Even before COVID-19, only half of military and veteran family respondents felt satisfied with their ability to access mental health care appointments, according to data released this week from the Military Family Advisory Network (MFAN). The top obstacle to obtaining mental health care, across all demographics, was the lack of available appointments.
Add physical distancing, forced isolation and unemployment due to COVID-19, and the data suggests that military and veteran families could be at increased risk of struggling with mental health concerns without the ability to get help.
MFAN’s Military Family Support Programming Survey was fielded from October 7, 2019 to November 11, 2019 and 7,785 respondents answered the questions. The full survey results will be released next month, but MFAN has been releasing some findings early so that leaders and policy makers will have access to the information in order to make decisions during the pandemic.
“My spouse had been trying to schedule a mental health appointment because they have really been struggling lately,” one respondent, the spouse of an Air Force active duty service member, said. “It took them over four weeks to actually be able to see someone in person (which I think is extremely unacceptable). Not to mention, once they were finally able to, the appointment was only available at a hospital over an hour away.”
The majority of respondents, 82.6%, said they had not accessed mental health crisis resources. Those who had sought crisis resources, the remaining 14.6%, were slightly more likely to be spouses of veterans or retirees.
When asked if participants had thoughts of suicide in the past two years, more than 80% said they had not, 12.5% said they had thoughts about suicide, and 6.1% said they preferred not to answer.
“No mental health providers in our area take Tricare and are accepting new patients,” the spouse of a Marine Corps active duty member said. “Therefore, this service is not available to us, even though we’ve attempted to access these services.”
But there’s good news, too
The data MFAN released also tells us that military family members are interested in receiving care through non-traditional methods, specifically telehealth.
“If I had the option to use it, I would,” said the spouse of an active duty sailor. “If it meant not waiting six-plus months to see a doctor, I would gladly use it.”
If the pandemic continues, or even if it doesn’t, receiving care via telehealth could present opportunities for military and veteran families to have easier access to appointments and to continue receiving care from trusted providers with whom they have a rapport, even if the military or life moves them elsewhere.
Moments after Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the U.S. House Majority Whip, was shot in the hip during an attack on a practice for the upcoming Congressional baseball game, an Iraq War vet was treating his wound.
“You never expect a baseball field in America to feel like being back in a combat zone in Iraq, but this morning it did,” Rep. Brad Wenstrup tweeted. The Ohio Republican congressman later told an aide the only difference between the Alexandria shooting and Iraq was being “without his weapon.”
According to a report by WLWT.com, Wenstrup began to treat his wounded colleague after Scalise dragged himself off the field. Wenstrup had seen wounds like that before he had ever entered politics.
According to the official biography on his web site, that is because Rep. Wentrup is also Col. Wenstrup in the U.S. Army Reserve – and he’s has served in the Army Reserve since 1998, after his sister had a battle with leukemia. During a tour in Iraq with the 344th Combat Support Hospital, Wenstrup was a combat surgeon, which he described as “the worst thing that ever happened to me, and the best thing I ever got to do.”
“I remember one Marine we lost on the table, and the anesthesiologist saying, ‘I had breakfast with him this morning.’ Or having to tell a group of Marines their buddy didn’t make it. Those were the tough days,” he told the college’s magazine.
He had good days, too, including helping to treat a four-month old girl who had pneumonia. Eventually, the doctors figured out the girl also needed gluten-free formula, and raised over $400 to help make arrangements for a U.S. company to send the girl’s father the right baby food.
In 1966, Gallagher, who immigrated from Ballyhaunis, Ireland in 1962, joined the Marine Corps where he served in H-Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division during Operation Hastings in the Republic of Vietnam.
“Lance Corporal Gallagher is an American hero. His exemplary service in defense of our nation and his strength and sacrifice leaves an example for all servicemen and women to emulate,” said Spencer. “His legacy will live on in the future USS Gallagher and his heroic actions will continue to inspire future Sailors and Marines.”
Gallagher was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions on July 18, 1966, when he selflessly threw his body on an incoming grenade, shielding his fellow Marines. He quickly pitched the grenade to a nearby river where it safely exploded out of harm’s way, without injury to himself or others. Gallagher was killed in action one year later in DaLoc near De Nang on March 30, 1967. He is one of only 30 known Irish citizens to have died in the Vietnam conflict.
Arleigh-Burke class destroyers conduct a variety of operations from peacetime presence and crisis response to sea control and power projection. The future USS Gallagher (DDG 127) will be capable of fighting air, surface, and subsurface battles simultaneously, and will contain a combination of offensive and defensive weapon systems designed to support maritime warfare, including integrated air and missile defense and vertical launch capabilities.
The ship will be constructed at Bath Iron Works, a division of General Dynamics in Maine. The ship will be 509 feet long, have a beam length of 59 feet, and be capable of operating at speeds in excess of 30 knots.
In July, 2017, Politico writer Zach Dorfman wrote an in-depth piece on Chinese intelligence gathering in the Silicon Valley area of California. The piece was focused on China’s acquisition of modern tech, but a small blurb in the middle of the piece noted that one of Senator Dianne Feinstein’s staffers reported to the Chinese Ministry of State Security, China’s foreign intelligence agency.
California State Senator Dianne Feinstein, take a group photo with Sailors and Marines from California at Camp Fallujah, Iraq.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. Blankenship)
Politico’s sources were only referred to as “noted former intelligence officials.” The San Francisco Chronicle took the opportunity to investigate further. The newspaper’s source was an unnamed local who confirmed the FBI showed up at the Senator’s office in Washington in 2013 to address the incident. The FBI alleged the Senator’s driver was recruited by Chinese MSS and reported back to the Chinese consulate in San Francisco.
The Chronicle noted that the driver was only her driver in San Francisco, but he did attend functions for her at the Chinese consulate. The FBI apparently concluded that the driver didn’t have access to anything of substance and couldn’t have revealed anything to the Chinese. The newspaper says Feinstein forced the driver to retire and that was the end of it.
President Trump, joined by, from left to right, U.S. Senators John Cornyn, Dianne Feinstein, and Marco Rubio, February 28, 2018, in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington, D.C.
(White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
This all happened five years ago.
Feinstein’s communist spy story is reemerging this week due to a Twitter exchange between the Senator and President Trump, who mocked Senator Feinstein for a two-year investigation about the spy.
San Francisco’s local CBS affiliate KPIX talked to former FBI agent and security analyst Jeff Harp about the incident. Harp was running counter-espionage activities in the city, saying Chinese spies would be interested in everything from business, research, and politics to diplomatic secrets. He says politicians are trained what to say and what not to say around people who don’t have security clearances, but noted that 20 years is a long time to be around someone day in, and day out — and slip-ups are possible.
“Think about Dianne Feinstein and what she had access to,” said Harp. “One, she had access to the Chinese community here in San Francisco; great amount of political influence. Two, correct me if I’m wrong, Dianne Feinstein still has very close ties to the intelligence committees there in Washington, D.C.”
The Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk returned to homeport in Key West Jan. 17 following a 53-day Eastern Pacific counter-drug patrol.
The cutter Mohawk crew successfully interdicted five vessels suspected of illegal narcotics smuggling resulting in the detention of 17 suspected smugglers and the seizure of over 3,000 kilograms of cocaine. The crew also helped free a sea turtle trapped in a life buoy hundreds of miles from shore. They worked alongside an aviation detachment from Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron, and crewmembers from Coast Guard Tactical Law Enforcement Detachment South.
While on patrol, the cutter conducted the first U.S. military vessel port visit to Corinto, Nicaragua in over a decade. The Mohawk crew hosted the Chief of Naval Operations for the Nicaraguan Navy and helped lay the groundwork for future Coast Guard and Naval vessel visits to Corinto for logistics and crew rest. During a port call in Huatulco, Mexico several crewmembers assisted local school children sponsored by the U.S. Embassy’s joint initiative with the Government of Mexico called “Jovenes En Accion” by working with students and community leaders to plant trees in support of a mangrove restoration project in Salina Cruz, Mexico. This area was hit hard by a major earthquake in September 2017.
The cutter Mohawk’s presence in the Eastern Pacific over the last two months directly supports the security of U.S. borders and the safety of its citizens. The Mohawk’s patrol efforts in the region directly impacted international criminal networks by denying them an estimated $100 million worth of profits from interdicted cocaine.
Homeported in Key West, the cutter Mohawk is a 270-foot Famous-class cutter named after the Algonquin tribe of the Iroquoian Indians who lived in the Mohawk Valley of New York. Mohawk’s were known for their camaraderie, determination in battle, and ingenuity for overcoming obstacles, traits which the current crew exemplifies daily. The cutter Mohawk’s motto is “Lifesaver – Enforcer – Defender.” Since commissioning in 1990, its main missions have been maritime law enforcement, search and rescue, and migrant interdiction. While at home port, the crew will continue to work diligently to prepare the cutter to return to sea.
Veterans denied basic mental health care service benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs because of an “other than honorable” discharge may soon be able to receive the care they need.
The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday unanimously passed the Veteran Urgent Access to Mental Healthcare Act, spearheaded by Rep. Mike Coffman, a Colorado Republican and Marine Corps combat veteran.
“Today, this House sent a critical message to our men and women in uniform,” Coffman said in a release. “That message is that you are not alone. We are here to help those suffering from the ‘invisible’ wounds of war.
“The passage of [this bill] is an important bipartisan effort to ensure that our combat veterans receive the mental health care services they need. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to get this bill across the finish line,” he said.
The legislation, H.R. 918, would require the VA to provide initial mental health assessments and services deemed necessary, including for those at risk of suicide and or of harming others, regardless of whether the individual has an “other than honorable” discharge.
Currently, individuals who have such discharges, known as “bad paper,” are not eligible for veteran benefits beyond some emergency mental health services. Veterans who received a dishonorable or bad-conduct discharge would still be ineligible to access the services.
“It’s important that we give all of our combat veterans, irrespective of the discharges they receive, access to mental health care through the Veterans [Affairs Department],” Coffman told Military.com during an interview in February, when he reintroduced the bill.
He is the only House member to serve in both the first Iraq War and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
At the time, Coffman said of the “bad-paper” separations, “I question the nature of the discharges in the first place, and I’m exploring that.”
The bill applies to those with other-than-honorable discharges who served in a combat zone or area of hostilities; piloted unmanned aircraft; or experienced a military sexual trauma.
The VA secretary can sign off on outside care if specific care at a VA facility is clinically inadvisable; or if the VA is unable to provide necessary mental health care due to geographic location barriers.
H.R. 918 also requires the VA to establish a formal “character of service” determination process, triggering reviews of the “character of discharge” for potential eligibility of VA benefits.
High Ground Veterans Advocacy, a grassroots organization training veterans to become leaders and activists in their local communities, has advocated for the move.
“There are some veterans out there who’ve been waiting for this day for decades — but there’s still a fight ahead of us,” said High Ground founder and chairman Kristofer Goldsmith.
“Until the Senate passes this bill, and the president signs it — some of our nation’s most vulnerable veterans, who served between Vietnam and today’s Forever Wars, are being denied the holistic care that they deserve from the VA,” he said in an email.
Goldsmith continued, “Today, the House recognized that the United States has failed to care for hundreds of thousands of veterans in the way that they deserve — veterans who were administratively discharged and stripped of a lifetime of essential benefits without the right to due process.
“But the problem isn’t yet fixed. Until Congress holds hearings dedicated to looking at the problem of bad-paper discharges, we won’t have all available solutions on the table,” he said.
Foreign intelligence agents are using online platforms and videoconferencing apps to spy on Americans, TIME reported, citing several US intelligence officials.
Chinese spies, in particular, have exploited the coronavirus pandemic to get information about American companies as they take their operations digital and offices across the US shut down amid stay-at-home orders.
The video conferencing app Zoom has proven particularly susceptible to cyber intrusions because of its popularity — Zoom’s CEO said the number of people using the app jumped from 10 million in December to 200 million in March — and lack of encryption.
Hackers targeting the platform, dubbed “Zoombombers,” have disrupted events like doctoral dissertations, Sunday school, city council meetings, online classes at universities, and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
Even the FBI weighed in on the matter, warning schools, in particular, to be wary of hackers infiltrating online meetings and calls to post pornographic imagery and hate speech.
Now, TIME reported, Zoom is becoming a playground for foreign spies, as operatives from countries like Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea target Americans’ video chats.
“More than anyone else, the Chinese are interested in what American companies are doing,” one official told the outlet.
Zoom, moreover, is more vulnerable to intrusion by Chinese cyberspies because some of its encryption keys are routed through Chinese servers, according to a report this month from The Citizen Lab, a research group at the University of Toronto.
The report also found that Zoom owns three companies in China, at which at least 700 employees are paid to develop Zoom’s software.
“This arrangement is ostensibly an effort at labor arbitrage: Zoom can avoid paying US wages while selling to US customers, thus increasing their profit margin. However, this arrangement may make Zoom responsive to pressure from Chinese authorities,” the report said.
Indeed, the coronavirus pandemic is a blessing in disguise for intelligence agencies in China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and other rogue regimes, many of whom have adapted to using cyberwarfare to carry out their objectives.
As people across the world are forced to stay home and work remotely, they’re increasingly vulnerable to cyberattacks and disinformation — two tools that are more useful than ever to foreign spies.
These methods are also cheaper to employ and require less financial investment than traditional methods of intelligence gathering, giving countries like China and Russia a leg-up as they compete against more financially stable countries like the US.
“For the past several weeks, supporting this influx of users has been a tremendous undertaking and our sole focus,” Zoom’s CEO, Eric Yuan, wrote in a blog post. “However, we recognize that we have fallen short of the community’s — and our own — privacy and security expectations.”
Yuan announced that the company will freeze its feature updates for 90 days while it addresses privacy and security issues. He said Zoom will also conduct a “comprehensive review with third-party experts” to ensure it’s taking the necessary steps to protect user privacy.
In the meanwhile, several US lawmakers have called for investigations into Zoom’s security, and some state attorneys general are examining the matter as well.
Joe Quinn, a West Point graduate and the current Director of Leadership Development for Team Red, White Blue (RWB), has been hand-selected as in the incoming Executive Director for Headstrong, a non-profit organization that provides post-9/11 military veterans with free mental health care. He’ll begin his new role on Jan. 1, 2018.
U.S. Marine Zach Iscol, Chairman and Co-Founder of The Headstrong Project (and a previous veteran-to-watch on WATM’s Mighty 25) personally attested to Quinn’s character in the announcement made to the Headstrong team:
Despite graduating from West Point, Joe has had an exemplary and impressive career. He deployed twice to Iraq, served as an advisor to General Petraeus’ Counterinsurgency Advisory and Assistance team’s in Afghanistan, and earned a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard. As the Director of Leadership Development at Team RWB, a leading Veteran Service Organization, he has managed their growth to a major national organization and personally developed nearly 2,000 community leaders.
No stranger to service-after-service (Team RWB enriches the lives of vets by connecting them to their community through various activities), Quinn’s own letter to the Team RWB family was filled with sentiment, purpose, and praise for his team:
Beginning January 1st, I’ll be the next Executive Director of the Headstrong Project, an organization that heals the hidden wounds of war through stigma-free, bureaucracy-free, cost-free, evidence-based treatments. At Headstrong, we are going to lead a vast movement across the country that heals the hidden wounds of war to help prevent veteran suicide. This is only the beginning, and I couldn’t be more excited about this opportunity.
Quinn is a highly respected member of the veteran community, and one who knows the space and is connected to the vets he serves. He’s someone to watch out for in the coming year and we can’t wait to see what good he’ll do for veterans next!
The Army is now performing concept modeling and early design work for a new mobile, lethal, high-tech future lightweight tank platform able to detect and destroy a wider range of targets from farther distances, cross bridges, incinerate drones with lasers and destroy incoming enemy artillery fire – all for the 2030s and beyond.
The new vehicle, now emerging purely in the concept phase, is based upon the reality that the current M1A2 SEP Abrams main battle tank can only be upgraded to a certain limited extent, senior Army officials explained.
The Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, or TARDEC, is now immersed in the development of design concepts for various super high-tech tank platforms, Maj. Gen. David Bassett, Program Executive Officer, Ground Combat Systems, told Scout Warrior in an exclusive interview.
Bassett emphasized the extensive conceptual work, simulation and design modeling will be needed before there is any opportunity to “bend metal” and produce a new tank.
“We’ve used concept modeling. What are the limits of what you can do? What does a built from the ground up vehicle look like? We are assuming, if we are going to evolve it, it is because there is something we can’t do in the current vehicle,” Basset explained.
The new tank will emerge after the Army first fields its M1A2 SEP v4 upgraded Abrams tank in the 2020s, a more lethal Abrams variant with 3rd Generation Forward Looking Infrared Sensors for greater targeting range and resolution and more lethal Advanced Multi-Purpose, or AMP ammunition combining many rounds into a single 120mm round.
The AMP round will replace four tank rounds now in use. The first two are the M830, High Explosive Anti-Tank, or HEAT, round and the M830A1, Multi-Purpose Anti -Tank, or MPAT, round.
The SEP v4 variant, slated to being testing in 2021, will also include new laser rangefinder technology, color cameras, integrated on-board networks, new slip-rings, advanced meteorological sensors, ammunition data links and laser warning receivers.
However, although Army developers often maintain that while the latest, upgraded high-tech v4 Abrams is much more advanced than the first Abrams tanks produced decades ago, there are limits to how much the existing Abrams platform can be upgraded.
A lighter weight, more high-tech tank will allow for greater mobility in the future, including an ability to deploy more quickly, handle extremely rigorous terrain, integrate new weapons, cross bridges inaccessible to current Abrams tanks and maximize on-board networking along with new size-weight-and-power configurations.
Although initial requirements for the future tank have yet to emerge, Bassett explained that the next-generation platform will use advanced sensors and light-weight composite armor materials able to achieve equal or greater protection at much lighter weights.
“We will build in side and underbody protection from the ground up,” Bassett said.
Bassett said certain immediate changes and manufacturing techniques could easily save at least 20-percent of the weight of a current 72-ton Abrams.
The idea is to engineer a tank that is not only much more advanced than the Abrams in terms of sensors, networking technology, force tracking systems, an ability to control nearby drones and vastly increased fire-power – but to build a vehicle with open-architecture such that it can quickly accommodate new technologies as they emerge.
For instance, Bassett pointed out that the Abrams was first fielded with a 105mm cannon – yet built with a mind to potential future upgrades such that it could be configured to fire a 120mm gun.
“The vehicle needs to have physical adaptability and change and growth ability for alterations as one of its premises – so it can learn things about energy and power and armor. The Army really needs to think about growth as an operational need,” Rickey Smith, Deputy Chief of Staff, G-9, Training and Doctrine Command, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
Smith explained how, for example, Humvees were not built for the growth necessary to respond to the fast-emerging and deadly threat of roadside bombs in Iraq.
The new tank will be specifically engineered with additional space for automotive systems, people and ammunition. As computer algorithms rapidly advance to allow for greater levels of autonomy, the Abrams tank will be able to control nearby drones using its own on-board command and control networking, service developers said.
Unmanned “wing-man” type drones could fortify attacking ground forces by firing weapons, testing enemy defenses, carrying suppliers or performing forward reconnaissance and reconnaissance missions while manned-crews remained back at safer distances.
Bassett, and developers with General Dynamics Land Systems, specifically said that this kind of autonomy was already being worked on for current and future tanks.
Active protection systems are another instance of emerging technologies which will go on the latest state-of-the-art Abrams tanks and also quite likely be used for the new tank. Using computer algorithms, fire control technology, sensors and an interceptor of some kind, Active Protection Systems are engineered to detect, track and destroy incoming enemy fire in a matter of milliseconds.
The Army is currently fast-tracking an effort to explore a number of different APS systems for the Abrams. General Dynamics Land Systems is, as part of the effort, using its own innovation to engineer an APS system which is not a “bolt-on” type of applique but something integrated more fully into the tank itself, company developers have told Scout Warrior.
The use of space in the new vehicle, drawing upon a better allocation of size-weight-and-electrical power will enable the new tank to accommodate better weapons, be more fuel efficient and provide greater protection to the crew.
“If you have less volume in the power train, you can get down to something with less transportability challenges,” he said. “If you add additional space to the vehicle, you can take out target sets at greater distances.”
While advanced Abrams tanks will be using a mobile Auxiliary Power Unit to bring more on-board electrical power to the platform for increased targeting, command-and-control technologies and weapons support, mobile power is needed to sustain future systems such as laser weapons.
The Army cancelled its plans for a future Ground Combat Vehicle, largely for budget reasons, some of the innovations, technologies and weapons systems are informing this effort to engineer a new tank for the future.
Design specs, engineering, weapons and other innovations envisioned for the GCV are now being analyzed for the new tank. In particular, the new tank may use an emerging 30mm cannon weapon planned for the GCV – the ATK-built XM813.
The XM813, according to Army developmental papers, is able to fire both armor-piercing rounds and air-burst rounds which detonate in the air in proximity to an enemy in defilade, hiding behind a rock or tree, for example.
The computer-controlled and electronically driven weapon can fire up to 200 rounds per minute, uses a dual-recoil firing system and a semi-closed bolt firing mode, Army information says.
Light Weight 120mm Cannon
The new tank may quite likely use a futuristic, lightweight 120mm cannon first developed years ago for the Army’s now-cancelled Future Combat Systems, or FCS; FCS worked on a series of “leap-ahead” technologies which, in many instances, continue to inform current Army modernization efforts.
The FCS program developed next-generation sensors, networking, robots and a series of mobile, high-tech 27-ton Manned-Ground Vehicles, or MGVs.
The MGVs included a Non-Line-of-Sight artillery variant, Reconnaissance and Surveillance, Infantry, Medical and Command-and-Control variants, among others. One of the key vehicles in this planned future fleet was the Mounted Combat System, or MCS.
The overall MGV effort was cancelled by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates in 2009 because Gates felt that the 27-ton common chassis was not sufficiently survivable enough in a modern IED-filled threat environment.
Although the MGVs were engineered with a so-called “survivability onion” of networked sensors and active protection systems to identify and destroy approaching enemy fire at great distances, many critics of FCS felt that the vehicles were not sufficient to withstand a wide range of enemy attacks should incoming fire penetrate sensors or hit targets in the event that the sensor malfunctioned or were jammed.
The Army’s MCS program developed and test-fired a super lightweight 120mm cannon, called the XM360, able to fire existing and emerging next-generation tank rounds. The lightweight weapon being developed for the MCS was two-tons, roughly one-half the weight of the existing Abrams 120mm cannon.
The MCS was to have had a crew of two, a .50 caliber machine gun, and a 40mm automatic grenade launcher.
In fact, the Army’s recent Combat Vehicle Modernization Strategy specifically mentions the value of adapting the XM360 for future use.
Next-Generation Large Caliber Cannon Technology. The XM360 next-generation 120mm tank cannon integrated with the AAHS will provide the M1 Abrams a capability to fire the next generation of high-energy and smart-tank ammunition at beyond line-of-sight (LOS) ranges. The XM360 could also incorporate remote control operation technologies to allow its integration on autonomous vehicles and vehicles with reduced crew size. For lighter weight vehicles, recoil limitations are overcome by incorporating the larger caliber rarefaction wave gun technology while providing guided, stabilized LOS, course-corrected LOS, and beyond LOS accuracy
Bassett said the potential re-emergence of the XM360 is indicative of the value of prototyping and building subsystem technologies.
The MCS was test-fired at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Md., in 2009. The platform used an aluminum turret and three-man crew using an automatic loading system. Also, the MCS was engineered to fire 120mm rounds up to 10 kilometers, what’s called Beyond-Line-of-Sight using advanced fire control and targeting sensors, General Dynamics developers explained at the time.
Special new technology was needed for the XM360 in order to allow a lighter-weight cannon and muzzle to accommodate the blast from a powerful 120mm tank round.
Elements of the XM360 include a combined thermal and environmental shroud, blast deflector, a composite-built overwrapped gun, tube-modular gun-mount, independent recoil brakes, gas-charged recuperators, and a multi-slug slide block breech with an electric actuator, Army MCS developmental documents describe.
Smith added that a lighter-weight, more mobile and lethal tank platform will be necessary to adjust to a fast-changing modern threat environment including attacking RPGs, Anti-Tank-Guided Missiles and armor-piercing enemy tank rounds. He explained that increased speed can be used as a survivability combat-enhancing tactic, adding that there are likely to be continued urban threats in the future as more populations migrates into cities.
“Never forget what it is you are trying to use it for,” Smith said.
Hundreds of defectors from Islamic State have massed in Syria’s Idlib province, with many planning to cross the nearby Turkish border and find ways back to the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe.
Several dozen former fighters have already made it across the heavily patrolled frontier to towns and cities in Turkey’s south in recent weeks, the Guardian has confirmed. Four Saudi Arabian extremists arrived in a southern Turkish community in early September after paying smugglers $2,000 each for the perilous journey past border guards who have shot dead scores of infiltrators this year alone.
The exodus of fighters from areas controlled by ISIS to other parts of Syria and Iraq has continued throughout the past year, as the terror group has lost much of its former heartland to a concerted assault by Iraqi troops, forces allied to the Syrian regime and a US-led air coalition in both countries.
However, large numbers of militants and their families are now trying to leave the war-battered states altogether – posing significant challenges to a global intelligence community that, for the most part, views them as a hostile and unmanageable threat, and sees limited scope for their reintegration.
A Saudi national who fled Syria in late August told the Guardian that as many as 300 former ISIS members, many of them Saudis, had established a community north of Idlib city, which is now dominated by the al-Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra.
“Most want to leave, like me,” said the 26-year-old, who called himself Abu Saad. “A lot of them realise that the group they were with tricked them. Others don’t trust Nusra. There are not many who believe that the people that they were with were on the right path.”
Abu Saad said the Saudi nationals, as well some Europeans, Moroccans, and Egyptians, had gathered together as a buffer against al-Nusra, which has exerted its influence across Idlib and the surrounding countryside by toppling its rivals. ISIS has not had an organised presence in the area since early 2014 when it was ousted by a rebel assault that saw its members flee east to the town of al-Bab in the Aleppo hinterland and further into Minbij, Tabqa, Raqqa, and Deir Azzour.
Former members of the group, however, have steadily been returning to Idlib and seeking refuge since late 2015. “That was when I left,” said Abu Saad, speaking days after he arrived in southern Turkey. “Others joined me later, and more are coming now.”
The full scale of the extremist exodus from ISIS-held parts of Iraq and Syria remains unclear, with most of the land it conquered having been recaptured, leaving a divided and demoralized rump with next to nowhere to hide. One of ISIS’s two main centers of power – Mosul in Iraq – fell in February, and the other – Raqqa in Syria – is slipping further into the hands of US-backed Kurdish forces who had already hounded the group from most of Syria’s northeast.
Tens of thousands of ISIS fighters are believed to have been killed in the battle to retain territory it seized from mid-2014, and thousands more homegrown extremists are believed to have returned to their communities.
But the numbers of foreign fighters who have survived and are looking to return to their homes have been more difficult to gauge. So too have the true intentions of men who had allied themselves to the world’s most feared terror group during its ascendancy, but claim no further part of it as its reach and influence dwindles.
French officials have said privately that they would rather that nationals who traveled to join ISIS died on battlefields and have no plans to support those who now want to return. Other European states have expressed similar sentiments.
ISIS defectors had at one point been of high interest to intelligence agencies who had made little ground in penetrating the group as it consolidated a hold on swaths of Syria and Iraq and plotted attacks in Europe and beyond.
As the group has capitulated, MI6, the CIA, and France’s DGSE have had increasing access to informants whom they have met within Kurdish controlled areas of Syria’s northeast and in northern Iraq. The increased access to informants with real-time information has left those who fled earlier with less leverage over governments who might otherwise have agreed to talk with them.
“It’s a lot better than it used to be,” said one intelligence official. “We have a more complete picture than we did.”
Abu Saad said he would not return to Saudi Arabia if doing so meant a prison sentence. “A rehabilitation program? Maybe,” he said. “I went to Syria some time in 2012. I went to support the Syrian people and in the first few months I was with the Muhajirin.”
“It wasn’t until early the next year that my unit swore allegiance to ISIS. It was a poisoned flower. It wasn’t what I expected.”
As the group’s fate worsened, tensions increased within its ranks, Abu Saad claimed. Summary executions were carried out on increasingly flimsy pretexts, such as insubordination, or making contact with Syrian opposition groups, he said. Over time, arguments about the ideology and theology also intensified.
“They don’t understand the Tawheed (the oneness of God). They are always arguing about it. I saw no justice with them. I saw cruelty. But how could I disagree? It had such a hierarchy. Everyone has a boss who they are afraid of. And above them all was [ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.] He was the ultimate authority and no one could argue with him about religious law. If you tried to defy them about anything, you put yourself in danger.”
“My job was to inspect prisons. If there were abuses then I would report on them. One time in Minbij, there was a lady in a cell for 13 days with no toilet and no water for cleaning. She was there because she threatened to kill a man who had killed her husband. There was worse than that though. There were people in prison who had done nothing wrong at all.
“In Idlib, there are around 300 people trying to escape. Many of them are Saudis. Some want to see their families one last time and they say they will accept what’s coming to them. I don’t know any of them who believe in the [Islamic] State. They all ran away for a reason.”
The last of the Marine Corps‘ remaining EA-6B Prowlers have wrapped up their final mission in the Middle East, where they supported troops taking on the Islamic State group. Now, the electronic-warfare aircraft will soon be headed to the boneyard.
More than 250 members of Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 2 are returning to North Carolina after spending seven months operating out of Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. The squadron — the last to fly the service’s decades-old electronic-warfare aircraft — is only about four months away from being deactivated.
But that didn’t slow the Death Jesters downrange, where they were tapped with supporting two campaigns simultaneously: Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and Syria, and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan.
“The mission of the Prowler is and always has been to deny, degrade and disrupt the enemy’s use of the electromagnetic spectrum,” said Capt. Robert Ryland, an electronic-countermeasures officer with VMAQ-2. Being based in Qatar, he added, allowed them to respond to missions for both operations.
Ryland declined to specify how many flight hours the crews flew throughout the deployment, due to operational security concerns. But the operational tempo remained high throughout the deployment, he said.
A U.S. Marine Corps EA-6B Prowler.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael B. Keller)
“The presence of electronic warfare is extremely important to the supported unit,” he said. “Though this is the final EA-6B deployment, the need for electronic warfare will remain high worldwide in the future.”
The Marines were called on to support not only U.S. ground troops, but coalition forces as well. From planning missions to executing them, the squadron worked with troops from several countries.
“There were a lot of people on this deployment who’ve dedicated their entire lives to this aircraft, its community and most importantly, the electronic-warfare mission,” Ryland said.
The end of an era
The Prowler has been a part of the Marine Corps’ aviation arsenal since the Vietnam era. The aircraft has been vital on the battlefield, since, including during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and now in the fight against ISIS terrorists.
Seeing the Prowler used all the way up until its sundown says a lot about its capabilities, said 1st Lt. Sam Stephenson, a spokesman for 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. Despite the aircraft’s age, Ryland said the Marines with VMAQ-2 were able to maintain high readiness throughout this final deployment.
“There’s sometimes a bit of a misconception that old equals having a hard time getting jets airborne, but that’s actually not the case with the Prowler,” he said.
Ryland credits their skilled maintainers, who’ve worked on Prowlers for a long time. Some joined VMAQ-2 when other Prowler squadrons deactivated.
Now as VMAQ-2 prepares to deactivate, too, the Marines with this squadron are on the lookout for new opportunities. Some will transition to other Marine Corps aircraft, join a different branch, or leave the military when their service time is up, Ryland said.
“Everybody has their own personal plan for what they’ll do next,” Ryland said.
Lt. Col. Greg Sand, EA-6B requirements officer with Marine Corps headquarters, told Military.com in 2017 that the Prowler’s sunset wouldn’t force anyone out of the Marine Corps.
Three EA-6B Prowlers.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. N.W. Huertas)
If Marines weren’t selected to transfer to work on another aircraft, he said they could always serve in B-billets or support their headquarters. And some with EA-6B aircrews were also transitioning to work with drone squadrons, he said.
Despite the end of the Prowlers’ era, the need for electronic-warfare capabilities on the battlefield isn’t going away. Throughout the aircraft’s sundown process, Stephenson said the Marine Corps has been building up a suite of new electronic-warfare capabilities across the Marine air-ground task force.
According to Marine Corps planning documents, that includes pods or sensors that can be affixed to other aircraft and new signals intelligence and cyber capabilities.
“This will be the new way the Marine Corps plans to transition from utilizing the Prowlers to a more distributed strategy where every platform contributes and functions as a sensor, shooter and sharer and [includes] an EW node,” Stephenson said.
Marine units heading to sea or combat are already carrying some of those capabilities, Sand said. They offer commanders a great deal of flexibility, since they can be added to fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft.
“A MAGTF commander can just walk out onto a flightline now, see the asset, and he or she owns that asset and can task that asset,” Sand said.
And Marine ground troops will still be able to call on joint forces when they need airborne electronic attack capabilities, he added.
“The Prowler in practical terms has been replaced in additional capacities by the Navy [EA-18G] Growler,” Sand said. “That’s a Super Hornet … with a pretty fierce EW capability. The Growler really is the follow-on to the Prowler.”
For now, VMAQ-2 still has a few months of work left before the Prowlers’ final flights. When the squadron does get ready to say goodbye to its beloved aircraft in March 2019, Ryland says they’ll hold a sundown ceremony at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina. Any Marine who worked with the Prowler, whether a year or decades ago, is invited to attend.
“The Prowler has been a really incredible workhorse for the Marine Corps, the United States and allied forces for many, many decades,” Ryland said. “I know the people who fly and fix these aircraft have a lot of respect for them and certainly for those who came before us.
“There is a tremendous amount of hard work and training that goes into performing the Prowler mission,” he added. “It’s a great honor, every time I get to fly in one.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
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The U.S. Coast Guard’s only operational heavy icebreaker, the Polar Star, recently completed a mission to cut a resupply channel through Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea, but the ship’s 150-strong crew grappled with engine failure and flooding during the trip.
The Seattle-based Polar Star left port in December for Antarctica to support Operation Deep Freeze 2018, the U.S. military’s contribution to the U.S. Antarctic Program, which is run by the National Science Foundation. The Polar Star was charged with clearing a path through 15 miles of ice — some of it up to 10-feet thick.
The Polar Star traveled through nearly 300 miles of pack ice before it reached fast ice, which is ice that’s actually connected to Antarctica, on Jan. 8, the Coast Guard said. After passing through the fast ice, the Polar Star reversed course to break the ice up further, clearing a channel for resupply ships.
“Although we had less ice this year than last year, we had several engineering challenges to overcome to get to the point where we could position ourselves to moor in McMurdo,” Polar Star commanding officer Capt. Michael Davanzo told Maritime Executive.
On Jan. 11 2018, there was a failure in one of the ship’s three main gas turbines, which produce the power needed for the ship’s propellers to break up thick, multi-year accumulations of ice. The Polar Star’s crew traced the problem to a programming error between the engine and the ship’s electrical system — which, like much of the ship, dates back to the 1970s.
Five days later, a shaft seal failed, allowing 20 gallons of frigid seawater a minute to flood the engine room. The crew responded quickly, stanching the flow with an emergency shaft seal. Afterward, they were able to remove the water from the ship’s engineering space and perform more permanent repairs on the faulty seal.
“The crewmembers aboard Polar Star not only accomplished their mission, but they did so despite extreme weather and numerous engineering challenges. This is a testament to their dedication and devotion to duty,” Vice Adm. Fred Midgette, commander of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Pacific Area, told Maritime Executive.
McMurdo Station, opened in 1955, is one of three stations operated year-round by the National Science Foundation and acts as a staging area for teams headed to the South Pole and other research stations deeper in Antarctica. It is built on the southernmost patch of solid ground that is still accessible by ship. Its average temperature in January, which is a summer month, is 26 degrees Fahrenheit. Summertime supply deliveries allow the station to stay open.
In addition to the Coast Guard, Air Force, Navy, Army, and National Guard personnel contribute to Operation Deep Freeze, which is led by Pacific Air Forces.
The Polar Star, which was commissioned in 1976, is the Coast Guard’s only operational heavy icebreaker, and it can break ice up to 21 feet thick. (It has one medium icebreaker, the Healy, which mainly does scientific work.) The Polar Star’s sister ship, the Polar Sea, was commissioned the same year but left service in 2010 because of repeated failures in its main engines.
In 2017, the Coast Guard determined that the Polar Sea would be too expensive to refurbish, even though its hull remains sound. The Polar Star was refurbished in 2012.
Many of the parts needed to keep the Polar Star running are no longer in production. Coast Guard personnel pull needed gear from the Polar Sea, but they’ve also had to order secondhand parts from eBay. The ship sails with a year’s supply of food in case it gets stuck.
Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft has said the Polar Star is “literally on life support,” and the service plans to build at least three heavy and three medium icebreakers to fill out the fleet. The first one is expected by 2023.
The harsh conditions in the polar regions take a toll on the 41-year-old Polar Star. It is scheduled to return to the U.S. in March, at which point it will go into drydock for repairs. It is the only Coast Guard cutter to go into drydock every year.
“If the Polar Star were to suffer a catastrophic mechanical failure, the nation would not be able to support heavy icebreaker missions like Operation Deep Freeze, and our nation has no vessel capable of rescuing the crew if the icebreakers were to fail in the ice,” Midgette told Maritime Executive.