For most Americans, Kazakhstan evokes images of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat character, driving across America, uttering timeless quotes about his wife, his neighbor Ursultan, or those a**holes in Uzbekistan. Those interested in military history might want to look beyond Borat’s neon green bikini – it was a Kazakh who hoisted the Soviet flag over the Reichstag during World War II after all and until it was absorbed into the Soviet Union, Kazakh tribes remained largely undefeated in military history.
In 1969, a burial mound was discovered near Issyk in what was then the Kazakh SSR of the Soviet Union. The mound contained an ancient skeleton along with warrior’s gear and funeral treasures belonging to a long-dead Scythian soldier, estimated to be buried around the 5th Century BCE. Based on the funerary treasures, the skeleton was considered to be that of a noble, a prince or princess. Among those treasures was what has come to be called the “Golden Man” amongst Kazakhs – a suit of ornate armor made of more than 4,000 pieces of gold.
The suit is so ornate and valuable, the Kazakh government will only show replicas of the Golden Man in museums. The original is said to be housed in the main vault of the National Bank of Kazakhstan in Almaty.
The Prince is from a tribe of ancient Scythian warriors called the “Saka” who lived in the lands north of what is today Iran. While the ancient historians called all tribes living in the Asian steppe Scythian, the ancient Persians referred to those Scythian tribes at their northern border as the Saka. These nomadic peoples likely fought against Alexander the Great as his forces moved west. They also engaged Cyrus the Great’s Persian forces, killing him in battle around 530 BCE.
The Scythian tribes of this time were not dominated by men, and like their modern-day Soviet Kazakh armies, women would fight alongside their men. It was their Empress Tomyris who led the army that killed Cyrus. Descendants of these same tribes would resist incursions from early Russian, Chinese, and Roman armies.
So while it’s very possible the “Golden Man” wasn’t a man at all, the ancient, cataphract-style armor – armor used by nomadic-style cavalry units – is a beautiful historical work of art. The gold works depict snow leopards, deer, goats, horses, and majestic birds. These are all depicted on the likely ceremonial armor and form a clear basis for the modern style of tribal jewelry-making in the Central Asian country.
As for the bones of the ancient warrior, they were reinterred using the customs of the Scythian warriors of the time. The people of this area are still so very close to their tribal origins that they all know from which of the three tribes of Kazakhstan they descend.
With the surge in popularity of smart watches and the revival of the traditional wrist watch, timepieces and their associated accessories are flooding the market. One of the easiest ways to personalize a watch is with a new strap. Looking for something rugged with a pop of color? There are rubber straps available in every color across the spectrum. Wanna dress your watch up a bit? Try a cowhide, snakeskin, or even crocodile leather strap. One watch strap that has really taken off in the last few years is the elastic nylon strap. Stretchy, breathable, and available in tons of colors and patterns, the strap’s popularity has spawned dozens of variants from a plethora of retailers. But, they can all trace their roots back to the French Navy.
Necessity is so often the mother of invention. In the military, troops commonly innovate with the resources available to them in order to properly equip themselves for their mission. One of the most challenging fields in the military is faced by combat divers. In order to ensure safe dives, frogmen wear specialized diving equipment like dive watches to keep track of their elapsed underwater time. While this is easily accomplished today with an electronic dive computer, 20th century frogmen relied on precise mechanical dive watches. But, the accuracy of the watch was pointless if the diver couldn’t wear the watch over their wetsuit. The French Navy came up with a clever solution.
Known natively as the Marine Nationale, the French Navy is one of the world’s oldest naval services dating back to 1624. As the French built their military up after WWII, one area of focus was underwater operations. French naval officer and explorer Jacques Cousteau drove this foray into the field with the invention of the aqualung and the founding of an underwater research group in the French Navy.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the watch world saw a boom in dive watches. Many watchmakers like Rolex and Omega supplied dive watches to the world’s militaries. The French Navy issued their frogmen a variety of brands including Tudor (a more affordable brand under Rolex that was also issued to the U.S. Navy SEALs), Doxa, Triton, and ZRC. However, these watches were issued without watch straps. With just the watch head, French divers were forced to furnish their own straps.
Some divers followed the lead of their British counterparts who had invented the Zulu and NATO nylon watch straps. While these straps were tough and proven in the field, they had to be resized between wearing the watch on a bare wrist and over a wetsuit. Eventually, the French frogmen took to cutting strips of elastic webbing from their parachutes to make watch straps. The stretchy material allowed them to wear their watches on and off duty without having to adjust them.
The elastic watch strap invented by the French frogmen became a popular watch accessory in a niche civilian market. Called the NDC (Nageur de Combat, French for combat diver/frogman) strap, the lack of surplus parachutes led to the creation of civilian replicas. While these replicas offer a wider variety of colors and patterns, a few retailers still manage to source NOS parachutes to make NDC straps as close to the originals as possible. If you’re looking for a unique bit of genuine military history, or just want to revitalize your wrist device with a comfortable and durable strap, consider the NDC strap invented by the French combat divers that it’s named for.
It was the fourth day of the 1995 Gordon Bennett Cup, one of the world’s most prestigious balloon races and one of the most challenging as well.
Alan Fraenckel, 55, and John Stuart-Jervis, 68, were over the skies of Poland before dawn on September 12, 1995, heading toward Belarus with a real chance of winning.
The two Americans, residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands, were excited by the prospect of flying over the former Soviet republic, which was mostly off limits until gaining independence following the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Race organizers said Belarusian authorities had been informed about the Americans’ plans and had cleared them, along with four other American racers who were also planning to fly over Belarus in two other balloons.
However, as Fraenckel, an airline pilot by profession, and his copilot, Stuart-Jervis, headed into Belarus, they were tracked for more than two hours by Belarusian air-defense system before a military helicopter sprayed the balloon – which was filled with some 900 cubic meters of highly flammable hydrogen — with machine-gun fire, sending it crashing into a forest in western Belarus and killing both men.
Belarusian authorities said the balloon – registered in Germany as D-Caribbean — had strayed too close to a military airbase and missile-launch site and had failed to respond to radio calls or warning shots.
The International Aeronautical Federation would later say that Belarusian authorities had known about the race since March, had authorized the balloon of Stuart-Jervis and Fraenkel as well as those of J. Michael Wallace, Kevin Brielmann, David Levin, and Mark Sullivan. Moreover, race officials said the pilots had provided specific flight plans during the race.
Belarus did express regret over the tragedy, but stopped short of issuing a formal apology. Washington slammed Minsk for dragging its feet on notifying them of the incident and was further incensed when Belarusian authorities issued fines of $30 to the other balloonists – who had been forced to land — for not having visas.
“This is a farce,” said State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns at the time. “We expected an apology from the Belarusian government and instead we got a bill.”
The incident came a year after Alyaksandr Lukashenka — a former collective farm manager who cast himself as a crime and corruption buster — had been elected president of Belarus, a post he would hold for decades as he erected an authoritarian system much like the former Soviet one, crushing all opponents who stood in his way.
Hours before tragedy struck, Fraenckel and Stuart-Jervis were in radio contact with Wallace and Brielmann, who were only 20 kilometers away after more than 60 hours of flight.
“We have 12 bags [of ballast] left,” said Fraenckel, “and all our water. We’re going to do a fourth night.”
“If you can’t find your crew,” answered Wallace, a close friend of Fraenckel’s, “you could still land now. My guys are right under you.” Half joking, half serious, Wallace was aware that the other balloon stood a good chance of winning if it stayed aloft.
“I don’t think so,” chuckled Fraenckel.
The Gordon Bennett Balloon Race, named for the millionaire sportsman and owner of the New York Herald newspaper, is the premier event among balloon racers. In principle, it is a simple event — the winner is the balloon that flies the furthest from the starting point without landing.
But it is literally a killer, and dozens have fallen victim to it over the years. In the 1923 race, which was held in Europe, five balloonists were killed by lightning, and a half dozen more were seriously injured in storms.
In 1995, the year of the Belarus tragedy, German balloonists Wilhelm Elmers and Bernd Landsmann set the race record for longest flight time, remaining aloft for more than 92 hours before touching down in Latvia on September 13.
That year, the race began on September 9 when 17 balloons lifted away from the starting point at Wil, Switzerland. By the evening of September 10, six of the balloons had landed in various locations in Western Europe, ending their bid for the trophy.
Witness To A Tragedy
As the Americans were traversing the skies of western Belarus, Vasil Zdanyuk, editor in chief of the Belarusian newspaper Svododnye Novosti and a correspondent for the Moscow-based Military Journal, sat down for an interview in his Minsk office with Belarusian Air Force commander Valery Kastenka.
“About 20 minutes into our interview, the operative on duty at the Air Defense Forces called and said: ‘We have the following situation: an unidentified object has appeared not far from our facilities, not far from an airfield.’ There is a military airbase nearby,” recounted Zdanyuk to Current Time, the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.
In fact, according to Zdanyuk, Kastenka was at that moment explaining the nuisance that low-flying probes — mostly weather balloons — posed for Belarus’s air defenses.
“Kastenka recounted how one of these balloons flew right over Minsk and almost caused a panic, although there was no danger,” he recalled. “And he says, ‘See how lucky you are. We are discussing it, and there is a balloon in the air.'”
Kastenka ordered a military helicopter – a Mil Mi-24 — up in the air to check out the object.
As the military gunship got closer to D-Caribbean, Kastenka flicked on the speakerphone, letting Zdanyuk hear the conversation between Kastenka and the helicopter commander.
“After five more minutes, when the helicopter had flown around [the balloon], the operative asked: ‘What should we do with it?’ ‘What should we do? Let’s shoot it down,’ [Kastenka] added a few tough expletives. And I’m sitting there, doing the interview, and all of this is being recorded,” Zdanyuk said.
Zdanyuk said he could even hear the fusillade of machine-gun fire as Kastenka allegedly boasted to him: “You see, this is how we work. This is how we serve.”
The bodies of Fraenckel and Stuart-Jervis were later found in a forest near the town of Byaroza, after having fallen some 2,000 meters.
Zdanyuk told Current Time in his December 2019 interview that he was confident Kastenka did not know the balloon was manned, speculating things may not have taken a tragic turn had Kastenka waited some 20 minutes until the other two American balloons appeared.
“Then he would have been more cautious: Why are they flying one after another,” Zdanyuk said. “And it would have become clear that a world ballooning championship from Switzerland was taking place.”
The Other Americans
Of the two remaining U.S. balloons, the first to land was the N69RW, navigated by David Levin and Mark Sullivan.
“At first we stuck to a more northern route: we headed to a small part of Russia near Latvia and climbed over the Baltic. But when in the morning the balloon began to rise due to solar energy, we turned east to Belarus,” Sullivan later recounted.
Two hours before crossing the border, the balloonists tried to contact the Minsk air traffic control center. Their signal was confirmed, but they were answered in Russian, although English is normally used in international aviation communication.
Wallace and Brielmann landed in Belarus after being ordered to do so by the Belarusians. Levin and Sullivan ignored a similar order, but also landed in Belarus because of deteriorating weather.
The Belarusian government expressed regret for the incident but stopped short of offering a formal apology.
“We would call upon the Belarusian government to get its act together and to make sure that all the entities of the Belarusian government…begin to understand that the way they are handling this incident and the way they are treating American citizens is really a mockery,” the State Department’s Burns said on September 16, 1995.
“Whatever the circumstances may have been, and whether or not the balloon was able to answer radio calls from the Belarus military, the shooting was absolutely indefensible,” he said. “Moreover, the Belarus government took 24 hours even to notify us of the incident. We are strongly protesting and demanding a full investigation by the Belarus government.”
The Interstate Aviation Committee of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) — a loose grouping of former Soviet republics — investigated the incident with representatives of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and German aviation authorities also participating.
In its final report, the committee concluded the causes of the shooting were: “Unauthorized flight into the airspace of [Belarus] by an unidentified balloon, with no radio communication [between the balloon crew and Belarus air traffic control (ATC)0],” and “errors by [Belarus] anti-aircraft defense elements in the identification and classification of the airship that violated [Belarus] airspace.”
Yury Sivakou, head of the Belarusian Security Council at the time of the incident, defended Belarus’s actions, telling Current Time in 2019 that any country under similar circumstances would have done the same.
“If an unidentified aircraft appears in foreign space — in any country — first they negotiate with it, then they raise the appropriate air defense forces, which either enter into communication or force it to land,” said Sivakou, now blacklisted by the EU for his alleged role in the abduction and killings of opposition leaders in Belarus in the 1990s. “Even if radio communication does not work, there is a whole range of various [actions]: flapping wings and so on to force it to land, or indicating manually, ‘Follow me.’ In this case, the balloon did not react at all, and that was very strange at the time.”
According to Sivakou, the military assumed there could be “anything” in the balloon gondola. They came to this conclusion because there was an air base and other military facilities nearby.
He dismissed reports that the crew involved in the downing had been awarded medals as “speculation and rumors.”
“People died – it’s a tragedy,” he said. “Who awards anything in such cases? This was no act of aggression. It was just an accident.”
While families of the victims have never received a formal apology or any compensation from Minsk, many ordinary Belarusians expressed sorrow and shame for how its government had acted.
Alyaksandr Artsyukhovich, studying at a U.S. university at the time, expressed hope the shooting would be the last such tragedy.
“My country is a mess now,” he wrote at the time. “Millions of people feel themselves manipulated and frustrated. I only hope that the [recent] incident [will] be the only tragedy. Only removal of the artificial barriers built by the West to our integration into the world’s community can normalize things in Belarus.”
On the first anniversary of the tragedy, activists in Belarus placed a simple stone at the crash site with a cross, the date of the accident, and the phrase in Belarusian: “Forgive us.”
For the past few years, both Army and Navy break out with new uniforms to honor some aspect of their service or academy heritage during the much-anticipated Army-Navy Game. The 2019 game will feature the Black Knights honoring the 1st Cavalry Division with their uniforms while Navy is wearing throwback unis reminiscent of the days of Navy legend Roger Staubach – who will surely be in attendance.
While it’s cool to see all the thought and effort that goes into making one of college football’s biggest rivalries an epic game, not all of the uniforms were on target. Here are a few of the all-time best.
6. Navy’s 2013 “Don’t Give Up The Ship”
These majestic blue and gold digs honored not only the traditions and history of the Naval Academy but also included a traditional design with a historical, entirely relevant message underneath the uniform. Navy didn’t give up the ship, beating Army 34-7.
5. Army’s 2012 “1944” Tribute
This year, Army sported black and gold uniforms that honored its World War II heritage, incorporating real-world battle maps of the 1944 Battle of the Bulge. Their helmets this year also featured the black spade logo to honor the 101st Airborne Division. But badass uniforms were not enough to beat Navy, who won 17-13.
4. Navy’s 2015 Ship Helmets
While Navy’s uniforms this year may be par-for-the course college football jerseys, each helmet was specifically painted with a different kind of ship in the Navy’s fleet. Ranked Navy beat Army 21-17.
3. Army’s 2017 10th Mountain White-Outs
Almost as if Army predicted the weather, the Black Knights’ 2017 all-white tribute to the 10th Mountain Division came when the game was pretty much played in the middle of a snowstorm. Army topped Navy 14-13.
2. Navy’s 2019 Staubach-Era Throwbacks
Yes, it may seem unfair to add this year’s Navy uniform to the list, but choosing to honor the Staubach-era Navy team by wearing a throwback to their uniforms is a thoughtful touch for the aging “Comeback Kid,” who will turn 78 in 2020. Staubach led the Mids to numerous come-from-behind victories, including over vaunted rival Notre Dame. The Heisman Trophy-winner then led the team to the 1964 National Championship, but fell to number one Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
1. Army’s 2018 “Big Red One” Uniforms
In 2018, the Black Knights honored the 100th Anniversary of the End of World War I with an homage to the 1st Infantry Division with these sweet black and red combo uniforms. I’m not saying this is why ranked Army topped Navy for the third year in a row, but I’m also not ruling it out.
Imagine if a robot could go ahead of troops, by a kilometer or more, to assess a situation and relay information back that would help commanders know what’s ahead and know how to respond?
Army Futures Command isn’t just imagining that- they’re already building it.
“This isn’t about robots or technology, this is about soldiers and this is about commanders on the battlefield, and giving them the decision space and reducing the risk of our men and women when we go into the nastiest places on the planet,” Brig. Gen. Ross Coffman, director of the Army’s Next Generation Combat Vehicle-Cross Functional Team, told reporters during a virtual discussion about the Robotic Combat Vehicle Soldier Operational Experiment.
A platoon of soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division at Ft. Carson, CO spent much of this summer sending two-person crews out in modified Bradley fighting vehicles to control robotic surrogate vehicles that were built from M113 armored personnel vehicles. The goal of the experiment was to observe the vehicles and to collect and analyze feedback from the soldiers working with them on the feasibility of integrating robots into ground combat formations.
The modified Bradleys are known as Mission Enabling Technologies Demonstrators (MET-Ds) and the modified M113s are known as Robotic Combat Vehicles (RCVs).
The goal of the program is to eventually build a collection of vehicles that can be used to provide reconnaissance capabilities and standoff distance or to replace soldiers in high-risk activities like combined arms breaches and chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives (CBRNE) reconnaissance.
Coffman emphasized that this summer’s experiment at Ft. Carson was just that, an experiment, and not a test and that there is still much work to be done before soldiers will be able to use robots downrange.
“Right now, it’s difficult for a robot, when it looks at a puddle, to know if it’s the Mariana Trench or two inches deep,” said Maj. Corey Wallace, RCV lead for the Next Generation Vehicle-Cross Functional Team. “The RCV must be able to sense as well as a human. It needs to hear branches breaking around it. It needs to know when it’s on soft sand or an incline. We still need to work on that.”
Jeffrey Langhout, director of the Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Ground Vehicle Systems Center, acknowledged that the robots still have a ways to go and noted that there are particular challenges involved in designing a robot vehicle for combat.
“Right now, we don’t have the sensors to tell us if a puddle is something we can drive through. In the auto industry, high-tech cars are operating on pavement and in a generous GPS environment. We are looking at how to operate in a denied environment, where things can go bad quickly,” Langhout said.
Earlier this year, the Army selected two companies, QinetiQ North America and Textron, to build the eventual vehicles. QinetiQ North America will build four prototypes of the Robotic Combat Vehicle-Light and Textron will build four prototypes of the RCV-Medium. Coffman said that the Marine Corps is also using QinetiQ to build an RCV-Light and the two services and working together on the designs.
All in all, Coffman said the experiment was “100% successful.”
“We learned where the technology is now and how we can fight with it in the future,” Coffman said.
And just how far in the future are we talking? Unfortunately, pretty far.
Coffman said a second experiment is planned for Ft. Hood, Texas in the first part of the fiscal year 2022 using the same M113 robot vehicles and Bradley control vehicles in company-size operations. After that, an experiment will be held to test the vehicles in more complex situations. And after that, the Army will decide if robot vehicles are worth further investment.
This is to say that, cool as the robots are, for now, most soldiers and military families will have to be content just imagining them.
The US Navy is having its sailors train on an aircraft carrier weapon system that the service is planning to rip out of its Nimitz-class carriers due to its ineffectiveness.
Sailors continue to train on the Anti-Torpedo Torpedo Defense System (ATTDS), a weapon system that was designed to counter one of the single greatest threats to an aircraft carrier — torpedoes, The War Zone reports, noting that the Navy recently released images of sailors aboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower training on the ATTDS for a Board of Inspection and Survey.
The most recent training, which involved firing the weapon system, took place in late July 2019. The material survey for which the crew was preparing requires proficiency with all onboard systems, and that they are functional and properly maintained.
The ATTDS, part of the broader Surface Ship Torpedo Defense (SSTD) system, is installed and operational aboard the Eisenhower, as well as the USS Harry S. Truman, USS George H.W. Bush, USS Nimitz, and USS Theodore Roosevelt. But that doesn’t mean it actually works to intercept incoming torpedoes in time to save the ship.
Sailors stow an anti-torpedo torpedo aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Joseph T. Miller)
The Navy has abandoned its plans to develop the SSTD and is in the process of removing it from the carriers on which it has been installed, the Pentagon’s Office of the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation said in a report released earlier this year.
The anti-torpedo system was a 0 million project that never really went anywhere.
In principle, the Torpedo Warning System (TWS), a component of the ATTDS, would detect an incoming threat and then send launch information to another piece, the Countermeasure Anti-Torpedo (CAT), an interceptor that would be launched into the water to neutralize the incoming torpedo.
The DOTE report noted that the “TWS demonstrated some capability to detect incoming torpedoes,” but there were also false positives. It added that the “CAT demonstrated some capability to defeat an incoming torpedo” but had “uncertain reliability.”
The report also said that the anti-torpedo torpedo’s lethality was untested, meaning that the Navy is not even sure the weapon could destroy or deflect an incoming torpedo. The best the service could say is that there’s a possibility it would work.
Fire Controlman 2nd Class Hector Felix, from Atlanta, fastens a bolt on an anti-torpedo torpedo aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Joseph T. Miller)
Despite having plans to remove the SSTD from its carriers, a project that should be completed by 2023, the Navy continues to have sailors train on the system, even as the service reviews training to identify potential detriments to readiness.
“The Navy is planning to remove ATTDS from aircraft carriers incrementally through fiscal year 2023 as the ships cycle through shipyard periods,” Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) spokesperson William Couch told The War Zone.
“The Navy is sustaining the ATTDS systems that are still installed on some vessels, where it is necessary for the sailors to train with the system to maintain their qualifications in preparation for future deployments,” he added.
In other words, it appears that the reason for the continued training is simply that the system is on the ship and won’t be removed until ships have scheduled shipyard time, making the ability to operate it an unavoidable requirement.
INSIDER reached out to NAVSEA for clarity but has yet to receive a response.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
President Donald Trump’s decision to send troops to the southern border and funding transfers following the declaration of a national emergency pose an “unacceptable risk to Marine Corps combat readiness and solvency,” the Marine Corps commandant warned.
An internal memo sent in March 2019 by Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller to Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer and Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan listed “unplanned/unbudgeted southwest border operations” and “border security funding transfers” alongside Hurricanes Florence and Michael as “negative factors” putting readiness at risk, the Los Angeles Times first reported.
The four-star general explained that due to a number of unexpected costs, referred to as “negative impacts,” the Marines will be forced to cancel or limit their participation in a number of previously planned activities, including training exercises in at least five countries.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Asia J. Sorenson)
He warned that the cancelled training exercises will “degrade the combat readiness and effectiveness of the Marine Corps,” adding that “Marines rely on the hard, realistic training provided by these events to develop the individual and collective skills necessary to prepare for high-end combat.”
Neller further argued that cancellations or reduced participation would hurt the Corps’ ties to US allies and partners at a critical time.
Border security is listed among several factors, such as new housing allowances and civilian pay raises, that could trigger a budget shortfall for the Marine Corps, but it is noteworthy that the commandant identified a presidential priority as a detriment to the service.
In a separate memo, Neller explained that the Marines are currently short id=”listicle-2632709751″.3 billion for hurricane recovery operations.
“The hurricane season is only three months away, and we have Marines, Sailors, and civilians working in compromised structures,” he wrote.
Marines help push a car out of a flooded area during Hurricane Florence, at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Sept. 15, 2018.
The Pentagon sent a list of military construction projects that could lose their funding to cover the cost of the president’s border wall to Congress on March 18, 2019. Among the 400 projects that could be affected were funds for Camp Lejeune and Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station, both of which suffered hurricane damage in 2018.
Congress voted in March 2019 to cancel Trump’s national emergency, but the president quickly vetoed the legislation.
Critics have argued that the president’s deployment of active-duty troops to the border, as well as plans to cut funding for military projects, are unnecessary and will harm military readiness.
In October 2018, more than 5,000 active-duty troops joined the more than 2,000 National Guard troops already at the southern border.
The deployment, a response to migrant caravans from Central America, was initially set to end in mid-December 2018, but it has since been extended until at least September 2019 As of January 2019, border operations have already cost the military 0 million, and that figure is expected to grow throughout 2019.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. — Marine lieutenants at The Basic School were the first to complete a new test that could eventually change the way officers are assigned to military occupational specialties.
The Marine Corps is no longer using a World War II-era General Classification Test new officers have been taking for decades. In its place is an aptitude test millions of civilians take every year during the hiring process for major corporations.
About 300 students at TBS were the first to take the Criteria Cognitive Aptitude Test, or CCAT, here this week. Data collected over the next several years could change how lieutenants are screened for special billets and placed into their career fields.
Before the test, the officers were told they were the first in line to help improve the Marine Corps’ MOS assignment process.
“The purpose of this test is to determine indicators of success within a MOS as it pertains to mental indicators,” a slide describing the test stated. “This test will likely aid in shaping the future of MOS assignments, assignment to career level education, and screening for special billets.”
The test includes 50 questions — a mix of verbal, math, logic and spatial-reasoning problems. Officers are asked to answer as many as possible in the allotted 15-minute test window.
The older test typically took officers more than two hours to complete. Since the schoolhouse has a packed curriculum, 2nd Lt. Issachar Beechner was relieved this one took a fraction of the time.
“You don’t get a lot of new things in the Marine Corps, so it’s good to be part of something new,” he told Military.com after completing it.
Beechner and 2nd Lt. Kelly Owen didn’t complete all 50 questions in the 15 minutes. Beecher got through 28 and Owen through 39.
That’s common when it comes to the CCAT, said Capt. Oludare Adeniji, an operations research analyst here at Quantico who helped lead the search for a replacement to the decades-old General Classification Test.
“That’s a part of how we get reliable scores,” Adeniji said.
A big flaw with the old test, he added, was that it was no longer providing the Marine Corps with useful data. Officers across the board were receiving high marks, but men and white officers tended to perform better than women and those in minority groups. That raised questions about possible biases on the outdated test.
“When we did a study this past summer, we saw that officers that are assessing over the last 10 years or so were all skewed to one side of that test,” Adeniji said. “What we’re trying to do with the CCAT is re-center it and have a proper distribution of scores.”
With the new test, the Marine Corps will not only collect about 10,000 officers’ scores, but will gather information on how those Marines perform in their career fields. Once they have about five years’ worth of data, they’ll examine possible connections between the test scores and MOS performance.
Analyzing that data is part of a Marine Corps-wide emphasis on talent management, Adeniji said.
“When you place an officer in a job that [they are] successful at and they feel that they’re good at it, it’s a retention tool,” he added. “They perform better, and the Marines are better off for it because they’ve been aligned in accordance with their capabilities.
“We’re trying to better understand the officer that comes through the door here and what they’re already good at so we can … say, ‘Hey, you show indicators that you’d be good within these MOSs.'”
Last year, the CCAT was given about 3 million times by civilian employers, Adeniji said. The Marine Corps looked at about a dozen different tests before selecting this one. The review to replace the General Classification Test took about four years.
Maj. Craig Thomas, a spokesman for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, said that TBS won’t change how it assigns officers to their MOSs for at least five years. Students at TBS can request a copy of their test results, but their scores won’t bar them from serving in specific fields.
Adeniji agreed. “The test is not directive,” he said. “… We’re not screening people out [of any MOSs]. We’re informing decision making.”
Owen joined the Marine Corps on a law contract, but she hopes to switch into the infantry. Beechner hopes to become a fixed-wing pilot and fly the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter or a KC-130 tanker.
Both compared the CCAT to other cognitive placement tests they took in college. Beechner said the test was like the multiple-choice Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery new recruits and officer candidates take before joining the Marine Corps.
The officers completed the web-based test on their own computers. It doesn’t require any studying or prep work since it’s meant to assess their general knowledge.
Owen said she’s glad to see the Marine Corps looking at ways to improve officers’ career placement.
“If you can place somebody in an MOS that will allow them to enjoy their career more, they’re more likely to stay,” she said.
Israel has begun construction on a massive underwater barrier with the Gaza Strip which it is calling “impenetrable.”
Israel and the Gaza Strip are both located along the Mediterranean Sea, and are separated by several land borders. But no barrier has ever been erected at sea.
Israel’s Defense Ministry said in a statement that building of the “impenetrable” barrier has begun at Gaza’s northern border, along the beach of a small agricultural community, or kibbutz, called Zikim. The barrier is designed to withstand harsh sea conditions for many years, according to the ministry.
A defense official said the massive barrier will consist of three security layers, which include a layer below sea level, a layer of armored stone, and a top layer of barbed wire. An additional fence will surround the entire area.
Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the “one-of-a-kind” security project will “effectively block any possibility of infiltrating Israel by sea.”
Leiberman added that the barrier serves to limit militant group Hamas’ strategic capabilities as tensions continue to flare along the border. At least 60 Palestinians were killed and more than 2,700 injured during violent clashes with Israeli soldiers early May 2018. On May 29, 2018, more than 27 rockets were reportedly fired from Gaza into Israel.
The decision to build the barrier was prompted by a thwarted attack by Hamas militants at sea in July 2014, during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge. Four Hamas naval operatives, referred to as frogmen, swam ashore at Zikim beach and attempted to cross into Israeli territory. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said the men were armed with automatic weapons and explosives, and sought to carry out a terror attack. The four men were later killed in combined sea, air, and land attacks by the IDF.
The IDF posted aerial footage of the thwarted attack:
Elephantry in the ancient world was the weaponized manifestation of an emperor’s power and wealth. India was the first and the last country to officially use them in direct combat. These majestic beasts were captured and trained to serve as ‘tanks’ from as early as 1500 B.C. to 1800 A.D.
They also served as beasts of burden for engineers in World War II.
Male elephants were captured in the wild and were trained to indiscriminately attack humans. It was once thought that elephants could not tell the ethnic differences between people, but modern studies have debunked this myth. Considering this, armies would dress in vivid colors to differentiate themselves from the enemy. However, it didn’t always work out so well.
Warfare evolves and, as a result, war elephant armor went from mundane and utilitarian to extravagant. Towers were tied onto their backs like saddles to house up to six warriors. Mounted personnel would consist of one officer, archers, and spearmen who, while astride the elephant, would have a mobile height advantage and protection. Spikes or swords were fastened onto the tusks and ankles of the elephant to increase lethality. They were raised to spearhead formations and break the lines of a phalanx. Their purpose was to instill terror and exacerbate the fog of war.
To ensure maximum aggression, handlers would serve elephants wine before battle then prod them at the ankles to direct their anger forward. The elephants would charge into formations, blinded by rage, and unleash a symphony of violence and death.
Dumbo, drinking the grog at the Marine Corps Ball, circa 1996, colorized. (Image from Disney’s Dumbo)
At the Battle of the Hydaspes, in 326 B.C., King Porus of Paurava and King Alexander III of Macedon showcased how elephantry was employed and taken down in battle. Alexander ordered his Phalanx to take on Porus’ elephantry, but their sheer size and fearsome force were enough to break the lines in several places. Seeing his infantry decimated, he ordered his cavalry to reinforce the lines.
On Alexander’s orders, the light infantry sent javelins into the eyes of the beasts in tandem with the heavy infantry who cut at their hamstrings with axes and scimitars. The elephants, wild with pain and fear and unable to defeat the Phalanx, stampeded onto their own troops. King Porus’ ordered a full attack as a last-ditch effort to retake the initiative, but his forces were slaughtered. The surviving elephants were then captured and used by Alexander in subsequent battles.
As exciting as it may be to imagine something out of a Greek epic, the quality of life for these creatures was often abhorrent. Elephants are one of the few animals in the animal kingdom to mourn friends and relatives. Their intelligence and memory have become synonymous with serenity and grace.
These veterans of the ancient world have done their service and are no longer used in battle. Their watch has ended.
Defense Department and Department of Veterans Affairs officials are meeting in March 2019 in Arlington, Virginia, for a two-day symposium on burn pits and airborne pollutants but, as with previous Joint VA/DoD Airborne Hazard Symposia, the meeting is closed to the public and press.
The symposium’s purpose, according to documents from the first meeting in 2012, is to “provide an opportunity to discuss what we know, what we need to know and what can be done to study and improve care” for veterans and troops who “might have suffered adverse health effects related to exposure to airborne hazards, including burn pit smoke and other pollutants.”
Attendance is tightly controlled, with Pentagon and VA officials convening to discuss topics such as a joint action plan to address potential health conditions related to exposure, the VA’s Airborne Hazards and Burn Pit Registry, monitoring deployment environments and the impact of exposures on the Veterans Benefits Administration, according to a copy of the first day’s agenda obtained by Military.com.
A soldier pushing a bulldozer into the flames of a burn pit at Balad, Iraq
(US Army photo)
Members of several veterans service organizations and advocacy groups have been invited to speak, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, American Legion, Burn Pits 360 and the Sgt. Sullivan Circle.
But those veterans’ representatives are allowed to attend only a handful of sessions on the first day, March 14, 2019, including opening remarks and segments on outreach and education, as well as a brown-bag lunch during which they can discuss concerns and issues.
All events scheduled for March 15, 2019, remain unpublished.
Neither the VA nor the DoD responded to requests for information on the event. Veterans advocates also declined to discuss the meeting or their participation, with some expressing concern that they would be prevented from receiving future invites.
Thousands of troops serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere were exposed to airborne pollutants while working and living near burn pits used to dispose of trash, medical waste and other types of refuse at area military bases.
Some have developed a chronic lung disease, constrictive bronchiolitis, while others have developed skin rashes, autoimmune disorders and various types of cancer, including glioblastoma, a brain cancer rarely seen in young adults, that they believe are related to burn pit exposure.
Veterans and advocates have pressed the VA for years to recognize these illnesses as related to burn pit exposure and want them to be considered “presumptive” conditions, a designation that would automatically qualify them for disability compensation and health services.
The VA says it lacks the scientific evidence to directly tie burn pit exposure to certain diseases but has granted service connection for several conditions associated with burn pits, deciding each claim on a case-by-case basis.
In 2011, the Institute of Medicine reviewed all available studies, reports and monitoring data on burn pit utilization and combustibles exposure and concluded that there was not enough evidence or data to draw conclusions about the long-term consequences of exposure.
A service member tosses unserviceable uniform items into a burn pit
More than 140,000 veterans have enrolled in the VA Burn Pit and Airborne Hazards Registry.
From June 2007 through Nov. 30, 2018, the VA received 11,581 claims applications for disability compensation with at least one condition related to burn pit exposure. Of those, 2,318 had a burn pit-related condition granted, according to VA Press Secretary Curt Cashour.
During the same time frame, the VA processed nearly 13.5 million claims; burn pit-related claims made up less than a tenth of a percent of those claims.
“VA encourages all veterans who feel their military service has affected their health to submit a claim, which will be adjudicated using the latest scientific and medical evidence available,” Cashour said.
The Pentagon and VA are developing a way to track environmental exposures in service members starting with the day they enlist. The Individual Longitudinal Exposure Record, or ILER, will record potential and known exposures throughout a service member’s time on active duty. A pilot program is set to begin Sept. 30, 2019.
But those who have suffered exposures in the past 30 years will need to rely on Congress to pass legislation to assist them, the Defense Department to continue researching the issues, and the VA to approve their claims.
Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America, Wounded Warrior Project, IAVA, Disabled American Veterans, the Fleet Reserve Association, the Military Order of the Purple Heart and Military Officers Association of America all have made burn pit and toxic exposure issues a top legislative priority this year.
Several lawmakers, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, have introduced legislation that would require the DoD and VA to share information on troops’ exposure to airborne chemicals and provide periodic health assessments for those who were exposed.
The meeting is to take place at the Veterans Health Administration National Conference Center in Crystal City, Virginia.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
It might surprise the casual student of history to learn that the United States was not alone in supporting South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. America’s traditional list of allies joined us in trying to contain the spread of Communism in South East Asia, including Taiwan, South Korea, and Australia. Each one of them brought the pain to the enemy in their own way.
South Koreans were so zealous in their fight against Communism that everyone else actually had to restrain them at times. Aside from the powerful bombing campaigns, America employed precision special operations units, which North Vietnamese called “the men with green faces.” It was the Australians they feared most, however.
At any given moment, everything would be fine and then, suddenly, you’d see all your men killed in the blink of an eye. That’s how they knew the Aussies were in the area.
Even though Aussies had been in Vietnam since 1962, the Australian Special Air Service Regiment first arrived in Vietnam in April 1966 with the mission of conducting long-range reconnaissance patrols in the dense Vietnamese jungles.
They were so effective in the field, the NVA called the Australians the “Ghosts of the Jungle.” They even provided instructors to the United States’ Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol school. They would operate on 24-hour missions in the areas surrounding friendly bases.
Small fire teams of four to six men moved much more slowly than any other unit, even other special operations units. But once in contact with the enemy, the Australians unleashed a barrage of fire, designed to make the enemy believe there were more men on the opposing side than there really were.
The slow, quiet movement and hellish raking fire the Australians brought to the NVA and VC made them the most feared enemy unit in the areas of South Vietnam. Even the most quiet VC infiltrators could easily walk into a devastating Aussie ambush.
An SASR patrol during Operation Coburg, South Vietnam 1968.
(Australian Defense Ministry)
Each Aussie SASR unit operated with an attached New Zealand SAS trooper and each of the three “Sabre” squadrons did, at least, a one-year tour in Vietnam, operating throughout Phuoc Tuy province as well as in Bien Hoa, Long Khanh, and Binh Tuy provinces. They also deployed with American Special Forces and Navy SEALs throughout the country.
The Australian SASR first came in contact with the enemy in May, 1966, when they met a Viet Cong force in the area around Nui Dat. It did not go well for the VC. From there, the Aussies spread their recon patrol range by several kilometers. By the end of their time in Vietnam, the unit performed 1,200 combat patrols with one killed in action, one dead from wounds, three accidentally killed, one missing, and one death from illness. Another 28 men were wounded in action.
Before leaving in 1971, the ANZACs killed 600 enemy troops, the highest kill ratio of the entire war.
The Pentagon warned on Thursday morning that anyone who tries to breach the US Embassy in Baghdad would face a “buzzsaw.”
Swarms of violent protesters and apparent supporters of an Iran-backed Iraqi militia targeted by recent US airstrikes stormed the gates of the embassy on Tuesday, forcing the Pentagon to react.
About 100 Marines from a special crisis-response unit created after the 2012 attacks on US diplomatic posts in Benghazi, Libya, were sent in to reinforce the embassy, and 750 paratroopers from the Army 82nd Airborne Division’s Immediate Response Force deployed to the US Central Command area of operations.
At a press briefing on Thursday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, said that “we are very confident in the integrity of that embassy.”
“It is highly unlikely to be physically overrun by anyone,” he said, adding that “anyone who attempts to overrun that will run into a buzzsaw.”
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark A. Milley
(DOD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Chuck Burden)
The US on Sunday conducted airstrikes against five positions of the militia, Kataib Hezbollah, in retaliation for a rocket attack days earlier on an Iraqi base that killed a US contractor and wounded several American service members.
President Donald Trump has pinned the blame for both the rocket attack and the assault on the embassy on Iran.
“Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many. We strongly responded, and always will. Now Iran is orchestrating an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. They will be held fully responsible,” he tweeted on Tuesday, later adding: “Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities. They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat.”
The past year has been largely characterized by heightened tensions with Iran, which the US military has deployed roughly 15,000 troops to counter since May.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said at the briefing on Thursday, according to Voice of America, that the US would “take preemptive action” against Kataib Hezbollah and other Iran-backed militias in Iraq “to protect American forces, to protect American lives.”
He added: “The game has changed. We’re prepared to do what is necessary.”
Esper said that there were indications that groups opposed to the US presence in the area might be planning additional attacks.
“Do I think they may do something? Yes. And they will likely regret it,” he said.
Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper.
(DoD photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Nicole Mejia)
The Department of State told Insider on Wednesday that the situation at the embassy “has improved” and that the Iraqi security forces had stepped in to provide additional security, clearing protesters away from the outpost.
The embassy, which cost an estimated 0 million, is in a 104-acre compound in the fortified Green Zone, making it the world’s largest embassy.
“Though the situation around the Embassy perimeter has calmed significantly, post security posture remains heightened,” the emailed statement read. The Pentagon has left the door open to sending more troops to the Middle East to counter threats to US personnel in the region.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.