Here's how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs - We Are The Mighty
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Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs

Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs
Ammunition rigged for an IED discovered by Iraqi police in Baghdad in November 2005. | Wikipedia


ISIS has taken the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to a nearly industrial level as the terror group continues to hold onto territory in Iraq and Syria, Foreign Affairs reports.

The terror group, which holds large swathes of territory in both Iraq and Syria despite being pressured from nearly all sides, has turned to the use of IEDs as a major force multiplier.

An investigator for Conflict Armament Research (CAR) told Foreign Affairs that ISIS’s use of IEDs has reached a “quasi-industrial scale.”

“It’s unprecedented. We have never seen this before—it’s in the thousands and thousands. It’s not just a few roadside bombs. There are literally fields of them,” the CAR researcher told Foreign Affairs.

CAR’s analysis has been confirmed by the US Department of Defense’s Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Agency (JIDA). A spokesman from that organization told Foreign Affairs that ISIS has totally changed the nature of the threat from IEDs in Iraq.

“Previously in Iraq, we would go after the lone bomb-maker using captured biometrics off an IED and try to link events together from that,” the JIDA spokesman told Foreign Affairs.  “But now, we face IED factories on an industrial scale, with significant supply chains and funding lines.”

Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs
Screen grab of a US-led coalition airstrike in Syria. | CJTF Operation Inherent Resolve | YouTube

JIDA notes that this huge ramping up of the construction of IEDs has caused Iraq to become the single most affected country by IED attacks in the world. According to the organization, 11,500 IED explosions caused upwards of 35,000 casualties in 2015 alone.

And this upsurge in IED-related casualties linked to ISIS comes even as the US-led anti-ISIS coalition continues to hammer away at the group with airstrikes. Coalition airstrikes in the past have targeted multiple ISIS car bomb and IED factories.

However, due to the large amount of territory and civilian areas that ISIS holds, the group is still managing to find hidden locations to continue constructing its most devastating weapon.

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This retired general thinks all young Americans should serve for a year

It’s a question that has lasted as long as the Selective Service debate: Should every American serve for a year or two before entering the work force or pursuing higher education?


Arguments have been made for both sides of the case since the last draft in 1973, though the pro-service cause may have just found their strongest and most vocal ally yet — former Joint Special Operations Command chief Stanley McChrystal. Though McChrystal has largely stayed out of the spotlight since his retirement in 2010, he has still been very vocal about this concept, recently penning an op-ed for Time Magazine on the value of national service.

In his article, McChrystal says that the time is ripe for the country to come together to institute a mandatory year of paid national service for young Americans aged 18-28 years. A yearlong commitment would not only instill the values of accountability and responsibility towards citizenship, but will also develop character and leadership traits, he argues.

Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs

The retired general does stress, however, that national service should not be directed entirely towards the military. He feels that an open choice between different service organizations needs to exist, allowing for hundreds of thousands of young Americans to have a positive impact beginning in their communities, and resulting in progress on a national level.

This is a view seemingly very common among military veterans, a number of whom have gone on record to discuss the merits of a year of service. It also isn’t the first time McChyrstal has promoted a year of compulsory national service. In 2016, he urged candidates participating in the 2016 presidential race to consider making this idea a reality, and in 2012, the former special operations chief gave a speech to Harvard University on the same topic.

Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs
AmeriCorps volunteers working in Mississippi, circa 2006.

McChyrstal himself is no stranger to service, having joined the Army in 1976 after graduating from West Point. Born into a military family, he rose through the ranks, serving with regular infantry units, on a Special Forces “A-Team”, and eventually the 75th Ranger Regiment, prior to taking command of JSOC in 2003.

Described by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as “perhaps the finest warrior and leader of men in combat [he] had ever met,” McChrystal is easily a soldier’s soldier, known for his willingness to be on the frontlines instead of an air conditioned office stateside. His career in the Army ended in 2010 with a truncated stint as the command of US and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

A national service commitment isn’t exactly anything new, especially with many European and Asian nations. Israel and Switzerland are two of the most notable examples, with both countries mandating by law that youth of a certain age are required to register with the military or with a civil service body for a predetermined term. In both countries, the commitment ranges from a year to two years, though some decide to stay around and build a career out of their service terms.

Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs
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Switzerland, in particular, has utilized conscription to staff its military for decades by having conscripts report for a 260-day service period upon reaching the age of majority. Recruits can choose to serve their entire commitment in 300 continuous days, or train in periods throughout the year, somewhat similar to the National Guard and various branch reserves in the United Sates.

However, should a recruit decide that military service isn’t for them, they can elect to join the country’s civil service as a paid employee for a 390-day period.

Currently, the national year of service topic has yet to be brought up by the White House or Congress, though it still remains a talking point for many, including McChrystal and Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, a retired Navy attack pilot.

Until meaningful discourse on the subject arises, the retired general and the sitting Senator have worked together to sponsor efforts to afford military veterans and civilian volunteers more opportunities to voluntarily serve their countries in various civil organizations.

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This is the legend of the Knights of the Round Table

According to medieval legend, King Arthur lived in the late 5th and early 6th centuries where he fought off the Anglo-Saxons with his legendary sword, Excalibur. He lived in Camelot, and his life long mission became the quest for the Holy Grail.


While Arthur would attend festivals, his noble knights often got into violent brawls over who should be sitting at the head of the table — granting them power over those in attendance. The other war-hardened Knights just couldn’t figure out a resolution to the issue.

Therefore, King Arthur used his wisdom had a round table constructed, making all his men feel equal. It was a good leadership move and created what we all know today as the “Knights of the Round Table.”

Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs
The Knights of the Round Table (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

The Knights embodied a unique code of chivalry like righteousness, honor, and gallantry towards women — but one of them was bound to carry it too far.

Sir Lancelot was King Arthur’s closest friend, the best swordsman and knight in all the land. He was also known for sleeping with a lot of women. He even started a romantic affair with Arthur’s wife, Queen Guinevere. This action sparked a civil war, which led to the death of King Arthur and the dissolution of his knights.

But the legacy of the Knights of the Round Table lives on forever. Learn more in the video above.

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It’s time for the F-35 to start blowing up old F-16s

Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs
The first QF-16 target aircraft seen at Tyndall Air Force Base in 2012. | US Air Force photo by Chris Cokeing


Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle of the US Air Force recently declared a squadron of 15 unmanned F-16s operationally capable, IHS Jane’s reports.

These drone versions of the F-16, called QF-16s, will provide targets for the Air Force as it tests out new weapons capabilities of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

“The QF-16 Full Scale Aerial Target will provide the next generation of combat training and testing for US warfighters,” a Boeing statement on the drones said.

While the old F-16s may seem like costly targets, the Air Force is touting them as a more realistic opponent than what was previously available, and they are economical to some extent because they’re made from older, retired F-16 airframes.

“The QF-16 will replace the existing QF-4 fleet and provide a higher-capability, fourth-generation aerial target that is more representative of today’s targets and threats,” the Boeing statement continued.

Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs
Having realistic targets to train against will help the F-35 pilots. F-35 Joint Program Office

“This leap forward in airframe capabilities, combined with advanced electronic pods, will allow us to properly test and evaluate our 5th generation aircraft and weapons,” Lt. Col. Matthew Garrison, the commander of the 82nd Aerial Target Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, told C4ISRNET in an email.

In fact, an F-35 already participated in a test in which a QF-16 drone was shot down, though it did so with an SM-6 missile fired from a land-based silo.

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8 photos that show why the Coast Guard is America’s icebreaker

In addition to myriad other “brown water” missions the U.S. Coast Guard is responsible for all icebreaking operations done by the U.S. government. Coast Guard assets include two arctic icebreakers, a Great Lakes-based icebreaker, and a fleet of smaller cutters to clear bays, rivers, and other waterways.


Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs
USRC Bear and SS Corwin; Roadstead, Nome, Alaska.

The first icebreaker in the Coast Guard was not a true icebreaker, but the Revenue Cutter Bear, which featured a reinforced hull and spent its career with the Coast Guard’s predecessor, the Revenue Cutter Service, serving from Seattle to present day Dutch Harbor.

Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs
UCCG Staten Island (WAGB-278) ex-Northwind; ex-Admiral Makarov; ex-Severni Veter; ex-Northwind

The Great Lakes and areas like the Hudson Bay are also serviced by 140-foot icebreaking tugs, such as the Biscayne Bay and Sturgeon Bay. In addition to icebreaking, these cutters also conduct search and rescue, law enforcement, and aids-to-navigation.

Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs
U.S. Coast Guard ice breaker ‘Biscayne Bay’. Used in GLERL CoastWatch ice research. 1997. (NOAA Photo)

Today, ocean-going icebreakers serve several purposes. In addition to opening up shipping channels, they conduct scientific experiments, escort ships, conduct law enforcement and search and rescue, as well as enforce treaties and environmental protections. The Healy also boasts more than 4,000 square feet of laboratory space for civilian, military, and NOAA scientists to collect data and conduct experiments while the cutter is underway. The crews help facilitate environmental protections, such as cleaning up oil spills or other issues, as well as rescue operations and law enforcement as needed.

Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs
Ice liberty group photo, PUMA/RDC personnel and the Coast Guard Cutter Healy crew on the ice. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Shannon Riley)

Life on an icebreaker is hardly easy. The crew may be out of home port for more than eight months a year. Every person aboard must be accounted for twice a day. The job is hazardous, with deaths of crew members being documented due to accidents on both ocean-going icebreakers. Temperatures in the Arctic Circle can get lower than 35 to 50 degrees below zero.

Backing Ramming from Ben Harden on Vimeo.

A variety of cutters were used for icebreaking in the north Pacific, but the first true icebreaker was built for the Coast Guard in 1942. The Staten Island was the first of seven Wind-Class cutters built for the Coast Guard. At 269 feet in length, the cutters had the ability to list, or tilt, side to side to break free from ice.

Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs
Current Cutter Mackinaw showing off the ability to list side to side. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

The two iterations of the Mackinaw were both created to serve upon the five great lakes. The main reason for the icebreaking mission on the Great Lakes is to keep commercial vessels moving throughout the winter. The first cutter was built in 1944 and served for 62 years before being decommissioned and turned into a floating museum.

Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs
A U.S. Coast Guard HH-52A Seaguard helicopter landing on the icebreaker USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10) (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Today, the Polar Star and the Healy make icebreaking voyages. The Healy and Polar Star have participated in voyages to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, to help resupply the missions there. In 2015, the Healy became the first U.S. surface vessel to reach the North Pole unaccompanied. While the Healy has made voyages south, she generally is the Arctic icebreaker due to her lighter weight. The heavier Polar Star is an Antarctic icebreaker.

Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs
The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star enters an ice field near the Balleny Islands Jan. 5, 2015, while en route to Antarctica in support of the U.S. Antarctic Program, which is managed by the National Science Foundation. Military support to the USAP, dubbed Operation Deep Freeze 2015, is a multi-agency mission to support civilian scientific research in Antarctica. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class George Degener)

While it may seem that two icebreakers is enough for America’s needs, it hardly compares to other Arctic nations. Russia boasts twenty-seven nuclear powered icebreakers, and even Sweden has a fleet of five. There is little room for failure in missions to the Arctic and Antarctic, as there is only one cutter to service each area and there are no other backups. The Coast Guard has requested new icebreakers from Congress, but they have not been authorized due to the $1 billion price tag that comes with each new icebreaker.

Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs
The icebreaker USCGC Glacier is shown approaching McMurdo Station, Antarctica. A cargo vessel is seen in the left foreground docked at a floating ice pier. The U.S. Navy commissioned the Glacier in August 1955, after which she participated in the first Operation Deep Freeze, which included the construction of McMurdo. The Navy transferred the Glacier to the U.S. Coast Guard in 1966.

A lack of funding for the Coast Guard has long been one of the service’s biggest issues, and with an aging fleet of cutters and aircraft, the small allowance the USCG gets yearly to replace assets is spent elsewhere first. As the ice melts in the Arctic, traffic and commerce will continue to increase, and other Arctic nations are beginning to create a larger foothold in the area. Both Russia and Finland have contracts for even more icebreakers, leaving the U.S. stranded in the ice if the government cannot compete.

Editor’s note: A special thanks to Ensign Sam Krakower, USCG for his expertise in Coast Guard Arctic Policy.

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Team Rubicon is on the ground in Nepal

Team Rubicon, a non-government organization made up of military veterans and first responders, rapidly deploys skilled personnel to emergency areas after disasters. After the earthquake in Nepal, Team Rubicon sent folks who have made a difference on the ground executing what they’ve called Operation Tenzing Nepal.


Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs
Photo: Team Rubicon

The team members have deployed to very remote areas, so knowing what to put in the pack-up is crucial.

Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs
Photo: Team Rubicon

Veterans with the appropriate skills set up medical aid stations to help those affected by the quake. After major disasters, the spread of disease can be accelerated due to contaminated water and a loss of basic services.

Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs
Photo: Team Rubicon

Keeping track of care can be a challenge in the chaotic, high patient volume environment that follows a disaster.

Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs
Photo: Team Rubicon

Many patients have multiple injuries, each of which requires treatment and follow-up. Teams stationed in a village do their best to make sure injuries don’t become worse.

Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs
Photo: Team Rubicon

Team Rubicon works with local and foreign governments while conducting their operations. And since many members are veterans, they are able to interact with militaries more easily than some NGOs.

Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs
Photo: Team Rubicon

Reconnaissance in remote areas can be challenging, especially after existing infrastructure is damaged by an earthquake. Drones allow foreign responders like Team Rubicon, as well as local forces, to respond more efficiently.

Team Rubicon is collecting donations to support of Operation Tenzing Nepal on their website. Also, military veterans or civilians with skills as first responders can volunteer with Team Rubicon for future operations. Teams serve one of 10 regional areas in the United States or deploy internationally.

MORE: This Green Beret’s heroism was so incredible that Ronald Reagan said it was hard to believe

AND: New report shows vets more civic-minded than non-vets

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These Coast Guard special operators fight terrorists and secure American ports

The elite U.S. Coast Guardsmen of the specialized forces deploy around the globe to fight terrorism and prevent attacks.


Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs
Photo: US Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Melissa E. McKenzie

The Coast Guard anti-terrorism mission is most perfectly exemplified by two groups: the Maritime Safety and Security Teams and the Maritime Security Response Team. The MSRT and the MSSTs were part of the Coast Guard Deployable Operations Groups before the DOG was dissolved in 2013.

Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs
Photo: US Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Ross Ruddell

The Maritime Security Response Team is the group that answers the 911 call and rapidly deploys when an impending terrorist attack is suspected or underway at an American port or waterway. They’re also charged with conducting higher risk law enforcement missions.

During training exercises in 2014 and 2015, the MSRT was tasked with securing a moving ferry with 5,000 passengers, eliminating hostage takers onboard, and disabling a radiological device before it could be detonated. The MSRT has also been called on to provide an evacuation capability for the President of the United States and other dignitaries at the U.N. General Assembly.

Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs
Photo: US Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Adam Eggers

Like the MSRT, the Maritime Safety and Security Teams can rapidly deploy when necessary — they secured sensitive areas in Boston within hours of the Boston Marathon bombings — but they focus on longer missions, deploying to American and friendly ports that are at increased risk of attack and establishing a semi-permanent presence.

Twelve MSSTs provide security at ports from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to New York Harbor, from San Diego to Anchorage, Alaska and Honolulu.

“Special operations” technically covers only Department of Defense assets. The Coast Guard, operating under the Department of Homeland Security, classifies its elite operators as Deployable Specialized Forces.

See more photos of them below:

A Maritime Security Response Team member pulls security during a ferry boarding in an exercise Oct. 22, 2015.

Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs
Photo: US Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Ross Ruddell

The MSRT members quickly gained control of the ferry and searched it for radiological threats.

Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs
Photo: US Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Ross Ruddell

A military working dog with the MSRT was brought in to search the vessel while his human counterparts controlled it.

Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs
Photo: US Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Ross Ruddell

A member of a Maritime Safety and Security team patrols New York waterways in Nov. 2003.

Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs
Photo: US Coast Guard Petty Officer Milke Lutz

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Navy SEAL: Here’s how to stay fit when you have no time to workout

In the mid-90’s, Randy Hetrick was a Navy SEAL deployed on a counter-piracy mission in southeast Asia, holed up in a warehouse, trying to figure out how to stay in the kind of shape necessary to quickly scale the side of a freighter while wearing 75 pounds of gear. He had accidentally deployed with his jujitsu belt, which he combined with some spare webbing from parachute harnesses to DIY a “Cro-Magnon” version of what became the TRX suspension training system. Today, it’s a wildly popular piece of exercise equipment based on the principles of bodyweight resistance.


That’s a great invention story; it’s also directly applicable to a new dad, which Hetrick has been, twice. New dads have to figure out how to maintain some semblance of physical fitness despite a life of chaos. We asked Hetrick how to use what he’s learned when the “warehouse” is your house and the blood thirsty pirate is your sleep-hating little kid.

Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs

The Schedule

Thirty-to-45 minutes spread out over the course of a day is more than enough time to kick your own ass. Hetrick suggests carving out 3 10-to-15 minute blocks a day. “There are seasons in life,” he says. “Be ok saying, ‘I don’t have time for an hour workout, so I’ll just do 10 or 20 minutes.”

Workouts 1 & 3: Perform these at home and focus on the upper body, lower body and core. That’s easy to do, since Hetrick only recommends bodyweight exercises (as opposed to weights), which naturally overlap multiple muscles and joints into single exercises. He also recommends time-based, as opposed to rep-based, sets: one minute of work with 30 seconds of recovery. Since you’re already too tired to do the math: that’s about 6 exercise for a 10-minute workout and 10 for a 15-minute one.

Workout 2: You can do this one at work and it doesn’t require sweating profusely and then going about your day like some gross re-enactment of 4th Grade gym class. Just spend these 10-15 minutes doing “mobility movements” (that’s “stretching” to you) and none of your co-workers will know you’re halfway through a Navy SEAL’s daily workout.

The Exercises

“It’s what you do in life,” says Hetrick of bodyweight exercising. “You’re lunging, you’re squatting, you’re bending, reaching and twisting.” It’s also highly efficient, since it requires more oxygen, pumps more blood and burns more calories than single muscle weight work outs. It turns out, you (particularly you with some very portable TRX straps) are your own best piece of gym equipment.

Exercises Without TRX

Exercises With TRX

With a suspension training system like TRX, it’s easier to go from movement to movement and execute actions that integrate multiple joints and muscles at once. When you buy the system, you get access to various workout tools, but here are a few of Hetrick’s favorites:

  • Squat rows integrate more muscles into the repetition.
  • Atomic pushup work arms and back while burning the crap out of your core.
  • Pledge curls, which use both arms simultaneously across the body — one to the opposite shoulder and the other to the opposite armpit, switching on each rep.

Whether your use TRX or not, the important thing to remember is that keeping your jiggly bundle of joy from turning you into a sad tub of goo doesn’t require a lot of stuff.

Mobility Movements

Most men — and particularly new fathers — need help opening the hips and back. Men’s hips are naturally tight (since they don’t push little people through them), and most fathers’ backs are a wreck due to the aforementioned jiggly bundle of joy being unable to pick itself up off the ground. With these stretches, move into tension for 30 seconds, then ease off for 10 seconds and give each movement around 2 minutes.

  • Hip hinge: Spread your feet, bend at the waist, and let gravity stretch your hamstrings and decompress your spine.
  • Seated hamstring: Legs apart, lean forward.
  • Figure four stretch: Try this one laying down and then try it standing.
  • Cobra pose: The basic building block of hot yoga mom workouts is great for opening shoulders and abs.

The Running Alternative

As a SEAL, Hetrick used to run for miles with a 75-pound backpack. So, lugging a kid in a baby carrier gives him happy little flashbacks. “The kid instantly falls asleep, you’ve got a load hanging off you, and can go off for as brisk a walk as you want. Anyone who tries power walking with a [kid] quickly discovers it’s just as taxing as jogging with no load.”

And even though Hetrick can’t guarantee your kid will actually fall asleep in the carrier (as opposed to, say, screaming hysterically from the moment you put them in one), his main point is that exercising — even with new kids — is within your grasp. “It can be an opportunity to re-prioritize and create a new routine. Replace the 30 minutes of happy hour time with 10 minutes of suspension training or other exercise, and you’ll be better for it,” he says.

After all, “You can’t do happy hour anymore, anyway.”

More from Fatherly:

This article originally appeared at Fatherly. Copyright 2015. Like Fatherly on Facebook.

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This is what happens when an Army Ranger goes through Navy SEAL training

When Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was released in March of 2016, the thought of two colossal superheroes clashing on the big screen brought out huge box office numbers for its opening weekend. But despite the initial hype, the pedestrian offering saw a huge drop-off in enthusiasm the following week, as poor word-of-mouth reviews plagued it: the final product, as usual, not living up to expectations


Batman versus Superman, on its face, seems such an intriguing construct though. We are unabashedly drawn to comparisons like Willie v The Mick, the US Government v John Gotti, et al, and iPhone v Android.

But what if we were to compare two REAL superhero castings? Let’s say, the US Army’s Rangers and the US Navy’s SEALS. And just for sh*ts and giggles, what if we compared their individual crucibles — their selection processes — and attempted to discern which was the harbinger for guaranteed future toughness or success? Let’s attempt to glean which selection program applied the most pain to its candidates. Is graduating from Ranger School a more daunting task than making it through the Navy’s difficult Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training? And is earning a Ranger tab easier or more difficult than being awarded a SEAL Trident?

And, which course actually results in more drop on requests–a fancy term for quitting? And how can we compare completion rates?

Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs
Ranger training. Photo courtesy of US Army.

The comparative analysis is difficult. To my knowledge, I haven’t heard of any former Rangers or SEALS transferring service branches and then embarking on the pursuit of their new branch’s most elite distinction. Maybe there does exist the unique American stud — or committed glutton for punishment — who chose this path of dual misery, and accomplishment. But I haven’t come across any stories chronicling some. With this in mind, I am going to share my reflections on some unique experiences I was privileged to have been afforded during my thirty-three years of government service.

That professional service began when I graduated from West Point in 1987 and was branched as an officer into the Infantry. During the course of my four-year military career, I attended Army Ranger school and graduated with class 4-88. I turned 23 while incarcerated in the mountain phase, endlessly trekking up and down the formidable peaks of the Tennessee Valley Divide. While I wasn’t the class Honor Graduate, I did fairly well throughout the demanding course of instruction and was lucky enough to graduate with my tab, on time, and without being recycled to repeat a phase.

I served during the Cold War Era and the American military buildup precipitated by President Reagan’s stare-down of the Soviets. The 10th Mountain Division had just been reconstituted in 1985, following its long dormancy beginning when WWII ended. Officers and non-coms were selected for the unit’s rebirth only if they possessed the coveted tab. Division brass was intent on modeling the 10th after the Ranger battalions. My assignment to the 10th was contingent on my graduation from Ranger School. Failure to graduate meant a reassignment to the 197th Infantry Brigade (Mechanized), and the embarrassing stigmatization that would assuredly follow that failure.

Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs
Photo courtesy of US Army

From those fledgling days of (re)existence, the 10th Mountain Division has now distinguished itself as a solid and repeatedly deployed war-fighting machine in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. But it’s mid-1980’s formation with Ranger leadership was critical to its early success and reestablished prestige as a unit. So, in mid-March of 1988, I arrived at 2-14 Infantry battalion headquarters in my starched BDU’s with freshly attached Ranger tab.

The tab carries with it a certain distinction. And that respect for its woven black and gold threads stems from the hardship endured to earn it — the US military being one of the last bastions of meritocracy in this new 21st century era of everyone-gets-a-trophy.

Historically, the failure rate at the US Army Ranger School fluctuates between 50% – 65%. A portion of those failures, DORs, are self-inflicted. There doesn’t appear to be available statistical data that highlights just how many of those failures are related to DORs.

So, after ETSing from the Army on February 1, 1991, I packed up my quarters at Ft. Drum, NY, loaded my then-wife, newborn son, and two rescue dogs into my ’88 Chevy Blazer, and headed south to the FBI Academy at Quantico, VA, where I began the 20-week course to become an FBI Special Agent. In June of same year, I posted to the FBI’s New York City Office’s Brooklyn-Queens Metropolitan Resident Agency, and began a proud 25-year career as a Fed.

Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs
U.S. Army photo by Patrick A. Albright

Along the way, I was selected for the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team, where I served as a counter-terrorist operator on Echo Assault Team from 1997 – 2001.

And in the Fall of 1998, while serving as one of Echo Team’s divers, and recently returned from deployments to Africa (US Embassy bombings) and North Carolina’s Nantahala Forest (search for ’96 Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph), I was suddenly tapped to deploy to Coronado, California, with three of my fellow HRT diver teammates, for a once in a lifetime experience.

I was an “old man,” all of 33 years. And though I was in peak physical condition, having spent almost a year and a half lifting, and running, and training at a HIGH level … I was in for a rude awakening.

It was September of 1998, and Dave, Jeff, Matty, and I checked into the Naval Special Warfare Center at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado and were officially informed we’d be joining BUD/S class 220. We had just offloaded our rental cars and strode across the sand dunes separating the BUD/S compound from the Pacific Ocean. Worst thing we could have done was to time our arrival with the conduct of Hell Week for BUD/S class 221. Long before casual observers had been treated to Discovery Channel documentaries on the course of instruction to become a SEAL, the four of us took in the spectacle.

Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs
Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Shauntae Hinkle-Lymas

Exhausted youngsters — many between 18 – 20 years old — slogging along at the water’s edge, ferrying inflatable RHIBs, lifting massive logs over their heads, performing a staggering amount of “corrective actions” — flutter kicks, crunches, push-ups, and bear crawls. All accompanied by the monotonous, annoying, and ever-present Instructor “motivationals” echoed through a hand-held loud-hailer.

After we’d ingested all the observed pain and misery we could and signed in at NWSC, my HRT colleagues and I made our way over to the Second Phase HQ, a low-profile, nondescript group of single-story military buildings, and introduced ourselves to the cadre.

“All good,” the congenial class proctor stated. Get over to the BOQ on Mainside. Drop your gear off, change into UDT shorts and your yellow HRT PT shirts, and we’ll meet you at the pool for your qualifying PT test — 500 meter swim, push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, and mile and a half run in Bates brand combat boots. We even rolled our wool socks down over our boots exactly the way the SEALs did.

Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs
Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Russell

When in Rome…

And so it began. After easily completing the fit test required of all BUD/S aspirants, we joined class 220 as they began the initial stages of Phase Two. The classroom portions on Dive Physics weren’t too daunting — the four of us had the benefit of college degrees — but the daily regimen of early morning PT was an eye-opener. Yes, the four of us were quite fit. But we were also in our thirties, and didn’t take part in the same skill-specific training one receives in the BUD/S preparatory course the Navy offered its young sailors interested in becoming frogmen. And we didn’t have the benefit of true youth. If we were professional athletes, we’d be desperately trying to find an organization to sign us, so we could come off the bench, with a head coach “managing our minutes.”

We also didn’t have the benefit of having taken part in the first phase of BUD/S; that unforgiving crucible that weeds out the weak and strengthens the committed. The relationship between the USN and HRT was a long and durable one. Many of the early generation FBI-HRT operators had been SEALs (as well as former Rangers, Green Berets, and Marines). Compared to the military’s special operations units, HRT was an infant, having come on line in 1983, as a civilian counter-terrorist option for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. The ’72 debacle in Munich was a not-so-distant memory. And US law precluded the military from acting as law enforcement inside the United States.

So, here’s the thing: While I was certainly younger and my body more resilient as a 23-year-old when I completed Ranger School, ten years later, when I attended the Dive Phase of BUD/S — open circuit (SCUBA) and closed circuit (LAR-V rebreather) — with my HRT colleagues, I was certainly more experienced, savvy, and skillful at my craft. But that didn’t aid in the recovery time my body desperately needed between evolutions at BUD/S. Every night, the four of us limped back to our BOQ and attempted to “heal” before the fun began again the next morning, bright and early.

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Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Russell

On the ground (or in the sand), we were the BUD/S students equals. We four were strong runners and could complete the grinders of push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, flutter kicks, and crunches as well as any of the kids in 220. On the beach, during timed four mile runs, we were more than their equals, often having to hold back so as not to bring the SEAL Instructors’ wrath down upon our classmates, as in:

“Hey, you pathetic pieces of human filth and fecal matter, why are you letting these old-ass FBI-HRT guys beat you on a timed run? You’ll all be ‘paying the man’ if you allow this to happen again!”

Yes, the typical SEAL Instructor was wicked smart and imbued with a great sense of wit and timing.

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Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Shauntae Hinkle-Lymas

We reined in our run times, not wanting to cause any more pain to the young men who so graciously accepted us into their fraternity — despite the fact we hadn’t shared the excruciating pain of First Phase and Hell Week with them.

One of the most special gifts I’ve ever received in the course of my life was to be afforded a Hell Week t-shirt from BUD/S class 220. This class-specific attire made us feel a part — if only for a moment — of their exclusive club. It was truly an honor and I cherish the now tattered shirt emblazoned with the class motto that borrowed from William Ernest Henley’s short and powerful Victorian poem Invictus:

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

During the course of our “internment” at BUD/S, we also participated in the required weekly SEAL Obstacle Course completion. It was an ass-kicker. And again, as I reminisced about my days at Ranger School and tangling with the infamous Darby Queen Obstacle Course, I have to give this round to the SEALs, as well. In the summer of 1998, we HRT guys were fit, relatively young, nimble, agile, and strong. We had all the necessary tools required to excel at the SEAL Obstacle Course. But it was still a daunting task to make the required times. We did so, narrowly, and aided by the Instructor allowance for us to use a rope traversing technique that wasn’t available to the BUD/S students in Second Phase. [Full disclosure: we were also permitted to discreetly utilize calculators for the long division and multiplication required in the classroom on the dive physics exams]

Well, as proficient as we HRT guys found ourselves in PT, on the sand dunes and while partaking in the dreaded “soft sand runs,” we quickly ascertained that the water, however, was a different story altogether. Here’s where those same young kids flat-out kicked our assess. On the weekly open-water two-mile swims, Dave, Jeff, Matty, and I were “competent.” We were all notably strong swimmers who had been hand selected by HRT Dive Team cadre to “represent” at BUD/S.

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Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd class Megan Anuci

While we consistently barely made the required times, we were often the last, or next to last teams to come in.

But we were in no condition to compete with the damn dolphins that BUD/S students typically morphed into by Second Phase. The water became our Waterloo of sorts.

But it was pool competition, or pool comp in SEAL shorthand, that really cemented for me what the BUD/S experience was about, and just why SEALs are a cut above all others in the Special Operations community.

And, yes, we four HRT guys participated in pool comp.

And, again, it was another eye-opener.

Here’s how ISIS is making and supplying deadly IEDs
Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Antonio Turretto Ramos

SEAL Instructors had their own comically dreadful names for the knots they would tie in your hoses underwater. As a BUD/S student, your job was to diligently cycle through a sequence of trouble-shooting procedures to untangle the mess of knotted hoses and restore your air supply…while on a breath-hold. And you had to do so without exhibiting any signs of panic. We were treated to the Matlock and the Babilock — two impossibly difficult and deviously conceived knots named after two particular SEALs on the cadre. Failure to extricate your gear from the wicked devices of the seasoned knot-tying instructors OR failure to work through the prescribed sequence for trouble-shooting your crippled gear led to a failure. Two failures in the same event and you earned a rollback — just like the nefarious recycle at Ranger School — to the next class, if you were lucky not to be dropped from the course.

There’s a reason that, as Rob O’Neill, former SEAL Team Six counter-terror operator — the man who killed Bin Laden — stated to Howard Stern recently, on his eponymous Sirius radio program, that some 85% of BUD/S attendees don’t graduate.

BUD/S is tough — even the teensy-weensy taste of it that I experienced. It’s REALLY tough. And it sucks.

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Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jumar T. Balacy

Ranger School was “uncomfortable” and difficult for all the reasons that include sleep deprivation, starvation, and relentless physical overexertion. It was a grind. And reports from recent graduates confirm it’s STILL a grind.

At BUD/S, however, they fed you lots of chow, and in Second Phase, getting eight solid hours of sleep was never an issue. But just as in Ranger School, you had to perform, to make sound decisions, to accomplish critical military tasks and objectives when your body was futilely attempting to heal, and always with the overzealous instructors omnipresent in your ear…

…but you did it at depth.

Whether at the bottom of the 15-foot pool, on the Coronado Bay side, or in the unforgiving waters of the Pacific Ocean, performing at depth takes special operations training to another level entirely. We were forced to conduct doff and don procedures, and buddy-breathing exercises — you know, like sharing the same oxygen supply at depth and while performing tasks like an equipment exchange. There were insanely long breath-holds, while enduring the Instructor-assaults associated with the dreaded pool comp. Then there was the archaic (by design) and cumbersome Jacques Cousteau era twin 80’s tanks and leaky two-hose regulators which made for a purposeful panic-induced set of pass/fail evolutions. Yes, I believe the experiences to be the closest thing to waterboarding — sanctioned “almost-drowning” — that there is. And it’s legal!

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Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Dominique M. Canales

Learning to dive with the Dräger (or Draeger) closed circuit rebreather gear — the LAR-V — was the purpose behind sending HRT divers to BUD/S. So, no, in a civilian law enforcement capacity, there’s no need to learn the craft of placing limpet mines on enemy ship hulls. However, learning the advanced system of transit-diving that allows an operator to approach a target underwater, bereft of telltale bubbles is a key skillset for HRT to have at its disposal. That was the purpose behind the relationship we had with the Navy and is how we ended up enrolled in the Second Phase of BUD/S.

The advanced dive skills we learned were necessary. The voluntary participation in PT and mild hazing — being dropped for push-ups or forced to become “wet and sandy” — the “sugar cookie” punishment — was part of earning our stripes and being accepted as outsiders within the close-knit SEAL and BUD/S community.

Make no mistake about it — we weren’t to become SEALs and weren’t subjected to a fraction of what the Navy candidates endured, but we certainly gained a modicum of appreciation for the process.

And again, as difficult as Ranger School was to complete, the 8 weeks I spent at BUD/S proved that there’s a clear distinction between difficult and difficult-at-depth.

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Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Adam Henderson

Apologies, fellow Rangers, but this round goes to the Navy’s SEALs. I’ve been up close and personal with both Selection processes. 81 torturous days at Ranger School did not compare to the tiny portion of the year of misery available to BUD/S candidates that I experienced.

Rangers, can I get a Hooah!

And SEALs, while we’re at it, how about a Hooyah!

And let’s forever remember that we’re ALL part of the same team!

God bless the United States of America and God bless and protect our brave Special Operators who continue to confidently stride into places full of wrath and tears, and do so bravely, selflessly and willingly.

Thank you.

Originally published July 2017.

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The Navy’s baddest pilot in World War II isn’t who you think

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(Official U.S. Navy photo)


David McCampbell might be the Navy’s “Ace of Aces,” but there is one pilot who might not have McCampbell’s kill total, but who arguably performed a more notable feat. That pilot was Stanley “Swede” Vejtasa.

Vejtasa didn’t start out flying fighters. Early in 1942, he flew the SBD Dauntless and saw action during the Battle of the Coral Sea. On May 7, 1942, he took part in the attack on the light carrier Shoho, helping put that ship on the bottom. He received the Navy Cross for his part in that attack. The next day, while trying to protect USS Yorktown (CV 5) and Lexington (CV 2) from a Japanese attack, his SBD got jumped by seven Mitsubishi A6M Zeros. Vejtasa emerged from that engagement with three kills, two using the SBD’s two forward M2 .50-caliber machine guns. The third came when Vejtasa rammed the Zero, slicing off a wing. That earned a second Navy Cross.

Fast forward to October 1942. Vejtasa was now flying the F4F Wildcat, having been transferred from the SBD after his exploits at the Coral Sea. During the strikes the Japanese launched, he shot down two Aichi D3A “Val” dive bombers and five Nakajima B5N “Kate” torpedo planes. It was a performance that arguably kept USS Enterprise (CV 6) from joining USS Hornet (CV 8) as hulks. Vejtasa got his third Navy Cross for his performance.

Vejtasa achieved all this in two days in the SBD and F4F. The former wasn’t even intended to fight the Zero, but Swede took down three. The F4F, while a good plane, was nowhere near the F6F Hellcat that McCampbell flew. The F6F had the benefits of insights gained from the Akutan Zero (an intelligence coup for the United States).

Vejtasa would share credit for a Kawanishi H6K “Mavis” flying boat during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal with three other pilots. It would be his last aerial victory, making his score 10.25 kills. Vejtasa’s kills are all the more impressive when you consider that in 1942, Japan still had many of the outstanding pilots who had flown the raid on Pearl Harbor.

Vejtasa would be sent back to the United States after the Battle of Guadalcanal. He was asked to test-fly the Vought F4U Corsair and angered Vought by handing them a list of changes that the “Ensign Eliminator” needed. After that, Vejtasa was sent to train the many pilots who were needed to fly the planes off of the carriers that would form Task Force 58 and Task Force 38. After the war, Vejtasa would spend most of his career as a test pilot, and even got some stick time on the F-4 Phantom before he retired.

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The Vice President Just Pulled A ‘Jody’ Move At The Defense Secretary’s Swearing-In

At ease, sir!


Vice President Joe Biden appeared to be getting a little too chummy with Stephanie Carter, the wife of Ashton Carter, at the new Secretary of Defense’s swearing-in ceremony today. Biden rubbed her shoulders and whispered in her ear as her husband the SecDef gave remarks following the oath of office.

Officials later tried to explain that Biden was just trying to comfort Mrs. Carter because she was a bit shaken after falling on the ice on her way into the ceremony.

WATM’s counsel to the man who’s one heartbeat away from the presidency is this: Support the troops the right way. Don’t be that guy, Jody. It doesn’t help morale.

NOW: Trained Warriors Turned Comedy Killers 

OR: The 18 Military Facebook Pages You Should Be Following 

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This is why the UH-1 Huey became a symbol of the Vietnam War

The Vietnam War’s icon was arguably the UH-1 helicopter. Officially designated the Iroquois (‘Huey’ is more of a term of endearment), this helicopter has been the most-produced in history, first flying in 1956 — that means it has just over six decades of service with the United States military!


Over 7,000 Hueys were used in Vietnam, and 2,500 were lost during the war.

According to the Naval Institute Guide to World Military Aviation, the UH-1D had the ability to carry up to 16 passengers and crew.

The chopper could also carry just under 3,900 pounds of equipment in the cabin or 5,000 pounds in an external sling. It also could serve as a potent gunship, firing 70mm rockets, M60 machine guns in 7.62mm NATO, and M134 miniguns.

 

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Soldiers of the U.S. Amry 1/7th Cavalry disembark from a Bell UH-1D Huey at LZ X-Ray during the battle of Ia Drang. (U.S. Army photo)

The secret to the Huey’s success was a gas turbine engine that not only was able to perform at higher temperatures and in less-dense air than previous helicopters, but it was also much lighter than previous helicopter engines.

This allowed the Huey to be smaller (48-foot rotor diameter, 57 foot length) and lighter — making it fast (a top speed of 135 miles per hour) and maneuverable. It had a range of 315 miles, giving American troops the ability to strike hard and fast at a distance.

The chopper’s mobility meant that in a one-year tour, the average infantry soldier saw 240 days of combat. For some perspective, in the Pacific Theater during WWII, the average grunt saw 40 days over the nearly four years that conflict lasted.

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U.S. Marine Corps UH-1Y Venom flies during an exercise. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

 

Today, versions of the UH-1 are still in service with the Marine Corps (the UH-1Y Venom), the Air Force (UH-1N), and Navy (UH-1N). The Army’s last Huey mission was flown on Dec. 15, 2016. According to an Army release, the helicopter was handed off to the Louisiana State Police a week later.

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11 ways the military can build a stronger, more modern force

The U.S. military personnel system is badly outdated and must be reformed dramatically to allow the armed services to recruit and retain men and women with the skills needed to deal with today’s vastly different threats and technology, a high-profile panel of defense experts said March 20.


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Experts want to reform a military personnel system that hasn’t been changed significantly since 1947. (Photo: U.S. Army)

A new report developed by 25 former military and civilian defense officials — including top enlisted leaders, former generals and lawmakers on defense committees — for the Bipartisan Policy Council emphasized giving the armed services much greater flexibility to manage their personnel than they’re allowed to do now.

The existing personnel system “is outdated. The last time it was changed was in 1947, coming out of World War II,” said former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, one of the four co-chairmen of the study.

“We’re at a time that if we don’t reform our personnel system, we will begin to undermine our defense,” Panetta warned.

To increase flexibility, the report recommended:

1. Letting people stay longer

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Everyone knows chiefs run the Navy. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The experts recommend replacing the traditional “up-or-out” structure and its rigid timelines for promotion with a “perform to stay” model for advancement.

2. Entering as a staff officer or NCO

Instead of coming in as a buck private or 2nd lieutenant, the report suggests allowing lateral entry at advanced rank for individuals with critical skills, such as those with cyber and information technology expertise.

3. Going back and forth

The experts suggest letting service members more easily move between active and reserve status and allowing temporary breaks in military service for education or family reasons.

4. Reform military compensation

The authors suggest replacing the current military pay table — which provides increases for longevity and increased rank — to “ensure compensation is commensurate with increased responsibility and performance.”

5. Kick malingerers out

The experts say the services need to institute annual involuntary separate boards to “remove low performers in over-manned specialties.”

6. Reform TRICARE

The authors suggest increasing TRICARE enrollment fees for military retirees to cover 20 percent of coverage cost, and waiting until 2038 to grandfather all current service members.

They also suggest offering a new TRICARE option for dependents that would leverage a private employer’s contributions and reduced TRICARE cost.

7. Healthcare reform

The military experts recommend establishing pilot programs to test use of commercial health insurance benefits for reservists and their family members, military retirees and family members.

The report also suggests increasing access to higher quality of Defense Department-provided child care.

8. Help the spouses

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The study authors recognize how important it is for the military to maintain a strong work-life balance. (Photo: U.S. Military)

The study authors also want to improve ways to help military spouses get and keep jobs, including giving service members more say in duty station changes.

9. Boost the force

And to reduce the stress on families from the high operational tempo, the report recommends adding military personnel.

The report also calls for greater efforts to expand the military’s outreach to a broader segment of Americans, including:

10. More ROTC

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Army ROTC cadets attempt the Ranger obstacle course. (Photo: U.S. Army)

Expand Reserve Officer Training Corps program to all levels of higher education, including post-graduate and community college.

11. Women in the draft

Require women, as well as men, to register with the Selective Service and make all registrants take the military entrance examination.

To enable the services to increase end strength and provide the training and tools service members need, the report’s authors emphasized the need to repeal the 2011 Budget Control Act, with its arbitrary limits on defense spending, and return to a regular budget process that would enable defense leaders to plan ahead for the forces and equipment they need.

The committee that conducted the study and drafted the report included five retired flag or general officers, a retired Marine Corps master sergeant, former high-ranking officials from the Defense Department and other federal agencies, former members of Congress who served on the Armed Services Committees and the chief executive of Blue Star Families, a support organization.

The report is titled “Building a FAST Force,” with the initials standing for Flexible, able to Adapt and to Sustain the force and to be Technology oriented.

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