Every branch of the military has a specific ranking system that takes time and effort to move up through. Although each branch has different names for their ranks, the Navy’s system is different in comparison to the Air Force, Army, and the Marine Corps.
You can look at any service member and clearly notice their rank either on their sleeves or collar devices. You can also imagine what experiences they’ve had based on that rank and the ribbons on their rack — but you wouldn’t have a clue on their specific job title.
If spot a modern era sailor walking around sporting his or her dress blues, look below that perched crow (E-4 to E-9) on their left sleeve, and you’ll be able to tell how they contribute to their country.
The image above showcases a rating badge consisting of three-inverted chevrons, one-inverted rocker, a perched crow, a five-point star (which makes the sailor an E-8), and the well-respected caduceus medical symbol (the specialty mark).
Only Hospital Corpsmen are allowed to wear the caduceus, as it applies to their distinguished military occupation.
In 1886, the Navy authorized sailors to wear these rating badges and created 15-specialty marks to recognize various fields of expertise.
Up until the late 1940s, it was up to the sailor on which sleeve they wore the rating badge on if they had issues deciphering which side was port (left) or starboard (right) as a reminder.
After the time period, the Navy established the rating badge be worn on the left for uniformity purposes. That same tradition is followed today.
The USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and a bomber task force are being sent to “send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime,” White House national security adviser John Bolton said in a statement on May 5, 2019.
This decision “represents a prudent repositioning of assets in response to indications of a credible threat by Iranian regime forces,” acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said on May 6, 2019.
Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the new head of US Central Command, requested the additional firepower on May 5, 2019, after reviewing intelligence hinting at a possible Iranian attack on American forces and US interests in the region, The New York Times reported, citing a Department of Defense official.
Shanahan approved the request, and the White House announced it, stressing that “any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.” The White House statement emphasized that the US does not want war with Iran but is ready to respond if attacked.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated this point May 6, 2019. “It is absolutely the case that we’ve seen escalatory action from the Iranians, and it is equally the case that we will hold the Iranians accountable for attacks on American interests,” he said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
(Photo by Mark Taylor)
The intel, according to Israeli media, appears to have come, at least in part from Israel, which reportedly provided information on a possible Iranian plot against US targets in the region or US allies. Fox News confirmed that the intel came from a friendly intelligence service.
CNN, citing US officials, reported that the intelligence suggested a possible attack on US forces in Syria, Iraq, and at sea. There were reportedly multiple intel threads.
“It is still unclear to us what the Iranians are trying to do and how they are planning to do it, but it is clear to us that the Iranian temperature is on the rise as a result of the growing US pressure campaign against them,” an Israeli official told Israeli reporters. “They are considering retaliating against US interests in the Gulf.”
US sailors prepare to moor USS Abraham Lincoln in Norfolk, Virginia, Sept. 7, 2017.
(US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Jennifer M. Kirkman)
Tensions between Washington and Iran have been on the rise since the Trump administration made the decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. The US has targeted its military forces and is currently in the process of trying to cut off Iran’s energy exports.
The latest firepower redirect, which Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson has been celebrating as a shining example of the opportunities provided by the military’s dynamic force employment strategy, appears to be the US bringing out the big guns in hopes of being ready for anything.
The Department of Defense called the deployment “a prudent step in response to indications of heightened Iranian readiness to conduct offensive operations against US forces and our interests.”
“It ensures we have the forces we need in the region to respond to contingencies and to defend US forces and interests in the region,” an emailed Pentagon statement explained. “We emphasize the White House statement that we do not seek war with the Iranian regime, but we will defend US personnel, our allies and our interests in the region.”
The Lincoln is currently in the US European Command area of responsibility, operating in the Mediterranean Sea, but it, along with US bomber aircraft, is being redirected on an accelerated timetable to the Persian Gulf, according to the Pentagon.
“The @USNavy is ready to maneuver around the globe to protect U.S. interests and security,” Richardson tweeted May 6, 2019.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
All too often the Arctic region is portrayed as an area on the cusp of military crisis. This is an easy narrative to sell; it harks back to the Cold War. Potent imagery persists of submarines trolling silently beneath the Arctic ice and nuclear ballistic missiles pointed across the North Pole.
During the height of the standoff between NATO and the USSR, the world feared a barrage of nuclear warheads streaming in from the frozen north – and this experience has imprinted on the collective imagination and created distinct ideas about the region. This fear, for example, motivated from the 1950s the construction of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Lines, a system of radar stations across the northern US (Alaska), Canada, and Greenland. The DEW Lines were meant to give the US and its NATO allies an early warning of an incoming Soviet nuclear strike.
The Cold War was a significant period in history. But catchy headlines playing off the parallels between the region and a new “cold” war are misleading. There have, of course, been increased tensions between the West and Russia since 2014 due to the conflict over Ukraine and Crimea. The 2018 Trident Juncture exercises in the Arctic, featuring “50,000 personnel from NATO Allies and partner countries”, are evidence of this. But the tension is not Arctic-specific and militaries are diverse actors in the region. This nuance, however, is often overlooked.
Belgian and German soldiers of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force train their weapons proficiency in Norway during Exercise Trident Juncture.
Current military exercises and equipment acquisitions fuel old Cold War perceptions. And a certain militarization is indeed occurring in the Arctic. Russia, for example, has recently invested heavily in updating its northern military infrastructure. So too have other Arctic states, such as Canada and Denmark. But military activity has, to varying degrees, occurred for decades in the north – it was just largely ignored by those not living there until recently.
The Arctic states guard their land and waterways through aerial, submarine and surface ship patrols, much as they have done for years. This hardly constitutes an escalation of military tensions, even if the infrastructure is being updated and, in some cases, increased. Despite this, talk of a new Cold War is heating up.
A nation’s armed forces often play a range of roles – beyond their traditional responsibilities in armed conflict. They are useful for rapid response during disasters, for example, and provide a range of security roles that don’t necessarily mean an escalation to war. They offer search and rescue (SAR) services and policing support.
In Norway, for example, the coast guard is one of the branches of the navy, along with the armed fleet, the naval schools and the naval bases. In Denmark, meanwhile, the coast guard’s Arctic activities are managed by the Royal Danish Navy.
The US Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security, which “secures the nation’s air, land, and sea borders to prevent illegal activity while facilitating lawful travel and trade“. By law, however, the US Coast Guard is outside the Department of Defense “in peacetime and is poised for transfer to the Department of the Navy during war“.
The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy, a 420 ft. icebreaker.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Prentice Danner)
Because of affiliations such as these, the line between military and civilian activity can become blurred. But that doesn’t mean all military activity is hostile or equates to an escalation towards war.
Climate change and technological advances have begun to open up the Arctic. And this means that more policing is required in a region that is remote and often out of reach for traditional police forces.
Other issues are also arising from climate change, such as increased forest fires. In July 2018, Sweden suffered major forest fires. As part of its effort to combat the fires it deployed “laser-guided bombs to douse forest fires”. This initiative was led by the Swedish air force. By using laser bombs, the “shockwaves simply blew out the flames in the same way our breath does to candles”.
As the region’s economic activity expands, armed forces are also being asked to assist more with civilian issues. In 2017, for example, the Norwegian Coast Guard was called in by local police in Tromsø to help police Greenpeace protesters who had entered a 500-metre safety zone around the Songa Enabler rig in an effort to stop drilling in the Korpfjell field of the Barents Sea. The Norwegian Coast Guard vessel, KV Nordkapp, responded, resulting in the seizure of Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise ship and the arrest of all 35 people on board.
Given the Arctic’s growing economic potential, military infrastructure is getting more attention. Russia, in particular, has made it clear that with economic potential on the line in the Arctic, a military build up is essential. For Russia, Arctic resources are central to the country’s economic security so the government line is: “National security in the Arctic requires an advanced naval, air force and army presence.” But issues of national security are wide ranging and are not solely a matter of building capacity to defend oneself from or in war.
Overall, it is vital to remember that while militaries are tools of war, they are not just tools of war. They also contribute to and provide a wide range of security services. This does not mean that increased military spending and activities should not be viewed with a critical eye. Indeed, they should. But discussing “a new Cold War” is sensationalist. It detracts from the broader roles that militaries play throughout the Arctic and stokes the very tensions it warns of.
The US military is shifting its focus toward preparing for great-power conflict, and on the ground in Europe, where heightened tensions with Russia have a number of countries worried about renewed conflict.
That includes new attention to short-range air-defense — a capability needed against an adversary that could deploy ground-attack aircraft, especially helicopters, and contest control of the air during a conflict.
Between late November and mid-December 2018, Battery C of the 1st Battalion, 174th Air Defense Artillery Regiment from the Ohio National Guard maneuvered across southeast Germany to practice shooting down enemy aircraft.
US soldiers from Battery C, 1-174 Air Defense Artillery Regiment conduct an after-action review during Combined Resolve XI at Hohenfels Training Area, Dec. 7, 2018.
(US Army photo by Charles Rosemond)
The unit worked with 5,500 troops from 16 countries during the first phase of Combined Resolve XI, a biannual US-led exercise aimed at making US forces more lethal and improving the ability of Allied militaries to work together.
At Hohenfels training area, soldiers from Battery C engaged simulated enemy aircraft with their Avenger weapons systems, which are vehicle-mounted short-range air-defense systems that fire Stinger missiles.
The unit outmanuevered opposition forces, according to an Army release, taking out 15 simulated enemy aircraft with the Avengers and Stingers.
Battery C also protected eight assets that their command unit, the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team from the 1st Cavalry Division, deemed “critical.”
An Air Defense Artillery Humvee-mounted Avenger weapons system from Battery C, 1-174 Air Defense Artillery Regiment during Combined Resolve XI at Hohenfels Training Area, December 7, 2018.
(US Army photo by Charles Rosemond)
Capt. Christopher Vasquez, the commander of Battery C who acted as brigade air-defense officer for the exercise, linked his unit’s performance to its experience with armor like that used by the 1st ABCT.
“It’s given us some insight into how they fight, and how they operate,” Vasquez said. “The type of unit we are attached to dictates how we establish our air defense plan, so if we don’t understand how tanks maneuver, how they emplace, then we can’t effectively do our job.”
The second phase of the exercise, which will include live-fire drills, will take place from January 13 to January 25, 2019, at nearby Grafenwoehr training area, where Battery C is deployed.
A Bradley fighting vehicle provides security for Battery C, 1-174 Air Defense Artillery Regiment during Combined Resolve XI at Hohenfels Training Area, Dec. 7, 2018.
(US Army photo by Charles Rosemond)
Reestablishing air defense in Europe
The unit arrived in Europe in 2018 to provide air-defense support to US European Command under the European Deterrence Initiative, which covers Operation Atlantic Resolve.
During Operation Atlantic Resolve, the US Army has rotated units through Europe to reassure allies concerned about a more aggressive Russia, particularly after Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and incursion in Ukraine.
Air Defense Artillery units like the 1-174th were for a long time embedded in Army divisions, but the service began deactivating them in the early 2000s, as planners believed the Air Force would be able to maintain air superiority and mitigate threats from enemy aircraft.
But the Army found in 2016 that it had an air-defense-capability gap. Since then it has been trying to correct the shortfall.
An FIM-92 Stinger missile fired from an Army Avenger at Eglin Air Force Base, April 20, 2017.
(US Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)
US soldiers in Europe have also been relearning air-defense skills that were deemphasized after the threat of a ground war waned with the end Cold War.
In January 2018, for the first time in 15 years, the US Army in Europe started training with Stingers, which have gained new value as a light antiaircraft weapon as unmanned aerial systems proliferate.
Operation Atlantic Resolve rotations have included National Guard units with Avenger defense systems to provide air-defense support on the continent. (The Army is also overhauling Avengers that were mothballed until a new air-defense system is ready.)
The service also recently reactivated the 5th Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment in southern Germany, making it the first permanent air-defense artillery unit in Europe since the end of the Cold War.
The battalion, composed of five Stinger-equipped batteries, returned important short-range air-defense abilities to Europe, said Col. David Shank, head of 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command, of which the unit is part.
“Not only is this a great day for United States Army Europe and the growth of lethal capability here,” Shank said at the activation ceremony. “It is a tremendous step forward for the Air Defense Enterprise.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Around 36 BCE, Chinese forces from the Han Dynasty fought a group of rebels called Xiongnu at a fortress in what is now Kazakhstan.
During the battle, the Chinese noticed their enemy employed a strange but distinctive formation. One historian at the battle recalled a unit that formed a unique “fish-scale“-style of protection using their shields.
Some modern historians think that “fish scale” was a Roman phalanx.
The battle took place in a city that was once known as Liqian, now a part of Gansu province in Northern China. And strangely, people living where the old city once stood are known to have interesting genetic traits unlike people in the rest of the country.
Aqualine noses, green eyes, and fair skin are just a few of the features found among the villagers of Zhelaizhai, where the ancient city once stood.
Some historians believe the people of Zhelaizhai are descended from the Roman Legionaries who fought with the Han Chinese.
Just 17 years before the battle in Kazakhstan, Parthians fighting the Romans at the Battle of Carrhae (in modern-day Turkey) delivered one of Rome’s most crushing defeats. They captured 10,000 legionnaires and sent the powerful Roman General Marcus Licinius Crassus packing (parts of him, anyway).
The theory does have naysayers. Some believe the DNA could be the result of contact from Silk Road trading between Rome and the Far East. Others say Caucasian Huns and warriors with other racial backgrounds fought through this area of Asia at the time.
At least one expert believes there just isn’t enough physical evidence to say these Chinese are descended from Roman legionaries.
“For it to be indisputable, one would need to find items such as Roman money or weapons that were typical of Roman legionaries,” Maurizio Bettini, an anthropologist from Siena University, told La Repubblica. “Without proof of this kind, the story of the lost legions is just a legend.”
Vietnam-era Marine and Hue City veteran John Ligato once remarked that the most ferocious fighting machine the world has ever seen is the 19-year-old pissed off Marine. In the case of John J. Kelly, he couldn’t be more right.
Kelly joined the Marines in May 1917, just one month after the U.S. Congress declared war on Germany. The Chicago native was soon in France with 78th Company, 6th Regiment, 2d Division. That’s where he would earn the Army and Navy versions of the Medal of Honor — at the same time.
In October 1918, Kelly was in Blanc Mont Ridge in France, which the Germans occupied since 1915. The French were joined by two divisions of the U.S. Army and Major General John Lejeune’s 2d Division of Marines — including Pvt. John Kelly.
At the start of the near-monthlong battle, Kelly ran through no-man’s land, 100 yards ahead of an allied artillery barrage — straight toward a machine gun nest.
He chucked a grenade into the nest, killing one of the Germans. Then he took out the other using his sidearm.
The American advance at St. Etienne turned the tide of the Battle of Blanc Mont against the Germans. By Oct. 28, the area they occupied since the very start of the World War was now firmly in Allied hands.
Kelly was awarded both the Army and Navy Medals of Honor by General John J. Pershing, the commander of the American Expeditionary Force, in 1919. With the war over, Kelly left the military and returned to civilian life.
He returned to his native Illinois, where he died in 1957.
The US Navy caught a Russian destroyer on video nearly colliding with a US warship in a dangerous close encounter at sea.
The Russian destroyer Admiral Vinogradov closed with the US Navy Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville on June 7, 2019, putting the sailors on board at risk, the US 7th Fleet said in a statement.
The US Navy says the Russian vessel engaged in “unsafe and unprofessional” conduct at sea. Specifically, it “maneuvered from behind and to the right of Chancellorsville, accelerated, and closed to an unsafe distance of approximately 50-100 feet.”
The Russians are telling a different story, accusing the US Navy of suddenly changing course and cutting across the path of its destroyer. The US Navy has videos of the incident to back its narrative.
(1/2) USS Chancellorsville Avoids Collision with Russian Destroyer Udaloy I DD 572
Naval affairs expert Bryan Clark offered some clarity on just how risky this situation is, explaining that 50 feet to 100 feet for a destroyer is comparable to being inches from another car while barreling down the freeway.
“It’s really dangerous,” he told Business Insider. “Unlike a car, a ship doesn’t have brakes. So the only way you can slow down is by throwing it into reverse. It’s going to take time to slow down because the friction of the water is, of course, a lot less than the friction of the road. Your stopping distance is measured in many ship lengths.”
“When someone pulls a maneuver like that,” Clark added, “It’s really hard to slow down or stop or maneuver quickly to avoid the collision.”
(2/2) USS Chancellorsville Avoids Collision with Russian Destroyer Udaloy I DD 572
The Russian version of the story is that the US ship is to blame.
“The US guided-missile cruiser Chancellorsville suddenly changed course and cut across the path of the destroyer Admiral Vinogradov coming within 50 meters of the ship,” the Russian Ministry of Defense said in a statement. “A protest over the international radio frequency was made to the commanders of the American ship who were warned about the unacceptable nature of such actions.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
We’ve heard them all a thousand times. Your roommate heard from a guy in another unit who swears up and down that when his cousin went through basic training, his roommate had been doing funny stuff with ether. Did his friend’s cousin really see the Etherbunny? It’s probably just one more military urban legend that just won’t die – along with these other myths that have been hanging around since Elvis was in the Army.
Be more skeptical, troops.
Fred Rogers, Slayer of Bodies. Supposedly.
Your favorite old TV star was in Vietnam.
What is it about Vietnam that makes us want our favorite TV personalities from yesteryear to not only have served there, but to also be the badass, stonefaced kind of killer that would make Colonel Kurtz proud? According to military myth, Fred Rogers, of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood fame was either a Navy SEAL in Vietnam or a Marine Scout Sniper. Jerry Mathers, who played the title role on Leave It To Beaver, allegedly fought and died there.
Neither of those things happened but someone, somewhere is splicing Forrest Gump Vietnam footage into the latest Tom Hanks film about Mr. Rogers.
Rich people aren’t allowed in the military.
“They” used to always say that a winning lottery ticket was also a one-way ticket to civilian life. And people who were millionaires weren’t allowed in the service at all. While it may seem likely that a high-net worth individual would be less likely to need his or her military career and be less prone to discipline, the opposite has often proven to be true — just look at Jimmy Stewart, Pat Tillman, and other wealthy individuals who preferred to serve. And while winning the lottery doesn’t mean you have to leave the military, winning millions will give the branches pause and you could leave if you want to. Every branch has provisions for separations when parting ways is in the military’s best interest – the way it happened to Seaman John Burdette in 2014.
“Just making sure you reported for duty.”
Only sons are exempt from the draft.
Sorry, Private Ryan, but if World War III breaks out, there’s still a good chance you’re getting called up for the invasion of China. This is an old rumor that is based in some sort of fact. The truth is that sole surviving sons are exempt from the military draft. This is because of a couple of Private Ryan-like moments. The Sullivan Brothers, five real brothers, were killed when the USS Juneau was sunk by a Japanese torpedo in World War II. The story of Fritz Niland, whose three brothers were killed within days of each other, is the basis for Saving Private Ryan.
So if you’re the only child, I’d still register for Selective Service. If you have a few brothers, you should all hope to register.
“But aim for their backpacks.”
The .50-cal is illegal – but here’s how to get around it.
The story goes that the Geneva Convention outlaws the use of a .50-caliber machine gun in combat, so American infantrymen are trained for “off-label uses.” The legend says that you just can’t use the weapon against people but equipment is still fair game, so the Corps/Army teaches grunts to say they were firing at belt buckles or vehicles or anything else that might be near. Another variation of this legend is that the .50-cal round can still kill people if it flies close to their bodies, so that’s the goal. Neither are true.
What weapons are actually banned by international agreements are chemical weapons, certain incendiary weapons, and cluster munitions, to name a few. The United States keeps stockpiles of all of these. Even if the M2 were illegal, do you think the U.S. would give it up, let alone train troops to use it wrong?
According to lore, one of these airmen is supposed to eat the bullet hidden in this flagpole.
The base flagpole is carrying some specific stuff.
According to lore, the ball at the top of the base flagpole – known as a “truck” – has very specific items in it, with very specific instructions. It is said the truck either contains a razor, a match, and a bullet or those three items plus a grain of rice and a penny. These are all to be used in case the base is overrun by the enemy.
So there are a few things wrong with this premise. The first is that a U.S. base built in the 1950s-1980s is going to be overrun. The second is that all that fits inside a truck. The third is that any American troops fighting for control of their base are going to stop, fight their way back to the flag, and go through these instructions:
After taking down the flag, troops first have to get the truck from the tops of the pole. Then, the razor will be used to strip the flag, the match will be used to give the flag a flag’s retirement, and the bullet is said to be used for either an accelerant for burning the flag or for the troop to use on him or her self. Bonus: the rice is for strength and the penny is supposed to blind the enemy. Does this sound stupid? Because it is. This sounds like gung-ho BS that someone with a fifth-grader’s imagination came up with.
Not for oral use. Seriously.
Medics used to kick your mouth shut if you were killed in combat.
Old-timey dogtags (like the ones from World War II, pictured above) had notches on them, which of course led troops to speculate about the purpose of the notch on the tags. Like most things that came to mind for those old troops, the situation got real dark, real fast. The legend says if a soldier was killed in combat, the medic was supposed to use that notch to align the tag using the teeth in the deceased’s mouth, then kick the dead man’s mouth shut with Charlie Brown-level effort so the tag would be embedded and the dead would be identified.
That idea would have led to a lot more head trauma on World War II KIA, wouldn’t it? One would have to imagine a better way to maintain identifiers than defiling a corpse. The notch’s real purpose was much more mundane. They were used to keep the dog tag aligned on the embossing machine used to imprint the tags.
When a civil war between Chinese powers ended with victory for the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 1949, the Republic of China’s government retreated to a region of the nation that had only recently been returned from Japanese control, known as Taiwan. They quickly established a provisional capital in Taipei, and so began a half-century long staring contest from across the Pacific Ocean’s Taiwan Strait. Today, tensions remain high between these two Chinese governments, prompting complex foreign relations and sporadic military posturing between each government and their respective allies.
On Tuesday, Taiwan conducted an unusual series of military exercises aimed at preparing the nation to defend itself against a Chinese attack even after its military installations had been rendered useless by wave after wave of Chinese air strikes and naval bombardments. Taiwan knows China could feasibly neuter their military response capabilities fairly quickly, and in order to stay in the fight, they’d need to get creative with how they field their intercept and attack aircraft. When you’re fresh out of airstrips but still have fighters to scramble, what do you do?
You close down the freeways.
Freeway or Runway? It all depends on the circumstances.
(Photo courtesy of Taiwan’s Freeway Bureau)
“Our national security has faced multiple challenges,” Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen told the press on Tuesday. “Whether it is the Chinese Communist Party’s [People’s Liberation Army] long-distance training or its fighter jets circling Taiwan, it has posed a certain degree of threat to regional peace and stability. We should maintain a high degree of vigilance.”
As a part of the drills, Taiwan launched four different types of military aircraft from portions of highway that were shut down for use as makeshift airstrips. Long stretches of blacktop normally reserved for slow-moving commuters fighting their way through workday traffic instead became packed with American sourced F-16 Fighting Falcons and Northrop Grumman E-2 Hawkeye surveillance aircraft, along with French Mirage 2000s and Taiwan-made IDF fighters. Each aircraft took off carrying a full combat load.
The drills not only demonstrated Taiwan’s ability to scramble fighters and support aircraft from the freeway, it also proved conclusively that Taiwan’s troops can conduct refueling and ammunition replenishment operations right there on the highway, redeploying jets back into the fight quickly even after their air bases have been destroyed.
Taiwan fighters land on highway for Chinese ‘invasion’ wargames
“There are only a few military air bases which would become the prime targets in the event of an attack. The highway drill is necessary as highway strips would be our priority choice if the runways were damaged during a war,” Air Force Colonel Shu Kuo-mao explained.
Over 1,600 military personnel took part in the drills, along with Taiwan’s new variant of the F-16 that has been called the “most advanced fourth-generation fighter on the planet” by its builder, Lockheed Martin. The F-16V offers advanced AESA Radar sourced through Northrop Grumman, as well as a variety of updates and upgrades to avionics and combat systems meant to make it a formidable opponent for just about anything in the sky that isn’t Lockheed Martin’s flagship fighter, the F-35, or its sister in stealth, the F-22.
The F-16V is touted as the world’s most advanced fourth generation fighter by Lockheed Martin
(Promotional image courtesy of Lockheed Martin)
The F-16s that took part in Tuesday’s drills notably flew carrying two Harpoon anti-ship missiles, two AMRAAM medium-range air-to-air missiles, and two AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missiles, sourced from the United States, meaning their primary role in a fight would be to engage with encroaching aircraft and vessels, rather than air-to-surface strikes against the Chinese mainland.
With only about a hundred miles separating Taiwan’s shores from China’s, it stands to reason that combat operations would begin with a heavy bombardment of Taiwan’s few operational airstrips. These drills, however, suggest that even such an offensive may not be enough to stop Taiwan from responding with some of the best fighters on the planet.
The sun has set over the scrubby Savannah. The moon is full. It is time for Ryan Tate and his men to go to work. In camouflage fatigues, they check their weapons and head to the vehicles.
Somewhere beyond the ring of light cast by the campfire, out in the vast dark expanse of thornbushes, baobab trees, rocks and grass, are the rhinos. Somewhere, too, may be the poachers who will kill them to get their precious horns.
The job of Tate, a 32-year-old former US Marine, and the group of US military veterans he has assembled in a remote private reserve in the far north of South Africa is simple: keep the rhinos and the rest of the game in the bush around their remote base alive.
The men are not mercenaries, or park rangers –they work for Tate’s Veterans Empowered To Protect African Wildlife (Vetpaw), a US-based nonprofit organization funded by private donations. All have seen combat, often with elite military units, in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Though equipped with vehicles, trail bikes, assault rifles, sniper suits, and radios, the most important weapons in the war against poaching, Tate believes, are the skills and experiences his team gained on successive deployments in conflict zones over the last decade and a half.
“We are here for free. We are not going anywhere. Whether it is cold or hot, day or night… we want to work with anyone who needs help,” Tate says.
The initiative is not without controversy. Some experts fear “green militarization” and an arms race between poachers and gamekeepers. Others believe deploying American former soldiers to fight criminals in South Africa undermines the troubled country’s already fragile state.
But the scale of the challenge of protecting South Africa’s rhinos is clear to everyone, with a rise in poaching in recent years threatening to reverse conservation gains made over decades.
Though rhino horns are made of keratin, the same substance as fingernails, a kilo is worth up to $65,000. The demand comes from East Asia, where rhino horn is seen as a potent natural medicine and status symbol, and is met by international networks linking dirt-poor villages in southern Africa with traffickers and eventually buyers. Patchy law enforcement, corruption and poverty combine to exacerbate the problem.
In South Africa, home to 80% of the world’s wild rhinos, only 13 were poached in 2007. In 2015, the total was nearly 1,200, though losses have declined slightly since.
“These criminal gangs are armed to the teeth, well-funded and part of transnational syndicates who will stop at nothing,” a South African government spokesman said in February.
Tate founded Vetpaw after seeing a documentary about poaching and the deaths of park rangers in Africa. His team now works on a dozen private game reserves covering a total of around 200,000 hectares in Limpopo, the country’s northernmost province. One advantage for local landowners is the protection heavily armed combat veterans provide against the violent break-ins feared by so many South Africans, particularly on isolated rural farmsteads. The team has also run training courses for local guides and security staff.
But if one aim of Vetpaw is to counter poaching, another is to help combat veterans in the US, where former servicemen suffer high levels of unemployment and mental illness.
“Everyone gets PTSD when they come back from war … you are never going to get the brotherhood, the intensity again … [There are] all these veterans with billions of dollars of training and the government doesn’t use them. I saw a need in two places and just put them together,” says Tate.
The Vetpaw base in the bush in Limpopo, though considerably less spartan than most “forward operating bases”, is familiar to anyone who has spent time with US forces. There is a rack of helmets and body armor, a detailed map pinned to the wall, and banners with the insignia of US Special Forces hung above a dining table. There is the banter, and the jargon. The team talks of tactical missions, intel, and “bad guys”.
Despite lines on a whiteboard reading, “In the absence of a plan move towards the sound of gunfire and kill everything,” Tate says he has selected combat veterans because they will resist the temptation to use lethal force. Poachers are told to put down their arms, and then handed over to the police.
“This is textbook counterinsurgency here. It’s unconventional warfare,” says Kevin, a British-born veteran who quit US Elite Special Forces last year after a decade and a half largely on active duty, frequently in close quarter combat. “Shooting and killing is easy. The hardest thing is not shooting but figuring stuff out… if you kill someone do you turn a family, a village against you?” Like other members of Vetpaw, Kevin did not want to be identified by his full name.
The thinking is rooted in the “hearts and minds” approach developed by the US military a decade ago when senior officers realized their massive firepower was winning battles, but not campaigns.
Tate says poachers coerce local communities into providing safe houses or other support – much as US army officers once explained assistance given to insurgents in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Francois Meyer, who grew up in northern Limpopo and runs a local conservation NGO that works with Vetpaw, says villages vary. “In some, the poachers are seen as heroes. They give out money. There is a kind of Robin Hood syndrome. Taking from the rich white man to give to the poor. But in others, the poachers get the living shit kicked out of them,” Meyer said.
There is little consensus on what response to the problem of poaching might work best, and fierce debate rages among conservationists, farmers, and officials.
A moratorium on the domestic trade in rhino horn in South Africa implemented in 2009 was controversially overturned by a court in April. Though there has been an increase in arrest of poachers, there are few convictions and “a lack of political will” means many of the “kingpins” remain untouched.
The complexities of the issue seem distant to the veterans out on patrol in remote northern Limpopo, high on a rocky crag, listening to the grunt of a leopard or the cough of the baboons in the gathering night.
“After what I’ve done, I couldn’t just go and do a nine to five. I’ve never had nightmares or flashbacks or anything … [but] after years of doing what I’ve done, this is good for the soul,” says Kevin, the former Green Beret. “It’s in a good cause and you get to watch the African sunset.”
I enlisted in the Army in 2007 as a combat correspondent/videographer. During my time in the Army, I traveled all over the world and was allowed to do missions that gave me a sense of purpose and earned me two Emmys, three DOD Military Videographer of the Year awards and a handful of military decorations.
I also deployed to Afghanistan with the 4th Brigade Combat Team 25th Infantry Division (Airborne) for a year. I covered dozens of different types of stories there including Black Hawk medic evacuations, combat hospitals, combat aviation, engineers and EOD technicians and K-9 units. But I spent most of my time with the Infantry.
During my time on the ground, I worked very closely with an Afghan interpreter (who I’ll leave anonymous because of ongoing concerns for his safety as well as that of his family). He was one of the kindest and most courageous men I’ve ever met, and we couldn’t have done our mission without him.
This interpreter would commute secretly from his village to our base every day until finally it became so dangerous that he had to move on base with us while at the same time he moved his family to Kabul. He and I weathered many mortar and rocket attacks together in those days.
He had submitted his visa three times during his service. He is now unemployed because the base he worked at is closed. He is now in hiding from the Taliban and in grave danger. Every day he has to wait for a visa it gets worse. If he doesn’t get it he will have no choice but to attempt the treacherous journey to India through Pakistan with his family. If he survives the journey it will cost him most of the money he made with the Army.
There is a government program for giving visas to Afghan nationals, but the process is taking too long and too few visas are being issued. Because of this reality and because I know the power of creating awareness through storytelling, I’m part of a team producing a short narrative film called The Interpreter.
The Interpreter is a short film that functions both as a stand alone piece to assist advocacy efforts, and also as a proof of concept for the feature film currently in development. The Interpreter is being produced by Her Pictures in Los Angeles in association with USC Media Institute for Social Change and Interpret America with most of the film’s proceeds going to the non-profit No One Left Behind. I’m directing the film, Jenna Cavelle wrote the screenplay and is producing, with Michael Taylor executively producing. Our technical advisory team consists of Afghan interpreter, Fahim Fazli, the founders of No One Left Behind, Matt Zeller and Jason Gorey, and the founders of Interpret America, Barry Olsen and Katharine Allen.
The costs of war are multi-fold and unforeseen at the outset, and the plight of Afghan interpreters is one such element. For years these brave men saved the lives of American service members while hazarding their own. America now needs to accelerate the process of doing right by them.
Robert Ham is an Army veteran and a frequent contributor to The Mighty TV, We Are The Mighty’s video channel.
Lockheed Martin said in early August 2018 that the last of 52 upgraded C-5M Super Galaxy cargo planes had been delivered to the Air Force, finishing the nearly two-decade-long modernization of the service’s largest plane.
Lockheed began work on the Air Force’s Reliability and Re-engineering Program (RERP) in 2001 and turned over the first operational C-5M Super Galaxy, as the latest version is called, on Feb. 9, 2009.
In the 17 years since the RERP effort started, 49 C-5Bs, two C-5Cs, and one C-5A were upgraded, according to a Lockheed release, first cited by Air Force Times. The upgrades extend the aircraft’s service life into the 2040s, the contractor said.
A C-5M Super Galaxy lands at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, April 4, 2016.
(US Air Force photo)
The program involved 70 modifications to improve the plane’s reliability, efficiency, maintainability, and availability, including changes to the airframe; environmental, pneumatic, and hydraulic systems; landing gear, and flight controls.
The main new feature is more powerful engines, upgraded from four General Electric TF-39 engines to General Electric F-138 engines. The new engines, which are also quieter, allow the C-5M to haul more cargo with less room needed for takeoff.
“With the capability inherent in the C-5M, the Super Galaxy is more efficient and more reliable, and better able to do its job of truly global strategic airlift,” Patricia Pagan, a senior program manager at Lockheed, said in the release.
All together, the RERP upgrades yield “a 22 percent increase in thrust, a shorter takeoff roll; [and] a 58 percent improvement in climb rate,” according to release, which said the modifications give the C-5M greater fuel efficiency and reduce its need for tanker support.
Airmen and Marines load vehicles into a C-5M Super Galaxy at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, Oct. 6, 2014.
(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jeremy Bowcock)
The C-5 stands 65 feet high with a length of 247 feet and a 223-foot wingspan. The upgraded C-5M can haul 120,000 pounds of cargo more than 5,500 miles — the distance from Dover Air Force base in Delaware to Incirlik airbase in Turkey — without refueling. Without cargo, that range jumps to more than 8,000 miles.
The plane can carry up to 36 standard pallets and 81 troops at the same time or a wide variety of gear, including tanks, helicopters, submarines, equipment, and food and emergency supplies.
The first C-5A was delivered to the Air Force in 1970. By 1989, 50 C-5Bs had joined the 76 C-5As that were already in service. Two C-5Cs, modified to carry the space shuttle’s large cargo container, were also delivered in 1989.
An Air Force C-5M Super Galaxy taking off.
(Lockheed Martin photo)
The modernization push
The Air Force began a C-5 modernization push in 1998, starting the RERP in 2001 with plans to deliver 52 upgraded planes by fiscal year 2018. The remainder of the C-5 fleet was to be retired by September 2017.
But the C-5 fleet has face administrative and operational issues in recent years.
Due to budget sequestration, a number of C-5s were moved to backup status in over the past few years, meaning the Air Force still had the aircraft but no personnel or funding to operate them. In early 2017, Air Force officials said they wanted to move at least eight C-5s from backup status to active status.
“I need them back because there’s real-world things that we’ve got to move, and they give me that … added assurance capability,” then-Air Mobility Commander Gen. Carlton Everhart said at the time.
A C-5M Super Galaxy taxis down the flight line before takeoff at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, Aug. 17, 2015.
(US. Air Force photo by Roland Balik)
In the months since, the Air Force’s C-5s have encountered maintenance issues that required stand-downs.
In mid-July 2017, Air Mobility Command grounded the 18 C-5s — 12 primary and six backups — stationed at Dover Air Force Base after the nose landing-gear unit in one malfunctioned for the second time in 60 days. Days later, that order was extended to all of the Air Force’s 56 C-5s, which had to undergo maintenance assessments.
The issue was with the ball-screw assembly, which hindered the extension and retraction of the landing gear. The parts needed to fix the problem were no longer in production, however, but the Air Force was able to get what it needed from the “boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, where unused or out-of-service aircraft are stored.
In early 2018, the nose landing gear again caused problems when it failed to extend all the way for an Air Force Reserve C-5M landing at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. The plane landed on its nose and skidded about three-quarters of the way down the runway. The cause of the accident and extent of the damage were not immediately clear, but none of the 11 crew members on board were hurt.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
When the Space Force eventually gets off the ground and troops start making their way toward the stars, they’ll be elevated as people. No, we’re not talking about physical elevation. And no, we’re not talking about the status that comes with being one of the elite few to break the Earth’s atmosphere. We’re talking about elevation on both a spiritual and moral level.
Every astronaut that has been to space shares an experience. From up there, they can look back at this tiny, pale blue speck of space dust, and it’s a life-changing, mind-opening sensation. This isn’t to say that “many” astronauts have this experience — it happens to every single astronaut from all walks of life and from every nation. It’s a feeling that astronauts have reported completely independent of one another.
It’s what they’re calling the “Overview Effect.”
You spend your entire life in one spot on this planet, or maybe you’ve traveled across it — regardless, you’re only ever seeing a small fragment of the whole. It’s only when you can step back (or out, in this case) and truly see the big picture that you can really take it all in.
By looking down at this planet from outer space, astronauts can see everything. Every life born. Every country and its cities. And the collection of glimmering lights on the surface is its entire living population. Photography from space has been around since the 1960s — the famous Blue Marble photo, the very first full-planet photo, was taken on December 7, 1972 — but it doesn’t elicit the same response as seeing it with your own eyes.
It’s been described as being set free from Plato’s Cave. Suddenly, you’re looking at Earthly issues from a galactic perspective — and it changes everything.
Funnily enough, the phenomenon wasn’t been recognized until 1987, when philosopher Frank White put a name to it, calling it the “Overview Effect.” The very first human being in space, Yuri Gagarin, first gave clues to his experiencing of the Overview Effect by saying,
“Circling the Earth in my orbital spaceship, I marveled at the beauty of our planet. People of the world, let us safeguard and enhance this beauty and not destroy it.”
It’s also worth noting that he also never said, “I see no God up here.” That’s a myth.
Astronauts come back with a sense of purpose after taking in such an awe-inspiring view. It’s hard for minor problems to bother you, apparently, when you’ve been given a look at the true scale of such problems. They describe it as a form of transcendental meditation when they realize what they’re looking at.
Astronauts who’ve experienced this sensation say it never leaves them, and they’ll remember the feeling until the day they die. Ed Gibson, the science pilot aboard the Skylab 4 once said,
“You see how diminutive your life and concerns are compared to other things in the universe. Your life and concerns are important to you, of course. But you can see that a lot of the things you worry about do not make much difference in an overall sense.”