The start date of the offensive to oust Islamic State fighters from the city of Raqqa and end the terror group’s state-building project has been announced several times in the past few months, often with great fanfare by commanders in the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, the United States’ ground ally in northern Syria.
The last announcement came in March when Kurdish commanders said an assault on the city would begin April 1.
Two weeks later that start date, like many others, has come and gone, prompting the months-long question: when will the U.S.-backed SDF offensive shift gears from isolating Raqqa, which is hemmed in on three sides now, to mounting an assault to retake the capital of the jihadists’ self-styled caliphate?
Over the weekend, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told the French news agency AFP he would support whomever wants to oust Islamic State militants from Raqqa, but mocked the delay in an assault on the city, which U.S. officials believe is being defended by around 4,000 IS fighters.
“What we hear is only allegations about liberating Raqqa. We’ve been hearing that for nearly a year now, or less than a year, but nothing happened on the ground,” he said. “It’s not clear who is going to liberate Raqqa…It’s not clear yet.”
The Turkish defense minister again complicated the U.S. effort to choreograph an agreement among multiple local and international players about a Raqqa offensive by pressing Ankara’s long-standing demand for the U.S. to end its alliance with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, whose fighters dominate the ranks of the SDF.
There were no signs that the Turkish request made persistently by Ankara in recent months, and relayed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a February phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump, will be heeded.
U.S. officials say they envisage the Raqqa battle will resemble the fight in neighboring Iraq, where local indigenous forces have been waging the struggle to retake the northern city of Mosul, the last IS major urban stronghold in that country.
Some 500 U.S. special forces soldiers deployed in northern Syria are helping to train and advise SDF units.
Mattis later said at a press conference the U.S. remains in solidarity with Ankara when it comes to fighting Islamic State militants and Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, but he made no mention of discontinuing the alliance with the YPG, the armed wing of Syria’s Democratic Union Party, or PYD.
The Turks, who fear the emergence of a Kurdish state in north Syria, maintain there’s no real distinction between the PYD and the PKK, which has been waging an insurgency in Turkey for more than three decades.
A U.S. Army M109A6 Paladin deployed in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve. (Photo: U.S. Army Spc. Christopher Brecht)
Mattis cited the long security relationship between the U.S. and Turkey, dating back to 1952 when Turkey joined NATO; but, in the wake of the April 16 constitutional referendum that greatly enhances the Turkish president’s powers, analysts say it is unclear how much Erdogan values his country’s alliance with the West, and whether his slim victory will embolden him to disrupt a Raqqa assault by the SDF.
Earlier in April, Erdogan ramped up the pressure on Washington, saying his government is planning new offensives in northern Syria this spring against groups deemed terrorist organizations by Ankara, including IS and the PYD’s militia.
In March, Turkish forces escalated attacks on the YPG in northern Syria, forcing the U.S. to deploy a small number of forces in and around the town of Manbij to the northwest of Raqqa to “deter” Turkish-SDF clashes and ensure the focus remains on Islamic State.
Local anti-IS activists say the air raids fail to distinguish between military and non-military targets; however, with IS fighters seeded throughout the city and surrounding villages, being able to draw a distinction is become increasingly challenging, say U.S. officials.
“Civilians are now [caught] between the criminal terrorists on one side and the international coalition’s indiscriminate bombing on the other side,” said Hamoud Almousa, a founding member of the activist network Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, which is opposed to an assault on the city being led by the YPG.
“Liberating [Raqqa] does not come by burning it and destroying it over its people who have suffered a lot from the terrorist group’s violations,” he added.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based monitoring group that relies on a network of activists for its information, said that four civilians — two women and two children — were killed April 17 in an airstrike believed to have been carried out by coalition warplanes on the Teshreen Farmarea north of Raqqa.
The Observatory says between March 1 and April 10, airstrikes killed 224 civilians. They included 38 children under the age of 18, and 37 women.
Another mainly Arab anti-IS activist network, Eye on the Homeland, complains at the lack of international condemnation about the civilian casualties from the airstrikes, arguing civilians caught in the conflict are being treated inhumanely.
“We assert that the liberation of civilians from all forms of terrorism requires that military forces acting in the area avoid civilian killing, displacement, and the destruction of their properties whenever possible,” the network said recently on its website.
It warned the deaths will “be used to by terrorist organizations in their propaganda to convince civilians that these military forces do not have their interests at heart” and will “only further fuel radicalization.”
British Royal Marines exercised their Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel proficiency in Rindal, Norway Nov. 6, 2018, during Exercise Trident Juncture 18. The Royal Marines with X-Ray Company, 45 Commando, worked in conjunction with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and assets from Marine Aircraft Group 29.
U.S. Marine Capt. Josef Otmar and U.S. Marine 1st Lt. Zachary Duncavage served as isolated personnel during the exercise. Approximately 30 Royal Marines loaded into two U.S Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 366 after the 24th MEU prepared to execute the TRAP mission.
Prior to the Royal Marines’ insertion into the landing zone, a UH-1Y Venom helicopter patrolled the area from the sky, searching for notional enemy combatants. The CH-53Es arrived shortly thereafter and delivered the Royal Marines who were met by members of the Norwegian Home Guard, who were role-playing as the opposing forces.
A U.S. Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion lifts off from Rindal, Norway, during a Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel exercise, Nov. 6, 2018.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Margaret Gale)
“It’s been very positive working with U.S. Marines,” said British Lt. Tom Williams, a troop commander with X-Ray Company. “The interoperability has been very effective and we have been able to do a lot of planning with them on a tactical level as well as at a higher headquarters level.”
A British Royal Marine provides security after disembarking a U.S. Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion during a Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel exercise in Rindal, Norway, Nov. 6, 2018.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Margaret Gale)
The Royal Marines were able to maneuver on the enemy location and recover the first isolated U.S. Marine simultaneously.
British Royal Marines prepare to evacuate Capt. Josef Otmar during a Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel exercise in Rindal, Norway, Nov. 6, 2018.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Margaret Gale)
“It was impressive to watch the Royal Marines operate and how quickly they recovered the [U.S. Marines] while suppressing the enemy,” said U.S. Marine Capt. Jacob Yeager, a member of the 24th MEU who was embedded with the Royal Marines. “The fact that we were able to integrate them with Marine Corps aviation is a great training value for both of our forces. U.S. Marine Corps aircraft delivered U.K. Royal Marines into a landing zone to recover two isolated U.S. Marines. That’s significant.”
British Royal Marines evacuate Capt. Josef Otmar during a Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel exercise in Rindal, Norway, Nov. 6, 2018.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Margaret Gale)
After the first U.S. Marine was safely evacuated from the landing zone, the Royal Marines began to search for the second U.S. Marine which led them through approximately 500 meters of the steep, dense Norwegian forest.
Two U.S. Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallions land during a Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel exercise in Rindal, Norway, Nov. 6, 2018.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Margaret Gale)
Once the Royal Marines were prepared to evacuate the second U.S. Marine, the notional enemy attacked from the tree line. Combined capabilities were on full display at this point, as the Royal Marines maneuvered on the enemy and Yeager called for close-air support, which was delivered by the UH-1Y Venom with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 269. The effective enemy suppression allowed the Royal Marines to deliver the U.S. Marine safely to the awaiting CH-53E.
A British Royal Marine searches for a simulated isolated service member during a Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel exercise in Rindal, Norway, Nov. 6, 2018.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Margaret Gale)
“Forty Five Commando has spent time on the USS Iwo Jima and Royal Marines and U.S. Marines shared their unique traditions and fighting capabilities with each other,” said Williams. “This training will aid in future interoperability going forward.”
Through the cockpit windscreen, Capt. Robert Morgan saw flashes of light from the wings and engine cowling of a German Focke-Wulf Fw 190 at his 12 o’clock and closing at an incredible rate. Each wink of light from the fighter’s wing root meant another 20mm cannon shell was heading directly at his B-17F Flying Fortress at over 2,300 feet per second.
Having no room to dive in the crowded formation of B-17 bombers of the 91st Bomb Group, he pitched up. The Luftwaffe fighter’s shells impacted the tail of the aircraft instead of coming straight through the windscreen.
Over the intercom Morgan heard his tail gunner, Sgt. John Quinlan, yelling that the aircraft’s tail was shot to pieces and what was left was in flames.
(U.S. Army Air Forces photo)
It was January 23, 1943. Morgan and his nine crewmen aboard the “Memphis Belle” had just fought their way through a swarm of Luftwaffe fighters, dropped their bombs on a Nazi submarine base in the coastal city of Lorient in occupied France and were fighting to survive the return trip to the Eighth Air Force base in Bassingbourn, England. Morgan began calculating if the crew should bail out and become prisoners of war before the tail tore completely off the bomber trapping the crew in a death spiral culminating in a fiery crash.
A moment later, Quinlan reported that the fire in the tail had gone out. The “Memphis Belle” and its crew would survive the mission; the crew’s eighth and the bomber’s ninth.
(U.S. Army Air Forces photo)
They would have to survive 17 more missions to complete the required 25 to rotate home. All would be flown during a period of World War II when the Luftwaffe was at the height of its destructive powers.
Against all odds, the “Memphis Belle” crew flew those missions, their last to once again bomb the U-boat pens at Lorient on May 17, 1943, before returning safely to England for the final time. Bottles of Champagne were uncorked and radio operator Tech. Sgt. Robert J. Hanson collapsed onto the flightline and kissed the ground.
(U.S. Army Air Forces photo)
For the “Belle” itself, it was only mission 24 and the plane had to fly once more with an alternate crew on May 19.
The B-17 and its crew would be the first to return alive and intact to the U.S. They were welcomed as heroes and immediately embarked on a 2 ½-month, nationwide morale tour to sell war bonds. The tour was also to encourage bomber crews in training that they too could make it home. It made celebrities of both the “Belle” and its crew.
Ironically, the two and a half months of press conferences, parties and glad-handing officers and politicians was about the same amount of time during the “Belle’s” combat tour that 80 percent of the 91st Bomb Group’s B-17s and their crews were lost to German fighters and anti-aircraft fire.
“Eighty percent losses means you had breakfast with 10 men and dinner with only two of those 10,” Morgan said in an interview after the war. During the totality of the air war over Europe more than 30,000 U.S. Airmen aboard heavy bombers, like the B-17, would be killed.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
Seventy-five years to the day after that 25th mission, the Museum of the U.S. Air Force will honor the bravery of those bomber crews, some of the first Americans to take the fight to the Nazis in WWII, when they unveil for public display the largely restored B-17F, Serial No. 41-24485, “Memphis Belle” as part of a three-day celebration, May 17-19, 2018.
According to the museum curator in charge of the “Memphis Belle” exhibit, Jeff Duford, the weekend will include more than 160 WWII re-enactors showcasing their memorabilia, WWII-era music and vehicles, static displays of other B-17s, flyovers of WWII-era aircraft and presentations of rare archival film footage. The “Memphis Belle” will be the centerpiece of an exhibit documenting the strategic bombing campaign over Europe.
“The ‘Memphis Belle’ is an icon that represents all the heavy bomber crewmen who served and sacrificed in Europe in World War II,” Duford said, “In many ways the ‘Memphis Belle’ is the icon for the United States Air Force.
“You look at the U.S. Marines, they have this wonderful icon of the flag being raised over Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima and everyone recognizes that. It symbolizes service and sacrifice and tenacity and teamwork. Well, the Air Force has that symbol too, and it’s this airplane. It demonstrates teamwork. The crews had to work together. The planes in formation had to work together. The formations had to work together with the fighter escorts.”
The service and sacrifice of the young men still leaves Duford awestruck even after working on the “Belle” project for a decade.
(U.S. Army photo)
“How does one climb inside of this aircraft knowing that they are probably not going to come home? And they don’t do that one time; two times; three times; 10 times – they have to do it 25 times,” said Duford. “Once they got inside the airplane, they had no place to run. There were no foxholes to be dug. The skin on those airplanes is so thin that a bullet or flak fragment would go through it like a tin can because that’s essentially what it was.
“The odds were that every 18 missions, a heavy bomber was going to be shot down. So when you think the crew had to finish 25 missions to go home, statistically it was nearly impossible. It was one-in-four odds that a heavy bomber recruit would finish their 25 missions. Those other three crew members would’ve been shot down and captured, killed or wounded so badly they couldn’t finish their tour.”
The fact the “Memphis Belle” crew survived their tour was of great value to the U.S. Army Air Forces in maintaining support for the daylight strategic bombing campaign over Europe, which was still, in fact, an experiment.
“Back then, there was no book on high altitude strategic bombing. The generals didn’t know any more than we did. They had to figure bombing strategy as we went along,” said Morgan in a book he would write after the war, “The Man Who Flew the Memphis Belle”.
The B-17 was named the “Flying Fortress”, because it was bristling with .50 caliber machine guns covering every angle of attack by German fighters, save one. The theory was that all that defensive firepower would be amplified by heavy bombers flying in tight formations, called “boxes”, enabling them to protect each other from attacking fighters.
While the German Messerschmitt and Focke-Wulf fighters sometimes paid a price for attacking the formations, they soon developed tactics that exploited a design weakness in B-17Fs, like the “Memphis Belle”.
(U.S. Army Air Forces photo)
While twin .50 caliber machine guns in top and belly turrets and the tail and single .50 cal. gunners protected the bomber, the 12 o’clock position was covered by a lone .30 caliber machine gun – no match for the German fighters. Because the bomber formations had to fly straight and level to initiate their bombing run, the Luftwaffe fighter pilots began attacking the formations head on. The ensuing carnage was ghastly.
“The secret to the B-17 was the capability of flying in tight formations, so tight that the wings were often almost touching,” wrote Morgan. “We were able to put out an amazing amount of firepower… but, I also positively feel that was a bit of divine intervention for our crew.”
While the addition of Allied fighter escorts helped fend off some German attackers, the fact that the B-17s had to fly at 25,000 feet or lower to maintain any semblance of accuracy on target put them in the range of the deadly German 88mm anti-aircraft gun. No amount of machine guns or friendly fighters could counter the dense flak approaching targets while flying straight and level.
Bomber crews had to just grit their teeth and pray.
“They felt like they were a great crew. They were tightly knit, confident and dedicated to what they were doing,” said Duford. “However, being in those formations, flying straight and level with enemy anti-aircraft and fighter aircraft, there certainly was a little bit of luck for them too.”
Luck, both good and bad, was also a factor in the “Belle” crew, despite not being the first crew to complete 25 missions, being the one to return to the U.S. for a bond and morale tour.
The “Belle’s” selection for the morale tour was the result of a film project about the strategic bombing campaign that was the brainchild of USAAF Gen. Hap Arnold and a Hollywood director, William Wyler, who had volunteered to serve his country in the best way he knew how.
It was hoped that a film documenting a bomber crew as they successfully completed a combat tour would calm new recruits, who were hearing stories of the carnage overseas, and assuage the doubts of the public, press and politicians that strategic bombing was a failure.
Wyler, an immigrant who was born in the Alsace region of modern-day France when it was part of the German Empire prior to World War I and who would go on to win three Best Director Academy Awards, including one for “Ben-Hur”, was commissioned as a major and headed to England with a film crew to document the fight in skies over Europe.
Wyler and his cameraman flew with B-17 combat crews and began filming missions of a B-17F of the 401st Bomb Squadron of the 91st Bomb Group named “Invasion II”. His staff also began interviewing and making publicity photographs of the crewmembers, as they drew closer to completing 25 missions.
However, on April 17, 1943, the reality of war spoiled the Hollywood ending during their 23rd mission to Bremen, Germany. Invasion II crashed after being hit by flak over Borhmen, Germany, setting the cockpit and wing on fire. The crew managed to bail out, but all became prisoners of war.
Wyler regrouped and found a plane and crew with the 324th Bomb Squadron that was also close to completing their combat tour. The “Memphis Belle”, named for Morgan’s girlfriend, Margaret Polk of Memphis, Tennessee, and its crew took center stage.
(U.S. Army Air Forces photo)
While the crew of “Hell’s Angels” completed their tour on May 13, 1943, four days before the “Belle”, there was no film of that plane and crew. Consequently, it was the “Belle” and its crew that would fly mission 26 back to the U.S. and receive a hero’s welcome.
Wyler’s film, “Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress”, would be released and distributed by Paramount Pictures the following year.
(National Museum of the U.S. Air Force photo)
It was a film that came with a high price tag. One of Wyler’s cinematographers, 1st Lt. Harold J. Tannenbaum, a veteran of World War I, was killed in action during the filming when the bomber he was in was shot down over France on April 16, 1943.
Until the end of the war, the “Belle” was used as a training aircraft, but instead of being torn apart for scrap like most of the other 12,700 B-17s built during the war, the city of Memphis, Tennessee, put the aircraft on display for nearly 50 years.
The historic aircraft came to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in October 2005, when work began on a careful, multi-year conservation and restoration effort including corrosion treatment and the full outfitting of missing equipment.
Casey Simmons arrived shortly after the “Memphis Belle” as a restoration specialist for the museum.
(Photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)
From the beginning, it was apparent that priority one in the restoration was getting it right. His first assignment was to fabricate a glycol heater that was missing from inside the left wing. No visitor to the museum would ever see it.
“I know it’s there and that’s cool because it’s going to get all the parts that it needs to be a complete aircraft,” said Simmons. “When you don’t have the part you try and find a part from another airplane or you go to the blueprints and make the part completely from scratch.”
While the museum has other B-17s in its collection, the “Memphis Belle” requires a whole other level of patience and dedication.
(Photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)
“Other restoration projects are typically a general model of a certain aircraft. So it represents a lot of them. This one is a specific aircraft, so you have to get it right; exactly to the rivet,” said Simmons.
The museum specialist did not try to restore the “Belle” to how it rolled off the Boeing line, but utilized films, photos and records from its time in combat to bring the B-17F back to fighting trim, scars and all.
“There are certain damage spots on the “Memphis Belle” that were fixed over time, so we have to make sure that those show up on the aircraft the way they were,” said Simmons. “If they put five rivets in an area as opposed to the standard four that are supposed to be there, we have to get that correct… When you go through video footage, old film footage, or photographs, and you do find a little glimpse of what you’re looking for, that’s a big moment. We have to get it right for those bomber crews.”
The bravery of those bomber crews continued after all the whoopla back home died down. Even Morgan was eager to get back in the fight.
While on a morale tour stop in Wichita, Kansas, Morgan caught a glimpse of the future of strategic bombing, the still secret B-29 Superfortress. He volunteered immediately to train on the new bomber and earned command of his own squadron of B-29s that deployed to Saipan in the Pacific Theater.
On November 24, 1944, his 869th Squadron of the 497th Bomb Group was the first, other than Doolittle’s Raiders in 1942, to bomb Tokyo. He would go on to complete another 24 combat missions in the B-29 before the end of WWII. He retired from the U.S. Air Force Reserve in 1965 as a colonel.
While the restoration and display of the “Memphis Belle” will ensure the story of the dedication, bravery and airmanship of its 10 crewmembers that returned home safely in 1943 honors all the Airmen that fought in WWII, Duford is particularly enthusiastic that the exhibit will allow Museum of U.S. Air Force visitors to learn the story of the little known 11th crewmember of the “Memphis Belle”.
As much as any Airman, he embodied the spirit and sense of duty shared by all the heavy bomber crews.
“It’s the story of one of the waist gunners, Emerson Scott Miller,” said Duford. “You don’t see him in any of the war bond photos and you don’t see his name listed as one of the ‘Memphis Belle’ crew members. He came overseas as a technician repairing the autopilot systems on B-17s. He was safe. He didn’t have to fly the missions but he decided he wanted to do more and volunteered to fly in combat. He joined the ‘Memphis Belle’ crew after they had flown about nine or 10 of their missions. So he had flown 16 of his missions when the rest of the ‘Memphis Belle’ crew completed their 25th.
“Capt. Robert Morgan really wanted Scott Miller to come back on the war bond tour, but Miller hadn’t finished his 25th mission, so he had to stay. While the ‘Belle’ crew was celebrated and famous and there were parties for them, Scott Miller was still flying in combat.”
Fittingly, Miller finished his 25th mission aboard another B-17 on July 4, 1943, but for him, there were no parades, no press conferences, no meeting movie stars and no special duties.
“We got in touch with Scott Miller’s family,” said Duford. “They donated a trunk full of artifacts, and so Scott Miller has a place in the exhibit and his story will be told… He could have just simply done his duty repairing those autopilot systems and gone home safe. But he put his life on the line and then was forgotten. Now he’s going to be remembered now and for generations to come.”
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
DoD’s embed program and other mechanisms have given journalists and filmmakers substantial access to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so it’s no surprise that those conflicts have been some of the best documented in history. Here is WATM’s list of 11 post 9-11 documentaries that did the best at capturing what really happened:
The Hornet’s Nest
A father-son journalism team embedded on what was supposed to be a three-day raid but ended up being nine days of intense fighting by the 101st Airborne.
A group of paratroopers is deployed to the Korengal Valley, one of the most dangerous spots in Afghanistan, for 15 months. During that time, they fight smugglers and insurgents, attempt to win over the locals, and try to save themselves. A camera crew followa them for much of the deployment, documenting their interactions with Afghans and the deep love the men have for each other.
A group of Danish cavalry soldiers deploy on a six-month tour of Helmand and a Danish filmmaker goes with them. The film includes a lot of the tedium of a soldier’s life as well as a raid where the soldiers find themselves within a few meters of a Taliban machine gun team.
Hell and Back Again
Nominated for a Best Documentary Feature Academy Award, this film tells the story of a Marine injured in Afghanistan who, after returning to the states, struggles with his post traumatic stress disorder and a badly broken leg. “Hell and Back Again” gives a visceral look at how hard it can be for wounded troops to return to civilian life.
This is a very critical look at the American drone program. Drone explains the factors that make drones so popular with troops while also looking at the moral burdens on drone operators and emotional pain of those who’ve lost family members to drone strikes.
The War Tapes
Directed by Deborah Scranton and shot by National Guard soldiers over the course of their training and deployment to Iraq, the documentary focuses on three men with very different views on the war and their commander in chief. This film is arguably the best in terms of capturing the burdens on the modern-day citizen soldier.
Taxi to the Dark Side
An in-depth look at torture during the opening years of the War on Terror, including the decisions made by the Bush administration. It covers Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and the leadership (or absence of it) that governed actions in two prisons. Made by the son of a former Navy interrogator, the film went on to win an Academy Award.
No End In Sight
Although “No End In Sight” was released in 2007, the film concentrates on Iraq in the first year after the invasion. It features interviews with White House and State Department officials who were frustrated with missteps that fueled the growing insurgency and caused extra misery for both Iraqi citizens and the U.S. troops assigned to police them.
The Ground Truth
“The Ground Truth” follows a group of Marines and soldiers from the point they’re recruited and then on to their experiences in war. Troops tell their stories in their own words from their initial training through deployments and struggles once they get home.
This National Nurses Week, we salute the over 100,000 VA nurses who work tirelessly every day to serve our nation’s Veterans — and have continued to demonstrate their commitment and dedication throughout this historic global situation.
“VA nurses are fiercely dedicated to our mission of providing excellent care to America’s heroes, which is especially vital during this time,” said Shawanda Poree, program manager of nurse recruitment and resources at VA. “We couldn’t care for the 9 million Veterans enrolled in VA care without them.”
At VA facilities from coast to coast, our nurses consistently advocate for Veterans and ensure they receive the best care.
This year, in honor of Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday, National Nurses Week is also part of the World Health Organization’s “Year of the Nurse and Midwife,” recognizing the hard work of the world’s nurses.
‘No better feeling’
“There’s no better feeling than caring for the Veteran. You get to know them and they become like your family,” said Sarah Lueger, a nurse manager who serves Veterans at the VA Eastern Kansas Health Care System. “It’s a way for me to give back to them for what they’ve done for us.”
At 100,000-strong, the VA nursing corps is the largest in the nation. Together, they provide continuous, compassionate care and positively impact the lives of Veterans — 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
“The people who work at VA really have a strong passion for what they do, and that is infectious to those around us,” said Karalie Gantz, an inpatient acute psychiatry nurse manager at Topeka VA.
VA nurses practice in a variety of care-delivery settings, including acute, ambulatory, mental health care, telecare and outpatient clinics.
“Within our health care system, there are [so many] different departments and different opportunities that, once you’re here, you can find [your] niche. There really is a place for everyone at VA,” Gantz said.
Grow, lead and innovate
Nurses are a critical part of Veteran treatment teams. They sit on leadership boards and collaborate across disciplines to improve patient outcomes. At all of our 1,250 sites, nurses have a voice at the table with physicians and leadership and help improve patient care.
“Working at VA is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’ve grown into the nurse that I am now, the leader that I am now,” Lueger said.
We encourage nurses to take advantage of opportunities to accelerate their training. Three available opportunities include:
The VA Learning Opportunities Residency (VALOR) Program gives outstanding registered nursing students who have completed their junior year in an accredited clinical program the opportunity to develop their skills at a VA-approved health care facility. More than 50% of VALOR participants are hired as new registered nurses in VA and usually start above the entry-level salary rate established for new graduates.
Through the Education Debt Reduction Program, nurses with qualifying student loans receive reimbursements of up to 0,000 over a five-year period. Payments cover tuition and other reasonable expenses, including fees, books, supplies, equipment, materials and laboratory costs.
Under the National Nursing Education Initiative (NNEI), part- or full-time VA registered nurses employed for at least one year can receive up to ,117 toward the pursuit of an associate, bachelor’s or advanced nursing degree, including tuition, registration fees and books.
A wealth of resources, including mentoring and preceptor programs, also encourage promotion of staff nurses to executive-level positions.
VA nurses also have the chance to innovate and research. Nurses are helping VA become a leader in telehealth and embracing scientific exploration to come up with new ways to serve Veterans.
Work at VA today
During Nurses Week 2020 and all year long, we celebrate and thank the VA nurses who are pursuing careers with purpose and making a difference in Veterans’ lives.
Clifton Hoffler is an Army veteran and alumnus of the Armed Services Arts Partnership (ASAP) Comedy Bootcamp program. ASAP is an organization based in Virginia that builds communities for veterans, servicemembers, and military families through classes, performances, and partnerships in the arts. As part of their mission, ASAP offers a Comedy Bootcamp for veterans to explore and develop their comedic abilities.Clifton is a minister, chef, and Army veteran who served more than twenty years – including multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, with the help of ASAP’s Comedy Bootcamp program, he’s adding standup comedian to his resume. For Clif, getting up on stage is another opportunity to adapt and overcome. It’s an important form of therapy and a way to better his health, and he encourages other veterans to learn to laugh because laughter “is the best medicine that’s out there.”
The U.S. Army‘s acquisitions chief said recently that the military needs to make a major technological breakthrough in speed if combat forces are to maintain their edge on future battlefields.
“What is it that we could do that would be the same as ‘own the night?’ ” said Bruce Jette, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisitions, logistics and technology, referring to the service’s breakthrough in night-vision technology. “And I’ll tell you, the thing that keeps coming is speed.”
Speaking at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Science Technology Symposium and Showcase, he recalled an experience he had in the early 1980s as a tank commander during a force-on-force training exercise at Fort Carson, Colorado.
“I was coming up over this ridgeline, and the other guy is coming up over the other ridgeline. I saw him, he saw me,” Jette said.
Each tank started rotating its turret toward the other.
“It was like quick draw: Who is going to get in line with the other guy first?” Jette said, describing how it all came down to “the rate at which the turret turned.”
The Russians are experimenting with robotic turrets that use algorithms to speed up decision-making in combat, he said. Images appear on a flat screen inside the tank, and “the computer goes, ‘I think that is a tank.’
An M1A2 SEP Abrams from 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team, Idaho Army National Guard (middle) and a M1134 Anti-Tank Guided Missile Vehicle from 1st Squadron, 14th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., return from waging mock battle against one another during an eXportable Combat Training Capability exercise, at Orchard Combat Training Center, south of Boise, Idaho, Aug. 14, 2014.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Chris McCullough)
“They have [pictures] of our tanks and vehicles in their computer, and the computer looks at them and puts little boxes around them and, depending on how far away they are and depending on what orientation they are in, the computer has an algorithm that says, ‘Shoot that one first, that one second and that one third,’ ” Jette said.
This reduces the number of steps the gunner must go through before engaging targets.
“I need your ideas on how to put ourselves way past what these guys are onto,” Jette said, addressing an audience of industry representatives. “How can we be faster? How can we be better?”
He added, “One of the reasons we are not doing that yet is we are not going to mistake an ice cream truck for a tank. Our probability of target detection and identification has to be extremely high. Our thresholds would have to be higher; we would have to be better, we would have to be faster. Speed is going to be critically important.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
On the 74th anniversary of the D-Day invasion next spring, up to three dozen athletes will wade ashore on Omaha Beach, scale the once-fortified cliffs of Normandy and march with heavy ruck packs into the French countryside.
The man re-creating the invasion route that changed the course of World War II is retired Navy SEAL Lance Cummings of Cardiff. The 58-year-old veteran is organizing the one-day biathlon-style athletic challenge to raise $175,000 for the Navy SEAL Museum in Ft. Pierce, Fla.
The event on June 6, 2018, is the follow-up to last spring’s Sparta300 for Charity, where Cummings led 19 military veterans, reservists, and endurance athletes on an eight-day, 240-mile trek across Greece.
The team — 18 men and one woman — retraced the epic journey to battle of the ancient Spartan King Leonidas and his 300-man army in 480 BC. That event raised $300,000 for three Navy SEAL charities.
A few Epic Charity Challenge members participating in the Sparta300 trek across Greece. Photo from Facebook.
Eight of those Sparta300 participants have already signed up for the D-Day event, which Cummings has billed as the Epic Charity Challenge. Among them is Jimmy Whited, 48, a Miami insurance industry executive who said he’d follow Cummings anywhere.
“The combination of having an endurance event that has significant historic importance with raising money for charity is incredible,” Whited said. “We became great friends in Sparta, enduring significant pain and immersing ourselves in history while laughing all the way.”
Cummings said the Greek trek was very emotional for him and for all the members of the Sparta300 team. But as a US military veteran, he thinks that following in the footsteps of the Allied forces who bravely landed on the heavily defended Normandy coastline in June 1944 will be even more powerful.
“I expect this will be one of the most daunting experiences of my life,” he said. “My family has watched so many videos on the History Channel of what happened that day. The ocean ran red with the blood of those men. We see this not as just a challenge to raise money, but as a way to honor their sacrifices.”
During his long career in Navy special operations, Cummings deployed overseas 16 times to the Middle East, Asia, and South America. Since his retirement in 2011, he’s been working part time training athletes in SEAL-style fitness skills and as a chiropractor for both people and animals.
Born and raised in Macon, Ga., Cummings joined the SEALS at age 22 after a year of Navy fleet service in Connecticut. He served on active duty until 1995, then joined the reserves for five years while he earned his chiropractic degree and started a practice in Georgia.
He was reactivated after 9/11 and sent to Afghanistan for a year. Then he became a private contractor, working first for Blackwater and then, after moving to San Diego in 2004, for the Navy, setting up its human performance initiative program for soon-to-deploy SEAL teams. The program assesses potential health problems and does preventive therapy to reduce the risk of injuries in the field.
Cummings started doing charitable work in 2015 when he and his wife, Michele Grad, signed up for an arthritis charity event where they pedaled 525 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles on a tandem bicycle. Grad said that her husband found the fund-raising experience so addicting, he’s been looking for ways to do more ever since.
Because of his long military service, Cummings has gotten strong support for the events from the US government. Before the Sparta300 hike began, the US Embassy staff in Athens hosted a reception in the group’s honor. Cummings said the staff at the Normandy memorial site has also been very easy to work with.
Retired Navy SEAL Lance Cummings and others taking part in Epic Charity Challenge’s Sparta300. Photo from Facebook.
The Sparta300 event was especially appealing to military veterans because it recalled a famous battle that changed history. King Leonidas and his 300-man Spartan army all perished at Thermopylae, but they held off the much-larger Persian Army for several days, allowing the Greek forces time to retreat and regroup.
Like the Spartan army, the Sparta300 trekkers covered the same distance, from Sparta to Thermopylae in eight days, and they each carried 60-pound packs to simulate the weight of the Spartans’ battle kit. Hewes Hull, a 49-year-old investment company CEO from Birmingham, Ala., said the camaraderie of the group is what kept him going.
“It was 100 percent about the people,” said Hewes, who has also signed up for the D-Day event. “How many times can anyone say they’ve spent eight days rucking with 20 people 10 hours a day and enjoyed every minute of it?”
Cummings conceived the idea for the D-Day event because he liked the idea of re-creating another battle plan that changed history, and he wanted to support the Navy SEAL Museum.
Opened in 1985, the museum commemorates the history of the SEALs, an elite Navy special forces unit that got its start during World War II at Ft. Pierce. Volunteers with strong swimming skills were recruited from the Navy ranks to serve as frogmen and underwater demolitions crews who cleared obstacles and reefs to allow landing craft to reach the beaches in both the Pacific and European theaters of the war.
For most of the past 15 years, Cummings has attended Veterans Day “muster” events at Ft. Pierce. The weekend program includes an ever-shrinking reunion of surviving Navy Combat Demolition Unit veterans from World War II, as well as a memorial ceremony, where Cummings and other SEALs honor those who’ve passed away by scattering their ashes offshore.
Rick Kaiser, executive director of the Navy SEAL Museum and a retired Navy SEAL master chief, said the Normandy event will help support SEALs and their families.
“The monies raised at the Normandy event will directly benefit the Museum’s Trident House Charities Program,” Kaiser said in a statement. “As the only museum in the world dedicated solely to SEALs and their predecessors, we are passionate and committed to this mission, however, the true heart of the Museum is to support our Special Operations Forces and their families.
“The Museum does this through the Trident House Charities Program in a three-pillar approach, providing college scholarships to the children of US Special Operations Forces; offering direct family support where there is additional financial need; and with the help of the Renewal Coalition, providing respite homes and family retreats entirely complimentary to serve our Special Operations Forces and their families, including the Museum’s Trident House in Sebastian, Florida,” Kaiser said.
Compared to the week-long Sparta300 event, the Epic Charity Challenge in Normandy takes place on just one day, but Cummings said that, like the Sparta trek, it will be so difficult that participants need five to six months of training to succeed.
The morning of June 6 will begin at 5 a.m., when boats will take participants out into the notoriously turbulent English Channel. Up to 25 team members will swim 6.2 miles (or 10 kilometers) to Omaha Beach. For those without strong swimming skills, up to 10 people will have the option of paddling 10 to 12 miles back in a Zodiac-style boat. That should take about five hours.
Participants will climb ropes or ladders up the 120-foot cliffs, then participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery Memorial on the bluffs. Then they’ll pull on a 44-pound pack (in honor of the year 1944) and ruck 20 miles to the town of Saint-L”, which should take another five to seven hours. The event will conclude that night with a celebratory dinner.
Participants are each expected to raise $5,000 in donations. Cummings is also recruiting several corporate sponsors, including Aqua Lung in Carlsbad, which is donating the swimmers’ wetsuits and fins. Pelican Case has also donated items for an online auction.
Through a new website, Cummings said his goal is to raise additional money to pay for several World War II veterans, both American and French, to take part in the ceremonies. More information is available via email at Seacoasthealth@gmail.com.
Chicago real estate agent Sean Easton, 32, is another who did the Sparta300 and has registered for the D-Day event. He said he can’t wait to be “wet and cold” at Normandy after suffering in the dry heat of Greece.
“The Sparta300 was a once-in-a-lifetime event that introduced me to a group who have pushed me farther than I thought possible,” he said. “They’re like-minded individuals who are constantly helping each other push themselves to grow as humans.”
After arresting two American university instructors and laying out what it says was an elaborate, CIA-backed plot to assassinate Kim Jong Un, North Korea is claiming to be the victim of state-sponsored terrorism — from the White House.
The assertion comes as the U.S. is considering putting the North back on its list of terror sponsors. But the vitriolic outrage over the alleged plan to assassinate Kim in April is also being doled out with an unusually big dollop of retaliation threats, raising a familiar question: What on Earth is going on in Pyongyang?
North Korea’s state-run media announced May 7 that an ethnic Korean man with U.S. citizenship was “intercepted” by authorities for unspecified hostile acts against the country. He was identified as Kim Hak Song, an employee of the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology.
That came just days after the North announced the detention of an accounting instructor at the same university, Kim Sang Dok, also a U.S. citizen, for “acts of hostility aimed to overturn” the country. PUST is North Korea’s only privately funded university and has a large number of foreign teachers, including Americans.
What, if anything, the arrests have to the alleged plot is unknown. But they bring to four the number of U.S. citizens now known to be in custody in the North.
“Obviously this is concerning,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters May 8. “We are well-aware of it, and we are going to work through the embassy of Sweden … through our State Department to seek the release of the individuals there.”
Sweden handles U.S. consular affairs in North Korea, including those of American detainees.
The others are Otto Warmbier, serving a 15-year prison term with hard labour for alleged anti-state acts — he allegedly tried to steal a propaganda banner at his tourist hotel — and Kim Dong Chul, serving a 10-year term with hard labour for alleged espionage.
The reported arrest of another “Mr. Kim” — the North Korean man allegedly at the centre of the assassination plot — is more ominous.
According to state media reports that began May 5, he is a Pyongyang resident who was “ideologically corrupted and bribed” by the CIA and South Korea’s National Intelligence Service while working in the timber industry in Siberia in 2014. The Russian far east is one of the main places where North Korean laborers are allowed to work abroad.
The reports say Kim — his full name has not been provided — was converted into a “terrorist full of repugnance and revenge against the supreme leadership” of North Korea and collaborated in an elaborate plot to assassinate Kim Jong Un at a series of events, including a major military parade, that were held last month.
They allege Kim was in frequent contact through satellite communications with the “murderous demons” of the NIS and CIA, who instructed him to use a biochemical substance that is the “know-how of the CIA” and that the hardware, supplies, and funds would be borne by the South Korean side.
Kim Jong Un attended the military parade on April 15 and made several other appearances around that time to mark the anniversary of his late grandfather’s birthday.
The initial reports of the plot concluded with a vow by the Ministry of State Security to “ferret out to the last one” the organizers, conspirators and followers of the plot, which it called “state-sponsored terrorism.”
The North Korean reports also said a “Korean-style anti-terrorist attack” would begin immediately. Follow-up stories on the plot have focused on outraged North Koreans demanding revenge.
It’s anyone’s guess what a “Korean-style” attack might entail.
“I wonder if Kim Jong Un has become paranoid about the influence Americans are having on North Koreans, and about the possibility of U.S. action against him,” said Bruce Bennett, a senior defence analyst and North Koreaexpert at the RAND Corporation. “Will Kim increase his internal purges of North Korean elites? Will he focus on North Korean defectors, people who the regime would like to silence? Or will he do both?”
Tensions between North Korea and its chief adversaries — the U.S. and South Korea — have been rising over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs, as well as joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises that include training for a possible “decapitation strike” to kill the North’s senior leaders.
Bennett noted that such training has been included and expanded upon in annual wargames hosted by South Korea, which were bigger than ever this year.
The wargames, called Key Resolve/Foal Eagle, just finished, without any signs of North Korean retaliation.
But the current rhetoric from Pyongyang has a somewhat familiar ring to it. Case in point: the movie “The Interview” in 2014.
In June that year, the North denounced the Seth Rogen comedy, which portrays the assassination of Kim Jong Un for the CIA by two American journalists, as “a most wanton act of terror and act of war.” A few months later, hackers broke into Sony Pictures Entertainment computers and released thousands of emails, documents, Social Security numbers, and other personal information in an attempt to derail the movie’s release.
The U.S. government blamed North Korea for the attack. Pyongyang denies involvement, but has praised the hackers.
The North’s claims of a plot to kill Kim Jong Un with a biochemical agent also have an eerie similarity to the assassination of his estranged half brother, Kim Jong Nam, at an airport lobby in Malaysia in February.
In that attack, seen by many as orchestrated by the North, two young women who were allegedly tricked into thinking they were taking part in a television game show, rubbed the deadly VX nerve agent onto the face of the unsuspecting victim, who died soon after.
Lawyers for a naval officer who broadcasts taps nightly from speakers outside his home in tribute to the military told a Pennsylvania borough council president to expect legal action if officials don’t stop trying to restrict the practice.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania said in a letter on July 5 that a cease-and-desist order against Lt. Cmdr. Josh Corney is unconstitutional.
Corney is complying with a demand from the borough last month that he play taps on Sundays and certain holidays only, but he wants that rule overturned.
“When the borough singles out Lt. Cmdr. Corney’s ‘Taps’ performances on private property for censorship as a ‘nuisance,’ while allowing other similarly loud or louder, longer-lasting religious or commercial musical performances on private property to continue, it is engaging in content-based discrimination,” his lawyers wrote.
The lawyers said they will seek a federal injunction if the borough doesn’t reverse itself by July 7. Messages seeking comment weren’t returned by the council president, Doug Young, or by the borough’s solicitor.
Corney, 38, on active duty and stationed in Maryland, has been deployed overseas eight times, including to Iraq and Afghanistan. He said it was seeing Americans killed while serving their country that inspired his musical gesture.
“I thought to myself and prayed to God that if he brought me home, I would do something to remember the sacrifices that our men and women made for myself, my family, and my country,” he said.
After moving into a home on 5 acres in Glen Rock, a town of about 2,000 residents where he lived as a boy, he made the taps broadcast his first priority in April 2015, setting up three amplified speakers in the front of the house. He picked a slower, hymn-like 57-second version of the tune, which is traditionally played at the end of the day.
At first, he had to put on a CD every night, but eventually established a fully automated system that was timed for 7:57 p.m., coinciding with bedtime for his six young children and ending just before a nearby church’s bells chimed.
He says it’s sometimes possible to hear the recording in the middle of town, about a quarter-mile away, but not always.
“A nearby church is permitted to play amplified recordings of hymns twice a day, church bells are allowed to peal at regular intervals, and a local restaurant has been granted permission to amplify its live outdoor musical performances,” Corney’s lawyers wrote to Young.
They said other common noises louder than Corney’s taps include lawnmowers, hedge trimmers, leaf blowers, chainsaws, and “the exuberant cries of children playing a raucous game.”
Early in 2016, Corney was told the borough had received a complaint, which he tried to work out with the neighbor who had lodged it.
Others rallied behind Corney’s efforts after a second complaint was made in November.
He said he made more adjustments by lowering the volume and redirecting the speakers, but that didn’t satisfy a neighboring family’s complaints.
Then, on June 23, the borough wrote him to say his broadcast of taps violated its nuisance ordinance, and told him to limit it to Sundays and a limited number of “flag” holidays.
When you’re forward deployed fighting the enemy, people are going to get hurt— it’s the nature of the job. One aspect our military excels at is reaching its severely wounded troops with medical treatment quickly.
A mass casualty situation, however, is a problem. A mass casualty situation means any amount of injured patients that exceeds the number of resources available.
For example, if five soldiers become wounded on the battlefield and there is only one medic or corpsmen on deck, and they’re unable to treat their victims quick enough, that’s a mass casualty or “mass-cas.”
It happens more than you think.
The real problem is the medical aid stations (or battalion aid stations) only have so many personnel on deck and can’t take care of everyone at the same time — that’s when it’s time to call for back-up.
An IED just went off a few miles away from the medical aid station. The medic or corpsman on deck is unhurt but now has to spring into action and rapidly start checking the wounded to account for the worst injuries. After they check their patients, the R.O., or Radio Operator, will call up a medevac, sending vital information to the aid station about the incoming troops.
Medical aid stations work like a well-oiled machine, and the staff members know their exact roles.
Typically, an aid station consists of a few doctors, a few nurses, and a few medics or Corpsmen. Once the wounded enter the medical station, their life status is quickly re-determined. Although the medic did this earlier in the field, the aid station will reassess using the same process of triage, as the patient’s status could have changed during transport.
The color that’s issued reflects the order in which the patient is seen. Treatment can be especially challenging because medical stations are temporary facilities and they don’t always have the most advanced technology; most get their power from gas-powered generators.
In the event the casualty needs to move to an upper echelon of care, a helicopter will be called up to transport them to a more capable hospital. This could also have happened while in the field. Since time is the biggest factor, getting the wounded to the closest aid station is key.
Based on the triage label color issued by the medical staff, that evacuation could take minutes or up to 24 hours. So you may have to sit tight if you’re just nursing a broken arm.
As the allies moved east after the D-Day invasion, air power was used to soften Germany’s defenses and eliminate the Third Reich’s ability to make the tools of war. The American Army Air Corps and the British Royal Air Force bombed around the clock, with the Americans covering the daylight hours.
Losses were high. Over 100,000 allied bomber crews were killed over Europe during World War II. And casualties would have been even higher had the pilots not adjusted their tactics along the way. This film was used to train replacement crews on how to survive enemy air defenses. Because of the level of detail — specific tactics and techniques — it was highly classified during the war.
So imagine you’re a newly B-17 winged pilot on your way to England for your first combat tour. This is one training session you’re going to pay attention to.