Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII

“I am 95 years old,” said James Davis. “I am a World War II veteran, and I’m the last of my unit.”

Davis sat stoically in the chair, his head cocked to one side due to his poor hearing. His hands folded over the grip of his walking stick and his experienced eyes were surveying the room of soldiers and the distinguished guests in attendance who had come to hear him speak.

Davis spoke confidently, not fazed by Maj. Gen. Arthur “Joe” Logan, Hawaii State, Adjutant General and Brigadier General Kenneth Hara, Hawaii State, Deputy Adjutant General, and along with the Senior Enlisted Leader Command Sgt. Maj. Dana Wingad who attended to hear Davis speak.


“I was in one of the first ten firefighting units created,” Davis said. “We were one of four units to deploy overseas to Africa. I made the landing on D-Day plus one on the southern French coast, but not Normandy.”

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII

Hawaii Army National Guard soldiers with 297th Engineer Detachment Fire Fighting Team attend a professional development seminar with James G. Davis, Member, Historian and last living member of the 1204th Army Engineer Fire Fighting Platoon, May 4, 2019 at the 103D Troop Command Headquarters, Pearl City, Hawaii.

(Photo by Matthew Foster)

Davis, a Firefighter Historian, and last surviving member of the 1204th Army Engineer Firefighting Platoon, had come to the Hawaii Army National Guard’s 103rd Troop Command Armory in Pearl City, Hawaii to provide a professional development seminar to the 297th Engineer Fire Fighting Team. Davis became the Historian of his unit 30 years ago.

“I was born blind in one eye,” Davis said. “So, I figured the Army wouldn’t want me. But I registered with the selective service as was required by law. A few months later, the Army said, ‘We want you!'” The room laughed, as Davis chuckled.

Davis entered the United States Army as a selective service limited service inductee early of 1943. Due to his limitations, Davis was not permitted to deploy into combat.

Davis would not initially serve as a firefighter for the Army.

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII

Hawaii Army National Guard soldiers 103D command staff attend a professional development seminar with James G. Davis, Member, Historian and last living member of the 1204th Army Engineer Fire Fighting Platoon, May 4, 2019 at the 103D Troop Command Headquarters, Pearl City, Hawaii.

(Photo by Matthew Foster)

“I started in another Corps,” Davis said. “The Army came looking for people like me that had had experience in wild land fires. Which I had had from the National Park Service. There weren’t many with firefighting experience. We had some training and some the job training. That was typically how we learned how to fight fires, ‘OJT.’ Between the end of World War I and Dec. 7, 1941 there was no class of Army firefighter, they didn’t exist.”

Six months later, he was deployed to Noran, Algeria.

“One year later, I’m hitting the beach on D-Day plus one,” Davis said. “We are very proud of what we did, in many respects. We were by in large, selective service inductees with no fire experience.”

Davis would go on to tell the role of the Army firefighter during World War II

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII

Hawaii Army National Guard soldiers with 297th Engineer Detachment Fire Fighting Team attend a professional development seminar with James G. Davis, Member, Historian and last living member of the 1204th Army Engineer Fire Fighting Platoon, May 4, 2019 at the 103D Troop Command Headquarters, Pearl City, Hawaii.

(Photo by Matthew Foster)

“When we went to shore in France, we had 37 men and five fire trucks,” Davis said. “We had engineer firefighting platoons that fought anything that burned, military or civilian.”

The 1204th Army Engineer Firefighting Platoon served a number of roles from supporting engineering missions as well as supporting combat operations. They were able to utilize their equipment to accomplish missions that normal military equipment could not accomplish.

The Army firefighter was also called upon to directly support combat operations on the front lines of the war.

“When we went into the forward areas, we worked behind the artillery,” Davis said. “Because the adversary would be throwing incendiary rounds, trying to burn the guns out, and would set fire in the process.”

Davis’ history and connected to the lineage and the roots of the 297th FFT Command.

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII

Hawaii Army National Guard soldiers with 297th Engineer Detachment Fire Fighting Team attend a professional development seminar with James G. Davis, Member, Historian and last living member of the 1204th Army Engineer Fire Fighting Platoon, May 4, 2019 at the 103D Troop Command Headquarters, Pearl City, Hawaii.

(Photo by Matthew Foster)

“He loves firefighting,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Odoardi, 103 Troop Command Sergeant Major. “He loved the job. He’s sharing that history with our guys, sharing their roots. In regards to professional development, it was an opportunity for our small firefighter group to learn from somebody who did it in World War II. It was amazing. We have such a diverse set of Military Occupational Specialties, anytime we can capture history from the past, especially from a veteran, it’s invaluable”

“We got to learn our history,” said Staff Sgt. Julius Fajotina, Readiness Non-Commissioned Officer for the 297th FFT. “I didn’t think firefighting went back to the Legions of Rome. Knowing where we came from and knowing what we equipment we have now, it’s amazing what firefighter Davis accomplished.”

Davis is the last surviving member of his unit and his story will continue on through the soldiers of the 297th FFT.

“We did what we could, with what we had,” Davis said. “It wasn’t adequate, but we are proud of what we did.”

This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Borne the Battle: Dale Dye, Marine Corps birthday episode

When watching a movie, it’s easy to think that everything is real and true and lifelike. It’s no surprise that that isn’t always the case, especially with military movies. That’s how Marine veteran Dale Dye got involved. He wanted to tell Hollywood the right way to portray the military on screen.

Dye’s journey to becoming a military technical advisor started when he was a young man. He often overheard his father’s inspiring World War II stories. He enlisted in the Marines after seeing a Marines poster.


In service, Dye became a combat correspondent and he often documented battles and life in the Marines during the Vietnam War. It was this experience that he later drew on to advise Hollywood film directors on how to accurately portray the military. His love for the military inspired him to influence the next generation through films, books, and even video games, so he created Warriors Inc. to provide Hollywood with technical advisors for all things military related.

About Warriors, Inc.

www.youtube.com

As Dye discussed his experiences, he covered the following topics:

  • His military career in the Marines during the Vietnam War where he received three Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star with a Combat “V.”
  • His military consultant business Warriors Inc.
  • His 141 credits in film, television and video games.
  • His new projects.
  • His books and publishing company Warriors Publishing.
  • His struggle and treatment of his PTSD.

He emphasized the importance of not only having knowledge about what you are getting into but also knowing that there are people who have gone through the same thing as you that want to help support you.

No Better Place To Die

www.youtube.com

Dye recently finished the film “The Last Full Measure” which will hit theaters in early 2020, and his directorial debut in “No Better Place to Die” was recently announced.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

Slosh, plop, slosh, plop. The noise my boots made with every step seemed deafening. 20 or so Iraqi Special Forces soldiers and I were doing our best to be sneaky on our way to the target building, but it was the wet season, so Iraq’s infamous moon dust had already made the transition to sticky tar-like mud. 

Slosh, plop, slosh, plop. Our boots, caked in mud at this point, were getting worse with every step. We might as well have been a middle school orchestra doing sound checks.  

Before we got too close to our target house, I needed to remind the commander of the platoon I was advising about a key point we neglected on our last mission. “Remember, get one ladder up and clear the courtyard before the other ladder goes up and everyone starts jumping over the wall,” I whispered in my best broken Iraqi Arabic. I had to simultaneously motion with my hands to mimic a wall, a house, and a ladder. I wasn’t sure what was more confusing, my Arabic or the goofy hand gestures. 

Luckily, the commander was used to whatever an American trying to speak in his native tongue sounded like, so he nodded in the affirmative, which could mean “yup, got it” or “whatever, dude.” I guess we’ll see in a few minutes, I thought to myself. Fortunately, it only took seconds.

“Fuck’n Yalla!” he said with a huge grin, blasting me with his ashtray breath. Guess we’re good then. 

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII
Iraqi counter terrorism soldiers assault an objective. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Sarah K. Anwar.

Our not-so-sneaky infil became a comically loud trot of mud-caked boots as we closed in on the target house. The Iraqi Special Forces soldiers stacked up on the wall outside the house, and the commander was directing traffic. The first ladder went up and a soldier climbed up and deliberately swept the courtyard with his rifle before stopping at the door into the house. 

With security posted, another ladder was placed against the wall. The other soldiers began silently scaling the wall, entering the courtyard, and stacking on the house in preparation for breaching the door. 

The third Iraqi in the stack emerged with a mini batting ram, cocked it back, and slammed it into the door. A sharp metallic clash rang out as the door flew inward and the soldiers flowed into the house. 

Up to this point, the Iraqis had been as silent as possible and relied only on streetlights to see, but now that the front door had been violently breached, the gig was up. They flicked on their “white lights” — the tactical flashlights they attached to their AK47s to illuminate rooms they were clearing — and started shouting commands to each other and whoever was inside as they methodically moved from room to room. Speed, surprise, and violence of action. Check, check, check. 

I watched as their lights reached the second floor, and then my radio crackled to life. “Joe, wrap it up. It’s fucking turkey time!”  

Shit, that’s right, I thought. It’s hard to track holidays with the constant grind of combat operations and training. I walked into the training compound that the Iraqis had just assaulted and found their commander. “Hey brother, great job on the ladder — big improvement from last time,” I said. “That’s it for tonight, we are on standby for ops this week.” 

He nodded, gave me a fist bump, and motioned for his soldiers to exit the house. 

They didn’t need to be convinced. They slung their weapons, lit cigarettes, and joked and exchanged slaps on the back just like soldiers have since man first formed armies. The life-or-death business of war is too important to take too seriously. 

I wished them “Tisballahhair,” or “good evening,” as I began my muddy slog back to the team house. The cool breeze coming off the Tigris River filtered through the rain-soaked palm trees, bringing with it a pleasant jasmine scent. During my first winter in Iraq, I was amazed that the smell of the city in the late fall and winter was so refreshing. But off in the distance, I could still hear the occasional bursts of gunfire and explosions mixed with the echoes of a call to prayer and horn blasts. Such was life in Iraq in 2004. 

The life-or-death business of war is too important to take too seriously. 

Even though I was far from home on Thanksgiving, I was living my childhood dream. I was a 24-year-old U.S. Army Green Beret on my second combat deployment living in the middle of Baghdad with my Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) training the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) and advising them on actual combat operations — which included everything from tracking down bad guys to conducting raids to kill or capture them.  

And there was no shortage of work to go around. We were located in northern Baghdad on the western bank of the Tigris, caught between the Shia enclave of Kadhimiya and the Sunni stronghold of Adimiyah. That put us right in the middle of the action, which is exactly where a modern Green Beret wants to be.

Our Saddam Hussein-era military barracks were within a combat outpost secured by a company of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Cavalry Division. Before the invasion, our home away from home was one of Hussein’s most feared prisons, run by his dreaded secret police. When we moved in, several of the Iraqis had horrific stories about being tortured there, and some even refused to work there. The Iraqi commander eventually brought in a local religious leader to bless the barracks and ensure no evil spirit lingered in the erie corridors of our compound.  

As was the case everywhere that early in the war, our living conditions were spartan, but we made the best of it. Our team house was a simple one-story concrete building fortified with sand bags over the windows and on the roof. We had a makeshift porch with a large grill that was glowing with charcoal and wafting smoke tinged with the sweet smell of bacon. Take that, jihad, I thought as I kicked my boots against the wall of the house in an effort to knock the mud off. 

I opened the door and rounded the corner into our living room and kitchen area, where the smell of turkey and stuffing overpowered the scents of Copenhagen, gun oil, and coffee that normally permeated the house. 

“What’s up, man? How’d the house go?” asked Matt, our Special Forces medic. Like most SF medics, Matt had a reassuring calm and sharp intellect that made him an asset on any mission. But what made him unique was that he could have been a stand-up comedian if he ever decided to hang up his green beret. At least once a day he had me laughing so hard it hurt — most recently performing a hilarious parody of Al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi’s manifesto. 

“It went well — hopefully we fixed our wall issue,” I replied. 

Inshallah habibi — grab a plate of chow!” Matt said, gesturing to our kitchen table, where Thanksgiving dinner was waiting. I happily obliged.

“Joe, your jundis are having ladder issues? That’s weird” The sarcastic comment came from Stu, our team’s intelligence sergeant. 

I knew that was coming. Stu had been on the team for several years and was part of 5th Group’s legendary initial push into Afghanistan in 2001. He was built like a linebacker and always plotting a prank. ODAs are tight, which means you never live down your screw ups; all you can do is smile and hope your skin gets thick — fast. A few of the other guys laughed. So did I. Here we go…

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII
Commandos conduct a raid. Photo by Sgt. Daniel P. Shook, courtesy of Dept. of Defense. 

“Wait, what happened?” asked Jeremy, our communications sergeant. Jeremy had been on the team for years but missed our last trip due to a broken neck he sustained during training. He was a good ol’ boy from Missouri and sounded like Boomhauer from “King of the Hill,” so naturally the Army gave him the job that required him to talk on the radio.  

“Oh shit, that’s right, we have to tell you this one!” Matt replied. Well, at least Matt would make the story funny, I thought as I scooped some cranberry sauce onto my turkey.  

“Dude, so no shit there we were,” Matt said, opening with the proper war story preamble, “assaulting a huge-ass compound out west — some deck-of-cards clown’s house, which was awesome. The mission had everything: helo infil with fast ropes to the roof, a wall breech, the door gunners even lit up a guard tower. Pretty awesome op.” Matt was now standing to make more room to add animation with his hands.  

“It was going great until we were trying to get over this big-ass wall with these shitty ladders, and Joe, loaded with way too much bullshit, breaks a rung on the ladder, gets mad, throws the ladder to the side and tries to ninja climb over the 8-foot wall. He gets caught by his kit on the wall, so I get under him and push his ass over the wall like combat Winnie the Pooh!” Matt explained, reenacting my finest hour. 

“Well, that’s a technique,” Jermey said with his normal deadpan wit. Everyone got a good laugh. All I could do was finish fixing my plate and find a place to sit. Gary, our engineer, was my best bet. 

Gary was a wiry backwoods Southerner, and we went to Special Forces Selection and the Special Forces Qualification Course together. He had just earned a valor award for his calm under enemy fire during a raid in Samara, but you wouldn’t peg him as a Green Beret — or the guy who would remain calm while getting shot at for that matter. 

“We eating or waiting for Mom and Dad?” Gary asked as he spit Copenhagen into one of the ever-present dip bottles that lined our house floor. “Mom and Dad” were Mike, our senior noncommissioned officer, or more simply known as the team sergeant; and Trevor, our team leader and only commissioned officer. Neither was Mom or Dad specifically, but together they were a couple. 

“Hey, come eat!” Stu yelled into the office that adjoined our living room where Mike and Trevor would send reports back to our headquarters. These were definitely the good old days of limited connectivity and little to no micromanagement from higher headquarters. Sure, we still checked in over the radio with them daily, but it was mostly asking for forgiveness and not permission. Unfortunately, that dynamic has been replaced by nearly nonstop emails, messenger chatting, and teleconferences from every nook and cranny of today’s battlefield.

Our leadership duo emerged from the back office, Mike in the lead. He grew up in the infantry and had seen combat in the first Gulf War, Kosovo, the initial push into Afghanistan, and was on his second Iraq deployment. He was the most experienced guy on the team, an aggressive leader, and gave us a ton of space to succeed. 

Trevor was Mike’s commissioned counterpart, a humble officer who had every reason not to be: he was a West Point graduate who knocked out all of the Army’s hardest training by the time he was a captain. He also had the ability to understand every detail of what we were doing and how it tied into the big picture.

“Happy Thanksgiving three-five … again,” Mike said as he piled turkey onto his plate and sat down at our gaudy wood and fake-gold kitchen table. Trevor grabbed a plate last and sat next to Mike, our team now almost complete. 

“Intel update!” Josh said as he entered the room and took a seat with his plate of turkey, stuffing, and jelly-looking cranberry sauce. Josh had also been in SF for several years and was now running the Iraqi recon element that collected intel for our Iraqi Special Forces companies to action. 

It was normal for meals to be interrupted by intel updates, and Thanksgiving was no exception, so all eyes were on Josh. It had been a hell of a trip so far, with summer fighting in Najaf against Sadr’s boys, chasing Zarqawi and his hostages on every backstreet of Baghdad, another away game in Samara, followed by Operation Phantom Fury in Fallujah. The more information we could get, the better — you never knew when the next shithead would pop up for a round of whack-a-mole.

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII
Joe and Josh in Iraq in 2004. Photo courtesy of Joe Kent/Coffee or Die.

But today would not be one of those days.

“No ops tonight — beer light’s on, nerds,” Josh said, as he pulled a green 22-ounce Tuborg “tall boy” out of his cargo pocket. “Right, Mike?” he asked, with a smart-ass grin, deferring to our senior NCO for the official approval. 

“I did say, happy Thanksgiving …” Mike said, motioning for Josh to pass him a beer. 

Josh was more than happy to oblige. He cracked open our refrigerator and passed around a combination of Tuborg, Hienekens, and Efes tall boys, graciously provided by our Iraqi Christian friends. They didn’t mess around when it came to beer. “It’s like they know no one in Iraq wants just a pint of beer,” Josh said. “The tall boy is their standard.”  

But just like any other Thanksgiving, you always seemed to be waiting on the weird uncle to show up. 

“Where is Seaux?” Mike asked suspiciously. Seaux, named after the famous Johnny Cash song, may be the origin of the phrase “stranger than fiction.” If he’s not, he definitely lived up to it. Seaux had fought in Grenada with the 82nd Airborne, then joined the French Foreigin Legion, but eventually found his way back into the U.S. Army and had served in every war the U.S. had been in from Mogadishu to Iraq. It probably comes as no surprise that Seaux loved going native and spent most of his time with a few Iraqis doing recon work. 

“I’m coming — don’t you flatlanders know I eat dinner at 4PM sharp?” Seaux grumbled from his room. “No respect for seniors.”

When Seaux hung out with us, he did so either dressed as a viking or as a native American, complete with a bow and arrow he used to shoot flaming arrows across the Tigris. Like I said, stranger than fiction. 

Before long, he emerged from his room and caught the beer that Josh tossed to him.

But just like any other Thanksgiving, you always seemed to be waiting on the weird uncle to show up.

“Cheers, fuckers!” Stu said, as he made a toasting motion. The rest of the team unceremoniously made the motion in return, cracked their beers, took a sip, and dug into their dinner. We may not have been home for Thanksgiving, but in our line of work, sitting down as a team — a family — for turkey that day seemed more like home in some ways than what we would have had back in the States.

“We’re lucky this year,” Trevor said with a grin. “The B Team busted their asses to get every ODA a turkey. Worked out well for everyone but Two-Three …” ODA 523 was just across the river from us, and we often supported each other on missions and shared intel a few times a week. 

“Do tell, sir,” Jeremy said. 

“Well, they drove one of their Mercedes to pick up their turkey in the Green Zone, and when they were coming back in to their base, I guess the kid on guard didn’t know it was them and lit up their car with his machine gun!” Trevor explained. 

Everyone paused; there’s nothing friendly about friendly fire. 

For the first couple of years of the war in Iraq, Special Forces ODAs in major Iraqi cities acquired local cars to drive around town so that they could conduct reconnaissance and low-profile assaults. That technique was a double-edged sword though. It worked great in that we could avoid contact with the enemy until we wanted to make it and got a great feel for Iraq at the street level. However, the most dangerous part of these operations was the re-entry to friendly lines. The guys guarding the gate were usually very young soldiers and were used to seeing military vehicles. Suffice it to say, that at two years into the war, all of us had stared down the barrel of U.S. weapons with our hands up screaming “I AM AN AMERICAN!” a few times. 

“Somehow, no one got hurt, the kid on the gun lit up the engine block,” Trevor continued. “Marty and Lee bailed out, and the car caught on fire and ruined their turkey!” All of us laughed at the cartoonish mental image of our buddies dodging some private’s hail of machine gun fire and their turkey getting cooked early. Like many things in war, the closest of calls would usually end up as a fun story to laugh about later. And sometimes … they didn’t. 

“Yeah, man. Better than last year when we got tossed out of the big Army chow hall because POTUS was coming and we looked like pirates,” Josh said with a laugh. He was referring to our last deployment when a high-strung mess officer rudely told us we couldn’t eat Thanksgiving dinner unless we were in uniform. We wanted to eat, but not that bad.

What we didn’t know at the time was that President George W. Bush was coming to eat with the troops at the chow hall we were trying to get into. In hindsight, it made sense why hooligans like us were turned away. There are plenty of perks that come with wearing the green beret, but sometimes it can work against you.

Looking around our makeshift living and dining room, I felt very grateful to be sitting there with my brothers. This was our second Thanksgiving together in combat; we didn’t know it at the time, but we’d be doing the same drill the next year on the Syrian border. 

The mood would be far more somber for that dinner. Our luck would run out by then, and we would have lost two teammates by the time we sat down for turkey again. Sergeant First Class Brett E. Walden and Army Sergeant First Class Robert V. Derenda paid the ultimate sacrifice, and their families are in my thoughts this Thanksgiving.

In retrospect, I guess we were all just getting warmed up. Most of us cracking beers in our Baghdad team house in 2004 would spend more Thanksgivings with teammates in combat zones over the next 14 years than with our actual families. Holidays spent in makeshift living spaces, living feet away from each other and always in-between intense combat operations, would become normal for all of us — and we wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Even then, I knew the bonds I forged with those men in that room would last for the rest of my life. After our third combat deployment, most of us had to move on to other assignments. All of us stayed in the fight and made efforts to stay in touch though. Josh and I forged a tight bond in Baghdad that remained long afterward. In fact, when I married my warrior soulmate, Shannon — a special operator herself — she insisted that Josh and his son be at every Thanksgiving and Christmas we shared as a family.

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII
Joe and Shannon Kent with their two sons, Thanksgiving 2018. This was their last Thanksgiving together. Photo courtesy of Joe Kent.

But what I didn’t know was how all of them would be there for me 14 years later, during the darkest hour on the worst day of my life … the day I found out my wife, Senior Chief Petty Officer Shannon Kent, was killed in action while hunting ISIS in Syria alongside three other courageous Americans: Scotty Wirtz, a former U.S. Navy SEAL; Ghadir Thahir, a Syrian-American linguist; and Jon Farmer, a Green Beret Warrant Officer, from the 5th Special Forces Group — my old group. I had not seen most of my brothers from Three-Five in more than 10 years, but it didn’t matter. They were there for me, they cried with me, and they are still there for me and my sons to this day.

Unlike that Thanksgiving next to the Tigris in 2004, cracking jokes and telling stories over a modest turkey dinner, this Thanksgiving is going to suck. I can’t believe it has been almost a year since I last saw my wife in person. But what I am beyond thankful for is my sons, the short time I had with Shannon, and the love of my teammates. The bonds formed in the horrors of combat are lasting and unbreakable. 

Take the time this Thanksgiving to reach out to your brothers and sisters in arms — talk about the good times and work through the bad. Be there for each other because you never know when you’ll need them the most.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These were the WWI ‘Harlem Hell Fighters’

It’s African-American History Month and a fitting time to recall the black soldiers of the New York National Guard’s 15th Infantry Regiment, who never got a parade when they left for World War I in 1917.

There were New York City parades for the Guardsmen of the 27th Division and the 42nd Division and the draftee soldiers of the 77th Division.


But when the commander of the 15th Infantry asked to march with the 42nd — nicknamed the Rainbow Division — he was reportedly told that “black is not a color of the rainbow” as part of the no.

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII

Children wait to cheer the Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment as they parade up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home. More than 2,000 Soldiers took part in the parade up Fifth Avenue. The Soldiers marched seven miles from downtown Manhattan to Harlem.

(National Archives)

But on Feb. 17, 1919, when those 2,900 soldiers came home as the “Harlem Hell Fighters” of the 369th Infantry Regiment, New York City residents, both white and black, packed the streets as they paraded up Fifth Avenue.

“Fifth Avenue Cheers Negro Veterans,” said the headline in the New York Times.

“Men of 369th back from fields of valor acclaimed by thousands. Fine show of discipline. Harlem mad with joy over the return of its own. ‘Black Death hailed as conquering hero'” headlines announced, descending the newspaper column, in the style of the day.

“Hayward leads heroic 369th in triumphal march,” the New York Sun wrote.

“Throngs pay tribute to the Heroic 15th,” proclaimed the New York Tribune.

“Theirs is the finest of records,” the New York Tribune wrote in its coverage of the parade. “The entire regiment was awarded the Croix de Guerre. Under fire for 191 days they never lost a prisoner or a foot of ground.”

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII

Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment parade up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.

(National Archives)

For that day, the soldiers the French had nicknamed “Men of Bronze” were finally heroes in their hometown.

In the early 20th Century, black Americans could not join the New York National Guard. While there were African-American regiments in the Army there were none in the New York National Guard.

In 1916, New York Gov. Charles S. Whitman authorized the creation of the 15th New York Infantry to be manned by African-Americans — with white officers — and headquartered in Harlem where 50,000 of the 60,000 black residents of Manhattan lived in 1910.

When the New York National Guard went to war in 1917, so did the 15th New York. But when the unit showed up in Spartanburg, South Carolina, to train, the soldiers met discrimination at every turn.

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII

New York City residents cram the sidewalks, roofs, and fire escape to see the Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment march up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.

(National Archives)

To get his men out of South Carolina, Col. William Hayward, the commander, pushed for his unit to go to France as soon as possible. So in December 1917, well before most American soldiers, the men from Harlem arrived in France.

At first they served unloading supply ships.

But the French Army needed soldiers and the U.S. Army was ambivalent about black troops. So the 15th New York, now renamed the 369th Infantry, was sent to fight under French command, solving a problem for both armies.

In March 1918, the 369th was in combat. And while the American commander, Gen. John J. Pershing, restricted press reports on soldiers and units under his command, the French Army did not.

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII

Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment parade up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.

(National Archives)

When Pvt. Henry Johnson and Pvt. Needham Roberts won the French Croix de Guerre for fighting off a German patrol it was big news in the United States. A country hungry for war news and American heroes discovered the 369th.

The 369th was in combat for 191 days; never losing a position, never losing a man as a prisoner, and only failing once to gain an objective. Their unit band, led by famed bandleader James Europe, became famous across France for playing jazz music.

When the 369th arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey, on Feb. 10, 1919, the New York City Mayor’s Committee of Welcome to the Homecoming Troops began planning the party.

On Monday, Feb. 17, the soldiers traveled by ferry from Long Island and landed at East 34th Street.

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII

Sgt. Henry Johnson waves to well-wishers during the 369th Infantry Regiment march up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.

(National Archives)

They marched up Fifth Avenue and passed a reviewing stand that included Gov. Al Smith and Mayor John Hylan at Sixtieth Street. The official parade route would cover more than seven miles from 23rd Street to 145th Street and Lennox Avenue in Harlem.

“The negro soldiers were astonished at the hundreds of thousands who turned out to see them and New Yorkers, in their turn, were mightily impressed by the magnificent appearance of these fighting men,” the New York times reported.

“Swinging up the avenue, keeping a step spring with the swagger of men proud of themselves and their organization, their rows of bayonets glancing in the sun, dull-painted steel basins on their heads, they made a spectacle that might justify pity for the Germans and explain why the boches gave them the title of the “Blutdurstig schwartze manner” or “Bloodthirsty Black men,” the Times reporter wrote.

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII

Wounded Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment are driven up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.

(National Archives)

Lt. James Reese Europe marched with his band, the New York Tribune noted, while Sgt. Henry Johnson, who had killed four Germans and chased away 24 others, rode in a car because he had a “silver plate in his foot as a relic of that memorable occasion.”

“He stood up in the car and clutched a great bouquet of lilies an admirer had handed him,” the Tribune wrote about Johnson. “Waving this offering in one hand and his overseas hat in the other, the ebony hero’s way up Fifth Avenue was a veritable triumph.”

“Shouts of ‘Oh you Henry Johnson’ and ‘Oh you Black Death,’ resounded every few feet for seven long miles followed by condolences for the Kaiser’s men,” the New York Times reported.

Along the route of the march soldiers were tossed candy and cigarettes and flowers, the newspapers noted. Millionaire Henry Frick stood on the steps of his Fifth Avenue mansion and waved an American flag and cheered as the men marched past.

When the 369th turned off Fifth Avenue onto Lennox Avenue for the march into Harlem the welcome grew even louder, the New York Sun reported.

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII

Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment parade up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.

(National Archives)

“There were roars of welcome that made all the music of the day shrink into itself,” the Sun reporter wrote. And although the 369th Band had 100 musicians nobody could hear the music above the crowd noise, the reporter added.

People crammed themselves onto the sidewalk and into the windows of the buildings along the route to see their soldiers come home.

“Thousands and thousands of rattlesnakes, the emblem of the 369th, each snake coiled, ready to strike, appeared everywhere, in buttonholes, in shop windows and on banners carried by the crowd,” the New York Times reported.

“By the time the men reached 135th Street they were decorated with flowers like brides, husky black doughboys plunking along with bouquets under their arms and grins on their faces that one could see to read by,” the Sun reported.

At 145th Street the parade came to its end and families went looking for their soldiers.

“The fathers and mothers and wives and sweethearts of the men would no longer be denied and they swooped through police lines like water through a sieve,” the Sun wrote.

“The soldiers were too well trained to break ranks but when a mother spied her son and threw her arms around his neck with joy at getting him back again, he just hugged her off her feet,” the paper wrote.

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII

The color guard of the 369th Infantry Regiment parades up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.

(National Archives)

With the parade over, the men were guided into subway cars and headed to the Park Avenue Amory, home of the 71st Regiment, for a chicken dinner and more socializing. The regimental band, which had begun playing at 6 a.m. and performed all day, finally got a break during the dinner and the men lay down to rest.

The New York Times noted that the band boasted five kettle drums presented to the unit by the French Army “as a mark of esteem.” They also had a drum captured from a German unit that had been “driven back so rapidly that they lost interest in bulky impedimentia.”

The New York Times estimated that 10,000 people waited outside the armory and “all the spaces about the Armory were packed with negro women and girls.” The soldiers inside ate quickly and came back out to find their families.

“I saw the allied parade in Paris and thought that was about the biggest thing that had ever happened, but this had it stopped,” Lt. James Reese Europe, the band’s commander, told the New York Sun reporter as the party ran down.

popular

At this firing range, you can shoot your dream firearm

In America, you can do a lot of things at a firing range — for the right price. Shoot a sten gun, a .50-cal, or an AK-47 — you can even drive a Sherman tank over a car. This is America and if there’s anything Americans seem to hate, its limits on firearms. But while America is not alone in their undying love for battlefield firearms there are some limits to what you can do without breaking the law.

Related: How to drive a tank and shoot artillery without being in the military

That sh*t goes out the window in Cambodia, though. You know Cambodia, right?


 

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII
You might remember a little something.

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII

Bring your own GoPro.

Cambodia has had gun control laws in place since the 1990s, but unlike countries where guns are tightly regulated, tightly controlled, and tightly monitored, Cambodia hasn’t had the will or political impetus to enforce many of the laws. Citizens once carried an array of assault weapons and explosives.

Cambodia’s civil war killed some 1.7 million people and displaced millions of others from the cities to the countryside. So it’s unsurprising that so many Cambodians are unwilling to part with their lethal protection. Even less surprising is that some Cambodians would choose to turn the large caches of antiquated firearms into a booming tourist attraction.

In recent years, many locals have turned in their weapons, but many others did not. It is still quite easy to get your hands on some of this hardcore hardware. As a tourist, though, you don’t need to acquire your own heat. Just like in America, one can be found for you — for the right price.

At the Cambodia Fire Range Phnom Penh, you can combine tour packages that will take you to Cambodia’s unique historic temples, like Angkor Wat, with massive firepower. They’ll transport you there for free, fill you up with all the free beer you can handle, and then take you back to the range so you can let loose with an RPG aimed at a makeshift grass hut loaded with fuel barrels.

If jungle temples and shoulder-fired rockets aren’t your jam, maybe you’ll be more apt to take in the beautiful, pristine beaches at Sihanoukville with a boat ride to some of Cambodia’s most remote, small islands. Then, once back at the range, you might prefer tossing hand grenades — or launching them with an M70.

The world is your flaming oyster.

Articles

13 funniest military memes for the week of Dec. 9

So … a certain writer and content curator took two weeks of hard-earned vacation and forgot to ask anyone to fall in on the military memes rundown.


Sorry about that. I’m back now, so here are 13 of the funniest military memes we saw this week (plus two secret bonus ones hidden at the end):

1. After all, if you stay in then you can have all the joy and happiness of first sergeant.

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII
If the military is the best job I’ll ever have, it might be time to look at an ultra-early retirement.

2. Don’t let them catch you with morale, they’ll steal it immediately.

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII
Leadership is like a bunch of wet blankets.

3. “Hey, guys. Ready to have some fun?”

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII
The best part is that the Coast Guard’s sailing ship is a former Nazi vessel, so those cadets are likely vomiting where Hitler once walked. History!

4. “Just gonna keep sleeping. Thanks.”

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII
This tactic only works until the sergeant of the guard gets involved.

5. That Central Issue Facility logic:

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII

6. My biggest concern is that it appears that wrench is way too large for that nut.

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII
Like, I get that isn’t the point, but I feel like any craftsman should be able to eye wrench v. bolt/nut sizes better than that.

7. Look, it’s not that we don’t want to reward you for finding Taliban for us …

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII
… but if we give you a commission, we’ll eventually have to give you a platoon. And there’s no way we’re finding 40 Joes who will follow you.

8. The greatest generation is still trying to get their disability ratings.

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII
Pretty nice of the VA to set up shop inside their 1940s camp, though.

9. Honoring the flag waits for no paint job, not even haze gray.

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII
Of course, left-handed salutes may be worse than missing colors.

10. They’re really cute and adorable poop factories:

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII
Wish they would use those cutesy paws to clean up their mess.

11. Not sure why he doesn’t melt with all that salt.

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII
The heat of combat is more dangerous for him than any other soldier.

12. Probably a soldier with an unfortunate name …

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII
… but possibly a military fan with no idea what is going on.

13. Grumpy cat if it was an airman with a shaving profile:

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII
Mandatory fun isn’t (unless it’s the podcast).

Secret squirrel bonus 1:

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII

Secret squirrel bonus 2:

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII

MIGHTY SPORTS

Marines compete for HITT championship

Four days, seven challenges, several dozen competitors, but only two may become champions.

Marines from far and wide accept this annual challenge, and there is no exception this year at the 2019 High Intensity Tactical Training Championship aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., Sept. 9 through Sept. 12, 2019.

The championship has been hosted by Marine Corps HITT and Semper Fit for the past five years, and has evolved with every passing year. The HITT program’s primary mission is to enhance operational fitness and optimize combat readiness for Marines. The program emphasizes superior speed, power, strength and endurance while reducing the likelihood of injury.


“1-2 instructors have been pulled from major Marine Corps installations,” said Staff Sgt. Brandon Atkins, a force fitness instructor for Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. and Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C. HITT centers. “We all came together to brainstorm what the Marines would be doing for the athletic events.”

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII

Sgt. Miguel Aguirre, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., competes in the fourth challenge of the High Intensity Tactical Training Championship at Butler Stadium aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., Sep. 10, 2019.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by James Frank)

The events for the championship are drafted by HITT instructors and confirmed by a board of various Marine Corps fitness specialists.

“It’s a grind, straight grit,” said Staff Sgt. Scott Frank, a competitor from MCB Camp Pendleton. “You can’t just be good at one thing.”

“You have to be well rounded physically and mentally.”

The seven events for the 2019 HITT Championship included a marksmanship simulator, combat fitness test, weighted run, combat swimmer challenge, obstacle course, pugil stick fight, BeaverFit assault rig, live-fire fitness challenge, and HITT combine.

“We run through it ourselves so we can understand what they are going through too,” said Atkins.

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII

A U.S. Marine competes in the fourth challenge of the High Intensity Tactical Training Championship at Butler Stadium aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., Sep. 10, 2019.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by James Frank)

The intensity and nature of the challenges, create a risk of injury. To mitigate an ambulance is always on site and numerous medical personnel were present. The Marines are also being monitored closely by high-tech equipment that records their heart rates, core temperature and other vital information, which gives an in-depth idea of their overall health provided by Western Virginia University.

“The tactical drill was my probably my favorite because it included live-fire, and it was awesome to see how your body reacts to being under physical and mental duress,” said 1st Lt. Frances Moore, a competitor from MCAS Iwakuni, Japan.

The competitors are awarded points based on each timed event. The goal at the end of the competition is to have the most points. The championship culminates at the end of day four, when the scores have been determined and the male and female champions are awarded.

“They come in and train every single day and get coaching advice from all the staff,” said Frank. “Then I get to come here and actually see them put all that effort into the competition.”

This article originally appeared on Marines. Follow @USMC on Twitter.

Articles

How quickly a wing of nuclear bombers scramble for Doomsday

You might call it the Doomsday scramble, but it’s not exactly that. It’s when an Air Force bomber wing sends up its planes as quickly as they possibly can – before an inter-continental ballistic missile can hit its target.


Given that it takes an ICBM about 30 minutes, to arrive to its target – that is not a lot of time. In fact, it will get there faster than a pizza you ordered. So, it looks like a base would be doomed before it could get all of its bombers up. Well, you’d be wrong. During the Cold War, Strategic Air Command came up with what they called the “Minimum Interval Take-Off” – or MITO.

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII
U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class J.T. Armstrong

In essence, the MITO is a well-rehearsed mad dash to get the planes up. They take off at the rate of four a minute – one every fifteen seconds. This is done by a dance called the “elephant walk” – a specialized form of taxiing to the runway to get bombers (or transports or fighters) ready for a mad scramble.

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII
Three U.S. Air Force Boeing B-52G Stratofortress aircraft from the 2nd Bombardement Wing take off from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana (USA). Three cells of six B-52s and KC-10 Extender aircraft took off seconds apart under combat conditions during a minimum interval takeoff exercise in 1986. (USAF photo)

This video below is from Global Thunder 17, an exercise that took place this past October. It starts with a lot of SUVs and pickups driving like crazy – that’s how the Air Force gets the crews to the planes – which are dispersed to make it harder for one nuke to kill the entire wing. Then the BUFFs taxi to the runway.

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII
Two B-52Gs take off during a 1986 exercise. (USAF photo)

Then, one by one, the B-52H Stratofortress bombers take off. The goal is to have an incoming ICBM hit an empty base. So far, this has only been done in drills, but if that Doomsday moment ever comes, it looks as if the Air Force will be ready for it.

MIGHTY CULTURE

As the US entered World War I, American soldiers depended on foreign weapons technology

On April 6, 1917, the United States declared war against Germany and entered World War I. Since August 1914, the war between the Central and Entente Powers had devolved into a bloody stalemate, particularly on the Western Front. That was where the U.S. would enter the engagement.

How prepared was the country’s military to enter a modern conflict? The war was dominated by industrially made lethal technology, like no war had been before. That meant more death on European battlefields, making U.S. soldiers badly needed in the trenches. But America’s longstanding tradition of isolationism meant that in 1917 U.S. forces needed a lot of support from overseas allies to fight effectively.


In Europe, American combat troops would encounter new weapons systems, including sophisticated machine guns and the newly invented tank, both used widely during World War I. American forces had to learn to fight with these new technologies, even as they brought millions of men to bolster the decimated British and French armies.

Engaging with small arms

In certain areas of military technology, the United States was well-prepared. The basic infantrymen of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps were equipped with the Model 1903 Springfield rifle. Developed after American experience against German-made Mausers in the Spanish American War, it was an excellent firearm, equal or superior to any rifle in the world at the time.

The Springfield offered greater range and killing power than the U.S. Army’s older 30-40 Krag. It was also produced in such numbers that it was one of the few weapons the U.S. military could deploy with to Europe.

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII

The American soldier on the left, here greeting French civilians, is carrying a French Chauchat machine gun.

(US Army photo)

Machine guns were another matter. In 1912, American inventor Isaac Lewis had offered to give the U.S. Army his air-cooled machine gun design for free. When he was rejected, Lewis sold the design to Britain and Belgium, where it was mass-produced throughout the war.

With far more soldiers than supplies of modern machine guns, the U.S. Army had to adopt several systems of foreign design, including the less-than-desirable French Chauchat, which tended to jam in combat and proved difficult to maintain in the trenches.

Meeting tank warfare

American soldiers fared better with the Great War’s truly new innovation, the tank. Developed from the need to successfully cross “No Man’s Land” and clear enemy-held trenches, the tank had been used with limited success in 1917 by the British and the French. Both nations had combat-ready machines available for American troops.

After the U.S. entered the war, American industry began tooling up to produce the French-designed Renault FT light tank. But the American-built tanks, sometimes called the “six-ton tank,” never made it to the battlefields of Europe before the Armistice in November 1918.

Instead, U.S. ground forces used 239 of the French-built versions of the tank, as well as 47 British Mark V tanks. Though American soldiers had never used tanks before entering the war, they learned quickly. One of the first American tankers in World War I was then-Captain George S. Patton, who later gained international fame as a commander of Allied tanks during World War II.

Chemical weapons

Also new to Americans was poison gas, an early form of chemical warfare. By 1917 artillery batteries on both sides of the Western Front commonly fired gas shells, either on their own or in combination with other explosives. Before soldiers were routinely equipped with gas masks, thousands died in horrific ways, adding to the already significant British and French casualty totals.

Scientists on both sides of the war effort worked to make gas weapons as effective as possible, including by devising new chemical combinations to make mustard gas, chlorine gas, phosgene gas and tear gas. The American effort was substantial: According to historians Joel Vilensky and Pandy Sinish, “Eventually, more than 10 percent of all the chemists in the United States became directly involved with chemical warfare research during World War I.”

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII

Blinded by German tear gas, British soldiers wait for treatment in Flanders, 1918.

(British Army photo)

Naval power for combat and transport

All the manpower coming from the U.S. would not have meant much without safe transportation to Europe. That meant having a strong navy. The U.S. Navy was the best-prepared and best-equipped of all the country’s armed forces. For many years, it had been focusing much of its energy on preparing for a surface naval confrontation with Germany.

But a new threat had arisen: Germany had made significant progress in developing long-range submarines and devising attack tactics that could have posed severe threats to American shipping. German Navy U-boats had, in fact, devastated British merchant fleets so badly by 1917 that British defeat was imminent.

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII

A German submarine surrenders at the end of World War I.

In May 1917, the British Royal Navy pioneered the convoy system, in which merchant ships carrying men and materiel across the Atlantic didn’t travel alone but in large groups. Collectively protected by America’s plentiful armed escort ships, convoys were the key to saving Britain from defeat and allowing American ground forces to arrive in Europe nearly unscathed. In fact, as military historian V.E. Tarrant wrote, “From March 1918 until the end of the war, two million U.S. troops were transported to France, for the loss of only 56 lives.”

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII

A U.S. Navy escorted convoy approaches the French coast, 1918.

(US Navy photo)

Taking to the skies

Some of those Americans who made it to Europe climbed above the rest – right up into the air. The U.S. had pioneered military aviation. And in 1917, air power was coming into its own, showing its potential well beyond just intelligence gathering. Planes were becoming offensive weapons that could actively engage ground targets with sufficient force to make a difference on the battlefield below.

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII

An American-painted British-made Sopwith Camel in France, 1918.

(US Army photo)

But with fewer than 250 planes, the U.S. was poorly prepared for an air war in Europe. As a result, American pilots had to learn to fly British and French planes those countries could not man.

Despite often lacking the weapons and technology required for success, it was ultimately the vast number of Americans – afloat, on the ground and in the air – and their ability to adapt and use foreign weapons on foreign soil that helped turn the tide of the war in favor of the Allies.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation. Follow @ConversationUS on Twitter.

Articles

Here’s why the F-35 could thrive in the South China Sea

As tensions mount in the troubled waters of the South China Sea, US might is considered crucial, and a weapon considered well suited for the region is almost ready for deployment: the F-35 Lightning II.


“It will absolutely thrive in that environment,” retired Air Force Col. John “JV” Venable told Business Insider.

At a cool $100 million per jet, Lockheed Martin’s “jack-of-all-trades” aircraft is America’s priciest weapons system, and its development has become one of the most challenged programs in the history of the Department of Defense.

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII
An F-35C Lightning II on USS George Washington during F-35C Development Test III. | Lockheed Martin

Since its inception, in 2001, the F-35 has experienced setbacks that include faulty ejection seats, software delays, and helmet display issues.

In July 2015, after cost overruns, design modifications, and serious testing, the Marine Corps became the first of the sister-service branches to declare the tri-service fighter ready for war.

A year and change later, the Air Force also declared their version of the fifth generation jet initial operational capability (IOC). Currently the US Navy variant, the F-35C, is slated to reach IOC by February 2019.

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII
An F-35C Lightning II comes in for a landing on USS George Washington during F-35C Development Test III. | Lockheed Martin

“Having three different types of fighters working for you in that environment [South China Sea] is also an extraordinary advantage,” Venable, a fighter pilot and former commander of the celebrated Air Force Thunderbirds, told Business Insider.

With rival territorial claims by Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines, Taiwan, and China, the South China Sea — rich in natural resources and crisscrossed by shipping routes — is one of the most militarized areas on the planet.

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII
Overlapping claims in the South China Sea | Voice of America

Currently the US, with the world’s largest navy, dominates the region; however, that is poised to change as Beijing dramatically expands its naval capabilities.

“At some point, China is likely to, in effect, be able to deny the US Navy unimpeded access to parts of the South China Sea,” Robert Kaplan, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and author of  “Asia’s Cauldron,” wrote.

“The withdrawal of even one US aircraft carrier strike group from the Western Pacific is a game changer.”

According to Venable, the F-35, designed to marry stealth and avionics, would thrive in the armed camp that has become the South China Sea.

“The Chinese would be right to fear the United States Air Force, United States Navy, and the United States Marine Corps armed with those jets.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

How this veteran went from homeless to graduate school

Harold Taylor was raised by a mother who gave birth to him at 14 years old. She kept him, despite her family’s continuous pressure to give him up for adoption. With her constant support and encouragement, years later, he found himself playing as the starting running back for the Lincoln University football team on a full scholarship. He was also in ROTC and had gone through basic as a cadet, planning to be commissioned as an officer when he graduated. The football team folded and he lost his scholarship, so he went home to St. Louis, MO. He found himself just sitting around, a pastime he didn’t enjoy. So, he called an Army recruiter.


Taylor went on to serve in the Army from 1990-1998. He served in combat during Desert Storm and was a part of the 82nd Airborne Division for three years before he separated from the military. When he left the Army, he went on to serve something else – alcohol.

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII

“I chose alcohol over everything,” he said. He describes a situation where his girlfriend at the time gave him an ultimatum; her or alcohol. He left right then and went to the corner store to buy beer. When he returned his things were packed up sitting outside. Taylor took his stuff and went to a boarding house in St. Louis while his addiction only got worse. Taylor shared that he became increasingly paranoid, thinking people were following him and trying to hurt him. He quickly started accumulating a heavy police record and soon found himself homeless.

He recalls the time – after years of being homeless – where he was sleeping in an abandoned vacant building under a pile of clothes to keep warm. One day people came into that vacant building to board it up, and he felt them kick him, but they didn’t see him because he was buried under the clothes. “I remember spending Thanksgiving laying there thinking I am going to die in this building,” he said.

Taylor shared that almost dying is what finally made him realize he was wasting his life away. He explained that he had set what he thought was a controlled fire to keep warm and he woke up with the blanket covering him completely engulfed in flames. He escaped without injury and vowed to make a change. It was 2012, and the day after that fire, he took a bus to the Jefferson Barracks VA and asked for help. He was immediately put into substance abuse treatment and given the care and support he needed. Taylor was soon diagnosed with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, caused by his time in service.

Last of his unit, Army vet shares history of firefighting during WWII

When he finished his initial treatment, he was brought to The Joseph Center – a veteran’s homeless shelter in East St. Louis, IL, which provides trauma-informed services for male military veterans. It was founded by Martha Watts and her husband, Carl. She was a former VA nurse and wanted more for the veterans she was serving.

Taylor admits that he wasn’t initially the best resident of The Joseph Center, rebelling often against their rules. Taylor smiled when he remembered his case manager Mr. Anderson pulling him aside one day after a few weeks of what he called his “nonsense behavior” and telling him he was too bright for what he was doing. He went into his room immediately after the conversation and said he started changing.

Taylor went on to graduate with his associate’s in criminal justice, which he shared was both ironic and humorous due to his criminal record. He didn’t stop with just his associate’s but graduated (with honors) with his Bachelor of Social Work degree. He had a professor in that program that asked, “Why stop”? He took her advice to heart and is now finishing up his last two semesters for his Master of Social Work. His picture is on a billboard now for the University of Missouri-St. Louis, with other student veterans. “I’m happy, I like the person I see in the mirror now,” said Taylor.

These days, Taylor doesn’t recognize the man he used to be before The Joseph Center. He is a career counselor at Employment Connections in St. Louis and plans to work for the VA one day serving veterans like him. He’s also a passionate advocate for people of color serving in the military. Taylor shared a story of coming home and having someone use a derogatory term towards him because he was a black man in uniform. “We serve our country, all of us, but then we come home to this kind of brutality and disrespect. I didn’t fight for that, we didn’t fight for that,” he said. He said he is proud to be who he is, but wishes people who didn’t look like him could put his shoes on for a bit.

It is with this in mind that Taylor is not only a graduate student and full-time career counselor, but also a part-time case manager at The Joseph Center. He spends his shift at the center as a mentor to the new veterans coming through the homeless shelter and hopes that by leading by example he can help them find their way – just like he found his.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

US allies are ‘back in the big carrier business,’ but the US isn’t so sure how many flattops it’ll have in the future

While the US’s new aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford, was undergoing testing off the East Coast last month, the Royal Navy’s new carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, was landing and launching jets in UK waters for the first time in a decade and the venerable French carrier Charles de Gaulle was setting off on its first deployment since its 18-month-long midlife overhaul ended late last year.


That activity is a sign the French and the British “are now back in the big carrier business,” Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, commander of the Navy’s recently reestablished 2nd Fleet, said this month in Washington, DC.

“Having that global carrier force is real beneficial. That helps our operational dilemma quite a bit,” Lewis added in response to a question about his command’s partnerships with European navies.

The Queen Elizabeth and its sister carrier, Prince of Wales, have a long life ahead of them, and France is wrapping up studies on a potential future carrier of its own. The Ford and the two carriers following it will also serve for decades, but changes could be coming for the size and role of the US carrier fleet.

Lewis deployed as an exchange pilot aboard the British carrier HMS Invincible, which was sold for scrap in 2010, and while on the USS Harry S. Truman, he sailed with the carrier HMS Illustrious, which was sold for scrap in 2016.

The Illustrious had already turned in its airplanes, “so we actually used US Marine AV-8Bs,” Lewis said, referring to the AV-8B Harrier short takeoff and vertical landing jet, which is being replaced by the F-35B.

“They used US Marine AV-8Bs on that ship then, and it’s something that’s pretty easy to do,” Lewis said. “The Queen Elizabeth is a pretty nifty ship because … it was basically designed around the F-35.”

The F-35B’s first landing on the Queen Elizabeth was in September 2018, as it sailed off the US coast. The Queen Elizabeth has since landed and launched British F-35Bs, but its first operational deployment, in 2021, will be with a US Marine Corps F-35 squadron.

“We’ll be sailing through the Mediterranean into the Gulf and then to the Indo-Pacific region with F-35B variants, both UK and US Marine Corps,” Edward Ferguson, minister counsellor defense at the British Embassy in Washington, DC, said this month.

“This is a really powerful, interoperable US-UK capability that has huge potential that hasn’t yet been tested in the high north, but I think we certainly see potential in the North Atlantic, up into the high north, as well as globally,” Ferguson said at an Atlantic Council event. “This is a 50-year capability. It’s been designed to be flexible.”

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MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopters on the Ford’s flight deck, January 16, 2020.

US Navy/Mass Comm Specialist 2nd Class Indra Beaufort

Time to think about the other things

The first-in-class Ford finished aircraft compatibility testing at the end of January, successfully launching and landing five kinds of aircraft a total of 211 times. The second-in-class carrier, John F. Kennedy, was launched in December.

The next two Ford-class carriers have been named — Enterprise and Doris Miller, respectively — but won’t arrive for years, and it’s not certain what kind of fleet they will join.

“The big question, I think at the top of the list, is the carrier and what’s the future going to look like and what that future carrier mix is going to look like,” acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said on January 29 at a Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments event. Modly spoke as the Navy conducted its own force structure assessment.

The carrier and its strike group are now the Navy’s centerpiece, with the carrier air wing as the main offensive force and the strike group’s destroyers and cruisers mostly in a defensive role.

The future fleet will have to be “more distributed to support distributed maritime operations,” its sensors and offensive weapons spread across different and less expensive ships, Modly said.

Modly pointed to the Indo-Pacific region as one where the Navy has to be a lot of places and do a lot of things at once, and the Navy has experimented with breaking those escort ships away from the carrier to act in a more offensive role as surface action groups.

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An F/A-18F Super Hornet, left, and an E/A-18G Growler on one of the Ford’s aircraft elevators before being lifted from the hangar bay to the flight deck, January 21, 2020.

US Navy/Mass Comm Specialist Seaman Jesus O. Aguia

The Ford-class carrier “is going to be an amazing piece of equipment when it’s done,” but those carriers are billion apiece, Modly added, “and that’s not including the cost of the air wing and everything else.”

“I think we agree with a lot of conclusions that [carriers are] more vulnerable,” Modly said. “Now of course we’re developing all kinds of things to make it less vulnerable, but it still is a big target, and it doesn’t give you that distribution.”

The Navy is required by law to have at least 11 carriers in service, and plans for a 355-ship fleet include 12 carriers, a number the Navy is set to reach by 2065. But Modly said the focus should be on the coming years rather than planning to 2065, when “we’ll all be dead.”

“You should think about what we can actually do,” he added, “and I think that number is going to be less” than 12.

Such a shift could spark backlash like when the Navy broached plans to cancel the Truman’s mid-life refueling, which would have cost billion and kept it in service for 25 years, in order to pay for unmanned vessels and other emerging technologies to counter the carriers’ vulnerabilities to new weapons, like long-range Chinese missiles.

The Navy relented on that, but Modly admitted the changes he mentioned would require further discussion with lawmakers.

“We’d have to talk to them about this, and I think this … can’t be a discussion that we just have inside the walls of the Pentagon,” Modly said. “I think as many people that get involved in this, the better. Congress obviously has interest. Our shipbuilding industry has interest. We all do.”

The carrier’s future will have to be considered when formulating the acquisition and building plan for the carrier after the Miller, the as-yet unnamed CVN-82, Modly said, adding that such thinking will be influenced by changes in the surface fleet and the threat environment.

But the Miller likely won’t arrive until the early 2030s.

“Thankfully, we have some time to think about that,” Modly said. “We don’t have time to think about the other things, like the unmanned systems, the smaller [amphibious ships], that amphib mix,” he added. “We’ve got to start getting answers to those now.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY MOVIES

The best fictional Marines from movies and TV

Let’s be honest, most movies don’t get the Marines right, but that doesn’t mean some characters don’t capture what the Corps is all about.

Even among the the incredible men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces, Marines have a tendency to stand out. Whether it’s our cult-like affinity for adhering to regulations, our invariably over-the-top pride in our branch, our ability to hit targets from 500 yards out on iron sights, or the truck-load of ego we take with us into a fight, Marines are unquestionably a breed of their own.


In movies and television, Marines are often depicted as hellacious war fighters and disciplined professionals, but Marines themselves will be the first to tell you that, while we may work hard, we often party even harder. Marines aren’t war machines, but we are highly trained. Marines aren’t incapable of compassion, but we do often keep our emotions in check. Marines aren’t super human, but that won’t stop us from acting–and talking–like we are.

That swirling combination of bravado and humility, of violence and compassion, of action and introspection make Marines more complex than they’re often depicted on screens big and small. It’s just hard to cram the sort of paradox into a fictional character. Hell, it’s hard to cram that sort of paradox into a real person too–which is why, as any Marine Corps recruiter will tell you, the Corps isn’t for everyone.

So when it comes to fictional Marines, who does the best job of capturing the unique dynamic of Uncle Sam’s Devil Dogs? That’s just what we aim to find out.

The Only Way To Be Sure (Aliens 1986)

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Corporal Dwayne Hicks – Aliens

Hicks, as we all know him, was technically a corporal in the United States Colonial Marine Corps, which may not exist now, but just may in the far-flung future of the Aliens movies. While Bill Paxton’s Private Hudson may have some of the more memorable lines (“Game over man! Game over!”) it’s Hicks that maintains his military bearing throughout most of the film. When their unit is decimated and Corporal Hicks finds himself as the senior Marine on station, he willingly assumes the responsibility of command, contradicts the unsafe orders given by the mission’s civilian liaison, and makes a command decision based on the evidence at hand.

If you ask me, that’s some pretty good Marine-ing right there.

The X Files – Skinner Talks About Vietnam (2×08)

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Walter Skinner – X-Files

Back in the 1990s, no one was cooler than the UFO-chasing FBI agents on the Fox series, The X-Files, but despite Mulder and Scully’s run ins with the supernatural, neither were particularly tough when it came time to fight. Fortunately, their boss was a Vietnam veteran U.S. Marine that had worked his way up to Assistant Director of the FBI.

Skinner didn’t only prove himself a capable fighter time and time again, he regularly put his life on the line to help the agents under his charge and frequently was stuck trying to insulate them from nefarious powers elsewhere in the U.S. government. Skinner was no pushover, and regularly dolled out disciplinary lectures, but when they needed him, Skinner was there with a solid right hook and a drive to protect his troops.

A good Marine isn’t just about the fight. A good Marine is a leader–and that’s just what Skinner is.

Fred Thompson— Hunt for Red October

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Jack Ryan

There are enough iterations of Jack Ryan for everyone to have a favorite. Whether you prefer Alec Baldwin’s Ryan squaring off with the best of the Soviet Navy in The Hunt for Red October or the John Krasinski’s TV version fighting modern day terrorism, there are some universal traits every character named Jack Ryan carries with them.

Ryan is the perpetual underdog, always starting his story arc as an unassuming CIA analyst and Marine veteran. Despite having all the usual Marine Corps training, a helicopter crash left Ryan with a long road to recovery and a new way of life–but that didn’t stop him from devoting himself to serving his country in any form he could.

Ryan is the perfect example of a Marine that could have done something else–with his smarts, capabilities, and drive, he could be successful in any industry. He chose service because his nation matters to the very fabric of his being. That’s what being a Marine is all about.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.