Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster

Nearly six decades after a Navy submarine plummeted to the bottom of the sea during a deep-dive test, families of those lost in the tragedy are finally getting a look at hundreds of documents about the accident the service has long kept under wraps.

The Navy on Wednesday released the first 300 pages of a court of inquiry on the catastrophic 1963 loss of the nuclear-powered submarine Thresher. The documents provide details into the Navy’s worst undersea accident, which claimed the lives of 129 men onboard.


While Navy leaders say they’re committed to being transparent with the families and the public about what caused the Thresher — the first sub in its class — to sink, it took a court order to reach this point.

Capt. Jim Bryant, a retired Navy submarine officer, sued his former service in 2019 to get it to release the full 1,700-page report on the Thresher accident. A federal judge ordered the Navy in February to begin releasing portions of that report monthly to the public.

“I think I’m doing the Navy a favor,” Bryant told Military.com this week. “This is a significant historic event … and the reactions were very sound. It’s a really good story here for the Navy.”

Rear Adm. Bill Houston, director of the Undersea Warfare Division at the Pentagon, told reporters Tuesday that Navy leaders don’t believe the newly released Thresher documents “will shed any additional light on her loss.” Still, he added, the Navy is committed to releasing additional portions of the report monthly, despite much of it remaining classified.

“This process requires coordination between many organizations, and takes time to be done correctly,” Houston said. “But the Navy knows this is the right thing to do.”

He declined to comment on Bryant’s lawsuit prompting the documents’ release.

The first batch of documents released this week includes witness and exhibits lists, findings of facts, opinions, recommendations and initial testimony. Families were notified in a letter sent last month from Vice Adm. Daryl Caudle, commander of Naval Submarine Forces, that the Navy was working to declassify the documents and make them public.

Joy MacMillan and her brother Tim Noonis lost their father, Walter “Jack” Noonis, to the Thresher accident. Both credited Bryant for the time he put into pushing the Navy to release the documents. The decision to do so “should have been automatic,” MacMillan said.

“We would definitely want to know,” she said. “We know it won’t bring them back, but it does help to understand how something like that could have happened to our family.”

MacMillan’s mother, who passed away in 2016, had four children under the age of 10 when the Thresher sank.

“It was intense, but I think my mom did a fabulous job picking her boots up and marching forward, but I would never say that it was easy,” MacMillan said. “I feel that it would’ve been an honor to all the moms to get this information.”

Bryant said the families — along with the rest of the public — deserve access to the answers.

“Naval history is important,” he said. “And when the technology is no longer of danger to national security — well, I think we should know about it.”

How Tragedy Led to Change

The Thresher had just completed a months-long overhaul period when — on April 10, 1963 — the sub began dive tests off the coast of Massachusetts.

It was accompanied by the submarine rescue ship Skylark, which received garbled communications about the Thresher experiencing minor difficulties.

The court of inquiry determined that the Thresher sank due to a piping failure that resulted in a loss of power and the inability to blow ballast tanks quickly enough to avoid sinking. Houston said this week that the Navy stands by those initial determinations.

Bryant wanted to know more, though, and was unsatisfied with the Navy’s original decision to publicly release just 19 of the 1,700 pages of documents from the court of inquiry. It was only after a Freedom of Information Act request failed to shake loose the documents that he took the Navy to court.

The families and the public have a right to know more about the decisions that led up to the accident, he said. In 2018, Bryant wrote a piece for the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings magazine arguing that data showed the Thresher “very likely had already sunk below her 1,300-foot test depth limit when she reported minor difficulties.”

“The result,” he wrote, “was a hull collapse that could have been avoided with more testing and better planning.”

Noonis, who said he’s read everything he could find publicly on the Thresher, said he’d like the Navy to further analyze acoustical recordings of the Thresher accident that were picked up by the Navy’s Sound Surveillance System, known as SOSUS.

Bryant described an analysis Navy Reserve Lt. Bruce Rule provided during 1963 testimony about what the SOSUS picked up on the Thresher’s sinking. According to Bryant’s April 2020 Proceedings article titled “USS Thresher (SSN-593) Disaster: Ten Questions Our FOIA Lawsuit Hopes to Answer,” Rule’s observations reject the Navy’s assessment that there was major flooding on the sub before implosion.

While Noonis said he’d like to see the Navy take another look at that claim, he isn’t holding out much hope — especially since the service isn’t releasing the documents by choice.

“They were forced to release it,” he said. “I don’t have a lot of faith in the government coming out and changing their conclusion. … Bureaucracies aren’t fond of finding fault with themselves.”

People who study technology need access to any information available about major accidents to understand the decisions leading up to them, so they don’t repeat the same mistakes, Bryant said this week.

Despite the battle over the documents, though, Bryant credits the Navy with taking important steps in the aftermath of the Thresher tragedy to help prevent other undersea mishaps. That’s why he said he wants to see the service share any documents it has that can help others understand what went wrong.

Houston said the Thresher remains a defining event for the submarine service. Every new Navy submariner learns about the vessel.

“From day one, every new submariner checking onboard discusses the impact of Thresher to the submarine force, and the significant improvements that transpired as a result of her loss,” he said.

The Navy’s Submarine Safety program, known as SUBSAFE, was born out of the Thresher accident. SUBSAFE has “drastically improved quality control and assurance in the fabrication, construction and maintenance of submarines,” Houston said.

“Since the program’s inception, no SUBSAFE-certified submarines have been lost at sea,” he said.

MacMillan said she’s grateful the accident led to change, but said without the Navy releasing the full probe, no one can be certain all possible steps have been taken to prevent something similar from happening again.

“Was it the main coolant pump? Was it just a push too fast for a deeper dive in the Cold War?” she said. “It really does feel like it’s been [more than enough] time to know what really occurred.”

Now, as the Navy begins releasing never-before-seen documents on the accident that prompted those changes, Houston said the service must balance being transparent while still protecting information relating to national security.

Bryant said he and his attorney feel the Navy’s plan to release about 300 pages connected to the Thresher probe every month is reasonable, but noted they’ll be closely monitoring what is held back or redacted.

If the Navy refuses to declassify information they feel should be made public, Bryant said, “We’re going to fight them over it.”

MacMillan said she hopes the documents being released prove to the public that it’s possible to take on powerful organizations that might be reluctant to release information. Bryant didn’t have a stake in the Thresher accident, she said, but fought to do the right thing.

“If you work long and hard enough, you can get to the truth,” she said. “… As a 6-year-old child kind of still frozen in that time period, I think it’s high time that they come up with something.”

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Army astronaut follows historic Apollo footsteps

U.S. Army Col. Andrew R. Morgan, M.D., will launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, aboard a Soyuz (Union) MS-13 spacecraft on July 20, 2019, at 12:28 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time for a nine-month mission aboard the International Space Station.

“Twenty-five years ago I made the decision to serve my country as a military officer. I view my nine-month mission to the space station as a continuation of that service, not just to my country, but the entire international community.” Morgan said. “Service to others will keep me focused and motivated while I’m away from my family, living and working on board the International Space Station to successfully complete our mission.”


Morgan, who will be the first Army physician in space, is a board-certified Army emergency physician with a sub-specialty certification in primary care sports medicine. During his time aboard the space station Morgan will participate with his crew mates and others to facilitate numerous medical and technological experiments and tasks, as well as a number of planned high-profile space walks.

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster

U.S. Army Col. Andrew R. Morgan, M.D.

(Photo by Ronald Bailey)

His mission, Expeditions 60, 61 and 62, would make the longest single-mission spaceflight for an Army astronaut and be among the longest ever for an American astronaut when complete.

Morgan will launch with his crew mates from Baikonur Cosmodrome’s famous “Gagarin’s Start” launch pad. Known as LC-1/5, the pad is the same location where the world’s first artificial satellite “Sputnik 1” launched in 1957 as well as the first human in space, Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, in 1961.

Morgan’s crew is also launching on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo XI lunar landing which he considers a significant and meaningful way to commemorate the accomplishment for all humanity.

“An international crew launching to an International Space Station on the 50th anniversary of what was the apex of the space race — it’s an interesting contrast.” Morgan said. “The Expedition 60 crew is honored to commemorate Apollo XI’s historic accomplishment for the world with our launch, and proudly bear the torch for the next generation of space exploration.”

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster

U.S. Army Col. Andrew R. Morgan, M.D.

(Photo by Ronald Bailey)

Still serving as an active duty Army officer, Morgan was selected as an astronaut candidate in June 2013, completing the training in July 2015. Prior to his selection as an astronaut candidate he served as a commissioned Army medical corps officer with the U.S. Special Operations Command, including tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Morgan considers New Castle, Pennsylvania, his hometown. He earned a Bachelor of Science in environmental engineering at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York, in 1998, and received his Doctorate in Medicine from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland, in 2002.

“I am a soldier, a military physician, and a NASA astronaut, in that order. I’m a soldier first, and the military trained me to be a leader of character, dedicated to taking care of people,” Morgan said. “Every quality that’s made me a successful astronaut is a product of my military training: from my academic degrees to my operational skills. While I regularly draw on the technical skills and specialized training I learned in the military, it’s my leadership experiences that I rely on the most.”

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

Articles

13 Hilarious Meme Replies To Our Article About Dating On Navy Ships

A few days ago WATM published an article with tips for dating on a US Navy ship and the responses we got were, um, passionate and direct.


Also Watch: 37 Awesome Photos Of Life On A US Navy Carrier

At first people couldn’t believe what they were reading.

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster

Seriously.

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster

Finally, it sank in …

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster

Their knee-jerk reaction to dating on a US Navy ship was …

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster

Simply.

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster

Of course, most sailors know better. But, there are things you say in public and things you only say to your closest friends.

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster
Photo: Facebook

Some blame the females, but we know better …

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster

But really, we got this advice from real sailors, with real experience.

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster

You may think this is blasphemy, but the chief, well …

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster

Master chief has seen it all.

His reply …

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster

Veterans are like …

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster

Junior sailors, they were like …

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster

But they’ll learn soon enough. Just wait till your first deployment.

At the end of the day, we hope you got a few laughs (and maybe a flashback).

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster

(Editor’s note: We used the best meme replies from S–t My LPO Says‘ Facebook page to write this article.)

MORE: 27 Incredible Photos Of Life On A US Navy Submarine

AND: 19 Terms Only Sailors Will Understand

MIGHTY TRENDING

Indonesian special forces drank snake blood to impress James Mattis

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis saw a rare display on a trip to Indonesia where he sought to improve ties with the country’s historically vicious special forces.


As part of that trip, Mattis watched a demonstration by soldiers, during which they broke bricks over their heads, walked on hot coals, performed martial arts, rolled in broken glass, killed live snakes, and drank their blood.

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster
Members of the Indonesian Special Forces hold a demonstration in honor of Defense Secretary James N. Mattis before Mattis met with Indonesia’s Chief of Defense Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto in Jakarta, Indonesia on Jan. 24, 2018. (DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

As the troops prepared the snakes, which were king cobras, one reportedly got loose and postured, as if preparing to bite Mattis, though it was wrangled back into the fold, the Japan Times reports.

Eating snakes is actually a common military ritual, with some U.S. troops training in the practice to prepare them for jungle warfare.

But Mattis was in Indonesia to repair ties with the country’s military, which came under sanction when the country’s former dictator used the special forces as a criminal organization to brutally enforce his policies.

Currently, Indonesia’s special forces are banned from training with U.S. forces, but Mattis may look to soften that policy after the trip.

Also Read: The Pentagon will partner with a powerful Indonesian special forces unit

Many fear that Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, could become home to extremist groups like ISIS as the group looks to expand beyond Iraq and Syria.

Additionally, Indonesia has proved a key figure in pushing back on China’s expansion into the South China Sea. The U.S. may look to fold them into a coalition of countries that resist the unilateral militarization of the important shipping lane.

Mattis said on his trip he thought the human rights violators of Indonesia’s past had moved on from the special forces, and stressed the need for the countries to work together.

“No single nation resolves security challenges alone in this world,” Mattis said, according to the Washington Post.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A Marine left for dead was resurrected at the end of the Vietnam War

In February 1968, two platoons of Marines from a combat base near Khe Sanh went out on a combat patrol. Ronald Ridgeway, just 18-years-old at the time, was one of those Marines. He and 26 of his fellow Marines would not be coming back that night, their patrol would live on, forever known as “The Ghost Patrol.”


A Marine lieutenant lost his way around the area and accidentally led his Marines into a devastating ambush. Ridgeway was shot in the shoulder. Others took much more serious wounds. When the ambush was over, the North Vietnamese walked through the grim melee, popping rounds into Marines to ensure their job was done. Ridgeway was grazed by a bullet that shook his body. The NVA figured he was dead.

So did the Marine Corps.

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster

A 1973 photo of Ronald Ridgeway.

Many of the ambushed Marines were dead, including two of Ridgeway’s closest friends. Through the night, the young man survived an American artillery barrage and excessive bleeding. He woke to an NVA soldier trying to pull off his watch. For six weeks, the remains of those Marines were left. It turns out there were upwards of 20,000 NVA troops moving to assault the Combat Base at Khe Sanh, defended by just 6,000 Marines.

At first, Ridgeway was listed as missing in action, but after the survivors of the ambush made their way back to Khe Sanh and the battlefields couldn’t be cleared, there was little hope for him. The Marines declared him killed in action. His funeral was held Sept. 10, 1968 in St. Louis. His family and friends mourned the loss of their young Marine. By then, Ridgeway had been a POW for seven months.

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster

Ridgeway in 2013.

The NVA soldier taking his watch didn’t kill him, he just put him in leg stocks and marched him to a jungle POW camp. Eventually, the young Ridgeway found himself in North Vietnam’s Hanoi Hilton. He was beaten and starved, but he survived. He sat in a lonesome cell, with just a wooden bed and a bucket that he emptied in a courtyard once a day.

He was there for nearly five long years before the Paris Peace Accords meant he was headed home before the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. When the list of returning troops was released, Ridgeway’s family was shocked to see their son’s name included on that list.

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster

Ridgeway getting a hug from then-First Lady of California Nancy Reagan and California Governor Ronald Reagan upon returning home in 1973.

“I came back in basically one piece,” he told the Washington Post. “I came back able to live my life. . . . We went over with a job to do. We did it to the best of our ability. We were lucky enough to come back.”

Another place he wanted to see his name listed was his own tombstone. He and his wife visited that several months after he returned home: “Ambushed Patrol Died in Vietnam Feb. 25, 1968… Ronald L. Ridgeway.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

Top 5 veteran influencers you need to check out this Veterans Day

The title of “influencer” is almost cringe-worthy these days. From entitled social media personalities who complain when they have to pay full price at a restaurant, to the viral hot takes from people who are pandering to their audience, there’s definitely plenty of “cringe” to go around.

But what about the veteran social media personalities who are out making a positive difference, or at least making your day a little brighter? You know, the ones who aren’t thriving on division or ego, but rather on their own talent to entertain and inspire.


This Veterans Day, We Are The Mighty is highlighting the top five veteran influencers that we think you should really be paying attention to. From modest followings to millions of followers, these are the service members who turned their trigger fingers into Twitter fingers … who went from dropping bombs to dropping dope memes … who went from … sorry, I’ll stop. Just make sure you check them out!

Justin Lascek | @justin.lascek

Recently severely wounded. Green Beret Medic.

Justin is a relative newcomer to the social media scene, but with just a single photo, he inspired millions of people and established himself as someone worth following.

On Sept. 6, 2019, he posted a photo to Instagram from his hospital bed. Wearing his green beret, a pair of sunglasses, and an epic beard, he flexed for the camera while almost completely naked, covered in fresh scars, and missing his lower legs. The caption read:

“Six months ago, give or take a day, my life was changed. Chaos. Pain. Survival. Scared. I’m going to die. Tell her I love her. Wish I had been better. Everyone do your job. In 2018 I wanted to die. I figured my luck would run out after the close calls on the first trip. And it did. But brothers and sisters, known and unknown, kept me here.

And I’m alive. And since the blast, I have never wanted to die. I was strapped into the Skedco during a hellish movement for the boys. The sun was in our faces. I gripped their hand and knew I didn’t want to die.

And I’m alive. It can be surreal when the reality hits. But my soul isn’t in turmoil. There was so much uncertainty last year, but now it’s clear without wavering or uncertainty.

Because I’m alive. Cheating death and myself gives an understanding of how special life is. Not just for me, but everyone. Especially you, the one who hurts, the one who thinks death will end the pain. I see you. Stay with us a little longer.

And be alive.”

It’s hard to read that and not be inspired, and we have a hunch that his 39,000 followers on Instagram agree with us. The post ripped through timelines and news feeds like a lightning bolt, and he has continued to publish even more motivational posts since then. He might still be recovering from his wounds, but this Special Forces medic continues to be ‘Doc’ by inspiring the masses.

Astin Muse | @amuse31 & @ArmyAmuse

Former Drill Sergeant. Current Army Recruiter. Entertainer.

If Astin Muse weren’t still in uniform, she’d probably be a star on Saturday Night Live. This U.S. Army drill sergeant turned recruiter has made herself military-famous with hilarious sketch comedy that she films herself and posts on the internet. The sketches range from sarcastic observations about life as an NCO, to hilarious reenactments of basic training buffoonery.

The military hasn’t always made it easy for her to pursue laughs though. Muse has had to go to battle with military leadership trying to shut her down, citing obscure military regulations as a way to clamp down on her social media profiles. Fortunately, she’s been able to continue the comedy with a few compromises that really hasn’t affected the quality of her sketches. With 128,000 followers on Facebook and 29,000 followers on Instagram, there are plenty of people who appreciate her brand of comedy either way.

The best part? She frequently offers actual career advice to her active duty followers who need an objective outside opinion. Afterall, she’s a non-commissioned officer in the greatest Army in the world first, comedian second!

Jack Mandaville | @JackMandaville

Writer. Entertainer. Vietnam veteran. Best friends with Scott Stapp. Single mom. Compulsive liar.

We seriously don’t understand how Jack Mandaville isn’t an A-list comedian celebrity yet. With only 33,000 followers on Instagram, this former Marine and Iraq war veteran is a once-in-a-generation talent that, so far, the veteran community has been able to keep to ourselves.

He started off as one of the founding writers behind the infamous DuffelBlog satire website, before going on to work at RangerUp where he and fellow funnyman Pat Baker cooked up hilarious internet videos on the regular. After stealing the show as one of the supporting cast in the feature film “Range 15”, Jack has gone on to produce near-daily internet marketing videos for companies like StrikeForce Energy, Black Ops Grooming, and Black Rifle Coffee Company by day, and headline Vet TV’s “Checkpoint Charlie” series by night.

If you like to laugh, if you appreciate brutally honest humor that takes no prisoners, or you’re just entertained by a man that clearly has no shame, then Jack Mandaville is a must-follow.

Jennifer Marshall | @Jenn13Jenn13

Private Investigator @deepsourceinvestigations. Host @thecw. Max’s Mom in Stranger Things 2. Actress. Patriot. Veteran. Volunteer for Pinups for Vets.

With acting credits on hits like Stranger Things, Hawaii Five-O, and NCIS, Navy veteran Jennifer Marshall is a serious talent making her way through Hollywood. But there’s more to the sailor-turned-actor than meets the eye: She volunteers for non-profit Pin-Ups for Vets, and before that, she spent time teaching in East Africa. As if that wasn’t enough, she’s also a private investigator for Deep Source Investigations in California.

With 12,000 followers on Instagram, Marshall offers a peek behind the curtains of the many productions she has worked on, while simultaneously advocating for a variety of veterans issues that often go unresolved, or even worse — unnoticed. And if you like what she has to say on Instagram, then you’ll love her as a host on The CW’s “Mysteries Decoded”!

Vincent “Rocco” Vargas | @vincent.rocco.vargas

Army Ranger. Drill Sergeant. Border Patrol Officer. Actor on FX’s The Mayans. Author. Entrepreneur.

You may know him as Ranger Vargas if you served alongside him during his time at 2nd Ranger Battalion, or even Drill Sergeant Vargas if you had the pleasure of going through Basic Training with him at the helm. But most reading this probably know him as “Rocco” from his Article 15 Clothing days making satirical military comedy videos alongside Mat Best and Jarred Taylor.

But these days, he’s known for his role as “Gilly” on FX’s Sons of Anarchy spin-off Mayans M.C. Vargas did the near-impossible when he landed that role, as many Youtube sensations never quite make the jump into a traditional acting career. The show is in its third season, and promises to be just the start in what will likely be a long acting career for the combat veteran-turned-thespian.

If you’re one of his 146,000 followers on Instagram, then you also know that he keeps himself busy on and off the set. He’s published multiple books, hosts the Vinny Roc podcast, and founded Throwbacks Barber Company — now open and cutting hair in Utah. This is one veteran on the go, and is definitely worth keeping up with on social media!

Articles

This is what made the F-4 Phantom II the deadliest fighter to fly over Vietnam

Imagine, as a fighter pilot, being able to see your enemy without them knowing you’re even in the area. Sounds like some newfangled stealth capability you’d expect to come stock on a fifth generation fighter, like the F-22 Raptor or the F-35 Lightning II, right?


But what if I were to tell you that the US Air Force possessed such a capability as far back as the early 1970s, far before the F-22 and concepts of its ilk were even on the minds of engineers who’d eventually design them? Heck, more than half of those engineers and designers were probably still finishing off college or hadn’t yet completed grade school.

Called the APX-80, but more popularly known by its codename, “Combat Tree”, this top secret technology was first equipped on McDonnell Douglas F-4D Phantom IIs, the US Air Force’s primary fighter-bomber aircraft. Today, we call the system involved “Non-Cooperative Target Recognition”, after having developed it for years. Back then, Combat Tree was a next-generation game-changer which would only be equipped on a select number of F-4Ds, which would fly in hunter/killer packs with other F-4Es (Phantoms built with internal rotary cannons). The precise details of how Combat Tree worked are still classified to this very day, but we do know, to an extent, how Phantom aircrews used it.

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster

Instead of activating the powerful radar scanner in the nose of the Phantom, weapon systems officers (WSOs) in the rear cockpit of the fighter would use Combat Tree to look around the sky for specialized transponders built into enemy aircraft flown by the Vietnamese People’s Air Force (VPAF; North Vietnam’s military aerial element). These transponders were actually designed to prevent friendly-fire incidents, where North Vietnamese ground-controlled interception (GCI) stations and surface-to-air missile (SAM) emplacements would accidentally target and hit friendly fighters in a bid to shoot down enemy American aircraft. Referred to as “IFF” transponders or (Identification Friend or Foe), these beacons would relay a code to scanners built into SAM and GCI search radar computers, allowing their crews to distinguish between their own fighters and marauding jets of the USAF, US Navy and Marine Corps.

Combat Tree would “challenge” or “interrogate” each transponder it came across, asking in return whether or not the aircraft mated to the transponder was allied or otherwise. As soon as Combat Tree ascertained the allegiance of the aircraft after receiving the automatic response from the VPAF MiG-21’s transponder (completely unbeknownst to the MiG’s pilot, mind you), it would accurately plot its quarry’s location on a display in the rear cockpit of the F-4, and open up the hunt for the pilot flying in the front seat of the Phantom. Conversely, using the Phantom’s radar would have likely tipped off enemy fighters that they were being “painted” or tracked by other aircraft in the sky, thus losing any edge of surprise that the American fighters would have previously owned. Not only did this make MiG interceptions by Phantoms “stealthier”, it also allowed F-4 pilots to engage VPAF MiG-21s at greater distances, beyond visual range (BVR).

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster
A U.S. Air Force McDonnell Douglas EF-4C Phantom II aircraft (s/n 63-7474) of the 67th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 18th Tactical Fighter Wing over North Vietnam in December 1972. | U.S. Air Force photo

Prior to the existence and fielding of Combat Tree, all US military fighter pilots operating in Vietnamese skies were forced to get closer to VPAF MiG fighters to gain a positive identification on enemy aircraft before attacking them. Since radar only determines whether or not there are other aircraft in the sky ahead of your own, a visual identification is required to figure out whose aircraft those are. While American F-4 Phantom IIs were much more technologically advanced, they were still less maneuverable within the parameters of a close-in dogfight than a MiG-21 or the older MiG-19, also flown by the VPAF. This led to frustratingly high loss rates for American fighters. Combat Tree exponentially enhanced the margin of safety for American pilots by allowing them to gain positive identifications without pushing them into envelopes which greatly favored North Vietnamese MiG drivers.

The North Vietnamese eventually wised up to the presence of such a technology, though, they didn’t quite know what it was or how it functioned. The VPAF’s ranking officers began noticing a sharp increase in attrition rates with their fighter forces, especially those that found themselves tangling with US Air Force fighter jets. Cells of MiG-21s were reportedly being engaged at distances never before seen during the war, and with deadly accuracy. Radio transmissions between pilots, intercepted by picket stations, were able to pinpoint the reason for the suddenly high MiG-loss rate the North Vietnamese were sustaining – their aircraft’s IFF transponders. The VPAF’s pilots were instructed, there on out, to only turn them on when absolutely necessary, but to otherwise fly without any IFF protection, making them vulnerable to their own surface-to-air missiles in addition to the threat posed by American fighters in the area of operations.

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster

Combat Tree’s effectiveness as a device that allowed American pilots to own the first look/first shot/first kill advantage wasn’t completely diminished by this discovery, however. By the end of American involvement in Vietnam in 1975, Combat Tree had earned assists in a number of US Air Force kills against North Vietnamese aircraft. In fact, Combat Tree was was responsible for helping Air Force legends Richard “Steve” Ritchie and Charles “Chuck” DeBellevue reach ace status (achieving five confirmed kills) between May to September, 1972. Since the early 1970s, the APX-80, or at least the lessons learned from Combat tree, has likely been redeveloped and extensively modernized for use with America’s current fighter fleet. Combat Tree, in a way, can be considered the forerunner of the modern sensors you’d find today on an F-35 or the F-22, which allow the aircraft to “see” the enemy before they even enter the playing field.

Originally published on The Tactical Air Network in January 2017.

Articles

Navy fleet commanders warn of potential fight in North Korea

Two top Navy fleet commanders said Tuesday that the next potential conflict hotspot would likely be in Korea.


“If there’s a fight tonight, it’s probably going to happen on the Korean peninsula,” said Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, commander of 7th Fleet, in a panel discussion at the AFCEA West 2017 conference.

Also read: US sends carrier strike group to mix it up in the South China Sea

Vice Adm. Nora Tyson, commander of 3rd Fleet, agreed with that assessment, saying that hostilities with the North Korean regime would be the “number one probability.”

The fleet commanders made their comments on a panel discussion titled, “Are we ready to fight — today and in the future?”

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster
In addition to its long-range missiles and nuclear programme, North Korea has a line of shorter-range Hwasong missiles capable of hitting Japan.

“Are we ready to fight? You bet we are,” said Vice Adm. Jamie Foggo, a former 6th Fleet commander who now serves as director of the Navy’s joint staff.

Foggo pointed to recent provocations out of Pyongyang as worrisome. Earlier this month, North Korea launched a land-based nuclear-capable ballistic missile that traveled 300 miles before splashing into the Sea of Japan.

“Frankly, it was pretty impressive,” Foggo said. “It was like a submarine missile launched from a tank. Solid fuel. Pretty impressive.”

Still, Aucoin pointed to the US’ strong relationship with South Korea and Japan as helping to counter aggression out of Pyongyang, along with a number of moves of sophisticated weaponry and early-warning assets to the region, including E2D Hawkeye aircraft, F/A-18 Super Hornets, and F-35B fighters being placed in Okinawa.

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster
The Republic of Korea Navy amphibious landing ship ROKS Dokdo (LPH 6111) and the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) transit the Sea of Japan. | U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Adam K. Thomas

The US also has Patriot missile batteries and is moving forward with placing the more-advanced THAAD interceptor on the ground in South Korea. There are more than 28,000 US soldiers stationed there.

Aucoin said those assets provide a “pretty good umbrella.”

On Sunday, the Washington Post reported that preparations were underway to bring North Korean officials to the United States for diplomatic talks between former US officials.

7th Fleet, Aucoin said, is well-resourced and well-manned. “We’re ready to deliver decisive combat power on, above, and below the surface if necessary,” he said.

popular

The ‘most hated units’ in the Army are some of the best

They’re the units that everyone wants to beat, that every commander wants to squash under their heel, and that most average Joes accuse of cheating at least once — the “Opposing Forces” units at military training centers.


The OPFOR units are comprised of active duty soldiers stationed at major training centers and are tasked with playing enemy combatants in training exercises for the units that rotate into their center. They spend years acting as the adversary in every modern training exercise their base can come up with.

 

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster
American Army Pfc. Sean P. Stieren, a rifleman with A Company, 1st Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment (Airborne), fires a mock Stinger missile launcher at the Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, La., April 19, 2014. Paratroopers with 1st Bn., 509th Inf. Reg. (A), act as insurgent and conventional opposing forces during decisive action training environment exercises at JRTC. (Photo: U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Klutts)

So while most units do a rotation at a major training center every couple of years, soldiers assigned to OPFOR units often conduct major training rotations every month. This results in their practicing the deployed lifestyle for weeks at a time about a dozen times per year.

Through all this training, they get good. Really good.

And since they typically conduct their missions at a single installation or, in rare cases, at a few training areas in a single region, they’re experts in their assigned battlespace.

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster
A U.S. Army soldier with 1st Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment (Airborne) fires blank rounds at soldiers from a rotational training unit during an exercise at the Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, La., April 22, 2014. Paratroopers with 1st Bn., 509th Inf. Reg. (A) role-play as multiple enemy forces including a near-peer military, insurgent cells and a crime family. (Photo: U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Klutts)

 

All this adds up to units with lots of experience against the best units the military has to deploy — units that are at the cutting edge of new tactics, techniques, and procedures; units that have the home field advantage.

“The first time you fight against the OpFor is a daunting experience,” Maj. Jared Nichols, a battalion executive officer that rotated through the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, said during a 2016 training iteration. “You’re fighting an enemy that knows the terrain and knows how American forces fight, so they know how to fight against us and they do it very well.”

So yeah, despite typically fighting at a 2-to-1 or even a 3-to-1 disadvantage, OPFOR units often decimate their opponents.

 

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster
An OPFOR Surrogate Vehicle from Coldsteel Troop, 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, travels through the city of Dezashah en route to the objective, during NTC rotation 17-01, at the National Training Center, Oct. 7, 2016. The purpose of this phase of the rotation was to challenge the Greywolf Brigade’s ability to conduct a deliberate defense of an area while being engaged by conventional and hybrid threats. (Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. David Edge)

 

For the military, this arrangement is a win-win. First, rotational units cut their teeth against realistic, experienced, and determined opponents before they deploy. This tests and stresses deploying units — usually brigades — and allows them to see where their weak points are. Do their soldiers need a tool they don’t have? Are there leaders being over or under utilized? Does all the equipment work together as expected?

But the training units aren’t expected to get everything right.

“One of the largest challenges I face as the OPFOR battalion commander is conveying the message to the other nations that it’s OK to make a mistake,” Lt. Col. Mathew Archambault said during a 2016 training rotation. “When they come here it’s a training exercise, and I want them to take risks and try new things. I want them to maximize their training experience; it helps them learn and grow.”

 

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster
A UH-72 Lakota helicopter from the OPFOR Platoon, NTC Aviation Company provides air support to 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment ground forces during an engagement during rotation 16-08 at the National Training Center, Aug. 3, 2016. The Lakota aircraft participated in an exercise that challenged the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division’s ability to conduct a deliberate defense. (Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. David Edge)

But the military also gets a group of soldiers that, over a two or three-year tour of duty at a training center as opposing forces, have seen dozens of ways to conduct different missions. They’ve seen different tactics for resupplying maneuver forces in the field, different ways of hiding communications, different ways of feinting attacks. And, they know which tactics are successful and which don’t work in the field.

When it’s time for these soldiers to rotate to another unit, they take these lessons with them and share them with their new units.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The heroic four chaplains and the sinking of the USAT Dorchester

During World War II, a troop transport ship made from a converted luxury coastal liner was hit by a German torpedo on its starboard side in 1943, dooming the ship and many of the men aboard. Amid the chaos, four chaplains representing three Christian sects and the Jewish faith moved between the wounded and scared, comforting them, distributing survival gear, and ultimately sacrificing themselves.


Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster

The USAT Dorchester.

(U.S. Coast Guard)

The USAT Dorchester had been converted from a luxury coastal liner during World War II and was sent on a cross-ocean journey carrying 902 crew, troops, and civilian personnel to Greenland. The ship had to cross through submarine-infested waters.

The passengers were under orders to sleep clothed and in life jackets in case of an attack, but while the upper decks and outer air were cold, large sections of the ship were hot from the engines that propelled the ship. Those housed on the lower decks typically slept in their underwear or just a shirt or pants. Across the ship, life jackets were unpopular off duty because they were uncomfortable.

But on February 3, 1943, 150 miles from Greenland, a German U-boat spotted the convoy which consisted of the Dorchester and two other transport ships as well as three Coast Guard cutter escorts. U-223 was on the hunt for Allied shipping, and troop transports were choice targets. The German vessel fired a spread of three torpedoes.

Two missed, but the third shoved through the hull and exploded in the boiler room.

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster

Coast Guard cutter Escanaba rescues Dorchester survivors

(U.S. Coast Guard image)

The ship lurched, knocking men from their beds. The electrical systems failed instantly, and the ship began filling with water. Throughout the ship’s dark passageways, disoriented men stumbled from racks and the ground, struggling to dress and get to the open deck in time.

Some men forgot to get dressed until they emerged into the frigid, open air.

In the middle of the fear and danger, four men emerged as a center of calm. Four chaplains were assigned to the ship. Army Lt. George L. Fox was Methodist, Lt. Alexander D. Goode was Jewish, Lt. John P. Washington was Catholic, and Lt. Clark V. Poling was a Dutch Reformed minister.

Two of the men had struggled to join the military. Goode was rejected by the Navy before joining the Army, and Washington had to cheat on his eye exam because a BB gun accident had robbed him of most of his sight in one eye.

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster

Lt. George Fox, a Methodist; Lt. Alexander Goode, a Jewish Rabbi; Lt. John Washington, a Roman Catholic Priest; and Lt. Clark Poling, a Dutch Reformed minister, on the deck of the USAT Dorchester as it sinks.

(U.S. Army)

On the deck of the Dorchester, the men ministered to the scared and wounded. They helped organize the men up top, and Goode, the rabbi, gave his own gloves to Petty Officer John J. Mahoney, a sailor who had forgotten his belowdecks. Mahoney would later say that he believes Goode already knew he would stay on the ship.

The extensive damage to the hull and the boiler room ensured that the ship would sink quickly, so the men were rushing survivors off the ship as quickly as possible. The life jackets ran low, and all four chaplains gave their vests up to save others.

Back in the open, the chaplains ministered to the men as the ship sank into the waves only 20 minutes after the torpedo hit. Two Coast Guard cutters were scooping men out of the water and into lifeboats, but it wasn’t fast enough. The last survivors to escape the ship said that their last view of the chaplains was of them on deck, standing arm-in-arm, singing hymns and reciting religious passages to comfort both survivors and those who would drown with them.

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster

1948 stamp commemorating the four religious leaders.

(U.S. Air Force)

Approximately 672 men died, and 230 from the Dorchester survived the attack and sinking. The American public and Congress pushed for the men to receive Medals of Honor, but the medal requires that the heroic actions take place under enemy fire.

The chaplains were posthumously awarded Distinguished Service Crosses instead, and Congress later created a new, one-time medal named the Four Chaplain’s Medal that was awarded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower during his final days in office in January 1961, almost 18 years after the sinking of the Dorchester.

MIGHTY FIT

5 steps to deadlift perfection

Picking up a fallen comrade, a young child, or a case of beer are all instances that you can train for in the gym, to ensure that when the time calls, you’re ready.

The deadlift gets its name because you start every rep from a dead stop off the floor, just like in the above scenarios. In order to deadlift, you need to set up properly. That means that every rep is the first rep. There is no way to build momentum or use stretch reflex to make it easier.


Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster

Good luck with a CASEVAC if you can’t properly pick up your fallen team member

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Paul Peterson/Released)

The deadlift is easily the most butchered exercise in the history of modern man. The following setup will ensure you skip all the common pitfalls and get to pulling 2x your body weight in no time.

Deadlift Step 1

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1. Stand with the bar over your mid-foot

Approach the bar, without touching it. Stand with your feet roughly shoulder width apart and slightly canted out, at about a 15-30 degree angle.

When you look down, the bar should be over your mid-foot.

Take into account your whole foot, not just the front part that you can see, but the whole foot from heel to toe.

Mid-foot, on most people, actually looks like it is about ¾ of the way back on your foot when you’re looking from above.

This is roughly 1 inch from your shin when standing up straight.

Deadlift Step 2

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2. Bend at your hips and take your grip

Don’t bend your knees yet.

Keeping your legs straight, bend over at your hips and grab the bar just outside of hip distance.

You want your grip to be as narrow as possible, but still wider than the legs, so they don’t get in the way of your knees as they bend.

The more narrow your grip, the longer your arms will be, and the shorter distance you will have to pull the bar.

Deadlift Step 3

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3. Bend at your knees and bring your shins to the bar

Up until this point, your shins should not have made contact with the bar.

Now that the bar, your stance, and your grip are locked into place you can bring your shins into position.

Bend your knees and point them out as much as possible.

They should be tracking out in the same direction as your feet.

Do not move the bar, your feet, or your grip!

Just bend your knees and bring your shins to the bar.

You’ll most likely feel like you are in an awkward position, as your hips will be higher than feels natural. This is correct.

Deadlift Step 4

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4. Squeeze your chest up and lock your back into position

Flexion in the back (like a crunch) is generally undesirable, especially when learning the deadlift.

Some upper back flexion is acceptable in competitive lifters. You are not a competitive lifter…yet

Lower back flexion is never acceptable.

Stick your chest out and think about bringing your belly to your ass. This cue sounds weird, but when you do it, you will be exactly where you need to be.

This is also when you should be taking your deep inhale and locking it in to give your more intra-abdominal pressure.

Lastly, you will be taking the slack out of the bar here. It is that clicking feeling of the inner bar hitting the roof of the sleeves on which the weights rest.

You will notice a distinct difference between the barbell resting on the ground and you “holding” the weight in your hands before it actually leaves the ground.

Deadlift Step 5

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5. Pull the bar up along your legs to the top

You are ready to pull. You already have the weight in your hands, and your entire body is in position.

Without compromising your back position, pull straight up and press your feet through the floor.

These two directly opposing actions will cause the weight to move with ease.

Remember, you are fighting gravity here. Any movement that is not directly vertical is stealing energy that you could be using to fight gravity with.

The best way to overcome gravity is to stay balanced over your mid-foot, where the bar starts the movement, and keep the bar in contact with your legs during the entire execution of the movement.

[instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/BjM4H6snBSe/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link expand=1]Michael Gregory on Instagram: “New Deadlift 1 Rep Max! . I learned not to let failure cloud my vision today. I failed, couldn’t move the weight on my first attempt at…”

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When to deadlift

The hamstrings are prone to extreme soreness, and for this reason, many trainees only deadlift once a week. But just one deadlift session a week is plenty to spur an increase in posterior chain size and strength.

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster
Articles

The VA still has thousands of jobs unfilled

Despite the lifting of a federal hiring freeze, the Department of Veterans Affairs is leaving thousands of positions unfilled, citing the need for a leaner VA as it develops a longer-term plan to allow more veterans to seek medical care in the private sector.


The order by VA Secretary David Shulkin is described in an internal April 14 memorandum obtained by The Associated Press. The VA indicated it would proceed with filling open positions previously exempted under the hiring freeze. Noting that the White House had ordered all departments to be leaner and “more accountable,” the VA indicated that more than 4,000 jobs would still be left vacant unless they were specially approved “position by position” by top VA leadership as addressing an “absolute critical need.”

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster
VA Secretary David Shulkin. (Photo by Robert Turtil | Department of Veterans Affairs)

These positions include roughly 4,000 in the VA’s health arm and 200 in benefits, plus more than 400 information technology positions and over 100 human resource positions, according to VA data provided to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee earlier in April. Government auditors have previously faulted the department for recent shortages in IT and HR, which it said it had hurt its ability to recruit and hire key staff department-wide.

Major veterans organizations also worry this could be a sign of future tightening at the VA, coming after the department had previously warned it would need “hiring surges” to address a rapidly growing disability backlog. The groups have cautioned against any “privatization” efforts at the VA that could expand private care for veterans while reducing investment in the VA itself.

“It seems to be a reversal of what they have been saying, and it’s disappointing,” said Garry Augustine, executive director of Disabled American Veterans’ Washington headquarters.

Carlos Fuentes, legislative director of Veterans of Foreign Wars, said his group was concerned the VA would overlook positions that didn’t directly affect health care, such as staffing of its suicide prevention hotline.

Also read: These 5 vets discuss the ups and downs of the VA

In a statement April 26, the VA said the hiring restrictions were needed to “streamline VA’s corporate structure and administrative positions.”

While President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint calls for a 6 percent increase in VA funding, the memo indicated that the government’s second largest agency with nearly 370,000 employees was no different from other departments that needed to improve “efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability” and left open the possibility of “near-term” and “long-term workforce reductions.” Shulkin is also putting together a broader proposal by fall to expand the VA’s Choice program of private-sector care.

“This memo lifts the federal hiring freeze. However, this does not mean business as usual for hiring,” stated VA chief of staff Vivieca Wright Simpson. She said VA leadership aimed to proceed in the coming months with “deliberative hiring strategies” as it seeks to build “a future VA of Choice.”

The memo comes as the Trump administration seeks to highlight accomplishment and accountability at the VA. During the 2016 campaign, Trump repeatedly criticized the VA as “the most corrupt” and pledged to expand private care.

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster
Palo Alto VA hospital. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Trump planned to sign an executive order April 27 to create a VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, according to a White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the matter on the record.

Shulkin has acknowledged that the VA was hurt initially by the hiring freeze because it could not hire claims processors. Shulkin later exempted those positions, including 242 the VA earmarked for this year to specifically address an appeals backlog, a 36 percent increase. But the VA has said it would need an additional hiring “surge” of at least 1,458 full-time staff to stem a growing appeals backlog. The backlog was expected to exceed 1 million within a decade, with average wait times of 8.5 years. The current wait time is as many as five years.

Shulkin also has signaled, without naming specific locations, that underutilized VA facilities will have to close. “There are some parts of the country where facilities are sitting empty, and there is no sense in keeping them empty,” he has said.

Meanwhile, the VA is stepping up efforts to root out bad employees.

The executive order being signed by Trump would create a VA office to “discipline or terminate VA managers or employees who fail to carry out their duties in helping our veterans.”

Recent audits by the VA inspector general and a report by The Associated Press in February found a pattern of poor VA compliance involving equipment and drug inventory checks, putting patients at risk at the Washington, D.C. medical center and leading to a sharp rise in opioid thefts across the VA system since 2009.

In March, the Republican-led House approved legislation to make it easier for the VA to fire, suspend, or demote employees for poor performance or bad conduct. But the measure has been slow to move in the Senate after Democrats and unions cast it as an attack on workers’ rights.

AP writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.

Articles

These athletes are gearing up for the Warrior Games

Sergeant Ryan Major’s life changed forever in a flash and a bang in November 2006.


While deployed in Iraq, the infantry soldier from Baltimore stepped on an improvised explosive device. He lost both of his legs and several fingers on both hands.

Major, now retired, was one of about 70 wounded soldiers and veterans from across the Army who gathered at Fort Bliss the first week of April to compete in the Army Trials.

The event, which was held at Fort Bliss for the third straight year, is used to determine the Army’s team at the upcoming Warrior Games, an Olympic-style event for wounded, injured and ill service members of all branches. This year, the Warrior Games will be held in Chicago June 30 to July 8.

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster
Army Trials for 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games. (Dept. of Defense News photo by EJ Hersom)

Participating in adaptive sports helped to get Major out of a serious depression he had fallen into after being severely wounded, he said. Adaptive sports are designed or modified for disabled athletes to compete against others with similar disabilities or injuries.

“Before I got injured I loved competition, sports, and getting into shape,” said Major, who represented the Baltimore Veterans Affairs at the Army Trials.

Participating in adaptive sports “changed my life,” he said.

“It made me more sociable with other veterans who have similar injuries and stories,” Major said.

Sports also helped him to have a more positive attitude about his injuries, he added.

During the Army Trials, Army athletes in wheelchairs, with prosthetic limbs, and some with injuries that weren’t apparent at first glance competed in a variety of events.

They came from more than a dozen installations and participated in track and field, cycling, archery, shooting, wheelchair basketball, and seated volleyball.

Most had compelling stories, like Major, about how participating in sports got them out of a dark place and thrust them into a new chapter in their lives.

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster
2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games Bicycling. (Dept. of Defense photo by EJ Hersom)

Lt. Col. Luis Fregoso was one of the organizers of the Army Trials with the Warrior Care and Transition Program in Arlington, Va. This Army organization oversees the most critical cases of wounded, injured, and ill soldiers and helps them transition back to active duty or to civilian life.

Sports can play a huge role in the healing process, said Fregoso, who is from Los Angeles.

“A lot of soldiers, when they have this life-changing event happen to them, they will get into a dark place,” Fregoso said. “The common theme is they just don’t feel their normal self and start spiraling into a bad area, especially in their mind.”

Sports help them to adapt to their “new normal” and can give them the confidence to tackle other areas in their lives, Fregoso added.

Retired Master Sgt. Shawn “Bubba” Vosburg still has the look of a soldier out on a mission. But he suffers from post-traumatic stress, a traumatic brain injury, and a slew of other injuries up and down his body.

Competing in sports helps to “tie you back to the military,” said Vosburg, who is originally from Colorado Springs, Colo., but now calls El Paso home. He represented Fort Bliss during the recent competition.

“You do so much time in the military, and you lose that when you retire,” Vosburg said. “But (adaptive sports) introduces you to new people whom you consider friends and family, and that family is growing.”

Vosburg credits sports for saving his life and he wants to return the favor to his fellow veterans.

He is working on a master’s degree in social work at the University of Texas at El Paso and wants to help “bring more soldiers out of the dark, like I came out of,” he said.

Also read: Here’s what happens when a wounded warrior uses his arm for the first time in 10 years

Retired Staff Sgt. Isaac Rios was shot multiple times and was hit by a mortar round during deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

For many veterans, leaving the service and going back to civilian life is a culture shock and even downright scary, Rios said.

Navy declassifies 300 pages of probe into 1963 USS Thresher disaster
A member of Special Operations Command throws the shot put during field competition for the 2015 Warrior Games. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt Ezekiel R. Kitandwe)

Sports, however, helped to give him a new way of looking at life, said the Brooklyn, N.Y., native who represented Fort Bragg, N.C.

“You can’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it,” Rios said.

Sgt. 1st Class Julio Cesar Rodriguez, of Worcester, Mass, battles depression and an arthritic hip.

Participating in sports, like archery, gives you something to do and something else to focus on besides the darkness clouding your mind, said Rodriguez, who represented Fort Gordon, Ga.

“It taught me to remove those negative, dark items out of my mind and focus on the present and my way forward in the future,” he said.
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