After some consultation between senior leaders and their ink’d subordinates, the Marine Corps has just hit the company street and deckplates with a new tattoo policy.
“The Commandant and I have been talking with Marines throughout the Corps during our visits and we’ve taken their questions and comments to heart because it continues to be important to Marines,” said Sgt. Major Ronald L. Green, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps. “The Commandant said it best in the Marine Corps Bulletin in that we’ve attempted to balance the individual desires of Marines with the need to maintain the disciplined appearance expected of our profession. I think we have accomplished just that with MCBUL 1020. We took the time we felt this policy deserved, we wanted to make sure we got it right.”
Here’s a graphic that highlights the details of the new reg:
Note that officers are limited to no more than four tats visible in the PT uniform. (And just when Justin Bieber was thinking of heading to OCS.) Also, the width of a single tattoo standard is defined by the width of an individual’s hand, which — according to campaign rhetoric — means that if Donald Trump was a Marine he’d have relatively small tattoos.
The regulation reinforces the overall intent that “any tattoo, regardless of where it is cannot express sexism, nudity, racism, vulgarity, or anything that is offensive and is of nature to bring discredit to the Marine Corps or damage the nation’s expectations of them.” No ruling on where “Nickleback” logos fit within those guidelines.
“There is a reason why Marine Corps Recruiting has remained so successful throughout the years, when you ask Marines why they chose the Corps, most will tell you because they wanted to be different,” Green said. (Really . . .)
And nothing says “different” these days than some killer ink. Tribal armband, anyone? Just keep it under three inches wide, Devil Dog.
The U.S. Army has chosen Heckler Koch to make its new Compact Semi-Automatic Sniper System.
The March 31 contract award to Heckler Koch Defense Inc. – worth up to $44,500,000.00 – allows the Army to purchase a maximum total of 3,643 Compact Semi-Automatic Sniper System (CSASS) units, according to an announcement on FedBizOpps.gov.
In June 2014, the Army released a request for proposal to invite gun companies to build compact versions of the service’s 7.62mm M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System.
Part of the goal of the effort was to arm snipers with a rifle that doesn’t stick out to the enemy as a sniper weapon. The M110, made by Knight’s Armament Company, is easy to recognize since its 46.5-inches with suppressor, more than 13 inches longer than the M4.
The CSASS is also intended to provide improved reliability, accuracy and ergonomics, according to the request for proposal. The CSASS is also designed to have reduced felt recoil and better suppressor performance.
The minimum ordering obligation for this contract is 30 CSASS units to be used for production qualification testing and operational testing which is scheduled to take 24 months, according the award announcement.
ABOARD THE COAST GUARD CUTTER STRATTON, in the eastern Pacific Ocean — The drone is loaded onto a catapult on the flight deck. From a control room, a technician revs the motor until the go-ahead is given to press the red button. Then the ScanEagle lifts off with a whoosh and, true to its lofty name, soars majestically over the wide blue sea.
The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Stratton is steaming more than 500 miles south of the Guatemala-El Salvador border, along the biggest narcotics smuggling corridor in the world.
Its mission: intercept vessels hauling cocaine bound for America’s cities.
It is a monumental task that has grown even larger in the past few years because of a boom in coca production in Colombia. But the Coast Guard is bringing more intelligence and technology to bear.
Deep within the 418-foot Stratton, which is based in Alameda, California, specialists crunch data from radar, infrared video, helicopter sorties and now the Boeing-made ScanEagle, which was deployed aboard the Coast Guard cutter for the first time during this three-month mission.
“In the earlier days, when you wouldn’t see or catch anything, we used to pat ourselves on our back and say we must’ve deterred them,” said Adm. Paul Zukunft, commandant of the Coast Guard, with more than four decades at sea. “Now rarely 72 hours go by when you don’t have an event or we send a ship down there that doesn’t come back with multiple interdictions.”
The Associated Press spent two weeks in February and March aboard the Stratton, the most advanced ship in the Coast Guard fleet, as 100-plus crew members patrolled the eastern Pacific, through which about 70 percent of the cocaine consumed in the U.S. passes.
With three to five Coast Guard cutters covering 6 million square miles — from the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico to the eastern Pacific Ocean — it’s like having a few police cars watch over the entire lower 48 states.
Just after lunch on the second day of deployment, the Stratton’s PA system starts piping out acronyms. A TOI, or target of interest, has been detected by the ScanEagle with the support of aircraft radar, and a go-fast boat slides down a rear ramp into the blue waters to begin the chase.
In just a few minutes it catches up with a fishing boat, called a panga, with two outboard motors.
Sometimes smugglers frantically dump their cargo over the side or try to make a run for it, forcing their pursuers to fire warning shots or shoot out their engines. But this time, the boat’s crewmen, some of them barefoot, offer no resistance.
The four suspected smugglers sit handcuffed as a Coast Guardsman takes out some vials to conduct a chemical test. The results come back positive for cocaine, and the two Colombians and two Ecuadoreans are put aboard the cutter.
Hidden in the bales of cocaine is a GPS tracking device in a condom, a sure sign the drug bosses behind the shipment knew right away it didn’t reach its destination.
At sunset, the Stratton’s crew proudly poses for a picture with the haul while a black plume rises above the sea where the boat was set ablaze by the Coast Guard. A few hours later, the Stratton fires its cannon and sinks the vessel.
The next morning the ever-rising Narcometer in the on-board newsletter reflects the size of the bust: 700 kilograms (over 1,500 pounds) of pure cocaine with a wholesale value of $21 million. On the streets in the U.S., it could be worth more than five times that.
The Stratton’s biggest bust — a Coast Guard record — came in 2015, when it found more than 16,000 pounds of cocaine worth $225 million before the smuggling craft, a hard-to-detect semi-submersible vessel, sank with some of its cargo still aboard.
As good as the Coast Guard gets, its victories seem doomed to be short-lived. That’s because hundreds of miles to the south, in the jungles of Colombia, there’s a bumper harvest taking place. And Colombia is virtually the only source of cocaine smuggled by sea in small vessels.
That, along with better technology, may help explain why the Coast Guard has been coming back with ever-larger hauls. It set a record in 2016, seizing more than 240 tons of cocaine with a wholesale value of $5.9 billion and arresting 585 smugglers.
Last year, the amount of land devoted to coca cultivation in Colombia climbed 18 percent to an estimated 188,000 hectares (465,000 acres), according to a White House report. That is more coca production than at any time since the U.S. in 1999 began investing billions in an anti-narcotics strategy known as Plan Colombia.
“What we know here out at sea is that the business has been really good in the last couple of years,” said Capt. Nathan Moore, the Stratton’s skipper.
The surge is being driven in part by Colombia’s decision in 2015 to suspend aerial spraying of crop-destroying herbicides because of health concerns.
At the same time, there was a rush among peasant farmers to start growing coca so they could take advantage of generous payments to switch to legal crops being offered as part of a peace deal between the government and Colombia’s rebels.
Thus far, 55,000 families have signed pledges to rip up 48,000 hectares of coca in exchange for as much as $12,000 over two years. The government is also expanding manual eradication of coca, a slower and far more dangerous task, with the goal of destroying 50,000 hectares this year alone.
But many experts are skeptical that poor farmers will renounce coca growing, especially as criminal gangs fill the void left by the retreating rebels. Also, a successful drug run can net each smuggler a small fortune that makes it well worth the risk of a long prison sentence for many.
Such dynamics help explain why, despite the Coast Guard’s technological superiority, four drug-running boats are thought to get through for every one caught, Zukunft said.
Those taken into custody for smuggling are put in white hazmat suits, given health exams and then led into a converted helicopter hangar aboard the Stratton, where they are shackled to the floor and issued a wool blanket, toiletries and a cot or a foam mat. Eventually they are flown to the U.S. and prosecuted at American expense.
The alternative would be to seek prosecution in Central American countries such as Honduras, where the vast majority of crimes go unpunished.
More than a dozen nations in Central and South America have essentially outsourced their drug-interdiction efforts to the U.S.
“Imagine you’re out at Ocean City, Maryland, and then out of nowhere comes this foreign helicopter and it starts peppering a U.S. recreational boat with automatic machine gun fire and sniper fire. We would say it’s an act of war,” Zukunft said.
“But that’s the faith and confidence these countries have in the U.S. and our Coast Guard.”
The Allied invasion of Normandy was a challenge on a grand scale. Every single aspect of the plan drew new challenges for commanders. Luckily, the greatest military minds of the day were leading the Allied forces. They came up with some ingenious solutions. For example, in the absence of securing a usable harbor, they created the Mulberry, a harbor that could be shipped and built on site to keep the flow of supplies going.
To confuse the Germans as to where the D-Day attacks would come, Operation Fortitude created an entire fake army aimed at the Pas-de-Calais. The soldiers on the invasion beaches still faced the many natural and man-made obstacles that would hinder their ability to effectively storm the beaches. One man was tasked to create overcome these obstacles and protect the assault forces.
Major General Percy Hobart, an unconventional yet very successful armored and engineering officer, created specialized vehicles designed to help amphibious forces overcome the natural and man-made obstacles common during a landing. These vehicles helped the British and Canadians during their assaults on Gold, Juneau, and Sword beaches. Collectively these vehicles were known as “Hobart’s Funnies.”
Sherman DD Tank
The most well-known of Hobart’s Funnies was the Duplex Drive Sherman Tank — or Sherman DD. This tank had a large canvas floatation screen that was erected to make the tank seaworthy and included a secondary drive mechanism that powered a propeller to drive the tank through the water. The idea was to launch these tanks a few miles from shore and have them come ashore with the infantry without the need to bring a large landing craft too close to shore. Their use on D-Day saw mixed results.
The Crocodile was a British Churchill tank that replaced the hull mounted machine gun with a flamethrower. An armored trailer behind the Croc carried fuel for the weapon. This weapon was adept at clearing German fortifications and later inspired American versions used in the Pacific.
The Crab was a Sherman tank fitted with a cylindrical flail with weighted chains. When activated, the flail cleared a tank-width path by detonating any mines in its way with the weighted chains. This tank was an improvement over previous versions as the Sherman’s engine drove the flail, rather than needing to fit a separate engine on the tank. It was also equipped with numerous ways to mark the cleared path for the following infantry or tanks.
AVRE (Armored Vehicle Royal Engineers)
The AVRE were a family of engineering vehicles designed for specific tasks. All AVRE were Churchill tanks with the main gun removed and replaced with a Petard mortar that could fire 40-pound shells against German fortifications. The British then attached various equipment for specific tasks. One tool was a Bobbin, a canvas sheet that was rolled down in front of and then under the tank to provide a path to keep it, and following tanks, from sinking into the soft ground of a beach. There were also attachments for dealing with gaps such as a fascine, a bundle of wooden poles that could be dropped into a ditch for the tank to drive over, or a small box girder bridge that could clear 30-foot gaps. For breaching, there was an attachment the British called the Double Onion, two explosives on a metal frame that could be pressed against a bunker or fortification to breach it.
ARK (Armored Ramp Carrier)
The ARK was a Churchill tank with the turret removed and folding ramps installed in both front and back. The tank could drive up to an obstacle, extend a ramp, and have other vehicles drive up it and over the obstacle. It could also drive into a gap and act as a bridge if necessary.
All of the vehicles Hobart created were assigned to the 79th Armoured Division under his command. All these designs were offered to the Americans as well, but since they did not have a specialized unit to operate the vehicles, they turned them down with the exception of the Sherman DD tanks. The 79th did not fight as a unit on D-Day but was instead assigned to support different elements making the assault. After the success of Hobart’s Funnies on D-Day, the 79th remained in action and used its special vehicles many times throughout the remainder of the war.
The mission of Got Your Six is to normalize the depiction of veterans on film and television and dispel common myths about the veteran population. Together with partners in the entertainment industry, business, and politics, it casts a wide net of influence and social change.
In this episode of the We Are The Mighty podcast, Got Your Six executive director Bill Rausch and WATM’s Logan Nye discuss the depiction of veterans in mainstream entertainment.
Bill Rausch is a former Army Major with over 10 years of service, including 17 months in Iraq serving under Gen.s Casey and Petraeus while assigned to the Information Operations Task Force. Prior to joining GY6, Bill was Political Director at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America where he oversaw policy and advocacy campaigns.
America’s aircraft carriers are the heart of the US Navy and serve as American territory floating around the world, allowing the US to project massive air and sea military might.
During flight operations, an aircraft carrier’s deck is an extremely dangerous place with expensive fighter jets and helicopters landing and taking off on a short runway. However, sailors and airmen mitigate risks by fine tuning the chaos with coordination and precision.
Many efforts exist to try and tap into the potential of separating military veterans as employees and leaders, but “The Bunker” fosters veteran entrepreneurs by helping them start and grow great technology companies.
“The Bunker is a veteran-operated, veteran-focused effort with an emphasis on finding and offering entry points into the technology community,” explains Todd Connor, CEO of The Bunker, in a YouTube video about the program (linked below).
The Chicago-based program helps military veterans tap into existing government programs while also providing networking opportunities for breaking into the technology sector.
These efforts, currently encompassing seven cities, all work by providing military veterans with shared office space, networking events, and speaker series focused on growing technology companies. They also provide mentorship and help new businesses find partners interested in working with veteran-owned businesses.
While the Bunker is based out of Chicago, interested parties can apply to be part of the program in six other cities including Los Angeles, Austin, Texas, and Washington D.C. Some programs, like those in Chicago and Kansas City, are fully up and operational while others, like the one in Tacoma, Wash., are planning to launch this year.
To see companies that have successfully partnered with The Bunker or to apply to be part of the program, check out their website.The Bunker, in addition to looking for more entrepreneurs, provides the option for people to apply as mentors, interns, and business partners.
A bunch of teenagers found magic coins and became rangers — specifically, Power Rangers.
While everyone has to believe that Zordon had his reasons for selecting angsty teens rather than proven leaders, Army Rangers might have a little issue with magical coins being the only threshold for assuming their coveted title.
But what if real Army Rangers became Power Rangers? While the fights would be awesome, there would also be some other changes. Here are nine of them:
1. Step one would’ve been finding out where the alien spaceship that grants superpowers came from
Seriously, who finds a spaceship with super-powering coins on it and doesn’t start investigating where more coins are? After all, denying the enemy the coins limits the enemy’s combat power and distributing those coins to other Rangers would multiply friendly combat power.
So why not look for the coins? Would be pretty great to get a whole battalion of Power Rangers to spearhead all future American operations, right?
2. Every one of them would need a dip straw installed in their helmets so they could spit tobacco juice during fights
Army Rangers are known as well for stuffing their lips with coffee grounds and tobacco as they are for annihilating enemy forces with extreme prejudice. But take a look at the screengrab above. See anywhere to spit dip in that helmet? That’s going to need a redesign. May we humbly suggest DARPA? Natick might not be up to this.
3. Alpha 5 would’ve been relentlessly mocked for being a POG
The spaceship has a small robot with super strength and, instead of fighting in the field, it helps train and manage the Power Rangers. Sure, the Rangers may need him to get the job done, but that never stopped them from making fun of any other support troops, so why would they stop with the robot with Bill Hader’s voice?
4. Every Ranger would carry a crew-served weapon — either the M2 .50-cal or Mk-47 grenade launcher or the M107 .50-cal sniper rifle
Does anyone think a bunch of Rangers would get super strength and start carrying less firepower into combat? Hell no. Rangers with super strength would go shopping in the Weapons Company armory.
Those guys would carry modified M2s and Mk-47s. At least one guy would grab a Barrett .50-cal. sniper rifle and start using it like a carbine.
5. The drunken shenanigans would be legendary (assuming they can get drunk)
So, we’re not yet sure that the Power Rangers can get drunk since some superhero stories say that the healing factors make it impossible. But think a bunch of Rangers would give up drinking if they could?
Nope. And superpowered humans would get in fights with bouncers, police, and the special operators who would have to be pressed into law enforcement roles to keep them in line.
6. They would show off in the gym all the time
The Power Rangers woke up completely ripped. Of course, the Rangers probably went to bed at least a little ripped, so imagine how strong they would be in the morning.
Now imagine that they don’t work out the next morning shirtless, bench pressing entire people who are bench pressing lots of weight.
7. At least one of them would try to sleep with Rita
Yeah, Rita is the supreme evil lady. But she’s pretty attractive. And she’s probably available (there aren’t many handsome monsters in the trailer). At least one Ranger would proposition her. At least.
8. At least one Ranger would be missing from each of the first few fights because they would be combat jacking
Speaking of things that at least one Ranger would be doing in combat, the attempted “monster jacking” — combat jacking but in a fight with a monster — would disrupt each of the first five fights. At least the first five.
9. The rest of the Rangers would make fun of them for needing super powers
The entire rest of the Army’s Ranger Regiment would be super jealous that they weren’t the ones who got super powers, but they wouldn’t let it show. Instead, they would heckle the Rangers with power coins relentlessly.
“Oh, the little baby can’t throw a car without his special coin? Guess the rest of us will go ahead and protect the U.S. everywhere else in the world without any magical powers. Like real Rangers.”
What brought this to their attention was the medal count between Audie Murphy – long regarded as the most decorated U.S. soldier ever – and a little-known WWII veteran and Medal of Honor recipient named Matt Urban, whose medal count matched Murphy’s.
But no one knew that Urban had matched the well-known Murphy until 36 years after the end of WWII because Urban’s recommendation and supporting paperwork were lost in the bureaucratic shuffle.
He was also awarded the French Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Merit but never knew until his military records were reviewed to award his Medal of Honor.
And there were a lot of actions to review.
President Carter called then retired Lt. Col. Matt Urban “The Greatest Soldier in American History” as he presented the Medal of Honor to Urban in 1980. The soldier’s Medal of Honor citation alone lists “a series of actions” – at least 10 – that go above and beyond the call of duty.
The Nazis called Urban “The Ghost” because he just seemed to keep coming back to life when they killed him. The soldier’s seven Purple Hearts can attest to that.
Urban joined the Army ROTC at Cornell in 1941. It was just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and unfortunately for the Nazis, Urban graduated in time to land in North Africa in 1942.
He was ordered to stay aboard a landing craft off the Tunisian coast, but when he heard his unit encountered stiff resistance on the beaches, he hopped in a raft and rowed to the fight. There he replaced a wounded platoon leader.
Later, at the Battle of the Kasserine Pass, Urban destroyed a German observation post, then led his company in a frontal assault on a fortified enemy position. During one German counterattack, Urban killed an enemy soldier with his trench knife, then took the man’s machine pistol and wiped out the rest of the oncoming Germans. He was wounded in his hands and arm.
In North Africa, his actions earned him two Silver Stars, a Bronze Star, and two Purple Hearts.
It was in France where Urban would distinguish himself and earn his nickname. His division landed at Normandy on D-Day, and later at the French town of Renouf he spearheaded another gallant series of events.
On June 14, 1944, two tanks and small arms began raking Urban’s men in the hedgerows, causing heavy casualties. He picked up a bazooka and led an ammo carrier closer to the tanks.
Urban then exposed himself to the heavy enemy fire as he took out both tanks. His leadership inspired his men who easily bested the rest of the German infantry.
Later that same day, Urban took a direct shot in the leg from a 37mm tank gun. He continued to direct his men to defense positions. The next day, still wounded, Urban led his troops on another attack. He was wounded again and flown back to England.
In July 1944, he learned how much the fighting in the French hedgerows devastated his unit. Urban, still in the hospital in England, ditched his bed and hitchhiked back to France. He met up with his men near St. Lo on the eve of Operation Cobra, a breakout effort to hit the German flanks and advance into Brittany.
He found his unit held down by a German strong point with two of his tanks destroyed and a third missing its commander and gunner. Urban hatched a plan to remount the tank and break through but his lieutenant and sergeant were killed in their attempts – so he mounted the tank himself.
“The Ghost” manned the machine gun as bullets whizzed by and devastated the enemy.
He was wounded twice more in August, refusing to be evacuated even after taking artillery shell fragments to the chest. He was promoted to battalion commander.
In September 1944, Urban’s path of destruction across Europe was almost at an end. His men were pinned down by enemy artillery while trying to cross the Meuse River in Belgium. Urban left the command post and went to the front, where he reorganized the men and personally led an assault on a Nazi strongpoint. Urban was shot in the neck by a machine gun during the charge across open ground. He stayed on site until the Nazis were completely routed and the Allies could cross the Meuse.
In a 1974 interview with his hometown newspaper, the Buffalo News, he credits his survival to accepting the idea of dying in combat.
“If I had to get it,” Urban said, “it was going to be while I was doing something. I didn’t want to die in my sleep.”
The reason he never received a recommendation for the Medal of Honor was because the recommendation was just lost in the paperwork shuffle. His commander, Maj. Max Wolf filed the recommendation, but it was lost when Wolf was killed in action.
It was the enlisted men who fought with Urban who started asking about “The Ghost’s” Medal of Honor.
“The sight of him limping up the road, all smiles, raring to lead the attack once more, brought the morale of the battleweary men to its highest peak – Staff Sgt. Earl G. Evans in a 1945 letter to the War Department that was also lost.
Matt Urban died in 1995 at age 75 and is interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
As a Kurdish refugee from Iraq in the 1980s, his family luckily made their way into Norway to escape the horrors inflicted by Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime.
After growing up and joining theNorwegian Armed Forces, the soldier, now in his early 30s,served in an elite mechanized-infantry unit and eventually completed a tour in Afghanistan.
However, it wasn’t until August 2014, when ISIS took control of Sinjar, Iraq, that Mike decided to join the Peshmerga — Iraqi-Kurdistan’s independent military force.
It was at Sinjar that stories of ISIS’ atrocities — from the execution of 5,000 Yazidi men, to the systematic raping and selling of women and children — first broke out in major news headlines.
“It did an impression on me,” Mike told Business Insider. “What was worse, though, was the lack of action from the world community, including my own government. I decided that I couldn’t sit idly by and watch these horrors unfold.”
Now, returning to the same country his parents escaped from decades ago, he fights the ISIS militia under the Peshmerga flag and motto: “Those who face death.”
But getting started wasn’t as easy as picking up a rifle and starting to shoot. Many of the Peshmerga fighters weren’t properly trained for combat – after coming straight from civilian life, the locals are typically issued a set of uniforms and a rifle before being told to man the front.
Teaching these fighters basic infantry skills, Mike and several other volunteers from Canada, the UK, Norway, and Australia have tried to instill whatever talents they’ve learned in their respective fields, such as medical training.
However, it’s not merely enough to believe in the Kurdish cause, or to have a particular set of skills, to join the Peshmerga. Due to several reasons, including pressure from several countries, Mike has been unwilling to assist those who want to join his cause.
“It would look bad if America’s veterans are the ones doing all the fighting on the ground, while US forces themselves are reluctant to send their own troops,” he stated. “Those who do successfully end up in Iraq are typically placed in inactive fronts, out of harm’s way, until they’re bored out of their minds and leave the country broke and disappointed.”
In the rare case that a soldier exhibits exceptional knowledge or skill, he offered an exception. “There are some good volunteers down here that are allowed to stay at active fronts, and in some rare cases, allowed to take part in offensive operations as well.”
The challenges don’t end there. As a volunteer in an all-volunteer unit, he receives no salary from the Kurdish or Iraqi government — instead, he relies solely on the donations from his followers on social media to finance his weapons and ammunition.
“I have great supporters and I’m able to buy gear, food, and fuel to my unit in addition to financing my stay here,” he described. “We have little support from the government and barely and logistics, but [we somehow make it through].”
His favorite weapon happens to be an old MG-42 machine gun that dates back to World War II; however, when it breaks down, which happens often, he resorts to his tried-and-true M-16. Interestingly, his first Advanced Combat Optical Gunsights (ACOG) scope on his rifle turned out of be a useless fake — with the help of his supporters, he has since replaced it with a functioning unit.
Considering the cost of his fight — $100 buys him 120 rounds for his rifle, while $65 buys him 50 bullets for his pistol — when his financial situation becomes dire, he relies on ammunition and heavy weapons taken from dead ISIS fighters.
Unbeknownst to many outside of Iraq, his supporter-financed work seems to be making a direct difference on the front lines.
One example of this included successfully driving back a major ISIS offensive near a dam in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. After receiving intelligence that the jihadists were launching an attack at a friendly unit’s location, Mike and his unit decided to make the drive during the night to reinforce the local Peshmerga forces. Sure enough, in the early hours of the morning, ISIS militants came storming in at a full force.
“We fought for 8 hours straight and lost one man … but we fought them off and killed dozens or so,” explained Mike. “We were later told that ISIS would have probably broken through the lines if [we hadn’t been there].”
Like many wars, Mike has had his share of harrowing moments as well. Mike described the terrifying battle he experienced when ISIS launched one of their deadliest offensives in a year — the same battle that took the life of US Navy SEAL Charles Keating IV.
The fight was later described by the US-led Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) as “a big fight, one of the largest we’ve seen recently.”
“[ISIS was] able to break through the lines and seize a nearby town when panic broke out amongst some of the local forces. The units guarding our right flank abandoned their posts and tried to [convince] my unit into fleeing [with them] …”
“In a desperate [move] to make them return to their posts, I decided to run over to man one of their fortified positions by myself. To my disappointment, I ended up running several hundred meters to the position all alone … I stayed at that position for nearly 20 minutes and watched ISIS breaking through the lines with 50 vehicles and several hundred men.”
“I was expecting them to work their way down the line toward me and that I would have to face them alone — that was definitely not a good feeling. Luckily, reinforcements arrived [shortly afterward] and we were able to stop their advance at that fortified position.”
Other than the sporadic mortar fire and ISIS’ skirmishes, the biggest challenge for Mike and his unit seems to stem not from his unit’s equipment deficiencies or ISIS’ fighting capabilities, but from the bureaucratic red tape that surrounds his area of operations.
He explained to Business Insider that there existed a stalemate at the front, as his unit could only advance through a few villages and towns at a time before having to wait for the Iraqi Army to reinforce his position. During such down times, he says he resorts to killing time on his phone.
Mike’s deployments are typically three months long, down from his first six-month deployment. “[That first deployment] took a toll on me, both mentally and physically. I learned my lesson after that.”
After a rotation, he spends about a month of time back in Europe, primarily with his girlfriend, who is also frequently mentioned on his Instagram account.
“I can deal with the poor living condition, the lack of food and sleep, the constant threat from the enemy, but being away from my girlfriend for months at a time is definitely the biggest challenge,” Mike said.
But it’s not only his girlfriend that shares his concern.
“My whole family [is] aware that I’m volunteering … they’re not too fond of it. They’ve tried to talk me out of it several times, but my mind is set — I’m not coming home until Mosul is liberated.”
As far as goals go, the city of Mosul is where Mike and CJTF have their sights set. As one of the few ISIS strongholds that remain in Iraq, many months have been spent on formulating a plan to not only liberate the city from ISIS’ hands, but to prevent the jihadists from returning again.
“Taking part in the Mosul operation [has] been my goal since 2014 — but to be honest, I thought we would have taken it back by the end of last year,” he explained. “The fall of Ramadi postponed the operation, but I haven’t lost sight of my goal. Mosul has turned out to be my white whale.”
Although military officials have estimated that Mosul will be liberated by the end of the year, the future of the city remains uncertain. Sleeper cells in previously liberated cities still exist as a confirmed threat, and the likelihood of continuing sectarianism in Iraq poses a risk of alienating one of many groups in the region.
What’s also uncertain is Mike’s future once ISIS is ousted from the city.
“I would ideally [like to go] back to my old Army unit, but I’ve lost my security clearance due to my service with the Peshmerga,” he explained. “I’ll never be allowed to join the Norwegian Armed Forces again, but I’m sure I’ll do alright somehow.”
Until then, Mike continues to remain with his Peshmerga unit on the front lines, committed to ISIS’ ouster. He concluded the interview by offering a strong message against ISIS’ forces:
“Your mortar and rocket [attacks aren’t] impressing anyone,” Mike made clear. “Step up your game and come attack us head-on — you know where to find us.”
You can keep up with Mike’s travels on his Instagram account.
The mortar round detonated on impact, sending thousands of pieces of shrapnel through the plane and crew. Levitow was hit with 40 pieces of shrapnel, and the other six members of the crew didn’t fare much better.
But the worst piece of news was still coming. Levitow started to drag another injured crew member away from the door before he spotted an armed Mk-24 flare that was smoking and rolling around near stored ammo.
The flares operate on a timer set to anywhere between 5 and 30 seconds. Once armed, a crewmember would throw the flare out the door and it would parachute down. Magnesium in the flare would ignite a 4,000 degree Fahrenheit flame that illuminated the battlefield.
Levitow, despite his serious wound from the shrapnel, crawled his way to the 27-pound flare and attempted to grab it three times, but it kept escaping his hands. So he threw himself on it, clutched it to his body, and dragged it towards the door.
“I had the aircraft in a 30-degree bank, and how Levitow ever managed to get to the flare and throw it out, I’ll never know,” said pilot Maj. Kenneth Carpenter.
Somehow, Levitow got the flare to the door and out of the plane just before it ignited, saving everyone aboard. The pilot was able to limp the plane back to an emergency landing.
For Levitow, that was his 181st mission. He recovered from his wounds and completed another 20 combat missions before heading home and receiving his discharge paperwork in August 1969.
Many researchers are working to create the next revolution in drones for both war and peace. At the University of Pennsylvania, teams of researchers headed by Dr. Vijay Kumar are making progress on autonomous UAVs. Since they’re autonomous, they don’t need human operators, just the command to begin a task.
The robots created at Kumar Labs are designed for disaster relief and agricultural work, but could change the way the infantry operates, assaulting contested buildings and objectives alongside troops and performing a variety of services.
The first step to moving drones from overwatch in the skies to clearing buildings with squads is getting them into the buildings. The autonomous UAVs created by researchers weigh between 20 grams and 2 kilograms, feature a quad-rotor design that allows hovering, and are nimble, allowing them to fly through small windows or openings.
Of course, if multiple drones are needed on a mission, the drones have to be able to enter the building and move around without interfering with each other or the human squad. UPENN researchers have created different ways for the drones to behave around each other. The copters can simply avoid one another while working independently or on a shared task, follow a designated group leader, or operate in a coordinated swarm as shown below.
Once inside of a building or a village, the drones would get to work. They could move ahead of the squad and create 3D maps of buildings the squad or platoon expects to hit soon.
The little UAVs are capable of lifting objects on order individually or as part of a team. Fire teams that are decisively engaged could quickly request more ammo be brought to their position and see it arrive slung underneath the autonomous drones. Medics could designate a casualty collection point and begin combat casualty care as more supplies are ferried to them. Drones could even be used as suicide bombers, moving explosives to a point on the battlefield and detonating their cargo.
The drones can also construct obstacles. While currently limited to cubic structures made from modular parts, the drones build according to preset designs without the need for human oversight. Platoon leaders could designate priorities and locations of simple construction and the drones would begin completing their assignments. Metal frames could be placed inside windows and other openings to prevent enemy drones from accessing structures. Mines or flares could be placed by drones on the approaches to the objective, slowing an enemy counterattack and warning friendly forces.
Of course, the copters are also capable of completing the traditional drone mission: Surveillance. While not as fast as the larger drones already in use, they could extend the eyes of the drone fleet into buildings. Also, since they can follow preset waypoints, the drones could continuously patrol an assigned area on their own, only requiring a human’s interaction when they spot something suspicious. The drone can even perch on an outcropping or velcro itself to a landing spot, allowing it to turn off its motors and become silent.
Dr. Kumar discussed the robots, the science behind them, and where he hopes to take them during a 2012 TED Talk.