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75 years after his last mission, WWII bomber pilot recounts ‘sheer terror’ of bombing runs over Nazi Germany

John Luckadoo was just a wide-eyed 21-year-old lieutenant assigned to the Eighth Air Force’s 100th Bomb Group when he manned the controls and took to the sky for his first bombing mission as co-pilot of a famed B-17 Flying Fortress. The aeronautical revelation at Luckadoo’s fingertips could fly at altitudes of 35,000 feet for up…

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75 years after his last mission, WWII bomber pilot recounts ‘sheer terror’ of bombing runs over Nazi Germany

John Luckadoo was just a wide-eyed 21-year-old lieutenant assigned to the Eighth Air Force’s 100th Bomb Group when he manned the controls and took to the sky for his first bombing mission as co-pilot of a famed B-17 Flying Fortress.

The aeronautical revelation at Luckadoo’s fingertips could fly at altitudes of 35,000 feet for up to 2,800 miles, and carried a hefty bomb payload supplemented by 10 .50-caliber machine guns.

But flying it proved deadly. So much so that the odds of a B-17 crewman surviving the 25 missions required to complete a tour were only one in four.

Until the 1944 introduction of the P-51 Mustang to the air war over Europe, the B-17′s impressive distance capabilities meant daylight bombing runs over Nazi Germany would have to be done without fighter escorts, leaving inexperienced B-17 crews to fend for themselves against seasoned pilots of the Luftwaffe.

What was worse, German anti-aircraft batteries peppered the American bombers with 88mm shells — or, “flak” — hurled five miles into the air that would explode within feet of a B-17 flying at its required bombing altitude.

One Flying Fortress crew member went so far as to compare the ever-present threat of shrapnel to Russian roulette. “You were going to be hit by it,” he said. “It was just a matter of where it would hit you and when.”

“Lucky,” a fitting moniker bestowed upon him by his men, would be one of the fortunate few to beat the odds and complete 25 missions, but certainly not before the war left its indelible mark.

Now 97, Luckadoo spoke with Military Times about the mental and physical toll of flying as a member of the “Bloody 100th.”

First, you and so many other B-17 crew members were rushed through training to get you into the air over Nazi-controlled Europe. Did you ever feel inadequately prepared as a result?

Grossly inadequate would be the better term. [Laughs]

In my particular case, I was assigned to a heavy bomber group that was just on the brink of being sent overseas. This was after the crews of the group, the Bloody 100th, had gone through all of the pre-combat training.

At the time, what was being offered was about three to four months of training. However, the graduates of my flight school were sent to replace the copilots just prior to being sent overseas. It was only in this one group that this ever took place.

Luckadoo during training in the U.S. (Courtesy of John Luckadoo)

Of the 40 men from my flying class that went to the 100th Bomb Group, only four of us managed to complete a tour. That gives you an idea of how inadequately trained we were and how unlikely it was that we were going to survive.

In comparison, what was your perception of the German pilots?

The Germans were professionals and we were rank amateurs. The minute that we crossed the French coast we were in their backyard. They dominated the skies.

They’d been fighting on the Eastern Front, through the Battle of Britain, and they knew what they were doing. When our group arrived in England, “Axis Sally” (Mildred Gillars) came on the radio and welcomed us, by name, to the war saying, “This isn’t your war, you don’t have any business being here. Your girlfriends and wives are being romanced back in the States, but as long as you’re here we’re going to teach you a lesson.” And by God they did.

Through a baptism of fire, we found out how professional and clever they were in discovering our vulnerabilities. The first of which was that we could not fire our guns straight forward. There was a gap in-between the top turret and ball turret guns so they would fly in that slot, straight through our formations. They played chicken with us, firing the whole way. It wasn’t until Boeing developed the G model (Boeing B-17G), which had a chin turret, that we would be able to cover that void. But they devastated us with that technique for as long as they could.

That air superiority was evident when the pilot of the Memphis Belle, Capt. Robert Morgan, remarked that you might have breakfast with 10 crewmen, but dinner with only two. Can you describe the mental toll of confronting your own — or your men’s — mortality with each mission?

When we were preparing to go overseas our commanding officer called us together and said, “Look at the man on either side of you. Only one of you will be coming back. You’re all going to be killed and you might as well accept it.”

That was the mindset that we were supposed to take into combat. That our chances of coming back were so minimal that we should accept our fate and just do the best that we could, for as long as we could.

Facing your mortality to that degree is a very sobering and maturing experience. It was so horrific that just one mission could turn our hair white. The sheer terror that we confronted was so devastating that it left a mark on us for life.

How did expectations for survival impact the bonds developed within a crew?

While you were in battle you had to rely on each member of your crew to perform their job to perfection or else you didn’t survive. You had respect for what they did and how they did it, particularly the gunners who were in the waist of the aircraft standing in an open window. How they withstood that cold I’ll never know.

The sad fact of it was that of all the 10 crewmen, the pilot and copilot were the only two members of the crew who didn’t have a gun to shoot back with.

And during a bomb run the actual flying of the airplane was done through the bombsight by the bombardier. For what felt like an interminably long period, the bombsight was connected to the flight controls. That was the way the ship leveled up to make the most effective bomb drop. The pilot and copilot had to just sit there with their arms crossed waiting to take over if necessary. Very few people realize that.

The bombardier’s position of the B-17G Flying Fortress. (Lt. Tyler Ginter/Army)

Speaking with the National World War II Museum, you said that during one such bomb run, “The flak was so thick that you could put your wheels down and taxi on it.” Can you talk about the conditions you flew through that day?

October 8, 1943 was my 22nd mission. Flying over Bremen, we experienced the heaviest anti-aircraft defense we had ever seen. The Germans had moved in some 300 88mm guns to protect their targets. We had never seen them throw up such a heavy barrage of defenses.

Also, what we had never experienced before was that their fighters were attacking us through their own flak. Prior to that they usually let us alone on our bombing runs. We would go ahead and drop our bombs and they would hope the flak would damage us sufficiently enough to force us out of formation. As soon as that happened their fighters could pick us off at their leisure.

On this occasion they were experiencing the same kind of potential danger that we were by pressing their attacks ferociously.

During that mission, the plastic nose of your plane was heavily damaged, which forced you to fly exposed to the elements for more than five hours in order to get home. How did that day unfold?

I was flying with a brand new crew because the crew I had originally gone over with had completed a tour and were being rotated back to the States. As we turned on the initial point for our bomb run, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that there was this flight of Focke-Wulf 190s that were headed straight for our squadron.

They fired all the way coming in and of course our gunners were pouring out as much lead as they could to dissuade them, but they never veered in the slightest. The lead fighter actually rammed the ship directly in front of me. It blew it out of formation and they both exploded. I had to dip my nose to keep them from taking me down with them, but his wingman actually scraped my top turret as he went across. That’s how close they came to ramming me.

“Lucky” would earn the Distinguished Flying Cross. (Courtesy of John Luckadoo)

I lost an engine due to a flak hit, and the plexiglass nose was blown out. I looked around and suddenly realized I was the only flight leader out of the entire group that was still flying. So, I fired a flare and the other five ships that were still airborne rallied around me and we came in with the 95th Bomb Group, which had lost an entire squadron. We tucked in with them and that’s how we got home.

The B-17 was unpressurized. So, at high altitudes we would experience temperatures of -50 to -60 degrees. You can’t imagine what it’s like trying to be effective and fight in that kind of cold. But the ironic thing is in the heat of battle you can suddenly find yourself sweating profusely, and that perspiration freezes instantly, blocking the flow of your oxygen through your oxygen mask. You have to leave one hand free to break up the ice crystals while flying the airplane with your other hand.

I suffered the only injury — physical injury — of my entire tour on that mission, and that was frostbitten feet. They were frozen to the rudder pedals so when I landed I had to land with my heels. I couldn’t even apply the brakes.

I still had three more missions to fly and we often lost many of our crewmen in the latter missions of their tour. But the horror of that mission stayed with me for the rest of my tour.

And you managed to make it back despite flying in the “Purple Heart Corner,” or the low plane in the low group. How did that position impact your chances of survival?

Well, you hated to be in that position because being on the fringe of the formation meant that you were going to get the full impact of the anti-aircraft defenses. Your formation actually stretched 1,000 feet deep and about 700 feet wide, so we were quite a floating target.

There was no question as to where we were because at that high altitude we’d be streaming out contrails for about 10 miles behind us. The Germans had full knowledge of where we were and how to track us. Their anti-aircraft was so highly developed — they had radar-controlled guns — so all they needed was Hitler Youth to load them. We probably lost as many aircraft and airmen to flak as we did to their fighters.

I really did not think we were going to make it back. I was pretty much resigned to that fact, but you stay so focused on what you’re doing — flying the airplane, trying to stay in formation, and keeping your morale up.

I was often asked after a mission like that, “How do you get back in the airplane the next day?”

I honestly don’t know. I think you just have to reach within yourself and say, “I’ve got one or two more missions to go.”

Bombers attack ball bearing factories at Schweinfurt, Germany. (U.S. Air Force)

You completed your last mission in early 1944. What was going through your mind during that final flight?

It was February 13, 1944, and that was the only mission of my tour that I got to select. I did that because as the operations officer of the squadron I was in the position to do so. I also had one pilot whose crew was on their 25th mission so I decided that we would select a milk run that would be less dangerous than trying to penetrate all of Europe.

We selected a mission to bomb the V-1 sights along the French coast. Our thoughts were that we would just duck over the coast, drop our bombs, and be back over the Channel. As it were, the Germans anticipated our raid and they ambushed us. We got shot up pretty royally so it wasn’t the milk run we had envisioned.

We were so thankful to be alive, both the pilot of the Alice From Dallas and me as the command pilot.

And what we did when we finished the 25th mission, or what you would do after you got back from a really horrific mission, you bent down and kissed the ground because you were so happy to be back.

But the truth of the matter is, nobody goes into battle and comes out the same. You’re a different person with a different perspective, a different psychology. You’re happy to be alive and you don’t really know why, but you realize that you’ve been spared and you just thank your lucky stars you were. You had a guardian angel on your shoulder. It was just a matter of pure luck you survived.

That’s why they called me “Lucky.” They ought to call me “Darn Lucky.” I wouldn’t be 97 years old without it.

John “Lucky” Luckadoo earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions during WWII. He currently resides in Dallas, Texas.

The air war over Europe would claim the lives of more than 26,000 men from the Eighth Air Force, a staggering number that exceeded even the total WWII fatalities sustained by the entire Marine Corps. By war’s end, over 47,000 of the 115,000 U.S. Army Air Force casualties were from the Eighth.

The 2019 Smithsonian documentary, “Memphis Belle in Color,” chronicles the harrowing experiences of the Eighth Air Force. A WWII series on the Mighty Eighth is also in the works from “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific” producers Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg.

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US sends mechanized troops back into Syria

Bradley fighting vehicles have headed back into eastern Syria, the Pentagon announced Friday, a move that comes after a tense encounter with Russian forces left four U.S. troops lightly injured last month. The return of mechanized units also comes as the U.S. military deployed Sentinel radar and increased the frequency of fighter jet patrols over…

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US sends mechanized troops back into Syria

Bradley fighting vehicles have headed back into eastern Syria, the Pentagon announced Friday, a move that comes after a tense encounter with Russian forces left four U.S. troops lightly injured last month. The return of mechanized units also comes as the U.S. military deployed Sentinel radar and increased the frequency of fighter jet patrols over U.S. forces in that part of Syria, according to U.S. Central Command spokesman Navy Capt. Bill Urban. “These actions are a clear demonstration of U.S. resolve to defend Coalition forces in the [Eastern Syria Security Area], and to ensure that they are able to continue their Defeat-ISIS mission without interference,” Urban said in an emailed statement. “The Defense Department has previously deployed Bradleys to northeast Syria pursuant to these goals.” Bradleys from the 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team were last sent to Syria in late October 2019 to guard oil infrastructure from Islamic State militants, officials said at the time. They were quietly pulled out after roughly a month when combined patrols with Turkish forces “never materialized” and the “mission requirements changed,” a military official in the region previously told Army Times. The armored vehicles sent back this month belong to 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, out of Fort Bliss, Texas. The unit is deployed to the Middle East in support of Operation Spartan Shield, which is based in Kuwait. Sign up for the Army Times Daily News Roundup Don’t miss the top Army stories, delivered each afternoon (please select a country)United StatesUnited KingdomAfghanistanAlbaniaAlgeriaAmerican SamoaAndorraAngolaAnguillaAntarcticaAntigua and BarbudaArgentinaArmeniaArubaAustraliaAustriaAzerbaijanBahamasBahrainBangladeshBarbadosBelarusBelgiumBelizeBeninBermudaBhutanBoliviaBosnia and HerzegovinaBotswanaBouvet IslandBrazilBritish Indian Ocean TerritoryBrunei DarussalamBulgariaBurkina FasoBurundiCambodiaCameroonCanadaCape VerdeCayman IslandsCentral African RepublicChadChileChinaChristmas IslandCocos (Keeling) IslandsColombiaComorosCongoCongo, The Democratic Republic of TheCook IslandsCosta RicaCote D’ivoireCroatiaCubaCyprusCzech RepublicDenmarkDjiboutiDominicaDominican RepublicEcuadorEgyptEl SalvadorEquatorial GuineaEritreaEstoniaEthiopiaFalkland Islands (Malvinas)Faroe IslandsFijiFinlandFranceFrench GuianaFrench PolynesiaFrench Southern TerritoriesGabonGambiaGeorgiaGermanyGhanaGibraltarGreeceGreenlandGrenadaGuadeloupeGuamGuatemalaGuineaGuinea-bissauGuyanaHaitiHeard Island and Mcdonald IslandsHoly See (Vatican City State)HondurasHong KongHungaryIcelandIndiaIndonesiaIran, Islamic Republic ofIraqIrelandIsraelItalyJamaicaJapanJordanKazakhstanKenyaKiribatiKorea, Democratic People’s Republic ofKorea, Republic ofKuwaitKyrgyzstanLao People’s Democratic RepublicLatviaLebanonLesothoLiberiaLibyan Arab JamahiriyaLiechtensteinLithuaniaLuxembourgMacaoMacedonia, The Former Yugoslav Republic ofMadagascarMalawiMalaysiaMaldivesMaliMaltaMarshall IslandsMartiniqueMauritaniaMauritiusMayotteMexicoMicronesia, Federated States ofMoldova, Republic ofMonacoMongoliaMontserratMoroccoMozambiqueMyanmarNamibiaNauruNepalNetherlandsNetherlands AntillesNew CaledoniaNew ZealandNicaraguaNigerNigeriaNiueNorfolk IslandNorthern Mariana IslandsNorwayOmanPakistanPalauPalestinian Territory, OccupiedPanamaPapua New GuineaParaguayPeruPhilippinesPitcairnPolandPortugalPuerto RicoQatarReunionRomaniaRussian FederationRwandaSaint HelenaSaint Kitts and NevisSaint LuciaSaint Pierre and MiquelonSaint Vincent and The GrenadinesSamoaSan MarinoSao Tome and PrincipeSaudi ArabiaSenegalSerbia and MontenegroSeychellesSierra LeoneSingaporeSlovakiaSloveniaSolomon IslandsSomaliaSouth AfricaSouth Georgia and The South Sandwich IslandsSpainSri LankaSudanSurinameSvalbard and Jan MayenSwazilandSwedenSwitzerlandSyrian Arab RepublicTaiwan, Province of ChinaTajikistanTanzania, United Republic ofThailandTimor-lesteTogoTokelauTongaTrinidad and TobagoTunisiaTurkeyTurkmenistanTurks and Caicos IslandsTuvaluUgandaUkraineUnited Arab EmiratesUnited KingdomUnited StatesUnited States Minor Outlying IslandsUruguayUzbekistanVanuatuVenezuelaViet NamVirgin Islands, BritishVirgin Islands, U.S.Wallis and FutunaWestern SaharaYemenZambiaZimbabwe Subscribe × By giving us your email, you are opting in to the Army Times Daily News Roundup. “The mechanized infantry assets will help ensure the force protection of coalition forces in an increasingly complex operating environment in northeast Syria,” said Col. Wayne Marotto, spokesman for the Inherent Resolve mission. “The coalition forces remain steadfast in our commitment of ensuring the enduring defeat of Daesh [ISIS].” U.S. and Russian officials traded blame in late August after troops from both countries collided in northeast Syria while on patrol. A Russian vehicle sideswiped a light-armored American one, injuring four U.S. troops, while two Russian helicopters flew about 70 feet over top the altercation, U.S. officials said following the incident. For their part, Russian officials said U.S. troops were blocking their ground patrol and Russian military police “took the necessary measures to prevent an incident and to continue the fulfillment of their task.” Though the U.S. and Russian militaries have protocols to prevent such incidents, there have nevertheless been less worrisome altercations periodically over the past year. Russian forces are in the country backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and have long called for U.S. troops to leave. “The United States does not seek conflict with any other nation in Syria, but will defend Coalition forces if necessary,” Urban added in his statement. Despite the loss of ISIS’ territorial caliphate and the slaying of its leader last year in a U.S. raid, the extremist group has continued to launch deadly attacks in Iraq and Syria. There are roughly 500 U.S. troops in Syria’s northeast guarding oil fields from ISIS and working alongside the Syrian Democratic Forces.

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It’s been a bad week on social media for military appreciation

For a nation enamored with yellow ribbons, PDA for men and women in uniform, and shouting “Support Our Troops” into the void until our lungs collapse, we sure seem to know very little about the individuals being supported. At least that’s one takeaway from a series of recent military-themed social media gaffes on the part…

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It’s been a bad week on social media for military appreciation

For a nation enamored with yellow ribbons, PDA for men and women in uniform, and shouting “Support Our Troops” into the void until our lungs collapse, we sure seem to know very little about the individuals being supported. At least that’s one takeaway from a series of recent military-themed social media gaffes on the part of accounts run by government departments and U.S. officials. Friday yielded multiple mistakes of the sort when, first, the U.S. Department of State extended the U.S. Air Force a happy 73rd birthday wish that was accompanied by an image featuring F/A-18 Hornets flown by the Navy’s Blue Angels. The image, which depicts the obvious blue and gold color scheme unique to the Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, includes one plane that even shows the underside of its wings, a part that universally includes “US NAVY” painted in size 11-million block font. The U.S. Navy Blue Angels demonstrate the capabilities of the F/A-18 Hornet at the 2019 Marine Corps Air Station Miramar Air Show on MCAS Miramar, Calif., Sept. 28. (Pfc. Mackson/Marine Corps) Echoing the State Department, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., sent the Air Force some birthday well wishes that, again, were accompanied by the Navy’s world-renowned team. Never a state to be outdone, Texas Congressman John Carter ramped up the Air Force birthday-Blue Angels whoops parade with a jumbled image featuring an F-22 Raptor, the Blue Angels, and his campaign insignia. Even the mistakes are bigger in Texas. Sign up for the Early Bird Brief Get the military’s most comprehensive news and information every morning (please select a country)United StatesUnited KingdomAfghanistanAlbaniaAlgeriaAmerican SamoaAndorraAngolaAnguillaAntarcticaAntigua and BarbudaArgentinaArmeniaArubaAustraliaAustriaAzerbaijanBahamasBahrainBangladeshBarbadosBelarusBelgiumBelizeBeninBermudaBhutanBoliviaBosnia and HerzegovinaBotswanaBouvet IslandBrazilBritish Indian Ocean TerritoryBrunei DarussalamBulgariaBurkina FasoBurundiCambodiaCameroonCanadaCape VerdeCayman IslandsCentral African RepublicChadChileChinaChristmas IslandCocos (Keeling) IslandsColombiaComorosCongoCongo, The Democratic Republic of TheCook IslandsCosta RicaCote D’ivoireCroatiaCubaCyprusCzech RepublicDenmarkDjiboutiDominicaDominican RepublicEcuadorEgyptEl SalvadorEquatorial GuineaEritreaEstoniaEthiopiaFalkland Islands (Malvinas)Faroe IslandsFijiFinlandFranceFrench GuianaFrench PolynesiaFrench Southern TerritoriesGabonGambiaGeorgiaGermanyGhanaGibraltarGreeceGreenlandGrenadaGuadeloupeGuamGuatemalaGuineaGuinea-bissauGuyanaHaitiHeard Island and Mcdonald IslandsHoly See (Vatican City State)HondurasHong KongHungaryIcelandIndiaIndonesiaIran, Islamic Republic ofIraqIrelandIsraelItalyJamaicaJapanJordanKazakhstanKenyaKiribatiKorea, Democratic People’s Republic ofKorea, Republic ofKuwaitKyrgyzstanLao People’s Democratic RepublicLatviaLebanonLesothoLiberiaLibyan Arab JamahiriyaLiechtensteinLithuaniaLuxembourgMacaoMacedonia, The Former Yugoslav Republic ofMadagascarMalawiMalaysiaMaldivesMaliMaltaMarshall IslandsMartiniqueMauritaniaMauritiusMayotteMexicoMicronesia, Federated States ofMoldova, Republic ofMonacoMongoliaMontserratMoroccoMozambiqueMyanmarNamibiaNauruNepalNetherlandsNetherlands AntillesNew CaledoniaNew ZealandNicaraguaNigerNigeriaNiueNorfolk IslandNorthern Mariana IslandsNorwayOmanPakistanPalauPalestinian Territory, OccupiedPanamaPapua New GuineaParaguayPeruPhilippinesPitcairnPolandPortugalPuerto RicoQatarReunionRomaniaRussian FederationRwandaSaint HelenaSaint Kitts and NevisSaint LuciaSaint Pierre and MiquelonSaint Vincent and The GrenadinesSamoaSan MarinoSao Tome and PrincipeSaudi ArabiaSenegalSerbia and MontenegroSeychellesSierra LeoneSingaporeSlovakiaSloveniaSolomon IslandsSomaliaSouth AfricaSouth Georgia and The South Sandwich IslandsSpainSri LankaSudanSurinameSvalbard and Jan MayenSwazilandSwedenSwitzerlandSyrian Arab RepublicTaiwan, Province of ChinaTajikistanTanzania, United Republic ofThailandTimor-lesteTogoTokelauTongaTrinidad and TobagoTunisiaTurkeyTurkmenistanTurks and Caicos IslandsTuvaluUgandaUkraineUnited Arab EmiratesUnited KingdomUnited StatesUnited States Minor Outlying IslandsUruguayUzbekistanVanuatuVenezuelaViet NamVirgin Islands, BritishVirgin Islands, U.S.Wallis and FutunaWestern SaharaYemenZambiaZimbabwe Subscribe × By giving us your email, you are opting in to the Early Bird Brief. (Screengrab @JudgeJohnCarter) Navy officials eventually caught on to the trend of gross misidentification. “Happy birthday @usairforce, but we’re not giving you the @BlueAngels,” the Navy Chief of Information account tweeted. “Aircraft carriers are also only @USNavy.” Most of the proofreading-free accounts wisely deleted their misguided well-wishes once they arrived at the realization that a plane in the air does not automatically render it an Air Force plane. But thanks to Politico editor and dad joke connoisseur Dave Brown, there remains a treasure trove of commemorative screenshots. Aim high pic.twitter.com/VUsN1TOfO8— Dave Brown (@dave_brown24) September 18, 2020 Still, the Air Force’s birthday was just another example of a profound lack of basic military understanding by those who so often boast of military adoration until blue in the face. A campaign arm of the Republican National Committee and President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, for example, recently circulated a “Support Our Troops” graphic featuring silhouetted Russian soldiers — one holding a Russian-made AK-74 rifle and another a German-made G36K — underneath three Russian MiG-29 fighter jets, a slip-up first reported by Politico. In theory the sentiment is not incorrect, since there was no specification on which troops are being supported. Still, it was just one of the litany of military-related social media fallacies to emerge during this week alone. The image, which was poached from a Shutterstock photo, was created by Russia-based photographer Arthur Zakirov, who confirmed to Politico that the campaign image was “a completely recreated scene from various photographs of mine.” “Today you hear about the Kremlin’s hand in U.S. politics,” he joked. “Tomorrow you are this hand.” In Soviet Russia, troops support you. The image marked another foreign service miscue for the administration, which, in 2015, tweeted a campaign graphic featuring Nazi Waffen SS World War II reenactors in the bottom right corner. [email protected] has deleted the tweet (finally) but here’s the pic, Waffen-SS very clear at bottom pic.twitter.com/Kv1GsdKQkw— John Schindler (@20committee) July 14, 2015 But don’t fret about a politicized slant on military-themed miscues — these inaccuracies on the part of politicians are a bipartisan pastime. Presidential hopeful Joe Biden made headlines recently for exhibiting a concerning pattern of recounting military stories that never actually happened. In 2019 Biden recalled a harrowing tale of a Navy captain in Afghanistan that was flooded with acts of extraordinary valor. “This is the God’s truth,” Biden told the meeting hall in New Hampshire. “My word as a Biden.” Interviews conducted by the Washington Post of more than a dozen troops, commanders and Biden campaign personnel, however, revealed that nearly every detail of “God’s truth” was false. Biden, the Post reported, appeared to combine portions of three separate events into a single story. Then there was 2012, when the Democratic National Convention showcased glorious footage of Russian ships steaming powerfully across open seas as a way to honor U.S. troops and their service. (As our friend Paul Szoldra over at Task and Purpose points out, there truly is a tweet for all occasions.) No surprise. @DNC displayed Russian ships in tribute to vets http://t.co/Q6BpWj0I Did they mean to honor the Russians?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 12, 2012 Military-centric miscues on social media may occur relatively often, but seldom is the source of the mistake the military itself. On September 16, the U.S. Army’s official Twitter account tweeted a composite graphic featuring a soldier flanked by the words “I will never quit,” a line taken from the service’s Soldier’s Creed and Warrior Ethos. The U.S. Army tweeted and deleted this graphic from its official account on September 16, 2020. It features a British soldier, a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter (center), and several South African helicopters (background). The text of the tweet asked, “How do you live the #WarriorEthos?” Twitter users may have found the message more inspiring if the soldier, or any of the helicopters, actually belonged to the U.S. Army — or even the United States. Thanks to the blue patch on his right shoulder and the bullpup-style –– a distinct design in which the rifle’s magazine is located behind the trigger assembly –– SA80 assault rifle, Twitter users quickly identified the figure in the foreground as a British Army soldier. Noting the helicopters in the image, Darren Olivier, a South African military analyst and director of the African Defence Review, tweeted that that “the foremost helicopter is a USMC CH-33 and the helicopters in the background are all from a South African Air Force flypast featuring two Oryxes, two Rooivalks, three A109s, a BK-117 and a [South African Air Force Museum] Alouette III.” The Twitter account Angry Staff Officer, a semi-pseudonymous page operated by Maine National Guard officer Jonathan Bratten, tweeted, “A photo of a British soldier, a USMC helo, and some other foreign rotary winged aircraft? C’mon y’all, this isn’t that hard.” “Sometimes people make mistakes, and that is what happened in this case,” an Army spokesperson said in reference to the since-deleted tweet. Sgt. Maj. Mike Lavigne, sergeant major of Army Public Affairs, responded to the gaffe, saying, “Thank you for the dozens of DMs and tags. This is not the way the Army does business. 99% of our social media game is strong, but when it’s not, someone is held accountable and from today on, that’s me. See something wrong? I’m your POC.” Lavigne might be your POC for social media mishaps, but if you need articles that elicit a response of, “This isn’t news,” I’m your huckleberry.

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Special tactics airman drowned after ‘buddy pair’ system not followed in 2,000-yard swim

The training swim test in which a special tactics airman drowned March 19 was conducted without the usual “buddy team” system typical for such swims, an Air Force investigation found. The report did not reach any conclusions about exactly what caused Airman 1st Class Keigan Baker to drown in St. Andrews Bay, Florida, near Panama…

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Special tactics airman drowned after ‘buddy pair’ system not followed in 2,000-yard swim

The training swim test in which a special tactics airman drowned March 19 was conducted without the usual “buddy team” system typical for such swims, an Air Force investigation found. The report did not reach any conclusions about exactly what caused Airman 1st Class Keigan Baker to drown in St. Andrews Bay, Florida, near Panama City, while attempting to swim 2,000 yards. But, it said, the rules of the combat dive course stipulate that such 2,000-yard swims should be conducted with each swimmer paired up with and tethered to another swimmer of comparable ability to ensure a swimmer doesn’t get separated and into trouble. That was not done in this case. Baker had also taken two Unisom, an over-the-counter sleep aid, the night before the swim without medical authorization, in violation of Air Force instructions and the dive class policy. Its ingredients were still present in his blood at the time of his autopsy, the report said. Baker, 24, was a combat controller who enlisted in the Air Force in June 2018 and was assigned to the Special Tactics Training Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Florida, in January 2020. He was originally from Longview, Washington, and received a bachelor of arts degree from Eastern Washington University. He was on temporary duty to the Air Force Combat Dive School at the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center at Naval Support Activity Panama City, Florida. The dive school, officially known as the 350th Special Warfare Training Squadron, Detachment 1, teaches students basic diving, advanced rescue diving principles and advanced combat diving fundamentals. Students at the dive school are required to finish a 2,000-yard surface swim — more than a mile — in simulated combat gear, to check each student’s swimming ability. Like his classmates, Baker wore a mask, a load-bearing vest with a pair of 2-pound weights to simulate ammunition magazines, a personal flotation device, a dive tool and a rubber AR-15. The swim in which Baker drowned took place on the fourth day of his class. Baker and his classmates took part in multiple physical activities, including a 1,000-yard surface swim while wearing gear, during the first three days. 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This surface swim was supposed to begin at 6 a.m. March 19, but a fog forecast prompted instructors to push it back three hours. Baker’s classmates said he appeared to be in good spirits, and they noticed nothing out of the ordinary, aside from mentioning soreness in his hip flexors the previous few weeks. During this swim, eight instructors and a safety diver took part — two more instructors than the minimum requirement. But there were a few changes from standard procedure, the report said. The ammunition pier that usually serves as the finish point was under construction, so the instructors instead used a floating barge about 100 yards east of the ammo pier to drop the buoy marker that served as the finish line. They also shifted the starting buoy marker 100 yards to the east of its usual location. There was also a privately owned, 65-foot yacht anchored in the swim path, the report said. An instructor checked to make sure there were no fishing lines coming from the yacht, and did not ask the yacht to move. There was also more boat traffic than usual during the swim, which the report said was attributed to the later than usual start of the swim, as well as people trying to get out on the water due to the coronavirus stay-at-home restrictions. At one point, an instructor on a boat broke away from the group of student swimmers to stop two civilian boats from entering the training area. Another instructor on a boat also directed a fishing boat away from the swim lane, and later directed swimmers around the 65-foot yacht. The students began the swim at about 10:15 a.m. Almost immediately, the swimmers noticed the current was pushing them northwest, though it wasn’t strong enough to present a safety risk. The student who was closest to Baker said he seemed to be having no trouble swimming, but after about 100 yards, that student lost track of who was swimming near him. Another student swimmer followed Baker, who was the stronger swimmer, for a while without noticing anything wrong. Baker pulled away from that student around the time they approached the yacht, and the student lost sight of him. One by one, a little after 11 a.m., the students began to reach the finish point. The instructors first realized something was wrong when two students still had yet to report their times, but only one student could still be seen swimming. The instructors took head counts, but Baker was nowhere to be found. The instructors began looking for him, and soon called the dive school superintendent to report a student was missing and ask for search and rescue help. In all, 87 personnel on 18 boats, a police helicopter, and a C-130 — including five dive teams and assets from the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and Bay County Sheriff’s Office — searched for Baker for hours. A Fish and Wildlife Conservation boat ultimately detected something underwater on sonar at about 4:15 p.m. A diver soon found Baker’s body, which was then recovered. He was declared dead at 4:30 p.m. His dive gear was intact, the report said, and there was no sign he tried to activate his personal flotation device. There was also no sign of trauma or broken bones. The report concluded there was confusion among the dive school staff on the necessity of the buddy-pair system during 2,000-yard surface swims. The rules say buddy pairs should be used, and “buddy lines” are standard training equipment, the report said. But some instructors at the school felt swimming in pairs was inappropriate when they were supposed to be individually evaluating students. Two weeks before Baker’s death, the report said, several dive school instructors discussed using buddy pairs, and the “prevailing sentiment” was that they should be used for the 2,000-yard swim. Two days before the fatal swim, an instructor briefed the students on surface swims. The approved slide presentation listed buddy pairs and buddy lines, but the instructor told the students neither would be used for surface swims. This contradiction during the briefing contributed to instructors’ confusion, the report said. An instructor brought it up with the staff superintendent, who confirmed that buddy lines would not be used for surface swims and that they were to be individual assessments. The report said Baker was in good physical and mental health, though he was reported to use over-the-counter medication to help him sleep. He had some musculoskeletal problems common to special warfare airmen, the report said, but performed well at the fitness test and swims conducted earlier that week. “As a community, special warfare operators are driven, highly motivated individuals who strive to push themselves to the limits of their physical abilities,” the report said. Baker “was no exception, and fellow classmates classified him as one of the smartest and strongest in the class.” The report does not reach a firm conclusion as to what caused Baker to become incapacitated and drown, but lists several factors that may have contributed to it. Baker told an instructor that morning he had taken two Unisom capsules the night before the swim, and commented at breakfast that morning that he felt fatigued, the report said. His autopsy showed he had diphenhydramine levels in his blood of 54 nanograms per milliliter, the report said, more than the levels required to produce sedative effects. Diphenhydramine, or DPH, is the active ingredient found in Unisom. However, the report acknowledged that post-mortem changes can affect blood concentrations of substances between the time someone dies and the autopsy, and the blood measurements cannot reliably indicate the actual levels of DPH in his blood at the time of his death. Baker wore a full wetsuit during the swim for increased buoyancy, the report said. The wetsuit also would keep swimmers warm in cold conditions, but carried the risk of the swimmer becoming uncomfortably warm when swimming aggressively in warm weather. The weather and water conditions that day were mild, the report said, but an exertional heat injury could not be ruled out as a potential cause of his incapacitation. Exertional heat injuries typically happen when someone is strenuously exercising in a warm environment, the report said, as well as when loaded up with clothing, equipment and protective gear. The possibility of a heat injury can be increased by drugs and other substances that impair sweating, the report said. “Development of fatigue from exercise in the heat is multifactorial and associated with several physiologic processes, but the probability is amplified when combined with gear that both inhibits heat release and adds weight/drag, substances that can alter thermoregulation and psychomotor performance (antihistamine), and drive to perform at maximal effort,” the report said. Baker’s autopsy found no signs of head trauma, bone fractures or trauma to anything other than his lungs, which showed the effects of drowning. There was no evidence he had suffered a heart attack, stroke, or pulmonary embolus, had a seizure, or vigorously struggled while drowning, the report said. The autopsy findings did not support a diagnosis of heatstroke, the report said, but heat could not be ruled out as a factor.

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