Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan has apparently survived a bloody coup attempt that has left over 160 people dead, over a thousand injured, and over 2800 military personnel detained. Massive protests by Erdogan supporters, who were rallied by an address by the Turkish President on FaceTime, helped thwart the coup. The coup was condemned by many elements in Turkey, as well as President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.
Among events Friday night and Saturday were the shutdown of power for Incirlik Air Base, where the 39th Air Base Wing is deployed. British, Saudi, and German forces are operating from the air base, which is less than 70 miles from the Syrian border. That is a convenient locale for operations against the Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the attack in Nice Saturday that left 84 people dead.
Air operations from Incirlik ordered to stop, although aircraft currently flying missions were allowed to land. American troops have not been threatened, although the apparent blockade of Incirlik, which has gone to THREATCON DELTA in the wake of the coup, is not a good sign. Nor is the FAA shutting down flights to and from Turkey. The Federation of American Scientists estimated in 2015 that the United States reportedly has many as 50 “special stores” located at Incirlik, adding to the stakes at Incirlik.
Erdogan in the past has not exactly been a friend to the United States. One of the more notorious incidents came early in his rule as prime minister, in 2003, when he suddenly denied permission for the 4th Infantry Division to land in Turkey and attack into northern Iraq during the early stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Lately, during his rule, he has shown a decided pattern of suppressing dissent, including seizing control of newspapers, throwing people in prison for “insulting” him, and drawing charges of both acting like a dictator and turning a blind eye to foreign fighters transiting Turkey to join ISIS.
Erdogan has accused Fethullah Gulen, a cleric who is residing in the United States after falling out with the Turkish President in 2013 over a corruption scandal and the closure of schools run by his group, Hizmet. According to reports, Gulen is a true moderate Moslem and a supporter of democracy, interfaith dialogue, and education.
With the failure of this coup, Erdogan will move to ensure that there will not be a chance to launch a more successful one. The Turkish president has declared the attempted coup a “gift from god” and has vowed to use it as a pretext to “cleanse our army” and said the elements who took part in the coup are guilty of “treason” and vowed they will “pay a heavy price” for trying to topple his regime.
The effects of this coup will reverberate through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Middle East. Turkey will likely slide further into an Islamist regime, one that becomes increasingly repressive as Erdogan asserts his rule in Turkey.
On June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan challenged Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall.
After Germany’s defeat in World War II, the capital city of Berlin was divided, with the eastern section falling under Soviet control. In 1952, the border between the two countries was closed and in 1961, during the height of the Cold War, the Soviets built the Berlin Wall to prevent East German citizens from fleeing to the west.
Standing before the wall in 1987, President Reagan famously addressed the Soviet leader, telling him that if he should seek peace, then, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”
Two years later, the wall was indeed destroyed, and Germany was officially united in 1990.
During the years of the Wall, nearly 5,000 people successfully defected from East Berlin to West Berlin. The number of people who died trying, however, remains unknown. Apartments and buildings near the wall were boarded and bricked up. Barbed wire fortified the structure and border guards were issued shooting orders when dealing with defectors — even women and children.
East Germans dug long tunnels under the wall, took hot air balloons, escaped through pre-Wall sewers, and in one instance, drove a sports car at full speed through early fortifications.
Officials had listed 98 deaths but a historic research group at the Centre for Contemporary History in Potsdam has confirmed at least 140 deaths. Other estimates are higher.
Featured Image: View from the West Berlin side of graffiti art on the Wall in 1986. The Wall’s “death strip” on the east side of the Wall follows the curve of the Luisenstadt Canal (filled in 1932). (Image by Thierry Noir at Bethaniendamm in Berlin-Kreuzberg)
Over the last month, the United States (and parts of the world) erupted in protests after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmuad Abery. While their deaths drew the ire of many Americans, they set off an angry and passionate reaction to the bigger problem of police brutality and systemic racism.
Unfortunately, protests can be marred by people taking advantage and the marches that have occurred in all 50 states have seen some people take to rioting and looting. While the vast majority of protests have been peaceful, the magnitude of people on the street and looting caused some states to activate their respective National Guard units.
Director and Army Veteran Robert Ham was able to link up with National Guard Chaplain Major Nathan Graeser who was part of a California National Guard Unit that was assigned to downtown Los Angeles. With the noise of protestors in the background demanding reform of police and the end of the systemic racism that plagues this country, Graeser talked about why the National Guard was there and the mood of the troops. When asked about the atmosphere in the area Graeser said, “Seeing this today, I kept thinking to myself… this is what makes America great.”
In addition to being an Army Chaplain in the California National Guard, Nathan is also a social worker. He is an expert on programs and policies that support service members transitioning out of the military. Nathan is an advocate for veterans and leads multiple veteran initiatives in Los Angeles. He has spent thousands of hours counseling veterans and their families to deal with the challenges of service and returning home.
Graeser talks about the disconnections we have with one another, exacerbated by COVID-19 and how those disconnections flared up in the wake of these deaths. He knows, because he sees the same disconnection with his soldiers and with veterans as they themselves struggle to connect to the community they took an oath to serve.
But, Graeser said he sees the similarities between the young soldiers and young protesters, “These 19 year olds,” referring to the guardsmen, he said, “They are thoughtful, they are kind, even their interaction with the looters is as gentle as can possibly be.”
While the riots have been waning, the cries for action have not. What does the future hold for the rest of 2020 and beyond? We can only guess at this time.
But there is hope in what Graeser sees.
“We are out here to see what the next chapter is,” he shared. “One thing I know is wherever we go, we are going to need everybody.”
Could Boeing be out of the fighter business in the near future? That question has been kicking around in recent years as air forces are looking to advanced planes like the Lockheed F-35 Lightning or for cheaper options like the Saab Gripen.
A big reason is that Boeing’s entry for a new Joint Strike Fighter, the X-32, lost that competition. A 2014 report from DefenceAviation.com noted that Boeing was producing an average of four jets a month.
The company has made some sales for versions of the F-15E Strike Eagle, but aside from Australia, there have not been many export orders for the F/A-18E/F Super Horner and EA-18G Growler (granted, the Marines could use the Super Hornet to replace aging F/A-18C/D Hornets in a more expeditious manner). The company has marketed the Super Hornet to India in the wake of the problems India has had in adapting the Tejas for carrier operations, and did a video promoting an advanced F-15C.
Boeing is not completely out of the light jet business. It has teamed up with Saab for an entry into the T-X competition that also includes the Lockheed T-50 and the T-100 from Leonardo and Raytheon. It also recently got an order for 36 F-15QAs from Qatar, according to FlightGlobal.com. Qatar also bought 36 Eurofighter Typhoons and 36 Dassault Rafales.
Boeing is also preparing for an upgrade to the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet line. The Block III Super Hornet will feature conformal fuel tanks for longer range and improved avionics, including a new radar and better electronic countermeasures systems. President Trump’s budget proposals did include buying 80 more Super Hornets.
Such purchases could only be delaying the inevitable. The Navy and Air Force are reportedly planning a sixth-generation fighter in the FA-XX project, but that may still be years into the future.
When veterans of World War II returned home to McMinn County, Tennessee, they probably weren’t surprised to find that many of the same politicians from before the war were still running the place. A local political machine run by Paul Cantrell had been suspected of running the county and committing election fraud since 1936.
However, when the sheriff’s deputies began targeting the veterans with fines for minor arrests, the vets suspected they were being taken advantage of. One veteran, Bill White, later told American Heritage magazine:
“There were several beer joints and honky-tonks around Athens; we were pretty wild; we started having trouble with the law enforcement at that time because they started making a habit of picking up GIs and fining them heavily for most anything—they were kind of making a racket out of it.
“After long hard years of service—most of us were hard-core veterans of World War II—we were used to drinking our liquor and our beer without being molested. When these things happened, the GIs got madder—the more GIs they arrested, the more they beat up, the madder we got …”
By early 1946, the vets and the townspeople were tired of what they saw as corrupt practices by Paul Cantrell and his lackeys. The vets started their own political party with candidates for five offices. The focus of the contest was the race for sheriff between Paul Cantrell and Henry Knox, a veteran of North Africa.
Everyone knew that the election could turn violent. Veterans in nearby Blount County promised 450 men who could assist in any need that McMinn County had on election day. In response, Cantrell hired two hundred “deputies” from outside the county to guard polling places.
What happened next would go down as the “Battle of Athens,” or the “McMinn County War.”
Tensions built on election day as the veterans faced off with the special deputies. By 3 p.m., an hour before the polls closed, violence broke out. Deputies beat and shot a black farmer who tried to vote and arrested two veterans who were then held hostage in the Athens Water Works. Other veterans responded by taking hostage deputies who were sent to arrest them. Still, Cantrell was able to fill most of the ballot boxes with purchased votes and get them to the jail, ensuring he would win the election.
While the sheriff and his lackeys counted the votes in the jail, White and the other veterans were getting angry. Finally, sometime after 6 p.m., White led a raid on the National Guard armory to get guns.
White said in a 1969 interview that they “broke down the armory doors and took all the rifles, two Thompson sub-machine guns, and all the ammunition we could carry, loaded it up in the two-ton truck and went back to GI headquarters and passed out seventy high-powered rifles and two bandoleers of ammunition with each one.”
The veterans set siege to the jail, firing on deputies that were outside the jail when they arrived. One deputy fell wounded into the building while another crawled under a car after he was hit in his leg. But, Cantrell and others were safely locked behind the brick walls of the jail. The veterans needed to get through before other police or the National Guard arrived.
Molotov cocktails proved ineffective but at 2:30 in the morning, someone arrived with dynamite. At about the same time, an ambulance arrived and the veterans let it through, assuming it was there for the wounded. Instead, Paul Cantrell and one of his men escaped in it.
A few minutes later, the vets started throwing dynamite. The first bundle was used to blow up a deputy’s cruiser, flipping it over. Then, three more bundles were thrown. One landed on the porch roof, one under another car, and one against the jail wall. The nearly simultaneous explosions destroyed the wall and car and threw the jail porch off of its foundation.
The deputies in the jail, as well as some hiding out in the courthouse, surrendered immediately. The veterans were then forced to protect the deputies as local townspeople attempted to kill them. At least one deputy had his throat slit and another of Cantrell’s men was shot in the jaw.
The veterans established a patrol to keep the peace. To prevent a counterattack by Cantrell, the vets placed machine guns at all the approaches to Athens, where the jail and courthouse were located.
The rest of the incident played out without violence. Henry Knox took over as sheriff Aug. 4, 1946 and future elections dismantled what was left of Cantrell’s machine.
Feature image: Screen capture from YouTube/ Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions
Joseph V. Micallef is a best-selling military history and world affairs author, and keynote speaker. Follow him on Twitter @JosephVMicallef.
Of all the world’s commodities, petroleum best epitomizes the geopolitical consequences of natural resources. Countries that were fortunate to possess large reserves of hydrocarbons found themselves with incredible wealth and in control of a powerful driver of economic development. Countries that were unable to produce enough oil and gas for their needs found themselves vulnerable to supply disruptions and at a major geopolitical disadvantage.
The oil and gas industry had a significant Achilles heel, however. Oil and gas development had significant up-front development costs but, in many cases, relatively low operating costs. Once a well was brought into production, the cost of keeping it operating was relatively low, even if the revenue was insufficient to amortize the development cost. The result was that, historically, the oil and gas industry has been subject to volatile swings in pricing.
In 1919, the Texas Railroad Commission (TRC) was charged with setting production levels among Texas oil producers in order to control the supply and stabilize prices. From 1930 through 1960, the TRC was largely responsible for setting the price of oil worldwide.
In 1960, a group of oil-producing countries, led by Saudi Arabia, adopted the TRC model and formed the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to regulate oil production and stabilize prices. OPEC did not eliminate oil price volatility, but its willingness to regulate its production levels helped moderate some of the pricing instability. Between 2000 and 2020, average yearly oil prices varied from a low of .99 per barrel in 2001, to a high of 2.58 per barrel in 2011. The average price in 2019 was .92 per barrel. Currently, average oil prices are approximately per barrel.
Canada, Russia, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States, all significant oil producers, were among the oil-producing countries that did not join OPEC. The U.S., a major producer, began to import oil in 1959. Although the U.S. still imports oil, it has been a net exporter of both refined petroleum products and crude oil since November 2019.
OPEC’s share of the global oil market peaked at slightly more than 50% in 1973. In 2019, it was approximately 30%. Energy conservation; new discoveries; improvements in drilling and production technology; and, most significantly, the development of horizontal drilling to open “tight” oil- and gas-bearing formations and the development of the Canadian tar sands, have all cut into OPEC’s market share. In addition, Asia, principally China, India and Japan, have now become the main market for OPEC’s exports.
In 2017, Russia, along with 10 other non-OPEC oil-producing countries, agreed to coordinate production cuts with the group in order to stabilize prices. The countries were referred to as the “Vienna Group” and the arrangement as OPEC+. The agreement represented a strategic alignment of Saudi Arabia and Russia to rationalize prices. It lasted through March 2020.
One of the immediate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic was a sharp drop of approximately one to two million barrels per day (BOPD) in world demand for petroleum. In early March, OPEC agreed to extend its current cutbacks of 2.1 million BOPD and to reduce production by an additional 1.5 BOPD to a total of 3.6 million BOPD.
OPEC requested that Russia and the other 10 oil-producing countries in the OPEC+ group decrease their production by an additional 500,000 BOPD. Russia refused to accept the additional production cuts, arguing that any production cutbacks would simply be made up by American shale oil producers.
In retaliation, Saudi Arabia declared that it would flood world oil markets in a quest to regain lost market share and indirectly punish Russia for its unwillingness to cooperate.
Within a matter of days, world oil prices cratered by approximately 60%. The collapse of oil prices, coupled with rising anxiety over the economic consequences of the growing COVID-19 pandemic, triggered widespread economic turmoil and a marked decline in financial markets.
U.S. Strategic Interests and OPEC
The governments of both Russia and Saudi Arabia are heavily dependent on petroleum exports to fund the bulk of their expenditures. In Riyadh’s case, oil exports supply 70% of its revenues; in Moscow’s case, the number is approximately 46%. Both countries have sovereign funds designed to cover shortfalls in government revenues from falling oil prices. Saudi Arabia’s Sovereign Wealth Fund had 0 billion in assets, while Russia’s National Wealth Fund had approximately 4 billion at the end of 2019.
The Trump administration was quick to characterize the Saudi and Russian decisions to increase oil production as a thinly veiled attack on American shale oil producers. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that 7.7 million BOPD, or about 2.81 billion barrels, of crude oil were produced from tight oil formations in the United States in 2019. This was equal to about 63% of total U.S. crude oil production last year.
This was not the first time that Saudi Arabia had tried to use low prices to force the producers of the more expensive shale oil out of the market. In response, President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. would buy up to 77 million barrels of oil from American producers for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Funding for these purchases was not, however, included in the recently passed 2020 Cares Act. In the meantime, the TRC announced that it would consider limiting Texas oil production to stabilize prices. Texas represents 40% of U.S. oil production.
Pundits were quick to take positions on which country, Saudi Arabia or Russia, would be able to hold out the longest in the ensuing price war. Meanwhile, television commentators pointed out that lower gasoline prices represented a boon for American consumers.
The more germane questions, however, are where does the U.S. interest lie? Is the U.S. better off from lower or higher petroleum prices? What are the consequences of lower oil prices on America’s strategic interests around the world?
From the 1960s through 2013, the U.S. was the largest net importer of petroleum in the world. Lower petroleum prices were in America’s interest as they decreased the balance of payments deficit created by oil imports and represented savings to American households. Today, gasoline costs represent around 2% of average household income. So even significant reductions in gasoline prices are not going to represent a major change in a family’s income — certainly not in respect to the current economic turmoil.
Moreover, given that the U.S. is now a net exporter of oil and natural gas, lower prices reduce its export earnings. Additionally, over the last two decades, the U.S. shale oil industry has emerged as an important driver of economic development and a source of high-paying blue-collar jobs. On balance, the U.S. economy would be better off if prices returned to their -to- pre-crash levels than if they continue at their current depressed levels.
From Washington’s standpoint, the strategic implications of low oil prices around the world are mixed. On the one hand, low oil prices are a significant constraint on the Russian government and on the Kremlin’s ability to fund the expansion and modernization of Russian military forces. Russia needs oil prices at around a barrel or higher to balance its budget, and closer to to finance the more ambitious social and military programs that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to implement.
On the other hand, low oil prices threaten to destabilize countries that are American allies and to create new areas of regional instability or aggravate existing ones. This is particularly true of the Gulf region, but also of countries such as Nigeria and Mexico. Roughly one-third of Mexico’s federal budget comes from oil exports.
The average cost of producing a barrel of oil in the world is around . It’s a difficult number to pin down because operating costs are typically in local currency and are affected by exchange rates, as well as each country’s relative market share. Costs per country, however, can vary dramatically.
The U.K., whose North Sea oil fields are mature and declining, has a production cost of per barrel. Norway, whose oil fields are in a similar position, has an operating cost of .10 per barrel. On average, the amortization of capital costs typically represents about 50% of operating costs. Direct production, overhead, taxes and transportation costs represent the other half.
The U.S., where oil shale production represents two-thirds of output, has an equally high cost at .20. Brazil and Canada, whose new oil production is particularly capital intensive, have costs of .80 per barrel and per barrel, respectively. Russia’s average production cost is around .20, although the cost of new production, especially in its Arctic oil fields, is much higher.
At the other extreme, Saudi Arabia has a production cost of .90 per barrel, while Kuwait has the lowest production cost at .50. Across OPEC, the average production cost is probably between and per barrel. That means, at current prices, most OPEC producers’ costs exceed revenues after they factor in capital costs.
Only Iraq, Iran and the UAE have costs comparable to Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. In short, current oil prices are unsustainable long term. Even those countries that can produce oil profitably at these levels cannot produce enough to make up in volume the revenues they need to fund government expenditures. In the short term, prices may drop even lower but, in the long term, low prices are both unsustainable and extremely destabilizing politically.
The trends that produced the current instability in petroleum markets are not new. They have been in process for some time. The COVID-19 pandemic simply accelerated those trends and brought them to a culmination faster and more dramatically than would otherwise have been the case. Ironically, instead of dealing with the consequence of “peak oil” and skyrocketing prices, today we are dealing with too much production capacity and insufficient demand.
For much of its existence, OPEC has been an American nemesis, a position underscored in 1973 when the Arab members of OPEC (OAPEC) embargoed oil shipments to the U.S. in response to American aid to Israel. Historically, as a net consumer of oil, the U.S. wanted lower prices, while producers wanted higher prices. Today, however, it’s a different world, one in which the interests of OPEC and the U.S. are more closely aligned.
Prices in the to range are sufficient to keep the U.S. shale oil industry economic and afford OPEC members a basis of financial stability. It’s also in Russia’s interest, as it stabilizes the Kremlin’s finances, even if it falls short of Moscow’s more ambitious goals. In the meantime, the U.S. petroleum industry will continue to innovate and to bring down its shale oil production costs, while continuing to expand its liquefied natural gas export capability. Moreover, the U.S. would likely get Canada, Brazil, the U.K. and Norway to participate, even if unofficially, in such an arrangement. The Alberta provincial government is already limiting oil production.
In light of the financial repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic on the U.S. and the global economy, stabilizing the oil market and a key American industrial sector would be a first step in repairing the economic damage. It’s time for Washington to make a deal with OPEC and Russia to stabilize the oil market, even if that means the U.S. must agree to some production cuts or export curtailment to ensure price stability.
Compounding the M16’s troubles was its lack of a proper cleaning kit. It was supposed to be so advanced that it would never jam, so the manufacturer didn’t feel it needed to make them. But the M16 did jam.
“We hated it,” said Marine veteran John Culbertson. “Because if it got any grime or corruption or dirt in it, which you always get in any rifle out in the field, it’s going to malfunction.”
The troops started using cleaning kits from other weapons to unjam their rifles.
“The shells ruptured in the chambers and the only way to get the shell out was to put a cleaning rod in it,” said Wodecki. “So you can imagine in a firefight trying to clean your weapon after two or three rounds. It was a nightmare for Marines at the time.
Towards the end of 1965, journalists picked up on mounting reports of gross malfunctions. The American public became outraged over stories of troops dying face down in the mud because their rifles failed to fire, according to a story published by the Small Arms Review.
Thankfully, the reports did not fall on deaf ears. The manufacturer fixed the jamming problems and issued cleaning kits. The new and improved rifle became the M16A1.
This video features Vietnam Marines recounting their first-hand troubles with the M16:
A son of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has been killed in battle in the Syrian province of Homs, IS’s propaganda agency Amaq announced.
Hudhayfah al-Badri was killed in an “operation against the Nussayriyyah and the Russians at the thermal power station in Homs,” the group said in a statement late on July 3, 2018, showing a photo of a young man holding an assault rifle.
Nussayriyyah is IS’s term for the Alawite religious minority sect of President Bashar al-Assad.
IS maintains only a small presence in Syria after being targeted for elimination by Syrian and Russian forces as well as U.S.-backed rebel forces in the last year. It is now estimated to control no more than 3 percent of Syria’s territory.
President Bashar al-Assad
U.S. and Iraqi officials have said they believe IS leader Baghdadi remains alive in Syria near the Iraqi border.
Baghdadi, who is originally from Iraq, has been dubbed the “most wanted man on the planet,” with the United States offering a million reward for his capture. He had four children with his first wife and a son with his second wife.
In September, 2017, the last voice message attributed to Baghdadi called on his followers worldwide to “resist” their enemies.
On Aug. 30, 1918, American Capt. (later Col.) Arthur L. Conger, with French support, deceived the Germans into believing an Allied attack near Belfort, France, was imminent.
In what would become known as the Belfort Ruse, the Allies drew German forces away from the actual upcoming offensive near St. Mihiel, France, planned for September.
Directed to devise and execute a plan to mislead the Germans as to the true location of the planned American attack, Conger, a Harvard graduate and German linguist, “traveled to Belfort, a hot bed of German sympathizers and spies, where he dropped hints to local inhabitants and conveniently left ‘confidential’ papers in plain sight. He arranged for reconnaissance flights over enemy lines, sent borrowed French tanks to drive around open fields and dispatched agents to scout rail lines, roads and hospital facilities. Signal units set up large antennas and proceeded to dispatch a flurry of messages,” according to an article from the U.S. Army.
Throughout the execution of his deception plan, Conger expressed pessimism on its chances for success, doubting “that the enemy takes this reconnaissance very seriously; … [he won’t] be deceived by a mere ‘paperwork’ demonstration or reconnaissance of officers, unaccompanied by actual preparations of guns, munitions, materiel and subsistence….” And he was right. German intelligence officers doubted the legitimacy of the information they received out of Belfort but felt it was too important to ignore completely. After all, Belfort might very well have been the true site of the upcoming attack and the American preparations at St. Mihiel the ruse. — Lori S. Tagg
The extent to which the trick was successful is debatable. German forces did divert to the Belfort region, but those in the St. Michael salient withdrew, allowing the American Expeditionary Force to control the area relatively uncontested.
It was the first significant operation of the war under U.S. command and while it may have had little impact on the offensive at Mihiel, it was successful enough to encourage U.S. commanders to request additional deception operations throughout the war.
“Every kid has a dream to be an astronaut,” Air Force veteran Molly Potter said. “But by college, these dreams become less and less important for most. That was not so for me.”
Potter attended Embry-Riddle to major in Space Physics and Space Engineering. While there she tried to start a military career in Army ROTC, but soon found it was not for her. Many of her friends were in Air Force ROTC. She liked the mentality and decided it was the best way to get to where she wanted to be.
“I was a 13-Week Wonder,” Potter says. “I loved it and a quickly did my best to be come a stellar officer.”
She and her then-husband were “poster airmen” at Eglin Air Force Base. He was an AC-130 navigator who deployed all the time; she was a weapons specialist, awarded Company Grade Officer of the Year in her first year. By the time she was promoted to first lieutenant, she had caught SOCOM’s eye.
Going from her desk job to deploying to Southwest Asia with the US Special Operations Command was far from Potter’s comfort zone.
“They gave me a gun and a backpack and basically told me to go,” Potter recalls. “I was essentially a one-person band out there with the Army and Marines. I didn’t realize what I was experiencing.”
And she experienced a lot, even for a munitions specialist.
“Afghanistan was the place I felt most respected on all levels,” Potter says. “The men in JSOC and SOCOM were utmost professionals. They only cared that I did my job, and they needed me to save their asses on occasion. I had the same respect they had for me.”
One night, as the sun went down, a rocket attack knocked Potter out. A cement barrier saved her life, protecting her from the frag.
Like many veterans of recent conflicts, the blast caused her traumatic brain injury. Little was known then about the effects of blasts on the brain, and she was sent home without a diagnosis.
After her deployment, she was assigned as a flight test engineer with test pilots, the next step in her path to becoming what she wanted since childhood. She attempted to numb herself from the emotional turmoil.
Her role was quick-turnaround acquisitions for special operations missions. Watching the munitions she procured from the airplanes or from monitors and how they killed combatants on the ground, even seeing what she calls ‘the Faces of Death,’ coupled with seeing her own life flash before her eyes changed the way she saw her role in the war. Her whole life was dedicated to becoming an astronaut, but here she was engineering ways to make killing more efficient.
“They were supposed to be getting this star officer,” Potter remembers. “Instead, they got a struggling officer, fresh from Afghanistan, who wasn’t sleeping or eating, and whose marriage was falling apart.” She refused to take leave yet struggled with this difficult program, full of the world’s best pilots.
Her memory started to fade, and she couldn’t even get through a day’s work. It hit her one day when she was driving home from after flying military aircraft on military orders, but suddenly couldn’t remember how to get home.
“I realized then I needed help,” Potter says. “But I didn’t want to lose my clearance, my career. But my commanding officers started to notice there was something wrong with me. I wasn’t really there.” It all came crashing down in 2013, when a motorcyclist ran into her car in Las Vegas and Potter suffered a total mental breakdown. Her leadership realized what was happening.
“I was lucky my command realized I had a problem,” Potter says. “Instead of disciplining me, they told me ‘the Air Force broke you and the Air Force is going to put you back together.'” Recovery soon became her full time job.
“I was a high suicide risk,” Potter admits. “Therapy was very tough for me. Halfway through, I started to stall. I was having nightmares. Even with my mom there, things were not going well. I was suppressing all this awful shit and having horrible nightmares. That’s when I got Bella.”
Bella is Potter’s “100 percent American Mutt.” When Potter experienced intense Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and refused to leave the house, it was Bella who forced her to go outside. She had to be walked, after all. Bella also had to be fed, watered, petted, and cleaned. She became Molly Potter’s reason to get out of bed, to get out of the house.
“She slowly started bringing my life back,” Potter says. “I started realizing she was waking me up in the middle of the night when I was having nightmares. She prevented my panic attacks and my night terrors. I started progressing with my therapy and becoming myself again.” Bella’s effect on Potter was so strong, her therapist suggested she train Bella as a service dog, and that’s exactly what she did.
In the meantime, the Air Force began to wonder what to do with Potter. She did lose her clearance and could no longer fly, but she didn’t have disciplinary issues, so her command wanted to work with her to help her find a new Air Force role or help her transition to the civilian world.
In her preparation to leave the service, she started to work at the Airmen and Family Readiness Center at Nellis Air Force Base, to help troubled Airmen and families or help those who were also transitioning. Bella would come with her, to keep her calm and bring her back in case of a panic attack or breakdown. The families visiting the AFRC loved her, but not everyone was a fan of Bella in the workplace.
“I got a lot of pushback for this service dog,” Potter says. “There was no regulation for service dogs and uniformed personnel.”
A potentially troubling situation took a turn for the best one evening, as Potter brought Bella to an Air Force Association Symposium in Washington, DC. She happened to run into Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh and then-Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning.
She told the senior leaders how great her therapy was and how the Air Force PTSD therapy helped her. Then she told them about her concern for regulations regarding service dogs and that one should be written. They both agreed. Now active duty Airmen and Soldiers on PTSD therapy can use working dogs to help them cope as an accepted practice.
“Bella saved my life,” Potter says. “She changed the tide of my therapy and gave me the confidence to be Captain Potter again.”
The CSAF and the SECAF gave their full support and attention to this issue and Potter now uses her story with Bella as a way to help promote getting help while in the military.
“It’s not the only way, but it was my way,” Potter remarked. “I was anorexic, divorced, and suicidal. Five month changed my life. I had horrible experience in Afghanistan, but by the time I left the military, I was happy, sleeping and had a support network to start a new life.”
Potter now lives and works in Austin, Texas. In her spare time, she volunteers with the Air Force Association and works to match service dogs to other veterans facing the struggles she once faced.
“I still think women on the battlefields is a positive thing,” she said. “War isn’t in the trenches anymore and women bring a more creative, sometimes necessary softer tone to the fight. In the future, critical thinking could be crucial to winning and I think women in these roles bring new solutions to the problems surrounding war.”
When it comes to the events of Dec. 7, 1941 — “a date which will live in infamy” — two films stand out.
There is the 1970 classic “Tora! Tora! Tora!,” which featured some of the biggest directors from American and Japanese cinema.
And then there is the 2001 film “Pearl Harbor,” directed by Michael Bay, and which had major stars like Academy Award winners Ben Affleck, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Jon Voight.
So, which film was better?
Tora! Tora! Tora!
Pros: This film really delved into the history of the attack, including many of the factors as they were known back then. The strategic context of Japan’s decision to launch the attack is covered here.
Within the very real limits of special effects technology, you experience the attack. The cast plays the roles well — remarkable given the lack of big-name stars. They also catch the American arrogance at the time – underestimating Japan while at the same time knowing they were going to hit us somewhere.
Using American and Japanese talent also brought much more realism to this film, bringing a very good balance. The footage was so good, it was re-used in a number of other World War II epics, and for a flashback in a Magnum, P.I. episode!
Cons: The special effects are pretty cheesy in some cases. You also catch historical anachronisms – like the presence of USS Ticonderoga (CV 14). Also, this film is 46 years old – in some ways, scholarship and history has overtaken it.
Pros: The special effects make the experience of the attack far more intense. You also have some very good talent on screen, including three who won various Academy Awards. There were other future stars as well, including Josh Hartnett (“Black Hawk Down”) and Jennifer Garner (“Alias,” “The Kingdom,” “Elektra”).
Cons: Where do we start? How about the contrived storylines, particularly with Ben Affleck’s character? Maybe the unrealistic stuff as well, like the implausible selection of the characters played by Affleck and Hartnett to take part in the Doolittle Raid?
Not to mention the still-obvious errors (many of the “ships” hit in the film were Spruance-class destroyers in reserve). Not to mention the distracting romantic triangle. The biggest con is that we had a chance to capitalize on 30 years of new scholarship on World War II, and we got melodrama instead.
Which of these films comes out better? Believe it or not, the classic “Tora! Tora! Tora!,” despite its age, holds up much better.
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) departs San Francisco. | US Navy photo by Lt.j.g. Pete Lee
Aircraft carriers are the cornerstone of America’s naval capabilities. They’re able to project air power anywhere in the world without having to depend on local bases.
And they are truly massive.
Spanning 1,092 feet long — three times the length of a football field — Nimitz-class warships like the USS George H.W. Bush are the largest aircraft carriers. See below for a selection of pictures showing how massive America’s aircraft carriers are:
The USS Nimitz conducts an aerial demonstration.
The USS Nimitz conducts an aerial demonstration. The USS Nimitz conducts an aerial demonstration. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Aiyana S. Paschal/ Released
An aircraft director guides an F/A-18C Hornet onto a catapult aboard the USS Harry S. Truman.
US Navy photo
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) transits the Strait of Hormuz.
US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class John Grandin
Sailors scrub down the flight deck of the USS George Washington (CVN-73).
Sailors man the rails of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) while departing Naval Base Coronado.
The USS George H.W. Bush is underway.
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Brian Stephens/Released
PCU Gerald R. Ford is floated for the first time.
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Joshua J. Wahl/Released
Blue Angels fly over the USS George H.W. Bush in the Atlantic Ocean.
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Terrence Siren/Released
The USS John C. Stennis conducts flight operations.
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Matthew Martino/Released
Sailors man the rails as the USS Nimitz (CVN-68) enters Pearl Harbor.
US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Kelly M. Agee/Released
The USS Carl Vinson is underway in the Persian Gulf.
US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alex King/Released
Sailors observe as the USS John C. Stennis sails alongside the USS Ronald Reagan.
The USS George Washington (CVN-73) leads the George Washington Carrier Strike Group.
US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ricardo R. Guzman/Released
The USS Ronald Reagan transports sailors’ vehicles.
US Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 3rd Class Shawn J. Stewart/RELEASED
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) departs San Francisco.
US Navy photo by Lt.j.g. Pete Lee/Released
The USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) performs a full-power run-and-rudder swing check during sea trials.
USS Harry S. Truman performs swing checks.
F/A-18 Hornets demonstrate air power over the USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74).
US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Ignacio D. Perez/Released
The USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) transiting the Strait of Hormuz.
US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class John Grandin/Released
The USS Enterprise is underway with the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group in the Atlantic Ocean.
US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Harry Andrew D. Gordon/Released
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) returns to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
US Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel Barker/Released
The USS Abraham Lincoln and USS John C. Stennis join for a turnover of responsibility in the Arabian Sea.
US Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Eric S. Powell/Released
The top weapons buyer for U.S. Special Operations Command said Wednesday that the so-called Iron Man suit being developed for elite commandos may not end up being the exoskeleton armored ensemble popular in adventure movies.
It’s been four years since SOCOM leaders challenged the defense industry to come up with ideas for the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit, or TALOS — an ensemble that would provide operators with “more-efficient, full-body ballistics protection and beyond-optimal human performance” as well as embedded sensors and communications tech for heightened situational awareness.
Program officials are about “a year and a half” away from having a TALOS prototype that’s ready to put in the hands of operators for testing, James “Hondo” Geurts, acquisition executive and director for SOF ATl at USSOCOM, told an audience at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Annual Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict Symposium.
When the program began, it captured the public’s imagination and conjured images of high-tech ensembles worn in movies such as “Man of Steel,” “Pacific Rim” and “Starship Troopers.”
“We are on our fifth prototype,” Geurts said. “Will we get everything we want? Probably not. That was never the intent.”
SOCOM officials envisioned TALOS would feature integrated heaters and coolers to regulate the temperature inside the suit. Embedded sensors would monitor the operator’s core body temperature, skin temperature, heart rate, body position and hydration levels. In the event that the operator is wounded, the suit could feasibly start administering the first life-saving oxygen or hemorrhage controls.
This is not the first time the U.S. military has embarked on an effort to perfect smart-soldier technology. The Army is now equipping combat units with a secure, smartphone-based kit — known as Nett Warrior — that allows a leader to track subordinates’ locations in relation to his own position via icons on a digital map. The unit leaders can view satellite imagery and send text messages.
The technology has seen combat and given leaders a precise view of their tactical environment, empowering units to operate more decisively than ever before.
But the program’s success did not come easily. Land Warrior, the first generation of this computerized command-and-control ensemble, was plagued by failure. From its launch in 1996, the Army spent $500 million on three major contract awards before the system’s reliability problems were solved in 2006.
When TALOS began, SOCOM said it planned to funnel $80 million into research and development over a four-year timeline. Geurts did not say how much money SOCOM has spent so far on TALOS.
One of the biggest challenges is powering the suit, but also a type of control theory and deep learning, Geurts said.
In just walking, “we take for granted that when we put our arm out, that our foot is behind us to balance it,” he said.
Geurts said the program has had “tremendous hurdles” working with these technologies, but said the effort will likely result in spin-off technologies that can be fielded to operators before TALOS is operationally ready.
“So in TALOS, don’t just think exoskeleton and armor — think of the whole equation,” he said. “Survivability is part of what armor you are carrying, but it’s also a big part of whatever information you have, what is your situational awareness, how do you communicate. So as we are going down all those paths, we can leverage quickly some of the stuff that is ready to go right now.”