Warplanes carried out a suspected toxic gas attack that killed at least 35 people including several children in a rebel-held town in northwestern Syria on April 4, opposition groups and a monitoring group said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said those killed in the town of Khan Sheikhun, in Idlib province, had died from the effects of the gas, adding that dozens more suffered respiratory problems and other symptoms.
The Britain-based monitoring group was unable to confirm the nature of the substance, and said it was unclear if the planes involved in the attack were Syrian or those of government ally Russia.
The reported gas attack comes at the start of a two-day conference on Syria’s future hosted in Brussels by the European Union and the United Nations.
The Observatory said medical sources in the town reported symptoms among the affected including fainting, vomiting, and foaming at the mouth.
The victims were mostly civilians, it said, and included at least nine children.
The pro-opposition Edlib Media Centre (EMC) posted a large number of photographs of people receiving treatment, as well as images showing what appeared to be the bodies of at least seven children in the back of a pick-up truck.
Photographs circulated by activists showed members of the volunteer White Helmets rescue group using hoses to wash down the injured, as well as at least two men with white foam around their mouths.
The Syrian National Coalition, an alliance of opposition groups whose leaders live in exile, accused President Bashar al-Assad‘s government of carrying out the gas attack and demanded a UN investigation.
“The National Coalition demands the Security Council convene an emergency session… to open an immediate investigation and take the necessary measures to ensure the officials, perpetrators, and supporters are held accountable,” the body said in a statement.
Idlib province is largely controlled by an alliance of rebels including the Fateh al- Sham Front, a former al Qaeda affiliate previously known as the al- Nusra Front.
It is regularly targeted in strikes by the regime, as well as Russian warplanes, and has also been hit by the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group, usually targeting jihadists.
Syria’s government officially joined the Chemical Weapons Convention and turned over its chemical arsenal in 2013, as part of a deal to avert U.S. military action.
But there have been repeated allegations of chemical weapons use by the government since then, with a UN-led investigation pointing the finger at the regime for at least three chlorine attacks in 2014 and 2015.
The government denies the use of chemical weapons and has in turn accused rebels of using banned weapons.
The attack on April 4 comes only days after forces loyal to Assad were accused of using chemical weapons in a counter-offensive in neighboring Hama province.
U.S. Army Soldiers clean the outside of a CH-47 Chinook during detail aircraft decontamination training near Erbil, Iraq, Mar. 1, 2017. This training is part of the overall Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve building partner capacity by training and improving the capability of partnered forces fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Josephine Carlson)
On March 30, air strikes on several areas in the north of Hama province left around 50 people suffering respiratory problems, according to the Observatory, which could not confirm the cause of the symptoms.
The monitor relies on a network of sources inside Syria for its information, and says it determines whose planes carry out raids according to type, location, flight patterns, and munitions used.
More than 320,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests.
The April 4 gathering in Brussels has been billed as a follow-up to a donors’ conference last year in London, which raised about $11 billion for humanitarian aid programs in the devastated country.
North Korea unveiled a remarkably powerful bomb in its latest nuclear test, one with the ability to level entire urban centers.
In the wake of North Korea’s sixth nuclear test, state media claimed that the rogue regime had successfully tested a staged thermonuclear weapon – a hydrogen bomb. Explosive yield estimates range are around 150 kilotons, orders of magnitude larger than any bomb the North has tested before. While the international community has been trying to figure out what to do about this alarming development, Pyongyang has been celebrating its entry into the elite thermonuclear weapons club.
When North Korea’s nuclear scientists and engineers returned home, they were given a heroes welcome in Pyongyang. Similar celebrations were held after the successful test of the Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile, on which Kim Jong Un plans to mount his newest bomb.
Officials held another celebration Saturday to honor the individuals who contributed to the development of the latest addition to North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal. During Saturday’s celebratory concert, images of North Korea’s achievements were presented on the big screen, a not uncommon pastime for the regime.
The North revealed images of the nuclear bomb tested last Sunday at the celebration this weekend.
The bomb used in the test appears to be a slight variation of the warhead North Korea presented just hours before its shocking nuclear test. The shape suggests that the device may very well be a thermonuclear weapon, with one chamber for the fission reaction and another for the fusion reaction to produce a substantial explosive yield.
In the wake of the country’s sixth nuclear test, North Korea announced that it had successfully tested a hydrogen bomb for its new ICBM, which can effectively strike parts, if not most, of the continental U.S. While it is difficult to know for certain, it would appear that the North is “locked and loaded” for intercontinental strikes if it needed to do so.
“The recent test of the H-bomb is a great victory won by the Korean people at the cost of their blood while tightening their belts in the arduous period,” young North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un said at the banquet Saturday, referring to North Korea’s success in the face of tough international sanctions and mounting pressure.
Military food is notorious for earning the right to be nicknamed a “mess.”
Sometimes it’s because the recipe is fundamentally flawed, other times it’s because the supplies available meant a substitution (read: mistake) was made.
Or maybe the people working in the kitchen decide to put spaghetti on top of your mashed potatoes, despite all the room on the rest of the plate (looking at you, Fort Meade).
Think of this list as more of a hat tip to the kitchen staffers who go above and beyond to make sure the food we all eat is a force multiplier – and not a tool of the Dark Side of the force. Here are a few recipes for disaster collected by the WATM staff.
1. Powdered Eggs – Tent City, Saudi Arabia
Military kitchen staffs the world over will vehemently deny ever using powdered eggs, but one look at the yellow-gray-green muck that might be looking back at you will make you think twice about believing them. Sure, a hot meal probably beats a field ration but in this case, not by much.
The eggs pair well with pieces of lettuce. This is great because if anyone arrived to the chow line later than 20 minutes after it opened for midnight meal, lettuce was their only side dish option.
2. Basically everything served at MIDRATS – USS Kitty Hawk
Burnt, crispy rice is a delicacy in some places – like Iran – but it shouldn’t be the norm on a Navy ship during midnight rations, even if the ship is in the Strait of Hormuz.
Yet, there it is. Although sometimes, the burnt rice would be rolled into meatballs and go by the name “hedgehogs.”
If the U.S. Navy’s tadig (google it) isn’t your thing, MIDRATS also offers boiled hot dogs, cardboard burger patties, and teflon bread.
That’s OK, because it all tastes the same with enough hot sauce.
3. KBR Steak and Seafood Night – Victory Base Complex, Iraq
The chief chow hall supplier for Operation Iraqi Freedom tried to build a little morale with luxury food items once a week. This ended up being the day you could smell exactly what the chow hall was cooking, long before you got anywhere near the place.
Kinda like the dumpster behind a Red Lobster.
Boiling steaks ensured no one got sick from undercooked meat while also guaranteeing no one enjoyed them.
The fried shrimp had the consistency of poker chips and the King Crab legs were… there.
The Subway probably did good business on these days.
4. Fish. Forever. – FOB Fenty, Afghanistan
After a U.S. friendly fire incident killed 24 Pakistanis, American troops in Afghanistan were cut off from supplies coming across the Hindu Kush.
For members of the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade stationed at FOB Fenty near Jalalabad, this meant a deep dive into the frozen food section.
The “breaded brown patty” was made of an unknown meat and trying to determine which animal – or animals – it came from might only raise more questions than it answered. The only hint that animals were involved in the brown patty process was the layer of fat congealing at the bottom of the tray.
The taste was primarily salt, and the texture resembled that of a warm kitchen sponge. One bite was enough to make any Marine content with a roll and a glass of milk.
6. Pasta Carbonara – Camp Victory, Iraq
Spaghetti alla Carbonara is a delicious dish with ground egg, pecorino Romano cheese, pancetta bacon, and black pepper. But that’s not what happened in Iraq.
Now, no one truly believes the chow hall is going to carry Romano cheese or pancetta. But the recipe found in one of the chow lines on Camp Victory included a ketchup-based red sauce, egg slices, bologna cubes, and frozen peas.
“Given the selection, most meals ultimately degrade into some combination of cereal, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and saltine crackers,” said the author, Navy Lt. Andrew Sand, who would be driven to risk his life for a plate of French cheese.
One infantryman gained notoriety while cooking for his unit at Camp Bala Hissar near Kabul. Army Sgt. Troy Heckenlaible said the 100 or so soldiers he cooked for preferred his cooking to the food at Eggers. His secret? Unit Group Rations.
If not for a twist of fate, the 1948 VC-121A Lockheed Constellation that once transported the nation’s 34thpresident might have become a crop duster or turned into scrap metal.
The Columbine II was the first plane to fly with the call sign “Air Force One” when it carried President Dwight D. Eisenhower for the first two years of his administration. However, the aircraft would have been lost to history without the intervention of three men – one who bought the plane almost 50 years ago, the friend who helped save it from the scrap heap, and the man whose aviation company purchased it two decades later with plans to restore it to its 1950s glory.
“I didn’t want to see somebody drinking a beer and wonder if the metal from that can came from that plane,” said Karl D. Stoltzfus, whose Dynamic Aviation Company purchased the “Connie,” as Lockheed Constellations are commonly called, in 2015.
In March, Stoltzfus had the aircraft flown for the first time in 13 years, except for a brief test flight a few days earlier, to Dynamic Aviation in Bridgewater, Virginia. Lockie Christler, son of the late Mel Christler, who bought the plane from the Air Force in 1970, flew the Columbine II from Marana Regional Airport, Arizona, where it had sat since 2003, to Virginia. The almost 60-year-old plane made a stop at the Mid-America Flight Museum in Mount Pleasant, Texas, before Christler made the final four-hour flight to Bridgewater, with Stoltzfus piloting the chase plane, a Beechcraft King Air.
Christler gives most of the credit for the Columbine II’s restoration to his father, who died in 2005, Stoltzfus and Harry Oliver, who emphasized the importance of saving the plane and was the majority owner when it was sold.
“If it weren’t for men like my father, Harry and Karl, along with others, a lot of these airplanes wouldn’t be around,” Christler said. “Once we realized this was Eisenhower’s airplane, we couldn’t let it be scrapped.”
The plane was built as a C-121A at Burbank, California, and converted to a VC-121A-LO to carry VIPs in 1953. The Columbine II, named after the Colorado state flower by first lady Mamie Eisenhower, became the official presidential aircraft later that year. Over New Charlotte, North Carolina the following year, an Eastern Airlines flight had the same call numbers as the Columbine II, and confusion ensued when both planes shared the same airspace. Because of the incident, the “Air Force One” call sign became used for any plane the president was on board.
The plane, while hardly resembling the Air Force One flown by presidents from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama, included marble floors and a mahogany desk where Eisenhower wrote the “Atoms for Peace” speech he gave to the U.N. General Assembly in 1953. The Columbine II also took him to Korea, both as a president-elect and during his administration.
In 1954, the aircraft was replaced by the Columbine III, which Eisenhower used for the remainder of his presidency. The Columbine II continued in service as a VIP transport for Eisenhower’s vice president, Richard M. Nixon, and others, such as Queen Elizabeth II, before it was finally retired to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, in 1968. The Air Force stripped the aircraft and fitted it with mismatched landing gear, an error that, in an odd twist of fate, led to the aircraft being spared from destruction long enough for its historical value to be discovered by its new owners.
Up for auction
The Columbine II was sold to Christler as part of a package lot with four other Connies for $35,000 in a surplus auction at the Davis-Monthan AFB aircraft “boneyard.” He didn’t know one of the five planes had a presidential past and planned to make it part of his crop-dusting operation. Christler rebuilt the other four VC-121s for spraying operations, but didn’t convert the Columbine II because its starboard main gear had been replaced with the wrong part from a Lockheed 1049 Super Constellation. The incorrect landing gear, again, saved the Columbine II from being converted to a crop-duster. Instead, it was used for supplying the other four Connies with parts.
Mel Christler was considering cutting the aircraft up as scrap when Robert Mikesh of the Smithsonian Institution contacted him in 1980 and informed him that his Connie with the serial number 48-610 was a former presidential aircraft.
“The first time we saw it, we obviously didn’t realize whose plane it was,” Lockie Christler said, “but when you find out it was Eisenhower’s, now you’re stuck with it. You have a presidential plane you can’t melt up because people wouldn’t think very highly of you. So, for all of these years, it’s kind of been a liability, and it finally turned into an asset.”
Christler tried to find a buyer who could restore the Columbine II, but couldn’t find one. He was struggling to decide what to do with the plane when Oliver visited him at his Greybull, Wyoming, home in August 1989, and asked about his plans for the Columbine II. Oliver said Christler planned to send the plane to the smelter if he didn’t have a buyer by November.
“I just said, ‘Now we can’t do that,'” Oliver said. “‘It’s a little bit of history, and it should be saved.”
At Christler’s request, Oliver drove to Tucson, Arizona, with a friend to look at the plane and saw the damage, but thought it wasn’t anything that couldn’t be repaired. The two men completed a $150,000 functional restoration of the Columbine II in 1990 and had it flown to Abilene, Kansas for Eisenhower’s centennial celebration. Afterward, they moved the Connie to Roswell and Santa Fe, New Mexico, before it was flown to Marana, where it remained under a lease agreement until it was sold to Stoltzfus in 2015.
Stoltzfus, a self-proclaimed history buff, learned about the Columbine II from an article in an aviation magazine and wanted to see the plane restored to its 1950s condition so he asked one person what he should do – his then-8-year-old grandson. “I think we should buy it,” the boy told him.
Then Stoltzfus asked his twin brother Ken to check out the plane in Arizona. After hearing that there wasn’t any damage that couldn’t be overcome, he sent Dynamic Aviation mechanics to begin repairs. When he first saw the plane, it was in rough condition.
“Every hose, I mean every piece of rubber was bad,” Stoltzfus said. “There were a lot of things about the airplane that gave you reason to say this was going to be a lot of work. They hadn’t really run the engines, but you knew there was going to be a lot of trouble with them, and there was. But the good part was it didn’t have any corrosion. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have bought the airplane.”
Although he can’t divulge the actual price he paid, Stoltzfus said it was less than the $1.5 million listing price. Dynamic Aviation will begin a full restoration project on the Columbine II in three to six months, which Stoltzfus expects to be completed in two to three years. He has obtained drawings and documentation that he hopes will help him restore the plane to its original color codes and original manufacturer materials.
“I think the airplane can be used to educate people on the 1950s, not just about Air Force One and not just about Eisenhower,” he said. “These were generally considered to be good years in America. They weren’t perfect, but they were generally good. We got out of the Korean War, so it was a peaceful time, and it was a good time economically and was when we started to build the interstate. So it was just a good time in American history.”
When it’s fully restored, Stoltzfus hopes to take the historic aircraft to air shows and display it for the public at the company’s airport in Bridgewater. In the meantime, he’s looking for anyone who might have aircraft parts or stories to share from the Connie’s era.
Oliver is grateful that somebody was interested enough in saving the plane.
“When I started this project, I was 52 years old, and I’m 77 now,” he said. “I don’t have the energy to do it anymore, and I’m just glad that somebody does. It is a piece of history, and now it’s going to be where people can see it, smell it and touch it.”
Once the silver Connie with the purple flower on its nose is restored to its Air Force One glory, it will have three men to credit for saving this piece of American history for future generations.
Even though one of the three didn’t live to see the Columbine II’s restoration, his son thinks it would have made him proud.
“Oh, he’s got a big smile on his face right now,” Christler said. “I know he’s proud that it has a great home where it’s supposed to be. It’s within a hundred miles of Washington, D.C, where it had some important flying to do.”
National Wreaths Across America Day has become such a big tradition that it’s hard to believe it began from just one personal tribute.
How it Happened
The Worcester family of Harrington, Maine, owns their own tree farm. In 1992, they had a surplus of wreaths during the holiday season, so the family patriarch, Morrill — who had long felt indebted to our fallen veterans — got help from a Maine politician to have those spare wreaths placed beside graves in Arlington National Cemetery in areas that received fewer visitors each year.
Several volunteers stepped up to help, including veterans from American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts and a truck company owner who transported the wreaths to Arlington, Virginia, where a small ceremony was held at the cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This remained a small yearly tradition for nearly 15 years until a photo taken at the 2005 ceremony went viral. Almost immediately, thousands of people wanted to know how to help or how they could begin a similar tradition in their states.
Christmas wreaths adorn headstones at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., in December 2005.
(Photo by Master Sgt. Jim Varhegyi)
By the next year — with the help of some civic organizations and volunteers, including in the trucking industry — there were 150 simultaneous ceremonies held across the country. By 2008, the movement to remember, honor and teach had grown so much that Congress had declared the third Saturday in September National Wreaths Across America Day.
By 2014, the now-nonprofit Wreaths Across America had reached its goal of placing a wreath at all 226,525 graves in the cemetery.
Navy personnel from the Navy International Programs Office, Washington, distribute wreaths to volunteers during the Wreaths Across America event at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Dec. 15, 2012.
(Photo by Chief Master Sgt. Robert W. Valenca)
Wreaths Across America today
The event continues to grow. In 2018, the organization shipped a staggering 1.75 MILLION wreaths to 1,640 locations that held ceremonies across the U.S. A few dozen locations overseas also participated. According to the organization, this was the first year it was granted permission to place wreaths at Normandy to honor those who died during World War II’s D-Day invasion.
Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Charles C. Orf salutes a headstone at Fort Richardson National Cemetery during the annual Wreaths Across America Day at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Dec. 16, 2017.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. James Richardson)
Veterans and Gold Star families are many of the roughly 2 million volunteers who prepared the wreaths, shipped them across the country, and put them on graves.
Russia is apparently ready to build two terrifying weapons of war: A 100-ton ballistic missile that can destroy countries and a train that can carry and fire six nuclear missiles, according to Pravda, the Communist Party’s outlet in Russia.
The missile and train are “on the level of absolute readiness of the industry for their implementation, should the relevant decision be made to include the projects in the state armament program,” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told Pravda.
The 100-ton RS-28 Sarmat nuclear missile, or “Satan 2” as NATO calls it, reportedly holds 10 warheads and is capable of destroying a country the size of France, Newsweek reported. The Satan 2 is an upgraded version of the RS-36M, which NATO called “Satan” in the 70s.
But its production has been put off since 2014. The Russian Defense Ministry also said last week that it wouldn’t test it until late 2017.
The Barguzin trains, on the other hand, will look like passenger trains, be able to travel 1,500 miles a day, and hold up to six 55-ton RS-24 Yars thermonuclear ICBMs. The Barguzin train is also an upgrade of a Soviet design that only carried three nuclear ICBMs.
The US considered putting nukes on trains in the 1980s, but later scrapped the idea. Nuclear trains are beneficial in that they’re mobile and difficult to locate.
However, a 2014 RAND study said that there are shortcomings to nuclear trains. Railways can be blocked by snow, and the enemy simply has to surveil the railways to find the trains. Also, once found, they’re easier to take out.
“Mobile systems that depend on roads or rail lines visible via overhead imagery effectively shrink the target area and could significantly lower the number of missiles required to barrage mobile systems,” RAND said.
Russia currently has about 7,000 nuclear weapons, while the US has about 6,800.
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
Senior Airman Jordan Webber, a KC-135 Stratotanker boom operator from MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., checks gear is where it needs to be shortly before a refueling mission at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., July 18, 2015, during exercise Red Flag 16-3. The exercise is one of four Red Flag exercises at Nellis AFB, with this iteration focusing on multi-domain operations in air, space and cyberspace.
An HH-60 Pave Hawk returns from an exercise mission July 12, 2016, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., as part of Red Flag 16-3. The exercise is one of four Red Flags at Nellis AFB, with this iteration focusing on air, space and cyberspace operations.
Soldiers assigned to the Massachusetts National Guard — The Nation’s First, use smoke to conceal their movement during an exercise at theJoint Readiness Training Center, Operations Group,Fort Polk, Louisiana, July 15, 2016.
Soldiers, assigned to 25th Infantry Division, load an AH-64 Apache helicopter onto a United States Air Force C-17 Globemaster during an emergency deployment readiness exercise as part of exercise Arctic Anvil at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, July 21, 2016. The exercise was designed to test the readiness of U.S. Army Alaska and their ability to quickly prepare vital air assets for deployment. As emergent demands continue to increase, Army readiness continues to be the Army’s number one priority.
SOUTH CHINA SEA (July 21, 2016) Sailors take a lunch break from the high operational tempo of the Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). U.S. Navy Aircraft carriers, like Reagan, serve up to 18,150 meals a day. Ronald Reagan, the Carrier Strike Group Five (CSG 5) flagship, is on patrol in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific.
PACIFIC OCEAN (July 17, 2016) – Marines assigned to the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) board an MV-22 Osprey, assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 163 (Reinforced) on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8). Makin Island is conducting integrated training with Amphibious Squadron Five and the 11th MEU off the coast of southern California in preparation for an upcoming deployment.
A Candidate with Alpha Company, Officer Candidate School conducts the Combat Course at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 20, 2016. The mission of OCS is to educate and train officer candidates in order to evaluate and screen individuals for qualities required for commissioning as a Marine Corps officer.
Marines assigned to Maritime Raid Force, 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, conduct a fast rope training exercise during a deployment on the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD-1) July 5, 2016. 22nd MEU is conducting Naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe.
The cutter and crew returned to their homeport in Virginia Beach earlier this week after a 55-day deployment through the Eastern Pacific Ocean in support of the Coast Guard’s Western Hemisphere Strategy.
The newest Fast Response Cutter Joseph Tezanos, scheduled to be commissioned in August, took a test run off the coast of Key West, Florida, today. The cutter was named after a WWII hero who became the first Hispanic American to complete the service’s Reserve Officer Training Program.
The Type 45 frigate HMS Duncan is in transit to the region, as the UK announced it would also deploy Type 23 frigate HMS Kent and support ship RFA Wave Knight. The moves were reported first by Times of London reporter Lucy Fisher and confirmed by MoD.
British frigate HMS Montrose successfully stopped Iranian gunboats from seizing a tanker on July 10, 2019.
The MoD issued a release confirming that the ships would be deployed as part of Operation KIPION, its “commitment to promoting peace and stability as well as ensuring the safe flow of trade, and countering narcotics and piracy.”
“RFA WAVE KNIGHT’s role is to deliver food, fuel, water and other essential supplies to [Royal Navy] and Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) ships,” according to the release. The MoD states that the HMS Kent will take over for the HMS Duncan, a warship currently deploying to the Gulf to “maintain a continuous maritime security presence” in the region.
The news caps off over a month of high tensions between Iran, the US and its allies.
The 190-foot, Panama-flagged Riah oil tanker entered Iranian waters and stopped transmitting location data more than two days ago, according to the AP. Capt. Rajnith Raja from data firm Refinitiv told the AP that losing the signal from the Riah was “a red flag.”
The Riah was last heard from in Iranian waters, near Qeshm Island, the AP reported, citing a US defense official. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which the US designated as a terrorist organization earlier this year, has a base on the island.
Escalating tensions: Iran calls on United Kingdom to release oil tanker
Britain has agreed to release the Iranian tanker under the condition that it will not transit to Syria.
In June 2019, Japanese and Norweigian tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman; the US blamed Iran for the attacks, but Iran has denied responsibility.
The US has proposed a plan for a coalition of allies to patrol Iranian and Yemeni waters as incidents in the Gulf increase.
“We’re engaging now with a number of countries to see if we can put together a coalition that would ensure freedom of navigation both in the Straits of Hormuz and the Bab al-Mandab,” Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said July 2019.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Kings Mountain High School teacher Hailey Spearman was made an honorary recruiter for the Shelby Army Recruiting Center at a ceremony on Fort Jackson, S.C. on April 22.
Spearman attended a Future Soldier event with her local Shelby recruiter, Staff Sgt. Casey Raza, and some of her students who have joined the U.S. Army this school year. They received first-hand experience of what Army basic training entails.
Spearman teaches English Language Arts and coaches the women’s track and field team at KMHS.
Lt. Col. Robert Garbarino, U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion Columbia Commander, said both teacher and recruiter work together to help students find their options for life after high school.
“Ms. Spearman is a model for what a community advocate does for our recruiting efforts,” Garbarino said.
He deputized her by giving her his Army Recruiting Badge in front of over 250 Future Soldiers and their guests. He also presented her with a plaque to thank her for her efforts to promote awareness on Army opportunities. Garbarino said he was pleased to recognize Spearman after hearing how she goes the extra mile for her students.
Raza said that Spearman has been instrumental to the process.
“I wanted to reach as many students as possible to show them all of their options,” Raza said. “She allowed me to give presentations during her English classes and to students who are on her track team.”
Spearman said Raza puts the needs of each student first.
“She has a way of building positive relationships with students and therefore, our students look up to her and respect her opinions concerning the Army,” Spearman said.
Rows of chairs were filled with family members, close friends and fellow military members. As the ceremony began, all eyes were on the couple standing up front.
Thirteen years earlier, the scene was nearly identical. Back then, John was wearing his Air Force uniform, though Jennifer was wearing a wedding gown. Now, they were wearing flightsuits with oak-leaf rank on the shoulders.
And, the same friend spoke at both events. Jared Kennish first made his remarks as the best man, and now as a colonel and the 131st Bomb Wing Operation’s Group commander at Whiteman Air Force Base.
“It’s an honor to speak as John and Jennifer Avery retire from the Air Force, just as it was to speak at their wedding,” Kennish said. “This couple has made history.”
Lt. Col. John Avery and Lt. Col. Jennifer Avery were the first husband-wife pilot team to fly the B-2 Spirit.
Their two, 20-year-long careers culminated with the couple’s joint retirement ceremony on Sept. 7, 2018, at Whiteman AFB, Missouri.
Jennifer retires with more than 1,600 flying hours in the active-duty Air Force and Missouri Air National Guard. John retires with more than 2,500 flying hours in the active-duty Air Force and Missouri ANG.
The Air Force retirement is a traditional ceremony that signifies the completion of an Airman’s long, honorable career of service to his or her country.
“This is a thank-you for a job well-done,” Kennish said, “and an opportunity to highlight the history made by this couple – both individually and together.”
Of the hundreds of B-2 pilots to come after John and Jennifer, just two other married couples are among them. It’s just one of their many distinctions. Being first is a theme for the Averys.
Growing up in Miami, Jennifer said she was “shy and maybe even a little insecure – uncertain of myself.” After high school, she headed to Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. She carried with her a childhood memory of visiting an Air Force base in Charleston, South Carolina. “I’ll never forget my Uncle Bill taking me into a flight simulator. That stuck with me, even to this day. I thought flying was incredible.”
John and Jennifer Avery, both B-2 Spirit pilots, smile for a photo on their wedding day Feb. 5, 2005. Their shared military careers culminated at their joint retirement ceremony Sept. 7, 2018, at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo.
Jennifer graduated in 1995 with a bachelor’s of science degree in biology and, as a member of ROTC, received a commission in the Air Force as a second lieutenant.
“I knew exactly what I wanted to do next,” she said.
Jennifer earned her pilot wings in June of 1997, which eventually took her to Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, to fly the B-1 Lancer – and begin making history.
She was the first female B-1 pilot to go to combat, flying four sorties over Kosovo in support of Operation Allied Force in 1999. Not long after, Jennifer applied to fly the B-2 Spirit, based at Whiteman AFB, Missouri.
“I was drawn to the challenge of flying this unique aircraft that has a mission so vital to deterrence and global safety,” she said of the .2 billion stealth bomber that is capable of both nuclear and conventional missions. “To be one of the few pilots to fly this aircraft that is the backbone of nuclear security was an amazing prospect.”
She was accepted into the program and began training shortly thereafter. Her first flight in the B-2 was on Feb. 12, 2002, making her the first woman to fly the B-2 stealth bomber. Now, 16 years later, seven other women have become B-2 pilots and others are now in training.
In March 2003, she would do again what no other woman before her had accomplished.
Jennifer flew a mission in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, becoming the first woman to fly the B-2 in combat. Today, she is still the only woman to have flown the B-2 combat.
“Jen is a trailblazer,” Kennish said. “Her career has been nothing short of spectacular. And the same can certainly be said for John, who chased Jen from South Dakota all the way to Missouri.”
Move to Missouri
John grew up in Great Falls, Montana, where he watched F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets from a nearby base fly overhead.
“I really wanted to fly,” John said. “And I joined the Air Force because I wanted to fly cool planes. I knew being a military pilot, I would be serving my country and have a pretty incredible day-to-day job at the same time.”
He completed an economics degree at Carleton College, Minnesota, and later was commissioned as a second lieutenant through the U.S. Air Force Officer Training School (OTS) in 1999. He earned his pilot wings in 2000, and soon was stationed at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, to fly the B-1.
Jennifer was already there and remembers wondering, “Who’s the new pilot?” The first time John saw her, he remembers wondering why she was late to the parachute safety class they were both taking. And, that he wanted to meet her.
John and Jennifer began dating, though it was less than six months later that she left South Dakota for her next assignment to fly the B-2 stealth bomber. It wasn’t long after that John also applied and was accepted to fly the B-2 something he said he would not have pursued if it weren’t for Jennifer.
“I wanted to fly the B-2 because that was the plane my future wife was going to fly,” John said. “That, and it’s without a doubt the world’s most elite aircraft. As a pilot, there’s nothing more rewarding. Knowing your job is to protect our country, while deterring enemies really is an amazing job to have.”
Whiteman Air Force Base
Now both at Whiteman AFB, John and Jennifer resumed dating. Jennifer accepted John’s marriage proposal during a vacation in Germany, where John had nervously carried around a diamond engagement ring in his pocket until “just the right moment.”
Lt. Cols. Jennifer and John Avery sit together during their retirement ceremony Sept. 7, 2018, at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri.
On Feb. 5, 2005, the couple married in Colorado. Deployments and training kept them apart during their first four months of marriage, though they did end up with overlapping short-term assignments in Guam and were able to live together on the island. They were thankful to be together then, but always careful to not request preferential treatment because of their marriage – or when they had children, first their son Austin, now 12, and then their daughter Elizabeth, now 9.
Balancing demanding mission and training schedules continued to compete with family life.
Jennifer remembers John’s deployment when Austin was just a baby and the guilt she felt when he was the last child to be picked up at daycare, as well as the exhaustion from single-parenthood and a demanding job. Day-to-day was tough, plus Jennifer faced moving for her next assignment while John was required to finish his assignment at Whiteman.
So in 2007, rather than face separating her family, Jennifer decided to leave her active-duty career.
“That was the hardest day,” Jennifer remembers. “That drive to work was emotional. But, I felt in good conscience it was the right decision. At the same time, a lot of people believed in me. I’d had so much support along the way, including from John. In the end, I knew it was only myself I needed to worry about letting down and I hadn’t disappointed myself. I felt like I had accomplished so much and I’m proud I did those things. More than anything, I just want my kids to be proud of their mom.”
After holding civilian positions at Whiteman AFB, Jennifer joined the Missouri ANG at Whiteman and resumed flying as a B-2 pilot. Again, her path was unprecedented as the first and only female B-2 pilot in the ANG.
By 2008, John also transitioned to the Missouri ANG at Whiteman AFB, and was selected as part of the first group of Guardsmen to fly the B-2. He became the first ANG member to attend B-2 Weapon Instructor School and then the first to become an instructor at Whiteman AFB.
Additionally, John was also the first Guardsman to fly the B-2 in combat during a sortie above Libya in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn in 2011.
For the Missouri ANG, the Averys exemplified what it means to be Guardsmen, said Col. Ken Eaves, commander of the 131st Bomb Wing at Whiteman AFB. “I’m proud of anybody who serves, but these two, they’ve done it with such distinction. They have continued the Guard’s legacy of excellence and dedication.”
For the active-duty Air Force, seeing its pilots continue to fly the B-2 with the Missouri ANG is certainly a win, said Justin Grieve, 509th Bomb Wing Operations Group commander. “At Whiteman, we train elite aviators to fly the world’s most strategic airplane. Whether they do that through active duty or the Guard, we’re all B-2 pilots defending the homeland.”
It’s that partnership between an active-duty wing and a Guard wing, called total-force integration, that the Averys helped execute, Eaves said, adding, “Jennifer and John have been trailblazers in the truest sense of the definition. Literally making history on active duty and in the Guard, that wasn’t something they set out to do. It’s just who they are.”
The B-2 brought John and Jennifer back together, and also made them the team they are now, the couple said.
Air Force regulations don’t allow spouses to fly in the same aircraft with each other, but John and Jennifer did fly one sortie together in the T-38 Talon training jet before they were married.
There was an equal division of labor and no struggle for control in the aircraft, Jennifer remembers, much like at home. Through the years, the couple learned to divide parental and domestic duties, as well as to make sacrifices for the benefit of the other.
From left, U.S. Air Force Col. Jared Kennish stands next to Lt. Cols. John and Jennifer Avery during their joint retirement from the Missouri Air National Guard, Sept 7, 2018, at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri.
“We were able to support each other and fully appreciate the other’s successes and failures because we knew exactly what the other person was going through,” John said.
“We’re a team,” Jennifer said simply.
The Averys have no doubt this unity will continue now that they’ve left the Air Force. The family of four moved to Boise, Idaho, which fit their criteria of living in a medium-sized city in the West, near the mountains and full of outdoor recreation.
The kids started their new schools. John flies the B-767 for FedEx and Jennifer works as a Department of Defense consultant for flying-related acquisitions. Both have private pilot’s licenses.
“We’re excited for this next phase of our lives,” John said.
At their official retirement September ceremony at Whiteman AFB, standing in front of their families and closest friends, John and Jennifer were presented medals for outstanding military service and certificates of appreciations from the president of the United States before the reading of the orders declaring they were “relieved from duty and retired.”
Reflecting back on the rigors of pilot training, the long hours and irregular schedules, life’s daily demands, the ups and downs of marriage and parenthood, the stresses of leadership positions, worry from combat deployments, John and Jennifer remember the good.
“Yes, it was hard,” John remembers. “There was a lot of give and take on both sides. We look back though, and have the best memories.”
“We did it. All the way through,” Jennifer said. “Together.”
Assets like the S-400 air-defense system — believed to be able to target aircraft from as far as 250 miles away, even the latest stealth aircraft — have been set up around Kaliningrad, which is Russia’s exclave on the Baltic Sea, further south on the Crimean Peninsula and around the Black Sea, and on the Syrian coast, which provides a base from which to reach into the eastern Mediterranean.
Surface-to-air missile systems deployed around Kaliningrad, which is tucked between Poland and Lithuania, were “layered in a way that makes access to that area difficult,” retired Air Force Gen. Frank Gorenc told The New York Times in January 2016, when he was head of the US Air Force in Europe and Africa.
“There are varying degrees of capabilities” at each of those sites, Ben Hodges, who led the US Army in Europe before retiring as a lieutenant general at the end of 2017, told Business Insider at the beginning of November 2018.
“But the one in Kaliningrad and the one in Crimea are the most substantial, with air- and missile-defense and anti-ship missiles and several thousands of troops” from Russia’s army, navy, and air force, Hodges said. “That’s part of creating an arc of A2/AD, if you will.”
Russian state media said another battalion of S-400 missiles had assumed combat duty in Crimea at the end of November 2018, amid a state of increased tension with Ukraine over a violent encounter between their navies in the Black Sea.
Other air-defense systems, including the less advanced but highly capable S-300, are deployed in the region, including in the Black and Baltic seas. Other deployed A2/AD assets include coastal missile batteries firing anti-ship missiles.
When those systems — long embraced by Moscow to counter NATO’s technical and numerical superiority at sea and in the air — are paired with electronic-warfare and radar systems, the concern is they could limit NATO’s freedom of movement, especially in situations short of all-out war, when offensive options are restrained.
But “the alliance is alive to these challenges” and would “be prepared to use all the different things that would be required” in response to them, Hodges said, without elaborating.
Russian S-400 Triumph launch vehicle.
Navy Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, who recently took over the Navy’s newly reestablished Second Fleet, which oversees the eastern half of the Atlantic Ocean, echoed Hodges during an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Nov. 28, 2018.
“Without going into things I shouldn’t talk about, I’m confident that we can operate in an A2/AD environment, in a contested environment,” Lewis said when asked about Kaliningrad and A2/AD. “In fact, I know we can.”
“I know we can with our carrier force. I know we can with our surface force. We have a very clear way of doing that. It is based upon maneuver,” he added. “It’s based upon physical maneuver. It’s based upon maneuver in the spectrum, and it’s based upon our ability to keep quiet when it’s time to keep quiet and talk when it’s time to talk.”
There was still room for improvement, Lewis said, but he was confident US forces could get there.
“That’s something that we’re really, really focused on, and we have been focused on for a number of years now, and we’re getting a lot better.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps infantrymen pride themselves on being some of the biggest badasses on every block they roll into. They have more similarities than differences, but they’re unique forces. Here are 5 ways you can tell Marine and Army infantry apart:
Army and Marine Corps rifle platoons share many elements. They are both organized into larger companies, both contain subordinate squads organized into fire teams, and both employ the rifleman as their primary asset. The Army platoon has a radiotelephone operator and a medic. The Marine platoon has a radio transmitter operator and a corpsman who fulfill the same functions.
The Marine Corps rifle platoon contains three rifle squads. Each squad is led by a sergeant who has three fire teams working for him, each led by a corporal. The fire team leader typically carries the M203 grenade launcher slung under his M16. Operating under him are the automatic rifleman, assistant automatic rifleman, and rifleman.
The Army platoons contain smaller squads. An Army rifle squad leader is typically a sergeant or staff sergeant who leads two four-man fire teams. Each Army fire team consists of a team leader, an automatic rifleman, a grenadier, and a rifleman. Note that the Army squad is using a dedicated grenadier in place of an assistant automatic rifleman. Typically, one rifleman in each squad will be a squad designated marksman, a specially trained shooter who engages targets at long range. Also, the Army has an additional squad in each platoon, the infantry weapons squad. This squad has teams dedicated to the M240B machine gun and the Javelin missile system.
Both Marine Corps and Army infantry platoons operate under company and battalion commanders who may add capabilities such as rockets or mortars when needed.
The Army typically gets new weapons before the Marine Corps. It moved to the M4 before the Marine Corps did, and soldiers are more likely than Marines to have the newest weapons add-ons like optical sights, lasers, and hand grips. Marines will get all the fancy add-ons. They just typically get them a few years later.
When the Army needs a rocket or missile launched, they can use SMAWs, AT-4s, or Javelins. For the Marine Corps, SMAW is the more common weapons system (they can call heavier weapons like the Javelin and TOW from the Weapons Company in the battalion).
The Army is quickly adopting the M320 as its primary grenade launcher while the Marine Corps is using the M203. The M320 can be fired as a stand-alone weapon. Either the M320 or M203 can be mounted under an M16 or M4.
3. Fires support
Obviously, infantry units aren’t on their own on the battlefield. Marine and Army rifle units call for assistance from other assets when they get bogged down in a fight. Both the Marine Corps and the Army companies can get mortar, heavy machine gun, and missile/rocket support from their battalion when it isn’t available in the company. For stronger assets such as artillery and close air support, the services differ.
Marines in an Marine Expeditionary Unit, an air-ground task force of about 2,200 Marines, will typically have artillery, air, and naval assets within the MEU. Soldiers in a brigade combat team would typically have artillery support ready to go but would need to call outside the BCT for air or naval support. Air support would come from an Army combat aviation brigade or the Navy or Air Force. Receiving naval fire support is rare for the Army.
4. Different specialties
While all Marines train for amphibious warfare, few soldiers do. Instead, most soldiers pick or are assigned a terrain or warfare specialty such as airborne, Ranger, mountain, or mechanized infantry. Ranger is by far the hardest of these specialties to earn, and many rangers will go on to serve in Ranger Regiment.
The Marine Corps categorizes its infantry by weapons systems and tactics rather than the specialties above. Marine infantry can enter the service as a rifleman (0311), machine gunner (0331), mortarman (0341), assaultman (0351), or antitank missileman (0352). Soldiers can only enter the Army as a standard infantryman (11-B) or an indirect fire infantryman (mortarman, 11-C).
Marines who want to push themselves beyond the standard infantry units can compete to become scout snipers, reconnaissance, or Force Recon Marines. Scout snipers provide accurate long-range fire to back up other infantrymen on the ground. Reconnaissance Marines and Force Recon Marines seek out enemy forces and report their locations, numbers, and activities to commanders. Force Recon operates deeper in enemy territory than standard reconnaissance and also specializes in certain direct combat missions like seizing oil platforms or anti-piracy.
Soldiers who want to go on to a harder challenge have their own options. The easiest of the elite ranks to join is the airborne which requires you to complete a three-week course in parachuting. Much harder is Ranger regiment which requires its members either graduate Ranger School or get selected from Ranger Assessment and Selection Program. Finally, infantry soldiers can compete for Special Forces selection. If selected, they will leave infantry behind and choose a special forces job such as weapons sergeant or medical sergeant. Infantrymen can also become a sniper by being selected for and graduating sniper school.
Dr. Justin Sanchez, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Biological Technologies Office, fist-bumps with one of the first two advanced “LUKE” arms to be delivered from a new production line during a ceremony at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Dec. 22, 2016 DoD photo
Dr. Justin Sanchez, director of DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office, delivered the first two advanced “LUKE” arms from a new production line Dec. 22 — evidence that the fast-track DARPA research effort has completed its transition into a commercial enterprise, DARPA officials said.
The ceremony took place at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
“The commercial production and availability of these remarkable arms for patients marks a major milestone in the [DARPA] Revolutionizing Prosthetics program and most importantly an opportunity for our wounded warriors to enjoy a major enhancement in their quality of life,” Sanchez said, “and we are not stopping here.”
The RP program is supporting initial production of the bionic arms and is making progress restoring upper-arm control, he added.
“Ultimately we envision these limbs providing even greater dexterity and highly refined sensory experiences by connecting them directly to users’ peripheral and central nervous systems,” Sanchez said.
As part of the production transition process, DARPA is collaborating with Walter Reed to make the bionic arms available to service members and veterans who are rehabilitating after suffering upper-limb loss, DARPA says.
The first production versions of “LUKE” arms, a groundbreaking upper-limb prostheses, were on display during a ceremony at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Dec. 22, 2016 The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is collaborating with Walter Reed to make the bionic arms available to service members and veterans who are rehabilitating after suffering upper-limb loss. DoD photo
LUKE stands for “life under kinetic evolution” but is also a passing reference to the limb that Luke Skywalker wore in Star Wars: Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back.
The limbs are being manufactured by Mobius Bionics LLC, of Manchester, New Hampshire, a company created to market the technology developed by DEKA Integrated Solutions Corp., also of Manchester, under DARPA’s Revolutionizing Prosthetics program.
The prosthetic system allows very dexterous arm and hand movement with grip force feedback through a simple intuitive control system, DARPA says.
The modular battery-powered limb is near-natural size and weight. Its hand has six user-chosen grips and an arm that allows for simultaneous control of multiple joints using inputs that include wireless signals generated by innovative sensors worn on a user’s feet.
The technology that powers prosthetic legs has advanced steadily over the past two decades but prosthetic arms and hands are a tougher challenge, in part because of the need for greater degrees of dexterity, DARPA says.
When the LUKE arm first went into development, people who had lost upper limbs had to use a relatively primitive split-hook device that hadn’t changed much since it was introduced in 1912.
DARPA launched the Revolutionizing Prosthetics program with a goal of getting U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for an advanced electromechanical prosthetic upper limb with near-natural control that enhances independence and improves quality of life for amputees. LUKE received FDA approval less than eight years after the effort began, DARPA says.
Under a recently finalized agreement between DARPA and Walter Reed, DARPA will transfer LUKE arms from an initial production run to the medical center for prescription to patients. Mobius Bionics will train the Walter Reed staff to fit, service and support the arms.