The War Time Generations

EGA 2018No serviceman today will diminish the service, sacrifice, or achievements of our World War II heroes.  After all, they were our fathers, uncles, brothers, or maybe even our grandfathers. What they accomplished in Defending America, under the most difficult of circumstances between December 1941 through September 1945, should cause every one of us to stand in honor of their presence. They are entitled to our deepest respect.

And yet, to claim that one generation of American warrior is “greater” than any other is grossly inaccurate.  I have never heard a veteran of World War II proclaim themselves as such. The phrase, as one might expect, originated with a journalist by the name of Tom Brokaw who used that phrase in the title of his book.  It was later borrowed by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks in several films recreating events in World War II.  Neither Brokaw, Spielberg, nor Hanks ever served their country in uniform —so I suspect they wouldn’t have any first-hand knowledge about combat, or what actually defines a “greatest” generation.

Tens of thousands of Americans served in the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.  Some of these men and women also lived during the Great Depression, experiencing tough times in the 1930s and 1940s.  It is certainly true that our Iraqi and Afghan war veterans grew up at a different time, but these men and women stepped up to serve; some gave all they had to give.  Most of our latest greatest volunteered for military service; all of them had to leave behind a loved one to worry about them over many months.  Do they not also count as among America’s greatest generation(s)?

In World War II, ten million Americans were conscripted into military service; another 3 million were volunteers.  Of these, 407,316 US servicemen gave up their lives.  An additional 671,846 received serious wounds.  In the Korean War, the United States drafted 1.5 million men, with a much smaller number volunteering to fight.  In total, 326,823 Americans served in Korea; of these, 33,651 Americans laid down their lives.  In Vietnam, 2.2 million Americans were forced to serve; only a quarter of these people actually served in Vietnam.  We lost 58,318 Americans in Vietnam; an additional  303,656 received combat wounds.

Do the Americans who served in the Korean and Vietnam wars deserve as much respect as those who served in World War II —particularly since neither of these conflicts received the popular support of the American people?

Of course, they do …

Yet, today, people who never once placed themselves in harm’s way will argue that the modern battlefield is far less demanding than those of earlier wars.  I suspect that our Iraqi and Afghan War veterans will disagree.  To begin with, while there does continue to be a draft registration, today’s military is an all-volunteer force.  These are America’s true warrior class citizens.  There is as much (or more) courage displayed on the battlefields of today as in our previous three conflicts.  What does stand out is that veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars received fewer combat awards than those in previous eras.  There are several reasons for this, but none of them related to any lack of courage among our modern-day warriors.

Wooldridge 001For those who think that the Iraq and Afghan Wars were “long distance” engagements, think again.  Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates once said, “Our enemy generally use weapons at a distance from us, so there’s less hand-to-hand or in-close combat than there has been in previous years.”  Mr. Gates probably never met Corporal Clifford Wooldridge, United States Marine Corps.

On 17 June 2010, Cpl. Wooldridge was riding in a convoy when the vehicles came under heavy enemy fire from a group of Taliban fighters in Helmand Province [1], in Afghanistan.  The story of Wooldridge’s heroism is told in the following award presentation:

Navy Cross 001Navy Cross Citation:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Corporal Clifford M. Wooldridge, United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism while serving as Vehicle Commander, Combined Anti-Armor Platoon White, Weapons Company, Third Battalion, Seventh Marines, Regimental Combat Team 2, FIRST Marine Division (Forward), I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) Afghanistan, on 18 June 2010 in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM.  When their mounted patrol came under intense enemy fire, Corporal Wooldridge and his squad dismounted and maneuvered on the suspected enemy location. Spotting a group of fifteen enemy fighters preparing an ambush, Corporal Wooldridge led one of his fire teams across open ground to flank the enemy, killing or wounding at least eight and forcing the rest to scatter. As he held security alone to cover his fire team’s withdrawal, he heard voices from behind an adjacent wall. Boldly rushing around the corner, he came face-to-face with two enemy fighters at close range, killing both of them with his M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon. As he crouched back behind the wall to reload, he saw the barrel of an enemy machine gun appear from around the wall. Without hesitation, he dropped his empty weapon and seized the machine gun barrel. He overwhelmed the enemy fighter in hand-to-hand combat, killing him with several blows to the head with the enemy’s own machine gun. His audacious and fearless actions thwarted the enemy attack on his platoon. By his bold and decisive leadership, undaunted courage under fire, and total dedication to duty, Corporal Wooldridge reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and of the United States Naval Service.

Notes:

[1] Also known as “Marine-istan.”

Winning Battles While Losing Wars

Bing WestAn essay by Bing West

This essay addresses why America is performing poorly in 21st Century warfare. War is the act of destroying and killing until the enemy is broken morally, and no longer resists our policy objectives. But President Obama eschews the war he claims to be fighting. Our generals have imposed rules of engagement that lengthen war and increase civilian casualties. Our enemies do not fear us, and our friends do not trust us. America is fighting a war without direction or leadership.

Policy Planning

We invaded both Afghanistan and Iraq with inchoate plans and inadequate forces to establish post-war security and governance. After winning the first battle in both countries, President George W. Bush offhandedly decided to build democratic nations, a task for which our State Department and USAID had no competence or interest. By default, the mission fell to our military, also without competence but with unflagging devotion and determination.

In both countries, our true enemies were rabid warriors determined to win or die. For us, the wars were limited —fought with few forces and many restraints. When the Islamists proved dedicated to an unlimited struggle, we reversed course and withdrew. True, President Bush did increase US forces in Iraq in 2007 and that stabilized the country. However, in 2008 he agreed with the sectarian, serpentine Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to withdraw all American troops by 2011. He threw away his success.

When 2011 arrived, President Barack Obama went against the recommendations of the intelligence community, the Pentagon, and the State Department. Instead of politically maneuvering to keep a residual force to check al-Maliki’s dark instincts, Obama pulled out all our troops. He fulfilled Bush’s foolish promise. Al-Maliki then proceeded to oppress the Sunnis, leading to the reemergence of the extremists now called the Islamic State. Obama quit, but Bush made it easy for him to do so.

Mr. Obama claimed Afghanistan was the war that had to be won. But as in Iraq, he headed for the exit. To avoid a humiliating collapse before he departs the White House, he will keep perhaps eight thousand US troops there in 2016.

On balance, the results in Iraq or Afghanistan were not worth the costs in American casualties, money, and global influence. Several policy lessons may be drawn.

First, the Pentagon should project for the president the length of time to achieve a desired post-war end state. In Iraq and Afghanistan, that meant staying for twenty or more years. From the start, Bush failed to explain this to the public. He did not even try to set the conditions in Congress and in the press for a long-term presence, as in South Korea.

Second, if our troops are killing and dying because the indigenous troops are not capable enough to stand on their own, then our commanders have the right and the obligation to select the leaders of those local forces. American diplomats chose Karzai and Maliki behind the scenes. Both choices were disasters. Yet due to unthinking allegiance to the word “democracy,” we allowed those solecistic, incompetent “elected” leaders to promote whom they chose within the ranks of the police, military, and other government agencies. Like Great Britain before us, we were a colonial power. Unlike the Brits, we did not select the commanders of the indigenous armies we were training, equipping, and paying.

Third, we granted sanctuaries to the enemy. Our military after Vietnam had vowed never again to fight such a war. But we forgot that vow. We invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to destroy al-Qaeda. In December of 2001, the core of that organization and its top leaders were trapped in a mountainous region called Tora Bora. Rather than employ a nearby Marine brigade and special operations forces, the American commander, General Tommy Franks, relied upon Afghan warlords whose motley troops allowed the al-Qaeda force to move across the border into Pakistan. That was a grave, unforced military error. Then, in a triumph of legalism over common sense, Bush decided not to cross the border in hot pursuit to destroy the fleeing terrorists.

Afghanistan steadily deteriorated after that. Yet we persisted for fourteen years in fighting an enemy while giving him a 1,500-mile-long sanctuary. Similarly, we knew where the al-Qaeda safe houses were in Syria, just across the border from Iraq. But we didn’t bomb them. We granted our enemy sanctuary.

Fourth, in such countries we should influence the politics through covert means, just as we did in Europe after World War II and occasionally during the Cold War. This includes channeling money, communications channels, and ease of transportation. Politics determines who gets what, when, and why. We fight wars to shape political ends. Influencing indigenous politics during a war should be a goal, not an out-of-bounds marker.

Fifth, we decided not to capture our enemy. In the twentieth century, many more combatants were captured than killed. Today, we don’t capture anyone. The gross pictures from Abu Ghraib, the political storm over water-boarding and Obama’s pledge to close Guantanamo and prosecute terrorists as criminals forced our military to turn over all captured enemies to corrupt Iraqi and Afghan officials. Most of those once in prison are now free, while the wars continue. Our troops call it “catch and release.” America has no comprehensible judicial system for war in the twenty-first century.

Sixth, we remain at war rhetorically, while refusing to fight with determination. How do we fight? The administration launches one or two drone strikes each month. White House spokesmen have bragged that the president routinely reviews dossiers and selects those to be killed. A commander in chief deciding upon a war fighting tactic calls into question management priorities. It also signals incapacity to think strategically, illustrating that he views war as a set of morally wrenching discrete decisions to kill about one hundred enemies each year.

Occasionally, the White House will supplement the drone strikes with a raid by our special operations forces, especially the SEALs. This garners huge favorable press, projecting an image of American superstar invulnerability. No wonder each SEAL vies to receive the most publicity. Distributing photos of the entire National Security Council mesmerized by the video of a squad raid encapsulates a strategic instinct to focus on the capillaries.

War is the act of relentlessly destroying and killing until the enemy is broken physically and morally, and no longer resists the advancement of our policy objectives. By that definition, Obama eschews war. He has declared the Islamic State will be destroyed. But his actions belie his words.

Seventh, our feckless war fighting policies over the past seven years have gravely diminished the respect of our adversaries and the trust of our friends. We refused to provide Ukraine with weapons after the Russians invaded. After declaring a “red line” if Assad used chemical weapons, Obama asked Russia to help him out. Now Russian aircraft in Syria are bombing the rebels Obama armed in the hope of overthrowing Assad. In Iraq, Iranian troops have replaced American troops. Obama’s retort is that both Iran and Russia won’t achieve anything more than he did. At the same time, Obama signed a nuclear agreement with Iran and lifted sanctions, without submitting a treaty to the Senate. In sum, Russia and Iran have undermined American credibility and military power in the Middle East, while China steals on a gigantic scale in cyberspace and exerts control over the South China Sea.

Currently, America has ceased to be the major power-player in the Middle East. Unless confronted by an absolute disaster, Obama will finish out his presidency without applying any more force than occasional bombing against the Islamic State. Russia and Iran will remain the more dominant military actors, along with the Islamic State. Under Iranian influence, Iraq will remain at war, divided between the Shiite and Sunni areas.

Fighting the War

We have done a miserable job at policy planning. But how are we doing on the battlefield? How do we fight that is really different from the twentieth century?

The most obvious difference is our overwhelming conventional superiority. That was clear when we took back Kuwait in 1991. It was reinforced in the invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and of Iraq in 2003. The world has never seen the likes of it. Yes, Alexander, Caesar, Genghis Khan, Napoleon … there have been numerous victorious armies and conquests. But none like this, none with such global reach and so few casualties.

What happened here, and why? In the twentieth century, the major wars were fought on an industrial scale. The combatants on opposing sides possessed the same sets of conventional weapons —machine guns, artillery, tanks, ships, vehicles, and aircraft. In the opening decade of the twenty-first century, only America could quickly, and at low cost, destroy all those weapons possessed by any other country.

Why? Because for a brief period —two or three decades?— our military technology had outstripped the rest of the world. The Soviet Union had collapsed, China had not caught up, and no other hostile nation was remotely in our technological league. Most telling was our leap forward in air-to-ground surveillance, detection, and destruction. Militaries cannot move or be supplied without vehicles. Every artillery tube, every internal engine, every human face emits heat that shines like a spotlight. Use any computer or cell phone, walk outdoors, drive down a road —and someone above is watching, electronically or physically. Our air-to-ground surveillance and firepower are astonishing.

Yet we did not win the battles, much less the wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan. Why? Simple: the enemy adapted. He took off his uniform and used our morality and befuddlement as jiu-jitsu to overcome our technological advantages. By hiding among the people, he was safe from our firepower. The enemy lived in the cities and villages, or hid across the border, coming together in small groups and choosing when and where to initiate contact against our patrols. The Vietnam-era tactic of fire and maneuver has gone away. Our troops wear armor and gear weighing about ninety pounds. They cannot run a hundred meters without being exhausted. So when the enemy shoots, a patrol gets down and returns a vicious volume of aimed fire. Except you rarely see a target, because the enemy isn’t stupid. He has selected a covered position before opening fire. Most firefights last less than fifteen minutes, because once a gunship or aircraft comes overhead, the enemy is doomed. So he shoots and scoots. Thus the war goes on and on, because the enemy will not commit suicide by massing or wearing uniforms.

The Islamists in Iraq and Afghanistan did not fight fiercely and stand their ground against our troops. Our training, shooting skills and firepower were overwhelming. The enemy may have been a farm boy, a terrorist from Yemen, a former Iraqi soldier, a youth from a Pakistani madras, a Taliban from Kabul —whomever. They all learned to stay about four hundred meters away from American troops, because every grunt now has a telescopic sight and most are qualified as expert riflemen.

The suicide bomber was a threat to our vehicles and fixed outposts. But it never expanded into an enormous threat. The YouTube videos posted by the Islamic State from the 2015 battles in Iraq suggest an exponential growth. From anecdotal evidence, it appears the suicidal truck bomber is as much a threat as was the kamikaze during the Okinawa campaign in 1945.

There was no solution to the improvised explosive device (IED). There were hundreds of thousands of them, because mixing fuel and fertilizer and packing them into a plastic jug is too easy ever to be stopped. IEDs have to be tolerated on a battlefield just as is a rifle. It’s a simple tool and therefore commonplace. We shouldn’t forget that in Vietnam, we lost over 10,000 killed to mines and booby traps—20 percent of all our fatalities.

What was new in our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was not the profusion of the IED/land mine; instead, it was the reduction in the number of American fatalities. Much has been written about “the magic hour,” meaning: get every wounded to an aid station within sixty minutes. True, the ratio of injured to killed dropped from 4-to-1 in Vietnam to 7-to-1 in Iraq. The underlying reason was better training in life-saving drilled into every squad, along with the tourniquet. Most wounded die from exsanguination. They bleed out because the tourniquet is inadequate. Not anymore. The modern tourniquet with its twist and snap is as much a breakthrough for the grunt as was the stirrup for the horse rider.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the doctrine of counterinsurgency prevailed. Practically, this meant our troops patrolled by walking about three miles a day in heavy gear in formations of fifteen to twenty men. The idea was to clear a populated area of the enemy by walking around repeatedly. Once the enemy pulled out or was killed, the friendly platoon or company would hold that area until Iraqi or Afghan forces were capable of holding it on their own. The local forces, in conjunction with local officials, were then to use American funds to build projects in order that the people would see a material reason for supporting their government.

Militarily, the goal was to win over the people. Thus, rules of engagement were designed to place severe limits upon the use of indirect firepower (mortars, artillery, rockets, or bombs). Even one civilian casualty caused bitter complaints, although the Islamists were responsible for three out of four killed or wounded.

On our side, there was a yin and yang to a war that had no endpoint. Over the last four years in Afghanistan, it became common for a platoon commander to say, “My mission is to get every one of my men back home in one piece.” Why risk your men when no one could tell you what defined victory? Why go across a field after taking some fire to check out the compound, when you could call in indirect fire? The incentive at the patrol level was to call in indirect fire.

On the yang side, the incentive of the senior commanders was not to allow indirect fire. The longer we stayed, the more frustrated the top command became with the lack of population cooperation. Every civilian casualty translated into some official complaining. So the more rigorous became the rules, especially in Afghanistan. It finally got to the point that the word of the forward air controller (FAC) on the ground was not good enough. The pilot was required to cross-examine the FAC before executing the mission, and a lawyer and/or another pilot back in an operations center miles away also had to authorize the strike.

Today, eight out of ten US attack aircraft return from missions over Islamic State territory without striking any target. To do so, the pilot needs the permission of a senior American officer in an operations center hundreds of miles away. This enormous caution —and expense— to protect the lives of every civilian is unprecedented in history. Only the richest country in the world can do it. However, it gravely slows down the pace of a war and allows the enemy to recuperate indefinitely.

These rules of engagement cannot be sustained when we again fight an enemy who can and does kill us. So far in the twenty-first century, our helicopters and aircraft have been almost invulnerable. Our losses have been very, very small. Similarly, our forces on the ground have not been under pressure. They are not attacked by doughty infantry in full battalions like the North Vietnamese, supported by heavy artillery. When we again fight heavy, sustained battles on a large scale, some commanders claim we can change these highly restrained rules of engagement at the snap of the fingers. More likely, the rules have sapped the aggressive spirit the high command must share with the warriors on the battlefield.

Lastly and regrettably, I must mention the growing trend of victimhood. Our society does not celebrate and single out the heroes. Instead, it tries to compensate those who psychologically or physically did not return home able to fully cope. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides some level of health care for less than half of our veterans. A minority of veterans use the VA. If all who had served turned to the VA for medical assistance, the VA system would collapse.

Yet the VA is now reporting that more 40 percent of all individuals getting out of the service after four years —and the wars essentially are over— apply for compensation for mental or physical injury. During the Vietnam War, the VA had five injury categories; today, it has seventeen. The more free money is available, the more will apply for that money. What does that do to the internal morale of a service when some in every squad put in claims, and others do not?

Summary

In summary, our enemies do not fear us and our friends do not trust us. Sensible steps can turn that around, but that depends upon the next commander in chief. So far in the twenty-first century, due to our vast wealth and technologies, we have not been sorely tested. Our beloved nation does not have a martial spirit, and perhaps does not need one. It does need a military inculcated with a warrior spirit.

Our largest deficit is national will. Consider our actions over the past decade. In 2004, we destroyed the Iraqi city of Fallujah in order to root Islamist terrorists. Then in 2011, we pulled our troops out of Iraq, despite predictions that Iraq would fall apart. In 2009, we demanded Assad leave power in Syria, but did not use military force to accomplish our demand. In the resulting civil war partially caused by our blunders, Islamist terrorists seized half of Syria and Iraq.

In November of 2015, the Islamists —now called ISIS or ISIL— massacred 130 civilians in Paris. But the American political system was unable to unite behind committing forces, as we did in Fallujah a decade ago. Why? Our commander-in-chief has rejected deploying Americans in ground combat, because he believes eternal war is the nature of the Muslim Middle East. He refuses to utter the word ‘Islamist terrorist.’ So does the Democratic contender to be our next commander-in-chief. The Republican candidates are divided. Our Congress will not even debate a resolution to authorize the use of ground forces, for fear of how the vote would affect re-election.

President Bush rashly overstepped in extending war to include nation-building. President Obama ideologically retreated by imposing restraints that encouraged our enemies. Congress proved irrelevant, lacking the cohesion to play its Constitutional role in declaring for —or against— war. As 2015 ends, a leaderless America is drifting. That should scare us all.

Bing West is a former combat Marine and an Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan Administration.  He has written nine books about war in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Another Kind of Hero

Somewhere out there, there is 40 pounds of explosives waiting to destroy an American life. On the battlefield, terrorism takes the form improvised explosive devices (IEDs). We used to refer to such things as booby traps (meaning a device used to catch the unwary); they have always had a profound psychological effect on military forces —and a devastating effect on civilian populations, as well. After the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the disposal of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, coalition forces remained in that country and assumed a new mission: nation building. The axiom used by former-president George H. W. Bush was, “If you break it, you own it.” George W. Bush broke it.

To combat these American forces, Iraqi and other insurgents used IEDs. It became the leading cause of death and injury among coalition forces in the region; 60% killed or injured in 2010, averaging 2.5 injuries per incident. In the case of those killed in action, injuries were so massive that there was no way to prevent their death. Among those military personnel that did survive IEDs, many also suffered significant brain damage from the concussion of the explosion. None of these people will ever return to their pre-war normalcy.

How did our troops survive in this environment? How did they even muster the courage to go on patrol, realizing that there was an IED out there just waiting for them? In the Marines, the squad looks after one another. Add to this mix the dog handlers augmenting each combat patrol. An experienced set of eyes and a dog’s ability to sniff out explosives will help to save the lives of Marines; not always, but in most cases. The cost: serious injury and death among dog handlers and their canine Marines. It is an amazing story.

Hartley - Blue 001On 8 February 2012, Lance Corporal Jarrett Hartley and his dog Blue accompanied 3rd Platoon, Lima Company, 3/3 into Loya Darvishan, Southern Helmand Province. While passing through a tiny village, Afghan National Army partners stopped to search a suspicious compound. They found several mortar castings; enough to prompt a more detailed search of surrounding compounds. The patrol avoided adjacent roads due to the increased threat of IEDs; they opted instead to cross into a nearby field, which took them through an arid canal. However, before the Marines entered the canal, Corporal Hartley noticed a darker patch of dirt that looked recently disturbed.

Hartley halted the patrol and sent Blue to sniff for explosives. Moments later the Labrador retriever laid down next to the area, confirming the presence of an IED. He had just saved several of a dozen lives. Hartley remarked, “While we’re on patrol, everyone looks to Blue and me to keep them safe. If we mess up, my friends will be blown up—because of my mistake.” Hartley was then 21-years old, a rifleman by training, and a volunteer to become a dog handler. But why would this young man place himself into such a dangerous position? Easy enough, he said … “I wanted to help protect Marines from getting hurt.”

Hartley’s previous tour in Helmand Province was running and gunning for insurgents as a member of his platoon. After training as a dog handler, his responsibilities changed. He remained with his platoon, but now he had to think and care for two; now he was carrying a much heavier responsibility on his shoulders. Marine and dog have become IED hunters; they do everything together, from patrolling to boarding helicopters for movement to other areas of the province. Together, the screen pedestrians, the work vehicle checkpoints, and they rest together after exhausting patrols. They experience the biting sandstorms, the bitter cold, and the scorching heat of the summer months. Through it all, Blue seems to realize that he has an awesome responsibility, too. He acts as if he understands that he is a front line defense against death and serious injury.

Nevertheless, the dogs are dogs and they like to goof off just as all dogs like to goof off. They like to jump in pools of water, chase other animals, and they get tired. Some times the animals are playful, other times they are moody. They are a challenge to their handlers, but they are saving lives and some times, at great cost to themselves.

Lucca 001Recently, an eight-year old Belgian Malinois named Lucca accepted her medical discharge from the U. S. Marine Corps and made her way back home to live with her first handler, Gunnery Sergeant Chris Willingham in Finland. As she hobbled through Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport with her handler, Marine Corporal Juan Rodriguez, human passengers stood and applauded the hero dog that lost her leg while looking out for her fellow Marines. On that day, Lucca detected a buried explosive, alerted her Marines, and immediately began to search for other explosives. What she did not know was that the enemy had booby-trapped the IED. When the IED exploded, Corporal Rodriguez could hear her screaming and yelping. He ran to her and began to administer life saving first aid. “It was rough,” Rodriguez said. (See Notes 1, 2)

In between combat patrols, a dog handler is likely to play with their dog; playing fetch is one popular pass time and it is here that these animals provide another invaluable service; they boost the moral among fellow Marines and each of these dogs finally finds a way into their hearts. No, they are not pets. They are highly skilled working animals. No, they are not just government property. They are life savers, morale boosters, and genuine American heroes.

Notes:

  1. Writer Maria Goodavage told Lucca’s story in an excellent book titled Top Dog: The Story of Marine Hero Lucca. You can find the book at Amazon.
  2. Picture of Lucca and GySgt Willingham by Los Angeles Times photojournalist Gary Friedman

About Helicopters

“The thing is, helicopters are different from planes. An airplane by its nature wants to fly and if not interfered with too strongly by unusual events or by a deliberately incompetent pilot, it will fly.

“A helicopter does not want to fly. It is maintained in the air by a variety of forces and controls, working in opposition to each other; and if there is any disturbance in the delicate balance, the helicopter stops flying immediately and disastrously. There is no such thing as a gliding helicopter.

“This is why being a helicopter pilot is so different from being an airplane pilot; and why, in generality, airplane pilots are open, clear-eyed, buoyant extroverts and helicopter pilots are brooders, introspective anticipators of trouble.

“They know if anything bad has not happened, it is about to.”

—Harry Reasoner, ABC Evening News, 16 February 1971

Hot LZ 001What Mr. Reasoner said is absolutely true. Piloting a helicopter takes a skill set few on this earth are capable of, but it takes even more than that to pilot it under harsh conditions. Equally difficult was the entire process of adapting this ungainly aircraft to sophisticated military operations, but the military’s success in achieving this seems apparent by the number of our warrior’s lives saved by skillfully flown helicopters, from resupplying them with much needed munitions in order to continue the fight, to evacuating our wounded to field hospitals. No matter what mission our helicopter pilots undertake, it is exceedingly dangerous work.

The process has always been evolutionary, beginning with the question, “How might we use these machines to enhance our combat capabilities?”

HO3S 002The Marines took possession of its first two helicopters on 9 February 1948. The Sikorsky HO3S was a fragile airframe with significantly limited performance parameters, but it was a start. When the Korean War broke out, Marines were scrambling to put together a provisional brigade to help shore up Army units in Korea pushed all the way south to the end of the peninsula —the Pusan Perimeter. Until the arrival of the Marines, led by Brigadier General Edward A. Craig, the Korean issue was in doubt. General Craig took with him a seriously understrength regiment, but also a Marine Air Group consisting of three fighter squadrons and one observation squadron, VMO-6. The observation squadron operated eight fixed-wing light aircraft and four HOS3-1 helicopters.

General Craig could not have been happier with these new airframes. As he later reported, “Marine Helicopters have proven invaluable. They have been used for every conceivable type of mission. The Brigade utilized helicopters for liaison, reconnaissance, evacuation of wounded, rescue of Marine flyers downed in enemy territory, observation, messenger service, guard mail at sea, posting and supplying out-guards on dominating terrain, and the resupply of small units by air.”

Nevertheless, the early helicopters were somewhat limited in their lift capability, an important lesson for Marines because of the battle of the Changjin (Chosin) Reservoir. In the frigid conditions of North Korea, early helicopters barely achieved 5,000 feet in altitude in an area where mountains reached from between 4,600 and 6,000 feet in above sea level.

Sikorsky HOS4 001In 1948, the Marines hoped to activate two assault/transport helicopter squadrons by 1954, but the Korean War accelerated this timetable by a wide margin. The Marines settled on the HOS4, an airframe severally designated for service with the Navy-Marine Corps-Coast Guard, and the Army-Air Force. Used by both the Army and Marine Corps in the Korean War, the Marines called their version of this helicopter the HRS-1.

With the Korean War now in full swing, the Marine Corps expanded its requirements from two helicopter squadrons to four; each of these would receive the HRS-1 helicopter pictured immediately above. When HMR-161 went to Korea, it had two primary missions: combat operations, and testing and evaluation of the concept for employing of vertical lift aircraft. By late 1953, the Marine Corps had more experience in helicopter operations, possessed more helicopters, more trained pilots and crewmen, than any other military organization in the world. There is a reason for this: the National Security Act of 1947 made the Marine Corps responsible for developing phases of amphibious operations that pertained to tactics, techniques, and equipment used by the landing forces. Their acquired expertise is what led Marine helicopter squadrons to Vietnam

Over the next ten years, US politicians shifted their attentions from Korea to a place hardly anyone had ever heard of: Vietnam. What was evolving there was quite complex. The French, badly defeated by the North Vietnamese forces in 1954, were going home—a fact that left the Republic of South Vietnam with a weak military posture. To help shore up the South Vietnamese defense establishment, the United States began to send mentors to help train, organize, and advise the South Vietnamese military leadership. A small number of Marines participated in joint staff, communications, and advisory roles—particularly those advising the emerging Vietnamese Marines (RVMC).

Piasecki_h-21As part of the military assistance mission to South Vietnam, the United States provided Army aviation companies (helicopter). In late 1961, the Army operated two companies equipped with the Piasecki[1] H-21 tandem rotor aircraft. While capable of transporting ten fully equipped assault troops and crew, the H-21 proved only marginally suited to service in a high humidity environment, and only slightly suitable for night operations.

By the end of 1961, General Paul D. Harkins (Commanding MAAG, Vietnam) realized that he needed additional helicopter assets; he requested two additional aviation companies. While the JCS approved a third aviation company, for Vietnam, the JCS indicated some reservations about continued use of the H-21. They directed the Commander in Chief, Pacific to review total requirements for helicopter operations in Vietnam. Admiral Felt made two recommendations: first, that the JCS approve a fourth aviation company for Vietnam, and second, the assignment of Marine helicopter pilots to augment Army aviation companies.

The problem with Admiral Felt’s recommendation was that Marine Corps pilots were not familiar with the operation of the H-21 tandem rotor helicopter, nor were Marine pilots sufficiently familiar with the Army’s aviation standardization procedures. In the meantime, an additional aviation company in Oklahoma received a warning order to begin preparing for deployment to South Vietnam.

General Harkins, having assigned the 93rd Aviation Company to Da Nang, requested cancellation of the fourth aviation company and instead asked for a Marine Corps helicopter squadron for operations within the Mekong Delta. “When the tempo of operations permit, the Marine Corps squadron will be relocated to I Corps and the 93rd Company to III Corps,” Harkins said.

Sikorsky UH-34D 001Rapid deployment is what Marines do for a living, so it was no surprise to learn that there were two squadrons available to General Harkins within a very short time. The first was HMM 362[2] (Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 362). HMM-362 had been part of the Special Landing Force (SLF) aboard the USS Princeton (LPH-5) patrolling the South China Sea. HMM-261 was also available, but ordered to an emergency deployment in Thailand.

HMM-362 became the lead element of OPERATION SHUFLY, arriving at Soc Trang, south of the city of Saigon, for operations in the Mekong Delta on 15 April 1962. The squadron lifted their first troops into battle on 22 April 1962 —the first Marine Corps combat unit to serve in Vietnam. Before their re-designation in 1969, HMM-362 participated in operations at Ky Ha, Marble Mountain, Hue, and Phu Bai. They also supported operations from the sea while serving aboard the USS Iwo Jima (LPH-2), USS Okinawa (LPH-3), and USS Princeton (CV-37/LPH-5).

V22-OspreyIf Mr. Reasoner thought helicopters were different sixty-six years ago, then they have become more so since 2005 when the Marine Corps accepted their first V-22 Osprey. The first two squadrons of this type of aircraft were designated Marine Medium Tilt-rotor Squadron (VMM)-263 and VMM-266.

 

 

Notes:

[1] Frank Piasecki (1918-2008) was an aeronautical engineer and the man that pioneered tandem rotor helicopter designs and developed the concept of vectored thrust through the use of a ducted propeller.

[2] HMM-362 would later receive the CH 53 helicopter and the new designation HMH. They called themselves the Ugly Angels.

A Marine Platoon at War

A book by Bing West

Francis J. “Bing” West served in the U. S. Marine Corps as an infantry officer during the Vietnam War. He served with a Combined Action Platoon, spending 485 days in a remote village, and he served as a member of the Marine Force Reconnaissance Team that helped to develop and implement Stingray operations —small unit attacks behind enemy lines. He subsequently served as an under-Secretary of Defense in the administration of Ronald Regan (international Security) with expertise in matters involving El Salvador, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, South Korea, and Japan.

One-Million-StepsIn my opinion, Mr. West has presented his readers with an exceptional book; it is one I would recommend to every single American who still loves their country (noting that many no longer do). What leaps out at you from almost every page is the cost of making poor choices in national leadership from inside the voting booth.

It is hard to imagine a president nonchalant about the situation on the ground in Afghanistan. It is difficult to imagine a clueless Secretary of Defense about an appropriate strategy inside a war zone. It numbs the mind to learn that while our troops are dying and losing their limbs, three, and four-star generals endeavor to implement a progressive theory designed to save the Taliban from himself.

Throughout this period of political malfeasance, the Marines of the 3rd Platoon, Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines (3K/3/5) distinguished themselves in lethal combat, both as individuals, and as members of this nation’s finest fighting force. Most of the Third platoon survived; they excelled in defeating a determined enemy —not because of Defense Department leadership, but in spite of it.

I believe that this book is mandatory reading among those of us who still love America; it teaches us that there are consequences to the decisions we make at the voting booth. It teaches us that elections can have dire consequences. I rate this book FIVE stars.

Real Heroes Don’t Wear Capes

Navy Cross MedalWhile assigned to Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, (then) Corporal Clifford M. Wooldridge (Port Angeles, Washington) distinguished himself in the service to his country while serving in Afghanistan on 18 June 2010.  When his mounted patrol came under intense enemy fire, Corporal Wooldridge and his squad dismounted and maneuvered on the suspected enemy location.  Spotting a group of fifteen enemy fighters preparing an ambush, Wooldridge led one of his fire teams across open ground to flank the enemy, killing or wounding eight of them, and forcing the rest to scatter.

As he held security alone to cover his fire team’s withdrawal, he heard voices from behind an adjacent wall.  Boldly rushing around the corner, he came face to face with two enemy fighters at close range, killing both of them with his M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon.  As he crouched back behind the wall to reload his weapon, he saw the barrel of an enemy machine gun appear from around the wall.  Without hesitation, he dropped his empty weapon and seized the machine gun barrel.  He overwhelmed the enemy fighter in hand to hand combat, killing him with several blows to the head with the enemy’s own weapon.Navy Cross

Wooldridge’s audacious and fearless actions thwarted the enemy attack on his platoon.  By his bold and decisive leadership, undaunted courage under fire, and his total dedication to duty, (now) Sergeant Wooldridge reflected great credit upon himself, and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval service.

American Marines —beating the akbar out of the enemy with their own weapons since the days when Jefferson was president.