A Navy pilot who saved a fellow aviator from the infamous 'Hanoi Hilton' recounts the week that made him a legend - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

A Navy pilot who saved a fellow aviator from the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ recounts the week that made him a legend

Chuck Sweeney left the Navy as a commander in 1980, after a 22-year pilot career that included 200 combat missions, 4,334 flight hours, and 757 carrier landings.

In one week of that career, Sweeney earned three Distinguished Flying Crosses, awarded for “heroism or extraordinary achievement in aerial flight,” for his actions over Vietnam.


Sweeney, president of the national Distinguished Flying Cross Society, spoke with Insider about the unusual way he got his start as a carrier pilot, his time fighting in Vietnam, and the week he was awarded three DFCs in September 1972.

Despite his awards, “I’m no different than most other people,” Sweeney said in the 2017 documentary “Distinguished Wings over Vietnam.”

“I just happened to be at the right place at the wrong time.”

“I have a lot of friends who said they were interested in flying early on, and they always wanted to be a pilot,” Sweeney told Insider. “I really didn’t. I wasn’t against it. I just never thought about it.”

But after he was drafted in 1958, he decided to join the Navy “and see the world.”

His first assignment took him to Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland as an aeronautical engineer — not exactly one of the exotic destinations Sweeney had in mind.

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Jim Lovell’s formal portrait for the Apollo 13 mission in 1970.

NASA

While at Patuxent River, Sweeney got to know some of the test pilots, who took him up on flights.

One test pilot in particular convinced Sweeney that not only did he want to fly; he wanted to be the best of the best — an aircraft carrier pilot, or “tailhook.”

That test pilot was Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell, portrayed by Tom Hanks in “Apollo 13.”

“I bought it — hook, line, and sinker,” Sweeney said.

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US Navy aircraft carrier USS Hancock (CVA-19) in the Gulf of Tonkin, May 25, 1972.

PH3 Adrian/US Navy

Sweeney first flew the S-2E anti-submarine aircraft, then volunteered to be an attack pilot, flying the A-4 Skyhawk, while he was earning a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

“They were losing a lot of pilots,” in Vietnam, Sweeney told Insider. “They were being killed or captured.”

After combat missions in Vietnam and Laos, Sweeney trained pilots in Lemoore, California. But his shore duty didn’t last long.

In July 1972, he was sent to the USS Hancock to replace Cmdr. Frank Green, the executive officer of Attack Squadron 212, who was missing in action after his aircraft was shot down.

“The next morning, I was flying my first strike against North Vietnam,” Sweeney told Insider. “Back in those days, things were happening fast.”

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One of Sweeney’s Distinguished Flying Crosses, which now hangs in the I-Bar on Naval Station North Island in San Diego, Calif.

Kevin Dixon, Acting Naval Base Coronado Public Affairs Officer

Sweeney’s first DFC came after a high-stakes rescue in the waters just off North Vietnam.

Lt. William Pear’s aircraft was hit and landed in the treacherous territory, and Sweeney coordinated his rescue from the cockpit of his A-4, even as he himself was under anti-aircraft fire.

“Most of the time, if you landed over North Vietnam, 99 times out of 100, you’d be captured,” Sweeney said. “But we got him back and kept him out of the Hanoi Hilton.”

Pear was the last A-4 pilot to be rescued during the Vietnam War, Sweeney said in an interview for the Distinguished Flying Cross Society Oral History Collection in 2005.

Days later, Sweeney led aircraft from the Hancock in a strike and was awarded his second Distinguished Flying Cross.

“We had 35 aircraft going after a target in North Vietnam, and I was leading the whole strike,” he said.

“I had planned numerous strikes and led them in training, but this was the real thing,” Sweeney said in a 2005 oral interview in the book “On Heroic Wings.”

They successfully completed the strike but met frightening resistance. North Vietnamese MiGs took off and headed toward Sweeney’s strike group, although they eventually stood down, and the group was under heavy anti-aircraft fire.

“For doing the job that I was trained to do I was awarded my second DFC,” Sweeney said in “On Heroic Wings.”

Sweeney’s third DFC came the next day, when he led three other aircraft in an alpha strike on the outskirts of Hanoi.

On a strike that close to the North Vietnamese capital, “You knew the defenses were going to be heavier,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney and other pilots dodged North Vietnamese surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) as they headed to their target, a major railyard.

“The rule was, to avoid being hit, when [the SAM] looked like a flying telephone pole, you made this maneuver around it, kind of away from it,” Sweeney said.

“Lo and behold, this thing” — the SAM— “came up, and as it got closer, I thought ‘Oh, this has Chuck Sweeney’s name on it.'”

Sweeney managed to avoid the missile but got separated from the rest of his group and caught up just as they were preparing to attack their target.

Sweeney’s group hit a loaded train and avoided even more anti-aircraft fire as they headed back to the USS Hancock.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

US Army to use Israeli defense missiles instead of Patriots

The US Army on Feb. 6, 2019, announced that it would buy an Israeli missile-defense system to protect its soldiers in a de facto admission that existing US missile defenses just don’t work.

“The U.S. Army has announced its intent to procure a limited number of Iron Dome weapon systems to fill its short-term need for an interim Indirect Fire Protection Capability (IFPC),” a US Army statement sent to Business Insider read.


Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system, indigenously designed with a 9 million US investment backing it, represents the world’s only example of working missile defense.

While the US, Russia, and China work on high-end missile systems meant to shoot down stealth aircraft in ultra-high-tech wars with electronic and cyber warfare raging along the sidelines, none of these countries’ systems actually block many missiles, rockets, or mortars.

A Navy pilot who saved a fellow aviator from the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ recounts the week that made him a legend

Iron Dome launches during operation Pillar of Defense, November 2012.

On the other hand, Israel’s Iron Dome has shot down more than 1,200 projectiles since going operational in 2011. Constant and sporadic attacks from Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iranian-aligned forces in Syria have turned Israel into a hotbed of rocket and mortar activity, and the system just plain works.

Not only do the sensors and shooters track and hit targets reliably, the Iron Dome, unlike other systems, can tell if a projectile is going to miss a target and thereby save a 0,000 interceptor fire.

While the system does not run entirely without error, US and Israeli officials consistently rate the dome as having a 90% success rate on the Gaza border, one of the most active places in the world for ballistic projectiles.

But the US already has missile defenses for its forces.

The 2019 Missile Defense Review said the US’s Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missile-defense system has a “proven combat record,” though US officials inflated its success rate during Operation Desert Storm.

The US, unlike Israel, which is surrounded by enemies bent on its ultimate destruction, doesn’t get many enemies firing ballistic missiles at its forces. Still, to protect its soldiers, the Army typically deploys Patriot defenses to its bases to protect against short-range missile attacks. In Iraq, the US Army also experimented with a Phalanx gun system that would rapid fire 20mm rounds at incoming rockets and mortars.

But Saudi Arabia, a weaker US ally, has put its Patriot defenses to the test and found them severely wanting either through user error or failings of the system itself.

In repeated missile strikes from Houthi rebels using relatively unsophisticated Iranian ballistic missiles, the Patriot missile defenses have failed, sometimes spectacularly.

A Navy pilot who saved a fellow aviator from the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ recounts the week that made him a legend

MIM-104 Patriot.

Despite Saudi Arabia claiming a high success rate for the missile system, it proceeded to talk to Russia about obtaining advanced S-400 missile defenses after the Patriot failures. NATO allies such as Turkey have also sought to augment their defenses with the Russian system, causing friction with the US and others.

Overall, the US Army’s statement announcing the Iron Dome purchase made it clear that this would just be a short-term buy while the US assesses its options.

“The Iron Dome will be assessed and experimented as a system that is currently available to protect deployed U.S. military service members against a wide variety of indirect fire threats and aerial threats… it should be noted that the U.S. Army will assess a variety of options for” the long term, the statement continued.

But the Army is well aware of its own Patriot system and any planned or possible updates.

By buying an Israel system with a great track record and overlooking a US system with a checkered past, the US may have finally admitted its shortcomings in missile defense.

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

Articles

These two Iraqi brothers built their own ISIS-killing robot

Although the US Marine Corps may have unveiled their futuristic Multi-Utility Tactical Transport recently, another unlikely source may have beaten them in the race to develop an automated combat-centric vehicle.


According to the Baghdad Post and Defense One, two Iraqi brothers have developed a four-wheeled vehicle with a wide assortment of features for combat.

A Navy pilot who saved a fellow aviator from the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ recounts the week that made him a legend
YouTube screenshot

Called “Alrobot,” Arabic for robot, this laptop-controlled unmanned vehicle comes equipped with four cameras and is capable of remotely firing its mounted machine gun and Katyusha rockets. Having a range of around one kilometer, reports have also stated that this robot is slated to assist the Iraqi Security Forces with their fight against ISIS militants very soon.

With the ISF and coalition forces planning on beginning their assault on Mosul — Iraq’s second-largest city and one of the few remaining ISIS bastions — it might play an instrumental role in its liberation.

via GIPHY

via GIPHY

 Watch the entire video of Alrobot in action below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wn0ylHNCr0c
MIGHTY HISTORY

One of Navy’s most stunning victories had a breakfast break

America’s first great military debut on the international stage took place in 1898 when it launched a war against Spain. No longer was the U.S. military limited largely to the American continent. The new Navy, pushed forward by its new Assistant Secretary Theodore Roosevelt, would not only fight in both oceans, it would win decisively.


A Navy pilot who saved a fellow aviator from the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ recounts the week that made him a legend

Commodore George Dewey at Manila Bay, his stunning first blow against the Spanish fleet.

(U.S. Naval Historical Center)

And, at the point of its first and greatest victory in the Spanish-American War, a Navy commodore took a quick break for breakfast while slaughtering Spain. And we don’t mean a few sailors were sent belowdecks at a time for food. We mean the entire fleet disengaged, everyone had breakfast, and then came back to finish the shellacking.

The buildup to war centered around control of Cuba, a Spanish colony that desired independence. Americans, meanwhile, were split on the issue. Some wanted Cuban independence, some hoped for a Cuban state, but almost everyone agreed that Spain should screw off.

But there was tension between the hawks and the pacifists in the country. Not everyone thought it was a good idea to risk a war with Spain, a major European power. So, as a half measure, the USS Maine was sent to Havana Harbor to safeguard Americans and American interests during the struggles between rebels and Spain.

A Navy pilot who saved a fellow aviator from the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ recounts the week that made him a legend

The wreck of the USS Maine is towed out of Havana Harbor.

(R.W. Harrison, Library of Congress)

But on February 16, 1898, the Maine suddenly exploded in the harbor. Investigations in the 20th century would find that the explosion was most likely caused by a bad design. A coal bunker had exploded, an event which occurred spontaneously in other ships of similar design. But the conclusion of investigators at the time was that the explosion was caused by a mine, and the implication was that Spain planted it.

America, already primed for conflict, declared war. And Roosevelt got his man Dewey the orders to take two heavy cruisers, three light cruisers, and a gunboat to the Philippines to strike the first blow.

The Spanish Admiral Patricio Montojo had a large fleet in the Philippines with 13 ships, but they were old and outdated. The armor was thin at key points, many of the guns were too small to do serious damage against newer battleships and cruisers like America’s, and they were tough to conduct damage control on, so fires could easily rage once started.

American ships file past the Spanish fleet at the Battle of Manila Bay. In the actual battle, darkness and smoke obscured the Spanish ships, so the American forces were unsure how much damage was being done.

(Public domain)

Montojo knew that the Americans would likely come for him, and he also knew that his fleet would struggle against the newer U.S. ships, so he decided to place his own vessels under the protection of shore batteries.

He sailed to Subic Bay where modern shore batteries were supposed to have been recently completed. But when he arrived, he found that not a gun was erected. Because of the constant fighting with Filipino rebels, the engineers had been unable to build the important defenses.

Montojo sprinted to Manila Bay where his men could be more easily rescued and ships more easily salvaged if lost, but he deployed his ships far from the city and in a shallow part of the harbor where his men could easily swim to shore if sunk, but also putting most of his ships out of range of the shore guns’ protection.

During the early hours of May 1, Dewey sailed into the harbor with his six ships in a battle line. He initiated the attack, and American ship after American ship paraded past and launched shells into the ineffective Spanish ships. Dewey turned back for another pass, and the ships repeated their process.

A Navy pilot who saved a fellow aviator from the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ recounts the week that made him a legend

American ships file past the Spanish fleet at the Battle of Manila Bay. In the actual battle, darkness and smoke obscured the Spanish ships, so the American forces were unsure how much damage was being done.

(Public domain)

Dewey and the Asiatic fleet kept this up for hours. They were like a saw ripping into the Spanish fleet but with cruisers for teeth instead of shards of metal. But around 7:35, Dewey received a message that the 5″ guns had only 15 rounds remaining per gun.

Dewey knew that his gunners would need time to re-arm, and there was no point to doing it while under threat of the Spanish guns. So he took a look at the time, and ordered the fleet to withdraw. While this would later be reported as a withdrawal for breakfast, that wasn’t the initial intent. As Dewey would later write:

It was a most anxious moment for me. So far as I could see, the Spanish squadron was as intact as ours. I had reason to believe that their supply of ammunition was as ample as ours was limited.
Therefore, I decided to withdraw temporarily from action for a redistribution of ammunition if necessary. For I knew that fifteen rounds of 5-inch ammunition could be shot away in five minutes.

But during this withdrawal, Dewey learned two pieces of joyous news:

But even as we were steaming out of range the distress of the Spanish ships became evident. Some of them were perceived to be on fire and others were seeking protection behind Cavite Point…
It was clear that we did not need a very large supply of ammunition to finish our morning’s task; and happily it was found that the report about the Olympia’s 5-inch ammunition had been incorrectly transmitted. It was that fifteen rounds had been fired per gun, not that only fifteen rounds remained.

So Dewey suddenly realized that, first, he had the upper hand in the fight and, second, his men didn’t actually need to redistribute ammo. So, he ordered his men to take a break and get a bite to eat. Meanwhile, he called his captains together and learned that no ship had serious damage or fatalities to report. (One man would later die of either heatstroke or heart attack.)

So, after his men ate, Dewey returned to the attack and hit the city of Manila, quickly forcing its surrender. But he would have to wait for Army forces to arrive to actually hold it. It was the opening days of America’s first great overseas war, and the Spanish fleet was already in tatters, and the U.S. Navy was already a hero.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Pentagon wants advanced AI for military vehicles

The Pentagon is making a massive push to accelerate the application of artificial intelligence to ships, tanks, aircraft, drones, weapons, and large networks as part of a sweeping strategy to more quickly harness and integrate the latest innovations.

Many forms of AI are already well-underway with US military combat systems, yet new technologies and applications are emerging so quickly that Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan has directed the immediate creation of a new Joint Artificial Intelligence Center.

“The Deputy Secretary of Defense directed the DoD Chief Information Officer to standup the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center in order to enable teams across DoD to swiftly deliver new AI-enabled capabilities and effectively experiment with new operating concepts in support of DoD’s military missions and business functions.” DoD spokeswoman Heather Babb told Warrior Maven.


Pentagon officials intend for the new effort to connect otherwise disparate AI developments across the services. The key concept, naturally, is to capitalize upon the newest and most efficient kinds of autonomy, automation, and specific ways in which AI can develop for the long term — yet also have an immediate impact upon current military operations.

AI performs a wide range of functions not purely restricted to conventional notions of IT or cyberspace; computer algorithms are increasingly able to almost instantaneously access vast pools of data, compare and organize information and perform automated procedural and analytical functions for human decision-makers in a role of command and control. While AI can of course massively expedite data consolidation, cloud migration and various kinds much-needed cybersecurity functions, it is increasingly being applied more broadly across weapons systems, large platforms and combat networks as well.

Rapid data-base access, organizing information and performing high-volume procedural functions are all decided advantages of AI applications. Algorithms, for example, are increasingly able to scan, view and organize ISR input such as images or video – to identify points of combat relevance of potential interest to a commander.

A Navy pilot who saved a fellow aviator from the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ recounts the week that made him a legend

AI enabled technology can perform these kinds of procedural functions exponentially faster than humans can, massively shortening the crucial decision-making timeframe for combat decision makers. At the same time, many experts, developers, and military leaders recognize that the certain problem-solving faculties and subjective determinations unique to human cognition – are still indispensable to decision making in war.

For this reason, advanced AI relies upon what developers refer to as “human-machine” interface or “easing the cognitive burden” wherein humans function in a command and control capacity while computer automation rapidly performs a range of key procedural functions.

AI & IT

This AI-driven phenomenon is of particular relevance when it comes to data systems, IT as a whole and advances in cybersecurity. For instance, Air Force developers are using advanced computer automation to replicate human behavior online – for the specific purpose of luring and tracking potential intruders. Also, AI can be used to perform real-time analytics on incoming traffic potentially containing malware, viruses or any kind of attempted intrusion. If the source, characteristics or discernable pattern of an attempted intrusion are identified quickly, cyber defenders are better positioned to respond.

When high-volume, redundant tasks are performed through computer automation, humans are freed up to expend energy pursuing a wider range of interpretive or conceptual work.

For example, the Army is working with a private firm called NCI to establish a certification of worthiness for a specific AI-enabled program designed to streamline a number of key tasks.

The NCI-developed program enables account creation, account deletion, background checks and other kind of high-volume data analysis.

“You can log into 10 different websites simultaneously, rather than having a person do that. A machine can go through and gather all the information for a person,” Brad Mascho Chief AI Officer, NCI, told Warrior Maven in an interview. “Humans can focus on higher priority threats.”

At the same time, big data analytics can quickly present new challenges for a variety of key reasons; a larger data flow can make it difficult for servers to “flex” as needed to accommodate rapid jumps in data coming through. Therefore, AI-empowered algorithms such as those engineered by NCI are needed to organize incoming data and identify anomalies or potential intrusions.

There is also a growing need for more real-time monitoring of activity on a message “bus,” because standard analytics methods based on probability and statistical probability often detect intrusions after the fact and are not always reliable or 100-percent accurate, cybersecurity experts and analysts explain.

AI & cyber defense

Algorithms calling upon advanced AI are being used to quickly access vast pools of data to perform real-time analytics designed to detect patterns and anomalies associated with malware.

“Every day, the Defense Department thwarts an estimated 36 million e-mails containing malware, viruses and phishing schemes from hackers, terrorists and foreign adversaries trying to gain unauthorized access to military systems,” Babb told Warrior Maven earlier this year.

A Navy pilot who saved a fellow aviator from the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ recounts the week that made him a legend

Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicle.

One particular technique, now being developed by CISCO systems, seeks to address a particular irony or cybersecurity paradox; namely, while much DoD network traffic is encrypted for additional safety, encryption can also make it more difficult for cyber defenders to see hidden malware in the traffic.

CISCO is now prototyping new detection methods as part of an effort to introduce their technology to the US military services.

“We have the ability to read and detect malware in encrypted web traffic. Even though the data is encrypted there is still a pattern to malware,” Kelly Jones, Systems Engineer for CISCO Navy programs, told Warrior Maven.

AI & large combat platforms, tanks & fighter jets

Real-time analytics, informed by AI, has already had much success with both Army and Air Force Conditioned-Based Maintenance initiatives. The Army used IBMs Watson computer to perform real-time analytics on sensor information from Stryker vehicles and tactical trucks.

Drawing upon seemingly limitless databases of historical data, Watson was able to analyze information related to potential engine failures and other key vehicular systems. Properly identifying when a given combat-vehicle system might malfunction or need repairs helps both combat and logistical operations. Furthermore, the Army-IBM Stryker “proof of principle” exercise was able to wirelessly transmit sensor data, enabling AI to compare new information gathered against a historical database in seconds.

The Army is also working with IBM to test AI-enabled “autonomy kits” on tactical trucks designed to enable much greater degrees of autonomous navigation.

Advanced computer algorithms, enhanced in some instances through machine learning, enable systems such as Watson to instantly draw upon vast volumes of historical data as a way to expedite analysis of key mechanical indicators. Real-time analytics, drawing upon documented pools of established data through computer automation, can integrate otherwise disconnected sensors and other on-board vehicle systems.

“We identified some of the challenges in how you harmonize sensor data that is delivered from different solutions. Kevin Aven, partner and co-account lead, Army and Marine Corps, IBM Global Business Services, told Warrior Maven in a 2018 interview.

Watson, for example, can take unstructured information from maintenance manuals, reports, safety materials, vehicle history information and other vehicle technologies – and use AI to analyze data and draw informed conclusions of great significance to military operators, Aven explained.

When created, IBM stated that, “more than 100 different techniques are used to analyze natural language, identify sources, find and generate hypotheses, find and score evidence, and merge and rank hypotheses,” according to IBM Systems and Technology.

Working with a firm called C3IoT, the Air Force is doing something similar with F-16s. On board avionics and other technologies are monitored and analyzed using AI-enabled computers to discern when repairs or replacement parts are needed.

Applications of AI are also credited with enabling the F-35s “sensor fusion” technology which uses computer algorithms to autonomously gather and organize a wide-range of sensor data for the pilot.

A Navy pilot who saved a fellow aviator from the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ recounts the week that made him a legend

U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.

It goes without saying that targeting data is of critical importance when it comes to mechanized ground warfare. With this in mind, Army combat vehicle developers are prototyping AI-enabled sensors intended to combine sensor information essential to identifying targets. If long-range EO/IR or thermal imaging sensors are able to both collect and organize combat data, vehicle crews can attack enemy targets much more quickly.

Some near-term applications, senior officials with the Army Research Laboratory say, include increased air and ground drone autonomy. It is an example of an area where AI is already having a large impact and is anticipated to figure prominently over the long-term as well.

“We know there is going to be unmanned systems for the future, and we want to look at unmanned systems and working with teams of manned systems. This involves AI-enabled machine learning in high priority areas we know are going to be long term as well as near term applications,” Karl Kappra, Chief of the Office of Strategy Management for the Army Research Lab, told Warrior Maven in a 2018 interview. “We also know we are going to be operating in complex environments, including electromagnetic and cyber areas.”

For instance, Kappra explained that sensor-equipped micro-autonomous drones could be programed with advanced algorithms to send back combat-relevant images or provide attacking forces with key interior dimensions to a target location.

“We are looking at micro-electrical mechanical systems and image-based systems to fly through a building autonomously and show you where walls and threats are inside the buildings,” Kappra said.

Also, Army combat vehicle developers consistently emphasize manned-unmanned teaming with “wing man” drone robots operating in tandem with manned vehicles to carry ammunition, test enemy defenses, identify targets and potentially fire weapons. Some senior Army weapons and technology developers have said that most future combat vehicles will be engineered with some level of autonomous ability or manned-unmanned teaming technology.

Increased computer automation also performs a large function on the Navy’s emerging Ford-Class aircraft carriers. The new carriers use advanced algorithms to perform diagnostics and other on-board maintenance and procedural tasks independently. This, Navy developers say, allows the service to reduce its crew size by as many as 900 sailors per carrier and save up to billion dollars over the life of a ship.

Warfare, ethics & AI

Interestingly, debates about the future of AI, especially when it comes to autonomy, continues to spark significant controversy. Current Pentagon doctrine specifies that there must always be a “human-in-the-loop” when it comes to making decisions about the use of lethal force. However, the technology enabling an autonomous system to track, acquire and destroy a target by itself without needing human intervention – is already here.

In a previous interview with Warrior Maven, an Air Force scientist made the point that the current doctrine is of course related to offensive strikes of any kind, however there may be some instances where weapons are used autonomously in a purely defensive fashion. For instance, AI-enabled interceptors could be programmed to knock out incoming enemy missile attacks – without themselves destroying anything other than an approaching enemy weapon. In this instance, AI could serve an enormously valuable defensive function by performing intercepts exponentially faster than having a human decision maker involved.

Naturally, this kind of technology raises ethical questions, and some have made the point that even though the US military may intend to maintain a certain ethical stance – there is of course substantial concern that potential adversaries will not do the same.

Also, while often heralded as the “future” of warfare and technology, AI does have some limitations. For example, problems presented in combat, less-discernable nuances informing certain decisions, determining causation and the analysis of a range of different interwoven variables – are arguably things best performed by the human mind.

Many things in warfare, naturally, are often a complex byproduct of a range of more subjectively determined factors – impacted by concepts, personalities, individual psychology, historical nuances and larger sociological phenomena. This naturally raises the question as to how much even the most advanced computer programs could account for these and other somewhat less “tangible” factors.

This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

An enormous family of 41 are all training at the same post

Enlisting in the Army with a childhood friend or relative is a generations-old practice meant to bring familiarity and comfort to an experience fraught with stress and uncertainty.


So, does signing up with more than one recruit further ease the difficulties associated with initial military training?

The answer is an emphatic “yes” as it relates to members of a Samoan family with a decidedly large footprint at Fort Lee. There are 41 of them enrolled in various Sustainment Center of Excellence courses here, twisting the old adage “strength in numbers.”

A Navy pilot who saved a fellow aviator from the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ recounts the week that made him a legend
More than 30 members of an American Samoa family pose for pictures by contorting their faces and posturing for a traditional dance Nov. 8 at Thompson Hall. (U.S. Army photo by T. Anthony Bell)

“This is good for us,” said 30-year-old Spc. Joseph Tauiliili, assigned to Papa Company, 244th Quartermaster Battalion, and the oldest among relatives in various stages of advanced individual training. “We come from American Samoa, and we’re basically thousands of miles away from home. Seeing them by my side keeps me motivated every day.”

American Samoa is a U.S. territory and part of the Samoan Islands, an archipelago that also includes the independent nation of Samoa. It is located in the Pacific Ocean roughly 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii and a little over 2,000 miles northeast of New Zealand.

The Samoans in training here — first, second, third, and fourth cousins — hail from Poloa, an area near the capital city of Pago Pago. All are related to the same malietoa or chieftain. Their decision to join in close proximity was partly based on strong familial and cultural ties, said Pvt. Siiva Tuiolemotu, assigned to Whiskey Company, 244th Quartermaster Battalion.

“We wanted to stick together in training,” the 20-year-old said, noting her country’s communal culture.

Most of the Samoans are training in the Unit Supply Specialist Course taught at the Quartermaster School. A few are enrolled in courses for other quartermaster military occupational specialties, and at least one attends the Ordnance School.

Also Read: This Army mother and son duo deployed together

American Samoa, which has struggled economically, boasts strong traditions of military service, said Tuiolemotu. In 2014, a local Army recruiting station was the most productive in the world, according to the Samoa News website. Still, kinship is what drives most to take the oath of service.

“The thing we care about is supporting our families,” she said. “If that means (sacrificing) our lives, yes, we have to fight for them.”

It also is legacy. Many of the Soldiers are the latest to uphold family traditions.

“Most of my siblings are in the military, and I’m the youngest, so I wanted to follow in their footsteps,” said 25-year-old Pfc. Vasait Saua, Whiskey Company, 244th Quartermaster Battalion.

Pvt. Talalelei Ames said his parents also spent time in uniform, and his father is a retiree. Enduring long periods of separation while they served, he said his military ties were not strong, but that has changed since he took the oath.

“Wearing the uniform makes me feel I am more connected to them,” said the 19-year-old. “I think it’s pretty awesome. I never had this much fun in my life and never had this much responsibility. Now, I know what my parents went through to protect the country.”

A Navy pilot who saved a fellow aviator from the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ recounts the week that made him a legend
Regional map, showing the islands of American Samoa in relation to Western Samoa and other points of interest. (Image from U.S. National Park Service)

The question of whether the Samoans are a close-knit clan or a loose group of relatives was answered during a recent photo session. The Quartermaster School’s Sgt. Maj. Micheal Lambert, who organized the gathering, said there were smiles, hugs, and kisses reminiscent of a family reunion. To top it all off, they postured as if performing a traditional dance complete with contorted facial expressions

“They are definitely a family,” he said.

At some point during their training, the Samoans must face an inherent component of Army life — family separation. The sheer number of Samoans wearing uniforms, however, along with the richness of Samoan culture is comforting in light of the prospect, said Tuiolemotu.

“I’m the first one who will leave the group,” she said, noting a pending Fort Riley, Kansas, assignment. “I’m not worried because there are a lot of us out there. I’m bound to meet another relative somewhere. That’s for sure.”

Articles

This storied American brand is helping vets get into their homes — literally

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9ca8GpPyWI

Founded more than 130 years ago, Sears is one of the most recognizable brands in America.


With everything from power tools, to appliances and auto parts — and a myriad other products for every American home — Sears has been a part of making life better for generations.

But the company has gone well beyond simply supplying consumers with the products they need and has played a key role in helping America’s veterans have a safe place to live. For almost a decade, Sears has sponsored the Heroes at Home initiative where it has helped raise more than $20 million to rebuild 1,600 homes across the United States.

A Navy pilot who saved a fellow aviator from the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ recounts the week that made him a legend
Sears celebrity designer Ty Pennington (third from right) with Sears and Rebuilding Together volunteers look on as a veteran resident is the first to use an accessibility ramp built by the Sears Heroes at Home for the Holidays program at the Open Hearts Residential Living Center for veterans in Decatur, Ga., founded by U.S. Army veteran Missy Melvin. As part of its long-standing commitment to supporting veterans and military families, Sears brought back its Heroes at Home program for the holiday season to immediately assist in building dozens of wheelchair accessibility ramps at the homes of low-income veterans before Christmas. (PRNewsFoto/Sears, Roebuck and Co.)

This year, Sears teamed with the non-profit Rebuilding Together to construct wheelchair access ramps for vets in need. Dubbed the “Heroes at Home for the Holidays” program, Sears shoppers donated more than $700,000 to support the campaign, exceeding the program’s goals.

According to the Center for Housing Policy and the National Housing Conference, 26 percent of post-9/11 veterans (and 14 percent of all veterans) have a service-connected disability and face housing accessibility challenges as they transition from military to civilian life.

“We’re thankful for the incredible generosity of our Shop Your Way members and associates who have carried on Sears’ long tradition of supporting our nation’s veterans and military families,” said Gerry Murphy, Chief Marketing Officer, Sears. “The holidays are not only about giving, but giving back. Our members have proved once again that simple, small gestures by many can result in immediate, long-term impact for America’s veterans.”

See a video of the first Heroes at Home for the Holidays ramp project which was built with the help of celebrity designer Ty Pennington for Air Force vet and non-profit director Missy Melvin and her veteran care facility.

Sears continues to raise funds for Heroes at Home in-store and online through the sale of limited-edition products, including a Kenmore patriotic washer/dryer pair, a Heroes at Home Christmas ornament and a Craftsman hat.  For more information, visit sears.com/heroesathome.

 

Articles

This is how to fly the plane that killed Yamamoto

We know the key facts of what happened on April 18, 1943. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was killed when his Mitsubishi G4M Betty attack bomber was shot down by a Lockheed P-38 Lightning flown by Capt. Thomas G. Lanphier Jr., marking the “Zero Dark Thirty” moment of World War II.


It was the moment of triumph for the plane, which had its own troubled development, and which was further hampered due to a friendly fire incident.

But it took a bit more training to get the most out of the P-38.

A Navy pilot who saved a fellow aviator from the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ recounts the week that made him a legend
The P-38 Lightning was the premiere twin-engine American fighter in World War II. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Museum)

Lockheed helped out in this regard by making a training film, using expertise from their production pilots. The takeoff procedure was different, mostly in not using flaps. The plane also was very hard to stall.

The plane did have limitations: A pilot needed to have a lot of air under him, due to both the compressibility that early models suffered, and the speed the P-38 could pick up in a dive. The pilot couldn’t stay inverted for more than 10 seconds, either.

A Navy pilot who saved a fellow aviator from the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ recounts the week that made him a legend
The J model of the P-38 carried the same .50-cal machine guns and 20mm cannons of its predecessors, but could also carry bombs. (Photo: U.S. Army Air Force)

The film also showed some P-38s modified as trainers. The film shows one trainee being shown how to deal with propellers running wild. The pilots were also trained to feather props.

The P-38 was surprising easy to fly as a single-engine plane. The film shows Tony LeVier, a noted test pilot, simulating an engine failure during takeoff.

The P-38 was a superb fighter, even if the Mustang, Hellfire, and Thunderbolt got most of the press. Put it this way, America’s top two aces of all time, Maj. Richard Bong and Maj. Thomas McGuire, flew the P-38 plane in World War II and combined for 78 confirmed kills.

A Navy pilot who saved a fellow aviator from the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ recounts the week that made him a legend
Maj. Thomas B. McGuire Jr. with Richard I. Bong (Majs. Bong and McGuire were the top two scoring U.S. aces in World War II with 40 and 38 victories, respectively; taken Nov. 15, 1944 in the Philippines). (U.S. Air Force photo)

The training film is below. Now you have a sense of what it was like to fly the plane that killed Yamamoto.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Iran’s attempted satellite launch fails to reach orbit

Iran said it conducted a satellite launch but that the rocket failed to reach orbit.

The reported launch, on Jan. 15, 2019, came amid growing warnings from the United States about Tehran’s rocket tests and accusations that they violate United Nations resolutions.

Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi told state TV that the rocket carrying the Payam (Message) satellite failed to reach the “necessary speed” in the third stage of launch.


He did not say what caused the failure but vowed that scientists would continue their research.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed Iran over the launch, alleging that the “innocent satellite” was actually “the first stage of an intercontinental missile” Iran is developing in violation of international agreements.

A Navy pilot who saved a fellow aviator from the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ recounts the week that made him a legend

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

(IsraelinUSA, CC BY 2.0)

Another Iranian satellite named Doosti (Friendship) was waiting to be launched, Azari-Jahromi tweeted after announcing the failed launch.

“We should not come up short or stop,” the minister wrote on Twitter. “It’s exactly in these circumstances that we Iranians are different than other people in spirit and bravery.”

Payam and Doosti were both intended to gather information on environmental change in Iran, President Hassan Rohani said in early January 2019.

Tehran is facing increasingly harsh warnings from U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that Iran’s plans demonstrate the country’s defiance of a UN Security Council resolution. That resolution calls on Iran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

Iran insists the launches do not violate the resolution.

Washington and its allies worry the same satellite-launching technology could be used to develop nuclear-capable missiles.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This Dragonfly stung the Communists in Vietnam

When you think of companies that deliver combat aircraft to the United States military, you probably think ‘Lockheed’ and ‘Boeing’ right away. Historic companies like Grumman, Curtiss, and McDonnell-Douglas might also spring to mind — but not Cessna. However, that company delivered a nifty little counter-insurgency plane.


A Navy pilot who saved a fellow aviator from the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ recounts the week that made him a legend
The Cessna O-1 Bird Dog FAC aircraft. (USAF photo)

Over the years, Cessna delivered some slightly-modified, single-engine planes, like the O-1 Bird Dog, which was used for spotting artillery fire and by forward air controllers. The company also delivered the T-37 Tweet, which served a valuable jet trainer for over five decades — but the Tweet proved it could be more than a trainer.

A Navy pilot who saved a fellow aviator from the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ recounts the week that made him a legend
A Cessna T-37 Tweet aircraft from the 85th Fighter Training Squadron, Laughlin AFB, Texas, flies over Lake Amistad during a training mission. (Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Andy Dunaway)

As the Vietnam War heated up, the United States was looking for a plane to support troops on the ground. To fill this need, Cessna converted 39 T-37 Tweets into new A-37As, dubbed “Dragonfly.” The converted planes performed so well, the Air Force ordered another 577. The National Museum of the United States Air Force notes that 234 of these were sent to South Vietnam.

A Navy pilot who saved a fellow aviator from the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ recounts the week that made him a legend
Cessna YA-37A Dragonfly in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The fall of South Vietnam meant that a number of these planes fell into the hands of the Communist regime that ruled Vietnam. However, the A-37 was soon acquired by other American allies, and also saw service with Air Force Special Operations Command as well as the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard.

A Navy pilot who saved a fellow aviator from the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ recounts the week that made him a legend
A-37 at Lackland Air Force Base. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

The A-37 had a top speed of 506 miles per hour and a maximum range of 932 miles. It could carry a pilot (for close-air support missions) or a pilot and observer (for use as a forward air controller). It was armed with a 7.62mm Minigun, which meant the Dragonfly could deliver kind of a mini-BRRRRRT to the enemy, and it had eight hardpoints for bombs, rockets, or guns.

A Navy pilot who saved a fellow aviator from the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ recounts the week that made him a legend
Cessna A-37B minigun compartment detail. (U.S. Air Force photo)
MIGHTY GAMING

5 nuclear apocalypse tips from Fallout that are actually useful

One of the most entertaining video game franchises to make waves in last decade has got to be Fallout. It’s a quirky take on the nuclear apocalypse that shows us a world in which the 1950s marked the last cultural shift before the world’s end. Each game leaves the player to survive in nuclear-wasteland versions of formerly beautiful locales, like Washington D.C., Las Vegas, and Boston.

The game’s critical acclaim is largely due to the fun, engaging gameplay mechanics, but the game developers did their homework to make sure the objectives and the little details required by enduring the aftermath of the “Great War” are actually legitimate pieces of nuclear-apocalypse survival advice.


Should you ever awaken in a fallout shelter only to emerge and see naught but hellish landscape, you can actually use some of the things you learned while gaming.

A Navy pilot who saved a fellow aviator from the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ recounts the week that made him a legend

It couldn’t hurt to start saving bottle caps now. If the apocalypse doesn’t happen, you can still use them for art… or something.

(Know Your Meme)

Currency will change

Instead of using regular greenbacks as you would in the normal world, bottle caps are the new, post-apocalyptic currency. The in-game reason given is that the caps on Nuka-Cola bottles were plenty and there’s no way to accurately recreate them. So, everyone essentially agreed that they had intrinsic value.

That’s actually the exact way our real-life monetary system works. Shy of the copper found in older pennies, the money we use today only has value because we all agree it has value. Without a Federal Reserve to enforce that value, people in a post-apocalyptic world may use something else, like bullets, gold, or maybe even bottle caps.

A Navy pilot who saved a fellow aviator from the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ recounts the week that made him a legend

You don’t have to go as far as to clean ALL the water — just enough to survive.

(Bethesda Game Studios)

Find clean water

The main objective of Fallout 3 is to establish a clean water system for the city of Washington D.C. because most sources have become highly contaminated. Throughout the game, you seldom find purified water. For the most part, you’re going to poison yourself (to a degree) trying to stay hydrated.

If there’s any advice that all survivalists can agree on it’s that everyone’s first goal should be to find drinkable, poison- and nuclear-contamination-free water. Your body can only survive a few days without it, but you won’t be able to function properly in a high-stakes environment for more than a day.

A Navy pilot who saved a fellow aviator from the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ recounts the week that made him a legend

Mutated rabbit… yum…

(Bethesda Game Studios)

Food packaged before the apocalypse is best

A quick and easy way to heal in the game is by eating food. Everyone needs food to survive and the extra calories gives you the edge you need to fight off mutated freaks. You can eat whatever you want (and even endeavor in cannibalism if you feel the urge), but the most efficient food is stuff from before the apocalypse.

For very obvious reasons, you don’t want to be eating poison. Finding clean food isn’t all that difficult if you know where to look. Sealed environments, like the game’s “vaults,” are often veritable supermarkets, but even packaged food that was deep underwater before the blasts went off have been proven to be clean. Just look at the wine bottles from shipwrecks, for instance.

A Navy pilot who saved a fellow aviator from the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ recounts the week that made him a legend

It doesn’t need to be as fancy as a Pip-Boy but you can find one at most universities.

(Bethesda Game Studios)

Get a Geiger counter

Like other games, you’ll be reminded of several factors: your health points, any injuries sustained, how much ammo you have, etc. It will also tell you about the radiations levels of anywhere you’re going.

Nuclear radiation doesn’t exactly glow as pop culture would have you believe. Unassisted, it’s impossible to detect. The only way you’re going to know for sure that you’re not being irradiated is by using a Geiger counter.

A Navy pilot who saved a fellow aviator from the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ recounts the week that made him a legend

What is it with lawless societies and their affinity with wearing spikes? I can’t imagine that’d be comfortable at all.

(Bethesda Game Studios)

Not all survivors are friendly

Because it’s still a fun action game, enemies are plenty. Irradiated beasts, mutant freaks, roaming hordes of bandits, and, of course, just regular survivors looking to protect what’s theirs.

Think about how brutal some people towards each other during Black Friday. If people are willing to maim and kill each other to take 25 percent off of a toy’s price tag, imagine what they’d do in a world where laws no longer exist and they need to make sure their children survive.

MIGHTY MOVIES

5 veterans making great television

Stories of heroism have been a fascination for humans for as far back as we can trace our sentient history. From ancient tales like The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Iliad to modern blockbusters like Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers, war stories permeate our culture and entertainment.

It’s especially poignant when warfighters themselves share their own experiences. As military veterans transition from their service to a career in the arts, so too do the military stories themselves begin to morph, adding insight into the warrior that hasn’t always been associated with the archetype.

It can be easy to place the hero on a pedestal, but it is critical to remember that every war story is, at its core, a story about mankind. With this in mind, stories told from the perspectives of the veterans themselves carry with them the authenticity and the humanity of the military.

These are five veteran storytellers to watch in the coming months:


“SEAL Team” partners with former special forces for guidance

youtu.be

Tyler Grey, U.S. Army Ranger

“What we’re trying to do as a group is make something that’s not real, obviously, but to make something that’s authentic and feels authentic,” said Tyler Grey about SEAL Team on CBS. Former Army Ranger Tyler Grey was, in his own words, “blown up on a nighttime raid in Sadr City, Baghdad, in 2005.” He was medically retired after sustaining a critical injury to his arm, which still bears the scars from that attack.

Now, he gets to use his training and experience to help tell the stories of U.S. Navy SEALs. His role on SEAL Team has ranged from consultant to actor to producer. This season, Grey tackled another title: Director. He helmed Season 3 Episode 10, which will mark his first foray into television directing.

Also: We need to talk about this week’s ‘SEAL Team’ death

How Amazon’s ‘Jack Ryan’ series will stay true to Tom Clancy’s books | Comic-Con

www.youtube.com

Graham Roland, U.S. Marine Corps

After his military service, U.S. Marine Graham Roland started his writing career working for iconic projects like LOST, Fringe, and Prison Break. In 2018, he released Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan on Amazon with co-Showrunner Carlton Cuse.

“I may never do a show that big again, in terms of budget,” he told We Are The Mighty. “We shot all over the world, on five continents. It was awesome and a huge learning experience. It was a huge property and there were a lot of people involved with a lot at stake.”

After creating a second season of the successful show, Roland has now shifted his focus to a new project with HBO that is based on the Navajo Nation in the 1970s.

Related: This Marine’s epic journey from service to ‘LOST’ to ‘Jack Ryan’

Fox has given a put pilot commitment to #ChainOfCommand, a one-hour drama from writer April Fitzsimmons, @jamieleecurtis, Berlanti Productions and Warner Bros. TVhttps://deadline.com/2019/10/fox-drama-chain-of-command-april-fitzsimmons-jamie-lee-curtis-greg-berlanti-put-pilot-1202766505/ …

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April Fitzsimmons, U.S. Air Force

U.S. Air Force veteran April Fitzsimmons is writing Chain of Command, a Fox pilot that will tell the story of “a young Air Force investigator with radical crime-solving methodology who returns to her hometown to join a military task force that doesn’t want her, a family who has traumatized her, and must confront the secrets that drove her away,” reports Deadline.

This isn’t the first adventure into military storytelling for Fitzsimmons, whose credits also include Doom Patrol, Valor, Chicago P.D., and Chicago Justice. She is also the director of the Veterans Workshop at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, where she mentors veterans as they write and perform original monologues that deconstruct the idea of a hero.

She’s also a mentor for the Veterans Writing Workshop at the Writers Guild Foundation, paying it forward to a community of future writers who served.

ABC Developing Navy Flight School Drama Produced By Freddie Highmore http://dlvr.it/RFmSGy pic.twitter.com/0iDHPb6V4n

twitter.com

David Daitch, U.S. Navy

After his active duty service in the United States Navy, David Daitch joined the Naval Reserves and started working as a technical advisor and a writer. Together with his writing partner, Katie J. Stone, Daitch’s writing credits include USA’s Shooter and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered. In October 2019, Deadline announced that Daitch’s next endeavor will be Adversaries, a drama that centers on the leader of the Navy’s Top Gun fighter pilot school in Key West.

Daitch and Stone have teamed up with Sean Finegan to write and executive produce the pilot, with Freddie Highmore producing. Adversaries will tackle the intensity of the male-dominated pilot training environment.

Our writer for the finale…. Brian Anthony and our very own @monty11bravo who was an actor this evening @NBCNightShift #NightShiftpic.twitter.com/3RHTsnFxKj

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Brian Anthony, U.S. Army

U.S. Army vet Brian Anthony has a steady career in service of adding authenticity to film and television’s portrayal of the military. Most notably, he has been a producer and writer for series like FBI and The Night Shift, the latter of which notably created an episode that was both written and directed by military veterans and featured them in multiple guest roles on camera.

Anthony also serves as a mentor for the Writers Guild Foundation Veterans Writing Workshop, where he helps his fellow vets develop their writing careers.

Featured Image: David Boreanaz and Tyler Grey in SEAL Team (CBS Image)

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Battle of the Crater turned a brilliant plan into self-inflicted defeat

During one of the final and most important sieges of the Civil War, a combination of racism towards black troops, concern for appearances, and sheer blinding incompetence and cowardice led to the bloody disaster that was the Battle of the Crater.


The Confederate Army was engaged in a last ditch defense of Petersburg, Va., the logistics and rail hub that supplied the forces defending their capital at Richmond, against the Union Army under command of General Ulysses S. Grant. Once Petersburg fell, the war was as good as over.

The siege had turned into trench warfare that presaged World War I. Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s mastery of field fortifications and defense in depth had made offensive operations by the Union against entrenched Confederate troops a terribly bloody endeavor. The siege was at a stalemate, and new tactics were called for.

The Union 48th Pennsylvania Regiment was largely drawn from coal country, and its commander, Col. Henry Pleasants, was convinced they could dig a long mine under the rebel lines and use blasting powder blow to a large hole in their fortifications. A four-division assault force would then seize the heights overlooking Petersburg, greatly shortening the siege. His corps commander, Gen. Ambrose Burnside, endorsed the plan.

The operation was conducted with a strange mix of brute force labor and a strategic lassitude from higher command, and suffered from a chronic lack of logistical support. Most of the Union leadership, from Grant on down, was skeptical of the plan, and saw it as a way to keep the soldiers busy at best.

The 4th United States Colored Troops (USCT) under Gen. Edward Ferraro was specially trained to lead the assault, specifically to flank the crater on both sides. But Gen. George Meade, commander of the Union Army at the battle of Gettysburg, thought little of the plan and the abilities of the black troops to carry it out.

He also voiced concerns to Grant that if the attack failed, it would look as if black soldiers had been thrown away as cannon fodder. Grant agreed, Burnside inexplicably had his division commanders draw lots, and Brigadier Gen. James Ledlie drew the short straw.

It was bad enough that the last minute change brought in badly unprepared troops for a tricky attack, but Ledlie had the distinction of being one of the most drunken cowards in the Union officer corps. This was to have terrible consequences.

Union troops operating north of Petersburg had drawn off most of the Southern troops, leaving the line weakened, and the time was ideal for the assault. After months of labor and the emplacement of more than four tons of blasting powder under the Confederate fortifications, the attack began with triggering the explosives at 4:45 a.m. on June 30, 1864.

A Navy pilot who saved a fellow aviator from the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ recounts the week that made him a legend
Illustration of the explosion of the mine under the Confederate works at Petersburg—July 30th 1864. (Public Domain)

The resulting blast was the largest man-made explosion in history up to that point. A massive mushroom cloud, which sent men, horses, artillery, and huge amounts of earth flying into the air, left a crater 130-feet long, 75-feet wide, and 35-feet deep. The explosion killed a full third of the South Carolina unit defending the strongpoint, over 200 men, in an instant. The concussive force of the explosion left the rest of the brigade stunned for at least 15 minutes.

Despite the spectacular success of the mine blast, the assault started to go wrong from the beginning. Ledlie was drunk and hiding in a bunker in the rear, and his leaderless division ran into the crater instead of around it, milling about uncertainly. Other units pouring into the attack only added to the chaos.

The recovered Confederate troops laid a kill zone around the crater, keeping the Union troops pinned down, and fired everything from rifles to mortar shells into the packed troops stuck in the blast zone. The 4th USCT, despite being relegated to the second wave, penetrated farther than anyone, but suffered severely in the process.

After holding out for hours, a final counterattack by a Confederate brigade of Virginians routed the still numerically superior Union forces, which suffered appalling casualties, and many were taken prisoner.

There are many Southern eyewitness accounts of black prisoners being summarily shot down by Confederate troops, and the particularly severe casualty rates suffered by the black units seem to bear this out. Even some Union soldiers were reportedly involved in the killings, driven by fear of the Confederate warnings of reprisals for fighting alongside black soldiers. The shouting of “No Quarter!” and “Remember Fort Pillow!” by the black troops during their charge was also later cited as a justification for the executions by the Confederacy.

Burnside and Ledie were both relieved of duty after the disaster, though Burnside was later cleared by Congress since it was Meade who decided to replace the USCT at the last moment. Burnside never held a significant command again.

The supreme irony of the battle was that despite the efforts to spare the lives of black troops from politically inconvenient slaughter, the utter failure of the lead wave to force the breach lead to terrible casualties for the black units they had replaced. Gen. Grant later said “it was the saddest affair I witnessed during the war.”

A Navy pilot who saved a fellow aviator from the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ recounts the week that made him a legend
NPS marker depicting details of the mine. (Pi3.124, Wikipedia)

The siege would drag on for another eight months, and Petersburg’s fall led to the prompt surrender of Richmond, precipitating Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse. The Crater remains a prime example of a brilliant plan spoiled by incompetent execution.

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