Current servicemembers and veterans are some of the most remarkable individuals representing the best of our country.
The beauty of the people who serve in the military is that they hail from all across the nation, have diverse backgrounds and interesting stories about their time in service. Many of these individuals are not just warriors, but they are also storytellers.
For many military members, writing is a powerful tool. This generation’s men and women in uniform have a lot to share and writing about their service gives them the ability to discuss many subjects, display their knowledge and express ideas on current military affairs and strategies that can spark a dialogue.
Writing allows a space for people to illustrate unique perspectives and opinions on topics such as leadership, military books and history, movies and of course personal “war stories.”
Whether you are a young service member who just enlisted or a retired veteran, here are seven websites or blogs that you should definitely bookmark and follow on social media.
1. Angry Staff Officer
Writing under the persona “Angry Staff Officer,” the site’s author focuses on several topics in his blog. From historical events and foreign policy to personal experiences and an examination of current Army doctrine, Angry Staff Officer’s writing is both fun and snarky — but ultimately insightful. Along with running his own site, Angry Staff Officer serves as a contributor to several other outlets, sharing his unique view on several themes. Visit his site and you’ll get a good look at what he’s all about, but his sense of humor really shines on Twitter, so make sure to follow him @pptsapper.
2. Bourbon and Battles
If you are looking for a site that offers lessons on life, current military affairs, history and of course reviews on great bourbon, then Bourbon and Battles is for you. Hosted by U.S. Army officer Johnathon Parker, Bourbon and Battles offers readers firsthand advice on writing, his life as a graduate student, military leadership, and offers new writers a platform to have their work featured. This site is perfect for new military writers to build their prosaic chops. You can also follow Bourbon Battles on Twitter @BourbonBattles and on Facebook.
3. From the Green Notebook
The ubiquitous military green notebook has become the stuff of legend. For Army Maj. Joe Byerly, it is also a source of inspiration for his personal blog called From the Green Notebook. The site serves as a means for the combat arms officer to share his perspective about his time in service and as a way to help develop young military leaders in the digital age. The author dives into a variety of topics such as history, military leadership, and professional development that gives military personnel sound advice on how to to make it in the service. You can also follow him on Twitter @jbyerly81.
4. The Military Leader
Hosted by an Army Infantry officer, The Military Leader is a website that offers resources for both military and civilians to guide their development as leaders and help grow their organizations. From simple articles about helpful tips to help start conversations with subordinates to complex topics such as toxic leadership, the page offers great insight for people of all levels. Be sure to also follow the Military Leader on Twitter @mil_LEADER and on Facebook.
5. Military Writers Guild
A collective of writers lend their years of experience and expertise as a means to share ideas and start a dialogue. The purpose of the Military Writers Guild is to “advocate, collaborate and promote” the current crop of military thinkers. The site features writing and podcasts from brilliant military minds. The individuals who are a part of the Military Writers Guild are so smart, in high school they probably sat at the nerd table in the cafeteria. All kidding aside, this is a fantastic group of people writing about the national security space. You can also follow them on Twitter @MilWritersGuild.
6. War on the Rocks
War on the Rocks is medium for in-depth analysis, commentary, and content on geo-politics and national security. The page features articles and podcasts from a number of collaborators with years of expertise in warfare. If you want to put your thinking cap on and see where U.S. military strategy and organization should go in the next 10 or 20 years, sit back and get smarter.
7. Your Stories, Your Wall
Serving as the official blog if the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, this site features personal stories of those who served in the Vietnam conflict. The blog has great aspects of storytelling and compelling imagery that really conveys the hardships of the men and women who served as well as the family members who were affected by the death of a loved one in that war. Many of these stories on the blog are also centered on the Vietnam memorial itself. This site reminds all of us about the sacrifices of our Vietnam era servicememebrs. Check it out here: https://vvmf.wordpress.com/
The Hurt Locker is a classic American war film, an Academy Award winner, and an entertaining tour de force that wowed civilian audiences when it hit theaters in 2008.
Keyword: civilian audiences. For many military viewers, the film was rife with glaring technical errors. From just about every angle — dialogue, storylines, and uniforms — the problems with the movie made it very hard for soldiers to watch without cringing nearly every minute. Of course, it’s Hollywood, and they can’t get everything right.
But it’s still fun to look back and see just how many things were wrong. We watched it and compiled a massive listing of everything (with some extra help from some real-live Army EOD techs we talked to). Maybe this could be a fun drinking game. Or, as you’ll see by how many problems there are, a very dangerous drinking game. On second thought, let’s put the beer down.
Here we go (with timestamps):
The movie starts off by introducing us to soldiers of Delta Co., with no further specifics on the exact unit. Army EOD companies aren’t called by phonetic names like “Alpha,” “Charlie,” and “Delta.” They are numbered, usually with a number in the 700s.
:30 U.S. Army soldiers are wearing the digital ACU (Army Combat Uniform) that wasn’t used until at least Feb. 2005. The setting is Baghdad in 2004. Thirty seconds in and already a really big one. Great start.
1:00 Multiple soldiers are seen with sleeves rolled up over their elbows. This is totally against Army regs, but soldiers are seen throughout the film like this.
4:20 The wagon carrying the explosives to blow the IED in place breaks down. Instead of using the claw on the robot to pick up the charges, Staff Sgt. Thompson suits up and goes to hand carry it. Not even the dumbest EOD tech would do this.
5:39 No reticle pattern is seen when Sgt. Sanborn looks through his scope, which is a Trijicon ACOG sight.
6:30 An Iraqi man gets extremely close to a soldier standing security. Moments before this, the street was bustling with onlookers and there were other soldiers and Iraqi security forces around. Now it’s totally empty, which begs the question: Why are only three soldiers left guarding this bomb?
10:28 Sgt. Sanborn seen with cuffed sleeves.
10:45 Sgt. Sanborn’s collar is popped. That’s not the style around here, man.
11:05 Sgt. 1st Class James’ dog tags are hanging out of his shirt. He’s supposed to be a staff non-commissioned officer, not a private just disregarding the regulations.
12:00 This is Baghdad 2004, when the insurgency is really starting to get rough, and we have a single Humvee rolling through Baghdad all alone. Seems a bit far-fetched, although an EOD tech did tell us it’s possible.
13:40 Sgt. 1st Class James is wearing an old green Battle Dress Uniform camouflage helmet and body armor. Every other soldier wears the matching ACU gear (although this is still incorrect for the time period). He also has both his sleeves rolled up past his elbows.
13:45 Sgt. Sanborn is wearing silver designer sunglasses. Glasses are required to be brown or black, and non-reflective.
14:40 A bunch of soldiers just abandon their Humvee in the middle of Baghdad? And it’s still running? What the hell?
15:28 James greets other soldiers with “morning, boys” to which one responds “Sir.” Soldiers only say “sir” or “ma’am” to officers, not enlisted ranks. There’s also a soldier seen wearing shoulder armor, which wasn’t introduced until 2007/2008.
15:45 A soldier asks James if he wants to talk to an informant who apparently knows the location of the IED and more details about it. But he doesn’t care to talk to him. Why would an EOD tech ignore having more information about what he’s dealing with?
18:15 James pops a smoke grenade to “create a diversion.” Smoke grenades are to cover movement, not to create a diversion. If no one was looking at you before, they are certainly looking at you now.
18:22 I know he’s supposed to be a “rebel” but when fellow soldiers are screaming frantically over the radio and asking you what is going on, you should probably answer.
18:38 He finally responds over the radio.
18:55 Seven to eight soldiers are all standing around this Humvee in the middle of the street, not providing any security or looking for potential threats.
18:56 A soldier in the turret is not even covering his sector of fire and doesn’t even have the .50 caliber pointed down the main alleyway.
19:05 Another soldier is seen wearing designer sunglasses.
19:06 An Iraqi-driven car just drives right through a bunch of soldiers who don’t attempt to stop it, fire warning shots, or do anything other than jump out of the way.
19:19 The car doesn’t stop for seven soldiers pointing M-16 rifles at him, but it does stop because James points his pistol at him. Makes sense.
20:30 James fires shots around the car, hits and destroys the windshield, then points his gun at the Iraqi’s head and tells him to get back. You would think he would want to search this guy or his car before sending him right back into seven soldiers who could be potentially blown up by a vehicle-born improvised explosive device (VBIED).
24:40 Yes, ok. Let’s just pull up on the big red wires holding together six bombs (and does this even make sense from an enemy perspective? Why would you daisy-chain all these huge bombs to potentially kill one guy? One bomb is gonna do it).
27:14 Spc. Eldridge is seen playing “Gears of War” on an Xbox 360. The Xbox didn’t come out until 2005, and “Gears of War” didn’t come out until 2006. But the setting is supposed to be Baghdad in 2004.
29:02 A soldier is seen walking by with sleeves rolled up over his elbows and with a white or silver watch. Very tactical.
29:59 Oh, of course! Another soldier with rolled-up sleeves.
31:39 Five soldiers just stand out in the middle of street and open fire on an enemy sniper. Instead of, you know, getting behind some cover first.
32:31 James uses a single fire extinguisher to put out a car that is fully engulfed in flames. He’s like Rambo with unlimited ammo here. And why are you sticking around a car that is probably rigged with explosives that is on fire?!!?!
34:50 James puts on a headset that is supposedly a radio. It doesn’t have a microphone or is even connected in any way to a radio. It’s basically a big set of ear muffs (and no, it’s not connected to a throat mic). Also, he’s defusing bombs that could be set off by, well, radios. Most EOD techs won’t even wear radios while they are working on bombs.
36:26 Another scope view, but with no reticle pattern.
40:05 Scope view, no reticle pattern.
40:11 Sanborn waves at Iraqis with his left hand. This is a sign of disrespect in the Arab world, since the left hand is associated with dirtiness.
42:59 Sanborn punches James in the face. He would be court-martialed or at least receive an Article 15 for this. Or, maybe, James could react in some way, shape, or form?
43:30 A full-bird colonel is walking around Baghdad with his eye protection dangling off his body armor, instead of on his face. If anyone is going to be wearing eyepro (and setting an example for junior troops), it’s this guy.
43:45 A colonel praising a sergeant first class for being a “wild man” and operating like he did is highly unlikely. Instead, a colonel would probably be jumping on him for not only his insane behavior, but his out-of-regs appearance, to include sleeves, not wearing a helmet, and not having eye-pro.
44:55 As James smokes a cigarette on the forward operating base, “left, right, left, right” cadence can be heard in the background. Who the hell is calling marching cadence on a FOB in Iraq?
46:55 Oh, now there’s a colonel with rolled-up sleeves.
48:25 The team does a controlled detonation. James is exposed, as is Sanborn. None of them wear earplugs or even plug their ears with their fingers. James is actually wearing iPod headphones. Just to let you know: The big boom is freaking loud.
49:00 James drives away from the team. They aren’t on the FOB, so where the hell are their weapons?
49:45 The two soldiers discuss “accidentally” blowing up James as he goes close to the controlled det site and how all that would be left would be his helmet. Luckily, James isn’t wearing his helmet. Because really, why would he?
50:43 Again, you’re in the middle of Iraq, and rolling in just one Humvee.
51:20 They see armed men so they pull over and then Sanborn and James both get out from behind cover and start walking forward yelling for them to put their guns down. Wouldn’t you want them to do that part before you expose yourself?
55:48 The Brit contractor gets handed the Barrett to try and find the enemy sniper. On this ledge, with the kickback from the gun, he would be guaranteed to be pushed back and fall right on his back after firing.
57:54 The Brit gets shot while manning the Barrett. The enemy sniper uses a Dragunov, which has a maximum effective range of 800m. He’s shooting from more than 850 meters away (according to James, who calls the range later in this scene).
57:55 After the Brit is shot while manning the Barrett, Sanborn and James go up and get in the exact same spot. That seems like a bright idea. Further, why are two soldiers who would be unfamiliar with this weapon jumping on it, instead of another contractor?
58:15 How does an EOD guy just get up and get behind a complicated sniper rifle anyway? It’s not a video game.
1:01:00 An insurgent takes up a laying down on the side firing position with zero cover. LOL/WTF?
1:02:00 Sanborn hits this same insurgent after he starts running away. Not only does he hit a moving target, but he hits him in the head. At 850 meters. It’s quite obvious that Sanborn got his sniper training uploaded directly to his brain via The Matrix.
1:07:40 Eldridge takes out an enemy insurgent by firing half of his magazine in rapid succession. What happened to well-aimed shots?
1:08 The team gets drunk together in their room and fights each other. This is a big fraternization no-no? Also, U.S. troops are not allowed to drink or have alcohol in Iraq or Afghanistan, and one alcohol-related incident could mean an EOD tech loses their badge (and gets kicked completely out of the job).
1:14:37 The team stumbles around the FOB drunk. That’s not abnormal or anything, and an officer, senior enlisted leader, or even fellow soldiers wouldn’t find that weird or get them in trouble. Nothing to see here, move along.
1:16:50 The team heads outside the wire again. Why is Eldridge basically the only soldier ever wearing his eye protection?
1:17:00 An EOD team is clearing buildings now?
1:29:45 James asks a Pfc. about a merchant. The Pfc. addresses a Sgt. 1st Class as “man.”
1:31:33 James dons a hoodie, carries only a pistol, and hijacks the merchant’s truck, telling him to drive outside the base. This is quite possibly the biggest WTF of the entire movie. At this point, every soldier watching this movie is face-palming.
1:32:25 Did I mention that James has now jumped over an Iraqi compound wall, all alone in the middle of Baghdad? With just a pistol.
1:34:53 James starts running through a busy Iraqi neighborhood. He puts on his hoodie to be less conspicuous. As if his camouflage pants don’t give it away.
1:35:00 After a tense exchange at the front gate to the FOB, James is searched and then the soldiers guarding the gate just let him back in. He’s shown at his room a short time later, so I guess he’s not getting in trouble for going outside the wire without authorization.
1:41:00 The team decides to leave the blast site and go search for the bomber in the dark. They have night-vision goggle mounts on their helmets, but they don’t use NVG’s. Their natural night vision must be superhuman.
1:50:06 If the guy has a bomb on him, it would probably be a good idea for the seven soldiers standing out in the middle of the road to take cover behind something.
There are some projects that the Kremlin would love us to forget.
The Russian military has long been a bogeyman for the West, with Cold War memories lingering even after the fall of the Soviet Union.
However, over the years Russia’s fierce competition has produced a number of duds alongside its successes, as the country has scrambled to stay one step ahead of its geopolitical rivals.
The following is a collection of some of the most ambitious military projects that resulted in spectacular failures.
The Tsar tank has achieved almost mythical status since the unusual vehicle was first tested in 1914. Due to weight miscalculations, its tricycle design often resulted in its back wheel getting stuck and its lack of armor left its operators exposed to artillery fire.
Photo: Wiki Commons
But it wasn’t Russia’s only tank failure. The Soviet Union’s T-80 was the first production tank to be equipped with a gas turbine engine when it was introduced in 1976.
Photo: Wiki Commons
However, when it was used during the First Chechen War it was discovered that when the tanks got hit on their side armor, its unused ammunition exploded. The performance was so poor that the Ministry of Defense cancelled all orders for the tanks.
Photo: Wiki Commons
The Raduga Kh-22 air-to-surface missile was designed as a long-range anti-ship missile to counter the threat of US aircraft carriers and warship battle groups.
Photo: Wiki Commons
What it wasn’t designed to do was hit friendly territory, but that’s exactly what happened in 2002 when one of the rockets misfired during Russian military exercises and struck the Atyrau region of western Kazakhstan to the great embarrassment of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov (pictured below).
Photo: Wiki Commons
The Mikoyan Project 1.44 (MiG 1.44) was the Soviet Union’s answer to the US’s development of its fifth-generation Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) in the 1980s.
Photo: Wiki Commons
Thirty years later and the status of the MiG 1.44 remains something of a mystery after it performed its first and only flight in February, 2000. The only known prototype was put in long-term storage in the hangar of Gromov Flight Research Institute in 2013.
Russia’s flagship, the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, is the only aircraft carrier of its type to enter service after its sister ship was scrapped due to the fall of the Soviet Union.
Photo: Wiki Commons
Unfortunately, it has been beset with problems over the years. Due to problems with its powerplant, tugs used to have to accompany the ship whenever it is deployed to tow it back to port. In 2009, a short circuit aboard the vessel caused a fire that killed one crew member, before an attempt to refuel the vessel at sea a month later caused a large oil spill off the coast of Ireland.
Photo: Wiki Commons
On February 17, 2004, President Vladimir Putin boarded the Arkhangelsk, an Akula-class submarine, to watch the test launch of a newly developed ballistic missile.
Unfortunately, the R-29RMU Sineva missiles failed to launch from the nuclear submarines Novomoskovsk and Karelia because of unspecified technical problems leaving a lot of red faces all around. Putin subsequently ordered his defense minister to conduct an urgent review of the program.
Photo: Wiki Commons
In 2013, shocked sunbathers on Russia’s Baltic coast were confronted with a giant military hovercraft bearing down on them. A spokesperson from Russia’s navy said the beach was supposed to have been cleared for the exercise.
The satellites of Russia’s “Tundra” program, designed to be early-warning system capable of tracking tactical as well as ballistic missiles, were first scheduled for launch in 2013.
Photo: Wiki Commons
Yet due to technical problems the launch has suffered a series of delays forcing the country to rely on its outdated existing satellites. In February two satellites, which were operational for only a few hours each day, finally went offline leaving Russia unable to detect missiles from space.
The T-14 Armata tank was billed as the “world’s first post-war, third-generation tank.” So you can imagine the disappointment when the new, high-tech piece of military hardware broke down during May’s rehearsal for the Victory Day parade in Moscow and had to be towed with ropes by another vehicle.
If you somehow are on the internet and haven’t seen the viral BBC interview of an expert on South Korea being interrupted during a BBC interview by his children, then you can see it here.
The dad is impressively collected as his wife rushes in to grab the children and pull them out, but the internet had a field day with the interview.
Now, a U.S. Air Force crew has created a spoof video where a pilot is attempting to read her takeoff clearance back when the crew starts stumbling in. Another airman, probably the chief, has to rush in and grab the other crewmen out of the cabin.
The results are pretty great. You can check the video out below:
Pineland, Attica, Krasnovia… the names of these countries may not mean much to most people, but over the years, they have been invaded by the U.S. countless times. If you’re wondering why you’ve never heard of them until now, well, you kinda had to be there.
These are names Army planners give to fake enemies in simulated international situations. The idea is to prepare ground forces for incursions into unfamiliar territories filled with foreign populations who speak unknown languages. Everything from their name and external neighbors is made up, but might be loosely based on current relations… you decide.
U.S. troops deployed to help the Middle Eastern nation of Attica fight off an invasion from neighboring Ellisia. On top of bandits in the cities and countryside, the Army must be prepared to fight the radical Islamic Congress of Attica, the transnational Islamic Brotherhood for Jihad, and the malicious hackers of the Wolf Brigade.
The RIC wants to topple the government and install an Islamist government while the jihadis want to use Attica as a base for international terrorism. The Army must fight the Ellisians back to the border, while putting down the insurgency and supporting the Attican government. No big deal, right?
This fictional situation is part of the bi-annual Network Integration Evaluation, an exercise designed to train the Army to counter the many forms of hostile forces the Iranian government is prepared to use in combat, from its regular army to special operations Quds Forces, to the paramilitary group Hezbollah. This exercise takes place from Fort Bliss, Texas to New Mexico’s White Sands Missile Testing Range. It also incorporates almost 4,000 troops from the Army, Navy, and Air Force.
2. The Circle Trigonists
The Trigonists were not so much a country as a political party. In the late 1940s, U.S. troops needed to train against both a foreign enemy and a home grown ally. The Army came up with a detailed, elaborate backstory for the Trigonists, who were a political party whose support poured from Germany into Austria (sound familiar?) in the post-WWII years. The detail of the Trigonists was so thorough, they had their own military rank structure and alternate history of the U.S. invasion. From 1946-1949 Trigonist “Aggressor Campaigns” sprung up in Florida, Kentucky, California, Maine and North Carolina.
The anti-Communist exercises were so large, it engulfed entire civilian populations. In a 1952 exercise, the 82nd Airborne played the opposing forces, capturing and occupying an entire Texas county. The Army would fight the Trigonists until 1978, when they were replaced by the Krasnovians.
3. The Red Army of Kotmk
Kotmk was a fake country made up of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, and Kentucky. In September 1941, a battle raged between Kotmk and the Army of Almat, an equally fake country made up of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee.
The battle was for control of the Mississippi River. Almat’s commanding officer, the U.S. Army’s Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger, assembled a general staff to help him win. The Chief of Staff to Krueger’s advisors was one Lt. Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Young Ike had never seen combat but did an academic study of tank maneuvers in France during World War I. He applied his findings to the war against Kotmk, outmaneuvering the Red Army within three weeks. Eisenhower pinned on his first General’s star two months later.
4. North Brownland
In one of the more unfortunately named OPFORs, it took the Army 90,000 troops and 56 days to secure a nuclear weapons stockpile of an allied country’s failed state neighbor. “Unified Quest” took place in 2013, where the Army faced the problem of the “collapse of a nuclear-armed, xenophobic, criminal family regime that had lorded over a closed society.”
The point of the exercise was to establish a command and control network and create a staging area in the territory of a friendly neighbor while performing the humanitarian assistance required to remove nuclear devices from civilian-populated areas. That’s a lot of effort and manpower to handle the downfall of the North Korean regime.
The Syrian government has asked Iran to take over the supervision and payroll of thousands of Shi’ite militiamen fighting alongside Russian and Syrian troops in support of President Bashar al-Assad, according to a government source and a news report.
The pro-opposition Syrian news website Zaman Al Wasel reported that it obtained a Syrian defense ministry document saying the Assad regime has approved a plan to give Iran responsibility for paying foreign fighters – mostly Shi’ites of varying nationalities. Shi’ite fighters mostly are paid in cash from Iran, the Syrian government and coffers of the Lebanese-based, pro-Iranian Hezbollah, according to analysts.
Iran would foot the bill alone in the future, a Syrian official told VOA on the condition of anonymity, confirming the Al Wasel report.
“The number of Shia militia has increased dramatically during the last two months,” the official said. “While a big part of these militia were recruited by Iran, a relatively big part was recruited by the Syrian government directly. We are speaking about more than 50,000 militants from different nationalities. The Syrian government requested that Iran provide for all of the mentioned militias.”
The document from Al Wasel put the number of fighters to be paid at 88,733 — a figure analysts say is exaggerated. They estimate that about 10,000 Iranian combat troops are in Syria fighting alongside thousands of fighters from Lebanon’s Tehran-affiliated Shiite militia Hezbollah and assorted Shiite militia made up of renegade Pakistanis, central Asians and other nationalities. Since January 2013, more than 1,000 members of Iran’s elite Quds Force or other elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) units have been killed fighting in Syria.
Tehran says its forces are in Syria to protect the Zeinab Shrine in Damascus, a Shi’ite holy site. But since 2011, Iran has been a major backer of the Syrian regime in its war with rebel groups across the country, at first sending advisers, then forces from the IRGC and expanding far beyond the shrine area.
Iran has long expressed a desire to command a unified army in the region, particularly in Syria, and its growing power in Syria and Iraq is causing unease in Western capitals. In an interview with the Mashregh news agency last August, Mohammad Ali Falaki, an IRGC leader, announced formation of a unified army in Syria which appears to have come to loose fruition.
“It would hardly be abnormal for Iran’s IRGC to be controlling yet more Shia jihadists,” said Talha Abdulrazaq, a researcher at the University of Exeter’s Strategy and Security Institute.
In the long run, the formation of a unified army in Syria under Tehran supervision appears very practical, analysts say.
“It seems plausible that the Syrian government shift the responsibility for management and organization of the militias, especially where financial burden is concerned,” said Rasool Nafisi, a Middle East affairs expert in Washington.
Asserting its military prowess would help Iran push its political agenda in the region, some analysts believe.
“The bigger and more advanced army you control, the stronger voice you have,” said Daryoush Babak, a Washington-based retired Iranian military adviser.
But unifying Assad supporters under Tehran’s umbrella could worsen sectarian conflict in the region between Shi’ites and Sunni, analysts say.
Iran is looking for any chance to increase its influence and gain an upper hand against Saudi Arabia, its strongest rival in the war of minds and hearts, analysts say. Saudi Arabia and Iran support rival groups in Syria’s civil war. And In a speech in Saudi Arabia, President Donald Trump accused Tehran of contributing to instability in the region.
“Tehran and Riyadh … keep contradicting each other to prove whose ideology leads the region,” said Nafisi.
While Syria has relied on Iran militarily in the fight against rebels and Islamic State, it’s unlikely to grant Tehran a controlling foothold in the country, analysts say.
“In Syria, it is not likely to happen as long as the Assad regime harbors ambitions of regaining sovereignty rather than being reduced to an Iranian protectorate,” said Alfoneh.
It was 1962 and only four days after Independence Day, but people living on the islands dotting the Pacific Ocean from Hawaii to New Zealand were about to see a light show brighter than any July Fourth fireworks display in history.
More ominously, many of those same people would get a taste of how a single nuclear weapon could wipe out a nation’s electrical grid – and the U.S. military at the time had no clue how damaging the results would be.
Codenamed Starfish Prime, it was part of a series of nuclear tests conducted by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and the Pentagon. Some of those tests included launches from Johnston Island of the U.S. Air Force’s PGM-17 Thor intermediate range ballistic missiles with live W49 thermonuclear warheads.
The aurora from a U.S. nuclear test in space, dubbed Starfish Prime, could be seen as far away as Hawaii. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
The purpose: rocket the warheads to the edge of space and detonate them to determine whether thermonuclear fireballs could be used to destroy incoming nuclear warheads from the Soviet Union.
Crazy? Perhaps – but keep in mind the events of the age.
In 1958, the Soviet Union called for a ban on atmospheric nuclear testing and abided by a self-imposed moratorium. Eventually, the United States followed suit. During 1959, neither superpower tested any nukes, but the brief lull in testing did not last. Soon, both nations were back at it.
In 1961, the Soviets detonated the humongous “Tsar Bomba.” Though capable of a 100 megaton yield, scientists decided to dial back Tsar Bomba’s destructive power to reduce the chance of fallout. At about 50 megatons, it still is the most powerful nuclear explosion in history. In fact, Tsar Bomba was so powerful, its heat caused third-degree burns on the exposed flesh of Soviet observers more than 60 miles away.
So, in a twisted, Cold War, Dr. Strangelove kind of way, launching nukes into space made sense.
Starfish Prime was really the third launch attempt for the U.S. – the first missile was destroyed seconds into its flight and the second blew up on the launch pad. Both incidents rained nuclear contamination down on the Johnston Island test facility.
But on July 9, 1962, the third Thor missile performed flawlessly and lifted its payload into space.
The 1.4 megaton warhead detonated about 240 miles above the Pacific Ocean – and then all hell broke loose.
“Most fortunately, these tests took place over Johnston Island in the mid-Pacific rather than the Nevada Test Site, or the electromagnetic pulse would still be indelibly imprinted in the minds of the citizenry of the western U.S., as well as in the history books,” Lowell Wood, a physicist and expert on EMP at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, told Congress in 2004. “As it was, significant damage was done to both civilian and military electrical systems throughout the Hawaiian Islands, over 800 miles away from ground zero.”
In Hawaii, the effects were almost immediate: streetlights blew out, circuit breakers tripped, telephone service crashed, aircraft radios malfunctioned, burglar alarms sounded, and garage door openers mysteriously activated.
As the flash from the nuclear explosion dimmed, an aurora formed in the sky that could be seen for thousands of miles. One reporter in Hawaii wrote, “For three minutes after the blast, the moon was centered in a sky partly blood-red and partly pink. Clouds appeared as dark silhouettes against the lighted sky.”
The high-energy radiation not only created a massive light show; it temporarily altered the shape of the Van Allen Belt – part of the magnetosphere surrounding the Earth that actually protects the planet from solar storms that could destroy life on the world’s surface.
The Van Allen Belt had only been discovered four years earlier by University of Iowa physicist James A. Van Allen. The bands of high-energy particles held in place by strong magnetic fields were first seen as a threat to early space explorers – or a possible weapon to use against the Soviet Union.
In fact, there are historians of the Cold War who argue that there is compelling evidence indicating that both the United States and the Soviet Union contemplated exo-atmospheric nuclear explosions to blow up the Van Allen belt either to permit space travel or destroy their respective enemy.
Fortunately, there is no evidence that either the U.S. or Soviet nuclear testing in space permanently damaged the magnetosphere. As the weeks and months went by, however, there were other casualties from the Starfish Prime blast. At least six satellites – including Telstar, the world’s first telecommunications satellite – were either damaged or destroyed by passing through the lingering radiation belt left by the detonation.
Scientists and the military were stunned by the results of Starfish Prime. They knew about EMP, but the effects of the blast far exceeded their expectations.
Despite the very public detonation of the weapon, the cause of the power failures and satellite malfunctions remained secret for years, as did a new discussion that began: how a single nuclear weapon might be used to cripple a nation in one blow.
It is a discussion that continues to this day as those in the national security community consider how a weapon like Starfish Prime detonated over or near the United States could plunge the country into darkness.
The crew of the US Coast Guard Cutter Sherman unloaded roughly 11 tons of cocaine in San Diego on August 18. The haul was the result of seizures performed by USCG Cutters Alert, Reliance, Sherman, Tampa, and Vigorous in the eastern Pacific from mid-June through July.
The drug shipments were intercepted in international waters off the coast of South America, which is a major cocaine production area, and of Central America, which has become a major drug transshipment point in recent years.
The eastern Pacific Ocean has become an important thoroughfare for illegal narcotics produced in South America and headed for the US and points elsewhere.
Latin American criminal organizations often coordinate to move shipments north from the Pacific Coasts of Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia (which produces the most coca in the world), to destinations in Central America, particularly Guatemala, and parts of Mexico’s west coast.
Mexico’s Pacific ports and other coastal areas have also become areas of competition for that country’s drug cartels, driving violence up.
In March this year, Admiral Kurt Tidd, head of US forces operating in Central and South America, told lawmakers that US forces were ill-prepared to meet the goal of interdicting 40% of the illegal traffic moving from the region toward the US.
“I do not have the ships; I do not have the aircraft, to be able to execute the detection-monitoring mission to the level that has been established for us to achieve,” Tidd said at the time.
As a Kurdish refugee from Iraq in the 1980s, his family luckily made their way into Norway to escape the horrors inflicted by Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime.
After growing up and joining theNorwegian Armed Forces, the soldier, now in his early 30s,served in an elite mechanized-infantry unit and eventually completed a tour in Afghanistan.
However, it wasn’t until August 2014, when ISIS took control of Sinjar, Iraq, that Mike decided to join the Peshmerga — Iraqi-Kurdistan’s independent military force.
It was at Sinjar that stories of ISIS’ atrocities — from the execution of 5,000 Yazidi men, to the systematic raping and selling of women and children — first broke out in major news headlines.
“It did an impression on me,” Mike told Business Insider. “What was worse, though, was the lack of action from the world community, including my own government. I decided that I couldn’t sit idly by and watch these horrors unfold.”
Now, returning to the same country his parents escaped from decades ago, he fights the ISIS militia under the Peshmerga flag and motto: “Those who face death.”
But getting started wasn’t as easy as picking up a rifle and starting to shoot. Many of the Peshmerga fighters weren’t properly trained for combat – after coming straight from civilian life, the locals are typically issued a set of uniforms and a rifle before being told to man the front.
Teaching these fighters basic infantry skills, Mike and several other volunteers from Canada, the UK, Norway, and Australia have tried to instill whatever talents they’ve learned in their respective fields, such as medical training.
However, it’s not merely enough to believe in the Kurdish cause, or to have a particular set of skills, to join the Peshmerga. Due to several reasons, including pressure from several countries, Mike has been unwilling to assist those who want to join his cause.
“It would look bad if America’s veterans are the ones doing all the fighting on the ground, while US forces themselves are reluctant to send their own troops,” he stated. “Those who do successfully end up in Iraq are typically placed in inactive fronts, out of harm’s way, until they’re bored out of their minds and leave the country broke and disappointed.”
In the rare case that a soldier exhibits exceptional knowledge or skill, he offered an exception. “There are some good volunteers down here that are allowed to stay at active fronts, and in some rare cases, allowed to take part in offensive operations as well.”
The challenges don’t end there. As a volunteer in an all-volunteer unit, he receives no salary from the Kurdish or Iraqi government — instead, he relies solely on the donations from his followers on social media to finance his weapons and ammunition.
“I have great supporters and I’m able to buy gear, food, and fuel to my unit in addition to financing my stay here,” he described. “We have little support from the government and barely and logistics, but [we somehow make it through].”
His favorite weapon happens to be an old MG-42 machine gun that dates back to World War II; however, when it breaks down, which happens often, he resorts to his tried-and-true M-16. Interestingly, his first Advanced Combat Optical Gunsights (ACOG) scope on his rifle turned out of be a useless fake — with the help of his supporters, he has since replaced it with a functioning unit.
Considering the cost of his fight — $100 buys him 120 rounds for his rifle, while $65 buys him 50 bullets for his pistol — when his financial situation becomes dire, he relies on ammunition and heavy weapons taken from dead ISIS fighters.
Unbeknownst to many outside of Iraq, his supporter-financed work seems to be making a direct difference on the front lines.
One example of this included successfully driving back a major ISIS offensive near a dam in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. After receiving intelligence that the jihadists were launching an attack at a friendly unit’s location, Mike and his unit decided to make the drive during the night to reinforce the local Peshmerga forces. Sure enough, in the early hours of the morning, ISIS militants came storming in at a full force.
“We fought for 8 hours straight and lost one man … but we fought them off and killed dozens or so,” explained Mike. “We were later told that ISIS would have probably broken through the lines if [we hadn’t been there].”
Like many wars, Mike has had his share of harrowing moments as well. Mike described the terrifying battle he experienced when ISIS launched one of their deadliest offensives in a year — the same battle that took the life of US Navy SEAL Charles Keating IV.
The fight was later described by the US-led Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) as “a big fight, one of the largest we’ve seen recently.”
“[ISIS was] able to break through the lines and seize a nearby town when panic broke out amongst some of the local forces. The units guarding our right flank abandoned their posts and tried to [convince] my unit into fleeing [with them] …”
“In a desperate [move] to make them return to their posts, I decided to run over to man one of their fortified positions by myself. To my disappointment, I ended up running several hundred meters to the position all alone … I stayed at that position for nearly 20 minutes and watched ISIS breaking through the lines with 50 vehicles and several hundred men.”
“I was expecting them to work their way down the line toward me and that I would have to face them alone — that was definitely not a good feeling. Luckily, reinforcements arrived [shortly afterward] and we were able to stop their advance at that fortified position.”
Other than the sporadic mortar fire and ISIS’ skirmishes, the biggest challenge for Mike and his unit seems to stem not from his unit’s equipment deficiencies or ISIS’ fighting capabilities, but from the bureaucratic red tape that surrounds his area of operations.
He explained to Business Insider that there existed a stalemate at the front, as his unit could only advance through a few villages and towns at a time before having to wait for the Iraqi Army to reinforce his position. During such down times, he says he resorts to killing time on his phone.
Mike’s deployments are typically three months long, down from his first six-month deployment. “[That first deployment] took a toll on me, both mentally and physically. I learned my lesson after that.”
After a rotation, he spends about a month of time back in Europe, primarily with his girlfriend, who is also frequently mentioned on his Instagram account.
“I can deal with the poor living condition, the lack of food and sleep, the constant threat from the enemy, but being away from my girlfriend for months at a time is definitely the biggest challenge,” Mike said.
But it’s not only his girlfriend that shares his concern.
“My whole family [is] aware that I’m volunteering … they’re not too fond of it. They’ve tried to talk me out of it several times, but my mind is set — I’m not coming home until Mosul is liberated.”
As far as goals go, the city of Mosul is where Mike and CJTF have their sights set. As one of the few ISIS strongholds that remain in Iraq, many months have been spent on formulating a plan to not only liberate the city from ISIS’ hands, but to prevent the jihadists from returning again.
“Taking part in the Mosul operation [has] been my goal since 2014 — but to be honest, I thought we would have taken it back by the end of last year,” he explained. “The fall of Ramadi postponed the operation, but I haven’t lost sight of my goal. Mosul has turned out to be my white whale.”
Although military officials have estimated that Mosul will be liberated by the end of the year, the future of the city remains uncertain. Sleeper cells in previously liberated cities still exist as a confirmed threat, and the likelihood of continuing sectarianism in Iraq poses a risk of alienating one of many groups in the region.
What’s also uncertain is Mike’s future once ISIS is ousted from the city.
“I would ideally [like to go] back to my old Army unit, but I’ve lost my security clearance due to my service with the Peshmerga,” he explained. “I’ll never be allowed to join the Norwegian Armed Forces again, but I’m sure I’ll do alright somehow.”
Until then, Mike continues to remain with his Peshmerga unit on the front lines, committed to ISIS’ ouster. He concluded the interview by offering a strong message against ISIS’ forces:
“Your mortar and rocket [attacks aren’t] impressing anyone,” Mike made clear. “Step up your game and come attack us head-on — you know where to find us.”
You can keep up with Mike’s travels on his Instagram account.
WATM received this piece from a Marine reader deployed to Almaty, Kazakhstan, who was concerned about the scandal engulfing the Marine Corps over allegedly illegal postings of photos of female Marines on Facebook and other social media outlets. The views expressed in this piece are his own.
My views on the recent scandal are simple: sharing someone else’s nude photo with friends at the barracks is as equally reprehensible as sharing it on social media. There is no honor in either situation. If you justify the first, the latter will shortly follow.
I think the bigger problem here is that we have not done a good enough job fostering a culture of chivalry in the Marine Corps.
While we’ve done exceptionally well with regards to physical fitness, physical appearance, and discipline, we’ve also allowed a culture where “locker room talk” is not only acceptable, but somehow considered “manly” — and that couldn’t be further from the truth.
This issue is neither unique to the Marine Corps nor the military. This behavior plagues our schools and workforces, and is a detriment to our society as whole.
It’s true that we are a product of the society we recruit from, but it is also true that as Marines, we hold ourselves to a higher standard. Making Marines doesn’t simply mean training them for duty, but instilling in them the values and ethics that will in turn mold them into better citizens.
We have a proven record of doing just that, but we regularly fall short with our commitment to female Marines, as evident with recent events.
On March 14, 2017, Gen. Robert B. Neller, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, told Congress he understands this kind of behavior is a problem in the Marine Corps, and he honestly confessed to not having a good answer in regard to how to fix it.
He took full responsibility as the Commandant, and I commend him for it. He didn’t make excuses; he acknowledged the deficiencies and I genuinely believe he is seeking a sustainable solution. That took humility and courage, which are characteristics of exceptional leaders.
To get to that end goal, I think it’s important we start at the beginning.
Men and women from all over the U.S. and our territories flock to Marine Corps Recruit Depots San Diego and Parris Island every year to become Marines. Currently, the requirements to even get accepted to attend Marine Corps recruit training are higher than in that of recent years.
The Marine Corps looks for quality men and women who will add value to our force and while we may come from different backgrounds and walks of life, in the end, we’re all united in our love of Corps and country.
Many of these recruits are fresh out of high school and still in their teens, which means that sex is typically the first and last thing on their mind and a big reason why the Marine Corps has traditionally conducted much of the training separately in order to reduce distractions and make the most out of those twelve weeks.
Male Drill Instructors are known to use sexual innuendos and lewd comments about women to help male recruits remember the skills and knowledge they need to graduate. While this might be an effective way to get the male recruits to absorb the information quickly, it also exacerbates a problem that we’ve already acknowledged takes place in our society, and therefore fosters a culture that is not conducive for chivalry to thrive.
It teaches Marines that disrespecting their female counterparts, by making lewd comments about them, is acceptable.
While this might be a common practice in the civilian sector, we should, and must, hold ourselves to a higher standard.
The Marine Corps’ core values are honor, courage, and commitment. While some Marines may not follow all of these, the truth of the matter is that most do, and it is our responsibility — as noncommissioned officers, staff noncommissioned officers, and officers — to instill these values in all of our Marines by setting the example and holding each other accountable.
I can’t tell you how much I love this organization as we’re perhaps the last real warrior culture that exists today.
We’re known as modern day Spartans, Devil Dogs, etc., but I think that some may have misunderstood what it means to be a warrior. Some equate it to being hostile and irreverent towards women. Some, unfortunately, believe part of being a man means to degrade our female counterparts even though Spartans were known to hold their women in the highest regard and medieval knights were the ones who created the concept of chivalry to begin with.
My hope is that we as Marines can grasp this concept and set the example for the rest. We are known to be “First to Fight,” and it’s a term we’re proud to bear.
We thrive on being known as standard-bearers, and that is a privilege and honor that should, and must, also extend to how we choose to lead.
Political analysts are buzzing this week over rumors that presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is seriously considering a high-ranking former Army general as his running mate. And while many on the right — and even some on the left — are applauding the move, history shows former military leaders don’t necessarily make good political ones.
Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the former top spy for the military, has been a vocal Trump supporter since he left the Army as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014, and has recently taken on a role as a foreign policy advisor for the campaign. But lately, his name has been floated by Trump associates as a potential vice president for the Republican real estate mogul.
“I like the generals. I like the concept of the generals. We’re thinking about — actually, there are two of them that are under consideration,” Trump told Fox News in reference to his VP vetting process.
A pick like Flynn might appeal to a broad political spectrum. He’s a registered Democrat, has leaned pro-choice on abortion, and has criticized the war in Iraq and the toppling of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. But he’s also been a critic of Hillary Clinton and her handling of classified information and was forced to retire after publically denouncing the Obama administration’s foreign policy.
And while a no-nonsense, general officer style might work in a service environment and appeal to voters looking for something new, history shows plenty of landmines for military men who turn their focus from the battlefield to the ballot box.
While two of America’s most senior officers in history, General of the Armies George Washington and General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, enjoyed successful careers as presidents after military service, their compatriot General of the Army Ulysses S. Grant led an administration marked by graft and corruption.
On the list of generals-turned-president, Andrew Jackson and Rutherford B. Hayes were respected in their times, but Jackson’s wife died due to illness aggravated by political attacks during his campaign.
So, why do successful general officers, tested in the fires of combat and experienced at handling large organizations, often struggle in political leadership positions?
The two jobs exist in very different atmospheres. While military organizations are filled with people trained to work together and put the unit ahead of the individual, political organizations are often filled with people all striving to advance their own career.
And while backroom deals are often seen as a failure of character in the military, they’re an accepted part of doing business in politics. One senator will scratch another’s back while they both look to protect donors and placate their constituencies.
Plus, not all military leaders enter politics with a clear view of what they want to accomplish. They have concrete ideas about how to empower the military and improve national security, but they can struggle with a lack of experience in domestic policy or diplomacy after 20 or 30 years looking out towards America’s enemies.
These factors combined to bring down President Ulysses S. Grant whose administration became known as the “Era of Good Stealings” because of all the money that his political appointees were able to steal from taxpayers and businesses. It wasn’t that Grant was dishonest, it was that he failed to predict the lack of integrity in others and corrupt men took advantage of him.
Of course, at the end of the day it’s more about the man than the resume, and Flynn and McChrystal both have traits to recommend them. McChrystal was seen as largely successful as the top commander in Afghanistan where he had to work long hours and keep track of the tangled politics of Afghanistan.