This is the only flag allowed to fly above the Stars and Stripes - We Are The Mighty
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This is the only flag allowed to fly above the Stars and Stripes

Death’s flag is the flag flying above Old Glory when the nation is in mourning. No, you can’t see it, but at least you’re thinking about it, and that’s the whole point of the American flag being at half mast.


The tradition dates back to the 1612, when the British ship Heart’s Ease arrived in Canada with her captain dead. When it next arrived in London, its Union Jack was at half mast, making room for the invisible flag of death.

This is is what it might have looked like, if the Royal Navy of the 1600s had destroyers and such.

The U.S. Navy first observed the custom in 1799 to mark the death of George Washington. The Navy Department ordered U.S. Navy ships to “wear their colours half mast high.” The country would follow suit after that, but no guidelines were given for when and for whom it was appropriate.

Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 7 of the United States Code outlines strict guidelines for flying the U.S. flag, and for lowering it, depending on who died. All Presidents are remembered for thirty days while the current Vice-President, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and Speaker of the House get ten days. The Department of Veterans Affairs has a handy quick reference page for flying the flag at half mast, adding “The flag should be briskly run up to the top of the staff before being lowered slowly to the half-staff position.”

President Eisenhower declared structure for lowering the flag in 1954. the President can order the flag lowered to mourn the deaths of other officials and foreign dignitaries as well as to mark tragic events in the history of a nation. And no, President Obama did not order the flag at half mast for Whitney Houston.

Whitney, we hardly knew ye . . .

The flag was lowered nationally for Pope John Paul II, Neil Armstrong, Rosa Parks, Winston Churchill, Anwar Sadat, Yitzhak Rabin and Nelson Mandela. It was also lowered to mourn the shootings in Virginia Tech, Newtown, Conn., and Charleston, as well as for the Boston Marathon Bombing and the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004.

Governors of the states, territories, and the Mayor of Washington, D.C. also have the authority to lower the flags in areas under their jurisdiction.

If you can’t lower you flag because its in a fixed position on the pole, the American Legion advises you to put a black ribbon to the top of the pole.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Put the homeschool schedules down until you read this

And just like that, all of America became homeschoolers.

As resources are furiously pinned to social media, it quickly becomes overwhelming to newbie parent-teachers trying to choose what tools to fill their children’s long days with. Rather quickly, most of you will hit walls. Walls that I too hit, full of rookie mistakes made trying to recreate the actual school day or classroom schedule within my home.


I’m here to tell you to throw that all away. To slowly and happily sip your morning coffee and read this.

Whatever you do, don’t try to recreate the school day at home.

As a former public school teacher turned travel schooling mom (google that in your spare time), the first mistake typically made is both the course load and daily schedule. Classrooms educate on average 20-30 children simultaneously at various levels of learning. At home, you have one student-yours. He or she will accomplish a school day’s worth of work in far less time.

The beauty of homeschool is that it is meant to be flexible, individual, and guided by learner’s passions. You will learn to “do school” at times when your child is the most focused. This may mean 1-2 lessons first thing in the morning, then creative passions, exploration, and fun until later in the evening when they finish up a few “core lessons.” At this very moment, homeschoolers are on thousands of varied schedules. The best part? There’s no wrong answer. So spend the first week or so tuning into your home and child’s rhythms before charging forcefully ahead into a schedule.

Pursuing interests is the best form of education

What’s the best modality for educating your children? Good conversation. I could start and end this article there.

Once you realize “core curriculum” takes up only a tiny fraction of time, something else will begin to fill the days…passion. The deep pursuit of self-interest is the beautiful gem of homeschooling. Now is the best time for your children to take up a love of art study, Claymation, geology, gardening, or marine biology via the unlimited library of content available online. Allow them to spark a new interest or immerse themselves completely in a passion for discovering a world they never knew existed.

The simplest, yet effective way to spark passion is to discover the world around you through intricate observation. On the way to the beach, my children noticed several tsunami hazard zone signs. A series of questions, answers, and google results led to over an hour of becoming mini experts at 4 and 8 years old. The subject was tangibly relevant to them; thus, they pursued the study fiercely. Experiences like this are worksheet free. Developing a love of learning is the ultimate goal of education.

Let them participate in what we are all going through

Knowledge is empowering. Your children are aware the world is changing around then, no matter how innocent they may be. Each new day we experience a global pandemic forcing the world into quarantine, shutting down schools, and infringing upon our way of life, which is a time worth documenting.

Allow your children to become historians and reporters. Generations all go through something, and this is something noteworthy. Invite your children to document what they see in the world around them and how they feel or what they understand is going on. Not only is this highly educational (spelling, grammar, creative writing, history, etc.), but it is also helpful to frame an otherwise scary situation for young minds. Together, each day you can go over their journals to help shape or clarify things for them. It is also an opportunity to solidify in their minds how you are doing all you can to keep your family safe.

This time is a gift. A gift to stop and reengage with your children all over again. To get to know them deeply as individuals in this season of life. To make the memories and connections necessary to sustain them into adulthood.

Take a breath, take it easy, and simply enjoy discovering each day together.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 ways East Germans escaped the grip of Communism

At the end of World War II, Germany was divided in half, leaving West and East Germany. The West was controlled by NATO and the Warsaw Pact nations controlled the East. The former capital of Berlin was torn in two, split between communists and capitalists.


As you might expect, life under a communist regime is hell and people were looking for a way out. After the Berlin Wall and Inner German border (IGB) were created and heavily guarded, only an estimated 5,000 escapees managed to sneak out and into the freedoms of Western civilization throughout the 28 years of the Wall’s existence.

1. Trains

In the early days of the Cold War, defecting wasn’t that difficult. It was estimated that, before the Berlin Wall and the IGB were erected, nearly 3.5 million East Germans defected to West Germany. Legal loopholes, a lack of physical borders, and little effort to keep East Germans meant that all it took to get away was to hop a train.

All of this changed on August 13th, 1961, when the Berlin Wall went up. By August 24th, the order was given to kill anyone attempting to leave East Germany.

The fact that so many people risked certain death to leave a Communist regime kinda proves it’s a sh*t system. (Courtesy of the German Federal Archives)

2. Wearing uniforms

One of the most iconic images of the Cold War was captured when an East German Soldier, Conrad Schumann, leaped over concertina wire on August 15th, 1961 as the Wall was being created.

It was also common to find guard and Soldier uniforms in East Berlin black marketplaces.

Schumann’s escape has since become synonymous with the era of German history. (Courtesy Photo)

3. Counterfeit passports

Speaking of black markets, special passports that allowed access past guards were also forged. There were certain citizens that were authorized to cross the border, legally, for various reasons. While actual passport holders were required to come back by nightfall, escapees with a fake passport and little interest in returning to a Soviet sh*thole said, “scheiß drauf” and never returned.

When Communists realized people were openly spending foreign money in 1979, black markets boomed because capitalism, uh, finds a way. Fun fact: an East German diplomat passport looked much like a Playboy Club: Munich membership card. If you placed your thumb over where the Playboy Bunny logo would be, you could sneak in.

Playboy saves the world, time and time again. (Courtesy Photo)

4. Jumping from high buildings

Many options for avoiding the Berlin Wall, such as passage through the Spree or Havel Rivers, were downright dangerous. While the guards would detain or shoot as you tried to sneak across the Wall, you ran the risk of drowning if you opted for a river crossing. In fact, many people drowned in escape attempts, but that wasn’t as dangerous as this option.

There were many tall buildings located near the Wall. Escapees would climb up to the highest floor needed and, boldly, jump. Many survived, some were wounded, but others weren’t as lucky.

As the years went on, the Wall grew, making this passage impossible.

5. Tunnels

The largest mass escape from East Berlin was when 57 people made their way through a tunnel, aptly named afterwords, “Tunnel 57.”

The tunnel systems were elaborate and ran deeply underground to prevent detection.

Shawshank Redemption has nothing on these East Berliners. (Courtesy of German Federal Archives)

6. Hiding in trunks

The final illegal journey from East Germany to the West was done by an American man who smuggled a father and his little girl in his vehicle just days before the Wall fell. Their story was shared with National Geographic in the video below.



(National Geographic)

MIGHTY CULTURE

Army offers to repay soldiers’ college loans if they go infantry

The U.S. Army is offering to pay off student loans of up to $65,000 or to give $15,000 bonuses to recruits willing to sign up for the infantry.


The Army has been offering increased financial incentives to attract recruits to take on one of its most physically challenging jobs since it missed its recruiting goal in fiscal 2018 by 6,500 soldiers.

“There’s a very unique bond between infantry soldiers not found in any other [career] in the Army,” Staff. Sgt. Leonard Markley, a recruiter in Toledo, Ohio, whose primary career field is infantry, said in a recent service news release. “It’s us against the world, and we as infantrymen all know about the hardships that come with this [career]: walking countless miles, sleep deprivation and rationed meals.

“Even when I see another infantryman walking by, I have respect for him and have his back, because we are brothers through all our hardships,” he added.

To qualify for the infantry, applicants must score a minimum of 87 on the combat line score of the Armed Forces Qualification Test and pass the Occupational Physical Assessment Test at the heavy level, according to the release.

Recruits attend a 22-week Infantry One Station Unit Training at Fort Benning, Georgia. During training, they will list their specific infantry job preferences, although assignments are determined by the needs of the Army. Upon graduation, soldiers are assigned as either an infantryman (11B) or an indirect fire infantryman (11C), the release states.

“The Infantry has instilled a work ethic in me that is noticeably different than my peers,” Markley said. “This work ethic and discipline will set me apart wherever I go after the military. It is the premier career for leadership and management development skills. I can go anywhere and be a successful manager in any civilian field.”

Until recently, Army recruiters were offering bonuses of up to ,000 for a six-year enlistment in the infantry. The Army began paying out hefty bonuses for infantry recruits in May 2019 to meet a shortfall of about 3,300 infantry training seats by the end of fiscal 2019. It was part of a sweeping new recruiting strategy launched at the beginning of fiscal 2019, after the service missed its fiscal 2018 goal.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

Articles

This Civil War veteran demonstrated how to ditch the bottle and become a saint – literally

On that rare occasion in your service, you might have run into a fellow trooper who, after reflection, could be called a “saint” for his or her selfless courage and commitment to duty.


And while very few of a martial bent wind up actually becoming saints, one Civil War veteran is being considered for canonization by the Catholic Church for his devotion to duty.

And beards. Many veterans are dedicated to beards as well.

Joseph Dutton was a veteran of the American Civil War. He left the United States for Hawaii in his mid-40s, arriving in Honolulu with nothing but the clothes on his back. He spent the remainder of his life in a leper colony trying to eclipse his past mistakes “in his own eyes and in the eyes of God.”

When Brother Joseph Dutton died in March 1931, former President Calvin Coolidge said:

Whenever his story is told men will pause to worship. His faith, his work, his self-sacrifice appeal to people because there is always something of the same spirit in them. Therein lies the moral power of the world. He realized a vision which we all have.

Dutton joined the Union Army in April 1861 as a private in the 13th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. The Vermont native moved to Wisconsin when he was just 4 years old. By age 18, he was enlisting to fight in the Civil War.

Though his regiment didn’t fight in any major battles during the war (only five men of the regiment were killed), it served faithfully in garrison duty and battled guerrillas until the end of the war. Dutton was recognized as a “dashing daredevil” and one “of the best and bravest officers in the army,” rising to the rank of regimental quartermaster sergeant and then lieutenant.

Dutton’s life was not so prosperous after the war. He performed the gloomy duty of supervising the disinterment of soldiers who were buried in unmarked graves and relocating their remains to national cemeteries. He married in 1866, but it ended in ruin when his wife cheated on him and they divorced.

For several years he found refuge in a bottle. He bounced around employment as an investor in a distillery business, an employee of a railroad company, and as a special agent for the federal government.

In April of 1883, the former army officer turned 40 and decided he needed a change in his life. He was baptized in the Catholic Church of St. Peter’s in Memphis and took the name Joseph after his favorite saint, dropping his birth name of Ira. He lived in the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky for two years, committed to a vow of silence and ascetic living.

Although he was content living his life in isolation at Gestsemani, Joseph wanted to commit the remainder of his years to helping others. He explained his motivation when he wrote:

“I wanted to serve some useful purpose during the rest of my life without any hope of monetary or other reward. … The idea of a penitential life became almost an obsession and I was determined to see it through.”

He was inspired to travel to Hawaii after reading about Father Damien and his work with lepers at Kalaupapa. He arrived at Honolulu from San Francisco in July of 1886 to offer his services to Father Damien de Veuster.

Father Damien, seen here with a girls choir, was canonized as a saint himself in 2009.

Hawaiians infected with leprosy or suspected of it were rounded up by the authorities and dumped into this remote settlement over the preceding decades. The leper settlement on the island of Molokai was located at the base of a range of sea cliffs bordering the ocean that formed a natural barrier from the outside world. Father Damien transformed the lawless settlement into a sanctuary that provided comfort, medical needs, and a place to worship for the infected.

The priest took the 43-year-old wanderer under his wing without hesitation. Damien had been infected with leprosy while serving the settlement for over a decade and was in desperate need of an assistant and a successor. He would be dead only three years later.

Dutton (far right) with two men from the Molokai Leper Colony.

Dutton worked “from daybreak to dark” as he cleaned and dressed wounds of “all of the type that leprosy inflicts on mankind.” Dutton was as unconcerned with being infected as Father Damien was. One account said of Dutton, “leprosy had no power to instill fear in his mind.” When Damien died in 1889, Dutton took over as his successor and continued to tirelessly carry out his work.

Despite the isolation of the settlement, word of Dutton’s story reached the United States. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Hebert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt all praised him in writing. Franklin D. Roosevelt stated that he should “be raised up for the view and emulation of many others.”

Brother Joseph Dutton, center front, with Kalaupapa boys and men.

President Theodore Roosevelt ordered sixteen Navy battleships sailing to Japan to redirect their course in July of 1906 and pass in sight of the settlement to pay homage to the worldly saint.

With the outbreak of World War I, Dutton wrote President Woodrow Wilson and offered his services by organizing “a few hundred of the old veterans” from the American Civil War to form a sharpshooter unit. This was politely declined by President Wilson, but his offer did not go unappreciated. Dutton remained a lifelong American patriot even though he never returned to the United States.

Dutton died in March of 1931 at 88. He was buried in the Saint Philomena Catholic Church Cemetery of Hawaii, and was mourned by many. The army veteran who devoted a portion of his life serving his country and the other half serving others never saw himself as a modern-day saint.

In the years before his death, he wrote: “These writers make me out a hero, while I don’t feel a bit like one. I don’t claim to have done any great things; am merely trying, in a small way, to help my neighbor and my own soul.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

These hot rod racers are made from military drop tanks

Military drop tanks are attached under fighters and bombers, giving them extra fuel to extend their range, but easily falling away if the plane gets in a fight and needs to prioritize agility and weight over range. The drop tanks are light, aerodynamic, empty shells when not filled with fuel, and that actually makes them a great starting point for hot rods.


Why Warplane Fuel Tanks Make Great Hot Rods

www.youtube.com

And the hot rod community noticed these tanks during the Cold War, with some innovative spirits snapping them up to create tiny, fast cars. Now, these “lakesters” are quick racers that humans will cram themselves into to race across salt flats and other courses.

Many of these racers are made from World War II tanks like those used on the P-38 Lightning, the plane the F-35 Lightning II is named for. The P-38’s drop tanks were made of steel, like many of them in World War II, and its 300-gallon capacity was just big enough to allow for a motor and driver.

Getting ahold of a steel drop tank to convert was easy for a few decades after World War II, but enthusiasts now have to look harder for longer to find one of the few remaining, unconverted drop tanks.

A P-38 Lightning with its drop tanks during World War II.

(Public domain)

And they aren’t likely to get much help from the military. Modern militaries have often opted for more exotic materials for new drop tanks, reducing their weight and, therefore, the fuel usage of the plane. A lighter drop tank costs less fuel, and so provides more range, but the composite materials aren’t always great for racers.

It will only get worse, too. Drop tanks have a massive drawback for modern planes: They increase the plane’s radar signature while reducing the number of weapons it can carry. So the military and the aviation industry are shifting away from drop tanks, opting instead for “conformal fuel tanks.”

These are auxiliary tanks made to fit like a new, larger skin on an existing plane. They’re a little harder to install, and they can’t be jettisoned in flight, but they extend range with less drag and a much lower radar penalty. And they can be packed tighter to the body of the jet, allowing the plane to keep more of its agility than it would have with heavy tanks hanging from its wings.

Sorry, racers. Keep looking for the World War II-classics.

Podcast

That time Sen. Mitch McConnell was fooled by ‘Duffel Blog’

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You might think that, somewhere along the way, someone in the staff of a senior senator from Kentucky would have figured out what Duffel Blog really was. Instead, in 2012, a concerned constituent actually had the Senator’s office send a formal letter to the Pentagon concerning Duffel Blog’s report of the VA extending benefits to Guantanamo Bay detainees.


What Duffel Blog is, on its face, is a satirical news website that covers the military. At the very least, we all laugh. We laugh at the brave Airman who sent his steak back at the DFAC and the Army wife who re-enlisted her husband indefinitely using a general power of attorney. We laugh because the stories’ absurdities are grounded in the reality of military culture.

Duffel Blog and its writers are more than brilliant. What it does at its best is play the role of court jester – delivering hard truths hidden inside jokes. In the case of Senator McConnell’s office sending a letter of concern to the Pentagon over a Duffel Blog piece, the site was hammering the VA, equating using its services to punishing accused terrorists in one of the most notorious prisons in the world.

We laugh, but they’re talking about the VA we all use – and we laugh because there’s truth to the premise.

Paul Szoldra is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Duffel Blog, former Military and Defense Editor at Business Insider, and was instrumental in the creation of We Are The Mighty. He’s now a columnist at Task & Purpose.

Szoldra speaks the the Got Your 6 Storytellers event in Los Angeles, Calif.
(Television Academy)

Speaking truth to power is not difficult for Szoldra, even when the power he speaks to is one that is so revered by the American people that it’s nearly untouchable by most other media. We live in an age where criticizing politicians is the order of the day, but criticizing the military can be a career-ending endeavor. You don’t have to be a veteran to criticize military leadership, but it helps.

“If you go back on the timeline far enough, you’ll find a lot of bullsh*t,” Szoldra says, referring specifically to comments made by generals about the now 17-year-old war in Afghanistan. “And I have no problem calling it out, highlighting it where need be.”

Szoldra doesn’t like that the top leadership of the U.S. military exists in what he calls a “bubble” and can get away with a lot because of American support for its fighting men and women — those fighting the war on the ground. Szoldra, who left the Marine Corps as a sergeant in 2010, was one of those lower-enlisted who fought the war. When he writes, he writes from that perspective.

Szoldra as a Marine in Afghanistan
(Paul Szoldra)

“If we’re talking about sending troops into Syria… I wonder what does that feel like to the grunt on the ground,” Szoldra says. “I don’t really care too much about the general and how he’s going to deal with the strategy, I wonder about the 20-something lance corporal that I used to be trying to find IEDs with their feet.”

His work is thoughtful and, at times, intense, but always well-founded. Szoldra also does a semi-regular podcast with Terminal Lance creator, Max Uriarte, where they have honest discussion about similar topics. Those discussions often take more of a cultural turn and it feels more like you’re listening to Marine grunts wax on about the way things are changing – because that’s exactly what it is, with just as much honesty as you’d come to expect from Paul Szoldra and his ongoing body of work.

Szoldra and Max Uriarte record their podcast.
(After Action with Max and Paul)

If you liked Szoldra on the show, read his work on Task & Purpose, give After Action with Max and Paul a listen, and get the latest from Duffel Blog. If you aren’t interested in the latest and just want the greatest, pick up Mission Accomplished: The Very Best of Duffel Blog, Volume One at Amazon.

And for a (potentially) limited time, you can get the Duffel Blog party game “WTF, Over? The Duffel Box” by donating to the game’s Kickstarter campaign.

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MIGHTY CULTURE

One of the world’s first energy drinks was actually radioactive

There are a lot of ways to get your day started, give yourself and early-evening boost, or even just shake off “that 2:30 feeling.” Maybe sticking to coffee or B-vitamins, proven effective over hundreds of years, would be best. Given the history of revitalizing energy drinks, you might be getting more than your money’s worth.


But Pepsi should have paid us to drink Josta.

Anyone who’s served in the military for at least twenty minutes after basic training discovered fairly quickly that American troops love certain things – and many of those things are legal stimulants. Anything from preworkout to dip to, of course, energy drinks. And everything from Monster to Rip-Its is what probably sustains half of the U.S. military force around the world (don’t check on those numbers, that’s just what it seems like).

Things like guarana, taurine, mentira, and yerba mate are all so common in energy drinks nowadays that we barely even think about them. We think about the ingredients of energy drinks so little that I made up one of those ingredients and it’s unlikely anyone would have checked on it. Even in the early days of these newfangled beverages, people seemed more concerned with flavor and the consequences of mixing them with alcohol than anything else.

But it turns out blindly accepting any drink as safe is foolish. That goes double for energy drinks.

Energy drinks always seem to be about catching the latest fad, “unleashing the power” of guarana, or cherries, or green tea, or ketones, or radium, or BCAA or – wait what?

Radium: the radioactive isotope that had all the world in a rage. In the early 20th Century, radium was hailed as a miracle, and its unique elemental properties could be seen with the naked eye. It seemed like everyone was in love with radium’s pretty blue glow. No one knew it was more radioactive than uranium, however, and no one understood just how dangerous that was. For nearly 30 years, radium could be found in a surprising array of products from fertilizers to cigarettes to energy drinks.

One of those was a beverage called Radithor – certified radioactive water.

Radithor was giving people cancer before Red Bull gave them wings.

Radithor was a solution of radioactive radium salts and distilled water, advertising itself as “perpetual sunshine,” and a “cure for the living dead.” Its creator charged the modern-day equivalent of for every bottle and claimed it could cure impotence and mend broken bones, which would be ironic for one Radithor drinker, Pittsburgh businessman Eben Byers.

Byers began taking the drink to help heal a broken arm but continued drinking it long after it was “necessary.” His habit was soon as many as three bottles of the stuff every day. It was this habit, of course, that killed him. The radium deposited in his new bone tissue and, after a few years, was pretty much a part of his skeleton. Holes soon formed in his skull and his jaw fell off. Even though Byers had to be buried in a lead-lined coffin, his death led to the end of the radium-based health craze.

It would be decades before another energy drink craze hit the streets, this time based on simple B-vitamins. Stick to the safe stuff.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Iranian links: New Taliban splinter group emerges that opposes U.S. Peace Deal

A new breakaway Afghan Taliban faction that has close ties to neighboring Iran and opposes efforts aimed at ending the 18-year insurgency in Afghanistan has emerged.

The Hezb-e Walayat-e Islami, or Party of Islamic Guardianship, is believed to have split from the mainstream Taliban soon after the United States and the militant group signed a landmark peace agreement in February.


The formation of the splinter group underlines the possible divisions within the Taliban, which has seen bitter leadership transitions and growing internal dissent in recent years.

It is unclear whether the new splinter group will rally broad support but its emergence could pose a new hurdle for the U.S.-Taliban deal, which has been undermined by violence, disputes, and delays.

Under that agreement, international forces will withdraw from Afghanistan by July 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which pledged to negotiate a permanent cease-fire and power-sharing deal with the Afghan government.

‘Early Stages Of Forming’

Antonio Giustozzi, a Taliban expert with the Royal United Services Institute in London, said it appears the new splinter group is based in Iran, which shares a 900-kilometer border with Afghanistan and has a sizeable Afghan population.

“It’s still in the early stages of forming,” said Giustozzi, adding that the military strength and the leadership of the faction is unknown.

An Afghan intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told RFE/RL that the new splinter group has not been “officially announced.” The official said members of the group included radical Taliban commanders and members of small Taliban offshoots.

A new report by a United Nations monitoring team made public on June 1 said that “at least one group of senior Taliban” had “formed a new group in opposition to any possible peace agreement.”

The breakaway faction was “composed mainly of dissident senior Taliban members residing outside Afghanistan,” said the report, which was based on information provided by Afghan and foreign intelligence and security services, think tanks, experts, and interlocutors.

Iran Building Taliban ‘Combat Capabilities’

The Hezb-e Walayat-e Islami joins a growing list of Taliban factions that support continued fighting against Afghan and international troops.

“There are several Taliban leaders, fronts, and commanders who oppose peace and are linked to Iran,” said Giustozzi.

Among them, he added, is Sirajuddin Haqqani, the deputy leader of the Taliban and the head of the Haqqani network, a powerful Taliban faction that is a U.S.-designated terrorist organization.

That is despite Haqqani’s op-ed in February in The New York Times, in which he voiced support for the peace deal with the United States.

Haqqani, who is the Taliban’s operational chief, has a million U.S. bounty on his head. He is the son of the late radical Islamist leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, the founder of the Al-Qaeda-linked network blamed for some of Afghanistan’s deadliest suicide attacks.

The Haqqani network has strong ties to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. But Giustozzi said the network is “getting closer” to Iran as Islamabad and Riyadh cut funding to it.

Other Iran-linked Taliban leaders who oppose peace efforts include Mullah Qayum Zakir, a powerful battlefield commander and the former military chief of the Taliban until 2014. A former inmate in the infamous U.S. prison at Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay, Mullah Zakir has the backing of hard-line field commanders.

Mullah Zakir leads a conservative Taliban faction along with Ibrahim Sadr, the Taliban’s former military commission chief. In October 2018, Sadr was among eight Taliban members designated global terrorists by the U.S. Treasury Department.

“Iranian officials agreed to provide Ibrahim with monetary support and individualized training in order to prevent a possible tracing back to Iran,” the Treasury Department said, adding that “Iranian trainers would help build Taliban tactical and combat capabilities.”

An Afghan intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the new splinter group included the followers of Sadr.

The officials said the new group also includes members of the Feday-e Mahaz (Suicide Brigade) a small, hard-core offshoot of the mainstream Taliban.

The group is believed to be led by Haji Najibullah, a loyalist to radical Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah, who was killed in a U.S.-led attack in Helmand Province in 2007.

The group, vehemently against reconciliation with Kabul, has claimed several high-profile assassinations over the years.

‘Material Support’

Iran backed the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance before the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, when the Taliban controlled most of Afghanistan. Tehran also provided help to U.S. forces as they toppled the Taliban regime. But in recent years the Islamic republic and the Taliban have forged closer ties, with militant leaders even visiting Tehran.

Tehran has confirmed it has contacts with the Taliban but insists that it is aimed at ensuring the safety of Iranian citizens in Afghanistan and encouraging the Taliban to join peace talks.

But U.S. officials have accused Tehran of providing material support to the Taliban, an allegation it denies.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in January accused Tehran of “actively working” to undermine the peace process in Afghanistan, adding that Iran was supporting the Taliban and the Haqqani network.

In a report released in November, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) said Iran provides financial, political, training, and material support to the Taliban.

“Tehran does not seek to return the Taliban to power but aims to maintain influence with the group as a hedge in the event that the Taliban gains a role in a future Afghan government,” the report said, adding that Iran’s support enabled it to advance its interests in Afghanistan and attain “strategic depth” in the country.

Taliban Divided Over Peace

The emergence of the Taliban splinter group has exposed serious divisions within the militant group.

The Taliban is believed to be divided over a peace settlement.

Its political leadership based in Pakistan is believed to be more open to a peace deal but hard-line military commanders on the battlefield in Afghanistan demand the restoration of the Taliban regime that ruled from 1996 to 2001.

Internal Taliban divisions have intensified after the death of founder and spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, whose death was revealed in 2015, more than two years after he had died in Pakistan.

Some Taliban commanders accused his successor, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur, of covering up Mullah Omar’s death and assuming leadership of the extremist group without proper approval.

Mullah Mansur struggled to quell the internal dissent and reconcile feuding factions, with some commanders splitting from the group and challenging his leadership.

Mullah Mansur was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan in May 2016.

The succession of Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, a low-key Islamic scholar who was Mullah Mansur’s deputy, was also opposed.

But experts said the Taliban has overcome the succession crises, has fended off competition from the global appeal of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group, and has remained a relatively coherent fighting force despite a deadly war against foreign and Afghan forces.

Borhan Osman, an independent analyst and a leading expert on Islamic extremism and the militant networks operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, said divisions within the Taliban are not yet visible.

“So far the Taliban has been successful in spinning the agreement with the United States as an outright victory,” he said.

Osman said the Taliban’s unity will be tested during intra-Afghan talks, when Afghan and Taliban negotiators will discuss a permanent cease-fire and a power-sharing deal.

The negotiations were scheduled to start in March but were delayed by disputes over the release of Taliban prisoners by the government and escalating militant attacks.

“The Taliban will be forced to come up with specific positions on issues and present their vision for a future Afghanistan,” said Osman.

The Taliban has been ambiguous on key issues, including women’s rights, the future distribution of power, and changes to the Afghan Constitution, reflecting the divisions within the group.

Many expect intra-Afghan negotiations to be complex and protracted, considering the gulf between the sides on policy and the sharing of power between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

Taliban Offshoots

Internal rifts and rivalries have led to the emergence of various Taliban offshoots over the years, although many lack the military strength and support to pose a threat to the mainstream group.

The High Council of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan — led by Mullah Mohammad Rasul — has been engaged in deadly clashes with fighters from the mainstream Taliban in southern and western Afghanistan since 2015, leaving scores dead on both sides.

The clashes have left the offshoot severely weakened, experts said, with many considering the group to be militarily irrelevant.

Mullah Rasul is believed to receive arms and support from Afghan intelligence in an attempt to divide the militant group.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

Military Life

4 of the best things about being stationed at Camp Pendleton

Twentynine Palms, Camp Lejeune, and Quantico are just a few of the Marine Corps bases that house those who’ve earned the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor. Although the various duty stations each offer their own benefits, none compare to the awesomeness that is Camp Pendleton.

In 1942, the government purchased land in Southern California from a private owner for $4,239,062. The property was soon named in honor of Maj. Gen. Joseph H. Pendleton for his outstanding service, thus creating Camp Pendleton. Some might tell you there are downsides to be stationed there, but, in general, it’s considered the best. Here’s why.


The Marine Corps Exchange located on the main side of the base. If you can’t find what you’re looking for here, it’s not Marine Corps-quality.

It has everything you need

Shopping, recreation centers, and schools are just a few amenities that make the historic property a full-scale, working city. The Camp has been designed and developed to fulfill the every need of those stationed within the gates.

There’re so many activities

The San Diego Zoo, Sea World, and Universal Studios are just a few of the places you can take your family to visit on a sunny afternoon. The drives will take you typically take around an hour or so, depending on traffic, but since you live so close, you don’t have to spend money on a hotel room — which makes sh*t cheaper.

Visit Camp Pendleton today and notice there’s not a cloud in f*cking skies!

(Photo by Marine Sgt. April L. Price)

That SoCal weather

Do you like doing PT in the pouring rain? Well, if you do, Camp Pendleton isn’t the place for you. According to U.S. Climate data, Camp Pendleton receives an average of 13.3 inches of rain per year. Compare that to the national average of 32.25 inches.

Camp Pendleton is starting to sound pretty impressive, isn’t it?

Members of the Western Army Infantry Regiment, Japan Ground Self Defense Force, and Marines with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit play a game of football on the Del Mar Beach at the conclusion of Exercise Iron Fist 2013

(Photo by Sgt. Christopher O’Quin)

It has its own beach

The beach in Del Mar has places where you can camp or rent small cottages for a few days. These private areas can get you close to the ocean enough to hear waves crash onto the shoreline while keeping you near enough to the base to hear the Marines call out their famous and well-rehearsed cadences as they run by.

It’s a perfect location.

MIGHTY TRENDING

How drug dealers used the US military to smuggle heroin

In the early 1970s, Harlem-based drug kingpin, Frank Lucas, was slinging his signature brand of heroin all over New York and the east coast. “Blue Magic,” as it was called, was the best-selling, closest-to-pure Asian heroin you could get.


Blue Magic envelopes. (Image from the Netflix documentary, Drug Lords)

New York City’s special narcotics prosecutor called Lucas, “one of the most outrageous international dope-smuggling gangs ever… an innovator who got his own connection outside the U.S. and then sold the stuff himself in the street.” That connection was in Vietnam, where the United States was embroiled in a years-long conflict. It presented Lucas with an easy opportunity to move his product.

No, it was not in the coffins of dead service members as Lucas originally claimed, nor was it in specially-made coffins or false-bottomed coffins. These are all claims made by Lucas, who is now 87 years old, at various times. The heroin was moved by U.S. military members on military planes, however.

Frank Lucas today.

Charles Lutz, who served in Vietnam with the 525th Military Intelligence Group and spent 32 years as a federal narcotics agent, was part of the team that toppled Frank Lucas’ Asia-based heroin supply chain. He detailed how, exactly, military investigators and drug enforcement agent cracked the scheme for History Net.

Two Army NCOs, Leslie “Ike” Atkinson and William “Jack” Jackson, met at Fort Bragg early in their careers. While in Vietnam, they made money buying Military Payment Certificates on the cheap and trading them in for cash on the border. When they got tired of that, they started smuggling heroin from a bar they purchased in Bangkok.

From the documentary Sgt. Smack.

Staff Sgt. Jasper Myrick, Atkinson, and Jackson would cheat soldiers at cards and forgive their debt if they moved a shipment of heroin in their personal luggage back to the States. Even though he was caught trying to mail heroin through false-bottomed AWOL bags and thrown in prison in 1975, he continued to move product. After all, he was Frank Lucas’ chief supplier.

Army Criminal Investigators were connected through a DEA informant in Bangkok who connected them to Atkinson’s supplier. Posing as street thugs, they set up a fake buy. After they had evidence against Atkinson’s buyer, they convinced him to come to the U.S. for some fun in Las Vegas. Not only did he come, he brought a kilo of heroin with him.

Even though he was eventually busted and sentenced to 30 years, he wouldn’t give up the former Master Sgt. Atkinson. Luckily, there were two other recently retired military members in Bangkok. One of them told the DEA and Army CID that Atkinson was moving a giant shipment to the U.S. soon.

(Al Profit | YouTube)

That’s when luck blew the case wide open.

Staff Sgt. Jasper Myrick was having his household items inspected for a coming move to Fort Benning. The Army inspector found 100 pounds of “China White” heroin hidden in Myrick’s furniture. But the DEA still needed to trace it back to Atkinson.

Thai police traced the furniture back to its manufacturer where they identified an associate of Atkinson’s, Jimmy Smedley, a retired Army NCO who also ran Atkinson’s nightclub in Bangkok. They also found orders for Myrick’s move and orders for another soldier who recently moved to Augusta, Georgia.

But that soldier’s furniture was already emptied. One of Atkinson’s known associates, an Air Force NCO named Freddie Thornton, had stayed at a motel in the area recently. Agents picked up him and everyone associated with the heroin move.

It was the largest heroin smuggling operation in American history.

Thornton turned on Atkinson and everyone involved was convicted. The heroin was never recovered and was valued at $5 million on the streets.

The film American Gangster was loosely based on Lucas’ story.

Frank Lucas, the drug dealer who took credit for smuggling heroin in the coffins of dead servicemen, was arrested before Atkinson in 1975. Originally sentenced to 70 years, he turned on everyone and got his sentence reduced significantly.

Atkinson calls his claim of using coffins “the biggest hoax ever perpetrated.”

MIGHTY MOVIES

Why ‘Saving Private Ryan’ captured the dark side of war

2018 marks the 20th anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, an iconic film that remains one of the most honest depictions of war.


“It was a mentally demoralizing experience for us,” Spielberg told film critic Roger Ebert. Nevertheless, it was important for the director “to show America the dark side of the face of war.”

Director Steven Spielberg on set during the filming of ‘Saving Private Ryan.’
(Photo by DreamWorks Studios and Paramount Pictures)

Spielberg made many deliberate decisions to ensure the authenticity and the truth of war portrayed in this film, and the behind-the-scenes footage is riveting. The D-Day invasion scene took over two weeks to shoot and involved thousands of extras — including Irish Army reservists and real amputees.

Even the camera movements and lenses were all designed to follow the movement of combat and obscure the viewer’s vision, replicating the chaos and confusion of battle. Spielberg shot the film chronologically, which is an unusual choice for filmmakers.

“We shot in continuity, from beginning to end. We were all reliving the story together…but I didn’t realize how devastating that was going to be for the whole cast to actually start off with Omaha Beach and survive that as a film team, and then move into the hedgerows, move into the next town, as we all began to get whittled down by the storytelling.”

It was important for Spielberg to honor those who fought in World War II. “I think it is the key — the turning point of the entire century. World War II allowed my generation to exist.” His own father, Arnold Spielberg, enlisted in the U.S. Army after the attacks against Pearl Harbor.

Behind-the-scenes image of Tom Hanks in the iconic D-Day invasion scene of ‘Saving Private Ryan.’
(Photo by DreamWorks Studios and Paramount Pictures)

Saving Private Ryan perfectly balanced the inhumanity of war with the very-human warfighters, and continues to be one of the most celebrated films of all time.

To honor the 20th anniversary, the film is now available on 4K UltraHD™ as well as Blu-Ray™ and Digital. Check out the video below for a deeper look at how it was made:

Articles

This is the amazing way the Navy rescues trapped submariners

The crews of submarines around the world face the very real and terrifying possibility that their submarine could fail and become stuck at the bottom of the ocean. While a surface vessel that suffers a mechanical failure at sea can be reached by most other surface vessels, something special is needed to rescue crews thousands of feet under the surface.


That’s why the Navy has the Submarine Rescue Diving and Recompression System, a three-part system that can reach a distressed submarine stuck 2,000 feet beneath the surface and recover the submariners inside. The SRDRS can be deployed anywhere in the world within a maximum of 72 hours.

Many civilian and military vessels can carry the SRDRS and the system can be rapidly installed on any appropriate ship, known as a “vessel of opportunity.” Once an appropriate vessel is identified near the rescue site, the SRDRS is flown, driven, or shipped to a port where it can meet the vessel. The Undersea Rescue Command, which operates the SRDRS, is stationed near both a port and a C-5 capable airfield so the unit can rapidly deploy anywhere in the world.

The Atmospheric Diving System 2000 allows divers to quickly reach 2,000-foot depths and return without needing to decompress. Photo: US Navy courtesy photo

When the Navy crew and the system arrive at the submarine site, a diver wearing the Atmospheric Dive System 2000 is lowered to where the submarine rests on the bottom of the ocean. The ADS2000 allows a single sailor to dive to the sub and inspect it. If the diver sees signs that the crew are still alive inside the hull, he’ll signal the surface to let them know to launch the rescue mission. He’ll also begin removing any blockages or debris near the submarine’s hatches.

The pressurized Rescue Module Falcon is raised from the water after an exercise near San Diego, California. Photo: US Navy Mass communication Specialist 2nd Class Alexia M. Riveracorrea

Next, the remotely-operated Pressurized Rescue Module, the Falcon, is lowered into the water and descends to the submarine. When it reaches the sub, it links with the hull on the sub and seals a skirt around the hatch. Then, it pumps air into the skirt, creating an open tube with breathable air. The sailors are then able to climb from their submarine to the PRM through the air chamber. Sixteen sailors can be carried by the PRM at once.

Once 16 sailors are safely aboard the PRM, it delivers them to the 32-seat Submarine Decompression Chamber where they are able to remain at their previous pressure until they reach the hyperbaric systems on the surface vessel. This prevents the decompression sickness they would face if they simply rushed to the surface.

A U.S. Navy sailor sits in one of the Navy’s two 32-seat submarine Decompression Systems. Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kyle Carlstrom

Meanwhile, the PRM returns to the submarine to rescue another 16 sailors. Because the PRM has a tether that provides it power from the surface, it can ferry survivors from the submarine around the clock until it has rescued everyone. The Navy’s previous system, the Mystic-class Deep Submergence Resce Vehicles, used batteries that required charging between rescues.

The Mystic class of vessels was developed after the loss of the USS Thresher and her crew.

For distressed submarines at lower depths, usually 850 feet or less, the Navy can deploy the Submarine Rescue Chamber Flyaway System instead. The SRCFS is a diving bell that is lowered to the submarine via a cable attached to the sub by a diver. Sailors climb into the chamber and are raised to the surface.