USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) achieved a major milestone this week as it successfully launched from dry dock and moored pierside at Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Nov. 27.
This milestone is an important step in the ongoing effort to repair and restore one of the U.S. Navy’s most capable platforms, and reflects nearly a year’s worth of wide-reaching and successful coordination across multiple organizations. The ship entered dry dock at the Navy’s Ship Repair Facility and Japan Regional Maintenance Center (SRF-JRMC) Yokosuka in February.
The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) prepares to depart from a dry dock at Fleet Activities Yokosuka. McCain is departing the dock after an extensive maintenance period in order to sustain the ship’s ability to serve as a forward-deployed asset in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Tyra Watson)
“After the initial repair assessments were conducted, we had to quickly mobilize and determine the most critical steps to develop an executable repair and modernization plan,” explained Deputy Commander for Surface Warfare and Commander, Navy Regional Maintenance Center (CNRMC), Rear Adm. Jim Downey. “As we began the restoration process, we assembled cohesive teams capable of delivering both materially ready and more modernized ships to the fleet.”
To begin the repair and restoration effort, the Navy immediately reached out to personnel at Bath Iron Works (BIW) in Bath, Maine. BIW is the company that originally constructed the ship and currently serves as the planning yard for work on in-service Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. The BIW employees worked alongside representatives from Naval Sea Systems Command’s (NAVSEA) Supervisor of Shipbuilding, also in Bath, Maine, to conduct a material assessment of the ship. That information was then used by SRF-JRMC and the local Japanese repair contractor, Sumitomo Heavy Industries, to plan and swiftly execute the work ahead.
The McCain crew has been involved in every aspect of the availability.
The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) is pulled towards a pier after departing from a dry dock at Fleet Activities Yokosuka. McCain is departing the dock after an extensive maintenance period in order to sustain the ship’s ability to serve as a forward-deployed asset in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jeremy Graham)
“I’m proud of and thankful for every person who has worked together to move USS John S. McCain another step closer to both normalcy and sailing again with U.S. 7th Fleet,” said Cmdr. Micah Murphy, commanding officer, USS John S. McCain. “There is still a lot of work to be done, but I remain impressed by the incredible teamwork, determination and flexibility shown daily by this crew as well as the SRF Project Team to return a better, more lethal warship to the fleet.”
Today, McCain has a fully restored hull, a new port thrust shaft, and newly constructed berthing spaces.
The ongoing availability also includes completing maintenance work that had previously been deferred, which reflects the Navy’s commitment to ensuring that required maintenance on ships is no longer deferred. Additionally, the U.S. Pacific Fleet implemented a new force generation model to protect maintenance, training, and certification requirements prior to operational tasking for ships forward-deployed to Japan, like John S. McCain.
The ship’s crew worked alongside personnel from NAVSEA’s Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Philadelphia and Port Hueneme divisions who were challenged to develop a test plan concurrent with repair efforts.
“All key players and industry partners continue to execute the McCain effort with maximum intensity in an environment built on trust and shared goals,” said Capt. Garrett Farman, SRF-JRMC commanding officer. “Our mission is to keep the 7th Fleet operationally ready, and everyone on the team recognizes the immense value that this mission brings to U.S. and Japan mutual interests in keeping our waters safe.”
The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) prepares to undock as a dry dock is flooded in order to test the ship’s integrity. McCain is departing the dock after an extensive maintenance period in order to sustain the ship’s ability to serve as a forward-deployed asset in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jeremy Graham)
The complex repair and restoration required support and collaboration from all aspects of the U.S. Navy maintenance enterprise, including NSWC Philadelphia and NSWC Port Hueneme; Engineering Directorate (SEA 05); Deputy Commander for Surface Warfare (SEA 21); Commander, Navy Regional Maintenance Center (CNRMC); Southwest Regional Maintenance Center (SWRMC); Southeast Regional Maintenance Center (SERMC); Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center (MARMC); Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (PSNS); and Forward Deployed Regional Maintenance Center (FDRMC) Naples and Rota detachment.
Over the next few months, efforts will focus on testing the repaired ship’s systems in preparation for a return to operational tasking.
The Navy’s enterprise leadership continues to make improvements with routine, close oversight provided by the fleet commanders and the Navy staff to generate ready ships and aircraft on-time and on-plan. Improved ship-class maintenance plans are capturing a more robust understanding of fleet maintenance requirements, and the elimination of work deferrals are improving the material condition of the fleet.
This summer, Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer inducted Sen. John S. McCain III into the ship’s official namesake alongside his father and grandfather in a ceremony on board, July 12. The crew’s messdecks, known as the Maverick Café, re-opened for business on Nov. 19, the late Senator’s birthday.
John S. McCain is forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan as part of the U.S. Seventh Fleet. The ship is expected to complete repairs in late 2019.
In 1939, Congress authorized the construction of the USS Wisconsin. The build began at the Philadelphia Naval Yard in 1941. The United States was still doing everything she could to avoid being involved in the war in Europe, but preparing nonetheless. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor eleven months later would change everything.
The world was now at war for the second time and the USS Wisconsin would join the fight.
In 1943 on the second anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, the USS Wisconsin launched. She was commissioned on April 16, 1944. She left Norfolk, VA, and began her work. A few months later, the USS Wisconsin earned her first star in battle by supporting carriers during Leyte Operation: Luzon Attacks. She would go on to prove her seaworthiness by surviving a typhoon that took out three ships.
In January of 1945 while heavily armed, she escorted fast carriers who completed air strikes against Formosa, Luzon. By supporting these strikes, she earned her second battle star. Shortly after that she was assigned to the 5th Fleet. She went on to assist in the strike against Tokyo, which was a cover for the eventual invasion of Iwo Jima.
Under the cover of terrible weather, the USS Wisconsin supported landing operations for Iwo Jima, earning her third battle star. She would earn her fourth in an operation against Okinawa. Following that, she showed her might by keeping the enemy at bay with her powerful weapons and taking down three enemy planes. The USS Wisconsin earned a fifth star after operations against Japan. After putting in over 100,000 miles at sea since joining the fleet, she dropped her anchor in Tokyo Bay. She was vital to the support of the Pacific naval operations for World War II and earned her rest. She was inactivated in 1948 and decommissioned. It wouldn’t last long.
The USS Wisconsin rejoined the fleet in 1951 to assist in the Korean War operations. Following that war, she was placed out of commission yet again in 1958, and sat idle for 28 years until she was needed once more. She would go on to support operations in the Gulf War in 1991. Throughout her six months there, she played an absolute vital role in restoring Kuwait. She was decommissioned for the third and final time — she definitely earned her retirement.
The USS Wisconsin now sits in Norfolk, VA open to the public as a museum.
In Davos in 2017, Xi Jinping painted a vision of a China-led globalist world. The Chinese Communist Party’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic gives us a taste of Chinese global leadership: it includes a breathtaking degree to which other nations, desperate for transparency and reciprocity in the form of detailed information and medical supplies, have been left in a lurch, and therefore vulnerable to Chinese coercion. This is not an opportunity for cooperation with China. This is not a moment for a reprieve in America’s competition against the communist regime; it is a harrowing foreshadowing of what is at stake if we lose.
Competition with China spans the spheres of economics and diplomacy, but undergirding the entire effort is American hard power. It is our military, both our military capabilities as well as our willingness to employ them, that keeps Chinese territorial expansion at bay. And even during a global pandemic of Beijing’s making, Beijing’s military has been very busy. It is why the United States must follow through with the Pentagon’s plans to recapitalize our strategic deterrent and other military plans meant to deter Chinese aggression.
The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted the United States and its partners to pause wargaming exercises that are meant to reassure allies and bolster readiness to protect the health of its military members. In contrast, China has not slowed down provocative, offensive military maneuvers. Beijing just days ago conducted naval drills near Taiwan’s shores, has continued to buzz Taiwan’s airspace, it sank a Vietnamese fishing vessel in international waters, and according to State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus, the Chinese government has continued to make developments on military bases China built on reefs and islands on which it erroneously claims sovereignty.
Defense officials have repeatedly warned that the first island chain is vulnerable to Chinese aggression. Nested in that first island chain are Taiwan and Japan, valuable allies, and who will be critical allies in the U.S. effort to weaken China’s leverage and expose its malign behavior. They are among others in the larger Indo-Pacific region to include India and Australia that will anchor our cooperative efforts to defend national sovereignty against CCP authoritarianism.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said the Pentagon is committed to mission readiness during the pandemic. He also told Congress in February that the “highest priority remains China, as its government continues to use — and misuse — its diplomatic, economic and military strength to attempt to alter the landscape of power and reshape the world in its favor, often at the expense of others.”
While deterring China and assuring allies entails much more than our strategic deterrent, the cornerstone for deterring military aggression of the worst kind is our nuclear arsenal. The nuclear modernization strategy laid out in the Trump Nuclear Posture Review must continue to move forward on time, and the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be a pretext for delays.
The cost of the entire nuclear enterprise is roughly 5 percent of all national security spending devoted to the recapitalization, sustainment, and operations. The Obama administration began the modernization effort, and the Trump administration has determined to carry it through while adapting it based on the actions of China as well as Russia.
Defense officials have warned that in addition to Russia, China presents formidable nuclear challenges, and the trends are not headed in the right direction. Although China refuses to be transparent about its nuclear program, the United States knows China has significant capabilities that leverage cutting edge technology and assesses China is likely to at least double the size of its nuclear arsenal by the end of the decade. Additionally, China’s nuclear weapons are central to China’s military plans and intentions.
Despite the significant continuity between administrations about nuclear modernization, there will be efforts to cancel or delay some components of the force, and dealing with pandemics will be used as a pretext. For years, ideologically motivated groups have focused on the intercontinental ballistic missiles, or “land-based leg” of the triad, specifically, as an opportunity to find financial savings. Some have argued against eliminating the leg altogether while some argue it makes more sense to continue to extend the life of the current fleet, the old Minuteman IIIs with Cold War era technologies, rather than pursue its replacement called the Ground-based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD). But military leaders have repeatedly warned that the decades’ old Minuteman IIIs would have trouble penetrating future air defenses, and the cost to pursue GBSD will not be more expensive than another life extension program that would leave the United States underprepared. Now is not the time to delay the next generation of our nuclear weapons.
Conventional weapons are also necessary to deter Chinese aggression. Remember, the aim is to deter the aggression in the first place, rather than respond once China decides to act on its malign intention to attack U.S. bases or territory of a sovereign nation. The United States can do this if it convinces Beijing it has the will and capability to retaliate defensively in response to an offensive act of aggression such that Beijing will regret the decision.
So, in addition to the nuclear program, there are meaningful changes underway. For example, the U.S. Marine Corps is focused on deploying a force in the Indo Pacific theater in cooperation with our allies, which is inside the range of China’s massive missile force. This force would be so formidable and with so many targets distributed throughout the region that it allows the U.S. military a high degree of resiliency. The USMC also wants offensive long-range missiles, drones, and rocket artillery, and lots of them. Notable, now that President Trump withdrew from the dated INF Treaty due to Russian cheating, the USMC can have the range of missiles it needs. The United States will also need a mix of defensive systems with the ability to intercept the first rounds of missile attacks to preserve the U.S. ability to respond and with more options at its disposal. This offense-defense mix that includes passive and active defenses will complicate Beijing’s calculations and will dissuade an initial move and preserve peace.
The current COVID-19 pandemic will impact all areas of the U.S. government and reshuffle initiatives and divide attention. But it’s vital to appreciate the severity of China’s actions, that China is the cause of this historic crisis, and that its military is exploiting it to gain an advantage over the United States in the near and long term. The United States must work to ensure they fail.
If someone were to ask me what the best advice is for someone buying a home, I would have to say “educate yourself.” I realize that sounds vague, but there is SO MUCH information, more importantly, incorrect information, out there and every family situation is unique. I’m hard-pressed to say what is most important, but breaking barriers to getting started would be first. Unfortunately, I see a lot of myths repeated on a daily basis, sometimes from fellow mortgage professionals! I will continue to share digestible pieces of information, but first, need to get these common myths out of the way, so no military family is deterred from getting started:
There is no debt-to-income ratio cap.
The VA’s deciding factor on whether or not you can afford a loan is based on “residual income” (p.57), meaning how much money is left over every month after your debt obligations are met. This is a formula based on loan amount, geographic location and family size; it’s not always a one-size-fits-all answer. Some lenders have “overlays,” which are additional requirements that reach beyond what the VA themselves require, which is why the DTI myth is still floating around. The big takeaway here is that if you’re told by one lender your DTI is too high, they might have extra requirements on top of what the VA states, and you should SHOP AROUND! Not all lenders are created equal.
The VA has one residency requirement (pp.12-13), that you intend to make the home your primary residence and occupy “within a reasonable period of time” – usually deemed as 60 days. A spouse or dependent child can fulfill this residency requirement, but no other family member. I continuously see the myth of “one year,” circulated, but it is simply a myth. Last-minute moves and orders happen; the VA knows that, and according to their guidelines, you are not tied to live in any home for any period of time that doesn’t work for your family – period.
County loan limits still apply for multiples.
The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act Sec.6(a)(1)(C)(ii) that went into effect January 2020 lifted the VA county loan cap for how much money you can borrow with down, but that’s only if you have full entitlement available. A borrower can have multiple VA loans out at once, but if any entitlement is currently used, the county loan limits DO apply for bonus entitlements. You may be subject to a downpayment requirement if you exceed your remaining entitlement available.
Work history – what counts?
I repeatedly see posts in social media about a service member transitioning, receiving a new job (or job offer), and they don’t think they can qualify for a loan until two years into the job. This is totally false! Military active duty counts towards work history. The VA allows future employment income to be counted if the lender can verify a non-contingent job offer, including start date and salary. Documented retirement and disability pay also count towards qualifying income, but GI bill benefits do not.
Social media can give instant access to other people’s experiences, but some of the answers to your VA loan questions can only be found in a licensed professional. Make sure you’re talking to a lender that is passionate about educating you and your family, allowing you to make smart financial decisions. Not all financial institutions lend “by-the-book,” so ask more than one lender if something doesn’t feel right, or you’re not satisfied with the answer. An ounce of prevention, in this case, is certainly worth well more than a pound of cure!
Eric Viitala, 49, is an Air Force veteran of the Gulf War who lives in Maine. He experienced low levels of energy and concentration for years after his service. He had headaches, couldn’t finish projects, and was losing interest in things.
“My wife would tell me I left the cupboard doors open and she would walk into them. Or I’d put the recycling in the trash.”
Shortly after the Gulf War, Viitala hit his head in an accident in Saudi Arabia. When he visited the War Related Illness and Injury Study Center (WRIISC) in East Orange, NJ, he was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury. At the WRIISC, a doctor referred him to the VA Boston Healthcare System’s light-emitting diode (LED) therapy program.
VA’s Center for Compassionate Care Innovation has been working with VHA staff in Boston to explore the use of in-home LED treatment since 2018.
Last year, Viitala completed a 12-week course of in-home LED treatment while in communication with his VHA health care provider. He still uses the treatment at least twice a week.
Improvements in memory and energy way up
“There were huge improvements in my memory and concentration. My energy was way up. I’d pop up in the middle of the night and go clean the garage,” said Viitala. “It’s amazing because I have been dragging for years, but now I have the energy to go do things.”
During LED treatment, patients wear a lightweight headset affixed with light-emitting diodes. The arrangement of LEDs is customized for each person. The diodes do not generate heat and the treatment is painless and noninvasive. Each session lasts only 25 minutes. There is evidence to suggest that LED therapy promotes a healing response at the cellular level, due in part to increased blood flow.
When Viitala uses the LED equipment, he simply sits and relaxes with the LED headset on. The equipment was provided by VHA at no cost to the veteran and belongs to him permanently. He went to Boston for one round of treatment at the medical center and to pick up the equipment. But he communicated with his health care provider by phone during treatment.
“It’s worth every second.”
“That was really helpful and beneficial for her to call and keep encouraging me. She would ask how it’s going. It helped remind me to do it.”
Viitala credits the staff members at the New Jersey WRIISC for validating what he was feeling and referring him to the LED clinic in Boston. He encourages fellow veterans with similar symptoms to ask their providers about LED therapy.
“Don’t be afraid to speak out. There’s nothing to lose with LED. Nothing hurts. They don’t have to go inside your body. There’s no drugs, no side effects. It’s worth every second.”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
Years of complex operations and the ongoing demands of units in the field have left the armed forces struggling to maintain both operational capacity and high levels of readiness, according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office.
“After more than a decade combating violent extremists and conducting contingency operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and most recently Syria, [the Defense Department] has prioritized the rebalancing of its forces in recent budget requests to build and sustain the capabilities necessary to prevail across a full range of potential contingencies,” the report states.
“However, DoD has acknowledged that unrelenting demands from geographic commanders for particular types of forces are disrupting manning, training, and equipping cycles,” it adds.
Each of the service branches has had some success in addressing readiness issues, but problems remain in some areas for each.
For the Marine Corps, as of February, about 80% of aviation units didn’t have the minimum number of aircraft ready for training. The Marines also had a significant shortage of aircraft ready for wartime requirements.
A high pace of operations has also hindered the Navy’s maintenance efforts. The service bases its readiness recovery on deployment and maintenance schedules. “However, GAO reported that from 2011 through 2014, only 28 percent of scheduled maintenance was completed on time and just 11 percent for carriers.”
Like the Navy, the Air Force has seen continued operations with a shrinking pool of resources and little time for repair and recovery, citing Air Force reports that less than 50% of its forces are at acceptable readiness levels.
Photo courtesy of USAF
The service branch also says it is short of 1,500 pilots and 3,400 aircraft maintainers.
Air Force leaders are looking at several options to address these personnel issues, including heftier retention bonuses and stop-loss policies.
While the Army has seen readiness improvements in recent years, as GAO notes, it continues to have important deficiencies that put it at a disadvantage compared to other countries.
“For example, the Army reports that two thirds of its initial critical formations — units needed at the outset of a major conflict — are at acceptable levels of readiness, but it cautions that it risks consuming readiness as fast as the service can build it given current demands,” the report says.
The Army has also gotten withering criticism of its unit readiness from within the service itself.
According to Capt. Scott Metz, who until recently was a observer/controller/trainer at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, “many of our multinational partners are more tactically proficient at company level and below than their American counterparts.”
US troops from the 3rd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment call in their location in the back woods of the mock village they are taking over during Saber Junction 17, a field-training exercise at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center on May 15, 2017, at Hohenfels, Germany. (US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Richard Frost)
“In fact,” Metz wrote in a paper published this spring, “several of them are significantly better trained and more prepared for war than we are.”
Metz recounted how unit commanders arriving at the JMRC would caution him about their unit’s lack of preparation and the minimal training done at their home stations. In his role as the opposition-force commander during exercises, he could see how this manifested itself in potentially fatal mistakes in the field.
US soldiers prepare to engage a multinational force while during an exercise at Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Germany, March 25, 2017. US Army photo by Sgt. William Frye.
The opposition-force commander “knows from past experience that the Americans will probably stay on or near the roads,” Metz writes, adding:
“They will stop for long periods of time in the open with minimal dispersion. They will not effectively use their dismounted infantry and will likely leave them in the back of vehicles for too long, allowing them to be killed with the vehicle. They also will probably make little use of tactical formations and will not use terrain to their advantage.”
All units make mistakes during their time at the JMRC, according to Metz.
The shortcomings evident in units that visit the facility come rather from deficiencies in training they do at home.
“The problem is that they are making mistakes because they have not trained as a platoon or company,” Metz states.
A multitude of factors outside the control of commanders limits the time and resources they can devote to small-unit training.
This has resulted in the longstanding problem of a “deluge of requirements,” Metz writes, citing a 2015 report that “makes the case that the Army overtasks subordinates to such a level that it is impossible for Army units and Army leaders to do everything they are tasked to do.”
US Army paratroopers finish boarding an Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft loaded with a heavy-drop-rigged Humvee for a night jump onto Malemute Drop Zone, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. Photo courtesy of the US Army.
The problem is a deep-rooted one and will take some time to correct, requiring a cultural change starting at the highest levels of the Army’s leadership, Metz writes.
Gen. Mark Milley, the Army’s chief of staff, told the Senate this month that the Army, like the Air Force, is also suffering from a lack of personnel.
He told the Senate Appropriations’ defense subcommittee that the service’s portion of US defense strategy, the Army needs an active component of 540,000 to 550,000. That active component is now 476,000.
A US soldier, left, and a US Army Interpreter look over a map with an Iraqi army soldier before starting a cordon and search in the Ninewa Forest in Mosul, Iraq, June 8, 2008. US Army/Pfc. Sarah De Boise
Though the US armed forces maintains definite advantages over peers and other forces in technology, training, and capabilities, years of operations and, according to many officials, reductions in funding have imperiled the US military’s ability overcome opponents and fulfill its missions.
“In just a few years, if we don’t change our trajectory, we will lose our qualitative and quantitative competitive advantage,” Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee earlier this June.
Richard Overton just celebrated his 112th birthday in his hometown of Austin, Texas. Unbeknownst to him, identity thieves were using his compromised bank account to purchase savings bonds through TreasuryDirect. Despite his well-known affinity for whiskey and cigars, the supercentenarian and World War II vet still requires round-the-clock care that costs up to $15,000 per month.
“What the hell are these debits?” Volma recalled thinking. Overton’s bank and TreasuryDirect are aware of the transactions are are taking appropriate measures.
Overton is a staple of the Austin community, a well-known personality who receives well-wishers from around the city on his birthday every year. He is featured on one of the city’s murals depicting influential African-American and Latino personalities. On his latest birthday, he received a visit Austin mayor, Steve Adler.
The 112-year-old is reasonably famous, especially among locals and much of his personal information is available online — though not his bank account and social security numbers. The drained account is separate from a GoFundMe account the family uses to raise money for Overton’s care.
His GoFundMe account keeps Overton in his home and away from having to live in a nursing home. Born in 1906, he has outlived all his closest relatives and requires $480 a day for his constant care.
American troops are obsessed with coffee. If there’s a military unit whose coffee pot isn’t the hardest-working machine in the building, I haven’t seen it. It doesn’t seem to matter how good or bad the coffee is (even though good coffee is preferable), that beautiful, dirty-brown water is what really fuels the U.S. military’s bureaucratic inner workings — and always has.
Long before Rip-Its became the official beverage of the Global War on Terror, coffee was the only game in town and it was so important during the Civil War that it might have been the reason the North won the war.
The South wished they had the ability to brew coffee the way the North did. The Union blockade of the Confederate States meant that real coffee was in very short supply, and ground troops were unlikely to receive any of it. The Confederate Army tried everything they could to replace the magic bean, including replacing it with alternatives, like roasted acorns, malted barley, actual beans, cottonseed, potato peels, and the ever-present chicory root.
But there’s nothing like the real thing, baby. As Union troops realized when they had to start subsisting on what they could capture from Southerners, coffee was only available through Uncle Sam. As you go back through historical records, they more than made their feelings known — and businesses, government, and families soon responded.
“Coffee Call” by Winslow Homer.
1. Civil War diaries use the word “coffee” more than any other.
That’s right — more than words like “bullets,” “war,” “cannon,” “Lincoln,” and even “mother,” troops had one thing on their minds: black gold. In letters written back to their families, much of the discussion was focused on the quality of the coffee that day or the hope that they would have coffee the following. Even around the campfire, much of the talk centered around the quality of that day’s joe.
2. This rifle with a grinder in the butt stock.
In the 1860s, the Sharps Rifle Company created a carbine with a small grinder in its butt stock, which was immediately useless for most intended purposes. It was actually designed to grind grain for horses in cavalry units, but the very fact that people immediately thought of using it as a coffee grinder tells you just how important coffee was to the average troop. I bet Sharps Rifle Company wishes they had thought of marketing it that way.
When there’s no room for Jeb to fit, but Jeb sits anyway.
3. There was no water too putrid to make coffee.
As long as troops had the beans to brew it, coffee was going to happen. Not only were troops happy to use their canteen water to make coffee, they would also use free-running water, water from puddles, and even the sediment-filled water of the Mississippi River – also known as Mississippi Mud.
The best part of Civil War is Folgers in your cup.
4. The officers noticed the effects it had on the men.
Many Union officers ensured their men got at least a cup of the stuff in the morning before a battle, with many often having it ready for them after the battle, some demanding the men keep it in their canteens, and even going so far as to hire boys to run coffee to men in critical positions.
Then-Sgt. William McKinley was one such runner, who made it all the way to the White House riding that brave Civil War act during the Battle of Antietam. Hell, a monument was even erected for it.
Staff Sgt. Timothy Dawson was trying to get some rest before work the next day. The phone rang twice before he answered it. His neighbor, who lives just above his apartment complex on the hill, told him the fire was really close and they were evacuating.
That neighbor was 1st Lt. Mike Constable, a pilot with the 146th Airlift Wing, Channel Islands Air National Guard Station, California. Dawson said he could see Constable and his roommates packing things into their cars.
The Thomas Fire started on Dec. 4, 2017, in Santa Paula, near Thomas Aquinas College. Driven by Santa Ana winds gusting up to 70 mph, the flames screamed across the hillsides toward Ojai and Ventura. Numerous fires leapfrogged across Ventura and Los Angeles Counties the following day.
Chino Valley firefighters watch the oncoming flames of the Thomas Fire from the yard of a home in Montecito, California, Dec. 12, 2017. C-130Js of the 146th Airlift Wing at Channel Islands Air National Guard Base in Port Hueneme, carried the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System and dropped fire suppression chemicals onto the fire’s path to slow its advance in support of firefighters on the ground.
(Photo by J.M. Eddins JR.)
“I looked out my window, and could see the sky above the ridge by my home was glowing really orange and red already. My wife and I decided at that point to just grab what we could get and go somewhere safe,” Dawson said.
Dawson’s three-level, 52-unit apartment complex burned to the ground a few hours later.
Ironically, Dawson is a C-130J Hercules crew chief for the 146th AW, one of five wings in the Air Force equipped with the module airborne firefighting system, or MAFFS. This system is loaded onto C-130s and is designed to fight the very thing that took his home, wildfires.
The 146th AW was activated Dec. 5 to fight what became the largest California wildfire by size in the state’s recorded history, covering 281,893 acres. The Thomas Fire is now 100 percent contained.
“We got the word and everybody sprung into action. Our maintenance folk got the airplane ready for us, our aerial port guys went and got the MAFFS units pulled out and loadmasters got the airplanes ready. It was really a well-oiled machine on that day. We got things done really quickly,” said Senior Master Sgt. Phil Poulsen, a loadmaster with the 146th AW.
Most of the airmen stationed at Channel Islands ANGS are from Ventura County or the surrounding area. Approximately 50 people from the 146th AW evacuated their homes during the fire and five airmen lost their homes.
Residents of a 52-unit apartment complex search for belongings, Dec. 13, 2017, after the Thomas Fire roared through their neighborhood. Staff Sgt. Timothy Dawson, a C-130J Hercules aircraft maintenance technician with the 146th Airlift Wing, was also a resident of the apartment complex.
(Photo by Master SGT. Brian Ferguson)
“I can see the smoke from my house and we know people who live there,” Poulson said. “My daughter went to day care up there and I think I flew over that house. I think it’s gone. So it really hits close to home when you are this close to home.”
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or CAL FIRE, requested MAFFS aircraft and personnel support through the state’s governor and the Adjutant General of the state’s National Guard. Once activated, CAL FIRE incident commanders assigned to the Thomas Fire, and based at the Ventura Fairgrounds, generate the launch orders for the MAFFS. The aircraft sit ready at Tanker Base Operations, a few miles south of the fairgrounds at Channel Islands Air National Guard Station.
Once requested, the C-130s would join the fight at a designated altitude in the protected flight area, typically 1,500 feet above ground. An aerial supervisor, or air attack, would fly at about 2,000 feet, directing and controlling the aircraft. Lead planes, at 1,000 feet, guide the tankers to their drop points, approximately 150 feet above the ground.”
Once we enter the fire traffic area, we join on the lead plane. He’ll typically give us a show me [puff of smoke] which shows us where he’s intending us to drop,” said Lt. Col. Scott Pemberton, a C-130J pilot with the 146th AW. “We try to be very precise with that because you know it’s a high value asset and you get one shot at it.”
The mission requires the crews to fly the C-130s very close to the fires.
“You’re taking the fight directly to the ground,” Pemberton said. “We are 150 feet above the ground at 120 knots, at the edge of the airplane’s envelope. You’re demanding a lot of yourself and your fellow crewmembers. So that’s why you are typically very highly trained and are very prepared to do this mission.”
The MAFFS can hold 3,000 gallons of retardant, which is released from a nozzle placed in the left rear troop door of the aircraft. It takes approximately 15 minutes to load retardant into the MAFFS, another 15 minutes to reach the Thomas Fire, 10 more to join the lead plane and drop and then another 15 minutes to return to base. With 10 hours of daylight and two planes, the 146th AW drops an average of 60,000 gallons of retardant each day.
Lt. Col. Scott Pemberton, a C-130J pilot with the 146th Airlift Wing, has been with the 146th for 30 years and has lived in the Ventura/Santa Barbara, California community for about 48. He has been flying the modular airborne fire fighting system for approximately 20 years. The 146th was activated Dec.5, 2017, to support CAL FIRE with wildfire suppression efforts within the state.
(Photo by Master SGT. Brian Ferguson)
“Many times if you are close to a fire line and you’re doing direct attack you’ll see the guys standing down there,” Pemberton said. “On the second, third or fourth drop you’ll come by and you will see that you have gotten close enough to where they are a different color. But I’ve also seen the whites of their eyes where they’re diving behind their bulldozer because you’re that close, and they know that the retardant is coming.”
Still, the dangers of this mission are not lost on Pemberton.
On July 1, 2012, MAFFS 7, which belonged to the North Carolina Air National Guard’s 145th Airlift Wing based at the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, crashed while fighting the White Draw Fire in South Dakota’s Black Hills. Four of the six crewmembers aboard died.
“There was a thunderstorm approaching from the north and as they were waiting for the lead to coordinate and get his bearings… The thunderstorm moved closer and closer,” Pemberton said. “They made a first run and I think they got off half of their retardant.”
As they made their second run, they had a wind shear event and a microburst took away their lift and forced them to fly straight ahead into the terrain.
Senior Master Sgt. Phil Poulsen, 146th Airlift Wing loadmaster, checks the level of retardant in the module airborne firefighting system as redardant is loaded, Dec. 9, 2017. The 146th AW is one of five wings in the Air Force equipped with MAFFS. This system is loaded onto C-130s and is designed to fight wildfires.
(Photo by Master SGT. Brian Ferguson)
“As a result of that incident we completely changed our training. We incorporated a lot of the wind shear escape maneuvers, and we built new seats for the loadmasters in the back and made crashworthy seats for those crewmembers,” Pemberton said.
This training and the 146th AW’s capabilities benefit everyone involved in the wildfire fighting community, too.
The 146th AW plays a big role in extinguishing fires, said Tenner Renz a dozer swamper with the Kern County Fire Department, but it’s something he sees on almost every fire. Whether a 100-acre or a 250,000-acre fire, the guard shows up.
“Some of these guys are crazy. I mean dipping down into some of these canyons, flying through smoke, buzzing treetops,” Renz said. “They have a talent that most people don’t have.”
Having the MAFFS capability means the 146th AW can be federally activated to support firefighting operations around the United States by the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. An Air Force liaison group, led on a rotating basis by one of the five MAFFS unit commanders, staffs the center.
A C-130J Hercules from the 146th Airlift Wing, California Air National Guard, sprays fire retardant ahead of the leading edge of the Thomas Fire, Dec. 13, 2017. The 146th was activated to support CAL FIRE with wildfire suppression efforts within the state. The C-130s from Channel Islands Air National Guard Station are capable of spraying fire retardant from a modular airborne firefighting systems loaded in the cargo bay.
(Photo by Master SGT. Brian Ferguson)
This wide-ranging operational experience and capability gives CAL FIRE an extra capability when things are at their worst.
“We currently have low humidity, Santa Ana winds, we haven’t had rain in a number of days and we’re in areas that haven’t burned in 50-60 years,” said Dan Sendek, MAFFS liaison officer for CAL FIRE. “You can never have enough equipment for every eventuality. What the guard brings to us is that surge capacity when we’re in a situation where we need everything we can get.”
Six days after he lost his home, Dawson was back at work.
“The routine of going about the mission and getting things done is probably better,” Dawson said. “I needed to get back and get involved in the fire mission. The show must go on. The world doesn’t stop spinning and the guard doesn’t stop flying missions.”
For Dawson, it’s also a chance to combat the fire that took his home and save some of his neighbor’s property.
Tanner Renz, Kern County Fire Department, looks on as a C-130J Hercules from the 146th Airlift Wing, California Air National Guard, sprays fire retardant ahead of the leading edge of the Thomas Fire, Dec. 13, 2017. The 146th was activated to support CAL FIRE with wildfire suppression efforts within the state. The C-130s from Channel Islands Air National Guard Station are capable of spraying fire retardant from a modular airborne firefighting systems loaded in the cargo bay.
Photo by Master SGT. Brian Ferguson)
Dawson and his wife were able to return to their apartment a few days after the fire destroyed it, however, they were not able to search for personal items because the fire was still smoldering.
“Every single tenant in the 52 units was able to get out ahead of the fire. When we went back for the first time it was it was pretty emotionally taxing,” he said. “There were two stories worth of apartments that collapsed into a carport. There’s nothing left that we could really find.
“To me, then and even now, it still feels a little surreal. I know it’s happening to me, but it feels like it’s happening to someone else.”
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
The tiny mountainous country of Switzerland has been in a state of “perpetual neutrality” since the major European powers of the time declared it as such during the Congress of Vienna after the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815.
Why did they do this?
The French conquered Switzerland in 1798, establishing the Helvetic Republic in attempt to make Switzerland something of a strategically positioned French satellite state. Not long after, Austrian and Russian forces invaded the country in their war against France. The Swiss, rather than fighting alongside their French overlords, largely refused. This ultimately led to the Act of Mediation, giving the Swiss back much of their former independence. Twelve years later, they got the rest thanks to the aforementioned Congress of Vienna in which their neutrality in the wars of their neighbors was officially recognised.
Beyond the Swiss themselves having long tried to stay out of the conflicts of Europe (since the early 16th century after a devastating loss at the Battle of Marignano), part of the reason Switzerland was granted neutrality in perpetuity in 1815 is because the European powers of the time deemed that the country was ideally located to function as a “a valuable buffer zone between France and Austria.” Thus, granting their neutrality in wars, so long as they continued to stay out of them, would “contribute to stability in the region.”
Since that time, with a few minor exceptions, Switzerland has steadfastly refused to compromise its neutrality for any reason, though on the war-front they did suffer an exceptionally brief civil war in the mid-19th century resulting in only a handful of casualties. While minor in its scale, this civil war drastically changed the political landscape of the Swiss government, including the establishment of a constitution partially borrowing from the then less than a century old United States constitution.
Swiss officer barracks in the Umbrail Pass during World War I.
In any event, as for those aforementioned “minor exceptions”, Switzerland has occasionally taken part in some global peacekeeping missions and prior to 1860 Swiss troops did sometimes take part in various skirmishes, despite their neutrality.
In more modern times, Switzerland needed to defend its borders from both Allied and Axis (see: How Did the Axis and Allies Get Their Names) air incursions during WW2. For instance, they shot down nearly a dozen German planes in the spring of 1940 alone, as well as shot down some American bombers and forced down countless others on both sides. This included grounding and detaining the crews of over a hundred Allied bombers that tried to fly over the country. When Hitler tried to counter Swiss measures at keeping the Luftwaffe from their skies by sending a sabotage team to destroy Swiss airfields, the Swiss successfully captured the saboteurs before they could carry out any bombings.
You might think it a bit silly for the Swiss to risk war with both sides by shooting or forcing down foreign aircraft from their skies, but on several occasions Allied bombers accidentally attacked Swiss cities, mistaking them for German ones. For instance, on April 1, 1944, American bombers, thinking they were bombing Ludwigshafen am Rhein, bombed Schaffhausen, killing 40 Swiss citizens and destroying over fifty buildings. This was not an isolated incident.
So how exactly did Switzerland, surrounded on all sides by Axis (or Central in WW1) and Allied powers during the wars to end all wars, manage to keep enemy troops at bay without much in the way of any fighting?
Officially Switzerland maintains a policy of “Aggressive Neutrality” meaning that although it actively avoids taking part in conflicts, as evidenced by their air-force activities during WW2, it will defend its own interests with vigour. How vigorous? To ensure other countries respect its neutral stance, Switzerland has long put itself into a terrifyingly over prepared position to fight, and made sure every country around them was, and is, well aware of this fact.
As for specifics, to begin with, a common misconception about Switzerland is that because it doesn’t actively take part in global military conflicts, that it doesn’t have a strong or well prepared military. In reality the Swiss military is a highly trained and competent fighting force, and due to the country’s policy of compulsory conscription of males (today women may volunteer for any position in the military, but are not required to serve) is surprisingly large for a country of only around eight million people.
Swiss border patrol in the Alps during World War II.
In fact, approximately two-thirds of all males are ultimately deemed mentally and physically fit enough to serve in the Swiss military, meaning a huge percentage of their population is ultimately military trained. (Those who are not, and aren’t exempt because of a disability, are required to pay additional taxes until they are 30 to make up for not serving.)
As for what fighting force is actively maintained, the Swiss military today is only around 140,000 men strong and just this year it has been voted to reduce that to 100,000. This is a major downsize from just two decades ago when it was estimated the Swiss military had some 750,000 soldiers. For reference, this latter total is about half the size of the United States military today, despite Switzerland having only about eight million people vs. the United States’ three hundred million.
In addition to this, Switzerland has one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world and many Swiss people are highly competent in handling said firearms due to both compulsory military service and a strong culture of recreational shooting (half a million Swiss children are said to be part of a gun club of some kind).
This said, in recent years the rate of gun ownership has declined somewhat after a series of gun related incidents, such as one where a man shot his estranged wife with his old military issued rifle. Prior to the shooting, military conscripts would take their rifle home with them after their service ended and were expected to keep it ready for use in defending the country should the need arise.
After these incidents, the military curbed this and implemented a new policy stating that any conscript wishing to keep their gun after service must buy it and apply for a permit. As part of this new policy, the Swiss military also no longer provides ammunition with the guns, instead keeping it in secure locations that citizens must get to in the event of an emergency.
Speaking of emergencies, generally speaking, Switzerland is prepared for near any global catastrophe from nuclear fallout to a surprise invasion from an enemy force thanks to a defensive plan it has been implementing since 1880, but which was doubled-down upon during WW2 and later during the Cold War.
Dubbed the Swiss National Redoubt, in a nutshell Switzerland has taken advantage of it unique natural geography, which includes mountains that surround it on nearly all sides, to build countless bunkers, fortifications and warehouses across the country that can be accessed at a moment’s notice. The full scale of the fortifications is a closely guarded secret, but some of them are kept in plain view as part of a comprehensive campaign of deterrence.
Initially the National Redoubt consisted of tunnels bored into the many mountains of Switzerland in key strategic positions for retreating troops and citizens to take shelter in, but over the years these have evolved to encompass a host of ingenious defensive and offensive structures. Along with tunnels and bunkers (which are fully stocked and contain everything from bakeries and hospitals to dormitories), the mountains of Switzerland also hide countless tanks, aircraft, and hidden artillery guns (some of which are pointed directly at Switzerland’s own roads to destroy them in the event of invasion).
Oddly for a landlocked country, Switzerland does maintain an active navy of sorts, though they don’t store any boats in its mountains as far as we could find. The naval branch of the Swiss forces’ primary role is in patrolling the country’s lakes on the border and providing aid in search and rescue operations.
As for more specifically how they kept themselves out of the world wars, during WW1, the Swiss military, under freshly appointed General Ulrich Wille, mobilised well over 200,000 Swiss soldiers and deployed them across its major entry points to deter any outside forces from considering waging war on the country. After it became apparent that Switzerland’s neutrality would be recognised by all powers in the first Great War, the vast majority of the Swiss troops were sent home. (In fact, in the final year of the war, the Swiss military had shrunk its numbers to just 12,000.) Nothing further was required to keep the Swiss out of WW1.
WW2 was a different beast altogether with Switzerland not banking on Hitler respecting their long-held neutral stance in European conflicts. Thus, newly appointed Swiss General Henri Guisan was given the unenviable task of trying to figure out a way to defend the small country from their neighbors, Hitler and his allies, despite that said powers drastically outmatched the Swiss army in a variety of ways.
Towards this end, leading up to the war, the Swiss withdrew from the League of Nations to help ensure their neutrality, began to re-build their military (bringing the number up to 430,000 combat troops within three days of the start of the war), and strongly encouraged its citizens to keep at minimum two months’ worth of supplies on hand at any given time. On top of that, they also began secret negotiations with France to join forces against Germany, should Germany attack Switzerland (a risky move that was discovered by the Germans after France fell to them).
But even with all that, knowing the Swiss couldn’t win if Hitler really wanted to invade, Guisan and co. made the decision to drastically ramp up their WW1 era strategy of making invading Switzerland as unsavory an option as possible. Guisan noted that by utilizing Switzerland’s harsh terrain, a comparatively small amount of Swiss soldiers in a secure defensive position could fight off a massive fighting force if the need ever arose. So the plan was essentially to perpetually defend and retreat to some fortified position over and over again, ultimately conceding the less defensible populated areas of the country once the government and citizens had managed a retreat into secret fortified positions in the Alps. They’d then use the Alps as a base from which to both launch guerrilla attacks to make life miserable for any successful invasion force and to use highly defensible positions there to keep crucial supply lines from the invaders.
More controversially, Switzerland continued to trade with Nazi Germany during the war in order to further de-incentivise Hitler from invading. (There is some speculation that some of the Allies’ “accidental” attacks on Switzerland were really not accidents at all, given that some of the buildings that were blown up were factories supplying the Axis powers.)
The multi-pronged plan worked and, while Hitler did have a detailed plan in place to invade Switzerland eventually, the cost of doing so was always too high given the Axis power’s troubles both on the Eastern and Western fronts. Thus, Switzerland was largely ignored by both Allies and the Axis throughout WW2, despite its amazingly well placed location right next to Germany, Italy, France, and Austria.
Switzerland stepped up their level of defence during the Cold War, again mostly out of a desire to deter any potential invaders. This time, however, the focus was on “aggressively” defending Switzerland’s borders instead of defending them only long enough to cover a retreat into the well fortified mountains.
Towards this end, Switzerland’s roads, bridges and train lines were rigged with explosives that could be detonated at any time. In many cases, the engineers who designed the bridges were required to come up with the most efficient way, using explosives, to ensure the complete destruction of those same bridges. Once the destruction plan was developed, hidden explosives were installed at the appropriate locations in the bridges. On top of that, the military also lined hundreds of mountains flanking major roads with explosives to create artificial rockslides. All total, over three thousand points of demolition are publicly known to have been implemented throughout the small country.
Large-scale construction of hangers were conducted by the Swiss military in the 1950s.
With ground attacks covered, the Swiss looked to the skies. Unfortunately for them, attack by air is much harder to defend against for a country so small that enemy air forces could penetrate anywhere within its borders before an adequate defence could be mustered to defend its cities. To protect against this, the Swiss government constructed thousands of bomb shelters in homes, towns and cities to such a degree that it’s estimated that anywhere between 80 to 120 percent of the country’s population could hide in them for extended periods. Many of these shelters also included small hospitals and the necessary equipment to set up independent command centers. In fact, homes built after WW2 were often made with over 40 cm (16 in.) thick concrete ceilings to help them survive aerial bombings. If your home didn’t accommodate such a shelter, you had to pay a tax to support places that did.
It’s also rumoured that much of Switzerland’s gold supply as well as vast supplies of food stores have been similarly squirreled away somewhere in the Alps, which comprise just over half of the country’s total land area.
As a further example of how ridiculously well prepared the Swiss are for any and all threats, there are things like hidden hydroelectric dams built inside of unmarked mountains so that in the event of mass bombings, they’ll still have electricity from these secret facilities. And, remember, these are the things the Swiss government has let us know about. It is thought that there are probably more fortifications and hidden goodies scattered about the country’s landscape.
Since the end of the Cold War (see How Did the Cold War Start and End), similar to how the Swiss government has been slowly disarming its population and reducing its standing army, decommissioning some of these fortifications has begun in order to reduce government spending. The Swiss government is somewhat coy about the extent of this disarming, but it has been reported that many of the more extreme defenses, such as the explosives that used to be hidden inside the country’s bridges and along its road and railways, have been removed. As for the bunkers, unfortunately, simply abandoning many of these facilities is not an option, and it’s fairly expensive to decommission them.
As such, as the head of security policy for the federal Department of Defense, Christian Catrina, said “…in most cases we’d be glad if someone would take them off our hands for no price”.
In some cases, this has resulted in companies using the ridiculously well protected and secure mountain facilities as data repositories and server farms. In one such converted bunker, the servers inside are even completely protected from outside electromagnetic impulses that result from nuclear explosions.
In another, detailed instructions on how to build devices for reading all known data storage formats, even older formats like floppy disks, are kept, so that if that knowledge is otherwise lost, future generations can still decode our data storage devices to access the data within correctly. Essentially, the researchers involved in this particular project have attempted to create a “Rosetta Stone” of data formats and are using a ridiculously secure Swiss bunker as the storage point for that knowledge.
As a result of military downsizing, the fate of the rest of the fortifications is unclear and there are calls to decommission all of them, despite the estimated billion dollar price tag to do so. There is even a growing minority of the Swiss population who would like to see the entire military disbanded, including ceasing mandatory conscription.
But for now, at least, any country that wishes to ignore Switzerland’s long-held neutrality in military conflicts will find the tiny country an exceptionally difficult one to conquer and occupy. And presumably if war ever again threatens Swiss’ borders, regardless of how small they make their military today, they’ll likely keep themselves in a position to rapidly ramp back up their defences as they did for WW1 and WW2.
Shortly before WW2, Switzerland passed the Swiss Banking Act, which allowed bank accounts to be created anonymously, in no small part to allow German Jews to squirrel their liquid assets away into accounts that the Third Reich would have difficulty finding out about or getting access to.
The term “Swiss Army Knife” was coined by United States soldiers after WWII. The soldiers had trouble pronouncing the original name of “Schweizer Offiziersmesser” (Swiss Officer’s Knife) and thus began calling the multi-tool a “Swiss Army Knife”. The company that makes Swiss Army Knives is Victorinox, named after the founder, Karl Elsener’s, deceased mother, Victoria. The “nox” part comes from the fact that stainless steel is also known as “inox”, which is short for the French term “inoxydable”.
Karl Elsener himself was originally the owner of a surgical equipment company. He later took over production of the original Modell 1890 knives, which were previously made in Germany. He moved the production to Switzerland and greatly improved the design of the original multi-tool. His big breakthrough came when he figured out a way to put blades on both sides of the handle using the same spring to hold both sides in place. This allowed him to put twice as many features into the multi-tool as was previously possible.
There has been a “fact” floating around that Switzerland has the highest number of guns per citizen and the lowest rate of people killed by firearms per year, but this isn’t correct. Switzerland is actually 4th in number of guns per 100 people (at 45.7 guns per 100), though does maintain a relatively low number of deaths per year due to firearms at just 3.84 per 100,000, which is good enough for 19th place overall. However, it should also be noted that 3.15 of those deaths per 100,000 are suicide. Their homicide rate (.52 per 100,000) is good enough for 31st place, with the rest of deaths from firearms (.17 per 100,000) being either accidental or undetermined.
While the United States has by far the most guns per capita at 94.3 guns per 100 residents, it is only 12th in firearm related deaths per capita at 10.3 per 100,000 people. 6.3 of those 10.3 firearm related deaths are suicides. This equates to the U.S. being in 14th place on the number of firearm related homicides per 100,000 and overall 103rd as far as total murders per 100,000 at 4.8. For reference, that’s four times the murders per 100,000 than the United Kingdom, which sits in 169th place in murders per 100,000.
Number 1 by far in firearm related deaths per 100,000 is Honduras with 64.8 deaths per 100,000 from firearms. Surprisingly, Honduras only has 6.2 guns for every 100 people in the country. Honduras also has the highest rate of murders per 100,000 overall at 91.6.
On average, more people commit crimes in Switzerland who aren’t Swiss citizens than who are every year, which has very recently led to harsher deportation laws. In fact, of the top 25 nationalities to commit crimes in Switzerland, 21 of them commit more crimes than the Swiss while on Swiss soil, with the average of all those immigrants being 390% more crimes than are committed by Swiss citizens. Immigrants specifically from Austria, France, and Germany to Switzerland, however, commit an average of only 70% of the crimes the Swiss do on Swiss soil.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
If 2020’s stay-at-home order told us one thing, it’s how much we rely on entertainers to keep us sane. Music, movies and online entertainment have been our lifeline to the outside world. Many of the celebrities who have kept us amused have also spoken out about the importance of recognizing the achievements of Black Americans — and that includes veterans!
Over 160,000 Black people are currently in the United States military, serving a critical role in keeping our country safe, and they’ve been doing so for a long, long time. In fact, many of the Black celebrities you know and love are veterans! Keep reading to learn about 10 of the most famous Black veterans…you might be surprised!
Born in 1956, Montel Brian Anthony Williams is best known for his work as a TV host and motivational speaker. His show, The Montel Williams Show, ran for 17 years, but that’s not his only claim to fame. Williams served in both the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Navy. After enlisting in 1974, he attended a four-year officer training program, graduating with a degree in general engineering and a minor in international security affairs.
After completing Naval Cryptologic Officer training, he spent 18 months as a cryptologic officer in Guam. He later became supervising cryptologic officer at Fort Meade, eventually leaving the navy after achieving the rank of Lieutenant Commander.
He earned several awards including the Meritorious Service Medal, the Navy Commendation Medal and the Navy Achievement Medal.
Food Network personality Sunny Anderson grew up as an Army brat. Her family’s ongoing travels and her parents’ love of food gave her a chance to explore international cuisines, inspiring her future career. After graduating high school in 1993, she joined the United States Air Force, where she earned the rank of Senior Airman. She also worked as a military radio host in Seoul, South Korea, going on to work for the Air Force News Agency radio and television in San Antonio from 1993 to 1997.
Stanley Kirk Burrell, better known as MC Hammer, is one of the most well known American rappers of the late 80s. He rose to fame quickly both as a rapper, dancer and record producer, coming out with hits like “U Can’t Touch This” and “2 Legit 2 Quit.” In addition to creating the famous “Hammer pants” and his successful entertainment career, Burrell served in the Navy for three years as a Petty Officer Third Class Aviation Store Keeper until his honorable discharge.
Tracy Lauren Marrow, AKA Ice-T, is a multi-talented entertainer with a tumultuous background. He had more than one run-in with the law in his youth, but after his daughter was born he decided to join the Army. Marrow served a two year and two month tour in the 25th Infantry Division.
Military life wasn’t for him, however, and he used his status as a single father to leave the Army and begin his career as an underground rapper. Since then, he has made a name for himself as a musician, songwriter, actor, record producer and actor, starring as a detective on Law Order SVU and hosting a true-crime documentary on Oxygen.
Jamaican-American singer, songwriter, activist and actor, Harold George Bellanfanti Jr is no stranger to hard work. He enlisted in the Navy at the start of World War II while he was still finishing high school. After an honorable discharge two years later, he focused on his music career, bringing Caribbean-style music to the US. One of his first albums, “Calypso,” was the first million-selling LP by a single artist.
He was also a passionate supporter of the civil rights movement, going on to advocate for humanitarian causes throughout his life. Since 1987, he has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and currently acts as the American Civil Liberties Union celebrity ambassador for juvenile justice issues.
Ever heard of Orville Richard Burrell? Don’t worry, I hadn’t either, but you probably know his stage name: Shaggy. Burrell was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1968. He began taking voice lessons in the early 80s, filling the streets with music. His talent was apparent early on, but in 1988 he joined the Marine Corps, serving with the Field Artillery Battery in the 10th Marine Regiment during the Persian Gulf War. He achieved the rank of lance corporal, and continued to sing while he did it. He went on to earn seven Grammy nominations, winning twice for Best Reggae Album.
James, better known as Jimi, Hendrix, began playing guitar in his hometown of Seattle at just 15 years of age. After enlisting for a short time in the Army and training as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division, he continued his music career to become one of the most renowned guitarists of all time. His music career, much like his military career, was brief, but powerful. He earned a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which describes him as “the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music.”
Berry Gordy Jr
American record, film, and tv producer and songwriter Berry Gordy Jr didn’t get his start in the music industry. He dropped out of high school to become a professional boxer, which he excelled at until he was drafted by the U.S. Army in 1950. He was first assigned to the 58th Field Artillery Bn., 3rd Inf. Div. in the Korean War, later playing the organ and driving a jeep as a chaplain’s assistant. When his tour was over in 1953, his music career took off.
He founded the Motown record label, which was the highest-earning African American business for several decades. Several of his songs topped the charts, and he’s known for helping budding artists like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and the Supremes achieve greatness.
2016 Invictus Opening Ceremony
Actor and film narrator Morgan Freeman is yet another famous veteran. He earned a partial drama scholarship from Jackson State University, but he turned it down to enlist in the U.S. Air Force. There, he served as an Automatic Tracking Radar Repairman, rising to the rank of Airman 1st Class.
After being discharged four years later, he moved to Los Angeles and studied theatrical arts at the Pasadena Playhouse. Considering he has since won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild Award and many Oscar nominations, it looks like his hard work paid off!
James Earl Jones
Few voices are as iconic and recognizable as that of American actor James Earl Jones. Before launching his acting career, Jones served in the military, receiving his Ranger tab and helping to establish a cold-weather training command at the former Camp Hale. During his time in the military, he was promoted to first lieutenant. Following his discharge, he served his country in a different way, with over seven decades of theatrical excellence. In addition to winning numerous Tonys, two Emmys and a Grammy, he was presented with the National Medal of the Arts by President George H.W. Bush in 1992. Nearly two decades later, President Barack Obama invited him to perform Shakespeare at the White House. Wow!
These Black veterans aren’t the only ones we should care about.
The history of African American military personnel is as old as our country itself. Countless Black Americans have made their mark on U.S. Military history, and they continue to do so today. Click here to explore the firsthand experiences of Black vets, or learn more about how to support them here.
The Vice Chief of Naval Operations told the force there needs to be an intense and concentrated effort to speed up weapons and technology acquisition for the specific purpose of countering massive military gains by both Russia and China.
“We need to scale up in a wildly unpredictable environment, as we see the reemergence of true existential threats. We face a new era of great power competition,” Vice Adm. Bill Moran, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, told an audience at the annual Navy League Sea Air Space Symposium.
Moran emphasized that, although threats like Iran and North Korea are still quite relevant, major power competition – with rivals such as China and Russia – needs to take center stage as the Navy seeks to both expand in size and sustain a technological advantage.
“We need to act with a sense of urgency,” Moran stressed.
In the context of talking about urgency, Moran specified fleet growth and “agile” acquisition; he said the service was on a “good vector” to reach its goal of 355 ships.
He also made the point that the Navy must further accelerate rapid acquisition with quick integration of new technologies on existing platforms as well as fast-tracked innovation to stay in front of adversaries.
“We cannot afford to play cat and mouse games with contracting requirements,” Moran told the audience.
Among many things, these kinds of Pentagon efforts tend to involve terms we often hear in the weapons development world such as “open architecture,” “common standards,” and rapid integration of fast-evolving commercial sector innovations.
This, Moran said, includes keeping pace with applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI), networking systems and new offensive and defensive weapons, Moran said.
Networking and AI
The Navy has been trying to move quickly with AI in recent years; among other things, fast-evolving AI technology relies upon new methods of collecting, organizing and analyzing vast amounts of combat-relevant data. Algorithms are increasingly able to access vast databases of historical data and combat-relevant information to inform decisions in real time.
The Navy, for example, is using AI to expand and cyber-harden its growing ship-based ocean combat network, called Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services (CANES).
Nodes on CANES communicate using an automated digital networking system, or ADNS, which allows the system to flex, prioritize traffic and connect with satcom assets using multiband terminals, senior Navy developers have told Warrior Maven.
CANES is able to gather and securely transmit data from various domains and enclaves, including secret and unclassified networks.
CANES is being installed on carriers, amphibious assault ships, destroyers and submarines, and the service has completed at least 50 CANES systems and has more in production, Navy developers told Warrior.
Upgraded CANES, which relies upon hardened cyber and IT connectivity along with radio and other communications technologies, is being specifically configured to increase automation – and perform more and more analytical functions without needing human intervention, Navy developers say.
LCS & AI
Surface ships such as the Littoral Combat Ship, rely upon a host of interwoven technologies intended to share key data in real time – such as threat and targeting information, radar signal processing and fire control system.
CANES connectivity, and AI-informed analysis, can be fundamental to the operation of these systems, which often rely upon fast interpretation of sensor, targeting or ISR data to inform potentially lethal decisions.
The LCS, in particular, draws upon interconnected surface and anti-submarine “mission packages” engineered to use a host of ship systems in coordination with one another. These include ship-mounted guns and missiles along with helicopters, drones such as the Fire Scout and various sonar systems – the kinds of things potentially enhanced by AI analysis.
Chinese & Russian Threat
While Moran stopped well short of citing specific Russian and Chinese weapons systems, he did say that each of these potential adversaries are increasing in size and fielding new high-tech weapons at an alarming rate.
“We dominated technology after WWII. We dominated the maritime domain after fall of Berlin wall. We dominated innovation throughout the 20th century. We cannot cede space to authoritarian competitors. We have to be ready to win the peace again,” Moran said.
Also, it goes without saying that both Russia and China have 5th-gen stealth fighters, advanced ground weapons, nuclear weapons and anti-satellite weapons – all of which are potential threats to the US Navy. Alongside these efforts, both China and Russia are making rapid progress with expanding their respective naval forces and high-tech weapons.
Chinese Naval Threat
A 2014 U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission released an open-source expert assessment of Chinese military progress; the review contained a 70-page chapter on Chinese military modernization. (Although the report is from a few years ago, it offers one of the most comprehensive and available assessments, which is still of great news relevance.)
China has plans to grow its navy to 351 ships by 2020 as the Chinese continue to develop their military’s ability to strike global targets, according to the Congressional report.
Several reports in recent years have cited satellite photos showing that China is now building its own indigenous aircraft carriers. Ultimately, the Chinese plan to acquire four aircraft carriers, the reports say. China currently has one operational carrier, the Ukranian-built Liaoning.
The commission cites platforms and weapons systems the Chinese are developing, which change the strategic calculus regarding how U.S. carriers and surface ships might need to operate in the region.
These include the LUYANG III, a new class of Chinese destroyer. These ships are being engineered with vertically-launched, long-range anti-ship cruise missiles, the commission said. The new destroyer will carry an extended-range variant of the HHQ-9 surface-to-air missile, among other weapons, the report says.
The Chinese are also developing a new, carrier-based fighter aircraft called the J-15.
Regarding amphibious assault ships, the Chinese are planning to add several more YUZHAO LPDs, amphibs which can carry 800 troops, four helicopters and up to 20 armored vehicles, the report said.
The Chinese are also working on development of a new Type 055 cruiser equipped with land-attack missiles, lasers and rail-gun weapons, according to the review.
China’s surface fleet is also bolstered by production of at least 60 smaller, fast-moving HOBEI-glass guided missile patrol boats and ongoing deliveries of JIANGDAO light frigates armed with naval guns, torpedoes and anti-ship cruise missiles.
The commission also says Chinese modernization plans call for a sharp increase in attack submarines, and nuclear-armed submarines or SSBNs. Chinese SSBNs are now able to patrol with nuclear-armed JL-2 missiles able to strike targets more than 4,500 nautical miles.
The Chinese are currently working on a new, modernized SSBN platform as well as a long-range missile, the JL-3, the commission says.
On the overall Naval front, a report in recent years from Globalfirepower.com has assessed the Russian Navy as having 352 ships, including one aircraft carrier, 13 destroyers and 63 submarines. The Black Sea is a strategically significant area for Russia in terms of economic and geopolitical considerations as it helps ensure access to the Mediterranean.
Russia is also attracting international attention with its new Air-Indpendent Propulsion submarines; recent reports say the first one, is now complete. An article from Strategic Culture Foundation cites the submarine as Kronstadt, a fourth-generation diesel-electric attack submarine.
“AIP (battery power) is usually implemented as an auxiliary source, with the traditional diesel engine handling surface propulsion. Conventional submarines running on AIP are virtually silent. Unlike nuclear boats, they don’t have to pump coolant, generating detectable noise. It makes them highly effective in coastal operations and areas where enemy operates many anti-submarine warfare assets.” according to a report from the Strategic Culture Foundation
The AIP or anaerobic technology allows to operate without access to atmospheric oxygen, the report says.
In 1980, Walter Banks Beacham enlisted in the United States Navy. He was excited for the signing bonus of $4,000, a cool $12,000 when adjusted for inflation in 2018. In 1984, Mark Richard Gerardi joined the U.S. Army Reserve. In 1986, Cedrick L. Houston joined the Navy. The next year, Chris Villanueva joined the Army. Zachary Pitt joined the Navy in 1989. And, finally, in 1992, George Perez joined the Army.
The trouble was that these were all the same person.
Beacham assumed the identities of six different individuals he came across through his life in coastal California. The Oakland native even somehow managed to enlist as himself, social security number and all, twice. The Los Angeles Times reported that Beacham was able to do this because he looked like he could be any of a number of ethnicities and he was able to procure fake drivers’ licenses, social security cards, and other identifying paperwork to support his claims.
Keep in mind, this was during the height of the Cold War and military recruiters have quotas to make. They relied a lot on personal integrity to make sure they put good — and real — people into the U.S. military. And there was a time when young Walter Beacham really did want to serve his country, but he failed to adapt to military life when it counted, and the rest is history.
*Note: Beacham is not in any of the photos below. I used photos that give an idea of how much time passes.
1. Walter Banks Beacham
The first time he enlisted, Beacham was drawn in by the guaranteed signing bonus and he really wanted to defend his country. When the recruiter came to his home, he saw Beacham and a few of his friends sitting, smoking, and drinking. He was able to recruit them all.
But the Navy wasn’t really for him. After six weeks and a few AWOL incidents at boot camp near San Diego, he was done.
“I put away my uniform, I got my money, I took a cab out of the front gate and then a Greyhound to L.A.,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
What graduating from Army basic training looked like in 1980.
2. Walter Banks Beacham, Jr.
Maybe it wasn’t the military that was the problem — maybe he just wasn’t cut out for the Navy. Six months after leaving the Navy, he was on a bus, headed for Army basic training. This time, he simply threw a “Jr.” on the end of his name. When the Army asked if he’d ever served before, he said no, and that was that.
For about six months.
The Army eventually realized his Social Security Number matched that used during his previous, Navy life and he was promptly discharged from the U.S. Army.
What graduating from the Navy’s boot camp looked like in 1980.
3. Walter Banks Beacham
When he got back to his native Oakland, it was only three months before he decided to give the life of a sailor another chance. He dreamed of foreign lands and exotic ports and was ready to forego the sign-on bonus (if necessary). He again used his real name and was shipped back to San Diego. He made it through five weeks this time.
“I would have made it through but, five weeks into it, they found drugs in my urine and one of the company commanders was still there from the time before and he saw my name on a list,” Beacham said. “I went AWOL.”
A U.S. Army Korean DMZ patrol in 1984.
4. Mark Richard Gerardi
In 1984, he joined the Army again, this time using an alias of his high-school friend. Beacham borrowed his friend’s diploma and birth certificate and was off to Fort Dix, New Jersey, for basic training — which he completed.
He was sent back to California, attached to a unit in San Francisco, and eventually sent over to Korea for three weeks. It was all for naught when he got a girl pregnant and then left her. She threatened to turn him in to the Army. Beacham tried to play it cool, but eventually bolted. He never heard from them again.
“I guess they just cut you loose after awhile. I don’t know,” Beacham told the Los Angeles Times.
Navy boot camp graduates in San Diego, 1986.
5. Cedrick L. Houston
In 1986, Beacham used the name of someone he met in Hollywood who was trying to be a dancer. He told the aspiring dancer he would get him work if he could use his identification papers… to join the Navy.
He actually finished Navy basic training this time around and was sent to learn to be a submariner on the East Coast of the United States. Of course, it didn’t last. He used a racial slur during the course of his duties and the Navy ended up booting him out for it.
“I was selling doughnuts on the base there until classes started and I called this sailor a silly-ass cracker,” Beacham said. “And they put me out of the Navy for that.”
6. Chris Villanueva
Back in California in 1987 and using the name Walter Banks Beacham again, he went down to Glendale, outside of Los Angeles, to join the Army as a truck driver, which is where he got his new name, Chris Villanueva. The real Villanueva was an unemployed truck driver Beacham ran into in the Valley one day. The born-again Villanueva (Beacham) was sent to basic training at Fort Sill, Okla. and was sent to Germany right after.
He survived another boot camp only to come under suspicion for some cocaine found in soldier’s duffel bags while in Germany. He was afraid he would get arrested for it, so he went AWOL again and headed for home.
7. Zachary Pitt
Beacham doesn’t even remember the real Zachary Pitt, but the new Zachary Pitt made it through Navy training in San Diego in 1989 and was inducted into the Navy as a Mess Management Specialist — better known as “a cook.” When his ship was set to leave for Japan, Zachary Pitt just walked out and disappeared.
“I met him in the Bay Area. I don’t even remember if he was white or Mexican,” Beacham said of the real Zachary Pitt.
Army basic training graduates in 1992.
8. George Perez
In his last enlistment in 1992, he left before he even received his signing bonus. Now George Perez, Beacham completed Army basic training at Fort Bliss in Texas and was back at Fort Sill for AIT, where he became an artillery unit’s forward observer. This time, he just couldn’t do it.
“Something happened,” he recalled later. “I couldn’t stick around. Time was choking up on me. I was in trouble for staying out late, and I was afraid I’d be busted right then.”
Eventually, he was caught by civilian police officers and turned over to the U.S. military, who court-martialed him on multiple counts of wrongful enlistment, AWOL charges, and desertion. At age 34, he pled guilty to all of them. The old U.S. military would have executed this guy. Luckily for Beacham, there was no war on and he spent just under eight months in an Army prison and was released with a dishonorable discharge.