This is a proud week for the family of the Mullet Marine as he finally graduated out of Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego and is currently making his way to learn to be a motor transport mechanic.
Here’s to you, you glorious, mullet-having, Budweiser tank-top-rockin’ bad ass. You’re going to get hell for a while until you can prove that you’re going to be the best damn mechanic the Corps has ever seen. Don’t let any of that discourage you. People love that you showed up to San Diego “‘Murica AF.” Use that to your advantage.
Become the essence of what it means to be a Marine. That also means keeping your nose clean from UCMJ action. You didn’t ask for it but you’re unfortunately in a position where one slip up will find you in the Marine Corps Times. We all expect you to make mistakes and maybe buy a Mustang at 37% interest rate, but no one wants to see you fall from grace. The military community one day wants you to succeed.
In twenty-some years down the road, we want to read on your Wikipedia (or whatever the future version of Wikipedia is) that Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps “Mullet” got his nickname way back in the day he entered the Corps. But until then, BZ, Mullet Marine. BZ.
On that note, now that a meme has graduated boot camp, let’s get into some more memes:
(Meme via Valhalla Wear)
(Meme via Coast Guard Memes)
(Meme via Lost in the Sauce)
(Meme via Ranger Up)
(Meme via Pop Smoke)
(Meme via Shammers United)
(Meme via Navy Memes)
(Meme via US Army WTF Moments)
(Meme via Military World)
When literally anyone asks me how anything works in the S-6.
It’s just like the drop test. I don’t know why taking a SINCGARS and dropping it from a few feet above the concrete makes it magically works. It just does.
(Meme via Pop Smoke)
(Meme via Decelerate Your Life)
“How dare you betray us like that? We were supposed to get out and open a t-shirt/coffee/military lifestyle site together!”
Speaking of which, did you know that WATM now has a merch section? Wink, wink.
Marines will have better situational awareness on missions in dark areas thanks to new night-vision goggles.
The Binocular Night Vision Goggle II, or BNVG II, is a helmet-mounted binocular that gives operators improved depth perception at night, and uses white phosphor image intensification technology to amplify ambient light, with a modular thermal imaging overlay capability. BNVG II helps Marines identify potential buried explosive devices, find hidden objects in foliated areas and safely conduct tasks that require depth perception.
Marine Corps Systems Command began fielding the BNVG II to force reconnaissance and explosive ordnance disposal Marines this spring, and full operational capability is planned for early 2019.
The BNVG II includes a binocular night-vision device and a clip-on thermal imager, or COTI. The BNVD amplifies the small amount of existing light emitted by stars, the moon’s glow or other ambient light sources and uses the light to clearly display objects in detail in very dark conditions. The COTI uses heat energy from the Marine’s surroundings to add a thermal overlay that allows the image to be viewed more clearly, helping Marines with situational awareness in conditions with little to no light.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brian Caracci)
“The BNVG II helps Marines see enemies at a distance, and uses the COTI to detect ordnance or power sources for an explosive device that gives off heat,” said Nia Cherry, an infantry weapons program analyst. “The COTI intensifies Marines’ ability to see anything in dark conditions, rain, fog, dust, smoke and through bushes that the legacy binoculars couldn’t.”
The BNVG II is a follow-on to the legacy, battle-proven AN/PVS-15 binocular, but offers more features, such as the COTI, for increased survivability. The BNVD component is a compact, lightweight, third-generation, dual-tube night -vision goggle with an ergonomic, low-profile design. It offers superior situational awareness compared to the AN/PVS-15 used by reconnaissance Marines and the single-tube AN/PVS-14 monocular night-vision device used throughout the rest of the Marine Corps, officials said. It mounts to the enhanced combat helmet and may be used individually or in conjunction with the COTI.
“In March 2018, we held an exercise in San Diego where Marines provided positive feedback on their ability to easily maneuver with the goggles,” said Joe Blackstone, optics team lead in infantry weapons. “The depth perception provided by the BNVG II enhances precision and increases the operator’s survivability while on missions with limited lighting.”
Russia has summoned the Japanese ambassador and accused Tokyo of deliberately ramping up tensions ahead of a planned visit by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for talks with President Vladimir Putin on formally ending World War II hostilities.
The dispute over the chain — which Russia refers to as the Southern Kuriles and Japan calls the Northern Territories — has prevented Moscow and Tokyo from a signing of a formal peace treaty to end World War II.
Soviet forces seized the islands at the end of the war, and Russia continues to occupy and administer the territory, although it has allowed visits by former Japanese residents and family members in recent years.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said recent Japanese government statements represented an apparent attempt to “artificially incite the atmosphere regarding the peace-treaty problem and try to enforce its own scenario of settling the issue.”
The ministry cited Tokyo’s remarks about the need to prepare island residents for a return of the chain to Japan and about dropping demands for Moscow to pay compensation to former Japanese residents of the islands. It also took issue with Abe’s comments that 2019 would see a breakthrough in the negotiations.
“Such statements flagrantly distort the essence of the agreements between Japanese and Russian leaders to accelerate the talks’ progress” and “disorientate” members of the public in both countries, the Russian ministry said.
It said Japan was attempting to “force its own scenario” on Russia over the talks.
Following Kozuki’s meetings at the Russian ministry, Japan’s Foreign Ministry was quoted by Russian state-run TASS news agency as saying Tokyo would continue negotiations with Russia on a peace treaty “in [a] calm atmosphere.”
The Japanese ministry said Kozuki explained Tokyo’s position on the matter to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov, but it did not provide details.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov.
“The Japanese government will continue the negotiations process in the framework of its main position — to resolve the territorial dispute and then signing a peace treaty,” the ministry added.
Russia’s position on the Kuriles remains unchanged, that Japan must accept the outcome of World War II, including Russia’s sovereignty over the disputed islands, the Russian ministry stressed.
Russia has military bases on the archipelago and has deployed missile systems on the islands.
Abe is tentatively scheduled to visit Russia on Jan. 21, 2019, for talks with Putin on the peace treaty, Russian news agencies have reported.
The two leaders met in November 2018 and agreed to accelerate talks to formally end World War II.
In an interview published on Dec. 17, 2018, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda that Moscow could hand Japan the two smaller islands, Shikotan and a group of islets called Habomai, if Tokyo “recognizes the results” of World War II — something he said Tokyo was “not ready for yet.”
Recognition of the results, in Russia’s eyes, means that Japan would have to accept Russian possession of the disputed islands as legal, potentially ruling out any further dispute or claims by Tokyo on the two larger, more populated islands, Iturup and Kunashir.
Twin suicide bombings rocked Baghdad on Jan. 14, killing 38 people in the deadliest attack since Iraq declared victory over the Islamic State group last month, and raising fears ahead of national elections planned for May.
The bombers targeted the bustling Tayran Square, in the heart of the capital, setting off their explosive vests among laborers and street vendors during the morning rush hour. More than 100 people were wounded, according to police and hospital officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
No one has claimed the attacks, but they bore the hallmarks of IS.
Iraqi forces have driven IS from all the territory the extremists once held, but the militant group has proven resilient in the past and is likely to continue carrying out insurgent-style attacks. That could undermine Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who hopes to extend the country’s newfound sense of pride and unity in order to lead a diverse coalition to power in May.
Ambulances rushed to the scene as security forces sealed off the area with yellow tape. Slippers could be seen scattered about on the blood-stained pavement as cleaners hurried to clear the debris.
“It was a tremendous, I felt the ground shaking under my feet,” said Munthir Falah, a secondhand clothes vendor whose chest and right leg were pierced by shrapnel. He said he fell to the ground and lost consciousness before later waking up in a hospital.
The father of three said government forces had failed to secure the capital. “They think that Daesh is done,” he said, referring to IS by an Arabic acronym. “They don’t bother themselves to exert efforts to secure Baghdad.”
Einas Khalil, a Baghdad housewife, blamed the security breakdown on the country’s feuding politicians, many of whom are connected to different state-sanctioned militias or branches of the security forces.
We were expecting this because of the upcoming elections,” she said. “Every four years we have to live through this suffering because of political differences and disagreements.
Iraqi Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri denounced the attack as a “cowardly act against innocent people” and called on the government to take all necessary security measures. Al-Abadi met security officials in charge of Baghdad, ordering them to root out militant sleeper cells, according to a brief statement issued by his office.
A deterioration in security could undermine al-Abadi’s claim to have vanquished IS and create an opening for his main rival, former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, to return to power.
Al-Maliki, who stepped down after IS swept across northern and central Iraq in 2014, was widely accused of pursuing sectarian policies that alienated the country’s Sunni minority during his eight years in power. Many of Iraq’s Sunnis, fed up with al-Maliki’s rule, initially welcomed IS as liberators from the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad.
The government has proposed holding elections on May 12, but parliament must approve the date. Sunni leaders have called for the vote to be delayed until the 3 million people still displaced from the fighting can return to their homes.
Victory over IS has come at an almost incalculable cost in Iraq, where entire neighborhoods in several cities and towns were completely destroyed in the fighting.
First, you’ll need to cut a U-shape out of the two-liter bottle — this will be the mask’s face. Once you’ve cut out the shape, seal the edges with duct tape. The tape will also act as a buffer against cutting your face on the jagged plastic edges.
Next, hold the taped plastic in front of your face to make sure it’s a good size.
Carefully pop a few holes in the bottom of the aluminum can before cutting it in half. After that, place a single layer of cotton rounds inside the cut can. Then, pour in a layer of activated charcoal to cover the bottom. To make sure the activated charcoal remains secure, place another cotton round on top.
You’ve just built yourself a makeshift air filter.
Before duct taping the filter onto the bottle’s open spout, secure one last cotton round to the top of the can — acting as a lid. Pop a hole in that cotton and then stick the open spout of the two-liter bottle into the slot.
Next, tape the aluminum can to the modified bottle. You can use the rubber bands to help keep the mask on your face as you battle hordes of zombies.
Check out Black Scout Survival‘s video below to get a breakdown of how to put together this clever lifesaver.
Two U.S. F-22 Raptor stealth fighters intercepted two Russian Su-25 fighter jets Dec. 13, conducting multiple maneuvers, firing warning flares, and, in one instance, aggressively flying to avoid colliding with one another, U.S. officials tell Military.com.
The Su-25s — single-seat, twin-engine aircraft — “flew into coordinated coalition airspace on the east side of the Euphrates River near Abu Kamal, Syria, and were promptly intercepted,” Air Forces Central Command spokesman Lt. Col. Damien Pickart told Military.com in an email.
The F-22s, the U.S.’ most advanced fighter aside from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, were in the area providing air cover for partner ground forces conducting operations against the Islamic State, he said.
“The F-22s conducted multiple maneuvers to persuade the Su-25s to depart our deconflicted airspace, including the release of chaff and flares in close proximity to the Russian aircraft and placing multiple calls on the emergency channel to convey to the Russian pilots that they needed to depart the area,” Pickart said.
During one maneuver, a Su-25 flew so close to an F-22 “that it had to aggressively maneuver to avoid a midair collision,” he said.
The F-22 also trailed a Su-35 after it flew across the river into territory deemed unsafe to coalition aircraft.
“The incident lasted approximately 40 minutes before the Russian aircraft flew to the west side of the river. During and following the encounter, coalition leaders at the [Combined Air Operations Center in Al Udeid, Qatar] contacted the Russians on the deconfliction line to de-escalate the situation and avert a strategic miscalculation,” Pickart said.
AFCENT officials said the Russians had “verbally agreed” in November through the deconfliction line that they would remain west of the Euphrates River, and the coalition would operate to the East, he said.
“Since agreeing to this deconfliction arrangement, the Russians have flown into our airspace on the east side of the river 6-8 times per day, or approximately 10 percent of the Russian and Syrian flights,” Pickart noted.
“If either of us needs to cross the river for any reason, we’re supposed to first deconflict via the line,” he said. “It’s become increasingly tough for our pilots to discern whether Russian pilots’ actions are deliberate or if these are just honest mistakes.”
Officials have said recently that coalition aircraft — more than a dozen air forces cooperating to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria — are concerned about the shrinking airspace.
“The coalition’s greatest concern is that we could shoot down a Russian aircraft because its actions are seen as a threat to our air or ground forces,” Pickart said. “We train our aircrew to take specific actions and to make every attempt possible to de-escalate the situation wherever possible.”
He continued, “We are not here to fight the Russians and Syrians — our focus remains on defeating ISIS. That said, if anyone threatens coalition or friendly partner forces in the air or on the ground, we will defend them.”
Dak Lak Montagnard Museum, Buon Ma Thuot April 2017
When I attended Special Forces training at Fort Bragg, NC I learned that one of the primary tenants was something called Foreign Internal Defense (FID). What this was based on was learning how to work with people indigenous to the area we were operating in, helping them gain the ability to defend themselves and in turn gaining their trust and getting them to help us with their knowledge of the operational area.
In Vietnam, this meant working with the Montagnard people who were supporting our camp and in my case our cross border operations to gain intelligence about the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong.
Rich’s Montagnard team at CCS (Command and Control South) in Buon Ma Thuot.
Rich’s Montagnard team at CCS (Command and Control South) in Buon Ma Thuot.
Rich’s Montagnard team at CCS (Command and Control South) in Buon Ma Thuot.
Rich’s Montagnard team at CCS (Command and Control South) in Buon Ma Thuot.
Many of the Montagnards at Command and Control South came from villages in the local area: Buon Ea Katour, Buon Ho, Hoa An, and Buon Krong to name several. As I got to know and become friends with the men on my team, I was invited to their village to attend dinners and Nam Phe parties. Nam Phe is the rice wine, strong but tasty, made to the exacting specifications of each individual who brews it and these parties would occasionally go to excess.
I had Rade, Jarai, and Mnong tribes on my team. Once you bonded with them they were extremely loyal (I owe my life to some of them) and were great practical jokers. When inserting by helicopter, my point man (Pai Hdoc a Jarai) would always let me jump out first so he could jump on me and not get hurt.
In my Vietnam tours, I believe I learned far more from them than they did from me – but we were a real team that depended on each other for daily survival – lessons that have helped me all my life.
Jacqueline Carrizosa is a Navy veteran who successfully leveraged her military experience into an exciting civilian career.
Her grit as a former rescue swimmer and gunner’s mate helped prepare her to become a tough motocross competitor and military advisor in Hollywood.
In this episode of the WATM Spotlight Series, Jackie tells us about her journey from rescue swimming to Hollywood during a photo shoot with photographer and former Marine Cedric Terrell.
When Jackie joined the Navy, she became a rescue swimmer while she was a gunner’s mate, starting with a class of thirty-two and graduating with twenty. She was the only woman in the class.
Being in the Navy gave her plenty of skills she’s carried over into civilian life. She has been a military advisor on several films, the most well-known of which was Battleship. Meanwhile, she now races motocross and is a full automatic machine gun instructor.
Modeling for motocross has been especially exciting; once again a woman in a predominantly male world, she’s expected to be girly while also having fun—and she’s certainly up for the challenge.
Editor’s Note: Carrizosa was recently injured while training for the Vegas to Reno ironman motorcycle race. She broke her back in two places and lost a kidney. Friends with the Veterans Training Fund have established a GoFundMe account to help with her medical bills.
Watch the video in the tweet below. Are you experiencing both amazement and fear? You’re not alone.
This video has been making the rounds on Twitter recently, but it was actually filmed a little over a year ago. According to Gizmodo, an electric-power maintenance company in Xiangyang, China, had been using these flame-throwing drones to burn off garbage and debris from electrical wires.
Is any of this safe? Who knows. But after watching this video, hopefully you’ve gained a new appreciation and/or fear of flying robots and what they’re capable of.
A 14-year-old boy with dreams of becoming a U.S. Navy SEAL received a surprise visit from veterans as he underwent treatment in North Carolina for his second battle with leukemia.
B.J. Correll was visited in his Duke University Hospital bed by a group of retired SEALs who made him an honorary member, Fox 5 Atlanta reported.
“He shows the character of what a SEAL would be like. He’s very strong,” Stephen Brown, a SEAL Swim Charities member told the news site. “He has gone through so much. So much pain, just not physically but mentally. And he stayed so strong through it.”
Correll, who discovered his dream after completing a middle school project, said it was an honor and thanked the SEALs.
“It took my breath away. He’s having a hard time right now,” his mother, who was not identified, told Fox 5 Atlanta. “We are on our last option and it was just amazing for him to already have what he’s wanted to do for his life.”
Correll was first diagnosed with leukemia in 2012, and in May 2015— with seven months of treatment left— doctors informed him that the cancer was back.
The Air Force has begun early testing, software development, and weapons integration for its upcoming Block 4 variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, an emerging model intended to give the multi-role fighter a new dimension of weapons and attack mission possibilities, service leaders said.
The new version, to emerge in the early 2020s, will add new long-range precision-tracking weapons such as the newly named StormBreaker weapon — previously called the Small Diameter Bomb II.
“StormBreaker™ successfully completed Developmental Testing and the Government Confidence Testing phase in early 2018. StormBreaker demonstrated all operating modes, the capability to send, receive, and process data-link messages via both link-16 and UHF, Tara Wood, an official with Raytheon’s weapons development unit, told Warrior Maven.
The Air Force and F-35 weapons integration office are also integrating a new upgraded AIM-9x air to air missile, which will enable pilots to attack enemy fighters “off-boresight,” a term which refers to an increased target envelope.
An “off-boresight” AIM-9s will give pilots an ability to target and destroy enemies behind and to the sides of the F-35, Joe Dellavedova, an official with the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Program Office, told Warrior Maven in an interview.
US Navy F-35C.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King)
“The next step for F-35 weapons integration will be to address the weapon requirements within Block 4. Integration of the Small Diameter Bomb II has already begun, and flight test is scheduled to start as early as 2019,” Capt. Emily Grabowski, Air Force Spokeswoman, told Warrior Maven in a statement a short time ago.
StormBreaker – Small Diameter Bomb II
StormBreaker, described as a key element of Block 4, is a new air-dropped weapon able to destroy moving targets in all kinds of weather conditions at ranges greater than 40-miles, Air Force and Raytheon officials said.
Wood further explained that StormBreaker detects, classifies, and tracks a wide array of targets, both moving and stationary. It also has an ability to prosecute moving targets through adverse weather conditions. StormBreaker™ is currently in Operational Test, Wood said.
GPS and laser-guided weapons such as Joint Direct Attack Munitions have been around for decades, however, they have primarily been designed for use against fixed or stationary targets. StormBreaker has already completed a series of wind tunnel tests.
While the Air Force currently uses a laser-guided bomb called the GBU-54 able to destroy moving targets, the new SDB II will be able to do this at longer ranges and in all kinds of weather conditions. In addition, the SDB II is built with a two-way, dual-band data link which enables it to change targets or adjust to different target locations while in flight, Raytheon developers told Warrior Maven.
Operational Testing will utilize the weapon in real world conditions in operationally relevant scenarios, she explained.
A key part of the SDB II is a technology called a “tri-mode” seeker — a guidance system which can direct the weapon using millimeter wave radar, uncooled imaging infrared guidance and semi-active laser technology.
Raytheon weapons developers say the tri-mode seeker provides a range of guidance and targeting options typically not used together in one system. Millimeter wave radar gives the weapon an ability to navigate through adverse weather, conditions in which other guidance systems might encounter problems reaching or pinpointing targets.
Imagining infrared guidance allows the weapon to track and hone in on heat signatures such as the temperature of an enemy vehicle. With semi-active laser technology, the weapon can be guided to an exact point using a laser designator or laser illuminator coming from the air or the ground, Raytheon officials told Warrior.
One Raytheon SDB II developer told Warrior in a previous interview that “the millimeter wave radar turns on first. Then the data link gives it a cue and tells the seeker where to open up and look. Then, the weapon can turn on its IR (infrared) which uses heat seeking technology.”
The SBD II is engineered to weigh only 208 pounds, a lighter weight than most other air dropped bombs, so that eight of them can fit on the inside of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Raytheon officials explained.
If weapons are kept in an internal weapons bay and not rested on an external weapons pod, then an aircraft can succeed in retaining its stealth properties because the shapes or contours of the weapons will not be visible to enemy radar.
About 105 pound of the SDB II is an explosive warhead which encompasses a “blast-frag” capability and a “plasma-jet” technology designed to pierce enemy armor, Raytheon officials explained.
The SDB II also has the ability to classify targets, meaning it could for example be programmed to hit only tanks in a convoy as opposed to other moving vehicles. The weapon can classify tanks, boats or wheeled targets, Raytheon officials added.s, this will no longer remain the case.
StormBreaker, which is also being integrated on the F-15E, is carried on the BRU-61, a 4 place miniature munitions rack that fits in the F-35’s internal weapons bays. The weapons will be integrated on the F/A-18E/F and F-35B for the Navy and Marine Corps before the F-35A and F-35C, developers explained.
“StormBreaker™ uses Universal Armament Interface protocol to make the weapon/aircraft interface compatible with a wide range of aircraft, including F-35,” Wood added.
Designed as part of the developmental trajectory for the emerging F-35, previous test-firings of the AIM-9X were intended to further the missile’s ability to demonstrate this “off-boresight,” attack technology. Previous test data and observers have confirmed the F-35 identified and targeted the drone with its mission systems sensors, passed the target ‘track’ information to the missile, enabled the pilot to verify targeting information using the high off-boresight capability of the helmet mounted display and launched the AIM-9X from the aircraft to engage the target drone, a statement from the F-35 JPO said.
F-35 to 2070
The current consensus among senior Pentagon weapons developers holds that, at the moment, the F-35 is the most capable 5th generation plane in the world. Maintaining this edge, however, is anticipated to quickly become more and more difficult now that both Russia and China are building 5th-gen stealth fighters.
“Block 4 is important with the national defense strategy to make sure we are modernizing the plane to keep it dominant on the battlefield. We are close to knowing the strategy for how to go after it,” Dr. Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, told a group of reporters in early 2018.
While the applied impact of Block 4 will incorporate a range of mission-expanding technologies, much of the ongoing preparation work is in the realm of software development, Roper said.
“The physical pieces of the plane are moving in a good direction. Most of what we have left to do is software. The department (DoD) has not historically been good at software development. That will take a little longer. I cannot imagine building anything for the Air Force that is not software intensive,” Roper said.
The Block 4 initiative is part of a long range trajectory planned for the F-35 described by Pentagon developers as C2D2 – Continuous Capability Development and Delivery. The idea, officials say, is to position the multi-role fighter such that it can consistently accommodate new weapons, stealth materials, sensors, and guidance technology as it becomes available
“We own today’s fight,” said Lt. Col. Tucker Hamilton, F-35 Test Director, Edwards AFB, told reporters in early 2018. However, Tucker went on to say that, in the absence of aggressive modernization, sustainment and various improvement efforts.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
Well, we did and here are six reasons why we think the movie should have been about him.
6. We would have gotten the back story on how he got his epic scar. Just look at that thing and tell us you don’t want to know more about it. Is it from a hand grenade or did he knife fight someone or what?
5. Remember when he shot that woman? We’re not condoning executions, but seeing Sgt. Barnes interrogation methods a few more times could have been cool.
4. Besides the scene where Barnes threatens Chris with that cool looking blade, that knife doesn’t make another appearance. If that film were about him, we probably would have seen Barnes use in on the enemy troops once or twice in hand-to-hand combat.
You could slice and dice the enemy with this sharp and badass looking blade — no problem. (Source: Orion)
3. Pvt. Taylor (Charlie Sheen) would have just been a whiny boot replacement — which he was in the beginning — that no one cares about since the film would have been in Barnes’ perspective.
You just murdered the star of our fictional version of the film — you better cry. (Source: Orion)
2. Sgt. Barnes is a pretty lethal killer, but we could’ve gotten a glimpse of what made him that way. Although we discussed his epic scar earlier, it would be cool to get a flashback or two focusing on some of this bloody missions he was on before Taylor showed up.
1. Barnes would have eventually snapped and put his non-alpha male platoon leader Lt. Wolfe in his place — and audiences would have loved to see that sh*t go down.
It’s about to go down — if the movie was about Barnes. (Source: Orion)
The opening scenes of Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn introduce viewers to a charismatic and devoted father deep in the joys of parenthood. Crawling on the floor, swimming and blowing out birthday candles with his toddler and infant sons, he is right where he should be. Until the day he isn’t. Through interviews, reports and a thoroughly researched investigation, the filmmaker poses some incriminating questions.
Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn? Was it the mechanic who told him his helicopter was cleared for flight two hours before it slammed tail-first into the ocean? Was it the manufacturer who produced the faulty wiring blamed for the explosion? Was it the upper ranks of the Navy who disregarded multiple letters of concern purportedly choosing flight hours over safety? How about the Congressional and Executive branches of our government that teamed up with arms manufacturers and focused on new bloated defense contracts instead of investing in the people and machinery already in place?
Van Dorn’s wife, Nicole, living in the shadow of her husband’s unnecessary death, is on a mission to find out. Catalyzed by her and others’ search for answers, this gripping 2018 documentary investigates events leading up to Navy lieutenant J. Wesley Van Dorn’s death one month before his 30th birthday. His untimely demise occurred during a training exercise when an explosion killing three of the five crewmen aboard caused the crash-prone helicopter to fall from the sky into frigid waters below. Van Dorn was not the only one who had expressed concerns about the safety of this aircraft, nor was he the only one to die in it as a result of misguided leadership and mechanical failure.
Written, directed, and narrated by Zachary Stauffer as his first feature documentary, this film offers a sobering look into chronic institutional failings that have resulted in 132 arguably preventable deaths. Diving unforgivably into one family’s agonizing loss, Stauffer invites us to ponder heavy questions while constructing a wall of outrage in his viewers. What is the price of a life? How many lives does it take before change takes place? When will avarice and the “just get ‘er done” attitude stop undermining the American defense establishment?
Built by Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin subsidiary, the MH-53E Sea Dragon is the Navy’s nearly identical version of the Marine Corps’ CH-53-E Super Stallion. Since entering service in 1986, it has never succumbed to enemy fire but holds the worst safety record in the Navy’s fleet making it the deadliest aircraft in military history. The 53-E is a powerful machine used by the Navy for dragging heavy equipment through water to sweep for mines while the Marine version is used for transporting people and gear.
Stauffer explains that due to issues with these aircraft that cropped up even in their initial test flights at the manufacturer and in training missions, the Navy tried to get away with using less powerful helicopters and alternate minesweeping tactics but nothing was as effective as the relic Sea Dragon. Since they were fated to be replaced at some point, the higher ranks avoided investing too much into them so funding for spare parts and maintenance was lean. Members of Congress allegedly chose the path of greed and corruption when defense contractors offered them flashy new weaponry and vehicles as well as comfortable retirement packages. The upper echelons flourished while those training, fighting, and dying on the ground, as well as the American taxpayers, suffered needlessly as top-down decision makers claimed their hands were tied.
With fewer and fewer resources, those maintaining the Sea Dragon had to do more with less. They began cutting corners and developing bad habits. When voicing their worries in person or through over a dozen letters and memos to the upper ranks, they were “belittled, humiliated and cut down,” as one pilot explained. More than 30 years before Van Dorn’s crash, Sikorsky recommended replacing the faulty Kapton wires on all Navy aircraft. This was suggested not once, not twice, but three times before the Navy decided to start looking into the issue. Eventually they named Kapton as the highest ranked safety risk in the fleet and devised a long-term plan to replace it in phases but claimed to never have enough funding to refit all the wiring in the 53s. Only months prior to Van Dorn’s crash the Pentagon re-budgeted funding away from this critical project. Thus, problems that had been escalating over decades while the issue was known and actively overlooked perpetuated, yet the birds were still allowed to fly.
By the time Van Dorn signed on the dotted line in 2010, the run-down helicopters that required about 40 hours of maintenance for a single hour of flight time should have been retired. He and his wife made the decision together to request a spot in the squadron flying 53s because others told them it was an ideal position for a family man who wanted to be home for dinner every night.
Van Dorn was one of those who voiced his opinions about the safety of this aircraft. In an ominous voice recording foreshadowing his own death, he stated “If anyone should care about what’s happening on that aircraft, it should be me and the other pilots, I think. It makes sense to me, because I’m the one who’s going to get in it and have something terrible happen if it doesn’t go right.” His wife Nicole later explained that, “He felt that no matter what he said or what he wrote or who he complained to, nothing was changing.”
On a particularly cold morning in January 2014, Van Dorn’s own portentous sentiments were realized 18 nautical miles off the coast of Virginia Beach. Chafing from a single nylon zip tie exposed naked wiring to a fine spray of fuel causing it to arc, sending a blast of fire into the cockpit. Hours later Nicole lay on her husband’s chest just before they pronounced him dead.
Dylan Boone, a Naval aircrewman and one of two survivors of the wreck declared, “You don’t expect to give up your life for this country because you were given faulty equipment.”
Dynamic cinematography combined with a subtly haunting score by composer William Ryan Fritch creates the backdrop for this solid investigative report. Crisp and flowing visuals paired with thrilling military footage complement the feelings portrayed by those interviewed. These primary sources include Van Dorn’s mother, wife, friends, and fellow airmen as well as a mechanic, pilots, a general, a Pentagon Analyst and a military reporter. Throughout the documentary they and the narrator explain the multifaceted issues connected to Van Dorn’s death and the trouble with the 53s from a variety of angles.
Woven skillfully together, a poignant story is told of decades of negligence that continues to result in tragedy. Wholesome home movies of a young involved father raising two sons with his lovely wife are contrasted with the aching void ripped into the Van Dorn family’s home after his death. Stirring visions of military life ignite the urge to join in viewers who have ever felt compelled to do so, whereas the deep frustration of stifled dreams and a scarred body and soul are almost tangible to someone who has been there before as hard truths are drawn out throughout the film.
Centering on the death of a handsome, beloved father, husband and seaman who was liked by all humanized an issue that might have otherwise been unrelatable. Utilizing the audience’s heartstrings as a focal point was a powerful way to bring attention to a predicament that could have been swept under the rug. Despite the fact that the C-53 airframes experienced serious accidents more than twice as often as the average aircraft and that internal investigations were performed with alarming results, the Navy continues to risk its servicemembers’ life and limb to keep these helicopters performing their critical mission in the air. With this in mind, this documentary might just put enough pressure on the Navy to make the changes necessary to save an untold number of lives.
Winner of the Audience Award in Active Cinema at the 2018 Mill Valley Film Festival, Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn is an intriguing and effective piece of military reporting presented in comprehensible terms for the layman. It is a successful examination of not only the serious failings of a controversial aircraft and the misled priorities keeping it aloft, but also hints toward the fact that anyone who brings up the disturbing issue of safety of these helicopters will be forced out of service. I would recommend this professional-level documentary, especially to anyone with interests in the military or national defense.
The Navy, the Pentagon, Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin declined to participate in this well-researched film. Major funding to make this documentary possible was provided by supporters of the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and Investigative Studios.
After viewing this film, you can decide for yourself who killed Lt. Van Dorn. Regardless of the answer, his unwarranted death will not have been completely in vain if it successfully carries out his final mission: righting the deep and longstanding problems with the CH-53 helicopters, thus preventing the death and destruction of countless others just as it ultimately took him.