It’s also the same province where in early April, Army Staff Sgt. Mark De Alencar, a Green Beret, died from small arms fire after conducting an operation against ISIS forces.
Army Gen. John Nicholson, top commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, has pledged to eliminate ISIS in Afghanistan by the end of the year.
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Kings Mountain High School teacher Hailey Spearman was made an honorary recruiter for the Shelby Army Recruiting Center at a ceremony on Fort Jackson, S.C. on April 22.
Spearman attended a Future Soldier event with her local Shelby recruiter, Staff Sgt. Casey Raza, and some of her students who have joined the U.S. Army this school year. They received first-hand experience of what Army basic training entails.
Spearman teaches English Language Arts and coaches the women’s track and field team at KMHS.
Lt. Col. Robert Garbarino, U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion Columbia Commander, said both teacher and recruiter work together to help students find their options for life after high school.
“Ms. Spearman is a model for what a community advocate does for our recruiting efforts,” Garbarino said.
He deputized her by giving her his Army Recruiting Badge in front of over 250 Future Soldiers and their guests. He also presented her with a plaque to thank her for her efforts to promote awareness on Army opportunities. Garbarino said he was pleased to recognize Spearman after hearing how she goes the extra mile for her students.
Raza said that Spearman has been instrumental to the process.
“I wanted to reach as many students as possible to show them all of their options,” Raza said. “She allowed me to give presentations during her English classes and to students who are on her track team.”
Spearman said Raza puts the needs of each student first.
“She has a way of building positive relationships with students and therefore, our students look up to her and respect her opinions concerning the Army,” Spearman said.
Afghanistan. Distant, foreboding, little understood.
Known as the “Graveyard of Empires” the carcasses of countless soviet war machines rust away in mute testimony to the futility of that savage war. The more I read about Afghanistan the less I seemed to know. Watching the news was even more confusing and it appeared America had entered this same graveyard and that we were now fighting elusive ghosts otherwise known as the Taliban.
I remember watching the newscasts in the 1990’s of the Taliban as they rose like a cancer throughout the country, oppressing women, killing those who opposed them and imposing their radical version of Islam on all. Nothing made a deeper impression on me than the public destruction of the massive Banyam Buddhas and the wholesale “cleansing” of Afghanistan’s precious ancient history. Then came 9/11.
In 2010, then our 9th year of the war, I was still struggling with understanding why we were there, who we were fighting and maybe most importantly who were we helping? I got it in my mind that I wanted to make a sort of “combat travel film” that didn’t just following brave men in combat but one that also helped to explain more about the land and the people. Digital technology now makes every soldier a potential documentarian and it was under these auspices that I started to look for a story. It didn’t take long and it would change my life.
Enter Team Cobra
A Sergeant friend of mine told me about a group of all-volunteers from the Oregon National Guard who, in 2008, wanted to deploy to Afghanistan to “impart change” by helping the local population and training the Afghan National Army. They would return a year later as one of the most decorated units in Oregon National Guard history. While I didn’t at the time know the particulars, I knew I had to tell their story.
Of the 17 men that deployed, I interviewed 6 of them. I had between 2 and 4 hours of initial interview footage from each man. With each interview their stories started to intertwine and after the interview process my real work began. I listened to these stories on my headphones over and over again. Their journey to Afghanistan was over, but mine was just beginning. I watched countless video clips and looked at thousands of photos, each one representing a puzzle piece. Weeks turned to months. The sound of the newspaper being delivered in our driveway served as a reminder that I might have missed another night’s sleep. I was learning about Afghanistan, about the diversity of the people, about courage, about honor and about loss.
Watch Gary Mortensen’s ‘Shepherds of Helmand’ on The Mighty TV here.
Earlier that year I had lost my mom to a long and protracted battle with cancer. My father followed a few weeks afterwards. In my own sorrow I consumed myself with telling the story of Team Cobra. They too knew loss. One of their leaders, Bruno DeSolenni had died in an IED attack and the impact on these men would be profound and everlasting.
Each night as I worked on the film I felt closer to these guys, even though they had only met me months earlier for a few hours. But that didn’t matter, I felt a huge responsibility to tell their story in a way that would honor them. I was nervous to show the final cut to them because I wanted to tell the story right. They were gracious and thankful and said to my relief that it was faithful.
When the film finally debuted almost a year later everyone of the soldiers were there for the premiere. They stood on the stage after the screening and answered questions. It was after this that I really got to know them, not just as soldiers but as people.
In my attempt to make a film about Afghanistan, I ended up making a film about America. It’s seems so easy to accept the popular indictment that we have lost it as a country. But I would submit that all around us are exceptional people. I am proud to say I know six of them. They are simply some of the finest people I have ever met and I know that if I was ever in need I could call any of them and they would be there for me. Not because I’m special, it’s because that’s just what they do. They went to Afghanistan to help, some of have gone back, one didn’t come back and some of them are there today.
I am honored to call Jerry Glesmann, Paul Dyer, Marking Browning, Dave Hagen, Dominic Oto and Steve Cooper my friends. They helped me more than they will every know.
Gary Mortensen is an award-winning documentary film director, President of Stoller Family Estate (a premiere Oregon winery), and is active in helping to preserve and share the stories of our veterans. See more at www.veteranslegacies.com.
Many military historians argue that the Maschinengewehr 42 – better known as the MG 42 – was the best general-purpose machine gun ever made. It fired up to 1,800 rounds per minute in some versions. That’s nearly twice as fast as any automatic weapon fielded by any army in the world at the time.
But veterans of World War II rarely remember dry statistics about the weapon. They remember its fearsome nicknames – and why the machine gun earned them. American GIs were rightly terrified of the capabilities of the MG 42, so they gave it an apt name: “Hitler’s buzz saw,” because of the way it cut down troops is swaths. The Red Army called it “The Linoleum Ripper” because of the unique tearing or ripping sound it made because of its extremely high rate of fire.
And German soldiers knew they had a weapon so fierce that the Wehrmacht built its infantry tactics around squads of men armed with the Hitlersäge or “Hitler’s bone saw.”
“It sounded like a zipper. It eats up a lot of ammunition and that makes for a logistical problem, but it eats up a lot of people, too,” Orville W. “Sonny” Martin Jr., who was a second lieutenant with the U.S. Army’s 13th Armored Division, said in an oral history of infantry and armor operations in Europe. “When there’s a group of people advancing, you can really rip them up with that machine gun.”
When the war began in 1939, the Germans had a solid, reliable general-purpose machine gun: the MG34. But like so many German weapons, it was exquisitely – and expensively – made and difficult to produce. But the German high command wanted front-line troops to have more machine guns. That meant a weapon designed to deliver a high rate of fire like the MG34 but cheaper and quicker to produce.
Mauser-Werke developed a machine gun that fired a 7.92-millimeter Mauser cartridge fed into the gun from either a 50-round or 250-round belt. What’s more, the company manufactured the machine gun from stamped and pressed parts, welding the components together with a technique that reduced production time by 35 percent. That manufacturing method reduced the cost as well. The result was the MG 42, and German soldiers soon swore by its lethal effectiveness.
The MG 42 had a range of up to 2,300 feet, weighed 25 pounds and possessed a barrel that could be changed in seconds.
True, the machine gun had its weaknesses: It used ammunition like crazy, possessed no single-shot capability and could quickly overheat. But the amount of firepower it brought to the battlefield had ghastly results.
The sound alone of the MG 42 took a psychological toll on troops. The situation became so bad the U.S. Army produced a training film intended to boost the morale of U.S. soldiers terrified of the machine gun’s reputation:
In one of the film’s dramatized scenes, a green replacement is portrayed pinned down by MG 42 fire while the narrator says that nobody else in the platoon seems particularly bothered by the sound – nobody but the raw G.I. who “can’t get over the fast burp of the German gun.”
“Well, so it does have a high rate of fire,” the narrator continues. “Does that mean it is a better fighting weapon than ours?”
What comes next is a “shoot off” between various U.S. machine guns and the MG 42 along with other German automatic weapons. The narrator of the training film soberly describes the accuracy and slower-but-steady rate of fire of U.S. weapons, saying, “The German gunner pays for his impressive rate of fire. But you get maximum accuracy with a rate of fire that isn’t just noise! The German gun is good – but ours is betters. Their bark is worse than their bite.”
But the reality is the MG 42 bit hard, killing or grievously wounding many thousands of Allied soldiers. James H. Willbanks, author of Machine Guns: An Illustrated History of Their Impact, writes that the MG 42 was nearly everywhere on the European battlefield, either in machine gun emplacements or vehicle-mounted on everything from halftracks to Panzers.
In fact, it was so deadly the MG 42 shaped German infantry tactics during the war.
U.S. and British tacticians emphasized the importance of the rifleman, with machine guns tasked to support infantry assaults.
Because of the MG42’s devastating power, the Wehrmacht placed the machine gunner in the central infantry role with riflemen in support. Each MG42 ideally had a six-man crew: a gun commander, gunner, a soldier who carried the weapon’s tripod, and three additional troops who carried spare barrels, additional ammunition, and tools.
When Allied troops attempted infantry assaults against positions protected by the MG42, the German machine gun crew would lay down withering suppressive fire. In most cases, all the infantrymen could do was wait for a barrel change, for the gun to run out of ammunition, or for a tank to show up so it could blast the machine-gun nest to oblivion.
The MG42 survived World War II to continue service in the West German Bundeswehr. Rechambered so it would fire the NATO 7.62-millimeter cartridge, the Germans designated the weapon the MG3 – but it still kept its blistering rate of fire and basic design.
The MG3 is used to this day, not only by the German army, but also by the militaries of 30 nations.
The United States Space Force, America’s newest military branch, will begin accepting applications from Air Force personnel to join the Space Force as early as May 1. Enlisted and commissioned Air Force personnel that are eligible to apply for transfer can expect to receive an e-mail from the Air Force Personnel Center early next month to announce the opening of the application process.
What is the Space Force?
The United States Space Force is a newly established military branch dedicated to the defense of America’s orbital assets and eventually even offensive space-based operations.
The United States maintains a massive satellite infrastructure relied on all over the world for everything from navigation to communications to early missile warnings. However, as former Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson put it, “We built a glass house before the invention of stones.”
In recent years, nations like Russia and China (each with their own space-based military branches) have rapidly developed weapons designed to interfere with or destroy American satellites. Some of the primary responsibilities of the Space Force currently are tracking orbital bodies (including satellites and debris), mitigating threats to America’s orbital assets, and developing a new infrastructure around “hardening” American satellites or rapidly replacing any that become compromised.
The Space Force has inherited these responsibilities from the Air Force Space Command, making the Air Force personnel tasked with operating that command great candidates for transfer to the new branch.
What Military Occupational Specialties are eligible to join the Space Force?
In all, 16 MOS’s from the Air Force have been listed as essential to the Space Force and therefore eligible for transfer. Of these occupational specialties, two are considered the most coveted by the new branch: space operations (13S) and space systems operations (1C6).
However, Airmen in any of the following occupational specialties are eligible to apply for transfer to the Space Force:
What if I’m being transferred to the Space Force but wish to stay in the Air Force?
If you are in a career field that is being transferred to the Space Force but do not wish to transfer out of the Air Force, you’ll have a few options. The Air Force recommends that you work with your existing chain of command to explore options available to you, such as retraining for a new occupational specialty, transferring to the guard or reserve, or applying for separation or retirement.
In the mean time, you will continue to be assigned to the Air Force but may be assigned roles that support the Space Force until the transition is completed sometime in 2022.
Can I join the Space Force if I’m in the Air Force Reserve or Guard?
Currently, no. If you are already assigned to the support space operations alongside the Space Force, you will currently remain in your Air Force Reserve or Guard unit. Officials are currently trying to assess how best to manage guard and reserve assignments to the Space Force, and things may change eventually.
What if I think I’m eligible for the Space Force but I don’t receive an e-mail telling me how to apply?
If you have one of the occupational specialties listed above but you don’t receive an e-mail from the Air Force Personnel Center telling you that you’re eligible to request a transfer, you are advised to engage with your chain of command and then to contact either the Total Force Service Center or the Air Force Personnel Center.
What if I want to apply for transfer to the Space Force but I’m in a branch other than in the Air Force?
Currently, there is no new established process to request a transfer from the Army, Navy, or Marines, but that will likely change in the future. The Space Force is establishing a foundation for the branch through military personnel already trained for space operations, which is why the focus has been placed on the Air Force.
“There is a general authority for all members of other services to always ask to cross-commission; that’s an authority that already exists,” Gen. David “DT” Thompson, vice commander of Space Force, said. “But before [the Space Force] actively engages with the Army and the Navy, we need to make sure through the secretary of defense, through the joint chiefs of staff and through the leaders of the services … how we’re going to take that approach, and who should be eligible to be directly asked or not.
“That’s work [that still needs] to be done,” he said.
The terms “Happy Hour Club,” “Happy Hour Social Club,” and similar names, had been in use as the names of social club since at least the early 1880s. By June 1913, the crew of the USS Arkansas had started referring to their social gatherings as “Happy Hours.” The “Happy Hours” included entertainment, boxing and wrestling matches, music, dancing, and movies. By the end of World War I, the practice of holding “Happy Hours” had spread throughout the entire Navy.
Unfortunately, on June 1, 1914, the Secretary of the Navy issued General Order 99 prohibiting the use or introduction of alcohol on any ship or station. It was a good run for the Navy, but it wasn’t the only alcohol-related item inspired by the military. Happy Hour requires drinks, and here are some such drinks inspired by armed forces the world over.
This legendary drink was introduced to the army of the British East India Company at the height of the British Empire. Malaria, a constant problem with officers and troops in India, was treated at the time with quinine, which tastes bitter and terrible. So the officers started mixing theirs with sugar, lime, and gin to make the stuff drinkable. Today’s tonic water is much sweeter, contains less quinine, and is much less bitter as a result.
1-1/2 ounces Gin
1/2 ounce Fresh Squeezed Lime Juice
Lime Wheel or Wedge Garnish (I prefer cucumber, especially with Hendrick’s Gin)
Fill highball glass with ice. Add Gin. Top with tonic water. Stir. Garnish if desired. Repeat. Keep Uber up-to-date.
2. Cuba Libre (aka Rum & Coke)
Cuba Libre was the battle cry for the Cuba Liberation Army during the war of independence from Spain at the turn of the 20th century. Coca-Cola first came to Cuba in the bags of U.S. troops who invaded the island as part of the Spanish-American War in 1898. In 1900, the cola started being exported to Cuba. According to Charles A. Coulombe, author of Rum: The Epic Story of the Drink That Conquered the World, a bartender in Havana named Fausto Rodriguez first served the drink to a U.S. troop named “Barrio” who frequented his bar. Yes, this is a rum & coke, but it’s so much more.
1 ounce Bacardi Gold Rum
3 ounces Coca-Cola
Build in a tall glass over fresh ice. Lime wedge garnish.
A much less popular drink, this concoction was served to the lower ranking members of the British Army in the 1890’s to give them a bump of courage before a morning attack. More recently, British troops in the Korean War would give it out to U.S. military policemen after recovery missions. Some UK troops still consume Gunfire on special occasions, especially Christmas when officers serve it to their troops.
1 cup of hot, black tea
1 shot of rum
Legend has it the Sidecar was created when a WWI Army Captain couldn’t beat a cold. At his favorite bar in Paris, the bartender made this libation and named it after the motorcycle sidecar in which he was usually chauffeured.
1-3/4 ounces Cognac
3/4 ounce Cointreau
1/2 ounce Fresh Lemon Juice
Orange Twist Garnish
Combine liquids in cocktail shaker with ice. Shake to blend and chill. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with orange twist.
5. French 75
World War I fighter pilot Raoul Lufbery was of French and American descent, flying with the Lafayette Escadrille, American aviators who wanted to fight against Germany, even though the United States had not yet entered the war. For French pilots, champagne was the drink of choice. For Lufbery’s American side, that wasn’t enough – so he spiked his champagne with cognac, a mix he said made him feel like he was hit by a French 75mm howitzer.
(Wikimedia Commons: Museé d l’Armeé)
1-1/4 ounce Hennessy Cognac
3/4 ounce Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice
1/2 ounce Simple Syrup (or a tad less)
Lemon Twist for Garnish
Combine Hennessy, lemon juice, and bar syrup in a cocktail shaker filled one third full of ice. Shake thoroughly for ten to fifteen seconds. Strain into a chilled champagne flute. Top off with champagne. Garnish with lemon twist. Note :If using Courvoisier rather than Hennessy, up the amount to 1-1/2 ounces of cognac to achieve the balance of flavor.
The U.S. Defense Department has approved the Air Force’s new KC-46A Pegasus refueling tanker for initial production despite recent technical challenges that resulted in program delays.
The service late last week announced that Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer, approved the Boeing Co.-made aircraft based on the 767 airliner for low-rate initial production, known in acquisition parlance as Milestone C.
“I commend the team for diligently working through some difficult technical challenges,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, said in a statement.
Earlier in the week, she suggested Kendall’s decision might not come until later in the month and that failure by Congress to approve a budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 would hurt the acquisition effort.
Under a continuing resolution, “KC-46 production would be capped at 12 aircraft,” not the 15 as proposed in the fiscal 2017 budget, and the result would be to “delay operational fielding of this platform,” James said.
Parts of the plane that required reworking included the boom used to refuel Air Force planes (hoses extend from the body and wings to refuel Navy and Marine Corps aircraft, as well as those from allies); the fuel system (which was overhauled after workers loaded a mislabeled chemical into it); and wiring and software.
Boeing has reportedly spent more than $1.2 billion on the repairs, including installing hydraulic pressure relief valves to alleviate “higher than expected axial loads in the boom” discovered in tests to refuel the C-17 Globemaster III, according to the Air Force statement.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein said he was confident “the KC-46 is ready to take the next step.”
Meanwhile, Darlene Costello, an acquisition executive with the service, said, “I appreciate Boeing’s continued focus as they work to finish development prior to first aircraft delivery.”
Boeing plans to deliver the first 18 KC-46As to the service by January 2018, a date that was previously scheduled for August 2017.
The Air Force within the next month will award the Chicago-based aerospace giant two contracts with a combined value of $2.8 billion for 19 aircraft.
The service plans to spend $48 billion to develop and build 179 of the planes to replace its aging fleet of KC-135s, according to Pentagon budget documents. Boeing forecasts an $80 billion global market for the new tankers, the website Trading Alpha has reported.
The Air Force has selected as preferred bases for the aircraft Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma, McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas, and Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire.
It’s PCS season, and that means across the world military personnel are getting ready to move. And with each of these moves comes a host of decisions — schools, recreation, safety, length of commute — but among the most important ones is whether to buy or rent your home at your new duty station. Here are 5 things to consider when making that call:
1. Can you finance the home using your VA home loan benefit?
There are a bunch of advantages to using a VA loan. VA home loans require zero money down, and because they’re underwritten by the U.S. government, sellers are usually comfortable with accepting offers from buyers using them. Also, VA home loans can be assumed by qualified buyers, which is a great option when considering the volatility of the military lifestyle. For more information check out the VA’s site here.
2. Can you build equity during the time you’re in that area?
Nobody buys a home to lose money in the process. Before you buy, consider the real estate market trends. Are home pricing rising or falling . . . and how quickly? Making money on a home after owning it a short time is ambitious, but not impossible in the right market.
3. Can you sell your home quickly when you get orders away from the area?
Just like in the previous bullet, market conditions are important when considering how quickly you could sell your home when the time comes. The easy way to assess this is to consider how many “for sale” signs there are on the street around your desired home. If there are a lot of them you might want to think twice about buying, especially if you’re only planning on being in the area for a couple of years or less.
4. Could you turn your home into a rental property if you got orders away from the area?
If the rental market is active in your area you might consider turning your home into a rental property. In some areas, the amount an owner can charge for monthly rent exceeds the owner’s mortgage payment, which allows the owner the retain all the associated tax benefits while continuing to build equity. But owners should also consider the responsibilities of being a landlord, not the least of which is keeping track of how the tenant is treating the property.
5. Is the duty station where your home is one to which you’re likely to return?
Will your career path bring you back to the area? Would you consider staying there once your time on active duty is over? And would you be willing to rent the home (see the previous bullet) in the meantime? If the answer to these questions is “yes,” then the equity timeline can be stretched out and the risk of buying is reduced.
To start the process, check out Zillow.com’s cool buy/rent calculator here.
The US has told Turkey that it will take back weapons supplied to the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria after the Islamic State group is defeated, Turkish defense sources said.
The United States has told Turkey that it will take back weapons it supplied to the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria after the Islamic State group is defeated, Turkish defense sources said.
President Donald Trump approved arming fighters from the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units in May – which is part of the Syrian Democratic Forces – drawing strong condemnation from Turkey.
Ankara said on June 22nd that US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis promised to provide his Turkish counterpart with a monthly list of weapons handed to the YPG, with the first such inventory already sent.
In a letter to Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik, Mattis said that a detailed record of all equipment provided to the YPG was being kept and that all the weapons would be taken back after Islamic State was defeated, according to Turkish defense.
Once the mainly Sunni Arab city is taken, it will be held by Arab forces, the defence sources said he told Isik.
Washington and Ankara are bitterly at odds over US support for the YPG, a Syrian armed faction that acts as the main ground force in the Pentagon’s plan to defeat the Islamic State group but that Turkey deems a front for the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
Turkey’s concerns about the YPG were significant enough for Ankara to launch its own military operation inside Syria in August 2016, dubbed Euphrates Shield.
The operation had the dual goals of targeting IS and the Kurdish militia, particularly to prevent the YPG from controlling a contiguous strip of territory along the Syria- Turkey border.
The SDF – an Arab-Kurdish alliance formed in 2015 – spent seven months tightening the noose on Raqqa city before finally entering it last week.
An estimated 300,000 civilians were believed to have been living under IS rule in Raqqa, including 80,000 displaced from other parts of Syria.
Thousands have fled in recent months, and the UN humanitarian office estimates about 160,000 people remain in the city.
A new program offsets costs associated with remote education for military kids.
Army Emergency Relief announced the financial assistance program earlier this year after evaluating the needs of Army families impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. It provides up to $500 per family to defray the costs of supplies purchased for students in K-12. The program is retroactive to March, when many schools started going offline.
Examples of items covered under this program are “traditional educational materials such as pens, paper, and books as well as educational technology including computers, tablets, and software,” according to the AER website. Assistance may be provided as a zero-interest loan, grant, or combination.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Raymond Mason, director of AER, said the idea for the program came after a discussion with partners from sister relief societies about COVID-19 support for military families. Eligible soldiers can apply for assistance directly on the AER website.
“We have an online application and that’s the first place to start. Once we work the assistance case — usually 12-24 hours, depending on how complicated it is and several other situations — we then send an electronic funds transfer from our bank account directly to the soldier’s bank account,” he said.
Soldiers from the Army National Guard and Army Reserve who have been mobilized in support of COVID-19 are also eligible to apply, but they must go through their chain of command.
“The chain of command can validate their status, as in they are mobilized in support of COVID-19, and then work it back in through the electronic process,” Mason said.
All of the new COVID-19 related programs created by AER — of which there are roughly three dozen — will exist at least until the end of the year, Mason said, and new programs are constantly being added as needs come to light. To date, AER has distributed 2,000 in COVID-19 assistance, and Mason hopes more soldiers will request support.
“What keeps me up at night is that there is some need out there and it isn’t coming to us, either because of a communication problem or they are experiencing something that we haven’t thought of. We’ll always look at exceptions to a policy, so just because you go to our website and it isn’t there, don’t let that stop you. Come on in,” Mason said.
The most common ranks requesting AER assistance are E5s and E6s, but soldiers of any rank are eligible. And Mason is aware that service members can be hesitant to ask for help, which is why AER put a direct access program in place almost four years ago to achieve multiple objectives.
“It [the direct access program] allows soldiers to come to AER without chain of command involvement. It was really two reasons: One, it was the stigma, that survey data supports about asking for help, and secondly it was to get soldiers to come to us and not go to predatory lenders.
It was 2006, and Army Staff Sgt. Brett Johnson of the 1st Ranger Battalion peered through night-vision goggles, slowly moving with his squad toward a house in Iraq with a high-value target inside. They knew there were armed militants nearby, but they had no idea they were about to run into one.
“Right as we were about to break the corner of the building, a guy — unbeknownst to us — was literally coming around the corner with an AK-47,” now-Sgt. Maj. Johnson of the 3rd Ranger Battalion recalled 13 years later.
But the insurgent didn’t make it, thanks to a sniper.
“As we broke the corner, he took the most perfect, well-aimed shot and put him down,” Johnson recalled. “Had he not been there, that guy … definitely would have shot one of us.”
“It was pretty incredible for him to take that shot. An error of one foot to the right could have hit one of us,” Johnson continued.
Things happen quickly in a firefight, and even the best technology can’t always keep up with the changing battlefield environment. That’s why the sniper’s reconnaissance skills and ability to relay intelligent information to the commander are crucial.
“We’ve got drones, we’ve got robots, we’ve got all kinds of stuff … but we still need that real-time battlefield information that keeps soldiers safe,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Turner, a sniper course instructor.
Becoming a sniper isn’t easy. The qualification course at the Army Sniper School in Fort Benning, Georgia, is seven weeks long, and any military branch or federal agency can send candidates. Instructors say there’s currently about a 60 percent attrition rate.
An Army Sniper School graduate prepares for a final challenge at Fort Benning, Ga., Feb. 28, 2019.
(Photo by EJ Hersom)
“As you go through it and see the maturity and discipline that it takes in order to take a shot and execute the orders … that takes an emotional toll on you, Turner said. “That’s why you need a more disciplined, intelligent soldier to process those emotions.”
It takes someone who knows how to manage resources and someone with serious patience — there’s a lot of observing and waiting for something to happen.
“They’re some of the most patient people I’ve ever met in my life,” Johnson said.
Take the stalking portion of the course. Using their homemade ghillie suits — camouflage uniforms they’ve personally retrofitted for durability and protection in all sorts of weather conditions — the sniper candidates get to “veg out” by incorporating vegetation into those suits to blend in with their surroundings. They then spend the next couple of hours moving at a snail’s pace through an area of woods. The goal — take a shot at the instructors who are looking for them in the brush, hoping to find them first.
An Army sniper school graduate walks past spotters after completing a stalk course where snipers try to evade detection from the course instructors at Fort Benning Fort Benning, Ga., Feb. 28, 2019.
(Photo by EJ Hersom)
But school instructors said a lot of candidates fail that part. When we visited, not a single sniper team got to take their shot.
“The hardest part about this school so far has been stalking for me, because I’m a big, gawky guy, so crawling through the woods is tough,” explained Staff Sgt. Johnnie Newton, who passed the course.
Then there are the technical aspects. They’re always refining their skills for every possible circumstance, like wind and distance.
“If I’m operating in a rural environment like Afghanistan, I have longer lines of sight and I’m at higher elevation. What that means is I’m able to extend the capability of my weapons system to a greater distance,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Rance, team leader of the Army sniper course. “In an urban environment, things are a lot quicker, a lot more dynamic, with shorter field of views.”
The Alaska-class cruisers are often seen as a waste of resources. At first glance, it is easy to see why. The United States only completed two out of the six planned vessels. One more was launched, but never finished. All three that managed to reach the water were quickly in reserve and then scrapped. But these ships were quite an achievement – a mini-battleship that gave good service during their brief careers.
Much of the issue was timing. According to data in Volume Fifteen of Samuel Eliot Morison’s History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, “Supplement and General Index,” the lead ship, USS Alaska (CB 1) was not commissioned until June 17, 1944, 11 days after the D-Day landings. The second ship, USS Guam (CB 2), was commissioned on Sept. 17, 1944. These ships didn’t have much left to fight by the time they got to the front lines.
Their primary purpose was to kill Japan’s heavy cruisers in a surface action. The Japanese had three classes of heavy cruiser intended for front-line service: The Myoko, Takao, and Mogami classes each packed ten eight-inch guns, and at least 12 610mm torpedo tubes for the Type 93 Long Lance torpedo.
The large cruiser USS Alaska (CB 1) fighting off a Japanese air attack.
(US Navy photo)
According to Fleets of World War II, the Alaska-class cruisers were armed with nine 12-inch guns and 12 five-inch dual-purpose guns. NavWeaps.com notes that these guns, the 12″/50 Mark 8, had a maximum range of 38,573 yards. By comparison, the Long Lance torpedo had a maximum range of 32,800 yards.
An Alaska-class large cruiser’s 12-inch guns could fire as many as three salvoes in a minute.
(US Navy photo)
That is a difference of three miles in favor of the Alaska-class cruisers. In essence, a Japanese heavy cruiser would be making a run of about three miles under fire before it could get within the maximum range of its torpedoes. In the roughly six minutes they would be making that run, an Alaska-class cruiser could get off anywhere from 15 to 18 salvoes.
The incomplete large cruiser USS Hawaii (CB 3) being towed to the scrapyard.
(US Navy photo)
The Alaska-class cruisers ended up helping to defend the fleet against Japanese planes. Both vessels helped escort the stricken USS Franklin (CV 13) after she suffered horrific damage during the invasion of Okinawa, and later took part in Operation Magic Carpet, the return of American troops home after World War II. These ships were sold for scrap in the early 1960s, never carrying out their primary mission of killing enemy heavy cruisers, but these mini-battleships still did their share during the war.
Update: Pvt. Erika Lopez turned herself in to Army authorities Feb. 4 after reports of her desertion went viral. The Army will now decide whether to charge her with a crime, administratively separate her from the service, or allow her to continue training. The original post on Lopez’s disappearance is below:
According to reports from Tennessee news channels, the first woman to enlist as a combat engineer from that state has gone absent without leave and has been gone for over 30 days, meaning she is now technically a deserter.
The Army has been unable to locate Lopez despite numerous attempts. It’s one of the few situations where the most desirable scenario is that a soldier deserted, since the alternative is that something has happened to her.
While there have been reports listing Lopez as the Army’s first female combat engineer, that title actually goes to Vermont National Guard Spc. Skylar Anderson who graduated the combat engineer course in December and continues to serve in Vermont. Lopez was actually the fourth woman to enlist as a combat engineer.
Similarly, Lopez has been described as the first woman to become a combat arms soldier. The term “combat arms” was rescinded in 2008 with an updated version of Army Field Manual 3-0, but the first female combat arms soldiers were those who enlisted into air defense MOSs in the early 1990s.* Combat engineers were a combat arms MOS when that term was in use.
*Updated Feb. 5, 2016: This paragraph originally stated that combat engineer was not technically a combat arms specialty. When “combat arms” was a doctrinal term, Army Engineering was a combat arms branch.