The drone that tipped the scales at the Battle of Takur Ghar - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The drone that tipped the scales at the Battle of Takur Ghar

A once quiet landscape turned battlefield, the clash of gunfire and shouts ripped through the Shahi-Kot Valley in the early hours of March 4, 2002. As part of an early war effort that targeted al Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan, the Battle of Roberts Ridge is still known as one of the deadliest engagements during Operation Anaconda.

Above the Takur Ghar mountain top, an MQ-1 Predator aircrew became an unforeseen, close air support asset for a desperate joint special operations team in their time of need.


Deep, black smoke from a crashed, bullet-riddled MH-47 Chinook helicopter filled the air. Among the wreckage were the lead combat controller on the ground, Maj. Gabe Brown, then a staff sergeant, along with the rest of the special operations team who worked to secure casualties and defend their position on the summit.

Pinned down on the landing zone and under direct fire, Brown established communications with an MQ-1 aircrew in the area who had visual of the team. Col. Stephen Jones, then captain and Predator pilot, had already been in the cockpit and was ordered to support just moments after the crash.

Before Jones arrived on station that early morning, he had no idea what he and his team were in for.

The drone that tipped the scales at the Battle of Takur Ghar

An MH-47 Chinook Helicopter.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Christopher Callaway)

“I remember coming in on shift that night and there was a lot of commotion,” Jones said. “I was told to get out to the ground control station as soon as possible.”

Throughout the day, Brown said he developed rapport with the Predator pilot as he gave situational awareness updates and assisted with targeting enemy combatants.

“When I had fighters check in, he would buddy lase for those inbound fighters and would help me with the talk-on, so it cut my workload dramatically having him there,” Brown said.

Many other U.S. and coalition aircraft were simultaneously entering and exiting the area. Before authorizing a strike, Brown needed to “talk-on” the respective aircrew, which meant he briefed the situation on the ground to every aircraft that entered the airspace.

With a bird’s-eye view, Jones and his aircrew alleviated some of Brown’s duties and took control of liaising information within the zone, while serving as forward air controllers in the battle.

“(From our cockpits) we were serving as forward air controllers airborne or FACA, and I was serving as the on-scene commander,” Jones said.

He began looking after the survivors, deconflicting airspace for coalition aircraft coming in and out, as well as communicating back to the joint command and control elements about the survivors’ condition as they put together an evacuation plan.

“Gabe was doing a phenomenal job being a controller on the ground calling in close air support, but it was a lot of work,” Jones said. “There were a ton of coalition aircraft coming in and out and some of them didn’t have much play time, meaning they had to get in, develop an understanding of what was going on, receive a nine-line and then drop bombs or shoot their missiles.”

The aircrew took some of the burden from Brown who remained on frequency with Jones, ready to voice commands at any moment.

The drone that tipped the scales at the Battle of Takur Ghar

A U.S. Air Force MQ-1B Predator.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Julianne Showalter)

Brown was able to conserve radio battery life due to the aircrew’s initiative and the MQ-1’s ability to loiter over the battlefield for extended periods of time.

Ground forces were still pinned down from continuous bunker fire when Jones relayed the evacuation plan to Brown. Their team was in need of a precise airstrike that could eliminate the enemy hunkered down deep in the mountainous terrain.

Brown first called upon fighter aircraft.

“We were basically trying to use walk-in ordinance off the fighters, using 500-pound bombs to frag (blast) the enemy out of the bunker and we were unable,” Brown said.

After numerous attempts, Brown and his team were running out of options and daybreak quickly approached…

Brown and his team were considered danger-close due to their proximity to the target, causing concern for aircrew and senior leaders. However, Brown’s need for immediate aerial support outweighed any apprehension.

“It was late in the morning, he (Jones and aircrew) had one shot left and we had been on the ground for a few hours,” Brown said. “I gave my own initials and cleared him hot.”

Jones released the hellfire missile and successfully destroyed the bunker, which allowed U.S. forces on the ground to recuperate and devise a mission plan going forward.

“When that hellfire went into that bunker, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that bunker had been neutralized,” Brown said.

The enemy may not have seen the MQ-1 as it soared overhead, but radical terrorists felt the Predator’s wrath.

Jones and the rest of the MQ-1 aircrew loitered above the combat zone for approximately 14 hours, relaying critical information and laser-guided munitions during the entire fight. Their actions provided key reconnaissance for senior leaders commanding the situation, and directly enabled visual relay between forces on the ground and the combatant commander.

“I credit that pilot, the technology and that airframe with saving my life, as well as the team’s and getting the wounded and KIA (killed in action) off the hilltop that day,” he said.

This article originally appeared on the United States Air Force. Follow @usairforce on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Chinook crew pulls long nights to keep birds flying in Puerto Rico

The maintenance team from the Army’s 2nd Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment has been working nonstop in Puerto Rico since they flew in from Fort Bliss, Texas, Oct. 9. The crew maintains six CH-47 Chinook helicopters that deliver humanitarian supplies daily to some of the hardest-hit and most remote areas of Puerto Rico following Hurricanes Irma and Maria.


Soldiers need to do 90 percent of the maintenance work at night to allow full usage of the helicopters during the day for essential humanitarian missions, said Army Lt. Col Chris Chung, the battalion commander.
“At first, night shift was running from 3 p.m. to 1 a.m., sometimes 2 or 3 a.m.,” said Army Sgt. Jason Gonsalves, a CH-47 helicopter repairer. “We were working long days, only stopping to take a break for thirty minutes.”

When the unit arrived, the maintenance team had to reassemble the Chinooks, which they had only recently disassembled to fit on C-5 Galaxy transport aircraft for the trip from Texas, Gonsalves said.

The drone that tipped the scales at the Battle of Takur Ghar
A CH-47 Chinook helicopter sits on the airfield at Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, Nov. 2, 2017. Chinooks are being used to deliver aid to the worst-hit and most remote areas of Puerto Rico as part of the ongoing relief and recovery efforts after the island territory was hit by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Army photo by Spc. Samuel D. Keenan

In order for two Chinook helicopters to fit aboard a C-5, their rotor systems and housings must be detached and disassembled.

The maintainers had the helicopters back together and ready to fly within 48 hours, said Army Pfc. Zachariah Ingram, a CH-47 helicopter repairer.

In addition to regularly scheduled maintenance, the crew has to be vigilant for other problems that come with the operating environment. For example, the salt air and humidity inherent with operating in tropical environments can lead to corrosion, Gonsalves said.

Also Read: How 10k soldiers helped out during Hurricane Irma

Volunteering

When not working on the helicopters, the maintainers volunteer to help with the humanitarian airlift.

“I’ve gone on a flight to help pass out supplies and talk to the populace,” said Army Spc. Juan Betancourt, a CH-47 maintainer.

Betancourt, a native Spanish speaker, uses his skills to help other soldiers communicate with the island’s residents.

“There was a younger girl, maybe 12 or 13, who came up and gave me a hug and said ‘Thank you,'” Betancourt said. “It was heartwarming.”

The work of the maintenance crews has not gone unnoticed.

“Our maintainers have done a phenomenal job keeping the Chinooks … up and running at the mission-capable status that we need to continue to achieve missions that are requested of us and to be on standby for those that are not,” Chung said. “It’s not a small task and it’s not a small feat.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

A British Naval Officer captured Guam by getting the governor drunk, then lost it

John Anderson was many things: a skilled seaman, a ship’s surgeon and charming drinking buddy. All three of these qualities would help him seize control of the island of Guam, briefly, before ceding it back to the Spanish governor. 

He found himself on Guam after being convicted of breach of trust while serving aboard a ship in the Royal Navy. He escaped to the island, where he started a new life.

Once there, his only real behavioral issues came when in the port with fellow Englishmen. They would tip a few glasses and get proper drunk. He first first came to Guam in 1819 and liked it so much, he decided he would stay.

He eventually got married, had several children and began to work in the port of the Spanish-held island. One day he decided that maybe Spain shouldn’t control the island – maybe he could do a better job. 

Anderson and his fellow Englishmen there hatched a scheme that would leave them in charge of Guam. He would simply get the governor stinking drunk and take it by force. 

The plan began with ingratiating themselves to the ruling class of the island. Now going by the name Juan Anderson, he integrated himself and his colleagues into the inner circles of Guam’s most important people, eventually meeting the governor and earning his trust. 

By 1831, Don Francisco Villalobos, Spanish Governor of the Mariana Islands, appointed Juan Anderson as the Port’s Adjutant, acting with full authority of the Captain of the Port. He was also granted the honorific title of “Don” himself. 

The Mariana Islands are circled in red. (Wikipedia)

One night, they sat to have drinks with the Spanish Governor of Guam, Pablo Perez. After getting Perez “as drunk as a boiled owl,” the English took control of the palace, along with all the weapons and ammunition on the island. With possession of the island in their hands they began to celebrate.

They also had to decide who would rule as the new governor, a decision to which no one could agree. So the English did what good Englishmen do, and had a drinking contest. The last man standing sober would win the governor’s palace. The winner was Anderson, the expert-level drinker. 

But even Anderson was so drunk he couldn’t stand. With the Englismen passed out drunk, the Spanish calmly took back control of the situation, the palace, and the island. The English were subsequently tied up and arraigned for their treason, then sentenced to be placed on a raft and cast away at sea. 

Once convicted, their sentence was carried out right away and the men drifted around the Pacific Ocean for several days before coming ashore at Tinian island. They made the best of their new home on Tinian, but longed to return to Guam. 

The conspirators wrote a letter to the once-deposed Spanish governor pleading for forgiveness and expressing their regret for what they’d done. Governor Perez pardoned them with the condition that they swear allegiance to the Spanish government and the island of Guam and spend the rest of their lives as loyal citizens. 

MIGHTY MOVIES

What this Navy vet turned PI discovered at Area 51

With the upcoming ‘Area 51 raid’ this month, the question on everyone’s mind is whether we’re all gonna see them aliens.

I’m too lazy to head out to Alienchella or whatever, so I caught up with Navy vet turned Private Investigator Jennifer Marshall who, in addition to being an exceptionally talented actor (Stranger Things, Hawaii Five-0) and a huge supporter of the veteran community, is also the host of the CW’s new summer show Mysteries Decoded.

This week’s episode dives into the conspiracies and rumors surrounding Area 51. Here’s what Marshall had to say about it:


Mysteries Decoded | Area 51 Scene | CW Seed

www.youtube.com

Mysteries Decoded | Area 51 Scene | CW Seed

Tell us a little about your background, from your service in the Navy to your career as a Private Investigator and finally to hosting Mysteries Decoded.

I graduated from high school in a town with one stoplight and really wanted to get out and see the world! The Navy recruiter was the first to call me and try to pitch the military. I told him he was wasting his breath and that I wanted to enlist…I might have been the easiest recruit he ever enlisted! I served in the Navy for five years and deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and then separated honorably to attend college.

In 2014, after working in the entertainment industry for a few years, I went to Private Investigation school and opened my own company this year. The show came about because they were looking for a Private Investigator who ideally understood the world of television…and bam! Here we are. It’s a rare opportunity to be able to combine my two careers.

The drone that tipped the scales at the Battle of Takur Ghar

How did you feel about looking into a military establishment (Area 51)? Where is the boundary between military secrets and the people’s right to know? Or maybe even in this case, military secrets and Planet Earth’s right to know?

Area 51 was admittedly a difficult episode for me. My co-host on the show, Ryan, is a UFOlogist and a journalist without a military background (although very appreciative of veterans and their service). He heavily advocates for transparency. I understand the importance of keeping certain things under wraps for national security purposes.

There were also a few issues brought up in the context of the show that I was quiet about. I came across a few things during my service that are not common knowledge and it’s not my place to put them out for everyone to know. With that being said, if it is something outside of what I experienced while in the service, it’s fair game.

The drone that tipped the scales at the Battle of Takur Ghar

Area 51 is getting a lot of attention right now with the upcoming “raid” — what do you think people will learn if/when they show up to Groom Lake?

Honestly, I think most people will just chalk it up as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Most people are not planning to raid. I fear for those who do intend on crossing that gate because it’s undeniable the military is prepared. Tear gas, rubber bullets, and unfortunately, if necessary, lethal methods as well.

To be fair, people have been warned to not cross into the base. I hope everything stays calm and people abide by the law, but my feeling is you’ll always have a few people who either don’t understand the consequences or don’t care.

Related: The Air Force is ready to kill you if you storm Area 51

What is something you learned when shooting this episode?

I learned a lot more about Bob Lazar, the whistleblower who claims to have worked at S-4. When I first read his claims and his background, I was inclined to dismiss him. The more I learned and the deeper I dug, I realized there was much more going on than most people knew. He is perplexing and his story is one of a kind.

Mysteries Decoded | Cases And Cover-Ups Trailer | CW Seed

www.youtube.com

Mysteries Decoded | Cases And Cover-Ups Trailer | CW Seed

You’ve been investigating a lot of mysteries for this show. Have any of them given you second thoughts? What are some of the biggest insights you’ve gleaned?

I went into Lizzie Borden based off the research I conducted believing she did kill her parents and through the investigation, came to the conclusion it absolutely was her. In my opinion, it is the oldest documented case of affluenza. She killed her parents and moved to an estate in a more upscale part of town. The only thing that did surprise me was the paranormal things we experienced while in the house. I was not a huge believer in that, but there were too many things that happened for me to look the other way or explain it away — as much as I wanted to.

An upcoming episode, The Bermuda Triangle, was fascinating for me. I loved the scientific aspect of it. We spoke to physicists, Navy officials, historians, pilots, you name it. What we uncovered made me understand why certain things may have happened there. Other things, however, still remain a mystery. It was fascinating delving into the science behind the disappearance of ships and aircraft.

Also read: 11 scary ghost stories, legends, and haunted military bases

Anything else you want us to know?

Often times with a few of these cases, someone coming forward could have led to an earlier resolution. I see this in day-to-day life as well and especially in my practice. It takes courage to be transparent and do the right thing, but too many people don’t want to get involved. Definitely come forward, whether it’s something that would shed more light on a subject, or in other scenarios — help right a wrong.

The drone that tipped the scales at the Battle of Takur Ghar
Area 51

One last questions: are there aliens at Area 51?

I don’t believe there are aliens walking around at the base, no. But have they ever been here? Not sure. Are their bodies at Area 51? Can’t say that either. But I think it’s pretty odd to believe we are the only intelligent beings that exist in the universe…there are a septillion planets. Statistically, the odds are not that we are alone… 🙂

THEATRICAL REEL – JENNIFER MARSHALL

www.youtube.com

Check out Mysteries Decoded Tuesdays at 9:00PM (10:00PM Central) or streaming on CW Seed.

Articles

Trump picks former Army intel officer to be SecNav

President Donald J. Trump today announced his intention to nominate Philip Bilden as the 76th secretary of the Navy.


If confirmed by the Senate, Bilden will replace Ray Mabus, who was the longest serving Navy secretary since World War I.

The announcement follows the president’s nomination of Heather Wilson as Air Force secretary and Vinnie Viola as Army secretary.

“All three of these nominees have my utmost confidence,” Defense Secretary James Mattis said in a statement following the announcement. “They will provide strong civilian leadership to strengthen military readiness, gain full value from every taxpayer dollar spent on defense, and support our service members, civilians, and their families. I appreciate the willingness of these three proven leaders to serve our country. They had my full support during the selection process, and they will have my full support during the Senate confirmation process.”

The drone that tipped the scales at the Battle of Takur Ghar
Pictured: The Navy| US Navy photo

Bilden is a business leader, former military intelligence officer and Naval War College cybersecurity leader who served on the board of directors for the United States Naval Academy Foundation and the board of trustees of the Naval War College Foundation.

He was commissioned in 1986 in the Army Reserve as a military intelligence officer and served for 10 years, achieving the rank of captain. Bilden’s family includes four consecutive generations of Navy and Army officers, including his two sons, who presently serve in the Navy.

“As secretary of the Navy, Philip Bilden will apply his terrific judgement and top-notch management skills to the task of rebuilding our unparalleled Navy,” Trump said. “Our number of ships is at the lowest point that it has been in decades. Philip Bilden is the right choice to help us expand and modernize our fleet, including surface ships, submarines and aircraft, and ensure America’s naval supremacy for decades to come. I am proud of the men and women of our armed forces. The people who serve in our military are our American heroes, and we honor their service every day.”

“I am deeply humbled and honored to serve as secretary of the Navy,” Bilden said. “Maintaining the strength, readiness, and capabilities of our maritime force is critical to our national security. If confirmed, I will ensure that our sailors and Marines have the resources they need to defend our interests around the globe and support our allies with commitment and capability.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

The world’s largest international maritime warfare exercise is massive

The Rim of the Pacific Exercise, better known as RIMPAC, is the largest regular naval exercise in the world. Every even-numbered year, countries from around the globe take part in this massive operation. 15 nations took part in RIMPAC 2018 (China was disinvited), bringing together a total of 48 ships off the coast of Hawaii.

But there’s much more to RIMPAC than ships.


All sorts of units take part in this massive, international exercise. Off the coast of Southern California, participants carried out mine counter-measures exercises. Dolphins from the Navy Marine Mammal Program also pitched in to help with mine-clearing. Meanwhile, Camp Pendleton got in on the RIMPAC action as United States Marines trained with their Mexican and Canadian counterparts.

If that’s not enough, the United States Army and Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force teamed up to put some hurt on a ship. Special Operations forces also got to do their thing during this exercise — hell, even the bands got involved!

The drone that tipped the scales at the Battle of Takur Ghar

A Mk 7 bottlenose dolphin prepares to mark a “mine” during RIMPAC 2018.

(US Navy)

Historically, there’s been no limit as to what missions might be practiced. Ships get sunk during RIMPAC (arguably a highlight of the exercise), but units there also practice humanitarian missions, amphibious assaults, and even submarine rescues.

In 2018, the exercise was interrupted by a real search-and-rescue mission off the island of Hawaiian island of Niihau that involved Navy and Coast Guard units. In short, if it can happen in war, it can happen at RIMPAC!

The drone that tipped the scales at the Battle of Takur Ghar

Multi-national Special Operations Forces (SOF) participate in a submarine insertion exercise with the fast-attack submarine USS Hawaii (SSN 776) and combat rubber raiding craft off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise.

(U.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Michelle Pelissero)

This year, two aircraft carriers, USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) and JS Ise (DDH 182), took part, as did the amphibious assault ship USS Bon Homme Richard (LHD 6), HMAS Adelaide (L01), and 44 other vessels, ranging from the hospital ship USNS Mercy (T AH 19) to the Peruvian maritime patrol boat BAP Ferre.

Watch the video below to get a glimpse at all the ships that took part in RIMPAC 2018!

Articles

7 mind hacks Navy SEALs use to take on everything

From day one, Navy SEAL training requires complete dedication from your body and your mind. You can prepare your body for the physical toll BUD/S will exact on you, but mental preparation is something else altogether. Navy SEALs gave out some of their mental preparation hacks that not only got them through training, but also through the high operations tempo SEALs face these days.


But even if you can’t be a SEAL (for whatever reason) or you don’t want to be (for whatever reason), you can still use Navy SEAL mind tricks to advance yourself along the path to your personal or professional goals using the tips in the infographic below, courtesy of Mike’s Gear Reviews.

We’ve all heard SEAL quotes before. “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” “the only easy day was yesterday,” and, of course, the ever-accurate “40 percent rule.” Get ready for some new axioms, because these might help you conquer the world — or at least the world as you see it.

Chances are good that you have a big event coming up in your life (and if you don’t, what are you doing? Go find one!) and you’ll need some focus, mental clarity, and calmness before you go out and change the world. Remember to visualize your objectives. Observe, orient, decide, and act. Trigger your consciousness. Control your arousal. Convert your fears to confidence.

And above all, save room for the Hooyah.

MIGHTY TRENDING

After ‘Brexit,’ UK might need to move nukes from Scotland

As the rest of the world processes the fact that the U.K. is now leaving the European Union, there’s a real chance that Scotland might leave the U.K and take the base where the U.K. maintains an arsenal of 160 deployed nuclear warheads on 58 Trident missiles with them.


The drone that tipped the scales at the Battle of Takur Ghar
The ballistic missile submarine HMS ‘Vanguard’ alongside the ‘Type 45’ destroyer HMS ‘Dragon’ in 2010. Royal Navy photo

Many Scottish politicians supported leaving the U.K. in a 2014 referendum that was defeated in an approximately 45 percent vs. 55 percent vote. The “Yes” camp, which asked voters to say, “Yes, Scotland should be an independent country,” pledged to get rid of Britain’s nuclear submarines within the first term of a Scottish president. When the measure was defeated, it allowed the Royal Navy to breathe a sigh of relief. But the issue is coming around again.

While the U.K. as a whole narrowly voted to leave the EU on Jun. 23 in the “Brexit” referendum, Scotland voted overwhelmingly to stay. Every single council area in Scotland, roughly similar to a precinct in the U.S., voted in favor of the EU and 62 percent of the popular vote was for staying in. That has led Scottish politicians who backed the first Scottish independence referendum to call for a new vote.

The drone that tipped the scales at the Battle of Takur Ghar

That will leave voters trying to decide whether to remain part of the EU, which 62 percent of the Scottish population supported, or to remain part of Britain, which only 55 percent of the population supported. While there’s no guarantee that Scotland would leave if a new referendum is held, it is likely that a “Yes” vote would force Britain to move all four of its nuclear submarines to a new base. And that would be a huge problem.

Estimates in 2014 said that it would take Britain 10 years and 3 billion pounds that it doesn’t have to relocate the base. So, the Royal Navy began looking at alternatives. The best and easiest for the U.K. would be if they could negotiate a deal to lease the base from Scotland, but that would likely fail since many members of the independence movement want all nuclear weapons off Scottish soil. The next best option would be for England to send all their warheads, their sub crews, and the submarines themselves to Georgia. Yes, that Georgia, the state just north of Florida.

American politicians promised support of the plan in 2014. If it came up again in 2017, there’s a decent chance Congress would go for it since the British nuclear deterrent is part of the NATO nuclear deterrent. Besides that, Britain has few options. France could be a possibility, assuming that the French people don’t take Brexit too personally. Britain’s strong status in NATO could potentially get it four parking spots in a Baltic port, but then it would have the constant headache of its submarines being within range of a Russian invasion.

It’s still too early to tell if Scotland will actually vote to leave, especially since its admittance into the EU would not be guaranteed. If it did leave the U.K. over Brexit though, the Royal Navy would be facing a list of bad options.

MIGHTY TRENDING

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

Over the last 18 months, VA has been dedicated to implementing the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 (Appeals Modernization Act). The Appeals Modernization Act was signed into law by President Trump on Aug. 23, 2017, and has been fully implemented beginning Feb. 19, 2019. VA is proud to now offer veterans greater choice in how they resolve a disagreement with a VA decision.


Veterans who appeal a VA decision on or after Feb. 19, 2019, have three decision review lanes to choose from: Higher-Level Review, Supplemental Claim, and appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (Board). VA’s goal is to complete Supplemental Claims and Higher-Level Reviews in an average of 125 days, and decisions appealed to the Board for direct review in an average of 365 days. This is a vast improvement to the average three to seven years veterans waited for a decision in the legacy process.

The drone that tipped the scales at the Battle of Takur Ghar
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Clayton Cupit)

Before appeals reform, pending appeals grew 350 percent from 100,000 in Fiscal Year 2001 to 450,000 in Fiscal Year 2017. In November 2017, VA initiated the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP) to afford Veterans with a legacy appeal the opportunity to take advantage of the benefits of the new process. RAMP ended Feb. 15, 2019, but VA remains committed to completing the inventory of legacy appeals.

This is a historic day for Veterans and their families. Appeals Modernization helps VA continue its effort to improve the delivery of benefits and services to Veterans and their families.

For more information on Appeals Modernization, visit http://www.va.gov/decision-reviews.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

How to get one of the Army’s surplus M1911 pistols

After writing about the potential mass sale of the Army’s surplus .45 ACP M1911 pistols through the government-chartered Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP), I received a f*ck-ton of emails over the course of my Thanksgiving travel that broke down into two main categories:


  1. It’s Medal of Honor, not “Congressional” Medal of Honor (I’m a civilian and moron, so thank you for correcting me!)
  2. When and where can I grab one of these bad boys!?

At the moment, details are scarce. The $700 billion 2018 National Defense Authorization Act that authorizes the transfer of weapons “no longer actively issued for military service,” including thousands of M1911 and M1911A1 pistols, to the CMP is currently sitting on President Donald Trump’s desk. And according to the military surplus pipeline, “the limited number and the exceedingly high demand” for the sidearm has sparked congressional scrutiny that’s prompted the board of directors to reexamine how it handles future sales.

It’s tricky to speculate on legislation that hasn’t even passed and what will likely become a brand new sale process, but given the excitement over the sidearm that’s accompanied American troops into every conflict zone for more than a century, we can’t help but attempt to read the tea leaves on the future of the legendary pistol.

The drone that tipped the scales at the Battle of Takur Ghar
A U.S. Marine with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s maritime raid force fires an M1911 .45-caliber pistol at a range in Jordan June 9, 2013, during Eager Lion 2013. Eager Lion is a U.S. Central Command-directed exercise designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships between the U.S. and Jordan.

How many M1911 pistols are going to be available?

The DoD doesn’t publically post arsenal inventories for obvious reasons, but thank God for Rep. Mike Rogers. In 2015, the Alabama Republican introduced a similar transfer amendment to the NDAA, stating that the Pentagon spends “about $2 per year to store 100,000 Model 1911s that are surplus to the Army’s needs.” President Barack Obama later signed an NDAA that included a measure to transfer 10,000 pistols to the CMP, although Guns.com notesthat only around 8,300 have been shelled out in recent years, mostly to local law enforcement agencies through the 1033 program.

So that’s, what, around 90,000 M1911s up for grabs in the long run?

Why is 90,000 a “limited number”?

This year’s NDAA amendment regarding the weapons transfers stipulates that only between 8,000 and 10,000 M1911 pistols will go to the CMP each year, and only for the next two years — which means collectors may have to fight over a scant 16,000 bad boys.

Well, let’s take the worst-case scenario: that only 8,000 M1911 pistols ship to the CMP annually. That shakes out to a little more than a decade of releases assuming the measure passes consistently every two years, which seems likely given its inclusion in the 2015 and 2017 NDAAs.

On the downside, this means competition will be fierce — but on the upside, you’ll have multiple chances to grab an M1911 should you miss your first shot.

The drone that tipped the scales at the Battle of Takur Ghar
Army psychological operations soldiers train with the M1911 pistol in 1945. (Photo: U.S. Army)

Oh sh*t! So when can I grab one?

Well, this annual sale thing assumes that the actual transfer goes smoothly — which it won’t because, you know, logistics. Guns.com smartly notes that all military surplus firearms that originate from the Anniston Army Depot in Alabama go through a rigorous inspection and testing process to assess the condition of each firearm. Given that most of the Army’s M1911 stockpile was manufactured before 1945, a significant portion will require repairs or simply end up as scrap due to missing parts.

This doesn’t just whittle down the available pool of M1911 pistols for eager collectors but slows the actual distribution and sale process to a crawl. “The odds of finding a mint-in-the-box specimen that has escaped 70-years of Army life without being issued will be slim,” as Chris Eger put it, “but even those guns will have to be checked and certified.”

Read Also: This is why the M1911 was America’s favorite pistol

Great, so that’s the “what” and the “when.” Now: How do I get one?

First of all, you’ll need to satisfy the general federal and state-level restrictions (age, background check, etc.) around firearms. But more importantly, you need a membership with a CMP-affiliated club — and luckily for you, the organization has a handy search engine to help you find your nearest favorite new hangout, where membership tends to run around $25 annually.

HOWEVER: If you’re a veteran or a member of one of CMP’s “special affiliates” — congressionally chartered veterans service organizations, professional organizations like the Fraternal Order of Police, or an active-duty service member, reservist, National Guardsman, or retiree — you’re essentially good to go.

The drone that tipped the scales at the Battle of Takur Ghar
US Patent 984,519, also known as the Browning. (Image US Patent Office)

Okay, cool, but how do I GET one?

You’ll need to provide proof of American citizenship, through a birth certificate, passport, or another official document. You’ll also need a copy of your official CMP club membership card (duh) or a Club Member Certification Form. (An odd side note: Apparently this means you can only use your military ID as proof of citizenship if you’re E-5 or above? What’s the deal with that? Get at me if you know why.)

No more forms, idiot — HOW DO I GET ONE?

Once the 2018 NDAA passes, the CMP will likely make an announcement on their site regarding sales. And when they do: Holy Ordering Form, Batman!

 

MIGHTY HISTORY

The M3 “Grease Gun” was designed to save money and kill Nazis

If this weapon was your sibling, it would be the rude, crude, and socially unacceptable little brother who helped you curb-stomp the neighborhood bullies. Nobody really loved the M3 submachine gun dubbed “the Grease Gun” by GIs. But nobody really hated it, either.


It was so cheaply made it looked like a mechanic’s tool rather than the product of advanced American industrial know-how.

“By the Korean War, the M3 and M3A1 were used in greater numbers than the Thompson,” said Alan Archambault, former supervisory curator for the U.S. Army Center of Military History and former director of the Fort Lewis Military Museum at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Wash.

It was supposed to serve as a replacement to the iconic and expensive Thompson submachine gun, but developed a reputation of its own that kept it in the U.S. military inventory from World War II all the way through Desert Storm.

“Although unattractive and cheaply made, it was a practical weapon,” said Archambault, a U.S. Army veteran who is also an artist and illustrator who specializes in military subjects. “The weapon did have close-range stopping power: A visitor to the Fort Lewis Museum once told me the story of shooting a Chinese soldier at close range and knocking him out of his boots like in a cartoon or a Three Stooges movie.”

During World War II, there was almost a desperate urgency to manufacture vast quantities of weapons as quickly and cheaply as possible – particularly submachine guns.

In the 21st century, we are used to weapons made from exotic materials and possessing high-technology features that maximize killing power. Back then, the materials used for these hastily produced SMGs looked like they were purchased on sale at the corner hardware store.

The British did it by producing the Sten Gun, a 9 x 19-mm submachine gun made of steel tubing and sheet metal that bears a similarity to a piece of plumbing. In fact, one of its nicknames was “the plumber’s nightmare.”

So did the Russians when they made the PPSh (pronounced “puh-puh-shaw” because of the sound of the Cyrillic letters in the weapon’s name), a 7.62 x 25-mm submachine gun that was often produced in auto shops by unskilled labor.

 

The drone that tipped the scales at the Battle of Takur Ghar
U.S. Army soldiers train with M3 submachine guns. (U.S. Army photo.)

The United States was no different when it came to producing a quick-and-dirty alternative to the Thompson. The M3 is an ugly hunk of metal – words like “crafted” or “elegant” simply are not applied when discussing the looks or pedigree of the weapon.

Made of stamped metal parts like a General Motors car – not surprising when you remember it was produced by the same division that made metal automobile headlights – the M3 is not a submachine gun noted for its fine tolerances and sleek design.

It has no adjustable sights, no selector switch, no fine-grained wood furniture, and few milled-steel components. It was welded together, and the user could see the welds on the weapon’s exterior.

Even the butt stock is simply a bent, U-shaped length of heavy wire.

“The advantage was that the M3 was easy to manufacture and much cheaper to make than the Thompson submachine gun,” said Archambault, who said only the barrel, breech block and parts of the trigger mechanism were made of machined steel.  Yet, that simplicity allowed the manufacture and distribution of more than 600,000 M3s during World War II alone.

Besides, it saved the government money.  The iconic Thompson submachine gun – a sleek, well-made weapon highly prized by any GI who could get his hands on one – cost Uncle Sam about $225 each.

That is about $3,000 a weapon today when you adjust for inflation. A new Grease Gun cost the government about $20 each, or about $260 a weapon in today’s dollars.

It is a beast to carry. It weighs nearly 11 pounds when it has a full 30-round magazine inserted, and the extra magazines weighed several pounds each when loaded.

But it spewed .45-caliber ACP bullets at 450 rounds per minute, was simple to operate, compact because the butt-stock collapsed, and it was disposable.

Yes, disposable: Until 1944, soldiers and Marines who had M3s that had been damaged during battle simply threw them away and drew a new weapon from the armory because no one who made supply decisions thought it was worthwhile to manufacture spare parts for the gun.

No wonder it was also nicknamed “the poor man’s Tommy Gun.”

However, soldiers didn’t embrace it at first. The M3 had some initial problems with an awkward cocking handle, but in 1944 the cocking handle was eliminated and a flash hider added – the M3A1.  Once they discovered its stopping power and the weapon’s kinks were worked out, GIs and Marines developed a sort of grudging affection for the gun.

It was not only used during the Korean War but also by both U.S. and South Vietnamese troops during the Vietnam War.  U.S. helicopter pilots often carried one in their cramped cockpits because it was smaller than an M16 and offered more firepower than a pistol.

It even developed a kind of “bad boy” reputation because of its prominence in the popular film “The Dirty Dozen.” In one famous scene, Lee Marvin‘s character fires a Grease Gun at the criminals and misfits he is transforming into a fighting unit while they train on an obstacle course.  Throughout the movie, the M3 is carried by most of the cast members.

The reality is the M3 was probably the easiest and least expensive weapon for the movie’s armorers to obtain. Yet, the image stuck.

The last time the Grease Gun went to war as an official member of the U.S. inventory was 1991 during Desert Storm. Tank crews carried them as a backup weapon – nearly 50 years after it was first introduced to save money and kill Nazis.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Marines and Air Force just iced one of the most wanted Taliban kingpins

A Taliban shadow governor who had planned and executed improvised explosive device attacks on Marines and Afghan soldiers for well over a decade was killed in a precision airstrike just days before Christmas, Marines in Afghanistan told Military.com.


Task Force Southwest, the 300-Marine element that deployed to Helmand province as an advisory force for the Afghan National Defense Forces in April, does most of its work from inside the wire, supporting the local troops who patrol and launch ground attacks. But this recent strike on local Taliban mastermind Qari Fida Mohammad illustrates the impact Marines continue to have on the active fight.

Mohammad, longtime shadow governor of the restive Helmand district of Marjah, was killed Dec. 20, task force spokeswoman Maj. Kendra Motz said.

The drone that tipped the scales at the Battle of Takur Ghar
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Lucas Hopkins

Standing inside the unit’s operations center, where 11 large flat screens featured detailed live drone footage from around Helmand province, Capt. Brian Hubert explained how the strike happened.

“Through the work of the intelligence sections as well as the operations in here, and coordination with the Afghans as well, we were able to conduct a strike on him a few days ago,” said Hubert, battle captain for Task Force Southwest. “Basically, we’re very familiar with the battlespace now. So when we see the leaders we know are important there, we can kind of do a bead on them.”

The unit started tracking Mohammad with its eyes in the sky. When he was well positioned as a target, the Marines called in two Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons to execute the strike.

“He was in a vehicle traveling with deputies, bodyguards, and a cousin of his, who was also a sub-commander,” Hubert said. “We took the shot successfully, and [he was] dead on the spot, which was huge.”

Mohammad, who was based in the Taliban hotbed of Marjah, but operated throughout Helmand province, had been well-known to the Marines for years.

The drone that tipped the scales at the Battle of Takur Ghar
U.S. Marines with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment patrol the fields in Marjeh, Afghanistan on Feb. 22, 2010. Marines are securing the city of Marjeh from the Taliban. (Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl Andres J. Lugo)

Col. Matthew Reid, deputy commander of the task force, told Military.com he had known about Mohammad in 2010, when he deployed to Helmand for active combat operations.

“We’re still not really fully aware of the exact ramifications of taking him out,” Reid said. “It was a pretty big takedown, so we’re pretty happy about it. He was behind a lot of attacks against Marines back in the day–really high profile attacks.”

Hubert said the task force was now tracking the impact of Mohammad’s elimination. Ahead of the strike, he said, Marines had watched via drone footage as local civilians took to their homes, fearful of being blamed and facing violent reprisal if any attack were launched on the shadow governor. Now, he said, newly leaderless Taliban fighters in southern Marjah are acting disorganized and confused, without orders to carry out.

“Supposedly, [Mohammad] also had a lot of intimidation where he killed full families; he was absolutely just a Mafia-style Taliban leader in that area,” Hubert said, adding that he regularly demanded ‘taxes’ from local civilians by force. “Taking him out … hopefully provides the residents of Marjah and the southern end a little bit of a ‘hey, maybe it’s a turn.'”

For the Marines, Marjah is a region full of history. It’s the site of some of the service’s most hard-fought battles in Helmand. Some 50 American troops died in the 2010 joint siege on Marjah, known as Operation Moshtarak. When Marines departed Afghanistan in 2014, Marjah was considered relatively stable; but by 2016 it had fallen back under Taliban control.

The drone that tipped the scales at the Battle of Takur Ghar
Sgt. Daniel Pluth, from San Marcos, Texas, returns fire during Operation Moshtarak, when coalition and Afghan National Security Forces conducted a large scale operation to rout insurgents from the city, Feb. 13, 2010. Pluth, a 2003 El Capitan High school, Lakeside, Calif., graduate is now on his fourth deployment where he serves with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. (Image Cpl James Clark)

Marines are now working to empower Afghan troops from the local 215th Corps of the Afghan National Army to hold the line. When the small task force arrived, the provincial capital city of Lashkar Gah was on the verge of being overtaken by the Taliban, Marines said. Now, with support from the Task Force, the soldiers have restored stability to the town and are beginning to move offensively against the Taliban.

In a shura with Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller on Dec. 23, Helmand provincial governor Hayatullah Hayat said Afghan troops continue to take daily casualties in the fight.

But task force personnel continue to exact a daily toll against the Taliban as well. On a December visit to the operations center, a dark plume of smoke rose from a road on one of the screens — evidence of a precision strike carried out only minutes before.

From the screens, Hubert said, Marines had watched a pair of Taliban fighters carrying weapons dig a hole in a road south of the Marjah district center, intending to emplace IEDs ahead of a trip Afghan National Security Forces intended to make to the center.

Afghan Air Force A-29 Super Tucanos were in the air at the time, and Marines reached out and shared what they were seeing, offering them the opportunity to take out the fighters.

The drone that tipped the scales at the Battle of Takur Ghar
U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Eydie Sakura

“They couldn’t quite get it, so we stepped in,” Hubert said. “We took the shot with F-16s and killed the two enemy. So now, they’re free to move toward the Marjah district center unimpeded by any kind of enemy contact right now.”

The process of identifying targets and executing strikes is a collaborative one, Hubert explained. Often the Marines will share what they’re seeing and make recommendations to the Afghan troops about how to respond, but leave the decision-making to them. The Afghan troops also play a significant role in the intelligence-gathering: in addition to ground reports, they maintain their own ScanEagle drone, its footage featured on one of the screens at the operations center.

As one target smoldered on the screen, Marines were tracking another: two men traveling up a road, south of friendly forces, one carrying a weapon on his back, concealed by clothing.

Also Read: US-backed forces killed a Taliban leader in Afghanistan

“We can see [the weapon] by the shape and size of what it looks like, then we’ll see him take it out,” Hubert explained.

In the course of several hours that morning, the Marines would coordinate the elimination of a half-dozen Taliban fighters.

The recent strike against Mohammad, and the daily strikes on Taliban targets, illustrate the intensity of the fight the Marines are still waging, albeit from a greater distance than they were during active combat in support of Operation Enduring Freedom four years ago.

“I know we want to bring in governance, and I know we want institutional fixes. But right now, this is a fight,” said Reid, the task force deputy commander. “And as Marines, when we’re fighting, we’re going to kill the enemy, and we’re going to kill as many as we can.”

MIGHTY MOVIES

Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn? Here’s why you should know

The opening scenes of Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn introduce viewers to a charismatic and devoted father deep in the joys of parenthood. Crawling on the floor, swimming and blowing out birthday candles with his toddler and infant sons, he is right where he should be. Until the day he isn’t. Through interviews, reports and a thoroughly researched investigation, the filmmaker poses some incriminating questions.

Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn? Was it the mechanic who told him his helicopter was cleared for flight two hours before it slammed tail-first into the ocean? Was it the manufacturer who produced the faulty wiring blamed for the explosion? Was it the upper ranks of the Navy who disregarded multiple letters of concern purportedly choosing flight hours over safety? How about the Congressional and Executive branches of our government that teamed up with arms manufacturers and focused on new bloated defense contracts instead of investing in the people and machinery already in place?

Van Dorn’s wife, Nicole, living in the shadow of her husband’s unnecessary death, is on a mission to find out. Catalyzed by her and others’ search for answers, this gripping 2018 documentary investigates events leading up to Navy lieutenant J. Wesley Van Dorn’s death one month before his 30th birthday. His untimely demise occurred during a training exercise when an explosion killing three of the five crewmen aboard caused the crash-prone helicopter to fall from the sky into frigid waters below. Van Dorn was not the only one who had expressed concerns about the safety of this aircraft, nor was he the only one to die in it as a result of misguided leadership and mechanical failure.

Written, directed, and narrated by Zachary Stauffer as his first feature documentary, this film offers a sobering look into chronic institutional failings that have resulted in 132 arguably preventable deaths. Diving unforgivably into one family’s agonizing loss, Stauffer invites us to ponder heavy questions while constructing a wall of outrage in his viewers. What is the price of a life? How many lives does it take before change takes place? When will avarice and the “just get ‘er done” attitude stop undermining the American defense establishment?

Built by Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin subsidiary, the MH-53E Sea Dragon is the Navy’s nearly identical version of the Marine Corps’ CH-53-E Super Stallion. Since entering service in 1986, it has never succumbed to enemy fire but holds the worst safety record in the Navy’s fleet making it the deadliest aircraft in military history. The 53-E is a powerful machine used by the Navy for dragging heavy equipment through water to sweep for mines while the Marine version is used for transporting people and gear.

Stauffer explains that due to issues with these aircraft that cropped up even in their initial test flights at the manufacturer and in training missions, the Navy tried to get away with using less powerful helicopters and alternate minesweeping tactics but nothing was as effective as the relic Sea Dragon. Since they were fated to be replaced at some point, the higher ranks avoided investing too much into them so funding for spare parts and maintenance was lean. Members of Congress allegedly chose the path of greed and corruption when defense contractors offered them flashy new weaponry and vehicles as well as comfortable retirement packages. The upper echelons flourished while those training, fighting, and dying on the ground, as well as the American taxpayers, suffered needlessly as top-down decision makers claimed their hands were tied.

With fewer and fewer resources, those maintaining the Sea Dragon had to do more with less. They began cutting corners and developing bad habits. When voicing their worries in person or through over a dozen letters and memos to the upper ranks, they were “belittled, humiliated and cut down,” as one pilot explained. More than 30 years before Van Dorn’s crash, Sikorsky recommended replacing the faulty Kapton wires on all Navy aircraft. This was suggested not once, not twice, but three times before the Navy decided to start looking into the issue. Eventually they named Kapton as the highest ranked safety risk in the fleet and devised a long-term plan to replace it in phases but claimed to never have enough funding to refit all the wiring in the 53s. Only months prior to Van Dorn’s crash the Pentagon re-budgeted funding away from this critical project. Thus, problems that had been escalating over decades while the issue was known and actively overlooked perpetuated, yet the birds were still allowed to fly.

By the time Van Dorn signed on the dotted line in 2010, the run-down helicopters that required about 40 hours of maintenance for a single hour of flight time should have been retired. He and his wife made the decision together to request a spot in the squadron flying 53s because others told them it was an ideal position for a family man who wanted to be home for dinner every night.

Van Dorn was one of those who voiced his opinions about the safety of this aircraft. In an ominous voice recording foreshadowing his own death, he stated “If anyone should care about what’s happening on that aircraft, it should be me and the other pilots, I think. It makes sense to me, because I’m the one who’s going to get in it and have something terrible happen if it doesn’t go right.” His wife Nicole later explained that, “He felt that no matter what he said or what he wrote or who he complained to, nothing was changing.”

The drone that tipped the scales at the Battle of Takur Ghar

On a particularly cold morning in January 2014, Van Dorn’s own portentous sentiments were realized 18 nautical miles off the coast of Virginia Beach. Chafing from a single nylon zip tie exposed naked wiring to a fine spray of fuel causing it to arc, sending a blast of fire into the cockpit. Hours later Nicole lay on her husband’s chest just before they pronounced him dead.

Dylan Boone, a Naval aircrewman and one of two survivors of the wreck declared, “You don’t expect to give up your life for this country because you were given faulty equipment.”

Dynamic cinematography combined with a subtly haunting score by composer William Ryan Fritch creates the backdrop for this solid investigative report. Crisp and flowing visuals paired with thrilling military footage complement the feelings portrayed by those interviewed. These primary sources include Van Dorn’s mother, wife, friends, and fellow airmen as well as a mechanic, pilots, a general, a Pentagon Analyst and a military reporter. Throughout the documentary they and the narrator explain the multifaceted issues connected to Van Dorn’s death and the trouble with the 53s from a variety of angles.

Woven skillfully together, a poignant story is told of decades of negligence that continues to result in tragedy. Wholesome home movies of a young involved father raising two sons with his lovely wife are contrasted with the aching void ripped into the Van Dorn family’s home after his death. Stirring visions of military life ignite the urge to join in viewers who have ever felt compelled to do so, whereas the deep frustration of stifled dreams and a scarred body and soul are almost tangible to someone who has been there before as hard truths are drawn out throughout the film.

The drone that tipped the scales at the Battle of Takur Ghar

Centering on the death of a handsome, beloved father, husband and seaman who was liked by all humanized an issue that might have otherwise been unrelatable. Utilizing the audience’s heartstrings as a focal point was a powerful way to bring attention to a predicament that could have been swept under the rug. Despite the fact that the C-53 airframes experienced serious accidents more than twice as often as the average aircraft and that internal investigations were performed with alarming results, the Navy continues to risk its servicemembers’ life and limb to keep these helicopters performing their critical mission in the air. With this in mind, this documentary might just put enough pressure on the Navy to make the changes necessary to save an untold number of lives.

Winner of the Audience Award in Active Cinema at the 2018 Mill Valley Film Festival, Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn is an intriguing and effective piece of military reporting presented in comprehensible terms for the layman. It is a successful examination of not only the serious failings of a controversial aircraft and the misled priorities keeping it aloft, but also hints toward the fact that anyone who brings up the disturbing issue of safety of these helicopters will be forced out of service. I would recommend this professional-level documentary, especially to anyone with interests in the military or national defense.

The Navy, the Pentagon, Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin declined to participate in this well-researched film. Major funding to make this documentary possible was provided by supporters of the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and Investigative Studios.

After viewing this film, you can decide for yourself who killed Lt. Van Dorn. Regardless of the answer, his unwarranted death will not have been completely in vain if it successfully carries out his final mission: righting the deep and longstanding problems with the CH-53 helicopters, thus preventing the death and destruction of countless others just as it ultimately took him.

Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn is available for purchase or streaming through Amazon.


Do Not Sell My Personal Information