The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has allegedly launched a chemical weapons attack on a base used by American military forces to support Iraqi efforts to retake the city of Mosul. The Sept. 21 artillery attack on Qayyara Air Base that reportedly contained a chemical shell caused no casualties, but some American troops underwent decontamination procedures as a precaution.
The attack, which Pentagon chief Gen. Joseph Dunford said is suspected to have used mustard gas, is the first time American troops have faced hostile chemical weapons since World War I. A 1984 paper for the United States Army Command and Staff General College noted that the United States suffered over 70,000 casualties from German chemical weapons in that conflict, of which just over 1,400 were fatal.
A U.S. Soldier with the 76th Army Reserve Operational Response Command decontaminates a vehicle after a simulated chemical weapons attack during a base defense drill in Camp Taji, Iraq, July 23, 2016. This drill is one way Coalition forces maintain readiness and practice security procedures. Camp Taji is one of four Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve build partner capacity locations dedicated to training Iraqi security forces. (U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson/Released)
Military officials said a massive aerial attack on a former pharmaceutical plant near mosul Sept. 13 destroyed what they believe was an ISIS chemical weapons production facility.
Mustard gas, a liquid that is properly called “sulfur mustard,” is a blister agent that not only can be inhaled, but also takes effect when it contacts the skin. This nasty chemical agent causes large blisters on the skin or in the lungs when inhaled. The agent can last a long time – unexploded shells filled with sulfur mustard have caused casualties in France and Belgium decades after the German surrender in World War I.
Chemical weapons were widely used in the Iran-Iraq War, most notoriously by Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq during the Al-Anfar Offensive. The 1988 attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja, using nerve gas, gained world attention, particularly due to the casualties suffered by civilians. Chemical weapons use was widely feared during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. After Desert Storm, Saddam Hussein’s regime was supposed to end its chemical weapons program, but played a shell game for over a decade.
In the wake of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, concerns about Saddam Hussein’s apparent non-compliance with the terms of the 1991 cease-fire and United Nations Security Council Resolutions lead the United States to launch Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.
While no large stockpiles of chemical weapons were found, coalition forces did encounter sarin nerve gas and sulfur mustard that had not been accounted for in pre-war inspections, and a 2014 report by the New York Times reported that over 5,000 shells filled with chemical weapons were found by American and Coalition forces during the Iraq War.
As World War II was ending, American soldiers coming off of frontline conflict were assigned to guard important structures from both looting and attempts by criminals to destroy evidence of war crimes. 101st paratroopers from the famous Easy Company were given the task of guarding Kehlsteinhaus, Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest.”
2. American troops toured, lived in, and worked in Saddam’s palaces.
The palace of this amazingly ineffective dictator was one of the largest palaces in the world and was in good shape when World War II rolled around. Allied soldiers moving up the Italian peninsula moved into the palace grounds and used the fountains for swimming and baptisms as shown above.
4. Gen. MacArthur hung out with the Japanese emperor.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur was tasked with occupying Japan after the island nation’s surrender that ended World War II.
As part of the effort to both diminish the emperor in Japanese eyes and to raise the stature of the American occupiers, MacArthur had photos taken of himself and the emperor together, a surprising visual for the Japanese people. He also had men stationed on the palace grounds.
Since its creation, the U.S. Marine Corps has been involved in some of the most epic military battles in history. From raising the flag at Iwo Jima to hunting terrorists in Iraq, it’s pretty much a guarantee that a Navy Corpsman was right next to his brothers during the action.
The unique bond between Marines and their “Doc” is nearly unbreakable.
Since the Marine Corps doesn’t have its own medical department and falls under the Department of the Navy, the majority of the medical treatment Marines receive comes directly from the Naval Hospital Corps.
So, why are some Corpsmen considered Marines when they’re in the Navy and never went through the Corps’ tough, 13-week boot camp? Well, we’re glad you asked.
It’s strictly an honorary title and not every Corpsman earns that honor. In fact, it’s hard as f*ck to earn the respect of a Marine when you’re in the Navy — it’s even harder getting them to say happy birthday to you every Nov. 10.
After a Corpsman graduates from the Field Medical Training Battalion, either at Camp Pendleton or Camp Lejeune, they typically move on to one of three sections under the Marine Air Ground Task Force, or MAGTF. Those three sections consist of Marine Air Wing (or MAW), Marine Logistics Group (or MLG), and Division (or the Marine Infantry).
Not every Corpsman goes through the FMTB and, therefore, some won’t have the opportunity to serve with the Marines.
Once a Corpsman checks into his unit, however, he’ll eat, train, sleep, and sh*t with his squad, building that special bond.
This starts the journey of earning the honorary title of Marine.
Once the unit deploys, the squad’s Corpsman will fight alongside his Marines, facing the same dangers as brothers. That “Doc” will fire his weapon until one of the grunts gets hurt, then he’ll switch into doctor mode.
Can you spot the “Doc” in this photo? It’s tough, right? I’m the tall drink of water in the middle.
After a spending time with the grunts, studying Marine culture, Corpsmen can take a difficult test and earn the designation of FMF, or Fleet Marine Force, and receive a specialized pin.
Notice the mighty eagle, globe, and anchor placed directly in the middle of the pin. Once a “Doc” gets this precious symbol pinned above his U.S. Navy name tape, he earns a measure of pride and the honorary title of Marine.
The trials of Odysseus are really not that different from the struggles of those learning to readjust after wars of today, modern veterans are finding.
A small group of military veterans has been meeting weekly in a classroom at the University of Vermont to discuss The Iliad and The Odyssey for college credit — and to give meaning to their own experiences, equating the close-order discipline of men who fought with spears, swords, and shields to that of men and women who do battle these days with laser-guided munitions.
Homer isn’t just for student veterans. Discussion groups are also being offered at veterans centers in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The Maine Humanities Council has sponsored sessions for veterans incarcerated at Maine’s Kennebec County jail, as well as for other veterans.
For many in the UVM class, Homer’s 2,800-year-old verses seem all too familiar: the siege of Troy, the difficult quest of Odysseus to return home after 10 years at war, his anguish at watching friends die, and his problems readjusting to civilian life.
Stephanie Wobby, 26, a former Army medic originally from Sacramento, California, is a combat veteran who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan and is one of two women in the UVM course; she has been to traditional post-traumatic stress therapy sessions, but said, “this is far more effective for me.”
“It still resonates, coming home from war, even if it was however many years ago,” said Wobby, a junior majoring in chemistry. “It’s the same.”
In a recent class, Dan Wright, 26, an Afghanistan veteran and UVM junior, wore a T-shirt bearing the slogan “Down with my Demons” while the group discussed The Iliad.
“It was talking about being scared to die and, like, when you are on the field, you don’t think about it,” said Wright, 26, of Halifax, Vermont. He said he was involved in near-daily firefights during a nine-month combat tour in Afghanistan in 2012.
Enrollment in the class taught by John Franklin, an associate professor of classics, is limited to veterans; the current class includes veterans from wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. There are no papers or tests, and the grade is based entirely on class participation and an understanding of the material.
The people who work with the veterans at UVM felt it was a tragedy when they heard last week that a former Army rifleman expelled from a program to treat veterans with PTSD took three women hostage in California and fatally shot them. With Homer, they are working to avoid the idea of the damaged veteran, said David Carlson, the coordinator of student veterans’ services at UVM and a Marine veteran of Iraq in 2005 and 2006 who sits in on the classes.
“From my end, all it does is make me think the work we do with veterans every day is that much more important,” Carlson said.
Homer-for-veterans is the brainchild of Dartmouth College classics professor Roberta Stewart, who is now hoping for a grant that will allow her to expand the idea nationwide.
an episode from the ancient Greek epic poem the Odyssey. (Artwork by Arnold Böcklin)
Stewart read some blog posts by U.S. service members fighting in Iraq in 2003. She recognized their graphic descriptions of war and the difficulties many faced readjusting to life after combat and reached out to one veteran who appeared to be having a hard time.
“I said to him, ‘Homer can help you. Homer knows,'” Stewart said.
Stewart never heard back from the veteran she told about Homer, but the light bulb stayed on. A decade ago, she wrote to the Department for Veterans Affairs hospital in White River Junction, Vermont, suggesting the idea. Officials were skeptical at first, but she eventually won and started her first group.
Navy Cmdr. Amy Hunt, the operational support officer for the Naval Special Warfare Command in San Diego, hopes to set up programs for still-serving Navy Seals and overseas support personnel.
“Using Homer, because of the distance involved and also it’s great storytelling, is a way to break into those experiences,” Hunt said.
In its different guises at the locations where classes and discussions have been offered, veterans from World War II to those just home from Afghanistan have seen themselves in the struggles described by Homer.
“It was no different then, the soldiers coming home war from war and dealing with these issues than it is now,” said Norman “Ziggy” Lawrence, of Albion, Maine, a Vietnam-era veteran who now leads some of the discussion with jailed Maine veterans. “It opens that avenue so that they can speak to issues that they are having.”
Editor’s Note: This story was first published on TheConversation.com in May 2018. It does not discuss the most recent development in the region, but is still a great guide to the state of tensions between the two countries.
After Donald Trump announced that the US would unilaterally pull back from the historic 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, Iranian forces in Syria fired rockets into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights for the first time. The Israelis retaliated by targeting Iranian forces and positions in Syria. That attack, which killed 23 people, was the biggest Israeli assault on Iranian positions in Syria since the civil war there started in 2011.
For a moment, it looked like two of the Middle East’s major political and military players to the verge of a full-scale military conflict. An Israeli-Iranian war could throw the Middle East into one of its most destructive clashes in modern history, one that could polarise the world’s powers, dragging in the US, a reliable ally of Israel, and Russia, Syria’s strongest ally and hence Iran’s strategic ally. And yet, neither has so far chosen to escalate further. Why?
For its part, Iran knows that its capacity to strike back is limited. But more than that, the two countries’ history and military development makes an explosive conflict unlikely.
While Israel has openly clashed with its Arab neighbors before — notably Egypt, Jordan, and Syria — it has never engaged in a direct military showdown with Iran. In fact, it’s easy to forget now that before Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran and Israel enjoyed a close relationship. They were the US’s two main Middle Eastern allies, and Iranian oil was delivered to Israel during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Things only changed when the Iranian Shah was ousted in 1979; after that, the revolution’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, proclaimed Israel a “foe of Islam” and cut off all ties with it.
Spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini.
But then came the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88. This grueling conflict had a huge impact on Iran’s military doctrine, and the experience of it underpins the country’s geopolitical and national security concerns to this day. The reality of war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq compelled the Iranian government to prioritiZe a more defensive foreign policy; where it participates in other conflicts, it usually prefers to do so via proxies rather than by direct military action.
As a result, to the extent Israel considers Iran a major existential threat today, it’s particularly worried about Iranian involvement in other Middle Eastern conflicts. It has more than once fought Iran’s ally Hezbollah in Lebanon, most recently in 2006. And while the protracted conflict in Yemen, for example, is in many ways a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Iranian-backed forces could use Yemeni territory to strike Israeli targets.
But even if a conflict erupted on one of these fronts, there’d be another calculation to factor in: the two countries’ very different military assets.
The bulk of Iran’s arms stockpile is domestically developed and manufactured, its own-brand rockets and missiles tested in the field mostly by Hezbollah. But in recent years, Iran has also been procuring weapons and technical expertise from nations antagonistic toward the West: China, Russia, and possibly (in nuclear form) North Korea.
Israel’s main strength is its exceptional military power. Its weapons systems include the Iron Dome and David’s Sling missile defence shields, extremely precise defence tools that can pulverise perhaps more than 90% of hostile missiles in mid-air.
Israel also commands air power unrivalled in the Middle East; it recently took possession of the US-manufactured F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which it is augmenting with its own technology. On top of all this, in 2016, the US agreed to increase its military aid to Israel to US.8 billion a year until 2028.
IAF F-35I Adir on its first flight with the Israeli Air Force, 2016.
And yet, Israel too is less than confident about the consequences of an conflict with Iran. However formidable its strategic and technological edge, it’s still unable to fully mend political and diplomatic fences with many of its Arab neighbours. It lives in hostile surroundings, constantly vulnerable to attack on almost all fronts. A major war with another heavily armed power is the last thing it needs.
At arm’s length
One advantage Iran does have is its array of proxies and non-state allies, which allow it to project hard power far closer to Israel than it would want to send regular forces. It has a valuable ally in Hamas, which controls Gaza; in Lebanon, Hezbollah could be prepared to assist if necessary. It could also exploit Sunni/Shia splits across the Middle East to secure the support of Shia volunteer armies. And since Saddam Hussein’s fall, Iran has been hugely influential in Iraq, which is struggling to establish a political order that can accommodate Shia, Kurds, and Sunnis.
Yet even with all this influence at its disposal, Iran would clearly prefer not to end up escalating a military conflict with Israel. Aside from the military implications, to do so would squander what moral and diplomatic support it’s gathered since the US’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal.
So for now, both sides are being cautious. Israel’s recent airstrikes targeted raid on military installations, not individuals — an acknowledgement that a heavy casualties might put Iran under pressure to retaliate. Meanwhile, Iran’s domestic debate on whether and how to respond is still rumbling, with progressives insisting the nuclear deal must be safeguarded while their hawkish countrymen would prefer a more confrontational stance. The government has yet to decide which road to take.
But whatever happens in the immediate future, Israel and Iran remain bitter foes, both heavily armed and tied up in a mess of geopolitical interests. Were a war to break out between them, they would gravely damage each other, but neither is likely to rise as the ultimate victor. That both seem to be fully aware of this reality is perhaps the most important thing standing on the way of what could be a true catastrophe.
Dr. Michael E. DeBakey was one of the most influential and innovative heart doctors in the United States. The man whom the Journal of the American Medical Association once called “the greatest surgeon ever” lived to be 99 years old. In that time, he served his country, saved tens of thousands of lives (including his own), and completely revolutionized the way surgeons work on the human heart.
While a surgeon in World War II, he urged that doctors be moved from hospitals to the front, where medics were usually the only aid available. He created what would become known in the Korean War as the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (or “MASH”) unit. The Army awarded him the Legion of Merit for this innovation.
DeBakey developed medical programs to care for returning veterans. President Truman asked him to transfer the Houston Navy Hospital to the VA. That hospital, still named after DeBakey, was Baylor University’s first affiliate and first surgical residency program.
The doctor invented many heart-related surgical devices, including the roller pump, which he invented while still in medical school. That pump became the centerpiece of the heart-lung machine, which takes over the functions of the heart and lungs during surgery by supplying oxygenated blood to the brain. Dr. DeBakey’s other surgical innovations, like grafting, bypasses, and the use of mechanical assistance devices are now common practice.
He also was the first to make the link between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer. The idea that inhaling smoke may hurt one’s lungs may seem like an obvious one to us today, when DeBakey and Dr. Alton Ochsner made the connection in 1939, their work was ridiculed by the medical community. The Surgeon General officially documented it in 1964.
Conventional practitioners also ridiculed DeBakey’s idea about using Dacron (polyester) grafts to repair damaged arteries, a procedure that was used to save his life in 2006 when he had a torn aorta.
In 1969, President Johnson awarded Dr. DeBakey the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given a United States citizen. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan awarded him the National Medal of Science. In 2008, he received the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress’s highest civilian honor, in a ceremony attended by President Bush. He died in 2008 and was granted ground burial in Arlington National Cemetery by the Secretary of the Army.
Dr. Michael E. DeBakey was the heart surgeon for the last Shah of Iran, of King Edward VIII of England, Marlene Dietrich, Joe Louis, and Presidents Johnson and Nixon. More than that, he was the surgeon who cared about saving the lives of regular troops. In combat he reformed the way the Army manages casualty care, and as a civilian he reformed the way America takes care of its veterans.
In the aftermath, and from the ashes of Dec. 7, 1941, which propelled the United States into World War II, rose a new call and opportunity to serve in the Navy, the Naval Construction Battalions. Today, they are known as Seabees.
At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Navy used civilian contractors to construct and support bases and other locations. However, with an increasing need to be able to defend and resist against military attacks, civilians could no longer be used. According to the Seabee Museum and Memorial Park, under international law it was illegal to arm civilians and have them resist the enemy. “If they did they could be executed as guerrillas.” On Jan. 5, 1942, Rear Adm. Ben Moreell received approval to organize the Naval Construction Force. In a matter of days, the first naval construction unit deployed.
Today, with seven rates ranging from Builder (BU) to Engineering Aide (EA) to Utilitiesman (UT), Seabees are a fully-functioning construction crew. They are strategically placed, ready to deploy at a moment’s notice, and able to build, erect and salvage in various types of environments. Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit (CBMU) 303 Detachment Pearl Harbor is one such unit.
Construction Electrician 3rd Class Mitchell Labree, a Sailor assigned to Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit 303 detachment Hawaii, measures a wooden beam in order to build a shipping crate for a piece of steel salvaged from the USS Arizona.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Allen Michael McNair)
CBMU 303 Detachment Pearl Harbor has the unique opportunity to assist and service the land from which they were birthed. One of their current projects is assisting Jim Neuman, History and Heritage Outreach Manager at Commander Navy Region Hawaii, and his team with the USS Arizona Relics Program.
“The USS Arizona Relics Program was born in 1995 when Congress authorized the Navy to move pieces of the wreckage out to educational institutions and not-for-profit organizations,” said Neuman.
The program is currently focusing on a part of the Arizona that was removed in the 1950’s due to corrosion and safety concerns. Before its removal it acted as a foundation for a makeshift platform where visitors to the Arizona could stand and where ceremonies could be conducted. It was a precursor to the white memorial structure known and visited today.
The Seabees and Neuman have taken on the responsibility to cut sections of the previously removed portion of the Arizona and ship them to various approved locations.
Steelworker 3rd Class Cameron Fields, crew leader at Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit 303 detachment Hawaii, cuts a piece of steel salvaged from the USS Arizona.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Allen Michael McNair)
“Mostly people come to us. We have a lot of Pearl Harbor survivors that know about this [effort],” said Neuman. “They will reach out to local museums and share what they would like to see. As long as you are a legitimate educational institution or not-for-profit and the piece will be on public display, you can acquire a piece.”
A sentiment both the Seabees and Neuman have in common is the need to share a piece of history with others.
“Because of the amount of time [the section] has been out here, we want to make sure we get as much of it out to the public as possible,” said Neuman. “It doesn’t help for it to sit here and no one get a chance to see it.”
Builder 1st Class Christian Guzman, attached to CBMU 303 Detachment Pearl Harbor, who has helped lead the Seabees in this project, appreciates the opportunity for he and his team to recover sections for the public worldwide.
“We have a special tie to Pearl Harbor and World War II because that’s how we began. It is of historical significance that we, as Seabees, are able to work on the USS Arizona,” said Guzman.
Neuman explained that the Seabees were the obvious choice when considering how to satisfy the different request through the program.
“It is Navy history, Navy legacy, so it made sense that if we were going to have somebody actually cutting pieces of the [Arizona] wreckage we should have the Seabees do it,” said Neuman. “Because of their legacy, what they do historically and their mission, they have enthusiastically embraced it, which I really appreciate.”
Steelworker 3rd Class Cameron Fields, crew leader at Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit 303 detachment Hawaii, cuts a piece of steel salvaged from the USS Arizona.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Allen Michael McNair)
To date, the Seabees of CBMU 303 Detachment Pearl Harbor have completed three phases of the project. Those phases consisted of cutting and shipping out various sized pieces to: Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community in Arizona, the Panhandle War Memorial in Texas, and the World War II Foundation in Rhode Island.
They are currently working on phase four which will be shipped to the Imperial War Museum in London, England.
“Britain was an ally in World War II. When the Empire of Japan surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945, on the USS Missouri, they didn’t only surrender to the U.S. they surrendered to the allies as well. They all signed the document so I’m thrilled that the museum sees the significance,” said Neuman. “They want to tell the whole story of World War II, not just the part they played. Visitors to the museum will be able to see part of the USS Arizona, and I think that’s great.”
The Seabees and Neuman will continue to partner together, work on the removed section of the Arizona and ship pieces out until there is nothing left.
The Seabees are proud to be a part of this undertaking as well as other jobs they execute around the island of Oahu.
“We have a whole spectrum of skill sets. This project only showcases a snippet of our diverse capabilities,” stated Guzman.
Russia has rebooted one of three computers aboard the International Space Station (ISS) after a malfunction was detected.
Dmitry Rogozinthe head of Russian space agency Roskosmos, wrote on Twitter on Nov. 8, 2018, that the computer’s operations had been restored.
“At 12:04:50 Moscow time, the central computer on the ISS was rebooted. The three-channel configuration was restored,” Rogozin tweeted.
On Nov. 6, 2018, Roskosmos said that one of the three computers on the station’s Russian module malfunctioned, but gave assurance that the defect had no impact on the safety of the crew aboard the ISS — American Serena Aunon-Chancellor, Russian Sergei Prokopyev, and German Alexander Gerst.
Dmitry Rogozinthe head of Russian space agency Roskosmos.
The malfunction followed last month’s aborted launch of a new station crew. U.S. astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Aleksei Ovchinin landed safely after their Russian booster rocket failed two minutes into the Oct. 11, 2018 flight.
The next crew, Oleg Kononenko (Russia), Anne Charlotte McClain (United States), and David Saint-Jacques (Canada), was initially scheduled to be sent to the ISS in late December 2018, but that launch was rescheduled after the Oct. 11, 2018 accident.
China recently made history as the first country besides the US to field stealth aircraft with its J-20 fighter, but reports from its regional rival, India, indicate that it may want to go back to the drawing board.
The Indian Defense Research Wing says its Russian-made Su-30MKI fighter jets can spot the supposedly-stealth J-20s, and has already observed them in flight.
India has been basing its Su-30MKIs in the northern part of the country to counter China’s deployments of J-20s, which struggle to take off in the high altitudes near Tibet, Zee News reported.
The Su-30MKI represents a new and effective Russian jet with an advanced array of radars that Justin Bronk, an air combat expert at the Royal United Services Institute told Business Insider could probably spot the J-20.
“It is entirely possible that the Su-30MKI can pick up track information on J-20 from quite long ranges,” Bronk said. “But what I would expect is that those tracks may be fairly intermittent and dependent on what headings the J-20 is flying on relative to the Sukhoi trying to detect it.”
Bronk explained that unlike the US’s F-22 and F-35 stealth jets, the J-20 doesn’t have all-aspect stealth. This means that from some angles, the J-20 isn’t stealthy. A senior stealth scientist previously told Business Insider the J-20 is stealthiest from the front end.
If China was flying the J-20s in any direction besides towards India, the Su-30MKI radars could have been spotting the jets from their more vulnerable sides.
“Also, it is possible that the Chinese are flying the J-20 with radar reflectors attached to enlarge and conceal its true radar cross section during peacetime operations — just as the USAF routinely does with the F-22 and F-35,” said Bronk.
For safety and training purposes, stealth aircraft often fly with markers that destroy their stealth during peacetime maneuvers.
If this is the case with the J-20s, then India may be in for an unpleasant surprise next time it tries to track the supposedly stealth jets.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
In 2017, small American advisory elements here in Northern Iraq were operating at battle tempo as they mentored and assisted Iraqi units in a pitched fight to reclaim the city of Mosul from ISIS control.
That fight was won decisively, with an official Iraqi declaration of victory in Mosul in July 2017. And to further cement the advantage, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared complete victory over ISIS in Iraq on Dec. 9, 2017, just days before a Military.com visit to the country.
Among the Marine advisory units remaining at Al Asad and Al Taqaddum air bases in Anbar province, there is the satisfaction that comes with a mission accomplished.
But for some, victory brings its own unease: As the Marines endeavor to work themselves out of a job in Iraq, what lies beyond the current mission remains unclear.
When Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller paid visits to Al Asad, Al Taqaddum and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad during a December tour of deployed units, his tone was congratulatory.
“You’re part of history now, because you were in Iraq when ISIS was defeated, tactically,” he said. ” … You have been catastrophically successful. The way this thing has turned in the last year is pretty epic. So, you should be proud of what you’ve done and what you’ve contributed to.”
Neller’s parting words to the Marines amounted to an order to hold down the fort for the duration of the deployment.
“You will not get blown up. You will not get attacked. No one will let anyone come in here who is a bad person and do anything to anybody … Do your job, until the wheels of that airplane leave the ground to take you home,” he said.
While pockets of ISIS fighters remain in Iraq and military advisers continue to pay attention to the Syrian border and work to prevent more extremists from entering the country, planners are already discussing how and when to bring home the Marine elements deployed in support of the fight.
These discussions dovetail with those ongoing at the joint level and in diplomatic channels.
The Associated Press reported Feb. 5 2018, citing a senior Iraqi official close to al-Abadi, that an agreement with U.S. leaders stipulated 60 percent of troops in Iraq will come home, while about 4,000 will remain in an advisory capacity amid ongoing efforts to eradicate remaining ISIS elements and restore security.
Decisions regarding individual units can be made and executed rapidly, as was seen in late November 2017, when officials with the joint task force overseeing the fight against ISIS announced that a Marine artillery unit deployed to Syria would be coming home early. A replacement unit, which had already conducted specialized training ahead of a planned deployment, was told to stay put stateside.
In Iraq, the first Marine Corps element to leave will likely be the additional security presence at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, roughly 150 Marines who have been sourced from the Corps’ crisis response task force for the Middle East since 2015. During his tour, Neller told Marines he looked forward to bringing that contingent home soon.
“I think we’re close,” Col. Christopher Gideons, commander of Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Central Command, told Military.com during a December interview in Baghdad.
While pulling the extra Marine Corps element out of Baghdad would signal improved confidence in the local security situation, Gideons pointed out that the embassy could be reinforced again within hours if conditions change.
“It’s not like if we pull the Marines out of there, we’re leaving the embassy, and State Department personnel, alone and unafraid,” he said. “That’s an hour-and-a-half flight from [an undisclosed task force hub in the Middle East] to here.”
Decisions about how and when to redeploy contingents of several hundred Marines at Al Taqaddum and Al Asad will likely be made in spring 2018. In addition to security elements at each base sourced from the crisis response force, the Marines maintain smaller colonel-led advisory elements in each location: Task Force Spartan at Al Taqaddum, and Task Force Lion at Al Asad.
For the Marine Corps, the smallest and most junior in rank of the services, the cost of providing these senior advisory units is not insignificant.
“You all came from units, and nobody came to your unit and replaced you when you left,” Neller told the troops at Al Taqaddum. “I’m sure they’d love to get you back. I’m anxious to get you back too. But I also don’t want to do something that would be so risky that it would cause you to risk all the success you’ve gained.”
In an interview with Military.com, Neller pointed to the Iraqi parliamentary elections as a possible decision-forcing point. Whether or not al-Abadi is re-elected, Iraqi leadership will then be best positioned to express what support they would like from the United States going forward.
“You’ve got two colonels … at Al Taqaddum and Al Asad, people slated to come in to replace both of them, what are they going to do?” Neller said. “So this happened pretty fast; so we’ll give everyone some time to figure it out.”
While Neller said the two elements represented a very senior capability for what has rapidly become a sustainment mission, he also expressed concern that a hasty decision based on ISIS’ apparent defeat could lead to instability.
“Right now, we’re sitting, kind of adjusting and let the situation kind of settle,” he said. “Because it’s not settled; It’s settling … the [ISIS] caliphate is technically gone, but there’s still other things moving.”
A new focus
For the Marines’ crisis response task force in the Middle East, which operates across a half-dozen countries, the turn the fight against ISIS has taken could mean an opportunity to focus majority efforts on non-combat operations for the first time in the unit’s history.
Created in late 2014 in the wake of the 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the unit was designed to be a multi-purpose 911 force custom-built for the region.
The unit wasn’t built specifically for the fight against ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria. But it was tasked with supporting Operation Inherent Resolve immediately. For its entire existence, the anti-ISIS fight has been the unit’s central focus.
Gideons, the task force commander, said roughly 500 Marines from the task force continued to operate in Iraq and Syria in support of efforts to defeat ISIS as of late December.
“But we still have a responsibility, day in and day out, to be a theater-wide crisis response force,” he said. “So I think it’s this juncture of, ‘OK, we’ve got a lot of capability in the [task force], let’s support OIR.’ But OIR is drawing down, do we want to keep that there … or take those things that we pushed into Iraq and Syria, make [the unit] kind of whole again and ready to respond across the region?”
There’s no lack of regional hot spots to vie for the unit’s time. Regions that may present missions for the task force, Gideons suggested, include Afghanistan, where U.S. troops advise local forces battling ISIS and the Taliban; Yemen, where Iran-backed Houthi rebels have attempted missile attacks on American ships; and the adjacent Bab el Mandeb strait, a key transit choke point between Yemen and the Horn of Africa.
“It’s an interesting crossroads,” he said. “There’s a tremendous amount of capability.”
Whether the unit will stay the same size in the transition process remains to be seen.
Neller told Marines forward-deployed to Norway that he’d like to “pull back” from the Middle East slightly in favor of concentrating more manpower and resources on Russia and Europe.
The Marines’ 2,300-strong crisis response force, equipped with half a squadron each of MV-22 Ospreys and C-130 Hercules aircraft, is designed to be scalable, able to grow or shrink based on regional combatant commanders’ requirements.
But Gideons said he didn’t anticipate any change to the size of the unit in the near future.
“Just at my level, I think we’re probably about right; there’s an element of right-size,” he said.
As senior leaders negotiate the way forward, Marines on the ground continue to ponder the implications of what they’ve accomplished.
Master Gunnery Sgt. Johnny Mendez, operations chief for Task Force Lion at Al Asad, is still marveling at how quickly and decisively the Iraqi troops he helped advise moved to defeat ISIS and reclaim their country.
Compared with what he observed during a deployment to Anbar province a decade ago in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Mendez said he’d seen a transformation in the soldiers’ attitude, drive and determination to win.
“Ten years ago, we were doing operations; we were doing full support,” he said. “Now, it’s nice to see, from the backseat, that they’re actually taking pride in what they’re doing. It’s different.”
The change had less to do, he said, with the Marines’ assistance than it did with an elemental struggle, driven by ISIS’ wanton destruction and disregard for human life and dignity.
“Honestly, it was just the fight between good and evil,” Mendez said. “I think it was the local population and the local people were done seeing so much bad being done. They took pride in, this is their country. I couldn’t put my finger on it [before], but that was it.”
Col. Damian Spooner, the commanding officer of Task Force Spartan at Al Taqaddum, said he had observed a similar change.
During a Military.com visit to the base, Spooner said it had been more than a year since it had come under enemy fire, another indicator of how Iraqi troops, rather than Marines, were prosecuting the fight.
“Ten years ago, when we were here, I would have given anything to have the Iraqis doing the fighting, instead of Marines dying every day over here,” Spooner said. “And now, here we are, and the Iraqis are going out. I think what’s important about that is, they have earned this. They have liberated Iraq, they have defeated Daesh, and it gives me hope for the country that there’s something there that they have earned, and they’re not going to give it up easily. I think that’s very important.”
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Daniel Carreon, current operations officer for the crisis response task force, cautioned that the fight isn’t over, and that ISIS, denied control of major cities, would move underground and mount an insurgency campaign.
But even in the current lull following a declaration of victory, Carreon said emotions are mixed among deployed Marines.
“I think Marines want to kill bad guys, right?” he said. “So if you take that out of the equation, I don’t know how that makes us feel. Probably not happy.”
Over the past year, a selected set of Army units have been piloting the new six-test Army Combat Fitness Test as the first phase of replacing the three-test Army Physical Fitness Test.
Used since 1980, the APFT includes the 2-mile run, push-up test, and sit-up test. The ACFT is an almost hour-long series of the six tests described in Table 1: the dead lift, the standing power throw, the hand-release push up, the sprint-drag-and-carry, the leg tuck hold, and the 2-mile run.
The ACFT is designed to better assess soldiers’ abilities to perform common tasks that reflect combat readiness. “It’s much more rigorous, but a better test,” agreed several members of the units testing the ACFT. Some studies are still underway, but transition to the ACFT is imminent:
The ACFT will be conducted by all soldiers Army-wide starting Oct. 1, 2019. Soldiers will also conduct the APFT as the official test of record during a one-year transition until Oct. 1, 2020. While some aspects of standards, training, and administration are being finalized, procedures and techniques are documented in Field Manual (FM) 7-22, Army Physical Readiness Training (PRT), 2012.
Capt. Jerritt Larson, executive officer, 401st Army Field Support Battalion-Kuwait performs the “maximum deadlift” element of the new US Army Combat Fitness Test.
(Photo by Kevin Fleming, 401st AFSB Public Affairs)
The ACFT and associated training requires soldiers to use several parts of the body not previously addressed by the APFT. This supports a more holistic, balanced approach to Army physical readiness. While ACFT is intended to improve soldiers’ physical performance while reducing injuries long term, as with any new physical activity it comes with new injury risks.
Observations by Army experts suggest certain injuries that may be anticipated. While the Army is sending out ACFT trainers to every unit to help train soldiers, everyone should be aware of potential new problems and how to avoid them.
Why and how were new ACFT tests selected?
Leaders and soldiers alike have long expressed concerns that the APFT doesn’t adequately measure soldiers’ abilities to perform common required tasks important during deployment.
Not all aspects of the APFT are bad, however. Studies have demonstrated that the 2-mile run is an excellent way to test soldiers’ cardiorespiratory endurance, also known as aerobic fitness. Aerobic capacity is linked to performance of more military tasks than any other aspect of fitness.
“Aerobic capacity is the most important measure of a soldier’s fitness,” says Dr. Bruce Jones, a retired Army colonel and medical doctor with the U.S. Army Public Health Center. “And weight-bearing physical activities such as running or marching are inescapable routine military aerobic activities.” Jones also explains that “Poor run times are not only associated with poor performance, they are associated with higher risk of injury.” So the 2-mile run time is a reliable way to monitor both aerobic fitness and injury risk.
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Danny Gonzalez, Recruiting and Retention Command, New Jersey Army National Guard, carries two 40-pound kettlebells during the Army Combat Fitness Test.
(New Jersey National Guard photo by Mark C. Olsen)
The push-up test is also linked to key military tasks, and is a good measure of upper body muscle endurance. However, evidence did not support the value of using the sit-up test to measure military task performance.
An in-depth review of key fitness elements and their association with military tasks found that muscle strength and power are critical to military task performance. Agility and speed are also very important. The APFT does not measure these key fitness elements. The ACFT will now ensure soldiers’ combat readiness determinations include these additional fitness components.
What injury risks are associated with the ACFT?
Historically, the majority of soldiers’ injuries have occurred in the lower body, which includes the knee, lower leg, ankle, and foot and the lower back. Excessive physical training emphasis on distance running and long foot marches have been to blame.
“While lower body injuries may be reduced with more cross-training, they are expected to remain a primary concern,” explained Tyson Grier, an APHC kinesiologist. “Soldiers spend the majority of their time on their feet. Their lower body is constantly absorbing forces from carrying their body weight in addition to other loads.”
The Army updated its training doctrine to the physical readiness training program in 2012 to reduce lower body injuries. The PRT deemphasizes distance running and encourages a mix of training activities to promote strength, agility, balance, and power.
The PRT has been associated with a reduction of injuries in initial entry training. Army operational units have not shown comparable trends in injury reduction, however. Since the APFT has continued to be the test of record these units may not have fully embraced the PRT.
With the implementation of the ACFT, the Army will still monitor soldiers’ aerobic fitness with the 2-mile run, but training time will need to be devoted to a variety of other activities too. The new tests are not risk-free, but the goal is to slowly build up the body’s ability to perform activities than might cause soldiers injuries on the job. While this is to enhance physical performance, Army experts recognize that the training for and conduct of the ACFT could also increase risk of injuries to the upper body such as the back and spine, shoulder, and elbows.
Sgt. Traighe Rouse, 1-87IN, 1BCT10MTN, carries two 40 pound kettle bells during the A 250-Meter Sprint, Drag and Carry event of the new Army Combat Fitness Test.
(U.S. Army photo by SSG James Avery)
Some items used for the ACFT, such as the trap/hex bar for the deadlift, have been specifically selected to reduce injury risk. To avoid injuries caused by excessive weight lifts, the maximum weight for the deadlift was limited to 340 pounds, considered a moderate weight by serious lifter. Procedures are designed to avoid injury. For example, the grader must spot the soldier during leg tuck to reduce falling injury. A required warm up before the ACFT and a specific deadlift warm up period will reduce injuries. Despite these efforts, there will be a learning curve.
“A primary reason for injury resulting from the new test and training activities will be due to improper form and technique,” says Grier. “These are new activities to learn. It is very important that soldiers learn proper technique from the start, and avoid developing bad habits.”
“We also worry that “too much too soon” will cause injuries,” notes Maj. Timothy Benedict., Army physical therapist. “Some soldiers will start this training by lifting too much weight, conducting too many repetitions, or not allowing days of rest between sessions that stress specific muscles.”
While only future surveillance of soldiers’ injuries will be able to identify actual changes to the Army’s injury trends, a review of existing evidence suggests potential injury risks associated with the new tests and associated training. Table 1 highlights key injury concerns.
Some injuries associated with the ACFT will be sudden acute injuries. Acute injuries are usually associated with sudden sharp pain and typically require immediate medical attention. These include strains or tears in arm, shoulder, chest, or back muscles, torn knee ligaments, dislocated shoulders, herniated discs in the back, pinched nerves, or fractured bones (such as from falling during the leg tuck).
While these acute injuries can occur when soldiers are conducting military tasks or other personal activities, specific training activities may raise the risk. For example, studies of both professional and amateur and weightlifters and power lifters have indicated that use of extremely heavy weights during the dead-left is associated with lower back disc herniation and knee injuries. On the other hand, some rehabilitation studies have suggested that using lighter weights during the dead-lift may be useful to strengthen the back and knees.
An acute tear of fatigued muscles and tendons in the chest, arm, or shoulder during bench-pressing of heavy weights, such as a pectoralis major rupture, is another highly studied injury. This injury is almost uniquely associated with the bench press activity — only a couple past military cases were other causes (parachuting and push-up training). Though the bench press is not part of the ACFT, there is concern that soldiers may use this activity to train for the ACFT.
Pfc. Tony Garcia, an infantryman with 2nd platoon, Company C, 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, pumps out pushups during a ranger physical fitness test.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Ford)
Injuries that develop gradually over time from over training are known as cumulative or overuse injuries. Overuse injuries occur when a repeatedly used set of body tissues haven’t had adequate time to heal and rebuild. “Continuing to stress tissues already injured from improper or excessive use or weight will only make the condition worse,” warns Benedict.
While delayed muscle soreness can be a normal sign that muscles are rebuilding stronger, pain in a joint or bone is not normal. Pain associated with overuse injuries may dull during the activity, but can become more serious if use continues.
Overuse injuries to the lower body are the most common type of soldier injury. Overuse to joints in shoulders, elbows, as well as knees and spinal joints are concerns because of the new ACFT tests. A common shoulder overuse injury is a torn rotator cuff – though it can occur suddenly, tissues have often already been worn from excessive use. Other common overuse injuries include tendonitis, bursitis, and pain syndromes in the knee and the lower back. These injuries may lead to long term chronic or permanent tissue damage.
Why it matters
Though injuries will continue to be experienced by soldiers — most are preventable.
Injury can mean out of commission for some time — and can notably increase your chances of getting injured again. Or develop chronic life-long conditions as you get older.
Injuries critically impact individual, units, and Army performance. Injuries cost the Army billions of dollars annually for medical treatment, rehabilitation and re-training, medical disability, and reduced productivity from restricted duties, and attrition. Training-related musculoskeletal injuries are the leading reason for temporary medical non-deployment status.
What you can do
In order to optimize U.S. military performance, soldiers and Leaders must do their part to train smarter which includes avoiding injury.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” So do what you can to avoid getting injured in the first place. Table 2 provides some general guidance. Using proper technique, slowly building up intensity and weight levels to acclimate your body, and allowing rest days between similar activities are the primary keys to minimizing your risk.
To minimize risk follow procedures as taught by Army ACFT trainers. Seek guidance from Army Fitness Centers, doctrine in FM 7-22, a certified trainer, such as a Master Fitness Trainer, and use a buddy system during training to be warned of poor form and for hands on help as a ‘spotter’ to ensure proper balance and range of motion.
And if you are injured? Stop activities at early signs of pain and seek medical advice. Taking a break from activities temporarily to let the tissues heal can minimize the likelihood of a more serious injury. An injured knee can require weeks or months of rehabilitation. A worn rotator cuff tear can mean surgery. Lower back pain can result in a long term health condition.
SpaceX is gearing up to launch a third top-secret spacecraft for the U.S. government, a mission the company calls “Zuma” but has said little else about.
The mystery satellite is tentatively slated to lift off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on Friday, November 17, after 8 p.m. ET though possibly as late as 10 p.m. ET. SpaceX plans to broadcast the launch live via YouTube starting about 15 minutes beforehand. (You can watch the video feed at the end of this post.)
SpaceX, the aerospace company founded by tech mogul and Mars-colonizing hopeful Elon Musk, initially planned to launch the clandestine spacecraft on Wednesday. However, the company delayed the launch multiple times.
The reason for the delay doesn’t appear to be weather-related, given the current forecast. Previous delays were made “to allow engineers to complete additional mission assurance work,” according to Spaceflight Now. SpaceX said in laterstatements that a fairing (i.e. rocket nosecone) inspection “for another customer” caused the company to stand down, and that it “will take the time we need to complete the data review and will then confirm a new launch date” — so a Friday lift-off may be canceled.
SpaceX has loaded the Zuma payload atop a reusable Falcon 9 rocket earlier this week.
When it lifts off, the Falcon 9’s roughly 133-foot-tall booster — the largest and most expensive part — will lug Zuma a few dozen miles above Earth, then detach and attempt to land at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Right after separating from the booster, a smaller second-stage rocket will fire up and finish pushing the secret payload into orbit.
A clandestine mission without a mysterious customer
The Zuma mission is more secretive than most, as public filings don’t even mention the launch customer paying SpaceX.
It’s not clear whether the satellite is owned by the U.S. military or a commercial entity. The National Reconnaissance Office typically launches spy satellites, but a representative told Aviation Week that Zuma doesn’t belong to the NRO.
SpaceX declined to answer questions about the Zuma mission, but Northrop Grumman — one of the largest defense contractors in the world — has acknowledged that they’re playing a role.
Lon Rains, the communications director for Northrop Grumman’s space systems division, sent Business Insider this statement:
“Northrop Grumman is proud to be a part of the Zuma launch. This event represents a cost effective approach to space access for government missions. The U.S. Government assigned Northrop Grumman the responsibility of acquiring launch services for this mission. We have procured the Falcon 9 launch service from SpaceX.
“As a company, Northrop Grumman realizes this is a monumental responsibility and we have taken great care to ensure the most affordable and lowest risk scenario for Zuma.
“The Zuma payload is a restricted payload. It will be launched into Low Earth Orbit.”
Low-Earth orbit, or LEO, is considered to be less than about 1,000 miles above the surface of the planet. Rains declined to provide further detail about the mission, however, cautioning that the company is “not saying anything else or answering any other questions.”
Zuma’s secrecy has spurred rampant speculation
Satellite trackers found out about the launch via public yet cryptic FCCfilings in October, and shared them in a NASA Spaceflight forum thread.
Since then, the vacuum of information has led to evolving speculation about the details and purpose of the launch. NASA Spaceflight’s thread about Zuma and a Nov. 15 story from Spaceflight Now have floated a number of ideas and theories:
If the National Reconnaissance Office isn’t behind Zuma (although Ars Technica claims it is the NRO’s), the payload may be for the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, or some other non-military U.S. government agency.
Estimates of Zuma’s orbit around Earth may be good for spying on China and North Korea, though its trajectory can’t be confirmed until after launch.
The predicted orbit is similar to that if the NRO’s USA-276 (or NROL-76) satellite. With Zuma launching around 8:00 p.m. ET, it could go into orbit less than 10 minutes behind USA-276 — very close in terms of outer space.
This has led some to suggest Zuma may be a refueling mission for USA-276, or part of a spy satellite constellation or program associated with that mission.
Watch the launch live
You can watch the launch live via SpaceX’s YouTube feed around 8 p.m. ET on Friday.
That said, the military’s got gear that might give Zordon (played by Bryan Cranston) some inspiration.
1. M1A2 Abrams tank
This is one tough vehicle. In “Armored Cav,” Tom Clancy related the tale of how one Abrams tank survived being hit multiple times by T-72 main gun rounds from as close as 400 yards!
The Abrams also has superb firepower in the form of its 120mm main gun, a M2 .50-caliber machine gun, and two M240 7.62mm machine guns. In essence, this tank is already a Zord in many respects.
Might as well make it official.
2. B-1B Lancer
This plane carries a lot of firepower – 84 Mk 82 500-pound bombs – and that is considering that its external weapons carriage was disabled as a result of the United States signing the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. The plane is also fast, and capable of flying at treetop level.
3. A-10 Thunderbolt
There is no reason why the A-10 – and its ability to BRRRRRT the bad guys with the GAU-8 — shouldn’t be a Zord. It is very tough (remember how Kim Campbell brought back a busted-up A-10?). It also carries a lot of bombs.
Put it this way — even a skyscraper-sized minion of Rita’s would be hard-pressed to stand up against a squadron of baseline Warthogs, but against an A-10 Thunderbolt Zord?
4. M270 MLRS
This vehicle gets the nod for its firepower. The various rockets it fires can spread bomblets or a unitary charge. That ruins the day for infantry and enemy vehicles, but when it uses the MGM-140 ATACMS – or the Army Tactical Missile System – it could probably put the hurt on one of the skyscraper-sized monsters as well.
5. M50 Ontos
This is more a blast from the past. That said, the six 106mm recoilless rifles provide a huge punch. The rifles could fire anti-personnel or anti-tank rounds.
In Vietnam, the Ontos was deadly against enemy infantry – and given that the fighting against Rita’s minions is likely to involve a lot of hand-to-hand fighting (until she calls in her big guns), the Ontos makes sense.
6. M1097 Avenger
A lot of this has been focused on the air-to-ground aspect. But it never hurts to be ready for some ground-to-air action. DefenseNews.com notes that Boeing is proposing some upgrades to the baseline Avenger, notably the AIM-9X Sidewinder and the Longbow version of the AGM-114 Hellfire.
Now, we have no idea what any Megazord from these vehicles would look like, but given their firepower – would they need a Megazord configuration? We doubt it. We’d also like to know, what military vehicles do you think Zordon should use as the basis for his next generation of Zords?