Surviving as a communist leader for half a century just 90 miles from the U.S. is a surprising achievement considering the estimated 638 CIA assassination attempts, according to Cuba’s chief of counterintelligence Fabian Escalante in the video below.
Castro was on the naughty list from the very beginning for overthrowing President Fulgencio Batista and converting Cuba into the first socialist state under Communist Party rule in the Western Hemisphere. He stood for everything the U.S. was fighting during the Cold War, and his friendly relationship with the Soviet Union only made things worse — especially after allowing Moscow to place its nukes pointed at the U.S. there during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
It was a no-brainer; Castro had to go. And the U.S. attempted his removal by economic blockade, counter-revolution, and by assassination. This short animated History Channel video explores some of the most outlandish Fidel Castro assassination plots by the CIA.
In May 1941, the United States was on the brink of war.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed an “unlimited national emergency” and ordered American forces to prepare “to repel any and all acts or threats of aggression directed toward any part of the Western Hemisphere.”
While the situation seemed grim, at least one commanding officer decided to lighten the mood. He allowed his men to grow their beards in what would be the most hirsute event in the U.S. military until Robin Olds headed to Vietnam.
Japan attacked the Philippines on December 8th, 1941. Six months later, the Philippines fell and the American troops who survived were submitted to the harshest treatment of any POWs in the Pacific War. The Allies did not retake the Philippines until October 1944.
A dramatic video released by the Saif Al Sham Brigades fighting in southern Syria shows an Islamic State guided missile ricocheting off a T-55 tank with a hard metallic smack.
It was close … seriously close. For whatever reason — a dud or a bad shot — the ISIS missile failed to explode. Had it, the blast could have blown up the tank, killed the crew and the rebel filming the incident. The camera operator, stunned by the blast, captures the tank backing off. The T-55 later returns and fires its cannon in a “shoot and scoot” maneuver.
The tank — almost certainly captured from the Syrian army — had no discernible “active protection” systems which can scramble a missile’s guidance systems. The ISIS missile was almost certainly captured … but the origin is unknown.
The Saif Al Sham Brigades is a Free Syrian Army group active in southern Syria and has appeared on lists of CIA-vetted rebel factions. Saif Al Sham counts itself as part of the Southern Front coalition of rebel groups, but this is a loosely-knit organization at the best of times.
The Front has also received support from Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. It’s unclear if Saif Al Sham specifically has received any funding or weapons from any of these nations.
What the video does demonstrate is the intense pressure anti-tank guided missiles can put on armed combatants in the Syrian civil war. Despite failing to knock out the tank, which was quickly back in action, the close call was enough for the rebels to back up — fast.
Tank-killing missiles have proliferated so much, they’ve effectively halted armored breakthroughs and contributed to a five-year-old stalemate.
This post is sponsored by The CW’s Walker, premiering on January 21st, Thursday 8/7c!
You don’t mess with Texas. Everyone knows that. You especially don’t mess with the Texas Ranger Division. Better known as the Texas Rangers, these gunslingers have been maintaining law and order in the Lone Star State since 1823. But, criminals will be criminals, and some still decide to try their luck against the Rangers. Many high-profile outlaws have had the misfortune of falling in their crosshairs and, for many, it was their last mistake.
John Wesley Hardin was one of Texas’ deadliest outlaws and was reputed to be the meanest man alive. At the age of 15, he committed his first murder when he stabbed a fellow student in the school yard. He went on to murder more than 40 people over the next 27 years, including a man he killed for snoring. In May 1874, Hardin murdered Charles Webb, a deputy sheriff of Brown County and former Texas Ranger. In response, Texas Ranger John Barclay Armstrong requested and received permission to arrest Hardin. Armstrong served with the Texas Ranger Special Force as a sergeant and was Captain Leander McNelly’s right hand man, earning him the nickname “McNelly’s Bulldog.”
Armstrong pursued Hardin across Alabama and into Florida where he caught up to him in Pensacola. On July 23, 1877, Armstrong confronted Hardin and four of his gang on a train. Colt pistol in hand, Armstrong called Hardin out. The outlaw drew his own pistol and shouted, “Texas, by God!” In the skirmish that followed, Armstrong shot one of the gang members dead and knocked Hardin out with a blow from his gun. Armstrong emerged with a single bullet hole through his hat, and arrested Hardin and his surviving gang. Hardin was tried in Comanche for Webb’s murder, convicted, and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Despite multiple attempts to escape, he was pardoned 17 years later by Governor Jim Hogg and released from prison on March 16, 1894. He practiced law in El Paso until he was killed the next year on August 19, 1895 over a personal disagreement during a poker game at the Acme Saloon.
Sam Bass and his gang began a series of bank and stagecoach robberies in 1877. The next spring, they held up two stagecoaches and four trains less than 25 miles outside of Dallas. In April, Governor Richard Poke commissioned 2nd Lt. Junius “June” Peak of Company B of the Frontier Battalion to hunt Bass and his gang down. Peak was promoted to Captain and given command of a special company of Texas Rangers. Aided by local posses, Peak and his Rangers harassed Bass for several months and drove him from North Texas. Bass managed to evade the Rangers until one of his posse betrayed him.
As the gang rode south, gang member Jim Murphy decided to save his own skin and wrote a letter to Major John B. Jones, commander of the Texas Rangers’ Frontier Battalion. Murphy tipped the Rangers off to a planned bank robbery at the Williamson County Bank in Round Rock in exchange for a deal. The offer was accepted and the Rangers set up an ambush at Round Rock. On July 19, 1878, Bass and his gang scouted Round Rock in preparation for the robbery. Before the ambush could be triggered, Williamson County Sheriff Ahijah “Caige” Grimes noticed the outlaws. Grimes confronted the gang and was shot dead. This began a heavy gunfight between Bass’ gang and the Rangers who were joined the local lawmen. During the fighting, Bass and a deputy were mortally wounded. As the gang mounted their horses and tried to evacuate their leader, Ranger George Herold got one last shot in on Bass from behind. Bass was later found abandoned in a pasture north of town. He was taken into custody, returned to Round Rock and succumbed to his wounds the next day.
Of course, the most famous outlaws taken down by the Texas Rangers were Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. The duo sprung prisoner and fellow gang member Joe Palmer from the Eastham Prison Farm in Houston County. During the escape, the gang killed one of the guards. Additionally, the Barrow gang was responsible for numerous murders, robberies and car thefts across Texas and the United States. Nine law enforcement officers had already lost their lives in confrontations with them. To bring an end to their crime spree, Col. Lee Simmons, head of the prison system, asked a retired Ranger to bring the duo to justice.
Frank A. Hamer enlisted in the Rangers in 1906. He served as a Ranger captain until he retired in 1932. However, he retained his commission as a Ranger and took the position of special investigator for the Texas prison system in 1934 to hunt down Bonnie and Clyde. Along with former Ranger B. M. “Manny” Gault, Hamer pursued them across nine states before he caught up with them in Louisiana. With the help of a posse of local law enforcement officers, the Rangers set up an ambush on a rural road between Gibsland and Sailes. At 9 PM on May 22, the law enforcement posse set up their ambush. After 12 hours, with no Bonnie and Clyde in sight, the Rangers thought their ambush was a bust. That is, until they heard the rumble of Clyde’s stolen Ford V8 approaching. The lawmen opened fire and poured a hail of over 130 bullets into the car. For killing Bonnie and Clyde, Hamer was awarded a special citation by the United States Congress.
Countless other criminals and outlaws have crossed paths with the Texas Rangers and lost. Today, they continue to add names to the list of criminals they’ve taken down. Don’t mess with Texas and you won’t join them.
If you want to watch the toughest of law enforcement bring justice to West Texas, be sure to check out the reboot of TV’s most famous Texas Ranger. Walker premieres on January 21st, Thursday 8/7c on The CW. Don’t miss it!
Army veteran and FOX and Friends Weekend co-anchor Pete Hegseth will be hosting two brand new programs for Proud American. This will be the network’s eighth consecutive Memorial Day event.
Memorial Day is a day which really hits home for Hegseth. “Those of us that are really close to it… I mean, it’s on my wrist, it’s on my mind. It’s always part of why we do what we do — because we’ve seen firsthand that sacrifice, and we want to make sure we follow through on it,” he shared.
This thought process is visibly present in the programming FOX has created for the holiday weekend. One of the shows Hegseth is most proud of for this weekend’s lineup is Modern Warriors: Reflections. He’s been hosting the Modern Warrior series for a few years and even wrote a book with the same name, highlighting many of the veterans stories from the show.
“Just sitting down with combat vets over a beer and in a comfortable setting, telling the real story. Unvarnished, like, ‘talk to me like it is.’ Three and four minute segments on the news show don’t don’t do justice to a lot of the topics we end up talking about,” Hegseth said.
Modern Warriors: Reflections focuses on the day and what it really means for veterans and how the country should approach it as well, he said. “Ultimately it’s all about remembrance. Each guy shares someone they are thinking of and how they honor Memorial Day,” Hegseth explained. He said viewers can catch the FOX News version of the show or go on FOX Nation and get the director’s cut, which is longer.
This is a series Hegseth said he always wants to keep doing. “There are so many different, interesting characters we’ve done it with…Each time you get a new layer of what the post-9/11 life has been like for veterans in the military,” he said.
Inevitably, there will be those in the American public who will thank military members and veterans for their service on Memorial Day. Educating those individuals and recognizing what the day entails is a vital message Hegseth is hoping to get across.
“It is important to draw the distinction. It is not about the veterans here, it’s about the folks who never came home and remembering their ultimate sacrifice,” Hegseth said. “My message to people this Memorial Day and every day is to stop for a moment and think about whether you are living worthy of that maximum sacrifice. Are you following through for those who gave everything or are we taking it for granted and letting it slip away?”
Hegseth was direct about his own experiences in combat and the weight the day holds for him. “It is a very real thing that has affected the lives of so many. As a vet myself and with your community, I say it all the time myself that I was one bullet, RPG, IED – and really in my instance it was an RPG that didn’t explode – from being thanked on Veterans Day rather than being memorialized on Memorial Day,” he explained.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate or gather together, he said. “Number one, drive home the consequence of the day. Number two, throw a big ‘ol party. Drink some beers and hang out with the people you love. The people who aren’t here would want us to do both,” Hegseth said. “Remember and then celebrate the lives we were gifted.”
With the 20th anniversary of September 11, 2001 approaching quickly, it was equally important to FOX for those heroes to be talked about as well, Hegseth said. “I was joined by about 50 NYPD, FYNY, Port Authority and New Jersey City Fire and Police Officers. I know Memorial Day is about military service and sacrifice, but these days supporting those who serve is a 24-7 365 day thing and Tunnel to Towers does that every day,” he explained.
Those terrorist attacks on America would ripple across the world and begin the now almost 20-year long War on Terror. The Tunnel to Towers Foundation not only supports those impacted by those events, but military veterans and Gold Star families too.
Hegseth spent time with the foundation’s Chairman and CEO, Frank Siller, who lost his brother in the attacks. He said there will be a few familiar faces on the special, too. One is Connor McGreggor, the world renowned fighter who is a big supporter of the foundation and their work.
In honor of Memorial Day, FOX News Media gave $25,000 to the Navy Seal Foundation to support their mission and $15,000 to the USO, so they can continue supporting military members deployed for COVID-19 vaccination efforts. They’ve also pledged to give FOX Nation to military members and veterans for a year, completely free.
“I am really proud of FOX Nation and FOX for doing this one year free for vets and the military…I think the vets and military that utilize it are going to love what they’re going to find there,” Hegseth shared. “It’s a platform committed to vets, our country, patriotism, to faith, the military and history, just things you won’t find elsewhere.”
“Weekends like this are another reminder of why I am so proud to be a part of FOX News and FOX Nation,” Hegseth said. “It’s one of the very few places that still does it right, the moments where we should be pausing and thinking about what really matters. I think viewers will see that reflected in the content that comes on this weekend.”
You can see the full lineup of shows for Memorial Day by clicking here and if you are a military member or veteran, you can grab your free year’s subscription to FOX Nation here.
In ‘Weekend At Bernie’s,’ a corpse becomes the life of the party. But, in World War II, a corpse saved the lives of thousands of American and Allied soldiers.
On April 30, 1943, the British submarine HMS Seraph surfaced a mile from the southwest coast of Spain. A canister was brought on deck and the officers of the sub opened it. Inside was the body of an alcoholic, homeless man who had died from ingesting rat poison, now dressed in the clothes of a British Royal Marine major.
The sailors put a life jacket on the corpse, strapped a brief case to its belt, read Psalm 39 over it, and then pushed the body into the ocean.
This was the fruition of Operation Mincemeat, one of the most important actions to the success of Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily and the beginning of the end for Hitler’s Fortress Europe.
‘The underbelly of the Axis’
After the success of Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of German North Africa, was assured, Allied planners were fully focused on how to break into fortress Europe. It was widely agreed that the first attack should be into Italy, attempting to knock it out of the war, thus weakening the Axis Powers. The problem was, though Italy was described by Winston Churchill as, “the underbelly of the Axis,” it was heavily fortified.
Allied planners knew Sicily, the island off the “toe” of Italy’s “boot,” was the logical place to attack in order to take the fight to the Axis. Unfortunately, logical places to attack are generally well-defended. Since Hitler was known to be afraid of an attack through Greece and the Balkans, the Allies decided to play up the possibility of an invasion there while claiming they would bypass Sicily entirely.
Operation Barclay, a deception operation, was launched to sell this lie to the Third Reich. One of the key elements of Barclay was Operation Mincemeat, possibly history’s most daring Haversack Ruse.
The Haversack Ruse and the Trout Memo
The Haversack Ruse was invented in World War I when the British Army needed to deceive the Ottoman Military. Though there are conflicting accounts on who planned and who executed the ruse, someone rode a horse into contested territory, waited until they were shot at by the Ottomans, slumped over in their horse like they’d been hit and rode as quickly as possible back to British lines.
During the escape, the rider “accidentally” dropped a haversack with fake battle plans in it. The British faked a search for the documents. The Ottomans recovered them, assumed they were real, and redeployed their forces. This lead to the Ottoman defeat at the Battle of Beersheba.
Early in World War II, Naval Intelligence released a document called the “Trout Memo.” Though it was credited to the British Director of Naval Intelligence, it is thought to have actually been the work of his assistant, Sir Ian Fleming. Fleming would go on to write the Bond novels which were partially based on actual operations in the war.
The memo, released in 1939, listed 51 ways to deceive enemy intelligence. Number 28 was a plan for an updated Haversack Ruse. Intelligence operatives would fake an airplane crash in such a way that the body would wash up on the shore where the enemy would find it. Hidden on its person would be documents that the enemy would find credible. This idea would form the core of Operation Mincemeat.
Planning Operation Mincemeat
Planning for Operation Mincemeat was conducted by British Navy Lt. Cmdr. Ewen Montagu and Flight Lieutenant Charles Cholmondeley.
They knew that Spain, though neutral, regularly allowed Nazi military officials access to Allied documents that fell into their hands.
Ocean currents were studied and a timeline was established. The goal was a set up where a body, recently deceased, could be floated to the coast where it would be appear to have arrived after a plane crash. To make it work, they needed a false identity and a real body.
A coroner and former colleague of Montagu’s, Bentley Purchase, was contacted to quietly look for suitable bodies. On January 28, 1943, a homeless Welsh man, Glyndwr Michael, died of phosphorous poisoning and was sent to Purchase. Purchase contacted Montagu and Cholmondeley who agreed the body was fit for the task. Michael was placed in cold storage, giving the British 3 months to perfect the fake documents and execute the mission before the body would be too decayed to use.
Montagu and Cholmendeley worked together to create a false identity for their corpse. Their final creation was Maj. William Martin, a Royal Marine. Martin was recently engaged to a woman named Pam. A photo of a Military Intelligence Section 5, MI5, staffer, was included in Martin’s effects.
The conspirators thought it would be suspicious if a major was shabbily dressed. So, Martin was given a pair of nice underwear, taken from the possessions of a recently deceased official at New College, Oxford. A series of documents were forged and placed on Martin including sale receipts, a collection letter from a bank, and the photo of “Pam,” in order to sell the “Martin” identity.
In addition, military documents were put into an official briefcase that would later be chained to the deceased man’s belt. These documents were specially crafted to make it sound like Operation Husky was the invasion of Greece instead of Sicily. They also referenced a fictional operation, Operation Brimstone, as the invasion of Sardinia while implying that the Allies would feint to Sicily. This would convince the Germans that the real invasion of Sicily, when it began, was just a smokescreen for the fictional invasions in Sardinia and Greece.
Conducting the operation
With the body, the documents, and the story in place, it was time to execute the mission.
The body was placed in a steel canister filled with dry ice and driven to the HMS Seraph by a legally-blind racecar driver. The Seraph‘s crew was told that the capsule contained meteorological equipment. Only the officers knew the real mission.
When they arrived at their destination, the officers secured the documents and a lifejacket to the body, performed their own small ceremony, and pushed the body into the ocean. The HMS Seraph sailed away from Spain into the early morning Atlantic.
The body was quickly recovered by the Spanish who turned it over to the British Vice-Consul in the country. “Maj. Martin” was buried with full military honors on May 2. The British, keeping up the ruse, began a hasty search for the missing documents.
The Spanish recovered the documents and gave the Germans an hour to copy them. Once the Germans had copies, they sent the information to Berlin where it was trusted as genuine. The originals were returned to the British government.
As a result of the German High Command believing the documents, entire divisions of tanks were moved to defend Greece. Minesweepers were moved from Sicily to Greece where they laid mines off the coast. Rommel himself was sent to Greece to lead the defense.
That summer, on July 9, the true Operation Husky was kicked off and Sicily was invaded. The Germans, still believing Sicily was a feint, declined to reinforce the island. It wasn’t until July 12 that German paratroopers arrived to try and slow the Allied advance, but by then it was too late. Fighting on the island continued until August 17 when the last German unit pulled out. Sicily was captured with a fraction of the Allied casualties expected, though 5,837 were killed or missing, 15,683 were wounded, and 3,330 captured. Germany was thought to have taken about 20,000 casualties while Italy lost over 130,000 men, mostly captured during the Allied advance. Operation Husky led to the downfall of Mussolini and the surrender of Italy.
And much of its success was due to the British corpse, Glyndwr Michael, who served as Maj. William Martin.
The bulk of information known about Operation Mincemeat came from Montagu when he published his book, “The Man Who Never Was” in 1954. New information, including intentional errors in Montagu’s book, came from the research of Ben Macintyre. Macintyre was granted access to Montagu’s papers and published his own excellent book, “Operation Mincemeat,” in 2011.
Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate is consolidating territory in a major clash with a rival rebel group and could make the terror group a more formidable threat in the longer term than the Islamic State, US-based intelligence advisory firm The Soufan Group warns.
The warning comes amid a major clash between al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, and another Islamist rebel group in the province that the Syrian regime and its allies do not largely control. The US, by and large, is focused on defeating ISIS in other areas of Syria and has largely given over a leadership role for post-ISIS Syria to Russia, Iran, and the Syrian regime.
“The prospect of a sustained de facto governing presence by al-Qaeda in Idlib is a grave national security concern,” The Soufan Group noted. “The prospect may lead to US airstrikes, though the air space over Idlib is far more complicated and crowded than over Raqqa. Idlib is just to the east of Latakia, an Assad regime stronghold with a sizable Russian military presence,” the group added.
US-backed, anti-ISIS fighters have retaken approximately 40 percent of ISIS’s capital of Raqqa, but continue to have a long and grueling fight ahead of them. The fight consumes the majority of US resources in Syria.
HTS and the Islamist rebel group have now struck a tenuous truce giving HTS control of the city of Idlib. The terrorist group has changed its name several times and falsely declared to cut ties with the global al-Qaeda network in order to court less extreme opposition groups on the ground in Syria.
Experts fear the terrorist group will deepen its roots in Syria and may able to launch external terror plots against the West using its new sanctuary.
“The battle against the Islamic State in Raqqa is not to be the most consequential ongoing fight in Syria,” The Soufan Group lamented.
This post is reprinted with permission from NationSwell, new digital media company focused on American innovation and renewal.
Phil Ruddock had trouble adjusting when he returned home to rural Louisiana, disabled by a traumatic brain injury he received during an Air Force tour of duty during Desert Storm. He had all the classic symptoms of PTSD: “I drank all the time, I couldn’t get along with anyone, I kept checking every room in the house to make sure it was clear every time I came home, I got up and checked the locks on the doors and windows too many times to count, I was always depressed and pissed at the world, and I never slept. I drove my family so crazy that they wanted to leave,” he says with a country twang. “I still do some of those things,” he adds, “but it’s getting better.”
Sit. Stay. Lie down. They’re the words that helped him through his recovery.
Ruddock’s now assisting other veterans afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan the same way he survived his night terrors and flashbacks — with service dogs. His nonprofit Brothers and Sisters in Arms is a boot camp of sorts based out of central Louisiana, where he’s teaching veterans to train their own service dogs, all adopted from shelters. The repetitive learning of commands works like physical therapy for disabled vets and gives them something to work towards. Once they’ve completed the program, they gain a loyal companion and a sense of accomplishment, “a pride that you can’t imagine,” Ruddock says.
“When a soldier is deployed or on base, they feel secure because they have all the other soldiers there watching their back. But when they are out of the military, when their spouse goes to work, their kids go to school and they’re left alone, they have nobody watching their back,” Ruddock says. “It makes them very anxious, paranoid. A dog turns out to be their battle buddy and watches their back. It never leaves them, it never judges them, it never asks questions that they don’t want to answer. It gives them unconditional love,” Ruddock explains.
A program connecting veterans and rescue dogs may sound cutesy, almost saccharine, but for Ruddock, it’s serious — vital even. He asks the veterans to list Brothers and Sisters in Arms as the primary contact associated with the animal’s microchip, rather than the owner’s home phone. “The suicide rate for veterans is 22 per day,” Ruddock says, about 8,000 every year. “If that dog would show up at a shelter and they ran the microchip, chances are that veteran is not going to answer his phone.”
Ruddock started the nonprofit in November 2012 after his personal experience with an abandoned pit bull. Following a nervous breakdown, he lost his job as lead clerk at the local VA outpatient clinic. His spent his days walled alone up on his remote property, until a friend arrived with a pit bull for him to train. “She was as beat up and as messed up as I was,” he remembers of his white-faced, brown-eared dog, Mia. “She kind of rescued me.” The dog sat in the passenger seat of his truck on rides into a nearby village and eventually gave him confidence to travel farther.
Within the past couple months, Ruddock logged more than 20,000 miles in his sojourns across the Sugar State, from Slidell, a town across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans that butts up against Mississippi, all the way out west to Fort Polk, an Army installation near the Texas border. Last year, he certified 31 service dogs, which are specially licensed after 120 hours in public, and 15 companion dogs.
At the pound, Ruddock seeks out the calmest dogs. “We look for dogs with a good disposition. We don’t want the ones that jump and bark and get with the other dogs,” he says. He generally avoids puppies — too much added stress — and certain breeds like German shepherds that can become overprotective if they’re not socialized regularly, but otherwise he’ll take every breed from a 20-pound Jack Russell terrier to a 200-pound mastiff.
Training sessions run one hour a week for roughly eight weeks, though he’s come to expect a few absences. “A veteran may have problems one day. Some demons may come up and he may not be able to show up. It may take a little longer,” he says.
Besides the essentials — what Ruddock calls good citizenship for canines (think: table manners for children) — the service dogs learn three main commands that are unique for handlers who still carry wounds from the battlefield. The dog learns to “block,” inserting itself into the space between the owner and somebody else so that a person keeps their distance. “Cover” sends the pup to its owner’s back or side, facing away as a kind of lookout that allows a vet to relax at, say, a counter or cash register. The last is “grounded.” If the soldier faints or has a nightmare, the dog lays on top of the owner and licks his face, prompting a welcome (if wet) return to reality.
Brothers and Sisters in Arms is different from many other groups that provide service dogs. For one, Ruddock doesn’t charge for his services or the animal. His operation is funded entirely by donations; the bill from other groups can run as high as $25,000. (“These guys get out of the military, and they’re just above poverty level. They can’t afford that,” he says.) His classes are all one-on-one, making it easier for vets who can be skittish around crowds, nervous about competition and failure. And every instructor is a former soldier, because, as Ruddock says, “There’s no better therapy than a veteran talking to another veteran.”
Ruddock wants to see the program expand across Louisiana. He’s already processing five to 10 applications a week, and he’s starting to get referrals from VA psychiatrists who can’t officially recommend a service dog but still send warriors his way. “It’s not about the fame or fortune. It’s about that feeling you get when you help somebody. The warm fuzzies, the goosebumps, whatever you want to call it,” he says of his motivations. “It’s about doing what’s right.”
It’s for the men and women, his brothers and sisters, that Ruddock keeps trekking across the bayous, working with soldiers, like the young man he met last month. “You can tell he’s had it rough,” Ruddock says. “He couldn’t even stand the sound of a loud car going by. He kept moving around and shaking. He couldn’t look you in the eye. He constantly looked down, and if he did catch your eye, it was a white stare like he could see right through you.” The man expressed no emotion, until Ruddock brought out a puppy. As if he was emerging from a daze, the man started petting the dog. He smiled, and Ruddock knew another soldier was safe.
Hunkered down in sniper positions on the top floor of an abandoned building in the Syrian city of Raqqa, two Americans and a British volunteer face off against Islamic State snipers on the other side of the front line. The trio, including two who were battle-hardened by experience in the French Foreign Legion and the war in Iraq, have made the war against IS in Syria their own.
They are among several US and British volunteers in the decisive battle against the Islamic State group for Raqqa, the city in northeastern Syria that the militants declared the capital of their self-proclaimed caliphate in parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq.
The men joined US-allied Syrian militias for different reasons — some motivated by testimonies of survivors of the unimaginable brutality that IS flaunted in areas under its control.
Others joined what they see as a noble quest for justice and a final battle with the “heart of darkness,” in a belief that violence can only be met with violence.
Taylor Hudson, a 33-year old from Pasadena, compares the fight for Raqqa to the 1945 Battle of Berlin in World War II that was critical to ending the rule of Adolf Hitler.
“This is the Berlin of our times,” said Hudson, who doubles as a platoon medic and a sniper in the battle against the militants. For him, IS extremists “represent everything that is wrong with humanity.”
Syria’s war, now in its seventh year, has attracted foreign fighters to all sides of the complicated conflict.
Islamic extremists from Europe, Asia, and North Africa have boosted the ranks of the Islamic State group, as well as rival radical al-Qaeda-linked groups. Shiite Iranian and Lebanese militias have sided with the Syrian government, deepening the sectarian nature of the conflict that has killed over 400,000 people and displaced over 11 million, half of Syria’s pre-war population.
On the anti-IS side — though far less in numbers than the thousands of foreigners who swelled the IS ranks — most Western foreign volunteers have been drawn to the US-allied Kurdish militia known as The People’s Protection Units, or by their Kurdish initials as the YPG. The US military has developed a close relationship with the YPG and its extension, the Syrian Democratic Forces, in the war against IS.
Some Western volunteers have died in battle — earlier in July the YPG announced that 28-year-old Robert Grodt, of Santa Cruz, California, and 29-year-old Nicholas Alan Warden, of Buffalo, died in the battle for Raqqa.
Since launching the push on Raqqa on June 6, the US-backed forces have conquered a third of the city.
Hudson, who has been fighting in Syria for the past 13 months, said he was moved to tears by stories in the media of Iraqi Yazidi women who were enslaved by IS militants and looked for a way to help. A pharmacy student who learned combat medicine in the field, he said he had treated some 600 wounded ahead of the march onto Raqqa.
The presence of Western anti-IS volunteers in Syria has created something of a conundrum for their governments, which have often questioned them on terrorism charges.
“I am not a terrorist,” said Macer Gifford, a 30-year former City broker in London, who came to Syria three years ago to volunteer first with the Kurdish militia. Now he is fighting with an Assyrian militia, also part of the US-backed forces battling IS militants.
“I am here defending the people of Syria against terrorists,” he added.
Gifford has been questioned by both his British government and by the US government. At home, he has written and lectured about the complex situation in Syria, offering a first-hand experience of IS’ evolving tactics.
He believes the militants can only be defeated by sheer force.
“The Islamic State (group) is actually an exceptional opponent,” Gifford said. “We can’t negotiate them away, we can’t wish them away. The only way we can defeat them is with force of arms.”
For Kevin Howard, a 28-year old former US military contractor from California who fought in Iraq in 2006, the war against the Islamic State group is more personal.
A skilled sniper who prides himself in having killed 12 IS militants so far, Howard said he is doing it for the victims of the Bataclan Theatre in France, where the sister of one of his best friends survived. The Nov. 13, 2015 attacks claimed by IS killed 130 people at Paris cafes, the national stadium, and the Bataclan, where 90 died.
“This is a continuation of that fight, I think if you leave something unfinished, it will remain unfinished for a lifetime,” he said, showing off his 1972 sniper rifle.
On his forehead and neck, he has tattooed the “Rien N’empêche” — or “Nothing Prevents”— words from the song of the French Foreign Legion in which he served, and “life is pain.”
“For me this is a chance to absolutely go to the heart of darkness and grab it and get rid of it,” he added.
From his sniper position on Raqqa’s front line, he peeked again through the rifle hole. For Howard, the orders to march deeper into the IS-held city can’t come soon enough.
In 1916, nine-year-old Paddy Ryan was caught in a shootout between the Irish Republican Army and British troops. One of the British men pushed Ryan to the ground, taking a bullet for the young boy. It inspired Ryan to join the Army.
Except Paddy Ryan wouldn’t join the British Army until 1930. But Alfonsus Gilligan, as Ryan was known at the time joined as soon as he could. And deserted shortly after.
Deserters in the era of the second world war left for many reasons; few of them were actually for cowardice. Most of them were actually because months and years of endless combat pushed many of the frontline British troops past their breaking point.
The British Empire abolished the death penalty for desertion after World War I. In World War II Europe, deserters ran the black markets of occupied countries like France and the Netherlands. In Africa, deserters were often recruited into special operations forces like the British SAS.
The 17-year-old wore his Irish Guards uniform to a public event in County Cork, Ireland — in defiance of British Army rules. The Irish, who just fought a war of independence against Britain, started a riot. Gilligan escaped unharmed, but was brought up on charges. He never returned to his London-based unit.
He spent a few years as an itinerant farmer and day laborer before he rejoined the British Army with a new name: Frank “Paddy” Ryan.
He and his fellow Royal Warwickshires deployed to France in 1940. He was part of the rear guard that held back the Nazis at Dunkirk, delaying them long enough for most of the men to make it off the beaches.
The Royal Warwickshire Regiment was overrun at Wormhoudt, in northern France, by the German army. They ran out of ammunition and surrendered with the expectation of proper treatment under the Geneva Convention.
Instead, a Nazi Waffen SS division called Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler took many of Ryan’s friends and brothers from the Royal Warwickshires, along with members of the Cheshire Regiment, Royal Artillery and a handful of French soldiers, to a barn near Wormhoudt, and then murdered them with grenades and rifle fire.
This became known as the Wormhoudt Massacre. Paddy Ryan was not among those killed. He fought on along the Ypres-Comines Canal as they made their way to the beach, being evacuated and returning to England on June 1, 1940.
His daughter didn’t discover her father’s first life until after his death in 2000. It inspired her and her husband to explore his life in more detail.
But the fad didn’t make its debut on a famous red carpet or in an elegant fashion show — it’s the brilliant invention of the U.S. Navy.
Although no one has been officially accredited with inventing the bell bottom trouser, the flared out look was introduced for sailors to wear in 1817. The new design was made to allow the young men who washed down the ship’s deck to roll their pant legs up above their knees to protect the material.
This modification also improved the time it took to take them off when the sailors needed to abandon ship in a moments notice. The trousers also doubled as a life preserver by knotting the pant legs.
The Department of Veterans Affairs says that it is “amending its regulation” on the copays that veterans pay for medications they receive that are not for service related conditions.
Currently, veterans pay $8 and $9 for a 30-day (or less) supply of prescriptions.
The VA says that the new system will “keep outpatient medication costs low for Veterans.”
Dr. David J. Shulkin, the VA Undersecretary for Health, said “Reducing their out-of-pocket costs encourages greater adherence to priscribed outpatient medications and reduces the risk of fragmented care that results when multiple pharmacies are used.”
The new system tossed out the old way of determining costs, which was based on the Medical Consumer Price Index.
Three classes of outpatient medications have been designed to help curb the costs.
Tier 1 is for preferred generics, and will cost veterans $5 for a 30-day or less supply.
Tier 2 is for non-preferred generics, which includes over the counter medications, and will cost veterans $8 for a 30-day or less supply.
Tier 3 is for brand name medications, and will cost veterans $11 for a 30-day or less supply.
The new system will go into effect February 27th, 2017, and only apply to medications that are not for service connected issues.
Veterans who are former Prisoners of War, catastrophically disabled, or are covered by other exceptions will not have to pay copays.
Veterans who fall into Priority Groups 2-8 will have a $700 cap on copays, at which point the copays do not apply. To find out which Priority Group you fall into, check out the VA’s list of Priority Groups in their Health Benefits tab (here).
According to 38 U.S.C. 1722A(a), the VA is compelled to require veterans to pay a minimum copay of $2 for every 30-day (or less) supply of medications which are prescribed for non-service related disabilities or connections, unless there is an exemption for the veteran. 38 U.S.C. 1722A(b) gives the VA the authority to set the copay amount higher and to put caps on the amount veterans pay.
Admiral Harry Harris, the commander of United States Pacific Command, called Chinese criticism of the deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system “preposterous” during testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The blunt talk comes in the wake of reports that China has unleashed hackers against South Korean government and business interests after the South Korean decision to allow deployment of a THAAD battery. According to Defense News, a battery has six launchers, and a Missile Defense Agency fact sheet notes each launcher has eight missiles. So, this battery has 48 missiles ready for launch.
While the United States has other missile-defense options to protect allies in the region like South Korea and Japan, THAAD is one of the more capable options according to ArmyRecognition.com, with a range of about 600 miles and the ability to hit targets almost 500,000 feet above ground level. The system is also highly mobile.
The MIM-104 Patriot surface-to-air missile, which proved itself capable of intercepting ballistic missiles during Operation Desert Storm, is already operated in the region by the United States, Japan, and South Korea, according to ArmyRecognition.com. The Patriot has a range of 43.5 miles and is capable of also targeting aircraft in addition to ballistic missiles.
Adm. Harris also declared support for a study into the feasibility of deploying Ground-Based Interceptors to Hawaii. This system currently is based in Alaska and California, with 30 interceptors split between Fort Greely and Vandenberg Air Force Base. The GBI has shown a success rate of almost 53 percent in tests, per the Missile Defense Agency.
A Hawaii basing option for the GBI would add another tier of defenses to that state, which along with Alaska are potentially in range of North Korean ICBMs like the Taepodong 2 and KN-08.