War is a dangerous thing, often necessitating actions that — in any other circumstance — would be absolutely insane.
Here are six of the things that make sense in war, but are still pretty ballsy regardless:
6. Flooding your own territory
The idea for most defenders is to keep their territory whole for their own people, even in the face of enemy forces. But for defenders in low-lying areas facing a potentially unstoppable force, there’s always the option of making sections of it impossible via water (though mines, obstacles, and a few other maneuvers work also).
This forces the enemy to attack through narrow channels determined by the defenders, and limits the territory that has to be protected. Does make for a hell of a cleanup problem, though.
5. Night raids
Night raids have all the same drawbacks of normal raids in that the attackers are trying to conduct a quick assault before the defenders can rally, but with the added confusion of limited visibility and increased sound transmission — sound waves typically travel farther at night and have less ambient sound with which to compete.
Of course, the U.S. enjoys a big advantage at night against many nations. While night vision goggles and other optics provide less depth of field and less peripheral vision, if any, they’re a huge advantage in the dark against an enemy without them.
4. Submarine combat
Submarines face a lot of jokes, but what they do is pretty insane. A group of sailors get into a huge metal tube with torpedoes, missiles, or both, dive underwater and sail thousands of nautical miles, and then either park or patrol under the waves, always a single mechanical failure from a quick and agonizing death.
The reasons to go under the waves anyway are plentiful. Submarines can provide a nearly impossible-to-find nuclear deterrent, molest enemy shipping, sink high-value enemy vessels, place sensors in important shipping lanes, or tap into undersea cables.
But the guys who sail under the water are crazy to do it.
Either way, it leaves a large group of soldiers with relatively little armor and artillery trying to quickly mass and fight an enemy who was already entrenched when they arrived, hopefully with the element of surprise.
It’s risky for the attackers, but it allows them to tie up or destroy enemy forces that could threaten operations, such as when Marines air assault against enemy artillery that could fire on a simultaneous amphibious assault.
2. Assault through ambush
When a maneuver force finds itself in a near ambush — defined as an ambush from within hand grenade range, about 38 yards — with the enemy sweeping fire through their ranks, it’s trained to immediately turn towards the threat and assault through it, no matter the cost.
Each individual soldier takes this action on their own, not even looking to the platoon or squad leadership before acting. While running directly towards the incoming fire takes serious cojones, it’s also necessary. Trying to go any other direction or even running for cover just gives the enemy more time to fire before rounds start heading back at them.
And the number 1 ballsiest move:
1. Ships ramming submarines
It’s hard to get more ballsy than one of the earliest methods for attacking submarines: taking your ship, and ramming it right into the enemy. This is super dangerous for the attacking ship since the submarine’s hull could cause the surface ship’s keel to break.
But surface ships do it in a pinch anyway, because there’s more risk to allowing a submarine to get away and possibly into position for a torpedo attack. And the surface ship is generally more likely to limp away from a collision than the submarine is, which is still a win in war.
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they’re always capturing what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
An F-16CM Fighting Falcon assigned to the 20th Fighter Wing lowers its landing gears in preparation for landing at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., July 21, 2017. The F-16 is a highly maneuverable multi-role fighter aircraft in air-to-air combat and air-to-surface attack during combat operations.
Four F-18 Super Hornets from Naval Air Station Lemoore, California, fly over Klamath Falls returing to Kingsley Field after a morning of air-to-air combat training with a variety of other fighter jets from around the country during Sentry Eagle 2017. Sentry Eagle is an air-to-air combat exercise bringing a variety of different fighter jets from around the country to train and work together. This year’s line-up includes the F-15 Eagle, F-16 Falcons, F-18 Hornets, and the F-35 Lighting. Along with the training exercise the 173rd Fighter Wing is hosting a free open house for the public with static displays and other events on Saturday the 21st.
Illuminating projectiles, each weighing close to 100 pounds, are staged by Pfc. Juan Valenzuela and others from the California Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 144th Field Artillery Regiment July 21 at National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California. About 1,500 of these and similar rounds were to be expended by the end of the 144th’s annual training.
U.S. Soldiers, assigned to the 1-26 Infantry Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), participate in a simulated force on force exercise during the Network Integration Exercise (NIE) 17.2 at Fort Bliss, Tx, July 20, 2017.
Intelligence Specialist 1st Class Sean Martin heaves a line around with the First Class Petty Officer Association (FCPOA) during a replenishment-at-sea (RAS) aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1). Wasp is currently underway acquiring certifications in preparation for their upcoming homeport shift to Sasebo, Japan where they are slated to relieve the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) in the 7th Fleet area of operations.
The littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10) prepares to moor at Broadway Pier to provide public tours July 22-23. Giffords is the newest Independence variant littoral combat ship and one of seven LCSs homeported in San Diego.
A U.S. Marine Corps recruit with Platoon 3052, Mike Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, holds a M16A4 rifle during a final drill evaluation at Peatross parade deck on Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C., July 19, 2017. The recruits are scored for final drill according to execution of movements, confidence, attention to detail, and discipline.
U.S. Marines load into a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter to be transported onto the USS Somerset (LPD 25) as part of UNITAS 2017 in Ancon, Peru, July 19, 2017.UNITAS is an annual, multi-national exercise that focuses on strengthening existing regional partnerships and encourages establishing new relationships through the exchange of maritime mission-focused knowledge and expertise during multinational training operations.
A U.S. Coast Guardsman jumps into Lake Goodrich during a water survival demonstration at the 2017 National Jamboree at Summit Bechtel Reserve near Glenn Jean, W.Va. July 21, 2017. More than 30,000 Boy Scouts, troop leaders, volunteers and professional staff members, as well as more than 15,000 visitors are expected to attend the 2017 National Jamboree. Approximately 1,400 military members from the Department of Defense and the US Coast Guard are providing logistical support for the event.
An Air Station Kodiak MH-60 helicopter aircrew conducts maintenance on a MH-60 windshield at Forward Operating Location Kotzebue, July 20, 2017. FOL Kotzebue houses two MH-60 helicopters and their aircrews in support of Operation Arctic Shield.
Going supersonic at altitude is one thing, but when you’re feeling the need for speed there’s nothing like taking it down low for a little “speed rush baseline” calibration. And more the better if the gang happens to be there on the ground to capture the action for posterity (and WATM GIF creation).
But beware of a couple of things: Unless you’re a Blue Angel (see #7) unauthorized low passes are a great way to lose your flight status. And Rule No. 1 of aviation is you can only tie the record for low flight.
Soldiers drink enough crappy water in the field when a lieutenant decides the platoon needs to practice using iodine tablets. While relaxing in the barracks, they need a decent filter. Pitcher filters allow the water to chill in the fridge, but faucet-mounted units provide water on demand.
No one wants to hear their roommates’ music, movie, or video game, so headphones should be on everyone’s list.
For a cup of coffee before PT, the DFAC is no help. Plus, coffee in the room is great for troops during lazy weekends when throwing on a hoodie and walking to chow is too much work. A cheap coffee maker allows a soldier to create their own brew on demand. For those under strict barracks policies against coffee makers, French presses aren’t forbidden and are nearly as easy to use.
4. Hot plate
The DFAC won’t serve grilled cheese at 2 a.m. on a Saturday morning when soldiers are craving it. Hot plates with a couple of pans allow for diner quality meals at home. For those who only grill, griddles allow for mass production or George Foreman grills are good for chicken and hot dogs. Keep an eye out for inspections however, since few commands allow hotplates. Some barracks now have stoves, so troops there can just buy pans.
5. Rugs (or a carpet for the swanky)
Rugs and carpets hide a lot of the stuff first sergeant looks for on the floor, and they grab up lots of the hair and debris that forms dust bunnies. Plus, carpet is more comfortable on sensitive toes after a long ruck march.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Nohau
Of course, carpets and rugs necessitate vacuums. There’s only a few hundred square feet to cover though, so a cheap vacuum is generally fine. Roombas can wait until the soldier marries out of the barracks.
7. Family photos, whether of a real family or not
Units want to see that soldiers are settling into the barracks, and that means personal items should be up on the walls. If the family is normal, the trooper can put up actual photos. For those with hot sisters and creepy roommates, a trip to a stock image site could be helpful. Just print and frame.
8. Plunger/Toilet Brush
Troops go to the field, even the human administration folks. They are fed MREs. They need a plunger, and they need a toilet brush.
9. Tons of cleaning wipes and air fresheners
Surprise inspections center on a few things. 1. Dishes in the sink. 2. Dust accumulated on ledges. 3. Smells. The dishes are simple enough. The best way to deal with dust and any odd smells is to stock up on cleaning wipes and air freshener. The wipes make cleaning the lips of door frames and the fridge easy, dealing with the dust. Air freshener helps the room at least smell clean so first sergeant will move on to the next area.
Years after initial development, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II finally seems like it’s well on its way to enter the US’s fleet of fighter jets. That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that the DoD isn’t seeking alternative jets to supplement their squadrons.
According to Defense News, the US Air Force announced that it would begin testing aircraft that were not currently planned to be in its inventory. After signing a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with Textron AirLand, the Air Force will begin a series of tests to determine if Textron AirLand’s flagship jet, dubbed “Scorpion”, will be airworthy.
“This is the first of its kind, we have not done a CRADA like this before and we have never had a partnership with industry to assess aircraft that are not under a USAF acquisition contract,” an Air Force representative explained in a statement from Defense News.
The Scorpion is a different beast compared to the other jets around the globe. Starting with its cost, Textron AirLand’s President Bill Anderson explained in a Bloomberg video, “The Scorpion … was designed to be very effective and very affordable.”
“The goal was to create a very mission-relevant aircraft for today’s security environment that’s below $20 million in acquisition costs, and below $3,000 an hour to operate.”
By comparison, a Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) costs about $13 million and $1,500 per hour to operate, while the conventional F-35A costs $98 million per unit and $42,200 an hour in 2015.
“It’s quite maneuverable,” explained Scorpion test pilot Andy Vaughan. “It reminds me of my days when I used to fly the A-10 in the US Air Force.”
From start to finish, the construction of the Scorpion was kept secret to maintain a competitive advantage. Nevertheless, the secret wasn’t kept very long — Textron AirLand was able to conduct testing soon after the aircraft’s conception.
“In a classic DoD acquisition program, they can spend up to 10 years just developing and fielding an aircraft — and we’ve done it in less than 2,” Anderson said.
However, it’s still too early to determine whether this move by the Air Force will also move the sale of Scorpion units both in the US and abroad — according to Defense News, the program has attracted only one potential customer.
When Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev visited America in Sep. 1959, the trip was meticulously planned. One day of the trip was devoted Hollywood and filled with visits to movie studios, a lunch with Hollywood icons, and a tour to Disneyland.
Walt Disney was going to show Khrushchev around the park himself. He even planned to show off his navy for the Soviet premier.
Unfortunately, the Disneyland visit was canceled due to security concerns among city leaders and State Department planners. The Americans seemed to hope that tours of 20th Century Fox Studios and a lunch event filled with movie stars would keep the premier from complaining about Disneyland.
But the 20th Century Fox President Spyros P. Skouras put the Soviet leader in a bad mood. Skouras made jokes about an old quote of Khrushchev’s that said that communism would bury capitalism.
Khrushchev was enraged by the Fox president’s comments and said, “If you want to go on with the arms race, very well. We accept that challenge. As for the output of rockets –well, they are on the assembly line. This is a most serious question. It is one of life or death, ladies and gentlemen. One of war and peace.”
And then the enraged Khrushchev was told he wouldn’t be able to visit the happiest place on earth. Instead of enjoying his time with Hollywood icons like Marilyn Monroe and Shirley MacLaine, he gave an angry speech asking why he couldn’t go to Disneyland.
“What is it?” Khrushchev asked. “Do you have rocket launching pads there? I don’t know. What is it? Is there an epidemic of Cholera there or something? Or have gangsters taken hold of the place that can destroy me? And I say, ‘I would very much like to go and see Disneyland.’ For me, such a situation is inconceivable.”
Despite the rocky events in Los Angeles, Khrushchev’s visit was a success. By the end of the trip, Americans’ perception of the leader had improved and journalists were reporting positively on his interactions with U.S. citizens.
Khrushchev and President Dwight Eisenhower had a summit at Camp David where they agreed on the need for peace and planned for Eisenhower to tour the Soviet Union.
This goodwill between the leaders was reversed in May 1960 after an U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union, and the Cold War dragged on for decades.
The Marine infantry has been fighting for our nation’s freedoms for the last few hundred years in every clime and place where they can take a gun. Today, the U.S. Marine Corps is one of the most respected and well-recognized branches of any military, the world over. From a mile away, you can identify a Marine by their unique Dress Blues and their high-and-tight haircut. But the Marine getup wouldn’t be so well-known if it weren’t for the many hard-fought victories they’ve earned on the battlefield.
Historically, Marines have won battles through tough training, world-famous discipline, and, of course, the weapons they bring to the fight. So, let’s take a look at a few of those impressive weapons system used to fight those who threaten our freedoms.
This pistol is the standard for the Marine infantryman. The Beretta fires a 9mm bullet and holds up to 15 rounds in the magazine and one in the pipe. Although this pistol is standard-issue to those who rate, most grunts would prefer a .45 Colt due to its stopping power.
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. John Brancifort, a rifleman with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Africa, fires an M4 carbine in the lateral movement portion of a stress shooting exercise held by U.S. Army Special Forces in Germany, Apr. 12, 2016.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Tia Nagle)
This is the lighter and shorter version of the M16A2 semi-automatic assault rifle. The M4 is a direct impingement gas-operated, air-cooled, magazine-fed weapon that shoots a 5.56x45mm round. Many M4s are retrofitted with a .203 grenade launcher that is sure to clear the bad guys from their defensive positions.
A Marine fires an M240 Bravo medium machine gun during a live-fire training exercise at a multipurpose machine gun range at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Tyler Andersen)
This medium-sized machine gun is a belt-fed and gas-operated weapon that fires a 7.62mm round. The weapon can disperse between 650 to 900 rounds per minute while on a cyclic rate of fire. The M240 Bravo enables its operator to put down a wall of lead when ground forces need to win the war of fire superiority.
“The battlefield is a dance floor, and the machine gunners are the jukeboxes.” — Marine Lance Cpl. Dixon.
A U.S. Marine with II Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group, fires a Mark 19 40mm grenade machine gun during the II MIG Field Exercise at Camp Lejeune. The Marines fired the weapon to become more proficient with different weapon systems.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Pfc. Larisa Chavez)
This belt-fed, air-cooled 40mm automatic grenade launcher has a cyclic rate of fire of 325 to 375 rpm. The weapon system operates on a blow-back system, which uses chamber pressure to load the next grenade, launching each round a maximum distance of 2,210 meters.
A sniper attached to Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment takes aim at insurgents from behind cover, during a firefight in Helmand province. Patrols have been increased in an effort to push the Taliban back and create a buffer for villages friendly towards coalition forces in the region.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. James Clark)
The M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System is mainly for multiple target engagements, firing 7.62x51mm NATO rounds. This highly accurate sniper rifle is a favorite on the battlefields of Afghanistan as it weighs just 15.3 pounds and has a muzzle velocity of 2,570 feet per second.
A Marine racks a round into his .50 caliber Browning M2HB on the training range at Camp Leatherneck in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
This .50 caliber machine gun is the stuff of nightmares for NATO’s enemies as it’s terrorized the bad guys for years. This insanely powerful weapon system can be mounted in a turret or the back of an aircraft. This belt-fed machine gun has a max range of 2,500 meters and weighs approximately 127-pounds while attached to a TE (traverse and elevation) mechanism.
This anti-tank system can nail targets moving laterally at 45 to 50 miles per hour at a range of approximately 3,500 meters. What’s more impressive is that this weapon system has a 95-percent hit-to-kill ratio.
The Taliban captured a key district center in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province on Thursday while in the country’s north, an officer turned his rifle on sleeping colleagues, killing nine policemen, officials said.
The fall of Sangin district, once considered the deadliest battlefield for British and U.S. troops in Afghanistan, comes amid the insurgents’ year-long push to expand their footprint in the Taliban heartland of Helmand.
The British who took over southern Helmand in 2006 were headquartered at Camp Sebastian, which at its peak was the center for 137 bases in Helmand. Most of Britain’s more than 400 military deaths occurred in Helmand province — in Sangin alone, Britain lost 104 soldiers.
Since the withdrawal of foreign NATO combat troops from Afghanistan at the end of 2014, and with only a smaller, U.S.-led advise and training mission left behind, Sangin has been seen as a major tests of whether Afghan security forces can hold off advancing Taliban fighters.
The district’s police chief, Mohammad Rasoul, said the Taliban overran Sangin center early on Thursday morning.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, also issued a statement claiming the Taliban capture of Sangin.
Speaking to The Associated Press over the phone from several kilometers (miles) away from the district center, Rasoul said the district headquarters had been poorly protected and that at the time of the Taliban siege, only eight policemen and 30 Afghan soldiers were on duty.
Afghan security forces were now amassing nearby for a full-scale counter-attack in a bid to retake Sangin, Rasoul added, though he did not say when the assault would occur and how many forces would be involved.
“We are preparing our reinforcements to recapture the district,” Rasoul said.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether the Afghan military would seek the help of international coalition forces in the area.
NATO spokesman William Salvin said in a statement that Afghan troops remained in Sangin district but had relocated several kilometers (miles) outside the district center. He said the relocation was necessitated because of the extensive damage to the district center by the Taliban.
In Kabul, a lawmaker from Sangin, Mohammad Hashim Alokzai, urged the military to move quickly to retake the district, saying its fall could have devastating consequences for Helmand, where the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah has in the past months also come under constant and heavy attack by the Taliban.
“The seizure of Sangin is a major tactical triumph for the Taliban,” Michael Kugelman, senior associate for South Asia at the U.S.-based Wilson Center, said Thursday. The insurgent group “has taken over a major urban space in one of its major stronghold provinces, amplifying the major threat that the group poses to Afghanistan nearly 16 years after it was removed from power.”
Sangin is also one of the biggest opium markets in Afghanistan, which saw over 4,800 metric tons produced countrywide in 2016 — more than all other opium-producing countries combined, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes. Efforts at poppy eradication in Afghanistan have been severely restricted because of the insecurity in the southern and eastern regions of the country, where the bulk of the crop is grown.
Opium, which is used to make heroin, is a major source of income for the insurgents and the Taliban levy taxes on opium that moves through its territory.
“It’s hard to overestimate the significance of Helmand — it’s strategically located near Pakistan, it’s a bastion of the opium trade,” said Kugelman. “Perhaps the biggest reason why the British focused so much on Sangin is that they had invested so much over the years in trying to stabilize the place — and had suffered many combat deaths in the process.”
In northern Kunduz province, police spokesman Mafuz Akbari said the insider attack on Thursday that claimed the lives on nine policemen took place at a security post and that the assailant escaped under the cover of darkness.
Afghanistan has seen a spike in so-called insider attacks. In such incidents, attackers who turn their rifles and kill colleagues usually end up stealing their weapons and fleeing the scene to join insurgents.
Akbari said the assailant had gone over to the Taliban. He also claimed that the attacker and the Taliban gathered the bodies of the dead policemen and set them on fire.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahed claimed responsibility for the attack, but denied that a policeman had been involved or that the Taliban had burned the bodies of the policemen.
The conflicting accounts could not be immediately reconciled. The region is remote and not accessible to reporters.
Afghan forces have come under intensified pressure by insurgents in both Helmand and Kunduz.
At this spot on the western side of the Dnieper River in central Ukraine, some 30,000 Soviet soldiers died under Nazi artillery during World War II. Yet, on this hot June day, there’s nothing to suggest that this particular place was once on the deadliest front of the deadliest war in human history.
“What horrors happened here,” says my 55-year-old Ukrainian father-in-law, Valeriy Deriy, who is a Red Army veteran of the Cold War. “Can you imagine?”
We’ve hired a zodiac boat for the day, embarking from a yacht club in the riverside town of Horishni Plavni. To get to the so-called Island of Death, our captain weaves through narrow, overgrown channels that branch off the main course of the Dnieper River.
Tucked away in a dense forest on the island, there’s an old Soviet war memorial. You’d hardly notice it from the water, unless you knew what to look for. Valeriy explains that one can still find evidence of war in the surrounding woods. Old artillery pieces, bullets, rifles, and boots. That sort of stuff.
“Some people want to forget the past. But it’s impossible,” he tells me. “It’s always there.”
Between August and December 1943, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union fought the battle for the Dnieper River. It was one of World War II’s largest battles, comprising some 4 million soldiers stretched along a nearly 900-mile-long front.
After Nazi Germany’s defeat at the Battle of Kursk, the Soviets pressed their advantage and pushed the Nazis back across Ukraine. The third longest river in Europe, the Dnieper — which runs roughly north to south down the middle of Ukraine to the Black Sea — was a natural physical obstacle for the advancing Red Army.
The Nazis took to the heights on the western bank to set up their artillery, which they used to devastating effect. The Red Army crossed the river under heavy fire, improvising makeshift means to get across. Soviet losses were staggering — accounts vary, but roughly 400,000 Red Army soldiers died in the Dnieper River battle of 1943.
The Other Side
Earlier, Valeriy and I stand at a spot on the opposite, eastern bank of the Dnieper River.
“My great-grandfather said the water ran red with blood in the war,” Valeriy says as we stand on the riverbank, looking to the other side.
Valeriy explains that his great-grandfather fought in that Dnieper River battle, and he crossed the river at this very spot. Right where we’re standing. I’m left a bit speechless.
His great-grandfather couldn’t swim, Valeriy continues, but Soviet commanders would have him shot if he’d refused the crossing. So he held on to a log for flotation and kicked his way across. Somehow, he survived.
“It was October, and the water was already very cold,” Valeriy says, shaking his head. “What a nightmare.”
Today, at this spot where so many died in World War II, there’s a simple old Soviet memorial crumbling, halfway reclaimed by the forest. A dilapidated Soviet tank and artillery piece sit in the foliage, too. But that’s it. You have to rely on your imagination to appreciate what happened here.
There’s not a cloud in the sky and the hot breeze feels good on my face. On a day like this, it’s hard to appreciate what happened here about 77 years ago. I can hardly imagine the fear felt by Soviet soldiers as they stood at that same spot on the river shore, looking to the far side like lost souls about to cross the River Styx.
And then I remember what it was like to stare across no man’s land in eastern Ukraine. I remember the fear I felt under the Russian artillery and sniper shots. And I imagine, at least a little, what those Soviet soldiers must have felt.
The trench lines in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region — where Ukrainian troops have fought a war since 2014 to keep a Russian invasion force at bay — are only about five hours away by car. We could be there by dinner, if we wanted to.
True, we’re much too far from the trenches to hear the daily rumble of battle, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The war is always there.
Standing on the riverbank, Valeriy says to me: “History has been hard on Ukraine. But things will get better. We’re fighting for our democracy, just like your country did. And we’ll win it, too. Just like you did. I still have hope that my daughter and my grandchildren will see an amazing, free Ukraine.”
Still looking across the river, facing the same divide his great-grandfather once faced, Valeriy adds: “We’ll get there.”
Valeriy never served in Afghanistan. He was posted instead to East Germany and worked in signals intelligence, a specialty that paved the way for his future civilian career as a German language interpreter.
“It was an unwritten rule in the Soviet army that only one brother would have to be in Afghanistan at a time,” Valeriy explains. “And my brother went in my place.”
Valeriy’s older brother, Sergiy, was drafted into the Red Army and served in the war in Afghanistan from 1982 to 1984.
In fact, both brothers had volunteered for the war. But their mother had secretly gone to military officials and asked that only one son be allowed to go. Sergiy ultimately volunteered without Valeriy’s knowledge. It wasn’t until their mother died in December 2012 that Valeriy learned the truth.
Sergiy was a sergeant in a signals unit deployed near the Salang Tunnel in the Hindu Kush Mountains. The combat he experienced was terrible, Sergiy tells me, but he doesn’t go into much detail about the war very often. And when he does, his eyes adopt a distinctly distant look, as if he’s looking past me, in an attempt to articulate memories that no words could ever really recreate.
Today, both Deriy brothers live in the town of Horishni Plavi — it’s where my wife, Lilya, grew up.
On a warm June afternoon, our family gathers at a park by the Dnieper River to grill shashlik — Ukraine’s version of a barbecue. Both Sergiy and Valeriy are wearing NASA baseball caps, gifts from me and my wife.
It’s the first time we’ve all been together since the coronavirus lockdown was lifted on June 5, and we’re in good spirits. We make toast after toast until our legs are a little wobbly. We’ve brought along an iPhone speaker and grill the meat while we cycle through a playlist of staple rock hits — songs by bands like the Scorpions, Led Zeppelin, Metallica. That’s my in-laws’ favorite kind of music. Mine too.
We end up cooking more meat than we could ever hope to eat in a day. And we maintain a steady pace with the cognac toasts. And, as it’s prone to do, the conversation between Valeriy, Sergiy, and myself returns to the ongoing war in Ukraine’s east.
“The Russians were never our friends. Stalin invaded us, and now Putin has, too,” Sergiy says. “The only county that ever really cared about us was the United States.”
“We’ll never forget what your country has done for us,” he adds, speaking specifically about America’s delivery of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.
Then Valeriy abruptly stands.
“Please,” he says, beckoning me to shake his hand, “I want to shake the hand of a citizen of the country that put a man on the moon.”
I stand and shake my father-in-law’s hand and feel proud of my country. And I’m particularly proud that he’s proud of my county, too.
A generation ago, we would have been enemies. Our countries were poised at opposite ends of the earth, ready to unleash nuclear Armageddon to destroy one another.
Today, we are a family.
No One Forgets
Located on the east bank of the Dnieper River, roughly 190 miles southeast of Kyiv, Horishni Plavni was founded by Soviet youth volunteers in 1960 as a place to live for workers in the nearby iron-ore mines.
Originally, the city’s name was “Komsomolsk,” a reference to the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League, or “Komsomol.” The town was renamed Horishni Plavni in 2016 as part of Ukraine’s decommunization laws—a set of measures that went into effect in 2015 to curb Russia’s cultural influence.
Across the country, all Soviet-era names of settlements and roads have been changed to new Ukrainian ones. All reminders and relics of the Soviet Union have been removed or made illegal — including playing the Soviet national anthem and displays of the hammer and sickle flag.
Horishni Plavni’s main thoroughfare was once called Lenin Street. Now it’s named Heroes of the Dnieper River Street. The statue of Vladimir Lenin that once stood in the city center is gone. Only an empty pedestal remains — a common sight in Ukraine these days.
Yet you can’t totally erase the past. World War II is too deeply ingrained in Ukraine’s national psyche, and its physical environment, to ever be forgotten.
Soviet-era war memorials still stand around Horishni Plavni. At a riverside park, children play on the marble ramps of a towering, Soviet-era war memorial. In a nearby field, a row of Soviet tanks are on permanent display. Teenagers sit in the shade of the turrets and drink beer and listen to music.
Despite all their years living under Soviet propaganda, my father-in-law and uncle-in-law have a surprisingly pro-American perspective on the war.
“The Soviet Union could have never won without American help under lend-lease,” Valeriy tells me, referring to the American policy from 1941 to 1945 to provide materiel assistance to the Soviet Union’s war effort.
“And thank God the Allies landed in France,” Valeriy adds. “Otherwise Stalin would have taken over all of Europe.”
No War Ever Ends
After our shashlik picnic is over, Sergiy visits his brother’s apartment, where my wife and I are staying. He brings with him a photo album from his time in the Soviet army, including his deployment to Afghanistan in the 1980s.
I’m thrilled to have a look and listen to his stories from the war.
Sergiy recalls how his commander in Afghanistan justified the Soviet war by the need to defend the Soviet Union from U.S. nuclear missile strikes.
“We were told that America was evil, and that we were fighting in Afghanistan to defend the world from America,” Sergiy tells me. “It was all a lie, of course.”
Incredibly, Sergiy bears no ill will toward the country — my country — that was responsible for the death of many of his comrades.
“The Soviet Union did the same to America in Vietnam,” Sergiy says of America’s covert effort from 1979 to 1989 to arm and finance Afghanistan’s mujahideen fighters to fight against the Soviets. “It was the Cold War, and we were enemies. And that’s what enemies do to each other.”
Now, Sergiy has welcomed me — an American veteran of another war in Afghanistan — into his family with open arms. More than that, I’d even say that Sergiy and I share a special bond because we share a common battlefield. We remember the same places, and in some cases, the same enemies. Sometimes, as I’ve learned, former enemies actually have more in common with each other than they do with their fellow citizens who know nothing about war.
As he goes through the old photos, Sergiy’s face flashes with various contradictory emotions. Pride and pain. Nostalgia and regret. For Sergiy, war was both the worst and the best experience of his life. Therein lies that great paradox that faces all soldiers who’ve home to live in peace.
If war was so terrible, why do we sometimes miss it?
Sergiy, for his part, remembers his friends from the army fondly. But there’s a dark cloud, too, that hangs over every good memory.
“The Soviet Union lied to me. They lied to all of us,” Sergiy says as he flips through the photo album’s pages.
He pinches his lips and slowly shakes his head.
“They wasted so many lives,” he adds.
Soldiers rarely fight for the reasons dictated to them by the governments that send them to battle. Rather, once the bullets start flying, a simple sense of duty to defend one’s friends, and to not disappoint their expectations, is what inspires one to act courageously.
Yet, once soldiers are separated from their wars for a while — either by time or by distance — the moral clarity of duty may erode, leading them to question the justice of their individual actions in combat. The simple kill-or-be-killed morality of combat no longer shields them from thoughtfully considering the consequences of the things they did in war.
In many ways, life in peace is much more complicated than life in war. That was certainly true for my uncle-in-law. Although Sergiy came through the war in Afghanistan physically unscathed, he was left irrevocably jaded about Soviet communism.
In 1985, just a year after his discharge from the Soviet Army, Sergiy began law studies at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, Ukraine’s premier university.
“I felt so at peace. Finally, no war, no suffering. Only a bright future,” Sergiy recalls of his arrival in Ukraine’s capital city to begin his studies.
But it didn’t last. In April 1986, an explosion ripped through reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
The Chernobyl plant is located only about 60 miles north of Kyiv. And so, spooked by the threat of radiation, Sergiy was unsure whether he should stay in Kyiv to finish his law degree. The reborn optimism and happiness he’d felt just a year earlier, fresh from his wartime service, quickly gave way to feelings remembered from the war — dark feelings that he’d wanted to forget forever.
“When I was in Afghanistan, I always felt like death was chasing me,” Sergiy remembers. “And when I came back to Ukraine, I thought I could be free from that fixation on death. But Chernobyl happened, and here death finally caught me. A long and painful death. I remember I said to myself, ‘How ironic, death didn’t catch me in the war, but it did in civilian life.'”
Sergiy ultimately stayed in Kyiv to finish his law degree. After graduating from law school in 1991, he returned to his hometown of Horishni Plavni (then called Komsomolsk). The Soviet Union broke apart that year, further upending his world.
When Ukraine’s economy subsequently collapsed in the 1990s, Sergiy ultimately abandoned his law career and took up work as a hired hand. It was his only option to make a living. He never went back to practicing law.
My uncle-in-law, who is a devoutly religious man, has struggled with his demons from Afghanistan. And his family life has had its ups and downs. But he’s never given up hope for his country, even as Ukraine has gone through revolutions and an unfinished war to finally free itself from Russian overlordship.
“I try to stay positive, despite everything that’s happened to our country,” Sergiy says. “It would be so wrong not to believe in our future. I always have hope. It’s just a matter of time. Our future generations will be truly happy and free.”
As young men, Soviet propaganda told Valeriy and Sergiy that America was their mortal enemy. Yet, as older men, they’ve both shown the remarkable moral courage to abandon their former worldviews and embrace the promise of democracy.
Above all else, Valeriy and Sergiy now believe in the justice of freedom and democracy rather than conformity and communism. And the two Red Army veterans wholeheartedly believe that the United States is a force for good and a beacon of hope for freedom-loving people around the world.
It’s true that history hasn’t been kind to Ukraine, and my in-laws have not led easy lives.
Yet in spite of everything, their faith in America remains unbroken. And, with America’s promise lighting the way, they still extoll the justice of their own country’s democratic path, no matter its attendant hardships.
In the end, they choose to reject their Soviet past but not forget it. When the work of building a democracy gets tough, as it so often does, they look to the past to remember what they’re working so hard to achieve.
“Democracy hasn’t been easy, but I’d rather live as a free man than go back to the way things were before,” my father-in-law says.
Freedom, after all, usually means more to people who’ve experienced the alternative.
If there was one single place that could be called the front lines of the clandestine Cold War, Berlin was it. The city, like the rest of Germany, was divided. It was a bastion, deep inside the heart of the Eastern Bloc, where Westerners could roam relatively freely within their sector by day and sneak into enemy territory under the cover of darkness.
A divided Berlin was the setting for so many stories, many of which are just now coming to light. And many of those stories are about Detachment-A, a Special Forces unit so secret, many in Special Forces couldn’t even know about it.
If World War III broke out, their mission was not to win — they were 110 miles behind enemy lines and couldn’t possibly win a pitched battle. Their mission was to just buy time for NATO. Along the way, their training helped develop the units and tactics used by American special operations the world over.
Retired Special Forces soldier and former CIA agent James Stejskal was among among the members of Detachment A. He served in it for nine years and just wrote a book on the recently-declassified unit, called Special Forces Berlin: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the U.S. Army’s Elite, 1956-90. Working behind enemy lines in an unconventional conflict is one of the foundational duties of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces, but Detachment A had no misconceptions about what would happen in a war with the Soviet Union. They would operate as small teams inside and outside of Berlin, tripping up the Red Army in any way they could.
“We were going to, basically, break out of the city. Two of the six teams would stay behind and cause trouble inside the city. Four of the teams would go outside the city,” James Stejskal told WATM. “A railway network, basically called the Berliner Ring, would carry the majority of the Russian forces from east to west. Our mission was to report on and sabotage the railway, communications… to cause as much havoc as possible.”
Stejskal grew up with the military. His father was drafted for World War II in 1941, before Pearl Harbor. He would earn a commission during the war as a combat engineer in Patton’s XII Corps. His father even went to Germany during the Korean War. The younger Stejskal was always interested in intelligence, commando, and what he calls the “darker arts.” He read about the British Special Operations Executive and the Office of Strategic Services during WWII and it captivated him. So when it came time for him to join the Army, the Green Beret called to him. He joined with Special Forces on his mind. But Det A was so secret, he didn’t know it existed even after he earned his place among the elite.
“I only found out about it on one of my exercises in Germany,” he recalls. “We jumped into it, into Southern Germany for our annual winter warmer exercise and one of the guys on the ground that met us was a civilian-clothes guy, speaking German. Only later on in the exercise did he start to speak in English to us and, before too long, I figured out that he was actually American. He told us he’s from a unit Berlin and he couldn’t really talk about it.”
That piqued Stejskal’s interest. He continued to dig into it and, as one thing led to another, he found himself in Berlin. Detachment A was the closest unit to the old OSS that a soldier could get in to. Speaking German, the men of Det A wore their hair long, civilian clothes, and worked with soldiers from other countries. Their commander was a Czech officer and their Sergeant Major was a German who was in the Bundeswehr, both veterans of World War II.
“It’s a strange feeling. We were 110 miles behind the East German border, with about 12,000 allied troops inside West Berlin surrounded by close to a million Russian and Warsaw Pact soldiers,” He says. “Oddly enough, I think most of us were very energized to be where we were.”
This would be an Emmy-winning TV show today. Mad Men, eat your heart out.
During peacetime, they performed protection duties for VIPs and – most importantly – they trained. Detachment A trained with the British Special Air Service, who taught them to watch how the Germans and Israelis performed anti-terror operations, like clearing a hijacked aircraft. They soon became the U.S. Army’s first counter-terrorism team, long before Delta Force or SEAL Team Six. Charlie Beckwith, Delta’s first commander, came to Berlin to see Detachment A for himself.
“He came over to Berlin to see how we were doing things and took a lot of our training techniques and tactics and exported them back to Fort Bragg, about 1980,” Stejskal says. “The commander of SEAL Team Six, Marcinko, he also came over and observed. We did our operability training with Delta Force later on in the 1980s. We also trained a lot of the SEALs in the city.”
Aside from forming the foundations of modern Special Forces and SEAL Team operations, veterans of Detachment A also took their knowledge back home, joining police departments as local SWAT teams popped up around the United States. They trained law enforcement and military alike in building assault tactics, urban combat, and clearing buildings. But if war broke out, these soldiers had no illusions about their fate.
“I never thought about it being certain death, but it could have,” says Stejskal. “I think we would’ve been hard-pressed to survive more than 72 hours, but you never can tell. You’re anticipating you’re going in to a very bad situation, but you got the best tools, the best cover, and everything else. You have a confidence level that you can do it, but you, there’s always that element of uncertainty that you don’t have everything under control, so that’s part of the energy that fuels you when you’re there.”
Dr. Luke Blackburn was a respected medical doctor and philanthropist until he allegedly attempted to create a yellow fever outbreak targeting Northern civilians and soldiers during the Civil War. Despite widespread outrage at the time, he later won a landslide victory to become the governor of Kentucky.
Blackburn was a native Kentuckian who began working as a physician after receiving his medical degree from Transylvania University. Early in his career, he implemented a quarantine to shut down a cholera epidemic and he later led another that successfully stopped an outbreak of yellow fever in the Mississippi River Valley. He gave an encore performance against another outbreak in 1854.
But when the tide of the Civil War started going against the South, he found that his loyalty to the Southern cause was greater than his dedication to the Hippocratic Oath.
The vaunted doctor allegedly traveled to Bermuda in 1864 when an epidemic of yellow fever broke out. During this time in the Civil War, the disease was known for striking down cities, killing thousands.
Blackburn helped treat the sick in Bermuda, but he also stole the clothing and bedding of those who died of either yellow fever or smallpox. He then sent trunks of these items to auction places in the North where they were sold and distributed among civilians.
Hyams was able to sell five trunks of clothing through auctioneers, but only one Union soldier death was attributed to the men and that one was circumstantial. The soldier had died from smallpox after buying clothes at a consignment store that held Blackburn clothing.
The reason that no one died of yellow fever due to Blackburn’s actions is that the disease can not be transmitted via the clothing or bedding of its victims, though no one knew it at the time. Oddly enough, the Transylvania-trained doctor would have been more successful if he had recruited more bloodsuckers into his organization. Specifically, he needed female mosquitoes.
Yellow fever is a blood-borne virus spread by certain female mosquitoes. If Blackburn had succeeded in bringing a few victims North for mosquitoes to bite, he may have succeeded in his dark quest. But it wasn’t until 1901 that a team led by Maj. Walter Reed proved the connection between mosquitoes and yellow fever, so Blackburn didn’t know in 1864 and 1865 that his plan could never work.
Meanwhile, Hyams had still not been paid. Hyams finally got tired of waiting and went to the U.S. counsel’s office in Toronto to sell out his employer in early April 1865. A public trial filled the newspapers in Canada and throughout the U.S., but Blackburn was eventually acquitted on a technicality.
The trunks had been shipped to Nova Scotia before entering the U.S., and the court that was trying Blackburn did not have jurisdiction over crimes committed there. Meanwhile, the three other trunks from Bermuda were never on Canadian soil.
Blackburn, for his part, did not testify at his trial but said years later that the entire plot was too preposterous for gentlemen to even believe it existed. After his Canadian acquittal, he avoided the U.S. for a time to avoid prosecution, but he went south in 1868 to fight a yellow fever outbreak in Texas and Louisiana.
Prosecutors allowed him to work unmolested and Blackburn went on to fight yellow fever in Tennessee, Florida, and then back in his hometown of Kentucky over the following 10 years. His success fighting the outbreak in Kentucky caused his public image to drastically improve there.
In 1879, he won the gubernatorial election in Kentucky and became the governor. Much of his efforts in that position were aimed at easing prison crowding and bad conditions through pardons and the construction of a new prison. These measures proved unpopular and Blackburn failed to secure the Democratic nomination in 1883. He returned to private life and died in 1887.
Some really cool photographs of two dozen F-22s from the 3rd Wing and 477th Fighter Group taxiing in close formation with an E-3 Sentry and a C-17 Globemaster III during a Polar Force exercise at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, were posted online on Mar. 26, 2019. Both types are based at JBER.
The aircraft staged what is known as an “Elephant Walk”, a kind of drills during which combat planes (including tankers) taxi in close formation in the same way they would do in case of a minimum interval takeoff, then, depending on the purpose of the training event, they can either take off or return back to their parking slots.
What is particularly interesting in the photos of the exercise at JBER, is the fact that, along with the Raptors, also a Sentry took part in the “walk”.
F-22 Raptors from the 3rd Wing and 477th Fighter Group participate in a close formation taxi, known as an Elephant Walk, March 26, 2019, during a Polar Force exercise at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.
Launching the AEW along with the fighters is a “tactics” that allows the Air Defense to extend the radar coverage and to better investigate the eventual presence of additional bombers or escorting fighters flying “embedded” with the “zombies” (as the unknown aircraft are usually dubbed in the QRA jargon). At the same time, the presence of an E-3 allows the Raptors to improve their situational awareness while reducing the radar usage and maximizing as much as possible their stealth capability (even though it must be remembered that F-22s in QRA usually carry fuel tanks that make them less “invisible” to radars).
A long range sortie is not easy to plan. Even more so a strike sortie: the bomber are not only required to fly inbound the target (TGT) and reach a convient position to simulate the attack and weapons delivery, they also need to take in consideration many other factors. First of all “what is your goal?” Do you want to train for a realistic strike? Or do you want to “spy” or show your presence or posture?
Other factors are distance from own country, opponent’s defense capability, minimum risk routing according to the threats, presence of DCA (Defensive Counter Air), supporting assets, etc.
Usually, during a strike sortie, bombers are considered the HVA (High Value Asset), the one that must be protected. For this reason during the planning phase they are always escorted by fighter and protected by the Ground to Air threats by means of SEAD/DEAD (Suppression/Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses), EW (Electronic Warfare) and everything is needed to let them able to hit their targeted.
An F-22 Raptor takes off after Raptors from the 3rd Wing and 477th Fighter Group participated in a close formation taxi, known as an Elephant Walk, March 26, 2019, during a Polar Force exercise at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Justin Connaher)
However, escorting a strategic bomber is not always possible (nor convenient): considered their limited range, the presence of the fighters would heavily affect the long range planning, requiring support from multiple tankers along the route. For this reason, although the Russians visit the West Coast quite often, they usually are not escorted by any fighter jet (as happens, for instance, in the Baltic region, where Tu-22s are often accompanied by Su-27 Flankers). However, it’s better to be prepared and trained for the worst case scenario and this is probably the reason why NORAD included an E-3 AEW in the QRA team: to have a look at the Tu-95s and make sure there was no “sweep” fighters or subsequent “package”.
The configuration of the F-22 aircraft involved in the Elephant Walk at JBER is also interesting as the stealth jets carry underwing tanks: that is the standard external loadout both in case of QRA launch and for ferry flights and forward deployments.
After taking the shots, the aircraft cleared the runway, taxied back to the threshold of RWY24 and took off in sequence.
The Islamic Republic of Iran officially unveiled the Bavar 373 system earlier this month. The system is supposedly a domestic long-range surface-to-air missile intended to provide area defense against aircraft and missiles.
According to a report by the Times of Israel, images released by Iranian state news agencies showed Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, and minister of defense, Hossein Dehghan in front of the system, which bears a strong superficial resemblance to the Soviet-era SA-10 “Grumble” (also known as the S-300).
The SA-10 was the Soviet Union’s main area-defense surface to air missile since it was entered service in 1978, and has continued in Russian service since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Depending on the version, it has a maximum range of up to 121 miles. The system has been constantly upgraded, and more modern versions, like the SA-20 and SA-21 are entering service with Russia.
“We did not intend to make an Iranian version of the S-300 — we wanted to build an Iranian system, and we built it,” Minister of Defense Dehghan said. The Iranians had been trying to address delays in the acquisition of SA-10s from Russia, which only reauthorized delivery in 2015 after the Obama Administration made a highly controversial deal with Iran over its nuclear program. Iran claimed back in May to have operable SA-10 systems.
Iran has been developing some weapon systems on their own. Most notable in this regard are the Jamaran-class frigates. These ships, based on the 1970s vintage Sa’am-class frigates, are armed with a 76mm gun, four C-802 anti-ship missiles, and SM-1 surface-to-air missiles. While nowhere near a Burke-class destroyer in terms of capability (or even the Al-Riyadh and Al- Madinah classes in Saudi service), the vessels are with sanctions lifted, the Iranians could acquire other weapon systems for future vessels.
Iran has also built two fighters, the Azarakhsh and the Saeqeh. The first is a reverse-engineered version of the Northrop F-5E Tiger, a late 1960s day fighter. The second is an advanced version of the first plane and bears a slight resemblance to the F/A-18 Hornet, albeit it is much less capable, with only half the bombload of the Hornet and lacking a multi-mission radar like the APG-65. Iran has also copied the C-802 anti-ship missile and the SM-1, made improved variants of the MIM-23 HAWK, and even reverse-engineered the AIM-54 Phoenix used on the F-14 Tomcat. Perhaps most impressive is Iran’s ability to design not just upgrades to the M47 and Chieftain main battle tanks, but also develop its own main battle tank, the Zulfiqar.
In short, the Bavar 373 is just the latest in Iranian weapons innovation. Last month, high-ranking officials of that regime threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz. The development of the Bavar 373 means those threats may not be idle.