China’s recent military parade included several new weapons systems and a flyover by the J-20, a stealth jet that many think incorporates stealth technology stolen from the US into a design built to destroy weak links in the US Air Force.
But the US has decades of experience in making and fielding stealth jets, creating a gap that no amount of Russian or Chinese hacking could bridge.
“As we see Russia bring on stealth fighters and we see China bring on stealth fighters, we have 40 years of learning how to do this,” retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Mark Barrett told Defense News’ Valerie Insinna at a Mitchell Institute event on August 2.
While China’s J-20 seeks to intercept unarmed US Air Force refueling planes with very-long-range missiles, and Russia’s T-50 looks like a stealthy reboot of its current fleet of fighters, a senior scientist working on stealth aircraft for a US defense contractor told Business Insider that other countries still lagged the US in making planes that could hide from radars.
The scientist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of their work, told Business Insider the J-20 and T-50 were “dirty” fighters, since the countries lack the precision tools necessary to painstakingly shape every millimeter of the planes’ surfaces.
Barrett said of China’s and Russia’s stealth attempts, “There are a lot of stuff hanging outside of these airplanes,” according to Defense News, adding that “all the airplane pictures I’ve seen still have stuff hanging from the wings, and that just kills your stealth.”
Additionally, the US has stealth-fighter tactics down, while China and Russia would take years to develop a similar playbook.
Meanwhile, the US has overcome the issue of external munitions blowing up a plane’s radar signature by having internal weapons bays and networking with fleets of fourth-generation aircraft.
Because the F-35 and F-22 can communicate with older, non-stealth planes, they can fly cleanly, without weapons hanging off the wings, while tanked-up F/A-18s, F-15s, or F-16s laden with fuel, bombs, and air-to-air missiles follow along.
The F-35s and F-22s can ensure the coast is clear and dominate battles without firing a shot as older planes fire off missiles guided by the fifth-gen fighters.
Iraqi government forces launched an operation against Kurdistan’s Peshmerga military forces over the weekend to capture Kirkuk, a disputed, oil-rich city in the country’s north.
The Kurds defeated Islamic State fighters to take control of Kirkuk in 2014, but Iraq’s central government had refused to recognize their sovereignty over the city since it falls outside of Kurdistan’s internationally recognized autonomous region.
As the details continue to develop, here’s a breakdown of the basics.
Conflicting stories emerged Oct. 16 as clashes broke out in areas outside the city, causing an unknown number of casualties. Iraqi forces claimed they had seized military bases and oil fields around Kirkuk, and had forced the Kurds to withdraw from the city. The Kurdistan Regional Government has rejected those claims.
The Los Angeles Times reported Monday that the US military said it believed any clashes between the Kurds and Baghdad “was a misunderstanding and not deliberate as two elements attempted to link up under limited visibility conditions.”
Army Major General Robert White, the commander of US-led coalition forces in Iraq, called for both parties to reconcile their differences through peace, and “remain focused on the defeat of our common enemy,” ISIS.
President Donald Trump weighed in on Monday afternoon, as well, saying the US would not back one side over the other. “We don’t like the fact that they’re clashing. We’re not taking sides,” Trump said in a press conference.
Three days before clashes erupted, rumors surfaced of an impending Iraqi government assault on the Kurds. In response, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi took to Twitter to debunk the accusation.
“Our armed forces cannot and will not attack our citizens, whether Arab or Kurd,” he said. “The fake news being spread has a deplorable agenda behind.”
Amid reports of a looming attack, Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani ordered Peshmerga forces on Sunday to not “initiate any war, but if any advancing militia starts shooting, then Peshmerga have been given a green light to use every power to stand against them.”
By Monday afternoon, Reuters reported that thousands of Kurds had fled the city of Kirkuk, which has a population of over 1 million people. About 6% of the world’s oil comes from Kirkuk province, according to CNN.
Kurdish nationalism has long been a source of tension between Iraq’s central government and the Kurds, both of which are strong US allies.
This tension was exacerbated after close to 93% of Kurds, which control a large swath of territory in northern Iraq, voted to declare Kurdistan an independent state on September 25. Baghdad has condemned the referendum and urged Kurdish leaders to reject it. Neighboring countries Iran and Turkey also opposed the vote.
The White House also warned against holding a vote on independence and called on the Kurdistan Regional Government to pursue dialogue with Baghdad.
“Holding the referendum in disputed areas is particularly provocative and destabilizing,” the White House said in a statement before vote.
Why does it matter?
The independence referendum and latest round of clashes between Kurdish and Iraqi forces puts the Trump administration in a particularly strangling bind. Over the years, the US has trained and supplied weapons and equipment to both sides of the conflict with the intention of defeating ISIS. Now those very same weapons are being used by US allies against other US allies.
Iran’s interference in the conflict also remains a top concern for American officials. The Iraqi-backed Popular Mobilization Forces — Shi’ite Muslim paramilitary units that have been fighting against the Kurds — presents another challenge for US mediation efforts in the region. Iran not only supports these Popular Mobilization Forces, but provides direct training and weaponry to its fighters.
The New York Times reported in July that Iran’s presence in Iraq was a consequence of former President Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw US troops from the country in 2011. This move has divided Republicans and Democrats in the US, and was a key campaign issue in the 2016 elections.
What could happen next?
No one is really sure. The situation is still unfolding, with Iraqi and Kurdish leaders shifting blame on their opponents for the escalation in violence.
Even though the US has downplayed the clashes as simply a “misunderstanding,” it’s difficult to ascertain the true level of tension on the ground.
Conflicting claims from Iraqi government and Kurdish officials further complicate the situation. No matter what happens, these developments will surely add to Trump’s challenges in the Middle East.
According to the VA, there are 40,056 homeless veterans — and 453,000 unemployed veterans — with 22 veterans a day committing suicide.
Navy SEAL veteran Eli Crane believes it doesn’t have to be this way.
Crane, the founder of Bottle Breacher, is a strong advocate for veterans and believes they lack a unifying community, something he hopes to change with a new movement called Long Live the Veteran Brotherhood.
Long Live the Veteran Brotherhood is Crane’s movement to unite all veterans in a sense of brotherhood and accountability to each other. Crane says that most veterans underestimate how important it is to associate with other veterans, especially when it comes to the individual’s welfare.
His company, a lifestyle accessories brand that gained fame for their unique bottle openers made from recycled bullet casings—and a successful appearance on the Shark Tank TV show—hires a large number of veteran workers and supports both veteran and military non-profits.
In addition to his commitment to hiring veterans, Crane is also working to solve what he believes is a major issue facing the community.
“One of the worst and most disappointing things that I have seen since I have left the military,” Crane says, “is the trash-talking and infighting within the veteran community.”
Warriors without a war
According to the Disabled American Veterans, one of the chief contributing factors to veteran suicide is the loss of mission, purpose and community. Crane also succumbed to this when he transitioned out of the Navy. He wanted to leave all the stress and feelings of burnout behind, and was ready to focus on his family—but the idea that he had abandoned something, rather selfishly, kept biting at him.
When Crane connected with other veterans, he found what he had left behind and rediscovered his love of helping others.
“You see, most of us are hard-wired for service,” Crane says. “Most of us become hard-wired, while we are active duty, to try to take the load off the back of our brothers and put their needs before our own.
Continue the mission
Veterans are mission-driven and when they are connected to a community of fellow veterans, research shows that it helps with depression, grief, and other psychological conditions. Peer support and motivation is also key to helping people succeed, and has been proven to reduce costs for mental and physical health services—for veterans as well as civilians.
By identifying and acknowledging veterans, Crane hopes that these efforts will build the community that they need to thrive mentally, emotionally, and economically.
He says, “If the majority of us spent more of their time building each other up and helping each other out, you wouldn’t see half of the problems you see our veterans struggling with.”
The division between service branches, theater or decade served, rank or lack thereof — these are just some of the things that are used to create animosity among veterans. Things that really don’t matter, according to Crane.
“Are we being our brother’s keeper? Are we reaching out to those that are struggling to acclimate and transition?” Crane asked.
The common experiences of veterans far outweigh the differences, and it’s those commonalities that the community should be focusing on.
To bring these things to light, Crane is asking veterans to share what it means to be a part of the Veteran Brotherhood on social media (see below on how to participate in Long Live the Veteran Brotherhood).
Crane hopes that these efforts will raise awareness of the different ways that the veteran community at large can be proactively involved in supporting the community.
The name of his organization, Long Live the Veteran Brotherhood, comes from a Navy SEAL saying, Long Live the Brotherhood. When he would hear that phrase, Crane felt a deep connection to his team and the greater community that the SEALS represent.
He felt that the veteran community would benefit from a similar message, reminding them that they are also connected to a much larger and just as powerful group.
“At the end of the day, the brotherhood shouldn’t end when we take off the uniform,” Crane said.
Crane’s top transition tips for veterans:
Build a team. It is most likely that like the rest of us you have many weaknesses and are not capable of building anything amazing by yourself. Surround yourself with loyal and talented people who share your values and your mission.
Don’t count on anything from anyone. If you’re willing to work as hard in the private sector as you did in the military you will crush it.
If you are intending to become an entrepreneur, I highly recommend the side-hustle. That means that you have a full-time gig that pays the bills and you run your start-up on nights and weekends.
Resilience is the most important thing when exiting the service. Like most of us, you will encounter plenty of adversity and hear countless “No’s”. If you are diligent and give yourself the freedom to fail while applying the lessons learned you will eventually become successful.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will the next chapter of your life. Enjoy the process.
Jacob Warwick is the Vice President of Marketing and Communications for LifeFlip Media—a full-service PR agency that helps veteran brands tell their business and military transition stories in a way that attracts customers and helps grow their business.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
Prior to WW2, knowing that they couldn’t compete with the numbers of the US navy, the Imperial Japanese Navy quietly authorized the construction of the two largest battleships by weight ever seen in warfare — the Musashi and her sister ship, the Yamato.
The origins of these two behemoths can be traced back to Japan’s 1934 withdrawal from the League of Nations. Amongst other things, doing this allowed Japan to ignore rules set by the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 and the London Naval Treaty of 1930, both of which aimed to limit the size of battleships as well as the right of participating nations to construct them.
Almost immediately following Japan’s withdrawal, a team working for the Japanese Navy Technical Department helmed by an engineer called Keiji Fukuda began submitting designs for a class of battleships superior in size and firepower to anything ever seen before.
While initially planning to build five of these battleships, ultimately only two were completed, with a third being converted to an aircraft carrier mid-way through construction.
The two completed ships, the Musashi and the Yamato, were quite literally in a class of their own, designed to displace some 73,000 long tons when fully equipped. For reference here, the United States’ Iowa class battleships created around the same time, while of similar length, weighed about 40% less.
Japanese battleship Yamato under construction at the Kure Naval Base, Japan, Sept. 20, 1941.
As one Japanese officer, Naoyoshi Ishida, described, “How huge it is! When you walk inside, there are arrows telling you which direction is the front and which is the back—otherwise you can’t tell. For a couple of days I didn’t even know how to get back to my own quarters. Everyone was like that…. I knew it was a very capable battleship. The guns were enormous.”
On that note, not just big, these ships also featured nine of the largest guns ever put on a battleship, featuring 460 mm barrels and weighing an astounding 3,000 tons each, with all nine combined weighing approximately as much as the United States’ Wyoming, New York, and Nevada class battleships.
These weapons were capable of firing shells that weighed up to 3200 pounds (1450 kg)- or, in other words, in the ballpark of what a typical full sized sedan car weighs. While you might think the range when shooting such an object must have been poor, in fact, these guns could hit a target over 25 miles (40 kilometers) away. They could also be fired at a rate of about once every 40 seconds.
The shockwave produced by one of these guns firing was noted as being powerful enough to tear the skin off of a human if an unlucky individual stood within 15 metres of it without proper shielding. This shockwave also resulted in nearby anti-aircraft guns having to be specially armored to protect them from this.
Speaking of anti-aircraft guns, ultimately these ships were equipped with approximately 150 25 mm guns. In between these and the massive 460 mm cannons previously described, the ships also featured six 155 mm and 24 127 mm guns.
Further, if not needing the 460 mm cannons for hitting ships far away, these battleships were equipped with so-called “beehive rounds” to fire from those cannons. In a nutshell, these rounds were filled with nearly a thousand incendiary tubes and hundreds of shards of steel. The round also included a fuse and explosive that would cause the shell to explode out, with the incendiary tubes igniting shortly thereafter, producing a wall of flame and molten steel meant to absolutely obliterate enemy aircraft. Essentially, the idea here was to convert these guns into comically large shotguns, able to pick any enemy birds out of the air.
Japanese Battleship Musashi taken from the bow.
Armor-wise, each ship possessed on its outer shell a protective layer some 16 inches thick.
While you might think this all combined must have made these ships slow as molasses, it turns out, they had a top speed of about 27 knots (31 mph). While not the fastest battleship in the world, this compared favorably to, for instance, the aforementioned Iowa class battleships that weighed about 40% less, but could only go about 6 knots faster.
Despite their awe-inspiring power and the full confidence of Japanese military brass that each ship was “unmatchable and unsinkable”, neither saw much combat. In fact, the Yamato spent so much time protecting Japanese ports that it was nicknamed the “Hotel Yamato”.
The reluctance of the Japanese navy to commit either ship to combat was motivated by both the scarcity of fuel in Japan during the war, with these battleships taking copious amounts of such to go anywhere, and the fact that military brass believed losing either ship would be a massive blow to the morale of the rest of the Japanese military.
Of course, in the closing months of WW2 with their forces almost completely obliterated, Japan reluctantly began committing both battleships to naval engagements. Unfortunately at this point these super battleships were so absurdly outnumbered in the limited engagements they’d ultimately take part in that they mostly just functioned as sitting ducks.
Most notably, they proved especially vulnerable to aircraft attacks. Even the aforementioned beehive rounds, which the Japanese believed would decimate aircraft, proved to be little more than a visual deterrent, with some American pilots simply flying straight through the flaming shrapnel they produced.
And while the near couple hundred anti-aircraft guns made it so it took a brave pilot to dive bomb the ships, the sheer number of aircraft that the Americans could throw at these battleships at the same time and how chaotic the battles got, ultimately saw these guns prove just as worthless in practice.
It didn’t help that at this point in the war Japan’s own aircraft were ridiculously outnumbered and outclassed, providing little to no air cover to try to protect the massive battleships. (See our article, How Were Kamikaze Pilots Chosen?)
Ultimately the Musashi was lost during the battle of Leyte Gulf in October of 1944, taking 19 torpedo and 17 bomb strikes to sink it.
As for the Yamato, it took part in her final engagement in April of 1945 in operation Ten-Go, which was an intentional suicide mission.
Japanese battleship Yamato is hit by a bomb near her forward 460mm gun turret.
The Yamato was to be the tip of the spear of this final, last-ditch effort to repel the American advance. Its crew was ordered to beach the ship near Okinawa and use its main battery to destroy as much of the invading force as possible. Essentially, the ship would function as a base on the island, and members of the near 3,000 strong crew not needed to operate weaponry aboard the ship were to wage a land battle with any enemy forces encountered.
The mission plan was flawed from the outset, however, and performed under protest of some of the Japanese Navy brass involved, who noted there would be no chance of even reaching the target island in the first place given the stated plan, including no air support whatsoever, and time of day they were to execute the plan (broad daylight).
This turned out to be correct- en route on April 7, 1945, the Yamato and handful of accompanying ships were completely, and quickly, overwhelmed by a combined assault from 6 cruisers, 21 destroyers, 7 battleships, and a few hundred aircraft.
One surviving member of the Yamato crew, junior officer Yoshida Mitsuru, had this to say of the battle that they all had known was a suicide mission from the start,
How many times, in target practice, have we conducted such tracking? I am possessed by the illusion that we have already experienced searches under the same conditions, with the same battle positions, even with the same mood. What is going on before my very eyes, indisputably, is actual combat — but how can I possibly convince myself of that fact? The blips are not an imagined enemy but an enemy poised for the kill. The location: not our training waters, but hostile waters. More than one hundred enemy planes attacking!” Is it the navigation officer who calls this out? … The battle begins…. As my whole body tingles with excitement, I observe my own exhilaration; as I grit my teeth, I break into a grin. A sailor near me is felled by shrapnel. In the midst of the overwhelming noise, I distinguish the sound of his skull striking the bulkhead; amid the smell of gunpowder all around, I smell blood…. The tracks of the torpedoes are a beautiful white against the water, as if someone were drawing a needle through the water; they come pressing in, aimed at Yamato from a dozen different directions and intersecting silently. Estimating by sight their distance and angle on the plotting board, we shift course to run parallel to the torpedoes and barely succeed in dodging them. We deal first with the closest, most urgent one; when we get to a point far enough away from it that we can be sure we have dodged it, we turn to the next. Dealing with them calls for vigilance, calculation, and decision…. That these pilots repeated their attacks with accuracy and coolness was a sheer display of the unfathomable undreamed-of strength of our foes.
In the end, it took only 2 hours for American forces to destroy the single most powerful ship constructed during WW2, along with most of the tiny fleet it set out with. When the smoke cleared, around 4,000 were dead on the Japanese side vs. just around a dozen dead on the American side and a few more wounded.
Early in WW2 the Imperial Japanese Navy had plans to construct even bigger ships than the Yamato and Musashi as part of an even more powerful class of ships they called the Super Yamatos. These ships, if constructed, would have possessed 510 mm guns, displaced upwards of 82,000 tons and could have moved at speeds approaching 30 knots. Lack of resources stopped Japan from ever building the ships however.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
The Dream Team has nothing to do with basketball. On a 2009 episode of Charlie Rose, former Soviet Premiere Mikhail Gorbachev was a guest, commemorating the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall. During the interview, Gorbachev made a number of interesting statements. He wasn’t impressed with President Reagan’s challenge to tear down the wall.
But he did think Reagan was a great leader. Joining Gorbachev on the show was Reagan’s Secretary of State George Schultz, who brought up Reagan and Gorby’s famous Lake Geneva Summit. Schultz admitted he wasn’t present when the two leaders ducked out to a nearby cabin to talk. Gorbachev remembered their conversation very clearly.
“From the fireside house, President Reagan suddenly said to me, ‘What would you do if the United States were suddenly attacked by someone from outer space? Would you help us?’
“I said, ‘No doubt about it.'”
“He said, ‘We too.'”
President Reagan was an avid fan of science fiction films, like The Day the Earth Stood Still and even once got an advance screening of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Reagan repeated the story to a group of Maryland high school students after his return to the US. Deputy national security adviser Colin Powell used to go through the President’s speeches and remove mentions of what he called “the little green men.”
Admiral Harry Harris, the commander of United States Pacific Command, called Chinese criticism of the deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system “preposterous” during testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The blunt talk comes in the wake of reports that China has unleashed hackers against South Korean government and business interests after the South Korean decision to allow deployment of a THAAD battery. According to Defense News, a battery has six launchers, and a Missile Defense Agency fact sheet notes each launcher has eight missiles. So, this battery has 48 missiles ready for launch.
While the United States has other missile-defense options to protect allies in the region like South Korea and Japan, THAAD is one of the more capable options according to ArmyRecognition.com, with a range of about 600 miles and the ability to hit targets almost 500,000 feet above ground level. The system is also highly mobile.
The MIM-104 Patriot surface-to-air missile, which proved itself capable of intercepting ballistic missiles during Operation Desert Storm, is already operated in the region by the United States, Japan, and South Korea, according to ArmyRecognition.com. The Patriot has a range of 43.5 miles and is capable of also targeting aircraft in addition to ballistic missiles.
Adm. Harris also declared support for a study into the feasibility of deploying Ground-Based Interceptors to Hawaii. This system currently is based in Alaska and California, with 30 interceptors split between Fort Greely and Vandenberg Air Force Base. The GBI has shown a success rate of almost 53 percent in tests, per the Missile Defense Agency.
A Hawaii basing option for the GBI would add another tier of defenses to that state, which along with Alaska are potentially in range of North Korean ICBMs like the Taepodong 2 and KN-08.
When filmmaker Ken Burns and his collaborators previously tackled sprawling documentaries about the Civil War and World War II, their first obligation, he said, was to strip away the “barnacles of sentimentality” attached to both events.
That was never a problem with his latest military epic, “The Vietnam War.”
“No such sentimentality attaches itself to Vietnam,” Burns says. “So there’s a through line to the tragedy and the the essential horror and cruelty of war that is manifested everywhere.”
Covering 18 hours over 10 installments, the film recalls one of the most tragic chapters in American history — a conflict so divisive that, in the words of a soldier quoted in the film, it “drove a stake right into the heart of America.”
Ten years in the making, “The Vietnam War” (Sept. 17, 8pm, PBS) might be Burns’ greatest achievement yet in a career that dates back to 1981. It’s certainly his most complicated and challenging. To get to the heart of it all, he and co-director Lynn Novick relied on a wealth of archival materials, including stunningly revelatory audio recordings from inside the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations.
Most notably, they solicited accounts from more than 80 witnesses from all sides of the war’s vast social divide: soldiers who fought in the war and Americans who opposed it, as well as North and South Vietnamese combatants and civilians. It was what the filmmakers call a “bottom up” approach with a preference toward mostly ordinary people with incredible stories to tell, rather than the usual talking heads. John McCain, John Kerry, and Jane Fonda, for example, are not interviewed.
Along the way, the filmmakers didn’t encounter as much reticence from their subjects as some might expect. Credit the passage of time.
“We generally found that there was enormous interest in having their story told,” Novick says. “They saw it as a chance to share experiences with the wider world that were very important to them and seminal, informative, and sometimes very, very painful.”
The result is a panoramic, immersive, intensely intimate and often heart-wrenching film experience that captures the human stories embedded within a war that claimed the lives of more than 58,000 Americans, and more than 3 million Vietnamese military personnel and civilians.
Burns, of course, realizes that many viewers will bring their “personal baggage” and hardened perspectives to the film. But he and Novick insist that they were intent on being as even-handed as possible.
“There isn’t a single truth in the war,” Burns says. “In fact, there’s many truths that can coexist, and that might help to sort of take the fuel rods out of the division and polarization that was born in Vietnam that continues to this moment.”
The Vietnam conflict had long been on Burns’ cinematic to-do list. But early in his career he felt the wounds were too fresh. And when he finally did approach the subject, he went in thinking he knew a lot about it, only to immediately learn he didn’t.
“It was a daily humiliation,” he recalls. “And the humbleness that you have to assume in order to get through the next 10 years is just that — humbling. So we just kept our heads down and worked to get it right.”
According to Novick, one of the key discoveries they encountered along the way was the continual privately expressed skepticism from government officials that the US could prevail in the conflict, which was carried out under five presidents.
“There never was a time when the people in our government who were pushing the war forward had total confidence that it was winnable,” she says. “You hear this drumbeat of doubt and lack of sureness that it can come out well, that we can accomplish our goals, that it’s sustainable. And that goes back to the earliest days of American involvement in Vietnam. … That was rather revelatory and devastating.”
It’s Burns’ hope that the film can open a national dialogue about Vietnam and get people to talk about it in a “calm way.” After all, so much of what occurred during the war resonates with the present: Images of mass protests across a deeply divided nation; a White House paranoid about leaks and at odds with the media; disagreements over American military strategy in far-off territories; acrimony over what defines patriotism…
“History doesn’t repeat itself. We’re not condemned to repeat what we don’t remember,” he says. “It’s that human nature never changes.”
The sun was fading behind Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush mountains the evening of June 27, 2005, as a team of four U.S. Navy SEALs walked up the ramp and into the back of U.S. Army Captain Matt Brady’s MH-47 Chinook helicopter on Bagram Air Base.
Tasked with inserting the SEAL special reconnaissance (SR) team deep into enemy territory in unforgiving terrain, Brady knew the SEALs — Lieutenant Michael Murphy, Petty Officer 2nd Class Danny Dietz, Petty Officer 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Axelson — had a difficult mission ahead. Marines in the area knew it was an extremely dangerous place filled with Taliban fighters.
Brady had no way of knowing at the time, but it would be the last time anyone at Bagram would ever see three of those four Americans alive.
The Afghanistan mountains and forest from the valley where soldiers searched for the remains of the three SEALs who were killed in action. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.
The Army’s elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) is known for having some of the most skilled aviators in the world, who fly the most elite special operators into some of the most austere environments on earth using the most advanced aircraft in the U.S. military inventory. They are famous for the roles they played in both the Battle of Mogadishu and the mission to kill Usama Bin Laden but are revered throughout the special operations community for acts of valor that often never see the light of day due to the classified nature of their work.
As a pilot in the 160th, Brady was the air mission commander for the operation. He and some of his fellow “Night Stalkers” felt the SEALs’ plan was too risky.
The mission was to capture or kill Ahmad Shah, a Taliban commander. The three-phase plan called for inserting a four-man SR team the first night, then inserting the second element of SEALs the following night to establish an isolation zone around Shah. Finally, 150 U.S. Marines would come in to establish blocking positions for the SEALs’ assault on Shah’s compound.
The Night Stalkers’ job was to insert the SEALs on a ridgeline where the terrain left few options for landing zones. The commandos would have to descend from a rope — fast-rope — while the helos hovered high above the trees. That meant if the SEALs got into trouble, extraction would potentially require the use of a hoist to pull the SEALs out, which was a time-consuming and dangerous option.
As he approached the insertion site, Brady could see lights dotting the mountains below through his night-vision goggles.
An MH-47 Chinook with 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment and a KC-130J Super Hercules with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 conduct aerial refueling during Exercise Yuma Horizon 19. Photo by Lance Cpl. Seth Rosenberg, courtesy of DVIDS.
“This was a desolate part of the Hindu Kush, and at night, you wouldn’t really expect to see much,” Brady told Coffee or Die. “Not really sure who they were, but there was more activity than I expected.”
As the pilots climbed the last 1,000 feet of elevation, the AC-130 crew providing overwatch on their destination radioed to say they had to leave their position due to a mechanical issue. Brady knew that surveillance aircraft going off station without backup was supposed to result in aborting the mission.
He asked the AC-130 crew for one final report on the four potential landing zones the Night Stalkers had identified for the mission.
“We’ve got two military-aged males, possibly armed, on the northernmost LZ,” the crew reported. “Primary and secondary zones appear to be clear of potential threats.”
Believing the gunship could make it back on station in time for the insertion, Brady made the call to continue the mission.
From left, SGT Carlos Pacheco (3/160 medic, former 3/75), SFC Marcus V. Muralles (Legend – 3/160 medic), MAJ Sam Sauer (3/160 flight surgeon), SFC L.E. Shroades (medic R/160), SGT Dan Bell (E Co/160) during during the timeframe of Operation Red Wings. Photo courtesy of Daniel Bell.
Approaching the insertion point, the pilots flared the Chinook and came into a hover. As the lead aircraft descended, it became clear the LZ was on a steep slope of the mountain, making descent difficult due to the front rotors approaching the mountainside faster than the rear of the aircraft.
“Hold your right and left; hold your front and rear,” came the internal radio traffic from the flight engineer to Brady.
There were 100-foot-tall trees on all sides of the Chinook, and they were so close the pilots had no room to sway as they descended.
“When you hear all four directions, everyone gets pretty tense,” Brady said. “It means you can’t drift any direction without crashing.”
The pilots descended to the point where the Chinook’s front rotor was just a few feet away from the mountainside with tall trees all around the aircraft. The flight crew kicked out the ropes, and the SEALs fast-roped down.
When the crew chief tried to pull the rope up, they found it was entangled below. After several tense moments of struggling to bring in the rope, they decided to cut it loose. The odds of enemy fighters hearing the echo of the dual-rotor helicopter increased every second it remained in a hover. The SEALs did their best to hide the rope and keep their presence on the ridgeline hidden from enemy fighters.
It wasn’t an ideal insertion, but the Night Stalkers had accomplished their mission. They ascended and flew back to Jalalabad to link up with another group of SEALs and standby as a quick reaction force (QRF) in case the SR team was compromised.
At Jalalabad, Brady was approached by SEAL Commander Erik Kristensen in the command operations center. Kristensen confronted him about the decision to cut the rope at the LZ and asked if the Night Stalkers would go back and retrieve it.
A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from 1-228th Aviation Regiment conducting hoist operations. Photo by Spc. Steven K. Young, courtesy of DVIDS.
“We would have to drop a man down with a hoist in that hole of an LZ,” Brady explained. “Hoisting a man at that altitude on that kind of terrain at night is a dangerous operation. Once on the ground, they’d have to pick up the rope, hook it to themselves, and get hoisted back up. Hovering for that long over the same spot would burn the LZ and likely alert the enemy to the SR team’s presence.”
Kristensen agreed with Brady’s evaluation, and after the SR team radioed that they would be laying down for the day in their hide site, Brady and Kristensen called it a night.
Walking toward the flight line, the SEAL commander quipped, “What made you want to fly such ugly helicopters?”
“They’re not much to look at, but they get the job done,” Brady fired back. “Kind of like SEALs.”
They shared a laugh as they loaded up for the flight back to Bagram.
At the Bagram operations center, Major Stephen Reich approached Brady urgently, asking why he didn’t follow abort criteria and fly back with the SR team after the AC-130 had to leave the airspace.
Brady said he estimated the AC-130 would only be off station briefly and that the crew had reported no hostile activity on the LZ. He told Reich pushing the mission back would allow Shah to continue his terrorist activities, likely leading to the death of locals and U.S. military in the area.
“Good,” Brady recalled Reich saying. “I’m glad you’re a thinking air mission commander and not simply one that takes a black-and-white view of the situation.”
With that, they retired to their rooms to rest for phase two of the operation the following night.
Some of the Night Stalkers hanging out in the B huts they slept in, enjoying much needed down time. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
As the Night Stalkers slept, the SR team was discovered by a numerically superior force of enemy fighters. They engaged in a fierce firefight, and at some point the task force lost contact with them.
Brady’s maintenance officer woke him and said the SR team was in trouble and the Night Stalkers had orders to spin up and pull the team out.
“That’s not possible,” Brady replied, confused at how quickly the SEALs had become compromised. “They’ve got their own quick reaction force. We’re completely separate commands. It doesn’t make sense.”
But he knew and lived by the Night Stalkers’ promise to every customer: “If we put you in, we’ll stop at nothing to get you out — even if it’s technically someone else’s job.”
Brady rushed to the operations center where Chief Warrant Officer 4 Chris Eicher was telling the task force commander that they should wait until dark before sending the QRF because going in during daylight would subject them to more danger. The 160th had only lost helicopters during daylight missions at that point — they’re called Night Stalkers for a reason.
The commander explained that the ground force commander had already rejected that plan and didn’t want to wait any longer.
Brady ran over to where his platoon sergeant, Sergeant First Class Mike Russell, was sleeping and updated him on what had unfolded.
“Are you serious?” Russell replied.
Russell went to work right away getting the crews together to prep the aircraft for the mission.
Three of the 160th’s MH-47D Chinooks on the flight line in Bagram, Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
Back in the operations center, leaders were busy trying to figure out the SEALs’ last known location and calculating how many soldiers each helicopter could fly with. They finalized plans and sent the Night Stalkers on their way.
As Brady approached the Chinook he’d be flying, he noticed the tail number: 1-4-6. The bird’s call sign was Turbine 33. Kristensen and his SEALs were waiting on the ramp, standing in a circle.
“Our plan of action is for you to get us to the high ground as close to the troops in contact as you can, and we’re going to fight our way downhill,” Brady recalled Kristensen saying.
Since the SEALs weren’t sure where exactly the compromised team was located, Kristensen believed inserting at a position of tactical advantage was the best option.
“Drop us on the high ground, and we’ll make our way to our swim buddies,” Kristensen told Brady.
Navy SEALs operating in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. From left to right, sonar technician (surface) Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew G. Axelson, of Cupertino, California; Senior Chief information systems technician Daniel R. Healy, of Exeter, New Hampshire; quartermaster Petty Officer 2nd Class James Suh, of Deerfield Beach, Florida; hospital corpsman Petty Officer 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell; machinists mate Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric S. Patton, of Boulder City, Nevada; and Lt. Michael P. Murphy, of Patchogue, New York With the exception of Luttrell, all were killed June 28, 2005, by enemy forces while supporting Operation Red Wing. Photo courtesy of DVIDS.
As Brady climbed into Turbine 33 and started strapping in, Reich tapped his shoulder and asked what the plan was. Reich, who had been designated mission commander for phase two of the operation, felt the QRF was his responsibility.
“We argued for what seemed like 10 minutes but was actually about 30 seconds,” Brady recalled.
But Reich cut the debate short. “I don’t really care, Matt,” he told Brady, “just get your stuff and get off the airplane. This is my mission.”
Brady said he pleaded with Reich to at least let him come with and act as an extra gun and set of eyes.
“Nope, I want you to take my spot as the operations officer and monitor from here,” Reich replied.
Disappointed, Brady followed the order and got off the aircraft. As he watched the two Chinooks taxiing onto the runway, he locked eyes with Russell, his platoon sergeant.
“He had a look of competence and professionalism — like he was ready to live out the Night Stalker creed,” Brady said.
He walked back to the operations center to monitor the situation and provide support from Bagram.
Matt Rogie, left, and Matt Brady having jovial conversation in Bagram. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
The two Chinooks — Turbine 33 and Turbine 34 — were packed with 16 SEALs each, plus the Night Stalker pilots and crewman. Flying toward Jalalabad en route to the last known position of the SEALs, they received word from Bagram on the number of men they could have on board each aircraft and still fly at the extreme elevation. They would have to offload eight SEALs from each helicopter before continuing.
“A lot of guys really wanted to stay on the mission,” recalled Chief Warrant Officer 3 Tim Graham, one of the pilots on Turbine 34.
The plan was for the SEALs to fast-rope onto the ridgeline above the original LZ. The Night Stalkers would then circle back and pick up the remaining SEALs who offloaded at Jalalabad.
During the flight, the Night Stalkers passed two Apache gunships whose pilots asked if they wanted to slow down so they could provide surveillance and support for the operation. Not wanting to burn valuable time waiting on approval from the task force commander for the audible, the Night Stalkers continued on without the Apaches.
Tim Graham standing by in Bagram. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
Arriving at the insertion point on the ridgeline, Turbine 33 descended into a hover. Graham watched from Turbine 34 as Turbine 33’s ramp lowered and the crewman walked onto it to observe the landing zone below. Graham’s aircraft pulled off to the right to circle around and insert their payload of SEALs after Turbine 33 moved off to allow their entrance.
That’s when Staff Sergeant Steven Smith, the flight engineer in the rear of Turbine 34, saw a smoke trail emerge from the tree line directly toward Turbine 33. The projectile flew through the open ramp of the Chinook and exploded inside. Turbine 33’s nose dipped down, and the aircraft slid to the left, appearing to almost recover. Then the helo’s blades started hitting each other, and the aircraft rolled to the right before inverting as it descended to the mountainous terrain below.
Smith and the others in Turbine 34 watched helplessly as the Chinook full of their fellow aviators — their friends — crashed into the mountain and erupted in a ball of flames.
“Al and Kip were on the ramp when the RPG impacted,” Smith, who witnessed the horrific event, recalled. “They rode it all the way in that way.”
Soldiers sit on the rear deck of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter while flying over southern Afghanistan Oct. 19, 2010. Photo by Cpl. Robert Thaler, courtesy of DVIDS.
Graham and his co-pilot whipped their Chinook around to look for survivors. As they were turning around, Graham saw five Black hawks performing a star-cluster evasion. Turbine 34 started taking heavy gunfire from unseen fighters below. They broke off and flew out of reach of the enemy fire.
Graham reported the situation back to Bagram. Receiving the transmission, Brady couldn’t believe it. He would have been on that bird were it not for the last minute change. He asked Graham to repeat, unable to register what he had just heard.
One of Brady’s soldiers in the operations center was asking him a question, but Brady was momentarily frozen with shock. Then the realization hit: He was now in charge.
Brady told his operations NCO to give him a minute to gather more information to get the next plan of action in place. He walked out of the operations center and found Eicher.
“Chris, Turbine 33 has just been shot down,” he told Eicher, who earned the nickname “Iceman” for his always cool demeanor.
Eicher looked at Brady and said, “Nah, they probably put down for maintenance.”
Brady persisted with the details. He and Eicher hurried back to the operations center.
The two Apaches had arrived on station, drawing heavy gunfire, but nonetheless giving Turbine 34’s crew back in the operations center a good look at the crash site.
“It didn’t look like there was any way anybody could have survived,” Graham said. “You hope they could. It just didn’t look good.”
The crash site of Turbine 33. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.
They ascended back into orbit and remained there for an hour until the task force commander ordered them back to Jalalabad. Not wanting to leave their brothers, the SEAL team commander hatched a plan with the Night Stalkers to insert higher up on the ridgeline and fight their way down to the crash site so Turbine 34 could fly back to Jalalabad, pick up as many SEALs as he could, and fly back to reinforce the eight SEALs. The task force commander denied the request and ordered Turbine 34 back to Jalalabad. Frustrated and angry, Graham followed the order.
Smith said everyone on the Chinook was angry. One of the SEALs even drew his pistol and attempted unsuccessfully to force the Chinook to land so they could try to save their friends.
Graham made a stop at a Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP) just outside of Jalalabad. After landing, Graham saw the same five Black Hawks that had peeled off earlier parked on the runway. He didn’t think much of it at the time, but many years later he found out a new platoon leader came into their company within the 160th and was responsible for those Black Hawks.
Each of the five Black Hawks was loaded with Marines and had flown out thinking they were the QRF for the SR team. When Turbine 33 was shot down, they received orders to fly back along with Turbine 34 and the Apache gunships until the next phase of the mission was developed.
Flight line view of U.S. Army UH-60L Black Hawk helicopters. Photo by Mark C. Olsen, courtesy of DVIDS.
After refueling, he continued on to Jalalabad and off-loaded.
“When I met him there on the ground in Jalalabad, Graham was fairly shaken to say the least,” Brady recalled.
The task force commander debriefed the men and then focused on planning their next steps.
Smith said he saw a line of armored vehicles full of troops.
“I could see a lot of vehicles with troops armed to the damn teeth,” Smith recalled. “They rolled out with a convoy and with some vengeance, and they fought their way up that mountainside, all the way up to the crash site.”
The remaining Night Stalkers prepared for a rescue operation. Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, and other Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) personnel loaded onto five Chinooks. All the men were anxious, angry, and ready to retrieve their brothers in arms.
The Chinooks took off toward the mountains once again, but as they climbed in elevation, severe weather rolled in. Thunder boomed as lightning struck all around them.
“So the enemy is one factor, but the terrain and weather are now a huge factor, and they’re starting to overtake the enemy in terms of danger to the force,” Brady said.
He said visibility got so bad that he couldn’t see the heat glow of the engines from the Chinook in front of him. The order was given to again abort the mission and return to base. It was a gut-wrenching decision for everyone on the mission, as they knew the original SEALs on the SR team were fighting for their lives and one of their own aircraft and crew was burning on the side of a mountain.
Back at Jalalabad, the commanders decided they had no choice but to wait for better weather and try again the next night.
Troops searching for the KIA and survivors. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
As the storm raged, the members of the task force — haunted with thoughts of their brothers on the mountain — tried to sleep.
As the next night approached, the task force went to work, planning another insertion onto the deadly ridgeline. The Night Stalkers again loaded their Chinooks with Rangers and SEALs and took off toward the mountains.
Arriving on site, the task force members fast-roped in. The extreme height of the trees made the full length of rope — approximately 90 feet — necessary. Many of the men suffered scorched hands from gripping the rope through gloves for such a long descent.
Once on the ground, they started their search for casualties, potential survivors, and sensitive equipment.
As the Night Stalkers flew back to Bagram, the JSOC ground force that had convoyed to the crash radioed to the task force that they had secured the site. There were no survivors.
The JSOC troops, along with their newly arrived reinforcements, went to work recovering those killed in action as well as sensitive equipment that could not fall into enemy hands. They then used explosives to clear out a large enough area for Chinooks to land when they came back.
Explosives were used to chop down trees due to width of the trees being too big for chainsaws. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Matt Rogie arrived in Bagram just before the Night Stalkers came back after dropping off the recovery force. Assigned to replace Eicher as senior flight lead, he was trying to learn as much as he could before hopping into an aircraft and joining the mission.
Rogie met Eicher on the flight line when he landed after returning from the mission.
“I’m glad you’re here because I am spent,” Eicher told him.
The Night Stalkers flew back to their newly forged landing zone the following night. The weather was turning bad again as they offloaded Marines to assist with security.
“I could see the grass being blown by the rotor wash and all the remains bags being lined up in a row — 16 of them,” Rogie recalled. “There was still some smoldering from the crash site, and I could see the glow from the heat through my night vision.”
Some of the fallen members of Turbine 33 prior to being flown out. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.
One by one, the Rangers and SEALs loaded the fallen onto the Chinooks and headed back to Bagram with their brothers. The flight back was pure silence. The loss weighed heavy on the men.
As the Night Stalkers approached Bagram they could see what looked like everyone on base standing outside, showing their respect for the fallen.
“When we landed, we just saw a row of Night Stalkers and Rangers and SEALs for as far as I could see, lined up and ready to help transport the remains off and take them to the mortuary affairs section,” Brady recalled.
When the ramp lowered, the Night Stalkers on the Chinooks stood tall and proud for their fallen brethren as task force members boarded and began solemnly moving each remains bag to the mortuary affairs building.
“All of us were pretty broken up at that point,” Rogie said.
Pastors from the task force lead the caskets onto the C-17. Photo courtesy of Daniel Bell.
The C-17 sat on the runway with the ramp down, waiting to receive the 16 interment cases containing the fallen warriors. Brady stood next to a SEAL commander — both had to take command of their respective units when Reich and Kristensen were killed on Turbine 33. Their war-weary faces were chiseled stone as they watched the task force solemnly load 16 flag-draped internment cases into the C-17.
Brady said it seemed like the whole base turned out to give the fallen a proper sendoff. As the cases were being loaded, a SEAL ran up to the new SEAL commander and placed a written note in his hand. The note said that Marcus Luttrell was alive at a nearby village. The SEAL commander broke down and cried at the desperately needed positive news.
The fallen Night Stalkers of the 160th SOAR included:
Staff Sergeant Shamus O. Goare
Chief Warrant Officer Corey J. Goodnature
Sergeant Kip A. Jacoby
Sergeant First Class Marcus V. Muralles
Major Stephen C. Reich
Sergeant First Class Michael L. Russell
Chief Warrant Officer Chris J. Scherkenbach
Master Sergeant James W. Ponder III
Soldiers and Sailors from the Task Force saying their final goodbyes. Photo courtesy of Daniel Bell.
The members of the task force said their final goodbyes. The C-17 closed its ramp and taxied down the runway and took flight. The fallen warriors were now on their way home.
The lone C-17 aircraft lumbered through the sky after departing Germany, a necessary stop on the way back to the United States. The back of the aircraft contained the flag-draped coffins of 16 great Americans: the fallen Night Stalkers and SEALs from Turbine 33.
Children of varying ages ran around the coffins, playing and yelling, not yet old enough to understand the sacrifices these warriors made. A Taliban high-value target (HVT) sat tucked into the corner away from them all, guarded by other soldiers.
Three war-weary escorts — one of them a SEAL and the other two Night Stalkers Daniel Bell and Chris Eicher — sat off to the sides, grimly staring off into space. They were exhausted and angry with the mistake the U.S. Air Force had made when they allowed Space-A seating to be filled on this leg of the flight home.
The men of the task force saying their final goodbyes to the fallen before they are flown home to their final resting place. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
The rescue operation, known as Operation Red Wings II, continued for weeks. Almost every variety of special operations troops in the U.S. military inventory participated in a coordinated effort through some of Afghanistan’s most dangerous and austere terrain during the search for their brothers — both alive and fallen.
Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell was the only survivor from the initial four-man SEAL reconnaissance element.
For the Night Stalkers of the famed 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the war on terror continued.
Veterans in the community living center (CLC) at VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System, like CLC residents throughout the VA health care system, are isolated due to COVID-19 safety precautions and unable to receive visitors.
But thanks to the hundreds of letters they have received through Operation Mail Call, they know they haven’t been forgotten.
Call to action
Operation Mail Call began when Navy Veteran Tim Moran posted a call to action on Facebook. Moran is a VA Central Western Massachusetts registered nurse.
“I asked people to write to our Veterans in the CLC on the main campus since they can’t leave or receive visitors for their own safety,” says Moran. “We received between 115 to 120 pieces of mail in response to that first Facebook post. Every Veteran received at least three or four letters during the first mail all.”
Inspired by Navy service
Moran says Operation Mail Call was inspired by his time as a sailor in the Navy. “I worked on a fast frigate homeported in San Diego. My high school sweetheart used to write me letters scented with perfume. I used to read those letters over and over again.”
As Moran prepared to deploy to a VA CLC in Bedford, Massachusetts, to help care for coronavirus patients, he handed the project over to VA Recreation Therapist Meaghan Breed.
“We’re happy to spread the love to other Veterans who live on our main campus. And to those who are unable to receive visitors at this time as well,” Breed says.
The Rim of the Pacific Exercise, better known as RIMPAC, is the largest regular naval exercise in the world. Every even-numbered year, countries from around the globe take part in this massive operation. 15 nations took part in RIMPAC 2018 (China was disinvited), bringing together a total of 48 ships off the coast of Hawaii.
In 2018, the exercise was interrupted by a real search-and-rescue mission off the island of Hawaiian island of Niihau that involved Navy and Coast Guard units. In short, if it can happen in war, it can happen at RIMPAC!
Multi-national Special Operations Forces (SOF) participate in a submarine insertion exercise with the fast-attack submarine USS Hawaii (SSN 776) and combat rubber raiding craft off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii during Rim of the Paciﬁc (RIMPAC) exercise.
(U.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Michelle Pelissero)
This year, two aircraft carriers, USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) and JS Ise (DDH 182), took part, as did the amphibious assault ship USS Bon Homme Richard (LHD 6), HMAS Adelaide (L01), and 44 other vessels, ranging from the hospital ship USNS Mercy (T AH 19) to the Peruvian maritime patrol boat BAP Ferre.
Watch the video below to get a glimpse at all the ships that took part in RIMPAC 2018!
Mix one U.S. Marine with alcohol and throw in the possibility of a huge foam party and you get an alcohol-related incident on Kadena Air Base.
That’s according to Navy Times, which reported on Tuesday that Air Force officials were investigating how a drunk Marine entered an aircraft hangar on Kadena on May 23 and turned on the fire suppression system at around 1:45 a.m., releasing flame retardant foam close to at least one aircraft.
“The details of the incident are currently under investigation,” 2nd Lt. Erik Anthony told Stars and Stripes in an email. “Kadena’s capabilities and readiness have not suffered.”
The unnamed Marine was arrested shortly after the incident, but details on the Marine’s level of intoxication, his or her unit, or who made the arrest, were not released.
You never think a medical emergency is going to happen to you, but what if it does? And what if you are on a flight, two hours from your destination and over the Atlantic Ocean?
Hopefully, when the flight attendants ask for medical personnel on the flight to come forward, someone like Rob Wilson, Dental Health Command Europe Patient Safety Manager, is on board.
Wilson, who is also an operating room nurse in the Army Reserves, was recently on a flight from Frankfurt, Germany to Orlando, Fla., when another passenger began having difficulty breathing. When medical personnel were asked to come to the back of the plane, he didn’t hesitate.
“We were over the ocean,” Wilson said, “when they asked for medical personnel. Without any hesitation I went back. I figured there would be a lot of other people and they probably wouldn’t even need me, but when I got back there it was myself and an American doctor.”
Wilson said the passenger who needed help was an older gentleman, who was pale, had clammy skin and was breathing shallow. After a quick assessment, Wilson determined the man’s Pulse oximetry — or oxygen level in the blood — was 60 percent and his heart rate was in the 80s.
Prior to Wilson and the doctor arriving, the flight attendants had already given the man an oxygen mask, however he wouldn’t keep it on. Wilson said with the oxygen mask his “oxygen readings would come up, but as soon as he took it off they would go back down.”
“He did not speak English, and his wife only spoke a little German,” Wilson said.
It turns out when the man was taking off his oxygen mask, he was asking his wife for his emergency inhaler.
“We finally figured out that he was asking his wife to get his emergency inhaler,” Wilson said. “But he wasn’t using it properly so the medication wasn’t getting to his lungs.”
Because the man’s vitals were not improving, Wilson and the doctor began getting ready to intubate, or place a flexible plastic tube into the trachea to maintain an open airway.
“I started getting everything together to do the intubation,” Wilson said, “and at the same time a German provider came back and spoke with the other doctor and they decided to give the man a steroid medication and valium to help calm him down, [rather than intubating].”
After about 30 minutes, the medications began working and the man was feeling well enough to go back to his seat for the rest of the flight.
Wilson’s work wasn’t done yet, however. He helped the flight attendants complete the paperwork to give the paramedics when the plane landed — that included annotating was what was given and when.
As a nurse in the Army Reserves, Wilson said his military training “definitely helped when it came to being able to work on the fly. Having been in the Reserves my whole Army career, we don’t typically have fixed facilities when we do our training, so I think that helped me stay calm and collected.”
Wilson added, “I think that’s my attitude in life too — get it done.”
That attitude has helped him progress since he joined the Army in 1993 as an operating room technician.
“I didn’t want to be in a medical field,” Wilson said. “I wanted to be an architect. I got into a school in Kansas City, but when they sent the bill, my parents said, ‘don’t look at us,’ so I joined the Army reserves to help pay for college.”
Because Wilson was looking to pay for college through his military service, he chose operating room technician for his military occupational specialty because they were getting some of the largest bonuses at the time. “So that is what I went with,” he said.
“Once I got into the field I loved it, and I never ended up going to school for architecture.”
Instead, he was sent active duty for 14 months to become a licensed practical nurse. He continued his education earning his associates degree and finally his bachelor’s degree. Once he had obtained his degree, he transitioned from the enlisted side and was commissioned as an operating room nurse in the Army Reserves.
Wilson said that one of the reasons he enjoys being a nurse is the “satisfaction of helping people and being part of something bigger than yourself.”
Currently, Wilson serves as the patient safety manager for all of the Army dental clinics in Europe. He said his focus is ensuring safe, quality care. That means “making sure we have the right patient, we are doing the right procedure, and on the right tooth,” he said.
Wilson hopes that in sharing his story he can encourage others to step up and help when needed.
“Do something. There is always something you can do. Even if it’s just holding the oxygen tank or reassuring the person. You don’t have to be an expert and do everything perfect, but do something.”