Archive for May, 2010

The aviation exploits of pilots in World War II and Vietnam have been well documented and glorified in books, documentaries and movies. But the daring missions performed by pilots in the Korean War have been largely overshadowed by the ground pounders who toiled in the brutal peninsula of South Korea for the three years of the war.

This war was never declared – it was simply deemed a U.N. police action,” a deadly conflict that claimed more than one million military casualties and three million civilian casualties. U.S. military deaths totaled 170,000, a staggering amount when you compare it to the Vietnam conflict and today’s dual wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And yet, far fewer books and films have been created about it. At best, the war created a stalemate between the South Koreans and the communist North Koreans. Continued provocative behavior by the despotic North Korean regime only antagonizes this stalemate and reminds the rest of the world that a resolution of the 38th parallel was never achieved.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the start of this deadly war and author David Sears has written a book, Such Men as These, to shine a spotlight on the brave naval aviators who were sent on aerial missions over the icy waters and the unforgiving mountainous terrain of Korea. In addition to detailing the heroic actions of these pilots – many of whom had also distinguished themselves in aerial combat in World War II a little more than five years prior, Sears makes a point of recognizing the social progress that had been made in these five short years. Featured in this book are the groundbreaking careers of Jess LeRoy Brown, the first African-American naval pilot, and Joe Akagi, the first Japanese-American naval pilot. Both of these men would never have been given the opportunity to fly as Navy pilots for their country in World War II.

Such Men As These was inspired by James Michener’s historic novel The Bridges at Toko-Ri, a bestselling book about these men (which also inspired an Academy Award-winning Hollywood film of the same name). It was based on his real-life research on assignment for Readers’ Digest. He was “embedded” aboard an aircraft carrier in the region during the war. Sears obtained Michener’s notes from the Library of Congress and was able to ascertain on whom Michener based his fictional characters. He tracked them down and interviewed 20 of them for this book.

The Bridges at Toko-Ri was written just after Michener was asked to author a promotional article for Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea in Life magazine. (At the time, Michener was a more well-known author than Hemingway.) Sears alleges that Michener was significantly influenced by the themes of this book while writing The Bridges at Toko-Ri. Indeed, he identifies compelling similarities between the two books, highlighting the fact that the protagonists in both books were strong individuals facing seemingly “implacable enemies and the unforgiving elements to achieve personal (although virtually anonymous) vindication.” They were, in Michener’s and Sears’ minds, the epitome of manhood.

Sears, a Navy Vietnam veteran, is the author of many books about the military. He says that he enjoys writing about ordinary Americans and their contributions to historic events. Such Men as These is an important and necessary complement to the library of works about the Korean War. It is the actions of these men that Michener and Sears chronicle in these two works detailing a rarely told aspect of a rarely told war.

For more information about this book and author David Sears, go to Sears’ web site.

For one former enlisted Marine and veteran of the war in Iraq, being a commissioned officer carries a great deal of personal weight.

During the summer of 2005, my brother Brian and I were serving together in Iraq with Weapons Company, 3d Battalion, 25th Marines. Words could never describe the immense pride I felt serving side by side with him in combat. Two brothers, childhood best friends that now shared the sacred title of Marine, fighting together in a cause for which we both had very deep convictions.

It truly was our finest moment in the context of our own personal history. We both proudly wore the eagle, globe, and anchor and strived to carry on the traditions of the Marines who had gone before us. Most important to us was excellence in combat. I could write pages about the great memories we shared together in Iraq, but that is not the purpose here.

On 1 August that summer, while conducting combat operations outside the city of Haditha, Lance Corporal Brian P. Montgomery was killed in action. I was destroyed. Never in my life had I felt like such a failure. What was I going to say to my parents? What would I tell Brian’s wife? To make things worse, I was immediately pulled from my platoon and sent home to attend Brian’s funeral. Not only had my brother been killed, but I felt like I was going home in defeat, as if I were retreating. His death did not become a reality for me until I was flying over the Atlantic Ocean back to the States, when a flight attendant handed me a copy of USA Today. On the front page was a story about Brian.


The word on the street is that the Administration will release its updated National Security Strategy tomorrow. Consequently, the news is full of hints and pundits are abuzz with prognostications. It’s been said to be a return to a cooperative diplomatic, economic and alliance-centric approach, and include a new focus on “home-grown” threats. Most predictably, it’s being heralded by many as a break with the Bush administration, which seems to still be the pinnacle of achievement in the minds of many. Surprisingly absent from the previews is any discussion of the roles the ongoing global economic and financial responsibility crises pose to security, despite recent comments from Secretary Gates. All in all, the buzz makes the new NSS sound like the Navy’s cooperative strategy on steroids.

All the details revealed to date and subsequent commentary and discussion seem to reveal no major departures from the Administration’s strategy-in-practice of the last 17 months. We’ll talk (a lot) before we shoot. We’ll try to get others to bear a hand with the heavy lifting. So the big question after the release will be what it always is after major policy announcements: will it work?

To try and answer that question, I’ll ask my own question: how’s it working so far? Well, here are some examples:

  • Iran — No noteworthy departures from previous approaches or progress.
  • North Korea — Nuclear program still chugging along, with the loss of a RoK national asset and 46 sailors dead as collateral costs. Relations spiraling and the “great powers” are looking less “great” every day.
  • Russia — Successfully reasserting their influence–without major obstruction–in their near abroad. Appears to be winning in their battle against a U.S. national BMD system.
  • China — Proceeding with a military buildup like none since the inter-war years. Flexing their muscles inside the first island chain and increasing their reach into the second island chain. Proving they’ll continue to support rogue states when it’s to their benefit.
  • United Kingdom — Busy planning the funeral for the “special relationship”
  • Israel — Increasingly finding themselves all alone in an increasingly harsh wilderness.

Thus far, the answer to “will it work” doesn’t look promising to me. What say you?

Chris van Avery is a Military Professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies. The views expressed herein are his own.

Let’s review, shall we?

In June, 2009, I posted a piece that made the following assertions:

Recent comments from China’s Foreign Ministry also make clear the role China has had, and continues to have, as the regional power that enables North Korea to defy the international community, most specifically the United States, in its continued development of an arsenal of long-range nuclear-tipped ICBMs.


The concept of the Thousand Ship Navy, particularly when that “Navy” includes our Chinese “partners”, should once and for all be recognized as foolishly naive.

This today from Bloomberg. Notable in the article are some revealing paragraphs:

May 27 (Bloomberg) — Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is likely to resist pressure to acknowledge that North Korea torpedoed a South Korean warship when he flies to Seoul tomorrow to meet South Korean President Lee Myung Bak and Japan’s Yukio Hatoyama.

China hasn’t followed South Korea, Japan and the U.S. in blaming North Korea for the March 26 sinking of the Cheonan, which killed 46 sailors. Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun yesterday repeated a call for “restraint” by both sides and said China had no “firsthand information” on the sinking.

US Secretary of State Clinton expressed US goals:

“We expect to be working together with China in responding to North Korea’s provocative action and promoting stability in the region,” Clinton said May 25 in Beijing at the conclusion of two days of talks.

But they appear to be radically different from those of the People’s Republic of China:

China’s government may conclude that taking South Korea’s side will only stoke a cycle of escalation, Shen said. China may be willing to condemn the sinking of the Cheonan in a United Nations Security Council resolution provided that North Korea is not singled out for blame, Shen said.

The most interesting quote regarded China’s perception of “interests”:

“China is doing the thing that best suits China’s interests and everyone’s interest,” Shen said. “China is not pushing the envelope either on the North Korean side to be aggressive or on the South Korean to punish North Korea with warfare.”


In the last two decades, as North Korea has grown increasingly bellicose toward her neighbor to the south, and toward the United States, she has done so while protected under the wing of a China grown strong enough militarily and economically to assert herself as the premier power in the region.

Under China’s benevolent protection, Kim Jong Il and his father before him, have done the following:

  • Developed a nuclear capability
  • Tested several weapons in 2006 and 2009
  • Advanced ICBM ranges and capabilities
  • Defied international pressure to desist in those nuclear programs
  • Executed several SOF border incursions into South Korea
  • Supplied arms to Hezbollah and Hamas through their Iranian proxy
  • Shipped (and attempted to ship) likely nuclear and other WMD components to the Middle East
  • Engaged, almost certainly with China’s technical assistance, in a cyber attack against the United States and South Korea
  • Is likely involved heavily in counterfeit and narcotics trades
  • Torpedoed and sank a ROK warship in international waters

What has China’s response been to this long and growing list of bellicose and defiant actions?

Peking has deliberately and unabashedly thwarted each and every opportunity to contain North Korea. The Chinese refused outright to live by UNSC Resolutions 1718 and 1874. China continues her arms sales to Pyongyang, and her large economic (read: financial) aid to Kim’s government.

Today, however, they tell us that they cannot condemn North Korea for an act of war because it will “stoke a cycle of escalation”, and that both sides should show “restraint”. And that China will act in China’s, as well as everyone else’s interests, in the region, as if those were at all compatible.

We must finally recognize China’s true character. I will say it again here. Talk of China’s desires to be a part of the “International Community”, or a reliable member of the Global Maritime Partnership reflects our own inability to perceive China for the complex rival she is; sometimes partner, sometimes economic rival, sometimes military adversary.

Platitudes about Peking wanting to be partners in maintaining stability in Asia are so much diplomatic flattery. As of this moment and in this region, China is unquestionably an adversary. Providing cover and protection for a sworn and aggressive enemy with nascent nuclear capability and little by way of restraint. North Korea is what it is, and does what it does, because China gives it a free hand to do so. If we are going to deal meaningfully with North Korea in defense of our ally in the South, we must acknowledge that fact.

That doesn’t bode well for a National Security Strategy still wet on the page which is said to de-emphasize military power.



People’s Republic of China called for “restraint”. Here is the North Korean Version.

I made it!

Via the North Face.

Without. Oxygen.

This is the sixth in a series posts dispatched from the slopes of Mt. Everest


I just returned to Everest Base Camp (BC) after the most challenging 8 days of my life. I am unshaven, extremely dirty, feeling the initial effects of frostbite, starving and physically and mentally exhausted (See Photo “Return to Everest BC”)… but at 4:19 AM on Sunday May 23rd, after a 10 hour climb from Camp 3 (See Photo “Hike to Camp 3”), Kaji and I watched the sun rise over Tibet from the summit of Mt. Everest. 

Words can not convey the beauty of that particular sunrise or the feeling of accomplishment and joy of having attained the summit with my teammate, Kaji. I am thankful that I prepared properly and that we had (and made the most of) our opportunity for success.

Heck, I’m so hungry I’m willing to eat broiled Yak… or raw… (See Photo: “Kap eats Yak”)

Due to a camera malfunction on the summit (read “my $300 camera froze as soon as I pulled it from my down suit), I have to wait for Kaji to have his summit photos developed (read “Kaji’s circa 1980 camera that cost $12 worked well”) before sharing. However, all photos and a recap of the final 8 days of climbing will be part of my corporate presentation on “Leadership and Overcoming Adversity” and will also be made available to all 2010- 2011 Program clients. 

I can not tell you how much I appreciate all of your support throughout this journey and Bryant, The Program Staff and I look forward to seeing and working with all of you in the upcoming year. 



“You never know what is ‘enough,’ until you know what is more than enough” – William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. explains the why behind Eric’s grueling climbs and competetions:

“My mother always told me if you want to change something,” he says, “then get yourself to the position where you can change it.”

There will be one constant for Kapitulik. He’ll continue racing Ironman triathlons, partially because The Few, The Proud . . . they like testing themselves physically. Once a Marine, always a Marine, Kapitulik will enter the Marine Corps Reserves upon being discharged. But Kapitulik’s Ironman dedication goes far deeper than any personal challenge.

He must preserve the memories of those seven military men who died under his command in a frightening helicopter crash off San Diego on Dec. 9, 1999. Kapitulik and 10 others were the lucky ones. They survived the crash. Between them, the seven men who died left behind six children. Since the accident, Kapitulik has raced four Ironman races, each time raising money toward a college education fund for the six youths.

“This has become his mission,” says Kapitulik’s long-time girlfriend, Melissa Marinaccio. “His top priority is to make sure those families are taken care of, never lonely and never wanting for things. He talks about them just about every day.” 


It was a reconnaissance-training mission, the final evaluation check-off before Kapitulik and his command departed a month later for the Persian Gulf. Marines and Navy SEALs were to descend a rope, land aboard a ship and simulate a takeover. Thirty seconds before the helicopter was to begin hovering over the ship, Kapitulik, as he always did, glanced outside a window, gauging the helicopter’s arrival.

“It seemed like the ship was coming into view pretty fast,” he says.

The opening where the men were to repel onto the ship, which was already open, is called the “hell hole.” Later, some of the surviving Marines said they sensed the helicopter was flying lower than usual. “The down force of the blades was causing water to spray up into the helicopter,” Kapitulik says.

Still, he didn’t think disaster loomed. He had safely flown similar missions at least 15 times.

“You just have faith nothing’s going to happen,” he says.

Seconds later, the helicopter crashed into the side of the ship’s steel netting. The 18 men inside the helicopter were thrown forward. When the pilot applied power to the engines, trying to lift the chopper, the helicopter spun round and round like a fan because the wheels were stuck in the ship’s steel netting. More

Fifth Dispatch – Preparing for the Final Assault

Fourth Dispatch – Toughness is a Relative Term

Third Dispatch – Nec Aspera Terrent

Second Dispatach – The Avalanche

First Dispatch – “One More!”

Click on image to download the NOC

Three years ago this coming October the new maritime strategy (“A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower”) was published to some acclaim and much criticism. The new maritime strategy proposed a sea-change in missions and direction of the maritime services (Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard) in light of the emerging post-Cold War world. Leading the way was the signatory statement that “We believe preventing wars is as important as winning wars” which sets the tone for what followed.

And what followed was a list of strategic imperatives that included the traditional (limit regional conflict, deter major war, etc.) and new (foster and sustain cooperative relationships, prevent/contain local disruptions, etc.) and laid out the capabilities necessary to to execute those imperatives. The one thing that was missing was a companion document that laid out how this strategic vision would (1) be operationalized and (2) be equipped to carry out these missions. In other words — a naval operations concept or NOC. To be sure, since 2002 the Navy has had a NOC in one form or another, but it was hamstrung by a lack of a new maritime strategy. Thus, when the new maritime strategy came out, it was with some relief and anticipation that we learned a NOC would be not far behind. And so we waited.

And waited. And waited.

Being one of the more vocal critics of the apparent lack of progress (especially frustrating since I’d seen advanced drafts as well as having a historical piece of the document) I note it’s arrival on the scene late yesterday. Where the Maritime Strategy was a relatively short 15 or so pages, the NOC is a meatier 112, including Annexes. With detailed chapters on such topics as forward presence, sea control, power projection, deterrence, it promises to be a deep read (and likely focus of most of my energies as part of my daytime job). I will especially be interested in the discussion on the sea as maneuver space (given a certain project am currently engaged with), the discussion of the relationship of the NOC (actually called NOC 10) and the Joint Concept Development and Experimentation process as well as the chapter I’m sure most of DC will dive right to today — Chapter 10, Force Structure, for that was one of the main criticisms of the Maritime Strategy – the lack of an accompanying force structure document.

Stay tuned to these spaces as I’m sure the discussion will be animated in the days that follow. In the meantime, let me leave you with these opening statements:

“The basic premise of our newly published Maritime Strategy is that the United States is a force for good int he world — that while we are capable of launching a clinched fist when we must — offering the hand of friendship is also an essential and prominent tool in our kit. That premise flows from the belief that preventing wars means we don’t have to win wars.” — General James T. Conway, USMC

“We do more than respond; we prevent. In our Maritime Strategy we state that we believe that it is just as important to prevent wars as it is to win wars. That is done through our worldwide presence; our well-trained Sailors, and our very capable ships, airplanes, and submarines.” — Admiral Gary Roughead, USN

“The Coast Guard completely subscribes to this strategy. It reinforces the Coast Guard Strategy for Safety, Security, and Stewardship and it reflects not only the global reach of our maritime services, but the need to integrate, synchronize and act with coalition and international partners to not only win wars — but to prevent wars.” — Admiral Thad W. Allen, USCG

(crossposted at

Japan’s neighbors have never been comfortable with the island nation’s quasi-Navy, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF). JMSDF is legally a civilian service, operating under the famous Article 9 of the Japan’s constitution requiring that “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained”. But, JMSDF’s de jure status has done little to calm the fears of several nations in the region who have nervously watched every move by the small organization (officially JMSDF consists of only 46,000 personnel) since the JMSDF’s creation in the 1950s.

Recently, the legal limits on JMSDF have prompted some Japanese defense observers to argue for a turn to soft power. Now it looks like Japan might be doing exactly that. This month the United States sent one of its two hospital ships, USNS Mercy, on Operation Pacific Partnership 2010. This soft power cruise is just the latest instance of a new and growing mission for the Navy: health diplomacy. These humanitarian assistance operations started after the positive response to the Navy’s disaster relief mission after the Asian tsunami and gained an powerful advocate in current NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe Admiral James Stavridis when he was Commander of SOUTHCOM.

US health diplomacy cruises have always included personnel from ally countries. However, this year Japan has gone a step further, deploying a 13,000 ton Osumi flat-top warship to join the USNS Mercy during ports in Vietnam and Cambodia to support Pacific Partnership. The 584-foot ship, JMSDF LST 4003 Kunisaki, most closely comparable with the US Navy’s Wasp-class amphibious assault ship. Kunisaki’s flat top allows for four helicopters (although some have claimed it was designed as a “pocket carrier”). Below, a well deck contains space for two hovercraft. Kunisaki’s deployment is, as far as I can tell, the one of the largest deployments of Japanese naval power to a foreign port since JMSDF’s creation. JMSDF port visits are uncommon in mainland Asia. In June 2008 a Japanese destroyer made the first port call in China by a Japanese warship since World War II.

Is Kunisaki’s port call the start of Japan’s soft power rising?

From the Associated Press a few minutes ago:

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has backtracked on his campaign promise to close the U.S. Marine base in Okinawa.

Hatoyama had pledged to close the base but now says he’s decided to keep Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on the strategically important island, which is close to Taiwan and the Chinese mainland and not far from the Korean peninsula.

There is likely a correlation between this reversal on the part of Mr. Hatoyama and a restive and increasingly bellicose North Korea.

Glad cooler heads prevailed, for now. Much as they might not like us there, they must have evaluated things and realized they would rather have us than not have us.

Realpolitik trumps domestic politics. This time.

I just want my M-14!

Maddening article the other day in the Associated Press. Seems, to almost nobody’s surprise, that the 5.56mm 62-grain SS109 bullet is next to worthless at ranges beyond 300 meters when fired from the M-4 Carbine. As the article explains, the 14.5″ barrel of the M-4 in place of the 20″ barrel of the M-16A2 makes a barely adequate round entirely inadequate.

The AP article mentions the M110 sniper rifle, an AR-type design in the 7.62 NATO. I am sure it is a fine weapon, and has been well-received by the users. However, it is a sniper rifle and not for general issue. The M110 also weighs a robust 15 pounds.

It is high time to replace the M-4 and M-16A2 with something better. Not a new and “transformational” design taking decades and billions to develop. But by re-starting manufacture and updating the venerable M-14 battle rifle.

While no shrinking violet either, the M-14 fires the powerful 147-grain M80 7.62 NATO round effective as far as the eye or the scope can see. Update the design by eliminating the full automatic and by fitting a modern and lightweight fiberglass stock to the action. The loaded weight of the M-14 is just shy of 11 pounds, and this figure could be cut significantly (The M-16A2 weighs nearly 9 pounds loaded) . The M-14 is a rugged, reliable, accurate, and lethal rifle. And it is available. If necessary, begin a robust training program for unit and depot-level armorers, and restart manufacture of spare parts and replacement components.

Bring back the M-14. It belongs not in warehouses, but updated and refurbished, in the hands of US Servicemen who are at present being outgunned by weapons designed up to a century ago. And it can give us time to design an intermediate caliber weapon that will take us successfully onto the battlefields of the future.

When you think of Navy Air in the Korean War, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Well for most people it is James Michner’s novel and movie The Bridges at Toko-Ri. As usual, the real story is better than fiction.

On Midrats this Sunday, please join fellow USNI blogger EagleOne and me with our special guest, holder of the Medal of Honor from the Korean War, CAPT Thomas J. Hudner, Jr. For those not familiar with his story, here is his MOH Citation;

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as a pilot in Fighter Squadron 32, while attempting to rescue a squadron mate whose plane struck by antiaircraft fire and trailing smoke, was forced down behind enemy lines. Quickly maneuvering to circle the downed pilot and protect him from enemy troops infesting the area, Lt. (J.G.) Hudner risked his life to save the injured flier who was trapped alive in the burning wreckage. Fully aware of the extreme danger in landing on the rough mountainous terrain and the scant hope of escape or survival in subzero temperature, he put his plane down skillfully in a deliberate wheels-up landing in the presence of enemy troops. With his bare hands, he packed the fuselage with snow to keep the flames away from the pilot and struggled to pull him free. Unsuccessful in this, he returned to his crashed aircraft and radioed other airborne planes, requesting that a helicopter be dispatched with an ax and fire extinguisher. He then remained on the spot despite the continuing danger from enemy action and, with the assistance of the rescue pilot, renewed a desperate but unavailing battle against time, cold, and flames. Lt. (J.G.) Hudner’s exceptionally valiant action and selfless devotion to a shipmate sustain and enhance the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

For the second half of the hour, our guest will be author of Such Men as These: The Story of the Navy Pilots Who Flew the Deadly Skies over Korea, David Sears.

Stuck between the Greatest Generation’s high-water mark of World War II and the Baby Boomer’s Vietnam War – the Korean War often gets lost in the shuffle despite its critical role is setting the foundation for the Cold War and our ultimate victory with the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Join us as we give them the air time they deserve.

If you happen to be in DC soon, you will have more opportunities. At The Navy Memorial in DC there will be a special event to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the Korean War. On Wednesday, May 26, 2010, 6:00 PM David Sears will host a lecture on his new book, followed by Q&A, a book signing, and a screening of The Bridges at Toko-Ri.

For Midrats though, it is today at 5pm. Catch it live if you can and join the usual suspects in the chat room during the show where you can offer your own questions and observations to our guests. If you miss the show or want to catch up on the shows you missed – you can always reach the archives at blogtalkradio – or set yourself to get the podcast on iTunes.

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