The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military - We Are The Mighty
Military Life

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Every branch of the service has that place their soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen, and Marines just dream of getting orders for.


That place could be anywhere that might appeal to an individual… maybe they love the cultural experience of being in Europe, or they enjoy the sun in Hawaii, or maybe they’re just away from their hometown.

These aren’t those places.

Army: Fort Polk, Louisiana

Ever hear of Leesville, Lousiana? No? Good for you. Living in a swamp is not something anyone grew up dreaming about. The nearest towns are at least an hour away, and the nearest fun is in New Orleans, a long drive away.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military
Someone take me back to Philly.

Sure, the PX is supposedly great thanks to a facelift, but it had better be: There’s nothing else to do. Fort Polk will supposedly ruin your car, ruin your marriage, and make you hate biting lizards.

Navy: NAS Lemoore

Hey, how does being cast out into one of the most polluted cities on the planet sound? Because NAS Lemoore is a great place to get asthma.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military
When Fresno is your biggest selling point…

To make matters worse, the Navy thinks it’s just an image problem. Yes, the place routinely referred to by the residents as an “armpit” does have an image problem.

Air Force: Cannon AFB, New Mexico

Most people who haven’t been to Clovis will argue that I spelled “Minot” wrong. I argue that any place referred to as “Afcannonstan” is probably far worse.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military
I once ran into a group of female airmen from Cannon deployed to Saudi Arabia. They seemed happy to be there.

Both places are pretty remote, and while Minot has a seemingly endless winter, the people of Clovis are annually subjected to a wave of giant insects. Also, the stink of cow dung doesn’t travel as far in the cold. Cannon’s airmen would tell you to be happy it’s so cold.

Marine Corps: Twentynine Palms, California

All of the duty stations on this list have one thing in common: They’re pretty far from real American life. Twentynine Palms is no different. These guys are smack-dab in the middle of the Mojave Desert.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military
The difference between the hottest and coldest temperatures ever recorded in Twentynine Palms is 108 degrees.

So, Marines can prep for sandstorms in the Middle East with sandstorms right here at home. And remember, when airmen complain about the smell of cow manure in the desert, Marines can complain about the lake of sewage.

Coast Guard: You tell me.

The Coast Guard talks about its districts like it’s in the world of The Hunger Games. Everyone seems to love district 13. In fact, as much flak as the Coast Guard gets for being the awkward child of the military, the Coast Guard doesn’t seem to have a “worst” station among them.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military
Also, the Coast Guard always looks like it’s on the way to Jurassic Park.

I’m told the station at Venice, Louisiana can be pretty bad and that the CG will let you choose your follow on orders for doing a tour there. But no one ever seems to talk Twentynine Palms-level smack about any station.

MIGHTY CULTURE

See the Air Force play Santa for thousands of islanders

For people living on remote islands across the Pacific, Christmas is the sound of C-130s roaring overhead as boxes of food, clothing, toys, and more parachuted from the holds drop down from the sky.

Here’s what it looked like this year.


The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

The patch of Operation Christmas Drop 2018 rests on the flight suit of a pilot from the 374th Airlift Wing as he and his crew delivers Coastal Humanitarian Air Drops to the island of Nama, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Dec. 10, 2018.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Matthew Gilmore)

Operation Christmas Drop, which began during the holiday season in 1952 as a spur-of-the-moment decision by a B-29 Superfortress crew, is the Department of Defense’s longest-running humanitarian airlift operation.

Source: Andersen Air Force Base

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

U.S. Air Force 1st. Lt. Emery Gumapas, a pilot assigned to the 36th Airlift Squadron at Yokota Air Base, Japan, looks out the flight deck window of a C-130J Super Hercules aircraft during Operation Christmas Drop 2018 en route to the island of Nama, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Dec. 10, 2018.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Matthew Gilmore)

Now in its 67th year, the OCD mission is supported by the US Air Force, Navy, and Coast Guard, as well as members of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force and Royal Australian Air Force. It serves over 50 remote islands in the Pacific.

Source: Indo-Pacific Command

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Three villages await Operation Christmas Drop on Fais Island, Federated States of Micronesia, Dec. 10, 2018. A C-130J Super Hercules from the 36th Airlift Squadron, Yokota Air Base, Japan, delivered more than 1000 pounds of agricultural equipment, food, clothing, educational and medical supplies to the inhabitants of Fais during Operation Christmas Drop 2018.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)

The first drop all those years ago began with a B-29 crew dropping supplies to waving locals on Kapingamarangi island. The program now helps tens of thousands of people living on 56 islands across an area of 1.8 million square nautical miles annually.

Source: Indo-Pacific Command

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

A C-130J Super Hercules with the 36th Airlift Squadron drops three Low-Cost Low-Altitude bundles filled with humanitarian aid supplies during Operation Christmas Drop, Dec. 10, 2018, on Fais Island, Federated States of Micronesia.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)

US military C-130J Super Hercules aircrews conduct low-cost, low-altitude drops, with parachuted packages touching down on land or at sea, the latter sometimes being necessary to avoid unintended damage to the environment or property.

Source: Andersen Air Force Base

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Two Low-Cost Low-Altitude bundles filled with humanitarian supplies float to the ground during Operation Christmas Drop, Dec. 10, 2018, on Fais Island, Federated States of Micronesia.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)

For OCD 2018, military and civilian organizers collected 62,000 pounds of food, clothing, and other supplies for around 30,000 islanders.

Source: US Navy

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Islanders carry a box of humanitarian supplies from the air-drop site to their village center during Operation Christmas Drop, Dec. 10, 2018, on Fais Island, Federated States of Micronesia.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)

“My father experienced this drop when he was a little kid back in ’77, I believe, and in that drop, he got his first pair of shoes,” airman Brandon Phillip recently said. “I get to give back to my dad’s island while serving my country. It just makes it all special.”

Source: Department of Defense

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Islanders carry a box of humanitarian supplies from the air-drop site to their village center during Operation Christmas Drop, Dec. 10, 2018, on Fais Island, Federated States of Micronesia.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)

Many military personnel and civilian volunteers work for months putting together packages for the annual OCD drops across the Pacific.

Source: US Navy

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Islanders carry a box of humanitarian supplies through their village during Operation Christmas Drop, Dec. 10, 2018, on Fais Island, Federated States of Micronesia.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)

The OCD supply drop came a little over a month after the Marianas were hammered by the 180 mph winds of Super Typhoon Yutu, the worst storm to hit any part of the US since 1935.

Source: The Washington Post

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Island children wait and watch while their village chiefs sort and divide humanitarian supplies for equal distribution during Operation Christmas Drop, Dec. 10, 2018, on Fais Island, Federated States of Micronesia.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)

The islanders use every part of the delivery, including the parachutes and parachute cords. They reportedly use the parachutes to make boat sails.

Source: Stars and Stripes

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Island children wait and watch while their village chiefs sort and divide humanitarian supplies for equal distribution during Operation Christmas Drop, Dec. 10, 2018, on Fais Island, Federated States of Micronesia.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)

“This is what Christmas is for,” Bruce Best, who has been part of the OCD mission for four decades, told Stars and Stripes. “When they hear the rumble of the plane engines, that’s Christmas.”

Source: Stars and Stripes

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Soldiers get down and dirty in this muddy ‘playground-of-the-day’

A seven-minute drive and there it was; a training site with water pits, steep hills and lots of mud. This was the playground-of-the-day for soldiers with the 445th Transportation Company from Waterloo, Iowa, during their wheeled vehicle recovery class at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, late July 2019.

The training was designed to submerge vehicles in a controlled setting so soldiers could use the skills they’ve learned to retrieve it safely, according to Sgt. 1st Class Thomas McKenzie, an instructor with the Regional Training Site Maintenance Company, from Fort McCoy. Soldiers train in the same scenarios they may face overseas to prepare for the elements, he added.


“I have the firm belief that if you have to call one of our recovery guys, something bad has happened,” said McKenzie, whose unit goes by the motto, “You call, we haul.”

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

U.S. Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Brett Cosaboom with the Regional Training Site Maintenance Company in Fort McCoy, Wis., prepares a truck during an equipment recovery exercise at Fort McCoy July 20, 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. Alicia Pennisi)

“We never go out when it’s a bright, sunny day and pretty outside,” said McKenzie. “We always go out in the worst possible conditions.”

The group huddled up for a weather briefing just as the clouds rolled in. Despite the inclement weather, they continued mission. Each soldier stood in their respective positions and waited for the next move. Torrential rains pounded down creating conditions of limited visibility, but the soldiers carried on without hesitation.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers with the 445th Transportation Company from Waterloo, Iowa, walk through deep water during an equipment recovery exercise at Fort McCoy, Wis., July 20, 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. Alicia Pennisi)

“We don’t stop during bad weather because this is the kind of stuff these soldiers are going to have to deal with, as long as we can do it safely. I tell my soldiers all the time, the number one goal for this class is 10 fingers, 10 toes, vertical and breathing when you leave it,” said McKenzie.

Each soldier took their turn walking into the mire pits to attach massive chains to the submerged vehicles for recovery.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers with the 445th Transportation Company from Waterloo, Iowa, perform reconnaissance before an equipment recovery exercise at Fort McCoy, Wis., July 20, 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. Alicia Pennisi)

According to Pfc. Kaleen Hansen, with the 445th Transportation Co., this type of training is an invaluable resource not only for the soldiers in the class, but also the Army Reserve as a whole. Wheeled vehicle mechanics do their job so that other soldiers can get on with theirs, she added.

Throughout the 17-day course, instructors practiced a crawl-walk-run style of learning to ensure soldiers are set up for success in the field, added McKenzie.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

U.S. Army Reserve Spc. Austin Smith with the 445th Transportation Company from Waterloo, Iowa, prepares a vehicle during an equipment recovery exercise at Fort McCoy, Wis., July 20, 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. Alicia Pennisi)

“People think it’s just hooking up a cable or chain and moving on. It’s not. There’s a lot of math. These guys are doing a lot of complex equations to figure out what they need to do,” said McKenzie.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

A U.S. Army Reserve Soldier with the 445th Transportation Company from Waterloo, Iowa, rinses out his uniform after getting soaked during an equipment recovery exercise at Fort McCoy, Wis., July 20, 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. Alicia Pennisi)

Safety and readiness are the two main concerns when conducting this type of training, according to Spc. Austin Smith, with the 445th Transportation Co. These vehicles weigh-in at 96,000 pounds, so all safety measures are taken seriously to avoid any accidents or injury, he added.

“You take care of us, we’ll take care of you … and we’ll get it done faster than heck,” said Smith.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

U.S. Army Reserve Pfc. Kaleen Hansen with the 445th Transportation Company from Waterloo, Iowa, prepares a vehicle during an equipment recovery exercise at Fort McCoy, Wis., July 20, 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. Alicia Pennisi)

Despite tornado warnings, rain and gusting winds, soldiers of the 445th Transportation Co. weathered the storm enough to safely recover all vehicles in a training environment. After a couple more days of practical exercises, the wheeled vehicle mechanic course at Fort McCoy wrapped up July 24, 2019, ensuring, rain or shine, they will be able to support when needed.

This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A beloved Soldier and the tokens he kept

The “Old Soldier” has a basement full of history.

At the age of 88, he has to walk gingerly down the steps. Coming around a bend in the stairway, he points to a “Moran St.” sign encased behind glass in a wooden box.

“They named a street at Fort Meade after me, too, right there,” he says, almost in passing.

No big deal. There’s more to show below.


The basement is like a private museum — time capsules dating back to the Korean War hung and displayed everywhere. Pictures, plaques, trophies, statues, banners, posters, flags, awards, books, newspaper clippings, most of which are about him: Raymond Moran, a man whose career is stacked with achievement.

As a recruiter, Moran enlisted so many men and women that the U.S. Army Recruiting Command named its Hall of Fame after him. In 2017, he received a Lifetime Service Award. Yet Moran is so low-key that the ceremony took place at a local barbecue joint. He keeps the newspaper articles in several binders, so many that they might fill a whole wall if they were framed.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) Raymond Moran, affectionately known as the “Old Soldier,” poses for a portrait on Fort Meade, Maryland, March 9, 2018.

(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))

Near the bar, there’s even an M1 rifle, returned from Korea decades after the war. It was a Veterans Day gift from his eldest son, Ray. The M1 is the same style rifle the ‘Old Soldier’ carried in combat when he was a young infantryman.

“I never put one nail on the wall,” said Raymond Moran as he offered the private tour.

In fact, every memory was hung by a professional: his wife, Barbara, who spent a decade working at the museum on Fort Meade. The couple has been married 65 years, celebrating their wedding anniversary at home on Valentine’s Day.

Like his marriage, Moran devoted 65 faithful years serving and loving the Army. He spent 30 years on active duty as an infantryman and recruiter, living all over the world: Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia and Germany. The other 35 years came as a civilian recruiter for the U.S. Army Reserve.

When the Gulf War broke out, Moran was 61 and had been retired for 21 years, but he convinced the Army to allow him back to duty in uniform.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran, affectionately known as the “Old Soldier,” flips through a book on the Korean War during a portrait session in his home in Odenton, Md., while sharing stories about his military commitment to the U.S. Army and the U.S. Army Reserve during 65 years of service both as an enlisted soldier and as a Department of the Army civilian.

(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))

“You’ve got to help me put my uniform together. I’ve never worn these,” he told his son, Ray, holding a camouflage-patterned uniform, known as “battle dress.”

“He was in the old, starched, OG-107 green Vietnam uniforms from that era,” recalls his son, Ray, who was an Army Reserve soldier himself at the time. “So he’d never worn battle dress until he got recalled for Desert Storm.”

“The age cutoff was 63, and he was just a few months shy,” said his son, Ray. “He volunteered again later at age 74 when Operation Iraqi Freedom kicked off. The Army sent him a very nice, ‘Thanks, but not this time,’ letter.”

Moran served stateside during Desert Storm as a casualty escort sergeant major, a job with a heavy toll. One of his most difficult tasks was taking wedding rings off the bodies of soldiers after a scud missile attack killed 13 from an Army Reserve unit in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Moran had recruited soldiers into that unit, located less than 10 miles from his hometown of Latrobe.

“That was a perfect example of him giving himself to the remembrance of those soldiers,” said his younger brother, Jim Moran. “He put on his uniform, went to Dover (Air Force Base) and did one of the most difficult jobs in trying to show mercy and gratitude for these young men and women that lost their lives, and accompanied those bodies back to their hometown. People remember things like that.”

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran, affectionately known as the “Old Soldier,” catches up friends during a welcome luncheon after a military ceremony hosted by the First Recruiting Brigade on Fort Meade, Md., March 9, 2018.

(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))

Yet, Moran recalls his years with only gratitude and joy. His 65 years of total service are equivalent to three military careers.

“I loved it. Enjoyed every minute of it. Never complained at all any time that I served in uniform. It was just an honor for me to serve. And I have all of this as a result of it,” he says, pointing to the walls.

“All this” is more than military trinkets displayed on some walls. These objects point to the memories of people whose lives he touched. His brother and son said all those plaques and pictures are a reflection of the people Moran has helped, either through his recruiting years or otherwise.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran, affectionately known as the “Old Soldier,” shakes the hand of a Soldier who recognizes him during a ceremony hosted by the First Recruiting Brigade on Fort Meade, Md., March 9, 2018.

(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))

“He’d always help other people. I remember so many people would call Dad for assignments,” said Ray. “And he’d call buddies, guys he had worked with … It was crazy because Dad never did that for himself. Even if he had a lousy duty assignment, he would never ask for a better one. But when it came to everybody else, he was always pressing for the best.”

In the Army, he eventually became the sergeant major of the First Recruiting Brigade on Fort Meade, responsible for hundreds of recruiters across multiple states. When he retired, he humbly (and eagerly) accepted a civilian position as a GS-7, basically working at the lowest level of the recruiting food chain. He reported to a staff sergeant, a rank that was three grades below his retired rank. And yet, he never acted like the work was beneath him. Instead, he loved it. He recruited for the Army Reserve and found plenty of active duty recruits to pass onto others, which helped everyone else meet the recruiting numbers they needed.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran, affectionately known as the “Old Soldier,” grabs his veteran cap from his son, Ray, as they head out the door to attend a ceremony on Fort Meade, Maryland, March 9, 2018.

(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))

“Recruiting is something close to my heart. I have a lot of pride in the Army Reserve, so encouraging them to join was an easy job for me,” he said.

“He genuinely is that kind of person. Positive. Upbeat. I hope to someday love anything as much as that man loves the Army and Barbi,” said Sgt. Maj. Luther Legg, former recruiting command sergeant major and long-time friend of Moran.

“If you have something in your life you aspire to, if you can feel that much affection toward anything, then you should consider yourself blessed,” he said.

He, Barbara and their three children, Ray, Rich and Robbi — all grown into parents and some into grandparents by now — have lived in so many places during Moran’s time on active duty, but one town in particular is still a point of pride for the Old Soldier: Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran, affectionately known as the “Old Soldier,” holds an honorary Korean War Memorial medal that he keeps on display in his home in Odenton, Maryland, Feb. 22, 2018.

(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))

If anyone mentions Latrobe, he is quick to mention Arnold Palmer, the famed golfer whose smiling picture is in his basement — autographed and all. Palmer and Moran were high school friends, along with Fred Rogers, who was one year ahead of them.

“He never had any tattoos underneath his sweater,” Moran reminds others of Mister Rogers, dispelling the silly rumor, which had made its way around some internet circles.

As the basement tour continues, Moran jumps from one life event to another. Historical references spanning decades press against each other. Within minutes of mentioning high school (which he attended while the world was engaged in its second war), he jumps three-quarters of a century in time to another picture.

“Happy Veteran’s Day, Pap-Pap,” he reads from one inscribed portrait of a baby named Penelope, his great-granddaughter. “Kinda cute,” he says with a chuckle.

Then, another family picture. This time, a young soldier: Christopher, his grandson, served in Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2007-2008. Moran had recruited him into the Army.

“And of course he got pinned with a (Combat Infantry Badge), and he was so proud because the first thing he wanted to show me was his CIB,” said Moran.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

An oversized Combat Infantry Badge hangs on the wall beneath a genuine M1 rifle in the basement of retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran.

(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))

He mentions his grandson’s CIB, because he, too, earned one in Korea.

In fact, there it is, hanging on the wall beneath the M1: An oversized replica of the award — a ribbon given specifically to infantrymen who engage in combat.

“That was pinned on me by my battalion commander in the Korean War … We were in mud up to our ankles in combat boots, and he told everyone, ‘Unbutton your top button on your field jacket. And then he came and pinned our CIB on … That day, it must have been at least 100 (of us). We were all lined up from one end to the other in a parade field. That was the only time we ever got together,” said Moran.

When the Korean War first broke out, Moran was a corporal serving in Japan on peacekeeping occupation duty. Then, the war brought him to the Korean peninsula. When he returned home to his parents in Latrobe, he was a 21-year-old master sergeant. He’d been promoted from E-4 to E-8 in one year.

“He got a lot of field promotions,” said his brother, Jim. “Which tells you that he saw a lot of action.”

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

A U.S. Army recruiting poster leans against the wall in the basement of Retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran’s home in Odenton, Md., Feb. 22, 2018.

(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))

Jim is 84 now. He was too young to serve in Korea, but their middle brother, Sam fought at the same time as Ray. The two brothers ran into each other several times during the war, even though they were assigned to different units. Ray was with the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division. Sam was assigned to the 2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion in support of a British regiment known as the “Glorious Glosters.” During one encounter, they wrote a joint letter home to their parents. They missed two Christmases, which the Moran family refused to celebrate without them. Somehow, they returned home from across the world within a few hours of each other.

It’s hard to imagine Raymond Moran as a combat-fierce infantryman. Not because of his age, but because of his gentleness.

He’s an encourager, often saying to friends and family, “Good job. I’m real proud of you,” over the littlest things.

“Good job, Barbara, you remembered your medicine. You do such a great job,” he says for example.

“That was real nice of you. You take such good care of me,” he tells his sons and daughter repeatedly as they take turns visiting him on weekends.

Or, “Oh you’re right on time. I’m real proud of you,” he tells a visitor on their way out the door together.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Various portraits — including that of famed golfer Arnold Palmer — hang on the basement wall of retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran’s home in Odenton, Maryland, Feb. 22, 2018.

(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))

When he says those things, his voice is not that of a dog owner training a puppy. It’s filled with genuine kindness. It’s more like the voice of his high school mate Mister Rogers making a neighbor feel welcome in his home.

When visitors leave his home, Moran stands on the front door waving a little American flag and salutes them goodbye.

“He’s always positive. He’s always upbeat … At first you think, ‘He’s a recruiter and he’s been a recruiter for years and years and years, so he’s taught to be that way because he wants to be positive around people when talking to them about joining the Army.’ But then you realize that he’s just like that. There’s no one left for him to convince to join the Army,” said Legg.

“I remember one sergeant major one time saying to me, ‘I’ve never heard your dad say a bad word about anybody,'” recalled his son, Ray. “There was one guy who was just like the worst person in the world. Somebody said something like, ‘I hate that son of a bitch.’ And Dad wouldn’t, just wouldn’t cross that line,” he said.

Ray remembers how his dad would give fatherly care and advice to all his soldiers.

“Dad kind of adopted (them) like a second son, or third son, or tenth son, at this point. He’s got so many,” he said.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Wedding anniversary and Valentine’s Day cards sent by friends and family are on display in the home of Raymond and Barbara Moran in Odenton, Maryland, Feb. 22, 2018.

(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))

He was a father and mentor to all who came in contact with him, and beyond.

“If you track (soldiers’) mentors back, somehow they all find their way back to Sergeant Major Moran. He may not have been your mentor, but there’s a good chance that he was your mentor’s mentor … I used to kid, he’s like the (game) ‘Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon.’ Eventually you find your way back to Sergeant Major Moran,” said Legg.

Moran earned his nickname in Vietnam because he called a lot troops “Ol’ Soldier” when he couldn’t remember their names. Eventually, the nickname stuck back on him, especially because he was older than most around him. Yet, long before Vietnam, Raymond was known as “Smiley Moran” because of his constant smile and infectious positive attitude.

“Dad used to tell a story when I was a kid that they were digging ditches or something in Korea, and Dad was whistling,” his son said. “The captain came over and said, ‘You’re Morale-Builder Moran.’ And everybody called him Smiley Moran after that.”

What made his cheerfulness unusual was that the Korean War was no place for smiling. The winters were so brutal that some soldiers recall their gravy freezing on their plates by the time they walked back to their foxholes from the chow line. Bodies of American soldiers — frozen stiff — were stacked by the truckload after China sent 200,000 troops to fight alongside the North Koreans against the Americans. The History Channel produced a documentary on the war, titled, “Our Time in Hell.” It features Moran, among several other soldiers who fought there. The images and video clips shown in that documentary don’t evoke any desire to smile, yet “Smiley Moran” managed to earn that nickname.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran, affectionately known as the “Old Soldier,” leans in to kiss his wife, Barbara, of 65 years marriage at their home in Odenton, Md., Feb. 11, 2018.

(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))

“I would (imagine) Ray was a smart fighter,” his brother, Jim, said. “He’s not one to have (made) many mistakes as a fighter. He was the one always looking to take advantage of the situation. To change the situation. To make it better for them … He was a thinking-man’s fighter.”

The Old Soldier himself talks very little of whatever combat he saw or hardships he experienced.

He’s proud of his service in Korea, summarized simply, “It was infantry. It was mud. It was hardship. Good buddies … The guys had each other’s backs. Got to know each other so well.”

He typically resorts to the same few anecdotes: seeing his brother in Korea on several chance encounters and coming home to hug his father. Yet not every story is offered as easily as his smile, nor found framed inside a picture. Some stories surface over the years in the most unexpected ways.

Like the time his son, Ray, accompanied him to receive an award in Texas in 2002 and a young sergeant major came up to him and said, “Hey! You’re Smiley Moran, aren’t you? … My dad says you saved his life.”

That was a story he’d never told his son before, and even when asked about it now, he treats it as if it was no big thing.

“I just patched him up. Did the best I could, the way they teach you in the Army,” he said, and that was it. He wouldn’t linger there any longer or brag about saving someone else’s life.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

A sign reading “Raymond loves Barbara” hangs on their front door as Barbara Moran heads out for a hair appointment before celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary married to retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran.

(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))

Another story that surfaced unexpectedly was after Vietnam, when he went for a haircut with Barbara. The barber nicked Raymond’s neck, but instead of a little trickle of blood, it shot off in gushes. Barbara was scared. She thought maybe the barber’s scissors had fallen out of his pocket and stabbed her husband in the neck.

They managed to stop the bleeding, and Raymond was fine, but the whole incident upset his wife.

“We’re not going back to that barber shop anymore,” Barbara told her husband.

But in his typical gentleman fashion, Raymond Moran took the blame away from the barber.

“No, no. Not his fault,” he said. “I didn’t tell him to be careful. I had a wound on my neck.”

The wound was from a helicopter crash in Vietnam. This was a shock to his wife because he had never mentioned it before. After all, Moran was a 41-year-old retention sergeant major in Vietnam, not the fighting infantryman he once was in Korea.

The crash happened in the spring of 1970. He recalls how a medic had to administer an injection to his scalp because of the profuse bleeding from his neck. The medic was freaked. He’d never given a shot in the scalp before.

“Do it anyway. You have to do it,” someone told him.

He injected Moran, stopped the bleeding, and they evacuated him.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Though retired, Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran, affectionately known as the “Old Soldier,” still has a recruiting office at Fort Meade, Maryland, filled with Army memorabilia.

(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))

After the incident, Moran wanted to keep a memento to remember the man who helped save his life. So he gave him a “Mickey Mouse” bill — it was fake money used by soldiers during the war. Moran asked the medic to write his name so he could keep it to remember him. He also told him to write “New Hampshire” on the bill because that’s where the medic said he lived back home.

“I went to New Hampshire (later on) to look him up, and I could never find him, and I felt bad. But I still think of him, often, up in New Hampshire. He helped me,” Moran recalled now, years later.

Unfortunately that paper bill is gone, lost somewhere in a box or maybe slipped between the pages of a book. Moran had tried several times looking for that bill, but couldn’t retrieve it.

That’s how it happens. That’s how Moran has managed to collect so many mementos. But it’s usually Moran doing the helping, and the recipient sending him a token of appreciation in return. Barbara said there are even more boxes of items in a backroom of the basement they couldn’t fit on the walls. A few miles from their home, Moran still has an office at an Army Reserve center. He doesn’t go there often, but like his basement the walls of that office are plastered with reminders: autographed portraits of sergeants major and generals, coffee mugs from all corners of the Army, a rack full of challenge coins, pictures, banners, trophies, even the Korean flag draping from one corner of the room. And stacks of business cards.

That’s the one thing everyone else keeps as an Old Soldier memento: his business card. Even though he’s long retired, he keeps some at home and hands them to anyone who visits. Sometimes he will hand out a second or third business card.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran, affectionately known as the “Old Soldier,” smiles at his wife before she goes for a nap at home in Odenton, Md., Jan. 18, 2018.

(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))

“No, this one is different, take it,” he’ll say. And sure enough, this time the business card has a different picture on the back. It’s a wedding photo of him and Barbara, dated 1953.

Nowadays, he doesn’t give out as many as he used to. At 88, he spends most of his days at home with Barbara, whom he calls his “wonderful Army wife.” But on the rare occasions he makes his way to Fort Meade, he’s like a local celebrity. soldiers at the gate recognize him and many stop him to take a picture together.

At home, a nurse visits daily to take care of Barbara and checks both of their temperatures and blood pressure in the morning while eating breakfast.

After she reads his vitals, Moran asked, “Is that good?”

“That’s very good. You’re strong and healthy.”

“Good,” he responded. “I guess I’ll re-enlist then.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @USArmye on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Royal Navy scares away Iranian gunboats in the Persian Gulf

Five Iranian gunboats failed in an attempt to seize a British oil tanker in the Persian Gulf on July 10, 2019, according to US officials cited in a CNN report.

Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) forces ordered a British oil tanker to alter its route in the Strait of Hormuz and tried to force it near Iranian-controlled waters, according to CNN. But the HMS Montrose, a UK Royal Navy frigate, was escorting the oil tanker and pointed its weapons on the IRGC vessels.

The HMS Montrose verbally warned the Iranian forces, who then backed off, CNN reported. US aircraft observed and recorded the incident, CNN said.

The incident follows increased tensions between Iran and the UK. On July 10, 2019, Iran threatened to seize UK tankers, which have recently been escorted by the HMS Montrose and a minehunter traveling through the Strait of Hormuz.


Iran’s threats came after British Royal Marines seized an Iranian tanker suspected of violating the European Union’s sanctions by shipping about 2 million barrels of crude oil to Syria.

“You [Britain] are the initiator of insecurity and you will realise the consequences later,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said to a state-sponsored news agency on July 10, 2019.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

“Now you are so hopeless that, when one of your tankers wants to move in the region, you have to bring your frigates because you are scared,” Rouhani added. “Then why do you commit such acts? You should instead allow navigation to be safe.”

The US Defense Department said it “was aware” of the reports and referred the matter to the Royal Navy. The Royal Navy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“We are aware of the reports of [the IRGC’s] harassment and attempts to interfere with the passage of the UK-flagged merchant vessel British Heritage today near the Strait of Hormuz,” Navy Capt. Bill Urban said to INSIDER.

“Threats to international freedom of navigation require an international solution,” Urban added. “The world economy depends on the free flow of commerce, and it is incumbent on all nations to protect and preserve this lynchpin of global prosperity.”

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

Warriors in their Own Words: The ‘Tunnel Rats’ of Vietnam

If fighting the well-defended Viet Cong on their home turf wasn’t dangerous enough, imagine having to crawl your way through a series of extremely tight and narrow underground tunnels to capture or kill them.

Such a terrifying prospect was reality for the brave “tunnel rats” of Vietnam, soldiers tasked with entering and clearing the makeshift tunnels dug by the VC in Vietnam. CW Bowman, Gerry Schooler and Art Tejeda spent days maneuvering through the tunnel complexes, clearing and destroying lethal booby-traps. Hear their stories:


In 1946, Viet Minh (a predecessor to Viet Cong) resistance fighters began digging the tunnels and bunkers throughout the countryside to combat the French, whom they would eventually defeat. By the time the Vietnam War broke out, the Viet Cong had over 100 miles of tunnels from which to spring deadly ambushes on American and South Vietnamese forces before vanishing. The numerous ‘spider holes,’ as the tunnel entrances were sometimes called, were conveniently located and well camouflaged — nearly impossible to detect.

Armed with only a flashlight, a single pistol, or maybe just a knife, a “tunnel rat” didn’t have much in the way of defense as they crawled in to clear these tunnels.

Here’s what you didn’t know about these courageous troops:

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Sgt. Ronald H. Payne, a “tunnel rat”, bravely searches a tunnel’s entrance during Vietnam War

1. The shorter the better

Many of the “tunnel rats” from Austraila, New Zealand, South Vietnam, and America volunteered for the dangerous position.

However, the brave troops that were picked for the job were commonly the shortest grunts in the platoon — for obvious reasons.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

2. Most “tunnel rat” dogs didn’t work out

It’s well-known that dogs are great at detecting IEDs in modern warfare, but they weren’t too good at sniffing out the many booby traps placed by the North Vietnamese around tunnel entrances.

3. Their rate of fire

If a soldier took enemy contact, their training taught them to adjust their rate of fire. Instead of firing multiple shots, the troop would commonly fire single shots, making use of echoes to confuse the enemy. After deafening shots rang out and reverberated off of tunnel walls, the enemy would left puzzled as to how many rounds they had left.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

4. To wear a gas mask or not to wear a gas mask…

When entering a tunnel, many troops decided against wearing gas masks as they obstructed breathing and vision. Although crawling into a wall of gas was a possibility, many “tunnel rats” chose to take their chances.

Check out Simple History‘s video below to learn more about the dangerous job these brave tunnel rats had.

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is what the next Air Force fighter will look like

The US Air Force Research Laboratory recently released a video showing what a sixth-generation fighter jet might be like.


The Air Force released the video to plug its Science and Technology 2030 initiative, which Heather Wilson, the secretary of the Air Force, launched in September 2017.

The video shows a conceptual sixth-generation fighter jet, known as the F-X, firing what appears to be a high-energy laser that cuts another fighter in half.

Also read: 5 real ways the Air Force is different from other branches

Since at least 2015, the Air Force has been talking about mounting lasers on planes and jets, such as AC-130s and F-15s and F-16s. Lockheed Martin was recently awarded a $26.3 million contract to develop lasers for fighter jets.

It’s unclear what capabilities a sixth-generation fighter would have, but some have speculated it could have longer range, larger payloads, and an ability to switch between a manned and an unmanned aircraft. It might also be able to travel at hypersonic speeds, carry hypersonic weapons, and more.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military
The conceptual F-X laser weapon. (US Air Force)

Defense News reports that the Air Force hasn’t selected a developer for the F-X, also known as Next-Generation Air Dominance or Penetrating Counter Air, but hopes to put it into service around 2030.

The AFRL says it will “listen and learn from the scientific community, higher education and business professionals through a series of conversations and outreach events” at universities across the US this spring and summer.

Related: Air Force says F-35A ready and waiting to be unleashed on ISIS

“In order to defend America, we need your help to innovate smarter and faster,” the AFRL’s website says. “Our warfighters depend on us to keep the fight unfair and we will deliver.”

In addition to the F-X, the AFRL video features the Air Force’s Loyal Wingman initiative, in which a manned fighter jet commands and controls a swarm of attack and surveillance drones.

It also showcases the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Gremlins program and the Air Force’s Counter-electronics High Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project, known as Champ, a conceptual missile designed to cause electronic blackouts.

Watch the video:

 

 
MIGHTY TACTICAL

Russia announces a new plane that might already be obsolete

The CEO of the Russian MiG corporation said on Aug. 17, 2018, that work on an experimental design for a MiG-41 fifth-generation interceptor will begin “in the immediate future.”

“No, this is not a mythical project, this is a long-standing project for the MiG and now we are carrying out intensive work under the aegis of the [the United Aircraft Corporation] and will present it to the public soon,” Ilya Tarasenko said, according to TASS, a Russian state-owned media outlet.


The MiG-41, or Prospective Aviation Complex of Long-Range Interception, would be the successor to the speedy fourth-generation MiG-31 interceptor, which was known to have chased away SR-71 Blackbirds.

Tarasenko, who previously claimed that the MiG-41 would be able to “operate in space,” a highly unlikely prospect, also said that the MiG-41s are expected to start being delivered to the Russia military in the mid-2020s.

But Vasily Kashin, a Russian defense analyst at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, told The National Interest in 2017 that he thought the MiG-41 wouldn’t fly until the mid-2020s, and wouldn’t be delivered to the Russian Air Force until 2035-2040.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

An SR-71B “Blackbird” over the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California in 1994.

“I don’t hold out much hope for an even less proven design concept to make it into series production anytime soon,” Justin Bronk, a combat-aviation expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider in an email.

“The Mig-31BM is already a highly capable interceptor platform and there are plans for a second modernisation upgrade of what is a relatively new aircraft for a very specific Russian territorial defence requirement,” Bronk said.

And given that the T-14 Armata tank and Su-57 stealth fighter “have had series production cancelled recently,” Bronk said, “my take is, ‘I’ll believe it when I see it,’ and will remain extremely skeptical until that point.”

But “never say never I suppose,” Bronk added.

Richard L. Aboulafia, Vice President of Analysis at Teal Group, told Business Insider that Tarasenko’s announcement “keeps the idea alive, and you never know, even a chance in a 100 is better than no chance at all.”

“It also, of course, doesn’t hurt in sales campaigns for current generation planes, like the [MiG-29SM],” Aboulafia said. “In other words, people don’t like buying fighter planes from a company with no future.”

Aboulafia also said that the idea of creating a pure next-generation interceptor is like “living in the past” since surface-to-air missiles “are generally a better way of intercepting things.”

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Why you don’t want to see a howitzer barrel lowered all the way

At one point, as the soldiers above were showing me around the massive M777 howitzer, they lowered it all the way down so that it was parallel to the ground.


Given that the howitzer is meant for support, I was asked why and in what situation they would need to lower it that far down.

Also read: New Army Howitzer models designed to outgun Russian weapons

Sgt. Shaw, who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, told me the only time it’s lowered all the way is when the enemy is close — not a good position to be in, given that the cannon is meant for support.

Shaw said his crew once took contact when he was in Afghanistan, but he understandably didn’t want to go into detail.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military
(Photo by US Army Cpt. Angela Chipman)

“If you’re receiving contact on this howitzer, that means all your front lines are not there anymore, or they’ve been able to flank the infantry,” he said.

Operated by a crew of eight to 10, the Triple 7 howitzer fires 155mm precision and non-precision munitions.

Related: These Marines fought so fiercely, they burned out two Howitzers

The non-precision guided munitions have a maximum range of 18.6 miles, while the Excalibur precision-guided rounds have a maximum range of 25 miles and are accurate to within 30 feet.

The howitzer can also fire up to five rounds per minute, or two rounds per minute sustained.

During one deployment to Afghanistan, Shaw said his crew fired the howitzer while lowered at the enemy eight to 10 miles away.

So, even when completely lowered, the Triple 7 still has range.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Germany’s newest warships are total duds

The Littoral Combat Ship has been nothing short of problematic for the US Navy. Engineering and mechanical issues have repeatedly sidelined a number of active LCS warships, sometimes in foreign ports for months at a time. Oddly enough, as much as the LCS has been a pain in the figurative neck, it’s far from the worst frigate-type vessel afloat in today’s modern navies.

In fact, that dubious distinction goes to the yet-to-be-accepted F125 series of “super frigates” commissioned by the German Navy.


Though the first of the F125 ships, the Baden-Württemberg, has already been built and has sailed under its own power, it was returned to its builder by the German government — which isn’t a very good sign.

The German military originally sought a replacement for its Bremen-class frigates in the early 2000s. While the Bremen boats were still fairly young at the time, they were rapidly walking down the path toward obsolescence. With operational costs steadily climbing at a time when the German military planned to make deeps cut in spending, a plan formed in the minds of the country’s highest-ranking civilian and uniformed defense officials.

Instead of ordering frigates that could fulfill just one or two types of missions, they would order and commission the largest frigates in the world to serve as multi-mission platforms. They would, hypothetically, be able to operate away from their German home ports for up to 24 months at a time, function using a smaller crew, and serve on humanitarian and peacekeeping operations around the world as needed.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military
The Baden-Wu00fcrttemberg, lead ship of the F125 class.
(Ein Dahmer)

Additionally, similar to the LCS frigates, these new surface combatants would be able to field modules for various missions, quickly swapped out in port as varying objectives demanded. Special operations forces could also use the new ships as floating staging areas, with the ability to carry four smaller boats and two medium-lift NH90 helicopters.

In 2007, the first contracts for the new frigates — dubbed the F125 class — were inked, outlining an order for a batch of four ships with the potential for more in the future. The deal tallied up to nearly $3 billion USD with an expected delivery date of 2015-2016.

During the construction program, problems began to manifest, and with them came delays and cost overruns. By the time of the lead ship’s christening in 2013, German officials anticipated a commissioning date in 2016 or 2017 at the latest. However, by 2017, the situation had worsened when scores of defects were discovered during testing and evaluation.

For starters, the new ships are drastically overweight.

The F125 class is far closer in size and constitution to a destroyer than a frigate. Coming in at around 7200 tons, the weight of the vessel (which includes its mission systems, propulsion, machinery, etc.) makes for a major speed disadvantage. The Baden-Württemberg can’t go faster than 26 knots (30 miles per hour) while underway. By comparison, Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, which are just 15 feet longer than the F125s and are in a similar weight class, has been known to achieve speeds in excess of 30 knots (+35 miles per hour) with its engines are cranked up.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military
The Baden-Wurttemberg, the lead ship of the F125 class.
(Ein Dahmer)

Not only does this have an impact on the F125’s performance, it also makes the ship considerably more expensive to operate in the long term.

Hardware and software woes are among the most damning issues plaguing the F125s. Defective mission-critical systems means that the ship is unreliable when at sea and probably completely unusable in combat situations. At this point, the F125s are more like extremely expensive military yachts than they are warships.

To top it off, the Baden-Württemberg has a consistent list to starboard, meaning that the ship is on a permanent lean to the right side.

In late December, 2017, the German military refused to accept the Baden-Württemberg for active service, citing the above flaws and defects. This is the very first time in German history where a warship was actually returned to its builder because it didn’t meet minimum operating standards and requirements.

There is no timeline on when the German Navy will finally accept the F125s into its surface fleet. That won’t happen until all four ships have been refitted and repaired to the satisfaction of German defense officials. Before that, millions of dollars will have to be reinvested into the already highly-expensive program.

And you thought the LCS was bad…

MIGHTY SPORTS

14 NFL players who lost their lives in combat over the years

Once, when the United States went to war, that war was felt by everyone in the country. The wars’ effects seeped into every facet of American life. The primary reason for this was the draft. Selective service meant that anyone in America could be called up to serve and fight a war at any given time. This included movie stars, politicians, and even star athletes — some of whom never made it home.


Sports fans know the stories of baseball players Moe Berg (who served as an OSS agent during WWII) and Ted Williams (who was in the Navy and Marine Corps for WWII and the Korean War). Less well-known are those NFL players who fought for the United States. Football’s popularity only came about relatively recently, whereas baseball has long been “America’s Pastime.”

When Spring Training rolls around, we’ll remember the MLB players we’ve lost but, for now, let’s take some time during the NFL’s Salute to Service Month to remember those players who were also our brothers in the profession of arms. This is a list of those who died in combat; the list of the NFL’s veterans is much, much longer.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Keith Birlem, Washington Redskins (1943)

Birlem became an Army Air Forces officer during World War II after just one season in the league. After a bombing mission over Europe in 1943, the pilot attempted to land his damaged B-17 Bomber in England, but was killed in the resulting crash.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Mike Basca, Philadelphia Eagles (1941)

Basca enlisted in the U.S. Army after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The former Eagle was a tank commander with the 4th Armored Division. He was killed with the rest of his crew after an anti-tank round struck their vehicle in France in 1944.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Alex Ketzko, Detroit Lions (1944)

Ketzko was a son of Michigan, having played football for Michigan State and then later for the Detroit Lions. After the 1943 season, Ketzko enlisted in the U.S. Army. He eventually found himself in France, where he was killed in action in December, 1945, at just 25 years old.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Walter R. “Waddy” Young, Brooklyn Dodgers  (1945)

Young was a big-time athlete out of Oklahoma. He started the Sooners off on their way to becoming a powerhouse sports team, bringing them to their first-ever Orange Bowl Game. After playing for the NFL’s Brooklyn Dodgers (yes, they were a football team, too), he signed on to fly B-24 Liberators over Europe and B-29 Superfortresses over Japan during World War II. On Jan. 9, 1945, the legendary athlete was killed in a plane crash during a run over Tokyo.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Don Wemple, Brooklyn Dodgers (1944)

Wemple died on an Army Transport plane flying in the China-India-Burma theater of World War II. The onetime Brooklyn Dodger and Army officer was on his way to India in 1944.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Charlie Behan, Detroit Lions (1945)

After one season with the Lions, Behan decided to join the Marine Corps. He was hit in the mouth by shrapnel on Okinawa. Stuffing cotton into the wound to continue the fight, then-Lt. Behan led his troops up Sugar Loaf Hill and was killed guiding his Marines over the top. He was posthumously award the Navy Cross.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Al Blozis, New York Giants (1945)

The All-Pro tackle joined the Army in 1943, despite being much too tall to conform to standards. The 6’6″ literal giant broke the Army’s grenade throwing record before being shipped out to lead a platoon of troops in France in 1944. After two of his men were lost in the Vosges Mountains, he set out to find them by himself and was never heard from again.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Young Bussey, Chicago Bears (1945)

After the 1941 season, Bears QB Young Bussey left the NFL to join the war effort after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The young Bussey was killed during the invasion of the Philippines.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Edwin B. “King Kong” Kahn (1945)

Kahn spent three seasons in the NFL with the Redskins, staying with the team after they moved from Boston to Washington. He signed up for Army service as a First Lieutenant and was wounded in the invasion of Kawajalien. He died of wounds incurred in the invasion of Leyte in the Philippines in February, 1945.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Howard “Smiley” Johnson, Green Bay Packers (1945)

Johnson traded his Packers green for Marine Corps greens after two seasons in Green Bay. The Marine officer was killed in action while leading Marines into battle on Iwo Jima.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Jack Lummus, New York Giants (1945)

The Giants’ Jack Lummus played only nine games in his NFL career before enlisting during the 1941 season. He eventually became an officer candidate and began training with the elite Marine Raiders. Lummus was one of the first Marines to land on the island of Iwo Jima in 1945, and for two weeks directed artillery fire onto Japanese positions on Mount Suribachi. Lummus was wounded by shrapnel but managed to knock out three Japanese fortifications so his Marines could advance.

Lummus then lost both of his legs to a land mine and died at an aid station. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his outstanding display of battlefield skill and leadership.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Don Steinbrunner, Cleveland Browns (1967)

The Browns’ Offensive Tackle was just one of two NFL players who died during the Vietnam War. He played for Cleveland during the 1953 season where the Browns lost the championship to the Detroit Lions. He joined the U.S. Air Force in 1954. Steinbrunner was on a defoliation mission over Vietnam in 1967 when his C-123 Provider was shot down. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Bob Kalsu, Buffalo Bills (1970)

The All-American tackle was drafted in 1968 by the Buffalo Bills but went to the University of Oklahoma on an ROTC scholarship. To fulfill his obligations to the military, the Bills’ rookie of the year entered the Army as a 2nd Lieutenant with the 101st Airborne Division, landing in South Vietnam in November of 1969. He was killed in the infamous attack on Fire Support Base Ripcord in 1970, just hours before his wife gave birth to their son back home.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Pat Tillman, Arizona Cardinals (2004)

Like many NFL players who enlisted in a time of national need, Tillman joined the military in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001. By June 2002, he was a soldier and on his way to the Army Rangers. He would go on to serve in both Iraq and Afghanistan before his death in a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan.

The reverberations surrounding Tillman’s death has been felt by the NFL and its players, the veteran community, nonprofits, and even college football players – to this day – honor Tillman’s spirit and memory.

MIGHTY MOVIES

Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn? Here’s why you should know

The opening scenes of Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn introduce viewers to a charismatic and devoted father deep in the joys of parenthood. Crawling on the floor, swimming and blowing out birthday candles with his toddler and infant sons, he is right where he should be. Until the day he isn’t. Through interviews, reports and a thoroughly researched investigation, the filmmaker poses some incriminating questions.

Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn? Was it the mechanic who told him his helicopter was cleared for flight two hours before it slammed tail-first into the ocean? Was it the manufacturer who produced the faulty wiring blamed for the explosion? Was it the upper ranks of the Navy who disregarded multiple letters of concern purportedly choosing flight hours over safety? How about the Congressional and Executive branches of our government that teamed up with arms manufacturers and focused on new bloated defense contracts instead of investing in the people and machinery already in place?

Van Dorn’s wife, Nicole, living in the shadow of her husband’s unnecessary death, is on a mission to find out. Catalyzed by her and others’ search for answers, this gripping 2018 documentary investigates events leading up to Navy lieutenant J. Wesley Van Dorn’s death one month before his 30th birthday. His untimely demise occurred during a training exercise when an explosion killing three of the five crewmen aboard caused the crash-prone helicopter to fall from the sky into frigid waters below. Van Dorn was not the only one who had expressed concerns about the safety of this aircraft, nor was he the only one to die in it as a result of misguided leadership and mechanical failure.

Written, directed, and narrated by Zachary Stauffer as his first feature documentary, this film offers a sobering look into chronic institutional failings that have resulted in 132 arguably preventable deaths. Diving unforgivably into one family’s agonizing loss, Stauffer invites us to ponder heavy questions while constructing a wall of outrage in his viewers. What is the price of a life? How many lives does it take before change takes place? When will avarice and the “just get ‘er done” attitude stop undermining the American defense establishment?

Built by Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin subsidiary, the MH-53E Sea Dragon is the Navy’s nearly identical version of the Marine Corps’ CH-53-E Super Stallion. Since entering service in 1986, it has never succumbed to enemy fire but holds the worst safety record in the Navy’s fleet making it the deadliest aircraft in military history. The 53-E is a powerful machine used by the Navy for dragging heavy equipment through water to sweep for mines while the Marine version is used for transporting people and gear.

Stauffer explains that due to issues with these aircraft that cropped up even in their initial test flights at the manufacturer and in training missions, the Navy tried to get away with using less powerful helicopters and alternate minesweeping tactics but nothing was as effective as the relic Sea Dragon. Since they were fated to be replaced at some point, the higher ranks avoided investing too much into them so funding for spare parts and maintenance was lean. Members of Congress allegedly chose the path of greed and corruption when defense contractors offered them flashy new weaponry and vehicles as well as comfortable retirement packages. The upper echelons flourished while those training, fighting, and dying on the ground, as well as the American taxpayers, suffered needlessly as top-down decision makers claimed their hands were tied.

With fewer and fewer resources, those maintaining the Sea Dragon had to do more with less. They began cutting corners and developing bad habits. When voicing their worries in person or through over a dozen letters and memos to the upper ranks, they were “belittled, humiliated and cut down,” as one pilot explained. More than 30 years before Van Dorn’s crash, Sikorsky recommended replacing the faulty Kapton wires on all Navy aircraft. This was suggested not once, not twice, but three times before the Navy decided to start looking into the issue. Eventually they named Kapton as the highest ranked safety risk in the fleet and devised a long-term plan to replace it in phases but claimed to never have enough funding to refit all the wiring in the 53s. Only months prior to Van Dorn’s crash the Pentagon re-budgeted funding away from this critical project. Thus, problems that had been escalating over decades while the issue was known and actively overlooked perpetuated, yet the birds were still allowed to fly.

By the time Van Dorn signed on the dotted line in 2010, the run-down helicopters that required about 40 hours of maintenance for a single hour of flight time should have been retired. He and his wife made the decision together to request a spot in the squadron flying 53s because others told them it was an ideal position for a family man who wanted to be home for dinner every night.

Van Dorn was one of those who voiced his opinions about the safety of this aircraft. In an ominous voice recording foreshadowing his own death, he stated “If anyone should care about what’s happening on that aircraft, it should be me and the other pilots, I think. It makes sense to me, because I’m the one who’s going to get in it and have something terrible happen if it doesn’t go right.” His wife Nicole later explained that, “He felt that no matter what he said or what he wrote or who he complained to, nothing was changing.”

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

On a particularly cold morning in January 2014, Van Dorn’s own portentous sentiments were realized 18 nautical miles off the coast of Virginia Beach. Chafing from a single nylon zip tie exposed naked wiring to a fine spray of fuel causing it to arc, sending a blast of fire into the cockpit. Hours later Nicole lay on her husband’s chest just before they pronounced him dead.

Dylan Boone, a Naval aircrewman and one of two survivors of the wreck declared, “You don’t expect to give up your life for this country because you were given faulty equipment.”

Dynamic cinematography combined with a subtly haunting score by composer William Ryan Fritch creates the backdrop for this solid investigative report. Crisp and flowing visuals paired with thrilling military footage complement the feelings portrayed by those interviewed. These primary sources include Van Dorn’s mother, wife, friends, and fellow airmen as well as a mechanic, pilots, a general, a Pentagon Analyst and a military reporter. Throughout the documentary they and the narrator explain the multifaceted issues connected to Van Dorn’s death and the trouble with the 53s from a variety of angles.

Woven skillfully together, a poignant story is told of decades of negligence that continues to result in tragedy. Wholesome home movies of a young involved father raising two sons with his lovely wife are contrasted with the aching void ripped into the Van Dorn family’s home after his death. Stirring visions of military life ignite the urge to join in viewers who have ever felt compelled to do so, whereas the deep frustration of stifled dreams and a scarred body and soul are almost tangible to someone who has been there before as hard truths are drawn out throughout the film.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Centering on the death of a handsome, beloved father, husband and seaman who was liked by all humanized an issue that might have otherwise been unrelatable. Utilizing the audience’s heartstrings as a focal point was a powerful way to bring attention to a predicament that could have been swept under the rug. Despite the fact that the C-53 airframes experienced serious accidents more than twice as often as the average aircraft and that internal investigations were performed with alarming results, the Navy continues to risk its servicemembers’ life and limb to keep these helicopters performing their critical mission in the air. With this in mind, this documentary might just put enough pressure on the Navy to make the changes necessary to save an untold number of lives.

Winner of the Audience Award in Active Cinema at the 2018 Mill Valley Film Festival, Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn is an intriguing and effective piece of military reporting presented in comprehensible terms for the layman. It is a successful examination of not only the serious failings of a controversial aircraft and the misled priorities keeping it aloft, but also hints toward the fact that anyone who brings up the disturbing issue of safety of these helicopters will be forced out of service. I would recommend this professional-level documentary, especially to anyone with interests in the military or national defense.

The Navy, the Pentagon, Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin declined to participate in this well-researched film. Major funding to make this documentary possible was provided by supporters of the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and Investigative Studios.

After viewing this film, you can decide for yourself who killed Lt. Van Dorn. Regardless of the answer, his unwarranted death will not have been completely in vain if it successfully carries out his final mission: righting the deep and longstanding problems with the CH-53 helicopters, thus preventing the death and destruction of countless others just as it ultimately took him.

Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn is available for purchase or streaming through Amazon.


MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia may be abandoning the world’s worst dictator in Venezuela

Nicolas Maduro is the world’s worst dictator in the world’s worst dictatorship. To be clear, he’s not the worst in that he’s particularly repressive to his citizens or running concentration camps. He’s the worst in terms of how he came to power and how he holds on to it. He rose in power thanks to Hugo Chavez’ cult of personality while he and his party managed the rapid decline of what was one of South America’s most vibrant economies.

For a while, it looked like the Kremlin might have been propping up his regime, but now it looks like Moscow might be abandoning him.


The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Maduro maintains a tenuous grip on power solely because the street thugs – colectivos – and military generals who protect him have more to lose than he does if they lose control of Venezuela. For the Russians, their biggest gain in propping up Maduro is annoying the United States in its own backyard. Unfortunately for Maduro, Russian support may be all he has left, and he may be losing that.

In March 2019, Russia sent military planes, materiel, and advisors to Venezuela, confidently showing the world the Kremlin had Maduro’s back and that any intervention in Venezuela’s ongoing political crisis would be met with Russian interference as well. But the Venezuelan President’s luck might be running out.

The worst duty assignments for every branch of the military

Don’t give anyone any ideas.

On June 2, 2019, Russia withdrew its contractors and defense advisors in the country and the private Russian firm paid by Venezuela to train its military just cut its Russian staff by half. This latest development may be showing that the millions the Maduro regime owes the Russians may not be enough for Russia to keep Maduro’s government from collapsing on itself. The biggest reason for the pullout, according to the Wall Street Journal, is that Maduro can’t actually pay the Russians anymore.

American sanctions against Venezuela and the long-term decline of the country’s oil production infrastructure has led to a huge decline in the country’s coffers. The United States and Russia showcase Venezuela’s struggle in their own struggle for worldwide supremacy. But even so, it may not be enough for the Russians to keep Maduro’s barely-functional regime afloat.