The most comprehensive study yet made of veteran suicide concludes that on average 20 veterans a day are taking their own lives.
The average daily tally is two less than the VA previously estimated, but is based on a more thorough review of Defense Department records, records from each state and data from the Centers for Disease Control, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“One veteran suicide is one too many, and this collaborative effort provides both updated and comprehensive data that allows us to make better-informed decisions on how to prevent this national tragedy,” said Dr. David J. Shulkin, VA Under Secretary for Health. “We as a nation must focus on bringing the number of veteran suicides to zero.”
The VA said in a statement that the report will be released at the end of July.
The study found that veterans accounted for 18 percent of all deaths from suicide among U.S. adults in 2014 — a decrease from 22 percent in 2010.
Veteran suicides increased at a rate higher than adult civilians between 2001 and 2014. The civilian rate grew by 23 percent while veteran suicides increased 32 percent over the same period. “After controlling for age and gender, this makes the risk of suicide 21 percent greater for veterans,” the VA said.
The study also found that the suicide rates among veterans — male and female — who use VA services increased, though not at the rate among veterans who did not use the services.
Overall, the suicide rate since 2001 among all veterans using VA services grew by 8.8 percent versus 38.6 percent for those who did not. For male veterans, the rate increased 11 percent and 35 percent, respectively. For female vets, the rates increased 4.6 percent and 98 percent, according to the study.
In its last study, the VA noted that its figures probably were underestimated, in part because it relied on state records that were not always complete or accurate. Another shortcoming with the earlier report is that it used information from only 21 states.
“The ability of death certificates to fully capture female Veterans was particularly low; only 67 percent of true female Veterans were identified,” the report stated. “Younger or unmarried Veterans and those with lower levels of education were also more likely to be missed on the death certificate.”
The increasing rate of female suicides prompted Congress to pass the Female Veterans Suicide Act, which President Obama signed into law last month.
The VA’s announcement does not offer an explanation why older veterans are more likely to commit suicide, though Dr. Tom Berger, a Navy corpsman in Vietnam and now executive director of the Veterans Health Council at Vietnam Veterans of America, previously told Military.com that sometimes veterans reach an age where they’re not as active with work or other commitments that may have been coping mechanisms for post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental health issues.
The VA said in its announcement on Thursday that over 1.6 million veterans received mental health treatment from the department, including at more than 150 medical centers, 820 community-based outpatient clinics and 300 Vet Centers. Veterans also enter VA health care through theVeterans Crisis Line, VA staff on college and university campuses, or other outreach points.
The VA anticipates having 1,000 locations where veterans can receive mental health care by the end of 2016.
Efforts to address the high suicide rates among veterans also include predictive modeling — using clinical signs of suicide — to determine which vets may be at highest risk, the VA said in its statement. This system will enable providers to intervene early in the cases of most at-risk veterans.
The VA is also expanding telemental health care by establishing four new regional telemental health hubs across the VA health care system, hiring more than 60 new crisis intervention responders for the Veterans Crisis Line, and building new partnerships between VA programs and community-based programs.
A non-commissioned officer and a lower-ranking enlisted member of the 2nd Battalion, Fourth Marine Regiment at that base pleaded guilty to nonjudicial punishment, instead of going to trial in military court, for comments they made on United States Grunt Corps.
That’s an online community created after Facebook shuttered the Marines United private page following allegations that some members swapped salacious images of female service members — often without the women’s knowledge or consent — and openly derided them.
On April 5, Camp Pendleton officials were alerted that the two Marines in question had used the Grunt Corps site to make contemptuous remarks against a person in their chain of command. The two Marines’ battalion commander, Lt. Col. Warren Cook, initiated an investigation and the pair admitted their guilt.
Both Marines were demoted by one pay grade, sentenced to 45 days of restriction to their barracks and given 45 days of punitive duties concurrent to the other punishments. No other details about the case, such as the two Marines’ names and what they wrote in the online forum, were disclosed.
In a statement released by the Camp Pendleton-based 1st Marine Division to The San Diego Union-Tribune, Cook said the case proved that his unit refuses “to tolerate personal attacks on their Marines, online or elsewhere.”
“This kind of behavior flies in the face of our service’s core values and this organization refuses to condone it. Each member of this battalion is a valued part of a storied and effective combat unit, and our success is based on trust, mutual respect, and teamwork,” Cook said.
The case was first reported on April 7 by the Washington Post.
Since March 22, service members in Marine units worldwide have signed counseling statements — called “Page 11s” — that are then added to their permanent records indicating that they understand and will follow the Corps’ revamped guidelines on cyber bullying.
At its peak in February, Marines United counted nearly 30,000 members — active-duty or reserve Marines and sailors, along with veterans who served in those military branches.
Most of those members didn’t share inappropriate images or cast slurs against female service members; the ongoing criminal investigation has focused on an estimated 500 men who did.
The probe involves the Marine Corps, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the FBI, the U.S. Department of Justice and law-enforcement agencies in various states.
During a Pentagon roundtable with reporters on April 7, Gen. Glenn Walters, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, vowed to continue going after online wrongdoing by Marines while enacting deeper reforms to root out an often toxic culture in the military that vilifies women.
“Our Marines and the American people deserve nothing less. Marines don’t fail. The vast majority of Marines live our ethos, and a part of that ethos is to correct or hold appropriately accountable those Marines who don’t,” Glenn said.
“Marines don’t degrade their fellow Marines. Marines don’t disrespect or discriminate based on gender, religious affiliation, sexuality or race. Semper Fidelis — always faithful — has a deep meaning that we are called to defend. The Marine Corps owns this problem and we are committed to addressing it for the long term.”
Glenn pointed to NCIS innovations that have increased information sharing and streamlined reporting of incidents to track online misconduct. NCIS agents can now ship investigative material on minor offenses or non-criminal actions to a “fusion cell” within the larger task force probing the Marines United scandal.
The info is then routed to local commanders to punish the online scofflaws, such as the two Marines at Camp Pendleton.
Part of the task force, which is led by Marine Col. Cheryl Blackstone, continues to study more than 150 potential changes to the way the Corps recruits, trains, and retains personnel to clean up an institution long deemed by critics to be corrosive to women.
Blackstone has commissioned studies exploring whether to increase the number of events where male and female Marines train together while looking at dozens of recently instituted changes to the training of Marine recruits, Glenn said.
Future revamping could include a “Women in the Marine Corps Advisory Council” and the creation of a forum where current and former female Marines who were victimized in their careers can share their stories without fear of retaliation or reprisal.
Since the Marines United case became public, critics of the Corps’ gender policies have expressed a range of reactions.
Some have conveyed cautious optimism that top leaders of the service, including commandant Gen. Robert Neller, appear to be taking the scandal seriously.
Others had said they can’t trust the Corps to police its own because similar incidents in the past were ignored or minimized.
Still others have given support to the Corps’ current reform efforts but question whether it, NCIS, and other enforcement agencies are nimble enough to pursue violators in the rapidly shifting world of online forums.
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
A C-130J Super Hercules from the 37th Airlift Squadron fires flares as it performs anti-aircraft fire tests during exercise Carpathian on May 9, 2016, in Romania. The 37th AS, from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, began participating in off-station training deployments with Romania as early as 1996, allowing the U.S. Air Force to work with NATO allies to develop and improve ready air forces capable of maintaining regional security.
Phase technicians from the 455th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron work on an F-16C Fighting Falcon during routine phase maintenance at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, May 18, 2016. Phase inspections are performed on aircraft every 300 flight hours and involve procedural maintenance actions that require robust attention to detail.
A 2d Squadron 2d Cavalry Regiment infantryman suppresses opposing forces with a M240B machine gun during Exercise Spring Storm in Voru, Estonia, May 14, 2016. Approximately 6,000 military personnel from the U.S., Finland, German Bundeswehr, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom’sHM Armed Forces and Canadian Armed Forces participated in the annual Estonian Army Land Defense Forces training exercise.
Soldiers assigned to 3rd Infantry Division, move to their battle position in a M1 Abrams during the Strong Europe Tank Challenge (SETC) at 7th Army JMTC’s Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, May 11, 2016.
PACIFIC OCEAN (May 17, 2016) Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 2nd Class Michael Allen, assigned to amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6), directs an AV-8B Harrier from Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 311 on the ship’s flight deck. America is an aviation centric amphibious assault ship that supports small-scale contingency operations of an expeditionary strike group, to forcible entry missions in major theaters of war. The ship is currently conducting maritime training operations off the coast of California.
GUAM (May 17, 2016) U. S. Navy Sailors assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 5 land and retrieve their parachutes in Guam after a high altitude-low opening parachute jump. EODMU5 conducted counter improvised explosive device operations, renders safe explosive hazards and disarms underwater explosives.
A Marine attending the Military Police Basic Course, runs to cover during a field training exercise at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., May 11, 2016. The purpose of the course is to provide entry level pipeline and lateral move Marines the knowledge and skills to become disciplined, motivated and capable of performing the duties and responsibilities of military occupational specialty 5811, Military Police.
Marines with I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) provide security while other Marines conduct fast-rope inserts from a UH-1Y Huey with HMLA-267, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, May 9. 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (1st Anglico), I MEF, facilitated a helicopter rope and suspension technique training package for U.S. Marines and Royal British Commandos.
My name is 1/c Kevin Alvarez and I will be taking you through the events that occur during commencement week leading up to graduation for the class of 2016! Pictured above is the sunset regimental review that took place last night in honor of Rear Admiral Rendon, Superintendent, United States Coast Guard Academy.
Step 1 of 3: 186 First Class Cadets line up and make their way to Cadet Memorial Field where they will soon be handed their diplomas and be commissioned as officers.
If you’re headed overseas to fight against Islamic State and Al Qaeda, then one company may have a cutting-edge rifle for you – at the cost of zero dollars.
Pflugerville, Texas-based TrackingPoint is offering 10 free M600 Service Rifles or M800 Designated Marksman Rifles to any U.S. organization that can legally bring them to the Middle East for the fight against terrorism.
“It’s hard to sit back and watch what is happening over there. We want to do our part,” explained the company’s CEOJohn McHale, in a press release. “Ten guns doesn’t sound like a lot but the dramatic leap in lethality is a great force multiplier. Those ten guns will feel like two hundred to the enemy.”
“We firmly believe that the M600 SR and M800 DMR will save countless lives and enable our soldiers to dominate enemy combatants including terrorists,” he added.
Precision Guided Rifles are designed to help overcome factors that can impact precision for shooters like recoil, direction and speed of wind, inclination, and temperature. They also work to help counteract common human errors like miscalculating range.
The M600 SR
TrackingPoint designed the M600 SR Squad Level Precision Guided NATO 5.56 Service Rifle to replace the M4A1.
The full length is 36.25 inches including the 16-inch barrel. The M600 weighs 12 pounds and has an operating time of two-and-a-half hours.
Whether you are an inexperienced or accomplished shooter, the rifle has an 87 percent first shot success rate out to 600 yards – a percentage 40 times higher than the first shot kill rate for an average warfighter, according to the company.
The rifle is also designed to eliminate targets moving as fast as 15 mph.
The M800 DMR
TrackingPoint describes this rifle as the “nuclear bomb of small arms.”
The M800 Designated Marksman Rifle Squad-Level Precision guided 7.62 was designed to replace the M110 and M14.
This rifle weighs a bit more at 14 and-a-half pounds. The full length is 39 inches with the 18-inch barrel. The M800 also has an operating time of two and-a-half hours before needing to switch out the dual lithium-ion batteries.
With the very first shot, the success rate on this rifle is 89 percent at out to 800 yards- based on the company’s evaluation.
Extrapolating from the Army’s 1999 White Feather study, TrackingPoint says this 89 percent success rate is about 33 times the success rate of first shots as kill shots by professional snipers.
The M800 DMR can hit targets moving as fast as 20 mph.
Both rifles incorporate the company’s “RapidLok Target Acquisition.” As a warfighter pulls the trigger, the target is automatically acquired and tracked. The range is also calculated and measured for velocity. Accuracy is enhanced because all this work is accomplished by the time the trigger squeeze is completely.
Both rifles also feature tech that enables accurate off-hand shots. The image is stabilized to the sort of image you would get with a supported gun rest.
Each rifle comes with a case that includes a charger, bi-pod, 20 round mag, bore guide and link pin. It also comes ready with two batteries.
The M600 SR retails for $9995, while the M800 DMR will be available for $15,995. If you’re an interested civilian, TrackingPoint says the weapons are available to “select non-military U.S. individuals.”
On Dec. 5, the company will begin shipping the free rifles to the chosen qualified U.S, citizens who can bring the guns into the fight against terrorism legally.
Most travelers have a number of things to worry about during the holiday season.
For TSA agents at the country’s airports, there’s also a variety of things to worry about — knives, fake grenades, swords hidden in canes, knives hidden in guns, throwing stars, and all sorts of other contraband.
The TSA has taken to documenting some of the weapons and other prohibited items it encounters at security checkpoints, posting them on the agency’s Instagram account, which has accumulated more than 500,000 followers and rave reviews.
“I knew it would be popular and I knew we’d have a never-ending source of content,” Bob Burns, who runs the Instagram account, told The Washington Post. “But I didn’t know how popular we’d be.”
Below, you can see a selection of strange weaponry or look-alike weaponry that the TSA has come across and put on its Instagram, which Rolling Stone recently ranked as the fourth-best account on the social-media site.
“We’re pretty sure this isn’t a letter opener. A bladed dragon claw perhaps??? Whatever it is, it should be packed in checked baggage. It was discovered in a carry-on bag at Atlanta (ATL).”
“Is this some kind of confangled rotisserie contraption for turkeys? Nope. These are Sai. If you’re a #TeenageMutantTurtle fan, you’ll know the Sai as Raphael’s weapon or choice. If you still have no clue, a Sai is a weapon used for striking, bludgeoning and punctures. Whatever it is you use them for, please know they must be packed in checked baggage. These were discovered in a carry-on bag at Boise (BOI).”
“This ornate flask of black powder was discovered in a carry-on bag at Allentown (ABE). While it is a fancy flask, the black powder contained within is an explosive and is strictly prohibited in both carry-on and checked bags.”
“Packing list: Socks. ✅ Toothbrush. ✅ Curling Iron. ✅ Post-apocalyptic bullet-adorned gas mask. ❌ While gas masks are allowed in carry-on bags, replica bullets are not. This was discovered in a carry-on bag at Miami (MIA). Maybe he was catching a one way flight to #FuryRoad?”
“Don’t pack your homemade replica suicide vest. The traveler who packed this vest in his checked bag at Richmond (RIC) stated it was a prop intended for use in a live-action role-playing game (LARP). TSA explosives experts raced to the checked baggage room and the airport police were called immediately. Fortunately, the explosives experts determined the vest posed no danger. It has yet to be determined if the officer who searched the bag needed a change of clothing.”
“While about to receive a pat-down after opting out of body scanner screening, a Chicago O’Hare (ORD) traveler remembered that he had a throwing knife necklace under his shirt. All knives are prohibited and concealed knives can lead to fines and arrest.”
“While some travelers are worried about packing nail clippers (they are allowed), others pack a pair of five-bladed floggers. You guessed it; these are not allowed in carry-on bags. If you’re in a situation where you’re going to need your floggers, they’ll have to be packed in checked baggage. These were discovered last week in a carry-on bag at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas (IAH).”
“You’ve likely heard that you’re not supposed to bring a knife to a gunfight? Well, you’re not supposed to bring either in your carry-on bag. Both replica weapons and knives are not allowed in carry-on bags. If you find yourself needing to travel with your gun knife, please pack it in your checked bag. This gun knife was discovered in a carry-on bag at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW).”
“This 4-bladed throwing star was discovered in a carry-on bag at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO). These must be packed in your checked bags. Sorry Prince Colwyn. #Krull”
“This belt buckle knife was discovered in a traveler’s carry-on property recently at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport (CAE). Concealed weapons can lead to fines and arrest.”
“Naruto’s ninja gear was discovered in a carry-on bag at Las Vegas (LAS). Please pack all ninja gear in your checked bags.”
“This knuckle knife was discovered in a carry-on bag at Memphis (MEM). Knives of any size are not allowed in carry-on bags. They must be packed in checked bags.”
“This impaler cane was discovered amongst a traveler’s carry-on property in Baltimore (BWI). These must be packed with checked baggage. Concealed weapons can lead to fines and arrest.”
“Many things can be hidden in shoes, but explosives are what concern us the most. This shoe is a replica of the bomb Richard Reid attempted to use in 2001 on his flight from Paris to Miami.”
“Your trailer hitch hand grenade is prohibited from both carry-on and checked bags. So what’s the big deal if it’s inert? First off, we don’t know it’s inert until explosives professionals take a closer look, and that takes time and slows down the line. It can even lead to a complete shutdown and evacuation. Also, imagine the person sitting next to you on the plane pulling this out of their carry-on. For these reasons, anything resembling a bomb or grenade is prohibited from both carry-on and checked bags. #TSATravelTips This inert grenade was discovered in a checked bag recently at the SBP airport.”
“And yet, another confounded #batarang has been discovered in a carry-on bag. This time it was discovered at the Charlottesville–Albemarle Airport (CHO). Batarangs, along with most other items on your utility belt must be packed in your checked bag. #Bam #Kapow #Zok #Biff #Zowie”
“These swords and throwing knives were discovered recently in a carry-on bag at the William P. Hobby Airport Houston (HOU). You guessed it! Swords and throwing knives are prohibited in carry-on bags. It perfectly acceptable to pack them in your checked bags, though.”
“This knife was discovered concealed in a bottle of pills at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Concealed knives can lead to fines and arrest. Please pack them in your checked bag.”
“#TBT November, 2007 – These knives were discovered concealed in a PC/DVD-ROM game case at Gulfport (GPT). Knives are prohibited, and concealed knives can lead to fines and arrest. You may pack knives, swords, machetes and other bladed items in your checked bags.”
“It’s a cane. It’s a sword. It’s a cane sword, and it’s prohibited from being packed with your carry-on items. Cane swords may be packed in your checked bag. This cane sword was discovered at LaGuardia (LGA).”
Syrian state media said a military airport near Homs had come under missile attack, which was repelled by its air defense systems on May 24, 2018.
“One of our military airports in the central region was exposed to hostile missile aggression, and our air defense systems confronted the attack and prevented it from achieving its aim,” state news agency SANA said.
Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, tweeted that there were reports of “possible #Israel airstrikes underway targeting the Al-Dhaba’a Airbase near Al-Qusayr in #Homs, #Syria.”
Al-Qusayr is an Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah stronghold, Lister tweeted.
“Some local users said #Israel strikes,” Joyce Karam, a reporter at The National, also tweeted.
SANA earlier reported sounds of explosions heard near the Dabaa airport near the city of Homs.
A 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron B-1B Lancer conducts a training mission in the vicinity of Japan where they integrated with Japan Air Self Defense Force assets, May 12, 2020. (U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman River Bruce)
The Air Force‘s B-1B Lancer bomber is about to move front and center in the U.S. military’s power-projection mission in the Pacific.
As part of its mission “reset” for the B-1 fleet, the Air Force is not only making its supersonic bombers more visible with multiple flights around the world, it’s also getting back into the habit of having them practice stand-off precision strikes in the Pacific, a dramatic pivot following years of flying close-air support missions in the Middle East.
The “nice thing about the B-1 is it can carry [the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile], and that’s perfectly suited for the Pacific theater,” Maj. Gen. Jim Dawkins Jr., commander of the Eighth Air Force and the Joint-Global Strike Operations Center at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, said in an interview Tuesday.
“Not only are we resetting the airplane’s mission-capability rates and the training done for the aircraft, we’re also resetting how we employ the airplane to get more toward great power competition to align with the National Defense Strategy,” added Dawkins, who supports the warfighting air component to U.S. Strategic Command, as well as operations within Air Force Global Strike Command.
According to the 2018 NDS, “China is a strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea.”
Former Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson stated that China has become “a pacing threat for the U.S. Air Force because of the pace of their modernization” in the region.
The Pentagon’s strategy prioritizes deterring adversaries by denying their use of force in the first place.
During a simulated strike, crews “will pick a notional target, and then they will do some mission planning and flying through an area that they are able to hold that target at risk, at range,” Dawkins said.
Close-air support, the B-1’s primary mission in recent years, is a much different skill set than “shooting standoff weapons like JASSM-ER and LRASM,” he said, referring to the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile and Joint Air to Surface Stand-Off Missiles-Extended Range.
While Dawkins wouldn’t get into specifics of how crews are conducting the practice runs in the Pacific, the non-nuclear B-1s have been spotted recently carrying Joint Air to Surface Stand-Off Missiles.
Photos recently posted on DVIDS, the U.S. military’s multimedia distribution website, show Dyess’ 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron Aircraft Maintenance Unit weapons crew members loading a JASSM into the belly of a plane. The B-1 is capable of carrying 75,000 pounds — 5,000 pounds more than the B-52 Stratofortress — of both precision-guided and conventional bombs.
The JASSM’s newer variant, JASSM-ER, has a higher survivability rate — meaning it’s less likely to be detected and shot down — due to low-observable technology incorporated into the conventional air-to-ground precision-guided missile. It is said to have a range of roughly 600 miles, compared with the 230-mile reach of JASSM, according to The Drive.
The LRASM, a Navy missile integrated on both the B-1 and F/A-18 Super Hornet, is able to autonomously locate and track targets while avoiding friendly forces.
Joint air-to-surface standoff missiles are loaded into a 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron B-1B Lancer on the flightline at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, May 9, 2020. The B-1Bs carry the largest conventional payload of both guided and unguided weapons in the Air Force inventory. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman River Bruce)
The precision-guided, anti-ship standoff missile was first tested on a B-1 in August 2017. A single B-1 can carry up to 24 LRASMs, or the same number of JASSM-ERs. The LRASM missile achieved early operational capability on the bomber in 2018.
The vast expanses of the Pacific are well-suited for training with these kinds of missiles, Dawkins explained. Stateside ranges, which may lack surface waters or enough distance between two points, depending on location, cannot always accommodate the needs of bomber crews training with these long-range weapons.
Also, “[when] we deploy, for instance to Guam, taking off from [the U.S.] and going to the Pacific, it allows us to do some integration with our allies, as well as exercise the command-and-control … and also allows us to practice our long-duration flights and work with the tankers,” he said.
The flight was part of the Air Force’s new unpredictable deployment experiment to test crews’ agility when sending heavy aircraft forces around the world, since the need to improve the bombers’ deployability rate is also crucial, Dawkins said.
Mission-capability rates refers to how many aircraft are deployable at a given time. The B-1 has been on a slow and steady track to improve its rate — which hovers around 50% — after being broken down by back-to-back missions in the desert, officials have said.
The B-1 could become the face of the Pacific for the foreseeable future, Dawkins said.
“We want … to be the roving linebacker, if you will, particularly in the Pacific,” he said, adding the mission could also pave the way for incorporating hypersonic weapons into the bomber’s arsenal.
Gen. Tim Ray, head of Air Force Global Strike Command, has expressed support for the B-1 as a future hypersonic weapons platform.
“Basically, the configuration we’re seeking is external hardpoints that can allow us to add six Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapons [ARRW, pronounced “Arrow”], and then you still have the bomb bay where you can carry the LRASM or the JASSM-ER,” Ray told reporters last month. LRASM or JASSM-ER could also be carried externally, he added.
“They’re not doing any testing with the hypersonic on the B-1, but that’s definitely in the mix,” Dawkins said.
If configured with that payload in the future, that would be “quite a bit of air power coming off that airplane, whether it’s JASSMs, JASSM-ERs or some combination of those, and hypersonics,” he said.
The U.S. Navy and numerous NATO partners are developing a new, high-tech ship defense weapon designed to identify, track and destroy incoming enemy anti-ship cruise missiles and other threats, service officials explained.
The Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile Block II, or ESSM, is a new version of an existing Sea Sparrow weapons system currently protecting aircraft carriers, destroyers, cruisers, amphibious assault ships and other vessels against anti-ship missiles and other surface and airborne short-range threats to ships, Navy officials said.
The ESSM Block 2 is engineered with what’s called an active guidance system, meaning the missile itself can achieve improved flight or guidance to its target by both receiving and actively sending electromagnetic signals, said Raytheon officials.
The ESSM uses radar technology to locate and then intercept a fast-approaching target while in flight; the use of what’s called an “illuminator” is a big part of this capability, Raytheon officials said.
The current ESSM missiles use what’s called a semi-active guidance system, meaning the missile itself can receive electromagnetic signals bounced off the target by an illuminator; the ESSM Block 2’s “active” guidance includes illuminator technology built onto the missile itself such that it can both receive and send important electromagnetic signals, Navy and Raytheon officials explained.
Block 2 relieves the missile from the requirement of having to use a lot of illuminator guidance from the ship as a short range self-defense, senior Navy officials have said.
A shipboard illuminator is an RF signal that bounces off a target, Raytheon weapons developers have explained. The antenna in the nose in the guidance section [of the missile] sees the reflected energy and then corrects to intercept that reflective energy, the Raytheon official added.
The emerging missile has an “active” front end, meaning it can send an electromagnetic signal forward to track a maneuvering target, at times without needing a ship-based illuminator for guidance.
“The ESSM Block 2 will employ both a semi-active and active guidance system. Like ESSM Block 1, the Block 2 missile, in semi-active mode, will rely upon shipboard illuminators,” Navy spokesman Dale Eng, Naval Sea Systems Command, told Scout Warrior in a written statement.
Also, the missile is able to intercept threats that are close to the surface by sea-skimming or diving in onto a target from a higher altitude, Navy officials explained. The so-called kinematic or guidance improvements of the Block 2 missile give it an improved ability to counter maneuvering threats, Navy and Raytheon officials said.
ESSM Block 2 is being jointly acquired by the U.S. and a number of allied countries such as Australia, Canada, Denmark, The Netherlands, Norway and Turkey. All these countries signed an ESSM Block 2 Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, designed to solidify the developmental path for the missile system through it next phase. The weapon is slated to be fully operational on ships by 2020.
“The ESSM Block 2 will be fired out of more than 5 different launching systems across the NATO Seasparrow Consortium navies. This includes both vertical and trainable launching systems,” Eng added.
U.S. Navy weapons developers are working closely with NATO allies to ensure the weapon is properly operational across the alliance of countries planning to deploy the weapon, Eng explained.
“The ESSM Block 2 is currently in the Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) phase. The ESSM Block 2 will be integrated with the various combat systems across the navies of the NATO Seasparrow Consortium nations,” Eng said.
The ESSM Block 2 weapon is part of what Navy officials describe as a layered defense system, referring to an integrated series of weapons, sensors and interceptors designed to detect and destroy a wide-range of incoming threats from varying distances.
For instance, may ships have Aegis Radar and SM-3 missiles for long-range ballistic missile defense. Moving to threats a litter closer, such as those inside the earth’s atmosphere such as anti-ship cruise missiles, enemy aircraft, drones and surface ships, the Navy has the SM-6, ESSM, Rolling Airframe Missile and SeaRAM for slightly closer threats. When it comes to defending the ship from the closest-in threats, many ships have the Close-In-Weapons System, or CIWS, which fires a 20-mm rapid-fire Phalanx gun toward fast approaching surface and airborne threats.
Five years ago, I watched in the Situation Room along with President Obama, Vice President Biden, and members of the President’s national security team to see if U.S. Special Operations Forces could deliver the justice that every American had been waiting for for a decade.
In the three-plus months leading up to the operation, the White House’s National Security Council staff organized over two dozen inter-agency meetings to oversee preparations and consider all of the attendant issues: the evaluation of the emerging intelligence, possible operational courses of action, the consequences and implications of both success and failure.
What struck me most about that process was the absolute attention to operational security, discretion, and secrecy. Very few individuals beyond the most senior officials were involved in the policy piece of this operation. Extraordinary measures were taken to limit information flow, and those involved maintained an incredibly high degree of discipline.
All possible options and potential courses of action were considered, analyzed and debated at the very highest levels. All of the potential issues were reviewed: impact of an operation on our relationship with Pakistan and with our other allies, possible reaction by al Qaeda and the potential for retaliatory action against U.S. interests, steps needed to prepare for possible retaliatory attacks, and next steps in the wake of an operation whether it was successful or unsuccessful.
Reflecting on the lead up to the raid, Director on National Intelligence Clapper said:
“As is always the case in intelligence, it wasn’t complete. Right up until the last minute, we couldn’t confirm he was there. Some argued we needed more time.” Nonetheless, he never doubted the advantages of a raid compared to alternatives, “At least with a raid, you’d have people on the ground who could make judgments.”
It was apparent that the President’s paramount concern was the safety and security of the operators. On a number of occasions, the President provided very pointed guidance to the Department of Defense and to Admiral Bill McRaven to make that very clear.
On the day before the operation took place, Saturday, April 30, President Obama placed a secure call to Admiral McRaven. The President was in the midst of his preparation for his scheduled appearance that evening at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner. I had the privilege of staffing the President for that phone call, which the President conducted from the Oval Office. When I came in, the President’s speechwriters were asked to step out.
In that call, the President inquired if McRaven believed the force was ready to proceed and if they had everything they needed to carry out a successful operation. McRaven affirmed that they did, and the President wished McRaven and the forces under his command Godspeed.
A very brief call, but one that would prove historic.
During the raid itself, I clearly recall the role that Admiral McRaven played from Jalalabad, Afghanistan. In addition to carrying out his command and control function with his team, he was piped in via secure video conference (SVTC) to provide updates to the CIA and the assembled officials at the White House Situation Room, including the President. As the Department of Defense operators would move down their checklist, we heard McRaven’s voice as each operational or geographical mark or milestone was hit.
As Director Clapper said:
“There was a lot of tension, and then as it became clear that we were reasonably sure that yes, it was Osama bin Laden, there was, if I can use the phrase, not only emotional closure, but functional closure, in that the operation illustrated the effectiveness of what an integrated intelligence and operational community could accomplish.”
The amazing part to me was that McRaven’s voice — at least to my memory — never changed inflection, never conveyed concern or excitement or any sense that there was something dramatic happening, and never intimated anything other than calm professionalism. That included those incredibly tense moments when things did not go according to plan with the helicopter assault. You would never have known that anything was amiss if all you were going by was his voice doing the play-by-play.
Even when U.S. Special Operations Forces successfully took out Osama bin Laden.
President Obama delivered the news to the nation on May 1, 2011.
After the operators safely returned to base, McRaven noted that one way in which they had potentially confirmed bin Laden’s identity was by determining that he was in fact as tall in stature as we in the Intelligence Community knew him to be. He told the President they had had one of their taller SEAL operators, about 6’3″, lie down on the ground in the hangar at Jalalabad next to the remains and they assessed he was roughly the same height as the recovered body.
The President then noted over the SVTC with McRaven that they had all those millions and millions of dollars of Defense equipment but they didn’t have a tape measure, which obviously got a good laugh from all around the table and on SVTC. And when McRaven ultimately did visit the President in the Oval Office some days after the raid, President Obama did in fact “gift” McRaven with a tape measure from Home Depot mounted on a ceremonial plaque in case it was ever needed again.
I was recently down at Fort Bragg and saw that the gift remains prominently displayed in the Commander’s Conference Room at the Joint Special Operations Command.
When it was all over, I still remember my shock and surprise when I walked outside of the West Wing basement across the street to return to my office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, shortly after the President had concluded his address to the nation.
I was amazed to see (and hear) the streets surrounding the White House complex were filled with what seemed like thousands of people celebrating the fact that justice had finally been done, even though it was after midnight on a Sunday night — normally about as quiet and peaceful a time on the streets of Washington as you would ever see.
Director Clapper noted the enormity of the situation:
“It is hard for me to recall a single vignette that carried with it so much importance, and so much symbolism for this country. As an intelligence professional that has spent 50 years in the business, I cannot remember an event that would approach that raid and its success in my memory.”
The most meaningful moment came days later, when President Obama visited Fort Campbell to meet with some of the operators involved in the mission. A number of senior staff members, including myself, were privileged to attend a meeting and briefing with members of the assault force. The President heard firsthand many of the details of the operation and offered his admiration and gratitude for the work that had been done.
The enormous degree of respect that the President had for the Special Operations Forces was apparent to anybody who attended.
The bravery of these men, the justice they delivered, and the legacy they leave behind — that will be remembered by all of us.
DoD’s embed program and other mechanisms have given journalists and filmmakers substantial access to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so it’s no surprise that those conflicts have been some of the best documented in history. Here is WATM’s list of 11 post 9-11 documentaries that did the best at capturing what really happened:
The Hornet’s Nest
A father-son journalism team embedded on what was supposed to be a three-day raid but ended up being nine days of intense fighting by the 101st Airborne.
A group of paratroopers is deployed to the Korengal Valley, one of the most dangerous spots in Afghanistan, for 15 months. During that time, they fight smugglers and insurgents, attempt to win over the locals, and try to save themselves. A camera crew followa them for much of the deployment, documenting their interactions with Afghans and the deep love the men have for each other.
A group of Danish cavalry soldiers deploy on a six-month tour of Helmand and a Danish filmmaker goes with them. The film includes a lot of the tedium of a soldier’s life as well as a raid where the soldiers find themselves within a few meters of a Taliban machine gun team.
Hell and Back Again
Nominated for a Best Documentary Feature Academy Award, this film tells the story of a Marine injured in Afghanistan who, after returning to the states, struggles with his post traumatic stress disorder and a badly broken leg. “Hell and Back Again” gives a visceral look at how hard it can be for wounded troops to return to civilian life.
This is a very critical look at the American drone program. Drone explains the factors that make drones so popular with troops while also looking at the moral burdens on drone operators and emotional pain of those who’ve lost family members to drone strikes.
The War Tapes
Directed by Deborah Scranton and shot by National Guard soldiers over the course of their training and deployment to Iraq, the documentary focuses on three men with very different views on the war and their commander in chief. This film is arguably the best in terms of capturing the burdens on the modern-day citizen soldier.
Taxi to the Dark Side
An in-depth look at torture during the opening years of the War on Terror, including the decisions made by the Bush administration. It covers Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and the leadership (or absence of it) that governed actions in two prisons. Made by the son of a former Navy interrogator, the film went on to win an Academy Award.
No End In Sight
Although “No End In Sight” was released in 2007, the film concentrates on Iraq in the first year after the invasion. It features interviews with White House and State Department officials who were frustrated with missteps that fueled the growing insurgency and caused extra misery for both Iraqi citizens and the U.S. troops assigned to police them.
The Ground Truth
“The Ground Truth” follows a group of Marines and soldiers from the point they’re recruited and then on to their experiences in war. Troops tell their stories in their own words from their initial training through deployments and struggles once they get home.
A seven-minute drive and there it was; a training site with water pits, steep hills and lots of mud. This was the playground-of-the-day for soldiers with the 445th Transportation Company from Waterloo, Iowa, during their wheeled vehicle recovery class at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, late July 2019.
The training was designed to submerge vehicles in a controlled setting so soldiers could use the skills they’ve learned to retrieve it safely, according to Sgt. 1st Class Thomas McKenzie, an instructor with the Regional Training Site Maintenance Company, from Fort McCoy. Soldiers train in the same scenarios they may face overseas to prepare for the elements, he added.
“I have the firm belief that if you have to call one of our recovery guys, something bad has happened,” said McKenzie, whose unit goes by the motto, “You call, we haul.”
U.S. Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Brett Cosaboom with the Regional Training Site Maintenance Company in Fort McCoy, Wis., prepares a truck during an equipment recovery exercise at Fort McCoy July 20, 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. Alicia Pennisi)
“We never go out when it’s a bright, sunny day and pretty outside,” said McKenzie. “We always go out in the worst possible conditions.”
The group huddled up for a weather briefing just as the clouds rolled in. Despite the inclement weather, they continued mission. Each soldier stood in their respective positions and waited for the next move. Torrential rains pounded down creating conditions of limited visibility, but the soldiers carried on without hesitation.
U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers with the 445th Transportation Company from Waterloo, Iowa, walk through deep water during an equipment recovery exercise at Fort McCoy, Wis., July 20, 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. Alicia Pennisi)
“We don’t stop during bad weather because this is the kind of stuff these soldiers are going to have to deal with, as long as we can do it safely. I tell my soldiers all the time, the number one goal for this class is 10 fingers, 10 toes, vertical and breathing when you leave it,” said McKenzie.
Each soldier took their turn walking into the mire pits to attach massive chains to the submerged vehicles for recovery.
U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers with the 445th Transportation Company from Waterloo, Iowa, perform reconnaissance before an equipment recovery exercise at Fort McCoy, Wis., July 20, 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. Alicia Pennisi)
According to Pfc. Kaleen Hansen, with the 445th Transportation Co., this type of training is an invaluable resource not only for the soldiers in the class, but also the Army Reserve as a whole. Wheeled vehicle mechanics do their job so that other soldiers can get on with theirs, she added.
Throughout the 17-day course, instructors practiced a crawl-walk-run style of learning to ensure soldiers are set up for success in the field, added McKenzie.
U.S. Army Reserve Spc. Austin Smith with the 445th Transportation Company from Waterloo, Iowa, prepares a vehicle during an equipment recovery exercise at Fort McCoy, Wis., July 20, 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. Alicia Pennisi)
“People think it’s just hooking up a cable or chain and moving on. It’s not. There’s a lot of math. These guys are doing a lot of complex equations to figure out what they need to do,” said McKenzie.
A U.S. Army Reserve Soldier with the 445th Transportation Company from Waterloo, Iowa, rinses out his uniform after getting soaked during an equipment recovery exercise at Fort McCoy, Wis., July 20, 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. Alicia Pennisi)
Safety and readiness are the two main concerns when conducting this type of training, according to Spc. Austin Smith, with the 445th Transportation Co. These vehicles weigh-in at 96,000 pounds, so all safety measures are taken seriously to avoid any accidents or injury, he added.
“You take care of us, we’ll take care of you … and we’ll get it done faster than heck,” said Smith.
U.S. Army Reserve Pfc. Kaleen Hansen with the 445th Transportation Company from Waterloo, Iowa, prepares a vehicle during an equipment recovery exercise at Fort McCoy, Wis., July 20, 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. Alicia Pennisi)
Despite tornado warnings, rain and gusting winds, soldiers of the 445th Transportation Co. weathered the storm enough to safely recover all vehicles in a training environment. After a couple more days of practical exercises, the wheeled vehicle mechanic course at Fort McCoy wrapped up July 24, 2019, ensuring, rain or shine, they will be able to support when needed.
The ferocity of the Tet Offensive, which began 51 years ago, surprised most Americans, including service members manning the television station in Hue, Vietnam.
Detachment 5 of the American Forces Vietnam Network (AFVN) was located in a villa about a mile outside the main U.S. compound in Hue, in a neighborhood considered relatively safe from attack.
After the AFVN crew had signed off the air that night and settled into their billets, they heard an explosion down the street. Some of them were already asleep, but a few were still up watching fireworks through their window, since it was the first night of Tet, the Vietnamese lunar New Year.
“Then the real fireworks started,” said Harry Ettmueller, a specialist five and broadcast engineer at the time.
Mortars and rockets began to blast the city landscape and tracer rounds could be seen in the distance.
“It was quite a light show,” said former Spc. 4 John Bagwell, a broadcaster who jumped out of bed once he heard the noise.
Spc. 4 John Bagwell broadcasts for the 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam before he was transferred to AFVN Det. 5 in Hue during January 1968.
(U.S. Army photo)
One mortar round hit the maintenance shed next to their TV station, which was located behind the house where the AFVN team of eight slept.
The team then pulled out their weapons: World War II carbines along with a shotgun, three M14 rifles, and an M60 machine gun that jammed after two shots.
They took up positions in doorways and windows to stop possible entry. They even handed a carbine to a visiting NBC engineer, Courtney Niles, who happened to be an Army veteran.
Battle for Hue
Station commander, Marine 1st Lt. James DiBernardo, called the Military Assistance Command-Vietnam, or MAC-V office in Hue, and was told to keep his crew in place. A division-sized force of the North Vietnamese army, along with Viet Cong guerrillas, was attacking locations all across the city.
They had even captured part of the citadel that once housed Vietnam’s imperial family and later became the headquarters of a South Vietnamese division.
The NVA attack on Hue was one of the strongest and most successful of the Tet Offensive. Even though more than 100 towns and cities across the country were attacked during Tet, the five-week battle for Hue was the only one where communist forces held a significant portion of the city for more than a few days.
On the second day of Tet, the power-generating station in Hue was taken out and the telephone lines to the AFVN compound were cut. The crew became isolated.
AFVN had begun augmenting its radio broadcasting with television in Saigon in early 1967. Then TV went to Da Nang and up to Hue.
The U.S. State Department decided to help the Vietnamese set up a station for local nationals in what had been the consulate’s quarters in Hue. AFVN set up their equipment in a van just outside the same villa and began broadcasting to troops in May.
Following the Tet Offensive, not much remained of the house where members of AFVN Det. 5 held off the North Vietnamese in a 16-hour firefight.
Hundreds of TVs were brought up from Saigon and distributed to troops. Ettmueller said he was often flown by Air America to units near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) to distribute them.
In January 1968, with the 1st Cavalry Division and elements of the 101st Airborne Div. moving up to the northern I Corps area of operations, AFVN decided to add radio broadcasting to the TV station in Hue.
Broadcasters Bagwell and Spc. 5 Steven Stroub were sent from 1st Cavalry to help set up the radio operation. They arrived a day and a half before Tet erupted.
For the next five days, sporadic fire was directed at the AFVN billets, Ettmueller said. The staff members remained in defensive positions at doors and windows.
Bagwell said they were hopeful MACV would send a rescue mission for them, but by the fifth day, they were running out of food and water.
As night fell Feb. 4, the North Vietnamese launched a company-sized assault against the AFVN compound. Dozens of Vietnamese rushed the house and the Americans kept up a steady fire through the windows.
Each time the WWII carbines were fired, though, the magazines fell out and had to be reinserted, Ettmueller said. But he had an M14 and put it on full automatic.
During the assault, a young boy appeared in the window where Bagwell was on guard. The boy was trembling as he pointed his weapon at Bagwell, who hesitated.
“He shot and one bullet came close to my ear and I could hear it whiz by,” Bagwell said. “The next bullet he shot came close to the other ear. I realized if I didn’t kill him, he’d kill me.”
He pulled the trigger on his M14 and the boy fell backward.
North Vietnamese rushed the house repeatedly during the night. Sgt. 1st Class John Anderson, the station’s NCOIC, was awarded a Silver Star for manning the living room door with a shotgun to turn back assault after assault.
“He personally was responsible for inflicting deadly fire on the attacking enemy force,” reads the citation, adding that Anderson held his post despite being severely wounded by enemy grenades.
At one point, a Vietnamese soldier came running toward the door with a satchel of explosives strapped around him. Ettmueller said when one of their bullets hit the soldier’s satchel, it exploded, taking him out and a couple of others near him.
During the course of the night, at least three rocket-propelled grenades were fired at the house and a B40 rocket went right through the front window and hit the back wall. The wall collapsed on Ettmueller and Marine Sgt. Tom Young, forcing both men to crawl out from underneath the debris.
“They pretty much… leveled the house,” Bagwell said.
Breakout and capture
By morning, the house was on fire and the AFVN crew was beginning to run low on ammunition.
They decided their best chance was to try and make a run for the MACV compound. NBC engineer Niles said he knew the layout of the city the best, so he volunteered to be the first one out the door. Bagwell was close behind him.
The plan called for both men to cross the road into a ditch so they could lay down covering fire for the rest of the team. However, Niles was fatally shot. Bagwell applied a quick tourniquet, but said it did not help much.
Anderson and others in the house saw the direction of the gunfire. After a brief pause, the seven of them ran out the door and turned in the opposite direction. They made it through a hole in the fence line and sneaked around a North Vietnamese team manning a machine gun on the second floor of a building under construction.
They made it through another hole in a fence into a small rice paddy, when they came up to the U.S. Information Services library next to a concrete wall topped with barbed wire.
There, the North Vietnamese caught up to them.
Young stepped out to lay down covering fire and was killed by automatic gunfire from the machine-gun position.
Ettmueller described the chaotic situation: “There we were, trapped. More rounds coming in; more grenades being thrown. Chickens running all over the place, jumping up in the air and flying. More rounds coming in.”
Stroub was shot in the left arm and had an open fracture. He passed out, Ettmueller said. Anderson was shot with a bullet that penetrated his flak jacket and grazed his diaphragm. He began to hiccup.
As the AFVN team began to run out of ammo, the North Vietnamese closed in and captured them.
The prisoners were bound with wire and had their boots removed, and then ordered to march forward. Ettmueller helped Stroub up, but it was not long before he stumbled and fell. An NVA soldier opened fire from above with the machine gun and executed him.
Meanwhile, Bagwell was left alone outside the station after Niles was fatally shot. The North Vietnamese had taken off in pursuit of the rest of the AFVN team.
Bagwell, who had been in Hue only a few days, had no idea which way to go and he was out of ammunition.
He wandered the streets, not sure what to do. “I was quite amazed with all the fighting going around that I hadn’t been shot.”
Then he looked down at his boot and spotted a hole. With his adrenaline pumping, he had not felt anything, but “the next thing I knew I was in pain.”
Bagwell looked up and saw a Catholic church. He knocked on the door and pleaded with a priest to help him. About 100 Vietnamese civilians were already hiding in the church.
The priest insisted Bagwell change his clothes. They buried his uniform and M14 in the courtyard. Then the priest wrapped Bagwell’s face in bandages.
“His idea was to make me look as much like a Vietnamese as possible,” Bagwell said.
Not long afterward, North Vietnamese soldiers burst into the church looking for Americans.
“They came by and started pointing their rifles right at my face,” he said. “I just closed my eyes and thought, ‘there’s no way they’re not going to know I’m not Vietnamese.'”
Broadcast Engineer Staff Sgt. Donat Gouin sits behind the television van for Detachment 5 of the American Forces Vietnam Network in Hue.
(U.S. Army photo)
But the North Vietnamese walked on past him. Bagwell was then taken by the priest up into the bell tower of the church to hide.
Other American forces, however, had been told that NVA fighters were hiding in the church, Bagwell said. So, they began to shell the church and hit the bell tower.
Part of the tower collapsed. “I just crawled out of all the mess and crawled back downstairs,” Bagwell said.
The priest then rushed up to him and said, “You know, you’re kind of bad luck. We need to get you out of here.” He pointed across rice paddies to a light in the distance and said he thought that was an American unit.
As he crawled through the rice paddies, Bagwell said a U.S. helicopter began circling him and shining its search light down, thinking he was Vietnamese, since he had no uniform.
“Actually, during that time, I counted about 12 times that I should have been shot and killed,” Bagwell said. “Six by the North Vietnamese and six by the Americans.”
When the sun came up, Bagwell was near a U.S. signal unit. He took off his white shirt and put it on a stick, yelling “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot! I’m an American!”
They held a gun to him and asked if he was really an American.
“You can’t tell with this Okie accent?” Bagwell replied.
“Well, what were you doing out there?” a soldier asked.
“I was with the TV and radio station,” Bagwell said.
“No, I don’t think so; they’re all dead or prisoner,” the soldier insisted. “The only body we haven’t found is Bagwell.”
The North Vietnamese executed an estimated 3,000 South Vietnamese civilians in Hue during Tet for sympathizing with American forces. Bagwell said he learned that a Catholic priest was executed for hiding a U.S. soldier in a church, and he knew that soldier had to be him.
The prisoners of war from AFVN Det. 5 — Ettmueller, DiBernardo and Anderson, along with Marine Cpl. John Deering and Army broadcast engineer Staff Sgt. Donat Gouin — were forced to walk 400 miles barefoot through the jungle over the next 55 days.
For five years, they were tortured, interrogated and moved from one POW camp to another, until released from the infamous Hanoi Hilton in the 1973 prisoner exchange.
Bagwell and Ettmueller were inducted into the Army Public Affairs Hall of Fame in 2008. The Army Broadcast Journalist of the Year Award is named in Anderson’s honor.
Editor’s note: Bagwell and Ettmueller were interviewed this month by phone. Retired Master Sgt. Anderson was interviewed in 1983 when he was a civilian public affairs officer at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.
Aluminum has served in war since ancient times, but its most common application today is as armor, allowing for well-protected but light vehicles that can tear through rough terrain where steel would get bogged down. But aluminum has an unearned reputation for burning, so troops don’t line up to ride in them under fire.
Crewmen in the coupla of an M-2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle elevate the barrel during a 1987 exercise.
(U.S. Army Pfc. Prince Hearns)
Aluminum got its start in war as alum, a salt composed of aluminum and potassium. This was one of the earliest uses of aluminum in military history. Ancient commanders learned you could apply a solution of the stuff to wood and reduce the chances it would burn when an enemy hit it with fire.
As chemists and scientists learned how to create pure aluminum in the 1800s, some military leaders looked to it for a new age of weaponry. At the time, extracting and smelting aluminum was challenging and super expensive, but Napoleon sponsored research as he sought to create aluminum artillery.
Because aluminum is so much lighter than steel, it could’ve given rise to more mobile artillery units, capable of navigating muddy lanes that would stop heavier units. Napoleon’s scientists could never get the process right to mass produce the metal, so the ideas never came to fruition.
But aluminum has some drawbacks when it comes to weapon barrels. It’s soft, and it has a relatively low melting point. So, start churning out cannon balls from aluminum guns, and you run the risk of warping the barrels right when you need them.
Instead, the modern military uses aluminum, now relatively cheap to mine and refine, to serve as armor. It’s light, and it can take a hit, making it perfect for protection. The softness isn’t ideal for all purposes, but it does mean that the armor isn’t prone to spalling when hit.
But aluminum’s differences from steel extend deep into the thermal sphere. While aluminum does have a lower melting point than steel, it also has a higher thermal conductivity and specific energy (basically, it takes more heat to heat up aluminum than it does to heat up steel). So it can take plenty of localized heat without melting away.
An armored personnel carrier burns in the streets of Egypt during 2011 protests.
(In industrial applications that rely on aluminum burning, the process is usually started by burning another metal, like magnesium, which burns more easily and releases enough heat, and the aluminum is crushed into a fine powder and mixed with oxygen so that the soot doesn’t halt the reaction.)
In a book published in 1993, after the Bradley became one of the heroes of Desert Storm, he claimed that the vehicles survived because of changes made after those tests. But while the Army might have switched the locations where ammo was stored and other design details, they didn’t change the hull material.
But, again, aluminum does melt. And the few Bradley’s that did suffer extended ammo fires did melt quite extensively, sometimes resulting in puddles of aluminum with the steel frame sitting on top of it. This spurred on the belief that the aluminum, itself, had burnt.
The M2A3 Bradley is capable, but troops don’t love its aluminum hull.
(Winifred Brown, U.S. Army)
But aluminum melts at over 1,200 Fahrenheit, hot enough that any crew in a melting aluminum vehicle would’ve died long before the armor plates drip off. Aluminum is great at normal temperatures, providing protection at light weights.
And so aluminum protects vehicles like the M2 Bradley and the M113 armored personnel carrier. The new Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle that is slated to replace the M113 has, you guessed it, an aluminum hull. But while troops might enjoy the increased space, they’ll probably leave off any discussion of the vehicle’s material while bragging.