A-29 Super Tucano attack aircraft manned by Afghan pilots trained in the U.S. have conducted the first close air support missions by fixed-wing aircraft ever flown for the fledgling Afghan Air Force, a U.S. military spokesman in Kabul said Thursday.
“They are beginning to take their first strikes,” guided to targets by Afghan forward air controllers on the ground, Army Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland said in a video briefing from Kabul to the Pentagon.
Cleveland did not say where or when the first A-29 strikes took place or describe the effectiveness of the missions, but U.S. and Afghan officials previously had said that combat missions by the turboprop aircraft were expected to begin in April.
Four of the A-29s arrived in Afghanistan in January and another four have since flown in to a military airfield near Hamid Karzai International Airport outside Kabul, according to Cleveland, the new deputy chief of staff for communications for the U.S. and NATO Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan.
A U.S.-funded $427 million contract calls for a total of 20 A-29s to be delivered to Afghanistan by 2018.
Eight Afghan Air Force pilots completed training late last year on the A-29s with U.S. pilots from the 81st Fighter Squadron at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia. The A-29s, which were designed for close air support, carry a 20mm cannon below the fuselage, one 12.7mm machine gun under each wing and can also fire 70mm rockets and launch precision-guided bombs.
The A-29s began arriving in Afghanistan nearly five years after the Brazilian firm Embraer, and its U.S. partner Sierra Nevada Corp., won a Light Air Support competition with the A-29 against the Hawker Beechcraft AT-6B Texan II, leading to contract disputes and delays in the program.
Last month, the A-29s working with Afghan tactical air controllers conducted live-fire training exercises outside Kabul. At a following ceremony called the “Rebirth of the Afghan Air Force,” Maj. Gen. Wahab Wardak, commander of the Afghan Air Force, said he expected the A-29s to begin conducting airstrikes in April.
Although Cleveland did not say where the first A-29 strikes were carried out, Afghan Defense Minister Masoom Stanikzai said last month that the aircraft would likely be used first in southwestern Helmand province, where the Afghan National Security Forces have been struggling to contain the Taliban in the region that is the center of Afghanistan’s opium trade.
“Helmand is not a rosy picture now,” said Cleveland.
Even so, he contradicted news reports that the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, former headquarters of British forces in the region, was about to fall. In February, 500 troops from the Army’s 10th Mountain Division were sent to Helmand as force protection for U.S. Special Operations troops advising and assisting the Afghans.
Cleveland said that the Afghan forces, backed by nearly daily U.S. airstrikes, were making progress against newly-emergent Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, allied Afghan insurgents in eastern Nangarhar province.
“We do think that they are being contained more than they probably were last fall,” he said, but “we do think that they still pose a real threat. And based on their past performance, they’ve got the ability to catch fire very quickly. So we do want to continue to have constant pressure on them.”
Netflix partnered up with huge modern directors to tell the story of five filmmakers who chose to put their careers on hold and serve in World War II.
Based on Mark Harris’ best-selling book, “Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War,”the new Netflix series “Five Came Back” is about five filmmakers (John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens) who served in the war, then returned to share what they learned with the world through their art.
With interviews by Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Guillermo del Toro, Lawrence Kasdan, and Paul Greengrass, and narrated by Meryl Streep, “Five Came Back” explores the role filmmakers have during tumultuous times.
“Americans did not realize the extent of the threat Hitler posed,” narrates Streep.
The “five” created films that brought the reality of the war to the American people, and, in doing so, “changed the world.”
We know the key facts of what happened on April 18, 1943. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was killed when his Mitsubishi G4M Betty attack bomber was shot down by a Lockheed P-38 Lightning flown by Capt. Thomas G. Lanphier Jr., marking the “Zero Dark Thirty” moment of World War II.
But it took a bit more training to get the most out of the P-38.
Lockheed helped out in this regard by making a training film, using expertise from their production pilots. The takeoff procedure was different, mostly in not using flaps. The plane also was very hard to stall.
The plane did have limitations: A pilot needed to have a lot of air under him, due to both the compressibility that early models suffered, and the speed the P-38 could pick up in a dive. The pilot couldn’t stay inverted for more than 10 seconds, either.
The film also showed some P-38s modified as trainers. The film shows one trainee being shown how to deal with propellers running wild. The pilots were also trained to feather props.
The P-38 was surprising easy to fly as a single-engine plane. The film shows Tony LeVier, a noted test pilot, simulating an engine failure during takeoff.
The P-38 was a superb fighter, even if the Mustang, Hellfire, and Thunderbolt got most of the press. Put it this way, America’s top two aces of all time, Maj. Richard Bong and Maj. Thomas McGuire, flew the P-38 plane in World War II and combined for 78 confirmed kills.
The training film is below. Now you have a sense of what it was like to fly the plane that killed Yamamoto.
Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer visited Naval Station Norfolk for the first time August 10, where he pledged that America would defend itself and its allies against aggression from North Korea.
Tensions between the US and North Korea have escalated amid threats from Kim Jong Un to lob missiles near the American territory of Guam, which is home to naval and Air Force bases. President Donald Trump ramped up warnings of “fire and fury” should the dictator put his plan into action.
Spencer, who was sworn in as the Navy’s 76th secretary August 3, declined to comment on the Navy’s preparations in the Pacific.
“We just hope that Korea stops acting the way it does,” Spencer said. “We’re going to defend ourselves; we are going to defend our allies. They should know that, and we hope that we can have conversations and de-escalate.”
Spencer’s comments came after he toured the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford and Virginia-class submarine USS John Warner and named people, capabilities, and process as priorities for his new role.
Spencer joined the Marine Corps in 1976 after graduating from Rollins College with a bachelor’s degree in economics and flew the service’s H-46 helicopter. He attained the rank of captain before leaving in 1981 for a career in finance, according to a Navy biography. He most recently served as managing director of Wyoming-based Fall Creek Management, LLC.
Spencer follows Ray Mabus, whose nearly eight years as Navy secretary — the longest since World War I — was marked with criticism for decisions to name some ships after civil and human rights leaders and for dropping a more than two-century-old naval tradition of referring to sailors by their rate, or job title, in favor of rank. That decision was reversed after a storm of fierce opposition.
During his July 11 confirmation hearing, Spencer told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that he supports the use of alternative energy sources, growing the capacity and capabilities of the fleet, and protecting Navy bases against sea-level rise.
Spencer also said he opposed the use of the services as “a petri dish for social experiments,” instead saying it should be left to the Pentagon to develop policy. A little more than two weeks later and in a series of tweets, Trump said he was banning transgender military personnel from service, stunning an unprepared Pentagon.
Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has reaffirmed current policies until additional guidance is given by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Spencer said August 10 he would follow policies developed by the Pentagon at the direction of the White House, adding context to his “petri dish” statement to mean that no service secretary “should go off and do experiments on their own.” But Spencer did not directly say whether the thousands of transgender service members on active duty and in the reserves should be kicked out.
“As I’ve said before, any patriot that wants to serve and meets all the requirements should be able to serve in our military,” Spencer said.
The US Air Force confirmed in early August that it would buy two Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental airliners and convert them to serve as future Air Force One planes for US presidents.
The decision to buy planes that were already built rather than custom-made aircraft stemmed from President Donald Trump’s push to cut costs.
Trump publicly criticized the Boeing-led program’s cost in December.
Earlier this year, Trump said he would be able to cut a billion dollars from the $4.2 billion Presidential Airlift Recapitalization program, though the White House later said those savings would only amount to “millions.”
Now the exclusion of a key feature to keep expenses down may attract objections from Congress.
“Strangely to me, the Air Force has just announced that the next version of Air Force One will not have in-flight refueling capability. What do you make of that?” Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton asked Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford on Tuesday, during a hearing to confirm Dunford’s reappointment to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“I think that was a decision that was not made by the Air Force, but made by the White House,” Dunford said, “and I think it had to do with the fiscal constraints on the program.”
Cotton, calling the decision strange, suggested lawmakers and military leaders might reverse it. “I think we might need to revisit that decision here on Capitol Hill,” he said, according to Air Force Times.
The Air Force said in August that it wouldn’t mandate the new planes have in-flight refueling systems, and officials have said adding that capability would add unneeded costs.
But while the 747-8 models can fly almost 1,800 nautical miles more than the jets they will replace without refueling, according to Defense One — and even though presidents have never used in-flight refueling on the current planes — Dunford said the need to make ground stops for refueling, even in the case of emergency, “will certainly be a limiting factor, and we’ll have to plan accordingly.”
The Air Force plans to start modifying the 747s in 2019 and have them enter service in 2024. By that time, the two Boeing 747-200-based VC-25A aircraft that serve as Air Force One when the president is aboard will be 34 years old.
The Boeing 747-8 platform was selected as the next presidential aircraft in January 2015. The two aircraft acquired for the program were built by Boeing for a Russian airline that went bankrupt before it could take delivery. The company then held on to the planes until a new buyer could be found. The Air Force has not disclosed how much it paid for them.
Air Force One acts as a mobile national command center, and expected modifications include a specialized communications system, electrical upgrades, a medical facility, and a self-defense system. What requirements will be put on the planes and how much they will cost have been the subject of wrangling between the Pentagon and contractors for months.
The Air Force is looking to cut costs by striking better deals on the materials going into the planes. A number of the plane’s interior furnishings will be commercially available products.
“From this point forward, any additional cost savings will arise from capitalizing on acquisition process opportunities,” Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek told Defense One this month.
Boeing has already gotten $170 million in development funding to study the future Air Force One’s technical requirements. Earlier this month, the Air Force awarded the company another contract worth a little less than $600 million to begin the preliminary design of the future Air Force Ones.
“Those [cost-saving] opportunities identified will be reviewed to ensure mission capabilities are not degraded,” the Air Force said at the time, according to Defense News. “The entire preliminary design effort will keep a focus on affordability.”
The U.S. Army‘s acquisitions chief said recently that the military needs to make a major technological breakthrough in speed if combat forces are to maintain their edge on future battlefields.
“What is it that we could do that would be the same as ‘own the night?’ ” said Bruce Jette, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisitions, logistics and technology, referring to the service’s breakthrough in night-vision technology. “And I’ll tell you, the thing that keeps coming is speed.”
Speaking at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Science Technology Symposium and Showcase, he recalled an experience he had in the early 1980s as a tank commander during a force-on-force training exercise at Fort Carson, Colorado.
“I was coming up over this ridgeline, and the other guy is coming up over the other ridgeline. I saw him, he saw me,” Jette said.
Each tank started rotating its turret toward the other.
“It was like quick draw: Who is going to get in line with the other guy first?” Jette said, describing how it all came down to “the rate at which the turret turned.”
The Russians are experimenting with robotic turrets that use algorithms to speed up decision-making in combat, he said. Images appear on a flat screen inside the tank, and “the computer goes, ‘I think that is a tank.’
An M1A2 SEP Abrams from 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team, Idaho Army National Guard (middle) and a M1134 Anti-Tank Guided Missile Vehicle from 1st Squadron, 14th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., return from waging mock battle against one another during an eXportable Combat Training Capability exercise, at Orchard Combat Training Center, south of Boise, Idaho, Aug. 14, 2014.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Chris McCullough)
“They have [pictures] of our tanks and vehicles in their computer, and the computer looks at them and puts little boxes around them and, depending on how far away they are and depending on what orientation they are in, the computer has an algorithm that says, ‘Shoot that one first, that one second and that one third,’ ” Jette said.
This reduces the number of steps the gunner must go through before engaging targets.
“I need your ideas on how to put ourselves way past what these guys are onto,” Jette said, addressing an audience of industry representatives. “How can we be faster? How can we be better?”
He added, “One of the reasons we are not doing that yet is we are not going to mistake an ice cream truck for a tank. Our probability of target detection and identification has to be extremely high. Our thresholds would have to be higher; we would have to be better, we would have to be faster. Speed is going to be critically important.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
From “Spider-man” through “Iron Man” and the Avengers series, Marvel Studios has created its own brand of action/adventure movies, bringing audiences a proprietary mix of world-on-the-brink plots, stunning visuals, likable heroes and hate-able villains with complex relationships between them, humor, and – perhaps most signature of all – seamless tie-ins to other parts of the Marvel franchise.
Marvel’s latest release, “Ant-Man,” is no exception. Paul Rudd plays Scott Lang, a white-collar criminal freshly released from San Quentin desperately trying to reconnect with his daughter (a first for a Marvel movie, hero motivation-wise, as director Peyton Reed emphasized at a pre-launch press conference) who lives with his ex and her pushy cop boyfriend. Lang tries to stay out of the burglary (not stealing) business – even taking a job at Baskin-Robbins – but ultimately he falls prey to the temptations of follow-on “jobs” offered by his former cellmates (one of whom is a guy named Luis played by the always-hilarious Michael Pena) who are now his roommates.
Meanwhile industrial technologist Hank Pym, played by Michael Douglas, is trying to keep his former protégé, Darren Cross, played by Corey Stoll of “House of Cards” doomed drug addict congressman fame, from selling his shrinking technology to the highest bidder to destroy the world. Pym shelved the technology after losing his wife to it, a move Stoll views as a slight to his career potential. Stoll has been developing his own suit in parallel but – as the grizzly molecular deconstruction of a couple of baby lambs shows – he hasn’t quite mastered the ability to shrink life forms.
But he’s close, and Pym knows this. Pym needs a guinea pig to wear his suit, somebody with nothing to lose and everything to gain by carrying out a mission to save the world, and he finds Lang by synthesizing a can’t-miss burglary. Lang breaks into Pym’s house, cracks the ancient safe in his basement where he finds – not money – the Ant-Man suit, which, of course, he puts on.
Lang has a wild first ride in the suit, and he’s freaked out by the technology so much that he tries to put it back. But as he does, he’s arrested and thrown in jail – by his ex’s boyfriend, no less. Pym shows up as his “lawyer” and challenges him to fix his life by being Ant-Man.
Ant-Man training is intense, even tougher than Ranger School or BUDS because it involves learning to shrink at the right time, coordinating ops with a variety of ant species that are really big once you’re shrunk, and getting your ass kicked by a beautiful woman who happens to be Pym’s daughter.
The first training mission unintentionally morphs into a raid on the Avengers’ headquarters – a neat connection to another part of the franchise – where Ant-Man tangles with Hawkman, who apparently was the Avengers’ duty officer that day. After a scrap, Ant-Man emerges with a piece of key tech the team needs to move forward.
Lang’s criminal buds are read-in for the final mission – an all-out assault on Cross’ complex – and at that point the Marvel formula is in full gear. Over-the-top action is punctuated by LOL-level humor – one scene involving Thomas the Tank Engine is especially side-splitting – and other tongue-in-cheek asides that show the brand knows exactly how not to take itself too seriously while dealing out the serious pyro-laced slugfests.
In typical Marvel fashion, the movie ends with a teaser – this one involving Hawkman, a nice tie-in to his previous cameo – that hints at a sequel.
“Ant-Man” is a great addition to the Marvel movie collection, at once unorthodox and in keeping with the studio’s formula. The choice of Rudd in the lead role is inspired and ultimately differentiates the movie from others in the genre, and Douglas is in top form. (At a Marvel junket in Burbank a few weeks before the release both actors quipped that they’d gone up a few notches on the “cool” scale with their kids as a result of taking these roles.) The supporting characters are pitch perfect.
From a military point of view, the ability to control the sub-atomic and gamma realm is certainly something DARPA has toyed with, but until they master it, let’s enjoy “Ant-Man” – the perfect summer flick, a blockbuster that both thrills and entertains.
Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, sustained massive damage from a 70-ton crane falling on it after an accident at a shipyard, Russian media reports.
The Kuznetsov, a Soviet-era ship already known for having serious problems, now has a massive 214 square foot hole in its hull after a power supply issue flooded its dry dock and sent a crane crashing down against it.
Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Kuznetsov, is a floating hell for the crew
“The crane that fell left a hole 4 by 5 meters. But at the same time … these are structures that are repaired easily and quickly,” Alexei Rakhamnov, the head of Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation, told Russian media.
“Of course when a 70-tonne crane falls on deck, it will cause harm,” Rakhmanov continued, according to the BBC. “But according to our initial information, the damage from the falling crane and from the ship listing when the dock sank is not substantial.”
In the Hollywood blockbuster “The Core,” the planet’s core suddenly stops rotating, causing Earth’s magnetic field to collapse. Then bursts of deadly microwaves cook the Colosseum and melt the Golden Gate Bridge.
While “nearly everything in the movie is wrong,” according to Justin Revenaugh, a seismologist from the University of Minnesota, it is true that Earth’s magnetic field shields the planet from deadly and destructive solar radiation. Without it, solar winds could strip Earth of its oceans and atmosphere.
But the planet’s magnetic field isn’t static.
The Earth’s north magnetic pole (which is not the same as geographic north) has led scientists on something of a goose chase over the past century. Each year, it moves north by an average of about 30 miles.
The magnetic north pole has shifted north since the 1900s.
That movement made the World Magnetic Model — which tracks the field and informs compasses, smartphone GPS, and navigation systems on planes and ships — inaccurate. Since the next planned update of the WMM wasn’t until 2020, the US military requested an unprecedented early update to account for magnetic north’s accelerated gambol.
Now authors of a new study have gained insight into why magnetic north might be moving — and are learning how to predict these shifts.
Periodic and sometimes random changes in the distribution of that turbulent liquid metal can cause idiosyncrasies in the magnetic field. If you imagine the magnetic field as a series of rubber bands that thread through the magnetic poles and the Earth’s core, then changes in the core essentially tug on different rubber bands in various places.
Those geomagnetic tugs influence the north magnetic pole’s migration and can even cause it to veer wildly from its position.
A visualization of the interior of the Earth’s core, as represented by a computer simulation.
(Aubert et al./IPGP/CNRS Photo library)
So far, predicting these magnetic-field shifts has been a challenge. But in the new study, the geophysicists Julien Aubert and Christopher Finlay attempted to simulate the physical conditions of Earth’s core by having supercomputers crunch 4 million hours’ worth of calculations.
The researchers knew that the movement of heat from the planet’s interior outward could influence the magnetic field. In general, this happens at 6 miles per year. But they found that sometimes there are pockets of liquid iron in the core that happen to be much warmer and lighter than the surrounding fluid. If the difference between these hot, less dense bits of fluid and their colder, denser counterparts is great enough, the warm liquid can rise very quickly.
That rapid motion then triggers magnetic waves that careen toward the core’s surface, causing geomagnetic jerks.
“Think about these waves like vibrating strings of a musical instrument,” Aubert told Business Insider.
Magnetic north is important for navigational models
Keeping tabs on magnetic north is imperative for European and American militaries because their navigation systems rely on the WMM. So too do commercial airlines and smartphone GPS apps, to help pilots and users pinpoint their locations and navigate accordingly.
That’s why the British Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration update the WMM every five years. The early update requested by the US military was completed Feb. 4, 2019.
But even with these periodic updates, geomagnetic jerks make it tough to keep the model accurate, Aubert said.
His group’s new model could address that problem by helping to predict how Earth’s magnetic field might evolve.
“Within the next few years, we envision that it should indeed be possible for our groups … to capture past jerks and predict the future ones with improved accuracy,” Aubert said.
Could the magnetic field ever collapse?
Earth’s magnetic field shields its atmosphere, which does “a bulk of the work” of keeping out solar radiation, as Revenaugh put it. If we lost our magnetic field, we’d eventually lose our atmosphere.
But according to Revenaugh, that’s extremely unlikely to happen, since the Earth’s core would never stop rotating.
Even if the field did collapse, the devastating effects depicted in “The Core” — people with pacemakers dropping dead, out-of-control lightning storms, eviscerated national landmarks — wouldn’t follow.
Without its atmosphere and magnetic field, Earth would constantly be bombarded by cosmic radiation.
A far more likely scenario, Revenaugh suggested, would involve the magnetic poles reversing as they did 780,000 years ago. When such reversals happen (there have been several in Earth’s history), the magnetic field drops to about 30% of its full strength, he said.
Though that’s a far-away scenario, Revenaugh added that it’s still important to improve scientists’ understanding of the magnetic field today.
“The better we can model it, the better we can understand what’s it’s up to,” he said.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
A funeral was held Jan. 10 for a Texas soldier whose 92nd Infantry Division was the only African-American Army division to fight in Europe and who was buried for decades as “unknown.”
The service was held at Houston National Cemetery for Army Pfc. Lonnie Eichelberger, a 20-year-old from Waco who died in heavy fighting with German forces in Italy just months before Germany’s surrender in 1945.
For decades, he was among nearly 73,000 U.S. service members from WWII who are unaccountable.
“It has brought closure that he has been identified,” said his great-nephew, Cheyenne Eichelberger, who explained that family members knew only that his uncle was killed in action somewhere in Europe.
Army officials notified the family in 2016 that Defense Department scientists had identified the remains using dental and anthropological analysis and circumstantial evidence.
Pfc. Eichelberger enlisted at a time the Army was segregated and he was assigned to the 92nd Infantry Division, which, in 1944 and 1945, fought at the westernmost portion of the Allied line in northern Italy, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, an arm of the Defense Department.
“That’s the forgotten piece,” Cheyenne Eichelberger said Jan. 10. “Minorities have served in every war and conflict that America has been involved in.”
His uncle was declared missing after a battle near Strettoia, Italy. Remains recovered near there after the war in Europe ended could not be identified and eventually were buried in 1949 at the American cemetery in Florence, Italy, designated as remains X-193.
Decades later, information was obtained linking X-193 to two soldiers in the 92nd Infantry who still hadn’t been identified, so the remains were disinterred in 2016 and ultimately one set was identified as Eichelberger’s, according to DPAA.
Of the approximately 73,000 service members in WWII whose remains have not been recovered, more than 3,600 were from Texas.
Missing holiday lights this year? If you live near Norfolk, Virginia, you don’t have to! Amidst countless cancelations of winter festivities this year, the battleship Wisconsin is restoring a little light to the season- literally. Kicking off the massive ship’s first annual WinterFest, the entire boat is decked out with so many lights that they can probably be spotted from space.
Decorating the ship was quite the undertaking.
Just decorating an ordinary house takes hours. Try decorating a 50,000-ton battleship the size of three football fields!
According to the Nauticus Executive Director, Stephen Kirkland, the event took months to prepare for. They had to enlist the help of Blue Steel Lighting Design, led by lighting expert Jeremy Kilgore, to turn the cold, metallic ship into a winter wonderland. And transform it they did. Working up to 15 hours a day, a small crew installed over 250,000 lights and custom-built displays that can’t be seen anywhere else in the world.
The ship itself isn’t perfectly primed for decorating. It’s not very symmetrical, which makes it trickier to make aesthetically pleasing displays. To add to the challenge, every installation has to be done by hand. It’s really a labor of love, but as you can see, the effort paid off. The ship’s massive guns were even turned into candy canes!
Beneath the glittering lights, the Battleship Wisconsin has a storied history.
It’s one of the largest battleships in American history, and one of the last to be built by the US Navy. She was first launched on December 7th, 1943, and commissioned the following April commanded by Captain Earl E. Stone. She earned five battle stars during WWII, along with numerous other honors. Visitors can enjoy the lights and learn more about the incredible ship’s history at the same time!
What to know before you go
The WinterFest will continue every weekend through the end of December. Tickets are $10 for kids and $12.50 for adults, with discounts for members. When you get there, expect plenty of fun with plenty of precautions. Tickets are timed to avoid overcrowding, masks are mandated for visitors ages 5 and up, and social distancing is required.
Once you get there, a one-way path will take you through a glowing forest, with live entertainment, Santa sightings, holiday treats, and sailboat parades on Saturdays. A live tree can be spotted in the harbor, too! To save a spot, purchase tickets online.
Will WinterFest become a new tradition for the Wisconsin? The odds are looking good.
If you miss it this year, don’t sweat it. The event’s organizers hope to continue the tradition for years to come, as a “Hampton Roads’ version of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree”. Alternatively, you can always enjoy footage of the lights without leaving your couch on the battleship’s Instagram page.
And who knows? Maybe the Wisconsin’s whimsical take on military Christmas will inspire other battleships to get lit, too!
Former U.S. Army officer Taylor Force was stabbed to death on a recent graduate school trip to Israel. Force was in Israel on a trip with his Vanderbilt University classmates when he was stabbed in Jaffa, an ancient port city that is now part of Tel Aviv. The attack was part of a wave of violence that injured a dozen civilians and police officers throughout Tel Aviv.
The Israeli government and Vice-President Joe Biden, who was in Israel this week, called the stabbing an act of terror. The assailant, allegedly a Palestinian, was shot and killed.
Force grew up in Lubbock, Texas and was an Eagle Scout. He graduated from West Point and served in Iraq from September 2010 to August 2011 and in Afghanistan from October 2012 to July 2013. Force made captain before separating from the Army to pursue his MBA at Vanderbilt. He was in Israel to learn about global entrepreneurship. He was due to graduate in 2017.
When Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was released in March of 2016, the thought of two colossal superheroes clashing on the big screen brought out huge box office numbers for its opening weekend. But despite the initial hype, the pedestrian offering saw a huge drop-off in enthusiasm the following week, as poor word-of-mouth reviews plagued it: the final product, as usual, not living up to expectations
Batman versus Superman, on its face, seems such an intriguing construct though. We are unabashedly drawn to comparisons like Willie v The Mick, the US Government v John Gotti, et al, and iPhone v Android.
But what if we were to compare two REAL superhero castings? Let’s say, the US Army’s Rangers and the US Navy’s SEALS. And just for sh*ts and giggles, what if we compared their individual crucibles — their selection processes — and attempted to discern which was the harbinger for guaranteed future toughness or success? Let’s attempt to glean which selection program applied the most pain to its candidates. Is graduating from Ranger School a more daunting task than making it through the Navy’s difficult Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training? And is earning a Ranger tab easier or more difficult than being awarded a SEAL Trident?
And, which course actually results in more drop on requests–a fancy term for quitting? And how can we compare completion rates?
The comparative analysis is difficult. To my knowledge, I haven’t heard of any former Rangers or SEALS transferring service branches and then embarking on the pursuit of their new branch’s most elite distinction. Maybe there does exist the unique American stud — or committed glutton for punishment — who chose this path of dual misery, and accomplishment. But I haven’t come across any stories chronicling some. With this in mind, I am going to share my reflections on some unique experiences I was privileged to have been afforded during my thirty-three years of government service.
That professional service began when I graduated from West Point in 1987 and was branched as an officer into the Infantry. During the course of my four-year military career, I attended Army Ranger school and graduated with class 4-88. I turned 23 while incarcerated in the mountain phase, endlessly trekking up and down the formidable peaks of the Tennessee Valley Divide. While I wasn’t the class Honor Graduate, I did fairly well throughout the demanding course of instruction and was lucky enough to graduate with my tab, on time, and without being recycled to repeat a phase.
I served during the Cold War Era and the American military buildup precipitated by President Reagan’s stare-down of the Soviets. The 10th Mountain Division had just been reconstituted in 1985, following its long dormancy beginning when WWII ended. Officers and non-coms were selected for the unit’s rebirth only if they possessed the coveted tab. Division brass was intent on modeling the 10th after the Ranger battalions. My assignment to the 10th was contingent on my graduation from Ranger School. Failure to graduate meant a reassignment to the 197th Infantry Brigade (Mechanized), and the embarrassing stigmatization that would assuredly follow that failure.
From those fledgling days of (re)existence, the 10th Mountain Division has now distinguished itself as a solid and repeatedly deployed war-fighting machine in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. But it’s mid-1980’s formation with Ranger leadership was critical to its early success and reestablished prestige as a unit. So, in mid-March of 1988, I arrived at 2-14 Infantry battalion headquarters in my starched BDU’s with freshly attached Ranger tab.
The tab carries with it a certain distinction. And that respect for its woven black and gold threads stems from the hardship endured to earn it — the US military being one of the last bastions of meritocracy in this new 21st century era of everyone-gets-a-trophy.
Historically, the failure rate at the US Army Ranger School fluctuates between 50% – 65%. A portion of those failures, DORs, are self-inflicted. There doesn’t appear to be available statistical data that highlights just how many of those failures are related to DORs.
So, after ETSing from the Army on February 1, 1991, I packed up my quarters at Ft. Drum, NY, loaded my then-wife, newborn son, and two rescue dogs into my ’88 Chevy Blazer, and headed south to the FBI Academy at Quantico, VA, where I began the 20-week course to become an FBI Special Agent. In June of same year, I posted to the FBI’s New York City Office’s Brooklyn-Queens Metropolitan Resident Agency, and began a proud 25-year career as a Fed.
Along the way, I was selected for the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team, where I served as a counter-terrorist operator on Echo Assault Team from 1997 – 2001.
And in the Fall of 1998, while serving as one of Echo Team’s divers, and recently returned from deployments to Africa (US Embassy bombings) and North Carolina’s Nantahala Forest (search for ’96 Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph), I was suddenly tapped to deploy to Coronado, California, with three of my fellow HRT diver teammates, for a once in a lifetime experience.
I was an “old man,” all of 33 years. And though I was in peak physical condition, having spent almost a year and a half lifting, and running, and training at a HIGH level … I was in for a rude awakening.
It was September of 1998, and Dave, Jeff, Matty, and I checked into the Naval Special Warfare Center at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado and were officially informed we’d be joining BUD/S class 220. We had just offloaded our rental cars and strode across the sand dunes separating the BUD/S compound from the Pacific Ocean. Worst thing we could have done was to time our arrival with the conduct of Hell Week for BUD/S class 221. Long before casual observers had been treated to Discovery Channel documentaries on the course of instruction to become a SEAL, the four of us took in the spectacle.
Exhausted youngsters — many between 18 – 20 years old — slogging along at the water’s edge, ferrying inflatable RHIBs, lifting massive logs over their heads, performing a staggering amount of “corrective actions” — flutter kicks, crunches, push-ups, and bear crawls. All accompanied by the monotonous, annoying, and ever-present Instructor “motivationals” echoed through a hand-held loud-hailer.
After we’d ingested all the observed pain and misery we could and signed in at NWSC, my HRT colleagues and I made our way over to the Second Phase HQ, a low-profile, nondescript group of single-story military buildings, and introduced ourselves to the cadre.
“All good,” the congenial class proctor stated. Get over to the BOQ on Mainside. Drop your gear off, change into UDT shorts and your yellow HRT PT shirts, and we’ll meet you at the pool for your qualifying PT test — 500 meter swim, push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, and mile and a half run in Bates brand combat boots. We even rolled our wool socks down over our boots exactly the way the SEALs did.
When in Rome…
And so it began. After easily completing the fit test required of all BUD/S aspirants, we joined class 220 as they began the initial stages of Phase Two. The classroom portions on Dive Physics weren’t too daunting — the four of us had the benefit of college degrees — but the daily regimen of early morning PT was an eye-opener. Yes, the four of us were quite fit. But we were also in our thirties, and didn’t take part in the same skill-specific training one receives in the BUD/S preparatory course the Navy offered its young sailors interested in becoming frogmen. And we didn’t have the benefit of true youth. If we were professional athletes, we’d be desperately trying to find an organization to sign us, so we could come off the bench, with a head coach “managing our minutes.”
We also didn’t have the benefit of having taken part in the first phase of BUD/S; that unforgiving crucible that weeds out the weak and strengthens the committed. The relationship between the USN and HRT was a long and durable one. Many of the early generation FBI-HRT operators had been SEALs (as well as former Rangers, Green Berets, and Marines). Compared to the military’s special operations units, HRT was an infant, having come on line in 1983, as a civilian counter-terrorist option for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. The ’72 debacle in Munich was a not-so-distant memory. And US law precluded the military from acting as law enforcement inside the United States.
So, here’s the thing: While I was certainly younger and my body more resilient as a 23-year-old when I completed Ranger School, ten years later, when I attended the Dive Phase of BUD/S — open circuit (SCUBA) and closed circuit (LAR-V rebreather) — with my HRT colleagues, I was certainly more experienced, savvy, and skillful at my craft. But that didn’t aid in the recovery time my body desperately needed between evolutions at BUD/S. Every night, the four of us limped back to our BOQ and attempted to “heal” before the fun began again the next morning, bright and early.
On the ground (or in the sand), we were the BUD/S students equals. We four were strong runners and could complete the grinders of push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, flutter kicks, and crunches as well as any of the kids in 220. On the beach, during timed four mile runs, we were more than their equals, often having to hold back so as not to bring the SEAL Instructors’ wrath down upon our classmates, as in:
“Hey, you pathetic pieces of human filth and fecal matter, why are you letting these old-ass FBI-HRT guys beat you on a timed run? You’ll all be ‘paying the man’ if you allow this to happen again!”
Yes, the typical SEAL Instructor was wicked smart and imbued with a great sense of wit and timing.
We reined in our run times, not wanting to cause any more pain to the young men who so graciously accepted us into their fraternity — despite the fact we hadn’t shared the excruciating pain of First Phase and Hell Week with them.
One of the most special gifts I’ve ever received in the course of my life was to be afforded a Hell Week t-shirt from BUD/S class 220. This class-specific attire made us feel a part — if only for a moment — of their exclusive club. It was truly an honor and I cherish the now tattered shirt emblazoned with the class motto that borrowed from William Ernest Henley’s short and powerful Victorian poem Invictus:
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
During the course of our “internment” at BUD/S, we also participated in the required weekly SEAL Obstacle Course completion. It was an ass-kicker. And again, as I reminisced about my days at Ranger School and tangling with the infamous Darby Queen Obstacle Course, I have to give this round to the SEALs, as well. In the summer of 1998, we HRT guys were fit, relatively young, nimble, agile, and strong. We had all the necessary tools required to excel at the SEAL Obstacle Course. But it was still a daunting task to make the required times. We did so, narrowly, and aided by the Instructor allowance for us to use a rope traversing technique that wasn’t available to the BUD/S students in Second Phase. [Full disclosure: we were also permitted to discreetly utilize calculators for the long division and multiplication required in the classroom on the dive physics exams]
Well, as proficient as we HRT guys found ourselves in PT, on the sand dunes and while partaking in the dreaded “soft sand runs,” we quickly ascertained that the water, however, was a different story altogether. Here’s where those same young kids flat-out kicked our assess. On the weekly open-water two-mile swims, Dave, Jeff, Matty, and I were “competent.” We were all notably strong swimmers who had been hand selected by HRT Dive Team cadre to “represent” at BUD/S.
While we consistently barely made the required times, we were often the last, or next to last teams to come in.
But we were in no condition to compete with the damn dolphins that BUD/S students typically morphed into by Second Phase. The water became our Waterloo of sorts.
But it was pool competition, or pool comp in SEAL shorthand, that really cemented for me what the BUD/S experience was about, and just why SEALs are a cut above all others in the Special Operations community.
And, yes, we four HRT guys participated in pool comp.
And, again, it was another eye-opener.
SEAL Instructors had their own comically dreadful names for the knots they would tie in your hoses underwater. As a BUD/S student, your job was to diligently cycle through a sequence of trouble-shooting procedures to untangle the mess of knotted hoses and restore your air supply…while on a breath-hold. And you had to do so without exhibiting any signs of panic. We were treated to the Matlock and the Babilock — two impossibly difficult and deviously conceived knots named after two particular SEALs on the cadre. Failure to extricate your gear from the wicked devices of the seasoned knot-tying instructors OR failure to work through the prescribed sequence for trouble-shooting your crippled gear led to a failure. Two failures in the same event and you earned a rollback — just like the nefarious recycle at Ranger School — to the next class, if you were lucky not to be dropped from the course.
There’s a reason that, as Rob O’Neill, former SEAL Team Six counter-terror operator — the man who killed Bin Laden — stated to Howard Stern recently, on his eponymous Sirius radio program, that some 85% of BUD/S attendees don’t graduate.
BUD/S is tough — even the teensy-weensy taste of it that I experienced. It’s REALLY tough. And it sucks.
Ranger School was “uncomfortable” and difficult for all the reasons that include sleep deprivation, starvation, and relentless physical overexertion. It was a grind. And reports from recent graduates confirm it’s STILL a grind.
At BUD/S, however, they fed you lots of chow, and in Second Phase, getting eight solid hours of sleep was never an issue. But just as in Ranger School, you had to perform, to make sound decisions, to accomplish critical military tasks and objectives when your body was futilely attempting to heal, and always with the overzealous instructors omnipresent in your ear…
…but you did it at depth.
Whether at the bottom of the 15-foot pool, on the Coronado Bay side, or in the unforgiving waters of the Pacific Ocean, performing at depth takes special operations training to another level entirely. We were forced to conduct doff and don procedures, and buddy-breathing exercises — you know, like sharing the same oxygen supply at depth and while performing tasks like an equipment exchange. There were insanely long breath-holds, while enduring the Instructor-assaults associated with the dreaded pool comp. Then there was the archaic (by design) and cumbersome Jacques Cousteau era twin 80’s tanks and leaky two-hose regulators which made for a purposeful panic-induced set of pass/fail evolutions. Yes, I believe the experiences to be the closest thing to waterboarding — sanctioned “almost-drowning” — that there is. And it’s legal!
Learning to dive with the Dräger (or Draeger) closed circuit rebreather gear — the LAR-V — was the purpose behind sending HRT divers to BUD/S. So, no, in a civilian law enforcement capacity, there’s no need to learn the craft of placing limpet mines on enemy ship hulls. However, learning the advanced system of transit-diving that allows an operator to approach a target underwater, bereft of telltale bubbles is a key skillset for HRT to have at its disposal. That was the purpose behind the relationship we had with the Navy and is how we ended up enrolled in the Second Phase of BUD/S.
The advanced dive skills we learned were necessary. The voluntary participation in PT and mild hazing — being dropped for push-ups or forced to become “wet and sandy” — the “sugar cookie” punishment — was part of earning our stripes and being accepted as outsiders within the close-knit SEAL and BUD/S community.
Make no mistake about it — we weren’t to become SEALs and weren’t subjected to a fraction of what the Navy candidates endured, but we certainly gained a modicum of appreciation for the process.
And again, as difficult as Ranger School was to complete, the 8 weeks I spent at BUD/S proved that there’s a clear distinction between difficult and difficult-at-depth.
Apologies, fellow Rangers, but this round goes to the Navy’s SEALs. I’ve been up close and personal with both Selection processes. 81 torturous days at Ranger School did not compare to the tiny portion of the year of misery available to BUD/S candidates that I experienced.
Rangers, can I get a Hooah!
And SEALs, while we’re at it, how about a Hooyah!
And let’s forever remember that we’re ALL part of the same team!
God bless the United States of America and God bless and protect our brave Special Operators who continue to confidently stride into places full of wrath and tears, and do so bravely, selflessly and willingly.