The Magic of the Merlin

© 2020 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

The SpaceX Demo-2/Dragon spacecraft was successfully launched into space on Saturday May 30, 2020, marking the first-ever collaboration between NASA and a private entity, Elon Musk’s SpaceX. The Falcon 9 booster was comprised of nine SpaceX Merlin rocket engines, which use RP-1 (refined petroleum) and liquid oxygen as propellants to develop the immense thrust necessary for a heavy space-bound launch vehicle.

All the news reports were dutifully filled with superlatives regarding this unprecedented public-private joint venture, and it was indeed a very significant accomplishment. It’s not often that the two normally-opposing spheres of industry come together in such a positive manner. It bodes well for future cooperative ventures, leveraging the best of both approaches.

But, lost in the deservedly congratulatory environment of this auspicious mission was a fascinating piece of trivia: The import and significance of the name “Merlin” as it applied to the Falcon’s engines.

The Merlin engine is well-known in historical aviation circles as the engine that powered the famous British Spitfire fighter plane and gave it such superlative performance. Manufactured by the famed Rolls-Royce company, the Merlin engine (named for a bird of prey, not the mythical wizard) was developed from an earlier Rolls-Royce engine, the Kestrel. (A purchased sample of the Kestrel, in one of history’s all-time great ironies, powered the first prototype of the German Messerschmitt BF-109 fighter plane, the Spitfire’s greatest WWII rival. Operational 109’s were powered by Daimler-Benz engines. Yes, that Benz.) Powering the front-line British fighter planes Hawker Hurricane and the Spitfire, the Merlin soon established a reputation for superb performance, reliability and the ability to sustain considerable battle damage and remain functional. Merlin-powered British fighters fought off German air force attacks in the summer of 1940 (after France had fallen to the Germans), saving Britain from German invasion and buying invaluable time until America entered the war in Europe on Britain’s side.

Once Japan had attacked the American fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in December 1941, Germany and the U.S. declared war on each other virtually simultaneously. The U.S. was now involved in an all-out war on two fronts: The Pacific Theater and the European Theater. In late December 1941, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill came to Washington DC to discuss the overall war strategy with American president Franklin Roosevelt. Here, in what was called “The Arcadia Conference,” it was decided to take a “Germany first” approach to the war. Winning in Europe would take a higher priority than defeating Japan in the Pacific.

Towards that end, the United States moved its strategic bombing 8th Air Force to England. The plan was for American heavy bombers to attack German industrial and production targets and cripple their war fighting capabilities. This proved to be far more difficult in practice than in theory. American B-17 and B-24 long-range bombers, in spite of their heavy defensive armament, proved incapable of adequately defending themselves against intercepting German fighter planes and in 1942 and especially 1943, American bomber losses were so heavy that the entire plan of carrying out daylight precision bombing raids came close to being scrapped altogether.

The problem was that American and British fighter plane escorts lacked the range to accompany the bombers all the way to targets deep inside Germany and back. The Allied fighters would have to turn back partway en route to the target, leaving the bombers to fend for themselves. That’s when the Germans would pounce and exact their grievous toll.

Around this time, a new American fighter plane had been developed, the P-51 Mustang. Its performance with its American Allison engine was mediocre at best, despite the plane’s great potential. Someone came up with the idea of fitting an English Merlin engine—the one that powered the outstanding Spitfire fighter plane—to the Mustang, just as a ‘what if.’

It was a match made in heaven. The Mustang’s advanced aerodynamic design and new “laminar flow” wing gave it terrific flying characteristics. With the smooth, powerful Merlin engine, the Mustang became a world-beater. Even better, because of the Mustang’s advanced design, its fuel efficiency exceeded all other fighter planes and it now had the range to fly and defend the bombers all the way to and from their targets, no matter how deep inside Germany.

But Britain lacked the industrial production capability to make enough Merlins for both its own use and the Americans. So the American Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit began making the Merlin under license for use in American Mustang fighters. Known as the “Packard-Merlin,” the American-built version actually incorporated a series of small but important modifications and improvements over the British version and many people considered the Packard variant to be superior. With the almost unlimited American factory capacity making both Mustang fighters and Packard-Merlin engines, the P-51 turned the air war over Europe from a costly exercise with an uncertain outcome into a smashingly successful endeavor. From the time of its combat debut in Feb 1944 through May 1944, rampaging Mustangs absolutely decimated the German Luftwaffe, clearing the skies of enemy aircraft and paving the way for a successful D-Day land invasion of mainland Europe, free from the threat of German air counterattack.

The British had heroically held off the Germans in 1940 with their Merlin-powered Hurricane and Spitfire fighter planes. Now in 1944, the American 8th Air Force took the offensive fight to Germany, breaking the back of the German air force on the strength of the Merlin-powered P-51 Mustang.


P-51s of the 375th Fighter Group, 8th Air Force

Today, the SpaceX Falcon ushers in a new era of spaceflight, powered by its Merlin engines.

Is there any unequivocal proof that Elon Musk, the mercurial but undeniably brilliant owner and creative force behind both Tesla electric cars and SpaceX, deliberately chose the name “Merlin” for his rocket’s engines with full knowledge of the historical and performance pedigree of that engine’s brand?

Not that I know of. But Musk has a flare for the dramatic that is second to none. He is one of only a handful of business/industry entrepreneurs whose personal profile and presence transcends the business world and crosses over into popular culture. People like or dislike his companies and products in many cases based on their feelings about Musk as an individual. He’s that well-known and that visible.

The betting here is that Musk knows all about the Merlin engine’s history and its role in securing the world order as it exists today. Merlin is the perfect name—subtle, pithy and very much “inside baseball.”

Could the Me 262 Have Turned the War in Germany’s Favor?

© 2018 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

The outcome of World War II still has a tremendous impact on the political and economic relationships in effect throughout the world. The events that occurred nearly 80 years ago resonate with a profound relevance that persists even to this day.

In the European Theater of World War II (September 1939-May 1945), the British and American allies mounted an intense aerial bombing campaign against German military and industrial targets beginning in the latter stages of 1942. The scope and intensity of the Allied campaign really picked up steam in 1943, as the Americans and British both ramped up their bomber production into high gear. The British concentrated on a night wide-area “carpet bombing” strategy, while the Americans (aided by their use of the precision Norden bomb sight) conducted a daylight campaign intended to be more exacting and surgical in nature. Churchill was moved to say, “We shall bomb those b*st*rds around the clock! We shall never let them sleep!”

The daylight campaign held the most danger for the attackers of the two strategies by far, since no fighter escort aircraft existed in 1943 with the range necessary to accompany and protect the American B-24 and B-17 bombers from German interceptor aircraft all the way to and from their targets deep inside Germany. Unprotected and in plain daylight view of German fighters, American bombers took a tremendous beating during this time frame. A prime example was the October 14, 1943 raid on the Schweinfurt ball bearings factory, which came to be known as Black Thursday. German fighter planes extracted the astonishing toll of sixty 4-engined B-17’s shot down out of the attacking force of 291 bombers. Each American plane carried a crew of ten, so the loss of life was quite significant. Dozens more American bombers were damaged and never flew again after limping their way home to England.

During this time period, American P-47 Thunderbolt and British Spitfire fighter planes only had the range to escort the bombers partway to target and again on their last leg home. The Germans simply waited for the Allied fighters to turn for home and then they pounced on the unprotected bombers.

But in early 1944, the Americans introduced a new version of their P-51 Mustang fighter with an American-built version of the famous British Merlin engine. The new model (the P-51B or C, depending on where it was built) had incredibly high performance—even better than the famous German Me 109 and FW 190 fighters—and most importantly, it now had the range to accompany and protect the bombers all the way to and from the most distant targets in Germany. So from 1944 onwards, the air war in the skies above Europe were characterized by furious fighter-to-fighter dogfights, as German fighter planes tried to break through American fighter escort cover and get to the American bombers.

The Americans held tremendous numerical and logistical advantages in this contest. First of all, there was a huge and unending supply of well-trained American pilots to fill their ranks. Germany, by contrast, had been at war for two full years longer than America and had a smaller population pool upon which to draw for pilots. Furthermore, Germany itself was under constant attack—unlike the United States—and was also involved in a resources-killing front in the East against the Russians.

This all added up to a European air war of frightening attrition, where losses on both sides were high. It was a situation that spelled eventual, inescapable doom for the Germans, since their supply of experienced, well-trained pilots dwindled precipitously in the face of unending months of costly air combat against the Americans.

Because of the pressure of constant attacks, by 1944 the Germans could hardly afford to interrupt their fighter production lines in order to switch over to new, improved types and they could barely afford the time to adequately train new pilots. Therefore, the older Me 109 fighter (a veteran of the Spanish Civil War in the mid-1930’s!) continued to be built in huge numbers (1944 was actually the peak of German fighter production) and soldiered on long after it had passed its peak effectiveness. Meanwhile, new fighters never made it to front-line service in numbers meaningful enough to make an impact.

But…what if a truly superior German fighter had been available in significant quantity in the 1943 and early 1944 timeframe, before German industry was under such stress from Allied bombing and before the ranks of experienced German pilots became decimated by years of unending combat? Would that have altered the course of the air war over Europe? Such a scenario was, in fact, within the Germans’ grasp.

That aircraft was the Messerschmitt Me 262. Widely recognized as the world’s first operational jet fighter, the Me 262 was a twin-engined, single-seat interceptor possessing extremely high performance—over 540 mph. To put its performance into context, in the 1943-44 time period (when the 262 was essentially ready for active deployment), the fastest conventional piston-engined Allied fighters of the day (the British Supermarine Spitfire Mark IX and American P-47B Thunderbolt) had top speeds of barely higher than 400 mph. Even the new Merlin-engined Mustang of 1944 was only a little faster, at around 430 mph. That extreme margin of ascendancy over an adversary is rarely achieved during wartime and would have given the Germans an incredible edge over the Allies.

Interestingly, the 262’s toughest opponent proved to be the rancorous bureaucratic infighting at the highest levels of German command. Incensed at the Allies’ bombing attacks on Germany and furious over the generally negative turn of the war’s direction against Germany, Hitler wanted the 262—designed to be a fast, high-altitude interceptor, optimized for the role of bomber destroyer—to be converted into a fast, low-altitude ground attack aircraft, to strike targets in England. Although theoretically it could have been reasonably successful performing that task, the 262 did not have the load-carrying capacity to be a truly impactful bomber and pressing it into such a role just squandered most of its aerial performance premium.

So intense was the controversy inside Germany over the 262’s mission, that at one point, Hitler absolutely forbade any mention of the 262 as a fighter!

Bomber versions of the 262 were made and pressed into service. Developmental issues with the then-new jet engines affected production, so the absolute number of aircraft completed was limited. Bombing success with the 262 was disappointing and the damage inflicted by their use as a bomber was negligible.

However, the scale and damage of the Allies’ bombing attacks continued to rise and countering these attacks soon became the overriding concern of the German war effort in the West. By the time the decision to allow the 262’s use as an interceptor was made in 1945, Germany was already suffering from severe material and fuel shortages. Franz Stigler, a 262 pilot, recounts in the book A Higher Call by Adam Makos that in 1945, that the metal used in 262 production was so poor (quality raw materials were simply too difficult to obtain by that point in sufficient quantity) that the pilots had to exercise undue care so as not to over-stress the 262’s engines or else they’d self-destruct. Excessive ground maintenance was also required just to keep them flying. If Germany had made final development, mass production and deployment of the Me 262 a priority in late 1943—certainly well within their capabilities—then neither situation would have existed since they would have been manufactured with better materials.

Had large-scale 262 production commenced in late 1943, the front-line German interceptor units would have been equipped with the new jets in time to counter the Americans’ introduction of the P-51B into its long-range escort role.

Once the P-51B was active, the intense fighter-vs. fighter combat that took place between the German Me 109’s and FW 190’s and the American fighters would have been largely avoided by the Germans. The 262’s great speed and new tactics they devised would have enabled the Germans to avoid much fighter vs. fighter combat and their aircraft losses—and most importantly, pilot losses—would have been dramatically lessened. American bomber losses would have been far higher, especially since the bombers’ defensive machine gun turrets had difficulty accurately tracking the 262’s great speed and getting a bead on them for firing.

The resulting lower German losses of both planes and pilots would have had a negative ripple effect for the Allies in all aspects of the war. The destructive impact on German industrial and equipment production by the Allied bombing campaign would not have been as effective as it was. Since the Allies would not have had complete air superiority, the D-Day land invasion of mainland Europe would likely have been postponed well past the actual June 6, 1944 date. If the Me 262 was the main interceptor in the West, then greater quantities of the FW 190—a far better piston-engined fighter than the Me 109—could have been sent to the Eastern front for the fight against Russia. With a higher number of better, more experienced German pilots available on all fronts, the Germans would have put up far tougher resistance and for the Allies, achieving final victory would have been costlier and taken longer.

In the end, America’s far higher industrial production capability and fuel supply, unhindered by enemy bombing attacks, would have prevailed, regardless of the performance of any one aircraft on either side. America would eventually have simply overwhelmed Germany with the with sheer numbers of armaments it delivered to the battlefield. But the Germans’ misdirected production and deployment decisions concerning this one aircraft, the Messerschmitt Me-262, can quite plausibly be said to have profoundly affected both the duration and cost of World War II—the results of which still define the majority of international relationships and boundaries that exist in the world today.


Famous Fighters of the Second World War, Green, William, Doubleday, 1960

Hitler’s Luftwaffe, Gunston, Bill, Crescent, 1977

A Higher Call, Makos, Adam, Berkley, 2012

The First and the Last, Galland, Adolph, Metheun, 1955

Airwar, Jablonski, Edward, Doubleday, 1971



David French talks about the unbearable weight of grief combined with the sudden thrust into the public spotlight for Gold Star families – those who have lost to combat a son or daughter who were serving in the armed forces. And he rightly says that it is a shame to politicize such an event the way Congresswoman Wilson did in the case of Sergeant La David Johnson. And the way the president responded with a typical Twitter slug fest.

Allow to me to respectfully disagree with David French on certain aspects of what may very well turn out to be a symbolic turning point in not just how we view combat casualties, but how the war on terror itself is viewed.

In the first place it is more than reasonable to ask what the hell those marines were doing in Niger. The answer seems to be twofold.

  • Boko Haram – an Al Qaeda and/or ISIS affiliate – operates in Southern Niger and Northern Nigeria.
  • Nigeria is a major oil producer and should it’s corrupt democracy – with a history of authoritarian governments and military intervention something like various Latin American countries in past decades – fall to radical islamic terror groups like Boko Haram, then those groups will have their hands on at least part of Nigeria’s considerable oil wealth.

Does this mean that the Niger-Nigeria region is at risk of becoming another Syria within a few years? Or a few months? With French, American and possibly Russian forces competing for influence and territory through proxy forces or directly? So yes, it is more than reasonable to politicize Sgt. Johnson’s death. It’s how you politicize it that matters.

That’s why Joint Chiefs Chairman General Joseph Dunford’s press conference was so key. In marked contrast to Defense Secretary Mattis, he promised as much transparency as possible on why Sgt. Johnson and his cohorts – along with Nigerien (that means soldiers from Niger as opposed to Nigerian which of course means from Nigeria) army personnel – were there in Southern (or Southeastern) Niger. In other words, tax payers, voters, and yes Gold Star and other military families deserve to know if America is being pulled into another low-level war in West Africa. As well as more specific details on what went wrong in that ambush by Boko Haram terrorists.

This the key point. The sacred honor that is justly and righteously (in the true and virtuous sense of the word) bestowed on those men and women who give their lives for their nation does not mean that any questions on how and why and who and what Sgt. La David Johnson’s patrol was doing in Niger are somehow inappropriate. It is a great temptation to use that honor as a shield against civilian scrutiny.

Yes, it is a tricky balance. Debating in public the roles of intelligence assets on the ground in places like Niger and Afghanistan and elsewhere, for example, is often impossible for obvious reasons. But America’s military does not need to be stripped of its honor in order to be a little more forthcoming about its multiple engagements around the globe. And President Trump could be a little more creative and diplomatic when it comes to the impossible and thankless job of contacting Gold Star families. And that’s despite the fact that Democrats want to turn the Niger ambush into a Benghazi for the Trump administration. There are better ways to shame Congresswoman Wilson. Just ask your Chief of Staff, Mr. President.

And rather than just give a speech, perhaps George W. Bush could give the president a phone call and share some of the harsh attacks from Gold Star families that he himself had to deal with. It would be more than a gesture. It would be the right thing for Bush 43 to do, regardless of whether President Trump takes his advice or not.

The sacred honor of the military exists to defend freedom of the press and freedom of expression in all its unruly forms. Not the other way around. Even as this ideal is often compromised, it must remain as the guiding principal.

President Obama is on the war path again, so to speak, and using his powerful voice to put fear in the hearts of veterans. The President, in a speech to veterans, spoke about the threats to their benefits that could become reality due to the sequestration. Once again, the President put the blame squarely on everyone but him, asserting that it was the big bad Congressmen that are the cause of the problem. Calling the spending cuts in the budget “reckless,” the President asserted that he was a friend of the military and it was everyone else’s fault that these cuts could come down the pike.

The President, however, failed to admit a few things in his speech. First, it was the White House that initiated sequestration. It is at his feet that this problem lies, and he is just beyond admission. A bit of humility may help him in this case but the fear mongering continues with this Administration. The problem is everyone else’s. It is not his and it never will be. He has passed the buck and is failing to admit that sequestration would never be a reality if he had not decided to avoid budget talks, and signed the 2011 bill which included sequestration. When facts are not his friend, he avoids them.

Further, framing the issue is crucial. The President speaks to the fact that the budget cuts were out of control and without rational thought. However, leaving a bloated government that can’t pay its debts and lives in the red would be more than harmful to military expenditures. The President knows that a nation entrenched in debts would see much worse cuts if the collectors came calling. Picking victims and exploiting them with fear is beyond despicable but par for the course. It just becomes a larger problem to ignore when it is our military veterans who have sacrificed so much for our country that are the recipients of his feigned pity and concern.

The military in this country is among the top assets we have. They help to keep us free, put their lives on the line for our safety, and go into lands unknown for missions that they may or may not personally agree with. Sure, there may be bad soldiers… just like there are bad doctors and bad teachers. But, the vast majority of these brave men and brave women are among the best and brightest that this country has to offer. When they go missing or are marked as Prisoners of War, it become crucial, then, that we do everything we can as a country and as a government to return them safely to home.

The Pentagon, however, is examining the potential that waste, fraud, and abuse was taking place within the task force sent to locate missing men and women overseas. Specifically, they are investigating the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command for being an agency rampant with waste and with a lack of oversight. There was alleged to be problems with accountability and abuse even when attempting to locate the missing remains of fallen soldiers.

What is not surprising about this case is that at first glance it is just another case of waste and abuse of power, two things that run rampant in our modern political system. What is extremely frustrating, however, is that lives and futures of our fallen were on the line. There is no joke that waste of any kind should be looked at with disdain and mistakes do happen. But to think that the agency that was charged with finding our brave men and women who have fallen in the line of duty and bringing them back to the shores from once the left is appalling and should be looked at closely for any fault. Another example of abuse of power but one abuse gone too far.

I should probably preface this post by placing the blame for its inspiration squarely on the shoulders of one current and one former member of the White House Press Corps. The current Press Corps member is none other than CBS News’ Mark Knoller. He has a very interesting Twitter feed (@markknoller) and tweets out some interesting details about White House life not found anywhere else. If President Obama sneaks out to Five Guys for a bacon double-cheeseburger, Mark will know what he topped it with. He’ll also keep you posted on the guest list for most any state dinner. I suspect Mark to be a closet “foodie” but again I digress.

The second (and former) White House Press Corps member is CNN’s latest addition to its fledgling political staff and former ABC Newsman Jake Tapper. Jake’s contribution to this post is what I believe to be the single best book written about the Afghanistan war entitled The Outpost.

This is not a book to be read, but rather an intensely detailed experience to be endured. It does not have a happy ending and the story he relates about this American outpost beats the reader about the head and shoulders.

Tapper relates the story of several injured soldiers whose wounds required them to be medically evacuated to field hospitals. Often these soldiers were then flown to Lanstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany where the heroic medical staff works around the clock trying to save the lives of these American heroes.  Many lives are saved at this facility. Far too many are not as fortunate.

I’m sure I’ve confused you by now as to the point of this post. Rest assured, Dear Reader, I do have a point.

In the past six months President Obama has boarded Air Force One for trips overseas which offered him the opportunity of refueling the Boeing 747 at Germany’s Ramstein Air Force Base. On November 12, 2012, Mark Knoller reported:

Air Force One done refueling at Ramstein and now on final 10hr leg of trip to Thailand. Pres Obama stayed on the plane. (Emphasis added)

And, just this past Saturday Knoller again took to Twitter to report:

After 11hr 36min flight, Pres Obama back from his Mideast trip. Flight home from Amman was 5,935 miles. Refueling stop in Germany bypassed. (Emphasis added)

Here’s my point. The President of the United States is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States. In my humble opinion, this job is far and away the most important role of that office. It brings with it a responsibility unique to the relationship between a commander and his (or her) troops. Ramstein Air Force Base is but five kilometers from the Lanstuhl Regional Medical Center. The very least the Commander in Chief could do would be to take time out from his golf game, state dinner, fundraiser, or campaign event schedule and pay a visit to those who have given so much in the service of their nation.

He is, after all, the President of the United States. Air Force One goes where he says, stops where he says, and takes off when he says. It’s not like the plane is going to leave without him.

Perhaps I’m being small and petty. If I am, blame Tapper, Knoller, and Twitter.


Hagel to the Pentagon


Filed Under Military on Jan 7 

Obama has given a giant “in your face” to the GOP (and some gay rights groups) by nominating Chuck Hagel (RINO-NE).

Any chance he crashes and burns or is he a lock to be confirmed?

Tuesday open thread


Filed Under Military on Sep 11 


As we remember 9-11. Has it really been 11 years?

Three questions:

1. Where were you 11 years ago when the first plane struck the World Trade Center?

2. Have you visited any of the three sites? (NYC, DC, PA)

3. Is the country safer today than it was on 9-11-2001?



This came in to me a little late, but it’s well worth your time. PD has shared writings from this talented Air Force vet before, but this one truly stands out. (In the interest of full-disclosure, this gifted wordsmith is a cousin of mine.)

If you enjoy this, please share on Facebook, Twitter, etc. and help it find the audience it deserves. Also, comments back to the author are always encouraged.

I exited my garage this morning to hang Old Glory in its proper place, an act which has become symbolic of my low-key approach to Memorial Day. As a veteran myself, but still obviously among the living, I am sometimes uncomfortable being thanked for my service, regarded as some sort of greater-than-normal servant, some sort of hero when in reality I feel like I have just done what I was meant to do. I love the associations of genuinely good people who serve in the military, the high level of integrity which is paramount to a functioning fighting force, and the brotherhood that exists between those who serve.

Read more

It seemed a normal Sunday morning for Oahu’s military contingents. Early risers were out for morning chow, Sunday services, or the beaches and golf courses. Some would sleep in, burdened by the lingering affects of a late night. No one awoke anticipating war on 07 Dec 41. But the plan of the day changed when the first Japanese warplanes swarmed over Hickam Field, Schofield Barracks, and Battleship Row.

Within hours, well-trained Imperial Japanese Navy pilots had decimated the Pacific Fleet’s battleships, destroyed hundreds of aircraft and buildings, and killed thousands of men. The attack drove a nation still reeling from a decade of economic depression to the edge of panic. Rumors swirled and West Coast residents feared a Japanese armada would appear on the Pacific horizon at any moment. In terms of national horror, only the War Between the States exceeds Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. Read more

FoxNews: Bin Laden Killing: How the White House, Pentagon and CIA Botched the Storyline

Long, but absolutely worth your time.

After the initial reaction dies down, does the death of Osama Bin Laden at the hands of United States commandos help the flagging Obama administration?

Could this be the foreign policy victory he needs to jump start his reelection campaign?

What say you people out there in PD land?

Enjoy this latest update from my cousin in Afghanistan. We can’t be reminded enough that a war is still going on, even if we don’t hear it on the evening news every night.

Another day, another $3.50, one step closer to emphysema from all the dust in the air, and one step closer seeing family back home. But I digress.

I wanted to start out by relating a story we all heard today at our pilot meeting. An Army Sergeant First Class came to visit us, and told of an experience he had in 2006 when the Tiger sharks saved his life and the lives of his team in the Tagab Valley just east of Bagram. He was out on a convoy enroute to visit with a local leader to work on cutting off Taliban supply lines in the area, and while enroute they came under attack six times. By the 6th time, they struck 2 IEDs and his convoy was simultaneously taking fire from both sides. They were out of 7.62, .50 cal, and running low on 5.56 ammo, with no way to get to the disabled vehicles and care for their wounded. Luckily, the battalion commander had insisted they bring an Air Force controller with them just in case they needed air. The sergeant said that he had fought his commander on it, but he has thanked him ever since.

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Thirty-five years ago the last U.S. soldiers left Vietnam. Yet the war continues because Vietnam’s veterans returned home to contempt rather than appreciation. Even today a celebration in their honor–held near Ft. Bragg in Fayetteville, NC no less–can’t escape the longstanding divisions. Read more

Below is another update from my cousin in Afghanistan. I’ve posted these from time-to-time and thought this week might be especially interesting. Let us all be grateful on Christmas morning that there are good men and women like Derek all around the world defending America, her people, and her allies.

I’m sure he’d appreciate a short encouraging note if you had the time.

A large group of squadron members are sitting in our new lounge, watching Christmas Vacation and reminiscing of the last time we put up as many lights as Chevy Chase for Christmas. I think it the second or third time since setting up the lounge a couple of days ago, but the movie never gets old. Or maybe it does, but it allows us to think of any quirky trait of our families, of any funny relationship we have back at home, and the corny things that make those relationships worth what they are to us.

We have received the daily gifts for the 12 days of Christmas, and they have been awesome. There is something there for all of us, and we are excited to get the remainder of the goodies over the next 3 days. The only disappointment was when we found out that the ‘coal’ was really lava rocks painted like coal, serving little/no purpose in our fire pit.

While many units here in theater are taking a small break, we are not slowing down a bit. No days off, no down time, no break from our Groundhog Day routine. But that is OK, as we would prefer to be engaged in what has us far from home at this time, and to have a mission to focus on instead of what we are missing at home with family and friends. What that means for each of you is that the call home on Christmas may not be exactly at the optimum time, or may not be of the desired length, but all should have a chance to call at some point. So please don’t tie up the lines ordering us any last minute gifts. They are not necessary.

Our new building is working out fine, although it is just like anytime you buy a house. You start to move in the furniture, and realize that it looked much bigger empty than filled with your stuff. The building has indoor plumbing most of the time, with the occasional water outage. But that is OK, we have a ‘cadillac’ close by, which is a portable shower/bathroom trailer for our camp. I used it for the first time today, and when I went inside, I could only think of Ocho or Gofur doing a Chris Farley impersonation from “Tommy Boy” when he was trying to change clothes in an airliner bathroom. Pretty small working space. But they are still better than the outhouses, which smell great during the summer. For the rest of our building, some rocket surgeon decided that white was a good color for the walls, doors, and, well everything. They are now an uneven brown color from all of the dust here. We are looking at how we can cover the brown up with some art work or something.

As the type of flying has slowed down recently, we have had the chance to go to other parts of the country, and it is a shame that a booming tourist industry has not taken hold here. Sapper and I flew north just as the sun was rising, and we could see 18-22 thousand-foot peaks off to the east, all snow-capped an ominous, but beautiful. We overflew an area of canyons and mountain lakes that resembled the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, and the rough mountains of our own country, and it made us homesick. As we fly over some of these mountainous areas, we marvel at the agricultural fields at elevations above the state of Colorado, and wonder if those farmers struggling to eke out an existence even knew we were there, or if they just assumed we were just more Soviet Aircraft from the 80s. I’m sure none of them have ever seen the effects of electricity or a telephone, and I’d bet that despite the harsh living conditions, there is a level of happiness and simplicity that is envious. But I’ll keep my flush toilets, electric blankets, and the world wide web. I guess we have to find simplicity in other ways. Like dumb jokes, dark chocolate, and cigars for many.

We hope that you all have a wonderful Christmas time, or whatever this holiday season means for you. We miss each of you, but look forward to roasting a pig in April, and not returning to this place for some time to come. But for now, we still have some unfinished business. Until next time.

Another insightful note from my cousin behind the lines. Paragraph two will break your heart.

I just watched the departure of a part of our aircraft and pilots, as they work their way west and home to their loved ones, and it was not without a bit of sadness to see them leave. I know, they will probably be home for the Holidays, be able to see their wives, children, friends and other family, but they were each fantastic Attack pilots, and we were honored to fly here in combat with each of them. They will be missed, as they did great work both in the air and on the ground, and the squadron will not be the same without them here. But I am happy that they will get to spend time with loved ones, enjoy the holidays, and in their moments of silence as they cannot sleep at night, secretly wish they were back here with us.

For those family members who still have quite a few months before you see your Tiger Sharks, let me share an occurrence that happened recently here, and is not for the faint of heart. Some coalition forces were patrolling an area here recently, and gave candy to some local children. After the coalition forces were gone, Taliban thugs swept through the town and found the candy wrappers, and proceeded to cut out the tongue of all of the fathers whose children had taken candy, and scalp the mothers. All for taking candy from soldiers. Evil like that has no place here on Earth, even 9,000 miles away from home where we could all ignore it and go about our merry way, focusing on our own lives. We cannot right every wrong, and save everyone from cruelty and tyranny, but here we have an opportunity to ensure that thugs like that have few days left on this earth. I miss my family terribly, and like a few others this will not be my first time away at Christmas, but if I can make even a small difference to allow Afghanis to determine their own future without the fear of the kind of awful brutality they have been used to, then there is no place I would rather be right now.

For those of us who are left here, we will continue to act according to Shark Standard, and make a difference here in Afghanistan. We appreciate the support, the emails, phone calls, cookies, and even the ‘clothing’ for Betty, as it all helps to make the time go faster, and reminds us of what we hold dear. I am continually amazed at how well the entire squadron is doing, the judgment, composure, worth ethic, and desire to make a difference each and every groundhog day. The routine can wear on you, but that has not lessened everyone’s commitment to making the best of things and do it right. There is no other squadron in theater that is more highly requested, and the guys never let the customers down.

Until next time, I hope you have a wonderful prep for the Holidays. Our “festive stick” is up and decorated, our fire pit is blazing, and we are all slowing getting sick off of chocolate. It is awesome.

From my cousin in Afghanistan. It’s a very interesting read.


Here is a layman’s view of the war in Afghanistan, its status, and how we are doing.

When we toppled the Taliban, it was with the alliance of a number of warlords from the northern provinces who had never held much allegiance to the Taliban and they heavy-handed ways. The first successes were in the north around a place called Mazeri-Sharif, then down into Bagram and Kabul and the surrounding towns. When the A-10s first deployed to Bagram, the airfield was still a skeleton of a former Soviet base, with hulks of aircraft strewn about, surrounded by minefields, and regular snipers set on running out yet another invader. The first operations facility was the base control tower, still riddled with bullet holes from the heavy attacks of the current war and probably the war against the Soviets. The basement of the tower was rumored to be an old torture chamber, and believe me it looked and smelled the part even a few years later.

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If this doesn’t make your head spin on a Monday morning, I don’t know what will. Apparently our government has been in talks for a while with the Saudis. The topic of said talks is arms sales to the Saudis. The Wall Street Journal reported today that the talks are moving ahead.

I know techncially the Saudis are our “allies” but it’s only because they sell us a lot of oil. I like petroleum. I like driving my car and filling it with gas and having electricty and cosmetics and fabrics and styrofoam cups at a picnic — all of those things come from oil in one way or another. Oil is a part of modern life, and I have no desire what so ever in living a Little House on the Prairie life. So I’ll keep using oil. I just have to wonder though, if we were acutally using the oil we have in our own country and also using nuclear energy and other technologies would we need to be selling arms and weapons to people that hate us? Somehow I think not.

Finally, once upon a time the USA sold weapons and arms and planes that shoot things to a little country called Iran. At the time they were an “ally” but soon they became an enemy. Will the same be true of the Saudis? I hope not, but I’m planning on it.

“It tells me, that goose-stepping morons like yourself should try *reading* books instead of *burning* them!”

– Professor Henry Jones as played by Sean Connery

Let me say first, that I completely understand that Rev. Terry Jones and his ilk have the right to burn copies of the Quran, just like the Muslim group in New York has the right to build an Islamic community center near Ground Zero.

It doesn’t make either a good idea.
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Gen. McChrystal is out, and Gen Petraeus is in.

There has been a lot of buzz and chatter on this story since it broke. I find all of the opinions as to what should have been done, what will be done and so on very fascinating.

However, the question I have is this: is McChrystal’s resignation/firing because of what he said (Obama is not doing that great of a job at commander in chief) or that he said it, breaking the tradition of keeping your mouth shut in the military? Is this resignation/firing enough? I’ve heard some suggest that he should be charged with some sort of treason as well, or should he be allowed to ride peacefully off into the sunset?

What say you Derby fans?