On June 8, 2017, an American pilot scored one of the first American air-to-air kill since the 1999 Kosovo War, shooting down an armed drone being used by the Syrian government. Details of what plane scored the kill and how it was executed were not immediately released.
Previously, a U.S. aircraft reportedly shot down an Iranian surveillance drone in 2009 over Iraq.
The statement also reported that in an incident earlier that day, two “armed technical vehicles” were destroyed after entering a “de-confliction zone” and approaching coalition troops.
“Coalition forces have been located at At Tanf for more than a year. The garrison is a temporary coalition location to train vetted forces to defeat ISIS and will not be vacated until ISIS is defeated,” the allied statement added.
This was not the first incident near the base. A statement released the day before the strike by the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve headquarters reported that pro-Assad forces in Syria had sent troops toward the temporary coalition base at At Tanf that included a tank, artillery, and 60 personnel. After repeated warnings via an emergency communication line were ignored, coalition forces carried out strikes that destroyed two artillery pieces and an anti-aircraft gun, while damaging a tank.
“As long as pro-regime forces are oriented toward Coalition and partnered forces the potential for conflict is escalated,” the statement by the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve said.
Despite the incidents, the release from the headquarters did not seek a fight with the Assad regime or those backing it. However, the statement declared said Syrian army probes “continue to concern us and the Coalition will take appropriate measures to protect our forces.”
Disruptions to Global Positioning System signals have been reported in northern Norway and Finland in November 2018, overlapping with the final days of NATO’s exercise Trident Juncture, a massive military exercise that has drawn Russia’s ire.
A press officer for Widerøe, a Norway-based airline operating in the Nordics, told The Barents Observer at the beginning of November 2018 that pilots reported the loss of GPS while flying into airports in the northern Norwegian region of Finnmark, near the Russian border, though the officer stressed that pilots had alternative systems and there were no safety risks.
Norway’s aviation authority, Avinor, issued a notice to airmen of irregular navigation signals in airspace over eastern Finnmark between Oct. 30 and Nov. 7, 2018, according to The Observer.
The director of Norway’s civil aviation authority told The Observer that organization was aware of disturbances to GPS signals in that region of the country but there is always notice given about planned jamming.
Finnish military personnel in formation at the Älvdalen training grounds in Sweden, Oct. 27, 2018.
“It is difficult to say what the reasons could be, but there are reasons to believe it could be related to military exercise activities outside Norway’s [borders],” the director said.
Aviation authorities in Finland issued similar notices in early November 2018, warning air traffic of disruptions to GPS signals over the northern region of Lapland, which borders Finnmark.
A notice to airmen from Air Navigation Services Finland warned of such issues between midday Nov. 6 and midnight on Nov. 7, 2018.
ANS Finland’s operational director told Finnish news outlet Yle that the information had come from the Finnish Defense Forces but did not identify the source of the interference. “For safety reasons, we issued it for an expansive enough area so that pilots could be prepared not to rely solely on a GPS,” the operational director said.
Canadian army sappers await attack after constructing makeshift barricades near Alvdal in central Norway during Exercise Trident Juncture, Nov. 4, 2018.
(NATO photo by Rob Kunzing)
The cause for the disruptions to GPS signals is not immediately clear, but the reports came during the final days of NATO’s exercise Trident Juncture, which involved some 50,000 troops, tens of thousands of vehicles, and dozens of ships and aircraft operating in Norway, in airspace over the Nordic countries, and in the waters of the Norwegian and Baltic seas.
All 29 NATO members took part, including Norway. Also participating were Sweden and Finland, which are not NATO members but work closely with the alliance. Moscow has in the past warned them against joining NATO.
While NATO stressed that Trident Juncture was strictly a defensive exercise — simulating a response to an attack on an alliance member — Russian officials saw it as hostile, calling the drills “anti-Russia.”
Much of the exercise took place in southern and central Norway, but fighter jets and other military aircraft used airports in northern Norway and Finland. (US Marines stationed in Norway also plan to move closer to that country’s border with Russia.)
Russian armored vehicles participating in Zapad 2017 exercises.
(Russian Ministry of Defense)
GPS disruptions related to military activity have been reported in the Nordics before.
Norwegian intelligence services said in October 2017 that electronic disturbances — including jamming of GPS signals of flights in the northern part of the country — in September 2017 were suspected of coming from Russia while that country was carrying out its Zapad 2017 military exercise.
Reports of similar outages were reported around the same time in western Latvia, a Baltic state that borders Russia.
Electronic warfare appeared to be a major component of Zapad 2017, with the Russian military targeting its own troops to practice their responses to it. “The amount of jamming of their own troops surprised me,” the chief of Estonia’s military intelligence said in November that year.
Norwegian and Latvian officials both said the jamming may not have been directed at their countries specifically. Latvia’s foreign minister said Sweden’s Öland Island, across the Baltic Sea from Latvia, may have been the target.
Ships take part in a photo exercise in the Norwegian Sea as part of NATO’s exercise Trident Juncture, Nov. 7, 2018.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 2nd Class Lyle Wilkie)
At the end of 2017, Norwegian Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen told media that he was not surprised that Russian jamming activity had affected Norway.
“It was a large military exercise by a big neighbor and it disrupted civilian activities including air traffic, shipping, and fishing,” he said, referring to Zapad 2017-related disturbances, adding that Norway was prepared for it.
Similar disruptions were detected in Norway near the Russian border in 2018. Norwegian authorities said the interference was related to Russian military activity in the area and that they had requested Russia take steps to ensure Norwegian territory was not adversely affected.
Russia has invested heavily in electronic-warfare capabilities and is believed to have equipment that can affect GPS over a broad area. Northern Norway and Finland are adjacent to Russia’s Kola Peninsula, which is home to Russia’s Northern Fleet — its submarine-based nuclear forces — and other Russian military installations.
“If your offensive military capabilities rely on GPS, guess what the adversary will try to do?” Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, said in response to the latest reports of GPS interference in Finland.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Marines in Afghanistan who need critical supplies in remote areas won’t have to lug their gear in trucks anymore. Instead, Corps planners have developed a new airdrop system that literally flied the supplies to their exact location.
Take that Amazon.
According to a Marine Corps Systems Command release, the last of 162 Joint Precision Air-drop Systems were delivered to the Marines in April. The system, based on the Firefly from Airborne Systems, is capable of delivering 2,200 pounds of supplies to within roughly 500 feet of an aim point when dropped from about 15.5 miles away.
“An average combat logistics patrol in Afghanistan that’s running behind a route clearance platoon may travel at only five to six miles an hour,” Capt. Keith Rudolf of the Marine Corps Systems Command’s Ground Combat Element Systems said. “Depending on how much supply you have on there, you may have a mile worth of trucks that are slow-moving targets.”
The United States Army also operates the 2,200-pound version of the system and also operates a version of the system capable of delivering five tons of supplies. The Marines have also acquired a version known as JPADS ULW – which can deliver 250 to 700 pounds of supplies.
Both versions of the system enable a cargo plane like the C-130J Hercules or the MV-22 Osprey to drop the pallet from an altitude of 24,500 feet – far outside the range of man-portable surface-to-air missiles, RPGs, heavy machine guns, and small arms.
Marine Corps Systems Command is now shifting from the acquisition of the JPADS to sustainment of the system. This includes planning for upgrades to the system to keep it relevant as the missions evolve.
The Marines are also considering a version that will allow reconnaissance Marines to be parachuted in with their gear.
With every generation of servicemen comes the heroes who stand out, putting the needs of the service before themselves. One of these men was almost lost to history, but thanks to his family and their ability to instill passion into anyone who would listen, Thomas James Eugene “Jimmy” Crotty’s story now teaches new generations of Coast Guardsmen what “Devotion to Duty” really means.
From his childhood in Buffalo, New York, to his time at the Coast Guard Academy, Crotty was a gifted academic, athlete, and later, cadet. At the academy, he played basketball and football and served as football team captain, class president and vice president, and company commander over his four years in New London. Crotty took his drive and intelligence into the fleet. While serving on his first cutter, the USCGC Tampa, he was a part of the famed rescue of passengers from the SS Morro Castle.
He also served on the Bering Sea Patrol, known for testing even the most skilled sailors. Serving on cutters from Seattle to New York to San Diego, Crotty’s most important moves came in 1941. By the end of that year, after training with the U.S. Navy, he would find himself as the Coast Guard’s expert on explosives warfare, mine warfare and demolition.
After mine warfare school, Crotty was attached to the In-Shore Patrol Headquarters, where he would serve with a mine recovery unit for the Navy’s Asiatic Fleet in Manila, Philippines. Less than two months after Crotty’s arrival in Manila, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Three days later, the Japanese would bomb and destroy the majority of the Cavite Navy Yard, headquarters of the Navy in Manila.
After Pearl Harbor, Crotty became the second-in-command on the minesweeper USS Quail. On the Quail, Crotty strategically demolished facilities around the Philippines to keep them from falling into enemy hands, including a U.S. submarine, the USS Sea Lion. The Quail maintained minefields around Manila Bay, as well as shooting down several Japanese aircraft.
During his time on the Quail, Crotty also voluntarily served with the Naval Battalion, alongside Marines and Navy personnel, with the purpose of surrounding the Japanese and forcing their position back to the beaches. In late January, Crotty and the Quail helped coordinate land and sea forces to push out the Japanese hidden in the Jungle and along the rocky and cavernous coastline.
Because of the bombing of Cavite and the encroaching Japanese forces on the island, the Navy moved their headquarters from Cavite to Fort Mills, on Corregidor Island. In April 1942, Crotty transferred to Corregidor where he worked with the Navy’s headquarters staff.
The day that would prove most pivotal in Crotty’s short life was May 5, 1942. The Japanese landed on Corregidor, the last American controlled area in the Philippines. As other forces evacuated, Crotty stayed behind and fought with the Marine Fourth Regiment, First Battalion. An eyewitness said Crotty supervised a howitzer dug-in atop an underground command center on the eastern tip of the island. Only after American forces surrendered the next day did Crotty leave his post. He was captured and transferred to Cabanatuan Prison Camp #1, where he died two months later of diphtheria.
As the youngest of seven children in a close-knit Irish family, Jimmy Crotty was dearly missed. His mother and siblings never forgot the sacrifices Jimmy made, as well as his place in the tight knit family. His siblings passed down his legacy to their children. Even today, the Crotty family has not forgotten the man they call “Uncle Jimmy.”
In a push lead by his great-nephew, Mike Crotty, the family was instrumental in bringing Crotty’s story back to life, which lead to him being posthumously awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, both of which are displayed in the Coast Guard Academy Cadet Memorial Chapel, where the baptismal font is also dedicated to Crotty.
After sharing the story with the U.S. Coast Guard Museum, curator Jennifer Gaudio and the family arranged for their 2014 family reunion to be held at the Coast Guard Academy on the weekend of CGA’s rivalry game with the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. The Coast Guard Academy surprised the family with the dedication of its 2014 football season to Crotty, and their helmets were adorned with a decal of a mine and the number 34, the year Crotty graduated eighty years prior.
Crotty has since been remembered on the Coast Guard Academy’s Wall of Gallantry, which honors alumni for “distinguished acts of heroic service.” The U.S. Coast Guard Museum also installed an exhibit on Crotty’s life and service.
There’s nothing more terrifying than imagining yourself trapped in a burning building, unable to escape … until you imagine being trapped in there with your children.
According to multiple news sources, that’s exactly what happened in Phoenix, Arizona, last week. A mother and her two children were in a third-story apartment when flames presumably rendered the exits inoperable, forcing the woman to the balcony. Bystanders encouraged her to throw her baby from the balcony and when she did, 28-year-old Marine turned security guard Phillip Blanks sprinted in, dove and caught the boy milliseconds before he would have hit the ground.
According to the Washington Post, Blanks said his time in the Marines, coupled with his athletic training as a wide receiver in high school and college, prepared him for this moment. The Marines taught him to “always be on high alert, not be complacent and to have discipline,” he said.
Dec. 26, 1872, the day after Christmas — the weather in Norfolk was bitter cold, with sleet and a gale-force wind. Aboard USS Powhatan, a sidewheel steamer commissioned in 1852, it was particularly unpleasant, with a wet, slippery deck and a dangerous pitch.
Then came a cry of, “man overboard!” Boatswain Jack Walton had fallen from the fo’c’sle into the choppy, freezing water below. He had minutes — maybe seconds — before he either drowned or succumbed to hypothermia.
Seaman Joseph Noil didn’t hesitate, didn’t stop to think of the danger or the risk to his own life. He came running from below deck, “took the end of a rope, went overboard, under the bow, and caught Mr. Walton — and held him until he was hauled into the boat sent to his rescue,” his commanding officer, Capt. Peirce Crosby, wrote. “Mr. Walton, when brought on board, was almost insensible, and would have perished but for the noble conduct of Noil.”
Noil received the Medal of Honor the following month.
Then, he slowly faded from history.
Coming to America
Noil was black and was probably from Liverpool, Nova Scotia, although various records also mention Halifax, the West Indies, New York, and Pennsylvania, said Bart Armstrong, a Canadian researcher dedicated to finding some 113 Medal of Honor recipients connected to that country.
The distinguished Medal of Honor — Navy version. (Image from U.S. Navy)
“During the early days, it was not uncommon for a Soldier or Sailor to fake their residence or place of birth, date of birth or marital status.”
No one knows just what brought Noil to the U.S. or what inspired him to enlist in the Union Navy, Oct. 7, 1864. According to Armstrong, many Canadian black men who traveled south to fight in the Civil War did so to help free the slaves.
Canada was the terminus for the Underground Railroad, and many citizens, particularly in the black community, would have seen or heard of the pitiful, dehumanizing conditions escaped slaves endured.
Noil was from a coastal area, and the Navy may have been a natural fit. Enlistment papers indicate his occupation was carpenter. Dr. Regina Akers, a historian who specializes in diversity at the Navy’s History and Heritage Command, noted that he also served as a caulker and would have helped keep his ship watertight – “a very important job.”
Many free black Sailors had some type of ship or shipyard experience, whether it was as a crewmember on a merchant or whaling ship, as a fisherman or as a dockyard worker, Joseph P. Reidy, a history professor at Howard University in D.C. and the director of the African-American Sailors Project, wrote in “Prologue,” a publication of the National Archives.
According to Akers and Reidy, African-American Sailors had always been, if not precisely welcome in the Navy, at least not institutionally discriminated against. They had served honorably in the Revolution and in the War of 1812, and some 18,000 black Civil War Navy veterans have been identified by name.
Unlike the Army, the Navy in the 19th century did not segregate black servicemen. They pulled the same watches, slept in the same bunks — hammocks in those days — and ate in the same galleys as their white counterparts.
Although their ranks were limited to enlisted, there were few, if any, rating restrictions for skilled, experienced men of any color, said Akers. They served in almost every billet, from fireman to gunner, although Reidy wrote that service ratings, such as cook or steward, were the most common.
“If they could qualify or were able to learn that skill set and fill that rating, just like today, many commanding officers would allow them to do so,” Akers said, noting that the background of the ship’s commander and crew could affect the treatment African-American Sailors received.
Noil eventually became captain of the hold, a petty officer in charge of the men assigned to a storage area. He would probably have been responsible for ensuring barrels and containers were properly stowed and locating the appropriate barrels when needed, according to the Navy History and Heritage Command. However, he wouldn’t have had any authority over white Sailors.
Conditions were worse for escaped slaves, Reidy pointed out. By classifying escaped or captured slaves as contraband, the Union could legally consider them spoils of war and put them to work. Contrabands served in the Navy. They fought in the Army. They built fortifications. They cooked. They did laundry. Both men and women served in various capacities. In fact, nearly three men born into slavery served for every black man born free.
Contrabands’ naval ratings and pay tended to be the lowest and least skilled, with most classified as boy or landsman, Reidy explained. They scrubbed, painted, and polished ships. They also served in large numbers on supply and ordnance ships, where they provided manual labor. By the late 1800s, the ratings available to all African-American Sailors became extremely restricted.
Noil, who had given his age as 25 when he enlisted in 1864 and his height at 5 feet, 6 inches, transferred to USS Nyack, a wooden-hulled screw gunboat, in January 1865. Nyack was then part of the blockade off of Wilmington, North Carolina, and Noil was likely present for her involvement in the capture of nearby Fort Anderson the following month.
His next posting is listed as the steam sloop USS Dacotah in March 1866, although Navy records indicate the ship put out to sea that January on a tour that took her to Funchal, Maderia, Portugal; Rio de Janerio, Brazil; Montevideo, Uruguay, the Strait of Magellan, and Valparaiso, Chili.
Noil was discharged, March 18, 1867. Perhaps he found it difficult to make a living or perhaps he simply missed the sea, for he re-enlisted, Dec. 18, 1871, giving his age as 30. Presumably, he went straight to Norfolk and USS Powhatan, then part of the North Atlantic Squadron and one of the Navy’s last, and largest, paddle frigates.
The ship’s conduct book noted Noil was “always 1st class and on time.” Upon receiving the Medal of Honor, Noil followed in the footsteps of eight African-American Sailors who received the medal during the Civil War. Akers noted that no African-American Sailor has received the Medal of Honor since the Spanish-American War.
For Noil and the others, their actions showed that valor transcended color, that black, brown, white, it didn’t matter — shipmates came first.
Shipmate comes without definition. It’s not because you’re white, because you’re black, because we come from the same state, because you’re in the same rating — It doesn’t stop when the orders stop. Your shipmates are your shipmates. I mean, that’s your family.” – Dr. Regina Akers
Noil’s story, Akers continued, also “reminds us of – the importance of Sailors’ readiness, their physical and mental fitness, the training. Drill, drill, drill. Drill them down to the point where they can think almost unconsciously about what to do. So, man overboard. – There’s just certain procedures that pop into place. Now, the environment makes it that much worse. But it doesn’t change the routine or the requirements or the plan for what to do if someone falls overboard.”
Over the next few years, Noil was discharged and re-enlisted twice. His next ship was USS Wyoming, a wooden-hulled, 198-foot screw sloop of war. The Wyoming arrived in Villefranche, France, near Nice, Christmas Eve 1878, and spent the next two years in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.
She returned to Hampton Roads, Virginia, May 21, 1881. It was her final cruise. It was Noil’s as well. It must have been a difficult one, for that month, he was admitted to the naval hospital in Norfolk and quickly transferred to the Government Hospital for the Insane in Washington, D.C.
“For many months,” his admission paperwork reads, “it has been noticed that the patient’s mind was failing, that he was losing his locomotive powers. … Early in April last, he had an epileptic attack, and another on the 13th of May. For two days after latter attack he was speechless, though able to walk and eat. As he has been in the U.S. Naval service for the last seventeen years, it is natural to infer the disease originated in the line of duty.”
No one knows exactly what condition Noil suffered from, whether it was what is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder, some form of depression, or something else, said Jogues Prandoni, Ph.D., a volunteer historian and former director of forensic services at the hospital, now called St. Elizabeth’s.
“There could be so many reasons. Back in that era, so little was known about mental illness that sometimes certain disorders that were clearly neurological and brain-based were attributed to other causes.” – Jogues Prandoni, Ph.D.
There also wasn’t much 19th-century medicine could do for Noil, Prandoni continued, noting that although the hospital was the premier treatment facility for servicemen and veterans – as well as local civilians – only six medical doctors were on staff to treat roughly a thousand patients.
“What you had, basically, was moral therapy,” he explained. “The concept was that if you could remove people from the stresses of day-to-day living, put them in a homelike atmosphere with beautiful surroundings and caring individuals that would assist them in recovering.”
Noil’s wife, Sarah Jane, was terribly worried about her husband. With two daughters to support, she couldn’t afford to visit him, but she wrote to his doctor regularly: “I was sorry to hear that my husband was so sick and out of his mind. – Doctor do you think that I had better come on and see him? I am very poor with two children to look after,” she wrote in July 1881, later telling the doctor that her “poor little children are always talking about their papa and it makes me feel bad to hear them.”
“Doctor I am glad to think he has had good care. … Doctor if my husband should die I tell you I have not got the means to bury him,” she added that November.
Lost then found again
Her husband did pass away, March 21, 1882. “He was a relatively young man,” said Prandoni. “He died within nine months. That really raises questions about what kind of disease process was going on. It certainly sounds like more than just a psychiatric disorder.”
“The loss of my poor husband has been quite a shock to me. – My friends assure me that time will reconcile me to my great bereavement,” Sarah Jane wrote after learning of his death. “Yet time and the great consolation that I have in meeting in a better world where parting will be no more, will I trust enable me to bear my sorrow.”
Unfortunately, Noil’s name was misspelled on his death certificate and subsequently his headstone. For more than a century, he lay lost in Saint Elizabeth’s graveyard under the name Joseph Benjamin Noel until a group of historians and researchers connected with the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and the Medal of Honor Historical Society, including Armstrong, finally tracked him down.
Noil finally received a new headstone spring 2017, one with not only the correct spelling of his name but also recognizing him as a Medal of Honor recipient.
Your shipmate is not simply someone who happens to serve with you. He or she is someone who you know that you can trust and count on to stand by you in good times and bad and who will forever have your back. – We are [Noil’s] shipmates and 134 years after he passed, we have his back.” – Vice Adm. Robin Braun, Chief of Navy Reserve
Soldiers continue to help evacuate residents in flood-ravaged communities along North Carolina’s coastal plains six days after Hurricane Florence made landfall.
Army personnel have rescued a total of 372 residents and evacuated another 47 in both North and South Carolina, while more than 9,000 soldiers are supporting the hurricane relief efforts.
The National Guard conducted about 125 rescue missions alone on Sept. 18, 2018, said Army Lt. Col. Matt DeVivo, a North Carolina National Guard public affairs officer. He said water levels continue to stay at dangerously high levels, and in some areas they have even risen.
DeVivo said he expects the National Guard to continue operations for at least the next 72 hours, and possibly through the weekend. More than 3,100 North Carolina Guardsmen remain engaged in rescue operations, along with about 350 National Guardsmen from neighboring states.
‘We’re not going anywhere’
“We’re not going anywhere anytime soon,” DeVivo said. “Until we know the rivers have crested and the waters start to recede and communities can try to get back to some semblance of normalcy. Thousands have been displaced. And it’s going to be a challenge, but we’re ready to support the state well after the waters have receded.”
National Guard helicopters, working in conjunction with state and federal agencies, have delivered more than 61,000 pounds of relief supplies.
“I’m very impressed with the states — both South Carolina and North Carolina — they have responded and pushed forward and were proactive,” said Army National Guard Director Lt. Gen. Timothy Kadavy. “They had soldiers. They had high-water vehicles. They had aircraft out and ready to respond. They [were] ready to do whatever they were asked to do by their governors and local communities.”
A South Carolina Army National Guardsman with the 1053rd Transportation Company carries a girl to a military vehicle after her family was trapped inside their vehicle by flood waters in Hamer, S.C., Sept. 18, 2018.
The hurricane’s effects were less severe in South Carolina, but residents in the northern section of the state also experienced heavy flooding. Eight people died due to the high waters or fallen trees.
Guardsmen continue to take part in search and rescue missions in both states and have been responding to high-water emergencies — residents trapped in stalled vehicles or stranded in flooded areas.
“We’ve dealt with this before, but not at these record levels,” said Army Maj. Gen. Bob Livingston, adjutant general of the South Carolina National Guard. “[Florence] slowed down and picked up a tremendous amount of water. The winds dropped dramatically.”
Livingston lauded the efforts of the South Carolina Guard, which began evacuations early on the morning of Sept. 11, 2018.
“Difficult conditions to work under,” Livingston said. “But it’s amazing; they’ve got smiles and continue to drive on.”
National Guardsmen from as far as Illinois, Virginia and Tennessee helped with relief efforts as communities along the coastal plains were swamped with flooding and power outages.
Soldiers in tactical vehicles have been rescuing displaced residents in waist-high water.
U.S. Army North has been helping coordinate relief efforts from forward command posts in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Columbia, South Carolina. The command provided 80 high-wheeled tactical vehicles along with 60 palletized load trucks for transporting supplies.
Multi-component task forces faced the difficult challenge of navigating safe routes through flooded areas at night.
“The waters are moving so rapidly and there’s so much water,” said Col. Ed Hayes, Task Force 51 operations officer.”You could plan a route, and all of a sudden, that road is blocked off.”
The Army Corps of Engineers installed power generators at locations throughout North Carolina. Soldiers from the 249th Engineering Battalion out of Fort Belvoir, Virginia, installed power at several locations, including a storm shelter in Clayton, North Carolina; at Vidant Duplin Hospital in Kenansville; Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro; and the Rayford Waste and Water treatment facility in Whiteville, North Carolina.
DeVivo said the National Guard remains committed to the residents in affected communities.
“[The hurricane] is nothing our state can’t overcome,” he said. “It was challenging, but it’s not over by any means.”
The sun was already bright and warm when I pulled up at the Twin Springs Preserve in Williamson County, Texas just before 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Stepping out of my car, I shielded my eyes to take in the dense stands of ash juniper and white oak trees against the cloudless blue sky. It felt unusually spring-like for early February; I opted to shuck my jacket.
With my back to the road and neighborhood, I could imagine this area north of Austin as the verdant forest it once was. But the human population of Williamson County has tripled over the last several decades, encroaching on the wildland. In 2009, the county bought 175 acres to create a preserve and mitigate against the destruction of natural habitat. In addition to wild turkeys, foxes, deer, and raccoons, Twin Springs is home to several threatened or endangered species, including the bone cave harvestman spider, Salido salamander, and golden-cheeked warbler.
The beauty and peacefulness of the preserve belie a hidden danger. Here, the forest floor is strewn with grasses, shrubs, and the litter of fallen leaves and branches. In hot, dry conditions, those materials become tinder. All it takes is a sustained wind and an errant spark—from a discarded cigarette, say, a car’s exhaust system, or a lightning strike—for the tinder to catch fire. Unchecked, the flames can climb to the upper canopy and then quickly spread from tree to tree.
Cleaning up after the West Fire that hit Alpine, CA, in 2018.
Canopy fires are intense, fast-moving, and virtually unstoppable says Kyle McKnight, an Emergency Management Specialist with Williamson County. “A canopy fire could very rapidly progress to these homeowners, causing millions of dollars of losses and potentially loss of human life as well,” he said. “Look at what is happening in California. We’ve seen a huge loss of life and property.”
id=”listicle-2646945029″ OF PREVENTION VS. OF CURE
Greater Austin, which includes Williamson County, ranks fifth in the nation among metropolitan areas at risk for wildfires according to a recent report by CoreLogic, an online property data service. The only areas at greater risk are all in California.
Rather than wait to react to the inevitable wildfires, Williamson County officials put together a comprehensive plan to mitigate risk. “According to FEMA, [the Federal Emergency Management Association], on average, every id=”listicle-2646945029″ spent in mitigation results in of saved cost from fighting the fires and recovery from damage,” says McKnight. In some areas with more expensive real estate, he says, the return is as high as for every id=”listicle-2646945029″ invested in prevention.
The Williamson County mitigation plan calls for creating a 50-foot wide shaded fuel break along the perimeter of Twin Creeks Preserve, McKnight explains. The idea is to take out debris and shrubs, and remove tree limbs up to about 8 feet above ground, leaving the shaded canopy to keep the forest cooler and discourage the growth of flammable understory plants.
Clearing a blowdown on a road after Colorado’s Spring Creek fire.
What Williamson County didn’t have, however, was the budget or manpower to carry out the work. That’s where Team Rubicon came in. For two weekends in February, teams of about 50 volunteers—known by Team Rubicon as Greyshirts—worked steadily to make the forest and surrounding neighborhoods safer by creating a shaded fuel break.
A BLUE-SKY OPERATION
The morning I arrive, the preserve is a beehive of activity. The insistent buzz of chainsaws and mechanical drone of woodchippers cut through the morning air. It smells amazing, like walking into a freshly built cedar closet.
Oscar Arauco, the Texas State Administrator for Team Rubicon, has me don a hard hat, goggles, and earplugs before we survey the worksite. As we walk, he explains that Team Rubicon coordinates “gray skies” operations to provide relief after disasters such as Hurricane Harvey, which roiled the Gulf coast in 2017, and “blue skies” prevention operations such as this that help mitigate risk. Often, Team Rubicon uses such mitigation work to further educate and train sawyers and other Greyshirts, too.
Like 70% of the people involved in Team Rubicon, Arauco is a military veteran, having served for 28 years as a U.S. Army artillery officer and chaplain. (The remaining members are affectionately known as kick-ass civilians, he explains.) Once Team Rubicon identifies a need and defines a project, a call for help goes out to members living within a 450-mile radius. With the exception of a couple of paid project managers, everyone here is a volunteer. Most have driven in for the weekend and are bunking on cots at the nearby First Baptist Church of Georgetown.
Clearing debris for fire mitigation in the Twin Springs Preserve.
Arauco points out that the busy work site is well organized into sets of three teams, each supervised by a strike leader. People known as “sawyers” use pole saws and chainsaws to take out tree limbs and vegetation up to the 8-foot mark. “Swampers” carry the woody material to the perimeter where the “chippers” feed it into wood chippers to turn it into mulch that goes back into the preserve.
I’m struck by the diversity of Greyshirts and the lack of traditional hierarchies—a young woman is just as apt to be leading a team as an older man. That’s one of the things Arauco says he likes most about his work. “I love that Team Rubicon values service over any other factor,” he says. “There are no age- or gender-specific roles. It’s all about pulling your weight and getting the job done.”
FORMER ARMY MEDIC TURNS HER FOCUS TO HEALTHY FORESTS
M.D. Kidd, who takes a break from the chainsaw to talk, is one of the younger faces in the group. She served as a medic in the U.S. Army from 2011 to 2015 and then trained as a wildland firefighter for the Southwest Conservation Corp in Colorado. In 2017, she joined Team Rubicon and underwent training to become a regional chainsaw instructor. Now a full-time college student majoring in sociology and public health, Kidd says she would eventually like to work for the Peace Corps. For her, volunteering with Team Rubicon is the way to serve both people and the environment.
She points out that fire is a natural part of the cycle for healthy forests, but for more than a century people have focused on suppressing fires, leaving the tinder-like material to build up. “The longer we suppress fires and leave the fuel sitting there, the worse it is in the long run,” she said. “So efforts that mitigate the risk of fire are hugely important. As with medicine, I think prevention is really the way to go.”
To mitigate against fire, Greyshirts take tree limbs out up to the 8-foot mark.
Kidd and others say a big reason they volunteer on mitigation projects like this for Team Rubicon is the break from routine it provides, and the camaraderie. “The reason I am so passionate about this organization is that it provides a purpose for veterans,” says Patrick Smith, a 23-year U.S. Army veteran who is coordinating logistics for the operation. Smith works as a Deputy Sheriff in charge of animal cruelty for Harris County and as a physician’s assistant at Memorial Herman Hospital in Houston. “Team Rubicon takes our skills and experience and finds a place where they can be put to good use,” he says.
Greyshirt Keith Elwell, a former project engineer for the defense industry, joined in 2018 after seeing people in Houston trying to cope with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on the news. “Man, I’m sitting there just watching. I’m thinking ‘I’ve got some skills. I can help. I can do stuff’,” he says. He has now gained enough training and experience as a sawyer to mentor others.
Since then, he says, he’s “been all over the place”—from clearing trees felled by a fierce storm in Wisconsin to tearing down homes destroyed by Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida to cleaning up after the Mississippi River Flooded in Vicksburg, Tennessee. “There are all different roles and no two situations are the same,” he says. “I’ve been fortunate enough to help people on the worst day of their lives.”
OVER TWO WEEKENDS, MONTHS GET WHITTLED AWAY
It’s hard to put into words how meaningful the mitigation effort is to the county officials and inhabitants of this scenic area, says Mark Pettigrew, a Trails and Preserves Steward for Williamson County. We sat down on a couple of flat rocks in front of the trailhead and he gestured to the activity around us. “I’m one of only two main employees for the Williamson County Conservation Foundation. To get all this done would have taken us months and months,” he says.
Pettigrew points to the area in front of us, where the preserve abuts a busy road and neighborhood. The teams are mostly finished here and it looks like an arboretum with a wide, mulched path shaded by a graceful canopy of trees. “The most hazardous area is along this road and we’ve got the whole place completely cleared out and ready to go,” he says. “It’s phenomenal.”
Without the help of the Team Rubicon Greyshirts, it’s not clear when—or if—fire mitigation in the preserve would get done. As the county’s Emergency Management Specialist, McKnight says he knows that there’s currently no budget for the work. Grants often require extra steps and cost matching. “It’s a creative strategy for getting projects like this done,” says McKnight. “It requires a minimal investment on our behalf—some food and porta-potties—and we’re saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in labor costs. It’s a win-win.”
By the time I’d wrapped up, the day had shaped up to be unseasonably warm with low humidity—pleasant, but concerning, too, given what I had learned about wildfire risk. Climate change is bringing wave after wave of record heat to the Austin area. Last September was the hottest on record, with nearly three straight weeks of triple-digit temperatures.
On the way back to my car another Team Rubicon Greyshirt, Sam Brokenshire, stopped me. He wanted me to leave with a sense of scale for just how much the group had accomplished. At the end of the two-weekend project, he says, the team will have removed about 4,000 cubic yards—about 90 dumpsters worth—of brush.
Seeing people out working for the common good means a lot, says Brokenshire. “Yesterday, a guy from the neighborhood pulled up to thank us for the work we are doing,” he says. “That makes it all worth it.”
Some of the Team Rubicon Greyshirts who worked on the Williamson County fire mitigation project.
The Air Force is working to redesign the gear used by female pilots across the force after facing challenges with current flight equipment.
“We have women performing in every combat mission, and we owe it to them to have gear that fits, is suited for a woman’s frame and (one) can be in for hours on end,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein at a Defense Writers Group breakfast, March 2018 in Washington, D.C.
The majority of the equipment currently worn by pilots was built off anthropometric data from the 1960s, a time when only men were in aviator roles.
The lack of variety and representation in the current designs have caused multiple issues for women, said Col. Samantha Weeks, the 14th Flying Training Wing commander, assigned to Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi.
Many of the uniform issues circulate around G-suits, flight suits, urinary devices and survival vests.
“The challenges other female aviators and I face are the fit and availability of our flight equipment,” said Capt. Lauren Ellis, 57th Adversary Tactics Group executive officer.
Limited sizes and accessibility often force aircrew to order the wrong size and have it extensively altered to fit properly, taking time and money away from the mission, Ellis said.
A participant of the Female Flight Equipment Workshop writes down issues women experience with current urinary devices at AFWERX Vegas, Las Vegas, Jan. 30, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Bailee A. Darbasie)
“All of the bladders on my G-suit need to be modified,” Ellis said. “It’s a lot of work for the Aircrew Flight Equipment, or AFE, Airmen. Even after they’re modified, the proportions don’t fit.”
G-suits are vital anti-gravity gear for aviators. The bladders in the suit fill with air and apply pressure to the pilot’s body to prevent a loss of consciousness during high levels of acceleration. Not having a properly fitted G-suit could lead to hypoxia followed by unconsciousness.
Ellis said ill-fitting flight suits are a common problem for men and women. Aircrew who are significantly above or below average height have a hard time finding suits that fit their body type.
Even if a woman found a flight suit close to her size, the flight-suit zipper is designed for men—not women. Female aircrew struggle with relieving themselves during flights because the flight-suit zipper isn’t designed low enough for them to properly use their urinary devices.
“There are flight suits that were designed with longer zippers for women, but they’re almost never available,” Ellis said. “It’s common for females to have to wait months to receive the flight suit they’ve ordered which causes them to have to wear the male one.”
Participants of the Female Flight Equipment Workshop review various flight-suits designs at AFWERX Vegas, Las Vegas, Jan. 30, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Bailee A. Darbasie)
Along with the possibility of injury and discomfort associated with G-suits and flight suits, women struggle to get their life-saving gear to fit accordingly. The process of ejecting is so powerful, even pilots with well-fitting gear are at a serious risk of injury. It’s important for aviators to be heard and the modernization of equipment for everyone continues, Ellis said.
“In certain situations, having ill-fitting gear, such as harnesses and survival vests, can result in a loss of life,” Ellis said. “If an aircrew member ejects from the aircraft with equipment that doesn’t fit, they can be severely injured or lose their life.”
The Air Force and Air Combat Command are working to find a feasible solution for aircrew members.
Part of the strategy to correct the uniform problem was to take part in several collaborative Female Flight Equipment Workshops at AFWERX Vegas. Female Airmen stationed across the globe traveled to the innovation hub and attended the workshops to explore areas of opportunity and come up with proposed solutions.
“The purpose of the workshops is to bring together female aviators, Aircrew Flight Equipment, Human Systems Program Office personnel and subject matter experts to understand the current products, the acquisition process and the actual needs from the field,” Weeks said.
Throughout the workshops, aviators participated in briefings, as well as discussions and exercises with the agencies involved in the design and distribution of their gear.
“The Human Systems Program Office acquires and sustains all equipment for male and female Airmen,” said Lt. Col. Elaine Bryant Human Systems Program Office deputy chief, assigned to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. “We are committed to hearing our consumers’ voices, and we will make the changes necessary to our current process to meet their needs.”
Participants of the Female Flight Equipment Workshop discuss the advantages and disadvantages of multiple- piece body armor at AFWERX Vegas, Las Vegas, Jan. 30, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Bailee A. Darbasie)
The workshops established the communication needed between the consumer, designers and suppliers to reach a mutual goal of understanding and development.
“We now have some pretty clear actions coming out of the Female Flight Equipment Workshops,” Bryant said. “We’ve heard the feedback, and we want to make sure we have actionable things we’re accomplishing within specific time frames for our consumers.”
The Human Systems Program Office will strive to make progressive changes within their operations and better their acquisition process, explained Bryant.
“We will take the field up on their offers of coming out to the units and meeting the aircrew for whom we supply,” Bryant said. “We’ll ensure we maintain the lines of communication needed to better our program.”
Another major improvement for female aviators is the adoption of the Battlefield Airmen Rapid Resource Replenishment System, a centrally managed equipment facility. BARS is capable of shipping needed resources directly to female aircrew. Using this system will allow women to acquire the proper fitting equipment they need within an acceptable timeline.
“BARS is a step in the right direction,” Ellis said. “Everyone deserves to have equipment that fits them. There are certain things we have to adapt to, but as long as we’re trying to improve and modernize our gear, we can be a more ready and lethal force.”
“The Air Force has evolved over the years and continues to evolve,” Weeks echoed. “Female aviators entering the Air Force now will not have the same issues I had over the last 21 years.”
Information from an ACC news feature was used in this story.
Honor guards are an important part of the pomp and circumstance surrounding official state events. Many guard units are mostly for show, serving only to drill perfectly and impress crowds.
But some honor guards are filled with active soldiers who continue to practice killing people when they aren’t all dressed up in tall hats and shiny breastplates. Here are 6 of them.
1. The Queen’s Guard (U.K.)
The Queen’s Guard is probably the most iconic ceremonial guard unit in the world, but the men outside Buckingham Palace aren’t just a tourist attraction.
They are real soldiers and are allowed to use violence to protect themselves, their post, and the Queen. Some tourists have learned this the unpleasant way.
2. The Swiss Guard (The Vatican)
Dating back to the 1400s, the Swiss Guard are the primary protective force for the Pope. When the guardsmen aren’t wearing their funny uniforms, they’re training to kill those who threaten the Holy Father. Skip to 2:13 in the video to see members of the Swiss Guard training with their assault rifles.
3. Old Guard (U.S.)
The 3rd Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army are the official honor guard of the President as well as the ceremonial guard for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. All members are active duty infantry soldiers who also deploy to combat and train for fights in the national capital.
(Note: The 3rd Infantry Regiment is the official honor guard for the president, but the president is much more commonly seen with the Marine Sentries, four Marines assigned to guard his person in the West Wing of the White House.)
Commanded by a colonel in the Italian Army, the Carazzieri Regiment performs ceremonial duties as the honor guard of the Italian president, but they’re also an active police force. During times of war, they can be organized under the Defense Ministry.
6. Presidential Guard (Fiji)
The Presidential Guard of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces is the honor guard of Fiji’s president. However, they are also in charge of the physical security of the president’s residence and nearby installations.
Marines qualify on the rifle range every year and train to locate, close with, and destroy the enemy. In October 2016, the Marine Corps has presented a new challenge for Marines on the range — a modification to the second half of the marksmanship program was implemented with hopes to better train Marines for combat.
Marines will still complete table one, which trains Marines on the basic fundamentals and techniques of rifle marksmanship.
According to Chief Warrant Officer 2 Luis Carrillo, the officer in charge on Camp Hansen ranges, table two takes the training to the next level. This table focuses more on combat and teaching Marines how to engage enemies in a combat related environment.
The following changes have been implemented for table two:
• Keeping up the heart rate: Instead of Marines staying stationary while shooting, they are required to start at the standing position and quickly get into the kneeling or prone position when the targets are ready to appear.
• Engaging the enemy: Marines begin qualifying at the 500-yard line then advance towards the 100-yard line, where previously they trained the other way around.
• Maintaining situational awareness in combat: New targets show both friendly and enemy forces and Marines must maintain awareness of the targets to determine when to shoot forcing them to make combat decisions.
This half of the marksmanship program focuses more on teaching Marines how to engage enemies in a combat-related environment, which Carrillo, a Janesville, Wisconsin native, said helps in real life scenarios.
“There are several situations this will come in handy,” said Carrillo. “When I was in Afghanistan there were several times we would get ambushed or we would respond to fires across the valley and a lot of those times the enemy wasn’t close. We had to move closer to the enemy and maneuver against them.”
The modification to table two allows Marines to experience the different types of ranges they may see in combat.
“The good thing about table two is it presents Marines with different ranges,” said Carrillo. “You have the long ranges, which I experienced in Afghanistan; and you have the short ranges, which I experienced in Iraq.”
Marines are America’s expeditionary force in readiness and need to be ready to move in a moment’s notice. Table two helps train Marines to respond quickly and aggressively in real-world scenarios, according to Carrillo.
“I think it gets the Marines more in a combat mindset while closing in on the enemy,” he said.
The suspect of the mass shooting in Thousand Oaks, CA, has been identified as U.S. Marine Corps veteran Ian David Long, age 28. The shooting occurred late on Wednesday, Nov. 7, at a nightclub where at least 12 people were reportedly killed.
One victim includes a sheriff’s sergeant, Ron Helus.
Elite Russian soldiers can crash computers, treat wounded troops, and read foreign-language documents locked inside a safe using the power of their minds, a report in the Defense Ministry’s official magazine claims.
The techniques were developed over a long period starting in the 1980s Soviet Union, by studying telepathy in dolphins, the report said. It also claimed soldiers can now communicate with the dolphins.
The article, entitled “Super Soldier for the Wars of the Future,” was swiftly scorned by experts. But its appearance in the February 2019 edition of the Russian defense ministry’s Armeisky Sbornik (Army Collection) magazine is nonetheless remarkable.
The front cover of February’s “Armeisky Sbornik.”
(Russian Ministry of Defense)
The report says: “With an effort of thought, you can, for example, shoot down computer programs, burn crystals in generators, eavesdrop on a conversation, or break television and radio programs and communications.”
“Those capable of metacontact can, for example, conduct nonverbal interrogations. They can see through the captured soldier: who this person is, their strong and weak sides, and whether they’re open to recruitment.”
Soldiers could even “read a document in a safe even if it was in a foreign language we don’t know,” the report said.
Soldiers have also been trained in “psychic countermeasures,” the report said — techniques which help soldiers stay strong during interrogations from telepaths in rival armies.
The report also says Russian special forces used these “combat parapsychology techniques” during the conflict in Chechnya, which ran from the mid-1990s until the late 2000s.
The chairman of the commission to combat pseudoscience at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Yevgeny Alexandrov, told news outlet RBK that “combat parapsychology” is a fabrication and is recognized as a pseudo-science.
(Photo by michelle galloway)
He said: “Such works really existed and were developed, but were classified. Now they come out into the light. But, as in many countries of the world, such studies are recognized as pseudo-scientific, all this is complete nonsense.”
“All the talk about the transfer of thought at a distance does not have a scientific basis, there is not a single such recorded case, it is simply impossible.”
However, Anatoly Matviychuk from Russian military magazine “Soldiers of Russia” told RBK that parapsychology is the real deal.
“The technique was developed by the Soviet Academy of Sciences in an attempt to discover the phenomenal characteristics of a person.”
“A group of specialists worked under the leadership of the General Staff of the USSR Armed Forces. The achievements of that time still exist, and there are attempts to activate them.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.