Where Are They Now? An update on the "Taliban 5" exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl - We Are The Mighty
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Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl

The Taliban Five are not the reigning champions of Afghanistan’s Got Talent. They are five long-term prisoners held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In a controversial move, the Obama administration released the five in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in a deal struck by the Emir of Qatar in 2014. Bergdahl had been held by the Taliban for five years.


The Taliban Five were among those the Administration deemed too hot to transfer to prison on the U.S. mainland, but not hot enough to remain in Gitmo. This is our rundown on where they came from, and an update on where they are these days.

Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl

Mohammed Fazl: Deputy Defense Minister in Afghanistan under the Taliban and senior military commander in the North during the American invasion. He was outside of Mazar-e Sharif when the prisoners of war held there revolted against their Northern Alliance captors. The Obama administration’s review of his case in 2010 says he may have been responsible for CIA agent Mike Spann’s death at Mazar-e Sharif. Spann was the first American killed in Afghanistan. Fazl is also responsible for killing ethnic minorities in the country and is connected to the killing of Iranian diplomats.

Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl

Norullah Nori: Nori was with Mohammed Fazl at a fortress near Mazar-e Sharif in Northern Afghanistan and may have been involved in Spann’s death. He is also responsible for massacring Shia Afghans, something he admitted to while at Gitmo.

Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl
Abdul Haq Wasiq: Wasiq was the head of Taliban intelligence and is responsible for torturing and murdering Afghan civilians. He is connected to al-Qaeda.

Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl

Khirullah Khairkhwa: Khairkhwa was the governor of Herat province under Taliban rule and was in close contact with Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. It is believed he helped found the Taliban in 1994. He met with officials from Iran and was a friend of former Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl

Mohammed Nabi Omari: A Taliban official who helped smuggle weapons into Afghanistan after the American invasion, Omari is connected to both the Taliban and the Pakistan-based terror group the Haqqani Network. While in captivity, Omari was deemed a risk to his captors.

In 2014, the five were transferred to Qatar in exchange for Bergdahl and are being monitored by the Qatari and U.S. security services, according to the Omani Tribune. The Obama Administration demanded strict monitoring as part of the deal because the first time the U.S. released a Taliban POW, Abdul Qayyum Zakir (released by the Bush administration in 2007), he returned to Afghanistan to continue fighting Coalition forces, eventually becoming the overall Taliban military commander.

He has not yet received his reward of a U.S. military drone strike.

Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl
Yet.

The five are also currently fighting a travel ban with the government of Qatar, who are under pressure from the United States to help keep the five men from posing a threat to Americans or American interests.

According to CNN, the men will remain in Qatar under house arrest, until long-term solutions can be made. Where they want to go is unclear, as neither Pakistan or Afghanistan will take them. Some believe Fazl would likely attempt to join ISIS if he leaves Qatar, while two others want to rejoin the insurgency in Afghanistan.

Taliban negotiators and other representatives of the Afghanistan-based insurgent group are based in Qatar, where their every need is met in wealth and splendor. Until the world figures out what to do with the five, they will remain in Doha’s lap of luxury, with other Taliban diplomats.

NOW: 17 Laws every Taliban militant needs to follow

OR: 4 of the most famous deserters in U.S. military history

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Congress removes provision that would require women to register for the draft

Now that women are eligible for any combat job in the U.S. military, the top brass thinks it might be time for them to register for the draft as well. The civilian government doesn’t entirely agree. Yet, a short time ago, Congressman (and combat veteran) Duncan Hunter added legislation to the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would require women to register for the draft.


The only problem is Hunter didn’t want it to happen. He only wanted to force a debate on the issue of women in combat. He never expected the idea of women registering for the draft to pass. The provision gained unexpected support and momentum in the House Armed Services Committee and passed. (Ironically, Hunter voted against his own amendment.)

Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl

Related: Vet congressman introduces legislation that tees up debate on females and the draft

Today, the Rules Committee of the House of Representatives removed Hunter’s provisions before the NDAA was introduced on the greater House floor, a move that caused Congressional Democrats to criticize Republicans for not bringing the bill to a potentially damaging public debate.

Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl
U.S. Marines PFC. Cristina Fuentes Montenegro (center left) and PFC. Julia R. Carroll (center right) of Delta Company, Infantry Training Battalion, School of Infantry – East (SOI-E), stand at parade rest during their graduation ceremony from SOI-E aboard Camp Geiger, N.C. (U. S. Marine Corps photo by LCpl. Nicholas J. Trager)

The idea of women registering is not entirely dead yet. In their version of the NDAA, the Senate Armed Services Committee also includes language that would force women to register for Selective Service. That provision is expected to be removed during closed-door meetings between the two houses of Congress as they prepare a compromise bill for President Obama to sign.

MIGHTY TRENDING

7 veteran qualities that civilian employers go crazy over

When it’s time for troops to hang up their uniform for the last time and go pick up that beautiful DD-214, they’re subjected to countless classes on how to adapt in the civilian world and use the strengths they’ve picked up in the military to give themselves a leg up in a competitive civilian marketplace.

Troops who had more POGy jobs in the military may have an easier time making the transition. If you worked in the commo shop, there’s countless IT desks out there you can apply for. Flight-line mechanics can make bank working for airlines. But even combat arms guys aren’t limited to positions as security guards or fast-food workers, no matter how many times the retention NCO tells you so.


The fact is, any good soldier, Marine, sailor, or airman who fit perfectly in the formation comes away from service with valuable skills that employers look for in potential employees. Here are a few qualities that veterans have had drilled into them every day since basic training that help them stand out over most civilian competitors.

Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl

We’ve mastered the art of “hurry up and wait,” so showing up early and killing idle time is no problem.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

The 15-minutes-prior schedule

If you’re on time, you’re late. If you’re fourteen minutes early, you’re still late. Civilians tend to pull some excuse that explains why it’s definitely not their fault that they’re arriving at 10:05 for a 10 a.m. meeting.

That fifteen-minute buffer works wonders with the way most civilians schedule things. The higher up in an organization you go, the more promptly meetings tend to start. If you’ve been ready for 15 minutes already, nobody will end up waiting on you. You’re set.

Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl

You’ll never find a more open and, uh, “creative” conversation than those held at a deployed smoke pit.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

Blunt honesty

We’ve seen it happen a million times: Someone throws out an awful suggestion and it’s met with agreeable silence. Everyone is too afraid to speak up because their reputation is on the line for speaking out of turn. Then, out of the corner, a veteran speaks up and says, “well that’s dumb. Why the f*ck would we do that?”

If there’s one thing that sets a veteran apart in a board room it’s their ability to avoid being a yes man. It may ruffle the feathers of people who expect everyone to nod along, but at the very least, it moves the meter.

Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl

If you thought vets couldn’t also handle useless and drawn-out PowerPoint presentations, think again!

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Alfonso Corral)

No aversion to manual labor

Veterans can safely celebrate the fact that when they get a new job, if something comes up that’s not in the job description, it’s not expected of them. That’s right: if you’re now an office drone working some cubicle job, no one will randomly get on your ass for not cleaning the break room.

Sometimes, however, things just need to get done. Using that same example, an entire day could go by in a civilian office and people will simply walk by that messy break room thinking, “it’s not my responsibility.” Most vets, on the other hand, would instinctively clean it up without giving it a second thought.

Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl

The same goes the other way around. Knowing who does the leg work in an organization makes a leader’s work a million times easier.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Chlosta)

Acknowledgement of hierarchy

Things are nice and easy when everyone wears their rank on their uniform. You can instantly look at their insignia and recognize where they stand in the chain of command — no questions asked. That simple insignia tells the world what is expected of you, in accordance with your rank.

The civilian workplace doesn’t really have those kinds of markings — but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a pecking order. Vets just need to know who’s in charge of them and who’s in charge of the people in charge and they’re set.

Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl

Sometimes, leading from the front means letting a subordinate take the spotlight. That’s surprisingly rare in the civilian world.

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Andrew Parks)

Willingness to take a leadership position

Everyone wants the bigger job, bigger desk, bigger pay check, but too few people are willing to exit their comfort zone to get it. They’ll whine about that one guy getting an extra zero in his paycheck but slink at any opportunity to prove their worth.

Vets, on the other hand, will usually take it upon themselves to organize their coworkers if they see a lack of leadership and make themselves the face of their team without even realizing it. Willingly taking on that leadership role proves to the company that the vet is serious and values the company. This almost always gives that vet more firepower when it comes time to shoot for a raise.

Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl

The ever-looming glare of a drill sergeant never leaves the back of your mind. Ever.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Ken Scar)

Separation of work life and personal life

Keeping what’s going on in your personal life from affecting your work life is a difficult skill to master. It’s a beyond-useful talent to be able to set aside any personal problems when it’s time to get serious and work. The other part of this equation is not letting personal drama bleed into getting the mission done.

Troops and vets have been constantly cattle prodded into moving forward and to quit whining about unrelated stuff. This is second nature.

Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl

There’s no gray area in “until mission complete.” Either it’s impossible or it’ll be done by lunch time.

(U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. David W. Cline)

The mission-first mentality

If there’s a single quality that civilian employers can expect from nearly every veteran, it’s that veterans will always be task-oriented. They’ll see a checklist as a thing to complete rather than a thing to dread.

From the moment troops enlist, they’re taught to juggle roughly seven thousand different tasks inherent to military life, in addition to those associated with their given MOS. There’s a job to be done, so let’s get to it.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Prestigious NORAD Air Force award goes to… a coastie

When the Continental U.S. North American Air Force Aerospace Control Alert Maintainer of the Year for 2020 was announced, there was some shock. The prestigious Air Force award went to … a coastie.

The Continental Division of the North American Aerospace Defense Command is comprised of the United States Air Force, Air National Guard, Army National Guard, Canadian Air Force and to the surprise of many – the Coast Guard.


The National Capital Region Air Defense Facility of the Coast Guard is housed under the command of NORAD in Washington, D.C and is their only permanent air defense unit. Operating simultaneously as both a military branch and law enforcement within the Department of Homeland Security allows the elite Coast Guard unit the ability to respond to potential threats on a moment’s notice. One of their most vital missions is protecting the restricted air space around the White House.

When a threat to the capital is detected, coasties are the first on deck to respond.

Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl

(Photo: USCG PA1 Tara Molle)

Avionics Technician First Class Andrew Anton is a member of the small crew of coasties tasked with protecting America’s capital and the only coastie to have ever been selected for the Maintainer of the Year award. “It was a surprise to me. I didn’t see it coming and it’s very humbling,” he said. Anton continued, “We don’t fly the helicopter by ourselves. This is a team award and a Coast Guard win.”

Anton is responsible for managing, scheduling and maintaining all of the helicopters at the unit. “We are the only rotary wing air intercept entity under the NORAD structure. We are Coast Guard but we work for the Air Force,” he explained.

Working within aviation is not without risk, which is why Anton feels his award is attributed to the team and not just him. A day in the life of a coastie working aviation involves dangerous chemicals, heavy parts and working in high lifts. Then, there’s the inherent risk of simply being up in the air in flight. “At the end of the day, there has to be a human factor in this. We all live and die together. This is a very dangerous job,” Anton shared. “This unit applies the best amount of leadership that I have ever seen. Although this is an individual award, it is a team. No one can be successful if the ones around you can’t do their jobs.”

Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl

(Photo: USCG PA1 Tara Molle)

Military service has been ingrained into Anton his entire life as his family has served in the Armed Forces for generations. “I have had a passion for aviation since I was very young. Every male in my family since World War II was a pilot, I am the only mechanic in my family. I love flying but I prefer to work with my hands,” he explained. When he finished college, he knew he wanted to join the Coast Guard.

“I work for Aviation Engineering and I am a maintainer, a mechanic,” Anton said. But he’s much more than that. Anton is a Coast Guard Rotary Wing Aircrew Member, an Enlisted Flight Examiner, Flight Standards Board Member, a facility Training Petty Officer and is responsible for primary quality assurance.

Since his unit is a part of NORAD and works alongside the Air Force, they have unique protocols to follow. “The Coast Guard regulations are one thing, but we also have to abide by the Air Force Regulations because we are an Air Combat Alert unit,” Anton explained.

Anton shared that when the Air Force completes the inspections for their Coast Guard unit, they are often left baffled. When they realize that only one Coast Guard maintainer does the job that it takes eight separate Air Force members to do, they’re shocked. “When they come for these assessments, it’s kind of funny to hear them ask, ‘I’d like to talk to your refueler’ or ‘I’d like to talk to your tool manager’ and I’m like – still here, all me. They’ll do that for everything. We take pride in our workload and what we are able to accomplish,” he said.
Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl

(Photo: USCG PA1 Tara Molle)

They maintain their high level of efficiency with just six maintainers on a daily basis.

“As coasties, there’s just so many hats that we take off and put on, but we do it well. We’re so accustomed to being adaptable,” Anton shared. Many may find themselves shocked at what the Coast Guard accomplishes in a single day and probably didn’t realize they are a vital part of protecting the President of the United States.

“We don’t have Coast Guard signs out front and this mission isn’t as heavily publicized because we are following POTUS around. It’s a way to mitigate risk,” Anton shared. The members of this unit are not allowed to wear their Coast Guard uniforms outside of the facility and much of what they do still remains shrouded in secrecy, as a matter of national security.

While this unit is lending vital support to Operation Noble Eagle, the Coast Guard as a whole is also engaging in Rotary Wing Air Intercept nationwide for the U.S. Secret Service. They guard the skies above National Special Security Events and the president, wherever he or she goes.

Receiving this award showcases the important role that the Coast Guard plays in not only guarding America’s waters, but her sky as well. Their missions are accomplished with pride and devotion, despite the challenges they encounter within their budget. “It’s important to know that these guys and this team manage it all. You don’t hear about it because they do it so well,” Anton said. “The Coast Guard is such a small branch that it must be that good.”


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Nick from Ranger Up on entrepreneurship, why most business books suck, & his hero Captain America

Nick Palmisciano commands an empire of apparel sales, MMA sponsorships, digital content, and social media mastery as the Founder and President of Ranger Up. Started in 2006, the company is on track this year to hit $10 million in revenue, and that’s due in large part to the former Army officer’s ability to overcome significant challenges.


Palmisciano founded the company while pursuing his M.B.A. at Duke University, after he started printing funny military-themed t-shirts for ROTC students there. Now nine years later, it’s a business that continues to grow.

WATM spoke in depth with Palmisciano about his business challenges, how he overcame them, his future plans, his heroes, and much more.

Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl
Photo Credit: Youtube/screenshot

We Are The Mighty: When you refused a promotion and went all-in with RangerUp, it was a huge risk. Do you remember what you were you thinking at that moment?

Nick Palmisciano: I was scared, to be honest. I was scared about giving up the security of the whole thing, but I also felt very free for the first time in ages, you know, because I just — I controlled my destiny, you know, and being able to control your destiny is a very American trait and it’s something I didn’t fully appreciate.

Like I thought of myself as an entrepreneur when I was doing it part-time, but you know, when poor performance means you don’t get a paycheck it hits home so much more, and I’m sure you realize that … but you know you feel alive because you kill what you eat, the company grows, you get a paycheck, the company grows, you get to continue paying employees. [If] the company doesn’t grow, it dies, and you fail. So it’s a lot more exciting and a lot more rewarding when you do well and hits a lot more than a normal job when you do poorly.

WATM: Do veterans have an advantage or disadvantage in starting their own businesses?

NP: We have both. So the statistics show that veterans do better than any other population in the country at starting their own businesses and maintaining their own businesses. I think that’s true for a couple of reasons: One, we have endured a lot, and we are used to a situation where at first we are not the best at something, [and] we have to work really hard at it and, over time we get a skill set. Those are incredibly helpful attributes. When you’ve actually done hard things several times, it makes the next hard thing easier to accomplish.

The other thing is that we genuinely like to work in teams and we are happy when other people succeed, but the military is built around [the idea that] you learn something, and then you achieve a level and then you teach other people how to achieve that level and your success is married to their success. That’s not true in the civilian world. People are a lot more self-centered — whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, they are focused on their own promotion, their own skill sets, their own growth, and they don’t think about the team as much as military people do.

So that’s the upside. The downside is that the military makes things very easy for us, and that’s probably counterintuitive because nobody looks back at their military experience and says “Man that was so easy” but they tell you “If you want to go to this next job, you go to this school. If you want to go to this next job, you need to do these things in the unit. You need to have these jobs.”

There’s a structure to the whole thing. There is no structure in entrepreneurship and when I see people [who] are trying to start business that are really sputtering, a lot of times they’re coming to me, they’re coming to other entrepreneurs and they’re saying that they’re looking for advice, but they’re really looking for me or others to do all of the work for them and they just want to knock down these easily set up targets. And that’s just not the way that entrepreneurship is. You have to go into nebulous situations and figure out a way through and there’s a lot of suffering in there and you might be great for two years and then something else comes in and changes the whole game, and you have to rethink everything that you’re doing.

So there’s good and bad. You know on the whole, I think you’re better off being a veteran, and the statistics show that, than not, but there are things that kind of bite us in the ass too.

WATM: How about in the corporate world?

NP: Um, again, it’s kind of — it’s a two-pronged answer — thinking that you are better than people, or that you are owed something, or that they all suck because they’re civilians, you are setting yourself up for failure. So if you go in with that approach, which a lot of people do, and then complain that no one wants to hire vets, you’re not going to do well, because frankly, nobody wants to be treated like sh-t. No one want to be looked down upon, so if you go in with a negative attitude, then people aren’t going to like you and you’re not going to get hired. If you go in with the same attitude that you had when you went into a new job in the military — “I don’t really know what I’m doing and I have to rely on the people around me to teach me everything I need to know, but be proactive in learning everything that you can,” — you’re going to do extremely well.

Every time I had a new corporate job, I spent most of my time for the first few weeks basically talking to everybody that was in the group — no different than somebody coming into a new unit [and] figuring out how the unit works what the SOP’s were — and then after that after I felt like I had a handle on it. Then I was going to best practices and other organizations, the internet, etc. to figure out how I could improve my job, the organization, and take it to the next level in any number of areas.

That’s the approach that you need to take to figure out what’s going on and then figure out how you can be most valuable and see what you can bring to the table, as opposed to “let me tell everybody here how things should really work, I was in the military.”

So just like anything else, going in humble with the intention of truly being helpful as opposed to trying to rise above other people is going to make you successful.

Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl
Photo: US Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael Holzworth

WATM: How do we get over that “I’m better than you” military mindset?

NP: I try to flip it around for people. You know, when people get out [of the military] and go to college and college students are making gross assumptions about them, you know about how having post-traumatic stress is going to result in them doing something insane, or about killing people or about this, that, or the other thing … all the stereotypes that you hear about college students.

How much does that infuriate them? How much does that make them want to have nothing to do with these people, does that make them feel like they’re a fish out of water in this organization?

Flip it around and treat somebody like that because they don’t have the same experiences that you had, and guess what? You’re the a–hole. You know, so stop being an a–hole.

You go in and you’re walking into their organization. You wouldn’t walk in from basic training, or for that matter, walk in off the street to basic training and [say] “alright check it out drill sergeant, let me tell you how it really is.” Because they’re gonna be like who the f–k do you think you are?

It’s no different. It’s no different walking into a company. You can’t walk in one day and tell everybody how it is or how it should be or, the way that it should work or that they’re all wrong, because you don’t know what you’re doing — no matter what experience you have — you don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t know how that organization [operates], what they do on a daily basis, and you don’t know the constraints and you don’t know the personalities involved.

You know if you flip it around, it suddenly sounds ludicrous, right? It’s the same thing.

WATM: What do you think was your biggest challenge with RangerUp, and how did you get through it?

NP: [Sighs] There’s a new one every year, man. Honest to God. There’s a new one every year. You know, the most dramatic challenge I went through [was that] I went through leaving corporate America and literally a month and a half later I was going through a divorce, so I rapidly ran out of personal [funds]. I sold everything that I had, mutual funds and all that stuff, and I was down to $1,300.

And the key there, just like the key has been in every other time that I’ve had a crisis with the company is to focus on one thing at a time every single day and try to improve. You know, whether it’s marketing, whether it’s inventory management, whatever, because if you take a step back and you look at all of it, all the problems and all the challenges, it’s overwhelming.

So, you know, putting it in military terms, right, if you can sit back and say I want to conquer the country of Iraq, that’s an insane task that requires many people thinking and assessing and even then it’s challenging but when you break it down: The first thing I need to do is, I need to take this city, I need to take this block, I need to take this street, [and] it becomes manageable.

So sometimes, especially when everything is sh-tty, and when cash flow’s tight and when you don’t have enough inventory … when sales are down for the month and there’s a new predator or whatever it is. When things are very challenging, you’ve got to narrow them into a list, because otherwise it’s overwhelming.

You put one thing on the list at a time, you do it until it’s done, and you do it so that it’s high quality, and then you do the second thing on the list and when you knock things out like that and you go through the formula of A, B, C, you find yourself in a better position after several miserable weeks.

If you just try to solve it all at once, you get nothing done, you can’t sleep at night, and it doesn’t improve. And so, I went from being a dude that had a lot of money to a dude that had $1,300 to his name and had maxed out credit cards.

But by knocking out one thing at a time, the next month I had $1,350, and the next month I had $1,500, and you know, I’ve taken that approach with everything. So every time something goes wrong, you have to assess, what is it?

Well, this time I have too much inventory in styles that weren’t really selling, how did that happen? So you figure all that out, and what I know is that I need money right now to make a sale on this inventory that isn’t showing, even if I take a loss on it because I need to get cash into the system, then how do I figure out how to do that next time? What led me to this?

So you need to go through the steps and at some point, like right now we have a very fancy inventory management system, we use algorithms to determine that we built based on our analysis and how many of something we should order. But that didn’t happen in a day because we f–ked up, and then we fixed it, and then we f–ked up again and then we fixed it, and as long as you don’t make the same mistakes, over time you start building a business that is very efficient and very sophisticated.

But at the beginning it’s like “hey, how many of these should we order? I don’t know, 100? 150?” And now it’s… I don’t want people rounding because we found two years ago that by rounding up to the nearest 12 shirts, we added $80,000 of inventory, 3 or 4 shirts at a time, and that money needs to be working, not sitting on the shelves.

You see what I’m saying? It all kind of builds.

WATM: I’ll follow up by asking, specifically, because you brought up the thing with $1300, how did you break that up, what was your priority there? It’s daunting, you’re looking at your account and seeing that you only have $1300, and you’ve gotta make money. What were the manageable tasks that you found got you to $1350 in the next month?

NP: The first thing was figuring out where the money was going, [and] where are we spending. One of the the big things back then was we really valued things. We were a smaller company, doing what the other people were doing, and we really valued things like athlete sponsorship and trade shows, and you know all the things that all the other companies are doing that everybody tells you are critical.

[We] just kind of walked through that and asked, is this critical? What does it really cost to do a trade show? What does it really cost to have an athlete? And then you figure out what the value of having these things really is. We almost don’t do any trade shows anymore because the average trade show ended up costing around $27,000 when all is said and done, and you just don’t get that kind of return. It’s just a thing that somebody created that people do, and everyone goes, “oh you’ve gotta be involved in this or else you’re not really in the industry.”

Well that’s not true at all, but that’s what everybody says. And you know, we do sponsor athletes, but we only sponsor our kind of athlete, and we figured out what that meant.

Inventory. It was a big issue back then and I was trying to figure out why sales weren’t growing — why we were very profitable, but we had no cash on hand. So it was a simple Excel spreadsheet where I rank-ordered all of the styles by sales and then to the right I put their inventory value and then I realized that I was getting 80 percent of our sales on about 20 percent of our inventory, and the other 80 percent of our inventory accounted for 20 percent of our sales.

It was embarrassing because I knew this stuff from business school, but it’s completely different when you’re in it, day to day, and you think about things like if I only print this smaller number, it’s gonna cost a dollar something more per shirt and that’s gonna be a ton of money — and it is a ton of money — and it’s not hundreds of thousands of dollars in useless inventory, and there’s no science to that.

It’s hard to balance what’s appropriate. Is it profitability or is it cash flow? You’ve gotta strike a balance, like you’ve gotta hold some inventory or you can’t sell but if you have too much inventory you have nothing available for investment.

So we did a fire sale on that 80 percent of the inventory and much of it we took a loss or did breakeven on, and then all of a sudden we had some cash and we invested that cash into styles that sold, and we were able to then create more styles and started developing styles more routinely.

All of these things were things I was working on over several months and the low point just happened to be at that $1,300 and so I had already been working to solve the problem. And it finally started clicking that following month, like all of a sudden these new styles were coming in, we were selling more, we had a little more cash on hand. I was able to pay myself a little more, and it wasn’t a ton more — like another $100 or $150 a month — but that little amount made all the difference. So you kind of chip away at these small things and they add up to be big things very quickly.

WATM: What are the tools you use on a daily basis to be more productive and get things done?

NP: I’m not a really fancy guy even though I have an appreciation for a lot of these crazy apps out there but really at the end of the day there are three tools that I use all the time.

Excel is the lifeblood of everything I do and I am an Excel ninja. People say that they are an Excel ninja because they can do a couple of basic formulas but there is nothing I cannot do in Excel. Spreadsheets are very complicated you know, drop down menus and like it’s just … [being] able to very quickly look at data and convert that into a few possible directions that you should go and that you should look at, is invaluable. If you’re gonna start your own business and you’re one of those people that’s like “Oh I’m not good at that, or I really don’t know that much about Excel,” take courses, start figuring out how to do analysis, [because] it’s really important.

The second thing is Quickbooks; I don’t care if you’re a brand new business and you only have $400 in sales, start using Quickbooks, start figuring out how all the different sheets work and fit together and constantly be looking at your business to see what’s going on. If you don’t know, then your success is just dumb luck.

You have to know what’s going on in the company. And then the last thing is just that I use the notepad on my iPhone and Tom [Amenta, COO of RangerUp] has Evernote or whatever the hell it’s called, and a few other fancy things but I just use the notepad every day and write down what I have to do on this day, and if I don’t get these things done then I have failed.

Or, at the very least I take it and I move it on to the notes for the next day. But every single day I am trying to knock out certain things. So those are the three very simple tools that I use constantly. You open up my computer and there’s always six or seven Excel sheets open and I get a daily Quickbooks report with a list of various things that are important to me along with a scorecard that the various managers inside the business provide me on a weekly basis and I hold myself accountable with my phone which is always with me.

WATM: I’d be really fascinated to learn what your creative process is like. You guys are churning out videos, blog posts, social media, memes, all kinds of stuff. How do you decide what’s good, who’s coming up with this stuff? Can you take me through what that’s like?

NP: We have a really good creative team and that’s me, Tom Amenta, Jack Mandaville, Patrick Thomas Baker, and all of our designers. It’s just a really good group of people, but it also extends to anybody [who] wants to be involved.

So sometimes we have, I don’t know, three organized meetings about various topics in terms of creativity every week so one is the design process, one is videos, and one might just be general ideas about projects you take on.

But then also there are people like Jack, Pat and I that are literally always thinking about this kind of stuff. Like I’ll wake up in the middle of the night sometimes and jot down some stupid video idea or an article I want to write or whatever, and it hits me and I put it down.

And you know, our whole concept is we want to entertain our friends. That’s the way that we look at our business. How can we entertain, educate, or just generally amuse our friends? If we do that right everything falls into place. And if we don’t do that right, we’re just another t-shirt company.

WATM: Tell me about the movie “Range 15”.

NP: Range 15 is a post-apocalyptic comedy. Think of it as “The Hangover” after the apocalypse with veterans leading the charge to save the world. And in terms of the plot that’s kind of what I can give up right now.

The main character in this movie is going to be Mat Best. He’s got the high cheek bones and the steely blue eyes so we thought it was a no-brainer, and then the rest of the Ranger Up and Article 15 crew who I’m with, Dakota Meyer, Leroy Petry, Tim Kennedy and we just got a really interesting call that I did not expect from another well-known military celebrity that is interested in being involved.

And he has already had a very popular movie done about him, but he has never done a comedy before, and I think we’re going to be adding his seal to the mix here. But the concept here is that veterans are always portrayed in a certain way in movies, even positive movies. It’s always about sacrifice and suffering and they always end up worse off from their experiences. And that’s really just not the case. I mean it’s the case with some people, sure, but on the whole veterans are the most industrious, fun, can-do people that I’ve ever met and that I think most people will ever meet and so we just wanted to have fun with it.

Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl

So for example, we’ve got two Medal of Honor recipients in this thing and they’re poking fun at each other and the service. And they’re in a movie that could be described as one of the most ridiculous movies that you’re ever gonna see anywhere, and they’re doing it because they should be able to do it. Nobody should be able to tell these guys, “you can only do this type of film” or this kind of documentary.

No, because they want to do the same kind of thing that we want to do. They want to amuse our friends, they want to show them that you can do anything. I mean for all, for any negative threads that are on us doing this silly movie, at the end of the day, in 24 hours we’ve raised almost $200,000 [Editor’s note: Now it’s almost $500,000] to do a movie for our community.

I’ll be honest, the folks at IndieGoGo spoke to a mutual friend and had told them that we were going to launch and they kind of ignored it. And the president of IndieGoGo called and his question to them was “Who the f–k are you guys?” Because he didn’t understand, he did not understand how we were doing it, and it’s because people don’t understand the community and understand what these kinds of things mean to the community.

It’s gonna be a good movie. It’s gonna be really funny and it’s going to be for us, and because we’re doing it for us we don’t have to compromise the message at all. We don’t care if someone’s offended by it. We don’t care if this isn’t Hollywood appropriate, and if this isn’t gonna do well in the Asian market. We don’t care about any of that stuff.

Because we’re doing a movie that our fans want us to do. And it basically breaks all the rules. Our IndieGoGo campaign wasn’t set up the way IndieGoGo says you should set up a campaign, our marketing strategy isn’t what they say you’re supposed to employ, we’re not relying on Hollywood interviews, we’re not relying on press and we’re not relying on any of this stuff and we’re doing it hardcore, direct and social.

And we’re on pace right now to be one of the largest funded movies ever on IndieGoGo, and I think that speaks less about us and more about the community.

WATM: What about the decline of the military comedy in a post 9/11 environment? Why has that happened and were you actively trying to combat that?

NP: You should be able to have fun with it. And we saw the same kind of thing with some people with “Enlisted.”

Military veterans are not saints. And I don’t mean that in like we aren’t good people, but you do not need to bow down to the altar of the veteran. We’re regular people, and we should be able to make fun of ourselves. And if you think that veterans can’t because they have to live up to some standard or stereotype, that’s your problem, not ours.

I think  most veterans have a lot of fun, are funny people, enjoy life and don’t want to be stuck with this view that they are droids that are serious and boring people. I think it’s unfair and we want to shatter that.

WATM: It seems counterintuitive to work with Article 15 Clothing, which outsiders would view as a competitor. How do you explain that relationship? It seems antithetical to the norms of business to be friends with companies creating such similar products.

NP: With Article 15, we have a very similar ethos. Those guys genuinely care about the veteran community; it’s not just window dressing. So they’re genuine guys and I like them personally, but the second part of it is that I don’t think it’s a zero sum game. I don’t wish failure on anybody.

We grow, they grow. Grunt Style [another military apparel company] grows and it’s not a bad thing  [because] these people are employing veterans and doing good things. I’ll be honest with you, I haven’t had a single year where we haven’t had triple or double digit growth, so I’ve got no reason to complain.

When you sit around and look at competitors and worry about what they’re doing, and worry about other people, you are stagnant, you’re not improving, you’re not creating new products. You’re just worrying and you’re trying to go backwards. When you [should] look forward you grow.

That’s what we do, so I worked with Article 15, and we became friends, I gave them some advice here and there, and as a result of that mutual trust we kind of hung out and came up with the concept of doing this together and it’s been a really good partnership.

You can ask them the same questions and I’m relentless — that’s my personality — so from the moment that we decided to do this, I’m the guy who is annoying the sh-t out of everybody like “hey, we gotta do this, here’s our timetable, hey, we’ve got to get the lawyers to do this, we’ve gotta fill out this form and here’s the script notes. I need this and I need that.”

And Jarred [Taylor] is a promotional genius, Mat is a very creative dude, he’s hilarious, Jack [Mandaville] is hilarious, and everyone is kind of bringing something to the table. Individually I’m not gonna say, “could Article 15 have not done this without us?” No, I would never say that. They’re motivated guys, and they could have done it, same with us, like we could have done the same thing.

But together, we’re unstoppable. And I truly feel that way. Working together on this, we’re unstoppable. We’re putting up numbers that are shocking on IndieGoGo because the general population has no f–king idea who any of us are. But we’re still putting up numbers that are a quarter of what Broken Lizard just did with “Super Troopers” and that’s a movie that probably 20 percent of America has seen and loves, because we work great together, and have been able to kind of check egos and just work really hard.

So, for me it’s just been a win for everybody and it’s been an awesome experience.

Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl
Photo: US Army Sgt. Michael Maclleod

WATM: You were an Army officer, so I’m curious as to what terrifies you more: leading a unit of soldiers, or leading your own company? Or is it similar?

NP: It’s really different. And I also think it’s different because as you get older you think about things differently too. Like to think if I was this age, and if I were to take a platoon now, I would have been a lot more afraid than I was then, because when you’re 21 or 22 and just out of Ranger School, you feel like you’re unstoppable and you’re surrounded by guys who feel like they’re unstoppable.

Deploying was definitely nerve wracking because, a lot of people say this, but I was one of the guys that really loved everybody in my platoon even if they were a pain in the ass, and I really looked at them as my family. And it was terrifying to think of losing somebody. But I was fortunate that I wasn’t in a position where that happened. So, I was a young guy and felt invincible and never was faced with some of the bad things that happened to other people.

The stress is different though. The stress of a business is constant, and it’s not something where there is a clear, there’s no clear enemy right? It’s just this constant stress. Do we have the right inventory? Do we have the right ideas? Do we have the right advertising strategy? Oh crap, this thing went wrong. We need to fix this. The shirts came in wrong, the movie title headline is off because of X,Y, and Z, the lawyers didn’t get us the paperwork in time.

So now, my brain works 24/7, and it’s never over. In the nine years I’ve been doing this, I’ve basically had this constant stress in the back of my head, whereas the military, the stress has much higher peaks but shorter duration.

You get back from deployment and that stress drops significantly, then you deploy and the stress peaks. Within an entrepreneurial endeavor, the stress never goes away. It’s just always there. There’s always something you could be doing. That was a convoluted answer, but in the worst situation, [there’s] no question about it that the military is more stressful. On a day to day basis it’s more stressful to be an entrepreneur.

WATM: Living or dead, who are your top 3 heroes?

NP: George Washington is the best president we will ever have. I’ve read just about everything written on the man and people have no idea how much that dude did for the country and for our way of life.

Cheesy I know, but my father came over from Italy when he was eight years old, volunteered for Vietnam, served for six years, got out and used the GI Bill to be the first person to go to college in our family on either side, graduated valedictorian, and sacrificed significantly so that my mom and my brother and I grew up thinking anything was possible, and essentially made it so that we did make anything possible that we wanted to do.

And then third, gosh, you know the third one is a tough one, I’m not really a big hero worship kind of guy but I’m gonna go with Captain America. I’m serious. I’m going with Captain America because no matter how bad it gets, he sticks to doing what the right thing is and he never allows his principles to be shaken.

WATM: You want to start a new business instead of RU. What is it?

NP: That’s a tough one for me to answer because I have so many offers on the table right now. If I wanted to do something completely different I would do something that involved absolutely zero inventory.

So we’re kind of doing something that’s been a dream of mine for a long time, and that’s to get into the movie business. I mean, we might get into doing this movie and realize that we all hate movies. You know I enjoy doing advertising work, I could also see myself at some point disengaging from business and spending some time doing some nonprofit work.

It’s tough for me, because literally every day someone is trying to buy us, get us involved in a new business or hire me or Tom or somebody away from here. So I almost can’t even answer that.

At the end of the day, I want to work with really good people because the business almost doesn’t matter. I don’t even really like T-shirts. I tell people that all the time. But I really like my customers. And that’s what keeps me in the game with RangerUp.

If I had the opportunity to take over a $200 million business, but the focus was on football players or something, I don’t think my heart would be in it and I don’t think that I would be as good at it. Working with good people, and customers that I believe in, that’s kind of what motivates me. I need to care about what I’m doing.

I was in a position in corporate America where I was making a lot of money, I was on pace to make a bunch more money, and that taught me that I really don’t care about money. I mean obviously, I need to eat and I need to take care of my family, but I don’t need to be Kanye or Mayweather blowing 100K at a strip club. That’s not gonna make me happy. So whatever I do, the work has to be worthwhile.

WATM: What’s the #1 business book you find yourself recommending to people?

NP: I don’t really believe in business books. They’re just cheesy, they’re narcissistic, they’re people telling you how great they are, for the most part.

I would tell you that Ryan Holiday wrote a really cool book called The Obstacle Is The Way. It’s not really a business book but it is a great read and it’s founded on the principles of stoicism. And if you want to go back even further, read Marcus Aurelius. One of the great things that I learned from Ryan, and this is just from personal interaction with him, is that if you want to know something about a topic, any topic, walk into the bookstore and find the oldest book on that topic that’s still in print, because if it’s still in print, it’s because it’s a good book.

If it’s a new thing that someone famous just wrote, it’s probably a piece of sh-t, and I’ve found that to be true. And I’ve started reading older and older books, and the classics, and philosophy, because I find that to be a lot more valuable than reading about some dude that just launched an app and is 25 and trying to tell people how to run their life and run their business.

Sometimes people are really good, sometimes people are really lucky, [and] sometimes people are really good and can’t tell a story. Read old books.

WATM: What about a military-related book?

NP: That’s tough. I really like Gates of Fire, I really like Starship Troopers, the book, not the movie although the movie’s fun. The Long Grey Line, that’s a great book. Black Hawk Down. There [are] so many great books out there it’s hard to pick just one. Sean Parnell’s Outlaw Platoon, that’s a new one. I really enjoyed that book and Sean is a great guy. That probably makes that book even better for me, but to say that I have a favorite is pretty challenging.

WATM: Last thing: Where do people go to learn more about you? Besides RangerUp.com, do you have a personal website, Twitter account, Instagram, or smoke signal that you would recommend? Video you would want people to watch?

NP: @Ranger_Up is my Twitter, and that’s me tweeting 90 percent of the time. I don’t have a personal account yet but I’ve been getting kicked in the ass to start one so that’s coming soon [laughs].

Watch the “How to Get a Job” series. That’s what I care about. Just figuring out how to get people set up for success, so if the question is what am I about, that’s gonna be the best video for that.

WATM: Thanks so much, Nick.

NOW: The 9 best items deployed troops use instead of cash

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is the guy who deleted President Trump’s Twitter

The man who deleted President Donald Trump’s Twitter account for 11 minutes earlier this month has revealed himself, and says it was all a mistake.


Former Twitter contractor Bahtiyar Duysak, who was born and raised in Germany and has Turkish roots, calls the United States “the best country in the world.” With a U.S. work and study visa, the 28-year-old had worked for Google, YouTube, and Vaco before Twitter.

On his last day as a Pro Unlimited contractor for Twitter’s Trust and Safety division, Duysak said he was alerted to someone reporting the president’s account. Duysak said as a last throwaway gesture, he marked the account for deletion and left the building — not realizing that the account would actually be taken down.

It was only after he saw news reports of the incident, he said, that he realized what had happened.

Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl

“The specific mentions of this person on his last day, I immediately knew I was the only guy who left on the last day … I felt a little bit nervous,” Duysak told CNN.

“I did a mistake, I confess. It’s not like I was looking for something or planning to do it. It was in front of me, and I didn’t do a good job, and I didn’t double-check things.”

See Also: This is how two Air Force Bases ended up in a Twitter feud

Duysak, whose identity was first revealed by TechCrunch, said he and his family were aggressively contacted by news media and didn’t feel like the “hero” many said he was.

“I didn’t hack anyone. I didn’t do anything that I was not authorized to do,” he said. “I didn’t go to any site I was not supposed to go to. I didn’t break any rules.”

The day after the account was deactivated, Twitter promised a full review of the situation and vowed it wouldn’t happen again.

Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl
Trump was not happy to have his favorite platform taken away. (DoD photo by Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley)

Duysak said he chose to identify himself now in order to “continue an ordinary life.”

“I want to continue an ordinary life. I don’t want to flee from the media,” he said. “I want to speak to my neighbors and friends. I had to delete hundreds of friends, so many pictures, because reporters are stalking me.”

Although he insists he didn’t commit any crime or “evil” act, Duysak said he doesn’t plan on getting another tech job anytime soon.

“But I love Twitter,” he said. “And I love America.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

This therapy dog is a hero to veterans

Hercules, in classical mythology, is a hero and god famous for his strength, travels, and adventures.

At the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa, a black lab, appropriately named Hercules, is a hero to veterans, visitors, and VA staff. He’s their resident rock star and therapy dog, and he’s about to celebrate his third birthday.

Robert Lynch is a Marine, the Tampa VA Veterans Experience Officer, and proud dad to Hercules. As a service-connected veteran, Lynch is upfront and open discussing his physical and mental health needs, including mobility, depression and anxiety.


In 2017, Lynch applied for a therapy dog to help with his own overall health, but after further thought wanted to expand the role of his potential new best friend. He talked with Tampa VA Director Joe Battle about having a therapy dog as a VA staff member.

Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl

Battle loved the idea of a full-time canine on staff, as did other leadership and they created a hospital policy defining what would be the role of their new employee.

Southeastern Guide Dogs, a non-profit group that trains guide and service and therapy dogs, brought a few furry friends to meet Robert. Once Lynch met Hercules, he knew they had a special bond. The trainer from Southeastern saw it too, saying they were “surprised at how fast the two connected.”

To this day, Hercules doesn’t want Lynch out of his sight. While working at the Tampa VA, Hercules and Lynch do spend some time apart as Hercules goes with other trained handlers to visit different areas of the hospital. Hercules puts in about 50 hours a week, rotating visits to various clinics and care units.

A work day for Hercules can range from playing fetch with veterans in physical therapy, painting with veterans in a creative arts class, or playing a role in a Final Salute–a ceremony held inside the VA to honor a veteran who has passed. Hercules carries the flag and seeks out those who may need some emotional support.

Hercules Saves the Day

www.youtube.com

Lynch received a call one day with a special request. A veteran in the hospice unit wanted to visit with Hercules again. Hercules was not scheduled to visit that part of the hospital that day, so Lynch made arrangements and took the intuitive black lab to see the patient as quickly as possible.

Hercules got in bed and snuggled the gentleman as he reminisced about his boyhood pup named Shadow and how Hercules reminded him of his beloved dog.

Lynch and Hercules spent about 45 minutes with the patient and then went back to their regular schedule. A short time later, Lynch received a call. “It was for a Final Salute. The same man that wanted to see Hercules in hospice had passed and they wanted us to be a part of the Final Salute.”

Director Joe Battle consoled Lynch by telling him, “You gave that man, that veteran, his last wish, there’s no better way to honor him.”

Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl

Hercules shakes with Medal of Honor recipient Woody Williams at the VA Patient Experience Symposium.

As VA staff come in to start their day, several make sure to stop by Lynch’s office and get a hug from Hercules. Lynch knows the importance of this seemingly small gesture. “It’s just as important to enhance the staff experience as it is the veteran experience when they come to VA,” he said. “Something positive sets the tone for the work day and happier employees means happier customers.”

What does Hercules do to unwind and have fun? He takes breaks during the day and will lay at Lynch’s feet to rest and recharge. On the weekends, Lynch and his family take Hercules fishing and to his favorite spot–the dog beach.

“Sometimes I think he’s kinda bummed out that he’s not at the hospital every day. He likes to play with other dogs, but he really loves to be around people,” Lynch said. “He’s so devoted. I still have my own issues. I love to see him make others happy.”

Tampa VA will be celebrating Hercules’ 3rd birthday with a Barkday party, June 26, 2019, at 1pm. For details, visit the James A. Haley VA Medical Center’s Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/VATampa/.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

Articles

Afghanistan is producing record numbers of opium

Afghanistan set new records for opium production in 2016 despite an $8.5 billion USD counternarcotics campaign investment by U.S agencies, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction’s (SIGAR) stated in its latest quarterly report to Congress.


The report said that opium production increased 43 percent in 2016, while poppy eradication hit a 10-year low and was “nearly imperceptible.”

It said that the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) conduct an annual survey with financial contributions from the United States and other donors.

UNODC estimated that the potential gross value of opiates was $1.56 billion USD — or the equivalent of about 7.4 percent of Afghanistan’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) — in 2015.

Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl
Afghan contractors unload bags of fertilizer at the Nawa district government building compound in the Helmand province of Afghanistan Oct. 13, 2009. The Afghan government is distributing the fertilizer to residents to support alternatives to poppy. (DoD photo by Lance Cpl. Jeremy Harris, U.S. Marine Corps)

“The latest 2016 UNODC country survey estimates opium cultivation increased 10 percent, to 201,000 hectares, from the previous year,” the report said adding that “the southern region, which includes Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan, Zabul, and Daykundi provinces, accounted for 59 percent of total cultivation. Helmand remained the country’s largest poppy-cultivating province, followed by Badghis and Kandahar.”

“Deteriorating security conditions, a lack of political will, and the Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics’ ineffective management all contributed to the paltry eradication results in 2016,” the report said.

Poppy “cultivation remained near historically high levels compared with the past several decades.”

Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s “narcotics industry — coupled with rampant corruption and fraud — is a major source of illicit revenue,” the report said.

The “opium trade provides about 60 percent of the Taliban’s funding.”

“Since the collapse of the Taliban government, the opium trade has grown significantly and enabled the funding of insurgency operations. Taliban commanders collect extortion fees for running heroin refineries, growing poppy, and other smuggling schemes,” according to the report.

“Powerful drug networks, mainly run by close-knit families and tribes, bankroll the insurgency and launder money. There have been media reports and allegations of corrupt government officials participating in the drug trade,” it said.

Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl

The Taliban is an Islamic extremist group that ruled Afghanistan until the U.S military intervention following the Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaeda attack in New York and Washington, D.C. that killed more than 3,000 people. The Taliban allowed al Qaeda to use Afghanistan as its training base for attacks against the U.S. and other western nations.

“Traffickers provide weapons, funding, and material support to the insurgency in exchange for protection, while insurgent leaders traffic drugs to finance their operations,” the report said.

Afghanistan “remains the world’s largest opium producer and exporter — producing an estimated 80 percent of the world’s heroin.”

John Sopko, head of SIGAR, recommended that President Donald Trump establish “a U.S counternarcotics strategy, now years overdue, to reduce the illicit commerce that provides the Taliban with the bulk of their revenue.”

Articles

3 reasons why the A-10’s replacement won’t bring the same BRRRRRT! to the battle

So, the Air Force is going to test fly a replacement for the A-10 Thunderbolt II “BRRRRRT!” plane this summer — all on account of a Senate committee that just voted to provide $1.2 billion in funding for this program.


A number of planes are competing to see which will replace the legendary Warthog. Among the competitors are the OV-10X from Boeing, the Textron Scorpion, the A-29 Super Tucano, and the AT-6 Texan.

Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl
OV-10G+ operated by SEAL Team 6. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

And while these new planes have their advantages for close air support, they lack some key attributes that makes the A-10 the beloved “Hog” that it is.

3. No armor for the pilot – or other stuff

Let’s be honest, one of the reasons we love the A-10 is that it can take a beating and bring the pilot home. The tale of Kim “Killer Chick” Campbell doesn’t happen with a Tucano or Texan. It just doesn’t. So don’t give us some small prop job and tell us you gave us an A-10 replacement, okay? Just. Freakin’. Don’t.

Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl

2. Lack of payload

The A-10 can carry up to 16,000 pounds of bombs, missiles, and other ordnance — that’s eight tons. The Textron Scorpion carries up to 9,000 pounds. The OV-10X is a modernized version of the OV-10 Bronco, but that plane has a limited payload as well, with the heaviest weapon it carries being 500-pound bombs.

Not bad for a COIN mission, but weak at supporting boots on the ground in a heavy firefight.

Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl
A-10 Thunderbolt IIs break over the Pacific Alaska Range Complex and one aircraft drops a flare during live-fire training April 24. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Robert Wieland)

1. No GAU-8

The A-10 was built around the GAU-8, a 30mm Gatling cannon. It could hold 1,174 rounds’ worth of BRRRRRT!

Now, the old OV-10 that served in Vietnam and Desert Storm had guns – four M60 machine guns. That’s right four 7.62mm machine guns. The OV-10X swaps them out for M3 .50-caliber machine guns. Not bad when you wanna take out Taliban, but a problem when facing tanks.

Now, there was a gun pod that had a version of the GAU-8 with four barrels as opposed to seven, and with 353 rounds. Not bad, but it’s not a GAU-8 mount.

Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl
Photo: US Air Force Airman 1st Class Jonathan Snyder

Don’t get us wrong, the OV-10 makes for a nice COIN bird, and the Textron Scorpion could be a nice, cheap supplementary multi-role fighter.

But let’s get down to the ground truth: If you want to replace the A-10, do it right. And if you can’t replace the A-10 with a new plane, then just admit that the best A-10 replacement is another A-10 and just get them back in production. Is that too much to ask?

MIGHTY TRENDING

Military investigating troops linked to white supremacy group

After the Huffington Post publicly identified five military service members and two Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadets as part of a well-known white nationalist organization early March 2019, military officials say they’re investigating the allegations, and broadening the probe to see whether other troops might be involved.

In a March 17, 2019 story, the publication named an Air Force airman, two Army ROTC cadets, two Marine reservists, an Army reservist and a member of the Texas National Guard as members of Identity Evropa, which has been labeled a white nationalist organization by the Anti-Defamation League.


Huffington Post reported that it had linked the troops to the organization through online chat logs.

So far, military officials say they are not ready to punish or process out any of the troops named in the story, but they continue to investigate.

The Office of Special Investigations at the 39th Air Base Wing at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, is still investigating Airman First Class Dannion Phillips, who was identified as being involved with Identity Evropa.

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A Qatari C-17 taxies down the runway at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Clayton Lenhardt)

Lt. Col. Davina Petermann, a spokeswoman for U.S. Air Forces Europe-Africa, could not say what actions the service has taken in regard to Phillips.

The U.S. Air Force has not found any other airmen tied to the alt-right extremist group, officials said.

The service “has not been made aware of any other members tied to this group,” spokesman Maj. Nick Mercurio told Military.com on March 27, 2019.

The National Guardsman allegedly linked to the group was identified as 25-year-old Joseph Kane, the Huffington Post said.

“We can confirm that Joseph Ross Kane is a member of the Texas Army National Guard, assigned to the 636th Military Intelligence Battalion,” Texas Guard spokeswoman Laura Lopez said in a statement March 26, 2019. “He joined the Texas Guard in June 2016. We are looking into this matter and remain committed to excellence through diversity.”

“Participation in extremist organizations and activities by Army National Guard personnel is inconsistent with the responsibilities of military service,” added Master Sgt. Michael Houk, a National Guard Bureau spokesman. “It is the policy of the United States Army and the Army National Guard to provide equal opportunity and treatment for all soldiers without regard to race, color, religion, gender, or national origin.”

The Huffington Post story also identified Army reservist Lt. Col. Christopher Cummins as a physician who allegedly bragged about putting up Identity Evropa posters in southern states. The Reserve did not respond to Military.com’s request for additional details by press time.

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Army reservist Lt. Col. Christopher Cummins.

Maj. Roger Hollenbeck, spokesman for Marine Forces Reserve, said the service’s investigation into Lance Cpl. Jason Laguardia and Cpl. Stephen Farrea — both identified by the Huffington Post — was still underway as of March 27, 2019.

“The Marine Corps is investigating the allegations and will take the appropriate disciplinary actions if warranted,” Hollenbeck said in an email. “Because the investigation is ongoing, it would be premature to speculate and further comment on the outcome or the timeline.”

He continued, “Should an investigation substantiate that any Marine is advocating, advancing, encouraging or participating in supremacist, extremist, or criminal gang doctrine, ideology, or causes, including those that advocate illegal discrimination based on race, creed, color, sex (including gender identity), religion, ethnicity, national origin, or sexual orientation, or those that advocate the use of force, violence, or criminal activity, or otherwise advance efforts to deprive individuals of their civil rights, then they will have violated the Marine Corps Prohibited Activities and Conduct Order.”

Anyone in violation of those rules “would be subject to criminal prosecution and/or administrative separation,” Hollenbeck said.

He did not say whether the investigation has identified other Marines with ties to Identity Evropa.

The Army identified one of the ROTC cadets as Jay Harrison of the Montana Guard, but did not offer additional information. Huffington Post identified the other cadet as Christopher Hodgman, a member of the Army Reserve.

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Police matched fingerprints from Identity Evropa flyers to Christopher Hodgman, an ROTC cadet and a member of the Army Reserve.

The individuals named in the article were looking to connect with other group members or spreading anti-Semitic speech or other racial or derogatory content, according to the published logs.

The news comes as U.S. officials and experts who track violent extremism have seen an upward trend in white nationalism and its rhetoric in the U.S. and overseas, including the military.

Earlier in 2019, the Anti-Defamation League said that domestic extremism killed at least 50 people in the U.S. in 2018, up from 37 in 2017, The Associated Press reported.

A Military Times poll in 2018 demonstrated the uptick of extremism in the ranks.

According to the survey, roughly 22 percent of service members have witnessed white nationalist behavior while on duty. Roughly 35 percent of those surveyed in the fall of 2018 said they believed white nationalism poses a significant threat to the country and national security, Military Times said in February 2019.

Coast Guard Lt. Christopher P. Hasson, who previously served in the Army National Guard and the Marine Corps, was arrested Feb. 15, 2019, on drug and gun possession charges, and was accused of plans to “murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country.”

According to documents filed in Maryland District Court, Hasson created a targeted list of media personalities, as well as prominent lawmakers such as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York; Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts; Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey; and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California.

Hasson appeared to blame “liberalist/globalist ideology for destroying traditional peoples, especially white. No way to counteract without violence,” he allegedly wrote, according to the documents.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

Articles

Vets can get their aching teeth fixed at this one-day event

Get ready to smile.


On June 24,  Practices will hold Day of Service, offering free dental work to veterans nationwide. Nearly 450 practices across 35 states will participate as part of the Healthy Mouth Movement, Aspen sites in Bluefield and Beckley in West Virginia included.

During the appointments, dentists and their teams will focus on treating the most urgent needs of the veterans by providing fillings, extractions and basic denture repair to help relieve any pain.

This marks the fourth annual event for  and is the largest single-day oral health initiative targeted at veterans. Last year,  dentists and their teams offered services totaling almost $2.1 million dollars, helping over 4,000 veterans receive dental care.

Of 21 million veterans, less than 10 million are enrolled for the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health benefits. For many, this includes dental care benefits and more than 1.2 million lack health insurance altogether.

Veterans who are interested in having dental work should call 844-ASPEN-HMM to make an appointment. Beckley  is 304-362-5862. Advanced appointments are required.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The soldiers identifying the Korean War remains

When her duty day is over, Army Sgt. 1st Class Jennifer Owen often wonders if she did enough to help identify fallen service members.

As the noncommissioned officer in charge of the morgue at the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, which is tasked to account for more than 82,000 Americans missing from past conflicts, she analyzes human remains and personal effects in hopes to close a cold case.


“At the end of the day, I have to be able to look in the mirror and say I’ve done my best,” she said. “And when I get up in the morning, I say I’m going to do better, because these families have been waiting years and years.”

Owens is one of about 100 service members and civilians who work at the agency’s laboratories here and at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. Each year, the labs identify the remains of around 200 Americans that are then reunited with families.

On Aug. 1, more than 50 cases containing remains believed to be those of American service members were provided to DPAA by North Korea.

The remains are now undergoing further analysis and identification at the labs.

The painstaking work, which can take months to years to complete, is Owen’s passion. Whenever a positive identification comes in, she said, it is as if the service member’s name is given back.

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An honor guard provided by U.S. Indo-Pacific Command conducts an honorable carry ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Aug. 1, 2018. Carry teams will move 55 flag-draped transfer cases, containing what are believed to be the remains of American service members lost in the Korean War, to the DPAA laboratory at JBPH-H for identification.

(Air Force photo by Senior Airman Apryl Hall)

‘These Are All Heroes’

“What drives me the most is that these are heroes,” she said, looking across a lab holding hundreds of unknown remains. “These are all heroes [who] have a name and a family.”

Each year, DPAA conducts up to 80 investigation and recovery team missions throughout the world to pinpoint last known locations of missing Americans and to attempt to excavate their remains.

“The work is complex, the work is difficult, and it takes that dedication, that passion … to be able to perform this solemn obligation that we make to the nation and to the families,” said Kelly McKeague, the agency’s director.

The joint agency, which employs many service members and veterans, has agreements with nearly 50 nations that assist in its missions, he added.

Most of the missing fell at World War II battle sites in the Pacific region. There are also almost 7,700 service members unaccounted for from the Korean War, with the majority believed to be in North Korea.

DPAA teams were allowed to conduct missions in North Korea from 1996 to 2005, but operations were halted as diplomatic relations deteriorated in the region. Agency officials hope these missions could soon start up again.

Before he became the agency’s lab director, John Byrd had the opportunity to help recover Americans who fought in North Korea at the Battle of Unsan. The 1950 battle pitted Chinese forces against American and South Korean troops.

When remains are identified by his staff it is always a testament to good field and lab work that solved the decades-old case, Byrd said.

“It’s extremely gratifying,” he said, “and it kind of keeps you grounded where you know why you’re here and why you’re doing this work.”

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Army Sgt. 1st Class Jennifer Owen, a morgue noncommissioned officer for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, examines a personal effect that may have belonged to a fallen service member in a laboratory at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, March 12, 2018.

(Army photo by Sean Kimmons)

DNA Testing

A majority of DPAA cases involve some type of DNA testing. Samples are taken from the remains and sent to the Armed Forces DNA Identification Lab in Delaware.

To help this process, family members who have a missing loved one are encouraged to provide a DNA sample that will serve as a comparison.

If no reference samples are on file, a battalion of professional genealogists working for service casualty offices will try to locate family members.

Many times their starting point is the service member’s home address from the 1940s, if they served in World War II. This makes it extremely difficult to track down a living family member as the years pass on.

“It’s one of the greatest challenges of all. How do you find close family members of a missing serviceman from 1944?” Byrd asked. “It’s not easy. Some [cases] we run into dead-ends and we can’t find anybody.”

The Defense Department has kept dental records of troops dating back to World War I that can be used to help in the identification process.

In 2005, the agency also discovered another method that has proved successful. Many troops who served in early conflicts had to get chest X-rays as part of a tuberculosis screening when they first signed up.

Like the dental records, these radiographs were stored in a warehouse by the DoD. DPAA later obtained thousands of copies of them. Lab personnel use them as a comparison tool, since the shape of each person’s chest is different.

“The process of comparing this induction chest x-ray to an x-ray we take from the remains is analogous to doing fingerprint comparison,” Byrd said. “It’s a very similar kind of mindset that you take when you look at the two side-by-side; you’re looking for commonalities and differences.”

When a service member is identified, family members often come to the lab so they can participate in escorting the remains back home, he said. For those who work at the lab, those family member visits make the months or years of work seem worthwhile.

“When you have a family member come in and the staff who actually worked on the case get to meet them, they get to see the tangible results of their hard work,” Byrd said. “It’s definitely a boost to their morale.”

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Members of the 647th Force Support Squadron search and recovery team tag and mark simulated remains during the search and recovery team’s training event on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Oct. 27, 2017. The search and recovery team is tasked with recovering human remains from accident sites.

(Photo by Tech. Sgt. Heather Redman)

In the Field

Before that sort of closure can start for families, recovery teams spend weeks at a time doing the grunt work of excavating sites.

Army Capt. Brandon Lucas, who serves as a team leader, recalled his team digging nearly 20 feet into the ground in Laos in search of an F-4 Phantom fighter pilot who vanished during the Vietnam War.

While no remains were found on that mission, they were still able to confidently close the site and shift efforts elsewhere.

Then there was another mission in Slovenia, where the tail gunner of a bomber aircraft from World War II went missing.

When his plane crashed, the gunner was the only one in his aircrew killed. Residents later buried him next to a church.

As Lucas’ team arrived at the site, the townspeople still knew about the crash and the gunner. Residents regularly visited his team, often bringing Lucas and the others food and drinks. An elderly woman even told him that for decades she would clean the grave site once a week.

When his team recovered the remains, a somber tone spread through the community.

“A lot of them actually shed tears when we found the remains,” Lucas said. “It was special to them and it was special to me.”

The poignant moment, along with others he has experienced during missions, galvanized the meaning of the mission for him.

“I’m potentially bringing back a fallen comrade,” Lucas said. “I would want to know that if it was me lost out there somebody is trying to recover me and give my family closure.”

Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl

(US Army)

Maritime Recovery

Recovery missions also extend out into the sea, where many service members have disappeared as a result of aircraft crashes or ships sunk.

While she served as commander of the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, Army Maj. Gen. Susan A. Davidson was an advocate for her unit to support the solemn mission.

The unit regularly supplies DPAA with highly-trained Army divers from the 7th Engineer Dive Detachment, who often work on the sea floor with no visibility and use a suction hose to remove loose sediment from recovery sites.

On a barge, team members then sift through the sediment for the remains or personal effects of those missing.

When divers returned to Hawaii, she encouraged them to share their experiences and what they got out of the mission with others in the unit.

“They come back a different person and they have a different respect for our Army and for what we do,” Davidson said.

Back at the lab, Owen and others strive to identity those heroes who have been found.

“I feel that I am part of something so much bigger that I can contribute to,” she said.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Cockpit voice recording captures pilots’ attempts to save Lion Air 737 Max plane

The pilots of the doomed Lion Air flight that crashed into the Java Sea October 2018 frantically searched the aircraft’s manual to try to find a way to keep the plane under control before the crash, cockpit voice recordings show.

The first officer reported a “flight control problem” two minutes into the flight, and the captain then asked him to check a handbook that contained procedures for abnormal events, the recordings showed, according to a report from Reuters.

The Boeing 737 Max 8 plane then spent nine minutes pushing its nose down, with the first officer unable to control the plane, as the captain desperately searched the handbook for a solution.


The plane then crashed into the sea, killing all 189 people on board.

Three sources discussed the contents of the plane’s cockpit voice recorder with Reuters, in the first time that such information, which is part of an ongoing investigation into the crash, has been made public.

The investigation has taken on new significance after an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed on March 10, 2019, killing all 157 people on board.

Lion Air Cockpit Voice Recorder Reveals Pilots’ Frantic Search For Fix | TODAY

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The French air-accident investigation agency BEA said the two crashes showed “clear similarities,” and Boeing is introducing a software upgrade to its new anti-stall system that has come under scrutiny after the two crashes.

The preliminary report into the Lion Air crash mentioned the Boeing system as well as other factors, including the airline’s maintenance.

A source told Reuters that someone mentioned the plane’s airspeed on the cockpit voice recording, and a second source said one of the plane’s indicators showed a problem on the captain’s display but not the first officer’s.

The preliminary report showed that the plane’s computer kept pushing the nose of the plane down using the trim system, which is a system that usually adjusts the aircraft to keep it on course.

A source told Reuters that the trim system was not mentioned in the recording, just the airspeed and altitude of the plane. “They didn’t seem to know the trim was moving down,” the source said.

A crew that flew the same plane the evening before had the same problem with the plane’s nose but ran through three checklists to solve the problem, the preliminary report showed.

The plane was treated on the ground, and the report says the previous crew believed the issue was resolved.

Bloomberg reported on March 19, 2019, that an off-duty pilot riding in the cockpit of that flight fixed a malfunction that allowed the plane to land safely.

Following the Ethiopian Airlines crash, many countries have grounded the 737 Max, including China, which has a higher number of the aircraft than any other nation. The US was the most recent country to ground the plane.

Boeing declined to comment to Reuters because of the ongoing investigation.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.