awe as the plane circled back toward them. Its 104-foot wingspan and 63-foot length made it appear enormous so close to the water. Just as the plane was barreling over their location, they saw the pilot drop a package out the window, landing just ten feet from the raft. Using the board and their hands, all four survivors paddled furiously toward what they hoped was their salvation floating in the water.
The captain grabbed the package and ripped it open. Inside were two flares, a large container of water, and a note. The captain read the note out loud: “We will send shrimp boats to come and get you. If anyone is seriously hurt, wave me in and I’ll pick them up.”
Ray thought for a minute. He knew the plane was going to search for other survivors in the few minutes of daylight left and he didn’t want to slow it down. Someone, maybe Lucille or Ina, might be hurt and the plane could rescue them. He thought Sonny could make it the half hour or hour that he expected the shrimp boat to take to arrive.
The plane made a broad circle above the raft and then moved off.
“We made it, son,” said Ray; “we’ll be on the boat in no time.”
Then the captain passed the water container to Ray, saying, “Let’s all take a drink. We may want to let our bodies adjust to the water before we take a second drink.”
When Sonny took his gulp of water, he thought he had never tasted anything so good, so sweet. It was as if the water had magical powers, because he felt better immediately. He couldn’t wait for the container to come around again for his second drink of the life-giving fluid. But the captain said again that they shouldn’t drink too much all at once, and the other adults agreed.
A few minutes later the plane reappeared, then moved off. The survivors had no way of knowing that the pilot had dropped a note to shrimp boats a few miles off that said: “Watch my direction. Follow me. Pick up survivors in water.”
A half hour went by and the survivors bobbed on their little raft in the darkening shadows. They all had another drink of water, and the captain said that he thought a shrimp boat could reach them within the next half hour.
Sonny shivered in his father’s arms. The hydrating water had eased his thirst but did nothing for his growing hypothermia.
“That plane can land on water, right, Dad?”
“Then why didn’t they just do that and pick us up?”
“They needed more time in the air to find others. But the boat will be here soon.”
“What if the boat can’t find us?”
“They will. And remember, we’ve got flares to use if we see a boat.”
Sonny had forgotten about the flares. But he also wondered how his dad would see a boat in the distance in the pitch black of night.
More time went by. The sun had set, but the survivors could still differentiate between the horizon and the ocean in the twilight. Sonny had forgotten all about the sharks, but Ray hadn’t. Ray still scanned the dark ocean around the raft for any sign of a fin. He wondered what to do if a shark appeared and thought that should one come, he could use the strong light from a flare to scare it off. But with only two flares. . . .
The prospect of another night in the water scared Ray to the core—not for himself but his concern over Sonny, who he could feel shivering in his arms. He second-guessed himself about not waving in the plane. Now there was nothing he could do to change that decision.
Editor’s note: Michael Tougias is a New York Times bestselling author and co-author of 25 books including “The Finest Hours,” “A Storm Too Soon,” “Rescue of the Bounty,” “Overboard,” “Fatal Forecast,” “Ten Hours Until Dawn,” and “There’s a Porcupine in my Outhouse.”
His latest work is an inspiring historical narrative titled “So Close to Home” that tells the story of all four members of the Downs family as they struggle for survival. Their story is contrasted against that of the daring U-boat commander, Erich Wurdemann, who pushed his crew to the limit of endurance as he laid waste to ships throughout the Gulf.