On Sunday, North Korea launched a missile into the Sea of Japan for the first time since US President Donald Trump took office.
South Korean officials told Reuters that the missile, a land-based adaptation of the submarine-launched KN-11, doesn’t have the range to strike the US but has another trait that’s just as troubling, if not more: solid fuel.
North Korean missiles usually rely on liquid fuel and have to be gassed up similar to how you’d fill up a car.
North Korea, like many nuclear powers, mounts its nuclear-capable missiles on trucks.
Road-mobile missile launchers can hide easier, launch from almost anywhere, and take an enemy by surprise — but liquid fuel complicates all that.
To launch a liquid-fueled missile, a giant convoy of military trucks must drive out to a location, fuel up the rocket with the multiple types of fuel for the different stages of launch, and then fire away. This requires dozens of trucks and associated military personnel. Such a large-scale deployment is much harder to conceal from a vigilant foe.
“Liquid-fueled missiles are more vulnerable to tracking and preemptive strikes. Solid-fueled ballistic missiles are not fueled on site and therefore pose more of a threat, because solid-fueled ballistic missiles require less support and can be deployed more quickly,” Kelsey Davenport, the director of nonproliferation policy and a North Korea expert at the Arms Control Association, told Business Insider.
With a missile like the one tested on Sunday, North Korea could simply park a truck and let it fly.
That’s exactly what the video of its latest launch shows:
“Another striking feature of the test was the transport erector launcher that was used to launch the missile. Images indicate that it ran on treads rather than wheels,” Davenport said. “This allows North Korea to move its missiles through more difficult terrains.”
To counter such a sneaky launcher, an adversary would have to spend extensively on surveillance and recon technology.
So while North Korea remains without an ICBM to directly threaten the US mainland, its successful launch of a solid-fueled missile means it has developed a destabilizing technology that could strike US military bases, South Korea, or Japan with a moment’s notice.
Former Marine officer Elliot Ackerman is now an accomplished author living in Istanbul, but prior to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he considered himself a “fortunate son” of privilege who chose to serve while many of his peers did not.
“The best and the brightest didn’t show up for Vietnam. And I understand. I get that it was an unpopular war,” he told photographer Brandon Stanton for his popular Humans of New York project. “But they chose to not show up and there was a consequence for that. There were leadership failures. Standards were lowered and people were killed because of bad decisions.”
He graduated from Tufts University in 2003 and decided to join the Marine Corps as an infantry officer. He was assigned as a platoon commander in 1st Battalion, 8th Marines.
“I was a fortunate son of this country,” Ackerman told Stanton. “I went to a private school. I graduated from a great college. A lot of the guys who served under me didn’t have those advantages. They relied on me to make tough decisions in dangerous situations. And I’m glad I was there to make those decisions.”
One of those tough decisions came in Nov. 2004, during the bloody second Battle of Fallujah during the Iraq War. He and his platoon of 45 men moved across a highway in the middle of the night on Nov. 10 to establish a fighting position in what they called “the candy store.”
It was only about 150 meters away from the rest of his company.
“The guys were excited at first because the place was filled with chips and soda,” he said. “And we were starving and thirsty. But all hell broke loose when the sun came up.”
At dawn, the insurgents had figured out where they were and surrounded them, while opening fire on the platoon with everything they had. The Marines were getting razed by AK-47 and RPG fire from all sides, with every exit blocked.
“You couldn’t even poke your head out,” he said. “We were pinned down all day. And suddenly my company commander is on the radio saying that we’ve got to advance. And I’m shouting into the radio over the gunfire that we’re probably going to die if we leave the store. I’m shouting so loud and for so long that I lost my voice for four days. But he’s saying that we have no choice.”
He repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire while trying to pull wounded Marines to safety, and coordinated four separate medical evacuations, despite being wounded by shrapnel himself.
In order to get out, he ordered his men to set up explosives on a back wall. Once it blew, he and his men — with nearly half the platoon having been wounded — were able to escape, alive.
“Twenty-five guys were wounded, but everyone survived,” he said. “A lot of that was luck. And a lot of that was our platoon and how good those guys were. But I also feel that my decisions mattered that day. And if I had decided not to serve, and stayed home, it could’ve ended much worse. So no, I don’t have any regrets about going to Iraq.”
Humans of New York is featuring a number of stories from veterans on its page, in partnership with non-profit The Headstrong Project (Full disclosure: The author is a friend of the executive director).
Armed and armored trains first saw use in the 19th century in the American Civil War, Franco-Prussian War and Boer Wars. Into the 20th century, armored trains were employed extensively, especially during WWI and the Russian Civil War. Capable of mounting large guns and thick armor, the trains were a formidable opponent on the battlefield. Of course, unlike tanks and planes, trains are restricted to established railway networks. So, when Britain faced the threat of a Nazi invasion during WWII, 13 armored trains were established across the country to bolster the home defense.
The layout of these armored trains was fairly typical. A locomotive sat in the middle between two armed and armored trains cars, usually repurposed steel coal wagons with added armor. Additional train cars carried extra ammunition. The standard armament for the gun cars was a QF 6 pounder Hotchkiss gun and a Vickers or Lewis machine gun. The soldiers who crewed the trains were also heavily armed with Bren light machine guns and Thompson submachine guns to compliment their standard Lee-Enfield rifles.
In late 1940, following the evacuation at Dunkirk, the British military took over many railways to host armored trains. One such railway was the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway in Kent, South East England. Being so close to France, this area would bear the brunt of the German onslaught during the Battle of Britain. However, the 15-inch gauge light railway couldn’t host the standard armored trains. Instead, the railway hosted a miniature armored train.
The Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch armored train was a fraction of the size of the other 12 trains. As a result, it was unable to mount the large Hotchkiss guns. Instead, it was armed with two .55-inch Boys anti-tank rifles and four Lewis guns. The mini armored train was crewed by the 6th Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry. They are credited with shooting down a Messerschmitt Bf 109, a Heinkel He 111 and a Dornier Do 17.
Following the Battle of Britain, with the threat of invasion all but eliminated, armored train operations were handed over to the Polish Army in the West. The Poles operated the trains until 1942 when they were moved to Scotland and operated by the Home Guard. In November 1944, the last British armored train was pulled from active service.
Lt. Col. Allison Black, commander of the 319th Special Operations Squadron, became the first woman in her special ops navigator field. Now younger generations of airmen can take the same path while embarking on their own journey in the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force video // Jimmy D. Shea)
Under the cover of night, then-1st Lt. Allison Black left her tent in Uzbekistan to walk to a preflight brief. Hours later, she’d be making history.
On this November night in 2001, the United States was hoping to bring to justice those responsible for the attacks two months earlier in New York City and Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon.
Flying over the skies of Afghanistan, Black, who is now a lieutenant colonel and the commander of the 319th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Florida, was the navigator on the AC-130H Spectre. As the navigator, she was charged with several duties, one of which was to be the single voice communicating from the aircraft to troops on the ground.
As the gunship fired everything it had upon the Taliban, expending 400 40 mm rounds and 100 105 mm rounds, the Northern Alliance leader, Gen. Abdurrashid Dostum (often referred in the media and around camp fires as “Dostum the Taliban killer”) heard Black’s voice communicating to the joint terminal attack controller on the ground to better understand where rounds need to be fired.
“He heard my voice and asked the special ops guys ‘Is that a woman?’ and they said ‘Yeah, it is,'” Black recalled. “He couldn’t believe it. So he’s laughing and says, ‘America is so determined, they’ve brought their women to kill Taliban.’ He calls the guys we’re shooting and says ‘You guys need to surrender now. American women are killing you … you need to surrender now.'”
The morning after that first mission, those remaining Taliban members surrendered.
“My first combat mission began the collapse of Taliban in the north,” said Black, who became the first female to be awarded the Air Force Combat Action Medal.
This operation would have looked different in 1992.
When Black joined the Air Force in 1992, females weren’t allowed to fly combat missions. That didn’t change until 1993, as the Air Force opened all but less than 1 percent of career fields to women, with the remainder scheduled to open up by early 2016.
At just over 5 feet tall, the Long Island, New York, native seeks and embraces challenges and doesn’t play for second place — a mindset that led her to the Air Force.
“The Air Force seemed to be the hardest service to get into. That got my attention,” Black said. Arriving at basic military training as an enlisted Airman, she was guaranteed a job in the medical career field. But her plans changed when a survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialist briefed Black’s flight on his career field and challenged the group of trainees to join SERE.
“I didn’t know how to chop down a tree, didn’t know how to kill a rabbit, didn’t know how to set a snare, but I was willing,” Black said. “It sounded challenging.”
After more than four years as a SERE instructor, including time as an arctic survival instructor, Black wanted another challenge.
Upon finishing her degree, Black earned a commission as a second lieutenant and headed off to become a navigator — a career field available on several airframes, including bombers and fighters.
There was just one airframe Black wanted: the gunship — specifically, the AC-130H gunship — so she could be on the main flight deck with the pilot, right in the thick of things.
But becoming an Airman, a SERE specialist, an officer and a navigator wasn’t enough — she wanted to join the elite Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC).
“It was exciting. It’s special operations command. You’re in a small force, asked to do tough missions — missions that operate in the gray,” Black said.
Black didn’t realize it at the time, but when she arrived at the 16th Special Operations Squadron, then stationed at Hurlburt Field, she became the first female navigator in that unit and on the AC-130H.
“The thought of being the first was the furthest thing on my mind,” she said. “At that time, I was so focused on being really good at my job and not letting any naysayers get in my way.”
Not only was the milestone the furthest thing from her mind, but it was also something she didn’t want to be on anyone else’s mind either.
“I wasn’t trying to change anyone’s opinion on whether I should or shouldn’t be in a job,” Black said. “I wanted to be an asset. I wanted to be sought after. I wanted to be really good at what I did. I didn’t want to come in second; I wanted to be first.”
Each person defines success differently.
Black doesn’t define success by the medals on her chest or the oak sleeves on her shoulders.
“By not trying to make a statement, I think I found success. I didn’t have an agenda. I didn’t join the Air Force, I didn’t join SERE, and I didn’t join AFSOC to prove that women can do a job,” Black said. “I joined all those things because of the challenge and the career field and the sexy mission. And I just happen to be a woman doing it. And, fortunately, because of my successes, it brought more visibility to ‘Hey, it doesn’t matter if it’s a guy or a girl.'”
Paying it forward
“It wasn’t until years later … when I’d have young female or male Airmen tell me that my story was inspiring, that hearing what I was able to do in AFSOC gave them the confidence to raise their hands and go forward. It was humbling,” Black said.
Black remembers vividly a point in her career where it was clear that she needed to pay it forward.
After a speech to members from base, a female senior airman approached her and referenced the part of the presentation when Black said it has been possible to mother children while also being an Airman. The senior airman was about to get out of the Air Force because she didn’t have anyone telling her the same thing.
“She’s a senior master sergeant now, and we still keep in contact,” Black said.
Seeing these tangible results from telling her story, Black began to reach out even more.
“It’s second and third order effect that just at the virtue of me doing my job, it highlighted that women can succeed. It highlighted the opportunity for women: ‘Hey you’re going to be accepted. They’re going to respect what you bring to the fight,'” Black said.
When she arrived at AFSOC, she didn’t have a cadre of female navigators to offer her mentorship. What she did have were those she refers to as her everything: her husband, Ryan, who was also a SERE instructor, and a supply of male mentors who were all willing to help a teammate grow, regardless of which bathroom stall they use.
“All of the gentlemen I’ve worked for have equipped me with the skills to be a good leader. They gave me that opportunity to shine and to step up,” she said. “You’re judged on game day. You can practice every day of the week, but it’s what you do on Sunday that counts. And I don’t believe in ‘Everyone gets a trophy.”
A new generation
When Black joined the Air Force in 1992, her options looked a lot different than they do for female Airmen today. However, because of her success and the success of many others like her, there are more options in the Air Force for females than in any other service.
This success gave people like 1st Lt. Margaret Courtney many options and paths to walk — or even fly.
Just over two years ago, Courtney had the world on a string, with options in droves. The Baylor University graduate, who majored in neuroscience, managed to pass the Law School Admission Test while working at a mental health institution helping to rehabilitate individuals with drug dependencies. Her potential career paths were in no way limited.
But she wanted more. She wanted a bigger challenge even than graduating with a neuroscience degree and going to law school.
After talking to recruiters from three different branches of the military, and after pinging several friends and family members, Courtney noticed a trend.
“It’s funny — everyone who wasn’t in the Air Force recommended the Air Force,” Courtney said.
After commissioning as an officer and going through training to become a navigator, Courtney faced a decision — what airframe did she want to work on for the remainder of her Air Force career?
“I remember going through (navigator) training, and there are several airframes that require (combat systems officers). You’re going through those aircraft and imagining your life three to 10 years down the road,” Courtney said. “How different would my life look if I joined this community or that community?”
The number of opportunities the Air Force has given Courtney caught her off guard.
“It’s not too bad to be in your young 20’s and have basically limitless possibilities laid out in front of you. I’m like ‘Goodness gracious, let me look into it all,'” Courtney said. “I feel like I’m hitting this whole job and career at the sweet spot. I’ve had plenty of people ahead of me pave the way.”
Knowing what’s ahead for Courtney, Black is excited, and almost proud of the options female Airmen now have.
“It’s exciting — hearing about Lieutenant Courtney,” Black said. “I can’t help but to reflect on when I was a lieutenant and how excited I was to come to the mission, then, after 9/11, to go and fight. I’m excited for her, because I know she’s going to find the reward.”
Black doesn’t just see the past and the present, but the future keeps her motivation high, knowing the possibilities now out there for females in the Air Force.
“The success is that we don’t hear about it because they’re blended in,” said Black said of current female aircrew members. “They’re just people doing great things – male and female. That’s success.”
When Black arrived at Hurlburt in 2000, she was wide-eyed and ready to take on the world. She saw a fork in the road and committed to a direction, not knowing the path. Now that she’s traveled that path, she feels she has a responsibility to people like Courtney and other female Airmen.
“She doesn’t know what she doesn’t know,” said Black of Courtney, who’s even more wide-eyed than the prior-enlisted Black was at this stage in her AFSOC career. “That’s where people like me come in. Lt. Col. Megan Ripple is the director of (operations) at the 4th Special Operations Squadron. We arrived here at Hurlburt together. We are taking the initiative to reach out to these women to prepare them for deployment, to teach them all the things we didn’t know.”
Considering Courtney’s only job up until this point has been to learn and receive training, she’s growing more and more excited to fly this new path.
“I’m still trying to figure out how everything works,” said Courtney, who was recently assigned to the 4th SOS. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I can’t wait to actually partake in it, and do what I’ve been training for. They want you to learn, they want you to train; they want to set you up for success. No one really cares where you’ve come from, what your rank is. They care about how much work you put into your job every day. If you’re competent and put forth the work, you get rewarded.”
Though there are some years between Black and Courtney, they noted a common mentality present when they joined the AFSOC community.
“I haven’t noticed if anyone cares about me being a girl or not,” Courtney said. “They care about how good you are at what you do, and if you care or not, and if you take pride in your work.”
Letting your work speak for itself is a welcome reality for Courtney.
“It’s definitely a relief that you’re judged based on the quality of your work, and nothing else,” Courtney said, pointing out that the impact of the mission is way too important to care about the irrelevant. “AFSOC is pretty open about it. The game we play is life or death.”
The phone call Tom Mattis got from Jim Mattis on Dec. 23, 2018 wasn’t a pleasant one, but he said his younger brother was “unruffled” by President Donald Trump’s decision to force him out early, the elder Mattis told The Seattle Times.
“He was very calm about the whole thing. Very matter of fact. No anger,” Tom Mattis told The Seattle Times. “As I have said many times in other circumstances, Jim knows who he is … many more Americans (now) know his character.”
Jim Mattis announced his resignation as defense secretary on Dec. 20, 2018, reportedly prompted in large part by Trump’s decision to withdraw the roughly 2,000 US troops deployed to Syria.
Mattis went to the White House that day in an effort to get Trump to keep US forces in the war-torn country. Mattis “was rebuffed, and told the president that he was resigning as a result,” The New York Times said at the time.
Trump initially reacted to Mattis’ resignation gracefully, tweeting that the defense chief and retired Marine general would be “retiring, with distinction, at the end of February,” echoing Mattis’ resignation letter.
But Trump reportedly bridled at coverage of Mattis and his letter, which was widely interpreted as a rebuke of Trump and of the president’s worldview.
On Dece. 23, 2018, Trump abruptly announced that Mattis would leave office two months early, sending Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to tell Mattis of the change. Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan will take over the top civilian job at the Pentagon in an acting capacity.
Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.
Trump’s sudden move to push Mattis out was reportedly a retaliatory measure, but Mattis evinced no ire over it when he told his older brother on Dec. 23, 2018.
The Mattises are natives of Richland, Washington. Tom, who was also a Marine, still lives there, as does their 96-year-old mother, Lucille.
Tom said his brother was faithful to the Constitution and would always speak truth to power “regardless of the consequences.”
“No one should assume that his service to his country will end. And the manner of his departure is yet another service to the nation. It is the very definition of patriotism and integrity,” Tom Mattis added.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
(DOD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)
Jim Mattis — who checks in with their mother almost daily, Tom Mattis said — had no plans to return home from Christmas, according to the elder Mattis, hoping instead to visit troops in the Middle East.
But Trump’s announcement appeared to forestall that trip.
On Dec. 19, 2018, a day before his resignation, Mattis released a holiday message to US service members, telling them “thanks for keeping the faith.”
On Dec. 24, 2018, Mattis signed an order withdrawing US troops from Syria, the Defense Department said, though a timeline and specific details are still being worked on. On Christmas Day, Mattis was reportedly in his office at the Pentagon.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The U.S. Air Force is preparing to launch the first of a new generation of GPS satellites, with the goal of providing more accuracy and security in the face of jamming threats from adversaries, including Russia.
The Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite is set to lift off on Dec. 18, 2018, from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
It will be the first of 32 planned GPS III satellites that are designed to replace older ones currently in orbit and are being manufactured by Lockheed Martin. SpaceX won contracts to handle five of the first six GPS 3 launches.
Many of the leading features of the system will not be fully functional until at least 2022.
The cost of the system is estimated at billion to billion.
The Air Force controls a series of 31 GPS satellites from a high-security complex at an Air Force base near Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The military says the GPS III satellites will have a stronger signal that will be more difficult to jam.
Norway accused Russia of disrupting GPS signals during a recent NATO military exercise.
Lockheed Martin says the new system will have three times greater accuracy and up to eight times more antijamming capabilities than the existing GPS satellites.
There’s a very good reason Audie Murphy is one of the most decorated veterans to every wear the US Army uniform.
Murphy was born on June 20, 1925 in Texas. His family was extremely poor, partially due to having twelve young mouths to feed. When his father abandoned the family when Audie was fifteen years old, he was forced to pick up some of the slack by hunting and doing what work he could to keep food on the table. Unfortunately, his mother died just a year after his father left.
Shortly thereafter, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Audie attempted to join the various branches of the U.S. military but was turned down in each case owing to his age and diminutive stature -five and a half feet tall (1.66 meters) and weighing only about 100 pounds (45 kg).
About seven months later, just ten days after he turned seventeen, he tried again. Having gained some weight (getting up to a whopping 112 pounds / 50.8 kg) and with falsified testimony from his sister claiming he was actually 18, this time Audie was able to get into the army. He was then shipped off to North Africa and later deployed to Sicily.
Despite his small size, Murphy proved to be a phenomenal soldier. In 1944, after witnessing the death of a friend during Operation Dragoon, he charged a group of German soldiers, took over their machine guns and other weapons, and proceeded to take out the other enemy soldiers within range using their own artillery. He was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for his actions that day, the first of many medals.
During another battle shortly after this, to cover retreating Allied soldiers, he jumped onto a tank that had been hit and was on fire, exposing himself to the advancing enemy soldiers. Why did he put himself in such an exposed position on a tank that could potentially explode at any minute? There was a .50 caliber machine gun on the tank.
As Private Anthony Abramski said of the event,
It was like standing on top of a time bomb … he was standing on the TD chassis, exposed to enemy fire from his ankles to his head and silhouetted against the trees and the snow behind him.
Nevertheless, over the course of the next hour, he held off six German tanks and several waves of enemy soldiers, who were all trying desperately to take out the little American who was the only thing in their way at that point. He only retreated when he ran out of ammo. Once this happened, having sustained a leg wound and completely exhausted, Audie said in his book To Hell and Back,
I slide off the tank destroyer and, without once looking back, walk down the road through the forest. If the Germans want to shoot me, let them. I am too weak from fear and exhaustion to care.
Despite the leg wound, as soon as he caught up with his retreating soldiers who had now re-formed, he turned them around and managed to reclaim a stretch of forest from German occupation. According to the official report, in that battle, he killed or severely wounding at least fifty German soldiers by himself. For this act of bravery and for “indomitable courage and his refusal to give an inch of ground [saving] his company from possible encirclement and destruction…” he was awarded the U.S. Medal of Honor.
He rose through the ranks and was a captain when he was pulled out of the war in 1945. All in all, he earned 33 awards and decorations for his exemplary service during the war. He was just 20 years old at the time and, as one movie critic later put it, knew more of death than he did of life.
When Murphy returned from the war, he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that often went undiagnosed at the time. After being featured on the cover of Life magazine, he found himself in Hollywood without work, sleeping in rough conditions. He caught his big break in 1949 when he starred in the film Bad Boy. That same year, he released the aforementioned autobiography titled To Hell and Back, which topped the bestseller charts. He went on to star as himself in a movie with the same title in 1955; it was Universal’s top-grossing film for nearly 20 years until Jaws usurped it.
Acting seemed to suit him. He made no less than 44 feature films while he was in Hollywood, many of them westerns, and also filmed a 26-episode western TV series called Whispering Smith, which aired in 1961 on NBC. It was criticised for being too violent, however, and cancelled after just 20 episodes were aired.
A man of many talents, Murphy also dabbled in poetry and song-writing as well as horse breeding and racing. Thanks to his earnings from acting, he was able to purchase a ranch in Texas. He was living an incredibly comfortable life, far grander than what he had known as a child.
Yet all was not well with Murphy. Back to his post traumatic stress disorder, he became dependent on sleeping pills to combat the insomnia he experienced after the war. Realizing he had become addicted to them, he locked himself in a motel room for a week, while he worked through the withdrawal symptoms. He ended up beating the addiction and went on to break the taboo of talking about the mental disorders many soldiers suffered when they returned home. His willingness to do so opened up discussions about psychological care for veterans upon their return to the US.
Murphy ended up marrying twice, divorcing his first wife after just two years, and having two sons with his second wife. He appeared to be happy with his family, with more than enough money in the bank to keep them comfortable (though he squandered much of it on gambling in his later years); had acted in dozens of movies; and had amazing war stories to tell his grandkids about. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to get to that stage of his life.
On May 28, 1971, Murphy was in a private plane flying on a business trip from Atlanta, Georgia to Martinsville, Virginia. The weather conditions were less than ideal: rain and fog shortened the pilot’s visibility considerably, and he had a questionable instrument rating. He called in to the Roanoke, Virginia airport to say that he would be landing shortly due to poor conditions. The plane, carrying five passengers including Murphy, never landed in the Roanoke Valley. It crashed into Brush Mountain twenty miles away, close to Blacksburg. Everyone in the crash was killed. Murphy was just 45 years old. The site of the crash has since been turned into a monument, and in the 1990s, the Appalachian Trail was rerouted to go past it.
That wasn’t quite the end for Murphy, though. After a funeral in Arlington Cemetery, where his grave remains the second most visited (after Kennedy’s), he was posthumously awarded his final medal, the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor. It was presented to his last remaining sister, Nadine Murphy, on October 29, 2013 by Governor Rick Perry.
Paramount released the first trailer for Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, the film adaptation of war correspondent Kim Barker’s 2011 book The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan andPakistan.
Fey plays Barker, a childless, unmarried reporter who volunteers to go to Afghanistan and Pakistan, including an embedded assignment with U.S. Marines in the region. Joining her is Margot Robbie, who of all people explains the “Desert Queen Principle” to Fey’s Barker once in country.
The film also stars Martin Freeman as a Scottish journalist, Alfred Molina (who is not of Afghan descent) as a local Afghan official, and Billy Bob Thorton as the Marine Corps commanding officer. The trailer makes the film seem like a sort of Eat, Pray, Love for reporters, which the film even outright calls “the most American white lady story I’ve ever heard.”
Barker’s original book depicted her own humorous journey from hapless to hardcore. She covered stories about Islamic militants and the reconstruction efforts in the Af-Pak area, along with her fears about the future of the region.
In early 1941, Lyudmila Pavlichenko was studying history at Kiev University, but within a year, she had become one of the best snipers of all time, credited with 309 confirmed kills, 36 of which were German snipers.
Pavlichenko was born in 1916 in a small town in Ukraine.
She was described as an independent, opinionated tomboy who was “unruly in the classroom,” as the Smithsonian notes.
At the age of 14, Pavlichenko’s family had relocated to Kiev, where she worked as a metal grinder in a munitions factory.
Like many young people in the Soviet Union at that time, Pavlichenko participated in OSOAVIAKhIM, a paramilitary sporting organization which taught youths weapons skills and etiquette.
“When a neighbor’s boy boasted of his exploits at a shooting range,” said Pavlichenko according to the Smithsonian.
“I set out to show that a girl could do as well. So I practiced a lot.”
On June 22, 1941, Hitler broke ties with Joseph Stalin and German troops poured into the Soviet Union. Pavlichenko rushed to join the Soviet army and defend her homeland, but she was initially denied entry into the army due to gender.
“She looked like a model, with well-manicured nails, fashionable clothes, and hairstyle. Pavlichenko told the recruiter that she wanted to carry a rifle and fight. The man just laughed and asked her if she knew anything about rifles,” Soviet-Awards.com wrote of Pavlichenko’s effort to join the military.
Even after Pavlichenko presented her marksman certificate and a sharpshooter badge from OSOAVIAKhIM, officials still urged her to work as a nurse.
“They wouldn’t take girls in the army, so I had to resort to all kinds of tricks to get in,” explained Pavlichenko.
Eventually, the Red Army gave her an “audition” by giving her a rifle and showed her two Romanians downrange who were working with the Germans. She shot down the two soldiers with ease, and was then accepted into the Red Army’s 25th Chapayev Rifle Division.
Snipers in these battles fought between the enemy lines, often far from their companies. It was extremely dangerous and careful work, as she had to sit perfectly still for hours on end to avoid detection from enemy snipers. After making a name for herself in Odessa and Moldova, Pavlichenko was moved to Crimea to fight in the battle of Sevastopol.
Her reputation earned her more dangerous assignments, eventually facing off one on one with enemy snipers. The Smithsonian reports that she dueled and killed 36 enemy snipers, some of whom were highly decorated themselves.
“That was one of the tensest experiences of my life,” Pavlichenko reportedly said.
Pavlichenko’s gun, the Mosin Nagant, held only five shots, was bolt-action, fired a .30 calibre round, and kicked like a mule.
She spent eight months fighting in Stevastopol, where she earned a praise from the Red Army and was promoted. On several occasions she was wounded, but she was only removed from battle after taking shrapnel to the face when her position was bombed by Germans who were desperate to stem the tide of her mounting kill count.
She had become a well known figure in the war, as a protagonist in the Red Army’s domestic propaganda, and the scourge of German soldiers all over the Eastern front. The Germans even went so far as to address her over loud speakers, offering her comfort and candy should she defect and join their ranks.
Pavlichenko became a sniper instructor and was soon invited to the White House.
She became the first Soviet soldier to visit the White House, where she met with President Franklin Roosevelt and first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt.
Pavlichenko became angry at the US media for the blatantly sexist way they questioned her about the war. Her look and dress was criticized. When she was asked if she wore make up to battle she responded, “There is no rule against it, but who has time to think of her shiny nose when a battle is going on?”
“I wear my uniform with honor. It has the Order of Lenin on it. It has been covered with blood in battle. It is plain to see that with American women what is important is whether they wear silk underwear under their uniforms. What the uniform stands for, they have yet to learn,” she told Time Magazine in 1942.
Pavlichenko was one of 2,000 female snipers who fought for the Red Army in World War II, and one of the 500 who survived.
Her score of 309 kills likely places her within the top five snipers of all time, but her kills are likely much more numerous, as a confirmed kill has to be witnessed by a third party.
After the war, Pavlichenko went back to finish her Master’s Degree at Kiev University.
In April of this year, Pavlichenko’s story was immortalized in a film called “Battle for Sevastopol” in Russia and “Indestructible” in the Ukraine.
The film was shot during the 2013 EuroMaidan protests in Ukraine, and financed by both Russian and Ukrainian backers at the start of a conflict that would become bloody and divisive, however the film is a testament to the outstanding career of Pavlichenko, a common hero among both parties.
President Donald Trump signed a bill into law on June 23 that will make it easier for the Department of Veterans Affairs to fire employees, part of a push to overhaul an agency that is struggling to serve millions of military vets.
“Our veterans have fulfilled their duty to our nation and now we must fulfill our duty to them,” Trump said during a White House ceremony. “To every veteran who is here with us today, I just want to say two very simple words: Thank you.”
“What happened was a national disgrace and yet some of the employees involved in these scandals remained on the payrolls,” Trump said. “Outdated laws kept the government from holding those who failed our veterans accountable. Today we are finally changing those laws.”
The measure was prompted by a 2014 scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center, where some veterans died as they waited months for care. The VA is the second-largest department in the US government, with more than 350,000 employees, and it is charged with providing health care and other services to military veterans.
Federal employee unions opposed the measure. VA Secretary David Shulkin, an Obama administration holdover, stood alongside Trump as the president jokingly suggested he’d have to invoke his reality TV catchphrase “You’re fired” if the reforms were not implemented.
The legislation, which many veterans’ groups supported, cleared the House last week by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 368-55, replacing an earlier version that Democrats had criticized as overly unfair to employees. The Senate passed the bill by voice vote a week earlier.
Paul Rieckhoff, founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, applauded the move, saying, “In a nasty, partisan environment like we’ve never seen, veterans’ issues can be a unique area for Washington to unite in actually getting things done for ordinary Americans.”
The bill was a rare Trump initiative that received Democratic support. Montana Sen. Jon Tester said the bill “will protect whistleblowers from the threat of retaliation.”
The new law will lower the burden of proof to fire employees, allowing for dismissal even if most evidence is in a worker’s favor.
The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, opposed the bill. But the Senate-passed measure was seen as more in balance with workers’ rights than a version passed by the House in March, mostly along party lines. The Senate bill calls for a longer appeal process than the House version – 180 days versus 45 days. VA executives would be held to a tougher standard than rank-and-file employees.
USMC Photo by Sgt. Justin M. Boling
The bill also turns another of Trump’s campaign pledges into law by creating a permanent VA accountability office, which Trump established by executive order in April.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, called the bill signing “a significant step to reform the VA with a renewed purpose and ability to serve our veterans.”
“The ultimate goal is nothing less than a transformation of the culture within the VA so that our veterans receive the best care possible,” McCarthy said.
The VA has been plagued for years by problems, including the 2014 scandal, where employees created secret lists to cover up delays in appointments. Critics say few employees are fired for malfeasance.
One of the eight engines powering a Boeing B-52 bomber flying over Minot Air Force Base on Wednesday quite literally fell right off the aircraft.
The unarmed aircraft, which was on a training flight at the North Dakota base, landed safely and none of the crew were injured, an Air Force spokesman told Defense News.
The service has already initiated an investigation into what went wrong. All crew members of a B-52 that crashed in May 2016 escaped without injury, though a 2008 crash killed all six crew members on board.
The B-52 is a long-range, heavy bomber jet aircraft powered by eight Pratt Whitney engines. It was first introduced in 1955, though it has continually been upgraded and maintained.
The Air Force has just over 75 B-52s still in service today, which are slated to last into 2040, according to Defense News.
The B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber is expected to replace the aging B-52 fleet once it’s introduced some time in the mid-2020s.
The battle against explosives and stemming civilian casualties in Afghanistan remains a top priority for U.S. forces there.
“For more than 40 years, Afghanistan has been bombed, shelled and mined,” according to the Alun Hill video below. “Old Soviet mines and shells still litter the countryside.”
Insurgents use these dangerous relics, innocuous household items and other explosive materials smuggled in from Pakistan to make improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which they use against American forces. Explosives that are undetonated can remain dormant for years before being uncovered by unsuspecting civilians. Most of the casualties now in Afghanistan come from these items, said Conventional Weapons Destruction (CWD) Manager Hukum Khan Rasooly.
Watch how these dangerous weapons are made and destroyed:
The U.S. base near southern Syria’s al-Tanf border crossing was set up to train local Syrians to fight Islamic State militants, but it also serves as a counterweight to Iranian activities in the war-torn country, U.S. officials and experts tell VOA.
“Our mere presence there accomplishes that, whether it’s a goal or not,” Army Maj. Josh Jacques, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), said.
The U.S. military’s primary focus across Syria has been the defeat of Islamic State fighters, and to serve that mission, U.S. soldiers at al-Tanf are training a Syrian group called Maghawir al-Thawra (MaT), Jaques said.
While the military is not directly focused on Iran in Syria, it can still indirectly impede Iran’s “destabilizing acts” in the country, according to CENTCOM commander U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel.
“There are opportunities for us to indirectly influence their [Iran’s] activities by our presence, by the pursuit of our ongoing operations, that I think disrupt and make it difficult for them to pursue their unilateral objectives,” Votel told reporters during a July 19, 2018 briefing.
Jordan, Iraq, and Syria all meet in the area surrounding the U.S. base, a potential space, officials say, through which Iran could create a continuous land bridge that would stretch to the Mediterranean.
But the U.S. has established a so-called “deconfliction zone” in the area that spans about 55 kilometers around the base. The zone is meant to protect the United States and its allies as they battle the Islamic State militant group, and it essentially prevents any non-U.S. ally from entering the area.
“One quiet rationale for maintaining a presence there is to at least monitor and then perhaps deter some of the Iranian forces, or Iranian-backed forces that may have used that part of the country to transit into Syria,” said Brian Katulis with the Center for American Progress.
The base is not meant to completely block Iran’s involvement in Syria because much of its engagement comes via airplanes.
The U.S. post does, however, protect American military assets, giving the U.S. the ability to mount drone operations, conduct surveillance, and perhaps even create human intelligence networks.
It also helps to reassure U.S. ally Jordan, whose officials have expressed concerns about how secure its border would be if Americans weren’t in southern Syria.
“As small as that [U.S.] presence is, I think it sends a signal,” Katulis said.
5th Special Forces Group (A) Operation Detachment Bravo 5310 arrives to meet Major General James Jarrard at the Landing Zone at base camp Al Tanf Garrison in southern Syria.
(DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Jacob Connor)
‘Shades of gray’
Michael O’Hanlon, a senior defense fellow at the Brookings Institution, says defeating IS is the “black and white” goal for American forces at al-Tanf, while all the ways that the U.S. indirectly influences Iran in Syria are “shades of gray.”
He says the base also allows the U.S. to “exercise some influence on parts of the country so that Iran isn’t the only important foreign actor.”
“In the short term, you want to create some alternative power centers,” said O’Hanlon.
Once IS is defeated, however, the United States will need a long-term political transition strategy that clearly explains why the military would stay in Syria.
“We’re sort of in a transition phase, where you can still sustain the current effort on the grounds of it being anti-ISIS, but everyone recognizes that the days of that argument carrying the day are numbered,” O’Hanlon said, using an acronym for the Islamic State terror group.
“Just staying for presence sake is not a good enough reason,” he said.