In the Air Force, we call them wingmen. In the Army, they’re called battle buddies. In the Marines, they’re swim buddies. Name aside, the idea is simple and clear: Accompany your wingman in all possibly dangerous or questionable situations. You keep your wingman out of trouble or, in some cases, make sure they don’t get in trouble alone.
For the most part, the concept is well understood and regularly executed. There are, however, a few absolutely unacceptable areas of failure when it comes to implementing the concept. Here’s a tough pill to stomach: Sexual assault is, unfortunately, all too common throughout the military.
Having a few good wingmen can play an instrumental role in preventing such behavior. And while, ultimately, only the assaulter is responsible for their actions, it’s up to you, the wingman, to keep a watchful eye. Implementing these techniques will help make the military a safer culture for everyone.
It’s that simple.
(Photo by sholefet.com)
Consent is not optional
If you see any kind of behavior that’s flirting with the line, don’t take (or let anyone take) a chance.
This one’s simple enough, and it deserves to be at the top of this list.
Have a plan.
Establish your team and roles before you go out
It doesn’t matter if it’s just the two of you going out or an entire group, build set of rules for everyone to stick by. Know exactly who is responsible for watching who and make sure everyone has at least one person accountable for their safe return. Set up a triple-check system for when someone is breaking away from the group.
As long as everyone sticks with the established rules and takes care of who they are expected to take care of, everyone will get home fine.
Actual footage of the new Sergeant’s first weekend off.
Know your limits… and your team’s limits
It’s almost as if they issue you a stronger liver and a standard-issue drinking habit upon swearing in. As a result, many of us tend to carry on as if liquor isn’t impairing our judgement and decision-making abilities. Here’s a fact: it is.
Knowing what you can actually handle (and what your buddies can handle) is crucial to having an incident-free night. Know your team.
It is a yes? An undeniable and clear yes? Does it ever become a no? Please understand consent.
Consent should be simple. No means no, and that’s that.
While you’re out partying and sparks fly with someone, typically, there’s some amount of intoxication involved, and that can muddle things up. What might start as a “yes” might morph as the night goes on. It’s simple: When you hear a “no” (or anything that isn’t explicitly a “yes”) stop immediately. Do not slow down and creep on creepin’ on. Do not try to guilt or coerce the other party into continuing. Do not do anything other than stopping. Just stop.
Use your words and have a conversation that may (or may not) lead to a sober and completely consensual hook-up down the line. Or better yet, maybe you’ll leave the conversation with an understanding of one another. Best of all, you’ll come away without inflicting or sustaining any horrifically permanent scars.
To keep it very simple, just remember: No means no.
That’s all there is to it. Nobody should stop you from having a good time, but it’s up to you to be a good wingman and keep your buddies out of trouble.
The United States has added its voice to international calls for China’s communist-led government to give a full public accounting of those who were killed, detained or went missing during the violent suppression of peaceful demonstrations in and around Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.
In a bold statement from Washington to mark the 29th anniversary of a bloody crackdown that left hundreds — some say thousands — dead, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on Chinese authorities to release “those who have been jailed for striving to keep the memory of Tiananmen Square alive; and to end the continued harassment of demonstration participants and their families.”
To this day, open discussion of the topic remains forbidden in China and the families of those who lost loved ones continue to face oppression. Chinese authorities have labeled the protests a counter-revolutionary rebellion and repeatedly argued that a clear conclusion of the events was reached long ago.
In an annual statement on the tragedy, the group Tiananmen Mothers urged President Xi Jinping in an open letter to “re-evaluate the June 4th massacre” and called for an end to their harassment.
(Photo by Michel Temer)
“Each year when we would commemorate our loved ones, we are all monitored, put under surveillance, or forced to travel” to places outside of China’s capital, the letter said. The advocacy group Human Rights in China released the open letter from the Tiananmen Mothers ahead of the anniversary.
“No one from the successive governments over the past 29 years has ever asked after us, and not one word of apology has been spoken from anyone, as if the massacre that shocked the world never happened,” the letter said.
In his statement, Pompeo also said that on the anniversary “we remember the tragic loss of innocent lives,” adding that as Liu Xiaobo wrote in his 2010 Nobel Peace Prize speech, “the ghosts of June 4th have not yet been laid to rest.”
Liu was unable to receive his Nobel prize in person in 2010 and died in custody in 2017. The dissident writer played an influential role in the Tiananmen protests and was serving an 11-year sentence for inciting subversion of state power when he passed.
At a regular press briefing on June 4, 2018, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China had lodged “stern representations” with the United States over the statement on Tiananmen.
“The United States year in, year out issues statements making ‘gratuitous criticism’ of China and interfering in China’s internal affairs,” Hua said. “The U.S. Secretary of State has absolutely no qualifications to demand the Chinese government do anything,” she added.
In a statement on Twitter, which is blocked in China like many websites, Hu Xijin, the editor of the party-backed Global Times, called the statement a “meaningless stunt.”
In another post he said: “what wasn’t achieved through a movement that year will be even more impossible to be realized by holding whiny commemorations today.”
Commemorations for Tiananmen are being held across the globe to mark the anniversary and tens of thousands are expected to gather in Hong Kong, the only place in China such large-scale public rallies to mark the incident can be held.
Exiled Tiananmen student protest leader Wu’Er Kaixi welcomed the statement from Pompeo.
However, he added that over the past 29 years western democracies appeasement of China has nurtured the regime into an imminent threat to freedom and democracy.
“The world bears a responsibility to urge China, to press on the Chinese regime to admit their wrongdoing, to restore the facts and then to console the dead,” he said. “And ultimately to answer the demands of the protesters 29 years ago and put China on the right track to freedom and democracy.”
Wu’er Kaixi fled China after the crackdown and now resides in Taiwan where he is the founder of Friends of Liu Xiaobo. The group recently joined hands with several other non-profit organizations and plans to unveil a sculpture in July 2018 — on the anniversary of his death — to commemorate the late Nobel laureate. The sculpture will be located near Taiwan’s iconic Taipei 101 skyscraper.
In Taiwan, the self-ruled democracy that China claims is a part of its territory, political leaders from both sides of the isle have also urged China’s communist leaders to face the past.
On Facebook, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen noted that it was only by facing up to its history that Taiwan has been able to move beyond the tragedies of the past.
“If authorities in Beijing can face up to the June 4th incident and acknowledge that at its roots it was a state atrocity, the unfortunate history of June 4th could become a cornerstone for China to move toward freedom and democracy,” Tsai said.
Tsai’s predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou, a member of the opposition Nationalist Party or KMT, who saw close ties with China while in office, also urged Beijing to face up to history and help heal families’ wounds.
“Only by doing this can the Chinese communists bridge the psychological gap between the people on both sides of the [Taiwan] Strait and be seen by the world as a real great power,” Ma said.
The U.S. Army‘s new uniform may look a lot like the iconic pinks-and-greens worn during World War II, but senior leaders decided to drop the pinks and go with Army Greens as the official name.
Pinks and greens “was a World War II nickname given to it by the soldiers because one of the sets of pants had a pink hue to them. So that is where it came from,” Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel Dailey said recently.
The current blue Army Service Uniform, or ASU, will become the optional dress uniform and undergo a name change of its own, Dailey said.
Officials are working on the wear regulations for both uniforms. Once Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley approves them, the service will release All Army Activities, or ALARACT, messages online so soldiers can “click and see the updates to the new regulations,” Dailey said.
Prototypes of the Army Greens uniform, shown above. Initial fielding of the new uniform is expected to occur in the summer of 2020.
(US Army photo by Ron Lee)
“So basically, we are dusting off old regulations. We will take a look at them. We have a few more decisions we have to present to the chief of staff before we can publish those,” he said, adding that the regulation on the ASU will include a new name for the uniform. “It will not be called the Army Service Uniform anymore. It will probably go back to the dress blues.”
The ASU became mandatory for wear in 2014, replacing the Army dress green uniform, which saw 61 years of service.
The service plans to begin issuing the Army Greens to new soldiers in summer 2020. Troops will also have the option to begin buying the new uniform at that time.
Russia’s political-military leadership frequently criticizes the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for its enlargement and for staging military exercises close to Russian borders. This pattern has intensified since Russia’s intervention in Ukraine in 2014 and the subsequent downturn in its relations with the United States and its allies.
Surprisingly, therefore, Moscow’s official reaction has been somewhat muted during the current run up to the active phases of NATO’s largest exercise in Europe in 25 years—though some Russian military experts have been making critical comments to the media.
On January 23, the US Department of Defense confirmed that a redeployment of United States military personnel had commenced, transferring forces from the homeland to Europe as part of the NATO exercise Defender Europe 2020. The wide-spanning maneuvers will focus on the Baltic States, Poland and Georgia, involving more than 36,000 personnel from 11 countries (Lenta.ru, January 26, 2020).
Russian news outlets have highlighted that this year’s Defender Europe exercise scenario is based on a war breaking out on the continent in 2028, between NATO and an enemy close to its borders. Additional reports stressed the scale of the exercise, with 28,000 U.S. military personnel participating, including the deployment of 20,000 from the United States. Referring to the magnitude of the drills, Vadim Kozyulin, a professor at the Russian Academy of Military Sciences, compared them to the 1983 Able Archer, which resulted in Soviet forces being placed on alert.
Despite the scale of Defender Europe 2020 not even coming close to Able Archer 1983, a number of the upcoming exercise’s features may well cause concern for the Russian defense establishment (Lenta.ru, January 26, 2020). Kozyulin asserted, “Such large-scale exercises will seriously aggravate the situation. Moreover, the main events will be held in Poland, Georgia and the Baltic countries, which not only border Russia, but also [exhibit] an unfriendly attitude toward our country” (Km.ru, January 27).
These reports also stressed a number of aspects of the exercise that may help explain the lack of an official response from Moscow thus far. Defender Europe will become an annual NATO exercise with a large-scale iteration planned for even-numbered years and smaller versions occurring in between. US military personnel will constitute the bulk of the force this year, with European allies collectively providing only 8,000 personnel.
As Russian analysts expect, moving the forces, equipment and hardware will prove quite challenging to the North Atlantic Alliance forces. Moreover, Defender Europe 2020 is the first exercise of its kind, which may have persuaded Russia’s defense leadership to cautiously study the exercise in all its various elements before responding to it (Km.ru, January 27, 2020; Lenta.ru, January 26, 2020; Rusvesna.su, January 25, 2020).
In a detailed commentary in Izvestia, the Moscow-based military analyst Anton Lavrov assesses the implications of the exercise, and identifies areas that will be closely monitored by Russia. Lavrov notes that Defender Europe will work out how the Alliance will fight a “war of the future” by testing an experimental strategy and some of its latest military equipment, adding, “Almost 500 American tanks, self-propelled guns and heavy infantry fighting vehicles, hundreds of aircraft, [as well as] tens of thousands of wheeled vehicles will take part in the exercises.”
The force buildup for the maneuvers will continue until April, and then NATO will conduct a series of drills forming part of the overall exercise. Crucially, this will provide an opportunity for the US to road-test its latest doctrinal development, namely “multi-domain battle,” which adds space and cyberspace to the traditional domains of land, sea and air. Lavrov states, “The concept will be tested in a series of command and staff exercises of the allied forces” (Izvestia, January 26, 2020).
The exercise divides into three related elements: transferring 20,000 US troops from the homeland to Europe and back again, moving US personnel based in Europe, and conducting a series of smaller exercises alongside allied forces.
Lavrov also points to the fact that Defender Europe 2020 will rehearse both defensive and offensive operations. One feature of the offensive operational aspects relates to US airborne forces conducting three joint airborne assault landings. In each case, the leading role is assigned to US forces. In the drop into Latvia, they will be joined by forces from Spain and Italy; in Lithuania, they are aided by personnel from Poland; and an additional multilateral airdrop is planned for Georgia (Izvestia, January 26, 2020).
As noted, one key challenge relates to the logistical tasks of moving troops and equipment over such vast distances. US military personnel and equipment will land at airports across Europe and seaports in Antwerp (Belgium), Vlissingen (Netherlands), Bremerhaven (Germany) and Paldiski (Estonia).
Russian military expert Vyacheslav Shurygin explained the nature of the challenge: “The transport infrastructure of Europe has not encountered such large-scale movements of military equipment for a long time.” Indeed, the redeployment of forces and hardware involved cannot be compared to standard US battle group rotations (Izvestia, January 26, 2020).
Clearly, one of the objectives of the exercise is to assess the efficiency of these deployments into a potential theater of military operations. Lavrov adds, “Even for the modern US Army, the transfer of heavy tank and infantry divisions from continent to continent is a difficult, lengthy and expensive task. Twenty thousand units of equipment that the Americans will use in the maneuvers will arrive from the US, and another 13,000 will be received by the military from storage bases on the spot.
In Europe, there are now four large storages of American military equipment. Each one has everything, from tanks and artillery to trucks and medical vehicles, to equip a tank brigade. Another similar base is being built in Poland and will be commissioned in 2021″ (Izvestia, January 26, 2020).
One commentary in the Russian media stressed not only that NATO was deploying forces for exercises close to Russia’s borders but pointedly also referenced Belarus, which fits with Moscow’s scenario planning for its Zapad series of strategic military exercises: “However, the fact that such a powerful group of US and NATO forces is practicing deployments near the borders of Belarus and Russia, against the background of a growing American military presence in Poland and the Baltic countries, is a matter of concern” (Rusvesna.su, January 25, 2020).
It remains to be seen whether Russia’s political-military leadership will continue to be cautious about Defender Europe, restricting its criticism to public rhetoric, or if it will ultimately try to engage the Alliance in political or information warfare on this front.
The greatest divide in the U.S. Military is between grunts and the POGs. For as long as this divide has existed, the higher-ups have been trying to find ways to close this gap. To you peacemakers, we say, “good luck.”
Today, we offer insight on how an infantryman can earn respect from their rear-echelon counterparts.
Even though every other job in the military exists to support the infantry, it’s a good idea to stay humble when interacting with a POG. After all, it’s a team effort.
5. Teach POGs how to wear their gear
If you see a POG wearing their gear all f*cked up, just pull them aside and give them a hip-pocket class on wearing it right. That is all.
4. Help a POG learn infantry tactics
It might be a headache introducing grunt concepts to a POG, but teaching them how to properly clear a room helps build friendships and better teamwork.
This one might save your life one day — and this’ll give POGs something to show their friends back home.
3. Get a damn haircut
POGs generally always have access to haircuts. So, of course, they expect that every grunt ought to keep clean as well — even after spending several weeks in the field or in a place where the only barbers are in your platoon.
And most of the so-called “barbers” learned to cut hair from YouTube tutorial videos.
2. Don’t act like your experience gives you rank
This one undoubtedly grinds a POG’s gears. Even if you have numerous deployments under your belt, respect everyone’s rank and speak to them with tact.
Just because that brand-new second lieutenant is fresh out of college and has no military experience doesn’t make them less of a Marine. Always say sh*t like, “with all due respect, sir,” before jumping directly into, “kiss my lower-enlisted ass, sir.”
USS Freedom (LCS-1), the lead of the Freedom-class of littoral combat ships, brought some much-needed positive attention to the LCS in 2010 when it carried out a deployment in Southern Command’s area of operations. In just seven weeks, it made four drug busts while accomplishing a host of other missions.
It’s no secret that the development and deployment of the Littoral Combat Ship has been rife with problems. This big success was exactly what the class needed to secure an export order. Well, to be more specific, a modified version of the Freedom has found an international buyer.
According to a showing at the 2018 SeaAirSpace Expo, Lockheed Martin has been hard at work modifying and upgrading the Freedom-class LCS. Not only have they designed a guided-missile frigate based on this ship (which is to compete for selection via the Navy’s FFG(X) program), they also designed the Multi-Mission Surface Combatant (MMSC), which is, essentially, a frigate designed to serve as a general-purpose vessel.
The RIM-162D Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile is the primary anti-air armament of the Multi-Mission Surface Combatant.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Matthew J. Haran)
The MMSC maintains many of the same armaments as the Freedom-class LCS; it’s armed with a 57mm gun, RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missiles, and the ability to operate two MH-60 helicopters. The MMSC, however, brings more punch to the table. For starters, it’s armed with eight over-the-horizon anti-ship missiles, either RGM-84 Harpoons or Kongsberg NSMs.
Also on the MMSC: an eight-cell Mk 41 vertical-launch system. Each cell in this system holds up to four missiles, meaning the MMSC is armed with 32 RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles. This is a huge step up in air-defense capabilities. This plethora of missiles is joined by Mk 32 torpedo tubes for lightweight anti-sub weaponry, like the Mk 54 Lightweight Hybrid Torpedo or Mk 50 Barracuda.
USS Freedom (LCS 1) is the basis for Lockheed’s Multi-Mission Surface Combatant.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Nathan Laird)
Currently, the MMSC has secured an export order with Saudi Arabia as part of a massive arms package that was worked out last year with the United States. Although this ship is impressive, it does drive us a little crazy that this is what the LCS could have been.
When we received PCS orders to the Washington D.C. area, our plans certainly did not include living in a hotel for six months with an escape artist cat.
In our minds, we would be in temporary lodging for a few weeks while we closed on a new house. With a July move, we fully expected to have household goods delivered by August and be celebrating the holidays in our new home.
My husband and I had firmly decided we wanted to buy a house in the area. He was a cyber operations specialist and I had just separated active duty myself, and still maintained a current security clearance. Between a heady mix of defense contractor jobs available for me and the likelihood of an extended military assignment for him, we knew buying would be a smart move.
We had no idea that decision might take six months.
Due to a ridiculously tight housing market, we struggled to find anything that fit our realistic, non-million dollar budget. Homes that did fit our needs were gone in hours. Others needed such extensive repairs, as to be unfeasible. Days ticked by, summer eased into fall and by the time we finally found a 1950’s Cape Cod with renovations we could actually afford, our California wardrobe of shorts and flip-flops were useless. Our winter clothes were in our household goods, which had gone into storage, and I had received a job offer working downtown – which required a new professional wardrobe. We shook our heads in frustration at trying to figure out how to make living in a hotel with 250 square feet of space functional.
It turned out to be a very powerful lesson in embracing minimalism.
What is Minimalism?
Minimalism can best be explained over many mediums. It appears in art, music, fashion and architecture. Merriam Webster defines it as, “a style or technique characterized by extreme spareness and simplicity.” Others explain minimalism as a lifestyle. In the book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” Marie Kondo challenges readers to evaluate what items in their environment bring them joy and how to eliminate clutter with the KonMari Method. The military tends to define and embrace minimalism as doing “more with less.”
In our own lives, as we learned to function and live with less, we slowly discovered several advantages in a lifestyle stripped down to the essentials.
1. Re-evaluating purchases
We quickly realized any purchases brought into our tiny space had to be carefully evaluated. Limited by pure square footage and storage capacity, we were forced us to bring in less of everything. It didn’t take long for the habit to become second nature and lead to new shopping patterns.
2. Saving more than just money
As we shopped smarter and bought only essentials, we weren’t surprised that we started saving real money. What did come as a surprise however, was the feeling of actually having more. With less physical space to fill up, and a reduced urge to do so, we not only gained more money and time, we also gained a fresh sense of renewed mental space. Adopting a minimalistic lifestyle created more room for things that mattered.
3. Collecting experiences versus things
Instead of collecting “stuff” that always seemed to turn into clutter, we developed a new focus on collecting fresh experiences. We had more money to travel, to explore new neighborhoods or try a unique restaurant. We quickly embraced this new feeling of liberation – and I knew unequivocally that we had made a permanent lifestyle shift.
4. A new sense of freedom
By the time we finally moved into our home, we were ready for a new change. As we slowly unpacked the sky-high boxes, we realized that by living in a hotel with less, we had refined our priorities. What we truly needed was quickly distinguishable from what could be culled and eliminated. As a result, our next PCS was cleaner and lighter, which turned out to be a very powerful lesson for an overseas assignment. We were allotted 14,000 pounds for Germany and couldn’t help but giggle when our household goods topped the scales at a mere 3,700 pounds.
What began as a challenging PCS turned into a beautiful and liberating life lesson in simplicity. And couldn’t we all use a little more simplicity in this crazy, but wonderful military life.
This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.
An Afghan National Army helicopter carrying senior officials has crashed in bad weather in the western province of Farah, killing all 25 on board, a local official says.
Naser Mehri, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said the helicopter crashed shortly after taking off from the mountainous Anar Dara district in the morning of Oct. 31, 2018, heading toward the nearby province of Herat.
He said the copter crashed in bad weather. A Taliban spokesman said the militants shot it down.
Mehri said the passengers included the deputy corps commander of Afghanistan’s western zone and the head of the Farah provincial council.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yusuf Ahmadi claimed the militants had downed the helicopter but failed to provide evidence. Defense Ministry spokesman Ghafor Ahmad Jawed rejected the Taliban claim of responsibility as “totally wrong.”
Meanwhile, a suicide bomber struck outside Afghanistan’s largest prison on the eastern edge of Kabul, killing at least seven people, including prison workers and security personnel, officials said.
Afghan Col. Mahmoud Shah oversees the transfer of more than 30 detainees from Parwan Detention Facility to the Afghan National Detention Facility in October 2008.
Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish said that the attacker targeted a bus carrying prison workers early on Oct. 31, 2018. The sprawling Pul-e Charkhi prison houses hundreds of inmates, including scores of Taliban militants.
According to Abadullah Karimi, a prison official, the attack occurred near the prison gate where a number of visitors were waiting to pass a rigorous security check before entering.
Another five were wounded in the blast, the officials said.
There has been no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
Just six months after the tragic bombing of Pearl Harbor, U.S. and Japanese forces clashed once again in the Pacific. For three days, Navies battled near the Midway Atoll, located roughly half way between Hawaii and the Japanese mainland. From June 4th to the 7th, brilliant minds orchestrated incredible naval feats in hopes of destroying the other side.
Although an Allied victory here is seen as a key turning point of the war, there are so many important details that some are lost even on the most staunch historians. Here are five things you likely didn’t know about this momentus battle.
Adm. Yamamoto saluting his Japanese naval pilots.
Japan wanted to mirror the successes of Pearl Harbor
Japanese Adm. Yamamoto wanted to once again employ the element of surprise to defeat Allied forces stationed at Midway. To distract the U.S., Yamamoto sent many ships toward the coast of Alaska in hopes of baiting American reinforcements to defend against a non-existent attack.
Things did not go as they planned.
Military intelligence had intercepted Japan’s plot, including the time and location of a planned attack. Adm. Nimitz decided to take on the challenge of defeating the Japanese by using his well-trained pilots, launched from perfectly placed ships behind the atoll.
Japan thought they’d catch the Americans off-guard and cornered, but Nimitz had other plans.
A PBY Catalina scout plane, similar to the one that first spotted the incoming Japanese.
The Japanese had strict radio silence
Japan decided to maintain radio silence as they sent their ships toward the coast of Alaska. During a recon flight, a Naval pilot spotted the incoming enemy while flying through the heavy Pacific fog. The pilot thought he had located the main body of attack — in reality, it was a secondary Japanese attack on Midway. In response, the U.S. sent out nine B-17 Bombers to take out the invading force.
Due to strict orders to maintain radio silence, the Japanese ships took on the American bombers alone, instead of letting superior command know.
The American fighters were outnumbered
The Japanese sought to destroy the installations built on the Atoll by Allied forces with bombers launched from carriers. Navy, Marine, and Army pilots took to the skies to fight off the bombers and their sizable fighter escort. The Americans were extremely outnumbered — still, they held fast.
After 27 minutes of bombing, the Japanese ended their first aerial attack. Then, an enemy pilot broke radio silence to alert command that they needed more fighters to sustain their offensive. Before the enemy could make a decision, knowing that they didn’t have guns in the air, American bombers followed the Japanese back to their carriers and began their air raid.
What shifted the battle in favor of Americans
American pilots went on an offensive, heading straight toward a reported location of Japanese forces. When they arrived, they found nothing but empty seas. Instead of returning to base, aviators made what Admiral Nimitz would later call “one of the most important decisions of the battle.”
The pilots then proceeded to an unlikely secondary location. There, they found the Japanese carriers — unprepared. Immediately, fighters destroyed one of the four Japanese vessels. Other Americans rushed onto the scene to continue the attack. This event shifted the tide of battle to favor the Americans, wresting victory from Japanese hands.
He would later be the first top officer of the independent U.S. Air Force, a job he earned partially by leading the Allied air forces against Germany and Japan, but in World War I Carl Spatz was just a captain in charge of America’s aerodrome in France. So, when his bosses tried to order him home near the end of the war, Spatz begged for a week at the front and used the time to shoot down three German planes.
U.S. Air Service Illustration showing World War I combat between Allied pilots and a German pilot.
(United States Air Service)
(Spatz would change his name to Spaatz in 1937 at the request of his family to hide its German origin and to help more people pronounce it properly, like “spots,” but we’re using the earlier spelling here since it’s what he used in World War I.)
Spatz’s main job in World War I was commander of the 31st Aero Squadron, and building up the aerodrome at Issoudun where American flyers trained on their way to the front. This was also where large amounts of repair and logistics were handled for the small but growing American air service.
The job was important and indicated a large amount of trust in Spatz, but he hadn’t gone to West Point and commissioned as an infantry officer in order to watch everyone else fight wars while he rode a desk.
For most of the war, he did his job dutifully. He led the improvements at Issoudun Aerodrome that turned it from a mass of hilly, rocky mud pits that broke plane after plane to a functioning air installation. But that meant that he facilitated the training of units like the 94th and 95th Aero Squadrons and then had to watch them fly off to combat without him.
Future American aces like Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, Lt. Douglas Campbell, and Capt. Hamilton Coolidge, passed under Spatz.
American pilots spent most of 1917 traveling to France and training, but the 94th Aero Squadron launched its first hostile mission in March 1918, and U.S. pilots were off to the races. Over the following six months, some American pilots were lost in a single day of fighting while others became ace-in-a-day or slowly racked up kills.
All the while, Spatz stayed at Issoudun, doing work.
American pilots and gunners chewed through German pilots, but it was a tough fight. American troops joined the air war in 1917 and 1918, three years after some german pilots began earning experience.
(U.S. Army Pvt. J.E. Gibbon)
So when Spatz was ordered to the U.S. around late August 1918, he begged for a week on the front in France in order to get a little combat experience under his belt before returning home. That request was granted, and he went to the front in early September as a recently promoted major.
But in the first week, Spatz saw little combat and achieved no aerial victories, so he stuck around. He stuck around for three weeks, volunteering for missions but failing to bag any enemy pilots. But then, on September 26, he knew that an aerial attack was going down at Verdun and he asked to stay on duty to fly in it.
He went up on a patrol across enemy lines and took part in an attack on a group of German planes. The fighting was fierce, and Spatz was able to down three German planes in fairly quick succession. But even that wasn’t enough for Spatz once he had some blood on his teeth, and he gave chase to a fourth German plane fleeing east.
This was a mistake. Spatz flew too far before realizing that the rest of the friendly planes had already turned around because they were at bingo fuel. Spatz didn’t have enough gas to get home. But, despite his mistake, Spatz was still a disciplined and smart officer, and he went to salvage the situation as best he could.
He set himself up to get as far west as possible before his engine ran dry, and then he coasted the plane down to the ground, managing to crash into friendly territory, preventing his capture and allowing his plane to be salvaged.
For his hat trick, Spatz was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. He would spend the interwar years advocating for air power while bouncing through between captain and major as the Army raised and lowered the number of officers who could be at each rank.
But in World War II, he quickly earned temporary promotions to major general and then lieutenant general. After the war, he was promoted to general and then appointed first Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force in September 1947.
Trump had one question when it came to the War in Afghanistan, according to journalist Bob Woodward’s 2018 book Fear: Trump in the White House: “What the f*ck are we doing there?” And he didn’t just want to know what the generals thought, so he asked the lower ranks.
When Trump took office in 2017 and was presented with options on securing high-value targets and changing the course of the war from the Obama-era policies, Trump changed the conversation, telling then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis that he wanted to talk to some “enlisted guys” about the war.
Mattis rolled his eyes.
The President in the Oval Office with many of his original staff from 2017.
“I want to get some real fighters over here who are not officers,” the President told his advisors, including Mattis, former Gen. H.R. McMaster, White House Chief of Staff Steve Bannon, and others. He wanted their “on the ground views” of the war. While the former officers in the room scoffed at the idea of enlisted troops informing the Commander-in-Chief on the then-16-year-long war in Afghanistan, Trump’s controversial Chief of Staff thought of it more idealistically, relating the idea to President Lincoln talking to Union troops during the Civil War.
On July 18, 2017, almost six months to the day after taking office, the President sat down with three soldiers and an airman who spent significant time in Afghanistan and had lunch in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.
From left, Vice President Mike Pence, President Donald J. Trump, and National Security Advisor Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster talk with service members during a lunch in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, July 18, 2017.
(White House photo by Shealah Craighead)
Trump was joined in the lunch by McMaster, Vice President Mike Pence, Army First Sgt. Michael Wagner, Army Master Sgt. Zachary Bowman, Army Master Sgt. Henry Adames, and Air Force Major Eric Birch. As the lunch began, the President told reporters they were there “to find out why we’ve been there for 17 years, how it’s going and what we should do in terms of additional ideas.”
“We have plenty of ideas from a lot of people,” Trump said, “but I want to hear it from people on the ground.”
The President asked them what they thought the U.S. was doing in Afghanistan, where they thought it was going, and what they should do for additional ideas. Afterward, Woodward writes, Trump told Bannon the ground pounders’ views were unanimous – “we’ve got to figure out how to get the f*ck out of there… Totally corrupt… the people are not worth fighting for… NATO does nothing, they’re a hindrance… it’s all bullsh*t.”
So when it came time to discuss new policy at the next National Security Council meeting, Trump interrupted McMaster’s briefing, saying his best information came from the “line soldiers” he met that day.
“I don’t care about you guys,” Trump told Mattis, McMaster, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford and the rest of the NSC in a 25-minute dressing down on everyone who informed Afghanistan war policy. “It’s a disaster … the soldiers on the ground could run things much better than you.”
Marines train the way they fight, even if that means potentially suffering injuries in the process. Since many Marine units are known for their amphibious capabilities, they must conduct training that prepares them for any watery hazards that might come their way.
One such deadly situation that Marines must ready for is a helicopter crash landing into the ocean. Although it’s unlikely, Marines must be ready to escape a watery grave by successfully evacuating a flooding aircraft within a matter of moments.
As you might expect, Marines practice their escape by facing the real hazard in a controlled environment. After jumping into a pool while wearing most of their combat load, Marines swim their way onto a mock helicopter that’s already halfway submerged in water.
Once they’ve strapped into their seats, they are blindfolded with fogged-out goggles for added stress. The helo dunker is then hoisted up into the air.
Once the instructors give the order, the helo dunker is lowered into the water and spun about to disorient the blindfolded Marines within. Each Marine is instructed to take one last breath as they feel the aircraft hit the water’s surface and plunge beneath.
The windows in various transport and cargo helicopters are designed to be removed in a hurry. Once a Marine successfully negotiates the closed-window obstacle, they are free to evacuate the dunker and swim to the surface for some much-needed oxygen.
The helo dunker isn’t the only tool used in training for an underwater escape. Marines also train in single-man cages. Instructors roll Marines about and observe as disoriented troops attempt to free themselves from the helicopter’s seat belt system.
There’s one thing everyone can agree with President Donald Trump on about the street gang MS-13: The group specializes in spectacular violence. Its members attack in groups, in the woods, at night, luring teens to their deaths with the promise of girls or weed. One Long Island boy told me he doesn’t go to parties anymore because he worries any invitation could be a trap. A victim’s father showed me a death certificate that said his son’s head had been bashed in, then lowered his voice and added that the boy’s bones had been marked by machete slashes, but he didn’t want the mother to know that. A teenager who has left the gang told me he considers himself dead already, and is just trying to make sure MS-13 doesn’t kill his family.
I’m spending the year reporting on MS-13 members and their associates. I’ve been combing through their text messages. I’m talking with the detectives building cases against killers not yet old enough to buy cigarettes. And I’ve been spending long evenings with the gang’s victims, who often start crying as soon as they start talking about the violence that has marred their lives. Everyone agrees the gang is bloodthirsty. Most of the other assertions I’ve heard from the Trump administration about MS-13 have almost no connection to what I’m seeing on the ground.
1. MS-13 Is Not Organizing to Foil Immigration Law
Trump often talks about how MS-13 has carried out a string of murders in the suburbs outside New York City. One of the first things I did when I started reporting was talk to the ex-girlfriend of the gang leader charged with ordering six of those killings in 2016 and 2017. The girl sat at a Panera Bread in a Long Island strip mall and told how he had kidnapped and raped her shortly after her 15th birthday, threatened her family, and forced her to get a tattoo of his name on her arm. As I talked to her, I imagined a man like the ones I had seen in news reports on MS-13 — chins jutted out, arms strong from lifting weights, and gothic tattoos of the letters M and S on their faces and chests. I was shocked when I eventually saw this gang leader in court; he was a baby-faced 19-year-old who blushed when girls waved to him from the gallery. The indictment against him laid out killings that were ordered in response to adolescent trash talking.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has called MS-13 the most brutal of the gangs driving the drug trade, and promised to go after the group like the government went after mob boss Al Capone. Really, experts have found the gang has barely any role in the international drug trade. The Congressional Research Service said that it could be misleading to call MS-13 a transnational criminal organization at all, because it has no central leader or global ambitions. The gang is made up of sometimes competing cliques, often led by teenagers most interested in wielding power over other young people in their immediate circles.
On Long Island, a detective told me police officers call MS-13 members “mighty munchkins,” because they have often not yet hit their growth spurts and tend to commit their crimes in large groups. They meet at night because, while other criminal organizations have massive international revenue streams, these guys — even the leaders — have to work menial jobs and sometimes go to school during the day. Each clique has its own shot caller, and its own hyperlocal focus. On Long Island, the gang’s focus has often been on controlling the halls of a single high school.
2. MS-13 Is Not Posing as Fake Families at the Border
In justifying the policy of child separation, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said, “The kids are being used as pawns by the smugglers and the traffickers. Those are traffickers, those are smugglers and that is MS-13.” The theory is that Central American gang leaders are showing up at the border falsely claiming to be the parents of children, and are also instructing unaccompanied minors to go to the U.S. and claim territory.
Actually, there have been fewer than 200 cases of false family claims this year — a fraction of 1 percent of the total number of families apprehended at the border — and there is no indication that any of those cases involved MS-13. Of the hundreds of thousands of unaccompanied minors that have come to the U.S. since 2012, Border Patrol says only 56 were suspected of MS-13 ties.
The gang is trying to find new members, but there’s no need to step on the toes of the Mexican gangs that control human smuggling to do it. Long Island teenagers tell me that when they show up to school, gang members sit down next to them at lunch and ask them to join. Many— worn down by loneliness, boredom and the threat of violence if they try to refuse — accept the invitation.
People who study MS-13 agree that when young gang members travel from El Salvador to the U.S., they are driven by the same economic factors driving other Central American immigrants. Even the 19-year-old gang leader charged with six murders on Long Island told his ex-girlfriend he was not a member of the gang when he came to the U.S. from El Salvador. He said it was only later, in the New York suburbs, that he was recruited.
And some MS-13 members are born right here. The Suffolk County Police Department examined a sample of active MS-13 members and found that just a quarter had come to the U.S. as unaccompanied minors. The natural conclusion: This is not a border issue. It’s a recruitment issue.
3. MS-13 Is Sticking Around, but It’s Not Growing
Trump talks about the gang as if it is suddenly taking over. “The weak illegal immigration policies of the Obama Admin. allowed bad MS 13 gangs to form in cities across U.S.,” he wrote in a tweet.
MS-13 has been stubbornly persistent, but it remains a boutique criminal organization, accounting for a tiny portion of 1.4 million gang members nationwide. Trump’s Justice Department says there are about 10,000 MS-13 members in the U.S., the same number as 10 years ago. There’s also nothing new about MS-13 alarmism. Back in 2005, Newsweek ran a cover story about the group, citing its 10,000 members, under the headline, “The most dangerous gang in America.”
On Long Island, the murder people cite most often when talking about MS-13’s brutality is the killing of a two-year-old and his mother back in 2010. But the gang’s history goes back much further than that; the FBI set up a Long Island task force to crack down on the gang in 2003. And MS-13 never invaded the U.S at all. It was founded in Los Angeles in the 1980s, and then mixed with California prison gang culture and was exported to El Salvador.
The group remains significantly smaller than the Crips, the Bloods and the Latin Kings; it’s also smaller than several gangs you’ve probably never heard of, like the Gangster Disciples in Chicago. Even the Center for Immigration Studies, which has been labeled an extremist group for its anti-immigrant ideology, can’t come up with more than an average of 35 murders per year attributed to MS-13 — far fewerthan that Chicago gang you didn’t know existed.
MS-13 is not the largest, the most violent, or the fastest-growing gang, but it is the U.S. gang most strongly tied to Central America, which is where the majority of asylum-seeking teenagers come from. In that way, it’s the perfect focal point for Trump’s message of closed borders.
4. MS-13 Is Preying on a Specific Community, Not the Country at Large
When confronted in June 2018 with audio obtained by ProPublica of wailing children separated from their parents, White House Communications Adviser Mercedes Schlapp said, “What’s very heartbreaking is to watch Americans who have lost their children because of the MS-13 gang members.” But the vast majority of MS-13 victims are young immigrants, many of them undocumented.
I often think about this when I’m out reporting. In 2018 I have reached out to current gang members and added them as friends on Facebook. I’ve visited the homes of people on the local clique’s kill list, and heard their police-issued panic buttons hum under tables and behind doors. I’ve explored the wooded areas Long Island police call “the killing fields,” where bodies have been found. I feel safe doing this because MS-13 rarely goes after true outsiders — people who are not friends with any gang members or targets for recruitment. The closest I’ve found in Long Island to a totally random victim was a worker at a Central American deli who was hurt when a bullet passed through the head of a targeted victim.
The White House put out a statement in May 2018 that described recent murders carried out by “MS-13 animals.” Lost in the controversy over whether it was OK to call gang members animals was the fact that of the six identified victims, five were immigrants and the other was a child of immigrants.
5. Immigration Raids and Deportation Can Only Go So Far
Secretary Nielsen said in June 2018 that the presence of MS-13 in the U.S. is “the exclusive product of loopholes in our federal immigration laws.” The loopholes she is talking about are actually specific protections contained in United Nations conventions on refugees and torture, which the U.S. ratified. The U.S. is obligated to allow Central American immigrants to stay in the country while their asylum claims are processed, which can take years. If the person pleading asylum is a minor, they are supposed to be released to relatives.
But if U.S. officials determine that a teenager is a gang member, they stay in custody. And immigration officials can also re-detain teenagers who are recruited into MS-13 once they get here. Dozens of Long Island teenagers were re-detained in 2017 on suspicion of gang ties. The problem is that it can be hard to tell who is in the gang and who is just adopting gang style. MS-13 has its own music and aesthetic, bound up in Central American pride. On Long Island, some immigrant teens use MS-13 markers as a fashion statement, the way American kids might once have worn the blue bandanas associated with the Crips because they liked Snoop Dogg.
I sat in on one hearing for a Long Island 17-year-old who had been detained for half a year after he wrote the El Salvador telephone code, “503,” in a notebook at school. He had spent some of that time in a detention center now under investigation for child abuse. At the hearing, an immigration judge ordered the teen released and openly mocked the gang charges. “I note that ‘503’ is an area code,” the judge said. “He may have had his grandmother’s phone number written in his notebook. We don’t know. But I think this is slim, slim evidence on which to base the continuing detention of an unaccompanied child.”
That’s not to say that all of the immigrant teenagers accused of gang affiliation are innocent. But Immigration and Customs Enforcement has arrested some 8,000 suspected MS-13 members in the past decade. If deportation was all it took, the gang would be gone by now.
This all matters because the gang really is terrorizing a portion of the population: young Latino immigrants in a few specific communities.
In May 2018, I accompanied the mother of a high school freshman killed by MS-13 to a Trump event on Long Island. Inside a government building, the president railed against the gang. “They killed a cop for the sake of making a statement. They wanted to make a statement, so they killed a cop,” he said. (They did not kill a cop.)
Outside, the mother drifted between a pro-Trump rally and a counter protest. She took tranquilizer pills so she could face local reporters, and then told them she was unsure if Trump really cared about victims like her. She said she hoped the president’s fixation on MS-13 might spur changes that will keep other kids from being attacked and recruited by the gang.
But for any policy to work, it needs to be rooted in reality.