A Navy ship that came under fire from two missiles launched from rebel-held land in Yemen while it transited through international waters Sunday responded in self-defense with three missiles, a Defense Department official confirmed to Military.com.
USNI news first reported that the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Mason launched a RIM-162 Evolved SeaSparrow Missile and two Standard Missile-2s from the waters of the Red Sea, north of the Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb where it was operating when it came under attack.
A defense official confirmed that the missiles had been launched and also confirmed the outlet’s report that the ship had used a Nulka missile decoy, designed to be launched to lure enemy missiles away from their targets.
The Raytheon-made SeaSparrow is designed to intercept supersonic anti-ship missiles, while the SM-2, also made by Raytheon, is the Navy’s primary surface-to-air weapon and a key element of shipboard defense for destroyers.
The Mason was responding to two ballistic missiles that originated around 7 p.m. Sunday from Yemeni territory held by Shiite Houthi rebels. The Mason was not hit by the missiles, and an official from U.S. Navy Forces Central Command said Monday it remained unclear if the ship had been specifically targeted.
Previously, a defense official told the Associated Press that the Mason had used onboard defensive measures to protect itself after the first of the two missiles was fired, but until now no one had publicly confirmed that the ship did indeed fire back.
This exchange comes only a week after the high-speed logistics vessel Swift, a United Arab Emirates-leased ship formerly in service for the Navy’s Military Sealift Command, was badly damaged by a missile while operating near the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait on Oct. 1. The Saudi-led coalition carrying out airstrikes on the rebels in Yemen said the Swift had been attacked by the Houthis.
UAE officials said the ship was transporting humanitarian aid when it was hit.
Today, the Mason remains in the general area that the exchange took place and is continuing a routine patrol, a defense official told Military.com.
“The U.S. is trying to look at what kind of a response would be appropriate in this situation,” the official said. “There’s no sort of a timeline for when a response will come.”
KYIV, Ukraine — China sent fighter jets into Taiwanese airspace on Monday morning amid the first visit by a senior US official to Taiwan in decades, underscoring a steady deterioration in Sino-American relations that is increasingly edging the two countries closer to a military clash, some experts warn.
“The risk of conflict in the Taiwan Strait is rising,” Ryan Hass, a fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for East Asia Policy Studies, told Coffee or Die. “At the same time, it is important to keep in mind that Taipei, Washington, and Beijing each continue to have a strong incentive to manage competition without resorting to force, given the risks of rapid escalation and the catastrophic consequences that any conflict in the Taiwan Strait would create for all parties.”
US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar landed in Taiwan on Sunday afternoon, marking the most significant official US visit to the island country in more than four decades. Around 9 a.m. Monday morning, Chinese J-10 and J-11 fighter jets crossed the median line in the Taiwan Strait — the narrow body of water dividing mainland China from Taiwan — and briefly entered Taiwanese airspace.
A Chinese Su-27 Flanker fighter makes a fly by while the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, visits with members of the Chinese Air Force at Anshan Airfield, China Mar. 24, 2007. DoD photo by Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen, released.
After the Chinese warplanes ignored Taiwanese warnings, Taiwan’s air force scrambled fighters to intercept the Chinese jets, Taiwanese military officials reported on Monday. Taiwanese missiles were also tracking the Chinese jets, Taiwanese defense officials said.
“Beijing is using its military to demonstrate its capabilities to audiences that are likely watching,” Dean Cheng, senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center, told Coffee or Die.
“This is part of the Chinese approach to compellence — which is translated often as deterrence,” Cheng said.
In a release, Taiwan’s air force stated that the Chinese aerial maneuver was a “deliberate intrusion and destruction of the current situation in the Taiwan Strait” and that it “seriously undermined regional security and stability.”
Beijing has not yet commented on the incident, which marked the third time since 2016 that Chinese warplanes have violated Taiwan’s airspace.
“Chinese fighters crossed the [Taiwan Strait] mid-line in 2019 and have done so several times this year,” Cheng told Coffee or Die.
“So, on the one hand, this is part of the new normal, put in place since Tsai Ing-wen was elected president of Taiwan in 2016,” Cheng said, adding that the Taiwanese president is “committed to Taiwan independence, so as you can imagine, she — and her party and government — are not seen as friendly to Beijing.”
A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon from Eielson Air Force Base, flies in formation over the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, July 18, 2019. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. James Richardson.
Azar’s visit was meant to signal US recognition of Taiwan’s role in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic. However, amid mounting tensions with Beijing, Washington has made it a priority to tighten its ties with Taiwan, including increased arms sales to the island nation.
“We consider Taiwan to be a vital partner, a democratic success story, and a force for good in the world,” Azar said at a meeting with the Taiwanese president Monday.
Rather than a significant, escalatory move by China, some experts say Monday’s aerial incident is further evidence of a new era of strategic competition between Washington and Beijing — an era, experts add, that is fraught with danger due to the risk of an accidental conflict arising from an unintended, escalatory domino chain set in motion either by accident or an ill-conceived military maneuver.
“The risk of a clash is trending upward,” said Steve Tsang, director of SOAS University of London’s China Institute. “In the run up to the US presidential election, I do not expect Beijing to want to create an incident involving Chinese and US military forces. […] But the risk of an unintended incident is trending higher.”
According to the Defense Department’s 2019 Indo-Pacific Strategy Report, China “seeks Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and, ultimately […] global preeminence in the long-term.”
Ens. David Falloure, from Houston, uses a rangefinder to determine the ship’s distance to the Royal Australian Navy Anzac-class frigate HMAS Stuart (FFH 153), left, and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Akizuki-class destroyer JS Teruzuki (DD 116) from the port bridge wing aboard the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam (CG 54) during a trilateral photo exercise, July, 21, 2020. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class James Hong.
Greater sway over the Pacific region would expand China’s regional economic and military influence — it would also help China undercut Taiwan’s network of regional allies, experts say. Thus, in the minds of America’s military leadership, the larger contest between the US and China for global dominance is currently playing out in the Indo-Pacific region.
Highlighting the region’s newfound importance to the US, the White House National Security Council recently created the new position of director for Oceania and Indo-Pacific Security. And, looking forward, the Pentagon is set to beef up the US military’s presence in the Indo-Pacific, taking advantage of existing partnerships and developing new ones to pre-position US forces and equipment.
Across the entire Indo-Pacific region, both China and the US are jostling for influence over island nations for the sake gaining strategic military advantage over the other.
Establishing a far-reaching footprint across the region will allow US military forces to forward deploy military forces — including long-range, precision strike weapons — which are meant to deter China from aggressive power grabs that threaten the status quo balance of power.
Some warn, however, that tensions between China and the US are edging away from innocuous diplomatic sparring and increasingly toward military competition. Thus, as the China and the US continue their tit-for-tat military maneuvers in the Indo-Pacific region, the danger of a military clash is trending upward.
“Sending fighter jets into Taiwan’s airspace should always been considered significant but given the context of Secretary Azar’s visit, it symbolizes something else,” said SOAS University of London’s Tsang.
“The impotence of the Chinese state in its response to something that it would have seen as unacceptable,” Tsang told Coffee or Die. “Sending the jets is clearly meant to show how tough Beijing is, but Beijing knows perfectly well that it will have no effect on the USA or Taiwan, so it remains essentially a gesture.”
An MH-60S Sea Hawk, attached to the Golden Eagles of Helicoper Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 12, approaches the flight deck of the Navy’s only forward deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) during a trilateral exercise in the Philippine Sea, July 21, 2020. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Erica Bechard.
China, which claims Taiwan as its territory, opposed Azar’s visit, calling it an escalatory move. Ahead of Azar’s arrival in Taiwan, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin urged Washington to cut off all official contact with Taipei to “avoid serious damage to China-US relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”
“Foreign Minister Wang’s statement last week confirms my assessment that Beijing would prefer to lower the temperature at the moment,” Tsang said. “Hence, the gesture in the response to Secretary Azar’s visit to Taipei. Beijing cannot afford not to respond in a way that can be presented as robust.”
Also on Monday, China announced it had placed sanctions on 11 high-profile US senators and officials in response to American criticisms of Beijing’s authoritarian crackdown on Hong Kong.
Hong Kong’s protests began in June 2019 over a new bill allowing the extradition of the special autonomous-city’s citizens to mainland China. In November, Washington passed a new law — the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act — that supports the Hong Hong protesters and the city’s democratic autonomy from the rest of China.
After months of protests, Beijing announced in May that it would tighten its grip on Hong Kong under a new “national security” law.
On Friday, President Donald Trump enacted new sanctions against Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, as well as law enforcement personnel. Then on Monday Chinese authorities arrested Hong Kong media magnate Jimmy Lai, who has been a staunch supporter of Hong Kong’s anti-Beijing, pro-democracy protest movement.
“In response to those wrong US behaviours, China has decided to impose sanctions on individuals who have behaved egregiously on Hong Kong-related issues,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian reportedly said, according to multiple news outlets.
F-15C Eagles fly in formation over the East China Sea Dec. 11, 2018, during a routine training exercise out of Kadena Air Base, Japan. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Matthew Seefeldt.
At the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, Chinese national forces under the command of Chiang Kai-shek retreated from the Chinese mainland and established an autonomous government on Taiwan called the Republic of China. Communist China has continued to claim Taiwan as its sovereign territory.
In 1971, Taiwan was booted from the United Nations and many countries have refused to officially recognize the autonomous island nation for fear of sparking reprisal from Beijing. The US does not recognize Beijing’s claim to Taiwan. And even though Washington officially ended diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979, the US has sold military hardware to Taipei — including missiles, missile defense systems, and F-16 fighters.
Despite the escalating tensions, The Heritage Foundation’s Cheng remained skeptical about the possibility of an imminent armed clash between US and Chinese forces.
“I don’t think this signals that there is a greater likelihood of military conflict,” Cheng said of China’s warplane incursion into Taiwanese airspace on Monday. “It does reflect China’s greater willingness to employ the military to signal others, a natural outcome as China’s military becomes mores sophisticated and more capable.”
Cheng added: “Beijing seems to have a far different view of crisis stability compared with Western nations. It seems to think that it has the ability to unilaterally escalate and deescalate crises. It is this attitude, if it were transferred to the South China Sea, the Taiwan Strait, or the East China Sea, that might precipitate a military confrontation.”
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is responsible for some of the world’s most significant scientific and technological breakthroughs.
DARPA has had a hand in major inventions like GPS, the internet, and stealth aircraft. And it’s always developing new technologies — military or intelligence-related systems that could end up having a huge impact outside the battlefield as well.
We’ve looked at some of DARPA’s active projects, and found some of the more astounding systems that are currently in the works.
Generally, surface-to-air missiles are faster than the plane they’re targeting, making it difficult for an aircraft to evade fire. The HELLADS program attempts to use lasers to disable incoming missiles.
DARPA is also planning on increasing the strength of the HELLADS laser in order to make it an offensive weapon capable of destroying enemy ground targets.
ARES will be a dual-mode vehicle capable of both driving on the ground and achieving high-speed vertical takeoff and landing. Twin tilting fans will allow the vehicle to hover and land. The vehicle can also configure itself for high-speed flight.
DARPA hopes that the ARES will be especially resistant to IEDs — while also being able to evade aerial threats, like air-to-air missiles.
The Legged Squad Support System (LS3) introduced by DARPA and in development by Boston Dynamics is a mobile, semi-autonomous, four-legged robot that can function as a beast of burden on the battlefield.
Boston Dynamic’s AlphaDog can currently go70% to 80% of the places that troops are capable of walking. The prototype can carry hundreds of pounds of gear, lightening the burden for soldiers. It is currently taking part in testing trials alongside Marines in Hawaii.
DARPA’s One Shot XG program aims to improve the accuracy of military snipers through a small mountable calculation system that can be placed either on a weapon’s barrel or on its spotting scope.
The One Shot system is designed to calculate a number of variables, such as crosswind conditions, the maximum effective range of the weapon, and weapon alignment, using an internal Linux-based computer. The system would then indicate an ideal aim point for the marksman.
The One Shot XG began testing in March 2013.
A system that provides almost immediate close air support
The tactic of close air-support — in which soldiers call in attack aircraft to gain advantage in the midst of a ground engagement — has remained relatively unchanged since its emergence in World War I. In conventional close air support, pilots and ground forces focus on one target at a time through voice directions and a shared map.
US soldiers must operate in ever condition imaginable, including environments rife with physical obstacles that require soldiers to rely on ropes, ladders, or other heavy-climbing tools.
To overcome this challenge, DARPA has initiated the Z-Man program.
Z-Man seeks to replicate the natural climbing ability of geckos and spiders. One of the main products of the Z-Man program is “Geckskin,” a synthetically produced high-grip material. In a 2012 trial, a 16-square-inch sheet of Geckskin successfully attached to a glass wall — and managed to hold a static load of 660 pounds.
The initial phases of the program are aimed at aiding soldiers and officials with active translation of English into a listener’s native language and vice versa. DARPA plans on eventually expanding BOLT into a tool that could allow everyone to communicate fluidly without having to learn each other’s language.
DARPA awarded a $89 million contract to Boeing to develop the Solar Eagle unmanned drone.
Part of DARPA’s Vulture II program, the Solar Eagle is designed to stay in the air for a minimum of five years using solar energy. The drone will have a 400-foot wing span, equivalent to a forty-story building, and can fly at stratospheric altitudes.
The drone will have intelligence, communications, surveillance, and reconnaissance functions.
A system that gives soldiers enhanced optical awareness
The Soldier Scentric Imaging via Computational Cameras (SCENICC) began in 2011 but is still at an early point in development. The program imagines a final system comprised of optical sensors that are both soldier and drone-mounted, allowing a synthesis of information that greatly increases battlefield awareness.
The program could provide soldiers with second-by-second information relating to their missions using a completely hands-free system.
The program aims to create an autonomous, unmanned high-altitude airship capable of conducting persistent wide area surveillance, tracking, and engagement of air and ground targets for a ten-year period. The airship will be fully solar powered as well.
Naval supply payloads hidden at the bottom of the ocean
Re-supply in remote sections of the ocean is one of the key difficulties that the Navy faces.
The Upward Falling Payloads (UFP) program envisions the deployment of supply stockpiles throughout the bottom of the earth’s oceans. These supplies will be placed in capsules that can survive for years under extreme ocean floor-level pressure.
When needed, a passing ship would be able to send a signal to the supplies, causing them to rapidly rise through the water to the ship.
The VTOL X-Plane further pushes the boundaries of hybrid-wing aircraft beyond what the V-22 Osprey can already accomplish.
DARPA’s VTOL X-Plane envisions a new type of aircraft that can maintain a flight speed of 345 to 460 miles per hour, but is still capable of super-efficient hovering while carrying at least 4,800 pounds of cargo.
The X-Plane is scheduled for three phases of development between October 2013 and February 2018.
The SeeMe program would consist of a number of satellites that travel in a set band across the earth. This satellite constellation would provide precise imagery for any location within the pre-set band within a 90-minute time frame, making the program a potentially invaluable asset for military intelligence.
The constellation satellites would fly for 60-90 days before burning up in the atmosphere, leaving behind no space debris behind.
A precise lightweight laser weapon
The Pentagon is constantly attempting to reduce combat risk in urban situations where less-precise conventional weapons may cause unintended collateral damage.
DARPA’s Excalibur program is aimed at allaying these fears through light-weight laser weapon. Eventually, DARPA hopes the program will produce a 100-kilowatt laser that could be used in precision strikes against ground and air targets.
When August O’Niell, a member of an elite special forces group, woke up from routine surgery, it only took one look at his mother’s face to tell something went horribly wrong.
She was with the doctor. “Are you awake? Are you able to talk now?” the doctor asked. “I have woken you up halfway through the surgery. There was so much scar tissue …”
O’Niell had already endured 19 grueling surgeries in the three-and-a-half years since a rifle round mangled his leg while he was on deployment in Afghanistan. He woke up hoping this 20th surgery would finally allow him to have a functional knee. But he quickly learned his left leg would never fully function again.
The entire left side was mostly scar tissue. The skin, tendons and muscle were all adhered straight to the bone in one solid layer. Given the extent of the damage, a knee replacement was going to give him less than 14 degrees of movement.
“You will be in less pain, and I can put it in there if you tell me that’s what you want,” the doctor told him. “But I didn’t feel right putting that in there without telling you that it wasn’t going to be what we thought it was going to be at first.”
“There’s so much scar tissue in there, it’ll be impossible for you to have a functional knee.”
O’Niell was an Air Force pararescueman, a para-jumper or “PJ,” as they are known in the service. He was the elite of the elite, in charge of rescuing the most drastically injured troops, and even top special operators, in dire circumstances. He loved being a PJ, and wanted nothing more than to be back in the field, jumping out of helicopters and saving wounded comrades. The diagnosis he now faced was tough, but without missing a beat, he made up his mind.
“Don’t worry about it, I’m gonna have it amputated,” he said.
Dumbfounded, the doctor asked if he was sure. O’Niell was sure. After 20 surgeries and years of unsuccessful treatment, he was done with experiments.
He allowed himself what he called a “ten minute boo-hoo session.” It wasn’t so much about losing the leg, as it was learning this particular surgery was a fail. He had been looking forward to some relief from the constant pain of his injury.
But none of that mattered now. It was time to move on. He had seen troops with major amputations make remarkable progress on prosthetics in a little as six months while he was in rehab, and here he was after more than three years barely hopping along on crutches. He thought of the amputees he had seen running on prosthetic legs and had a moment of inspiration, and it occurred to him that if he could run again, he could be a PJ again.
That was all the motivation he needed to greenlight the removal of his leg.
A Faucet Of Blood
It happened when O’Niell was halfway through his deployment to Afghanistan on July 15, 2011. The U.S. had begun drawing down forces two days before, but the notoriously violent Sangin Valley was as deadly as ever. O’Niell and his team got a call that a group of Marines were under fire. Two were injured, one critically, after taking a shot in the chest. O’Niell’s team was headed back to base after working all day, but immediately turned around to rescue the injured Marines.
The PJs came onto the scene in two Pavehawk helicopters, one leading the other. They circled in shifts. One would provide watch and draw the enemy’s attention, while the other went into the zone to rescue the wounded.
As O’Neill’s helicopter was about to take a turn going in for the wounded, his team got word that another Marine had been hit. O’Niell was lead medic for the operation, and told his team leader to let the team in the helicopter behind them go into the zone, since it had three PJ medics on board, while they provided cover.
“So it’s better patient care, you know, one medic per patient,” O’Niell told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
O’Niell’s helicopter then flew over the zone, dropped smoke grenades and popped back up so the second helicopter knew where to land. The tactic has the dual purpose of attracting enemy fire, and was successful in doing so.
“It works like a charm,” O’Neill said. “We came up over the smoke and popped up and we caught all that fire. They started shooting up at our bird, and one of the rounds, when they shot up, bounced off the door where I was sitting in the left door. [It] bounced off the doorway and then went through both of my legs.”
O’Niell initially he thought a flare had bounced off the door and hit his knee. He looked over the edge of the chopper, and then the pain hit him.
“Ah, they shot me!” he yelled while grabbing the top of the Pavehawk to pull himself back. He saw a hole in the side of the leg of his pants where the bullet had entered. “It just looked like someone had turned a faucet on, it was pouring blood,” he said.
His team leader instinctively jumped towards him, putting one of O’Niell’s tourniquets on his legs. He was in critical condition, forcing the helicopter to return home. Fortunately, a second PJ team was deployed with Apache helicopters in tow when O’Niell returned. They were able to extract the Marines and take out the enemy forces in the area.
O’Niell was well known to the medical staff at the base. He and his fellow PJs would often help out with the injured between shifts in order to keep their medical skills sharp. The hospital pulled a surgeon to try to save O’Neill’s leg. He was woken up after the doctors fixed an artery, and informed he would be moved to Bagram air base.
“Not until I get my re-enlisting paperwork,” O’Niell said.
“Now that’s the type of dude we need!” a nearby officer said excitedly. O’Niell was told it was an Army general. The paperwork was there waiting for him when he got to Bagram. His brother, an Air Force officer who is now also a PJ, swore him back in while he was in Landstuhl, Germany for another round of surgeries.
O’Niell wasn’t sure what he wanted to do when he joined the Air Force in 2005, but he was certain he didn’t want to be behind a desk. The Air Force occasionally gets chided as the “Chair Force” by the other services, and O’Niell knew he wanted to be doing something active. He became interested in the pararescue and combat controller jobs. A recruiter warned him that either would be tough, but assured him he wouldn’t see much of a desk.
The medical aspect of the PJs also appealed to O’Niell. His father, a retired Air Force major, had encouraged him to stay in college and become a doctor. He figured the PJs would keep him from a desk job and make his father happy.
“I just went with it,” O’Niell explained. “I joined it not really knowing anything about it except for we jump out of planes and do cool guy stuff.”
Most people have never heard of the PJs, even inside the special operations community. It’s a remarkably small force whose work is often overlooked.
They’re are a remarkable combination of expert shooters, skydivers and medics. A PJ can shoot with the top Marines, save lives like the best Navy medical corpsmen and jump out of planes like an Army Ranger. They even do their fair share of diving. This remarkable combination is why becoming a PJ is one of the hardest things you can do in the military.
“You need to be able to deal with all situations between the top of Mount Everest and 130 feet below the ocean — and in all environments, all weather conditions, all light conditions,” Nic McKinley, a former PJ, told TheDCNF. “And you need to be able to deal with them in a way that mitigates risk to the extent that you will live through those missions, because, you know, there is nobody to go get the PJs if the PJ’s gonna patrol.”
Training for the group, known as “The Pipeline,” has one of the highest attrition rates of any program in the armed forces. O’Niell started training in a class of 110. Nine would make it through. For McKinley, that was a big draw factor.
“I’m a big data guy,” he told TheDCNF. “I really like the numbers and the facts, and I don’t like your opinion.”
On the basis of data, McKinley found the PJs to be the toughest. “You know, they can get into arguments about why, or any of the subjective stuff, but the objective data shows that it’s harder,” he told TheDCNF.
Special operators often debate about who is the toughest, but one thing is clear: when the SEALs, Green Berets and Marines need saving in the worst conditions, they call the PJs.
The training puts a massive strain on your mental strength.
“You can’t just have a high level physical performance and ride on that, you also have to be able to think at a high level,” McKinley said. “Pararescue teams expect you to be able to do everything, and if you can’t do it at a high level, you need to go succeed elsewhere.”
The entire process takes between two and three years. After basic training, a would-be PJ starts “The Pipeline” with an indoctrination course at Lackland Air Force Base, which consists of ten weeks of intense physical training including obstacle courses, running and swimming.
“That’s where they test your mental and physical limits … push every button they can,” O’Niell told TheDCNF.
No aspect of indoctrination training so utterly punishes the mental toughness of a PJ than “The Pool.” Technically known as “water confidence training,” the Pool is known for chewing up even the most elite athletes in the program.
Would-be PJs are expected to swim laps under water, tie complex knots at the pool bottom, bob up and down with hands and ankles tied (an exercise known as “drown proofing”) and wrestle underwater with an instructor while not being allowed to fight back, according to former PJ Matt White. His solution? Just don’t breathe.
“When your fingers go number tying a knot, you can panic,” he wrote in a piece for Task and Purpose. “Or you can relax. When an instructor pushes you to the bottom of the pool and stands on your head, what can you do? You can quit. Or you can relax.”
PJs who survive indoctrination go on to a combat diver course in Panama City, Florida for six weeks, then to survival school in Spokane, Washington. Next they pay a visit to Army Airborne School, where they learn to jump out of planes, before heading to either Army or Navy free-fall skydiving school, located in Yuma, Arizona and San Diego, California respectively.
Once a PJ candidate is a honed warrior they attend 37 weeks of various medical courses. Trainees are expected to get their national paramedic certification within two months of medical training, a task which normally takes six months.
The Pararescue Recovery Specialist Course puts everything a PJ trainee has learned together in a 24-week course which includes shooting, jumping and full mock mission profiles. Upon completion, a PJ is given a maroon beret and assigned a team. A PJ is then expected to to do on the job training with his team to become mission qualified.
O’Niell deployed to Afghanistan with about 20 people rotating in six man teams. He recalled flying approximately eight missions per shift, all of them being worst case scenarios. He acknowledged that war is terrible, but said he loved Afghanistan because he got to do his job.
“It’s very satisfying when you have a guy [that] easily ten minutes later … would’ve been just dead, and you were able to get him, get pain meds onboard, get blood onboard, and see this guy who wasn’t even responding all of a sudden start blinking up at you and you’re like: ‘Hey man, you’re going to be good,'” said O’Niell. “And then you go and check with the hospital, they’re like ‘Yea, he’s on his way home,’ and it’s just awesome.”
When asked how many people he’s saved, O’Niell said he never kept count.
Road To Recovery
His job cost him a leg and years of pain and surgeries, but O’Niell is laser focused on returning to the fray. There was not a hint of regret or doubt in his voice when he recalled his harrowing experience to TheDCNF. He detailed his injury like the challenges presented by one of his missions, by focusing on solutions to problems.
Step one of O’Niell’s road back to the PJ teams was to get acquainted with his new prosthetic leg. Fortunately, the Center for the Intrepid fitted him with one of the most advanced models available.
“It’s an Ottobock X3, and it’s awesome,” he said.
The leg is completely waterproof, and comes with an app that lets O’Niell switch between four modes suited for various kinds of situations. He detailed it like a piece of high-tech military equipment.
“I’ve got a boxing mode, which basically doesn’t allow the knee bend more than 14 degrees, that way I can throw a punch and don’t have to worry about the knee buckling. And I can, you know, bob and weave on it,” O’Niell said. “I’ve got a running mode, I’ve got the basic walking mode which is just the everyday mode, and I’ve got a jump mode, which keeps the knee from bending past ninety degrees while I’m jumping so that way I can fly flat dumb and happy, as we say, and not worry about backsliding.”
His injury was not the least bit apparent when I met him for the first time in an Air Force office in Manhattan, except for the presence of his service dog, Kai. O’Niell walked through the door and shook hands much like he probably did before the injury.
Most amputees usually require approximately six weeks of walking on their new prosthetics before they take them home. But O’Niell was taking his home in only two. He noted that’s because most amputees have trouble trusting the devices to hold their weight.
“I attribute it to the fact that I’ve trusted my life on much sketchier pieces of equipment,” O’Niell joked. Falling to his knees due to a prosthetic is nothing when you’re used to jumping from planes with parachutes made by the lowest bidder.
O’Niell’s sense of relief after the amputation and prosthetic was practically immediate. Even before the prosthetic was fitted, he recalled his fellow PJs looking at him strangely after the amputation when they found him moving around his thigh. He hadn’t been able to move the leg for years before, so this was a victory.
“The pain I was living with was awful,” he said. “I don’t take pain meds so it became a normal way of life, just living with pain all the time and it’s miserable. It’s miserable. So yeah, it was definitely awesome waking up and immediately not feeling that pain.”
The next step to getting back to the job he loved was requalification. By November 2016, O’Niell had qualified in calisthenics, swimming, parachuting, ropes, alternative insertion, diving and was close to reaching the requisite run time. He has been working on mission profiles as well, in order to learn how to adjust to his new leg.
O’Niell’s fellow PJs have been extremely supportive during his recovery. They’ve kept him up to date on any new tech or kit that has been incorporated since his injury, and asked him when he is coming back to the teams. He even had training plan offers from five or six team chiefs. He noted he’s unsure about their motivations, but nevertheless, he remains focused on his goal.
Fellow injured airmen have also been a source of strength and friendship. Thanks to the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program, O’Niell has developed a close-knit group of friends who refer to themselves as “The Order of the Pineapple.” He noted the origin of the name is a long story, but that not a day goes by that they don’t talk to each other.
Additionally, his service dog Kai has served a crucial role in his recovery. K9 Soldiers in New Jersey gave him the German Shepherd on Veteran’s Day 2013, and he has relied on him ever since.
“Mentally, I was in a real crappy place when I started reaching out to get him, and then after getting him, he’s just made my outlook almost one-eighty,” explained O’Niell. “I’m inherently a really happy person anyway, so when I’m depressed, I’m very depressed … because a lot of things have happened to make me very depressed.”
Kai can sense when O’Niell is depressed or angry, and will come put his head on his lap or go for a walk with him, immediately putting O’Niell in a better mood. He also helps with bracing and stability and will block people from invading his personal space. Kai also can do smaller tasks, like getting O’Niell his phone and keys when he doesn’t have the prosthetic attached.
“He’s not a retriever and he absolutely hates doing it, but he will do it,” joked O’Niell.
Kai goes to work with O’Niell, and has become a big hit with the other PJs. He inspired a team in Alaska to buy their own dog so they can keep up morale abroad. O’Niell hopes to bring Kai on his next deployment. The German Shepherd won’t be tagging along on missions, but he would be waiting for him when he gets home.
The First Of His Kind
Other special operations forces have rejoined their units after an amputation, including members of the Army Special Forces, Marine Special Operations Command and Navy SEALs. Advances in medical science and prosthetics have allowed many troops to return to duty after amputations. More than 16 percent of amputees had returned to combat in the early 2000s, up from 2.3 percent in the 1980s. But O’Niell would be a first for the PJs and the Air Force.
He has every intention of getting back in, and he doesn’t plan to leave any time soon. He reenlisted in the beginning of 2015, and plans to do at least another five years after his contract runs out.
“The majority of people who want an amputation, they aren’t very crazy like I am, so they’re just kind of like ‘Yeah, I’m done,’ and rightfully so,” he said.
O’Niell’s remarkable story has also come with a great deal of unexpected fame. He has competed in both the Warrior Games and Invictus Games, the latter of which earned him a profile in ESPN. He also led the Atlanta Falcons onto the field during the Super Bowl, carrying an American flag as he ran in front of thousands on his prosthetic. And Paramount Pictures bought a pitch on O’Niell’s story in March, so a feature film could be in the works.
O’Niell told TheDCNF he’s “excited” for the press coverage to end, but he’s also pleased his story brings attention to PJs. “I don’t mind doing this type of stuff because it highlights the career field and that’s awesome,” he said.
For now, he is continuing strength training and Pararescue qualification training at Hurlburt Field Air Force Base in Florida, where he is expected to join a team sometime next year if all goes well.
has been sent to begin requalifications so he can join a team at Hurlburt Field AFB, hopefully sometime next year. Assessments with the teams have been positive, and aside from some issues with stress fractures, he has no complaints.
O’Niell hopes to be back to jumping out of planes and saving lives as early as the end of 2017.
Recently, a video of Secretary of Defense James Mattis surfaced as the retired, decorated Marine met with a group of deployed service members. As the former general started to speak, a school circle quickly formed around him as his words began to motivate those who listened.
Mattis is widely-known for his impeccable military service and leadership skills, earning him the respect by both enlisted personnel and officers.
Mattis broke the ice with the deployed service members by humorously introducing himself and thanking them in his special way — an epic impromptu speech.
“Just hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other and showing it of being friendly to one another, you know, that Americans owe to one other,” Mattis said. “We’re so doggone lucky to be Americans.”
In 2004, the creator’s of the animated “South Park” show Matt Stone and Trey Parker made audiences break out in laughter when they produced a satire film about an elite counter-terrorism team of marionettes that was tasked with saving the world from corrupt leader Kim Jong-il.
In the laugh-out-loud comedy “Team America: World Police” With the help of a newly recruited Broadway actor, Gary Johnston, the team will travel the world attempting to stop terrorists from destroying many innocent countries with their WMDs.
Although this film is fiction (believe it or not), it raises many solid points on how our world is run.
Check out our whacky list of valuable lessons we learned from watching those life-like puppets on a string.
1. The best time and place to propose marriage is right after a firefight
There’s nothing more romantic than a couple in love that enjoys killing terrorists together.
The reaction and acceptance.
2. Spying is really acting
This whole time we’ve been fighting the war on terror, the CIA should have just sent a member of SAG-AFTRA behind enemy lines to resolve the entire conflict.
It’s not the worse idea ever… okay, maybe it is. (Source: Paramount/Screenshot)
3. Tell a woman what she needs to hear
And nothing more if you’re trying to hook up with her.
And he seals the deal!
We can’t show what happens next, but use your dark military humor to figure it out.
4. Even North Korean dictators get ronery from time to time
Kim Jong-il has some vocal pipes on him.
5. We shouldn’t always rely on computers
After Team America is temporary defeated, the world’s greatest computer “I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E.” had one job: decoding and analyzing what the terrorists were going to do next. It failed us when we needed it the most.
Museums aren’t just buildings constructed to hold relics of a bygone era so that bored school kids can sleepily shuffle around them. They’re rich representations of lives once lived; they’re a way to reflect on those who came before us so that we can learn the history of the men and women who shaped the world we all live in today.
This is what the National Museum of the United States Army, currently under construction at Fort Belvoir, VA, will offer once it’s opened to the public in 2020. As a living museum, it will encompass the full military history of the United States Army, from its humble beginnings as ragtag colonial militiamen in 1636 to the elite fighting force it is today — all to inspire the soldiers of tomorrow.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say the kid’s learning center probably won’t include a “shark attack” as the very first attraction.
(U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Casey Holley)
The construction of an Army museum has been a long time coming. Before ground was broken in September, 2016, the Army was the only branch of the Department of Defense without a standing national museum. It’s got a lofty price-tag of 0 million, but it’s actually paid for mostly through donors. Over 700,000 individuals and many corporations have given to museum.
The 84-acre site, where the installation’s golf course used to be, sits just thirty minutes from Arlington National Cemetery and will be open to the public. The 185,000 square-foot exterior of the building is already completed, but the interior is still under construction. The museum also has four of largest artifacts in place as the building needed to be constructed around them. It also has the potential to hold countless other artifacts, documents, and images, along with many pieces of artwork made by soldiers and veterans, or for the soldiers and veterans, on display.
Along with the historical exhibits will house the “Experiential Learning Center” for the kids. The area surrounding the museum will include an amphitheater, memorial garden, parade ground, and a trail to give the patrons a taste of life in the Army in both a fun and informative way.
This is amazing for many different reasons. First and foremost, it’s something that everyone should learn about. Every generation of soldier will have their own dedicated area of the museum and through a vast collection of artifacts, you’ll be able to see the evolution of our country’s defenders. Over 30 million men and women have served, and through the museum, all of them, across the nearly 250 years of history, will be represented on some manner.
It’ll also give veterans a place to take their kids of grandkids and say, “this is where we fought. This is why we fought. And this is how we did it.”
The museum seems to be striking the perfect balance between being light enough to keep children entertained while also being perfectly honoring all who have served in the Army.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk made a welcomed appearance at the 1st Marine Raider Battalion Ball and delivered a sobering speech that took many US Marines by surprise Nov. 3.
The 1st Marine Raider Battalion out of Camp Pendleton, California, is comprised of elite Marines under the command of Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MARSOC), the Marine Corps’ expeditionary force that typically operates in austere conditions.
Musk was invited to the event as a guest of honor because the Raiders wanted an “equally innovative” keynote speaker to honor the battalion on its birthday, a former Marine Raider commander who asked not to be named, told Business Insider. Around 400 people attended, including World War II veterans and Gold Star family members, the Marine Raider said.
Much like the secrecy of the Marine Raiders’ operations, Musk’s appearance at the event was closed to the press and kept low-key in order to “avoid a media frenzy,” the Marine Raider said.
Like other branches of the military, formal military events are steeped in deep tradition. The Marine Corps, however, pride themselves in being a distinct group from the other branches, and their customs were reportedly noticed by Musk.
“You can tell he was a little nervous,” said Joe Musselman, the CEO of The Honor Foundation. “He was walking alongside the commanding officer of the 1st Raider Marine Battalion. You have this polished officer who’s walking in step to very traditional music.”
Musselman was invited to the event as the CEO of an organization that supports veterans.
As the Marine Raiders brought out a celebratory cake, the commanding officer of the battalion reportedly drew a sword.
“Elon kind of stepped back like, ‘Whoa, what’s going on. Why did you draw your sword at me,'” Musselman said.
The officer proceeded to serve Musk with the first piece of cake, using his sword to set it onto Musk’s plate.
“That’s intimidating for any person,” Musselman said. “A Marine Raider just served [Musk] a piece of cake off his sword. I don’t know if that was necessary in the scripts or the notes for Elon to review beforehand.”
‘The whole room, you could’ve heard a pin drop.’
As the guest of honor, Musk reportedly delivered the opening statement that appeared to make an impact to the group of elite Marines.
“I will never forget it; it set the tone for his entire talk,” Musselman said. “He said, ‘I wanted to come and speak to this group,’ and I get the chills even saying it, ‘Because whenever there’s danger in the world, you all are the first to go and die.”
Musk continued to say he had a great amount of respect for their service to the country, according to Musselman.
“And the whole room, you could’ve heard a pin drop,” Musselman said. “When he said that, the way he said it, it wasn’t prepared, there was no script. He was genuinely looking up in the air to find the words to say ‘Thank you for doing this for our country.'”
Following the speech, Musk offered some lessons he’s learned throughout his career in the Silicon Valley. One particular lesson he reportedly said was to always question authority — a trait that could be seen as counterintuitive to the military’s doctrine of strict obedience.
One Marine was said to have made light of the discrepancy, shouting, “You’re in the wrong room for that, sir,” and drew a few laughs.
Musk went on to discuss his companies’ involvement in the veteran community and emphasized Silicon Valley’s need for leadership and talent from veterans.
“It was quite a treat for us to have Mr. Musk,” the former Marine Raider commander said, “He [recognized] Marines and sailors would be one of the first ones in harms way.”
MARSOC, a relatively new command compared to other special operations groups, was founded in 2006 to integrate Marines into the special operations community. Although media coverage of the special operations forces have largely centered on Navy SEALS and Green Berets, MARSOC Raiders have proven itself as a capable special operations force and screens its applicants as rigorously as other branches — with around 120 applicants graduating from its individual training course each year.
Despite Hot Shots Part Deux‘s claim to be the bloodiest movie ever, we actually did the math and found the top body counts for war films featuring the U.S. military. These counts are only for onscreen, confirmed dead. If they’re still moving when the director cuts to the next shot, it doesn’t count. The results are surprising.
9. Delta Force
Despite his online reputation for ceaseless badassery, Chuck Norris’ seminal work Delta Force only has 78 confirmed kills. Though admittedly, 43 of those are at the hands of Chuck Norris himself.
8. Rambo Series
First Blood (commonly known as “the Rambo movie”) is the most surprising. With a body count of one confirmed kill, you wonder how John Rambo earned the reputation of being Hollywood’s biggest military badass… until you see the rest of the Rambo films (lots of cops go through windows, though). Body counts rise at a near exponential rate after the commies kill Rambo’s love interest, with 80 kills in First Blood Part II, 158 in Rambo III, and a whopping 273 in 2008’s Rambo. At that rate, I imagine that Rambo: Last Bloodwill maim more people than a movie starring 100 untamed lions.
7. The Patriot
Another surprise is the number of onscreen deaths in The Patriot. Mel Gibson’s Revolutionary War film, based on the Southern colonies’ fight against brutal British Colonel Banastre Tarleton, only had 123 onscreen kills.
6. Black Hawk Down
Black Hawk Down is considered one of the most realistic portrayals of any military action ever depicted onscreen, but the 135 deaths (122 Somalis, 13 Americans) doesn’t reflect the real-world body count of 1,500 Somalis, 18 Americans, 1 Malaysian and 1 Pakistani.
5. Saving Private Ryan
Steven Spielberg’s WWII epic Saving Private Ryan defined the distinctive WWII onscreen look and feel, replicated again and again. Appropriately, the film starts with his vision of the intense D-Day landings at Normandy. The final tally, including the dog tags of the KIA, stands at 243.
Platoon’s 277 kills are enough to give anyone a thousand-yard stare.
3. We Were Soldiers
The 305 total onscreen deaths between US forces and the North Vietnamese Army in We Were Soldiers gives Mel Gibson war film extras a higher mortality rate than Sean Bean in any film or TV show ever.
2. Inglourious Basterds
Quentin Tarantino’s films have a reputation for violence and his WWII masterwork Inglourious Basterds delivers Lieutenant Aldo Raine’s scalps and then some with a confirmed kill count of 315.
The all-time top body count of any movie featuring US troops in combat goes to Nicolas Cage’s Windtalkers with a whopping 548 onscreen kills.
A confrontation between Russian and Ukrainian ships in the Black Sea in November 2018 ended with Ukraine’s ships seized and its sailors jailed.
It was the first direct clash between Moscow and Kiev in years, and it stoked tensions that have been elevated for years, especially after Russia intervened in Ukraine in 2014 and seized the Crimean Peninsula and then backed separatist movements along Ukraine’s eastern border.
The Nov. 25, 2018 clash took place in the Kerch Strait, which divides Crimea and mainland Russia and connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov. Photos show Russia appears to have struck one of the Ukrainian ships with a heavy weapon, such as a 30mm gun or missile.
Since claiming Crimea, Russia has taken a more aggressive stance toward the Sea of Azov, declaring invalid a 2003 agreement in which Moscow and Kiev agreed to share the body of water.
In 2015, Russia began construction of a bridge over the Kerch Strait. The sea is already the world’s shallowest, no deeper than 50 feet, and the height of the bridge further restricted the size of ships that could pass through.
Russia has also interfered with Ukrainian shipping in the area and at times closed the strait completely — all of which is particularly challenging for Ukraine, which has major ports on the Sea of Azov.
Ukraine and Russia have both pursued a military buildup in the area, but Russia has more forces and their activity has been more substantial.
US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Ross, background, conducts an underway exercise with the Ukrainian navy.
Moscow’s moves in the Black Sea region are of a piece of with what it’s been doing throughout Eastern Europe amid heightened tensions with NATO.
‘An arc of A2/AD’
Since 2014, Russia has “built up tremendous amounts of capability” in Crimea, said Omar Lamrani, a senior military analyst at geopolitical-analysis firm Stratfor.
Russian forces in the area now amount to about 30,000 troops and more than 100 combat aircraft, up from dozens that were in the area prior to the takeover, Lamrani said. (In May 2018, 17 Russian planes swarmed a British warship sailing just 30 miles from Crimea.)
“They have now three battalions of S-400s, plus other air-defense systems, like the S-300 [and the] Buk M2,” Lamrani said. Another division of S-400 missiles is on its way to Crimea, where it will be the fourth on duty, according to Russian state media.
“They installed a number of coastal missile-defense batteries” firing weapons like Bastion and Bal cruise missiles, which can strike land and sea targets, Lamrani said. Russian state media also said this week that more Bal and other anti-ship missiles were headed to the Crimean city of Kerch, which overlooks the strait of the same name.
“They have some Iskander missiles they rotate through the area, lots of new artillery systems, lots of new armor,” Lamrani added, referring to Russian short-range, nuclear-capable cruise missiles. “They didn’t really have main battle tanks there before 2014. Now they do.”
Russia sees Crimea as a stronghold from which to pressure Ukraine and assert control over a broader swath of the Black Sea, Lamrani said.
Weapons like the S-400 and coastal-defense systems can be employed as a part of anti-access/area-denial, or A2/AD, strategy, and their presence in Crimea and elsewhere along Russia’s eastern frontiers has garnered attention from NATO.
Russian “A2/AD capability [runs] from the high north through Kaliningrad, down to Crimea and all the way down into [Russia’s] base at Tartus in Syria,” Ben Hodges, who commanded the US Army in Europe before retiring at the end of 2017, told Business Insider at the beginning of November 2018.
The S-400, considered Russia’s most advanced air-defense system, is also deployed in Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea and near Latakia on the Syrian coast. The S-300, which is older but still highly capable, has been deployed in the region, including in the breakaway Georgian province of Abkhazia, which borders the Black Sea.
“There are varying degrees of capabilities” at each of those sites, Hodges added, “but the one in Kaliningrad and the one in Crimea are the most substantial, with air- and missile-defense and anti-ship missiles and several thousands of troops” from Russia’s army, navy, and air force. “That’s part of creating an arc of A2/AD, if you will.”
Russia S-400 air-defense systems in Syria.
(Russian Defense Ministry)
Russian moves around the Black Sea were particularly worrisome, Hodges said, comparing the seizure of Crimea and subsequent territorial claims in the Black Sea to China’s claims and island construction in the South China Sea.
Some of the NATO members bordering the sea, like Romania and Bulgaria, don’t have a major naval presence there, but Turkey would likely prevent Russia from having free reign in the sea.
With the vantage point provided by Crimea, Russian combat aircraft and land-based weapons systems like the S-400 and Bal missiles can extend their reach hundreds of miles into and over the Black Sea.
“They can effectively support their navy with an umbrella defense of surface-to-air missiles and anti-ship missile systems that can keep NATO away in case of any threat,” Lamrani said.
A2/AD systems could provide similar defense in a place like Kaliningrad, which has Russia’s only year-round, ice-free Baltic Sea port and is close to St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city. In western Syria, where Russian S-400 systems have already been deployed, US-led coalition forces have worked hard to avoid Russian airspace.
Standing NATO Maritime Group Two (SNMG2) flagship HMS Duncan, arrives to the harbor in Constanta, Romania, Feb. 2, 2018.
(NATO / CPO FRA C.Valverde)
‘Alive to these challenges’
Russian forces are outstripped by NATO as a whole, and an all-out Russian attack on another country is considered unlikely.
But concern has grown that Russian A2/AD in areas like eastern Syria or the Baltic and Black seas could create layered defensive bubbles and limit NATO’s freedom of movement — especially in an engagement below the threshold of war.
In the decades since the Cold War, NATO members also shifted their attention away from a potential conflict with a peer or near-peer foe, focusing instead on smaller-scale operations like counterterrorism. (The US and others have started to reverse this shift.)
“There’s been decline in … investments rather in this type of warfare, as NATO attention has shifted to other priorities,” Lamrani said of A2/AD.
But, he noted, Russia has pursued the mismatch to compensate for a weakness.
“Russia is stronger than NATO in air defenses and stronger than NATO in land-based anti-ship missile systems, as well as anti-missile systems in general,” Lamrani said. “That came out of Russia trying to mitigate its disadvantages in other areas. For instance, NATO naval forces are much stronger than Russia, and NATO air power as a whole is much stronger than Russia.”
Advanced stealth platforms, like the US-made F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, are seen as potential counters to A2/AD systems. And other assets, like the Navy’s EA-18G Growler electronic-attack aircraft, could help thwart them.
But it’s not clear those resources are available in the numbers needed to do so, nor is it likely such an engagement could be conducted without heavy losses.
Nevertheless, while Russia may find an advantage within the specific area of A2/AD, Lamrani said, “that doesn’t mean that NATO hasn’t been developing its own capabilities in other areas [and it] doesn’t mean that NATO hasn’t been thinking about this type of stuff.”
“Let’s just say the alliance is alive to these challenges, and it … will be prepared to use all the different things that would be required,” Hodges said in early November, without elaborating. “This is not something … the alliance has not looked at very closely.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Retired Staff Sgt. David Jonathan Thatcher, one of two last surviving members of WWII’s Doolittle Raiders, passed away in Missoula, Montana from complications of a stroke on June 22, 2016. He was 94.
On April 18, 1942, Thatcher was involved in the Doolittle Raid – United States’ first retaliation to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor four months earlier. The raid involved 16 B-25 Mitchell Medium bombers, 2 aircraft carriers, 4 cruisers, 8 destroyers…and 80 brave souls – all of which had volunteered and trained for the “extremely hazardous” secret mission under the command of the famous Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle.
Thatcher’s aircraft, nicknamed the “Ruptured Duck”, was seventh to launch (is that ok to say because I say ‘take off’ in the next sentence) and was piloted by Ted W. Lawson. The goal for all 16 bombers was to take off from the USS Hornet and bomb military targets in Japan. It was not possible to land back on the Hornet, so the plan was to continue west for a landing in China.
The mission ended up launching 170 miles further out than anticipated, and all of the aircraft ran out of fuel before reaching the areas in China that were not occupied by the Japanese. As was the fate of two other bombers, Thatcher and his crew were forced to ditch their plane at sea. Lawson, the Ruptured Duck’s pilot and his co-pilot were both tossed from the B-25. Miraculously, all 5 crew members survived with serious injuries, with the exception of Thatcher. After regaining consciousness, he was able to walk and helped the others survive.
Doolittle would later tell Thatcher’s parents “… all the plane’s crew were saved from either capture or death as a result of his initiative and courage in assuming responsibility and in tending the wounded himself, day and night.”
Thatcher was one of three awarded the Silver Star for acts of valor during the Doolittle Raid.
“Beyond the limits of human exertion, beyond the call of friendship, beyond the call of duty, he – a corporal – brought his four wounded officers to safety,” Merian C. Cooper, a logistics officer for the Doolittle Raid, wrote of Thatcher after debriefing the Raiders who survived.
In a 2015 interview with the Associated Press, Thatcher said: “We figured it was just another bombing mission,” only later did he realize that “it was an important event in World War II.”
“The Doolittle Raid was a pivotal point in the war and ‘very necessary,’ said Thatcher’s son-in-law, Jeff Miller in an interview with local paper, Missoulian. “But nobody talks about the rest of the story. These guys weren’t put on the sidelines. Too often, the story stops at the Doolittle Raiders.”
Thatcher went on to train in Tampa, Florida on B-26 bombers, and was “one of 12,000 troops to ship out of New York Harbor on the Queen Mary, which zigzagged its way across the North Atlantic to avoid detection by German U-boats. In the next several months, Thatcher flew 26 bombing missions over North Africa, the Mediterranean, and Italy. He participated in the first bombing of Rome in July 1943.”
After retiring from the military, Thatcher worked for the USPS as a Postal Clerk. He is survived by his wife of 70 years, three of their five children and seven grandchildren.
The remaining Doolittle Raider is 101-year-old retired Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” Cole – Jimmy Doolittle’s co-pilot.
Commonly referred to as the “Boneyard,” the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., contains about 5,000 retired military aircraft throughout 2,600 acres.
Crews at the Boneyard preserve aircraft for possible future use, pull aircraft parts to supply to the field, and perform depot-level maintenance and aircraft regeneration in support of Air Force operations. | U.S. Air Force video/Andrew Breese
An F-86 Sabre sits forlorn in the field, in the shadow of its former glory. The old plane is in parts now, its wings detached and lying beside it. The canopy is missing, along with most of the interior parts of the cockpit, and the windshield is shattered – now bits of broken glass hang precariously from a spider web of cracks.
To retired Col. Bill Hosmer, it’s still beautiful. He walks around the old fighter and stares in admiration. He slides a hand over the warped metal fuselage and a flood of memories rush over him.
“I haven’t been this close to one of these in years,” he says. “Of course, that one was in a lot better shape.”
So was Hosmer. Time has weathered and aged them both, the plane’s faded paint and creased body match Hosmer’s own worn and wrinkled skin. Even the plane’s discarded wings stand as a metaphor for Hosmer’s own life now – a fighter pilot who can’t fly, standing next to a fighter jet with no wings.
Age has grounded them both, but they share something else time can’t take away: A love of flight.
“Retiring from flying is not an easy thing,” Hosmer said. “Flying is a bug you just can’t shake.”
Hosmer has done his share of flying, too. He spent more than 20 years in the Air Force, where he flew the F-86, the F-100 Super Sabre and the A-7 Corsair II. He even served a stint with the USAF Thunderbirds, the service’s air demonstration team that chooses only the best pilots.
The Sabre has always had a special place in his heart, though. It was the first plane he flew and his favorite.
“We’ve shared a lot of time together, me and this plane,” he said, patting the plane’s weathered hulk.
Ironically, Hosmer’s favorite plane is also the one that almost made him give up flying. He was in pilot training, learning how to fly the F-86, when he crashed one. The physical injuries weren’t all that bad – a busted mouth, some fractured bones and multiple bruises – and he healed from them without issue.
The damage to his psyche, though, that was a different story.
“I was scared to fly for a while after that crash,” he said. “It took me a long time to get the courage to get back in the cockpit.”
Eventually, his love to fly overtook his desire not to and he hopped back in the cockpit and rekindled his love affair with flight.
So, looking at the old F-86, Hosmer doesn’t see a broken, battered and discarded jet; he sees past glories, feels loving memories and is saying hello to an old friend.
“I made a living flying this plane,” he said. “It seems like just yesterday I was in the cockpit. But, it was really a long time ago.”
Like Hosmer’s memories, the Sabre is also a thing of the past. The plane is replaced with newer, sleeker and more technologically advanced airplanes, and those few that do remain are typically found in museums and airshows.
The one Hosmer is standing next to is different. This one now sits as part of the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. Commonly referred to as “the Boneyard,” the AMARG is basically a 2,600-acre parking lot and storage facility for about 5,000 retired military aircraft.
The planes range from older ones, like the F-86 and B-52 Stratofortress, to newer ones, like the C-5 Galaxy. Though retired from active duty, each aircraft still performs a vital mission.
“Parts,” said Bill Amparano, an aircraft mechanic with the 309th AMARG. “These planes offer parts to the fleet. If a unit can’t find a replacement part for one of their aircraft, they’ll send us a request and we’ll take the part off one of our planes and send it to them.”
In other words, the AMARG is like a giant “pick-and-pull” for the Air Force, offering hard-to-find parts to units around the world. And, while it’s said the Boneyard is where planes go to die, it’s the opposite that’s true.
“They don’t come here to die, they’re just taking a break,” Amparano said.
When a plane arrives at the AMARG, it goes through an in-depth preservation process. Guns are removed, as are any ejection seat charges, classified equipment and anything easily stolen. Workers then drain the fuel system and pump in lightweight oil, which is drained again, leaving an oil coating that protects the fuel system.
A preservation service team then covers all the engine intakes, exhaust areas and any gaps or cracks in the aircraft with tape and paper and plastic. This job can take about 150 hours per aircraft.
Larger openings, such as bomb outlets and large vents, are then covered with a fiberglass mesh to keep out birds.
“If you don’t catch them in time, they can really do some damage,” said Jim Blyda, also an aircraft mechanic with the group.
This preservation process doesn’t just prepare the planes for storage; it also keeps them ready. The fully preserved planes can be called back into military service, be used as firefighting planes or even be sold to customers.
“Although some of them look like they are sitting here dead, if we reverse the process, in a couple of days, they are ready to roll,” Amparano said.
The AMARG also performs depot-level maintenance and aircraft regeneration in support of Air Force operations. Each year, the Boneyard receives and teams preserve nearly 400 aircraft, dispose of nearly another 400 aircraft and pull and ship some 18,000 parts.
Even the AMARG’s location serves a purpose. Because of Tucson’s low rainfall, low humidity and high-alkaline soil, corrosion and deterioration are kept to a minimum.
“The weather here is really perfect for storing all these planes,” said Col. Robert Lepper, 309th AMARG commander. “So if we need them, they’re ready. Some have been sitting here for decades.”
For Hosmer, this is a good thing. Without the AMARG and its preservation of the thousands of planes confined within its fences, he would not be able to stand in a field, rubbing his weathered hands over the warped, aged fuselage of an old F-86.
Neither he nor the jet fly anymore, but just the sight of the old fighter brings back memories Hosmer had long since forgotten.
Remembering them now, the memories are brought back to life – just like many of the planes within the AMARG are waiting silently, patiently, to do.