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Remember, today is not about saving (up to) 40 percent on select items

It’s a small plot of land that’s never left unguarded. The Sentinels who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier are a small and exclusive group. They stand their post 24 hours a day, 365 days a year regardless of the weather. Hear the Sentinel’s Creed and you’ll know why. DOD video edited by Air Force Staff Sgt. Jared Bunn

Biloxi Blues

Back during WWII, the sight and sound of piston-engined aircraft and newly-minted Army Air Force airmen learning their paces became a fixture that has remained for over 75 years.

Keesler Field, founded in June 1941, was named after a Great War aerial observer from Mississippi who was killed over Verdun in 1918. It became both a basic training facility as well as an advanced school for gunners.

After the war, Keesler became an Air Force base and remained an advanced school for navaids and meteorology. A Biloxi institution, the base today is the home of the Air Force Reserve’s Hurricane Hunters and everyone knows people who work there. Hell, I turned down a DAF police job there once upon a time.

Fast forward to 2020, and the fresh recruits have returned.

From the USAF: 

For the first time since 1968, a flight of nearly 60 Airmen graduated USAF Basic Military Training outside of Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Airmen from the 37th Training Wing Detachment 5 marched across the Levitow Training Support Facility drill pad at Keesler Air Force Base, May 15.

Due to safety concerns stemming from #COVID19, the Air Force sent new recruits to Keesler AFB to demonstrate a proof of concept to generate the force at multiple locations during contingencies.

“These changes are part of our operational mindset to fight through COVID-19 and mitigate force health risks.” -Maj. Gen. Andrea Tullos, Second Air Force commander

All graduating Airmen from this flight will continue their technical training at Keesler AFB.

Military training instructors lead graduating Airmen onto the drill pad during a graduation ceremony at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., May 15, 2020. Nearly 60 Airmen from the 37th Training Wing Detachment 5 completed the six-week basic military training course. Due to safety concerns stemming from COVID-19, the Air Force sent new recruits to Keesler AFB to demonstrate a proof of concept to generate the force at multiple locations during contingencies. The flight was the first to graduate BMT at Keesler since 1968. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

Welcome (back), M16A4

The humble original M16 was originally Armalite’s AR-15, and was first ordered for military service with a contract issued to Colt Firearms in May 1962 for the purchase of early Model 01 rifles to be used by Air Force Security Police.

Note, these guns had waffle-pattern 20-round mags, no forward assist, a thin 1:14 twist barrel, and the early three-prong flash hider.

Fast forward to the XM16E1, which became the M16A1 in 1967, and you started to come closer to the standard Army/Marine rifle used in Vietnam and throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. It used a forward assist and a 1:12 twist barrel.

By 1983, the M16A2 came about, it had a thicker barrel in front of the front sight, a modified flash suppressor (closed on bottom), a new polymer buttstock (lighter and stronger), faster barrel twist (from 1:12 to 1:7), and a spent case deflector for left-hand users. Considered downright vintage by the Army and Marines, the Navy still sports them these days.

M16A2- check
M9 in drop leg holster- check
Body armor- um, about that……

By 1998, the M16A4 was in play, primarily for the Marines, which had a removable carry handle, a Picatinny top rail to allow for optics, short rails on the handguard for accessories, and a 20-inch barrel with a 1:7 RH twist rate.

Note the size difference between the compact M4 Carbine, top, and the full-length M16A4 rifle, bottom. (Photos: Department of Defense)

Since the GWOT kicked off in 2002, the big shift over the years has been to move from the full-length M16 family to the more compact M4/M4A1 carbine, with its collapsible rear stock and stubby 14-inch barrel, leaving the increasingly old-school style rifle as something of a relic today. Heck, the Army for the past couple years has been very actively working on replacing their 5.56 NATO rifles and SAWs with a new 6.8mm weapon. 

Now jump to 2020, and the M16A4 is now apparently the Army’s designated rifle for Foreign Military Sales to equip overseas allies in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and Nepal.

Colt and FN are competing in a contract to supply as much as $383 million smackers worth of M16A4s by 2025.

More in my column at Guns.com. 

From Mississippi to Burg-Hohenzollern, 35 Years Ago

Official caption: “Two F-4E Phantom II aircraft assigned to the 512th and 526th Tactical Fighter Squadrons fly one of their last aerial missions over Castle Burg-Hollenzollern [sic], near Ramstein Air Base. Both squadrons will replace their Phantoms with F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft. Tail No. 512 is piloted by Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Bruce Gillett and navigated by Captain (CPT) Mike Craig. LTC Tom Speelman is piloting tail No. 526 with 1st Lieutenant (1LT) John Rogers navigating, 3/20/1985”

USAF photo 330-CFD-DF-ST-86-11795 by SSGT F. Serna.

Note their twin AIM-9s on the outside pylons. These Phantoms are ready to party. USAF photo 330-CFD-DF-ST-86-11795 by SSGT F. Serna.

An additional photo from the same shoot shows the Phantoms to be air-to-air heavy with four AIM-7 Sparrows and four AIM-9 Sidewinders.

DF-ST-86-11794

The 526th TFS was formed in 1942 at Key Field in Mississippi and flew A-24 Banshees in North Africa before switching to P-47s for the Italian campaign. Upgrading to F-84s and later F-102s in the 1950s and 60s, they chopped to Phantoms in 1968. Based at Ramstein from 1952 through 1994, they missed out on Korea and Vietnam but were very active in the Cold War, often coming close to interloping Warsaw Pact MiGs during times of tension. They hung up their follow-on F-16s and inactivated in 1994.

Likewise, the 512th started at Key Field and flew P-47s in the ETO, being very active in smashing up the Germans in the tail-end of the Battle of the Bulge. After spending the 1950s and 60s flying F-84s and F-86s CONUS, they switched to Phantoms and headed to West Germany in 1976. They inactivated on 1 October 1994, their personnel and F-16s heading to Aviano.

Burg-Hohenzollern is, of course, still there.

When you want to cram an M4 into an ejection seat

The U.S. Air Force has released some more details about their very neat GAU-5A Aircrew Self Defense Weapon. Fundamentally, it is an M4 with a folding pistol grip and quick-detach barrel/handguard that takes down and stows, with four mags, into a 16 x 14 x 3.5-inch ejection seat compartment.

Thus

More in my column at Guns.com.

29 Years Ago Today: Chopper Popper

On 6 February 1991, during the “Shock and Awe” of Desert Storm, Capt. Robert R. Swain, Jr., of the Louisiana-based 706th Tactical Fighter Squadron, in the Air Force Reserve’s 926th Tactical Fighter Group, was zooming around performing “battlefield interdictions” in his OA–10A Thunderbolt II over central Iraqi-occupied Kuwait.

“As I was leaving the target area after dropping six 500-pound bombs and firing my two Maverick missiles at tanks, I noticed two black dots running across the desert,” Swain said in a 1991 interview published in Air Force magazines. “They weren’t putting up any dust, and yet they were moving fast over the ground.”

It turned out those little black dots were Iraqi Bo-105s, little German-made light observation helicopters which could carry a centerline 20mm cannon or a series of rocket pods.

These guys…

“On the first pass, I tried to shoot an AIM-9 heat-seeking missile, but I couldn’t get it to lock-on [the target],” said Shaw. “So, on the second pass, I fired a long burst of 30 millimeter from the cannon [GAU-8], and the helicopter looked like it had been hit by a bomb. We tried to identify the type of [helicopter] after we were finished, but it was just a bunch of pieces.”

Shaw’s OA-10, 77-0205, would be dubbed the Chopper Popper, complete with a very Lousiana-like nose-art in honor of the 926th’s “Fighting Cajuns.”

It was the first air-to-air kill in the A-10s history. It would not be the last as another A-10A, flown by Capt. Todd Sheehy of the 10th TFW would splash a Soviet-made Iraqi Mi-8 helicopter with its GAU-8 30mm cannon on 15 February.

Shaw, a USAF Academy alumni (Class of 1979) who had switched to flying A-10s in the reserves after his active duty stint was over, went back to pushing tin as a commercial airline pilot but remained a “weekend warrior” flying not only Warthogs but also C-5s, retiring in 2011 as a full colonel in command of the 439th Airlift Wing, logging over 3,500 hours with the Air Force.

His old unit, the 926th, was deactivated in 2006. 

As for Chopper Popper, SN 77-0205, it was retired and placed on display at the Academy on 1 November 1993, with Shaw’s AFRES markings. It remains standing guard at Thunderbird Airmanship Overlook, South Gate.

Copenhagen Joes

The below historical video was recently posted by the Forsvaret, the Royal Danish armed forces. Filmed 1 August 1951, it covers the visit to the country of then five-star Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who just four months prior had been named the first Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR).

The occasion of the visit was for Ike to stress how important Denmark was to the new NATO alliance, expressed through the handover of surplus Republic F-84 Thunderjets to the rebuilding Danish Air Force, which would soon be bolstered by 240 new F-84Gs over the next four years– a huge upgrade from their previous force of 40~ WWII surplus RAF Spitfires handed over in 1948.

An especially interesting part of the video for me– which incidentally is about 60 percent in English– is the Danish Army honor guard for the occasion.

Outfitted in British-pattern wool uniforms and American M1 helmets, M1 Garand rifles (adopted as the M/50 GarandGevær) and canvas-holstered Swiss-made SIG P210 pistols (adopted as the M/49), they are very exotic in a sense. Danish by way of Portsmouth, Neuhausen, and Springfield.

The Danes would continue to use the Garand as their primary infantry arm until 1975 when it was replaced by the German-made HK G3, adopted as the Gevær M/75.

Garands would continue to soldier on with the Danish as a second-line and Home Guard rifle through the 1990s, when it would finally be replaced by Colt Canada C7 (M16A2) rifles and C8 (M4A1) carbines, which would be adopted as the Gevær M/95 and Karabin M/96, respectively. As such, the Danes would be the last Western European NATO member to field John Garand’s vaunted 30.06.

Still

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