A U.S. Army tanker who lost his arm to an IED attack in Iraq was able to manipulate a prosthetic arm for the first time since his 2007 injury.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Maryland worked with Army Spc. Jerral Hancock to develop the Modular Prosthetic Limb, a robotic arm being built by JHU’s Applied Physics Lab. The goal of the program is to create a robotic prosthetic with all the capabilities of the human arm.
Hancock has struggled in the years since his injury to live a fully-functioning life after the attack left him paralyzed from the mid-chest down. His right arm has limited mobility, making it difficult to do even one-handed tasks.
Army Spc. Jerral Hancock and a researcher from John Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab discusses the calibration procedures for the Modular Prosthetic Limb. (Photo: YouTube/Freethink)
The MPL features hundreds of sensors that help it accurately gauge the angles, speed, and power the arm is using. Other sensors strapped to Hancock’s body read the signals being passed through his skin to his missing limb. The device’s software then tries to replicate the movements that Hancock is imagining, syncing his commands to the robotic arm.
In one heart-breaking moment, Hancock tells the researchers that he doesn’t imagine a left hand with full mobility, but one that has the same physical limitations of his injured right hand.
In the video, Hancock teaches the software his signals for opening and closing his hand and bending his elbow. Once the software is calibrated, he can then use the arm to grab a drink from the fridge and to fire a foam dart with his daughter.
See Hancock with the arm and his family in the full video below:
Hancock won’t get to use the arm just yet, but his work with researchers to refine the technology will hopefully allow people who need prosthetics to get a more functional option in the next few years. JHU currently has six MPLs that are being used for research purposes and four more in development, according to the project’s website.
About 35 local boat captains simulated swarming attack maneuvers in fishing boats rigged with machine guns while fighter jets, attack helicopters, and the A-10 “Warthog” simulated attacks from above in the Choctawatchee Bay, Florida.
The Navy was already aware of the threat posed to their large, multi-million dollar ships by small, cheap ships — but the January Houthi attack demonstrated the threat was even more acute.
The Air Force’s annual Combat Hammer exercise sought in part to answer the question of how the Navy would deal with a large mass of erratic attack craft — and that involved A-10 Warthogs firing inert 30-millimeter rounds at unmanned ships.
The exercise also included attack helicopters, multi-role fighter jets, and Canadian F-18s dropping simulated guided munitions.
“We evaluate precision guided munitions against realistic targets with realistic enemy defenses,” said Lt. Col. Sean Neitzke, the 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron commander in an Air Force statement. “There are plenty of places in the world where low-tech adversaries can mount 50-caliber machine guns and rocket launchers on small boats for use against us. They could also use other types of shoulder launched weapons, all of which could be a threat to American assets.”
The situation described by Neitzke bears eerily similarities to the situation with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy.
Patrick Megahan, an expert on Iran’s military with the Foundation for Defense of Democracy, told Business Insider that even without the Air Force, the US Navy has plenty of ways to counter the threat posed by Iranian-style swarm attacks.
“US Army Apache attack helicopters also frequently drill aboard US Navy vessels in the Persian Gulf for countering exactly this threat,” Megahan said of the swarming boats.
“This doesn’t include the Navy’s own Hellfire-equipped Seahawk helicopters or the Marine Corps’s very capable attack helicopter squadrons that maintain an almost constant presence in the waters off the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea. In fact, two fully-load American attack helicopters would likely wreak havoc on an Iranian small boat swarm.”
The men of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment spearheaded one of the American columns that invaded Iraq on Feb. 23, 1991. After three days of light fighting they stumbled into one of the largest Iraqi armored formations and annihilated it with cannons, TOW missiles and mortars in the Battle of 73 Easting, often called “the last great tank battle of the 20th century.”
Then-Capt. (now Lt. Gen.) H.R. McMaster, commander of Eagle Troop, 2nd Squadron, 2nd ACR, literally wrote the book on the battle and commanded one of the lead elements in the fight.
Helicopters buzzed over Eagle Troop as the ground invasion of Iraq began on Feb. 23. The mission of the 2nd ACR was simple in theory but would be challenging to achieve. They were to cut off Iraqi retreat routes out of Kuwait and destroy the large armored formations thought to be hiding in the flat, featureless desert.
The empty desert could be challenging to navigate since there were no features to use for direction. Heavy rains and windstorms limited visibility as the tanks and other vehicles felt their way through the desert.
Fox troop made contact first, destroying a few enemy tanks. Over the next couple of days, 2nd Squadron tanks and vehicles would encounter enemy observation and scout vehicles and destroy them with missiles and cannons, but they couldn’t find the Iraqi Republican Guard divisions they knew were dug somewhere into the desert.
In the afternoon of Feb. 26, 1991, McMaster was pushing his troop through a sandstorm when he crested a rise and there, directly in front of him, was an entire division of Iraqi tanks with elite crews. Finding himself already in range of the enemy, he immediately gave the order to fire.
The enemy had parked themselves away from the slight rise so that they would be hidden and so incoming American tanks would be forced to drive down the hill towards them. This exposed the relatively weak top armor of the tank to the Iraqi guns.
But the Iraqis had lost most of their scout vehicles and so were just as surprised as the U.S. commanders when the two armored forces clashed, leaving them unable to capitalize on their position.
McMaster’s opening salvo set the tone for the battle. His first shot was a HEAT round that destroyed a tank cowering behind a berm. His second shot, a depleted uranium sabot shell, shot through an Iraqi tank that was swiveling to fire on him. As his crew targeted a third enemy, the driver realized they were driving through a minefield and began taking evasive action.
Enemy rounds began falling around the lead tank as the two tank platoons in Eagle Troop got on line to join the fight. Nine American tanks were now bearing down on the Iraqi positions, destroying enemy T-72s and armored vehicles. As McMaster described it in his first summary of the battle:
The few seconds of surprise was all we had needed. Enemy tanks and BMP’s (Soviet-made armored personnel carriers) erupted in innumerable fire balls. The Troop was cutting a five kilometer wide swath of destruction through the enemy’s defense.
The Bradley fighting vehicles joined the tanks, firing TOW missiles at the enemy armor and using their guns to cut down Iraqi infantry. Mortar and artillery support opened up, raining fire onto the remaining Iraqi positions.
The American forces cut down 30 tanks, 14 armored vehicles, and hundreds of infantrymen before reaching their limit of advance, the line they were originally told to halt at. But McMaster ordered the troop to continue attacking, fearful that the Iraqis would be able to regroup and wage a strong counterattack.
At 23 minutes since first contact, McMaster declared it safe to halt his troop’s advance. The single armored troop had crippled the Iraqi flank with zero casualties. One American tank from the 2nd Squadron headquarters had received light damage from a mine.
Near the Eagle Troop position, Ghost, Killer, and Iron troops were mixing it up other Iraqi units and trying to catch up to Eagle. The enemy made a few half-hearted attempts at counter-attacking the U.S. tanks, but they were quickly rebuffed.
That night, the U.S. called on the Iraqi’s to surrender and it was answered by droves of troops. About 250 survivors surrendered to Eagle Troop.
Up and down the U.S. lines, the story was similar to that of Eagle Troop. The Iraqis suffered nearly 1,000 casualties, 85 tanks destroyed, 40 armored vehicles destroyed, 30 wheeled-vehicles lost, and two artillery batteries annihilated. The U.S. suffered 12 men killed, 57 men wounded, and 32 vehicles destroyed or damaged.
Each year, USAA and the NFL award one person with the Salute to Service Award. This year, the winner is Steve Cannon, CEO of AMB Sports and Entertainment. Cannon leads all business operations of the National Football League’s Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta United of Major League Soccer, Atlanta Falcons Stadium Company, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, PGA TOUR Superstore and Mountain Sky Guest Ranch.
Salute to Service is a year-round effort spearheaded by the NFL and USAA to Honor, Empower and Connect our nation’s service members, veterans and their families. The Salute to Service Award presented by USAA recognizes the exceptional efforts by members of the NFL community who have gone above and beyond to honor the military community.
A United States Military Academy graduate and former U.S. Army 1st Lieutenant, Cannon was captain of both the football and wrestling teams at Ramapo High School in Wyckoff, New Jersey, earning All-State honors in football and All-County honors in wrestling. He lettered two years in wrestling at the United States Military Academy and scored a perfect score on every Army Physical Fitness Test for four years. Leading into his senior year, he was selected to lead Cadet Basic Training and later earned the position of Cadet Regimental Commander for 4th Regiment, placing 1,000 cadets under Cannon’s leadership.
Cannon, who graduated with honors and received his bachelor’s degree in economics from West Point, passed U.S. Army Ranger School and officer training before being assigned to the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment along the West German-Czech border. He was on the border when the Cold War ended in 1989.
We Are The Mighty had the chance to sit down with Steve and talk about him winning this award, his military service and his commitment to military service members and veterans in Georgia.
WATM: This isn’t your first time being recognized. Last year, you were a finalist, too. Other than your prior service, what motivates you to help your fellow veterans and what does winning the Salute to Service award mean to you?
SC: Well, it is personal to me. I lost my brother to PTSD. I serve on the board of TAPS, which is a network of people that takes care of those who are left behind. I also had a West Point classmate, John McHugh, who made the ultimate sacrifice when he was killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan. I am on the board of the Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund which was set up in his honor. So far, we raised over $28 million to help take care of children of the fallen.
It has been 30 years since I have taken off the uniform, but we still have obligations to help those who served.
WATM: Tell us about the USO tour the Falcons went on (the first NFL team to ever do that). What about that tour do you think really resonated with the military?
SC: It was amazing that we got to do it. Going over there to Iraq, in harm’s way in 110 degree heat and seeing all the soldiers there really was amazing. We took our coach (Dan Quinn), several players and a couple of cheerleaders. It really gave us perspective to see how our troops were over there.
We were really blown away by how grateful they were to us. They were really happy we came all the way out there, but the gratitude they had toward us for coming was so impressive. I mean, we were the ones who were grateful. Here these men and women are out here protecting us, and they are thanking us for being there? It was really humbling. And, it speaks more to the Falcons franchise. Four out of the last five winners of the Salute to Service award winners were from the Falcons. I am really proud of that.
WATM: You and the Falcons raised $250,000 to help homeless veterans in Georgia. As a veteran yourself, what do you tell people about homeless veterans and what advice do you give on how to help them?
It is a big problem here in Atlanta, and I am often troubled that so many can go from serving in the military and they fall through the cracks and go to sleeping under a bridge. When you see veterans under a bridge in the wintertime, you have to do something.
Veterans Empowerment Organization (VEO) is a group that is doing amazing work in Georgia to tackle that problem. They do everything from getting out from under those bridges, giving comfort, helping them find jobs and helping address any mental health concerns. We were proud to partner with them. It’s the right thing to do.
WATM: Tell us about your time in the service. How did serving in the military shape your career path?
After I graduated from West Point, I was an artillery officer and got to go to Ranger School. But then I ended up being stationed in Europe during the Cold War. I was doing border patrol duty and I was right on the Czechoslovakian border when the Iron Curtain came down. To be right there, at that point in history was pretty amazing. But being a lieutenant, I learned that it was about service to the organization first. I wasn’t going to go anywhere telling people I was the boss and they had to do what I said. I had to serve first and that’s what led me to make the decisions I did. And I still do. The importance of servant leadership is a lesson I will take with me always. I have been a CEO (for both AMB Sports and Mercedes Benz USA before that) and a lot of the decision making steps I make come from the time in service.
WATM: Last question. You are a West Point guy. How do you feel now that Army finally has the upper hand on Navy in football?
SC: [Laughs] It feels good for once. Things are finally correcting themselves like they should. There was that 14-year span where things didn’t go so well, but to win four out of the last five means a lot, especially when talking to Navy guys. A few of them got really high and mighty during their win streak so it’s good to finally have the upper hand.
The annual Salute to Service Award is presented during Super Bowl week and recognized at the NFL Honors awards show the night before the Super Bowl. Teams submit nominations in October, which are evaluated by a panel of judges based on the positive effect of the individual’s efforts on the military community, the type of service conducted, the thoroughness of the program and level of commitment. Steve Cannon will officially receive the award during the NFL Honors broadcast on Saturday night. USAA, a leading provider of insurance and other financial services to U.S. military members, veterans and their families, will contribute $25,000 in Cannon’s honor to the official aid societies representing all five military branches. The NFL Foundation will match USAA’s donation of $25,000, which will be donated to Cannon’s military charity of choice and Atlanta Falcons’ owner, Arthur M. Blank, will also match with a $25,000 donation from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.
The other finalists this season for the Salute to Service Award were New England Patriots long snapper Joe Cardona and NFL Legend/San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch.
A newly released investigation from a submarine mishap in 2015 that caused some $1 million worth of damage shows that an inexperienced crew was given the go-ahead to complete a tricky return-to-port mission in the dark, despite warnings from the commanding officer that they weren’t ready.
The Ohio-class submarine Georgia ran aground in the predawn hours of Nov. 25, 2015, the day before Thanksgiving, as it prepared to return to port at Kings Bay, Georgia, to replace a failed towed array sonar. While conducting a scheduled pick-up of a new pilot at Fort Clinch, Florida, near the entrance to St. Marys River, which approaches the base, the sub inadvertently exited the channel, then collided with a buoy amid the crew’s efforts to re-orient. The grounding occurred as the crew worked to get clear of the buoy, the investigation shows.
Ultimately, the sub was able to return to port to assess damages, which were mostly cosmetic, save for the ship’s screw propeller, an acoustic tracking device and an electromagnetic log meter that measured the sub’s speed. The Georgia was taken into dry dock in December 2015 for assessment and the costly repairs.
The investigation, which was completed in March 2016 but just released to Military.com this month through a public records request, found that the “excessive speed” of the sub as it approached the pilot pick-up made it more difficult for the crew to control the ship, and that the tugboat carrying the pilot was positioned poorly, making the maneuver more complex.
Ultimately, though, blame for running aground is laid at the feet of the commanding officer. In the wake of the incident, the commander of Georgia’s blue crew, Capt. David Adams, was relieved of his post due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command. Like all submarines in its class, Georgia has two identical crews — a blue and a gold — that alternate manning and patrols.
“His inability to effectively manage the complexity of the situation and failure to respond to the circumstances in a manner sufficient to protect the safety of the ship and crew is beneath my expectations for any CO,” an investigation endorsement by Rear Adm. Randy Crites, then-commander of Submarine Group 10, reads.
In his detailed and thorough endorsement of findings, Crites also dismisses the notion that maneuvering in the dark and with a green crew was what led to the sub’s disastrous mishap.
“Ultimately, had this crew (and the Pilot) executed the same plan in the same manner during broad daylight, there is nothing in the ship’s planning effort, demonstrated seamanship, or response to tripwires that indicates the outcome would be any different,” he said.
While coming in for the brunt of the blame, Adams was not alone in being designated for punishment. Crites indicated his intent to take administrative action against the sub’s executive officer; chief of boat; navigation/operations officer; weapons officer, who was the officer of the deck; and assistant navigator. He also said he’d issue non-punitive letters of caution to the commander of Submarine Squadron 16 and his own chief of staff and director of operations — all Navy captains — for failure to take appropriate action toward resolution regarding Adams’ concerns around the sub’s transit into port.
The Ohio-class guided-missile submarine USS Georgia (SSGN 729) exits the dry dock at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia, following an extended refit period. Georgia is one of two guided-missile submarines stationed at the base and is capable of carrying up to 154 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles.
The 475-page investigation, which includes witness statements, logs and other supporting documentation, offers insight into what those concerns were. In a Nov. 24 email to the commodore of Squadron 16 marked “confidential,” Adams, the Georgia blue crew commander, lays out his qualms about the plan he has been ordered to execute, particularly the predawn return to port for a brief one-day stop with a crew that had spent just three weeks underway together on a new ship.
“CO/XO/NAV have not piloted into Kings Bay in the last 20 years. All of the untoward [incidents] I know of occurred between [St. Marys] and Fort Clinch,” he wrote. “My assessment is that this is not a prudent plan for [return to port] … Having just been at sea for a few weeks, I have not built enough depth. I am concerned about the fatigue level of my command element.
“Given an all day evolution and subsequent [underway], we will have spent the majority of 36 hours awake and are set to pilot out and submerge on the mid-watch at 0330.”
The two-page memo, it appears, was never received and read by Submarine Squadron 16’s commodore, Capt. John Spencer. But Adams testified he had relayed the same concerns face-to-face with Spencer days before, on Nov. 22. He also discussed the same issues, he said, in a follow-up phone call.
This much is clear: the plan wasn’t called off, and the mission was cleared to proceed. But murky communication dogged the lead-up to the operation, and later the mission itself.
Spencer and others testified that Adams had been given leeway to “slow things down a little” if he felt uncomfortable. Adams said he believed any delay would have been viewed as insubordination.
On the day of the mishap, communication was also flawed, in ways that underscore the crew’s unfamiliarity with each other, and possibly the sleep deprivation that had left some members running on just two to three hours of rest.
According to the investigation, as the Georgia approached the point at which it was to meet with the tug and pick up the pilot — the navigation expert who would drive the ship into port — it became clear that the tug was well west of its expected position. The sub, meanwhile, was approaching too fast and slowing too gradually. The investigation found it was still making 15 knots, or about 17 miles per hour, when it passed the set “all stop” point. That speed and positioning would make every maneuver that followed more risky and difficult.
Initial attempts to communicate with the tug and the pilot aboard via radio were unsuccessful, and the planned transfer happened late. Adams did not want to scrap the transfer and proceed into port without the pilot, the investigation found, because of the challenges of pulling into port without one.
When the sub exited the channel at the west end of the Fort Clinch basin, the crew’s communication skills faced a major test. The assistant navigator recommended to the navigator that the sub go to “all back emergency,” a call the navigator then passed to the bridge. The officer of the deck seemed to agree, but said nothing, the investigation found. Adams, however, overrode the order, believing it would not work, and ordered “all ahead full” instead. He started directing the officer of the deck, but did not fully take control of the sub or give direct orders to the helm, the report states.
Despite a series of maneuvers — right hard rudder, left hard rudder, all ahead full, right hard rudder — the sub collided with Buoy 23 in the channel. But the worst was still to come.
“When [Adams] asked [the lookout] if the ship hit buoy 23, [the lookout] informed the CO that he did not care about the buoy, but thought the ship was going to run aground on the beach forward of the ship,” the investigation states.
As grounding looked imminent, the Georgia asked the driver of the C-tractor tugboat if the tug could cross in front of the sub on the starboard, or right, side, and push the bow around. The tug master refused, according to the investigation, worried that the water was too shallow.
The sub ended up, as the lookout put it, “hitting Fort Clinch.”
In this file photo from July 12, 2018, Gen. John E. Hyten, commander, U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), views the dry dock at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia. The base is home to six of the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines that make up the most survivable leg of the nuclear triad and support strategic deterrence.
The mishap, and the misgivings that preceded it, came against the backdrop of a Navy grappling with a culture in which overworked and unready crews were regularly put underway in service of operational needs. After two separate deadly destroyer collisions in 2017, service leaders found, among other things, that a “‘can-do’ culture” had undermined safety and led to unduly high operational tempo and fatigue.
“The can-do culture becomes a barrier to success only when directed from the top down or when feedback is limited or missed,” the Navy’s comprehensive review of the destroyer mishaps, released in October 2017, found.
Whether these factors came into play with the Georgia is more difficult to say.
In a statement for the investigation, Adams emphasized that he took full responsibility for what had transpired.
“Despite my significant reservation – expressed face-to-face, on the phone, and In emails with staff and leadership … concerning the risks of proceeding Into Kings Bay In the dark with an inexperienced team, when my requests to delay [return to port] one hour later were denied, I failed in my command responsibilities by driving to achieve mission success at the expense of appropriately acting to mitigate risks to increase our margin of safety,” he said.
“In retrospect, I should have loitered at [St. Marys] until I was satisfied that the risks were commensurate with the mission gain.”
Reached for comment by Military.com, Adams, who retired in 2016, referred to a public statement he had released at the time of his relief, in which he called the actions that caused the grounding “mine alone.”
“I ask that my lapses not be used to denigrate the terrific service of the Sailors and families of GEORGIA BLUE,” he said at the time “After thirty years of serving in the world’s finest Navy, my only regret is that I will miss sailing with them again to stand against our nation’s enemies.”
But the fact that some above Adams were also warned offers insight into how the higher command viewed the incident.
Crites faulted Spencer, the Squadron 16 commodore, with “failure to provide his ship a plan with adequate margin to safety, specifically in not providing sufficient guidance and training to his staff that developed the plan in his absence and not aggressively pursuing complete resolution of the ship’s requested arriva through personal intervention with the Type Commander staff.”
The chief of staff and director of operations for Submarine Group 10, Crites said in the report, had failed to “pursue acceptable resolution to the concerns they had with the plan for the ship’s arrival.”
Holly Carey, deputy public affairs officer for Submarine Force Atlantic, declined to say whether all administrative actions recommended by the investigation were carried out.
“What I can tell you is that the Navy is confident that leadership took appropriate corrective actions against several personnel assigned to the squadron and submarine based on the findings of the investigation,” she said.
“Following the investigation, which concluded in 2016, leadership took appropriate accountability measures and has taken all necessary steps to prevent a recurrence in the future. USS Georgia, and her current crew, serve proudly today among the U.S. Submarine Force and has leadership’s full confidence to protect the interest of the United State and allies.”
A US Marine was killed in a stabbing after a fight broke out at Camp Pendleton’s School of Infantry (SOI), according to a San Diego Union-Tribune report published Jan. 16.
One Marine was reportedly in custody. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) is investigating the incident.
First responders were notified at around 7:45 a.m. of an injured person, according to the Union-Tribune.
Located in San Diego County, Camp Pendleton is the primary training center for Marines on the West Coast. After graduating from boot camp, all Marines, regardless of occupational specialty, are sent to the SOI for further combat training before being attached to their units.
On Sept. 6, a US commander apologized for dropping leaflets in Afghanistan that were deemed offensive to Islam.
The leaflets dropped Sept. 4, which encouraged Afghans to cooperate with security forces, included an image of a dog carrying the Taliban flag, said Shah Wali Shahid, the deputy governor of Parwan province, north of Kabul. The flag has Islamic verses inscribed on it and dogs are seen as unclean in much of the Muslim world.
“Local people are very upset with this incident, and they want the perpetrators brought to justice,” Shahid said, adding that demonstrations were expected across the province.
Maj. Gen. James Linder apologized, acknowledging in a statement that “the design of the leaflets mistakenly contained an image highly offensive to both Muslims and the religion of Islam.” He offered his “sincerest apologies for this error.”
Throughout the 16-year Afghan war, US forces have struggled to convince ordinary Afghans to help them defeat the Taliban. Afghanistan is a deeply conservative country and alleged blasphemy has sparked riots.
Elsewhere in Afghanistan, two civilians were killed by a roadside bomb in the eastern Laghman province on Wednesday, according to Sarhadi Zwak, the spokesman for the provincial governor. No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but Taliban insurgents are active in the province.
Through the use of insults, strict discipline, sleep deprivation, and controlled explosions, Army drill sergeants turn recent high school grads and civilians looking for a new job into trained soldiers ready to serve in America’s wars. This transition is, of course, painful — by design.
Here are 11 things trainees will complain about before learning to suck it up as an Army soldier:
“I’m tired. I didn’t get enough sleep last night.”
New U.S. Army soldiers are expected to operate on little sleep. While in the barracks, recruits’ sleep is regularly interrupted by drill sergeants conducting inspections, punishing infractions, getting head counts, or waking soldiers for the heck of it. The party continues in the field where soldiers sleep in bags instead of beds.
“This food is terrible.”
Military food is rarely praised, and basic training food is even worse. Eating periods are very short and are supervised by drill sergeants who pounce onto soldiers who reach for fattening or sugary foods.
“You mean I have to pay for this terrible haircut?”
Soldiers get their heads buzzed, run in tennis shoes, and shave every day — but what most people don’t know is the trainees foot these bills. The shoes, haircuts, toothpaste, and other gear and services are all paid for by the trainees through Eagle Cash cards, a sort of military prepaid debit card. Most of these costs are defrayed by a uniform allowance that soldiers receive once a year, but the surprise bills still create complaints.
“There’s ugly, then there’s Army Ugly. We are all Army Ugly.”
No matter how handsome you are, it’s hard to rock the haircuts, glasses, and tan lines the Army gives you. Males have to have their heads buzzed. All soldiers requiring corrective lenses are issued basic training glasses, generally referred to as “birth control glasses.” And, after months in the sun in physical training uniforms, combat uniforms, and berets, graduating soldiers have deep tan lines around their wrists and across their foreheads.
“They yell at us all day, and one keeps calling us crack pipes.”
It doesn’t matter who the recruit is, even if they’re famous or the child of a general, they’re getting yelled at in basic training. (Stephen Colbert didn’t even enlist and he caught the sharp edge of the drill sergeants.) Many recruits find themselves shocked at the sheer amount of verbal abuse as well as the language used. The language might be toned down, but the volume never will be.
“Why do we have to take the mask off? Isn’t the point to learn how to use the mask?”
Though they will brag about these experiences later, all recruits have a training event they’re dreading during basic. Maybe it’s the CS gas chamber where they’re forced to remove their gas masks and breath deeply. Some complain about the night infiltration course where they must crawl across the ground while machine guns are fired over their heads and artillery simulators are thrown nearby. Most complain about the “smokings,” physical training sessions spread throughout the day to help new soldiers quickly build strength and endurance.
“Even on overnight guard, I can’t be alone.”
They march as a group, eat as a group, sleep as a group, shower as a group. They go to the bathroom in, at a minimum, two-man teams. Recruits have no privacy for the nine weeks or more of training. Soldiers who go through one station unit training, a combined basic training and job school mostly used for combat soldiers, will endure this for even longer. This can be a source of a lot of complaints, especially if a soldier is paired with another recruit they don’t like.
“Oh, that guy’s a blue falcon. We couldn’t stand him.”
The other recruits, especially the “blue falcons,” soldiers who screw over their peers by tattling or just being a moron, can be a major source of stress for new soldiers. When one basic trainee screws up, that means the whole platoon or whole company is screwed up, and everyone suffers equally. Bad hospital corners on one bed? Grab some real estate, soldier; you’re doing pushups until sweat fogs the windows. Adding to the atmosphere is that, after the punishments, all the trainees are still stuck in the same bay together, still sleeping four feet away from each other, still crapping in battle buddy pairs. And they remember which ones ratted them out.
“We can’t walk on that grass. That grass is only for the drill sergeant.”
Recruits are issued a handbook with pages and pages of arbitrary rules during reception week, before they even make it to basic training — rules like, “All towels must be folded in thirds, not halves, and the open sides must face towards the south side of the building.”
“We had to run everywhere, even when we were early.”
Soldiers are ordered to sprint between training stations, even if they can see the long line from a hundred feet away. Trainees run to the back of the line, then wait until the line moves. The experience and frustration defines “Hurry up and wait” — a military maxim.
“I wore pants with buttons for so long, zipping my jeans felt weird.”
For nine or more weeks, they’ve worn only what they were told to wear, only sat in chairs if given express permission, ate what they were given when they were given it. After graduation, they find take out menus and weigh the merits of thai versus pizza for dinner. They debate whether to watch a DVD or play a football game after the training day ends. They get their cell phones back and wonder whether they should call their mother or their girlfriend first. (They generally call their significant other first. Sorry, mom.)
The Battle of Mogadishu is one of the most infamous and controversial engagements in modern U.S. military history. The battle has been documented in books and film, most notably the 2001 film Black Hawk Down. The film depicts the Rangers, Delta operators, 160th SOAR pilots, and Air Force Pararescuemen that made up the ill-fated Task Force Ranger. Even the 10th Mountain Division and Pakistani UN Peacekeepers were mentioned and depicted respectively. However, the film does not depict or even refer to the Navy SEALs from the elite SEAL Team Six that joined the raid on October 3, 1993, all of whom received Silver Stars for their actions during the battle.
Wasdin (second from the left) with the rest of the DEVRGU sniper team (Howard Wasdin)
HT1 Howard Wasdin enlisted in the Navy in 1983 as an antisubmarine warfare operator and rescue swimmer. He served with distinction in Anti-Submarine Squadron 7 (HS-7) and even survived a helicopter crash over water before he re-enlisted to attend BUD/S. Wasdin graduated with Class 143 in July 1987 and was assigned to SEAL Team TWO in Little Creek, Virginia. He completed deployments to Europe and the Middle East during the Persian Gulf War before he volunteered for the Naval Special Warfare Development Group in November 1991, better known as SEAL Team Six. Wasdin completed an eight month specialized selection and training course to join DEVGRU and later completed the USMC Scout Sniper Course.
In August, 1993, Wasdin deployed to Mogadishu with three other snipers from SEAL Team Six and their skipper, Commander Eric Thor Olson, as part of Task Force Ranger. The special task force’s primary mission was to capture the warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid who had been attacking UN supply convoys and food distribution centers. The task force also included Air Force Combat Controllers who, like the SEALs, were omitted from the 2001 film. In the time leading up to the October 3rd raid, Wasdin and the other SEALs conducted a number of missions in and around Mogadishu. On the day of the raid, the four-man team returned to the airfield from setting up CIA repeaters in the town to find the task force gearing up. The intel driving the raid had developed earlier in the day and the mission was planned quickly.
The SEALs received the hour to hour and a half-long mission brief from Cdr. Olson in just a few minutes. “You’ll be part of a blocking force. Delta will rope in and assault the building. You guys will grab the prisoners. Then get out of there,” Cdr. Olson said, slapping Wasdin on the shoulder. “Shouldn’t take long. Good luck. See you when you get back.” With that, the SEALs, and three soldiers joined the convoy of trucks and drove into the city.
Not long into the mission, the convoy received sporadic fire. The SEALs’ Humvee, referred to as a “cutvee”, had no roof, doors, or windows. The only protection that it offered was the iron engine block and a Kevlar ballistic blanket underneath the vehicle. Neither of these were able to protect one SEAL, known as Little Big Man, from taking a round on the way to the target building. “Aw hell, I’m hit!” He shouted. Wasdin pulled over to check his buddy out and found no blood. Rather, he saw Little Big Man’s broken custom Randall knife and a large red mark on his leg. The knife, strapped to Little Big Man’s leg, had absorbed most of the bullet’s energy and prevented it from entering the SEAL’s leg.
(Kneeling, left to right) Little Big Man, Casanova, Wasdin, and Sourpuss, with other operators of Task Force Ranger (Howard Wasdin)
The convoy made it to the target building and the SEALs joined their assigned blocking position with the Rangers and Delta operators as the Delta assaulters infilled on the roof. Wasdin engaged a handful of enemy snipers with his CAR-15 for 30 minutes before the call came over the radio to return to the convoy. It was then that he took a ricochet to the back of his left knee. “For a moment, I couldn’t move,” he recalled. “The pain surprised me, because I had reached a point in my life when I really thought I was more than human.” Wasdin’s SEAL teammate, nicknamed Casanova, quickly neutralized two militia fighters as Air Force CCT Dan Schilling dragged Wasdin to safety for a medic to patch him back up.
37 minutes into the routine mission, a call came over the radio that changed the mission, and Wasdin’s life. “Super Six One down.” CW3 Cliff “Elvis” Wolcott’s bird had been shot down by an RPG, turning the raid into a rescue mission. Wasdin hopped back behind the wheel and the SEALs joined the convoy to secure Wolcott’s crash site. Holding the wheel with his left hand, Wasdin returned fire with his CAR-15 in his right hand.
On the way to the crash site, five Somali women walked up to the roadside shoulder to shoulder, their colorful robes stretched out to their sides. When a Humvee reached them, they pulled their robes in to reveal four militia fighters who would open fire on the soldiers. Seeing this, Wasdin flicked his CAR-15’s selector switch to full-auto and emptied a thirty-round magazine into all nine Somalis. “Better to be judged by twelve than carried by six,” he said of the incident. Shortly after, the call came over the radio that CW3 Mike Durant’s Super Six Four had also been shot down. With two birds down, ammunition running low, casualties mounting, and an entire city out to kill Americans, things looked grim for the men of Task Force Ranger.
Sgt. First Class Randy Shughart and Master Sgt. Gary Gordon were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for trying to rescue Mike Durant before they were overrun (U.S. Army)
To make matters worse, the convoluted communication network between the observation aircraft, the JOC, the C2 bird, and the convoy leader was further mired by the misunderstanding of sending the convoy to the closest crash site rather than the first crash site. This led to the bullet-ridden convoy going literally in circles and passing the target building that they raided at the start of the mission.
Even the AH-6J Little Birds providing direct fire support from the air were feeling the strain of the not so routine mission. “We’re Winchestered,” one pilot told Wasdin as he called for air support. With no ammunition left, the Little Bird pilots flew low over the enemy positions in order to draw the attention of the militia fighters skyward and off the beleaguered convoy. “The pilots didn’t just do that once. They did it at least six times that I remember,” Wasdin said, recalling the bravery of the Night Stalkers. “Our Task Force 160 pilots were badass, offering themselves up as live targets, saving our lives.”
Contact was so heavy that Wasdin ran out of 5.56 for his CAR-15, including the ammo given to him by the wounded Rangers in the back of his cutvee, forcing him to draw his 9mm Sig Sauer sidearm. As the convoy slowed, a militia fighter emerged from a doorway with an AK-47. Wasdin and the fighter exchanged rounds. The first double-tap from the Sig missed and the fighter put a round through Wasdin’s right shinbone before a second double-tap put the fighter down.
His right leg hanging on by a thread, Wasdin switched seats with Casanova and continued to return fire with his sidearm despite the incredible pain. Five to ten minutes later, Wasdin was wounded a third time, taking a round to his left ankle. “My emotions toward the enemy rocketed off the anger scale,” Wasdin recalled. “Suddenly, I realized I was in trouble.” As the convoy pressed on, the SEAL cutvee hit a landmine. Though the occupants were protected by the Kevlar blanket, the explosion brought the vehicle to a halt. With three holes in him, Wasdin thought of his family and likened his situation to one of his favorite films, The Alamo. Not willing to give up without a fight, he continued to return fire. “Physically, I couldn’t shoot effectively enough to kill anyone at that point,” Wasdin said. “I had used up two of Casanova’s pistol magazines and was down to my last.”
The only picture taken on the ground during the battle (U.S. Army)
As if scripted in a movie, the Quick Reaction Force soon arrived to extract the battered convoy from the city. With the arrival of the QRF, the militia fighters retreated and gave the convoy a much-needed reprieve. “Be careful with him,” Casanova said as he helped load Wasdin onto one of the QRF’s deuce-and-a-half trucks. “His right leg is barely hanging on.” The convoy returned to the airfield without further incident.
The scene at the base was unreal. Dozens of American bodies laid out on the runway as medics tried to sort out the most critically wounded. “A Ranger opened a Humvee tailgate—blood flowed out like water.” The sight enraged Wasdin who itched for payback. Many of the chieftains in the Aidid militia, anticipating the revenge that Wasdin and his brothers sought, fled Mogadishu. Some even offered to flip on Aidid to save themselves. “Four fresh SEAL Team Six snipers from Blue Team were on their way to relieve us. Delta’s Alpha Squadron was gearing up to relieve Charlie Squadron. A new batch of Rangers was coming, too.” Ultimately, there would be no counteroffensive.
With the broadcast of the results of the battle on American televisions, the Clinton administration feared the negative publicity that further operations could bring. “In spite of the gains, President Clinton saw our sacrifices as losses,” Wasdin recalled angrily. “He ordered all actions against Aidid stopped.” Four months later, all prisoners taken by Task Force Ranger were released.
On what should have been a routine snatch and grab operation, special operators were left exposed and eventually trapped by thousands of Somali militia fighters. Conducting the raid in the afternoon without the cover of darkness removed one of the biggest advantages that the operators had. Sending them into the city without armored fighting vehicles or Spectre gunships further reduced the American technological advantage. For warriors like Wasdin though, the ultimate defeat was not finishing the job.
The EA-6B Prowler is a long-range, all-weather aircraft with advanced electronic countermeasures capability. The high-tech plane provides an umbrella of protection for strike aircraft, ground troops and ships by jamming enemy radar, electronic data links and communications.
The twin-engine, mid-wing configured aircraft has a side-by-side cockpit arrangement, and weapons systems including the AN/ALQ-218 (V)2 Tactical Jamming Receiver, ALQ-99 tactical jamming pod, USQ-113 communications jammer and AGM-88 High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM). The Marine Corps will fly the aircraft until its 2019 sundown.
The Navy completed its transition to the EA-18G GROWLER aircraft in 2015.
In 1963, the youngest B-52 was less than a year old. The ABC network soap opera “General Hospital” started airing. The nuclear attack submarine USS Thresher (SSN 593) sank in an accident.
One other thing happened: a young man from Emporia, Virginia, by the name of Frederick Grant enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.
“I had stopped going to school. I was looking for excitement and the Marine Corps recruiter really impressed me. He told me I would be able to trust the Marines beside me, and he was right. I also joined to see the world,” Grant said during a Marine Corps interview. “When I first came in, I was a normal infantry guy and then I became a communicator.”
Grant would end up spending 38 years in the Marine Corps, eventually becoming first a warrant officer, then a commissioned officer. He retired on Sept. 1, 2001 as a lieutenant colonel. His service included at least one tour in Vietnam.
“It was a small-unit war full of patrolling. Most of the time, I was in pretty safe areas,” he said. “I’m reluctant to talk too much on it because there were so many that had it so much worse than I did. It was just very hard to describe.”
After retiring from the Marine Corps, Grant got a job running the Tactical Exercise Control Group, which handled the simulations for III Marine Expeditionary Force in Okinawa. He did so for 16 years, until his retirement in January.
“I never thought of it as a job. I never consider myself going to work,” he said. “Obviously there are dangerous times; there are exciting times; there are fun times, and I just feel very fortunate. The environment was great; it still is.”
He added that life as a civilian contractor was different than life as a Marine.
“I don’t have to do a Physical Fitness Test anymore although I’m always willing to work out with the Marines,” he said. “There isn’t much difference, and that’s because I choose it to be so. I could take the easy way out, but I don’t want to take that path.”
And after 54 years of service, what does Lt. Col. Grant intend to do?
“I’m going to relax. I mean, it has been 50 some years, so I’m going to golf or something. I’m a big runner, so I’ll run in the Southern California sunshine,” he said. “I guess the primary goal will be to reciprocate to my family all the support they’ve shown me throughout the years.”