Meet the World War I legend 'Black Swallow of Death' - We Are The Mighty
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Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’

While Eddie Rickenbacker has a claim to fame as the top American ace of World War I, there were plenty of other Americans who fought valiantly with Allies from the air.


One of them, Eugene Bullard, has the distinction of being the first African-American military pilot.

According to Air and Space Power Journal, Bullard was born in Columbus, Georgia, on Oct 9, 1894. At 8 years old, he left Georgia after his father narrowly escaped a lynching, and made his way to Norfolk where he worked a series of odd jobs before he stowed away on a ship bound for Scotland.

He worked more odd jobs across Scotland and England, including as a longshoreman and on a fish wagon, until he discovered talents for boxing and performing. That talent eventually landed him in Paris just as World War I started.

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’
Eugene Jacques Bullard. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Bullard spent two years with an infantry unit and was wounded during the Battle of Verdun. He then transferred to the French Flying Corps. During his time in the infantry, he was nicknamed “The Black Swallow of Death.” Bullard would score two kills in just over two months of combat flying. After the U.S. ignored his application to be a pilot for the American military despite his combat experience, he was transferred to non-combat duties by the French until his discharge in 1919.

Bullard would settle down in France, but come to his adopted country’s defense again in World War II, first serving as a spy, then seeing ground combat near Orleans. After he was wounded, he was medically evacuated, along with his daughters to the United States. He eventually went to work as an elevator operator in New York City.

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’
Eugene Bullard. (DOD photo)

In 1954, France invited Bullard and two other men to re-light the Eternal Flame at the Arc de Triomphe. In 1959, he was named a Knight of the Legion of Honor, and was interviewed on the Today Show. The next year, Charles de Gaulle publicly declared Bullard a hero of France.

Bullard died on Oct. 12, 1961, after an illness caused by the wounds he had received. He was 67 years old. In 1994, 100 years after he was born, the U.S. Air Force granted him a commission as a Lieutenant.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why lying about military service is a crime rarely prosecuted

The Times Free Press in November 2016 published a story that included information about Vietnam veteran Stephen D. Holloway, who was speaking at a Veterans Day event in Pikeville, Tenn., and claimed to be the most-decorated veteran of the Vietnam War. Holloway’s public claims were challenged by veterans of Vietnam and other conflicts, and the Times Free Press has spent more than a year investigating his military record. To date, Holloway maintains his claims are accurate, though few of his medals and awards have convincing documentation. This is part 2 of a two-day series.


The U.S. Supreme Court deemed lying about military service or medals a matter of free speech when in 2012 it struck down the Stolen Valor Act of 2005, signed into law by President George W. Bush.

Intentionally lying about, embellishing or fabricating one’s military service, medals or awards was protected speech under the First Amendment, the court ruled. But in 2013, President Barack Obama signed a revised version of the Stolen Valor Act that defined the violation as relating to fraudulent claims about military service “with intent to obtain money, property, or other tangible benefit.”

In other words, lies that materially benefited the person who uttered them could be a criminal violation. That’s aside from the fact that many veterans feel lies about military records or medals diminishes the sacrifices made by others.

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’
Stephen Holloway (Image This Ain’t Hell Fair Use)

The embellishment of military service records is not rare. But it is rarely prosecuted by federal authorities under the Stolen Valor Act of 2013.

Mary Schantag, chairwoman of the POW Network, has investigated hundreds of cases in which people’s lofty claims about their military service turned out to be false.

She said that, without a prosecutor willing to take on a stolen valor case, the best way to fight back usually is to publicly question a person’s claims.

“If he was asked, did he refuse to provide orders? Did he claim they burned? Did he claim he lost them? Did he claim they’re secret?” Schantag said.

“The ball basically is in his court, and there would be a lot of guys out there asking the same question: Why is it on his DD-214? [military discharge papers] Where’s the rest of it? Where’s the orders? Where’s the evidence?”

Schantag said she has seen close to 100 cases in which false information got into military records, whether through self-editing, intimidation of a clerk who handled documents or other means.

“Unless there are orders for this someplace, unless [the claimant] has witnesses, it’s still questionable,” she said.

Violation of the Stolen Valor Act is punishable by a fine and up to a year in prison. The problem is finding a federal agency with the resources and staffing to devote to the cases, Schantag said.

“They’re not going to drop their work on terrorism because we’ve got a guy claiming eight Purple Hearts,” Schantag said. “It’s common sense. That’s reality. But the state level may have the ability to pick that up. It’s a federal crime in most instances, falsifying military records but it pales in comparison to the level of other crimes going on that the FBI has to go after.”

Several states have stolen valor laws on the books, including Alabama, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Texas, according to news reports.

Also Read: These civilians get pretty creative with their terms for ‘stolen valor’

Schantag’s voice began to break when she described her passion for the issue.

“It is to make sure our military history and the lives lost to fight for freedom, to make sure those things are accurately told,” she said. “These liars are changing military history and if you think about it, 50 to 100 years from now, who’s going to be able to figure out the truth or a lie?”

Stolen valor takes away from those who spilled blood and, in some cases, lost their lives, she said.

“You get these guys that want that status,” Schantag said. “But they didn’t earn it. They don’t have the nightmares these other guys wake up with because of what they went through. They just want the recognition. They don’t want the pain. They don’t want the nightmares. They just want to be somebody’s hero, and it doesn’t work that way.”

Stolen valor has been a high-profile issue in East Tennessee and the region before.

Charles Kaczmarczyk and his wife, Martha, were the focus of an NBC “Dateline” program titled “Secrets in the Smoky Mountains” that aired in the fall of 2016, revealing how a Veterans Affairs investigation showed they faked military service and disabilities to obtain fraudulent benefits.

The investigation also led to the revelation that Martha Kaczmarczyk murdered her ex-husband as the con began. News reports detailed an initial indictment accusing Charles Kaczmarczyk of creating fake Air Force documents showing medals and decorations he did not earn, as the couple reaped benefits in their social status and finances.

The Monroe County couple is in prison now, with Martha sentenced to 50 years for her ex-husband’s murder.

In April, military veteran and former Holly Springs, Ga., police officer Shane Ladner was convicted by a Cherokee County jury on six felony counts of making false statements. Jurors found he lied about awards he received from the Army in the early 1990s, according to the Marietta Daily Journal.

Ladner had told people he carried out top-secret missions in Central America, Cuba and Somalia. He led people to believe he was a decorated war hero who was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received during a firefight in Central America, according to the Journal.

Jurors convicted Ladner of submitting a falsified DD-214 to his former employers and to the Cherokee County Tag Office to obtain a tax-exempt Purple Heart license plate for his Ford F-150.

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’
Purple heart medals. USMC photo by Cpl. Sara A. Carter

In a 2016 story about a Veterans Day ceremony in Pikeville, Tenn., Vietnam veteran Stephen Douglas Holloway told the Times Free Press he was a POW and had earned more than 50 medals, including nine Purple Hearts, two Silver Stars, three Army Commendation Medals, three presidential citations and scores of others.

But those medals were not all listed on Holloway’s military severance documents the newspaper obtained from the National Personnel Records Center, part of the National Archives.

A primary release paper, the DD-214, is given to all military service members when they are discharged. Holloway has two DD-214s filed in the National Archive for his first enlistment. They’re identical except for the awards listed.

One of the National Archive copies and a matching copy provided by a family member show Holloway earned a National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal and a Vietnam Campaign Medal.

The other says he also earned “(9) PURPLE HEARTS, BRONZE STAR, ARCOM W/V, SILVER STAR.”

Veteran students of military documents and fakery contacted by the Times Free Press saw several problems with that DD-214.

The awards are out of order, for one thing, and the rarity of a Silver Star, in combination with the other suspicious claims, raises questions about that award, as well. Of the 60 million people to have served in the American military, only about 130,000 earned the Silver Star, experts said.

Bruce Kendrick, a member of Ernie Pyle Chapter 1945 of the Military Order of Purple Hearts, said Holloway’s failure to provide proof of his awards is suspicious, too. Decorated veterans usually are happy to produce documentation of their service and medals, he said.

“If somebody sees me wearing this [military veteran’s] hat and they say, ‘I don’t believe you,’ then I’ll prove it. I don’t mind it. It’s not going to offend me or anything like that,” Kendrick said. “I’ll get out my DD-214 and if that doesn’t satisfy them, I’ll meet them somewhere else and I’ll bring them these things, and I’ll bring these pictures and I’ll bring them these orders and let them read them.

“It’s that important to me,” he said.

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’

Two national experts in the area of stolen valor contend that anyone awarded nine Purple Hearts would be a national hero, a legend.

The fact that no one has heard of Holloway is one of many red flags raised, said Anthony Anderson, founder and CEO of Guardian of Valor LLC and a retired Army staff sergeant.

Virginian Doug Sterner, founder of the organization Home of Heroes and its website, echoes Anderson’s assessment. Sterner and his wife, Pam, in the last decade or so played a role in the early versions of the federal legislation.

Sterner noted details of the major decorations listed on Holloway’s DD-214. Pointing to horizontal alignment of the type and some differences in the shape of the characters and the spaces between them, he said the document looks like “it went through at least two iterations on at least two typewriters.”

Also, Sterner said the awards are in reverse order of the way they should be listed, with the most valorous medals first and the lesser ones — the National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal and Vietnam Campaign Medal — last.

“It’s obvious to me that those four awards were added to the DD-214 and were not put on there when the DD-214 was actually generated,” Sterner said.

Sterner said a fire at the National Personnel Records Center on July 12, 1973, destroyed 16-18 million military personnel files. Because of that, veterans are allowed to submit paperwork to be placed in their files, an opportunity that could be tempting for people who wanted to embellish their records.

Also Read: This state just made it a crime to lie about military service

Records show Holloway is a Vietnam veteran who served almost 27 months as a supply clerk with the 71st Transportation Battalion between Jan. 5, 1967, and Aug. 17, 1969, before being honorably discharged as an E-5, or Specialist Second-Class.

A Statement of Service obtained by the newspaper dated Aug. 1, 1983, said Holloway was honorably transferred to the U.S. Army Reserve on Aug. 17, 1969, where he remained until he was honorably discharged Sept. 7, 1971. Then he re-enlisted Sept. 8, 1971, for four years but was discharged “under honorable conditions” in just over 11 months.

According to The Fort Hood Sentinel, an Army newspaper, there are five types of discharge: Honorable; General, Under Honorable Conditions; Under Other than Honorable Conditions; Bad Conduct; and Dishonorable.

The documents obtained by the newspaper show Holloway’s rank at his second discharge as E-4, which is lower than E-5. The documents did not explain the difference, and other paperwork obtained by the Times Free Press — “2-1” jackets, manila document holders with an index listing the contents — link many of the claimed medals to the time period associated with the Army Reserve, despite the fact that the box for listing “wounds” is empty though Holloway claimed to have been wounded in combat nine times. Officials have said the 2-1 forms can be modified by civilians or veterans.

Anderson said that, given the medals he claims, Holloway should have at least maintained his rank or been given a significant promotion, unless there was a problem with his service.

The Times Free Press has asked the National Personnel Records Center for documents related to Holloway’s second tour of duty. The paper also contacted Holloway’s family members throughout the past year but, beyond providing one of the DD-214s the newspaper has now obtained, they have declined to participate in the story.

There are three vehicles at Holloway’s Hixson residence, two that bear Tennessee-issued Purple Heart license plates and one that has a Tennessee-issued Silver Star plate. The Times Free Press has verified that all three are registered in Holloway’s name.

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’
DD-214 1955 (Image Wikipedia)

Is there an investigation underway in Holloway’s case?

Since early summer, Anderson and Sterner’s requests for Holloway’s military service records have been stymied. Both say they were told the records had been released to someone else or possibly another government agency. The Times Free Press shared the records it obtained so far with the military experts and veterans who assisted with the story.

Anderson and Sterner said they have encountered only two reasons for the files to be removed by another government agency: an investigation to add earned commendations or awards or an investigation into a problem in the record.

When the United States as a nation was in its infancy, President George Washington even weighed in on the issue of claiming unearned military awards. On Aug. 7, 1782, as a military general, Washington issued a general order creating several new military decorations for the Continental Army, among them the Badge of Military Merit, which would later become the Purple Heart when it was reconstituted by General Douglas MacArthur in 1932, according to the website dedicated to the history of the first president, mountvernon.org.

“[S]hould any who are not entitled to these honors have the insolence to assume the badges of them they shall be severely punished,” Washington states in the order.

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EOD airmen can build and defuse anything from a pipe bomb to a nuclear weapon

Somewhere in southern Afghanistan, an explosive ordnance disposal technician spots a glint in the soft dirt. He moves deliberately, but steadily, as he tries to determine if it’s a harmless piece of trash or a bomb. In the back of his mind, the technician can’t help but wonder if this will be the improvised explosive device that kills him.


Since 2003 similar missions have taken the lives of 20 Air Force EOD technicians, when Airmen began diffusing bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

With combat missions winding down, EOD is now able to divert attention to its nine other mission sets: aerospace systems and vehicle conventional munitions, weapons of mass destruction, nuclear inventory, UXOs, operational range clearances, mortuary services, defense support for civil authorities, irregular warfare (where EOD teams serve as combat enablers for general forces or special operations), and VIP support.

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’
Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Queer wears a Med-Eng EOD 9 Bomb Suit. The EOD 9, the latest version of the bomb suit, was designed with direct input from bomb disposal technicians. Queer is the 325th Fighter Wing Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit non-commissioned officer in charge of EOD operations. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

As the career field shifts into a post-war posture they’re refocusing on these other skill sets. One of these they used to support the Secret Service when two teams from the 325th Civil Engineer Squadron’s EOD flight at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, worked President Barack Obama’s trip to Orlando, Florida, after the nightclub massacre where 49 people were killed in June. The Secret Service tasked EOD teams to sweep venues for explosives, areas en route to the venues, or on any person or object that could be used to harm the president or VIPs they’re protecting.

“For so many years, we have been going 150 mph,” said Senior Master Sgt. Robert K. Brown, 325th CES EOD superintendent, “so when you slow down to 85 mph, you feel like you’re crawling, even though you’re still going faster than most other people on the highway. We’d been doing that for the 12 years of combat operations, and now I think we feel we’re at a snail’s pace.”

Post-war life at the Tyndall AFB flight, one of 52 active-duty EOD flights Air Force-wide, ranges from responding to flares that wash up on the beach after being dropped by the Navy to mark items in the ocean to the occasional unexploded ordnance. The flight is responsible for assessing, rendering inert or safely destroying everything from small arms to guided missiles, although any EOD flight could be called upon to handle anything explosive in nature up to and including a nuclear incident.

The 325th EOD flight’s primary mission is flightline support for the wing’s four fighter squadrons, but it also provides counter-IED support for several tenant organizations.

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’
Staff Sgt. Darius Bailey, 325th Fighter Wing EOD team member and liaison with the U.S. Secret Service. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

By the time EOD Airmen left Afghanistan in 2014, they had completed almost 20,000 missions, responded to over 6,500 IEDs, and received more than 150 Purple Hearts for their actions and service in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also deployed often, with a third of the service’s 1,000 EOD members overseas and another third in pre-deployment training preparing to replace them, Brown said. At times the pace was so heavy that EOD Airmen would often be replaced by the same person who replaced them on their last deployment.

“For some of us old-timers in this particular generation, we’ve had a chance to kind of breathe,” Brown said. “In doing so, that’s given us the opportunity to regroup, restock and prepare for the next iteration of conflict that may or may not be coming. So right now is the best time to share the experiences and prepare the next generation for the hard lessons that we’ve had over these past 12 years.”

Fluid tactics

The two wars might be over, but EOD remains one of the Air Force’s most dangerous jobs. In addition to the 20 EOD technicians lost in the two wars, about 150 have suffered extensive injuries. It is a continuing evolving because of the constantly changing tactics of the enemy.

“The enemy is always going to try to continually be better than us, so we have to ensure that we never sleep in preparation for any force that we’re going to encounter,” said Chief Master Sgt. Neil C. Jones, the EOD operations and training program manager with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center at Tyndall AFB. “We don’t have the opportunity to make a mistake, so we train relentlessly to never get it wrong.”

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’
325th Fighter Wing Explosive Ordinance Disposal team member Senior Airman Anthony Deleon (middle) carries a Micro Tactical Ground Robot (MTGR) into a simulated village to prepare for a training scenario. The man-carried system is compact and lightweight, weighing approximately 20 pounds. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

During the transition, which has begun gradually in the past couple of years, the focus has been on getting everyone back from deployments and training them in the other nine skill sets to reestablish pre-OIF levels of proficiency. But equally important is the challenge of reducing attrition rates during EOD technical training without lowering the standards, Jones said.

EOD students first attend a 20-day preliminary school at Sheppard AFB, Texas, before they go through the Naval School EOD at Eglin AFB, Florida. An average school day is more than 13 hours, and it takes several years for a student to become a fully functional EOD member and a couple of years longer to be a team leader. About 75 percent of students fail to make it through the course.

Two recent changes to reduce attrition rates are the use of computer tablets for rehabilitation training and the addition of a couple of wounded warrior EOD technicians to help students at the school.

Derrick Victor, a retired technical sergeant who was wounded in his last deployment to Afghanistan when a bomb blast killed one Airman and hurt four others, is one of the new instructors. He’s seen the career field evolve through the wars and is now part of its post-war transition.

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’
Staff Sgt. James Vossah (Left), Staff Sgt. Brian Wirt (Middle) and Senior Airman Anthony Deleon configure a Micro Tactical Ground Robot (MTGR) to begin a training exercise at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

“Those two wars obviously changed the way that wars are fought as far as being on the ground and in third-world countries where they have to improvise,” Victor said. “It created a bit of a change from being based on supporting aircraft to things that were improvised. We got very good at that skill set, using robotics and working out all of that kind of stuff.

“Even though those two wars have dwindled down, we know that threat is not going to go away,” he continued. “So, as a whole, the career field is trying to keep that skill set rolling through the generations from those of us for who all we knew was Iraq and Afghanistan to all of these young kids coming fresh out of school, so they don’t have to learn on the fly like we did.”

EOD leadership is also placing a priority on training when Airmen get to their flights after graduation. Because the consequences of mistakes are so severe, the goal is to have those mistakes made in training, Brown said.

“I often refer to it as ‘the good, the bad, the ugly and the stupid,'” he said. “That just refers to what went right, what went wrong, what worked that probably shouldn’t have and what did we do that was just plain dumb, which happens in training. That’s OK as long as we learn lessons from it. But it’s not OK if it’s unsafe. Those are sometimes the hardest parts to learn. We want to make sure that if these guys (make a mistake) in training, they don’t do it when it’s for real. Explosives don’t care about peacetime or wartime.”

Another factor that’s evolving is the way the EOD field trains to recover from both emotional and physical trauma. More emphasis is being placed on instilling resiliency before something happens to an EOD technician in the field, Jones said.

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’
The Micro Tactical Ground Robot (MTGR) is a unique and lightweight system that allows Explosive Ordinance Disposal teams and other tactical units to explore areas of interest and examine suspected explosive devices prior to sending in personnel. The approximately 20-pound robot is a man-carried system which can operate in all terrains and is controlled remotely by EOD technicians with a unit that includes a high-resolution screen and gamepad controllers for maneuvering. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

Tech advances

Along with the cultural shift from the war years, the field has also been making major transitions in technology. The robot EOD technicians used in Afghanistan has been replaced by, among others, the Micro Tactical Ground Robot. The world’s lightest EOD robot can be carried by a single Airman, travel at 2 mph, climb stairs and see beyond 1,000 feet. Airmen previously carried 100-pound robots attached to their rucksacks. The new 25-pound robot can be carried on their backs.

“The technology advances that we have out there with the global economy, and more importantly, being able to make things lighter, faster and stronger, have allowed us to develop new tools and techniques and robotic platforms that are much smaller, lighter and leaner than what we had 14 years ago,” Jones said.

Technological progress hasn’t just been in robotics. There has also been a dramatic change in treating traumatic injuries downrange.

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’
Staff Sgt. Guadalupe Corona, 325th Fighter Wing Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit, wearing NCOIC EOD Equipment. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

“I think one of the biggest things that we’ve seen as far as technology has been in the medical arena. We have changed the way we treat people for trauma,” Jones said. “If we can stop the bleeding downrange and get that Airman alive into a helo and back to a field surgical team, we’re running about a 98 percent success rate of saving their lives. So as our enemy continues to develop with technology to use against us, we will continually use our technology to develop a better way to take care of that threat.”

As much as life changes after years of war, one area that remains constant is the role tragic events play in training new EOD technicians. As sobering as the memories are of losing members of the EOD family, their sacrifice provided important training lessons.

“What our fallen have done is the same as our World War II EOD bomb disposal predecessors – with very brave men going down and disarming German rockets and bombs,” Brown said. “If they made a mistake, we would then know not to take that step, that last step. Unfortunately, a lot of bomb disposal techs died that way, but our fallen have taught us how to be better at this craft; they have never failed.”

AirmanMagazineOnline, YouTube

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North Korea claims they have a hydrogen bomb and the world shrugs

Through the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Kim Jong-Un, North Korea’s supreme leader, announced his country is “ready to detonate a self-reliant A-bomb and H-bomb to reliably defend its sovereignty and the dignity of the nation.” American and South Korean officials are dismissing the claim.


Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’
Confirmed North Korean Technologies: Potato Guns

“The information that we have access to calls into serious question those claims, but we take very seriously the risk and the threat that is posed by the North Korean regime in their ambitions to develop a nuclear weapon,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest.

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’
Confirmed North Korean Technologies: Binoculars

Kim made the announcement while inspecting an historical military site in Pyongyang. The regime first became a confirmed nuclear power in 2006 under Kim’s predecessor and father Kim Jong-Il when North Korea detonated the first of three nuclear bombs.

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’
Confirmed North Korean Technologies: Flash Mobs

North Korea’s regime detonates nukes at “secret” underground nuclear tests sites. The announcement comes on the heels of the discovery of new nuclear testing tunnels, uncovered by satellite photos, at Punggye-ri in the northeast area of the country.

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’
Confirmed North Korean Technologies: Phones

This is the first time the Kim regime claimed to have hydrogen bomb technology and the announcement may be a response to the recent U.S. sanctions targeting North Korea’s Strategic Rocket Force and banks involved in North Korean arms proliferation.

North Korea has a history of acting out in response to Western actions it sees as provocative. When the U.S. and South Korea performed its yearly joint Foal Eagle exercise in 2015, the North launched two scud missiles into the sea outside of South Korea. When the South conducted a combined arms exercise near Baengnyeong and Yeonpyeong Islands near the maritime border with the North, North Korean artillery batteries shelled the island for an hour.

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’
Confirmed North Korean Technologies: Gloop

The North is not yet able to put a nuclear weapon on one of its rockets, but its nuclear capabilities do threaten U.S. allies in the region.

“We don’t have any information that North Korea has developed an H-bomb,” a South Korean intelligence official told the South’s Yonhap News Agency. “We do not believe that North Korea, which has not succeeded in miniaturizing nuclear bombs, has the technology to produce an H-bomb.”

North Korea claimed in 2010 that it had successfully developed fusion technology.

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5 awesome facts you didn’t know about Memorial Day

Celebrated on the last Monday in May, Memorial Day brings America together to remember the 1.1 million men and women who died in service to their country.


As most of us spend our day flipping burgers, wearing pro-American attire and saving money on those amazing furniture deals, it’s important to understand the significance of the historic day.

Related: 5 interesting facts about the Marine Corps birthday

Check out these awesome facts you probably didn’t know about our beloved holiday.

1. Moment of remembrance at 3 pm

On Dec. 28th, 2000, President Bill Clinton signed the National Moment of Remembrance Act, which asks all Americans to pause on Memorial Day at 3:00 pm local time for a full minute to honor and remember all those who perished protecting our rights and freedoms.

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’
Airmen from the 317th Airlift Group stand at parade rest during a Memorial Day ceremony at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. (Photo: Airman 1st Class Charles V. Rivezzo/ Released)

2. Wearing red poppies

You may have noticed people wearing red poppy flowers pinned to their clothing on Memorial Day. This idea was influenced by the sight of poppies growing in a battle-scarred field in WWI which prompted the popular poem “In Flanders Fields” written by former Canadian Col. John McCrae.

The American Legion adopted the tradition of wearing the red poppy flowers along with many allied countries to commemorate troops killed in battle.

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’
Honor the dead. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

3. Flag raising procedures

Americans love to proudly display their flags and let them wave high and free. On Memorial Day, there’s a special protocol to properly raise and exhibit the ensign. Here it is.

When the flag is raised at first light, it’s to be hoisted to the top of the pole, then respectfully lowered to the half-staff position until 12:00 pm when it is re-raised to the top of the pole for the remainder of the day. Details matter.

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’
Service members saluting the raised American flag. (Photo: Airman 1st Class Harry Brexel)

4. The origin of the holiday

Originally called “Decoration Day” by Gen. John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, in 1868, the day was intended to honor the estimated 620,000 people who died fighting in the Civil war and was celebrated on May 30th.

But it wasn’t until 1971 that Congress shifted the holiday to the last Monday of May to ensure a three-day weekend and renamed it to what we all know today.

Thank you, Congress.

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’

Also Read: The mother of the boy in this iconic photo has a Memorial Day message all Americans should read

 5. The holiday’s birthplace

At least five separate cities claim to be the birthplace of “Decoration Day,” including Macon and Columbus, Georgia. Of course, there’s no real written record or D.N.A test to prove who is truly the mom and dad.

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’
California, you are not the father… or mother. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

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SecNav Ray Mabus takes a parting swing at a major Pentagon rival

During a meeting Wednesday with a number of defense reporters and experts, outgoing Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus defended the Littoral Combat Ship against criticism.


The LCS has been noted for a series of engineering problems that has laid up a number of the early ships. The problems have called the program into question even though the USS Freedom (LCS 1) had a very successful 2010 deployment to Southern Command’s area of operations, while the USS Coronado (LCS 4) successfully defeated a simulated attack by a swarm of speedboats in a 2015 test of the surface warfare package.

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’
The future USS Detroit (LCS 7) conducts acceptance trials. Acceptance trials are the last significant milestone before delivery of the ship to the Navy. (U.S. Navy Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin-Michael Rote)

Mabus particularly aimed his ire at the Pentagon’s Office of Test and Evaluation, or DOTE, which has been part of an ongoing verbal fight between Pentagon testers and the Navy.

“My reaction is that I’ve been there almost eight years,” Mabus, who was confirmed in 2009, groused to the gathered reporters. “And I’m pretty sure that [DOTE director] Michael Gilmore has never found a weapon system that’s effective, ever.”

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’

“I know what this ship can do. I know what the fleet thinks of it,” Mabus added, citing how the office was also highly critical of the P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, claiming it didn’t work or do what the Navy said it would do. The DOTE criticism came even though the plane had already entered the fleet and was drawing rave reviews from operators.

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’
P-8A Poseidon aircraft No. 760 takes off from a Boeing facility in Seattle, Wash., for delivery to fleet operators in Jacksonville, Fla., marking the 20th overall production P-8A aircraft for the U.S. Navy. This 20th overall delivery will help the U.S. Navy prepare the next squadron transition to the P-8A from the P-3C Orion. The second fully operational P-8A squadron is deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Boeing Defense)

The Littoral Combat Ship covered 20 pages in the DOTE FY2016 Annual Report, which claimed the Navy “has not yet demonstrated effective capability for LCS equipped with the MCM [mine counter-measures], SUW [surface warfare], or ASW [anti-submarine warfare] mission packages.”

The report also cited the 2015 cancellation of the Remote Minehunting System, and even claimed that the USS Coronado had flunked the 2015 test.

“The final thing I’ll say is, it does what we want it to do, not what you think it ought to do which is one of the things [Gilmore] does,” Mabus concluded.

Articles

Women who saw combat star in new play

It was less than two years ago — December 2015 — that the last barriers barring women from certain combat positions finally fell. Now, the new play “Bullet Catchers” envisions a not-so-distant future where women and men officially serve together in the same infantry unit.


“It’s been a 70-year journey for women to fully integrate into all branches, units, and occupations of the military,” said Lory Manning, who served in the Navy for 25 years, starting in the late 1960s.

For Manning, the armed forces offered a different path at a time where options were limited for women. “I did not want to be a schoolteacher and I wanted out of New Jersey,” she recalled by phone. “The Navy seemed like a good opportunity – for travel especially.”

Also read: This is how the military is integrating women

She explained that it has been a piecemeal process to lift the restrictions. For example, in 1992 women were allowed into combat aviation, said Manning, a fellow at the Service Women’s Action Network, known as SWAN. According to the organization’s website, there are “nearly 2.5 million service women in the US.”

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’
USMC photo by Sgt. Tyler L. Main

The nature of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the sheer number of women deployed during those two conflicts means women (and men) who were not in combat roles saw combat, she said.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, over “300,000 women have deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq,” according to a SWAN report dated Feb. 1, 2017. More than 1,000 women were wounded, and 166 were killed during combat operations, the report noted.

“Now, even though they fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, they are officially allowed to fight,” Manning said.

Sandra W. Lee, who plays two roles in “Bullet Catchers,” saw combat in Iraq although she was assigned to civil affairs, she told Chelsea Now in a phone interview. Lee joined the army in response to 9/11, she said, and served from 2002 to 2010.

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’
Army photo by Cpl. Mariah Best

Civil affairs focuses broadly on rebuilding a country’s infrastructure, and in Iraq, Lee explained she worked on rebuilding schools. Her unit did train in combat, and Lee said she went along with another division as they conducted security sweeps and raids, and looked for weapons caches.

“We would fill in a lot,” she recalled. “We did a lot of missions that were not part of our job description. But being a solider, that is in the job description.”

Lee, who was in Iraq from 2003 to 2004, said that while driving in the country, her convoy was hit four different times by roadside bombs. She said she has a brain injury that stems from those incidents. She was also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, known as PSTD. Lee said she was raped by another solider during her deployment.

Her experiences inform how she plays Até, which in the play is the goddess of war and a warrior. Being a woman in the military, Lee explained, there is a perception that females are not good enough and “you have to prove yourself in order to join their ranks.”

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’
DoD Photo by Spc. Crystal Davis

Due to her brain injury, Lee was somewhat apprehensive about contributing to the writing of the play but said she put her voice into Até, whose character was a “shell” when she joined the production last December.

“The nice thing about this process it was a group effort,” she said.

Indeed, the co-creators of “Bullet Catchers,” Maggie Moore and Julia Sears, sought input from the actors for the play, which was a collaborative endeavor. “It felt like a writer’s room for a lot of the process,” Sears, who is also the play’s director, said by phone.

Related: First 10 women graduate from Infantry Officer Course

The actors were given writing assignments, Sears said, such as writing the fairytale version of their character’s arc in the play, or being challenged to write five minutes of theater within a half hour. “They have so much ownership over what they’re making,” Sears said.

Moore and Sears were the final editors but the actors had a part in shaping their characters, like Lee with Até. Moore, who is also the play’s associate director, said the actors found their voices as writers. While Moore and Sears were honored to be the leaders, she said, the play belongs to the collective. “We all jumped off the cliff together,” Moore said by phone.

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Staff Sgt. April Spilde, a pallbearer with the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, is one of two women serving in the elite unit during ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery. Photo by Paul Bello.

Neither Moore nor Sears served in the military. The genesis of the project stems from when Moore was working at the Washington, DC-based Truman National Security Project in early 2015, she explained. Sears and Moore have been friends since college, and followed the news of whether the last restrictions on combat positions would be lifted. Sears thought the story of women fighting for recognition in combat would be an excellent story, Moore said.

Sears and Moore interviewed 35 veterans and current service members – an about even mix of women and men. The veterans had fought in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, Sears said. The interview process took about three months, Sears said, with Moore and her then listening and transcribing the interviews. From there, they started to narrow down stories and characters, Sears said.

A bullet catcher is “army slang for an infantryman,” according to the play’s website, and Moore said, “It’s kind of a badge of honor to be a bullet catcher.”

Some women are going through infantry training right now, she said, and “we’re seeing the movement towards the world we built in the play becoming a reality.”

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’
USMC photo by Cpl. Tyler J. Bolken

“Bullet Catchers” follows the journey of “the first official mixed gender infantry unit in the US Army, from training to deployment,” according to the play’s website. Moore said it was important to highlight a diversity of experience and so the play’s characters run the gamut from private to lieutenant colonel.

Women in the Fight: 15 women who helped pave the way in the Army

Jessica Vera plays Maya de los Santos, who, in the play, is a lieutenant colonel and the first female commander of a forward operating base, Vera explained by phone. Vera described Maya as a leader, someone who not only sees the opportunity before her, but also the weight of that level of responsibility.

While Vera has no military experience, her father was an Army Ranger, her older brother was in the Army Cavalry and is currently serving in the Air Force. Growing up in a military household has informed how she plays Maya, she said.

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’
Sailors participating in the Riverine Combat Skills course prepare for a field training exercise at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Oct. 24, 2012. Navy photo by Specialist Seaman Heather M. Paape

One of the play’s first scenes is Maya picking up her wife, Jordan, a civilian, and taking her over the threshold after getting married. Lee, the veteran, also plays Jordan in the play, and said Vera helped to shape Jordan’s character. While the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy has been officially abandoned, Lee said, “There’s still a stigma. It depends on who your command is.”

On the other end of the military spectrum is character Joan Boudica, played by Emma Walton. Joan is a private and is brand new to the experience, Walton explained by phone. Joan is part of the reserves and is randomly picked for special training and is deployed, she said. “It’s a coming of age story for her,” Walton, who has no military experience, said.

Walton said women have been in the military for a long time – flying planes and protecting the country like men are. “We’re excited to show it,” she said. “The rest of America thinks that they’re nurses, they’re doing paperwork. That’s just not true.”

Sears, the director, said she hopes the play spurs a myriad of conversations for the audience, including a larger discussion of women in leadership roles. “We’re hoping that this story — as specific and nuanced [as it is] – can still have reverberations for woman and anyone who has tried to move the needle of gender integration in general,” she said.

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Chattanooga shooting victims to receive Purple Hearts

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April Grimmett | Twitter


The four Marines and a sailor killed by a gunman during a July mass shooting in Chattanooga, Tennessee, will each receive the Purple Heart medal, as will a Marine sergeant who was wounded.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced Wednesday that Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, Sgt. Carson A. Holmquist, Lance Cpl. Squire D. “Skip” Wells, Sgt. DeMonte Cheeley and Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith would all receive the award.

The announcement comes the same day the FBI announced that the Chattanooga shooter, Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, was “inspired by a foreign terror organization.” It’s not clear what organization Abdulazeez, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Kuwait, might have been emulating.

“Following an extensive investigation, the FBI and NCIS have determined that this attack was inspired by a foreign terrorist group, the final criteria required for the awarding of the Purple Heart to this sailor and these Marines,” Mabus said in a statement, referring to Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

“This determination allows the Department of the Navy to move forward immediately with the award of the Purple Heart to the families of the five heroes who were victims of this terrorist attack, as well as to the surviving hero, Sgt. Cheeley,” he added.

On July 16, Abdulazeez first attacked a military recruiting office in a drive-by shooting, then traveled to a nearby Navy Reserve center, where he shot five Marines, a sailor and a police officer before he was killed by police.

Cheeley, the Marine recruiter who survived a gunshot to the back of the leg, returned to work the same month, Marine Corps Times reported.

The shocking and tragic attacks inspired a wave of concern over the security of military recruiting facilities and prompted Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to call for better training and “physical security enhancements” to protect the military personnel working at such facilities.

“Although the Purple Heart can never possibly replace this brave Sailor and these brave Marines, it is my hope that as their families and the entire Department of the Navy team continue to mourn their loss, these awards provide some small measure of solace,” Mabus said. “Their heroism and service to our nation will be remembered always.”

Articles

Top Army leaders may kill ‘Death by Powerpoint’

In a move geared to reduce the bureaucratic overhead for soldiers who’re supposed to get straight to the business of fighting wars, Sec. of the Army Eric Fanning and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley announced a plan to cut down on PowerPoints and other mandatory briefings suffered by soldiers throughout the world.


Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’
Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley during a press conference at AUSA. (Photo: Ward Carroll)

Federal News Radio originally reported the top Army leaders’ comments during the 2016 Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

“We essentially made a decision that if it’s Army-directed — which, unfortunately, a lot of it is — then we’re going to leave it up to the commanders to figure out how to get their soldiers trained,” Fanning said, “rather than have them walk through the mandatory PowerPoints we create at headquarters and send out to you in the field.”

So local commanders would get the option of skipping certain training classes to focus on preparing for war. This wouldn’t necessarily result in less training for soldiers, but it would result in more targeted training. An infantry squad would be more easily found in the field than a classroom.

And anyone in the Army could testify that units spend too much time in briefing halls, theaters, and chapels doing PowerPoints. Yes, there are so many troops who need so many classes that it is routine for chapels to be used for briefings and PowerPoint presentations.

Milley shared how bad the list of required classes had grown.

“At the end of the day, the last document I saw was 12 pages of single-spaced, nine-point type listing all of the activities a company commander and a first sergeant have to do, mandated by us. It’s nuts. It’s insane,” he said.

Unfortunately for company commanders, Milley and Fanning seem to have been specifically discussing requirements from the Department of the Army and made no mention of requirements from other levels of command.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Holocaust survivor recounts his daring escape from Auschwitz

Most of those who escaped the infamous extermination camp at Auschwitz did so while they were out on a work detail.


But escaping from inside the camp’s barbed wire was something altogether more difficult.

The countryside around Auschwitz was fervently pro-Polish and anti-Nazi. The local population was willing to do whatever it took to aid an escapee.

So the underground partisan movement in the local area and the camp resistance formed a partnership to help people escape.

Auschwitz was part of a series of labor and extermination camps created by the Nazis in occupied Poland. Its first prisoners arrived in May 1940. In June, a Polish boy scout named Kazimierz Piechowski would be imprisoned in Auschwitz I.

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’
Piechowski’s Auschwitz prisoner photo.

 

In a 2011 interview with The Guardian’s Homa Khaleeli, Piechowski talked about his duties moving the corpses of executed prisoners. He got the work detail because he learned German as a boy scout.

“The death wall was between blocks 10 and 11. They would line prisoners up and shoot them in the back of the head,” he told Khaleeli. “Sometimes it was 20 a day, sometimes it was 100, sometimes it was more. Men, women and children.”

Only 19 when the Nazis occupied his hometown, Piechowski saw his young friends rounded up by German soldiers because of their scouting background. During a run for the Hungarian border he was captured and sent to Auschwitz.

The concentration camp was so new, Piechowski was among those who helped build it.

 

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’
The main gate at Auschwitz.

“Wake up, you buggers!” Piechowski screamed in German. “Open up or I’ll open you up!”

The guard did.

The men drove to the town of Wadowice. All went their separate ways. Piechowski joined the nationalist partisan resistance movement and spent the rest of the war fighting Nazis.

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’
A Steyr 220, the model of car the prisoners drove right out of the Auschwitz front gate.

 

In all, 196 prisoners made an escape from Auschwitz, out of 928 attempts. An estimated 1.1 million Jews, homosexuals, Slavs, Gypsies, and Polish political prisoners were killed in the Auschwitz camp complex.

Kazimierz Piechowski survived the war, spent seven years in a Soviet gulag for joining the Polish Home Army.

He toured to recount stories of his time in a Nazi death camp until his passing in 2017 at the age of 98.

“I am a scout, so I have to do my duty – and be cheerful and merry. And I will be a scout to the end of my life,” he told The Guardian.

Read the full interview at The Guardian’s site.

MIGHTY SPORTS

Golf made my friend a better Marine

We all know that Marines win our nation’s battles, and their discipline under pressure is a matter of life or death. However, and as weird as it may seem, there is a lot that the driving range and the fairway can teach us about winning battles. I know because I recently joined my friend Marine Major Ben Ortiz and his fellow golf warrior, Erik Anders Lang, for a round at the Desert Winds golf course on Marine Corps Base Twentynine Palms.


Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’

Major Ben Ortiz or, ‘Bennie Boy’ as I call him, have known each other since our first days at the Naval Academy. I already know what you’re thinking… of course, two Academy grads and officers are golfers. But literally, nothing could be further from the truth. Golf was never supposed to be part of either of our lives.

“Seriously, dude? You play golf, now?” I ask a little sarcastically as Bennie and I walk to the clubhouse.

Bennie is a Mustang (an officer who was enlisted first), and he grew up in a neighborhood outside of Chicago where even the mention of golf could get you ridiculed for life or worse. After joining the Marines he deployed multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan where he’s been a kind of intelligence officer that grunts love and terrorists hate. So when he asked me to play golf with him, I immediately started to question his mental state.

“Dude, you have no idea. Golf has made me a better Marine. More focused…lethal.” Bennie smiles as he justifies why we are on a golf course at 0730.

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’

Major Ortiz tees off with focus

As we approach the clubhouse, I meet a squad of Marines who have been recruited to play with us this morning, but we are also joined by a true golf warrior, Erik Anders Lang. Erik is a bit of an anomaly himself. He never picked up a club until his thirties, and now he travels the world for his series Adventures In Golf. At first, I am a little wary that Erik, who looks a little like he just rolled out of bed, can compete with the Marines on their home turf. But after watching Erik tee off with a nearly 350-yard drive down the center of the first hole, I realize that I am not only watching a true golfer but a sniper.

As Bennie, Erik, and I walk the desert course we begin to chat about the game and the Marine Corps. At each hole, I realize the golfers are fighting the terrain, the weather and even their own subconscious, an enemy more elusive than the adversaries Bennie and other Marines face abroad. As we near the end of the course, Bennie begins to explain his theory a little more.

“Intel is all about collecting and analyzing information and then turning it into something useful for the Grunts. A lot of people think that bad intel is a result of bad information, but there is a second and even more important component, the analyst. If I am distracted or unfocused, I can be the weak link. Golf, and the battle on each hole, has taught me about mental and physical discipline.”

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’

Major Ortiz (4th from left) and Erik Lang (center) after a round of golf.

Erik smiles and nods in agreement. He knows the mental strength it takes to master the club. After a quick competition on the driving range, which Erik (the sniper) wins, we sit down in the chow hall for an After Action of the morning’s performance. Bennie has changed out of his golf clothes and into cammies, and Erik begins to explain to us how Tiger Woods inspired him to pick up a club.

“Not everyone is perfect in golf,” Erik starts. “He’s human, he’s obviously made mistakes, but if you watch carefully you can see how he processes the course and the ball with each shot.”

Erik’s got a point. Now, I am pretty sure that when Tiger Woods stepped onto the 18th green, poised to win the 2019 Masters, there was almost nothing going through his mind other than the basics of putting. In the seconds before Tiger’s final stroke, there was no time for self-doubt, fear or even distractions from the thousands standing around him and the millions watching all across the globe. With one quick putt, Tiger was back on top of the world and his pure calmness, poise, and discipline under such pressure is something we all can admire, especially Marines like me.

But unlike Tiger, Marines must use these same attributes for something much bigger than a green jacket. Now, I begin to see what both Bennie and Erik are stressing to me. Golf is a sport of discipline and focus which can extend beyond the course and onto the most stressful battlefields abroad.

Bennie now speaks to the group before we roll out for the day.

“I hope that other Marines will realize that the course is much more than a game. It’s about training too.”

I think Bennie’s onto something that both Erik Lang and Tiger Woods already know: maybe we can all be better Marines if we spend a little time on the course.

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’

Major Ortiz (left) and the Author (right) after our round of golf. Bennie’s war face is the same from Quantico.

Articles

Army mulls $3 billion multi-year Apache buy

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Photo: US Army Sgt. Stephen Proctor


The Defense Department and Boeing Co. are negotiating a $3.3 billion, multi-year contract for 275 AH-64E Apache helicopters, according to news reports.

Negotiations began after the Office of the Secretary of Defense last month approved the Army‘s proposed procurement plan, Col. Jeffrey Hager, the Army’s Apache program manager, told Inside Defense on Monday at the annual Association of the United States Army conference in Washington, D.C.

A signed agreement between Boeing and the Army is expected sometime in early 2017, barring legislative hiccups.

Both the House and Senate versions of the fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act have accepted a multi-year proposal, but a single bill — with the president’s seal of approval — has not yet been approved.

Lawmakers are increasingly reviewing multi-year deals to ensure they produce savings on procurement and production programs.

The Apache proposal, for example, was approved by Shay Assad, the director of defense pricing in the Pentagon’s acquisition directorate, Inside Defense said. Thanks to a profile in Politico in April, Assad earned a reputation as a Robin Hood of sorts after identifying hundreds of millions of dollars in savings by more closely scrutinizing costs charged by contractors.

Pentagon spokesman Mark Wright told the news outlet that Assad led contract negotiations for multi-year deals on the Apache helicopter, C-17 Globemaster transport plane and F/A-18 fighter jet “that returned in excess of $500M to the taxpayers.”

If given the green light, a multi-year Apache contract could save $1 billion over five years, according to a House Armed Services Committee fact sheet.

MIGHTY TRENDING

US carriers are mythical juggernauts that might die in a new war

The US Navy’s 11 aircraft super carriers represent the envy of the world in terms of naval might and power projection, but the cult status they’ve achieved and the rise of Russia and China’s missile fleets could lose the US its next war.

The myth of aircraft carrier goes that in times of crisis, the first question a president asks is: Where are the aircraft carriers?

The US Navy’s Nimitz-class aircraft carriers tower above most buildings at 130 feet above the waterline. More than 1,000 feet in length displacing 100,000 tons of water, they transcend the idea of ships and become floating cities, or mobile airfields.


Around 80 aircraft and 7,000 sailors, marines, and pilots live aboard the craft as its nuclear reactor steams it across the world’s oceans at a remarkable clip. One of these carriers costs about billion. The aircraft on board likely cost another billion or so.

The lives of the crew and the significance of the carrier to the US’s understanding of its national power are priceless.

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’

Sailors signal an E-2D Hawkeye ready for launch on the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, Oct. 27, 2018.

(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 2nd Class Thomas Gooley)

Mythical creatures

Jerry Hendrix, a former captain in the US Navy who worked with the chief of naval operation’s executive panel on naval aviation and missile defense cautioned at a Heritage Foundation talk on Dec. 11, 2018, that the carriers may have become too mythological to fight.

“Carriers have gone beyond mere naval platforms to become near mystical symbols of American national power,” said Hendrix. “They are the symbol of the nation, its greatness, in the way they are perceived as asset of national prestige.”

If the US purchased all of one carrier in a single year, it would eat 80% of the total shipbuilding budget, Hendrix said.

But with the proliferation of carrier-killer missiles from China and Russia, meaning missiles purpose-built to sink carriers at sea from ranges far beyond the furthest missile from the furthest-flying jet off a carrier’s deck, it’s not immediately clear how these massive ships can bring their impressive power to bear.

Carriers sail with a strike group of dedicated warships that can take on submarines, missiles, aircraft, and other surface combatants.

Bryan Clarke, former special assistant to the chief of naval operations who also spoke at Heritage, said that in a best-case scenario, a carrier strike group could down 450 incoming missiles. China could likely muster 600 missiles in an attack about 1,000 miles off their coast.

So short of some revolution in strike group armaments or tactics, China looks to have a solid chance at sinking the mythical aircraft carrier.

Meet the World War I legend ‘Black Swallow of Death’

The last time the US lost an aircraft carrier was in World War II.

(NETNebraska)

Too big to fail?

“Presidents may well be hesitant to introduce carriers inside dense portions of the enemy’s threat environment,” said Hendrix. “The military may make that advice based upon the mission they’ve been given,” he continued, “but the president might not feel comfortable risking it.”

The commander in chief of the US military owes his job to public opinion. Losing an aircraft carrier at sea would shock a nation that hasn’t seen such destruction in a single battle since the Vietnam war.

“For fear of loss of national prestige or even their political power,” US presidents might not even want to use carriers, said Hendrix. “For the loss of an aircraft carrier will have a significant impact on the national conversation.”

“We need to begin as a nation to have a conversation that prepares the American people for war,” said Hendrix. “There is, unfortunately, the heavy potential of conflict coming, but the nation is not ready for heavy battle damage to its navy and specifically not to its aircraft carriers. We need to move these assets back in the realm of being weapons, and not being perceived as mystical unicorns.”

But Bryan McGrath, founding managing director of The FerryBridge Group LLC, a naval consultancy, told Business Insider that the US’s enemies would think twice before targeting a carrier, and that a wartime US Navy and people can and have risen to the task of fighting on through sunk carriers in the past.

“The decision to go after an aircraft carrier, short of the deployment of nuclear weapons, is the decision that a foreign power would take with the most reticence,” said McGrath. “The other guy knows that if that is their target, the wrath of god will come down on them.”

For now, the expert community remains split around the utility of aircraft carriers going forward, but the US Navy continues to build them and set thousands to sea on them in a sure sign of confidence.

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

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