Veteran who spent 421 days as a prisoner of war turns 100 - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Veteran who spent 421 days as a prisoner of war turns 100

Bob Teichgraeber grew up under the dark shadow of the Great Depression. When World War II came to America, he signed up for the Army Air Corps to earn a better living and serve his country.

He never dreamed he’d end up a prisoner of war.


Assigned to a B-24 within the 445th Bomb Group as a Gunner, Teichgraeber found himself stationed outside of London, England. It was February 24, 1944, when he and his crew joined 25 other planes headed for Germany. Their mission: bombing a factory responsible for building Messerschmitt fighters. Unfortunately, Teichgraeber’s group missed the meet up with a large wing of 200 planes. Rather than wait, their group leader pushed to continue on without fighter protection.

The Germans shot down 12 of their 25 planes down before they ever hit the target. “They were all around us like bees shooting,” Teichgraeber explained. Despite the constant barrage of bullets, their plane managed to drop their bomb on the factory. They also shot down enemy fighters in the process. Not long after that, they were attacked head on by an enemy fighter plane.

Veteran who spent 421 days as a prisoner of war turns 100

“They hit our oxygen system in the bomb bay and the plane caught on fire and went down,” Teichgraeber shared. Although he broke his foot and ankle in the crash, a well-timed jump saved him from being torn in two by the horizontal stabilizer. When he looked around, he realized only six of them had made it through the crash.

As they exited the plane, the Germans were waiting for them. “We were captured and brought to a prison camp in East Prussia, which is Lithuania now. They handcuffed us to each other and made us run up a hill with German police dogs at our heels and throw our Red Cross parcels away,” Teichgraeber said. It was so dark that he was soon separated from his crew. “It was the end of February of ’44 and we tried to wait patiently for D-Day, which we knew was coming.”

Some of the men were unable to cope with the waiting, though. “Some of us tried but we really didn’t have the ability to help these guys,” he said sadly. They were taken away and he never saw many of them again.

Veteran who spent 421 days as a prisoner of war turns 100

A few months after being captured, he heard the Russian guns coming closer to their prison camp. The threat of the Russians forced the Germans to evacuate the prison camp and move everyone up the Baltic sea on a coal ship. “We were put down in the bottom of the hull — it was darker than an ace of spades and we didn’t see anything for three days,” Teichgraeber said. The Germans unloaded them in Poland, but the prisoners weren’t there long… soon, they could hear the Russian guns getting closer once again.

The Germans forced them to march.

It was winter and hovering around 15 degrees and the only scarce food available was bread and potatoes, but not all the time. After that first night of marching away from the Russians, Teichgraeber and the other prisoners (mostly airmen) were forced to sleep on the frozen ground. He shared that they all dreamt about those Red Cross parcels they were forced to throw away, which were filled with things like spam, candy bars and soap – a feast they’d give anything to have right then.

Veteran who spent 421 days as a prisoner of war turns 100

The marching didn’t stop, even in the snow. “Sometimes all you could see was the guy marching in front of you, it was so white out,” Teichgraeber said. He described the horrific scenes of constant frostbite, diarrhea and starvation. Sometimes they’d get lucky and find barns to sleep in, instead of the ground. But those were filled with lice and fleas. “Guys began dropping out,” he admitted.

After a couple of months, the marching finally stopped. Their group arrived at another prisoner of war camp, this one much more crowded. Teichgraeber and a friend found a barracks building and slept on the floor, trying to recuperate. Five days later, the entire camp was forced to evacuate and march once again. This time, to avoid the British.

“They would do a headcount every morning and we were close to a barn. Our guard got distracted so once they did the headcount, my buddy and I went back into the barn,” Teichgraeber said. They hid, trying not to make a sound as they waited, praying they wouldn’t be found. Eventually, they heard the sounds of the camp moving and marching again. Soon there were no sounds at all.

They were free.

Veteran who spent 421 days as a prisoner of war turns 100

“The next day, the British came through and rescued us,” he said with a smile. Teichgraeber and his fellow airman were given new clothes, which was a relief after wearing the same ragged clothes for months. “They got us cleaned up and in one of their uniforms – which was very unusual as you’d normally never see an American service member in another country’s uniform, but it was clean.”

Normally around 135 pounds, Teichgraeber found himself hovering at 90 pounds after his rescue. He shared that they were all so hungry that after chow was served, he and the other airman went back and raided the garbage cans for food. “An officer found us and told us we didn’t have to do that anymore,” he said. “But we were so used to it at that point.”

After a few weeks, he and the others rescued were put back into American hands and sent home. Although faced with torture and other unimaginable horrors while he was a prisoner of war, Teichgraeber said he never lost hope. When he returned to his hometown in Illinois, he went back to work at his old job and met his wife, Rose, not long after. They’ve been married for 68 years.

On August 22, 2020, the former prisoner of war turned 100. When Teichgraeber was asked the secret to his longevity, he got a twinkle in his eye and said with a laugh, “Just don’t die.” He still loves to sit in his riding lawn mower and take care of his own grass. Sometimes he even drives if he’s feeling up to it, although there is a caregiver who comes to help with errand running these days. After surviving 421 days a prisoner of war, he said his life has been continually filled with beauty and joy.

And he’s not done yet.

Veteran who spent 421 days as a prisoner of war turns 100
Articles

Some Russians want a new Cuban Missile Crisis . . . really

 


Veteran who spent 421 days as a prisoner of war turns 100
Frontpage above the fold of The New York Times, Oct. 23, 1962.

Talk about flexing your missiles . . .

On Wednesday, two Communist Party members who are deputies in the Russian Duma called on the Kremlin to deploy missiles to Cuba, a request they say is in retaliation to U.S. plans to deploy a rocket system to southeastern to Turkey as part of the battle to counter ISIS in nearby Syria.

There’s no word on the class of missiles that they want placed on the Caribbean island or whether the Kremlin will comply, but the deputies aren’t shy about comparisons between their request and the 1962 Soviet decision to place nuclear-tipped intermediate range ballistic missiles in Cuba.

According to the Russian news service RIA Novosti, deputies Valery Rashkin and Sergei Obukhov sent the written request to Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

“It is worth noting that according to available data the (American) weapons system uses missiles with a range of up to five hundred kilometers, a potential threat to Russian allies in the CSTO, primarily Armenia,” they said in the memo.

Furthermore, “we are talking about the deployment of Russian launchers similar to or of even greater range in Cuba,” the deputies continued.

On Tuesday, the Department of Defense announced that it will deploy a single truck-mounted M-142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) in Turkey to stop cross-border attacks by ISIS in Syria. Another HIMARS system is on its way to northern Iraq to assist in the battle to retake Mosul from the radical Islamist group.

The CSTO or Collective Security Treaty Organization is a six-member mutual defense pact comprised of Russia and several post-Soviet states, including Armenia. Other members include Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

Armenia is a country landlocked in the South Caucasus that shares a 165-mile border with Turkey and has cordial relations with Russia – so cordial that some observers believe Russia is taking advantage of the situation to expand its military presence right next to Turkey, a NATO ally.

Concerned parties point out recent developments: in March, a snap drill in cooperation with the Armenian military that involved 8,500 Russian troops, 900 ground weapons, 200 warplanes and about 50 warships; in December, the two nations signed a cooperative air defense agreement; even a recent basing arrangement agreement between the two governments for more than 5,000 Russian troops.

In addition, the deputies are calling for the reopening of the Lourdes signals-intelligence station located outside Havana, which the U.S.S.R. built in 1962. The Cuban government closed the station in 2002, although there is speculation that the Cubans and the Russians have recently discussed reactivation of the base.

Rashkin and Obukhov also wrote: “At a time when Russia is once again positioning itself in the international arena as a great power, our country should be more active to restore the destroyed military and economic ties with our allies, primarily with the fraternal Cuban Republic.”

The request by the two deputies echoes the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis – the 13-day standoff between United States and the Soviet Union in 1962 that brought both nations to the brink of a nuclear war.

Eventually, the Soviet Union agreed to remove the missiles based in Cuba because of a secret agreement forged between Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and U.S. Pres. John F. Kennedy that led to removal of American Jupiter IRBMs from Turkey.

The following year, both superpowers agreed to install a direct “hot line” communication link between Washington and Moscow to manage any future confrontations, and the U.S. and U.S.S.R. signed treaties limiting atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons.

Are the Russians serious about basing missiles in Cuba today? The chances of that happening are remote at best.

What is probably happening is part of an on-going effort by Putin’s allies to remind the world that Russia is still a nation to be reckoned with – and feared.

What would the United States do if Russian missiles were once again only 90 miles away from American shores? So far, the White House has not commented.

Articles

This stunning video shows how fast a railgun can shoot

The Navy has been testing a railgun that could see deployment on the guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt and her sister ships. The goal is to get the railgun to not only be able to fire its projectiles to a range of 110 nautical miles, but to increase the rate of fire to as many as ten rounds a minute.


The long range is only one of the many advantages. Another is improved safety. Gunpowder can be very volatile, as a number of British battlecruisers found out at Jutland and at the Denmark Straits. The battleship USS Arizona (BB 39) also found out about how bad a gunpowder explosion in the wrong place at the wrong time can be.

Veteran who spent 421 days as a prisoner of war turns 100
The British battlecruiser HMS Hood was sunk when her magazines exploded in the Battle of the Denmark Strait. (Wikimedia Commons)

The approach also saves money, and provides for more ammo capacity. The gunpowder is expensive to safely store, has to be purchased, and it takes up spaces in the ship. All of those factors end up making the ship design more expensive.

The railgun testing is slated to take place over the summer at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division in Virginia. One of the big issues will be to quantify how much electrical power will be needed to send the rounds downrange.

Forget what you saw in 2009’s “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” when an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer took out the Decepticon Devastator. Only the Zumwalt-class destroyers have the electrical power capacity to use a railgun.

Veteran who spent 421 days as a prisoner of war turns 100
U.S. Navy photo

Another is addressing the issue of barrel wear – largely because it is sending the mail downrange at Mach 6.

Dr. Tom Beutner of the Office of Naval Research notes that the barrel wear issue is being fixed, saying, “They’ve extended the launcher core life from tens of shots’ core life when program started to something that’s now been fired over 400 times and … we anticipate barrels will be able to do over 1,000 shots.”

Watch the video of the Navy testing the railgun’s autoloader below:

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is what John McCain thinks of the VA’s Veterans CARE Act proposal

US Senator John McCain today applauded the US Department of Veterans Affairs’ proposed Veterans Coordinated Access and Rewarding Experiences Act, which would bolster the Veterans Choice Program and consolidate the VA’s community care network.


The proposal also includes several measures Senator McCain has strongly advocated to expand quality and timely care for veterans in their communities, such as eliminating the current 30-day/40-mile limit to permit all eligible veterans to use the VA Choice Card.

Also read: The VA is running out of money for Veterans Choice health care program — again

It would also offer patients access to a network of walk-in clinics for minor health issues. This is modeled on a path-breaking partnership in Phoenix, Arizona, that allows Phoenix’s nearly 120,000 veterans to visit dozens of local CVS MinuteClinic locations for care.

Veteran who spent 421 days as a prisoner of war turns 100
Marines, veterans, and care providers watch as the American flag is walked to the flagpole at the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center in Phoenix, AZ. Photo by Sgt. Justin Boling

Senator McCain released the following statement supporting the VA’s new proposal:

“The VA’s proposed Veterans CARE Act would improve access to health care by developing a consolidated community care network that places veterans first. I am especially pleased to see the VA’s proposal incorporates some of the major reforms I have long advocated, such as eliminating the 30-day/40-mile restriction in the Veterans Choice Program, and expanding the successful pilot program in Phoenix, Arizona, that allows veterans to visit local walk-in clinics nationwide.

Veteran Issues: Military veterans are twice as likely to get ALS, and no one knows why

“Over the last few years, demand for community care through the Veterans Choice Program has grown considerably. Millions of veteran appointments have been made with quality community health care providers around the country. Today, veterans no longer have to wait in long lines or drive hundreds of miles to receive care. Unfortunately, the Veterans Choice Program has also been a victim of its own success, and has outpaced the VA’s ability to accurately predict growing demand for the program. Until the VA can accurately assess demand for care in the community, Congress’ efforts to create an integrated and efficient VA health care system will continue to face difficulty.

Veteran who spent 421 days as a prisoner of war turns 100
Senator John McCain. DoD photo by Chief Petty Officer James Foehl

“Those efforts must reflect the lessons learned through the Veterans Choice Program. We must set standards for care that are easy to use and understand. We must require the VA to accurately assess demand for care in the community. And we must produce a standardized and transparent system that integrates community and VA services.

“I look forward to working with Secretary Shulkin, my colleagues on the Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committees, and veterans service organizations to build on the proposed Veterans CARE Act and deliver our veterans the timely, quality, and flexible health care they deserve.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

These 5 vets discuss the ups and downs of the VA

In this latest episode of Vets Get Real, WATM talks to a group of veterans about the ups and downs of dealing with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the important lessons they learned from transitioning out of the military.


And be sure to keep an eye out for other episodes of Vets Get Real where WATM hosts discussions with vets on topics ranging from relationships to recruiters.

Editor’s note: If you have questions that you’d like to see Vets Get Real about, please leave a comment below.

MIGHTY HISTORY

An actual giant served in the Civil War

Featured image courtesy of Lexington Herald Leader (kentucky.com)

The people of Letcher County, Kentucky are currently raising money to build a bronze statue of one of their most iconic civil war veterans, Martin Van Buren Bates. This statue is meant to celebrate more than just his military service, however. It is celebrating his international celebrity status as an actual giant.


Martin Van Buren Bates came from a well-known family in Letcher County. According to historical records, he was born in 1837, and by the age of 13, would weigh 300 pounds. Bates would continue to grow until he was 28 years old, measuring an astounding 7-foot-11 inches tall and weighing 500 pounds. The Guinness Book of World Records lists Bates at 7-foot-9 inches tall.

The point is he was a huge guy. Records of Bates, held at the Letcher County clerk’s office, claim that one of his boots could hold a half bushel of shelled corn—28 pounds of corn.

Bates began his career as a school teacher, but upon the outbreak of the Civil War joined the Confederacy fighting with the 5th Kentucky Infantry. He ascended to the rank of Captain due to his bravery and leadership on the battlefield.

Eventually, he was severely wounded in combat in the Cumberland Gap area, where he was captured and imprisoned at Camp Chase in Ohio.

Veteran who spent 421 days as a prisoner of war turns 100

After the war he briefly returned to Kentucky, before leaving due to violence between former Union and Confederate soldiers. He headed to Cincinnati, where he would join the circus. While on tour with the circus in Nova Scotia, Bates met Anna Swan, who just so happened to be 7-foot-11 inches tall. The two fell in love and got married while on tour with the circus in Europe.

The wedding was a bit of a spectacle with thousands attending. England’s Queen Victoria even gave the couple diamond-studded gold watches as wedding presents. The couple moved to Seville, Ohio, where they purchased a farm and hoped to settle down after their lives in the circus. The couple had a son who only survived for 11 hours, but weighed 23 pounds 12 ounces, and a daughter who weighed 18 pounds, but also died at birth.

Advocates for the statue hope to place a bronze statue in a local park to commemorate Bates. The cost of the statue is an estimated ,000, but advocates argue it is important to remember the county’s history before it is forgotten.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Pentagon has plans for its own mini-space station. Here’s what it would do

Among defense experts the world over, there’s little doubt that warfare in the 21st century will be an orbital affair. From communications and reconnaissance to navigation and logistics, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an element of any modern nation’s military that operates without the use of space-born satellites, and as such, many nations are developing weapons aimed specifically at causing trouble high above our heads.

While the U.S. government may be no exception, as the reigning space-race champ, America has the lead, and as such, much more to lose in orbit than its national competitors. At least one element of the Pentagon has a plan to help keep it that way: an orbiting space station purpose-built to support a fleet of defensive space drones.


Veteran who spent 421 days as a prisoner of war turns 100

Which beats out my proposal to just start dropping bombs from the ISS, I suppose.

(NASA Image)

You might be imagining a space station equipped with the latest defense gadgets, science experiments meant to usher in the next era of orbital weapons, and of course, enough utility to support a wide variety of Pentagon directives in the dark skies around our pale blue dot… and you’d be right on all counts… but where this new initiative breaks from fantasy is in its size. The Pentagon’s proposed space station wouldn’t be built to sustain any kind of manned presence whatsoever, at least for now.

The proposed orbital outpost received a great deal of media attention recently thanks to an industry solicitation posted by the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU). Put simply, the solicitation is seeking companies that want to compete for a chance to help launch a self-contained orbital facility that’s “capable of supporting space assembly, microgravity experimentation, logistics and storage, manufacturing, training, test and evaluation, hosting payloads, and other functions.”

Veteran who spent 421 days as a prisoner of war turns 100

“Rock, paper, scissors. Winner gets a new space station.”

(Courtesy of NASA)

The DIU envisions an orbital outpost that’s equipped with robotic arms to manage assembly and even potentially repair duties for other orbital assets. That means this unmanned installation could feasibly be used to build autonomous satellite drones in space meant to help protect America’s large and rather undefended constellation of satellites.

The tiny outpost would have a payload capacity of just 176 pounds (or 80 kilograms if you live in a nation that’s never sent people to the moon), and would offer only a small 3 foot by 3 foot by 4 foot enclosure. That may not be enough room to house any members of the space infantry, but it would be enough to work on things like cube-sats, which are small, inexpensive satellites built to serve specific purposes in orbit and beyond.

Because the reality of war in space could be as mundane as simply nudging a satellite out of its orbit, cube-sats and other small platforms could actually play a massive role in orbital combat operations. A fleet of inexpensive satellites could provide system redundancy by temporarily filling service gaps as other assets are destroyed or interfered with by enemy platforms. They could also engage with or deter enemy systems (be they satellites or weapons themselves).

Veteran who spent 421 days as a prisoner of war turns 100

The X-37B sits on the Vandenberg Air Force base runway after spending months in space without any grubby human mitts changing the radio station.

(U.S. Air Force photo/ Michael Stonecypher)

Thanks to advances in 3-D printing and a rash of commercial interest in orbital manufacturing in recent years, it seems entirely possible that an orbital outpost like the one proposed by the DIU could eventually support a broader space defense initiative, but it also seems unlikely that this specific enterprise would ever expand far enough to add human support to the equation, but then, humans may need to be present anyway.

Russia and China are both already believed to operate orbital weapons platforms that behave like autonomous satellites and the Air Force’s secretive space plane known as the X-37B operates in orbit for months at a time without any use for human hands. Star Wars may indeed eventually come to fruition, but at least for now, it looks like the fighting will be up to R2-D2, with all of us Skywalkers just watching anxiously from the ground.

Articles

The Air Force just escalated its war with the airlines

The Air Force has just escalated its response to efforts by the airlines to hire away military pilots. They’re throwing huge retention bonuses to the pilots and boosting flight pay to $1,000 a month.


According to a report by BreakingDefense.com, the flight pay boost will add an additional $1,800 a month to the paychecks of officers. Enlisted men will see their flight pay go from $400 to $600 a month, a 50 percent increase, and taking their pay up $2,400 a year.

Veteran who spent 421 days as a prisoner of war turns 100
Maj. Kurt Wampole, assisted by Capt. Matt Ward, 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron pilots, taxis a C-130H Hercules back to its parking spot. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ben Bloker.)

“We need to retain our experienced pilots and these are some examples of how we’re working to do that,” said Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson in an Air Force release. “We can’t afford not to compensate our talented aviators at a time when airlines are hiring unprecedented numbers.”

In addition to announcing the increased flight pay, Secretary Wilson announced the creation of an “Aircrew Crisis Task Force” under Brig. Gen. Michael G. Koscheski. This task force’s formation is a sign that the pilot shortage the Air Force is facing has not improved. The Air Force release noted that at the end of Fiscal Year 2016, the Air Force was short 1,555 pilots overall, including 1,211 fighter pilots.

Veteran who spent 421 days as a prisoner of war turns 100
An F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot, assigned to Detachment 1, 138th Fighter Wing, dons his helmet in preparation of a barnstorming performance for reporters, Feb. 1, 2017, in Houston. (U.S. Air National Guard photo/Tech. Sgt. Drew A. Egnoske)

The Air Force is looking to bring back 25 retired pilots to fill staff positions through the Voluntary Rated Return to Active Duty program, allowing pilots who are still current to be returned to front-line duties. The staff positions are non-flying, but retired pilots could have sufficient expertise to handle them.

This past June, the Air Force increased its Aviation Bonus cap from $25,000 a year to $35,000. These bonuses are paid to pilots who commit to stay past their service commitment for up to nine years.

The Air Force was also seeking to reduce the number of non-flying assignments for pilots, including headquarters positions and developmental opportunities. The Air Force is also trying to reduce additional units and add more flexibility for Airmen with families and children.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Army Special Forces soldiers practice fighting behind enemy lines

“For us being Special Forces, we are the first on the battlefield, then we are the last to leave,” said a Bulgarian Special Operations Tactical Group Commander.

The captain was the commander of the SOTG for exercise Saber Junction 19. Approximately 5,400 participants from 15 NATO and partner nations including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Georgia, Italy, Kosovo, Lithuanian, the Republic of Northern Macedonia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Turkey, Ukraine and the US took part in the exercise at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center, Sept. 3-30, 2019.

The exercise partnered about 100 Multinational SOF from Bulgaria, the US, and members of the Lithuanian National Defense Volunteer Defense National Force, or KASP, with conventional forces to improve integration and enhance their overall combat abilities.


Veteran who spent 421 days as a prisoner of war turns 100

A US Army’s 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Special Forces soldier provides security for paratroopers from the Italian Army’s Folgore Brigade as they parachute onto a drop zone as part of exercise Saber Junction 19 in Hohenfels, Germany, Sept. 16, 2019.

(US Army photo Sgt. 1st Class Whitney Hughes)

Veteran who spent 421 days as a prisoner of war turns 100

US Army Maj. Nathan Showman of the 173rd Airborne Brigade watches as paratroopers from the brigade land during a joint forcible entry as part of exercise Saber Junction 19 in Hohenfels, Germany, Sept. 18, 2019.

To determine the best use of SOF capabilities to support larger combined maneuver, the Bulgarian SOTG Commander coordinated directly with his conventional force counterpart US Army Col. Kenneth Burgess, the commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

The SOTG also placed SOF liaison officers within the brigade staff to facilitate communication directly between the staff and SOF on the ground.

Veteran who spent 421 days as a prisoner of war turns 100

A US Army 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Special Forces soldier provides security for paratroopers from the Italian Army’s Folgore Brigade as they parachute onto a drop zone as part of exercise Saber Junction 19 in Hohenfels, Germany, Sept. 16, 2019.

This gave the SOTG the ability to support critical portions of the exercise such as the joint forcible entry, a multinational airborne operation delivering paratroopers from Ramstein Airbase into the exercise to seize key terrain.

Paratroopers from the Italian Army’s Folgore Brigade jumped from Kentucky Air National Guard C-130 aircraft to set the drop zone for the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

Bulgarian and US SOF provided early reconnaissance of the drop zone and secured the area for the pathfinder’s jump, ensuring they had up to date information from the moment they hit the ground.

Veteran who spent 421 days as a prisoner of war turns 100

Italian Army paratroopers from the Folgore Airborne Brigade coordinate with US Army 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Special Forces soldiers after the Italian paratroopers parachuted onto a drop zone secured by special operations forces as part of exercise Saber Junction 19 in Hohenfels, Germany, Sept. 17, 2019.

(US Army photo Spc. Patrik Orcutt)

This multinational coordination was one of the key objectives of the exercise.

“From my point of view, this is the most important exercise for my unit in that it helps prepare us for future NATO missions,” said the Bulgarian commander. “We are currently on standby in my country [as a quick reaction force], so this exercise is beneficial for us.”

Veteran who spent 421 days as a prisoner of war turns 100

Bulgarian special operations forces exit a US Army UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade during combined aviation load training as part of exercise Saber Junction 19 in Hohenfels, Germany, Sept. 13, 2019.

(US Army photo Spc. Patrik Orcutt)

Lithuania’s KASP also worked alongside SOF to set conditions for the conventional force. Exercising their real-world mission of unconventional warfare, the KASP integrated with Special Forces soldiers from the US Army’s 5th SFG(A).

This combined time conducted operations ahead of friendly lines in enemy-occupied territory to enable the multinational conventional joint force.

Veteran who spent 421 days as a prisoner of war turns 100

US Army’s 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Special Forces soldiers deploy light tactical vehicles from CH-47 Chinook helicopter from the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade as part of exercise Saber Junction 19 in Hohenfels, Germany, Sept. 13, 2019.

(US Army photo Spc. Patrik Orcutt)

The KASP are structured similar to the US National Guard, with about 500 professional soldiers and 5,000 reservists, but have a very different mission.

“Our mission is to conduct territorial defense, so we must be ready to defend our country against any type of threat, either hybrid or conventional,” said Col. Dainius Pašvenskas, the KASP commander.

Pašvenskas added that the demand to come to exercises like these within his unit is so high that they have placed internal requirements to be selected. After completing rotations in exercises like Saber Junction 19, they share the techniques they have learned within their units, and teach the unconventional warfare tactics to the rest of the force.

Veteran who spent 421 days as a prisoner of war turns 100

US Army 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Special Forces soldiers deploy light tactical vehicles from CH-47 Chinook helicopter from the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade as part of exercise Saber Junction 19 in Hohenfels, Germany, Sept. 13, 2019.

(US Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Whitney Hughes)

The KASP’s missions at Saber Junction 19 included long-range reconnaissance, direct action and personnel recovery.

“We may have different tasks but we will operate in a similar area as Special Operation Forces,” said Pašvenskas. “Working with Special Forces and learning from their experience is an excellent opportunity for us.”

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

Articles

China and Japan locked in Coast Guard arms race

China and Japan are redefining the nature and purpose of the Coast Guard. Americans still think in terms of air-sea rescue or chasing drug smugglers when they think about their Coast Guard. China and Japan think about their Coast Guards in terms of realpolitik.


The two nominally civilian services are on the front lines of territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas. Both countries are adding to their coast guard fleets at a breakneck pace. One could almost call it a Coast Guard arms race, except that the vessels are lightly armed if armed at all.

Japan is reinforcing its Coast Guard contingent in the waters around the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea with 10 new 1,500-ton patrol craft and two new helicopter- equipped vessels. This is in addition to six other cutters already in the region. Tokyo will no longer have to borrow vessels from other Coast Guard districts allowing them to concentrate on routine Coast Guard duties such as rescuing ships in distress.

Veteran who spent 421 days as a prisoner of war turns 100

Tokyo is also overhauling its main operational base on the island of Ishikagi, the closest Japanese island to the Senkakus, with enlarged port facilities to handle the new vessels. It is close to another small island where Japan recently opened an army garrison to protect a new radar base (a well as asserting sovereignty in case China expands its designs on other islands in the Ryukyu chain.)

Both Japan and China assert their claims to the uninhabited Senkaku islands with coast guard cutters rather than ships of their regular navies.  On an average of once every two weeks, two or three Chinese Coast Guard vessels enter Japanese territorial waters. They stay for a couple hours then leave. Meanwhile, Japanese Coast Guard vessels regularly patrol the disputed waters ordering anyone inside the territorial zone to leave.

China is also expanding its fleet and building ports of call to maintain them. The growing fleet allows Beijing to assert its claim and support its interests over the entire South China Sea. At present, Coast Guard ships are stationed near the Scarborough Shoal claimed by the Philippines; another routinely patrols the Laconia Reefs off the coast of Malaysia.

While it once depended on former naval frigates, China is now commissioning purpose-built cutters. It is currently commissioning two of the world’s largest Coast Guard cutters, ships that could alter the balance of power in the South and East China Seas (one ship is to be stationed in each sea).

Known only by their hull numbers, in this case Haijing 2901 and Haijing 3901 (the first digit denotes which sea it is to patrol). They displace 10,000 tons, possibly more when fully outfitted. That makes them larger than the U.S. Navy’s Ticonderoga- class cruisers and Japan’s 6,500-ton Shikishima- class Coast Guard cutters previously the largest in the world.

The U.S.S. Forth Worth, a Littoral Combat ship based in Singapore, which has undertaken Freedom of Navigation patrols in the Spratly islands, displaces a mere 1,200 tons. A warship like the Fort Worth could, of course, defend itself from a Chinese maritime enforcement vessel on a collision course, but it would mean firing the first shot.

This may be a coast guard “arms race” except that the competing vessels are not heavily armed. The new Japanese cutters are armed with 20 mm cannons and water cannons. The new Chinese super cutters are not necessarily heavily armed either. Pictures that have been published so far show that they lack gun turrets. It is not armaments that make these two Coast Guard Dreadnaughts so formidable; it is their sheer size.

Veteran who spent 421 days as a prisoner of war turns 100

The military version of the People’s Daily, the press organ of the Chinese Communist Party, boasted that these powerful new ships could ram and possibly sink a 9,000-ton vessel without damaging itself. That makes them a potential threat to regular naval vessels of the U.S. and Japanese navies.

Ramming has been a tactic in territorial disputes in both the East and South China Seas, harkening back to the days of the Romans and Carthaginians. A large Chinese fishing vessel rammed a Japanese Coast Guard cutter near the Senkakus in 2011. Earlier this year another Chinese Coast Guard vessel rammed one of its own fishing trawlers that had been taken into custody by Indonesian authorities for allegedly illegally fishing in Jakarta’s 200-nautical miles exclusive economic zone.

Retired USN Captain James Fanell, formerly chief of intelligence for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, calls the Chinese Coast Guard,  “A fulltime marine harassment organization. Unlike the U.S, Coast Guard, the Chinese service has no other mission but to harass other nations into submitting to China’s extravagant claims,” he says.

Fanell notes that China is building new Coast Guard vessels, like the two super cutters, at “an astonishing rate.”

The regular navies of Japan and China generally stay in the background, but Tokyo is also suspicious about the recent activities of the regular Chinese Navy in waters near the disputed islands. A contingent of Chinese frigates now hovers about 70 km away from the Senkaku, close enough to come to the aid of any of its coast guard vessels that gets in trouble.

For its part, the Japanese government recently made public what the cabinet had decided earlier in the year, that Japanese naval vessels might intervene should the Coast Guard be unable to do its normal “policing” duties. “If it becomes difficult for the police and the Japan Coast Guard, then the Maritime Self Defense Force (navy) could respond,” said defense minister Gen Nakatani. That could happen if Chinese navy ships actually entered Senkaku waters.

The use of “white hulls,” mostly unarmed or lightly armed Coast Guard cutters, rather than “gray hulls,” has been a stabilizing element in the numerous territorial encounters of the past few years. But the recent remarks suggest that Tokyo expects to see more gray hulls than white hulls in the coming year.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Why new supercarrier can land all Navy planes except for this one

The USS Gerald R. Ford, the Navy’s new supercarrier, can now land all of the service’s planes, except for its new stealth fighter.

The Advanced Arresting Gear has been given a green light to recover all propeller and jet aircraft, to include the C-2A Greyhound, E-2C Hawkeye and E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, and E/A-18G Growler, the Navy said in a statement Tuesday, noting the release of a new Aircraft Recovery Bulletin.

These aircraft can all conduct flight operations aboard the Ford.

The arresting gear is critical to the aircraft recovery process, the return of aircraft to the carrier. The Advanced Arresting Gear, one of more than 20 new technologies incorporated into the Ford-class carriers, is a system of tensioned wires that the planes snag with tailhooks, a necessary system given the shortness of the carrier’s runway. The AAG is designed to recover a number of different aircraft, as well as reduce the stress on the planes, with decreased manpower all while maintaining top safety standards.


“This achievement is another significant step toward ensuring the system can support the ship’s full air wing,” explained Capt. Ken Sterbenz, program manager for the Aircraft Launch and Recovery Equipment Program, in a statement.

Veteran who spent 421 days as a prisoner of war turns 100

An F/A-18F Super Hornet assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 flies over the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78).

(U.S. Navy photo by Erik Hildebrandt)

The Navy explained that the Advanced Arresting Gear gives the USS Gerald R. Ford “the warfighting capability essential for air dominance in the 21st century.”

Missing from the list of recoverable aircraft is noticeably the F-35C, a carrier-based variant of a new fifth-generation stealth fighter designed to help the Navy confront modern threats.

“The Nimitz-class and Ford-class aircraft carriers, by design, can operate with F-35Cs,” Capt. Daniel Hernandez, a spokesperson for the Navy acquisitions chief, previously told INSIDER.

“There are,” he added, “modifications to both carrier classes that are required to fully employ the capabilities of the F-35s and enable them to be more effective on a full length deployment.”

Those modifications are expected to be completed after the carrier is delivered to the fleet, meaning that when the Navy gets its aircraft carrier, which is already behind schedule and over budget, back from the shipyard, it will not be able to deploy with the F-35C.

Veteran who spent 421 days as a prisoner of war turns 100

An F/A-18F Super Hornet, assigned to the “Black Lions” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 213, prepares to land on the flight deck of USS Gerald R. Ford.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ryan Carter)

Congress has previously expressed concerns about the inability of the new supercarriers to launch and recover the new stealth fighters, as well as the Navy’s practice of accepting unfinished carriers to skirt budget constraints.

In particular, lawmakers called attention to the Navy’s plans to not only accept the Ford without the important ability to launch and recover F-35s but to also accept the subsequent USS John F. Kennedy without this capability.

It is “unacceptable to our members that the newest carriers can’t deploy with the newest aircraft,” explained a congressional staffer in June 2019.

The Navy argues that these carriers will be able to launch and recover F-35s by the time the relevant air wing is stood up.

The Navy continues to work the kinks out of the Ford, having fixed problems with the propulsion system, the catapults, and the arresting gear, among other systems.

The biggest obstacle, however, continues to be the Advanced Weapons Elevators, systems essential for the rapid movement of bombs and missiles to the flight deck for higher aircraft sortie rates.

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

Articles

Why Iran is ‘playing with fire’ in the Persian Gulf against US Navy ships

For the fifth time in about a month Iranian fast-attack craft have harassed US Navy ships with “unsafe and unprofessional” maneuvers at sea in the gulf between Saudi Arabia and Iran.


While experts acknowledge that Iran is “playing with fire” against the best navy in the world, don’t expect these incidents to stop any time soon.

“The number of unsafe, unprofessional interactions for first half of the year is nearly twice as much as same period in 2015, trend has continued. There’s already more in 2016 than all of 2015,” Commander Bill Urban of the Navy’s 5th fleet told Business Insider in a phone interview.

Veteran who spent 421 days as a prisoner of war turns 100
Iranian fast-attack boats during a naval exercise in 2015. | Wikimedia photo by Sayyed Shahaboddin Vajedi

Urban stressed that despite the Iranian navy fast-attack craft being several orders of magnitude less potent than US Navy ships, the threat they pose in the gulf is very real.

“Any time another vessel is charging in on one of your ships and they’re not talking on the radio … you don’t know what their intentions are,” said Urban.

Urban confirmed that Iran sends small, fast attack ships to “swarm” and “harass” larger US Naval vessels that could quite easily put them at the bottom of the ocean, but the ships pose a threat beyond firepower.

According to Urban, these ships are “certainly armed vessels with crew-manned weapons, not unarmed ships. I wouldn’t discount the ability to be a danger. A collision at sea even with a much larger ship is always something that could cause damage to a ship or injure personnel.”

In the most recent episode at sea, Urban said that an Iranian craft swerved in front of the USS Firebolt, a US Coastal Patrol craft, and stopped dead in its path, causing the Firebolt to have to adjust course or risk collision.

“This kind of provocative, harassing technique risks escalation and miscalculation.”

The messages Iran wants to send

Veteran who spent 421 days as a prisoner of war turns 100
Picture of US Sailors captured by Iranian fast-attack craft in the Gulf. | Released by Iranian Revolutionary Guards on Jan. 13, 2016.

“In my view, Khamenei (Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic) decided it’s time to send a message — I’m here and I’m unhappy,” Cliff Kupchan, Chairman of Eurasia Group and expert on Iran, told Business Insider in a phone interview.

According to Kupchan, the Iranian navy carries out these stunts under directions straight from the top because of frustrations with the Iran nuclear deal. Despite billions of dollars in sanction relief flowing into Iran following the deal, Kupchan says Iran sees the US as “preventing European and Asian banks from moving into Iran and financing Iranian businesses,” and therefore not holding up their end of the Iran nuclear deal.

But despite their perception that the US has under delivered on the promises of the Iran nuclear deal, Kupchan says Iran will absolutely not walk away from the deal, which has greatly improved their international standing and financial prospects.

The lifting of sanctions on Iran’s oil has resulted in “billions in additional revenue … They’re not gonna walk away from that.”

So Iran seems to be simply spinning their wheels to score political points with hardliners, but what if the worst happens and there is a miscalculation in a conflict between Iranian and US naval vessels resulting in the loss of life?

Veteran who spent 421 days as a prisoner of war turns 100
The coastal patrol ship USS Squall, one of the ships harassed by the Iranians. | US Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist Michelle Turner

“The concern is miscalculation,” said Kupchan. “Some guy misjudges the speed of his boat, people could die. There is a lot on the line.”

According to Kupchan, as well as other experts on the subject, Iran’s navy doesn’t stand a serious chance against modern US Navy ships.

“Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps boats and the Iranian Navy are not very capable or modern,” said Kupchan. The fast-attack craft we’ve seen challenge US Navy boats have simply been older speed boats, some Russian-made, outfitted with guns.

The Iranian craft can certainly bother US Navy ships by risking collisions and functioning as “heavily armed gnats, or mosquitoes” that swarm US ships, but a recent test carried out by the Navy confirms that the gunships wouldn’t have much trouble knocking them out of the water. The ensuing international incident, however, would dominate headlines for weeks.

“The wood is dry in US and Iranian relations,” said Kupchan, suggesting that a small miscalculation could spark a major fire, and that harassing these ships is “one of the ways the Iranian political system lets off steam.”

“Hardliners on both sides would go nuts,” said Kupchan, referencing both the conservative Islamist Iranians and the conservative US hawks who would not pass up any opportunity to impinge Obama over his perceived weakness against the Iranians.

Yet Kupchan contends that even a lethal incident would not end the deal. Both sides simply have too much riding on the deal’s success: Obama with his foreign policy legacy, and Iran with their financial redemption and status in the region as the main adversary to Western powers.

However Iran’s Khamenei may be sending a second message to incoming US leadership, specifically Hillary Clinton, who seems likely to be the next commander in chief. “They know Clinton is tough,” said Kupchan, and Khamenei may be addressing Clinton with a second message, saying “Madame Secretary, I’m still here, I know you’re tough, but I’m ready.”

For now, Kupchan expects these incidents at sea to carry on as Iran vents about their larger frustrations, and that a violent exchange would “not be the end of the deal,” or the start of a larger war, “but a serious international incident.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

SOCOM’s new mission is countering WMD threats

U.S. Special Operations Command may now lead the effort to stop terrorists from obtaining mass-casualty weapons, such as dirty bombs, but experts in the SOF community warn that operators can’t do it alone.


U.S. Strategic Command recently passed the leadership role in counter-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction mission to SOCOM, a move that has SOF leaders scrambling to figure out where it fits into this complex mission.

Michal Lumpkin, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict, said he worries that SOCOM will try to take on too much of the mission.

Special Operations personnel are known for being “solution people,” he said. “They solve problems. They fill gaps, seams, and voids.”

Also read: SOCOM is hunting for an advanced new sniper rifle

“But every gap, seam, and void is not theirs to fill, so the interagency has to do their part,” Lumpkin told an audience Feb. 28, 2018, at National Defense Industrial Association’s 29th Annual Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict Symposium. “So, one of the things that I always fear is we would maybe get out in front of the headlights farther and faster than we should and accept too much of the mission.”

Lumpkin took part in a counter-proliferation panel discussion, where all the panelists agreed that chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons are quickly becoming one of the top threats to the United States and its allies.

Veteran who spent 421 days as a prisoner of war turns 100
Soldiers of 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) and the Republic of Korea 11th Special Forces Brigade, secure a person of interest during training near Gwangyang, South Korea. (Photo by SFC Andrew Kosterman)

U.S. Army Col. Lonnie Carlson, director of Strategy, Plans, and Policy in the Department of Homeland Security’s Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office, said keeping WMD out of the hands of ISIS extremists is one of his top priorities.

“Those real-world things are there, and the bottom line is, they are definitely terrorism-related, they are coming out of the Middle East, and they are not things we were worried about two months ago,” Carlson said.

Components of these mass-casualty weapons are also coming out of North Korea and turning up in places like Syria, said Michael Waltz, a former Special Forces officer and policy advisor to the Bush administration.

There have been “40 to 50 previously unknown, unreported shipments of essentially chemical weapons components or dual-use components from North Korea to Syria,” he said.

Related: SOCOM and Marine Corps move closer to Ma Deuce replacement

Syria’s legitimate chemical industry “isn’t exactly thriving, so I think it is safe to assume what those parts are for,” he added.

Waltz said he agreed with President Trump’s policy of “stopping the North Korean program in its tracks,” but said he thought the administration’s failure to fill key positions in the State Department would make it difficult to counter the proliferation of these types of weapons.

“I think we are really suffering in many respects … with the lack of appointments and with what is going on in the State Department,” Waltz said. “How do we work the non-proliferation piece, which State should and will lead, when they don’t have the manpower? The answer I think is, it’s going to fall on DoD, and it’s going to fall on SOCOM.”

Carlson pointed out that that SOCOM has been given the “synchronization” role in the effort, “but that doesn’t mean they own all the operations.”

“It’s still the global and geographic chain of command with their theater units and SOF operating commands that actually do the executions,” he said.

Veteran who spent 421 days as a prisoner of war turns 100
Members of the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command. (USAF photo by Christopher Lange)

SOCOM has been given a “significant plus-up” in the proposed fiscal 2019 budget, mainly in the overseas contingency operations account, but that will not be enough to fund this new mission, Lumpkin said.

“There are still shortages for SOCOM and across the inter-agency [in] resourcing this issue,” he said. “The reality is, you can’t put a new mission on anybody without either taking something off the table, something else that they are doing, or you are going to have to give them more resources.”

SOCOM has no shortage of missions these days, Mark Mitchell, principal deputy assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, said during his speech on Feb. 28, 2018.

In addition to leading the new WMD mission, “they also maintain their coordinating authority for countering violent extremists,” Mitchell said. “These are no-fail missions for the nation. … We are going to look at where we can shut some missions.”

More: How the military decontaminates itself after WMD attacks

Mitchell welcomed the conventional Army’s recent decision to stand up its new Security Force Assistance Brigades, units of highly trained officers and soldiers designed to take over the “advise-and-assist” mission of training foreign troops in conventional infantry operations.

The Army plans to have all six SFABs in place by 2022. Perhaps these new units can take some of the burden off of Special Forces units, who have traditionally assumed these foreign training missions, Mitchell said.

Waltz suggested turning to the National Guard and Reserves since many of its personnel have civilian expertise in some the areas needed in the counterproliferation mission.

“SOCOM isn’t going to solve this by themselves,” Lumpkin said. “The only way we are going to get our arms around the counter-WMD, counter-proliferation challenges is to do it in a unified, whole-of-nation approach.”

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