How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress - We Are The Mighty
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How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress

They have achieved cult hero status for their exploits since 9/11, but their success on the battlefield is taking a personal toll on Navy SEALs and members of other US special operations elite forces.


Reports of rampant illicit drug abuse by special operators — while on deployment and at home — have prompted congressional lawmakers to call for an accountability review of the “culture” inside special operations units.

Drug and alcohol use by some members of special operations units is nothing new to the culture within the teams, who see such behavior as a coping mechanism in response to the unforgiving tasks these soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines have been asked to carry out.

“They are pretty much out there on a daily basis in very dangerous situations and working with [partners] who you don’t know if they are going to put a bullet in your back,” one former team member with knowledge of personnel issues told The Washington Times. “The level of stress these people are experiencing is off the charts,” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress
USAF photo by Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson

The unprecedented pace and tempo in which US special operations forces have been used in the post-9/11 global war on terrorism, beginning with al Qaeda and the Taliban and now encompassing Islamic State, Boko Haram, and other groups, has exacerbated those stress levels, leading to even riskier coping behaviors.

“Kill/capture” missions by US special operations units combined with clandestine drone strikes formed the backbone of the Obama administration’s counterterrorism doctrine. Six months into his term, President Trump has shown little sign of abandoning that strategy. Defense Secretary James Mattis said in May that the United States is entering an era of global conflict defined by protracted small wars with extremist militant groups.

“This is going to be a long fight,” Mr. Mattis said.

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley.

Aside from deploying hundreds of special operations military advisers to the front lines of the Islamic State fight in Syria and Iraq, the Trump administration has ordered the expansion of US Special Operations Command’s mission in Africa, battling the Somali-based terrorist group al-Shabab.

“You see our forces engaged in that from Africa to Asia. But, at the same time, this is going to be a long fight. And I don’t put timelines on fights,” Mr. Mattis told CBS News.

‘Something has to give’

The operational tempo for Navy SEALs, Army Special Forces and other “Tier One” US special operations forces units, which spend a majority of their time overseas on deployment, is a vicious cycle but a prerequisite for the job, the former team member said.

“We’re not talking about 18-, 19-year-old kids. You have to have a level of resilience to get where they are,” he said. But even with the most seasoned and battle-hardened veterans, “something has to give” from the relentless demands to deploy.

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress
Photo credit Tanjila Ahmed

A pair of random, command-wide drug screenings conducted from November through February uncovered a total of 59 cases of illicit drug use among sailors serving in Naval Special Warfare Command.

Seven command members tested positive for illicit drug use from among more than 6,300 subjected to a sweep of random tests late last year, according to figures that command officials provided to The Times. The command also uncovered 52 cases of illegal drug use among 71,000 tests carried out since August 2014.

Of the 52 command members who tested positive for illegal drug use during the most recent round of tests across the Navy command, 10 were SEAL team members. Command officials could not confirm how many SEAL members were part of the seven positive drug tests found during a round of testing in November and December.

Drug abuse, domestic abuse, or other behaviors tied to the seemingly constant rotations to conflict zones are “endemic of what these people are going through,” the team member said. “These are your franchise players. They want to be the best of the best. It’s a quality you need but also makes it hard to disengage. A lot of it is just coping just the physical toll [the job] takes on you. You have to find an outlet.”

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress
USAF photo illustration by Senior Airman Chad Strohmeyer

The problem of drug use within the special operations community gained unwanted attention in April when news leaked of a closed-door speech by Capt. Jamie Sands, head of all East Coast-based Navy SEAL teams. The captain warned all 900 Navy special operators in the command about cracking down on the use of illicit drugs — including cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, marijuana, and ecstasy — among the SEAL teams that went public.

One active-duty SEAL attached to the East Coast teams told CBS News at the time that a number of his team members had tested positive for illegal drugs multiple times but remained on active duty since the Navy was unable to monitor their drug usage on a regular basis. Their frequent, extended deployments overseas allowed team members to avoid regular drug screenings.

Capt. Sands said that would no longer be a loophole in the command.

“We’re going to test on the road,” the officer said. “We’re going to test on deployment. If you do drugs, if you decide to be that selfish individual, then you will be caught.”

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress
DoD Photo by Maj. Will Cox

Accountability review

Rep. Jackie Speier, California Democrat, in June pushed for legislation requiring US special operations command and the head of the Pentagon’s special operations directorate to conduct an accountability review of the military’s elite units amid reports of heavy drug abuse within the teams.

The review was included in the House draft version of the Pentagon’s spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year, which sets aside $696 billion for military programs and operations. The full House overwhelmingly approved the defense spending package this month.

The measure would require Mark Mitchell, acting assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, as well as top brass from Special Operations Command in Tampa, Florida, “to provide a briefing regarding culture and accountability in [special operations forces].”

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress
USAF photo by Airman 1st Class Ashley Gardner

Critics say the Pentagon’s policies do not properly address the problem of illicit drug use among special operators, a claim US Special Operations Command officials vehemently deny.

“No one has turned a blind eye to the challenges special operations forces face after a decade and a half of continuous combat operations,” command spokesman Kenneth McGraw said in a statement to The Times.

Command officials and their counterparts in the services’ special operations directorates formed a task force to address issues such as drug use and other symptoms related to prolonged deployments of the elite US troops. The task force takes a “takes a holistic, integrated approach” to post-deployment issues unique to Special Forces units “designed to maximize access to treatment and minimize any stigma associated with seeking help,” Mr. McGraw said.

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress
USAF photo by Tech. Sgt. Nadine Barclay

Despite the command’s task force and other associated efforts, lawmakers are pressing command officials on the problem of drug use inside the teams.

Ms. Speier’s office declined repeated requests for comment on the legislation and the level of cooperation House members are receiving from command officials and the Pentagon. But her characterization of the need for accountability within the special operations teams to address drug use is the wrong way to view the problem, the former team member said.

“I do not know if this is an accountability issue. It is not just about bad people. I think a lot of it is just what they have been through,” he said. “You have to realize you are not going to eradicate this [problem]. You cannot eradicate those experiences” of war.

Articles

North Korean fires missile over Japan’s airspace

North Korea has launched what appears to be a missile headed towards the northern end of Japan at around 5:58 a.m. local time, according to Japanese government officials.


Japan’s NHK News reported that the missile passed over Japan and warned people in northern Japan to take necessary precautions.

Although three missiles were fired, according to Japanese officials, it was not entirely clear if all of them were headed towards the same trajectory. NHK also reported that a missile broke off into three pieces before splashing down into the Pacific Ocean.

South Korean military officials have also confirmed reports of the missile launch and  said that it flew  for about  1677 miles.

During the tense moment, multiple prefectures in Japan were reportedly put on alert.

“We’ll take utmost efforts to protect the public,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe said, shortly following the launch.

The latest act of provocation from North Korea comes amid a spate of questionable moves, despite regional leaders, including Russia, denouncing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in recently called for his county to prepare to “immediately switch to offensive operations” if the North makes a “provocation that crosses the line,” NK News reported.

On September 1, 1998, North Korea fired a missile towards Japan’s airspace, offering no explanation for the incident.

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

Articles

This video shows how an Iraqi soldier saved his comrades from a suicide bomber

A video that reportedly captures the dramatic moment an Iraqi soldier saved his squad by driving his bulldozer into an incoming Islamic State group suicide bomber, has emerged this week.


The footage, which was shot from the dash cam installed inside the driver’s cabin, was taken in West Mosul where IS have been making their last stand against a massive operation to retake the Iraqi city.

It shows the driver deliberately ramming his bulldozer into an incoming IS car bomb in the narrow streets of the extremists’ final Iraqi bastion.

“Sir, I stopped it,” the driver, named in media reports as Mohammed Ali al-Shuwaili, can be heard saying as the smoke from the explosion fills his cabin.

“Thank God you’re alright,” his commander responds.

The New Arab could not independently verify the authenticity of the video.

Baghdad forces first took the eastern side of the city before crossing the Tigris and attacking the more densely packed western section of Mosul.Iraqi forces launched the massive operation to retake Mosul from IS nearly seven months ago, fighting their way into the jihadist-held city.

In the course of the fighting, security forces have faced a seemingly endless waves of IS car bombs, which when detonated erupt into towering fireballs.

Such attacks have featured heavily in the jihadi group’s latest propaganda films.

Iraqi officers said on Tuesday that Iraqi forces have recaptured nearly 90 percent of west Mosul from IS, which is on the “brink of total defeat”.

Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, spokesman for Iraq’s Joint Operations Command, told a news conference in Baghdad that IS now controls just over ten percent of west Mosul.

The drive to retake Mosul has been supported by a campaign of US-led coalition air raids in and around the city.

IS now controls just a handful of neighborhoods around the Old City, one of the country’s heritage jewels.

Half a million people are currently displaced as a result of the Battle for Mosul, and some 250,000 civilians are estimated to still be trapped inside the city’s west.

Click here to watch the dramatic video.

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress
(Source: The New Arab)

MIGHTY TRENDING

Taliban launches new attacks despite peace discussions

Taliban militants killed dozens of Afghan security forces in fresh attacks on several government targets, according to officials.

Safiullah Amiri, deputy chairman of the regional council in the northern Kunduz province, told RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan that 15 Afghan military personnel were killed in an attack in the Dashti Archi district that began late on Sept. 9, 2018.

Amiri said that another 18 security personnel were injured in the attack.

A security source in Dashti Archi said Taliban militants attacked several security teams in the district.


Meanwhile, in the northern province of Jawzjan, provincial police chief Faqir Mohammad Jawzjani said at least eight police were killed in early-morning fighting with the Taliban in the Khamyab district on Sept. 10, 2018, the Associated Press reported.

Jawzjani told the AP that Afghan troops were forced to retreat from a headquarters in the district in order to prevent civilian casualties. He said seven Taliban militants were killed and eight others wounded.

“There was intense fighting and we didn’t want civilian houses destroyed, or any civilian casualties,” Jawzjani said.

In the northern city of Sar-e-Pul, the capital of the Afghan province of the same name, the Taliban carried out overnight attacks on military and police installations, officials and security sources said.

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress

Taliban Militants.

Provincial council member Asif Sadiqi was quoted by the dpa news agency as saying that at least 17 soldiers were killed in the attacks in Sar-e-Pul, which he said the militants launched from three directions.

Taliban militants reportedly seized control of several military bases and police checkpoints in Sar-e-Pul, and provincial council member Reza Alimzada said that several security personnel were taken hostage.

Meanwhile, Taliban fighters killed another 14 local Afghan security-force members and government-loyal militiamen in the Dara Suf district of the northern Samangan Province, provincial spokesman Sediq Azizi said.

Azizi said that that six others were wounded.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

Articles

10 things to look forward to about military retirement (and 5 things not to)

Taking off the uniform and retiring is fraught with fear and uncertainty. Luckily, you’ll live. It might not seem like it sometimes after spending so much of your life in the military, but with a little persistence and patience, everything will be fine.


First, 10 things you can look forward to:

1. Higher pay

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress

This is what everyone gets excited for and it’s a good deal after you get through the searching, preparing, and interviewing processes. It takes time and can cause night sweats wondering where you’ll end up after retirement, but if you play your cards right and land a decent job then your net pay can increase by about 50 percent. It’s not Easy Street, but it’s Easier Than Before Street.

2. Stability

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress
(Photo: U.S. Air Force Cpt. Angela Webb)

This is a double-edged sword. Some people like the nomadic lifestyle the military gives us and actually struggle with sitting still in one place. We enjoyed seeing new places and wondering where we’ll be sent next. So when that train stops, it’s hard for some people to deal with. Others can’t wait to put down roots in a community and never move again. It’s nice to finally have an address that doesn’t change and no chance of another deployment order.

3. PT on your time

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress
Staff Sgt. Gideon Connelly leaps over a gutter during training at an adaptive sports camp in Crested Butte, Colorado. He is training to be a part of the Paralympic track and field team for the 2016 Paralympic Games. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.)

If you hated early morning PT then good news … you can hit the gym at whatever time you like. Leave work early and go for an afternoon run? Why, yes, I will thanks.

4. Networking

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress
(Photo: Starbucks)

This can be fun or a pain depending on how you look at it. Networking is always a good idea, especially if you’re a professional. If a post-military job doesn’t work out and you want to try something else, you have to know people who can help. So now you have a valid excuse to get out there and mingle.

5. Health insurance

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress
(Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Elizabeth Merriam)

While your co-workers at your new job are complaining about co-pay, premiums, and Obamacare, you’ll be comfortable in knowing Tricare and/or the VA system is cheap and effective … okay, now that I read that back it sounds kinda ridiculous. However, if you happen to be in an area that has a good military hospital and your family doesn’t have any major medical issues, the money you save on healthcare can be significant. I’m probably one of the few people who has nothing bad to say about the Army healthcare system, but I live outside Ft Belvoir (huge hospital) and have not had anything significant to deal with.

6. Hobbies

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress
(Photo: Wikimedia)

Never had time for one before? You do now. And if your hobby is hanging out with family, even better. Build a drone, write a novel, or hike the Grand Canyon finally.

7. Joining the “old farts” organizations

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress
Army vet, actor, and American Legion member Johnny Jenkinson. (Photo: We Are The Mighty)

The American Legion, VFW, IAVA, and everyone else will try to get you to join their club. These groups do good things for the collective good of the military but they’re honestly not for everyone. As soon as I retired I joined my local outpost but just never really connected with them on a personal level. But I continue to pay my dues and support them because those organizations are great advocates for the veteran community.

8. Running into old friends again

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress

The American military is the biggest fraternity in the world. I live in DC and during any given month an old friend has to come here for one reason or another and we invariably get together, have a few drinks and enjoy Reason Number 9 to look forward to retirement …

9. Reliving old tales

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress
Military veterans share their individual stories during dinner at an adaptive sports camp in Crested Butte, Colo.

Over and over and over again. And history seems to change with each telling of the tale.

10. Facial hair

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress
Gen. George Crook. (Photo: Civil War archives)

Come on … you know you want to grow that sweet goatee.

Now, five things not to look forward to:

1. Loss of camaraderie

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Richard W. Rose Jr. (Ret.) and Staff Sgt. Gideon Connelly celebrate after climbing a 50-foot mountain during an Adaptive Sports Camp in Crested Butte, Colorado. (U.S. Air Force photo by/Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.)

You take the uniform off the soldier, but not the soldier out of the uniform…or something like that. The people you served with are what makes the life special. They had your back and you had theirs and it’s hard to find that camaraderie in the civilian world.

2. Lack of respect from young bucks

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Mstyslav Chernov

Get it through your head that your former rank doesn’t mean anything when you get out. Even if you were a general officer, you’re Mister Jones now, so when some brazen E4 cuts in front of you in line at the PX because he’s in uniform, get over it.

3. Not being able to do what you did on active duty

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress

This is more of an age thing, but the days of running 5 miles in body armor or going on a drinking binge the night before a Company run are over. Long walks through the neighborhood are the routine now. And naps.

4. Going to the bottom of the list of priorities

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress
(Photo: Greenbrier Historical Society)

Whether you’re picking up a prescription or trying to get on a MAC flight, retirees are the last priority for everything. In an instant, you go from priority one to priority none.

5. Dental insurance

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress
(Photo: Department of Defense)

For some strange voodoo reason, Delta Dental is 4 times more expensive than any of the dental insurance plans of the civilian companies I’ve worked for since retiring. Weird.

Kelly Crigger is a retired lieutenant colonel and the author of “Curmudgeonism; A Surly Man’s Guide to Midlife.”

Mighty Moments

This homeless veteran and good samaritan just bought a home

A homeless man who used his last $20 to fill up the gas tank of a stranded motorist in Philadelphia has bought a home with some of the nearly $400,000 raised for him by the woman he saved.


Johnny Bobbitt Jr. says on his GoFundMe page that he bought a home over the weekend.

Related: This storied American brand is helping vets get into their homes — literally

Kate McClure, of Florence Township, New Jersey, ran out of gas on an Interstate 95 exit ramp late one night. Bobbitt walked a few blocks to buy her gas. She didn’t have money to repay the Marine veteran, so she created the online fundraiser page as a thank you. The fundraiser has raised more than $397,000.

Bobbitt says he’s donating some of his money to a grade school student who is helping another homeless veteran.

Watch Johnny find out that Kate raised a little over $700 in two days:

(Kate McClure | YouTube)
MIGHTY SPORTS

Golf made my friend a better Marine

We all know that Marines win our nation’s battles, and their discipline under pressure is a matter of life or death. However, and as weird as it may seem, there is a lot that the driving range and the fairway can teach us about winning battles. I know because I recently joined my friend Marine Major Ben Ortiz and his fellow golf warrior, Erik Anders Lang, for a round at the Desert Winds golf course on Marine Corps Base Twentynine Palms.


How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress

Major Ben Ortiz or, ‘Bennie Boy’ as I call him, have known each other since our first days at the Naval Academy. I already know what you’re thinking… of course, two Academy grads and officers are golfers. But literally, nothing could be further from the truth. Golf was never supposed to be part of either of our lives.

“Seriously, dude? You play golf, now?” I ask a little sarcastically as Bennie and I walk to the clubhouse.

Bennie is a Mustang (an officer who was enlisted first), and he grew up in a neighborhood outside of Chicago where even the mention of golf could get you ridiculed for life or worse. After joining the Marines he deployed multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan where he’s been a kind of intelligence officer that grunts love and terrorists hate. So when he asked me to play golf with him, I immediately started to question his mental state.

“Dude, you have no idea. Golf has made me a better Marine. More focused…lethal.” Bennie smiles as he justifies why we are on a golf course at 0730.

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress

Major Ortiz tees off with focus

As we approach the clubhouse, I meet a squad of Marines who have been recruited to play with us this morning, but we are also joined by a true golf warrior, Erik Anders Lang. Erik is a bit of an anomaly himself. He never picked up a club until his thirties, and now he travels the world for his series Adventures In Golf. At first, I am a little wary that Erik, who looks a little like he just rolled out of bed, can compete with the Marines on their home turf. But after watching Erik tee off with a nearly 350-yard drive down the center of the first hole, I realize that I am not only watching a true golfer but a sniper.

As Bennie, Erik, and I walk the desert course we begin to chat about the game and the Marine Corps. At each hole, I realize the golfers are fighting the terrain, the weather and even their own subconscious, an enemy more elusive than the adversaries Bennie and other Marines face abroad. As we near the end of the course, Bennie begins to explain his theory a little more.

“Intel is all about collecting and analyzing information and then turning it into something useful for the Grunts. A lot of people think that bad intel is a result of bad information, but there is a second and even more important component, the analyst. If I am distracted or unfocused, I can be the weak link. Golf, and the battle on each hole, has taught me about mental and physical discipline.”

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress

Major Ortiz (4th from left) and Erik Lang (center) after a round of golf.

Erik smiles and nods in agreement. He knows the mental strength it takes to master the club. After a quick competition on the driving range, which Erik (the sniper) wins, we sit down in the chow hall for an After Action of the morning’s performance. Bennie has changed out of his golf clothes and into cammies, and Erik begins to explain to us how Tiger Woods inspired him to pick up a club.

“Not everyone is perfect in golf,” Erik starts. “He’s human, he’s obviously made mistakes, but if you watch carefully you can see how he processes the course and the ball with each shot.”

Erik’s got a point. Now, I am pretty sure that when Tiger Woods stepped onto the 18th green, poised to win the 2019 Masters, there was almost nothing going through his mind other than the basics of putting. In the seconds before Tiger’s final stroke, there was no time for self-doubt, fear or even distractions from the thousands standing around him and the millions watching all across the globe. With one quick putt, Tiger was back on top of the world and his pure calmness, poise, and discipline under such pressure is something we all can admire, especially Marines like me.

But unlike Tiger, Marines must use these same attributes for something much bigger than a green jacket. Now, I begin to see what both Bennie and Erik are stressing to me. Golf is a sport of discipline and focus which can extend beyond the course and onto the most stressful battlefields abroad.

Bennie now speaks to the group before we roll out for the day.

“I hope that other Marines will realize that the course is much more than a game. It’s about training too.”

I think Bennie’s onto something that both Erik Lang and Tiger Woods already know: maybe we can all be better Marines if we spend a little time on the course.

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress

Major Ortiz (left) and the Author (right) after our round of golf. Bennie’s war face is the same from Quantico.

Articles

VA’s LA campus draft master plan just released, needs vet input

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress
(Photo courtesy of NPR.org)


The Department of Veteran Affairs has just released the draft master plan for how the agency intends to improve the campus of its West Los Angeles facility after years of encroachment, misuse, and neglect. The plan follows a landmark legal ruling last year following a lawsuit that alleged that VA was violating the covenant of an 1888 deed whereby the United States acquired title to the West LA Campus by misusing parts of it for commercial purposes in lieu of caring for and serving veterans.

The agreement established a nonprofit, Vets Advocacy, to serve as a partner in the West LA VA master planning process. Vets Advocacy and We Are The Mighty have joined forces in a grassroots campaign to assist the veteran community in voicing how they’d like to see VA services provided at the West LA VA campus.

“With the proper veteran input, the West LA VA redevelopment plan has the potential to serve as a 21st Century blueprint for VA campuses nationwide,” said Jonathan Sherin, a psychiatrist and veteran advocate who has been a key facilitator of the planning effort.

The new master plan for the West LA Campus will help VA determine and implement the most effective use of the campus for veterans, particularly for homeless veterans, including underserved populations such as female veterans, aging veterans, and those who are severely physically or mentally disabled. Focus areas include considerations surrounding vet housing (both temporary and permanent), vet services, and historic preservation.

The draft plan divides the campus into four zones labeled (1-4 respectively) “Healthcare Excellence,” “Coordinated Care,” “Veteran Housing,” and “Recreation.” Details of each zone can be found in the document.

“This draft master plan provides the VA with a stronger foundation to build a 21st century healthcare campus and vibrant community for veterans,” VA Secretary Robert McDonald said in a statement. “It also helps to ensure we will have the housing and healthcare resources needed to sustain the mission of ending veteran homelessness.”

Now that the draft master plan has been published, veterans have 45 days to review it and provide inputs, thereby helping to ensure the plan meets the needs of those it is designed to assist. The master plan can be viewed and downloaded and comments can be submitted at #VATHERIGHTWAY.

MIGHTY TRENDING

A full explainer on how and why Russia stole Ukraine’s ships

A dusting of snow and unease fell over Ukraine one day after Russian Coast Guard vessels fired on and detained three Ukrainian military ships and their crews off the Crimean coast, igniting rioting outside the Russian Embassy and public demands for retaliation.

The Nov. 25, 2018 incident marked the most significant escalation of tensions in the shared Sea of Azov in 2018 and the first time since Russia’s unrecognized annexation of Crimea four years ago that Moscow has publicly acknowledged opening fire on Ukrainian forces.


The Ukrainian General Staff of the Armed Forces was on full combat alert ahead of an extraordinary session of parliament on Nov. 26, 2018, when lawmakers backed a decree by President Petro Poroshenko to impose 30 days of martial law in response to the skirmish.

Here’s what went down, what has happened since, and what it all could mean:

What happened and where?

The Ukrainian and Russian versions of events differ, with each blaming the other for instigating the incident.

Kyiv said the Russians’ actions violated a 2003 bilateral treaty designating the Sea of Azov and Kerch Strait as shared territorial waters and the UN Law of the Sea, which guarantees access through the strait.

Russian officials said the Ukrainian ships were maneuvering dangerously, requiring the strait to be temporarily closed for security reasons. Moscow has since announced the reopening of the strait after using a cargo ship to block passage beneath a controversial new bridge connecting Russia with occupied Crimea.

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress

But what isn’t disputed is that a Russian Coast Guard vessel, the Don, slammed into a Ukrainian Navy tugboat as it escorted two military vessels toward the Kerch Strait in the direction of the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, which lies on the coast of the inland Sea of Azov. A series of dangerous events followed.

According to the Ukrainian Navy, the transfer of its vessels from the port of Odesa to the port of Mariupol was planned in advance. It said that while en route on Nov. 25, 2018, the ships had radioed the Russian Coast Guard twice to announce their approach to the Kerch Strait but received no response.

Hours later, as the boats approached the strait, they were intercepted by Russian Coast Guard vessels. A video recorded aboard the Don and shared by Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov appeared to show the chaos that ensued, including the moment that the Russian vessel collided with the Ukrainian tugboat. The tugboat suffered damage to its engine, hull, and guardrail, according to the Ukrainian Navy.

Ukrainian authorities said the Russian forces subsequently opened fire on its vessels, badly damaging them. Russia said its forces fired on the Ukrainian boats as a matter of security.

As the incident unfolded, Russia blocked the Kerch Strait — the only passage to and from the inland Sea of Azov, which is jointly controlled by Russia and Ukraine — by anchoring a freighter across the central span of its six-month-old Crimean Bridge.

At least six Ukrainian servicemen were said to have been wounded, including two seriously, a National Security and Defense Council official and a Foreign Ministry official told RFE/RL on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment officially to journalists. They said around midday on Nov. 26, 2018, that there had been no contact with 23 sailors aboard those vessels. The ships and crew were detained and brought to the Russia-controlled port in Kerch, in annexed Crimea.

Early on Nov. 26, 2018, Kerch FM, a local radio station and news site, published photographs and a video of what it claimed were the detained Ukrainian Navy vessels moored at the port in Kerch.

Захваченные украинские катера стоят в Керчи

www.youtube.com

Meanwhile, Poroshenko’s permanent representative for Crimea, Borys Babin, told the 112 Channel that at least three of six wounded Ukrainian servicemen had been transferred to Moscow for medical treatment. Russian Ombudswoman Tatyana Moskalkova reportedly told Ukraine’s Hromadske TV that three others were being treated at a hospital in Kerch.

Poroshenko calls for martial law. what would that mean?

From Kyiv’s perspective, the sea skirmish marked a significant escalation in a long-running conflict and perhaps the opening of a new front at sea. Until then, the fighting in eastern Ukraine, where government forces have battled Russia-backed separatists since April 2014, had been mostly a land war fought in trenches and with indiscriminate heavy artillery systems, albeit with mounting confrontations at sea as Russia bolstered its military presence there.

At an emergency cabinet meeting after midnight on Nov. 26, 2018, Poroshenko called on parliament to support a declaration of martial law to respond to Russia’s attacks and its effective blockade of the Sea of Azov. His call was heeded by parliament speaker Andriy Parubiy, who convened an extraordinary session for the late afternoon.

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress

Some are uneasy about Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s desire to introduce martial law.

With a powerful coalition in parliament supporting Poroshenko, passage was virtually assured. Even some members of parliament who frequently oppose the coalition quickly voiced support for the measure, including Self Reliance party leader and Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadoviy.

But some lawmakers expressed concern about the move. Mustafa Nayyem, a member of Poroshenko’s party who is often critical of the president, wrote on Facebook that “the president must indicate the JUSTIFICATION of the need to impose martial law, the BORDER of the territory in which it is to be introduced, as well as the TERM for its introduction.”

“In addition,” Nayyem argued, “the document should contain an exhaustive list of constitutional rights and freedoms of citizens that would be temporarily restricted.”

The proposal from the National Security and Defense Council that Poroshenko announced he had signed on Nov. 26, 2018, listed some of these things, according to a text published on the president’s official site.

The initial text called for partial mobilization, the immediate organization of air-defense forces, tightened security at borders with Russia, increased information security, an information campaign to present facts about Russia’s “aggression,” increased security around critical infrastructure, and more. It can reportedly be canceled at any time.

The text reportedly made no mention of the scheduled presidential election in March 2019, which some critics fear could be postponed. But presidential adviser Yuriy Biryukov said before the decree was published that Poroshenko’s administration would not do that, adding that there would be no restrictions on freedom of speech.

As passed by lawmakers later on Nov. 26, 2018, martial law was to be imposed from Nov. 28, 2018. The order sets out extraordinary measures including a partial mobilization, a strengthening of Ukraine’s air defenses, and several activities with broad wording — such as unspecified steps “to strengthen the counterintelligence, counterterrorism, and countersabotage regime and information security.”

Martial law will be introduced in areas of the country most vulnerable to “aggression from Russia.”

Why now?

Poroshenko and the martial law decree say it is necessary for national security. Specifically, the decree states it is “in connection with the next act of armed aggression on the part of the Russian Federation, which took place on Nov. 25, 2018, in the Kerch Strait against the ships of the Naval Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.”

Beyond that, he hasn’t said much else about the timing or aims.

The introduction of martial law represents an extraordinary and unprecedented move. No martial law was imposed during Russia’s occupation and annexation of Crimea in early 2014 nor at any point since hostilities began a month later in eastern Ukraine — even when Ukrainian soldiers and civilians were dying at the height of fighting that summer and in early 2015.

Back then, Ukrainian officials worried publicly that a declaration of martial law could severely damage the country’s ailing economy and disrupt cooperation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Today, the economy has seen some recovery and the IMF recently promised Ukraine another financial bailout.

There could be other reasons, as some on Ukrainian social media pointed out after the president’s proposal was made public.

Poroshenko’s approval ratings have declined dramatically in recent months. He’s now lagging far behind his highest-profile opponent, former Prime Minister and Fatherland party leader Yulia Tymoshenko. Some Ukrainian and foreign observers have suggested that Poroshenko, who has tried to capitalize on the threat from Russia with a three-pointed election slogan — Army! Language! Faith! — might benefit from playing up Russian hostilities.

Also, under martial law, some fear Poroshenko could try to cancel or postpone elections. For its part, Ukraine’s Central Election Commission reportedly stated that holding elections under martial law would be possible.

Meanwhile, in Russia, President Vladimir Putin’s own approval ratings have sunk in recent months as Russians vented anger over controversial pension reforms. Putin’s purported order to special forces to seize the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine came in March 2014, with his approval ratings sagging.

But tensions in and around the Sea of Azov have been mounting for some time, with the Ukrainian military and Border Guard Service telling RFE/RL in August 2018 that it felt like only a matter of time before the situation would worsen.

How did we get here?

Confrontation has been brewing in and around the Sea of Azov and Kerch Strait for months, if not years, as RFE/RL reported from Mariupol in August 2018.

The situation began ramping up in May 2018, when Russia opened a 19-kilometer, rail-and-highway bridge over the Kerch Strait connecting mainland Russia with the annexed Crimean Peninsula. The bridge’s low height restricted the types of merchant ships that could pass, decreasing traffic to service Ukrainian ports in Mariupol and Berdyansk. For those cities, their ports are economic lifelines.

Both sides increased their military presence in the Azov region. And Kyiv accused Moscow of harassing ships bound for Mariupol and Berdyansk. Ships operated by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) have since detained more than 150 merchant vessels, holding them for up to several days, at considerable cost to the companies and the ports.

Each side has detained the other’s vessels. In March 2018, Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service detained a Russian fishing boat and impounded it in Berdyansk. In November 2018, Russian Border Guards seized a Ukrainian fishing boat and impounded it in the Russian port of Yeysk, about 60 kilometers southeast of Mariupol.

How will the international community respond?

An emergency United Nations Security Council meeting held later on Nov. 26, 2018, failed to offer any solutions.

Much of the international community, which dismissed Russia’s claim to Crimea in a UN vote in 2014, has largely sided with Ukraine.

Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland said free passage of the Kerch Strait was guaranteed by the 2003 treaty signed by Russia and Ukraine. “The Agreement must be respected. It is of utmost importance to avoid any further escalation in the region,” he said in a statement.

Chrystia Freeland, the Canadian foreign minister, tweeted her support for Kyiv. “Canada condemns Russian aggression towards Ukraine in the Kerch Strait,” she wrote. “We call on Russia to immediately de-escalate, release the captured vessels, and allow for freedom of passage. Canada is unwavering in its support for Ukraine’s sovereignty.”

U.S. Special Envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker, who has been particularly critical of what he calls “Russian aggression” against Ukraine, tweeted, “Russia rams Ukrainian vessel peacefully traveling toward a Ukrainian port. Russia seizes ships and crew and then accuses Ukraine of provocation???”

But U.S. President Donald Trump did not name either country in a brief response to a reporter’s question about the confrontation. “Either way, we don’t like what’s happening. And hopefully they’ll get straightened out. I know Europe is not — they are not thrilled. They are working on it too. We are all working on it together,” Trump said.

Statements of condemnation were welcomed in Kyiv, but some Ukrainian officials privately expressed to RFE/RL their frustration with such statements. What they would prefer, they said, is for their international partners to apply fresh, harsh sanctions against Russia over the skirmish.

What’s Russia’s next move?

With Ukraine under martial law, this is perhaps the biggest lingering question. The short answer is that no one knows.

Russia’s flagship news program claimed the Kerch Strait incident was a Ukrainian provocation ordered from Washington in a bid to sabotage an upcoming meeting between President Donald Trump and Putin at this week’s Group of 20 (G20) summit in Argentina.

If Russia’s state media provide any indication, the Kremlin might well play up the incident as a demonstration of Ukrainian aggression and perhaps a pretext for further actions against Ukraine. But what kind of actions remains to be seen.

The Russian Foreign Ministry, in a statement, offered no specifics but warned the Kyiv “regime and its Western patrons” of “serious consequences” of the skirmish at sea.

“Clearly, this is a well-thought-out provocation that took place in a predetermined place and form and is aimed at creating another hotbed of tension in that region and a pretext for stepping up sanctions against Russia,” the ministry said.

“We are hereby issuing a warning to Ukraine that Kyiv’s policy, pursued in coordination with the United States and the EU, that seeks to provoke a conflict with Russia in the waters of the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea is fraught with serious consequences.”

It added: “The Russian Federation will firmly curb any attempts to encroach on its sovereignty and security.”

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Celebrities and veterans teamed up to raise millions to fund mental healthcare for post-9/11 vets

On October 19, 2018, a crowd of over 700 guests gathered at Pier Sixty at Manhattan’s Chelsea Piers for one reason: to help provide mental healthcare to the men and women who fight for our freedoms. During their 6th annual gala, Headstrong, an organization that provides cost-free, stigma-free, and bureaucracy-free mental healthcare to post-9/11 military veterans, put on a fun-filled event — and raised over $2 million in the process.


Headstrong is making a huge impact on the veteran community.

“We have served over 750 veterans over 16,000 therapy sessions by 150 best-in-class clinicians in 23 cities across the country. All through private donations. Simply incredible,” said Army veteran and Headstrong Executive Director Joe Quinn.

During the event, three veterans seeking treatment through Headstrong, Amanda Burrill, Derek Coy and James Byler, opened up about their struggles and successes in finding effective mental healthcare. Their stories inspired the hundreds in attendance.

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress

Left to Right: Joe Quinn, Executive Director of the Headstrong Project; Derek Coy; Amanda Burrill; James Byler

Despite the seriousness of the organization’s goals, the night wasn’t without a good dose of levity — after all, it was more than a fundraiser, it was a celebration. World War II veteran and former POW, Ewing Miller, was celebrating his 95th birthday — and he did so by being served cake by actor Jake Gyllenhaal and late night host Seth Meyers.

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress

Left to Right: Seth Meyers, Host of ‘Late night with Seth Meyers’; Jake Gyllenhaal, Actor; Ewing Miller, WWII veteran; CNBC’s Kenny Polcari

Ewing Miller served from 1942 to 1945. On February 5, 1945, his aircraft was shot down — he was the sole survivor. He endured capture by the Germans until he was eventually freed by legendary military leader, General George S. Patton. Ewing earned several decorations during his time in service, including the Purple Heart, the Air Medal with two clusters, the POW Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, and the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign medal.

When the lights finally dimmed on the evening’s celebrations, Headstrong had raised over million, which will be used to directly improve the lives of many post-9/11 veterans that are struggling with mental health — and it’s a cause worth championing. Marine veteran and Founder of Headstrong, Zach Iscol, said,

“When you put goal-oriented veterans together with top mental healthcare providers, they get better. The panic attacks go away, the anxiety goes away, the anger goes away, the self-medicating goes away…they blossom,”

To learn more about Headstrong, their initiatives, and what you can do to support veteran mental healthcare, visit their website.

Articles

This monster aircraft was the helicopter version of the AC-130 gunship

With two 20mm cannons, a 40mm automatic grenade launcher, five .50-cal. machine guns, and two weapon pods that could carry either 70mm rocket launchers or 7.62mm miniguns, the armored ACH-47A Chinook could fly into the teeth of enemy resistance and fly back out as the only survivor.


The aircraft boasted overlapping fields of fire and 360 degree coverage.

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Operating under the call sign “Guns-A-Go-Go,” these behemoths were part of an experimental program during Vietnam to create heavy aerial gunships to support ground troops. Four CH-47s were turned into ACH-47As by adding 2,681 pounds of armor and improved engines to each bird.

The first three birds arrived in Vietnam in 1966 where they engaged in six months of operational testing. They were tasked with supporting the U.S. Army’s 1st Cavalry Division as well as a Royal Australian Task Force.

The Army Pictorial Service covered an early mission flown in support of the Australians where the attack Chinooks were sent to destroy known enemy positions.

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Though the gunships performed well in combat, the Army was hesitant to expand the program because of high maintenance costs. Also, conventional CH-47s were proving extremely valuable as troop transports and for moving cargo.

Of the four ACH-47s created, three were lost in Vietnam. The first collided with a standard CH-47 while taxiing on an airfield. Another had a retention pin shake loose on a 20mm cannon and was brought down when its own gun fired through the forward rotor blades. The third was grounded by enemy fire and then destroyed by an enemy mortar attack after the crew escaped.

Since the gunships were designed to work in pairs, one providing security while the other attacked, the Army ordered the fourth and final helicopter back to the states. It was used as a maintenance trainer by the Army until 1997, when it was restored. It is now on display at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama.

The call sign “Guns-A-Go-Go” was recently passed off to Company A of the Army’s new 4th Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.

Articles

This is how China plans to ‘defend the world’

Chinese President Xi Jinping on July 30 presided over a massive military parade from an open-topped jeep, declaring, “The world is not peaceful, and peace needs to be defended.”


And as China’s show of force demonstrates, Beijing may have the will and the strength to replace the US as the world’s defender of peace.

“Our heroic military has the confidence and capabilities to preserve national sovereignty, security, and interests … and to contribute more to maintaining world peace,” Xi said at the parade, one day after US President Donald Trump lashed out at Beijing for its inaction regarding North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress
Chinese President Xi Jinping. Photo from Moscow Kremlin.

China’s massive military modernization and increasing assertiveness have irked many of its neighbors in the region, and even as the US attempts to reassure its allies that US power still rules the day, that military edge is eroding.

China showed off new, mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles that it says can reach the US in 30 minutes, along with its J-20 stealth interceptor jets. And Xi inspected thousands of troops drawn from the 2 million-strong People’s Liberation Army on its 90th anniversary.

The historian Alfred McCoy estimates that by 2030, China, a nation of 1.3 billion, will surpass the US in both economic and military strength, essentially ending the American empire and Pax Americana the world has known since the close of World War II.

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress
Sailors aboard the Chinese Navy destroyer Qingdao. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist David Rush.

But China could achieve this goal patiently and without a violent struggle. China has employed a “salami-slicing” method of slowly but surely militarizing the South China Sea in incremental steps that have not prompted a strong military response from the US. However, the result is China’s de facto control over a shipping lane that sees $5 trillion in annual traffic.

“The American Century, proclaimed so triumphantly at the start of World War II, may already be tattered and fading by 2025 and, except for the finger pointing, could be over by 2030,” McCoy wrote in his new book, “In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power.”

China’s J-20 jet also most likely borrows from stealth secrets stolen from the US through a sophisticated hacking regime. Though China hasn’t mastered stealth technology in the way the US has, the jet still poses a real threat to US forces.

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress
Flypast of the Chengdu J-20. Wikimedia Commons photo by Alert5.

Meanwhile, the US is stretched thin. It has had been at war in Afghanistan for 16 years and in Iraq for 14, and it has been scrambling to curtail Iranian and Russian influence in Syria while reassuring its Baltic NATO allies that it’s committed to their protection against an aggressive Russia.

Under Xi, who pushes an ambitious foreign policy, China’s eventual supremacy over the US seems inevitable.

MIGHTY TRENDING

One of our biggest wartime advantages is now in the hands of the enemy

Developed by the Germans as early as 1939, night-vision goggles, or NVGs, have been a massive staple in the allied forces’ arsenal, enabling troops to conduct vital missions in the dead of night.


The optic devices produce exceptional images from very low-lit environments by identifying decreased levels of light and amplifying them through a specific set of lenses.

For years, the U.S. has used this sensitive technology to capture and kill enemies after the sun goes down. But, in recent events, Afghan officials have reported that Taliban insurgents have sacked three different checkpoints during a series of nighttime raids in the western province of Farah, killing approximately 20 police officers.

Related: This is how piracy became totally legal during wartime

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress
A German soldier holding a “Zielgerät 1229” night-vision scope, attached to his rifle.

Afghan officials have stated that the night-vision goggles the Taliban have been using appear to have Russian markings on them, but that theory has yet to be confirmed. This “evidence” has led Afghan authorities to believe that Russian officials have been arming the Taliban — an accusation the Russians deny.

Although implicated, Russia isn’t the only possible source for the NVGs. Since the Taliban regularly trade through Pakistan, the night-vision goggles may have been obtained there via the black market.

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress
An inside look through a pair of night-vision goggles. (Screenshot from NightVisionGuys YouTube)

Multiple companies sell NVGs to civilians via hunting stores and, in some former Soviet countries, they’re available online. In fact, members of the Taliban terrorist network have been seen, on occasion, using U.S.-manufactured tactical equipment.

Also Read: 4 things you immediately learn after treating a Taliban fighter

Although this isn’t enough information to implicate the Russians in aiding the Taliban, it’s not too far-fetched. Political analysts in Moscow revealed that the Russian government has lost their confidence in the U.S.’s approach to balancing the ongoing Taliban threat. This lack of uncertainty has caused the nation to reach out on its own to other various factions, which may include the Taliban.

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