On a November 9, 2016, two US Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets collided during a routine training flight off the coast of California.
As reported August 10 on Military.com, one of the aircraft erupted in flames — the pilot safely ejected — and the other was damaged but still able to fly home to Naval Station North Island, San Diego.
An investigation into the incident concluded the pilots failed to see that they were on a collision course, a failure attributed in part to inexperience and not getting enough flying time.
Despite all that, the pilot who landed this aircraft got high praise from Col. William Swan, the commanding officer of Marine Aircraft Group 11, who reviewed the report.”[The pilot] displayed exceptional airmanship when he successfully landed [the aircraft] after significant portions of its flight control surfaces were destroyed,” Swan wrote.
The pilot himself, whose name was redacted on the investigation, was understated about his own accomplishments.
“I … realized we were on a collision course and I immediately pushed the stick full forward in a last-ditch effort to miss his aircraft. Our left wings struck each other in a low-to-high merge,” he wrote of the mishap.
He saw an explosion from the other aircraft, he said, and pieces falling off — it wasn’t clear from which of the two fighter jets. He assessed the damage to his own plane and saw that the “entire outboard section” of the left wing was gone. All the while, he kept a lookout for the other Hornet to see what happened to the pilot.
The pilot called in to base and had his commander read the procedures for controllability checks, allowing him to ensure the aircraft was still good to fly. Then, on advisement from the skipper, he made contact with another aircraft, which flew in to inspect and confirm that the other pilot, who had ejected from his Hornet, had successfully deployed his parachute:
“After inspection, I selected flaps half and could feel the jet change configuration but had no indication of flap position on my display. Next selected the gear down. With 3 down and locked indication, I continued to slow the jet in 10-knot increments and determined the jet was stabled at 180 knots at 15,000 feet. However, due to some light turbulence down low and the feel of the jet I made my approach at 200 knots. [The other aircraft called in] coordinated an arrested landing for me on Runway 36 at [Naval Air Station North Island, Halsey Field]. We discussed our hook-skip game plan and commenced approach. I utilized a 3-degree descent on approach for about 13 [nautical miles] straight in. At approximately 12:40 [Lima] I made a successful arrested landing which concluded the event.”
The 29th Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Alfred M. Gray Jr., once stated, “Every Marine is, first and foremost, a rifleman. All other conditions are secondary.” The problem here is that being a skilled shooter doesn’t equate to knowing how to handle the job of an infantry rifleman.
To be fair, when the statement was issued, it was probably true. In a type of war where the battlefield is all around you and every soul out there is equally subject to the harvest of death, like the Vietnam War, grunts were taking many casualties on the front lines. The powers that be had to start pulling Marines from POG jobs to be riflemen to fill the ranks.
But, in the modern era, the more accurate statement is, “every Marine knows how to shoot a rifle,” because they’re taught to do so in boot camp. But being a Marine rifleman is so much more than just shooting a gun well.
Now, it’s important to note that there are plenty of POGs who can shoot better than grunts but, if all it takes to be a rifleman is accurately firing a weapon in a comfortable, rested, and stable position, then why have the Infantry Training Battalion?
Why spend so much time and money to teach a Marine to be a rifleman if they learn the skills they need in boot camp? It’s because the job of the rifleman is not so simple. What POGs need to understand is that when they don’t know the fundamentals well enough, they become a liability on patrol.
If you find a desk-bound POG who thinks they’re superior because of their shooting ability, ask them the preferred entry method of a two-story building. Ask them what the dimensions of a fighting hole are and why. Chances are, they’ll try to remember something they learned back in Marine Combat Training, but won’t be able to. This is where the divide is — this is why riflemen are so annoyed with this statement. We know our job is much more complicated.
General Alfred M. Gray Jr.’s iconic statement has become, frankly, kind of insulting to the job of the rifleman at this point. It’s really annoying, as a 21-year-old lance corporal walking around the base in a dress uniform with ribbons from deployment, to pass a 19-year-old POG sergeant with two ribbons that thinks, for some reason, that they’re better than you because of rank.
The rank deserves respect, absolutely, but when you sit there and think you rate because of rank, you’re an arrogant prick and no grunt is going to want to work with you.
The most annoying argument we hear is along the lines of, “I’m better than a grunt because I have to do their job and mine.” First off, it’s flat-out false. You don’t do our job; you do your job and the only time you get anywhere close to ours is the annual rifle range visit. And even then it’s immediately clear who the POGs are (hint: they’re the ones with the messed-up gear, usually no mount for night vision goggles, and rifles that look like they just came out of the box).
Second, if you were better than a grunt, you wouldn’t look so damn lost when you do patrols or any infantry-related tasks.
The statement, “every Marine is, first and foremost, a rifleman,” is an insult to the job of an infantry rifleman. The notion that POGs take away from this statement, that they’re equal just because they know how to shoot a rifle, is absolutely not true.
The new Battle Skills Test is a solid step in the right direction, but POGs need to realize that their job is not more or less important and stop trying to feel better about not being grunts. After all, we’re all on the same team.
The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command Soldier Center at Natick is testing new Army Combat Boot (ACB) prototypes at three different basic training and active duty installations over the next four months. The effort will gather soldier feedback toward development of improved footwear.
The Army’s current inventory of boots includes seven different styles designed for different environments and climates. The boots issued initially to recruits are the Hot Weather and Temperate Weather Army Combat Boots. Requirements for these are managed by the Army Uniform Board as part of the recruit “Clothing Bag.” The Program Executive Office Soldier’s Project Manager Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment maintains and updates the specifications for both boots.
The current generation of Army Combat Boots has not undergone substantial technical or material changes since 2010. New material and technologies now exist that may improve physical performance and increase soldier comfort.
(Photo by Mr. David Kamm, RDECOM)
“Great strides have been made recently in the Army’s environment specific footwear, for jungle, mountain, or cold weather locations, but there is substantial room for improvement in the general purpose boots which are issued to new recruits,” explains Anita Perkins, RDECOM Soldier Center footwear research engineer and technical lead for the Army Combat Boot Improvement effort. “Most components of these combat boots have not been updated in almost 30 years.”
(Photo by Mr. David Kamm, RDECOM)
Surveys conducted by the Soldier Center report soldier satisfaction with ACBs is lower than that with commercial-off-the-shelf, or COTS, boots, leading many soldiers to purchase and wear COTS boots.
“The survey of over 14,000 soldiers world-wide discovered that almost 50% choose to wear COTS combat boots instead of Army-issued boots,” Perkins said. “Many soldiers reported choosing combat boots from the commercial market because the COTS boots are lighter, more flexible, require less break-in time, and feel more like athletic shoes than traditional combat boots or work boots.
Unfortunately, these characteristics often come at the cost of durability and protection.”
(Photo by Mr. David Kamm, RDECOM)
The Soldier Center’s Footwear Performance team believes new technologies can bridge the gap between the lightweight, comfortable, COTS boots and the durable, protective, Army boots. Recent advancements in synthetic materials and rapid prototyping can produce a boot with potentially the same protection, support, and durability of current Army boots, but lighter and more comfortable out of the box. To reach this goal, the Soldier Center is evaluating new types of leather and even some man-made materials which are much more flexible than the heavy-duty, cattle hide leather used in the current boots.
(Photo by Mr. David Kamm, RDECOM)
“Also included in the prototypes we are testing are new types of rubber and outsole designs, which are more than 30% lighter than the outsoles on the current boots,” said Al Adams, team leader for the Soldier Clothing and Configuration Management Team at the Soldier Center.
When working with industry to develop the prototype boots for this effort, Adams and Perkins put an emphasis on cutting weight. The boots being tested are up to 1.5 pounds lighter per pair than the ACBs currently being issued.
“In terms of energy expenditure or calories burned, 1-pound of weight at the feet is equivalent to 4-pounds in your rucksack,” Adams said.
(Photo by Mr. David Kamm, RDECOM)
The test boots will be fitted and fielded to 800 basic trainees at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri and Fort Jackson, South Carolina, followed by 800 pairs going to infantry Soldiers at Fort Bliss, Texas. The Soldier Center team will be hand-fitting each pair of prototype boots throughout the month of January 2019 and then return in March and April 2019 to collect surveys and conduct focus groups to gather specific feedback.
(Photo by Mr. David Kamm, RDECOM)
“Soldiers live in their boots and many will tell you that there is no piece of equipment more important to their lethality and readiness,” said Adams. “A bad pair of boots will ruin a soldier’s day and possibly result in injuries, so we really believe that each of these prototype boots have the potential to improve the lives of soldiers”.
(Photo by Mr. David Kamm, RDECOM)
Simultaneous to the field testing, lab testing will be conducted on the boots at the Soldier Center to quantify characteristics like flexibility, cushioning, cut/abrasion resistance, and breathability. The combination of lab testing and soldier recommendations will identify soldier-desired improvements to the boot prototypes and rank the state-of-the-art materials and designs for soldier acceptance, durability, and safety. The Soldier Center will then provide recommendations to PM SPIE and the Army Uniform Board to drive the next generation of Army Combat Boots.
(Photo by Mr. David Kamm, RDECOM)
“The development of new boots take advantage of the latest materials technology, and are functional and comfortable, is critical to ensuring that our soldiers are ready to fight and win in any environment,” said Doug Tamilio, director of the RDECOM Soldier Center. “Soldiers are the Army’s greatest asset, and we owe it to them to make them more lethal to win our nation’s wars, and then come home safely.”
The rigors of combat leave a lasting impact on many veterans who have proudly served. As painful as it is to admit, as a society, we’ve mostly left these troops to fend for themselves and find their own path in coping and healing.
No two roads to recovery are alike, but there’s one method that’s proven, time and time again, to be an effective way for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress to see through the haze — and that’s adopting a support animal.
Whether it’s an officially certified and properly trained service animal or just a pet that offers its unconditional love, it’s been proven that animals can get veterans through their struggles.
As many veterans who are accompanied by a support animal can tell you, a little nudge of love can make the biggest difference in the world. Such is the story of Andrew Einstein and his dog, Gunner.
And the two have been inseparable ever since.
When he was deployed in August, 2011, a grenade went off near Andrew. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and lost the hearing on his right side. The road to recovery was long, lonely, and painful. Without adequate support, Andrew went through dark times. He reached his lowest point less than ten months after the injury, and intended to end his own life.
Thankfully, he made it through the night. The very next day, he met Gunner. He wasn’t the biggest or the most energetic dog, but this little puppy didn’t want to leave Andrew’s side. Gunner chose to stick by Andrew, despite of all the hardships he’s endured.
The bond between the two grew with each passing day. Today, Andrew and Gunner participate together in various runs and obstacle courses across the country. Competition after competition, the pride Andrew has for Gunner, as he successfully navigates the various challenges, can only be described as the pride a parent has for a child.
“Service dogs allow people to live a life they otherwise wouldn’t be able to live because of whatever issue or disability they’re suffering from,” says Andrew. “It’s near impossible to do anything on your own and having a support system — whether it be one dog, a team of people, it doesn’t matter the number — if you don’t get help, you’re gonna get worse. But if you ask for help, you’ll get better. You’re still the same person, nothing changes, except your life getting better.”
Andrew found that support system in Gunner.
To learn more about Andrew and Gunner’s incredible journey — and to explore the amazing ways a service animal can impact lives — visit Nulo’s website.
Care packages are how troops stay connected with the ones they love back home. Most troops will have their family send them little trinkets or mama-made cookies to make things better while troops without families have their day brightened by a sweet, heartfelt thank-you card sent by a grade schooler.
These packages are the one constant that every troop, regardless of where or when they served, can depend on. But on January 21st, 2018, the shipping costs for postage to and from all APO/FPO/DPO addresses increased substantially. Thankfully, this increase can be reverted and the rate for shipping can be permanently fixed, benefiting the troops.
Nothing can bring joy to troops like a care package from home.
(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Eddie Siguenza)
The increases in shipping costs to APO/FPO/DPO addresses were part of an overall increase in the price for all mailing services, across the board. Rates for APO/FPO/DPO mailing addresses were hit hardest — almost doubled. In the defense of the United States Postal Service, the APO/FPO flat-rate box was only increased by five cents and they’ve always supported the troops, but a recently proposed bill can take that support further.
If there were a separate, fixed rate for all postage going to and from troops at APO/FPO addresses, it would be classified as Zone 1/2 postage from any CONUS location. Meaning, that if you were to ship a big ol’ care package not in a APO/FPO flat-rate box, it would cost the same as sending a letter to a soldier stationed in Germany.
But mainly, you don’t want to screw over the nice people who just want to help support the troops.
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot)
In addition to offering a single, fixed rate for those who want to send a care package abroad that might not fit within a fixed-rate box, this could also open up companies to more readily offer online shopping opportunities to deployed troops.
This also means that troops would be more able to ship things from deployed environments back to the States. So, a deployed parent could pick up souvenirs at a local bazaar for their kid while crafty troops could ship certain personal belongings home before they return stateside so don’t need to wait for the connex to return months later.
The bill would apply to all troops everywhere, even if they’re sailing in the middle of nowhere.
(U.S. Navy photo by Lorenzo J. Burleson)
The bill that includes this fixed cost, H.R.6231 – Care Packages for Our Heroes Act of 2018, has been introduced to Congress by Rep. Thomas MacArthur. It would permanently establish a single rate for mail and packages being sent to and from at APO/FPO/DPO addresses.
Congressman MacArthur has championed veteran issues since his assignment to the Armed Services Committee and its two subcommittees, the Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces and the Subcommittee on Military Personnel. He also introduced the Veterans’ Mental Health Care Access Act, which would have allowed veterans to access any mental health care facility and eligible for reimbursement — but it failed to garner approval.
To help make sure that this bill makes it through Congress, contact your representative and let them know how you feel. Let them know that this bill will greatly benefit the morale of our fighting men and women. According to Skopos Labs, the bill only has a 3 percent chance of being enacted, so if you feel passionately about it, don’t wait; act.
If you’re unsure of who your representative is, you can use this tool right here and let them know you support H.R.6231 — the Care Packages for Our Heroes Act of 2018.
The new weapons would render NATO’s US-led missile defense “useless,” and is a testament to the international community’s failure to contain Russia’s military development, the Associated Press reported Putin as saying.
I want to tell all those who have fueled the arms race over the last 15 years, sought to win unilateral advantages over Russia, introduced unlawful sanctions aimed to contain our country’s development: All what you wanted to impede with your policies have already happened. You have failed to contain Russia.
To develop Sailors with character and professional competence, who possess integrity, accountability, initiative, and toughness, Recruit Training Command (RTC), the Navy’s only boot camp, administers a final exam that is designed to evaluate the proficiency of critical warfighting skills.
The final exam is called “Battle Stations-21.” It is a graded evolution held on board USS Trayer, a 210-ft replica of an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile Destroyer, in which recruits must earn the right to be called a “Sailor” and graduate basic training. They spend the night loading stores, getting underway, handling mooring lines, standing watches, responding to incoming attacks, manning general quarters stations, and combating shipboard fires and floods. It is as close to being underway as a recruit can get before reaching their first ship.
Facing sensory overload from compartments full of smoke, blaring alarms, periods of low visibility as well as disorienting flashes, recruits are required to overcome the stress, self-organize and tackle each scenario with little-to-no intervention from instructors. Their Battle Stations-21 grade is comprised of 75% individual proficiency and 25% team proficiency. Failure in either category, or an overall score below 80%, results in training remediation which impacts recruit graduation dates.
Part of the new hands-on learning curriculum, designed by RTC’s senior enlisted instructors to develop tough, more qualified Sailors through realistic training, the Battle Stations-21 grading requirements measure warfighting proficiency during the Sailor development process.
“Battle Stations-21 is the standard for testing the effectiveness of recruit training,” said Chief Gas Turbine Systems Technician (Mechanical) Kevin Barrientos, one of the RTC instructors responsible for running USS Trayer. “Scenarios include ship replenishment, sea and anchor detail, firefighting, damage control, crew casualties and various deck, bridge, engineering and navigation watch stations.”
To prepare for Battle Stations-21, recruits conduct hands-on training that is focused on the critical warfighting skills of watch standing, seamanship, force protection, firefighting and damage control. In the classroom, applied labs and practical trainers, recruits conduct more than 30 hours of seamanship training and more than 40 hours of firefighting and damage control training before reaching their final exam.
Recruits also maintain an around-the-clock watch rotation, simulating various watch stations as they are manned in the Fleet. They also have the opportunity to earn their M9 Service Pistol qualification during small-arms familiarization training.
“Our hands-on learning curriculum enforces repetitive and deliberate practice of each skill,” Barrientos said. “This type of training motivates recruits to rise to the challenge at Battle Stations-21, and prepares them for service in the Fleet.”
Recruits fight all night long to keep USS Trayer operational and battle ready. If they embrace their training, they will pass their final exam, earn their Navy ball cap, and advance to graduation. Trayer is then reset for the next division of recruits who hope to become the Navy’s newest Sailors.
Recruit Training Command is approximately eight weeks long and all enlistees into the U.S. Navy begin their careers at the command. Training includes physical fitness, seamanship, firearms, firefighting and shipboard damage control along with lessons in Navy heritage and core values, teamwork and discipline. About 40,000 recruits graduate annually from RTC and begin their Navy careers.
When we think about ways to give back to the veteran community and show our appreciation, we often turn to the standard monetary contributions and volunteer opportunities, but there are more creative ways to show our appreciation as well. One example of such an endeavor is the organization Pinups for Vets.
I recently had the founder of Pinups for Vets, Gina Elise, on the Military Veterans in Creative Careers podcast, and I was surprised and inspired by what she had to share. Gina started the organization in 2006 as a way to give back to the veteran community. After seeing images of veterans alone in hospital beds, and watching reports on the news of the severe injuries sustained by our troops fighting in Iraq, she became convinced that she had to do something to help raise funds to support our hospitalized veterans.
She had always been a fan of World War II nose art (on the nose of the plane), so decided to use this creative passion of hers to create calendars that could be donated to veterans and raise money for VA hospitals. Now it is a reality, and Gina not only produces the calendars, but brings a group together and goes to donate the calendars at VA hospitals, dressed as the pinups. The organization has donated over $50,000 worth of rehab equipment for VA hospitals nationwide, and has visited over 7,000 ill and injured veterans.
As you would imagine with a group that visits VA hospitals, the stories Gina had to share were touching. She mentioned a man who was in the hospital for a traumatic injury, and how they were talking with him and he responded. This wouldn’t have been a big deal, except for the fact that afterward they were told that this man had not spoken in over a month.
Navy veteran Jennifer Marshall is a return volunteer for these groups that go to VA hospitals, and shared with me the story of an elderly Navy veteran who cried because she was so happy to have this visit. The video of this touching moment is below:
Jennifer had the following to say about her volunteer experience with Pinups for Vets:
Volunteering with Pin-Ups for Vets means so much to me. On every visit, we see veterans that have not had visitors in days, weeks, or even months. Reconnecting with my brothers and sisters, regardless of era served or branch, is a unique and often beautiful experience. No veteran should ever feel lonely or go without visitors while hospitalized. I do it because not only do I value our veterans, but it makes me feel good as well. I love connecting with other vets and I think volunteer work is essential for anyone who would like to make the world a little brighter.
She also had the following experience to share, which reminds us of the need of young veterans as well:
A visit that sticks out in my mind was when we walked into a room and there were two very young veterans in their late 20s to early 30s. At the hospital, they were surrounded by elderly vets and did not really have anyone to talk to. We spent a lot of time in that room just talking and reminiscing about the service. They were so happy to have company that was around their same age, and it was a really great bonding experience. We signed their calendars and took photos to remember the day by. I still think about that visit often.
Jennifer told me she feels that, through such visits, along with the organizations active social media presence, “people are able to see that there are still veterans who not only appreciate but need the companionship.”
The website for the organization includes thank you letters from the hospitals these volunteers have been able to visit, and reading these was an inspiration in itself. One line from these letters that helped me understand the importance of the visits said their visits make “every day Veterans Day” for their residents.
We don’t want anyone to end up alone in a hospital, especially anyone who dedicated themselves to serving our country. We are fortunate that Pinups for Vets is making an effort, and can see this first hand in the commitment these men and women make to showing these veterans that they care. An example below shows Gina dancing with a veteran, a touching moment that may not change the world, but certainly shows that veteran and the others who see this that people appreciate our service and are making an effort to ensure we are not alone.
President Donald Trump’s deployed National Guard troops have already begun arriving at the US-Mexico border — and they’ll mostly be providing aerial support and helping with surveillance and infrastructure projects, the Pentagon said April 9, 2018.
But the troops are explicitly barred from helping arrest or deport immigrants, as the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 limits the military’s ability to enforce civilian law without authorization.
The troops are set to use drones and light-, medium-, and heavy-lift helicopters during their deployment, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Jamie Davis told The Washington Post in a statement. They’ll also assist with surveillance systems such as cameras and blimps.
Beyond that, the troops will be doing maintenance work on roads and facilities, as well as clearing vegetation, Davis said. He did not clarify whether those infrastructure tasks would include border wall construction.
The Department of Defense confirmed in a statement that the troops won’t conduct law-enforcement activities or interact with migrants or detainees without approval from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Davis also said the troops won’t be conducting armed patrols, and will only carry weapons in limited circumstances, depending on their mission.
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt Hecht)
“National Guard personnel will only be armed for their own self-protection to the extent required by the circumstances of the mission they are performing,” he said.
It’s still unclear exactly how many troops will be deployed to the border — though Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico have so far committed nearly 1,600 members altogether. Trump said April 5, 2018, he hoped the states’ governors would authorize “anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000.”
The only border state that hasn’t yet responded to the Trump administration’s request is California, whose Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown has been a vehement critic of Trump and his anti-immigration agenda.
It’s also unclear what the deployments will cost and how long they’ll last, though Mattis has already authorized a payment that would cover the cost of up to 4,000 National Guard members through September 30.
Trump’s demand to have the National Guard deployed along the border came after a days-long tirade against a “caravan” of hundreds of central American migrants traveling through Mexico. Some of those migrants intended to seek asylum in the United States or enter illegally.
Though the caravan has mostly dispersed, organizers said April 9, 2018, that roughly 200 migrants still intend to claim asylum in the US.
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.
The US military has long explored the idea of replacing its M-16 assault rifle with something newer and deadlier. From the 1990s onward, German arms giant, Heckler & Koch, was heavily involved in helping the US Army attempt to reach that objective, creating newfangled firearms that bear considerable resemblances to the guns you’d find in futuristic, sci-fi movies and TV shows.
The XM8 was one of these rifles developed by H&K in the early 2000s as one of a number of alternatives to the M-16 and its derivative M4 carbine. Born as a scaled-down replacement for another H&K prototype — the XM29 — the XM8 entered a limited production run in 2003, concluding just two years later.
Like the M-16 and M4 platforms, the XM8 also utilized the 5.56 x 45 mm NATO round. Built as a modular weapon and based on the G-36 rifle, then in use with the German military, soldiers could adapt their XM8s while in the field to serve in a variety of roles.
A barrel swap and changing the stock could quickly take the XM8 from its carbine variant to a smaller personal defense weapon, similar in size to an MP5 submachine gun. An XM320 (now the M320, the Army’s standard-issue grenade launcher) could be mounted to the weapon with considerable ease for added firepower.
If a platoon out in the field needed a ranged weapon, the XM8 could be retooled accordingly by simply exchanging the barrel for a longer one, adding a more powerful scope, and a collapsible bipod. Should the situation and scenario call for something with more sustained rates of fire, the XM8 could even be turned into a light machine gun with a rate of fire between 600 to 750 rounds per minute.
To top it off, the XM8 wasn’t just light and extremely versatile, it was also cheaper to produce than the M4 carbine — the rifle it was designed to supplant. Proven to be fairly reliable during “dust tests,” even when compared against the M4, the XM8 was, on the surface, the ideal replacement rifle.
In fact, in the latter stages of the XM8 program, even the Marine Corps demonstrated an interest in testing and potentially buying the new rifle. Should the Department of Defense have picked it up, the gun would have been produced entirely in Georgia, in cooperation with other brand-name defense contractors.
In 2005, however, the program was shelved and quickly canceled. According to retired Army General Jack Keane, a huge proponent for replacing the M4, the XM8 program fell victim to the layers of bureaucracy that typically develop in military procurement schemes. Outside of the bureaucratic issues plaguing the new rifle, there were also technical shortcomings H&K addressed very poorly.
The weapon’s integral optical sight was partially electronic and, thus, required battery power. As it turns out, the original batteries for the weapon lost their charge too quickly and needed to be replaced. Unfortunately, the new batteries added weight to the rifle — the exact opposite of what the Army wanted.
Battery woes were the least of the Army’s concerns. Soldiers would have to worry about burning their fingers on the XM8’s handguards, which were very susceptible to overheating and even melting. The solution there was to also replace the handguard, adding even more weight. At the same time, unit production costs began to balloon as a result of the fixes created to refine the weapon.
While the US military was decidedly against the XM8, Heckler & Koch found a new customer overseas just two years after the XM8 program was canned. Though it didn’t meet the DoD’s standards for a new service rifle, the German arms manufacturer argued that it would still be an effective weapon with its kinks worked out.
As it turns out, the Malaysian Armed Forces were very interested in buying a small number of the futuristic rifles for their special operations units, namely Pasukan Khas Laut, their naval special warfare force, also known as PASKAL. By 2010, PASKAL troopers began using the XM8 to reduce reliance on their M4A1 SOPMOD carbines, alongside other H&K products like the HK416 and the G-36.
In the wake of the United States protesting a close encounter between a Su-27 Flanker and a Lockheed EP-3E Aries II electronic surveillance aircraft operated by the United States Navy, the Russians have a response: They’re not apologizing.
According to a report from USA Today, Russia has instead decided to trash-talk the United States Navy after the buzzing incident late last month. Over the space of two hours and forty minutes, the Flanker made at least one pass in front of the EP-3E, coming as close as five feet from the surveillance plane.
“The Aerospace Force will continue to maintain reliable protection of Russia’s airspace,” the Russian news agency TASS reported the Defense Ministry as saying. “If the awareness of this is a reason for U.S. air pilots to feel depression or succumb to phobias, we advise the U.S. side to exclude the routes of such flights near Russian borders in the future or return to the negotiating table and agree on their rules.”
The Russians also claimed that the Flanker pilot’s actions were safe, legal, and standard operating procedure. They also claimed that NATO planes made “similar maneuvers” near Russian planes over the Norwegian, North, Baltic, and Barents seas.
The military loves to boast that we “own the night.” That’s mostly because we don’t sleep, but it’s also because we have night vision goggles. If you weren’t a grunt, then your night vision was probably halfway decent. If you were a grunt, then your night vision was probably as effective as putting a green piece of plastic on the end of an empty paper towel roll.
So, if you ask one of us what it’s like to use NVGs, you’ll likely get an unexpected response: It sucks.
You might be asking yourself, “but aren’t you guys supposed to get awesome gear?” Yeah, sure. But no one wants to pay for it.
So, they give us what they are willing to pay for, and that’s why we get a set of AN/PVS-14s. A monocular (for the ASVAB waivers out there, that means it has one lens) device that, for one reason or another, doesn’t want to work how or when you’d like it to.
Marines will talk sh*t about them all day, but these complaints surface most often:
Not the sun, though. The moon is the best.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Gabino Perez)
They work best with natural light
This may not seem like a big deal — until you realize that a triple canopy jungle or a cloudy night sky are going to ruin any chance at having functional night vision. If you’re a grunt, the night sky is always cloudy and if you have to break the tree line, which you probably should, your NVGs are going to lose most of their ability.
Un-even weight distribution
Strapping that bad boy to your helmet is like taking a big rock and taping it to the side. It feels awkward and can throw you slightly off balance, which can be especially sh*tty as you’re trying to leap over ditches in the middle of the night.
They flood the hell out of your eye.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Gabino Perez)
Unnatural light sources suck
If you have both eyes open (which you should) while you’re wearing these bad boys and you come across a glow stick or flashlight, your eyes’ sensitivity to light will be vastly different.
Your field of vision is severely reduced
If you’re peering into the night with both eyes open, you’ll see (hopefully) clearly with one eye, while the other is basically blind. Like we said before, it’s like looking through an empty paper towel tube — which doesn’t afford the best field of view.
Also, your command will give you 0 batteries.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Anne K. Henry)
They eat batteries
Not literally — not like that guy in your platoon from Nebraska (you know the one). But when you go out with the NVGs, you are required to carry spare batteries, which just means tacking on a few more, precious ounces to your load.