A half century after serving in Vietnam, hundreds of veterans have a new reason to believe they may be dying from a silent bullet — test results show some men may have been infected by a slow-killing parasite while fighting in the jungles of Southeast Asia.
The Department of Veterans Affairs this spring commissioned a small pilot study to look into the link between liver flukes ingested through raw or undercooked fish and a rare bile duct cancer. It can take decades for symptoms to appear. By then, patients are often in tremendous pain, with just a few months to live.
Of the 50 blood samples submitted, more than 20 percent came back positive or bordering positive for liver fluke antibodies, said Sung-Tae Hong, the tropical medicine specialist who carried out the tests at Seoul National University in South Korea.
“It was surprising,” he said, stressing the preliminary results could include false positives and that the research is ongoing.
Northport VA Medical Center spokesman Christopher Goodman confirmed the New York facility collected the samples and sent them to the lab. He would not comment on the findings, but said everyone who tested positive was notified.
Gerry Wiggins, who served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969, has already lost friends to the disease. He was among those who got the call.
“I was in a state of shock,” he said. “I didn’t think it would be me.”
The 69-year-old, who lives in Port Jefferson Station, New York, didn’t have any symptoms when he agreed to take part in the study, but hoped his participation could help save lives. He immediately scheduled further tests, discovering he had two cysts on his bile duct, which had the potential to develop into the cancer, known as cholangiocarcinoma. They have since been removed and — for now — he’s doing well.
Though rarely found in Americans, the parasites infect an estimated 25 million people worldwide, mostly in Asia.
Endemic in the rivers of Vietnam, the worms can easily be wiped out with a handful of pills early on, but left untreated, they can live for decades without making their hosts sick. Over time, swelling and inflammation of the bile duct can lead to cancer. Jaundice, itchy skin, weight loss, and other symptoms appear only when the disease is in its final stages.
The VA study, along with a call by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York for broader research into liver flukes and cancer-stricken veterans, began after The Associated Press raised the issue in a story last year. The reporting found that about 700 veterans with cholangiocarcinoma have been seen by the VA in the past 15 years. Less than half of them submitted claims for service-related benefits, mostly because they were not aware of a possible connection to Vietnam. The VA rejected 80 percent of the requests, but decisions often appeared to be haphazard or contradictory, depending on what desks they landed on, the AP found.
The number of claims submitted reached 60 in 2017, up from 41 last year. Nearly three out of four of those cases were also denied, even though the government posted a warning on its website this year saying veterans who ate raw or under-cooked freshwater fish while in Vietnam might be at risk. It stopped short of urging them to get ultrasounds or other tests, saying there was currently no evidence the vets had higher infection rates than the general population.
“We are taking this seriously,” said Curt Cashour, a spokesman with the Department of Veterans Affairs. “But until further research, a recommendation cannot be made either way.”
Veteran Mike Baughman, 65, who was featured in the previous AP article, said his claim was granted early this year after being denied three times. He said the approval came right after his doctor wrote a letter saying his bile duct cancer was “more likely than not” caused by liver flukes from the uncooked fish he and his unit in Vietnam ate when they ran out of rations in the jungle. He now gets about $3,100 a month and says he’s relieved to know his wife will continue to receive benefits after he dies. But he remains angry that other veterans’ last days are consumed by fighting the same government they went to war for as young men.
“In the best of all worlds, if you came down with cholangiocarcinoma, just like Agent Orange, you automatically were in,” he said, referring to benefits granted to veterans exposed to the toxic defoliant sprayed in Vietnam. “You didn’t have to go fighting.”
Baughman, who is thin and weak, recently plucked out “Country Roads” on a bass during a jam session at his cabin in West Virginia. He wishes the VA would do more to raise awareness about liver flukes and to encourage Vietnam veterans to get an ultrasound that can detect inflammation.
“Personally, I got what I needed, but if you look at the bigger picture with all these other veterans, they don’t know what necessarily to do,” he said. “None of them have even heard of it before. A lot of them give me that blank stare like, ‘You’ve got what?'”
On Aug. 4, 1945, Maj. Gen. Curtis LeMay approved Operation Centerboard I, a decision that ultimately forced the Japanese to surrender and forever changed the world. Two days after his approval, pilots boarded the Enola Gay, the callsign for their B-29 bomber, and lifted off from the Pacific island of Tinian en route for Hiroshima.
At 8:15 a.m., the lone plane in the sky carrying the 9,000-pound uranium-enriched atomic bomb — known as “Little Boy” — released from the bomb bay and floated by parachute, detonating the equivalent of 12,000 to 15,000 tons of TNT over the populated city.
“It was very much as if you’ve ever sat on an ash can and had somebody hit it with a baseball bat,” recalled Navigator Theodore Van Kirk, as he described the shockwave. Life that existed before was annihilated, and 70,000 of the 76,000 total buildings were destroyed — 48,000 blown into non-existence. The explosion immediately killed an estimated 60,000 to 80,000 people, and the nuclear fallout in the following years is believed to have killed some 200,000 more people as a result of severe burns, trauma, radiation exposure, and cancer.
The Bockscar and its crew, who dropped a Fat Man atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
A day later, after no sign of surrender from the Japanese, the decision was made to use the second atomic bomb — “Fat Man.” The target was originally not the city of Nagasaki, but that of Kokura, the location of Japan’s largest munitions depot. On Aug. 9, 1945, bad weather and thick clouds forced the pilots to deviate and travel to their secondary target, where citizens of Nagasaki experienced the same hell that occurred three days prior.
“Suddenly, the light of a thousand suns illuminated the cockpit,” remembered “Bockscar” co-pilot Fred Olivi. “Even with my dark welder’s goggles, I winced and shut my eyes for a couple of seconds. I guessed we were about seven miles from ‘ground zero’ and headed directly away from the target, yet the light blinded me for an instant.”
After the plume of the second explosion cleared the skies and the Japanese surrender ended World War II, the world questioned how anyone could ever recover after two cities were turned into ash. On the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, Coffee or Die looks back at the lesser known aspects of the cataclysmic event that destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and forever changed the world.
A group of physicists at the 1946 Los Alamos colloquium on the Super. In the front row are Norris Bradbury, John Manley, Enrico Fermi, and J.M.B. Kellogg. Behind Manley is Oppenheimer (wearing jacket and tie), and Richard Feynman to his left. The Army colonel on the far left is Oliver Haywood. In the third row between Haywood and Oppenheimer is Edward Teller. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
“The Cry Baby Scientist”
Robert Oppenheimer, the man known as the “Father of the Atomic Bomb,” had months of preparation and test results to predict the impact of dropping a nuclear bomb over a populated city as he and his team developed the two atomic bombs that were used over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But the physicist, along with 155 scientists chosen to work under the top-secret program famously known as “The Manhattan Project,” had second thoughts. They signed a petition that opposed using nuclear weapons in a military capacity.
When Oppenheimer met with President Harry Truman in his Oval Office in October 1945, months after pondering the destruction of his own creation, he told him, “Mr. President, I feel like I have blood on my hands.” Truman’s face scrunched and his anger grew to a fury as he told Secretary of State Dean Acheson, “I never want to see that son of a bitch in my office again.”
As Truman recounted the story, the blame equally shared by the two of them, he often referred to Oppenheimer as “the cry baby scientist.”
A watch recovered from Hiroshima, stopped at 8:15 a.m., the moment of the bombing. Photo courtesy of the Atomic Heritage Foundation.
Censorship In The Press
The biggest news story of the century was censored. In fact, much of the information during World War II was censored. However, the prime focus concerning the nuclear explosions over Japan was the suppression of evidence regarding radiation or radioactivity. Journalists were silenced, access to medical reports were limited, and American officials confiscated materials collected from Japanese inspectors during the immediate fallout. Gen. Douglas MacArthur issued a press code that permitted the publication of photographs and print in relation to the bombings, and it remained in effect until 1952.
The purpose of the censorship was that the military didn’t want the atomic weapon to be associated with chemical warfare. Nonetheless, Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett avoided the censors when he sent his report to London using Morse code. Burchett was the first foreign journalist to visit Hiroshima after the bombings. The London Daily Express published his story on Sept. 5, 1945, with the headline “The Atomic Plague.”
“Hiroshima does not look like a bombed city,” Burchett wrote. “It looks as if a monster steamroller had passed over it and squashed it out of existence.”
American physicist Lawrence H. Johnston with the Fat Man plutonium core on Tinian in 1945. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Eyewitness Accounts & Survival
American physicist Lawrence H. Johnston, one of the scientists to work under the helm of the Manhattan Project, was the only eyewitness of all three atomic explosions (the other was the Trinity test). While Johnston viewed the extraordinary violent detonations from a distance, Tsutomu Yamaguchi, a 29-year-old Japanese naval engineer experienced both blasts in person.
Walking on his morning commute to work, Yamaguchi stopped and looked toward the sky. He heard the roar from the B-29’s engines, then watched a bomb deploy a parachute. The sky flashed the brightest light he had ever seen as he dove into a ditch before the shockwave engulfed his entire being. The eruption was so violent that it spun up tornado-like winds that hurled his body into a nearby potato patch.
After somewhat recovering his wits, he spent the night in an air raid shelter, and the following day he went to the train station. The bridges ceased to exist, and en route he had to cross a river pass and swam through a cluster of floating dead bodies. As he boarded the train amongst several other burned survivors, he traveled overnight to his hometown of Nagasaki.
On Aug. 8, he recuperated in the hospital and embraced his wife and child who hardly recognized him. The next day he returned to work to inform his bosses of what had occurred at Hiroshima. After escaping one atomic bomb, the second was even more devastating.
“I thought the mushroom cloud had followed me from Hiroshima,” he told the The Independent. Somehow, for the second time, he survived the blast, but the radiation in multiplied doses had lingering effects that caused his hair to fall out and relentless bouts of vomiting. Surprisingly, he lived until he was 93 years old and died of stomach cancer in 2010.
The Atom Bowl teams were each captained by a Heisman Trophy winner and an NFL running back who served with the 2nd Marine Division during World War II. Photo courtesy of War History Online.
The Atom Bowl
While citizens of Japan weren’t fully aware of the effects of radiation and what impact it had on the body until later in life, US soldiers didn’t fully understand it either. On New Year’s Day 1946, Chicago Bears standout Bill “Bullet” Osmanski stepped onto another gridiron that looked more like a scene from the movie Mad Max than a packed football stadium filled with screaming fans. Osmanski and other Marines from the 2nd Marine Division fielded one team and squared off against Lt. Angelo Bertelli, a Heisman Trophy winner and former Notre Dame quarterback. The ceremonial football game became known as “The Atom Bowl,” and it was held in the nuclear wasteland a few miles from “ground zero” in Nagasaki.
More than 2,000 Devil Dogs took to the bleachers at the “Atomic Athletic Field No. 2” to watch Osmanski’s “Isahaya Tigers” defeat Bertelli’s “Nagasaki Bears” 14-13. The halftime festivities included music by the Marine Corps band and “Japanese girl cheerleaders.” The rules were altered for safety, including banning tackle football in favor of two-hand touch because of the shattered glass and small debris on the field. The world’s first and only football game to take place in the rubble of an atomic bomb crater was played by a bunch of Marines trying to boost their spirits before they went home.
Former Army Ranger and West Point grad Matthew ‘Griff’ Griffin isn’t your average vet entrepreneur. He came up with the notion of building something of value when he was serving in Afghanistan during the early phases of the war, way before there was much of a logistics footprint in place. He saw that the Afghan people were in need of more than protection from the Taliban. They needed basic goods and services.
“I saw Afghanistan as a place to leverage the power of small business owners making a difference,” Griff said. “The region could benefit from more micro loans and fewer armored vehicles.”
When Griff left active duty he returned to Kabul doing some clinic work, but beyond that he wanted to find a way to assist with the country’s stability by creating a manufacturing base, starting with a single factory he stumbled across on the east side of the capital. The factory had the infrastructure; it was just a matter of what to manufacture.
As he was leaving the factory he found a flip flop on the floor — it was unique and a little funky, the kind of design Griff thought might resonate with fashion-minded millennials. He held it up and asked the factory manager if he could make them, and the Afghan local said sure. Combat Flip Flops was born.
Griff and his brother procured the materials from a far eastern supplier and got everything set up, but they’d no sooner returned to the U.S. than they were informed that the factory was shutting down — a casualty of the volatile socio-economic climate of Afghanistan. But the brothers were undeterred, plus they had a lot of money wrapped up in the materials sitting in the factory in Kabul.
Without any U.S. military assistance — the most effective way to operate, according to Griff — they went back in on a private spec ops mission of sorts, one designed to salvage what they could from their investment and work that had been accomplished already.
“We rented a ‘Bongo’ truck and packed the inventory of flip flops into bags designed to hold opium,” Griff said. “We were riding around the streets of Kabul trying to look inconspicuous, two white guys sitting on a pile of opium bags.”
They stored the 2,000-some pairs of flip flops in a warehouse on the outskirts of Kabul, and as they did a closer inspection of their wares they realized that the quality was such that they couldn’t be sold. They wound up giving all of them away to needy Afghans, which was better than nothing but not up to the standards of Griff’s vision.
They found another factory, and once again secured a supplier (and paid for it using Griff’s credit card), and this time failure came even faster and the factory closed down before any materials for the order of 4,000 pairs had been shipped. It was time for a more dramatic pivot in the business plan.
“We wound up taking the guerrilla manufacturing route and assembling the sandals in my garage in Washington state,” Griff said.
The company’s potential big break came in the form of a phone call from one of the producers at ABC’s “Shark Tank” TV show. Griff and a couple of his co-workers will appear on the episode scheduled to air on February 5. (Check your local listings.)
“We’re stoked to bring the Combat Flip Flops mission to the tank,” Griff’ said. “Every Shark has the ability to expand the mission, inspire new recruits to join the Unarmed Forces, and manufacture peace through trade. Over the past few years, we’ve survived deadly encounters to create an opportunity like this. Attack Dogs. Raging Bulls. If we need to jump in the water with Sharks, then it’s time to grab the mask and fins.”
“We’ve all seen and heard Shark Tank success stories,” Donald Lee, Combat Flip Flops’ CMO and co-founder, added. “We set our minds to getting on the show and in true Ranger fashion, we accomplished the objective. We hope this is the catalyst our company needs to provide large scale, peaceful, sustainable change in areas of conflict.”
In 2015, Combat Flip Flops’ sales increased 150 percent over the previous year. In keeping with Griff’s original corporate vision, the company donated funds for schools to educate Afghan girls and cleared 1,533 square meters of land mines in Laos, which keeps the local population — especially children — safer.
Griff has leveraged his service academy pedigree and military experience in incredibly productive ways. His entrepreneurial sense and — even more importantly — his worldview defies most veteran stereotypes and associated bogus narratives. His outlook and drive are distinctly that of the Post 9-11 warfighter — “the next greatest generation.”
Combat Flip Flop’s mission statement captures it:
To create peaceful, forward-thinking opportunities for self-determined entrepreneurs affected by conflict. Our willingness to take bold risks, community connection, and distinct designs communicate, “Business, Not Bullets”– flipping the view on how wars are won. Through persistence, respect, and creativity, we empower the mindful consumer to manufacture peace through trade.
Marines are known for their versatility in combat — we even flex that fact in our hymn, boasting that “we’ve fought in every clime and place.” One thing’s for sure, no matter where the enemy is, Marines will find a way there to punch ’em in the face — even if that place is a rainy, hot, unforgiving jungle.
But, like a professional sports team, we need a home field in which we can practice. To get our devil dogs ready to fight in the thick of the jungle, we’ve got a few sites where they can get the reps they need. These are the best of ’em:
It also looks like a post-apocalyptic suburb, which is a plus.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Nichelle Griffiths)
Andersen South AFB — Guam
Once used by the Air Force, Andersen South is an abandoned housing base that the Marines now train in. Not only is the area filled with an extensive amount of jungle, there’re also plenty of buildings. This means you can combine jungle warfare with urban training in the same location. It’s the best place for force-on-force training, hands down.
The jungle here isn’t that bad, though.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ryan Conroy)
Bellows Air Force Station — Oahu, Hawai’i
Another space acquired from the Air Force, the base is mostly used for recreation. The Marines stationed at nearby Marine Corps Base Hawai’i, however, use it as a training site for jungle patrols and land navigation.
Those in the Advanced Infantryman Course go here to enjoy the wrath of their instructors.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Andrew Morris)
Kahuku Training Area — Oahu, Hawai’i
Kahuku Training Area features one of the best examples of jungle environments. This training area is home to a road referred to as “The Devil’s Backbone” because of the rolling hills over which it spans. The jungle here is incredibly thick and it always rains. No, really. This isn’t some “if it ain’t rainin’, we ain’t trainin'” sort of thing — it just always rains.
In addition to a lush jungle environment, Kahuku also includes some urban environments.
This place also has some gnarly hills.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Tyler Ngiraswei)
Camp Schwab — Okinawa, Japan
Even though it doesn’t seem very large and the Okinawan people protesting outside the front gate can make you feel a little unwelcome, Camp Schwab has some great training sites. Whether you want to sharpen your offensive tactics in the jungle or just do some good ol’ fashioned land nav, this base has plenty of space for both.
You might even get to go and raid one of their tiny jungle villages.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo Lance Cpl. Jessica Etheridge)
Camp Gonsalves — Okinawa, Japan
Anything you can’t do at any of the other bases, you can definitely do here. This is home of the Jungle Warfare Training Center, so it’s not hard to figure out why Camp Gonsalves tops the list. Here, in addition to the jungle survival training, you can practice rappelling down a cliffside and learn what it really means to fight in a jungle.
If you’re lucky, you’ll also take part in mock raids on small, nearby villages, which is a fun, immersive experience. Also, because this place is used primarily for training purposes, it’s guaranteed to rain throughout your visit.
United States Army Air Forces airman Henry Eugene “Red” Erwin, Sr., who was presented the Medal of Honor for his actions in World War II. (Courtesy of Erwin family)
Red Erwin was in such bad shape, suffering from burns all the way to the bone, that then-Maj. Gen. Curtis LeMay put one of his legendary bull rushes on the regulations to get him the Medal of Honor before he died.
The medal was awarded and presented to Erwin within a week of his near-fatal injuries; it’s still believed to be the fastest approval on record of the nation’s highest award for valor.
Staff Sgt. Henry E. “Red” Erwin, the radio operator on a B-29 Superfortress over Japan in April 1945, beat long odds to survive and go home to Alabama, where he was welcomed at the hospital with a kiss from his wife Betty on the only part of his face that wasn’t scalded.
The doctors didn’t think he would see again, but he did. They thought he would lose his right arm, but he didn’t. Following more than 40 surgeries, Erwin would work for 37 years counseling burn patients and advising on benefits for the then-Veterans Administration in Birmingham, Alabama.
He and Betty would have four children. Following his death in 2002, son Henry Erwin Jr., who had become a state senator in Alabama, said his father “embodied all the ideals of the Medal of Honor. He wore them like a well-pressed suit.”
“He was honest, thrifty and patriotic,” the son told the Pentagon, “[and] treated everyone with courtesy and respect.”
There was never any doubt that what Erwin did on April 12, 1945, deserved the Medal of Honor — not among the other 11 crew members whose lives he saved and definitely not for LeMay, then-commander of the bombing campaign against Japan.
As the radio operator, Erwin was also in charge of dropping white phosphorus charges down a chute to signal rallying points for other bombers in the formation to proceed to targets.
On that day, something went terribly wrong with the “willy peter” charge. It either jammed in the chute or went off prematurely, bouncing back up and hitting Erwin in the face. He was blinded, part of his nose was burned off and his clothes were on fire. Flames were spreading through the aircraft.
Despite his injuries, Erwin picked up the white phosphorus charge, still burning at more than 1,300 degrees Celsius, or 2,372 degrees Fahrenheit. He groped and crawled his way to the cockpit, where he somehow unhinged a small desk blocking his way to a window. He heaved the charge out the window and then collapsed.
On Guam on April 19, 1945, Erwin’s entire body was covered in bandages when Maj. Gen. Willis H. Hale, commander of Army Air Forces Pacific Area, presented him with the Medal of Honor. It had been approved by the newly sworn-in President Harry Truman.
LeMay would later tell him: “Your effort to save the lives of your fellow Airmen is the most extraordinary kind of heroism I know.”
Erwin’s story has become part of Air Force lore, but the effort to honor his legacy and preserve it for new generations has taken on a new form to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II.
WWII Hero’s Incredible Medal of Honor Story Now to Be a Movie
His grandson, Jon Erwin, in collaboration with author William Doyle, has written a book, to be published Tuesday, on Red Erwin’s astonishing sacrifice, his life after the war, and the strong Christian faith that saw him through hardship: “Beyond Valor: A World War II Story of Extraordinary Heroism, Sacrificial Love, and a Race against Time.”
In a 1999 History Channel documentary with other Medal of Honor recipients, Erwin said, “I called on the Lord to help me, and He has never let me down.”
Jon Erwin and his brother, Andrew, the director-producer team in a string of successful inspirational movies such as “Woodlawn” and “I Can Only Imagine,” also are at work on a movie about their grandfather.
For Jon Erwin, the book and movie are a way of coming to grips with the meaning of his grandfather’s legacy, which he may not have fully appreciated in his youth.
In a phone interview, he recalled being about six years old when his grandfather took him to the basement and retrieved the Medal of Honor from its display case.
“He let me hold the Medal of Honor in the basement,” but initially said nothing as the young boy tried to grasp what his grandfather was telling him, Jon Erwin said.
Then, Erwin leaned over his shoulder and said only, “Freedom isn’t free.”
The message was lost on him as a boy, Jon Erwin said, and he feels that he never truly comprehended through his teenage years his grandfather’s passion for duty and service.
“I think my generation doesn’t look back enough on the heroism that built this country,” typified by the World War II generation, he said. “I didn’t either. That’s my one lasting regret — that I didn’t take the time to listen.”
Jon Erwin said there is new material in the book, including a stash of letters that his grandparents wrote to each other during the war, interviews with Erwin’s crew members, and a quote from LeMay on his determination to get the Medal of Honor to Erwin quickly.
“I want to pin the Medal of Honor on that kid’s neck before he dies,” LeMay said.
Jon Erwin said his grandmother shared her husband’s general reluctance to dwell on what had happened during the war.
“He didn’t talk about it; that was my husband,” he recalled Betty saying.
‘He Cradled It Like a Football’
Red Erwin was born in Docena, Alabama, on May 8, 1921. His father, a coal miner, died when he was 10. He quit school to join the Civilian Conservation Corps, one of President Franklin Roosevelt’s “alphabet soup” agencies meant to ease the devastating effects of the Depression.
Erwin joined the Army Reserve in July 1942 and was called to active duty as an aviation cadet in the Army Air Forces in February 1943, training as a pilot in Ocala, Florida. He didn’t make it through flight school and later was trained as a radio operator and radio mechanic.
He was assigned to the 52nd Bombardment Squadron, 29th Bombardment Group, 20th Air Force, which left for the Pacific in early 1945.
From Feb. 25 to April 1 of that year, his unit participated in 10 missions against Japanese cities. On April 12, his B-29, called the “City of Los Angeles,” was the lead bomber in a formation on a low-level mission to attack a chemical plant at Koriyama, 120 miles north of Tokyo.
The following account of the mission is based on Air Force historical records, which included interviews with other crew members, Erwin’s medal citation and the interview with his grandson Jon.
Erwin’s job dropping the white phosphorus charge down the chute on the signal of Capt. George Simeral, the B-29’s flight commander, was crucial to the success of the mission. The bombers flew individually to Japan and would await the phosphorus signal to form up on Simeral’s aircraft.
Over the Japanese volcanic island of Aogashima, Simeral barked the order to Erwin, “Now.”
Erwin pulled the pin on the charge, which contained 20 pounds of white phosphorus, and dropped it down the chute.
There was supposed to be an eight-second delay on the charge, giving it ample time to clear the aircraft, but it either went off prematurely or caught in the chute. Erwin was kneeling over the chute when the charge shot back up and hit him in the face.
Erwin said later that he immediately sensed something was wrong as he lit the charge. “I knew that sucker was coming back. I was completely aflame.”
Thick white smoke spread through the aircraft. The charge, burning at 1,300 degrees Celsius, was eating its way through the metal bulkhead.
The navigator’s table blocked Erwin’s path to a window. He clutched the white-hot charge between his right arm and his chest — “he cradled it like a football,” other crew members said — and reached out with his left hand to unlock the table.
Erwin “stumbled into the cockpit, threw the bomb out the window, and collapsed between the pilots’ seats,” an Air Force report said.
“After Red threw that bomb out the co-pilot’s window, the smoke cleared out, and I could see the instruments. And, at that point, we were at 300 feet,” Simeral said. “If he hadn’t gotten it out of there, well then, why we probably would have gone on in.”
Simeral aborted the mission and headed back to Iwo Jima, the closest place where Erwin could be treated. The crew used a fire extinguisher to put out the flames on Erwin’s clothes, but the white phosphorus embedded in him continued to smolder.
Erwin was in agony but never lost consciousness. He kept asking, “Is everybody else all right?”
On Guam on May 7, LeMay asked Erwin what else could be done for him. He asked for his brother Howard, who was on Saipan with the 7th Marine Division.
Screen idol Tyrone Power, star of swashbuckler hits and a Marine Corps cargo pilot in the Pacific during World War II, flew Howard to visit him in the hospital on Guam.
“And so my brother was there the next morning,” Erwin said. “He stayed with me for 24 hours. I couldn’t see him, but I knew he was there and that was a great comfort.”
Erwin received a disability discharge from the Army in October 1947 as a master sergeant.
In a 1986 oral history for the Air Force, he said, “I love the military. Even though I was severely burned, if they had retained me, I would have stayed in.”
Reflecting on World War II, Erwin said, “We had the leaders, we had the logistics, and we had the brave men at the right place at the right time.”
In the business of movie-making, Jon Erwin said that he and his brother try to tell stories that “have the power to uplift and inspire people,” adding that their grandfather’s story is the best example.
“The lessons of Red Erwin inspire us with the ideals of endurance and perseverance,” which can mean the difference between success and failure, he said. “And I’ve found that the people who are successful are the people who can go above and beyond. I learned that from my grandfather.”
“The F-35A experienced an in-flight emergency and returned to base,” officials said. “The aircraft landed safely and parked when the front nose gear collapsed,” the 33rd said.
One pilot was on board the aircraft, but did not sustain any injuries as a result of the mishaps, the Air force said. Fire crews “responded immediately,” officials said.
An F-35A Lightning II taxis down the runway.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Emily Smallwood)
Lena Lopez, a spokeswoman for the 33rd Fighter Wing, told Military.com that an investigation into the incident “is just beginning.” Lopez did not specify a timeline when the Air Force may have an update into the incident.
The Air Force did not specify the extent of the damage.
Eglin is home to one of the busiest F-35 training units in the Air Force; The 33rd Fighter Wing is also the leading training wing for F-35 student pilots.
The 33rd maintains 25 F-35As. The U.S. Navy, which also has a presence at Eglin and sends pilots through the training pipeline at the base, keeps 8 F-35Cs on station.
Featured image: Contracted Logistics Maintenance personnel from Lockheed Martin at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., stop the pilot on the taxiway during the return of his flight in preparation to verify the F-35A’s brake temperatures are within safe limits to recover the aircraft March 13, 2012.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Active-duty servicemembers and veterans share many common experiences which often sets us apart from civilians. We can come together over a tour-of-duty station, a shared commander or unit, or the unforgettable aspects of our training. But it’s often our dark sense of humor — stories about Jody, tales of ass-grabbing antics on and off post, and the ribbing of comrades and competing branches alike — which underpins military culture and unites the community. That’s why I was excited when I recently discovered a growing non-profit organization, Irreverent Warriors, whose mission is to bring service members and veterans together using humor and camaraderie. Their target is to improve mental health and end veteran suicide through humor.
I was intrigued.
Fortunately for me, Irreverent Warriors was organizing a very popular event that I could attend right in New York City: a Silkies Hike. The hike was designed to get veterans, active-duty soldiers, reservists, and retired servicemembers together (in Silkies shorts — also known as “ranger panties” or “Catch-Me-F**K-Me’s”) to be among friends and build new bonds. The New York City Silkies Hike was just one of five going on that day. The hikes were held throughout the country and drew hundreds of hikers.
“As of now, we have 65 hikes scheduled for 2021,” Irreverent Warriors CEO Cindy McNally said. “We doubled the number of hikes in two years!”
But the group does more than Silkies Hikes. According to McNally, the organization has put together “camping trips, Silkies Olympics, boat trips, community clean-ups, events to serve disabled and senior vets, and much more.”
And the events are strictly for the military. The purpose is to ensure that members know that everyone who participates either wears the uniform or has worn it before.
That was reassuring for me. I knew my dirty jokes and endless f-bombs would be welcomed — even encouraged. That toilet humor doesn’t always fit well with civilians, but a soldier, airman, marine, or seaman (quick chuckle) will always get it.
So I went for it, Silkies and everything.
Warriors SP at 0830 hours led by event organizer, Marc Herzog, taking point and donning the black Irreverent Warriors flag.
As if sensing my newness, Irreverent Warriors New York Area Leader Marc Herzog told me that his first social event in 2017 “was the most amazing experience ever.”
“I found my people for the first time,” he added.
Another Irreverent Warriors member, a Marine named Kevin Bunn, assured me: “Many of us shared your experience… we’re not gonna push you. I know where you were and I know what you’re going through.”
In fact, I was quite comfortable around every hiker. I knew what type of people was around me: gritty, hard-working, selfless Americans who would jump at any opportunity to help a brother or sister in uniform.
Kevin confirmed what my gut knew: “[The vets] need these events to keep them from feeling isolated,” he said. “Just one or two events gets them through the year.”
The Warriors report to formation for a photo in Times Square, NYC. (Photo courtesy of Arturo Martinez, Marine.)
I also knew they can party, as I have done many times before (probably too much). And some partying was the first thing I saw that morning.
As we mustered at the start point in Central Park, many Irreverent Warriors members cracked open beers. I’ll admit I was a bit nervous that this affair would get out of control. As a former officer, I knew the math: soldiers + booze = debauchery.
But it turned out to be everything but that.
No matter how many drinks some Warriors had, (and a few had a lot!) they knew what line not to cross. No one urinated on the street, left garbage behind, or damaged any property. With the exception of some slurring and a little stumbling, it was pure professionalism at its finest. I was impressed, a little relieved, and totally at home.
On many occasions, curious onlookers asked the Warriors about the purpose of the group. No matter who answered, the response was always the same: “We bring veterans together using humor and camaraderie to improve mental health and prevent veteran suicide.”
A small platoon-sized element poses for a picture at one of the checkpoints, Washington Square Park, NYC.
Another Warrior, “A.A. Ron,” was asked what the group meant to him: “I met a lot of vets through IW,” he replied. “Regardless of when you served, we’re the same. We’re here for each other to lift our spirits and to enjoy our lives and the lives of others lost.”
The New York City hike hit its climax at Ground Zero. As we rounded a city corner in the Financial District, we were confronted by the Freedom Tower. The direct view of the building and how it dominated the landscape captured everyone’s attention. The party atmosphere quickly dipped into a somber state. The group, whose mood had been one of partying and incessant chanting, became silent. We all felt the same way, we all knew what this meant.
As we mustered outside the Freedom tower, several Warriors took the stage to tell their stories of those lost and remembered. The message was clear: you are not alone!
After a moment of silence, a prayer, and warm hugs we gathered our belongings and carried on with the mission, as all Warriors do.
Veterans and military personnel are still understandably frustrated with NFL players kneeling during the national anthem — but that doesn’t mean the league is at odds with the military-veteran community. If the response from our community has taught anything to NFL franchises, it’s that teams have a lot to learn about how veterans and military units come together and operate as a team.
NFL players, for the most part, spend their whole lives training and preparing for the chance to play on Sundays in the fall. But throughout the course of their careers, they may end up playing for a slew of different teams with different objects, different methods, and different goals. No matter which city you’re representing, there’s a lot about football plays that can be related to small-unit tactics on the battlefield. The most important parts of both are to ensure each member of the team follows the plan, follows their orders, and covers their position. Your squad mates are depending on each man to do their part.
So, it makes sense to bring in some of the U.S. military’s finest veterans to show these players how individuals in military units come together to form a cohesive fighting force when the stakes are life and death. That’s where Mission6Zero comes in.
Jason Van Camp served in the U.S. Army’s Special Forces.
“How can you fight for the guy next to you if you don’t even know who he is?”
Jason Van Camp is the Founder and Chairman of Mission6Zero. He’s also a former U.S. Army Special Forces soldier who graduated from West Point and played football for the Army’s Black Knights. He founded Mission6Zero to help teams in professional sports, the corporate world, and law enforcement optimize their performance through knowledge — knowledge of themselves, their organization, and their surroundings.
While Mission6Zero isn’t limited to the NFL, the NFL needs Mission6Zero now more than ever — and the Army football player is uniquely situated to address their issues. He put together his own expert team, one that included fellow SF veteran and Seattle Seahawks longsnapper, Nate Boyer.
“When things get really bad, the warfighter is thinking only of his team.”
Van Camp’s organization brings Special Forces veterans, Medal of Honor recipients, wounded warriors, drill instructors, and other exceptional veterans (along with human performance psychologists and behavioral experts) to the fore when dealing with athletic franchises. In their most recent case study, they found it wasn’t just what team members communicated to one another that was important, it was how they communicated that mattered.
Mission6Zero does more than tell war stories and lecture teams on how to be more like a unit. The science behind how members of a unit bond in combat is the same as how members bond on a team. The more you learn about someone, the closer you get to that person. When you start to know everyone on that level, the team becomes the most important part of life.
You will never want to let the team down, but, just as importantly, you know they will never let you down.
Green Beret and Seattle Seahawks player Nate Boyer.
“The warfighter’s biggest fear is to let down the teammate to his left or right. “
It may seem obvious to a military veteran, but to many athletes and professional sports teams, it’s not so obvious. Through the course of Mission6Zero’s work in the NFL, the organization found instances of teammates who had never spoken to one another – even after the season began.
When Mission6Zero finds that the best predictor of team productivity is how teams communicate outside of the workplace and there are teammates who never talk at all, it’s easy to identify potential problems in an organization. Those “Mandatory Fun” sessions we weren’t so keen on attending while we were in the military were actually one of the most useful training opportunities we could ever have attended.
The U.S. Navy has rescued a small and very hungry German Shepard puppy which had been lost at sea for five weeks and presumed dead.
Luna, a friendly dog, disappeared from a fishing vessel on Feb. 10 of this year off the coast of San Diego, Calif.
“On Feb 10, 2016, personnel assigned to Naval Auxiliary Landing Field San Clemente Island received a call for help from a fishing vessel. Nick Haworth (Luna’s owner) reported that he and the crew were bringing in traps, and one moment Luna was there and the next she was gone. They were about 2 miles off the coast and he thought she may head for shore,” said a Navy statement given to Scout Warrior.
After this incident, ships continued to search the waters nearby San Clemente Island for an entire week without finding Luna, only to determine the little puppy was “lost at sea and presumed dead.”
“We searched the island. The initial radio call was taken by a Navy helicopter in the area,” Sandy DeMunnik, spokeswoman for Naval Base Coronado, Calif., told Scout Warrior. Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 78 was the unit that received the call, she added.
“They fly MH-60 Sea Hawk helicopters,” she said.
Then, on March 17, Navy officials found Luna on the coast of the island sitting next to the road.
“They were shocked,” the Navy statement said, because there are no domestic animals on the island because of the very sensitive environmental programs that take place there.
“Luna ran right up to the staff,” Navy officials said.
Luna was examined by our wildlife biologist and found to be undernourished but otherwise uninjured and in good spirits, service officials added.
She will be reunited with a family friend of her owner who is out of town for work and unable to get home in time. When her owner returns to town, Luna will be reunited with him.
It is not clear how a young German Shepard would be able to survive for five weeks at sea with no food or shore.
“Luna swam somewhere between one and two miles. That is not smooth water out there. It is rough water,” DeMunnik said. “The fact that she survived for five weeks in that water struck a chord with military personnel on the island because they know how treacherous the waters there can be.”
Due to Luna’s resilience and spirit, the Commanding Officer of Naval Base Coronado presented Luna with a military dog tag with four lines inscribed on it saying — “Luna, keep the faith.” “Keep the Faith” is the moto of the Navy’s SERE, Search Evasion rescue escape training.
The spirit of the saying is, among other things, designed to connote that in the event someone is missing, fellow service members will never stop searching, DeMunnik added.
“We’ve all been walking around smiling for three days because she survived,” she said.
Women are capable of incredible things, including feats of physical strength, athleticism and tremendous bravery. I have always been a strong supporter of equality for women, and women in the military are no exception. With that in mind, the playing field between men and women in the military isn’t level. Equal doesn’t mean identical.
Often, they’re unaware of these potential hardships until they experience them firsthand. Women are assets to the military without a doubt, but they also deserve to know the details before they sign up. Here’s what any prospective female recruit should consider before they enlist.
Sexual assault is a real threat.
Of all the risks to women in the military, sexual assault is the most widely publicized. While male soldiers are also at risk, women have a heightened risk in comparison. The risk is highest for those stationed on ships; at some high-risk installations studied in 2014, 10% of women were assaulted – and that’s only what was reported. At the two most dangerous, 15% of women were assaulted. The risk is much lower for most military bases, but because studies are done after the fact, it’s impossible to know which bases are the most dangerous currently.
All branches of the military have been working to improve these sobering stats, but between 2016 and 2018, the number of assaults actually increased. Some of the pinpointed factors included alcohol use and off-base parties. Victims also had certain common qualities, like joining the military at a younger age and having a prior history of sexual abuse. On average, one in 17 civilian women will be sexually assaulted in the US. For military women ages 17 to 20, the risk is one in 8, and around 25% of women report sexual harassment at some point during their time of service.
Experiences like these have an impact on mental health.
Many women choose not to report their assaults for fear that their case won’t be taken seriously, or that it will impact their career potential. Either way, victims are more likely to experience PTSD, depression and anxiety that can last for years.
More women in service will serve safely than not, but it’s important to be aware that fending off male attention can be part of the job…even though it shouldn’t be.
Women have a much higher risk of injury in certain military roles.
In close-combat positions and others that require ongoing heavy lifting and extreme physical exertion, women are more likely to experience injuries like stress fractures and torn muscles. Women are more than capable of holding their own in combat, but the particularly physical roles don’t come without risks. Pelvic floor injuries are a particular problem related to carrying heavy weights, potentially leading to urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.
Irregular meals have a more pronounced effect.
Eating inconsistently impacts women more heavily than it does men. Many women experience irregular menstruation, or none at all, with potential impacts on future fertility. Since periods can be irritating to deal with when you’re taking on a role that’s heavily physical and allows very little downtime, some opt to take birth control that eliminates periods completely. The hormones they include can have substantial side effects when taken long term, including low bone density and metabolic issues.
Women are more likely to receive a physical disability discharge.
According to one study published by the Army surgeon general’s office, women are 67% more likely to leave on a physical disability discharge due to a musculoskeletal disorder. That statistic was also from 2011, before the most intense combat jobs allowed women to apply.
Side effects can take years to show up.
It’s possible that even women who leave the military feeling healthy will feel the consequences of hard, physical labor later in life. Some female veterans have reported issues like osteoporosis, muscle atrophy, low endurance and infertility, which they believe to be the result of their time in the military.
Military careers can be rewarding for women, too. As long as they know what to expect.
The point of this piece isn’t to tell women they should stay out of combat or avoid the military. That said, since there are risks unique to female members of service, it would be unfair to encourage them to enlist without offering full transparency.
Some military roles can increase the risk of pelvic floor and musculoskeletal injuries, and sexual harassment and assault is an issue that is far from solved, but many women also climb the ranks proudly without a hitch. Now you know the risks. If you still feel a combat role is where you belong, don’t let any statistic hold you back.
While it may sound cliché, it’s a common motto within the tanker community. For more than 60 years of continuous service, the KC-135 Stratotanker has been the core aerial refueling capability for U.S. operations around the world.
The KC-135 provides the Air Force with its primary mission of global reach, but it also supports the Navy, Marine Corps and allied nations in assisting training, combat and humanitarian engagements.
The aircraft is also capable of transporting litters and ambulatory patients using patient support pallets during aeromedical evacuations.
A Cold War-era image of B-52D refueling from a KC-135A.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
The stratotanker was the Air Force’s first jet-powered refueling tanker, replacing the KC-97 Stratofreighter. It was originally designed and tasked to support strategic bombers, but has been heavily used in all major conflicts since its development, extending the range and endurance of U.S. tactical fighters and bombers.
The KC-135 is a mid-air refueling aircraft with a telescoping “flying boom” tube located on the rear of the plane. A boom operator lays prone and guides the boom insert into a receptacle on the receiving aircraft. With a single boom, aircraft refuel one at a time.
The mid-air refueling capability changed the landscape of air dominance during the Vietnam War and enabled tactical fighter-bombers of the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps to stay on the front lines for hours rather than minutes due to their limited fuel reserves and high fuel consumption.
For bombers, all targets were now within reach without the need of hopping from base to base until striking their targets. No longer are lives at stake to build airstrips to support bombing campaigns, as they were in WWII.
Development and design
The Boeing Company’s model 367-80 jet transport, commonly called the “Dash-80,” was the basic design for the commercial 707 passenger plane as well as the KC-135A Stratotanker.
In 1954, the Air Force purchased the first 29 of its future 803 aerial refueling tanker fleet. The first aircraft flew in August 1956, and the initial production Stratotanker was delivered to Castle Air Force Base, California, in June 1957. The last KC-135 was delivered to the Air Force in 1965.
The aircraft’s KC identifier stands for (K) tanker (C) transport.
The aircraft is powered by four turbofan engines mounted on 35-degree swept wings, has a flight speed of more than 500 mph and a flight range of nearly 1,500 miles when loaded with 150,000 lbs. of fuel.
The KC-135 has been modified and retrofitted through the years with each update providing stronger engines, fuel management and avionics systems. The recent Block 45 update added a new glass cockpit digital display, radio altimeter, digital autopilot, digital flight director and computer updates.
Of the original KC-135As, more than 417 were modified with new CFM-56 engines.
The re-engined tanker, designated either the KC-135R or KC-135T, can offload 50 percent more fuel, is 25 percent more fuel efficient, costs 25 percent less to operate and is 96 percent quieter than the KC-135A.
In 1981 the KC-10 Extender was introduced to supplement the KC-135. The KC-10 doubles the fuel carrying capacity of the KC-135, which is critical in supporting mobility operations of large cargo aircraft like the C-5 Galaxy and the C-17 Globemaster III.
Airmen of the 86th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron perform lifesaving procedures to a patient in a KC-135 Stratotanker, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, March 26, 2015. Aircrew and a KC-135 from Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England, spent multiple days at Ramstein performing aerial refueling missions, which also gave AES Airmen the opportunity to train on their mission inside a different airframe.
(Photo by Damon Kasberg)
Through the years, the KC-135 has been altered to do other jobs ranging from flying command post missions to reconnaissance. RC-135s are used for special reconnaissance and Air Force Materiel Command’s NKC-135As are flown in test programs. Air Combat Command operates the OC-135 as an observation platform in compliance with the Open Skies Treaty.
The KC-135R and KC-135T aircraft continue to undergo life-cycle upgrades to expand their capabilities and improve reliability. Among these are improved communications, navigation and surveillance equipment to meet future civil air traffic control needs.
There have been 11 variants or models through the years of the C-135 family.
The aircraft carries a basic crew of three, a pilot, co-pilot and boom operator. Some missions require the addition of a navigator.
An A-10C Thunderbolt II receives fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker over Afghanistan Oct. 2, 2013. The A-10 is deployed from Moody Air Force Base, Ga., to the 74th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The KC-135 is assigned to the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron.
(Photo by Stephany Richards)
Nearly all internal fuel can be pumped through the flying boom. A special shuttlecock-shaped drogue attached to and trailing behind the flying boom may be used to refuel aircraft fitted with probes. Some aircraft have been configured with the multipoint refueling system, which consists of special pods mounted on the wingtips. These KC-135s are capable of refueling two receiver aircraft at the same time.
In 2007 the Air Force announced plans for the KC-X tanker replacement program for the KC-135. In 2011, the Boeing KC-46 Pegasus was selected as the winner of the program.
The first 18 combat-ready Pegasus tankers are expected for delivery by 2019.
The KC-135 E and R models are expected to continue service until 2040 when they will be nearly 80 years old.
A KC-135 Stratotanker flies through storm clouds on its way to refuel a C-17 Globemaster III off Florida’s east coast, July 12, 2012. The KC-135 was the Air Force’s first jet-powered refueling tanker and replaced the KC-97L Stratofreighter.
(Photo by Jeremy Lock)
Operation and deployment
Air Mobility Command manages the current inventory of 396 Stratotankers, of which the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard fly 243 aircraft in support of AMC’s mission.
While AMC gained the control of the aerial refueling mission, a small number of KC-135s were also assigned directly to U.S. Air Forces in Europe, Pacific Air Forces and the Air Education and Training Command.
All Air Force Reserve Command KC-135s and most of the Air National Guard KC-135 fleet are operationally controlled by AMC, while Alaska Air National Guard and Hawaii Air National Guard KC-135s are operationally controlled by PACAF.
Did you know?
The Stratotanker is constructed with almost 500,000 rivets. The installed cost of these rivets range from 14 cents to id=”listicle-2595814234″.50 each.
The KC-135 as 23 windows, nearly all of which are heated electrically or with hot air to prevent fogging.
The tanker has a cargo area easily capable of holding a bowling alley, with enough room left over for a gallery of spectators. The cargo area is almost 11 feet wide, 86 feet long and 7 feet high: the equivalent of 220 automobile trunks.
The KC-135 transfers enough fuel through the refueling boom in one minute to operate the average family car for more than one year.
It can transfer more fuel in 8 minutes than a gas station could pump in 24 hours.
A U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress leads a formation of aircraft including two Polish air force F-16 Fighting Falcons, four U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons, two German Eurofighter Typhoons and four Swedish Gripens over the Baltic Sea, June 9, 2016. The formation was captured from a KC-135 from the 434th Air Refueling Wing, Grissom Air Force Base, Indiana as part of exercise BALTOPS 2016.
(Photo by Erin Babis)
KC-135 Stratotanker fact sheet:
Primary function: Aerial refueling and airlift
Builder: The Boeing Company
Power plant: CFM International CFM-56 turbofan engines
Thrust: 21,634 pounds of thrust in each engine
Wingspan: 130 feet, 10 inches (39.88 meters)
Length: 136 feet, 3 inches (41.53 meters)
Height: 41 feet, 8 inches (12.7 meters)
Speed: 530 mph at 30,000 feet (9,144)
Range: 1,500 miles (2,419 kilometers) with 150,000 pounds (68, 039 kilograms) of transfer fuel; ferry mission, up to 11,015 miles (17,766 kilometers)
Ceiling: 50,000 feet (15,240 meters)
Maximum takeoff weight: 322,500 pounds (146, 285 kilograms)
Maximum Transfer Fuel Load: 200,000 pounds (90,719 kilograms)
Maximum Cargo Capability: 83,000 pounds (37,648 kilograms), 37 passengers
Crew: 3 (pilot, co-pilot and boom operator. Some KC-135 missions require the addition of a navigator. The Air Force has a limited number of navigator suites that can be installed for unique missions.)
Aeromedical Evacuation Crew: A basic crew of five (two flight nurses and three medical technicians) is added for aeromedical evacuation missions. Medical crew may be altered as required by the needs of patients.
Initial operating capability: 1956
Unit cost: .6 million
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
The last of the Marine Corps‘ remaining EA-6B Prowlers have wrapped up their final mission in the Middle East, where they supported troops taking on the Islamic State group. Now, the electronic-warfare aircraft will soon be headed to the boneyard.
More than 250 members of Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 2 are returning to North Carolina after spending seven months operating out of Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. The squadron — the last to fly the service’s decades-old electronic-warfare aircraft — is only about four months away from being deactivated.
But that didn’t slow the Death Jesters downrange, where they were tapped with supporting two campaigns simultaneously: Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and Syria, and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan.
“The mission of the Prowler is and always has been to deny, degrade and disrupt the enemy’s use of the electromagnetic spectrum,” said Capt. Robert Ryland, an electronic-countermeasures officer with VMAQ-2. Being based in Qatar, he added, allowed them to respond to missions for both operations.
Ryland declined to specify how many flight hours the crews flew throughout the deployment, due to operational security concerns. But the operational tempo remained high throughout the deployment, he said.
A U.S. Marine Corps EA-6B Prowler.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael B. Keller)
“The presence of electronic warfare is extremely important to the supported unit,” he said. “Though this is the final EA-6B deployment, the need for electronic warfare will remain high worldwide in the future.”
The Marines were called on to support not only U.S. ground troops, but coalition forces as well. From planning missions to executing them, the squadron worked with troops from several countries.
“There were a lot of people on this deployment who’ve dedicated their entire lives to this aircraft, its community and most importantly, the electronic-warfare mission,” Ryland said.
The end of an era
The Prowler has been a part of the Marine Corps’ aviation arsenal since the Vietnam era. The aircraft has been vital on the battlefield, since, including during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and now in the fight against ISIS terrorists.
Seeing the Prowler used all the way up until its sundown says a lot about its capabilities, said 1st Lt. Sam Stephenson, a spokesman for 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. Despite the aircraft’s age, Ryland said the Marines with VMAQ-2 were able to maintain high readiness throughout this final deployment.
“There’s sometimes a bit of a misconception that old equals having a hard time getting jets airborne, but that’s actually not the case with the Prowler,” he said.
Ryland credits their skilled maintainers, who’ve worked on Prowlers for a long time. Some joined VMAQ-2 when other Prowler squadrons deactivated.
Now as VMAQ-2 prepares to deactivate, too, the Marines with this squadron are on the lookout for new opportunities. Some will transition to other Marine Corps aircraft, join a different branch, or leave the military when their service time is up, Ryland said.
“Everybody has their own personal plan for what they’ll do next,” Ryland said.
Lt. Col. Greg Sand, EA-6B requirements officer with Marine Corps headquarters, told Military.com in 2017 that the Prowler’s sunset wouldn’t force anyone out of the Marine Corps.
Three EA-6B Prowlers.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. N.W. Huertas)
If Marines weren’t selected to transfer to work on another aircraft, he said they could always serve in B-billets or support their headquarters. And some with EA-6B aircrews were also transitioning to work with drone squadrons, he said.
Despite the end of the Prowlers’ era, the need for electronic-warfare capabilities on the battlefield isn’t going away. Throughout the aircraft’s sundown process, Stephenson said the Marine Corps has been building up a suite of new electronic-warfare capabilities across the Marine air-ground task force.
According to Marine Corps planning documents, that includes pods or sensors that can be affixed to other aircraft and new signals intelligence and cyber capabilities.
“This will be the new way the Marine Corps plans to transition from utilizing the Prowlers to a more distributed strategy where every platform contributes and functions as a sensor, shooter and sharer and [includes] an EW node,” Stephenson said.
Marine units heading to sea or combat are already carrying some of those capabilities, Sand said. They offer commanders a great deal of flexibility, since they can be added to fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft.
“A MAGTF commander can just walk out onto a flightline now, see the asset, and he or she owns that asset and can task that asset,” Sand said.
And Marine ground troops will still be able to call on joint forces when they need airborne electronic attack capabilities, he added.
“The Prowler in practical terms has been replaced in additional capacities by the Navy [EA-18G] Growler,” Sand said. “That’s a Super Hornet … with a pretty fierce EW capability. The Growler really is the follow-on to the Prowler.”
For now, VMAQ-2 still has a few months of work left before the Prowlers’ final flights. When the squadron does get ready to say goodbye to its beloved aircraft in March 2019, Ryland says they’ll hold a sundown ceremony at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina. Any Marine who worked with the Prowler, whether a year or decades ago, is invited to attend.
“The Prowler has been a really incredible workhorse for the Marine Corps, the United States and allied forces for many, many decades,” Ryland said. “I know the people who fly and fix these aircraft have a lot of respect for them and certainly for those who came before us.
“There is a tremendous amount of hard work and training that goes into performing the Prowler mission,” he added. “It’s a great honor, every time I get to fly in one.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.