These missiles primarily engage their targets in space at the height of the ballistic missile’s flight path. To hit a DF-21D, the Aegis system will need to be on or near the projected flight path. Keeping carriers safe may require keeping an Aegis ship equipped with SM-3s permanently co-located with the carrier.
These are much cheaper than SM-3s, but the SM-6 is a final, last-ditch defense while the SM-3 is still the first call. That’s because SM-6s engage targeted missiles during their terminal phase, the final moments before the incoming missile kills its target. If the SM-6 misses, there isn’t time to do anything else.
The main problem for the Navy when using THAAD to protect its ships is that the THAAD system is deployed on trucks, not ships. It’s hard to keep land-based missiles in position to protect ships sailing on the open sea.
The US Air Force’s flight schools have a reputation for churning out some of the best pilots in the world. But not even with that standing, only 558 in the service’s entire history were ever able to earn the title “Bandit” — the name awarded exclusively to pilots assigned to fly the top-secret F-117 Nighthawk stealth jet.
During the first years of the Nighthawk program in the 1980s, candidate pilots were drawn from a pool of fast-jet pilots. Only fighter or attack pilots with minimum of 1,000 hours were considered for the job, though candidates with 2,000 or more hours were preferred, given their extensive piloting experience.
According to Warren Thompson in his book, “Bandits over Baghdad,” stealth program brass struck a careful balance between recruiting pilots with phenomenal service records and pilots who were known to push themselves to the edge of the envelope — constantly demonstrating their prowess in the cockpit of the latest and greatest multimillion dollar fighters in America’s arsenal.
Early Bandits already in the program, having earned their number, were allowed to refer fellow pilots from other units, based on critical evaluations of their skill and abilities as military aviators. The majority of candidates, however, came from fighter squadrons whose commanding officers were vaguely instructed to cherry-pick one or two of their very best pilots, and send them to Arizona to begin training on a new airframe.
Nobody, including the selectees themselves, had much of a clue what they were about to get involved in.
Further adding to the mystery was the fact that this “new” airframe was actually the A-7 Corsair II, an attack jet which had already been in service with the Air Force for a number of years. Nighthawk program evaluators chose the A-7 for its similarity to the F-117 in terms of handling, cockpit layout and flight characteristics. Upon the conclusion of their flight training, candidates would appear for a final series of check rides and tests in Nevada.
The 162d Tactical Fighter Group of the Arizona Air National Guard handled this segment of the selection phase on behalf of the 4450th Tactical Group. The 4450th was the cover for the Nighthawk’s existence, drafted up by the Air Force as a supposed A-7 flight test unit.
The casual observer, and even other military personnel not read into the Nighthawk program, would merely see this outfit as yet another one of the Air Force’s myriad boring units, though in reality, it was anything but that.
If the candidates survived the A-7 flight course, passed their final tests in their new jet, and were approved by the selection cadre, they were finally told what they were really there for — to be the next breed of American black operations pilots, flying an aircraft the government habitually denied even existed.
The Nighthawk was developed more as an attack aircraft than a fighter, though it was still granted the “F” designation like other fighters the USAF fields today. Built to evade and avoid radar detection, the F-117 was the deadly ghost America’s enemies didn’t see coming or going, even after it was too late and the bombs had already deployed from the jet’s twin recessed bays.
All prospective Bandits were now introduced in-person to their new aircraft at the Tonopah Test Range, a highly-guarded military facility known to play host to some of the most secretive Air Force projects ever undertaken. After strenuous classroom sessions followed by training missions flown in top-of-the-line simulators, pilots were then taken back to Arizona to Luke Air Force Base, where they would train briefly on the F-15 Eagle, learning to perform a ‘no-flap’ landing, which would simulate the Nighthawk’s handling dynamics during approaches and landings.
After passing muster, the candidates were handed the figurative keys to the F-117 and were allowed to fly for the first time. Upon their first solo in the Nighthawk, each pilot was assigned a number and were officially awarded the title “Bandit.” As no Nighthawk was ever built with a twin cockpit, instructors flew near their candidates in chase planes while maintaining constant radio contact. After further nighttime and daytime training missions which qualified pilots to operate their jets in adverse conditions, a battery of tests and evaluations followed.
By this time, the class was severely depleted in size – the starting quantity of candidates diminished over time either because pilots opted out of the program, or were dropped by evaluators and instructors just because they weren’t good enough to fly this next-level aircraft. If the candidate was successful in his very last round of testing, he would be sent for further training to become combat qualified and would be initiated as a permanent member of the Nighthawk community.
Pilots were then sent to an operational squadron, where they would go on to fly daring missions in extreme secrecy around the world, from Panama to Yugoslavia, and onward to Afghanistan and even Iraq. The Nighthawk has since been retired from service, having been replaced by the F-22 in its role as a stealth attack jet, though the Bandit number has been permanently capped at 558, forever sealing the status of these pilots as some of the most elite military aviators in history.
Navy Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Edward C. Byers, Jr., was on an assault team conducting the rescue of Dr. Dilip Joseph. After a four-hour foot patrol to the target location, a group of special operations volunteers hit the suspected building.
Byers distinguished himself multiple times in the moments that followed, sprinting to the building after a guard spotted the team 25 yards out, fighting against multiple enemies while trying to fix a problem with his night vision and find the doctor, and protecting the doctor with his own body while engaging multiple hostile targets.
He was later honored with a well-earned Medal of Honor for his actions.
In this video from the Navy’s All Hands Magazine, Byers talks about a seldom explored part of becoming a Medal of Honor recipient, the actual process of learning you will receive the award. From scheduling and receiving the president’s phone call to being inducted into the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon.
According to a CBP release, a narcotics-detecting canine directed attention to the Xbox, and after an inspection, the agents seized the drugs, which had an estimated worth of about $10,000.
The 16-year-old was arrested and turned over to Homeland Security Investigations.
Synthetic drugs like meth have become increasingly common as producers and traffickers adjust to factors like marijuana legalization and widespread heroin use in the US.
“That has shifted the marketplace in a way. It means that Mexican illicit-drug exporters have had to … diversify their offerings,” David Shirk, a professor at the University of San Diego, told Business Insider. “They have moved into … heroin as a source of revenue, but also … into other, I would say, synthetic drugs, like MDMA and various forms of methamphetamine.”
While seizures at the border can only reveal so much about the black-market drug trade, reports from Customs and Border Patrol indicate that heroin and other synthetic drugs are frequently intercepted at the US-Mexico frontier.
On September 9, a search of a Chevy Tahoe crossing the border at Brownsville, Texas, uncovered 37 pounds of what was believed to be methamphetamine, valued at $740,000. That same day, a search of a Nissan Murano at the Laredo, Texas, border crossing turned up 12 pounds of crystal meth and 4 pounds of heroin, worth a total of nearly $360,000.
In two separate incidents on September 9 at the border crossing at Nogales, Arizona, 17 pounds of meth valued at more than $52,000 was found in the wheel well of a Dodge van, while later that day a 16-year-old woman was found to have nearly 3 pounds of heroin worth almost $48,000 in her undergarments.
On September 13 at the Nogales port of entry, a Mexican woman was found to be carrying three pounds of heroin worth $50,000 in a can of baby formula. On September 15, agents in California found more than 43 pounds of meth worth about $175,000 concealed under the floor mats of a gray 2014 Nissan Sentra.
YouTube screen capture, Tampa Special Forces conference.
Mech suits have been a fantasy object of science fiction for a long time. They were first seen in fiction in the late 19th Century from a book written by Edward Ellis, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. Later on, the suits were normalized in anime and video games. This has created a vivid picture of how the battlefield will look like in the future; giant, man-carrying robot suits.
The titanic behemoths or mechs demonstrate how ambitious humans are and leave us with the question of whether they will be viable soon enough. Science fiction movies like Marvel’s Iron Man have also shown how the newfangled combat suits give soldiers superhuman capabilities.
The hardest part about making the combat suits a reality is the robotic exoskeleton on which the suits are built. Undoubtedly, the military sector has a huge necropolis of exoskeleton projects they are working on and maybe they will become successful in the future.
Will combat mech suits become a reality?
The latest combat suit project looks forward to creating an exoskeleton that can increase the amount of armor a special force’s operator carries. The project by TALOS opened new capabilities for the military industry, although it failed to produce a suit. TALOS reported there were numerous challenges associated with the development of the mech suit.
The main challenge was involved with sensing. It wasn’t easy to create a sensor in the suit that would know when and how to move. With the absence of speedy sensing, there would be a lag between the suit operator and the actual suit, causing a feeling of moving through an ocean of Jell-O.
A second challenge is related to actuation. Creating a machine that can move complex joints like the hips and ankles requires highly advanced, multi-dimensional actuators. Even the most advanced actuators in the industry could not perform this task, resulting in a decreased swiftness.
Additionally, there was a challenge with power generation for the mech suit. On average, a mech suit would use up power equivalent to that of a motorcycle. Other power alternatives were tested but were not the best options. Engines were too rowdy, fuel cells became too hot, and batteries were too weighty and cumbersome. Besides, most power sources are flammable, hence not safe to carry around in a suit.
What is being done to bring the reality closer?
With every mech suit attempt, the military gets closer to finding an answer to the complex puzzle. Scientists are focusing on finding better energy sources that are lighter, safer and powerful. According to the report given by TALOS, the power source will soon be available.
The prosthetics industry is also working tirelessly to develop tremendously advanced biomechanical sensors to help solve the first challenge. With this, the mech suits will automatically detect when the operator needs to move and in what manner. Additionally, numerous participants are working to find the solution for actuation. This is the most challenging part of the suit but TALOS is hopeful that the solution will soon come up.
Several experts have suggested that these challenges will not be the issue that hinders the development of combat mech suits. Science fiction has painted a warm picture for exoskeletons, but history and facts display a different vision. For instance, there was a fight between French knights and a tiny group of British archers in Agincourt. The French knights were dressed in armored suits but they lost to the British Archers. Even though the French did not have advanced technology for their suits like at the moment, it still creates doubt on whether the mech suits will be beneficial.
Bayonet fighting is a lost art to many, but it has served as a tried and true tactic since the first riflemen realized they could use a blade if they found themselves wanting to kill something when their ammunition went empty.
Here are 6 times America and its allies decided to press cold steel into their enemies chests, including two charges from the Global War on Terror.
1. Two National Guard battalions shove an entire Chinese division off a hill with their bayonets.
While attempting to take two hilltops to the south of Seoul, South Korea in early 1951, the 65th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division fought for two days up a Chinese-held hill. On the morning of the third day, the crest of the hill was in sight and the Puerto Rican fighters decided that it was time they were atop it.
In one of the most famous counterattacks in American history, the 20th Maine under Union Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain found itself running out of ammunition on Little Round Top, an important hill at the Battle of Gettysburg.
Chamberlain and his 386 men, including 120 mutineers added to the regiment just before the battle, charged down the hill and defeated two Confederate regiments. Chamberlain himself was nearly killed multiple times during the charge.
3. Marines take Peleliu Airfield with a daring bayonet charge across open ground.
The 1st Marine Division was attempting to take the Japanese-held Peleliu Airfield on Sep. 16, 1944. When they realized they weren’t making enough progress through rifle-fire, they lined up four battalions and charged against the open ground with fixed bayonets. While they took heavy losses, they reached the enemy, engaged at close quarters, and took the airfield.
4. Revolutionary War Gen. “Mad” Anthony Wayne orders a daring charge and threatens to kill any soldiers who fire.
To retake a position at Stony Point, New York, Gen. “Mad” Anthony Wayne ordered his outnumbered and outgunned men to not fire under punishment of death.
The Americans crept up to the British defenders at night and charged through the lines with fixed bayonets and sabers. When it was all over, the Americans had retaken Stony Point with 15 men killed and 85 wounded while the British suffered 63 dead, 70 wounded, and 442 captured.
5. The British dismount their heavily-armed vehicles in Iraq to attack insurgents with their bayonets.
A group of British soldiers from the Prince of Wales’ Royal Regiment were ambushed by fighters from Mugtada Al-Sadr’s forces May 14, 2004.
The enemy was firing from an actual trench, so Company Sgt. Maj. David Falconer ordered his men to fix bayonets and enter the trenches. The British charged across open ground and dropped into the trenches. With bayonets and rifles, the men fought for the next four hours, killing about 30 enemy soldiers with no major casualties before a British tank arrived and ended the battle. Falconer and another soldier were awarded the British Military Cross.
6. Capt. Lewis Millett orders two bayonet charges in 4 days during the Korean War.
On Feb. 4th, 1951, then-Capt. Lewis Millett led a bayonet charge an occupied hill in Korea and one of his platoon leaders went down. Millett organized a rescue effort with bayonets while under fire and finished taking the hill.
Then, only three days later, he was leading an attack up Hill 180 when one of his platoons was pinned down by enemy fire. Millett took another platoon up to rescue them, ordered both platoons to fix bayonets, and led a charge up the hill and captured it. He’s personally credited with bayonetting at least two men in the assault while clubbing others and throwing grenades.
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.
After nearly a year apart, it was an emotional moment when Air Force Staff Sgt. Amanda Cubbage of the 355th Security Forces Squadron at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, and the military working dog she worked with in South Korea were reunited here August 8.
The dog, Rick, was flown in from Osan Air Base, South Korea, after a lengthy adoption process.
“It’s [like] getting part of your heart back,” Cubbage said.
Cubbage and Rick served together at Osan for 11 months. On duty, they conducted exercises, and bomb threat and security checks. Off duty, they were each other’s wingman.
“Being stationed in Korea unaccompanied, he was my support,” Cubbage said. “He was there for everything I needed. He was there when I was happy, he was there when I was sad. Everything I needed came from him.”
As a military working dog handler, Cubbage has worked with several other dogs. She described parting ways as bittersweet.
“It’s just like having a kid moving off and going to college,” she said. “You still love your kid. It’s just the fact that they’re growing up, they’re going out, and they’re doing other things.”
Rick was different from the other dogs, Cubbage said. He instantly won her over with his headstrong personality.
After seven years of service, Rick was retired due to his age. Cubbage found out about the opportunity to adopt him from a fellow handler. “And that’s when I reached out to the American Humane Society,” she said. “They said, ‘Absolutely, we’d love to help out.'”
Military working dogs are allowed to be adopted after retirement due to “Robby’s Law,” which was passed by Congress in 2000. The adoption process can be long and drawn out, involving tedious paperwork, immunizations, and, in Rick’s case, crossing the Pacific Ocean.
“You sit there and you wait and wait, and you just count down the days, count down the time, until you’re reunited with him,” Cubbage said.
Now that he is finally reunited with his companion, Rick will live a quiet life in retirement, filled with rest, relaxation, and plenty of treats.
You do not have to be a world-class athlete to join the military. Even within the ranks of Special Ops, you will not be required to be a master of any element of fitness — above average maybe, but not world class.
My observations from training many military members over the past two decades has shown me that we all come from different foundations of fitness. We all excel in different events, and suffer weaknesses in others. It takes a mature and ego-free team player to realize that your preparation to be 100 percent ready for your job may be lacking. When you make the decision to go Special Ops, you must be prepared to research your future profession and acknowledge there are elements of fitness you will have to attempt that you may have never been exposed to.
Your best bet is to be competent in as many of the following elements of fitness as possible.
Strength: Being strong and having a foundation of strength is critical to ALL of your other abilities. This does not mean that you have to bench press a truck. It means that having strong muscles, bones, and connective tissues will assist in your ability to make power when you need it. The most basic way to measure strength is to record the amount of weight lifted in one repetition. Don’t skip leg day!
Power: You cannot have power without strength and speed. The faster you move an object or yourself through space is power. Power usually requires a full body movement generated from your feet and legs and transferred across the body to its end point. For instance, a powerful knockout punch starts from the feet as the fighter steps into a punch, shifts the hips, torques the torso, and extends the arm until the moment of impact with her or his fist. That is power. In physics, power is defined as power equals force times velocity or work divided by time. It is a combination of technique, speed, and strength.
Endurance: Cardiovascular endurance is necessary for nearly any activity, including running, rucking, and swimming. Technique helps with the amount of energy you use, but being able to move and move fast is one element that has to be continually practiced. If you do not lift for a week, you will typically come back stronger. If you do not run for a week, it feels like you are starting over when you run again. Whether you like fast interval cardio or long, slow distance cardio — just get it done. You need both depending upon your job. How fast you can run, ruck or swim longer distances will be the typical measure for your endurance ability.
Muscle Stamina: Combine high repetition muscle stamina with endurance and you are building a PT test-taking machine. A two minute calisthenics fitness test is one way to test your muscle stamina, but another marker is putting in a full day of hard physical work. Having the ability to continuously move your body weight and more over longer periods of time is required in the typical selection programs. Strength is handy. You need it. But being able to work all day is a physical skill and mindset that needs to be fostered daily.
Speed: Testing speed with short runs can save your life when having to quickly run for cover. Speed can be enhanced by adding in faster and shorter runs to your running days.
Agility: Accompanied with speed and balance, agility is how quickly you can move from side to side and change direction quickly. Both speed and agility can be practiced with cone drills arranged in less than 10 second drills, where full speed and changes of direction are measured.
Mobility / Flexibility: Do not forget to warmup and stretch for flexibility, but also to move your joints through a full range of motion for mobility. Like many elements of fitness, if you don’t use it, you lose it. So make stretching and moving in a full range of motion part of your day.
Hand / Eye Coordination: Whether it is shooting, driving, flying, throwing, or lifting objects to be placed a certain way, having a background with hand eye coordination is helpful to any tactical athlete. Sports can be a great for building this skill, but obtaining good hand / eye coordination requires practice.
Running / Rucking: Being prepared to run and ruck takes time. Time spent logically progressing your weekly mileage in running and building time under the weight with rucking has to be a foundation of your training if attempting most military and any Special Ops training program. Lack of preparation will mean injury and possibly failing to meet the standard within a few months of training. If you don’t practice several days a week to build your endurance, you will lose it.
Swimming / Water Confidence Skills: Not having a pool to train in or not being comfortable in the water is not only a physical fitness issue, but a huge mental block for many. Technique is critical to your success in the water. Watch videos and practice, practice, practice if you need to get better in the water for your swimming, drown-proofing, and treading tests. Several days a week of technique training is required, along with building your cardiovascular endurance to maintain any speed.
Specializing in too few of these elements above can lead to neglecting others. World class athletes specialize in only a few of the above for their athletic events. For instance, take the competitive Olympic swimmer or power lifter. Both are incredible to watch, but both would fail miserably at each other’s events on an Olympic stage.
The reason I am focusing on comparing world class athletes to those in the military is that far too many regular Joe’s attempt workouts and training programs designed for world class athletes. There is no need to try an Olympic swim or running plan used by your favorite Gold Medalist to help you pass a fitness test of a 500m swim or a 1.5 mile timed run — even if you are trying to be a Special Ops team member. Trying to deadlift 600+ pounds, which is a massive amount but still nowhere near world class, may cause injury or interfere with your ability to run, ruck, or swim with fins for long distances. You need to ask yourself what you have to give up to compete in an Ironman Triathlon, do a body building competition, or power lifting meet. If your answer involves too many other elements of fitness, you may want to reconsider whether this is a necessary step toward a tactical profession.
There is a quote often used in Tactical Fitness Training: A world-class athlete needs to be an A+ in his/her activity, which may only focus on 1-2 elements of fitness. A tactical athlete needs to be a B in ALL the elements of fitness to best do his/her job. Make your annual training plan so that you can arrange the elements of fitness into your year accordingly. Learn about periodization and do it logically, with smart progressions so that you do not start off with too much, too soon, too far, or too fast, and end up hurting yourself with challenging programs designed for something not related to the Tactical profession.
People who like compelling, well-crafted tales of America’s soldiers in action will like Ashley’s War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield. Gayle Tzemach Lemmon’s recently released book tells the story behind the first team of female soldiers to join American special operators on the battlefield. The key to this book, however, is not simply that they are strong females, but that they are strong soldiers.
That message appears in the very first pages of the book, where she follows two soldiers on their first mission. The “newbies,” as she calls them, are preparing to go on a dangerous operation with an aggressive, seasoned Ranger team to capture an insurgent leader deep in Afghanistan. Lemmon identifies the newbies as “Second Lieutenant White” and “Staff Sergeant Mason,” sharing only at the very end of the introduction that White and Mason are women.
The book then flashes back to the story behind the creation of this unique unit, called Cultural Support Teams or CSTs. In 2010, the military’s Special Operations Command faced a problem – due to cultural mores that at best frowned on male-female interaction, American combat troops were effectively prohibited from communicating with Afghan women. That left half of Afghanistan’s population – potential sources of intelligence and partners to build lasting relationships – out of reach to American troops. So senior special operations commanders developed the CSTs to place female soldiers with American special operators in combat situations and engage with Afghan women on sensitive missions.
In describing the genesis of the CSTs as a unit, Lemmon also presents several of the individuals who volunteered for the pilot program. They are a cast of real characters, but make no mistake – these are smart alpha-women who are as fit and committed to success as any elite athlete. Readers learn about Anne Jeremy, the “serious, no-nonsense” officer who proved herself in combat by leading her convoy through a Taliban ambush of heavy arms fire that endured intermittently for 24 hours; Lane Mason, the 23-year-old Iraq War veteran who was a high-school track star in Nevada and volunteered for the CSTs to face down some demons in her past; Amber Treadmont, the intelligence officer from rural Pennsylvania who printed out the CST application within one minute of learning about the program; and Kate Raimann, the West Point grad and military police officer who played on her high school’s football team for all four years even though she hated football, just to prove that she could do it.
Lemmon’s depictions of these women are vivid, giving readers a textured understanding of who they are and what drove them to volunteer for an unprecedented program that would place them in incredibly dangerous situations. In fact, these nuanced profiles raise my sole problem with the book – namely, that there were so many interesting personalities that I couldn’t keep track of them all. Lemmon used a few Homeric epithets, like reminding readers late in the book that Lane was “the Guard soldier and track star from Nevada,” but a few more mental cues might have helped keep everyone straight.
But those are small drops of concern amidst an ocean of good writing and compelling moments. Lemmon deftly draws readers through the brutal candidate assessment (“100 hours of hell”), the women’s anxiety about whether they would be selected, their post-selection training at Fort Benning, and their subsequent deployments to Afghanistan.
One scene in particular encapsulates the challenging nature of the CSTs’ role. Kate, the football-hating football player, was on a raid of a compound to capture a key Taliban fighter. Her job, like all of the CSTs, was to assemble the compound’s women and children, gather as much information from them as possible, and protect them if necessary. Soon after the Afghan and American forces entered the compound, heavy contact erupted, and Kate began shepherding the group of women and children to a building nearby.
As she directed [the interpreter], Kate scooped up a small baby, barefoot and crying. She threw the little guy over her left shoulder and took off running as the sound of gunfire grew louder behind her. Using her right arm she grabbed the hand of a small girl and drew her close to her body.
“Stay with me, stay with me!” Kate urged, hoping the child would trust and understand her movements even if she didn’t understand her words.
Suddenly Kate felt the jagged terrain take hold of her left foot. She began tumbling forward as one of her boots got trapped in a deep hole she hadn’t detected through the green film of her night-vision goggles.
The baby, Kate thought. Instinctively she held him tight against her chest as the momentum of her fall sent her spinning into a diving, forward roll. She released the little girl’s hand just in time to keep her from falling, too.
A second later Kate lay on her back with the baby tucked up against her body armor. He hadn’t moved despite the somersault and was now just looking at her wide-eyed and silent.
Kate felt the baby’s warm breath on her neck, looked up at the twinkling stars above, and heard the rat-a-tat-tat of gunfire around her, maybe three dozen feet away.
What the fuck is my job right now? she asked herself as she hugged the baby tight and again took the hand of the little girl who was standing nearby. This is crazy.
The book juxtaposes “crazy” moments like that with poignant moments that further illustrate the CSTs’ unique position as women in combat environments. In one anecdote, a female civilian interpreter from California named Nadia meets three new CSTs, and they bond over perhaps the most non-military item of all: mascara.
The four women – Ashley, Anne, Lane, and Nadia – were in the washroom getting ready for the first meeting of the day when Anne and Lane broke out their traveling cosmetic kits. It was a small gesture, but for Nadia, it spoke volumes.
During her years overseas she had been around a lot of military women who frankly frightened her. They conveyed the impression that any sign of femininity would be perceived as weakness. But here, in this tiny bathroom, were three incredibly fit, Army-uniformed, down-to-earth gals who could embrace being female and being a soldier in a war zone. She found it refreshing – and inspiring.
“Oh my God, you wear makeup!” she burst out.
Anne laughed as she put the final touches on an abbreviated makeup regimen.
“Oh, yes, always have to have mascara on,” she replied. “I am blond and look like I have no eyelashes. I don’t want to scare people!”
Lemmon also peppers the book with several sidebars that add interesting and important context, like the value of interpreters and the history of military dogs. While a discussion about the evolution of female soldiers’ uniforms may not seem terribly interesting on its face, she deftly weaves it into the story because it mattered to the CSTs – the ill-fitting gear was obviously designed for men and therefore had bulges in places where the women didn’t need them and lacked material where they did. That seemingly whimsical anecdote illustrates just how unprecedented their mission was.
The book builds to an emotional climax with – spoiler alert – the first death of a CST soldier. It’s an undeniably tough moment, and Lemmon treats the subject – the agonized reaction of the soldier’s family and her sister CSTs – with appropriate respect. The Rangers serving with the deceased soldier sent the family a condolence card, with an important quote:
“Having a woman come out with us was a new thing for all of us,” wrote her weapons squad leader. “Being one of the first groups of CST, she really set a good impression not only on us, but also the higher leadership. I am sorry for your loss, but I want you to know that she was good at her job and a valuable member of this platoon.”
That statement, to me, seemed to summarize the whole point of the book: these women are not just strong females – they are strong soldiers.
Linnington (middle, blue jacket) at a WWP event. Photo credit Wounded Warrior Project.
June is officially recognized as PTSD awareness month for the United States. But for the leadership at the Wounded Warrior Project and over at USAA, it’s about more than talking about it. For these organizations, it’s about really digging in to make a difference.
Army Lt. Gen. (ret.) Mike Linnington has been the CEO of Wounded Warrior Project since 2016. When he left active duty after 35 years of service, Linnington said he saw WWP as an extension of his military service.
“Mental health is a big concern of ours and is a focus area of our strategic plan and consumes about half our efforts,” he explained. USAA has been a big supporter for WWP programming. “Anything we can do together to raise awareness of the invisible wounds of war, primarily post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury and depression or other mental health illnesses, and get people the care they need to heal is important.”
Linnington shared an example of how a broken bone would be cause for an immediate emergency room visit but when it comes to mental health, veterans won’t rush to heal it. “They feel like they don’t deserve it because they aren’t physically injured or because of that stigma associated with it,” he said.
WWP is constantly working toward breaking down the stigma around mental health for veterans. It’s a commitment shared by USAA.
Navy Vice Adm. (ret.) John Bird is USAA’s Senior Vice President of Military Affairs. Bird served on active duty for 35 years before retiring. “USAA was founded by the military — 25 Army officers, 100 years ago — for the military. For us, it’s more than products and services, it’s an advocacy position,” he explained. “We need to care for veterans, those who are wounded. They deserve it…we are a far cry from experts on PTSD or a number of things we advocate for but that’s why we partner with organizations like General Linnington’s.”
As America prepares to mark 20 years at war in September 2021, it’s important to recognize the still unseen consequences of the longest-sustained conflict in our country’s history.
“I do worry about the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and the drawdown in Afghanistan,” Linnington said. “It could be a triggering event for many veterans…the need doesn’t stop because the number of our troops deployed is reduced.”
WWP conducted a survey which revealed 93% of its warriors experienced severe mental injury during their military service. It’s important to note PTSD doesn’t always show up immediately, especially as service members are in the thick of their service. It can be years later before it’s recognized for what it is and it’s a reality we can’t wait for.
Bird also touched on force readiness and how without supporting America’s all volunteer force in every way, it could essentially disappear.
Both leaders noted the importance of also recognizing not all veterans have PTSD. This is something in particular that creates a significant barrier to treatment seeking. The Cohen Veterans Network conducted a survey recently and it revealed that a staggering 67% of Americans assume all veterans have PTSD.
Almost a quarter of those surveyed also believe the veteran’s diagnosis is dangerous.
The VA has estimated that around 11-20% of veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD, a far lower number than the everyday American assumes.
Another stigma both leaders find themselves battling is one many veterans tend to hold onto themselves. It’s the thought that someone else has it worse and deserves the help more than they do. But the reality is 1 in 11 Americans will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime and it is the brain’s normal reaction to an abnormal event.
“It is significant. Some people call it a crisis. It certainly is large and looming within the military community but it goes far beyond that. It is debilitating to the person to the point of being fatal,” Bird noted. “They [veterans] deserve this. This isn’t something that’s a hand out, they earned it and we are duty bound to provide it.”
Another point both leaders agreed on was the value and importance of harnessing and fostering a deep sense of community and connection for veterans.
“It’s important for organizations like ours and USAA…keeping veterans connected so they realize they aren’t alone,” Linnington stressed.
Bird echoed that sentiment and shared a story from an internal panel held by USAA on PTSD. He said a veteran took a call he almost ignored. Had he not, the situation may have turned out much differently. “So much of it is just reaching out and connecting,” he explained.
Though neither retired military leader believes they have all the answers, both recognize the power of support and healing is much stronger when you work together. For WWP and USAA, the fight on serving veterans and helping them work through PTSD is one they are all in on. If you or a veteran you care about is struggling, the Veterans Crisis Line has 24/7 support waiting for you. It’s confidential support available to all veterans, even if they aren’t registered with the VA. Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1.