Questions surround crash of special operations helicopter in Iraq - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

Questions surround crash of special operations helicopter in Iraq

Late Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018, U.S. military officials identified the Army helicopter pilot who died on Aug. 20, 2018, as a result of wounds received in a crash in Iraq on Aug. 19, 2018 during an undisclosed operation. Official news releases report three additional wounded U.S. personnel have been evacuated to treatment facilities.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Taylor J. Galvin, 34, from Spokane, Washington, died Aug. 20, in Baghdad as a result of injuries sustained when his helicopter crashed in Sinjar, Ninevah Province, according to a Department of Defense news release.


CW3 Galvin was assigned to Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 160th SOAR (Special Operations Aviation Regiment) as an MH-60M Blackhawk helicopter pilot. He was flying in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. Galvin was originally from Phoenix, Arizona. He was 34 years old. Galvin was a combat veteran special operations pilot with nine deployments including two during Iraqi Freedom, three in Operation Enduring Freedom and four more during Operation Inherent Resolve. He was the recipient of the U.S. Army Air Medal (C device) and Air Medal (30LC) for heroism or meritorious achievement while flying in addition to numerous other awards.

Questions surround crash of special operations helicopter in Iraq

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Taylor J. Galvin.

In an August 20, 2018 article on Newsweek.com about the fatal crash, journalist James LaPorta reported that, “It is unclear why the MH-60 Blackhawk went down, but U.S. military sources with knowledge of the crash said the helicopter was returning to base after conducting a partnered small-scale raid on Islamic State militants in an undisclosed region as part of ongoing counterterrorism operations.” LaPorta went on to write, “Ten U.S. military personnel were onboard the aircraft being flown by U.S. Army pilots from the elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, known as the Night Stalkers.”

The region near Sinjar (Shingal), Iraq where the crash occurred had been active in supporting cross-border anti-ISIS operations into neighboring Syria for more than a month until U.S. troops were withdrawn from the area in the middle of July 2018 according to a report by Wladimir van Wilgenburg published in the regional Kurdistan 24 online news source. This is also the region where Iraqi Air Force F-16s have conducted their first airstrikes against insurgents during cross-border strikes into Syria.

The crash was reported to have occurred at approximately 10:00 PM local time (2200 hrs, GMT+3). Sunset in the region on Aug. 19, 2018, the date of the accident, occurred at 6:40 PM local time. Weather in the area was hot, 101 degrees Fahrenheit, with light winds and clear skies. Pentagon spokesman Colonel Robert Manning told reporters that the crash was not caused by enemy fire.

Questions surround crash of special operations helicopter in Iraq

(US Army photo)

Reports about the aircraft and the personnel on board may contradict official assertions that the U.S. role in the region is predominantly in an advisory capacity. The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the “Night Stalkers”, is a highly-specialized combat aviation unit headquartered at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky that supports elite U.S. and coalition combat units like Army Special Forces, Naval Special Warfare (SEALs) and other special operations units.

This latest crash brings the total of serious U.S. military aircraft accidents this year to at least 14.

The 160th SOAR, the “Night Stalkers”, are most famous for the raid to capture Osama bin Laden, Operation Neptune’s Spear, on May 1, 2011. During that raid, the unit flew a classified, low-observable variant of the Blackhawk helicopter that has since been popularly referred to in speculation as the “MH-X Stealth Black Hawk” or “Silent Hawk”. Images of part of the secret helicopter were seen around the world when one of them crashed inside Bin Laden’s compound during the raid, leaving the tail section visible. Books and media accounts suggest only two of the aircraft were ever produced.

In 2015, a MH-60M Black Hawk crashed on the deck of a U.S. Navy ship near Okinawa, Japan, injuring seven; more recently, in August 2017, a 160th SOAR’s MH-60 crashed off Yemen killing one soldier.

This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia plays dumb amid U.S. claims of missing missile

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has dismissed a report by a U.S. television network that Russia lost a nuclear-powered missile in the Barents Sea during 2017 and is launching an operation to get it back.

CNBC reported on Aug. 21, 2018, that the nuclear-powered missile remains lost at sea after a failed test in late 2017.


The television network also reported that Russian crews were preparing to try to recover the missing missile, which it said was lost during a test launch in November 2017.

The report said three ships would be involved in the recovery operation — including one that is equipped to handle radioactive material from the core of the missile.

Questions surround crash of special operations helicopter in Iraq

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Peskov said on Aug. 22, 2018, “In contrast to the U.S. television network, I have no such information,” adding that journalists with questions should contact specialists at the Defense Ministry.

Russian President Vladimir Putin bragged about the new type of missile in March 2018, announcing that it had “unlimited range.”

Featured image: Vladimir Putin watching a military exercise of the Northern Fleet from the nuclear missile submarine Karelia.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

A leaked recording shows Iran knew from the start it had shot down a passenger jet, Ukraine says

Iranian officials knew their military had shot down a passenger jet and lied about it for days, Ukraine said Sunday, citing a leaked audio recording of an Iranian pilot communicating with air-traffic control in the capital Tehran.


In the leaked audio recording — said to be from the night in January when Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 was shot down — a pilot for Iran Aseman Airlines radioed the air-traffic control tower to say he saw the “light of a missile,” Reuters reports.

The control tower can reportedly be heard trying, unsuccessfully, to reach the Ukrainian passenger aircraft on the radio as the Iranian pilot says he saw “an explosion.”

Questions surround crash of special operations helicopter in Iraq

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.

Aseman Flight 3768 was close enough to the airport in Tehran to see the blast, the Associated Press reported, citing publicly available flight-tracking data.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a television interview that the recording “proves that the Iranian side knew from the start that our plane had been hit by a missile.”

Ukraine International Airlines said, according to Reuters, that the audio was “yet more proof that the UIA airplane was shot down with a missile, and there were no restrictions or warnings from dispatchers of any risk to flights of civilian aircraft in the vicinity of the airport.”

UIA Flight 752 was flying from Tehran to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, on January 8 when it was shot down shortly after takeoff, killing all 176 people on board. The incident happened just hours after Iran launched a barrage of ballistic missiles at US forces in Iraq in retaliation for a US drone strike that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, and the country’s air-defense systems were on high alert.

Iran initially said the aircraft crashed as the result of a mechanical error, but reports quickly began surfacing in the US, Canada, and parts of Europe that intelligence suggested the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile. Iran vehemently denied the accusations.

On January 11, however, Iran acknowledged that it accidentally shot down the commercial airliner.

Though it blamed “human error,” Iran also sought to cast responsibility with the US, arguing that the killing of Soleimani had led to a dangerous spike in tensions that resulted in the accident. Still, Iranian citizens and international observers questioned why Iran didn’t ground civilian air traffic after its missile attack on US-occupied bases in Iraq.

Iran said it mistook the airliner for an enemy missile. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the incident a “grave tragedy” and an “unforgivable mistake.”

Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization is in charge of investigating aviation incidents, with one official saying Ukraine’s decision to release the confidential recording, which aired on Ukrainian television, had “led to us not sharing any more information with them.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Four myths about war

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley is a firm believer that a strong military is key in a whole-of-government approach to national security issues.

Still, he cautions, there are Americans who believe some myths about the military.

Here are his four “Myths of War”:


Questions surround crash of special operations helicopter in Iraq

Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan in the general’s tent.

(Library of Congress)

1. The ‘Short War’ Myth.

This is a very prominent myth and one that recurs throughout history, Milley said.

President Abraham Lincoln called for troops to put down the rebellion in 1861. He was so sure it would be a quick war that he only called for 90-day enlistments. Both the French and Germans in 1914 believed the conflict would be short, but World War I lasted four years and took millions of lives.

“War takes on a life of its own,” Milley said. “It zigs and zags. More often than not, war is much longer, much more expensive, much bloodier, much more horrific than anyone thought at the beginning. It is important that the decision-makers assess the use of force and apply the logic we’ve learned over the years. War should always be the last resort.”

Questions surround crash of special operations helicopter in Iraq

Gen. Mark Milley, then Army chief of staff, at the 2019 Army Birthday Ball, in honor of the 244 Army Birthday, at the Hilton in Washington, DC, June 15, 2019.

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Dana Clarke)

2. The ‘Win From Afar’ Myth.

Americans’ belief in technology encourages this myth. At its heart is that wars can be won from afar, without getting troops on the ground. Whether it is the strategic bombing during World War II or launching cruise missiles, there are those who believe that will be enough to defeat an enemy.

“These allow you to shape battlefields and set the conditions for battle, but the probability of getting a decisive outcome in a war from launching missiles from afar has yet to be proven in history,” Milley said.

Questions surround crash of special operations helicopter in Iraq

Troops of the US Army 2nd Infantry Division.

(U.S. Army photo)

3. The ‘Force Generation’ Myth.

This is the idea that it is possible to quickly generate forces in the event of need.

In World War I, it took more than a year for American forces to make a significant contribution on the battlefields of France after the United States declared war in April 1917. In World War II, the US Army fought on a shoestring for the first year.

War has only become more complicated since then, Milley said, and it will take even longer for forces to generate. “I think for us to maintain strength and keep national credibility, we need a sizable ground force, and I have advocated for that,” he said.

Questions surround crash of special operations helicopter in Iraq

Milley at the Anakonda 16 opening ceremony at the National Defense University in Warsaw.

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Betty Boomer)

4. The ‘Armies Go to War’ Myth.

“Armies or navies or air forces don’t go to war. Nations go to war,” Milley said.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Diplomat arrested in plot to blow up anti-Iran rally

An Iranian diplomat, along with five others, have been arrested over a plot to blow up an event of an exiled Iranian opposition group.

The event for the National Resistance Council of Iran (NRCI), an Iranian opposition organization based in Paris, also featured President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani on June 30, 2018.

Belgian police intercepted two suspects on June 30, 2018, with 500 grams of a home-made explosive powder, as well as a detonation device in their car, Reuters reported, citing a joint statement by the Belgian prosecutor and Belgian intelligence services.


The suspects, reportedly a married couple in their thirties, were charged with attempted terrorist murder and preparation of a terrorist act. The NCRI said the woman had come from Iran to Belgium in 2009.

Questions surround crash of special operations helicopter in Iraq
President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani
(Photo by Bill Fish)

According to The National, the Iranian diplomat was based in the Austrian capital of Vienna, and was arrested in Germany. The diplomat is suspected of having been in contact with the couple who were identified by Iranian exiles as residents of northern Antwerp.

The NCRI claimed the diplomat had been station chief of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) in Vienna since 2014.

Three others were arrested in France as prosecutors determined if they were linked to the Brussels suspects, Reuters said, citing a French judicial source.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is due to visit Austria on July 4, 2018. In a tweet on July 2, 2018, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javid Zarif referred to the foiled plot as a “false flag” operation.

“How convenient: Just as we embark on a presidential visit to Europe, an alleged Iranian operation and its ‘plotters’ arrested,” Zarif tweeted.

The NCRI event dubbed “Free Iran 2018 — the Alternative” took place on on June 30, 2018, in Villepinte, just outside Paris. Along with Giuliani, it featured several former European and Arab ministers, and attracted a crowd of thousands, according to Reuters.

In a statement, Giuliani said the participants of the rally “appreciate and admire the fine work of law enforcement particularly in Belgium and France in arresting the terrorists who according to the Belgian Federal Prosecutor’s office were planning an attack on the gathering supporting freedom from the theocratic oppressive regime in Iran.”

He added: “This accentuates the growing sense that the regime that is the biggest sponsor of terrorism in the world is increasingly weakened by constant large demonstrations in over 140 cities. It is also becoming apparent that Madam Maryam Rajavi and the NCRI pose a realistic alternative to this homicidal regime. Nothing could be worse for these misogynists than a movement seen as replacing them headed by a heroic woman.”

Iranian government regularly criticizes the group in state media.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

The F-35 and the US’s newest carrier are getting ready to dominate the seas

The F-35B Marine variant just completed important developmental tests designed to push the joint strike fighter to its limits aboard the US’s newest aircraft carrier, the USS America.


The F-35B proved it can perform its short takeoffs with a variety of weapons loadouts, some of which can be asymmetrical. These tests had been done on land before, but carrier takeoffs are a different beast.

Also read: The F-35 just proved it can take Russian or Chinese airspace without firing a shot

“There is no way to recreate the conditions that come with being out to sea,” than going out there and testing onboard a carrier, said Gabriella Spehn, an F-35 weapons engineer from the Pax River Integrated Test Force in a Navy statement.

Questions surround crash of special operations helicopter in Iraq
Sailors assigned to the amphibious assault ship USS America and F-35B Lightning II Marine Corps personnel prepare to equip the aircraft with inert 500-pound GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided test bombs during flight operations. US Navy

But even at sea aboard the America, which can get up to 25 mph, the F-35B performed as expected.

“As we all know, we can’t choose the battle and the location of the battle, so sometimes we have to go into rough seas with heavy swells, heave, roll, pitch, and crosswinds,” said Royal Air Force squadron leader and F-35 test pilot Andy Edgell.

International partners, like Edgell, participated in the testing onboard. While other nations lack the large deck aircraft carriers that the US has, several other nations, like the UK and Japan, operate smaller carriers that await the F-35B.

“The last couple of days we went and purposely found those nasty conditions and put the jets through those places, and the jet handled fantastically well. So now the external weapons testing should be able to give the fleet a clearance to carry weapons with the rough seas and rough conditions,” Edgell said.

“We know the jet can handle it. A fleet clearance will come — then they can go forth and conduct battle in whatever environment.”

However, another first occurred on board. The America’s weapons department assembled over 100 bombs for the F-35B to carry.

Questions surround crash of special operations helicopter in Iraq
Ordnance is prepared for an F-35B Lightning II short takeoff/vertical landing aircraft on the amphibious assault ship USS America. | US Navy photo

For many of the sailors in the Weapon’s Department of the America, part of a new class of US carriers meant specifically to accommodate the F-35, this was their first chance at actually handling and assembling ordnance.

“Being able to do this feels like we are supporting the overall scope of what the ship is trying to achieve. Without ordnance, to us, this ship isn’t a warship. This is what we do,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Hung Lee.

According to sailors on board, the team went from building one bomb in four hours, to building 16 in three hours.

After a troubled road filled with cost overruns and setbacks, the F-35B finally appears to be nearing readiness.

MIGHTY SURVIVAL

As military planners, we strategized for a pandemic—here’s what we learned

James Ruvalcaba was the lead operational planner and Joe Plenzler was the public affairs officer for III Marine Expeditionary Force in Okinawa, Japan. They were responsible for authoring the III MEF CONPLAN 5003 to protect all U.S. forces, their families, and Defense Department personnel in Japan. They are both retired Marine lieutenant colonels.

As former lead operational planners for the Biohazard Defense Contingency Plan for all military service members, their families and Defense Department employees in Japan, we noticed the strong possibility of a COVID-19 pandemic in early February of this year.

There are lessons to be learned from an earlier viral outbreak.


In response to the H5N1 or “bird flu” outbreak in 2005, President George W. Bush issued a National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza (PI) that November.

Thirteen days later, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Peter Pace issued a planning order (PLANORD) directing all combatant commanders to conduct execution-level planning for a DoD response to pandemic influenza.

The guidance was clear and broad: Develop a contingency plan that specifically addressed the three major missions of force health protection, defense support for civil authorities, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Questions surround crash of special operations helicopter in Iraq

As leaders of the planning efforts, we recruited medical experts and researched preventive health materials from the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control, National Institute of Health, and disease exposure control studies from the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

This 18-month planning effort included tabletop exercises with State Department officials and local government officials and resulted in a 650-page biohazard response plan for all Marine Corps forces in Japan.

The plan also involved the additional major mission of continuity of operations to ensure that local governments and military installations continued to provide essential and emergency services during a pandemic.

The plan required all units and critical support agencies and businesses to classify their employees or service members as nonessential, essential or emergency-essential personnel.

The lessons we learned in this comprehensive 2005 planning effort are extensive, but they have not been fully implemented in response to COVID-19.

So what can policymakers, emergency medical responders and today’s planners learn from our plan?

Expect a “new normal” until a proven vaccine is developed. Social distancing measures and restrictions on mass gatherings must continue until the population has been vaccinated and the current COVID-19 virus is no longer a threat.

Just like we adapted to the post-9/11 terrorist attacks by instituting new security measures, we must also adapt to the pandemic by continuing social distancing measures until a proven vaccine has been developed, tested and administered to the entire global community. We must do this to avoid subsequent pandemic waves.

Our plan operated under the advice from health experts that a vaccine may take about a year to develop and that it will take months more for it to be readily available to the entire population. We recommend that the vaccine be prioritized and allocated first to medical responders and other personnel designated as emergency-essential responders. Local public health experts should draft immunization plans, to include the prioritization of immunizations to emergency-essential personnel.

The public should expect to experience additional shortages of medical equipment. We’ve seen the shortages of N95 masks, ventilators and ICU beds in hospitals; however, when restrictive measures are eased or lifted, our planning revealed that there will be a huge demand for infrared thermal detection systems (IR thermometers) in order to conduct public health febrile surveillance — especially prior to boarding flights or mass transportation. The post-pandemic environment will most likely involve febrile screenings to ensure viral threats are contained.

Questions surround crash of special operations helicopter in Iraq

Ongoing surveillance and contact tracing are extremely critical after the first pandemic wave is contained to a manageable level, in order to prevent a second wave or spreading it to another region. We should leverage technology in our smartphones to self-report if we have been in contact with infected people. China successfully implemented these protocols in Wuhan province through a phone app.

The demand for mortuary services may exceed available capacity. Additionally, new protocols must be established for conducting funerals.

Public Service Announcements are critical to shape public action to comply with evolving restrictive measures implemented by public health officials. Additionally, PSAs alleviate fear and anxiety by providing reassurance and critical educational material to assist the public in helping to contain and reduce the pandemic. Simply stated, PSAs help to reset the expectations of the evolving crisis and the associated escalatory or de-escalatory restrictive measures.

A pandemic may produce a second wave after the first outbreak, and sometimes even a second cycle outbreak after a few seasons. This is due to previously undetected pockets of viral outbreaks, a lapse in compliance to restrictive measures, the reintroduction of the virus from an external source, or the possibility of the virus mutating gradually by antigenic drift, or abruptly by antigenic shift. It is important for medical responders, public officials and the public to understand that we must not let our guard down when we start seeing a reduction in the transmissibility of the COVID virus or a reduction in the number of people infected.

We cannot lean on unfounded messages of hope; rather, we should look to science and condition-based assessments to decide when to ease or lift restrictive measures. The message to policymakers and high-ranking preventive health officials is clear: Demand science-based justifications for lifting restrictive measures.

For all that have closely tracked the evolution of this COVID-19 virus from its initial outbreak to a pandemic, the writing on the wall is obvious: National leaders made grave mistakes by not taking the threat seriously.

The lack of early mitigation has now cost us more than 427,000 sick Americans, more than 14,000 deaths and more than .3 trillion.

Our nation is paying a terrible cost for not taking this pandemic seriously enough, early enough. We must act in earnest to implement these lessons to help contain the viral spread so we can safely ease the restrictive measures while preventing a second pandemic wave or subsequent pandemic cycle.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Hellfire missile’s new replacement is cleared by the Army

The Joint Air-to-Ground missile has been cleared to begin low-rate initial production, weapons maker Lockheed Martin said on June 27, 2018.

The JAGM is the successor to the vaunted Hellfire missile and is meant to provide precision standoff-strike capability against high-value fixed and moving targets, both armored and unarmored, on land and at sea, even in poor weather conditions.

The new missile combines semi-active laser guidance, like that used on the Hellfire II, and millimeter-wave radar, like that used by the Longbow Hellfire, into a single system, which is paired with the warhead, motor, and flight-control system of the Hellfire Romeo missile.


Lockheed was the sole bidder for the missile contract, taking it on in summer 2015, and the weapons maker will give the Army 2,631 missiles under the production contract, Col. David Warnick, the Army program manager for Joint Attack Munition Systems, told Defense News.

Questions surround crash of special operations helicopter in Iraq
Sailors load an AGM-114N Hellfire missile onto an SH-60B Sea Hawk helicopter on the flight deck of the guided-missile destroyeru00a0USS Jason Dunham.
(U.S. Navy photo)

The Hellfire was originally designed to be a 100-pound armor-piercing weapon to destroy tanks, but it has seen extensive use in the war against ISIS as a precision-guided munition that can be fired from planes, helicopters and drones. The Army has had to increase production for fear of running out.

The JAGM is to replace the Hellfire on all the platforms that fire the older missile. The new missile is also expected to be used on unmanned vehicles, like the MQ-9 Reaper drone. During the engineering and manufacturing development phase, the JAGM was tested and qualified on the AH-64E Apache and AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters.

During testing, pilots spoke highly of the JAGM, particularly of the ability to toggle between semi-active-laser and radio-frequency guidance within seconds.

“Using a SAL missile, the last six seconds of the missile flight is the most critical to keep your laser sight on target,” Michael Kennedy, an experimental test pilot with the Aviation Flight Test Directorate at Redstone Test Center, said an Army release early 2018.

“If you’re getting shot at and your line of sight goes off the target, your missile misses,” Kennedy said. “JAGM can start off using the laser, then transition to the radar portion and still hit the target if the crew has to use evasive maneuvers.”

Lockheed said it had successfully carried out 10 limited-user test flights in the months leading up to approval for low-rate initial production.

Questions surround crash of special operations helicopter in Iraq
US Army soldiers load an AGM-114 Hellfire missile on an AH-64E Apache helicopter in Kunduz, Afghanistan, May 31, 2017.
(U.S. Army photo)

A Pentagon Director of Operational Test and Evaluation report released in January 2018 said the Army carried out two successful ground launches and 20 successful air launches during fiscal year 2017.

“The test results demonstrated the system’s combat effectiveness and technical maturity,” Lockheed said in a release. “Additionally, the program successfully conducted supplier and prime contractor production readiness reviews establishing the program’s readiness to move into LRIP.”

The JAGM system has demonstrated more than 95% reliability in flight testing, Lockheed said in its release, adding that the system is being built into the production line by the same team that has churned out more than 75,000 Hellfire missiles.

JAGM’s development has not been without issues, though.

The DOTE report said several technical issues cropped up during testing and that, on several occasions during tests, the missile missed its target or failed to detonate. The Army said that the issues that appeared in earlier tests have been corrected, according to Defense News.

Warnick, of the Army’s Joint Attack Munition Systems program, said operational testing would take place in the 2019 fiscal year, which runs from October 2018 to September 2019. That will be followed by a full-rate production review between March and September 2020, he told Defense News.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Here are the changes to the M16 since ‘Black Hawk Down’

About the time this issue hits the newsstands, the U.S. Special Operations community will likely be taking a look back at one of the most high-profile operations in their history: Operation Gothic Serpent, which included the infamous Battle of the Black Sea, made famous by the book-slash-movie Black Hawk Down. That mission, which took place in October of 1993, is officially 25 years old this fall.

Several veterans of that operation are currently active in the firearms industry and have given their historical accounts of the mission to various media outlets. Instead of trying to retell someone else’s war story, we wanted to take this anniversary to examine the progress of America’s everyman rifle over the ensuing two-and-a-half decades, and perhaps reflect on just how good we have it now.


Questions surround crash of special operations helicopter in Iraq

Blast from the past

As the rise of the retro rifle continues to gain momentum, several companies are now producing period-themed AR-pattern rifles to commemorate past iterations of Stoner’s most famous design. Troy Industries was one of the first to offer an out-of-the-box solution to collectors and enthusiasts wanting a “period” rifle with their My Service Rifle line, commemorating famous military operations, and the associated rifles used to win the day.

Their recent release of the M16A2 SFOD-D carbine made an all-too-appropriate cornerstone for this project. This no-frills rifle was state of the art at the time it was used by small-team elements of the U.S. Army and Air Force in the late ’80s and early ’90s. It’s a 14.5-inch barrel, carbine-length gas system affair with traditional CAR handguards, iron sights, and an A2 carry handle upper. The gun ships with a length of rail mounted on both the carry handle and the 6 o’clock position at the forward end of the handguard.

Questions surround crash of special operations helicopter in Iraq

This carbine was considered state-of-the-art around the time Meatloaf topped radio charts with “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That).” If that doesn’t make you feel old …

As a preface to all of you firearm historians out there, please note that this was an “in the spirit of” build and does features accessories in the style of this period, as opposed to the actual items. Attempting to procure the actual lights, sights, and mounts from two-plus decades ago was hardly conducive to deadlines or production budgets. So, in several cases, we had to make do with “close enough.” Good enough, as the saying goes, for government work. This particular Gothic Serpent sample is outfitted with a SureFire 6P, complete with a whopping 60-lumen incandescent bulb, mounted on a single scope ring with their push-button tactical tail cap. The optic is an Aimpoint 9000, which uses the longer tube style of the older 5000 with updated electronics.

While the idea of mounting a light to a weapon isn’t exactly new, the technology to do so in a manner that’s both convenient and ergonomic is a relatively recent development. As late as the early years of Operation Iraqi Freedom, line units were using duct tape and hose clamps to hold D-cell mag lights onto their rifles. The SOF community, having a larger budget and more time dedicated to RD, found that you could use weaver scope rings to mount the then-new smaller lights made by SureFire onto their guns. Certainly better than the methods used by conventional units even a decade later, this small measure of convenience came with two primary pitfalls — actuating the light and lumens.

Questions surround crash of special operations helicopter in Iraq

Though night vision, and the earlier starlight technology, dates back to Vietnam and somewhat before, dedicated night-fighting gear isn’t a catchall for “intermediate” lighting situations. Think about entering a dark room in the middle of a bright desert afternoon in Africa. You need some kind of artificial light to see your target, but early night vision goggles — prone to washout or permanent damage from ambient light through a window or hole in the ceiling — were the wrong answer. So weapon lights became the best compromise.

Even though any advantage is better than no advantage, less than 100 lumens doesn’t buy you much reaction time. As your eyes are rapidly adjusting from bright light, to no light, to a little bit of light the “increased” ability to identify friend from foe is marginal at best. Tape switches were available at the time, but far from universal and far from reliable. They had to be taped on and, if you’ve ever had a piece of tape peel off something in the heat, you know that taping things together isn’t the most ironclad attachment method.

Once you get the light mounted, you have to be able to actually turn it on. With the light at the bottom of the handguard, thumb activation is out of the question. To make this placement work, we had to shift our support handgrip to just past the magwell and use the index knuckle of that hand to trip the light. It works, but not well. While firing, we had trouble keeping enough pressure on the switch to keep it on. The other option is to twist the tailcap for constant-on, but then you run into the fairly obvious issues of battery life, and of giving away your position between engagements.

Questions surround crash of special operations helicopter in Iraq

Synergistic advances in handguards, lights, and forward grips provide a support-hand hold that’s more ergonomic and offers better control over the weapon.

Once you can see your target, you gotta hit it. The early electro-optical sights, also of Vietnam vintage, were a huge boon for rapid shots under tight constraints. The optics themselves, to include the Aimpoint 3000s and 5000s of the Black Hawk Down era, didn’t have the kind of battery life or reliability that we now expect from any red dot worth its salt. But mounting them on an A2-style receiver created an additional issue: height over bore.

For the uninitiated, height over bore is exactly what it sounds like. Mounting your scope several inches above your barrel creates the need for both mechanical offset when you zero as well as for manual holdover when trying to make precise shots — like headshots, which are a common point of training for hostage rescue units. Furthermore, these high-mounted optics require a “chin weld” on the stock, which is unnatural, uncomfortable, and offers a floating sight picture at best, particularly while shooting on the move.

Latest and greatest

As a demonstration of the technical progress that’s been made in configuring the AR or M4-style rifle, we contrast Troy’s My Service Rifle SFOD-D gun to their own cutting-edge carbine, the SOC-C. The SOCC (Special Operations Compatible Carbine) also sports a 14.5-inch barrel chambered in 5.56mm — which is squarely where the similarities end. The SOC-C features a mid-length gas system. Recent testing by USSOCOM has proven what the commercial market has known for years —that the longer gas tube makes for a cleaner and softer shooting weapon.

The SOCC covers that gas tube with a 12-inch M-LOK handguard. This single feature offers the warfighter a level of modularity that hasn’t been known since the M16’s introduction six decades ago. Now you can mount your lights and any other accessory wherever you want. In our case, we used SureFire’s new 600DF weaponlight attached to the rifle by way of an Arisaka Defense inline mount. The 600DF produces 1,500 lumens, which not only restores small rooms to broad daylight conditions at the push of a button, but can probably be used to signal low-flying aircraft or heat up your MRE.

When Super 6-4 went down near the Bakara Market in Mogadishu, soldiers had to mount a rail to the handguard, a scope ring to the rail, and the light into the scope ring. This system creates poor ergonomics and multiple points of failure for your light to shoot loose or fall off completely. With the 600DF/Arisaka combo, the mount is screwed directly into the body of the flashlight, and then attached directly to the handguard. Not only is this a simpler system less prone to mechanical failure, but the advent of modular handguards provides adjustability in where the light is placed, both lengthwise along the fore-end and around its circumference. The biggest single benefit to come from this advancement is that, now, you can configure the gun around the operator’s natural stance and hand placement instead of changing how you fight just to accommodate a flashlight.

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Things like lower height-over-bore and shorter overall length give the SOCC carbine a distinct edge over its partner. Internals and fire controls are also highly improved over Mil-spec.

Optics have gotten smaller, smarter, tougher, and more diverse in the last 25 years. Our SOCC sports an Aimpoint Comp M5. It’s their smallest and most efficient rifle-mounted red dot. With battery life measured in years and a slew of brightness settings that include night vision compatibility. The move from carry-handle upper receivers to full-length top rails provide a laundry list of benefits on a fighting rifle. The aforementioned height-over-bore issue all but disappears. This simplifies zero. It also simplifies unconventional shooting positions like shooting over or under a barricade and allows a proper cheek weld. Additionally, the full-length top rail allows end users to utilize different types of optics. The vast increase in mounting space means that force multipliers like variable-power glass and clip-on thermal or night-vision units can be mounted quickly and securely with no tools, as the mission changes.

All the small things

While lights and sights were our two most obvious observations, there are other less prominent improvements that are equally important. One is the advent of ambidextrous controls. While, statistically, the number of left-handed shooters is pretty low throughout the ranks, if you happen to have one on your team you want them to reap all the same benefits everyone else in the stack does. Ambi selector levers, charging handles, and mag and bolt releases all create a perfectly mirrored manual of arms, regardless of which hand is pressing the trigger. But it’s not only southpaws who get something out of it.

The advent of urban warfare has forced U.S. soldiers to enter a battle space full of walls, windows, and hard angles. Being able to transition your carbine from strong side to support side as you adapt to available cover offers a very real increase in soldier survivability. Ambidextrous buttons and switches allow all shooters to switch-hit off of barriers without having to change anything about how they drive their gun.

Questions surround crash of special operations helicopter in Iraq

Things like lower height-over-bore and shorter overall length give the SOCC carbine a distinct edge over its partner. Internals and fire controls are also highly improved over Mil-spec.

The last, but perhaps most critical upgrades we’ll discuss come in the form of the almighty bang switch. After executing proper stance/grip/sight alignment/sight picture, trigger press is the shooter’s last physical input into the weapon before that round leaves the barrel. Sloppy or harsh trigger press can throw a shot even if you do everything else right. This becomes a literal matter of life and death for units that fight in very close quarters where hostages and innocents are all in play.

The M16A2 SFOD-D sports a standard Mil-spec trigger that was delightfully rocky and inconsistent. By comparison, the SOCC comes out of the box with a Geissele G2S trigger. While not marketed as a match trigger per se, it offers a gliding smooth take-up with a consistent break that snaps like a carrot each and every time. It’s this consistency and predictability that gives a shooter an opportunity to improve their marksmanship more quickly, as well as imparting a confidence that the trigger will do exactly what you want it to every single time — a not insignificant comfort when entering situations measured in tenths of a second.

Newer shooters, and older ones who have embraced progress, get quickly adjusted to the ease with which a modern, properly configured rifle can be run hard under demanding conditions. While the events of Operation Gothic Serpent can be labeled as both tragic and heroic, the lessons learned from those units and their experience cobbling together a “best possible” solution with the parts they had set in motion a ripple effect that helped birth the cutting-edge carbines we now use to defend our country and our homes.

This article originally appeared on Recoilweb. Follow @RecoilMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time a guy hid actual treasure somewhere in the Rockies

Born on Aug. 22, 1930, in Temple, Texas, Forrest Fenn did not begin his life wealthy, with his father working to support the family via a job as a principal at a local school. Things would change, however, during the latter half of his life thanks to a love of exploring and collecting various artifacts. His first such object was a simple arrow head he found when he was nine years old, something he still has to this day some eight decades later. Said Fenn, “I was exhilarated and it started me on a lifelong adventure of discovering and collecting things.”

After finishing school, Fenn decided to do a little exploring on the government’s dime, joining the U.S. Air Force in 1950 and traveling the world. Ultimately rising to the rank of Major, as well as flying a remarkable 328 combat missions in one year during Vietnam, he used his free time while in the service to search for artifacts wherever he was. Among many other finds during his time in the Air Force he reportedly discovered such things as a spearhead in the Sahara desert dated to around the 6th century BC and even a jar still filled with olive oil from Ancient Rome.


When he finally retired from the service, he decided to see if he could make a career out of his hobby, opening a shop, Fenn Galleries, with his wife and a business partner, Rex Arrowsmith, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The business ultimately became extremely successful, apparently grossing a whopping million per year in sales at its peak.

Questions surround crash of special operations helicopter in Iraq
Giphy

Fast-forwarding almost two decades later, in 1987, Fenn’s father died of pancreatic cancer. Things got worse the next year when Fenn himself was diagnosed with kidney cancer. During treatment, his doctors told him there was about an 80% chance of his cancer being terminal within a few years.

And so it was that with more money and valuable objects than anyone in his family would need when he was gone, he decided he’d like to use some of his artifacts to inspire people to get out of their homes and go exploring. As he noted a couple decades later in an interview with The Albuquerque Journal in 2013, “I’m trying to get fathers and mothers to go out into the countryside with their children. I want them to get away from the house and away from the TV and the texting.”

His method for doing this was, in 1990, to purchase an approximately 800 year old bronze chest for ,000 (about ,000 today) and then place inside of it a slew of valuables including rubies, sapphires, diamonds, and emeralds; several antique items including pre-Columbian gold figures; a 2,000 year old necklace; a Spanish ring covered in gems from the 17th century; well over 100 gold nuggets of various sizes; 256 gold coins; and, finally, an autobiography of himself written in ultra small print and encased in a sealed jar. To ensure it could be readily read by the discoverer, he helpfully also included a magnifying glass.

That done, his first idea was to simply wait until he was near death, then leave behind a series of clues to a spot he had picked to go die, lying next to his treasure chest.

Fortunately for him, he survived his cancer, though he would quip surviving “ruined the story”.

Now with more life in him, instead of going through with the plan, he simply placed the treasure chest and its valuable contents in his personal vault where it sat, waiting for his cancer to come back so he could execute his plan.

Questions surround crash of special operations helicopter in Iraq
Giphy

Two decades later and no cancer returning, at the age of 80 in 2010, he figured it was time to put a version of the plan in motion anyway. Thus, he drove somewhere in the Rockies between Santa Fe, New Mexico and the border of Canada, got out of his car and lugged the chest some unknown distance. From here, it is not clear whether he buried it, or simply left it on the surface to be discovered.

Whatever he did, after driving home, he announced what he’d done shortly thereafter in his self-published autobiography called The Thrill of the Chase: A Memoir.

Given this was initially just sold in a bookstore in Sante Fe and he doesn’t seem to have otherwise too widely promoted what he’d done beyond locals, as you might imagine, little notice was given at first.

Things all changed, however, when an inflight magazine, who had stumbled on the story who knows how, decided to feature it. A Today’s Show producer ultimately read this and decided it would make good fodder for their show in 2013. Not long after this, the story exploded across the news wires and treasure hunters the world over swarmed to the Rockies to find the chest.

Since then, an estimated few hundred thousand people have gone looking for Fenn’s treasure. Some even have regular meetups in the Rockies each year to sit around camp fires and enjoy each other’s company, while sharing hypotheses of where the treasure might be. Not always wrong, according to Fenn, a few who have emailed him of where they looked have even come within a couple hundred feet of it, implying that they probably correctly identified the starting point he gives in the clues we’ll get to shortly.

But nobody has found it yet.

Worse, in the process of searching, at least four people to date have lost their lives — one Jeff Murphy died after falling down a steep slope in Yellowstone. In another case, a Pastor Paris Wallace somehow got swept away in the Rio Grande during his search. In another instance, one Eric Ashby was rafting in Colorado during his search when he drowned. In his case, Ashby apparently specifically moved to Colorado the previous year to devote himself to finding the treasure.

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Finally, Randy Bilyeu, who retired from his job as a mechanic to search for the treasure full time, was found along the Rio Grande, though it isn’t clear how he died other than the temperatures were below freezing at the time he was searching.

For whatever it’s worth, it’s also been claimed by Bilyeu’s ex-wife, Linda, that a family of an unnamed individual reached out to her to offer their condolences and revealed their loved one had also died searching, but they had chosen not to make that information public. On top of that, it’s often mentioned that a Jeff Schulz, who died while hiking in Arizona in 2016, was searching for the treasure, though nothing in his family’s memorial to him and Facebook posts seem to mention any such connection, despite it being widely reported.

Whatever the case, in response to these deaths, Fenn, who actually rented a helicopter to help search for Bilyeu when he went missing, continually reiterates that searchers need to remember the treasure is “not in a dangerous place… I was eighty when I hid it…. don’t look anywhere where [an]… 80-year-old man can’t put something. I’m not that fit. I can’t climb 14,000 feet.”

This fact also has many speculating that from the starting point where he exited his vehicle might have only been a couple hundred feet given the 42 pounds the chest apparently weighed and his revelation that several people had come within two hundred feet of the chest.

Whatever the case, because of the deaths, and some people’s reported obsession with finding the treasure, with a handful of people even bankrupting themselves in the search, Fenn has been asked by certain authorities to retrieve the chest and call off the hunt.

A request Fenn refuses to grant, noting the overall benefit to hundreds of thousands who’ve got to go on a real treasure hunt in the wilderness. He further states, “I regret that some treasure hunters have invested more in the search than they could afford, although those numbers are small. I also regret that several people have become lost in the winter mountains. . I have said many times that no one should extend themselves beyond their comfort zone, physically or financially.”

And as for the addicted, he states this is unavoidable with any activity “in the same way gold miners, gamblers, hunters and baseball fans become addicted.”

Naturally, others have claimed it’s all one big hoax, such as the aforementioned Linda Bilyeu. Fenn is adamant, however, that it is not and he really did put the treasure chest somewhere in the Rockies.

Questions surround crash of special operations helicopter in Iraq

(Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)

As for proof, he offers none but his word. That said, for whatever it’s worth a few of his friends have come forward and stated they saw the chest in his vault with the items over the years leading up to 2010 when it suddenly disappeared. For example, a long-time friend of his, noted author Douglas Preston, states he saw the chest and the items, and that “As far as proof goes, there’s no proof. It’s hard to prove a negative. The negative is that the chest is gone. It’s not in his house and it’s not in his vault. And also knowing Forrest for as long as I have, I can absolutely say with 100 percent confidence that he would never pull off a hoax. I’m absolutely sure that he hid that treasure chest.”

So where is it? As for the main set of clues Fenn has given, they are as follows:

As I have gone alone in there
And with my treasures bold,
I can keep my secret where,
And hint of riches new and old.
Begin it where warm waters halt
And take it in the canyon down,
Not far, but too far to walk.
Put in below the home of Brown.
From there it’s no place for the meek,
The end is ever drawing nigh;
There’ll be no paddle up your creek,
Just heavy loads and water high.
If you’ve been wise and found the blaze,
Look quickly down, your quest to cease,
But tarry scant with marvel gaze,
Just take the chest and go in peace.
So why is it that I must go
And leave my trove for all to seek?
The answers I already know,
I’ve done it tired, and now I’m weak.
So hear me all and listen good,
Your effort will be worth the cold.
If you are brave and in the wood
I give you title to the gold.

Beyond that, he’s also mentioned in his autobiography that it is “in the mountains somewhere north of Santa Fe”. That the treasure is not in any cemetery or grave (apparently some people were beginning to dig up graves, convinced he left it in one) nor on his property or any of his friends. (This one came out because people kept digging in his and his friend’s properties.) He also states it’s not in or under any man-made structure nor in a mine. Finally, in 2015, he stated at a certain point that it was wet at the time and surrounded by “wonderful smells, of pine needles or piñon nuts or sagebrush”.

In the end, apparently achieving his goal, since the treasure was allegedly placed, many thousands have used it as an inspiration for a fun family vacation in beautiful areas, in most cases seemingly little upset about not actually finding the treasure. As Fenn himself states, even for all who don’t find it, “the adventure [is] the greater treasure.”

Questions surround crash of special operations helicopter in Iraq
Giphy

Seemingly concurring, one retired searcher, Cynthia Meachum, has taken over 60 trips into the wilderness to try to find it, stating “You go out, you look, you don’t find it, you come back home, you go through your clues again, your solves again and you think, ‘Where did I go wrong?’ And you go out and you do it again. And I have actually seen some of the most spectacular scenery because of this that I ever would’ve seen.”

Of course, for one lucky individual someday they might just also walk away with a literal, rather than figurative, treasure, which is the hope of Fenn, who states that given the number of people having correctly followed the clues to a point and come so close, he expects someone will find it soon. However, with him now at 89 years old, he may not live to see the day.

(And if you’re now wondering, Fenn has also stated that he is the only one who knows the treasure chest’s location and he has left no definitive record of its whereabouts other than the already revealed clues.)

Bonus Fact:

Speaking of buried treasure, a back injury and a recommendation by his doctors to take frequent walks saw one Kevin Hillier of Australia deciding to use the time more productively than just exercise, taking strolls through former gold fields with a metal detector. Broke, one night he dreamed he found an endless gold nugget that was so big that it could not be dug out of the ground. The next morning, he drew a picture depicting his dream on a piece of paper and had his friend Russell sign it as a witness for some odd reason.

Whether he made that part up, it was coincidence from having gold on his brain, or indeed prophetic, on Sept. 26, 1980, the dream would come true. After lunch, Kevin and his wife Bip were detecting in opposite directions when Kevin screamed. Rushing to him, Bip found her husband on the ground sobbing while kneeling in front of a tip of a gold nugget that couldn’t be pried from the ground directly.

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The Hand of Faith, the largest gold nugget in the world.

As a result, they began to dig… and dig and dig until they finally reached the bottom. Lifting it up, they realized what they had found was history. Weighing an astounding 27.2 kilograms (nearly 60 pounds), it was the largest gold nugget ever found by a hand held metal detector and the second largest discovered in Australia in the 20th century. In a recent interview, Bip claimed that the couple had some heavenly intervention, “People will say it was all coincidence and that’s fine. But that’s my Father up there…and he’s interested in everything we do.” To them, the rock looked like a hand making a blessing. So, Bip and Kevin named the gold rock the “Hand of Faith.”

Scared to tell anyone, they rushed it home and soaked the sixty-pound chunk in the sink. The kids all helped to clean it with toothbrushes. That night, the family slept as the gold sat in a kiddie pool under the parents’ bed. After a few days of debate about what to do, they decided to hand the rock over to a trusted friend to take it back to Melbourne for a delivery to the government.

A few days later, at a televised press conference, Victorian Premier Dick Hamer announced the discovery. However, the Hilliers were not there. They were hold up in a motel room watching the press conference on television, refusing to be identified. Said one of the Hillier kids, “Even for years afterwards, we kids never brought it up.”

It took several months for the nugget to sell (according to Bip, this was the government’s fault and caused the nugget to dip in value as the hype died down a bit), but finally in early February of 1981, with the help of Kovac’s Gems Minerals, it was sold to the appropriately-named Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas for about a million dollars (approximately .7 million today).

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

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MIGHTY TRENDING

The VA is now putting disabled veterans in foster homes

Ralph Stepney’s home on a quiet street in north Baltimore has a welcoming front porch and large rooms, with plenty of space for his comfortable recliner and vast collection of action movies. The house is owned by Joann West, a licensed caregiver who shares it with Stepney and his fellow Vietnam War veteran Frank Hundt.

“There is no place that I’d rather be. … I love the quiet of living here, the help we get. I thank the Lord every year that I am here,” Stepney, 73, said.

It’s a far cry from a decade ago, when Stepney was homeless and “didn’t care about anything.” His diabetes went unchecked and he had suffered a stroke — a medical event that landed him at the Baltimore Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

After having part of his foot amputated, Stepney moved into long-term nursing home care at a VA medical facility, where he thought he’d remain — until he became a candidate for a small VA effort that puts aging veterans in private homes: the Medical Foster Home program.

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Ralph Stepney, a Vietnam War veteran who was homeless a decade ago, watches TV in his room.
(Photo by Lynne Shallcross)

The $20.7 million-per-year program provides housing and care for more than 1,000 veterans in 42 states and Puerto Rico, serving as an alternative to nursing home care for those who cannot live safely on their own. Veterans pay their caregivers $1,500 to $3,000 a month, depending on location, saving the government about $10,000 a month in nursing home care. It has been difficult to scale up, though, because the VA accepts only foster homes that meet strict qualifications.

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(Photo by Lynne Shallcross)

For the veterans, it’s a chance to live in a home setting with caregivers who treat them like family. For the Department of Veterans Affairs, the program provides an option for meeting its legal obligation to care for ailing, aging patients at significantly reduced costs, since the veterans pay room and board directly to their caregivers.

Cost-effectiveness is but one of the program’s benefits. Stepney and Hundt, 67, are in good hands with West, who previously ran a home health care services company. And they’re in good company, watching television together in the main living room, going to elder care twice a week and sitting on West’s porch chatting with neighbors.

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Ralph Stepney (left) and Frank Hundt sit on the front porch of the Baltimore home they share with caregiver Joann West on May 18, 2018.
(Photo by Lynne Shallcross)

West, who considers caring for older adults “her calling,” also savors the companionship and finds satisfaction in giving back to those who spent their young lives in military service to the U.S.

“I took care of my mother when she got cancer and I found that I really had a passion for it. I took classes and ran an in-home nursing care business for years. But my dream was always to get my own place and do what I am doing now,” West said. “God worked it out.”

The Medical Foster Home program has slightly more than 700 licensed caregivers who live full time with no more than three veterans and provide round-the-clock supervision and care, according to the VA. Akin to a community residential care facility, each foster home must be state-licensed as an assisted living facility and submit to frequent inspections by the VA as well as state inspectors, nutritionists, pharmacists and nurses.


Unlike typical community care facilities, foster home caregivers are required to live on-site and tend to the needs of their patients themselves 24/7 — or supply relief staff.

“It’s a lot of work, but I have support,” West says. “I try to make all my personal appointments on days when Mr. Ralph and Mr. Frank are out, but if I can’t, someone comes in to be here when I’m gone.”

VA medical foster home providers also must pass a federal background check, complete 80 hours of training before they can accept patients, plus 20 hours of additional training each year, and allow the VA to make announced and unannounced home visits. They cannot work outside the home and must maintain certification in first aid, CPR and medicine administration.

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Caregiver Joann West sits in the living room of her Baltimore home, which she shares with veterans Frank Hundt (left) and Ralph Stepney.
(Photo by Lynne Shallcross)

But one prerequisite cannot be taught — the ability to make a veteran feel at home. West has grown children serving in the military and takes pride in contributing to the well-being of veterans.

“It’s a lot of joy taking care of them,” she said of Stepney and Hundt. “They deserve it.”

To be considered for the program, veterans must be enrolled in VA health care; have a serious, chronic disabling medical condition that requires a nursing home level of care; and need care coordination and access to VA services. It can take up to a month to place a veteran in a home once they are found eligible, according to the VA.

The veterans also must be able to cover their costs. Because medical foster homes are not considered institutional care, the VA is not allowed to pay for it directly. The average monthly fee, according to the VA, is $2,300, which most veterans cover with their VA compensation, Social Security and savings, said Nicole Trimble, Medical Foster Home coordinator at the Perry Point VA Medical Center in Maryland.

Pilot program takes off

Since 1999, the Department of Veterans Affairs has been required to provide nursing home services to veterans who qualify for VA health care and have a service-connected disability rating of 70 percent or higher, or are considered unemployable and have a disability rating of 60 percent or higher.

The VA provides this care through short- or long-term nursing home facilities, respite care, community living centers on VA hospital grounds, private assisted living facilities and state veterans homes.

Shortly after, the VA Medical Center in Little Rock, Ark., launched an alternative — a pilot program that placed veterans in individual homes, at an average cost to the VA of roughly $60 a day, including administration and health care expenses, compared with upward of $500 a day for nursing home care.

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Ralph Stepney holds photos from a cruise he took to Bermuda with West and Hundt. Stepney put the photos into a keepsake album that he keeps at their home.
(Photo by Lynne Shallcross)

And because veterans who are enrolled in the Medical Foster Care program must use the VA’s Home-Based Primary Care program, which provides an interdisciplinary team of health professionals for in-home medical treatment, the program saves the VA even more. One study showed that the home-based care has yielded a 59 percent drop in VA hospital inpatient days and a 31 percent reduction in admissions among those who participate.

More than 120 VA medical centers now oversee a Medical Foster Home program in their regions, and the VA has actively promoted the program within its health system.

It also has attracted bipartisan congressional support. In 2013, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced a bill to allow the VA to pay for medical foster homes directly.

In 2015, former House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) introduced similar legislation that would have allowed the VA to pay for up to 900 veterans under the program.

And in May, Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) raised the issue again, sponsoring a bill similar to Miller’s. “Allowing veterans to exercise greater flexibility over their benefits ensures that their individual needs are best met,” Higgins said in support of the program.

A guardian ‘angel’

Foster care has been a blessing for the family of Hundt, who suffered a stroke shortly after his wife died and was unable to care for himself. Hundt’s daughter, Kimberly Malczewski, lives nearby and often stops in to visit her dad, sometimes with her 2-year-old son.

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Frank Hundt watches TV in his bedroom at caregiver Joann West’s home in Baltimore on May 18, 2018.
(Photo by Lynne Shallcross)

“I’m not sure where my father would be if he didn’t have this,” she said. “With my life situation — my husband and I both work full time, we have no extra room in our house, and we have a small child — I can’t take care of him the way Miss Joann does.”

Trimble, whose program started in 2012 and has five homes, said she hopes to expand by two to three homes a year. The VA will remain meticulous about selecting homes.

“There is a strict inspection and vetting process to be a medical foster home,” Trimble said. “We only will accept the best.”

It also takes a special person to be an “angel,” as the caregivers are referred to in the program’s motto, “Where Heroes Meet Angels.”

Stepney and Hundt agree West has earned her wings. On a recent cruise to Bermuda, she brought Stepney and Hundt along.

For Hundt, it was the first time he’d been on a boat. And Stepney said it was nothing like the transport ships he and his fellow troops used in the late 1960s: “Well, I’ve gotten to travel, but it was mainly two years in Vietnam, and there weren’t any women around.”

When asked why she brought the pair along, West said caregiving is “a ministry, something you really have to like to do.”

“And you know how the saying goes,” she said. “When you like what you do, you never work a day in your life.”

This article originally appeared on Kaiser Health News. Follow @KHNews on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The best American tank of World War II rarely saw combat

Sometimes, a good weapon system never gets a chance to shine. In some cases, there simply aren’t any conflicts going on through which the gear can demonstrate its worth (the B-36 Peacemaker comes to mind). In other cases, a piece of technology might mark an important milestone, but end up virtually obsolete by the time the next war rolls around, as was the case with USS Ranger (CV 4).

Well, the M26 Pershing fits into neither of these categories. While over 2,000 of these tanks were produced, they largely missed World War II because of bureaucratic infighting. The few tanks that did get to the front lines performed well, though — leaving many to wonder what might have happened had an Army general by the name of Leslie McNair been more open-minded.


Here’s the deal. Prior to World War II, the United States Army didn’t think that tanks should fight other tanks. Instead, that job was relegated to the aptly named tank destroyer class of vehicle. These vehicles were fast and had potent guns, but sacrificed a lot of armor to achieve such a speed. Meanwhile, the mission of the tank was to support infantry.

That was the leading theory of the time and, as a result, the Army went with the M4 Sherman – producing over 50,000 of those tanks.

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One of the few M26 Pershing tanks that got to the front lines.

(US Army)

Reality, of course, tells a different story. If tanks support infantry and infantry fights infantry, then logic would tell us that tanks would end up facing off against other tanks as those tanks supported opposing infantry. In essence, a key capability in supporting infantry is the ability to kill the other side’s tanks.

The Pershing could do just that with its 90mm main gun (and the 70 rounds it carried for it). Unfortunately, GIs would never get the chance to witness that.

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M26 Pershings being prepared to embark on LSTs in Pusan, South Korea.

(US Army)

According to tanks-encyclopedia.com, Leslie McNair, who headed Army Ground Forces, stuck with the pre-war theory. His opposition to a new tank delayed the M26’s service entry. Eventually, McNair was given a combat assignment and killed by friendly fire during the fighting near Saint-Lô.

The Pershing reached the front lines after the Battle of the Bulge proved the inadequacy of the M4 Sherman in tank combat.

Questions surround crash of special operations helicopter in Iraq

The M26 Pershing saw some action in the Korean War, but many were soon shipped to Europe to bolster NATO.

(USMC)

The Pershing went on to see some action in the Korean War, but it was quickly shifted to Europe to bolster the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Eventually, it was replaced by the M46/M47/M48 Patton family of tanks.

Watch the video below to learn more about this great tank that never get a real shot to prove itself.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FURywJI-MkU

www.youtube.com

Articles

This Iraq War vet’s debut novel is provocative and right

While deployed to Iraq in 2007, the U.S. Army’s then-Captain Matt Gallagher started a blog called Kaboom that quickly became very popular … and controversial — so controversial, in fact, that the Army shut it down.


After he separated from the military, Gallagher compiled the best of the blog into his 2010 memoir, “Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War.”  He has since written for the New York Times, The Atlantic, The Daily Beast, and Boston Review, among others. Now, with an Master’s degree from Columbia, he’s writing fiction. This week saw the debut of his first work of fiction, “Youngblood: A Novel.”

Questions surround crash of special operations helicopter in Iraq

The U.S. military is preparing to withdraw from Iraq, and newly-minted lieutenant Jack Porter struggles to accept how it’s happening—through alliances with warlords who have Arab and American blood on their hands. Day after day, Jack tries to assert his leadership in the sweltering, dreary atmosphere of Ashuriyah. But his world is disrupted by the arrival of veteran Sgt. Daniel Chambers, whose aggressive style threatens to undermine the fragile peace that the troops have worked hard to establish.

Irreverent but dedicated like a modern day Candide, Jack struggles with his place in Iraq War history. He soon discovers a connection between Sgt. Chambers and and a recently killed soldier. The more the lieutenant digs into the matter, the more questions arise. The soldier and Rana, a local sheikh’s daughter, appeared to have been in love and what Jack finds implicates the increasingly popular Chambers.What follows finds Jack defying his command as Iraq falls further into chaos.

Gallagher’s storytelling is compelling and his characters are vibrant. “Youngblood” immediately immerses the reader into the Iraq War, defying genre and perspective. We equally see the war from the soldiers who fought there and the Iraqis who lived it, while Gallagher weaves a narrative that is engaging, thoughtful, and thought provoking.

Youngblood: A Novel” is on sale now.

Editor’s note: Catch Matt Gallagher’s Reddit AMA or read his recent opinion piece in the New York Times welcoming us to the “Age of Commando,” where he describes the public fascination with special operations forces in the military today.