According to a report by ynetnews.com, the package includes four frigates based on the Littoral Combat Ship, 115 M1A2S Abrams tanks, the MIM-104F Patriot PAC-3 missile system, the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, 48 CH-47 Chinook helicopters, 150 Blackhawk helicopters, and a number of other systems.
Bloomberg News reports that the deal was originally for two ships based on USS Freedom (LCS 1), which is currently in service with the United States Navy, but was increased to four, and there is an option for four more vessels. This is the first export order for the LCS hull.
The Lockheed Martin website notes that this ship adds remotely-operated 20mm cannon, the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow missile, long-range surface-to-surface missiles, and the AN/SLQ-25 “Nixie,” a decoy intended to draw torpedoes away from a ship.
A separate deal could include up to 16,000 kits for the Paveway series of laser-guided bombs. These weapons are used on Saudi jets, including the F-15S Strike Eagle, the Tornado IDS, and the Eurofighter Typhoon.
Many of the weapons deals had been initiated during the Obama Administration, but had been placed on hold due to concerns about civilian casualties in the Yemeni Civil War. The Saudi Arabian military has been launching strikes against the Houthi rebels to back the Yemeni government.
The 1st Texas Infantry Regiment was a group of veteran soldiers by the time they took part in the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862. That day still stands as the bloodiest single day for American soldiers in history, and the hardest hit was the 1st Texas.
But Union Gen. George B. McClellan had found a copy of Lee’s strategic plans and used them to maneuver into position on the Confederates, and Lee’s army was woefully undersupplied and had low morale.
The two armies finally came together on Sep. 16 and began scoping out each other’s positions. By that night, small skirmishes were breaking out as forces maneuvered for better position for the following day.
On Sep. 17, the 1st Texas Infantry was part of a defensive position near a church. A Union advance through a nearby cornfield was overzealous, and the Union forces were relatively scattered when a Confederate brigade that included the 1st Texas suddenly leaped up from the ground and began firing on the soldiers in blue.
The 2004 Second Battle of Fallujah will be talked about among Marines for years to come, but for some who fought in those deadly streets and from room-to-room, the battle continues to play out long after they come home.
“The most difficult part of transitioning into the civilian world is the fact that I was still alive,” says Matt Ranbarger, a Marine rifleman who fought in Fallujah, in a new documentary released on YouTube called “The November War.”
The end result of a successful Kickstarter campaign, “The November War” gives an intimate look at just one event that changed the lives of the nearly dozen Marines profiled in the film: An operation to clear a house in the insurgent-infested city on Nov. 22, 2004.
“I remember we got a briefing that morning, and I didn’t like it,” squad leader Catcher Cutstherope says, describing how his leaders told the Marines they could no longer use frag grenades when room clearing. Instead, they were instructed to use flash or stun grenades, and only use frags if they were absolutely certain there was an insurgent inside.
“We were all pretty much ‘what the f–k are we gonna do with a flash grenade, it’s not gonna do anything,'” Nathan Douglas says. “We were pretty much right on that part.”
With part interview, part battle footage — shot by Marines during the battle with their own personal cameras — the film is unlike other post-9/11 war documentaries. Similar docs give the viewer insight into a full deployment — “Restrepo” and the follow-up “Korengal” are good examples — or a bigger picture look at both the planning and execution of a combat operation, like “The Battle for Marjah.”
“The November War” takes neither of these approaches, and the film is much better for it. Instead, Garrett Anderson, the filmmaker and Marine veteran who also fought in the battle, captures poignant moments from his former platoon-mates years after their combat experience is over. Some describe going into a room as an insurgent fires, while others talk through their thoughts after being shot.
In describing clearing the house — a costly endeavor that resulted in six Marines wounded — the film reveals the part of that day that still haunts all involved: The death of their friend, Cpl. Michael Cohen.
The documentary captures visceral stress among the Marines. Years later, sweat beads off their foreheads. As they speak, they are measured, but their voices are tinged with emotion. Viewers can tell they see that day just as clearly, more than a decade later.
Perhaps the most revealing part of the film is when Anderson asks all his interviewees whether it was worth it. One Marine filmed is offended by the question, answering that of course every Marine would answer yes. But that doesn’t play out onscreen, as two members of the unit express their doubts.
“Losing that many guys, friends … any of them,” says Brian Lynch, the platoon’s corpsman. “I don’t think it was worth it.”
In the end, “The November War” is one of those must-watch documentaries. It gives a look into what it’s like for troops in combat, and beautifully captures the raw emotion that can still endure long after they come home.
“You know how people say ‘freedom isn’t free?'” asks Lance Cpl. Munoz soon after the film opens.
“Well, you, the one watching this at home on TV right now … sitting eating popcorn, or a burger,” he says, pointing to the camera. “Living the high life. And if you’re a Marine watching this sh– and you’re laughing, it’s because you already went through this sh–.”
South Korean President Moon Jae-in took office hoping to engage diplomatically with North Korea, but as tensions soar between the two countries, he’s considering his offensive options.
Moon called for South Korea to prepare to “immediately switch to offensive operations” if North Korea makes a “provocation that crosses the line,” according to NK News.
Moon told his top military officers they should “strongly push ahead with a reform of the military structure to meet [the requirements] of modern warfare so that it can immediately switch to offensive operations in case North Korea makes a provocation that crosses the line or attacks a metropolitan area,” NK News notes.
Additionally, South Korea is developing a three-axis system to respond to a North Korean attack that contains preemptive strikes on North Korea’s missile systems, air and missile defenses, and something called the “Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation system.”
Moon has tried to engage closely with North Korea, even going as far as suggesting the country host some of South Korea’s 2018 Winter Olympics, but to no avail as of yet.
At the same time, South Korea is building up a “decapitation force” meant to kill Kim Jong Un and other key North Korean leaders while building up missile defenses. Under Moon, the country has also developed an impressive ballistic-missile fleet that can drill deep underground to hit high-value targets in bunkers.
South Korean Vice Minister of National Defense Suh Choo Suk told reporters the country hoped to have perfected its offensive and defensive plan to win a war against North Korea by the early 2020s.
When Charles Monroe Baucom returned home in 1919 after his third and final tour of duty with the Army, he struggled to cope.
He had apparently been exposed to a mustard gas attack during World War I, and when he began losing his hearing and vision, he worried he’d also lose his job with the railroad.
Baucom died by suicide five years after he returned to his home in downtown Cary, N.C., leaving behind five children and a cloud of silence around his military record.
Nearly a century after his death, Baucom’s granddaughter, Joy Williams, has worked to restore his legacy to the place of pride she believes it should have always held.
Williams, who lives in Dunn, contacted the Veterans Legacy Foundation, a North Carolina-based nonprofit that tracks down military histories and awards mislaid medals during ceremonies around the country. Williams, 70, showed the organization letters her grandfather had written and asked what it could find out.
On March 26, Baucom, who served as a lieutenant in the Army, was finally awarded the recognition he had earned. During a ceremony in Raleigh, the Veterans Legacy Foundation gave Williams two medals for her grandfather – one for his service in the Spanish-American War and one for service in World War I.
“Most people get so wrapped up in the day that they don’t appreciate the past,” Williams said. “I wish he could have received these when he was living, but I’m proud to have them now in his honor.”
It was tough in the early 20th century for the military to track down veterans, said John Elskamp, who served in the Air Force for 24 years and founded the Veterans Legacy Foundation in 2010. As a result, many soldiers never received their medals.
For Baucom’s family, the foundation bought the Spanish-American War medal from a private collector and received the World War I victory medal directly from the Army.
Thirteen other families were also honored during the event in March. Some received original medals unearthed from a state government building in Raleigh, commissioned in 1919 for North Carolina veterans of World War I.
“People are curious,” Elskamp said. “They want to know, and it’s their family’s legacy. And we think it’s important for everyone to remember that legacy, that this country was built, in my opinion, by veterans and their families. They did a lot of the work.”
No one in Baucom’s family knew if he had ever received medals from his service. He fought in the Spanish-American War in 1898 and then took part in the China Relief Expedition during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. During that effort, the military rescued US citizens and foreign nationals.
He volunteered when he was 38 to serve in World War I.
Williams’ mother, who was Baucom’s daughter, was 9 when her father died. So Williams, a semi-retired insurance agent who moved to Dunn from Cary 25 years ago, never knew much about her grandfather.
“She never spoke of him,” Williams said of her mother.
Her great-aunt told her the pastor at Baucom’s funeral said the lieutenant’s decision to end his own life would keep him out of heaven. Thinking about that still puts a lump in Williams’ throat.
“My mother, that probably affected her greatly,” she said. “Instead of being proud, they were kind of quiet about their father. It’s really a shame. When you die on the battlefield, that’s honorable. But if you die afterwards, it’s not as much.”
Williams saw a newspaper article about the Veterans Legacy Foundation two years ago and decided to reach out to the group. It appealed to her sense of duty to those forgotten and misremembered by history.
She and her husband, Martin, who are white, are part of a years-long effort in Dunn to preserve and maintain an old cemetery where many of the town’s black residents were buried. Until 1958, it was the only cemetery that would accept them.
Her home in Dunn – her husband’s childhood residence – is full of photos, artifacts and heirlooms from her family, which she said has “been in North Carolina since before it was North Carolina.”
“I don’t like home decor,” Williams said. “I like to be around things that have some kind of meaning.”
Among the items are original letters Baucom wrote while stationed at various military bases and while abroad in Cuba, China, and France. Those, as well as letters he and his wife received, have been painstakingly preserved by Williams.
A letter from Baucom’s attorney gives a sense of the former soldier’s state of mind in the days before he died. The attorney and longtime friend wrote to Baucom’s widow in the days after his death, recounting a meeting less than two weeks earlier.
“He seemed very interested and very much worried over his physical condition,” the attorney wrote of Baucom, “realizing that if he did lose his hearing and his eyesight, that the position he now held (with the railroad) he could not hope to keep.”
Another, from Baucom to his wife, reveals more of what Williams hopes will be remembered about her grandfather – his love of family and pride in his service.
“Tell the boys we will play catch and I will tell them stories when I get there,” Baucom wrote from Camp Merritt, New Jersey, as he awaited a train home to Cary. “Expect to get home in a week or two. Much love from Pop.”
After so many years, Williams is happy to feel pride where her mother felt shame, to have something in her house she can point to as proof that her flesh and blood had something to do with securing the life she now enjoys.
Researchers at Harvard Business School are conducting a study designed to help veterans with disabilities transition into the civilian workforce — and they need more veterans.
Leading practitioners in veteran support and world-class researchers are teaming up with the Ivy League school to better understand the post-separation progress of American veterans. To be eligible for the study, a veteran must meet a few simple criteria:
• Enlisted member within three months of their end of active service, either pre- or post-separation
• Honorably discharged (or anticipate an honorable discharge)
• Have an anticipated VA disability rating between 30-90 percent
• Under the age of 45
The project is being run by Ross Dickman, an Army veteran with 12 years of service as an AH-64D Apache Longbow Pilot who deployed twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Participating vets can earn up to $1,370 to be a part of the study. On top of that, participants can receive life planning education, career guidance, training opportunities, and even further funding toward reemployment.
Joining the five-year study will help some of our nation’s top academics take on the task of helping members of our community reintegrate into civilian life. Harvard emphasizes that being a part of the study will not affect disabled veterans’ employment, education, or other life choices and you can be part of the study no matter where you live.
Personal data collected during the study will be stored in a secure database at Harvard Business School. Identifiable information will not be made available to any external agencies, including the media and any government agencies or employers including the VA and/or the DoD.
To inquire about the study, contact Eugene Soltes at Harvard Business School at 617.495.6622 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It served with the United States military from 1964-1998, and with NASA until 1999. The SR-71 had been developed from the A-12 OXCART (no relation to the A-12 Avenger), a single-seat plane capable of making high-speed recon runs as well.
It was thought satellites and drones could replace the SR-71. The problem was that satellites are predictable, and too many drones just don’t have the performance or reliability. But Lockheed’s Skunk Works, which created the A-12/YF-12/SR-71 family, is now developing a SR-72, and they promise it will be faster than the Blackbird.
Lockheed noted that the SR-71 was designed on paper with slide rules. Even without the benefit of high-technology, the SR-71 proved to be superb at its role.
These are just some of the labels put on retired Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher by the news media before and after his highly publicized criminal trial. Following his acquittal of almost all war crime charges in 2019, Gallagher is finally ready and able to share his side of the story.
“What people don’t see is what goes on because of those articles and what that does to a family. We aren’t the only ones who’ve gone through it, either — it happens throughout the military,” he shared. The constant, negative media coverage wasn’t just a headache; Gallagher and his family were targeted with death threats.
It wasn’t an easy decision to write a book and share his experience, Gallagher admitted. He was clear in explaining the SEAL community’s opinion of operators going on to tell-all books and it wasn’t good. His brother, Sean Gallagher and Eddie’s wife, Andrea, were the ones to finally convince him he should do it.
In the beginning of the book, Gallagher addresses his feelings about making the decision.
“I wish I didn’t have to write this book. I wish no one knew my name or knew what I did for a living. For 19 years, I strove to be a quiet professional. Didn’t advertise the nature of my work. Kept my head down and did my job. I’d give anything to still be able to do that.”
The Man in The Arena: From Fighting ISIS to Fighting for My Freedom takes readers through Gallagher’s earlier years, the deployment which changed everything and his entire military criminal trial experience. Both he and Andrea wrote chapters in the book. But so did his brother, their children and other individuals involved. Gallagher was candid in sharing how before his own criminal justice experience, news headlines like his would have even had him believing the person accused must have been doing something wrong.
“It was a crash course for both [Andrea and me] as soon as we got thrown into it. You realize real quick that you have no rights especially as the active duty member,” he said. “Once you are accused of something you are told you are not allowed to say anything in your defense.” Gallagher referenced being told things like “trust the system” or “it’s better for you if you don’t say anything.” He said it wasn’t long before he realized everything he was told was wrong.
“They use our loyalty to whatever branch we are serving or institution we belong to against us,” he explained. “Once I was in there, they started denying me my legal visits, phone calls, certain stuff civilians are afforded. I was like, this is nuts and that’s when she [Andrea] stood up and said ‘this isn’t happening.'”
After watching what she called inadequate defense and stonewalling from the military, Andrea said she decided to take control. Her mission quickly became educating the American public, she said.
It was through her and Sean’s numerous media appearances that attorney Tim Parlatore eventually took over defense. Under Parlatore’s leadership, the initial military-led prosecution was sanctioned for violating Eddie’s constitutional rights, and one prosecutor was removed for illegally tapping Eddie’s attorney’s emails. Eventually, another SEAL would admit under oath he killed the Iraqi terrorist Eddie had been accused of murdering.
Andrea said, “It was a daunting undertaking but it was my honor to fight for him because he was fighting for our country all of those years.”
Gallagher enlisted in the United States Navy in 1999. He was attached to a Marine Corps unit until becoming a SEAL in 2005. He was a trained medic and sniper with combat experience in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. In the book, Gallagher wrote about his fateful deployment to Mosul, Iraq in 2017 as a chief of SEAL Team 7 and how it was actually safer than previous deployments. But it was still just as gruesome.
“Some days we’d watch ISIS gun down crowds of women and children as they tried to escape the city. The terrorists sent them running toward us and then opened fire in an attempt to draw us out. There wasn’t much we or the partner force could do except return fire from a distance.”
Scenes like the one above and worse are described often throughout the pages of the book, a stark reality for troops deployed to these regions. For Gallagher, who’d been deployed eight times, it wasn’t anything new. A bombing later on in that same deployment would lead to the apprehension of an ISIS terrorist as a prisoner of war and start a chain of events which changed the trajectory of Eddie’s life.
As readers comb through the book, they may wonder why Gallagher was charged with killing a verified ISIS terrorist in the first place. There were other charges against him that were also dropped but the accusation of murdering a terrorist stands out. Where and what is the line for our troops who deploy to defend? Rules of engagement tend to determine this line, but those rules can and do change. In the book, Gallagher addresses his issue with the inconsistency.
“War was war, and each of us accepted that there was a chance we might die, but handcuffing the warfighter made the possibility more likely.”
Gallagher also writes about his role as a SEAL and doesn’t hold back on explaining what it entails.
“We exist to eliminate the enemy, and everything else is just details toward achieving that goal. It’s not pretty, and I don’t expect the average American to understand what we do. But we relish being sent into combat, staging from the shittiest locations on earth, and completing the most dangerous missions. We’re not Boy Scouts.”
Despite everything he and his family publicly went through, Gallagher said he wouldn’t change anything. “I’m grateful I got to go overseas and fight for my country. No regrets; I got to work with the best men and women this country has to offer…my friends I’ve lost, those were giants among men. I am grateful,” he said.
Andrea echoed his sentiment. “We love our service members and military and just want to see it continue to go in a good direction,” she said. “We hope this book sparks an after-action report for the Navy and makes them say, ‘Maybe there are things we can do better.’”
Both said without the support of various nonprofit organizations, congressional members and fundraising events, it could have gone a very different way for Gallagher. Most military members aren’t typically able to afford the kind of legal defense he ended up needing. It is with this in mind the couple created The Pipe Hitter Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to assisting military members, veterans and first responders in fighting for their legal rights.
As for the book, Gallagher and Andrea were committed to sharing everything, which is what led to putting QR codes at the beginning of many of the chapters, they said. Each code brings the reader to actual court recordings, NCIS interviews and what the prosecution deemed as evidence against Gallagher. He was clear in stating their goal was to be transparent in writing the book by giving readers the whole picture rather than just what was initially reported in the media. Both wanted readers to have the ability to do their own research to find the truth.
You might think a third-party candidate who in some surveys is ahead of the Democrat and Republican presidential frontrunners would be included in a conversation about veterans.
You’d think that, but you’d be wrong.
Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson won’t be sharing the stage with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton Sept. 7 during a nationally-televised town hall meeting. The veteran service organization Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America is hosting the so-called “Commander in Chief Forum” on NBC and MSNBC that will focus on issues affecting the military-veteran community.
A non-scientific survey conducted in July by the influential blogger Doctrine Man showed Johnson polling at 39 percent among active duty troops, five points ahead of Trump in the same survey. Clinton garnered just 14 percent of those surveyed.
Broken down by service, only the Navy had Johnson in second place by a slim margin.
A more recent poll conducted by NBC on the eve of the Commander-in-Chief Forum showed Trump polling at 55 percent among active-duty military and veterans, 19 points ahead of Hillary Clinton. Libertarian Gary Johnson pulls in only 12 percent nationally among all likely voters.
The head of IAVA, Paul Rieckhoff said in a statement he had invited Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein for a separate Commander-in-Chief Forum to discuss military and veterans issues. It is unclear if either will participate.
Neither candidate is polling high enough nationally to qualify for the upcoming presidential debates.
Johnson has made helping vets a cornerstone of his campaign, even banging out 22 Pushups for veteran suicide awareness on the streets of Cleveland (an admittedly small feat for Johnson, an Iron Man Triathlete who also climbed Mount Everest).
“…in my lifetime I can’t think of one example of regime change making things better. And of course that’s (affecting) our military, our men and women on the front line. I get incensed over politicians that beat their chest over going out to fight terrorism at the cost of our service men and women.”
Johnson repeated that the Libertarian platform is “non-interventionist, not isolationist.”
He believes in a U.S. military response to an attack, repeating the mantra “We get attacked, we attack back,” time and again. He says he supported the invasion but does not support the extended stay — wondering if the U.S. will “stay there forever.”
“I do believe we are going to defeat ISIS, but let’s not be naive. We are going to create a void that’s going to get filled with the name of some other organization.”
4. North Korea
Johnson, in a Libertarian debate, called North Korea “the greatest threat in the world.” He says he wants to team with China to get rid of the Kim family dynasty.
According to Brian Doherty of the Hit and Run Blog, to Johnson, the move has the dual purpose of bringing down the regime and bringing 40,000 American troops off the Korean Peninsula.
5. Leadership style
“It’s not my way or the highway,” he told Military Times. “If I am presented with evidence that would say categorically, ‘this is not something we should do’ … I’ll listen. I do listen.”
Johnson also believes that combating radical Islam, like all uses of the military, is something that the chief executive should do with the collaboration of Congress.
6. Libertarian-style budget cuts
Johnson believes in a 20 percent cut in government spending. The Department of Veterans Affairs would be exempt from those cuts.
“We need to draw a line with regards to the obligation we have to those who are serving and have served,” Johnson said in Military Times. “That’s not a cut ever.”
Johnson was a part of the Base Closure and Realignment Commission in the 1990s. He recalls a Pentagon recommendation to close 25 percent more than the BRAC actually did. He would implement those recommendations. He still favors a strong national defense, but wants American allies pay for a greater share of the cost.
“I intend to honor all treaties and obligations that are in effect,” he said in the interview. “But with regard to Europe, they’ve had this free go of being able to grow their welfare programs on the back of us coming in and covering their back with our military.”
7. Nuclear weapons
The elimination of nuclear weapons is part of his plan to cut 2 percent of defense spending.
“I don’t think that anyone can argue that government is 20 percent fat in every category,” he said. “But I don’t think the military is exempt from that either.”
8. The Department of Veteran’s Affairs
“… they are taxed and they often times are not able to keep up with the demand,” the candidate said. “If that is the case, it would not be difficult to implement a health card or a health services [plan] that would go outside the VA that would make up for deficiencies.”
The Johnson campaign advocates a public-private partnership for the VA’s shortcoming, not a privatization of the department’s facilities. This means that Johnson wants to make it possible for veterans with a long wait time to see a private doctor, similar to the Veteran’s Choice program launched in 2014.
In an interview with MSNBC in May, Johnson and his running mate Bill Weld described their view of the VA in terms of the returning veterans of WWII. Where the GI Bill was a “voucher system,” using government money to pay for existing schools, the VA medical benefits were designed “the other way,” using government money, facilities, and oversight.
10. The Defense and VA secretaries in a Johnson administration
“I’ve made a career out of showing up on time and telling the truth, because if you tell the truth you admit the mistakes you’ve made,” he said. “More than anything, I’m looking for people who are qualified and have that kind of a resume similar to my own, which is being accountable.”
Whether they are kept for a few weeks or a lifetime, animals in shelters and foster homes around the nation rely on dedicated and caring individuals that can help them find a forever home.
To ensure these animals receive the support they need, Air Force Capt. Daniel Hale, the officer in charge of plans and scheduling for the 563rd Operations Support Squadron here, and his veterinarian wife, Dr. Kristen Hale, decided to take on the responsibilities that comes with fostering rescue animals.
The Hales began their animal rescue efforts with their dog Squish.
“When I worked emergency, Squish came in at four weeks old after sustaining injuries from being trapped under a couch,” Dr. Hale said. “We decided to take him in as a foster and he’s been with us ever since.”
After adopting Squish into their family, the Hales continued to foster companion animals. In the past three years, the couple has fostered more than 20 sheltered pets.
Unfortunately, not all fostered pets in the care of the Hales are immediately adopted by families due to the medical condition of the animals.
“A lot of the pets we take in [have] specific medical needs,” Dr. Hale said. “Without a foster family to give them the individual attention they need, many of the animals would have never found homes because they would have been put down.”
Benny, a dog being fostered by the Hale family, rests on a couch in Vail, Ariz., May 6, 2017. Benny was fostered by the Hale family for three months before he was fully healed and adopted.
Thanks to the help of local rescue shelters, foster families don’t have to worry about paying for the medical expenses of the animals while the rescue pet is in the family’s care.
Because of the nature of some of these medical conditions, the time it takes to nurse the animals to full health can vary.
“We’ve had animals anywhere from three days to six weeks,” Capt. Hale said. “After we’ve made sure they are ready to be adopted, we get them as much exposure as we can through local rescue shelters to increase their chances of finding a family.”
Because of the efforts of families like the Hales, shelter adoption rates have steadily climbed over the years, leading to fewer overcrowded facilities.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, adoption rates have risen roughly 18 percent from 2011 to 2017, and shelter animal euthanasia rates have decreased approximately 42 percent.
“If you can’t keep an animal around for long or are not ready to make the commitment to permanently care for a pet, you can still make a difference by providing them with a foster home,” Dr. Hale said.
To find out more information on fostering and adopting companion animals, visit your local animal shelters.
Back in 2014, ISIS assaulted into Iraq and gained ground so fast that to this infantry officer, it made the German blitzkrieg look like amateur hour. Within a matter of months, the terrorist group took control of several key cities and began a series of massacres that even Al Qaeda deemed, “too extreme.”
As the Iraqi Army and Police fell back towards Baghdad, I received a phone call that would change my life forever.
I was on my way to class when I got a call from a man I knew as “Captain.” I could hear gunshots in the background and he was asking me, “Brother, can you help?”
Now, I’m a former Marine officer and served three combat tours in Iraq from 2006-2009. In 2014 I had moved on with life and was well on my way to growing the nasty beard and long hair of a graduate student.
But I couldn’t forget the Marine Corps motto that lived inside me: Semper Fidelis, Always Faithful. And now I had a good reason.
The Iraqi soldier we’ll call “Captain” to conceal his identity, saved my life in 2006.
I’ll never forget that as a boot platoon commander on my first deployment when the Captain shielded me from an incoming shot by pushing me down and charging a sniper. So when I got that call from Captain in 2014, I knew he was in some serious trouble, and I had to help.
That’s when I began a frantic effort to call my former commanders and write congressional leaders to do something…anything. But before Captain could get the massive airstrike that he needed to quell the ISIS assault, he received an ultimatum from the ISIS commander on the other side of the battlefield.
“We know who you are, and we’ll kill your kids if you don’t leave,” the ISIS commander told Captain.
With a credible threat against his life, the Captain and his family quickly fled to Turkey where they hoped to eventually resettle in the United States as refugees. With Captain out of Iraq and on a path to the U.S., I thought all was well.
But the Captain’s case got stuck in the backlog of millions fleeing the conflicts in Iraq and Syria. He was quickly told that his case wouldn’t be processed for years which, when you are on the run from ISIS, might as well be a death sentence.
Let me put it this way, this was a dude that had fought with us for years and now there were people who never served telling me that they couldn’t process his paperwork. I thought WTF?
So, I did the one thing Marines always do. I took action and went to Turkey myself, filming the trip along the way. My journey to help the Captain eventually was released by National Geographic as a short documentary called “The Captain’s Story.”
Nearly three years later, I continue to advocate for other refugees like the Captain as a member of Veterans For American Ideals, a non-partisan “group of veterans who share the belief that America is strongest when its policies and actions match its ideals.”
Though the work is far from over, we’re starting to make a difference in doing right by our wartime allies and bring them the protection and safety they deserve.
Chase Millsap joined the WATM team earlier this year as Director of Impact Strategy which allows him to keep fighting for veterans and our allies. We’re glad he’s on our team… just don’t piss him off.
The big news from Turkmenistan in the last few weeks has been that the country’s mercurial president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, has been absent from the news for large periods of time.
That’s unusual because he normally dominates the state-run broadcasts.
And the few times Berdymukhammedov has been on television since going on vacation nearly one month ago, his appearances have raised more doubts than offered evidence of his well-being.
While officially on vacation, that has never stopped Turkmen state media from following Berdymukhammedov around in previous years.
But his absence from nightly Turkmen television newscasts and daily reports in state print media have some people seriously considering rumors that Berdymukhammedov is in poor health or possibly even dead.
Berdymukhammedov had already been officially on vacation for almost one week when Aslan Rubaev, identified as the director of the Center for Monitoring Eurasian Problems, told the Russian radio station and Internet news site Govoritmoskva.ru that Berdymukhammedov had died of acute renal failure on July 20, 2019.
There was no explanation in the July 24, 2019 report as to why the president chose to suspend his vacation for one day to occupy himself with the mundane matter of urban renewal plans in Ashgabat.
The news spread like wildfire across Russian-language media and it was only after a few hours later that the Turkmen embassies in Russia and Kyrgyzstanissued statements rejecting stories that the Turkmen president had died.
Before the end of the day, Rubaev was making a public apology for his remarks, saying they were unfounded.
But Berdymukhammedov had still not been seen and the rumors persisted.
Finally, on July 24, 2019, there were reports Berdymukhammedov had spoken by telephone with Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev to wish him a happy birthday.
Later that evening, Turkmen television news aired footage of Berdymukhammedov inspecting plans for a new district in the capital, Ashgabat, without explaining why the president had decided to break away from his vacation to look at drawings of new bus stops.
And then Berdymukhammedov vanished from local news again.
His next appearance in state media was not until Aug. 4, 2019, when state television showed a series of clips of Berdymukhammedov riding a bicycle, exercising, firing a rifle, bowling, riding a horse, working on a new book, composing a new song, and driving an SUV through the desert to the Gates of Hell — a perpetually burning crater that resulted from an attempt to flare gas there in the early 1970s.
He also appeared on state television on Aug. 5, 2019, holding a video conference call with officials.
On Aug. 3, 2019, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s office released a statement about Medvedev’s impending trip to Turkmenistan to attend the Caspian Economic Forum in the Turkmen Caspian resort of Avaza, adding that he planned to meet there with Berdymukhammedov.
That is the proof that has been offered to show Berdymukhammedov is alive and well.
But there are still many reasons to think that something is wrong with him.
Berdymukhammedov’s appearances on state television on July 24 and Aug. 4-5, 2019, were not entirely convincing.
As mentioned, there was no explanation in the July 24, 2019 report as to why Berdymukhammedov chose to suspend his vacation for one day to occupy himself with the mundane matter of urban renewal plans in Ashgabat.
And RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service, known locally as Azatlyk, noted that Berdymukhammedov was wearing exactly the same suit and tie as he wore in a May 10 broadcast on state television, which is strange because he never wears the same suit — or even the same clothes — twice in his television appearances.
Berdymukhammedov did not speak in the footage aired on July 24, 2019, for example, to say he had just spoken with the Uzbek president, as was reported.
The Turkmen president also did not speak in the Aug. 4, 2019 footage aired on Turkmen TV, and the clips seem to be a compilation of his usual bizarre antics that are regularly shown on the evening news, and of which there is almost certainly an abundance of archive material from the cutting-room floor.
His hair is gray in the recent appearances, but that only narrows down the time frame to anytime during the last year or so, when he stopped dying it black.
The headlines of the reports seemed aimed at quieting rumors of ill health or worse.
Turkmenistan Aug. 6, 2019’s headline said, “Turkmenistan’s President Dedicates His Vacation To A Creative And Active Life,” and the Golden Age website’s headline read “The Turkmen Leader’s Vacation: Active Leisure, Literary And Musical Creativity.”
The Aug. 5, 2019 footage showed Berdymukhammedov discussing the country’s economic performance, agriculture, preparations for the Aug. 11-12, 2019 Caspian Economic Forum and the Muslim holiday Kurban Bayramy.
Image of Berdimuhamedow, on display outside the national horse-racing ground in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.
But again, Berdymukhammedov did not refer to any recent event that would have proven the footage was from sometime during the last two or three weeks. The conversations could have taken place several weeks or months ago.
Absent from the video conference was any criticism of officials’ work, or reprimands for shortcomings, which are typical of these video conferences. It was also unclear why he again interrupted his vacation to hold the video conference.
Similarly, state print media had an unusual gap in reports featuring Berdymukhammedov.
News about the Turkmen president has always dominated state media coverage, going back to the early days of first Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov.
A July 25, 2019 report about Berdymukhammedov congratulating new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was the last news about Berdymukhammedov for more than one week on the Altyn Asyr (Golden Age) state website until a report appeared on Aug. 4, 2019, about the footage shown on state television. The same was true on state website Turkmenistan Today.
The last reports featuring Berdymukhammedov on the Russian-based pro-government website Turkmenistan.ru are from July 25, 2019; one congratulating Johnson and another about birthday wishes for Mirziyoev.
Even stranger, Turkmenistan.ru on Aug. 1, 2019 reported about the CEO of the Malaysian company Petronas, Tan Sri Wan Zulkiflee Wan Ariffin, visiting Avaza and meeting with Turkmen Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov and gas-and-oil-sector chief Yashigeldy Kakaev.
Berdymukhammedov’s name is not even mentioned in the report.
Petronas has been doing business in Turkmenistan since 1996. Petronas developed and is still working Block 1 in Turkmenistan’s sector of the Caspian Sea, “the first PSA to be awarded by the government of Turkmenistan.”
Petronas has invested more than billion in Turkmenistan and was a sponsor of the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games that Turkmenistan hosted. When Berdymukhammedov visited Malaysia in November 2016, he made a point of meeting with Ariffin, as he had met with previous Petronas head Dato Shamsul Azhar in Kuala Lumpur in December 2011. Berdymukhammedov also met with Azhar’s predecessor, Hassan Marican, in Ashgabat in May 2009.
Despite the history of close ties to the heads of Petronas, Berdymukhammedov could not find even a few minutes to meet with Ariffin at a resort area in Turkmenistan.
On July 25, 2019, Afghanistan completed the Aqina-Andkhoi segment of a railway line that is to link Turkmenistan to Tajikistan via northern Afghanistan.
Turkmenistan has been facing hard economic times since 2015 and this should have been good news for the country. Turkmenistan sent a delegation to a ceremony launching the new line that was reported on by Turkmen media. But there was not a word attributed to Berdymukhammedov about the accomplishment and what it could mean for Turkmenistan.
Where is he?
The immediate denials of Berdymukhammedov’s death came, as mentioned, from Turkmenistan’s embassies in Moscow and Bishkek.
But how would they know? Both embassies reacted rather quickly, almost automatically, rejecting reports of bad news about Turkmenistan as they usually do.
The Turkmen Foreign Ministry has not issued any statements denying the rumors Berdymukhammedov is ill or dead. In fact, while Berdymukhammedov has been on vacation it is not clear who exactly is running the country, though it does appear Foreign Minister Meredov is acting as the host to visitors.
And even Berdymukhammedov’s vacation is unusual this year.
Turkmenistan’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov cut the ribbon to open an exhibition.
As the Hronika Turkmenistana website pointed out, he usually only takes two weeks of summer vacation. This year, his vacation is from July 15 to August 15.
Berdymukhammedov has in the past often taken his ministers, or many of them, along with him on vacation. Some of the ministers were at Avaza playing various sports at the end of July, but Berdymukhammedov was never shown among them, which is very unusual, as he customarily is on TV instructing his ministers how to exercise properly.
Again, the media is not following Berdymukhammedov around and showing footage of him frolicking on the Caspian shores or inspecting Turkmenistan’s naval vessels or merchant fleet.
There was some footage at the very start of his vacation of him playing with his grandchildren and some kittens.
Turkmenistan has always been a unique, some would say bizarre, place, but in the last few weeks there is a feeling that things are not right. Established patterns of behavior are being ruptured without any credible explanation as to why.
It seems Berdymukhammedov has suffered some sort of problem, otherwise it would have been easy enough for him to appear on state television and say something — anything — about current events. On the other hand, Turkmen media is now devoting a great deal of effort to convince people that their president of the last 12 years is alive and healthy.
Although the first Caspian Economic Forum should be the focus of attention when it opens in Avaza on August 11, everyone will now be concentrating on whether Berdymukhammedov will make an appearance and, if he does, if he shows any signs of having suffered some illness or physical setback.