Some ‘Firsts’ Of US Military History

Written by Larry Usoff on July 24, 2019

Once upon a time…

Yeah, you’ve probably heard that beginning a thousand times, right? Today it’s going to be a little different because we’ll talk about things that, some of you, probably have never heard of, and that’s alright. It’s a matter of time, or history, if you will, and those of us that have lived a little longer, well, we go back further and so some things are real to us. To you it may be history, ancient history or nothing at all. History, you see, is what happened and nothing that has already happened can be changed, regardless of what the lefty loonies tell you, or try to do. All the statues can be torn down, all the names can be erased and all the books can be burned…but the history is still there, and so long as one person knows it and remembers it, it is alive.

Back a little over one hundred years ago, give or take a year, the United States was invaded by a foreign “army”. Francisco “Pancho” Villa born José Doroteo Arango Arámbula, 5 June 1878 – 20 July 1923) was a Mexican revolutionary general and one of the most prominent figures of the Mexican Revolution. He was at one and the same time, an officer in the revolutionary army and a bandit. It has been said that he was the “Robin Hood of Mexico”, albeit a lot more violent. Villa led a raid against a small U.S.–Mexican border town resulting in the Battle of Columbus, New Mexico, on 9 March 1916, in which eighteen Americans were killed, and then retreated to escape U.S. retaliation. The U.S. government sent U.S. Army General John J. Pershing on an expedition to capture Villa, but Villa continued to evade his attackers with guerrilla tactics during the unsuccessful, nine-month incursion into Mexican sovereign territory. The mission ended when the United States entered World War I and Pershing was recalled to other duties. Álvaro Obregón was a general in the revolutionary army, but didn’t get along with Villa. In 1920, Villa made an agreement with the Mexican government to retire from hostilities, following the ouster and death of Carranza, and was given a hacienda near Parral, Chihuahua, which he turned into a “military colony” for his former soldiers. In 1923, as presidential elections approached, he re-involved himself in Mexican politics. Shortly thereafter he was assassinated, most likely on the orders of Obregón. Because of the aura surrounding Villa, he has been the subject of several films, and over a dozen books. To the best of my knowledge that was the only incursion onto United States soil by a foreign army.

A little closer to our time, but still historic, was a little-known unit of the US Navy, the Fleet Air Gunnery Unit, Pacific, or FAGUPac. In May of 1952, the commander of the Naval Air Force, Pacific Fleet had established the Fleet Air Gunnery Unit (FAGU) at NAS El Centro, California. Atlantic Fleet squadrons took advantage of FAGU’s training some years later, establishing in effect a Navy-wide system of gunnery, bombing, and ordnance-system maintenance. It was at FAGU where squadrons trained in the newly-developed “loft bombing” system of delivering a tactical nuclear weapon. Honeywell was, at the time, the prime contractor for the “computers” of the day…considered state of the art then, and wouldn’t compare with a basic smartphone today. As I was a member of FAGU back then it was my privilege to be able to work on, and observe the systems on the various aircraft that FAGU had. Along with developing the delivery of tactical nuclear weapons, it was suggested, jokingly at first, that FAGU “sponsor” a contest between two squadrons, with one being the “enemy” the other being the defenders. I think that the first “contest” was between a Navy squadron and a Marine squadron, but I don’t have those facts in front of me. The true inspirations for TOPGUN were the Fleet Air Gunnery Unit (FAGU), and Have Drill and Have Doughnut, along with John Boyd’s E/M diagrams. It was the Ault Report that gave voice to the operational forces (Fighter Pilots recently back from combat). The Ault Report cataloged all of the problems facing our forces. The easiest to fix in a short period of time was aircrew training and tactics. The Fleet Air Gunnery Unit (FAGU) at NAAS El Centro, California, held the first Fleet Air Gunnery Meet competition in 1956. FAGU eventually shut down, a contributing factor cited by CAPT Frank Ault in the report that resulted in the establishment of the Navy Fighter Weapons School, more famously known as TOPGUN. Another tidbit of history that only a small group might know about. FAGU was a semi-secret unit while in operation.

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Parting shot: Now that you know about these two items, did it whet your appetite to know more…not necessarily about them, but perhaps about something else in history? I certainly hope so, because as was said, you cannot change what has already happened. Some of the things that intrigue me are: in the “old west” when cowboys rode from one place to another, not on a cattle drive, what did they eat and where did they get it? Was General Patton really “in touch” with the warriors of old as he once claimed to be? So very many things in history, not all ours, could be, should be, looked at.

Larry Usoff
Larry Usoff, US Navy Retired. Articulate. Opinionated. Patriotic. Conservative. Cultured enough so that I can be taken almost anywhere. Makes no excuses for what I say or do, but takes responsibility for them. Duty. Honor. Country. E-mail me at: