US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching - We Are The Mighty
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US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching

The sun has set over the scrubby Savannah. The moon is full. It is time for Ryan Tate and his men to go to work. In camouflage fatigues, they check their weapons and head to the vehicles.


Somewhere beyond the ring of light cast by the campfire, out in the vast dark expanse of thornbushes, baobab trees, rocks and grass, are the rhinos. Somewhere, too, may be the poachers who will kill them to get their precious horns.

The job of Tate, a 32-year-old former US Marine, and the group of US military veterans he has assembled in a remote private reserve in the far north of South Africa is simple: keep the rhinos and the rest of the game in the bush around their remote base alive.

The men are not mercenaries, or park rangers –they work for Tate’s Veterans Empowered To Protect African Wildlife (Vetpaw), a US-based nonprofit organization funded by private donations. All have seen combat, often with elite military units, in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching
DoD Photo by Staff Sgt. Shejal Pulivarti

Though equipped with vehicles, trail bikes, assault rifles, sniper suits, and radios, the most important weapons in the war against poaching, Tate believes, are the skills and experiences his team gained on successive deployments in conflict zones over the last decade and a half.

“We are here for free. We are not going anywhere. Whether it is cold or hot, day or night… we want to work with anyone who needs help,” Tate says.

The initiative is not without controversy. Some experts fear “green militarization” and an arms race between poachers and gamekeepers. Others believe deploying American former soldiers to fight criminals in South Africa undermines the troubled country’s already fragile state.

But the scale of the challenge of protecting South Africa’s rhinos is clear to everyone, with a rise in poaching in recent years threatening to reverse conservation gains made over decades.

Though rhino horns are made of keratin, the same substance as fingernails, a kilo is worth up to $65,000. The demand comes from East Asia, where rhino horn is seen as a potent natural medicine and status symbol, and is met by international networks linking dirt-poor villages in southern Africa with traffickers and eventually buyers. Patchy law enforcement, corruption and poverty combine to exacerbate the problem.

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

In South Africa, home to 80% of the world’s wild rhinos, only 13 were poached in 2007. In 2015, the total was nearly 1,200, though losses have declined slightly since.

“These criminal gangs are armed to the teeth, well-funded and part of transnational syndicates who will stop at nothing,” a South African government spokesman said in February.

Tate founded Vetpaw after seeing a documentary about poaching and the deaths of park rangers in Africa. His team now works on a dozen private game reserves covering a total of around 200,000 hectares in Limpopo, the country’s northernmost province. One advantage for local landowners is the protection heavily armed combat veterans provide against the violent break-ins feared by so many South Africans, particularly on isolated rural farmsteads. The team has also run training courses for local guides and security staff.

But if one aim of Vetpaw is to counter poaching, another is to help combat veterans in the US, where former servicemen suffer high levels of unemployment and mental illness.

“Everyone gets PTSD when they come back from war … you are never going to get the brotherhood, the intensity again … [There are] all these veterans with billions of dollars of training and the government doesn’t use them. I saw a need in two places and just put them together,” says Tate.

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching
Vetpaw operates primarily in Limpopo, the northern-most province of South Africa (in red). Photo from Wikimedia Commons

The Vetpaw base in the bush in Limpopo, though considerably less spartan than most “forward operating bases”, is familiar to anyone who has spent time with US forces. There is a rack of helmets and body armor, a detailed map pinned to the wall, and banners with the insignia of US Special Forces hung above a dining table. There is the banter, and the jargon. The team talks of tactical missions, intel, and “bad guys”.

Despite lines on a whiteboard reading, “In the absence of a plan move towards the sound of gunfire and kill everything,” Tate says he has selected combat veterans because they will resist the temptation to use lethal force. Poachers are told to put down their arms, and then handed over to the police.

“This is textbook counterinsurgency here. It’s unconventional warfare,” says Kevin, a British-born veteran who quit US Elite Special Forces last year after a decade and a half largely on active duty, frequently in close quarter combat. “Shooting and killing is easy. The hardest thing is not shooting but figuring stuff out… if you kill someone do you turn a family, a village against you?” Like other members of Vetpaw, Kevin did not want to be identified by his full name.

The thinking is rooted in the “hearts and minds” approach developed by the US military a decade ago when senior officers realized their massive firepower was winning battles, but not campaigns.

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Tate says poachers coerce local communities into providing safe houses or other support – much as US army officers once explained assistance given to insurgents in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Francois Meyer, who grew up in northern Limpopo and runs a local conservation NGO that works with Vetpaw, says villages vary. “In some, the poachers are seen as heroes. They give out money. There is a kind of Robin Hood syndrome. Taking from the rich white man to give to the poor. But in others, the poachers get the living shit kicked out of them,” Meyer said.

There is little consensus on what response to the problem of poaching might work best, and fierce debate rages among conservationists, farmers, and officials.

A moratorium on the domestic trade in rhino horn in South Africa implemented in 2009 was controversially overturned by a court in April. Though there has been an increase in arrest of poachers, there are few convictions and “a lack of political will” means many of the “kingpins” remain untouched.

The complexities of the issue seem distant to the veterans out on patrol in remote northern Limpopo, high on a rocky crag, listening to the grunt of a leopard or the cough of the baboons in the gathering night.

“After what I’ve done, I couldn’t just go and do a nine to five. I’ve never had nightmares or flashbacks or anything … [but] after years of doing what I’ve done, this is good for the soul,” says Kevin, the former Green Beret. “It’s in a good cause and you get to watch the African sunset.”

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These Are The Best Pictures From The Military This Week

Military photographers in all the branches of the armed forces are constantly taking awesome shots of training, combat, and stateside events. We looked among the military’s official channels, Flickr, Facebook, and elsewhere and picked our favorites over the past week. Here’s what we found:


AIR FORCE

A B-52H Stratofortress flies during Cope North 15, Feb. 17, 2015, off the coast of Guam. During the exercise, the U.S., Japan and Australia air forces worked on developing combat capabilities enhancing air superiority, electronic warfare, air interdiction, tactical airlift and aerial refueling. The B-52H is assigned to the 96th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron.

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching
Photo: Tech. Sgt. Jason Robertson/USAF

Exercise Cope North 15 participants and aircraft from the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, Japan Air Self-Defense Force, Royal Australian Air Force, Republic of Korea Air Force, Royal New Zealand Air Force and Philippine Air Force take a group photo Feb. 13, 2015, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching
Photo: Tech. Sgt. Jason Robertson/USAF

NAVY

SASEBO, Japan (Feb. 26, 2015) Lt. j.g. Weston Floyd, ballistic missile defense officer, Cmdr. Chad Graham, executive officer, and Chief Operations Specialist Chris Ford prepare to participate in a fleet synthetic training joint exercise aboard the Arleigh-burke class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56).

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching
Photo: Mass Communication Specialist First Class Joshua Hammond/USN

PACIFIC OCEAN (Feb. 26, 2015) Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Carl E. Mundy III, commander of Task Force (CTF) 51, addresses Sailors and Marines during an all-hands call on the flight deck of Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2).

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching
Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jason M. Graham/USN

ARMY

Soldiers train with multinational soldiers at the International Special Training Center Advanced Medical First Responder Course (ISTC), conducted by the ISTC Medical Branch, in Pfullendorf, Germany, Feb. 17-19, 2015.

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching
Photo: Visual Information Specialist, Jason Johnston/US Army

Soldiers participate in the chin up portion of the Ranger Physical Fitness Assessment (RPFA) on Fort Benning, Ga., Feb. 7, 2015, as part of the Ranger Training Assessment Course. In order to pass the RPFA, Soldiers must successfully do 49 push ups, 59 sit ups, a 2.5-mile run within 20 minutes, and six chin ups.

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching
Photo: Sgt. Sara Wakai/US Army

MARINE CORPS

An AV-8B Harrier with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 161 (Reinforced), 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, prepares to take off aboard the USS Essex (LHD 2) during Amphibious Squadron/Marine Expeditionary Unit Integration Training (PMINT) off the coast of San Diego, Feb. 24, 2015.

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching
Photo: Sgt. Emmanuel Ramos/USMC

Marines extinguish a fuel fire at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma during live-burn training Feb. 21, 2015. The Marines worked together to contain and extinguish the fire.

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching
Photo: Lance Cpl. Janessa K. Pon/USMC

COAST GUARD

Petty Officer 2nd Class Bill Glenn and Petty Officer 1st Class Brian Korte, members of the military dive team aboard Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, are hoisted out of icy water after completing an underwater inspection of the ship while moored at the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station, Antarctica, Jan. 23, 2015.

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching
Photo: Petty Officer 1st Class George Degener/USCG

The crew sees alit of amazing wildlife in Antarctica. We’re going to show you some of our favorite shots today. A seal lay on the ice in front of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star while the ship is hove-to in the Ross Sea near Antarctica, Jan. 30, 2015.

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching
Photo: Petty Officer 1st Class Carlos Rodriguez/USCG

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Articles

Are the US and China coming closer to blows in South China Sea?

The South China Sea has been a maritime flashpoint for years, becoming the subject of the Dale Brown novel “Sky Masters” and Tom Clancy’s SSN video game and tie-in book.


US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching

It’s a seven-way Mexican standoff between the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and Vietnam.

And you thought Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name” had it bad in that final standoff in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly!

But the United States Navy has been willing to challenge the PRC’s claims in the region. A recent U.S. Navy release discussed how the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) “conducted routine operations” while transiting the South China Sea. That region has recently become hotter with the ruling by an arbitration panel in favor of the Philippines, who were objecting to China’s claims.

Also read: How 8 countries are preparing for war with Russia

The problem, of course, is that the ChiComs took a page from everyone’s favorite sociopath from “Game of Thrones” — one Cersei Lannister. They didn’t bother to show up for the arbitration proces, even though they had to have known the consequences. And they probably didn’t care.

In essence, what the McCain did was a freedom of navigation exercise. This sounds innocuous, but in reality it is only slightly less touchy than an invite from a samurai to take part in a “comparison of techniques.”

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching
The Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) fires its MK-45 5-inch/54-caliber lightweight gun. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Alonzo M. Archer/Released)

You see, a “freedom of navigation” exercise usually involves the American vessel operating in international waters that a certain country may not recognize as international waters. In essence, the United States is asserting: “No, these are international waters.”

It can get rough. In 1988, a freedom of navigation exercise off the coast of the Soviet Union in the Black Sea lead to a collision between USS Yorktown (CG 48) and a Krivak-class frigate.

What happened to the USS Yorktown was mild, though. Let’s go back more than 30 years to see how rough those exercises can really get.

In March of 1986, the Navy was sent to carry out some “freedom of navigation” exercises to push back against Moammar Qaddafi. In 1981, similar exercises had resulted in the downing of two Libyan Su-22 “Fitter” attack planes that took some ill-advised shots at Navy F-14s.

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching
The littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3), front, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112) and USS John S. McCain (DDG 56), the Republic of Korea navy destroyer ROKS Eulji Mundeok (DDH 972), and the Ulsan-class frigate ROKS Jeju (FF 958) participate in a joint exercise during Foal Eagle 2015. (Photo from U.S. Navy)

That was why three carriers, the USS Coral Sea (CV 43), USS Saratoga (CV 60), and USS America (CV 66) were involved in the 1986 round of “Freedom of Navigation” exercises.

On 23 March, the exercises began. The next day, the shooting started.

The Libyans started by firing SA-2 and SA-5 missiles at Navy F-14s. Shortly afterwards, MiG-23 “Floggers” tried to engage some Tomcats, but broke off after an intense dogfight.

By the end of the day, Libya had lost a new Nanuchka II-class corvette, a Combattante II-class missile boat, saw a Nanuchka and a Combattante II disabled, while several surface-to-air missile sites ended up being live-fire tests for the AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM).

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching
Free to enter. 5 will win. Ends November 30, 2016

Fast forward to January 1989.

American forces were operating near the Gulf of Sidra when two MiG-23s came looking for a fight, and got shot down by a pair of F-14s. Once again, the “freedom of navigation” exercises had lead to shots being fired.

Something to keep in mind the next time you hear of such exercises. When sailors are sent there, they could find themselves in a fight.

MIGHTY TRENDING

6 women just earned the Expert Infantryman Badge

Women quietly broke through barriers last fall when they became the first in the Army to earn the prestigious Expert Infantryman Badge at Fort Bragg.


The badge, which was created in the 1940s, only recently opened to women when the Department of Defense struck down regulations that prevented them from serving in infantry jobs. The women earned the badge during testing with hundreds of male candidates in November — about two years after infantry jobs opened to women.

“This historic achievement is a reminder of the great things we can achieve when women are seen and treated as equals and given the same chance to contribute to their country,” U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth said in a statement. The Democrat from Illinois was among the first Army women to fly combat missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching
U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (Image from Flickr)

In 2004, Duckworth was deployed to Iraq as a Black Hawk pilot for the Illinois Army National Guard when it was struck down by a rocket-propelled grenade. She lost her legs and partial use of her right arm.

“These six incredible women prove exactly why the Department of Defense was right to allow women to serve in all military roles, an action that was long overdue,” she said. “Remember, women have served attached to infantry units for decades without being formally assigned to the unit — so even when they meet the requirements, they technically could not earn the EIB until now.”

Through a spokesman for the 82nd Airborne Division, all six women who earned the badge declined to talk about their achievement or the significance of the badge. The division did not name the women.

Division leaders declined interview requests for this story.

To earn the Expert Infantryman Badge, a soldier must successfully complete 30 tasks that prove mastery infantry skills. If a soldier makes three errors, he or she fails and must wait one year to try again.

At Fort Bragg, soldiers were tested on weapons proficiency and medical and patrol skills.

Soldiers assembled the Carl Gustav recoilless rifle, claymore mine, Javelin, and AK-47 weapons systems. Among medical tasks, they performed first aid for a suspected fracture, open head wound, open abdominal wound and burns. In the patrol lane, soldiers decontaminated themselves and equipment, identified terrain features on a map, and applied camouflage.

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching
Master Sgt. Renee Baldwin fires a .50-caliber machine gun during training last summer at Joint Multinational Training Command’s Grafenwoehr range in Germany. (U.S. Army photo)

The testing takes place over several days, during the day and at night.

Of the 1,000 candidates who tested for the badge at Fort Bragg in November, 287 earned it. The candidates came from Fort Bragg, U.S. Army Special Operations Command, 18th Airborne Corps and units at Fort Stewart, Georgia.

Also Read: The first and only female Buffalo Soldier joined the Army disguised as a man

Traditionally, only about 18 percent of all candidates who test for the badge earn it.

Testing for the Expert Infantryman Badge is conducted at several installations each year. Standards for the test are set by the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia.

A ‘soldier skill’

As women became eligible for infantry jobs, Command Sgt. Maj. Martin Celestine said there was never skepticism that women wouldn’t be strong enough or trained well enough to test for the badge.

“No, there was no doubt,” said Celestine, command sergeant major of the Infantry School. “I’ve deployed on multiple times and I’ve been side-by-side with women. When we talk about technical competency, it’s not about ‘man or woman.’ This is a soldier skill. We’re all one team here.”

Col. Townley Hedrick, deputy commandant for the school, said the Army’s training has set women up for success, just like the men who have been training in those jobs for decades. He said he expected women to earn the badge.

“Women are going through infantry basic training,” he said. “They’re going through operations. We expect them to go through it and earn it just like a man.”

Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, who recently left command of the 18th Airborne Corps, said the corps and overall Army readiness has been strengthened as women integrate into combat arms jobs.

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching
A Soldier with 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team drags a simulated casualty to the finish line of Objective Bull Dec. 15, 2017, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. Objective Bull was the final event of the Expert Infantry Badge testing, which was held Dec. 11-15. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Samuel Northrup)

“Army forces must possess the capabilities — and be prepared to fight across multiple domains and through contested areas — to deter potential adversaries, and should deterrence fail, rapidly defeat them,” he said. “As the Army shapes the future force, we will ensure that every individual has the opportunity to maximize his or her potential.”

The achievement has fueled the passion for Jakhira Blue, a 17-year-old 2017 graduate of North Johnston High School, who had been planning to enlist in the Army as airborne infantry. She will head to Fort Benning for training in March.

She knows she’ll be in the minority in infantry training since the jobs opened to women. It doesn’t matter, she said.

“It’s going to make me push myself harder,” she said. “I want to show everybody I can do it.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

How to honor Vietnam veterans

The following is an Op/Ed written by Ken Falke. The opinions expressed are his own.


There’s an important day of commemoration on March 29th — or in some U.S. States, March 30th — that goes unnoticed until the nightly evening news or a stumble on social media. This very special day is Vietnam Veterans Day, or in some states, “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.”

In 1974, President Nixon established this commemoration to recognize the contributions of the men and women who served during this unpopular war and tumultuous time in our history.

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching
Vietnam War memorial. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons | InSapphoWeTrust)

While many will rightly mark the day with speeches, tributes, and celebrations fitting for this great generation, there is a more meaningful way to honor our Vietnam veterans and all veterans. That honor is to provide them new and innovative ways to improve their mental wellness and reintegration into their communities.

Approximately 2.7 million young men and women served in Vietnam — about the same number that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since September 2001. While all serving since 9/11 volunteered, few realize that almost two-thirds of Vietnam veterans volunteered to serve as well.

Even though Vietnam was an unpopular war, 91 percent of Vietnam Veterans said they were glad they served in the war, and one-quarter said they would do it again. What these numbers show is the incredible commitment to service that our Vietnam-era veterans share with the post-9/11 veteran generation.

But there are disturbing similarities as well. The current veteran suicide rate of 20+ per day is well publicized; though that the average age of the veteran is 55 years old is less known. PTSD rates from both generations hover around 30 percent.

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching
An American Green Beret (right), and a South Vietnamese soldier assist wounded Vietnamese soldier to medivac helicopter following fighting near the Special Forces camp at Duc Phong, 40 miles north of Saigon, Sept. 9, 1969. South Vietnamese spokesmen said government casualties reached a two-month high 502 dead and 1,210 wounded. It was the highest casualty toll since the week ending June 14, which saw 516 dead and 1,424 wounded. (Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS by Shunsuke Akatsuka)

Additionally, Vietnam veterans struggled — and many still do — with the same challenges that today’s veterans face: PTSD, anxiety, drug, and alcohol dependency, and family and work stability. By a percentage comparison, of the 591 Vietnam prisoners of war (POWs) only 4 percent had symptoms of PTSD.

So why did POWs who experience what would be considered the most traumatic experiences seem to fare so well?

Many suggest the leadership of Admiral James Stockdale while a POW in the “Hanoi Hilton.” His leadership provided purpose, mission, and direction as a team to “return with honor.”

Often, the sense of purpose provided by leadership during transitions facilitates growth to occur. While the DOD, the VA, and other organizations work hard to care for our veterans, the element of leadership seems to be lost after service and veterans fall into a “no-man’s land” that lacks wellness, a clear mission, and renewed purpose.

Why have we made so little progress in mental wellness for our returning warriors?

Many experts, including the Journal of American Medical Association, suggest that our reactive approach to combat related stress such as PTSD doesn’t work. Indicators show that our current approach has made little progress since the Vietnam War, and some suggest since World War I.

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching
Understanding PTSD is critical military veterans and their families. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Nadine Barclay)

We are repeating minimally effective practices where veterans are offered medication, which largely attacks symptoms and leaves them as diminished versions of themselves, or talk-therapy provided by well-intended but often ill-equipped therapists, and cased in stigma.

Though the VA has announced plans to hire 1,000 additional mental health professionals, more therapists will not fix the inadequacies of the current approaches.

How can we do better?

First, expand public-private partnerships. The private sector and nonprofit organizations have developed new approaches to veteran wellness and reintegration that could be expanded. These approaches leverage training (which is compatible with military personnel and veteran culture) and new technology that could “triage” veterans and provide skills to facilitate Post-traumatic Growth before the need for medication or therapy.

Second, we need to recognize and address the stigma associated with therapy. While veterans — and civilians — can gain some benefit from talk-therapy and medication, one can only grow by learning the skills associated with growth. This requires a holistic training approach that veterans understand and allows them to thrive, not just survive.

Finally, innovation costs money. The President’s proposed budget has a 6 percent increase to the VA’s budget; much of it to focus on health care. While this is positive, we need to use new funds to create innovative solutions, not further outdated practices. While the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan continue and future threats remain, veteran mental health issues will likely worsen.

This March 29th and 30th we will stop to honor and welcome home our Vietnam veterans. While speeches, ceremonies, and commemorations will recognize their sacrifice, to truly honor their service — and the service of those that follow — we should facilitate growth and purposeful lives they truly deserve and welcomes them home.

Recognized as one of We Are The Mighty’s 25 veterans to watch in 2017Ken Falke is a 21-year service-disabled combat veteran of the U.S. Navy and retired Master Chief Petty Officer and is the CEO of organizational improvement solutions company Shoulder 2 Shoulder, Inc. He is also the founder and Chairman of Boulder Crest Retreat.

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Japanese prime minister pays his respects at Pearl Harbor in solemn ceremony

President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met Dec. 28 at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, to pay their respects to the victims and honor the survivors of the attack 75 years ago that drew the United States into World War II.


Speaking alongside Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe in Honolulu, President Barack Obama reflects on how war tests people’s most enduring values, Dec. 27, 2016.

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching
Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, Yeoman 2nd Class Michelle Wrabley, assigned to U.S. Pacific Fleet, President of the United States, Barack Obama, and U.S. Pacific Command Commander, Adm. Harry Harris pause to honor the service members killed during the Dec. 7, 1941 attacks on Pearl Harbor. Abe is the first Japanese prime minister to visit the USS Arizona Memorial. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jay M. Chu/Released)

“It is here that we reflect on how war tests our most enduring values,” Obama said. “How even as Japanese-Americans were deprived of their own liberty during the war, one of the most decorated military units in the history of the United States was the 442nd Infantry Regiment, and its 100th Infantry Battalion, the Japanese-American Nisei.”

“America’s first battle of the Second World War roused a nation,” Obama said. “Here, in so many ways, America came of age. A generation of Americans — including my grandparents, that greatest generation — they did not seek war, but they refused to shrink from it.”

On the front lines and in factories, Americans did their part to win that war, Obama said. To the World War II veterans in his audience, he declared, “A grateful nation thanks you.”

The meeting of the two leaders, the president said, was intended to “send a message to the world that there is more to be won in peace than in war, that reconciliation carries more rewards than retribution.”

“Here in this quiet harbor, we honor those we lost,” Obama said. “And we give thanks for all that our two nations have won, together, as friends.”

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The US is edging ever closer to fighting ISIS, Assad, and his backers — all at the same time

The US-led coalition fighting ISIS in Syria launched its third strike in as many weeks on pro-regime forces inside a deconfliction zone around al Tanf, near a border crossing in Syria’s southeast desert.


Two US officials told CNN that the June 8 strike came after three vehicles were seen entering the deconfliction zone, and two of the vehicles were hit when they were 24 miles from the base at al Tanf.

Following that engagement, a US aircraft downed a pro-regime drone that was dropping bombs near coalition troops.

“The pro-regime UAV, similar in size to a US MQ-1 Predator, was shot down by a US aircraft after it dropped one of several weapons it was carrying near a position occupied by Coalition personnel who are training and advising partner ground forces in the fight against ISIS,” US Central Command said in a statement.

The “munition did not have an effect on coalition forces,” according to coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon.

US and other coalition personnel are at the al Tanf garrison, near the border crossing, to train local partner forces, who captured the area earlier this year. (US personnel and local partners repulsed an intense attack by ISIS soon after.)

The first such strike in the al Tanf area came on May 18, when coalition forces targeted pro-Assad forces “that were advancing well inside an established deconfliction zone” spreading 34 miles around al Tanf, US Central Command said in a release at the time.

The strike came after unsuccessful Russian efforts to stop the movements, a show of force by coalition aircraft, and warning shots.

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching
Christopher Woody/Google Maps

Earlier this week, pro-regime and coalition aircraft both conducted strikes against opposition forces in the vicinity of al Tanf.

On Tuesday, Iranian-backed Shia militia fighters came under attack on the ground just inside the deconfliction zone boundary, according to CNN. In response to that attack, Washington and Moscow communicated on a deconfliction line set up previously. Russia shared a request from the Syrian government to launch a strike in support of the militia, to which the US agreed.

Hours later, pro-Assad forces were observed entering the deconfliction zone with vehicles and weaponry, including a tank and artillery, as well as over 60 fighters. The US then launched its own airstrike on those forces after they refused to withdraw from the area.

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching
An F/A-18F Super Hornet takes off from the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65) for an aerial change of command ceremony. Photo courtesy of US Navy

The coalition said it issued several warnings before “destroying two artillery pieces, an anti-aircraft weapon, and damaging a tank.”

The US-led strike, carried out by a F/A-18 fighter, dropped four bombs and “killed an estimated 10 fighters,” according to CNN.

June 8th’s engagements add to a string of encounters that could lead to greater conflict in Syria between the US-led coalition and its local partners and pro-regime forces and their backers, Iran and Russia.

“The Coalition does not seek to fight Syrian regime, Russian, or pro-regime forces partnered with them,” CentCom said in its statement.

“The demonstrated hostile intent and actions of pro-regime forces near Coalition and partner forces in southern Syria, however, continue to concern us and the Coalition will take appropriate measures to protect our forces,” the statement said.

The strategic value of the al Tanf area — through which a highway connecting Damascus to Baghdad runs — as well as the direction of events elsewhere in Syria makes clashes between coalition forces and pro-regime forces a continuing possibility.

ISIS’ eroding control of territory in Syria, and the likelihood that Kurdish forces — who’ve signaled a willingness to negotiate with Assad for autonomy — will soon take control of the area around Raqqa in northeast Syria make territory in the southeast of the country increasingly valuable.

Recent events in Syria indicate that “the United States [is] seemingly looking to cement a north-south ‘Sunni axis’ from the Gulf states and Jordan to Turkey,” Fabrice Balanche, a French expert on Syria and a visiting fellow at The Washington institute for Near East Policy, wrote recently.

“The challenge is that Iran and its proxies would very much like to establish some sort of land bridge from Iraq into Syria and they have had designs on this for quite some time,” a former Pentagon official told The Christian Science Monitor.

Capturing al Tanf and the nearby border crossing would allow Tehran to link Iraq to the Mediterranean coast through Syria, facilitating the movement of men and material.

But doing so would also isolate coalition-backed forces fighting ISIS and their special-forces advisers.

Intelligence sources have told Reuters that the coalition’s presence near al Tanf is meant to prevent such a route from opening.

“Initially, the United States and the coalition had planned this unconventional warfare campaign to pressure the middle Euphrates River valley and cut off [ISIS communications lines],” the former Pentagon official said. “Now, ironically, it’s not just threatening [ISIS], it’s also threatening Iran’s designs for the area.”

Russia has also become involved in the confrontations around al Tanf.

Earlier this month, coalition-backed Syrian forces attacked Shia militias that had moved down the highway toward the Iraqi border. They forced the militias, which are backed by Iran, to retreat, but Russian jets soon launched strikes against the coalition-backed fighters, forcing them back as well.

Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based Shia militant group backed by Iran and heavily involved in the pro-regime fight in Syria, has entered the fray as well. The group’s military-news unit issued a statement this week warning that the “self-restraint” it had about US-led airstrikes would end if the US crossed “red lines.”

“America knows well that the blood of the sons of Syria, the Syrian Arab Army, and its allies is not cheap, and the capacity to strike their positions in Syria, and their surroundings, is available when circumstances will it,” the statement said.

Observers have noted that the Trump administration would likely be much less hesitant about attacking Hezbollah in Syria. Given the web of alliances that now ensnare forces in Syria, such attacks would likely have broader repercussions.

“American unwillingness to confront Iran and its proxies in Syria, if obliged by circumstances, is a thing of the past,” Frederic Hof, director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and a former State Department liaison to Syrian opposition forces, told The Christian Science Monitor.

“And Moscow would now have to anticipate with high likelihood aerial combat with US forces should it elect to provide tactical air support to Iran and its proxies on the ground,” Hof added.

“Our people are gathering in the Tanf area right now, so a clash is definitely coming,” a Hezbollah unit commander in Beirut, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Monitor.

Articles

Here’s how NORAD will be tracking Santa’s Christmas trip this week

A joint command between the U.S. and Canada, NORAD’s primary mission is to detect and respond to threats in and around North American Airspace. But once a year, NORAD uses its sensors to track Santa’s progress. Interested parties can keep track of where he is by checking social media, calling the hotline, checking email, or visiting the special website.


Here’s the tech that makes the Christmas Eve operation possible:

Santa’s departure

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Photo: flickr/Josua

NORAD coordinates with Santa’s elves to get real time intel on Santa’s departure time. This ensures that when Santa’s sleigh enters monitored airspace, NORAD isn’t surprised. The North Warning System is made up of 47 radar stations strung across northern Canada and Alaska that are designed to find and identify objects entering NORAD airspace. The NWS only covers the northern most part of the continent, so the radar operators quickly hand off tracking to teams watching satellite coverage.

Santa’s flight

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Santa, the world’s most experienced pilot, usually flies his sleigh but rode in a jet to festivities with the US Air Force on Dec. 5, 2015. Photo: US Air Force Airman 1st First Class Ashleigh S. Pavelek

After radar operators confirm Santa has entered NORAD airspace, a group of satellites known as the Defense Support Program begin tracking the flight. DSP was launched to detect the infrared signatures emitted by ballistic missiles so the missiles could be intercepted before striking North American cities.

DSP satellites are so sensitive, they can actually see the unique infrared signature of Rudolph’s nose. According to NASA and NORAD, Rudolph’s nose gives off about the same amount of heat as a small missile launch, which explains how the reindeer stay warm in the arctic atmosphere.

Santa’s honor guard

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Painting: Creative Commons Gene W. Ritchhart

Once NORAD began tracking Santa, they realized that jet pilots could be given the unique experience of getting to fly with their hero. Every year, select Canadian and U.S. pilots are granted the chance to escort Santa. Canada launches CF-18 pilots to greet Santa while the U.S. hangs out in F-15s, F-16s, and F-22s.

Santa slows to run with the fighter jets, allowing the pilots to wave to Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, and Rudolph.

Santa Cams

Of course, NORAD doesn’t want just pilots to get a glimpse of the world’s jolliest elf, so they installed a number of high-speed cameras around the world to track Santa’s progress and feed live video to children through the NORAD Santa website. The camera’s provide much of the tracking information for Santa’s journey outside of North America.

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching
This teddy bear covered down on a phone station during the NORAD tracks Santa mission 2013. Photo: US Air Force Master Sgt. Chuck Marsh

To track Santa this Christmas Eve, check out the website or download the phone app, “NORAD Tracks Santa.” You can also keep tabs through Twitter, Facebook, or by calling volunteers at 1-877-HI-NORAD.

MIGHTY TRENDING

These really smart people say bigger is better when it comes to building aircraft carriers

After soaring costs and years of delays with the Navy’s new Ford class of supercarrier, Congress wants the service to pursue lower-cost carrier options for the future fleet.


But a new Rand Corp. report commissioned by the service and published this month concludes the Navy cannot build cheaper, more modest carriers without significantly limiting capability or overhauling its current air acquisition plan.

The study, which was provided to the Navy in a classified version last July and made publicly available Oct. 6, assesses four potential future styles of carrier, taking into account key capability factors such as aircraft sortie generation rates, as well as comparative costs for acquisition and midlife refueling.

The first option, CVN 8X, is by and large similar to the new Ford class of carrier that saw the first of its class, the Gerald R. Ford, commissioned in July.

Like the Ford and the two follow-on carriers in the class, this variant would be 100,000 tons and keep the same dimensions.

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170722-N-WS581-072NORFOLK (July 22, 2017) Sailors man the rails of the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) during its commissioning ceremony at Naval Station Norfolk, Va. Ford is the lead ship of the Ford-class aircraft carriers, and the first new U.S. aircraft carrier designed in 40 years. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Andrew J. Sneeringer/Released)

But the CVN 8X, as envisioned by Rand, would incorporate a few improvements that lean heavily on emerging technology, including a 40-year life-of-the-ship nuclear reactor that would eliminate the need for a midlife refueling period, and three catapults in its Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) instead of four.

The second option, CVN LX, would be a carrier in the style of the Forrestal-class, built in the 1950s for the Navy as the first class of supercarriers. It would be 70,000 tons and feature an improved flight deck and a hybrid integrated propulsion plant with nuclear power.

The third, CV LX, would be a carrier akin to the new America class of amphibious assault ship.

At 43,000 tons, it would not incorporate the catapult launch system at the center of modern carrier operations, but would support short takeoff and vertical landing, or STOVL aircraft, including the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter.

Rand envisions the Navy requiring two of these smaller carriers for every legacy carrier it needs to replace.

The final option, CV EX, is a 20,000-ton miniature carrier akin to escort carriers used by some international navies.

This option, which would run on conventional power and could accommodate STOVL fighters, is undoubtedly the cheapest of the bunch. But its capabilities would be so limited, and require such a dramatic departure from current Navy operations, that analysts spend little time considering its merits.

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The Forrestal-style carrier, or CVN LX, has several major advantages, according to the study. Though it would have a more modest footprint, a slightly reduced sortie generation rate would not significantly decrease its ability to meet the Navy’s needs underway, analysts find.

However, the requirements of redesigning an older style of ship to meet contemporary needs, they found, would result in a still-expensive ship: $9.4 billion to build, compared with the Ford’s $12.9 billion.

“The CVN LX [Forrestal carrier] concept would allow considerable savings across the ship’s service life and appears to be a viable alternative to consider for current concept exploration,” study authors Bradley Martin and Michael E. McMahon write. ” … However, CVN LX would be a new design that would require a significant investment in non-recurring engineering in the near-term to allow timely delivery in the 2030s.”

There are other downsides that might give the Navy pause, including reduced survivability compared with today’s supercarriers.

With the CV LX [USS America-style carrier], essentially a helicopter carrier that can accommodate the Marine Corps version of the new Joint Strike Fighter, analysts envision the Navy needing 22 ships in lieu of today’s 11 carriers.

Even at a two-to-one replacement rate, the Navy would realize significant savings, spending an estimated $4.2 billion on each ship.

However, the fact that this carrier could not accommodate the Navy’s brand-new F-35C aircraft, which are designed for catapult launch and tailhook recovery, means this option is at best an incomplete solution, and would require either a complete reimagining of future Navy aviation, or significant investment in other, complementary platforms.

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f35An F-35C Lightning II on USS George Washington during F-35C Development Test III. | Lockheed Martin

“The concept variant CV LX [America carrier] … might be a low-risk, alternative pathway for the Navy to reduce carrier costs if such a variant were procured in greater numbers than the current carrier shipbuilding plan,” the analysts write.

“Over the long term, however, as the current carrier force is retired, the CV LX would not be a viable option for the eventual carrier force unless displaced capabilities were reassigned to new aircraft or platforms in the joint force, which would be costly,” they add.

A practical option, the study suggests, might be investing in future carriers like the Ford, but slightly cheaper to produce.

By equipping a future carrier with a 40-year life-of-the-ship reactor (a technology, the study notes, which does not yet exist) and cutting back from four EMALS catapults to three, which assumes the emerging technology will be proven reliable, analysts estimate the Navy could shave off $920 million in recurring ship costs.

However, the study concludes that evolving operational needs and acquisition decisions could easily alter the calculus.

“It is worth noting that the timeline for these arriving in service is still decades away, and it is very likely that threats and capabilities will evolve during that time,” the analysts write. “Any of these paths could be feasible assuming changes in air wing or escort mix.”

Articles

The original ‘Air Force One’ is being restored to its 1950s condition

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If not for a twist of fate, the 1948 VC-121A Lockheed Constellation that once transported the nation’s 34thpresident might have become a crop duster or turned into scrap metal.

The Columbine II was the first plane to fly with the call sign “Air Force One” when it carried President Dwight D. Eisenhower for the first two years of his administration. However, the aircraft would have been lost to history without the intervention of three men – one who bought the plane almost 50 years ago, the friend who helped save it from the scrap heap, and the man whose aviation company purchased it two decades later with plans to restore it to its 1950s glory.

Related: This C-130 landing on an aircraft carrier will make you rethink physics

“I didn’t want to see somebody drinking a beer and wonder if the metal from that can came from that plane,” said Karl D. Stoltzfus, whose Dynamic Aviation Company purchased the “Connie,” as Lockheed Constellations are commonly called, in 2015.

In March, Stoltzfus had the aircraft flown for the first time in 13 years, except for a brief test flight a few days earlier, to Dynamic Aviation in Bridgewater, Virginia. Lockie Christler, son of the late Mel Christler, who bought the plane from the Air Force in 1970, flew the Columbine II from Marana Regional Airport, Arizona, where it had sat since 2003, to Virginia. The almost 60-year-old plane made a stop at the Mid-America Flight Museum in Mount Pleasant, Texas, before Christler made the final four-hour flight to Bridgewater, with Stoltzfus piloting the chase plane, a Beechcraft King Air.

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Christler gives most of the credit for the Columbine II’s restoration to his father, who died in 2005, Stoltzfus and Harry Oliver, who emphasized the importance of saving the plane and was the majority owner when it was sold.

“If it weren’t for men like my father, Harry and Karl, along with others, a lot of these airplanes wouldn’t be around,” Christler said. “Once we realized this was Eisenhower’s airplane, we couldn’t let it be scrapped.”

The plane was built as a C-121A at Burbank, California, and converted to a VC-121A-LO to carry VIPs in 1953. The Columbine II, named after the Colorado state flower by first lady Mamie Eisenhower, became the official presidential aircraft later that year. Over New Charlotte, North Carolina the following year, an Eastern Airlines flight had the same call numbers as the Columbine II, and confusion ensued when both planes shared the same airspace. Because of the incident, the “Air Force One” call sign became used for any plane the president was on board.

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The plane, while hardly resembling the Air Force One flown by presidents from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama, included marble floors and a mahogany desk where Eisenhower wrote the “Atoms for Peace” speech he gave to the U.N. General Assembly in 1953. The Columbine II also took him to Korea, both as a president-elect and during his administration.

Related: The last original P-51 Mustang is up for sale

In 1954, the aircraft was replaced by the Columbine III, which Eisenhower used for the remainder of his presidency. The Columbine II continued in service as a VIP transport for Eisenhower’s vice president, Richard M. Nixon, and others, such as Queen Elizabeth II, before it was finally retired to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, in 1968. The Air Force stripped the aircraft and fitted it with mismatched landing gear, an error that, in an odd twist of fate, led to the aircraft being spared from destruction long enough for its historical value to be discovered by its new owners.

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Up for auction

The Columbine II was sold to Christler as part of a package lot with four other Connies for $35,000 in a surplus auction at the Davis-Monthan AFB aircraft “boneyard.” He didn’t know one of the five planes had a presidential past and planned to make it part of his crop-dusting operation. Christler rebuilt the other four VC-121s for spraying operations, but didn’t convert the Columbine II because its starboard main gear had been replaced with the wrong part from a Lockheed 1049 Super Constellation. The incorrect landing gear, again, saved the Columbine II from being converted to a crop-duster. Instead, it was used for supplying the other four Connies with parts.

Mel Christler was considering cutting the aircraft up as scrap when Robert Mikesh of the Smithsonian Institution contacted him in 1980 and informed him that his Connie with the serial number 48-610 was a former presidential aircraft.

“The first time we saw it, we obviously didn’t realize whose plane it was,” Lockie Christler said, “but when you find out it was Eisenhower’s, now you’re stuck with it. You have a presidential plane you can’t melt up because people wouldn’t think very highly of you. So, for all of these years, it’s kind of been a liability, and it finally turned into an asset.”

Christler tried to find a buyer who could restore the Columbine II, but couldn’t find one. He was struggling to decide what to do with the plane when Oliver visited him at his Greybull, Wyoming, home in August 1989, and asked about his plans for the Columbine II. Oliver said Christler planned to send the plane to the smelter if he didn’t have a buyer by November.

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching
U.S. Air Force photo.

“I just said, ‘Now we can’t do that,'” Oliver said. “‘It’s a little bit of history, and it should be saved.”

At Christler’s request, Oliver drove to Tucson, Arizona, with a friend to look at the plane and saw the damage, but thought it wasn’t anything that couldn’t be repaired. The two men completed a $150,000 functional restoration of the Columbine II in 1990 and had it flown to Abilene, Kansas for Eisenhower’s centennial celebration. Afterward, they moved the Connie to Roswell and Santa Fe, New Mexico, before it was flown to Marana, where it remained under a lease agreement until it was sold to Stoltzfus in 2015.

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching

Restoration

Stoltzfus, a self-proclaimed history buff, learned about the Columbine II from an article in an aviation magazine and wanted to see the plane restored to its 1950s condition so he asked one person what he should do – his then-8-year-old grandson. “I think we should buy it,” the boy told him.

Then Stoltzfus asked his twin brother Ken to check out the plane in Arizona. After hearing that there wasn’t any damage that couldn’t be overcome, he sent Dynamic Aviation mechanics to begin repairs. When he first saw the plane, it was in rough condition.

“Every hose, I mean every piece of rubber was bad,” Stoltzfus said. “There were a lot of things about the airplane that gave you reason to say this was going to be a lot of work. They hadn’t really run the engines, but you knew there was going to be a lot of trouble with them, and there was. But the good part was it didn’t have any corrosion. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have bought the airplane.”

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching
Karl D. Stoltzfus Sr., founder of Dynamic Aviation, bought the Columbine II at less than $1.5 million. The plane was flown to Virginia after Dynamic Aviation mechanics did significant work on the plane in Arizona in preparation for the flight. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

Although he can’t divulge the actual price he paid, Stoltzfus said it was less than the $1.5 million listing price. Dynamic Aviation will begin a full restoration project on the Columbine II in three to six months, which Stoltzfus expects to be completed in two to three years. He has obtained drawings and documentation that he hopes will help him restore the plane to its original color codes and original manufacturer materials.

“I think the airplane can be used to educate people on the 1950s, not just about Air Force One and not just about Eisenhower,” he said. “These were generally considered to be good years in America. They weren’t perfect, but they were generally good. We got out of the Korean War, so it was a peaceful time, and it was a good time economically and was when we started to build the interstate. So it was just a good time in American history.”

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching

When it’s fully restored, Stoltzfus hopes to take the historic aircraft to air shows and display it for the public at the company’s airport in Bridgewater. In the meantime, he’s looking for anyone who might have aircraft parts or stories to share from the Connie’s era.

Oliver is grateful that somebody was interested enough in saving the plane.

“When I started this project, I was 52 years old, and I’m 77 now,” he said. “I don’t have the energy to do it anymore, and I’m just glad that somebody does. It is a piece of history, and now it’s going to be where people can see it, smell it and touch it.”

Once the silver Connie with the purple flower on its nose is restored to its Air Force One glory, it will have three men to credit for saving this piece of American history for future generations.

Even though one of the three didn’t live to see the Columbine II’s restoration, his son thinks it would have made him proud.

“Oh, he’s got a big smile on his face right now,” Christler said. “I know he’s proud that it has a great home where it’s supposed to be. It’s within a hundred miles of Washington, D.C, where it had some important flying to do.”

Articles

This is why Bunker Buster bombs are made from spent howitzer barrels

It was a common sight during Desert Storm: grainy black-and-white footage of an Iraqi bunker or hanger slowly getting closer and closer to the screen.


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Munitions with cameras fed the footage of new, precision-guided “smart bombs” to Americans watching the war at home.

Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army used underground facilities beneath layers of sand and reinforced concrete to protect his command and control centers, research labs, and ammo dumps. The U.S. military tasked its defense apparatus to come up with a way to penetrate and destroy these shelters.

Thus, the GBU-28 Bunker Buster bomb was born.

The GBU-28 is a 4,400-pound monster of hardened steel and tritonal explosives, a mixture of TNT and aluminum powder. Once the target is marked with a laser, that laser guides the bomb to its target and the rest (like the target) is history.

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That hardened steel is what protects the bombs for their initial penetration through concrete. Barrels of artillery guns are designed to hold up to repeated artillery blasts, which is why the U.S. Army Watervliet Arsenal used barrels from 8-inch self-propelled howitzers as casings for the design.

That protection the spent barrels provide is perfect to give the bunker buster bomb time to penetrate a target while its time-delay fuse waits to unleash the real payload.

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching
An 8

Engineering changes to the initial casing were made via telephone, even as the original barrels were being stripped and reconfigured by machinists on the assembly line. Watch the whole story of the birth of the bunker buster bomb in the video below.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Coast guard searches, but Japan has lost an island

With its ongoing maritime disputes with China hopelessly unresolved, the last thing Japan needed to do was go and lose an island.

And yet.

It appears no one can find the Japanese island formerly known as Esanbe Hanakita Kojima.

Not even the Japanese Coast Guard, which has been out searching for the strategically significant sliver of land last sighted somewhere off the coast of Hokkaido.


Even worse, the island first named in 2014 may have shuffled below this mortal coil a fair while ago.

This was back in September 2018 when author Hiroshi Shimizu visited nearby Sarufutsu village to write a sequel to his picture book on Japan’s “hidden” islands.

Shimizu told the local fishing cooperative, which sent out a flotilla to its former location only to find it had disappeared.

Japanese officials now believe that the island that once rose about five feet above sea level, has been inexorably broken apart by the pack ice that covers the area throughout the bitter winter. The Guardian seems to confirm this.

The uncertain conclusion is that it has gradually, uncomplainingly, slipped beneath the surface.

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching

The Japanese Coast Guard.

While Esanbe Hanakita Kojima, might have been too small to be of much practical use, it did have an importance well beyond its fragility.

Before its unexpected absence, the island marked the very western indent of another disputed island chain Japan calls the Northern Territories, while Russia claims the archipelago as the Kuril islands.

China’s South China Morning Post said that the island was formally named by Tokyo in 2014 as part of Japan’s multipronged attempts to reinforce its legal control over hundreds of outlying islands and extend its exclusive economic zone, (EEZ) appears to have sunk without a trace.

The Japanese coastguard has been tasked with carrying out a survey of the area to see if the remnants of the island remain.

It was last formally surveyed in 1987, when records showed it was about 500 metres off Sarufutsu.

The Japanese government used the island to buffer its EEZ a similar distance out to sea where Japanese waters mingle into Russian territory.

But even if they can find the waterlogged remains of Esanbe Hanakita Kojima, it can no longer meet the very basic international legal definition of an island — land — and Japan’s territorial claims appear to be about half a kilometer smaller.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Everything the Soviets did wrong in Afghanistan

There is no greater historical example of an unstoppable force hitting an immovable object than the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a mountainous, landlocked, harsh country that makes it very difficult for a great power to bring the full might of that power to bear against the locals. Naval forces are out and, in some area, so is air support. The harsh climate and vast nothingness and remotely populated areas makes supply lines difficult to establish and even harder to defend. But the Soviet Union opted to try anyway, invading in force in 1979.

Under Afghan King Mohammed Zahir Shah, the country was actually developing and modernizing fairly well… until his cousin Mohammed Daoud Khan overthrew him in 1973. He established an Afghan Republic and everything went to hell — for many reasons. Five years later, the Pashtun Nationalist government was overthrown in favor of a Communist regime and Afghanistan became a Cold War battlefront.


Communism did not sit well with the people in rural areas, who weren’t used to the control (and taxes and land reforms) of a Communist central government. So, they started fighting back. Then-President Nur Mohammed Taraki asked the Soviet Union to help quell angry protests against a government that suddenly decided to execute so many of them for failing to comply with Communist reforms. That’s when Hafizullah Amin, the Communist Prime Minister, killed Taraki and seized power.

Then, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev stepped in.

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching
He came in like a wrecking ball.

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching

People like this.

Seeing Afghanistan descending into chaos and worried that the Islamic Revolution in Iran might spread to Afghanistan and other traditionally muslim Soviet Socialist Republics, the USSR decided to move in — and pretty much failed from day one, which was Christmas Day, 1979.

At this point, the Soviets needed to do four things: legitimize the Communist central government in Kabul, rebuild the Afghan Army, destroy resistance to the new government, and win the hearts and minds of the common people they couldn’t directly control.

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“Ownership” being the operative word.

1. They could not establish the Communist government’s legitimacy

Failure was immediate, beginning with the man at the top. After just months in power, Amin was out. Literally. One of the first governmental changes the Soviets made was to kill Amin and replace him with Babrak Kamal. This turned the image of the Soviet invasion from one of an intervention to stabilize the government to one of ownership over Afghanistan.

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching

These guys, remember?

2. They did not break the back of the resistance

While they were able to take the major cities, as well as transportation and communications centers, the Red Army quickly pushed tribal warlords into the mountainous regions, where they resolved to begin the Islamic Revolution that nobody had thought about until the Soviets invaded in the first place. Instead of conquering the country, they managed to unite Afghanistan’s disparate population against them.

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There’s no Russian translation for “off the beaten path.” Apparently.

The one advantage the Red Army had over mujahideen fighters was their fleet of Hind helicopters. These allowed the Soviets to move people and equipment fast over long distances and into the high mountains. This silver lining lasted until the mid-1980s, when Stinger missiles began to appear in jihadi arsenals. With accurate anti-aircraft missiles, the mujahideen now had the ability to protect their mountainous hiding places and forced the Soviet Union to switch to a tactic of conducting nighttime raiding on enemy targets.

Soviet forces were concentrated in a mass along major highways in the country and in a series of fortified positions throughout their controlled areas. Outside of those areas, neither economy of forces nor consistent supply lines were ever established.

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching

A map of areas controlled by insurgent groups in Afghanistan in 1985.

In places like Khost, Soviet dominance was never even established. The Red Army established a helicopter base on the outskirts of the city, but the city itself spent 11 years under siege from the Mujahideen forces, cut off from the rest of Soviet operations. When a relief column came to the base in 1987, they reset the siege as soon as the Russians left.

The Soviet Union’s previous experience with invading other countries was limited to East Germany, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. Afghanistan and its people have little in common with the methods of fighting that work in Europe. The tactics employed by the Soviets were mostly of overwhelming firepower, including scorched-earth policies, carpet bombing, and the use of chemical weapons, none of which won them many friends among the people of the country they were trying to win over.

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching

Soviet ground forces in action while conducting an offensive operation against the Islamist resistance, the Mujahideen.

3. The Soviets did not win over the hearts and minds of Afghan people

A narrative quickly formed that atheist Communists and traditionally Orthodox Christian Russian invaders were on a mission against Islam. Those Afghan warlords that were pushed out of major urban centers and villages came down from the mountains as a united Islamic front, the mujahideen. With the Cold War in full swing, the United States decided to help fuel the fire by supplying the mujahideen with weapons and equipment to help their jihad against the USSR.

Fighters and money flowed into the mujahideen’s ongoing guerrilla war against the Soviet Union from all corners of the Islamic world. Between 1980 and 1985, the Red Army stomped the mujahideen in a series of battles in the Panjshir Valley against the forces of rebel leaders like Ahmad Shah Massoud. But Massoud would always live to rebuild his forces and come back at the Russian bear.

The Soviets could win as many pitched battles as they wanted, kill as many Afghan fighters as possible, but the endless tide of money and men would mean that the battles would just be fought over and over. Search-and-destroy missions were not going to pacify Afghanistan. In fact, all it did was either kill the population or turned them into refugees — a full one-third of Afghanistan’s population was killed or fled during the Soviet occupation.

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching

“Set it up like this, it goes bang. Good work, comrade.”

4. The Afghan Army was never an effective force

The Red Army brought in allied advisors from friendly countries to train the Afghan Army in warfighting methods more appropriate than the methods they actually used. Cuban troops who were familiar with insurgency operations from places like Angola and Ethiopia trained the burgeoning Afghan government troops, but the consistent lack of actual combat experience in these tactics wasted a lot of the time they could have spent creating a veteran fighting force.

Furthermore, the inefficient communications and logistics involved with large-scale Soviet operations did little to convince the nascent Afghan troops that their training methods and lessons had any real applicability in real-world fighting. When the Russians left and the Soviet Union fell, many of these trained fighters defected to the mujahideen, leading to the fall of the Afghan Communist regime.

The Soviet Union would stay in Afghanistan until February 1989. They still supported the Communist Afghan government against the mujahideen, which continued until the USSR collapsed in on itself in 1991. In April 1992, mujahideen troops under Ahmad Shah Massoud captured Kabul. But the factional violence within the jihadists didn’t stop and another civil war began.

This time, the victors were an upstart group of hardline Islamists, known as the Taliban.

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