Emergency physician Emily (who asked us to not use her last name) was knee-deep in flu season in Texas when the initial reports of coronavirus began surfacing.
“I was highly skeptical. It sounded very similar to the flu,” the 36-year-old Air Force veteran shared with We Are The Mighty. “Information out of China was obviously pretty filtered and somewhat difficult to interpret. Once I began hearing reports from physicians in Italy, this was probably late February, I started to become a bit alarmed. This was not the flu. It was much, much worse. It was going to be bad.”
Emily at work.
In early March, Texas hospitals began preparations for the anticipated surge of COVID patients.
“PPE [personal protective equipment] shortages were rapidly apparent, and the supply seemed to change daily, making our personnel protection protocols constant moving targets,” Emily explained. “Testing capabilities also fluctuated wildly, again making for daily — sometimes hourly — changes in how we performed testing. Going into work was a completely different experience every day. We had to quickly adapt to being comfortable with extreme flexibility.”
As the days passed, extreme flexibility would be crucial.
“When shelter-in-place orders took effect in our area [and] as people began staying home and elective hospital procedures were cancelled, emergency department volumes plummeted, as did hospital revenues,” she explained. “This led to drastic changes in how emergency departments were staffed. Down-staffing was warranted, because there just weren’t as many patients to see, but it was – and is – still having significant effects on the pay for these frontline workers.”
Emily, who works in three different hospitals across three different healthcare systems on a PRN [as needed] basis, typically works “at least full-time, some months even more so.” With low emergency room volumes, she expressed feeling underutilized.
“The PRN employees have been the first to go,” she shared. “My shifts have been cut back drastically. I have cherished the extra time with my family and my children, even as I am itching to go back to work. To have the skills to be of use and not have the opportunity to use them has been an unusual form of torture.”
Emily with her family.
She adds that COVID-19 has put a spotlight on the state of the U.S. healthcare system.
“Our healthcare system has been teetering on the verge of collapse for a long time,” she said. “The people who profit from our for-profit healthcare system are neither the doctors nor the patients. As I saw our system straining under the weight of COVID, I had hoped that it might finally break and give way to real and lasting reform. Instead, I have seen physicians losing their jobs for speaking out about their lack of PPE. I have seen physicians experiencing pay cuts, even as they work more, work harder, and in a more dangerous environment. When administrators who sit behind a desk feel empowered to dictate to their healthcare workers how often they have to reuse PPE, all the while handing out pay cuts to those exposing themselves to the greatest degree of risk, we have a serious problem.”
Through it all, and despite the gravity of the situation, Emily shares that coronavirus has provided her with professional clarity.
“COVID has been something of a crucible, reinforcing for me that emergency medicine is more of a calling than a job,” she said. “I have been fearful for my own personal safety as I have heard accounts of physicians falling ill, and even dying from complications of coronavirus. As a combat veteran, facing peril while in the line of duty is not foreign to me, but COVID has felt different — I never expected to be in danger while working in a stateside ER as a civilian. Despite the risk, I have felt an undeniable pull toward the Emergency Department, to use the skills I have spent years developing and the expertise I have gained from thousands of patient encounters to try and do some good. It has been good to feel like I can be of some use.”
Comedian Kevin Hart stepped down from hosting the coming Academy Awards Presentation, leaving the job empty for the time being. Enter Adam Keys: A veteran and triple amputee, Adam lost his limbs after suffering from an IED attack in Afghanistan that left him with a massive infection. 100 surgeries later, Keys has never lost his sense of humor.
Now, he wants to showcase that humor by stepping up to host this year’s Oscar ceremonies.
Keys isn’t aiming for the Oscar job just because he wants to further his comedy career. As the video says, he wants to show that veterans aren’t broken and people with disabilities are as capable as anyone else. He wants to showcase that on Hollywood’s biggest night, with the whole world watching.
There’s not much Adam Keys can’t do, despite his disabilities. As the video states, he climbed Kilimanjaro and performs stand-up comedy in the DC area. Considering how he came to his injuries, his spirit and good humor are the stuff of legend. The blast broke the combat engineer’s jaw, left shoulder, humerus, and ankles. It killed three of his friends and nearly killed him, too. He wasn’t even able to speak for two months.
When he came to, he thought he was still in Afghanistan and needed to know where his rifle was. He was in a hospital in Bethesda – and the nurse had no idea what he meant. He was a wounded warrior, but now he’s ready to move past that. He says terms like “disabled veteran”and “wounded warrior” don’t apply to him.
“Yes, I was wounded,” he says. “But now I’m not. I want to get rid of that title and move past it, move forward. Move us all forward.”
There’s literally nothing he can’t do.
The idea for hosting the Oscars in place of Hart came to him while watching TMZ, looking for material for his standup act. The thought occurred to him, why not? He’d be nervous, but he’s nervous before any show he does.
“It will be a challenge for me,” Keys says. “I love challenging myself. And I get to help people and try to move us [veterans] all forward. I don’t know where it’ll take me, but anything is a step forward. I will hope I’ve done the right thing and made people proud of me, of us. Helping people is the added benefit.“
The first American service member to die while fighting ISIS “fearlessly exposed himself” to heavy small arms fire during a raid on a militant prison complex in October 2015, according to the citation for his Silver Star award.
The award for Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler, a team leader with the Army’s elite Delta Force, was released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from Business Insider.
The Army released few details of the circumstances of Wheeler’s death in 2015, and the Pentagon’s website listing valor awards was quietly updated to reflect a Silver Star award, which he received posthumously the following month.
Wheeler, 39, was part of a raid at a prison in Hawijah, Iraq on Oct. 22, 2015 that was carried out by US-backed Kurdish forces. The mission saved roughly 70 prisoners the US feared would be executed the next day, according to The Washington Post.
Though the citation gives a broad overview of Wheeler’s heroism, it does not delve into specifics. Still, it said, “Wheeler fearlessly exposed himself to heavy small arms fire from barricaded enemy positions. His selfless actions were critical in achieving the initiative during the most dangerous portion of the raid.”
It also said that Wheeler’s actions saved the lives of the partner force, better known as the Kurdish Peshmerga. He was killed at some point during the raid by small arms fire. Three Kurdish soldiers were wounded.
“This is someone who saw the team that he was advising and assisting coming under attack,” then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter told reporters the day after his death. “And he rushed to … to help them and made it possible for them to be effective. And in doing that, lost his own life. That’s why I’m proud of him.”
Wheeler was the first US service member killed in action against the self-proclaimed Islamic State, challenging the narrative put forth by the Obama administration that American troops would not be put on the ground in Iraq or Syria.
The 20-year Army veteran had deployed a whopping 14 times over his career, first as a Ranger, then later as a Special Forces soldier assigned to US Special Operations Command. In addition to receiving the Silver Star and Purple Heart after his death, Wheeler was the recipient of 11 Bronze Star medals — four for valor in combat — the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Joint Service Commendation Medal (also for valor), and many others.
So far, there have been 10 US deaths attributed to hostile fire in the campaign against ISIS, known as Operation Inherent Resolve. Another 48 troops have been wounded in action.
Defense Secretary James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford made the rounds July 19 on Capitol Hill, reportedly briefing lawmakers on the White House’s strategy for Afghanistan and on the ongoing coalition campaign to defeat Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The Pentagon repeatedly has said its Afghanistan war plan would be on President Trump’s desk by mid-July.
For several weeks, defense officials led by Mr. Mattis have been assessing the progress of the Afghanistan war, determining what level of support — including a 3,000- to 5,000-troop increase — will be required to stabilize the country’s security forces.
Government-led analysis and reviews by private sector analysts say upwards of 60 percent of Afghanistan is heavily influenced by or under the direct sway of the Taliban. Afghan troops, advised by US and NATO forces, have suffered heavy casualties to maintain control over the 40 percent of the country ruled by the central government in Kabul.
The war in Afghanistan received little attention on the campaign trail last year, with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump focusing on the US-led coalition to defeat the terrorist group known as ISIS or ISIL. But Washington refocused on Southwest Asia amid Taliban gains this spring and the increased Islamic State presence in the eastern half of Afghanistan.
“We are not winning in Afghanistan,” Mr. Mattis told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee last month.
His comments echoed those of US Central Command chief Gen. Joseph Votel and Gen. John Nicholson, the top American commander in the country.
Currently 8,400 US troops are in Afghanistan, training and advising local security forces. Should the top-end troop increase proposal go into effect, it would raise the number of US forces in the country to more than 10,000.
On top of the increases sought by the Pentagon, NATO leaders have agreed to send surge forces into the war-torn country. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced the decision during an alliance ministerial earlier this year.
Inside the Pentagon, hopes were high that President Trump’s emphasis on military might to achieve US national security objectives coupled with a hands-off management style would give the department the resources and leeway it needed to bring the Afghan war to an end. Those hopes were bolstered when the administration announced decisions on troop numbers would be the exclusive domain of Mr. Mattis and his staff.
But recent reports claiming that National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster instituted a soft cap of 3,900 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines that could be sent to Afghanistan has put a damper on such assumptions.
The Trump White House’s management of the Pentagon “is not the free hand that has been advertised,” said Bill Roggio, managing editor of the Long War Journal and an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
Furthermore, any close study of Mr. Trump’s rhetoric during the campaign would have proven things would be business as usual at the Pentagon. “The [war] policies are fundamentally the same at this point in time just with the reins loosened,” Mr. Roggio said.
The proposed 3,900-man troop cap is less an example of the war micromanagement of the Obama administration and more a way to get some breathing room as the Trump administration pulls together a long-term Afghan strategy, he added.
“It is a stopgap until we can come up with a complete strategy. It is not a permanent cap,” said Mr. Roggio.
Congressional hawks, led by Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, have taken Mr. Trump’s national security team to task over its lack of an Afghanistan war plan.
Last month Mr. McCain told Mr. Mattis and Gen. Dunford that he hopes they can “understand the dilemma you are presenting to us” each day the Trump administration holds off on issuing a new strategy for America’s longest war.
But for all the rhetoric, the US does have an Afghanistan strategy in place — the one drafted by the Obama White House.
Mr. Roggio said he understands the frustration at the Defense Department and on Capitol Hill regarding the White House’s slow pace on the Afghanistan plan.
“But there is a strategy in place right now, and until there is a new one, you follow that,” he said, referring to the Obama plan.
A U.S. Navy destroyer had a close encounter with an Iranian vessel Monday, just two days before a crucial Iranian presidential election.
An Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) vessel came within 1,000 meters of the USS Mahan, forcing it to fire flares toward the IRGC vessel after attempting to turn away from it, according to the Associated Press. The encounter is the latest of the Navy’s close encounters with Iranian vessels in the Persian Gulf, coming two days before Iran’s radical conservative faction attempts to retake the presidency.
“[The] Mahan made several attempts to contact the Iranian vessel by bridge-to-bridge radio, issuing warning messages and twice sounding the internationally recognized danger signal of five short blasts with the ship’s whistle, as well as deploying a flare to determine the Iranian vessel’s intentions,” Lt. Ian McConnaughey, a 5th Fleet spokesman, told the AP in a statement Wednesday.
Iran’s leading conservative candidate, Ebrahim Raisi, is the supposed favorite of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has ultimate authority over the IRGC. It is unclear if the two events are related, but the timing of the event is telling. The IRGC’s provocation could be an attempt to exhibit the hardline faction’s strength against the U.S.
The Mahan had a previous encounter with Iranian vessels in January, at which time it was forced to fire warning shots at two patrol boats.
The IRGC has drastically increased its encounters with U.S. vessels in the Persian Gulf. Many of the encounters occur near the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow channel through which 33 percent of the world’s oil passes. The U.S. Navy recorded 35 “unsafe and/or unprofessional” encounters with the IRGC in 2016, up from 23 in 2015. Seven such instances have been recorded in 2017, including Monday’s incident.
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Let’s face some harsh reality, folks. While we won World War II in the European Theater, infantry anti-tank weapons were not one of the big reasons why. The sad fact of the matter is that the M1 and M9 bazookas were…well…GlobalSecurity.org notes that they “could not penetrate the heavy front armor of the German tanks.”
Suppose, though, that the GIs had perhaps the most modern anti-tank missile in the world. One that could reach out and touch the German tanks at a much safer range for the anti-tank specialists. In other words, imagine they had the FGM-148 Javelin. How might the Battle of the Bulge changed?
Let’s look at the Javelin to understand how the battle would change. According to militaryfactory.com, the Javelin uses imaging infra-red guidance. By contrast, the bazooka rounds were unguided. This meant that the Javelin missiles have a much better chance of hitting their targets.
The Javelin also has longer range, a little over a mile and a half, compared to the bazooka’s two-tenths of a mile, allowing the anti-tank teams to move out of the way — or reload.
But how would World War II GIs have used the Javelin? While some infantry units might have these missiles, it is far more likely that they would have been used for blocking and delaying the armored thrusts. The best vehicle for that purpose would have been the classic Jeep.
According to militaryfactory.com, this vehicle could carry a driver and four troops. Or, a two-man Javelin team and, say, six to eight of the 33-pound missiles and a 14-pound launch unit. A section of two vehicles could easily be expected to take out a company of German tanks.
Their most likely use would be in ambushes, using hit and run tactics to weaken German units and to buy time for reinforcements of heavy units (like Patton’s Third Army) to prepare a devastating counter attack.
But its sheer effectiveness may even have ended that battle much sooner simply because the initial attacks would likely have been blunted — and the German tanks would have required infantry to move ahead to clear likely ambush sites, and that would have made it impossible to achieve the objective of capturing Antwerp.
That said, while tactically this alternate Battle of the Bulge would have been a quicker win for the Allies, strategically German resources might not have been depleted so badly. This would mean a longer war and potentially more casualties — and the first atomic bomb may have been dropped on a city in Germany, not Japan.
The US Defense Department is exploring its options to completely withdraw all US troops deployed in Afghanistan, in the event President Donald Trump abruptly makes the decision, according to NBC News.
The ongoing planning, which was not explicitly directed by the White House, includes procedures for a completely withdrawal of US forces within weeks, current and former officials reportedly said.
The Defense Department’s move comes in the wake of Trump’s decision to withdraw the majority of US troops in Syria, as Turkish-backed forces embark on a campaign against Kurdish groups near the Syria-Turkey northeast border.
An official described the planning as “prudent,” while another official called the recent actions in Syria as a potential “dress rehearsal” for Afghanistan, NBC News reported.
Trump initially recalled roughly two dozen service members in the immediate vicinity of the Turkish excursion into Syria, but later expanded that order to around 1,000 US troops in northern Syria. Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Oct. 21, 2019, said that an undetermined, small number of US troops could still be stationed in northeast Syria to secure oil fields and prevent ISIS from taking control.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
(U.S. photo by Staff Sgt. Nicole Mejia)
Trump initially recalled roughly two dozen service members in the immediate vicinity of the Turkish excursion into Syria, but later expanded that order to around 1,000 US troops in northern Syria. Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Oct. 21, 2019, said that an undetermined, small number of US troops could still be stationed in northeast Syria to secure oil fields and prevent ISIS from taking control.
“USA soldiers are not in combat or ceasefire zones,” Trump said in a now-deleted tweet on Sunday. “We have secured the Oil. Bringing soldiers home!”
Trump’s decision to withdraw US forces caught numerous military officials and lawmakers by surprise, and attracted bipartisan condemnation for what they characterized as an abandonment of US allies and principles. Roughly 11,000 Kurds — who were allied with the US in the region — were killed in the fight against ISIS, and many more were relied upon by the US to evict the extremists from their strongholds.
“This impulsive decision by the president has undone all the gains we’ve made, thrown the region into further chaos, Iran is licking their chops, and if I’m an ISIS fighter, I’ve got a second lease on life,” Sen. Lindsey Graham said during a Fox News interview on Oct. 7, 2019. (On Oct. 20, 2019, in an about-face, Graham told Fox News he is “increasingly optimistic this could turn out very well.”)
Sen. Lindsey Graham.
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)
Former US Central Command commander and retired Army Gen. Joseph Votel also condemned the withdrawal, and reflected on the US’s reliance on the Kurds.
“Without it, President Donald Trump could not have declared the complete defeat of ISIS,” Votel wrote of the Kurdish help against ISIS in Syria. Trump has frequently claimed ISIS has been unequivocally defeated.
The US has pulled out 2,000 troops from Afghanistan so far this year, bringing the total number of forces in the country to around 13,000, Task Purpose reported. Earlier in October 2019, Esper said he was confident the US military could withdraw thousands more troops without adversely affecting operations.
Esper, who visited Afghanistan on Oct. 21, 2019, advised not to compare US policy for Syria with that of Afghanistan.
“Very different situations, very different adversaries if you will, very different level of commitment,” he said, according to NBC News. “Very clear policy direction on one.
“All these things should reassure Afghan allies and others they should not misinterpret our actions in the region in the recent week or so in regard to Syria and contrast that with Afghanistan,” Esper added.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Every year, thousands of motorcyclists descend on Sturgis, South Dakota for days of camaraderie, fanfare and riding. Despite COVID-19 restrictions, this year’s rally is still happening. Here are 5 wacky sights you have to see to believe.
The human bowling ball named Short Sleeve Sampson is considered by some as a rite of passage at Buffalo Chip and the Sturgis Rally. With his assistants, Lady Victoria and Summer, the midget wrestling icon lines up to be hurled down the lane at a set of bowling pins. Seeing country-music star Zac Brown partake in the action is like an odd cherry on top of a wacky sundae. That said, Zac Brown is joined on the list of midget bowlers by other famous artists like Rob Zombie, John 5 and Eric Church.
(Rapid City Journal)
2. The kangaroo at the wedding
When Lady Victoria married Marco Webber at the 2009 Sturgis Rally, she was escorted down the aisle by Jack the Kangaroo of Roo Ranch. Lady Victoria noted that her previous marriage ceremonies were very traditional and wanted to change things up. For his services, Jack received a BreathSavers mint, a favorite treat of his.
(Rapid City Journal)
3. Rhett Rotten and the Wall of Death
Sure, you could argue that it’s simple physics: counteracting gravity with sufficient velocity and centrifugal force. But, there’s just something fantastic about a man riding his motorcycle around on a wall. Did we mention that the wall is 12 feet high, 30 feet wide and 81 years old? If only Humvees were as reliable as the Wall of Death.
(Rapid City Journal)
4. Riding through a beer wall
If you’re riding, it means you’re not drinking. So what’s the next best thing? How about riding through the drink? Bursting through a wall of cold ones results in a fantastic display of foam that we can only imagine must be supremely refreshing and satisfying.
(Rapid City Journal)
5. A man in a barrel
This one is pretty self-explanatory. We’ll just leave it here for you to enjoy.
President Donald Trump called off airstrikes last minute against Iran, but the reprieve is likely only temporary from a clash that has brought the US and Iran to the brink of war.
Iran’s economy is sputtering under mounting US sanctions that it’s called “economic war” and said it will start enriching uranium and increasing its stockpile beyond the limits set by the nuclear treaty, which the Trump administration walked away from a little over a year ago.
Experts largely believe Iran’s military and its proxy forces, which Tehran supplies and trains, will continue to seek confrontations against the US and its allies across the region due to the sanctions that are damaging Iran’s economy.
“The enemy (Iran) believes it’s acting defensively in light of economic strangulation, which it views as an act of war,” Brett McGurk, the former special envoy to the coalition to defeat ISIS, wrote on Twitter. “That doesn’t justify its acts but makes deterrence via one-off strikes harder perhaps counter-productive.”
Last week, two oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman, which the US has blamed on Iran. The incident prompted anxiety from the UN and US allies, who’ve all preached restraint.
Iran has denied striking the tankers, in the face of a US military video showing what appears to be an Iranian patrol boat retrieving an unexploded limpet mine, and claims the downing of the US RQ-4 Global Hawk drone came after warnings it had entered Iranian airspace.
The Iranian attacks aim to raise the political costs of Trump’s maximum pressure strategy against Iran, and Randa Slim of the Middle East Institute previously told INSIDER she expected Iran to “up the ante” against the US, even by kidnapping Americans in the region.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has reportedly told Iran that the US will respond with military force if Iran kills any Americans, and so it is unclear how the US would respond to a kidnapping.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
(Photo by Mark Taylor)
With the US taking no action against Iran for the drone attack other than condemnation, and possibly added sanctions, many experts think Iran has little reason to abandon its attacks.
“Unfortunately it sends a dangerous signal to Iran,” Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings Center for Middle East Policy wrote on Twitter. “US aversion to escalation doesn’t deter Tehran from escalating. And they have every incentive to continue until they get what they want: sanctions relief.”
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Ned Price, former senior director of the National Security Council under President Obama, told INSIDER.
Jon Wolfsthal, who served as the nuclear expert for the National Security Council under the Obama administration, told INSIDER, “Conflict between Iran and US can erupt at any time.”
Wolfsthal said he’s not aware of any new guidance given to military officials to “de-engage or avoid possible actions that could lead to provocations.”
“In fact, I expect drones are flying the same course today,” Wolfsthal added.
Meanwhile, the prospect of a diplomatic resolution to hostilities remains elusive.
Trump warned Iran of the impending, and ultimately halted, military strike via Oman on June 20, 2019, Reuters reported. The president also extended yet another offer to hold talks with Tehran.
The Pentagon is looking to boost counterterrorism cooperation with an elite Indonesian special forces group, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Jan. 23 during a visit to Jakarta.
The special forces unit, known as Kopassus, has been accused of a range of human rights abuses, including killings and torture, mostly in the 1990s. Mattis says the group has since reformed.
“That was upwards of 20 years ago, and we’ll look at it since then,” Mattis said after meeting with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu, and other leaders.
Mattis’ visit aims to expand overall military cooperation with Indonesia, which is modernizing its military and has shown an increased willingness to push back against China’s territorial claims.
Indonesia is also dealing with the possible return of hundreds of Indonesians who fought with the Islamic State terror group in Syria and Iraq.
“We are out to expand in ways that respond to any requests from Indonesia on counterterrorism to include the special forces units,” Mattis said alongside his Indonesian counterpart.
Following those talks, Ryacudu said he would like Mattis to help relax the legal limitations on closer U.S. ties with the elite special forces group.
Kopassus’ alleged abuses include massacres in East Timor, the abduction and forced disappearance of student pro-democracy activists, and a torture campaign in Aceh during a now-ended insurgency. Rights groups say many of those responsible have not been held accountable.
Amid those concerns, the United States severed ties with Kopassus in 1999. In 2010, the Pentagon took initial steps toward reestablishing cooperation, but the ties have been limited and non-lethal, consisting of staff exchanges and low-level subject matter dialogue.
Mattis says he believes the group has reformed and would now stand up to the scrutiny of the so-called Leahy Law, which prohibits the United States from providing military assistance to foreign security forces that violate human rights.
Joseph Felter, the top U.S. defense official on Southeast Asia, said the Pentagon sees “real value and potential in working with Kopassus as a partner in counterterrorism,” if the State Department were to loosen restrictions.
“They are a very, very effective counterterrorism unit,” Felter said.
The United States already has very close ties with the Indonesian military. Since 2013, Felter said the United States has sold more than $1.5 billion to Indonesia under the foreign military sales program, including the Apache helicopter and the F-16. And Felter says Jakarta is considering buying more F-16s.
“Anytime we can help a partner uphold a free and fair rules-based order in a free and open Indo-Pacific, that’s what we’re here for,” the deputy assistant secretary of defense for South and Southeast Asia said.
On Jan. 24, Mattis heads to Vietnam, where China is likely to be a major focus.
The Pentagon last week unveiled a new National Defense Strategy that prioritizes the U.S. geopolitical rivalry with China and Russia.
Vietnam is one of the most vocal critics of China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea and has repeatedly clashed with Chinese ships in the area.
During his visit to Indonesia Tuesday, Mattis repeatedly spoke about the importance of the “rule of law” and “freedom of navigation” – comments apparently aimed at China.
Abraham Wald, a Jewish mathematician, was driven out of Romania and Europe by the Nazi advance and emigrated to the U.S. where he would serve in the Statistical Research Group, a bunch of egg heads who used math to make the military better at everything from firing rockets to shooting down enemy fighters. And Wald was the one who convinced the Navy that they were about to armor the completely wrong parts of their planes, saving hundreds of flight crews in the process.
Abraham Wald, a mathematician who helped save hundreds of air crews by writing brainiac papers.
(Mathematisches Forschungsinstitut Oberwolfach, CC BY-SA 2.0)
To understand how Wald, sitting in New York for most of the war, saved so many lives, it’s important to understand what role academics and subject matter experts had in the war. The U.S. and Britain especially, but really all the great wartime powers, put some stock in the ability of their academics to solve tricky problems and make warfighters more efficient, more lethal, or more safe.
But Wald was a statistician, and his job was to look at wartime processes and figure out how they could be improved. Wald was still, technically, an enemy alien, so he had an odd setup at the Statistical Research Group.
Planes hit in the fuel supply and engines often didn’t make it back to base, throwing off Navy and Army Air Corps data.
(U.S. Air Force)
As Jordan Ellenberg wrote in How Not To Be Wrong, there was a running joke in the SRG that Wald’s secretaries had to rip notepaper out of his hands as soon as he finished writing on it because he didn’t have the clearance to read his own work.
But Wald was an amazing mathematician, and it’s not like he was the type of Hungarian who might harbor sympathies for Hitler. Remember, he had fled Austria because Hitler would have had him killed, same as Albert Einstein and plenty of others. So, Wald used math to try to help the Allies kill the Axis, and he was in the SRG when the Navy came to them with a seemingly straightforward problem.
The Navy, and the Army Air Corps, was losing a lot of planes and crews to enemy fire. So, the Navy modeled where its planes showed the most bullet holes per square foot. Its officers reasoned that adding armor to these places would stop more bullets with the limited amount of armor they could add to each plane. They wanted the SRG to figure out the best balance of armor in each often-hit location.
(Adding armor adds weight, and planes can only takeoff with a certain amount of weight that needs to be balanced between plane and crew, ammo, fuel, and armor. Add too much armor, and you have a super safe bomber that can’t carry any bombs.)
While doomed planes did, sometimes, manage to land, they were usually lost at sea or in enemy territory. Abraham Wald successfully argued that the military should estimate where they were hit when determining what parts of planes they should armor.
But Wald picked out a flaw in their dataset that had eluded most others, a flaw that’s now known as “survivor bias.” The Navy and, really anyone else in the war, could typically only study the aircraft, vehicles, and men who survived a battle. After all, if a plane is shot down over the target, it lands on or near the target in territory the enemy controls. If it goes down while headed back to a carrier or island base, it will be lost at sea.
So the only planes the Navy was looking at were the ones that had landed back at ship or base. So, these weren’t examples of where planes were most commonly hit; they were examples of where planes could be hit and keep flying, because the crew and vital components had survived the bullet strikes.
What he found was that the Navy wanted to armor the least vulnerable parts of the plane. Basically, the Navy wasn’t seeing many hits to the engine and fuel supply, so the Navy officers decided those areas didn’t need as much protection. But Wald’s work found that those were the most vulnerable areas.
And that makes sense. After all, if you start leaking gas while still far from home, you likely won’t make it home. Have an engine destroyed even a few miles from home, and you likely won’t make it home. So the military took Wald’s work and applied armor to the areas he had defined as most vulnerable, primarily the engines, instead of putting armor on the areas with the most observed hits. And, guess what? Planes started surviving more hits.
Now, it didn’t win the war on its own, of course. Just like giving the Navy proximity fuses to make gunners more effective against enemy planes didn’t stop every Japanese dive bomber or Kamikaze attack, the armor didn’t save every plane and crew.
But winning a war isn’t about winning every engagement. It’s about paying less than you are willing to pay for victory and suffering less than you’re willing to suffer for each defeat. If you can do that, you’ll eventually win.
Army and industry weapons developers are working with the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency to explore the feasibility of precision-guided rounds for a man-portable, anti-personnel and anti-armor weapon known as the Carl Gustaf, officials said.
Current innovations involve a cutting-edge technology program, called Massive Overmatch Assault Round or MOAR, aimed at exploring the prospect of precision guided rounds for the weapon.
While the shoulder-fired infantry and Special Operations weapon currently uses multiple rounds and advanced targeting technologies, using a precision “guided” round would enable the weapon to better destroy enemy targets on the move by having the technology to re-direct with advanced seeker technology.
“We are exploring different kinds of seekers to pursue precision engagement capabilities,” Malcolm Arvidsson, Product Director, Carl-Gustaf M4, Saab, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
The weapon, called the Multi-Role Anti-Armor, Anti-Personnel Weapons System, known as the Carl-Gustaf, was initially used by Special Operations Forces. Several years ago, it was ordered by the Army in response to an Operational Needs Statement from Afghanistan.
These innovations are still in early conceptual, research and testing phases. However, they are being pursued alongside a current Army effort to acquire an upgraded 84mm recoilless shoulder-fired Carl Gustaf weapon able to travel with dismounted infantry and destroy tanks, armored vehicles, groups of enemy fighters and even targets behind walls, Army and industry officials said.
Acquisition efforts for the weapon began when the Army was seeking to procure a direct fire, man-portable, anti-personnel and light structure weapon able, among other things, to respond to insurgent rocket-propelled grenade, or RPG, fire, service officials said.
The Carl Gustaf get its name from the Swedish weapons production factory known as Carl Gustafs Stads Gevärsfaktori (“Rifle Factory of Carl Gustaf’s town”). | US Army photo
Designed to be lighter weight and more infantry-portable that a Javelin anti-tank missile, the Carl Gustaf is built to help maneuvering ground units attack a wide range of targets out to as far as 1,300 meters; its target set includes buildings, armored vehicles and enemy fighters in defilade hiding behind rocks or trees.
Following the weapon’s performance in Afghanistan with soldiers, Army weapons developers moved the weapon into a formal “program of record” and began to pursue an upgrade to the Carl Gustaf to include lighter weight materials such as titanium, Arvidsson said.
The upgraded M4 Carl-Gustaf, introduced in 2014, shortens the length and lowers the weight of the weapon to 15 pounds from the 22-pound previous M3 variant, he said. The first M3 variant of the weapon was introduced in the early 1990s.
“We use a steel that is half the weight and half the density. For the barrel, we have improved the lining pattern and added a more efficient carbon fiber wrapping,” Arvidsson added.
The lighter weight weapon is, in many ways, ideal for counterinsurgency forces on the move on foot or in light vehicles in search of small groups of enemy fighters – one possible reason it was urgently requested for the mountainous Afghanistan where dismounted soldiers often traverse high-altitude, rigorous terrain.
At the same time, the anti-armor function of the weapon would enable infantry brigade combat teams to attack enemy vehicles in a mechanized, force-on-force kind of engagement.
The Carl-Gustaf is engineered with multipurpose rounds that can be used against armored vehicles and soft targets behind the walls. There are also pure anti-structure rounds to go through thick walls to defeat the targets behind a wall, Army and Saab developers explained.
The weapon fires High-Explosive air burst rounds, close combat rounds, and then the general support rounds, like the smoke and battlefield elimination, developers said.
Airburst rounds use programmable fuse to explode in the air at a precise location, thereby maximizing the weapon’s effect against enemy targets hiding, for example, behind a rock, tree or building.
Air burst rounds can detonate in the air or in general proximity to a target. For instance, an airburst round could explode just above an enemy fighter seeking cover behind a rock or wall.
“I want to penetrate the target. I want to kill a light armored vehicle. I want to kill a structure. I want to kill somebody behind the structure. With the gun, soldiers can decide how to affect the targets. Really, that’s what the Carl-Gustaf brings to the battlefield is the ability to decide how they want to affect the battlefield — not call in air support and mark targets,” Wes Walters, Executive Vice President of Business Development, Land Domain, Saab North America, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
The Army is evaluating a wide range of new technologies for its newer M4 variant to include electro-optical sights with a thermal imager, magnification sights of durable-optical sights, Saab officials explained.
Sensors and sights on the weapon can use advanced computer algorithms to account for a variety of environmental conditions known to impact the trajectory or flight of a round. These factors include the propellant temperature, atmospheric conditions, biometric pressure and terrain inclination,
“There are a number of parameters that the sight can actually calculate to give you a much harder first round probability of hit,” Walters said.
Some weapons use a laser rangefinder which calculates the distance of an enemy object by computer algorithms combing the speed of light with the length of travel – to determine distance.
There’s a chill settling in over Moscow, and it’s not just the arctic temperatures that typically smother the Russian capital in January.
As U.S. officials put the finishing touches on new financial and travel sanctions against Russia, expectations that the punitive measures will target an expanded list of secondary companies, as well as Kremlin-connected insiders and business leaders, are causing consternation.
Unlike previous rounds, when Washington tried to punish Russia for its actions in Crimea and Syria by targeting big fish like major state-run firms and government agencies, the focus is shifting. The new wave to be announced by month’s end is expected to be broader, focusing on companies that do business with previously sanctioned entities, closing loopholes that allowed Russia to skirt punishment, and identifying — and potentially going after — the Kremlin’s inner circle of smaller fish.
Moscow appears to be on edge. One official has accused the United States of trying to influence the upcoming presidential election. An influential Russian newspaper has reported that as many as 300 people close to President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle could be identified. And financial institutions are taking steps to minimize their risk.
“It is true that the Russians have been freaking out over this for more than a month now,” said Daniel Fried, who was formerly the chief sanctions coordinator at the U.S. State Department.
Andrei Piontkovsky, a Russian political analyst now based in Washington, D.C., echoes that assessment. “The expectations are very gloomy” in Moscow, he said, “because for the first time, it will bring personal pain to those closest to Putin.”
The new measures, expected to be rolled out beginning Jan. 29, stem from a bill passed overwhelmingly by Congress last summer and signed reluctantly into law by President Donald Trump in August.
Known as the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, the law firstly provides for “secondary sanctions” that broaden the restrictions against people or companies doing business with Russians hit earlier.
The earlier measures were imposed by Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama not only for Russia’s Crimea annexation in 2014 but also for Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, its military campaign in Syria, and other things.
In October, in the first indication of whom the new law would be targeting, the State Department put three dozen major Russian defense companies and intelligence agencies on notice, indicating that other companies, Russian or foreign, who do “significant” business with them could face restrictions.
In theory, this meant that a foreign bank that provided credit to a company supplying a previously sanctioned Russian state-controlled company could be targeted for doing business with listed companies. That might include state arms exporter Rosoboroneksport or the legendary weapons-maker Kalashnikov.
The law also ordered the Treasury Department, in coordination with intelligence agencies, to provide Congress with a list of prominent Russians and their family members who would potentially face direct restrictions. Known as Section 241, the instruction includes identifying oligarchs according to “their closeness to the Russian regime and their net worth.”
This, in theory, could target the daughter of a high-ranking Russian official who owns property in the United States, or the head of a major industrial corporation with holdings in the West.
Around Washington, close observers of the sanctions process are calling it “the oligarchs list.”
“This will hit people because it shows they are not safe; that the U.S. is willing to go after this class of people and Putin cannot protect them… that there will be consequences for Russians who seem to be in Putin’s corrupt inner circle and [are] aiding and abetting his corrupt activities,” Fried told RFE/RL.
Those included will not immediately face financial or travel restrictions, but experts say it would be a clear signal of what may soon come and, more immediately, would have a major psychological effect on those listed and those who do business with them.
It could also foreshadow a public record of some wealthy Russians’ sources of income and assets in the United States.
“For some people, it’s very personal. For others, it will be very political,” said Olga Oliker of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The question is: What’s the signal that is being sent by the administration and how will it be received in Moscow?”
For the moment, the potential nominees for the “oligarchs’ list” is a closely held secret by both members of Congress and administration officials. But sanctions experts, Russian opposition activists, and Western lawyers and business groups have been trying to guess. Some wealthy Russians have also stepped up quiet lobbying campaigns in Washington, trying to persuade Congress or administration officials to keep them off the list, according to several observers.
On Jan. 12, the Russian newspaper Kommersant, citing its own sources in Washington, said as many as 300 people could end up being listed, a number that includes both officials themselves, but also their relatives.
In December, a group of Russian opposition activists with backing from chess master and outspoken Kremlin critic Garry Kasparov met in Lithuania to compile their own sanctions list. The compilation features more than 200 names, including prominent business tycoons who have so far avoided restrictions, including Aleksei Mordashov, owner of the steelmaking giant Severstal, and German Gref, chief executive of Russia’s largest state bank, Sberbank.
Several prominent Russians included in the opposition group’s list were already on earlier U.S. sanctions lists, including Sergei Ivanov, an ex-defense minister and President Putin’s former chief of staff; Lieutenant General Igor Sergun, head of Russian military intelligence; and Gennady Timchenko, an oil trader hailing from Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg.
The Treasury Department did not immediately respond to queries about its upcoming list.
One indication of how the Kremlin has sought to get ahead of the new measures came in November. The business newspaper Vedomosti reported that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev had signed a decree that would exempt Russian state companies from the requirement to disclose the names of their contractors.
Already there are signs that financial markets, in and out of Russia, are factoring the likelihood of sanctions into predictions for 2018. But among bond traders, equity dealers, and other portfolio managers, the measure that has prompted most worry is a possible restriction on buying Russian government debt.
That measure is seen as an attempt to close a loophole that allowed Russia to skirt sanctions imposed in 2014 that cut certain companies close to or controlled by the state from international credit markets.
The Kremlin ended up bailing out those companies to the tune of tens of billions of dollars and was still able to raise capital on its own. In 2016, for example, Russia sold around $3 billion in new Eurobonds.
The Countering Adversaries law includes the possibility that U.S. citizens could be barred from buying ruble-denominated, Russian government bonds. It’s unclear how much of Russia’s overall sovereign debt is held by Americans, but Central Bank data from October showed that foreigners held about $38 billion of it.
That decision won’t be handed down for some months, but still, analysts predict a ban would put severe pressure on the Russian ruble, which plummeted in 2014 after the Crimea sanctions and amid low world oil prices and has yet to fully recover. In the medium term, that would drive up inflation, Bank of America/Merrill Lynch said in a research note in December.
Some Russian financial institutions have also given indications that whatever the measures are that end up being issued by Washington, they will ripple through the country’s economy.
For example, Alfa Bank, Russia’s largest private commercial lender, said it was cutting back its exposure to the country’s formidable defense industry.
“This does not mean that we have severed relations with it overnight,” Oleg Sysuyev, a deputy chairman of the bank’s board of directors, told Ekho Moskvy radio. “But we are just trying to minimize risks.”
In the short term, that could pose a direct challenge to Putin, who will run for another term as president in the election scheduled for March, a month after the new measures are unveiled.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov alluded to this on Jan. 13 when, in comments to the state news agency TASS, he charged that the U.S. measures were an attempt to influence the vote.
Piontkovsky, a longtime critic of the Kremlin, predicted that the U.S. move to target more individuals could help undermine the broad support that Putin has enjoyed for years.
“It means he is losing his meaning for the elites, his function was to protect them, and their assets in Russia and the West, to ensure their security. And now, on the contrary, he is becoming toxic,” he said.
The question now, according to Oliker, who directs the CSIS’s Russia and Eurasia Program, is whether the new sanctions will, in fact, affect Kremlin policies.
For example, with the conflict in eastern Ukraine grinding into its fourth year, dragging on Russia’s economy and losing popularity among Russians, there’s good reason for Russia to pull back on its support for separatist fighters.
However, it would be virtually impossible for Putin to pull back if it appeared he was giving in to the pressures from U.S. sanctions, she said.
Depending on who or what is targeted, the problem is that the new measures could reinforce the perception — encouraged by the Kremlin — that Washington only wants to damage Russia, Oliker said.
“In Russia, the pervasive narrative is that all the sanctions are merely to punish Russia — [that] they’re punitive, it’s not a matter of attaining actual policy goals,” she said. Many think “it’s just those nasty Americans trying to get us.”