The military has very talented photographers in its ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. This is the best of what they shot this week:
Pennsylvania Air National Guardsmen from the 171st Air Refueling Wing near Pittsburgh prepare to deploy a KC-135 aircraft and about 25 Airmen to the Middle East the night of Jan. 5, 2016.
An F-16 Fighting Falcon from the 421st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron taxis on the ramp before departing on a sortie in support of ground operations in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, Jan. 6, 2016. The 421st EFS, based out of Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, is the only dedicated fighter squadron in the country and continuously supports Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and the NATO Resolute Support mission.
U.S. Army AH-64 Apache helicopter crews, assigned to 16th Combat Aviation Brigade, 7th Infantry Division, land at Wheeler Army Airfield, Hawaii, Jan. 6, 2016. The helicopters and crews are in Hawaii training with U.S. Army Pacific’s 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, 25th Infantry Division.
Soldiers, assigned to U.S. Army Special Operations Command, test the capabilities of all-terrain vehicles in United States Army Europe – USAREUR’s Boeblingen Local Training Area near Stuttgart, Germany, Jan. 5, 2016.
BREMERTON, Wash. (Jan. 4, 2016) Electronics Technician 3rd Class Alice New, from Silverhill, Ala., paints a mural on a door aboard aboard USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74). Stennis’ crew is currently in port training for future deployments.
ARABIAN GULF (Jan. 4, 2016) Sailors transport ordnance on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75). The Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group is deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, maritime security operations, and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations.
U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Tyler Huey, squad leader with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command, provides security during a tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel exercise at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Dec. 28, 2015. SPMAGTF-CR-CC is ready to respond to any crisis response mission in theater to include the employment of a TRAP force.
Recruits of India Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, perform pull-ups during a physical training event at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Dec. 28. Annually, more than 17,000 males recruited from the Western Recruiting Region are trained at MCRD San Diego.
It’s just another day at the “office” for USCG Station Noyo River!
We’re ready to crash into another action packed week! Are you?
An experimental Pentagon program has already developed two types of a highly advanced, Terminator-like prosthetic arm.
What’s more, a quadriplegic woman with sensors implanted onto her brain controlled one of the robotic limbs to grab a cup, shake hands and eat a chocolate bar. She even flew an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter simulator using just her thoughts.
Now, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) wants to expand on that cutting-edge work to build other potential breakthrough medical technologies, including a pacemaker-sized device that might someday improve the memory of troops who suffered a traumatic brain injury. Think of it as a hard drive of sorts for the brain.
“We know we need a next-generation device that doesn’t exist today,” said Justin Sanchez, who manages DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office in Arlington, Virginia. “That’s what these new programs are all about — not only understanding the brain and these conditions, but building the hardware that enables us to address those issues. You need both.”
Over more than a decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, roadside bombs and other explosive devices took a toll on the U.S. military. An estimated half to two-thirds of the more than 7,100 Americans killed or wounded in combat were victims of such blasts and some 1,800 lost limbs, according to USA Today. Hundreds of thousands more suffered from a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
While researchers have been scanning the brain for years, very little is known about memory, which is stored in the side parts of the brain known as temporal lobes, Sanchez said. Like epileptic patients, troops who damage this part of the brain can suffer from memory loss and other issues.
One of DARPA’s newer projects, Restoring Active Memory, seeks to build a prosthetic device that could aid in the formation and recall declarative memory, a form of long-term memory that can be recalled such as a fact. For example, a future experiment might involve a patient who is asked to identify a series of faces and names with the aid of an implant.
“The twist on this is he or she will be interacting with a prosthetic device,” Sanchez said. “So at some face and name presentations, maybe we’ll stimulate the part of the brain that is involved in the memory formation and see if there are particular patterns of stimulation that can facilitate the formation and recall of that memory.”
The research builds on the work of a precursor program, called Revolutionizing Prosthetics, which dates back almost a decade and reflects the cornerstone of the agency’s research into neural signaling.
Jan Scheuermann, one of two patients in the program, in 2012 agreed to let surgeons at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center implant a pair of pea-sized electrodes onto her left motor cortex — which controls movement — and connects her to a robotic arm. She hoped she might feed herself for the first time in a decade. She did that and more.
Scheuermann, a 55-year-old mother of two who became paralyzed in middle-age due to a rare neurological disorder known as spinocerebellar degeneration, became so adept at manipulating the arm developed by Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory that her participation in the study was extended until October, when the electrode arrays were removed.
“That is the first program in the agency where you have humans interacting with really advanced prosthetic devices to do something extremely useful,” Sanchez said.
Reading the Mind
The sensors on Scheuermann’s brain measured just four-millimeters long, yet included hundreds of contact points designed to pick up signals from individual brain cells called neurons.
“When you intend to move your arm, for example, there are certain places in your brain that become active, the neurons that are there become active, and that activity can occur when you physically move your arm or even if you imagine moving your arm,” Sanchez said.
The signals were relayed to a computer running software that matched the activity to patterns associated with physical movements, such as raising or lowering an arm. Scientists used vector mathematics to build algorithms that determined the intended motion of the not only the arm, but also the wrist and fingers. The code translated into operating instructions for the robotic prosthesis.
“Neurons in this particular part of your brain are tuned to certain movement directions,” Sanchez said. “You can imagine how you can use that information to operate a robotic arm. Once you know those associations, you can say, ‘Oh, whenever I see that guy firing, I’m trying to go in this direction.”
Flying the F-35
While the program’s potential real-world applications aren’t limited to prosthetics, patients won’t be flying drones into combat anytime soon. When Scheuermann piloted the F-35 simulator, she didn’t drop bombs or launch missiles. Rather, she simply cruised along — sometimes erratically — and tried to bank the aircraft on simple flight patterns.
The process of linking her brain to the aircraft’s motion was similar to the robotic arm. Scientists would tell her to imagine trying to steer the plane to the right and left, and then would have to figure out how the neural activity would connect to control of the rudders.
“You have to try to find this functional mapping,” Sanchez said. “This is a real core part of this from a science perspective: How do you learn what those signals in the brain mean when you intend to do something and how do they relate to the device you’re trying to actuate, whether it’s a robotic arm or an airplane?”
Scheuermann also virtually piloted a small Cessna plane around the Eiffel Tower in Paris — an experience she found “liberating,” Sanchez said.
“That’s a really powerful statement,” Sanchez said. “We think of neurotechnology as hardware, but we don’t often think about it in terms of how it can improve somebody’s life or change somebody’s life.”
Bringing Back Sensation
The next and final phase of the program will seek to reverse the signaling process by understanding the patterns for sensation in the central nervous system.
“It’s really easy to say, ‘We want to bring sensation back,’ but it’s really difficult to actually do it,” Sanchez said. “You have to go to a different part of the brain that’s involved in the perception of touch — the primary central cortex — and again the challenge is the same: You have an electronic device that is measuring something and we need to translate that into signals that the brain understands.”
His office is working to identify potential civilian patients for the program. The agency doesn’t perform experiments on troops, even though the research is designed to help those who serve.
“Military personnel make the ultimate sacrifice,” Sanchez said. “They serve our nation and their lives often are changed through their injury. The very least we can do is develop a technology that will help to improve their quality of life. We have to stay true to that. It’s essential.”
In the early 2000s, connecting a brain to a robotic prosthesis would have required multiple rooms full of computers, cables and other hardware. While its recent work proved it could be done with more advanced systems and less space, the agency still wants much smaller components.
“All of the new programs have fundamentally by their design the goal of developing medical devices that are fully implantable — the size of a cardiac pacemaker that could be implanted somewhere in the body,” Sanchez said.
Under another new effort called Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies (Subnets), DARPA is funding the development of implantable devices designed to more precisely identify and treat psychiatric diseases.
“All of these procedures, at least the ones we’ve talked about thus far, are reversible,” he added. “Neurotechnology is being designed in such a way that it’s reversible, so if it’s not providing a benefit for you, you don’t use it. You just take it out.”
Lawmakers in the Senate are slamming the brakes on any future plans to develop new camouflage and utility uniforms.
Buried inside the recently-passed Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2017 is a provision that would prevent the Defense Department from developing or fielding any new camouflage utilities until one year after the secretary of defense formally notifies the House and Senate Armed Services committees of the intent to do so.
Lawmakers and Defense Department officials have long had a sticky relationship over the issue of camouflage and the many patterns the various military services use. In 2009, Congress attempted to slip a provision into the defense budget that would require the services to adopt a common ground combat uniform. In 2013, lawmakers again inserted language requiring a common pattern. Some military brass pushed back, however; then-Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos said the Corps planned to stick to its propriety MarPat camo “like a hobo on a ham sandwich.”
Development of new camouflage patterns can be costly–the Washington Post reported that the Army’s “universal” Army combat uniform camouflage cost $2.63 million to develop–and not all are great successes. The Navy has taken heat for its blue Navy Working Uniform Type 1 pattern, which is worn aboard ships, and which critics have said will only work as camouflage if sailors fall overboard.
A 2012 Government Accountability Office report found the Army stood to spend $4 billion over five years as it selected and fielded its next family of camouflage uniforms.
That process is ongoing; the Army is now fielding its Operational Camouflage Pattern, with plans to require its use for all troops by 2019.
The 2017 Senate version of the NDAA must still be reconciled with the House version, which does not include the camouflage provision. That’s expected to happen later this summer.
World Championship Wrestling star Diamond Dallas Page was badly injured at the height of his career. To get back to the top of his game he created a unique mix of yoga and rehabilitative motion — what he calls DDP Yoga.
“I’m the guy who wouldn’t be caught dead doing yoga the first 42 years of my life,” says Page, now 59. “Especially when I started wrestling at 35, and my career literally took off at 40.”
Page was on top of the world in 1998, when he was one of the top four wrestlers in the world. Soon after, however, he blew out his back, rupturing his L4-L5 spinal segment.
“Three specialists I went to and they all said the same thing,” he continues “‘You’re done. You had a great run, but you’re done.’ On that Sunday, I just signed a multimillion dollar three-year deal.”
They guy who wouldn’t be caught dead doing yoga was suddenly willing to try anything.
“All the reasons I didn’t ever do yoga, the whole spiritual mumbo jumbo, it wasn’t my thing,” he says. “But I started doing yoga and learning the moves on VHS tapes. I would mix those moves with rehabilitation techniques because I had to rehab both shoulder surgeries, both knee surgeries, and my back.”
This combination of forces worked like a charm. He was back in the ring in three months. At age 43, he was the oldest champion ever to wear a belt. His wrestling career continued well into 2005 and he still makes sporadic appearances to this day.
“At 42, they tell me my wrestling career is over, and at 43 I’m the world champ. Yeah, I’m going to keep doing that,” he says.
While DDP Yoga is for anyone who wants to be stronger, recover from an injury, or just generally look and feel better, Page created it for workers and athletes who, by the nature of what they do, end their careers having put a great deal of physical stress on their bodies.
“I developed DDP Yoga for cops, firefighters, the military, the worker, the roofer on his knees, tile layers, the athlete that’s beat up,” he says. “If you played high school football or soccer, there’s a good chance that by the time you got to your forties, you’re pretty beat up.”
One day, a disabled Gulf War veteran named Arthur Boorman bought the DDP Yoga program. Page sent Boorman a questionnaire and was moved by the vet’s responses.
“He wrote, ‘I’m a disabled vet that’s morbidly obese and so beat up I’ve relegated to thinking of myself as a piece of furniture,'” Page says. “I told him to send me some pictures so I can see what I’m looking at. I saw knee braces that took him twenty minutes every morning to put on. They attached into his back braces. His wife had to do that for him every morning. Then he grabbed these canes, he called them wrap around cups. I saw those cups and was like, how am I going to help that guy?”
Page and a dietician developed a meal plan for Boorman while Boorman started DDP Yoga. In ten months, Boorman lost 140 lbs, as well as his knee and back braces, his canes, and was not only able to walk, he started running.
“If he would’ve wrote back to me, ‘I think I can do this’ or ‘I’ll give it a try,’ I would’ve typed back, awesome, keep me posted,” Page says. “But he didn’t do that. He wrote, ‘I can do this.'”
These days, Boorman appears in DDP Yoga workouts.
“When you see him on the energy workout which is twenty-five minutes, you’re like, ‘Oh my God, that’s that guy! Wait a minute, that’s ten years later!'” Page says with a smile. “Then when you get to the hour-long workouts, there’s Arthur again. Doing the most extreme levels.”
As he developed DDP Yoga, he found two of his fellow wrestlers in despair. Jake “The Snake” Roberts and Scott Hall (aka Razor Ramon) suffered from drug and alcohol abuse. In 2012, Roberts was obese, addicted, and contemplating suicide. Hall faced much the same situation. World Wrestling Entertainment wouldn’t even let the legendary wrestlers into the Wrestling Hall of Fame. They both turned to DDP Yoga and made remarkable changes. Roberts’ turnaround is the subject of Page’s new film, The Resurrection of Jake the Snake.
“All I did was guide my two buddies who guided me in other times in my wrestling career,” Page says. “It was great to help my buddies get their lives back in order.”
DDP Yoga has expanded exponentially. Page has a live-streaming studio in Atlanta, as well as DDP Yoga apps for Android and iPhone formats, which include cooking and nutrition. His Twitter account is full of people like Arthur who thank him for developing the program. The company tries to respond to every tweet.
“I’m not a doctor,” Page says. “And I have enough lawyers to know that I don’t claim to do anything. What I am is a guide. I don’t put the work in for you and I won’t. I will help guide you from what I’ve learned.”
Women are capable of incredible things, including feats of physical strength, athleticism and tremendous bravery. I have always been a strong supporter of equality for women, and women in the military are no exception. With that in mind, the playing field between men and women in the military isn’t level. Equal doesn’t mean identical.
Often, they’re unaware of these potential hardships until they experience them firsthand. Women are assets to the military without a doubt, but they also deserve to know the details before they sign up. Here’s what any prospective female recruit should consider before they enlist.
Sexual assault is a real threat.
Of all the risks to women in the military, sexual assault is the most widely publicized. While male soldiers are also at risk, women have a heightened risk in comparison. The risk is highest for those stationed on ships; at some high-risk installations studied in 2014, 10% of women were assaulted – and that’s only what was reported. At the two most dangerous, 15% of women were assaulted. The risk is much lower for most military bases, but because studies are done after the fact, it’s impossible to know which bases are the most dangerous currently.
All branches of the military have been working to improve these sobering stats, but between 2016 and 2018, the number of assaults actually increased. Some of the pinpointed factors included alcohol use and off-base parties. Victims also had certain common qualities, like joining the military at a younger age and having a prior history of sexual abuse. On average, one in 17 civilian women will be sexually assaulted in the US. For military women ages 17 to 20, the risk is one in 8, and around 25% of women report sexual harassment at some point during their time of service.
Experiences like these have an impact on mental health.
Many women choose not to report their assaults for fear that their case won’t be taken seriously, or that it will impact their career potential. Either way, victims are more likely to experience PTSD, depression and anxiety that can last for years.
More women in service will serve safely than not, but it’s important to be aware that fending off male attention can be part of the job…even though it shouldn’t be.
Women have a much higher risk of injury in certain military roles.
In close-combat positions and others that require ongoing heavy lifting and extreme physical exertion, women are more likely to experience injuries like stress fractures and torn muscles. Women are more than capable of holding their own in combat, but the particularly physical roles don’t come without risks. Pelvic floor injuries are a particular problem related to carrying heavy weights, potentially leading to urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.
Irregular meals have a more pronounced effect.
Eating inconsistently impacts women more heavily than it does men. Many women experience irregular menstruation, or none at all, with potential impacts on future fertility. Since periods can be irritating to deal with when you’re taking on a role that’s heavily physical and allows very little downtime, some opt to take birth control that eliminates periods completely. The hormones they include can have substantial side effects when taken long term, including low bone density and metabolic issues.
Women are more likely to receive a physical disability discharge.
According to one study published by the Army surgeon general’s office, women are 67% more likely to leave on a physical disability discharge due to a musculoskeletal disorder. That statistic was also from 2011, before the most intense combat jobs allowed women to apply.
Side effects can take years to show up.
It’s possible that even women who leave the military feeling healthy will feel the consequences of hard, physical labor later in life. Some female veterans have reported issues like osteoporosis, muscle atrophy, low endurance and infertility, which they believe to be the result of their time in the military.
Military careers can be rewarding for women, too. As long as they know what to expect.
The point of this piece isn’t to tell women they should stay out of combat or avoid the military. That said, since there are risks unique to female members of service, it would be unfair to encourage them to enlist without offering full transparency.
Some military roles can increase the risk of pelvic floor and musculoskeletal injuries, and sexual harassment and assault is an issue that is far from solved, but many women also climb the ranks proudly without a hitch. Now you know the risks. If you still feel a combat role is where you belong, don’t let any statistic hold you back.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has confirmed that Iran has filed a lawsuit against the United States over the reimposition of sanctions against Tehran by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, claiming the move violates the nuclear treaty Tehran signed with the United States and five other world powers.
A U.S. State Department official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said on July 17, 2018, that Iran’s application was “baseless” and that Washington intended “to vigorously defend the United States before the ICJ.”
Confirmation by the court on July 17, 2018, came a day after Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter that the case was filed at the ICJ to hold the United States “accountable for its unlawful reimposition of unilateral sanctions.”
“Iran is committed to the rule of law in the face of U.S. contempt for diplomacy and legal obligations,” Zarif tweeted. “It’s imperative to counter its habit of violating international law.”
U.S. President Donald Trump
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)
Under the deal signed in 2015, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, and the European Union agreed to lift international sanctions against Iran.
In return, Iran scaled back its uranium-enrichment program and promised not work on developing nuclear weapons.
The lifting of sanctions has allowed Iran to sell its oil and natural gas on world markets — although secondary U.S. sanctions remained in place.
But in May 2018, the Trump administration unilaterally pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal.
Trump said during a NATO summit in July 2018 that with the U.S. increasing sanctions on Iran, “at a certain point they’re going to call me and say, ‘Let’s make a deal,’ and we’ll make a deal.”
But Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said on July 17, 2018, that if Trump wants to negotiate after pulling out of the international agreement, he would have to “initiate the call himself” because Iran’s top leadership was now rejecting any talks with the United States.
A Russian Sukhoi Su-25 “Frogfoot” ground attack aircraft was shot down over the city of Maasran in Idlib, Syria, on Feb. 3, 2018. The aircraft, RF-95486/06 Blue (ex Red), was involved in airstrikes in region and had just fired rockets on a ground target.
Video seen on social media shows what appears to be a person, claimed to be the Russian Su-25 pilot, descending by parachute after the aircraft was hit. The BBC reported that Russia’s defense ministry said: “The pilot had enough time to report that he had ejected in an area controlled by the militants of Jabhat al-Nusra.”
Based on report and the above videos the aircraft was hit by a MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defense System): most probably a Chinese FN-6 passive infrared homing (IR) man portable air defence system known to be in the hands of the Jidahists.
According to reliable sources within the Russian military who spoke to TheAviationist.com, the pilot did reach the ground and then engaged unknown ground forces. Our Russian source tells TheAviationist.com that photos from the scene show the pilot’s personal firearm and that, “One store [ammunition magazine] is completely empty, the other two are consumed more than half. The pilot led the fight.” The source claimed the weapon shown in the photos is a Russian Stechkin automatic pistol or APS. This weapon is widely carried by Russian military and federal law enforcement.
Additional sources on Russian social media report that the pilot carried a grenade and may have detonated it close to himself as insurgent forces closed in on him. There is no official confirmation of this information.
Anyway, the pilot was captured and killed. The Russia-based, independent Conflict Intelligence Team posted photographs they say showed the dead body of the pilot and a paper recommending a man named Major Roman Filipov for a state award that was allegedly filled out by Russian air group commander Lieutenant Colonel Sergei Aksyonov.
Novaya Gazeta quoted an unidentified Defense Ministry source as confirming that the pilot was Filippov. According to the newspaper, he was a Ukrainian pilot from Crimea, the Ukrainian region that Russia annexed in 2014.
Video from alleged to be from the crash scene clearly show the wing of an Su-25 with Russian markings along with a damaged engine and fire among debris.
TheAviationist.com showed the Arabic language news broadcast to a translator in Dearborn, Michigan, who told us that the reporter in the video, identified as “Journalist Moazom Al-Chamie”, says the aircraft was shot down by a shoulder fired missile after being spotted by drivers in a truck. The reporter also goes on to say that another Russian Su-25 remained in the area after the incident, and that the men shown in the video hoped to shoot it down as well.
According to Iranian journalist Babak Taghvaee the Su-25 shot down on Feb. 3 2018 was one of six Su-25s of RuAF’s 368 ShAP recently deployed from Sevastopol, Crimea to Hmeymim Air Base, Syria.
The loss of this Su-25 is the 11th Russian aircraft destroyed by enemy action or in accidents during the Russian involvement in the Syrian campaign. Considering the number of combat sorties flown by the Russians over Syria, and the increasing number of man portable air defense systems (MANPADS), these losses could be characterized as low for a campaign of this size.
Russian observers remarked that an absence of infra-red decoy flares being ejected from the Su-25 shown in the videos is unusual. It is common to see a series of bright flares ejected from an aircraft as a countermeasure to heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles.
Video seen on social media showed Su-25 attack aircraft over the same area being engaged by anti-aircraft guns. One video showed an Su-25 taking a near miss as a proximity fused anti-aircraft round detonates near its left wing root.
Following the downing of the Su-25 reports began to appear on Twitter that numerous air strikes were occurring in the area where the aircraft was downed.
Dressed in civilian clothes with long hair, the men looked like any other on the streets of East Berlin.
Their German accents didn’t give away their true identities as American Special Forces soldiers, part of a clandestine military unit operating during the Cold War.
Berlin, a divided city located 100 miles behind the Iron Curtain, was a focal point in the tensions that developed between NATO forces and the Soviet Union after World War II.
With a literal line drawn between the forces — American troops and their allies in West Berlin and Soviet troops and their supporters in East Berlin — the city became the “Grand Central Station of East-West espionage” and a “playground for all sorts of secret agents,” according to Bob Charest, a retired Army master sergeant and former Green Beret.
It was there that, for nearly 30 years, an elite Special Forces unit operated. Today, those veterans are decades removed from their secretive mission, but are only now receiving recognition for their efforts.
The little-known unit, called Detachment A, held various missions during its short-lived history, but the longest-standing was the “stay behind” mission.
In the event of World War III — with Soviet forces expected to come pouring across the Berlin Wall — members of the detachment, who never numbered more than 100 men, were expected to blend into the city and make life difficult for the much larger Communist force.
Teams were assigned sabotage missions, ready to destroy key transportation lines, military equipment, and other targets. They also would be expected to train and lead guerrilla forces that would then be tasked with harassing the Soviet troops from behind enemy lines, buying important time to allow NATO forces to mount a counterattack.
Charest, twice a member of Detachment A, recalled one of his team’s forays across the Berlin Wall recently during a visit to Fort Bragg.
Despite the soldiers’ efforts to go unnoticed, it was not unusual for the men to realize they were being followed, Charest said.
When that happened, the soldiers were trained to evade the extra attention and disappear into the city. Failure was not an option.
“You’re a spy,” Charest said, decades after having served in the city. “You didn’t have any dog tags. You weren’t there, officially.”
“If they caught you, they would either kill you or put you in jail,” he said.
Despite the high stakes, Charest said, the men were highly trained and able to stay calm under pressure.
Part of that training involved how to surveil targets amid the busy city and, if needed, lose the enemy when under unwanted scrutiny.
“We knew we were being watched,” Charest said.
Luckily, the men also knew their way around the city. Unlike other American troops in Berlin, these soldiers were trained to blend into Berlin. They had to immerse themselves in the city, becoming as knowledgeable on its nooks and crannies as the locals.
As the team led their tail through the city, Charest said, the soldiers made their way to a train station, part of the city’s subway, or U-Bahn, network.
Instead of stepping onto a train, the men let the first one pull out of the station. A second train arrived and the men were seemingly set to let that one pass, too.
But at the last moment, just before the doors closed, Charest said, the soldiers stepped onto the train.
He turned just in time to lock eyes with the man who had been following them. Charest is unsure who he worked for. It could have been the East German Secret Police, known as the Stasi, or the Soviet KGB.
As the train pulled out of the station, Charest looked at the man. Then he smiled, and as he pulled out of sight, Charest waved goodbye.
For most of its history, Detachment A — sometimes known simply as “the detachment” or “Det ‘A'” — was as elusive as the men who served in the unit.
When it was formed in 1956 with the cover story of a “security platoon” assigned to another US Army unit in Berlin, only about 10 officers knew the true makeup of the unit, according to James Stejskal, a Special Forces veteran who spent two tours of duty in Berlin and later served with the CIA.
Stejskal, a retired chief warrant officer 4 who now lives in Alexandria, Virginia, has written what might be the only definitive history of Detachment A.
His book, “Special Forces Berlin: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the US Army’s Elite, 1956-1990,” was published this year by Casemate Publishers, following a two-and-a-half-year effort to research and write the book and another year-long review by the Department of Defense.
Stejskal was one of dozens of Detachment A veterans who gathered on Fort Bragg earlier this month.
Once covered in shadows — to the point that even the US Army has little official documentation on the unit — the veterans of Detachment A are becoming increasingly vocal, with the hopes of bringing the unit the recognition it deserves before all of its former members are gone.
Charest, who now lives in Campobello, South Carolina, has been a key part of those efforts.
Since Detachment A was first publicly acknowledged in early 2014, he has worked to tell the unit’s untold story.
Previously recognized by veterans of the unit as “The Man Who Brought Detachment A In From the Cold,” Charest is the group’s webmaster, maintaining a website — detachment-a.org — along with his wife, Linda. He’s also become their organizer, facilitating annual reunions.
The most recent gathering was at Fort Bragg, the same place where veterans of the unit unveiled a monument stone honoring Detachment A outside of U.S. Army Special Operations Command in early 2014.
Detachment A has long been a small, elite group. Over its nearly 30-year history, an estimated 800 men served among its ranks or with the Physical Security Support Element-Berlin, a similar unit that replaced the detachment from 1984 to 1990.
Charest said the annual gatherings, which once attracted more than 100 veterans, are starting to dwindle. Detachment veterans are growing older. They’re dying, he said. Or they don’t travel as well as they used to.
“We’re starting to slow down,” Charest said. “I can see the handwriting on the wall.”
That makes his mission to spread the word about the unit even more important.
“We’re getting the recognition we didn’t have,” he said.
In the years after the Cold War, the Army declassified many of Detachment A’s secrets. But its veterans were largely unaware that they were now free to speak about their experiences.
The breaking point came in 2014, Charest said. The ceremony outside the USASOC headquarters was a first for Detachment A.
In addition to unveiling the monument stone, the veterans also took the symbolic step of casing the unit’s colors, a flag used to identify the detachment, for the first time.
“No force of its size has contributed more to peace, stability, and freedom,” Army Special Operations Command officials said during the ceremony.
Lt. Gen. Charles T. Cleveland, then-commander of USASOC, said the men operated amid untold risk, fraught with uncertainty.
“Detachment A was literally in the eye of the Cold War hurricane,” he said.
The next day, a story about the ceremony was on the front page of The Fayetteville Observer.
Charest said it was the first public exposure for the unit, whose existence and missions had been highly classified secrets. It began a flurry of queries from veterans of the detachment, some of whom had never even told their families about the unit.
“We were out of the cold,” Charest said. “This unit — nobody knows about it. Nobody knew we ever existed.”
Stejskal, who interviewed 65 veterans of Detachment A for his book and dug through what little information was available from official sources, said it was long past due for the unit to receive its recognition.
“No one became famous because of his exploits in Berlin; they were classified,” he said. “The Army has no history on us. They know of it, but they don’t know anything about it.”
Stejskal said that when he visited the Army’s Center for Military History to research his book, the organization had six pages of documents and little information. Most of the unit’s actual documents have been lost or destroyed.
“After 25 years, I figured it was about time,” Stejskal said of his decision to put together a history of the unit. “We’re on the verge of dying out and losing it all, all that historical knowledge.”
Detachment A, also known by its classified name — the 39th Special Forces Operational Detachment — was formed in August 1956 from carefully screened and selected members of the 10th Special Forces Group based in Bad Toelz, Germany. The unit was first housed at McNair Barracks and later, at Andrews Barracks in West Berlin.
Over the years, the men assigned to Detachment A remained a select group. They were highly trained, often with experience in World War II or, later, in Vietnam.
Members of the unit had to be Special Forces qualified. They needed to have a top-secret clearance. And they needed to be able to speak fluent German or another Eastern European language.
In the early days, nearly half of the unit came from soldiers who joined the Army under the Lodge Act — often refugees from Europe whose families remained under Soviet rule. Those immigrants provided important knowledge to the detachment members, who needed to appear to be German.
Charest, who served with the clandestine unit from 1969 to 1972 and again from 1973 to 1978, said the slightest mistake could blow a soldier’s cover.
“The Germans handle a knife and fork different than we do,” he said. “They count with their fingers different.”
Detachment members had to study the habits of locals, Charest said. They needed to dress like a local, wear their hair like a local, and talk like a local.
They carried paperwork provided by German authorities or passports from Eastern European nations that supported their cover stories. Even their ranks were classified, Charest said. Instead, members usually referred to each other by their first names.
Even within the Special Forces community, Charest said, the detachment was largely an unknown.
Some soldiers were assigned to the unit assuming it was a conventional support unit. They wouldn’t learn the truth until they were in Berlin being debriefed by leaders.
“They knew it existed, but nobody knew what they did,” Charest said.
At first, Detachment A had about 40 soldiers, but it would grow to about 90 troops for most of its history. Most soldiers stayed in Berlin for three years.
Amid the backdrop of the Cold War, the detachment would have been little more than a speed bump against Soviet forces in a conventional fight.
But Charest said the detachment never intended to “fight fair.”
With Berlin more than 100 miles behind enemy lines, encircled by what could have become the front lines of a war, those allied forces stood little chance at stopping the Soviet forces.
Stejskal wrote that the city would likely have become the world’s largest prisoner-of-war camp. He compared the hypothetical plight of the detachment to the 300 Spartans who faced a superior Persian force at the legendary Battle of Thermopylae.
“If the Russians decided to roll across the wall, that would have been World War III,” Charest said. “It was a suicide mission.”
“The odds were against us,” he added. “But that’s part of the game.”
The most the detachment could hope for, Charest said, was slowing the Soviet juggernaut.
Stejskal described the detachment mission as a “Hail Mary plan.”
He said the soldiers were there to buy time and disrupt the enemy, much like World War II’s famed Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of the modern CIA.
Charest said the soldiers were constantly “poking and prodding” German and Soviet defenses. Sometimes, that would mean sneaking into East Germany via canals and tunnels.
“We were constantly trying,” he said. “If you heard the stories, you wouldn’t believe them.”
As the Cold War stayed cold, the detachment would see its missions expand.
It was tasked with probing and testing allied security vulnerabilities across Europe.
At the same time, it would become more of a counterterrorism force, training to respond to hijacked airplanes and participating in the famed Operation Eagle Claw — the failed mission to rescue American hostages in Iran in 1980.
Detachment soldiers were tasked with rescuing three diplomats being held by Iran, and two detachment members were stationed in Tehran, providing information on the target buildings and preparing to receiving the rescue force.
When the mission was scrapped and disaster struck a staging site — resulting in the deaths of several troops — the detachment members in Iran were left to escape the country on their own.
Retired Maj. Gen. Sidney Shachnow, who commanded Detachment A from 1970 to 1974 and later commanded all American forces in Berlin, said the city was full of spies and the Soviet KGB had known about the detachment since the late 1960s.
But, Shachnow said, the Soviets greatly overestimated the size of the unit, assuming it was about 500 men instead of less than 100.
“They knew our capabilities but did not know what our targets were,” he said.
Shachnow is a Holocaust survivor who was born in Lithuania and spent three years imprisoned in a Germany concentration camp as a young boy. He moved to the United States in 1950 and became a legend in the Special Forces community.
He said he had the privilege of deactivating the Special Forces presence in Berlin.
“It was a sad ceremony in an empty room with only about 12 guest spectators seated in folding chairs,” he said. “I awarded some medals, made some short remarks, and the ceremony was over in a matter of minutes.”
“Det A was a small, covert unit staffed with incredibly talented people willing to make the ultimate sacrifice,” Shachnow said on Fort Bragg earlier this month. “They served on the front lines of the Cold War and never fired a shot in anger. No force of its size in history has contributed more to peace, stability, and freedom.”
Speaking to reporters in Washington, D.C., Lt. Gen. Jon Davis said the review, commissioned by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Jan. 26, would study the two aircraft “apples to apples” to determine whether the 4th-generation Super Hornet can fill the shoes of the brand-new F-35C.
Davis noted that the Marine Corps owns a significant portion of the program’s institutional wisdom as well.
“I probably have the most experienced F-35 pilots in the department of the Navy on my staff right now,” he said.
Mattis’ directive, aimed at finding ways to shave cost off the infamously expensive Joint Strike Fighter program, dictates that the review assess the extent that improvements can be made to the Super Hornet “in order to provide a competitive, cost-effective fighter aircraft alternative.”
Davis said that F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin and Super Hornet maker Boeing would have opportunities to make their case for the aircraft.
However, he said, he expects the study to validate the need to have the technologically advanced F-35C deployed aboard carriers in the future.
“I think it will be a good study, and my sense is we’ll probably have validated the imperative to have a 5th-generation aircraft out there on our nation’s bow,” he said.
If F-35Cs are taken out of the picture as a result of the review, attrition rates of the 4th-generation Super Hornet may become an issue, Davis said, suggesting such a move would limit the aircraft’s ability to deploy in some situations.
“We’re not going backward in time, we’re going forward in time,” he said. “The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, we’re deployed, naval and expeditionary, and we want to make sure our Marines and our sailors have the very best gear in case something bad happens. And that’s 5th-generation airplanes.”
An Army astronaut on a six-month mission in space recently shared her experience, saying she still leans on her military training while aboard the International Space Station.
Lt. Col. Anne McClain, a former helicopter pilot who has flown over 200 combat missions, blasted into space on a Russian Soyuz rocket in early December 2018 to serve as a flight engineer for her crew.
“I spent my whole career working high-risk missions in small teams in remote areas, which is what we’re doing right now,” she said in an April 24, 2019 interview.
McClain, 39, is one of five soldiers in the Army Space and Missile Defense Command’s astronaut detachment. Its commander, Col. Andrew Morgan, is slated to launch July 20, 2019, the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing.
During her stay, McClain has been able to complete two spacewalks — both about 6.5-hours long — for maintenance outside the space station, which is about the length of a football field.
Astronaut Lt. Col. Anne McClain is pictured in the cupola holding biomedical gear for an experiment that measures fat changes in the bone marrow before and after exposure to microgravity.
On March 22, 2019, she and another American astronaut replaced batteries and performed upgrades to the station’s power system. Then on April 8, 2019, she and a Canadian astronaut routed cables that serve as a redundant power system for a large robotic arm that moves equipment and supports crews while outside the station.
When she first started to train for spacewalks back in Houston, McClain said it reminded her of being an OH-58 Kiowa helicopter pilot on a scout weapons team.
The spacesuits, she noted, are like small spacecraft that need to be constantly monitored in order for their occupants to stay alive against the extreme temperatures and vacuum of space. Suits have their own electronics, power and radio systems — similar to components helicopter pilots often cross-check while remaining focused on the mission.
Astronaut Lt. Col. Anne McClain works in a laboratory inside the International Space Station Jan. 30, 2019.
Then there is the buddy team aspect of both operations.
“Up here on a spacewalk, that’s the other astronaut that’s outside with you,” she said. “On the ground, that was the other helicopter that I was flying with.
“Most importantly, you have to be able to work with that other person and their system — their spacesuit, their helicopter — in order to accomplish the mission,” she added. “It was actually amazing to me how many of the skills kind of carried over into that environment.”
Unique from her Army days has been her participation in scientific experiments on the station, the only research laboratory of its kind with over 200 ongoing experiments.
An upcoming experiment, she said, is for an in-space refabricator, a hybrid 3D printer that can recycle used plastic to create new parts.
“That’s a really exciting new technology to enable deep-space exploration,” she said.
Astronaut Lt. Col. Anne McClain, wearing the spacesuit with red stripes, and Air Force Col. Nick Hague work to retrieve batteries and adapter plates from an external pallet during a spacewalk to upgrade the International Space Station’s power storage capacity March 22, 2019.
In December 2018, NASA announced plans to work with U.S. companies to develop reusable systems that can return astronauts to the Moon. Human-class landers are expected to be tested in 2024, with the goal to send a crew to the surface in 2028.
What’s learned in these missions could then help NASA send astronauts to Mars by the 2030s, according to a news release.
While currently in low Earth orbit, McClain explained that resupply vehicles can come and go. Beyond that, crews would need to be self-sustained for longer periods of time.
“We’re using the space station as a test bed for some of the technologies that are going to enable us to work autonomously in space,” she said, “and hit some of our deep-space exploration goals.”
As with other astronauts, McClain has also become a guinea pig of sorts in human research tests that study how the human body reacts to microgravity.
Anne McClain, now an astronaut and lieutenant colonel, stands next to a OH-58 Kiowa helicopter.
One experiment she has been a part of is monitoring airway inflammation up in space.
With a lack of gravity, dust particles don’t fall to the ground and will often be inhaled by astronauts. The tests measure exhaled nitric oxide, which can indicate airway inflammation, she said.
This research could be important if astronauts are sent back to the Moon, which is covered with a fine dust similar to powdered sugar, she said.
“If that’s in the air and we’re breathing that for months on end, if we’re doing extended stays on the lunar’s surface,” she said, “we need to understand how that affects the human body.”
While there is no typical day in space, McClain said their 12-hour shifts normally start with a meeting between them and support centers in the U.S., Russia, Germany and Japan.
When not helping with an experiment, astronauts do upkeep inside the station that includes plumbing, electricity work, changing filters, checking computer systems, or even vacuuming.
Astronaut Lt. Col. Anne McClain uses the robotics workstation inside the International Space Station to practice robotics maneuvers and spacecraft capture techniques April 16, 2019.
The best parts of her day, she said, are when she gets the chance to peer down on Earth. Every day, the station orbits around the planet 16 times, meaning astronauts see a sunrise or sunset every 45 minutes.
“One of the cool things about going to the window is if you’re not paying attention, you don’t even know if it’s night or day outside,” she said. “You could look out and see an aurora over the Antarctic or you could look out and see a beautiful sunrise over the Pacific.”
After seeing Earth from above with her own eyes, McClain has come to realize people there are more dependent on each other than they may think.
Astronaut Lt. Col. Anne McClain poses for a photograph with her 4-year-old son before she launched to the International Space Station in early December 2018.
“You get this overview effect where you realize how small we are and how fragile our planet is and how we’re really all in it together,” she said. “You don’t see borders from space, you don’t see diversity and differences in people on Earth.”
Those back on Earth can also gaze up and enjoy a similar effect.
“Sometimes we focus too much on our differences, but when we all look up into space, we see the same stars and we see the same sun,” she said. “It really can be unifying.”
Whenever she glanced up at the stars as a young child, she said it was a magical experience and eventually sparked her interest in becoming an astronaut.
Her family supported her dream and told her she could do whatever she wanted as long as she put in the work.
“We need to do that to make sure that those who use VA are protected, that they are cared for,” he said. “We will get over this and we will make sure everything is done to protect those who have done so much for our country.”
Suicide prevention, benefits
Wilkie also talked about the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide, or PREVENTS, executive order. The goal of PREVENTS is to bring together stakeholders across all levels of government and in the private sector to work side by side to provide Veterans with the mental health and suicide prevention services they need. The secretary said VA is weeks away from the PREVENTS initiative task force report. The report will supply a roadmap for greater cooperation at the state, local and tribal level.
The secretary also offered high praise for Veteran Service Organizations like the American Legion. He said through continued engagement and the MISSION Act, Vietnam Veterans are about to receive additional benefits.
“We have finally published the regulations that give financial and material support to the families of our Vietnam warriors who take care of those warriors at home, and it is long past time,” the secretary said.
Wilkie said he has a personal interest in caring for Vietnam Veterans. His father received injuries in Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Wilkie said the nation should never turn its back “on those men and women who provide us the very freedoms that we breathe and live every day.”
The secretary also discussed another group of Vietnam Veterans. He said VA started accepting Blue Water Navy compensation claims in January. Wilkie added that VA expects 70,000 to apply for the benefits “that are long overdue.”
As the nation mourns the passing of one its finest patriots, current and former members of the Marine Band remember President George H. W. Bush as a man whose love of music and uncommon graciousness elevated the unique relationship between the Chief Executive and “The President’s Own.”
“Although President Bush served as our Commander-in-Chief before my time in ‘The President’s Own,’ the close relationship he developed with the Marine Band is well-known,” Music Adviser to the White House and Marine Band Col. Jason K. Fettig said. “We have been fortunate to have had wonderful moments with every president we serve, but President and Mrs. Bush’s gratitude for our Marines and for the special music we provide in The People’s House was especially warm and always engaging. He never missed an opportunity to connect with those around him and thank them for their contributions, and the men and women in the band who got to know President Bush both during his administration and in the many years beyond will always remember his ever-present appreciation and admiration for all those who served our nation alongside him.”
Col. John R. Bourgeois, USMC (Ret.), Marine Band Director from 1979-96, recalled memories of President Bush with great ease. “Of all the presidents I served, he was the most conversive and was the kindest man in the world,” he said. He recounted how the president would make a point to bring the guest of honor from each state dinner over to Bourgeois and the Marine Chamber Orchestra to make introductions. “It was very much like being a part of the family,” Bourgeois said. It was during President Bush’s administration, in February 1990, when Bourgeois led the Marine Band on an historic 18-day concert tour of the former Soviet Union as part of the first ever U.S.-U.S.S.R. Armed Forces band exchange. “The president was integral to making that tour happen and while we were there we saw the end of the Soviet Union,” he said.
“The President’s Own” remembers and honors George H. W. Bush, 41st President of the United States of America.
(Official White House Photo)
On a more light-hearted note, Bourgeois recollected an event on Dec. 7, 1992, when the Marine Band performed Hail to the Chief at a White House holiday reception for the president’s staff. At the end of the fanfare, an unlikely gentleman made his way through the crowd and took the podium: comedian Dana Carvey, known for his uncanny impression of the president. But it was the annual Gridiron Club dinner where Bourgeois witnessed President Bush in a truly nostalgic moment. It was March 1993 and Gridiron president, Los Angeles Times bureau chief Jack Nelson, sat at the center of the head table with newly-inaugurated President Bill Clinton on one side of him and former President George H. W. Bush on the other. As Bourgeois led the Marine Band to the dais for The Star-Spangled Banner, he saw both Clinton and Bush lean over to whisper to Nelson. Nelson later told Bourgeois that President Bush commented that there are many things he won’t miss about being president but the Marine Band isn’t one of them.
Few members of the Marine Band can boast of a better first performance at the White House than former Marine Band pianist Master Gunnery Sgt. Robert Boguslaw, USMC (Ret.). Although he had performed at the White House before May 14, 1992, this was the first time he performed solo in the private residence. As he played a medley of Broadway show tunes from “Carousel” and “Oklahoma,” President Bush and former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev stood in the well of his piano where he overheard the two leaders discuss perestroika and the fall of the Berlin Wall. “President Bush was always a gentleman and always came over to shake my hand and thank me,” he said.
Inaugural Parade of George H.W. Bush.
(George H.W. Bush Presidential Library)
Master Gunnery Sgt. Peter Wilson, violinist and current string section commander, joined the Marine Chamber Orchestra in 1990, halfway through President Bush’s term. What impressed him about the president was that he always made a point to go out of his way to acknowledge and thank the musicians for their participation at assorted events, even if it meant shaking off his handlers to seek out the orchestra. It was during President Bush’s tenure that Wilson and several other musicians founded the Free Country ensemble and one of their early performances was at President Bush’s daughter Dorothy Bush’s wedding to Robert P. Koch at Camp David on June 27, 1992. In addition to Free Country, the Marine Band provided a brass quintet in the chapel for the ceremony and a dance band for cocktail hour. After the event, as the musicians packed up their instruments to leave, President and Barbara Bush found them to shake each of their hands, ask their names, and thank them for their music. Wilson said from that day forward, President Bush remembered his name and called him Pete each time he saw him at the White House. “He had an amazing ability with names and people,” Wilson said.
At a congressional picnic Wilson was singing with Free Country and he recalled President Bush seemed to appear from out of nowhere and shook hands with each of the musicians as they performed. Wilson considers it a point of pride that he was able to greet Bush and not lose a beat during the fast-moving lyrics of Billy Joel’s “Travelin’ Prayer.” It was another event, however, that Wilson can never forget. The Marine Chamber Orchestra was performing at the White House on Jan. 16, 1991 and President and Mrs. Bush were greeting visitors in a receiving line. Wilson noticed then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell walk up to the president in his green service uniform to pull him away. Bush didn’t come back to the event. When Wilson returned to Marine Barracks Washington, the news on the television in the lounge was reporting the first bombing attacks on Baghdad and the beginning of Operation Desert Storm.
President Bush is accosted by a gorilla carrying mylar balloons in celebration of the President’s 65th birthday, South Lawn of the White House, June 12, 1989.
“We all recall how very kind and appreciative he was of everything the band did at the White House,” said Former Executive Assistant to the Director Capt. Frank Byrne, USMC (Ret.). “Mrs. Bush was also wonderful. I do especially recall the two Desert Storm victory parades, one in New York City and one in Washington. I marched and played in both. In NYC the crowds were so big that we hardly had room to get the band through the streets at certain points. There was ticker tape, but also all kinds of paper, including big stacks of continuous feed letter sized paper that were a challenge to get through. President Bush and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf were in the reviewing stand and were so happy and proud. It’s not often the band gets to do a big street parade in good, not freezing, weather and it was a thrill to participate.”
“I remember several occasions at the White House that President Bush, upon seeing members of the Marine Band, would pause his entourage just long enough to personally thank the members of the Marine Band and relay how much he, the First Lady and the staff appreciate our musical contribution,” said former bassoon player Master Sgt. Dyane Wright, USMC (Ret.). “He stated that the music by members of the U.S. Marine Band is what they enjoyed the most about their White House events.”
“I will always remember President and Mrs. Bush as being unfailingly gracious, kindhearted and appreciative toward the members of the Marine Band,” recalled Former Director Col. Timothy W. Foley, USMC (Ret.).
The late Marine Band pianist Master Gunnery Sgt. Charles Corrado, USMC (Ret.), served ten presidents from 1958-2003. His wife Martha reflected on “Charlie’s” many, many encounters with President Bush and recalled in particular when the president requested Corrado to perform at his residence at Kennebunkport, Maine, on July 10, 1991, while he and Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu of Japan prepared for the upcoming Economic Summit of the Industrialized Nations in London. “I was jealous that he got to go!” she said. “He played in the sunroom while the meetings took place and the family was very appreciative of him being there.”
George H.W. Bush poses with Marine Band Drum Major MSgt Gary Peterson at the annual Alfalfa Club Dinner.
Former principal cello Master Gunnery Sgt. Marcio Botelho, USMC (Ret.), remembered an equally memorable performance for President Bush: “It was my first year in the band and sometime between April and June I was at home when I got a call from work. The question was, ‘How quickly can you get to the Barracks? Because we have to go to the White House.’ I came in right away and we immediately departed to the White House. Only three of us went, since we were the only available musicians: concertmaster Master Sgt. Bruce Myers, violinist Gunnery Sgt. Jim Diehl, and myself. President Bush was having a working lunch with Lothar de Maizière, the newly-elected prime minister of the old GDR (East Germany) and the White House staff had discovered that the PM had been a musician. At the time we were told he had been a cellist. Anyway, we rushed in to the house, put our cases in the mezzanine level holding room and went up to the state floor. President Bush and the PM had dined in the state dining room and we set up in the Blue Room. No sooner had we set up, the president and his guest walked in and took a seat about six feet from us. Bruce called out a tune: Haydn’s London Trio No. 3, 1st movement. We played it, they thanked us, we returned to the barracks. Possibly the shortest performance I ever played at the White House.” Botelho was also quoted in a Dec. 1989-Jan. 1990 issue of the Marine Band’s newsletter Notes saying, “It’s surprising because even though we are performing background music, people often make it a point to compliment us. In fact, at all of the state dinners the President and Mrs. Bush have greeted us and thanked us at the end.”
President George H.W. Bush escorts Queen Elizabeth II of England during a State Dinner at the White House on May 14, 1991.
(Official White House Photo)
In 2011, the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library requested a Marine Band uniform for a new exhibit featuring a baby grand piano from the Bush’s collection. Then-Drum Major Master Gunnery Sgt. William L. Browne, USMC (Ret.) prepared the uniform and personally fitted the mannequin that would wear it. After Browne took the uniform to the tailor for alterations and cleaning, he carefully packed it in his carry-on luggage and traveled to College Station in December 2011 to ensure that it was installed correctly. He arrived to find the mannequin sitting at the piano with permanently bent legs that presented some technical challenges. He assisted curator Susanne Cox in putting the mannequin in place on the bench at the piano and made last minute adjustments to the fit and appearance. One thing he couldn’t adjust, however, was the length of the mannequin’s hair. “I know how hard it is to give a mannequin a haircut so I made an exception just this once,” he said with a wry smile. Browne was honored to participate in this exhibit for the senior former President Bush. “Every time I’ve seen him at an event, he and Mrs. Bush always made a point to come over to thank the band,” he said. “At my very first presidential event as Drum Major in 2008, President Bush stopped me in the hallway to say how much he appreciated the band and how good it was to hear us.”
The Marine Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Col. Fettig, will perform one last time for President Bush at his funeral service at 11 a.m., Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Selections include Gustav Holst’s Nocturne from A Moorside Suite, Kevin Siegfried’s arrangement of “Lay Me Low” from Shaker Songs, Aaron Copland’s Our Town, Paul Christiansen’s arrangement of “My Song in the Night,” John Williams’ Hymn to the Fallen, and Samuel Augustus Ward’s “America, the Beautiful.”