MIGHTY CULTURE

The Air Force takes the responsibility of managing future talent seriously

Lt. Gen. Brian T. Kelly is the deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, the Pentagon, Arlington, Virginia. He serves as the senior Air Force officer responsible for comprehensive plans and policies covering all life cycles of military and civilian personnel management, which includes military and civilian end strength management, education and training, compensation, resource allocation and the worldwide U.S. Air Force services program.


During an interview with Airman Magazine, Kelly discussed his mission and the Air Force’s responsibilities of managing talent, identifying toxic leadership and the role of emotional intelligence in readiness and lethality.

Managing the Future Talent: Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly

vimeo.com

Airman Magazine: As the AF/A1 (manpower and personnel), what are your priorities for 2020?

Maj. Gen. Kelly: There are lots of things going on, but there are three big priorities. Number one, it’s exciting times and we’ve got to help and make sure we have a successful stand up of the United States Space Force and our resource allocation team will have a big role to help and make sure we get that on track.

Number two for us, we’ve got to ensure that we continue to make sure the right number of the right types and the right skill sets of Airman exists in our Air Force. So, the size and shape of the force has to be what it needs to be in order for us to meet our requirements in the National Defense Strategy.

Number three for us is we want to continue to transform and work on our talent management system so we can make sure we’re attracting, recruiting, developing and retaining the Airmen we need to do what the country needs to do. So those will be our three big priorities for 2020

Airman Magazine: Can you talk about the Air Force’s philosophy on managing talent and why it’s important?

Maj. Gen. Kelly: First and foremost, we’ve got to recognize that we’ve got some incredible talent in the United States Air Force and in our Space Force that we are standing up as well. But, it’s an all-volunteer force and so the talent management system we have has to be able to recognize that we’ve got to have a system that is attractive for people to be in. It also has to be agile to meet our requirements as requirements and threats change. It’s got to know what’s going on with those requirements that are out there. The talent management system has to understand – what does the talent market look like? What does the market for talent in the United States look like? And if you have an all-volunteer force, how do you become an attractive employer? How do you make sure that you are an employer of choice? If people have a way to choose between going to work for Google or coming to work for the United States Air Force or United States Space Force? The talent management system has a role to play in that and so that’s what we’re trying to do.

The Ground-Based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance System is responsible for tracking thousands of objects in space. The telescopes fall under the 21st Space Wing and is positioned at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. Here, 216 photos captured over a 90 minute period are layered over one another, making the star trails come to life.

(U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Tech. Sgt. David Salanitri)

Airman Magazine: Have there been any changes to your talent management philosophy, and what drove those changes?

Maj. Gen. Kelly: I’d say a talent management system always has to evolve as requirements change, as threats change, as the talent market pool of eligible people changes and as skill sets change. And then there’s technology. You know, when I first came into the Air Force in 1989, the technology then was not what it is in 2020, right? And so, whether it’s artificial intelligence, machine learning, all these different things have changed the way we look at our talent management system. It’s also changed how we communicate with our Airman and how we’re able to get information out and how we’re able to get feedback. All these things have led to and sort of influence the changes in the talent management system from when I first came in to where we are now.

I would say to you the system today is driving to be more agile than it was before. It was a one size fits all discussion before, but now it’s trying to be more agile and it’s certainly more collaborative. I hope the system is becoming more transparent so that all of our Airmen understand what’s going on and that they have a say in what happens to them in the talent management system and they have an insight to what happens.

Airman Magazine: What has changed throughout your career pertaining to talent management and your leadership development?

Maj. Gen. Kelly: We (Air Force leadership) always talk about situational leadership and being able to adjust your leadership styles and that has to continually happen. We’ve seen the advent of different leadership styles needed for the population of the all-volunteer force we have today and one of the key things I think we need to touch on is our leaders need to have the right balance of emotional intelligence to be successful. So, what does that mean? I would start by saying, emotional intelligence is first and foremost the skill set to know yourself, to understand your own behaviors and to control your own emotions so that you then can have good interpersonal relationships and be able to lead others. And that’s the important part for us and I think we’ve become more cognizant and we’re trying to understand and teach that in ways that will make our leaders more effective.

As we move into the modern discussions of the national defense strategy, we’re in wars of cognition and wars of thinking, wars of understanding and wars of information and so we have to be able to develop and lead our skills in that same direction.

Capt. Taiwan Veney, cyber warfare operations officer, watches members of the 175th Cyberspace Operations Group, from left, Capt. Adelia McClain, Staff Sgt. Wendell Myler, Senior Airman Paul Pearson and Staff Sgt. Thacious Freeman, analyze log files and provide a cyber threat update utilizing a Kibana visualization on the large data wall in the Hunter’s Den at Warfield Air National Guard Base, Middle River, Md., June 3, 2017.

(U.S. Air Force photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)

Airman Magazine: You’ve previously said “We must be responsive to the Air Force’s needs, must be agile with our talent, focused on rewarding Airmen on performance and be transparent on how the system works.” What’s the plan to meet those attributes for a talent management system?

Maj. Gen. Kelly: I think those four attributes are where we’re trying to drive and trying to make sure our talent management system is so let me cover those a little bit and I’ll tell you how our strategy fits against that.

So, first and foremost the talent management system has to deliver and has to be responsive to the requirements of the organization. I mentioned for 2020 one of our priorities is to have the right size and shape of the force and that’s what it’s about, whatever the Air Force requires us to be, whatever the Space Force will require, the talent management system has to be responsive and it has to be agile for responding to new technologies, new threats, but it’s also going to be agile for individual Airman.

We are a military organization, but we have to understand agility and we want performance to shine. We want people’s performance to be the deciding factor in our meritocracy, if you will, for when we decide who gets promoted, who gets what key jobs.

Those Airmen who distinguish themselves by performance, that performance needs to be driven forward and incentivized and rewarded.

Lastly, I think it’s important to make sure with the communication within our force that we are transparent, open in what we do and simple.

All the things that we’ve been doing on the officer side, enlisted side and civilian side are sort of wrapped around those areas.

I’ll give you some examples, on our enlisted side, we made a change in our senior noncommissioned officer’s promotion selection process where we no longer use testing as part of that process. We did that to drive and empower performance, where performance becomes the driving factor for us being able to select our senior noncommissioned officers and it’s no longer test taking or some other skill set that might have been augmenting that decision. Now, it’s performance based.

On the officer side, we recently went to new developmental categories for our line of the Air Force system, the same system that we had in place since 1947 and we made some changes. Those changes were to help us with development to become more agile, to drive our agility and drive our responsiveness.

We had to recognize not all officers need to develop in the same way. The way that we develop and the opportunities we have for our pilots are different than what we have for our space operators, were different than what we have for our cyber operators, our support personnel, like my career field and so we had to develop the agility if you will, to be able to develop in different ways so that we can maximize everybody’s potential, while at the same time driving ourselves to be more responsive to requirements.

We can help ourselves develop the right size, the right shape and the right skill sets we need to meet the requirements for the Air Force. So, all the things we’ve been doing are all really designed around those four attributes to build the talent management system that we need.

Airman Magazine: How does the AF identify leadership potential?

Maj. Gen. Kelly: There are lots of ways to identify potential throughout someone’s career to recognize different traits and characteristics. I think there’s testing factors. I think there’s observation factors. Certainly, there’s evaluation factors at some point in time you are observed in different time phases, different jobs. You look at how did they do? How did they respond? We try to identify those people who have the skill sets to be leaders.

One of the important things we’re working on is, can we get better in identifying who’s going to be a good leader? Is it just the born characteristic or can you actually teach it and develop it and go forward? We (Air Force) say you can teach leadership, develop it and be better at it. So, we’re working on how to identify it more accurately early. It’s not just to screen people out, because I think people often think you’re trying to identify who’s not a good leader, so that you can screen them out. There’s part of that, but it’s even more important to identify where people have some shortcomings in their leadership capabilities so that we can help them and give them an opportunity to develop into the leaders we need, because we need a lot of leaders in our Air Force.

Airman Magazine: Revolutionary changes to how officers are developed and selected for promotion have been made, like the creation of developmental categories and transitioning from Below the Zone to merit-based timing for promotions. How will this help with officer development and getting the right people in key leadership positions?

Maj. Gen. Kelly: Sometimes the Air Force had the tendency in the past to rush some of our folks through key developmental opportunities and not fully immerse them and give them a chance to learn all the competencies and all the experiences they needed. At the same time, when we did that, we added the below the zone piece that gave us a chance to incentivize performance. What we’ve transformed that to now is with merit-based promotion, I can still incentivize performance, I can give people a chance to let their performance shine and let their performance advance them among their peers, but at the same time, I make sure I balance that with the developmental time that’s needed to truly get the skill sets that we’re going to require.

Airman Magazine: Can enlisted personnel expect similar changes to their promotion system in the near future?

Maj. Gen. Kelly: We made some adjustments and changes to our enlisted system, even prior to the work and transformation that we’re doing the officer system. I think you’ll see similar things. When we talk about, what do we value as an Air Force and how we’re going to evaluate you, for the officer corps, we talk about now four things. We talk about how do you execute your mission? Whatever mission you are assigned to do. How do you lead people? Whether that’s an informal way where you’re actually a supervisor or a squadron commander or even informal as part of a squadron or group. How do you manage the resources you’ve been put in charge of? Whether they be dollars and equipment or even Airmen’s time? You know Airmen’s time is a resource. And then how do you improve whatever unit you’ve been put in charge of? Those four factors are probably pretty familiar to a lot of people. Those are the same four factors we use to evaluate units, that’s the unit effectiveness inspection, the UEI that our inspector general uses to evaluate. So we said, look, let’s line those up. Let’s have those four factors be the same way we evaluate performance in our officers. I think we’re going to see the enlisted system transition towards those same four factors. Let’s evaluate our airmen as a whole on those four factors. How do I execute my mission? How do I lead people? How do I manage resources? And what did I do to improve whatever unit I’m assigned to? So, I think you’ll see commonalities. I think they’ll also be some differences. It won’t be exactly the same system because we look for different things from our officer enlisted corps. I don’t think we want them to be exactly the same to accomplish the things that we need, but there’s going to be a lot of overlap and I think there is already a lot of overlap and you’ll see some more.

Air Force Basic Military Training trainees work to complete an obstacle during the Basic Expeditionary Airman Skills Training, a weeklong training simulation at Air Force Basic Military Training (AFBMT). The BEAST is where trainees get to put everything they’ve learned about combat skills into practice in a simulated environment.

(U.S. Air Force photo/Bennie J. Davis III)

Airman Magazine: Toxic has been this year’s buzzword. Do you think the Air Force has a toxic leader problem or is it something different that can be fixed?

Maj. Gen. Kelly: I agree with you toxic gets used a lot and I’m not always sure everybody has a framework of what toxic leadership means, because the term gets used in a lot of different ways. Sometimes it’s really appropriate and other times I’m left wondering if people understand what they refer to as toxic.

The Air Force is working on developing a definition of toxic leadership, so we can all understand.

I would say in a working definition right now on toxic leadership for us is a series of adverse behaviors that have an adverse impact on the unit or individuals. So, it’s not a one time series of negative behaviors, but it’s a continuous series of negative behaviors, that an individual would manifest that has a negative impact on a unit or on individuals, that’s toxic leadership for us.

I think that exists in our force from time to time, and it’s sometimes it’s a result of individuals who don’t have all the leadership tool sets that they need to handle the situations that they’ve been put in.

We are working to identify early what people’s shortcomings might be and give them an insight to that. It’s not to not allow them to become commanders, although that will be part of the discussion, but if we identify them in the right ways, can we give people the ways to develop and overcome those shortcomings?

There’s a fantastic course down at the Air University called the Leadership Development Course or LDC, the course sprung out of Gen. Goldfein’s work in revitalizing squadrons. They’re working to teach emotional intelligence and to teach understanding of interpersonal relationships and understanding how to lead in a positive way and inspiring way without having to revert to any of those adverse behaviors that might be characterized or seen as toxic.

I’m excited about that work. I wish that was available when I was going to go be a squadron commander. I learned a lot of things from watching other people. And luckily, I had some really good role models, but I would have loved to have some of that training and insight, so I could have known more about myself to help myself and to lead my organization in a better way.

Airman Magazine: Can you explain how changes in the talent management system might combat toxic leadership? Do you believe these changes will benefit all officers, regardless of when they peak in their careers?

Maj. Gen. Kelly: It starts with developing people the right way. The talent management system is going to identify short shortcomings in and where you’re missing a skill set, and hopefully give people a chance to correct course going forward. If I’m evaluating you on how you execute the mission, how you lead people and I’m grading that in the in the environment that we’re talking about it will help combat toxic leadership traits.

We’re driving the talent management system to reward the right behaviors in terms of leading people so that those people who are leading people in an inspirational way, in a positive way, are going to be the right people that we reward and move forward.

As a military organization we have some tough things to do. We’re going to ask people to go in harm’s way and put themselves in harm’s way from time to time. Positive leadership doesn’t mean it’s easy; it’s demanding. There are high standards and there needs to be high standards. We need to be a high standard, high performing organization, but we can do it in a positive way so that the leadership we get out is inspiring and caring leadership and that’s what we’re looking for.

Airman Magazine: What is your definition of emotional intelligence and what role does it play in the development of our leaders and what role has it had in your career?

Maj. Gen. Kelly: I think emotional intelligence is the ability first and foremost, to know yourself, your emotions and to control your emotions. So that you can use that understanding to have better interpersonal relationships and have a better understanding of others and your interaction with others.

When I first came into the Air Force, I don’t think I ever heard this terminology. I think it was there, we just didn’t know what it was. We used to talk about your ability to communicate effectively speaking, writing, leading, different things that we would focus on as leadership attributes. The idea of being able to understand yourself and understand others was always there. I just don’t know that we were as sophisticated and understood exactly what it meant. Labeling it as emotional intelligence and consciously understanding how to train it and how to get better at it and that’s where we’re going now, which is really exciting.

We have this great strength in our Air Force. We have people from all kinds of diverse backgrounds and ways of thinking. It’s difficult for you to lead diverse groups of people to be a high performing organization if you can’t understand and recognize where people are coming from or understanding yourself.

Air Force Basic Military Training trainees walk across a completed obstacle of bridge making during the Basic Expeditionary Airman Skills Training, a weeklong training simulation at Air Force Basic Military Training (AFBMT). The BEAST is where trainees get to put everything they’ve learned about combat skills into practice in a simulated deployed environment.

(U.S. Air Force photo/Bennie J. Davis III)

Airman Magazine: Air University is developing an augmented reality exercise helping young officers shape their ability to interact effectively in social situations and to recognize and manage their emotions. How could programs like this have helped you in your career?

Maj. Gen. Kelly: I would have loved to have some of those programs and the idea of what they’re doing right now at the leadership development course at our air university is fantastic, because it’s a free training gym without any worries or any risk of failure.

You can train in a virtual training gym in what most of us learned from our actual experiences, whether it was purposeful or just un-purposeful trial and error. If I did something it didn’t work very well, if it didn’t feel so good, I learned and tried to do better. I modeled myself around the people I was lucky enough to observe and gain mentorship from. Now to have a place for us to try things, to fail and learn and learn about yourself in the process so that you have a much better opportunity to apply that in your interactions in a leadership role. Knowing what already works and doesn’t work for you, that’s a really powerful concept.

Airman Magazine: The Chief of Staff talks about the power of Failing Forward, not just with programs and ideas, but also with individuals. Can recall a specific time when you failed or took a calculated risk and failed which ultimately propelled you forward, either personally or in a specific mission?

Maj. Gen. Kelly: First, I failed a bunch of times. It wasn’t just once I failed, I failed quite often and I make mistakes a lot. I think all of us do. First and foremost, I think as an Airmen and leaders, we all have to recognize and understand that.

I can recall when I was a captain and I had a program I was in charge of, I was sort of a section chief of a program. And I had I had a three-star general stand in front of me, asking me questions. I was really excited about my program and I was really proud and convinced that everything I was saying was true. In the middle of me explaining, the general kept asking me questions and I felt like I could never get my answer out. So, I think I said, “Sir, if you’d let me finish, I’ll be able to tell you,” to which he turned and looked at me and said, “You don’t understand the questions I’m asking. You need to listen before you respond.” I felt like a big failure. It was a dressing down in front of everybody, but he was right. I was so sure that I knew what I was doing that I wasn’t listening. I was already thinking about my answer before he finished his questions.

It hurt for a couple of weeks, I had a little sore spot in my brain and my soul. But, you know, it made me understand that I needed to listen better and to know that I wasn’t going to be the only one with good ideas. It served me well as I went forward. I was lucky that particular general took it well and didn’t use it as a permanent failure experience for me.

Airman Magazine: What did that experience teach you or influence how guided other Airmen through failures?

Maj. Gen. Kelly: It made me double down on the idea that failure is not the end. You can recover from failure and that failure is probably a good thing periodically. If we never fail, we probably don’t push the envelope far enough forward to be better than what we can be.

That certainly influenced me to say, look, others around you are going to fail, how you respond to their failures and what you do with their failures is going to help shape them. So, I make sure they get the same opportunities I had to learn and grow. That’s really what became important for me out of that situation.

There’s been other times when I failed and that’s okay. I know we pushed the envelope and we got to where we needed to be and it didn’t quite work out, but we enjoyed the experience. It wasn’t very enjoyable for me when I had that first experience, but there have been other cases since then.

Airman Magazine: We have an intelligent force of high achievers who are afraid to fail and tend to try and solve problems on their own and believe failure can be a career killer. How do we move to a fail forward culture? Are the days of the one mistake Air Force behind us?

Maj. Gen. Kelly: I challenge that assertion. I don’t think we have a force of people who are afraid to fail or are risk averse. We are really blessed to have great talented Americans volunteer to come serve in our United States Air Force and in our Space Force. When we get them and they have that enthusiasm and they’re being innovative and they’re going forward and they’re failing, how we react to their failure will tell us whether they’re going to be risk averse or not.

If little mistakes are treated the same way as crimes or large mistakes, then I think you’re going to get a risk averse force. Periodically, we’ve probably had ourselves there. I don’t think we’re one mistake Air Force, I think we’re pretty mature in understanding that. But at the same token, I think we’re a force that says you have to learn from the mistakes you’ve made. Repeated failures or repeated mistakes for the same things isn’t something we can have. Because eventually, those repeated mistakes are going to translate to actual combat and an actual battlefield.

Airman Magazine: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Maj. Gen. Kelly: It’s an exciting time for the Air Force. This idea that we have to make the force as a whole raise our acumen if you will, on what does it mean to be an Airman? What does it mean to be in the United States Air Force or United States Space Force? How do we build better leaders? How do we build a more lethal force for what is going to be required in the future? It’s an exciting time for us. I believe there’s lots of good thinking going on, there’s some great innovation and it’s a time to make a difference, so I’m excited to be part of it.

This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The 13 funniest military memes for the week of May 24th

It’s that time of year again: Memorial Day weekend. A solemn moment for the troops to reflect on those we’ve lost along the way and for our civilian friends and family to join us in honoring our fallen.

Now, I don’t fault the civilians who just take the weekend to relax and barbecue as the summer officially starts. You’d be hard-pressed to find a single fallen troop who’d wish to take away someone’s enjoyment. Sparking up the grill and enjoying friends and family is a big part of the American way of life that we fought for — and some paid the ultimate price for.

My gripe is with the complete oxymoron that is the phrase, “have a happy Memorial Day.” It’s just extremely awkward in context. Like, even if someone was a open-bar-at-my-wake kinda person, ‘happy’ and ‘memorial’ just don’t really mesh.

So, I leave you with this… Have a good Memorial Day weekend, however you choose to spend it. Place flags at your local veterans’ cemetery. Crack open an extra cold one for a fallen comrade. Start up the barbecue and tell the kids about the good times you had with your buddy who didn’t make it back. If we’re being honest with ourselves, they all would have wanted us to have a good day in their honor.


Yeah, that wasn’t your typical opener where I practice my stand-up, but I have a feeling I’m not the only one irked by the expression.

Also, here’s a SPOILER ALERT. We joke about the final episode of Game of Thrones in the final meme.

Anywho, here’re some memes:

(Meme via Team Non-Rec)

(Meme via Victor Alpha Clothing)

(Meme via Vet TV)

(Meme via Coast Guard Memes)

(Meme via Disgruntled Vets)

(Meme via Untied Status Marin Crops)

(Meme via Military Memes)

(Meme via Army as F*ck)

(Meme via Decelerate Your Life)

(Meme via Air Force amn/nco/snco)

(Meme via Air Force Nation Humor)

(Meme via Weapons of Meme Destruction)

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is the advice a Navy SEAL has for his younger self

If you can’t control it, your ego can destroy everything in your life.


That’s according to former Navy SEAL commanders Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, who teach this fundamental lesson through their leadership consulting firm Echelon Front.

Business Insider recently sat down with Willink to discuss his new book “Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual.” We asked him for the advice he would give his 20-year-old self, and he said it taps into this idea about ego.

While it may seem obvious that you know more about the world at age 30 than age 20, Willink said it’s important to realize that you’re never old enough to outgrow your ego — and it can make you susceptible to reckless decisions.

Retired Navy SEAL Task Unit Bruiser commander Jocko Willink. Photo: Courtesy Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

“If I went back to my 20-year-old self what I would tell my 20-year-old self is, ‘You don’t know anything,'” Willink said. “Because everyone when they’re young, they think they know what’s going on in the world and you don’t. And when I was 25, I thought that 20-year-old didn’t know anything but I thought my 25-year-old self knew everything. He didn’t know anything either. And when I was 30, the 25-year-old didn’t know anything. And then when I was 35, the 30-year-old didn’t know anything.”

Willink reflected on this in a previous interview with Business Insider. “When I get asked, you know, what makes somebody fail as a SEAL leader, 99.9% of the time it doesn’t have anything to do with their physical skills or their mental toughness,” he said. “What it has to do with is the fact that the person’s not humble enough to accept responsibility when things go wrong, accept that there might be better ways to do things, and they just have a closed mind. They can’t change.”

Read More: This SEAL commander has 5 tips to transform your life

He noted that being ego-driven can, at times, be constructive. You want to be competitive, you want to prove yourself, Willink explained — but you need to realize that your opinions may not be the best available.

Willink said that this really crystallized for him when he began training young SEALS and saw how some were headstrong about beliefs that his experience taught him definitively were incorrect.

“And I would do my best to help them along that road and realize, ‘You’re not quite as smart as you think you are,'” Willink said.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Air Force is straight up going to Skynet us all

Air Force leaders met with scientists and industry members May 17, 2018, at the Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Science Summit to chart how the service will utilize emerging technologies in the future.

The summit, hosted by Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force General Stephen Wilson, focused on how to operationalize AI and quantum information science with briefings from experts from headquarters Air Force Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance directorate, Air Force Research Labs, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, and technology industry leaders.


“The world is changing,” Wilson said. “We will change at scale. As noted in the National Defense Strategy, we must continue to learn and adapt faster. We’re here to ensure we have that architecture and infrastructure to empower our Airmen.”

The implications of AI and quantum information science are wide-ranging. From harnessing, processing, protecting and using massive quantities of data to improve decision making, to changing business practices with predictive, conditions based aircraft maintenance, AI and quantum science can revolutionize how the Air Force flies, fights and wins.

(Photo by Anders)

But widely utilizing these technologies requires more than building upon current Air Force science and technology investments, according to leaders. It will require embracing the technology as a culture.

As well, pursuing game changing capabilities with industry will drive further change, especially in how the service works with industry and academic partners according to Dr. Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics.

“Acknowledging the paradigm shift that commercial industry now leads in many areas of technology development is important,” Roper said.

Talos, an ancient mythical automaton with artificial intelligence

Experts from multiple leading technology industries shared their own insights from the AI and quantum science realms at the summit.

Wilson said continued partnership with industry is essential to posture the service with capabilities for dominance in the digital age.

“Digital speed, not industrial speed, will win the next war. There are things we need to do now to be the Air Force of the future,” he said.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why wounded troops don’t spend entire wars in field hospitals anymore

World War II was a time of great hardship for our military and our country. But in that hardship, the U.S. military found improvements in technology and training to address how we moved our wounded around inside and out of the theater of operations, away from combat situations.


In the first world war, there was no system in place to rapidly evacuate the wounded or injured. The survival rate of the critically injured dwindled, while those that did survive waited to be sent home to their families.

A nursing station in World War I.

To make matters worse, the wounded did not leave the point of injury until the war was almost over (this could have be upwards from 6-12 months). Field hospitals had to be set up near the battlefield and the injured were cared for by the women of the Army Nurse Corps until the fighting had come to a halt, or they made a significant recovery.

At the beginning of WWII, it was clear that there needed to be a system or operation set up to help bring our wounded back to home station safer, faster, and more efficiently.

Luckily, a woman named Lauretta Schimmoler, one of the first female pilots (and the first woman to command an American Legion Post), had an idea to use airplanes as ambulances (picture a giant ambulance in the sky). She founded the Aerial Nurse Corps of America and created a system that trained flight nurses who specialize in patient aircraft setup and medicine. They would provide expert care to the injured as they were transported back to home station.

Lauretta Schimmoler, aviation pioneer and pioneering nurse.

The military also needed to find aircraft that could support that kind of movement from wherever they were in the war. But there was no aircraft at the time that was specially built for aeromedical evacuation. So the Army Air Forces appointed certain aircraft already in circulation to perform the task. The C-54 Skymaster, C-64 Norseman, and the C-87 Liberator express were some of the planes utilized for aeromedical evacuation.

The C-57, C-67, and C-87. We’ve come a long way.

Schimmoler’s model of patient care and flight nurse program set the foundation for current-day aeromedical operations and drastically improved the survival rates of troops in WWII (although she didn’t get recognition until 1966). Without the development of Nurse Aerial Nurse Corps of America, AE would not have been born into existence and our troops today might still be waiting out wars in field hospitals.

Articles

The 7 everyday struggles of women in the military

Being in the military means keeping up with grooming standards. Being a woman in the military means keeping up with grooming standards of the military and society. While there is a lot of press around sexual harassment and assault in the military, and it is a real problem, there are plenty of other aspects to being a female in uniform. It also means plenty of trash talk, confusion, and humorous adventures dealing with men in the line of duty.


Throughout any career in the military, there are plenty of gripes that come from the lowest of privates to the highest of generals. Females, though, have a special set of complaints which develop over the course of their careers. Here are seven basic things women learn during their service.

1. Keeping your hair in regs is harder than it looks

(U.S. Coast Guard Training Video)

While the buzzcuts and high-and-tights adorn the heads of many men in the military, attempting to keep long, thick hair in a perfect sockbun is hardly the equivalent. Gel, hairspray, bobby pins, socks, hair ties, and prayers go into each bun, which often has to be fixed throughout the day.

2. Morale items can end up sapping your morale

Female drill instructors at a Marine Corps basic training graduation practice (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Vincent White)

Many woman in the military own a ton of t-shirts and sweatshirts bearing branches and units, just like their male counterparts. Wearing these in public, women will often get asked if their boyfriend is in the military. The look on people’s faces when you politely correct them is always priceless.

3. Haters gonna hate

Lt. Col. Christine Mau, 33rd Operations Group puts on her helmet before taking her first flight in the F-35A at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Marleah Robertson)

Snide comments come with being a woman in the military, but sometimes the questions leave you speechless. Things like “Aren’t women in the Army lesbians?” or “They let you fire a real gun?” or even “Green and tan aren’t really flattering on you.” The questions are rooted in discrimination against women who serve, but many women take the questions in stride and use it as a way to teach someone about what it’s really like to serve.

4. There are many, many more grooming standards

Machinery Repairman 2nd Class Joslyn Kelly from Fairfax, Virginia, shares her #WhyIServe statement from USS George Washington (CVN 73). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Chris Cavagnaro/Released)

Makeup is accepted throughout the military, but regulations demand a “natural look.” Servicewomen across the branches become experts at the “no-makeup makeup,” with natural lips, eyes, and cheeks. Even if no one can tell, keeping a bit of your femininity in uniform is crucial to staying sane, especially on long duty weekends. Along with extreme makeup, nail color on the hands is not authorized, many relish in pedicures with beautiful colors. Even behind heavy combat boots, a rainbow of shades of nail polish can be found.

5. You never stop proving your value

Maj. Lisa A. Jaster carries a fellow soldier during the Darby Queen obstacle course at the U.S. Army’s Ranger School at Fort Benning, Ga. (U.S. Army photo)

Every new person has to prove themselves but now that combat roles are open to women, there is a new level of proving yourself as the first generation of women in jobs that have been exclusively for men over the last hundred years. Trying to prove yourself as a .50 cal gunner as a petite woman is hardly easy, but the women who do it will pave the way.

6. Nothing issued off the rack actually fits

Spc. Arielle Mailloux gets some help adjusting her protoype Generation III Improved Outer Tactical Vest from Capt. Lindsey Pawlowski at Fort Campbell, Ky. (U.S. Army photo)

Combat equipment, such as body armor, was developed and sized with men in mind. Many women have found themselves unable to fit in the smallest sizes of some flak jackets and bulletproof vests, not to mention the uncomfortable fits that were meant for more square body types.

7. “If the military wanted you to have kids . . .”

Women with children are often faced with criticism, accused of abandoning their children while deployed or being unfit parents for choosing work over families. One writer went so far as to say that women in the military were punished for being both mothers and serving in the military. The stigma of a woman not staying home with her husband and children is more visible in the military than anywhere else, with pressure from both civilians and from their own peers.

Jeannie Leavitt, the first U.S. Air Force fighter pilot in 1993 (U.S. Air Force photo)

Despite all of the challenges, it is rewarding to be a part of the proud line of women who have served in the military, whether as a part of the WAVES, WAGS, and SPARS of WWII or today as sailors, soldiers, Marines, coasties, and airmen.

MIGHTY FIT

Is intermittent fasting the right choice?

Intermittent fasting, as a specific protocol, is pretty new on the dieting scene, but there’s a good chance you’ve heard of at least someone that’s used it successfully.

Even though there are probably more than a hundred different ways to diet, maybe even a thousand, intermittent fasting is a bit different since it includes long periods of fasting or going without food.


While this makes fasting unique, it also means it’s not the right idea for everyone.

If you’re interested in trying this diet, I’ll go over a few pros and cons that you should consider before jumping in.

Everyone wants more self control around fresh made baked goodness.

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Webster Rison

Pro: Fasting can help you deal with hunger

I know it’s ironic, but fasting consistently can help you better deal with hunger.

How often do you feel that you’re close to the brink of death when you haven’t eaten in a few hours? If you’re like most people that eat three meals a day plus snacks in between, missing one of those opportunities can lead to a feeling that end times are near.

When you fast regularly, you’re teaching your mind and body to handle an extended time without food.

While it might suck for the first few days, fasting can change how your hunger hormones function and teach you that it’s okay if you happen to miss a meal or two.

Those hormones are a constant scapegoat for people who struggle to lose weight.

Think of it like an invisible flak vest. You can use it to make things harder or let it sabotage your performance. Your choice.

U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Garret Smith

Con: Fasting can make training and performance more difficult

Honestly, intermittent fasting isn’t a great idea if you train hard or have a high level of aerobic and anaerobic endurance.

Eating food ensures that the energy you have for muscle contraction is plentiful. When you fast for hours on end, your body turns towards stored fat and sugar in your liver to help you survive. But that’s not the best option if you need to train hard or perform for a long time.

Sure, fasting might not affect everyone the same, but if you usually eat around training, you’ll almost certainly see a dip in performance at first.

Unless you take a long time to adjust to how fasting affects performance (this is a similar protocol to what you would need to do on a keto diet.), you might want to opt for a different protocol if high performance is important to you.

When you squeeze the trigger you better be sure you’re gonna hit what you’re aiming at. IF can help build your mental toughness, so you don’t miss even in the fog of war (simulated or real).

U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Anthony Bryant

Pro: Fasting can teach you to perform on low fuel

In the same light, using fasting strategically can help you develop the mental fortitude necessary to really push yourself when you’re fatigued and don’t have food available.

Just as you use weights, sprints, and long ruck marches get mentally and physically hard, jumping into challenging workouts when fasted can help you develop the mental toughness to push through when the going gets tough.

Here’s how to use your workouts to do some serious mental toughness training.

No food is a stressor. If you already have a lot of other sources of stress, like you would at a selective school like OCS, maybe don’t add another.

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. George Nudo

Con: Fasting can make your recovery and improvement challenging

Again, food not only provides energy for performance but also the fuel your body needs to repair and grow. If you’re training hard and fasting every day, you could be missing out on recovery and growth.

You’ve probably heard of “bulking phases” where you’re not only training hard but also eating more than usual. When people bulk, they’re eating more food because those calories help support the growth and repair of muscles.

When you fast, eating enough calories becomes a bit difficult because you’re spending so much time not eating.

On this diet, you’re not only burning through calories for a large portion of the day, but you’re making it more challenging to make up for those calories you’re burning, like amino acids in the protein you eat.

Since you have less time to eat, you’ll be fuller from each meal. As a result, it might be challenging to eat the same amount of calories as you would with a full day of eating opportunities.

Most importantly, if you train hard, need to recover and want to develop muscle, strength, and power, you’re better off trying a different diet.

Send it back… or don’t. Just make a choice and stick to it.

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Webster Rison

Better yet

Don’t diet at all. Dieting is temporary.

You want a solution that will last you a lifetime. Try using strategies like Green-light and Red-light rules that I lay out in The Ultimate Composure Nutrition Guide, it’s 100% free in my free resources vault.

Or give these a shot!

I highly discourage you from engaging in any diet that makes it harder to live your life. The point of eating food is to make you thrive, not just survive.

If you must, try this detailed protocol on how to cut weight for an upcoming weigh-in.

Maybe you prefer to fast as a part of your lifestyle. I often don’t eat until noon, that’s technically fasting. General McChrystal is a practitioner of the one meal a day protocol. Just ensure it’s something you can do consistently.

If it’s painful you won’t want to do it indefinitely and that’s the crux here. If you are struggling and need to talk to someone about losing fat, or your mind, contact me. I’ll give you 30 minutes of my time with no expectation of anything in return. I’ve seen enough people cause some serious damage to their bodies and minds with dieting. Don’t join that club, it’s avoidable.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How D-Day would go down today

The invasion of Normandy, known today as D-Day, was one of the seminal moments of history. It was a massive operation that included airborne drops, amphibious assaults, and a host of other missions. The fact that all of these moving parts were orchestrated using the (relatively) primitive technology of the time is an amazing accomplishment — one that culminated in a decisive victory for Allied forces.

But how would it all go down if it happened today?


While the use of paratroopers would be similar to that of D-Day, today’s transports can deliver a lot more than just troops.

(US Army)

The overnight airborne drop

The airborne operation as part of a hypothetical, modern-day Normandy Invasion would be fairly similar to that of World War II. We’d still have paratroopers make their jump in the middle of the night, but there’d be a few key differences. Firstly, we’ve gotten a little better at putting paratroopers where they aught to be — this means more troop concentration and fewer “Little Groups of Paratroopers.”

Secondly, today’s paratroopers can drop alongside HMMWVs equipped with heavy firepower, like the M2 machine gun, the Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher, and the BGM-71 TOW missile. Additionally, each soldier now has either a M72 Light Anti-tank Weapon or the M136 AT-4.

Today’s bombardment would intelligently target Nazi positions using advanced systems, like the Joint Direct Attack Munition.

(USAF)

The pre-attack bombardment

On D-Day, five battleships, including USS Nevada (BB 36), provided fire support for the massive operation. America no longer has any battleships in service. Today, the biggest guns would be on the Zumwalt-class destroyers, which can launch a variety of munitions.

However, the real heavy lifting would be done by Joint Direct Attack Munitions on the fortifications. On D-Day, Allied forces dropped a lot of bombs and fired a lot of heavy shells towards the Nazis in hopes of hitting something vital. Since then, our aim has improved. JDAMs can hit within 30 feet of an aimpoint. Laser-guided bombs are even more accurate.

On the morning of D-Day, the first wave of the attack could very well be helicoptered by CH-53E Super Stallions.

(Photo by FOX 52)

The amphibious assault

Perhaps the most iconic element of D-Day was the amphibious landings. Higgins boats hit the shores en masse and under extremely heavy fire as Allied troops spilled out and onto the sand. Today, we’d likely use helicopters to get behind initial defenses. Heli-borne assaults would likely take place overnight, focusing on key objectives, like Pegasus Bridge.

At this stage, Apache and Cobra helicopter gunships would provide covering fire, using AGM-114 Hellfire missiles to knock out — or at least suppress — any German positions that survived the precision-guided munitions.

A-10 Thunderbolts will roam behind the beach, bombing targets or dropping CBU-89 GATOR mines to tie up German reinforcements.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Matthew Bruch)

Past the beach

All throughout a modern D-Day, there’d be deeper strikes. Aircraft like the F-15E Strike Eagle, the A-10 Thunderbolt, the Tornado GR.4, and the B-1B Lancer would be dropping bombs on German units further inland. Some of the bombs would be GATOR mine systems, which are, essentially, air-dropped minefields, to delay reinforcements long enough for American, Canadian, and British troops to consolidate a beachhead.

In short, the Nazis of World War II had a slight chance of stopping the Allies on D-Day. Today, there’d be no stopping it.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This insanely talented sniper was known as ‘The White Death’

Considered the deadliest sniper of all time, Simo Hayha joined Finland’s Civil Guard at the age of 17 and quickly established himself as an excellent marksman. It was here that he honed his skills with the Mosin-Nagant, developing a talent that the Soviets would soon come to fear.


Hayha regularly practiced his warfighting craft by accurately firing his bolt-action rifle 16 times per minute at a target 500-feet away — which is a challenging task.

In 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Finland in what would become known as the “Winter War,” or the Russo-Finnish War.

Although the Finns were highly outnumbered, they had the home-field advantage and turned to guerrilla-style fighting to defend their territory from the encroaching Red Army.

In the beginning, Hayha found himself fighting against an enemy force of 4,000 with just 31 other men at his side.

Related video: 5 of the most badass snipers of all time – Featuring John Cena

On Dec. 31, 1939, Hayha scored 25 kill shots while dressed in all white to perfectly camouflage himself among the snow-covered terrain. The talented marksman would stalk his targets in freezing temperatures for several hours. Using the surrounding snow, Hayha packed himself deep within the frozen ground to decrease his chances of being noticed.

Hayha preferred using iron sights instead of optic scopes as other snipers had grown to favor. Although it was harder to get a fix on a target, using iron sights helped him avoid detection from light reflected off the scope.

As Hayha tallied up his kills, he was given a nickname that would write him into the history books — “The White Death.”

He tallied 505 kills, the highest count from any significant war. All of the kills were accomplished in fewer than 100 days — meaning he averaging over five per day. Hayha ended up getting wounded in the war; shot by an explosive bullet which nearly took off his lower left jaw.

He survived the wound and continued to live a long life. Hayha passed away in a veteran’s nursing home in 2002 at the age of 96.

Check out Simple History’s video below to learn more about this talented sniper’s record-setting life.

MIGHTY MOVIES

Everybody missed this ‘Spider-Man’ easter egg

We all know the line: “With great power comes great responsibility,” but what about the person who said it? For most fans of the character of Spider-Man, that line comes from Ben Parker, better known as “Uncle Ben,” the guy who raised Peter Parker in most versions of the backstory, and most famously, the Sam Raimi films starring Tobey Maguire. However, since the reintroduction of Tom Holland as Spidey into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, Uncle Ben hasn’t been around. That is, until now! There’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Easter egg that references Uncle Ben in Spider-Man: Far From Home. Here’s the deal.

Mild spoilers ahead.


As Peter is packing for his school “science trip” to Europe, the initials on his briefcase are seen very clear: BFP. We’re not sure what the “F” stands for, but it’s pretty clear the “B” and the “P” can only mean Ben Parker. Thematically, this is interesting because in the new Marvel movies Tony Stark has effectively become Peter’s Uncle Ben-figure; an older male mentor who dies and passes along wisdom to Peter. (Note: this scene was in the trailers! So this really isn’t a spoiler!)

(Sony/Marvel)

This presents a strange question: what happened to this Uncle Ben? The suitcase could just be a fun visual reference, but this is the Marvel Cinematic Universe we’re talking about here. Random, throwaway lines can have huge implications in later movies. And, because Far From Home brought back J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson from the Tobey Maguire movies, it seems like a bunch of stuff from older superhero movies is suddenly on the table.

In fact, it wasn’t that long ago that Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man went in search of his biological parents in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which makes you wonder how long it’s going to take for Tom Holland’s version of the web crawler to do the same.

Uncle Ben- With Great Power Comes Great responsiblities–HD

www.youtube.com

Still, between Aunt May, Tony Stark, Happy Hogan, and this specter of Uncle Ben, it seems like Peter Parker has more than enough parental figures for the time being.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is out everywhere in theaters.

This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Sending letters to Marine boot camp (2020)

Do you know someone who is going to Marine boot camp or who is already at boot camp? If so then your recruit is officially beginning their journey to becoming a United States Marine! Over the next 12 weeks, your recruit will be pushed beyond their limits and if successful be made into a Marine. Through this transformation, your recruit will need your support and motivation to help them succeed. Here is all you need to know about sending Letters to Marine boot camp.


MCRD San Diego Mailing Address

MCRD San Diego Mailing AddressSample Address
RECRUIT First Name, Last Name
#(st, nd, rd) BN “Company” Platoon ####
##### Midway Avenue
San Diego CA 92140-####
RECRUIT John Doe
1st BN Alpha Company Platoon 1000
38001 Midway Avenue
San Diego, CA. 92140-5670

MCRD Parris Island Mailing Address

MCRD Parris Island Mailing AddressSample Address
RECRUIT First Name, Last Name
#(st, nd, rd) BN “Company Name” Platoon ####
PO Box #####
Parris Island, SC 29905-####
RECRUIT John Doe
1st BN Alpha Company Platoon 1000
PO Box 16945
Parris Island, SC 29905-6945

What should I write in my Letters to Marine boot camp?

Over the next thirteen weeks recruits will be pushed beyond their limits and, if successful, transition into a United Staes Marine.

Mental and physical exhaustion will become a norm as the loved one you said goodbye to is transformed into a completely new person.

Mail call will be the most anticipated time of the day, and your recruit will enjoy receiving a lot of mail from your over the course of the next three months.

In case you ever face writer’s block, we’ve come up with some questions to ask your recruit when writing Letters to Marine boot camp.

1. What were your first thoughts when you got off of the bus and stepped onto the yellow footprints?

2. What time do your mornings start?

3. How delicious is the chow?

4. What has been the worst thing about boot camp?

5. If you could describe boot camp in one word what would it be?

6. How many recruits are in your platoon?

7. What’s the name of one friend you’ve made, where are they from?

8. On a scale of 1 to 10 how much fun are pugil stick battles?

9. What is one thing your platoon gets yelled at for the most?

10. What time do you normally get to sleep?

11. Have you been given a nickname?

12. Is there anyone in your platoon not receiving mail that I can write to?

13. Has it been hard to keep your rack area clean and in tip top shape?

14. What have you liked best about boot camp?

15. How hard is it to keep your M-16 clean?

16. How fast can you take your M-16 and put it back together?

17. What has been the funniest thing your DI has said this week?

18. What’s the best advice you have received at boot camp?

19. What was going through your head when you jumped off of the repel tower?

20. What is the dumbest thing you have seen or heard another recruit do?

21. Has boot camp been what you expected it to be?

22. What is your wish list of bases you would like to be stationed at?

23. What’s the first thing you want to do after graduation?

24. What homemade/fast food meal do you miss the most?

25. Are you proud of yourself? (You should be!)

Looking for even more ideas of what to write during Marine boot camp? Read our what to writing when sending Letters to basic training article.

Your Letters to your recruit don’t need to be long and they don’t need to be fancy. What’s important is that you’re sending mail to support them through this journey.

Sending Letters via the Sandboxx app, will get your message and photos into your recruit’s hands within a couple of days (we overnight your Letters directly to the ship). We also include a return envelope with every Sandboxx Letter so your loved one can write you back!

Ready to send your first Letter to Marine boot camp?

Send your first letter to Marine boot camp with the Sandboxx app, write your message, include a photo and hit send.

Save and attach our week one image below to give your recruit motivation for their first week at Marine boot camp.

Learn more about how your Sandboxx Letter gets delivered.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

12 important things that need to be in your bug-out bag yesterday

With the entire world focused on COVID-19, it’s a great time to build your bug out bag.


A bug-out bag isn’t just for secret agents anymore.

Although a secret agent’s is probably a lot more fun.

We Are The Mighty’s resident operator, Chase Millsap, served three combat tours as a Marine Infantry Officer in Iraq and as a Green Beret leading counter-terrorism missions in Asia.

Isn’t he beautiful?

We asked him what he’s packing in his bag in case he needs to escape on short notice for any reason. Here’s what he says you must have, at minimum.

12. Water filter.

Millsap recommends a Katadyn water filter.

Given optimal conditions, a person can last up to a week without water. Extreme conditions are likely to cut that time (and yours) short. Additionally, drinking water from untreated sources can lead to a number of infections and diseases.

11. Woobie.

If you’re unfamiliar with a “woobie,” it’s how some U.S. troops refer to their issued poncho liner. It makes for a great blanket, cushion, or pillow. It’s not waterproof, but in temperatures above freezing, it’s very effective at keeping in body heat.

It also doesn’t retain odors.

10. Two days of food.

This should be self-explanatory, but in case it isn’t, remember: You can go for weeks without food. If you’re on the move, however, that time is cut short. You can’t carry all the food you need with you, but you should have enough to last until you can make it to an area where you can get more or be rescued.

And if you’re keeping your bug-out bag at the ready, be sure to get food that doesn’t spoil.

9. Lockpick kit.

Not just for thieves anymore.

The reason one carries lockpicks is fairly obvious: to get into things that are locked. We can’t predict why you’ll be evacuating your home, but if you’re going to be out on foot for a while, you may need this. Think about it: When the looting stops, everything that was easy to get is already gone. What’s left is under lock and key.

8. Fire starter with dryer lint.

You can’t depend on a lighter or matches. You’re going to need to start a fire the old-fashioned way: with sparks and kindling.

Make sure yours is ultra light. You have to carry this stuff.

7. Solar or hand-crank battery.

You should have electronic devices with you, namely your means of communication. A zombie apocalypse notwithstanding, you’re going to want to be rescued at some point, so secure the means of keeping your phone and/or radio alive and at the ready.

6. 550 cord and a carabiner.

Anyone who’s served in the military knows how useful 550 cord and carabiners are. If you want to augment their usefulness, learn to braid and to tie knots.

It’s not just for woven bracelets.

5. Medical kit.

Let’s be honest, most of you are not Green Berets — and if you were Navy SEALs, you would have told us by now. Since the name of the game is surviving in a potentially hostile environment, we should be prepared for injuries sustained on our way out of the disaster area. If we want to be prepared to help ourselves and others, we need a med kit.

We should also probably learn to use this stuff.

4. Face mask.

Dirt and debris fly everywhere during a disaster or in a disaster area. Heck, the air itself can be chalked full of dirt and harmful particles.

Or did you forget?

Be prepared for it.

3. Gloves and boots.

You shouldn’t need to be told this: Bring your boots. The best part about these items is they don’t add to the weight on your back.

2. Knife and multi-tool.

Slow down, Rambo. Don’t go out and get the largest knife you can. Get something with some utility. Go ask a Marine about their KA-BAR utility knife — it’s one of the best survival knives you can get.

Just be sure to buy your own. I hear Marines are very attached to theirs.

1. Air panels.

Any color will do.

If you need to be seen from a distance (namely, by rescue aircraft), nothing is more effective than what the U.S. military already uses, the VS-17 signal marker is the thing for the job. Best of all, that’s exactly what search and rescue teams are trained to look for.

This isn’t always going to work.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

As U.S. moves to exit Afghanistan, rivals prepare to swoop in

The U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was backed by most countries in the region, who shared the goal of ousting the extremist Taliban regime and eliminating the allied Al-Qaeda terrorist network.

The governments in Tehran, Moscow, and Islamabad readily helped the United States fight the extremist groups.


Iran provided crucial intelligence to support U.S. special forces and CIA teams orchestrating the invasion.

Russia supplied Soviet-era maps and intelligence and later allowed the U.S. military to send supplies to Afghanistan through its territory.

Even Pakistan, the chief backer of the Taliban, offered its assistance in helping hunt down Al-Qaeda militants and became the main supply line for NATO forces.

But in the intervening 19 years, the regional consensus favoring the U.S. troops in Afghanistan has eroded.

Though the U.S. military swiftly overthrew the Taliban and eliminated Al-Qaeda safe havens in Afghanistan, many feel it got bogged down in mission creep.

Meanwhile, Washington’s ties with many regional players — including Pakistan, Iran, and Russia — became toxic.

With U.S. forces scheduled to exit Afghanistan next year as part of a framework peace deal with the Taliban, Washington’s rivals see an opportunity to step in and expand their footprint in the war-torn country.

Those efforts have intensified since the United States and the Taliban signed a deal in February aimed at negotiating an end to the war, which began way back in 2001.

Under that agreement, U.S. forces will withdraw from Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which has pledged to negotiate a permanent cease-fire and power-sharing deal with the Kabul government.

The delayed intra-Afghan peace talks are expected to be complex and protracted, and will likely take years.

Impatient to end the costly and unpopular war, President Donald Trump is considering fast-tracking the exit of American troops ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November, according to U.S. media reports.

Experts say that in the absence of a peace deal, a U.S. military withdrawal could ignite a free-for-all that involves regional powers pursuing often competing interests in Afghanistan.

“The stage has already been set, with many key actors — including Russia and Iran — increasing their ties with both the Afghan state and the Taliban,” says Michael Kugelman, South Asia senior associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

“The objective is to develop more influence and generate more leverage with key actors across the board, so that they will be in a better position to pursue and achieve their goals in a post-America Afghanistan — a place we can expect to be increasingly unstable and complex.”

Iran, Pakistan, and Russia — with long histories of meddling in the country — are hedging their bets. The three countries have sought to improve their relations with the Western-backed government in Kabul, while also reaching out to the Taliban in case it gains a role in a future Afghan government.

Islamabad has retained its long-standing ties with the Taliban and shelters the group’s leadership, while Tehran and Moscow have been tacitly working to bolster their ties with the militants, with the goal of expanding their own strategic interests in Afghanistan.

‘Make The Taliban Even Stronger’

Pakistan has long been accused of playing a double game in Afghanistan, sheltering and aiding the Taliban while receiving billions in U.S. aid to clamp down on the militants.

Pakistan’s ties to the Taliban date back to the 1990s, when it provided arms, training, and intelligence to the militants. Islamabad was one of only three countries to recognize the Taliban government when it took power in Afghanistan in 1996. After the regime’s fall in 2001, many Taliban leaders took shelter inside Pakistan.

Observers say Pakistan sees the Taliban as an insurance policy for reaching its long-standing strategic goals in Afghanistan — installing a pro-Pakistan government in Kabul and limiting the influence of its archrival India, which has close ties to Kabul.

Experts say Pakistan stands to be the biggest beneficiary of a U.S. military pullout from Afghanistan.

“If a withdrawal leads to a peace process that results in a settlement, then Pakistan would benefit as this would likely entail the Taliban holding a fair share of power,” says Kugelman. “If the peace process collapses and the U.S. withdrawal ushers in a period of extended destabilization, Pakistan would still benefit because it would make the Taliban even stronger.”

‘Buffer Zone’

Iran has supported its traditional allies in Afghanistan — the Shi’ite Hazara minority and the Persian-speaking ethnic Tajiks — while recently establishing contacts with the Taliban, a predominately Pashtun group.

Iran and the Taliban were on the verge of war in 1998 — when the group controlled most of Afghanistan — after the deaths of eight Iranian diplomats in the Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif.

Tehran backed the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance before the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. But in recent years the Islamic republic and the Taliban have forged closer ties, with militant leaders even visiting Tehran.

The relationship between Shi’ite-majority Iran and the Taliban, a fundamentalist Sunni group, is complex. Iran officially opposes the Taliban, but experts say it provides some military support to the mainstream Taliban and even rival breakaway factions.

Analysts say that while Iran does not want the Taliban to return to power, Tehran is looking to maintain influence with the group as a hedge in case the Taliban becomes a political player in Afghanistan or it forcibly seizes control of the country.

“These initiatives serve the purpose of securing Iran’s sphere of influence in Afghanistan and perhaps even creating a buffer zone on Afghan soil to protect parts of Iran’s eastern borders from infiltration by forces hostile to Iran,” says Ali Alfoneh, a senior fellow at The Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

‘A Great Power’

For more than a decade after the U.S.-led invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin praised Washington for taking on the “burden” of fighting terrorism in Afghanistan and urged it to “carry it to the end.”

But since 2014, the Kremlin has attempted to undermine the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, fueled by Moscow’s desire to be an international power broker and its rivalry with the West in Ukraine and Syria, where Russia joined Iran in supporting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Moscow said it has established contacts with the Taliban in recent years because of the common threat posed by the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Afghanistan. Washington has accused Russia of arming the Taliban, which it denies.

In the past two years, Moscow has hosted two international conferences on the Afghan peace process, inviting Taliban leaders and Afghan opposition members.

Earlier this month, U.S. media reported that a Russian military intelligence unit had offered secret bounties to the Taliban if they killed U.S. or NATO-member troops in Afghanistan.

Moscow and the Taliban have denied the reports, which are based on U.S. intelligence assessments. But the revelations have served to highlight Moscow’s murky dealings in Afghanistan.

“Russia’s interests in Afghanistan are twofold: to avoid an explosion of chaos on the borders of what it considers its sphere of influence, and to use it as an opportunity to demonstrate and assert its claim to be a great power,” says Mark Galeotti, a Russia analyst and a senior associate fellow at the British-based Royal United Services Institute.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.