Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent

With just over 5,000 employees, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) is one of the smaller federal law enforcement agencies.

However, that doesn’t mean they don’t deal with their share of vicious individuals, groups, and threats. In fact, the ATF goes after some of the most violent criminals: those who want to shoot others or blow something or someone up. Naturally, being an ATF field agent requires a great deal of mental toughness.


Carlos Baixauli, or “Box” as his friends call him, joined the ATF in 1986. He was recruited after doing undercover work for Florida’s state version of the ATF and for the Miami-Dade Police Department; his 30-year career included working on the Medellín Cartel, headed by the infamous Pablo Escobar.

Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent

Baixauli in the field as an ATF agent.

(Photo courtesy of Carlos Baixauli)

His first experience as a new agent was witnessing an atrocity on New Year’s Eve at the Du Pont Plaza in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

“The plaza was set on fire by angry union workers,” Baixauli recalled. “They wanted to send a message, and in doing so, killed 98 people and injured over 100 others.”

Baixauli was tasked with walking through the crime scene to investigate.

“People were burned into place,” he said. The scene was like something out of a nightmare. “One thing that’s always stuck with me — they were busting out of a window, and this lady was getting ready to jump. Then a burst of air came out, feeding the fire, and a giant fireball came across, and it was like everyone had been turned into the ruins of Pompeii. They were all ash.”

It didn’t take long for Baixauli to be assigned more undercover operations that put him in harm’s way, dealing with armed home invaders. With home invasions, the crime often goes unreported.

“We started coming up on homes and there would be five or six dead Colombians, Venezuelans, or some other South American nationality in the house,” Baixauli said. “The house was empty. I’m talking big homes, five, six bedrooms. But there was no furniture or accessories. These are homes that the drug cartels would set up in Florida. They are guarded by their thugs, and they are stash houses. They would start delivering drugs from these locations to other locations. The reason they would find the people dead inside is that home invaders would go rip off the dope dealers.”

His undercover role was that of a disgruntled employee of the drug cartel. Baixauli would tell the criminals that he wasn’t making enough money, that there were millions of dollars worth of drugs in these houses, and that he needed his fair share.

“They would talk to me about how they can come and rip the place off,” Baixauli said. “They would take the drugs and the money.”

Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent

An ATF Special Response Teams searches an exterior of a building in Baltimore, Md.

According to Baixauli, they were usually either a stash house or a drug house. He would meet with them four to five times before taking them to a house the ATF was in control of already.

“The violent nature of these guys,” he said, “they knew they were going into a gunfight. We were just lucky that we won.”

Sometimes his meetings as an undercover agent resulted in a brush with death.

Later in his career, Baixauli found himself amongst a rough crowd at a local hole-in-the-wall restaurant in South Beach.

“I’m sitting there, and a guy puts a gun into my side. My team is wired up and they’re outside. I had to let them know I’m at gunpoint but they needed to wait for the code word because I needed to talk my way out of the situation I was in,” Baixauli said. “The guy with the gun says, ‘Tell me where the stash house is.'”

Baixauli refused.

Undercover and Hired to Kill

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Instead, he made a comment about the gun. “Why do you have that .45 in my side? Somebody is going to see it outside or from the bar. We have a good deal going here, and now we aren’t going to make any money.”

Baixauli kept his cool and didn’t even signal that the gun concerned him.

“If you’re going to keep the gun on me, put it in my back,” he said. “Nobody can see it then.”

He recalled the event as if reliving it. “We are moving. My team is listening. They are making a move towards the front door. ‘The cashier is going to see the gun,’ I tell the guy. The whole time I’m giving a play by play to my crew outside. Walking towards the front door, I see the cover team. Soon as I go through the door, this guy comes behind him, and he’s taken down easily.”

Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent

Baixauli with .7 million in recovered cash.

(Photo courtesy of Carlos Baixauli)

One way the ATF differentiates from other law enforcement agencies is that they try not use confidential or criminal informants (CIs).

“ATF doesn’t deal with CIs. CI always brings baggage. The best hand-to-hand is between a good guy and a bad guy. If I need a CI to introduce me to a bad guy, and we do a deal with the CI, we throw that deal away. We don’t want to deal with the baggage from the CI. As soon as we could cut the CI out, we would,” Baixauli said.

While he’s been out of the ATF since 2016, Baixauli is still concerned about current threats; he sees groups like MS-13 as a bigger threat to the U.S than even Pablo Escobar’s cartel.

“MS-13 is 10 times worse. Drugs, extortion, brutal murders, prostitution, terrorizing people — and as far as law enforcement is concerned, they are animals who have no feeling for life.” In 2017, it was reported that the group stabbed a victim 100 times, beheaded him, and ripped out his heart.

Despite the danger, Baixauli loved his job with the ATF so much that he can’t remember a day he didn’t look forward to work. “I loved it,” he said. “I just loved it.”

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

6 lessons I learned moving nuclear weapons through North Dakota

I was both excited and anxious the day I got my orders to Minot Air Force Base. I requested to be sent to a nuclear missile base because of the challenges and opportunities the mission presented. Every day, Airmen at Minot and its sister nuclear missile bases operate, maintain, and secure weapons that have an immediate and direct impact on US strategic policy. The thought of leading those Airmen was awesome but also daunting. In the weeks leading up to my first day in Minot, I was concerned with whether I had what it took to be the right leader in my unit. Unsure of what to do, I simply decided that I would approach everything with optimism and enthusiasm.


In time, I found (miraculously) my plan to simply throw my energy and passion into the job actually worked. I had a great relationship with my commander, my airmen appreciated my effort (or at least found their lieutenant’s attitudes novel/humorous), and I worked well with my peers to accomplish the mission. As a reward for my efforts, I was given an extremely unique opportunity that was the highlight of my time at Minot; the nuclear weapons convoy mission.

It was a major change of pace for me. I had my own unique vehicle fleet, command and control systems, specialized weapons, and an entire flight of hand-picked airmen. I also had to take responsibility for my own mission tasking and planning, work independently, and ensure the dozens of different agencies involved in every convoy were working in harmony with each other. But by far the biggest change for me was that I suddenly found myself with a significant degree of authority and responsibility to accomplish a mission that had very real consequences on US strategic policy.

What I humbly share here are the lessons I learned from long, cold days on the road, ensuring the safe and secure transport of the world’s most destructive weapons. They were hard-won lessons delivered to me in the form of long nights, strange situations, and a desire to do right by the most talented and motivated airmen in the Air Force. I hope these lessons help the next round of lieutenant’s taking up the watch in the great, wide north.

1-Calm Down

Perhaps my biggest lesson, which was taught to me time after time, was the most important thing I could do in any sort of situation was remain calm. Your troops will reflect your attitude. If you panic, they will panic and start making poor decisions. Their panic will be mirrored and then amplified down the chain. But if you remain cool and calm, your troops will try to emulate your attitude even if they are upset internally. When you talk over the radio, speak clearly and calmly. When you give orders, act naturally and with confidence.

Low emotional neuroticism is what you should seek within yourself. This trait does not mean that you have to be an unfeeling robot as that would be just as bad as being an emotionally reactive person. You should figure out what your “trigger moments” are and then seek to balance your emotions in front of your troops. Remember, don’t sweat the small stuff.

2-Learn to Let Go of Control

Many will find this ironic, but one of the keys to successfully moving a nuclear weapon is to actually let go of control. Not control of the weapon of course, but rather control of the programs and processes that surround the mission. I quickly discovered a nuclear weapons convoy had way too many moving pieces to effectively manage on my own. As a result, I had to rely heavily on my NCOs to manage these moving pieces on my behalf. I did this by providing a clear, guiding intent for their programs and squads, and then giving them as much freedom and power as I could to let them achieve that intent.

While it seems like common sense leadership advice to trust your NCOs, it is still very hard to let go of things that you know you will have to answer for if they go wrong. But trust me, it will work out. We have the most talented airmen in the world and they will find great solutions to the unit’s problems, even if it is not the solution you envisioned.

3-Don’t Let Yourself Get Tribal

As stated before, moving a nuclear weapon across North Dakota requires the coordination of dozens of different units and agencies. It is truly a whole-base effort and a fantastic example of the bigger Air Force in action. This kind of mission requires that the various participants act selflessly to become a “team of teams.”

While unit morale and espirit-de-corps are must haves in any military unit, it should never come at the expense of cooperation with other friendly forces or devolve into petty rivalries. Unfortunately, too often leaders tend to destroy the larger picture under the delusion that we they looking out for our tribe. I had an obligation to build relationships with partner units, learn their processes, and make the whole-base effort happen in order for the nuclear convoy mission to succeed. If you always think in terms of “them” versus “us”, you will find it’s only “us” in the fight and no “them” will be coming to save you.

4-Give Your Leadership the Information They Need

Because of the nature of the position, I frequently found myself in meetings and discussions that other lieutenants were not normally allowed to participate in. I was also the subject matter expert for a very high visibility mission, and thus officers and commanders who were much more senior to me looked to me for my honest opinions on issues that affected the convoy. When questions about the risks involved in a particular mission came up, the heads in the room would turn to me to help determine the outcome (a feeling that I never got used to).

When you do find yourself in a situation where senior leaders want your viewpoint, be respectful and honest. It is your responsibility to provide your leadership with truthful answers and to do so in a way that is not antagonistic. At the same time, you must also be willing to accept your leadership’s decisions based on the information you provide. Trust goes both ways. My leadership trusted me to lead the convoy mission and I trusted them to make decisions on those missions that would keep me and my Airmen safe.

5-Embrace Failure and Avoid Fear

I once read in a history class that a popular saying in the old Strategic Air Command was “to err is human, to forgive is not SAC policy.” While that may sound clever and certainly carries the bravado of General Curtis LeMay with it (the founder of SAC and the modern nuclear Air Force), I can tell you that zero forgiveness makes for an abysmal unit culture.

If you refuse to accept failure while learning from it, you will create a unit culture where members are afraid to come forward, speak up, or sound the alarm to major problems. Your troops will hide things from you, and that type of behavior is what gets people hurt or killed. Show your airmen, through both action and words, honest mistakes are forgiven and embraced as a learning opportunity.

6-Have Fun

During my entire time at Minot, I made it a point to find the bright side of things and enjoy my job. Like any duty station or mission series, Minot had its fair share of challenges. There is no way to sugarcoat the experience of having to walk out into sub-freezing temperatures and still get the work done. Yet when these situations happened, I looked to others to keep a good attitude and make the best of the situation. I was always able to find a reason to laugh or smile(even if icicles started to gather on my face).

You too can find success with something as simple as finding a reason to smile more often or to laugh at stupid, silly things. Staying calm in front of your airmen can have a similar effect to having a happy attitude and can be contagious in a unit.

I am grateful to the proud Defenders of the 91st Missile Security Operations Squadron who were patient with me as I worked to develop the mission, the airmen, and myself. In the face of -20 degree temperatures and a demanding nuclear mission, they chose to follow me in giving their all towards building a lethal, combat-ready team.

Andrew is an Air Force Security Forces officer currently assigned to Buckley Garrison, US Space Force, Colorado. He oversees base security operations for the installation. He loves taking road trips with his wife and dog, snowboarding beautiful mountains, and enjoying great Colorado beer.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Check out these ridiculous photos of Kim Jong Un riding a white horse

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had a photoshoot on a white horse on Mt. Paektu, a symbolically important location for his family and for North Korea.

Kim Jong Un has had similar trips and photo shoots before; during one such trip, North Korean state media claimed that the rotund dictator climbed Mt. Paektu, while photos of the event showed him in leather business shoes.

Of course, the photo caused a stir on Twitter, with some Photoshopping the pictures into prestige drama ads for Netflix:


Or bringing up a similar winter photoshoot:

But apart from looking faintly ridiculous to the outside world, the new photos from the Hermit Kingdom are shot through with meaning, according to experts. Read on to see what Kim Jong Un’s snowy ride means.

Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent

The North Korean leader on the side of Mount Paektu.

(KCNA)

Propaganda images are nothing new for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The North Korean propaganda machine is an important part of the regime.

Photos of the North Korean leader climbing the mountain on horseback is “a great event of weighty importance in the history of the Korean revolution,” according to KCNA, the North Korean state media.

North Korean propaganda is nothing new; in fact, it’s everywhere in the country. From posters showing the US’s evil aggression toward North Korea, to Kim’s winter wonderland, controlling the message in the hermit kingdom is vital in order to keep citizens obedient and in the dark about the rest of the world.

Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent

(KCNA)

Kim rides an immaculate, snow-white horse to match his surroundings. But it’s not just about equine aesthetics.

The white steed upon which Kim Jong-Un is seated is reminiscent of the legendary creatures Chollima, a winged horse, and Mallima, a horse with incredible speend and indurance, according to Reuters.

Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, was also supposedly visited by a white steed during his guerilla days, according to The Washington Post.

There are postage stamps of Kim Jong Il riding white horses on Mt. Paektu, according to Michael Madden, a North Korea researcher for the Stimson Center, but “no one’s had the balls to take a horse up there,” he said.

Kim Jong Un resembles his grandfather physically, and has had a number of propaganda photos mirroring his grandfather’s. Kim Jong Un’s resemblance of his grandfather allows him to “project power and gravitas,” Madsen told The Guardian in 2014.

Kim Jong Un isn’t the only person harkening the past in the photo shoot, though; in other photos, his sister, Kim Yo Jong, is riding a horse like the one her father used to ride, and is dressed like her grandmother, Kim Il Sung’s first wife Kim Jong Suk, who is considered the mother of North Korea and holds vital importance in the country’s mythology.

Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent

(KCNA)

Mt. Paektu is a loaded location for the Kim family — and North Koreans.

Mt. Paektu is an important place for the Kim family, as it cements their status as the rightful rulers of North Korea.

It’s said to be the “location of Kim Il Sung’s mythical guerrilla base,” Joshua Pollack, a North Korea researcher at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies told Reuters. Kim Il Sung, the current leader’s grandfather, was the first leader of North Korea, and the country’s mythology sees him as a great guerilla fighter against imperilalist Japan, which ruled the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

Of this latest photoshoot, Pollack said, “The location and the clothes are meant to evoke the founder’s legacy.”

And according to North Korean state media, Mt. Paektu is where Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il, was born, although it’s more likely he was born in the Soviet Union. It’s also, according to legend, where Dagun, the leader of the first Korean kingdom, was born thousands of years ago, according to the BBC.

There are two Kim family compounds nearby, including one built by Kim Jong Il on Mt. Paektu, Madden told Insider. Somewhere in the vicinity — perhaps at that compound — is the secure facility Madden referred to as the “North Korean panic room,” where the Kim family can head in case of disaster. They also have the option of crossing the nearby border into China.

Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un rides a horse during snowfall in Mount Paektu in this image released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Oct. 16, 2019.

(KCNA)

While the photos may look absurd, they’re intended to have a very serious message.

“This is a statement, symbolic of defiance,” Pollack told The Washington Post. “The pursuit of sanctions relief is over. Nothing is made explicit here, but it starts to set new expectations about the coming course of policy for 2020.”

North Koreans have suffered from international sanctions due to its nuclear program; the photos seem to show that North Korea will not bow to international pressure.

According to multiple reports, Kim Jong Un has visted Mt. Paektu prior to major announcements or policy decisions before. For example, a 2017 trip came just days after the North Korean military launched its largest-ever intercontinental ballistic missile.

Madden told Insider that the photo shoot most likely portends a military announcement of some kind, possibly that North Korea and China are announcing a long-term strategic aggreement. “A member of the Chinese Military Commission is in North Korea right now, and [talks are] going very, very, very well,” he told Insider.

Madden told Insider that “North Korea in 2020 is either going to launch a rocket, or announce that they have attained the ability to perform sub-critical nuclear tests,” and the photos could be in advance of such an announcement.

Whatever the announcement is, it’s almost certainly not about making concessions to the US or any of its allies, Madden said.

“North Korea has massively regressed in the past few months,” in terms of foreign policy “and I have no idea why,” Madden noted.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Everything to know about the Air Force’s largest transport

Since 1969 the C-5 Galaxy has dwarfed all other airframes in the Air Force inventory. The C-5 Galaxy has provided the U.S. Air Force with heavy intercontinental-range strategic airlift capability capable of carrying oversized loads and all air-certifiable cargo, including the M-1 Abrams Tank.


Development and design

During the Vietnam War, the USAF saw the necessity of moving large amounts of troops and equipment overseas quickly. Lockheed was able to meet the ambitious design requirements of a maximum takeoff weight twice that of the USAF current airlifter, the C-141 Starlifter.

“We started to build the C-5 and wanted to build the biggest thing we could… Quite frankly, the C-5 program was a great contribution to commercial aviation. We’ll never get credit for it, but we incentivized that industry by developing [the TF39] engine,” said Gen. Duane H. Cassidy, former Military Airlift Command commander in chief.

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The C-5 is a high-wing cargo aircraft with a 65-foot tall T-tail vertical stabilizer. Above the plane-length cargo deck is an upper deck for flight operations and seating for 75 passengers. With a rear cargo door and a nose that swings up loadmasters can drive through the entire aircraft when loading and offloading cargo. The landing gear system is capable of lowering, allowing the aircraft to kneel, making it easier to load tall cargo.

Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent

The C-5A Galaxy undergoing flight testing in the late 1960s.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

The rear main landing gear can be made to caster enabling a smaller turning radius, and rotates 90 degrees after takeoff before being retracted.

The C-5 Galaxy is capable of airlifting almost every type of military equipment including the Army’s armored vehicle launched bridge or six Apache helicopters.

In the early 2000s, the Air Force began a modernization program on the C-5 upgrading the avionics with flat panel displays, improving the navigation and safety equipment and installing a new auto-pilot system. In 2006, the C-5 was refitted with GE CF6 Engines, pylons and auxiliary power units. The aircraft skin, frame, landing gear, cockpit and pressurization systems were also upgraded. Each CF6 engine produces 22 percent more thrust, reducing the C-5’s take off length, increasing its climb rate, cargo load and range. The new upgraded C-5s are designated as the C-5M Super Galaxy.

Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent

A 433rd Airlift Wing C-5 Galaxy begins to turn over the runway before landing Nov. 14 2014, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.. The reserve aircrew of the “heavy” aircraft brought Army 7th Special Forces Group personnel and equipment to the base for delivery.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)

Operational history

In the past four decades, the C-5 has supported military operations in all major conflicts, including Vietnam, Iraq, Yugoslavia and Afghanistan. It has also supported our allies, such as Israel, during the Yom Kippur War and operations in the Gulf War, and the War on Terror. The Galaxy has also been used to distribute humanitarian aid and supported the U.S. Space shuttle program.

On Oct. 24, 1974, the Space and Missile Systems Organization successfully conducted an Air Mobile Feasibility Test where a C-5 air dropped a Minuteman ICBM 20,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean. The missile descended to 8,000 feet before its rocket engine fired. The test proved the possibility of launching an intercontinental ballistic missile from the air.

The C-5 was used during the development of the stealth fighter, the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk, as Galaxies carried partly disassembled aircraft, leaving no exterior signs as to their cargo and keeping the program secret.

Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent

An air-to-air right side view of a 22nd Military Airlift Squadron C-5A Galaxy aircraft returning to Travis Air Force Base, Calif., after being painted in the European camouflage pattern at the San Antonio Air Logistics Center, Kelly Air Force Base, Texas.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Bill Thompson)

Did you know?

  • The cargo hold of the C-5 is one foot longer than the entire length of the first powered flight by the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk.
  • On Sept. 13, 2009, a C-5M set 41 new records and flight data was submitted to the National Aeronautic Association for formal recognition. The C-5M had carried a payload of 176,610 lbs. to over 41,100 feet in 23 minutes, 59 seconds. Additionally, the world record for greatest payload to 6,562 feet (2,000m) was broken.
Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent

A load team from the 352nd Maintenance Squadron, along with the crew of a C-5 Galaxy from Travis Air Force Base, Calif., loads a 21st Special Operations Squadron MH-53M Pave Low IV helicopter to be transported to the ‘Boneyard,’ or the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group in Tucson, Ariz., Oct. 5, 2007.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Tracy L. Demarco)

General characteristics

  • Primary Function: Outsize cargo transport
  • Prime Contractor: Lockheed Martin-Georgia Co.
  • Power Plant: Four F-138-GE100 General Electric engines
  • Thrust: 51,250 pounds per engine
  • Wingspan: 222 feet 9 inches (67.89 meters)
  • Length: 247 feet 10 inches (75.3 meters)
  • Height: 65 feet 1 inch (19.84 meters)
Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent

The C-5 Galaxy has been the largest aircraft in the Air Force inventory since 1969.

(Graphic by Travis Burcham)

Cargo compartment

  • Height: 13 feet 6 inches (4.11 meters)
  • Width: 19 feet (5.79 meters)
  • Length: 143 feet, 9 inches (43.8 meters)
  • Pallet Positions: 36
  • Maximum Cargo: 281,001 pounds (127,460 Kilograms)
  • Maximum Takeoff Weight: 840,000 pounds (381,024 kilograms)
  • Speed: 518 mph
  • Unrefueled Range of C-5M: Approximately 5,524 statute miles (4,800 nautical miles) with 120,000 pounds of cargo; approximately 7,000 nautical miles with no cargo on board.
  • Crew: Pilot, co-pilot, two flight engineers and three loadmasters
Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent

Capt. Grant Bearden (left) and Lt. Col. Timothy Welter, both pilots with the 709th Airlift Squadron, go over their pre-flight checklist in the C-5M Super Galaxy March 28, 2016, at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. Reservists from Dover Air Force Base, Del., in the 512th Airlift Wing, conducted an off-station training event to satisfy most deployment requirements in one large exercise.

(U.S. Air Force photo by apt. Bernie Kale)

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

This non-profit pairs war veterans with Gold Star kids

Perry Yee knew there was a way he could help his fellow veterans but wasn’t sure how. There are plenty of charities and programs out there that claim to help veterans with issues like PTSD, anxiety, loneliness and isolation, and the sometimes difficult transition into the civilian world. The call to do something was there, but he wasn’t sure what the path was.


So Yee and his wife, Jamie, did what a lot of people who want to help do….they prayed.

Soon after, the idea for Active Valor was born.

Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent

Active Valor is a non-profit that pairs veterans with Gold Star children. Based out of San Diego county, veterans apply to be a mentor for a child that belongs to a Gold Star family. The intent isn’t to take the place of the father who has passed away, but to be a mentor, guide, confidant and teacher while honoring the parent that passed away. Active Valor does this in several ways. First, they host events throughout the year that keep veterans engaged. This is not a once a year event. This is not a one time meet up. Once paired with a kid, the veteran commits to participating in events throughout the year, and most go further developing a relationship with the child and family. They will end up having weekly conversations, taking the child to sporting events, and being involved with the kid’s life. But more than a “Big Brother” program, Active Valor serves the veteran too and helps them with their struggles.

Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent

Yee himself knew all about that struggle. He enlisted in the Navy in 2005 on a BUDs contract. Twice he went through Hell Week and had to be rolled back. Once for nerve damage to his arm, and once for pneumonia. But like most warriors, Yee didn’t give up, and in true “third times the charm fashion” graduated in Class 262. He was eventually assigned to SEAL Team 7 out of Coronado, Calif.

Yee did a combat tour and earned himself a Navy Commendation with “V” and Army Commendation with “V.” He left the service in 2011 and embarked on the next chapter of his life. After flirting with college, Yee ended up with the Competitor Group, which runs the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathons nationwide. After a year, he ended up as a Range Safety Officer in Poway, Calif., before getting a job at the Warfighter Academy in Escondido, Calif.. It was here that Yee taught classes in CQB and other warfighting techniques. It was also here where he started connecting with veterans and learned that his rough journey into the civilian side wasn’t just his own experience. Yee learned that many other veterans struggle to connect with coworkers, classmates, family and spouses, and few had outlets which they could express themselves and connect with others.

Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent

The events the Active Valor puts on helps veterans do just that. They are specifically tailor-made to allow the veteran to use skills and experiences he/she learned in the military and put them to use in a setting that allows the kids to have fun.

How?

By hosting amazingly fun and badass events.

One of the events Yee organized was a treasure hunt for the kids. However, this particular treasure hunt required veterans to use their land nav skills so that kids could find the treasure. Veterans taught their kids how to read maps, use a compass, use a pace count and other tricks so that they could find the treasure that was buried. For those of us that served, it is a bit more fun to do land nav when it helps a kid win a prize as opposed to the torture of doing it as part of training.

Other events include a capture the flag event, field day events, jewel heist adventures where the kid has to recover stolen property, and the most popular of all….’The Zombie Hunt.’ This was a one-off event, where Gold Star kids and their veteran mentors navigated a course full of zombies. Armed with Nerf guns and lots of close combat experience, the pairs went around killing zombies and making memories. The event is so popular it went from a one-off to an annual event (although next year might feature aliens instead of zombies).

Seriously how fun is this:

For the Gold Star families, the events and mentorship provide fun events for the kids while giving them a chance to develop a rapport with someone that walked in their dad’s shoes. A big piece of why the events are successful for both the kids and the veteran is simple. The vet gets to teach the kids about the skills they learned in the military – the same skills their dad knew. That lays the cornerstone to a bridge between their fathers’ life and their life now.

For many Gold Star families, when they lose their loved one, they lose the one connection they had with military life. Active Valor helps reestablish that connection too. Perry has had a lot of positive feedback from mothers saying their kid was in a shell or detached after losing their dad. Having an Active Valor mentor and participating in the activities, give the child an outlet and someone they can talk to. Yee and his wife want to make it clear; Active Valor is not about bringing up the trauma the child had in losing a parent. It is about giving them a day of fun to celebrate the parent and, well, be a kid.

Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent

Active Valor is a two-person show. Perry is the CEO and does most of the leg work when it comes to organizing the events. His wife Jamie uses her media and design background from her job to do all the marketing, social media, and photo and video work that is needed to spread the word. They are local to San Diego right now, but bring in kids from Northern California, Arizona and Texas. Perry and Jamie are working on expanding the program and engaging more veterans and Gold Star families as they have seen the positive benefits of their program and know they can do more. Right now, they have 45 kids paired with 45 veterans. The process of signing up revolves around the families. Once they sign up, they are then paired with a veteran based on several factors, including interests and hobbies. The key is to make sure the kid feels trusted, and the veteran is going to be a long-term positive influence on the child in the years to come.

The biggest obstacle they face is funding and getting the word out to Gold Star families that this program exists for their kids. If you would like to learn more and if you want to get involved, visit here!

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Civil War battle literally saw brother against brother

On an early June morning in 1862, two brothers from Scotland were fighting for their lives and their adopted homeland on a South Carolina battlefield. They had come to America less than two decades prior, and each had come to love his new homeland. As they moved through the haze of smoke and bullets that day, they knew was the one time they didn’t want to see one another.


Alexander and James Campbell were fighting on opposite sides of the battle.

Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent

The Battle of Secessionville, 1862.

We hear a lot about how the U.S. Civil War pitted “brother against brother,” but at least in one case, such a fight actually happened. Alexander and James Campbell made the transatlantic crossing together from their native Scotland, but they didn’t settle in the United States together. Alexander stayed in New York while Joseph became a stone mason in Charleston, South Carolina. When fighting broke out between the states, the men each attended to their duties as citizens of their respective countries.

Alexander joined New York’s 79th Highlander Infantry Regiment while James enlisted into the 1st South Carolina Battalion. Each knew the other joined the enemy cause because they corresponded with one another regularly. The two exchanged letters for the duration of the war. They were still brothers, after all.

Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent

The forests and fields where the Battle of Secessionville took place.

Eventually, Alex and the 79th New York landed on James Island, South Carolina, just outside of Charleston. The Union Army was trying to make South Carolina pay for its rebellion and the attack on Fort Sumter the previous year. The Union troops captured a Confederate skirmisher who told Alexander that his brother was operating in the same area as the Federal Army. It wasn’t until after the battle of Secessionville that they learned they had been on opposite sides of the same battlefield. He wrote:

“I was astonished to hear from the prisoners that you was colour Bearer of the Regmt that assaulted the Battrey at this point the other day…. I was in the Brest work during the whole engagement doing my Best to Beat you but I hope that You and I will never again meet face to face Bitter enemies on the Battlefield. But if such should be the case You have but to discharge your deauty to Your caus for I can assure you I will strive to discharge my deauty to my country my cause.”
Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent

Though the brothers were never engaged in dramatic mortal combat at Secessionville, it was the closest they would ever come. After the battle, the Union Army repaired back north, and Alexander was wounded in the Battle of Chantilly, in Virginia later that year. His South Carolinian brother James was captured at the 1863 Battle of Fort Wagner in his adopted home state, and sent to a federal prison, where he sat out the rest of the war in squalid conditions.

The two continued their correspondence throughout James’ incarceration as a rebel soldier.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The National Archives opens up for one of US’ most epic First Ladies

The National Archives will open a special exhibit dedicated to former First Lady Elizabeth Anne “Betty” Ford. The exhibit will include rarely seen objects, documents, and photographs that highlight Betty Ford’s courage and candor when speaking publicly about her own personal battle with breast cancer.

On display in the Public Vaults Gallery at the National Archives Museum, “Betty Ford: A Champion for Breast Cancer Awareness” celebrates the 100th anniversary of her birth, which was on April 8, 1918.


“Betty Ford’s success in using her position as First Lady as a platform to raise cancer awareness was a significant step in fostering an open discussion about such an important health matter for the American public,” said exhibits information specialist Corinne Porter, curator of the exhibit.

Just a little more than a month after she became the First Lady, Ford was diagnosed with breast cancer. On September 26, 1974, doctors discovered a lump in her breast during a routine medical examination. She underwent a mastectomy just two days later.

Ford purposefully raised public awareness of screening and treatment options while reassuring women already suffering from similar ordeals with the disease. At this time, women were not openly talking about breast cancer and First Ladies, in particular, hadn’t previously been open about their personal health problems. Ford was credited by many for saving the lives of countless American women over the coming decades.

Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent
First Lady Betty Ford dances on the Cabinet Room table on the day before departing the White House upon the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter, January 19, 1977.
(Photo courtesy of Gerald R. Ford Library)

“Today, cancer awareness and advocacy campaigns are important, but also commonplace in the public sphere, so it’s hard to appreciate just how radical it was for the First Lady to speak publicly about her cancer diagnosis and treatment at that time,” Porter said.

As record numbers of women began receiving breast examinations—many for the first time—the incidence of breast cancer diagnoses in the United States rose by 15 percent. In recognition of her advocacy efforts, Betty Ford received the American Cancer Society’s “Communicator of Hope” Award in December 1976. The National Archives exhibit will include Ford’s speech cards with her handwritten edits from that event.

Exhibit visitors can view letters and cards from children and adults sharing words of encouragement and their own personal battles with cancer. Ford received more than 50,000 pieces of mail during her ordeal.

“The outpouring of public support for the First Lady was massive,” Porter explained. “What I love most about the correspondence is the impact that the First Lady’s efforts had on the lives of individual Americans.”

Porter told of one particularly moving letter in the exhibit written by a Mrs. Stroud who felt encouraged to conduct a self-examination following the news of the First Lady’s cancer diagnosis and found a malignant lump in her own breast.

“Thanks to her early cancer detection the treatment was pretty minimal, but she tells Betty Ford that it could have been a very different story had she waited till her next check-up,” Porter said.

The display also includes a heartfelt letter written by Betty’s husband, President Gerald R. Ford, expressing his and their children’s love and support while she was undergoing treatment in the hospital.

A special collection of photographs of the First Lady are featured in the display as well as an award she received from the National Association of Practical Nurse Education and Service honoring her for “outstanding courage and for furthering public understanding regarding the importance of early detection and treatment as a means of combating cancer.”

Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent
President Gerald Ford and First Lady Betty Ford read a petition, signed by all 100 members of the United States Senate, in the President’s Suite at Bethesda Naval Hospital, Bethesda, MD, following the First Lady’s breast cancer surgery, October 2, 1974.
(Photo courtesy of Gerald R. Ford Library)

The exhibition—part of the Betty Ford Centennial Celebration—opened at 10 am on April 6, 2018, at the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC, and continues through April 4, 2019. The display is open daily from 10 am to 5:30pm.

In conjunction with the exhibit opening, the National Archives will host a screening of the 2009 PBS documentary that profiles Betty Ford, her time in the White House, her advocacy for equal rights, and the founding of the Betty Ford Center in California. The program, Betty Ford: The Real Deal, will be held April 6, 2018, at noon. Reservations are free and recommended.

Several other events and an exhibit will be held as part of a year-long commemoration of the life of Betty Ford at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The Ford Museum will offer free admission on April 8, 2018, from noon until 5 pm to celebrate Ford’s centennial. In addition, they will open a new exhibit, “In Step with Betty Ford: In Celebration of Her Centennial,” on April 10, 2018, through January 6, 2019.

Special events will include the sold out “First Ladies Luncheon—The Centennial Birthday of First Lady Betty Ford” on April 11, 2018, at noon, and a lecture, First Ladies and American Women: In Politics and at Home on April 26, 2018, at 7 pm. Additional programs are scheduled for September 2018, at the museum.

The celebration will continue on social media as well. On April 6, 2018, the National Archives celebrated Betty Ford’s lifelong love of dancing with an Archives Hashtag Party on Twitter and Instagram. Cultural organizations will share their dance-related collections using the tag #ArchivesDanceParty. Over 560 galleries, libraries, archives, and museums have joined the National Archives to share their collections for #ArchivesHashtagParty.

MIGHTY SURVIVAL

COVID-19: Putin tells officials to ‘get ready’ for fight; Iran urges IMF to move on emergency loan

The global death toll from the coronavirus is more than 87,000 with over 1.4 million infections confirmed, causing mass disruptions as governments continue to try to slow the spread of the new respiratory illness.

Here’s a roundup of COVID-19 developments in RFE/RL’s broadcast regions.



Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin has told cabinet ministers and regional heads to prepare to battle the coronavirus as he outlined steps being taken to counter the outbreak.

“Right now we need to get ready to fight for the life of each individual in every region,” Putin said during a video conference from his residence outside Moscow on April 8 during which he outlined measures being implemented to counter the growing outbreak in the country.

Russia has more than 8,670 officially confirmed coronavirus infections and at least 63 fatalities.

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However, critics have cast doubt over the veracity of the figures, saying the actual toll could be much higher.

Among the steps publicized by Putin during his address was extra pay for medical personnel and the freeing up of 10 billion rubles (3 million) from the federal budget to be disbursed among the country’s more than 80 administrative regions.

In addition, he said that medical personnel who are in direct contact with coronavirus patients would be in line for an additional bonus.

Addressing the economy, Putin said that there was “practically no such thing as a total shutdown of business,” despite the obstacles and restrictions being faced.

“We must realize what kind of damage and destructive consequences this can bring about,” he said.

Putin also told the nation that he realized it is difficult to “remain inside four walls all the time.”

“But there is no choice,” he said. “One has to make it through self-isolation,” he told chiefs of Russia’s regions, which are mostly under strict lockdown.

Iran

Iranian President Hassan Rohani has urged the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to provide Tehran a multibillion-dollar emergency loan it had requested to combat the coronavirus outbreak.

The epidemic has further damaged Iran’s economy, already battered by U.S. sanctions that were reimposed after Washington in 2018 withdrew from a landmark deal between Tehran and world powers to curb the country’s nuclear program.

Tehran, as well as several countries, the United Nations, some U.S. lawmakers, and human rights groups have urged the United States to ease the sanctions to help Iran respond more effectively to the virus.

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The outbreak has officially infected more than 62,500 people and killed over 3,800 in the country. Iranian officials have been criticized for their slow initial response to the pandemic, and experts have been skeptical about the veracity of official figures released by the authorities, who keep a tight lid on the media.

“We are a member of the IMF…. There should be no discrimination in giving loans,” Rohani said in a televised cabinet meeting on April 8.

“If they do not act on their duties in this difficult situation, the world will judge them in a different way,” he added.

Last month, the Central Bank of Iran asked the IMF for billion from its Rapid Financing Initiative to help to fight the pandemic in one of the hardest-hit countries in the world.

An IMF official was quoted as saying the Washington-based lender was in dialogue with Iranian officials over the request.

Iran has not received assistance from the IMF since a “standby credit” issued between 1960 and 1962, according to the fund’s data.

U.S. President Donald Trump has offered some humanitarian assistance, but Iranian officials have rejected the offer, saying Washington should instead lift the sanctions, which Rohani on April 8 equated to “economic and medical terrorism.”

Medicines and medical equipment are technically exempt from the U.S. sanctions but purchases are frequently blocked by the unwillingness of banks to process transactions for fear of incurring large penalties in the United States.

In one of the few instances of aid, Britain, France, and Germany used a special trading mechanism for the first time on March 31 to send medical supplies to Iran in a way that does not violate the sanctions.

The three countries sent supplies via Instex, the mechanism set up more than a year ago to allow legitimate humanitarian trade with Iran.

On April 7, Iran’s parliament reconvened for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak forced it to close, and rejected an emergency bill calling for a one-month nationwide lockdown.

More than two-thirds of the legislature’s 290 members gathered in the absence of speaker Ali Larijani, who tested positive for the virus last week.

During the session, deputy speaker Massud Pezeshkian criticized the Rohani administration for “not taking the outbreak seriously.”

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on April 7 condemned the detention of journalist and workers’ rights defender Amir Chamani in the northwestern city of Tabriz after he posted tweets about the health situation in Iran’s prisons and protests by inmates.

The Paris-based media freedom watchdog quoted Chamani’s family as saying he was detained on April 2 after being summoned by the cyberpolice.

The authorities have given no reason for the arrest of Chamani, who was transferred to a detention center run by the intelligence department of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, according to RSF.

Romania

Romania has confirmed another 344 cases of COVID-19 to reach 4,761, with 18 more fatalities that brought the toll to 215, the country’s coronavirus task force said on April 7, amid renewed calls for a sustained increase in the number of tests.

More than 700 of those infected are health-care workers.

The first fatality among medical staff was reported on April 8 — an ambulance paramedic from the northeastern city of Suceava who had reportedly kept working without being tested for days, although his health was deteriorating rapidly.

Suceava is the epicenter of the outbreak in Romania and has been under lockdown since last week.

Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent

The first coronavirus death was registered in Romania on March 22.

An additional 631 Romanians tested positive for COVID-19 abroad, most of them — 412 — in Italy, the world’s hardest-hit country. Some 37 Romanians have died so far in Italy, Britain, France, Spain, and Germany.

The country has been under a state of emergency since March 16, and President Klaus Iohannis on April 6 announced his intention to extend it by one month, while the government decided to postpone local elections that should have been held in early summer.

The Suceava paramedic’s death adds to worries about how Romania’s system is coping with the epidemic. Doctors and nurses have spoken out in recent weeks over insufficient equipment for those treating COVID-19 cases, and many medical staff have resigned over the shortages as well as mismanagement and fatigue.

Romanian platform for online activism DeClic has launched an Internet campaign urging the authorities to speed up the testing under the slogan “Mr. [Prime Minister Ludovic] Orban, don’t toy with our lives.”

Romania, a country of 19.5 million, has tested 47,207 people for coronavirus. By comparison, fellow EU member the Czech Republic has tested almost 99,000 people out of a total of 10.5 million. The Czech death toll stands at 99, less than half of Romania’s.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Romanian Service, digi24.ro, g4.ro, Reuters, and hotnews.ro

North Caucasus

A former top official of the independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Akhmed Zakayev, has been hospitalized in London with coronavirus symptoms.

Zakayev’s relatives told RFE/RL that the exiled former member of the Chechen separatist government was hospitalized on April 6 after he experienced difficulties breathing.

The relatives added that three days prior to his hospitalization, other family members were experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever and cough, as well.

Medical officials asked Zakayev’s relatives to sign a consent paper to use artificial respiration during his treatment.

Zakayev, 60, served as culture minister, deputy prime minister, prime minister, and foreign minister in Chechnya’s separatist government.

He and his immediate family members have been residing in exile in London since 2002.

He is wanted in Russia for alleged terrorism, which he and his supporters deny.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Taliban, the government, and Islamic State: Who controls what in Afghanistan?

After 18 years of fighting, the Afghan war is at a deadly stalemate.

Afghanistan is divided among government forces backed by international troops, the Taliban and its militant allies, the Islamic State (IS) extremist group, and a collection of smaller foreign terrorist groups.


The United States and the Taliban signed a landmark agreement in February aimed at “bringing peace to Afghanistan.” That deal foresees a power-sharing arrangement between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and the full withdrawal of all foreign troops.

As a Taliban delegation arrived in Kabul for talks on prisoner releases and the Afghan government and the Taliban prepare to launch direct peace talks, most of the country is fiercely contested and ravaged by violence, with warring factions pursuing a “fight-and-talk” strategy.

WATCH: Some 900 Taliban members were freed from Afghanistan’s largest prison outside Kabul as part of a prisoner swap under a cease-fire deal on May 26.

The Government

The Afghan government controls the capital, Kabul, provincial capitals, major population centers, and most district centers, according to Resolute Support, the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan.

Around 30 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts are in government hands, the Taliban commands some 20 percent, and the rest of the country is contested, according to Long War Journal (LWJ), a project run by the Foundation for Defense Of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank.

The LWJ’s “living map,” based mostly on media reports, is the only publicly available source that tracks district control in Afghanistan, after Resolute Support stopped assessing territorial control and enemy-initiated attacks over the past two years.

Afghan security forces have been on the defensive since NATO’s combat mission in Afghanistan ended in 2014, losing much-needed assistance with logistics, air support, and intelligence.

Resolute Support is training, advising, and assisting the 273,000-strong Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. Additionally, the Afghan government employs around 20,000 militiamen who are part of the Afghan Local Police.

Meanwhile, a separate U.S. counterterrorism force is combating foreign terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and the IS group and also elements of the Taliban. The United States also funds and supports special Afghan paramilitary units.

The Afghan forces have a large numerical advantage: There are an estimated 60,000 full-time Taliban militants and some 90,000 seasonal fighters.

But government forces are suffering from record casualties, high attrition, and low morale. That is widely blamed on a resurgent Taliban, ineffective leadership in the armed forces, and chronic corruption.

President Ashraf Ghani said in January 2019 that about 45,000 Afghan soldiers and policemen had been killed since he took office in September 2014 — or a staggering 849 per month. In 2018, the government stopped publicizing fatalities.

“The internationally recognized and elected government doesn’t have a monopoly on the use of force nor control over the majority of the country,” says Jonathan Schroden, a security expert with the U.S.-based nonprofit research and analysis organization CNA, who has provided assessments on the security situation in Afghanistan to the U.S. military and Congress.

The Taliban, which claims to be a government in exile, “has eroded much of the government’s control but cannot do so to the point of becoming the recognized government,” Schroden says.

The result, he says, is a “strategic stalemate.”

Government forces had been in an active defensive mode since a weeklong reduction-of-violence agreement preceding the U.S.-Taliban deal. But after two devastating terrorist attacks this month that the government blamed on the Taliban, Ghani ordered government forces to go on the offensive.

The political crisis over the disputed presidential election in September also affected the government’s military posture. There were fears of civil war after Ghani’s leading challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, threatened to form a parallel government and proclaimed himself the president, a scenario that threatened the cohesion of the security forces.

The standoff was resolved after Ghani and Abdullah signed a power-sharing deal — their second after consecutive elections — on May 17.

“The government faced serious challenges for months,” says Obaid Ali, an expert on the insurgency at the Afghanistan Analysts Network, an independent think tank in Kabul. “The government didn’t have a military strategy because the leadership was focused on the internal crisis after the presidential election’s outcome and the U.S.-Taliban talks.”

Ali says the months-long political feud sank morale and complicated logistics within the security forces.

The Taliban

The Taliban controls more territory than at any time since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 toppled the fundamentalist group from power.

The fundamentalist militant group’s leadership fled to neighboring Pakistan, where it allegedly received sanctuary, training, and arms, an accusation Islamabad has denied. From its safe havens in Pakistan, the Taliban has waged a deadly insurgency against Afghan and international troops.

The Taliban has been following what security experts call an “outside-in” strategy that was effectively employed by other insurgencies in Afghanistan, including the mujahedin who fought Soviet and Afghan government forces in the 1980s.

From its sanctuaries in Pakistan, the Taliban captured rural areas of Afghanistan and consolidated control over larger swaths of the countryside while generating recruits and resources. In recent years, the Taliban has encroached on more populated areas with the aim of isolating and then seizing them.

The militants have twice briefly seized control of the northern city of Kunduz, the country’s fifth-most populous.

“The Taliban has so far been successful in seizing and contesting ever larger swaths of rural territory, to the point where they have now almost encircled six to eight of the country’s major cities and are able to routinely sever connections via major roads,” Schroden says.

“The major thing holding the Taliban back at this point is the government’s supremacy of the air and its superior strike forces in the form of the commandos and special police units. But those units are being worn down and the Afghan Army has been slowly failing as an institution for the past five years.”

The Taliban insurgency has been a unifying cause for some smaller foreign militant groups.

Around 20 foreign militant groups are active in Afghanistan, including Pakistani extremist groups like the Pakistani Taliban, Lashkar-e Jhangvi, Lashkar-e Taiba, Jaish-e Muhammad, and Central Asian militant groups including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the Islamic Jihad Union, and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a militant group fighting for Uyghur independence in China.

Ali says the Taliban has ties to some of these foreign militant groups. “Some of these groups operate under the Taliban umbrella,” he says. “They can’t operate in Afghanistan without the Taliban’s permission. Each of these groups has a unique relationship with the Taliban — operationally, ideologically, or economically.”

Al-Qaeda is a largely diminished force, with only several hundred fighters in Afghanistan. But it remains a crucial part of the Taliban insurgency. The two groups have been longtime partners and are co-dependent, according to experts.

According to the U.S. State Department, the “implementation of the U.S.-Taliban agreement will require extensive long-term monitoring to ensure Taliban compliance, as the group’s leadership has been reluctant to publicly break with Al-Qaeda.”

Under that deal, the Taliban committed to “preventing any group or individual, including Al-Qaeda, from using the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.”

A January report from the UN’s Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team stated that ties between Al-Qaeda and the Taliban “continue to be close and mutually beneficial, with Al-Qaeda supplying resources and training in exchange for protection.”

Islamic State

Afghan security forces said on May 11 that they had captured the IS group’s regional leader for South Asia, Abu Omar Khorasani, in an operation in Kabul.

This was the latest in a string of recent setbacks for the group.

In April, Afghan security forces in the southern city of Kandahar captured the leader of the IS branch in Afghanistan, Abdullah Orakzai, along with several other militants.

According to the United Nations, since October 2019, over 1,400 IS fighters and affiliates have surrendered to Afghan or U.S. forces.

The U.S. military said the IS group’s stronghold in the eastern province of Nangarhar was “dismantled” in November 2019 due to U.S. air strikes, operations by Afghan forces, and fighting between the Taliban and IS militants.

The U.S. military said around 300 IS fighters and 1,000 of their family members surrendered.

The fighters and family members who did not surrender have relocated to Pakistan or the neighboring province of Kunar, a remote, mountainous region along the border with Pakistan, it added.

The U.S. military estimates that there are between 2,000 and 2,500 IS fighters active in Afghanistan.

Ali says that the IS group has bases in a few districts of Kunar Province, and they are also likely present in parts of neighboring Nuristan Province, another remote, mountainous province. But he says recent reports that IS militants were active in northern Afghanistan are “unreliable.”

“The group has lost most of the territory it held in eastern Afghanistan,” Ali says. “The recent operations against IS have severely weakened them and most have gone underground.”

But he says the recent arrests of IS fighters and leaders in major urban areas shows that there are still IS “sleeper cells” in the country.

Most IS fighters are thought to be former members of Pakistani militant groups, especially the Pakistani Taliban.

“There are a smaller number of Afghans, Central Asians, and even fewer from other regional countries,” Ali adds.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Can shooting plastic explosives really set them off?

James H. asks: How realistic is the idea presented in video games of shooting explosives to set them off?

Given that their main and really only purposes is violently exploding, you might be surprised to learn that most explosives utilized by the military are shockingly stable. So much so, in fact, that, contrary to what is often depicted in movies and video games, plastic explosives like C-4 won’t explode if you shoot them or set them on fire. In fact, C-4 won’t even explode if you shoot it while it is currently on fire.

Indeed, beyond the benefit of being able to shape the explosive in a variety of ways to accomplish a given destructive goal, one of the main reasons plastic explosives like C-4 are utilized so extensively by the military is precisely because they are largely inert and can be handled without specialized equipment.


Further, creating C-4 is noted as being a relatively simple process that involves mixing a plasticizer with a conventional explosive (in this case usually cyclotrimethylene-trinitramine, often referred to as “RDX” or “Royal Demolition Explosive”- or for the non-Brits “Research Department Explosive”). While exact ratios vary somewhat, for reference in its C-4 the U.S. military currently uses a mixture of 91% RDX, 5.3% of the plasticizer dioctyl sebacate, 2.1% of the synthetic rubber Polyisobutylene, and 1.6% mineral oil or, for civilian use, motor oil, giving such C4 its telltale odor of, well, motor oil.

Commonly likened to ordinary modeling clay in texture and consistency, C-4 and most other plastic explosives can be shaped, stored and molded just as easily. The key difference being that, unlike modeling clay, a mere half kilogram of C-4 can turn a typical vehicle into a pile of scrap metal. The key to making this happen, though, is attaching some form of blasting cap.

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As the name suggests, these blasting caps rely on a smaller, controlled explosion which will in turn cause the explosive components within the C-4 to go off, resulting in the C-4 producing a wave of gasses, including nitrogen and carbon oxides, that rapidly expand out at upwards of 18,000 mph. So fast is this effect that it actually creates something of a temporary vacuum around the core blast area. This results in a second, much less violent, wave of air collapsing in on the vacuum after the initial blast.

Not keen to just rely on theory, the US Army has conducted countless sensitivity tests on C-4 and other plastic explosive compounds, shooting them with bullets of varying calibres and even putting them within feet of things like hand grenades to see if that explosion or subsequent shrapnel could set the C-4 off. The Army has even conducted tests to see if things like fire will cause C-4 to explode, all with little effect. In fact, it turns out C-4 not only remains stable while on fire but it actually burns quite slowly, making it a good fire starter if you don’t mind the poisonous fumes.

While you might think soldiers would be scared to use this compound in this way, both because of perhaps worrying about an accidental explosion or from the noxious gasses given off, amazingly, during the Vietnam war using small chunks of C-4 as tinder to light campfires, or even as the sole source of the fire itself, was indeed a thing many soldiers did, despite military brass advising against it owing to the poisonous gasses given off.

Further, beyond its use as an explosive, fire starter, and badass modeling clay, it turns out that when eaten in extremely small amounts, C-4 is known to produce a mild high likened to being drunk, something soldiers in Vietnam also took advantage of.

It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that when consumed in anything other than extremely tiny quantities, C-4 can cause a host of health problems, as noted in a case study published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine in 2002 where a soldier decided to swallow about a cubic centimeter of the substance… Potential resulting complications of mimicking this moronic act include “generalized seizures, lethargy, coma, muscular twitching, hyperreflexia, myalgias, headaches, vomiting, mild renal injury, and haematuria (blood in your pee).”

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Inserting blasting caps into blocks of C-4 explosive.

Back to the extreme stability of C-4- as they often do, the show Mythbusters took the idea of testing this to its logical extreme, shooting a piece that was currently on fire with a high-explosive incendiary round. The C-4 stubbornly refused to explode even then, despite the incendiary round giving a nice little blast on impact.

There is one caveat to all this, however. It turns out there is a way to set off C-4 by shooting at it. How? While there are a variety of designs for blasting caps, some may be set off via being hit with a bullet, thus providing the needed energy to cause the C-4 itself to explode. Why this is an extremely unlikely scenario in the real world is because these blasting caps are typically very small (think a half used pencil) and anyone trying to shoot at them would presumably want to be a fair distance away just in case they were successful.

This all becomes an even less likely in real world scenarios given that you don’t put the blast cap in the C-4 until you yourself are preparing to actually make it go boom.

So, in the end, while there are certainly many unstable explosives that will happily release their destructive power if you were to shoot them, it turns out plastic explosives and pretty much the majority of explosives used by militaries and for industrial use the world over are almost always shockingly stable precisely because these organizations aren’t keen on deploying explosive devices that might go off unexpectedly.

Bonus Fact:

  • Speaking of shooting at explosive devices, during WWI there are documented instances of soldiers using shotguns to destroy thrown hand grenades before they could reach their target. For example, in Leroy Thompson’s U.S. Combat Shotguns book, he notes the following account where a group of soldiers acted in concert in this way: “Their first warnings were German ‘potato masher’ hand grenades lobbing through the air. Few landed as most of them were exploded in the air by the experts in the outposts. Upon the failure of the grenade attack, the enemy launched a mortar attack. Again the trapshooters proved their worth, deflecting the slowly arching bombs. Finally, a vast grey wave of the Kaiser’s best surged forward.”

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Army Special Forces soldiers practice fighting behind enemy lines

“For us being Special Forces, we are the first on the battlefield, then we are the last to leave,” said a Bulgarian Special Operations Tactical Group Commander.

The captain was the commander of the SOTG for exercise Saber Junction 19. Approximately 5,400 participants from 15 NATO and partner nations including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Georgia, Italy, Kosovo, Lithuanian, the Republic of Northern Macedonia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Turkey, Ukraine and the US took part in the exercise at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center, Sept. 3-30, 2019.

The exercise partnered about 100 Multinational SOF from Bulgaria, the US, and members of the Lithuanian National Defense Volunteer Defense National Force, or KASP, with conventional forces to improve integration and enhance their overall combat abilities.


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A US Army’s 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Special Forces soldier provides security for paratroopers from the Italian Army’s Folgore Brigade as they parachute onto a drop zone as part of exercise Saber Junction 19 in Hohenfels, Germany, Sept. 16, 2019.

(US Army photo Sgt. 1st Class Whitney Hughes)

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US Army Maj. Nathan Showman of the 173rd Airborne Brigade watches as paratroopers from the brigade land during a joint forcible entry as part of exercise Saber Junction 19 in Hohenfels, Germany, Sept. 18, 2019.

To determine the best use of SOF capabilities to support larger combined maneuver, the Bulgarian SOTG Commander coordinated directly with his conventional force counterpart US Army Col. Kenneth Burgess, the commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

The SOTG also placed SOF liaison officers within the brigade staff to facilitate communication directly between the staff and SOF on the ground.

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A US Army 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Special Forces soldier provides security for paratroopers from the Italian Army’s Folgore Brigade as they parachute onto a drop zone as part of exercise Saber Junction 19 in Hohenfels, Germany, Sept. 16, 2019.

This gave the SOTG the ability to support critical portions of the exercise such as the joint forcible entry, a multinational airborne operation delivering paratroopers from Ramstein Airbase into the exercise to seize key terrain.

Paratroopers from the Italian Army’s Folgore Brigade jumped from Kentucky Air National Guard C-130 aircraft to set the drop zone for the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

Bulgarian and US SOF provided early reconnaissance of the drop zone and secured the area for the pathfinder’s jump, ensuring they had up to date information from the moment they hit the ground.

Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent

Italian Army paratroopers from the Folgore Airborne Brigade coordinate with US Army 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Special Forces soldiers after the Italian paratroopers parachuted onto a drop zone secured by special operations forces as part of exercise Saber Junction 19 in Hohenfels, Germany, Sept. 17, 2019.

(US Army photo Spc. Patrik Orcutt)

This multinational coordination was one of the key objectives of the exercise.

“From my point of view, this is the most important exercise for my unit in that it helps prepare us for future NATO missions,” said the Bulgarian commander. “We are currently on standby in my country [as a quick reaction force], so this exercise is beneficial for us.”

Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent

Bulgarian special operations forces exit a US Army UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade during combined aviation load training as part of exercise Saber Junction 19 in Hohenfels, Germany, Sept. 13, 2019.

(US Army photo Spc. Patrik Orcutt)

Lithuania’s KASP also worked alongside SOF to set conditions for the conventional force. Exercising their real-world mission of unconventional warfare, the KASP integrated with Special Forces soldiers from the US Army’s 5th SFG(A).

This combined time conducted operations ahead of friendly lines in enemy-occupied territory to enable the multinational conventional joint force.

Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent

US Army’s 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Special Forces soldiers deploy light tactical vehicles from CH-47 Chinook helicopter from the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade as part of exercise Saber Junction 19 in Hohenfels, Germany, Sept. 13, 2019.

(US Army photo Spc. Patrik Orcutt)

The KASP are structured similar to the US National Guard, with about 500 professional soldiers and 5,000 reservists, but have a very different mission.

“Our mission is to conduct territorial defense, so we must be ready to defend our country against any type of threat, either hybrid or conventional,” said Col. Dainius Pašvenskas, the KASP commander.

Pašvenskas added that the demand to come to exercises like these within his unit is so high that they have placed internal requirements to be selected. After completing rotations in exercises like Saber Junction 19, they share the techniques they have learned within their units, and teach the unconventional warfare tactics to the rest of the force.

Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent

US Army 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Special Forces soldiers deploy light tactical vehicles from CH-47 Chinook helicopter from the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade as part of exercise Saber Junction 19 in Hohenfels, Germany, Sept. 13, 2019.

(US Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Whitney Hughes)

The KASP’s missions at Saber Junction 19 included long-range reconnaissance, direct action and personnel recovery.

“We may have different tasks but we will operate in a similar area as Special Operation Forces,” said Pašvenskas. “Working with Special Forces and learning from their experience is an excellent opportunity for us.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Humor

6 things officers love but enlisted troops can’t stand

No matter what branch you serve in, there will always be a solid line between enlisted personnel and officers — they rarely understand each other.


Enlisted troops do some crazy sh*t, which causes officers to get in a bad mood — and vice versa.

Most officers want their troops to abide by all the rules and regulations while the members of the E-4 mafia just want to get through their day and go home.

Related: 5 reasons why military personnel give civilians a hard time

So, check out six things officers love but enlisted troops can’t stand:

6. Taking orders from an officer we don’t trust

Yes, we understand we swore an oath to obey the orders of those appointed over us — but holy sh*t have we taken some lousy orders from officers.

Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent
I don’t. I don’t trust you at all.

5. Officer-led PT

It’s no secret that when a commanding officer wants to lead morning PT, morale lowers until the session is over. In a grunt platoon, we like to sh*t talk one another as motivation to gain that extra push-up or pull-up.

But, once the “brass” is on deck, the verbiage changes and the enlisted just want to finish up the mandatory run so they can go eat chow and play Call of Duty in their barracks.

Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent

4. When a boot officer wants to be included in every single detail

Newbie officers typically want to learn every aspect of their job — which is a good thing. But, something this means they want to be involved in every meeting and a double check everyone’s work.

Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent

3. Army-Navy games

Active duty enlisted troops don’t truly want to cheer for a cadet or a midshipman who they could have to potentially have to answer to one day.

Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent
You know at least one of them expects you to call the room… (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad Runge/Released)

2. Having their sh*t pre-staged for them

At times, enlisted troops become personnel assistants even though it’s not in their job description. When grunts head out to the field, some officers require their tents and other amenities be set up prior to their arrival — and guess who is called upon to set that sh*t up?

Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent
Taking bets on who built this gym in Afghanistan.

Also Read: 6 reasons why Marines hate on the Air Force

1. Working parties

Typically, officers aren’t the ones cleaning the grounds or the office spaces. Luckily, that’s why the U.S. government pays janitorial personnel.

Just when enlisted personnel think it’s going to be an easy day — think again — because there’s always something that needs to be cleaned and a “party” of troops will need to do it. For some reason.

Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent
We know there are officers who truly believe this.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Rangers stole a bulldozer for an assault vehicle

In 1983, Rangers were on the point of the spear during a mission to protect American citizens in Grenada in 1983, attacking a key airfield that was being expanded by Cuban engineers. When the Rangers began to fight the engineers, the Rangers hotwired bulldozers and then used them as assault vehicles.


The fighting was part of Operation Urgent Fury, the U.S. invasion of Grenada after a coup threatened the lives and security of U.S. citizens in the country who were there to study medicine. Reagan ordered 2,000 troops to the island, and U.S. Army Rangers were sent to seize the airfield at Point Salines.

But the mission quickly ran into problems. A lack of aircraft forced some Rangers to stay at the airfield, unable to take part in the assault and cutting the combat power of those who would make the jump. Then, plans for the assault changed in the air.

See, while Rangers and paratroopers often want to conduct combat jumps, earning uniform swag and bragging rights for life, the safer and tactically superior option to airborne operations is “air-land” operations. In air-land, the commander cancels the jump and the planes land instead. Paratroopers or Rangers, without their chutes, rush off the back. That way, they’re already concentrated for the fight and don’t have to struggle out of their gear.

Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent

Three U.S. Army Sikorsky UH-60A Black Hawk helicopters prepare to touch down next to the Point Salines airport runway during “Operation Urgent Fury” on Oct. 25, 1983.

(U.S. Army Spc. Douglas Ide)

As the Rangers were flying to their target on Oct. 24, intel said that the runways were clear of debris, and that air-land was an option. The commander ordered the Rangers out of their parachutes. Then, only 20 minutes from the target, they learned that enemy defenses were ready to go, so the Rangers were rushed back into their chutes and then had to jump without being able to have Army jumpmasters or parachute riggers inspect their harnesses.

When the Rangers reached their target, they jumped in waves at only 500 feet above the ground. That low jump allowed them to fly under the worst of the enemy defenses, but meant they would fall for only 17 seconds and have no chance to pull a reserve chute if anything went wrong in the air. Luckily, the jump went well, and the Rangers went right into combat mode.

In addition to the expected Grenadian troops, though, the Rangers ran into 500 Cuban engineers who were there to help the Grenadians expand the airfield. The Cuban engineers put up an impressive base of fire against the Rangers. They would later learn that Fidel Castro had sent advisors to the country the day before to plan and improve the defenses ahead of the American invasion.

Inside the life of an undercover ATF agent

An M561 Gama Goat truck loaded with supplies prepares to pull away from a C-141B Starlifter aircraft parked on the flight line at Point Salines Airport during Operation Urgent Fury after the airfield was captured by Rangers.

(Spc. Douglas Ide)

Now, the 1st and 2nd battalions, 75th Ranger Regiment, were on the ground and fighting. It’s not really a question whether or not they could’ve defeated the engineers and other defenders. But the Rangers don’t risk casualties when they don’t have to.

They had spotted several abandoned bulldozers on the airstrip, and some of them knew how to hotwire the simple machines, so they did so. Ranger fire teams advanced using the bulldozers for cover, firing on the defenders as they found them.

Over 100 Cuban soldiers and 150 other defenders surrendered to the Rangers, and the entire airfield was taken in just one day. An evening counterattack against the Rangers failed. Point Salines belonged to the U.S. forces.

But the airfield seizure didn’t come without cost. Five Rangers were killed in the assault, and another six were wounded. Additional troops, including Rangers of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, were lost assaulting a nearby prison where political prisoners were being held.

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