Aircraft carriers are busy places. Sailors move dozens of planes, hundreds of bombs, and many gallons of fuel during launches and recoveries multiple times a day. To keep track of all this madness, the “Handler,” the man in charge of the movement of gear across the flight deck, uses a “Ouija Board,” a mockup of the carrier deck complete with model aircraft.
The airplanes on the board are positioned exactly where they are on the actual deck. The sailors operating the board, usually some of the youngest members of the crew, get constant updates from their shipmates on the flight deck that let them know when an aircraft is being moved.
The crew uses colored nuts and bolts to indicate when a plane is being fueled or undergoing maintenance.
“Computers are nice, having electronic equipment is nice, but if you ever take any sort of battle damage, the first thing that’s going to go out is all those powered systems,” Capt. Ryan Shoaf, the air boss for USS Enterprise,told Air Space. While using the Ouija board, “if ship’s power goes down, you don’t lose a thing. It’s still right there in front of you. It’s cheap, it’s reliable, and it’s been working for the last 60 years. It’s an effective system.”
Just never bump one of these tables. The Handler won’t appreciate it.
Adm. Bill Gortney told reporters that, according to the Pentagon’s assessment, North Korea now has the capability to place miniaturized nuclear warheads on its latest KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
Pyongyang has “the ability to put a nuclear weapon on a KN-08 and shoot it at the homeland,” Gortney said.
This union of highly advanced military capabilities places an additional strain on US missile defense. The KN-08 is a road-mobile ICBM, meaning that Pyongyang can move the launch system throughout the country.
“It’s the relocatable target set that really impedes our ability to find, fix, and finish the threat,” Gortney said. “And as the targets move around and we if don’t have the persistent stare and persistent [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] that we do not have over North Korea at this time, that relocatable nature makes it very difficult for us to counter it.”
North Korea experts John Schilling and Henry Kan estimate that the KN-08 would have a maximum range of 5,600 miles, making the missile capable of hitting the West Coast of the Continental US. However, the weapon is unlikely to have the accuracy required for precision targeting on large US cities.
The missile also has yet to be flight tested, raising questions, most prominently from South Korea’s Ministry of Defense, as to whether the missile can even be outfitted with a nuclear warhead.
However, Gortney said the Pentagon continues to believe that Pyongyang has a miniaturized nuclear weapon, and a delivery system capable of reaching the US.
Gortney did qualify his statement by saying noting that it is better to be prepared for a North Korean nuclear capability even if there’s uncertainty as to the actual state of their technology. And he believes that the US could easily deflect a North Korean nuclear strike.
“Should one get airborne and come at us I’m confident we would be able to knock it down,” Gortney reassured reporters.
To paraphrase Forrest Gump, military surplus gear is like a box of chocolates — you never know what’s inside until you open it up and look.
For one lucky buyer, Nick Mead, who owns a tank-driving experience business in the United Kingdom, a $38,000 purchase of a Chinese-built Type 69 main battle tank off of eBay was a bargain, since he scored $2,592,010 of gold that had been hidden in the vehicle’s diesel tank! That represents a net profit of over $2.55 million.
According to militaryfactory.com, a battle-ready Type 69 main battle tank is armed with a 100mm gun, a 7.62mm machine gun, and can be equipped with a 12.7mm machine gun. The tank has a crew of four. Over 4,700 of these tanks were produced by China.
But this tank, while produced by China, was exported to Saddam Hussein’s regime. Saddam bought as many as 2,500 Type 59 and Type 69 tanks. While many were destroyed during Operation Desert Storm, this one survived the BRRRRRT!
The tank is believed to have also taken part in the original invasion of Kuwait. During the occupation of that country, Iraqi forces looted just about everything that wasn’t blasted apart. That included gold and other valuables.
Mead discovered the gold when checking out the tank after he’d been told by the tank’s previous owner that he’s discovered some machine-gun ammo on board. Mead then discovered the gold hidden in the fuel tank.
Currently the five bars of gold, each weighing about 12 pounds, are in police custody as they try to trace the original owners.
When Kary Kleman decided in 2015 to move his family from their home in Dubai to war-torn Syria, he assured relatives back in the U.S. that he had only good intentions.
“He said he could not live in a life of luxury knowing what was going on in Syria, and that nobody was helping the people there,” said his mother, Marlene, on April 26. “We believe he has a good heart.”
When told of his situation by the Guardian, Kleman’s family denied that he had joined Isis and said he had been trying to make his way to the American embassy in Istanbul and return to the U.S.
Not long after arriving in Syria, Kleman told them he had learned the information that led him there “was all a scam,” according to his mother, and his situation became confusing to his family.
Relatives said that about 18 months ago, they alerted the FBI that Kleman may be in danger. An agent told them the bureau needed to look into whether he had become involved with wrongdoing, according to Kleman’s sister, Brenda, who said she “completely agreed” with their caution.
“I told Kary that you have to work with them, and if you’ve done everything right, be calm and it will work out,” she said.
The U.S. state department and the FBI’s field office in Jacksonville, Florida, had not responded to questions about Kleman and his alleged activities by the time this article was published.
Kleman, who converted to Islam about 15 years ago, was born in Wisconsin in July 1970, according to official records. He attended West High School in the city of Wausau. He later moved to northern Florida, where he met Denise Eberhardy, a divorcee. The couple had a son, Spencer, in June 1991.
Kleman and Eberhardy were married at the Glad Tidings church in Jacksonville in January 1997. But Kleman filed for divorce in 2001. In May that year, a circuit judge agreed that the marriage was “irretrievably broken”, and granted a dissolution.
Marlene Kleman said on April 26 it was around this time that her son converted to Islam. A friend, whom she could only name as Dave, had converted after marrying a woman from the United Arab Emirates, and guided Kleman into the faith during a difficult time. Kleman grew a beard and became devout.
Through his mosque, Kleman met Maher Abdelwahab, a local Egyptian American businessman, and began working for Abdelwahab’s company, which imported and sold fresh produce.
Abdelwahab told him about a daughter he had back in Egypt, according to Kleman’s mother. He showed Kleman photographs, and soon the pair were talking over email. Kleman went to Egypt and the couple married and had a son. But the relationship soured and Kleman came to believe he was being exploited.
After a spell back in Florida, Kleman moved in 2011 to Dubai to be near his friend Dave, who had by then emigrated with his wife. He met a Syrian girlfriend; they married and had three children.
As the long civil war raged in his wife’s homeland, however, Kleman grew troubled, according to his family. He told his mother that he was taking his wife and children to Syria. As they departed around August 2015, he said wanted to help the people affected by the conflict, possibly working as a handyman or setting up a business.
At the time, Isis was continuing a brutal series of suicide bombings and massacres to defend territory it had seized in Syria, while coming under bombardment from U.S. airstrikes. Gruesome video footage of abducted Americans being beheaded by Isis fighters had shocked the U.S. public through 2014.
Initially his stated plan seemed to have gone smoothly. His wife had a job teaching English, according to Kleman’s mother, and things were going OK.
“Then everything went bad,” said Marlene Kleman. “They were saying Isis had taken control of the city and that Russia was bombing the city, so that’s when they planned to escape.”
Up to 30,000 foreign fighters are thought to have crossed into Syria to fight with Isis. The U.S. government estimates that as many as 25,000 of them have since been killed.
The US Missile Defense Agency just issued a bold request for proposals for a missile defense system that could change the game and act like a silver bullet against North Korean missile launches.
The MDA asked for proposals to build a high-altitude, long-endurance, unmanned aircraft capable of flying higher than 63,000 feet and carrying a laser to shoot down ballistic missiles as they arc upwards towards the sky.
While the laser system sounds like something out of science fiction, and is something the US Navy has struggled to field for over a decade, Ricky Ellison of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance told Business Insider that this drone could be the perfect application of the technology.
“What it can do is intercept missiles in the boost phase, therefore you don’t need to have billion dollar radars all over the world to intercept with 80 million dollar interceptors,” said Ellison.
Ballistic missiles fly high into earth’s atmosphere before breaking apart, often releasing multiple reentry vehicles, countermeasures, and decoys. This makes them a nightmare for traditional missile defense systems which track the launch and then fire interceptor vehicles to smash them apart upon reentry.
Another possible design for the laser interceptor. Photo from missilethreat.csis.org
Even the top-of-the-line THAAD system, recently sent to South Korea, would struggle to destroy a large salvo from North Korea, and the price of installing and using the entire system, interceptors included, would cost into the billions. Additionally, THAAD’s high-powered radar capability makes China extremely nervous, as they believe it could limit their ability to respond to a nuclear strike from the US.
Meanwhile, a solid state laser can be fired continuously for dollars a minute, about what you’d pay for electricity in your home. Though building the platform would cost millions in research, development, and testing.
Traditionally, while boost-phase interception looks more attractive on paper because it hits the missile in a more vulnerable stage, it’s been impractical because the interceptor has to be close to the projectile.
So there’s just no way the US could intercept a missile fired from central Russia or China in its boost phase. With a small country like North Korea though, US drones right off the border could melt down missiles with a light-speed weapon in the cloudless upper atmosphere.
“This would be far more efficient to have boost-phase intercept capability over that territory at that height to handle that,” said Ellison. “As North Korea develops countermeasures, decoys, multiple reentry vehicles, and all the things that will continue to evolve, you have a great opportunity to eliminate all those advancing technologies before all that gets dispersed.”
The MDA hopes to field this technology by 2023, at which point most experts agree North Korea will have perfected an intercontinental ballistic missile.
The hullabaloo surrounding the future of the US Air Force’s A-10 Thunderbolt II has been endless.
Its effectiveness on the battlefield has been proven with servicemembers on the ground going as far as calling it their “guardian angel” in the heat of battle. Equipped with an arsenal of weapons, including its notorious 30mm Gatling gun, it’s not hard to see why the A-10 commands such respect.
However, even with its impressive resume, the Air Force continues to float plans to replace the A-10 after 40 years of service.
Even so, a Defense News interview with a US Air Force official indicated that a compromise may be on the negotiating table.
Lt. Gen. James M. Holmes, the US Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategic Plans and Requirements, explained that a new light attack aircraft could be introduced that would not outright replace the fleet of nearly 300 A-10s, but instead, supplement them starting as early as 2017.
In doing so, Defense News reports that this new light aircraft, called Observation, Attack, Experimental (OA-X), would give commanders a cheap alternative to fight insurgents, compared to the costs of operating the A-10 and other fighter aircraft.
“Do you believe that this war that we’re fighting to counter violent extremists is going to last another 15 years?” Holmes asked in the Defense News interview. “If you believe it does, and our chief believes it will, then you have to think about keeping a capability that’s affordable to operate against those threats so that you’re not paying high costs per flying hour to operate F-35s and F-22s to chase around guys in pickup trucks.”
However, that doesn’t necessarily preclude the A-10 being outright replaced. Defense Newsreported that the Air Force began floating an A-10 replacement possibility in July. Under the proposal, the Air Force would conduct close air support (CAS) missions with the A-10 with a supporting cheap OA-X in low-threat environments.
Under the proposal, the Air Force would at a later date also acquire a fleet of future A-X aircraft that would perform in medium-threat environments and eventually replace the A-10.
Also on the table was the possibility of pushing back the projected retirement date of the A-10 from 2022 due to the high operational costs of the Air Force’s latest fifth-generation fighters.
It should be noted, however, that the annual cost of the A-10 program costs less than 2% of the Air Force’s budget. In 2014, it was also reported that the A-10 costed about $11,500 per hour to operate — about a third of the hourly cost of the military’s latest F-35 Lightning II.
Whether you call them silkies or Ranger panties, the overly-tight short-shorts of the military are here to stay.
Just about every military member has experienced either wearing — or much worse, viewing — troops in silkies. They are so well known, some Marines even have a Facebook page dedicated to them. So it was quite amusing to see one of the uninitiated discover the shorts at the tech website Gizmodo.
“Clearly all you need is a fresh pair of Ranger Panties and a patriotic spirit and you’re ready to take on the world,” writes Adam Clark Estes.
After finding his black Ranger Panties on Amazon, he reads some reviews. The top one, which he cites in his decision to buy, comes from a reviewer who claims to be a U.S. Marine stationed in Cairo: “If you love bald eagles, freedom, and flexing your quads at strangers for the simple pleasure of gauging their reaction, then I highly encourage you to hop on the freedom train and purchase these shorts,” the reviewer writes. “They do not disappoint.”
“If you have not experienced these shorts, they will change your life,” writes another reviewer. For the record, I’ve worn silkies and my life was not changed. Still, that’s besides the point.
Estes orders a medium-sized pair (dude, don’t you know they are supposed to be way tighter than that?) and tests them out. Turns out, even civilians can love them. What comes next is an 1100-plus-word explainer and review of the Soffe-brand classics.
Now, the review — much like silkies — could have been much shorter, in my opinion. Something like: The military silkie-shorts, also known as “Ranger Panties,” are physical training shorts that are so short they belong only on NBA basketball players in the 1970s. But people still wear them anyway.
But I digress.
After his girlfriend doesn’t allow him to leave the house to test the shorts out in social engagements, he does get a chance to take them on some athletic endeavors. Estes writes:
Nevertheless, I was able to try my Ranger Panties out in various athletic environments. While the shorts are ideal for running, they’re less than ideal for a crowded yoga class. Just as I’d read on Amazon, the inner liner is a thin shield between being appropriately clothed and “[wanting] the world to see your twig and berries.” I appreciated the presence of the lining in my first yoga class, but I definitely double bagged it in public after a few close calls there.
In the end, Estes says he loves his Ranger Panties and urges you to buy some too. But he does concede that the danger of your “twig and berries” popping out is a legitimate concern.
And frankly, that’s enough for me to urge you not to buy them. Because that’s not a world I want to live in.
For nearly 100 years, U.S. Army soldiers have designed and worn unit patches. And for roughly same amount of time, soldiers have made fun of each other’s patches.
The tradition of Army patches dates back to 1918 when the 81st Infantry Division deployed to Europe wearing a shoulder insignia they had designed for training exercises in South Carolina. Other units complained about the unauthorized unit item to Gen. John Pershing who, rather than punishing the 81st, authorized the patch and recommended other units design their own.
Since then, units have designed and worn patches that motivated soldiers, honored the unit lineage, and encapsulated military history. This is a sampling of some of those patches, along with the alternate names that soldiers remember them by.
The arrow is supposed to symbolize the ability of the command to fulfill its mission quickly and effectively, but soldiers decided it looked like an outhouse dropped on a hill.
2. “Broken TV” — 3rd Infantry Division
The three lighter stripes symbolize the three major campaigns the division fought in during World War I while the darker stripes symbolize the loyalty of the soldiers who gave their lives. Once TVs were invented, the similarity between a broken set and the patch was undeniable.
4th Inf. Div. wants you to see their patch and relate the four ivy leaves to fidelity and tenacity. The Army sees it and just thinks about lieutenants getting lost on the land navigation course.
4. “Crushed Beer Can” — 7th Infantry Division
This is supposed to be an hourglass formed from two 7s, a normal one and an inverted one. Of course, it really does look more like a can someone crushed in their grip.
5. “Flaming Anus” — 9th Infantry Division
You see it. You know you do.
6. “Gaggin’ Dragon” — 18th Airborne Corps
Their mascot is a Sky Dragon so they went with a big scary dragon … that needs someone to administer the heimlich.
7. “Electric Strawberry” — 25th Infantry Division
Based out of Hawaii, 25th’s patch is a taro leaf, native to Hawaii, with a lightning bolt showing how fast the division completes its missions. Since no one knows what a taro leaf is, most soldiers call it the electric strawberry. They also sometimes get called “Hawaii Power and Light.”
8. “Days Inn” — 41st Infantry Division
Like 3rd Infantry Division’s, there was nothing odd about this patch when it was adopted in World War I. Still, if you’re only familiar with the hotel chain, this patch feels like copyright infringement. Some soldiers from this unit volunteered for service in Afghanistan in 2008, an experience chronicled in Shepherds of Helmand.
The 82nd Airborne Division was named the All-American Division after a contest held in Atlanta, Ga. The patch’s two A’s are meant to call to mind the “All-American” nickname, but many people are, of course, reminded of the alcoholic support group. This wasn’t helped by the division’s reputation for hard drinking.
10. “Choking Chicken” — 101st Airborne Division
The 101st was originally based out of Wisconsin and they based their unit patch off of “Old Abe,” a bald eagle carried into combat by the 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the Civil War. While Abe was a distinguished bald eagle, the unit patch could easily be seen instead as a chicken with corn stuck in its windpipe.
The 2012 attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya wasn’t the first time such an outpost was stormed by locals. It wasn’t even the first time one was attacked in Benghazi. The Foreign Service of the United States isn’t all handshakes, ribbon cuttings, and talk. The people dedicated to improving relations with other countries while advancing U.S. foreign policy inherently put themselves at risk.
U.S. Diplomatic posts had been attacked with varying tactics and varying success before the infamous assault in Benghazi. Here’s how six others went down:
1. 1900 – Peking (Beijing), China
Anti-foreign, anti-Christian sentiment combined with severe drought in China led to armed violence against foreigners in the country as well as a general uprising against all external forces. The militias were called “Boxers” in English. The Qing Empress Dowager Cixi supported the uprising as the Boxers converged on Beijing in full force, declaring war on all foreign powers. Five hundred diplomats, foreign civilians, and Christians barricaded themselves inside the two-square-mile Foreign Legation Quarter in the Chinese capital. The Boxers laid siege to the diplomatic area as German and U.S. Marine defenders kept them at bay, even under intense artillery fire.
A 20,000-man relief army from eight nations invaded China. Japan, Russia, the British Empire, France, the U.S., Germany, Italy, and Austria-Hungary. The army marched 100 miles fro Tianjin to the capital in just over two weeks. British, Russian, Japanese, and French troops fought the Chinese Boxers at the city walls, trying to breach the gate. The Americans attempted to scale the walls instead of assaulting a fortified gate. Indian and Sikh troops from the British contingent were the first to break the siege of the Foreign Legation. Fifty-five of the almost 500 besieged were killed.
The U.S. Army in Beijing — then called Peking (U.S. Army Center of Military History)
2. 1927 – Nanking, China
Nationalist revolutionaries captured Nanking from a Chinese warlord in 1927, over a decade after the fall of Imperial China. These revolutionaries consisted of Chinese citizens and some Chinese Communists, but was mostly made op of the National Revolutionary Army (NRA), who would later be a U.S. ally against the Japanese in World War II. When the NRA captured Nanking, enraged Chinese fighters and citizens rioted and looted foreigners homes and attacked the American, British, and Japanese consulates.
The British sent eight warships led by the aptly-named HMS Vindictive while the U.S. Navy sent five destroyers of its own up the Yangtze River to relieve the foreign citizens and evacuate them. Every time the ships steamed into the city, they came under attack.The American and British sailors returned fire with overwhelming force, silencing the Chinese guns each time. Only one British and one American sailor were killed.
3. 1967 -Benghazi, Libya
Two years before Qaddafi’s coup toppled the regime of the Elderly King Idris I, the people of Libya were still fiercely proud of their Arab nationalism. At the onset of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Egyptian propaganda convinced the locals of Benghazi U.S. Navy planes were assisting Israel in their pre-emptive strikes against Egyptian airfields and other military targets. Outraged, thousands of Egyptian migrant workers and local mobs attacked the U.S.Embassy in Benghazi, overwhelming a Libyan military detachment the government dispatched to quell the uprising. The Embassy staff held the mob back with ax handles, rifle butts, and tear gas, even after the building was set on fire.
The British tried numerous times to break through the mob to rescue the battered Americans, who stayed on the roof, trying to destroy classified material throughout the day. Eventually a British armored column managed to break through and extract the Americans. They also helped hundreds of Americans trapped in the area of the city by protecting them inside the British camp. The British moved the Americans to an airfield where they were extracted by the U.S. Air Force cargo planes.
4. 1968 – Saigon, South Vietnam
In 1967, during the Vietnam War, the United States turned over the defense of Saigon to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). By 1968, the U.S. Embassy in the capital at Saigon was defended by four Vietnamese police posts, with two U.S. Army military policemen at the entrance gate, two U.S. Marines in a guard post, with a third Marine on the roof of the embassy. On the night of January 31, 1968, 19 Viet Cong sappers open fire on the MPs at the gate, SP4 Charles L. Daniel and Pvt. 1st Class William E. Sebast, who returned fire and secured the gate. The VC then blew a hole in the perimeter wall. The first two VC fighters through the wall were killed by the Army guards, but Sebast and Daniel were killed by their attackers. The Vietnamese policemen abandoned their posts when the first shots were fired.
Inside, the Marines locked down the Embassy and started shooting into the breached wall. Inside the Embassy, the three Marines, two Vietnamese, and six American civilians jocked up and prepared for the VC assault. Meanwhile, Marines in their barracks five blocks away proceeded to the Embassy asa quick reaction force, but met with heavy resistance from the VC inside. As dawn broke, Military Policemen shot the locks off the gates and drove through it in a jeeps as MPs and Marines stormed the grounds. The 101st Airborne landed by helicopter on the roof and cleared the building.
5. 1979 – Islamabad, Pakistan
The Masjid al-Haram, or Great Mosque of Mecca, the holiest site in the Islamic religion, was itself taken over by Islamic fundamentalists. These terrorists believed their leader was the Mahdi, the redeemer of the Islamic faith, and called on the overthrow of the Saudi regime. Naturally, this caused ripples of outrage throughout the Islamic world. Radio reports varied, but some in Pakistan erroneously suggested the United States was responsible, began climbing the walls and trying to pull them down.
The staff retreated to the secure communication vault as the embassy was burned down around them. They locked themselves in the building until nightfall, when a Marine snuck out the back door. The Marine found the entire Embassy empty and so the 140 people quietly escaped the grounds. A similar event happened at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya at the same time, for the same reason.
6. 1979 – Tehran, Iran
When the Shah of Iran abdicated the throne in 1979, he jetted around the world from place to place, searching for a country who would grant him asylum. Unbeknownst to much of the world, the Shah was also suffering from terminal cancer. In an act of compassion, U.S. President Jimmy Carter allowed the Shah to enter the U.S. for treatment. The people of Iran saw this act as complicity with a brutal regime and worried the U.S. was setting the stage to reinstall the Shah’s dictatorial regime once more, as they had done in 1953.
The Tehran Embassy had been taken over on February 4th and held for three hours before the Foreign Ministry of the new government of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini convinced the attacker to give it back within three hours. On November 4th, students at the University of Tehran planned and stormed the embassy again and would hold hostages for 444 days. The Iranian government used the hostages to secure passage of its Constitution and other Khomeini-era reforms, and hold parliamentary elections. A U.S. military attempt to rescue the hostages the next year failed miserably in the deserts of Iran.
After the 1979 Embassy takeover, U.S. diplomatic posts worldwide were subjected to mortars, RPGs, and vehicle-borne improvised explosives. but a U.S. ambassador hadn’t been killed by in the course of duty since armed Islamic extremists in Kabul, Afghanistan killed Ambassador Adolph Dubs in 1979. That all changed in September 2012 when an armed militia stormed a diplomatic compound in Benghazi and killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
(The story of the six government security contractors (also U.S. military veterans) who came to the rescue of the compound where Stevens was killed can be seen in Paramount Pictures’ adaptation of 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, in theaters Friday, January 15th.)
The death of former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega brings back memories of the dictator’s last hours of freedom. U.S. special operators tried to force his surrender using loud rock music — music now gathered together on two handy Spotify playlists.
Instead of storming a building owned by a neutral, noncombatant foreign power, the Navy SEALs and Delta Force operators developed Operation Nifty Package. It was a psyops mission, designed to force Noriega to rescind his right of asylum in the Vatican-owned Embassy.
When Pope John Paul II refused to comment on the incident and the Papal Nuncio wouldn’t force the dictator to leave, the U.S. Army Psychological Operations Command began to blare a “Rock n’ Roll Assault on Noriega…for three full days.
Noriega was captured and sent to Miami where he was sentenced to 30 years in prison for drug and money laundering charges. He was extradited to France in 2010 to stand trial for money laundering there. Noriega was then extradited to Panama the next year to finish his sentences for the disappearances of political prisoners in the 1980s.
It was a dynamic, often turbulent, year around the military community. 2015 saw domestic terrorism, growing aggression from former Cold War adversaries, and the Pentagon dealing with unprecedented budgetary and cultural challenges. Here are WATM’s picks for the top 15 stories of the year:
1. The “American Sniper” controversy
The Clint Eastwood-helmed biopic from real-life American sniper Chris Kyle divided the U.S. like a red Starbucks cup. The film earned a whopping $100 million during its opening weekend, but inconsistencies from the book and the depictions of certain onscreen combat actions (like taking aim at a child in Iraq, for example) sparked a few anti-war tweets from actor Seth Rogen and filmmaker Michael Moore. The movie also caused a backlash about how much of a hero Kyle really was, bringing into question whether the all of the events Kyle wrote about really happened.
As much as military experts lauded the film for “getting it right” in terms of technical detail and overall atmospherics (including the challenges of reintegration) “American Sniper” also exposed that the civilian-military divide is alive and well.
2. Troops deployed to fight Ebola outbreak return from West Africa
In 2014, President Obama ordered 2,800 U.S. troops and Department of Defense personnel to West Africa to help combat the Ebola epidemic there. Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea were the hardest hit, with more than 22,000 reported cases and more than 8,000 confirmed deaths from the virus. U.S. troops were vital to the mission to contain the victims and maintain the quarantines. In February 2015, all but 100 of those troops deployed returned home, not a single one infected by the virus.
“Military engineers oversaw the building of new Ebola Treatment Units; military logisticians directed the deployment of life-saving resources from across the globe; and military doctors supported the brave men and women who treated patients every day,” said Rajiv Shah, then-head of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
3. Bowe Bergdahl faces general court martial
The Army, for more than a year, deliberated on just how to deal with the aftermath of the Bowe Bergdahl incident. Though it is clear Bergdahl walked away from his post during his last deployment to Afghanistan in June 2009 and was held until his release in a prisoner exchange with the Taliban in 2014, the Army stated its belief that there is no evidence Bergdahl engaged in any misconduct while held captive by the Taliban and Haqqani Network. The matter was sent before a four-star general to review the facts for a possible court martial.
In March, the Army charged Bergdahl with “desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty” and one count of “misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place.” Sgt. Bergdahl’s story is now the subject of the wildly popular “Serial” podcast, featuring interviews with those for Bergdahl’s unit, as well as his Taliban captors.
4. Donald Trump blasts Sen. John McCain’s service record
Trump was speaking at the Family Leadership Summit in Iowa in July when moderator Frank Luntz asked the Presidential candidate about an incident where McCain referred to Trump’s supporters as “the crazies.” Luntz referred to the Arizona Senator as a “war hero.”
“He’s a war hero because he was captured… I like people who weren’t captured,” Trump replied and then told the audience that McCain “graduated last in his class at Annapolis (Naval Academy).” After the event, Trump released a statement:
“I am not a fan John McCain because he has done so little for our veterans… I have great respect for all those who serve in our military including those that weren’t captured and are also heroes.”
The statement was condemned by the Republican Party, other GOP hopefuls, and much of the American media. Sen. McCain did not immediately comment. McCain, who was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967, spent the next six years being beaten and tortured as a POW in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.” He appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joeshortly after Trump’s remarks, but did not demand an apology.
“I’m not a hero,” the 78-year-old senator said. “But those who were my senior ranking officers … those that inspired us to do things we otherwise wouldn’t be capable of doing, those are the people I think he owes an apology to.”
“I think he may owe an apology to the families of those who have sacrificed in conflict and those who have undergone the prison experience in serving their country,” McCain added. “When Mr. Trump says he prefers to be with people who are not captured, the great honor of my life was to be in the company of heroes.”
5. Marines who lowered the American Flag in Havana raise it again
In January 1961, three U.S. Marines in Havana, Cuba lowered the U.S. embassy flag for the last time. The day before, President Eisenhower severed diplomatic relations with Cuba after a coup brought dictator Fidel Castro to power. Castro ordered all but 11 U.S. diplomats to leave Cuba.
6. U.S. troops Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos prevent terror attacks on a Paris train
In August 2015, a heavily armed Moroccan national was set to shoot up a Paris-bound train, killing as many people as possible. As he exited the bathroom, two Frenchmen attempted to wrest the would-be shooter’s AKM rifle away. One was shot through the neck, the other fell to the floor. At that point three Americans — a civilian named Anthony Sadler, U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone and U.S. Army Specialist Alek Skarlatos — jumped the gunman. Stone put the man in a choke hold, taking repeated stab wounds from a box cutter, while Skarlatos took the attacker’s rifle, beating him in the head until the man lost consciousness.
As others restrained the attacker, Stone (who is an Air Force medic) tended to the wounds of the first passenger, pushing his finger on the neck artery to stop the bleeding. All survived. Sadler, Skarlatos, and Stone were named Knights of the Legion d’Honneur by French President Francois Hollande. Sadler received the Secretary of Defense Medal for Valor (civilian equivalent of the Distinguished Service Cross). Skarlatos received the Soldier’s Medal (the highest non-combat award). And Stone was awarded the Airman’s Medal, and Purple Heart. Stone also received a STEP promotion to staff sergeant after his regular promotion to senior airman.
7. First female soldiers earn Ranger Tabs
The two female officers, Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver, became the first women to complete the U.S. Army’s grueling Ranger school at Fort Benning, Georgia amid the ongoing debate about the roles of women fighting in combat. Griest is a military police officer and Haver is an Apache helicopter pilot. Both are graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The two were among 19 women who started the course. A third woman graduated in October.
8. Russia enters the Syrian Civil War
In September, Russian military aircraft carried out the country’s first airstrikes in support of President Bashar al-Asad’s regime in Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin maintained his forces were attacking ISIS positions, but there were many reports of Russian forces attacking anti-regime positions. Russia’s support for Syria goes back to the Cold War and the Soviet Union’s support for Asad’s father, Hafez al-Asad who ruled Syria for almost 30 years before his death in 2000. The issue was made even more complicated after Turkey shot down a Russian aircraft for violating Turkish airspace.
9. Marine Corps publishes a study about gender-integrated units
The Marine Corps released a summary of results in September 2015 based on a nine-month study of gender-integrated units in combat situations. Called “Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force,” the four-page summary described how all-male units performed significantly better on 69 percent of tactical tasks and how female Marines were injured at twice the rate of men. The study also claimed that all-male units were faster, stronger, had less body fat, and were more accurate with every standard individual weapon like M4 carbines and M203 grenade launchers.
The study’s summary did note the performance of female Marines in individual combat situations and in current overall combat operations, saying: “Female Marines have performed superbly in the combat environments of Iraq and Afghanistan and are fully part of the fabric of a combat-hardened Marine Corps after the longest period of continuous combat operations in the Corps’ history.”
10. Training “Moderate” Syrian rebels falls apart
The first round of American-trained “moderate” Syrian fighters made their way into Syria in September 2015. They were quickly routed by or defected to the al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra Front, a Sunni Islamist group. Al-Nusra stormed the rebel headquarters and took some of the fighters hostage. Later the same month, 75 more American-trained Syrian rebels entered the country via Turkey, where the majority of the training takes place. Almost immediately, those U.S.-backed fighters surrendered to the al-Nusra front. The “vetted” U.S.-backed leader, Anas Obaid, told al-Nusra he intentionally deceived the U.S. to get the weapons.
The U.S.’ $500 million dollar plan to arm and train “moderate” Syrian rebels was a disaster. CENTCOM, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East, reported of the 5,400 rebels planned to be in Syria fighting ISIS this year, there were only “four or five” active fighters in country. The CENTCOM spokesman went on to say there is no way the goal could be reached in 2015. The Obama Administration nixed the plan to train rebels by October 9th.
11. Congress saves A-10 from the Air Force
The A-10 Thunderbolt II is the only aircraft built specifically for a close-air support mission. The signature feature is its 30mm gatling gun, the GAU-8 Avenger. The distinctive sound made by the weapon (the BRRRRRT – created as rounds fire faster than the speed of sound), has been music to the ears of the troops on the ground, so much so that the plane has earned the nickname of “the grunt in the air.” The Air Force wanted to retire the slow-moving but stout plane to make room in their budget for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III says is “designed for the whole battlespace.” But critics claim the F-35 ill-suited for the close air support mission.
In the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress ordered the Air Force to produce a reliable, independent study on how they will replace the A-10’s CAS mission while providing the necessary funds to keep the Warthog flying.
12. President Obama extended U.S. military’s Afghan mission into 2017
They won’t have a direct combat role, but U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan through 2017. When President Obama leaves office in 2017, 5,500 troops will remain in Afghanistan. A resurgent Taliban and a growing ISIS threat will keep the U.S. forces busy as they work to keep the Afghan government in power.
The Obama Administration announced the extension in October. The War in Afghanistan is almost 15 years old and claimed the lives of 2,230 service members and cost more than $1 trillion. The new yearly plan costs upwards of $15 billion per year.
13. ISIS and China hack DoD computers, stealing troops’ personal data
In mid-October, a native of Kosovo was detained in Malaysia and alleged to be the hacker who had forced his way into the U.S. government software that held the personal information of U.S. troops and federal workers. The Kosovar, said to have ties to ISIS, stole data belonging to 1,300 people and gave it to the terror group’s hacking division.
One month prior, Chinese hackers forced their way into the systems of the Office of Personnel Management, and stole 5.6 million fingerprints, which, in turn, affected the compromised the records of 21.5 million Federal employees and applicants. The personal data also potentially contained information about intelligence agents posted overseas. The data included the employees’ biographical forms used when applying for sensitive or classified jobs.
14. All Combat Jobs are opened to women
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter ordered the Pentagon to open all military combat roles to women, rejecting limitations on the most dangerous military jobs. The secretary’s orders gave the branches until January 1st to plan their changes and force those combat roles open to women by April 1st, including infantry, reconnaissance, and special operations forces.
Women already have access to most front-line roles in the Army, Navy and Air Force. Earlier in 2015, women were integrated into the Navy’s Submarine Service. Women have been serving as fighter pilots in the Air Force and Navy since 1993, and the Army has been fighting to open its infantry positions to women since September 2015. The defense secretary’s rationale was simply that any qualified candidate should be allowed to compete for the jobs.
15. U.S. deploys special forces ground troops to fight ISIS
In a departure from the U.S. military’s policy of providing air support and “advisors” to support Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces fighting ISIS (Daesh) in Iraq and Syria, Defense Secretary Ash Carter authorized the deployment of additional special operations forces in Iraq to conduct raids to free hostages, capture Daesh leaders, and gather intelligence.
Earlier in the year, the U.S. deployed 3,300 troops to Iraq in training and advisory capacities, as well as support for air operations. The new standing force will be based in Iraq but conduct operations in Iraq and in Syria. The total special force could number up in the hundreds. In October, U.S. special forces and Iraqi troops conducted a raid on an ISIS compound to free 70 Iraqi prisoners, resulting in the first U.S. castualty in the war against ISIS.
We all make mistakes. Sometimes we all make mistakes together. And when we all make mistakes sometimes punishing us isn’t worth the time, effort and money. Depending on the severity of the crime, it might be more efficient to just give us all a mulligan and call the whole thing off.
The U.S.Department of Defense is familiar with this sort of calculus. Between Selective Service (aka “The Draft”) with civilians and the crimes unique to military personnel, problems with the application of laws involving the military are bound to happen. Sometimes they happened en masse. In those instances, the government has decided it would be better not to prosecute or the law became unenforceable because so many people committed the crime. It’s rare, but it happened. Here are five times where we were forgiven our trespasses:
1. Adultery (by the masses)
The list of email addresses released by hacktivists The Impact Group included thousands of .mil addresses. This means military members actually used their military email accounts to sign up for Ashley Madison, a site designed to facilitate adultery, which is a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), punishable by a year in confinement and a dishonorable discharge.
Among these were 250 addresses from various aircraft carriers, addresses from every destroyer and amphibious assault ship in the Navy, 1,665 navy.mil and 809 usmc.mil addresses, 54 af.mil addresses, and 46 uscg.mil addresses. The Army was the most impressive, with 6,788 army.mil addresses signed up. At first, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said DoD would investigate but the Pentagon has since decided not to, since there would be no proof of actual adultery and simply signing up for a website isn’t a crime.
After 18 years, the policy governing homosexuality in the U.S. military known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) was repealed. In response to the repeal, the Army issued a statement saying simply “the law is repealed” and reminded soldiers to treat each other fairly.
The thing is being gay is not in itself a crime under the UCMJ, but the way homosexuals have sex is, under Article 125. Homosexuals were simply given an “Other than Honorable” discharge. With more than 66,000 gay and lesbian men and women in uniform, trying to control the way they have sex becomes problematic after a while. Now with the DADT repeal, former service members are allowed to reenlist, but their cases will not be given priority. Officials have so far failed to address how all of this affects Article 125 of the UCMJ.
3. Dodging the draft
On January 21, 1977, newly-elected President Jimmy Carter granted a full pardon to hundreds of thousands of American men who evaded the Vietnam War draft by fleeing the country or not registering. Carter campaigned on this promise in an effort to help heal the country from the cultural rift the war created.
Most fled to Canada, where they were eventually welcomed as immigrants. Exempt from the pardon were deserters from the U.S. Army who met their obligation and then fled. 50,000 Americans became Canadian during the draft, facing prosecution if they returned home.
4. Seceding from the Union
In the most egregious example of getting away with flaunting the rules (to put it mildly), in 1872 Congress passed a bill signed by then-President Ulysses S. Grant which restored voting rights and the right to hold public office to all but 500 members of the Southern Confederacy during the Civil War.
The original act restricting the rights of former Confederates was passed in 1866. The act covered more than 150,000 former Confederate troops. The 500 who were still restricted were among the top leadership of the Confederacy.
5. Illegal Immigration
This one hasn’t happened yet but the discussion is very serious. The current version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) contains a controversial plan to allow illegal immigrants with deportation deferments to enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces. U.S. military veterans currently serving in the House of Representatives offer bipartisan public support for the provision.
The NDAA as is faces significant challenges in the entire Congress. Last year, Representatives Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), a Desert Storm veteran and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), an Iraq War veteran entered a similar bill, called the ENLIST Act, which would have had the same provisions but it was quickly sidelined.
The .50 caliber M2 machine gun was designed in 1918, near the end of World War I by John Browning.
Production began in 1921 and the weapon was designed so a single receiver could be turned into seven different variants by adding jackets, barrels or other components.
Roughly 94 years after the first production run of M2 machine guns came off the assembly line, the 324th weapon produced made it to Anniston Army Depot for overhaul and upgrade.
In more than 90 years of existence, the receiver with serial number 324 has never been overhauled.
“Looking at the receiver, for its age, it looks good as new and it gauges better than most of the other weapons,” said John Clark, a small arms repair leader.
Despite the fact that the weapon still meets most specifications, it may be destined for the scrap yard.
Modifications made to the weapon in the field mean part of the receiver would have to be removed through welding and replaced with new metal, a process which usually means the receiver is scrap.
“I’d rather put this one on display than send it to the scrap yard,” said Clark, adding the weapon’s age makes it appealing as a historical artifact.
Currently, the 389th M2 is on display in the Small Arms Repair Facility. There is an approval process the older weapon would have to go through in order to be similarly displayed. Clark and Jeff Bonner, the Weapons Division chief, are researching and beginning that process.
In 2011, the depot began converting the Army’s inventory of M2 flexible machine guns to a new variant.
The M2A1, has a fixed headspace, or distance between the face of the bolt and the base of the cartridge case, and timing, the weapon’s adjustment which allows firing when the recoil is in the correct positon.
In the past, every time a Soldier changed the barrel on the M2, the timing and headspace had to be changed as well. If that wasn’t done properly, the weapon could blow apart. The fixed headspace and timing eliminates this risk to Soldiers.
“It only takes 30 seconds to change out the barrel on the M2A1 and you’re back in business. The M2 Flex version could take three to five minutes, depending upon your situation,” said Jeff Bonner, weapons division chief.
Bonner said this is the first major change to the M2 weapon system since the machine gun was first fielded.
Since the overhaul and upgrade work began in fiscal year 2011, the depot has brought more than 14,000 of these .50 caliber machine guns to better than new, and upgraded, condition.
Once the weapon is rebuilt, it has to be readied to be fired, repeatedly, without jamming or suffering other mechanical difficulties.
To assist with this process, a machine known as the exerciser is used to ensure the new parts work well with the old.
After all, the older parts of the weapon could be nearly 90 years old.
The exerciser simulates charging the weapon, or preparing it to be fired, 700 times.