Putin is keeping a watchful eye on the Zapad exercises - We Are The Mighty
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Putin is keeping a watchful eye on the Zapad exercises

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Sept. 18, attended the week-long war games with Belarus that have demonstrated the Russian military’s resurgent might and made neighboring countries nervous.


Putin observed the Zapad 2017 drills — tank attacks, airborne assaults, and air raids that got underway Sept. 14 — at the Luzhsky range in western Russia, just over 100 kilometers (about 60 miles) east of Estonia’s border.

As part of the maneuvers, the Russian military on Sept. 18 also test-fired its state-of-the-art cruise missile at a mock target in the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan, showcasing the weapon’s extended range and precision strike capability.

Putin is keeping a watchful eye on the Zapad exercises
Russian Zapad ’17 military exercises. Photo from Moscow Kremlin.

Some nervous NATO members, including the Baltic states and Poland, have criticized an alleged lack of transparency about the war games and questioned Moscow’s intentions.

Related: This video of a Russian helicopter accidentally firing on observers is crazy

The exercises, held in several firing ranges in Belarus and western Russia, run through Sept. 20. Russia and Belarus say 5,500 Russian and 7,200 Belarusian troops are participating, but some NATO countries have estimated that up to 100,000 troops could be involved.

With Russia’s relations with the West at a post-Cold War low point over the fighting in Ukraine, worries about the war games ranged from allegations that Russia could permanently deploy its forces to Belarus to fears of a surprise onslaught on the Baltics.

Russia and Belarus have said the exercises simulate a response to foreign-backed “extremists” and insisted the maneuvers don’t threaten anyone.

Putin is keeping a watchful eye on the Zapad exercises
Russian Zapad ’17 military exercises. Photo from Moscow Kremlin.

Their troops are fighting three invented “aggressor countries” — Veishnoriya, Lubeniya, and Vesbariya. However, the Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — and Poland see the monikers for the made up enemies as thinly disguised references to their nations.

NATO has rotated military units in the Baltics and Poland and staged regular drills in the region, activities Moscow has criticized as a reflection of the alliance’s hostile intentions.

Also read: Watch Russia kick off this year’s massive ‘Zapad 2017’ wargame

Russia and Belarus kept the stated number of troops involved in the drills just below 13,000, a limit allowing them to dodge more intrusive inspections by NATO in line with international agreements. The practice maneuvers nonetheless have put Russia’s massive military mobilization capability on display.

They also have involved various branches of the Russian military, including the air force’s long-range bombers and missile forces. In a reflection of the drills’ broad scope, they featured the Sept. 18 launch of the Iskander-M cruise missile, a new weapon that has drawn concern from the United States.

Putin is keeping a watchful eye on the Zapad exercises
USMC Photo by Cpl. Janessa K. Pon.

The missile, launched from the Kapustin Yar firing range in southwestern Russia, hit a mock target at a range in Kazakhstan, some 480 kilometers (nearly 300 miles) away, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

The US has accused Russia of developing cruise missiles banned by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with a goal to threaten US facilities in Europe and the NATO alliance. Moscow has rejected the accusations and insisted it has adhered to the pact.

The INF Treaty bans an entire class of weapons — all land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (310 and 3,410 miles). The Iskander-M’s stated range puts it just below the pact’s threshold.

The Zapad 2017 maneuvers are intended to underline the close military cooperation between Russia and Belarus, but also revealed signs of strains between the allies.

While Putin watched the previous drills in 2013 with his Belarusian counterpart, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said he would watch them separately on Sept. 20.

Putin is keeping a watchful eye on the Zapad exercises
Zapad ’13 military exercise. Photo from Russian Kremlin.

Lukashenko has relied on subsidized Russian oil and gas supplies and billions of dollars in loans to keep his nation’s Soviet-style economy afloat. At the same time, he often has bristled at what he described as the Kremlin’s attempts to subdue Belarus and force it to surrender control over prized economic assets.

Lukashenko also has flirted with the West to try to reduce his dependence on Russia. His decision to dodge a joint appearance with Putin at the military exercises was seen by observers as an attempt to put some distance between Belarus and its giant eastern neighbor.

“Lukashenko is trying to mend ties with the West to get new loans, and the Kremlin’s military games don’t help that,” Alexander Klaskovsky, a Minsk-based political analyst, said.

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These 7 military movies are so good that even the trailers will move you

This year the GI Film Festival is celebrating its 10th anniversary of sharing the military experience in and out of the arena of war. The festival is the first in the nation to exclusively celebrate the successes and sacrifices of the service member through the medium of film.


Over the last 10 years, the GIFF has presented films from new and established international and domestic filmmakers that honor the heroic stories of the American military and the universal lessons of war and conflict.  All of them in some way express the courage and selflessness of our fighting men and women and the value of their work.

The GI Film Festival is open to filmmakers of every experience level, from first-timers to veteran directors and producers.  Prizes are awarded annually to winners in three main categories: feature, documentary, and film shorts.

Here are the trailers of 7 of this year’s best. Watch them and be moved:

1. The Last Man Club

https://player.vimeo.com/video/165420834?color=f3ec19byline=0portrait=0

The Last Man Club is a story about four World War II veterans who served together on a B-17 Bomber. After losing touch over the years they each find themselves trapped in life circumstances and are all too compliant to live out their last days in their own “private little hell”. Pete is dying in a veteran’s hospital and it’s his nurse, Ripley who helps him find the last known address of Eagle, his captain and the pilot of their beloved B-17.

Pete’s letter finds Eagle living in his son’s home, stripped of his privileges and housebound. The letter informs him that he is the last man after Pete passes and he must fulfill the oath they had all taken after the war. What Eagle first sees as impossible, he is jarred from his fears when he learns that he will soon be going to a retirement home.

Dressed in his reunion military uniform he steals the battery from his son’s car and escapes in his late wife’s 1958 Ford Fairlane. At the start of his journey, Eagle meets up with the most unlikely of accomplishes. Romy is an attractive young woman on the run from her abusive gangster boyfriend. Through a series of happenstances, Romy becomes Eagle’s unwilling tour guide. As they travel cross country Eagle teaches Romy to respect herself and through Romy’s friendship, Eagle conquers his own limitations, finds vitality and a life worth living. They venture through the backroads of America, in a race to complete their mission, as the police, the FBI, a dangerous gangster and Eagle’s family try to figure out this band of geriatric’s next move.

As they travel cross country Eagle teaches Romy to respect herself and through Romy’s friendship, Eagle conquers his own limitations, finds vitality and a life worth living. They venture through the backroads of America, in a race to complete their mission, as the police, the FBI, a dangerous gangster and Eagle’s family try to figure out this band of geriatric’s next move.

2. Ride the Lightning

Ride The Thunder is the true heroic story of a friendship between American military legend and recipient of the Navy Cross, John Ripley and one of South Vietnam’s most decorated Heroes, Le Ba Binh. The film is based on a book by the same name by Richard Botkin, former Marine Infantry Officer (1980-1995) The storyline follows Ripley’s and Binh’s fight together against the communists at the Battle for Dong Ha during the Vietnam War and the aftermath of the fall of Saigon, as Ripley goes home to a divided America while Binh is imprisoned in a communist re-education camp. After the war, their wives struggle to adjust to their changed lives. Immersed in this true story are interviews and rare historical footage that educates the moviegoers on the truth of the war along with the heroes who fought in it, while exposing the opportunists who betrayed them. The main Vietnamese actors in the film are Vietnamese refugees.

3. Thank You For Your Service

The U.S. military faces a mental health crisis of historic proportions. Thank You for Your Service takes aim at our superficial understanding of war trauma and the failed policies that have resulted. Director Tom Donahue interweaves the stories of four Iraq War veterans with candid interviews of top military and civilian leaders. Observing the systemic neglect, the film argues for significant internal change and offers a roadmap of hope. Interviews include Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Admiral Mike Mullen, Generals David Petraeus and Loree Sutton, Sebastian Junger, Nicholas Kristof, Dexter Filkins, Senator Patty Murray, Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Colonels Lawrence Wilkerson and Dave Sutherland.

4. The Unimaginable Journey of Peter Ertel

At the time of filming, Peter Ertel is 95 years old. He is a published author and an avid pianist. Using his skill as a riveting storyteller, Ertel recounts his experiences as a soldier in the German army – from his early days as an “unsoldierlike” recruit who was deemed an “unreliable follower of the Fuhrer” to his becoming a highly respected platoon leader, who routinely risked his life to save the lives of his men, as well as the lives of the enemies he encountered on the battlefield. Though Peter takes us through the hell of front-line combat in both France and Russia, perhaps the most ‘unimaginable’ part of his journey begins after he becomes a prisoner of war. The Unimaginable Journey Of Peter Ertel is a documentary portrait of a man who maintained his humanity despite being thrust into a world of hatred, destruction and death. Peter Ertel tells his own story as only he could tell it – with unflinching honesty and raw emotion.

5. Rising Fear

https://player.vimeo.com/video/165078202?color=f3ec19byline=0portrait=0

Marine Ryan Taylor is given a phone number by a pretty, mysterious girl. Believing it’s hers, he calls and it detonates a bomb in downtown Pittsburgh. The marine then becomes the main suspect in the bombing. Now, he must evade the authorities and hunt down the people who set him up before they can launch a second attack. Rising Fear is an indie action thriller boiling with twists, turns, and a deadly conspiracy that threatens to destroy the US government–and freedom itself. Buckle in as writer director Tom Getty takes you on a roller coaster ride that starts with a bang and doesn’t let up until its explosive finale.

6. The Last Time I Heard True Silence

https://player.vimeo.com/video/165078200?color=f3ec19byline=0portrait=0

Noah Cass was a machine gunner for the Marine Corps during the 2005 Operation Spear in Iraq. During an over-watch mission, his team was ambushed and a mortar round hit his truck leaving him with permanent hearing loss and tinnitus. When Noah returned home, he dealt with issues common to veterans transitioning into civilian life: aggressive behavior, alcohol addiction, depression, difficulty keeping a job, and relationship problems. Noah eventually hit rock bottom and was desperate for a change. He decided to get sober and started running in the woods nearby. Noah, now a father and husband, enters the 50-mile wilderness race having only completed one 26-mile marathon. This race represents the journey a young soldier faces to help cope with a past that haunts him every day.

7. No Greater Love

Chaplain Justin David Roberts served 6 years active duty as an Army Chaplain. Before he left the Army in 2015, he found that beneath the collar of ministry he was struggling with depression and PTS. Wondering what kind of father he would be if he didn’t face his issues, he set out on a journey to meet up with members of his old unit. Along the way, they recall their tour of duty. In total, 17 soldiers were killed in action and over 200 were wounded during the deployment. Almost all of the men lost died while either trying to save someone or protect others. The common thread in every one of these stories of valor is love. This film layers the footage Roberts shot on missions in Afghanistan with heartfelt interviews of the men he served with, as well as surviving family members. Through telling these stories, the soldiers that deployed with the legendary No Slack battalion are finding healing and purpose after combat.

For show times for these films and a complete rundown of the other films and events going on at this year’s exciting GI Film Festival go here. If you’re in the greater DC metro area you’re not going to want to miss it.

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Three War Army Hero

This episode tells the dramatic story of an Army veteran who served in three wars, World War II, Korea and Vietnam.  Al Ungerleider’s first taste of combat came on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.  He went on to march towards Germany, liberating a Nazi concentration camp along the way.  Brigadeer General Al Ungerleider retired from the Army after 36 years of service.  His final active-duty assignment was commanding the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.  Al Ungerleider is a true American hero.

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8 reasons why the Army should update its combatives manual

In January 2002, the Army revised their Combatives Field Manual (FM 3-25.150), which has been a fantastic training aid when it comes to teaching the Modern Army Combatives Program. It lays down the groundwork literally, but without an instructor, there’ll be many gaps in instruction to fill.


Unlike many of the other documented skills in the Army, combatives is not something you can just read in a book — the actual FM isn’t any help either.

The Stretches

Combatives is a very aerobic activity that requires nearly every muscle in the body. Stretching is important before and after any exercise, yet the manual only covers five stretches and only one is not buddy-assisted.

1. The backroll stretch:

The point of stretching is to loosen up your muscles, not immediately throw out your back. Any sudden movements out of this one and you’re done.

Putin is keeping a watchful eye on the Zapad exercises
(Source: FM 3-25.150)

2. The buddy-assisted hamstring stretch

A flaw in the “buddy-assisted” stretches is that the person assisting has no knowledge of what is helpful and what is hurting. They could push the stretcher to the point of injury or they could just do nothing at all. Not only is the risk of injury higher, it takes time away from what could be used stretching both combatants.

Putin is keeping a watchful eye on the Zapad exercises
(Source: FM 3-25.150)

3. The buddy-assisted groin stretch

The same goes for the buddy-assisted groin stretch… except there are countless other methods to stretch your own groin that don’t involve outside help.

Putin is keeping a watchful eye on the Zapad exercises
(Source: FM 3-25.150)

Basic ground-fighting techniques

Combatives lessons are broken down into three levels: one, two, and three (and technically four, but that’s a Master trainer course). Combatives level-1 is meant to get a soldier’s toes wet, but troops often come out thinking that their shrimp drills and mounting drills make them the toughest SoB in the bar.

4. The front mount and the guard

Much of the training revolves around learning these two positions. To the untrained eye, the person on top is always the one in control. While this is true for the front mount, the soldier on their back in the guard position actually has control of the fight. It all comes down to who has positive control of the other person’s hips and their center of balance.

Putin is keeping a watchful eye on the Zapad exercises
(Source: FM 3-25.150)

Putin is keeping a watchful eye on the Zapad exercises
(Source: FM 3-25.150)

5. Arm push and roll to the rear mount

The bread-and-butter of combatives level-1 is learning to switch between the various ground stances. However, much of this relies on your opponent giving you stiff arms (where the elbow is locked straight). In a controlled environment, it’s not a problem. In reality, fists fly too fast for you to grab them.

Putin is keeping a watchful eye on the Zapad exercises
(Source: FM 3-25.150)

Advanced ground-fighting techniques

Stepping into level-2 doesn’t make you any more of a badass. You’ll still cover the same techniques, with maybe three or four new moves spliced in.

6. North-South Position

In this position, the person on the ground is in complete control. The problem with the North-South Position is that this an extremely ineffective hold. Placing your hands in the person’s armpits restricts their arms, but it still gives them the freedom to knee your head and punch your sides.

Putin is keeping a watchful eye on the Zapad exercises
(Source: FM 3-25.150)

7. Captain Kirk

The objective of the Captain Kirk is to flip the opponent over you by hoping they bend down, give you stiff arms, and have moved their center of balance far enough forward for you to roll backwards.

The only applicable time for this is when a troop has watched too much WWE and is going for the Batista Bomb.

Putin is keeping a watchful eye on the Zapad exercises
(Source: FM 3-25.150)

Takedowns and throws

These are your finishing moves. During combatives level-1, almost no focus is put onto these… despite being the actual goal of the program.

8. Attack from the rear

One crucial step is missing from the illustration: Applying the force needed to the enemy’s fourth point of contact and lifting from their ankles. The illustration goes from “Get ready, get set…” directly to “finished.”

Putin is keeping a watchful eye on the Zapad exercises
(Source: FM 3-25.150)

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Battle of the Bulge

Toward the end of December 1944 it was clear the Germans were losing WWII. Low on fuel, munitions and morale, the ability of the rogue nation was slipping by the hour. Still with 6,000,000 men under arms, Hitler burned with a passion for one more mad drive into the Allied lines. In December, 1944 with the Russians closing in from the east and the Allies chipping away at the western front, the Nazis made their move. 600,000 Germans in 29 divisions with 11 armored panzer divisions, surged into the Allied front. The stage was set for total Allied defeat, but Hitler had failed to calculate the most important element of all. He could count the thousands of guns, the tons of munitions and the hundreds of tanks, but he could never grasp the unfailing courage and valor of the American fighting man.

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The best kept secret of the Super Bowl

The Super Bowl is so many things. All the football, merch, traditions and fanfare … and all the money in the land to attend.

But turns out, one of the very best parts of the Super Bowl is absolutely free.

The USAA Salute to Service Lounge is colocated with the NFL Experience, but unlike the Experience which requires purchasing a day pass, the Salute to Service Lounge is open to anyone with a valid military ID.


Of course lounge-goers love all the free drinks and chips, the swanky leather furniture and the sweet set up, but more than anything, the candid conversations with NFL superstars was second to none.

This year’s lineup was absolutely incredible. Players sat down for a one-on-one interview with lounge host Dave Farra and then the audience had the opportunity to ask questions, followed by a chance to get an autograph and chat with the individual players.

This year’s lineup:


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WATM and Roger Staubach

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Legendary Dallas Cowboys QB and Navy QB Roger Staubach

Tessa caught up with legendary Cowboys football player and Vietnam Veteran Roger Staubach to hear about his ongoing relationship with the military…

WATM and Deshaun Watson

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Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson

Listen as Tessa interviews Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson about growing up in a Habitat for Humanity house, the importance of paying it forward and the…

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Christian McCaffrey at the USAA Salute To Service Lounge at the Super Bowl LIV NFL Experience.

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Carolina Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey

Arguably the best running back in the NFL, Christian McCaffrey talks with Tessa about his Super Bowl pick, his love for the military and his harmonica.

Steelers running back James Conner at the USAA Salute To Service Lounge at the Super Bowl LIV NFL Experience.

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Pittsburgh Steelers RB James Conner

Tessa catches up with Pittsburgh Steelers’ James Conner to talk about his brother’s military service, his Super Bowl prediction and his unbelievable…

Also joining the Salute to Service Lounge was Tennessee Titans QB Ryan Tannehill and Washington Redskins Coach Ron Rivera. Next year, join USAA at the Super Bowl in Tampa and don’t miss this once in a lifetime experience.

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The movie ‘Titanic’ inspired this North Korean to defect

Jung Gwang-Il thought James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster film, Titanic, was the most subversive thing he’d ever seen. His expertise in that regard was very limited — he spent his entire life under the Kim Regime in North Korea.


He fled Pyongyang for Seoul in 2004 and has since founded a nonprofit designed to undermine the regime’s biggest weapon in its mission to maintain power: information. Jung formed No Chain for North Korea, a non-governmental organization whose mission is to send even the tiniest packets of information into the “Hermit Kingdom.”

Putin is keeping a watchful eye on the Zapad exercises
Fighting Kim Jong-Un with Vin Diesel.

South Korean soap operas and American movies via USB drives in plastic bottles are his weapons of choice. He tosses them into rivers and lets them float downstream. These are considered subversive in North Korea and are illegal. The punishment for North Koreans viewing this material is usually death, but it can also land them in one of the state’s Siberian gulags.

His hope is that these drives find their way into the North Korean black market and are accessed by families and households who have USB-reading devices. An estimated 50 percent of urban North Koreans have some kind of device that can read them.


And it all started with Titanic.

He watched the film from a pirated Chinese DVD that was smuggled across the border. The love story left him mesmerized, he told the Times of London.

In North Korea, and in North Korean films, love is reserved to the party and leader,” Jung said. “Love is political because it means putting feelings for an individual before loyalty to the state.

Putin is keeping a watchful eye on the Zapad exercises
These kinds of water bottles contain USB drives full of Western media. (Photo from No Chain for North Korea)

It was this Hollywood influence that convinced him the state was lying to him about everything. After his 2004 escape, he founded No Chain for North Korea to influence his former countrymen the way he was influenced.

“We want to use information to overthrow the regime, rather than military force, because that would bring so many casualties,” he said.

Jung is a veteran of the North Korean People’s Army. He spent his compulsory 10 years of military service with an artillery unit on the North-South Korean border. He says the military doesn’t ever question the regime’s hard line on anything. Why should they? They have no information to counter it.

Until now.

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Saudi Arabia is paying $15 billion for this advanced anti-missile system

The Pentagon says the US State Department has approved the possible sale of the advanced THAAD missile-defense system to Saudi Arabia for $15 billion, citing Iran among threats in the Middle East.


The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in an Oct. 6 statement that it had notified the US Congress about the possible sale, saying the deal would “support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States.”

“This sale furthers US national security and foreign policy interests, and supports the long-term security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region in the face of Iranian and other regional threats,” the statement said.

Putin is keeping a watchful eye on the Zapad exercises
The first of two Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptors is launched during a successful intercept test. DoD photo courtesy of Missile Defense Agency.

Washington deployed THAAD, which is used to guard against ballistic-missile attacks, to South Korea this year for defense against North Korea.

Iran maintains one of the largest ballistic-missile programs in the Middle East, seeing it as a key element of defense against the United States and other opponents, including Israel and Gulf Arab states.

Both Washington and Saudi Arabia accuse Tehran of aggressive and disruptive behavior in the region.

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March through Russia with the ‘Immortal Regiment’

Every May, in celebration of Victory in Europe Day (V-E Day), thousands of people take to the streets all over Russia with portraits of their ancestors who fought in World War II. They mark the 70th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany in an event called the “Immortal Regiment” march.


Putin is keeping a watchful eye on the Zapad exercises

In 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin led the march through Red Square, one of the largest turnouts in memory, carrying a portrait of his father, who fought the Russians in The Great Patriotic War, what the Soviet Union called WWII. The final tally saw 12 million people march across the country in 2015. They march to remember those who fought in the conflict and remember the sacrifices their forebears made.

Putin is keeping a watchful eye on the Zapad exercises

Felipe Tofani is a photographer and Art Director based in Germany who happened to be in St. Petersburg, Russia during 2015’s Immortal Regiment March. He marched with the Russians and took a beautiful series of photos for his photography blog, Fotostrasse.  He also recorded his thoughts as he marched in the parade that day.

Putin is keeping a watchful eye on the Zapad exercises

“Russians seem to go crazy with at the Victory Parade,” Tofani wrote. “There were a lot of people dressed in the military uniforms from the Soviet Union.”

Putin is keeping a watchful eye on the Zapad exercises

“We grew up in Brazil and we never learned about the importance of Russia in the Second World War. In Brazil, you learn about the Allied Victory over Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union gets a secondary importance in the fight.”

Putin is keeping a watchful eye on the Zapad exercises

“Everything changed when we moved to Berlin and learned about the Cold War and the Second World War from a different point of view. From that day, we knew we had to visit Russia and pay our respects to all those who died.”

Putin is keeping a watchful eye on the Zapad exercises

“There were soldiers in this greenish uniform marching and a lot of red Soviet flags. It was our first sight of the Victory Parade and we were amazed by that.”

Putin is keeping a watchful eye on the Zapad exercises

“The idea behind the Immortal Regiment is to honor the memory of the heroes who earned a hard-won victory over Nazi Germany.”

Putin is keeping a watchful eye on the Zapad exercises

“The Immortal Regiment is to immortalize family memory. The Immortal Regiment brings people together to remember the grandparents and parents that fought from 1941 to 1945.”

Putin is keeping a watchful eye on the Zapad exercises

“We read about the veteran parade a little later. But we didn’t know what it was since most of the people that were veterans during the Second World War were already dead.”

Putin is keeping a watchful eye on the Zapad exercises

“We took pictures of everything and that includes a SUV that was transformed into a Katyusha rocket launcher.”

Putin is keeping a watchful eye on the Zapad exercises

All photos are owned by Felipe Tofani, and used by permission. See Tofani’s original post on Fotostrasse.

NOW: 17 Insane Russian military inventions

OR: The Russian Air Force is trolling the West

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Brain surgery to bear hugs: One wounded warrior’s story

Born with a birth defect causing seizures, battling anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and facing divorce and separation from a child can be a lot for anyone to handle, but with a community of support, things can get better.

For retired Air Force Capt. Rob Hufford, no statement could ring truer. From an all-time low to bear-hugging England’s Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, while in Australia to compete in the Invictus Games, things are looking up for Hufford.

“I researched the effect of lingering hugs,” Hufford said. “Psychotherapist Virginia Satir said four hugs a day for maintenance, eight hugs a day for survival, and 12 hugs a day for growth.”


After graduating the Air Force Academy in 2006, Hufford became a civil engineering officer and, over the next nine years, was stationed in four locations and deployed to Iraq twice.

It was during this time that Hufford’s life seemed to fall apart and things began to spiral. He reached the limit on the medicine he could take for his condition, which was a good and bad thing.

The drugs were causing anxiety and anger, but without them, his physical activity was limited until surgery. His outlook became bleak.

In January of 2013, he had a temporal lobectomy to remove a piece of his brain.

Putin is keeping a watchful eye on the Zapad exercises

Retired Capt. Lawrence “Rob” Hufford yells triumphantly after lifting 418 pounds, setting a personal best in the heavyweight category of power-lifting at the 2018 Invictus Games.

“It was about the size of a tube of Chapstick,” Hufford said.

In 2015, the secretary of the Air Force decided that he should be medically retired. In 2016, his marriage fell apart and he became geographically separated from his son.

Keeping a positive attitude while coping with everything was a constant struggle.

His lifeline came in the form of friend, Dana Lyon, Air Force Academy javelin and strength conditioning coach. She had noticed that Hufford was a shell of what he once was and pushed him to become involved with the Air Force Wounded Warrior program.

In June of 2017, he attended Offutt Air Force Base’s AFW2 Caregivers, Adaptive Sports, Resiliency, Empowerment and Transition event. Hufford was able to share his stories with others who were suffering and got to know himself better.

“I could finally see the effects that denial issues and my illnesses had had on my relationships with other people,” Hufford said. “It was a turning point in my life.”

It was also during the CARE event that he heard about the Warrior Games. He applied for the winter trials at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and was one of 40 selectees and 10 alternates to participate in the games at the Air Force Academy.

Putin is keeping a watchful eye on the Zapad exercises

Team Air Force athlete Capt. Rob Hufford looks at the scoreboard after competing in the rowing competition during the Department of Defense Warrior Games at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado, June 9, 2018.

(U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech Sgt. Anthony Nelson Jr.)

The next thing he knew, he was invited to participate in the Invictus Games in Sydney, Australia. The event, created by Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, in 2014, was inspired by the Warrior Games created by the U.S. Department of Defense in 2010.

Hufford said he was honored to see Prince Harry during the sailing event. He called out to the prince to inform him that he could expect to receive a hug when he met him again.The Duke decided that there was no better time than the present and accommodated him with a big bear hug.

As Hufford continues to compete in Wounded Warrior programs, he has also made an effort to pay it forward. He works with Omaha organizations that help to identify what he calls “invisibly wounded” individuals throughout the community.

His efforts don’t go unnoticed.

“Rob is always the person there supporting everyone else regardless of what he is going through,” said Marsha Gonzales, Warrior Care Support branch chief.

Impressed by his attitude, Gonzales assisted Hufford in returning to Air Force employment.

He is currently the lead engineer for the upcoming Offutt AFB runway restoration project and the Omaha Lincoln Airfields due to kick off in 2019.

This article originally appeared on the United States Air Force. Follow @usairforce on Twitter.

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Here is why business is booming for private military companies

The services of private security companies have expanded so much over the last 20 years that they are now referred to as private military companies (PMCs) in some circles. PMCs have assumed all the different roles of war, from backend logistics, to training, to consulting, to battlefield operations, and more. The private military industry was a $218 billion industry in 2014 and business is growing, according to the Vice video below.


Related: 20 private security contractors that hire vets with the skills

There are many reasons why hiring a PMC is more attractive than maintaining a military, and companies like ACADEMI (formerly Blackwater), Aegis, and others are redefining what war might look like in the future.

This VICE video explores the origins of the PMC industry and how the war on terror has fueled its growth.

Watch:

VICE, YouTube

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9 key facts about World War II’s ‘most dangerous man’

(Photo: Bundesarchiv) (Photo: Bundesarchiv)


SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Otto Skorzeny was one of the most celebrated and feared commandos of World War II. Daring operations such as the rescue of Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and missions behind enemy lines during the Battle of the Bulge made him known as “the most dangerous man in Europe.”

1. He saved the Austrian President’s life

After growing up in an middle-class family in Austria, Skorzeny grew disillusioned with the depressed state of the country’s economy following its defeat in World War I. He joined the Austrian branch of the Nazi Party in 1931 as part of its paramilitary wing. When Germany annexed Austria during the 1938 Anschluss, Skorzeny led a small paramilitary group to protect the Austrian president Wilhelm Miklas from assassination by the Austrian Nazi’s, arguing that killing Miklas would only encourage violent resistance to the coup. This initiative brought the attention of the Party leadership, and he was given a small SS command in charge of the presidential palace.

2. He studied special operations while recovering in the hospital

After World War 2 broke out, Skorzeny fought in the Netherlands, France and the Balkans with the Waffen-SS as a junior officer. He joined the 2nd SS Panzer Division in the invasion of the Soviet Union, taking part in several battles including the failed attempt to conquer Moscow. In 1942 he was wounded in the head by rocket fire and spent a long convalescence in a Vienna hospital. There he read everything he could on special operations and commando warfare, essentially becoming a self-taught expert. He was later appointed commander of the SS’s special operations schools specializing in infiltration and sabotage.

3. He rescued Benito Mussolini

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(Photo: Bundesarchiv)

Skorzeny was personally selected to by Adolf Hitler to lead the rescue of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini after he was deposed and imprisoned in 1943. Mussolini was closely guarded and was moved constantly to avoid detection. An initial raid by Skorzeny and his men failed when their transport plane was shot down, and Skorzeny was later shot down again and rescued at sea while personally leading an aerial reconnaissance mission off the coast of Sardinia. When Mussolini was finally located at a mountain hotel at Gran Sasso, Skorzeny and his men crash landed gliders in front of it and rescued the former dictator without a shot being fired. The raid gained Skorzeny fame as well as a promotion and the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, one of Germany’s highest awards.

4. He was accused of plotting to assassinate Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt

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‘The Big Three’: Winston Churchill, Franklin D Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin sit for photographs during the Yalta Conference in February 1945. (Photo: War Office Second World War Official Collection)

It was believed by Soviet intelligence that Skorzeny had been tapped to lead a mission to assassinate Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt at the Tehran conference in 1943. The other Allies thought the plot fanciful, and Skorzeny maintained after the war that the operation never existed and he had been named in order to provide credibility to it. Skorzeny did lead other operations throughout the war targeting foreign leaders, including a failed attempt to capture the Yugoslavian partisan leader Josep Tito that ended in a fiasco. Later, when it came to Hitler’s attention that his puppet Hungarian regent Admiral Miklos Horthy was secretly negotiating with the Red Army, Skorzeny led a successful raid to capture the Admiral’s son, forcing him to resign.

5. His face was on ‘wanted’ posters all across Europe

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When Germany engaged in its last ditch attempt to defeat the Allied armies in Western Europe in the Battle of the Bulge, English-speaking soldiers under Skorzeny’s command wore American uniforms and spread chaos and paranoia behind American lines. Some of Skorzeny’s men who were captured claimed that Skorzeny himself was leading a raid to kill or capture U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower in Paris, though this was never actually part of the plan. This led to Eisenhower order wanted posters of Skorzeny posted all over Western Europe and contributed greatly to his reputation as a shadowy commando who could be anywhere.

6. He was acquitted of war crimes

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Skorzeny awaiting trial.

After the Battle of the Bulge, Skorzeny was sent to command regular troops fighting the Soviets on the collapsing Eastern Front as an acting major general. He also oversaw a failed attempt to blow up the Rhine bridge at Remagan to deny it to American troops. After Germany surrendered, he was held as a POW for two years before the Dachau trials, where he was charged with illegally fighting in enemy uniform during the Battle of the Bulge. Skorzeny’s defense was that his troops discarded the uniforms before engaging in combat, and British commando’s testified on his behalf that they had used the same tactics. Facing the prospect of prosecuting Allied troops, the court acquitted Skorzeny.

7. He escaped from a military prison

While interned awaiting the results of a denazification court, Skorzeny escaped military prison in 1948 with the aide of former SS members dressed as U.S. military police, and later claimed the U.S. had assisted in the escape. After nearly two years in hiding, during which he was recruited by the CIA-backed Gehlen Organization in Germany as an intelligence operative, he set up a small engineering business in Madrid, Spain. It was suspected by some to be a front for the supposed ODESSA network, which was rumoured to be smuggling ex-Nazi’s out of Europe to Latin America and the Middle East. It is unclear if a centralized organization by that title ever actually existed, and that the name was actually a catch-all for scattered old-boy networks and smugglers who did help some Nazi’s escape. When Skorzeny’s memoirs were published in 1950 by the French newspaper Le Figaro, French Communists rioted outside the paper’s offices due to Skorzeny’s Nazi connections.

8. He was Eva Peron’s bodyguard

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He was later sent by the Gehlen Organization in 1952 to be an military advisor to Egyptian dictator Mohammed Naguib, where he served with many other ex-SS and Wehrmacht personnel. Skorzeny oversaw training for Egyptian and Palestinian commando forces, including a young Yasser Arafat, and helped planned raids into Israel. Ironically, Skorzeny attempted to trade intelligence on the Egyptians to Israel’s Mossad if the famed Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal took him off a list of Nazi war criminals. Wiesenthal refused, but Skorzeny handed over the information anyway. He later divided his time between Spain and Argentina, where he served as an advisor to Argentinian president Juan Peron and bodyguard for his wife Eva. He also founded the Paladin Group after 1960, a freelance intelligence and mercenary organization that worked for governments from Libya to Greece.

9. He died of lung cancer

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(Photo: Agencias)

Skorzeny developed a spinal tumour in 1970 that left him paralyzed, but through intensive rehabilitation he was able to walk again. The cancer recurred, and he died of lung cancer in Madrid in 1975 and was eventually buried in his family’s plot in Austria. Skorzeny was a devoted Nazi for much of his life, and had served with and even protected some of the most vile war criminals of World War II. Though many specific details have never emerged, he helped at least some Nazi’s flee justice in Europe, and after the war he straddled the line between freelance mercenary and terrorist. But his personal bravery, skill and an astonishing career which spanned decades, which even his enemies acknowledge, make him on of the most colorful military figures of the 20th Century.

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