For many Americans, Memorial Day is a three-day weekend that kicks off the summer season with BBQs and parties — and it should be. Gathering with friends and loved ones is a special privilege we are fortunate enough to enjoy.
For many service members, veterans, and Gold Star Families, however, the weekend can carry some sadness. Memorial Day is, after all, a day to remember the fallen men and women who gave their lives in military service.
We all honor those we’ve lost in our own way. For U.S. Marine JP Guhns, it’s through music.
JP is no stranger to We Are The Mighty. He first landed on our radar as a finalist in our Mission: Music talent search. He also has four combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan under his belt, which significantly impacted his music.
“I’ve been a victim to suicide, said the Lord’s Prayer as we carried one of my Marine brothers to aid, been heartbroken by life, and prayed to pay the bills. I’ve fought the hard battles. I’ve cried through the nights of memories. Thank God I had friends and family to bring me through,” he shared on the Facebook launch of Good Friends and Whiskey (see video above).
JP isn’t the only veteran who shares military experiences through the arts — and he’s definitely not the only one who has been impacted by the loss of service members’ lives, home or overseas. This Memorial Day, as you enjoy some downtime and celebrate, maybe also take a moment to reflect on the sacrifices of the military, contribute to a veteran non-profit, or support troops like JP by checking out their art and hearing their stories.
In 2017, USAA invited five talented military musicians to Nashville to record at the legendary Ocean Way Studios. JP was one of those artists — and he really made the most of the opportunity. His latest song is both a tribute to the people who have been there for him as well as a message to anyone else out there who needs to know that they are not alone.
“To all my brothers and sisters in arms, rejoice the memories of our fallen, and let’s get back to living again.”
Saudi Arabia’s missile interceptors may have “failed catastrophically” in their attempts to shoot down several missiles headed toward Riyadh over the weekend of March 24, 2018, according to one expert.
Seven ballistic missiles launched from the Yemeni Houthi rebel group were intercepted on March 25, 2018, according to the Saudi Press Agency. The National, an English news outlet based in the United Arab Emirates, reported that one person died and two others were injured by shrapnel over Riyadh.
#BREAKING: Footage sent to Al Arabiya shows moment anti-defense missiles from #Saudi Patriot batteries fired to intercept apparent #Houthi missile over #Riyadh.
Jeffrey Lewis, the director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said on Twitter that in video footage released of the missiles, it appeared one defense system “failed catastrophically” while another “pulled a u-turn” and exploded over Riyadh.
Lewis said it was “entirely possible” that the defense-system failure rather than the missiles themselves led to any casualties or injuries.
“Will have to see where debris fell, impact points, and where people were killed/injured before we can make educated guesses,” Lewis tweeted.
Haven’t analyzed all the videos yet, but it looks like one interceptor failed catastrophically (left) and another pulled a u-turn and exploded in Riyadh (right). Not a good day for Saudi missile defenses. pic.twitter.com/4xtgTQwGSM
The militant group has been protesting Saudi Arabia’s role in Yemen’s bloody civil war and has engaged in an increasingly violent border conflict with the kingdom since 2015. Experts say the March 25 barrage could be the largest number of ballistic missiles fired at once by the rebel group since the war escalated four years ago.
The Houthis have launched dozens of missiles in recent months, including one in November 2017 at Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport. Saudi Arabia has said it downed that missile, while the Houthis say it reached its target.
When Japanese planes swept Pearl Harbor in the December, 1941, surprise attack that took America into World War II, there were very few U.S. troops able to fight back in any meaningful way. That doesn’t mean resistance was minimal. Once the nature of the attack was realized, American fighting men sprang into action, manning whatever defenses they could. In fact, the Americans drew the first blood of the Japanese-American War, sinking the surveillance sub sent to recon the harbor.
An hour and a half before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese were already losing. But any defense in the face of such a surprise attack is worthy of mention — and worthy of full recognition, yet one Air Corps pilot was denied the full measure of recognition.
The modern-day remains of the surveillance sub sunk in Pearl Harbor
(Pearl Harbor Visitors Center)
Sinking the Japanese reconnaissance sub wasn’t the only American resistance to the attack. U.S. troops fired whatever small arms they had at their attackers, sailors manned whatever guns could be brought to bear against the incoming dive bombers, and a handful of American pilots actually got into the air, downing an obscene number of Japanese Zeros, especially considering the odds against them.
Although the Navy was the primary target for the Japanese, once their bombs were expended, Japanese planes made their way to the Army airfields to strafe the men and planes while they were on the ground. This tactic was as successful as the attack on the battleships in the harbor, but just as the USS Nevada attempted to get underway in the face of the surprise attack, American pilots also attempted to take off and get into the fight.
Kenneth Taylor and George Welch
(U.S. Air Force)
Hickam and Ewa Airfields were devastated by the strafing runs of Japanese fighters, so was the Navy’s base on nearby Ford Island. But there was once airfield that remained largely untouched by the incoming enemies, despite the raging aerial battle taking place in the skies above it.
That morning, Army Air Corps pilots George Welch and Kenneth Taylor were recovering off-base from an epic night of drinking, dancing, and playing cards. When they heard of the attack on Pearl Harbor, they dashed off in their car to make way to the airfield at Haleiwa, where they hoped to have fueled and armed P-40 Tomahawks ready to go in defense of the islands. They reached the airfield during the second wave of the Japanese attack and managed to get airborne, still wearing tuxedo pants from the previous night’s revelry.
Hickam Army Air Field under attack, Dec. 7, 1941.
Once aloft, the two airmen were in a target-rich environment, knocking off Zeros as the enemy tried to overwhelm them with sheer numbers. Other airmen managed to take to the skies, downing enemy planes, some of them losing their lives in the process. But it was Welch and Taylor who were making mincemeat out of any enemy foolish enough to approach Haleiwa. Welch and Taylor were credited with at least seven aerial victories and the overall preservation of Haleiwa airfield.
The two men were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for their daring, heroism, and skill in the face of an overwhelming invader. Lieutenant Welch was recommended for the Medal of Honor, but it was denied. Why? Because his commanding officer said he took off that morning without being ordered to do so.
He finished the war with 16 total aerial wins against Japanese planes. Taylor, have been injured while fighting, also received the Purple Heart.
Welch and Taylor during the awards ceremony for their Distinguished Service Cross medals
All told, the Japanese lost 29 aircraft, 65 men, and five midget submarines in the surprise attack. It was a stunning victory, considering the losses suffered by the American forces. But it was the U.S. resolve in the face of a surprise attack that foreshadowed how the rest of the war would go.
Everyone except for the bootiest boot recruit knows that the goal of the PT test isn’t to prove how in shape you are. It’s to figure out how little you can do and still get away with achieving the most points possible.
“Perfect form” and “First-grade level counting skills” aren’t really required.
Of course, there are events like the distance runs that you really can’t make easier for yourself. Unless, of course, you’re a damn dirty cheater.
That’s really where the distinction I’m talking about lives…In the gray zone between following the ROEs (rules of engagement) and committing a war crime. No one wants to be a war criminal OR sit around getting shot at because of some rule an incumbent politician trying to get reelected came up with.
Pheww. Now that I got that out…Here’s how that relates to leg tucks.
The writers of the IOC ACFT document wrote the following:
“An ACFT-focused program will train all aspects of fitness, including mental toughness. Just as soldiers have to carefully dose their stamina across different moments in combat, so too will soldiers have to plan their pacing strategy to avoid under-performing on one of the later events in the ACFT.”
Translation: Be as smart as possible by doing as little as possible while still winning.
Not bending at your elbows that much can be a pleasant experience.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jason Hull)
Bend as little as possible
When you read the publication mentioned above, you see that “The elbows must flex.” but that’s the extent of the guidance. Your elbows can’t stay straight the entire time or bent the entire time. They must contract and expand in order for a repetition to count.
When it comes to the test, don’t be foolish by doing a full pull-up on each rep. Only bend at your elbows enough to satisfy the requirement of flexing your elbows.
When it comes to training, do a full pull up each and every repetition. You need to train better than you plan to perform, that way when nerves kick in, your muscle memory won’t let you down.
This is the real secret to this movement: don’t waste energy on an over-exaggerated movement.
Move that tightness from the face to the rest of your body.
(U.S. Army photo by Capt. Daniel Parker)
Energy bleed off is another waste of movement when it comes to the Leg Tuck. Learn to stay tight yet lax throughout the entire movement.
You want to be able to be quick at performing a repetition without looking sloppy or losing control of yourself. The best way to learn this is to get on a bar and get comfortable. If test day is your first time on the bar, you’re gonna look like a freshly caught rainbow trout hanging by your bottom lip fighting for freedom.
Your first time attempting this should not be on test day
(U.S. Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret)
How to train for leg tucks
Do not kid yourself; this is not a core exercise. Sure, the abs are involved to some degree, but not in the same way your back and grip will be tested.
99% of people will find that their grip or back gives out before their core does. Test this yourself: rest your elbows in a dip station and see how many times you can bring your knees to your chest. If you get more reps than you can leg tucks, you just learned that your abs are not your limiting factor.
TRAIN FOR PULL-UPS
The pull up is slightly more difficult than the leg tuck. Train better than you’ll perform.
You will waste your time doing the exercises on the ACFT website. Also, if you need three people to do alternate grip pull-ups you’re going to have a bad time during the leg tucks portion of the test. I know the Army has to cover their ass by only showing “safe” exercises so that there’s not even a whiff of negligence, but it seems like they almost want soldiers to fail this portion of the ACFT based on the exercises they chose to train for leg tucks.
We here at SOFREP recently made the acquaintance of Dave “Bio” Baranek. We were interested in doing a review of his upcoming book “Tomcat RIO.” Baranek agreed to send us his book for review, but as a bonus he recently also sent us a copy of his previous book “Topgun Days” for us to look over.
Baranek was an F-14 RIO (Radar Intercept Officer). He not only flew Tomcats in real-world missions but became an instructor at the Navy’s Topgun school. He also worked closely on the Tom Cruise film “Top Gun.” (An interesting footnote is the Navy has Topgun as one word while Hollywood had it as two.)
When Baranek’s book arrived in the mail, I was scanning the movie channels for an action film and Top Gun popped up. Was it fate? So, switching off the television, I sat in a chair, where’d I remain for the next several hours, because once you begin reading the book, it puts its hooks into you right away and you won’t be able to put it down. This move much irked my wife who was expecting yours truly to be helping put stuff away from our recent move.
One of the first chapters deals with Baranek ejecting from the Tomcat’s GRU-7A into the Indian Ocean. The ejection subjects pilots to forces of 20 Gs which makes them blackout for a few seconds. Baranek was heavily entangled in his parachute lines and silk but managed to free himself, and — in testimony to the speed and professionalism of the rescue choppers — spent only about three minutes in the Indian Ocean.
Baranek went through Topgun school in 1982. He was the only one from his class of 451 pilots, from the flight school of 1980, to be chosen. One of the things that was interesting is that Baranek stated that the Topgun instructors were not arrogant or swaggering but delivered their lectures with enthusiasm and a seemingly limitless amount of knowledge on the subject matter.
After his graduation, he returned to his squadron. He was then selected to return to Topgun, this time as an instructor. For Navy combat pilots, that is the pinnacle.
Nearly all fighter pilots have very cool nicknames or call-signs. Baranek chose “Bionic” because it sounded like Baranek. But being thin, the Navy pilots didn’t believe he looked very bionic so it was shortened to “Bio.”
Of course, he was an instructor at Topgun when the Hollywood people came around in 1985 to begin filming the movie which made the Tomcats and the school so famous with the public.
The F-5 fighters, which were the ones the instructors flew as aggressor aircraft for the school, were normally painted in camouflage patterns that Navy pilots might encounter on deployment somewhere in the world: They would either be of a green and brown camouflage, similar to the Soviet-style, or painted in a tan that would blend in with the desert environment in the Middle East.
But for the Tony Scott film, the producers had the F-5s painted flat black with a red star on the tail. The planes were called MiG-28s — a fictional aircraft that did not exist. The film director and cameramen got some incredible footage from the F-14s. The quality and dramatic effect of the shots even impressed the Tomcat pilots.
Baranek’s wife got to kiss Tom Cruise on the cheek and they met some of the other actors including Anthony Edwards (Goose), Michael Ironside (Jester), and Tom Skerrit. I remember my own wife being similarly star-struck meeting Mark Wahlberg and Flash Gordon on the set of Ted 2 in Boston. Seeing those pictures and remembering these moments reinforces how our families are a big part of what we do.
The Navy officially retired Tomcats from active service in 2006, but due to Tom Cruise’s film, they live on as one of those iconic aircraft in the public’s imagination. An interesting fact is that most of the naval aviators of today weren’t even born when Cruise, Anthony Edwards, and Val Kilmer rocked across the screen in 1986. And Cruise has just recently finished another Top Gun film.
Baranek completed a 20-year career in the Navy, starting with assignments to F-14 Tomcat squadrons and the elite Topgun training program, and a later assignment to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the U.S. 7th Fleet. He commanded an F-14 Tomcat fighter squadron, with nearly 300 people and 14 aircraft worth about 0 million. He completed his career with 2,499.7 F-14 Tomcat flight hours and 688 carrier landings. His logbook also records 461.8 flight hours in the F-5F Tiger II.
As Special Forces guys, we always joked about fighter pilots: “What’s the difference between God and a fighter pilot?” Answer: “God doesn’t think he’s a fighter pilot.” Pilots would also poke fun at us. One of the pilots I knew would always ask if we picked the gravel out of our knuckles. But the respect is always there.
A particularly gripping aspect of “Topgun Days” is the fantastic aerial photography that Baranek took. The book is peppered with some great pictures that put the reader right smack in either an F-14 or F-5.
Baranek’s “Topgun Days” is a page-turner and comes very highly recommended. Its 322 pages with awesome photography will zip by in the blink of an eye. “I feel the need…the need for speed.”
The destruction of King’s Landing on the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones came as a shock to fans of the show who didn’t see Daenerys’s dark turn coming. It apparently wasn’t a shock to the people behind The Simpsons, as a two-year-old episode of the show seems to have predicted how Daenerys and Drogon would torch the city.
Soon after the episode ended, people on Twitter posted a clip from the season 29 premiere, “The Serfsons.” In the final scene of that episode, the family watches a dragon burn their village from atop the wall of a castle.
“Look the dragon is burning our village!” Bart says, and the show cuts to a long shot of the hovering dragon spitting fire down below. It’s a shot that looks just like one from “The Bells,” a shot of Drogon spitting fire on the people of King’s Landing. He is observed by Cersei in a tower in the Red Keep, a vantage point similar to the Simpsons’ that makes the shot composition eerily similar.
This isn’t the first time The Simpsons has “predicted” something that later came true. The most famous example probably comes from “Bart to the Future,” a flash-forward episode from 2000 in which Lisa, the president of the United States, says “We inherited quite the budget crunch from President Trump.”
The show has also had a knack for predicting Super Bowls, with three different picks proving correct over the years.
A season 10 episode also showed the 20th Century Fox logo with “A Divison of Walt Disney Co” written underneath it. That one aired two full decades before Disney actually acquired Fox.
And while all of these predictions likely add up to a series of coincidences, we won’t exactly be surprised if the next week’s Thrones finale features a shyster coming into King’s Landing and convincing Cersei that building a monorail to Bravos is a good idea.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
The Iraqi Security Forces are now much less likely to quit fighting and becoming much more aggressive and consistent in their ongoing combat against ISIS, Pentagon and U.S. Coalition officials said.
Responding to questions about numerous reports citing large desertions of Iraqi troops not wanting to fight, Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Col. Steve Warren said that circumstance has been rapidly shifting for the better.
Many observers said large numbers of Iraqi soldiers simply refused to fight or put up any kind of defense when ISIS first seized territory in Iraq; that equation has now changed, U.S. officials say.
Warren said recent victories in Ramadi and villages near Makhmour have emboldened and empowered Iraq forces to fight, despite reports that many were still laying down their weapons and taking off from the battlefield.
“Small units confidence and morale is growing and strengthening. The training, advising and equipping that we have done is having an effect,” Warren told reporters.
Citing that the U.S. has trained 20,000 Iraqis over last 20 months to elevate their performance levels and instructed them how to better conduct operations in Tikrit and Ramadi, Warren added that Iraqi force have favorable responded to recent combat success.
“They have tasted victory and they want to taste more of it,” he said.
As evidence of increased Iraqi combat aggression, Warren pointed to a specific M1 Abrams tank crew in Hit, Iraq, which has earned the knickname “beast” for its ceaseless activities against ISIS. The one tank has been systematically and aggressively attacking enemy defenses, maneuvering and blasting enemy IEDs, Warren explained.
Hit is a city along the Euphrates river where U.S. Coalition forces continue to make substantial gains against ISIS, Warren said.
There are still some problems with Iraqi soldiers quitting, particularly in areas around Makhmour, Warren explained.
“Iraqi senior leaders have noticed this (Iraqi soldier quitting) and have fired some commanders. They have been replaced with more aggressive commanders,” he added. “Broadly speaking across the board we are seeing their level come up. As this Army drives closer to Mosul the fighting will only get harder.”
Warren added that Iraqi and U.S. Coalition combat tactics involved combined arms maneuvers on the ground along with air attacks and efforts to dismantle ISIS’ finance operations, cyber abilities and overall command and control.
“An enemy that is shattered and scattered has significantly reduced ability to mass combat power. We believe that by shattering them, fragmenting them and dismantling them, we move ourselves closer to the ultimate goal,” he said.
Although there has been widespread reporting quoting senior U.S. military officials saying there will likely be more U.S. combat outposts in Iraq, Warren emphasized that the U.S. Coalition strategy is grounded in the priority of having Iraqi forces make gains on the ground.
“The Iraqis are the only ones who can defeat ISIS in a way that is a lasting defeat,” Warren proclaimed. “Our intent here is to deliver them a lasting defeat. We believe that by degrading them in phase one and then dismantling them in phase two – we will be set up for phase three which is to defeat them.”
The U.S. Coalition’s recent killing of several ISIS senior leaders has had a substantial negative impact upon ISIS, Warren said.
“Any organization that has lost three of its most senior leaders in a span of 30 days – is going to suffer for it; the organization then turns in on itself. We’ve seen an increase in a number of executions (ISIS killing members of its own group). It creates confusion, paranoia and ultimately weakens the enemy,” Warren said.
Warren expressed confidence in the ultimate defeat of ISIS, in part due to the resolve of a 66-nation coalition that, he said, “understands that this is an enemy that needs to be defeated.”
Pan flute music like an old-time kung fu movie drifts serenely through the recreation room of the Milwaukee VA’s Spinal Cord Injury Center. Zibin Guo talks of swaying breezes, mountain streams, and the peaceful but powerful force of nature.
“Still… like a mountain,” he says. “Flow… like water.”
The group follows his every move from their chairs, pivoting wheels as he turns on foot. This new twist on an ancient martial art, Guo says, will play a big role in the modern-day treatment of pain and post-traumatic stress, even cutting down on opioids and other painkillers.
The three-day wheelchair tai chi seminar for health care workers from the Milwaukee and Madison VA Medical Centers; Appleton, Wisconsin, Clinic; and community hospitals, is part of Guo’s nationwide tour to teach more instructors, collect data and prove tai chi works.
Guo, a medical anthropologist from the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, has received more than 0,000 from the Adaptive Sports Grant Program, and has already traveled to 24 VA medical centers. He hopes to get to 24 more by next year.
The grant program, managed by the National Veterans Sports Program and Special Events Office, provides million annually to support studies and adaptive sports for disabled veterans. Guo said his goal is to promote a way to rethink western rehabilitative medicine, based on bodily functions of eastern philosophy.
“There is a mental clarity that comes from tai chi, which then creates physical benefits for the whole body,” he said.
“For some people,” he added, “this can be psychological. If someone is in a wheelchair, they may see themselves as disabled and are labeled that way. When you are labeled as disabled, you become disabled.
“Wheelchair tai chi transforms the idea of the wheelchair into something else. Now, it’s no longer just for transporting from one place to another. You use it to create power and beauty, integrating the chair movements with tai chi.”
Guo said some VAs have already learned the healing benefits while others are just starting to add tai chi to their repertoire.
“Especially now as VA is building up its Whole Health program nationwide, I hope we are going to see more of these types of offerings,” he said.
Milwaukee was one of the first VAs to offer tai chi. Its polytrauma department started it in 2012 with another grant from the Adaptive Sports Program. Guo’s techniques provided a different perspective, said Dr. Judith Kosasih, lead physician in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
“I knew when we started this seven years ago it was going to be valuable, and I believe in it,” she said. “Right now, we teach tai chi fundamentals, but he gives us a completely different perspective, with more movement, even in a wheelchair.”
Kosasih first started tai chi in Milwaukee, believing it would help with Parkinson’s Disease and pain.
Zibin Guo leads health care workers through one of his tai chi routines. He first taught the group standing up and then in wheelchairs. Guo believes regular tai chi can significantly help treat post-traumatic stress and reduce the use of painkillers.
“The practice helps you relax, helps you sleep better. When you sleep better, you will feel better,” she said. “I guarantee it improves endurance, balance, memory, and you will be able to stand longer. It gives our veterans skills and empowers them to develop this and get better.”
It’s also a gateway to health for those who can’t afford other sports.
Guo said: “Paralympics and wheelchair rugby and basketball is great but think about how much just one of those chairs costs. The average person doesn’t have a chance. One percent can get the specialized chair and 99 percent can’t. Wheelchair tai chi gives people self-empowerment. You don’t need a special chair.
“There are so many physical benefits,” he added. “A lot of studies have already demonstrated that the nature of the movements is so unique, and the circular motion creates powerful circulation in the body. It’s not just the blood, but the energy, and that treats a wide range of problems without drugs — it treats pain, it treats headaches. There are so many benefits.”
Besides teaching others how to teach the class, he is asking them to compile data to prove his point. He pointed to one veteran in Tennessee, who said she used tai chi to drastically cut down on painkillers.
Zarita Croney, an Afghanistan veteran, suffered from post-traumatic stress, three bulging discs, one eroded disc and intermittent paralysis, plus a host of other issues.
“I had to have a huge purse just for all my meds. You’d look inside and see nothing but pill bottles.” While still in the military, she said she cycled through an array of pain medications. “I’d have to lay in bed for three hours, just waiting for the medicine to work,” she said.
Croney spiraled into depression until she reached out to the Tennessee Valley Health Care System for mental health. Her VA recommended recreation therapy, including the tai chi Guo promotes.
“The first time in tai chi, they had to wheel me there in a wheelchair,” she said. “The first few visits, I couldn’t get through the whole class. Then I start getting more range of motion. My instructor said, ‘Even if you can’t do it, see yourself doing it in your mind.’ And as you go along, your body does catch up with what the mind is doing.
“I went from visiting the emergency room at least once a month to get shot up with morphine, to walking with a cane, and sometimes without the cane. I’ve cut out about three-fourths of the pills I was on,” she said. “With all these things, it’s a battle every day, but tai chi gave me the foundation.”
Guo says this is nothing new to him.
“Pain symptoms are very complex and not just physical. The symptoms of stress, tension, or anger and bad emotions, that creates chemicals in the brain that stimulate pain,” he said. “Tai chi not only relaxes, it promotes healing.”
Leanne Young, a recreation therapist from the San Francisco VA Health Care System, said she is excited to see tai chi and other eastern philosophies gain more acceptance, because it plays into what she and other therapists have been doing for years.
“This is definitely time for this,” she said. “I think most people want to see evidence-based practice and data. They want to see research. Many things recreation therapists have done — not just tai chi, but in general — hasn’t always been recognized because there isn’t always research that supports the benefits.
“I really feel tai chi is a whole mind-body thing, and that really works. Your brain ends up telling your body what to do. It’s mindfulness, and to me, it’s a state of mind which affects your body and your pain reduction.”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
Most of what is lying around in the dusty expanse of the aircraft graveyards around Tucson, Arizona is readily identifiable and not entirely remarkable.
Ejection seats from old F-4 Phantoms. An old CH-53 helicopter hulk. An interesting find over there is a fuselage section of a Soviet-era MiG-23 Flogger. No idea how it got here. Other than that, it’s just long rows of old, broken, silent airplanes inside high fences surrounded by cactus, dust, sand and more sand. An errant aileron on a dead wing clunks quietly against the hot afternoon breeze as if willing itself back into the air. But like everything here, its days of flying are over.
But there… What is that strange, manta-ray shaped, dusty black thing lying at an angle just on the other side of that fence? It may be an old airfield wind vane or radar test model. But it also may be…
(U.S. Air Force photo)
I had only read about it and seen grainy photos of it. I know it’s impossible. The project was so secret not much information exists about the details even today. But I stand there gawking through the chain link fence as the ruins of the other planes bear silent witness. It’ like the corpses of the other airplanes are urging me to look closer. To not leave. Their silent dignity begs me to tell this story.
After nearly a minute of studying it through the fence I realize; I am right. It is right before my eyes. Ten feet away. Despite the 100-degree heat I get goosebumps. And I start running.
I quickly locate a spot where the entire fence line opens up. I skirt the fence and in a couple minutes running around the sandy airplane corpses I’m inside. There, sitting right in front of me on its decrepit transport cart and dusted with windblown sand, abandoned in the Sonoran Desert, is one of Kelly Johnson and Ben Rich’s most ambitious classified projects from the fabled Lockheed Skunk Works.
(Lockheed Martin photo)
I just found the CIA’s ultra-secret Mach 3.3+ D-21 long-range reconnaissance drone. The D-21 was so weird, so ambitious, so unlikely it remains one of the most improbable concepts in the history of the often-bizarre world of ultra-secret “black” aviation projects. And now it lies discarded in the desert. The story behind it is so bizarre it is difficult to believe, but it is true.
July 30, 1966: Flight Level 920 (92,000 ft.), Mach 3.25, Above Point Mugu Naval Air Missile Test Center, Off Oxnard, California.
Only an SR-71 Blackbird is fast enough and can fly high enough to photograph this, the most classified of national security tests. Traveling faster than a rifle bullet at 91,000 feet, near inner-space altitude, one of the most ambitious and bizarre contraptions in the history of mankind is about to be tested.
“Tagboard” is its codename. Because of the catastrophic May, 1960 shoot-down of Francis Gary Powers’ Lockheed U-2 high altitude spy plane over the Soviet Union the CIA and is in desperate need of another way to spy on the rising threat of communist nuclear tests. Even worse, the other “Red Menace”, the Chinese, are testing massive hydrogen bombs in a remote location of the Gobi Desert near the Mongolian/Chinese border. It would be easier to observe the tests if the Chinese did them on the moon.
The goal is simple, but the problem is titanic. Get photos of the top-secret Red Chinese hydrogen bomb tests near the Mongolian border deep inside Asia, then get them back, without being detected.
Lockheed Skunkworks boss Kelly Johnson and an elite, ultra-classified small team of aerospace engineers have built an aircraft so far ahead of its time that even a vivid imagination has difficulty envisioning it.
Flat, triangular, black, featureless except for its odd plan form as viewed from above, like a demon’s cloak, it has a sharply pointed nose recessed into a forward-facing orifice. That’s it. No canopy, no cockpit, no weapons. Nothing attached to the outside. Even more so than a rifle bullet its shape is smooth and simple. This is the ultra-secret D-21 drone.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
The D-21 is truly a “drone”, not a remotely piloted aircraft (RPA). Its flight plan is programmed into a guidance system. It is launched from a mothership launch aircraft at speed and altitude. It flies a predetermined spy mission from 17 miles above the ground and flashes over at three times the speed of sound. It photographs massive swaths of land with incredible detail and resolution. And because of its remarkably stealthy shape, no one will ever know it was there.
Today the D-21 rides on the back of a Lockheed M-21, a specialized variant of the SR-71 Blackbird, the famous Mach 3+ high altitude spy plane. The M-21 version of the SR-71 carries the D-21 drone on its back up to launch speed and altitude. The it ignites the D-21’s unique RJ43-MA20S-4 ramjet engine and releases it on its pre-programmed flight.
Chasing the M-21 and D-21 combination today is a Lockheed SR-71, the only thing that can keep up with this combination of aircraft. It is the SR-71’s job to photograph and film the test launch of the D-21 drone from the M-21 launch aircraft.
There have been three successful launch separations of the D-21 from the M-21 launch aircraft so far. In each of these flights, even though the launch was successful, the D-21 drone fell victim to some minor mechanical failure that destroyed the drone, because, at over Mach 3 and 90,000 feet, there really are no “minor” failures.
Today Bill Park and Ray Torick are the flight crew on board the M-21 launch aircraft. They sit inside the M-21 launch aircraft dressed in pressurized high altitude flight suits that resemble space suits.
Once at predetermined launch speed and altitude the M-21/D-21 combination flies next to the SR-71 camera plane. Keith Beswick is filming the launch test from the SR-71 camera plane. Ray Torick, the drone launch controller sitting in the back seat of the tandem M-21, launches the D-21 from its position on top of the M-21’s fuselage between the massive engines.
Something goes wrong.
The D-21 drone separates and rolls slightly to its left side. It strikes the left vertical stabilizer of the M-21 mother ship. Then it caroms back into the M-21’s upper fuselage, exerting massive triple supersonic forces downward on the M-21 aircraft. The M-21 begins to pitch up and physics takes over as Bill Park and Ray Torick make the split-second transition from test pilots to helpless passengers to crash victims.
The triple supersonic forces rip both aircraft apart in the thin, freezing air. Shards of titanium and shrapnel from engine parts trail smoke and frozen vapor as they disintegrate in the upper atmosphere. There is no such thing as a minor accident at Mach 3+ and 92,000 feet.
Miraculously, both Bill Park and Ray Torick eject from the shattered M-21 mother ship. Even more remarkably, they actually survive the ejection. The pair splash down in the Pacific 150 miles off the California coast. Bill Park successfully deploys the small life raft attached to his ejection seat. Ray Torick lands in the ocean but opens the visor on his spacesuit-like helmet attached to his pressurized flight suit. The suit floods through the face opening in his helmet. Torick drowns before he can be rescued. Keith Beswick, the pilot filming the accident from the SR-71 chase plane, has to go to the mortuary to cut Ray Torick’s body out of the pressurized high-altitude flight suit before he can be buried.
The ultra-secret test program to launch a D-21 drone from the top of an M-21 launch aircraft at over Mach 3 and 90,000 feet, is cancelled.
The D-21 program does move forward on its own. Now the drone is dropped from a lumbering B-52 mothership. The D-21 is then boosted to high altitude and Mach 3+ with a rocket booster. Once at speed and altitude the booster unit drops off and the D-21 drone begins its spy mission.
After more than a year of test launches from the B-52 mothership the D-21 drone was ready for its first operational missions over Red China. President Nixon approved the first reconnaissance flight for November 9, 1969. The mission was launched from Beale AFB in California.
Despite a successful launch the D-21 drone was lost. In the middle of 1972, after four attempts at overflying Red China with the D-21 drone and four mission failures, the program was cancelled. It was imaginative. It was innovative. It was ingenious. But it was impossible.
So ended one of the most ambitious and outrageous espionage projects in history.
1604 Hrs. December 20, 2009. In the Back Storage Yard of the Pima Air Space Museum Outside Tucson, Arizona.
I pet airplanes when I can. I’m not exactly sure why, maybe to be able to say I did. Maybe to try to gain some tactile sense of their history. Maybe to absorb something from them, if such a thing is possible. Maybe so that, when I am old and dying, I can reflect back on what it felt like to stand next to them and touch them. I don’t know why I touch them and stroke them, but I do.
The fully restored Lockheed D-21 drone at the Pima Air Space Museum outside Tucson, Arizona.
(Pima Air Space Museum photo)
The D-21 is dusty and warm in the late afternoon Arizona sun. Its titanium skin is hard, not slightly forgiving like an aluminum airplane. It gives away nothing. Silent. Brooding. After I touch it my hand came away with some of the dust from it. I don’t wipe it off.
Sometime later in the coming years, the D-21B drone, number 90-0533, is brought inside the vast restoration facility at the Pima Air Space Museum and beautifully restored. Now it lies in state, on display inside the museum.
But when I first found it sitting abandoned in the storage yard, dusty and baking in the Sonoran Desert sun, it felt like its warm titanium skin still had some secret life left in it.
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.
Greg Oswald and Eli Tomac are a couple of modern bad asses in their own right. Greg is a C-17 pilot for the U.S. Air Force and Eli just shredded the 2018 San Diego Supercross. I hate to go all Top Gun on you, but these guys obviously have a need for speed.
“Motocross and Supercross, you’re just in it. We race in rain or shine. The noise from the four-stroke, and you’re in the dirt — it pushes you in every area, whether it’s physically or mentally, it’s the real deal.”
In 2010, Eli was the first rider in history to win his professional debut — since then, he’s continued to prove himself to be one of the fastest riders in the sport. In early 2018, he won his first Monster Energy Supercross, and his brother Greg was there to watch.
“I’m here to support Eli. If it’s a good day or a bad day, the overall goal is to just be a big brother to the guy in the track.”
Greg pointed out the connection between a pilot in his aircraft or a rider on the bike — they’re both about a man and his machine, but neither can do it alone. Pilots and riders require a crew to get their machines going.
“I’m out there as an entertainer [but with] the military…you can’t just go into work and say ‘Oh I’m tired, I’m not gonna ride today.’ You gotta get it done no matter what if you’re in the military so that’s something that I’ll never know…and that’s where I have the utmost respect for everyone that’s in, and that’s for my brother as well.”
Check out the video above to watch Monster’s coverage of Eli’s victory and hear the brothers talk about how they support each other.
The hotline was the subject of the 2014 Academy Award-winning documentary “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1,” which profiles several Veterans’ Crisis Line counselors who work the 24-hour service to provide support and guidance to active and retired servicemen dealing with emotional, physical and financial troubles.
“We substantiated allegations that some calls routed to backup crisis centers were answered by voicemail, and callers did not always receive immediate assistance,” said a VA report filed in February 2016.
The VA estimates every sixth call is going to the backup center, where callers listen to Muzak while they wait for an operator. The VA has no information on how long the callers wait or how many give up because the backup centers are not monitored by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Since the suicide hotline was created in 2007, it has received more than two million calls and intervened on 53,000 separate occasions. The new report recommends obtaining and analyzing data on hold times, implementing call monitoring for the crisis line staff, more rigorous training with a rigorous quality assurance process.
Many Russia-watchers are questioning or makinglight of the Foreign Ministry’s surprise appointment of Steven Seagal as a special envoy for humanitarian ties with the United States — but not the action-film actor himself.
“I take this honour very seriously,” Seagal tweeted late on Aug 5, a day after the Russian Foreign Ministry announced the appointment on Facebook.
Seagal, who has warm ties with President Vladimir Putin and was granted Russian citizenship in 2016, said he was “deeply humbled and honoured” by the appointment.
“I hope we can strive for peace, harmony, and positive results in the world,” Seagal wrote.
Seagal, 66, starred in Hollywood action movies such as Above The Law (1988), Hard To Kill (1990), and Under Siege (1992). His films were popular in the Soviet Union and then in Russia and other ex-Soviet republics.
Seagal has vehemently defended Putin’s policies, including Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula, along with criticizing the U.S. government.
Kyiv last year banned Seagal from entering Ukraine for five years, citing what it said were national security grounds.
The Russian Foreign Ministry statement said that Seagal’s task will be to “foster the further development of Russian-American relations in the humanitarian sphere, including interactions in… culture, the arts, public and youth exchanges, and so forth.”
The position is not paid and will be similar to the United Nations’ goodwill ambassador positions, the statement said.
WASHINGTON, DC — The U.S. Army’s two senior-most leaders tag-teamed responses to questions posed by a gathering of military journalists at a press conference held on the first day of the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition here, and in the process the pair presented a mixed bag of concerns and optimism.
“Across our force, we have soldiers and civilians living and working in 52,000 buildings that are in poor or failing condition because of the $7 billion of deferred maintenance that we’ve aggregated over the last few years,” Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning said. “Since 2011 the Army’s modernization program has decreased by 33 percent. And today our modernization program is $36 billion less than the next closest service. These are the kind of tradeoffs we’ve made over the last few years to meet our responsibilities.”
“We, the U.S. Army, we don’t have to get it exactly right, but we have to get it less wrong than any potential adversary,” Gen. Mark Milley, the Army’s Chief of Staff, added. “Up until now, we have essentially mortgaged the future of readiness for modernization.”
When asked about Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s plan to grow the Army to 548,000, Milley replied, “We do all kinds of studies. We do a lot of analysis. We do a lot of rigor. I’m not going to share those numbers, but it’s not about so much numbers. It’s about capability. We need to make sure we have the most capable Army to deliver specific effects on the battlefield. . . What does it say in the defense planning guidance, etc.? Those will vary depending on the contingencies you’re looking at.”
“One of the dangers we see with this debate taking place the Army told to maintain a force structure greater than we’re planning on without any additional resources to do that,” Fanning added. “That would put us out of whack.”
Questioned on the service’s plan to retain the right talent in the face of large drawdowns and budget challenges, Fanning answered, “Right now it is bureaucratic and bureaucracies are additive by nature. Something bad happens and you create a process to prevent it from happening again and you layer that upon another one upon another one upon another one. You don’t really have a process to cull through all that and simplify it. We’re trying to squeeze all the risk out of the process. As we draw down we need to focus not only on whether we have the right people in the force, whatever size it is, but that we are opening up the institution, the bureaucracy, to doing business in a different way.”
Milley contextualized the Army’s talent requirement against the future threat, using words like “non-linear” and “non-contiguous” to describe the battlefield and “elusive” and “ambiguous” to describe the enemy.
“Leaders are going to have to be self-starters,” he said, the opening line of what turned out to be an extended monologue of sorts.
“Leaders are going to have to have massive amounts of initiative,” Milley continued. “They’re going to have to have critical thinking skills well beyond what we normally think of today in our formations. They’re going to have to have huge amounts of character so that they make the right ethical and moral choices in the absence of supervision and the intense pressure of combat.
“They’re going to have to have a level of mental and organizational agility that is not necessarily current in any army, really. I would argue that the level of endurance of these individuals is going to have to be something that we haven’t trained to on a regular basis, where individuals are going to have to be conducting small unit level operations without higher level supervision, and they’re going to have to do that day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out . . . a long time.
“Last thing is that senior leaders are going to have to implicitly trust supported leaders’ judgement because of the degraded environment we’re not going to have control of the supported environment in the true sense of the word as we think of it today; we’re not going to have push-to-talk communications back in forth cause it’s going to be degraded. So these leaders are going to have to be independent of higher day-to-day instructions. I just described to you talent management that is fundamentally different than any army undertakes today. And I’m talking about an army in the field about 15, 20 years from now. I’m not talking about next week. But that’s where we’re going to have to go. And that’ll be a high standard to meet.”