You’ve seen them before at this time of year — United States Marines in their full dress blues standing near bins full of toys with the signature logo of the Toys for Tots program. And you’ve definitely seen this commercial:
Just two years after the end of World War II, a Marine Corps Reserve officer named Maj. Bill Hendricks wanted to donate a Raggedy Ann doll his wife had made to a charity in the Los Angeles area, but he couldn’t find one that met what he had in mind.
What he did find were thousands of children who needed toys.
“That first year we delivered the toys ourselves,” Hendricks told said in an interview before his 1992 death. “We were winding up the campaign on Christmas Eve, delivering toys right up to midnight. A master sergeant and I went to a place where three kids were waiting up for us. I can still see their faces. After leaving the toys, one of the children followed us out to the car and said, ‘Thank you very much.’ That ‘thank you’ was worth the effort.”
The first run was so successful, the USMC expanded it to a nationwide effort the next year. Every Marine Corps Reserve site worked with the local community to collect and distribute millions of toys.
In the years following, the Marines received star-studded help from the likes of Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. The logo was designed by Walt Disney himself.
Now the effort is augmented by the nonprofit Toys for Tots Foundation, which expanded the number of toys collected to 16 million worth an estimated $243 million every year. The foundation regularly receives four-star ratings from Charity navigator and in 2003 was on Forbes’ Top Ten Children’s Charities.
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 Pentagon recently released its plan to better integrate transgender troops into the military, providing guidance to service members already in and a road map moving forward for transgender troops who wish to join.
Department of Defense Instruction 1300.28 says that troops who are mentally a different gender than they are physically will start by visiting a military doctor to receive a diagnosis. If the doctor agrees and diagnoses the service member, then the service member alerts their chain of command and begins a process that is tailored to each individual.
To summarize the process in broad strokes, the doctor and service member will agree on a treatment plan that addresses the member’s mental and physical health, and the member will report it to their commander. This plan will include an estimated day when the member’s gender will be officially switched in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System.
This official switch in DEERS won’t typically happen until the doctor has asserted that the transition is complete, the commander has signed off on the change, and the member has produced a court order, passport or state birth certificate asserting their preferred gender.
Once the member’s status is changed in DEERS, he or she will — as far as the military is concerned — cease to be their birth gender and will instead be recognized as their preferred gender. This includes uniform standards, physical training tests and all other regulations that refer to gender.
Also, the guidance stipulates that service members should not begin living as their preferred gender on duty until they complete their transition. This is because they will still be expected to conform to uniform and other regulations that apply to their birth gender until they complete their transition.
The DoD Instruction letter lays out guidance for commanders, including when they should delay a member’s transition or specific steps in the process to protect mission effectiveness. Basically, the commander should use the same discretion they have with other aspects of a member’s medical care and, when necessary, order the soldier to delay treatment in order to accomplish a mission.
These delays could be ordered when the transgender soldier is in a mission critical or shortage job, is deploying, or the transition could cause a breakdown in unit readiness at a key time.
Troops who need cross-sex hormone therapy to complete their transition or maintain their preferred gender will receive it within the constraints of their unit missions.
The instructions also addressed the expectation that transgendered people might soon join the military and attempt their transition early in their enlistment or time as an officer.
The instructions strongly deter this, advising commanders that while there is no blanket prohibition on gender transition in the first term of service, the necessities of training troops and preparing them for their overall military career will often preclude the service member’s ability to complete their transition.
So, people who want to transition to another gender and serve in the military should either transition before their enlistment or serve their first contract before beginning treatment.
The Battle of the Bulge was a Hail Mary pass by a führer who was quickly running out of options. Hitler desperately needed a decisive victory on either his Western or Eastern front. Remembering his series of victories after sneaking through the Ardennes forest in 1940, he went for a repeat in 1944.
On Dec. 16, 200,000 German troops and 1,000 tanks slammed into 80,000 Allied troops. Listen to troops who were there explain what it was like to turn away Hitler’s desperate gambit.
1. Over 1 million men were involved in the battle.
Instead, rookies became veterans overnight and fatigued veterans dug deep to slow the German advance. Anti-tank teams targeted choke points in villages and mountain passes, creating flaming barricades of destroyed German armor that slowed the Blitzkrieg to a crawl.
3. The famous “NUTS!” response to a surrender request was basically bored paratroopers joking around.
Brig. Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe and Col. Harry Kinnard II at Bastogne after the battle. Photo: US Army courtesy of the Eisenhower Archives.
McAuliffe had twice said, “Nuts,” when briefed on the surrender request, first to his acting chief of staff that woke him and then to his headquarter staff. When it came time to draft the formal response, McAuliffe couldn’t think of what to write. His men, who had found the “nuts” comments funny, urged him to just respond with those four letters.
4. German soldiers illegally wore American uniforms to sneak behind enemy lines.
A major part of Hitler’s gamble was the belief that he could sow disorder in the American lines by sneaking English-speaking Germans in and having them sabotage equipment.
5. One of the worst war crimes committed against Allied troops in World War II took place during the battle.
The Malmédy Massacre occurred Dec. 17, 1944, when a group of over 100 Americans, mostly artillerymen with the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion, were captured by German SS troops taking part in the German attack.
Ultimately, the Battle of the Bulge failed and the Americans continued their advance. With the large losses of both men and material Germany suffered in the Battle of the Bulge, the Third Reich was doomed. Hitler would go on to kill himself Apr. 30, 1945 (or, maybe not) and Germany surrendered May 8.
The US-led coalition fighting ISIS in Syria launched its third strike in as many weeks on pro-regime forces inside a deconfliction zone around al Tanf, near a border crossing in Syria’s southeast desert.
Two US officials told CNN that the June 8 strike came after three vehicles were seen entering the deconfliction zone, and two of the vehicles were hit when they were 24 miles from the base at al Tanf.
“The pro-regime UAV, similar in size to a US MQ-1 Predator, was shot down by a US aircraft after it dropped one of several weapons it was carrying near a position occupied by Coalition personnel who are training and advising partner ground forces in the fight against ISIS,” US Central Command said in a statement.
The “munition did not have an effect on coalition forces,” according to coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon.
US and other coalition personnel are at the al Tanf garrison, near the border crossing, to train local partner forces, who captured the area earlier this year. (US personnel and local partners repulsed an intense attack by ISIS soon after.)
The first such strike in the al Tanf area came on May 18, when coalition forces targeted pro-Assad forces “that were advancing well inside an established deconfliction zone” spreading 34 miles around al Tanf, US Central Command said in a release at the time.
The strike came after unsuccessful Russian efforts to stop the movements, a show of force by coalition aircraft, and warning shots.
Christopher Woody/Google Maps
Earlier this week, pro-regime and coalition aircraft both conducted strikes against opposition forces in the vicinity of al Tanf.
On Tuesday, Iranian-backed Shia militia fighters came under attack on the ground just inside the deconfliction zone boundary, according to CNN. In response to that attack, Washington and Moscow communicated on a deconfliction line set up previously. Russia shared a request from the Syrian government to launch a strike in support of the militia, to which the US agreed.
Hours later, pro-Assad forces were observed entering the deconfliction zone with vehicles and weaponry, including a tank and artillery, as well as over 60 fighters. The US then launched its own airstrike on those forces after they refused to withdraw from the area.
The coalition said it issued several warnings before “destroying two artillery pieces, an anti-aircraft weapon, and damaging a tank.”
The US-led strike, carried out by a F/A-18 fighter, dropped four bombs and “killed an estimated 10 fighters,” according to CNN.
June 8th’s engagements add to a string of encounters that could lead to greater conflict in Syria between the US-led coalition and its local partners and pro-regime forces and their backers, Iran and Russia.
“The Coalition does not seek to fight Syrian regime, Russian, or pro-regime forces partnered with them,” CentCom said in its statement.
“The demonstrated hostile intent and actions of pro-regime forces near Coalition and partner forces in southern Syria, however, continue to concern us and the Coalition will take appropriate measures to protect our forces,” the statement said.
The strategic value of the al Tanf area — through which a highway connecting Damascus to Baghdad runs — as well as the direction of events elsewhere in Syria makes clashes between coalition forces and pro-regime forces a continuing possibility.
ISIS’ eroding control of territory in Syria, and the likelihood that Kurdish forces — who’ve signaled a willingness to negotiate with Assad for autonomy — will soon take control of the area around Raqqa in northeast Syria make territory in the southeast of the country increasingly valuable.
Recent events in Syria indicate that “the United States [is] seemingly looking to cement a north-south ‘Sunni axis’ from the Gulf states and Jordan to Turkey,” Fabrice Balanche, a French expert on Syria and a visiting fellow at The Washington institute for Near East Policy, wrote recently.
“The challenge is that Iran and its proxies would very much like to establish some sort of land bridge from Iraq into Syria and they have had designs on this for quite some time,” a former Pentagon official told The Christian Science Monitor.
Capturing al Tanf and the nearby border crossing would allow Tehran to link Iraq to the Mediterranean coast through Syria, facilitating the movement of men and material.
But doing so would also isolate coalition-backed forces fighting ISIS and their special-forces advisers.
Intelligence sources have told Reuters that the coalition’s presence near al Tanf is meant to prevent such a route from opening.
“Initially, the United States and the coalition had planned this unconventional warfare campaign to pressure the middle Euphrates River valley and cut off [ISIS communications lines],” the former Pentagon official said. “Now, ironically, it’s not just threatening [ISIS], it’s also threatening Iran’s designs for the area.”
Russia has also become involved in the confrontations around al Tanf.
Earlier this month, coalition-backed Syrian forces attacked Shia militias that had moved down the highway toward the Iraqi border. They forced the militias, which are backed by Iran, to retreat, but Russian jets soon launched strikes against the coalition-backed fighters, forcing them back as well.
Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based Shia militant group backed by Iran and heavily involved in the pro-regime fight in Syria, has entered the fray as well. The group’s military-news unit issued a statement this week warning that the “self-restraint” it had about US-led airstrikes would end if the US crossed “red lines.”
“America knows well that the blood of the sons of Syria, the Syrian Arab Army, and its allies is not cheap, and the capacity to strike their positions in Syria, and their surroundings, is available when circumstances will it,” the statement said.
Observers have noted that the Trump administration would likely be much less hesitant about attacking Hezbollah in Syria. Given the web of alliances that now ensnare forces in Syria, such attacks would likely have broader repercussions.
“American unwillingness to confront Iran and its proxies in Syria, if obliged by circumstances, is a thing of the past,” Frederic Hof, director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and a former State Department liaison to Syrian opposition forces, told The Christian Science Monitor.
“And Moscow would now have to anticipate with high likelihood aerial combat with US forces should it elect to provide tactical air support to Iran and its proxies on the ground,” Hof added.
“Our people are gathering in the Tanf area right now, so a clash is definitely coming,” a Hezbollah unit commander in Beirut, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Monitor.
Only in Patton’s Army could a mild-mannered history teacher from Moline, Illinois, join the service and become forever immortalized as “Bazooka Charlie.”
Charles Carpenter joined the Army as a pilot shortly after America’s entry into World War II. He became an aerial artillery observer with the 4th Armored Division of Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army. It was here Carpenter became a legend on both sides of the war.
By the time he arrived in Europe in 1944, then-Maj. Carpenter had a lot of flying time training for artillery observation and reconnaissance. However, his first great feat in Europe was not in the air, it was on the ground.
While scouting for advanced landing fields in a jeep near Avranches, France, Carpenter came across a unit pinned down by Germans holding a nearby town. He ran up to the lead tank, jumped on the .50 cal machine gun, fired off a burst at the Germans, and yelled, “Let’s Go!”
Although technically not the leader of the unit, the men followed his commands and assaulted the town, capturing it in minutes. Unfortunately, Carpenter ordered the tank he was riding to fire at what he thought was an enemy tank. The shot took the bulldozer plow off a fellow American tank.
He was arrested after the incident and threatened with a firing squad before his commanding general came to his rescue. He was told to expect a court-martial — until word of his exploits reached Gen. Patton. Patton personally stopped the court-martial proceedings and instead awarded Carpenter a Silver Star for his bravery, saying Carpenter was “the kind of fighting man I want in my army.”
After the incident, Carpenter kept to the skies, but he certainly wasn’t out of the fight. Though discouraged by his plane’s lack of armament and offensive capability, he heard rumors of other scout pilots attaching weapons to their planes. He conceived an idea that would truly make him famous in the European Theater.
With the help of an ordinance tech and a crew chief, Carpenter attached two M1 bazookas to the struts of his L-4 Grasshopper (the military version of a Piper Cub), which he then promptly dubbed “Rosie the Rocketer.” Each bazooka was controlled electronically from switches in the cockpit and could be fired individually or at the same time.
It wasn’t long before Carpenter scored his first kill, taking out a German armored car. He wasn’t satisfied with just blasting light vehicles, so he added four more bazookas. He also managed to acquire the improved M9 bazooka, which was capable of firing M6A3 High Explosive Anti-Tank rounds.
Carpenter’s methods for destroying German armor earned him another nickname, the “Mad Major.” His technique was to perform a shallow dive at enemy tanks and then blast them from 100 meters before pulling up and out of range of enemy small arms fire.
Although the technique was effective, it was downright crazy. Many of Carpenter’s fellow pilots who heard his exploits decided they would give it a try as well “but found that driving their frail aircraft into a hail of German small arms fire was extremely unhealthy,” the Lawrence Journal-World reported, “and returned to their observation duties.”
“Bazooka Charlie” soon racked up more kills – including two of the feared German Tiger tanks. In one instance, Carpenter destroyed a German column, then landed in a field to check out the still-burning remnants of his work. While on the ground, he captured six Germans with a discarded rifle he happened to pick up.
In another instance, he spotted infantry forces under attack by German armor. He dove into the fray and fired all his rockets. He then returned to his airfield to reload then returned to the battle. Carpenter made three trips to the battlefield. He helped break up the attack, destroying two German tanks in the process.
“Some people around here think I’m nuts,” Carpenter once said, “but I just believe that if we’re going to fight a war, we have to go on with it 60-minutes an hour and 24-hours a day.”
And get on with it he did. By war’s end, Carpenter was credited with destroying six enemy tanks, making him a tank ace, though his total count and contributions are likely much higher.
It wasn’t just the Americans who took notice of Bazooka Charlie’s exploits. Carpenter himself once said “Word must be getting around among those Krauts to watch out for Cubs with bazookas on them. Every time I show up now, they shoot with everything they have. They never used to bother Cubs. Bazookas must be bothering them a bit.”
Despite flying an unprotected aircraft right into the enemy to score his kills, Carpenter was never wounded. For his exploits during the war, he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and awarded the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster and the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster to go with his Silver Star.
After the war, “Bazooka Charlie” once again became Mr. Carpenter and went back to teaching high school history in Illinois before losing a battle with cancer in 1966.
Military planners spend years putting training exercises together and the political ramifications can be steep, such as with the annual Foal Eagle exercise on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea has a history of shelling South Korean islands and firing missiles into the Sea of Japan whenever the U.S. and South Korea come together to train. Calling them “maneuvers” or “war games” is an oversimplification. The long-term consequences could be life or death.
There are times the U.S. will even conduct joint training operations with rivals and allies, such as the annual Cobra Gold exercise in Thailand, where Chinese forces were allowed to join in the humanitarian part.
2o16 marked the tenth year of Iron Fist, an exercise where soldiers of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force trained with U.S. Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) to refine their amphibious landing abilities. The 11th MEU trained with the Japanese for five weeks at Camp Pendleton and Twentynine Palms, California. Their focus was on small unit combat and amphibious landings.
The above video of the Marine-Japanese training exercise was produced by Gunnery Sgt. Robert Brown of the 11th MEU. It’s a compilation of the kinds of maneuvers our Marines and allied troops make during war games.
Two years ago, Air Force veteran Derek Blumke wound up staying in a sketchy neighborhood in Houston while on the road working for his first tech startup that had little money to spend on accommodations. After finding the external side door to his hotel ajar, he got to his room and saw — from the shoddy repairs to the hinges and the door frame — that the door had previously been kicked in “breach-style,” as he put it.
“I was texting my brother letting him know where I was in case he didn’t hear from me the next day,” Blumke said. At the same time, he quickly searched his phone for security apps and found none that fit what he needed. And so TripSafe was born.
“If you have a security system at home, why wouldn’t you have a smaller system that protects you when you’re away from your familiar surroundings?” Blumke asked.
With home security system functionality in mind, he set out to design something that was much more than what he called a “panic button app” on a phone. He wanted something that would cover all the undesirable contingencies surrounding a hotel stay — intrusion, theft, fire, whatever.
So he formed a team to make the product, drawing on the network of veterans he’d acquired while working in the entrepreneurial space. Joining him were former U.S. Army infantryman James McGuirk (Chief Hardware Officer and Co-Founder), former U.S. Navy diver and bomb technician Kathy Borkoski (Chief Operating Officer), and U.S. Marine Corps veterans Brian Alden (Technology Advisor and Co-Founder) and Adam Healy (Chief Technology Officer).
The TripSafe is basically two electronic door-stoppers magnetically attached to a base unit that has a video monitor, motion and sound sensors, and smoke and gas detectors. The user can tailor Smartphone alerts and a 24/7 emergency response. The system easily fits into a computer bag or purse.
“We can’t trust that everything will be fine everywhere we travel,” Blumke said. “And if I have these concerns as a 6-foot-tall former military guy, what does my girlfriend have in those sort of situations?”
Chinese military personnel departed a naval base in Zhanjiang on July 18, destined for Beijing’s new base in the East African country of Djibouti.
China started construction on the base, which it officially calls a “logistics facility,” in February 2016, and it has not said when the base might formally start operations.
The Chinese navy has been assisting anti-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden and peacekeeping missions in Africa for some time, but the base in Djibouti will be Beijing’s first such facility overseas.
“The base will ensure China’s performance of missions, such as escorting, peacekeeping, and humanitarian aid in Africa and west Asia,” state news agency Xinhua said. “The base will also be conducive to overseas tasks including military cooperation, joint exercises, evacuating and protecting overseas Chinese, and emergency rescue, as well as jointly maintaining security of international strategic seaways.”
Djibouti, home to about 800,000 people, also has French and Japanese troops, is strategically located in the Horn of Africa, sitting on the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, a gateway to Egypt’s Suez Canal and one of the world’s busiest shipping corridors.
And the new Chinese base is just a few miles from Camp Lemonnier, a major US special-operations outpost.
“We’ve never had a base of, let’s just say a peer competitor, as close as this one happens to be,” US Africom Command chief Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser said in March.
Camp Lemonnier, a US military base in Djibouti, is strategically located between the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. (Google Maps)
“Yes, there are some very significant operational security concerns, and I think that our base there is significant to US because it’s not only AFRICOM that utilizes” it, Waldhauser said at the time. US Central Command, which operates in the Middle East, Joint Special Operations Command, and European Command are active there as well.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said July 12 that the Djibouti base was “primarily used for the better fulfillment of international obligations,” and that, “China’s defense policy is defensive in nature. This has not changed.”
State-run media outlet the Global Times was less reserved, saying in an editorial on July 12, “It is certainly the PLA’s first foreign naval base … It is not a supply point for commercial use.”
The base in Djibouti is just one project China has undertaken in the East African country.
Chinese banks have funded at least 14 infrastructure projects in the country, including a railway connecting Djibouti and Ethiopia, valued at $14.4 billion. Beijing has made similar investments throughout the continent.
US officials, as well as countries in the region, have expressed concern about the capabilities the new base gives Beijing and what it may augur about Chinese ambitions abroad.
The US Defense Department said in a June report that the Djibouti base, “along with regular naval vessel visits to foreign ports, both reflects and amplifies China’s growing influence, extending the reach of its armed forces.”
“China most likely will seek to establish additional military bases in countries with which it has a longstanding friendly relationship and similar strategic interests, such as Pakistan, and in which there is a precedent for hosting foreign militaries,” the report said.
Other countries in South Asia — India in particular — are concerned about Chinese activity in the region and see the Djibouti base as another part of Beijing’s “string of pearls,” which refers to Chinese facilities and alliances among Indian Ocean countries, including Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka.
China is already heavily involved in the Pakistan port of Gwadar and is building a network of roads and power plants under a project known as China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Civilian ports that Beijing has helped build in places like Pakistan and Sri Lanka can also receive naval vessels, fueling suspicions that China aims to deepen its strategic capacities in the region.
India sees the Djibouti base as a potential hub for Chinese surveillance operations and has objected to China’s planned shipping network with Pakistan, saying it cuts through disputed parts of Kashmir.
Analysts have also said New Delhi is worried by Chinese submarines, warships, and tankers present in the Indian Ocean. India has tracked Chinese submarines entering the Indian Ocean since 2013, and a 2015 US Defense Department report also confirmed that Chinese attack and missile submarines were operating in the Indian Ocean.
“The pretext is anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden,” a Indian defense source told The Times of India in May. “But what role can submarines play against pirates and their dhows?”
“If I were Indian I would be very worried about what China is up to in Djibouti,” a Western diplomat briefed on Chinese plans said in March 2016.
Other countries in the region have looked for ways to balance against what is seen as China’s growing influence. Australia and India, along with countries like Vietnam and Japan, have considered informal alliances to bolster regional security in light of growing Chinese influence and doubts about US commitment under President Donald Trump.
This week, the Indian, Japanese, and US navies started the Malabar 2017 exercise in the Bay of Bengal. The exercise, which this year features three aircraft carriers, is seen by some as a effort to check Chinese activity in the region.
China has criticized such military balancing and has dismissed suggestions that it plans to expand its footprint abroad. After the US Defense Department report issued in June, Beijing said it did “not seek a sphere of influence.”
Since first coming into service in 1980, the M1 Abrams tank has become a staple of US ground forces. The 67-ton behemoth has since made a name for itself as an incredibly tough, powerful tool that has successfully transitioned from a Cold War-era blunt instrument to a tactical modern weapon.
The US as well as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Australia use the Abrams as their main battle tank.
When the Abrams finally saw combat in 1991, it impressed operators with it’s effective rounds and virtual invulnerability to Iraqi tank fire. No Abrams was destroyed by Iraqi tank fire during the Persian Gulf War.
In fact, the only Abrams lost during the Persian Gulf War were destroyed by friendly fire, sometimes on purpose so they couldn’t be reclaimed by Iraqi forces.
The Abrams benefited from having superior range and night-vision abilities compared to their Soviet-made counterparts.
During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Abrams became involved in urban warfare while clearing cities. Urban warfare is the worst situation for tanks, as their range is limited by buildings and they can be attacked from above, where their armor is weakest.
In his book “Heavy Metal: A Tank Company’s Battle to Baghdad” Maj. Jason Conroy reports a lopsided victory where an Abrams unit destroyed seven Soviet-made T-72 tanks at point-blank range with no losses on the US side.
Today, the Abrams remains the US’s main battle tank, one of the most successful tanks of all time, and the king of the battlefield.
The Israel Defense Forces were caught completely off guard in 1973 when Egypt and Syria launched a coordinated attack to take back the land lost in the 1967 Six-Day War. All would have gone according to plan for the Arab states – if only one young lieutenant hadn’t gone home on leave.
Zvika Greengold was an Israeli farmer raised on a kibbutz founded by Holocaust survivors and partisans who fought against Nazi occupation in Europe. Like most Israelis, he joined the IDF when it came time to serve his country.
He was 21 and home on leave in 1973 when Syrian tanks rolled across the border in a coordinated attack with Egypt, sparking the Yom Kippur War. The young lieutenant saw plumes of smoke in the distance and fighter planes in the sky. He knew a war had begun but was not yet attached to a unit, so he had nowhere to report for combat duty.
Being without a unit wasn’t going to stop this officer from getting into the war. He hitchhiked 78 miles to Nafah Base, the command center for the Golan Heights. Greengold helped with the wounded coming in, but the only offensive weapons available were two damaged Centurion tanks.
And those turned out to be his ticket to defending Israel.
Greengold contacted his command, telling them he had a force ready to fight (which was technically true). He helped repair the two tanks, assembled a skeleton crew, and they drove off into the night toward the Syrian front. His newly-assembled “Zvika Force” soon spotted Syrian tanks advancing unopposed toward the Nafah Base. Heavily outnumbered, he engaged the enemy’s Russian-built T-55s, destroying six of them.
His tank heavily damaged in the fight, Greengold hopped into the other Centurion. Along the same road, he saw the advancing Syrian 452d Tank Battalion. Using darkness for cover, he sped along the column’s flank, dodging enemy shells while fooling the Syrians into believing there was more than one tank out opposing them. He hit the first Syrian tank from only 20 meters away.
He notched off ten more enemy tanks before the Syrians withdrew. Even Greengold’s own command had no idea how many men and tanks made up the Zvika Force. Greengold couldn’t report his true strength over the radio for fear of being found out, so he only reported that “the situation isn’t good.” His brigade commander thought he was at least company strength.
For the next 20 hours Lt. Greengold fought, sometimes alone, in skirmishes all across the front lines. When he joined Lt. Col. Uzi Mor’s ten tanks, his luck took a turn for the worse.
Mor lost most of his tanks and was wounded. Greengold lost his tank and his uniform caught fire. He had to switch tanks a half dozen times. That’s when the Syrians sent a sizable force of T-62 tanks to force the Israelis back. Greengold joined 13 other tanks to engage the Syrian armored column of 100 tanks and 40 armored personnel carriers. He managed to hold them until he heard that Nafah Base was under attack.
When the command post came under attack, he joined the defense, moving his tank to critical spots at decisive moments, even in the face of overwhelming odds. During the defense of the base, one Israeli tank commander radioed his HQ that “there’s no one in the camp except a single tank fighting like mad along the fences.”
The Jerusalem Post reported “During a lull [in the battle] Zvika Greengold painfully lowered himself from his tank, covered with burns, wounds and soot. ‘I can’t go on anymore,’ he said to the staff office who had sent him into battle 30 hours before. The officer embraced him and found a vehicle to carry Greengold to the hospital.”
He passed out from exhaustion, physically unable to continue fighting. Nafah Base was never captured and the actions Zvika Greengold and the other IDF troops in the Golan Heights gave the IDF enough time to react to the two front invasion and send substantial reinforcements. They pushed the Syrians back to where the border is today.
Greengold estimates taking out at least 20 tanks, while others credit him with 40 or more. He was awarded the Medal of Valor, Israel’s highest award for heroism.
On April 6, 2008, two Special Forces operational detachments and more than 100 Afghan commandos began an air assault into a mountain fortress above the Shok Valley.
Six and a half hours later, two members of the assault were killed and nine seriously wounded, over 100 enemy fighters were dead or captured, and eleven men had earned some of the nation’s highest awards for valor. This is what happened.
Entering Shok Valley
The assault was to capture leaders in Hezeb Islami al Gulbadin, a regional insurgent group in Afghanistan. The targets were holed up in a mountain top village surrounded by farm terraces and tall cliffs, providing tough ground for an assaulting force to cover. The village itself was made of strong, multistory buildings that would provide defenders cover while allowing them to fire out.
The American and Afghan force flew to the valley in helicopters. Their initial plan called for a quick insertion close to the village so they could assault while they still had the element of surprise. Their first landing zone was no good though, and so they were dropped into a nearby river and forced to climb up from there. The delay allowed insurgent forces to set up an ambush from the high ground.
Combat breaks out
After the helicopters departed, enemy fighters directed automatic weapon and rocket fire on the American and Afghan National Army soldiers. Their interpreter was killed almost immediately and the communications sergeant, Staff Sgt. Dillon Behr, received a life-threatening wound to his leg. He continued fighting, attempting to suppress some of the incoming fire.
Meanwhile, the assault team had already reached the village, and so found themselves cut off when the forces behind them began taking fire. Despite the precarious position he and the lead Afghan commandos were in, Sgt. David Sanders began relaying the sources of incoming fire to the Air Force joint tactical air controller on the mission.
The mission commander, Capt. Kyle Walton, told an Army journalist later that year about the initial bombings on the target. They were all danger close, meaning friendly forces were within range of the bombs’ blast.
“I was standing next to the combat controller, and when we got to a place where we could talk, he called in close air support, and the F-15s rolled in immediately. I knew my guys were up there, and I know that when you call in danger close air, you are probably going to get injured or killed. I called back to Sanders and asked if he was too close. He said, ‘Bring it anyway.’ Bombs started exploding everywhere. When I called to see if he was still alive, all I could hear him saying was, ‘Hit them again.’ ”
The Air Force JTAC, Airman Zachary Rhyner, would go on to call over 70 danger close missions that day, using eight Air Force planes and four Army attack helicopters to achieve effects on the target.
Three-story explosion and sniper warfare
As the battle continued to rage, both sides were using controlled, focused fire to wound and kill enemies. But a massive explosion after an American bomb hit a three-story building in the village brought on a brief lull in the fighting.
“Good guy or bad guy, you’re going to stop when you see that,” Staff Sgt. Luis Morales, a Special Forces intelligence sergeant, told the Army. “It reminded me of the videos from 9/11 — everything starts flushing at you, debris starts falling — and everything gets darker.”
The Americans and Afghan commandos used this time to consolidate some of their forces.
Both before and after the explosion, snipers on each side were playing a key role. For the Americans, one of their top assets was Staff Sgt. Seth E. Howard, a Special Forces weapons sergeant.
Near the command node, Howard was well-positioned to see the enemy fighters draw close to Walton and the JTAC. To prevent them being killed or captured, Walton stepped away from his position and moved into the open to engage the advancing fighters. He halted their advance, allowing Rhyner to continue calling in bombs.
Rhyner’s bombs would also be instrumental in protecting the command node. He sometimes had to order bombs within 100 meters of his and Walton’s position.
Planning to leave
American forces and Afghan commandos had more problems as the day wore on. The weather at the outset of the mission had been tricky, but the team was getting reports that a dust storm was getting worse and would stop air support before nightfall. That would leave them without bombs, helicopters, or an exit strategy. Meanwhile, surveillance platforms showed another 200 enemy fighters moving to the battlefield.
Walton had requested medical evacuation multiple times, but enemy fire made it impossible. And with six seriously wounded men, a closing window to exit the battlefield, and the serious danger of being overrun, Walton began looking at pulling the team out. But there was a problem. The initial plans had called for the team to leave by descending back down the terraces, a route now closed due to intense enemy fire.
Sanders had managed to break out of his besieged position in the village when another green beret forced a route open. Now, Walton asked him to recon a route down the sheer cliffs to the north of the village.
Sanders told the commander that the route was bad and it was possible that some climbers might break their backs or necks attempting it, but they’d probably live. The situation was so dire, Walton approved it as an exit strategy.
Leaving Shok Valley under heavy fire
Team Sergeant Master Sgt. Scott Ford led the organization at the top of the cliffs. He had less wounded team members carry the more seriously wounded down. One team member made the climb while carrying his leg that had been amputated by a sniper round early in the battle. Others were nursing wounds sustained from both insurgent fire and the effects of all the “danger close” bomb drops.
Ford was defending the top of the cliff other soldiers were climbing down when he was struck in the chest plate by a sniper round. He jumped up and continued fighting, but he was struck again. This time, his left arm was nearly amputated. Ford then finally began his own climb down the mountain, continuing to lead his men as he did so.
Howard, the sniper from above, stayed until all the other Americans and the Afghan commandos had left the mountain. He defended the top of the cliffs with his last magazine before pulling out.
One Afghan commando and an interpreter died, but all of the Americans survived the battle. The Army estimated the insurgents suffered over 150 dead and an untold number of wounded, according to an Army article. Eight insurgents were captured.
After the battle
Many of the wounded members of the team returned to service, including Ford and Sgt. 1st Class John Walding, the team member who lost his leg early on and carried it down the cliffs. Walding is attempting to return to his team, an ambition he describes near the end of this Army video about the battle. He later became the first amputee to graduate the Special Forces Sniper Course.
In a ceremony on Dec. 12, 2008, 10 members of the team were awarded Silver Stars. Rhyner was awarded the Air Force Cross during a separate ceremony in 2009.