Marine Gen. James Mattis is something of a legend in the US military. Looked at as a warrior among Marines, and well-respected by members of other services, he’s been at the forefront of a number of engagements.
He led his battalion of Marines in the assault during the first Gulf war in 1991, and commanded the task force charging into Afghanistan in 2001. In 2003, as a Major General, he once again took up the task of motivating his young Marines to go into battle.
One day before beginning the assault into Iraq, on March 19, 2003, every member of 1st Marine Division received this letter, written in Mattis’ own hand.
In the letter, he tells them, “on your young shoulders rest the hopes of mankind.” He conveys a sense of staying together and working as a team, writing, “keep faith in your comrades on your left and right and Marine Air overhead. Fight with a happy heart and a strong spirit.”
He finally signs off with the motto of 1st Marines: “No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy.”
Afghanistan. Distant, foreboding, little understood.
Known as the “Graveyard of Empires” the carcasses of countless soviet war machines rust away in mute testimony to the futility of that savage war. The more I read about Afghanistan the less I seemed to know. Watching the news was even more confusing and it appeared America had entered this same graveyard and that we were now fighting elusive ghosts otherwise known as the Taliban.
I remember watching the newscasts in the 1990’s of the Taliban as they rose like a cancer throughout the country, oppressing women, killing those who opposed them and imposing their radical version of Islam on all. Nothing made a deeper impression on me than the public destruction of the massive Banyam Buddhas and the wholesale “cleansing” of Afghanistan’s precious ancient history. Then came 9/11.
In 2010, then our 9th year of the war, I was still struggling with understanding why we were there, who we were fighting and maybe most importantly who were we helping? I got it in my mind that I wanted to make a sort of “combat travel film” that didn’t just following brave men in combat but one that also helped to explain more about the land and the people. Digital technology now makes every soldier a potential documentarian and it was under these auspices that I started to look for a story. It didn’t take long and it would change my life.
Enter Team Cobra
A Sergeant friend of mine told me about a group of all-volunteers from the Oregon National Guard who, in 2008, wanted to deploy to Afghanistan to “impart change” by helping the local population and training the Afghan National Army. They would return a year later as one of the most decorated units in Oregon National Guard history. While I didn’t at the time know the particulars, I knew I had to tell their story.
Of the 17 men that deployed, I interviewed 6 of them. I had between 2 and 4 hours of initial interview footage from each man. With each interview their stories started to intertwine and after the interview process my real work began. I listened to these stories on my headphones over and over again. Their journey to Afghanistan was over, but mine was just beginning. I watched countless video clips and looked at thousands of photos, each one representing a puzzle piece. Weeks turned to months. The sound of the newspaper being delivered in our driveway served as a reminder that I might have missed another night’s sleep. I was learning about Afghanistan, about the diversity of the people, about courage, about honor and about loss.
Watch Gary Mortensen’s ‘Shepherds of Helmand’ on The Mighty TV here.
Earlier that year I had lost my mom to a long and protracted battle with cancer. My father followed a few weeks afterwards. In my own sorrow I consumed myself with telling the story of Team Cobra. They too knew loss. One of their leaders, Bruno DeSolenni had died in an IED attack and the impact on these men would be profound and everlasting.
Each night as I worked on the film I felt closer to these guys, even though they had only met me months earlier for a few hours. But that didn’t matter, I felt a huge responsibility to tell their story in a way that would honor them. I was nervous to show the final cut to them because I wanted to tell the story right. They were gracious and thankful and said to my relief that it was faithful.
When the film finally debuted almost a year later everyone of the soldiers were there for the premiere. They stood on the stage after the screening and answered questions. It was after this that I really got to know them, not just as soldiers but as people.
In my attempt to make a film about Afghanistan, I ended up making a film about America. It’s seems so easy to accept the popular indictment that we have lost it as a country. But I would submit that all around us are exceptional people. I am proud to say I know six of them. They are simply some of the finest people I have ever met and I know that if I was ever in need I could call any of them and they would be there for me. Not because I’m special, it’s because that’s just what they do. They went to Afghanistan to help, some of have gone back, one didn’t come back and some of them are there today.
I am honored to call Jerry Glesmann, Paul Dyer, Marking Browning, Dave Hagen, Dominic Oto and Steve Cooper my friends. They helped me more than they will every know.
Gary Mortensen is an award-winning documentary film director, President of Stoller Family Estate (a premiere Oregon winery), and is active in helping to preserve and share the stories of our veterans. See more at www.veteranslegacies.com.
A Marine corporal may have come up with a brilliant way to treat a gunshot wound the moment a bullet pierces body armor.
Cpl. Matthew Long, a motor transport mechanic, designed a tear-proof package filled with a cocktail of blood clotting and pain-killing agents that sits behind body armor, which would be released instantly if pierced by a bullet. Though Marine body armor, called “flak” jackets, come with small arms protective insert (SAPI) plates to stop bullets, they can have trouble stopping multiple rounds.
Long’s invention, if fielded, would render first aid immediately, without a Marine having to do anything. The seemingly-simple tweak could save lives when a medic is not immediately available.
The corporal was selected as a winner for his invention in September during the Corps’ Logistics Innovation Challenge.
“We thought we’d get one, maybe two ideas, but thanks to your support, we got hundreds,” Lt. Gen. Mike Dana said in a video announcing the winners. “We’re going to send all winners out to DoD labs to prototype their idea. These ideas might end up in the Marine Corps.”
Long and the nearly two dozen other winning projects will be considered for further use by the Marine Corps. As part of this, challenge winners are being partnered with government-affiliated labs to prototype, experiment, and implement their idea.
Other winners include a team of enlisted Marines who came up with a way to make affordable 3d-printed drones, an officer with an idea for a wrist computer, and glasses made for medical tele-mentoring.
Senior Air Force officials want to return a number of C-5M Super Galaxy aircraft to active duty after budget cuts pushed them out of service over the last few years.
The C-5 Galaxy is the largest airlifter in the Air Force, standing 65 feet high with a length of 247 feet and a 223-foot wingspan.
The C-5M model, first deployed in 2009, featured more powerful engines that allowed it to haul more cargo with less room needed for takeoff.
The C-5M can haul 120,000 pounds of cargo more than 5,500 miles — the distance from Dover Air Force base in Delaware to Incirlik airbase in Turkey — without refueling. Without cargo, that range jumps to more than 8,000 miles.
It can carry up to 36 standard pallets and 81 troops at the same time or a wide variety of gear, including tanks, helicopters, submarines, equipment, and food and emergency supplies. The C-5M also set 45 aviation records in one flight.
Because of previous budget cuts as well as sequestration, the Air Force has already moved 12 C-5s and C-5Ms into backup aircraft inventory, “which means we still have the aircraft but lost all manning and funding to operate them,” Air Mobility Commander Gen. Carlton D. Everhart II told lawmakers at the end of March.
Everhart also said the C-5 inventory had fallen from 112 C-5s a few years prior to just 56 now.
In the coming years, the Air Force wants to move at least eight of the mothballed C-5Ms back into service, using newly allocated funds, according to DodBuzz.
“We’re going to buy back two a year for four years, if we’re able to have a predictable budget to get the fleet back to higher quality,” Lt. Gen. Jerry D. Harris, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements, told the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee this week.
“I need them back because there’s real world things that we’ve got to move, and they give me that … added assurance capability,” Everhart told lawmakers at the end of March. The C-5M’s increased range makes it doubly valuable in the vast Pacific theater.
“Recently, one of these aircraft flew from Travis Air Force Base, California, to Yokota, Japan,” Everhart said of the C-5M. “It’s the only airlifter in the inventory that can make the flight nonstop, which means we can put the American flag on the ground in hours versus days.”
Air Mobility Command also intends to improve its current active fleet of airlifters, “upgrading the avionics to improve communications, navigation and surveillance/air traffic management compliance as well as adding new safety equipment and installing a new autopilot system,” according to an Air Force release.
The project, slated to wrap up in 2018, will also upgrade C-5As, C-5Bs, and C-5Cs into C-5M Super Galaxies by installing the F-138 commercial engine, the release said, giving them a “22 percent increase in thrust, a 30 percent shorter takeoff roll, a 58 percent faster climb rate and will allow significantly more cargo to be carried over longer distances.”
Marines at Camp Pendleton will get to field-test more than 50 different new technologies next month ranging from palmtop mini-drones to self-driving amtracs, from wireless networks to precision-guided mortar shells. Plus there will be plenty of classified systems the Marines can’t talk about, including cyber and electronic warfare gear. Technologies that do well may graduate to a more formal Operational Evaluation (OPEVAL) or to further testing in the Marines’ big Bold Alligator wargame on the East Coast this fall, Col. Dan Sullivan, chief of staff at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory here, told reporters in March.
(The name of April’s exercise, in classically military fashion, is — deep breath — the Ship To Shore Maneuver Exploration and Experimentation Advanced Naval Technology Exercise 2017, or S2ME2 ANTX).
That’s a lightning pace for the Pentagon. It normally takes 18 to 24 months to set up a technology demonstration on this scale, and this one is happening in nine, said Aileen Sansone, an official with the Navy’s Rapid Prototyping, Experimentation, Demonstration (RPED) office. The project launched last summer, when Col. Sullivan’s boss, Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh — in charge of future warfare concepts — reached out to deputy assistant secretary John Burrow — in charge of RD, testing, and evaluation.
It was only in October that the project team put out its special notice inviting industry proposals. Well over 100 operators and engineers from different Navy and Marine Corps organizations evaluated the 124 (unclassified) submissions and whittle them down to 50 that would ready for the field by April, said Navy Capt. Chris Mercer, Burrow’s director of RPED. (Another 50 technologies, not quite as ready, will be on display for visiting dignitaries but won’t be used in the exercise).
“It drives the analysts crazy. Analysts don’t like to go fast,” Sullivan chuckled to reporters. “Are you accepting risk? Yes, you are.”
Some of the 50 technologies will probably just plain not work, the team told reporters, and that’s okay. In fact, failing “early and often” is an essential part of innovation. “If we don’t fail, we didn’t do our job,” said Mercer. “This is the time to fail” — before the Marines decide on major acquisition programs, let alone take a technology into combat.
The project has high-level support to take that risk, including the enthusiastic backing of acting Navy Secretary Sean Stackley, who used to head Navy Department Research, Development, Acquisition.
“This exercise provides a unique opportunity for warfighters to assess emerging technologies and innovative engineering in support of amphibious assault operations,” Stackley said in a statement to Breaking Defense. “We are grateful to the government and industry vendors who participate and bring their expertise to assist in supporting our nation’s security.”
“SecNav’s committed to really accelerating the rate of our innovations and using the new authorities that have been coming to use since about 2015 to really rapidly prototype and rapidly field,” said Mercer. But even as you go fast, he added, you have to make sure “you’ve got the rigor in the process that allows us to use the new authorities.”
So what kinds of capabilities will this project deliver to the field? Almost all of them rely on rapid advances in information technology, and many are outright robotic, like the various drones and self-driving Amphibious Assault Vehicle. There’s no single silver bullet, Sullivan and co. said, and the real tactical payoff comes from combining technologies. That’s why the Marines organized the experiment not by technical categories — e.g. one team handles all unmanned aerial vehicles, another unmanned watercraft, another networks — but by mission, which required experts in different fields from different agencies and companies to integrate disparate technologies towards a single purpose.
The team defined six mission areas and gave them nifty codenames:
Shield: “early intelligence (and) reconnaissance,” using, for example wide-ranging swarms of robotic scouts in the air, sea, and land, which would allow Marines to identify far more landing sites and potentially bypass defenders by coming ashore in unexpected places. Instead of landing en masse at an obvious 1,000-meter-wide beach, said the Warfighting Lab’s Doug King, “I want to go through a gap in the mangroves.”
Spear: “threat identification,” e.g. covert drones coming in for a closer look with high-powered sensors and sending detailed data back using hard-to-intercept transmissions.
Dagger: “(follow-on) reconnaissance threat elimination,” e.g. more drones and manned platforms marking obstacles and mines.
Cutlass: “maneuver ashore,” e.g. unmanned boats carrying Marines ashore at high speed or unmanned Amtracs swimming in on their own power, with expendable decoy drones.
Broadsword: “combat power ashore,” e.g. battlefield 3D printing of spare parts and unmanned ground vehicles providing fire support or carrying supplies.
Battleaxe: “amphibious C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance),” e.g. high bandwidth networks, resisting to jamming and hacking, that can tie the whole operation together.
Because of the laser focus on amphibious landings, the Ship to Shore Maneuver task force deliberately didn’t look at other promising technologies, such as, well, lasers. For operations at sea, the Navy already has a drone-killing laser aboard a ship in the Persian Gulf, while the Marines are developing a truck-mounted laser for air defense ashore. Likewise, Sullivan said, the “Sea Dragon” effort with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment is focused more on smaller technologies that a Marine squad can carry with it once it’s landed ashore.
What the Ship to Shore Maneuver task force has taken on is the defining task of the Marine Corps: amphibious landing in the face of armed resistance. That’s especially hard when the armed opposition now has so-called Anti-Access/Area Denial defenses: precision-guided cruise missiles with hundreds of miles of range, strike aircraft, submarines, drones, with the sensors to find targets and the networks to coordinate them.
“Our generation grew up in an environment where we were the only ones who had precision guided munitions. We were the only ones who had UAS (drones). Air supremacy was guaranteed; maritime supremacy was taken for granted,” Sullivan said. That’s changed.
“For a long time, we were talking about countering shore-based defenses by standoff, but anti-ship cruise missiles (are) just going to continue to extend the range, so we’re going to have to get and persist within that envelope — and if you look at the totality of the capabilities that we’re experimenting, it’s giving us the ability to do that,” Sullivan said.
“At some point, we’ve got to dismantle the A2/AD integrated defense system,” said Sullivan. “To be considered a great power, you have to be retain a forcible entry capability.”
China’s recent military parade included several new weapons systems and a flyover by the J-20, a stealth jet that many think incorporates stealth technology stolen from the US into a design built to destroy weak links in the US Air Force.
But the US has decades of experience in making and fielding stealth jets, creating a gap that no amount of Russian or Chinese hacking could bridge.
“As we see Russia bring on stealth fighters and we see China bring on stealth fighters, we have 40 years of learning how to do this,” retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Mark Barrett told Defense News’ Valerie Insinna at a Mitchell Institute event on August 2.
While China’s J-20 seeks to intercept unarmed US Air Force refueling planes with very-long-range missiles, and Russia’s T-50 looks like a stealthy reboot of its current fleet of fighters, a senior scientist working on stealth aircraft for a US defense contractor told Business Insider that other countries still lagged the US in making planes that could hide from radars.
The scientist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of their work, told Business Insider the J-20 and T-50 were “dirty” fighters, since the countries lack the precision tools necessary to painstakingly shape every millimeter of the planes’ surfaces.
Barrett said of China’s and Russia’s stealth attempts, “There are a lot of stuff hanging outside of these airplanes,” according to Defense News, adding that “all the airplane pictures I’ve seen still have stuff hanging from the wings, and that just kills your stealth.”
Additionally, the US has stealth-fighter tactics down, while China and Russia would take years to develop a similar playbook.
Meanwhile, the US has overcome the issue of external munitions blowing up a plane’s radar signature by having internal weapons bays and networking with fleets of fourth-generation aircraft.
Because the F-35 and F-22 can communicate with older, non-stealth planes, they can fly cleanly, without weapons hanging off the wings, while tanked-up F/A-18s, F-15s, or F-16s laden with fuel, bombs, and air-to-air missiles follow along.
The F-35s and F-22s can ensure the coast is clear and dominate battles without firing a shot as older planes fire off missiles guided by the fifth-gen fighters.
The last time a Navy SEAL team used x-ray as an identifier was when the unit deployed to the Mekong Delta area in late 1970. Lt. Cmdr. Mike Walsh was a SEAL in Vietnam during the war. He was wounded at Ben Tre while serving with SEAL Platoon X-Ray in February 1971. In an interview with Vietnam Magazine, Walsh called X-Ray “the most hard-luck SEAL platoon to serve in Vietnam.”
Immediately after their arrival, things started to go awry. A SEAL team inserted near Truc Giap was ambushed that same month, December 1970. The squad leader and another SEAL were killed while the radioman and Kit Carson scout (former VC who turned on the Communists and act as scouts for U.S. infantry units) were hit. If it weren’t for the rear security man, the unit would have been wiped out entirely.
Radioman 2nd Class Harold Baker ran into a river to get out of the kill zone. He fished out the body of a fellow SEAL as well as an M-60, and then fought his way through the ambush until backup from X-Ray could arrive.
An operation in Ben Tre, the one where Walsh was injured, saw the unit lose a couple of SEALs and a number of limbs. It was during a patrol led by a “Hoi Chanh” or a defector from the Viet Cong (VC), similar to the Kit Carson scouts who was leading the way. He led the SEALs on a sweep and destroy mission, and then into a trap.
“I did not trust him at all. He was there to get us killed,” Welsh said. “And he almost did it. I didn’t like it; I had a bad feeling about it. But we went on patrol with this guy leading the way.”
The defector had come to the SEALs by way of the Chieu Hoi amnesty program. Chieu hoi, which loosely translates into “open arms,” was an effort by the South Vietnamese government to get VC members to defect to the South and offer information against the Viet Cong. It was essentially an amnesty program. An estimated 75,000 defection occurred by 1967, but less than a quarter of those were deemed genuine. Some did genuinely contribute to the war effort with some earning medals as high as a Silver Star, but the defector with X-Ray was not one of those achievers.
The SEALs on the patrol at Ben Tre found and destroyed some bunkers before being extracted by a light SEAL support craft (LSSC). As the boat was leaving, the VC attacked the SEALs, hitting the LSSC with a B-40 rocket. One of the boatmen lost a leg, and a South Vietnamese interpreter lost both. Lt. Cmdr. Walsh was lifted off the boat and stuck with shrapnel. Another SEAL’s grenades went off while strapped to his body, taking the man’s right glute. One SEAL, Ed Jones, fired a .50 cal into the VC position and they took off. Walsh found the defector injured by shrapnel.
“He looked at me and smiled,” Walsh remembered. “He knew he had led us into an ambush and he had succeeded. I finished him off with my Gerber knife.”
The team had to be extracted by helicopter, where one of the SEALs died from his wounds.
Finally, on March 4th, 1971, the unit commander, Lieutenant Michael Collins, an Annapolis graduate who had never taken SEAL cadre training, was killed in Kien Hoa province. The unit was deactivated after that, with all of its members either killed or wounded.
The reason for the high cost of X-Ray is considered to be operational security. Experts believe the unit’s tactical operations center was compromised by one of its South Vietnamese commandos who had been giving information to the Communists. The enemy knew of all of X-Ray’s movements well in advance.
While most veterans would have responded with a “yes” and maybe a quick example, xixoxixa posted what may be the best “my recruiter lied to me” story we’ve ever heard. The story is below. If you love it, head to the original reddit post and give xixoxixa an upvote so he can get his credit.
Editor’s note: We’ve left the original language. Be aware that some of it is NSFW.
So no shit, there I am, a fresh faced 18-year old, needing to do something with my life. A short stint in the military sounds like just the ticket – gets me out of my crappy hometown, puts money in my pocket and food in my belly, and in 3 or 4 years, I’ll get out, go to school with my GI bill, and have a happy [life]. The local strip mall had a slew of recruiting offices, all right next to each other.
I go in, a recruiter’s wet dream. I scored remarkably high on my ASVAB (which I only took to get out of class for 3 hours), so I could pick pretty much any job I wanted. But did I do that? Shit no, I walked in, thumped my chest and said ‘I’m ready to go today, what’s your best offer?’
The Army guy asks what I’m interested in, and I tell him that I really don’t care, just something relatively safe (this was pre-9/11, but I knew that soldiers had a chance of getting shot at), and something that would give me a marketable skill. Like medical – everyone always needs medical folks.
He asks about my hobbies – mountain biking, snowboarding, rock climbing, typical adrenaline filled activities…He types some stuff in his computer and comes back with ‘How about a combat medic with the 75th Ranger Regiment? You know, Airborne Rangers, like Nic Cage in Con Air?’ ‘Well, what’s that get me long term?’ ‘Well, you’ll be at least a paramedic, so you can get a job just about anywhere. You’ll be part of the Special Operations community, so you’ll avoid most of the big army bullshit, and you’ll be part of the Rangers, so you’ll do high-speed stuff like jump out of airplanes, and fly around in helicopters.’
OK, I think, this isn’t such a bad deal. I agree, but not before carefully asking how this will play out – I don’t want to end up as just a grunt. This is what he says, near as verbatim as I can remember almost 14 years later: ‘Well, the Rangers are part of SOCOM, a type of Special Forces. So every soldier needs to have a bare basic level of ability to fight, just in case the shit hits the fan.
So everyone, and I mean everyone, goes through Infantry basic training to get that bare level of skill. Then, everyone goes to airborne school, to learn how to jump out of planes. Then, you’ll go to whatever job school. You will got to San Antonio to go to medic school. The artillery goes go to artillery school, the parachute riggers go to rigger school, etc. Then everyone shows back up at Fort Benning to join the regiment.’
In my 18-year old mind, this makes sense, and I am impressed with the forethought the Army has put into this. Of course medics might end up in the thick of it, so why wouldn’t they want to know how to fight?
I agree, we go to MEPS, my contract gets drawn up as 11X. Now, I know from looking at the posters on the wall that 11 series is infantry, but it only lists 11B, 11C, 11H, and 11M, so I figure the 11X is for the guys like me that are just going through infantry basic, and then off to another job.
Fast forward 3½ months, and I’m cruising along through basic, solid in my knowledge that as a medic, I will probably never need half of this shit, so I’m happy to just play the game. The day comes when the Drill Sergeants break us down into our respective MOSs so we can go to any required extra training (like the 11Cs, who have to go learn how to shoot mortars).
’11Bs, in that corner, 11Cs, over there, 11Hs, up here by me, and 11Ms, over there by Drill Sergeant Whatever-his-name-was. Now!’
I, PVT xixoxixa, am the lone asshole standing in the bay by himself. ‘Drill Sergeant, where do you want the medics to go?’ I ask. ‘Goddamn it Private! This isn’t rocket surgery – there ain’t no fucking medics here! Get where you belong!’ Ah! I see his mistake – he doesn’t know that I’m an 11X, not one of these other dumbasses destined to be a grunt.
Briefly, I find it odd that this E-7 with many, many years in the Army can be so obtuse, and in need of correction…but maybe he’s not familiar with this program. So I tell him such – ‘Drill Sergeant, I see where your mistake is. I’m supposed to be a medic, I’m just doing Infantry Basic.’
Through his clenched teeth and skyrocketing blood pressure, he tells me ‘Private, bring me your. GOD! DAMNED! PAPERWORK!!’ I happily dig out my contract and go wait at a textbook perfect Parade Rest outside his office. He calls me in, sits me down, and leafs through my shit. As he’s flipping through, he directs me to tell him exactly what my recruiter told me. I do, in exquisite detail, happy to know that the student has become the teacher.
He looks at me like this and then, calmly says ‘Private, I know we talk a lot of shit about recruiters, but you – you got fucked.’ He then proceeded to tell me how the Army really works, and explains to me that the 11X I was so proud of means I will complete basic, go to airborne school, then show up at the 75th to be whatever kind of Infantryman the Rangers need me to be.
I spent the rest of basic poring over that contract in extenuating detail trying to find a loophole, but alas, despite my best effort my first MOS in the army was as an airborne infantryman.
Do you have a good recruiter story? Share it in the comments below.
A key district in Afghanistan’s Helmand province that was taken by insurgents last year is now back under Afghan army control, US Marines deployed to Helmand announced July 17.
Nawa district, just west of Helmand’s capital city and regional police headquarters, Lashkar Gah, was overrun by the Taliban in August 2016, according to multiple media reports. The loss dealt a blow to hard-pressed Afghan National Army forces and raised questions about whether they would be able to maintain control of any part of Helmand.
With Nawa in enemy hands, civilian aircraft were unable to land at Bost, the airfield outside of Lashkar Gah, and the security of the city, a civilian population center, was in greater jeopardy.
But during a two-day operation that included airstrikes from US F-16 Fighting Falcons and AH-64 Apache helicopters, Afghan troops successfully wrested control of the district from the occupiers, reclaiming the district center earlier July 17, according to the release.
“The goal of this operation was to clear the Nawa district from the enemies, from the Taliban,” Col. Zahirgul Moqbal, commanding officer of the Afghan Border Police, said in a statement. “[Overall, our goal was] to retake the district from the Taliban.”
The Afghan army’s assault on Nawa, called Operation Maiwand Four, also involved surveillance from ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicles owned by the ANA and other coalition unmanned systems, according to the release.
The F-16s and Apaches “set conditions, conducted air strikes, and covered the flanks of the maneuver elements to decrease the amount of friction felt by the ground forces and allowed freedom of maneuver,” the release stated.
The offensive involved multiple air strikes and bravery from the troops on the ground, who disabled more than 100 improvised explosive devices and maneuvered under fire to retake the Nawa district center, officials said.
In April, about 300 Marines from 2nd Marine Division out of Camp Lejeune in North Carolina deployed to Helmand province as an advisory element known as Task Force Southwest to assist local Afghan National Army units in their fight to hold the region.
Col. Matthew Reid, deputy commander of the task force, said in a statement that Operation Maiwand Four highlighted leadership and determination from Afghan troops.
“So far during this operation we have seen some significant gains in leadership and maneuver from the Ministry of Interior forces, particularly the Afghan Border and National Police,” Reid said. “The vast majority of the ABP officers are from Helmand, many from Nawa, and they are aggressively fighting to clear insurgents from Nawa district.”
But the greatest difficulties may still be ahead for the Afghan forces.
In a New York Times report published July 14, Afghan Army Corps Operations Chief Lt. Col. Abdul Latif raised concerns about whether Afghan National Security Forces would be able to keep control of Nawa if they retook it.
“It is easy for us to take Nawa, but difficult to hold,” Latif said in the story.
The biggest challenge, he noted, was the scarcity of manpower. He estimated district security would require 300 police, but said that kind of manpower was not available. The report also noted that most forces in Helmand are not local to the area, but come in from the north and east.
According to the news release, Afghan National Security Forces plan to maintain control by setting up security checkpoints throughout Nawa’s district center and on the road to Lashkar Gah.
“It was a very successful operation in Helmand,” Moqbal said of Maiwand Four in a statement. “Defeating the enemy in Nawa means defeating the enemy in Helmand.”
A petition lobbying the White House to reinstate the official Navy rating titles removed in late September gained more than 100,000 signatures on We the People, a website created by the Obama administration to allow large groups of Americans to directly request changes to public policy.
Petitions that cross the threshold are guaranteed an official response from the administration, but activists are not guaranteed that it will be a “yes” response.
Ratings were essentially job titles in the Navy and they were incorporated into the method of address for most enlisted leaders. Some of the ratings, like those for gunner’s or boatswain’s mates, have remained the same since the Continental Navy instituted them over 240 years ago. Other rates, such as special warfare boat operator, are newer.
Navy officials say that they removed the rating structure to allow sailors to more easily cross-train between jobs or switch career tracks entirely. This increased flexibility in job choices would also, according to comments given to the Navy Times, make it easier for sailors to get specific duty stations.
For 241 Years Navy personnel have been identified by their Job specialty, known as a “Rating.” The oldest rates such as Boatswain Mates, and Gunners Mate predate the founding of this country. Being known by your job title was a sense of pride. A sign of accomplishment. The Secretary of the Navy and Chief of Naval Operations just senselessly erased this tradition.
While the White House promises an official response to successful petitions, it does so by putting the petition in front of the proper policy makers. According to the program’s “about” section:
With We the People, you can easily create a petition online, share it, and collect signatures. If you gather 100,000 signature in 30 days, we’ll review your petition, make sure it gets in front of the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response.
In this case, that could mean that the petition would land on the desk of Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus or someone on his staff. But Mabus and his staff were the ones who made the decision to get rid of Navy ratings in the first place.
The petition could encourage senior Navy leadership to take sailor feedback more seriously moving forward and possibly even find a plan that accomplishes the leadership’s goals while preserving Navy tradition.
Wil Willis knows a thing or two about weapons. He was born into a military family, served as an Army Ranger for four years, then transferred to the Air Force to become a pararescueman for another ten years. Since his time in service, he’s found ways to utilize the skills he learned on active duty as both an entertainer and an instructor.
Now an actor and writer, Willis is perhaps best known for his work on Forged in Fire, a competition series where world-class bladesmiths compete to create iconic edged weapons from history. He also teaches veterans and members of the first responder community about tactical combat casualty care.
So, yeah, he’s kind of bad ass.
U.S. Marine Weston Scott met up with Willis to connect over a past-time they both love: hitting the road on two wheels.
In this episode of “Paving the Way,” Willis and Scott hang out in their favorite Los Angeles garage working on their bikes and chatting about what it means for them to ride.
“I don’t do anything illegal. It’s not out of control. But I definitely am more aggressive than a lot of other riders. I ride every day.”
His riding style might be “fast and loose” but Willis insists it helps him slow down.
“I think being left alone with your thoughts can be scary sometimes, especially when you’re talking about a transitional period. I’ve got through it a bunch of times. Everybody’s had rough times. For me, getting back on the back was a way of slowing everything down in my mind. I do believe there’s something spiritual I get out of riding.”
Check out the episode above to find out more about why Willis rides every day, but Scott sums it up nicely: “It’s just good for the soul.”
An active-duty US Marine captain wrote a stinging op-ed for the Marine Corps Gazette, going through all the problems he sees with the Department of Defense and the Marine Corps in addition to recent failures in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The biggest problem, according to Capt. Joshua Waddell, is “self-delusion.”
“Let us first begin with the fundamental underpinnings of this delusion: our measures of performance and effectiveness in recent wars,” he wrote. “It is time that we, as professional military officers, accept the fact that we lost the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The active-duty infantry officer, who served with and lost Marines under his command with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, in Afghanistan, didn’t come to this conclusion lightly. He said it took several years for him to accept that, with the goal of improving the system.
A case in point, he says, is a comparison of the US military with other adversaries.
The Pentagon’s budget dwarfs the combined defense spending of the next 10 countries. The Army and Marine Corps are arguably the best-trained fighting forces in the world. The Air Force has the most high-tech aircraft and weaponry, while the Navy maintains nearly 20 aircraft carriers — far more than adversaries like Russia and China that have only one each.
These stats should mean the US military is unstoppable, but the budget, talk of being the best in the world, and other claims it makes don’t square with measures of effectiveness, Waddell writes.
“How, then, have we been bested by malnourished and undereducated men with antiquated and improvised weaponry whilst spending trillions of dollars in national treasure and costing the lives of thousands of servicemen and hundreds of thousands of civilians?” he wrote.
“For example, a multibillion-dollar aircraft carrier that can be bested by a few million dollars in the form of a swarming missile barrage or a small unmanned aircraft system (UAS) capable of rendering its flight deck unusable does not retain its dollar value in real terms. Neither does the M1A1 tank, which is defeated by $20 worth of household items and scrap metal rendered into an explosively-formed projectile.
“The Joint Improvised Threat Defeat Organization has a library full of examples like these, and that is without touching the weaponized return on investment in terms of industrial output and capability development currently being employed by our conventional adversaries.”
His article isn’t just a critique; Waddell offers several solutions to get the military out of the “business-as-usual” mindset that looks good in PowerPoint briefs but doesn’t translate to success on the ground.
While military leaders typically complain to Congress that constrained budgets have a “crippling” effect on the military, Waddell says the military should work more efficiently with the money it has. He gives an example of a nation already doing this: Russia.
Moscow’s military budget is about $52 billion, versus Washington’s proposed defense budget of $583 billion. Yet with far less money, Russia has been a consistent thorn in the US’s side in Syria, Ukraine, and now Afghanistan. That’s not to mention Moscow’s success in cyberwarfare.
“This is the same Russian military whom the RAND Corporation has estimated would be unstoppable in an initial conventional conflict in the Baltic states, even against the combined might of the NATO forces stationed there,” Waddell wrote. “Given the generous funding the American people have bequeathed us to provide for the common defense, is it so unreasonable to seek an efficient frontier of that resource’s utility?”
Waddell’s critique includes a call to fix inefficiencies between the Defense Department getting gear to war fighters, as some have to buy things they need because they don’t get there before they deploy. Waddell also calls for an audit of the Marines to see whether there are redundant efforts among contractors.
“There is no reason we should be paying twice for the same work or, as is often the case, paying government personnel for work that they have instead outsourced to more capable contractors for tasks within the government worker’s job description,” he wrote. “I would be willing to bet that a savvy staff officer with access to these position and billet descriptions as well as contracting line items could save the Marine Corps millions of dollars by simply hitting Control+F (find all) on his keyboard, querying key tasks, and counting redundancies.”
It’s unclear how much of an effect this op-ed would have on any changes. The Marine Corps Gazette is read mostly by senior Marine leadership, but whether that translates to taking this captain’s advice in an institution that is resistant to change is an open question.
“I have watched Marines charge headlong into enemy fire and breach enemy defenses with the enemy’s own captured IEDs in order to engage in close combat,” Waddell wrote. “This same fighting spirit from which we draw so much pride must be replicated by our senior leaders in leading comprehensive reform of our Corps’ capabilities and in creating a supporting establishment truly capable of fostering innovation.”
President Donald Trump signed a bill April 19 to temporarily extend a program that lets some veterans seek medical care in the private sector, part of an effort by the president to deliver on a campaign promise.
The extension will give Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin time to develop a more comprehensive plan to allow veterans to more easily go outside the VA health system for care. Under the bill Trump signed into law, the VA will be allowed to continue operating its Choice Program until the funding runs out, which is expected early 2018.
The program was scheduled to expire on Aug. 7 with nearly $1 billion left over.
Trump said veterans have “not been taken care of properly” and that the program will continue to be able to see “the doctor of their choice.”
“You got it? The doctor of their choice,” he repeated for emphasis.
Shulkin, who attended the bill signing, has said the money is needed to pay for stopgap services while he works on the longer-term plan. He said April 19 that the plan is due in the fall. Congress would have to approve any changes to the VA health system.
Shulkin said the extension is important because it gives veterans another avenue for care.
“It’s this approach where veterans can get care wherever they need it that really is the way that we’re going to address all the needs and honor our commitments to our veterans,” he said after Trump signed the bill.
The Choice Program was put in place after a 2014 scandal in which as many as 40 veterans died while waiting months to be scheduled for appointments at the Phoenix VA medical center.
The program is intended to provide more timely care by allowing veterans to go outside the VA network only in cases where they had to wait more than 30 days for an appointment or drive more than 40 miles to a facility. Yet the program itself often encountered long wait times of its own.
The new law also calls for changes to alleviate some problems by speeding up VA payments and promoting greater sharing of medical records.
Major veterans’ organizations and Democrats support a temporary extension of the Choice Program, but are closely watching the coming VA revamp of the program for signs that the Trump administration may seek greater privatization. Those groups generally oppose privatization as a threat to the viability of VA medical centers.
Trump had pledged during the presidential campaign to give veterans freedom to seek care “at a private service provider of their own choice.”
Mark Lucas, executive director of Concerned Veterans for America, commended Trump for upholding a campaign promise to make veterans a priority, but said more needed to be done. Lucas said the Choice Program was a well-intentioned “quick fix” to the Phoenix scandal, but that it remains flawed and has forced too many veterans to seek care at what he termed failing VA facilities.
“Congress now has some time to work with Secretary Shulkin on broader, more permanent choice reforms that will truly put the veteran at the center of their health care and remove VA bureaucrats as the middlemen,” Lucas said. “We look forward to supporting legislation that will let veterans go outside the VA for care when they want or need to.”
Sen. John McCain, R- Ariz., said more than 1 million veterans have made 7 million appointments with health care providers in their communities under the Choice Program. He said those appointments would have otherwise “lagged” in the VA scheduling system.
More than 1 million out of 9 million veterans in the VA system use some Choice care, with agency data pointing to even greater use this year.
McCain, a Navy veteran, said the extension “sends an important message that we will not send our veterans back to the status quo of unending wait-times for appointments and substandard care.” He said more work is needed, but called the legislation “an important first step.”
Shulkin has said he would like to expand veterans’ access to private care by eliminating the Choice Program’s current 30-day, 40-mile restrictions. At the same time, he wants the VA to work in partnership by handling all the scheduling and “customer service,” something that congressional auditors say could be unwieldy and expensive.
Associated Press writer Hope Yen contributed to this report.