These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world's bitterest wars - We Are The Mighty
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These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars

By now, many of us have seen the new Wonder Woman movie. If you haven’t, you probably know the basics anyway: Amazon warrior-princess who braves the battlefields of 1918 to save humanity from the depredations of Ares, God of War. It’s a fun movie, even if I had to set aside my critical military historian’s eye for a couple of hours (not like that’s a rare occurrence where Hollywood is concerned). You may also know that the title character is portrayed by one Gal Gadot, who served in the Israeli Defense Forces, so it has that going for it, too.


One thing I particularly liked about the movie was the theme that Diana (Wonder Woman’s real name, in case you haven’t seen the movie or ever read a comic book), though an elite, hard-ass warrior, only fought because she believed it was necessary. The Western Front in Belgium was represented fairly realistically as the muddy, bloody, ruinous Hell that it was. Diana fought not because she liked fighting, but to end that Hell once and for all.

I don’t want to spoil the plot, so I won’t go any further, but, like those who fought in the “War to End All Wars,” Diana’s outlook undergoes a change as the movie progresses. Significantly, though she is reluctant, Diana never loses her conviction that violence is sometimes necessary to prevent greater evil from wreaking havoc on the world.

One of the more humorous elements of the movie is the innate sexism Diana encounters as she moves forward. She is constantly forced to prove herself on and off the battlefield. Of course, being an immortal Amazon princess, with its attendant abilities, helps. But super powers are not required to be a warrior, whether one is male or female.

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman (2017). Screengrab from YouTube.

There’s a lot of controversy these days about the role of women in the US armed forces, specifically, whether women should serve in combat units. Recent months have witnessed the first two female graduates from Ranger School, and the nature of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have put females clearly in the line of fire for well over a decade.

Female warriors, however, are not a new phenomenon, nor are they only the stuff of legend or Hollywood fancy. They’ve been around for literally thousands of years. Without taking a position on the role of females in combat (other people here are far more qualified than I to speak on that subject), here’s a look at some women who fought, and fought well, from the American Revolution through the Global War on Terror. This list is by no means complete, or even close to being so. It’s merely intended to offer a glimpse of women in combat over the last 240-odd years.

The American Revolution

Records for female soldiers who fought in the Revolution are scarce. That many women, usually disguised as men, did fight is beyond question. Most of their names and deeds are lost to us thanks to their enforced anonymity, but a few records survive. The most common theme for the service of these women is that they followed their husbands to war, passing themselves as teenage boys, which were not uncommon in the ranks. Some women volunteered for the bounty paid to enlistees or just in the hope of steady meals. Some didn’t like sitting at home and wanted to fight for their country, like the first soldier on our list.

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars
Battle of Long Island

Deborah Samson enlisted on 20 May, 1782, at age 22, in Captain George Webb’s company of the 4th Massachusetts Regiment of Foot, a light infantry unit. She gave her name as Robert Shurtliff. Rising to the rank of corporal, she fought with the Continental Army in several engagements, including the Battle of White Plains.

Samson was wounded several times. In a skirmish near Tarrytown, she took a saber cut to the head. When her unit was ambushed by Loyalists near East Chester, Samson was hit by two musket balls in the thigh. Probably afraid of discovery if she sought medical aid, Samson crawled into the woods and removed one ball herself. The other was left in the leg while she soldiered on.

Samson was finally revealed as a female while serving as a clerk for General John Patterson in Philadelphia. She became sick and was treated by Dr. Barnabas Binney. Dr. Binney outed her to General Patterson, who recommended to General George Washington that Samson be discharged due to being a female. Deborah Samson was honorably discharged in October, 1783. In 1792, along with other veterans, Samson received back pay due her for her service. In 1805, Samson was awarded a veteran’s pension by the Massachusetts legislature, which stated “that the Said Deborah exhibited an extraordinary instance of female heroism by discharging the duties of a faithful, gallant soldier.” She received that pension until she died in 1827.

The legend of Molly Pitcher is hard to pin down. According to the story, she was carrying pitchers of water to the soldiers, one of whom was her husband, serving a cannon at the 1778 Battle of Monmouth. When her husband collapsed, Molly immediately took his place, swabbing the barrel and helping reload the gun.

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars

It appears that “Molly Pitcher” is a composite figure built on the stories of Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley and Margaret Corbin. Mary Hays (as she was known at the time) was present at Monmouth and a witness claimed that a British cannonball bounced right between her legs while she was serving the American gun, ripping away part of her petticoat. She supposedly quipped that it was lucky the ball wasn’t aimed a little higher and went on with her work.

Hays remained with the Continental Army until the end of the war, though it seems that she served in a support role, as many women did. After her husband’s death, she married a former Continental soldier named John McCauley. She died in Carlisle, Pennsylvania in 1832, where a monument commemorates her valiant service.

Margaret Corbin’s story is similar to the better-known Mary Ludwig Hays. At the 1776 Battle of Fort Washington, Corbin was carrying water to her husband’s gun crew when he fell. She stepped into his place and helped keep the cannon operational by swabbing and helping to reload. During the battle, Margaret was hit by grapeshot in the arm and chest, disabling her for life.

Corbin was one of the first members of the Invalid Corps, created by Congress in 1777 to care for wounded and disabled soldiers. She was granted a pension in 1779, the first American woman to receive a disabled veteran’s pension.

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars
Image under Public Domain.

Anna Maria Lane followed her husband to war in 1776, when he enlisted in the Connecticut Line under General Israel Putnam. Records of her service are sketchy, but it is known that she fought in the Battle of Germantown in October, 1777, where she was severely wounded. After the war, Anna and her husband John moved to Virginia, where they were both recognized for their service by the Virginia legislature and granted soldiers’ pensions.

The American Civil War

The story of female soldiers in the Civil War is akin to those who fought in the Revolution. Women disguised themselves as men and marched off to war for pretty much the same reasons as their forebears. Women served in both the Union and Confederate armies, and most seem to have gone undetected, but we do know the stories of a few.

Sarah Emma Edmonds was a Canadian by birth. To escape an abusive father and an arranged marriage, she disguised herself as a man and fled to the US, where she found work in Hartford, Connecticut as a travelling Bible salesman. When the war broke out in 1861, Edmonds was in Michigan and promptly volunteered for the 2nd Michigan Infantry Regiment on a three-year enlistment. She used the name Franklin Thompson, which had been her assumed name for the previous couple of years.

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars
Sarah Emma Edmonds. Photo from Breach Bang Clear.

Edmonds was nearly captured at First Manassas when she stayed behind to care for the wounded when the Union Army retreated. In 1862, Edmonds served in the Peninsula Campaign, the Battle of Second Manassas, and the Battle of Fredericksburg as a courier, often braving long solo rides through contested territory. Her horse was shot from under her at Second Manassas, forcing her to ride a mule, which subsequently threw her, breaking her leg.

Edmonds’ memoirs claim that she performed espionage missions behind Confederate lines, disguised as a male Irish peddler, though there is no official record of those missions.

The 2nd Michigan was sent to Kentucky in the spring of 1863, where Edmonds came down with malaria. Afraid of discovery, she requested convalescent leave as opposed to seeing a military doctor. Her leave request was denied. Feeling she had no choice, Edmonds deserted and never returned. “Franklin Thompson” was charged with desertion, though no further action was taken. Following her recovery, Edmonds served as a female nurse until the end of the war.

Edmonds, now known as Sarah Edmonds Seelye, attended a reunion of the 2nd Michigan in 1876, where she was welcomed by her former comrades. They helped her have the charge of desertion expunged from her records and supported her pension application, which was approved in 1884. Seelye was the only female to receive a soldier’s pension from the Civil War. In 1897, a year before her death, she became the only female member of the Grand Army of the Republic. In 1901, she was reburied with full military honors in Houston’s Washington Cemetery.

Jennie Hodgers (a.k.a. Albert D.J. Cashier) is remarkable not only for her wartime service, but for the fact that she continued to live as a man for the rest of her life. Hodgers was born on aChristmas Day, 1843, in Ireland. Little is known about her life from then until she enlisted in the 95th Illinois Infantry under the name Albert D.J. Cashier.

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars
Jennie-Hodgers AKA Albert-D.J. Cashier. Photo from Breach Bang Clear.

Hodgers fought in over forty engagements, including the Vicksburg Campaign, the Battle of Nashville, the Red River Campaign, and the Battles of Kennesaw Mountain and Jonesborough. An account exists of her escaping capture by overpowering a Confederate guard. She mustered out on 17 August, 1865.

Living as a man apparently agreed with Hodgers, and “Albert Cashier” worked several jobs, voted in elections, and drew a soldier’s pension. Hit by a car in 1910, “Cashier’s” true gender was discovered by the local hospital, which, remarkably, agreed not to give away her secret. She was sent to the Soldiers and Sailors Home in Quincy, Illinois to recover. It was here, in 1913, that dementia finally caused her to be revealed as a woman. Sadly, she was sent to an insane asylum where she was forced to wear a dress.

On the plus side, when the story was published in the local newspapers, Hodgers’ former comrades protested her treatment and defended her service. Upon her death in 1915, Hodgers was buried in full uniform and her grave was marked with the name Albert D.J. Cashier and her service dates. A second marker with the name Jennie Hodgers was placed beside the original in the 1970s.

Sarah Rosetta Wakeman is another whose story is well-known, thanks to her family’s preservation of her letters. With her father in debt and no prospects of marriage, the nineteen-year old Wakeman left home in 1862 to seek work as a man. While working as a laborer, she met recruiters from the 153rd New York Infantry Regiment, who offered a $152.00 enlistment bounty. Wakeman accepted and enlisted on 30 August, 1862 under the name Lyons Wakeman.

The 153rd New York saw action during the Red River Campaign of 1864 and Wakeman stood on the firing line at the Battles of Pleasant Hill and Monett’s Bluff. The Red River Campaign featured marches of hundreds of miles through muggy heat and disease-ridden swamps, which Wakeman endured as well as her male counterparts.

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars
Sarah Rosetta Wakeman. Photo from Breach Bang Clear.

Before the campaign, Wakeman had written home, “I don’t know how long before I shall have to go into the field of battle. For my part, I don’t care. I don’t feel afraid to go.” Wakeman finally succumbed to disease in May, 1864 and died on 19 June. She is buried in Chalmette National Cemetery in New Orleans. The grave marker bears the name “Lyons Wakeman.” No record exists of her sex ever being discovered.

Mollie Bean is a bit more elusive than Sarah Edmonds and Jennie Hodgers, and, in her anonymity, is likely more representative of the majority of female Civil War soldiers. In fact, Mollie Bean may not have been her name at all.

Mollie was arrested on 20 February, 1865 while hitching a ride on a railroad car near Danville, Virginia. Riding a military rail car required permission from the provost marshal so, when she was discovered, the guard demanded her papers. Mollie replied, “I’ve got no papers and damn if I want any.” She was arrested and, shortly thereafter, discovered to be a female dressed as a soldier. Mollie claimed to have enlisted in the 47th North Carolina Infantry Regiment in 1863 and to have been twice-wounded in battle. She was sent back to Richmond and imprisoned in Castle Thunder. The story was picked up by newspapers in Richmond and Charlotte. Mollie was portrayed sensationally and her claims of service were discounted, with at least one paper describing her as “manifestly crazy.” The general opinion was that she could not have served for over two years without her true sex being discovered. Upon her imprisonment, Mollie vanishes from history. There are no records of her incarceration and examinations of the 47th North Carolina’s muster rolls reveal nothing. The census records of females with the surname “Bean” provide no real evidence. “Mollie Bean” may well have been a made-up name given to the authorities upon her arrest.

RELATED: These badass historical women cross-dressed so they could fight with the boys

She does, however, make a fanciful reappearance in the alternate history novel The Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove. If you haven’t read it, and you’re into that sort of thing, it’s very well-done. The premise is built around South African time-travelers who provide Robert E. Lee’s army with AK-47s in the winter of 1864. Don’t be deterred by the fantastical scenario; Turtledove is a serious historian. The book is outstanding and thought-provoking.

Two more female soldiers from the Civil War merit our attention, though we don’t, and likely never will, know their identities. The remains of a Confederate private were discovered on the Gettysburg battlefield on 17 July, 1863 by a burial detail from the Union II Corps. The private was female. She was likely killed while taking part in Pickett’s Charge on 3 July. Finally, a 1934 excavation of a mass grave on the Shiloh battlefield revealed the remains of a female with a minié ball lodged in her pelvis, likely her death wound. Plainly, females not only served in the Civil War, they were in the thick of battle and some were killed. Due to the nature of their service, we’ll never know how many.

World War I

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars
Photo from the Smithsonian Institute

By the time the First World War rolled around, medical exams for prospective soldiers were more thorough. It was far more difficult for would-be female soldiers to disguise themselves. As far as we know, only one, 20-year old Dorothy Lawrence, actually pulled it off. Lawrence was a British journalist who managed to join a tunneling outfit of the British Expeditionary Force for ten days. At that point, she gave herself up out of a desire to report on the horrible conditions under which her fellow soldiers worked. Lawrence was treated rather poorly by the British authorities, who accused her of being a camp-follower (AKA prostitute). Still, two female soldiers, one British and one Russian, stand out for their wartime service.

Flora Sandes was the daughter of an Irish priest. As a child, she read and re-read Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade and dreamed of being a soldier. As an adult, she traveled throughout Europe, North America, and Egypt, working as a typist to fund her adventures. She was an experienced rider and, according to her family, “a capital shot with the big service revolver.”

Upon the Austro-Hungarian declaration of war against Serbia on 28 July, 1914, the 38-year old Sandes volunteered as a nurse for a Serbian ambulance unit. Serbia was overrun in late 1915 by the combined forces of Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Bulgaria. The Serbian Army forced marched across the mountains to Albania, where Sandes enlisted in the Serbian Iron Regiment.

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars
Flora Sandes. Photo from Breach Bang Clear.

A year later she was a sergeant major and had published an English language book about her exploits to raise money and support for the Serbs. At the end of 1916, Sandes was involved in the vicious hand-to-hand combat in the mountains of Macedonia, where she was wounded by a grenade. Forced to retire from combat duty, she spent the rest of the war running an army hospital and conducting public relations tours to promote Western awareness of the plight of the Serbs. After the war, Sandes remained with the Army, eventually retiring as a captain. In 1917, she was awarded the Order of the Star of Karađorđe, Serbia’s highest combat decoration.

Sandes rode out the Second World War in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Though aged 65, she was recalled to active duty. She was willing, but the Germans overran Yugoslavia before she could do anything. She was arrested by the Gestapo as an enemy alien and imprisoned with fourteen other women. One of Sandes’ fellow prisoners later said “She possessed a wonderful fund of Serbian swear words which she launched at the guards with such devastating effect that they behaved almost respectfully.” She was eventually released, but had to report to the Gestapo weekly until the war ended.

ALSO READ: 15 women who helped pave the way in the Army

Sandes finally left Belgrade following the passing of her Serbian husband a few months after the war. She was nearly 70, but went to Rhodesia to stay with her nephew, who was a Rhodesian police officer. She was unpopular with the colonial authorities, however, who complained about her “fraternizing with the African peasant population, sitting around an open fire and drinking beer made from sorghum.” Flora Sandes returned to England, where she died in 1956.

Maria Bochkarevka was a Siberian peasant girl who survived an abusive father and two abusive husbands to join the Russian war effort in 1914. Women were not allowed to serve at that time, but Maria wrote a personal letter to Tsar Nicholas II asking for special permission. Her request was granted and Bochkarevka was sent to the front in 1915.

Her first combat saw Maria, despite being hit in the leg, pull dozens of wounded men from No-Man’s Land, for which she was decorated. She was soon promoted to corporal and began leading 30-man patrols into No-Man’s Land. On one of her patrols, she killed a German soldier with her bayonet. In the spring of 1916, Bochkarevka was wounded three times, including taking a piece of shrapnel near the base of her spine, paralyzing her from the waist down. Determined to fight, she learned to walk again and returned to the front, where she was promoted to sergeant. She was captured not long afterward, but she escaped, killing ten Germans in the process with grenades. She was decorated again.

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars
Maria Bochkareva. Photo from Breach Bang Clear.

Bochkarevka is most famous for raising and training the Women’s Battalion of Death in 1917. The battalion was an all-female combat unit designed to shame the male soldiers of the Russian Army into fighting harder. The Russians were reeling from the fall of the Tsar and repeated defeats at the hands of the Germans, and desperately needed a morale boost. Buchkarovka started with 2000 women, but her iron discipline soon whittled it down to around to around 250.

The battalion participated in the summer offensive of 1917, going over the top with the men. Led by Buchkarovka, now a captain, they penetrated three German trench lines before being repulsed. After the battle, the women’s morale was reportedly far better than their male comrades, and their casualties lower, though they had spearheaded the assault in their sector.

In October, the battalion defended the Tsar’s Summer Palace in Petrograd against the Bolshevik revolutionaries. They were ultimately overrun and Buchkarevka was captured. Through the machinations of some friends, she was released and allowed to leave the country. She traveled to the US and England, where she met with Woodrow Wilson and King George V, who promised to aid the White Russians against the Bolshevik Reds. Buchkarevka was captured in 1919 while fighting the Bolsheviks and convicted of being an “enemy of the people.” She was executed by firing squad on 16 May, 1920.

World War II

The Second World War provided more opportunities for women to serve, but female combat soldiers were few and far between. Many women served with the British Special Operations Executive and the American Office of Strategic Services, but, due to concerns about length, I’m staying as close to the front lines as possible. With that in mind, one woman stands out above all others.

Lyudmila Pavlichenko was the deadliest of the scores of female snipers deployed by the Red Army in World War II. In just under a year of combat, Pavlichenko notched 309 confirmed kills, after which, she was pulled from the front and sent to the US and Great Britain to drum up support for a second front against Germany.

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars
Lyudmila Pavlichenko. Photo from Breach Bang Clear.

Pavlichenko was a university student in Kiev when the Germans invaded in June, 1942. She immediately enlisted in the Red Army. She had won medals in a civilian marksmanship program and applied for the infantry. Nonetheless, the recruiter tried to convince her to become a nurse. Pavlichenko’s insistence on becoming a rifleman caused the army to test her. She was taken to the front, handed a rifle, and told to shoot two Romanian soldiers. Two shots: two kills. Pavlichenko was trained as a sniper and attached to the 25th Rifle Division. She never claimed the first two kills as part of her official count, since she said it was a test, not real combat.

Pavlichenko served in Moldavia and in the Siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean Campaign. She was known for tying the occasional strip of cloth to surrounding trees and brush to distract the eyes of enemy spotters. She also planted mannequins to serve as bait. Her first 75 days of combat yielded 187 kills. By the time she arrived at Sevastopol, she was known as “Lady Death” and the Germans starting targeting her with counter-snipers. She once made the mistake of climbing a tree to get a better view and was grazed by a German sniper round. She allowed herself to fall twelve feet to the ground, lying still for hours, before crawling away after dark. She eventually won every sniper duel in which she was engaged, accounting for 36 German snipers.

Pavlichenko became so famous, thanks in no small part to Soviet propaganda, that the Germans started addressing her directly by loudspeaker. They tried to lure her to defect, offering her honors and chocolate (seriously). When that failed, they threatened to catch her and tear her body into 309 pieces, one for each kill.

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars

In a later interview, Pavlichenko laughed, saying how delighted she was that the Germans knew her score. She was evacuated from the Sevastopol by submarine before the city fell in July, 1942. She was awarded the USSR’s highest honor, Hero of the Soviet Union, and sent on her PR trip, where she became fast friends with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. She told one reporter that “Every German who remains alive will kill women, children, and old folks. Dead Germans are harmless. Therefore, if I kill a German, I am saving lives.” Upon her return, Pavlichenko was assigned to train snipers and boost morale on the home front. She even had her own postage stamp, issued in 1943. After the war, she returned to university, earning her degree in history. Eleanor Roosevelt visited Pavlichenko in Moscow in 1957. Pavlichenko died in 1974. A movie of her exploits was released in 2013. As far as I know, it’s only available in Russian, titled “Battle for Sevastopol,” and in Ukrainian, which is called “Indestructible.” There’s an English language trailer on YouTube.

Afghanistan and Iraq

The asymmetrical nature of the Global War on Terror has blurred the lines between the combat and non-combat roles of troops deployed to places like Afghanistan and Iraq. Troops who are technically slated for the support role have been thrust squarely into the line of fire. As a result, the US ban on women in combat units has not spared females from being tested under fire. Here are a few of the many who passed with flying colors.

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars
Rebecca Turpin. Photo from Breach Bang Clear.

Marine 2LT Rebecca Turpin was leading her logistics convoy through 80 miles of desert in the Helmand Province when they were ambushed in a small village between Camp Bastion and the FOB at Musa Qala. They had hit an IED earlier in the march and were slowed by the necessity to tow the damaged vehicle and by maneuvering through a hamlet with no real streets. While moving through the hamlet, Turpin saw men herding women and children into the houses. “I had this sinking feeling,” she said later. Then an RPG hit her refueling truck, cuing a hail of small arms fire and grenades. Marshaling her convoy to provide cover, Turpin called for air support, which came in the form of two Cobra attack helicopters. Once the enemy fire was suppressed, the Cobras moved off and Turpin turned her column around to an alternate route. When they were hit again during the turnaround, Turpin called the Cobras back and directed a fighting exit from the hamlet. Going by a different route, her convoy arrived safely at Musa Qala with no serious injuries. Despite her insistence that “What I did was my job,” Turpin was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with “V” for her leadership under fire. Lt. Colonel Michael Jernigan, Turpin’s battalion commander, said “She could have made bad decisions, and perhaps Marines would have died. But she didn’t and they didn’t.” Turpin left the Corps as a captain in 2011.

On 20 March, 2005, Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester was escorting a supply convoy on a run east of Baghdad as a vehicle commander in the 617 Military Police Company, a Kentucky National Guard unit. When the vehicle in front of hers was hit by an RPG, Hester led her vehicle through the kill zone into a flanking position. She and her team then took the enemy positions under fire with an M203. Hester and her squad leader then assaulted the dug-in insurgents, clearing two trench lines. Hester personally killed three insurgents with her M4. After the 45-minute fight, 27 insurgents were killed, six wounded, and one was captured. All US personnel survived. Hester and her squad leader, SSG Timothy Nein, were awarded the Silver Star. Hester became the first female Silver Star recipient since World War II and the first ever for actions in direct combat.

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars
Leigh Ann Hester. Photo from Breach Bang Clear.

Being under fire was nothing new for Hester, who, predictably, claims she just did what she was trained to do. According to all accounts, Hester is a bit embarrassed by the fact that she has her own action figure and a wax likeness at the Army Women’s Museum at Fort Lee. Hester left the Guard in 2009 and became a cop near Nashville, Tennessee, but missed being a soldier and reenlisted in the Tennessee National Guard in 2011. In 2014, she deployed to Afghanistan for 18 months as part of a Cultural Support Team. She is now an E-7 with the Tennessee National Guard.

First Lieutenant Ashley White-Stumpf was part of the first class of the Cultural Support Teams sent to Afghanistan to support special ops troops. Assigned to the 75th Rangers, White-Stumpf served two months in Afghanistan before being killed by an IED in an ambush on 22 October, 2011. She was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star. I was unable to find much on her activities in Afghanistan, perhaps because of her association with special ops forces. But there is a book about White-Stumpf and the CSTs called Ashley’s War, which looks to be pretty good. Still, I felt that she merited inclusion here.

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars
Ashley White-Stumpf. Photo from Breach Bang Clear.

Private First Class Monica Lin Brown was the second woman, after Hester, to earn the Silver Star since World War II. Brown was a combat medic with the 82nd Airborne in Afghanistan’s Paktika Province in 2007. On 25 April, she was part of a convoy which was ambushed on its way to a meeting with tribal leaders. One HUMVEE hit an IED, sending it into a wadi and igniting its fuel load. Brown moved to the wreck and treated the soldiers wounded in the blast, shielding them with her body from small arms fire and the 15 mortar rounds which impacted near her. By this time, the ammo in the HUMVEE began to cook off, prompting Brown to shield the wounded once more while continuing treatment.

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars
Monica Lin Brown. Photo from Breach Bang Clear.

Brown’s platoon sergeant arrived, amazed to see Brown still alive. Seeing the danger from the engulfed HUMVEE and continuing enemy fire, he loaded Brown and the wounded onto an Afghan Army truck and moved them to a safer location. An enemy mortar shell impacted on Brown’s former position just seconds later. All the while, Brown treated the wounded soldiers, continually shielding them from falling brass and enemy fire until the MEDEVACs arrived. Brown’s actions earned her the Silver Star. They also resulted in her being removed from her assignment because of the ban on females in combat.

As I said, I’m not taking a position on women in combat. Honestly, I’m not qualified to offer an informed opinion on the subject. It is clear, however, that women have served, and served well, in combat environments throughout history. So, taking advantage of the publicity from the Wonder Woman movie, here’s an opportunity to raise a glass to all the women who have answered the call and laid it on the line. Thanks for your service.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Captain warned that crew wasn’t ready before sub ran aground, investigation shows

A newly released investigation from a submarine mishap in 2015 that caused some $1 million worth of damage shows that an inexperienced crew was given the go-ahead to complete a tricky return-to-port mission in the dark, despite warnings from the commanding officer that they weren’t ready.


The Ohio-class submarine Georgia ran aground in the predawn hours of Nov. 25, 2015, the day before Thanksgiving, as it prepared to return to port at Kings Bay, Georgia, to replace a failed towed array sonar. While conducting a scheduled pick-up of a new pilot at Fort Clinch, Florida, near the entrance to St. Marys River, which approaches the base, the sub inadvertently exited the channel, then collided with a buoy amid the crew’s efforts to re-orient. The grounding occurred as the crew worked to get clear of the buoy, the investigation shows.

Ultimately, the sub was able to return to port to assess damages, which were mostly cosmetic, save for the ship’s screw propeller, an acoustic tracking device and an electromagnetic log meter that measured the sub’s speed. The Georgia was taken into dry dock in December 2015 for assessment and the costly repairs.

The investigation, which was completed in March 2016 but just released to Military.com this month through a public records request, found that the “excessive speed” of the sub as it approached the pilot pick-up made it more difficult for the crew to control the ship, and that the tugboat carrying the pilot was positioned poorly, making the maneuver more complex.

Ultimately, though, blame for running aground is laid at the feet of the commanding officer. In the wake of the incident, the commander of Georgia’s blue crew, Capt. David Adams, was relieved of his post due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command. Like all submarines in its class, Georgia has two identical crews — a blue and a gold — that alternate manning and patrols.

“His inability to effectively manage the complexity of the situation and failure to respond to the circumstances in a manner sufficient to protect the safety of the ship and crew is beneath my expectations for any CO,” an investigation endorsement by Rear Adm. Randy Crites, then-commander of Submarine Group 10, reads.

In his detailed and thorough endorsement of findings, Crites also dismisses the notion that maneuvering in the dark and with a green crew was what led to the sub’s disastrous mishap.

“Ultimately, had this crew (and the Pilot) executed the same plan in the same manner during broad daylight, there is nothing in the ship’s planning effort, demonstrated seamanship, or response to tripwires that indicates the outcome would be any different,” he said.

While coming in for the brunt of the blame, Adams was not alone in being designated for punishment. Crites indicated his intent to take administrative action against the sub’s executive officer; chief of boat; navigation/operations officer; weapons officer, who was the officer of the deck; and assistant navigator. He also said he’d issue non-punitive letters of caution to the commander of Submarine Squadron 16 and his own chief of staff and director of operations — all Navy captains — for failure to take appropriate action toward resolution regarding Adams’ concerns around the sub’s transit into port.

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars

The Ohio-class guided-missile submarine USS Georgia (SSGN 729) exits the dry dock at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia, following an extended refit period. Georgia is one of two guided-missile submarines stationed at the base and is capable of carrying up to 154 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles.

(Bryan Tomforde/U.S. Navy)

The 475-page investigation, which includes witness statements, logs and other supporting documentation, offers insight into what those concerns were. In a Nov. 24 email to the commodore of Squadron 16 marked “confidential,” Adams, the Georgia blue crew commander, lays out his qualms about the plan he has been ordered to execute, particularly the predawn return to port for a brief one-day stop with a crew that had spent just three weeks underway together on a new ship.

“CO/XO/NAV have not piloted into Kings Bay in the last 20 years. All of the untoward [incidents] I know of occurred between [St. Marys] and Fort Clinch,” he wrote. “My assessment is that this is not a prudent plan for [return to port] … Having just been at sea for a few weeks, I have not built enough depth. I am concerned about the fatigue level of my command element.

“Given an all day evolution and subsequent [underway], we will have spent the majority of 36 hours awake and are set to pilot out and submerge on the mid-watch at 0330.”

The two-page memo, it appears, was never received and read by Submarine Squadron 16’s commodore, Capt. John Spencer. But Adams testified he had relayed the same concerns face-to-face with Spencer days before, on Nov. 22. He also discussed the same issues, he said, in a follow-up phone call.

This much is clear: the plan wasn’t called off, and the mission was cleared to proceed. But murky communication dogged the lead-up to the operation, and later the mission itself.

Spencer and others testified that Adams had been given leeway to “slow things down a little” if he felt uncomfortable. Adams said he believed any delay would have been viewed as insubordination.

On the day of the mishap, communication was also flawed, in ways that underscore the crew’s unfamiliarity with each other, and possibly the sleep deprivation that had left some members running on just two to three hours of rest.

According to the investigation, as the Georgia approached the point at which it was to meet with the tug and pick up the pilot — the navigation expert who would drive the ship into port — it became clear that the tug was well west of its expected position. The sub, meanwhile, was approaching too fast and slowing too gradually. The investigation found it was still making 15 knots, or about 17 miles per hour, when it passed the set “all stop” point. That speed and positioning would make every maneuver that followed more risky and difficult.

Initial attempts to communicate with the tug and the pilot aboard via radio were unsuccessful, and the planned transfer happened late. Adams did not want to scrap the transfer and proceed into port without the pilot, the investigation found, because of the challenges of pulling into port without one.

When the sub exited the channel at the west end of the Fort Clinch basin, the crew’s communication skills faced a major test. The assistant navigator recommended to the navigator that the sub go to “all back emergency,” a call the navigator then passed to the bridge. The officer of the deck seemed to agree, but said nothing, the investigation found. Adams, however, overrode the order, believing it would not work, and ordered “all ahead full” instead. He started directing the officer of the deck, but did not fully take control of the sub or give direct orders to the helm, the report states.

Despite a series of maneuvers — right hard rudder, left hard rudder, all ahead full, right hard rudder — the sub collided with Buoy 23 in the channel. But the worst was still to come.

“When [Adams] asked [the lookout] if the ship hit buoy 23, [the lookout] informed the CO that he did not care about the buoy, but thought the ship was going to run aground on the beach forward of the ship,” the investigation states.

As grounding looked imminent, the Georgia asked the driver of the C-tractor tugboat if the tug could cross in front of the sub on the starboard, or right, side, and push the bow around. The tug master refused, according to the investigation, worried that the water was too shallow.

The sub ended up, as the lookout put it, “hitting Fort Clinch.”

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars

In this file photo from July 12, 2018, Gen. John E. Hyten, commander, U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), views the dry dock at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia. The base is home to six of the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines that make up the most survivable leg of the nuclear triad and support strategic deterrence.

(Eli Buguey/U.S. Navy)

The mishap, and the misgivings that preceded it, came against the backdrop of a Navy grappling with a culture in which overworked and unready crews were regularly put underway in service of operational needs. After two separate deadly destroyer collisions in 2017, service leaders found, among other things, that a “‘can-do’ culture” had undermined safety and led to unduly high operational tempo and fatigue.

“The can-do culture becomes a barrier to success only when directed from the top down or when feedback is limited or missed,” the Navy’s comprehensive review of the destroyer mishaps, released in October 2017, found.

Whether these factors came into play with the Georgia is more difficult to say.

In a statement for the investigation, Adams emphasized that he took full responsibility for what had transpired.

“Despite my significant reservation – expressed face-to-face, on the phone, and In emails with staff and leadership … concerning the risks of proceeding Into Kings Bay In the dark with an inexperienced team, when my requests to delay [return to port] one hour later were denied, I failed in my command responsibilities by driving to achieve mission success at the expense of appropriately acting to mitigate risks to increase our margin of safety,” he said.

“In retrospect, I should have loitered at [St. Marys] until I was satisfied that the risks were commensurate with the mission gain.”

Reached for comment by Military.com, Adams, who retired in 2016, referred to a public statement he had released at the time of his relief, in which he called the actions that caused the grounding “mine alone.”

“I ask that my lapses not be used to denigrate the terrific service of the Sailors and families of GEORGIA BLUE,” he said at the time “After thirty years of serving in the world’s finest Navy, my only regret is that I will miss sailing with them again to stand against our nation’s enemies.”

But the fact that some above Adams were also warned offers insight into how the higher command viewed the incident.

Crites faulted Spencer, the Squadron 16 commodore, with “failure to provide his ship a plan with adequate margin to safety, specifically in not providing sufficient guidance and training to his staff that developed the plan in his absence and not aggressively pursuing complete resolution of the ship’s requested arriva through personal intervention with the Type Commander staff.”

The chief of staff and director of operations for Submarine Group 10, Crites said in the report, had failed to “pursue acceptable resolution to the concerns they had with the plan for the ship’s arrival.”

Holly Carey, deputy public affairs officer for Submarine Force Atlantic, declined to say whether all administrative actions recommended by the investigation were carried out.

“What I can tell you is that the Navy is confident that leadership took appropriate corrective actions against several personnel assigned to the squadron and submarine based on the findings of the investigation,” she said.

“Following the investigation, which concluded in 2016, leadership took appropriate accountability measures and has taken all necessary steps to prevent a recurrence in the future. USS Georgia, and her current crew, serve proudly today among the U.S. Submarine Force and has leadership’s full confidence to protect the interest of the United State and allies.”

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Drones are dropping bombs on US troops in Syria, and it’s not clear who’s doing it

Drones are dropping explosives on US soldiers in Syria, and it’s not clear who’s behind the attacks, the head of US Central Command, which is responsible for the region, told lawmakers on Tuesday.


National Public Radio reporter Tom Bowman first reported the attacks on Friday, observing them as he joined a patrol by US soldiers tasked with protecting oil fields in northeast Syria.

“It was a multiday attack on two of the oil fields, the first one since the US mission began last fall to protect the oil fields,” Bowman said on All Things Considered. “There were soldiers from the West Virginia National Guard at one of the fields. And early Wednesday morning, a drone carrying a mortar dropped it near where they were sleeping. No one was injured, and the soldiers quickly drove off the base.”

A drone returned before dawn on Friday and dropped more mortars. “You could see the big circular holes in the ground, pockmarks on the US military trucks and one on one of the oil tanks,” Bowman said.

Sgt. 1st Class Mitch Morgan told Bowman they sprung up when the attack began, mounted their vehicles, and left in two minutes. “As we were going out, they was raining mortars in on top of us,” Morgan said.

Bowman said Army investigators had told him that some of the mortars “were made with 3D printers, which means that obviously someone pretty sophisticated put together these mortars, perhaps a nation-state.”

‘One of my highest priorities’

Questioned on Tuesday about the incidents, US Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, head of Central Command, said there had been attacks by unmanned aerial systems, or UAS, but disputed some of the details.

“We have reports — I don’t think as many as are in the NPR report — but yes … group 1 UAS, which are the small UAS, they’ll try to find a way to carry an explosive and fly it over.”

“The Russians have had some significant casualties in this regard, as have other nations that are operating there,” McKenzie said. “So yes, it is a problem. We look at it very hard. It’s one of my highest priorities.”

McKenzie said his command was still investigating the perpetrator but pointed to ISIS.

“If I had to judge today, I would say possibly ISIS, but [it’s] probably not a state entity operating the drones,” McKenzie told lawmakers.

ISIS has been defeated on the ground in Syria and in Iraq by a US-led international coalition and local partner forces, but it remains in pockets in both countries. ISIS has long used drones for reconnaissance and to drop explosives on opposing forces, often releasing photos and videos of the attacks for propaganda purposes.

Iraqi forces used US-supplied “jammers” to counter the commercial drones ISIS was using in Mosul during the campaign to liberate that city in 2016 and 2017.

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static.businessinsider.sg

‘One of the things that worries me’

The drone attack in Syria highlights the growing threat that small drones pose to US forces.

In early 2019, Marines used their Light Marine Air Defense Integrated System, mounted on an all-terrain vehicle strapped to the deck of the ship carrying them, to down an Iranian drone that flew within 1,000 yards of the them in the Strait of Hormuz.

McKenzie said Tuesday that such drones were a major concern.

“We aggressively pursue anything that will improve the capabilities, particularly against those group 1 and 2 UAS. That is one of the things that worries me the most in the theater every day, is the vulnerability of our forces to those small UAS,” McKenzie said.

Asked about using artificial intelligence and autonomous systems for defense against drones, McKenzie said he was “aware of some experimentation on that” but couldn’t specify.

“We have a very broad set of joint requirements to drive that, so it’s possible there’s something there,” he added.

Counter-drone systems were also included in Central Command’s unfunded priorities list, which contains funding requests not included in the budget request submitted to Congress.

Enemy unmanned aerial systems “have expanded in size, sophistication, range, lethality and numbers” and are being used throughout Central Command’s area of responsibility,” McKenzie wrote in the list, which was obtained by Business Insider.

Their “low velocity and altitude makes them difficult to detect on radar and limited options exist in effectively defeating them,” McKenzie wrote.

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars

The letter requested .6 million for systems to “help counter these airborne IEDs and intelligence gatherers.”

Asked Tuesday if his command’s counter-drone needs were being met, McKenzie said he was “convinced the system is generating as much as it can” and that he had talked to Defense Secretary Mark Esper about the issue.

“I own a lot of the systems that are available across the entire United States inventory,” McKenzie said. “I am not satisfied with where we are, and I believe we are at great risk because of this.”

“We’re open to anything, and a lot of smart people are looking at this,” McKenzie added. “We’re not there yet, but I think the Army, having executive agency for this, will actually help in a lot of ways. It will provide a focus to these efforts. This is a significant threat.”

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

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Here’s why the maker of the Army’s new handgun is suddenly playing defense

The company that makes the Army’s new handgun is in hot water over concerns that the pistol the new M17 is based on has a potentially serious safety flaw.


About a week ago, news trickled out that the Dallas Police Department had banned its officers from carrying the Sig Sauer P320 pistol after one of them had discharged a shot after it was dropped. Other reports disputed that claim, suggesting the department banned the P320 for carry because of a legal disclaimer in the user manual that stated a discharge could happen if the gun is dropped in extreme situations — a legal ass covering common to most handgun user manuals.

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A photo taken by Soldier Systems Daily at a recent briefing by Sig officials on the -30 degree drop tests. (Photo linked from SSD)

The P320 is Sig’s first so-called “striker-fired” handgun, which uses an internal firing pin to impact a round rather than an external hammer. Various internal safeties are supposed to keep this type of handgun “drop safe,” making it suitable for duty carry where an officer or service member might accidentally fumble it out of a holster or during a shot.

WATM friend Eric Graves at Soldier Systems Daily reports that there are five known incidents of an accidental discharged from a dropped P320 among the over 500,000 sold on the commercial market.

While at first Sig denied it had a safety problem, later tests showed some of the company’s P320s could discharge a round when dropped at a -30 degree angle from a certain height onto concrete. The company says such a condition is extremely rare and that under typical U.S. government standards, the P320 will not discharge if dropped.

“Recent events indicate that dropping the P320 beyond US standards for safety may cause an unintentional discharge,” Sig said in a statement. “As a result of input from law enforcement, government and military customers, SIG has developed a number of enhancements in function, reliability, and overall safety including drop performance.”

Sig said the version of the P320 that’s being deployed with the Army and other U.S. troops has a new trigger assembly that make discharges from a drop at any height and angle impossible.

That’s why the company is issuing a “voluntary” upgrade of some of its P320s to install the so-called “enhanced trigger” that comes directly from the Army’s new M17 handgun.

“The M17 variant of the P320, selected by the U.S. government as the U.S. Army’s Modular Handgun System, is not affected by the voluntary upgrade,” Sig said.

Articles

The F-16 could transition to an unmanned aerial asset

In its quest to meet and exceed the challenges of the future, the U.S. Air Force has been increasingly looking to unmanned systems — and a recent test proved that an unmanned F-16 can now think and fight on its own.


The U.S. has used F-16 drones before as realistic targets for the F-35 to blow up in training, but on April 10 it announced fully autonomous air-to-air and ground strike capabilities as a new capability thanks to joint research between the service and Lockheed Martin’s legendary Skunkworks.

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An F-35 Lightning II from Eglin AFB flies with an F-16 Fighting Falcon from Luke AFB at the Luke Airshow. Was the Viper just bait? (Lockheed Martin photo)

Not only did the F-16 drone figure out the best way to get there and execute a ground strike mission by itself, it was interrupted by an air threat, responded, and kept going.

“We’ve not only shown how an Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle can perform its mission when things go as planned, but also how it will react and adapt to unforeseen obstacles along the way,” said Capt. Andrew Petry of the Air Force Research Laboratory in a Lockheed Martin statement.

But having F-16 drones plan and fly their own missions is only part of a much larger picture. The future of the U.S. Air Force may well depend on advanced platforms like F-35s commanding fleets of unmanned drones which can act as additional ears, eyes, and shooters in the sky during battles.

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F-16 Fighting Falcons from Kunsan Air Base and South Korean KF-16s taxi to the runway together during Exercise Buddy Wing 14-8 at Seosan Air Base, Republic of Korea Aug. 21, 2014. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Air Force has what’s called an “open mission system” where it designs all platforms to network together and share information. Essentially, even an unmanned drone will have decision-grade data fed to it from everything from satellites in the sky to radars on the ground.

Lockheed Martin calls it the “loyal wingman” program, where drone systems like old F-16s can seamlessly network with F-35s and think on its feet.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia has to worry about the non-NATO members of historic war games

Trident Juncture officially started Oct. 25, 2018, with some 50,000 troops from all 29 NATO members and Sweden and Finland preparing for drills on land, sea, and in the air from the Baltic Sea to Iceland.

As a NATO Article 5 exercise, Trident Juncture “will simulate NATO’s collective response to an armed attack against one ally,” the organization’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said in October 2018. “And it will exercise our ability to reinforce our troops from Europe and across the Atlantic.”


NATO has increased deployments and readiness in Europe since Russia’s 2014 incursion in Ukraine, as countries there have grown wary of their larger neighbor.

Stoltenberg has said the exercise will be “fictitious but realistic.” But Russia has still taken exception.

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars

Marines with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit prepare for a cold-weather training hike in Iceland, Oct. 19, 2018

(US Marine Corps photo)

“NATO’s military activities near our borders have reached the highest level since the Cold War,” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Oct. 24, 2018, adding that the exercise will be “simulating offensive military action.”

But Moscow may be most piqued by inclusion of two non-NATO members, Finland and Sweden, who work closely with the alliance.

Those two countries are “very important NATO partners,” US Navy Adm. James Foggo, the commander of US naval forces in Europe who is overseeing the exercise, said in October 2018 on his podcast, “On the Horizon.”

“I was just talking to the Swedes last month, and they’re pretty excited about it. They’ve confirmed their participation … and have committed their advanced military and highly professional forces,” Foggo said. “So we look forward to having them on board.”

Sweden and Finland, both members of NATO’s Partnership for Peace, have joined NATO exercises in the past and invited NATO members to their own exercises.

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars

US and Swedish marines check out Swedish mortars during a practice amphibious assault as part of Exercise Archipelago Endeavor on the island of Uto, Harsfjarden, Sweden, Aug. 30, 2018.

(US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Averi Coppa)

At the end of 2017, 19,000 Swedish troops were joined by NATO members in the Baltic region as well as France and the US for Aurora 17, Sweden’s largest exercise in 23 years.

In May 2018, Finland hosted Arrow 18, an annual multinational exercise, in which US Marine Corps tanks participated for the first time.

Russian officials have also warned both of them.

Shoigu, the defense minister, said in 2018 that a deal between Stockholm, Helsinki, and Washington to ease defense cooperation would “lead to the destruction of the current security system, increase mistrust and force us to take counter-measures.”

Moscow has specifically reproved Finland, with which it shares an 830-mile border and a history of conflict. In mid-2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested he could move troops closer to the border if Finland joined the alliance.

“Do you guys need it? We don’t. We don’t want it. But it is your call,” Putin said at the time.

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US Marines review the scheme of maneuver for a live-fire exercise as part of Exercise Arrow 18 in Pohjankangas Training Area near Kankaanpaa, Finland, May 16, 2018.

(US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Averi Coppa)

Russia has said “if you guys join, we will take military measures … to take into account that you two are in the alliance,” said Jim Townsend, a transatlantic security expert at the Center for a New American Security.

Moscow has carried out “cyberattacks and threatening aircraft maneuvers around Sweden as well,” added Townsend, who was deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO policy during the Obama administration. “Both those nations have been bullied by the Russians and warned by the Russians not to do something with NATO.”

But both Sweden and Finland have mulled NATO membership with varying intensity in recent years.

Ahead of Sweden’s general election in early September 2018, the four main opposition parties all backed membership — which Stoltenberg seemed to welcome, saying in January 2018, “If Sweden were to apply to join, I think there would be broad support for that within NATO.”

Public sentiment in Sweden has shifted toward membership, but support rarely tops 45%. (A January 2018 poll put it at 43%.) There would also be political and administrative hurdles. A month and a half after the election, leaders in Stockholm are still struggling to form a government, which is already a record.

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars

Swedish military personnel taking part in Aurora 17, Sept. 13, 2017.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Anthony Housey)

Finns are much cooler on membership. A poll at the end of 2017 found just 22% of them supported joining, while 59% were opposed; 19% didn’t give a response. Finnish President Sauli Niinisto has said membership is a possibility, and an endorsement from him may change many minds.

Sweden and Finland, both wary of their larger neighbor, have sought to boost defense spending and upgrade their forces.

They’ve made plans to increase defense cooperation with each other, and at least one NATO official has said the alliance has an obligation to come to their defense, as their non-membership increases the likelihood of aggression against them.

“Those two are probably the closest partners that NATO has in the Partnership for Peace. You see that in Trident Juncture, where they’re part of that NATO Article 5 exercise,” Townsend said.

“It used be that those nations wouldn’t take part in a major exercise if it was about Article 5, because that was just too close to NATO,” he added. “Now they’re taking part not just in the Article 5 exercise, but they’re taking part in one of NATO’s largest exercises in many years.”

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

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Latest missile test shows US can knock Kim’s missiles from the sky

The US military shot an incoming missile out of the sky in a successful intercept test Aug. 30.


The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones launched an SM-6 interceptor to bring down a medium-range ballistic missile off the coast of Hawaii, according to the Missile Defense Agency.

The missile was launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii. Using the on-board AN/SPY-1 radar, the destroyer detected and tracked the missile.

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The USS John Paul Jones. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Benjamin Crossley.

“We are working closely with the fleet to develop this important new capability, and this was a key milestone in giving our Aegis BMD ships an enhanced capability to defeat ballistic missiles in their terminal phase,” MDA Director Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves said in a statement. “We will continue developing ballistic missile defense technologies to stay ahead of the threat as it evolves.”

The Aug. 30 test marked the second time an SM-6 interceptor has been used to intercept an MRBM. The military has conducted three tests in total, but during a test in June, the interceptor failed as a result of human error. A sailor on the USS John Paul Jones triggered a self-destruct sequence by mistake.

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The Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones launches a Standard Missile 6 during a live-fire test of the ship’s aegis weapons system. Photo from US Navy.

The US military’s latest intercept test comes just two days after North Korea launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan in an unusually-provocative missile test. The North warned that it will continue firing missiles into the Pacific Ocean, adding that the recent test was a “prelude” to possible strikes on or around Guam.

The US has lost a few Aegis destroyers in recent months, hindering missile defense in a volatile region. Both the USS Fitzgerald and USS John McCain were damaged severely after collisions with merchant vessels in June and August. The two accidents killed seventeen American sailors. The US military still has numerous missile defense assets — from Patriot interceptors to Terminal High Altitude Area Defense systems — in the area though.

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These are America’s most intense electronic weapons

Control of the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum is a major asset in military operations.


The Marines have demonstrated their painful “heat ray,” a weapon that blasts intruders with a wave beam that targets the skin and makes victims feel like they’ve stepped in front of a blazing oven — all without killing them.

It doesn’t cause irreversible damage, but will make someone instinctively back off.

Modern weapons systems employ radio, radar, infrared, optical, ultraviolet, electro-optical, and laser technologies.

“The Russians and the Chinese have designed specific electronic warfare platforms to go after all our high-value assets,” said Lieutenant General Herbert Carlisle, the Air Force’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, as reported by Aviation Week.

The US military is developing cyber-capabilities to gain a tactical edge.

Electronic warfare consists of three subdivisions: electronic attack, electronic protection, and electronic warfare support.

According to US military doctrine for electronic warfare planning, electronic attack (EA) involves “the use of electromagnetic energy, directed energy or anti-radiation weapons to attack personnel, facilities, or equipment with the intent of degrading, neutralizing, or destroying enemy combat capability.”

Basically, the aim is to wipe out the enemy without getting too dirty.

The Marine Corps “Heat Ray” raises the temperature on the target’s skin by 130 degrees

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Sgt. Maj. of the USMC Michael P. Barrett ran for it after feeling the ADS. (Photo: Daniel Wetzel/USMC)

But it won’t kill you.

The Active Denial System (ADS) creates an intense heated sensation lasting 1-2 seconds. It’s caused by a radio frequency wave, not radiation or microwave.

“You’re not going to see it, you’re not going to hear it, you’re not going to smell it. You’re going to feel it,” said director of the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate, Marine Col. Tracy Tafolla, according to Stars and Stripes.

The 95 GHz millimeter wave has a range of up to 1000 meters. The directed-energy beam only penetrates 1/64th of an inch into the skin.

As a nonlethal weapon, it can be used for crowd control or determining hostile intent before engaging with lethal weapons. That way, ADS can buy life-saving time without inflicting lethal injury on its targets.

This hand-held laser system can temporary blind you

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Photo: Wikimedia

The Phasr was introduced in 2005 by the Air Force.

As another directed-energy weapon, the Phasr employs a two-wavelength laser system that temporarily blocks an aggressor’s ability to see.

It’s like opening your eyes in the middle of the night to someone shoving a blinding flashlight in your face. The Air Force casually calls this effect “dazzling” or “illuminating.” Whatever you call it, this hand-held device effectively impairs anyone targeted.

The “Death Ray” can detect and destroy missiles with a deadly laser beam

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The military’s lethal answer to Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. (Photo: Northrop Grummann)

The US has run several test flight experiments on the Airborne Laser Test Bed (ALTB). So far, they’ve worked out this killer firing sequence:

1. The ALTB uses one of its six infrared sensors to detect the exhaust plume of a boosting missile.

2. A kilowatt-class solid state laser, the Track Illuminator, tracks the missile and determines a precise aim point.

3. The Beacon Illuminator, a second laser, then measures disturbances in the atmosphere, which are corrected by the adaptive optics system to accurately point and focus the High Energy Laser (HEL) at its target.

4. Using a large telescope located in the nose turret, the beam control/fire control system focuses the HEL beam onto a pressurized area of the missile, holding it there until laser energy compromises the missile’s structural integrity causing it to fail.

Radar jamming takes out the enemy’s ability to communicate

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars
ITT Exelis is one of the teams working on a Next Generation Jammer.

You may have heard of the Navy’s Next Generation Jammer program (NGJ).

Radar jamming can disable the enemy’s command and control system ahead of an offensive attack. NGJ will be used on the Boeing EA-18G, the aircraft for airborne electronic attack operations.

Another example of electromagnetic jamming is Counter-RCIEDs (Radio Controlled Improvised Explosive Device). You can see the Marine Corps’ Chameleon system here.

Military Deception manipulates the enemy’s combat decisions and generally messes with their heads

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars
SLQ 32 electronic warfare system aboard the USS George Washington.

Troops can mislead enemy decision-makers about their intentions, prompting the enemy to take specific actions or inactions and making it difficult for the enemy to establish an accurate perception of reality.

Using the EM spectrum, they can disrupt communication and intelligence systems to insert deceptive information.

Military Deception (MILDEC) operations apply four basic deception techniques: feints, demonstrations, ruses, and display.

The anti-radiation missile is a smokeless, rocket-propelled missile that destroys radar-equipped defense systems

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars
Photo: Raytheon

The AGM-88 HARM (High-speed anti-radiation missile) is used throughout the Air Force for suppressing surface-to-air radar warning systems.

Anti-radiation missiles help neutralize hostile airspace and take out the enemy’s ability to defend itself.

As Air Force officials have noted, “Coalition forces in Operation Desert Storm operated ‘at will’ over Iraq and Kuwait after gaining control of the EM spectrum early in the war.”

Boeing has test-flown a nonlethal missile that fries electronics while minimizing collateral damage (like civilian deaths). You can read about CHAMP here.

Expendables are active decoys that throw enemy missiles off target or seductively lure them away

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars
The fire-optic towed decoy can lure missiles away by becoming the target. (photo: BAE brochure)

The AN/ALE-55 fibre-optic decoy is towed behind to protect fighters, bombers, and transport aircraft from radio frequency-related threats, such as an incoming missile’s tracking on the aircraft.

There are three layers of protection though, so the idea is that a target track is eliminated from the start.

If all else fails, the intelligent decoy will lure the missile away to become the target and deny the enemy a hit.

More from Business Insider:

This article originally appeared at Business Insider Defense Copyright 2015. Follow BI Defense on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Suspect named, new details released in case of missing soldier Vanessa Guillen

U.S. Army officials at Fort Hood today said that there is no evidence that a male soldier who killed himself this week to avoid police capture sexually assaulted 20-year-old Spc. Vanessa Guillen, who has been missing from the Texas post since April.

During a news conference, Army Criminal Investigation Command Special Agent Damon Phelps named the now-deceased soldier as Spc. Aaron David Robinson, who was assigned to A. Company, 3rd Cavalry Regiment at the time Guillen, a fellow 3rd Cavalry soldier, disappeared April 22.


Before the event, Natalie Khawam, an attorney representing Guillen’s family, announced that CID officials told her that Robinson had murdered her in the unit armory on the day of her disappearance.

“The murderer sexually harassed her and then killed her,” the Whistleblower Law Firm attorney, told Military.com in a statement. “We believe he murdered her because he was going to report him.

“This gruesome murder should never have happened.”

Law enforcement officials attempted to make contact with Robinson, 20, on Tuesday in Killeen, Texas, but he displayed a weapon and took his own life, Phelps said during the news conference.

“We are still investigating their interactions, but at this point, there is no credible information of reports that Spc. Robinson sexually harassed Spc. Guillen,” Phelps said.

Phelps would not comment on the allegations made by Khawam that Robinson murdered her because it is still an ongoing investigation.

Officials did not identify a civilian woman they arrested Tuesday in connection with Guillen’s disappearance, described earlier as the estranged wife of a former soldier. She remains in custody in the Bell County Jail awaiting charges by civilian authorities.

Fort Hood officials said that the human remains discovered recently have not been identified. They did not confirm details cited by Khawam about where specifically remains were found and what condition they were in.

Army officials said on Tuesday that they found partial human remains near the Leon River about 30 miles outside Fort Hood. The remains have been sent to a forensic anthropologist for analysis, though no official confirmation on the identity of the remains has been completed.

“Our agents are working very closely with the Armed Forces Medical Examiner to expedite identification of the remains,” Phelps said. “We will release information on those remains as soon as we can and after notification is made with the next of kin.”

Army officials also stressed repeatedly at the news conference that there is “no credible information” that Guillen was the victim of sexual harassment or assault.

“The criminal investigation has not found any connection between sexual harassment and Vanessa’s disappearance,” Maj. Scott Efflandt, deputy commanding general of III Corps and Fort Hood, said. “However, all sexual harassment allegations are being investigated, as they are in every other instance.”

At Efflandt’s request, Army Forces Command ordered a seven-member inspector general team to Fort Hood to review the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program, (SHARP). The inspection will assess whether the command climate at Hood is supportive of soldiers reporting sexual harassment and seek to identify any potential systemic issues within the program at Hood, Efflandt said.

Phelps said investigators are aware Guillen’s family members made statements early on to the media concerning sexual harassment allegations.

He acknowledged that agents uncovered statements on May 7 that could be considered sexual harassment.

“After subsequent investigation, another allegation of verbal harassment involving the same individual was discovered. However subsequent interviews have failed to [confirm] this allegation,” Phelps said. “Nevertheless, we are still investigating.”

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Why troops love and hate aluminum vehicles

Aluminum has served in war since ancient times, but its most common application today is as armor, allowing for well-protected but light vehicles that can tear through rough terrain where steel would get bogged down. But aluminum has an unearned reputation for burning, so troops don’t line up to ride in them under fire.


These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars

Crewmen in the coupla of an M-2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle elevate the barrel during a 1987 exercise.

(U.S. Army Pfc. Prince Hearns)

Aluminum got its start in war as alum, a salt composed of aluminum and potassium. This was one of the earliest uses of aluminum in military history. Ancient commanders learned you could apply a solution of the stuff to wood and reduce the chances it would burn when an enemy hit it with fire.

As chemists and scientists learned how to create pure aluminum in the 1800s, some military leaders looked to it for a new age of weaponry. At the time, extracting and smelting aluminum was challenging and super expensive, but Napoleon sponsored research as he sought to create aluminum artillery.

Because aluminum is so much lighter than steel, it could’ve given rise to more mobile artillery units, capable of navigating muddy lanes that would stop heavier units. Napoleon’s scientists could never get the process right to mass produce the metal, so the ideas never came to fruition.

But aluminum has some drawbacks when it comes to weapon barrels. It’s soft, and it has a relatively low melting point. So, start churning out cannon balls from aluminum guns, and you run the risk of warping the barrels right when you need them.

Instead, the modern military uses aluminum, now relatively cheap to mine and refine, to serve as armor. It’s light, and it can take a hit, making it perfect for protection. The softness isn’t ideal for all purposes, but it does mean that the armor isn’t prone to spalling when hit.

But aluminum’s differences from steel extend deep into the thermal sphere. While aluminum does have a lower melting point than steel, it also has a higher thermal conductivity and specific energy (basically, it takes more heat to heat up aluminum than it does to heat up steel). So it can take plenty of localized heat without melting away.

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars

An armored personnel carrier burns in the streets of Egypt during 2011 protests.

(Amr Farouq Mohammed, CC BY-SA 2.0)

So why don’t troops love the stuff? It has a reputation for burning, for one. It’s not fair to the material. Aluminum actually doesn’t burn in combat conditions, needing temperatures of over 3300 Fahrenheit to burn and lots of surface area exposed to keep the reaction going.

(In industrial applications that rely on aluminum burning, the process is usually started by burning another metal, like magnesium, which burns more easily and releases enough heat, and the aluminum is crushed into a fine powder and mixed with oxygen so that the soot doesn’t halt the reaction.)

But that hasn’t stopped detractors from blaming the metal for all sorts of vehicles that were lost. The Royal Navy lost nine ships in the Falklands War, and three of them had aluminum superstructures. Aluminum detractors at the time claimed it was because the ships’ aluminum hulls burned in the extreme heat after being hit, even though the ships had steel hulls and aluminum does not burn outside of very certain conditions.

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars

U.S. Army armored vehicles leave Samarra, Iraq, after conducting an assault on Oct. 1, 2004.

(U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo)

All these reports of burning aluminum were spurred on in the ’80s and ’90s by a very public fight between Army Col. James G. Burton, a man who didn’t like the M113 in Vietnam and hated the M2 Bradley while it was under development. He repeatedly claimed that the Army was rigging tests in the Bradley’s favor, tests that he said would prove that the vehicles would burn and kill the crew in combat.

In a book published in 1993, after the Bradley became one of the heroes of Desert Storm, he claimed that the vehicles survived because of changes made after those tests. But while the Army might have switched the locations where ammo was stored and other design details, they didn’t change the hull material.

But, again, aluminum does melt. And the few Bradley’s that did suffer extended ammo fires did melt quite extensively, sometimes resulting in puddles of aluminum with the steel frame sitting on top of it. This spurred on the belief that the aluminum, itself, had burnt.

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars

The M2A3 Bradley is capable, but troops don’t love its aluminum hull.

(Winifred Brown, U.S. Army)

But aluminum melts at over 1,200 Fahrenheit, hot enough that any crew in a melting aluminum vehicle would’ve died long before the armor plates drip off. Aluminum is great at normal temperatures, providing protection at light weights.

And so aluminum protects vehicles like the M2 Bradley and the M113 armored personnel carrier. The new Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle that is slated to replace the M113 has, you guessed it, an aluminum hull. But while troops might enjoy the increased space, they’ll probably leave off any discussion of the vehicle’s material while bragging.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The US just released figures showing how hard it pounded ISIS in August

The US-led coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq and Afghanistan dropped 5,075 bombs during close-air-support, escort, or interdiction operations in August, according to US Air Forces Central Command data.


The August total was the highest of any month during the three-year campaign against the terrorist group.

The previous monthly high was 4,848 in June. Each of first eight months of 2017 has exceeded the amount of bombs dropped in any other month of the campaign.

The number of weapons released through the first eight months of 2017 is 32,801, surpassing the 30,743 dropped all last year, which was the previous annual high for the campaign.

The 13,109 sorties so far this year is on pace to fall short of the total in 2016 and 2015 — both of which exceeded 21,100. The 8,249 sorties with at least one weapon deployed so far this year are set to top last year’s 11,825, however.

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars
A B-52 Stratofortress from the 23rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron receives fuel from a KC-135 Stratofortress during a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, May 24, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Battles)

Both Iraq and Syria have seen intense urban fighting this year, which often requires more active air support.

The battle to retake Mosul in Iraq began in October 2016 and formally ended in July, while the final stage of fighting for Raqqa, ISIS’ self-declared capital in Syria, began in June and is ongoing.

Not all aircraft active over Iraq and Syria are under Air Forces Central Command’s control, so the figures likely understate the total number of weapons deployed.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis also intervened to request more money for bombs in response to concerns about expenditures in the US Central Command area of operations, which includes the Middle East.

Mattis asked for about $3.5 billion more for “preferred munitions,” including 7,664 Hellfire missiles and 34,529 Joint Direct Attack Munitions.

During his campaign, President Donald Trump promised to “bomb the hell out of ISIS,” and he appears to have keep that pledge.

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars
An F-15E Strike Eagle fire flares over Iraq during a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, on Sept. 6, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Trevor T. McBride)

Bombing during Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS in Iraq and Syria — the recent stages of which US commanders have referred to as an “annihilation campaign” — has reached “unprecedented levels” under Trump, according to Micah Zenko and Jennifer Wilson of the Council on Foreign Relations, and the increase has extended to other areas, like Yemen and Somalia, as well.

The intensified bombing appears to have yielded a higher civilian death toll. There were at least 2,300 civilians killed by coalition strikes during the Obama administration, and between Trump’s January 20 inauguration and mid-July, there had been over 2,200 civilian casualties, according to monitoring group Airwars.

Other estimates put the number of civilian deaths much higher, and there is similar uncertainty about the number of ISIS fighters who have been killed. Coalition officials have made several estimates about the total slain, despite doubts about the utility and reliability of body counts.

Army Gen. Raymond Thomas, head of US Special Operations Command, said in July that “conservative estimates” put the number of ISIS dead between 60,000 and 70,000, echoing an statement he made in February.

The Pentagon said in summer 2016 that there were 15,000 to 20,000 ISIS militants left in Iraq and Syria, and US officials said in December that 50,000 of the terrorist group’s fighters had been killed — twice as many as the UK defense minister claimed had been killed that same month.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why State Department bomb squads clear an area without the military

In northern Iraq, fleeing ISIS militants adopted a “scorched earth” policy in many of the areas they once occupied, making it virtually impossible for civilians to return to their communities safely. In countless neighborhoods, ISIS either destroyed critical infrastructure such as power plants, water treatment facilities, hospitals, and schools, or emplaced explosive hazards to target returning Iraqis and prevent them from rebuilding. In the city of Mosul, after six months of hard work funded by the U.S. Department of State, al-Dawassa Water Treatment Facility has been cleared of deadly improvised explosive devices (IEDs) deliberately left behind by ISIS, as well as unexploded ordnance (UXO) from the battle to liberate the city from ISIS’s three-year occupation.


Unexploded ordnance and improvised explosive devices removal is a crucial precursor in stabilizing post-conflict areas because explosive remnants of war impede humanitarian assistance and stabilization efforts. The presence of these hidden hazards coupled with an explosive incident that killed three people prevented repair crews from approaching al-Dawassa facility, leaving families without access to clean water and people without jobs. With support from the Department of State and U.S. Embassy Baghdad, our implementing partner, Janus Global Operations, undertook the methodical and dangerous work of carefully surveying the site and removing explosives hazards. In all, teams safely cleared a total of 168 explosive hazards from the site, allowing maintenance teams to get the plant back on line.

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars
A Janus team member surveys the remains of a room in al-Dawassa facility for UXO and IEDs.
(Janus Global Operations photo)

Al Dawassa consists of three main units: the pumping station which takes water from the nearby Tigris River, the treatment plant which purifies and distributes the water, and on-site employee housing. The facility suffered only light damage during the fight for Mosul, but three years of ISIS’s occupation reduced the facility to an inoperable state, requiring a significant amount of repairs. When fully operational, the facility can process approximately 750 cubic meters (26486 cubic feet) of water per day; however, after years of ISIS occupation, the facility’s production capacity declined to 300 cubic meters (10594 cubic feet) per day, well below half of its original capability.

Al-Dawassa is critical to the daily functioning of Mosul. The treatment facility not only provides families with clean drinking water, but also supports local businesses and agriculture. With these critical functions restored, families can return to their homes.

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars
Unexploded ordnance and other dangerous hazards are hard to spot and often blend in with other debris on the ground.
(Janus Global Operations photo)

With smart investments in the work of partners like Janus to support stabilization, the United States demonstrates its enduring commitment to bolstering the safety of the Iraqi people. These efforts are not only making a difference in the lives of ordinary Iraqis, but they are also removing the insidious legacy that ISIS left behind, a key priority of the United States and the entire 75-member Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.

The United States is the world’s single largest financial supporter of efforts to clear explosive remnants of war. Since 1993, the United States has contributed more than $2.9 billion to more than 100 countries around the world to reduce the harmful worldwide effects of at-risk, illicitly proliferated, and conventional weapons of war. To learn more about the United States’ global conventional weapons destruction efforts, check out our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety, and follow us on Twitter @StateDept.

This article originally appeared on the U.S. Department of State. Follow @StateDept on Twitter.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

How medically-discharged vets can get a disability rating boost

Hardeep Grewal was a 29-year-old Air Force computer operations specialist suffering a mild case of pneumonia when he deployed to Saudi Arabia and a series of other Southwest Asian countries in 2003.

The staff sergeant stayed ill and returned to the United States “looking like a scare crow,” he said. He was diagnosed with asthma, which would require two medications daily for the rest of his life. By December 2004, Grewal was medically discharged with a 10 percent disability rating and a small severance payment.


The Air Force physical evaluation board “lowballed me,” he recalled in a phone conversation on April 25, 2018, from his Northern Virginia home. “They were trying to get rid of people” from a specialty that, after offering an attractive reenlistment bonus, quickly became overmanned.

Grewal promptly applied to the Department of Veterans Affairs for disability compensation and his initial VA rating was set at 30 percent. Full VA payments were delayed until Grewal’s Air Force severance was recouped.

Twelve years later, in August 2016, he got a letter inviting him to have his military disability rating reviewed by a special board Congress created solely to determine whether veterans like him, discharged for conditions rated 20 percent disabling or less from Sept. 11, 2001, to Dec. 31, 2009, were treated fairly.

“I waited like almost two months to apply because I didn’t know if somebody was pulling my leg,” Grewal said. “I talked to a lot of people, including a friend at Langley Air Force Base, to find out if it was legit. He said other service members he knew who had gotten out were saying, ‘Yeah, it’s legit. You can look it up.’ “

Grewal had to wait 18 months but he received his decision letter from the Physical Disability Board of Review (PDBR) in April 2018. It recommends to the Air Force Secretary that Grewal’s discharge with severance pay be recharacterized to permanent disability retirement, effective the date of his prior medical separation.

If, as expected, the Air Force approves a revised disability rating to 30 percent back to December 2004, Grewal will receive retroactive disability retirement, become eligible for TRICARE health insurance and begin to enjoy other privileges of “retiree” status including access to discount shopping on base.

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars

Congress ordered that the PDBR established as part of the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act after a mountain of evidence surfaced that service branches had been low-balling disability ratings given to thousands of service members medically separated over a nine-year period through recent wars.

The PDBR began accepting applications in January 2009. So far only 19,000 veterans have applied from pool of 71,000 known to be eligible for at least a disability rating review. All of them were medically-discharged with disability ratings of 20 percent or less sometime during the qualifying period.

A bump in rating to 30 percent or higher bestows retiree status including a tax-free disability retirement and TRICARE eligibility. And yet only 27 percent of veterans believed eligible for a rating review have applied. Indeed, applications to the PDBR have slowed to a trickle of 40 to 50 per month.

For this column, Greg Johnson, director of the PDRB, provided written responses to two dozen questions on the board’s operations. Overall, he explained, 42 percent of applicants receive a recommendation that their original rating be upgraded. Their service branch has the final say on whether a recommendation is approved but in almost every instance they have been.

To date, 47 percent of Army veterans who applied got a recommendation for upgrade, and 18 percent saw their rating increased to at least 30 percent to qualify for disability retirement.

For the Navy Department, which includes Sailors and Marines, 34 percent of applicants received upgrade recommendations and 17 percent gained retiree status. For Air Force applicants the approval rate also has been 34 percent, but 21 percent airmen got a revised rating high enough to qualify for disability retirement.

The top three medical conditions triggering favorable recommendations are mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress, back ailments and arthritis.

These were the real-life Wonder Women who fought in the world’s bitterest wars

As Grewal learned, decisions are not made quickly. The current wait, on average, is eight to 12 months, Johnson said. But that is faster than the 18-to-24-month wait that was routine in earlier years.

Also, veterans need not fear that a new review will result in a rating downgrade. The law establishing the PDBR doesn’t allow for it.

Once received, applications are scanned into the PDBR data base and the board requests from the service branch a copy of their physical evaluation board case file. Also, PDBR retrieves from VA the veteran’s treatment records and all documents associated with a VA disability rating decision.

After paperwork is gathered, a PDBR panel of one medical officer and two non-medical officers, military or civilian, reviews the original rating decision. All panelists are the rank of colonel or lieutenant colonel (for Navy, captain or commander) or their civilian equivalents. The board has 34 voting members plus support staff, which is more than PDBR had in its early years, Johnson said.

The wait for a decision is long because of the time it takes to retrieve records, the thoroughness of the review and the complexity of the cases, Johnson said.

About 70 percent of applicants have been Army, 20 percent Navy or Marine Corps veterans, 10 percent Air Force and less than one percent Coast Guard.

PDBR notification letters have been sent to eligible veterans at last-known addresses at least twice and include applications and pre-stamped return envelopes. Grewal said he had moved four times since leaving service which might be why he never heard of the board before the notification letter reach him in 2016.

At some point Congress could set a deadline for the board to cease operations but it hasn’t yet. The board advises veterans, however, to apply as soon as they can. The longer they wait, it notes on its website, “the more difficult it may be to gather required medical evidence from your VA rating process, your service treatment record or other in-service sources [needed] to assess your claim.”

If an eligible veteran is incapacitated or deceased, a surviving spouse, next of kin or legal representative also can request the PDBR review.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.

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