Conrad Heyer crossed the Delaware with George Washington. He was also the earliest-born person, one of only a handful of Revolutionary War veterans, to be photographed. But there is one important historical inaccuracy in the legend of Conrad Heyer that may not add up.
Heyer was born an American in the Massachusetts Bay Colony (now the State of Maine) around 1749. He sat for this photo in 1852, at age 103. In that time, he saw the young republic finish the British off during the American Revolution and fight them, again, to a draw in the War of 1812. He saw President Jefferson purchase Louisiana and watched President Polk and the U.S. Army defeat Santa Anna in the Mexican-American War of 1847.
In his 107 years of life, he saw 15 Presidents of the United States, 31 colonies and territories become U.S. states, and barely missed the start of the Civil War.
Although this is not the earliest photo of an American, Heyer was the earliest-born American to be photographed (and this is actually a daguerrotype — an early kind of photography).
In the telling of Conrad Heyer’s Revolutionary War tale, however, people have been adding one detail for decades that just might not be true: that Conrad Heyer crossed the Delaware with General Washington in 1776.
Washington’s daring plan to attack Hessian mercenaries in Trenton on Christmas, 1776, was audacious and dangerous. Any troop who fell into the icy river would likely die — and two of the three flat boats set to make the crossing didn’t even make it. Somehow, Heyer was counted among those in Washington’s boat, according to the Maine Historical Society.
The Journal of the American Revolution did some digging into Heyer’s story. They went back to the sworn testimony Heyer gave years after the Revolution when applying for a veteran’s pension.
In 1818, Congress allotted funds to give pensions to veterans of the Continental Army who were struggling financially. Applicants had to prove their service either by enlistment documents or sworn testimony of those they served with. Don N. Hagist went back to the National Archives for the Journal of the American Revolution and found Heyer’s original sworn testimony, along with the support of his officers.
Heyer did serve in the Continental Army, but his testimony states he served for a year, starting in the middle of December, 1775. But Heyer says he was discharged in December 1777. This could allow for Heyer to have served at the Battle of Trenton. The records of Heyer’s unit, the 25th Continental Regiment, indicate that the unit served in Canada and was disbanded in New Jersey in 1776.
It looks like the year 1777 was a mistake made by the person who wrote Heyer’s pension deposition, as mentions of Heyer and his unit disappear into history a year earlier.
If he was discharged in Fishkill, New York, as records show, then there is little chance he could have been at the Delaware River crossing in time to join Washington by Christmas, even if he did re-enlist.
But by the time he died, his obituary claimed he’d served three years in the Revolution. Heyer, in reaffirming his pension claim in 1855, swore that he served those three years and was also at the Battle of Saratoga, being present to see General John Burgoyne surrender to Horatio Gates and was later part of Washington’s “bodyguard.”
This is where Heyer could be correct — there is no complete list of members of General Washington’s guard corps. The guard was hand-picked from members of Washington’s field army.
But never once did Heyer ever swear that he was with Washington at the Delaware Crossing.
Recently, a video of Secretary of Defense James Mattis surfaced as the retired, decorated Marine met with a group of deployed service members. As the former general started to speak, a school circle quickly formed around him as his words began to motivate those who listened.
Mattis is widely-known for his impeccable military service and leadership skills, earning him the respect by both enlisted personnel and officers.
Mattis broke the ice with the deployed service members by humorously introducing himself and thanking them in his special way — an epic impromptu speech.
“Just hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other and showing it of being friendly to one another, you know, that Americans owe to one other,” Mattis said. “We’re so doggone lucky to be Americans.”
During a meeting Wednesday with a number of defense reporters and experts, outgoing Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus defended the Littoral Combat Ship against criticism.
The LCS has been noted for a series of engineering problems that has laid up a number of the early ships. The problems have called the program into question even though the USS Freedom (LCS 1) had a very successful 2010 deployment to Southern Command’s area of operations, while the USS Coronado (LCS 4) successfully defeated a simulated attack by a swarm of speedboats in a 2015 test of the surface warfare package.
Mabus particularly aimed his ire at the Pentagon’s Office of Test and Evaluation, or DOTE, which has been part of an ongoing verbal fight between Pentagon testers and the Navy.
“My reaction is that I’ve been there almost eight years,” Mabus, who was confirmed in 2009, groused to the gathered reporters. “And I’m pretty sure that [DOTE director] Michael Gilmore has never found a weapon system that’s effective, ever.”
“I know what this ship can do. I know what the fleet thinks of it,” Mabus added, citing how the office was also highly critical of the P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, claiming it didn’t work or do what the Navy said it would do. The DOTE criticism came even though the plane had already entered the fleet and was drawing rave reviews from operators.
The Littoral Combat Ship covered 20 pages in the DOTE FY2016 Annual Report, which claimed the Navy “has not yet demonstrated effective capability for LCS equipped with the MCM [mine counter-measures], SUW [surface warfare], or ASW [anti-submarine warfare] mission packages.”
The report also cited the 2015 cancellation of the Remote Minehunting System, and even claimed that the USS Coronado had flunked the 2015 test.
“The final thing I’ll say is, it does what we want it to do, not what you think it ought to do which is one of the things [Gilmore] does,” Mabus concluded.
The Navy announced plans in September 2017 to survey the wreck of the World War I U.S. Navy cruiser, on which six American Sailors lost their lives when she was sunk as a result of enemy action off the coast of New York on July 19, 1918.
The survey’s objective was to assess the condition of the wreck site and determine if the ship, the only major warship lost by the United States in WWI, was sunk as a result of a German submarine-launched torpedo or mine. Ultimately, data gathered helps inform the management of the sunken military craft, which lies only a few miles south of Long Island.
The announcement comes just weeks after the 99th anniversary of the sinking of the ship, and the survey is timed to allow researchers to conduct a thorough examination of the site and prepare, then release, their findings around the date of the 100th anniversary. The U.S. is currently commemorating the 100th anniversary of its entry into World War I.
Midshipman Nolan Brandon, a student at the U.S. Naval Academy, assisted with the survey. He recounts his experiences below, in the first of our three-part series on the survey:
“You’re holding onto a $500,000 sonar head. Don’t drop it.” These were the words of encouragement I received from Tim Pilegard, a graduate student at the University of Delaware. At that moment, Tim and I were struggling to bolt the sonar onto the side of the R/V.
After several failed attempts, we finally got the bolts secured, and my risk of being heavily indebted to the University was momentarily over. As I looked over at a very large number of pelican cases containing more expensive equipment still resting on the dock, I realized it was going to be a long night, but there’s no place I’d rather be.
My name is Nolan Brandon, a Midshipman in my final year at the United States Naval Academy. I’m working with team members from Naval History and Heritage Command, Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and the University of Delaware, to survey the wreck of the USS San Diego, help preserve the ship’s heritage, and hopefully, to lay to rest the debate over its sinking. The story of this ship and its men is not well known. I had never heard of USS San Diego until I was invited on this mission. But now that I have learned of what happened on that day 100 years ago, I hope more Americans can hear the story, too, and be awed by the courage and skill of United States sailors.
History of the Ship
San Diego was a 504-foot long armored cruiser commissioned into service on August 1st, 1907. San Diego, and the other ships of the Pennsylvania class, was a new breed of ships that were more heavily armed and armored than cruisers, yet still faster than the great battleships. San Diego served in a multitude of roles from testing the channel of the then brand-new Pearl Harbor to escorting convoys of merchant vessels against German U-boat attacks during World War I.
It was during her time of service that San Diego met her sudden end. On the 18th of July, 1918, the ship was steaming towards her home port in New York through waters in close proximity to Fire Island, known to be hunting grounds for U-boats. San Diego’s commanding officer, Capt. H. H. Christy, was well aware of this threat and took every precaution to safeguard his ship, including stationing additional lookouts, zigzagging along his path, and closing additional watertight hatches. Unfortunately, these measures were not able to protect the ship from the explosion that rocked its port side below the waterline at 11:05 a.m. No one knows for certain whether this explosion was caused by a torpedo, a mine, or a spy onboard (that’s part of the reason why we’re here), but it was enough to cripple the San Diego. As the ship began listing to port, the captain kept his head and initiated evasive maneuvers while scanning for a suspected attacking U-boat. Despite the increasing list as San Diego took on water, Christy was reluctant to abandon ship in case a nearby U-boat could surface and take over San Diego. But as time passed, it became clear that the ship would soon capsize, and so, the call to abandon ship was sounded. Of the 1,183 men on the ship at the time of its sinking (including a few midshipmen), all but six safely escaped peril under the captain’s skillful command, and four of those six died in or as an immediate result of the initial explosion. As per tradition, Capt. Christy was the last to leave the ship. His actions, along with those of his men, reflect the competence, courage, and professionalism expected of United States sailors.
I’m excited and honored to be part of this mission. In addition to the $500,000 side scan sonar head, our equipment includes a fully autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) equipped with side-scan and bathymetric sensors, a remotely operated vehicle with a video camera, a drop camera, a quadrocopter, and a vast multitude of all the cables, tools, computers, monitors, and spares necessary to support our operation. After many hours of wrench-turning and troubleshooting preparations on Sunday, the team ate dinner and returned to the hotel, ready to hit the water and start the surveying work Monday.
We got an early start Monday morning in order to get a full day of surveying in with the AUV. After the team’s briefing with the senior Coast Guardsman at the base, the survey boat’s captain, Kevin skillfully steered the Daiber through the shoals of the inlet and out to the wreckage of the San Diego. As we made preparations to launch the AUV, I felt a little out of place surrounded by such capable individuals such as Dr. Art Trembanis, an oceanographer from the University of Delaware with a PhD in Marine Science and one of our team’s leaders, or Dr. Alexis Catsambis, an archaeologist with NHHC with a PhD in Nautical Archaeology and our team’s other leader. However, I did my best to prove my worth as a deckhand and to suck up as much knowledge and experience as possible.
Read Midshipman Nolan’s full account of the three-day survey here.
For many of us, one of the hardest parts of service is hanging up the uniform for the last time. After spending an entire career learning the ins-and-outs of war, you’re being thrown into the lion’s den that is the civilian workforce and, for once, you feel unprepared.
But veterans have tools that civilian employers are beginning to recognize: Our undying drive for success, a willingness to get our hands dirty, and a natural ability to lead.
And there’s no better place to apply these skills than in the agricultural industry.
Watch the documentary below to see this group of veterans apply what they’ve learned in the military to the farming world, and see how this course can help change lives.
Tribeca Studios and Prudential Financial teamed up to create a documentary about a class of veterans who attend a six-week hydroponics training course through Archi’s Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, or “Archi’s Acres,” a program accredited by the California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.
In it, veterans from all corners of the country bond over their shared experiences, using what they’ve learned in service to create something from seemingly nothing.
“The journey back into civilian life can be incredibly challenging for many reasons,” says Chuck Sevola, head of Veterans Initiatives at Prudential. “Innovative programs like this one provide consistent and focused support from people who understand the challenges that veterans face, which is critical to helping our servicemen and women find quality, purposeful work and peace of mind after their military service.”
Spending time sowing, growing, and cultivating a harvest isn’t just about learning a new skill, it can also help veterans who are going through post-traumatic stress.
“Archi’s Acres is a path into becoming someone else, and something else, involved in something bigger and better than the combat we may have experienced. Being able to communicate that to other veterans that I see, who are maybe in a place of hurt, and showing them that there is another option — that can be life-changing. That’s been instrumental in giving me a healthier outlook.” says Jon Chandler, one of the course’s beneficiaries.
Amid growing calls for an end to the seemingly never-ending war in Afghanistan, the President of the embattled country is looking for a political solution to the conflict. Unfortunately, Reuters reports the terror group will refuse to participate in any peace talks until after a full U.S. withdrawal from the country.
American officials call this refusal, “unacceptable.”
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sean Carnes)
“Frankly, it’s Taliban leaders who aren’t residing in Afghanistan who are the obstacle to a negotiated political settlement,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia, Alice Wells, a top State Department official in Afghanistan.
In June, 2018, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani successfully negotiated a ceasefire for the Eid al-Fitr holiday, the most important religious holiday for Muslims worldwide. It’s a three-day celebration at the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month during which the devout fast during the day. Ramadan is important to the worldwide Muslim community as one of the five pillars of Islam.
It was the Taliban’s first-ever agreement to any ceasefire since the 2001 start of the war in Afghanistan.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Gregory Williams)
The ceasefire actually lasted longer than three days and was “98 percent successful.” Reports say Afghans across the country, both military and civilian, were “jubilant.” Afghan government forces and Taliban fighters alike hugged each other and took selfies together in scenes reminiscent of the “Christmas Truce” of World War I, during which German and British troops spontaneously left the trenches to celebrate Christmas together in peace.
But, in both cases, the party had to end. In 1914, British and Germans were shooting at each other again the next day. In Afghanistan, the truce lasted 18 days, but fighting soon resumed.
Still, the ceasefire gave many civilians in the country the hope that a negotiated peace may soon be at hand. That includes President Ghani, who says the jubilation and happiness surrounding the ceasefire is proof that the country is ready for peace.
“I am ready to extend the ceasefire anytime when the Taliban are ready,” he said at a press conference.
The Taliban ordered its fighters back to the trenches. The group says a negotiated peace is playing into the hands of the U.S. In response, President Ghani ordered his troops back to the fighting as well.
Cards for Connection is a free resource that puts simple coping skills and VA phone numbers directly into veterans’ hands. Originally created for veterans who had experienced homelessness, the card deck has now been updated with information for all veterans.
As a result, veterans playing a game of cards read positive affirmations, reminders to breathe, and encouragement to make a connection with others.
Developing Cards for Connection
VA received input by veterans and that helped inform the VA staff that works with them.
Some veterans reported great feedback. Many wanted to see phone numbers on the cards, whether to see a doctor, find a safe place to sleep, or ask about VA resources.
Cards for Connection hopes to help Veterans cope with different situations.
“I like the feel of them. I was noticing the texture, it’s nice,” said one veteran.
Another veteran said, “I love this picture. If you’re in a [bad place], and you actually have a picture of something beautiful to look at, that’s something great.”
Veteran feedback will update future versions
VA will collect additional feedback on the cards via anonymous pre-addressed/stamped postcards. It will also collect from focus groups and anonymous staff surveys. VA will use this information to update future versions.
How do I get a deck of Cards for Connection?
There are about 8,000 decks available for any veteran who could benefit from using them. Requests for a deck from veterans can be sent to Katherine.Juhasz@va.gov.
A few weeks ago I posted a video by DCS player Forest Rat who recreated the aerial scenes in the very first minutes of “Top Gun” (when the two F-14s piloted by Mav and Goose and Cougar and Merlin are vectored by the aircraft carrier to intercept the incoming aircraft that will turn out to be MiG-28s) using the famous Digital Combat Simulator World combat flight simulator.
Forest Rat did it again.
This time he’s recreated the first official trailer for “Top Gun: Maverick”, the sequel of the original 1980s blockbuster that will hit theaters in June 2020, released on Jul. 18, 2019.
Once again, some details are not exactly the same as the trailer, but the work Forest Rat has done is remarkable and shows the realism that DCS world is able to offer.
A comparison between the official trailer (below) and the one recreated in DCS World (top).
(Image credit: Forest Rat/Youtube and Paramount Pictures)
Noteworthy, the new clip is split into two parts: the first one shows the trailer recreated in DCS World except for the last few seconds, when the F-14 (in CGI) makes a cameo flying over snow-topped mountains; the second one, from mark 02:27, provides a scene-for-scene comparison too. At the end of the second part you can also see the final Tomcat scene. To be honest, I enjoyed very much the very last scene of the trailer, the one that shows the somewhat mysterious F-14 Tomcat (04:39 mark), that in my opinion looks better the way Forest Rat has recreated it in DCS World than it appears in the official trailer…
Here’s what I wrote about DCS World in the previous article:
“DCS World is fundamentally a deep, authentic and realistic simulation designed also to offer a more relaxed gameplay to suit the user and his particular level of experience and training. The ambition is to hand hold users from novice pilot all the way to the most advanced and sophisticated operator of such complex weapons systems as the A-10C Warthog or the F/A-18C Hornet. The only next step is the real thing!” says its official website.
DCS is expandable through additional modules as well as user-made add-ons and mods and this is one of the reasons why the are hundred websites, forums, Reddit Communities and Youtube channels dedicated to the “the most authentic and realistic simulation of military aircraft, tanks, ground vehicles and ships possible.”
Just Google “DCS World” and a microcosm of interesting content (that can also be useful to learn more about combat aircraft!) will appear in front of your eyes.
As pointed out by some readers, while baseline DCS World is technically free, additional stuff (including aircraft, maps, etc.) has to be paid for.
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.
In the mountains of Crested Butte Colorado, the Adaptive Sports Center is working to help people with disabilities enjoy physically rigorous activities both in indoor facilities and in the beautiful mountains of the area. They not only welcome disabled veterans and others who live an adaptive lifestyle, but they give lessons to those people and close family and friends to help them enjoy the sports safely. And a new building is helping them do even more.
Crested Butte is an inspiring place for an adaptive sports center as it is home to a lake, a reservoir, plenty of great rock climbing areas, mountain trails, and awesome slopes for skiing, snowboarding, and more.
But of course, many of those activities are challenging for veterans and others who have disabilities. So the ASC has always provided the special equipment necessary to make the slopes, trails, and more accessible. They also have trainers that can help disabled people learn how to use the equipment properly, and the trainers even help friends and family members learn unfamiliar sports and activities so that wounded veterans and others can bond as a group in the outdoors.
And while the ASC supports plenty of individuals and families with no military affiliation, they also make a point of helping veteran and military families like the Dryers, an Air Force family. Mitchell Dryer, a former Air National Guard firefighter, was injured in a fire and his daughter, Emeri, lost control of her legs to an infection as a baby.
Emeri learned to ski at the ASC. A skilled skier took her on the slopes after she had learned to give them the commands for “faster” and “slower.” Now, she carves the slopes with the rest of her family.
There are also participants like Jose, a veteran combat medic who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder but uses adaptive cycling and cooking to center and challenge himself.
The facilities and personnel at ASC are essential to making many of these transitions possible, but the folks at the center are celebrating the recent opening of a whole new facility that expands their care possibilities.
The Kelsey Wright Building was built in 2018-2019 and is now open. One of its prime offerings is that it allows participants to ski into and out of the building during winter programs, which is great because it houses lots of support activities for the ASC’s mission.
It has a space where personnel can assess the capabilities of participants, an area to modify, repair, and properly fit equipment, and an industrial kitchen. But it also has a lot of great space that isn’t directly tied to outdoor services. It has a classroom, a library, a housing area, and an adaptive climbing wall.
The ASC does ask participants to pay what they can for all the activities they use at the center, but everything is done at reduced cost, and they offer scholarships for those who need financial assistance. If your family or the family of someone you know would benefit from their services, you can find more information here.
If you’re interested in donating to the non-profit center to help it with its missions, you can do that here. The Adaptive Sports Center is a 501 (C) 3 non-profit organization and donations are tax-deductible.
Researchers at Harvard Business School are conducting a study designed to help veterans with disabilities transition into the civilian workforce — and they need more veterans.
Leading practitioners in veteran support and world-class researchers are teaming up with the Ivy League school to better understand the post-separation progress of American veterans. To be eligible for the study, a veteran must meet a few simple criteria:
• Enlisted member within three months of their end of active service, either pre- or post-separation
• Honorably discharged (or anticipate an honorable discharge)
• Have an anticipated VA disability rating between 30-90 percent
• Under the age of 45
The project is being run by Ross Dickman, an Army veteran with 12 years of service as an AH-64D Apache Longbow Pilot who deployed twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Participating vets can earn up to $1,370 to be a part of the study. On top of that, participants can receive life planning education, career guidance, training opportunities, and even further funding toward reemployment.
Joining the five-year study will help some of our nation’s top academics take on the task of helping members of our community reintegrate into civilian life. Harvard emphasizes that being a part of the study will not affect disabled veterans’ employment, education, or other life choices and you can be part of the study no matter where you live.
Personal data collected during the study will be stored in a secure database at Harvard Business School. Identifiable information will not be made available to any external agencies, including the media and any government agencies or employers including the VA and/or the DoD.
To inquire about the study, contact Eugene Soltes at Harvard Business School at 617.495.6622 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The military is always evolving and new things happen every day. With each changes comes a new set of challenges and new opportunities to succeed. Thankfully, there are many talented photographers in the community that capture these struggles and triumphs.
Here are some of those moments from this past week:
A crew chief from the 180th Fighter Wing, Ohio Air National Guard, prepares one of the unit’s F-16 “Fighting Falcons” to shut down after the aircraft arrives at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., April 19, 2018, in preparation for the Thunder Over Louisville air show on April 21. The Kentucky Air Guard is once again serving as the base of operations for dozens of military aircraft participating in the show, providing essential maintenance and logistical support.
Medical Soldiers participating in Eager Lion 2018 carry a simulated casualty on a litter to a UH-60 Blackhawk. The 1st Battalion, 126th Aviation Regiment, Charlie Company, along with the 1st Battalion, 244th Aviation Regiment, Assault Helicopter Battalion conduct a medical evacuation validation for Exercise Eager Lion 2018 from King Abdullah II Air Base in Az-Zarqa, Jordan, April 14, 2018. Eager Lion is a major Exercise with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, designed to exchange military expertise and improve interoperability among partner nations.
Field grade officers and noncommissioned officers assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, “Broncos,” 25th Infantry Division arrive to their first destination as part of a Mungadai exercise at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, on April 17, 2018. The Mungadai is used as a Bronco Brigade leader development program is to create disciplined, trained, and ready professionals, prepared with operational and foundational knowledge, to take disciplined initiative while implementing and executing their commander’s intent.
U.S. Army Soldiers assigned to 1ST Battalion, 37th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, fire an M777 Howitzer during Decisive Action Rotation 18-06 at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., Apr. 16, 2018. The National Training Center allows units to integrate indirect fire into live fire training exercises, enhancing training for Army BCTs.
(U.S. Navy photo courtesy NSWG4 Public Affairs)
Special Boat Team 20 personnel execute the insertion of two Combatant Craft Assault vehicles using the Low Velocity Airdrop Delivery System during a training exercise April, 19, 2018.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ford Williams)
Sailors assigned to the Arleigh Burke-class guided- missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) fire a .50-caliber machine gun during a bi-lateral interoperability live-fire gunnery exercise with the Finnish guided-missile patrol craft Hamina (PTG 80) April 17, 2018. Porter, forward-deployed to Rota, Spain, is on its fifth patrol in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe.
U.S. Marine Corps Rct. Vivienne Herrera, with Platoon 4016, Papa Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion, stands with her fellow recruits after completing an obstacle during the Crucible at Parris Island, S.C. April 20, 2018. The Crucible, a 54 hour day and night test of endurance, is the final and most demanding step before earning the title of United States Marine.
U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua P. Main, a rifleman assigned to Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment (BLT 2/6), 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), fires an M203 rifle at a simulated target during a combat mastery shooting range as part of Eager Lion 18 combat rehearsal, in Jordan, April 17, 2018. Eager Lion is a capstone training engagement that provides U.S. forces and the Jordan Armed Forces an opportunity to rehearse operating in a coalition environment and to pursue new ways to collectively address threats to regional security and improve overall maritime security.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Gabriel Kaczoroski)
A Coast Guard Station Islamorada 33-foot Special Purpose Craft—Law Enforcement boatcrew prepares to rescue a family of four from the water Sunday, April 15, 2018 in Blackwater Sound near Key Largo. The boatcrew took the family to Gilberts Marina with no reported injuries.
After three combat deployments to the Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghanistan, something as simple as the smell of hay could trigger Rick Burth’s post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.
The smell of gunpowder and jet fuel put him on edge, too. He’d known he had PTSD for a long time, but he never talked about it.
“There was this stigma, so you didn’t want to say anything,” said Burth, 49, a Roseville resident and threat assessment specialist with the state Office of Emergency Services. “You just kept your head down and kept doing your job, but after awhile, it just got bad.”
Other treatments hadn’t worked, so Burth opted for a novel procedure that some say is a quick and effective way to quiet the anxiety and agitation that PTSD patients frequently experience. He traveled to the Chicago area, where a doctor injected a local anesthetic into his neck, targeting the nerves that regulate the body’s “fight-or-flight” response to perceived threats.
The treatment, called stellate ganglion block, has typically been used for pain management, but Dr. Eugene Lipov, an anesthesiologist, said he discovered in 2005 that it has the potential to relieve PTSD symptoms.
The 10-minute procedure halts the nerve impulses to the brain that trigger anxiety and jitters in trauma victims, Lipov contends.
Experts disagree on its effectiveness, but some doctors and patients say it seems to be a useful tool in combination with therapy and other medications, which may not always provide relief.
Burth said it helped calm his mind to the point where he could think more rationally about the traumatic events in his past.
The former Marine said he started noticing symptoms after returning from the Gulf War in 1991, and that his symptoms grew worse when he went to Iraq, where he was part of the anti-terrorism team for the California Army National Guard.
“The day-in, day-out fighting — getting shot at, shooting back, things blowing up around us — that compounded the issue,” he said.
When Burth came home, he couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t stand being in crowds. He was abusing alcohol. And it was all wearing on his wife and two young sons, he said. He’d been on anti-anxiety medication for years but never noticed much difference, he said.
“I was just really short-tempered. Always go, go, go. Didn’t have time to stop and listen to folks because I was always so anxious,” he said.
There are nearly 8 million Americans like Burth suffering from PTSD, many of them military veterans, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. PTSD is the third most common psychiatric diagnosis in the Veterans Health Administration.
People can develop PTSD months after they experience a life-threatening event or trauma such as a mugging, sexual assault, or the sudden death of a loved one. Its symptoms are broad because everyone’s PTSD manifests differently, said Dr. David Schafer, acting associate chief of staff for mental health at the Sacramento VA Medical Center.
People can relive a traumatic event such as an ambush or bomb attack in nightmares or flashbacks. They might also avoid places and situations that remind them of the trauma. Feeling anxious, jumpy, and experiencing panic attacks are common symptoms.
Burth, for instance, would become agitated at the smell of hay because he’d been in gunbattles in fields and orchards.
“For many, the easiest and safest thing to do is stay home with the door locked, sleeping on the floor by the closet,” Schafer said. “The challenge with avoidance is that it works.”
Approved treatments of PTSD include reintroducing patients to the people, places, and things they might find distressing. To work through the trauma, they attend therapy sessions for 10 to 15 weeks as they try to understand their reactions to events. Medications may also be prescribed to help take the edge off, Schafer said.
Burth had gone through months of therapy, including a month-long stint in a Texas rehabilitative treatment center, but his PTSD symptoms always returned, he said.
“It was helpful,” he said, “but after you get back home and get back into the same old routine, things pop up again, and you try to remember how to work through it on your own.”
Burth learned of stellate ganglion block through his mother-in-law, who volunteers with the Global Post Traumatic Stress Injury Foundation, which pays for veterans to receive the $1,600 treatment because it isn’t recognized or covered by the VA. The foundation is having a fundraiser at the Granite Bay Golf Club on Sept. 11.
Chris Miller, a local developer and philanthropist, was moved by the testimonials he heard at a foundation event in Washington, DC, last year, where soldiers and veterans spoke of their symptom relief after receiving the anesthetic treatment. Because there is a large military population in the Sacramento area, he decided to host his own fundraiser for the foundation, he said.
In March, helped by the foundation, Burth went to Lipov’s clinic near Chicago. After the first injection, he said he didn’t feel much different.
If patients don’t feel relief after the first injection, Lipov said, he’ll give them another injection higher in the neck. The second injection has a 90 percent success rate, he said.
After the second injection, “I didn’t feel different physically, but I felt different mentally,” Burth said. “Things slowed down. I didn’t have a million thoughts. I didn’t have that anxious and paranoid feeling, always looking over my shoulder. All of that kind of dissipated.”
Lipov said he’s performed stellate ganglion block procedures on 500 veterans with a 70 to 75 percent success rate.
So far, the anecdotal evidence about the procedure is mainly positive, but the scientific data is inconclusive as to whether stellate ganglion block is widely effective at treating PTSD, said Dr. Michael Alkire, an anesthesiologist at the VA Long Beach Healthcare System, who is studying the treatment with Dr. Christopher Reist, a psychiatrist.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has launched studies into the procedure because the long-term side effects remain unknown. One study is being conducted at the VA Long Beach Healthcare System.
In February, the VA Portland Health Care System found there was insufficient evidence to say stellate ganglion block was an effective treatment for PTSD. In trials, at least 75 percent of the subjects reported improvement. But when the treatment was tested against a placebo, a shot of the local anesthetic fared no better than a saline injection.
“The pattern suggests that, while it is possible that some patients benefit, the response rates seen in case series will not hold up in actual practice,” the researchers said. “Substantial uncertainty remains about the potential harms of (stellate ganglion block) as well.”
At VA Long Beach, Reist and Alkire have been performing stellate ganglion blocks to collect better data and understand when it can be effective. Their research has included 17 patients who are selected according to whether they’ve tried medication or psychotherapy without improvement. Of the 17 subjects, 13 reported immediate or gradual relief from their symptoms, the doctors said.
While the sample size is small, Reist and Alkire have found the blocks are most successful for patients who have symptoms of hyperarousal, which is like being in a constant state of fight or flight. The stellate ganglion block eases the patients’ tension and anxiety so they can engage in traditional therapies for PTSD, Reist said.
Alkire said it’s important to note that the treatment doesn’t work for everyone. He recalled the case of one patient who wanted it to work so badly that, when it didn’t, he spiraled into a deeper depression.
No treatment erases the memory of trauma, Schafer said. “Part of trauma-focused work is walking through the trauma and putting it in context, expanding people’s understanding of what happened.”
Burth agreed. “This is not a be-all, cure-all,” he said. “This is something that calms your mind and allows you to deal with the memories that are always there.”
“Since the injection, I can look at things in a different light and deal with it. I had someone ask me if this is a miracle, and I said, I don’t know if it’s a miracle, but it’s working for me.”
Larry Thorne enlisted in the U.S. Army as a private in 1954, but he was already a war hero. That’s because his real name was Lauri Törni, and he had been fighting the Soviets for much of his adult life.
Born in Finland in 1919, Törni enlisted at age 19 in his country’s army and fought against the Soviet Union in the Winter War of 1939-40, according to Helsingin Sanomat. He quickly rose to the rank of captain and took command of a group of ski troops, who quite literally, skied into battle against enemy forces.
In 1942, he was severely wounded after he skied into a mine, but that didn’t slow him down. In 1944 during what the Finns called The Continuation War, he received Finland’s version of the Medal of Honor — the Mannerheim Cross — for his bravery while leading a light infantry battalion.
Unfortunately for Törni, Finland signed a ceasefire and ceded some territory to the Soviets in 1944 to end hostilities. But instead of surrendering, he joined up with the German SS so he could continue fighting. He received additional training in Nazi Germany and then looked forward to kicking some Commie butt once more.
But then Germany fell too, and the Finn-turned-Waffen SS officer was arrested by the British, according to War History Online. Not that being put into a prison camp would stop him either.
“In the last stages of the war he surrendered to the British and eventually returned to Finland after escaping a British POW camp,” reads the account at War History Online. “When he returned, he was then arrested by the Finns, even though he had received their Medal of Honor, and was sentenced to 6 years in prison for treason.”
He ended up serving only half his sentence before he was pardoned by the President of Finland in 1948.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Getting to America
Törni’s path to the U.S. Army was paved by crucial legislation from Congress along with the creation of a new military unit: Special Forces.
In June 1950, the Lodge-Philbin Act passed, which allowed foreigners to join the U.S. military and allowed them citizenship if they served honorably for at least five years. Just two years later, the Army would stand up its new Special Forces unit at Fort Bragg, N.C.
More than 200 eastern Europeans joined Army Special Forces before the Act expired in 1959, according to Max Boot. One of those enlistees was Törni, who enlisted in 1954 under the name Larry Thorne.
“The Soviets wanted to get their hands on Thorne and forced the Finnish government to arrest him as a wartime German collaborator. They planned to take him to Moscow to be tried for war crimes,” reads the account at ArlingtonCemetery.net. “Thorne had other plans. He escaped, made his way to the United States, and with the help of Wild Bill Donovan became a citizen. The wartime head of the OSS knew of Thorne’s commando exploits.”
A Special Forces legend
Thorne quickly distinguished himself among his peers of Green Berets. Though he enlisted as a private, his wartime skill-set led him to become an instructor at the Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg teaching everything from survival to guerrilla tactics. In 1957, he was commissioned a second lieutenant and would rise to the rank of captain just as war was on the horizon in Vietnam.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
But first, he would take part in a daring rescue mission inside of Iran. In 1962, then-Capt. Thorne led an important mission to recover classified materials from a U.S. Air Force plane that crashed on a mountaintop on the Iran-Turkish-Soviet border, according to Helsingin Sanomat. Though three earlier attempts to secure the materials had failed, Thorne’s team was successful.
Thorne quickly made it into the U.S. Special Forces and in 1962, as a Captain, he led his detachment onto the highest mountain in Iran to recover the bodies and classified material from an American C-130 airplane that had crashed. It was a mission in which others had failed, but Thorne’s unrelenting spirit led to its accomplishment. This mission initially formed his status as a U.S. Special Forces legend, but it was his deep strategic reconnaissance and interdiction exploits with Military Assistance Command, Vietnam Studies and Observation Group, also known as MACV-SOG, that solidified his legendary status.
In Vietnam, he earned the Bronze Star medal for heroism, along with five Purple Hearts for combat wounds, War History Online writes. According to Helsingin Sanomat, his wounds allowed him to return to the rear away from combat, but he refused and instead requested command of a special operations base instead.
On Oct. 18, 1965, Thorne led the first MACV-SOG cross-border mission into Laos to interdict North Vietnamese movement down the Ho Chi Minh trail. Using South Vietnamese Air Force helicopters, his team was successfully inserted into a clearing inside Laos while Thorne remained in a chase helicopter to direct support as needed. Once the team gave word they had made it in, he responded that he was heading back to base.
Roughly five minutes later while flying in poor visibility and bad weather, the helicopter crashed. The Army first listed him as missing in action, then later declared he was killed in action — in South Vietnam. The wreckage of the aircraft was found prior to the end of the war and the remains of the South Vietnamese air crew were recovered, but Thorne was never found.
Thorne’s exploits in combat made him seem invincible among his Special Forces brothers, and with his body never recovered, many believed he had survived the crash and continued to live in hiding or had been taken prisoner by the North Vietnamese, according to POW Network.
“Many believed he was exactly the sort of near-indestructible soldier who would have simply walked back out of the jungle, and they found it hard to believe he had been killed,” writes Helsingin Sanomat.
In 1999, the mystery was finally put to rest. The remains of the legendary Special Forces soldier were recovered from the crash site. DNA confirmed the identities of the air crew, while dental records proved Törni had died on that fateful night in 1965, reported Helsingin Sanomat.
“He was a complex yet driven man who valorously fought oppression under three flags and didn’t acknowledge the meaning of quit,” U.S. Army Special Forces Col. Sean Swindell said during a ceremony in 2010.