Ranger takes flip flop company from Kabul to the Shark Tank - We Are The Mighty
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Ranger takes flip flop company from Kabul to the Shark Tank

Former Army Ranger and West Point grad Matthew ‘Griff’ Griffin isn’t your average vet entrepreneur. He came up with the notion of building something of value when he was serving in Afghanistan during the early phases of the war, way before there was much of a logistics footprint in place. He saw that the Afghan people were in need of more than protection from the Taliban. They needed basic goods and services.


“I saw Afghanistan as a place to leverage the power of small business owners making a difference,” Griff said.  “The region could benefit from more micro loans and fewer armored vehicles.”

When Griff left active duty he returned to Kabul doing some clinic work, but beyond that he wanted to find a way to assist with the country’s stability by creating a manufacturing base, starting with a single factory he stumbled across on the east side of the capital. The factory had the infrastructure; it was just a matter of what to manufacture.

As he was leaving the factory he found a flip flop on the floor — it was unique and a little funky, the kind of design Griff thought might resonate with fashion-minded millennials. He held it up and asked the factory manager if he could make them, and the Afghan local said sure. Combat Flip Flops was born.

Griff and his brother procured the materials from a far eastern supplier and got everything set up, but they’d no sooner returned to the U.S. than they were informed that the factory was shutting down — a casualty of the volatile socio-economic climate of Afghanistan. But the brothers were undeterred, plus they had a lot of money wrapped up in the materials sitting in the factory in Kabul.

Without any U.S. military assistance — the most effective way to operate, according to Griff — they went back in on a private spec ops mission of sorts, one designed to salvage what they could from their investment and work that had been accomplished already.

“We rented a ‘Bongo’ truck and packed the inventory of flip flops into bags designed to hold opium,” Griff said. “We were riding around the streets of Kabul trying to look inconspicuous, two white guys sitting on a pile of opium bags.”

They stored the 2,000-some pairs of flip flops in a warehouse on the outskirts of Kabul, and as they did a closer inspection of their wares they realized that the quality was such that they couldn’t be sold. They wound up giving all of them away to needy Afghans, which was better than nothing but not up to the standards of Griff’s vision.

They found another factory, and once again secured a supplier (and paid for it using Griff’s credit card), and this time failure came even faster and the factory closed down before any materials for the order of 4,000 pairs had been shipped. It was time for a more dramatic pivot in the business plan.

“We wound up taking the guerrilla manufacturing route and assembling the sandals in my garage in Washington state,” Griff said.

The company’s potential big break came in the form of a phone call from one of the producers at ABC’s “Shark Tank” TV show. Griff and a couple of his co-workers will appear on the episode scheduled to air on February 5. (Check your local listings.)

“We’re stoked to bring the Combat Flip Flops mission to the tank,” Griff’ said. “Every Shark has the ability to expand the mission, inspire new recruits to join the Unarmed Forces, and manufacture peace through trade. Over the past few years, we’ve survived deadly encounters to create an opportunity like this. Attack Dogs. Raging Bulls. If we need to jump in the water with Sharks, then it’s time to grab the mask and fins.”

“We’ve all seen and heard Shark Tank success stories,” Donald Lee, Combat Flip Flops’ CMO and co-founder, added. “We set our minds to getting on the show and in true Ranger fashion, we accomplished the objective. We hope this is the catalyst our company needs to provide large scale, peaceful, sustainable change in areas of conflict.”

In 2015, Combat Flip Flops’ sales increased 150 percent over the previous year. In keeping with Griff’s original corporate vision, the company donated funds for schools to educate Afghan girls and cleared 1,533 square meters of land mines in Laos, which keeps the local population — especially children — safer.

Griff has leveraged his service academy pedigree and military experience in incredibly productive ways. His entrepreneurial sense and — even more importantly — his worldview defies most veteran stereotypes and associated bogus narratives. His outlook and drive are distinctly that of the Post 9-11 warfighter — “the next greatest generation.”

Combat Flip Flop’s mission statement captures it:

To create peaceful, forward-thinking opportunities for self-determined entrepreneurs affected by conflict. Our willingness to take bold risks, community connection, and distinct designs communicate, “Business, Not Bullets”– flipping the view on how wars are won. Through persistence, respect, and creativity, we empower the mindful consumer to manufacture peace through trade.

Watch Griff’s presentation at TED Talks Tacoma:

MIGHTY HISTORY

The 5 strangest military mission names from the Iraq War

If you think Operation Inherent Resolve is a mission name that makes no sense, you’re not alone. The U.S. military operation against ISIS in Iraq and Syria was supposed to have a different name altogether. The Pentagon initially rejected OIR and only accepted it as a placeholder. Somehow it stuck, and that’s what we’re left with.

Strange, silly and absurd names shouldn’t be the standard for military operations. Or at least so said Winston Churchill back in 1943. In a WWII memo on the subject of mission names, Churchill said, “Do not suggest the character of the operation or disparage it in any way, and do not enable some widow or some mother to say her son was killed in an operation called ‘Bunnyhug’ or ‘Ballyhoo.'”

It seems that the military isn’t exactly following Churchill’s recommendation. There’s rarely a public explanation about mission names, but that doesn’t make them any more questionable. Here are a few of the most memorable mission names.

Operation All-American Tiger

Tigers are pretty amazing in their own right, but what would be more American than having an All-American tiger? That’s a question the brass asked themselves, apparently, in 2003, when they settled on this mission name during a November 2003 Iraq War mission. Operation All-American Tiger’s objective was to search and clear farms and villages around the Euphrates River in the Northern Iraqi town of Al-Qaim. Service members detained twelve people as a result, including a few who were on a “Most Wanted” list.

While it’s fun to think about what the military was considering when creating codenames for missions, this one is actually pretty easy to figure out. The nickname for the 82nd Airborne Division is “All American.” The Tiger Squadron of the 3rd Armored Cav assisted the 82nd on this mission.

Specifically, it was the 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment from the 82nd who worked with the Tigers. The 504th even have their own absurd nickname – The Devils in Baggy Pants – taken from a diary entry of a Wehrmacht officer in WWII.

Operation Beastmaster

Doesn’t this sound like a mission from the 1980s? It feels decidedly vintage, but Operation Beastmaster actually took place in 2006. OB cleared three neighborhoods in the Baghdad suburb of Ghazaliya, which itself was subject to a codename, albeit one that was far easier understood. Service members in IED Alley East, as Ghazaliya was known, worked together with the Iraqi Army to uncover weapons caches and a deposit of roadside bomb-creating supplies and tools. Operation Beastmaster also captured one high-ranking (and still unnamed) official, and the Army counted it as a complete win.

Operation Grizzly Forced Entry

In the summer of 2004, U.S. service members went on a counter-insurgency raid in Najaf, Iraq, a city south of Baghdad. The forced entry part of this code name is pretty self-explanatory, as service members were tasked with entering private homes to search for high-value targets who were suspected of attacking coalition forces.

Operation Power Geyser

This counterterrorism unit included 13,000 top secret service members who served as military security to support the 2005 inauguration of George W. Bush. Taken from a video game series, the name Power Geyser refers to a character who was able to blast the ground with his fist and create a field of explosive energy around him that sent his opponents flying. In real life, these elite troops carried top of the line weaponry and lurked in the shadows around the White House and the Capitol building while the inauguration took place.

Operation Safe Neighborhood + Operation Safe Market

These 2007 missions were efforts to make residential neighborhoods, areas with lots of traffic, and marketplaces safer for Iraqis to live and work during the American involvement of the Iraq war. Service members combed these areas looking for car bombs and IEDs with a decided effort to cut down on sectarian violence in the city. The codenames were pretty easy to figure out, proof that sometimes the most basic name is the best one.

Whoever was thinking up mission names during the Iraq War was definitely trying to keep the plans top secret to ensure the missions were successful. With names like All-American Tiger and Grizzly Forced Entry, someone was trying to make sure no one knew our military’s plans.

Articles

This ceremony honored the special bond shared by K-9s and their handlers

Laura Miller apologized more than once for getting emotional as she spoke at the Airborne Special Operations Museum on Monday.


But after seeing battle-hardened Special Forces soldiers dissolve into tears at the loss of their dogs, she said the love these men felt for their dogs — and of the dogs for them — can lead to tears at times.

Miller, a retired veterinarian technician who served 26 years, including 10 with caring for Special Operations Forces dogs, spoke to a crowd of several hundred about the sacrifices of military dogs — and the number of military lives they have saved.

Ranger takes flip flop company from Kabul to the Shark Tank
DoD Photo by Pfc. Brian Domzalski

“To see these big, strong soldiers break into tears over the loss of their dog, you realize this is a special bond,” Miller said. “There is a love that runs deeper.”

“The love for their dog and of the dog for their handler…” she paused as the emotion of the moment again caught her. “Just appreciate everything. Life is too short. The evidence of that is right here.”

She waved over to the nearby ASOM Field of honor, where more than 600 flags caught a light breeze.

Ranger takes flip flop company from Kabul to the Shark Tank
DoD Photo by Airman Shawna Keyes

In addition to the ceremony, the ASOM offered a series of concerts, exhibits, and first-person displays. Military experts offered visitors hands-on experience with military equipment from World War I through the Vietnam era.

Ron Wolfe, a retired Army sergeant, let youngsters try on his flak jacket and helmet from Vietnam, laughing when they complained about their weight and heat.

“Yeah, they can get a bit heavy,” Wolfe said. “Just wait until you had to wear them all day in the summertime.”

The ASOM K-9 Memorial honors more than 60 trained dogs who have died in service to Special Forces as well as partner groups in Great Britain and Australia. It was dedicated in 2013.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This incredible book explores 9/11 through the eyes of an Army ‘Brat’

September 11, 2001 means different things for different Americans. For some, the events of that date will forever be seared in their memories. For others, they were too young to know what was going on, yet they sensed something big had happened. For a younger generation, 9/11 is history. They read about it in textbooks that are absent the feelings of fear, anxiety, and stress that plagued so many Americans on that morning and the days following.

But, it’s an important date. It’s a date that represents sacrifice. Many people died, putting the lives of others before theirs. It’s a date that represents unity. Americans came together to offer up support to the families of the fallen. It also represents mistakes. Following the events of 9/11, Muslims and Middle-Eastern Americans had to weather the racial blowback that came from 19 men flying planes into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.


What’s important is that we remember. And that our kids know what happened that day, so the sacrifices, the story of Americans coming together, as well as the mistakes we made are not forgotten. And a great way to share memories is through stories. In her debut middle-school novel, Caroline Brooks DuBois gives us The Places We Sleep. It’s a story about a young girl navigating a new school (because her dad is in the Army) during the events of September 11, 2001. I recently interviewed Caroline to learn more about her book.

WATM: This novel touches on so many different themes: 9/11, racism, being a military kid, being a middle schooler, and being a young girl in middle school. Could you talk a little bit about the story you tell in The Places We Sleep?

Caroline: With Abbey, I attempted to create a middle school character who is as multifaceted as the pre-teens and teens I know and teach (and adore). Middle schoolers currently are living through very complex times, yet they are still concerned about their complexion, their hair, what to wear, who said what to whom, getting embarrassed in front of their peers, and so much more. In the story, Abbey navigates challenging world events along with the struggles of middle school and adolescence. Currently, teens and children are facing their own difficult world events, so I hope readers will see how Abbey perseveres and strives to be a good friend, to be kind, and to express empathy and tolerance to others.

Although I did not grow up in a military family, both of my grandfathers served in the military, as well as both of my brothers, my brother-in-law, and my sister-in-law. In the years that followed 9/11, my brothers and my brother-in-law were all called into active duty and deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. These events were the seed for Abbey’s story. I knew I wanted to write about how world events have rippling effects on individuals and families in unexpected ways. But I also wanted to tell a story about a girl with whom readers could relate. Abbey’s story is about being a military child, but it’s also about identity, loss and grief, creating art in the face of tragedy, and friendship.

WATM: Who should pick this book up? Is this a book a parent could read with their middle schooler to talk about 9/11?

Caroline: Middle grade students I’ve taught have had only a fuzzy understanding of the events of 9/11 and are curious and want to know more. There are several great books for young readers on 9/11 that I’ve incorporated into my teaching over the years, as I’ve found reading stories offers an opening to difficult subjects. I hope The Places We Sleep will spark curiosity in young readers about 9/11 and the monumental lessons we learned and are still learning from that tragedy.

Although the story is written for middle-school age kids, adults have told me the story resonates with them as well. It allows readers to visit, or revisit, 9/11 in the safe space of a story. The current national trauma of the Coronavirus pandemic may have a similar traumatic impact on youth and adults. Reading with a child about a dark time in our history is one way to open up conversation on important topics such as resiliency, strength, attitude, and hope. My hope is that the book will leave readers with a memorable story about a girl who may not be all that different from themselves. If they see Abbey journey through difficult times and come out stronger, they too may be inspired and optimistic in the face of their generation’s own difficult times.

WATM: You chose to tell the story in Verse. Could you talk about that decision and why you think it will appeal to readers?

Caroline: As a teacher and parent, I’ve noticed the appeal of shorter and/or alternative forms of story-telling (e.g., books in verse, flash fiction, graphic novels, epistolaries, etc.), undoubtedly influenced by technology and reading online. Even though I have a love for long form and traditional novels, I’ve noticed how books in verse can create more white space between scenes as well as playful or dramatic visual messages with syntax, punctuation, and form, which can motivate or hook adolescent readers.

Abbey’s story came to me naturally in poetry, perhaps as a lyrical way to process 9/11 and my brothers’ deployment, but also likely because I’d recently completed my MFA in poetry. The snapshots or scenes that poems allow you to write provided me with the perfect medium for Abbey’s story.

Books in verse make great shared read-aloud opportunities. You’re never too old to be read to or to enjoy reading aloud to someone else. Where you may not have time to read an entire chapter with someone, there’s always time for a poem or two.

WATM: On top of all the other crazy events in the book, Abbey also deals with the struggle of puberty. A lot of middle school books gloss over this. But, it’s a main part of Abbey’s story. Could you discuss why you chose to address it in your novel?

Caroline: When I was a pre-teen, one of the few sources for making sense of puberty was Judy Blume novels, which we passed covertly between friends (Think: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and Then Again, Maybe I Won’t). Changing bodies were cringe-worthy and carried heavy feelings of shame. Not enough has changed since then. I should know: I taught 7th grade for three years recently, and I saw it when girls cornered me at my desk to signal with their eyes they needed an emergency bathroom break, or when boys shut down in class conversations, avoiding branding themselves as not part of the pack. Novels that talk about puberty openly and other difficult issues are lifesavers for youth. Now more than ever, young readers need to be able to see themselves in books. Sometimes it takes a character in a book to show a reader they are not alone. Forewarning, my second reason is a little cerebral and a slight spoiler regarding Abbey’s character arc. Through her journey, Abbey makes a connection between coming of age (a.k.a, getting her period) and possessing the power to create life. She contemplates how the terrorists on 9/11 chose to destroy life. Coming of age brings with it many choices about how to act, and sometimes acting with integrity and authenticity means not following your peers—and that’s a true test of character.

WATM: Outside of classical literature, this is the first time I’ve ever read a novel in verse. Since you got your MFA in poetry, what are some of the must-reads in this genre?

Caroline: In this space, I’ll mainly mention notable middle-grade novelists who write in verse, but there are also numerous young adult novelists who write in verse as well. Disclaimer: These are a few of my own personal favorites and there are many others not included: Kwame Alexander (sports-themed Crossover and Booked), Sharon Creech (Love that Dog and Hate that Cat), Thanhha Lai (Inside Out Back Again), and Jacqueline Woodson (Brown Girl Dreaming). Additionally, Ellen Hopkins is a must-read author of books in verse for young adults; she tackles challenging topics such as drug addiction and mental illness in her unapologetic, in-your-face verse. One of my all-time favorite novels in verse is Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, which tells the story of 14-year-old Billie Jo, who struggles to help her family survive the Dust Bowl.

The Places We Sleep is available on Amazon.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Iraqi Army’s recent gains are fragile as US draws down

From their outpost on Iraq’s westernmost edge, U.S. 1st Lt. Kyle Hagerty and his troops watched civilians trickle into the area after American and Iraqi forces drove out the Islamic State group. They were, he believed, families returning to liberated homes, a hopeful sign of increasing stability.


But when he interviewed them on a recent reconnaissance patrol, he discovered he was wrong. They were families looking for shelter after being driven from their homes in a nearby town. Those who pushed them out were forces from among their “liberators” — Shiite militiamen who seized control of the area after defeating the IS militants.

It was a bitter sign of the mixed legacy from the United States’ intervention in Iraq to help defeat the militants. American-backed military firepower brought down the IS “caliphate,” but many of the divisions and problems that helped fuel the extremists’ rise remain unresolved.

The U.S.-led coalition, which launched its fight against IS in August 2014, is now reducing the numbers of American troops in Iraq, after Baghdad declared victory over the extremists. Both Iraqi and U.S. officials say the exact size of the drawdown has not yet been decided.

Also read: Twin bombings in Baghdad kill 38, shatter post-IS calm

U.S. and Iraqi commanders here in western Iraq warn that victories over IS could be undercut easily by a large-scale withdrawal. Iraq’s regular military remains dependent on U.S. support. Many within Iraq’s minority communities view the U.S. presence as a buffer against the Shiite-dominated central government. Still, Iranian-backed militias with strong voices in Baghdad are pushing for a complete U.S. withdrawal, and some Iraqis liken any American presence to a form of occupation.

That has left an uncomfortable limbo in this area that was the last battlefield against the extremists. Coalition commanders still work with Iraqi forces to develop long-term plans for stability even as a drawdown goes ahead with no one certain of its eventual extent.

Hearts and minds — again

“Let’s go win us some hearts and minds,” Sgt. Jonathan Cary, 23, joked as he and Hagerty and the patrol convoy set off from a base outside the town of Qaim, evoking a phrase used in American policy goals for Iraq ever since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.

Ranger takes flip flop company from Kabul to the Shark Tank
U.S. Army military police provide crowd control while Iraqi citizens line up for food and water being distributed to citizens in need in April 2003. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Arlo K. Abrahamson.)

After just a few hours moving on foot across farmland and orchards to a cluster of modest houses, Hagerty realized the families he thought were returnees to the area were in fact newly displaced. Their homes in Qaim had been confiscated by the government-affiliated Popular Mobilization Forces, or PMF, made up mainly of Shiite paramilitary fighters backed by Iran.

“Our end goal is a stable Iraq, right?” Hagerty said later, back at the base. “But when you see stuff like that, it makes you wonder if they are ever going to be able to do it themselves.”

After victories against IS, the PMF has built up a presence in many parts of Sunni-majority provinces, including western Anbar. It formally falls under the command of the prime minister, but some Iraqi commanders accuse the PMF of being a rival to government power.

PMF flags line highways crisscrossing Anbar. At a PMF checkpoint outside al-Asad airbase — a sprawling complex used by both Iraqi and coalition forces — U.S. convoys are regularly stopped for hours while busloads of PMF fighters are waved through.

U.S. Marine Col. Seth Folsom works closely with the branches of Iraq’s security forces — Sunni tribal fighters and the Iraqi army — who are increasingly concerned about the rise in power of the PMF. Iran has given no indication of dialing back its support after the defeat of IS extremists.

Ranger takes flip flop company from Kabul to the Shark Tank
Popular Mobilization Forces fire a mortar during the Hawija offensive in 2017. (VOA photo by Dlshad Anwar)

“The biggest question I get now is, ‘how long can we count on you being here?'” Folsom said of his conversations with Iraqi commanders and local politicians.

That decision ultimately rests with Iraq’s political leadership, he said.

“I guess some people could see that as a cop-out, but at the same time it’s not my place as a lowly colonel to define how long the U.S. presence is going to be.”

‘Forward line of freedom’

For the senior officers leading the current fight against IS, decades of U.S. military intervention in Iraq has defined their careers.

The top U.S. general in Iraq — Lt. Gen. Paul Funk — served in Iraq four times: in the Gulf war in 1991; in the 2003 invasion; in the surge when some 170,000 American troops were serving in Iraq in 2007; and most recently in the fight against IS.

Related: The US is beginning to draw down from fighting in Iraq

“It will definitely be positive,” Funk said of the legacy of the U.S. role against IS in Iraq. “People see their young men and women out here defeating evil. That’s a positive thing.”

On a recent flight from Baghdad to a small U.S. outpost in northern Syria near Manbij — a trip that traversed the heart of the battlefield with IS for the past 3½ years — Funk described the future of the fight as ideological and open-ended.

“The problem is people believe it’s already over, and it’s not,” he said. “Beating the ideology, destroying the myth, that’s going to take time.”

Touching down outside an orchard on the perimeter of the Manbij base, Funk exclaimed: “Welcome to the front line of freedom!”

Funk predicts the ideological fight could take years and easily require U.S. troop deployments elsewhere. He said that is one reason he believes it’s so important to visit U.S. troops on the current front lines — to show them “the American people believe in their purpose.”

“We have got to recruit the next generation,” he said.

More reading: This is the story behind the rise and fall of the Islamic State group

Many of the young U.S. troops interviewed by The Associated Press said they didn’t know anything about the Islamic State group when they enlisted.

Rayden Simeona, a 21-year-old corporal in the Marines, enlisted in 2014, when all he knew about the U.S. military was from movies and video games.

“I felt like I wasn’t going anywhere with my life, I had no idea what IS was. I just knew I wanted to go to war,” he said. Once deployed, he said talk rarely broached the big questions of “What we are doing here?” or “Why?”

“But I do wonder all the time: Why are we spending all this money in Iraq?” he said. “There’s probably some greater plan or reason that someone much higher up than me knows.”

Is the juice worth the squeeze?

Along Iraq’s border with Syria, the two Iraqi forces charged with holding a key stretch of territory lack direct communication. Because one force falls under the Defense Ministry and the other under the Interior Ministry, their radios are incompatible.

Instead, the troops use Nokia cellphones in a part of the country where network coverage is spotty to nonexistent.

At the nearby coalition outpost near Qaim, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Brandon Payne spends much of his time filling communications gaps by relaying messages between different branches of Iraq’s military.

“The coordination is not where we hoped it would be,” Payne said. “But they do talk to each other, and we see that as a sign of progress.”

Tactical shortcomings within Iraq’s military are partially what fueled the expansion of the coalition’s footprint in Iraq in the past three years. As Iraqi ground forces demonstrated an inability to communicate and coordinate attacks across multiple fronts, U.S. forces moved closer to the fighting and sped up the pace of territorial gains.

Despite the caliphate’s collapse, those weaknesses have persisted. Iraqi forces remain dependent on coalition intelligence, reconnaissance, artillery fire, and airstrikes to hold territory and fight IS insurgent cells.

Payne regularly shuttles between his base, Qaim and the Syrian border, meeting with different members of Iraqi forces to coordinate security and repel IS attacks from the Syrian side.

Read more: ISIS’ last town in Iraq falls to Iraqi security forces

“I would say we are still needed,” Payne said. “We are getting great results with this model, but you see how much goes into it.”

The base, once a small, dusty outpost, now houses a few hundred coalition troops and is a maze of barracks, gyms, a dining facility, laundry services and a chapel.

“At some point, someone much higher up than me is going to decide the juice is just not worth the squeeze,” Payne said, referring to the cost of such a large outpost in a remote corner of the country.

Rotten leadership

Iraqi army Lt. Col. Akram Salah Hadi, who works closely with Payne’s soldiers at the Qaim outpost, said coalition training and intelligence sharing have improved the performance of his unit. But overall, the U.S. effort in Iraq gives him little hope for the future.

Corruption in the military, Hadi said, remains as bad as it was in 2014, when it was seen as a major reason why entire Iraqi divisions simply dissolved in the assault on Mosul by a few hundred IS fighters.

Ranger takes flip flop company from Kabul to the Shark Tank
This soldier instructs a motivated group of Iraqi troops. (Image from DoD)

Young Iraqi soldiers with ambition and talent can’t rise through the ranks without political connections. Top ranks are bloated with officers who have bought their promotions. Within his division alone, Hadi said he can think of 40 officers with no military background who attained their rank because of their membership in a political party.

“With leadership like this, the rest will always be rotten,” he said.

Coalition programs that have trained tens of thousands of Iraqi troops have largely focused on the infantry, not the junior officers needed to lead units and instill a culture of service that will make a professional force.

Folsom, the U.S. Marine colonel, said military power will not root out corruption or heal Iraq’s longstanding divisions.

“I have a saying out here,” he added, “‘You can’t want it more than them.'”

Articles

These are the top ISIS leaders killed by the coalition (so far)

The life expectancy of a known jihadi fighting the U.S. and its allies is not very long. If they aren’t killed as Iraqis retake towns and cities, then they are likely to be killed or captured in night raids conducted by special forces or in a drone strike.


ISIS leaders are in the crosshairs more than any other bad guy group these days. Here’s a list of leaders that coalition attacks have helped shuffle off this mortal coil:

1. Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali (aka “Haji al-Mutazz,” aka Ned Price)

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This righthand man to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in August 2015. The IS deputy was the top weapons procurer and logistician for the terror group. His death sparked off a number of internal reprisals against those the terror group suspected of leaking important information to Western intelligence.

2. Omar al-Shishani (aka “Omar the Chechen”)

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Of all the ISIS leaders killed in action, he’s the most ISIS. He  was widely considered to be the terror group’s minister of war. He was killed as a result of an American airstrike in March 2016, near the Syrian border city of Shadadi. He survived the initial strike, but later died of his wounds. It’s not known why they called him “the Chechen,” because he is from Georgia.

Shishani also headed the terror group’s main prison in Raqqa, Syria. The U.S. State Department once offered $5 million for information leading to the capture of Shishani. Shishani was also called “Abu Meat” by detractors, because he had a reputation of staying in the rear with the gear while ordering others into battle.

Related: US special operators show off the gear used against ISIS

3. Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli (aka “Hajji Imam”)

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In a March effort to capture this senior IS commander, U.S. special operators originally planned to disable his vehicle from the air, land a helicopter, and then take him into custody. Instead, they lit up the vehicle, killing al-Qaduli. He was the group’s top financier.

4. Fathi ben Awn ben Jildi Murad al-Tunisi (aka “Abu Sayyaf”)

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British SAS and American Delta Force elements raided the house of Abu Sayyaf, ISIS’ chief oil minister and a high-ranking commander in Deir-ez-Zor, Syria. Abu Sayyaf was shot twice in the chest as he went for a weapon. His wife, called Umm Sayyaf by the Daily Mail, claimed to be a Yazidi sex slave. (Sayyaf and his wife ran ISIS’ sex slave network.) His actual Yazidi sex slave was freed by the operators. His wife was captured.

5. Tariq al-Harzi

Ranger takes flip flop company from Kabul to the Shark Tank

Also known as the “Emir of Suicide Bombers” he was killed in June 2015 by coalition airstrikes in Syria. He was another logistics expert for ISIS, managing the movement of men and materiel between Iraq and Syria and the support and recruiting for ISIS operations in North Africa.

6. Junaid Hussein

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A British citizen, Hussein was the critical operative in the Garland, Texas cartoon contest attack in 2015 and an effective ISIS recruiter. He was killed in Raqqa, Syria by a coalition airstrike. Raqqa is supposed to be a safe haven for the fighters. He was hit by a missile fired from a drone. Hussein was central to the plot of attacking the homes of U.S. service members after ISIS hackers posted their home addresses.

7. “Abu Maryam”

Called an ISIS enforcer and senior leader of their extortion network, Maryam was killed in a December 2015 airstrike. Since extortion is one of the top ways ISIS raises money, the death of Maryam was likely a blow to that revenue stream. He was killed in an air strike near the Iraqi city of Tal Afar.

Related: Sex, drugs, and Bitcoin: The 10 ways ISIS pays the bills

8. Muwaffaq Mustafa Mohammed al-Karmoush (aka “Abu Salah”)

As part of the apparent effort to disrupt the group’s fundraising and ability to use those funds, the U.S. also hit ISIS’ chief accountant. Abu Sarah (Abu is not his real first name. “Abu” means “father of” in Arabic, and is often used as a nickname) was responsible for paying fighters’ salaries in Northern Iraq, where they are fighting a mixture of Kurdish Peshmerga, Iraqi Army, and Shia militias backed by Iranian Quds Force operators.

9. Wissam Najm Abd Zayd al-Zubaydi (aka “Abu Nabil”)

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Abu Nabil was killed in an F-15 strike in the Libyan coastal city of Derna. He was an Iraqi who one fought for al-Qaeda but turned to spearheading ISIS operations in Libya. He was the first ISIS leader killed by Western strikes in Libya. His December 2015 death hampered the terror group’s ability to recruit and establish bases in Libya.

10. Sleiman Daoud al-Afari

Afari is unique on this list because he was the only one captured, interrogated, and handed over to the Iraqi government, instead of being outright killed. Afari was ISIS chief chemical weapons engineers. He learned the trade under the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. He told officials about ISIS efforts to develop everything from mustard gas to Sarin nerve gas.

11. Mohammed Emwazi (aka “Jihadi John”)

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Emwazi was a significant ISIS operative because of his command of English led him to be the voice of the terror group’s propaganda efforts. Jihadi John was killed in a drone strike in Raqqa, Syria. Starting in August 2014, he appeared in ISIS beheading videos and was a celebrity in the group. He played no important spiritual or military role.

12. Abu Rahman al-Tunisi

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An IS executive officer who coordinated the movement of arms, money, people, and information. Hitting al-Tunisi likely significantly disrupted ISIS’ command and control capabilities.

13. Charaffe al-Mouadan

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Central to the ISIS attacks in Paris in November 2015, Moudan was killed in an airstrike in Syria the following December.

14. Fayez al-Shaalaan (aka “Abu Fawz”)

Shaalaan was the ISIS leader in the Arsal region of Syria, near neighboring Lebanon. In the northern areas of Lebanon, fighting between ISIS and the al-Qaeda allied Nusra Front fighter spills into Lebanese territory. The Lebanese Army routinely engages these fighters.

BONUS: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (maybe)

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The “Caliph” of ISIS, the overall leader of the terror group was the target of an Iraqi airstrike. It’s unknown whether or not Baghdadi was killed in the October 2015 strike. (CNN reported the leader was taken away in a vehicle to an unknown location.)

Articles

Here’s the technique Navy SEALs use to swim for miles without getting tired

With the beginning of summer, pools all over the US are opening for recreational swimming — but in the Navy, recruits are getting ready for the brutal Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, or BUD/S, that will turn some of them into Navy SEALs.


In the SEALs, where recruits of the elite special operations unit are pushed to their limits, there is no room for inefficiency. So it developed a more efficient swimming stroke: the combat swimmer stroke.

The stroke combines the best elements of breaststroke and freestyle to streamline a motion that not only reduces resistance on a swimmer’s body, but makes the swimmer harder to spot underwater.

Here’s a sample of the stroke:

Unlike freestyle, the combat sidestroke calls for the swimmer to stay submerged for most of it.

To do the combat swimmer stroke, dive in or kick off as you would in freestyle, but at the end of your glide, do a large, horizontal scissor kick instead.

Now comes the unique part — as the horizontal scissor kick tilts your body so that one arm is slightly higher than the other, pull that arm back while leaving the other outstretched.

Turn your face up toward the surface as you pull that arm down, take a breath, and begin to pull down your other arm. Another scissor kick, then reset your arms. You should not switch your orientation or the order in which you pull back your arms.

Here’s a step-by-step breakdown:

Articles

5 times troops made headlines for the wrong reasons

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Pfc. Robert Preston’s helicopter being removed from the White House lawn | Wikimedia


This article by James Clark and Michael Lane Smith was originally published on Task Purpose, news and culture site for the next great generation of American veterans.

For anyone who has worn the uniform, there’s a fundamental truth of service that never makes it into the commercials and recruiting ads: It can be boring as all hell.

Sometimes, either due to good intentions gone awry, frustration, or someone drank too much, service members and veterans make some bad decisions. In many cases, this ends with a hangover or a moment of public embarrassment. Occasionally, these choices lead to sprains and maybe a broken bone or two, like when a Marine decided to jump three stories onto a stack of mattresses.

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YouTube

But sometimes, someone does something so dumb and outrageous that it makes the news. Here are five of those moments.

1. The soldier who stole a puppy to save it from being neutered

In early June 2015, U.S. Army Sgt. Aaron Duvel of the Missouri National Guard was caught on video stealing a mixed-breed puppy from the Humane Society of Southwest Missouri with his fiancée, according to ABC affiliate KSPR News.

Having heard from a veterinary hospital that it is unhealthy for dogs to be neutered within the first year of their lives, the couple wanted to make sure this puppy was protected from such an operation. After being denied the opportunity to adopt the puppy, the couple thought the best course of action was to take him anyway.

“Really, the criminal part never really came in mind at all to be honest,” Duvel told KSPR with a seemingly amused grin. “It’d gotten pretty serious so it was pretty much past the point of dropping off some money and saying I’m sorry.”

Presumably Duvel’s chain of command didn’t appreciate seeing “guardsman steals puppy” in the news either.

2. The drunk soldier who defected to North Korea

On the night of Jan. 4, 1965, U.S. Army Sgt. Charles Robert Jenkins crossed the heavily mined Korean demilitarized zone 10 beers deep and defected to North Korea.

According to Business Insider, Jenkins decided to get drunk and then defect because his unit was being ordered to lead increasingly provocative patrols, and he heard they might be heading to Vietnam. His time in North Korea involved 24-hour surveillance, making it more akin to imprisonment than defection.

Instead of continued service in the military fighting communism, Jenkins spent the next 40 years learning the works of Kim Il-Sung by heart, teaching English to presumed spies in training, and acting in movies as the villain. Needless to say, Jenkins quickly regretted his decision.

In a 2005 interview on “60 Minutes,” Jenkins described being constantly watched and told when to eat, sleep, and even when to have sex. According to Jenkins, the North Korean government eventually brought him an abducted a woman from Japan to teach North Korean spies Japanese, and before long, they were married. Not exactly the most beautiful love story, but it did yield the pair two daughters.

Upon being freed in 2004, Jenkins reported for duty in Japan and was swiftly court-martialed, receiving a significantly reduced sentence for the almost four decades of internment in North Korea. He now sells crackers at a historical museum in Japan.

3. The soldier who landed helicopter on the White House lawn

In the early hours of Feb. 17, 1974, U.S. Army Pfc. Robert Preston buzzed commuterson the Baltimore-Washington Parkway in a stolen Huey, and then approached the White House, landing briefly before Maryland State Police arrived in two choppers of their own.

Preston led them on an aerial chase, leading one officer to say afterward that he was “one hell of a pilot.” He proceeded to hover near the Washington Monument, nearly colliding with it, before returning to the White House, where he hovered 100 meters away on the South Lawn.

After taking shotgun and submachine gun fire, Preston put the Huey down and attempted to escape on foot, but was tackled and arrested. President Richard Nixon, who was in the middle of the Watergate scandal, was not at the White House during all of this.

Even though he led two police choppers, and scores of other law enforcement personnel on a high speed chase, broke a host of laws and military regulations, Preston only served six months in the military stockade, before receiving a general discharge.

4. The drunk Marine who set off the fire suppression system in a hangar

At about 1:45 a.m on May 23, 2015, a Marine drunkenly triggered the foam-based fire suppression system at an Air Force hangar on Kadena Air Base in Okinawa. Marine Corps Times reported that it’s unclear how the Marine entered the hangar, what specific punishment he may have faced after his arrest, and just what his level of intoxication was.

5. The British soldier who stole an armored vehicle, crashed it, stole another

In February 2009, an 18-year-old British soldier went for a drunken joy ride, stealing not one, but two armored vehicles before running a military police patrol off the road, reported Daily Mail.

German authorities said that the unnamed soldier was “highly intoxicated” when he stole an armored command car, swerved through the entrance at Hoehne Barracks in Northwest Germany, before careening off the road minutes later, reports the Daily Mail.

Astonishingly, the soldier crept back on base, which was now on high alert, and stole another armored vehicle — a tracked ambulance this time — and sped off again. A military police patrol tried to stop him, but was forced off the road before the driver crashed the second vehicle into a tree.

We all got the giggles when we read this,” British Army spokesperson Helga Heine told The Local in 2009. “But stealing a vehicle is a serious offense and it will be dealt with accordingly.”

A German police officer told Daily Mail: “Apparently he muttered something about wanting to see green fields and trees.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

USS Fitzgerald returns to sea more than 2 years after fatal collision

A Navy warship that was damaged in a deadly 2017 collision left a Mississippi shipyard on Monday morning after more than two years of repairs.


The guided-missile destroyer Fitzgerald will undergo testing at sea to make sure it’s capable of taking on new missions. Seven sailors were killed on June 17, 2017, when the Fitzgerald collided with a cargo ship off the coast of Japan.

The destroyer’s crew is credited with saving the vessel after that devastating accident. Now, Navy officials say the Fitz is marking “a significant step in her return to warfighting readiness.”

The ship has spent two years undergoing repairs at the Huntington Ingalls Industries-Ingalls Shipbuilding’s Pascagoula shipyard. It will now carry out a series of demonstrations at sea that will test the ship’s navigation, electrical, combat, communications and propulsions systems.

“The underway reflects nearly two years’ worth of effort in restoring and modernizing one of the Navy’s most capable warships after it was damaged during a collision in 2017 that claimed the lives of seven Sailors,” a Naval Sea Systems Command news release states.

Once the evaluations are done, the destroyer will head back to the shipyard for more training and crew certifications. The Fitzgerald is scheduled to return to the fleet in the spring.

“We are excited to take the next step to get Fitzgerald back out to sea where the ship belongs,” Cmdr. Scott Wilbur, Fitzgerald’s commanding officer, said in a statement. “My crew is looking forward to moving onboard the ship and continuing our training to ensure we are ready to return to the fleet.”

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The Fitzgerald was one of two destroyers damaged in separate fatal 2017 collisions in the Pacific. Ten sailors died when guided-missile destroyer John S. McCain collided with a civilian tanker near Singapore about two months after the Fitzgerald accident.

That ship headed back to sea in October for testing after years’ worth of repairs.

The tragic accidents sparked a host of changes to the way the Navy trains personnel to operate on ships, as well as to sleep schedules and other policies. The accidents also led to fierce criticism after reports found Navy leaders had ignored a host of warning signs in the months and years leading up to the collisions.

Vice Adm. Richard Brown, commander of Naval Surface Forces Pacific Fleet, is scheduled to testify before members of the House this week on the state of Navy readiness in the Pacific.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Marine achieves childhood dream of becoming an astronaut

An active-duty Marine is among the newest class of astronauts eligible for NASA missions to the moon and beyond.

Marine Maj. Jasmin Moghbeli said she became enamored with space as a child, with a series of experiences amplifying her interest as she got older.


“The first time I remember saying I wanted to become an astronaut was in sixth grade. We had to do a book report and I had chosen to do mine on Valentina Tereshkova — the first woman in space, a Russian cosmonaut. And it’s kind of stemmed from there. We had to dress up like the person in school for the day, so I made a little astronaut costume with my mom,” Moghbeli said.

By the time she reached high school, her parents had enrolled her in space camp and she witnessed a shuttle launch. The seed was planted from there.

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Pictured (front row, left to right, Zena Cardman, Jasmin Moghbeli, Robb Kulin, Jessica Watkins, Loral O’Hara; back row, left to right, Jonny Kim, Frank Rubio, Matthew Dominick, Warren Hoburg, Kayla Barron, Bob Hines, and Raja Chari. Image Credit: NASA.

Earlier this year, Moghbeli and 10 classmates completed two years of training to become the first class of astronauts to graduate under the Artemis program, making them eligible for assignments to the International Space Station, Artemis missions to the moon, and eventually, Mars, according to a NASA press release.

The New York-native was commissioned into the Marine Corps in 2005 after earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering with Information Technology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. However, her sights were initially set on being a Naval aviator.

“I don’t think I knew what the Marine Corps was, to be entirely honest. My parents came from Iran and my grandfather was an admiral in the Iranian navy, and so he told me lots of cool stories when I was younger. So, I initially was looking into going into the Navy and becoming a Naval aviator that way,” she said.

During a summer seminar program for the Naval Academy Moghbeli learned about the Marines and by her junior year of college she connected with a recruiter who told her she could get a guaranteed air contract.

Throughout her time as a Marine pilot, Moghbeli completed 150 combat missions and 2,000 hours of flight time in more than 25 different aircraft. At the time of her selection for the 2017 Astronaut Candidate Class, she was testing H-1 helicopters at MCAS Yuma, Arizona.

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Marine Corps Maj. Jasmin Moghbeli, a pilot assigned to Marine Test and Evaluation Squadron 1, conducts her final flight in an AH-1 “Cobra” at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, in 2017. Photo by Lance Cpl. Christian Cachola.

Moghbeli said many crossovers between the culture of the Marines and that of NASA prepared her for success in the program.

“I think the Marine Corps set me up very well for training here and for the job we have to do here. The teamwork and camaraderie — teamwork is obviously a big part of what we do here at NASA — and especially when you talk about being on a crew of a handful of people for months, potentially years at a time. I think we learn a lot of good teamwork skills in the Marine Corps,” she said. “My operational background from being a test pilot, being a Cobra pilot have been huge. Even while I was on the initial training, I was able to contribute to evaluating the displays on the Orion capsule and new things on the different vehicles, because of that background.”

Moghbeli added the public speaking required during frequent flight briefs quelled her stage fright and “learning the space station systems was not that different from learning aircraft systems.”

There are currently 17 active-duty astronauts working for NASA, according to Jennifer Hernandez, a NASA communications specialist. For service members interested in pursuing a similar path to Moghbeli, she offers the following advice:

“Achieving anything that is challenging, and most Marines probably know this but, there’s going to be stumbles and failures along the way, and I’ve had plenty in my path here. If you talk to my first onwing [instructor] in flight school, he’s shocked I even made it to my solo. … But always getting back up, finding those mentors … finding people that will help you when you are struggling, and then also something I think it is very important … to surround yourself with people who are going to challenge you and push,” she said.

Follow https://twitter.com/AstroJaws to keep up with Maj. Moghbeli’s training at NASA — including future missions.

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.


Articles

This gunner fell 22,000 feet without a parachute and lived

Paratroopers make a big deal about jumping out of planes from 800 feet, but U.S. Army Air Force Staff Sgt. Alan Magee fell out of a plane at 22,000 feet without a parachute while the plane was on fire.


And he lived.

Magee was a ball turret gunner in a B-17 named “Snap! Crackle! Pop!” after the three mascots for Rice Krispies cereal. That plane, along with others from the 360th Squadron, was sent to bomb German torpedo stores in St. Nazaire, France on Jan. 3, 1943.

During the mission, the plane was shot by anti-aircraft guns and became a ball of flames. Magee climbed into the fuselage to get his chute and bail out, but it had been shredded by the flak. As Magee was trying to figure out a new plan, a second flak burst tore through the aircraft and then a fighter blasted it with machine gun fire.

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Magee was knocked unconscious and thrown from the aircraft. When he woke up, he was falling through the air with nothing but a prayer.

Magee told God, “I don’t wish to die because I know nothing of life,” according to reports from the 303rd Bomb Group.

Magee, struggling with a shortage of oxygen and likely in shock from the events of the past few minutes, passed out again and God seemingly answered his prayer. The young noncommissioned officer fell into the town of St. Nazaire and through the glass roof of the train station. He was later found dangling on the steel girders that supported the ceiling.

The glass had slowed his fall and he regained consciousness as German soldiers took him to medical care. Magee’s right leg and ankle were broken, he had 28 wounds from shrapnel and glass, and his right arm was cut nearly the whole way off. He had also suffered numerous internal injuries.

“I owe the German military doctor who treated me a debt of gratitude,” Magee said. “He told me, ‘we are enemies, but I am first a doctor and I will do my best to save your arm.'”

Magee was able to keep his arm and eventually made a full recovery. He spent most of the rest of the war as a POW.

In 1995, Magee was invited back to France as part of a ceremony sponsored by French citizens to thank Allied service members for their efforts in the war. Magee was able to see monuments to the crew of Snap! Crackle! Pop!, including the nose art which had been used as a Nazi trophy until after the war when a French man recovered it. It was restored in 1989.

Magee died in 2003.

(h/t War History Online)

MIGHTY TRENDING

How troops use a combat scythe in Afghanistan

Picture yourself on a foot patrol in Afghanistan, one of the most dangerous countries in the world where the majority of the population hates the fact that you’re there.


Now, imagine you’re the “lead” of that foot patrol (typically the combat engineer who is looking for IEDs buried in the ground) and you spot a suspicious device ahead with a command wire sticking out of the dirt.

For most of us, it’s not a good idea to approach, especially if that wire trails off toward a nearby compound — it’s a freaking trap. But for troops serving in Afghanistan, it’s just another day at the office.

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Counter-IED teams locate roadside bombs using Valon metal detectors. (Photo from Army.mil)

Although most IEDs are considered primitively built with limited resources, the grunts on the ground have a clever way of dealing with ’em: the combat scythe.

Related: This is what it was like fighting alongside Afghan troops

Famously known as an agricultural tool, ground pounders use them to conduct a “hands-on” inspection of a potential threat from up to 12-feet away. The operator will extend out the scythe and use its rounded tip to tug and drag out the device for an exam.

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A Marine and his trusty scythe will never run out of batteries. (USMC photo by Cpl. William J. Jackson)

By deploying his trusty scythe, a troop can safely determine if that bump in the ground is indeed an IED and call for a controlled detonation of the affected area. Of course, if it’s a false alarm, then that foot patrol proceeds onward without fear.

Not every IED can be figured out with a solid poking, though. If that IED is trickier than usual, the patrol will call upon the services of Explosive Ordnance Disposal to access and, typically, blow the sh*t out of the device.

On the bright side, controlled detonations are pretty epic to watch. They’re allied forces’ way of telling the bad guys ,”Not today, f*cker.”

That is all.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Social media photos raise questions about B-1 emergency landing

Weeks after a B-1B Lancer bomber from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, made an emergency landing at Midland International Air and Space Port, officials say they will not disclose details of the incident until the investigation is complete.

“The B-1 aircraft incident is under investigation by the Safety Investigation Board at this time. The specific findings and recommendations of the SIB are protected by the military safety privilege and are not subject to release,” 7th Bomb Wing spokesman Airman River Bruce told Military.com on May 21, 2018.


The incident occurred around 1:30 p.m. local time May 1, 2018. Local media reported at the time the non-nuclear B-1B was not carrying any weapons when it requested to land because of “an engine flameout.” Midland is roughly 150 miles west of Dyess.

In May 2018, images surfaced on Facebook purporting to show a burnt-out engine from the incident, as well as photos from The Associated Press and Midland Reporter-Telegram showing that the B-1B, tail number 86-0109, was missing a ceiling hatch, leading to speculation an in-flight ejection was attempted.

The back ceiling hatch, which hovers over either the offensive or defensive weapons systems officer (WSO), depending on mission set, was open, although all four crew members were shown sitting on the Midland flightline in the photos.

Stairs used to climb in or out of the aircraft in a non-emergency situation were deployed, the photos indicate. There was no sign of an egress rope, which would be used in a fire emergency to climb out one of the top hatches.

Unidentified individuals told the popular Facebook group Air Force Amn/Nco/Snco that a manual ejection from the offensive weapons system officer was attempted, but the ACES II seat did not blow, leading the crew to pursue a landing instead. There has been no official corroboration of that information.

Firefighters were on scene when the B-1 landed, local media photos showed at the time. Dyess officials said the crew was unharmed.

When asked whether the wing is aware of recent photos circulating on social media, Bruce said any information “released through unofficial platforms is not validated information.”

“The SIB’s purpose is to prevent future mishaps or losses and is comprised of experts who investigate the incident and recommend corrective actions if deemed applicable,” he said in a statement.

The heavy, long-range bomber, which has the largest payload in the bomber fleet, is capable of carrying four crew members: pilot, co-pilot, and two back-seat WSOs, also known as wizzos.

The 7th Bomb Wing is responsible for producing combat-ready aircrews in the Air Force’s only B-1B formal training unit.

Dyess is home to the 9th and 28th Bomb Squadrons, as well as the 489th Bomb Group, the Air Force’s only Reserve B-1 unit.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.

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