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Archive for the ‘History’ Category

SCUBAPRO Sunday – US Navy Birthday

Sunday, October 13th, 2019

On 13, OCTOBER 1775 the Second Continental Congress passed a resolution creating official establishment the Continental Navy. They voted to outfit two sailing vessels, armed with ten carriage guns, as well as swivel guns, and manned by crews of eighty, and to send them out on a cruise for three months to intercept transports carrying munitions and stores meant for the British army in America. Throughout the War of Independence, the Continental Navy sent to sea more than fifty armed vessels. The Navy’s squadrons and cruisers seized enemy supplies and carried correspondence and diplomats to Europe, returning with needed munitions. They took nearly 200 British vessels as prizes, and some of the British Isles themselves, contributing to the demoralization of the enemy and forcing the British to divert warships to protect convoys and thier  trade routes. But with the end of the American Revolutionary War, the Continental Navy was disbanded. Then with threats to American merchant shipping by Barbary pirates from four North African States, in the Mediterranean, President George Washington signed the Naval Act of 1794 the act authorizing the construction of the Navy’sNavy’s first six frigates ? Congress passed a resolution to establish a national navy that could protect U.S. commercial vessels from attacks by Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean and nearby Atlantic waters.

Soldier Integrated Protective Ensemble

Saturday, October 12th, 2019

The Soldier Integrated Protective Ensemble Advanced Technology Demonstration was conducted in the fall of 1992 at Fort Benning, Georgia.

These photos of SIPE components were taken by Natick Research, Development, and Engineering Center.

Download the report here.

The McRae Industries Story – Part 1, Caution to the Wind, Flying on a Dream

Thursday, October 10th, 2019

> Growing up in rural North Carolina, McRae Industries founder Branson McRae had big dreams for the future. He went on to become a world leader in manufacturing military footwear.

Mount Gilead, NC, sits at the foot of the Uwharries, North America’s oldest mountain range. With a population of just over 1,000, this Montgomery County community, located an hour east of Charlotte, is small-town America at its best: plenty of fresh air, picturesque charm, and peaceful living all around.

Just outside town, McRae Industries, Inc.  –  a world-renowned footwear manufacturer – has been a legendary mainstay for six decades.    

Small-town charm: Mount Gilead sprung up in the late 19th century.                         

McRae Industries founder Branson Jackson McRae, born in 1920, grew up in Mount Gilead, the third of six children. Branson’s stalwart work ethic was gleaned from his father, James McRae, a farmer and descendent of Scottish immigrants.

The will to succeed: Branson on the family farm in Mount Gilead,1930.

Self-described as an “opportunist and a dreamer,” Branson contemplated his future while working on the family farm. “I’d have a mule in the cotton patch and would be seeing all the nice automobiles drive by,” he once said. “I would think, will I ever have one of them?”

After graduating from Mount Gilead High School in 1937, he set out immediately for a full-time job.

Building ships, houses, and a skating rink

As World War II approached, Branson relocated to Wilmington, NC, to build Liberty ships – cargo vessels that were a frequent target of German U-boats.

While living in Wilmington, he met and married his future wife and spirited soulmate, Lorraine Hamilton, with whom he had four children: Gail, Sandra, Gary, and Jim.

“In the war days, job security for Liberty builders was a given, Branson’s son Gary says. “The Germans sunk the ships so quickly more were always needed.”

Branson’s first job: Building Liberty ships for World War II combat.

When the war ended, Branson joined with brothers JC, Philip, and Finley to launch the McRae Brothers Manufacturing Company, a home construction business based in Mount Gilead. Business boomed, but Branson was always on the lookout for fresh opportunities.

In 1956, he purchased an abandoned brick school building in Wadeville, just a few miles northeast of town, where his daughter Gail had attended elementary school. There, he and Lorraine opened a skating rink, readily building a popular new business.

Starting a shoe company 

Two years later, another prospect loomed. A business group from New York visited Mount Gilead with the vision of opening a shoe factory there. Although the plan was abandoned, Branson sensed the opportunity – and seized it.

“Dad was laser focused on starting a factory in the old schoolhouse,” son Gary says.  “At the age of 40, he threw caution to the wind. He knew nothing about footwear, but he was confident he could learn and succeed.” The new business, Gro-Rite Shoe Company Inc., was soon manufacturing children’s footwear for such industry leaders as Kinney Shoes.

A new business begins: The Wadeville schoolhouse, circa 1967.

To start his company, Branson invested $100,000 in cash and assets in exchange for a third of the new company’s stock, selling the remaining two-thirds’ interest to local investors. With a total $300,000 investment, Gro-Rite was “woefully underfinanced,” son Jim says. “Profits were slim, but Dad persevered.”

Shoemaker mentor: Heinz Rollman taught Branson his patented method.

Learning the craft

Branson’s mentor in his new business venture was Heinz Rollman, a third-generation, multimillionaire shoemaker. Heinz had fled Nazi Germany in 1939 and relocated his company, RoSearch Inc., to Waynesville, NC. He and his partners operated 72 shoe factories worldwide and invented “Process 82,” a patented method of making shoes using vulcanized rubber. Instead of stitching together the upper and lower parts of the shoe, the process “cooks” the two together, creating a highly durable construction.  

“People who won’t give up, no matter what difficulties they encounter, those kinds of people I admire and respect more than money.”

– Heinz Rollman, founder of RoSearch Inc., and mentor to Branson McRae

“Heinz could see that my father, though lacking in funds and knowledge of the shoemaking business, was sincere, ambitious, and uncommonly determined,” Gary says. “He granted Dad a license for Process 82, and Gro-Rite became the first company in the U.S. to receive a patent for vulcanizing children’s shoes.”

Branson renovated the school building’s 12,000 square feet of floor space – and added another 3,000 feet to build a rubber mill.  He hired more than 100 Montgomery County workers and put them through a vigorous training with RoSearch experts. Branson also purchased the machinery to cut, sew, and prepare leather for vulcanizing.


Gro-Rite’s unconditional guarantee: “A new pair of shoes free if the soles wear out or the counters break down before the shoe is outgrown.”

Each step of construction followed the Rollman family’s carefully crafted procedures. The result? A faster construction process, elimination of several steps required in conventional shoe manufacturing, and a shoe that stands up to water.

Six years after Gro-Rite’s launch, America’s involvement in the Vietnam War was accelerating. American soldiers needed resilient footwear – boots that outlasted the treacherous conditions of Southeast Asia. The federal government took notice of Gro-Rite’s vulcanizing technique and asked the company to bid on a contract for combat boot construction. Branson responded, the contract was awarded, and destiny took a new turn.

Rangers In Action

Saturday, October 5th, 2019

Enjoy this 1979 production by the US Army Infantry School.

West Point Parachute Team: Where Astronauts Learn to Fly

Thursday, October 3rd, 2019

WEST POINT, N.Y. — On the precipice 240 miles above the earth, Jeff Williams was ready to enter into the void.

It was a feeling he’d become used to over the years; solid ground beneath your feet, nothing but empty air across the ledge.

But this time it was different.

This was no helicopter flying over the U.S. Military Academy’s Camp Buckner, where he had jumped countless times as a member of the West Point Parachute Team.

It was a step off the space shuttle for a seven-hour spacewalk to continue the process of constructing the International Space Station.

“The sensation of being outside the spacecraft, orbiting the earth every 90 minutes, controlling yourself with just fingertip control and seeing the earth below, that is why I call it the ultimate skydive,” Williams, a retired Army colonel, NASA astronaut and a member of USMA Class of 1980, said. “It is absolutely incredible.”

When he arrived at West Point from the dairy farm in Wisconsin where he was raised, a future that included flying on anything, let alone a rocket into space, wasn’t on Williams’ radar. His father had served in West Germany for a few years following World War II, but that was the extent of the military service in his family.

Williams learned about the academy through his father’s role as a high school guidance counselor and from the get go his plan wasn’t necessarily a lengthy Army career. Heck, he wasn’t even sure if he was going to stay at West Point for the full four years. His goal was simply to prove his friends wrong who had doubted he would last at the banks of the Hudson River.

“I remember having friends from my hometown and one said you won’t make it past the summer and Beast Barracks,” Williams said. “The other one said he probably won’t make it to Christmas. I was going to at least win their arguments and beat both of them.”

Then he learned to fly and any thoughts of leaving the academy were gone.

When he’d first entered the academy, Williams didn’t even know the Army had aircraft, but at the end of his plebe year in 1977 he found the West Point Parachute Team. At the same time, his cadet sponsor was the commander of the academy’s aviation detachment.

By leaving the ground and soaring through the air, he found the balance needed to be successful at West Point. His sponsor and the other members of the aviation detachment taught him about their experience flying in Vietnam and introduced him to all an Army aviator could do, while the parachute team brought him friends and adventure.

First, the members of the team learned to jump via static line. Then they did “hop and pops” where you jump out and immediately pull your parachute. Finally, they started adding freefall time, first 10 seconds, then 20, then 30.

In those days, during the afternoon the members of the team would jump into Camp Buckner, whereas nowadays the team spends its afternoons after class jumping onto The Plain at the center of the academy. On weekends, they would travel out to Walkill to an abandoned airfield and jump all day. Go up, jump, land, fold up your parachute and go again six or seven times in a single day.

Jump after jump, Williams came to love the thrill and the intricacies of learning how to use and trust the parachute system. After not even knowing the Army had aircraft, he quickly set his sights on becoming a pilot following graduation.

It was also during those years when Williams first considered the idea of being not just an Army pilot, but an astronaut. During his cow year at the academy, Gen. Bob Stewart was selected to become a NASA astronaut making him the first active duty Army officer selected by NASA. A visit by Stewart to West Point, time spent with future astronaut Jim Adamson, who was teaching at West Point at the time, and reading “The Right Stuff” by Tom Wolfe opened Williams’ eyes to the possibility of space flight, much as joining the parachute team had first peaked his interest in being a pilot.

Following graduation, Williams’ first duty assignment was Germany, just as it had been for his dad years before. He learned to fly OH-58s and Hueys, but the astronaut program was never far from his mind. He applied for the first time in 1985 and would go on to apply five more times over 10 years before being selected as a member of the astronaut class of 1996.

“It is a good lesson I try to communicate to folks,” Williams said of applying six times and interviewing three. “One, to persevere with your goals and two, don’t take the disappointments personally because they’re usually not personal.”

He launched for the first time on May 19, 2000 aboard the space shuttle Atlantis for a 10-day mission to work on constructing the International Space Station. He’d launch again in 2006, 2009 and 2016, each time aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket for a six-month mission seeing the ISS go from just started to fully operational across his four trips.

He spent nearly 32 hours outside performing spacewalks during his trips. It is in those experiences where his time spent training with the parachute team really came full circle to help him succeed.

Hanging by nothing but his fingertips, Williams would move around by “walking,” but it was really a hand over hand crawl through the void of space. The ability to control his body, move through the air and deal with important tasks while in a risky environment were all skills he had first learned a few thousand feet above Camp Buckner, but he was now using a couple hundred miles above earth.

“In some ways there are parallels between going out and being completely free of touching things in a skydive and controlling your body, the aerodynamics of your body by moving your arms and legs around and managing the risks and the challenges of doing a spacewalk,” Williams said.

Williams is still flight ready and on the astronaut roster, but his days of launching into space have likely come and gone following 534 days in space. The pathway from the West Point Parachute Team to the International Space Station continues, though.

Their paths to NASA were different, but as members of the parachute team, Col. Drew Morgan and Lt. Col. Frank Rubio, both in USMA Class of 1998, learned to fly together. The two made their first jumps on the same day, and although their Army careers took them to different places their paths have at times run parallel with both attending medical school and now both serving NASA as astronauts.

That connection started as plebes at the U.S. Military Academy when Morgan and Rubio found their way to the parachute team.

For Morgan, it was a continuation of a family legacy. Family stories of his great uncle Harry McClintock, a member of the 101st Airborne Division who jumped into Normandy on D-Day, had spurred his already budding interest in serving in the military and introduced him to the idea of becoming an Army paratrooper.

Rubio came to the academy for the education, unsure of what all was offered at West Point. He spent his first year playing what was then called 150s and is now Sprint Football but jumped at the opportunity to join the parachute team once he heard about it.

There, he found his best friends. The team demanded he give up time during the summer and over breaks, but it was worth it to take to the skies with teammates, including Morgan, who quickly became more like brothers.

“What I learned the most from the team was a sense of responsibility. Ultimately, you are getting trained to be a jumpmaster very early on in your life,” Rubio said. “You quickly learn that it is a lot of fun, it is a really neat thing to do, but it is a lot of responsibility. It is something you’ve got to take pretty seriously.”

Morgan is currently orbiting earth aboard the International Space Station during his first mission to space. He was a member of the astronaut class of 2013 and launched to the space station in July to take part in Expedition 60 and 61.

On Aug. 21, he followed in Williams’ footsteps and made the ultimate skydive into space for his first spacewalk.

“That camaraderie that we had (on the parachute team) and that dependency we had on each other, making sure that we were skilled in the aircraft and skilled in the air, our lives depended on each other to do safety checks of each other … I think about how 20 years ago, I was developing those skills at an early age and didn’t even know it,” Morgan said in a NASA interview.

While being an astronaut was always Morgan’s goal, it had only registered as a slight possibility to Rubio. That changed in 2017 with a phone call from his former parachute teammate. NASA was accepting a new class of astronauts and Morgan reached out to encourage him to apply.

“I was pursuing my own dreams at the time of being a special operations surgeon,” Rubio said. “When they took the next class and Drew gave me a quick call and said you may want to consider trying out I think you would be a good candidate, I began to think about it at length.”

Rubio was accepted as a member of the class of 2017 and began his two years of training as an astronaut candidate, which he will graduate from soon.

The training course teaches future astronauts how to fly a T-38 Talon, use the space suit, operate the robotics at the space station and how to operate the International Space Station. Due to NASA’s close relationship with the Russian Space Agency, astronaut candidates also have to learn Russian.

After graduation from astronaut candidate school, Rubio and his classmates will wait to be assigned missions, which typically takes a minimum of two years. After selection it is another two years of training before launching to the space station.

Williams was the first to make the leap from parachute team to astronaut, but Morgan and Rubio have followed along the same path and laid the groundwork for current and future team members to follow their own dreams to space.

With fall temperatures rolling in making the afternoons cooler and the sun setting over The Plain, the current members of the parachute team hone their skills much as their three predecessors did as cadets. Grab your parachute, fist pump the 2nd Aviation pilot, ascend to 3,000 feet, jump, land, fold up your parachute and do it all over again.

Jump after jump the team grows closer and their skills improve. How to control your body. How to trust your equipment. How to function in a high stress environment. All of it pays dividends no matter the career they choose to pursue in the Army, but as Williams and Morgan have shown and Rubio will soon learn, it also prepares you for the moment on the ledge with the earth spread out before your eyes as you prepare to make the ultimate skydive.

“To me that means I have a chance, honestly, which I think is super cool,” Class of 2021 Cadet Matthew Blejwas, a current member of the parachute team and aspiring astronaut, said. “Right now, just being able to follow in the footsteps of people that are making these great bounds for us as a society and as humanity is really humbling. I recognize that I’m in a spot where I have an incredible opportunity, and I don’t take that lightly.”

By Brandon OConnor

Battle of Mogadishu

Thursday, October 3rd, 2019

Everyday marks an anniversary of a significant event in American military history, but today stands out among them.

On this date in 1993, US service members were engaged in what is now known as the Battle of Mogadishu. Elements of TF Ranger, a joint organization, had deployed to Mogadishu, Somalia. Already having conducted operations for some time, on this day, they raided the city’s Olympic Hotel in order to capture key leaders of the Aidid Militia.

Unfortunately, during the exfil portion of the raid, a battle ensued which claimed the lives of 18 Americans and wounded another 73. Additionally, CW3 Michael Durant was captured by the Aideed militia. Fortunately, Durant was later repatriated and went on to retire from the 160th.

Of the men killed that day, two would be awarded the Medal of Honor, Delta Operators Gary Gordon and Randy Shughart, for their selfless efforts to protect Durant after his aircraft, callsign Super 64, was shot down.

If you are unfamiliar with the events, one of the best accounts of the battle is contained in the book, “Blackhawk Down” by author Mark Bowden. Much of the information was serialized prior to the book’s publication in the Philadelphia Enquirer. Later this was made into a movie bearing the same name.

Please take a moment to remember these men and their sacrifice.

Additionally, the 75th Ranger Regiment was created on this day in 1984, with the stand up of its 3rd Battalion. Thirty-five years later, the Ranger Regiment boasts boasts five battalions of some of the most elite warriors on the face of our planet.

CIA’s Mi-17 Helicopter Comes Home

Sunday, September 29th, 2019

Final Mission of a Valiant Workhorse

Fifteen days after the attacks of September 11th, 2001—on President George W. Bush’s orders—the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) deployed a small team into Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley. Its mission: to launch U.S. operations against al-Qaida and its Taliban supporters. JAWBREAKER, as the operation would be called, was the United States’ first response to those attacks, and stands as an exemplar of the extraordinary capacity of CIA and the broader U.S. Government to respond swiftly and decisively in defense of the country. The JAWBREAKER team of seven Agency officers, three aircrew and two Afghan partners boarded a Russian-made, CIA-modified, Mi-17 heavy-duty helicopter on what would become a historic flight.

The Search for 10,000 Pieces

Robert Byer, CIA Museum director and curator, opened the ceremony by thanking attendees for joining CIA in celebrating what he described as an “incredibly auspicious day that has been many years in the making.” He briefly recounted the story of how the Mi-17 helicopter came to rest on CIA campus as a “macro-artifact” in CIA Museum’s growing collection. A macro-artifact, Mr. Byer explained, simply means that “we couldn’t fit it inside the building.” 

“In 2006, CIA museum began working on an exhibition about the Agency’s role leading up to Operation Enduring Freedom,” Mr. Byer explained. What began as a small collection of photographs and artifacts from those involved in the early response to 9/11 quickly grew to include flight kits, cartography and even a cockpit instrument from the Mi-17. “The aircraft was ubiquitous in the part of the world,” he said. “Rugged and dependable and described by those who flew aboard as ’10,000 parts all trying to come apart at once,’” he explained to laughter from the audience.

In the fall of 2018, Mr. Byer and the rest of the CIA Museum staff reunited that single cockpit instrument with the remaining 9,999 pieces of the Mi-17 with its delivery to CIA campus. “With today’s dedication,” he said, “we now have the full story of CIA’s response to those attacks on American soil. It [the exhibition] serves as a bookend to its 911 counterpart,” Mr. Byer said referring to the 9,000 pound rust-colored steel column on the Southwest side of CIA’s Original Headquarters Building that was recovered from World Trade Center 6 in New York City.

Today—exactly 18 years after the members of operation JAWBREAKER set foot in Afghanistan—CIA had the distinct honor of commemorating that mission with the dedication of the Mi-17 that shuttled team JAWBREAKER over the “Hindu Kush and into history.” Adorned with the tail number 9-11-01, the fully-restored Mi-17 helicopter is nestled amongst the trees in a large green space to the northeast of CIA’s Original Headquarters Building. The rocky landscape on which the helicopter sits was designed to mimic the Afghan landscape in which the helicopter served so well. Hundreds gathered at CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia, to see the helicopter in its final home and hear from the Agency officers who played a significant role in the success of CIA’s first response.

To Right a Terrible Wrong

Mr. Byer welcomed Gina Haspel, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, to the stage to introduce the ceremony’s keynote speaker, Gary Schroen, who delayed his retirement to lead Operation JAWBREAKER in 2001. “Today’s ceremony is a celebration of the daring spirit that defines the Central Intelligence Agency,” Director Haspel said. She explained the importance of teamwork in the pursuit of success. “Gary and his team were at the tip of the spear, and at every step of the way there was an Agency family, here at Headquarters and across the world, who had their back.”

Director Haspel spoke of the courage and motivation of the JAWBREAKER team in their pursuit to “right a terrible wrong.” Her hope for this helicopter is that it serves as a reminder of the sacrifices made in defense of freedom and that visitor’s “gain a deeper appreciation of what it takes to keep our country safe and free.”

Business as Usual

Director Haspel introduced Mr. Schroen, the ceremony’s keynote speaker, as “a living legend and inspiration to every CIA Officer” and thanked him for his 50 years of service to the CIA.

Mr. Schroen took the stage to generous applause, a clear indication of the respect and admiration he commanded from those in attendance. He thanked Director Haspel for her remarks before launching into his recollection of the time, the operation and the sequence of events that led to his team landing in Afghanistan just two weeks after the attacks on American soil. “It’s an awkward looking piece of machinery,” he began. “But don’t be fooled – the Russians built it for utility and service, rather than looks and style.” He described the helicopter as a workhorse “designed to take a punishment,” which was exactly what the CIA needed.

He recounted the shudder of the helicopter as it began its ascent over the 14,500-foot Anjuman Pass and into Panjshir for the first time—a recollection that would make even the most valiant palms a bit sweaty. “We were very heavy,” he admitted. Between the passengers, weapons, fuel, ammunition and all of the other equipment, the team was pushing the helicopter’s payload to its outer extremes. “It wasn’t ‘business as usual,’” Mr. Schroen recalled. “But looking around the compartment, you would think it was – no one was dwelling on the danger we were in.”

Echoing Director Haspel’s comments on teamwork, Mr. Schroen noted that the success of the team was not theirs alone, but that of the “heroic efforts that this organization [CIA] made in getting the JAWBREAKER team ready.” He pointed to a number of officers and offices across the Agency that were instrumental to navigating the many processes needed to get JAWBREAKER airborne. He also credited the foundation which had been laid years prior, namely the relationships built with the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, which would help JAWBREAKER navigate the unfamiliar territory.

Mr. Schroen concluded by expressing a simple hope that “we can all on occasion take a look at old 9-11-01 sitting out here, and remember that the seemingly impossible is in fact achievable.”

I often think there are things I’ll never get to share on SSD and then the CIA publishes something like this.

National Museum of Intelligence and Special Operations Conceptual Design Has Been Honored With A 2019 Architectural Design Award

Wednesday, September 18th, 2019

Recipients of Chicago Athenaeum’s 2019 American Architecture Awards have just been announced. Winners will be recognized at an awards gala on October 10th and featured in the forthcoming New American Architecture (Metropolitan Arts Press Ltd).

Now in its 25th year, the American Architecture Awards are the highest public awards given in the United States by a non-commercial, non-trade affiliated, public arts, culture, and educational institution. They are also the centerpiece of The Chicago Athenaeum and European Centre’s efforts to identify and promote best practices in all types of architectural development, as well as recognize design excellence and the best and next contributions to innovative contemporary American architecture.

“For 25 years, the American Architecture Awards have presented stunning and meticulously- designed projects that demonstrate quality architecture in the service of clients, as well as the general public, no matter the scale of project,” states Christian Narkiewicz-Laine, Museum President, The Chicago Athenaeum. “This year’s winning projects are the buildings that are profoundly shaping American architecture in the 21st-Century. Today’s celebrated award; tomorrow’s landmark.”

The 2019 entries were reviewed and winners selected by a prestigious jury composed of Miami based architects, educators, and developers including Alejandro Gonzalez of Arquitectonica (ARQ), Carlos Rosso of The Related Group, Luis O. Revuelta of Revuelta Architecture, Peter J. Studl (former Chairman) of The Chicago Athenaeum, Paolo Trevisan of Pininfarina of America, and Sebastian Salvat of Fortune International Realty.

Among the winners of the 2019 American Architecture Awards is the conceptual design for the anticipated 57,500-square-foot, National Museum of Intelligence and Special Operations.  The effort is spearheaded by the OSS Society and will be built just north of Dulles International Airport, about 30 miles west of Washington, DC. Designed by Fentress Architects, the envisioned museum plans to educate the American public about the importance of strategic intelligence and special operations to the preservation of freedom, honor Americans who have served at the “tip of the spear” and inspire future generations to serve their country.

Curt Fentress, Principal in Charge of Design at Fentress Architects said, “The concept of the museum’s landmark design was inspired by the spearhead, a symbol used by the intelligence and special operations communities since World War II. The spearhead shape will define the footprint of the museum, which will be visible from the flight path of Dulles International Airport.”

Symbol of the OSS revealed in site plan

Side view of walkway to events pavilion

Events space

“Tip of the Spear” Pavilion