All military service members dread the ominous “knife hand” when being addressed by a superior as it usually means they are being corrected or some sort of discipline is soon to follow. Below are the 8 images designed to awaken your greatest fears:
1. Recruits discover them quickly
2. A loud verbal correction often maximizes the effect
3. The knife hand extends across all branches of service
4. What better way to correct a trainee’s salute?
5. They come in handy while testifying before Congress
6. A four-star version is exceptionally attention-getting
7. Even “poolies” can get a taste of the ominous gesture
8. There are knife hands and then there are the Merhle from ‘The Walking Dead’ version
For decades, Hollywood has been making military-based films that have touched Americans with great characters and stunning imagery. Not every movie has a high budget, but it’s the attention to detail that veterans respect when their branch is accurately represented on the big screen.
But still, some filmmakers get it wrong. So here’s a simple list of flaws that can be easily avoided when making your next epic war movie.
1. Screwing Up Rank
In 2005’s “Jarhead” based on the book by former Marine Sniper Anthony Swofford, Dave Fowler is labeled as a private first class, or Pfc., who’s wearing the rank insignia of a lance corporal. The majority of the population overlooks details like this, but those who are familiar with Marine Corps rank probably did a double take.
2. Empty Weapons That Will Shoot
If 1997’s G.I. Jane wasn’t a stretch in reality then neither was seeing this gunship with empty rocket pods heading into battle. Next time, just film the inbound attack helicopters from the side. The note behind the note: we notice when movie weapons are handled incorrectly.
3. Uncover… 2!
Sure, Hollywood is familiar with military uniforms and how to wear them. The unwritten rule once was to not advertise how to properly decorate and wear service and dress uniforms in case the knowledge falls into the wrong hands.
But that’s not the case today. And with uniform regs fully available online, filmmakers have no excuse when they get it wrong.
According to Marine Corps dress regulation, the dress blue uniform hardcover should be snug fitting and be worn parallel to the deck. Lastly, don’t forget to shave. It’s 5 o’clock somewhere in the world, but not on your face.
4. Poppin’ An Epic Hand Salute
Steven Seagal plays Chief Casey Ryback, a decorated Navy SEAL who specializes in explosives, weapons, and counter-terrorism turned culinary specialist but finds it challenging to render a proper salute. Takes notes:
Stand up straight.
Snap your salute up and stop once your fingertips touch the outside edge of your eyebrow, keeping your fingers straight.
Position your forearm at a 45-degree angle and upper arm parallel to the deck.
Angle your hand inward towards your body.
Refrain from looking constipated.
5. Questionable Tactics
Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 war epic “Full Metal Jacket” is one of our all-time faves, but not for its accuracy in combat maneuvering. You don’t have to be a veteran to notice how dangerous running out in front of a barrage of cyclic gunfire can be and unrealistic.
Known for his attention to detail, Kubrick dropped the ball on getting the detail right in this shot as Doc Jay (played by Jon Stafford) crosses from left to right in front of a potentially bad friendly fire situation to save his comrade.
A former first lieutenant with the 221st Signal Company in Vietnam, Paul Berkowitz, created a website to help former unit members connect. And one day, he was surprised to receive an audio tape from former member Rick Ekstrand. It was the audio portion of film shot on Hill 724 in Vietnam where a pitched battle followed a highly successful Vietnam ambush in November 1967.
During the Battle of Dak To, U.S. troops maneuvered against a series of hills covered with thick jungle vegetation, including Hill 724. In this footage from Nov. 7, two American companies attempted to maneuver on the hill and were ambushed by a North Vietnamese Army Regiment.
Alpha Company, the lead regiment, was pinned down and the two companies were outnumbered 10 to 1. Rockets, mortars, artillery, and machine gun fire rained down on the men as the camera operator narrated and filmed. Check out the amazing footage below from the American Heroes Channel:
After years of exposing problems at the Phoenix VA and fighting off retaliation, noted whistleblower Brandon Coleman has accepted a position at the new Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection.
“The same agency that tried to destroy my career is now bringing me on to help fix this,” Coleman told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “That’s pretty humbling. And I don’t take it lightly. And I’m gonna give 120 percent like I do all the time.”
Coleman announced his new position at the Whistleblower Summit in Washington, DC last week.
Coleman’s endeavor into whistleblowing first started when he came forward in December 2014 to report the problem of neglected suicidal veterans walking out of the emergency room at the Phoenix VA and subsequently experienced a whirlwind of retaliation. After making a media appearance, management almost immediately plotted to terminate him and repeatedly rifled through his medical records as a method of intimidation.
Citing supposed workplace violence, Phoenix VA management successfully pushed Coleman out on paid leave for a total of 461 days, during which time his reputation blossomed as a public whistleblower fighting retaliation and wrongdoing. He later settled a lawsuit with the VA and returned to work, but this time at a VA facility elsewhere in Arizona. His whistleblowing career culminated in his testimony before the Senate and recent presence on the stage with President Donald Trump during the signing of the executive order to bring more accountability and whistleblower protection to the VA.
The very office created by the executive order is the office Coleman will soon be working for.
While the new office is still in the beginning stages, Coleman is hopeful that it can be used as an instrument to reform the VA.
For Coleman, one of the best indications that the office has a good shot at pushing reform through is that many of the employees have come from outside of the VA.
“My impression from the new division is that these are all employees brought in from other agencies — most of them I’ve met have been with the VA less than 6 months, and I really like that, cause they all want to fix this mess and that’s what my goal is, too, to fix this and to better care for our vets and protect whistleblowers, so what happened to me stops happening,” Coleman said.
“In a perfect world there would be no Brandon Colemans — what happened to me would never happen again. That’s my goal, to help them fix this. I told them I was willing to clean toilets, take out the garbage. I didn’t care. As a former Marine I just wanted to be a part of this,” Coleman added.
For now, Coleman is slowly transitioning out of his current role helping veterans with substance abuse disorders, at which point he will likely take over a role in whistleblower education, as he’s developed solid relationships with groups like the Project on Government Oversight, Government Accountability Project, the Office of Special Counsel and Concerned Veterans for America.
It’s possible the next big innovation in Marine Corps classroom or tactical training could come from an airman or a soldier.
Marine Corps Training and Education Command is in the final days of soliciting ideas for an innovation challenge focused on how to improve small-unit training, from policy to curriculum and classroom instruction to the use of tools like simulation and gaming. Any federal employee is eligible to submit ideas, including uniformed members of all service branches, including the Marine Corps, to defense department civilians.
“Sometimes it’s hard for this organization to look inside itself for new ideas,” Maj. Gen. James Lukeman, commanding general of TECOM, told Military.com in an interview. “So one of those ways that you get good ideas is, you go outside the organization.”
To date, TECOM spokesman Capt. Joshua Pena said, about 150 submissions have been collected; those eligible to submit ideas have until March 31 to send them in via a dedicated site accessed through DoD credentials. Submissions for the innovation challenge will be reviewed in April, and winners will be notified in May, officials said.
Last year, the Marine Corps has conducted a Corps-wide innovation challenge on autonomous systems and robotics, and another challenge specific to the logistics community.
“The specific focus was on how to create better decision makers,” Lukeman said. “The idea is that the ability to make good decisions quickly with limited information is critical for success on the battlefield, so how do we change our training and education that creates better decision makers for the Marine Corps.”
The Marine Corps is not promising a financial reward for winners of the challenge, or even a guarantee that their ideas will be implemented. But the authors of the best ideas will get a free trip to TECOM at Quantico, Virginia, where their proposals will be workshopped with subject matter experts.
“We just had a discussion the other day about the commandant’s reading list, on books that are out there for Marines to read, and they’ve been out there for a while,” said Sgt. Maj. Justin LeHew, the senior enlisted adviser for TECOM. “Somebody said, ‘well, they have audiobooks that are out there to do that. I could learn by using an audiobook.’ There are different things that are just provoking thought.”
Even as ideas still roll in, changes are taking place at Quantico that affect Marine Corps training. In a January message to the force, Commandant Gen. Robert Neller called for the Marine Corps to develop a new plan for Marine Corps-wide use of simulation and virtual training environments no later than this June. He also ordered that a plan be developed to build a world-class simulation and gaming center at Quantico to enhance realistic training and better prepare Marines to fight.
With retired Marine Gen. Jim Mattis, who once told fellow officers that “Powerpoint makes us stupid,” now at the helm of the defense department, Lukeman said TECOM was also working to minimize slide-lecture briefings and presentations.
“This is what we’re trying to get away from, is sit in a classroom and get taught,” he said. “The other thing that we’ve shifted to is, where possible, we want for Marines to get taught by other Marines … We’re going with the method of having a unit leader discussion over having a class.”
If he had to do it all again today, he’s not sure he would be able to. Mentally, he’s not sure he’s got what it takes anymore.
But when you ask Adam Peeples about about that night on the rooftop in Ramadi when he shot an enemy sniper, he talks about it as if he just pulled the trigger.
And he’s more than alright with it.
“I was like, I can’t believe I’m in a position where I get to draw on this guy,” said Peeples, a former Army sniper who had waited for just such a moment before he even got to Iraq. “We talked about it later, and our general consensus was can you believe that guy? What was he thinking?”
That was a high point. In fact, he and his men had been up on that rooftop in the most intense fighting anyone of them had ever seen. It was February 2007 and Ramadi was a place to go to die — for Americans and everyone else.
During lulls in the fighting over three days, they got resupplied by the Bradley fighting vehicle crew that had dropped them off at the beginning of the operation. With a fresh supply of pre-loaded mags, a crate of grenades, a bunch of M240 ammo, three AT4 grenade launchers and food, the fight kept on going.
Peeples (left) preferred taking sniper shots with his customized weapon he built with $2,500 of his own money and parts he ordered from the United States. (Photo courtesy of Adam Peeples)
The air smelled, the city smelled and they could hear the bullets zipping past their heads over the voices of an enemy close enough to be clearly heard. About every 10 minutes, it got kinda quiet.
It was during one of these lulls that Peeples took the time to scan a building about 75 meters away that he believed was the source of a spate of gunshots that were more accurate than most.
“It had started easing off a little bit. We had called in three [guided missile launch rockets] and a 500 pound bomb and we’d shot three AT4s, so the buildings were pretty devastated,” he said. “But there were still guys creeping around up there and we were taking pot shots over our heads.”
Listening closely to the shots, Peeples figured the shooter was probably using something like an SVD Dragunov sniper rifle.
“A couple of shots hit the wall and I said, ‘this is a sniper… or he thinks he is anyway,’ ” he recalled.
With so many shots spinning out from their position, he had taken the universal night site off the front of his rifle because it had gotten heavy and he wasn’t really looking through it to find targets that were giving themselves away with muzzle flashes. But as he started to look around, he put the site back on the rifle to scan the building he suspected as a hideout.
Peeples used a customized weapon he built with $2,500 of his own money and parts he mail ordered from the United States.
Using the Army-issued lower receiver of his M16 — the part that makes the gun fire — he added a new barrel and several accessories that made the rifle extra accurate and customized for his shooting style.
“It was an extremely accurate weapon, every bit as accurate as the M24 was,” he remembered. “If I had a good shot on a dude’s head and I were to miss because the rifle’s not good enough to make the shot, then why take the shot?”
He propped himself up on the wall, and using his scope, looked slowly from window to window, shining is invisible IR floodlight to look into the rooms through open windows and doors.
The night was clear and the smell of gun powder hung in their nostrils. Peeples didn’t have his finger on the trigger because he didn’t expect to see anybody – until he saw the glint and his heart beat a little faster.
As he passed over one of the open windows, it caught his trained eye – and he went back to it.
“I could see the guy. He had a table set up and a chair and he had something that he had his rifle sitting on like a pillow or a blanket or sack of sand or something,” Peeples said. “I could clearly see a rifle and a guy sitting down, I could tell his weapon had a scope on it. It’s kind of cool when you can see someone and you know they can’t see you. He was close. I could see him back there trying to figure out where to shoot at and where to see us. I can imagine from the shots he’s taking at us he couldn’t see. It was not accurate fire.”
The distance between them was shorter than a football field and Peeples didn’t hesitate.
“From the time I saw him to the time I shot him was six or seven seconds.” he said. “It was a head shot, just dropped him. He just fell right on top of his rifle and knocked the table over,” Peeples said, conceding that even though the enemy sniper’s shots weren’t accurate enough to kill him or any of his men, “somebody might have told him how to do it, or he figured it out somewhere. He had an idea of what he was doing.”
That night was Peeples’ chance to take out one of an unknown number of snipers operating in Al Anbar province.
“A big part of this job is to treat it as a job and just kind of dehumanize it,” he recalled 10 years later. “I really just made it my job, it’s what I’m going to do and not really get into thinking about what I’m actually doing. It becomes a much harder job to do when you think about what you’re doing for a job which is killing people.”
And he’d kill again if it could save the lives of some of his buddies.
“It was the personal satisfaction of knowing we set up a proper ambush, took out those guys and it was a huge motivation,” he said. “It was my drive. It was everything that made me want to go out there and do it.”
Gina Cavallaro is the author of “Sniper: American Single-Shot Warriors in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
This incredible story was brought to you by Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions which are set to release the military thriller “The Wall” May 12. The movie, starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson and John Cena, is a harrowing story pitting the infamous insurgent sniper known as “Juba” against an American sharpshooter who uses an unsteady wall for protection as he tries to rescue his wounded comrade.
One would think that without a security clearance, the Director of Naval Intelligence would lose his job. In the case of Navy Vice Adm. Ted Branch, that didn’t happen.
Branch was caught on the periphery of the “Fat Leonard” scandal, due to his actions while commanding officer of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68).
You’ve probably heard of it by now. Numerous Navy officers and individuals tied to a contractor in the Far East have been indicted for all sorts of charges, including retired Navy Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless, whose indictment was unsealed on March 14, according to a Defense News report.
Branch had his security clearance suspended in 2013, months after he became Director of Naval Intelligence. A March 2016 report by USNI News noted that then-Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus discussed the situation with the Senate Armed Services Committee in a hearing.
“When I was informed in late 2013 that Adm. Branch was possibly connected to the GDMA case, I thought because of his position I should remove his clearance in an excess of caution. I was also told — assured — at that time that a decision would be made in a very short time — in a matter of weeks, I was told — as to whether he was involved and what would be the disposition of the case,” Mabus explained to Senator Joni Earnst (R-IA).
Branch’s situation had languished for almost two and a half years at that point.
“Naval intelligence is OK. The whole situation is less than optimal and frustrating, but we are where we are,” he told Military.com in Feb. 2016. “And we will persevere. And I will lead in this capacity until somebody tells me to go home.”
Branch retired on Oct. 1, 2016, upon the confirmation of his successor, Vice Adm. Jan Tighe.
During Branch’s time as captain of the Nimitz, the 10-part PBS documentary series “Carrier” was film on the vessel. The series was produced by Mel Gibson’s Icon Productions, the same company that did the Oscar-winning film “Hacksaw Ridge.”
The mysterious death of Maj. Gen. (Promotable) John G. Rossi on July 31, shortly before he was to be promoted to lieutenant general and take command of U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, has now been ruled a suicide.
According to a report by the Associated Press, Rossi is the highest-ranking officer and first Army general officer to kill himself while on active duty since statistics were kept in 2000. In an obituary posted online, Rossi left behind a wife, three children (one an Army officer), his father and a sister.
During his career, Rossi had received the Distinguished Service Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Legion of Merit with four Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Bronze Star with an Oak Leaf Cluster, among other decorations. He had served a tour during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
While Rossi’s suicide is the Army’s first active duty general officer who took his own life since the Department of Defense started to keep statistics in 2000, high-ranking officials committing suicide is not an unknown phenomenon.
One of the most notable incidents involved Adm. Jeremy Boorda who was the Chief of Naval Operations when he shot himself in May, 1996. Another incident involved James Forrestal, who had recently resigned as Secretary of Defense when he was hospitalized for treatment of “overwork” (he was actually suffering from serious depression). In May of 1949, he jumped out of a window at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
Even legendary military leaders contemplated suicide. William Tecumseh Sherman, the Civil War general who was most famous for capturing Atlanta and his March to the Sea, had a mental breakdown in late 1861 during which he considered taking his own life.
In a statement released after the announcement of Rossi’s cause of death his family said, “For our family, this has been an incredibly painful time, and we ask that you continue to keep us in your thoughts and prayers. To all the other families out there, to the man or woman who may be facing challenging times, please seek assistance immediately.”
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they’re always capturing what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
Tech. Sgt. Brandon Middleton, 41st Rescue Squadron special missions aviator, loads .50 caliber rounds into a machinegun aboard an HH-60G Pave Hawk, June 27, 2017, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. The HH-60G flies with two pilots and two SMAs, who are responsible for pre-flight aircraft inspections, passengers, cargo and operating the aircraft’s weapons.
U.S. Airmen assigned to the 20th Civil Engineer Squadron fire department extinguish a fire during a live fire training scenario at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., June 27, 2017. The training enables firefighters to hone the skills needed to combat aircraft fires, structural fires and vehicle extractions.
A convoy consisting of vehicles from Coldsteel Troop, 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment maneuvers out of the National Training Center’s “Colorado Pass” to engage armored elements of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, June 26, 2017. This phase of NTC Rotation 17-07.5 challenged the Raider Brigade’s ability to conduct zone reconnaissance and prepare the area of operations for follow on forces.
U.S. Army Soldiers assigned to Company A, 4th battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, practice clearing rooms during Military in Urban Terrain training at Tellinda-Har Village June 28, 2017 at Fort Bliss, Tx.
Kenneth Kallen of the Fire Department at Stewart Air National Guard Base uses a hose to wash down number 7 aircraft of the Blue Angels, June 26, 2017. The Blue angels were performing as part of an airshow here at Stewart.
Sailors conduct flight operations aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) in the Pacific Ocean. Nimitz is on an underway period in the U.S. 7th fleet area of operations. The U.S. Navy has patrolled the Indo-Asia Pacific routinely for more than 70 years promoting regional peace and security.
Marines assigned to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Africa exit a MV-22B Osprey aircraft during assault training at Sierra Del Retan, Spain, June 26, 2017. SPMAGTF-CR-AF deployed to conduct limited crisis response and theater security operations in Europe and North Africa.
Three MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircrafts assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 265 (Reinforced) fly in formation above Sydney, Australia. VMM-265 is part of the Aviation Combat Element of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU). The 31st MEU partners with Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 11 to form the amphibious component of the Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group. The 31st MEU and PHIBRON 11 combine to provide a cohesive blue-green team capable of accomplishing a variety of missions across the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
A 45-foot Response Boat-Medium crew from Coast Guard Station Wrightsville Beach approaches a capsized vessel near Masonboro Inlet, North Carolina, June 28, 2017. A 22-foot boat with four adults and one 4 year old aboard capsized about three miles off Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, and the Wrightsville Beach boat crew rescued all five people from the water.
U.S. Naval Sea Cadets board a 25-foot Response Boat-Small at Maritime Safety and Security Team Honolulu (91107) at Coast Guard Base Honolulu, June 26, 2017. The U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps is a Navy-based organization, which serves to teach teens about sea-going military services, U.S. naval operations and training, community service, discipline and teamwork.
The Air Force announced new policies on dress and appearance with regard to tattoos, as well as changes to service medical accession policy Jan. 9.
These changes result from a review of Air Force accessions policies directed by Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James in 2016.
“As part of our effort to attract and retain as many qualified Airmen as possible we periodically review our accessions policies,” she said. “In this instance, we identified specific changes we can make to allow more members of our nation to serve without compromising quality. As a next step in this evolution, we are opening the aperture on certain medical accession criteria and tattoos while taking into account our needs for worldwide deployability and our commitment to the profession of arms.”
Authorized tattoos on the chest, back, arms and legs will no longer be restricted by the “25 percent” rule, while tattoos, brands or body markings on the head, neck, face, tongue, lips and/or scalp remain prohibited. Hand tattoos will be limited to one single-band ring tattoo, on one finger, on one hand. The hand tattoo change ensures the ability to present a more formal military image when required at certain events and/or with dress uniforms. Current Airmen with existing hand tattoos that were authorized under the previous policy will be grandfathered in under the old policy standards.
A recent review of Air Force field recruiters revealed almost half of contacts, applicants and recruits had tattoos. Of these, one of every five were found to have tattoos requiring review or that may be considered disqualifying; the top disqualifier was the 25 percent rule on “excessive” tattoos. The new policy lifts the 25 percent restriction on authorized tattoos to the chest, back, arms and legs, opening up this population for recruitment into the Air Force.
Tattoos, brands and body markings anywhere on the body that are obscene, commonly associated with gangs, extremist and/or supremacist organizations, or that advocate sexual, racial, ethnic or religious discrimination remain prohibited in and out of uniform. To maintain uniformity and good order and consistent with Air Force Instruction 36-2903, “Dress and Personal Appearance of Air Force Personnel,” commanders will retain the authority to be more restrictive for tattoos, body ornaments and/or personal grooming based on legal, moral, safety, sanitary, and/or foreign country cultural reasons.
The new tattoo policy is effective Feb. 1, 2017. Further implementation guidance will be released in an addendum to the policy guidance.
The Air Force’s periodic review of medical accession standards and advancement of medical capabilities prompted policy changes with respect to waivers concerning common conditions that have routinely disqualified prospective Airmen from service: eczema, asthma and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Waivers for eczema, asthma and ADHD currently constitute the highest volume of requests from Air Force recruiters. Additionally, current Air Force accession policy with respect to pre-service marijuana use is not reflective of the continuing legalization of marijuana in numerous states throughout the nation.
“We are always looking at our policies and, when appropriate, adjusting them to ensure a broad scope of individuals are eligible to serve. These changes allow the Air Force to aggressively recruit talented and capable Americans who until now might not have been able to serve our country in uniform,” said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody.
While medical accession standards are standardized across the Services, the Air Force has modified some of its more restrictive service policy, or established specific criteria to streamline and standardize waiver processes to increase the number of qualified candidates entering service. These changes include:
• Eczema: Select candidates medically classified as having mild forms of eczema will be processed for a waiver. Certain occupational restrictions may be applied to secure personal and mission safety.
• ADHD: Candidates who do not meet the standard of never having taken more than a single daily dosage of medication or not having been prescribed medication for their condition for more than 24 cumulative months after the age of 14 will be processed for a waiver if they have demonstrated at least 15 months of performance stability (academic or vocational) off medication immediately preceding enlistment or enrollment and they continue to meet remaining criteria as outlined in Defense Department Instruction 6130.03.
• Asthma: The Air Force will use the Methacholine Challenge Test to provide an objective measure of candidates with an ambiguous or uncertain history of asthma. Candidates who successfully pass this test will be processed for a waiver.
• Pre-accession marijuana usage: The revised policy will remove the service prescribed numerical limitations on prior use of marijuana when determining accession qualifications. In accordance with DOD standards, a medical diagnosis of substance-related disorders or addiction remains medically disqualifying for service. Additionally, any legal proceedings associated with pre-service use will continue to be reviewed and adjudicated separately and may be disqualifying depending on the nature of the offense(s). The Air Force will maintain a strict “no use” policy. An applicant or enlistee will be disqualified for service if they use drugs after the initial entrance interview.
The waiver process changes are effective immediately. The Air Force continues to work with the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the other services to review existing medical accession standards to allow the highest number of qualified individuals possible to serve.
“Among the fundamental qualities required of our Airmen is being ready to fight and win our nation’s wars. These accession standards ensure we maintain our high standards while bringing more consistency to our policies,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein. “As medical capabilities have improved and laws have changed, the Air Force is evolving so we are able to access more worldwide deployable Airmen to conduct the business of our nation.”
Russia’s military intervention in Syria in support of the regime of Bashar al-Assad has made US operations in the country more complicated. Although both countries are purportedly fighting ISIS, their larger strategies are at cross-purposes in Syria, where the US advocates a political transition in which Assad eventually steps down.
Now, in the latest sign of growing tensions between the US and Russia in Syria, the US is sending planes equipped only with air-to-air weaponry to the region, David Axe reports for The Daily Beast. As Axe notes, Russia’s the only potential US adversary in Syria with its own combat aircraft.
The Pentagon announced last week that it would send up to a dozen F-15Cs to the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey for operations over Syria. As The Daily Beast notes, the aircrafts’ exact role remains unclear.
F-15Cs are armed with only air-to-air weaponry, making the plane unnecessary in operations against ISIS, which doesn’t have a functioning air element. Instead, the jets could have one of two purposes in the region — they could either be used to help protect Turkey’s border against periodic incursions by Syrian jets and helicopters.
Or, under certain circumstances, the F-15Cs could be used to help counter Russian activity over Syria. A hypothetical no-fly zone over northern Syria near the Turkish border, for instance, would have to be maintained using planes that could enforce the zone against both Russian and Syrian aircraft.
“Such a zone could compel F-15s and other U.S. planes to directly confront Russian planes, even though — in theory— both air forces are attacking ISIS,” Axe writes. “Russia and the United States do make efforts to steer their jets away away from possible collisions, but otherwise do not collaborate in their separate air wars in Syria.”
The introduction of the F-15s highlights the danger of a potential confrontation between allied and Russian aircraft in the Middle East, regardless of whether such an escallation would be intentional or accidental.
In the beginning of October, an unnamed British military official told The Sunday Times that British jets had the go ahead to engage Russian aircraft over Iraq or Syria if fired upon or if they felt their life was endangered. However, the British government quickly denied the report.
Russian jets have also shadowed US MQ-1 Predator drones as they have conducted operations over ISIS territory, including above ISIS’ de facto capital of Raqqa and near the Syrian-Turkish border.
During operations, US and Russian jets have come within 20 miles of each other in the air. This was close enough that the planes could see each other in their targeting cameras. At such close ranges, the potential for accidents — or for a fateful misunderstanding — sharply increases.
ISIS initiated the attack on the An Tanf garrison with a vehicle bomb and between 20 to 30 ISIS fighters followed with a ground assault and suicide vests, officials said.
Coalition and partnered forces defended against the ISIS attack with direct fire before destroying enemy assault vehicles and the remaining fighters with multiple coalition airstrikes, officials said.
In southern Syria, officials said, vetted Syrian opposition forces focus on conducting operations to clear ISIS from the Hamad Desert and have been instrumental in countering the ISIS threat in southern Syria and maintaining security along the Syria-Jordan border.
Air Force Airman 1st Class Nathan Kosters, the youngest F-35 crew chief in the 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, was born in 1996. “The Macarena” somehow was No. 1 on the charts, “Independence Day” topped the box office, and the F-16 Fighting Falcon had already been flying for 22 years.
The 20-year-old native of Byron Center, Michigan, and his fellow F-35A Lightning II maintainers generated combat sorties with America’s youngest jet at Red Flag.
The Jan. 23-to-Feb. 10 iteration of Air Force’s premier air combat exercise included both U.S. and allied nations’ combat air forces, providing aircrews the experience of multiple, intensive air combat sorties in the safety of a training environment.
“It’s pretty amazing. It’s like a family atmosphere,” Kosters said. “We’re extremely busy, working long hours, but everyone pulls together and makes sure the mission is successful.”
Inspired by His Father
Growing up, he learned hard work from his father, a carpenter. He learned how to get up early and work until the job was done. The two worked side by side, he said, even throughout his father’s cancer treatments. “He is an inspiration to me — never giving up,” Kosters said. “Working was a great opportunity to be close to him.”
Kosters joined the Air Force a little over a year ago after graduating from high school and working in construction for awhile, because he wanted to leave the Midwest, get an education and see the world, he said. He got high scores on his entrance test, and the F-35 maintenance world, hungry for new talent, put him in the pipeline.
“I didn’t really know anything about the F-35,” Kosters said. “I knew it was the newest jet, and I heard all the negative press about it. My dad and I started reading up on it. He probably knew more about it than I did.”
After technical training and hands-on experience, Kosters said, he is happy he is where he is.
“It’s cool, working with the latest technology, he added. “I don’t want to make it sound like maintenance is easy. It’s just advanced. It’s great to be able to plug in a laptop and talk to the aircraft.”
Based at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, the 34th Fighter Squadron and Aircraft Maintenance Unit are the first combat-coded F-35A units in the Air Force. They were created by bringing together a team of experienced pilots and maintainers from across the Air Force’s F-35 test and training units. Kosters was one of the first pipeline maintainers to join the 34th AMU straight from basic training and tech school, and Red Flag is valuable experience for that greener group.
“At home, our young maintenance airmen are practicing and learning every day. Here, we’re able to put that training into a realistic scenario and watch them succeed and learn how to overcome challenges,” said Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Robert Soto, lead production superintendent for the 34th AMU.
“It’s not glorious,” Kosters said. “You’re not working 9 to 5. Your uniform is not going to stay nice and clean. But, next to being a pilot, I feel like I have the best job there is. It’s gratifying to see those jets take off.”
Kosters said he and his fellow maintainers take pride as they hear from pilots how their aircraft are performing in the fight.
“It’s had its doubters in the world, but it’s nice to prove people wrong with all eyes on us, especially here,” Kosters said. “The first couple missions, it was the F-35 versus everyone else, and our guys were showing them that the F-35 is a superior plane. We’re like varsity.”