Has any passenger ever landed an airplane? - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

Has any passenger ever landed an airplane?

Natapixie asks: Has a non-pilot passenger ever managed to land an airplane?

A common Hollywood trope when dealing with commercial airline-centric plots is inevitably at some point the pilot or pilots will become incapacitated and the lead character, who may or may not have any piloting experience, will be forced to take over, lest they die a fiery death when gravity decides to establish dominance. But has this scenario ever actually played out in real life? And what is the likelihood a passenger with limited to no formal pilot training could actually land a commercial airliner safely if they were being talked through it as is often depicted in movies?

To begin with, as to the first question, when talking large commercial aircraft, yes, a passenger of sorts did once and only once, take over for the incapacitated pilots. This occurred aboard the Helios Airways Flight 522 in 2005. So how did both pilots become incapacitated and what happened after?


In a nutshell, the cabin pressurization switch was set to manual, instead of automatic, and the pilots, who had over 20,000 hours of flight experience combined, didn’t realize there was an issue despite this being something that they should have noticed if they’d done their checklists properly. Later the system alerted them to the pressurization issue as they climbed, but the warnings were misinterpreted. Next, the oxygen masks automatically deployed for passengers at around 18,000 ft, something the pilots were seemingly unaware of. This is curious as when the masks deployed the passengers and the rest of the crew would have put theirs on. When the crew observed the pilots still having the plane climb after this event instead of descending immediately (noteworthy here is the passenger oxygen supplies only last 15 minutes or so), they should have attempted to at the least bang on the locked security door, if the lead flight crew member who had the code to open it was incapacitated or otherwise unable to remember it to get in.

Has any passenger ever landed an airplane?

(Photo by Gerrie van der Walt)

As to why they didn’t do this or if they did and the pilots were simply too out of it for any banging to register, this isn’t known. On that note, at one point the ground engineer who had switched the pressurization to manual during some maintanence before the flight asked the pilot when issues were reported if the pressurization setting was on Auto. The captain at this stage was already a little too far gone mentally from lack of oxygen, and ignored the question. Given his radio communication stopped shortly thereafter when he simply commented about trying to locate some circuit breakers in response, it is presumed he succumbed mere seconds after the question was asked. Had he registered the question an looked, then simply turned the little knob, all would have fixed itself in short order.

Ultimately one of the flight attendants, Andreas Prodromou, did take over flying the plane. There was a problem though. It would seem from the investigation that he had difficulty getting access to the cabin, seemingly only doing so after a couple hours of the plane flying itself and a plane full of passed out people, which we imagine must have been incredibly terrifying for Prodromou on many levels.

So how did it turn out?

Tragically, this ended with the plane crashing and all 121 people aboard killed. Prodromou was actually a pilot himself, though as far as we could tell without any professional experience and certainly not in a Boeing 737. As to why he wasn’t able to bring the plane back down, he wasn’t really given a fair chance in this case. It seems as if moments after he finally got into the cabin, one of the engines ran out of fuel, and then not long after the other died too. Even an extremely experienced pilot in that plane would have had low odds in this case unless in glide range of a suitable airport.

And that’s it. In the over a century old history of commercial aviation, that is the only time we could find that a passenger has had to take over completely in a large commercial airliner. That said, moving on to much smaller planes, it turns out while rare, this sort of thing has actually occurred many times, even in some commercial scenarios.

Perhaps the most notable case of this was when none other than Mr. Bean (aka Rowan Atkinson) chartered a flight for he, his wife, and two children in Kenya in 2001. The aircraft was a little six seat Cessna. Unfortunately for the Atkinson family, at a certain point the pilot lost consciousness. Doing his best not to mimic his clumsy alter ego, Atkinson took over flying the plane. Thankfully for him and his family, they were eventually able to revive the pilot, reportedly after Atkinson slapped him several times. Said pilot then landed the plane without incident.

Moving on from there, perhaps our personal favorite case of a chartered flight resulting in a passenger having to take over is the case of one Doug White, who is a bit of a legend.

Passenger Lands Plane After Pilot Dies – Part 1

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In this case, White had chartered the plane to transport himself, his wife, and two daughters. He did have his private pilot’s license, but flying a small Cessna 172 many years before. He didn’t fly much after up until the weeks leading up to the event itself, when he decided to take the hobby back up. Unfortunately for him, in this case rather than finding himself having to fly a nice little trainer plane like the Cessna 172, he was sitting in a twin engine, turbo prop Beachcraft Super King-Air, which seats up to 10, cruises at near 300 mph, and otherwise makes the Cessna 172 look like a child’s toy.

So what happened? During the takeoff phase of the flight, the pilot, Joe Cabuk, randomly slumped over dead, as White describe, “I looked over and his chin was on his chest… He made a loud, guttural sound, kind of a groan, and his eyes rolled back, and his hands never left his lap. It was quick, it was sudden, and it was final.”

Luckily for the four other souls aboard Cabuk did engage the autopilot directly before his own soul left his body so there was time for assessment of the situation.

Knowing how to use the radio, White contacted Air Traffic Control (ATC) and declared an emergency- the go-to thing to do in this scenario. In a nutshell, this basically means from that point on you can do more or less whatever you want in your attempt to get safely back on the ground and ATC is at your beck and call to help out in any way they can, diverting any other planes as needed, providing you any information they can, getting ground emergency personnel nearby where you’re going to attempt to land, and otherwise organizing help in any way possible. Though it is noteworthy here that most ATC personnel are not pilots themselves, and so there is sometimes a delay getting anyone who actually knows how to fly a plane on the line.

On that note, while the initial ATC contact White found himself talking to wasn’t terribly helpful, they eventually got an ATC employee, Lisa Grimm, who was a pilot herself and would go on to be an absolute superstar during the event, helping White to get the aircraft under control and otherwise helping keep him calm.

Later they were able to track down a King Air pilot, Kari Sorenson, to help with the specifics on how to land the thing. During the whole ordeal, beyond having to figure out how to fly and land the plane, White also had a bit of a worry of the dead pilot potentially slumping over the controls at an inopportune moment. But efforts by he and his wife to remove said body from the pilot seat were unsuccessful, so they simply cinched the seatbelt as tight as they could and hoped that would be good enough.

Has any passenger ever landed an airplane?
Giphy

We’ll spare you most of the details, as they are best just gone and listened to, other than to mention our favorite part in which ATC asked Doug “Are you using AutoPilot or are you flying the plane?” and he responded with a thick country drawl, “Me an’ the good lord are hand flying this…” Classic Doug.

Another great line during the final moment before touchdown ATC told White, “Looks good from here, good job.” To which White calmly responded in his best impression of John Wayne, “It ain’t over til’ it’s over friend…”

Remarkably, with a lot of help from his angels on the ground, White was able to land the plane not only safely, but in pilot speak he “greased the landing”, meaning it was a rather gentle and uneventful touchdown and pretty much right on center-line to boot.

Said the aforementioned Sorenson who was in the background telling ATC what to tell White, “I don’t think you could have made the plane more complex or the pilot less experienced and have had a successful landing.”

When all was said and done and he was later interviewed about how he kept so calm through the ordeal, White simply said in his thick drawl, “There were buzzers, amber lights, horns: It was like a circus. The only thing I was concentrating on was keeping the airspeed up and the wings level. You know, just fly the plane… You just focus your fear and go into a zone… There’s no time to chit-chat, or lock up. Just ‘git er done.’… If you’re gonna die, at least die trying not to…”

We’re pretty sure that last line needs to go on a t-shirt pronto.

Moving on from there to some people with zero flight experience who successfully “got ‘er done”, we have one Henry George Anhalt who was aboard a small Piper Cherokee 6 (as you might expect from that, a six seat plane) with his wife and three sons when the 36 year old pilot, Kristopher Pearce, died. The plane at the time was low on fuel, but thankfully only about ten minutes from their destination of Winter Haven airport in Florida. Shortly after the pilot slumped over, Anhalt keyed the radio and asked for help.

Said Anhalt after taking the controls, “I kept my mind on flying the plane on a course for Winter Haven. I started calling, ‘Mayday!’ over and over and kept praying for Kris to revive. We made it to the airport, but we still hadn’t heard from anybody. I started circling. Becky was hollering that I was going too steep, so I made wider circles. Then I noticed that the fuel was low in the tank we were on. I tried switching to the full tank, but the engine would sputter, and I’d put it back to the nearly empty tank. Finally, somebody gets on the frequency and says, ‘Are you the Mayday?’ ‘Yes, my pilot passed out,’ I said. ‘We’re over the Winter Haven airport.’ Then another pilot came on and said, ‘We’re close by. We’ll be over to help.'”

The person who answered the call was flight instructor Dan McCullough who was giving a flight lesson at the time. After calming Anhalt down, he gave him his first flight lesson and being a bit of a gentlemen, didn’t even charge him.

Said McCullough later, “We flew down closer and got him lined up on a real good glide path to the runway. You can get anybody over the numbers on the ground, but it’s that last five feet that’s tricky. I asked him to fly around the airport a bit to get more used to the aircraft. … The only real disadvantage I had over any other time I’ve done it is I couldn’t actually been in the airplane with him… I just gave him directions how to get it over the runway and then to cut the engine. I had to keep him level. If he came in too steep, he’d dive into the ground. If he came in too far back, he’d stall.”

Has any passenger ever landed an airplane?

(Photo by Caleb Woods)

In the end, Anhalt was able to get it down, stating, “I had the flaps—or whatever they’re called—up, and I idled the speed down. After that, it happened real quick.”

His wife added, “We bumped twice on the ground and veered a few feet into the grass.”

And if you’re wondering, as this is often asked in these situations, at least in this case, yes- the flight instructor Dan McCullough was happy to endorse the flight and landing as Anhalt’s first solo in a logbook, if Anhalt wanted to get one.

Moving on from there we have one of the more notable cases of a person with zero pilot experience flying in one of the aforementioned Cessna 172s in 2013. The passenger, a then 77 year old John Wildey, had been a member of the Royal Air Force for 24 years, but not as a pilot.

In short, he and his friend, who went unnamed in the reports, were up flying around as they frequently did, when his friend turned to him and, to quote Wildey, “He said he was sick and asked me to take care of the aircraft controls… He set the controls and put me on the right path. Then he was unwell again, completely unresponsive. I called his name but he didn’t answer.”

As flying such a plane, in terms of keeping it straight and level, isn’t actually that terribly difficult, in fact, if the plane is properly trimmed as it apparently was, it should mostly fly itself straight and level without touching the controls at all, there was no real immediate danger.

Thus, he simply held things steady and, being familiar with at least how to queue the radio, did so. And if you’re curious about this, we have more on how to do that in the Bonus Facts later.

What Wildey also had going for him was that a plane like the Cessna 172 is built as a trainer plane and thus is extremely forgiving of bad landings and relatively easy to fly. But you do have to be able to get it over the runway pretty close to the ground before powering back the engine, and then as the plane sinks hold the nose off as best you can to land on the two rear wheels, while trying to time it so you’re extremely close to the ground when you reach stall speed- aka the speed at which the plane will stop flying and more or less fall with style.

In this case, an RAF helicopter was sent to guide Wildey to the airport, and then in the meantime he was being talked through the whole thing by one Roy Murray, chief flight instructor at Frank Morgan Flying School. Wildey ended up making 3 attempts to land the plane and each time failed in a good approach and was instructed to go to full power, climb back up, and try again. Remarkably, he executed reasonably good go-arounds each time without crashing.

On the fourth attempt, he committed and while it wasn’t what anyone would call a pretty landing, it was one in which not only he, but the plane walked away mostly unscathed save apparently some sparks at one point on touch down. Wildey would later describe:

I know you bring back the controls but I didn’t bring them back hard enough. So really I was sort of nose down rather than anything else… Then we touched and there was a right bump – two or three bumps. I suppose it was a controlled crash really. But I just couldn’t get the brakes because I couldn’t reach them. I managed to get them in the end. But then we sort of went off the runway and all I could see was this runway indicator wall coming towards me and I thought: “I am not going to do it”. But we managed to stop in the end. I’m a lucky bloke…

Sadly, his friend was later pronounced dead at the hospital.

In yet another case of someone with no experience, a student pilot from Australia, Max Sylvester, up on his first lesson in August of 2019 in a small two seat Cessna 152 was about an hour into it when his instructor, Robert Mollard, passed out and slumped over on to him in the cramped aircraft. Ultimately while being talked through it, he successfully executed his first ever landing without incident and actually from his cockpit footage almost dead on center-line and reasonable gentle touch down all things considered. His instructor, as far as we could find, later recovered from whatever happened to him.

Trainee pilot lands aircraft with instructor passed out on his shoulder | ABC News

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Moving on from the sighted among us, we have the case of a legally blind person managing to successfully land a plane…

How?

It helped that he, Charles Law, was a former pilot. Law’s flying days had long since been over as he at this point in his life had 20-200 vision in one eye and 20-400 in the other. He was tasked with one more landing when his pilot friend, an 80 year old Harry Stiteler, passed out on approach to the runway.

Said Law as he came in for the landing, all I could see were “the airport thresholds (white markings)… I just aimed for that… We bounced a little hard and it was a little squirrely, and I guess I was a little crooked. But I thought it was a very good landing.”

Unfortunately, despite landing the plane almost immediately after Stiteler passed out, medical personnel were never able to revive him.

On the other end of things, there are many incidents where the passenger was unable to land the plane and all aboard were killed, but we are choosing to go ahead and omit any specific examples as nobody wants to hear about that. We mentioned it, however, just so you don’t get the false impression that this is somehow super easy to do.

Moving back to the big boy planes, one of the reasons, outside of one exception, this just isn’t a thing is because in many regions of the world, it’s usually required that there be two trained pilots aboard in such airliners. Further, in most countries, said pilots are subjected to extremely rigorous and regular medical checkups, far more so than the already reasonably strict requirements for non-commercial pilots.

Thus, it’s just not terribly likely that something would happen to take out both pilots and leave some passengers still able to do anything. In fact, even when talking just one pilot, according to a study done by the Australian Transport Safety Board, incidents of a pilot on commercial aircraft becoming unable to continue with their duties only occurred in about 1 in every 34,000 flights. While that might seem high to you, in most of these cases, there was nothing seriously wrong with the pilot in question. For example, a full half of these incidents were, to put it bluntly, diarrhea related. We’re guessing if there wasn’t a backup pilot, said pilots in these incidents would choose to poop their pants rather than let the plane crash.

So what happens when one pilot is taken out more seriously in these scenarios? While you and your 1000 hours of flight training on Microsoft Flight Simulator might now be thinking “This is what we’ve trained for…”, waiting for that momentous announcement over the intercom requesting anyone with flight experience to come help out, this is not actually what would likely occur. In many cases, the remaining pilot will simply request one of the crew aboard to come sit in the unoccupied seat, perhaps reading through a checklist for them, or if they have some experience doing a little more. This is something we found a handful of otherwise uneventful cases in our searching, with the passengers rarely ever informed there was an issue.

Has any passenger ever landed an airplane?

(Photo by Dan Lohmar)

That said, as stated by a former pilot at US Airways, “There are thousands of commercial certified pilots who do not fly for the airlines. So having a commercial pilot on board would not be that uncommon… They can handle the radios, they understand the terminology, they can help prepare the airplane for landing, offloading [responsibilities from] the pilot…”

On that note, we did find one instance during a United Airlines flight when Air Force Captain Mike Gongol was requested to come help out when the captain of that flight had a heart attack. In this case, the flight attendants first requested that any doctor aboard please make themselves known. They later asked if any pilots aboard would push their call button to make themselves known- a sequence of requests not exactly geared towards keeping passengers worry free.

As for Gongol, while he had never flown that particular aircraft, a Boeing 737, his extensive flight experience, including mainly flying a B-1B Lancer Bomber at the time, made him an ideal candidate to come help take a little of the workload off the first officer who was tasked with actually flying the plane in this instance. He later stated she mostly just had him take over the radio communication, which he was well skilled at. We’re guessing had she become incapacitated too, Gongol probably had a high probability of being the first ever passenger to successfully land a commercial airliner. But of course, said first officer had little trouble getting the plane down safely, being herself extremely well trained and all.

But this all does make you wonder, outside of our sample-size of one where the circumstances were stacked against him, in the more general case, how likely is it that a random passenger could land a large commercial airplane if they were being talked through it?

First, if literally zero experience flying a plane or using a really good flight simulator, basically no chance. The problem here is that you do need to actually know how to call someone for help on the radio. And with the myriad of buttons and switches all over, it’s unlikely a random person could figure that out, unless they keep reading to our Bonus Facts section.

That said, pro-tip, if you’re under about 10K ft and in a reasonably populated area, your cell phone will probably work just fine as a way to call for help that could then eventually potentially end up telling you how to operate the plane’s radio. Of course, most commercial airliners don’t spend much time under 10K feet, so odds are you’ll be much higher than that, and if lower, probably in a critical phase of flight meaning there’s no way you’re getting up to the cockpit to help out in time anyway unless they’ve set the autopilot pretty quickly after takeoff. And even then, a noteworthy thing, as tragically the aforementioned Andreas Prodromou demonstrated, is getting into the cockpit in today’s large commercial aircraft in flight is easier said than done if the pilots are both incapacitated and a crew member who knows the code isn’t available. So good luck with that.

But in this increasingly unlikely scenario, if the autopilot was engaged giving you time to work with, and you could get into the cockpit, and then figure out how to use the radio, from there, you might have a chance. But not because you could actually land the plane. The odds of that are basically zero if you have no flight experience and pretty slim even if you do unless you have some training in that or a similar aircraft. The reason you might actually have a fighting chance if you can establish communication with someone on the ground is that most large commercial planes are perfectly capable of landing themselves if you know how to setup the system and then help the system along appropriately.

Has any passenger ever landed an airplane?

(Photo by Miguel Ángel Sanz)

On that note, if you’d like to see a commercial pilot with a rather excellent YouTube channel walk you through how to do this in a professional level simulator, do go check out MentourPilot’s crash course in the topic titled “How You Can Land a Passenger Airplane- 12 Steps” And, hey, you could always use the airplane WiFi to watch it in-flight…

Finally, if you’re now wondering if any small aircraft have a similar auto-land system, turns out yes some do, the best of which, which is actually superior to the large plane auto-land systems in some ways, is Garmin’s recently launched Autonomi system which is soon rolling out in the approximately million Cirrus Vision Jet under the name Cirrus’ Safe Return system, and will likewise soon be found in the million Piper M600 SLS.

This system is idiot proof and requires only about one sentence of training, which even a three year old could execute. And, truthfully, you’d probably want to tell a 3 year old NOT to do it in most cases, as left to their own devices they’re sure to activate the system on their own randomly. That sentence of training is simply, “Push this big red button.” That’s it.

From there, the system will take over flying, analyze the weather, your fuel, state of the plane, potential terrain in your path, etc, as well as declare an emergency with ATC, and continually update ATC on what it’s doing and its intentions. It will at the same time inform the passengers audibly and on the screen what they should be doing- strap in, enjoy the ride, and don’t touch anything. It will also politely inform the passengers where it’s taking them and when it will be landing.

From there the plane will fly to the destination airport, which will be picked among the safest options within range of your fuel supply. It will then land itself, which in the demos we’ve watched, does a shockingly good job at it, with the worst that can be said is that in one random Piper M600 demo, it was slightly off center line, but otherwise well on the runway and a very gentle landing.

Once down, the system will shut down the engines and inform the passengers when it is safe to exit. Presumably in the coming decade or two this system will rapidly find its way into most smaller aircraft making the stories of passengers taking over for a pilot markedly less dramatic. “I pushed the big red button,” doesn’t have quite the same newsworthy appeal as “Me an’ the good lord are hand flying this…”

Has any passenger ever landed an airplane?
Giphy

Bonus Facts:

If you’re wondering, reportedly approximately 1% of commercial airliner landings are done with auto-land, though in most cases pilots prefer to do it themselves as, among other reasons, auto-land isn’t awesome when there is much wind, particularly if it’s of the gusty variety. The cases where it might be the preferred option for the pros is in scenarios like virtually no wind where visibility is extremely poor, such as in thick fog. In this case, the pilot may deem it safer to allow the auto-land to do its thing while they closely monitor it.

Going back to how to queue up the radio in an aircraft, whether big or small, you can usually do this via putting the headphones on and then pressing a button on the yoke (looks a bit like a steering wheel) or stick. Noteworthy is that in some cases there might be other buttons to do with trim, engaging or disengaging autopilot and the like on that control as well, so not always good to just go pushing buttons without looking close to see if there’s a label. But if there is just one button, that’s going to be what that is for. And if multiple buttons, it’s probably the one positioned for your index finger wrapped around the stick or yolk or a prominent button for your thumb, often red. In large commercial airliners, it also might not be a button, but rather a toggle switch with an up and down position, for example one for transmitting on the radio (probably labeled MIC) and one for the flight interphone (probably labeled INT). You want the MIC position.

Assuming you push the correct button, whatever radio frequency the pilot had queued up already, which is usually the local one you’re flying over, whether a nearby tower or local traffic, or might be a large area ATC frequency, you’ll be talking to someone who can give you more information when you do. Press to talk; release to listen; just like a walkie-talkie.

And if you really want to sound like a pro before your almost certain death when fuel runs out or probably much sooner, structure your talk- Who you are talking to, who you are (as in the plane type and call-sign which will probably be printed somewhere on the instrument panel in front of you), where you are, what you want or are going to do, who you are talking to.

For example- “Deer Park traffic, Archer 7967C, mayday, mayday, mayday, just departed Deer Park and the pilot just died. Me and Jesus are now flying this plane. One soul aboard. Requesting immediate assistance. Deer Park.”

Or, you know, just press the button and freak out. You’re declaring an emergency after all and you don’t know what you’re doing. Nobody is going to care you don’t know how to talk on the radio properly. But just remember this, if you’re in the U.S., odds are strong your radio communication and situation is going to be viewed by hundreds of thousands of people, probably even your friends and family, on various YouTube channels that cover this sort of thing… So keep your cool if you want to sound awesome later if you happen to survive.

Also, even for pilots, an almost universal truth you’ll find if you listen to many of these is you can almost always predict which ones are going to end well or not based on, not the exact circumstances of the emergency or experience of the pilot, but how panicky the person flying the plane is. The only exception we’ve personally ever heard is that time a guy was on a whole lot of drugs when he was declaring his engine-out emergency. He might as well have been sipping a beer on a beach as far as his tone was concerned, literally right to the point he crashed and died… So do yourself a favor and try to keep your head. If you’ve got someone talking you through it, flying and landing a lot of types of small planes where at least you can walk away isn’t actually super difficult if you can get over a runway. Landing so the plane itself can be flown again without repairs… well that generally takes some training. But that’s the insurance company’s problem, not yours.

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

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MIGHTY TACTICAL

Soldiers light up the sky in night fire exercise

As the sun went down leaving a peach hue above the Baltic Sea, U.S. soldiers, partner, and ally countries prepare weapon systems that would soon be shot off into the night sky.

Soldiers with C Battery, or the “Catdogs”, 1st Battalion, 174th Air Defense Artillery Regiment participated in the multinational air defense night fire exercise June 18, 2019, Utska Poland. The night fire is part of Tobruq Legacy 2019, Tobruq Legacy is a 21-day exercise that focuses on multi-national partnerships with shared understanding and demonstration of Air Defense capabilities by the United States Army and 11 different partner and allied countries.


The silence of night was broken as the Slovakian army fired missiles into the sky leaving behind a trail of fire and smoke. The U.S. Forces waited to the east of the firing line eager to demonstrate the capabilities they bring to the table. During the night fire U.S. soldiers showed mission readiness by demonstrating the AN/TWQ-1 Avenger Missile System and the FIM-92 Stinger Missiles.

Has any passenger ever landed an airplane?

U.S. Army Soldiers from C Battery, 1st Battalion, 174th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, prepare to fire the FIM-92 Stinger missile system as they participate in a Short Range Air Defense Night Fire Exercise as part of Tobruq Legacy in Utska, Poland, June 17, 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. Kyle Larsen)

The Avenger Missile System is a rugged camouflaged military vehicle whose stature can be imposing with 4 missile ports in each of the two guns fixed to the turret. The AN/TWQ-1 Avenger Missile System has been around for many years, while the FIM-92 Stinger Missile system is fairly new technology. This was the first live test for the FIM-92 as firing teams took turns engaging moving targets.

Has any passenger ever landed an airplane?

U.S. Army Soldiers from C Battery, 1st Battalion, 174th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, radio in that the final missile was fired from the AN/TWQ-1 Avenger missile system as they participate in a Short Range Air Defense Night Fire Exercise as part of Tobruq Legacy in Utska, Poland, June 17, 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. Kyle Larsen)

“Firing the missile is probably the greatest feeling there is,” said Spc. Matthew Lashley, an Avenger crewmember in C Battery. “Once you pull the trigger everything goes away with a loud bang, and it’s just a great experience shooting a live missile.”

Has any passenger ever landed an airplane?

U.S. Army Soldiers from C Battery, 1st Battalion, 174th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, are smothered with smoke as they fire the new FIM-92 Stinger missile system as they participate in a Short Range Air Defense Night Fire Exercise as part of Tobruq Legacy in Utska, Poland, June 17, 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. Kyle Larsen)

The FIM-92 is a handheld weapon system commonly used to engage aircrafts and it proved itself to be an adequate weapon system throughout the day and night, as it was visibly more effective than the Avenger system.

Has any passenger ever landed an airplane?

U.S. Army Soldiers from C Battery, 1st Battalion, 174th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, work to fix the missile control apparatus for the AN/TWQ-1 Avenger missile system as they participate in a Short Range Air Defense Night Fire Exercise as part of Tobruq Legacy in Utska, Poland, June 17, 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. Kyle Larsen)

The goal for the exercise is to work side-by-side with partner nations and find a way to utilize all of the technology and fire power available should these countries have to partner to defend against an attack from potential adversaries.

Has any passenger ever landed an airplane?

U.S. Army Soldiers from C Battery, 1st Battalion, 174th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, work to fix the missile control apparatus for the AN/TWQ-1 Avenger missile system as they participate in a Short Range Air Defense Night Fire Exercise as part of Tobruq Legacy in Utska, Poland, June 17, 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. Kyle Larsen)

“It should make our potential adversaries nervous,” said Staff Sgt. Andrew Bryan, a 1st platoon squad leader and team chief. “If I saw multiple nations coming together in a huge exercise that was successful such as this one, I would be nervous, because it shows we have the capabilities and firepower to do what we need to do.”

Has any passenger ever landed an airplane?

U.S. Army Soldiers from C Battery, 1st Battalion, 174th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, watch as the missile they fired from the FIM-92 Stinger missile system flies towards their target as they participate in a Short Range Air Defense Night Fire Exercise as part of Tobruq Legacy in Utska, Poland, June 17, 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. Kyle Larsen)

The exercise was able to demonstrate how effective and devastating ADA can be as missiles engaged targets hundreds of meters away lighting up the night sky. The final missile burst over the Baltic Sea as the last vehicle for the night drove off the range in the early hours of June 18, 2019, and zipped down the road back to the Logistics Support Area where the vehicles were staged for the next day.

This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Two Red Army veterans on freedom and why it’s always worth fighting for

They call it the “Island of Death.”

At this spot on the western side of the Dnieper River in central Ukraine, some 30,000 Soviet soldiers died under Nazi artillery during World War II. Yet, on this hot June day, there’s nothing to suggest that this particular place was once on the deadliest front of the deadliest war in human history.


“What horrors happened here,” says my 55-year-old Ukrainian father-in-law, Valeriy Deriy, who is a Red Army veteran of the Cold War. “Can you imagine?”

I cannot.

We’ve hired a zodiac boat for the day, embarking from a yacht club in the riverside town of Horishni Plavni. To get to the so-called Island of Death, our captain weaves through narrow, overgrown channels that branch off the main course of the Dnieper River.

Tucked away in a dense forest on the island, there’s an old Soviet war memorial. You’d hardly notice it from the water, unless you knew what to look for. Valeriy explains that one can still find evidence of war in the surrounding woods. Old artillery pieces, bullets, rifles, and boots. That sort of stuff.

“Some people want to forget the past. But it’s impossible,” he tells me. “It’s always there.”

Between August and December 1943, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union fought the battle for the Dnieper River. It was one of World War II’s largest battles, comprising some 4 million soldiers stretched along a nearly 900-mile-long front.

After Nazi Germany’s defeat at the Battle of Kursk, the Soviets pressed their advantage and pushed the Nazis back across Ukraine. The third longest river in Europe, the Dnieper — which runs roughly north to south down the middle of Ukraine to the Black Sea — was a natural physical obstacle for the advancing Red Army.

The Nazis took to the heights on the western bank to set up their artillery, which they used to devastating effect. The Red Army crossed the river under heavy fire, improvising makeshift means to get across. Soviet losses were staggering — accounts vary, but roughly 400,000 Red Army soldiers died in the Dnieper River battle of 1943.

The Other Side

Earlier, Valeriy and I stand at a spot on the opposite, eastern bank of the Dnieper River.

“My great-grandfather said the water ran red with blood in the war,” Valeriy says as we stand on the riverbank, looking to the other side.

Valeriy explains that his great-grandfather fought in that Dnieper River battle, and he crossed the river at this very spot. Right where we’re standing. I’m left a bit speechless.

His great-grandfather couldn’t swim, Valeriy continues, but Soviet commanders would have him shot if he’d refused the crossing. So he held on to a log for flotation and kicked his way across. Somehow, he survived.

“It was October, and the water was already very cold,” Valeriy says, shaking his head. “What a nightmare.”

Today, at this spot where so many died in World War II, there’s a simple old Soviet memorial crumbling, halfway reclaimed by the forest. A dilapidated Soviet tank and artillery piece sit in the foliage, too. But that’s it. You have to rely on your imagination to appreciate what happened here.

There’s not a cloud in the sky and the hot breeze feels good on my face. On a day like this, it’s hard to appreciate what happened here about 77 years ago. I can hardly imagine the fear felt by Soviet soldiers as they stood at that same spot on the river shore, looking to the far side like lost souls about to cross the River Styx.

And then I remember what it was like to stare across no man’s land in eastern Ukraine. I remember the fear I felt under the Russian artillery and sniper shots. And I imagine, at least a little, what those Soviet soldiers must have felt.

The trench lines in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region — where Ukrainian troops have fought a war since 2014 to keep a Russian invasion force at bay — are only about five hours away by car. We could be there by dinner, if we wanted to.

True, we’re much too far from the trenches to hear the daily rumble of battle, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The war is always there.

Standing on the riverbank, Valeriy says to me: “History has been hard on Ukraine. But things will get better. We’re fighting for our democracy, just like your country did. And we’ll win it, too. Just like you did. I still have hope that my daughter and my grandchildren will see an amazing, free Ukraine.”

Still looking across the river, facing the same divide his great-grandfather once faced, Valeriy adds: “We’ll get there.”

The Past

Valeriy never served in Afghanistan. He was posted instead to East Germany and worked in signals intelligence, a specialty that paved the way for his future civilian career as a German language interpreter.

“It was an unwritten rule in the Soviet army that only one brother would have to be in Afghanistan at a time,” Valeriy explains. “And my brother went in my place.”

Valeriy’s older brother, Sergiy, was drafted into the Red Army and served in the war in Afghanistan from 1982 to 1984.

In fact, both brothers had volunteered for the war. But their mother had secretly gone to military officials and asked that only one son be allowed to go. Sergiy ultimately volunteered without Valeriy’s knowledge. It wasn’t until their mother died in December 2012 that Valeriy learned the truth.

Sergiy was a sergeant in a signals unit deployed near the Salang Tunnel in the Hindu Kush Mountains. The combat he experienced was terrible, Sergiy tells me, but he doesn’t go into much detail about the war very often. And when he does, his eyes adopt a distinctly distant look, as if he’s looking past me, in an attempt to articulate memories that no words could ever really recreate.

Today, both Deriy brothers live in the town of Horishni Plavi — it’s where my wife, Lilya, grew up.

On a warm June afternoon, our family gathers at a park by the Dnieper River to grill shashlik — Ukraine’s version of a barbecue. Both Sergiy and Valeriy are wearing NASA baseball caps, gifts from me and my wife.

It’s the first time we’ve all been together since the coronavirus lockdown was lifted on June 5, and we’re in good spirits. We make toast after toast until our legs are a little wobbly. We’ve brought along an iPhone speaker and grill the meat while we cycle through a playlist of staple rock hits — songs by bands like the Scorpions, Led Zeppelin, Metallica. That’s my in-laws’ favorite kind of music. Mine too.

We end up cooking more meat than we could ever hope to eat in a day. And we maintain a steady pace with the cognac toasts. And, as it’s prone to do, the conversation between Valeriy, Sergiy, and myself returns to the ongoing war in Ukraine’s east.

“The Russians were never our friends. Stalin invaded us, and now Putin has, too,” Sergiy says. “The only county that ever really cared about us was the United States.”

“We’ll never forget what your country has done for us,” he adds, speaking specifically about America’s delivery of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.

Then Valeriy abruptly stands.

“Please,” he says, beckoning me to shake his hand, “I want to shake the hand of a citizen of the country that put a man on the moon.”

I stand and shake my father-in-law’s hand and feel proud of my country. And I’m particularly proud that he’s proud of my county, too.

A generation ago, we would have been enemies. Our countries were poised at opposite ends of the earth, ready to unleash nuclear Armageddon to destroy one another.

Today, we are a family.

No One Forgets

Located on the east bank of the Dnieper River, roughly 190 miles southeast of Kyiv, Horishni Plavni was founded by Soviet youth volunteers in 1960 as a place to live for workers in the nearby iron-ore mines.

Originally, the city’s name was “Komsomolsk,” a reference to the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League, or “Komsomol.” The town was renamed Horishni Plavni in 2016 as part of Ukraine’s decommunization laws—a set of measures that went into effect in 2015 to curb Russia’s cultural influence.

Across the country, all Soviet-era names of settlements and roads have been changed to new Ukrainian ones. All reminders and relics of the Soviet Union have been removed or made illegal — including playing the Soviet national anthem and displays of the hammer and sickle flag.

Horishni Plavni’s main thoroughfare was once called Lenin Street. Now it’s named Heroes of the Dnieper River Street. The statue of Vladimir Lenin that once stood in the city center is gone. Only an empty pedestal remains — a common sight in Ukraine these days.

Yet you can’t totally erase the past. World War II is too deeply ingrained in Ukraine’s national psyche, and its physical environment, to ever be forgotten.

Soviet-era war memorials still stand around Horishni Plavni. At a riverside park, children play on the marble ramps of a towering, Soviet-era war memorial. In a nearby field, a row of Soviet tanks are on permanent display. Teenagers sit in the shade of the turrets and drink beer and listen to music.

Despite all their years living under Soviet propaganda, my father-in-law and uncle-in-law have a surprisingly pro-American perspective on the war.

“The Soviet Union could have never won without American help under lend-lease,” Valeriy tells me, referring to the American policy from 1941 to 1945 to provide materiel assistance to the Soviet Union’s war effort.

“And thank God the Allies landed in France,” Valeriy adds. “Otherwise Stalin would have taken over all of Europe.”

No War Ever Ends

After our shashlik picnic is over, Sergiy visits his brother’s apartment, where my wife and I are staying. He brings with him a photo album from his time in the Soviet army, including his deployment to Afghanistan in the 1980s.

I’m thrilled to have a look and listen to his stories from the war.

Sergiy recalls how his commander in Afghanistan justified the Soviet war by the need to defend the Soviet Union from U.S. nuclear missile strikes.

“We were told that America was evil, and that we were fighting in Afghanistan to defend the world from America,” Sergiy tells me. “It was all a lie, of course.”

Incredibly, Sergiy bears no ill will toward the country — my country — that was responsible for the death of many of his comrades.

“The Soviet Union did the same to America in Vietnam,” Sergiy says of America’s covert effort from 1979 to 1989 to arm and finance Afghanistan’s mujahideen fighters to fight against the Soviets. “It was the Cold War, and we were enemies. And that’s what enemies do to each other.”

Now, Sergiy has welcomed me — an American veteran of another war in Afghanistan — into his family with open arms. More than that, I’d even say that Sergiy and I share a special bond because we share a common battlefield. We remember the same places, and in some cases, the same enemies. Sometimes, as I’ve learned, former enemies actually have more in common with each other than they do with their fellow citizens who know nothing about war.

As he goes through the old photos, Sergiy’s face flashes with various contradictory emotions. Pride and pain. Nostalgia and regret. For Sergiy, war was both the worst and the best experience of his life. Therein lies that great paradox that faces all soldiers who’ve home to live in peace.

If war was so terrible, why do we sometimes miss it?

Sergiy, for his part, remembers his friends from the army fondly. But there’s a dark cloud, too, that hangs over every good memory.

“The Soviet Union lied to me. They lied to all of us,” Sergiy says as he flips through the photo album’s pages.

He pinches his lips and slowly shakes his head.

“They wasted so many lives,” he adds.

Soldiers rarely fight for the reasons dictated to them by the governments that send them to battle. Rather, once the bullets start flying, a simple sense of duty to defend one’s friends, and to not disappoint their expectations, is what inspires one to act courageously.

Yet, once soldiers are separated from their wars for a while — either by time or by distance — the moral clarity of duty may erode, leading them to question the justice of their individual actions in combat. The simple kill-or-be-killed morality of combat no longer shields them from thoughtfully considering the consequences of the things they did in war.

In many ways, life in peace is much more complicated than life in war. That was certainly true for my uncle-in-law. Although Sergiy came through the war in Afghanistan physically unscathed, he was left irrevocably jaded about Soviet communism.

Hope

In 1985, just a year after his discharge from the Soviet Army, Sergiy began law studies at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, Ukraine’s premier university.

“I felt so at peace. Finally, no war, no suffering. Only a bright future,” Sergiy recalls of his arrival in Ukraine’s capital city to begin his studies.

But it didn’t last. In April 1986, an explosion ripped through reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

The Chernobyl plant is located only about 60 miles north of Kyiv. And so, spooked by the threat of radiation, Sergiy was unsure whether he should stay in Kyiv to finish his law degree. The reborn optimism and happiness he’d felt just a year earlier, fresh from his wartime service, quickly gave way to feelings remembered from the war — dark feelings that he’d wanted to forget forever.

“When I was in Afghanistan, I always felt like death was chasing me,” Sergiy remembers. “And when I came back to Ukraine, I thought I could be free from that fixation on death. But Chernobyl happened, and here death finally caught me. A long and painful death. I remember I said to myself, ‘How ironic, death didn’t catch me in the war, but it did in civilian life.'”

Sergiy ultimately stayed in Kyiv to finish his law degree. After graduating from law school in 1991, he returned to his hometown of Horishni Plavni (then called Komsomolsk). The Soviet Union broke apart that year, further upending his world.

When Ukraine’s economy subsequently collapsed in the 1990s, Sergiy ultimately abandoned his law career and took up work as a hired hand. It was his only option to make a living. He never went back to practicing law.

My uncle-in-law, who is a devoutly religious man, has struggled with his demons from Afghanistan. And his family life has had its ups and downs. But he’s never given up hope for his country, even as Ukraine has gone through revolutions and an unfinished war to finally free itself from Russian overlordship.

“I try to stay positive, despite everything that’s happened to our country,” Sergiy says. “It would be so wrong not to believe in our future. I always have hope. It’s just a matter of time. Our future generations will be truly happy and free.”

Moral Courage

As young men, Soviet propaganda told Valeriy and Sergiy that America was their mortal enemy. Yet, as older men, they’ve both shown the remarkable moral courage to abandon their former worldviews and embrace the promise of democracy.

Above all else, Valeriy and Sergiy now believe in the justice of freedom and democracy rather than conformity and communism. And the two Red Army veterans wholeheartedly believe that the United States is a force for good and a beacon of hope for freedom-loving people around the world.

It’s true that history hasn’t been kind to Ukraine, and my in-laws have not led easy lives.

Yet in spite of everything, their faith in America remains unbroken. And, with America’s promise lighting the way, they still extoll the justice of their own country’s democratic path, no matter its attendant hardships.

In the end, they choose to reject their Soviet past but not forget it. When the work of building a democracy gets tough, as it so often does, they look to the past to remember what they’re working so hard to achieve.

“Democracy hasn’t been easy, but I’d rather live as a free man than go back to the way things were before,” my father-in-law says.

Freedom, after all, usually means more to people who’ve experienced the alternative.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Here’s why nuclear explosions are often shaped like mushrooms

Susan K. asks: Why do nuclear bombs make mushroom clouds?

This phenomenon all comes down to a little something called the Rayleigh-Taylor instability, and by extension, convection. I’ll begin with the somewhat longer, but less geeky explanation before descending once again into extreme nerdery.

It all starts with an explosion that creates a Pyrocumulus Cloud. This ball of burning hot gases is accelerated outwardly in all directions. Since the burning ball of accelerated gases is hotter, and therefore less dense, than the surrounding air, it will begin to rise — in the case of nuclear explosions, extremely rapidly. This ultimately forms the mushroom cap.


As the ball rises, it will leave behind air that is heated, creating a chimney-like effect that draws in any smoke and gases on the outer edge of the chimney — convection in action! Visually, this forms the stipe (stalk) of the mushroom.

The perception that the mushroom cap is curling down and around the stipe is primarily a result of the differences in temperature at the center of the cap and its outside. The center is hotter and therefore will rise faster, leaving the slower outer edges to be caught up in the stipe convection’s awesome attributes.

Once that cloud reaches a certain point in our atmosphere, where the density of the gas cloud is the same as the density of the surrounding air, it will spread out, creating a nice cap.

This brings me to the shorter, yet more geeky answer.

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The mushroom cloud from the 15-megaton Castle Bravo hydrogen bomb test, showing multiple condensation rings, March 1, 1954.

This entire process is something that describes the Rayleigh-Taylor instability. This instability is well known in physics and, in general, describes the merging between two different substances (mainly liquids and gases) that have different densities and are subjected to acceleration. In the case of an atomic bomb, the acceleration, and the hotter gases creating the differing densities of material, are caused by the explosion.

From this, you might have guessed you don’t necessarily need an atomic bomb to create a mushroom cloud. All you need is enough energy delivered rapidly (in this case an explosion) that creates a pocket of differing densities of material (in this case, heated gases).

There are numerous other examples in our world that create, and are described by, the same phenomenon that gives us this formation. For instance, the magnetic fields of planets, the jet-stream of winds that help control our planet’s climate, the sound of snapping shrimp, even our understanding of certain different forms of fusion can all be attributed to Rayleigh-Taylor instability.

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The mushroom cloud from the 6.9-megaton Castle Union hydrogen bomb test, showing multiple condensation rings.

Now, you might have also noticed that nuclear explosions, besides producing this frightening fungal formation, also sometimes result in a cloud ring around the mushroom cap. What’s going on here is that a low pressure area is created via the negative phase of the shockwave (the phase that follows the wave of compressed gases at the leading part of the shock wave). This results in a drop in temperature, which along with the low pressure can potentially lower the dew point sufficiently for a temporary cloud to form. This cloud halo around the explosion is known as a “Wilson Cloud”, named after Scottish physicist Charles Wilson who invented the Wilson Cloud Chamber where similar sorts of things can be observed.

Bonus Fact:

  • What has been commonly referred to as the Rayleigh-Taylor instability was first brought to light by Lord Rayleigh in 1880. He was attempting to describe the motion of liquids when one of higher specific gravity was supported by one that was lighter. Specifically, trying to better understand how cirrus clouds were formed. In 1950, Sir Geoffrey Ingram Taylor discovered that Rayleigh’s “interfacial instability” occurs for other differing substance accelerations as well. The phenomenon, and all the equations that describe it, became known as Rayleigh-Taylors.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Army brigade trains to fight in Europe, right next to Russia

Soldiers and equipment from the US Army’s 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, from the 1st Cavalry Division based at Fort Hood in Texas, are arriving in Europe in late May 2018, for a nine-month rotation in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve.

Operation Atlantic Resolve started in April 2014, in response to Russian interference in Ukraine, and is meant to emphasize US commitment to European defense through “continuous, enhanced multinational training and security cooperation.”


The Ironhorse Brigade’s arrival is the third back-to-back rotation the Army has pursued in order to have an armored brigade in Europe, where the US has been looking to bolster its armored presence.

But the route the brigade is taking to its base points to another capability the US and its NATO partners are trying to boost: The ability to move around Europe on the ground.

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US Army armored and support vehicles from the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division arrive in Antwerp, Belgium, May 20, 2018.
(US Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jacob A. McDonald)

The unit will primarily be based in Germany and mostly operate in eastern Europe, but the first of three ships carrying its tanks, trucks, and mobile artillery arrived in May 2018, in Antwerp, a Belgian port that hasn’t seen a major US military movement of this kind in the past 10 or 20 years, according to an Army release.

Maj. Gen. Steven Shapiro, commander of 21st Theater Sustainment Command, which supports US military operations in Europe and Africa, said the vehicles will move across Europe via convoy, line-haul, river barge, and train. The Army has issued notices about planned movements by road and rail in western and eastern Germany.

“Sometimes what is old is new again, and that is coming in here,” Shapiro said. “Antwerp and Rotterdam were major ports when we were operating during the Cold War … We are coming back to Antwerp in a big way.”

The brigade will send about 2,500 pieces of equipment through Antwerp, including 87 M1 Abrams tanks, 138 armored personnel carriers, 18 Paladin self-propelled howitzers, and more than a thousand other vehicles.

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US Army combat vehicles assigned to the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team unloaded in Antwerp, Belgium, May 20, 2018.
(US Army photo by Sgt. Christopher Case)

“It’s a totally different type of deployment,” said brigade commander Col. Wilson Rutherford IV. “We could have gone into the port of Gdansk, [in Poland], which is much closer, but we wanted to exercise this port, exercise the barge movement, the line haul, and the convoys.”

“This is very different from the 2/1 [ABCT] and 3/4 [ABCT] deployments, but the goal is to learn as much as we can,” he added, referring to previous rotations by the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team from the 1st Cavalry Division and the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team from the 4th Infantry Division — the latter of which is known as the Iron Brigade.

Reversing post-Cold War atrophy

The US military’s presence in Europe has steadily declined since the end of the Cold War. The US Army once had 300,000 soldiers stationed there, but that force dwindled to roughly 30,000. In April 2013, the US’s last 22 Abrams tanks in Europe returned to the US, ending the Army’s 69-year history of stationing main battle tanks there.

That absence was short-lived. In January 2014, 29 Abrams tanks arrived in Germany, joining other armored vehicles there for what were to be short stints in small formations. That approach changed in early 2017, when the Iron Brigade arrived with tanks and armored vehicles for the first nine-month, back-to-back rotation.

But the new emphasis on operations in Europe has encountered logistical hurdles.

A tangle of customs rules and local regulations have hamstrung movements across borders. Infrastructure issues — like bridges or roads not built to carry heavy armored vehicles — have also hindered operations, as have shortages of transports.

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A German man with an US flag greets vehicles from the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division in Germany, April 23, 2018.
(US Army photo by Spc. Dustin D. Biven)

These obstacles have created issues for training operations — a convoy of Paladins was halted by German police in January 2018, because the contractors transporting them violated several regulations — and would present issues for any peacetime mobilization effort.

These problems led NATO to conclude in an internal report in late 2017, that its ability to rapidly deploy around Europe had “atrophied since the end of the Cold War.”

That report recommended setting up two new commands — one to oversee logistics operations in Europe, particularly in central and eastern Europe, and another to manage the shipment of personnel and supplies across the Atlantic.

In March 2018, NATO said the new logistics command would be based in the city of Ulm in southern Germany. (The US has volunteered to host the new Atlantic command in Norfolk, Virginia.) That same month, the European Union said it was working to address the conflicting regulations and infrastructure issues hindering military operations.

“By facilitating military mobility within the EU, we can be more effective in preventing crises, more efficient in deploying our missions, and quicker in reacting when challenges arise,” EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini said at the time.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Top 7 troops you’ll always want to have your back

There’s an old saying in the military: There are three people that you always want to have on your good side: the cooks, the medics, and whoever happens to be repeating this tired, old saying.

Despite the fact that it’s a cliche, there’s a nugget of truth in there. Every single troop plays an important role in this crazy mechanism we call the military — but some roles more important than others. Regardless of whether they’re cool with you, they should be doing their job. Still, there’s no denying that having a key ally within certain roles in the unit will net you certain perks.

These are the 7 guys you’ll want on your good side.


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Cooks also have a mentality of not giving a f*ck about giving their buddies special treatment in line. They’ll just stare at the other guy who just got two slices of bacon and not budge.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

Cooks

This one is a no-brainer. Having a buddy on the inside of the mess hall means that you won’t have to awkwardly sweet talk them to get that extra piece of bacon in the morning.

And it gets even better. At the end of their shifts, there’s almost always large-ass trays of uneaten, good food left over. The rules say that they should turn it in for compost or recycle it into a dish for the next meal, but oftentimes, the cooks just take it home — you can get in on that feast.

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It’s also their job to deal with the most disgusting parts of the human body, so you know they’re a good time.

(U.S. Army)

Medics

Outside of the obvious — you want these guys to have your back in combat — medics are also going to help you out stateside when you eventually get around to going to the aid station.

Now, we’re not going to pretend like this doesn’t venture into a morally gray area, but when you’re hammered drunk on the weekend and you’re partying with your medic or corpsman, they’ll have some IVs on standby in case your chain of command decides to surprise you with a 12-mile ruck march the next morning. And there’s no better hangover cure.

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“Oh no, It looks like the unit only ordered 3 of these swords. Oh well.”

(U.S. Marine Corps)

Supply

One of the first and last signatures you’ll need in the unit is from supply. Just how smoothly those final moments go may just hinge on how cool you’ve been with them.

No one does “off the books” quite like supply. They’re all masters at pulling the it-must-have-fallen-off-the-truck maneuver to slide things across to their bros. This basically means that if you’re missing something from the CIF checklist, they could just “happen” to find one that “somehow” had its serial number scratched off. What luck!

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The commander may be the head of the unit, but the training room is the neck, pointing them wherever they want.

(U.S. Army)

Training room clerks

Most training room clerks like to tell themselves that there’s some kind of method to their madness, but there isn’t. The inbox gets shuffled around so many times at the training room’s discretion that it’s kind of a misnomer to even call it a “system.”

That paperwork usually gets done at exactly the rate and order of when the training room gets around to it. Be a dick to them and you’ll find your stuff at the bottom of the pile — constantly. Go talk to your buddy Stevenson and they’ll make sure you get the commander’s signature before lunch.

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They’re also pros at finding BS justifications to send their buddies to schools their unit isn’t even authorized for.

(U.S. Army)

Schools NCO

The recommendations that determine who gets to go to which military school falls on the NCOs at the training meeting, what schools your unit is allotted, and who your commander and Schools NCO feel are the right fit to send.

The commander’s got a million and a half other things to worry outside of scrubbing through a list to determine who’s most suited for Airborne School. The commander, usually, will just nod along whomever the Schools NCO says should go. Get on their good side and they just might bring your name up.

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“Oh god, your paperwork just keeps accidentally falling into the shredder. I’ll look into that.”

(U.S. Marine Corps)

Finance

Being best buddies with the finance guys isn’t really necessary because they’re not going to help give you a raise or anything since, you know, pay grades and all. They’re mostly just the last people you want to piss off.

Scoff when the POGiest finance Marine says “every Marine is a rifleman” and you’ll somehow find yourself accidentally not paid for the month. If you can’t play nice with them, just avoid them.

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What are bros for, am I right?

(U.S. Army)

Grunts

This is basically the catch-all for all of the combat arms MOS’s out there. Sure, your standard grunt probably can’t slide you anything under the table or go to bat for you with the commander, but earning the friendship and trust of a grunt means way more than any of that.

Grunts have a mentality of brotherhood and they’ll always put their guys above themselves. You need help moving something? The grunts have got spare time for their boy. You need a couch to sleep on for the night? Take their bed, they’re cool on their own couch. Some a**hole gets a bit too close for comfort with you? They’re going to knock out that prick faster than you can blink.

MIGHTY TRENDING

How the Coast Guard intercepts cocaine at sea

The Coast Guard cutter James pulled into Port Everglades on November 15 laden with 38,000 pounds of cocaine hauled in by it and other Coast Guard ships during months of patrols in the eastern Pacific Ocean.

The crew of the James and the helicopter deployed with them were in formation behind the bales, some of which were topped with testaments to the precision of Coast Guard marksmen.

Coast Guard crews and the ships and aircraft they use have a variety of roles, but they are just one component in the fight against drug smuggling on the high seas that is reaching new heights.


The 458,000 pounds of cocaine seized in the most recent fiscal year, which ended September 30, was intercepted through a complex interdiction process that sometimes begins before the drugs even set sail, draws on governments and security forces from throughout the region, and requires crews to be as good at reacting as they are at planning.

“At-sea interdiction … is truly a team sport,” Coast Guard commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said aboard the James.

Colombia is the world’s largest producer of coca, the base ingredient in cocaine. While it’s the only South American country with Atlantic and Pacific coasts, more than 80% of the finished product destined for the US goes through the eastern Pacific — an area the size of the US mainland.

Finding suspicious vessels in an area that size can be a challenge for the Coast Guard, even with the capabilities of the other US agencies and neighboring countries with which it partners.

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A crew from US Coast Guard cutter Dependable intercepts a drug-smuggling boat in the eastern Pacific Ocean, April 8,, 2017.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Time, speed, and distance

Intelligence-gathering can point to when and where shipments will depart, but in the absence of that the search for seaborne smugglers often starts in at sea, where what a vessel looks like and how people aboard it behave are sometimes the first signs of nefarious activity.”

If you have like one of these open-construction boats, known as a panga, that usually has multiple outboard engines,” Capt. Jeffrey Randall, commander of the James, told Business Insider in an interview aboard the cutter.

“Most of the legitimate traffic has one engine,” Randall said. “Some of the ones that are actually trying to move the cocaine will have multiple engines so they can go faster and evade detection.”

Fuel barrels can be a tipoff. “Ones that have multiple fuel barrels, you know they are preparing for a longer transit, so that may be an indicator,” Randall said. “You may also in some cases see the bales of contraband on deck.”

In other instances, the crew of vessel not waving or otherwise acknowledging the Coast Guard’s presence — particularly when that presence is a helicopter overhead — may also warrant closer attention.

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A boarding team aboard the Coast Guard cutter Stratton removes bales of contraband that later tested positive for cocaine from a go-fast vessel in international waters in the drug-transit zone of the eastern Pacific Ocean, February 23, 2017.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Mark Barney)

Personnel from the Joint Interagency Task Force South, a US-based multiagency body that liaises with authorities through the region, also run aerial patrols over the Caribbean and Pacific Ocean.

“They’ll fly some overhead surveillance, and one of those aircraft may sight one of these vessels,” Randall said of the JIATF-South. “Then they’ll vector us in to those targets, and then that’s when we launch the boats, launch the helicopter, and coordinate an interdiction.”

But where and when — and even whether — those interdictions take place depends on a number of factors.

“It basically boils down to time, speed, and distance, and where you want to effect that interdiction,” Randall said.

“There’s a time aspect. There’s a boat-capability aspect. There’s a what-is-your-adversary-going-to-do aspect,” Randall said.

No two interdictions are the same, he added. It’s “situation-dependent on all those things.”

“We talk with our pilots. We talk with our boat operators and say, ‘OK, this is what we think is going to be the best process to effect this interdiction,'” he said. “Then we put all those pieces together, make some decisions, launch, and then try and go effect the interdiction.”

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Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf during a counterdrug patrol in the eastern Pacific Ocean, March 10, 2018.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew S. Masaschi)

‘We do a lot of training’

Coast Guard crew members tasked with those interdictions are typically waiting on-call aboard their ship.

“We kind of rotate with three teams, and we rotate when you’re on ready status,” said Lt. j.g. Simon Juul-Hindsgaul, a boarding officer on the James, in an interview aboard the ship. “You’re decked out … you hear the pipe, and you’re ready to go.”

Poor conditions can cause delays, as can logistical factors.

“The boats have a certain range, and you want to maximize how quickly you can get to the asset. That’s based on sea state and some other things,” Randall said. “You want to maximize how much time your helicopter has on scene, so that’s going to play into … that time, speed, and distance.”

Poor conditions can cause delays, as can logistical factors.

“The boats have a certain range, and you want to maximize how quickly you can get to the asset. That’s based on sea state and some other things,” Randall said. “You want to maximize how much time your helicopter has on scene, so that’s going to play into … that time, speed, and distance.”

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Crew members from the US Coast Guard cutter Spencer interdict a self-propelled semi-submersible vessel during a counter-narcotics patrol, November 11, 2017.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Timothy Midas)

There are different approach tactics for different kinds of vessels, Juul-Hindsgaul said, declining to elaborate on them. And different kinds of missions come with different kinds of concerns, he added.

“When it’s a pursuit mission — so it’s not a vessel that is potentially flagged or that we would have to just do some alongside questioning — then you’re thinking are they going to be compliant? How am I going to approach the vessel? What’s the safest angle of approach?”

In the small boat, where Juul-Hindsgaul is always stationed, communications are a constant concern.

“Comms with the helicopter, because they’re generally overhead and they can vector us in, that’s key,” he said. “The farther out we operate, the more unreliable the communications become, so then you start working secondary comms and that sort of thing.”

Approaching a suspect vessel can get hairy. In April, Coast Guard and Navy crews came upon a go-fast boat in the eastern Pacific. Spotting the US ship, the go-fast boat’s crew began throwing their cargo overboard.

Then their engine caught fire, and Coast Guardsmen and Navy sailors had to battle flames before seizing a half-ton of cocaine.

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The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Harriet Lane approaches a suspected smuggling vessel while a helicopter crew from the Coast Guard Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron monitors from the air, February 25, 2018.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Some at-sea interdictions, which can take 12 hours or more, come up with nothing, either because the suspect vessel carried no contraband or because it offloaded it before being intercepted.

Whatever the situation, Coast Guardsman tasked with boarding have to prepare for a variety of potential threats. In one case, a fishing vessel intercepted by the James during its most recent cruise had more than 30 people aboard, Juul-Hindsgual said.”

Just the sheer number of individuals that I don’t know what they have on them before I get on board,” he said, “there’s always that.”

“We’re always checking to make sure that they don’t have any weapons that could potentially harm us,” he added. “Then with the other vessels … they could potentially ram us or something, so we’re always aware of that.”

Boarding a suspected smuggling vessel brings a new set of challenges, with a procedure to match.

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Coast Guard cutter Valiant crew members transport seized contraband from one of the eight vessels interdicted during their eight-week patrol in the eastern Pacific in early 2016.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

“So we get on board, one of our initial procedures, which you learn out of school, is just your initial safety sweep. You always do that, make sure that the vessel’s safe to be on board,” Juul-Hindsgaul said.

Training includes a basic boarding course for officers as well as a specialized counter-narcotics course. Crews keep training while at sea. “We do a lot of training,” Juul-Hindsgaul said.

Some smuggling vessels, especially self-propelled semi-submersibles, which carry multiton loads of drugs just below the surface and cost id=”listicle-2621744055″ million to million apiece, are equipped with “kill switches.”

“We find that all the time, that they have scuttling valves or something,” Juul-Hindsgual said.

Sometimes smugglers just throw contraband overboard. Recovering floating bales of drugs is no easy task either.

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Crewmembers of the Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk (WMEC 913) and Tactical Law Enforcement Team South on top of a self-propelled semi-submersible they stopped July 3, 2018.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Boarding a smuggling vessel means eventually getting off of it — a task complicated by drugs and detainees that need to be brought back.

“It matters whether or not the vessel has nationality [and] if it makes a claim of nationality,” Randall said of dealing with a seized vessel. “If it makes a claim of nationality, then we may have to use one of our … bilateral agreements … to do some exchange of information to verify the registry of the vessel or verify the nationality of the people” on it.

That inquiry and the response to it often has to go through layers of bureaucracy. It may take hours to get an answer, but that answer affects what comes next, Randall said.

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A boarding team member from Coast Guard cutter Stratton grabs a bale of cocaine that suspected smugglers jettisoned from their vessel in a failed attempt to flee Coast Guard pursuit in the eastern Pacific Ocean, September 8, 2017.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jon-Paul Rios)

“For the safety of the people we usually bring them on board, because some of these semi-submersible or these low profile vessels are not the safest vessels to be on,” he added. “So we’ll remove them and put them on our boats, which [are] a safer platform, until those disposition processes work out.”

“That’s generally an all-hands effort,” Juul-Hindsgaul said of removing people and contraband.

Read more: The Coast Guard is catching more drug-running subs, but most ‘very stealthy’ narco subs are probably going undetected

“I’m out there on the boarding team and we … do the full law-enforcement boarding,” he added, “and then we’ll set a different scenario where we set a stage on board, where everyone preps and gets ready and then we’ll just transport all that back to the vessel.”

Coast Guardsmen handling any suspected drugs are outfitted with protective gear.

“You don’t want to get any of it on you or ingest any of it,” Randall said. “It’s really highly potent.”

“People train to go through and … check medical and all that sort of stuff for” detainees, Juul-Hindsgual said. “Then we gear up and then transport the contraband to a secure hold” aboard the Coast Guard ship.

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Coast Guard cutter Stratton boarding-team members detain four suspected smugglers after intercepting their vessel with 17 bales of cocaine on board in the eastern Pacific Ocean, September 8, 2017.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jon-Paul Rios)

“We give [detainees] a medical check. We get them showered. We give them a uniform and then start providing three meals a day and all that kind of stuff,” Randall said. “They take good care of them until we get them back to the US judicial system.”

Detainees, some of whom arrive poorly clothed or in ill health, remain at sea with the ship, disembarking to another vessel if the cutter makes a port call in another country, as the Coast Guard must hold them in international waters.

“Once we get, basically, to a position where we’re allowed to enforce US law or a country waives jurisdiction … and we get an positive drug test, we will embark the people as detainees and then embark the contraband and then hold them until we can bring them back for US prosecution,” Randall said.

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A Coast Guard cutter Bernard C. Webber crew member carries a bale of cocaine during a drug offload at Coast Guard Base Miami Beach, October 16, 2018.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Murray)

‘Peddlers of poison’

Taking care of the drugs is fairly straight-forward process. Seizures from several ships are collected aboard one ship for an offload, usually in South Florida or Southern California.

From there, the drugs are usually turned over to the Drug Enforcement Administration, which takes samples and discards the rest. Each year, the DEA’s Cocaine Signature Program conducts tests on about 2,500 cocaine samples.

The DEA says its tests can determine the origin of cocaine down to the sub-regional level with 96% confidence, and it consistently finds that Colombian cocaine dominates the US market.

The DEA has “ways to … analyze that [cocaine] and then the bulk of it gets destroyed,” said Schultz, the Coast Guard commandant. “They will use it to enable prosecutions to better inform the intelligence picture on this threat that exists out there.”

Things are more complicated for the human cargo that Coast Guard ships bring back.While the Coast Guard is a law-enforcement agency, the expansion of the drug war and of its authority to detain suspected smugglers in international waters has increased the numbers of detainees.

That increase has raised concern about legal procedure and due process.

In 2017, a former Coast Guard lawyer described the cutters holding detainees at sea as “floating Guantanamos.” Another Coast Guard officer called them “boat prisons.”

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Petty Officer 1st Class Radoslaw Florczak, left, a health services technician aboard Coast Guard cutter Active, medically screens a detained suspected narcotics smuggler during a patrol in the eastern Pacific Ocean, May 15, 2018.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael De Nyse)

Schultz’s predecessor, Paul Zukunft, who retired as an admiral in 2018, bristled at that description when asked about it during a December 2017 interview, saying he thought it was “an unfair stab at the Coast Guard.”

Taking care of detainees while aboard and offloading them to the proper authorities were “a challenge of logistics,” he said.

The Coast Guard and US officials have said intelligence gleaned from detainees is vital to bring down trafficking networks, though some are skeptical the smugglers being caught — often low-level members of criminal groups or fishermen who sign up for the lucrative pay a successful smuggling run can bring — can offer more than fragments of information.

“Make no mistake, these are peddlers of poison,” Zukunft said in December 2017. “So I think there’s been a mischaracterization of who these people are. They have choices. They’ve elected to engage in criminal activity. That is a direct threat to the livelihood here in the United States.”

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

US Army Green Berets trained some airmen — here’s what they put them through

Throughout the Pacific Theater, US military units must overcome jungle terrain riddled with cliffs, poisonous creatures, dense foliage yielding mere yards of visibility, and muddy slopes that threaten to launch anyone down 30-foot ravines of twisted roots and jagged rocks.

Welcome to the jungle.

US Army Green Berets from 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), invited Team Kadena airmen to train with them at the US Marine Corps Jungle Warfare Training Center (JWTC) at Camp Gonsalves, Okinawa, Japan.

“The Special Forces detachment incorporated airmen from around Okinawa to attend a training exercise to bridge the gap in small unit tactics, communication techniques, and patient extraction procedures between our airmen and the Green Berets,” said US Air Force Staff Sgt. Michael Triana, an independent duty medical technician paramedic (IDMT-P) from the 67th Fighter Squadron.

“Each airman is trained in a different specialty providing various perspectives to achieve the tactical objectives presented by the detachment in the jungle.”


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A US Army Green Beret and Air Force Staff Sgt. Mike Triana establish a security perimeter during a small unit tactics exercise, at the Jungle Warfare Training Center, Camp Gonsalves, Japan, Aug. 21, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft)

The Kadena airmen’s familiarity and experience with deployments to countries such the Philippines and Thailand enabled them to withstand the Green Berets’ jungle training program. The training enabled Triana and other airmen to expand their deployment skillsets in a severely restrictive jungle environment.

“As an IDMT-P the didactic aspect of the training improved our capabilities to deliver immediate medical care at the point of injury,” said Triana. “Learning patient extraction techniques provides the capability to safely gain access to an injured patient and remove them from an adverse situation such as a cliff or ravine.”

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(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft)

This integration enabled the airmen to train in basic US Army Infantry squad and platoon tactics for the first time while simultaneously allowing the Special Forces detachment to hone its combat lethality and readiness posture for high intensity conflict against a near-peer adversary, according to a 1-1 SFG (A) command vision document.

“Small unit tactics and patient extraction training provided the skills necessary to perform the duties required in a tactical element or combat scenario,” said Triana. “This training opportunity has enhanced our readiness to respond to humanitarian relief efforts and deploy to a declared theater of armed conflict.”

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Team Kadena airmen receive weapon familiarization training from a US Army Green Beret after a land-navigation course at the Jungle Warfare Training Center, Camp Gonsalves, Japan, Aug. 20, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft)

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US Air Force Master Sgt. Thomas Donahue establishes a security perimeter during a small unit tactics exercise at the Jungle Warfare Training Center, Camp Gonsalves, Japan, Aug. 21, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft)

They are capable of conducting the full spectrum of special operations to identify and target threats to US national interests.

“We deploy to countries throughout the INDOPACOM area of responsibility to bilaterally train with partner nations. This partnership enhances capabilities to combat internal threats from violent extremist organizations or other hostile actors,” said a Special Forces detachment commander.

“This enables us to enhance not only our readiness and lethality to respond to a contingency or crises scenario, but also provides our foreign counterparts the skills they need to protect their sovereignty.”

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(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft)

The Special Forces detachment is optimizing the joint training opportunities present on Okinawa, Japan. Working with adjacent military units from the Air Force, Marine Corps, and Army allows the detachment to enhance its advisory capacity and maintain readiness before deploying to a foreign country.

“Training with these airmen opens different channels in terms of capabilities, resources, and training value,” said a Special Forces medical sergeant.

“For our Air Force counterparts, it provides a valuable opportunity for them to learn tactical skills they may never have been taught. For us, seeing them motivated, aggressively engaging in these drills, and advancing in their understanding of small unit tactics is valuable feedback for an instructor and adviser on our skills.”

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US Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force service members conduct intravenous hydration during a multi-day training event at the Jungle Warfare Training Center, Camp Gonsalves, Japan, Aug. 22, 2019.

(US Army/1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group)

The Marine Corps JWTC further enhances the Green Berets’ mission capabilities, offering a low cost, highly versatile training platform across more than 8,700 acres of heavily vegetated, mountainous terrain, according to the JWTC cadre.

“In preparation for high-intensity conflict against a near-peer adversary, our training methodology must adapt from our experiences conducting counter terrorism and counter insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said the Special Forces detachment company commander.

“The opportunity to enhance our relationship with the Marine cadre at the JWTC has enabled my teams to train in the jungle, reinforcing the skills we require for this near-peer high intensity conflict.”

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US Air Force Staff Sgt. Nathan Shelton guards his fire team’s retreat during a break-contact combat exercise as part of a multi-day training event at the Jungle Warfare Training Center at Camp Gonsalves, Japan, Aug. 22, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft)

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A US Army Green Beret coordinates fire-team movements during a break-contact combat exercise as part of a multi-day training event at the Jungle Warfare Training Center, Camp Gonsalves, Japan, Aug. 22, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft)

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US Army Green Berets conduct a multi-day field training event with Team Kadena airmen at the Jungle Warfare Training Center, Camp Gonsalves, Japan, Aug. 21, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft)

“Every country we operate in, we enhance our partnerships and alliances with our foreign counterparts,” said the SF detachment commander.

“When it comes to security, we are the preferred partner choice that shares their values and principles. The US is ready to assist them in preserving their sovereignty, and will maintain the rules-based free and open Indo-Pacific that has assured an unparalleled prosperity in the last 30 years,” the commander said.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

US pilots’ close calls with Russian aircraft are likely to continue, experts say

The U.S. Navy last week watched a single-seat Russian Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker-E come within 25 feet of a P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft while at high speed and inverted, causing wake turbulence and putting the U.S. “pilots and crew at risk” over the Mediterranean Sea.

Days later, another Flanker mimicked the move over the same waters, zooming in front of a P-8 and exposing the sub hunter aircraft to its jet exhaust.


Top U.S. officials in Europe and the Defense Department said the incidents involved Russian pilots behaving in an unsafe, unprofessional manner. Experts argue that, while the intercepts expose a pattern of behavior from the Russian military, they also show that Russia is willing to capitalize on the publicity the aerial maneuvers bring, even during a global pandemic.

The Russian military “feels as if it’s necessary to let everybody know that they’re still on the world stage, that they’re still on the scene, and that they have pretty good military power,” said retired Gen. Frank Gorenc, the former commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe. Gorenc, an F-15 Eagle pilot, headed the command during Russia’s annexation of Crimea, when the U.S. sent sophisticated aircraft such as the F-22 Raptor to the theater in show-of-force missions to deter Russian aggression.

“It’s not only the pandemic, which obviously is keeping the western countries occupied, but also the oil [crash] too,” he said in an interview this week.

In recent weeks, Russia, one of the world’s leading oil exporters, was also hit by the unprecedented collapse in the market for crude oil.

“Declining powers have to do [something],” Gorenc said.

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Opportunity to Go Viral

Unlike the Cold War, when pilots would return to their squadron and file a debrief of an aerial intercept, then simply move along to their next mission, being buzzed or barrel-rolled is gaining more visibility with the help of social media, said Doug Barrie, senior fellow for military aerospace for the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London-based think tank.

“You know, it goes kind of viral,” Barrie said. “So you wonder if there’s an element of that, of how it plays on social media and in wider Western media, whether or not if it’s valuable.”

Notably, the recent incidents involved Russia’s multi-role Su-35 fighter jet, which has received improvements over the last few years — a significant upgrade from other aircraft used in past intercepts, such as the Su-27 Flanker or the Su-24 Fencer, Barrie said.

“It’s perhaps unsurprising that these aircraft have been bumped into [the rotation] more often than we’ve previously seen them; the imagery of the Flanker is great,” he said.

“The Su-35 is a highly capable airplane that they produce,” Gorenc added. “They’re obviously … trying to sell it. And this is a good way to show it off.”

Predictable Response

Gorenc stressed that, while these incidents tend to flare up once in a while, pilots need to stick to the rules of engagement and try to be as predictable as possible.

The 1972 bilateral Russia-U.S. agreement “Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas,” followed by Incidents at Sea Agreement (INCSEA), are accords that establish basic “rules of the road” for both countries to safely navigate near one another.

Holding Russia accountable for its behavior in international airspace can be tricky, Barrie explained. “To some extent, these things are difficult to kind of legislate around because it really comes down to the units, the pilots [and their behavior],” he said.

More often than not, intercepts are conducted in a safe manner, but errors happen because of a loss of communication or a human or technical mistake, officials have said.

For example, then-Gen. Petr Pavel, the former chairman of the NATO Military Committee, told reporters in 2018 that most aerial scrambles are seen as “routine.”

“From time to time, we can see some measures as provocative, especially in the areas that we exercise … both to the ships and in the air,” he said. “But it’s up to the captain [or pilot] to judge if it’s dangerous or not.”

Last week, Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, NATO supreme commander and head of U.S. European Command, described the first incident on April 15 as the result of “unprofessional” conduct by a Russian fighter pilot acting on his own, rather than a deliberate attempt by Moscow to provoke an incident.

“My conclusion at this point is that it was probably something more along the lines of unprofessional as opposed to deliberate,” Wolters said April 16.

“Given the unpredictability, you have to make sure that you maintain a safe distance and don’t assume anything. Don’t assume that they even see you, because they may not see you,” Gorenc said.

Not Backing Down

Like the U.S., it’s unlikely that Russia will back down from what it sees as military priorities despite the pandemic, Barrie said.

“We’re not completely dissimilar. … You can see the messaging coming out of these NATO nations, including the U.S., which says, ‘OK, we recognize a pandemic is an enormous problem … but [we’re still] taking care of the day-to-day national security needs,'” he said.

Air Force Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, head of U.S. Northern Command, told reporters Tuesday that the U.S. military should be mindful that rivals like Russia will look to test any weaknesses among the U.S. and its allies during the coronavirus crisis.

“We are postured and maintain that ability to respond at a moment’s notice,” he said.

On Friday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper renewed the message. “Our adversaries are not standing down,” he said. “We will continue to make sure that the [Defense Department] is ready to protect the USA.”

Barrie added: “The Russian Su-35 incident, in part, is simply a reflection of that [response]. It is simply a reflection of Russia doing what it does.”

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is the infantryman posthumously receiving the MoH

The Pentagon has announced that President Donald J. Trump will present the Medal of Honor to the family of Army Staff Sgt. Travis W. Atkins, an infantryman killed in action on June 1, 2007, when he wrenched a suicide bomber away from his troops and absorbed the blast with his body, saving his men. The presentation will take place on March 27.


Staff Sgt. Travis Atkins: Final Mission

www.youtube.com

Atkins had previously received the posthumous Distinguished Service Cross for his actions, but the award has been upgraded to the Medal of Honor. He was a member of D Company, 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team.

His other awards include the Distinguished Service Cross, the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, the Army Achievement Medal, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Iraq Campaign Medal with four Bronze Service Stars, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon, the Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon, the Valorous Unit Award with one Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster, the Meritorious Unit Commendation, the Combat Infantryman Badge, and the Air Assault Badge.

During the morning of June 1, 2007, Atkins and his squad were conducting route security near Abu Samak, Iraq, when a squad member spotted two possible insurgents attempting to cross the route. One of the soldiers ordered the men to stop, and they complied but were acting erratically and seemingly preparing to flee.

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Then-Sgt. Travis Atkins poses with battle buddies in Iraq, 2007.

(Photo courtesy of the Atkins family)

Atkins moved up in his vehicle and then dismounted with his medic to interdict and search the men. One of the men began resisting the search, and Atkins realized that the man was wearing a suicide vest. They wrestled for control of the detonator, but the insurgent gained ground against Atkins

Atkins then wrapped up the bomber and pushed away from his men who were standing a few feet away, attempting to open up space. He pinned the insurgent to the ground and, when the vest detonated, Atkins absorbed the brunt of the blast.

Atkins was mortally wounded by the blast, but his actions saved others. Now, his son will receive his father’s posthumous Medal of Honor.

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Soldiers kneel to pay their respects to Staff Sgt. Travis Atkins, who was killed, June 1, 2007, by a suicide bomber near Sadr Al-Yusufiyah, Iraq, at a memorial ceremony held, June 7, 2007 at Camp Striker. Atkins was on a patrol with his unit, Company D, 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) from Fort Drum, N.Y., when they detained men who were wearing suicide vests.

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Chris McCann)

Before the fateful day on June 1, Atkins joined the Army on Nov. 9, 2000, and attended basic infantry training at Fort Benning, Georgia. He was assigned to the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and deployed with them to Kuwait in March 2003. He took part in the invasion of Iraq later that month before leaving the Army in December 2003.

After attending college and working as a contractor, Atkins returned to the Army in 2005 before deploying to Iraq in 2006.

A fitness center on Fort Drum was named for Atkins in January 2013.

MIGHTY MOVIES

‘Rise of Skywalker’ creators are ‘not screwing around’ with ending

The guy who created Cloverfield and directed The Force Awakens wants everyone to know he’s trying really hard to not mess up the ending of the Star Wars saga as we know it. On Oct. 18, 2019, Entertainment Weekly reported that J.J. Abrams said outright that “we are not screwing around” when it comes to creating a legit ending for the nine-part “Skywalker saga” in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Do we trust him? Do we have a choice?

According to EW, J.J. Abrams knew how hard it was going to be to write The Rise of Skywalker (along with Justice League writer Chris Terrio) because “Endings are the thing that scare me the most.” The director and co-writer of the movie also doesn’t really think The Rise of Skywalker is supposed to be the ending to the existing new trilogy which started in 2015 with The Force Awakens, but instead, he views it as the end of a nine-part story, which begins with The Phantom Menace and goes all way through the classic movies everyone loves.


“This is about bringing this thing to a close… if years from now, someone’s watching these movies, all nine of them, they’re watching a story that is as cohesive as possible.”

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J.J. Abrams

(Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Whether or not Abrams pulls that off remains to be seen, of course. If you were a fan of Lost, now is probably not the time to remind yourself that Abrams was involved with the ending of that series, too. Then again, maybe because Abrams has dealt with so many controversial endings of big pop-culture properties, that he’s the perfect guy to tackle the ending of Star Wars.

Or then again, maybe that’s wishful thinking. Let’s keep a little optimism here! Right?

In any case, we’ve now got J.J. Abrams’s promise: he’s not screwing around. Hopefully, the Force is listening.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

5 reasons why the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is extraordinary

Since its founding in 1938, the Sturgis Motorcycle has been held every year with the exception of the three year period between 1939 and 1941; the rally did not take place due to gas rationing in support of the war effort overseas. However, the rally returned in 1942 and has been held every year since.

Here are 5 reasons why Sturgis is nothing short of extraordinary.


1. Persistence

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 is no exception to Sturgis’ longstanding run. On June 16, the mayor of Sturgis announced that the city council had decided to move forward with the 80th Sturgis motorcycle rally. During a Facebook broadcast, he outlined that the rally will include, “modifications that provide for the health and safety of our visitors, and our residents and our town.” Ten days/nights of riding, food and music will take place in Sturgis, South Dakota from August 7-16.

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A ride during the 2019 rally (Sturgis Motorcycle Rally)

2. Attendance

Historically, attendance at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has averaged around 500,000 people. Official attendance peaked in 2015 at 739,000 for the rally’s 75th anniversary. Billed as the largest motorcycle rally in the world, people come from all across the country to be a part of Sturgis’ famed rally. Many riders make it a family event, towing their motorcycles behind a camper and riding the last few miles into town. Others transport their rides via shipping companies and arrive by plane. In 2005, when the official attendance was 525,250 people, the rally’s director estimated that fewer than half the attendees actually rode there, a testament to just how many people came from far and wide to experience Sturgis.

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Rally Headquarters features vendors, rally registration, and city info booths (Sturgis Motorcycle Rally)

3. Fundraising

With so many people descending on the small town every year, the city of Sturgis capitalizes on the rally which makes up 95 percent of its annual revenue. In 2011, the city earned nearly 0,000 from the sale of event guides and sponsorships alone. On average, the rally brings in over 0 million to the state of South Dakota annually. While the Lakota Indian tribe has protested the large amount of alcohol distributed at the rally so close to the sacred Bear Butte religious site, they have also acknowledged the importance of the revenue that the rally brings into the region and the tribes.

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(Sturgis Motorcycle Rally)

4. Entertainment

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is not just a bunch of bikers standing by their bikes in parking lots. Rather, the rally originally focused on motorcycle races and stunts. In 1961, the rally introduced the Hill Climb and Motocross races. Other forms of motorcycle entertainment included intentional board wall crashes and ramp jumps. Over the years, the rally was extended in length from a three day event to its current 10 day length. Entertainment and attractions also expanded to include vendors and live music. The first concert at the Sturgis Rally featured the legendary Jerry Lee Lewis. Other big names have followed like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Def Leppard, Montgomery Gentry, Cheap Trick, Tom Petty, Aerosmith, Bob Dylan, Ozzy Osbourne and Willie Nelson. This year, notable bands scheduled to perform include 38 Special, Quiet Riot and Night Ranger.

Has any passenger ever landed an airplane?

Panels of the memorial (Sturgis Motorcycle Rally)

5. Veteran recognition

Regularly attended by veterans, especially Vietnam Vets, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally takes great pride in recognizing the sacrifices made by the men and women of the armed forces. In 2019, the Sturgis Rally held a Military Appreciation Day presented by the VFW. Activities included a reception to honor a local veteran, entertainment and a flyover by a B-1 Lancer bomber. For 2020, the Sturgis Rally will feature the Remembering Our Fallen photographic war memorial. Highlighting service members killed during the War on Terror, Remembering Our Fallen is designed to travel and includes both military and personal photos.

MIGHTY CULTURE

WATCH: As death toll rises, Italian Air Force delivers hope

As haunting images from Italy of overcrowded emergency rooms and horror stories of Coronavirus flood social media, the Italian Air Force flew with a message of strength for her people. It was a reminder of pride for the country, unity in the face of grave danger and a prayer of resilience for a country beleaguered by an enemy we haven’t seen before: COVID-19.

Set to the backdrop of Giacomo Puccini’s ‘Nessum Dorma,’ performed by Luciano Pavarotti, the flyover is beautiful, chilling and more than anything … full of hope. Translated to English, the last lyrics of the song are, “I will prevail. I will prevail. I will prevail.” You will, Italy. And America will, too.

Watch the flyover:


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