Follow the West Point Class of 1966 to Vietnam in ‘The Long Gray Line’ - We Are The Mighty
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Follow the West Point Class of 1966 to Vietnam in ‘The Long Gray Line’

Historian Rick Atkinson has become famous as one of our greatest chroniclers of war with his World War II Liberation Trilogy, and he’s off to a strong start to his Revolution Trilogy with the 2019 best seller, “The British Are Coming.”

More than a decade before he won the Pulitzer Prize for “An Army at Dawn” (Liberation Trilogy, Book 1), Atkinson caught the attention of military history readers with 1989’s “The Long Gray Line,” a chronicle of 25 years in the life of the West Point Class of 1966.Advertisement

The book captures a shift in military culture. These young officers were born in the waning days of World War II and inevitably brought a different perspective that sometimes clashed with senior officers whose experiences were defined by that conflict.

Some of these men didn’t make it back, and others were instrumental in remaking the Army in the years after Vietnam. Atkinson uses their experiences to tell an epic story of how U.S. forces redefined their mission in the late 20th century.

Since the book was published, we’ve lived through a terror attack on U.S. soil and a pair of wars that lasted far longer than the conflict in Southeast Asia. Even though no one profiled in the book nor the author could have imagined what was coming, “The Long Gray Line” nonetheless offers a lot of perspective on why we’ve conducted the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan the way we have.Advertisement

Atkinson’s Army officer father was stationed in Munich when the writer was born there in 1952. He turned down an appointment to West Point himself and built a career as a reporter at The Washington Post, winning a journalism Pulitzer for a series of articles about the West Point Class of 1966. Those articles are the basis of “The Long Gray Line.”

If you weren’t around in 1989 or weren’t listening to audiobooks back then, you probably don’t know that almost anything over 300 pages was abridged for its audio version so that it wouldn’t require too many cassette tapes. CDs helped a bit, but the unabridged audio standard didn’t hit until we started streaming and listening to books on our iPods and phones in the early 2000s.

Follow the West Point Class of 1966 to Vietnam in ‘The Long Gray Line’

So, here we are in 2021, and we’ve finally got an unabridged version of “The Long Gray Line.” The full 28 hours include an introduction read by Atkinson and a conversation between the author and Ty Seidule, the former head of the history department at the United States Military Academy. Narrator Adam Barr reads the book for you.

You can listen to Chapter 1 below. It’s only nine minutes long, but you are likely to find yourself hooked before it’s over.

https://www.military.com/off-duty/books/2021/05/13/follow-west-point-class-of-1966-vietnam-long-gray-line.html

If you’re into reading instead of listening, “The Long Gray Line” is available in ebook or paperback editions.

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Featured photo: US Military Academy

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One of the Oregon militiamen guilty of semi-stolen valor, Ranger-style

As everyone watches the event in Oregon, which so far isn’t really a standoff, reporters are trying to figure out who the 12-150 people in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters building are.


Follow the West Point Class of 1966 to Vietnam in ‘The Long Gray Line’
Ryan Payne speaks with Youtube vlogger Pete Santilli about the militia occupation of federal buildings at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Photo: Youtube/Pete Santilli Show

Ryan Payne, a former soldier, is among them. He has been a prominent presence in the buildup to the occupation of the buildings in Oregon and claimed to have lead militia snipers who targeted — but didn’t fire on — federal agents during the showdown at the Bundy ranch in Nevada in 2014.

Payne claimed to be a Ranger on internet forums and during interviews early in the Bundy ranch standoff, but it’s been pointed out by a number of stolen valor sites that Payne never earned a tab.

“It’s all in the Ranger handbook,” Payne once said. “The Ranger handbook is like the quintessential fighting man’s story. You know, how to do this—everything to be a fighting guy. And having served in that type of unit, that was my Bible. I carried it around on me everywhere I went.”

The only Ranger-type unit Payne was in was the West Mountain Rangers, a militia that is likely not associated with the 75th Ranger Regiment.

Payne did serve in the Army and likely did some awesome stuff as a member of the 18th Airborne Corps Long Range Surveillance Company during the invasion of Iraq. The LRS is comprised of paratroopers who move behind enemy lines and conduct reconnaissance on enemy forces. But any paratrooper knows the difference between being Airborne and being an Airborne Ranger.

The difference is at least two months of grueling training, longer for the 34 percent of graduates who have to recycle at least one phase of the 61-day course. The difference is an assignment to one of the three battalions of the storied Ranger Regiment. The difference is earning the scroll, tab, and beret that are worn by actual Rangers.

It was after members of the Ranger community called him out that Payne switched from touting his fictional credentials as a Ranger to his actual “achievements” of targeting federal police officers with sniper rifles.

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This bionic exoskeleton will give troops a leg up in combat operations

It is not Iron Man. It isn’t even Iron Fist. Lockheed Martin’s newest exoskeleton is more like Iron Leg. But for a soldier humping his weapons, ammo and body armor up a mountain in Afghanistan or a high-rise building in a future urban battle, a device to take the load off would be welcome. And, unlike science fiction supersuits, we can build it now.


Exoskeletons are part of the Pentagon’s Third Offset Strategy, which seeks to use robotics and artificial intelligence to enhance humans on the battlefield, rather than to replace them. There’s no area where the need is more acute than in the infantry, which takes the vast majority of casualties.

Follow the West Point Class of 1966 to Vietnam in ‘The Long Gray Line’
U.S. Army official file photo: A Punisher unmanned ground vehicle follows Soldiers during the PACMAN-I experiment in Hawaii. (U.S. Army photo)

One particularly persistent problem: weight. US foot troops have been overburdened since at least D-Day, where some men drowned in shallow water under their heavy packs. The problem has become especially acute since 9/11, with US troops in body armor laboring to chase Taliban in flip-flops. The military is constantly looking at ways to make equipment lighter, but those improvements are mainly on the margins, a pound shaved here or there. It’s also experimenting with wheeled or tracked robots that can carry some of a squad’s equipment, but these robotic mules can’t yet keep up with nimble infantrymen over rough terrain.

So if you can’t lighten the soldier’s load, and you can’t take it off him, can you make him stronger? Nowadays, the answer is yes: We have the technology.

How It Works

The Lockheed exoskeleton’s full and unwieldly designation is FORTIS Knee-Stress Relief Device (K-SRD), which makes it sounds like a piece of molded plastic your insurance would refuse to cover. In fact, it’s a sophisticated synthesis of multiple technologies:

a rigid load-bearing framework to transfer weight off the wearer to the ground; compact actuators at the knee to increase strength (future models may add actuators at the hip as well); soft materials that buffer between the human being and the rigid frame, helping translate analog human movements into digital signals to the actuators; and an artificial intelligence that adjusts the machinery to move seamlessly with the wearer — unlike past earlier exoskeletons that often resisted the body’s natural movements.

In tests, elite Tier One special operators wearing K-SRD found they could do twice as many squats lifting 185 pounds of weight, going from an average of 20-25 reps to over 50. There were similar improvements climbing stairs carrying a 185-lb simulated casualty, said Lockheed product manager Keith Maxwell, a former Navy and “Other Government Agency” operator himself. “It literally pushes you up flights of stairs,” he told me. “(You) do it faster, with much less fatigue.”

However, the gains are greatest with vertical movement and least on level ground, Maxwell emphasized. On a 15-degree slope, he said, the device reduces the human’s energy expenditure — the “net metabolic cost” — by only about 9 percent. On level ground, it doesn’t save any energy, he said. Why? Humans evolved over millions of years for long-distance chases across the savannah: The theory of persistence hunting suggests our ancestors, lacking bows and arrows, simply ran after prey until it collapsed from exhaustion. Nothing modern technology can make is likely to improve on human performance over level ground, at least any time soon.

With K-SRD on level ground, said Maxwell, “what we’re able to do is break even” — which is a marked improvement over past exoskeletons. Lockheed spent years on an 85-lb rigid exoskeleton called HULC (Human Universal Load Carrier), which was good at carrying heavy weights but lousy at matching human movements. “The problem was that terrain is irregular and human gait is infinitely variable,” Maxwell said, so HULC’s computer kept misunderstanding what the wearer wanted to do and moving the wrong way. Overall, Maxwell said, walking around in a HULC actually cost 15 to 25 percent more energy than having no exoskeletal “help” at all.

Follow the West Point Class of 1966 to Vietnam in ‘The Long Gray Line’
The FORTIS Industrial Exoskeleton. (Lockheed)

Lockheed moved on to the less ambitious FORTIS, essentially a rigid support frame — it doesn’t require electricity because it doesn’t have actuators — that could help factory and shipyard workers handle heavy tools without fatigue. The wearer has enough mobility to relocate, tools in hand, to another worksite within 100 yards, but the industrial FORTIS far too awkward for the battlefield.

The FORTIS K-SRD, by contrast, uses its mix of rigid and flexible components, and a much more sophisticated set of algorithms than HULC, to move with the wearer’s body. Testers were able to operate it with only 15 minutes of training, Maxwell said, and some of the special operators didn’t bother with the training at all.

“They can run, they can climb, they can squat,” Maxwell said. They can hit the dirt, take cover, and crawl, then jump up and dash forward and take cover again. They can even walk along a balance beam although for such precision movements he recommends turning the strength-magnifying actuators off, done with a simple thumb movement on the controls. One tester even found his K-SRD comfortable enough to sleep with it on.

The Case Against Iron Man

After decades of exoskeleton development, Lockheed wants to get this device out into the field soon. The K-SRD team is working mostly closely with the Army’s Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass., which they expect to buy a number of K-SRDs for test purposes and institute a Cooperative Research Development Agreement (CRADA) in the next 30-60 days. Other partners include the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force and the Marine Expeditionary Rifle Squad initiative. Lockheed is even working with theDepartment of Homeland Security and some foreign fire departments on potential firefighting and rescue applications, since those also involve heavily burdened humans climbing up and down with life and death and stake.

Maxwell did not mention Special Operations Command, whose TALOS program envisions a full-body suit of mechanical armor able to resist point-blank gunshots — what then-SOCOM chief Adm. William McRaven compared to Iron Man’s suit.

Follow the West Point Class of 1966 to Vietnam in ‘The Long Gray Line’
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) relies on the JARVIS artificial intelligence to help pilot his Iron Man suit — the kind of “human-machine teaming” that increasingly intrigues the Pentagon. (Marvel Comics/Paramount Pictures)

“Can we have an up-armored solution that’s capable of breaching and entering and being relatively invulnerable to 7.62 AP (armor piercing) bullets at point-blank range? Yeah, we can do that,” said Maxwell. That said, it’d probably be heavy and slow, far from the flight-capable suit in the comics.

“Iron Man has…hurt exoskeleton development,” Maxwell said, because it’s created impossible expectations — literally impossible, since the CGI suit in the movies routinely violates the laws of physics. When Iron Man drops from the sky to a neat three-point landing, in particular, the sudden deceleration would liquefy Tony Stark inside the suit.

Nevertheless, Maxwell said, while real-world exoskeletons may not copy the comic books, they’re still a marvel. When our best troops put them on, he said, “they become something more than human.” They become something more than mere machines, as well, he said: “The man in the machine will beat the machine (by itself) every time.”

That’s the so-called centaur model of human-machine teaming at the heart of the Pentagon’s Third Offset Strategy. It’s the synergy of a human imagination and agility controlling the strength and speed of a machine, like the mythical centaur combining rider and horse into a single being.

“As long as there’s judgment (required) in situations in which the person is going to have to make a call, we’re going to want a human in the loop. Eventually, if we can get machines to do that for us…we’ll just make these robots,” Maxwell told me. “Until then…you take the absolute best human beings and combine them with the absolute best in machines.”

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A videogame set in the trenches of World War I is surprisingly awesome

World War II has given the video game industry plenty of material, but a good World War I game is pretty hard to find.


Not anymore. A recently-released game set on the early 20th century battlefields puts players into the trenches, and it’s surprisingly good.

Follow the West Point Class of 1966 to Vietnam in ‘The Long Gray Line’

The first World War was a very different kind of war. Soldiers often served in long stalemates between trench lines, or “went over the top” to attack the enemy. It was often a battle for just inches of more ground, and not allowing game players to move very far seems a bit counterintuitive in a game.

With the game “Verdun,” the developers took an innovative approach to this problem, and made a World War I game actually worth playing. The developers went to great lengths to use historically accurate equipment, uniforms, and weapons, and they used reconnaissance photos — and in some cases walked the ground — to recreate the landscape of 1914-1918 France.

Follow the West Point Class of 1966 to Vietnam in ‘The Long Gray Line’

Still, a game that looks realistic could still turn out to be terrible. The gameplay is important, and “Verdun” excels in this area. While it’s a first-person shooter game, “Verdun” requires players to work along with their squad, much like they would if they really were in an infantry unit.

From Polygon:

What makes Verdun so different from other first-person shooters is the way battles ebb and flow. Some players are instructed to assault individual enemy strongpoints, while others are told to defend. Anyone who disobeys an order by moving outside the engagement area is killed — effectively shot on the spot for cowardice.

“The maps are a composition,” Hoebe said. “This imagery can all be found through Google. There are large collections of postcards on Flickr, but also Belgian towns post their historical collections online. I pretty much went through the extent of what could be found … and compressed this into on overall image.

The gameplay is unlike your typical World War II shooter or, any modern shooter for that matter. If you enjoy running around blasting the bad guys in “Call of Duty” while enduring quite a few hits, the realism of this game will certainly be a surprise.

“If you’re going into Verdun with a mind to cut about the place, emptying hot lead into the faces of all and sundry with reckless abandon, then you can quite rightly expect to be put into the ground very quickly. And many, many times, too,” writes Game Watcher.

There are three game modes: Frontlines, Attrition and Rifle Deathmatch. Deathmatch is the multiplayer slugfest you’d come to expect from most first-person shooters, except this one features no rocket launchers (sorry Doom fans) and only bolt-action rifles.

Frontlines is the game’s “campaign mode,” where you team up with your squad, ordered to capture or defend your ground. Attrition is centered around a single battle, with each side’s manpower levels being depleted as the player is killed and re-spawns.

“If nothing else, Verdun‘s given me an excellent understanding of what a mess World War I was,” Hayden Dingman wrote at PCWorld. “The game doesn’t have the best graphics, the best sound, the best character models, or what have you—and yet few games have so consistently stressed me out like Verdun.”

Here’s how the multiplayer gameplay looks:

NOW: These rare colorized photos show World War I like never before

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How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun

The Battle of Verdun lasted for nearly ten months in 1916 and according to some estimates, resulted in almost 950,000 casualties. In essence, it was perhaps the epitome of the trench warfare that dominated World War I.


Indeed, trench warfare really didn’t end until the emergence of the early tanks at the Battle of the Somme. Could some of America’s most modern armored fighting vehicles do better? Specifically, the Stryker family of wheeled armored fighting vehicles.

Follow the West Point Class of 1966 to Vietnam in ‘The Long Gray Line’
M1126 Stryker Infantry Combat Vehicle. (U.S. Army photo)

At first glance, the Strykers seem very capable of punching through the trenches. With add-on armor, the Stryker can resist RPGs. They have a top speed of just over 62 miles per hour, according to army-recognition.com. The fire from a MG 08 would just bounce off a Stryker that didn’t have the add-on armor. But that misses one problem: Sheer numbers on the German side.

The Germans committed over a million troops to the battle. The Stryker Brigade would have roughly 4,500 troops and 300 vehicles, most of which are M1126 Infantry Combat Vehicles. The vehicles couldn’t roam in the enemy rear — resupply would be very difficult at best. But those vehicles have technology that would enable them to decisively rout the German offensives.

Follow the West Point Class of 1966 to Vietnam in ‘The Long Gray Line’
A look at the Kongsberg M151 Protector Remote Weapon Station. (U.S. Army photo)

The key to what the Stryker would use, would not be in mobility, but in the M151 Protector Remote Weapons Station. The Strykers primarily use the M2 heavy machine gun and Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher. These outclass the MG 08 by a significant margin. Furthermore, they can be fired from within the Stryker, which negates one of Germany’s most powerful weapons in 1916: poison gas.

This is the second advantage the Stryker would have. The NBC protection capabilities in the Strykers would enable the defense to hold despite German chemical weapons. In essence, rather than facing incapacitated – or dead – defenders, the German troops would be going across “no man’s land” into mission-capable defenders.

Follow the West Point Class of 1966 to Vietnam in ‘The Long Gray Line’
The Stryker’s remote weapon system and NBC protection would make it a formidable presence on a World War I battlefield. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sandra M. Palumbo) (Released)

Worse for them, the M2 heavy machine gun and the Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher would tear massed infantry attacks apart. The optics of the Protector remote weapons stations would allow the Americans to pick out the guys with flamethrowers first. In essence, the Strykers would be able to bleed the Germans dry.

It gets worse for the Germans when the inevitable counter-attack comes. The same optics what would let a Stryker gunner pick out a machine gun position and take it out. Here, the M1128 Mobile Gun Systems and M1134 Anti-Tank Guided Missile Vehicles would also come into play, destroying bunkers. The M1129 Stryker Mortar Carrier Vehicles would be able to lay down a lot of smoke and high-explosive warheads on targets.

Follow the West Point Class of 1966 to Vietnam in ‘The Long Gray Line’
The 105mm main gun would be a formidable bunker buster. (U.S. Army photo)

In essence, the Stryker would drastically alter Verdun, not by its mobility, but by virtue of being a poison gas-proof pillbox.

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Inside the Navy’s high-tech stealth destroyer

Follow the West Point Class of 1966 to Vietnam in ‘The Long Gray Line’
U.S. Navy photo courtesy of General Dynamics Bath Iron Works


The Navy’s new stealthy high-tech destroyer has begun “Acceptance Trials” to assess, refine and further develop its many technologies including navigation, propulsion, auxiliary systems, fire protection and damage control capabilities, service officials said.

The ship, called the DDG 100 or USS Zumwalt, departed Bath, Maine, with a crew of assessment professionals on board called the Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey, or INSURV.

“This underway period is specifically scheduled to demonstrate ship systems to the Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey and the ship will return to port upon conclusion of the demonstrations,” Navy spokesman Matthew Leonard told Scout Warrior in a written statement.

The USS Zumwalt, the first in a series of three next-generation destroyers planned for the fleet, is slated to be operational by 2019, he added. The new ship will formally deliver to the Navy later this year.

“DDG 1000 delivery is expected after successful Acceptance Trials and will include fully capable Hull Maintenance and Electrical (HME) systems.  Following HME delivery, and a brief crew certification period at Bath Iron Works, the ship will sail to Baltimore for commissioning (which is scheduled for Oct. 15) and then transit to its homeport in San Diego where Mission Systems Activation will occur,” Leonard added.

Before beginning Acceptance Trials, the DDG 1000 went through a process known as “Builder Trials” during which the contract building the ship, Bath Iron Works, tests the ship’s systems and technologies.

New Ship Technologies

Once operational, the Navy’s first high-tech Zumwalt-class DDG 1000 destroyer will pioneer a handful of yet-to-be seen destroyer ship technologies, service officials have explained.

Not only does the ship have a new electric drive system for propulsion as opposed to diesel or steam –but the ship is configured with sonar, sensors, electronics, computing technology and weapons systems which have not previously been engineered into a Navy destroyer or comparable ship, said Raytheon officials said.

The Zumwalt-class destroyers will have unprecedented mine-detecting sonar technologies for destroyer through utilization of what’s called an integrated undersea warfare system, or IUW; IUW is a dual-band sonar technology which uses both medium and high-frequency detection, Raytheon developers explained.

Medium sonar frequency is engineered to detect ships and submarines, whereas high-frequency sonar adds the ability to avoid sea-mines, they added.

Follow the West Point Class of 1966 to Vietnam in ‘The Long Gray Line’
USS Zumwalt, first of three commissioned DDG-1000 Destroyers | U.S. Navy

It makes sense that the DDG 1000 would be engineered detect mines because the destroyer is, in part, being developed for land-attack missions, an activity likely to bring the vessel closer to shore than previous destroyers might be prepared to sail. The ship is engineered with a more shallow-draft to better enable it to operate in shallower waters than most deep-water ships.

The DDG 1000 is built with what’s called a total ship computing environment, meaning software and blade servers manage not just the weapons systems on the ship but also handle the radar and fire control software and various logistical items such as water, fuel, oil and power for the ship, Raytheon officials said.

The blade servers run seven million lines of code, officials explained.

The ship is engineered to fire Tomahawk missiles as well as torpedoes, Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile and a range of standard missiles such as the SM2, SM3 and SM6.

The ship also has a 155mm long range, precision-capable gun called the Advanced Gun System made by BAE Systems. The weapon can, among other things, fire a munition called the Long-Range Land Attack Projectile which can strike target at ranges out to 64 nautical miles.

Additionally, as a survivability enhancing measure, the total ship computing environment also ensures additional layers or redundancy to ensure that messages and information can be delivered across the ship in the event of attack, Raytheon officials said.

Many of the blade servers and other technical items are housed in structures called electronic modular enclosures, or EMEs. There are 16 EME’s built on each ship, each with more than 235 electronics cabinets. The structures are designed to safeguard much of the core electronics for the ship.

The ship’s integrated power system, which includes its electric propulsion, helps generate up to 58 megawatts of on-board electrical power, something seen as key to the future when it comes to ship technologies and the application of anticipated future weapons systems such as laser weapons and rail guns.

The ship is also built with a new kind of vertical launch tubes which are engineered into the hull near the perimeter of the ship.  Called Peripheral Vertical Launch System, the tubes are integrated with the hull around the ship’s periphery in order to ensure that weapons can keep firing in the event of damage.  Instead of having all of the launch tubes in succession or near one another, the DDG 1000 has spread them out in order to mitigate risk in the event attack, developers said.

In total, there are 80 launch tubes built into the hull of the DDG 1000; the Peripheral Vertical Launch System involves a collaborative effort between Raytheon and BAE Systems.

The DDG 1000 also has an AN/SPY-3 X-band multi-function radar which is described as volume-search capable, meaning it can detect threats at higher volumes than other comparable radar systems, Raytheon officials added.  The volume search capability, which can be added through software upgrades, enables the radar to detect a wider range of missile flight profiles, he added.

As the first Zumwalt-class destroyer gets ready for delivery to the Navy, construction of the second is already underway. The DDG 1001 is already more than 75-percent complete and fabrication of DDG 1002 is already underway, Navy officials said.

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Corps to update social media rules in wake of scandal

The Marines’ top officer has sent a “White Letter” to all senior leaders in the service ordering them to support self-identified victims of Facebook harassment and illicit photo sharing, and to educate troops on what is expected of them in their conduct online. Sent out March 10, nearly a week after news broke that Marines had been sharing nude and compromising photos of female colleagues on a 30,000-member Facebook page called Marines United, the message also promises new guidance to Marines concerning the boundaries of appropriate online behavior.


The two-page letter, sent by Commandant Gen. Robert Neller to all commanding generals, unit commanding officers, and senior enlisted leaders across the Corps and obtained by Military.com, does not mince words.

Related: Mattis speaks out on Marine Corps’ nude photo scandal

“In the past week, our core values have come under attack,” Neller wrote. “… This inappropriate, disrespectful, and in some cases criminal behavior has a corrosive and negative effect on our Marines and on the Marine Corps.”

Follow the West Point Class of 1966 to Vietnam in ‘The Long Gray Line’
Marines with the Lioness Program refill their rifle magazines during the live-fire portion of their training at Camp Korean Village, Iraq, July 31. | Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Jennifer Jones

To prevent future social media fallout, Neller said Marines must be educated, not only on the service’s expectations for their online behavior, but also on the dangers and vulnerabilities inherent in online activity. The Marine Corps will soon publish an update to its 2010 guidance governing Marines’ social media activity to further this goal, Neller said.

The current guidance dictates the Marines should use their “best judgment at all times and avoid inappropriate behavior” when using social media, adding that defamatory, libelous, abusive, threatening or hateful posts may result in disciplinary action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. While the White Letter does not make clear how the guidance will be updated and to what extent, the new guidance will likely provide additional specifics on what behavior is out-of-bounds and how violations will be addressed.

“Leaders should remind our Marines they are not anonymous in the virtual world and remain accountable for their actions,” Neller wrote. “Where we find criminal behavior, we will take appropriate action.”

Related: Commandant on nude photo scandal: ‘Do you really want to be a Marine?’

For Marine victims of photo sharing and other online harassment, who, Neller noted, are primarily female, he gives an order to Marine leaders: support them at every level. Commanders and senior enlisted leaders are tasked with communicating with the Marines under them and encouraging victims of online attacks to come forward. Witnesses to online misconduct should report it as well, the letter states.

“When Marines do report, they must have the full support of their leadership, from NCOs up to the commanding officers and commanding general,” Neller wrote. “They must have a viable means to report and have immediate resources available to support them.”

These resources, the letter states, includes chaplains, attorneys through the victim legal counsel program, uniformed victim advocates, equal opportunity advisers and Sexual Assault Prevention and Response resources and personnel.

“Technical assistance is also available to help remedy or mitigate the harm they have suffered,” Neller notes.

While the letter doesn’t clarify what this technical assistance includes, sources told Military.com last week that Marine officials are considering a move to offer reputation management software to self-identified victims, to allow them to cleanse damaging or sensitive information from their online profiles.

Neller ended his message to commanders with a note of optimism.

“The recent attacks on social media can be overcome if we address the behaviors and attitudes that caused these unacceptable actions in the first place,” he wrote. “We are better than this.”

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Meet the female Peshmerga fighters battling ISIS

The Kurdish Peshmerga has been battling the ISIS terror group since it swept through much of Iraq and Syria in 2014, and one of its most unique aspects has been the use of female fighters on the front lines.


Unlike most other militaries, the Peshmerga not only allows women within its ranks, but they also serve shoulder-to-shoulder with men in combat. According to Zach Bazzi, Middle East project manager for Spirit of America, there are about 1,700 women serving in combat roles within the Peshmerga.

“We are not meant to sit at home, doing housework,” says Zehra, a commander who has served for 8 years. “We are on the frontlines, fighting to defeat ISIS.”

Related: 6 female military units you don’t want to mess with

In partnership with The Kurdish Project, Spirit of America recently profiled female fighters serving on the front lines with the Peshmerga — a Kurdish word for “those who face death.” The video interviews were published on a new website called “Females on the Frontline.”

Follow the West Point Class of 1966 to Vietnam in ‘The Long Gray Line’
Photo: flickr/free kurdistan

“From what I have observed, these women are patriots fighting to defend their families and their homelands from the threat of ISIS,” Bazzi told Business Insider. “But there is no doubt that they also want to send an unmistakable message, that, as women, they have a prominent and equal role to play in their society.

Bazzi told Business Insider that it depends on the policies of individual Peshmerga units for the mixing of male and female fighters. Still, he said, most women are accepted and fully integrated into the ranks.

“As a matter of fact, people in the region view it as a point of pride that these women share an equal burden in defense of the homeland,” he said.

Also read: Former sex slaves are getting payback on the ISIS sleazebags who held them

The Females on the Frontline site features short interviews with Sozan, Nishtiman, Kurdistan, and Zehra, four Peshmerga soldiers who have served in different roles and in varying lengths of duty.

“On our team, we women are fighting along with the men shoulder to shoulder on the front lines,” says Nishtiman, a 26-year old unit commander who has served for four years in the Peshmerga. She fights alongside her alongside her husband and brother, according to the site.

You can check out the full website here.

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This is the Air Force vet who forced KSM to reveal his darkest secrets

James Mitchell had a successful 22-year career in the U.S. Air Force — most notably as a top trainer at the Air Force’s survival school — before retiring as a lieutenant colonel.


And while he earned some awards and accolades for his service as a SERE leader, it was what he did as a contractor for the CIA after his retirement that truly marks his career.

See, Mitchell is the man who broke al Qaeda mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (often called “KSM”) and other high-ranking members of the terrorist group in the months and years after 9/11.

Follow the West Point Class of 1966 to Vietnam in ‘The Long Gray Line’
Photo provided by Crown Publishing

After the release of his new book about the interrogation program titled “Enhanced Interrogation: Inside the Minds and Motives of the Islamic Terrorists Trying To Destroy America,” Mitchell sat down for an interview with Marc Theissen, a Washington Post columnist and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

During the 90-minute discussion, Mitchell both clarified details about the controversial “enhanced interrogation techniques” he used and provided insights into the minds of the terrorists.

 

First, Mitchell explained the difference between interrogation and what he describes as “how do you do” visits.

“These enhanced interrogations that I was part of really only dealt with about 14 of the top folks. I didn’t have anything to do with the mid-level or low-level folks at all,” Mitchell, who’s a licensed psychologist, said. “And most of these interrogations took place over a period of time of about two weeks. KSM’s took about three weeks. And then after that, there was no enhanced interrogations for KSM — you know, none at all.”

He later added, “[O]ur goal in doing enhanced interrogations was to get them to make some movement, to be willing to engage in the questions instead of rocking and chanting and doing the other sorts of things that they had previously been doing.”

Once they broke, it was all about “cigarettes and beer,” to borrow a quote from Defense Secretary nominee James Mattis.

“We switched to social influence stuff because we know that the real way that you get the cooperation that you want is not by trying to coerce it out of them,” Mitchell said. “It’s by getting them to provide the information in a way that they don’t feel particularly pressured to do it.”

Mitchell made it clear that after the terrorists broke, the nature of his visits were more along the lines of maintenance. During one of those visits, he described how the mastermind of 9/11 revealed that he had personally beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

“He describes cutting his head off and dismembering him and burying him in a hole. And [we] asked him, was that difficult for you to do, thinking emotionally this had to be hard to do,” Mitchell said. “And he said, ‘Oh, no. I had sharp knives. The toughest part was getting through the neck bone’ — just like that.”

Mitchell also described KSM’s shock at George W. Bush’s response to the 9/11 attacks, revealing that the terror leader thought the U.S. would treat the attack as a law enforcement problem and not go to war over it.

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Photo of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed taken after his capture by American personnel. (Photo by DOD)

“And then he looks down and he goes, ‘How was I to know that cowboy George Bush would say he wanted us dead or alive and invade Afghanistan to get us?’ And he said it just about like that, like he was befuddled, like he couldn’t imagine it,” Mitchell said.

And Mitchell firmly denies that his EITs were torture.

“If it was torture, they wouldn’t have to pass a law in 2015 outlawing it because torture is already illegal, right?” Mitchell said. “The highest Justice Department in the land wouldn’t have opined five times that it wasn’t torture — one time after I personally waterboarded an assistant attorney general before he made that decision three or four days later, right?”

Mitchell’s book, “Enhanced Interrogation: Inside the Minds and Motives of the Islamic Terrorists Trying To Destroy America,” is published by Crown Forum and is available at Amazon.com.

Articles

This infographic shows how the machine gun revolutionized World War I combat

WWI was one of the first truly modern conflicts. Fought mainly along trenches, the war saw the introduction of chemical weapons, tanks, and aerial combat.


Thought of as the war to end war, over 9 million soldiers were killed in the conflict and 21 million were injured. These casualties were largely helped along by the war being the first to feature widespread use of machine guns.

The following graphic, from Norwich University’s Online Masters in Military History program, shows the destructive impact and history of the machine gun on the war.

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Norwich University’s Online Masters in Military History

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US F-22 pilots describe their conflict with Syrian jets while protecting US forces

In an interview with USA Today, the pilots of the F-22s who chased away Syrian jets bombing close to Kurdish forces with embedded US advisers revealed that the Syrian pilots had no idea they were being shadowed.


“I followed him around for all three of his loops,” one of the American pilots, a 38-year-old Air Force major, told USA Today. “He didn’t appear to have any idea I was there.”

Brig. Gen. Charles Corcoran, commander of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, told USA Today that once the F-22 made radio contact, “The behaviour stopped. We made our point.”

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F-22 Raptors from Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, fly over Alaska May 26, 2010. | U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson

The situation in Syria is tense, as the US has limited forces on the ground, but has employed air assets to defend them. So the US effectively has told Syria that it can’t fly planes within a section of their own country.

Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said that in the event that Syrian planes get too close to US and US-backed forces that they “would advise them to steer clear in areas where we are operating,” adding that “we always have the right to defend our forces.”

Fortunately, in this case, the warning was sufficient.

“The big concern is really a miscalculation,” said Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, commander of US air operations in the Middle East told USA Today. “It can happen on either side.”

“We made it very clear to our folks from the highest levels: We’re not at war with the Russians or Syrians,” Corcoran told USA Today. “We’re not here to shoot down Russian or Syrian airplanes.”

But sending servicemen and women into combat with unclear, or delicate instructions is not an ideal case. Every second a pilot spends weighing the decision to fire or not could potentially cost that pilot’s life.

Luckily, no life or death decisions had to be made.

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U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. J.D. Strong II

“I’m thinking how do I de-escalate this scenario to the best of my ability and also keep us in a safe position while doing so,” the other pilot involved told USA Today.

It seems also that the pilot’s leadership was behind them every step of the way. Maj. Gen. Jay Silveria, the air commander in Qatar, made it clear he was ready to pull the trigger.

“I wouldn’t have hesitated,” said Silveria.

“All I needed at that point to shoot them down was a report from the ground that they were being attacked,” Silveria told USA Today. “We were in a perfect position to execute that with some pretty advanced weaponry.”

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ISIS uses weaponized drones for combat and surveillance

Much has been written about the threat of Islamic State militants’ use of unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs, commonly known as drones, over the embattled city of Mosul.


IS was quick to weaponize UAVs with small improvised explosive devices.

On Jan. 24, they released a video showing up to 19 different aerial attacks by commercially purchased UAVs — the kind of drone you can buy in any shopping center. Iraqi forces have followed suit by attaching modified 40mm grenades with shuttlecock stabilizers onto their larger UAVs to drop on IS positions.

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Drones like this are easy to acquire but can be very lethal targeting tools. (Photo: Don McCullough, CC BY 2.0)

A crude inaccurate way of killing terrorists, its effectiveness is questionable. Weaponized IS UAVs have mainly been used to target Iraqi military commanders and troops congregating in the open near the front line.

It’s a low-end, low-altitude attack that can be thwarted by keeping in hard cover.

But both sides use the UAV’s more effectively as a means of providing Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance, known as ISR.

Islamic State UAVs in the air, once identified, are the warning that something is about to happen — either mortar fire, which is typically one hastily fired inaccurate round — before coalition air superiority can locate and target the firing point.

Or, more devastatingly, the launching of a Suicide Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device, an SVBIED.

Since the Battle for Mosul officially started on Oct. 16, 2016, hundreds of SVBIEDs have been launched.

Recently, Sky News’ Special Correspondent Alex Crawford and cameraman Garwen McLuckie faced a number of SVBIEDs during their reporting from West Mosul’s front line.

Each time a small UAV was hovering high above. One occasion two were spotted.

Chief Correspondent Stuart Ramsay, cameraman Nathan Hale and Producer Haider Kata were also targeted by a SVBIED. On this occasion the UAV filmed the SVBIED (an armored Fronting Loader) to its intended target, a tank.

Later, the video was posted on Islamic State websites.

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A captured ISIS drone on the battlefield. (Photo from Iraq Ministry of Defense)

Due to the built-up urban area and the ever-changing nature of the battle, IS drivers of the SVBIEDs are believed to be hiding in garages with their heavily armoured explosive-laden vehicles. Modified with armor at the front and cameras on the wing mirrors, they provide militants with a 360-degree view of the battlefield and are notoriously difficult to stop.

They wait as the Iraqi forces move slowly forward, seizing ground and minimizing the driving distance to strike.

If they launch too early, the SVBIED will be exposed to air strikes or anti-tank fire, the only two real ways of neutralizing the vehicle.

But hidden IS drivers may not know the exact location of the moving Iraqi forces or be familiar with the streets and or access routes to their targets.

This is where the UAV is the key component to the attack.

The operators of the UAV act as navigators for the suicide driver; guiding him by radio or cell phone through battle-worn streets, they can help deliver the driver to his intended target with greater efficiency and accuracy.

This is a deadly combination.

The coalition has attempted to blanket all of Mosul in a red no-fly zone for commercially purchased UAVs, but this has been thwarted by either smart software adjustments to the unit or by placing aluminum material over the GPS.

Other methods have included the Battelle Drone Defender gun (hand portable beam type weapon) and the Spynel infrared camera, which is used to locate incoming UAVs. Both have been very limited, as UAV use is usually confined within a few hundred meters at the very front of the fight where these systems are not always deployed.

If an IS UAV is sighted, the immediate response by Iraqi forces is to engage it with small and heavy weapons, a difficult shot when aiming at a high flying fast moving object of no more than a meter wide.

After the firing has stopped, all attention shifts to street level as experienced operators know the next thing coming will be more deadly.

Many harmless recreational drones have now become deadly tools of war.

The various developers of these off-the-shelf UAVs probably never envisaged that their products would be used in a lethal cat and mouse hunt through Mosul’s war-torn streets.

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A new PTSD treatment isn’t a miracle, but it’s working wonders for some

After three combat deployments to the Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghanistan, something as simple as the smell of hay could trigger Rick Burth’s post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.


The smell of gunpowder and jet fuel put him on edge, too. He’d known he had PTSD for a long time, but he never talked about it.

“There was this stigma, so you didn’t want to say anything,” said Burth, 49, a Roseville resident and threat assessment specialist with the state Office of Emergency Services. “You just kept your head down and kept doing your job, but after awhile, it just got bad.”

Other treatments hadn’t worked, so Burth opted for a novel procedure that some say is a quick and effective way to quiet the anxiety and agitation that PTSD patients frequently experience. He traveled to the Chicago area, where a doctor injected a local anesthetic into his neck, targeting the nerves that regulate the body’s “fight-or-flight” response to perceived threats.

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An image depicted the stellate ganglion block procedure. Screengrab from ViewMedica video.

The treatment, called stellate ganglion block, has typically been used for pain management, but Dr. Eugene Lipov, an anesthesiologist, said he discovered in 2005 that it has the potential to relieve PTSD symptoms.

The 10-minute procedure halts the nerve impulses to the brain that trigger anxiety and jitters in trauma victims, Lipov contends.

Experts disagree on its effectiveness, but some doctors and patients say it seems to be a useful tool in combination with therapy and other medications, which may not always provide relief.

Burth said it helped calm his mind to the point where he could think more rationally about the traumatic events in his past.

The former Marine said he started noticing symptoms after returning from the Gulf War in 1991, and that his symptoms grew worse when he went to Iraq, where he was part of the anti-terrorism team for the California Army National Guard.

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California Army National Guard troops in training. Photo from California National Guard Flickr.

“The day-in, day-out fighting — getting shot at, shooting back, things blowing up around us — that compounded the issue,” he said.

When Burth came home, he couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t stand being in crowds. He was abusing alcohol. And it was all wearing on his wife and two young sons, he said. He’d been on anti-anxiety medication for years but never noticed much difference, he said.

“I was just really short-tempered. Always go, go, go. Didn’t have time to stop and listen to folks because I was always so anxious,” he said.

There are nearly 8 million Americans like Burth suffering from PTSD, many of them military veterans, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. PTSD is the third most common psychiatric diagnosis in the Veterans Health Administration.

People can develop PTSD months after they experience a life-threatening event or trauma such as a mugging, sexual assault, or the sudden death of a loved one. Its symptoms are broad because everyone’s PTSD manifests differently, said Dr. David Schafer, acting associate chief of staff for mental health at the Sacramento VA Medical Center.

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Rick Burth. Photo from Sacramento Bee via NewsEdge.

People can relive a traumatic event such as an ambush or bomb attack in nightmares or flashbacks. They might also avoid places and situations that remind them of the trauma. Feeling anxious, jumpy, and experiencing panic attacks are common symptoms.

Burth, for instance, would become agitated at the smell of hay because he’d been in gunbattles in fields and orchards.

“For many, the easiest and safest thing to do is stay home with the door locked, sleeping on the floor by the closet,” Schafer said. “The challenge with avoidance is that it works.”

Approved treatments of PTSD include reintroducing patients to the people, places, and things they might find distressing. To work through the trauma, they attend therapy sessions for 10 to 15 weeks as they try to understand their reactions to events. Medications may also be prescribed to help take the edge off, Schafer said.

Burth had gone through months of therapy, including a month-long stint in a Texas rehabilitative treatment center, but his PTSD symptoms always returned, he said.

“It was helpful,” he said, “but after you get back home and get back into the same old routine, things pop up again, and you try to remember how to work through it on your own.”

Follow the West Point Class of 1966 to Vietnam in ‘The Long Gray Line’

 

Burth learned of stellate ganglion block through his mother-in-law, who volunteers with the Global Post Traumatic Stress Injury Foundation, which pays for veterans to receive the $1,600 treatment because it isn’t recognized or covered by the VA. The foundation is having a fundraiser at the Granite Bay Golf Club on Sept. 11.

Chris Miller, a local developer and philanthropist, was moved by the testimonials he heard at a foundation event in Washington, DC, last year, where soldiers and veterans spoke of their symptom relief after receiving the anesthetic treatment. Because there is a large military population in the Sacramento area, he decided to host his own fundraiser for the foundation, he said.

In March, helped by the foundation, Burth went to Lipov’s clinic near Chicago. After the first injection, he said he didn’t feel much different.

If patients don’t feel relief after the first injection, Lipov said, he’ll give them another injection higher in the neck. The second injection has a 90 percent success rate, he said.

After the second injection, “I didn’t feel different physically, but I felt different mentally,” Burth said. “Things slowed down. I didn’t have a million thoughts. I didn’t have that anxious and paranoid feeling, always looking over my shoulder. All of that kind of dissipated.”

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Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a consequence of a traumatic experience. It consists of normal responses and reactions to a life-threatening event that persisted beyond what is deemed the normal period of recovery from the event. USAF photo by Tech. Sgt. Nadine Barclay

Lipov said he’s performed stellate ganglion block procedures on 500 veterans with a 70 to 75 percent success rate.

So far, the anecdotal evidence about the procedure is mainly positive, but the scientific data is inconclusive as to whether stellate ganglion block is widely effective at treating PTSD, said Dr. Michael Alkire, an anesthesiologist at the VA Long Beach Healthcare System, who is studying the treatment with Dr. Christopher Reist, a psychiatrist.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has launched studies into the procedure because the long-term side effects remain unknown. One study is being conducted at the VA Long Beach Healthcare System.

In February, the VA Portland Health Care System found there was insufficient evidence to say stellate ganglion block was an effective treatment for PTSD. In trials, at least 75 percent of the subjects reported improvement. But when the treatment was tested against a placebo, a shot of the local anesthetic fared no better than a saline injection.

“The pattern suggests that, while it is possible that some patients benefit, the response rates seen in case series will not hold up in actual practice,” the researchers said. “Substantial uncertainty remains about the potential harms of (stellate ganglion block) as well.”

At VA Long Beach, Reist and Alkire have been performing stellate ganglion blocks to collect better data and understand when it can be effective. Their research has included 17 patients who are selected according to whether they’ve tried medication or psychotherapy without improvement. Of the 17 subjects, 13 reported immediate or gradual relief from their symptoms, the doctors said.

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Anti-anxiety medications, like Prozac, are sometimes used to treat the symptoms of PTSD. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

While the sample size is small, Reist and Alkire have found the blocks are most successful for patients who have symptoms of hyperarousal, which is like being in a constant state of fight or flight. The stellate ganglion block eases the patients’ tension and anxiety so they can engage in traditional therapies for PTSD, Reist said.

Alkire said it’s important to note that the treatment doesn’t work for everyone. He recalled the case of one patient who wanted it to work so badly that, when it didn’t, he spiraled into a deeper depression.

No treatment erases the memory of trauma, Schafer said. “Part of trauma-focused work is walking through the trauma and putting it in context, expanding people’s understanding of what happened.”

Burth agreed. “This is not a be-all, cure-all,” he said. “This is something that calms your mind and allows you to deal with the memories that are always there.”

“Since the injection, I can look at things in a different light and deal with it. I had someone ask me if this is a miracle, and I said, I don’t know if it’s a miracle, but it’s working for me.”

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