4 things that got a Nazi an automatic Iron Cross - We Are The Mighty
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4 things that got a Nazi an automatic Iron Cross

Germany’s highest awards for valor, the Iron Cross, was the most awarded of the top tier medals of any nation in World War II. But Germany awarded more top-tier valor awards than any other country for two very good reasons. First, most German troops fought for the duration or the war unless they were crippled.


As German ace Gunther Rall put it, that meant Third Reich troops’ destiny “was either the Iron Cross or the wooden cross.” They would be heroes or they would die in the attempt.

4 things that got a Nazi an automatic Iron Cross
The Iron Cross second class. (Photo: Public Domain)

Second, German troops could earn the Iron Cross with a series of events, like succeeding in enough aerial battles, rather than for just a single act of extreme valor like in most militaries. While the medal was awarded for singular military achievements and bravery, it was also automatically warranted after a service member completed a challenging act.

Here are four things that would get a World War II German soldier an automatic Iron Cross:

1. Destroying a set number of enemy tanks

4 things that got a Nazi an automatic Iron Cross
A German Tiger tank rolls forward in the Battle of Kursk. (Photo: German Army archives)

For German tankers, the “easiest” way to earn an Iron Cross was to achieve enough tank victories to qualify. While the number required increased as the war ground on, 50 was the magic number for a few years. That’s 50 Allied tank kills before a single tank managed to kill them.

2. Killing a set number of Allied planes

4 things that got a Nazi an automatic Iron Cross
(Photo: Public Domain)

German Luftwaffe pilots could net an Iron Cross by accruing an ever-increasing number of points. Single-engine aircraft were worth one point, dual-engines netted two points, and four engines were worth three points. Fighters could get the Iron Cross second class for becoming an ace (downing five enemy aircraft).

3. Sinking a set amount of Allied shipping

4 things that got a Nazi an automatic Iron Cross
Photo: German Federal Archives

For submariners, the Iron Cross was usually awarded for sinking tons of Allied supplies. The Iron Cross second class usually required sinking 50,000 tons of shipping, while the Knight’s Cross, a higher level of the same award, would be granted to those who sank 100,000 or more tons.

4. Downing a “Night Witch”

4 things that got a Nazi an automatic Iron Cross
(Photo: Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0 Douzeff)

Oddly enough, pilots could earn an Iron Cross for downing a single wooden biplane, as long as it was being flown by the Night Witches.

These were older, frail planes piloted by Soviet women who would carry a few bombs at a time and drop them on Nazi massed forces, breaking up German attacks on Soviet positions. But the planes were so slow and quiet that they were hard to find and harder to fight, so the Luftwaffe promised an Iron Cross for a single kill.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’

Belle Boyd’s spying career began with a gunshot.


In July 1861, Union troops arrived in Boyd’s town and she wasn’t too happy about it. Since her father was a member of the Confederate 2nd Virginia Infantry Regiment, Boyd (born Isabella Maria Boyd) was “supporting the troops” with Confederate flags in her bedroom.

The Union troops tried to confiscate the flags, then threw up the Stars and Stripes over her house. An argument ensued, a soldier cursed at her mother, and then Boyd pulled out a pistol and shot the guy. She was later cleared of wrongdoing — because in the 1860s it was totally cool to shoot people who cussed at women — but the Union began tracking her activities.

And interestingly enough, she used this to her advantage, and tracked them instead.

From the Encyclopedia Virginia:

Union officials began to monitor Boyd’s movements, but she used conversations with her minders to accumulate detailed information on their movements, sending the intelligence in letters to Confederate commanders. After one such letter was intercepted, Boyd escaped punishment by feigning ignorance. Her parents then sent her to live with her aunt and uncle in even tinier Front Royal (pop. 417), forty miles to the south.

In October 1861, after visiting her father’s camp, Boyd began work as a courier between generals Jackson and P. G. T. Beauregard and was detained briefly for her efforts. Her oft-noted charm was a weapon and, occasionally, a liability. After being captured by a pair of Union soldiers, Boyd claimed to have sweet talked them into escorting her back to Confederate lines, where she promptly had them arrested. When Boyd’s identity was revealed to the two hapless soldiers, they recognized it, suggesting that she already had attained something that spies tend to avoid—notoriety.

Notoriety is exactly what she found, as Boyd appears at least a few times in correspondence between senior Union leaders. While she was getting plenty of hate mail from the Union, she was earning respect from senior Confederates, to include Gen. Stonewall Jackson, who made her a captain and honorary aide-de-camp, according to AP.

Perhaps her biggest intelligence “get” came in May 1862, as she spied on a Union general and his staff through a peephole in a closet floor (Great job securing the SCIF, guys). Union forces had recently captured Front Royal, Virginia, but the general was about to pull a large portion of his forces east. It wasn’t long before the town was back in Confederate hands, thanks to Boyd’s messages.

You can check out more about her exploits here

MIGHTY TACTICAL

As the fleet grapples with coronavirus, the US Navy’s newest aircraft carrier hit a major operational milestone

Off the East Coast this month, the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, the first-in-class USS Gerald R. Ford, reached several major milestones in a matter of hours, marking the advancement of the carrier’s crew and its systems.


The Ford completed flight deck certification and carrier air-traffic control center certification on March 20, after it achieved Precision Approach Landing Systems certification and conducted two days of flight operations.

F/A-18E and F/A-18F Super Hornets from four squadrons assigned to Carrier Air Wing 8 conducted 123 daytime launches and landings and 42 nighttime launches and landings aboard the Ford over a two-day period, exceeding the minimum requirements for each by three and two, respectively.

“Our sailors performed at a level that was on par with a forward deployed aircraft carrier, and this was a direct result of the hardcore training and deployment-ready mentality we have pushed every day for the past year,” Capt. J. J. Cummings, the Ford’s commanding officer, said in a release. “Our team put their game faces on, stepped into the batter’s box and smashed line drives out of the park. It was fun to watch.”

The certifications, photos of which you can see below, are major achievements not only for the carrier but also for the Navy, as the Ford is now the only only carrier qualification asset — meaning it can conduct carrier qualifications for pilots and other support operations — that will be regularly available on the East Coast this year.

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Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 1st Class Jawann Murray, assigned to USS Gerald R. Ford’s air department, signals an F/A-18E Super Hornet on Ford’s flight deck during flight operations in the Atlantic, March 21, 2020.

US Navy/MCS 2nd Class Ryan Seelbach

Before flight deck and carrier air-traffic control certification, the Ford did Precision Approach Landing Systems certification. PALS is a requirement for flight operations. along with air-traffic controllers, it aids pilots in night or bad-weather landings and guides them to a good starting position for approaches.

The Ford is doing an 18-month post-delivery test and trials period, now in its fifth month.

The carrier finished aircraft compatibility testing at the end of January, successfully launching and landing five kinds of aircraft a total of 211 times.

After that 18-month period, it will likely return to the shipyard for any remaining work that couldn’t be done at sea.

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Chief Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Derrick Williams, USS Gerald R. Ford’s flight deck leading chief petty officer, goes over flight deck operations inside Ford’s flight deck control, prior to flight operations in the Atlantic, March 23, 2020.

US Navy/MCS 2nd Class Sean Rinner

The Ford’s carrier air-traffic control center team assisted the flight-deck certification and had to complete its own certification in concert with it. CATCC certification was the culmination of a process that started at the Naval Air Technical Training Center in Florida last year.

Since that process began in October 2019, instructors from the training center have been working with Ford sailors during every phase — testing the sailors’ practical knowledge, reviewing their checklists, and observing their recovery operations.

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F/A-18E and F/A-18F Super Hornets assigned to Carrier Air Wing 8 launch from the USS Gerald R. Ford during flight operations in the Atlantic, March 21, 2020.

US Navy/Chief MCS RJ Stratchko

That training was vital to the Ford sailors’ success this month. “We had no rust to knock off,” said Chief Air Traffic Controller Lavese McCray. “We’ve tested and trained for so many operations that it made the [certification] scenarios look easy.”

Inspectors from Naval Air Forces Atlantic praised the carrier air-traffic control center sailors in their certification letter, according to the release.

“It was very apparent the entire CATCC team put forth a great deal of effort preparing for their CATCC certification,” the letter said. “All CATCC functional areas were outstanding. Additionally, the leadership and expertise exhibited by the Air Operations Officer and his staff were extremely evident throughout the course of the entire week.”

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F/A-18E and F Super Hornets assigned to Carrier Air Wing 8 stack up in preparation for launch aboard USS Gerald R. Ford during flight operations in the Atlantic, March 21, 2020.

US Navy/MCS 2nd Class Ruben Reed

The certification process is meant to test pilots and crews on operations they’ll face when deployed. In one recovery scenario, aircraft were stacked behind the Ford in 2-mile increments, waiting to land every minute, which deployment-ready aircraft carriers are required to be able to do. The Ford landed aircraft 55 seconds apart.

“The human element critical to [flight deck certification] is the relationship between ship’s company and the air wing in the ‘black top ballet’ of flight deck operations,” the release said. “During hours-long evolutions, the teams work together to communicate pilots’ status, their requirements, and provide them services.”

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Lt. Scott “Gameday” Gallagher lands an F/A-18E Super Hornet for the 1,000th trap on USS Gerald R. Ford’s flight deck during flight operations in the Atlantic, March 19, 2020.

US Navy/MCS 1st Class Gary Prill

The March 20 certifications came a day after the Ford’s 1,000 recovery of a fixed-wing aircraft using its Advanced Arresting Gear on March 19 at 5:13 p.m. Moments later, the ship had its 1,000 launch with its Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System.

The Ford’s first fixed-wing recovery and launch using AAG and EMALS were on July 28, 2017.

AAG and EMALS have been two of the most nettlesome of the Ford’s many new technologies, exceeded in their growing pains perhaps only by the Advanced Weapons Elevators, which are still not finished.

The Ford has the first new carrier design since the 1960s, which added to the difficulty of its construction. AAG and EMALS are both meant to support the greater energy requirements of future air wings and operate more safely than similar gear on older Nimitz-class carriers.

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Chief Air Traffic Controller Michael Knecht, assigned to USS Gerald R. Ford’s operations department, monitors flight operations and tracks aircraft from Ford’s Carrier Air Traffic Control Center.

US Navy/MCS Seaman Apprentice Riley McDowell

The Ford’s accomplishments come as the Navy grapples with a fleet-wide challenge in the coronavirus. The service’s first case came on March 13, when a sailor on the USS Boxer, in port in San Diego, tested positive. The first underway case came on Tuesday on the carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.

Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly said Tuesday that three cases were detected on the Theodore Roosevelt. He said those were the first cases on a deployed ship and that the affected personnel were awaiting transfer off the carrier.

The “Big Stick,” which carries some 5,000 crew, visited Vietnam earlier this month. The Navy’s top uniformed officer said Tuesday that it wasn’t clear if the cases stemmed from that visit.

“Whenever we have a positive on any ship … we’re doing the forensics on each one of those cases to try and understand what kind of best practices, or the do’s and the don’ts, that we can quickly promulgate fleet-wide,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday said at the Pentagon.

Asked about specific policy changes, Gilday said, “we’re on it” but “no specifics yet.”

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Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Airman Christopher Nardelli, assigned to USS Gerald R. Ford’s air department, arranges the “ouija board” in Ford’s flight deck control, during flight operations in the Atlantic, March 22, 2020.

US Navy/MCS 2nd Class Ryan Seelbach

There are no reported cases on the Ford, which Gilday said Tuesday was also carrying “a couple of hundred shipyard workers” who were “working on many of her systems to continue to keep her at pace and on schedule” for deployment.

“We’re very proud of the fact that they are out there at sea with us and that they’re so committed to the Navy,” Gilday said of the shipyard workers.

The Navy has clashed with shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls over its work on the Ford.

But the Navy secretary said Tuesday that the service was in touch with industry partners to let them know it was aware of the challenge posed by the coronavirus.

“We rely particularly on our shipyards and our depots … We need them to continue to operate because you can’t lose those skills. We have to keep them maintained. So we’ve been very clear and very consistent in talking to our commercial partners,” Modly said.

“We are also concerned about the health of their people. We don’t want them putting them at risk either,” Modly added. “But we just need to be aware of what they’re doing in that regard, so that we can adjust our expectations about what they can deliver and when they can deliver.”

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

One of the most recent soldiers killed in Afghanistan was 5 when the war started

Army Spc. Gabriel D. Conde’s short life spanned the history of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001, from the euphoria over the fleeting early successes to the current doubts about the new strategy to break what U.S. commanders routinely call a “stalemate.”

When Conde was six years old, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said the Taliban had been defeated and the Afghan people were now free “to create a better future.”


He was seven years old when then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, “We’re at a point where we clearly have moved from major combat activity to a period of stability and stabilization and reconstruction activities.”

When Conde was 12, then-President George W. Bush was at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan to declare that “the Taliban is gone from power and it’s not coming back.”

In 2009, when Conde was 13, then-President Barack Obama said he would “make the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban the top priority that it should be. This is a war that we have to win.”

He sent 30,000 more U.S. troops into Afghanistan, with a timeline for their withdrawal.

Obama wanted the withdrawal to be complete by the time he left office, but he left behind about 8,500 U.S. troops to deal with a resurgent Taliban and a new enemy — an offshoot of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria called Islamic State-Khorasan Province, or IS-K.

August 2017, when Conde was 21, President Donald Trump announced a new strategy for Afghanistan that discarded “nation building” in favor of a plan to drive the Taliban into peace talks and a negotiated settlement.

Trump acknowledged that his initial impulse was to pull U.S. troops out completely, but he agreed to boost troop levels from 8,500 to about 14,000.

4 things that got a Nazi an automatic Iron Cross
President Donald Trump

The presence of U.S. troops would now be conditions-based and not subject to artificial timelines. “We’re going to finish what we have to finish. What nobody else has been able to finish, we’re going to be able to do it,” Trump said.

Late April, 2018, the Taliban announced the start of its 16th annual spring offensive.

On May 1, 2018, when Conde was 22, he was killed by small-arms fire in the Tagab District of Kapisa province northeast of Kabul. A second U.S. soldier was wounded.

Conde, of Loveland, Colorado, served with the 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), of 25th Infantry Division, based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska. His unit was expected to return to Alaska at the end of May 2018.

Also on May 1, 2018, the Trump administration took official note of the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan by granting political asylum to former Capt. Niloofar Rahmani, the first female fixed-wing pilot in the Afghan Air Force, who had been training in the U.S.

Through her lawyer, she had successfully argued to immigration authorities that the chaos in Afghanistan, and death threats against her and her family, made it impossible for her to return.

On the same day that Rahmani won asylum and Conde was killed, the latest in a wave of suicide bombings and terror attacks devastated the Shash Darak district of central Kabul in what Afghans call the “Green Zone.”

Two suicide bombers had slipped past the estimated 14 checkpoints surrounding the district, Afghanistan’s TOLOnews reported.

The first set off a blast and the second, reportedly disguised as a cameraman, joined a pack of reporters and photographers rushing to the scene and triggered a second explosion.

At least 30 people, including nine journalists, were killed. A 10th journalist was killed on the same day in an incident in Khost province. (Short biographies of the 10 journalists can be seen here.)

Mattis put on spot over attacks

In response to May 1, 2018’s events, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Army Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, echoed what other commanders and Pentagon officials have said so many times before during America’s longest war.

They mourned the loss of a valorous soldier and the victims of the bombings. They said the strategy of increased airpower and the buildup of Afghan special forces is showing progress. They pledged to stay the course.

At a session with Pentagon reporters May 1, 2018, Mattis said the Taliban are “on their back foot.”

The recent terror attacks show that they are desperate, he said.

“We anticipated they would do their best” to disrupt upcoming elections with a wave of bombings aimed at discouraging the Afghan people from voting, Mattis said.

“The Taliban realize the danger of the people being allowed to vote,” he added. “Their goal is to destabilize the elected government. This is the normal stuff by people who can’t win at the ballot box. They turn to bombs.”

At a welcoming ceremony on May 2, 2018, for the visiting Macedonian defense minister, Mattis was challenged on how he could point to progress amid the wave of bombings and a recent series of watchdog reports on widespread and continuing corruption in Afghanistan.

4 things that got a Nazi an automatic Iron Cross
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis

“The message from this building has consistently been that the situation is turning around, that things are improving there,” Mattis was told. “How do you reconcile this difference?”

“First, I don’t know that that’s been the message from this building. I would not subscribe to that,” Mattis said. “We said last August NATO is going to hold the line. We knew there would be tough fighting going forward.

“The murder of journalists and other innocent people is a great testimony to what it is we stand for and more importantly what we stand against,” he added.

“The Afghan military is being made more capable. You’ll notice that more of the forces are special forces, advised and assisted, accompanied by NATO mentors. And these are the most effective forces,” Mattis said.

“We anticipated and are doing our best and have been successful at blocking many of these attacks on innocent people but, unfortunately, once in a while they get through because any terrorist organization that realizes it can’t win by ballots and turns to bombs — this is simply what they do. They murder innocent people,” he said.

For the long run, “We’ll stand by the Afghan people, we’ll stand by the Afghan government and the NATO mission will continue as we drive them to a political settlement,” Mattis said.

Nicholson’s two-year plan to end the ‘Forever War’

“Actions like this only strengthen our steadfast commitment to the people of Afghanistan,” Nicholson, who doubles as commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, said after the bombings May 1, 2018, and the death of Conde.

“We offer our sincere condolences to the families of those killed and wounded, and we stand with our Afghan partners in defeating those who would threaten the people of this country, whose cries for peace are being ignored,” he said.

Like many of his troops, the 60-year-old Nicholson, a West Point graduate, has served multiple tours in Afghanistan. When he was confirmed by the Senate in March 2016 to succeed Army Gen. John Campbell as commander, he would go back to Afghanistan for the sixth time.

Since 9/11, “the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan has largely defined my service” in 36 years in uniform, he told the Senate.

Nicholson is the son of Army Brig. Gen. John W. Nicholson, also a West Point graduate, and is distantly related the legendary British Brig. Gen. John Nicholson (1821-1857), who fought in the First Anglo-Afghan War.

Early on in his command, Nicholson was at the forefront on the military advisers who convinced Obama to approve the expansion of the air campaign against the Taliban and IS-K. In February 2017, he began arguing for more troops to partner with the Afghan National Defense Security Forces.

Mattis later signed off on what was essentially Nicholson’s plan. And Trump, in coordination with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, authorized it in an address to the nation in August 2017.

4 things that got a Nazi an automatic Iron Cross
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and U.S. Army Gen. John Nicholson.
(DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley)

In a video conference from Kabul to the Pentagon in November 2017, Nicholson said it would take about two years to bring 80 percent of Afghanistan under government control and drive the Taliban into peace talks.

“Why 80 percent? Because we think that gives them [the Afghans] a critical mass where they control 80. The Taliban are driven to less than 10 percent of the population; maybe the rest is contested,” Nicholson said.

“And this, we believe, is the critical mass necessary to drive the enemy to irrelevance, meaning they’re living in these remote, outlying areas, or they reconcile — or they die, of course, is the third choice,” he said.

Nicholson’s remarks contrasted with a simultaneous report from the Pentagon’s Inspector General’s office.

In his foreword to the IG’s quarterly report, Acting IG Glenn Fine said, “During the quarter, Taliban insurgents continued to attack Afghan forces and fight for control of districts, and ISIS-K terrorists launched high-profile attacks across the country.”

Fine added, “Internal political tensions increased in Afghanistan, and corruption remained a key challenge to governance despite positive steps by Afghanistan’s Anti-Corruption Justice Center.”

Fine also said that maintaining the accuracy of future IG reports made available to the public is becoming more difficult, since key statistical measures are now being classified.

“When producing this report, we were notified that information that was previously publicly released regarding attrition, casualties, readiness, and personnel strength of Afghan forces that we had included in prior Lead IG reports was now classified,” Fine said. “In addition, we were advised that ratings of Afghan government capabilities were now classified.”

The strategy — what strategy?

In announcing the strategy for Afghanistan in August 2017, Trump made clear that he was doing so with grave misgivings.

“Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan. But nobody knows if or when that will ever happen,” he said.

The skeptics are many. “Why would anybody call this a strategy? We declared we wanted to win, but we didn’t change anything fundamentally that we’re doing,” retired Army Lt. Col. Jason Dempsey, who served two tours in Afghanistan, told Military.com.

The focus now, as it has been for years, is on building up the Afghan military into a more effective force capable of holding and administering territory retaken from the Taliban, he said, “but that army assumes the existence of a functioning government.”

“We are creating a military that assumes the existence of a state that does not exist,” said Dempsey, an adjunct senior fellow of the Military, Veterans and Society Program at the Center for a New American Security.

“What it boils down to is that we can’t decide what we want,” Dempsey said. “The only consensus we have on Afghanistan is that we don’t want to lose.”

In her analysis of the Trump administration’s strategy, Brookings Institution scholar Vanda Felbab-Brown wrote that the president basically had three options — “full military withdrawal, limited counterterrorism engagement, and staying in the country with slightly increased military deployments and intense political engagement.”

“The option the Trump administration chose — staying in Afghanistan with a somewhat enlarged military capacity — is the least bad option,” Felbab-Brown said.

“Thus, the Trump administration’s announced approach to Afghanistan is not a strategy for victory,” she said.

“Staying on militarily buys the United States hope that eventually the Taliban may make enough mistakes to seriously undermine its power,” she said. “However, that is unlikely unless Washington starts explicitly insisting on better governance and political processes in the Afghan government.”

Watchdog reports contrast with claims of progress

The goal of better governance is dependent on an Afghan military as the enabler, but the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said May 2, 2018, that the number of Afghan soldiers and police has declined sharply in the past year.

In a report, SIGAR said that the combined strength of the military and police dropped nearly 11 percent over the past year, from about 331,700 in January 2017 to about 296,400 this January, well below the total authorized strength of 334,000.

“Building up the Afghan forces is a top priority for the U.S. and our international allies, so it is worrisome to see Afghan force strength decreasing,” John Sopko, the head of SIGAR, told reporters.

At the end of January 2018, insurgents controlled or had influence over 14 percent of the Afghanistan’s 407 districts, SIGAR said, while the Afghan government controlled or influenced 56 percent. The remaining districts were contested, SIGAR said.

The report also noted the significant increase in the air campaign: “The total of 1,186 munitions dropped in the first quarter of 2018 is the highest number recorded for this period since reporting began in 2013, and is over two and a half times the amount dropped in the first quarter of 2017.”

In addition, the report indicated that Nicholson’s plan to bomb drug production centers and have the Afghan military interdict shipments in an effort to cut off Taliban funding was having little effect.

“From 2008 through March 20, 2018, over 3,520 interdiction operations resulted in the seizure of 463,342 kilograms of opium. But the sum of these seizures over nearly a decade would account for less than 0.05% of the opium produced in Afghanistan in 2017 alone,” SIGAR said.

Since 9/11, the U.S. has invested more than $850 billion in the war and efforts to bolster the Afghan government, but a recent drumbeat of reports from SIGAR and the Pentagon Inspector General’s office have highlighted widespread and continuing corruption.

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in April 2018, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, called on Army Secretary Mark Esper to justify a $50 million contract that SIGAR charged was used to buy luxury cars such as Alfa Romeos and Bentleys for Afghan officials and pay for $400,000 salaries for no-show jobs.

“Please tell me that a senator 20 years from now is not going to be sitting here and going, ‘How in the world are taxpayers paying for Alfa Romeos and Bentleys?’ ” McCaskill said.

‘We’ve kind of been going about it wrong’

As of March 2018, there were roughly 14,000 U.S. military personnel serving in Afghanistan as part of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, according to U.S. officials.

Of the 14,000, about 7,800 of these troops were assigned to NATO’s Resolute Support mission to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces.

The 7,800 number reflects an increase of 400 personnel from the deployment of the Army’s first Security Force Assistance Brigade, or SFAB, to Afghanistan.

In February 2018, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats issued a report on what those troops can be expected to accomplish this year that was at odds with the upbeat assessments of Mattis and Nicholson.

4 things that got a Nazi an automatic Iron Cross
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats

“The overall situation in Afghanistan probably will deteriorate modestly this year in the face of persistent political instability, sustained attacks by the Taliban-led insurgency” and the “unsteady” performance of the Afghan military performance, the DNI’s report said.

Afghan troops “probably will maintain control of most major population centers with coalition force support, but the intensity and geographic scope of Taliban activities will put those centers under continued strain,” the report said.

Mattis and Nicholson have singled out the SFAB as a key component in reforming and refining the operations of the Afghan security forces.

The SFAB concept takes specially selected non-commissioned and commissioned officers, preferably with experience in Afghanistan, and assigns them the train, advise and assist role in place of conventional Brigade Combat Team units.

Before the deployment, Army 1st Sgt. Shaun Morgan, a company senior enlisted leader with the SFAB, told Stars & Stripes that there were no illusions about the difficulty of the job ahead.

“So, we’ve been kind of going about it wrong for a while, I think,” Morgan said. “Maybe this is an opportunity to get on the right foot toward getting it right.”

Previously in Afghanistan, “we couldn’t get it through our heads that we weren’t the fighters,” Morgan told Stripes in a reference to the role of U.S. troops as partners and advisers to the Afghans who were to take the lead in combat.

“I think the bosses decided maybe this is the right shot, and it just makes sense to me,” Morgan said.

The Afghans also were under no illusions on the continuing threats posed by the Taliban and other insurgents, and the risks they take to go about their daily lives.

Shah Marai Faizi, the chief photographer for Agence France-Presse in the Kabul bureau, was among the nine journalists killed in May 1, 2018’s suicide bombings in Kabul. He was the father of six, including a newborn daughter.

In 2017, Shah Marai wrote an essay titled “When Hope Is Gone” that was read in part on the Democracy Now cable program.

“Life seems to be even more difficult than under the Taliban because of the insecurity,” he wrote. “I don’t dare to take my children for a walk. I have five, and they spend their time cooped up inside the house. I have never felt life to have so little prospects, and I don’t see a way out.”

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

Articles

5 of the best ways to camp like a grunt

Grunts, the poster boys of the Marine Corps and the Army, go to the field on a regular basis. Camouflage is not just functional, its cool. The easy way or the hard way, these warfighters learn a few tricks over time. This is what you can do to infantry-fy your camping experience in the wilderness.

  1. Buy a tiny chair

You can go all out on folding chairs, cup holders, pouches, and Knick knacks. If the occasion calls for comfort, then by all means go for it. However, I recommend buying a tiny, folding stool. Mobility is the key to camping like a Grunt. Sure, you could bring a comfortable folding chair to the field op on active duty, but that doesn’t mean you should. Essentially because they’re cumbersome if you want to do the following tip.

2. Hike a ridiculous distance

An infantryman’s feet are his Cadillac, they will take you anywhere you need to go. Bring some hygiene gear for your feet and pick a point off the grid. National Parks are the best for this because you will have picture perfect scenery to enjoy. Teddy Roosevelt loved to just disappear into the mountains.

One time when I was in Djabouti, Africa during a M.E.U. deployment (Marine Expeditionary Unit), we got a half day of down time at the end of an extended field op. We were given a magazine of rounds, a radio, and free reign to explore or hang out. My friends and I decided to climb a mountain and we found some ancient graffiti carved onto a cliff face, a cave used by nomads, and a goat carcass we threw off the peak to see what would happen. We were 19 get off my back!

camping
(picture of me on said mountain in Djabouti)

3. Identify wildlife

camping
All that’s missing is a cold one and some s’mores.

Grunts love wildlife. Sometimes a little too much and suddenly the platoon has a pet camel. It’s fun to figure out what something is and watch it life in it’s natural habitat. Do not go full Grunt, don’t ever go full Grunt and mess with the wildlife. Not only is it dangerous for the animal it can be potentially deadly if it’s poisonous. Gear fails in the field all the time, so, don’t expect your cellphone to work to call for help.

4. Shoot something

If it’s allowed to discharge a firearm for hunting or practice, shooting things is a great way to get the Grunt experience. That line from Apocalypse Now ‘I love the smell of napalm in the morning.’ is oddly accurate. Switch out napalm for gunpower and you’re going to have a good time. Personally, the smell went great with breakfast. It should go without saying but employ safety measures, it is a weapon after all.

5. Copious amount of cigarettes and booze

Okay, maybe not that much booze and smokes but infantry culture in the field is smoke ‘em if you got ‘em. Obviously, if there is a fire restriction do not break the law. Also, booze is sometimes allowed in the field but under very rare conditions. One time it was the captain’s birthday, and he had some beers shipped out to the troops. Two beers per Marine, hey, we wanted to have a good time not ruin our lives. It was surprise to be sure but a welcomed one.

As a civilian, the best perk is to be able to drink liberally outside your tent by a fire. So, crack a cold one for the troops the next time you’re out there camping, surrounded by nature.

Articles

Gandhi wrote this amazing letter to Hitler trying to prevent World War II

Mohandas Gandhi, frequently known by the honorific Mahatma — meaning “great soul” — was famous for advocating civil disobedience and nonviolence to achieve his goals.


Starting in 1921, Gandhi led the Indian independence movement through such methods, finally achieving freedom from the British empire in 1947, just six months before his death.

Less known is Gandhi’s efforts through a series of letters in 1939 and 1940 to keep German dictator Adolf Hitler from starting a war in Europe.

Gandhi took it upon himself to prevent World War II by not only encouraging Hitler to seek peace, but also by telling the British people to oppose Hitler and Italy’s Benito Mussolini by nonviolent means, even as Nazi Germany and Italy sought to destroy their country.

“In nonviolent technique, as I have said, there is no such thing as defeat. It is all ‘do or die’ without killing or hurting,” Gandhi wrote to Hitler. “It can be used practically without money and obviously without the aid of science of destruction which you have brought to such perfection.

“It is a marvel to me that you do not see that it is nobody’s monopoly. If not the British, some other power will certainly improve upon your method and beat you with your own weapon. You are leaving no legacy to your people of which they would feel proud.”

Here is the full version, which is the longer of Gandhi’s two letters to Hitler:

Dear friend,

That I address you as a friend is no formality. I own no foes. My business in life has been for the past 33 years to enlist the friendship of the whole of humanity by befriending mankind, irrespective of race, colour or creed.

I hope you will have the time and desire to know how a good portion of humanity who have view living under the influence of that doctrine of universal friendship view your action. We have no doubt about your bravery or devotion to your fatherland, nor do we believe that you are the monster described by your opponents. But your own writings and pronouncements and those of your friends and admirers leave no room for doubt that many of your acts are monstrous and unbecoming of human dignity, especially in the estimation of men like me who believe in universal friendliness. Such are your humiliation of Czechoslovakia, the rape of Poland and the swallowing of Denmark. I am aware that your view of life regards such spoliations as virtuous acts. But we have been taught from childhood to regard them as acts degrading humanity. Hence we cannot possibly wish success to your arms.

But ours is a unique position. We resist British Imperialism no less than Nazism. If there is a difference, it is in degree. One-fifth of the human race has been brought under the British heel by means that will not bear scrutiny. Our resistance to it does not mean harm to the British people. We seek to convert them, not to defeat them on the battle-field. Ours is an unarmed revolt against the British rule. But whether we convert them or not, we are determined to make their rule impossible by non-violent non-co-operation. It is a method in its nature indefensible. It is based on the knowledge that no spoliator can compass his end without a certain degree of co-operation, willing or compulsory, of the victim. Our rulers may have our land and bodies but not our souls. They can have the former only by complete destruction of every Indian—man, woman and child. That all may not rise to that degree of heroism and that a fair amount of frightfulness can bend the back of revolt is true but the argument would be beside the point. For, if a fair number of men and women be found in India who would be prepared without any ill will against the spoliators to lay down their lives rather than bend the knee to them, they would have shown the way to freedom from the tyranny of violence. I ask you to believe me when I say that you will find an unexpected number of such men and women in India. They have been having that training for the past 20 years.

We have been trying for the past half a century to throw off the British rule. The movement of independence has been never so strong as now. The most powerful political organization, I mean the Indian National Congress, is trying to achieve this end. We have attained a very fair measure of success through non-violent effort. We were groping for the right means to combat the most organized violence in the world which the British power represents. You have challenged it. It remains to be seen which is the better organized, the German or the British. We know what the British heel means for us and the non-European races of the world. But we would never wish to end the British rule with German aid. We have found in non-violence a force which, if organized, can without doubt match itself against a combination of all the most violent forces in the world. In non-violent technique, as I have said, there is no such thing as defeat. It is all ‘do or die’ without killing or hurting. It can be used practically without money and obviously without the aid of science of destruction which you have brought to such perfection. It is a marvel to me that you do not see that it is nobody’s monopoly. If not the British, some other power will certainly improve upon your method and beat you with your own weapon. You are leaving no legacy to your people of which they would feel proud. They cannot take pride in a recital of cruel deed, however skilfully planned. I, therefore, appeal to you in the name of humanity to stop the war. You will lose nothing by referring all the matters of dispute between you and Great Britain to an international tribunal of your joint choice. If you attain success in the war, it will not prove that you were in the right. It will only prove that your power of destruction was greater. Whereas an award by an impartial tribunal will show as far as it is humanly possible which party was in the right.

You know that not long ago I made an appeal to every Briton to accept my method of non-violent resistance. I did it because the British know me as a friend though a rebel. I am a stranger to you and your people. I have not the courage to make you the appeal I made to every Briton. Not that it would not apply to you with the same force as to the British. But my present proposal is much simple because much more practical and familiar.

During this season when the hearts of the peoples of Europe yearn for peace, we have suspended even our own peaceful struggle. Is it too much to ask you to make an effort for peace during a time which may mean nothing to you personally but which must mean much to the millions of Europeans whose dumb cry for peace I hear, for my ears are attended to hearing the dumb millions? I had intended to address a joint appeal to you and Signor Mussolini, whom I had the privilege of meeting when I was in Rome during my visit to England as a delegate to the Round Table Conference. I hope that he will take this as addressed to him also with the necessary changes.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Mighty MilSpouse: Meet Nikki James Zellner

2:20 p.m. on February 20, 2020, is not a time Nikki James Zellner will soon forget.


Zellner received an emergency notification from the daycare her two sons, Ronan and Owen, attend in Virginia Beach, where the Navy family is stationed. The facility alerted parents to come pick up their children due to a carbon monoxide leak.

4 things that got a Nazi an automatic Iron Cross

“When we arrived, the children and staff had been evacuated and I was starting to hear stories related to what was going on behind the scenes,” she said. “The one that gave me the biggest pause was that a teacher’s husband had to bring in a detector because the teachers and students were getting sick after hours of symptoms, and there was no detector on site, because there was no Virginia law requiring them to be.”

At that moment, the narrative for Zellner went from “this happened to my child” to “I’m not going to let this happen to anyone else’s child.”

She started by communicating directly with the daycare, asking direct questions, and refusing to jump to conclusions.

“While waiting for their feedback, I got busy researching,” Zellner explained. “I learned that carbon monoxide (CO) detectors weren’t required in Virginia schools, regardless of if they had a source for CO on-site (common sources are fuel-fired sources like furnaces, HVAC systems, kitchen appliances), if the school was built prior to 2015. It wasn’t part of the state code – and in Virginia, it wouldn’t be retrofitted to existing unless legislation was passed to make it apply.”

But Zellner’s research also uncovered a scary reality nationwide.

“Only five states require CO detectors in educational facilities like daycares, public schools, private schools and any place where children are taken care of,” she said. “How many kids and educators aren’t being protected because people just assume carbon monoxide detectors are on site?”

Zellner’s first points of contact were Senators, Representatives and Delegates that represent Virginia and her district. Then, she spoke to the Director of State Building Codes at the Department of Housing and Community Development to make sure she had a firm understanding exactly of the law and when it applied.

“I also started a petition making folks aware of the situation,” she shared. “Within three days, we had 1,000 signatures. Within the week, we had a breaking news story and a commitment from one of the Delegates to work with us on possibly introducing legislation in the 2021 session.”

To date, Zellner’s petition has more than 1,200 signatures, and her determination landed her on the front page of the Sunday edition of Virginia’s leading newspaper.
4 things that got a Nazi an automatic Iron Cross

“There’s this strange feeling that comes over you when you know that you’re the person that’s supposed to do something,” Zellner emphasized. “That you have the means to do something, and you have the unique perspective to tell the story on why something needs to change. I have a background in media relations and content development, I know how to investigate and ask direct questions, I know how to navigate the political landscape after working in a nonprofit and I’m not afraid to put myself in the line of fire and make a ruckus about it. These are our children. These are our educators. It’s too big of a risk. I feel compelled to raise awareness about it – I can’t explain it any other way. All stakeholders are accountable for solving this – hopefully before it upgrades from close call to tragedy.”

What inspires you about the military community?

The most inspiring thing to me about the military community is their ability to problem solve any situation. What’s today’s mission? How can we help each other? What’s our end goal? This isn’t just the service members – these are the wives, the mil-kids, the support givers – it truly is a community of givers. And it’s up to each member of the community to give more than they take – and I think that really sets the military community apart.

What piece of advice would you give to fellow military spouses?

The biggest piece of advice I have for military spouses is to share your stories. Get comfortable talking about the uncomfortable. Humanize your experiences and make those connections. If we as a group want people to understand our lives, we have to share our lives not just inside but outside of the military community.

What is your life motto?

“What’s the point of having a voice if you’re going to stay silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”

If you could pick one song as the theme song of your life, what would it be and why?

‘No Hard Feelings’ by The Avett Brothers. The Avett Brothers have some of the most honest music out there – and this one just really hits home for me. For me, it’s really about forgiving and being forgiven – and just being able to distinguish what’s important and what’s not so you can live a meaningful life. I think it’s my theme song because even after some really impossible hardships, I’m still able to take gifts from those moments instead of just pain.

What’s your superpower?

I have a fierce love for my people. I will turn superhuman when it comes to their needs – regardless of how much time I have or what’s going on in my life. If you’re someone I trust and love, I will spring into action for you in the biggest way possible.

Articles

These 8 TV characters would never survive in the real military

Over the years Hollywood has shed both positive and negative light on the military experience. While the biographical examples might face severe scrutiny over matters of accuracy, here are 8 fictional military characters who inarguably wouldn’t cut it in the real deal:


1. Ensign Charles Beaumont Parker – “McHale’s Navy”

4 things that got a Nazi an automatic Iron Cross

When the military is used as the basis for a sitcom, it’s inevitable that some of the troops won’t exactly be up to snuff. Ensign Parker brings that to another level, actively causing harm to U.S. and Allied Forces. (The show takes place during World War II.) He accidentally fires a depth charge in one episode, and in another accidentally shoots down an Allied aircraft. That’s a level of ineptitude the United States military wouldn’t and frankly couldn’t stand for.

2. Buster Bluth – “Arrested Development”

4 things that got a Nazi an automatic Iron Cross

Buster is enlists in “Army,” as he calls it, due to a dare a comedian makes to his mother. And lucky for him, he’s immediately honorably discharged after having his hand bit off by a seal. In season 4, he re-enlists to control drones in Iraq. Buster has a blast – until someone explains to him that what he’s doing is real, and he immediately has a panic attack. Then again, Buster once had a panic attack because a llama was near him. He might tell you he’s in Army, but he isn’t Army Strong.

3. Beetle Bailey – “Beetle Bailey”

4 things that got a Nazi an automatic Iron Cross

One thing you certainly can’t be in any branch of the military is lazy, and Beetle Bailey is perhaps the laziest of them all. He’ll do anything to get out of work, including putting his fellow soldiers, and commanding officers, at serious risks. Luckily, the characters at Camp Swampy don’t seem to face any particular risk of war being declared, and therefore will likely avoid any form of actual combat. If they did face an enemy attack, or were sent to fight someplace, chances are Beetle Bailey would be too lazy to even raise his arms.

4. Gareth Keenan – “The Office” (BBC version)

4 things that got a Nazi an automatic Iron Cross

There’s no real reason to doubt Gareth Keenan when he claims he was a Lieutenant in the Territorial Army before joining Wernam-Hogg, aside from how utterly clueless he seems to be when Tim and Dawn quiz him about tactical strategy. Gareth talks a big game, always being prepared to take a man from behind, give a man a lethal blow, or even discharge with rapid speed if enemies should uncover and enter his hole — you know, find out where he’s hiding. The fact Gareth never seems to understand the double entendres behind his own boasts kind of makes him look foolish, perhaps too foolish to actually achieve any kind of rank.

5. Zapp Brannigan – “Futurama”

4 things that got a Nazi an automatic Iron Cross

Zapp may be a 25-Star General in the Year 3000, buts its impossible to imagine he’d last a single day in any branch of the U.S. military. No part of Brannigan’s success makes sense. Although Brannigan’s Law is named after him, he openly admits he doesn’t understand it in the slightest. In fact, most of Brannigan’s successes are subjugating and annihilating weak and defenseless aliens, which, while smart satire, isn’t something that would actually be tolerated in the military.

6. Don Draper – “Mad Men”

4 things that got a Nazi an automatic Iron Cross

Don’s a special case on this list, in that his whole story is that he quite literally couldn’t make it in the military. As fans now know, Draper’s mystery actually began with him as Dick Whitman, but things dramatically changed during the Korean War. Terrible things happen during war, and its hard to say how any individual would react when faced with the horrors Whitman and his Lieutenant, the real Don Draper, faced. But what’s clear is Whitman’s reaction is highly illegal and wouldn’t be tolerated in any military.

7. Homer Simpson – “The Simpsons”

4 things that got a Nazi an automatic Iron Cross

Homer Simpson has had over 100 jobs, and he’s been terrible at nearly every one of them. His time in the service still manages to rank among his most inept. Homer actually joined the service twice—first as a member of the Navy Reserve in Season 9, then in Season 18 he enlisted in the Army. As a member of the Navy Reserve, Homer nearly caused a nuclear war with Russia, and in the Army he turned a training exercise into a city-wide explosive event. The military always welcomes recruits, but Homer should probably stick to his hundreds of other jobs.

8. Dave Titus – “Titus”

4 things that got a Nazi an automatic Iron Cross

Everyone in the Titus family seems to think it would be a great idea for Dave to join the Army. It could teach him responsibility and get him to stop doing drugs and being lazy. However, his brother Christopher sees it a different way: the Army isn’t going to bring Dave up; Dave’s going to bring the Army down. Fearing “Private Dave” could somehow cause nuclear destruction, Christopher gives Dave some pot to smoke on the way to recruitment, hoping this story will find a less destructive end.

MIGHTY SURVIVAL

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

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

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



Russia

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

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

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

4 things that got a Nazi an automatic Iron Cross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iran

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

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

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

4 things that got a Nazi an automatic Iron Cross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romania

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

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

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

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

4 things that got a Nazi an automatic Iron Cross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

North Caucasus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Soldiers could get this ‘Aliens’-like 3rd arm

There is a proverbial 800-pound gorilla that the United States Army is facing. Well, more like 110 pounds. That’s the weight some soldiers have to haul on their backs. And it’s a big problem.


4 things that got a Nazi an automatic Iron Cross
(GIF: Maple Films via YouTube)

“We [now] have Soldiers in their late teens and early 20s and they’re getting broken sometimes in training before they see a day in combat,” Zac Wingard, a mechanical engineer for the Army Research Laboratory’s Weapons and Materials Research Directorate, was quoted in an Army release as saying during the Association of the United States Army’s Global Force Symposium.

4 things that got a Nazi an automatic Iron Cross

How to prevent this? One solution is to give the troops a third arm. Yeah, you read that right. The Army Research Lab has a prototype third arm for troops that will hang off their body armor.

The device, which weighs about 4 pounds, is currently in testing at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. Currently, the third arm is being used to help re-direct the weight of weapons, currently M4 carbines, onto a soldier’s body.

“With this configuration right now, we can go up to 20 pounds and take all of that weight off of the arms,” mechanical engineer Dan Baechle said.

During the testing, troops have been wearing sensors to determine how much muscle activity is occurring. Eventually this system could be used with other weapons, like the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon or the M240B machine gun. But it might not end there – troops could be able to carry more powerful systems, since the recoil won’t be directly impacting them.

4 things that got a Nazi an automatic Iron Cross

“We could potentially look at very high recoil systems that aren’t going to beat up on the soldier like they normally would,” Baechle said. There are also application for other tactical needs, like shooting around corners, close-quarters combat, and other fighting techniques.

But it might not just be about helping to shoot a weapon. Troops could also use the third arm to hold shields or keep a weapon ready while using other tools to breach barricades.

That said, before this system goes into the field, they will try to make sure it can be rugged enough to handle whatever the battlefield throws at it.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Playful working dog headed home for cancer treatment

In the sun-blasted, 100-degree heat here, a military working dog is being held on a short leash. Rex, a German shepherd, is a muscular 85 pounds and covered in thick, brown fur.

His partner and handler, Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Jordan Fuentes, a master-at-arms, barks out commands, but Rex’s wagging tail signals that his mind is elsewhere.

An observer suggests that the humans take off their hats for comfort.


4 things that got a Nazi an automatic Iron Cross

(Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Joseph Rullo)

“I wouldn’t do that,” Fuentes said.

Why? Does Rex become aggressive with the removal of hats? Is it a signal to attack?

No. Rex loves to steal hats to play with, Fuentes said. Rex likes to play with a lot of things. He looks for fun wherever he is —and of course does not know he has been diagnosed with cancer.

Rex, officially known as military working dog T-401, was diagnosed while being treated for an ear infection.

“I noticed dry spots on his ears,” Fuentes said. “I waited a little bit to mention it to the vet since I thought it was a reaction to the medicine.”

Fuentes said that ear infections are common in military working dogs that are deployed to desert areas because of the large amount of sand that gets into their ears, which, in Rex’s case, are prominent.

Testing, Diagnosis

Rex was first examined in March by the Camp Lemonnier veterinarian, Army Capt. Richard Blair. During a follow-up examination, Blair noticed other skin lesions that raised additional concerns.

“We had to dig deeper to determine what was really going on,” Blair said. Possible reason for the lesions included a reaction to the medication, a skin infection, or even allergies.

While the facilities at Camp Lemonnier are appropriate for the everyday care of working dogs, the base does have some limitations due to its remote location, Blair said. So, he worked with other vets in the area of operation to determine what caused the lesions.

“After some logistics challenges, we were able to get our samples submitted to a pathology lab in Germany,” Blair said. “After a few weeks, we got the results back.”

Fuentes said that he was working with Rex at the dog kennel on base when his kennel master got the call from Blair.

“Cancer was the last thing I would have thought of,” Fuentes said. “My heart sank when I heard the news.”

4 things that got a Nazi an automatic Iron Cross

Military working dogs form strong bonds with their handlers.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Griffin)

Getting Care, Beach Time

Rex has been a military working dog his entire life. He’s been deployed several times, including two tours here.

His behavior has not changed since the diagnosis, Fuentes said. He’s still a sweet dog who just wants to play tug of war.

Fuentes reached down and scratched Rex between his ears.

The bonds between service members can be strong. Serving in a combat zone, working long hours, getting through stressful situations and living together in small spaces has a way of making the bonds stronger.

Rex and Fuentes live together in a 7-by-20 container. Fuentes joked that Rex likes to take up all of it.

“He’s obnoxious,” Fuentes said. “He’s all up in your business, taking all of your space.”

The data on dogs with cancer is not as complete as it is on humans with cancer, Blair said. As a result, Rex’s prognosis isn’t certain, but getting him sent back to the U.S. is vital to his treatment.

At home, “he can get to more definitive care,” Blair said.

Rex will be redeployed in early August. His retirement paperwork has also been started.

After retirement, Rex “won’t have to work and can enjoy the rest of his life — just chilling,” Fuentes said.

Fuentes is scheduled to redeploy with Rex and said he hopes to adopt him — but he isn’t the only person trying. A former handler is also interested.

“It’s a race to the end to see who gets him,” Fuentes said.

Fuentes will be returning to Naval Air Station Lemoore, California. Rex has never been to the beach, he said, and he’d like to take him there.

​Honorable Service

Navy Capt. Charles J. DeGilio, Camp Lemonnier’s commander, presented Rex with a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal at a ceremony here July 27.

DeGilio said that military working dogs, including Rex, fill an important role.

“Rex has served honorably to help keep the men and women of Camp Lemonnier safe,” DeGilio said. “I want to personally thank him for his service and wish him fair winds and following seas.”
MIGHTY SURVIVAL

Tractors, herbs, vodka, saunas? Some leaders offer strange, unhelpful advice on warding off COVID-19

The way the leader of tightly controlled Turkmenistan sees it, there’s an ancient remedy for warding off the coronavirus: burning a wild herb known as hamala.


Belarus’s authoritarian president had similarly folksy advice for cabinet ministers and his fellow countrymen: go out and work in the fields. And ride a tractor.

Global leaders and medical experts are struggling to contain the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide, imposing quarantines, shutting down borders, mandating mask use, and bolstering the capabilities of infectious disease-fighting medical workers. Scientists, meanwhile, are rushing to find a vaccine and a cure for the disease that has killed more than 7,500 people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Many officials are also struggling to prevent the spread of half-truths, misinformation, and unscientific remedies — something that is even harder in the era of social media and instantaneous communication — and even propaganda.

The coronavirus “outbreak and response has been accompanied by a massive ‘infodemic’ — an over-abundance of information – some accurate and some not – that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it,” the WHO said in a report issued in early February.

Garlic, vitamin C, steroids, essential oils? Despite what you might read on Facebook or VK, the Russian social network, there’s no scientific evidence any of these things will combat the coronavirus.

With a view to highlighting the problem of misinformation, and nudging people toward reliable, authoritative sources, here’s a look at some of the more outlandish remedies that some leaders have – wrongly – suggested would help fight the coronavirus.

Turkmen Fumigation​

In Turkmenistan, one of the most oppressive societies in the world, the country has been ruled for years by authoritarian leaders with a penchant for quixotic quirks and health recommendations.

Before his death in 2006, Saparmurat Niyazov, who called himself the Father Of All Turkmen, routinely dispensed spiritual guidance, not to mention public-health advice, to the country, messaging that was widely disseminated by state TV and newspapers. In 2005, the country’s physicians were ordered to spurn the Hippocratic Oath — the ancient pledge used worldwide by medical workers — and instead swear an oath to Niyazov, an electrical engineer by training.

His successor, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, is a dentist by training. But that hasn’t stopped him from building a personality cult similar to Niyazov’s — or from offering unfounded medical advice, most recently on March 13, when he chaired a cabinet meeting to discuss the looming dangers of the coronavirus.

“Over the millennia, our ancestors have developed proven national methods of combating addictions and preventing various infectious diseases,” he said.

He went on to suggest that burning an herb known as hamala, or wild rue, would destroy viruses “that are invisible to the naked eye.”

In fact, this is not true.

In December, Turkmen state TV featured a program discussing veterinary remedies for farmers coping with an outbreak of disease among cattle. Among the remedies being offered were those featured in a book authored by Berdymukhammedov.

A year earlier, the Health Ministry offered medical advice to Turkmen dealing with summer respiratory ailments. Among the tips: “use medicinal teas scientifically described in the book of … Berdymukhammedov’s Plants of Turkmenistan.”

As of March 18, Turkmenistan had reported no confirmed cases of infection.

Reap What You Sow

Over more than two decades of ruling Belarus, Alyaksandr Lukashenka has also routinely dispensed folksy wisdom to his countrymen.

Prior to the presidency, Lukashenka headed a Soviet-style collective farm operation, which is where he has drawn his suggestions and medicinal folklore from in the past.

On March 16, he hosted a meeting of cabinet officials in Minsk, where he sought to head off mounting concerns about the coronavirus in the country. As of March 17, it had 17 confirmed cases.

At the meeting, which was televised on state TV, he told officials “we have lived through other viruses. We’ll live through this one,” he said.

“You just have to work, especially now, in a village,” Lukashenka said. “In the countryside, people are working in the fields, on tractors, no one is talking about the virus.”

“There, the tractor will heal everyone. The fields heal everyone,” he said.

Lukashenka wished his ministers good health and offered this other piece of health advice: Go have a good sweat in a dry sauna; the coronavirus, according to Lukashenka, dies at 60 degrees Celsius.

In fact, there’s no evidence that tractors, saunas, or fieldwork have any effect on the coronavirus.

Vodka Elixir

As of March 18, Serbia had 83 confirmed cases of the virus.

Three weeks prior, as officials across the world were beginning to take concerns about the coronavirus’s spread seriously, President Aleksandar Vucic met with health specialists to discuss the measures being taken by his government.

He joked that alcohol — ingested — might very well be a useful salve.

“After they told me — and now I see that Americans insist it’s true — that the coronavirus doesn’t grow wherever you put alcohol, I’ve now found myself an additional reason to drink one glass a day,” he said. “But it has nothing to do with that alcohol [liquor], I just made that up for you to know.”

It didn’t help matters that, earlier on, Vucic’s foreign minister, had gone on Serbian TV to suggest that the virus was a foreign plot targeting the Chinese economy.

Belarus’s Lukashenka, meanwhile, echoed Vucic’s quip about vodka himself earlier this week.

“I’m a nondrinker, but recently I’ve been jokingly saying that you should not only wash your hands with vodka, but that probably 40-50 grams of pure alcohol will poison this virus,” Lukashenka said.

In fact, drinking alcohol does not prevent or cure the coronavirus, or any other virus inside the body. Alcohol can, in fact, help kill germs and viruses externally, but washing your hands with vodka will not.

Holy Water, Holy Virus

While political leaders have been confusing people with unhelpful medicinal folklore, they aren’t the only leaders to do so.

Some clerics in a number of Orthodox countries — Russia included — have spurned medical guidance that has warned the coronavirus can be transmitted via close physical contact, or bodily fluids, such as droplets in the air, or saliva on utensils.

Metropolitan Ilarion, a top official in the Russian Orthodox Church, told state media that the church will not be closing parishes for services during the period leading up to Easter, which is to be celebrated on April 19.

Ilarion also told Rossia-24 TV that church leaders do not believe that any “virus or disease can be transmitted through communion” — the religious rite of eating bread and sipping wine during a church service.

Still, he indicated that the church would consider changes to things like the use of a communion spoon, used to give blessed wine to parishioners.

“But if it comes to bans or recommendations that we are obliged to follow, then in some cases single-use [disposable] spoons will be used,” he said.

On March 17, he went further.

“This does not mean that the church underestimates the threat. If the virus spreads and the number of infected grows, if new orders from the authorities appear regarding the fight against the coronavirus, the church will respond to them,” he was quoted as telling Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

He said church leaders were taking other unusual steps, including the use of disposable cups, disposable rubber gloves, and a suspension of the practice of kissing the cross or religious icons — a common practice in Orthodox tradition.

Two days earlier, however, at least one Orthodox parish, in the Volga River city of Kazan, was using a reusable “holy spoon” to administer communion wine.

As of March 18, Russia had 114 confirmed cases.

Meanwhile, in Georgia (38 confirmed cases), Orthodox priests were reportedly continuing to use a common spoon to ladle communion into the drinking cups of worshippers who chose that option. And the Greek Orthodox Church also echoed Ilarion’s unfounded insistence that viruses could not spread via Communion.

Other Georgian Orthodox priests, meanwhile, took to the roads this week to try and curtail, or cure, the coronavirus, driving around Tbilisi sprinkling holy water on cars and drivers alike.

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

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Cold War classic U-2 hits milestone on ISIS-intel mission

A 48-year-old U-2 “Dragon Lady” spy plane reached a milestone — 30,000 hours of flight time — while flying a mission to gather intelligence on ISIS, U.S. Central Command said Thursday.


A release from the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing said that a U-2 flown by a pilot identified only as “Maj. Ryan” hit the 30,000-hour mark while “collecting critical, real-time information to give commanders the decisional advantage” against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Related: The real purpose behind China’s mysterious J-20 combat jet

The high-altitude surveillance and reconnaissance plane flew out of a base in Southwest Asia, the report said.

4 things that got a Nazi an automatic Iron Cross
U-2 pilot Maj. Ryan enters into a cockpit before flying a sortie in support of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Feb. 2, 2017. | U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tyler Woodward

The Lockheed U-2 is only the second of the unique aircraft to reach the 30,000-hour mark. In 2016, a U-2 with the 5th Reconnaissance Squadron at Osan Air Base in South Korea completed 30,000 flight hours as the first-ever in the U.S. fleet.

“It takes a lot of people to launch and recover a jet and to keep this going,” said Ryan, of the 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron. “Today, we hit 30,000 hours. I hope it gets 30,000 more.”

4 things that got a Nazi an automatic Iron Cross
USAF Lockheed U-2 Dragon Lady | U.S. Air Force photo

An assistant maintenance operations officer identified as Capt. Lacey said, “The mere fact alone that we’re able to continue flying this aircraft to this day is an achievement in itself, let alone fly 30,000 hours on one aircraft.”

Also read: F-35s, F-22s will soon have artificial intelligence to control drone wingmen

A maintenance superintendent was quoted as saying, “The accomplishment of the U-2 flying 30,000 hours is extraordinary because the airframe itself is 48 years old, and it is flying with the most technologically advanced ISR [Intelligence, Surveillance Reconnaissance] systems available today.”

4 things that got a Nazi an automatic Iron Cross
These guys are clearly stoked.

With a thin fuselage and 80-foot wings, the U-2 was developed during the Cold War for photo reconnaissance against the Soviet Union. The aircraft were first flown by decommissioned Air Force pilots for the CIA but later became Air Force assets.

The service has plans in the works eventually to replace the U-2s with unmanned RQ-4 Global Hawks but, in the meantime, the aircraft remain a vital intelligence tool.

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