WATM recently caught up with 91-year-old WWII Navy Veteran Norma Bauerschmidt, who made headlines when she opted out of medical treatment for her stage IV uterine cancer to live the rest of her days seeing the country that she served rather than the walls of a hospital.
“Miss Norma,” as she has come to be known, made her decision two days after her husband Leo of 67 years and Army-Air Corps veteran passed away. She and her poodle, Ringo, now live in an RV with her son and daughter-in-law. She has no regrets.
“I’m having the time of my life!” Norma said in an interview with The Huffington Post. “I’m done with doctors.”
Q: What made you want to join the service?
A: I wanted to help our country. I have always been quite patriotic. I was the only girl from my neighborhood who went into the service. I served 1945-1946.
Q: Did your parents approve?
A: My mother didn’t say one way or the other. My father said I could do it but I couldn’t sign up until I was 20. I think that was the Navy’s rule for women, not my father’s.
Q: You served in the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services). What made you interested in joining?
A: I always looked up to my older brother, Ralph. He went into the Navy before he graduated from high school. He was probably about 17. I thought I should follow in his footsteps.
Q: What was your job in the WAVES?
A: I was a nurse. I remember giving a lot of penicillin shots.
Q: Where were you stationed?
A: I did basic training at Hunters College in New York. I then took the train to San Diego Navel Hospital for the remainder of my service.
Q: Where did you meet your husband?
A: My brother Ralph and my husband Leo were buddies. Ralph introduced me to Leo in Toledo, Ohio 1947. They remained best friend for all those years and died exactly a month apart from each other.
Q: Where were you on the day World War II ended? What was your memory of that day?
A: We were in the barracks in San Diego. I remember feeling elated. Everyone was jumping up and down, screaming and hollering. It was a very big day!
Q: What advice do you have for women who are currently serving?
A: I don’t have any advice. I’m just glad that they are serving.
Q: What is your definition of patriotism?
A: Supporting those who have chosen to serve our country.
Q: What was your most memorable moment of service?
A: I remember “borrowing” a male sailor’s leave pass so I could enjoy some time with my girlfriends who had a different day off from me. I hope the statute of limitations is up on this one!
Q: You were down to your last three cents when Congressman Ford personally delivered your benefit checks. Did he spend time with you and your husband?
A: At the time he was a new congressman. He simply dropped off our checks. We were so grateful and surprised that he would come out himself. He didn’t visit more than to make sure we had what we needed. I would have liked to have given him a cookie, but we didn’t have any food at the time. Our interaction with him allowed us to get on our feet and begin our life together. He was a good man.
Q: Are there any other Navy Ships / National monuments that you’d like to visit?
A: Well, we are in Boston right now and are planning to visit the USS Constitution this week. And I would really like to see the USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii someday.
Q: Did you join any veterans organizations after your service?
A: The only thing I remember is registering at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Arlington, VA along with my daughter who served in the Army and later became a special agent in the US Secret Service.
Q: What was the most valuable lesson the military taught you?
A: I am sure many lessons have stuck with me throughout my life. I am proud to say a quarter still bounces off my bed!
Watch the video of her visit aboard USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78):
One of the reasons the U.S. Army is so capable and successful is its ability to think outside the box to achieve its major objective. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always mean it includes unintended consequences into its calculations.
One of the major examples of this include using Agent Orange to defoliate the jungles of Vietnam. The United States could see the enemy on the ground after using Agent Orange, but it also gave everyone cancer, from the soldiers and airmen who used it to generations of Vietnamese people, decades after the war ended.
The Army’s disregard of the laws of unintended consequences isn’t strictly a 20th Century occurrence (it’s also not limited to the Army, or to the United States). In the drive to push Indian Tribes onto reservations during the last part of the 1800s, the Army’s plan to subdue the hunter-gatherer tribes of the American West involved an unorthodox, but not well thought-out idea: destroy their resources.
At the time the frontier was disappearing, the U.S. government and U.S. Army was full of Civil War veterans, who saw victory on the battlefields through destroying the meager resources of the Confederacy. The trio that managed the final destruction of the Confederate Armies, President Ulysses S. Grant, Gen. Philip Sheridan, and Gen. William Techumseh Sherman devised a plan to do the same to the Indian tribes in the West.
The Indians didn’t have farms, factories, or shipping ports, though. If they did, the U.S. Army would have been less inclined to engineer the tribes’ destruction. Their goal was to get the roving bands of Native tribesmen off the plains and onto plows, where they would stop harassing settlers, destroying rail and telegraph lines, and stop killing soldiers.
In 1868, the massive buffalo herds that once roamed North America had dwindled into two giant herds, but the tribes still relied on them for everything from clothing and shelter to food. Army leadership recognized that destruction of the herds was the only means of controlling the native population. While the Army never officially adopted a policy of slaughtering buffalo, they helped it along.
“Every buffalo dead is an Indian gone,” Col. Richard Dodge said of the slaughter. “Kill every buffalo you can.”
So they made a most uniquely American solution, promoting a market-based solution to the destruction of the herds. A 2016 article from the Atlantic notes that buffalo hides in 1868 fetched $3.50 each, nearly $70 today. Cartridges for the popular hunting rifles of the time cost just under $5 each in 2021 dollars. It could be a big business, and it was. Killing bison was a cheaper alternative to cattle ranching.
Businessmen hunting hides decimated what was left of the herds, taking what would sell and leaving the meat to rot in the plains of the frontier. In just a few short years, the American Bison was facing extinction and the Grant Administration would do nothing to protect them. By the turn of the 20th century, there were just 300 left.
In the end, the plan worked. Tribes who were most affected by Sheridan’s plan, the Kiowa, Comanche, Cheyenne and Arapaho were eventually forced onto their reservations as their food sources dwindled away. Since the buffalo was so important to their society, the tribes also became heavily dependent on the U.S. government for food and other supplies.
The bison survived by migrating to the protected lands on Yellowstone National Park. Today the American Bison is making a comeback, with more than 500,000 in public and private herds, including the herds Native tribes have also reintroduced onto their lands.
Featured image: Left: Screenshot – Red Cry, YouTube; Right: stock image
China has quietly been reaching a naval milestone: They floated their first indigenous aircraft carrier on April 23, 2017. The vessel is sort of a half-sister to their current aircraft carrier, the Liaoning.
And the Chinese decided to copy this less-than-successful vessel – which probably should be hauled away to the boneyard.
According to DefenseNews.com, the new vessel, reportedly named Shandong, is almost a copy of the Liaoning. The big difference is in the arrangement of phased-array radars. But it has the same limited capacity (roughly 36 planes). Appropriately, the carrier has been designated as he Type 001A, while the Liaoning was designated Type 001.
The Shandong, though, may be the only ship in her subclass. The DefenseNews.com report notes that China is no longer testing the ski ramp – and instead has been trying to build catapults for launching aircraft. According to GlobalSecurity.org, China is planning to build two Type 002 aircraft carriers, followed by a nuclear-powered design, the Type 003.
The Type 002 carriers are slated to include catapults – which are far better at launching planes than the ski jump on the Kuznetsov-class design, and displace anywhere from 70,000 to 80,000 tons. The Type 003 will displace about 100,000 tons and be comparable to the Nimitz and Ford-class carriers.
China has stated a goal of having 10 aircraft carriers by 2049.
Tensions over a potential war between North Korea and the United States are mounting every day.
The “hermit kingdom” is boasting through its state propaganda that it could destroy America. Any claim by North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho to “create a balance of power with the U.S.” is considered laughable.
But in an astounding claim, Pyongyang’s version of Pravda (fun fact: pravda means “truth” in Russian) says it can destroy the US in many different ways, but most notably with an electromagnetic pulse weapon.
Whether or not this claim is true, here’s a breakdown of what their military actually looks like. They have around a million active duty personnel using cheaper versions of an AK-47 (Type 88), 67 year old fighter aircraft, and dwindling allies.
An impressive claim, by 2017 military standards, is its two satellites in orbit. It’s debatable if they actually have an EMP device on them, but it is known that nuclear weapons also give off an an EMP blast on detonation.
The concerns of their nuclear capabilities, non-state allies, artillery and rocket launchers are real. Even if their nuclear warheads could theoretically reach the US, the devastation it would cause to our allies is the only reason they haven’t been obliterated and South Korea hasn’t become a island yet.
Former Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) said during hearings before the 2008 Congressional EMP Commision that he believes that a electromagnetic pulse weapon detonated in Nebraska could kill 9 out of 10 people in the aftermath and ensuing chaos.
This lead former CIA director R. James Woolsey to say in an op-ed piece for The Hill that one of two North Korean satellites could deliver such a blast.
Problem with this is that Bartlett was directly quoting an early release of William R. Forstchen’s “One Second After” — a science fiction novel about the collapse of society. But as we all know, emotions beat facts in fear mongering.
There’s no doubt the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was a devastating blow to the U.S. military and its capabilities in the Pacific Ocean. It wasn’t the crippling blow it was supposed to be, but with just one more attack, it could have been.
A full 21 of the Navy’s ships were damaged or destroyed in the attack, with three battleships being taken out permanently. Most were able to be repaired, re-floated, and re-entered into service. Much of the installation’s facilities, storage and infrastructure survived, however. Japanese officers wanted a third wave of attacks (and one even called for an invasion) to destroy those parts of the bases.
The third wave never came, but if it had, it would have been much more damaging to the U.S. war effort than attacking the ships. Admiral Chester Nimitz later noted that getting the American fleet operational would have taken more than a year if it had been destroyed, and the war would have lasted two more years than it did.
Here’s why they decided not to.
1. The Americans were no longer surprised.
The first wave came early in the morning, and despite a couple of warnings that something was amiss, the Japanese caught the American troops completely by surprise. The first wave of attacks were devastating, targeting the high-value capital ships in the harbor. It contained most of the bombers carrying specially modified shallow-water torpedoes. Dive bombers also attacked targets on shore and fighters strafed parked aircraft.
Japanese losses in the first wave numbered just nine planes. By the time the second wave came in, Americans had gotten to what defenses they could muster and were putting up a fight. The second wave suffered more significant losses than the first, with 20 downed planes and 74 more damaged. A third wave might have been devastating to the Japanese carriers’ defenses and they still needed to sail home.
2. American aircraft carriers were not in Pearl Harbor.
Even though the first wave of Japanese fighters were fitted to destroy the capital ships while they lay at anchor, it was the second wave’s primary objective to hit the American aircraft carriers as much as possible. As we know now, the U.S. Navy’s carriers were not at Pearl Harbor that morning, they were all away on separate missions.
The Japanese did know that the American carriers were not at Pearl Harbor that day, but decided to proceed with the attack anyway. They believed it would be valuable to destroy all eight battleships, even if they didn’t know where the three operational carriers were. If on their way back to Japan, they had encountered the USS Saratoga, Enterprise, or Lexington with depleted aircraft, they would be risking their own carriers and airplanes.
3. They couldn’t land at night.
Even though the attacks began early in the morning, aircraft and crews had to work substantially to land, rearm, refuel, and repair aircraft during the first and second waves. A third wave would have required a lot of preparation and effort. Turnaround times for the aircraft crews would have been substantial as well.
By the time the planes were re-armed and ready, flew out to unload their third attacks, and returned to the Japanese carriers, they would have to be landing at night. In 1941, only the British Royal Navy had the ability to land aircraft at night.
4. The Japanese fleet would have been low on fuel.
Japanese Admiral Chūichi Nagumo positioned his fleet north of Pearl Harbor. The USS Enterprise sent its aircraft looking for Nagumo’s fleet south of Pearl Harbor. This was fortunate for the Japanese, because having to move too much or escape a pursuit would have left it low on fuel. Staying put would have risked his fuel situation. Actually, anything not in the plan would have.
The time it would take to mount a third wave, no matter how destructive or necessary, in his eyes meant risking the fleet’s fuel supplies. If he ran dangerously low on the way home, he would have had to abandon some ships — ships that were now necessary to the war they just started.
5. Nagumo thought he was finished.
It’s easy for armchair historians to question what the Japanese were thinking by not pressing their advantage. But the Japanese military had been wildly successful in combat up until this point. Its military doctrine said it should save its strength for the next battle after achieving its objective, rather than completely destroy an enemy force. It would come back to bite them in the coming days, all over the Pacific Theater.
Nagumo believed the U.S. Pacific Fleet had been knocked out, and knowing the Japanese were advancing all over the Pacific area that very day, he knew they would need every man and plane. He was not willing to risk those men and planes on a battle he’d already won.
These are just some of the labels put on retired Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher by the news media before and after his highly publicized criminal trial. Following his acquittal of almost all war crime charges in 2019, Gallagher is finally ready and able to share his side of the story.
“What people don’t see is what goes on because of those articles and what that does to a family. We aren’t the only ones who’ve gone through it, either — it happens throughout the military,” he shared. The constant, negative media coverage wasn’t just a headache; Gallagher and his family were targeted with death threats.
It wasn’t an easy decision to write a book and share his experience, Gallagher admitted. He was clear in explaining the SEAL community’s opinion of operators going on to tell-all books and it wasn’t good. His brother, Sean Gallagher and Eddie’s wife, Andrea, were the ones to finally convince him he should do it.
In the beginning of the book, Gallagher addresses his feelings about making the decision.
“I wish I didn’t have to write this book. I wish no one knew my name or knew what I did for a living. For 19 years, I strove to be a quiet professional. Didn’t advertise the nature of my work. Kept my head down and did my job. I’d give anything to still be able to do that.”
The Man in The Arena: From Fighting ISIS to Fighting for My Freedom takes readers through Gallagher’s earlier years, the deployment which changed everything and his entire military criminal trial experience. Both he and Andrea wrote chapters in the book. But so did his brother, their children and other individuals involved. Gallagher was candid in sharing how before his own criminal justice experience, news headlines like his would have even had him believing the person accused must have been doing something wrong.
“It was a crash course for both [Andrea and me] as soon as we got thrown into it. You realize real quick that you have no rights especially as the active duty member,” he said. “Once you are accused of something you are told you are not allowed to say anything in your defense.” Gallagher referenced being told things like “trust the system” or “it’s better for you if you don’t say anything.” He said it wasn’t long before he realized everything he was told was wrong.
“They use our loyalty to whatever branch we are serving or institution we belong to against us,” he explained. “Once I was in there, they started denying me my legal visits, phone calls, certain stuff civilians are afforded. I was like, this is nuts and that’s when she [Andrea] stood up and said ‘this isn’t happening.'”
After watching what she called inadequate defense and stonewalling from the military, Andrea said she decided to take control. Her mission quickly became educating the American public, she said.
It was through her and Sean’s numerous media appearances that attorney Tim Parlatore eventually took over defense. Under Parlatore’s leadership, the initial military-led prosecution was sanctioned for violating Eddie’s constitutional rights, and one prosecutor was removed for illegally tapping Eddie’s attorney’s emails. Eventually, another SEAL would admit under oath he killed the Iraqi terrorist Eddie had been accused of murdering.
Andrea said, “It was a daunting undertaking but it was my honor to fight for him because he was fighting for our country all of those years.”
Gallagher enlisted in the United States Navy in 1999. He was attached to a Marine Corps unit until becoming a SEAL in 2005. He was a trained medic and sniper with combat experience in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. In the book, Gallagher wrote about his fateful deployment to Mosul, Iraq in 2017 as a chief of SEAL Team 7 and how it was actually safer than previous deployments. But it was still just as gruesome.
“Some days we’d watch ISIS gun down crowds of women and children as they tried to escape the city. The terrorists sent them running toward us and then opened fire in an attempt to draw us out. There wasn’t much we or the partner force could do except return fire from a distance.”
Scenes like the one above and worse are described often throughout the pages of the book, a stark reality for troops deployed to these regions. For Gallagher, who’d been deployed eight times, it wasn’t anything new. A bombing later on in that same deployment would lead to the apprehension of an ISIS terrorist as a prisoner of war and start a chain of events which changed the trajectory of Eddie’s life.
As readers comb through the book, they may wonder why Gallagher was charged with killing a verified ISIS terrorist in the first place. There were other charges against him that were also dropped but the accusation of murdering a terrorist stands out. Where and what is the line for our troops who deploy to defend? Rules of engagement tend to determine this line, but those rules can and do change. In the book, Gallagher addresses his issue with the inconsistency.
“War was war, and each of us accepted that there was a chance we might die, but handcuffing the warfighter made the possibility more likely.”
Gallagher also writes about his role as a SEAL and doesn’t hold back on explaining what it entails.
“We exist to eliminate the enemy, and everything else is just details toward achieving that goal. It’s not pretty, and I don’t expect the average American to understand what we do. But we relish being sent into combat, staging from the shittiest locations on earth, and completing the most dangerous missions. We’re not Boy Scouts.”
Despite everything he and his family publicly went through, Gallagher said he wouldn’t change anything. “I’m grateful I got to go overseas and fight for my country. No regrets; I got to work with the best men and women this country has to offer…my friends I’ve lost, those were giants among men. I am grateful,” he said.
Andrea echoed his sentiment. “We love our service members and military and just want to see it continue to go in a good direction,” she said. “We hope this book sparks an after-action report for the Navy and makes them say, ‘Maybe there are things we can do better.’”
Both said without the support of various nonprofit organizations, congressional members and fundraising events, it could have gone a very different way for Gallagher. Most military members aren’t typically able to afford the kind of legal defense he ended up needing. It is with this in mind the couple created The Pipe Hitter Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to assisting military members, veterans and first responders in fighting for their legal rights.
As for the book, Gallagher and Andrea were committed to sharing everything, which is what led to putting QR codes at the beginning of many of the chapters, they said. Each code brings the reader to actual court recordings, NCIS interviews and what the prosecution deemed as evidence against Gallagher. He was clear in stating their goal was to be transparent in writing the book by giving readers the whole picture rather than just what was initially reported in the media. Both wanted readers to have the ability to do their own research to find the truth.
Creative endeavors can be quite helpful for wounded warriors, and Marine veteran Shane Kohfield is a prime example.
Kohfield, a former Marine infantry machine-gunner, deployed twice to Iraq and now suffers from post-traumatic stress and a traumatic brain injury. But his wounds didn’t hold him back. One day, he thought: “I am going to become a painter.”
And paint, he did. Though he has only painted for about 8 months, Kohfield has already sold a few of his works, for anywhere from $500 to $2500. “I started doing this for something to do and then I felt the raw emotion,” he told KGW-Portland.
Kohfield uses an interesting method to create his abstract paintings, first spray painting across his canvas and then using a spatula to blend the colors. His technique developed out of necessity, since his trembling hand prevented him from using a normal paint brush, according to KGW-Portland.
WATM asked Kohfield some questions about his artwork and how it has helped him cope with his injuries. Here is what he said (lightly edited for clarity):
We Are The Mighty: How did you get into art? What inspired you to start painting?
Shane Kohfield: I had just gone through a horrible divorce and at the same time I had my second TBI (back in the states, while on duty). I got into woodworking because my dad had sent me some tools for Christmas one year. My start with painting honestly came from a completely impulsive move on my part because I was driving home from school one day and this thought literally went through my head, as I say again, literally as follows “I am going to become a painter.”
I went to the arts and crafts store and bought all the supplies that I thought I needed and I went home and painted my first painting and less than a week later I sold it for nearly $2,000. Less than three weeks after starting painting, my paintings were being sold in an art gallery. I have only been painting for 8 months but what I have done since then is much cooler than that.
I am actually actively helping people with my art as well as actively helping veterans. Painting has changed my life and even though I could sell my paintings easily for thousands, I never sell a painting at a price people can’t honestly afford. Even if it means I only sell it to them at the cost of painting it.
WATM: How has art helped you cope with your injuries?
SK: Art gives me a way to express myself in ways I haven’t been able to before. I have written poetry once or twice and people have told me my poems have brought them to tears. I certainly never expected to hear that about my paintings but I have now it’s truly an amazing feeling.
I know my story is an impossible one but I have gotten enough news coverage for you to believe it’s true, and I believe all people — especially veterans — have their own version of painting. They all have this hidden talent they never knew existed but they refuse to take the chance to try something new, to expect to suck at something but give it 100 percent like you are going to be God’s gift to whatever you are about to attempt.
There are people who always have that attitude at things in life but they refuse to see what they can’t do because they fool themselves. If you can be honest and see what you can’t do, it allows you to move onto something you can do. I tried many different types of art before I found one that I was truly good at.
WATM: Would you recommend art therapy to other wounded warriors?
SK: I would not recommend art to veterans. It’s a thing with therapists: They recommend this, and they recommend that, and all of us have gone to them and they really haven’t helped us much.
What I truly recommend is to ignore what others think, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, emotionally, mentally, physically or financially — including yourself — and do what makes you happy. Find something that makes you complete, and at the end of the day, something that leaves you thinking about what you just did and not what you did in the past or what you saw in the past.
It doesn’t matter if its theater or squatting 400lbs, if its something you can take pride in again, something that gives you purpose again, and it doesn’t hurt you or anyone else then isn’t it worth pursuing regardless of what other people would think?
You don’t need art to cope. You need pride in what you currently do. You need a purpose and you need a work ethic to make it happen.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is in talks with the Trump administration to keep American troops in Iraq after the fight against the Islamic State group in the country is concluded, according to a U.S. official and an official from the Iraqi government.
Both officials underlined that the discussions are ongoing and that nothing is finalized. But the talks point to a consensus by both governments that, in contrast to the U.S. withdrawal in 2011, a longer-term presence of American troops in Iraq is needed to ensure that an insurgency does not bubble up again once the militants are driven out.
“There is a general understanding on both sides that it would be in the long-term interests of each to have that continued presence. So as for agreement, yes, we both understand it would be mutually beneficial. That we agree on,” the U.S. official said.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
The talks involve U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Iraqi officials over “what the long-term U.S. presence would look like,” the American official said, adding that discussions were in early stages and “nothing has been finalized.”
U.S. forces in Iraq would be stationed inside existing Iraqi bases in at least five locations in the Mosul area and along Iraq’s border with Syria, the Iraqi government official said. They would continue to be designated as advisers to dodge the need for parliamentary approval for their presence, he said.
He said al-Abadi is looking to install a “modest” Iraqi military presence in Mosul after the fight against the Islamic State group is concluded along with a small number of U.S. forces. The forces would help control security in the city and oversee the transition to a political administration of Mosul, he said.
The U.S. official emphasized that there were no discussions of creating independent American bases in Iraq, as such a move would require thousands more personnel. He said the troops levels would be “several thousand … similar to what we have now, maybe a little more.”
Currently, the Pentagon has close to 7,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, many not publicly acknowledged because they are on temporary duty or under specific personnel rules. The forces include troops training Iraqi forces, coordinating airstrikes and ground operations, and special forces operating on the front lines.
The news comes as Iraqi forces are struggling to push IS fighters out of a cluster of neighborhoods in western Mosul that mark the last patch of significant urban terrain the group holds in Iraq, nearly three years after the militants overran nearly a third of the country.
Such an agreement would underscore how the fight against IS has drawn the U.S. into a deepening role in Iraq.
At the height of the surge of U.S. forces in 2007 to combat sectarian violence that nearly tore Iraq apart, there were about 170,000 American troops in the country. The numbers were wound down eventually to 40,000 before the complete withdrawal in 2011.
The U.S. intervention against the Islamic State group, launched in 2014, was originally cast as an operation that would largely be fought from the skies with a minimal footprint on Iraqi soil. Nevertheless, that footprint has since grown given Iraqi forces’ need for support.
During a visit to Iraq in February, Mattis and Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, described an enduring partnership between the U.S. and Iraq.
“I imagine we’ll be in this fight for a while and we’ll stand by each other,” Mattis said.
Townsend, who was standing by Mattis, declined to say how long the United States will stay in Iraq.
But, he said, “I don’t anticipate that we’ll be asked to leave by the government of Iraq immediately after Mosul.” He added, “I think that the government of Iraq realizes their very complex fight, and they’re going to need the assistance of the coalition even beyond Mosul.”
The talks over a longer-term U.S. presence has greatly concerned Iran, which in turn is increasing support to some of Iraq’s Shiite militia forces, said Jafar al-Husseini, a representative from Kataib Hezbollah, an Iraqi Shiite militia group with close ties to Iran.
“Iraq’s security forces and the Popular Mobilization Forces (mostly Shiite militia groups) have the ability to protect ( Iraq’s) internal roads and borders, so why is al-Abadi using American security partners?” al-Hussein asked.
Al-Abadi has long struggled to balance Iraq’s dependence on both the U.S. and Iran. Both countries are key security and economic partners for Iraq, yet are often at odds with each other when it comes to regional politics and security in the greater Middle East.
Over the nearly three-year-long fight against IS, Iraqi forces closely backed by the U.S.-led coalition have retaken some 65 percent of the territory the extremists once held in the country, according to the U.S.-led coalition. But Iraq’s military is still in the process of rebuilding and reorganizing after it was largely gutted by widespread corruption under former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Klapper reported from Washington. Associated Press Writer Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who is believed to support sending additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, will determine if the approximately 9,800 U.S.troops currently deployed there should be reinforced. Trump gave Mattis similar authority over troop levels in Syria and Iraq in April.
A formal announcement on ceding the authority to the Defense Department is expected June 14. The move comes earlier than anticipated; it was expected that any action on changes in U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan would come after mid-July, when the administration’s strategy review is completed.
Giving more authority to the Pentagon allows military leaders more latitude in planning and conducting operations. Options were developed to deploy up to 5,000 more U.S. troops, including hundreds of Special Operations forces, to augment the international coalition force of about 13,000 troops presently in Afghanistan. About 2,000 U.S. troops there are currently assigned to fight al-Qaida and other militant groups.
Mattis told the Senate Armed Service Committee on June 13 to expect the Trump administration to unveil its Afghan strategy within weeks.
“We are not winning in Afghanistan right now, and we will correct this as soon as possible,” Mattis said in testimony.
The top aviators from the US Air Force, Marine Corps, Navy, and the head of the F-35 Joint Program office all testified before Congress on Thursday and came to a clear consensus — the US has “a war winner” on its hands with the F-35.
The F-35 program, first announced in 2001, has become the most expensive weapons project in history, with President Donald Trump calling the program “out of control” in December.
The program has delivered just 200 or so aircraft years behind schedule and billions over budget, but the top aviators in the US military said that the Joint Strike Fighter would come down in price and provide revolutionary capabilities to the US and their partners.
“We believe we are on track to continue reducing the price of the F-35 such that in [fiscal year 2019], with an engine including all fees, the F-35A model will cost between $80 million and $85 million,” Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher C. Bogdan, program executive officer, F-35 joint program office told Congress.
Bogdan also said the program had begun a block-buying strategy for foreign nations to bring down the price per aircraft.
The Marine Corps and Navy has said their biggest problem with the F-35 is not having enough. Marine Corps Lt. General Jon Davis said the Marines need F-35s to replace their aging fleets of F-18s and Harrier jump jets, which average 22 years.
But the F-35 isn’t just another fighter jet — it’s a flying all-spectrum sensor node that can fight without being seen and elevate the performance of entire squadrons by sharing data on the battle space.
“The aircraft’s stealth characteristics, long-range combat identification and ability to penetrate threat envelopes while fusing multiple information sources into a coherent picture will transform the joint coalition view of the battlefield,” said Navy Rear Adm. DeWolfe “Chip” Miller III.
“I’m becoming increasingly convinced that we have a game-changer, a war winner on our hands,” Davis said of the F-35. “We can’t get into those airplanes fast enough.”
In Iraq’s capital city of Baghdad during the 1980s, a family of six brothers and one sister — all very close in age — played in the streets and parks of their hometown, enjoying the simple things in life they had at the time. Through the decades, the times and the city had changed, and the streets and parks were not as simple.
Alsaeedy, the son of an Iraqi army reserve officer, said Iraq was a joyous place to grow up. “We played basketball, walked to school — all the children in the neighborhood were close,” he added. “There were negatives in politics, but we believed in our father, and everything was fine.”
Alsaeedy’s dream was to travel. “Everybody’s goal [in high school] was to travel the world, places like [the United Kingdom], U.S., and Europe,” Alsaeedy said. He kept that dream with him before pursuing a degree in biochemical engineering at the University of Baghdad.
“I was in my second year of college when everything happened — the troops arrived,” he said. “It was a year later when it seemed things began to settle down. We all were trying to educate ourselves on the matter, because we believed — and still do — that the U.S. forces and allies were there to transform the country and help. We felt there was not going to be any more tyranny system or sects of families taking over the country, doing whatever they felt they wanted … so we believed in the change and welcomed it.”
Trouble Finding Work
After graduating from college, Alsaeedy needed to find work, preferably in the engineering field. But it was extremely hard to come by, he said, due to the nature of the country and the fact that most employers hired only within their sects.
“I did not know exactly what to do or what I wanted to do, but I did know that I wanted to work for and with the service members,” he said. “It was not just about money or security. It was about being a part of something important to me.”
Unable to break into the U.S. contractor market, Alsaeedy’s education and skill set eventually gravitated employers to him within the private sector. In 2005, he found stability in the information technology field as a networking specialist for satellite communications.
“Then one day a man came into the shop and it changed my life forever,” he said. “He inquired about an internet network to be installed on a military base in Baghdad. I took the job. After the work was complete, they were very satisfied and needed more, so they hired me full-time. My English was very fluent, and I became a translator for them, too.”
While the years passed, Alsaeedy’s experiences and relationships grew through the ranks, and by 2007, he was a popular name among higher-ranking officials with the U.S. Air Force and the Marines in Qaim, Iraq.
Integrated Into Brotherhood
“I saw in the soldiers what very few of us [natives] see,” Alsaeedy said. “They were trustful, pleasant and respectful; they integrated me into their brotherhood.”
Insurgency propaganda said the Americans were in Iraq to destroy everything, Alsaeedy said.” But they were not,” he added. “They were building. They built infrastructure for the population and barracks for the Iraqi army. They supplied resources increasing our livelihood [and] creating jobs for husbands and fathers.”
At the end of 2007, Alsaeedy received some big news. Then-President George W. Bush allowed vetted contractors who had worked for the U.S. government for at least five years to be granted special immigrant visas for them and their families. The visa allowed them to live and work in the United States. At the end of 2009, Alsaeedy said, things started to change as U.S. troops began to withdraw.
“The protection was decreasing and so was the structure,” he said. “I knew if I stayed, my family and I were going to die soon.” In 2010, Alsaeedy met his five-year requirement to qualify for the special visa for him and his family to move to the United States.
Settling in Virginia
He settled in Norfolk, Virginia, where a new country and culture surrounded him. What he once knew as a world of war was now a life of peace and the pursuit of happiness, he said. He was immediately hired, and he worked for an oil and gas company from 2011 to 2012.
Alsaeedy said he felt grateful to the United States for the opportunities he’d received.
However, Alsaeedy said he “wanted to give them more.”
He enlisted into the U.S. Army in August 2013 as a combat engineer. Shortly thereafter, he attended basic training and advanced individual training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
Alsaeedy demonstrated his potential and quick-learning abilities, as well as outstanding physical fitness. He was afforded the opportunity to attend airborne school at Fort Benning, Georgia, upon graduation.
“I found out that I was going to be assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division,” he said. “I knew it was an honor and a prestigious unit. I remember seeing the ‘Double-A’ patch in Iraq. And to realize that I am now one of those paratroopers along with my family — I was beyond excited and humbled. However, it truly did not hit me until I came to Fort Bragg and walked through the division’s museum. That’s when I realized I was a part of something special.”
In 2014, Alsaeedy arrived full of energy to Alpha Company, 307th BEB. He was a new Panther Engineer, and he integrated just fine among his leaders and peers.
“We did a lot of training,” he said. “We went to every kind of weapons range you could think of. I learned demolitions, steel cutting, [went on] too many ruck marches, and was just very happy.”
Returning to Iraq
But Alsaeedy’s heart was holding a deep secret: there was something missing.
“My real dream was to return to Iraq,” he said. “I wanted to be an asset to the unit. I had the language, the background and culture. I knew if I ever went back, I would put myself out there to be as valuable as I could for the 307th.”
In early 2015, the 3rd BCT deployed to Southwest Asia in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. At the time, it was the newest campaign in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. There, paratroopers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division provided advice and assistance to Iraqi security forces.
In a twist of fate, Alsaeedy’s unit operated in the neighborhood where he was raised. His dream finally came true.
“It wasn’t easy at first,” Alsaeedy said while looking up with teary eyes. “But it was my leadership. They understood my situation. They supported me. It made my job and task much easier.”
Alsaeedy’s background and capabilities soon became an asset for his battalion commander all the way up to division command sergeant major and higher-ranking officials in tactical operations centers around the area of operations.
With his hard work and commitment to his leadership and the unit’s mission, Alsaeedy received the first battlefield promotion for a noncommissioned officer during the OIR campaign. He was pinned with the rank of sergeant during the fall of 2015 upon the unit’s redeployment to Fort Bragg.
His accomplishments and accolades did not stop there. “When I became an NCO, great things began to happen for me and my family,” Alsaeedy said. He attended the Warrior Leader’s Course soon after becoming a sergeant, learning technical skills and correspondence in the craft of an NCO.
Alsaeedy’s motivation and physical fitness separated him from his peers. He wanted to go to Sapper School and master his craft as an engineer. “I may have had a more advanced role during deployment, but I am still an engineer in the 307th,” he said.
Early 2016 came around, and he began training with the division’s Best Sapper Team as it prepared to compete in the U.S. Army Best Sapper competition.
To keep himself busy and find new challenges, Alsaeedy attended the two-week Fort Bragg Pre-Ranger Course, which evaluates and prepares future candidates for the U.S. Army’s Ranger School at Fort Benning.
He never went to Sapper School, though. Immediately upon graduating the Pre-Ranger Course, he was put on a bus to Ranger School. Alsaeedy went straight through the 62-day course, a course that normally has a high attrition rate.
“I have been busy, that’s for sure,” he said. “But I felt the more I accomplish as an NCO and a paratrooper, the more I am giving back to the Army.
“I am just so grateful. I cannot put into words how I feel, landing the opportunity during the mid-2000s to becoming a citizen, a soldier deployed to my hometown and a Ranger,” he continued. “My wife and child love the installation, the people, and my daughter is receiving a great education from the schools on Fort Bragg. The Army adopted me, and I am forever in debt to the most professional and perfect organization: the 82nd Airborne [Division].”
When Master Sgt. Mike Maroney was a staff sergeant he rescued 3-year-old LeShay Brown a few days after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005. An Air Force Combat Photographer happened to be on the mission, and snapped a now-iconic photo.
“They just happened to snap a photo of this little girl who really, for me, made the day. It was a rough day,” Maroney told the cast of The Real, a nationally syndicated daytime talk show. “It was seven days into Katrina. Earlier in July, I just got back from a deployment to Afghanistan, it was my worst deployment. To see New Orleans under water and destroyed just really took a toll on me, so when she gave me that hug I wasn’t even on the planet at that point.”
Maroney saved 140 people in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina but the memory of that hug stayed with him. Maroney, now 40 years old and a 19-year Air Force Veteran kept that photo on his wall for the past decade which he says helped him through a lot of dark times stemming from his service.
He never knew that little girl’s name. One day, he decided to find her and posted the photo on Facebook, hoping it would go viral. Someone reached out to Maroney after noticing the search for the girl had not gone very far.
“I had the idea to put it on Facebook to see if anyone is looking for her,” Maroney said. “It got 42 likes. Nothing. Up ’til last year, nothing. Then a young man named Andrew [Goard] wrote me and said, ‘Hey, its my life’s goal. I’m gonna help you find this little girl.”
Goard is a high school student in Waterford, Michigan whose grandfather served in Vietnam, and he idolized Pararescue Jumpers (he even has an Instagram page devoted to them). He helped the hashtag #FindKatrinaGirl go viral. The story was eventually picked up by Air Force Times and distributed around to smaller news outlets, until it ended up in front of LeShay Brown, who is now 13 and living in Waveland, Mississippi.
“I wish I could explain to you how important your hug was,” Maroney told LeShay Brown. “Your small gesture helped me through a dark phase. You rescued me more than I rescued you.”
“In my line of work, it doesn’t usually turn out happily,” Maroney said. “This hug, this moment, was like – everybody I’ve ever saved, that was the thank you.”
The conclusion featured an underwater game of cat and mouse between the Red October (a modified Typhoon-class submarine manned by a skeleton crew), the Los Angeles-class submarine USS Dallas (SSN 700), and the Sturgeon-class submarine USS Pogy (SSN 647) on one side against the Alfa-class submarine V.K. Konavolov.
As any fan of Tom Clancy novels knows, the Red October made it, and the Konavolov ended up on the bottom. But what would happen today?
Let’s start by updating the ships in question. Let’s replace the Typhoon with Russia’s new Borei-class SSBN. In one sense, we still get a very quiet, hard-to-detect vessel. While much smaller than the Red October (24,000 tons to 48,000), the Borei features pumpjet propulsion. This system has been used on British and American submarines for decades.
But the American submarines also will improve. Instead of a Flight I 688 like USS Dallas (now destined for the “Nuclear Ship-Submarine Recycling Program” – a fancy way of saying scrapyard), we’ll use a Virginia-class SSN (let’s go with USS Illinois (SSN 786) for the sake of discussion. We’ll replace the Pogy (already “recycled”) with USS Connecticut (SSN 22), a Seawolf-class submarine.
Now, what do we replace the Alfa with? Back in 1984, the Alfa was a mystery. It was known to have high speed and a titanium hull. Today, we know two things about this alleged super-submarine.
First, the Alfa was louder than a teenager’s stereo system playing Metallica. Second, its sonars, like those on most Russian combat vessels, were crap. The successor to the Alfa was the Sierra-class submarine. While not as fast, it did feature a better armament suite (four 650mm torpedo tubes and four 533mm torpedo tubes compared to six 533mm tubes for the Alfa). It also was somewhat quieter (given the Alfa’s noise level, that’s easy to do).
How might that final confrontation go? Given what we know about the (lack of) performance Russian sonars were capable of, it is highly likely that the 2016 version of the Hunt for Red October would be far less, shall we say, novel-worthy. It’s highly probable that the Sierra would not even pick up the Borei-class Red October and her escorts. Perhaps, at most, USS Connecticut would fire a decoy or two – sending the Sierra on a wild goose chase.
Thus, the Soviets would never even know America had the Red October.