Fall of an Empire-Part One

I have been asked numerous times over the years if the American republic is doomed to failure or if it’s headed the route of the Roman Empire.  I have been asked if history really does repeat itself.  To the latter question I respond in my opinion history does not ever truly repeat itself, although there are many similarities and conclusions to be drawn from those.  To the former I respond it is hard to say.  Looking at the two questions together it is impossible not to draw eery similarities between the Roman Empire and the United States.

First, this two part blog is not going to be about doom and gloom to the United States.  It is simply an acknowledgement of the current state of affairs and recent trends.  Second, it will simply explain comparisons that stand out between two of history’s greatest democracies.

Rome ceased to exist as an empire by 476 CE.  The fall was due to a plethora of reason, both internal and external.  These reasons were all tied together.  A simplistic mind would try to categorize and explain the two as mutually exclusive when they are not.  The Roman Empire fell apart due to its vast expanse, its diverse population, tax policies, and corrupt leadership.

One staple of the Roman Empire was expansion and diversity.  As the Romans expanded they naturally came across different cultures.  This conquered territory would stretch from Scotland in the north all the way to North Africa in the south.  It stretched east to west from present day Spain to Jordan and Syria.

The Roman practice of toleration continued throughout its time as an empire.  This practice required citizens of conquered territories to pledge allegiance to the Roman leaders and put no other god before the emperor.  They allowed conquered citizens to keep their culture, language, customs, gods, local leaders, etc.  In return the Romans brought infrastructure in the form of roads and some technological advancements.  Also, the Romans brought economic stability  with uniform currency, as well as law and order through a professional, trained army.

Naturally, as the empire expanded, so did the need to protect these borders.  Obviously the army also had to grow, leading to a two-fold problem. Number one, how to pay for the army.  Secondly, who to recruit?  There were only so many people within Italy to recruit.  The solution would appear simple, raise taxes and recruit from outside of Italy.

Taxes have always been the key to financial solvency for any nation.  Nothing is free.  With taxes, comes the weight of economic frustration and sacrifice on the backs of those who pay the taxes.  Initially, taxes were relatively light at 1-3%.  However, by the later stages of the Republic (not the empire), Rome had grown vastly.  New resources such as Spanish gold and silver became keys to maintaining stability.  At the same time, it became evident taxes could be passed off to new territories and Rome proper could remain tax free.  The Romans also discovered having the various provinces collect taxes could become very profitable.

Roman currency

Tax farming emerged.  Publicani (tax farmers) would collect the tithes for their province.  When Rome would put the collecting of taxes in certain provinces up for auction every few years, the Publicans would size the opportunity to collect.  They would “pre-pay” taxes to Rome and then set about collecting whatever they could.  Anything collected in excess of what had been paid to Rome would become profit  for the Publicani.  Naturally, corruption ensued and excessive taxes were collected and put in the pockets of the tax farmers.1  These tax farmers in turn would loan money to the banks of the time for exorbitant rates, leading to economic instability.

Eventually direct taxation replaced tax farming and led to wealth and poll taxes.  However, this would lead to further government expenses in order to get an accurate census.  Speculation on this would think direct taxing was far more efficient and equitable for the time.

Diocletian capped prices on consumer goods while also bringing back the land tax that had been utilized during the late Roman republic period.  The burden for paying this tax fell on the local senators who had to insure taxes were collected and sent to Rome.2  If enough tax revenue was not collected, the senators were personally responsible.  Emperor Constantine added to the economic stress when he turned the senator and its position into a hereditary title.


The economic implications are mind-boggling in a system that was rife with corruption that was set on the shoulders of a social class that was wealthy, but fearful of losing that wealth.  It is no wonder senators enforced higher taxes in order to protect their personal wealth.

As the empire expanded in size, so did the tax base.  However, as the empire expanded so did the need to protect those expansive borders, protect them, and enforce the laws.  So tied into the increasing expenses of the expanding empire was maintaining a professional army.  This would include food, clothing, equipment, and salary for that army.

Roman soldiers committed at least 25 years of their life to military service.  In the end, they could receive a pension or land.  Initially soldiers were recruited from within Italy.  As needs changed, recruitment included Africa, France, Germany, the Balkans, Spain and even the middle east.3

Roman Soldier

It would be fair to say ones loyalty lies with their region of the world.  A person can claim their loyalty to the United States, but their ultimate allegiance might lie with their roots, Texas perhaps?  Likewise a person born in Afghanistan may claim allegiance to the government, but if their tribe were to split off from the government, that person would likely do the same.  It takes no stretch of imagination to assume Roman soldiers would do the same.

In this vein of thinking, a Roman soldier born in Germany would remain loyal until barbarians began to attack their homeland and even their families.  Soldiers would naturally desert to defend their families.  (This conclusion is based simply upon observation of human nature).

As the Empire expanded, so did the need for soldiers.  Initially these soldiers could be recruited from Italy.  Eventually this source would be tapped out and recruitment would have to be expanded in other conquered territories.  These new recruits would eventually lead to a watered down source of manpower.

By the third and fourth century, Diocletian and Constantine had built a massive army to defend the borders and held another in reserve in the event of a major invasion.  Many Germans began joining the ranks in order to fill the numbers that were needed for the army.  These Germans were often seen as barbarians while the Romans were civilized soldiers.4

Non-native Romans entered battle in support of the Roman army against the Goths, but did not act in a civilized manner, instead opting to literally butcher the Goths.  Distrust in foreign soldiers manifested itself within the Roman legions.

Eventually wars in the eastern part of the empire would erode faith in the army.  Instead of destroying the Goths, payments were made by the Roman government on an annual basis to stop the attacks.  In addition, the Roman government provided them with land inside of the empire.  The enemy was given land and money as well as still maintaining their own military commanders.  The Goths were not Romanized.5  Essentially, the Romans paid the Goths to defend the empire they were attempting to destroy.

Visigoth Soldiers

Goth commanders even conspired to ambush and murder Roman soldiers, leading to further distrust among not just the army, but also loyal Roman citizens.

Rome had come to depend upon foreign mercenaries to defend itself from foreigners.  These same foreigners destroyed the army from within.  These soldiers were loyal to their commanders, loyal to their money, and only loyal to Rome so long as it fit their desires.  Mercenaries were expensive.  The taxes to pay for these armies were high.  On top of the taxation was corruption among tax collectors.  Money, excesses, and a massive mercenary army collapsed the Roman Empire.

1 “Taxes in the Roman Empire.” Mainpage of UNRV History. Accessed March 22, 2017. http://www.unrv.com/economy/roman-taxes.php.

2 Ibid.

3 “BBC – Primary History – Romans – The Roman army.” BBC News. Accessed March 22, 2017. http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/primaryhistory/romans/the_roman_army/.

4 “Rome’s Barbarian Mercenaries.” HistoryNet. June 22, 2016. Accessed March 22, 2017. http://www.historynet.com/romes-barbarian-mercenaries.htm.

5 “Rome’s Barbarian Mercenaries – history’s great warning on multicultural outsourcing – The Phora.” The Phora RSS. Accessed March 22, 2017. http://www.thephora.net/forum/showthread.php?t=26419. (On this source I must apologize for linking to a discussion board. Sadly, the article were this was taken is no longer online.  Only the text that was copy and pasted to the discussion is available.)

6 Ibid.

Last of the Great Warbirds

I had initially planned this blog to come out around 26 December and focus on either the Battle of Trenton or the 1914 Christmas Truce.  However, the stars would not align and I could not get pen to paper, nor could I find the time to clearly research and write.  Then through a group I have joined on Facebook, I was reminded of the importance of 21 December 2016.


21 December 2016 marked the last flight of a beautifully ugly workhorse, the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II.  On 27 May 1958, the ugly F-110, later to be renamed the F-4, made its initial flight.  Less than three years later, it became the fastest and highest flying fighter in the US Navy.  Only in the past couple of weeks has the fighter finally been retired from use by the US military.1

In 1960, the Phantom entered service with the US Navy with the plant to use it as a fleet defense fighter.  The first two-seat fighter changed the face of not just naval aviation, but the evolution of fighter jets.  The big F-4 first knocked the F8U-3 out of the naval competition for a new fighter.  The Rhino, as the Phantom was nicknamed, housed two massive General Electric J79 engines that allowed it to outfly and out power just about any fighter on the planet.2

The ugly plane weighed in at almost 30,000 lbs. empty and could carry its weight in fuel and ordnance.  It had a wingspan of almost 40 feet while being 63 feet long.3  For comparison, the famed B-17 Fortress bomber of World War II had a wing span over 100 feet and a length of 73 feet while carrying the same weight in fuel and weapons payload as the Phantom at about 65,000 lbs.4  It’s powerful engines provided it with enough power to hit Mach 2.2, almost 1500 miles per hour, compared to just under 300 mph for the B-17.



Click the link for a Google Earth size comparison of the F-4 to the B-17.

The McDonnell Douglas company and the US Navy initially had differing ideas on how best to build the new fighter.  Typically, the Navy thought in terms of developing the plane with parts that were already available, not just from their scrap aircraft, but across the fleet.  They saw the need to make the parts as compatible with other aircraft in the Navy.  Whereas McDonnell Douglas thought in terms of streamlining production and ridding the new aircraft of redundant parts while also modernizing the fighter.  McDonnell also began offering subcontracts to companies willing to build equipment that was tailored to the needs of the Phantom and the Navy.5

As parts of the plane were developed they were tested even before they were combined with more complex systems to insure they worked and to save valuable time and money during the Naval testing phase.  I only mention this because the F-4 would appear to be the first joint strike fighter created by the US military that was built and served across multiple branches.  The development of the fighter came in a vast contrast to today’s F-35 Lightning II. (For more on the development of this aircraft, please read LINK my blog on the subject.)

Once the Navy approved of the plane, the Air Force purchased a few, tested them, and decided they wanted the plane as well.  The Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara approved the expense, but limited the number of changes the Air Force could make to keep the costs down.6

The Phantom was built to dominate the skies and haul the equipment around to show off its brute force.  Aside from 4 external missile bays that were arrayed on either side of the fuselage, it also had two external wing hard points that could mount a total of four missiles or bombs and an additional two pylons that generally carried external fuel tanks that could be jettisoned for combat maneuvering.  Also, a centerline mount was used to attach a gun pod. The initial order of the F-4C/D models is noteworthy because of its lack of a cannon.  The SUU-16 cannon was eventually mounted on the centerline as pilots begged for a cannon.  However, that cannon was not very accurate and the later E model was built with an internal M61 Vulcan cannon.7  In Vietnam, the lack of a cannon was problematic.  It has been well documented the missiles of the time were highly unreliable due to their early technology.  The Phantom was forced to duel with North Vietnamese Migs that were much more maneuverable in a horizontal dog fight.  With unreliable missiles and no gun, the best the big fighter could do was make the fight vertical and take advantage of its power until the pilot could get in position for a kill, or hope for the Migs to bug out and head home.

UK Phantom with full air to air payload including gun pod.

The Rhino was an incredibly deadly air to air machine in the right hands.  The United States produced five aces during the Vietnam War.  All of them flew the F-4.

On 10 May 1972, Randy “Duke” Cunningham became the first American air ace of the Vietnam War, along with is Radar Intercept Officer Willie Driscoll. (The Navy guy in back was known as the RIO while the Air Force called them the Weapons Systems Officer, or “wizzo”.  Originally, the wizzo was an Air Force pilot, but that was later changed to putting a navigator in the rear).  Cunningham downed three North Vietnamese Migs, all with relatively unreliable missiles.8


It is important to note that air to air kills were not just relegated to pilots, but also to the guy in back, as was noted in the case of Willie Driscoll.  Two air Force WSOs claim the title.  The last ace of the Vietnam War was the relatively unknown Jeffery Feinstein.  On 13 October 1972, with Lt. Colonel Curtis Westphal on the stick, Feinstein became the fifth and final ace of Vietnam.9


The Air Force aces that stand out the most are undoubtedly Steve Ritchie and Chuck Debellvue.  Debellvue was originally an F4 pilot, but due to a surplus, he was put in the wizzo seat and for a time paired up with Steve Ritchie.  Ritchie achieved ace status first with his fifth kill on 28 August 1972.  For Debellvue, that same kill marked number four.  Two weeks later with Captain J.A. Mackey in front, Debellvue was credited with two more Migs for a grand total of six, making him the highest Mig killer of the war.10, 11

Ritchie and Debellvue

One part of the Phantom’s illustrious history is that is often overlooked is its role as a reconnaissance and forward air control aircraft.  The RF-4 would fly, unarmed, over the Ho Chi Minh Trail.  It’s cruise altitude would be around 5000 feet.  The only defense the fighter had, was to vary its speed while it flew down the trail with a camera in the nose clicking away.  The flip side of this same role was to act as a forward air control aircraft and direct other fighter/bombers to targets along the trail.12

RF-4 with expanded nose housing the camera.

The “Night Owls” of the 497th Tactical Fighter Squadron out of Udorn Air Force Base in Thailand flew the massive fighters, painted black, in night operations.  In 1972, these fighters worked extensively taking out North Vietnamese anti-aircraft and Surface-to-Air (SAM) sites to create a corridor for the high-altitude B-52 on its way to its target.13

This marks the continued evolution of the aircraft and its multi-role capability.  The role of a Wild Weasel (as these flak suppression aircraft became known), was to go ahead of a strike group and eliminate all possible defenses.  Wild Weasel pilots made themselves a target for a second Wild Weasel to detect and destroy the radars and AA sites that were a threat to the strike force.

As the war in Vietnam started to wind down, the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps began to transition away from the Generation 3 fighters to the lighter, faster, and more maneuverable Generation 4 planes such as the F-14 Tomcat, F-15 Eagle, F-16 Falcon (frequently called the Viper), and later the F/A-18 Hornet. Even though the F-4 was sent to the Air Reserve and Air National Guard units, it story was not ending.

In January 1991, the F-4G Wild Weasel entered its last combat role for the United States.  From its creation, it had gone from interceptor, to bomber, to forward air controller, to Wild Weasel, and to fighter.  It would finish its illustrious combat career as a Wild Weasel in the skies over Iraq during Operation Desert Storm.

The role of the Wild Weasel was to again destroy enemy radar and surface-to-air (SAM) sites to create a safe corridor for strike packages.  In that short war, the 35th Tactical Fighter Wing from George AFB, California and Spanghdahhelm AFB, Germany combined to fly almost 4,000 sorties (one aircraft taking off, delivery ordnance, and landing).  During those missions, they fired over 1,000 air-to-ground missiles while destroying at least 200 SAM sites.14

The payload for this dinosaur fighter was much more high tech than previous models.  The nose mounted M61 Vulcan cannon had been removed and then expanded to fit the AN/APR-47 Radar that sensed incoming radar signals.  In addition, one of the missile bays held a jamming pod.  While the other belly missile wells were either empty or carrying a pair of AIM-7 Sparrow radar guided missiles that could be used against Iraqi Migs.  However, the main payload for the flak suppression missions was a pair of AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation (HARM) missiles.15

Unlike the F-4C, D, and E models in which the aircraft was focused on the pilot in the front, the G model focused on the WSO in the rear who searched for targets of opportunity.  The pilot was largely relegated to a glorified bomb hauler.  The Phantom destroyed 75% of enemy radars during the war with the loss of only one aircraft.  That one aircraft was shot up could not refuel, and limped back to a forward base in Saudi Arabia where it ran out of fuel, forcing the crew to safely eject.16

Operation Desert Storm was the last time the great beast saw combat for the United States.  The 190th Fighter Squadron from the Idaho Air National Guard, was the last to fly the Phantom, and began to retire it in October of 1995.

However, it still has life.  The F-4 during its production run was exported to Australia, Egypt, Germany, Greece, Iran, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.  As of 2015, only Australia, Germany, Israel, Spain and the UK had withdrawn them from service.17  Sadly though, 21 December 2016 marked the end of its service to the United States when the last QF-4 was flown from Holloman AFB, New Mexico.  The last planes in the US inventory had been used as aerial drones, but are now being replaced by the QF-16 (a sadness of its own).  Finally, the last Phantoms will be hauled out into the desert and used as static targets for a new generation aircraft and a new generation of pilots.

Final flight farewells PhantomFinal taxi and flight of the mighty Phantom.

Such is the sad ending for a fantastic and reputable fighter.  Eventually, the acquisition kinks were worked out and the Phantom ultimately became so successful it was purchased by numerous nations around the globe.  Over 5,000 Phantoms were built in over 20 different models.  The F-4 Phantom II, with its plume of black smoke pointing like an arrow as it road across the sky, will undoubtedly go down as one of the sturdiest and most respected jets to ever wear US markings.


**All images are courtesy of a search on Google.  If you know the original owner of the picture, please let me know so I can contact them.

1  “Boeing.” Boeing: Historical Snapshot: F-4 Phantom II Fighter. Accessed January 09, 2017. http://www.boeing.com/history/products/f-4-phantom-ii.page.

2  Wetterhahn, Ralph. “Where Have All the Phantoms Gone?” Air & Space Magazine. Accessed January 09, 2017. http://www.airspacemag.com/military-aviation/where-have-all-the-phantoms-gone-96320627/.

3  HowStuffWorks Science. Accessed January 09, 2017. http://science.howstuffworks.com/mcdonnell-douglas-f-4-phantom-ii1.htm.

4  User, S. (n.d.). B-17 Specifications. Retrieved January 09, 2017, from https://b17texasraiders.org/index.php/texas-raiders/b-17-intel/b-17-specs

5   Glenn E Bugos. “Testing the F-4 Phantom II: Engineering Practice in the Development of American Military Aircraft, 1954-1969 .” Http://www.thebhc.org/sites/default/files/beh/BEHprint/v018/p0013-p0018.pdf. Accessed January 9, 2017.

6  Ibid.

7  “McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II – Development and Operational History, Performance Specifications and Picture Gallery.” McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II – Multirole / Carrierbased Fighter / Strike Fighter Aircraft – Specifications, History and Images. Accessed January 09, 2017. http://www.militaryfactory.com/aircraft/detail.asp?aircraft_id=24.

8  “Randy Cunningham.” Randy ‘Duke’ Cunningham: Vietnam Ace, Prison Inmate. Accessed January 09, 2017. http://acepilots.com/vietnam/cunningham.html.

9  2004 By, Rebecca Grant Contributing Editor, -Amy McCullough1/10/2017, and -Brian Everstine1/10/2017. ”  // .” Air Force Magazine. Accessed January 09, 2017. http://www.airforcemag.com/MagazineArchive/Pages/2004/September%202004/0904aces.aspx.

10  “Richard “Steve” Ritchie.” Steve Ritchie, Phantom pilot, only US Air Force Ace of Vietnam War. Accessed January 09, 2017. http://acepilots.com/vietnam/ritchie.html#top.

11  “Vietnam Ace – Chuck DeBellevue.” Vietnam Ace – Chuck DeBellevue. Accessed January 09, 2017. http://airwarvietnam.com/chuck.htm.

12  “Where Have all the Phantoms Gone?”

13  Ibid.

14  Profile.php?id=678073688. “Gulf War 20th: Desert Storm Was the First and Last War for the F-4G Advanced Wild Weasel.” Defense Media Network. Accessed January 09, 2017. http://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/gulf-war-20th-desert-storm-was-the-first-and-last-war-for-the-f-4g-advanced-wild-weasel/.

15  Ibid.

16  Ibid.

17  “McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II non-U.S. operators.” Wikipedia. Accessed January 09, 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDonnell_Douglas_F-4_Phantom_II_non-U.S._operators.

Where are the War on Terror Vets?

With Veteran’s Day coming up, that is a relevant question.  Since WWII, the number of veterans has dropped. This is not due to just age and time, but also due to the length and intensity of conflicts, and the end of the draft.  The number of service members for WWII (including battle deaths) was over 16 million.  For Korea, 5.7 million, Vietnam 8.7 million and Desert Shield/Desert Storm 2.3 million.  1(VA.GOV)  The number for the War on Terror is about 2.5 million over 15 years of warfare.  2

2.5 million…

WWII encompassed a global war in two major theaters of operation.  Korea was a NATO backed operation that lasted three years and was isolated to the Korean Peninsula.  United States involvement in Vietnam stretched from 1954 to 1975 and openly covered operations in Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia.  The GWOT has been fought since 2001 with US forces still actively engaged, yet the number of veterans lies at 2.5 million.  That is less than 1% of the American population.

Why is there such a discrepancy?  One would think there would be a much larger percentage when considering the 15 years of warfare.

Courtesy Google Search: Archives.gov

Simply put, the military is in the midst of downsizing and therefore recruiting numbers are down all over.  Part of that is due to more restrictive requirements.  Only 70% of military applicants have a chance of actually enlisting. 3  Only 13% of those applicants are eligible without some sort of waiver.  A waiver can be had drugs, underage alcohol, assaults, medical problems, etc.

Business Insider did a study and determined of those 17-24 year olds who are eligible to join, only 1% have an interest. 4  That should not come as a surprise.  Many have concluded those of enlistment age, the millennials, are a product of the “me” generation.  I do not intend to bash the millennials, because there are some excellent people within that group.  I know because I have taught many of them, and some have even volunteered to serve their nation.  However, the current generation seems to be preoccupied with pop culture, and not the state of the world, nor do they have an unquenchable desire for action and adventure.  That is fine.  The problem is when millennials start wanting free this and free that, yet have done nothing to earn the “free stuff.”

Many millennials are strongly in favor of boots on the ground and ending the threat of ISIS in the Middle East.  But they do not join and do not volunteer.  Instead, they have seemingly patted themselves on the back for pushing for women in combat roles and gays to openly serve (of which I have no problem).  They do not join, yet push for others to serve in their place.

The Harvard Institute of Politics did a study that showed 69% of 18-29 year olds favor using force against ISIS, yet only 8% claim they are willing to serve themselves. 5  This alone explains why there are so few veterans.  Of those eligible to have served since the inception of the War on Terror, only .5% can claim that title.

A little less scientific data could be my own Facebook account.  Of the people I am “friends” with, I know of only 20 who are veterans from any time period.  Of that 20, 12 (including myself) have served during our present conflicts.  That makes 4% of all my friends are veterans, and 2.5% are War on Terror vets.  While that is above the numbers I have indicated across the board, it is still a striking number for a nation of more than 320 million people.

The question still exists, where are all the vets?  Or, why are there not more?

The military is downsizing.  With that comes stricter recruiting standards. Therefore, there are less qualified people to serve in the military.  But that is the status for today.  Why are there so few GWOT vets before the downsizing?

Today, the military is all volunteer. Consequently, less people have been forced to serve.  In the last 15 years, the US has been involved in two major conflicts and numerous other missions around the world.  In order to fulfill these missions, military personnel are required to serve multiple deployments, often in combat environments.  On top of that, there can be poor leadership, long hours, and the general uncertainty of the military.  Who would want to do that and have to give up a carefree life of sitting on the couch, predictable work hours, and quitting work when things get a little rough?  Why would one choose to serve when life can be predictable and comfortable?

Another issue can simply be the lack of patriotism.  No longer is patriotism and pride in the nation pushed in schools or towards the public.  In schools, students are not required to say the pledge and the national anthem is no longer sung at the beginning of the school day.  Nobody wants to offend another person and therefore patriotism takes a back seat.  In public, people stand talking and visiting with their hand in their pockets and hats on their heads during the national anthem at a sporting event.  Pro athletes choose to sit in protest and make a spectacle of themselves instead of respecting their nation and the people who allow them to make millions playing a game. (Yes, I support this idea of free speech and will defend a person’s right to look stupid.  However, I do not approve).

Courtesy Google Search: Business Insider

Rant aside, the military is shrinking and will presumably continue to do so until the next war and more bodies are needed.  The military has been meeting its recruiting goals in the years since the drawdown in Iraq.  However, during the war years, different branches of the military were forced to deal with certain difficulties in recruiting. 6  Whether this is a product of a desire to serve with a reduced risk of combat, or actual patriotism, is impossible to tell.  But by looking at the summaries and recruiting numbers in the cited document, can lead one to the conclusion recruiting is picking up due to a lower operational tempo, and less personal risk to one’s life.  That said, it is commendable that some millennials are stepping up and carrying the flag for a new generation.  Eventually, they too will carry the title of veteran.

So, where are all the War on Terror veterans?

They are still there.  Some are vocal about their service.  Many are quiet about their time.  Almost all are proud.  Everyone is a volunteer.  The modern veterans are still there, you just have to look for them.

Courtesy: Google Search vets4victory.com



1 “America’s Wars Fact Sheet May 2016.” Accessed November 6, 2016. https://www.va.gov/opa/publications/factsheets/fs_americas_wars.pdf.

2 By Chris Adams – McClatchy Newspapers. “Millions Went to War in Iraq, Afghanistan, Leaving Many with Lifelong Scars.” Mcclatchydc. Accessed November 06, 2016. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/national/article24746680.html.

3 Beauchamp, Scott. “A More Inclusive Military Won’t Matter If Young People Won’t Include Themselves | Scott Beauchamp.” The Guardian. 2015. Accessed November 06, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/dec/28/a-more-inclusive-military-wont-matter-if-young-people-wont-include-themselves.

4 Ibid.

5 “The Institute of Politics at Harvard University.” Harvard IOP Fall 2015 Poll. Accessed November 06, 2016. http://iop.harvard.edu/survey/details/harvard-iop-fall-2015-poll.

6 “Recruiting and Retention: An Overview of FY2011 and FY2012 …” Accessed November 6, 2016. https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RL32965.pdf.

For Further Reading:

“The Military Could Soon Face Increased Recruiting Challenges.” Task Purpose. 2016. Accessed November 06, 2016. http://taskandpurpose.com/the-military-could-soon-face-increased-recruiting-challenges/.

“The US Military’s Real Problem: Fewer Americans Are Joining.” POLITICO The US Militarys Real Problem Fewer Americans Are Joining Comments. 2015. Accessed November 06, 2016. http://www.politico.eu/article/the-militarys-real-problem-fewer-americans-are-joining/.

Could Fannin Save the Alamo?

From a military and political point of view, the Texas Revolution was a total debacle.  There was almost no unity among the generals and constant bickering among the politicians on the most trivial of things.  The men of the Texas Army were either volunteers or had formal enlistments.  Consequently, they would choose when and if to follow orders.

James Bowie, a noted slave trader and drunk, was among the volunteers who simply took orders as suggestions.  In January of 1836, he was given “orders” by General Sam Houston to either destroy the Alamo, or destroy its store of supplies and withdraw the token forces.1  Colonel James Neil, who commanded the regular forces, and Bowie agreed they should hold the city of San Antonio de Bexar, against the wishes of Sam Houston.  Houston felt the city was too far away from the Texian population and was too close to Mexico.  In addition, its population strongly favored the Mexican government.

With the refusal to destroy supplies and withdraw, a fatal plan was set in motion for the defenders of the small mission.

On February 25, 1836, James Fannin, the Texas commander of La Bahia (now Goliad) received orders to reinforce Colonel Travis at the Alamo.2  Two days later, the advance scouts from scouts from Santa Anna’s army arrived in San Antonio.  The Texan defenders had chosen to abandon the city in favor of the protection the Alamo walls offered.  By the end of the siege, somewhere between 180 and 250 Texans would be inside the compound.

Colonel James Fannin
Colonel James Fannin

On February 27, Fannin set out for San Antonio with a force of around 300 men.  He never made it.  Just outside of Goliad, one of the wheels on a gun carriage broke, making the cannon virtually impossible to move.  Instead of spiking the cannon and continuing on, Fannin turned his force around leaving the men of the Alamo to their fate with no chance of reinforcements.  Fannin’s command was the largest nearby and may have proven useful to Travis and Bowie.3

From here, a number of scenarios could play out.  First, Fannin probably would have been stopped before ever getting into the Alamo compound.  Santa Anna had sent out patrols to cut the road to Goliad and prevent reinforcements from arriving. Undoubtedly a confrontation was coming into San Antonio would have bloodied Fannin’s nose, and possibly wiped out his forces.  He would have been on the road with tired men and virtually no cover while trying to fight a larger, and relatively well rested enemy that had him with at least even numbers an even larger reserve.  (Oddly enough, a similar scenario would play out for Fannin at the Battle of Colleto Creek when Fannin found himself outnumbered with tired men and virtually no cover while coming under fire from a superior army led by General Urrea.

The question still remains, could the Alamo have held with a combination of Fannin and Travis’ men?

As of the winter of 1835-36, the Alamo was one of the most heavily armed forts west of the Mississippi River.  The Alamo was equipped with 24 cannons and Fannin could have brought around fifteen for a total of near 40. 4,5  The combined forces could have brought the total manpower to around 500-600 men against an attacking force of about 1800 Mexicans with another 1200 serving as reserves or in support roles.  Essentially 550 vs 3000, with the smaller number heavily armed and in a solid defensive position.

The defenders would still suffer from a weak southern palisade and a gate to defend.  However, with 550 men, the Texans would have one man for every three feet of wall space, estimating the original compound walls to be around 1500 linear feet.  But, some men would need to man the palisade wall, the cannons to the rear of the church, the walls of the cattle pens, as well as the south gate.  Perhaps this would pull 100 men to man those positions, giving the Texans one man for every four to five feet of wall.  Again, some men could be pulled off of the interior walls between the compound and the church and cattle pens to the east.  This handful of men could be positioned on the north wall where the bulk of the Mexican attack eventually came from.  It is worth mentioning, the Alamo had an abundance of gunpowder and ammunition.

With the extra men, the compound would have been formidable.  However, the assault would have most likely played out the same with the initial attack coming from the north, then the west, and finally from the south, while the Mexican cavalry would have been used to cut off anyone trying to escape.  The numbers would not play in favor of the defenders.  An initial assault might have failed, but the attackers would have regrouped and mounted another attack.  Mexican soldiers would have the advantage of rest and time.

The Mexicans could have swarmed the Alamo, and they had the numbers to do so.  Just as the actual attack, the Texans would only have been able to get off a few shots per man before the Mexicans reached the walls.  The initial volleys would have been devastating with the extra men, causing more casualties.  However, the slow rifles could only be reloaded so fast.  The end results would have been the same.  Once the Mexicans reached the walls with ladders, the initial soldiers would be cut down.  When they reached the top of the walls, the initial push would have been hit with moderate to heavy casualties, but the defenders would have been pushed back, allowing the attackers to gain a foothold.  At that point, the Mexicans surge forward would continue to pull back to the barracks and chapel.  The Alamo would fall.

In this scenario, there could have been hundreds of variables.  What if General Urrea headed north after Fannin left Goliad and joined forces with Santa Anna?  The result would have been the same.  What if Sam Houston headed to reinforce San Antonio?  His ill trained army would have likely made no difference.

General Jose Urrea
General Jose Urrea

In the end, the results would have been the same.  Instead of defeats and massacres at San Antonio, Coletto Creek, and Goliad, there would have been one bloody defeat in San Antonio.  Historically speaking, an attacking army with superior numbers and time on their side can simply lay siege to an isolated defender and wait them out.  Santa Anna had many San Antonio residents on his side.  He could supply his army on the backs of the local population, being that he had not been able to live off of the land.  Santa Anna could simply wait out the Alamo supply stores.  That said, Santa Anna did not show a desire to wait that long. 6 He most likely would have still assaulted the Alamo, with considerable loss to his forces, and still would have won the battle.

With the possible numbers, the Alamo was still doomed to fall.


Sources and note to the reader

I have to admit I have read a lot on this subject in the past year or so.  However, I have not always marked and sourced where I found the information.  At the time I was reading I had no clue I would end up writing a blog about this topic.  That said, I assure my readers I have read the information reported above.  I also read that information on legitimate sites and from legitimate sources.

1  “The Alamo Should Never Have Happened.” Texas Monthly. 2013. Accessed October 07, 2016. http://www.texasmonthly.com/the-culture/the-alamo-should-never-have-happened/.

2 “Massacre at Goliad.” Massacre at Goliad. Accessed October 07, 2016. http://www.tamu.edu/faculty/ccbn/dewitt/goliadmassacre.htm

3 Ibid.

4  “Alamo Cannon.” Alamo Cannon. Accessed October 07, 2016. https://www.tamu.edu/faculty/ccbn/dewitt/adp/history/1836/the_battle/the_weapons/cannon.html.

5  “Map of Fannin’s Fight, March 19, 1836.” TSLAC |. Accessed October 07, 2016. https://www.tsl.texas.gov/treasures/republic/goliad/fannin-map1.html.

6 Peña, José Enrique De La, and Carmen Perry. With Santa Anna in Texas: A Personal Narrative of the Revolution. College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 1997.  (I use the book as a citation as there are numerous events referred to, but not stated explicity.  However, this book confirms much of the things I have read in other sources.  Sadly, I have been a bit lazy and did not document all such places I read.)

A Fun Texas “What if” Fantasy

In August of 1835, Steven F. Austin returned from his imprisonment in Mexico City. The following month, instead of continuing to call for peace, he began to call for war. In the following month, the Texas Revolution began at Gonzalez with the attempted seizure of a cannon the Texans had in their possession. In December, Ben Milam and Frank Johnson assaulted San Antonio and took control of the city a few days later, setting the course for the most famous battle in Texas history.

As a historian, it is sometimes fun to play the “what if” game. It is not encouraged among professional groups because our job is to analyze and interpret history. However, a couple of questions were passed to me recently and I will attempt to address both over the course of my next two blog entries. The first, do I think the Alamo could have been held by 10 US Marines with a modern-day load out? The second is a bit more serious and could have had major implications in extending the Texas Revolution. Could the Alamo have been held if James Fannin had left Goliad and reinforced Colonel William Travis?

To analyze the possibilities, I thought it was best possible to look at the small arms of the time. I acknowledge I am leaving out part of the standard kit of a Marine and will not look at the implications of hand grenades or machine guns. I will brush over night vision devices and scoped weapons because the implications of being able to see at night against and enemy who cannot is self-explanatory.

In the 1830s, the Mexican soldier was armed with a British rifle. Some historians believe them to be the famed Brown Bess. However, the ones sold to Mexico would have most likely been the Indian produced version, and therefore have been of a lesser quality than the European produced model used by the British army. This nine-pound rifle fired a .752 caliber ball through a 39-inch barrel. It was known to be very inaccurate. 1 Some claim this black powder rifle was good up to 300 yards, but the Indian produced model was accurate to around 100 yards, with the optimal range being 50 or less. The reason being the Indian model did not have the refined barrel of the European model. (Oddly enough, quality between Russian, Chinese, Czech, and other former Eastern Bloc countries is similar in the famed AK-47 produced today. The Russian model is far superior in quality). This lack of accuracy made it better suited to slow, static battle field tactic of lines abreast and volley fire. The lack of accuracy was brought about by a slow rifling barrel. 2 Rifled barreling places grooves inside the barrel of a rifle in order to spin a bullet as it moves forward. A spinning bullet more stable in flight. Think of it in baseball terms as a fastball versus a knuckleball. The knuckleball will dance because it is subject to the air pressure around it. A fastball is more stable and “straight” due to the spin that allows it to be less susceptible to changes in air flow. (Incidentally, this slow rifling problem also plagued the early models of the famous M16). In addition to the long barrel, the rifle was also equipped with 23-inch sword bayonet that would become useless when it was in place if the weapon was fired. The blast would cause the bayonet to fall off. In addition, the bayonet weighed almost two pounds, making rifle handling extremely difficult and clumsy.

In terms of rifle quality alone, the Mexican soldier was found to be wanting.

Brown Bess

BROWN BESS courtesy of The Specialistltd.com

The modern rifle used by the US Marine Corps is either the M16A4, M4, or M4A1. For simplicities sake, this scenario will use the M4.

The M4 is the younger relative of the Armalite, and later Colt M16. It is a smaller version with a shorter barrel and collapsible stock. It’s effective range on a point target is about 500 yards. 3 Marines must qualify at 200, 300, and 500 yards with iron sights in boot camp. 4 The M4 also has the option of firing on single shot, or three round burst. This alone gives the Marines a massive advantage. In addition, the weapon is about 8 pounds fully loaded and only about 33-inches long when the stock is fully extended.

M4 carbine with scope
M4 carbine courtesy of History War Weapons

In this scenario, I was asked to consider the Marines with a standard loadout. With that in mind, the rifles would be equipped with combat optics, either an Aimpoint or Eotech red dot sight, which come into play in close quarters and short ranges. The marines would also have night vision devices, allowing them to use a standard laser to aim at night. Aiming at night would be important considering the final Mexican assault took place before dawn.

Two distinct Marine advantages have been noted, the ability to see at night and the range of effective small arms, 500 yards vs. 100 yards.

The Mexican Army also set up artillery around the Alamo compound at distances from 250-600 yards away. They also had at least two howitzers with a range of around 1500 yards, well outside of the range of Marine rifles. 5 The Mexicans could have fired their howitzers in an attempt to either breech the walls, or kill the Marines on top. The Marines would be able to pick off the closer field guns and their crews with the range of their rifles roughly equaling the range of the artillery. With a hypothetical 5 Marines taking a shot at the same target, at least one bullet would be bound to find it’s mark. The Mexicans could fire the howitzer, but the Marines could easily displace between shots due to the slow, manual reload time.

On the morning of the assault, the 1,800 Mexican soldiers charged into the fire of 180-250 Texans behind the strong walls of the Alamo compound. With a relatively low rate of fire, the Texans were simply overwhelmed by numbers. The Texans had stacked several rifles with full loads in order to fire as much as quickly as possible. First the northern and western walls were abandoned as the Texans pulled back to the church and barracks located in the center and south-east corner of the compound. The south wall and palisades next to the church were the last to fall. Superior numbers and the slow rate of Texan defender rifle fire ultimately led to the fall of the Alamo.

The question still remains, would 10 Marines with a modern loadout have been able to hold out against the Mexican army?

It is absolutely possible, and in my estimation, probable they could have. The biggest deficiency for the Texans was the massive piece of real estate they were expected to hold with very little manpower. The compound in front of the church is where most of the fighting took place. It was roughly the size of two football fields laid end to end, about 550 feet by 240 feet. The Texas forces had a high estimate of around 250 men. That makes for 1 man for every six feet of wall. However, some were manning the canon at the back of the church, some were outside the walls, and others were in the cow pens to the northeast. By this line of thought, the Marines would be badly overmatched in regards to the amount of wall space they could cover.

Alamo compound
Alamo Compound Courtesy of Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library
Note: The Church is on the bottom right of the picture. Part of the wall on the left (west) can still be seen today across the street and next to the House of Wax.

However, the assault came mainly from the north and south. The Marines could put 5 men on each wall. As the Mexicans assaulted, the Marines would be able to put out an incredible amount of defensive fire. They would not necessarily need to kill, but to simply disable. A soldier with broken legs and holes in their body is not going to be climbing ladders. Distance to the objective would also be on the Marines side. They could shoot slowly at individual targets at a distance as the initial assault would begin. The ability to quickly drop a magazine, insert a new one, and get back to shooting quickly would be essential to defense. The Texans did not have that advantage.

Assuming the Mexican would eventually get over the wall, the Marines would displace, just as the Texans did. They would also head for the church building and its thick, protective walls. The church had a one main entrance in the front and a second in the rear that opened to the cow pens. Needless to say, the Mexicans could only send a few men through the church doors at one time. The Marines would simply need to fire at the doors from cover and let the bodies stack up, forming a barrier. Eventually, the Mexicans could build ladders to climb over the 22-foot-high walls of the church and its open top. 6 However, the Marines would have been able to put a few men on top of those walls by virtue of using the ramp at the rear of the church.

In the end, the Marine’s firepower would have been enough to defeat the Mexican army of the time. With enough ammunition, the Mexican cannons, could have eventually destroyed the Alamo walls. However, the Marines with small arms would have made short work of the cannons within their range. It is also possible if the Mexicans preferred to pound the walls, the Marines would send a couple of men outside the walls in order to pick off the artillery crews from a shorter distance.

The great deciding factor in the battle would simply be ammunition. With enough ammunition, the Marines would easily hold off the Mexican army. With the exact same physical and material conditions as the siege in 1836, the Marines would have had a store of needed ammunition in the church. The Texans of the time, had a massive amount of ammunition and gunpowder on hand.

There have been numerous examples in history of numerically superior forces being defeated by significantly smaller number. The Vietnam War provided a plethora of examples, as does the American Revolution, and even the culminating Battle of San Jacinto that ended the Texas Revolution.

History has proven it is much easier and less costly to fight on the defensive than to assault a fortified position. In terms of numbers, the defenders of the Alamo proved this to be true by killing around 600 Mexicans at the loss of around 250 Texan, a kill ratio of roughly almost 2.5:1. US Marines, firing modern weapons from the same positions, would only up those numbers. 7

In short, with enough ammunition, 10 Marines could have held the Alamo against Santa Anna’s assault.

Remember the Alamo!!

1849 Alamo
Circa 1849 picture of the Alamo. Little renovation had been done to the church since the 1836 battle.
Courtesy of Wise about Texas

1 “Arms of the Mexican Infantry 1835-1836.” Arms of the Mexican Infantry 1835-1836. Accessed August 24, 2016. https://www.tamu.edu/faculty/ccbn/dewitt/adp/history/1836/the_battle/the_weapons/mexweapons.html.

2 Ibid.

3 “M4 Carbine.” Military.com. Accessed August 24, 2016. http://www.military.com/equipment/m4-carbine.

4 “Marine Corps Weapons Qualification Course.” Military.com. Accessed August 24, 2016. http://www.military.com/join-armed-forces/marine-corps-weapons-qualification-course.html.

5 “LA VILLITA EARTHWORKS.” BROWN, KENNETH M. Accessed August 24, 2016. https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/bbl17.

6 Ibid.

7 “Mythologizing The Alamo.” Mythologizing The Alamo. Accessed August 24, 2016. https://www.tamu.edu/faculty/ccbn/dewitt/adp/archives/newsarch/santos.html.

Odds, Ends, and Independence Day

“When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” 1

These opening words by Thomas Jefferson marked the end of British rule in America. It marked a show of defiance against what was determined to be an oppressive regime.

History has told us July 4, 1776 is Independence day. History also has a tendency not to tell us all of the truth.

The Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia to discuss the next steps for the American colonies after King George III rejected the Olive Branch Petition. The decision was made to ultimately declare independence and separate from Great Britain. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman were chosen to draft a document explaining the reasons for a split between the colonies and Great Britain. This is the same story we have heard and learned in school for years.

Courtesty of Google Images and Wikipedia

The actual date of independence was declared on July 2, 1776. John Adams claimed it would be “the most memorable epoch in the history of America.” 2 Adams was absolutely right, he just did not have the right date.

More on that in a moment.

Today, the Declaration of Independence is housed in the National Archives in Washington DC. However, that was not its home until 1952. During the Revolution it is thought the original copy was housed at the office of Secretary of the Continental Congress Charles Thomson. In addition it probably followed the Continental Congress through the colonies during the war. 3 Capturing the document would have been a major propaganda victory for the British. It would have also spelled certain doom for the signers had the Americans failed in their attempt at independence. In the years after the war, the Declaration of Independence was kept at various locations in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. The exception being a stint at Fort Knox during World War II. 4

As noted, the Declaration was created and given preliminary approval on July 2. However, Franklin and Adams edited part of the document and final approval was given by the Continental Congress on July 4. 5 So a case can be made for either day. However, nobody actually signed it in July 1776. That was reserved until August. Even then, not everyone at the Continental Congress signed, and some did not until November of that year. 6

On July 8, The Declaration was read publicly for the first time to the people of Philadelphia, and the Liberty Bell was rung…and cracked…except not really. In 1752, the bell was cracked due to being poorly cast. 7

The story of the writing of the Declaration actually begin in June 1776 when Richard Henry Lee (brother of Continental Army General “Light Horse” Harry Lee as well as Great Uncle to Confederate General Robert E. Lee), introduced a resolution for independence. Four days later, the committee to draft the Declaration was appointed and began working. By June 28, the first draft was completed and read before Congress. From July 1-4 it was debated, edited, and significantly cut in size. (For an example of what was cut see (THIS) article I wrote). On July 2 it was approved with final edits taking a couple of additional days. The traditional day for independence is marked as July 4 because the resolution was adopted and Dunlap Broadsides began printing copies. On August 2, the delegates began to formally sign the Declaration of Independence. However, Eldbridge Gerry, Oliver Wolcott, Lewis Morris, Thomas McKean, and Matthew Thornton signed on various days all the way to November 1776. 8

Courtesty History.com and Google Images

So, should Independence Day be celebrated on July 2, July 4, or August 4?

On July 4th, the Continental Congress gave its formal approval for independence.

On July 4th, we celebrate Independence Day. We celebrate the day 56 men stood up and said enough with tyranny. Enough with being abused. Enough with not being listened to. Those men stood up, with no money, no finances, and no official alliances to the worlds super power. They fought, begged, borrow, and stole their way to a stalemate that officially ended in 1783 with the Treaty of Paris.

July 4, 1776 is not the Fourth of July holiday. We don’t celebrate December 25th. We don’t celebrate October 31st. We don’t celebrate February 14th.

Independence Day is July 4th. While Congress adopted the Lee Resolution on July 2nd, the formal approval to the committee’s writing was on July 4th. With this approval, copies were ordered of this final document, not the working draft of the July 2nd resolution. Herein lies the reason for Independence Day being celebrated as July 4th.
“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their CREATOR, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” 9

I would be remiss if I failed to discuss more of the signers. There were 56 delegates who put their name on the document. Five of the signers were captured, however, none died in captivity. One died of wounds suffered in the Revolution. Button Gwinnett was wounded at the hands of another American officer in a duel. 10 History has led us to believe all sorts of stories about the signers. I will not address them here because it gives me something to research down the road. What can be said, in no uncertain terms, is that the signers of the Declaration of Independence took a massive risk not just for themselves, but also to their property, their families, and their future livelihood.

Courtesy Monticello.org


1 Accessed July 01, 2016. http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/bdsdcc:@field(DOCID @lit(bdsdcc02101).

2 “Fascinating Facts about the Declaration of Independence.” Declaration of Independence Facts, Full Text & Dates To Remember. Accessed July 01, 2016. http://www.constitutionfacts.com/us-declaration-of-independence/fascinating-facts/.

3 “NARA – The Declaration of Independence – Our National Treasure.” National Archives and Records Administration. Accessed July 01, 2016. http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/treasure/declaration_travels.html.

4 Ibid.

5 “Fourth of July: Nine Myths Debunked.” National Geographic. Accessed July 01, 2016. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/07/110704-fourth-of-july-myths-google-doodle-nation-independence-day/.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

8 “Primary Documents in American History.” Declaration of Independence: Primary Documents of American History (Virtual Programs & Services, Library of Congress). Accessed July 01, 2016. https://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/ourdocs/DeclarInd.html.

9 N.p., n.d. Web. 01 July 2016.

10″The Price They Paid: Fates of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.” Snopes. Accessed July 01, 2016. http://www.snopes.com/history/american/pricepaid.asp. I hate using Snopes because it is not really an academic source, but it works here.

The 2016 Benghazi Report

Before thinking of voting for Hillary Clinton, take time to actually read the Benghazi Report for yourself. Don’t take the talking points from the biases of the media, read the report. Read the sources from the declassified intelligence. Is this really the person you want to lead YOUR nation? Is this the person who will really pick up the phone in the middle of the night to defend you?


Camouflage: The Military’s Magical World of Color, Fashion, and Cash

As I noted in my last last entry, the military spends massive amounts of money on the development of new projects. In recent years, there has been competition for new battle rifles, new hand guns, and new uniforms, among other things. All of which take time and funds to through bidding, testing, and the acquisition process. One of the most mind boggling decisions I have seen in the past 15 years has been the battle among the services to be different and to mark that difference with their work uniforms. Think camouflage, or lack thereof.

In 1981, the US military moved away from an olive drab to a camouflaged uniform, known as the woodland Battle Dress Uniform (BDU).1 All four branches wore this uniform until around 2001 and 2002. This was the standard uniform that was adopted with the expectation it would function well in the wooded areas across Europe, should the Cold War have become hot. A separate, Desert Camouflage Uniform (DCU) was also adopted, and later modified, for all branches serving in a desert environment.
Woodland Battle Dress Uniform pattern
Woodland patterns

By 2002, the US Marine Corps had a new digital camouflage pattern in woodland, desert, and urban gray. (The gray was not adopted). Development of these patterns cost a paltry $319,000. 2 Six years later, the Air Force would spend over $3 million to develop a tiger stripe gray uniform while the Army spent roughly the same to develop the short-lived, and now being phased out, Army Combat Uniform (ACU). The ultimate cost to the Army was $15 billion once the ACU pattern was selected. This would cover the cost of the new uniforms, new helmet covers, new equipment for soldiers, etc. 3 Woodland and Desert Marpat
Woodland and Desert Marpat patterns

This does not seem so bad until looking at the ACU pattern. It was meant to blend in with multiple environments, from desert to woodland to urban, while also offering low visibility to night vision devices. The only one it remotely worked with was the urban environment, and in that it still stuck out. Soldiers deploying to Afghanistan have been trading in the ACU for a new pattern known as multicam. Multicam had been tested alongside the ACU in the initial testing phase, and was preferred by the soldier on the ground. 4 As of this writing, as soldiers deploy throughout Afghanistan, they will be issued a type of camouflage known as Operational Camouflage Patter (OCP), which is very similar to the multicam that is part of the transition from ACU to OCP. Some refer to the OCP pattern as Scorpion.
Multicam pattern
Multicam pattern

That may be a little hard to follow so I will quickly summarize. The Army chose the ACU pattern to replace the old BDU, largely because the Marine Corps changed their uniform and had something distinctive to their branch. After a few years, Congress got involved and told the Army command that soldiers complained and said their uniform and its camouflage did not work. So the Army issued the multicam uniform to soldiers deploying to Afghanistan. The multicam had originally “competed” against the ACU, and ultimately lost. Multicam will now be used until the Army developed OCP pattern will be phased in. Crye Precision owns the trademark on the multicam pattern. Due to the fee licensing, Army decided to develop their own pattern and renamed it OCP. 5 With the switch to OCP costs are are estimated at almost $39 million. 6

The question now is why did the Army pick the ACU when it was not a well-tested pattern? That has been a hard question to answer. I cannot find a solid answer, only speculation. If any readers can find something, please pass your information along. The best I can determine is service rivalry. The Marines developed a new pattern and it was adopted. Not to be outdone, the Army leadership picked up the ACU to be different. (The Army actually approached the USMC about their MARPAT, but the USMC refused to share. They went so far as to have the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor emblem embedded in the fabric). From various sources I have read the Army did not actually have the ACU in the uniform competition, instead it was a compilation of various patterns. So it was probably never truly tested by warfighters, but tested by personnel sitting in an air-conditioned office. This area of research is odd simply because I cannot find much information about the how and why of the ACU pattern. My gut tells me there was a financial benefit to the decision makers in the Army once they made the decision…and eventually retired. ACU pattern
ACU pattern

ACU v Multicam
ACU and Multicam applied to the same environment

ACU vs. Multicam vs. OCP (Scorpion)
ACU vs. Multicam vs. OCP (Scorpion)

When it comes to wasted money, the Army is not the only culpable party. The Air Force also decided to make a change from the old BDUs to a new pattern called Airman Battle Uniform (ABU). This tiger stripe pattern is very similar to the colors of the ACU and development cost about $3 million. However, this pattern is pointless outside of a rock yard and the Air Force issues the Army OCP to airmen headed downrange.7 So again, what is the purpose of this uniform if it is only worn stateside and doesn’t blend with anything? Maybe to be different?
ABU pattern (almost the same color ACU)

The Air Force did not bother with testing the tiger stripe pattern. Why issue a uniform that is untested and will not actually be used on the battlefield? The Air Force has shown no inclination to develop a new camouflage uniform.

Just to offer equal criticism, the Navy also felt the need to get a new camouflage uniform. One would think if a sailor fell overboard in the middle of the ocean the military would have provided them with something bright that would stand out against the dark ocean water. Apparently in 2007, the Navy brass felt differently and developed the NWU-1. This blue digital camouflaged uniform cost about $435,000 to develop. 8 Rumors have abounded the pattern was developed and adopted in order to hide grease and dirt from working aboard ships or in maintenance shops.



However, when Navy personnel deploy in on a land based mission, they are issued another uniform called the NWU-2. This is limited to special operations and sailors who support them.9 So the question comes to mind, why spend money on something that is not practical? Just to be different? Is that not a waste of taxpayer money?

Due to the Defense Authorization Act of 2014, the services are expected to have common uniforms in order to save money.10 With the new requirement again coming down the pipe, why is the Navy still acquiring uniforms that are being phased out? In 2015, the Navy spent $15.4 million on the blueberry uniform. Money still being spent on a product that is not working.

In the grand scheme of year to year budgeting, the cost of uniforms is not that big. However, in a time of war, the military needs quality, functional uniforms to wear. The different branches turned the digital camouflage debate into a fashion show in order to be different from one another. Each branch wants to be distinct and that is completely understandable. However, they are distinct in the mission they perform. They are unified in the nation they serve, hence the term, uniformed services. The same nation, same flag.

Of the many soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines I have spoken to over the years, none of them think the Army, Navy, or Air Force got it right in regards to camouflage uniforms. Most of them feel the Marines did right with their uniforms. They also feel the OCP, which again is just a variation of multicam, is also extremely effective.

The military must ask itself, what is the purpose of camouflage? Is it to help protect soldiers on the battlefield, or make a fashion statement? If it is the latter, then leadership needs to be questioned and replaced. Military leadership owes it to the troops to provide the most effective equipment possible. That same leadership answers to Congress. Congress should be ensuring taxpayer money is being spent wisely. After all, those taxpayers are the one’s footing the bill for the military fashion show.


1 Mighty, We Are The. “Here’s How the US Military’s Uniforms Have Changed over the past 250 Years.” Business Insider. 2015. Accessed June 03, 2016. http://www.businessinsider.com/heres-how-the-us-militarys-uniforms-have-changed-over-the-past-250-years-2015-7.

2 “Amos: Marines Sticking to Their MARPAT “like a Hobo on a Ham Sandwich”.” Battle Rattle. 2013. Accessed June 03, 2016. http://battlerattle.marinecorpstimes.com/2013/07/22/amos-marines-sticking-to-their-marpat-like-a-hobo-on-a-ham-sandwich/.

3 “The $5 Billion Camo Snafu (Army Retiring ACU).” The $5 Billion Camo Snafu (Army Retiring ACU). Accessed June 03, 2016. http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/2899388/posts.

4 Dickson, Caitlin. The Daily Beast. Accessed June 03, 2016. http://www.thedailybeast.com/the-hero-project/articles/2013/10/14/the-army-s-5-billion-new-uniform-already-being-replaced.html.

5 Campbell-Dollaghan, Kelsey. “The Strange, Sad Story of the Army’s New Billion-Dollar Camo Pattern.” Gizmodo. 2014. Accessed June 03, 2016. http://gizmodo.com/the-strange-sad-story-of-the-armys-new-billion-dollar-1616285708.

6 “With 10 Patterns, U.S. Military Branches out on Camouflage Front.” Washington Post. Accessed June 03, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/us-military-has-10-kinds-of-camouflage-uniforms-government-duplication-at-its-finest/2013/05/08/58f2fe4e-b67c-11e2-bd07-b6e0e6152528_story.html.

7 Ibid.

8 “The U.S. Military’s Changing Camouflage.” Washington Post. Accessed June 03, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/apps/g/page/politics/the-us-militarys-changing-camouflage/140/.

9 Ibid.

10 “Joint Service Camo and the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 – Soldier Systems Daily.” Soldier Systems Daily RSS. Accessed June 03, 2016. http://soldiersystems.net/2013/12/20/2014-ndaa/.

For Further reading

“Pentagon Spends Billions on Duplicative Camouflage Outfits, GAO Says.” Center for Public Integrity. 2013. Accessed June 03, 2016. https://www.publicintegrity.org/2013/04/12/12482/pentagon-spends-billions-duplicative-camouflage-outfits-gao-says.

“Report Slams Military’s Recent Camouflage Uniforms.” Military.com. Accessed June 03, 2016. http://www.military.com/daily-news/2012/09/28/report-slams-militarys-recent-camouflage-uniforms.html.

The F-35 Lightning, A Modern Day Albatross

The American economy is one of the most complex machines in the world. The United States federal budget is one of the most complex items for the government. Likewise, the US military machine is extremely complex and ties the economy and the budget together. Obviously the military is not the only part of the budget, but it is the biggest part. The 2015 discretionary spending for the federal government was $1.11 trillion. Of that, the military consumed 54%, or $598.5 billion (1) Discretionary spending is set each year by Congress through an appropriations process. To keep it simple, let’s just say the appropriation of funds is a massive bidding process for various government agencies and is based upon the previous years spending levels.

Needless to say, over a half trillion dollars is a lot of money. The military operates under a use or or lose it policy. (At least it used to). That means if the requested money for a fiscal year is not completely used, then the following year, a unit in question will only be budgeted for the amount of money they spent. This encourages individual units to spend any extra money they have on items they have not needed throughout the year, and may not need in the future.

F-35 v F-16 F-35 v F-16

I am a huge supporter of the military and national defense. It is essential to the security and freedom of the nation. However, I am not a supporter of reckless spending just for the sake of the newest and shiniest thing that may or may not be necessary or needed. The expenses associated with national defense are often over the top. As with any bureaucracy, there is wasted and often times, misappropriated funding. The waste within the Department of Defense goes deep in my opinion. Over the past 20 years, there have been numerous weapon systems and programs that have come at huge expenses to taxpayers. Some of these include the non-line of sight canon (NLOS), air based missile defense lasers, the main battle rifle competition, new sidearm competition, and my favorite project the F-35 Lighting II. It may be better known as the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). I plan to focus mostly on the astronomical expenses associated with the JSF.

Lockheed Martin won the contract to develop the F-35 in October 2001. The goal of the JSF program was to create a weapons platform that was common across all branches of the military with 80% compatible parts. In theory, this would keep costs down. In addition, the Air Force would replace the F-15, F-16 and A-10 with the F-35. The Navy would replace the F/A-18 (while keeping the F-18 Super Hornet) and the Marines would replace their F/A-18s and the AV-8B Harrier. Again, in theory, this is a great idea. (2) A joint aircraft has never been developed before. The closest the services have come in the past is the F-4 Phantom II of the 1960s that was designed by the Navy for carrier operations but ultimately was adopted by the Air Force and Marines as a multi-role fighter. I theorize the reason a joint fighter has never been developed is due to the different needs of the services. The Navy and Marines need an aircraft that can operate off of an aircraft carrier or from short, barely serviceable runways. The Air Force generally has access to longer runways and therefore is not tied to the same requirements.

F-4 Phantom IIF-4 Phantom II with US Air Force markings

F-15, F-16, F-18 F-15, F-16, F/A-18

The 2001 contract awarded Lockheed Martin $200 billion to build the aircraft. According to CNN, the price tag is now up to $400 billion for the delivery of almost 2,000 aircraft. In 2006, the plane flew for the first time. Then in March of 2014, Luke Air Force Base received its first F-35. (3) That’s 13 years after the first contract was initially awarded and 8 years after the first flight. The F-35 had not even dropped any bombs in testing. That did not occur until 2016. To date, the F-35 has not flown in combat, instead it has been constantly grounded for numerous design and software problems. However, it did fly in simulated combat against an F-16 in the summer of 2015. The results were dismal for the new fangled fighter against the aging backbone of the US Air Force. (4) As recently as April 2016, the plane had another software problem that could lead to another $20-100 billion to repair, pushing the deployment in the Navy back to 2018. (5)

Suffice to say, the F-35 has become a bloated undertaking that is well over budget, as well as underwhelming in what has been produced so far. It is not combat ready, it does not have a working cannon, and it is virtually unknown when it will be ready. I think at this point, fiscal conservatives should take a look at the entire project and determine if it is a go or no-go. In my tiny portion of the world, I would say end this program now. Not a year down the road, not five years, but now.

I think America is doomed to continuing with this expensive project. Many would argue too much money has been spent at this point to cancel the project. The real problem with why the project has not been cancelled is not the amount of money that has been spent. It is jobs and jobs that could be lost due to a massive cut in the defense industry.

As I said earlier, the military eats up over 50% of the federal discretionary spending. That is a lot of money. That also represents a lot of jobs that are dedicated to the F-35. Construction of parts of the aircraft takes place in 45 states. 40,000 people in Texas alone make contributions to the project (6) Magnify that across the United States and it is obvious the plane has become part of the military industrial complex that Dwight Eisenhower warned the nation to avoid. Literally thousands of jobs contribute toward construction of the F-35 and its numerous components.

Apparently, continuing to move forward is the plan. In 2010, the Secretary of Defense Robert Gates fired the Pentagon manager of the program and overhauled the acquisition process in the hopes of getting the program back on track and within budget. (7) While this is all well and good, there is a part of the American population that says enough rampant spending. Congress is not listening.

Companies such as Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, United Technologies, and BAE contributed to the campaigns of leaders sitting on the House Armed Services committee, the House Appropriations Committee, and the Senate Appropriations Committee. Oddly enough, those same companies make parts for the F-35. Follow the trail of money. (8) Congressional leaders will not cancel the project because the contractors involved will stop their campaign contributions. Perhaps there is a major reasons Americans continue to scream for campaign finance reform?

Congressional leaders also do not appear to want to talk to their constituents about the spending or the program. I had a chance several months ago to pull Representative Pete Sessions (R- TX) aside and talk at a function we were both attending. After talking to him about guns and education, I asked him if we could talk about the F-35. He fingered his F-35 lapel pin and smiled. So I told him there are concerns among taxpayers and how the plane is supposed to replace the A-10 in the close air support role. He tried to tell me he was friends with former Dallas Cowboys Tight End Chad Hennings who had flown the A-10, trying to explain to me how there is support for the plane among veterans. Sessions was not very clear about which plane and which veterans. Of the veterans I’ve talked to, all of them, with no exceptions, prefer having the A-10 above all other aircraft overhead for close air support. His response had nothing to do with my question but it was obvious he was trying to deflect my questions. I then began to ask if it was possible to find a better use of money than an all purpose fighter that does not even work. I told him $400 billion is a lot of money that could be spent elsewhere. At that point, Sessions appeared to be uncomfortable and gave me his phone number, telling me it was his personal cell phone, and then dismissed himself. It was evident to me he was uncomfortable with the conversation and even more so knowing he was dealing with someone that was educated on the subject and knew what they were talking about. I also assume Congressmen do not want to be questioned on where money is going by the people who’s cash they are spending.

A-10 Thunderbolt II, aka WarthogA-10

I hate to push the idea of a conspiracy. I do not think this is one. Instead, I believe the trail of money and threat to Congressional reelections has led down the path cautioned against by Eisenhower. To be simple, if the program is cancelled, thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of jobs will be lost. Cancelling the F-35 would have a massive effect on small town economies were the previously mentioned contractors are located. This wave of unemployment would probably be felt across the US economy. Losing this program and its attached jobs, with nothing to replace it, will cost Congressmen when it comes time for reelection. They need the campaign money from the contractors. Contractors need programs and jobs; Congressmen need money for elections. Congress will continue to fight for the aircraft.

Overall, the F-35 project is locked in a quagmire of military wants, lack of affective Congressional oversight, jobs, and special interests. Imagine if private businesses operated in this manner? They would never be profitable and would eventually go bankrupt. Continuing to throw money at a problem is not the solution. It will only create more layers to be peeled back and ultimately more corruption and wasted money. The F-35 was initially proposed to be a one size fits all solution to numerous potential conflicts facing the military in the 21st century. I learned growing up that a universal fit only means it does not fit anything well.

Maybe it is time to scrap the program and design a new aircraft with a stricter set of parameters. The F-35 in its current state is a jack of all trades, master of nothing. It is a black hole of desires and money that have little to show after 15 years of development.

I have tried to offer a piece of the F-35 picture. There is an exhaustive list of other problems with this aircraft that I could, and very possibly may, write about down the road. I am not a fan of this program, and have not been from the start. It has been plagued by problems from day one, ranging from orders being placed before research was even completed and tested, helmet malfunctions, failed ejection seats, lack of stealth capability, a small weapons payload, a failed cannon, and lack of acceptable or functioning coding for onboard software. Mixed in with these issues has been a lack of Congressional oversight coupled with an expanding budget and generals who claim they absolutely “need” this fighter while they plead with retired generals in high civilian positions who influence the program.
All of these issues have formed a twisted web of influence and wasted money and crammed down a rabbit hole from which there may be no return. Like many have claimed with our government, it is too big to fail. The F-35 may be too big to fail and the only choice will be to continue forward.

F-35 integrated helmetF-35 integrated helmet

I offer another idea; it is not too big to fail. It is too big to succeed. It is time to shut down the program and start over. Leadership is needed that will acknowledge the desires of the people and their pockets and maintain a balance with contractors and generals who “need” a new toy. It is time to cut our losses, learn from the mistakes, and apply the new technology to a new aircraft.


1 “Military Spending in the United States.” National Priorities Project. Accessed April 29, 2016. https://www.nationalpriorities.org/campaigns/military-spending-united-states/.

2 “Military.” F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Accessed April 29, 2016. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/aircraft/f-35.htm.

3 “First of 144 F-35A Lightning II Stealth Jets Arrives at Luke AFB.” First of 144 F-35A Lightning II Stealth Jets Arrives at Luke AFB. Accessed April 29, 2016. http://www.deagel.com/news/First-of-144-F-35A-Lightning-II-Stealth-Jets-Arrives-at-Luke-AFB_n000012469.aspx.

4 Person, and Tyler Rogoway. “The F-35 Can’t Beat The Plane It’s Replacing In A Dogfight: Report.” Foxtrot Alpha. 2015. Accessed April 29, 2016. http://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/the-f-35-cant-beat-the-plane-its-replacing-in-a-dogfigh-1714712248.

5 Zolfagharifard, Ellie. “Controversial $400bn F-35 Fighter Jet Now Has Computer ‘brain’ Problem Which Could See Entire Fleet Grounded.” Mail Online. 2016. Accessed April 29, 2016. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3552155/Controversial-F-35-fighter-jet-brain-problem-entire-fleet-grounded- claims-report.html.

6 “Pentagon’s ‘Too Big to Fail’ F-35 Gets Another $10.6 Billion.” The Fiscal Times. Accessed April 29, 2016. http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/2015/02/02/Pentagon-s-Too-Big-Fail-F-35-Gets-Another-106-Billion.

7 “Pentagon’s ‘Too Big to Fail’ F-35 Gets Another $10.6 Billion.” The Fiscal Times. Accessed April 29, 2016. http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/2015/02/02/Pentagon-s-Too-Big-Fail-F-35-Gets-Another-106-Billion.

8 “The F-35: Is It worth the Cost?” CNN. Accessed April 29, 2016. http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/16/politics/f-35-jsf-operational-costs/.

For Reading and research

“Air Force F-35 Lightning Fighter Jets Drop First Bombs.” CNN. Accessed April 29, 2016. http://www.cnn.com/2016/03/01/politics/air-force-f35-drops-first-weapons/.