MIGHTY SURVIVAL

Welcome to your first deployment, America

Welcome to your first deployment, America!

Thank you for your service.

Here we are, America. Over the last 10 days, we’ve entered into our own experience with the COVID-19 global pandemic that has catapulted the United States into unfamiliar waters. Early indicators saw a few isolated, regional cases followed abruptly by concerns in sports; particularly basketball. Clear warning signs from China and Italy forewarned us that things change gradually; until they change suddenly. The COVID-19 virus is clearly a dangerous enemy that, within 2-3 weeks, has resulted in 44,000 cases in all 50 states and over 500 deaths.


America, you’re new to sheltering in place, lockdowns, and travel restrictions. Understood. Mundane practices such as handwashing and covering your mouth were, until very recently, social niceties. Now they’re social mandates. Such is life on a deployment, America, where restrictions and hygiene are there for your safety. These things can work. Aside from a threat of nuclear war, you’ve enjoyed life over the last several decades free from a universally threatening entity that exposes you to acute and widespread danger.

Those of us in uniform are grateful for you have offer, “Thank you for your service!” in many ways through military discounts. Good for you! If I may now be of further service to you, America, and provide a few tips on how to survive (and thrive) now that we’re all in this deployment together.

Keep calm

Rational fear motivates unhelpful and irrational behavior. I haven’t seen any clear results on the effectiveness of a toilet paper stockpile on limiting disease progression. While COVID-19 is a clear and present danger, the relationship between the toilet paper stocks and the disease impact is not. We tend to collect comfort items and quasi-defensive items for those just-in-case moments. Today’s toilet paper is yesterday’s nuclear weapons. Such is the irrational behavior motivated by real threats to our comfort or safety. Military folks have experienced the “gas chamber” where you’re herded into a small building wearing gas masks. Required to stand there for 60-90 seconds for the full effect, you had to say your name and unit then proceed to the exit when instructed. I remember dropping my gas mask within full view of a Marine gunnery sergeant whose icy look created a cloud of doom around me. I quickly forgot about the gas chamber as I was schooled about the importance of staying calm and following instructions via flutter kicks and pushups. Keep calm, America, don’t drop your mask.

Carry on

Everyone matters and contributes to the mission. America, your social and occupational activities are more interconnected than you realize. You commute on the same interstates, fly out of the same airports, make picks on the same March Madness bracket (at least you did), and have a similar Monday through Friday rhythm. When deployed, your mission changes, into a team mission that includes keeping yourself and those around you healthy. Carrying a litter(or stretcher) is a team-task. Since 9/11/2001, many of us have unfortunately carried several litters. Not the fancy wheelio kind that roll and fold into an ambulance—the two-pole variety that requires strong bodies and support an injured or sick buddy. America, carrying on the daily business means recognizing fully that we are a team and that the COVID-19 mission requires that we will have to “carry a litter;” both figuratively and literally. Carry on, America, we’re all in this together.

Watch your muzzle: Safe weapon handling is a fundamental task that each Soldier must learn and never forget to execute. The barrel, or muzzle, of your weapon must always be pointed downrange safely away from others. The weapon is always treated as if loaded and we must trust one another to carry and utilize it safely for the sake of the team. The same now goes for an uncontrolled, uncovered cough in public—it’s as dangerous now as a mishandled weapon and a frank reminder that we all hold the safety of others in our hands. Watch your muzzle, America–cover your cough and point it safely downrange.

Care for equipment

Dust, dirt, and carbon buildup inside a Soldier’s weapon may impair it and cause a malfunction. Occasionally, poor maintenance will lead to a safety hazard for the user, but, more frequently it just doesn’t work. America, your hands are similar to a Soldier’s weapon. They can carry COVID-19 and many other bad things that could harm you or others. Take care of your equipment, America, wash your hands.

Find the guy with the guitar

Good music can be uplifting in hard times. Music helps to both remember and forget; necessary during these times. A guy with a guitar strumming praise songs, country songs, or anything else can be a welcome reprieve and a particular song can hold memories for years to come. “Beer for My Horses” by Toby Keith and Willie Nelson was one of my family’s deployment songs that I had burned onto a CD back when it was still legal in 2003 before Operation Iraqi Freedom started. Just hearing it now takes us right back to those times. Drew and Elie Holcombare fast becoming our pandemic YouTube and Spotify favorites; a few of their videos may have gone viral—er, my apology. Too soon, right?

Write your war story

Things are moving fast, America. You are being asked to do unfamiliar things like stay at home, be resourceful, and contribute in brave, new ways. America, you have doctors, nurses, truck drivers, grocery workers, utilities personnel and multitudes others who have been thrust unwittingly onto the front lines of this pandemic leaving new tales of heroes.

How will you account for this? I recall going to a battalion command update once as a new Captain where I heard crazy acronyms, jargon, inside jokes, and major issues being discussed in a confusing blur it was difficult to understand. A squad leader nearby was writing detailed notes in an impressively dog-eared 5×8″ green notebook that resonated with attention to detail with sketches and personal notes. He gave me a fresh notebook and started my unbroken legacy of journaling that yielded over two dozen volumes of key missions, notes to myself, lessons, books I’ve read, sustaining Bible verses, historical events—and coffee stains.

There is even a website where Soldiers share their own personal lessons called From The Green Notebook that chronicles the self-developmental benefits of writing for military personnel. Now as a senior officer, I am profoundly grateful for the tip that that NCO shared with me on how to keep the fast-moving details organized. Now is your time, America. As fast as things are moving, time is compressed and a week feels like an eternity ago.

America, I submit that the consequences disease and war are challenging. COVID-19 will mark our society earliest upon our hospitals, physicians, and nurses who will do their best to save our fellow citizens. Physical therapists, respiratory therapists, and many others will be needed to restore mobility and health to the many who recover. Rally to support those heroes and, if you’re one of them, I applaud you.

We should hope that COVID-19 kills some things around us, and it should claim them hard and mercilessly. Those things are caustic political partisanship, self-absorption, divisiveness and the wasting of precious resources. Infect those things, COVID-19, and relegate them to the dustbin of history. What a luxury it was when our major social distancing focus was upon Prince Harry and Megan Markle leaving the UK. Good times, America, good times. Instead of this vacuousness, may unity, teamwork, and the reality of our interconnectedness spring forth. Shared sacrifice develops deep bonds, America.

These are historic times you’re in, America. You’ve been here before. Over the next few weeks, if you’re having trouble keeping calm, carrying on, caring for your equipment, or finding the guy with the guitar, please keep your muzzle pointed downrange as we saddle up and face COVID-19 together. I want you on my team so that a few months from now we can raise up our glasses and it’ll be my turn to thank you for your service!

COL Theodore Croy is an Army physical therapist and the Dean of the Graduate School at the US Army Medical Center of Excellence located at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, TX and has 31 years of military service.

These views are those of the author and in no way represent any endorsements or the official views of the Department of Defense, Department of the Army, or the US Army Medical Center of Excellence.

MIGHTY TRENDING

North Korea just returned the remains of 55 Korean War dead

The remains of US servicemen who died in North Korea during the Korean War were provided to the US military on July 27, 2018, after President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed to work on repatriation efforts during their June 2018 summit.

North Korea is estimated to have returned 55 sets of remains on the same day of the 65th anniversary of the armistice that paused Korean War hostilities. Around 5,300 US remains are still believed to be in North Korea.


“We are encouraged by North Korea’s actions and the momentum for positive change,” the White House said in a statement. “The United States owes a profound debt of gratitude to those American service members who gave their lives in service to their country and we are working diligently to bring them home.”

“It is a solemn obligation of the United States Government to ensure that the remains are handled with dignity and properly accounted for so their families receive them in an honorable manner.”

A United Nations Honor Guard member carries remains during a dignified return ceremony at Osan Air Base, South Korea, July 27, 2018.

(Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kelsey Tucker)

The remains will be airlifted to a forensic lab in Hawaii, where the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency will perform identification tests, according to The Washington Post . The process will take several years and attempt to determine where the servicemen were missing or buried.

A formal repatriation ceremony will be held on Aug. 1, 2018, according to The White House.

Plans to return the remains appeared to be scuttled earlier in July 2018, after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo returned to the US after visiting North Korea for negotiations — following his visit, Pyongyang ramped up its rhetoric against the US in numerous propaganda messages and railroaded negotiations with US officials at the North-South Korean border.

If the remains are confirmed, the repatriation signals a win for Trump, who remained optimistic on their return after his first meeting with Kim at Singapore in June 2018. In a joint statement during the summit, Trump and Kim said their two countries would to work towards the “immediate repatriation” of US remains to “contribute to the peace and prosperity of the Korean Peninsula and of the world.”

“Great progress was made on the denuclearization of North Korea,” Trump said onTwitter in June 2018. “Hostages are back home, will be getting the remains of our great heroes back to their families, no missiles shot, no research happening, sites closing … Got along great with Kim Jong-un who wants to see wonderful things for his country.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

New pack design may save troops from fatigue and injuries

Lightning Packs, LLC has created what could be a ground-breaking new pack-frame design that appears to float while being carried, reducing fatigue. It may even generate power, the makers say.

“Our ergonomic backpacks use an innovative pulley system to reduce impact forces on the user by 80 to 90 [percent], which reduces exertion and injury,” according to the Lightning Packs website.


Lightning Packs founder and pack inventor Lawrence Rome is a muscle physiology expert, according to the company’s website. He also teaches at the University of Pennsylvania.

“We first designed, built under contract, and delivered a series of ergonomic and electricity-generating backpacks for personnel of the United States Army and Marine Corps. The ergonomic benefits of our design have been field-tested and approved by soldiers themselves,” the website states.

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The Army’s Communications-Electronics Research Development and Engineering Center put out a brief video in 2015 to showcase the new pack frame technology.

Yakira Howarth, of CERDEC’S Command, Power and Integration Directorate, said in the video that the frame “generates electricity through rotary motion that we can capture and use to trickle-charge any batteries or electronics that they have on them.”

“Our aim is for a net-zero soldier which means that whatever he is powering that is on him will be powered by what he is carrying on him at the same time,” she continued. “We are supporting tactical power for the small unit so we are continually gathering data and feedback from soldiers so that we can continue to improve the wearability of this working prototype.”

It’s unclear if the Army is still looking at the technology.

Lightning Packs now plans to market its new ergonomic backpack, the “Hoverglide,” on the commercial market, using Kickstarter.com to raise funding.

Using Suspended Load Technology, or SLT, the frame slides up and down as the weared walks to reduce “the accelerative forces that cause injuries and reduce mobility,” according to the website.

“The pack reduces the metabolic energy requirement by 40-80 watts, allowing a wearer to carry 8-12 extra pounds ‘for free,'” the website states.

The Hoverglide will be offered in several models for backpacking, commuting and light hiking. There will also be a tactical model which is about the size of a standard daypack or assault pack, according to the review website Hot-Newtech.

“Our company is ready to produce a pack that enables quicker, easier travel while reducing back pain and injury, [and] with your help, we can make that happen,” the Lighting Packs website states.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This viral letter from Santa helps military, first responder parents

When Stephanie Lynn found out that her husband had to work on Christmas, she came up with a way for her family to still celebrate the holiday together. In a letter from Santa that’s going viral, the mom explains to kids of military and first responder families that Christmas will be happening on a different day this year.

“I know sometimes your mom or dad can’t be home on Christmas Day because they’re working — keeping us safe and healthy,” the letter, which Lynn shared to Facebook on Dec. 11, 2018, reads. “I want your whole family to have a very special Christmas morning — together.”


Santa goes on to explain that he and the elves have set up special delivery days for the kids, from Dec. 23 to 27, 2018 (Lynn and husband Brent will be celebrating with her kids on the morning of the 24th, she says). There’s also an “other” option for families who aren’t able to be together during Christmas week.

“Always remember, Christmas isn’t about a box on the calendar, but the feeling we keep in our hearts,” Santa writes. “Thank you for being such great children, and sharing your moms and dads with us all when we need them the most.”

Lynn’s letter is receiving a lot of attention on social media, with almost 42,000 shares so far and over 7,100 likes, as parents in similar situations understand the struggle of “juggling shift work… on-call hours, deployments, TDYs, etc.”

Even NORAD, the popular Santa tracker, is spreading the word about Mr. Claus’ special deliveries, noting that while they do not report on them, those days are “no less special than the date of December 24.”

Because of the letter’s popularity, Lynn has since created other versions (the original was just for military and first responders) for medical professionals, pilots and flight crews, divorced families and just general use. “Merry Christmas- whatever day that may be for your family!” she writes.

This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

MIGHTY MOVIES

Marvel facial hair debate is raging just in time for ‘Mustache March’

Robert Downey Jr. just threw down the (infinity) gauntlet in front of his Avengers co-stars. Downey tweeted a picture of himself in between photos of Mark Ruffalo and Chris Evans. All three have mustaches, and Downey has a simple question: Who wore it best?

Ruffalo has a not quite pencil-thin, John Watters-esque lip sweater, Evans looks like he just pulled you over for doing 60 in a 55, and Downey looks just like Marc Maron, as one user pointed out. (Maron agreed.)


Marvel fans are nothing if not passionate, whether they’re coming up with mind-blowing, credible, elaborate Endgame theories, building detailed Lego recreations of pivotal scenes, or indoctrinating the next generation of MCU fanatics.

That’s to say that there were some strong opinions, but thankfully our world isn’t so dumb (yet) that people actually took this seriously. The Great Marvel Mustache debate was classic fun Twitter, so there were also plenty of animated gifs, memes, and general internet weirdness in the replies.

Even Ruffalo himself got in on the action. He whipped up a collage of himself rocking various ‘stache styles over the years. Or maybe he already had it ready to go, we honestly can’t say for sure.

Chris Evans has, sadly not yet weighed in, but we’re hoping to hear from him soon. Until then, he definitely has his defenders.

There are, at last count, a bajillion characters in the Marvel movies, and plenty of folks felt emphatically that Downey’s trio did not include the true Marvel mustache champion.

For our money, there is a correct answer, and we weren’t alone in making this selection. Several users replied with photos of the right guy, so without further ado, the greatest mustache in the Marvel Cinematic Universe obviously belongs to…

Now that we’ve settled that, it’s back to waiting to Endgame to finally hit theaters on April 26, 2019

This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

MIGHTY MOVIES

‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western

Author’s note: If you haven’t seen “The Mandalorian” yet, go watch it and come back — spoilers ahead. For the rest of you: this is the way.

The internet has been buzzing about “The Mandalorian,” the “Star Wars” series that follows a Mandalorian bounty hunter (of the same tribe and iconic armor as Boba Fett) who finds a young, force-sensitive creature who looks like a baby Yoda. The series hasn’t just produced a slew of new memes, it’s crushed the ratings on several platforms — IMDB has it at an 8.9, and Rotten Tomatoes rates it at 94 percent on the Tomatometer (with an audience score of 93 percent).


It has all the familiar, nostalgic elements of “Star Wars” — spectacular scenes in space, fun action-adventure, weird creatures, the conflict of good and evil, and, of course, the force. However, “The Mandalorian” also includes a host of cowboy movie tropes, which adds a freshness to the story. It’s not like any old Western we’ve seen — after all, it’s set in space with little alien wizards. It’s also not a repeat of other “Star Wars” stories because it’s basically an old Western set in a fantasy universe.

We can’t publish an article on “The Mandalorian” without showing “the child” at least once.

(Photo courtesy of Disney+)

In order to understand old Western films, we need to understand where they came from. Many of the old Western tropes are American, but some are borrowed from older Japanese cinema. The obvious connection is the Japanese classic “Seven Samurai” being remade into the American cowboy classic “The Magnificent Seven.” While this is the most famous connection between the two genres, it’s not the only one. The music, the stories, the filmmaking techniques — watch any film by Akira Kurosawa and you’ll see elements of the Western left and right.

“The Mandalorian” borrows from both.

It makes sense to begin with the Mandalorian’s religion — his weapons. Our protagonist carries around his handheld blaster and a disintegration rifle (known as a modified Amban Rifle). These are clearly the equivalent of a revolver and a rifle, the cowboy’s typical loadout in most Westerns. Mando generally draws and fires his blaster from the hip, just like the classic Wild West draw. Any bigger weapons brought onto the battlefield are typically large, mounted weapons — the equivalent of the evil antagonist breaking out a Gatling gun mounted to a train or on a tripod. The lasso is another quintessential tool for the cowboy of old Westerns — depicted in “The Mandalorian” by his grappling line. Mando wraps a few enemies up in his “lasso” throughout the story, hog-tying his targets.

The Mandalorian

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Several specific moments also call directly back to the films of the Wild West. For example, the classic “horse whisperer” scene where Mando tames and breaks a blurrg. He is bucked and thrown as the wise, old man watches from the edge of the corral. Finally, our hero mounts the beast and they ride into a few sunsets together.

We mentioned that the Japanese film “Seven Samurai” was the direct inspiration for “The Magnificent Seven” — both films feature bandits who are hell bent on raiding a village, forcing the townspeople to enlist the help of some elite warriors to train them and defend them against the next onslaught. Sound familiar? This same story played out in a chapter of “The Mandalorian” with some unique, sci-fi twists — we don’t remember an AT-ST in “Seven Samurai.”

The comparisons are obvious.

(Photo courtesy of Disney+.)

On top of congruent storylines, one of the most significant ways that Japanese cinema inspired old Westerns was with its music; “Star Wars” also features some of the most iconic music in film history. Ludwig Goransson’s score of “The Mandalorian” fuses the two by combining elements from old Westerns (and perhaps old Japanese films) like the heavy beating of drums with “primitive” sounding percussion, bizarre flutes, and interesting stringed instruments. The hollow melody of the main title would be just as at home if it was played over a lone gunslinger in the Wild West, riding off to save a small town from nefarious bandits. The score cloaks the Mandalorian himself in a shroud of mystery.

Start with some old Japanese film score elements, mix in a bit of Ennio Morricone, then top it off with heavy sprinkles of classic “Star Wars” sweeping scores — and you’ve got yourself a soundtrack fit for the halls of Mandalore.

“The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly” (left), and “The Mandalorian.”

(Photos courtesy of United Artists and Disney+.)

The setting and wardrobe also highlight the connection of this magical, dystopian science-fiction narrative to the Wild West. Most of the events in “The Mandalorian” are set in barren places — not on the lavish planet of Naboo or the bustling cities of Coruscant, but out in the lawless desert where guns and criminals abound. And Pedro Pascal (the Mandalorian) sports a cape eerily similar to how Clint Eastwood wears his poncho in classics like “A Few Dollars More” and “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Instead of high-tech visors, many of the inhabitants of these barren locations wear old-school goggles, and they wear their blasters low on their hip just like the cowboys we know from the Old West. The Mandalorian even keeps rounds strung across his chest — one wouldn’t expect the need for that in a science-fiction universe, but it all falls in line with the classic Western aesthetic.

A lot of old Westerns are films about rugged individualism. They follow rough characters who have to navigate their way through an even rougher world. The protagonist then finds at least one redeeming aspect about the unforgiving, desolate landscape on which they fight — something precious among the thorns. Upon that discovery, the cowboy or lawman or mercenary finds that their ability to fight, to be strong, to kill — it all suddenly has meaning — it suddenly turns into the ability to protect a village, a woman, a friend… or a child.

Jon Favreau has taken a beloved franchise and breathed new life into it by fusing it with these classic elements from old Western films, and it’s been a wild success. Audiences around the world have expressed how thrilled they are at this new installment of “Star Wars,” and I, for one, can’t wait for the second season.

Embedded With Special Forces in Afghanistan | Part 2

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This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the plane that nearly killed Chuck Yeager

Ask around — every veteran pilot has a few stories involving close calls. Some of these terrifying near-misses happen in combat and others during peacetime. Chuck Yeager, however, has the displeasure of experiencing both. In fact, his closest call had nothing to do with the enemy.


Back in the 1950s and ’60s, the United States Air Force was testing a number of planes, always trying to reach for the higher and faster. One such plane was the NF-104A Starfighter, a modification of the baseline F-104 that had a short career with the United States Air Force, but saw decades of service with other countries.

A West German F-104 Starfighter. In 1962, this plane crashed with three others, killing four pilots (one of them American).

(US Army)

The purpose of the NF-104A was to test reaction control systems for use in space (since conventional control surfaces need air to function). The F-104 was a great choice for this test. As a high-performance fighter, it could reach a top speed of 1,320 miles per hour, had a maximum range of over 1,000 miles, and maintained the ability to carry two tons of weapons. However, it also proved to be very difficult to fly, earning the nickname “Widowmaker” among the West-German Luftwaffe.

To reach the altitudes required for such a test, engineers paired a rocket with 6,000 pounds of thrust with the J79 engine (the same engine used by the F-4 Phantom). The NF-104A was able to reach altitudes as high as 12,000 feet. It was called the Aerospace Trainer.

A NF-104 Starfighter lights off its rockets to zoom to altitudes of as much as 120,000 feet.

Lockheed modified three F-104As taken from the boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base for the Aerospace Trainer program. Two of the three NF-104s crashed. Yeager’s was the first among them and perhaps the most dramatic. His NF-104A, delivered less than six week prior to the nearly fatal flight, went into a flat spin. Yeager fought the plane as it fell almost 10,000 feet before he ejected. He suffered burns, but lived to eventually command a fighter wing in Vietnam.

Learn more about the plane that nearly killed one of the most famous pilots in history in the video below!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FgToX-Fy42U

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MIGHTY CULTURE

WATCH: As death toll rises, Italian Air Force delivers hope

As haunting images from Italy of overcrowded emergency rooms and horror stories of Coronavirus flood social media, the Italian Air Force flew with a message of strength for her people. It was a reminder of pride for the country, unity in the face of grave danger and a prayer of resilience for a country beleaguered by an enemy we haven’t seen before: COVID-19.

Set to the backdrop of Giacomo Puccini’s ‘Nessum Dorma,’ performed by Luciano Pavarotti, the flyover is beautiful, chilling and more than anything … full of hope. Translated to English, the last lyrics of the song are, “I will prevail. I will prevail. I will prevail.” You will, Italy. And America will, too.

Watch the flyover:


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MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

As U.S. moves to exit Afghanistan, rivals prepare to swoop in

The U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was backed by most countries in the region, who shared the goal of ousting the extremist Taliban regime and eliminating the allied Al-Qaeda terrorist network.

The governments in Tehran, Moscow, and Islamabad readily helped the United States fight the extremist groups.


Iran provided crucial intelligence to support U.S. special forces and CIA teams orchestrating the invasion.

Russia supplied Soviet-era maps and intelligence and later allowed the U.S. military to send supplies to Afghanistan through its territory.

Even Pakistan, the chief backer of the Taliban, offered its assistance in helping hunt down Al-Qaeda militants and became the main supply line for NATO forces.

But in the intervening 19 years, the regional consensus favoring the U.S. troops in Afghanistan has eroded.

Though the U.S. military swiftly overthrew the Taliban and eliminated Al-Qaeda safe havens in Afghanistan, many feel it got bogged down in mission creep.

Meanwhile, Washington’s ties with many regional players — including Pakistan, Iran, and Russia — became toxic.

With U.S. forces scheduled to exit Afghanistan next year as part of a framework peace deal with the Taliban, Washington’s rivals see an opportunity to step in and expand their footprint in the war-torn country.

Those efforts have intensified since the United States and the Taliban signed a deal in February aimed at negotiating an end to the war, which began way back in 2001.

Under that agreement, U.S. forces will withdraw from Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which has pledged to negotiate a permanent cease-fire and power-sharing deal with the Kabul government.

The delayed intra-Afghan peace talks are expected to be complex and protracted, and will likely take years.

Impatient to end the costly and unpopular war, President Donald Trump is considering fast-tracking the exit of American troops ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November, according to U.S. media reports.

Experts say that in the absence of a peace deal, a U.S. military withdrawal could ignite a free-for-all that involves regional powers pursuing often competing interests in Afghanistan.

“The stage has already been set, with many key actors — including Russia and Iran — increasing their ties with both the Afghan state and the Taliban,” says Michael Kugelman, South Asia senior associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

“The objective is to develop more influence and generate more leverage with key actors across the board, so that they will be in a better position to pursue and achieve their goals in a post-America Afghanistan — a place we can expect to be increasingly unstable and complex.”

Iran, Pakistan, and Russia — with long histories of meddling in the country — are hedging their bets. The three countries have sought to improve their relations with the Western-backed government in Kabul, while also reaching out to the Taliban in case it gains a role in a future Afghan government.

Islamabad has retained its long-standing ties with the Taliban and shelters the group’s leadership, while Tehran and Moscow have been tacitly working to bolster their ties with the militants, with the goal of expanding their own strategic interests in Afghanistan.

‘Make The Taliban Even Stronger’

Pakistan has long been accused of playing a double game in Afghanistan, sheltering and aiding the Taliban while receiving billions in U.S. aid to clamp down on the militants.

Pakistan’s ties to the Taliban date back to the 1990s, when it provided arms, training, and intelligence to the militants. Islamabad was one of only three countries to recognize the Taliban government when it took power in Afghanistan in 1996. After the regime’s fall in 2001, many Taliban leaders took shelter inside Pakistan.

Observers say Pakistan sees the Taliban as an insurance policy for reaching its long-standing strategic goals in Afghanistan — installing a pro-Pakistan government in Kabul and limiting the influence of its archrival India, which has close ties to Kabul.

Experts say Pakistan stands to be the biggest beneficiary of a U.S. military pullout from Afghanistan.

“If a withdrawal leads to a peace process that results in a settlement, then Pakistan would benefit as this would likely entail the Taliban holding a fair share of power,” says Kugelman. “If the peace process collapses and the U.S. withdrawal ushers in a period of extended destabilization, Pakistan would still benefit because it would make the Taliban even stronger.”

‘Buffer Zone’

Iran has supported its traditional allies in Afghanistan — the Shi’ite Hazara minority and the Persian-speaking ethnic Tajiks — while recently establishing contacts with the Taliban, a predominately Pashtun group.

Iran and the Taliban were on the verge of war in 1998 — when the group controlled most of Afghanistan — after the deaths of eight Iranian diplomats in the Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif.

Tehran backed the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance before the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. But in recent years the Islamic republic and the Taliban have forged closer ties, with militant leaders even visiting Tehran.

The relationship between Shi’ite-majority Iran and the Taliban, a fundamentalist Sunni group, is complex. Iran officially opposes the Taliban, but experts say it provides some military support to the mainstream Taliban and even rival breakaway factions.

Analysts say that while Iran does not want the Taliban to return to power, Tehran is looking to maintain influence with the group as a hedge in case the Taliban becomes a political player in Afghanistan or it forcibly seizes control of the country.

“These initiatives serve the purpose of securing Iran’s sphere of influence in Afghanistan and perhaps even creating a buffer zone on Afghan soil to protect parts of Iran’s eastern borders from infiltration by forces hostile to Iran,” says Ali Alfoneh, a senior fellow at The Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

‘A Great Power’

For more than a decade after the U.S.-led invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin praised Washington for taking on the “burden” of fighting terrorism in Afghanistan and urged it to “carry it to the end.”

But since 2014, the Kremlin has attempted to undermine the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, fueled by Moscow’s desire to be an international power broker and its rivalry with the West in Ukraine and Syria, where Russia joined Iran in supporting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Moscow said it has established contacts with the Taliban in recent years because of the common threat posed by the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Afghanistan. Washington has accused Russia of arming the Taliban, which it denies.

In the past two years, Moscow has hosted two international conferences on the Afghan peace process, inviting Taliban leaders and Afghan opposition members.

Earlier this month, U.S. media reported that a Russian military intelligence unit had offered secret bounties to the Taliban if they killed U.S. or NATO-member troops in Afghanistan.

Moscow and the Taliban have denied the reports, which are based on U.S. intelligence assessments. But the revelations have served to highlight Moscow’s murky dealings in Afghanistan.

“Russia’s interests in Afghanistan are twofold: to avoid an explosion of chaos on the borders of what it considers its sphere of influence, and to use it as an opportunity to demonstrate and assert its claim to be a great power,” says Mark Galeotti, a Russia analyst and a senior associate fellow at the British-based Royal United Services Institute.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 Facts about Dwight Eisenhower’s time at West Point

Earlier this month, cadets arrived at West Point for “R day” or reception day, though social distancing and mask policy prompted by COVID-19 made this tradition look different than times past. Dwight Eisenhower, the school’s most famous alum, went through his own R-day in 1911. Even though the general and, later, president, will forever be associated with the Academy, a closer review of the history shows Eisenhower and West Point weren’t a perfect match. Here are five facts about Dwight Eisenhower’s time at West Point you might not know.


(US Army)

1. West Point wasn’t Eisenhower’s first choice.

It’s true. The academy that features a statue of Eisenhower, a leadership development program named for him and a theatre named after him, wasn’t Eisenhower’s first choice. Eisenhower initially preferred the Naval Academy. That makes sense because when Eisenhower was evaluating schools in 1910-1911, the U.S. demonstrated its military power through the Navy. Alas, Eisenhower, 20 at the time of his application, was too old for the Naval Academy, so he gave West Point a try. After some effort, Eisenhower was accepted, and he arrived at West Point on July 14, 1911.

2. Eisenhower was forced to join the “awkward squad” in his first weeks at West Point.

When students arrive at West Point, they are called plebes and hazing quickly begins. Upperclassmen at West Point initiate new students into the Army culture through rigorous physical and emotional tests known as the “beast barracks,” which involve a great deal of drilling. Having grown up in a rough-and-tumble farming town in Kansas, Eisenhower had no problem with the physical end of the ordeal. But he just could not catch onto the marching tempo and was forced to join similarly challenged plebes in the “awkward squad” until he could get the timing right.

3. Eisenhower didn’t like the hazing at West Point. 

Eisenhower didn’t enjoy the beast barracks and did all he could to undermine the system of hazing. Years later he described the cadet instructors as “obnoxious and pestiferous.” Later in his plebe year, Eisenhower and a fellow cadet broke a minor rule. As punishment, an upperclassman ordered them to report in “full-dress coat.” Eisenhower took the order literally and showed up sans pants, an act of defiance that drove his tormenter mad. Years later Eisenhower savored how that upperclassman let out “the cry of a cougar.” Eisenhower recalled later in life that when he was an upperclassman, he shamed a cadet over a job the young man had held. After that incident, Eisenhower resolved to no longer harass plebes. Eisenhower was no bully.

4. Eisenhower broke the rules at West Point — a lot. 

Eisenhower constantly broke the rules and regulations at West Point. The list of his demerits runs nearly 10 pages. Biographer Carlo D’Este writes that Eisenhower “seemed to relish every opportunity to outwit an instructor or upperclassman.” Eisenhower’s willful disregard for the rules pertaining to dancing, for example, brought him to the attention of the commandant. Eisenhower ignored an order not to, in his words, “whirl” a professor’s daughter during a dance. His willfulness led the commandant to demote him, confine him to barracks and order him to walk 22 laps.

(Wikimedia Commons)

5. Eisenhower was almost denied a commission at the end of his schooling at West Point.

Academics at West Point in the early 20th century did not encourage independent thinking. Instead, lessons involved what Michael E. Haskew called “mind-numbing rote memorization.” That approach led Eisenhower to devote his energies to football, a sport he had played in high school. Two weeks after competing against the legendary, Olympic gold medalist Jim Thorpe, Eisenhower suffered a major knee injury. That injury and others almost led an Army doctor to recommend that the future general be allowed to graduate but not receive a commission.

Eisenhower said he was fine with that and thought about a life in Argentina. When the doctor suggested he be commissioned in the Coast Artillery, Eisenhower objected, so West Point officials eventually settled on a commission in the infantry. Eisenhower graduated in 1915 and was deployed to the Mexican border, one of the least sought-after deployments in that era. In his first few years, Eisenhower’s requests to see combat in World War I were repeatedly denied, and he was pressured to coach football. Only through dogged persistence was he able to build a career for himself outside the confines of stateside training.

The class that graduated in 1915 would be referred to as the “Class the Stars Fell On.” (Wikimedia Commons)

Ultimately, the best parts of college for Eisenhower were the lessons he learned about leadership and the friends he made among his classmates. Those classmates, collectively known as the “class the stars fell on,” eventually rose high in the ranks and formed a cadre of allies Eisenhower would call upon later. Eisenhower sharpened his skills as a leader and realized that humiliating people did not motivate them. The obligations of service – duty, honor, country – so ingrained over those West Point years inspired Eisenhower throughout his military career, highlighted by his command of the D-Day invasion, and a political career that concluded with two terms as President of the United States.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How the Army museum is shaping up to be an amazing tribute to all soldiers

Museums aren’t just buildings constructed to hold relics of a bygone era so that bored school kids can sleepily shuffle around them. They’re rich representations of lives once lived; they’re a way to reflect on those who came before us so that we can learn the history of the men and women who shaped the world we all live in today.

This is what the National Museum of the United States Army, currently under construction at Fort Belvoir, VA, will offer once it’s opened to the public in 2020. As a living museum, it will encompass the full military history of the United States Army, from its humble beginnings as ragtag colonial militiamen in 1636 to the elite fighting force it is today — all to inspire the soldiers of tomorrow.


I’m going to go out on a limb and say the kid’s learning center probably won’t include a “shark attack” as the very first attraction.

(U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Casey Holley)

The construction of an Army museum has been a long time coming. Before ground was broken in September, 2016, the Army was the only branch of the Department of Defense without a standing national museum. It’s got a lofty price-tag of 0 million, but it’s actually paid for mostly through donors. Over 700,000 individuals and many corporations have given to museum.

The 84-acre site, where the installation’s golf course used to be, sits just thirty minutes from Arlington National Cemetery and will be open to the public. The 185,000 square-foot exterior of the building is already completed, but the interior is still under construction. The museum also has four of largest artifacts in place as the building needed to be constructed around them. It also has the potential to hold countless other artifacts, documents, and images, along with many pieces of artwork made by soldiers and veterans, or for the soldiers and veterans, on display.

Along with the historical exhibits will house the “Experiential Learning Center” for the kids. The area surrounding the museum will include an amphitheater, memorial garden, parade ground, and a trail to give the patrons a taste of life in the Army in both a fun and informative way.

This is amazing for many different reasons. First and foremost, it’s something that everyone should learn about. Every generation of soldier will have their own dedicated area of the museum and through a vast collection of artifacts, you’ll be able to see the evolution of our country’s defenders. Over 30 million men and women have served, and through the museum, all of them, across the nearly 250 years of history, will be represented on some manner.

It’ll also give veterans a place to take their kids of grandkids and say, “this is where we fought. This is why we fought. And this is how we did it.”

The museum seems to be striking the perfect balance between being light enough to keep children entertained while also being perfectly honoring all who have served in the Army.

MIGHTY MOVIES

Why you should pee before you watch ‘Avengers: Endgame’

The biggest Marvel superhero jamboree will also be the first one that will send moviegoers rushing to the bathroom as soon as they’ve sat through the inevitable post-credits scene. New rumors suggest that Avengers: Endgame will clock-in at 182 minutes, making it just over 3 hours total.

Over the weekend, this rumor popped-up on multiple outlets including We Got This Covered and Bounding Into Comics. It has not been confirmed by Marvel Studios or the directors, the Russo Brothers. Still, earlier in March 2019, the directors did admit that the initial cut of Endgame was close to three hours and that seemingly, test audiences are totally cool with it.


The directors also recently admitted that nearly every single trailer for the hotly-anticipated film contains scenes or images that have been manipulated to intentionally mislead audiences ahead of time, in order to preserve the huge spoilers the move has in store.

Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Endgame – Official Trailer

www.youtube.com

Avengers: Endgame will hit theaters on April 26, 2019, at which point, everyone will find out if the movie kills off every single superhero ever, or is, in fact, actually five hours long. Earlier this month, some fans discovered that on certain websites, Endgameis given a runtime of “zero minutes,” proving that Thanos has not only destroyed half the universe but also, perhaps, Marvel Studios, too.

This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Air Force’s new anti-fire foam is much less toxic

While the introduction of a new plane, ship, or tank will often make headlines, these aren’t the only important procurements done by the military. In fact, many crucial upgrades go unnoticed by the media, but they make a huge difference in the lives of troops.

Such was the case with the Air Force’s new firefighting foam. You might think that water is the best tool for putting out fires. Well, in some cases, using water can do more harm than good. That’s why, especially with aircraft, the military likes to use Aqueous Film Forming Foam, or AFFF, which has just been replaced with a newer version.

It wasn’t that the old foam was ineffective — far from it. The problem was that the foam came with some serious drawbacks. Most notably, the old foam was quote toxic, both to personnel and to the environment. The old version of AFFF made use of two chemicals, known as PFOS and PFOA. Both of these were unsafe for consumption in even the tiniest amounts (measured in parts per trillion).


Sometimes, it’s a bad idea to put water on a fire — which led to the development of specialized firefighting foam.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III)

The toxicity of the old foam was such that even after testing in a hangar, the Air Force was spending time and money doing hazardous materials mitigation. In a day and age when each defense dollar is precious, spending time and money on HAZMAT stuff after each practice run is a huge drain.

Tech. Sgt. Brian Virden and Master Sgt. Bryan Riddell, replace legacy firefighting foam at King Salmon Air Station, Alaska, with Phos-Chek 3 percent, a C6-based Aqueous Film Forming Foam. The new foam has far fewer toxins than the older foam.

(USAF)

The new foam, now completely rolled out, doesn’t have any PFOS and very little PFOA. This means that the costly mitigation process is sidestepped almost entirely. Plus, in the event of a real usage, the airmen will be exposed to a much lower level of toxins — which saves lives down the line.

Not having to do HAZMAT clean-up after tests like this can save time and money – both of which are factors in readiness.

(U.S. Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. William Powell)

In short, the introduction of the new AFFF didn’t generate headlines, but it is the type of small, behind-the-scenes move that enhances readiness across the service. A few small savings here, less time consumed there — you’d be surprised at how much a seemingly small change can improve the entire force.