With the growing tensions and the many threats that North Korea poses, it’s a safe bet that there is a desire to keep an eye on North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
Of course, the DPRK strongman isn’t going to be obliging and tell us what he is up to. According to FoxNews.com, the Air Force is keeping an eye on him – and one of the planes that help do this is quite an old design, even if it has a lot of new wrinkles.
Osan Air Base is best known as the home base of the 51st Fighter Wing, which has a squadron of F-16C/D Fighting Falcons and a squadron of A-10 Thunderbolts. But Osan also is home to a permanent detachment from the 9th Reconnaissance Wing, the 5th Reconnaissance Squadron, which operates the Lockheed U-2S, known as the Dragon Lady.
Yeah, you heard that right. Even in an era where we have Predators, Reapers, and the RQ-170 Sentinels, among other planes, the 1950s-vintage U-2 is still a crucial asset for the United States Air Force.
In fact, according to GlobalSecurity.org, one variant of the U-2, the TR-1, was in production in the 1980s. The TR-1s and U-2Rs were re-manufactured into the U-2S in the 1990s. The TR-1 was notable in that it swapped out cameras for side-looking radar, and it was eventually called a U-2 in the 1990s.
An Air Force fact sheet notes that the U-2S is capable of reaching altitudes in excess of 70,000 feet and it has a range of over 6,090 nautical miles. In short, this plane is one high-altitude all-seeing eye. The planes are reportedly capable of mid-air refueling, but having a single seat means that pilot endurance is often a bigger factor than a lack of fuel.
The Air Force fast sheet notes that the U-2 can carry infrared cameras, optical cameras, a radar, a signals intelligence package, and even a communications package.
The U-2 has proven that it is a very versatile plane. The Air Force is considering a replacement, but that may prove to be a tricky task. While plans calls for the plane to be retired in 2019, a 2014 Lockheed release makes a compelling case for the U-2 to stick around, noting it has as much as 35 years of life left on its airframes.
That’s a long time to get any proposed replacement right.
A recent report from the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, written by Maj. Gen. Jeff Harrigian and Col. Max Marosko of the US Air Force, gives expert analysis and never before seen detail into how the US’s fifth-generation aircraft would fare in a war with China.
The report starts with a broad overview of fifth-generation capabilities and their roles in the future of air combat, and it concludes with a hypothetical war in 2026 against an unnamed nemesis after “rising tensions in a key region abroad.”
However, the locations mentioned in the scenario are all in the Western Pacific and clearly seem to indicate the rival is China, whose advanced radar and missile capabilities make for very interesting challenges to the US Air Force’s force structure.
F-35s and F-22s fly in formation. | US Air Force
As the scenario takes place ten years in the future, it is assumed that all the kinks with integrating fifth generation fighters into the force have been ironed out, and that the F-35 and F-22 work seamlessly to aid legacy aircraft via datalink.
In the opening stanza of such a conflict, the Air Force officials say that the US would send its F-35s and F-22s to a wide range of bases across the Pacific, leveraging the US’s vast network of bases and allies with some of the valuable warplanes.
Such a step denies China’s ability to land a “knockout blow” as they normally could, because typically US jets stay stationed at larger bases, presenting a more attractive target. Also, by this time, the US’s fifth-generation aircraft can find airfields on their own, without the help of air traffic controllers, allowing the force to be further spread out to present less target-rich areas.
Additionally, regional allies like Australia, who also fly the F-35, can quickly fill in for US airmen in a pinch. A US F-35 can land on an Australian airfield and receive much the same maintenance as it would at its home base, the officials claim.
With the Pacific now a patchwork of small units of F-35s and F-22s, the Chinese would seek to leverage their impressive electronic warfare capabilities, but the officials contend that the fifth-gens would weather the storm.
“Heavy radar and communications jamming confront US and coalition forces, but fifth generation aircraft leverage their networked multi-spectral sensors to detect and target enemy aircraft, while supporting a common operating picture through data links and communication architectures,” the Air Force officials write.
China’s military installations in the South China Sea create a huge area that could possibly be turned into an air identification and defense zone. | CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative
Meanwhile, legacy platforms like F-16s, F-18s, and F-15s provide a critical layer of defense closer to the US mainland. China’s formidable surface-to-air missile capabilities keep these older, more visible fighters off the front lines until the stealthier platforms, like the F-35, F-22, B-2, and the upcoming B-21 do their job.
The officials recognize the need for the fifth-gen fighters to strike quickly and get out of the heavily contested air spaces. Destruction of many of the US and allied airfields is expected, however the versatile fifth-gens continue to switch up locations as China depletes their supply of ballistic and cruise missiles on low-yield targets.
Some of China’s road-mobile missile batteries. | AUS Airpower
Some of China’s road-mobile missile batteries.AUS Airpower
Many of China’s SAM batteries are road mobile, so fifth-gen fighters will have to use their geo-location and electronic warfare capabilities to seek and destroy these sites.
The onboard sensors in the fifth-gens will provide vital leeway for the fighters to make decisions on the go.
From the report:
“Aircraft take off with minimal information—little more than a general target area that may be more than 1,000 miles away. On the way to target, the fifth generation aircraft receive minimal tanker, threat, and target information, but sufficient updates to enable them to ingress, identify, and prosecute targets successfully before returning to operating airfields.”
Loses of US and allied airfields and troops would naturally follow in such a conflict, however the forces are integrated and use the same platforms, so they can quickly fill in for each other in the event of loses.
All the while, F-35s and F-22s whittle away at China’s air defenses, gradually lowering the threat level from high to moderate. Eventually, the bulk of the US Air Force’s fleet —legacy fighters— can operate in the area with acceptable rates of survivability.
And that’s it. Once F-16s are flying over Beijing, the conflict is essentially settled. In the moderately contested airspace, fifth generation jets can essentially data-link with legacy fighters and use them as “armada planes,” leveraging their increased capability to carry ordinance to eliminate whatever remains of China’s air defenses.
Monty Hutson knows a little something about post-traumatic stress. Hutson served in the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne, and while he was in, he studied language patterns and hypnosis in order to better communicate with others. By the time he got out, he was starting to develop his own method of helping veterans deal with the psychological demands of military service. Now, with his non-profit, For Veterans Sake, he is able to take his efforts even further for a new generation of veterans.
The newest division of For Veterans Sake is its service dog division. It’s well-known to many by now that man’s best friend is one of the veteran’s most powerful guides on the road to post-traumatic stress recovery. Monty Hutson not only recognized this too, he added it to his non-profit.
For Veterans Sake pairs a veteran up with a dog, then specially trains the animal to respond to the unique needs of the veteran. The vet will train the service dog, who will be able to recognize the scent of a veteran who is being triggered and often responds to the veteran’s need before the vet even knows what’s happening. Best of all, For Veterans Sake uses many, many dogs from shelters and kennels, giving the animal a purpose and a much-needed and much-appreciated pal for life.
Hutson and his service dog.
Monty Hutson is uniquely poised to help our nation’s newest generation of veterans with not just PTS, but what he calls “the Military Condition” – a unique and demanding lifestyle that starts with your recruiter and continues through our time in service. For this and PTS, he developed a unique treatment called Neuro-Traumatic Resourcing (Non-Therapeutic). For Veterans Sake is founded on dealing with both PTS and the Military Condition and helping veterans improve their quality of life.
The help (of dogs) Hutson and For Veterans Sake offer American veterans is free of charge. But his organization, like every non-profit, runs on donations. Check out what Monty Hutson is doing for his fellow vets and maybe drop by his donation page and send him what you can spare. Remember, you’re also rescuing dogs – how can you go wrong?
A senior Army modernization official today said that the service’s new Squad Designated Marksman Rifle will be the 7.62mm Heckler Koch G28.
The Army selected the G28 as its new Compact Semi-Automatic Sniper System in 2016 to replace its M110 Semi-automatic Sniper System — a move that will provide snipers with a shorter rifle that doesn’t stick out to the enemy as a sniper weapon.
Now, the Army plans to start fielding the G28 in 2018 to infantry squads as the service’s standard SDMR, Lt. Gen. John Murray, deputy chief of staff for Army G8, told Military.com.
The Army has money in the fiscal 2018 budget earmarked for the SDMR program, said Murray, who did not have the exact figure listed in the budget.
Equipping squads with a new 7.62mm SDMR is the first step in a two-phase effort to ensure units have the capability to penetrate enemy body armor.
May 2017, Gen. Mark Milley testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that the service’s current M855A1 Enhanced Performance Round will not defeat enemy body armor plates similar to the U.S. military-issue rifle plates such as the Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert, or ESAPI.
The revelation launched an ad hoc effort to acquire new 7.62mm Interim Service Combat Rifle, mainly for infantry units, but the idea quickly lost momentum.
Then, in early February 2018, Murray told members of Congress that the new SDMR is a phase one; phase two would be to field a more powerful replacement to the M249 squad automatic weapon, which is chambered for 5.56mm.
The presence of a 7.62mm rifle in the squad formation is nothing new, but units currently have to turn in their SDMRs at the end of a combat deployment.
Since 2009, the Army’s SBR has been the Enhanced Battle Rifle 14, a modernized M14 equipped with a Sage International adjustable aluminum stock with pistol grip, a Leupold 3.5×10 power scope and Harris bipod legs.
The Army adopted the EBR concept, first used in 2004 by Navy SEALs, in response to the growing need of infantry squads operating in Afghanistan to engage enemy fighters at longer ranges.
The continental United States has never been attacked by a foreign air force, with one crazy exception. On September 9, 1942, a floatplane launched from a Japanese submarine attacked the small logging town of Brookings, Oregon, dropping incendiary bombs.
The Imperial Japanese Navy was one of the most formidable sea forces in World War II. At the time of the Pearl Harbor attacks, it was the most powerful navy in world, which allowed the empire to dominate the western Pacific in the early years of the war. They had the heaviest and most armed battleships ever built, the sister ships Yamato and Musashi. Their naval aviation was second to none at the beginning of the war, and it took years before the United States could effectively counter the nimble and deadly Mitsubishi A6M Zero. And while the famous German U-boats were the most effective submarine fleet of WWII, the Japanese constructed the largest submarines of the war, many of which carried their own aircraft. The largest of the Imperial Navy, the I-400-class, could carry three floatplane bombers, underwater and undetected, and had a range that allowed it to travel around the world one and a half times (and this was before nuclear power – these subs ran on diesel engines).
But it was one of the smaller B1-type submarines, I-25, that carried out the only air attack on the continental United States in the war. During its first patrol in late 1941, the sub patrolled the waters north of Hawaii during the Pearl Harbor attacks, and even went as far east as the mouth of the Columbia River at the border of Oregon and Washington. Its second patrol took the sub on missions in Australia and New Zealand, launching its Yokosuka E14Y “Glen” aircraft on reconnaissance flights over Sydney Harbor, and Port Phillip Bay in Melbourne. Warrant Flying Officer Nobuo Fujita later flew over Wellington and Auckland, New Zealand. On the third patrol, the submarine bombarded Fort Stevens in Oregon from 10 miles off the coast.
I-25‘s fourth patrol sent the sub back to the Pacific Northwest. On September 9, 1942, Fujita launched the Glen aircraft carrying two 168-pound incendiary bombs. Their mission was to drop the bombs over the forested region along the Oregon/California border in an attempt to start devastating forest fires. The Japanese had also launched thousands of firebomb-loaded weather balloons with the same intention (some were discovered as far east as Michigan). One of Fujita’s bombs managed to land on Mount Emily, east of Brookings, Oregon, starting a small blaze. Due to wet conditions, and a rapid response from the U.S. Forest Service (his plane had been spotted during the attack), the fire, later dubbed the Lookout Air Raid, did little damage. Weeks later, I-25 launched the plane again for a less successful mission. Fujita reported seeing flames but the attack went unnoticed.
Fujita managed to survive the end of the war, and opened a hardware store near Tokyo, although it later went bankrupt. He later worked at a wire company and rarely spoke of his military service. His family had no idea of his attack on the U.S. mainland until he was invited to Brookings in 1962. He visited the town with his family’s 400-year-old samurai sword with the intent of presenting it to the town as an apology for the attack. If the town did not accept his apology, Fujita, a reserved and humble man, had planned to commit ritual suicide (seppuku) with the sword. “He thought perhaps people would still be angry and would throw eggs at him,” his daughter Yoriko Asakura told The New York Times. “If that happened, as a Japanese, he wanted to take responsibility for what he had done.”
Instead, the town welcomed him with open arms (local churches and businesses raised the money for his visit in 1962). He later paid for several Brookings students’ trips to Japan, as well as donating money to the town’s library for children’s books on Japan. He visited the town three more times in his later life and planted trees at the bombing site. His family’s sword was displayed in the Brookings’ city hall and is currently displayed in their library. He was made an honorary citizen of the town shortly before his death in 1997, and some of his ashes were buried at the bombing site.
On the streets of Long Beach, California, a new restaurant has opened where a quadriplegic Navy veteran focuses on hiring other disabled people — especially veterans — to staff the business.
Daniel Tapia, the owner of the restaurant 4th and Olive, told Fox LA, “I’m referred to what’s known as a walking quad, a high functioning quadriplegic. So, I can walk and move but I have a limited strength and feeling in my hands and feet.”
Tapia was a sommelier at another southern California restaurant until he was fired in 2014. Short on employment opportunities and hopeful that he could fight disability discrimination, he decided to launch his own establishment that would provide job opportunities for other disabled veterans.
Some of the vets, like Air Force veteran and bartender John Putnam, are fighting physical battles, but the restaurant also hires people with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.
Co-owner and chef Alex McGroarty told Fox that the veterans are great employees.
“They work really hard,” he said. “If they’ve had a little trouble in the past, they are going to be really loyal and work hard for you.”
Hyper-vigilant during his military stint in Iraq, always on the alert that he was in danger of being killed, Steve Kennedy found he could not turn it off.
An Army soldier who had led several teams during his time in Iraq, and won numerous awards, Kennedy uncharacteristically started using alcohol and putting himself in dangerous situations, hoping to get hurt.
Diagnosed with major depression they could not treat, the military gave Kennedy a less than honorable discharge blamed on an absence without leave to attend his wedding. Once out of the service he was diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder.
According to RAND, 20-30% of veterans are diagnosed with PTSD. (Courtesy photo illustration)
Alicia Carson took part in more than 100 missions in less than 300 days with an Army Special Forces unit in Afghanistan, and served in combat on a regular basis. When she returned home, she was found to have PTSD and a traumatic brain injury.
After presenting a physician’s diagnosis, she asked to be excused from National Guard drills. The National Guard then discharged her with a less than honorable discharge because of her absenses.
The two Army veterans filed a federal class-action suit April 17 asking that the Army Discharge Review Board give “liberal consideration” to their PTSD diagnoses as former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hegel had instructed in 2014.
They are being represented by supervisors and student interns at the Jerone N. Frank Legal Services Organization at the Yale Law School.
Kennedy, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, members of the Yale Law School team and others held a press conference on the suit at the law school after it was filed with U.S. District Judge Warren W. Eginton in Bridgeport’ federal court.
Kennedy and Carson are filing on behalf of themselves and more than 50,000 similarly situated former military personnel.
In 2014, only 42% of veterans were enrolled in the VA. (Veterans Affairs photo)
Blumenthal had worked with the former secretary of defense to put in place the Hegel memo to correct discharges that were based on actions tied to brain trauma and PTSD.
“This cause is a matter or justice, plain and simple. …Steve Kennedy has been through hell. The special hell of a bad paper discharge resulting from post-traumatic stress, one of the invisible wounds of war,” the senator said.
He introduced Conley Monk, a Vietnam veteran, who was part of a different war but experienced the same bad papers due to actions committed while suffering from PTSD, something that was not even recognized medically in that era.
Monk, however, benefitted from the review board following Hegel’s memo after a lawsuit filed against the Department of Defense.
Blumenthal said the discharges resulted in a stigma for both of them and Carson, as well as a loss of benefits.
Kennedy has since put himself through school and is expected to get his doctorate this year in biophysical chemistry at New York University. With an honorable discharge, he would have been eligible for $75,000 in benefits he never received.
The senator said a lawsuit should not have been necessary to move the review board to do the right thing and follow the law.
“The Department of Defense has failed to provide the relief the law requires,” Blumenthal said.
The Army does not comment on pending lawsuits.
Blumenthal said he has spoken to Secretary of Defense James Mattis about this issue.
“He has been sympathetic, but these men and women are not seeking sympathy. They want real results. …They deserve consistent standards and fair treatment,” he said. Blumethal said they are not seeking any financial renumeration.
Kennedy lives in Fairfield, while Carson lives in Southington. She was not at the press conference.
Carson suffered from severe PTSD-related symptoms, such as nightmares, loss of consciousness, loss of memory, trouble sleeping, irritability, feelings of being dazed and confused, and photosensitivity, a vision problem recognized as a symptom of traumatic brain injury.
Jonathan Petkun, who is among the law students representing Kennedy and Carson, is also a former Marine and a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.
“With this lawsuit, we are asking the Army to live up to its obligations and to fairly adjudicate the discharge upgrade applications of individuals with PTSD,” he said.
Petkun said since 2001, more than 2.5 million military personnel have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, with more than half deployed more than once. At the same time, some 20 percent are estimated to be suffering from PTSD or PTSD-related conditions.
“Instead of giving these wounded warriors the treatment they deserve, too often the military kicks them out with less than honorable discharges based on minor infractions, many of which are attributable to their untreated PTSD,” Petkun said.
Two days after exchanging harsh warnings with Iranian leaders, U.S. President Donald Trump says he is still eager to negotiate a new nuclear deal with Tehran.
“We’ll see what happens, but we’re ready to make a real deal, not the deal that was done by the previous administration, which was a disaster,” Trump said on July 24, 2018, in a speech to veterans in the U.S. state of Missouri.
Trump had threatened Tehran with “consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before” after Iranian President Hassan Rohani had warned Trump not to “play with the lion’s tail.”
The exchange of harsh rhetoric was reminiscent of the threats that volleyed back and forth between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in 2017 — exchanges that disappeared after the two adversaries agreed to negotiate a nuclear deal at a summit this spring.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and United States President Donald Trump.
(White House photo)
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on July 24, 2018, declined to comment directly on Trump’s threats against Iran, but he voiced his own concerns about Iranian actions in the Middle East, including Tehran’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and for Huthi rebels fighting the government in Yemen.
“I think the president was making very clear that they’re on the wrong track,” Mattis said on a visit to California.
“It’s time for Iran to shape up and show responsibility as a responsible nation. It cannot continue to show irresponsibility as a revolutionary organization that is intent on exporting terrorism, exporting disruption, across the region.”
While other senior citizens were enjoying a quiet life in retirement, 71-year-old Billy Waugh was hunting for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and blowing Taliban fighters to smithereens.
As a member of a CIA team sent in shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Waugh battled militants at Tora Bora and helped bring about the collapse of the Taliban. It seemed a pretty good ending to a career that featured combat in Korea and Vietnam, surveilling Libya’s military, tracking international terrorists, and God-only-knows-what-else for the CIA.
Waugh was born in 1929 in Texas and enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1948. After completing airborne school he was assigned to the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. But he was eager to get into combat, and he reenlisted in 1951 so he could get to the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team in Korea. Then the Korean war ended, and his career veered off into “black ops” territory once he joined the Special Forces in 1954.
His life after that reads like the most badass resume we’ve ever seen: Five tours with Special Forces “A” teams in Vietnam and Laos where he was wounded multiple times, working for the CIA’s Special Activities Division in Libya, preventing the Russians from stealing classified missile secrets on the Kwajalein Atoll, and helping to hunt down the infamous terrorist Carlos “The Jackal,” which he later detailed in a book.
In that same book, “Hunting The Jackal,” Waugh also writes of the time he survived a major North Vietnamese Army attack in Vietnam, where he was shot in the head.
“I took another bullet, this time across the right side of my forehead. I don’t know for sure, but I believe the bullet ricocheted off the bamboo before striking me. It sliced in and out of a two-inch section of my forehead, and it immediately started to bleed like an open faucet,” Waugh wrote. “It sounds like the punch line to a bad joke, but you know it’s a bad day when the best thing about it is getting shot in the head.”
The bullet had knocked him unconscious, and the NVA soldiers who later inspected his body thought he was dead. Though the enemy soldiers had taken his gear, clothing, and Rolex watch, he was left alone where he was hit, and his comrades later landed on a helicopter and saved his life.
“If you were going up there, you were either going to die or get shot all to hell,” Waugh told The Miami New-Times of his team’s work in Vietnam. “Everyone in the outfit was wounded once, twice, three times.”
He officially retired from the Army at the rank of Sergeant Major in 1972, though he had been working for the CIA since 1961 and would continue to work for the agency over the years as an operative or contractor. His military awards include the Silver Star, four Bronze Stars, four Army Commendation medals, and eight Purple Hearts for wounds in combat.
Waugh has often lived in the shadows at the forefront of America’s wars. Long before Osama bin Laden would be known as U.S. public enemy number one, he was tracking the terror mastermind’s every move in Sudan and put forth several plans to take him out.
“I was within 30 meters of him,” Waugh told Air Force journalist Nick Stubbs in 2011. “I could have killed him with a rock.”
In between his time in uniform and paramilitary garb, Waugh earned a Bachelor’s and Masters Degree, and he still lectures young soldiers on the art of surveillance, according to Dangerous Magazine. But it’s apparently not all PowerPoint and boredom for the now-85-year-old.
Waugh, who now lives in northwest Florida, still lists himself as a “contractor for my present outfit” on his website. So the next time something bad happens to America’s enemies, he may be part of the reason why.
“If the mind is good and the body is able, you keep on going if you enjoy it,” Waugh told Stubbs. “Once you get used to that [life of adventure], you’re not about to quit. How could you want to do anything else?”
Defense officials at the highest levels of South Korea’s government told Yonhap News on Wednesday that the US would deploy “strategic assets” to the peninsula amid tensions with North Korea.
“The US has pledged to expand the rotational deployment of its strategic assets near the Korean Peninsula,” Chung Eui-young, the chief of the National Security Office said according to Yonhap.
While “strategic assets” can refer to nuclear weapons, it can also mean nuclear-powered submarines, aircraft carriers, or stealth aircraft. Chung said the deployment could happen as early as the end of 2017.
Another South Korean publication, Chosun, reported on Tuesday that a government source said the US may send an aircraft carrier, B-2 stealth bombers, and the world’s stealthiest and most lethal combat plane, the F-22 Raptor.
The talk of increased US firepower in South Korea comes after North Korea interpreted some of President Donald Trump’s tweets as a declaration of war, and announced it would try to shoot down US bombers flying anywhere near its airspace.
As it stands, the US has B-1B Lancer bombers stationed in Guam that frequently respond to North Korean missile or nuclear tests by doing flybys near its borders accompanied by advanced US, Japanese, or South Korean jets.
But the B-1B isn’t nuclear capable, nor is it stealth. The B-2, however, has both.
Although the US already has F-22 and F-35 stealth aircraft stationed nearby in Japan, placing them on the Korean Peninsula could spur further escalation of an already-tense situation.
The B-2 can carry 16 nuclear warheads as well as massive ordnance penetrators — bunker-busting bombs that would be the US’s best bet for hunting North Korea’s leadership as they hide in underground caves.
NK News recently reported that the US had to tell North Korea about the last flight of the B-1 near its borders, because Pyongyang couldn’t really track the supersonic bomber jet. If North Korea struggled with the non-stealth B-1, then it has little hope of spotting a B-2 and virtually no chance of spotting the F-22 on its radar screens.
Still, the move could backfire and destabilize the situation in North Korea, as the US’ asymmetrical advantage over North Korea’s aging forces could cause an uneasy Kim Jong Un to think he has no choice but to strike first.
“Often times when we think we’re sending very clear signals, we can’t be sure they’re being interpreted that way,” Jenny Town, the assistant director of the US-Korea Institute, told Business Insider of the US’s attempts to show its strength towards North Korea.
“In South Korea they’ve talked about trying to scare North Korea into changing their behavior,” Town said, referring to the deployment of US military assets to South Korea. But, “the way they change their behavior is not necessarily the way we want them to.”
The United Kingdom’s Royal Marines are heirs to a warfighting legacy older than the entire U.S. military.
They fought in both Gulf Wars, both World Wars, and literally dozens of other conflicts around the world since the Royal Marines were established in 1664.
The Royal Marines were first organized as a group of 1,200 land soldiers assigned to sea service in the Royal Navy. They made a name for themselves 40 years later when they seized the Gibraltar fortress alongside Dutch allies and then held that fortress against sieges for nine months.
They were instrumental in the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and conducted numerous amphibious assaults throughout World War I and World War II.
It was during World War II that the Royal Marines began organizing as commandos and adopted their distinct dark green berets. Since the end of World War II, these troops have been deployed to combat every year except 1968.
To learn even more about the Royal Marines and to see footage from their exploits since 1664, watch this video from the British Royal Navy:
In another historic change for the military, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Thursday lifted the ban on transgender persons serving openly in the ranks, calling the move “the right thing to do” both practically and as a matter of principle.
Starting immediately, “Otherwise qualified service members can no longer be involuntarily separated, discharged, or denied re-enlistment or continuation of service just for being transgender,” he said at a Pentagon news conference. “Our military, and the nation it defends, will be stronger” as a result, he said.
The secretary said he was acting to ensure that the military of the future had access to the widest talent pool. “We don’t want barriers unrelated to a person’s qualification to serve preventing us from recruiting or retaining the soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine who can best accomplish the mission,” he said.
Another reason for lifting the ban was to end discrimination against those who are transgender and currently serving, Carter said.
He cited Rand Corp. statistics estimating that about 2,500 people out of approximately 1.3 million active-duty service members and about 1,500 out of about 825,000 reserve service members are transgender. The upper range estimates put the number of transgender persons on active duty at 7,000 and at 4,000 in the reserves, he said.
Most importantly, allowing transgender persons to serve openly was a matter of fairness and living up to the American principles of equal treatment and opportunity under the law, Carter said.
“Americans who want to serve and can meet our standards should be afforded the opportunity to compete to do so,” he said.
Carter quoted Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, who said, “The United States Army is open to all Americans who meet the standard, regardless of who they are. Embedded within our Constitution is that very principle, that all Americans are free and equal.”
The lifting of the transgender ban was the latest in a series of rapid and wide-reaching social and cultural changes in the military going back to the 2011 action to end the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy against gays serving openly in the military and continuing through Carter’s move last January to lift restrictions on women serving in combat.
Critics have scorned the changes as “social engineering” that would impact readiness and the ability to fight, and the transitions have been adopted reluctantly by many in the upper ranks.
Significantly, Carter was standing alone at the podium when he made the transgender announcement. In matters of major policy statements, the defense secretary is usually joined by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but Gen. Joseph Dunford was absent.
Dunford was also absent when Carter announced that he was opening combat military occupational specialties to women. As commandant, Dunford had urged closing some combat positions in the Marine Corps to women.
When asked about Dunford’s absence, Carter did not respond directly.
“This is my decision,” he said.
Carter said the decision was supported by the “senior leadership,” but did not say whether Dunford was included in the senior leadership.
Criticism of Carter’s action from Capitol Hill was immediate. Rep. Mac Thornberry, a Texas Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, called the announcement as “the latest example of the Pentagon and the President prioritizing politics over policy.”
“Our military readiness — and hence, our national security — is dependent on our troops being medically ready and deployable,” Thornberry said. “The administration seems unwilling or unable to assure the Congress and the American people that transgender individuals will meet these individual readiness requirements at a time when our armed forces are deployed around the world.”
However, Carter had the authority to change the policy on his own, and it appeared that Congress could do little to block him. Thornberry was vague on whether Congress might seek to act. His statement said that “Congress would examine legislative options to address any readiness issues that might be associated with the new policy.”
OutServe-Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, or SLDN, a group supporting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender military community, praised the lifting of the ban. “Transgender service members have been awaiting this announcement for months and years. It has been long overdue,” said Matt Thorn, executing director of the group.
Thorn said Carter “has given a breath of relief and overdue respect to transgender service members who have been and are currently serving our country with undeniable professionalism, the utmost respect and illustrious courage, with the caveat to do so silently. Today, we mark history, once again, by ending the need to serve in silence.”
Carter had made his position on the transgender ban clear last July, when he called the ban “outdated” and ordered a study on lifting it.
“I directed the working group to start with the presumption that transgender persons can serve openly without adverse impact on military effectiveness and readiness, unless and except where objective, practical impediments are identified,” he said.
The study looked at other militaries that already allow transgender service members to serve openly. Currently, about 18 militaries allow transgender service, including those of Britain, Israel, Australia, Brazil and Chile.
Based on the analysis of other militaries, Rand concluded that there would be “minimal readiness impacts from allowing transgender service members to serve openly,” Carter said. Rand also estimated that health care costs would represent “an exceedingly small proportion” of the department’s overall health care expenditures, he said.
The Pentagon signaled it plans to pay for costs associated with transgender health care.
“Medically necessary” gender reassignment surgery and medications will also be covered beginning in about 90 days, Carter said.
“Our doctors will give them medically necessary procedures as determined by the medical professions,” he said. “In no later than 90 days, the DoD will issue a commanders’ guidebook for leading transgender troops, as well as medical guidance to military doctors for transgender-related care.”
The success of changing the policy on transgender service will be determined by how the changes are put in place, said Carter, who set out a year-long course of gradual implementation.
Within three months, the department will issue a commanders’ guidebook on how to deal with currently-serving transgender service members, along with guidance to doctors for providing transition-related care if required to currently-serving transgender service members, Carter said. Also within that time period, service members will be able to initiate the process for officially changing their gender in personnel management systems, he said.
Following the guidance period, the focus will turn to training the entire force on the new rules — “from commanders, to medical personnel, to the operating force and recruiters,” Carter said.
By the one-year mark, all service branches will begin allowing transgender individuals to join the armed forces, assuming they meet accession standards. Also, an otherwise-qualified individual’s gender identity will not be considered a bar to admission to a military service academy, or participation in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps or any other accession program if the individual meets the new criteria.
Immediately, however, transgender soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen will no longer have to live with the possibility of being booted from the service or denied re-enlistment solely because they are transgender, Carter said. “Service members currently on duty will be able to serve openly,” he said.
On the subject of “gender re-assignment” surgery, Carter said the Pentagon will not pay for recruits to have it. “Our initial accession policy will require an individual to have completed any medical treatment that their doctor has determined is necessary in connection with their gender transition and to have been stable in their identified gender for 18 months, as certified by their doctor, before they can enter the military,” said.
The decision on whether to allow those already in the ranks to have gender re-assignment surgery paid for by DoD would be up to the individual’s military doctor, Carter said. “The medical standards don’t change,” Carter said, and all service members will be entitled to “all the medical care that doctors deem necessary.”
The screams of a fellow soldier trapped inside his armored vehicle pierced through the radio.
Apparently surrounded by the enemy with no more ammunition, the soldier cried for help saying his crew had all been killed.
But with his radio keyed open and no one able to talk back to him, then-Spc. 4 Dave Garrod and others in Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, could only listen to the desperate pleas.
“It was a knee knocker,” Garrod recalled as his 25th Infantry Division unit raced down to Tan Son Nhut Air Base, which was under siege by enemy forces. “I had no idea what we were driving into.”
On Jan. 30, 1968, the Vietnam War escalated as enemy forces launched surprise attacks during the country’s New Year holiday.
Then-Spc. 5 Dwight Birdwell, middle, seen on top of a tank during the Vietnam War. Birdwell and other Soldiers with the 25th Infantry Division’s 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment helped defend Tan Son Nhut Air Base in a Tet Offensive attack Jan. 31, 1968.
About 85,000 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese army fighters rushed across the border to attack over 100 cities and towns in southern Vietnam in an attempt to break a stalemate in the war.
Weeks of intense fighting ensued causing heavy losses on both sides.
Before they could repel many of the attacks, thousands of U.S. and South Vietnamese troops would die. Tens of thousands of enemy fighters were also killed.
While not largely deemed a victory for the enemy forces, which suffered a greater toll, the attacks did trigger many in America to rethink U.S. involvement in the protracted war.
Tan Son Nhut
One of the enemy’s main targets was Tan Son Nhut, a key airbase near Saigon where the Military Assistance Command Vietnam and the South Vietnamese air force were headquartered.
After reports of Viet Cong fighters attempting to invade the airbase on Jan. 31, 1968, soldiers with 3rd Squadron’s Charlie Troop responded to the call.
As they drove toward the airbase in the early morning hours, then-Spc. 5 Dwight Birdwell remembers seeing no civilians along the highway — typically a bad omen.
Photos of Dwight Birdwell before he deployed to Vietnam.
Birdwell had seen attacks before during his tour, he said, but they were mainly mines or other small arms weapons fired by a hidden enemy. This day would be different.
When they arrived just outside the airbase, his unit’s column of tanks and armored personnel carriers suddenly stopped.
As if on cue, thousands of tracer rounds began to pepper the vehicles in front of his tank from both sides of the highway. Enemy fighters then jumped onto the vehicles, shooting inside of them.
“All hell broke loose,” Birdwell recalled.
A bullet then struck Birdwell’s tank commander right through the head and he collapsed inside the tank. Birdwell pulled him out, he said, and passed him over the side for medical treatment, which kept him alive.
Birdwell took command of the tank. By that time, all the vehicles ahead of him had been wiped out or were unable to return gunfire. Enemy fighters also set some ablaze after they failed to drive off with them.
“There was a lot of confusion and pandemonium,” he said.
His tank fired its 90 mm cannon toward the enemy while he shot off rounds from the .50-caliber machine gun to hold the enemy back.
Birdwell’s unit was stuck in the middle of an enemy invasion as hundreds of fighters had already crossed the highway and penetrated the airbase to his left. On his right side, even more fighters — some just 50 feet away — prepared to join the assault.
“They were getting close,” he recalled. “I could see their faces quite well.”
Around the same time he ran out of ammunition, a U.S. helicopter was hit and made an emergency landing behind his tank.
Spc. 4 Dave Garrod, left, poses for a photo with Spc. 5 Ed McKenna and Spc. 4 Joe Carlton during their tour in the Vietnam War.
“I thought that this is unreal,” Birdwell said. “Somebody is filming a movie.”
He jumped down from the tank and ran toward the helicopter. Once there, he grabbed one of the helicopter’s M-60 machine guns the door gunners had been using and returned to his position.
After a few minutes of firing rounds at the enemy, something hit the machine gun — likely an enemy bullet. The impact, he said, sprayed shrapnel up into his face and chest.
With the M-60 now destroyed, Birdwell said he took cover in a nearby ditch. He and a few soldiers then grabbed some M-16 rifles and grenades and moved to a closer position behind a large tree.
There, they exchanged gunfire and tossed grenades over the road until the enemy started to fire a machine gun at them.
As the barrage of bullets cut into the tree, it sounded like a chainsaw chewing it down.
“We were in a very desperate situation,” he said.
Around that time, Garrod’s Bravo Troop began to roll into the area.
Soldiers in a different platoon within Charlie Troop also arrived to suppress the attack from inside the base.
“After pulling on line we started laying down fire,” Garrod recalled, “and trying to keep it as low as possible so as not to fire on Charlie Troop on the road.”
Garrod and other soldiers were then pulled away to help wounded crewmen near a textile factory from which the enemy had been commanding its attack.
Once there, he ran over to a tank that had been hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. Inside, he could see the tank’s loader who could not move due to his legs being seriously wounded.
“Being a small, skinny guy, I jumped down in the hatch and without thinking put him on my shoulders and stuck him up through the hatch,” he said.
Later that day, the intensity of the battle hit home for Garrod as he rested in the shade of his vehicle.
Dave Garrod, fifth from right, poses for a photo in front of a Vietnam War memorial near where the Tan Son Nhut Air Base attack occurred on Jan. 31, 1968.
He lifted his canteen up to take a drink when an awful smell overcame him.
“When I looked down on my flak jacket, there was a hunk of flesh from that loader,” he recalled. “It’s something that’s etched into your mind forever.”
Almost 20 soldiers from the squadron were killed and many more wounded as they defended the airbase that day. About two dozen South Vietnamese troops were also killed along with hundreds of enemy fighters.
Garrod earned an Army Commendation Medal with valor device for his actions and a Purple Heart in another mission a few days later. Birdwell earned a Silver Star and a Purple Heart.
The squadron was also awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.
Thirty years later, Garrod and other veterans traveled back to the site on the anniversary of the offensive as a way to find closure for what they saw that day.
They also visited a statue in a nearby park that honors those who were lost or suffered as a result of the battle.
Because of the devastation the war had caused, Garrod expected to see animosity on the faces of the Vietnamese people.
“Instead we found gracious, friendly people,” he said. “Even the veterans from the north whom we met … greeted us with hugs. It was very surprising. They had definitely moved on.”