EOD airmen can build and defuse anything from a pipe bomb to a nuclear weapon - We Are The Mighty
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EOD airmen can build and defuse anything from a pipe bomb to a nuclear weapon

Somewhere in southern Afghanistan, an explosive ordnance disposal technician spots a glint in the soft dirt. He moves deliberately, but steadily, as he tries to determine if it’s a harmless piece of trash or a bomb. In the back of his mind, the technician can’t help but wonder if this will be the improvised explosive device that kills him.


Since 2003 similar missions have taken the lives of 20 Air Force EOD technicians, when Airmen began diffusing bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

With combat missions winding down, EOD is now able to divert attention to its nine other mission sets: aerospace systems and vehicle conventional munitions, weapons of mass destruction, nuclear inventory, UXOs, operational range clearances, mortuary services, defense support for civil authorities, irregular warfare (where EOD teams serve as combat enablers for general forces or special operations), and VIP support.

EOD airmen can build and defuse anything from a pipe bomb to a nuclear weapon
Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Queer wears a Med-Eng EOD 9 Bomb Suit. The EOD 9, the latest version of the bomb suit, was designed with direct input from bomb disposal technicians. Queer is the 325th Fighter Wing Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit non-commissioned officer in charge of EOD operations. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

As the career field shifts into a post-war posture they’re refocusing on these other skill sets. One of these they used to support the Secret Service when two teams from the 325th Civil Engineer Squadron’s EOD flight at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, worked President Barack Obama’s trip to Orlando, Florida, after the nightclub massacre where 49 people were killed in June. The Secret Service tasked EOD teams to sweep venues for explosives, areas en route to the venues, or on any person or object that could be used to harm the president or VIPs they’re protecting.

“For so many years, we have been going 150 mph,” said Senior Master Sgt. Robert K. Brown, 325th CES EOD superintendent, “so when you slow down to 85 mph, you feel like you’re crawling, even though you’re still going faster than most other people on the highway. We’d been doing that for the 12 years of combat operations, and now I think we feel we’re at a snail’s pace.”

Post-war life at the Tyndall AFB flight, one of 52 active-duty EOD flights Air Force-wide, ranges from responding to flares that wash up on the beach after being dropped by the Navy to mark items in the ocean to the occasional unexploded ordnance. The flight is responsible for assessing, rendering inert or safely destroying everything from small arms to guided missiles, although any EOD flight could be called upon to handle anything explosive in nature up to and including a nuclear incident.

The 325th EOD flight’s primary mission is flightline support for the wing’s four fighter squadrons, but it also provides counter-IED support for several tenant organizations.

EOD airmen can build and defuse anything from a pipe bomb to a nuclear weapon
Staff Sgt. Darius Bailey, 325th Fighter Wing EOD team member and liaison with the U.S. Secret Service. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

By the time EOD Airmen left Afghanistan in 2014, they had completed almost 20,000 missions, responded to over 6,500 IEDs, and received more than 150 Purple Hearts for their actions and service in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also deployed often, with a third of the service’s 1,000 EOD members overseas and another third in pre-deployment training preparing to replace them, Brown said. At times the pace was so heavy that EOD Airmen would often be replaced by the same person who replaced them on their last deployment.

“For some of us old-timers in this particular generation, we’ve had a chance to kind of breathe,” Brown said. “In doing so, that’s given us the opportunity to regroup, restock and prepare for the next iteration of conflict that may or may not be coming. So right now is the best time to share the experiences and prepare the next generation for the hard lessons that we’ve had over these past 12 years.”

Fluid tactics

The two wars might be over, but EOD remains one of the Air Force’s most dangerous jobs. In addition to the 20 EOD technicians lost in the two wars, about 150 have suffered extensive injuries. It is a continuing evolving because of the constantly changing tactics of the enemy.

“The enemy is always going to try to continually be better than us, so we have to ensure that we never sleep in preparation for any force that we’re going to encounter,” said Chief Master Sgt. Neil C. Jones, the EOD operations and training program manager with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center at Tyndall AFB. “We don’t have the opportunity to make a mistake, so we train relentlessly to never get it wrong.”

EOD airmen can build and defuse anything from a pipe bomb to a nuclear weapon
325th Fighter Wing Explosive Ordinance Disposal team member Senior Airman Anthony Deleon (middle) carries a Micro Tactical Ground Robot (MTGR) into a simulated village to prepare for a training scenario. The man-carried system is compact and lightweight, weighing approximately 20 pounds. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

During the transition, which has begun gradually in the past couple of years, the focus has been on getting everyone back from deployments and training them in the other nine skill sets to reestablish pre-OIF levels of proficiency. But equally important is the challenge of reducing attrition rates during EOD technical training without lowering the standards, Jones said.

EOD students first attend a 20-day preliminary school at Sheppard AFB, Texas, before they go through the Naval School EOD at Eglin AFB, Florida. An average school day is more than 13 hours, and it takes several years for a student to become a fully functional EOD member and a couple of years longer to be a team leader. About 75 percent of students fail to make it through the course.

Two recent changes to reduce attrition rates are the use of computer tablets for rehabilitation training and the addition of a couple of wounded warrior EOD technicians to help students at the school.

Derrick Victor, a retired technical sergeant who was wounded in his last deployment to Afghanistan when a bomb blast killed one Airman and hurt four others, is one of the new instructors. He’s seen the career field evolve through the wars and is now part of its post-war transition.

EOD airmen can build and defuse anything from a pipe bomb to a nuclear weapon
Staff Sgt. James Vossah (Left), Staff Sgt. Brian Wirt (Middle) and Senior Airman Anthony Deleon configure a Micro Tactical Ground Robot (MTGR) to begin a training exercise at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

“Those two wars obviously changed the way that wars are fought as far as being on the ground and in third-world countries where they have to improvise,” Victor said. “It created a bit of a change from being based on supporting aircraft to things that were improvised. We got very good at that skill set, using robotics and working out all of that kind of stuff.

“Even though those two wars have dwindled down, we know that threat is not going to go away,” he continued. “So, as a whole, the career field is trying to keep that skill set rolling through the generations from those of us for who all we knew was Iraq and Afghanistan to all of these young kids coming fresh out of school, so they don’t have to learn on the fly like we did.”

EOD leadership is also placing a priority on training when Airmen get to their flights after graduation. Because the consequences of mistakes are so severe, the goal is to have those mistakes made in training, Brown said.

“I often refer to it as ‘the good, the bad, the ugly and the stupid,'” he said. “That just refers to what went right, what went wrong, what worked that probably shouldn’t have and what did we do that was just plain dumb, which happens in training. That’s OK as long as we learn lessons from it. But it’s not OK if it’s unsafe. Those are sometimes the hardest parts to learn. We want to make sure that if these guys (make a mistake) in training, they don’t do it when it’s for real. Explosives don’t care about peacetime or wartime.”

Another factor that’s evolving is the way the EOD field trains to recover from both emotional and physical trauma. More emphasis is being placed on instilling resiliency before something happens to an EOD technician in the field, Jones said.

EOD airmen can build and defuse anything from a pipe bomb to a nuclear weapon
The Micro Tactical Ground Robot (MTGR) is a unique and lightweight system that allows Explosive Ordinance Disposal teams and other tactical units to explore areas of interest and examine suspected explosive devices prior to sending in personnel. The approximately 20-pound robot is a man-carried system which can operate in all terrains and is controlled remotely by EOD technicians with a unit that includes a high-resolution screen and gamepad controllers for maneuvering. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

Tech advances

Along with the cultural shift from the war years, the field has also been making major transitions in technology. The robot EOD technicians used in Afghanistan has been replaced by, among others, the Micro Tactical Ground Robot. The world’s lightest EOD robot can be carried by a single Airman, travel at 2 mph, climb stairs and see beyond 1,000 feet. Airmen previously carried 100-pound robots attached to their rucksacks. The new 25-pound robot can be carried on their backs.

“The technology advances that we have out there with the global economy, and more importantly, being able to make things lighter, faster and stronger, have allowed us to develop new tools and techniques and robotic platforms that are much smaller, lighter and leaner than what we had 14 years ago,” Jones said.

Technological progress hasn’t just been in robotics. There has also been a dramatic change in treating traumatic injuries downrange.

EOD airmen can build and defuse anything from a pipe bomb to a nuclear weapon
Staff Sgt. Guadalupe Corona, 325th Fighter Wing Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit, wearing NCOIC EOD Equipment. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

“I think one of the biggest things that we’ve seen as far as technology has been in the medical arena. We have changed the way we treat people for trauma,” Jones said. “If we can stop the bleeding downrange and get that Airman alive into a helo and back to a field surgical team, we’re running about a 98 percent success rate of saving their lives. So as our enemy continues to develop with technology to use against us, we will continually use our technology to develop a better way to take care of that threat.”

As much as life changes after years of war, one area that remains constant is the role tragic events play in training new EOD technicians. As sobering as the memories are of losing members of the EOD family, their sacrifice provided important training lessons.

“What our fallen have done is the same as our World War II EOD bomb disposal predecessors – with very brave men going down and disarming German rockets and bombs,” Brown said. “If they made a mistake, we would then know not to take that step, that last step. Unfortunately, a lot of bomb disposal techs died that way, but our fallen have taught us how to be better at this craft; they have never failed.”

AirmanMagazineOnline, YouTube

Articles

Countdown to Doomsday: a brief history of World War III

EOD airmen can build and defuse anything from a pipe bomb to a nuclear weapon
YouTube


Ever since the devastation caused by World War I and World War II, people have hypothesized how another globe-encompassing war would play out. World War III in the public consciousness tends to envisage a nuclear exchange, this playing out from fears created during the Cold War. However, despite the fall of the Soviet Union, it is still a fear and image that resonates in the contemporary mind, one that has developed for over half a century.

The Origins of World War III

It was inevitable, considering the possible political fallout (pun intended) of the conclusion of World War II and the development of atomic weapons that had been concurrent with the war, that the idea of another world war immediately succeeding World War II was a possibility. “Operation Unthinkable” was a scenario put into development by the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the waning months of the war against Nazi Germany. Its purpose would have been to: “impose upon Russia the will of the United States and British Empire.”

Churchill saw Joseph Stain as untrustworthy and saw Soviet Russia as a threat to the west. World War III in this instance would have hypothetically started on July 1, 1945. It encompassed the idea of total war, with the aim being to occupy enough metropolitan areas to reduce Russia’s capacity “to a point at which further resistance becomes impossible” and the defeat of the Russian military forces to a point where they could no longer continue the war.  The implementation of this plan to start World War III was partly held back due to the three-to-one sheer overwhelming numerical superiority of Soviet Forces in Europe and the Middle East when compared to the Allies.

Nevertheless, following the successful deployment of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August 1945, a new element arose to a more prominent position in the conceptualization of World War III. After the success of these bombings, Churchill and right-wing policy-makers in the United States pushed forward the idea of a nuclear bombing of the USSR. An unclassified FBI note read:

‘”He  [Churchill] pointed out that if an atomic bomb could be dropped  on the Kremlin, wiping it out, it would be a very easy problem  to handle the balance of Russia, which would be  without direction.”

Nuclear bombing would prevent Allied casualties in a war against a heavily beleaguered Soviet Union coming out of the Second World War. By 1949, the Soviet Union had detonated its first nuclear weapon; World War III would now have a new deadly, nuclear element.

The Dynamic Nuclear Element

EOD airmen can build and defuse anything from a pipe bomb to a nuclear weapon
The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II showed the possible destruction of a Third World War. | Wikimedia commons

The Cold War is cited in general as a period of paranoia, an age where humanity seemed to be on the point of blundering into extinction. It was a human condition, that if man was in possession of weapons capable of causing worldwide destruction, then they would inevitably use them. The brinkmanship of some of the more famous crises of the Cold War, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, offer haunting glimpses into how close we could have come to a World War III, but more importantly how at these tipping points people genuinely believed in the real potential of an apocalyptic World War III. This is the popular view of World War III conjured in the modern mind, the apocalyptic vision that shows up in popular culture and real fears generated by current affairs.

However, to deny that World War III would be exempt of conventional warfare would be a misdemeanour. Nuclear responses were often incorporated together with conventional responses in plans. Able Archer 83, the background to German drama Deutschland 83, was part of series of military exercises that envisaged an escalation from conventional warfare into chemical and nuclear warfare. In this instance, 40,000 U.S. and NATO forces moved across western Europe. The life-like nature of the wargame and increasing tensions due to recent events such as the shooting down of Korean Airlines Boeing 747, which resulted in the death of all 269 people on board, and Reagan’s famous “Evil Empire,” all contributed to the Soviet Union believing a nuclear attack was imminent. Even with the increasing potency of nuclear weapons, Able Archer anticipated that World War III might involve traditional military maneuvers and actions, combined with nuclear warfare.

EOD airmen can build and defuse anything from a pipe bomb to a nuclear weapon
The German drama Deutschland 83 is based on events surrounding Able Archer 83. | YouTube

Likewise, the Warsaw Pact also accounted for a World War III that took conventional and nuclear war and made them into one. In 2005, the newly-elected conservative Polish government released a map from 1979, the simulation entitled “Seven Days to the River Rhine,” which shows the possible response to a conventional NATO attack, involving overwhelming forces. It would have entailed nuclear bombardments on major German cities in Germany, such as Munich and Cologne, as well as the capital of the West German capital of Bonn. Further targets included the base of NATO headquarters, Brussels, and targets in Denmark, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The name of this proposed scenario is titled due to the conventional counter-attack that would have been carried out by military forces against NATO, that would try and reach the Franco-German border within seven days, and it would also involve a push to the North Sea.

Interestingly, nuclear attacks on France and the United Kingdom were not planned, perhaps more surprisingly in the case of the U.K., who unlike France was part of NATO’s military structure. Of course, the plan took into account the almost certain prospect of nuclear retaliation. Key eastern European cities, such as Prague and Warsaw, however, it also included bombing across the Vistula River to prevent Warsaw Pact reinforcements reaching the frontline. This also shows how an idea of a “nuclear-conventional” combined arms approach would have been used in World War III.

This combined approach has much older origins, as seen through Churchill’s “Operation Unthinkable.” However, the deployment of nuclear weapons also needs to be taken into account, as this would have been a large part in a hypothetical World War III. For example, the U.S advantage in weapons and bombers at the start of the Cold War faced the threat of new jet-powered interceptors. The introduction of B-47 and B-52 reduced this threat. Meanwhile, submarine-based deployment, such as the U.K.’s Trident, is yet another example of how physical assets have a large influence on nuclear warfare. If these assets can be potentially threatened by more conventional means, then it is certain they would form part of a nuclear war with more traditional elements.

World War III could have also amounted as an escalation of conventional proxy wars. In See Magazinein March 1951, CBS War Correspondent Bill Downs wrote, “To my mind, the answer is: Yes, Korea is the beginning of World War III.” A common fear was that the Korean War would escalate into a conflict between China, the Soviet Union, and the U.S. The Yom Kippur War of October 1973 is also an example of a possible escalation. Although neither the U.S. nor the USSR participated directly in it, the Soviet Mediterranean Squadron and U.S. Sixth Fleet came close to blows. Admiral Murphy of the United States believed there was a 40 percent chance that the Soviet squadron would lead a first strike against his fleet.

These cases show how World War III was not only a constant danger, but was also still seen in traditional and conventional military terms as a hybrid with the much more destructive capabilities of nuclear arsenals. Therefore, we can infer that World War III was not always seen as necessarily apocalyptic by governments and militaries, despite the existence of concepts such as Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).

Finally, it is essential to admit the varying degrees of intensity in east-west relations, through the cooling effects of détente to the heightening of hostilities in the 1980s, when studying a hypothetical World War III.

A Popular Culture Phenomenon

EOD airmen can build and defuse anything from a pipe bomb to a nuclear weapon

World War III is also an ever-growing concept in popular culture throughout multimedia. The theme is generally post-apocalyptic in its nature, though a World War III “in action” is still present. The earliest forms of the pop-culture World War III coincide with World War II, much like the political idea of World War III, but the idea of an actual nuclear war, regardless of its status as a “third global war,” precedes these. In his 1914 novel, The World Set Free, H.G. Wells developed the idea of a uranium-based hand grenade that would explode unlimitedly, with the novel following the traditional lines of mass destruction. This novel is the emergence of the apocalyptic, yet atomic, war in popular culture.

Stories appeared even before the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings in the World War II era, but the growing paranoia over a World War III following the end of the war led to a seemingly-anxious output. This is a Cold-War pattern in varying forms. In 1951, Collier, more known for investigative journalism, dedicated an entire 130 pages — all of the content — to a hypothetical World War III with the heading “Preview of the War We Do Not Want.” Although the U.S. and the Soviet Union exchange nuclear salvos, we do see conventional Soviet forces invading Germany, the Middle East, and Alaska, all starting from events in Yugoslavia.

We see growing self-doubt and anxiety in popular culture as the Cold War progresses. The war does not now emerge from the political establishment, but rather from technological blunders and the nature of humanity. The helpless sense of inevitability is building up in multimedia. In Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film Dr Strangelove the mental health of a general is the new non-political factor. In Fail Safe, a film released the same year, a glitch causes U.S. bombers to launch a first strike against Moscow. The tragic element is that a bomb must also be dropped on New York City to appease the Soviets and to avoid an apocalyptic exchange. All of this is due to a technological fault, rather than any political or military hierarchy. The 1977 film Twilight’s Last Gleaming is a product of its age. This time, the renegade air force officers seize a nuclear missile silo because the U.S. government withheld information from its people. They knew there was no realistic chance of winning the war in Vietnam and only continued for the Soviet image of them; that they were unwavering in their fight against communism, weakness being revealed as a threat. In these instances, it is not simply the Soviet Union who causes World War III, but a tragic narrative develops, perhaps due to real efforts to smooth relations following the deadly Cuban Missile Crisis.

EOD airmen can build and defuse anything from a pipe bomb to a nuclear weapon
The iconic ‘Vault-Boy’ of the Fallout series.

Popular culture also took aspects of World War III as seen by the militarists and politicians and added other elements to them. The Sword of Shannara trilogy by Terry Brooks combines fantasy with the post-apocalyptic, as we see other creatures like elves and gnomes among humans as a result of mutation. The popular Fallout series of video games, retro-futurist in its nature, not only has a range of mutants as a result of nuclear war, but also escapes standard time constraints. The nuclear war takes place in 2077 and involves the U.S., the Soviet Union, and China in an alternate history. In Tom Clancy’s 1986 Red Storm Rising, World War III is caused by Islamic extremists from Azerbaijan and the war is fought by conventional means, never escalating into nuclear war.

In post-apocalyptic popular culture we also see a new emerging narrative that is competing with the World War III image. This is the environmental disaster, not surprising considering the current political and social climate around global warming. The 1995 film Waterworld takes place on an earth where all the polar ice caps have melted and the planet is almost completely covered in water and the 2009 video game Fuel is set in a post-apocalyptic world where extreme weather is a potent danger caused by global warming. Therefore, we must admit that a hypothetical and nuclear World War III are not the only factors that play into the post-apocalyptic popular culture.

Regardless, World War III is still an image on the popular spectrum in various forms of multimedia. It provides a powerful insight in how the hypothetical war is seen outside of politics and it also provides an image of the doubts instilled in all of us regarding our future and relationship with the most destructive of weapons.

The Modern Spectre

World War III is still associated a lot with the Cold War and the potential conflict that could have emerged as a result of it. However, World War III remains a fear of many and it is often interpreted in a new light in the contemporary world. One of the first instances to show that there was room for an apocalyptic global war following the collapse of the Soviet Union was in 1995, during the Norwegian Rocket Scare. It was in this instance that the suitcases to enter the nuclear codes for a retaliatory strike against the United States were open, the cause being a research rocket that was mistaken for an EMP attack and, following that, a missile carrying multiple nuclear warheads. This incident, under Boris Yeltsin, proves that there was room for World War III in the post-Cold War era.

After 9/11, the “War on Terror” was declared. To many this was seen as a new World War. Even U.S. President George W. Bush likened it to World War III and many compared the 9/11 attacks to a Pearl Harbor-like event. The style of combat employed in the concept of “terrorism” is separate from the conventional notions of World War III. However, many groups such as the Taliban and Al-Qaeda still have attacked military targets, as well as civilian targets and had large functioning armies which would fit into the standard concept of a world war. In 2015, the Taliban had an estimated 60,000 recruits in their core, fitting this idea. In recent history, the rise of Islamic State has also brought this question back to light, seemingly more vigorously.

EOD airmen can build and defuse anything from a pipe bomb to a nuclear weapon
Vladimir Putin is, according to critics, playing a large role in increased tensions between the east and west. | Wikimedia commons

However, the World War III of this millennium’s second decade has also seen the return of the nation state as a potential adversary. North Korea and Vladimir Putin’s Russia are headline hitters when it comes to a prospective World War III. For Russia, there is a new Cold War brewing between the east and west, primarily caused by his hard approach to handling political authority. The invasion of Georgia in 2008 and the conflict in Ukraine have shown that he is willing to assert territorial influence. In the case of North Korea in May 2016, during a rare party congress, leader Kim Jong-un praised his country’s nuclear achievements. Efforts to reduce Iran proliferating nuclear weapons seem to be working, as economic sanctions have recently been lifted against them after an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report has shown it has taken steps to limit its nuclear-based plans. Therefore, it appears Iran is now less likely to develop nuclear weapons.

These examples show the ever-evolving scene of the hypothetical World War III in the modern world. Political tensions between major nations will always trigger fears of a larger scale war, whether it would be nuclear or more akin to the conventional global wars of the 20th century. Nevertheless, we have seen that new powers and new forms of combat are rising to add to and, in some respects, replace the traditional narrative of World War III. We must, however, realize that the prospect of World War III does not affect much of humanity’s approach to everyday life in the modern world and it still seems a far-fetched prospect, despite the continued political wrangling of modern nation states.

The Curtain Falls

As we have seen, the idea of World War III was an idea inevitable in its existence as soon as World War II started. It is impossible to stop humans speculating; they always have and always will. It is for reason that we have had military plans for a major global war and a reflection of the concept of World War III throughout popular culture. We live in a word where political tensions still play a significant role, yet perhaps not at the level of the Cold War, there is still considerable debate over the role the ever-dangerous nuclear weapon will play in the future.

World War III is also an evolving idea and it will always be based on the context of the form or time of the idea. The role of conventional warfare, the role of the nuclear bomb and the political/human nature of the cause are all factors that affect the view of a hypothetical World War III. We must, therefore, view the idea of World War III as not only an inevitability, but also one that is destined to change with the passage of time.

Articles

Exclusive excerpt from quadruple amputee Travis Mills’ new book ‘As Tough As They Come’

EOD airmen can build and defuse anything from a pipe bomb to a nuclear weapon


The following is a WATM exclusive excerpt from Staff Sergeant Travis Mills’ forthcoming book, As Tough as They Come, which will hit shelves on October 27:

We hiked only about 400 yards to the village. In addition to my weapons’ team, there were other squads along on the patrol, a total of twenty-eight soldiers. My lieutenant, Zachary Lewis, went to the left with the first and second squads, heading to meet with the village elders, while the rest of our men went with me around the village on the outside to offer support in case of an attack. Along with my gun team, I had my platoon sergeant and a medic, Sergeant Daniel Bateson. All looked calm. It seemed like just another day in Afghanistan. Another normal patrol.

We approached an abandoned ANA security post (two portable buildings), and stopped near the buildings to establish a security perimeter. I called for Fessey to bring the minesweeper. It’s a wand that goes up and around his arm, and it looks like a metal detector a guy would use at the beach. If the minesweeper makes a noise, that means something’s in the soil. Typically, we’re always listening to hear a beep. If we hear one, then we mark the spot, go around it, and have the Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) guys dig out and dispose of whatever’s under there. Whenever we found an IED, we’d never mess with it ourselves. Mines can be unpredictable, and you want the experts to handle them. Some IEDs aren’t even made of metal, just plastic and glass, which can sometimes fool a minesweeper. But even then, the minesweeper is designed to have ground-penetrating capability. It can usually detect if something’s in the ground and it’s not soil.

“Check this area,” was the only order I gave.

Fessey walked up a path used by villagers and scanned all around the area. He went up and back, and all was clear. No beeps. There was no reason to question anything. Fessey finished his minesweeping duties and went to set up on the far flank.

I called Riot up to me and asked him where he thought we should put up the gun. I knew where it should go, but I wanted to let him decide, making sure he knew his stuff. He motioned to exactly where I thought we should put it, a good spot, and I said, “All right. Go get Neff and bring him up here.” That was it. Riot left to go get Neff, and as he did, I set my backpack down. The backpack touching the dirt was all it took.

Such a simple act of war. My world erupted.

I saw a flash of flame and heard a huge ka-boom. Hot jagged pieces of explosives ripped through me. I cartwheeled backward end over end, hit the ground, and slammed my face hard against the compacted earth. Instantly I felt my left eye starting to swell shut. I smelled burning flesh—my own. I tasted dirt, and I was wet with sweat and moisture like I’d just walked out of a hot shower.

Dirt fell everywhere through the air. It rained down and clung to my eyes, nose, and mouth. I don’t remember rolling over but I must have because I glanced to the side and saw that my right arm was completely gone. I caught a glimpse of my left arm, covered in blood and tattered. The arm trembled as if it had a will of its own. I looked down and saw that my right leg was also gone. The stump looked like a piece of raw meat. The bottom of my left leg was still attached but held on by only a few strands of skin. I saw all this in a flash, an instant.

I felt confusion but no panic. My first thought was of my guys. I flopped my remaining arm toward the microphone clipped to my plate carrier and somehow managed to push the button. “I hit a bomb,” I said. “I need help.”

Excerpted from TOUGH AS THEY COME by SSG Travis Mills with Marcus Brotherton; foreword by Gary Sinise. Copyright © 2015 by Travis Mills. Excerpted by permission of Convergent Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Editor’s note: Travis Mills will be speaking at the Veterans Institute Heroes Work Here Conference in Chicago on November 3.

MIGHTY TRENDING

2 of Asia’s strongest militaries working deal to gain edge against China

A meeting between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in October 2018 may yield more progress on a deal that would allow their armed forces to share military facilities.

The proposed agreement, likely to be discussed during the 13th India-Japan summit in Tokyo on Oct. 28 and Oct. 29, 2018, would increase their security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region by allowing the reciprocal exchange of supplies and logistical support, according to the Deccan Herald.

The proposed deal was first discussed in August 2018, when Japan’s defense minister at the time, Itsunori Onodera, met with India’s defense minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, in New Delhi. It came up again in October 2018 during a meeting in Delhi between Modi and Abe’s national-security advisers.


Sources with knowledge of preparations for the summit told the Herald that the deal would allow Japan and India to exchange logistical support, including supplies of food, water, billets, petroleum and oil, communications, medical and training services, maintenance and repair services, spare parts, as well as transportation and storage space.

It’s not clear if any agreement would be signed in October 2018, though there are signs India and Japan want to conclude it in the near term, given plans to increase joint military exercises next year and in 2020, according to The Diplomat.

The deal would not commit either country to military action, but it would allow their militaries — both among the most powerful in the world — to access ports and bases run by the other.

EOD airmen can build and defuse anything from a pipe bomb to a nuclear weapon

Ships from the Indian Navy, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), and the US Navy sail in the Bay of Bengal as part of Exercise Malabar, July 17, 2017.

(US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Cole Schroeder)

For India, that means it would be able to use Japan’s base in Djibouti, which is strategically located at the Horn of Africa between the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean, overlooking one of the world’s busiest shipping corridors.

In addition to Japanese troops, Djibouti also hosts a major US special-operations outpost at Camp Lemonnier, just a few miles from China’s first overseas military outpost, which opened in 2017 and which US officials have said raises “very significant operational security concerns.”

In turn, Japan would be able to access Indian bases in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which sit on important sea lanes west of the Malacca Strait, a major maritime thoroughfare between the Indian and Pacific oceans. (The majority of China’s energy supplies currently flow through the Indian Ocean and the Malacca Strait.)

India has started stationing advanced P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol planes and maritime surveillance drones at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

At the summit in October 2018, Japan is also expected to raise India’s potential purchase of 12 Shinmaywa US-2i search-and-rescue and maritime surveillance planes, which would also be stationed at the islands.

Delhi reached a similar logistical-support deal with France— which has territories in the southern Indian Ocean and a base in Djibouti — in 2018 and with the US in 2016. (India and the US reached another deal on communications and technical exchanges in September 2018.)

Further discussion of an India-Japan logistical-support deal comes as those two countries and others seek to ensure freedom of movement in the Indian Ocean and to counter what is seen as growing Chinese influence there.

EOD airmen can build and defuse anything from a pipe bomb to a nuclear weapon

The JSMDF submarine Oryu at its launch on Oct. 4, 2018.

(JMSDF/Twitter)

Japan, which, like India, has territorial disputes with China, has sought to expand its military’s capabilities and reach.

In October 2018, Japan’s largest warship, the Kaga helicopter carrier, sailed into the port at Colombo, in Sri Lanka — a visit meant to reassure Sri Lanka that Japan would deploy military assets to a part of the world where Chinese influence is growing.

A few days after the Kaga left Colombo, Sri Lanka navy ships were scheduled to conduct exercises with both the Indian and Japanese navies.

Japan has also expanded its security partnerships with countries around the Indian Ocean and pledged billions of dollars for development projects in the region.

Beijing’s activity around the Indian Ocean region is particularly concerning for Delhi.

China’s base in Djibouti, its role in the Pakistani port of Gwadar, its 99-year lease of the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka, and other infrastructure deals with countries in the region have set Delhi on guard, Faisel Pervaiz, a South Asia expert at the geopolitical-intelligence firm Stratfor, told Business Insider in October 2018.

“India’s view is that South Asia’s our neighborhood, and if another rival military power is expanding its presence — whether in Bhutan, whether in the Maldives, whether in Sri Lanka, whether in Nepal — that is a challenge, and that is something that we need to address,” Pervaiz said.

India’s focus is likely to remain on its land borders with rivals China and Pakistan, Pervaiz said, but Delhi has made moves to bolster its position in the Indian Ocean region — a change in focus that has been called “a tectonic shift.”

EOD airmen can build and defuse anything from a pipe bomb to a nuclear weapon

India’s first-in-class Kalvari submarine during floating at Naval Dockyard in Mumbai in October 2015.

(Indian navy photo)

India is working to develop a port at Chabahar on Iran’s southern coast, which would provide access to Central Asia and circumvent existing overland routes through Pakistan to Afghanistan.

India is particularly concerned about Chinese submarine activity in the Indian Ocean and has held anti-submarine-warfare discussions with the US and is seeking to add more subs to its own force.

“For India, the concern now is that although it maintained this kind of regional hegemony by default, that status is beginning to erode, and that extends to the Indian Ocean,” Pervaiz said. “India wants to maintain [its status as] the dominant maritime power in the Indian Ocean, but … as China’s expanding its own presence in the Indian Ocean, this is again becoming another challenge.”

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

Articles

The day we saved 2,147 POWs from Los Baños Prison

By February 1945, the cruel and inhumane treatment by the Japanese against their enemies was well known. As the Allies liberated the Philippines, the decision was made to attempt a rescue effort at the Cabanatuan Prison.


This rescue, often referred to as the Great Raid, liberated over 500 prisoners from Cabanatuan on Jan. 30, 1945. These prisoners then described their horrific treatment as well as the atrocities of the Bataan Death March.

EOD airmen can build and defuse anything from a pipe bomb to a nuclear weapon
POWs interned by the Japanese in the Philippines were malnourished and subject to brutal conditions. (Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps)

This convinced the Allied commanders to attempt more rescue operations in order to save the lives of those held by the Japanese.  

A plan was quickly drawn up, this time using paratroopers from the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

The target would be the University of the Philippines campus-turned POW camp at Los Baños. There the Japanese were holding over 2,000 Allied personnel, mostly civilians who were caught up in the Japanese onslaught of late 1941.

The plan was divided into four phases.

The first phase involved inserting the 11th Airborne’s divisional reconnaissance platoon along with Filipino guerrillas as guides.

Prior to the attack they would mark the drop zone for the paratroopers and landing beach for the incoming Amtracs. Others from the platoon would attack the sentries and guard posts of the camp in coordination with the landing of the paratroopers.

The second phase consisted of the landing and assault by the paratroopers. These men were from Company B, 1st Battalion, 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment along with the light machine gun platoon from battalion headquarters company. They were led by 1st Lt. John Ringler.

EOD airmen can build and defuse anything from a pipe bomb to a nuclear weapon
U.S. paratroopers awaiting orders to jump. (Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps, 1942)

Simultaneous to the landing of the paratroopers, Filipino guerrillas from the 45th Hunter’s ROTC Regiment would attack the prison camp itself.

Together these two groups would eliminate the Japanese within and the Americans would gather them for transport from the camp.

The third phase of the operation would bring the remainder of the 1st Battalion, 511th PIR across the Laguna de Bay in Amtracs. These would then be used to transport the prisoners to safety.

Finally, another 11th Airborne element, the 188th Glider Infantry Regiment, would make a diversionary attack along the highway leading to the camp. The intent would be to draw the Japanese attention away allowing the paratroopers to escape with the prisoners.

All of this would happen nearly simultaneously. The amount of coordination of forces was tremendous.

Everything was set to go off at 7 AM on Feb. 23, 1945.

The first to depart for the mission were the men of the division reconnaissance platoon who set out the night of Feb. 21 in small Filipino fishing boats. Once across the Laguna de Bay, they entered into the jungle and made their way to hide sites to wait for the assault to begin.

On the morning of the 23rd at 0400, the 1st Battalion minus B Company boarded the 54 Amtracs of the 672nd Amphibian Tractor Battalion and set out across the bay toward their landing beach.

At 0530 the men of B Company boarded the C-47’s for the short flight to Los Baños. By 0640 they were in the air toward their destination.

At 0700 on the morning of Feb. 23, 1945, the coordinated assault on the prison camp at Los Baños began.

Lt. John Ringler was the first man out the door of the lead C-47 coming low at 500 feet.

Having already marked the drop zone, the reconnaissance platoon and their accompanying guerrillas, spotting the incoming troop transports, sprung from their hide sites and attacked the Japanese guard post and sentries. Many were quickly overwhelmed.

At the same time, the 45th Hunter’s ROTC Regiment of Filipino guerrillas attacked three sides of the camp. As this was happening, the paratroopers were assembling on the drop zone and the lead elements were breaching the outer perimeter of the camp.

EOD airmen can build and defuse anything from a pipe bomb to a nuclear weapon
Filipino guerrillas worked with the U.S. Marine Corps across the Pacific during WWII. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

The assault had been perfectly timed to coincide with not only a changing of the guard shift but also morning formation for both the prisoners and Japanese soldiers.

Many Japanese were caught in the open, unarmed, preparing to conduct morning physical training. They were cut down by the gunfire of the assaulting forces.

Some Japanese were able to mount a defense but many simply fled in the face of the charging Americans and Filipinos. By the time the balance of the 1st Battalion arrived at the camp in their Amtracs, the fight was all but over.

In very short order the raiding force had overwhelmed and secured the prison.

Out on the highway, the 188th GIR was making good progress against the Japanese and had successfully established blocking positions by late morning. The sound of their battles reminded the men at the camp that time was of the essence — the Japanese were still nearby.

Due to their harsh treatment, many of the prisoners were malnourished and extremely weak. Those that could walk began making their way towards the beach for evacuation. Others were loaded into the Amtracs at the camp and transported back across the lake.

It took two trips to get all the internees across the lake and a third to evacuate the last of the assault troops, but at the end of the day 2,147 prisoners were liberated from the Los Baños prison camp. The cost to the Americans and Filipinos was just a handful of casualties — no paratroopers were killed in the raid.

Among those evacuated was Frank Buckles, a World War I veteran, who would go on to be the last living veteran from the conflict.

“I doubt that any airborne unit in the world will ever be able to rival the Los Baños prison raid,” said Gen. Colin Powell. “It is the textbook airborne operation for all ages and all armies.”

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Russia wanted to take on the F-22 with this unique-looking fighter

In the mid 1990s, Russia had a problem. It was a pretty important one, too, for both pilots and the grunts on the ground. It was a problem they needed to solve very quickly.


Earlier that decade, a United States F-15 Eagle had easily shot down the MiG-29 “Fulcrum,” supposedly the pinnacle of Soviet fighter technology, in combat over Iraq. Worse, the F-22 Raptor was headed into service, and as it did so, it dominated the once-dominant Eagle. Russia needed to play catch-up.

That was where Sukhoi came in. Sukhoi had designed the Su-27/30/33 Flanker family of aircraft, which did reasonably well over Eritrea, fighting the MiG-29 Fulcrum. As such, Sukhoi began to work on both an upgraded Flanker (later known as the Su-35) and on fifth-generation projects to counter the F-22 Raptor. According to MilitaryFactory.com, Sukhoi’s prototype was the S-32 Berkut. The plane first flew in 1997, and was later called the Su-37.

EOD airmen can build and defuse anything from a pipe bomb to a nuclear weapon
The X-29 technology demonstrator aircraft. (NASA Photo by Larry Sammons)

 

The Berkut looked like an ordinary Flanker, but the big difference was in the wings. The Russians went with forward-swept wings to improve the design’s agility at low speed, not to mention improved takeoff and landing performance. The big problem is that that the wings can snap if the force goes the wrong way. Russia got around that by using composites that were flexible enough to handle stresses.

This wasn’t the first time someone modified a design for forward-swept wings. Northrop used the F-5E Tiger II as the basis for the X-29, a forward-swept wing test-bed that flew in the 1980s. Nazi Germany had a forward-swept wing bomber, the Junkers Ju 287, but only one prototype was completed.

By the mid-2000s, it was obvious that the Su-37 would not be a combat airframe, and suffered the same fate as the X-29. The Russians re-designated it the Su-47, flew a number of test flights, then retired the four prototypes.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Israel is the only country that believes its Iranian nuke intel

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says it has “no credible” evidence Iran was working on developing a nuclear “explosive device” after 2009 and that the UN’s nuclear watchdog considered the issue “closed” after it was presented in a report in December 2015.

The 2015 report “stated that the agency had no credible indications of activities in Iran relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device after 2009. Based on the director-general’s report, the board of governors declared that its consideration of this issue was closed,” the IAEA said in a statement on May 1, 2018.


“In line with standard IAEA practice, the IAEA evaluates all safeguards-relevant information available to it. However, it is not the practice of the IAEA to publicly discuss issues related to any such information,” it added.

The IAEA statement comes after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on April 30, 2018, that Israel had documents that showed new “proof” of an Iranian nuclear-weapons plan that could be activated at any time.

Under an agreement in 2015 with world leaders, Iran curbed its enrichment of uranium for nuclear fuel to ease concerns it could be put to use in developing bomb material. In return, Tehran won relief from most international sanctions.

Since then, UN nuclear inspectors have repeatedly reported that Iran is heeding the terms of the deal.

European states have dismissed the significance of documents, while the United States welcomed them as evidence of Iranian “lies.”

Iran has accused Netanyahu of being an “infamous liar” over the allegations, which come as the United States is considering whether to pull out of an atomic accord with Tehran, which has always rejected allegations that it sought a nuclear weapon, insisting its atomic program was solely for civilian purposes.

“The documents show that Iran had a secret nuclear-weapons program for years” while it was denying it was pursuing such weapons, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said late on April 30, 2018, as he returned to Washington from a trip to Europe and the Middle East.

EOD airmen can build and defuse anything from a pipe bomb to a nuclear weapon
Mike Pompeo
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)

“What this means is [Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers] was not constructed on a foundation of good faith or transparency. It was built on Iran’s lies,” Pompeo said, adding that the trove of documents Israel said it obtained on Iran’s so-called Project Amad to develop nuclear weapons before 2004 contain “new information.”

“The Iranians have consistently taken the position that they’ve never had a program like this. This will belie any notion that there wasn’t a program,” Pompeo said.

Netanyahu made his dramatic announcement less than two weeks before the May 12, 2018 deadline for U.S. President Donald Trump to decide whether he will withdraw from the deal, which requires Iran to curb some of its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.

Reuters reported on May 1, 2018, that according to a senior Israeli official, Netanyahu informed Trump about the evidence during a meeting in Washington on March 5, 2018, and that the U.S. president agreed Israel would publish the information before the May 12, 2018 deadline.

The White House on May 1, 2018, said the United States “certainly supported” efforts by Netanyahu to release intelligence about Iran’s nuclear program.

In a May 1, 2018 interview with CNN, Netanyahu said he did not seek war with Iran, but it was Tehran “that’s changing the rules in the region.”

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said in a statement on May 1, 2018, that accusations Tehran lied about its nuclear ambitions were “worn-out, useless, and shameful” and came from a “broke and infamous liar who has had nothing to offer except lies and deceits.”

“How convenient. Coordinated timing of alleged intelligence revelations,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter, adding that the Israeli claims were “ridiculous” and “a rehash of old allegations.”

EOD airmen can build and defuse anything from a pipe bomb to a nuclear weapon
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
(Photo by Carlos Rodríguez)

‘This shows why deal needed’

European powers also said they were not impressed by the nearly 55,000 documents that Netanyahu claimed would prove that Iran once planned to develop the equivalent of “five Hiroshima bombs to be put on ballistic missiles.”

“We have never been naive about Iran and its nuclear intentions,” a British government spokesman said, adding that that was why the nuclear agreement contained a regime to inspect suspected Iranian nuclear sites that is “one of the most extensive and robust in the history of international nuclear accords.”

“It remains a vitally important way of independently verifying that Iran is adhering to the deal and that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful,” the British spokesman said.

Britain, France, and Germany are the three European powers that signed the deal, along with Russia, China, and the United States.

European officials said the documents provided by Israel contained no evidence that Iran continued to develop nuclear weapons after the 2015 deal was signed, so they indirectly confirm that Iran is complying with the deal.

France’s Foreign Ministry said on May 1, 2018, that the Israeli information could be a basis for long-term monitoring of Tehran’s nuclear activities, as the information proved the need to ensure the nuclear deal and UN inspections remained.

A German government spokesman said Berlin will analyze the materials provided by Israel, but added that the documents demonstrate why the nuclear deal with its mandatory inspections must be maintained.

“It is clear that the international community had doubts that Iran was carrying out an exclusively peaceful nuclear program,” the spokesman said. “It was for this reason the nuclear accord was signed in 2015.”

Netanyahu also spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 30, 2018, who afterward said in a statement issued by the Kremlin that the nuclear deal remains of “paramount importance to international stability and security, and must be strictly observed by all its signatories,” the Russian state-run news agency TASS reported.

EOD airmen can build and defuse anything from a pipe bomb to a nuclear weapon
Russian President Vladimir Putin

The White House welcomed the Israeli announcement, saying that Tel Aviv had uncovered “new and compelling details” about Tehran’s efforts to develop “missile-deliverable nuclear weapons.”

“The United States has long known Iran had a robust, clandestine nuclear-weapons program that it has tried and failed to hide from the world and from its own people,” the White House said.

The jousting over the Israeli announcement came as Trump repeated his strong opposition to the deal, which he called a “horrible agreement.”

“In seven years, that deal will have expired and Iran is free to go ahead and create nuclear weapons,” Trump said at the White House. “That is not acceptable.”

Many observers have concluded that Trump will move to withdraw the United States from the nuclear deal on May 12, 2018.

Trump did not say on April 30, 2018, what he will do, but he rejected a suggestion that walking away from the Iran deal would send a bad signal to North Korea as it negotiates with Washington over the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

“I think it sends the right message” to Pyongyang, Trump said.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This B-1 pilot says UFOs in Arizona didn’t look like airplanes

A former B-1 bomber pilot who now works as a commercial aviator for American Airlines has spoken out about his recent UFO encounter over the Arizona desert.

Blenus Green and his co-pilot were flying an American Airlines Airbus A321 over Arizona in February 2018, when they were told by Albuquerque-based air traffic controllers that a flight ahead of them had reported a flying object not on radar. The controllers asked him to radio them if he saw anything similar.


Shortly afterwards, Green saw an object, according to recordings of his conversations with the controllers.

“It’s American 1095. Yeah, something just passed over us,” Green said. “I don’t know what it was, but at least two-three thousand feet above us. Yeah, it passed right over the top of us.”

Green was recently interviewed about his experience by a local Texas TV station. “Albuquerque Center asked us if we could look and just be on the lookout and see if we see anything, and I’m like ‘okay,'” Green said.

“So, sure enough, I was looking out the windscreen because I wanted to see if it was there and yeah, I did. I saw it,” Green said.

Green said that the object “was very bright but it wasn’t so bright that you couldn’t look at it,” and that “it didn’t look anything like an airplane.”

He noticed that the object was bright in areas where the sun was not reflecting off the metal. “Normally, if you have an object and the sun is shining this way, the reflection would be on this side, but this was bright all the way around,” he said.

EOD airmen can build and defuse anything from a pipe bomb to a nuclear weapon
A B-1B Lancer
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman James Richardson)

“It was so bright that you really couldn’t make out what shape it was,” Green said.

With 20 years of flying experience, much of which was spent as a B-1 Lancer pilot in the US Air Force, Green said he wasn’t scared, but interested.

“I was just really fascinated by it. Just trying to figure out what it was because it was so out of the ordinary,” Green said.

Bob Tracey, the vice president of the company that owns the jet that first reported the object, said that his pilot also told him that the object was extremely bright after he was debriefed.

“Like you woke up in the morning and stared at a bright light,” Tracy said. “He said that it passed him at maybe a similar speed that an airliner would.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

Women & standards in special operations and special mission units

SOFREP recently published an exclusive piece covering the journey of the first female candidate set to graduate the Special Forces Qualification Course and earn her coveted green beret — an amazing achievement. Similarly, recent years have seen the services open their previously male-exclusive roles, including the opportunity to attend Ranger School and others, to women as well.

Women absolutely belong in Special Operations, and it would be narrow-minded to limit their opportunities to serve in special operations roles due to gender stereotypes: In SOF, this primarily refers to the different physical capacities between men and women, and the rigorous physical standards that must be met to serve in a special operations role.


It is the author’s opinion that there is a significant net benefit gained by reasonably adjusting female physical standards in a manner that accounts for the natural biological differences between men and women. What women physically lack in relative strength, vis à vis their male counterparts, they far compensate for in other unique qualities that SOF desperately requires.

For historical reference of the unique value proposition women offer, one only need to study the various exploits conducted by women such as Virginia Hall, a World War II-era Special Operations Executive (SOE) and Office of Strategic Services (OSS) operative, who conducted clandestine special operations for the Allies in Nazi-occupied France. Often disguised as a peasant woman, Ms. Hall skillfully employed her feminine prowess against the Nazis, resulting in unfettered freedom of movement throughout the French countryside.

Other special operations units have long relied on the value of women to conduct operations, noting that the coupling of male and female operatives during missions greatly reduced scrutiny from security services during the conduct of sensitive activities abroad.

SOF assessment and selection processes must evolve to reflect this. While traditional physical standards certainly have their place in special operations, the opportunity cost of not adjusting physical standards is too significant for the SOF community to bear. Does this mean standards are removed, curtailed, or made “easy?” Certainly not. It simply implies a measured and scientifically relevant culture shift that better enables women to succeed in special operations, beginning with physical standards.

It is important in this discussion to also frame the understanding of the largest limiting factor in SOF “production” — time. The oft-quoted SOF truths identify that SOF cannot be mass-produced and that humans are more important than hardware. The reason SOF cannot be mass-produced is due to the specific, rigorous, and just plainly lengthy screening and RAST (recruitment, assessment, selection, and training) processes required to produce a special operations professional.

That said, the notion of gender should have little to no discriminatory role in special operations manning. There simply is not the manpower to exclude a large population that offers unique value to special operations missions. Countless units experience significant manpower shortages and are being asked to “do more with less” because their RAST process cannot keep up with demand and attrition. This leads to burnout, which perpetuates the increased demands and greater stress on an already taxed force. This ultimately leads to greater attrition.

In the author’s experience, it took a grand total of about three years to transition from conventional operations to special operations, not counting the years of personal preparation beforehand. That process included an extensive remote screening; chain of command vetting and recommendations; an invitation to attend a lengthy assessment and selection course; an extensive security screening; completion of inter-service manning adjudication at the service component level; assignment to the unit; completion of an almost year-long training course; and additional follow-on qualification training to reach “fully mission capable” (aka mission-ready/deployable) status.

If that sounds like a lot, that is because it certainly was. And it is critical that women have equal opportunity to attempt such journeys alongside their male counterparts. The crossroads at which equal opportunity and SOF production meet are the reasonable adjustments of physical standards for women.

Much of traditional SOF processes focused on largely physical and mental capacities. Long rucks, hours wearing kit, and the ability to manipulate one’s body over, through, and around tricky terrain were paramount. The Army appears to have a penchant for long, solo rucks through tough terrain; the Air Force limits your ability to breathe through liberal use of “water confidence training” (aka supervised drowning); and the Marines like to ingest large quantities of drawing implements (particularly crayons).

Joking aside, however, it is the author’s opinion that these physical standards do not need to be exactly the same for men and women. Indeed, while recognizing the intrinsic differences between men and women, standards should rather reflect the reasonable demands of the special operations role future SOF professionals are expected to fill. Furthermore, a greater emphasis on personality traits and attributes is required. We are reminded of the wisdom, “the final weapon is the brain, all else is supplemental.”

As was recently identified (comically so) in the differences between Rangers and Green Berets, there are different folks needed for different strokes in special operations. If there ever was a “traditional” GWOT-era SOF image, it would probably include a tattoo-sleeved, Taliban-style beard-wearing Freedom Fighter wearing Oakleys, early-gen multi-cams, and riding a horse. Yet, that image is outdated and demonstrates but a snapshot in time. The error we now risk making is to project this archetype onto current and future conflicts.

The GWOT, while still ongoing in the form of counter-VEO missions across the globe, must also make room for Great Power competition. In this space, SOF are not calling for fire against insurgent positions in the mountains of Afghanistan. Rather, they are conducting sensitive, “low-visibility” operations across multiple domains and in low-intensity conflict regions that manifest themselves through multiple mechanisms of state power projection.

What does this mean?

Operating environments are evolving, and SOF must evolve along with these changes. This should include the evolution of certain norms and standards of what traditionally comprises a SOF professional. The target dictates the weapon, and the weapon dictates the tactics. Start with your desired end state and work from there.

In the realm of Great Power competition, it is less critical that an individual can carry a 65-pound rucksack through the West Virginia mountains at night using a map and compass: Rather, it is more critical that they be able to rapidly process vast quantities of complex datasets while performing real-time analysis of the ground truth before them.

Do those traditional methods have their place? Most certainly. The author would not significantly change them given the value of such experience. But do those methods need to be reasonably adjusted in order to increase opportunities for women to fill SOF positions and thereby add unique value to the SOF enterprise? Yes: We cannot afford inaction.

Thanks for listening.

This article originally appeared on SOFREP. Follow @sofrepofficial on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how you got promoted in the Aztec military

The Aztecs had the largest pre-colonial empire in the Americas and ruled with an iron fist. Mexico derives its name from the Mexica people, a migratory bloodline that settled in Lake Texcoco and founded the city of Tenochtitlan. These spiritual people engineered aqueducts, constructed artificial islands, and created the Nahuatl language and temples to their Gods to feed a growing empire.

In order for kings to cement their power, they relied on their warriors to produce a steady supply of human sacrifices to offer to the God of war. A commoner, born to humble beginnings, could climb up the ranks and into the nobility by showing bravery, leadership, and skill in combat. However, professional competence was not the only requirement for promotion.


“I’m tired of living in this POS hut, I can’t wait to deploy!” – some Aztec lance corporal

When a male was born in the Empire, he was born with a specific purpose: to become a warrior and serve the God of war until death. All were drafted into service; everyone served the empire. They believed that if they did not provide Huitzilopochtli (the God of war) with “precious water” (human blood), the sun would not rise the following day. Their culture did not recognize the ideology of peace because, to them, war was an ongoing event, one necessary to the continuation of the planet.

Because of this belief, the empire marshaled a standing army to hunt down their enemies, collecting persons for daily sacrifices. On a male’s fourth birthday, he was given an arrow and a shield to start his journey into warriorhood.

EOD airmen can build and defuse anything from a pipe bomb to a nuclear weapon

“I’m tired of living in this POS hut, send me on the next deployment” – some jaded Aztec lance corporal

When a male reached adolescence, they were segregated into one of two military academies: Telpochalli, for the enlisted, and Calmecac, for officers. The latter was reserved for the nobility, but the enlisted could be promoted into the nobility and achieve an officer rank during their career.

While the students trained in these academies, it was mandatory to provide community service in the capital. As they advanced in their military studies, they squired under senior warriors and were responsible for carrying their superiors’ gear into combat until the age of 15. At this point, they were trained in the practical application of clubs, slings, blowguns, and bows and arrows.

Once the male completed his training, it was time for him to get his feet wet. At 18, he was allowed to witness his first battle and watch his seniors kick some ass. After two battles, the junior warriors were assembled into 5-6 man teams and tasked with taking a prisoner of war.

If the team returned with an enemy captive, they would begin their first promotion ritual: cut out the still-beating heart and offer it to the God, Huitzilopochtli. Then, they dismembered the body and consumed the flesh. The juniors were now officially full-fledged warriors and attained the rank of Tlamani. If they did not return with a prisoner, they were separated from the military and tasked with commoner jobs. One could return to the army a year later and try their luck again.

EOD airmen can build and defuse anything from a pipe bomb to a nuclear weapon

That boot had to cut someone’s heart out before he got to your unit.

The newly minted warriors were inserted into a company-sized element consisting of about 400 men from the same district or village. Promotions from this point forward were based on individual effort. Prisoners of war were sacrificed alive on an altar by a priest atop one of the numerous pyramids. Nearly all captured men were sacrificed and about one-quarter of the women shared the same fate. Those who were spared became slaves or concubines.

After one captured a second prisoner, they received another promotion to cuextecatl and donned a black uniform called a tlahuiztli. Upon the third, they were given command of a team and a papalotl banner to wear on their back that served as rank insignia. A fourth P.O.W. earned them the rank of cuauhocelotl and they were entered into a knighthood-like order of the Eagle or Jaguar.

This gave the warrior the right to drink an alcoholic drink called pulque, wear jewelry, have concubines, and dine as royalty at the palace during ceremonies. Their rank was displayed by tying their hair with a red band decorated with green and blue feathers.

As you can imagine, promotions were hard to come by.

EOD airmen can build and defuse anything from a pipe bomb to a nuclear weapon

Hold the line! Stay with me!

Eagle and Jaguar warriors were sent to two other advanced academies to further learn tactical operations, respective to the path they chose. Members of this rank also enforced the law as police officers and answered directly to the king.

The special forces and officer corps were called the Otomies and the Shorn Ones. Otomies inherited their namesake from the original settlers of the Valley of Mexico, and The Shorn Ones were the Emperor’s officer corps. They wore a tlahuiztli, a white or yellow uniform, unique to officers, and shaved their heads except for a single lock of hair on their left side.

Both organizations were only open to the nobility and received specialized training in strategy, logistics, and diplomacy. These warriors had to fight on the front lines to maintain their authority and right to command.

EOD airmen can build and defuse anything from a pipe bomb to a nuclear weapon

Let’s play rock, paper, chevrons. I win.

Success in one’s military career was the only avenue of upward mobility in the Aztecs’ strict hierarchical society. If you were not of noble birth, you could earn it and all the privileges that it entailed. The culture placed immense importance on training their fighters because if they failed to bring in daily sacrifices, the world would end with the reincarnation of a snake God named Quetzalcoatl.

He would appear as a white man with a dark beard coming across the ocean and bring about the destruction of their civilization.

…Sounds like someone missed a sacrifice.

Articles

How Well Do You Know The Battle Of Iwo Jima?

Iwo Jima was one of the bloodiest battles in Marine Corps history. Amid heavy losses on an island of questionable strategic importance, it also became one the most controversial battles of World War II. Heroes emerged and countless books and movies were created about Iwo Jima, but how much do you really know about the battle? Test your knowledge with this quiz:


NOW: Can You Name The Weapons In The Movie ‘Platoon’? Take the quiz

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How Tolkien’s war experience shaped ‘The Lord of the Rings’

 

“An author cannot, of course, remain wholly unaffected by his experience.”


These are the words of arguably the most influential writer of the 20th century and WWI veteran, John Ronald Reuel “J.R.R.” Tolkien.

In June 1916, the newly commissioned lieutenant kissed his newly married wife goodbye as he boarded the transport to Calais, France. Come July 1st, one of the bloodiest battles in human history took place near the Somme River. That day, his closest friend was killed and Tolkien forever changed.

Shouldering the burden of leadership and the ever looming threat of death, by disease or the enemy, Tolkien carried on. Ultimately, it was Trench Fever that sent him home ten days before the dust settled.

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Tolkien’s Battalion, The 1st Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers. (Photo via Wikicommons)

Deemed no longer medically fit for service, Tolkien returned to his passion: writing. The rest is history.

When the second edition of The Lord of the Rings was released, the foreword stated: “The real war does not resemble the legendary war in its process or its conclusion.” Tolkien continued with, “But I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers.”

He hated direct comparisons of his works to real world events. No real world leader is Sauron. No real world army are the orcs. And the One Ring is not a reference to the nuclear bomb.

Much of the psychology and emotions of his works, however, did pull from his time on the battlefield, most notably with the Dead Marshes. In the second volume (and film) The Two Towers, the ghoulish Gollum lead the protagonist, Frodo Baggins, through a swamp full of bloated bodies under the mud and water.

Tolkien’s biography, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, explained that what Frodo experienced in the Marsh was specifically based on the Battle of the Somme where Tolkien saw countless bodies across the muddy battlefield.

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‘Somme 1 July 1916 Tragedy and Triumph’ by Andrew Robertshaw

Themes were also pulled from his leadership and the bravery of his men. Tolkien studied at Oxford and lead men from mining, milling, and weaving towns of Lancashire. In another biography, Tolkien and the Great War, Tolkien said he “felt an affinity for these working class men, but military protocol forbade him from developing friendships with ‘other ranks’.” This man-apart thematically affected many of the characters in his novels.

One of the largest changes from the novel to any film adaptation is the “Scouring of the Shire” and the mindset of Frodo after the war. In the final chapters of the last book, Saruman attacked the Shire and all of the townspeople had to defend their home.

Afterward, Frodo was left alone.

War changed him. Frodo couldn’t just return to being a happy, singing Hobbit like everyone else after the war. He’d been stabbed, poisoned, and lost a finger. Frodo, like Tolkien himself, had become “shell-shocked” after combat.

The forward of the 1991 release of The Lord of the Rings added another Tolkien quote: “The country in which I lived in childhood was being shabbily destroyed before I was ten. Recently I saw in a paper a picture of the last decrepitude of the once thriving corn-mill beside its pool that long ago seemed to me so important.”

Check out this video for more:

(YouTube | The Great War)

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D-Day: The story behind the largest amphibious assault in history

With more than 6,000 ships and 150,000 troops involved, along with nearly 12,000 aircraft, D-Day stands as the largest amphibious assault in history. The Allies pulled together every resource available to breach Hitler’s Fortress in Europe, but they had to do so without America’s experts in amphibious warfare. The U.S. Marine Corps was busy pushing back the Japanese in the Pacific, island by island. Here’s how Eisenhower and his generals did it.


Planning for D-Day pits allies against each other

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Photo: US Army Signal Corps

The demands of D-Day caused fights for resources. The Americans and British fought over when to make Normandy the priority while the Army was pitted against the Navy for resources, according to historical essays from “Command Decisions.”

The stress between the American and British leadership centered on an American belief that the British wanted to spend more time consolidating gains in the Mediterranean rather than pivot to France and open the new front in the war. The Americans thought that British leadership wanted to spend more time in Southern Europe to gain political power there, while British planners thought the focus should remain in the area a little longer to force Germany to move more reinforcements away from Normandy.

For the Army and Navy, the fight was over how shipbuilding assets should be used. The Army wanted more landing craft while the Navy needed shipbuilders focused on repairing and rebuilding the deepwater fleet that had been diminished by Pearl Harbor, submarine warfare, and escort duties for convoys.

Both problems were settled at the Cairo-Tehran conferences in 1943. British leaders assured the U.S. that they were committed to crossing the English Channel in 1944. The issue of new landing craft was settled due to two factors. First, the Navy had reduced need for new ships as German submarines were sinking fewer craft. Second, Churchill decried the shortage of landing craft, pledging his country would focus on constructing ships for the landing if the Americans would increase their effort as well.

Heavy German defenses force the Allies to do the unexpected

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Photo: US Army History Museum

The obvious points for an Allied force to invade Normandy in the 1940s were the large port at Pas-de-Calais or the smaller ports at La Havre and Cherbourg. German defense planners reinforced these zones to the point that invaders would either fail to reach the beaches or be immediately pushed back upon landing. Instead, the Allies created a plan to land at a beach instead of a port.

The final plan was to land between Le Havre in the east and Cherbourg in the west. The invading forces would spread from there while airborne troops would jump ahead onto key objectives, securing bridges, destroying artillery, and wreaking havoc on the enemy communications. The plan faced numerous challenges, though two stood out.

First, German leadership knew of the Allies use of landing craft in Sicily and assessed the beaches as vulnerable, likely targets. Second, the Normandy coast was famous for bad weather and extreme tides, up to 21-foot changes in a day.

This would leave the Allies with relatively lightly-defended beaches, but a huge logistics problem once they had landed. Large ships would have no deepwater piers to pull up to and no cranes to remove supplies from cargo holds.

The Allies would ultimately get around this through the construction of “Mulberry Harbors,” prefabricated, floating piers protected by sunken World War I ships and caissons. The first piers were operational by June 14 and allowed vehicles and supplies up to 40 tons to drive from deepwater ships to the shore.

Weather delays D-Day but also saves it

The movement of supplies and soldiers to Britain had taken place over two years, culminating in a massive troop buildup in 1944. But the day of the invasion had to be set for small, three-day windows centered on proper tides and moonlight. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, set the invasion date for June 5, 1944 and trusted British Capt. James Stagg to make the weather decision for proposed invasion dates.

Stagg and the British meteorologists found themselves in disagreement with the Americans as to the weather for June 5. Stagg recommended delaying the invasion due to storms the British predicted, while the Americans thought a high pressure wedge would stave off the storms and provide blue skies. Luckily, Eisenhower only heard directly from Stagg and accepted his recommendation. D-Day was pushed to June 6.

The Germans, meanwhile, also predicted the storms but thought they would last for at least a week or more. With this weather forecast, the German high command went ahead with war games and pulled its troops away from the coastal defenses so they could practice defending the coasts. The head of German land defenses, Gen. Erwin Rommel, left to give his wife a pair of birthday shoes. The beaches would be more lightly defended and lack key leadership when the Allies arrived.

June 6, 1944: D-Day

Though the weather wouldn’t clear for hours, Stagg recommended to Eisenhower that he go ahead with the June 6 invasion. Just after midnight, the invasion of Hitler’s Fortress Europe began.

Prior to the beach landings, 23,000 American, British, and Canadian paratroopers dropped through heavy cloud cover to begin securing what would become the flanks of the main force at the beaches. They also struck at key logistics and communications hubs, allowing for the eventual push from the beach while also weakening the Germans’ ability to organize their counter attacks. Allied bombers struck targets on the beaches, preparing the objectives for the main force.

The landings on the Normandy coast began at 6:30 a.m. with the 8th Regimental combat team under Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt at Utah Beach. Soldiers at Utah experienced a successful, relatively light invasion. Over the next few hours, Allied troops were landing at Gold, Juno, Sword, and Omaha Beaches.

At Omaha, bombing and naval fire had been relatively ineffective and many floating tanks were sunk due to the weather. Troops landed at heavily defended beaches where engineers had trouble clearing obstacles. The first wave took cover behind enemy anti-ship defenses and was bogged down. Follow-on troops helped assault the enemy defenses, climbing cliffs under fire to reach objectives. All four Medal of Honor awardees from D-Day fought on Omaha Beach.

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Photo: US Army

“As our boat touched sand and the ramp went down, I became a visitor to hell,” said Pvt. Charles Neighbor, a veteran of Omaha Beach. By nightfall, the other four beaches were held with forces pushing between two and four miles inland. At Omaha, Allied soldiers continued to fight against pockets of resistance.

D-Day cost the lives of 4,413 Allied soldiers and between 4,000 and 9,000 Germans. The remaining pockets of resistance on Omaha Beach were conquered on June 7, and the Allies began the long push to Berlin. The War in Europe would rage for nearly another year before Victory in Europe Day, May 8, 1945.

NOW: Listen to Reagan’s chilling speech about soldiers who scaled cliffs under heavy fire on D-Day

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