This is the French aircraft carrier headed to Syria for payback - We Are The Mighty
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This is the French aircraft carrier headed to Syria for payback

As French citizens deal with the emotions that surround the Paris attacks that killed 129 people and left many more wounded, the French military has come out swinging against ISIS. Land-based aircraft already deployed on anti-ISIS missions struck targets Sunday night across Raqqa, ISIS’s de facto capital. Ten jets dropped 20 bombs, striking a command center, a recruitment center, a munitions depot, and a training camp, according to the BBC.


This is the French aircraft carrier headed to Syria for payback
The Charles de Gaulle sails beside the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Mediterranean Sea in 2012. Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Julia A. Casper

But France’s 10 planes in the region can only do so much. Resultantly, France was already sending an aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, to the region. It can host 40 aircraft and is expected to have 20 strike aircraft onboard when it arrives in the Gulf.

During a Feb. to Apr. 2015 deployment against ISIS in Iraq, the de Gaulle launched 10-15 combat sorties per day for months.

This is the French aircraft carrier headed to Syria for payback
A French Dassault Rafale performs a touch-and-go landing. Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Denny Cantrell

The carrier’s most advanced aircraft are its Dassault Rafales, multirole fighter aircraft that can fire a variety of precision bombs and rocket-boosted munitions at targets. They also carry 30mm cannons with 2,500 rounds for gun runs against enemy personnel and light vehicles.

This is the French aircraft carrier headed to Syria for payback
A French Super Etendard launches from the USS John C. Stennis during joint naval training. Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Denny Cantrell

In addition to its Rafales, the de Gaulle is bringing Super Etendard strike fighters. The Super Etendard brings two 30mm cannons, more GPS guided bombs, and laser-guided missiles to the fight.

Charles de Gaulle also carries a number of support planes to enable the strike aircraft.

The carrier is capable of launching a plane every thirty seconds. Since the carrier has strong catapults to assist the launch, the planes can take off with full fuel and weapons loads so they can strike plenty of targets.

U.S. and French intelligence sharing and military cooperation will be important as France steps up its campaign in Syria. The U.S. provided some of the intelligence that enabled Sunday’s strikes in Raqqa, and that partnership will surely lead to more French strike missions in the coming months. Luckily, the Charles de Gaulle already knows how to work with the U.S.

The French Navy in general and the Charles de Gaulle in particular have experience working with the U.S. The Charles de Gaulle supported America’s invasion of Afghanistan, was a hub for the strikes in Libya that ousted Muammer Qaddafi, and previously struck ISIS targets in Iraq.

Vive la France, et salute!

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This is who will likely build America’s new nuclear missiles

The Air Force has awarded two contracts for its Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program to replace its Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile system.


Northrop Grumman Corp. and Boeing Co. have received the ICBM replacement contracts for technology maturation and risk reduction, the service said in an announcement on August 21.

The two contracts are not to exceed $359 million each, the service said, though Boeing was awarded a $349 million agreement and Northrop received a $328 million deal.

Lockheed Martin Corp., the world’s largest defense contractor, was also in the running for the competition announced last year. The Air Force opted to down-select from three companies to two for the next phase of the program.

This is the French aircraft carrier headed to Syria for payback
An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. DoD photo by Senior Airman Ian Dudley.

After the 36-month risk reduction phase, a single company will be chosen for the engineering and manufacturing development in 2020.

“We are moving forward with modernization of the ground-based leg of the nuclear triad,” said Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said. “Our missiles were built in the 1970s. Things just wear out, and it becomes more expensive to maintain them than to replace them. We need to cost-effectively modernize,” she said in the release.

“As others have stated, the only thing more expensive than deterrence is fighting a war. The Minuteman III is 45 years old. It is time to upgrade,” added Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein.

The Air Force is responsible for two out of the three legs of the nuclear triad. It expects to deploy GBSD in the late 2020s.

This is the French aircraft carrier headed to Syria for payback
A static display of ICBMs. From left are the Peacekeeper, the Minuteman III, and the Minuteman I. USAF photo by R.J. Oriez.

Northrop and Boeing were selected because the defense companies are determined “to provide the best overall value to the warfighter and taxpayers based on the source selection’s evaluation factors,” which are their technical approach, technical risk, and cost/price, Air Force officials said.

Boeing will perform majority of the TMRR’s program work in its Huntsville, Alabama facility, while Northrop will use Redondo Beach, California, as its facility.

For the GBSD acquisition program, the service’s Nuclear Weapons Center will also be “focused on developing and delivering an integrated GBSD weapon system, including launch and command-and-control segments,” the announcement said.

Officials have noted that GBSD is meant to be more modular and technically advanced, and more readily adaptable to challenges posed by hostile adversaries.

This is the French aircraft carrier headed to Syria for payback
A B-52 Stratofortress assigned to the 419th Flight Test Squadron. USAF photo by Christopher Okula.

The first contract awards come at a time when the Defense Department is conducting the Nuclear Posture Review, designed to determine what role nuclear weapons should play in US security strategy — and how many should be in the arsenal.

Additionally, the GBSD news precedes the Air Force’s anticipated announcement for the Long Range Standoff Weapon, or LRSO — a nuclear-capable cruise missile to be launched from aircraft such as the B-52 Stratofortress.

The LRSO program would replace the AGM-86B Air Launched Cruise Missile, and a contract is expected to be announced this year.

MIGHTY TRENDING

North Korea threatens to pull out of the US peace summit

North Korea appeared to turn the tables on the US on May 15, 2018, by threatening to pull out of a summit scheduled for next June 2018.

The threat is an apparent broadside against the Trump administration and looks like a power move that could make Washington consider concessions to Pyongyang.


North Korea released statements on May 15, 2018, bashing officials in the administration, canceling talks with South Korea, and threatening to withdraw from the planned summit with the US.

In doing so, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has turned the tables on President Donald Trump, who has built enormous expectations for the meeting.

One statement from North Korea’s state-run media likened ongoing military exercises involving US and South Korean forces to a rehearsal for an invasion, returning to a talking point from 2017, when Trump and Kim were trading nuclear threats.

In a later statement, a North Korean official expressed “violent anger” at the US’s behavior and said Pyongyang would have to “reconsider” the meeting with Trump.

The official offered Trump an ultimatum: Cede to North Korea’s demands, or lose the summit.

How the tables have turned

This is the French aircraft carrier headed to Syria for payback

When Trump accepted Kim’s offer to meet for a historic summit — which would be the first time a sitting US president meets with a sitting North Korean leader — experts and analysts were more or less united in viewing it as a legitimizing win for Kim.

Kim bought his way to the table with Trump with a single, virtually meaningless word: denuclearization.

The US has long maintained that it will not talk to North Korea unless the prospect of disarmament is on the table.

When Kim started discussing the prospect in early 2018, Trump and his top officials cheered the move as proof that its unique approach to North Korea had worked.

But in statements on May 15, 2018, North Korea said Trump had employed the same tired ideas that had failed in the past, asserting that its “treasured” nuclear program had brought it international power.

Now, after Trump has repeatedly hyped his progress with Pyongyang, it is Kim, the leader of a rogue state, dangling the prospect of a summit to gain concessions from the US.

What North Korea demands and how Trump might cave to it

This is the French aircraft carrier headed to Syria for payback
Kim and North Korean officials at a nuclear facility in September.
(KCNA photo)

North Korea’s recent statements push back on longstanding US-South Korea military exercises and call for Trump to back off of his demand for “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization.”

Already, it looks as if the US may cave to save the summit. South Korea’s Yonhap News reports that the B-52, a US nuclear bomber, could be pulled from air combat drills in a nod to North Korea’s new demands.

But before that, Trump’s top officials had minced words about the aim of talks with North Korea and the possible definitions of “denuclearization.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has been to North Korea twice in the past month or so, has in a series of recent interviews described slightly different aims of the talks.

While Pompeo often speaks in absolute terms, saying total denuclearization and removal of nuclear facilities must come before Washington eases off Pyongyang, he told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on May 13, 2018, that talks with North Korea would seek to ensure that “America is no longer held at risk by your nuclear weapons arsenal” and ending Kim’s chemical and biological weapons program and missiles “that threaten the world.”

Adam Mount, the director of the Defense Posture Project at the Federation of American Scientists, tweeted that, in other words, Pompeo said the US would accept “a standard that could permit retention of nuclear warheads, facilities, material, and possibly short range missiles.”

Kim’s master bluff

This is the French aircraft carrier headed to Syria for payback
Kim leading South Korean President Moon Jae-in across the demarcation line into North Korea.

Jeffrey Lewis, a North Korea expert, said of the country’s recent statements, “I can’t imagine Kim gives up his summit.”

Lewis added: “I think Kim wants that photo with the President of the United States, paying tribute to him, for the front page of the Rodong Sinmun,” North Korea’s state newspaper.

Similarly, the historic diplomatic meeting may play well for Trump, motivating him to meet Kim’s conditions for talks.

North Korea’s recent hardline statements contradict what a South Korean official told reporters in March 2018 — that Kim had said he “understands the South’s stance” on the military exercises, which were happening at the time.

Basically, Kim seemed fine with the exercises when he was trying to get meetings with the US and South Korea, but now that he’s secured those talks, he has started to object.

“North Korea is back to its old game of trying to raise the stakes prior to a meeting,” said Bruce Klingner, the former chief of the CIA’s Korea division. “But Kim risks undermining the good will he had built up through his diplomatic outreach since January 2018.”

Now the question for the Trump administration is whether to call Kim’s apparent bluff or quietly meet his demands.

But by backing off from complete denuclearization, Trump could end up with a bad deal — and if he calls Kim’s bluff, the two leaders could land right back on the nuclear brink.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why Russia could invade this region of neighboring Moldova

Moldova has expressed concern over what it says were unauthorized movements by Russian military forces in the breakaway Transdniester region.

The Reintegration Policy Bureau, a government department that handles the Transdniester issue and is led by one of Moldova’s two deputy prime ministers, said on June 15, 2018, that the Moldovan government had notified the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) about what it called the unauthorized deployment of military trucks and equipment in the region controlled by separatists.


A day earlier, Moldovan authorities filmed some 40 trucks and other military vehicles with Russian symbols and license plates moving along a main road linking the northern and southern parts of Transdniester, a sliver of land along the Ukrainian border in eastern Moldova, the statement said.

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9 Must-Watch Post-9/11 Documentaries

DoD’s embed program and other mechanisms have given journalists and filmmakers substantial access to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so it’s no surprise that those conflicts have been some of the best documented in history. Here is WATM’s list of 11 post 9-11 documentaries that did the best at capturing what really happened:


The Hornet’s Nest

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qBt-GTfgLh4

A father-son journalism team embedded on what was supposed to be a three-day raid but ended up being nine days of intense fighting by the 101st Airborne.

Restrepo

A group of paratroopers is deployed to the Korengal Valley, one of the most dangerous spots in Afghanistan, for 15 months. During that time, they fight smugglers and insurgents, attempt to win over the locals, and try to save themselves. A camera crew followa them for much of the deployment, documenting their interactions with Afghans and the deep love the men have for each other.

Armadillo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ta5tT0d86A8

A group of Danish cavalry soldiers deploy on a six-month tour of Helmand and a Danish filmmaker goes with them. The film includes a lot of the tedium of a soldier’s life as well as a raid where the soldiers find themselves within a few meters of a Taliban machine gun team.

Hell and Back Again

Nominated for a Best Documentary Feature Academy Award, this film tells the story of a Marine injured in Afghanistan who, after returning to the states, struggles with his post traumatic stress disorder and a badly broken leg. “Hell and Back Again” gives a visceral look at how hard it can be for wounded troops to return to civilian life.

Drone

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i43vSC-dTC0

This is a very critical look at the American drone program. Drone explains the factors that make drones so popular with troops while also looking at the moral burdens on drone operators and emotional pain of those who’ve lost family members to drone strikes.

The War Tapes

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32L-yuqpEqEw=560h=315

Directed by Deborah Scranton and shot by National Guard soldiers over the course of their training and deployment to Iraq, the documentary focuses on three men with very different views on the war and their commander in chief. This film is arguably the best in terms of capturing the burdens on the modern-day citizen soldier.

Taxi to the Dark Side

An in-depth look at torture during the opening years of the War on Terror, including the decisions made by the Bush administration. It covers Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and the leadership (or absence of it) that governed actions in two prisons. Made by the son of a former Navy interrogator, the film went on to win an Academy Award.

No End In Sight

Although “No End In Sight” was released in 2007, the film concentrates on Iraq in the first year after the invasion. It features interviews with White House and State Department officials who were frustrated with missteps that fueled the growing insurgency and caused extra misery for both Iraqi citizens and the U.S. troops assigned to police them.

The Ground Truth

“The Ground Truth” follows a group of Marines and soldiers from the point they’re recruited and then on to their experiences in war. Troops tell their stories in their own words from their initial training through deployments and struggles once they get home.

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Former US Navy vessel attacked by Yemeni rebels in Indian Ocean

This is the French aircraft carrier headed to Syria for payback


HSV-2 Swift came under attack off the coast of Yemen this past weekend and suffered serious damage from what appears to be multiple hits from RPG rockets. Photos released by Emirates News Agency show at least two hits from rockets that penetrated HSV-2 Swift’s bow, in addition to substantial fire damage.

According to media reports, HSV-2 Swift is being assisted by the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers USS Mason (DDG 87) and USS Nitze (DDG 94) as well as USS Ponce (AFSB(I)-15). The vessel is currently being towed away from Yemen.

This is the French aircraft carrier headed to Syria for payback

HSV-2 Swift was acquired by the Navy from Incat, a shipbuilder in Tasmania, in 2003, where it served for a number of years in Pacific Command, European Command, and Southern Command until 2013, when the first Joint High-Speed Vessel, USS Spearhead (JSHV 1) replaced it. During its deployments, HSV-2 Swift primarily carried out humanitarian missions, including for relief efforts in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the 2006 Israel-Lebanon War. The vessel also took part in a number of deployments, like Southern Partnership Station while in U.S. service.

This is the French aircraft carrier headed to Syria for payback
HSV-2 Swift in happier times. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

In 2013, the vessel was returned to Incom, where it was refitted and then acquired by the National Marine Dredging Company in the United Arab Emirates, where the ship was used to deliver humanitarian aid. HSV-2 Swift was on such a mission to not only deliver medical supplies but to extract wounded civilians when it was attacked this past weekend. Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, claimed to have sunk the vessel.

HSV-2 Swift displaces 955 tons of water, has a top speed of 45 knots, and has a crew of 35. The vessel can carry over 600 tons of cargo on  nearly 29,000 square foot deck.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Navy is still fully invested in its railgun tech

Following a flurry of reports in December 2017 predicting the Navy’s $500 million electromagnetic railgun experiment was dead on arrival, the chief of Naval Operations told lawmakers in March 2018 that the death of the program was greatly exaggerated.


“[We are] fully invested in railgun; we continue to test it,” Adm. John Richardson told the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense during a hearing on Navy and Marine Corps budget issues. “We’ve demonstrated it at lower firing rates and … shorter ranges. Now we have to do the engineering to, sort of, crank it up and get it at the designated firing rates, at the 80- to 100-mile range.”

Also read: The Navy’s deck guns are getting a hypervelocity upgrade

Richardson was responding to a question from Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, who expressed concern about the proven capability of the Navy’s railgun weapon, which has yet to leave its test site at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division, Virginia.

“My understanding is these weapons can fire projectiles at extremely high speeds with a range exceeding a hundred miles once fully operational,” Ryan said. “I know China has demonstrated a capability for shipboard railguns, and I’m just concerned, again, that maybe we’re falling short here.”

This is the French aircraft carrier headed to Syria for payback
Particle debris ignites as a test slug exits the Office of Naval Research 32 MJ Electromagnetic Railgun laboratory launcher located at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division. (Photo by US Navy)

Photos showing what appears to be a railgun mounted on the Chinese landing ship tank Haiyang Shan emerged in February 2018. The evidence of what appears to be deployable Chinese railgun technology came to light following a handful of reports indicating the Navy’s own gun development program was losing steam.

Related: Why your next battle buddy might be a robot armed with a railgun

Business Insider reported in December 2017 that the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities office was shifting research efforts from the railgun, which uses electromagnetic energy to shoot large projectiles at speeds of up to 4,500 miles per hour, to broader high-velocity projectile study.

The Navy has never acknowledged a loss of interest in railgun technology, however. July 2017, officials with the Office of Naval Research told reporters that the power behind the gun would be increased to 32 megajoules over the summer, giving the weapon a range of 110 miles.

In testimony released March 7, 2018, Richardson indicated the weapon had yet to reach that range in spite of predictions.

This is the French aircraft carrier headed to Syria for payback
An electromagnetic railgun prototype on display aboard the joint high-speed vessel USS Millinocket. (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kristopher Kirsop)

“That involves a number of technologies,” he said. “The barrel itself is probably the limiting case, the engineering on that, the materials required to sustain that power pulse, and the heat and pressure that’s involved in launching those projectiles. And we’re doubling down on that.”

Engineers have found the gun’s barrel wears out rapidly when metal projectiles are fired at the blistering rates the railgun’s technology delivers. Another unresolved issue is the power source for the gun; currently, only the new three-ship Zumwalt class of class of mega-destroyers is reportedly capable of supplying the electromagnetic charge needed to operate the gun. The Navy wants to deploy a version of the railgun aboard smaller-sized destroyers.

More: This stunning video shows how fast a railgun can shoot

While Richardson acknowledged the challenges and said Navy brass were “very conscious” of reported Chinese achievements in railgun technology, he maintained the service was still invested in the program.

“As a benefit, too, of the program — the railgun program, we have developed a projectile — high-velocity projectile, which is actually usable across the fleet in a number of different applications, not only in the railgun,” Richardson said. “And so, it’s a very fruitful program that we continue to invest in.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia threatens US with nuclear doomsday device

Russia’s military and state-sponsored media have reacted with a fire and fury of their own to the news that the US will exit the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty), one of the last barriers preventing a full-on Cold War-like arms race in Europe — and there’s already talk of a nuclear doomsday device visiting the US.

The INF Treaty banned land-based nuclear-capable missiles with a range between 300 and 3,200 miles in 1987 when Russia and the US had populated much of Europe with intermediate-range nuclear missiles. The ban eliminated this entire class of missiles and went down as one of the most successful acts of arms control ever.


The US and NATO concluded recently that Russia had spent years developing a banned nuclear-capable weapon, thereby making the treaty meaningless. The US responded by saying it would withdraw and design its own treaty-busting missiles. Russia said it would do the same, though many suspect they have already built the missiles.

This is the French aircraft carrier headed to Syria for payback

United States President Donald Trump.

(Photo by Gage Skidmore)

But Russia’s response to the US didn’t stop there.

A BBC review of Russian newspapers, some state-owned and all adhering to state narratives or censored by the Kremlin, revealed some truly apocalyptic ideas.

“If the Americans deploy their new missiles near Russia’s borders, and in response we deploy ours, then of course, the risk of [nuclear] conflict rises sharply,” an arms-control expert told one paper.

“If US missiles are deployed in Poland or the Baltic states, they’ll be able to reach Russia in minutes. In such an event, the way Russia currently conceives using nuclear weapons, as a retaliatory strike, becomes impossible, since there won’t be time to work out which missiles have been launched against Russia, what their trajectory and their targets are,” he continued. “This is why there is now a temptation for both us and for them to adopt the doctrine of a preemptive strike.”

The expert said the INF Treaty’s demise means both the US and Russia now have to consider nuking the other at the first sign of conflict because missile attacks won’t be as predictable as longer-range salvos from the continental US and Russia’s mainland.

But the expert neglects to mention that US and Russian nuclear submarines can already fire from almost anywhere at sea, already confusing targets and trajectories and taking minutes to reach Russian forces.

Finally, Russian media turned to what’s quickly becoming a propaganda crutch in communicating Moscow’s might: the doomsday device.

Океанская многоцелевая система «Посейдон»

www.youtube.com

Russia recently said it built one of the most devastating nuclear weapons of all time in the form of an undersea torpedo with a 100-megaton nuclear warhead that’s designed to be unstoppable against all missile defenses and create tsunami-size waves, and a radioactive hellstorm that stomps out life on earth for thousands of square miles for decades.

Since they announced the weapon, they’ve already used it to threaten Europe. But now with the INF Treaty in tatters, a military expert told a Russian paper that the doomsday device could see use.

“It cannot be excluded that one of the Poseidon with a 100 megaton nuclear warhead will lay low off the US coast, becoming ‘the doomsday weapon.’ Thus an attack on Russia, will become a suicidal misadventure,” the paper said.

The paper also declined to mention that the US and Russia’s nuclear posture already guarantees any mutual nuclear exchanges would lead to the total destruction of both countries.

Russia’s Poseidon doomsday device doesn’t change the mutually assured destruction dynamic between Washington and Moscow. It provides only a way to destroy more natural life in the process.

Russia’s media may swerve into bombast, but Russia’s actual military has already announced plans to build more weapons and extend the range of weapons to counter the US in what experts peg as the next great nuclear standoff.

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

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Adaptive sports camp helps wounded warriors reach new heights

One by one, the veterans made their inaugural trip up the steep mountainside armed with harnesses and ropes.  For most of them, rock climbing was a brand new experience, yet they were scrambling up and repelling down the cliff face at Hartman Rocks in Gunnison, Colorado, with barely a semblance of a beginner’s nerves. Amid shouts of encouragement and good-humored banter, the Airmen were bonding. While they’d been strangers just the day before, they’d already become a team.


Traveling from different areas of the U.S., the eight Air Force wounded warriors, sponsored by Team Racing for Veterans’ (R4V), arrived at an adaptive sports camp in Crested Butte, Colorado, to participate in three unfamiliar sports: rock climbing, fly fishing and mountain biking. The biannual camps give wounded veterans a chance to prove to themselves they can adapt to and overcome any current limitations, from amputations to post-traumatic stress.

This is the French aircraft carrier headed to Syria for payback
Military veterans ascend a 50-foot-tall mountainside during an adaptive sports camp in Crested Butte, Colo. The full day of rock climbing at the Hartman Rocks encouraged team building and camaraderie among the group of wounded warriors. While there, the veterans received lessons on safety, etiquette, knots, belaying, rappelling and climbing technique. | Photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.

For those attending the camp, it was a chance to network with other wounded warriors who wanted to get out of their comfort zones, take on new challenges, and pursue a sense of normalcy.

In addition to sharing their common goals and adaptive sports experiences at the camp, the wounded warriors had a chance to get to know each other in a relaxed setting during their down time. Instead of staying in a hotel where they would be scattered throughout the building, the Airmen stayed in a large ranch-style home that was donated for the camp’s use. During some of their meals and at the close of each day, the wounded warriors could gather in a common area and talk.

This is the French aircraft carrier headed to Syria for payback
Military veterans share their individual stories during dinner at an adaptive sports camp in Crested Butte, Colo. Each night of the camp ended with reflection and therapeutic conversations. | Photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.

While engaging in one such casual conversation in the living room with four other veterans, Staff Sgt. Gideon Connelly, a 175th Wing chaplain assistant with the Maryland National Guard, found himself smiling and feeling at ease. The openness he displayed was something new, because Connelly had grown up building walls around himself that no one could get through.

As a child, his experiences in the foster care system left him unwilling to depend on others. Though he was eventually taken in by his aunt and uncle, Connelly still found himself disappointed after witnessing his relatives getting robbed by other children they had adopted.

“Watching those kids grow up, how cruel and jagged they could be, it just pushed my trust in people away a lot more,” Connelly said.

“Before these guys,” he indicated the other wounded warriors, “you had no shot for me to trust you.”

Unexpectedly, the injuries that brought Connelly into the wounded warrior family were causing him to change for the better, he said.

On July 5, 2011, Staff Sgt. Gideon Connelly’s life took an abrupt turn after a motorcycle accident on the streets of Baltimore. As a result of the crash, Connelly lost his left leg below the knee, his right knee required a partial replacement, and his right arm had to be artificially restructured.

This is the French aircraft carrier headed to Syria for payback
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Richard W. Rose Jr. (Ret.) and Staff Sgt. Gideon Connelly celebrate after climbing a 50-foot mountain. | Photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.

“The first couple years were hard,” he said. “It was like gut-wrenching pain in my arm when I was lifting weights, curling, or anything like that, just because there wasn’t much muscle around the metal.”

Eventually he was able to build his strength back up, but by the time the doctors could take out the hardware in his arm, bone had grown over it and become fused to the metal. Because of this, Connelly opted not to have it removed.

“I’ve adapted to it,” he said. “I’ve adapted with my leg, my knee, and the arm was another thing. I just had to get over it.  Cold affects it, but you move your wrist around a little bit and keep going. I’m all about adapting and overcoming everything. I’m not going to let anything stop me from doing what I want to do.”

Three years after his injury, Connelly became involved in the world of adaptive sports and attended an AFW2 camp. Striving for more, he was also selected to represent the Air Force during the 2014 Warrior Games in shot put, discus, and the 100- and 200-meter sprints. It was at this competition that he met a group of wounded warriors and began to finally let down his guard.

Two years later, his wounded warrior family remains important to him – it is a group of people he keeps in touch with nearly every single day.

Although Connelly is busy training in pursuit of his dream of running track at the Paralympic Games, he leapt at the opportunity to try new sports at a Team R4V mountain adventure.

This is the French aircraft carrier headed to Syria for payback
Retired Tech. Sgt. Jessica Moore rides her bicycle down a mountain trail during an adaptive sports camp in Crested Butte, Colo. The camp participants spent two full days completing bicycle trails and endurance activities. | Photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.

“Mountain biking: that was the sport that brought everybody together today,” Connelly said. He found it inspiring to watch the guys zooming down the mountain tracks on hand cycles.

“The trails are probably 20 inches wide – the same as their wheel base – and they are just flying,” he added. “Watching them struggle, but still make it up and down the hills, it was awesome!  It was definitely team building and it brought us that much closer together.”

Ricky Rose Jr. knew that the sports therapy aspect of Team R4V’s camps would help him physically, but he hesitated to participate.

After being medically discharged from the Air Force as a staff sergeant, Rose thought about attending a wounded warrior camp. It was an idea that had run though his mind many times before but what always stopped him were questions: Did he deserve to go? Would he even fit into the group?

When Team R4V invited him to their fall camp, Rose decided to set those doubts aside and give it a go.

At first he was nervous, but after realizing many people in the house shared the same medical conditions he did, Rose began to feel more comfortable. He found there was relief in being surrounded by people who’d gone through tough situations — from battling cancer to being shot in Afghanistan – because they could all relate to one another.

“While each individual’s circumstances are different in the grand scheme, we’re all fighting the same demons,” Rose said. “That’s been the most beneficial part of this camp; you feel comfortable talking to somebody that you know has been there and done that.”

At the camp, much of the conversation and bonding begins over food.

This is the French aircraft carrier headed to Syria for payback
Retired Staff Sgts. Richard W. Rose Jr. and Nicholas Dadgostar joke during an adaptive sports camp in Crested Butte, Colo. | Photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.

With a focus on overall wellness, Team R4V cooks healthy meals for the wounded warriors each day, and encourages them to eat breakfast and dinner together. At the kitchen table, sharing a meal and talking about the day’s events, the Airmen got to know each other better. As they talked, Rose felt a sense of camaraderie return, one that he’d missed since the last day he’d hung up his Air Force uniform.

“I wasn’t expecting us to come together as a family as quickly as we did,” he said. “We all realized pretty quickly that we’re all Airmen and we’re all in this together.”

Surrounded by people who could empathize with his journey, Rose spoke about his experiences in the Air Force and the daily challenges he continues to face as a wounded warrior.

During his time in service, Rose deployed three times, once to Kuwait and twice to Iraq.  Employed as a combat photographer, his objective was to document the war through the experiences of the troops with whom he was embedded – the good times, the bad times, and everything in between.

“They didn’t send us on missions where we would just sit on base all day,” he said. “They’d send us on missions where crap was going to hit the fan, or there was a really good chance of it.  More times than not, we were attacked … we got blown up what seemed like almost every mission.  It felt like almost every day could have been the day you died because we lost a lot of people too. War is just nasty, and I got to help show that as honestly as I could to people.”

While deployed, Rose captured thousands of images, braving firefights and mortar attacks to accomplish his job. In 2007, Rose was named one of the Air Force’s 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year, in part for his dedication in the combat zone – a place seared into his memory by the very tool he used to perform his mission.

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Retired Staff Sgt. Richard W. Rose Jr. holds a portion of his daily dose of medication, which he takes to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder. | Photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.

“The hardest thing, and I didn’t know this until after a lot of therapy and a lot of different doctors, but I didn’t realize, as a photographer, how many of those images I took were just going to stay in my brain,” Rose said. “I just kind of thought I’d take a picture and then they’d go away, but they don’t.”

Even at home, he was unable to turn his mind away from the combat zone. Feeling unstable, Rose asked for help. He went to see a doctor and was ultimately diagnosed with a TBI and PTSD.

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that presents a variety of negative effects, such as flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts and memories. Military members with PTSD can become hyper-vigilant, angry and depressed. Sights and sounds, such as large crowds, random crazy noises, and sudden flashes of light – can mentally bring them back to the combat zone and trigger an unconscious response.

“PTSD is horrible,” Rose said. “Imagine never being able to feel comfortable or like everything is alright. Every day is a challenge because I don’t know how my body and mind will react to whatever happens that day. Will I see, touch, or smell something that will give me an instant flashback and turn me into a different person? Will my conversations lead to nightmares? Do I feel like killing myself today? That’s what it’s like.”

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Staff Sgt. Gideon Connelly, a 175th Wing chaplain assistant with the Maryland Air National Guard, leaps over a mountainside area during an adaptive sports camp in Crested Butte, Colo. Connelly lost his left leg after a motorcycle accident a few years ago, but he didn’t let it stop him from competing in sports. | Photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.

The temporary home in Colorado is quiet and isolated from outside stimuli. The intensity and focus needed to learn new sports is designed to wear the Airmen out and give them the ability to be calm.

“I haven’t really had a bad thought since I’ve been here, other than being exhausted and tired (from the day’s activity),” he laughed, adding, “I haven’t really had a trigger or nightmare or anything since I’ve been here. It’s been peaceful, very peaceful.”

The physical, mental and emotional benefits of regular exercise have been proven time and time again, which is why Team R4V staff said they provide support to veterans through a wide variety of physical activities. Rehabilitation though adaptive sports has been an idea at the forefront of the organization since its conception.

Inspired by a friend who coached the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program’s team for the Warrior Games, a Defense Department competitive adaptive sports event for injured, ill and wounded service members, Bethany Pribila, Team R4V’s founder and CEO, decided to start a non-profit organization that would enable veterans from every branch of the military to benefit through participation in sports.

This is the French aircraft carrier headed to Syria for payback
Military veterans leave the Hartman Rocks during an adaptive sports camp in Crested Butte, Colo. The full day of rock climbing at the Hartman Rocks encouraged team building and camaraderie among wounded warriors who’d experienced post-traumatic stress disorder, amputations and other injuries. | Photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.

Team R4V provides wounded warrior athletes with funding for races and events, but it is their own sports camps, which they host in partnership with the Crested Butte Adaptive Sports Center, that holds a special place in the heart of the organization.

At the camp’s end, Pribila reflected that everything had gone as envisioned.  She had witnessed the wounded warriors supporting one another, cheering each other on, and forming lasting bonds. Though the Airmen had arrived as strangers, when they left, it was as friends and as family.

Articles

4 Badass Conscientious Objectors

The controversy surrounding Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl continues to mount as rumors of a possible desertion charge against him spread — rumors as cloudy as the stories that surround his 2009 disappearance and capture.


Despite the fact that the Pentagon concluded in a 2010 investigation that he had simply walked away from his unit while serving at Combat Outpost Mest-Lalak in Paktika Province, Afghanistan, the truth behind the circumstances of his capture remains murky.

Some of his fellow soldiers call him a deserter, saying he planned to walk away the whole time.  They also blame him for the deaths of soldiers killed while looking for him in the days following his disappearance.

Bergdahl was freed by the Taliban in May 2014 in exchange for five Guantanamo Bay detainees, a swap that only added to the controversy in that the Obama administration seemed to be negotiating with terrorists and also seemed to be attempting to make a feel-good story out of something that had dubious elements.

A smattering of detail emerged – some of it courtesy of his parents who ended their silence at a high-profile Rose Garden ceremony heralding his release – including a notion that as Bowe Bergdahl’s enlistment went along, he increasingly viewed himself as a conscientious objector.

But there’s a big difference between a conscientious objector and a deserter.  In fact, military history shows that true conscientious observers would never desert.

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Desmond Doss receives the Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman. (Photo: U.S. Army)

Earning valid conscientious objector status in the U.S. military has always been a tough thing to accomplish. During the Civil War, the first American war to introduce forced conscription, objectors, like anyone else, could pay a $300 fine to hire a substitute.

During World War One, objectors were able to serve in noncombat roles. Those who refused were imprisoned in military facilities. The World War Two-era United States military was slightly more accommodating, allowing conscientious objectors to serve in the numerous, various New Deal work programs that were still necessary to the war effort.

Most of these programs were gone by the time of the Vietnam War, but COs could still find other ways to serve without violating their religious or social beliefs.

And some have demonstrated that being a conscientious objector doesn’t make you a slacker or a coward. In their stories one can see that true followers of their consciences would never use CO status as an excuse to shirk their duties.

Here are four examples of conscientious objectors who made their way to the front and served with valor:

1. Sergeant Alvin York

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Alvin C. York (aka “Sergeant York”) had to fight to get conscientious objector status. His subsequent acceptance of the Army’s decision is an integral part of the mythos of the man.

After a life of drinking and fighting, a religious experience led York to renounce his lifestyle and turn to fundamentalist Christianity. The doctrine of his newfound faith included a rejection of secular politics and a devout pacifism. He even began to lead the prayers of his local church.

Three years later, the United States would enter World War One and Alvin York would register for the draft, as any dutiful American did. He applied for conscientious objector status, even appealing after his first request was denied.

By the time he arrived in France, York had come to believe God meant for him to fight and to win and that God would protect him as long as was necessary. One night, he and three other NCOs led thirteen privates to infiltrate the German lines and take out the machine guns. Somewhere along the way, one machine gun opened up on York and his compatriots, killing or wounding nine of the sixteen men. York didn’t even have time to take cover. He stood his ground and picked off the whole crew.

While he was taking out the German gun, another six Germans went over the top of their trench and charged at the lone American with fixed bayonets. York, having exhausted his rifle’s ammunition, pulled his sidearm and dropped all six before they could reach him. The German commander surrendered his entire unit to York. 132 men in total were led back to the American lines by York and his six surviving privates. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for this action.

York became one of the most decorated doughboys of the Great War and returned home a hero. A movie was made about his exploits, for which Gary Cooper would win an Oscar for the title role of “Sergeant York.”

York attempted to re-enlist in World War Two, but was too old for combat duty, instead becoming a Major in the Army Signal Corps.

2. Desmond Doss

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If ever there was an example more different from Sergeant York’s, it’s the story of Desmond Doss.  Drafted as a medic during World War II, Doss was a devout Seventh Day Adventist.

In today’s military, he might not ever have made it past basic training. He refused to train or work on Saturdays.  He wouldn’t eat meat. He wouldn’t carry a weapon. Even in the face of taunts and threats from other members of his unit, he stood fast to his beliefs.  His commanding officer tried to get him a section eight discharge, meaning he was unsuitable for military service, but Doss refused to accept this discharge because it amounted to being called “crazy” due to his beliefs.

But Doss wasn’t useless. He wanted to serve; he just wasn’t willing to kill to do it. He even worked overtime hours to make up for his Saturday Sabbath. Still, his fellow soldiers threatened to kill him as soon as they got into action.  It was Doss’ dedication to saving lives that would earn him the love and respect of his unit.  Doss would do anything to save his men, from going into the open field, braving snipers, or dodging machine gun fire. From Guam to Leyte to Okinawa, Doss repeatedly braved anything the Japanese could muster to pull the injured to the rear.

It was at Okinawa where Doss entered Army history. As his unit climbed a vertical cliffside the Japanese opened up with artillery, mortars, and machine guns, turning his unit back and killing or wounding 75 men. Doss retrieved them one by one, loading them onto a litter and down the cliff.

A few days later, in the mouth of a cave, he braved a shower of grenades thrown from eight yards away, dressing wounds, and making four trips to pull his soldiers out. The last time, a grenade critically injured him. He treated his own wounds and waited five hours for a litter to carry him off.

On the way back, the three men had to take cover from a tank attack. While waiting, Doss crawled off his litter, treated a more injured man, and told the litter bearers to take the other man. While waiting for them to come back, he was hit in the arm by a sniper and crawled 300 yards to an aid station. He was the first true conscientious objector to earn the Medal of Honor.

3. Thomas Bennett
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Bennett was a student at West Virginia University in the Fall of 1967 as the war in Vietnam was heating up. He was committed to his country but was also deeply religious. His Southern Baptist beliefs kept him from killing even in the name of patriotism. Still, Bennett enlisted as a combat medic in 1968 to save the lives of his countrymen who would fight as he couldn’t.

He arrived in South Vietnam in 1969. A month later, Bennett’s bravery earned him a recommendation for a Silver Star. Two days after that, his platoon was dispatched to assist an ambushed patrol. They immediately came under fire from an entrenched enemy column with automatic weapons, mortars, and rockets.

As the point men fell wounded, he ran toward them and tended their wounds as he pulled each of them to relative safety. For the rest of the night and into the following day, he ran from position to position, aiding the wounded and pulling them back to safety. He ran just a bit too far trying to get to a man wounded ahead of the unit and was killed by an enemy sniper.

He received the Medal of Honor, the second conscientious objector to receive the U.S. military’s highest level of recognition.

4. Joseph LaPointe, Jr.

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Joseph LaPointe, Jr. was an average guy from Ohio, a mailman who got married at twenty years old. He was also a devout Baptist. Drafted in 1968, he declared himself a conscientious objector, but still opted to serve in the Army, taking the role of field medic with the 101st Airborne.

He arrived in Vietnam in June of 1968. By the next year, he was in the area of Quang Tin, having earned a Bronze Star and a Silver Star. On June 2, he landed on a cavalry patrol as they came under heavy fire from a nearby bunker. Two men in the lead were wounded immediately.

As the patrol took cover, LaPointe ran forward to help. He shielded the men with his body as he performed first aid. He was injured twice before dragging the men to cover. He continued to protect the two men with his own body until a grenade killed all three.

He also received the Medal of Honor.

MIGHTY TRENDING

With ISIS on the run, Iraqi guns turn toward each other

Nothing united Iraq’s Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds like the mortal threat posed by the Islamic State. But with the terrorist group now in full retreat on the battlefield, it didn’t take long for Iraq’s old sectarian animosities to resurface — presenting a major new headache for the Pentagon and the Trump administration.


With Islamic State now driven out of its major bastions in Iraq and Syria and on the verge of being wiped out as a military force in the Middle East, those deep-seated cleavages within the region are re-emerging in fresh rounds of political and sectarian infighting.

Washington’s remarkable feat of uniting lifelong enemies in the region into a military coalition formidable enough to defeat Islamic State in Iraq and Syria appears to be coming apart at the seams. Since September’s referendum by Iraqi Kurds — a vote aimed at charting a path toward an independent Kurdish state — US-backed forces in the fight against Islamic State have quickly turned their guns on one another.

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A Kurdish peshmerga soldier takes the lead during urban combat maneuvering training held near Irbil, Iraq, Oct. 29, 2015. Army photo by Spc. Tristan Bolden.

Iraqi government forces, backed by Shiite militias trained and equipped by elite troops from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, rapidly and violently recaptured critical territories in northern Iraq’s Kirkuk and Sinjar governorates this month.

Kurdish peshmerga, who claimed the contested territories after driving out Islamic State fighters in 2014, were quickly outgunned by Baghdad’s troops and the Iranian militias known as Popular Mobilization Units — which only months before had fought alongside the peshmerga in the battle for Islamic State’s Iraqi stronghold of Mosul.

Meanwhile, defense officials in the White House and the Pentagon continue to tout the cohesiveness of the anti-Islamic State coalition, brushing off concerns that the politically, ethnically, and religiously diverse factions will undermine efforts to build a united Iraq.

That rosy assessment, said one former US ambassador to the region, puts the coalition’s entire victory at risk.

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US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson participates in the Saudi Arabia-Iraq Coordination Committee Meeting, along with Saudi King Salman and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on October 22, 2017. Photo from US State Department.

“The ISIS fight is over, and the new fight for the region is unwinding now,” former US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey said. With the fall of Mosul in July and the collapse of Islamic State’s self-styled capital of Raqqa this month in Syria, regional players are reverting to their sectarian loyalties in an attempt to secure their holds on power, he said.

“Nobody in Irbil is thinking of the ISIS threat [anymore]. No one in Baghdad is thinking about it,” said Mr. Jeffrey, now a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “The US government has not gotten its head around that yet.”

Related: This is SecState’s plan to welcome Taliban into Afghan government

But remarks by Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson seem to indicate that mentality is shifting, at least among the US diplomatic corps. In his harshest rebuke yet of Iranian military influence in the coalition, Mr. Tillerson demanded that Tehran pull back its paramilitary forces from Iraq. “Certainly, Iranian militias that are in Iraq, now that the fight against Daesh and ISIS is coming to a close, those militias need to go home,” he said alongside Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir during a joint press conference in Doha.

“Any foreign fighters in Iraq need to go home and allow the Iraqi people to rebuild their lives with the help of their neighbors,” the top US diplomat said. Pentagon officials reiterated their faith in all members of the coalition days earlier, telling reporters that the US-led coalition remains as robust as it was since the early days of the war.

“The coalition is very strong. And again … I think the relationship is very strong,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White told reporters at the Defense Department on Oct. 20.

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US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (left) and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Photo from US State Department.

Referendum fallout

While underlying ethnic and sectarian tensions were a constant threat to unravel the US-backed coalition, Irbil’s decision to press ahead with its independence referendum vote was the trigger that brought tensions to the fore, Mr. Jeffrey said.

“I do not know what they were doing, but they missed this one,” he said regarding Irbil’s inability or unwillingness to anticipate the regional fallout from the referendum vote, which Iraq, Iran, Turkey and the United States all opposed.

The decision unleashed a new round of violence in northern Iraq over the past several weeks. The result was the Kurdistan Regional Government’s secession of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and handing over Sinjar to the Iranian-backed militias federalized by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi during the height of the war against Islamic State.

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Kurdish pershmerga soldiers securing an oil field in Kirkuk, Iraq. Photo from Voice Of America.

The referendum vote stirred decades-old conflicts suppressed during the Islamic State fight, a former top Iraqi diplomat said. The referendum vote in Iraqi Kurdistan and ensuing aftermath “is a clear example where the political leadership have not been able to resolve some of the core challenges they have been facing since 2003,” former Iraqi Ambassador to the US Lukman Faily said Oct. 23.

“Even if the government can find some solutions to these new crises, the underlying challenges in relation to political and social harmony requires much more soul searching by all stakeholders who instigated a needless referendum in which [Iraq] will feel its consequences for some time to come,” he said in a statement.

Outside players

Besides fueling internal strife, the referendum created openings for world powers aside from the US to expand their influence in the country. Baghdad’s reliance on the Shiite militias armed by the IRGC, which the Trump administration placed on the official list of recognized terrorist groups this month, has further cemented Tehran’s sphere of influence in the country.

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Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Photo from CounterExtremism.com

“The US has been sidelined in this crisis, [and] that is a dangerous precedent,” Jennifer Cafarella, the senior intelligence planner at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, told The Washington Times shortly after the recapture of Kirkuk by Iraqi forces.

“Mr. al-Abadi does get to claim this as a win,” Ms. Cafarella said, but she noted the armed support from Iran undermines the legitimacy of that victory in Kirkuk. “This was not a unilateral operation by Iran” in Kirkuk, but the thinly veiled presence of military advisers from Iran only shows Tehran’s reach into Iraq, she added at the time.

Tehran is not the only US adversary wading into the growing problem of Iraqi Kurdistan. On Oct. 23, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow would maintain economic and diplomatic ties with the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, but urged Irbil to continue dialogue with Baghdad.

Also Read: Iran commands a secret 25,000-man ‘foreign legion’ in Syria

“We understand the hopes of the Kurdish people as it concerns their striving to strengthen their identity, their self-awareness,” Mr. Lavrov told reporters during a joint briefing with Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari.

“However, we believe it is correct to realize those desires, those hopes exclusively via the Iraqi government and taking fully into account the significance the Kurdish question has on a regional scale, and taking into account the need to avoid additional sources of instability in the region,” he added, according to Reuters.

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo from Moscow Kremlin.

However, analysts say Russia’s overtures and seeming support for Kurdistan’s referendum effort is Moscow’s attempt to fill the vacuum of support left behind by Washington. Moscow is reportedly attempting a similar effort to persuade US-backed forces in Syria to abandon their American patrons and side with Russia.

Turning support of American proxy fighters in Syria to Russia has always been part of Moscow’s regional strategy for the country, said Christopher Kozak, a research analyst specializing in Syria at the Institute for the Study of War.

“Russia’s role is to co-opt our US-[backed] forces on the ground” once Islamic State is defeated in Syria, Mr. Kozak said in a September interview. “They see the best option is to have some kind of regime rapprochement [with the SDF] and remove the US. That would be the best position from the Russian perspective.”

While it remains unclear what Moscow’s strategy for Iraqi Kurdistan may be, a robust Russian presence in northern Iraq coupled with its already formidable military presence in Syria, would give Moscow the opportunity to press its interests deeper into the Middle East as the US military posture in post-Islamic State Iraq begins to wane.

Articles

‘107 feet of fire-breathing titanium’: A US Air Force major describes flying the fastest plane in history

In the 1960s, when a single military incident had the potential to spark a nuclear war, the US government needed a surveillance plane that absolutely could not be detected, intercepted, or shot down.


The answer was the SR-71.

The Lockheed Martin SR-71, or the “Blackbird” as it is commonly known, flew at the upper 1% of earth’s atmosphere at altitudes of 80,000 feet and speeds of over 2,000 mph — much faster and higher than any plane before it.

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Photo: YouTube screengrab

And every inch of the aircraft was meticulously designed to baffle radar detection.

The SR-71 was a marvel of engineering that flew in the US Air Force for more than 30 years. The plane holds records for speed and distance that stand to this day. It was so fast that the plane’s common protocol for avoiding missiles was to simply outrun them.

Former US Air Force Major Brian Shul describes his career as a pilot of iconic Blackbird in his book “Sled Driver.” He describes one incident in particular that he would never forget — something that reveals just how intense and difficult piloting the SR-71 could be.

As a Blackbird pilot, Shul is often asked about the plane’s top speed.

“Each SR-71 pilot had his own individual ‘high’ speed that he saw at some point on some mission,” Shul explains in the book.

Because the planes are so precisely engineered, and so costly, no pilot ever wanted to push the Blackbird to its absolute operating limits of temperature and speed. But you could fall short of those limits and still be going astonishingly fast: “It was common to see 35 miles a minute,” says Shul.

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As far as his personal high speed goes, Shul says, “I saw mine over Libya when Ghaddafi fired two missiles my way, and max power was in order. Let’s just say that the plane truly loved speed and effortlessly took us to Mach numbers we hadn’t previously seen.”

Tales of the Blackbird’s speed and achievements in espionage are unsurpassed, but Shul’s most amazing anecdote in “Sled Driver” is the story of his slowest-ever run, which started off as a simple flyby to show off for friendly troops. It ended up the stuff of military legend.

While returning from a mission over Europe, Shul received a call from his home base in Mildenhall, England, requesting that he do a flyby of a small RAF base. An air cadet commander in that base was himself a former Blackbird pilot. Knowing what a spectacular sight the plane could be, he thought that a low-altitude flyby might give his troops a morale boost.

The Blackbird made its way to the RAF base, ripping through the skies over Denmark in just three minutes, and slowing down only to refuel midair.

Using the sophisticated navigation equipment aboard the Blackbird, Shul’s navigator, Walter, led him toward the airfield. He slowed the lightning-fast ship to sub sonic speeds and began to search for the airfield, which like many World War II-era British airbases had only one tower and very little identifiable infrastructure around it.

This is the French aircraft carrier headed to Syria for payback

As the two got close, they were having trouble finding the small airfield. Shul describes the moments leading up to the flyby: “We got a little lower, and I pulled the throttles back from 325 knots we were at. With the gear up, anything under 275 was just uncomfortable. Walt (the navigator) said we were practically over the field — yet there was nothing in my windscreen.”

As the airfield cadets assembled outside in anticipation of catching a glimpse of the Blackbird, Shul and his navigator eased off the accelerator and began circling the forest looking for any sign of the base.

During the search, the Blackbird’s speed had fallen well below advisable or even safe levels.

“At this point we weren’t really flying, but were falling in a slight bank,” recalls Shul.

With the engines silent on the low-flying Blackbird, the cadets on the ground couldn’t see or hear anything. There was simply no way they could have expected what would happen next: “As I noticed the airspeed indicator slide below 160 knots, my heart stopped and my adrenalin-filled left hand pushed two throttles full forward.”

Shul describes what happened next as a “thunderous roar of flame … a joyous feeling.”

This is the French aircraft carrier headed to Syria for payback

The cadets must have seen “107 feet of fire-breathing titanium in their face as the plane leveled and accelerated, in full burner, on the tower side of the infield, closer than expected, maintaining what could only be described as some sort of ultimate knife-edge pass.”

Shul and his navigator returned to base in silence. They were both shocked by the momentary lapse in speed that nearly saw their Blackbird plummeting towards the hard ground. They had come close to a full-on catastrophe — much too close for comfort.

The pair felt sure that their commander would have had a panic attack, and would be furiously waiting at base to ream the pilots and take their wings.

Instead, they were greeted by a smiling commander who told them that the RAF had reported “the greatest SR-71 fly-past he had ever seen.”

The spectators had taken their near-fatal mistake as an especially brave and well-executed stunt carried out by erudite professionals. The commander heard about the “breathtaking” flyby, and heartily shook both Shul and Walter’s hands.

Apparently, some of the cadets watching had their hats blown off from the extremely close passage of the Blackbird in full thrust. The cadets were shocked, but only the two pilots knew just how close a call the flyby had been.

As the pilots retired to the equipment room, they still looked at each other in a dazed silence. Finally, they broached the subject of the perilously low speeds.

This is the French aircraft carrier headed to Syria for payback

“One hundred fifty-six knots (180 mph). What did you see?” The co-pilot Walter asked Shul, “One hundred fifty-two (175 mph),” he responded. These speeds are fast for a car, but in an aircraft designed to travel in excess of 2,000 mph, they are disturbingly slow and unsafe.

A year later, as Shul and Walter ate in a mess hall, he overheard some officers talking about the incident, which by then had become exaggerated to the point where cadets were being knocked over and having their eyebrows singed from the Blackbird’s raging thrusters.

When the younger officers noticed the patches on Shul’s uniform, indicating that he flew the SR-71, they asked him to verify that the flyby had occurred. Shul replied, “It was probably just a routine low approach; they’re pretty impressive in that plane.”

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This article originally appeared at Business Insider Defense. Copyright 2015. Follow BI Defense on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Mother of All Bombs awaits an encore in Afghanistan

The U.S. military is still holding the Mother of All Bombs over the Taliban’s heads like 21,600-pound GPS-guided sword of Damocles.


In April 2017, a U.S. aircraft dropped a GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb on a cave complex being used by the Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan, marking the first time the weapon had been used in combat.

Although U.S. forces in Afghanistan have not used the MOAB again since then, “It’s there if we need it,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. James Hecker, commander of coalition air forces in Afghanistan.

“We never take anything off the table,” Hecker told reporters at the Pentagon. “Right now, we don’t have a use for it, but if we do, it’s there for us.”

The bomb was rapidly designed and built between November 2002 and March 2003, ahead of the initial invasion of Iraq. It was designed to be a replacement for the massive BLU-82 “Daisy Cutter,” according to the Air Force. When it was first tested on March 11, 2003, the explosion created a mushroom cloud that could be seen from 20 miles away.

Also read: Mattis does not intend to discuss MOAB damage estimates

By the time the MOAB arrived in theater, coalition forces were close to Baghdad. It would be 14 years before the weapon would make its debut when it was dropped in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province following the death of a Special Forces soldier fighting ISIS-Khorasan.

News that the bomb had finally been used created a media sensation that made Hecker’s mother concerned about him.

“Quite honestly, after only being here a week and my mom heard that a MOAB was dropped, she immediately sent me a note and asked if I was OK,” Hecker said. “I let her know that we won’t drop on ourselves. This is meant for the enemy.”

With ISIS fighters going underground in Iraq and Syria, U.S. Central Command has made Afghanistan the priority for air operations.

Related: This bomb is heavier than the MOAB

U.S. forces in Afghanistan now have 50 percent more MQ-9 Reaper drones to find targets, as well as an A-10 squadron to provide close air support, Hecker said. A combat search and rescue squadron is also being deployed to the country.

On Feb. 4, a B-52 dropped a total of 24 precision-guided bombs — a new record — during three airstrikes against Taliban and East Turkestan Islamic Movement training camps in northeast Afghanistan, Hecker said. Previously, B-52s only had room for 16 precision-guided bombs, but in late November, the bomber was modified for an increased payload at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.

Meanwhile, the Afghan air force is dropping or launching weapons at the enemy at nearly double the rate of U.S. aircraft, Hecker said. However, he clarified, most of those strikes come from the Afghan fleet of 25 MD-530 helicopters, which are equipped with laser-guided rockets and machine guns.

Hecker conceded that strikes from a light attack helicopter and a B-52 don’t exactly make for an apples-to-apples comparison. “But I wouldn’t say it’s apples to oranges either,” he said.

More: That time the US and Iran teamed up to fight the Taliban

“If you’re on the other side of that rocket and you’re a Taliban, you probably don’t care if it’s a rocket or if it’s a [precision-guided munition] that’s hitting you in the forehead,” Hecker said.