Mike Durant is a prime example of an individual who took a terrible situation and turned it into a positive life experience.
He’s the real “Black Hawk Down” pilot shot down and captured during the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993. Today, he credits his harrowing ordeal for his success in business and his personal life.
Durant — a young chief warrant officer at the time — was part of a Special Operations aviation unit deployed to Somalia in August 1993 to assist U.S. forces during the peacekeeping mission there. The country was ripping itself apart by clans and militia groups vying for power after strongman, Mohamed Siad Barre’s downfall.
His unit’s objective was to capture Somali clan leader Mohammed Farrah Aidid and to provide security to relief organizations trying to aid the starving locals. As a result, Durant’s team had several successful operations, capturing about two dozen warlords.
But everything went pear shaped on October 3, 1993, while providing air support to the troops hunting Aidid’s senior militia leaders. A man on a rooftop fired a rocket-propelled grenade at Durant’s slow-moving UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter causing it to spin toward the earth from 70 feet in the air.
“In my mind, I died,” Durant told National Geographic. “When we crashed, I was knocked unconscious, and I think psychologically that was the end for me.”
Durant had been trained at survival, evasion, resistance and escape school, but nothing could compare to the real experience. He’s thankful to Delta Force operators and Medal of Honor recipients Gary Gordon and Randy Shughart for sacrificing their lives while attempting to rescue him. He almost suffered the same fate but was taken prisoner instead.
“I have tried to raise the bar on myself, elevate my game, do things that I probably wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t had that experience,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of things that stray outside the lines for me, but I did them because I realize I already have a second chance, I’m not going to have a third. So, I’m going to take full advantage of what’s been offered to me.”
Watch Durant explain his mission, captivity, and how it turned his life around:
Rodney Smith is gearing up for a trip to Alaska. He’s already been to all of the lower 48 U.S. states. He’s on a mission to provide free lawn care to the elderly, the disabled, single mothers, and veterans. He’s the founder of a nonprofit for youth which is aimed at community development.
He’s showing everyone in America his dedication to service, and he’s doing it the way he knows best: mowing lawns.
He is the founder of Raising Men Lawn Care Service, a way for young people to give back to their community while learning the ins and outs of the lawn-care industry. Smith doesn’t limit his services to mowing, just like any other lawn-care service. Raking leaves and shoveling snow are just a couple of the services he and his cadre of volunteers offer.
As he travels the United States, he takes requests, even going so far to post his phone number on Twitter. He mows lawns in the dark, just to get one more in for that day. He’ll even do what he calls a “mow by,” completing a lawn-care service for someone in need, even when they aren’t home.
Of course, it’s better if they’re home. Then the family can meet the incredible individual who enjoys giving back and mowing lawns so much he’ll go to disaster sites, like storm-stricken Virginia.
Smith started mowing lawns for free in 2015 after driving by an elderly man struggling to mow his lawn. He stopped his car, got out, and finished the lawn for the man.
“A small act of kindness grew into all this,” he says. “You never know what someone is going through and you touch them a certain way.”
After that act of kindness, he founded his nonprofit in his hometown of Huntsville, Ala. while he was working on a degree in computer science. He used to mow lawns in between classes, a challenge for his studies but one he took with zeal. Then, he challenged others to something similar. He wanted kids to mow 50 lawns after posting a photo of them accepting the 50-Yard Challenge.
“I show kids the importance of giving back to their community,” Smith says. He now boasts hundreds of volunteer lawn care experts through Raising Men. “At first they didn’t like it… but they see the smiles and it shows them a different side of life.“
They didn’t know it when the accepted the challenge, but Smith would present the kids with a new lawn mower upon completing their 50th yard.
He challenged himself again with the task of mowing “50 Yards in 50 States.” In 2017, he drove to all lower 48 states and flew to Alaska and Hawaii. In May, 2018, he started doing it all again, visiting 20 states within three weeks. He’s not just mowing one lawn in each state, either. He often mows up to four per day as he travels. And when he comes across those in need, he stops to hear their story and help out.
And now he finds himself with a different challenge.
In 2017, Smith traveled to all the major urban areas in Tennessee and Alabama, dressed as Santa Claus to deliver gifts to the area’s homeless population. For 2018, the big-hearted lawn mower said he wanted to go even bigger. On Nov. 26, 2018, he began another nationwide tour, to visit each state and meet with at least two people or groups who are homeless and deliver gifts that will make them happy.
He wants to deliver true Christmas cheer. Not content to give and take a photo before moving on, he wants to sit with them, talk, find out how they became homeless, and try to understand what the season means for them.
Rodney Smith covered the lower 48 states in just 22 days. As of Dec. 18, 2018, he was on his way to Alaska to continue his mission.
“Every day is tough when you’re homeless, but it’s terribly difficult this time of year – both physically and mentally,” Smith said. “If I can help make even a few people more comfortable and happy, I want to do it. It may sound crazy, but I believe if we all helped just one person where we live, the results would be astonishing.“
The Army plans to arm its force with more than 500 medium-weight Mobile Protected Firepower combat vehicles engineered to bring heavy fire support, high-speed mobility, and warzone protection for fast-maneuvering infantry.
The service plans to pick two vendors in the next few months to build prototype vehicles as an initial step toward having one vendor start full-rate production in 2025.
“Our plan is to award up to two contracts. Each vendor will build 12 vehicles and the we will down select from two to one. When we go into production, we will build 504 vehicles,” David Dopp, Army Program Manager, Mobile Protected Firepower, told reporters at the Association of the United States Army Annual Symposium.
Current Abrams tanks, while armed with 120mm cannons and fortified by heavy armor, are challenged to support infantry in some scenarios due to weight and mobility constraints — such as deploying rapidly by air or crossing bridges in a heavy firefight.
Senior Army leaders say that Infantry Brigade Combat Teams (IBCTs), expected to operate in a more expansive battlespace, will require deployable, fast-moving close-to-contact direct fire support. Service and industry developers say the MPF is being engineered with a medium-class, yet strong 105mm cannon; this will enable attack units to destroy some enemy tactical and combat vehicles as well as infantry formations and some buildings or support structures.
Also, while likely not able to match the speed of a wheeled Stryker vehicle, a “tracked” MPF can better enable “off-road” combat.
An M1A2 Abrams tank can typically be pushed to speeds just above 40mph — yet wheeled Strykers, Humvees and other combat vehicles can easily travel faster than 60mph. Therefore, engineering a vehicle which does not slow down a time-sensitive infantry assault is of paramount importance to MPF developers.
“MPF has to keep up with infantry. We did a lot of tracked and wheeled vehicle studies, and that is what led us to identify it as a tracked vehicle,” Dopp said.
The Army has a near-term and longer-range plan for the vehicle, which Dopp said still needs to integrate the best available Active Protection Systems. Service leaders
“We have a two pronged approach. We are trying to develop systems for the next fight and the fight after next with Next-Gen Combat Vehicle. At the same time, we want to modernize our current fleet to fight any war until we get there,” Maj. Gen. Brian Cummings, Program Executive Officer, Ground Combat Systems, told Warrior Maven in an interview.
Also, rapid deployability is of particular significance in areas such as Europe, where Russian forces, for instance, might be in closer proximity to US or NATO forces.
Tactically speaking, given that IBCTs are likely to face drones armed with precision weapons, armored vehicle columns advancing with long-range targeting technology and artillery, infantry on-the-move needs to have firepower and sensors sufficient to outmatch an advanced enemy.
On mobile protected firepower the Army said it wanted a 105 they were really interested in having alot of firepower down range for those light skinned medium kinds of tactical vehicles.
General Dynamics Land Systems Griffin I MPF Demonstrator.
General Dynamics Land Systems, is one of several industry offerings for the Army to consider. GDLS weapons developers tell Warrior Maven their offering is an evolution of its MPF Griffin I demonstrator vehicle unveiled several years ago.
“We did it with Griffin 1 for Mobile Protected Firepower it was a powerful tool for us to go back and redesign what we thought the Army really wanted,” Michael Peck, GDLS Director of Business Development, told Warrior Maven in an interview.
Other industry bidders include BAE Systems and SAIC. BAE’s offering is based upon improvements to the Army’s M8 Armored Gun System.
“Our infantry fights in close terrain, urban areas and remote locations, so a smaller lightweight vehicle that still provides superior protection was essential to the design of our MPF offering,” Jim Miller, director of Business Development at BAE Systems Combat Vehicles business, said in a company written statement.
For its vehicle, SAIC has formed an industry partnership; its offering includes an ST Kinetics armored vehicle chassis and a CMI Defense turret, SAIC data says.
The Army’s new lightweight MPF armored vehicle is expected to change land war by outmatching Russian equivalents and bringing a new dimension to advancing infantry as it maneuvers toward enemy attack.
Long-range precision fire, coordinated air-ground assault, mechanized force-on-force armored vehicle attacks and drone threats are all changing so quickly that maneuvering US Army infantry now needs improved firepower to advance on major adversaries in war, Army leaders explain.
Smith did not elaborate on any precise weight, but did stress that the effort intends to find the optimal blend of lethality, mobility and survivability. Senior Army leaders, however, ,do say that the new MPF will be more survivable and superior than its Russian equivalent.
The Russian 2S25 Sprut-SD air transportable light tank, according to Russian news reports, weighs roughly 20 tons and fires a 125mm smoothbore gun. It is designed to attack tanks and support amphibious, air or ground operations. The vehicle has been in service since 2005. US Army weapons developers have said their MPF will likely be heavier to ensure a higher level of protection for US soldiers.
When asked if the MPF deployment plans will mirror Army plans to send Strykers to Europe as a deterrent against Russia, Dopp did not rule out the possibility.
“MPF will go to support IBCTs….whatever they encounter,” Dopp said.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
Master Sergeant George Hand US Army (ret) was a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. He is a now a master photographer, cartoonist and storyteller.
My Delta Selection class gifted the Unit with ten U.S. Army Rangers. K2 was one of the ten. He spoke very little, but his Ranger brothers spoke for him:
“Yeah, well, there’s strong and then there’s K2 strong,” was a catchphrase among the men. I guess so… or, I mean I just didn’t get it. He was medium in every way as I saw it; medium build, personality, intelligence, spirit… I just didn’t see where the super strength part came into play.
Perhaps I would eventually.
In my day, the Unit was a very evenly split down center with 50% of the operators from the Rangers and the other half, including me, from the Green Beret groups. To us, the Rangers were rigid meatheads; to them, we were lazy cheaters. I resented but agreed with the Rangers’ assessment of us Green Beanies — in fact, it is the very reason why I left the groups to seek out Delta.
K2 and I rarely spoke at first. I remember the first time during our Selection and Assessment course. It was the night before our final test of strength and endurance. We were given a chance to sleep for almost three hours.
Twenty men hit the ground in their bags to saw logs. Another man from the groups and I sat and chatted up a host of disparate nonsense.
K2 sat up looking like a mummy in his bag, unzipped, and revealed a disenchanted expression:
“You guys mind shutting the phuq up? We’re trying to sleep here.”
He zipped and lay back down.
Army Green Berets are respected for their flexibility, broad reach, and extraordinary
ability to improvise.
“That’s the first thing he’s said to me this whole month!” I whispered to my bro. “Same here!” my bud whispered back… ah, but we whispered! You see, us lazy cheaters still caught on to the fact that we were asses for talking while the men tried to sleep, and we both felt a distinct aura coming from the man whose strength wrought an aphoristic statement from his brethren: the night is as long as K2 is strong.
We graduated and moved on to the next training phase in Delta, the advanced skill training course, one that would last for some six months. The heavy lift subject for us was Close Quarters Combat (CQB), a subject for which Delta has no known peer. It’s a subject that I claim total immersion for myself. I ran through CQB scenarios in my mind even as I walked to the restroom at Taco Bell; I didn’t just enter the restroom, I cleared it first.
Countless days and the thousands of bullets whizzing by inches from everyman rendered a couple of holes through pant legs. That was cringeworthy… but so far nobody was getting hit. That is, up until the day K2 got hit squarely in the leg from a 9 x 19mm round from a Heckler and Koch MP5 submachine gun. The stray round had rabbited along a wall and punched through K2’s leg.
9x19mm Heckler and Koch MP5 submachine gun.
“I’m hit,” he stated as flatly as he stated his name the first day of training.
K2 was hit with a flyer shot that missed its target. It was a good thing it happened in training, as a “thrown round” once assigned to a Sabre Squadron could get a man getting reassigned from the Unit. K2 looked instantly worried, not about his injury… rather his ability to remain with the class.
We returned to training K2-less, as he was taken to the compound clinic for treatment in-house. To take him to the main post hospital would raise unnecessary attention. His wound was a through-and-through one; no bone was broken, though the bullet did spank a long bone good as it passed.
Word was that K2 would remain in training for as long as he felt he could continue. That was great news — except for the bad news, which was we had a ten mile run scheduled for that Friday. It would not be possible for K2 to finish that. The collective question from the class was couldn’t K2 skip, or at least defer that run?
The answer was he had to complete all events with the class.
Bullet wound as seen from the compound clinic.
(Courtesy of MSG Carlos Sanchez)
Friday was a gloomy morning where we collected to start the run.
“How’s it going, K2?” I asked.
“Not so good, Geo… those twinkies and raisin vinegar I had for breakfast this morning are really talking to me,” the K2 responded. I laughed and slapped him on the back.
We ran, and K2 ran. He ran in the middle of the pack with his head up; he had an almost-indiscernible limp. We whispered back and forth that K2 looked great and how great it was that he looked so great…
At perhaps the six mile mark, K2 slipped to the back of the pack slowly. His head was bowed low and he was no longer paying attention to his surroundings. He ran the next couple of miles in an intermittent skip, as if he were trying to hop on his good leg. We stressed for him.
Eight miles in, K2 fell back behind the pack. Falling back is not falling out, we postured; he’s still in the run. Two men fell back to run with K2 to encourage or even pull him along.
“Get back up in formation!” warned the cadre. That was certainly the end of it, as nobody dared to disobey ANYTHING at this point long into training. The two men stayed back with K2. Another man fell back and then I stuttered my step to join the pull for K2.
“If you don’t finish with the formation you will not pass the event!” the cadre cautioned.
K2’s shoe was soaked in blood from where his wound had begun to seep. It made a wet splatting noise with each step. K2 regarded our staying back with him with pain and disbelief… and more pain still. He couldn’t run any faster; he just couldn’t do it, but we weren’t going to leave him.
And then a thing happened.
Ahead of us, the Delta cadre sergeant looped his formation back, back around and brought it up behind the K2 clan at a reduced speed. We, the mighty, ran with our heads up over the finish line. The sergeant disappeared.
In the mingling sea of back-pats and handshakes, K2 grabbed a shake from me, thanking me for what I had done. I “confessed” to him that I was lazy and a cheat and used him as an excuse to fall back and take a gravely-needed rest… a thing that made him grin a powerful K2 grin.
“Good luck in training today, Geo,” K2 bid me as we parted.
“RGR, K2… break a leg!”
K2’s run diet: vinegar and twinkies.
George Hand is a retired Master Sergeant from the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, and the Seventh Special Forces Groups (Airborne). The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own.
The Battle of Okinawa, known as Operation Iceberg by the Allies, eventually consisted of 306,000 service members assaulting fierce defenses manned by 130,000 Japanese troops and an unknown number of local civilians, including children, drafted into the defenses.
The island was critical for the planned invasion of Japan, but the losses were enormous.
Here are 33 photos that give a look inside of one of America’s most costly battles of World War II:
1. For days before the invasion, Navy ships bombarded the island with naval artillery and rockets. This photo was taken five days before the amphibious assault.
2. A Navy Corsair fires a salvo of rockets during Operation Iceberg, the Allied effort to capture Okinawa, the largest of the Ryukyu Islands.
3. The USS Idaho shells the island of Okinawa on April 1, 1945.
4. Marines land on the beachhead already secured on the island. These infantrymen will continue pressing the attack against approximately 130,000 defenders.
5. U.S. landing ships sit beached and burning on May 4 near the mouth of the Bishi River after a Japanese air attack.
6. Famed war correspondent Ernie Pyle speaks with U.S. Marines a short time before his death on the island.
7. A long exposure photograph shows the crisscrossing lines of Marine anti-aircraft fire over the U.S. airfield established on Okinawa.
8. A May 11, 1945, morning artillery barrage kicks off an all-out offensive.
9. Japanese rockets rain down on and near U.S. positions during heavy fighting on Okinawa.
10. The infamous battleship Yamato, sent to Okinawa to attempt to beach itself and act as a shore battery until destroyed, is sank at sea on April 7 before it can reach the island.
11. Army Lt. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr., at right, surveys fighting just a few hours before Japanese artillery killed him.
12. A Sherman tank drives past a burning home. The structure was set on fire to prevent its use by snipers.
13. Marines attempt to extinguish the flames on an overturned Sherman tank. The ammo later exploded before the Army crew could be rescued.
14. Engineers construct a causeway from the island to the sea to allow supplies to be trucked from ships to shore.
15. American service members move supplies by horse in areas where the mud was impassable for vehicles.
16. Okinawan civilians hired to carry supplies line up to receive their loads.
17. A flamethrowing tank attacks Hill 60 during the Marine assault on the mound.
18. A Japanese plane goes down in flames over the ocean.
19. The HMS Formidable of the Royal Navy burns after a May 4 Kamikaze attack. Eight crew members were lost and 55 injured, but the Formidable survived the war.
20. Marine Corps infantrymen ride a tank to the town of Ghuta on April 1 to occupy it before Japanese defenders can.
21. A Marine sprints across the “Valley of Death,” a draw covered by Japanese machine guns that caused 125 casualties in eight hours.
22. Marines explode dynamite charges to destroy a Japanese cave on the island.
23. The USS Bunker Hill burns after two Kamikaze strikes in less than a minute. At least 346 sailors were killed and 43 went missing.
24. The Bunker Hill survived and returned to the U.S. for repairs. It served as a troop transport after the war before it was sent to the fleet reserve.
25. Wounded sailors are moved from the Bunker Hill to the USS Wilkes Barre.
26. Army soldiers move forward during the 82-day battle.
27. A private cuts a sergeant’s hair in the Japanese city of Shuri on the island. A medieval castle in the city survived the battle.
28. Marines rest on the side of a hill as Japanese fire prevents their further advance.
29. A tank crewmember is relocated after suffering injuries.
30. Wounded troops await transport to a ship hospital.
31. Marine Lt. Col. R.P. Ross, Jr. places an American flag on Shuri castle on May 29, 1945. Ross was under sniper fire at the time.
32. The American flag is raised over the island June 22 in a ceremony marking the end of organized Japanese resistance.
33. A U.S. servicemember visits an American cemetery. The U.S. suffered over 12,000 killed and 50,000 wounded during the battle. Japan suffered over 150,000 soldiers and civilians killed or committed suicide.
The US-led coalition said July 12 that an Amnesty International report accusing its forces of violating international law during the fight against the Islamic State group in Mosul is “irresponsible.”
The report released July 11 said Iraqi civilians were subjected to “relentless and unlawful attacks” by the coalition and Iraqi forces during the grueling nine-month battle to drive IS from Iraq’s second largest city. It said IS militants had carried out mass killings and forcibly displaced civilians to use them as human shields.
“War is not pleasant, and pretending that it should be is foolish and places the lives of civilians and soldiers alike at risk,” Col. Joe Scrocca, a coalition spokesman, told The Associated Press.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared “total victory” in Mosul on July 10, but clashes along the edge of the Old City continued into the following evening.
In all, 5,805 civilians may have been killed in the fight for western Mosul by coalition attacks, Amnesty said, citing data from Airwars, an organization monitoring civilian deaths caused by the anti-IS coalition in Iraq and Syria.
Amnesty said the fighting generated a “civilian catastrophe.”
IS swept into Mosul in the summer of 2014 when it conquered much of northern and western Iraq. The extremists declared a caliphate and governed according to a harsh and violent interpretation of Islamic law. The militants rounded up their opponents and killed them en masse, often documenting the massacres with video and photos.
US-backed Iraqi forces have gradually retaken much of that territory, but at a staggering cost, with hundreds of thousands of people displaced and entire neighborhoods reduced to rubble.
Officials released new guidance May 15, 2018, on the Army’s Selective Retention Bonus Program, which includes first-ever bonuses up to $52,000 for those who reenlist for critical Security Forces Assistance Brigade positions.
SRB “kickers” that incentivize Soldiers who reenlist early will also go into effect at the end of May 2018. Details are included in Military Personnel Message 18-156.
Kickers will now only be available to those eligible to reenlist on a long-term basis between 10 and 15 months from their contractual ETS date. A $3,000 kicker will be for a five-year reenlistment, and there is a $6,000 kicker for a six-year enlistment.
Soldiers who reenlist under the NCO Career Status Program must also meet the term length requirement for the corresponding kicker amount.
Soldiers with less than 10 months from their ETS date can still take advantage of a kicker before May 31, 2018, when the new policy rolls out.
“I highly encourage Soldiers and command teams to seek out their servicing Career Counselor to understand how this bonus message change will affect their unit and their Soldiers,” said Sgt. Maj. Mark A. Thompson, the Senior Army Career Counselor.
Some Soldiers stationed at Fort Bliss will also be eligible for an SRB bonus to remain at the Texas installation. The stabilization bonus will be the Army’s first one in years for a specific location, Thompson said.
Based off critical shortages in the military occupational specialties of 11B, 13B and 88M at Fort Bliss, those Soldiers could receive a bonus.
“The Army has a cost savings for not having to move somebody if they reenlist for stabilization,” he said. “So we’re passing on that cost savings to the bonus even if it’s not the same pot of money, but that’s the mentality behind it.”
The message also includes bonuses for Soldiers who possess critical skills. For example, a 12R interior electrician who has a parachutist badge may qualify for more money to reenlist.
(Photo by Pfc. Melissa Parrish)
“If they are not Airborne qualified in an Airborne position, or reenlisting to move into an Airborne position they don’t get a bonus,” Thompson said. “If they are, they do.”
Bonuses are also on the way for Soldiers interested in joining SFAB units. These will be on top of the $5,000 assignment incentive pay already in place for those who volunteer to go into the Army’s new train, advise and assist units.
“The bonus is for those very critical MOSs that the Army needs,” the sergeant major said.
Those MOSs include 25L/S, 92Y, 35F/M/N/P as well as positions in the 11, 12 and 13 career field series.
Many of those jobs will be able to receive Tier 8 bonuses. A staff sergeant or sergeant first class eligible for a Tier 8 bonus, for instance, could earn $46,000 to reenlist for five or more years. A potential $6,000 kicker would then leave that Soldier with $52,000 in hand, on top of the $5,000 assignment incentive pay.
The money spent on bonuses helps the Army get a return on its investment for the time spent on molding well-trained Soldiers, Thompson said.
“If they are in an MOS that the Army deems as critical, we want them to stay in longer,” he said.
After receiving information that war was near, German Vice-Adm. Maximilian Von Spee sent a message to his Imperial navy colleagues in the Pacific to rally up for a fight.
Spee was aboard the SMS Scharnhorst docked near the Pacific island of Pohnpei when he sent his message to Tsingtao, at the time the administrative center for the German Pacific colonies.
The battle damaged German ship SMS Cormoran geared up and was ordered to disrupt enemy supply lines. But after months at sea and under constant pressure by the Japanese, the Cormoran began running low on coal and needed a safe place to dock.
The Cormoran reached Apra Harbor in Guam — which had recently become a U.S. protectorate — on Dec. 14, 1914, hoping for some aid by the neutral Americans there.
Interestingly, until the 1950s, Guam’s governor’s office was held by American naval officers.
Guam’s Gov. William Maxwell initially refused to help the Germans because America wanted to stay neutral in the war, but since the Cormoran nearly was out of fuel, the ship wouldn’t leave.
The two sides finally came to an agreement and the German could stay but must live under restriction. The Cormoran’s crew had to stow their weapons on the ship, and the firing pins of the 10.5 cm guns had to be removed from service.
Letting the Germans live on the island was extremely risky as the small amount of Americans were now outnumbered.
But during the time the Germans inhabited the small island alongside their soon to be American enemy, there weren’t any known reports of violent incidents — but that peace wouldn’t last forever.
In 1916, Guam’s new governor received a message that the US just entered the war. A small group of Marines assembled and demanded the German’s surrender right away. When the Germans refused, the Marines fired two warning shots across the Cormoran’s bow.
The warning shots were fired just two hours after the US entered the Great War, thus making history as the first shots fired by Americans at their new German enemy happened in Guam.
Check out The Great War‘s video to learn about this incredible story.
At least 18 members of the American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces were killed in a U.S.-led coalition air strike that mistakenly targeted them in Syria’s Raqqa province.
In a statement released on April 13, U.S. Central Command said 18 SDF fighters died in the air raid south of the city of Tabqa on April 11. The attack was believed to be hitting members of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant ( ISIL, also known as ISIS).
SDF was founded in Syria’s mainly Kurdish northeastern region in October 2015, and is made up of at least 15 armed factions, mostly fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units and the Free Syrian Army.
“The strike was requested by the partnered forces, who had identified the target location as an ISIS fighting position. The target location was actually a forward Syrian Democratic Forces fighting position,” CENTCOM said.
“The coalition’s deepest condolences go out to the members of the SDF and their families. The coalition is in close contact with our SDF partners who have expressed a strong desire to remain focused on the fight against ISIS despite this tragic incident.”
The coalition added it is assessing the cause of the friendly fire attack.
The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on April 13 at least 25 other SDF fighters were killed in clashes against ISIL in the suburbs of Tabqa.
The incident occurred as U.S.-backed Syrian forces prepare to retake Raqqa, ISIL’s stronghold in Syria, as they move in from the city’s north.
SDF captured the strategic Tabqa airbase from ISIL in March. The airbase is 28 miles west of Raqqa,
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent decision to withdraw from the Visiting Forces Agreement comes after repeated threats to pull out, but his decision to ditch the pact now could undermine the ability of the US and its partners to counter China’s ambitions in the region.
The VFA, signed in 1998, gives legal status to US troops in the Philippines. Duterte, a longtime critic of ties to the US, gave formal notice of withdrawal to the US this month, triggering a 180-day period before the exit is finalized.
Duterte believes the Philippines should be more militarily independent, a spokesman said, quoting the president as saying, “It’s about time we rely on ourselves.”
The decision is “chiefly the product of Duterte’s deep, decades-long anti-US sentiment,” Prashanth Parameswaran, a senior editor at The Diplomat and a Southeast Asian security analyst, said in an email to Business Insider.
Since taking office in 2016, Duterte has “found just about any excuse he can to make threats against the alliance, be it canceling exercises or separating from the United States,” Parameswaran added.
Duterte has spurned the US since he took office and bristled at US criticism of his human-rights record. Both the US and Duterte have high approval ratings among the Philippine public, however, while a large majority there have little or no confidence in China.
“It’s a competition. China’s competing,” Chad Sbragia, deputy assistant secretary of defense for China, said Thursday at a US-China Economic and Security Review Commission hearing on Capitol Hill.
“There’s very clear recognition that China is putting pressure and using every tool within its disposal to try to draw those countries” away from cooperation with the US, Sbragia said. “That’s a condition we’re taking head on. That’s very serious for us.”
“I don’t doubt China will relish the deterioration in the US-Philippine alliance,” Parameswaran said. “Beijing has long considered US alliances a relic of the Cold War and a manifestation of US efforts to contain its regional ambitions.”
The US and the Philippines, which the US ruled as a colony during the first half of the 20th century, have a decades-long diplomatic and military relationship.
That relationship and the benefit it offers the Philippine security establishment, as well as US popularity in the Philippines, are among the reasons why Manila may not follow through on withdrawal.
Philippine officials have also hinted that the notice of withdrawal is a starting point for negotiations over the VFA, which some have said are needed “to address matters of sovereignty.” Philippine politicians have also questioned Duterte’s authority to exit the agreement.
But the US shouldn’t assume that Duterte is bluffing or looking for leverage, said Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“He has been anti-American his entire adult life and has been consistently saying he wants to sever the alliance and bring the Philippines into a strategic alignment with China,” Poling said in an email.
“That said, six months is a long time in politics. If Duterte walks this back, it won’t be because a plan to renegotiate with Washington plays out,” Poling added, “it’ll be because of internal pressure, possibly in response to whatever natural disaster, Chinese act of aggression, or terrorist act in Mindanao happens between now and then.”
The VFA allows US troops to operate on Philippine territory, including US Navy crews and Marine Corps units.
Ending the agreement would jeopardize the roughly 300 joint exercises the two countries conduct every year, complicating everything from port calls to the Mutual Defense Treaty, which commits the US to the Philippines’ defense in case of an attack. It would also be harder for the US to provide aid in response to natural disasters.
“It’s basically [changing] the protocols of how you would work together if it actually goes through,” Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said this month.
Many naval activities will be unaffected because they can be carried out without entering Philippine territory, Poling said.
“But large-scale land and air exercises will be impossible, as they were from 1990-1999,” Poling added, referring to a period when Manila’s failure to renew a mutual basing agreement led to the withdrawal of US forces — including the closure of Naval Base Subic Bay, the largest US base in the Pacific.
Gen. Felimon Santos Jr., Philippine armed forces chief of staff, has said about half of all joint military engagements would be affected by the end the VFA, Poling noted.
Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has said joint exercises with the US would continue during the 180-day period, including the multinational Balikatan exercise that has taken place in the Philippines every spring for 35 years.
Santos Jr. has downplayed the effects of withdrawal, saying it will make the Philippines “self-reliant” and that Manila would expand bilateral exercises it has with other in the region, including Australia and Japan.
But there are legal and logistical limits on the military activities those countries can undertake with the Philippines, which has one of the weakest militaries in the Asia-Pacific.
The erosion of the US-Philippine military relationship raises the prospect of Beijing making moves like those it made in the South China Sea in the 1990s, when it occupied Mischief Reef — first with small wooden structures and then, a few months before the VFA went into force in 1999, with fort-like structures made of concrete.
In the years since, China has expanded and reinforced its presence in the South China Sea, building military structures on man-made islands there. Mischief Reef is now Beijing’s biggest outpost in the disputed waters.
“Beijing will work to make sure that a US loss is China’s gain” and build on inroads made with Duterte, Parameswaran said.
“These gains may include those that are not in the security realm, such as tightening economic ties or helping Duterte deliver on some of his domestic political goals,” Parameswaran added. “But they will nonetheless be consequential, because the broader objective is to move Duterte’s Philippines closer to China and away from the United States.”
Air Force pilots of the 1980s-era stealthy B-2 Spirit bomber plan to arm the B-2 with new weapons and upgrade the aircraft to fly the aircraft on attack missions against enemy air defenses well into the 2050s, service officials said.
In coming years, the B-2 will be armed with with next generation digital nuclear weapons such as the B-61 Mod 12 with a tail kit and an Long Range Stand-Off weapon or, LRSO, an air-launched, guided nuclear cruise missile, service officials said.
The B-61 Mod 12 is an ongoing modernization program which seeks to integrate the B-61 Mods 3, 4, 7 and 10 into a single variant with a guided tail kit. The B-61 Mod 12 is being engineered to rely on an inertial measurement unit for navigation.
In addition to the LRSO, B83 and B-61 Mod 12, the B-2 will also carry the B-61 Mod 11, a nuclear weapon designed with penetration capabilities, Air Force officials said.
The LRSO will replace the Air Launched Cruise Missile, or ALCM, which right now is only carried by the B-52 bomber, officials said.
Alongside its nuclear arsenal, the B-2 will carry a wide range of conventional weapons to include precision-guided 2,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or JDAMs, 5,000-pound JDAMs, Joint Standoff Weapons, Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles and GBU 28 5,000-pound bunker buster weapons, among others.
The platform is also preparing to integrate a long-range conventional air-to-ground standoff weapon called the JASSM-ER, for Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, Extended Range.
The B-2 can also carry a 30,000-pound conventional bomb known as the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, Maj. Kent Mickelson, director of operations for 394th combat training squadron, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
“This is a GBU-28 (bunker-buster weapon) on steroids. It will go in and take out deeply buried targets,” he said.
“It is a dream to fly. It is so smooth,” Mickelson added.
In a special interview designed to offer a rare look into the technologies and elements of the B-2, Mickelson explained that the platform has held up and remained very effective – given that it was designed and built during the 80s.
Alongside his current role, Mickelson is also a B-2 pilot with experience flying missions and planning stealth bomber attacks, such as the bombing missions over Libya in 2011.
“It is a testament to the engineering team that here we are in 2016 and the B-2 is still able to do its job just as well today as it did in the 80s. While we look forward to modernization, nobody should come away with the thought that the B-2 isn’t ready to deal with the threats that are out there today,” he said. “It is really an awesome bombing platform and it is just a marvel of technology.”
The B-2 is engineered with avionics, radar and communications technologies designed to identify and destroy enemy targets from high altitudes above hostile territory.
“It is a digital airplane. We are presented with what is commonly referred to as glass cockpit,” Mickelson said.
The glass cockpit includes various digital displays, including one showing Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) information which paints a rendering or picture of the ground below.
“SAR provides the pilots with a realistic display of the ground that they are able to use for targeting,” Mickelson said.
The B-2 has a two-man crew with only two ejection seats. Also, the crew is trained to deal with the rigors of a 40-hour mission.
“The B-2 represents a huge leap in technology from our legacy platforms such as the B-52 and the B-1 bomber. This involved taking the best of what is available and giving it to the aircrew,” Mickelson said.
The Air Force currently operates 20 B-2 bombers, with the majority of them based at Whiteman AFB in Missouri. The B-2 can reach altitudes of 50,000 feet and carry 40,000 pounds of payload, including both conventional and nuclear weapons.
The aircraft, which entered service in the 1980s, has flown missions over Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. In fact, given its ability to fly as many as 6,000 nautical miles without need to refuel, the B-2 flew from Missouri all the way to an island off the coast of India called Diego Garcia – before launching bombing missions over Afghanistan.
“Taking off from Whiteman and landing at Diego Garcia was one of the longest combat sorties the B-2 has ever taken. The bomber was very successful in Afghanistan and very successful in the early parts of the wars in Iraq and Libya,” Michelson added.
The B-2 crew uses what’s called a “long-duration kit,” which includes items such as a cot for sleeping and other essentials deemed necessary for a long flight, Mickelson explained.
As a stealth bomber engineered during the height of the Cold War, the B-2 was designed to elude Soviet air defenses and strike enemy targets – without an enemy ever knowing the aircraft was even there. This stealthy technological ability is referred to by industry experts as being able to evade air defenses using both high-frequency “engagement” radar, which can target planes, and lower frequency “surveillance” radar which can let enemies know an aircraft is in the vicinity.
The B-2 is described as a platform which can operate undetected over enemy territory and, in effect, “knock down the door” by destroying enemy radar and air defenses so that other aircraft can fly through a radar “corridor” and attack.
However, enemy air defenses are increasingly becoming technologically advanced and more sophisticated; some emerging systems are even able to detect some stealth aircraft using systems which are better networked, using faster computer processors and able to better detect aircraft at longer distances on a greater number of frequencies.
The Air Force plans to operate the B-2 alongside its new, now-in-development bomber called the Long Range Strike – Bomber, or LRS-B. well into the 2050s.
B-2 Modernization Upgrades – Taking the Stealth Bomber Into the 2050s
As a result, the B-2 fleet is undergoing a series of modernization upgrades in order to ensure the aircraft can remain at its ultimate effective capability for the next several decades, Mickelson said.
One of the key upgrades is called the Defensive Management System, a technology which helps inform the B-2 crew about the location of enemy air defenses. Therefore, if there are emerging air defenses equipped with the technology sufficient to detect the B-2, the aircraft will have occasion to maneuver in such a way as to stay outside of their range.
The Defensive Management System is slated to be operational by the mid-2020s, Mickelson added.
“The whole key is to give us better situational awareness so we are able to make sound decisions in the cockpit about where we need to put the aircraft,” he added.
The B-2 is also moving to an extremely high frequency satellite in order to better facilitate communications with command and control. For instance, the communications upgrade could make it possible for the aircraft crew to receive bombing instructions from the President in the unlikely event of a nuclear detonation.
“This program will help with nuclear and conventional communications. It will provide a very big increase in the bandwidth available for the B-2, which means an increased speed of data flow. We are excited about this upgrade,” Mickelson explained.
The stealth aircraft uses a commonly deployed data link called LINK-16 and both UHF and VHF data links, as well. Michelson explained that the B-2 is capable of communicating with ground control stations, command and control headquarters and is also able to receive information from other manned and unmanned assets such as drones.
Information from nearby drones, however, would at the moment most likely need to first transmit through a ground control station. That being said, emerging technology may soon allow platforms like the B-2 to receive real-time video feeds from nearby drones in the air.
The B-2 is also being engineered with a new flight management control processor designed to expand and modernize the on-board computers and enable the addition of new software.
This involves the re-hosting of the flight management control processors, the brains of the airplane, onto much more capable integrated processing units. This results in the laying-in of some new fiber optic cable as opposed to the mix bus cable being used right now – because the B-2’s computers from the 80s are getting maxed out and overloaded with data, Air Force officials told Scout Warrior.
The new processor increases the performance of the avionics and on-board computer systems by about 1,000-times, he added. The overall flight management control processor effort, slated to field by 2015 and 2016, is expected to cost $542 million.
It seems so urgent. You receive a call saying your deployed or traveling military member has lost their ID, needs cash, and has asked this trustworthy person to contact you. While you may recognize this to be along the lines of the Nigerian-prince-asking-for-money email, some other scams that hurt military families may be more difficult to spot.
Military members are often young and financially inexperienced, have reliable income, and frequently move around, a combination which may make them and their families seem like easy targets to scammers, especially since it might take them some time to notice an irregularity in a bill or credit report.
Can you spot a would-be scammer? Here are a few to watch out for, as you protect your loved ones, your personal information, and your wallet.
(Photo by Lance Cpl. Jacob Barber)
1. Scams Preying on Deployed Families
What it is: Scammers contact the spouse or parents of a deployed service member and pretend to be someone in authority, claiming the military member has been injured/lost their wallet/is held up somewhere traveling. Using the fear that families already feel about their loved one or lack of knowledge about military processes, the scammer hopes family members will give up personal information to “prove who they are” or even cash.
Why it matters/what to do: The military won’t ever contact family members via phone or email asking for personal information or money. Military members won’t need cash from their families to travel to or return from deployment. Don’t let fear compel you to share your personal information with strangers.
2. Rental Scams
What it is: You’re due to PCS in a few months and have decided to start looking at homes online. You come across what seems like the perfect house for your family–a rental decorated with that farmhouse style that would meet Joanna Gaines’ approval, with four bedrooms, amazing upgrades, new appliances, and in the school district you’ve been hoping for…all with amazingly low rent! The kicker? The landlord pushes for a security deposit or money to hold the property before you or a representative can even view the home in person, because “it’s going to go fast.” And you need to send that money, like yesterday. “Hurry!” they press, “I’ve already got someone else looking at it!”
Why it matters/what to do: This sense of false urgency should be a red flag. While it could be legit, it’s possible the person listing the property simply copied it from another listing, isn’t the actual property manager, and is using the compressed military move timetable to try to make a quick, dishonest buck.
Stick with reputable sites or trusted referrals. Better yet, wait until you arrive to tour the home yourself. If that’s impossible, see if you have a friend in the area who can Facetime you while touring the home or hire a MILLIE Scout to do the legwork (the company hires military spouses just for this purpose!). Get more details about online rental scams.
3. Tickets or High-Priced Items at a “Too Good to Be True” Discount
What it is: Crooks hide behind all the goodwill and discounts offered to military by many businesses around Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Putting ads on Craiglist or other sites, sellers offer “great deals” for active duty on everything from tickets for professional sporting events to home goods. The seller, of course, requires money to be wired first to hold the item at this phenomenal price (seeing a pattern here?) and then when the item is to be picked up or transferred, disappears.
Why it matters/what to do: If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Stick to well-known business and sites when you see military or veteran deals around holidays, especially for big ticket items like cars or in demand concert or event tickets.
(Photo by Jeff Drongowski)
4. Scams Targeting Extended Family
What it is: Along the lines of the scams targeting deployed family members, this one preys on elderly relatives of service members. One scammer contacted a soldier’s 84-year-old grandmother and asked her to wire money in order to assist him, with the caller claiming that her grandson had lost his ID card on his way home from Iraq and couldn’t get home without her help. Thankfully, she realized the request was not legitimate.
Why it matters/what to do: The military doesn’t require funds from family members to transfer wounded back home (another scam) or help with getting ID cards or other belongings. There’s a system in place that would not involve contacting the member’s spouse, parents, grandparents, or anyone else for money. Educated your elderly relatives about how the military handles emergencies and advise them to call authorities if they are contacted by a scammer or suspicious person.
What it is: Recently, I noticed a Facebook friend request from a high ranking service member I’m friends with, who I know is not on social media. I let him know and quickly deleted and reported it, since the photo showed him in uniform in his official photo. His comment about the situation was sad, “It happens all the time.”
Help protect your identity and those of people you know. Monitor your own social media for obvious duplicate accounts and let friends know if you see a duplicate account of theirs. Use identity theft protection and credit monitoring from reputable providers such as Lifelock or Experian to get real-time notifications of data breaches.
A New Meaning to the Phrase “Trust but Verify”
A couple of good rules to follow: never send money to an unknown entity, no matter how urgently they appeal, and never share your personal information over the phone or by email, even to an “official” sounding person. Family members, double check with the military member’s unit if you receive an urgent call regarding their situation.
As long as there have been phones and the internet, there have been people bent on using it for harm. While it can seem like a losing battle, staying vigilant about your personal information and trusting your gut will go a long way towards protecting yourself. Changing passwords frequently, monitoring your accounts regularly, putting a security freeze on your credit reports to prevent unwanted access to your information, and even not listing your birthdate on social media are some simple ways to thwart the scammers. Deployed members can put an ‘active duty alert’ on their accounts, which will notify businesses to take extra steps before offering credit in their name. For more ideas to protect yourself, see Consumer Report’s “Protect Your Identity.”
If you’ve been the victim of a scam or need to report suspicious activity, get more information from:
In this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast, the gang comments on some of the biggest challenges the U.S. military will face in the coming days.
Because external challenges are easy for a fighting force like ours, the internal struggles are the ones we really want to talk about. These affect not only the troops themselves, but potentially their families, friends, and morale as well.
1. New physical standards for all
The recent years have been huge for the military community in terms of change. The most important changes include who can join, who can serve openly, and how they can all serve. Even the service chiefs are trying to understand how this will affect everyone.
But at a junior-enlisted or NCO level, we know we’re just going to deal with it, no matter what. Women are going to be in combat, along with transgender troops serving openly. What will the new fitness standards look like? Should there be a universal standard?
2. Mattis is cleaning house
The Secretary of Defense, universally beloved by all service members of all branches, wants the military to become a more lethal, more deployable force. To this end, he wants to rid the branches of anyone who is not deployable for longer than 12 months.
Defense Secretary James N. Mattis hosts with Montenegro’s Minister of Defence, Predrag Bošković, a meeting at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Feb. 27, 2018. (DoD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)
Those numbers are significant, too. Experts estimate up to 14 percent of the entire military is non-deployable in this way, which translates to roughly 286,000 service members. It’s sure to make any military family sweat.
3. Okinawa’s “labor camp”
The Marine Corps’ correctional custody units want to open a sort of non-judicial punishment camp on the Japanese island of Okinawa. The purpose is to give commanders a place to send redeemable Marine who mess up for the first time in their career.
In the military, we joke (sometimes not so jokingly) about the idea of “turning big rocks into little rocks” when we talk about getting caught committing a crime while in the service. Don’t worry — no one actually commits the crime they’re joking about. But what isn’t a joke is hard labor imposed by a military prison sentence. Now, even troops with Article 15 can be forced to turn big rocks into little rocks.
4. A new military pay raise
Yes, the military gets a raise pretty much every year. Is it ever enough? No. Do service members make what they’re worth? Absolutely not. Is Congress even trying? Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. Well, this year they’re getting the biggest bump yet after nine years of waiting. Are they worth more? Of course they are.
5. Marine Corps blues face a real challenge
For years (actually, decades), the Marines’ dress uniform has been the uncontested, drop-dead sexiest uniform in the American armed forces. Now, they face a usurper that really does have a shot at challenging their spot at the top of the rankings.
The Army is reverting to one of its classic uniforms from the bygone World War II-era: the pinks and greens. The decision was met with near-universal jubilation from the Army (it was a golden age for the U.S. Army in nearly every way).
Now, former airman Blake Stilwell demands the Air Force develop its own throwback jersey.