The military has very talented photographers in its ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. This is the best of what they shot this week:
SURABAYA, Indonesia (Aug. 5, 2015) U.S. Navy Sailors assigned to Coastal Riverine Squadron (CRS) 3 and Indonesian Kopaska naval special forces members practice patrol formations during Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Indonesia 2015.
ATLANTIC OCEAN (Aug. 4, 2015) Sailors prepare for flight operations on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3).
Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) 3rd Class I. J. Fleming helps stretch out the emergency crash barricade during drills on the flight deck aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75).
Marines and Navy Corpsmen, assigned to various units in the 1st Marine Division, conduct tactical combat casualty care training during the Combat Trauma Management Course, taught by instructors with the 1st Marine Division Navy Education and Training Office, at the Strategic Operations facility, California.
An M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank crew with Company A, 4th Tank Battalion, fires its 120 mm main gun during the company’s pre-qualification tank gunnery at Range 500, Aug. 4, 2015. The live-fire exercise tests tank crews on their ability to work together on target acquisition and accuracy.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Martin, a maritime enforcement specialist at Coast Guard Port Security Unit 313 in Everett, Wash., along with other security division members, set up security zones on the pier alongside the Coast Guard Cutter Henry Blake, while conducting an exercise at Naval Station Everett.
Petty Officer 2nd Class David Burns, a Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak aviation survival technician, walks across the flight deck of the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley during practice hoist operations while at sea.
A security forces Airman plunges into the combat water survival test at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo.
Lt. Col. Todd Houchins, the 53rd Test Support Squadron commander, signals before the final takeoff of the last QF-4 Aerial Target on Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.
Members of the 23rd Component Maintenance Squadron Propulsion Flight perform maintenance on a TF-34 engine July 27, 2015, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. The 23rd CMS supplies the 74th and 75th Fighter Squadrons with TF-34s in support of Moody AFB’s A-10C Thunderbolt IIs.
paratroopers, assigned to 82nd Airborne Division, rig their rucksacks during a Basic Airborne Refresher course at the United States Army Advanced Airborne School, Fort Bragg, N.C.
An Army pilot, assigned to the 185th Theater Aviation Brigade, watches a MV-22 Osprey land during a personnel recovery training exercise in Southwest Asia.
With a multitude of potential threats radiating over the border from North Korea, South Korea cannot be lax when it comes to security.
As such, Seoul places a premium on the training and capabilities of its military and police forces. This is clearly illustrated through the paramilitary capabilities of the South Korean National Police (KNP) SWAT teams.
A 2014 video from LiveLeak shows the incredible training in small-arms maneuvers that these SWAT members go through.
The KNP is responsible for most security operations within the country, including counterterrorism measures, riot control, and hostage negotiations. The KNP also, on occasion, carries out joint exercises with the Korean Coast Guard and Army.
The highlights of the KNP training video are in the following GIFs:
A trainee practices strafing while alternating fire between a pistol and a submachine gun.
Trainees practice disarming, and counter-disarming, techniques.
Two prospective SWAT members work in a pair, coordinating movement and cover fire.
A trainee practices a faux surrender.
SWAT team members must be ready to respond to all manner of threats, including the sudden appearance of a combatant from behind.
Here, a trainee practices handling the recoil from a shotgun, before transitioning to his pistol
In possible crowd situations, accuracy is of critical importance, and marksmanship is given plenty of practice.
While in the field, SWAT members must be ready to continue an operation even after a potential injury. Here, a trainee is practicing shooting and reloading with one hand.
Of course, being able to function while distracted and under stress is one of the most important factors for success in the KNP. Here, instructors attempt to distract a trainee during an accuracy drill
Flight deck operations on an aircraft carrier have often been compared to a ballet. Sailors at work on a flight deck wear an assortment of colored jerseys to specify their job. The yellow shirt is one of the most coveted.
The aviation boatswain’s mates who work on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz are directly responsible for the handling and maneuvering of aircraft as well as the safety of all personnel during flight operations. Any mistake or lack of better judgment can cause damage to equipment or injury to personnel on the flight deck.
“At first being a yellow shirt was scary, but now that I have some confidence, I would say there is a sense of pride,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Melanie Cluck, an aviation boatswain’s mate. “On the flight deck, we are not only responsible for directing aircraft, but also for directing people. Normally, anyone who needs guidance on the flight deck looks for a yellow shirt. Safety of all the personnel on deck is a big part of our job as well. So we don’t only need to know our job, but everyone else’s as well.”
Before donning the sought-after yellow jersey, aviation boatswain’s mates wear blue jerseys to indicate that they are in a more junior status. These sailors are normally newer airmen who have yet to acquire all of the necessary qualifications. Their main responsibilities during flight operations include chocking and chaining, running elevators, and tractor operation.
“Being a blue shirt is hard work, but it makes you tough,” said Seaman Michael Lothrop. “It’s hot up there right now, and we work long days, but you have to be on alert at all times and ready to get the job done whenever you are needed.”
Blue shirts are normally covered in grease and always carrying something heavy, whether it be a chain, tractor bar, or chock. They play a big part in the maneuvering of aircraft on the flight deck because they do most of the hands-on work. During their time wearing blue, they learn the ins and outs of properly directing aircraft, which helps build the foundation of a high-performance yellow shirt.
The job requires attention to detail and an extreme amount of knowledge to be performed well. The training and the number of hours a sailor needs to put in to become a yellow shirt is impressive.
“There are two main qualifications you get as a blue shirt, but from there, it’s all about if your chain of command sees you have the initiative to take on being a yellow shirt,” Cluck said.
Earning the Yellow Shirt
Sailors must qualify as flight deck observers and learn directing and handling in addition to the qualifications all sailors are required to attain when they report to Nimitz. The requirements take roughly 12 weeks to complete. Sailors then take a written and oral test administered by the flight deck leading petty officer, assistant LPO, and any other yellow-shirt-qualified chief petty officers or first class petty officers who decide to attend.
Once sailors earn the right to wear the yellow jersey on the flight deck, they enter an apprenticeship period called “under inspection.” This means they need an experienced yellow shirt to help them along the way toward becoming an expert at their new job on the flight deck.
UI yellow shirts are always accompanied by a seasoned mentor who is observing every signal and decision they make.
“It’s a case-by-case basis on how long the UI process takes,” Cluck said. “The process is just there to make sure you fully understand what you are doing on the flight deck. It’s extensive work to say the least, but it helps you build character. The goal of the process is just to build you up to be the great yellow shirt you are supposed to be.”
Yellow shirts have to communicate through hand signals with pilots and other personnel working on the flight deck to safely move aircraft onto the catapults and off of the landing area.
“You have to be able to really get control of your aircraft and understand the pilot,” Cluck said. “It’s a gut feeling that you develop during your training. If you feel you need to slow the aircraft down, you can, and you start to learn when exactly to turn it. We have hundreds of hand signals we can use to take control of the aircraft on deck. The people in the pilot seats are officers, so you have to be professional, and every motion you make has to be crisp and precise to prevent accidents.”
The working environment of a yellow shirt is unlike anywhere else on the ship. The yellow shirt locker, or crew area, is on Nimitz’ flight deck. The tight-knit group of men and women spends their time out of the scorching heat joking, laughing, and preparing to launch multi-million dollar aircraft into the sky. It is here where the instructors of the world’s most dangerous ballet reside. It is here where the yellow shirts dwell, mentally preparing themselves to launch aircraft as their ship sits at the tip of the spear.
Tucked away in a rural corner of western New York is a survivor of D-Day. It is a C-47A Skytrain — an airplane that delivered paratroopers over drop zones around Normandy on June 6, 1944 — that has the distinction of being perhaps one of the few – if not the last – of its kind still in flying condition.
Named Whiskey 7 because of the large W7 painted on its fuselage, the Skytrain was the lead aircraft of the second invasion wave in the skies above France.
“That C-47 is one of our stars,” said Dawn Schaible, media director for the National Warplane Museum, the organization that gives Whiskey 7 a home and maintains it both for flying demonstrations and public viewing.
Skytrains have a storied history. None other than Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme Allied commander in Europe, called the Douglas aircraft one of the four “Tools of Victory” that won World War II for the Allies along with the atom bomb, the Jeep, and the bazooka.
The museum is proud of the fact that the aircraft is a true C-47, not a DC-3 conversion. The twin-engine, propeller-driven aircraft was built in 1943, one of more than 10,000 produced during World War II.
Skytrains like Whiskey 7 were the standard transport aircraft of the old U.S. Army Air Corps but also saw service with the British, who called the plane the Dakota.
The statistics regarding the Skytrain are impressive. When used as a supply plane, a C-47 could carry up to 6,000 pounds of cargo. It could also hold a fully assembled Jeep or 37-mm cannon.
When serving in its role as a troop transport, the C-47 carried 28 soldiers in full combat gear. As a medical airlift plane, it could accommodate 14 stretcher patients and three nurses.
On D-Day, Whiskey 7 transported paratroopers from the 3rd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division.
The aircraft was actually one of the few that made it to the drop-zone assigned to the paratroopers: the town of Sainte-Mère-Église.
After D-Day, Whiskey 7 served for the balance of the war. Missions included towing gliders carrying men and equipment during Market Garden, the ill-fated airborne operation in Holland that was the largest airborne battle in history but which ended disastrously for the Allies.
After World War II, a civilian aviation company purchased the plane as surplus and converted it to an airliner. The plane then flew both passengers and cargo for decades.
Purchased by a private collector in 1993, it was eventually donated to the National Warplane Museum where it was restored to its D-Day configuration in 2005.
In 2014, Whiskey 7 participated in the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion when it flew to France so historical re-enactors could jump from the plane.
The group also included Leslie Palmer Cruise Jr., one of the paratroopers the plane carried on D-Day. According to the museum, he was the last surviving member of his unit who jumped from Whiskey 7 when it was above Normandy in 1944.
Now, Whiskey 7 helps educate visitors to the National Warplane Museum about Operation Overlord and World War II.
Located in Geneseo, N.Y., the museum is a labor of love started by a grassroots group of historic aircraft enthusiasts who fly old war birds and restore airplanes. The museum has more than 15,000 visitors a year who come to view exhibits or attend the annual air show.
“We have amazing artifacts here,” said Schaible. “We figure out how we connect those artifacts with people and help them move beyond the idea that it’s just cool stuff. It’s the men and women and the stories behind the aircraft that make them historical.”
On Aug. 15, 1944, a massive flotilla carrying approximately 200,000 heavily armed invaders surged from the Atlantic Ocean into Southern France. The men of the 6th Army Group were there to kill Nazis and chew bubblegum, and they were all out of bubblegum. It’s the invasion you’ve never heard of but should have.
The invasion of Southern France was originally planned as part of D-Day, but was pushed back due to a shortage of landing craft and slow progress of forces moving up Italy. By the time the allied armies were ready to make their landings, some leaders were pushing to change the plan.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill wanted to use the resources and manpower dedicated to Operation Dragoon, as the invasion was called, to instead push harder through Italy or to land in the Balkans.
An Italian operation could have knocked the country out of the war faster. The Balkan operation would have robbed Germany of needed oil while also limiting the amount of territory that was gained by the Red Army, putting the other Allied powers in a better position against the Soviets after the war.
But Allied commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower was adamant that Operation Dragoon should be launched to draw away German forces battling the Allied troops marching east from Normandy. Operation Dragoon would also deliver Marseille and Toulon, large port cities that could facilitate reinforcements and supplies for the push to Berlin, to the allies.
Army Group G began preparations to retreat in the first day of fighting.
By Aug. 17, Hitler had authorized the retreat and the U.S. 6th Army Group and the German Army Group G engaged in a chase across miles of southern France. As most of the American and British soldiers in the invasion pushed north to chase the Germans, a number of French troops swung west to liberate the ports at Marseilles and Toulon.
The Allied push north stayed on the offensive, liberating town after town. The American forces eventually met up with Lt. Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army in early Sep. 1944. The German Army Group G did escape with many of their men.
Allied casualties in the fighting approached 20,000 but the Allied forces captured 100,000 German troops while killing and wounding a number of others.
If you’ve never shipped out to boot camp, then you’ve probably never encountered the “last chance” moment all recruits experience before their training kicks off.
Within hours of arriving, the staff gives every newbie a chance to come clean about something they may have lied about to their recruiter or throw an item or two away they weren’t supposed to bring with them into what’s known as the “amnesty box.”
If a boot does toss something away in the box, it’s confidential and they won’t be penalized. But don’t think for a second that the boxes don’t get opened by the staff for a good laugh.
The Army’s 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta — or “Delta Force” or CAG (for Combat Applications Group) or whatever its latest code name might be — is one of the best door kicking-units in the world.
From raining hell on al Qaeda in the early days of the war in Afghanistan to going after the “deck of cards” in Iraq, the super-secretive counterterrorism unit knows how to dispatch America’s top targets.
But during the wars after 9/11, Delta’s brethren in the Army Special Forces were tasked with many similar missions, going after top targets and kicking in a few doors for themselves. And Delta has a lot of former Special Forces soldiers in its ranks, so their cultures became even more closely aligned.
That’s why it’s not surprising that some might be a bit confused on who does what and how each of the units is separate and distinct from one another.
In fact, as America’s involvement in Iraq started to wind down, the new commander of the Army Special Warfare Center and School — the place where all SF soldiers are trained — made it a point to draw the distinction between his former teammates in Delta and the warriors of the Green Berets.
“I hate analogies like the ‘pointy end of the spear,’ ” said then school chief Maj. Gen. Bennett Sacolick.
“We’re not designed to hunt people down and kill them,” Sacolick said. “We have that capability and we have forces that specialize in that. But ultimately what we do that nobody else does is work with our indigenous partner nations.”
So, in case you were among the confused, here are four key differences between Delta and Special Forces:
1. Delta, what Delta?
With the modern media market, blogs, 24-hour news cycles and social media streams where everyone’s an expert, it’s tough to keep a secret these days. And particularly after 9/11 with the insatiable appetite for news and information on the war against al Qaeda, it was going to be hard to keep “Delta Force” from becoming a household name.
The dam actually broke with Mark Bowden’s seminal work on a night of pitched fighting in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993, which later became the book “Black Hawk Down.” Delta figured prominently in that work — and the movie that followed.
Previously, Delta Force had been deemed secret, it’s members signing legally-binding agreements that subjected them to prison if they spoke about “The Unit.” Known as a “Tier 1” special operations unit, Delta, along with SEAL Team 6, are supposed to remain “black” and unknown to the public.
Special Forces, on the other hand, are considered Tier 2 or “white SOF,” with many missions that are known to the public and even encourage media coverage. Sure, the Green Berets often operate in secret, but unlike Delta, their existence isn’t one.
2. Building guerrilla armies.
This is where the Special Forces differs from every other unit in the U.S. military. When the Green Berets were established in the 1950s, Army leaders recognized that the fight against Soviet Communism would involve counter insurgencies and guerrilla warfare fought in the shadows rather than armored divisions rolling across the Fulda Gap.
So the Army Special Forces, later known as the Green Berets, were created with the primary mission of what would later be called “unconventional warfare” — the covert assistance of foreign resistance forces and subversion of local governments.
“Unconventional warfare missions allow U.S. Army soldiers to enter a country covertly and build relationships with local militia,” the Army says. “Operatives train the militia in a variety of tactics, including subversion, sabotage, intelligence collection and unconventional assisted recovery, which can be employed against enemy threats.”
According to Sean Naylor’s “Relentless Strike” — which chronicles the formation of Joint Special Operations Command that includes Delta, SEAL Team 6 and other covert commando units — Delta’s main mission was to execute “small, high-intensity operations of short duration” like raids and capture missions. While Delta operators surely know how to advise and work with foreign guerrilla groups, like they did during operations in Tora Bora in Afghanistan, that’s not their main funtion like it is for Green Berets.
3. Assessment and selection.
When Col. Charles Beckwith established Delta Force in 1977, he’d spent some time with the British Special Air Service to model much of his new unit’s organization and mission structure. In fact, Delta has units dubbed “squadrons” in homage to that SAS lineage.
But most significantly, Beckwith adopted a so-called “assessment and selection” regime that aligns closely with how the Brits pick their top commandos. Delta operators have to already have some time in the service (the unit primarily picks from soldiers, but other service troops like Marines have been known to try out) and be at least an E4 with more than two years left in their enlistment.
From what former operators have written, the selection is a brutal, mind-bending hike through (nowadays) the West Virginia mountains where candidates are given vague instructions, miles of ruck humps and psychological examinations to see if they can be trusted to work in the most extreme environments alone or in small teams under great risk of capture or death.
Special Forces, on the other hand, have fairly standard physical selection (that doesn’t mean it’s easy) and training dubbed the Q Course that culminates in a major guerrilla wargame called “Robin Sage.”
The point of Robin Sage is to put the wannabe Green Berets through a simulated unconventional warfare scenario to see how they could adapt to a constantly changing environment and still keep their mission on track.
4. Size matters
Army Special Forces is a much larger organization than Delta Force, which is a small subset of Army Special Operations Command.
The Green Berets are divided up into five active duty and two National Guard groups, comprised of multiple battalions of Special Forces soldiers divided into Operational Detachments, typically dubbed “ODAs.” These are the troopers who parachute into bad guy land and help make holy hell for the dictator du jour.
Delta is a small, elite unit that specializes in direct action and other counter-terrorism missions. (Photo from YouTube)
It was ODA teams that infiltrated Afghanistan with the Northern Alliance and Pashtun groups like the one run by Hamid Karzai that overturned the Taliban.
These Special Forces Groups are regionally focused and based throughout the U.S. and overseas.
Delta, on the other hand, has a much smaller footprint, with estimates ranging from 1,000 to 1,500 operators divided into four assault squadrons and three support squadrons. Naylor’s “Relentless Strike” even hints that Delta might have women in its ranks to help infiltrate operators into foreign countries for reconnaissance missions.
And while Special Forces units are based around the world, Delta has a single headquarters in a compound ringed with concertina wire at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Capt. Edward Rickenbacker was one of the few American fighter pilots to earn the title “Ace of Aces,” given by the press for his 26 kills in World War I. He is arguably one of the most decorated service members to ever live.
But before he was a decorated hero, Rickenbacker was a professional race car driver who almost wasn’t allowed to fly.
Rickenbacker raced cars from 1912-1917, racing in a number of events including the first Indianapolis 500. He even broke the land speed record, reaching a blistering 134 mph.
When America entered World War I, he volunteered to organize a very unique unit: a fighter squadron filled entirely with race car drivers.
The guts, reflexes, and situational awareness needed to succeed racing early automobiles 100 mph or faster would have served flying squadrons well, but the U.S. Army wasn’t interested. Worse, Rickenbacker was considered too old to become a pilot himself.
The young aviator graduated the pilot’s course 17 days after starting it and began the career that would make him famous.
In his first few months as a pilot, he scored 7 victories, becoming an ace pilot. He took command of his unit, the 94th Pursuit Squadron, and scored two more kills in a daring attack on Sep. 25, 1918, his first day as the commander.
While conducting a solo patrol, he spotted five aircraft. He maneuvered above them unseen and then dove through the formation, downing two and scattering the rest. He received both the French Croix de Guerre and the Medal of Honor for his valor.
It was when he reached 12 kills that the press began calling him the “Ace of Aces,” a title he didn’t like, according to History Net. The three aviators who had been adorned with the title before Rickenbacker were all killed in combat.
The nickname served Rickenbacker better than it did his predecessors. He didn’t just survive the next month, he scored 14 new victories and ended the war with 26.
Marines training on the use of indirect fires and air support can now practice their engagements nearly anywhere thanks to Augmented Immersive Team Training, an augmented reality tool that projects a digital battlefield onto any terrain.
Developed by the Office of Naval Research, the system allows Marines to wear a pair of goggles that takes video of the surrounding area and combines it with computer simulations of units. Then, the Marines can engage those targets with certain weapons systems or airstrikes to destroy the target.
Participants can also view the battlefield through special binoculars and laser designators.
All Marines going through the training are synced up to the same simulation, so they see the same targets in the same spots and can watch as another Marine targets and destroys an enemy force.
Instructors use a computer to add or remove enemy vehicles and troops in the simulation, allowing them to tailor the training to a unit’s needs and current ability levels.
Trainers and students could also more efficiently conduct training since a botched engagement can be quickly reset and the difficulty could be changed on the fly by the instructor. And, the service would no longer need tailored ranges or simulation centers to train. Marines could take the kits with them to any open area.
The Super Bowl is where the stakes are highest in the world of professional football.
But for some who have played in that big game, they have staked far more than whether or not they help hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy — they’ve served in the military, signing “a blank check to the United States of America for an amount of up to and including my life,” to paraphrase a popular quote.
Here are some of the more famous names (and not-so-famous) names who served in the military and played in the Super Bowl:
1. Hall of Fame OLB Kevin Greene
While Greene is not well known, he is one of the NFL’s all-time great pass rushers, and played in Super Bowl XXX with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He also served in the Alabama Army National Guard, according to a 1986 article in the Poughkeepsie Journal, getting paratrooper wings and also at times commanding a tank platoon.
In the 2017 season, he will coach linebackers for the New York Jets.
According to NFL.com, Greene totaled 160 sacks and five interceptions over 15 seasons.
2. New England Patriots LS Joe Cardona
Cardona will be playing in Super Bowl LI with the New England Patriots, serving as a long snapper. He did the same with the U.S. Naval Academy’s football team – starting as a freshman and for all four years.
A 2015 DoD feature on military-NFL ties reports he serves on active duty, and has assignments with the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport and with the destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000).
3. Hall of Fame QB Roger Staubach
Prior to Pat Tillman, Roger Staubach was probably the most famous person who had his feet in both the military and National Football League. He played 11 years in the NFL, all with the Dallas Cowboys, throwing 153 TD passes according to NFL.com. He played in four Super Bowls, winning Super Bowls VI and XII.
Perhaps best known for his Super Bowl XXI heroics as a member of the New York Giants, including a 6-yard TD catch, McConkey wasn’t drafted by an NFL team when he graduated from the Naval Academy.
His naval service included time as a helicopter pilot, but he decided to go for his dream of playing pro football. A 2013 Buffalo News article revealed that it was a family connection to New England Patriots coach Bill Belicheck (whose father was an assistant coach at the Naval Academy) that launched McConkey’s NFL career.
A 4.4-second time in the 40-yard dash didn’t hurt, either. Over his six-season professional football career, NFL.com notes that McConkey had 67 receptions for 1,113 yards and two TDs for the Giants, Chargers, Cardinals, and one other team.
5. Retired DT Chad Hennings
Though Hennings won three Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys, he also was very well known as an Air Force pilot flying the A-10 Thunderbolt II close-air support plane, according to GoAirForceFalcons.com. According to NFL.com, Hennings had 27.5 sacks over his nine-season NFL career.
6. Retired RB Rocky Bleier
Rocky Bleier was overshadowed in the Steelers’ backfield that won four Super Bowls by NFL Hall of Fame legends Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris.
One reason may have been the fact that in December, 1968, he was drafted by the Army and volunteered to serve in Vietnam. According to a 1969 AP report printed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Bleier was wounded on Aug. 20 of that year — shot in the thigh and hit by grenade fragments, losing part of his right foot.
According to NFL.com, Bleier only played six games in 1971 after missing all of 1970. He would rush for 3,865 yards and 23 TDs, while catching 136 passes for 1,294 yards and two more TDs.
Although training of the Iraqi forces and Kurdish Peshmerga is a major part of the operation, the overall narrative has changed; the U.S. is more humble and modest in its approach than a decade ago.
The tactical assembly area for U.S. forces south of Mosul is as nondescript as could possibly be. In a nearby field the M109 Paladin howitzers, mobile artillery that drives around on tank treads, nestle amid earthen berms. Their supply vehicles are dug in behind them.
The field is full of mud, odd for northern Iraq, but it had been raining a lot in late March.
Lt. Micah Thompson, a platoon leader, says “We have the capability to address all targets; the point of the Paladin is a mobile artillery system. The fight that we bring is the precision munition capability. We are able to program and set those fuses and provide those rounds downrange in rapid time in order to accomplish [our task].”
He’s one of the recent generation of U.S. Army soldiers serving in Iraq, and he’s enthusiastic about providing fire support to the Iraqi security personnel who are slowly clearing Mosul of Islamic State fighters.
Behind the muddy field, the rest of the quiet U.S. Army base goes about its business in close proximity with the Iraqi Federal Police and Emergency Response Division, two Iraqi units leading the battle for Mosul.
This is the tip of America’s spear in the battle against ISIS, but in contrast to previous U.S. campaigns in Iraq, the Americans are letting the Iraqis set the tempo. Lt.-Col. John Hawbaker, a commander in the 73rd Cavalry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division, joined the army in 1998 and served in Iraq in 2005-2006.
He says ISIS represents the “same barbarism, evil and cruelty” that the U.S. faced back then, but is “a much larger and conventional threat. We were doing counter-insurgency with U.S. leadership, the difference now is the Iraqi Security Forces conduct a fight not as a counter-insurgency but against a conventional force.”
In those days the U.S. Army was dealing with a “comprehensive civilian and military effort taken to simultaneously defeat and contain insurgency and address its root causes,” as the FM 3-24 Insurgencies and Countering Insurgencies manual of May 2014 described it.
H.R McMaster, now the national security adviser, but then a colonel, trained his regiment to deal with manning checkpoints and treating Iraqi civilians with dignity, to prepare to fight in Tal Afar, northwest of Mosul. George Packer in a 2006 piece in The New Yorker described not only how McMaster led Iraqis in rooting out insurgents, but how “Americans are not just training an Iraqi Army, they are trying to build an institution of national unity.”
Ten years later, the U.S. has given up some of these grandiose pretensions, with a much smaller footprint on the ground and a reduced visible presence. U.S. Army vehicles I saw don’t fly the U.S. flag and the only way you know they are U.S. vehicles, according to one local Iraqi, was that they use old MRAPs (Mine Resistant, Ambush Protected vehicles).
“We have multiple ways we assist,” says Hawbaker. “You saw the artillery in direct fire, mortars, and we also help coordinate air strikes, and we also help coordinate intelligence sharing, so we give them a lot of info on disposition and what he [ISIS] is doing and what he [ISIS] is thinking and intelligence for them to better array their operations.”
Everything is focused on aiding the Iraqis, not leading them. The Iraqi Army sets the tempo and the goals, and the U.S. advises. For instance, on April 12, the Department of Defense noted that the U.S. carried out eight air strikes in Iraq, hitting vehicles, mortars, snipers, and bomb factories.
Although training of the Iraqi forces and Kurdish Peshmerga is a major part of the operation, the overall narrative has changed; the U.S. is more humble and modest in its approach than a decade ago.
Instead of trying to rebuild the Iraqi Army as an institution — which the U.S. was struggling with in the wake of the 2003 invasion when the army was disbanded and competent, but Ba’athist officers were sent packing — the U.S. continually stresses that it “supports” the Iraqi Army.
This has allowed Iraq to take ownership of the war, and to make the mistakes and climb the learning curve that inevitably results in their soldiers improving.
This strategy has been effective at fighting ISIS over the last two years, but it has also been slow. The battle for Mosul has taken six months, and will likely take more, even as question marks are raised about what comes next in ISIS-held Tal Afar, Hawija, and parts of Sinjar and Anbar.
During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the US military was at its finest, liberating Kuwaiti civilians from the forces of an evil dictator. In every way, every branch of the military and every American ally was on display, showing they could handle anything the enemy might throw at them and coming out on top.
Nowhere was this more apparent than in the ranks of U.S. military armor. Between the Army and the Marine Corps, the battles fought during Operation Desert Storm were some of the largest tank battles the United States ever fought – and among the largest in world history.
The Battle of Kuwait International Airport
The biggest tank battle in United States Marine Corps history is also the fastest. It’s also one of the most forgotten battles in history, despite the massive size of the forces involved. On Feb. 25, 1991, the 1st Marine Division and 2nd Marine Division, along with the Army’s 2nd Armored Division’s Tiger Brigade, Army Special Forces, and – later – the 4th Marine Division’s 4th Tank Battalion met 14 Iraqi divisions and a field artillery brigade.
The 1st Marines had broken through the Iraqi lines and into Kuwait City, on its way to the airport drove through them and ahead, fighting skirmishes along the way and destroying at least 100 enemy tanks. The 2nd Marine Division would approach from the other side.
One tank unit, Bravo Company, 4th Tank Battalion woke in the morning to find 35 Iraqi Republican Guard tanks moving to hit them from the front. Outnumbered 3-to-1, the Marines of Bravo Company snapped to, destroying all of them in about 90 seconds. This battle came to be known as the “Reveille Engagement.”
2. The Battle of 73 Easting
A young Army officer named H.R. McMaster (yes, that H.R. McMaster) was leading a group of nine M1A1 Abrams tanks through the desert at the start of the Desert Storm ground war. Soon, his tanks came over a hill – and right into the path of an entire Iraqi tank division.
When outnumbered by hundreds, many officers would withdraw or surrender. McMaster plowed through. His troop destroyed 28 Iraqi tanks, 16 personnel carriers and 30 trucks in 23 minutes. They called in other tank troops as they fought and were soon joined by more Americans, more than 840 armored vehicles in all. With the Iraqis knocked out, the Americans were free to engage behind the lines and onward into Kuwait.
3. Battle of Norfolk
What happens when American and British Armor meet the Iraqi Republican Guard inside Iraq? Some 1,100 Iraqi tanks destroyed, along with hundreds of artillery pieces and armored personnel carriers and thousands of Iraqi prisoners. With 12 divisions on the battlefield, this was the second largest tank battle in U.S. history and the largest of the Gulf War.
Two hours after the Battle of 73 Easting, coalition forces advanced to Objective Norfolk, an intersection on Iraqi supply lines and an important hub for moving material. Defending Norfolk was the Tawakalna Division of the Iraqi Republican Guard, which had just been bloodied at 73 Easting. By the time the U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Division controlled Norfolk, the Tawakalna Division ceased to exist.
4. Battle of Medina Ridge
For two hours, the U.S. Army’s 1st Armored Division and the 2nd Brigade of the Iraqi Republican Guard Medina Luminous Division slugged it out at one of the Iraqi desert’s few landmarks. Around 348 M1A1 Abrams tanks met hundreds of enemy tanks in one of the toughest battles of the war.
The Iraqis, positioned behind the ridgeline, could only be seen directly when U.S. tanks crested the hill. Which would have been an effective defense if it weren’t for the Army’s Apache helicopters and the Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt IIs constantly strafing them. The Iraqis arguably put up the stiffest defense of the war at Medina Ridge, but the loss was still lopsided – 4 U.S. tanks were destroyed while the Iraqis lost 186.