Police arrested three men Tuesday in Daytona Beach, Florida, for beating up a disabled Navy veteran after he told them to stop torturing a turtle to death.
A woman spotted a group of men “smashing up a turtle” while walking her toddler around a pond and immediately went home to tell her husband and disabled Navy vet, Gary Blough, who then came out of their apartment to see what was going on, WKMG reports.
He spotted two men and a teenager hitting the turtle.
“The one had it over his head and he was smashing it down on the sidewalk,” Blough said. “I asked them to please leave it alone, just let it go to the lake.”
Blough told his wife to call the police, and immediately two members of the group started punching and kicking him in the back of the head.
“They started hitting the back of my head and started punching me. I was able to fend off a little bit but I mean three of them, got the better of me,” he said.
One of the attackers reportedly yelled that he didn’t care if he went to jail, but the attackers soon scattered after bystanders approached the scene. Police caught up with the three alleged assailants, who were then immediately charged with aggravated battery and animal cruelty.
Blough later informed Daytona Beach police that the turtle was attempting to crawl away, but couldn’t move, due to its injuries.
Blough himself sustained a broken skull, internal bleeding, broken facial bones and a concussion, horrifying his wife.
The turtle was later found dead in a pool of blood.
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China claims sovereignty over a number of disputed islands in the South China Sea, and most of those claims are not recognized by international law. The U.S. Navy, under the guise of its mission to maintain freedom of navigation of the seas, regularly steams through these waters.
The Chinese consider these missions provocative. In October 2016, the guided missile destroyer USS Decatursailed past the Paracel Islands – shadowed by three Chinese ships.
Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft thinks the freedom of navigation missions can be done much more diplomatically and he thinks the Coast Guard is the way forward.
“Look at China’s Coast Guard, it really is the first face of China,” Admiral Zukunft told Voice of America. “I would look at providing resources to provide the face of the United States behind a Coast Guard ship.”
The bright, white-hulled ships of the Coast Guard are much more familiar to Chinese soldiers and sailors.
“The U.S. Coast Guard has a very good relationship with the Chinese Coast Guard, with each side frequently boarding the other’s ships to carry out joint maritime law enforcement activities,” he said.
Using lightly-armed Coast Guard ships might actually be better for diffusing tensions in the area, instead of using heavily-armed conventional naval forces. Even China’s massive new Coast Guard supercutters will not have heavy armaments.
Zukunft added that the U.S. Coast Guard also could help Vietnam, Indonesia, and other countries in the area develop maritime capabilities while keeping peace and security.
It’s always fun to sit around and war game which country could beat up which, and it’s even better when you have hard facts to back up your decisions.
Below is a summary of the top ten militaries in the world, according to Global Firepower, which tracks military power through publicly-available sources. We’ve scrapped Global Firepower naval comparisons since they track naval strength by number of ships, making a patrol boat equal to a supercarrier. This list of the largest navies by weight is being used instead.
Below the spreadsheet we’ve added a breakdown of each military power.
Despite a small tank force, low number of aircraft, and low number of military personnel, the United Kingdom maintains a spot in the top five with the world’s fifth largest navy and fifth highest military budget. The British military is also aided by geography as it’s hard for an invading force to attack an island.
France doesn’t post up the most impressive numbers of ships, planes, and tanks, but what equipment it has is modern and very capable. Mirage and Rafale jets, Tiger helicopters, LeClerc main battle tanks, and the only nuclear-powered carrier outside the U.S. provide the main muscle behind the French military. France also manufacturers much of its own military supplies, meaning it has the ability to create more equipment in a protracted war.
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — Hank Naughton had been a Massachusetts state lawmaker for 22 years when 9/11 happened. Like many Americans, the horror and tragedy of that day compelled him to try and do something to support the wounded nation he loved. And in his case, even though he was 42 years old, he decided to join the Army Reserve.
“I had a great life to that point — family, political career, law practice — and I thought I needed to step up and do something,” Naughton says. “I joined the Army. It took some effort at 42 years of age. I showed up at basic 17 years older than the next younger guy.”
Since Naughton was a lawyer, the Army naturally put him into the JAG Corps. “I thought I would just do my duty at Fort Devens in Massachusetts doing wills and legal work for ‘Pvt. Snuffy,” he says. “But then things started coming down the pike.”
Naughton wound up deploying multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan, supporting the highest levels of the war effort — commands like the 3rd Army, Multinational Force Iraq, and 4th Infantry Division in Kandahar — with legal rulings on rules of engagement and the laws of armed conflict. He also started the first women’s shelter during his time in Afghanistan, an effort for which he’s particularly proud.
Following those tours in the Middle East, he served in the Congo, an effort that he sums up as “trying to teach the soldiers there that rape is not a legitimate form of warfare.”
Between deployments, Naughton mounted a bid for Attorney General in Massachusetts, but “it didn’t work out,” as he puts it, so he continued to serve in the House. In 2015, he was sent back to the Middle East as part of Task Force 2010, an anti-corruption effort in Afghanistan, and then as a law of armed conflict advisor to the war effort in Syria.
This week Naughton is in Philadelphia where, among other duties, he’s serving as a Massachusetts delegate to the Democratic National Convention. He brings with him a legal and legislative background combined with years of recent firsthand war experience that give him a unique perspective on American foreign policy, the efficacy of which, he believes, has been convoluted during the current election cycle.
“President Obama and Secretary Clinton have been dealing a hand they were dealt by the Bush Administration,” he says. “There are a series of questions as to whether or not the Iraq War ever should have happened. Without the Iraq War, ISIS — Daesh — would never have come to fruition.”
Referring to the political opposition, Naughton adds, “They can be as critical as they want, but the decisions were made based on actions taken long before Barack Obama became President of the United States. They lose sight of the fact that there are still a significant number of our military brothers and sisters still there and a growing number back in Iraq.”
He’s also concerned that the political arguments between the parties are framing the solutions to the threats in dangerously simplistic ways.
“The Syria operation in the most complicated military/political/diplomatic/personnel operation that we’ve been involved in since World War II,” Naughton says. “There are 1,1oo different militias on the ground all with varying loyalties to each other and to parties outside the country.” He adds that he was in country when the Russians came in last summer, and he says that that “incredibly complicated the situation.”
Beyond the geopolitical realities, on a more personal level as a soldier-statesman, Naughton is worried how the campaign rhetoric is affecting troops’ morale.
“When I was on the Syria mission last year deployed with CENTCOM-Forward, we were not sensing a lot of support from our congressional leaders,” he says. “They can say all they want — ‘thank you for your service’ and pat us on the back — but they need to give us the resources we need and positive suggestions. Don’t just pull down for political profit.”
In spite of those fears, Naughton feels like gains have been made in the fight. “ISIS has lost close to 50 percent of the territory they had because of our efforts in the last year and a half,” he points out. “As we’re seeing, [ISIS] — because they want to have an effect on this election — they will continue to strike out on an international basis. I think we need to be prepared for that.
“And Donald Trump and the rest of his crowd can continue to blame immigrants and everybody else about these lone wolf attacks in Dallas and Baton Rouge, but the truth is our service members and homeland security have done a tremendous job preventing attacks,” he says. “One attack is one too many, but think of all that we’ve avoided.”
Putting on his Army JAG hat, Naughton takes issue with some of the Republican nominee’s recommendations on how to deal with the enemy. “The suggestion that we go after the families of terrorists is against the law of war, and any officer in the military has to recognize a lawful order,” he says. “What he suggests is counter productive. Breaking up NATO — the most successful alliance in the history of the world? I question the sanity of that.”
Naughton points out that he served with Peshmerga and Turkish officers who’ve questioned Trump’s proposed policy of banning all Muslims from entering the United States until “we figure it out,” as he said on the campaign trail some months ago.
“These are the bravest soldiers I’ve ever seen in my life and they wonder, ‘these are our allies? They’re questioning us because of our faith?'” Naughton says.
Naughton blames a lot of the political dialectic on the fact that none of the candidates have served in the military. “When my father came back from World War II and returned to the little town of Clinton, Massachusetts they’d stop after work for a couple of pops at the local pub,” he explains. “And if you didn’t know the guy sitting on the barstool beside you, the conversation starter wasn’t ‘were you in the war?’ it was ‘where we you in the war?” because everybody served. We don’t have that anymore. That’s not good, bad, or indifferent; it’s just the way it is.
“But when supposedly knowledgeable people say ‘kill the relatives of the terrorist’ or ‘turn the desert to glass’ or ‘carpet bomb them’ they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about, and that affects the men and women downrange. It’s obscene, and it’s insulting to the members of the military. Worse, it puts lives at risk.”
Naughton continues to drill as an Army reservist with a civil affairs unit at the Newport Naval Station while serving in the Massachusetts House, representing the 12th District (Worchester) and chairing the Public Safety and Homeland Security committee.
While at the DNC he’s taken on the role of “whip” among the state delegates, making sure they’re on the floor of the convention and “voting appropriately,” as he says.
Overall, Naughton sees this as a crucial time in American history, saying, “I’m 56 years old, served four tours in war zones, I have a son at the Naval Academy who will probably have a career much more stellar than mine, and I honestly think this is the most important election of my life.”
The 2006 battle for Ramadi was one of the fiercest fights during the Iraq War.
Fear and grief were never an option for the soldiers, Marines, and Navy SEALs putting their lives on the line for control of the Al Anbar provincial capital. The fighting was intense; every troop had to remain focused and alert to stay alive.
In 1949, six men gathered in Indianapolis for the last meeting of the Grand Army of the Republic, a Civil War veterans organization. At its peak, it boasted 400,000 members with thousands of posts nationwide. By 1949, however, only 16 remained. And only six were able to make the trek to Indianapolis. One of those was 108-year-old James Hard, a veteran of the battles of First Bull Run, Antietam, and Chancellorsville.
In the next four years, all but one of those would have died, and with them, the firsthand memory of Civil War combat.
The only one of the six to outlive Hard would be Albert Woolson, the last known member of the Union Army and the last undisputed surviving member on any side of the Civil War. But Woolson never saw action as a member of a heavy artillery unit from Minnesota. Hard was the last surviving Union combat veteran of the Civil War.
Between 1900 and into World War II, the surviving number of American Civil War veterans began to dwindle at an exponential rate, much like what the U.S. is seeing with its World War II veterans today. The Grand Army of the Republic held marches, and a yearly meeting called the Encampment to celebrate those veterans who served and to make sure they held on to their hard-won rights.
James Hard was born in Rochester, New York around 1843. He lied about his age in 1861 to be able to join the Union Army. He joined the 37th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, also known as the Irish Rifles, in May 1861 and his service record verified his claim.
His unit was stationed around Washington, DC until Gen. Irvin McDowell used the 37th as a reserve unit in the battle of First Bull Run. McDowell had never led troops in combat and was soundly beaten. Its biggest loss came at Chancellorsville in 1863 when it lost more than 200 men to night fighting and a surprise attack during a flawed, unorganized retreat. A young James Hard was present for all of it.
By the time the First World War came around GAR membership was still very strong, its encampment still bringing in numbers just shy of a half a million or so. By the time the United States entered World War II, however, the Civil War veterans time had passed, and with their memory went so many of their numbers. In 1942, just over 500 Civil War veterans were on the rolls of the Grand Army of the Republic.
At the outset of the Cold War and the Atomic Age, only 16 remained. They were too frail to walk in any parades and had to be accompanied to Indianapolis by their Veterans Administration nurses. They drove through the parade route in vehicles, machines that were a very new invention to them.
In late 1944, German Pvt. Paul-Alfred Stoob was one of the many German troops quickly retreating from Allied forces. During his withdrawal, he was hit with fire from a Sherman tank and wounded in his head and leg. When he finally made it home to Germany, he learned that his father was also wounded in his head and leg in the exact same town in World War I.
Stoob was a Panther tank driver taking part in the general German withdrawal in 1944 before the Battle of the Bulge temporarily halted Germany’s loss in territory. After the Panther was destroyed by Allied fire, Stoob and the rest of his crew stole a truck and headed east towards Belgium.
They managed to scrape together bread and some eggs before lucking out and discovering a stash of delicacies abandoned by a German headquarters unit. Only a short time after they filled their truck with the fresh food, an American Sherman crew spotted them and opened fire. Stoob was hit in the head and leg, but still tried to escape.
He made for a nearby cemetery and attempted to use the gravestones as cover for his escape. Before he could get away, a French priest begged for him to stop and then went and got an American medic to tend to his wounds.
Stoob spent the rest of the war in a prisoner of war camp in the U.S. and didn’t make it home until 1947. That was when he learned that his father, a veteran of World War I, had been wounded in the same unnamed village in 1914, exactly 30 years before his son.
The "Night Witches" planning a mission (Sergey G on Flickr).
In a story just waiting to be made into a big-screen thriller based on real events, comes the Nachthexen — German for “The Night Witches.” Also known as Stalin’s Falcons, the Night Witches made up a regiment of all-women night bombers from the Soviet Air Forces. With a mission of remaining as stealthy as possible, the conditions in which these female flyers traveled– and succeeded in an incredible number of missions — defies the odds.
The 588th Night Bomber Regiment were tasked with flying in the pitch black, during the latest portions of the night. Their planes were made off wood and canvas with bare-bones technology, even for the time. They were provided with no radio or radar machines. This allowed their planes to be as light as possible, and therefore, able to fly extremely low. They did this in order to surprise the enemy in the middle of the night. In addition, the Night Witches’ planes held bombs by wire, which were affixed to the wings of their planes.
However, it was a tactic that was born out of necessity. The Night Witches were not welcomed by male soldiers and often not given proper supplies. They were given used uniforms and equipment and provided no radios or radars at all. They made due and created their own deadly regiment of highly-skilled fliers.
The Night Witches would often fly 15-18 missions per night — yes, per night — making them one of the active aviation forces during World War II. They remained undetected by flying in, then idling their engines and gliding to their point of attack. This allowed them to be as silent as possible, and helping them earn their menacing nickname, as the gliding was said to sound like brooms.
In addition to direct attacks, the Night Witches also performed harassment techniques. By randomly firing at night, their job was to undermine morale and keep the enemy on their toes. This worked by lowering readiness, interrupting sleep, and increasing stress levels.
Because women were not allowed to fight in Soviet forces during WWII, they had to find a loophole to serve. Major Marina Raskova, the first Soviet woman to become a flight instructor, contacted personal friends and military high-ups in order to form female air units — permission was granted by Joseph Stalin himself. By 1941 there were three such units, consisting of very young volunteers, females in their teens and early 20s.
Raskova remained as a commanding officer and was killed in a plane crash in 1943.
Another notable Night Witch was Lieutenant Nadezhda “Nadia” Popova, who enlisted when she was 19. She joined in order to avenge her brother, who had been killed by German forces. In total, Popova flew 852 missions, having been shot down multiple times, forced to find her way back in extreme winter conditions. She met another pilot in 1942 (his plane had also been shot down) who she eventually married.
Popova said she often returned from missions with a plane that was “riddled with bullets” and considered herself lucky, having watched many of her friends’ planes shot and burning in mid-air.
The Night Witches went on to earn the respect of Soviet forces, as well as gaining worldwide recognition. In addition, 23 of its members were given the title Hero of the Soviet Union, two earned Hero of the Russian Federation, and one was named Hero of Kazakhstan.
US Air Force weapons developers plan to begin a new phase of construction and development for the emerging Long-Range Standoff Weapon in 2022, a move that will bring a new nuclear-armed, air-launched cruise missile closer to operational status amid fast-growing global nuclear weapons tensions, service officials said.
Due to emerging nuclear weapons threats, the Air Force now envisions an operational LRSO by the end of the 2020s — as opposed to prior thoughts that it may not be ready until the 2030s.
“The decision to move into the Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase is on track for 2022,” Maj. William Russell, Air Force spokesman, told Warrior Maven.
US Air Force weapons developers believe the emerging nuclear-armed Long-Range Stand-Off weapon will enable strike forces to attack deep within enemy territory and help overcome high-tech challenges posed by emerging adversary air defenses.
Early prototyping and design work is already underway with Air Force industry partners, Raytheon and Lockheed, now working on a $900 million Technology Maturation and Risk Reduction deal with the service.
Air Force officials tell Warrior Maven the developing LRSO is, by design, closely aligned with the Pentagon’s recently released nuclear weapons review.
“The Nuclear Posture Review reaffirms LRSO is critical to the airborne leg of the nuclear triad,” and “…will maintain into the future the bomber force capability to deliver stand-off weapons that can penetrate and survive advanced integrated air defense systems, thus holding targets at risk anywhere on earth,” Russell said.
The LRSO will provide an air-launched component to the Pentagon’s current wish to expand the attack envelope possibilities for its nuclear arsenal; the NPR calls for the addition of a new low-yield submarine-launched nuclear-armed cruise missile. The move is described by Defense Secretary James Mattis as an effort to further deter potential Russian aggression and bring them back into compliance with the INF Treaty.
These developments are receiving additional attention in light of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inflammatory remarks about new Russian nuclear weapons.
A cruise missile armed with nuclear weapons could, among many things, potentially hold targets at risk which might be inaccessible to even stealth bombers, given the growing pace at which modern air defenses are able to detect a wider range of aircraft — to include the possibility of detecting some stealth bombers.
As a result, senior Air Force leaders continue to argue that engineering a new, modern Long-Range Standoff weapon with nuclear capability may be one of a very few assets, weapons or platforms able to penetrate emerging high-tech air defenses. Such an ability is, as a result, deemed crucial to nuclear deterrence and the commensurate need to prevent major-power warfare.
Therefore, in the event of a major nuclear attack on the US, a stand-off air-launched nuclear cruise missile may be among the few weapons able to retaliate and, as a result, function as an essential deterrent against a first-strike nuclear attack.
The LRSO will be developed to replace the aging AGM-86B Air Launched Cruise Missile or ALCM, currently able to fire from a B-52. The AGM-86B has far exceeded its intended lifespan, having emerged in the early 1980s with a 10-year design life, Air Force statements said.
Unlike the ALCM which fires from the B-52, the LRSO will be configured to fire from B-52 and B-21 bombers as well, service officials said; both the ALCM and LRSO are designed to fire both conventional and nuclear weapons.
Despite some earlier discussion about the weapon being integrated into the B-2 bomber, Russell said there are no current plans to arm the B-2 with the LRSO at the moment.
While Air Force officials say that the current ALCM remains safe, secure, and effective, it is facing sustainment and operational challenges against evolving threats, service officials also acknowledge.
The rapper 2 Chainz and the Tru Foundation, a non-profit focused on helping the Southside of Atlanta and the surrounding areas, visited the home of Dierdre Plater, a disabled veteran living in Palmetto, Georgia.
He was there to spread Christmas cheer and surprise Plater, a single mother, with new furniture and her rent for an entire year.
2 Chainz used proceeds from his recent line of “Dabbing Santa” ugly Christmas sweaters. The rapper plans to extend the giving to other families in need during the Christmas season.
“It’s hard to keep gas in the car, food in the house, and do everything by myself being a single parent,” Dierdre Plater told CBS 46, the local CBS affiliate.”I love to see stuff like this happen for other people, but I never thought it would happen to me.”
The Army is in the early stages of creating requirements for a new externally mounted weapon to replace both the M2 .50-cal machine gun and the MK-19 grenade launcher.
The idea is to simultaneously lighten the load of mobile attack forces while increasing their lethality and envelope of attack with a single system that achieves the offensive firepower, and desired combat effects, of both weapons.
“This will be one weapon with a totally different new type of ammo that is not yet even in the developmental phase,” Laura Battista, product management engineer, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
The effort is still very much in the early or conceptual phases, though future engineering and requirements initiatives plan to give shape, contours, and direction to the new weapon; as a result, Army officials did not yet specify a time frame as to when this might be operational. It is reasonable, however, to assume that requirements, designs, and then prototypes could emerge in the next few years.
The details of how this will be accomplished have not yet emerged, though the planning is to engineer a weapon that has the attack and suppressive fire ability of a .50 cal along with an explosive “area weapon” effect of a grenade launcher.
The new, combined-fires weapons would bring both logistical and tactical advantages. A single unit on the move could much more easily attack a wider range of targets with one weapon, laying down suppressive fire or attacking with machine gun fire and also achieving the effects of firing grenades at enemy locations when needed.
The Army will also embark upon a simultaneous excursion to develop a lighter profile barrel for the .50 cal.
“We will have many barrels that will lessen the logistic burden of having a spare barrel all the time,” Battista said. “We are also hoping to save a lot of weight. We are hoping to save 16 pounds off of a 26-pound barrel.”
The Army’s .50-cal program is looking at a longer-term project to engineer a lighter-weight caseless ammunition that will reduce the amount of brass needed, Lt. Col. Paul Alessio, product manager for crew-served weapons, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
In addition, the Army plans to engineer a laser rangefinder, new optics, and fire-control technology for the .50 cal. Alessio said a new, bigger machine-gun mounted optic would most likely be put on the gun within the next five years.
A laser rangefinder uses an algorithm created to identify the exact distance of a target by combining the speed of light, which is known, with the length of time it takes the laser to reach the target.
New lightweight .50 cal
The Army is creating a new, lightweight version of its iconic .50-caliber machine gun designed to better enable soldiers to destroy enemies, protect convoys, mount weapons on vehicles, attack targets on the move, and transport between missions.
The new weapon, engineered to be 20 to 30% lighter than the existing M2, will be made of durable but lighter weight titanium, Army officials said.
The emerging lightweight .50 cal, described as still in its infancy stage, still needs to be built, riveted, and tested.
The parts for the titanium prototypes will be built at Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey and then go to Anniston Army Depot in Alabama for riveting and further construction.
“We always want to lighten the soldier load,” Battista said. “A major requirement is to engineer a 60-pound weapon compared to an 86-pound weapon.”
“We will procure 30 and then go into full-blown testing — air drop, full reliability, durability, maintainability, and government standard testing,” Battista added. “We’ll see how it did compared to the M2, and we will try to go to turn it into a program of record.”
An intimidating combat-tested weapon
The M2 crew-served machine gun, referred to as the “Ma Duece,” was first introduced in the 1930s; it has both a lethal and psychological effect upon enemies.
“When enemies hear the sound of the gun, they tend to run in the other direction,” Battista said.
The machine gun is used on Humvees, tactical trucks, M1 Abrams tanks, Strykers, some Navy ships, and several aircraft such as CH-47 Chinook cargo helicopters and UH-60 Black Hawks. The gun can also be mounted on a tripod on the ground by infantry in a firefight or combat circumstance; the M2 has a solid range and can fire at point targets up to 1,500 meters away and destroy area targets at distances up to 1,800 meters.
The .50 cal is effective in a wide variety of circumstances, such as convoy protection, air attacks, and attacks upon small groups of enemies on foot or moving in small vehicles. Several variants of the machine gun can fire more than 500 rounds a minute.
“It can be used for antipersonnel (enemy fighters) and also against lightly armored vehicles and light unarmored vehicles,” Maj. Keith Muehling, assistant product manager for crew-served weapons, told Scout Warrior in an interview. “Any time you get into an up-armored (more armor) situation or reactive armor — it is not going to be very effective. It works against anything that does not have thick armor.”
The Army owns what is called the Technical Data Package, or TDP, for the new lightweight .50 cal; vendors will have to “build to print” and execute the government’s existing specs, Battista said.
The Army now operates 24,000 standard M2 machine guns and roughly 25,000 upgraded M2A1 .50-caliber weapons designed with numerous improved features. The improved M2A1 is, among other things, engineered with what is called “fixed head space and timing” designed to better prevent the machine gun from jamming, misfiring, or causing soldier injury, officials said. The M2A1 is also built to be more reliable that the standard M2; the M2 barrel extension can last up to roughly 25,000 rounds, whereas the M2A1 barrel extension can fire as many as 80,000 rounds, Alessio said.
The Army plans to have initial prototypes of the new lightweight .50 cal built by this coming summer as a preparatory step to release a formal Request For Proposal, or RFP, to industry in the first quarter of 2017, Alessio said. An acquisition contract is expected several months after the RFP is released.
The lighter weapon will bring additional an additional range of mission sets for soldiers who will be better able to transport, mount, and fire the weapon against enemies.
“If you are a top gunner and you are having to move this weapon around, it is on a pedestal tripod,” Meuhling said. “If it is lighter, you are going to be able to traverse the weapon a little bit easier than a 20-pound-heavier weapon. That is one of the added benefits as far as getting it on and off the vehicle. If a soldier can do that by himself, that is an added benefit.”
The M2 uses several different kinds of ammunition, including some rounds engineered to be “harder penetrating.” The weapon also uses an ammo can with 200 rounds; a top cover can be lifted off and the links between rounds are spaced to provide accurate timing as they are dropped into the weapon, service officials said.
Tony Garcia knew he was in trouble. He was diagnosed with PTSD and was starting to understand why he was feeling disconnected and depressed – but he was still feeling alone in his experiences as a Vietnam War veteran.
“We were trained to be a sharp blade for fighting,” Garcia said, “but we were never shown how to come back home. I felt like nobody understood me.”
The years of silently dealing with his time in Vietnam as a soldier had nearly caught up to Garcia when he started attending weekly group counseling sessions at the newly established VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System in 2011. He and 10 other veterans were some of the first veterans to meet in the new space in Harlingen, Texas, and the more his fellow veterans shared their experiences the more he recognized the similarities in their struggles.
It’s this group of veterans, and the stories they shared with each other at VA, that Garcia credits with changing his outlook on life and giving him new purpose.
Guardians of the Flag: Veterans honor legacy of Vietnam War
“That gave me the tools I needed to keep moving forward,” he said. “If it hadn’t been for the VA and the therapy – I would still be lost in my depression.”
It was during one of his group meetings that Garcia learned of a special piece of history that somehow found its way to South Texas.
One of the veterans began talking about his experience at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon before it fell to North Vietnamese forces in April 1975. The Marine and Rio Grande Valley native recalled how in the middle of trying to evacuate the compound he encountered two employees trying to destroy the ceremonial flag in Ambassador Martin’s office. According to the story, the veteran approached the men who were apparently angry that they would not be evacuated and wrestled the flag from them before they could further damage it.
The veteran, who asked Garcia to keep his identity private, took the flag home with him to South Texas and kept it in his home for about 30 years. After his wife asked him to get rid of the tattered flag, the veteran gave it to a friend in a neighboring town with instructions to pass the flag along to another veteran should he ever need to part with it too.
“I couldn’t believe what they were telling me,” Garcia said. “I couldn’t believe the flag had made it all the way here and it was in somebody’s garage.”
At that time, it was an amazing story that piqued Garcia’s interest. He felt a connection to the flag even then, but he wouldn’t get to see or hold it until a few years later when his fellow veterans asked if he would take it.
“They didn’t know what to do with the flag, so they offered it to me,” Garcia said, “and immediately I said I would take it and care for it.”
Tony Garcia (left) and his fellow Warriors United in Arms members move the ceremonial flag in Brownsville, Texas.
Garcia, who had recently founded a veterans organization with several of his friends, decided the flag would not be hung up on a wall in his home or stay in storage. As the Warriors United in Arms of Brownsville, the group would find a way to protect, display, and tell the story of the flag they all felt a deep connection with.
“I really do believe this flag represents the American fighting man in Vietnam,” Garcia said. “This flag represents everything we went through as Vietnam War Veterans. Like the flag we all went and did what Uncle Sam wanted, and like the flag we were disrespected when we came home . . . I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t forgotten.”
Today, the ceremonial flag is encased and held in the main vault at the IBC Bank in Brownsville, Texas. Garcia and his fellow warriors frequently take it to local schools, businesses and events. They tell the story of how the flag founds its way to them, and they explain why it’s such an important symbol.
On 2019s Vietnam War Veterans Day, the group will display the flag at the VA clinic where Garcia first heard its amazing story. The goal, Garcia said, is to help Vietnam War veterans and show them that they are not alone.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.