The massive SAS legend who made it through selection. Twice. - We Are The Mighty
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The massive SAS legend who made it through selection. Twice.

Donald Large had one of the aptest last names in the history of last names. He was a beast, 6-ft. 6 inches tall and 240 pounds by the time he went through SAS selection the first time (more on that in a moment). But his road to military service started when he was just an over-sized tyke.


Badass: The Legend of Lofty Large

Born in 1930, he was just a boy when British troops preparing for service in France and Germany began training near his home. He watched the men readying to take the fight to Hitler and decided he would be a military man as well, a goal made even easier by his frame, and the frequent hunting trips his dad took him on.

He started as an Army Cadet, a sort of military-affiliated Boy Scouts in Britain, and then managed to get into the real British army at just 15 years old. As he trained in the military and then served Britain, he grew to his adult height and received the nickname “Lofty,” but he still craved combat.

Despite thinking Korea was a useless war, Large volunteered to serve in it and was ordered to the Gloucestershire Regiment. He fought at the Battle of Imjin where a terrain feature was named Gloster Hill after his unit’s defense.

But Large was wounded from a gunshot and shrapnel in the fighting and was taken prisoner, surviving a 10-day forced march to a prisoner of war camp. He survived another gunshot wound, disease, 80 pounds of weight loss, and two years of muscle atrophy and near starvation before he was swapped in a wounded prisoner exchange.

The army tried to give him a medical discharge, but he came back swinging over four years and put on even more muscle than he had lost. Once doctors cleared him, he put in for Special Air Service Selection, one of the most grueling military selection processes in the world. (When the U.S. formed Delta Force in 1977, the American officer in command formed the selection process from the SAS model.)

Despite all the scar tissues, Large reportedly did quite well in selection, only struggling with jumping out of the plane due to his being oversized for the plane and parachute. He weighed enough that he fell faster than other paratroopers, and this combined with a fear of heights made falling the hardest part for him.

But he was a stalwart man and made the jump anyway. He had proven himself capable and was on his way to the SAS.

Except.

Except that he rode a motorcycle soon after and crashed, crushing his ankle. The SAS told him that he would need to go back through selection to prove he was still capable of meeting the unit’s high standards. While most people would’ve probably waited a few months if they ever went back, Large simply re-bandaged his ankle, found out what his new boot size was with the swelling and bandages, and went back.

Yeah, he went back through selection while his ankle was still injured. He had only taken four weeks from crash to his second selection process.

He would serve with the SAS around the world and retired in 1973. He died in 2006.

(A hat tip to Today I Found Out whose video, embedded at top, brought Large to our attention. Their article on Large is good as well. People who want to know more about him and his exploits can see an interview series with Large on YouTube. The SAS Commando wrote his own biography before he died, Soldier Against the Odds, but it’s sadly out of print.)

MIGHTY TRENDING

This soldier collected 500 pairs of sandals for barefoot orphans

Sgt. 1st Class Robert Rodriguez and his platoon patrol the sandy streets of Djibouti, the hot East African sun scorches their path with temperatures upwards of 115 degrees. Passing through impoverished villages, Rodriguez began to notice a devastating trend — most of the children are barefooted.

It was during his visit to an orphanage that, Rodriquez immediately thought of his own two daughters and made it his personal mission to do something about the shoeless orphans.

“While on patrol, every few weeks we passed a local orphanage where children gather for their meals,” Rodriguez said. “Children aged 5-8 sleep along the walls outside and wake up to shower in the orphanage. They eat cups of peanut butter for protein with crackers. Since there is no refrigeration, that is the most protein they are able to get. That’s their lunch — crackers. So I thought you know what? This would be a great mission for my church back home.”


While on emergency leave due to his father’s passing, Rodriguez pushed past his grief to talk to students and coordinate a sandal drive with the school that his daughters attend, Blessed Sacrament Elementary School in Laredo, Texas. Their Catholic school is part of the parish that Rodriguez and his family belong to.

The massive SAS legend who made it through selection. Twice.

Sgt. 1st Class Robert Rodriguez, a platoon sergeant for the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 36th Infantry Division of the Texas Army National Guard, stands with several of the children in Djibouti. Rodriguez gifted 500 sandals to barefoot orphans and children during their deployment.

(Photo by Capt. Nadine Wiley De Moura)

“I am very active in my daughter’s school and I wanted to get my daughters involved and proactive in something in Africa as well,” Rodriguez, a platoon sergeant for the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 36th Infantry Division of the Texas Army National Guard, said. “I talked to the principal, who said she would talk to Father Wojciech, the priest in charge of his church in Laredo. The school sent out flyers thru the National Junior Honor Society asking parents to donate one pair of sandals.”

On Veteran’s day, Rodriguez who is completing his fourth deployment, visited his daughter’s school to talk about his service in the military and the children in Djibouti.

“I described how the weather was there, how hot it was and asked them to imagine standing outside, barefooted in Laredo,” Rodriguez said. “My daughters and their classmates are at that age where they are learning to help others and how to ask for help as well. I want them to learn a sense of compassion.”

From September to December, his daughter’s school collected six boxes filled with roughly 500 sandals of varying sizes. After the sandals were collected, the students raised money to send the two by three-foot shipping boxes to Djibouti for Rodriguez and his unit to deliver to the children.

The massive SAS legend who made it through selection. Twice.

Sgt. 1st Class Robert Rodriguez, a platoon sergeant for the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 36th Infantry Division of the Texas Army National Guard, hands out sandals to barefoot orphans and children with his platoon during their deployment, February 2019 in Djibouti.

(Photo by Capt. Nadine Wiley De Moura)

“This is the first time that we have done something so big that reaches out of the country,” Cynthia Sanchez, math and science teacher at Blessed Sacrament School. “It’s a trickle-down effect, from parents, and at school they are learning how to help others so that they can teach their own kids.”

Normally, the school participated in blanket, canned food and sweater drives, and periodically will make trips to feed the homeless.

“They feel good and warm inside about helping others with no incentives but because they want to give it,” said Sanchez. “We weren’t expecting that amount. A lot of parents and kids wanted to do their part and National Junior honor Society members went outside of the school into their communities to get donations.”

Anxiously waiting for the packages to arrive, Rodriguez received the sandals in February.

In order to distribute the sandals in the community, Rodriguez coordinated with the local orphanage and the village elder for approval.

After he received approval, Rodriguez and his platoon set out to deliver the sandals to the children of the community.

“When we handed out the sandals the children were so surprised,” Rodriguez said. “Their happiness turned into overwhelming joy, to trying to be next, I made sure they all were good. It got chaotic at times but these children had nothing but what they were wearing and most were barefooted.”

Rodriguez, who kept close contact with his daughter’s school immediately alerted the school, via e-mail, that he had handed out the sandals to the children.

The massive SAS legend who made it through selection. Twice.

Children from Djibouti pose for a photo after receiving sandals from Texas Army National Guard Soldier, Sgt. 1st Class Robert Rodriguez and his platoon, February 2019 in Djibouti.

(Photo by Capt. Nadine Wiley De Moura)

In response, Anacecy Chavez, a Blessed Sacrament School teacher wrote:

“When I read this my heart jumped. You are a super hero for me and many others for serving our country and helping those around you.”

The Director of the orphanage, Caritas Djibouti, also thanked Rodriguez and his daughter’s school for their donation.

“We had the good surprise a few days ago to receive, through Mr. Rodriguez, a nice and generous donation of shoes for the street children here at Caritas,” said Francesco Martialis, director of Caritas Djibouti. “It was such a generous support which will be usefully used for sure! And also many thanks for the Church support that we feel, from here Djibouti, an isolated place, through your donation. It is precious to us.”

Rodriguez, who has been a soldier on the Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force for 18 years, is no stranger to getting involved into the community. Task force members routinely support local law enforcement agencies and community-based organizations in an effort to detect, interdict and deter illicit drug activity.

In addition to being an involved member of his church, Rodriguez said that his experience as a task force member enhanced his ability to build relationships on an international level, communicate and coordinate with partners in order to make the drive a success.

Although Rodriguez’s tour is coming to a close, he has continued to solidify the connections of his church at home with the local Djibouti church — which coincidentally are both named Blessed Sacrament.

Rodriguez spoke to the Bishop of the Djibouti Catholic Church about maintaining contact in the case that they may be able to provide more donations for the children.

“It is great to hear that our young youth are striving to be humanitarians as that is something this world is missing more of,” Rodriguez said. “It gives me great pride to know that the sacrifices we make as soldiers to protect our country is giving our youth the opportunity to grow into caring, responsible and giving citizens of our communities.”

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

Here’s how the angled deck made carriers deadlier

For almost 80 years, the aircraft carrier has been the most powerful warship on the high seas. Just over six decades ago, the carrier reached a new level of potency when the angled deck was introduced. Some carriers were re-fitted with it while others were designed with the advanced tech from the get-go — but how did a shift in the deck make carriers even deadlier?


First, let’s take a look at how carriers operated in World War II and, to a large extent, in the Korean War. The naval aviation workhorse of those conflicts, the Essex-class carrier, had a straight-deck design. To deliver some hurt to the enemy, carriers would launch “deckload” strikes, sending off most of their air group (in World War II, this consisted of 36 F6F fighters, 36 SBD Dauntless dive-bombers, and 18 TBF Avenger torpedo bombers).

The massive SAS legend who made it through selection. Twice.

USS Intrepid (CV 11) in 1944. Her propeller-driven Hellcats were easy to stop when they landed.

(US Navy)

Carriers, at the time, could either launch planes or land them — they couldn’t do both at the same time. When launching deckload strikes of propeller-driven planes, it wasn’t an issue. All planes would leave at once and, later, all return. When it came time to bring aircraft home, the propeller planes were easy to stop — they were light and slow relatively to the jets that had just started to come online.

The massive SAS legend who made it through selection. Twice.

The use of jets off aircraft carriers changed things – the F9F Panthers were faster and heavier than the World War II-era piston-engine fighters. It is easy to see how a jet that misses the wires could make things very ugly.

(US Navy)

Jets were a game-changer for several reasons: They were faster and heavier and, thus, needed more space to stop. They also didn’t have the endurance to wait for other planes to launch. So, how could they find the runway space needed to operate these new tools of war? Building larger carriers wasn’t a complete solution — this wouldn’t eliminate the issue of stopping jets should they fail to catch the wires.

The massive SAS legend who made it through selection. Twice.

The British decided to create an angled deck, thereby allowing a jet that missed the arresting wires a chance to go around.

(Animation by Anynobody)

Then, the British came up with the idea of angling the landing deck of carriers. Angling the deck gave the jets enough room to land and, if they missed the wires, they could go back around and try again — stopping the jet with a barrier became an absolute last resort.

The massive SAS legend who made it through selection. Twice.

Before and after photos of USS Intrepid showing the angled flight deck.

(Compilation of US Navy photos by Solicitr)

Not only did the angled deck allow for the use of jets, it also made carriers deadlier in general. Now, they could launch and land aircraft at the same time. This meant that a carrier could send a major strike out and, at the same time, land its combat air patrol. All in all, the angled deck had a very unintended (but welcome) consequence on carrier performance.

Check out the video below to see how the Navy explained the angled flight deck to sailors.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEOZi4IZja8

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century

It’s not widely known that Marine Corps Raiders trained operatives for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. The forerunner to the CIA, the OSS would conduct clandestine resistance, sabotage, and intelligence-gathering operations all over the world. One of those operatives was a member of UDT-10, an underwater demolition team, who would play a critical role in the recapture of the Philippines during the war, then help create the foundation of maritime special operations forces for the U.S. military and the intelligence community. That operative was a sailor named Hank Weldon and he died on Oct. 5, 2018 in his San Marcos, Calif. home. He was 95 years old.


“My point of view of the war is a little different than a lot of people,” he told the Valley Road Runner in 2013. “I let them [U.S. Marines] in and left. I didn’t see a lot of action on the ground. I went in and cleared the areas for the ships,” says Weldon. “Opened the lanes for them. Took care of mines. Or eliminated markers that the Japanese were using as markers for their artillery.”

 

The massive SAS legend who made it through selection. Twice.
Underwater Demolition Teams used surfboards to haul up to 300 pounds of explosives to shore. (Valley Road Runner)
 

That was just the beginning of a storied career in service to his country.

Born in 1923 and graduating from high school in 1942, Hank Weldon came of age at the outbreak of World War II. He played football at Villanova for two semester before joining a Navy commissioning program. It was while training for that program that General “Wild Bill” Donovan came looking to recruit strong swimmers for the OSS.

His swimming test involved pulling a manhole cover from the bottom of a pool and putting it in an empty canoe without tipping it. He passed. That’s when he was ordered to Camp Pendleton – but he had no idea what branch of the service he was actually in. The truth was, they were from all branches.

The massive SAS legend who made it through selection. Twice.
Weldon and his full UDT crew on California’s Catalina Island during their training exercises.

 

The OSS recruited men from the Coast Guard, Army, Navy, and Marines to come train with a Marine Raider battalion. When their training was complete, the unit was split up. Some were deployed to hit the beaches at Normandy, while Weldon and others prepared to hit the beaches of the occupied Philippine Islands.

Their trial by fire came when they were sent on the first underwater recon mission of World War II, gathering intelligence on the island of Yap. From there, they saw action at Palau and in five missions in the Philippines – but they didn’t lose a single man there. He even saw General MacArthur as he returned to the island nation, as promised.

When the war ended, so did Hank Weldon’s time in the military.

The massive SAS legend who made it through selection. Twice.

But his career in service didn’t stop. He spent 26 years as a beat cop on the Los Angeles Police Department and served during some of the most dangerous times in the force’s history. He served during the 1965 Watts Riots, a six-day civil disturbance that damaged million worth of property and was the most destructive urban uprising of the entire Civil Rights Era. It took a 45-mile exclusion zone enforced by 13,000 California National Guardsmen to quell the violence – with Hank Weldon riding and holding shotgun through it all.

Some 50 years after leaving the military and the OSS Maritime unit, he was inducted into the U.S. Army Special Forces – with good reason. He helped inaugurate the use of fins in maritime clandestine operations and pioneered tactical technology, including the first rebreathers. The tactics, weapons, and hand-to-hand combat techniques he and other OSS operative learned from the Marine Raiders were passed on to other operatives throughout the war and then handed down to new special operations units thereafter.

Members of the OSS were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal on March 21, 2018, and Hank Weldon was the surviving member of his OSS team, UDT-10. Weldon’s family turned down an invitation for Hank to be interred at Arlington National Cemetery. Instead, he will receive a military burial ceremony at home, in the Valley Center Cemetery in California.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A Roosevelt was the only soldier disabled for the same wound in two wars

Leave it to a man with the last name Roosevelt to lead the charge into two World Wars. Like his father, President Theodore Roosevelt, when it came time to defend the United States of America, Archibald Roosevelt couldn’t sign up fast enough. 

Also just like his dad before him, he would lead American troops into combat, practically daring the enemy to hit him. In the case of Archibald Roosevelt, they did. Twice. 

Archibald Roosevelt was everything one might expect the son of Teddy Roosevelt to be. He was intelligent, athletic, and rowdy with his brothers. Like his famous father, he also attended Harvard University, graduating in 1917. 

The massive SAS legend who made it through selection. Twice.
Archie Roosevelt with his pony, Algonquin on the White House Lawn in 1902. (LOC, Public Domain)

That same year, the United States finally had enough of Germany’s transgressions and entered the great war raging across Europe for the previous four years. Like his three brothers, Archie entered the U.S. Army as an officer and was almost immediately sent overseas to fight in France. 

There was no avoiding combat duty when you’re the son of the most “bully” former president of the day. Only one of his sons was given a job training other men for combat and though the former president lost his son Quentin and his other sons were wounded, he was contemptuous of rich men who let their sons avoid their duty.

The massive SAS legend who made it through selection. Twice.
Archibald “Archie” Roosevelt in World War I after being wounded at the front. (Public Domain)

While fighting with the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, he earned two Silver Stars and the French Croix de Guerre. He was wounded while fighting in France, earning his second Silver Star citation in 1918. Roosevelt was hit in the trenches during an enemy artillery bombardment. The wound in his leg left him completely disabled in the eyes of the Army and he was discharged with the rank of captain. 

In the interwar years, Theodore Roosevelt died and his son Archibald entered civilian life as an oil executive, but resigned following the Teapot Dome Scandal that rocked the government. He then went into the family’s investment business. 

Then, the Japanese Empire attacked Pearl Harbor. Despite being considered disabled, he was still a Roosevelt, and petitioned then-President Franklin Roosevelt to let him and his skilled leadership rejoin the Army to fight America’s new enemy. The president approved. 

Between 1943 and 1944, now Lt. Col. Roosevelt was leading a regimental combat team in New Guinea. His unit’s fight against the Japanese there was so consequential that a key ridge near his position was called “Roosevelt Ridge” unofficially by the soldiers there. When it came time to write Army history in New Guinea, the name was official. During this command, he earned two more Silver Star medals. 

The massive SAS legend who made it through selection. Twice.
Lt Col Archibald Roosevelt 3rd son of 26th US President, Theodore Roosevelt (Public Domain)

On August 12, 194 a Japanese grenade exploded near his position, wounding his already-disable leg in the same place he was injured in World War I. He recuperated from the wound and eventually returned to his unit, he would be medically retired from the military following the war’s end. 

Archibald Roosevelt, who earned two Silver Star medals in two World Wars, was rated as 100% disabled for his latest injury. To this day, he’s still the only American to be disabled twice for the same wound incurred in two different wars. 

After the war, Roosevelt went into business for himself, joined a number of political action groups, and became a staunch anti-communist, along with other public activities. He died in 1979 at age 85, due to a stroke.

MIGHTY STORIES

Mighty Stories: Remembering my big, bad Green Beret, SSG Michael H. Simpson

Mighty Stories is a weekly WATM feature highlighting the stories of veterans, active duty and military families. This week’s feature is Krista Simpson Anderson – Army wife, Gold Star wife, founder of the nonprofit The Unquiet Professional.

I grew up in Hampton, Massachusetts – a little town right outside of Springfield. My father served in the U.S. Air Force from 1967-1971, but it was before I was born. My mom’s side of the family also served, but it wasn’t something we talked about. I was blissfully ignorant about military life.

I met Mike in June 2006. He was a friend of my cousin’s. My cousin was deploying to Iraq and my aunt was having a deployment party for him. She flew in a few of his friends that had been in the Old Guard with him, and she called me and asked me to help her with the guys flying in.

I walked into the Toasted Owl Tavern in Northhampton, and there he was.


It was love at first sight. I remember my cousin saying to me, ‘I’m going to disown you both if you get married.’ But we were fixed on each other. The whole world could have come crashing down around us and we wouldn’t have noticed.

In August 2006, Mike’s whole unit transferred to Germany. I went out to visit him for Thanksgiving. In September of 2007, he deployed to Iraq. He came out to Rhode Island to my family’s home before he left and we spent a week together. I was working in the restaurant business at the time of his deployment, so I took a couple of different jobs, one in St. Thomas, one in New York. But we stayed in contact.

In April 2008, during his mid-tour leave, he invited me to his brother David and sister-in-law Kelsey’s wedding in Texas. During their rehearsal dinner in his parents’ backyard, he went to give his best man’s speech and we all thought it would be something funny. He was so goofy, it was hard to imagine him doing something serious. Now mind you, he served in the military in the Old Guard so he clearly had to be serious for work. But the first thing out of his mouth was, ‘Be each other’s compass.’

I was blown away.

The massive SAS legend who made it through selection. Twice.

Mike and Krista. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.

That night, he walked me to my room – we were all staying with his parents – and he told me he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. And he asked me, ‘Will you be my wife?’ I knew that it had been a long night of celebrating so I told him that if he felt the same way in the morning we could talk about it. I went to sleep dreaming of the rest of our lives together.

The next morning over a cup of coffee at the counter, Mike looked at me and said, ‘I don’t feel any differently than I did last night. I want you to be my wife. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.’ I said yes, of course. We kept this a secret because it was not our day – it was David and Kelsey’s wedding day, and we knew his oldest brother, Isaac, was going to be proposing to his now wife, Vanessa, the next day. We told his sister, Abby, and then swore her to secrecy.

A few days after the wedding we announced our good news and decided to marry as soon as Mike returned from his deployment.

Mike went back to Iraq a week later, and returned in October 2008 to Germany. We met back up in Tennessee for Isaac and Vanessa’s wedding in November. December 20, 2008, we married in Rhode Island, and the first week of January he returned to Germany. We decided to live apart until his orders came through to start the Special Forces Qualification course so he wouldn’t need to extend in Germany.

I went to Germany to see him in February for his birthday, and I came home and found out I was pregnant with our first son a month later. I was working at a restaurant as a manager and living with my parents in Rhode Island awaiting orders. By September 2009 we were finally living together in Fort Bragg, NC and our son Michael was born October 22nd.

I remember taking “SF101” (Special Forces 101) for the spouses and the emphasis was put on how long our husbands would be away from home. Everything was about not getting our hopes up for birthdays, holidays, special occasions and being a family during those times. They really wanted to prepare us for the let downs of our military career. No one ever told me the incredible things our husbands would be doing while away from home and that every mission would be for the good of our nation. No one ever told me about the amazing and wonderful things we would be doing for our families while they were away. No one ever told me how, as spouses, we would show up for each other, in good times and in bad. No one ever told me that we would all be changing the world together – them abroad and us on the homefront.

The massive SAS legend who made it through selection. Twice.

Mike, Krista and their two boys. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.

Mike graduated in March 2011 and then reported July 10 for a Special Forces billet at 4th BN, Charlie Company, 1st Special Forces Group at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. I got out there August 1 with Michael who was just about two, and pregnant with Gabriel. We closed on our first house on my birthday, September 23.

As soon as our household goods arrived, Mike was off on a TDY (Temporary Duty) so I set up the house with my two year old and called my Mom and Aunt in for reinforcements to paint beige the mustard yellow walls and ceiling our new home offered.

When home, Mike was a present and incredibly fun daddy. He played this game called Daddy T-Rex. He would hold Gabe and chase Mic around the house, pretending to be a dinosaur. They would also lie on the floor and play Legos, have mini race-car races all the while tapping into Mike’s very present childlike spirit. He’d say to me, ‘I can’t wait until they’re older so we can do more fun things.’ He couldn’t wait to play basketball, soccer and teach them to ride bikes.

On 6 April 2013, Mike deployed with his company to eastern Afghanistan. Less than three weeks later I received the call every military spouse prays they’ll never get.

The massive SAS legend who made it through selection. Twice.

Mike, right, with a battle buddy. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.

The day before the call, Mike and I were texting back and forth and I was telling him how grateful I was to be his wife. I asked him to marry me all over again. I said, ‘I love you more today than I ever have. You have brought so much joy to my life that it overwhelms me. Will you marry me… Again?’ We were going to meet in Mexico with our families around Christmas and I told him I wanted to do it then. He wrote back, ‘Yes!’

On April 27, I had just put Gabriel down for a nap (he was 16 months) and I heard my phone ringing. I ran down the stairs to an ‘Unknown’ caller and answered what I can only assume must have been the last ring. It was (now Lieutenant Colonel) Major Jamie Alden, and he said ‘Hi, Krista? This is Major Alden.’ It didn’t even dawn on me why the company commander would be calling me from Afghanistan.

He asked me where I was, and I told him I was at home. He asked where the boys were, and I told him Mic was in the other room and I’d just put Gabe down for a nap.

He said, ‘I need you to sit down.’

You know that feeling when it seems that your brain starts going numb and it begins to rush through your whole body? Luckily I made it to the other room and sat down near the boys’ toys – on a bean bag chair.

‘Michael is alive, but he is in critical condition. There was an accident; he hit an IED while riding an ATV. He has a lower right leg amputation and there has been severe trauma to his right arm. We know there is shrapnel damage, we just are not sure where and the extent. Again, he is alive, but he is critical.’

I had to stop him. I couldn’t process anything and I knew I wouldn’t be able to remember anything else he was saying. I ran across the street and banged on my neighbor Kate’s door, and her daughter opened it. She was supposed to be coming over anyway to watch the boys since we had a neighborhood clean-up scheduled and I was president of the homeowners association. She ran to stay with the boys while Kate got on the phone with Major Alden. It took some convincing for him to speak to her but he finally agreed, understanding my emotional state.

I watched her as she spoke to him but I couldn’t hear her. I could hear sounds, just not the words, as if my ears were blocked. Kate handed the phone back to me and I thanked him, and he reminded me that we were family, that his wife Susan would be calling me soon, and that everything was going to be okay.

The massive SAS legend who made it through selection. Twice.

Mike, before the attack. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.

I got off the phone and had to start making phone calls. I walked with my phone in my hand across the grass toward our friends, Alan and Angie’s, house. They were laying out a tarp for mulch on their driveway when they looked over. It must have been written all over my face because they rushed to me and caught me before I fell to my knees. Alan was the commander of an EOD unit on JBLM and assured me everything was going to be ok. Angie was by my side and provided support in any way I needed.

I wanted to close my eyes and wake up from the nightmare but I couldn’t. I was a Green Beret’s wife and the mother of two future Green Berets. I said to myself, ‘Pull yourself together, handle your business- he’s not dead and is going to need you to be strong!’

I stood outside, barefoot, on the cold pavement. The bottoms of my feet still get cold remembering those moments. I tried calling Mike’s parents but there was no answer. I tried calling my parents and no answer again. I called his brother Isaac, who was also a Green Beret who was in North Carolina doing his instructor rotation. I said, ‘It’s Mike. He’s alive but he hit an IED and he’s in surgery. It’s critical.’

I can still hear his scream.

Isaac had witness IED attacks before and he knew the gravity of this news. Isaac and Vanessa would make the calls to the rest of the Simpson family as I continued my calls from the floor of our parish where I sat and prayed. Once my parents were notified, my mother arrived from Rhode Island to our home in Olympia, Washington, 12 hours later.

1st Special Forces Group (1st SFG) at JBLM welcomed me in every morning to call Afghanistan for updates. LTC David Haight would call Bagram ICU and translate their medical report for me whether at that morning meeting or 1am. We would share our information, formulate a plan and I would leave the table every morning stronger than I arrived. Monday, 29 April, I called the hospital myself. The doctor that answered told me he was sorry, but that Mike didn’t have a gag or corneal reflex and that he would not live.

I thanked him and his team for caring for him so well. I went downstairs to tell my mother before the boys awoke and then retreated to my room where I called my cousin Alicia and friend Andrea. I begged Alicia to wake me up and take this away.

The medical team cared for Mike so well they were able to transfer him from Afghanistan to Landstuhl Army Medical Center in Germany. We got the green light to go to Germany as soon as Mike was in the air from AFG. They couldn’t cut orders or book our flights until they knew Mike was surviving the altitude. They performed emergency surgery on the plane and worked tirelessly to keep him alive even though they knew the outcome. When they arrived in Germany, one of Mike’s closest friends from the Special Forces Qualification Course was there awaiting his arrival. Casey served with another Special Forces Group and was training in the area when we received the news.

As I traveled to Germany, my Casualty Assistance Officer (CAO) SFC Gerry DeMarzo and Chaplain Johnny Elder escorted me. What a blessing they were for so many reasons I couldn’t possibly list in short. The ‘behind the scenes’ had so many issues getting us all there but with the help from the Green Beret Foundation, Special Operations Warrior Foundation, USO, Fisher House Foundation and Care Coalition on top of 1st SFG, I arrived and met Mike’s parents, siblings and spouses to be with Mike.

Upon arrival, my only request was that I got to see him first. I wanted to clean him up before his mom saw him. Silly, but it was all I could think of. I got to the hospital and Casey was at the door with SFC Doug Way. (They both never once left us. Casey stayed at Mike’s bedside and Doug would either be standing outside his hospital room or kneeling outside the room praying.)

I never lost hope.

‘Maybe he will heal and maybe the doctors were wrong,’ I kept telling myself.

Casey and Doug greeted me, offered their condolences and I entered the room.

There he was.

My big bad Green Beret laying broken and vulnerable. I had never felt so helpless in all of my life.

All I could manage was a whisper… ‘Dear Lord, please help us.’

On 1 May 2013, as we all stood around Mike’s bed, Dr. Betts informed us that Mike was in fact brain dead. I asked, ‘Can his brain heal?’ rationally knowing the answer, but I had to ask. ‘No ma’am, the brain can not heal from these injuries,’ he said. I nodded my head in understanding, saw the very real pain in his parents’ and siblings’ faces, said, ‘Thank you,’ and then ran out.

I ran left out of the room, through the ICU doors into the hall toward the stairs, down the stairs and out of the hospital hoping I could run away from this earth-shattering moment in my life and somehow, when I returned, everything would be ok – Mike would wake, he would rehab and our lives would go on … Together.

I stopped and Gerry and Doug were not too many steps behind me. Gerry never let me out of his sight for a moment; he was my greatest advocate and protector. He always told me he took care of our family the way he would have wanted his family taken care of if something were to have happened to him. When I returned to the hospital, I went back in and I didn’t leave Mike’s side except for an hour to take care of the paperwork I needed to sign.

The rest of that day we would call all the family and friends we could connect with so they could say their goodbyes. I would call and inform them of Mike’s diagnosis, tell them how sorry I was but that it was time for them to say goodbye if they wished. I would put the phone down on Mike’s pillow next to his ear, believing he would receive their love and pain through their words.

I wanted everyone to have the opportunity to say whatever they wanted and needed to for some closure. Our family and friends stateside would say goodbye as well as Charlie Company, 4th BN, 1st SFG. Mike’s team was sure he would survive, so my news was heartbreaking to them … Mike was their brother.

One of Mike’s friends and teammates brought me to my knees with his heartfelt message that his wife would transcribe for me later. His words were, ‘For Mike: Hey buddy. Have no fear, you’re the realest Green Beret now. You did it all. Thanks for all the bravo advice and an invitation to be a part of your family. I will never forget our time together and will do anything for your family. R.I.P. brother. I love you. One more thing – thank you for the greatest sacrifice one can make. My prayer to you … Now I lay you down to sleep, I pray the Lord your soul to keep. If you should die before you wake, bless Mikey Lord, his soul to take.’

Once the last call was made I think my body and mind knew it and I needed to rest. I asked the hospital staff if they could move Mike over so I could lie next to him in his hospital bed. I laid there and just listened to his heart beat. I prayed until I drifted off to sleep. Around 4 am, the nurse came in and wanted to change his dressings and clean him up. I asked if I could help, so she brought in soapy water and a washcloth. She changed his dressings while I cleaned him up. Around 9 pm, they came in to get him for organ donor surgery. I stayed with him while they got him ready to be moved. I walked to the door holding his hand as they started to wheel him out, and didn’t want to let go.

This was it.

I would never see his chest rise and fall or hear his beating heart again. ‘I’M NOT READY!’ I screamed in my head.

But … with as much grace as I could, I leaned down and kissed him one last time and whispered, ‘I love you all the world. I promise you I will take care of our boys, and we will always remember you.’

They wheeled his bed out and I stood in the empty, cold hospital room alone. ‘What now?’ I asked. ‘How do I live without you?’

We came back from Germany to Dover for the dignified transfer on 7 May 2013. He was supposed to be the only casket on the flight, but seven other soldiers were killed just days before, so we were with their families. These families didn’t have what we did. They didn’t have the chance to say goodbye. They watched their loved one get on the plane for deployment and then their casket come off in Dover.

It started to rain as we stood out on the tarmac, so hard it was sideways. My mother in law had an umbrella and was also trying to wrap me in her jacket to protect me. I told her I was okay without it, because I wanted to feel everything; the rain, the heartache, the fear. I had to face that moment.

As the caskets were taken off the plane I could hear the rain and the wailing from mothers and fathers who lost their sons, siblings who lost their brothers, spouses who lost their husbands and children who lost their fathers. I felt as though I was hovering over myself, looking down in disbelief that this was now my journey.

I flew home to Washington after being gone for 10 days. I could never spend a few hours away from my boys without missing them terribly. This time I was afraid to see them. What would I say? How would I tell them their Daddy wasn’t coming home?

The massive SAS legend who made it through selection. Twice.

Mike’s dignified transfer. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.

I sat Michael (age 3) down and asked, ‘Do you believe in God?’

‘Yes Mommy,’ he said.

‘Even though you can’t see Him?’ I asked.

‘Yes of course Mommy!’ he replied.

‘You know Daddy is a soldier?’

‘Yes,’ he answered.

I looked into his eyes and softly said, ‘Well, Daddy is going to be God’s soldier now.’

‘But I will miss him,’ he said.

‘Me too.’

It would have been easy to sit down and focus on all the tragedy. My husband, my best friend, the father of my two beautiful boys was gone. I was a 35 year old widow who didn’t have enough time with the love of my life. Mike and I always told each other, ‘This love happens once in a lifetime,’ and it was gone.

My future and dreams broke into a million pieces and I had no idea how I would become whole again. And yet, somehow, I had to choose to see the incredible blessings that were happening all around us. The support from our family, friends and community; the military representatives that were assigned to us that created a beautiful journey; it was all a gift as much as my husband’s sacrifice was a gift to us all. Everybody who walked into our lives … it was nothing short of perfect.

On 30 May 2013, our Memorial Day, Mike was interred with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery by his original Old Guard unit where he served when he first joined the military in 2003.

There are many things I remember about that day. It was so hot I could feel the heat from the pavement radiate through the bottom of my sandals – a stark contrast from the cold I felt on my bare feet the day I got the call that Mike had been hit.

I remember walking for what seemed like forever with our two children, hoping to make it through the ceremony.

The massive SAS legend who made it through selection. Twice.

Michael with his Daddy T-rex at Mike’s memorial. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.

And I remember thinking that this place, Arlington National Cemetery, had always been one of my favorite places to be. It’s so peaceful. It’s filled with a clear and strong sense of honor and courage, but in that moment I didn’t feel brave at all.

There were over 100 people in attendance to show their love and support, not just for Mike, but for us as well. My dear friend Andrea Rinaldi was one of them. She stayed by my side through it all, from the very beginning of our journey, and selflessly gave of her time and heart. The service, experience and support of so many was humbling, and I will always be grateful.

Finally, I remember the boys and I receiving the folded flags. How do you process receiving a folded flag in the place of your Daddy when you’re only three years old? Michael was given the flag, but really only wanted his Daddy T-Rex. As I held our 16 month old, I watched as Gerry, our Casualty Assistance Officer, took a knee, and took Michael’s flag for him. I love this picture – this moment in time – as it truly captures how Gerry so beautifully served our family.

Mike’s company would continue their deployment for six more months after Mike’s death. One of his teammates stated during his memorial, ‘This Team… This company… This regiment, will never forget your sacrifice. Each day when we don our kit and prepare for battle, we will do it in your honor. We will take the fight to the enemy and fight how you would have wanted us to. Never faltering… Never failing… and never forgetting. This fight is over for you brother, but know that it is not over for us. We will continue in your honor and remember you as a husband, a father, and a Green Beret.’

I attended the homecoming for the first flight that came in from Afghanistan. I was grateful to be there yet nervous about my emotions. As we waited in the company I was approached by a woman in the hallway. ‘Mrs. Simpson,’ she said. ‘I am not sure if this is an appropriate time but I wanted to introduce myself and tell you that I was one of Mike’s nurses in Afghanistan.’ I am sure I hugged her immediately and was so grateful to lay my hands on someone who was there, with Mike, during the scariest moments of his life. It was a blessing I can’t explain. She was one of many who saved Mike so our family could say goodbye. She was, and still is, my angel. I am blessed by her and her whole family to this day.

When the buses arrived carrying Mike’s company we all rushed outside to greet them. The minds and hearts of so many wives and children were eased and made whole again. I truly was so happy for them, yet I subconsciously waited for Mike to get off that bus. The last man embarked and I was sure Mike would be next. The door closed and the bus drove away.

In the distance, I heard the shriek of a little girl, calling, ‘Daddy! Daddy!’ and as I turned to look, I saw her run and jump into a man’s arms who wore the same uniform as all the other soldiers … the same one Mike would have been wearing, with the same wide arms he would have caught our sons in. But it wasn’t him and it never would be. My heart shattered all over again and I needed to turn and walk inside to face this emotion alone. I couldn’t allow anyone to think I was not grateful their husbands came home, because I was, wholeheartedly, but that didn’t take away my pain.

I went home that night with a folded flag that was flown over Mike’s camp in Afghanistan. My dear friend laid next to me as I cried myself to sleep and she didn’t leave my side until she knew I was okay.

Over the next several months I was constantly at the battalion, offering help, wanting to talk to them to make sure they were doing okay. I know it was difficult for them to see me since I was a reminder of the reality of Mike’s death. I know many struggled with his loss and I recognized very quickly that survivor’s guilt was a very real emotion. They needed to know that this was God’s plan, not ours, and He doesn’t make mistakes. My mission was to show them that we would honor Mike, grieve his loss but we would absolutely be okay. We were strong and proud, not weak and angry. Everyone grieves differently and there is not a right or wrong way to do it. I chose grace for me, my children and his team.

One of Mike’s teammates, Gus, had done the original inventory on Mike’s things. He was able to put all of his belongings into perspective. What he was wearing the day of his accident, what certain gear meant and what it was used for. He brought back command challenge coins from the memorial in Afghanistan where they all gathered on 11 May. Gus was able to retrieve and hand carry the patches Mike wore on his helmet, along with the memorial patch he had made for their team’s uniforms. Gus would come over and play with the boys, give me a moment of rest and help anyway he could.

So many of Mike’s teammates and their families would do the same. I was so grateful for the respite since the light at the end of the deployment tunnel was extinguished for me. Mike wouldn’t return to ease the natural burdens of parenting coupled with keeping up the household alone.

I always had family dinners. From the time Mike passed, I’d send out a text at 1:00 pm on a Sunday with, ‘Family dinner at 4’ and a few hours later the house would fill with joy and laughter. What better therapy than to be surrounded by those that loved us and Mike?

Gus and I would talk a lot about Mike, his feelings of survivor’s guilt (which they all had) and spent a lot of time together over the next couple years. I started to realize I cared for Gus more than I thought was possible and wanted to see where that would lead us.

I flew down to Texas for Easter – I needed to talk to Mike’s parents. His father said to me, ‘I have four requirements: He loves you, he loves the boys, he loves Jesus and that he always shows them it’s manly to love Jesus.’ His mother said, ‘I’ve prayed since the week after Mike died that you would find somebody.’ They were my greatest supporters. And they already loved Gus. He was already a part of our family. This was a no brainer for me.

I struggled with Gus being my secret-not so secret boyfriend. I had this organization that I’d founded as a widow of an active duty service member. I was afraid. I had lost my identity as a military spouse and then I found one as a military widow. It allowed me to talk about Mike and honor him. We were afraid of what our friends might think of our relationship and the judgement that would come. In July 2016, we broke up when I realized I needed time. Ten days later, he left for Nepal with his team and during those three months I recognized all of the things I was doing wrong. I thought I was honoring Mike every day but by not honoring Gus at all, was I really? By having someone in my life who wanted to love us, take care of us and honor Mike, yet I wasn’t willing to let him in – could I be dishonoring my late husband? I used to resent the ‘widow’ title but then I found myself not wanting to let it go.

I prayed so much and I came to the conclusion that I just needed to love Gus, and show him that he was a priority. He got back from Nepal and he was still very angry with me. We met a few times to talk, took it slow and then one day I boldly told him that we were going to get married. I knew the response could have broke my heart but he was worth it.

We were worth it.

He laughed and told me softly that I had to be crazy. One month later, Gus got down on one knee on the docks in Seattle, in front of our favorite Oyster Bar (Elliotts) and asked me to marry him. Two months later, we were married in Rhode Island among our family and friends. The priest who married us had married my parents, baptized Gabriel, did last rights for Mike and his funeral in Arlington, and had confirmed and married Casey and Sandy (Mike’s friend who was with him in Germany). It was perfect.

Thanks to Michael’s kind-hearted 1st grade teacher, Ms. Petruska, my boys decided to call Gus ‘Dad’ the moment we stepped off the altar, and have not called him anything but that since. They wanted and needed a father in their lives so badly and I don’t think I realized that until then. Michael and Gabriel both repeat Ms. Petruska’s words often – ‘We have a Daddy in Heaven and a Daddy on earth.’

The massive SAS legend who made it through selection. Twice.

A month after Gus and I married he deployed to Afghanistan. I woke up every morning and prayed that Gus was alive. He was so good about messaging me whenever he could to ease my mind, even though I never shared with him my fears. His heart and mind just works that way and he is always considering the times and moments I may go through in this journey and how they may be affecting me. He is constantly striving to make life easier. I pray I do the same for him.

I won’t tell you that I didn’t struggle through those six months but I can tell you I found peace in God’s plan and chose to continue to trust that His plan was greater than mine. Tragedy and loss does not have to define you or dictate the rest of your life. My story didn’t end with the loss of Mike; it began with a new chapter of hope and my choice of joy. It continued with honoring Mike and Gus giving me the greatest gift… he never makes me choose as he continues to give me the freedom to love them both.

Five years to the day that Mike touched American soil in Dover, Delaware for his dignified transfer, I landed in Washington, DC with Gus, for the Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year events with Military Spouse Magazine that would change my life. Five years to the day that Mike was flown back to Joint Base Lewis McChord to land at Grey Army Airfield, I was awarded the overall Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year. I know it’s right where I need to be, that God’s timing is perfect, and that Mike would be so proud of me. And I also know I couldn’t have done any of this without Gus or my children.

Tragedy did not dictate my life in a negative way. My goal is that other people can see that, and feel that. I remember looking at other Gold Star Spouses like Lisa Hallett and thinking, ‘If she can do it, I can do it.’ And I want other people to look at me and find hope, too.

Mike was very proud to sacrifice his life. And I am so proud to honor him.

Arlington National Cemetery is where my friend Andrea suggested a fundraiser for those who supported us and ultimately where The Unquiet Professional was born. So many organizations supported us, from the volunteers with the USO who carried my kids through the airport, the Green Beret Foundation being there for everything, or wear blue: run to remember, where I found a healthy and meaningful way to heal. I wanted to be able to pay that love back.

We now provide healthy and empowering opportunities for Gold Star Families, Veterans and their families. When Andrea suggested fundraising, she saved me that day. She saved me from the possibilities of not being able to live out my grief in a positive way. I heal as I strive to help others do the same with my ‘twice in a lifetime love’ by my side every step of the way.

Memorial Day is my favorite holiday of the year. We feel Mike’s presence and his loss every single day no matter what life brings us. But on Memorial Day, everyone thinks of all of our fallen heroes. People say when you’re having your bbq and your beer you’re not remembering the sacrifices, but I say celebrate. Celebrate their lives. Remember them.

Honor Staff Sergeant Michael Simpson and other heroes this Memorial Day by participating in The Unquiet Professional’s Virtual Memorial Day Mile. Join their Facebook group here.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Pentagon will report what really happened to 4 soldiers in Niger

The Pentagon is releasing a redacted version of the lengthy Niger ambush investigation that is expected to focus on the command and tactical decisions that led to the deaths of four members of the Army‘s Third Special Forces Group.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has said the Article 15-6 fact-finding investigation is thousands of pages long. Pentagon officials said the report would include an animated video of what happened on the joint patrol with Nigerien troops near the village of Tongo Tongo in northwestern Niger on Oct. 4, 2018.


The families of the fallen and members of Congress have already been briefed on the findings, which were expected to answer the lingering questions about how a patrol of 12 U.S. and approximately 30 Nigerien troops came to be overwhelmed by fighters from an offshoot of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

In a briefing shortly after the ambush, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford said the mission had been expected to pose little risk.

The massive SAS legend who made it through selection. Twice.
Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
(Dept. of Defense Photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro)

However, the mission reportedly was changed and sent the patrol after a high-value militant linked to the offshoot called ISIS in the Greater Sahel.

Those killed in the patrol were Sgt. La David Johnson, 25, of Miami Gardens, Florida; Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup, Washington; Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio; and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Georgia.

Four Nigerien troops and a Nigerien interpreter also were killed in the ambush near the Mali border as the patrol was returning to base near the Nigerien capital of Niamey.

Black’s father has declined to fault the decisions that led to the ambush.

He told National Public Radio, “I would not personally characterize them as mistakes. They were just decisions based on what they knew, and I believe that those decisions were sound decisions.”

One of the questions that is expected to be answered is how Sgt. La David Johnson came to be separated from the rest of the patrol during the ambush. His body was not found until two days after the attack.

The massive SAS legend who made it through selection. Twice.
Sgt. La David Johnson
(U.S. Army photo)

The noontime briefing at the Pentagon on the investigation is expected to be led by Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Robert S. Karem and Marine Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, commander of U.S. Africa Command.

Waldhauser’s chief of staff, Army Maj. Gen. Roger L. Cloutier, who led the Article 15-6 investigation, is also expected to join the briefing.

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

Military Life

Watch these Marine recruits take on the infamous ‘Reaper’

In boot camp, Marine recruits must endure a 54-hour training event under intense mental and physical distress.

During the exercise, recruits will hike over 45 miles while taking on several obstacles that require strong problem-solving and teamwork. Every moment of the event is highly structured, planned well in advance, and done under strict Marine supervision. Toward the end of their days-long test, each recruit must negotiate one of the toughest hikes up one of the steepest hills in Camp Pendleton, best known as the “Reaper.” This is the final test before earning the title of U.S. Marine.


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Recruits of Fox Company, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, navigate through the Weaver obstacle during the Crucible Confidence Course at Edson Range aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. The event is part of the Crucible, which is a 54-hour test of endurance and team building.
(Photo by Marine Sgt. Benjamin E. Woodle)

As darkness still blankets the recruits outside their berthing area, drill instructors blare their high-decibel horns to awaken those who are about to experience the Reaper. The young troops quickly pack up their heavy gear and begin the last 9.7-mile hike of basic training as they approach the 700-foot-tall hill.

As each recruit ascends the hill, the fatigue of spending days on minimal rations and little sleep sets in. Each of the recruits must now motivate one another to overcome the struggle and make it up the tall hill. This final hike pays homage to the brave Marines who willed themselves to the top of Mount Suribachi, securing the area from their Japanese enemy.

The massive SAS legend who made it through selection. Twice.
The famous photo of U.S. Marines placing the American flag atop of Mount Suribachi, WWII.
(Photo by Joe Rosenthal)

This final test of fortitude is just the beginning of a long career for these soon-to-be Marines, as life in the Corps is just as tough as the last 13-weeks they’ve endured. Pushed by an overwhelming amount of motivation, recruits surpass obstacles they didn’t know even existed before boot camp.

Recruits approach this final challenge, charging as hard as they can, screaming out war cries, and pushing their bodies beyond limits. Before they know it, they’ve reached their ultimate goal: becoming a United States Marine.

The massive SAS legend who made it through selection. Twice.
The new Marines of Delta Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, received their Eagle, Globe, and Anchor during a ceremony. This ceremony marks the end of the 54-hour culminating event of training known as the Crucible. Delta Company is scheduled to graduate Sept.
(Photo by Marine Lance Cpl. Mary Ann Hill)

Overcome with emotion, the young Marines open their palms to receive their Eagle, Globe, and Anchor from a once-demanding drill instructor, who now calls them a brother.

Check out Hard Corp Cadences‘ video below to witness this impressive final boot-camp test.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZTdG2zBH7M

MIGHTY HISTORY

The 5 stupidest losses of the American Civil War

Military history is full of blunders. Even the best among history’s greatest leaders made mistakes in their careers, often at critical times. Napoleon took too long to invade Russia. The Crusader kingdoms decided to march their army in full armor across a burning desert to attack Saladin on his own ground, heck President Truman even called Douglas MacArthur a “dumb son-of-a b*tch.”

It happens.

During the American Civil War, any ill-timed loss or setback could have been catastrophic for either side. So winning when it mattered was vitally important. Too bad no one told these guys.


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. Fredericksburg

There’s no better example of poor execution ruining an excellent plan than the Battle of Fredericksburg. When the Union Army under Ambrose Burnside wanted to invade Virginia across the Rappahannock River, all went exactly as planned… until it came time to actually cross it. Gen. Henry Halleck, who was an excellent administrator but a terrible field commander, didn’t get the bridges downriver in time for the Union to keep the initiative. By the time they actually crossed the river, the Confederates were ready for them. But even so, the Federals could have been better – and that’s Burnside’s fault.

Burnside wasn’t exactly acting with military precision when he ordered his subordinates to attack the rebels with “at least a division” when the original plan called for some 60,000 troops. His underlings, following their orders, threw a thousand men in single waves at the reinforced enemy lines. Outnumbered by a lot, the rebels repelled the Federal Army, who retreated across the Rappahannock.

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Shiloh

At Shiloh, the Confederates boldly placed their camp near Sherman’s headquarters, achieving complete tactical surprise on the morning of the battle, a fight Sherman wanted to avoid. Eventually, the unprepared Union troops were forced into a fight by the approaching enemy army. But the Confederates weren’t able to press this advantage because Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston left P.G.T. Beauregard in command of the army from the rear, and then ran off to lead the fight from the front. Beauregard’s coordination led to the whole confederate Army getting mixed up in the fight. Later in the day, Johnston was killed after spending too many lives trying to take a fortified Union position called the “Hornet’s Nest” – an unnecessary venture.

The next day, the Confederates were down to half-strength, and the lull in the previous day’s fighting had allowed the Union to get reinforcements. Without knowing he was outnumbered by more than two-to-one, Beauregard remained in the battle and was himself surprised by a Union counterattack the next morning. The Confederates were later forced to retreat, having completely lost the initiative.

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Cold Harbor

Cold Harbor could have won the war for the Union in 1864. Instead, it’s a lesson learned. During the Overland Campaign, Grant and the Union Army ground at Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia for nearly two months with some 120,000 troops, outnumbering Lee two-to-one. The culmination of the campaign was an attack on the Confederate defenses at Cold Harbor, where Grant gambled that Lee’s decimated army would be so exhausted it would fall to a Union onslaught. Grant was right, and the defenses fell, and then he went onto Richmond, and the war was over.

Of course, that’s not what happened. What happened is the same thing that happens when any army throws thousands of men at reinforced defenses manned by veteran troops: wholesale slaughter. Grant massed his men in front of the Confederate defenses, and the rebels just fired shot after shot of canister into the throngs. Grant lost nearly 10 percent of his army, more than 12,000 men – and the war dragged on.

The massive SAS legend who made it through selection. Twice.

The Crater

At the Siege of Petersburg, Va., an engagement that lasted nearly a full year, Union engineers dug a mineshaft underneath the Confederate defenses. It was a brilliant plan to destroy the Confederate defenses from below instead of attacking them head-on (Grant had learned a little lesson from Cold Harbor, so at least there’s that). There was a special division that had been drilling and training for the assault on the rebel lines immediately after the mine was blown up. They would roll up the rebels through the hole created in the defenses, and everyone could go home. The only problem was that that division happened to be an all-black U.S. Colored Troops unit, so at the last minute, Gen. George G. Meade swapped them out with a bunch of untrained rabble and put the world’s worst officer in charge of the attack.

The mine blew as planned and created a giant crater on the battlefield. The officer in command, Gen. James Ledlie, didn’t brief his men that they would be attacking around a crater and then got drunk during the battle. Instead of going around the crater and attacking, the Union troops ran into it, found it was too deep to get out of, and just stayed there while the rebels killed them.

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Antietam (hear me out…)

While Antietam isn’t technically a loss, it should have been a slam dunk for the Union Army. Instead, it was a gross loss of life. They outnumbered the rebels three-to-one, Lee had divided his forces into three different parts to facilitate its movement, oh, and George B. McClellan actually had Lee’s entire battle plan the whole time. It was found by two Union soldiers and delivered to the Union commander who waited a whole 18 hours to do anything about it. After squandering his foreknowledge of Lee’s plans, McClellan then dithered further, allowing Lee’s forces to mass near Sharpsburg, Md.

Once the armies were all set, the battle began, and the slaughter commenced. What should have been an easy rout for the Union turned out to be the bloodiest day in American history up until that point. After barely managing a win, McClellan allowed Lee’s army to escape without further harassment. McClellan’s lack of aggression was so apparent that President Lincoln fired him for it.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Coast Guard could have the Navy’s new frigates

For a long time, the Coast Guard has used Navy hand-me-downs. After World War II, many old Navy ships were pressed into Coast Guard service when they were no longer needed for defeating the Axis. Even today, the Coast Guard operates a U.S. Navy castoff in USCGC Alex Haley, a former Navy salvage tug. But now, the tides have turned, and the Coast Guard may actually be bailing the Navy out.


How so? The National Security Cutter is one of five contenders in the Navy’s FFG(X) program to find a new, multi-mission guided-missile frigates in the wake of the littoral combat ship’s poor performance. Other contenders include a Lockheed designed based on the Freedom-class littoral combat ship and foreign designs — one from Spain (the Álvaro de Bazán-class guided missile frigate) and a Franco-Italian consortium (the FREMM).

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The Huntington Ingalls proposal for the FFG(X) program is based on the Bertholf-class national security cutters.

(Department of Homeland Security)

The National Security Cutter hull is currently in production. Right now, the Coast Guard is in the process of building their 10th out of 11 planned vessels.

Also called the Legend-class cutter, this ship is armed with a 57mm gun, about a half-dozen .50-caliber machine guns, and the ability to operate a helicopter, usually a MH-60T Jayhawk. The model displayed last year at SeaAirSpace 2017, the FF4923, also included a 16-cell Mk41 vertical-launch system and eight over-the-horizon anti-ship missiles. This ship already meets several of the requirements as laid out by the Navy’s FFG(X) program, making it a great launch point.

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Three Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates: USS Oliver Hazard Perry (FFG 7), USS Antrim (FFG 20), and USS Jack Williams (FFG 24).

(US Navy)

According to spec sheets, the National Security Cutter has a top speed of 28 knots. This is slower than some of the other ships out in contention, notably the Freedom-class LCS and the Bazán-class frigates, but it can out-sprint the FREMM. The good news is that the National Security Cutter is large enough (at 4,500 tons — about 50 percent larger than a Perry-class frigate) to handle the new systems.

The Navy is planning to announce the winning design in 2020. Plans call for at least 20 guided-missile frigates to be purchased over a decade’s time.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Navy tradition that rewards ice cream for rescued pilots

Imagine you’re a Navy torpedo pilot in World War II. Your life is exciting, your job is essential to American security and victory, but you spend most days crammed into a metal matchbox filled with gas, strapped with explosives, and flying over shark-filled waters of crushing depths. But your Navy wants to get you back if you ever go down, so it came up with a novel way of rescuing you: ice cream bounties.


The massive SAS legend who made it through selection. Twice.

The wake coming off this thing could easily drown even a strong swimmer.

(U.S. Navy History and Heritage Command)

Before helicopters were stationed on carriers after World War II, those massive ships had few good options for rescuing pilots who had to bail out over the sea. It’s not like they could just pull the floating city up alongside the swimming pilot and drop him a line. After all, carriers displace a lot of water and could easily swamp a swimmer. And rescuing a pilot like that would restrict or temporarily stop aircraft launches and recoveries.

So, carrier crews came up with a silly but effective way of rewarding boat crews and those of smaller ships for helping their downed pilots out: If they brought a pilot back to the carrier, the carrier would give them gallons of ice cream and potentially some extra goodies like a bottle or two of spirits.

The exact amount of ice cream transferred was different for different carriers, and it seems to have changed over time. But Daniel W. Klohs was a sailor on the USS Hancock in World War II, and he remembered being on the bridge the first time a destroyer brought back a pilot:

I told the captain (Hickey) that it was customary to award the DD with 25 gallons of ice cream for the crew and two bottles of whiskey for the Capt. and Exec. We ended up giving 30 gallons of ice cream because it was packed in 10-gallon containers. This set a new precedent for the return of aviators.

Carriers could rarely swing about, slow down, and pick up their own pilots, especially in the heat of battle. But a small destroyer or PT boat could fire a salvo of torpedoes at enemy subs and ships and then swing around and try to get a swimming pilot aboard.

Obviously, sailor to sailor, these rescues would’ve happened anyway. But the carriers figured that any goodwill they could foster in the other crews to rescue their pilots might help the aviators’ chances in the water. And while some submarines and other vessels had their own ice cream, it was a rare treat in most of the deployed Navy and Army. But carriers had massive freezers and stockpiles.

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​Destroyers like the USS Yarnall could look forward to some well-earned desert if they were the ones to pass an aviator back to his carrier.

(U.S. Navy)

Tom Kocurko spent World War II in the Navy, serving on cruisers and destroyers and even wading ashore with Marines to direct naval gunfire. It was while he was on a destroyer escorting a carrier that he found out about the ice cream tradition.

“We’d get 10 gallons of ice cream every time we picked up a pilot, which was a real treat. So we started joking, ‘Let’s shoot one down.”‘

For the pilots, this could feel a bit reductive. Lt. Cmdr. Norman P. Stark was a Hellcat pilot in World War II, and he was shot down while attacking Japanese positions on Okinawa. After a controlled dive and crash into the ocean, his fellow aviators marked his location and called for rescue. A floatplane from a battleship pulled him out.

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Coast Guard pilot Lt. John Pritchard helped rescue air crews in Greenland and surrounding waters, eventually disappearing while rescuing crewmembers from a lost bomber. Small planes like his could land in the water, pick up pilots, and return to a cutter or other ship.

(U.S. Coast Guard)

But then the battleship transferred him to a destroyer, and the destroyer crew was happy to have him … because of the ice cream:

After disembarking from the canvas bag, I was greeted like a long lost brother. What I didn’t realize at the time, was that they weren’t seeing me, but what I was worth to them–10 gallons of ice cream. Destroyer crews loved to rescue pilots. A pilot returned to his carrier was exchanged for 10 gallons of ice cream.

A little later in his history, available here, Stark says:

The Yarnall came alongside the Wasp, shot a line which was made fast, and I was transferred back to my Carrier. This was a dry trip. The 10 gallons of ice cream was passed to the Yarnall, and as they pulled away, I saw grins, from ear to ear. At least I had finally ascertained my true value–10 gallons of ice cream.

As carriers began to receive their own rescue helicopters after World War II, the tradition became less important. A Naval Aviation News reporter asked a helicopter crew about it in 1958:

Does the carrier greet the rescue crew with special treatment when a pilot is saved, like the old practice whereby a carrier gave a destroyer five gallons of ice cream for returning a downed pilot?
“You kidding?” a pilot asks. “They give us a hard time for delaying operations!”

But the first helicopter rescue of a carrier pilot was actually effected by a civilian crew from Sikorsky there to sell the Navy on the value of rescue helicopters in 1947. Since the helicopter pilot was a Sikorsky employee and not a member of the carrier crew, the carrier ponied up 10 gallons per pilot rescued.

The Sikorsky crew had picked up three downed pilots and so was lined up for a 30-gallon bounty which the carrier gave them all at once on their last day aboard. The Sikorsky pilot had to quickly gift the ice cream back to the carrier crew in an impromptu ice cream social since he couldn’t possibly eat 30 gallons in mere minutes.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Soldiers to operate armed robotic vehicles from cutting-edge Bradleys

Soldiers are slated to fire at targets in 2020 using a platoon of robotic combat vehicles they will control from the back of modified Bradley Fighting Vehicles.

The monthlong operational test is scheduled to begin in March 2020 at Fort Carson, Colorado, and will provide input to the Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Ground Vehicle Systems Center on where to go next with autonomous vehicles.

The upgraded Bradleys, called Mission Enabler Technologies-Demonstrators, or MET-Ds, have cutting-edge features such as a remote turret for the 25 mm main gun, 360-degree situational awareness cameras and enhanced crew stations with touchscreens.


Initial testing will include two MET-Ds and four robotic combat vehicles on M113 surrogate platforms. Each MET-D will have a driver and gunner as well as four soldiers in its rear, who will conduct platoon-level maneuvers with two surrogate vehicles that fire 7.62 mm machine guns.

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Under Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy, center left, and Gen. James C. McConville, the Army’s vice chief of staff, center right, discuss emerging technology while inside a Mission Enabler Technologies-Demonstrator, a modified Bradley Fighting Vehicle equipped with several upgrades, in Warren, Mich., Jan. 18, 2018.

(Photo by Sean Kimmons)

“We’ve never had soldiers operate MET-Ds before,” said David Centeno Jr., chief of the center’s Emerging Capabilities Office. “We’re asking them to utilize the vehicles in a way that’s never been done before.”

After the tests, the center and Next-Generation Combat Vehicle Cross-Functional Team, both part of Army Futures Command, will then use soldier feedback to improve the vehicles for future test phases.

“You learn a lot,” Centeno said at the International Armored Vehicles USA conference on June 26, 2019. “You learn how they use it. They may end up using it in ways we never even thought of.”

The vehicles are experimental prototypes and are not meant to be fielded, but could influence other programs of record by demonstrating technology derived from ongoing development efforts.

“This technology is not only to remain in the RCV portfolio, but also legacy efforts as well,” said Maj. Cory Wallace, robotic combat vehicle lead for the NGCV CFT.

One goal for the autonomous vehicles is to discover how to penetrate an adversary’s anti-access/aerial denial capabilities without putting soldiers in danger.

The vehicles, Centeno said, will eventually have third-generation forward-looking infrared kits with a target range of at least 14 kilometers.

“You’re exposing forces to enemy fire, whether that be artillery, direct fire,” he said. “So, we have to find ways to penetrate that bubble, attrit their systems and allow for freedom of air and ground maneuver. These platforms buy us some of that, by giving us standoff.”

Phase II, III

In late fiscal year 2021, soldiers will again play a role in Phase II testing as the vehicles conduct company-level maneuvers.

This time, experiments are slated to incorporate six MET-Ds and the same four M113 surrogates, in addition to four light and four medium surrogate robotic combat vehicles, which industry will provide.

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(Ground Vehicle Systems Center)

Before these tests, a light infantry unit plans to experiment with the RCV light surrogate vehicles in Eastern Europe May 2020.

“The intent of this is to see how an RCV light integrates into a light infantry formation and performs reconnaissance and security tasks as well as supports dismounted infantry operations,” Wallace said at the conference.

Soldier testing for Phase III is slated to take place mid-fiscal 2023 with the same number of MET-Ds and M113 surrogate vehicles, but will instead have four medium and four heavy purpose-built RCVs.

“This is the first demonstration which we will be out of the surrogate realm and fielding purpose builts,” Wallace said, adding the vehicles will conduct a combined arms breach.

The major said he was impressed with how quickly soldiers learned to control the RCVs during the Robotic Combined Arms Breach Demonstration in May 2019 at the Yakima Training Center in Washington.

“Soldiers have demonstrated an intuitive ability to master controlling RCVs much faster than what we thought,” he said. “The feedback from the soldiers was that after two days they felt comfortable operating the system.”

There are still ongoing efforts to offload some tasks in operating RVCs to artificial intelligence in order to reduce the cognitive burden on soldiers.

“This is not how we’re used to fighting,” Centeno said. “We’re asking a lot. We’re putting a lot of sensors, putting a lot of data in the hands of soldiers. We want to see how that impacts them. We want to see how it degrades or increases their performance.”

The family of RCVs include three variants. Army officials envision the light version to be transportable by rotary wing. The medium variant would be able to fit onto a C-130 aircraft, and the heavy variant would fit onto a C-17 aircraft.

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A C-130 aircraft.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rhett Isbell)

Both future and legacy armored platforms, such as the forthcoming Mobile Protected Firepower “light tank,” could influence the development of the RCV heavy.

With no human operators inside it, the heavy RCV can provide the lethality associated with armored combat vehicles in a much smaller form. Plainly speaking, without a crew, the RCV heavy requires less armor and can dedicate space and power to support modular mission payloads or hybrid electric drive batteries, Wallace said.

Ultimately, the autonomous vehicles will aim to keep soldiers safe.

“An RCV reduces risk,” Wallace said. “It does so by expanding the geometry of the battlefield so that before the threat makes contact with the first human element, it has to make contact with the robots.

“That, in turn, gives commanders additional space and time to make decisions.”

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

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

The fight to recognize Doris Miller’s valor at Pearl Harbor

As a U.S. Navy messman, Doris “Dorie” Miller, a Black 22-year-old sharecropper’s son from Waco, Texas, was restricted from handling any weapons. His duties included serving the officers’ mess, collecting laundry, and shining shoes. Despite the institutional racism built into the Navy at the time, Miller found success as the boxing champion of his ship, the battleship USS West Virginia. Still, he was segregated from his white shipmates in both his duties and berthing. However, Miller and the Navy would soon learn that hostile fire doesn’t discriminate.

On December 7, 1941, Miller woke at 0600 to serve the breakfast mess. Afterwards, he proceeded to collect laundry. At 0757, a torpedo dropped by Lt. Cdr. Shigeharu Murata of the Japanese aircraft carrier Akagi struck West Virginia—it was the first of nine torpedoes that would eventually sink the mighty battleship. General Quarters was sounded and Miller made his way to his battle station, an anti-aircraft battery magazine located amidships. Upon finding the position destroyed, Miller proceeded to “Times Square”, a central location where the fore-to-aft and port-to-starboard passageways crossed, to report himself available for other duty.


The COMMO, Lt. Cdr. Doir Johnson, recognized Miller’s powerful boxer build and ordered Miller to accompany him to the bridge to help him move the ship’s skipper, Cpt. Mervyn Bennion, who had taken a piece of shrapnel to the abdomen. Miller and Johnson were unable to remove Bennion from the bridge and instead moved him from the exposed position where he was wounded to a sheltered spot behind the conning tower. Bennion refused to abandon his post and continued to fight the ship, issuing orders and receiving reports from his officers.

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A cartoon depicting Miller’s action at Pearl Harbor (Charles Alston—Office of War Information and Public Relations)

After moving the captain, Miller was ordered to accompany Lt. Frederic White and Ens. Victor Delano to load the number 1 and 2 M2 .50-caliber anti-aircraft machine guns which sat unmanned aft of the conning tower. Since he had no training on the weapon system, White and Delano instructed Miller on how to load and man the guns. Expecting Miller to feed ammunition to the gun, Delano was surprised to turn around and see Miller firing one of the guns. White loaded ammunition into the guns and Miller continued to fire until the ammunition was expended. Miller’s actions with the captain and the machine gun have become well-known thanks to their depiction in Hollywood films; most notably, Pearl Harbor where Miller was portrayed by Cuba Gooding Jr.

What is less known are Miller’s actions after he ran out of ammo. Lt. Claude Ricketts ordered Miller to help him carry the captain, now only semi-conscious and bleeding heavily, up to the navigation bridge and out of the thick oily smoke that had begun to engulf the ship. Cpt. Bennion succumbed to his wounds and died soon afterwards. For his actions, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Miller proceeded to pull injured sailors out of the burning mix of oil and water and was one of the last men to abandon West Virginia as she sank. Afterwards, Miller continued to rescue his fellow sailors from the water and move them to safety.

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Adm. Nimitz pins the Navy Cross on Miller at a ceremony aboard the USS Enterprise at Pearl Harbor on May 27, 1942 (U.S. Navy)

While it’s unfortunate that Miller’s actions after his gun ran out of ammo are lesser known, it’s tragic that Miller’s actions during the attack initially went unrecognized. An official Navy commendation list of outstanding actions during the attack did not bear Miller’s name and only listed “an unknown Negro sailor”. The Pittsburgh Courier, one of the leading Black newspapers at the time, didn’t think this was enough. “It made two lines in the newspaper,” said Frank Bolden, war correspondent for the Courier, in an interview before his death in 2003. “The Courier thought he should be recognized and honored. We sent not a reporter, we sent our executive editor to the naval department. They said, ‘We don’t know the name of the messman. There are so many of them.'” The Navy’s apathy didn’t deter the Courier though.

Hoping to undermine the stereotype that African Americans couldn’t perform well in combat, the Courier was determined to identify the unnamed Black sailor and properly recognize him for his actions. “The publisher of the paper said, ‘Keep after it’,” Bolden said. “We spent ,000 working to find out who Dorie Miller was. And we made Dorie Miller a hero.”

After Miller was identified, the African-American community swelled with pride. Amidst the shock and sorrow that gripped the country following Pearl Harbor, they had a war hero that represented them. Initially, however, the Navy only awarded Miller a letter of commendation. It took a campaign by the Black press and a proposal from Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander of the Pacific fleet, to President Roosevelt for the commendation to be upgraded to the Navy Cross, the third highest honor for valor at the time.

Miller continued to serve in the fleet aboard the USS Indianapolis and was advanced to Messman First Class in June 1942. Later that month, the Courier started a campaign for him to return home for a war bond tour alongside white war heroes. As part of the campaign, the Courier published a photo of Miller next to a photo of a Sgt. Joseph Lockard receiving an officer’s commission for sounding a warning that went unheeded before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The photos were captioned, “He Warned…Gets Commission. He Fought…Keeps Mop,” highlighting the disparity in the treatment of white and colored servicemen.
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The recruiting poster was designed by artist David Stone Martin (U.S. Navy)

The campaign succeeded and Miller returned to Pearl Harbor in November. He went on a war bond tour that included Oakland, Dallas, and his hometown of Waco until he reported to Puget Sound in May, 1943. He was advanced to Cook First Class on June 1 and reported to the escort carrier Liscome Bay. That year, Miller was featured on a Navy recruiting poster called “Above and beyond the call of duty.” At the Battle of Makin, Liscome Bay was sunk by a Japanese submarine on November 24, 1943. Miller and two-thirds of the crew were listed as presumed dead. His body was never recovered.

Since his death, Miller has had schools, streets, community centers, and a foundation named after him. A memorial in his hometown of Waco, Texas features a nine-foot bronze statue of Miller. While the Navy named a Knox-class frigate after him, the remainder of Miller’s naval dedications are quarters, galleys, and a housing community—until now. On January 19, 2020, the Navy announced that CVN-81, a future Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier, would be named the USS Doris Miller. The Doris Miller is scheduled to be laid down January 2026, launched October 2029, and commissioned in 2030. She is the first supercarrier to be named for an enlisted sailor and the first to be named after an African American.
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Miller’s niece, Brenda Haven, and her family react after the unveiling of a framed graphic commemorating the future USS Doris Miller at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (U.S. Navy)

The fight to honor Miller continues though. Since the Navy announced that a carrier would bear his name, efforts to upgrade Miller’s Navy Cross to a Medal of Honor have been renewed. The man who was told he could not handle a weapon but still defended his ship and rescued his shipmates will have his name on one of the Navy’s mightiest ships. Doris Miller will be listed alongside names like Gerald R. Ford and John F. Kennedy. If he is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, it will mark the final victory in the fight to properly recognize Miller for his courage, valor, and dedication to duty.


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