Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

Slosh, plop, slosh, plop. The noise my boots made with every step seemed deafening. 20 or so Iraqi Special Forces soldiers and I were doing our best to be sneaky on our way to the target building, but it was the wet season, so Iraq’s infamous moon dust had already made the transition to sticky tar-like mud. 

Slosh, plop, slosh, plop. Our boots, caked in mud at this point, were getting worse with every step. We might as well have been a middle school orchestra doing sound checks.  

Before we got too close to our target house, I needed to remind the commander of the platoon I was advising about a key point we neglected on our last mission. “Remember, get one ladder up and clear the courtyard before the other ladder goes up and everyone starts jumping over the wall,” I whispered in my best broken Iraqi Arabic. I had to simultaneously motion with my hands to mimic a wall, a house, and a ladder. I wasn’t sure what was more confusing, my Arabic or the goofy hand gestures. 

Luckily, the commander was used to whatever an American trying to speak in his native tongue sounded like, so he nodded in the affirmative, which could mean “yup, got it” or “whatever, dude.” I guess we’ll see in a few minutes, I thought to myself. Fortunately, it only took seconds.

“Fuck’n Yalla!” he said with a huge grin, blasting me with his ashtray breath. Guess we’re good then. 

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq
Iraqi counter terrorism soldiers assault an objective. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Sarah K. Anwar.

Our not-so-sneaky infil became a comically loud trot of mud-caked boots as we closed in on the target house. The Iraqi Special Forces soldiers stacked up on the wall outside the house, and the commander was directing traffic. The first ladder went up and a soldier climbed up and deliberately swept the courtyard with his rifle before stopping at the door into the house. 

With security posted, another ladder was placed against the wall. The other soldiers began silently scaling the wall, entering the courtyard, and stacking on the house in preparation for breaching the door. 

The third Iraqi in the stack emerged with a mini batting ram, cocked it back, and slammed it into the door. A sharp metallic clash rang out as the door flew inward and the soldiers flowed into the house. 

Up to this point, the Iraqis had been as silent as possible and relied only on streetlights to see, but now that the front door had been violently breached, the gig was up. They flicked on their “white lights” — the tactical flashlights they attached to their AK47s to illuminate rooms they were clearing — and started shouting commands to each other and whoever was inside as they methodically moved from room to room. Speed, surprise, and violence of action. Check, check, check. 

I watched as their lights reached the second floor, and then my radio crackled to life. “Joe, wrap it up. It’s fucking turkey time!”  

Shit, that’s right, I thought. It’s hard to track holidays with the constant grind of combat operations and training. I walked into the training compound that the Iraqis had just assaulted and found their commander. “Hey brother, great job on the ladder — big improvement from last time,” I said. “That’s it for tonight, we are on standby for ops this week.” 

He nodded, gave me a fist bump, and motioned for his soldiers to exit the house. 

They didn’t need to be convinced. They slung their weapons, lit cigarettes, and joked and exchanged slaps on the back just like soldiers have since man first formed armies. The life-or-death business of war is too important to take too seriously. 

I wished them “Tisballahhair,” or “good evening,” as I began my muddy slog back to the team house. The cool breeze coming off the Tigris River filtered through the rain-soaked palm trees, bringing with it a pleasant jasmine scent. During my first winter in Iraq, I was amazed that the smell of the city in the late fall and winter was so refreshing. But off in the distance, I could still hear the occasional bursts of gunfire and explosions mixed with the echoes of a call to prayer and horn blasts. Such was life in Iraq in 2004. 

The life-or-death business of war is too important to take too seriously. 

Even though I was far from home on Thanksgiving, I was living my childhood dream. I was a 24-year-old U.S. Army Green Beret on my second combat deployment living in the middle of Baghdad with my Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) training the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) and advising them on actual combat operations — which included everything from tracking down bad guys to conducting raids to kill or capture them.  

And there was no shortage of work to go around. We were located in northern Baghdad on the western bank of the Tigris, caught between the Shia enclave of Kadhimiya and the Sunni stronghold of Adimiyah. That put us right in the middle of the action, which is exactly where a modern Green Beret wants to be.

Our Saddam Hussein-era military barracks were within a combat outpost secured by a company of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Cavalry Division. Before the invasion, our home away from home was one of Hussein’s most feared prisons, run by his dreaded secret police. When we moved in, several of the Iraqis had horrific stories about being tortured there, and some even refused to work there. The Iraqi commander eventually brought in a local religious leader to bless the barracks and ensure no evil spirit lingered in the erie corridors of our compound.  

As was the case everywhere that early in the war, our living conditions were spartan, but we made the best of it. Our team house was a simple one-story concrete building fortified with sand bags over the windows and on the roof. We had a makeshift porch with a large grill that was glowing with charcoal and wafting smoke tinged with the sweet smell of bacon. Take that, jihad, I thought as I kicked my boots against the wall of the house in an effort to knock the mud off. 

I opened the door and rounded the corner into our living room and kitchen area, where the smell of turkey and stuffing overpowered the scents of Copenhagen, gun oil, and coffee that normally permeated the house. 

“What’s up, man? How’d the house go?” asked Matt, our Special Forces medic. Like most SF medics, Matt had a reassuring calm and sharp intellect that made him an asset on any mission. But what made him unique was that he could have been a stand-up comedian if he ever decided to hang up his green beret. At least once a day he had me laughing so hard it hurt — most recently performing a hilarious parody of Al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi’s manifesto. 

“It went well — hopefully we fixed our wall issue,” I replied. 

Inshallah habibi — grab a plate of chow!” Matt said, gesturing to our kitchen table, where Thanksgiving dinner was waiting. I happily obliged.

“Joe, your jundis are having ladder issues? That’s weird” The sarcastic comment came from Stu, our team’s intelligence sergeant. 

I knew that was coming. Stu had been on the team for several years and was part of 5th Group’s legendary initial push into Afghanistan in 2001. He was built like a linebacker and always plotting a prank. ODAs are tight, which means you never live down your screw ups; all you can do is smile and hope your skin gets thick — fast. A few of the other guys laughed. So did I. Here we go…

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq
Commandos conduct a raid. Photo by Sgt. Daniel P. Shook, courtesy of Dept. of Defense. 

“Wait, what happened?” asked Jeremy, our communications sergeant. Jeremy had been on the team for years but missed our last trip due to a broken neck he sustained during training. He was a good ol’ boy from Missouri and sounded like Boomhauer from “King of the Hill,” so naturally the Army gave him the job that required him to talk on the radio.  

“Oh shit, that’s right, we have to tell you this one!” Matt replied. Well, at least Matt would make the story funny, I thought as I scooped some cranberry sauce onto my turkey.  

“Dude, so no shit there we were,” Matt said, opening with the proper war story preamble, “assaulting a huge-ass compound out west — some deck-of-cards clown’s house, which was awesome. The mission had everything: helo infil with fast ropes to the roof, a wall breech, the door gunners even lit up a guard tower. Pretty awesome op.” Matt was now standing to make more room to add animation with his hands.  

“It was going great until we were trying to get over this big-ass wall with these shitty ladders, and Joe, loaded with way too much bullshit, breaks a rung on the ladder, gets mad, throws the ladder to the side and tries to ninja climb over the 8-foot wall. He gets caught by his kit on the wall, so I get under him and push his ass over the wall like combat Winnie the Pooh!” Matt explained, reenacting my finest hour. 

“Well, that’s a technique,” Jermey said with his normal deadpan wit. Everyone got a good laugh. All I could do was finish fixing my plate and find a place to sit. Gary, our engineer, was my best bet. 

Gary was a wiry backwoods Southerner, and we went to Special Forces Selection and the Special Forces Qualification Course together. He had just earned a valor award for his calm under enemy fire during a raid in Samara, but you wouldn’t peg him as a Green Beret — or the guy who would remain calm while getting shot at for that matter. 

“We eating or waiting for Mom and Dad?” Gary asked as he spit Copenhagen into one of the ever-present dip bottles that lined our house floor. “Mom and Dad” were Mike, our senior noncommissioned officer, or more simply known as the team sergeant; and Trevor, our team leader and only commissioned officer. Neither was Mom or Dad specifically, but together they were a couple. 

“Hey, come eat!” Stu yelled into the office that adjoined our living room where Mike and Trevor would send reports back to our headquarters. These were definitely the good old days of limited connectivity and little to no micromanagement from higher headquarters. Sure, we still checked in over the radio with them daily, but it was mostly asking for forgiveness and not permission. Unfortunately, that dynamic has been replaced by nearly nonstop emails, messenger chatting, and teleconferences from every nook and cranny of today’s battlefield.

Our leadership duo emerged from the back office, Mike in the lead. He grew up in the infantry and had seen combat in the first Gulf War, Kosovo, the initial push into Afghanistan, and was on his second Iraq deployment. He was the most experienced guy on the team, an aggressive leader, and gave us a ton of space to succeed. 

Trevor was Mike’s commissioned counterpart, a humble officer who had every reason not to be: he was a West Point graduate who knocked out all of the Army’s hardest training by the time he was a captain. He also had the ability to understand every detail of what we were doing and how it tied into the big picture.

“Happy Thanksgiving three-five … again,” Mike said as he piled turkey onto his plate and sat down at our gaudy wood and fake-gold kitchen table. Trevor grabbed a plate last and sat next to Mike, our team now almost complete. 

“Intel update!” Josh said as he entered the room and took a seat with his plate of turkey, stuffing, and jelly-looking cranberry sauce. Josh had also been in SF for several years and was now running the Iraqi recon element that collected intel for our Iraqi Special Forces companies to action. 

It was normal for meals to be interrupted by intel updates, and Thanksgiving was no exception, so all eyes were on Josh. It had been a hell of a trip so far, with summer fighting in Najaf against Sadr’s boys, chasing Zarqawi and his hostages on every backstreet of Baghdad, another away game in Samara, followed by Operation Phantom Fury in Fallujah. The more information we could get, the better — you never knew when the next shithead would pop up for a round of whack-a-mole.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq
Joe and Josh in Iraq in 2004. Photo courtesy of Joe Kent/Coffee or Die.

But today would not be one of those days.

“No ops tonight — beer light’s on, nerds,” Josh said, as he pulled a green 22-ounce Tuborg “tall boy” out of his cargo pocket. “Right, Mike?” he asked, with a smart-ass grin, deferring to our senior NCO for the official approval. 

“I did say, happy Thanksgiving …” Mike said, motioning for Josh to pass him a beer. 

Josh was more than happy to oblige. He cracked open our refrigerator and passed around a combination of Tuborg, Hienekens, and Efes tall boys, graciously provided by our Iraqi Christian friends. They didn’t mess around when it came to beer. “It’s like they know no one in Iraq wants just a pint of beer,” Josh said. “The tall boy is their standard.”  

But just like any other Thanksgiving, you always seemed to be waiting on the weird uncle to show up. 

“Where is Seaux?” Mike asked suspiciously. Seaux, named after the famous Johnny Cash song, may be the origin of the phrase “stranger than fiction.” If he’s not, he definitely lived up to it. Seaux had fought in Grenada with the 82nd Airborne, then joined the French Foreigin Legion, but eventually found his way back into the U.S. Army and had served in every war the U.S. had been in from Mogadishu to Iraq. It probably comes as no surprise that Seaux loved going native and spent most of his time with a few Iraqis doing recon work. 

“I’m coming — don’t you flatlanders know I eat dinner at 4PM sharp?” Seaux grumbled from his room. “No respect for seniors.”

When Seaux hung out with us, he did so either dressed as a viking or as a native American, complete with a bow and arrow he used to shoot flaming arrows across the Tigris. Like I said, stranger than fiction. 

Before long, he emerged from his room and caught the beer that Josh tossed to him.

But just like any other Thanksgiving, you always seemed to be waiting on the weird uncle to show up.

“Cheers, fuckers!” Stu said, as he made a toasting motion. The rest of the team unceremoniously made the motion in return, cracked their beers, took a sip, and dug into their dinner. We may not have been home for Thanksgiving, but in our line of work, sitting down as a team — a family — for turkey that day seemed more like home in some ways than what we would have had back in the States.

“We’re lucky this year,” Trevor said with a grin. “The B Team busted their asses to get every ODA a turkey. Worked out well for everyone but Two-Three …” ODA 523 was just across the river from us, and we often supported each other on missions and shared intel a few times a week. 

“Do tell, sir,” Jeremy said. 

“Well, they drove one of their Mercedes to pick up their turkey in the Green Zone, and when they were coming back in to their base, I guess the kid on guard didn’t know it was them and lit up their car with his machine gun!” Trevor explained. 

Everyone paused; there’s nothing friendly about friendly fire. 

For the first couple of years of the war in Iraq, Special Forces ODAs in major Iraqi cities acquired local cars to drive around town so that they could conduct reconnaissance and low-profile assaults. That technique was a double-edged sword though. It worked great in that we could avoid contact with the enemy until we wanted to make it and got a great feel for Iraq at the street level. However, the most dangerous part of these operations was the re-entry to friendly lines. The guys guarding the gate were usually very young soldiers and were used to seeing military vehicles. Suffice it to say, that at two years into the war, all of us had stared down the barrel of U.S. weapons with our hands up screaming “I AM AN AMERICAN!” a few times. 

“Somehow, no one got hurt, the kid on the gun lit up the engine block,” Trevor continued. “Marty and Lee bailed out, and the car caught on fire and ruined their turkey!” All of us laughed at the cartoonish mental image of our buddies dodging some private’s hail of machine gun fire and their turkey getting cooked early. Like many things in war, the closest of calls would usually end up as a fun story to laugh about later. And sometimes … they didn’t. 

“Yeah, man. Better than last year when we got tossed out of the big Army chow hall because POTUS was coming and we looked like pirates,” Josh said with a laugh. He was referring to our last deployment when a high-strung mess officer rudely told us we couldn’t eat Thanksgiving dinner unless we were in uniform. We wanted to eat, but not that bad.

What we didn’t know at the time was that President George W. Bush was coming to eat with the troops at the chow hall we were trying to get into. In hindsight, it made sense why hooligans like us were turned away. There are plenty of perks that come with wearing the green beret, but sometimes it can work against you.

Looking around our makeshift living and dining room, I felt very grateful to be sitting there with my brothers. This was our second Thanksgiving together in combat; we didn’t know it at the time, but we’d be doing the same drill the next year on the Syrian border. 

The mood would be far more somber for that dinner. Our luck would run out by then, and we would have lost two teammates by the time we sat down for turkey again. Sergeant First Class Brett E. Walden and Army Sergeant First Class Robert V. Derenda paid the ultimate sacrifice, and their families are in my thoughts this Thanksgiving.

In retrospect, I guess we were all just getting warmed up. Most of us cracking beers in our Baghdad team house in 2004 would spend more Thanksgivings with teammates in combat zones over the next 14 years than with our actual families. Holidays spent in makeshift living spaces, living feet away from each other and always in-between intense combat operations, would become normal for all of us — and we wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Even then, I knew the bonds I forged with those men in that room would last for the rest of my life. After our third combat deployment, most of us had to move on to other assignments. All of us stayed in the fight and made efforts to stay in touch though. Josh and I forged a tight bond in Baghdad that remained long afterward. In fact, when I married my warrior soulmate, Shannon — a special operator herself — she insisted that Josh and his son be at every Thanksgiving and Christmas we shared as a family.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq
Joe and Shannon Kent with their two sons, Thanksgiving 2018. This was their last Thanksgiving together. Photo courtesy of Joe Kent.

But what I didn’t know was how all of them would be there for me 14 years later, during the darkest hour on the worst day of my life … the day I found out my wife, Senior Chief Petty Officer Shannon Kent, was killed in action while hunting ISIS in Syria alongside three other courageous Americans: Scotty Wirtz, a former U.S. Navy SEAL; Ghadir Thahir, a Syrian-American linguist; and Jon Farmer, a Green Beret Warrant Officer, from the 5th Special Forces Group — my old group. I had not seen most of my brothers from Three-Five in more than 10 years, but it didn’t matter. They were there for me, they cried with me, and they are still there for me and my sons to this day.

Unlike that Thanksgiving next to the Tigris in 2004, cracking jokes and telling stories over a modest turkey dinner, this Thanksgiving is going to suck. I can’t believe it has been almost a year since I last saw my wife in person. But what I am beyond thankful for is my sons, the short time I had with Shannon, and the love of my teammates. The bonds formed in the horrors of combat are lasting and unbreakable. 

Take the time this Thanksgiving to reach out to your brothers and sisters in arms — talk about the good times and work through the bad. Be there for each other because you never know when you’ll need them the most.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Airmen practice and perfect technical skills, but what resources can they reference when a serious personal issue arises?

The Leadership Development Course taught at Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, seeks to improve people skills and allow students to learn from previously failed experiences. Key points of discussion are developing exceptional leaders and combating toxic leadership tendencies. Another focus area is emotional intelligence, or the ability for Airmen to understand and control their emotions, while understanding others to effectively lead.


Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

vimeo.com

“Toxic leadership is a very big topic in the media today,” said Dr. Fil Arenas, Air University associate professor of leadership studies. “Toxic leaders are leaders that not only cause serious harm to their followers, but to their organization. We’re trying to get away from all these abusive behaviors. There is a large gradation in the literature of toxic leadership that goes from trace toxics, to completely abusive leadership that causes people to commit suicide; that is the extreme scale.”

To keep pace with the constant evolution of technology and understanding of the psychology of personalities, the Air Force has shifted how it looked at leadership and how to develop effective leaders.

“Leadership isn’t just about intelligence and just having IQ doesn’t make you an effective leader,” said Lt. Col. Andrew Clayton, Air University assistant professor of leadership studies. “You have to be able to connect with people, create relationships and understand how you impact the environment.”

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

Janine Belasco, a U.S. Air Force simulation specialist, acts as a male avatar during a virtual empathy and interpersonal communication exercise, at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., The simulation was adopted as a capstone for Air University’s new Leadership Development Course.

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

The shift to developing leaders’ interpersonal skills presented a training opportunity in an area that was unfamiliar to Air University, prompting Clayton to ask local education experts for support and guidance.

He was introduced to Janine Belasco, a trained actress with no military affiliation, and her line of employment — virtual empathy and leadership training.

“It is the most important work to me,” Belasco said. “To help people be able to talk about how they feel and to help people be able to feel empathy before they become leaders so they can react to others with true emotions and acts of caring is very important.”

Lt. Col. Andrew Clayton, Air University assistant professor of leadership studies, mentors a student during an empathy and interpersonal communication exercise at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. A need to look at leadership development differently sparked Clayton to look to local education institutions for guidance on a new training opportunity for empathy and leadership.

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

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

The Pentagon’s biggest enemy isn’t China or Russia

Our military is faced with a conflicting dichotomy. On one hand, we tout that we are the most technologically advanced military force on the planet. On the other, the Pentagon states that we need to upgrade our defenses to keep up with the looming threats. Depending on which briefing you attend, you may hear that the Department of Defense (DoD) is operating under a very tight budget; meanwhile, the news media points out the United States spends more on defense than any other nation in the world.

So what gives? What is really happening?


To fully grasp the intricacies of the U.S. military’s budget and expenditures, we must take a holistic look at the budgetary process.

Who’s Really in Charge of the Military?

Each year, the service components draft their needs and submit them in a prioritized list to the Secretary of Defense. These lists are consolidated and given over to the president. The president, not being a military man, relies on the suggestions and vision of the service chiefs. In January of every year, the president submits his budget proposal (for the next year) to Congress.

The House and Senate each have their own Armed Services Committee, who eventually reconcile the two agendas; they determine what the military is authorized (how much they’re allowed to have) and what the military is appropriated (what they’re allowed to purchase that year). Once reconciled, Congress votes on the National Defense Authorization Act late in the calendar year. The NDAA then becomes law; the military must purchase those designated items.

This begs the question: who determines what the U.S. military will be comprised of? Sadly, it appears that the commander-in-chief merely makes recommendations; it is the Congress who has the final say.

Unfortunately, two flaws can be spotted in this system. First, it may be possible that a member of Congress may skew military appropriations in order to curry favor with their constituents. For example, Senator Susan Collins from Maine successfully petitioned to build the third Zumwalt-class destroyer to keep her state’s Bath Iron Works shipyard in business; at the time, it was a ship the Navy did not want. Second, once the appropriations are issued, it becomes a monumental fight to change them. What if a service realized that they need to change what they are purchasing because of a new threat? It would face the huge task of convincing Congress of the need to change the purchasing strategy mid-stream. It may prove more difficult than the effort itself.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

DoD

The Push for Technology

There’s a consensus among military analysts that posits the technological advantages of our adversaries. They assert that Russia and China have already surpassed the United States in terms of technological abilities. In these analyses, they credit foreign missiles with absolute reliability and perfect accuracy while discrediting our own.

This trend has spurned the admirals and generals into action; there is a palpable emphasis in developing futuristic weapons to not only meet the challenge, but to far exceed it. At this point, I will concede that there is value in developing weaponry for the future. However, I will dispute the overwhelming emphasis currently placed upon it. If one is focused on a futuristic battle, you may not be prepared for the near-term skirmish.

The DoD budget for Fiscal Year 2021 stands at 8 billion in total. Of that, 4.3 billion is being spent on Research, Development, Testing, Evaluation (RDTE); this is the highest value in our country’s history. This money will be spent on the development of weapons that do not yet exist. Items such as laser rayguns, howitzers with global reach, and deflector shields sound good in theory, but the technology isn’t mature enough to make them a reality.

Each service component has a number of pet-projects that are purely hypothetical at this point: the Air Force’s B-21 stealth bomber concept boasts unmatched abilities, when it hasn’t even flown yet; the Navy’s electromagnetically driven catapults and elevators still haven’t proven their worth; the Army’s search for a robot that can autonomously carry an infantryman’s load hasn’t reached fruition; and all of the services are constructing massive databases to help each keep track of maintenance and availability at extreme cost.

I do not believe these programs should be canceled, but they should not be the national priority. These programs should be relegated to the “back burner” until technology can catch up to the promised capabilities.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

DoD

The Value of Our Current Force

Right now, the U.S. military is, by far, the strongest force on the planet. Let’s review recent history.

In 1991, the U.S. military dismantled the Iraqi army in 96 hours. Later, in 2003, the US military crushed the Iraqi army in less than weeks, while using only two divisions as the spearhead. In Afghanistan, the U.S. military forced the Taliban government to fall within three months. Since that time, the United States has held control of Afghanistan longer than the Russians or Alexander the Great ever did.

Think about that.

Those are astounding time frames. But like any sports team, all the competitors would like to defeat the champion and claim the title. So, the United States must be vigilant to keep the hyenas at a distance. Because of that, I propose that Washington maintain its current force as its primary effort, while slowly developing its future capability as a secondary effort.

For a moment, let’s set aside the on-going technological revolution. The major weapons systems in the U.S. arsenal are sound, combat-proven, and worthy of keeping. Sure, they will require upgrades to keep pace with technological developments, but they are largely superior to most nations’ weapons. Our weapons systems cannot be allowed to fester or grow obsolete while we chase new futuristic weapons that are years from production. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once said, “You go to war with the army you have, not the one you might want or wish to have at a later time.”

The reality is that new weapons are prohibitively expensive and take too much time to build; because of the costly price tags of the new weapons, the Pentagon invariably ends up buying fewer new weapons and ends up lagging behind our adversaries in terms of the sheer total number of systems; during these extensive construction times, we must maintain our current force structure by funding the “in-place” weapons systems.

Conspiracy Theory

Political doves often create conspiracy-laden theories that accuse the most outlandish plots. One of them touts that the average citizen does not truly comprehend how much the weapons manufacturing industries fuel the U.S. economy overall. True, the military-industrial complex affects many jobs in many states, but the funding of programs just to create “jobs” eventually hurts the military. It is sometimes necessary to cancel a project and shift its money to another more worthwhile project. This may hurt some Congress-members, and it may mean shifting funding to another defense company, but in the end, the United States will benefit from the security gained from a good piece of military hardware.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

DoD

The Way Forward

To unravel the convoluted budgetary process and streamline defense acquisition, the president should request a special meeting with both Congressional Armed Services Committees to appeal for one-time special monetary powers to shift defense spending toward ‘at risk’ military capabilities. Funds would have to be shifted on an emergency basis, with the aim of purchasing the best items now rather than perfect items far in the future. The president should propose:

1) The RDTE value should be reduced by 10 percent for one year. Research could still continue with the remaining .9 billion, although some delays could be expected. The .4 billion could be used elsewhere.

2a) Purchase another eight F-15EX fighters for id=”listicle-2645629724″.2 billion, as the Air Force did last year. This would serve to augment the F-15 fleet during the slow expansion of the F-35 acquisition.

2b) Along a similar vein, initiate the purchase of sixteen F-16V Block 72 fighters for id=”listicle-2645629724″.3 billion. Just the addition of the AN/APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR) will be a great improvement of the Viper’s potential, given that the F-16 will still be flying beyond 2030.

3) Purchase another Virginia-class Block V submarine with the additional Virginia Payload Module for .75 billion. This would help in the Navy in two ways: the VPM capability will assist with the aging SSGN line of ships, which will retire soon; it will bring up the submarine production schedule, which had slowed over the last two years. This will alleviate concern of the shrinking attack submarine numbers. Further, insist that all future acquisition of Virginia-class attack submarines be equipped with the VPM missiles to ameliorate the retirement of SSGNs.

4) Disburse id=”listicle-2645629724″ billion to change the structure/composition of the Littoral Combat Ship. To date, twenty LCS ships have been laid down. These ships are misfits within the Navy, not truly fulfilling any particular mission. The president should insist that the remaining ships in the class (fifteen hulls) be re-configured as mini-arsenal ships. Using the current hull design, the super-structure would have permanently installed VLS systems to house the Naval Strike Missile, the Harpoon Block 1C anti-ship missile, the Standard Missile 2 missiles or the Standard Missile 6; all of these guided by the SPY-1F Aegis radar; however, this would most likely eliminate the helicopter landing pad in the stern of the ship. In short, the last fifteen LCS ships would be turned into offensive weapons systems and serve as an interim frigate until a new ship design is introduced.

5) Implement a significant change to an Army major acquisition program. Currently, three Services use a variant of the V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft. The Army, however, insists on building its tilt-rotor from scratch. This is costly and time-consuming. The commander-in-chief should bring the Army into the DoD fold by demanding the purchase of the latest CV-22 version to replace the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft program. This would save billions in developmental research. As an incentive, the commander-in-chief would offer id=”listicle-2645629724″ billion to this effort. The Army would benefit from the improvements made by the other Services, while taking advantage of an active production line.

6) Purchase another Arleigh Burke-class Flight III destroyer, specifically designed to fulfill the air defense role, for billion. The Arleigh Burke is the workhorse for the Navy, and should continue for the foreseeable future. The Flight III design serves as the stopgap until the Navy can fill the role that aging cruisers are struggling with.

7) Lastly, the Army must complete upgrading its ground combat vehicles. Usually, this is a multi-year project. But in the light of increased adversaries, it should be completed sooner. 0 million is needed for sixty upgraded Stryker double V-hull combat vehicles with heavier weapon systems; 0 million would convert 168 Bradley vehicles to the new M-2A4 configuration; 0 million would purchase twenty-nine new M-1A2C Abrams tanks (about a battalion’s worth); all part of on-going programs.

Conclusion

The transfer of developmental funding to active, “ready” programs would require Congressional buy-in. But time can also be an enemy; thus, to keep our strategic advantage, it is worth the venture to shift our defense dollars to more meaningful projects. By shifting billion dollars, the president could ease the burden upon the Navy to restore its ship-building schedule; it would help the Air Force keep its fourth-generation fighters ahead of contemporaries; and bring the Army forward in its long-term upgrading process. This shift may slow the development of futuristic weapons, or it may invigorate the program managers to operate more judiciously.

A shift of billion dollars is a small number to Congress. But it is a valuable number in terms of maintaining our decisive edge over our enemies.

This article originally appeared on Real Clear Defense. Follow @RCDefense on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

US Navy sailors step up to help deliver meals to senior citizens

Two sailors partnered with Meals On Wheels (MOW) Mesa County to deliver meals to local clients in the Grand Junction, Colorado, area during Western Slope Navy Week, July 23, 2019.

The mission of MOW is to promote the independence, health, and well being of the elderly through quality nutritional services. This is the first time Navy Outreach has partnered with the organization during a Navy Week.

“We were really glad to have the sailors here to help us, and a lot of the clients were looking forward to the interactions,” said Amanda Debock, program manager. “We gave them a route that had a large amount of veterans and they were especially excited to have their meals delivered by active duty sailors.”


MOW Mesa County provides affordable lunchtime meals to seniors age 60 and older in Mesa County. Today, the program prepares and serves more than 120,000 meals annually and 500 or more per day.

Lt. Jacob Cook and Navy Aviation Structural Mechanic 2nd Class Giovanni Dagostino, both assigned to Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 117, rode along with volunteer Steve Kendrick to deliver lunch to 19 clients.

“I have never volunteered with Meals on Wheels myself,” said Cook. “This experience has been really great just to go out and see what they do as an organization and to meet the people in this community that they serve and take care of.”

Seven clients included in the route were Navy, Army or Air Force Veterans that served during Word War II, the war in Vietnam and throughout various other periods.

“I was surprised how excited some of the veterans were when we showed up at the door,” said Kendrick. “We had one vet that was almost in tears when he saw the sailors come to the door in uniform. A lot of them just acted like [the sailors] were just part of their family. It seemed like it was a very special event for everyone.”

Started in 1970 by a group of concerned citizens, Meals on Wheels Mesa County has been serving nutritious meals to seniors for 49 years.

The Navy Week program brings sailors, equipment, and displays to approximately 14 American cities each year for a week-long schedule of outreach engagements designed for Americans to experience firsthand the Navy the nation needs.

This article originally appeared on United States Navy. Follow @USNavy on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Meet the combat cameraman who used MRE coffee grounds to produce beautiful paintings while deployed

While deployed to East Africa as a member of the 4th Combat Camera Squadron, US Air Force Staff Sgt. Corban Lundborg sought to create a unique illustration series inspired by his time in the region. Looking around the combat camera office, he found an old box of Meals, Ready to Eat. He mined the MREs for their instant coffee packets and used the supplies in the pack to mix up his “paint.”

“Coffee works pretty similar to watercolor,” Lundborg said. “It uses a value system to get different tones, so you just saturate the water more or less to achieve the tones you want.”


Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

Air Force Staff Sgt. Corban Lundborg works on MRE-coffee paintings in 2019 outside his combat camera unit’s headquarters in East Africa. Photo courtesy of Corban Lundborg

Lundborg said he started experimenting with how the coffee took to paper and ink, and after some time, he came up with a series of works inspired by his environment and experiences in East Africa.

Most of the paintings are scenes or equipment Lundborg used or traveled in. He painted some of the aircraft that flew him to and from different locations and missions and gifted the works to members of the aviation units. Among his subjects were a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, a lion, a Nikon film camera, a skull, and a calligraphed “Merry Christmas” card.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

Lundborg painted this “Merry Christmas” card in December 2018 and sent a photograph of the piece home to his mom and dad in Minneapolis. He later gave the original away in a raffle at an art party at Amp Rehearsal in Hollywood. Photo courtesy of Corban Lundborg

The sepia tones of the paintings and their ragged, burnt edges tell a story of the conflict and the creative necessity from which they were born. Central to the works is Lundborg’s impulse to create and the austere conditions that inspired him to experiment with a new medium.

“For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been drawing on stuff and making art,” said the Minneapolis native. “I think just about every day of the week, I’m doing something creative. I try not to go a day without doing some kind of art.”

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

Lundborg gifted this painting of an HH-60 Pave Hawk to the aviation squadron that supported operations during his East Africa deployment. Photo courtesy of Corban Lundborg

Lundborg said his parents were supportive of his artistic inclinations and creative adventures. He started out as a graffiti artist back in Minneapolis.

“I was kind of an angsty teen and was always looking to get into trouble,” he said. “I kind of ran with a bad group of friends and got into some legal trouble for vandalism and other minor crimes. The military provided the means I was looking for to get out of the city.”

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

Lundborg surrounded by his work at Amp Rehearsal in Hollywood, where he was commissioned to paint works throughout the building. Photo courtesy of Corban Lundborg

As a young airman working in supply and logistics, Lundborg was assigned to Osan Air Base in South Korea. He found his way into a tattoo apprenticeship and picked up another means of artistic expression.

“When I got to Korea and got the apprenticeship, the Korean artists took me in and showed me what art life was all about,” he said. “I started doing tattoos for other service members in the dorms overseas. These days, I mostly just kind of tattoo myself.”

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

Lundborg works on a Bob Marley mural at Amp Rehearsal in November 2019. Photo courtesy of Corban Lundborg

After a year in Korea, he was sent to Aviano Air Base in Italy, where he spent his days “counting aircraft screws, doing inventories, snowboarding in the Alps every weekend, and hitting all the major cities in Europe.”

After four years in an active-duty job he didn’t care for, Lundborg transferred to the Air Force Reserves and went home to Minneapolis, where he attended the Minneapolis College of Art and Design for a year before dropping out.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

A lion and a Nikon film camera were among Lundborg’s subjects. Photo courtesy of Corban Lundborg

“In college I discovered I don’t really like art theory and history,” he said. “I just like making art, and I still consider myself mostly self-taught.”

When a slot for a photographer opened up on his reserve base, Lundborg jumped at the chance to retrain into a new specialty. After six months of on-the-job training, the Air Force sent Lundborg to the Basic Photojournalist Course at the Defense Information School at Fort Meade, Maryland, in 2015.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

Lundborg exits a C-130 during his deployment to East Africa in January 2019. Photo courtesy of Corban Lundborg

He was later assigned to the 4th Combat Camera Squadron and deployed to East Africa in 2018 for eight months.

“I took a few brushes with me, but I had to get everything else from the accessory packets in the MREs,” he said of his time in Africa. “I used the plastic spoon to mix the coffee and hold some grounds, and I used matches to burn the edges of the paper and TP to clean the brushes.”

Lundborg self-produced a video of himself working on the MRE-coffee paintings.

CALM Collective | MRE

www.youtube.com

He said he picked up a cheap set of watercolors and taught himself to paint with the medium while living in South Africa a few years before his deployment to the continent.

He tends to pick up new mediums with relative ease and excels in whatever creative endeavors he pursues. He earned recognition as Air Force Reserve Photographer of the Year three years in a row, and was selected as Air Force Photographer of the year in 2018.

Acrylic and spray paint are his favorite media, and he often uses them together interchangeably.

A prolific creator, Lundborg is looking ahead to a bright future of doing what he loves. He plans to expand his work in cinema and film production.

“Ideally, I would like to produce, direct, and shoot films,” he said. “But painting is something I will do until the day I die.”

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Seriously, here’s why ‘Mad Dog 2020’ won’t ever happen

We’ve all heard the jokes — some are making calls for Secretary of Defense James Mattis to throw his hat into the 2020 presidential election. We’d have to admit, it’d be pretty funny because the slogan writes itself: Mad Dog 2020. For the uniformed, when you combine Mattis’ nickname with the year of the election, you’e left with a reference to a cheap, fortified wine that tastes only slightly better than “fruit-flavored” cough syrup.

First of all, let’s set a few things straight: The ‘MD’ in “MD 20/20” doesn’t actually stand for “Mad Dog,” but rather Mogen David, the company responsible for the nasty drink. The numbers 20/20 mean it’s a 20 oz. bottle filled with a substance that’s 20% alcohol by volume, which is funny because it’s actually sold at 13%.

And most importantly, General James Mattis (Ret.) doesn’t give a flying f*ck about politics.


Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

Secretary Mattis is a military man, through and through.

(DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

Recently, Pentagon Press Secretary Dana White responded to an erroneously cited “source” that told them that Secretary Mattis said, “I’d kick Trump’s ass in 2020, and I just might have to!”

That is so far from the truth that the Pentagon “got quite a laugh” from it and called it “complete fiction.” Mattis is not a politician and has remained true to his apolitical mindset in Washington. In fact, one of Secretary Mattis’ greatest strengths is that he has bipartisan support.

Yes, he was confirmed under President Trump, but he has never shown any sign of support for or against either political party. This neutrality is a core component to avoiding an undesired rabbit hole that would only hinder his leadership over the defense department.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

As much as the politics game sucks nowadays, it’s kind of hard to become president if you don’t play the politics game for either party.

(DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

Secretary Mattis managed to make many allies across both political parties by promising to stay true to his goal of leading the military. He was close to many staffers from the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations. He was confirmed immediately in the Senate by a vote of 98 to 1. The sole “nay” came from a senator who was opposed to waiving a clause in the National Security Act of 1947, which required being a minimum of seven years removed from military service to become the Secretary of Defense – but still agreed that he was the right man for the job.

For his efforts, he has managed to keep politics out of the way the military operates. That way, when he proposes a budget, neither side will argue with the man who is clearly the most qualified to make an estimate — his assessments are very obviously not driven by party politics.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

But, you know, a vet can dream… right?

Now, this isn’t to say that he wouldn’t make a fantastic president. Mattis is unarguably one of the most brilliant minds the modern military has to offer and many of the finest presidents in America’s history cut their teeth with leading men on the battlefield before taking on the country. There’s also no denying his near cult-like following by almost everyone within the military community — he’s already got a supportive base.

But, even if Secretary Mattis were to, for whatever strange reason, decide to run for president in 2020 (which, again, just won’t happen), he’d never willingly use “Mad Dog 2020” as his slogan.

He isn’t a fan of the “Mad Dog” moniker and he doesn’t drink alcohol.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Top 4 things you need to know about intelligence gathering and use

Inscribed on the CIA’s original headquarters in Langley is a passage from the Gospel of St. John: “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” This unofficial Agency motto alludes to the truth and clarity that intelligence provides to decision-makers, similar to the “knowledge is power” mantra.

But what happens when the craft of intelligence is disrupted or diluted by the politics (read: politicians, journalists, sensationalists, etc.) and policymakers it is designed to inform? What happens when it is dismissed, falls upon deaf ears, or is blatantly ignored?

Below is a quick list of the top four issues with intelligence I have encountered as an intelligence professional, along with completely hypothetical examples of how these issues materialize. Armed with this knowledge, you will have four keys to help you better understand the craft of intelligence.


Disclaimer: The concepts here are all 100-percent true — it is the specific examples and stories that have been altered for their sensitive and ongoing nature. And no, this list is not comprehensive.

1. Intelligence is an extension of politics, which suck.

As SOFREP has previously discussed, the purpose of intelligence is to inform decision-making, plain and simple. People or technology gather the information. That information is then processed and analyzed, disseminated to the consumers, and decision-making is informed. For more on how that works, see the Intelligence Cycle.

Roughly paraphrasing Clausewitz here, “War is politics by other means.” Well if war is politics and intelligence is an extension of politics, then intelligence is total political war — or something like that. Point being, the practice of managing intelligence (or information writ large) can oftentimes be a bit of a monstrosity.

I have observed that the problem with intelligence is not that you do not have it — although that oftentimes is the issue. Rather, what is critical is intelligence’s proper management: who to share it with, how to share it, when to share it, etc. These considerations are what I would consider appropriate “coordination” of the information. Not only managing it but providing the necessary context for the information (as an analyst, this is paramount) and emphasizing what must be emphasized. Some do this well, others not at all — even when they should.

The scenario

You are an intelligence professional working to counter various extremist threats to U.S. interests in Beirut, Lebanon. It’s not a nice place, so there’s plenty of nefarious activity and you’re gainfully employed. You receive information that a local Hezbollah cell has imminent plans to conduct a suicide attack at a popular south Beirut café that’s frequented by American citizens, other Westerners, and even a few foreign dignitaries. You’ve got a timeline, a method of attack, and maybe even some perpetrator names if you’re lucky. Because you’re a professional, you’ve done your homework and know that what you see is legitimate. It’s now your duty to get the machine in gear. You’ve got credible threat information that must be rapidly disseminated so the proper warnings can be issued, the appropriate authorities can be notified, and the would-be attackers thwarted.

But hold on there. One simply cannot hit “Forward All” and pass this information to 100 of your closest friends and neighborhood-friendly consumers. Forget the mass dissemination technique, however strong. How about just sending it to a handful of people? Better, but still not ideal.

Try this on for size: Send it to one or two overworked and undermanned bureaucrats who demand complete control over the information (i.e. no further sharing or exchanges until they’ve “worked the issue”). They then sit on it for an excruciating period of time, hold an extensive meeting about it with their closest friends at their (not-quite-earliest) convenience, and finally reluctantly pass it out to a limited audience with various caveats that downplay the significance of what you assessed to be time-sensitive and credible information. Never mind that you are intimately familiar with the threat and the environment and confident in your analytical abilities.

The takeaway

As stated above, there is always a time and place for appropriate coordination and processes for managing the information received. However, the caveat is that such management should not be completely sidetracked by politics. Give the information to those who need it, and inform the decision-making of those who have the power to alter the environment and ultimately save lives. It does not take a comms blackout, a strongly worded email, a committee, hours of deliberation, and lackluster dilution downplaying the credibility of the threat to share the information.

2. Information-sharing in the intelligence business is key.

Most people are familiar with the “need to know” principle, wherein if you do not have a legitimate requirement in your mission to know the information, you do not need to know it or even have access to it in the first place. But what about the need to share?

“The need to share” principle stems from the aftermath of 9/11 when the U.S. intelligence community decided it needed to do a better job of ensuring communication amongst the entities responsible for our national security. It spurred the creation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, among others, whose sole purpose in life is to facilitate interagency analysis and operations.

The scenario

This example is less clear, but hopefully still gets the message across. You are back in Beirut. A certain Lebanese government official has decided to get in bed with an ISIL-affiliated extremist group planning to target the restaurant of a ritzy hotel frequented by French expats in Beirut, as some kind of follow-up to the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris. This government official has worked extensively to pass information regarding French activity at the restaurant to his extremist contact. He has had access to the information as a Lebanese government official and resident of northern Lebanon, an area where ISIL maintains an active presence. The attack is only in the conceptual stages at this time, but the one fact remains: the government official is in bed with the wrong crowd and must be stopped.

The ever-vigilant professional, you learn of this government official’s treachery and seek to notify those working at the U.S. embassy of his ongoing activity so that they may appropriately handle the issue through diplomatic channels. You have a legitimate need to share this information with appropriate contacts and eagerly share it with your supervisor so that it may gain higher-level visibility. After doing so, you are instructed not to share your findings with anyone else.

“Why?” you ask. Well, for one, it is being handled at higher levels, or so it is claimed. This is a downward-directed order to let the issue die. Second, further disclosure of any such information — through appropriate channels or not –regarding the government official could negatively impact U.S. relations with the Lebanese government, something the politicians are not willing nor ready to manage at this time. So you let the issue slide and do not ask questions because you trust it is being handled at the appropriate level.

You later learn that not only was the issue not handled, but that widespread orders were issued to not discuss, mention, or allude to the treachery of the Lebanese government official once it became “public” knowledge in high-level leadership circles. Lower-level U.S. and Lebanese officials continue to maintain interaction with this official, completely unaware of his treachery. Relationships continue to develop, all the while ignoring the fact of his true allegiances.

The takeaway

Given the issue was deemed too sensitive to address nation-to-nation, it has now become an unspoken afterthought, one that is known by various parties on both sides, but not to those to whom it matters most. The issue remains unaddressed and unknown second- and third-order implications develop as time passes.

If something must be said, and there are indisputable facts to support it, say it. Do not hide behind careerism, fear of reprisal, or — again — politics. The truth, however uncomfortable, is best digested as soon as the information is available to be shared (and under the right and appropriate circumstances).

3. Sometimes people go “native.”

The term going “native” is applied to a situation where individuals take on some or all of the cultural traits of those around them. The term is most often mentioned in relation to people visiting or residing in foreign countries. Think Colonel Kurtz from “Apocalypse Now” or the character Kurtz from the “Heart of Darkness,” only less insidious and without the rivers. In intelligence, someone goes native when they blatantly ignore or otherwise disregard the body of information that refutes that which they have been provided by a source. I use the term “native” very loosely here, but it best transmits the concept.

The scenario

You have a friend who is employed by the U.S. embassy in a position of some importance, a position that requires him to frequently travel to liaise with Lebanese security forces operating in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. Given your friend’s consistent contact with Lebanese forces in a turbulent region, you receive frequent updates from him on the situation in the Valley. These updates are fairly accurate given your friend’s access to the Lebanese forces, but clearly possess some bias given the single source of his information and its limited perspective.

One day, you learn of an incident that transpired when a female American aid worker narrowly escaped a kidnapping attempt while working at a children’s school for refugees near the Syrian border. Having seen the information the aid worker had provided to various U.S. embassy personnel, who debriefed her when she reported the kidnapping attempt, you are aware of every minute detail the professional debriefers were able to obtain from her and associated witnesses.

When inquiring as to the details of this kidnapping attempt with your friend, the information he provides greatly conflicts with that of the debrief and witness statements. Your friend dutifully informs you the information you possess is incorrect and proceeds to identify all the reasons why. Citing his sources in the Lebanese security forces, your friend directly refutes, point by point, the official and agreed-upon information provided firsthand to the embassy personnel. Try as you might, your friend completely discounts this information and places his faith in his Lebanese contacts, contacts that were not there, and did not even possess secondhand access to the information or associated incident. Your friend has gone native.

The takeaway

While your friend clearly has the access to obtain and provide relatively accurate information regarding the security situation in the Bekaa Valley, his information only comes from the one source to which he has access. Your friend runs the risk of going “native,” and becoming too reliant on that one source. While it is undoubtedly a valuable one, his reference and adherence to the single source of the Lebanese security forces is one that must be taken into account.

This holds true especially if it conflicts with information provided firsthand by members involved in the incident, and obtained by qualified professionals who have gathered such information previously in their lengthy careers. Use all sources: do not refute that which comes from a better source, even when it conflicts with your prized single source. Do not go native.

4. People flat-out ignore the truth.

The final problem I have witnessed is when credible intelligence is completely disregarded by various persons — and ones in leadership positions, especially. Never mind that the information was deemed credible by multiple entities, or that said entities had already implemented various changes in response to the information. This disregard can happen even if there have been multiple warnings, both verbally and in writing, (thus invalidating any claims of ignorance) regarding the intelligence’s importance.

While intelligence can appear alarmist at times, if not presented accurately or appropriately (and with the right amount of emphasis and context), it is designed to properly inform decision-making. Intelligence removes the veil of doubt and the unknown and provides you with the truth. So listen to it and the recommendation that comes with it.

The scenario

You are back in south Beirut. The threat you have been tracking, regarding imminent plans by a local Hezbollah cell to conduct a suicide attack at a south Beirut café, must be actioned upon. The proper notifications are made. The U.S. embassy is made cognizant of the information and it releases a security notice to all American citizens in Lebanon to avoid the target in question, and travel to various south Beirut neighborhoods is restricted. The threat information has been passed to the appropriate decision-makers and the right people are now aware that they should avoid the café. As a professional, you have done your due diligence and can hope the Lebanese authorities will move quickly to disrupt the plot. You can rest easy, having fulfilled your duty.

But then you learn that one of the decision-makers, one who was informed numerous times of this specific threat information, has allowed various personnel under his office to travel through various south Beirut neighborhoods. Not only that, but two groups of his personnel have even visited — on two separate occasions — the very same café that is being actively targeted. You want to provide the benefit of the doubt: perhaps the decision-maker was simply unaware of the ongoing attack plans or was not notified of the travel restrictions. Unfortunately for him, plausible deniability does not work in this scenario. When questioned as to why his personnel made these visits, the decision-maker claimed he was unaware that the threat notification or travel restrictions were permanent measures, and thought that they only lasted for the day they were issued.

The takeaway

When a decision-maker provides a weak and transparent excuse as to why he knowingly authorized the travel of his personnel to a specific location that is being actively targeted by terrorists (something he was aware of), he knowingly places the lives of his personnel at risk. He completely disregards all of the hard work that was performed in order to provide the intelligence to him in a timely and accurate manner to boot.

Intelligence is not contrived. It is a dynamic product and continuous effort. Listen to what intelligence is saying. Do not disregard it or claim ignorance of it after it has been provided to you. Use it as the tool it is designed to be.

Thanks for listening.

This article originally appeared on SOFREP. Follow @sofrepofficial on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

4 big reasons why the military should do a battle royale event

The branch rivalry can be mind-numbing at times. Each branch believes they’re the best while each has a unique role, making it impossible to objectively determine which is truly king. That’s where a battle royale comes in.

If you’re not living under a digital rock, then you know that “battle royales” are extremely popular in video games right now. In short, these types of games pit several players (or teams of players) against one another in a fight to scavenge, survive, and outlast the competition. And it got us thinking – what if the military hosted its own?

Imagine this: Each branch puts forth a five-person team (including a medic or corpsman) to compete against each other in a large, miserable training area. The teams must survive and fight against each other in a battle to earn the ultimate bragging rights for their respective branch.


Keep in mind, this is not a squad competition — each team would be given a certain amount of time, an area of operations, a number of MREs (with the ability to find resupply points), and either blanks or sesam rounds. There would be referees following or monitoring teams to keep battles fair.

But enough about the finer points, here’s why it should happen:

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

There could even be an award for the winning branch.

(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman Cameron Lewis)

Determine the best branch

The most obvious reason we should do this is because it would finally silence the pissing content. One branch would beat the others in competition, fair and square. Each branch put forth a team on a level playing field with an equal chance at winning — there’d be no room for excuses. Better luck next year.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

Things like this build unique bonds.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kate Thornton)

Cohesion

It goes without saying that the members of a unit would form stronger bonds. But even in defeat, you can respect your opponent’s strengths. An activity like this would give each branch a chance to see the skills of each. Seeing what each branch is capable of could really help us acknowledge each other’s strengths.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

This would bring everyone together in a way that is fun and interesting.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class William Sykes)

Friendly competition

In the Marine Corps, you build unit cohesion by having teams or squads compete against each other. No matter the activity, the real goal is to bring your troops closer together so they can build mutual trust. This would be the same idea — but on a much larger scale.

As it stands now, branches don’t really trust one another — mostly because they’re not sure if the others are as tough.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

You can bring those lessons back to your unit so everyone can learn something.

(U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Hailey D. Clay)

It could have great training value

When you’re forced into a situation, you have to improvise, adapt, and overcome. In learning how to best compete, you’ll learn about yourself.

MIGHTY CULTURE

One of the scariest tasks for pilots is to land in rough seas

What’s the most dangerous part of the mission for a Navy pilot? Flying over enemy forces? Dodging hostile jets? Well, when the enemy isn’t ready for the full might of the U.S. Navy and what the sea state is, the most dangerous part of the mission might be landing on the ship when it’s time to go home. That’s because the sea can move the ship’s deck 30 feet.


PBS: Carrier – Landing on a Pitching Deck Pt. 1

www.youtube.com

PBS had a documentary team out on the USS Nimitz when it hit rough seas in the Pacific and got to watch pilots, many of whom had experience flying missions over Iraq and Afghanistan, get nervous when they were sent out for some peaceful training.

But it was still some of the riskiest flying that many of the young pilots had done, because the waters were so rough that the ship’s deck—the thing the pilots had to land their planes on—was heaving up and down and rising as high as 30 feet. Just dealing with that altitude is a big deal, but it also means that the angle of the deck their landing on or taking off from is changing as well.

Time it wrong, and a takeoff could throw you straight into the water.

“This is absolutely more dangerous than it was flying missions in the gulf,” an unnamed pilot told the film crew. “We got lucky in the Gulf; the seas are calm. But out here, pitching decks, this is scarier. Still gotta get back and land on the boat.”

“It’ll kill you in a second,” said a Navy commander.

But it’s still worth it to the Navy to do risky training like this, because it needs the pilots able to fly and fight in the worst seas they can possibly handle, because that reduces the types of weather that can weaken the Navy against an enemy like China.

MIGHTY CULTURE

LED therapy ‘worth every second’ for Gulf War vet

Eric Viitala, 49, is an Air Force veteran of the Gulf War who lives in Maine. He experienced low levels of energy and concentration for years after his service. He had headaches, couldn’t finish projects, and was losing interest in things.

“My wife would tell me I left the cupboard doors open and she would walk into them. Or I’d put the recycling in the trash.”

Shortly after the Gulf War, Viitala hit his head in an accident in Saudi Arabia. When he visited the War Related Illness and Injury Study Center (WRIISC) in East Orange, NJ, he was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury. At the WRIISC, a doctor referred him to the VA Boston Healthcare System’s light-emitting diode (LED) therapy program.


VA’s Center for Compassionate Care Innovation has been working with VHA staff in Boston to explore the use of in-home LED treatment since 2018.

Last year, Viitala completed a 12-week course of in-home LED treatment while in communication with his VHA health care provider. He still uses the treatment at least twice a week.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

Improvements in memory and energy way up

“There were huge improvements in my memory and concentration. My energy was way up. I’d pop up in the middle of the night and go clean the garage,” said Viitala. “It’s amazing because I have been dragging for years, but now I have the energy to go do things.”

During LED treatment, patients wear a lightweight headset affixed with light-emitting diodes. The arrangement of LEDs is customized for each person. The diodes do not generate heat and the treatment is painless and noninvasive. Each session lasts only 25 minutes. There is evidence to suggest that LED therapy promotes a healing response at the cellular level, due in part to increased blood flow.

When Viitala uses the LED equipment, he simply sits and relaxes with the LED headset on. The equipment was provided by VHA at no cost to the veteran and belongs to him permanently. He went to Boston for one round of treatment at the medical center and to pick up the equipment. But he communicated with his health care provider by phone during treatment.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

“It’s worth every second.”

“That was really helpful and beneficial for her to call and keep encouraging me. She would ask how it’s going. It helped remind me to do it.”

Viitala credits the staff members at the New Jersey WRIISC for validating what he was feeling and referring him to the LED clinic in Boston. He encourages fellow veterans with similar symptoms to ask their providers about LED therapy.

“Don’t be afraid to speak out. There’s nothing to lose with LED. Nothing hurts. They don’t have to go inside your body. There’s no drugs, no side effects. It’s worth every second.”

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Beautiful Arlington photos of a barrier-breaker’s funeral

Retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Marcelite Jordan Harris was laid to rest Feb. 7, 2019, at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, with full military funeral honors.

During Harris’s life and Air Force career, she accomplished multiple crowning achievements. After receiving her commission through Officer Training School at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, in 1965, she ventured into her first assignment as the assistant director for administration for the 60th Airlift Wing at Travis AFB, California. She then completed a tour in West Germany in 1971 before enrolling in the Aircraft Maintenance Officer Course at Chanute AFB, Illinois. After graduating, she was named aircraft maintenance officer — the first woman to ever hold the title.


Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

Friends and family of retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Marcelite Harris attend her full honors military funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Feb. 7, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rusty Frank)

“Being a leader, being a mentor is not about how much you can fill your own cup, it’s about how much you pour into others and with Major General Harris, our cups run over,” said Lt. Gen. Stayce Harris, Inspector General of the Air Force. “She poured so much of herself, personally and professional, into all of us and influenced so many — those she knew and those who knew her from afar.”

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

The U.S. Air Force Honor Guard performs full military honors during the funeral of retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Marcelite Harris at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Feb. 7, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rusty Frank)

Through hard work and dedication, Harris continued to pave the way for females and women of color in the military. While she served at assignments in Thailand, California, Washington, D.C., Colorado, Kansas, Japan, Mississippi and Oklahoma, she continued to rise through the ranks. During those assignments, she was appointed as a White House aide during the presidential administrations of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter in 1975, and she was the second female in history to serve as a commanding officer for an Air Force cadet squadron in 1978. In 1988, she became the first female wing commander.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Lenny Richoux, the commander of U.S. Transportation Command’s Joint Enabling Capabilities Command, presents the American Flag to retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Mareclite Harris’s daughter, Tenecia Harris, during a full honors funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Feb. 7, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rusty Frank)


Harris continued to break barriers – on May 1, 1991, she was promoted to brigadier general – making her the first African-American female general in the U.S. Air Force. A mere four years later, on May 25, 1995, she was promoted to major general, and was the first woman to hold this rank in the service.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

Friends and family of retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Marcelite Harris attend her full honors military funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Feb. 7, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rusty Frank)

“Harris was the personification of enduring power…she had the ability to withstand challenges and changes that came with being the first…the first woman, the first forerunner, the pioneer for females in male dominated career fields,” said Lt. Col. Ruth Segres, chaplain. “In the midst of opposition and obstacles she exhibited a power, a mental steadfast strength and a fierce fortitude to keep her composure — a credit to her character.”

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

Friends and family of retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Marcelite Harris attend her full honors military funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Feb. 7, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rusty Frank)

After 32 years of service, Harris retired in 1997 as the highest ranking female in the U.S. Air Force and highest ranking African-American female in the Department of Defense. She continued her legacy of service by aiding as the treasurer of the Atlanta branch of the NAACP and a director on the board of Peachtree Hope Charter School. In 2010, she was given the chance to once again serve with her Air Force family when President Barack Obama appointed her to work as a member of the Board of Visitors for the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

A caisson delivers the remains of retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Marcelite Harris during her full honors funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Feb. 7, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rusty Frank)

“My sister was a fighter,” said Elizabeth Johnson, Harris’s younger sister during the memorial service. “She was forever striving to serve others, and even in retirement she never missed an opportunity to contribute.”

Harris passed away Sept. 7, 2018, at Jackson Memorial Hospital, Miami, on a Caribbean vacation with her companion, retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. David Branch. Though her death was sudden and unexpected, she was surrounded by loved ones.

MIGHTY CULTURE

When should cyber attacks be considered acts of war?

In the past 15 years, state-sponsored cyber attacks have increased significantly, from hacking government and military computers to obtain information to shutting down or defacing websites to interfering with power stations.

And that’s just what we know from the news, and in my experience (cyber threat analysis at the NSA), if something is public knowledge, then the classified story behind it is way more vast and comprehensive.

Make no mistake: countries like Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran are attacking the United States and other global players every day — just ask Mattis…or Sony. I mean, we traced North Korean hacking during our last summit with North Korea.


So why aren’t these cyber attacks considered acts of war? Let’s get into it.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

The United States, for example, knows that we’re being targeted by cyber attacks. And we’re really good at tracking down who is behind the intrusions. So, when a country like Russia targets the United States for a cyber attack, why isn’t it considered an act of war?

Well, it can be. But it depends on the attack and how the law of war applies to it, even though those rules predate the invention of the internet. The United States government has identified cyberspace as an operational domain in which the armed forces must be able to defend and operate, just like land, sea, air, and space.

But just like the Chinese navy can aggressively fly past a ship without it being an attack, state-sponsored hackers can intrude on a network without it necessarily being an attack.

Chinese jet intercepts U.S. surveillance plane

www.youtube.com

Per the Department of Defense Law of War Manual, codified cyber operations include all sorts of activity, from disrupting our websites to stealing our nudes to bringing down infrastructure. Other cyber operations include reconnaissance, securing access to key network systems, implanting malicious codes or access tools, acquiring foreign intelligence, or gaining information about an adversary’s military capabilities and intent.

But the DOD also makes it clear that not all “attacks” are created equal. So most “cyber attacks” fall short of the legal and common-sense definitions of “attacks” during the conduct of hostilities. It’s not an act of war to steal a copy of The Interview, even if you leak the ending online before the movie even comes out.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

Rude, Kim Jong Un. We wanted to see those Rogen-Franco antics while they were still fresh.

But, cyber operations can cause a variety of effects, and some of these could be defined as an act of war. If the effects of cyber operations cause the same damage as dropping a bomb, then that cyber attack becomes subject to the same laws as physical attacks.

And this is possible. In fact, it’s already happened.

The New York Times reported a cyber assault that hit a petrochemical company in Saudi Arabia. The attack was designed to sabotage the firm’s operations and trigger an explosion. That’s a pretty clear-cut case, but it still might not be in a country’s best interest to launch physical military attacks over the issue. After all, Syria didn’t attack Israel even though Israeli jets are sometimes hitting targets in the Syrian Civil War because Syria can’t afford a new state-level enemy right now.

Which makes sense. Would we really want to start a war with North Korea, China, or Russia, even if they managed to damage some infrastructure in the U.S.? (The answer is, hopefully, no.)

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

So in general, we use the same guidelines for assessing cyber attacks as we do any other kind of attack or intrusion. If it’s peacetime intelligence and counterintelligence activities, we take it on a case-by-case basis. International law exists to determine the legality of intel operations — and we apply the same or similar rules for how we operate within cyberspace.

But we still recognize our right to self-defense, in cyberspace and any other battlefield. Publicly the U.S. has made a commitment to respond to a cyber attack just as we would any other attack — and by any means: diplomatic, economic, or military. But we try to exhaust all options, even our own cyber arsenal, before the use of military force.

And, we have to be certain that we’re retaliating against the source of the original attack, which can be tough when countries like Russia hide behind shadowy hacker groups and any sophisticated hackers can take steps to mask their digital footprints.

Therefore, I can almost guarantee that a cyber “war” is raging…but it doesn’t make the news. The United States and Russia do not want to actually launch missiles at each other. No one wants that kind of damage. We also have an economic relationship with them that benefits both parties. The same is true with China. But ideologically, we are not very compatible.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

I’ve been out of the game for awhile, but I suspect that when we catch Russia sneaking into our systems, we just sneak right back. It’s an information war, and I’m actually not sure about who’s winning. While the US has made mistakes, for the most part, we play by the rules, and our adversaries…don’t.

Right now, it’s kind of like the Cold War, with mutually-assured destruction keeping everyone on their best behavior. But the truth is, a cyber attack has the potential to cause devastating effects. Imagine if an adversary manipulated the stock exchange or an air traffic control center at an international hub.

Such attacks would be violations of the law of war, but terrorists don’t play by the rules. So far we’re lucky that they don’t have the same sophisticated technology as major global players, but the threat is real, which is why we must continue to develop our own capabilities and remain superior in the cyber battlespace.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This might be the best Ranger panties ad ever made

For the first time ever, I find myself seriously considering buying Ranger panties. And not just buying them; wearing them to all sorts of events. These are about to be the centerpiece (and possibly only piece) of my Valentine’s Day outfit. And it’s all thanks to this ad from Dog Company of some battalion or another:


Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

Look at it. Really look at it. It’s got puns, it’s got rhymes, it’s got suggestive language, it’s got a joke at the expense of cavalry scouts (thanks for securing our routes, sorry about all the jokes).

It even suggests that Ranger panties are perfect for signing into the unit when you get to Dog Company, which, come on, if you’re not checking to see if they have openings for your MOS already, you’re doing it wrong. My old MOS, unfortunately, does not appear in any infantry MTOEs, so I have to long after these shorts from afar.

But not Dog Company. No, these guys apparently get to throw on their Ranger panties, smack their significant other on the Ranger panty-clad butt, and then charge into battle against communists with guns firing and thighs open to the air, absorbing the sun’s rays and warmth while the commies are absorbing the bullets.

When they’re done with that, they get to have a short meeting with first sergeant, still in the Ranger panties and ostensibly still covered in the gore of their enemies, before going to a wedding or two and a few children’s parties.

The clown isn’t going to be the scariest thing at that party. Thank Valhalla for that.

We’re still not sure which infantryman found a keyboard and typed up this beautiful masterpiece. The fact that they found a keyboard indicates maybe an XO, but the fact that the final advertisement is quality indicates a specialist or corporal.

Maybe it was a team-up? Regardless, grab a pair if you happen to be in Dog Company (all proceeds benefit the FRG!). If you’re not, just get your panties from Ranger Joe’s or your own FRG or whatever. We can’t help you.

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