I’m going to introduce an authorization to use Military Force against ISIL that is not limited by Time, Geography or Means. – Sen. Lindsay Graham
“The United States should not delay in leading a global coalition to take out ISIS with overwhelming force.” – Presidential Candidate Jeb Bush
“Air power is extremely important. It can do a lot but it can’t do everything.” – Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James
The Pentagon believes Congress should issue a new authorization of military force (AMF) for use against ISIS in Iraq and Syria while President Obama wants the flexibility to use Special Operations forces against the terror group’s leadership. Obama rejected long-term, large scale ground combat operations in favor of an incremental, air strike-based plan which relies on support for forces already fighting on the ground. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to determine just who the U.S. should back and the plan to back U.S.-trained rebels fell apart.
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is in favor of a new AMF, but for some in Congress, the President’s proposal isn’t enough. As Germany, France, China, and Russia ramp up their own operations against ISIS, a few in the U.S. want to take their participation a step further. Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain are calling for 20,000 ground troops to counter ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
“The aerial campaign is not turning the tide of battle,” Senator Graham told The Guardian. Part of the McCain-Graham proposal includes the U.S. handling logistics for a 100,000 strong Sunni Arab army from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. There are a number of problems with this plan, however.
The first is that it props up the terrorist organizations recruiting claims that they are the bulwark of true Islam, fighting Western apostates. It also backs up the Sunni Jihadi myth of the “Grand Battle” to be fought for Islam. Most troubling is that the Senators’ plan explicitly supports the Sunni side of what is now widely believed to be a greater religious-political civil war throughout the region (and maybe beyond). As of right now, the U.S. has taken great pains to avoid the perception of taking sides.
The McCain-Graham plan also risks antagonizing the already tense situation relationships between all players. The Russia-U.S. rivalry is well documented, as are Iranian-U.S. issues. The missions of Russia, Iran, and the Iranian-backed Shia militias in Syria and Iraq is to ensure the survival of the Asad regime, a mission antithetical to the policies of the United States and its NATO allies.
In Iraq, a similar situation exists. Iraq is a Shia-dominated country where the locals come to increasingly believe the U.S. is supporting the Islamic State, rather than fighting it, and the Iraqis would be able to win if not for U.S. intervention against them.The Iranian-backed militias are seen as the primary bulwark against ISIS aggression despite, the 3,500 ground troops in Iraq, training and advising the Iraqi forces. The call for an increased presence from Congress is a strange idea, considering the Iraqi government has specifically asked the U.S. not to increase its presence in the country.
Is it in the United States’ best interest to re-enter the conflicts of the Middle East? The Iraqis already are starting to think the U.S. is on the wrong side. It’s a well known fact the lineage of ISIS traces back to al-Qaeda in Iraq, who helped publish The Management of Savagery, a how-to guide for committing atrocities to trap the West in unwinnable ground wars in the Middle East, which was Osama bin Laden’s long-game strategy, first against the Soviet Union and now the United States. If Putin and Russia want to jump back into the Middle East fray, maybe we should consider letting him.
Four Chinese Navy ships have departed for joint drills with Russia in the latest sign of growing cooperation between the two militaries that could challenge the US armed forces’ role in the Asia-Pacific.
A destroyer, missile frigate, supply ship, and submarine rescue ship departed Sept. 13 from the port of Qingdao, home to China’s North Sea fleet, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
The drills are being held in the Sea of Japan near the Korean Peninsula and the Sea of Okhotsk off the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, Xinhua said.
The exercises are the second stage of an annual joint drill, the first part of which was held July 22-27 in the Baltic Sea — the first time the countries had exercised together in the northern European waterbody.
Russia and China are closely aligned on many diplomatic and security issues, with both countries calling for a negotiated settlement of tensions on the Korean Peninsula, preceded by North Korea suspending its nuclear and missile activities in return for the US and South Korea halting their regular large-scale wargames.
July’s joint drills in the Baltic stirred concern among countries in the region, where tensions are already high over increased displays of military force by both Moscow and NATO.
Both Russia and China say the exercises are not directed at any third parties.
The Chinese ships taking part in the exercises are among the country’s most advanced, components of a growing fleet that poses a significant challenge to the US Navy’s traditional dominance in the Asia-Pacific. Beijing has long chafed at the American presence and is a strong critic of its alliances with Japan, Australia, and other countries in the region.
China already has the world’s largest navy, with slightly over 300 vessels, compared to the US Navy’s 277 “deployable battle force ships,” according to the US Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute. The US Office of Naval Intelligence forecasts it will have 313-342 warships by 2020.
While China’s ships are technologically inferior to those of the US Navy, their sheer numbers allow China a significant presence on the open sea, institute professor Andrew S. Erickson wrote in a recent study.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has proposed signing a World War II peace treaty with Japan by the end of 2018 “without preconditions.”
Putin made the surprise offer in public, sitting next to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on a stage at an economic forum in the Russian city of Vladivostok on Sept. 12, 2018.
After Abe pressed Putin on the subject of a treaty and a solution to the decades-long dispute over a group of islands claimed by both countries, Putin said: “An idea has just come into my head.”
“Shinzo said, ‘Let’s change our approaches.’ Let’s! Let’s conclude a peace agreement — not now but by the end of the year, without any preconditions,” Putin said.
He said issues that are in dispute could be resolved later, and that the pact could specify that the sides are determined to reach mutually acceptable agreements.
There was no immediate response from Abe, whose country has sought the return of the islands that lie northeast of Hokkaido since the war.
A treaty without preconditions would leave Russia in control of the disputed islands, which Russia calls the Southern Kuriles and Japan calls the Northern Territories.
Soviet forces occupied the islands at the end of World War II, and the territorial dispute has prevented Moscow and Tokyo from formally ending hostilities in the war.
Russian and Japanese Foreign Ministry officials said that work on a future agreement would continue as usual, and a Japanese official made clear that Tokyo wants an agreement on possession of the islands before it will sign a peace treaty.
Location of the Kuril Islands in the Western Pacific between Japan and the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia.
“The government will continue its negotiations on the basic principle that we will sign a peace treaty after resolving the issue of the attribution of the four Northern Islands,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters. “This stance hasn’t changed.”
In Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov told Russian news agencies that Putin’s announcement would not require any changes to the current format of negotiations.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said later in the day that Putin and Abe had not had a chance to discuss the proposal.
Russian commentator Georgy Kunadze, a former deputy foreign minister, told Ekho Moskvy radio that he believes Putin was “trolling” Abe and “does not expect anything” to result from the proposal.
The quest for the return of the islands is an emotive issue in Japan, and Kunadze suggested that Abe would never accept a deal that would be political suicide.
In years of talks, Russian officials have repeatedly signaled that Japan could not hope for a swift solution and hinted that the best way to get closer to a deal was to invest in the sparsely populated, windswept islands and engage in other areas of economic cooperation.
Meeting Abe on the sidelines of the forum in Vladivostok two days earlier, Putin had told the Japanese prime minister that “it would be naive to think that it can be resolved quickly.”
In his remarks on Sept. 12, 2018, Putin said concluding a pact would create a better atmosphere and enable Russia and Japan to “continue to resolve all outstanding issues like friends.”
“It seems to me that this would facilitate the solution of all problems, which we have not been able to solve over the past 70 years.”
This article contains spoilers for Season one of Homecoming. You have been warned.
The second season of Homecoming is live on Amazon Prime Video. A psychological thriller based on the podcast of the same name, Homecoming unravels a conspiracy around an organization that ostensibly exists to help military veterans transition to civilian life but in reality was designed to make warriors forget their trauma so they’d be willing to reenlist.
In the first season, Julia Roberts played a character named Heidi Bergman, a therapist working for the Homecoming Transitional Support Center. The season followed two timelines: one in 2018, where Heidi worked with veterans at homecoming; the other in 2022, where Heidi couldn’t remember the details of her previous job and worked to unravel the mystery of what really happened there.
Season two begins with another mystery, as lead actress Janelle Monáe wakes up adrift in a rowboat with no memory of how she got there or who she is. Here’s the trailer:
HOMECOMING | Trailer – New Mystery on Prime Video May 22, 2020
“I knew something was wrong with me, but I couldn’t explain it to anyone. It was like the people around me were keeping a secret,” her character shares. As images of the red fruit from season one — which was responsible for the characters’ memory loss — flood the trailer, Monáe uncovers an image of herself in uniform.
“What was I doing? Why was I there?” Monáe asks Hong Chau’s Audrey Temple, who appeared as an assistant in season one until she forced her boss to confess to Homecoming’s dark purpose.
“It’s complicated,” replied Chau.
What makes conspiracy stories – especially military conspiracy stories — so compelling is that they are uncomfortably conceivable. Service members are expected to color inside the lines and follow orders without question. The conflicts they fight in, the targets they neutralize, the people they kill are all ordered by someone above them they hope they can trust.
WATM recently posted an article (inspired by 13 Hours: The Secret Heroes of Benghazi) about transitioning out of the military into a career in private security contracting. That feature generated a great deal of interest and discussion. Based on that, we did some intel and came up with this list of 20 private security firms for those interested in taking the next step:
GRS is the private security contractor that employed the surviving operators who’s personal accounts are featured in 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. GRS is designed to stay in the shadow, work undercover and provide an unobtrusive layer of security for CIA officers in high-risk outposts.
ACADEMI, formerly known as “Blackwater,” was founded by former Navy SEAL Erik Prince in 1997. Prince is famous for explaining his firm’s purpose by stating: “We are trying to do for the national security apparatus what FedEx did for the Postal Service”.
SOC is ranked as one of the global Defense News Top 100 List of defense companies and has provided security services for over a century. It provides security, facility management and operation, engineering, explosive ordnance storage and disposal, international logistics and life support services. Customers include the U.S. Department of State, Energy, Defense and Fortune 500 companies.
4. Triple Canopy
Triple Canopy was founded by former U.S. Army Special Forces operators and today, more than 80 percent of its employees have served in the U.S. military. Most of its security specialist positions require experience in military operations, military police, security police, emergency medicine and more.
Aegis security and risk management company serves over 60 countries around the world with clients including governments, international agencies and corporations. Aegis runs a global network of offices, contracts, and associates and provide security from corporate operations to counter-terrorism.
6. Blue Hackle
Blue Hackle is a security contractor to multiple sectors including oil and gas, mining, construction, and governments. They provide stability to commercial enterprises, as well as developing governments, according to its website.
7. GardaWorld Government Services
GWGS specializes in protecting U.S. government personnel and interests wherever they’re needed. They train in security, crisis response, risk management and close protection.
8. ICTS International N.V.
ICTS International N.V. was founded in 1982 by security experts, former military commanding officers and veterans of government intelligence and security agencies. They set the standard for the aviation security industry.
9. AKE Group
AKE Group provides security and consultant services ranging from emergency evacuation and crisis response to kidnap avoidance. They provide close protection to war reporters, executives and VIPs.
G4S was founded in 1901 in Denmark and today has operations around the world in over 100 countries with more than 611,000 employees. G4S goes where governments can’t—or won’t— maintain order, from oil fields in Africa to airports in Britain and nuclear facilities in the U.S., G4S fills the void. It is the world’s third largest private-sector a employer and commands a force three times the size of the British Military, according to Vanity Fair.
11. Armed Maritime
Armed Maritime Security offers services to commercial and private vessels operating off the east and west coast of Africa, the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. Its board of directors consist of former diplomats, Army and Naval Officers from Britain, Finland and Sweden. Its security teams are drafted from current, serving members and former members of the Swedish, British, Finnish Elite units.
12. Control Risks
With operation in over 150 countries around the world, Control Risks provides security services to governments, fortune 500 companies and private citizens. It specializes in cyber, operational, maritime and travel security in hostile areas and actively hires people with experience in military, law enforcement, business consultancy, security services and intelligence.
13. Beni Tal – International Security (BTS)
BTS serves military and government organizations with its own private military. It has expertise in guerrilla warfare and non-conventional terrorism and provides solutions for land, air, naval and intelligence forces.
14. Blue Mountain
Blue Mountain is a UK based private security contractor that specializes in private, government and commercial protection. Its close protection operators are designed to blend seamlessly into family and professional life for true incognito security.
15. Chilport (UK) Limited
16. Chilport specializes in Canine security and training. It supplies dogs for search and rescue (SAR), drug sniffing, bomb detection and more.
16. GK Sierra
Based in Washington DC and Portland, GK Sierra gathers intelligence for the CIA. It has operators around the world specializing in corporate investigation, intelligence, digital forensics and encryption.
Prosegur is one of Spain’s leading security contractors with over 158,000 employees around the world. Its clients consist of entities in non-English speaking countries in Asia, Europe, Oceania and Latin America. It specializes in manned guarding, cash in transit and alarms.
18. Andrews International
Andrews International is a Los Angeles, CA based company with services around the world. It provides armed and unarmed security to government services and the department of defense.
Erinys provides security services to gas, oil, shipping and mining companies in Africa and the Middle East. They provide regional and country expertise by hiring and training locals.
20. International Intelligence Limited
International Intelligence employs former law enforcement, military and intelligence personnel to operate in hostile environments. It offers private investigation, intelligence, surveillance and forensic services to corporations, government agencies, embassies and police forces.
The real vets turned private security operators from the 13 Hours film explain their experience during the attack on Benghazi. The part about being a private security operator starts at 01:15.
The Jeep was first introduced on Jul. 15, 1941. It became an icon in World War II and evolutions of the design saw combat in Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf War.
The U.S. phased the Jeep out of the arsenal starting in 1984 when it adopted the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, also known as the HMMWV or Humvee. But the Jeep may be headed for a comeback.
One company, Hendrick Dynamics, thinks that sounds a lot like the original Jeep and they’re submitting modified Jeep Wranglers to the competition. From Stars and Stripes:
Hendrick starts with a diesel-equipped Wrangler Rubicon, converts the electrical system to 24 volts, adds additional safety features and military-spec equipment, upgrades the suspension and brakes for higher payload capacities and modifies the vehicle so it can be transported within an aircraft cargo hold.
While Jeep, now owned by Fiat Chrysler, has been out of the defense contracting game for a long time, Hendrick Dynamics has a bit of experience modifying Wranglers for combat duty. They currently offer three versions of their “Commando” vehicle to government agencies and commercial clients.
The Commando 2, Commando 4, and Commando S are clearly aimed at light units like Airborne and Air Assault formations, the same units that are the most likely beneficiaries of the Army’s vehicle proposal.
Commandos are certified for loading on CH-47s and can be slung under UH-60 helicopters. The website advertises that the vehicles are strong enough to tow 105mm howitzers.
All three models run on JP-8, the jet fuel also used in most military vehicles, tanks, and generators. The Commando S model even has a “Mission Pallet System” that allows it to be quickly configured for carrying heavy weapons, combat engineering, route clearance, or other tasks.
If Hendrick Dynamics gets wins the Army contract, vehicles similar to the current Commando and the World War II Jeep could be the preferred ride of future warfighters.
I awake with a start. John isn’t in bed beside me. Throughout his military career, I never could grow used to an empty bed. Unlike before, I hear him breathing. He is in his recliner on the other side of the room. Either insomnia, a migraine or back spasms have pulled him away from me tonight. I ask if he is ok before realizing he is sound asleep. The rhythmic sound of his breath lolls me back to sleep as well.
There was a time, early in our marriage, where we both craved one another’s attention. We never wanted to leave each other’s side. Twenty years later, three kids, two deployments and many many nights apart, we’ve become more accustomed to absence then togetherness.
We are relearning what it looks like to be together, always.
Quarantine and Retirement
I’ve been hearing from friends whose spouses are either recently retired or working from home currently with no end in sight. The struggles are similar. Our routine at home is now chaotic. It’s similar to the disruption of reintegration but for a much lengthier stretch.
It is extremely difficult to continue forward with the routine when there is a new person in your space. Knowing that your spouse is just one room away while you are trying to get your to-do list complete is frustrating. It would be much more fun to join in watching that movie or whatever else is happening. I mean after all isn’t more time together what you craved during that last deployment?
Look, it’s ok not to want to be together 24/7 even if that’s all you were craving in the normality of 2019. For many of us, 2020 has brought more together time then we could have imagined. It’s ok not to spend every second together. It’s also equally ok to not finish that crazy to-do list and just enjoy some extra time with your soldier.
Drop the guilt. Everyone right now understands the need to focus on mental health. Plus, there’s no need to worry about unexpected guests dropping by, so yes, the dishes and laundry can wait.
2. Find time to be alone, even if you have to hide in a closet
I am an introvert. I used to wake at 0500 to see John off to PT and soak up the quiet early morning with a book and a cup of coffee before the kids woke up. Our new normal means that this house is never empty. The kids are doing e-learning and even the hobbies that once took John out of the house after retirement have ceased. There is much togetherness going on.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the extra time with one another, but sometimes it can be too much. In those moments, I need a timeout. I need to recharge by being alone.
What does this look like when the whole world is shut down?
Here are a few ways I’ve figured out how to get my alone time.
Long drives through backroads with the radio cranked all the way up
Walks through the neighborhood
Adult coloring books while listening to an audiobook
Noise-canceling headphones while writing
Sitting in the closet with the lights off enjoying the silence
3. Open communication makes all the difference
Communication while in the military had its challenges. We spent ten years learning how to communicate long distance, how to keep the dialogue going across oceans, and then how to understand one another after surviving vastly different challenges. My world of toddlers was not the same as his of war. It took effort to hear what the other was saying and the perspective we each brought to the conversation. The same is true now.
One of the things we’ve learned since retirement is that just because we’ve been married twenty years doesn’t mean we actually know the other person well. We may have been married but we inhabited very different spaces during that time.
All of this togetherness now is giving us the opportunity to get to know one another for who we are today. We are learning how to ask questions and how to listen in new ways. It’s a little like dating, the excitement and frustration are there. The only difference being the commitment to keep doing this, to keep trying, to keep growing together, and to maybe come out of this year closer then we were when it began.
The most important lesson I’ve learned during this time of increased togetherness and struggling to get everything done in the weirdness of 2020 is to be kind to myself. It’s time to drop the guilt because it isn’t mine to carry.
The military has very talented photographers in its ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. This is the best of what they shot this week:
SURABAYA, Indonesia (Aug. 5, 2015) U.S. Navy Sailors assigned to Coastal Riverine Squadron (CRS) 3 and Indonesian Kopaska naval special forces members practice patrol formations during Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Indonesia 2015.
ATLANTIC OCEAN (Aug. 4, 2015) Sailors prepare for flight operations on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3).
Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) 3rd Class I. J. Fleming helps stretch out the emergency crash barricade during drills on the flight deck aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75).
Marines and Navy Corpsmen, assigned to various units in the 1st Marine Division, conduct tactical combat casualty care training during the Combat Trauma Management Course, taught by instructors with the 1st Marine Division Navy Education and Training Office, at the Strategic Operations facility, California.
An M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank crew with Company A, 4th Tank Battalion, fires its 120 mm main gun during the company’s pre-qualification tank gunnery at Range 500, Aug. 4, 2015. The live-fire exercise tests tank crews on their ability to work together on target acquisition and accuracy.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Martin, a maritime enforcement specialist at Coast Guard Port Security Unit 313 in Everett, Wash., along with other security division members, set up security zones on the pier alongside the Coast Guard Cutter Henry Blake, while conducting an exercise at Naval Station Everett.
Petty Officer 2nd Class David Burns, a Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak aviation survival technician, walks across the flight deck of the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley during practice hoist operations while at sea.
A security forces Airman plunges into the combat water survival test at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo.
Lt. Col. Todd Houchins, the 53rd Test Support Squadron commander, signals before the final takeoff of the last QF-4 Aerial Target on Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.
Members of the 23rd Component Maintenance Squadron Propulsion Flight perform maintenance on a TF-34 engine July 27, 2015, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. The 23rd CMS supplies the 74th and 75th Fighter Squadrons with TF-34s in support of Moody AFB’s A-10C Thunderbolt IIs.
paratroopers, assigned to 82nd Airborne Division, rig their rucksacks during a Basic Airborne Refresher course at the United States Army Advanced Airborne School, Fort Bragg, N.C.
An Army pilot, assigned to the 185th Theater Aviation Brigade, watches a MV-22 Osprey land during a personnel recovery training exercise in Southwest Asia.
Update: One Marine has been recovered alive but a second unfortunately perished. Five Marines are still missing and search-and-rescue operations are still underway.
A search is underway for the crews of two U.S. Marine Corps aircraft involved in an aerial crash near Japan at 2 a.m. on December 6 during aerial refueling operations.
Japanese aircraft are assisting the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps in the search which, according to reporting from USNI News and CBS, involved a two-seater F/A-18D Hornet and a KC-130J tanker. The Hornet had two crew onboard and the tanker had five crew members, according to CBS.
JMSDF – MCAS Iwakuni Friendship Day 2018
The Marine Corps released a statement after the incident:
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP BUTLER, Okinawa, Japan – Search and rescue operations continue for U.S. Marine aircraft that were involved in a mishap off of the coast of Japan around 2:00 a.m. Dec. 6.
The aircraft involved in the mishap had launched from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni and were conducting regularly scheduled training when the mishap occurred.
Japanese search and rescue aircraft immediately responded to aid in recovery.
The circumstances of the mishap are currently under investigation. There is no additional information available at this time.
The local time of 2 a.m. in Japan translated to approximately noon EST.
Aerial refueling is, naturally, a hazardous activity but the U.S. military practices this capability regularly as safe aerial refueling is a major combat multiplier, allowing strike pilots to extend their range and patrol times. This is especially true for the Navy and Marine Corps as their planes are often launched from carriers or amphibious assault ships where launch weight is a major factor.
Reducing launch weight can mean a reduction in either fuel or weapons load, but this can be countered by launching with limited fuel and then topping off in flight from a tanker like the KC-130J.
Update: One Marine has been rescued, 2nd Lt. Alyssa J. Morales, a spokeswoman for the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, told Task Purpose.
Update 2: The Japanese Self-Defense Forces has a second Marine who unfortunately perished in the crash. The Marine rescued earlier is now reportedly in stable condition. An earlier version of this update erroneously said that the second Marine had been recovered alive.
North Korea has launched what appears to be a missile headed towards the northern end of Japan at around 5:58 a.m. local time, according to Japanese government officials.
Japan’s NHK News reported that the missile passed over Japan and warned people in northern Japan to take necessary precautions.
Although three missiles were fired, according to Japanese officials, it was not entirely clear if all of them were headed towards the same trajectory. NHK also reported that a missile broke off into three pieces before splashing down into the Pacific Ocean.
South Korean military officials have also confirmed reports of the missile launch and said that it flew for about 1677 miles.
During the tense moment, multiple prefectures in Japan were reportedly put on alert.
“We’ll take utmost efforts to protect the public,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe said, shortly following the launch.
The latest act of provocation from North Korea comes amid a spate of questionable moves, despite regional leaders, including Russia, denouncing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in recently called for his county to prepare to “immediately switch to offensive operations” if the North makes a “provocation that crosses the line,” NK News reported.
On September 1, 1998, North Korea fired a missile towards Japan’s airspace, offering no explanation for the incident.
Being a Marine taught me the importance of giving back. But my last mission may be my most crucial: Instilling the same values in my son.
Two years ago, I was built like a tank. I’ve been built like that my entire life, having grown up as a wrestler in high school and college. Once, way back then, someone looked at me and said, “What the hell are you?”
I look much different now. It’s hard for me to speak for long periods of time, and I’m about half the size I used to be. Now, I’m happy to just get up and walk, which is a mental challenge all by itself. The guy I used to be has been destroyed by chemotherapy.
In late 2015, I was diagnosed with stage-four cholangiocarcinoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer that starts in the bile ducts. I don’t know how much time I have left; I may not even make it to my 55th birthday this December, but I’m happy that I can go knowing I’ve lived my life in complete service to others and to my family.
Except I have a teenage son, and there’s still so much to teach him.
I won’t be able to impart my wisdom to Mason as he grows up. That’s why I’m making sure he knows, now, the importance of living a life in service, like I have. The lessons are simple: Be humble, be open, and be helpful.
Growing up, my father was constantly working, which meant he wasn’t around a ton. He did the best he could though, and I considered him my best friend. But I didn’t have someone who could mentally challenge me. I got into wrestling in the seventh grade, and my coach became that person for me instead. He ended up being a formidable figure in my life, and I’m still in touch with him today.
You could tell immediately that this man had served in the military — through his mannerisms, his attention to detail, and his level of concentration. I thought, “This guy is incredible.” At an early age, my coach gave me advice that to this day I continue to take to heart:
“Don’t be a wise guy,” he would tell me. “Don’t be a showboat.”
Eventually, I joined the Marines, and that advice is what got me through basic training. Now, it’s something I teach Mason at every opportunity. We have a lot of big talks these days — especially now that I don’t know how long I have left to live — and I try to tell him who I was before the military.
I tell him not to be that guy.
When I enlisted in 1982, I was a very private person. In fact, you could say I was pretty closed off. But interaction with people is important, and you have to be open and outgoing. There is just something about being open to new experiences that makes life more meaningful. It also makes you not afraid to help people.
There is nothing more gratifying than helping others, and there are many avenues for doing that — not just through the military.
I joined the Marines after one year of college because I simply didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. In fact, the movie “An Officer and a Gentleman,” about a guy who joins the Navy, came out right before I signed up, and that shaped what I thought the military was going to be like.
I was wrong.
My time in the military wasn’t like a Richard Gere action-romance film. It was tough and it was terrifying, but it also made me grow into a man that started to think to myself, “What can I do to give back?” What the Marines did was laser-focus my attention and instilled in me the idea that, “Hey, you’re capable of a hell of a lot more than what you’re doing now.”
I left the service in 1988 and it haunted me for a long time. I just missed it so badly. I still say that the Marine Corps was the best job I ever had. But I can no longer regret leaving, because I have the best family God could give me, and I would never have met my wife and had Mason if I had stayed.
But here’s the thing: When you serve, the experience never truly leaves you; it always stays with you. Every time something tragic occurred, I would quietly shed a tear. When 9/11 happened, I was choked up watching the coverage on TV. I felt like I should be there — I needed to help.
So off I went to Ground Zero, wearing my old and dated fatigues from the ’80s, and was able to get my way onto the search and rescue team that pulled out the first five people. It was surreal; everyone had the same look on their face, much like how they talk about the empty thousand-yard stare of soldiers who served in Vietnam. There was a gray, pinkish powder in the air, like debris mixed with blood. And it covered everything.
My cancer, my family and I believe, has a direct correlation to my time helping on the pile. But I wouldn’t take any of it back, and Mason knows that.
And that’s because service is part of me, now. I tell Mason constantly that being in service is such a selfless act. It’s contributing to something bigger than yourself. It just requires humility and the willingness to be open to help others.
Luckily for me, Mason already has most of these traits. But he’s only 14 and has a lot of growing up ahead of him and will face situations where I won’t be there to talk to him.
And that is the one thing that kills me — figuratively, of course — feeling like I’ve let down my son by dying too soon.
He’s talking right now of going to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. I hope he does. He’s smart and creative, and good in science and math. I can see him being a biomechanical engineer or something similar.
But even if he doesn’t go into military, I just want him to be happy helping people. I tell him that if he sees someone who needs help, help them. It’s a really good feeling. I promise.
When entering battle or confronting your enemy, it’s essential to have a kick ass “war face” — an expression of rage, vengeance, and brute instincts. It is more than a menacing look, it is a release of powerful emotions to induce fear while also elevating one’s senses to their maximum effect.
Here are the 11 best war faces in military movie history:
“Predator” — Mac’s face emptying a minigun after losing his best friend.
“Braveheart” — That moment you lock eyes with the enemy on the battlefield.
“Rambo: First Blood Part II” — Rambo’s face while firing the M60E3.
“Black Hawk Down” — Hoot’s look while taking control of the .50 Cal
Lt. Col. Allison Black, commander of the 319th Special Operations Squadron, became the first woman in her special ops navigator field. Now younger generations of airmen can take the same path while embarking on their own journey in the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force video // Jimmy D. Shea)
Under the cover of night, then-1st Lt. Allison Black left her tent in Uzbekistan to walk to a preflight brief. Hours later, she’d be making history.
On this November night in 2001, the United States was hoping to bring to justice those responsible for the attacks two months earlier in New York City and Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon.
Flying over the skies of Afghanistan, Black, who is now a lieutenant colonel and the commander of the 319th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Florida, was the navigator on the AC-130H Spectre. As the navigator, she was charged with several duties, one of which was to be the single voice communicating from the aircraft to troops on the ground.
As the gunship fired everything it had upon the Taliban, expending 400 40 mm rounds and 100 105 mm rounds, the Northern Alliance leader, Gen. Abdurrashid Dostum (often referred in the media and around camp fires as “Dostum the Taliban killer”) heard Black’s voice communicating to the joint terminal attack controller on the ground to better understand where rounds need to be fired.
“He heard my voice and asked the special ops guys ‘Is that a woman?’ and they said ‘Yeah, it is,'” Black recalled. “He couldn’t believe it. So he’s laughing and says, ‘America is so determined, they’ve brought their women to kill Taliban.’ He calls the guys we’re shooting and says ‘You guys need to surrender now. American women are killing you … you need to surrender now.'”
The morning after that first mission, those remaining Taliban members surrendered.
“My first combat mission began the collapse of Taliban in the north,” said Black, who became the first female to be awarded the Air Force Combat Action Medal.
This operation would have looked different in 1992.
When Black joined the Air Force in 1992, females weren’t allowed to fly combat missions. That didn’t change until 1993, as the Air Force opened all but less than 1 percent of career fields to women, with the remainder scheduled to open up by early 2016.
At just over 5 feet tall, the Long Island, New York, native seeks and embraces challenges and doesn’t play for second place — a mindset that led her to the Air Force.
“The Air Force seemed to be the hardest service to get into. That got my attention,” Black said. Arriving at basic military training as an enlisted Airman, she was guaranteed a job in the medical career field. But her plans changed when a survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialist briefed Black’s flight on his career field and challenged the group of trainees to join SERE.
“I didn’t know how to chop down a tree, didn’t know how to kill a rabbit, didn’t know how to set a snare, but I was willing,” Black said. “It sounded challenging.”
After more than four years as a SERE instructor, including time as an arctic survival instructor, Black wanted another challenge.
Upon finishing her degree, Black earned a commission as a second lieutenant and headed off to become a navigator — a career field available on several airframes, including bombers and fighters.
There was just one airframe Black wanted: the gunship — specifically, the AC-130H gunship — so she could be on the main flight deck with the pilot, right in the thick of things.
But becoming an Airman, a SERE specialist, an officer and a navigator wasn’t enough — she wanted to join the elite Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC).
“It was exciting. It’s special operations command. You’re in a small force, asked to do tough missions — missions that operate in the gray,” Black said.
Black didn’t realize it at the time, but when she arrived at the 16th Special Operations Squadron, then stationed at Hurlburt Field, she became the first female navigator in that unit and on the AC-130H.
“The thought of being the first was the furthest thing on my mind,” she said. “At that time, I was so focused on being really good at my job and not letting any naysayers get in my way.”
Not only was the milestone the furthest thing from her mind, but it was also something she didn’t want to be on anyone else’s mind either.
“I wasn’t trying to change anyone’s opinion on whether I should or shouldn’t be in a job,” Black said. “I wanted to be an asset. I wanted to be sought after. I wanted to be really good at what I did. I didn’t want to come in second; I wanted to be first.”
Each person defines success differently.
Black doesn’t define success by the medals on her chest or the oak sleeves on her shoulders.
“By not trying to make a statement, I think I found success. I didn’t have an agenda. I didn’t join the Air Force, I didn’t join SERE, and I didn’t join AFSOC to prove that women can do a job,” Black said. “I joined all those things because of the challenge and the career field and the sexy mission. And I just happen to be a woman doing it. And, fortunately, because of my successes, it brought more visibility to ‘Hey, it doesn’t matter if it’s a guy or a girl.'”
Paying it forward
“It wasn’t until years later … when I’d have young female or male Airmen tell me that my story was inspiring, that hearing what I was able to do in AFSOC gave them the confidence to raise their hands and go forward. It was humbling,” Black said.
Black remembers vividly a point in her career where it was clear that she needed to pay it forward.
After a speech to members from base, a female senior airman approached her and referenced the part of the presentation when Black said it has been possible to mother children while also being an Airman. The senior airman was about to get out of the Air Force because she didn’t have anyone telling her the same thing.
“She’s a senior master sergeant now, and we still keep in contact,” Black said.
Seeing these tangible results from telling her story, Black began to reach out even more.
“It’s second and third order effect that just at the virtue of me doing my job, it highlighted that women can succeed. It highlighted the opportunity for women: ‘Hey you’re going to be accepted. They’re going to respect what you bring to the fight,'” Black said.
When she arrived at AFSOC, she didn’t have a cadre of female navigators to offer her mentorship. What she did have were those she refers to as her everything: her husband, Ryan, who was also a SERE instructor, and a supply of male mentors who were all willing to help a teammate grow, regardless of which bathroom stall they use.
“All of the gentlemen I’ve worked for have equipped me with the skills to be a good leader. They gave me that opportunity to shine and to step up,” she said. “You’re judged on game day. You can practice every day of the week, but it’s what you do on Sunday that counts. And I don’t believe in ‘Everyone gets a trophy.”
A new generation
When Black joined the Air Force in 1992, her options looked a lot different than they do for female Airmen today. However, because of her success and the success of many others like her, there are more options in the Air Force for females than in any other service.
This success gave people like 1st Lt. Margaret Courtney many options and paths to walk — or even fly.
Just over two years ago, Courtney had the world on a string, with options in droves. The Baylor University graduate, who majored in neuroscience, managed to pass the Law School Admission Test while working at a mental health institution helping to rehabilitate individuals with drug dependencies. Her potential career paths were in no way limited.
But she wanted more. She wanted a bigger challenge even than graduating with a neuroscience degree and going to law school.
After talking to recruiters from three different branches of the military, and after pinging several friends and family members, Courtney noticed a trend.
“It’s funny — everyone who wasn’t in the Air Force recommended the Air Force,” Courtney said.
After commissioning as an officer and going through training to become a navigator, Courtney faced a decision — what airframe did she want to work on for the remainder of her Air Force career?
“I remember going through (navigator) training, and there are several airframes that require (combat systems officers). You’re going through those aircraft and imagining your life three to 10 years down the road,” Courtney said. “How different would my life look if I joined this community or that community?”
The number of opportunities the Air Force has given Courtney caught her off guard.
“It’s not too bad to be in your young 20’s and have basically limitless possibilities laid out in front of you. I’m like ‘Goodness gracious, let me look into it all,'” Courtney said. “I feel like I’m hitting this whole job and career at the sweet spot. I’ve had plenty of people ahead of me pave the way.”
Knowing what’s ahead for Courtney, Black is excited, and almost proud of the options female Airmen now have.
“It’s exciting — hearing about Lieutenant Courtney,” Black said. “I can’t help but to reflect on when I was a lieutenant and how excited I was to come to the mission, then, after 9/11, to go and fight. I’m excited for her, because I know she’s going to find the reward.”
Black doesn’t just see the past and the present, but the future keeps her motivation high, knowing the possibilities now out there for females in the Air Force.
“The success is that we don’t hear about it because they’re blended in,” said Black said of current female aircrew members. “They’re just people doing great things – male and female. That’s success.”
When Black arrived at Hurlburt in 2000, she was wide-eyed and ready to take on the world. She saw a fork in the road and committed to a direction, not knowing the path. Now that she’s traveled that path, she feels she has a responsibility to people like Courtney and other female Airmen.
“She doesn’t know what she doesn’t know,” said Black of Courtney, who’s even more wide-eyed than the prior-enlisted Black was at this stage in her AFSOC career. “That’s where people like me come in. Lt. Col. Megan Ripple is the director of (operations) at the 4th Special Operations Squadron. We arrived here at Hurlburt together. We are taking the initiative to reach out to these women to prepare them for deployment, to teach them all the things we didn’t know.”
Considering Courtney’s only job up until this point has been to learn and receive training, she’s growing more and more excited to fly this new path.
“I’m still trying to figure out how everything works,” said Courtney, who was recently assigned to the 4th SOS. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I can’t wait to actually partake in it, and do what I’ve been training for. They want you to learn, they want you to train; they want to set you up for success. No one really cares where you’ve come from, what your rank is. They care about how much work you put into your job every day. If you’re competent and put forth the work, you get rewarded.”
Though there are some years between Black and Courtney, they noted a common mentality present when they joined the AFSOC community.
“I haven’t noticed if anyone cares about me being a girl or not,” Courtney said. “They care about how good you are at what you do, and if you care or not, and if you take pride in your work.”
Letting your work speak for itself is a welcome reality for Courtney.
“It’s definitely a relief that you’re judged based on the quality of your work, and nothing else,” Courtney said, pointing out that the impact of the mission is way too important to care about the irrelevant. “AFSOC is pretty open about it. The game we play is life or death.”