It has been 32 years ever since Chris Cocks first published his acclaimed book narrating his experiences with the elite Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI). Now, five editions later, he is reprinting his masterpiece.
But it’s not just a reprint. Cocks has gone in and re-wrote the book to make it even better.
“Over the last three decades, the book has undergone around five editions with various publishers, some good, some not so good,” said Cocks “I decided, therefore, to re-write the book and take out a lot of fluff and waffle, and then self-publish.”
The Rhodesian Bush War (1964-1980) was a small but intense Cold War conflict. The Rhodesian government was faced by a Communist insurgency that had shrewdly sold itself in the international community as a liberation front aiming to end White-rule in the Southern African country.
Formed in 1961, the Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI) was an airborne all-white unit focused on direct action operations. (Most units in the Rhodesian military were mixed, usually Black soldiers led by White officers; the RLI and the Rhodesian Special Air Service (SAS) were some of the few all-White outfits.) Three years later, in 1964, the unit was retitled to 3 Commando, The Rhodesian Light Infantry, to better reflect its Special Operations role.
The unit was broken down to four Commandos of 100 men each and a headquarters company. The majority of the RLI troopers were Rhodesian regulars or reserves. There was, however, a significant foreign presence (Americans, French, Germans, British, Australians, New Zealanders).
“As a 20-year-old lance-corporal, I found myself in command of a troop (a platoon),” he recalls. “As a junior NCO, I never lost a man in combat, but I think that was luck. But I’m still proud of that.”
The airborne capabilities of the unit paired with its lethality made the RLI the bane of the communist insurgents. It is estimated that as part of Fire Force missions, which were introduced in 1974, the RLI killed 12,000 insurgents. At some point during the Bush War, the operational tempo was so high, that RLI troopers were conducting three combat jumps a day. Rapid deployment of troops was key to the Fire Force concept. Jumps, thus, were made at 300-500 feet without reserve parachutes. Indeed, they were flying so low that as the last jumper of the stick exited the aircraft, the first hit the ground. To this day, an RLI trooper holds the world record for most operational jumps with an astounding 73.
Chris Cocks’ book provides an original account of the Rhodesian Bush War. Several pictures breathe life into the men and their feats. The illustrations on the Fire Force are elucidating. Perhaps what sets Cocks’ book apart from similar narratives is its dual nature: a lover of narrative history will gain as much as a student of military history. (I’ve personally used Cocks’ book as a primary source for a paper that was published in the West Point’s military history journal.)
The cover of the latest edition.
Dr. Paul L. Moorcraft, a British journalist and academic who has written extensively on the Rhodesian Bush War, said that “Cocks’s work is one of the very few books which adequately describes the horrors of war in Africa … Fire Force is the best book on the Rhodesian War that I have read… it is a remarkable account that bears comparison with other classics on war … a tour de force.”
Cocks first wrote the book in the mid-1980s. He sought to understand why so many had died (over 50,000 dead on both sides) and why Zimbabwe had fallen to Communism. “Essentially, we lost not only the war, but our country,” said Cocks. “For what? I needed to record that, somehow. To be honest, I just started writing, with no particular end point in mind. It all came tumbling out.”
This is a book worth reading. You can purchase it on Amazon.
The Black Samurai, despite sounding like a name that’d be more at home in a movie or a comic book than the real world, is a genuine nickname given to a mysterious man from feudal Japan, otherwise known only as Yasuke.
The rank of samurai was, of course, considered one of great prestige and it came with a number of perks including a salary, land, a stipend of rice, servants and the ability to kill commoners who offended them without consequence. In regards to that last one, kiri-sute gomen (literally: authorization to cut and leave) was a right granted to samurai that allowed them to kill anyone of a lower rank (even other samurai of lower rank) for any perceived slight against their honor. While this has little to do with the story of Yasuke, we couldn’t not mention the fact that samurai had the ability to basically murder people without consequence, so long as a given set of restrictions was honored, such as doctors and midwives were exempt to a certain extent, that the blow had to come directly after the affront and not later, a witness to the slight was required for proof a slight was in fact made, etc. etc. But in the general case, samurai were of such high standing that dishonoring one in front of a witness was a great way to end one’s life.
Given the highly regarded position samurai enjoyed, it was seldom an honor doled out to foreigners and, as such, there are less than a dozen confirmed examples of a person outside of feudal Japan being allowed to call themselves samurai. Amongst this select group of foreigners, Yasuke not only stands out for being speculated to have been the first, but also because he was the only one who was black.
Little is known about Yasuke’s past, so little in fact that we know neither where he was born nor his original name. It’s mostly agreed that Yasuke hailed from somewhere in Africa, though which area exactly has never been conclusively established, with Mozambique mentioned most in accounts of his life. This is thanks to the Histoire Ecclesiastique Des Isles Et Royaumes Du Japon written in 1627 by one Francois Solier where he claims Yasuke was from that region. However, it’s not clear what his own source for that information was and he wrote it almost a half century after the last known direct documented evidence of Yasuke.
Whatever the case, originally believed to have been a slave captured sometime in the 1570s by the Portuguese, Yasuke was bought by and became the servant of an Italian Jesuit and missionary called Alessandro Valignano. Valignano was famed for his insistence that missionaries to Japan become fluent with the language, requiring a full two years of study in Japanese, which helped his group stand out and be more successful than others. As for Yasuke, he travelled with and served Valignano for several years until the pair made port in Japan around 1579.
Upon arriving in Japan, as you might expect Yasuke immediately became a subject of intrigue and curiosity, both because of his apparently extremely dark skin and his intimidating stature. Variously described as being between 6 feet 2 inches and 6 feet 5 inches tall, Yasuke towered over the Japanese populace of the period, with males only averaging about 5 feet tall at the time. Beyond his height, he is said to have possessed a powerful, chiselled physique. According to legend, Yasuke’s very presence inspired both terror and curiosity in locals to such an extent that several people were supposedly crushed to death in an attempt to make their way through a large crowd that had gathered to see him. Other stories tell of people breaking down the doors of the places Yasuke was staying just to catch a glimpse.
Whether any of that is true or not, sometime in 1581 while visiting Japan’s capital, Yasuke came to the attention of a man who is considered one of the people ultimately responsible for the unification of Japan, famed Japanese warlord Oda Nobunaga. Nobunaga apparently insisted on meeting the mysterious dark-skinned stranger who was causing such a commotion in his city. Upon meeting Yasuke, according to an account by Jesuit Luis Frois, Nobunaga apparently ordered Yaskue to be roughly scrubbed with brushes to prove that his dark skin was real and not artificially done with ash, charcoal, or the like.
It’s from this first meeting that one of the only known accounts of Yasuke’s appearance comes from, with this fateful meeting documented in the Lord Nobunaga Chronicle:
On the 23rd of the 2nd month March 23, 1581, a black page (“kuro-bōzu”) came from the Christian countries. He looked about 26, 24 or 25 by Western count or 27 years old; his entire body was black like that of an ox. The man was healthy and good-looking. Moreover, his strength was greater than that of 10 men…. Nobunaga’s nephew gave him a sum of money at this first meeting.
Presumably thanks to Valignano requiring missionaries to Japan to learn Japanese, it appears at this point he also required it of Yasuke, as Nobunaga was said to have greatly enjoyed conversing with Yasuke and was intrigued to learn about his homeland. He ended up liking Yasuke so much that he eventually took him as his own, or rather officially Valignano gifted him to the warlord.
Nobunaga, who was known to have a fondness for other cultures, which is in part why he was allowing Christian missionaries to operate in the area, gave his newly found confidant the name Yasuke. Although technically still a slave in the sense that he had to serve Nobunaga, Yasuke quickly rose in stature in the eyes of Nobunaga, with Yasuke ultimately given a house, salary, and servants of his own. During his rise, he apparently served as Nobunaga’s weapon bearer and bodyguard and was otherwise seemingly treated as an equal by his peers. Yasuke was also eventually given a katana from Nobunaga, apparently conferring the title of samurai upon him as only samurai were permitted to carry such a weapon at the time. It’s also noteworthy that he wore the traditional armor of the samurai when in battle. Yasuke also had the frequent extreme honor of dining with Nobunaga, something few others were allowed to do.
Yasuke’s time with Nobunaga was cut short, however, when the warlord was betrayed by one of his generals, Akechi Mitsuhide, a year later in 1582. In a nutshell, Nobunaga was at the Honnō-ji temple in Kyoto, taking with him only a contingent of 30 pages and guards. For reasons unknown, though perhaps just a simple power grab, Mitsuhide chose to betray Nobunaga at this point, surrounding the temple and attacking. Yasuke is known to have been there and fought alongside Nobunaga, but ultimately when defeat was imminent as the temple burned around them, Nobunaga chose to commit ritual suicide rather than be captured.
Legend has it, whether true or not isn’t known, that one of Nobunaga’s last acts was to order Yasuke to carry Nobunaga’s head and sword to his son and heir, Oda Nobutada.
Whether he actually did this or not, it is known Yasuke managed to escape and joined Nobutada who himself was under attack at the time by a separate contingent of Mitsuhide’s soldiers at nearby Nijō Castle.
Nobunaga’s son was eventually defeated, committed ritual suicide, and Yasuke was captured by Mitsuhide’s men. Apparently unsure what to do with the foreign samurai, or even whether they should consider him a true samurai or not despite that he wielded the sword and wore the traditional armor, they chose not to kill him and instead left it to Mitsuhide to tell them what to do.
In the end, while there is some contention, it would seem Mitsuhide decided to dishonor Yasuke by not allowing him to commit ritual suicide and instead had him returned to the Jesuits. Whether Mitsuhide did this out of pity or contempt for Yasuke is a matter of contention, though it’s noteworthy that there was little in the way of racism towards black people in Japan at the time because so few black people ever visited the country anyway.
From here, as unlikely as it’s going to sound, Yasuke, the giant, Japanese speaking black, now ronin, samurai who supposedly caused crushing crowds wherever he went, disappeared from history, even in the Jesuit’s own accounts. This has led some to speculate that he did not stay with the Jesuits and even some speculation that, if becoming a samurai wasn’t enough, that he became a pirate after this, meaning his moniker could have potentially been not just The Black Samurai, but the ultimate in badass nicknames- The Black Pirate Samurai, though there is unfortunately no hard documented evidence that he actually became a pirate.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
A U.S. service member has been killed in action in Afghanistan, the second American to die while supporting operations in the country in January 2019.
Officials with Operation Resolute Support announced Jan. 22, 2019, that the death of the service member, whose service branch was not identified, is under investigation.
It’s not clear where the service member was killed. Defense Department policy is not to release the names of those who died supporting combat operations until 24 hours after next-of-kin is notified.
This most recent death comes five days after Army Sgt. Sgt. Cameron Meddock, of the 75th Ranger Regiment, died from combat wounds at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany on Jan. 17, 2019. Meddock was shot during combat operations in Badghis province, Afghanistan, on Jan. 13, 2019.
Sgt. Cameron A. Meddock, 26, of Spearman, Texas.
(U.S. Army Special Operations Command)
Earlier January 2019, Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jonathan R. Farmer and Navy Chief Cryptologic Technician (Interpretive) Shannon M. Kent were killed, along with an American DoD contractor and civilian worker, in a bombing in the northern Syrian town of Manbij. Three other American troops were wounded in the bombing.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
World War II finally ended on Sep. 2, 1945 when the U.S. accepted the unconditional surrender of Japan. The debates around the use of the Atom bomb against Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a means to end the war quickly continue at institutions of higher learning to this day, but most military scholars allow that an invasion of Japan would have cost both sides hundreds of thousands or even millions of lives.
Japan still had nearly 7 million men under arms at the time of surrender and had a number of secret weapons at their disposal. While the Allies had learned of a few, like the Kaiten suicide torpedo, weapons like the I-400 submersible aircraft carriers weren’t discovered until after the war was over.
Here are 7 weapons that would have greeted Allied troops on the beaches:
Another suicide weapon, the Ohka was basically a missile piloted by a human. Again, while bombers had trouble getting them into positions offensively, they would likely have proven more successful against an invasion fleet approaching the main islands.
They launched three kamikaze bombers each, but their main strength was in approaching stealthily and attacking while the enemy were off guard. A U.S. fleet approaching the Japanese home islands would have been on high alert.
A US military combat drone has been shot down over Yemen, marking the second time in three months the US has lost an unmanned aerial vehicle over the war-torn country.
Yemen’s Houthi insurgency claimed responsibility, announcing that it downed a US MQ-9 Reaper hunter-killer drone, a $15 million unmanned aerial combat vehicle developed by General Atomics, in Dhamar, an area to the southeast of the Houthi-controlled capital of Sanaa.
“We are aware of reporting that a US MQ-9 was shot down over Yemen. We do not have any further information to provide at this time,” US Central Command initially said in response to Insider’s inquiries Aug. 20, 2019.
Two officials speaking to Reuters on the condition of anonymity confirmed the that a drone was shot down. While one said it was the Houthis, another cautioned that it was too early to tell.
“It’s the Houthis, but it’s enabled by Iran,” another US official told Voice of America.
In a follow-up response to media questions, CENTCOM said Aug. 21, 2019, it is “investigating reports of an attack by Iranian-backed Houthis forces on a U.S. unmanned aircraft system (UAS) operating in authorized airspace over Yemen.”
The US military has, to varying degrees, for years been supporting of a coalition of mostly Sunni Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, fighting to restore the internationally-recognized government in Yemen as the Houthi rebels backed by Shia Iran push to topple it.
“We have been clear that Iran’s provocative actions and support to militants and proxies, like the Iranian-backed Houthis, poses a serious threat to stability in the region and our partners,” CENTCOM said in its statement Aug. 21, 2019.
The Houthis shot down an US MQ-9 in mid-June 2019 with what CENTCOM assessed to be an SQ-6 surface-to-air missile. The US believes that the rebel group had help from the Iranians.
“The altitude of the engagement indicated an improvement over previous Houthi capability, which we assess was enabled by Iranian assistance,” CENTCOM said in a statement
An MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle flies a combat mission over southern Afghanistan.
(Photo by Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt)
Around that same time, Iranian forces fired a modified Iranian SA-7 surface-to-air missile at an MQ-9 in an attempt to “disrupt surveillance of the [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] IRGC attack on the M/T Kokuka Courageous,” one of the tankers targeted in a string of suspected limpet mine attacks the US has blamed on Iran, CENTCOM revealed, USNI News reported at the time. The Iranians failed to down the aircraft.
Toward the end of June 2019, Iranian forces successfully shot down a US Navy Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS-D) aircraft, specifically a RQ-4A Global Hawk high-altitude long endurance (HALE) drone operating over the Strait of Hormuz.
President Donald Trump had initially planned to retaliate militarily against Iran but cancelled the mission after learning that striking would result in significant Iranian casualties, which would make the response disproportionate as the Iranians attacked an unmanned system.
Tensions between Iran and the US have spiked in recent months, as Washington put increased pressure on Tehran, leading it to push back with carefully calculated displays of force just below the threshold of armed conflict. The Houthis in Yemen have taken shots at the US before, firing not only on US combat drones but also US warships.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The name Wilmer McLean may not be found in most history books, but if it isn’t in the Guinness Book, it should be. The man moved his family during the Civil War and if real estate is all about location, then Wilmer McLean was probably the luckiest home buyer of all time.
Or unluckiest, depending on your point of view.
The opening shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor in April 1861. With the exception of a cannon accident that killed a Union artilleryman after the fort surrendered, there were no casualties. The major outcome of that was that the Civil War was officially on.
It was in Virginia, three months later, that the Confederate and Union Armies would meet in the first major battle of that war. General P.G.T. Beauregard (who happened to command the Confederates at Fort Sumter) used McLean’s house as his headquarters during that engagement, what would become known as the First Battle of Bull Run.
During the fighting, a Union cannonball came crashing down McLean’s chimney, into his fireplace. Beauregard later wrote: “A comical effect of this artillery fight was the destruction of the dinner of myself and staff by a Federal shell that fell into the fire-place of my headquarters at the McLean House.”
McLean served in the Virginia militia but was too old to return to military service for either army. He was a merchant-trader for the Confederate Army, but operating his business so close to the Union lines was hazardous, so after that first battle, he moved his family south…to a small area called Appomattox Court House.
On Apr. 8, 1865, Generals Lee and Grant sat in McLean’s parlor, discussing the terms of the Confederate surrender and the end of the Civil War.
After the two generals left the house, Union officers began taking everything in the room — as souvenirs. Some paid McLean for their prizes, some didn’t, but they took everything, including his daughter’s toy doll.
The U.S. State Department has called on other nations to repatriate and prosecute their citizens captured by U.S. Kurdish allies in Syria.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of militias dominated by the Kurdish YPG, “has demonstrated a clear commitment to detain these individuals securely and humanely,” the department’s spokesman, Robert Palladino, said in a statement on Feb. 4, 2019.
The alliance, known as the SDF, say they have detained more than 900 foreign fighters who had traveled to Syria to fight with the extremist group Islamic State.
They are also holding more than 4,000 family members of IS fighters.
Questions arose about what the SDF would do with the prisoners it is holding after President Donald Trump announced in December 2018 that the United States would withdraw all of its 2,000 troops from Syria.
Few countries have so far expressed any readiness to repatriate their citizens.
Washington is set to host a meeting on Feb. 6, 2019, of about a dozen coalition partners fighting against the IS group.
IS militants have lost virtually all the territory they once held in Syria and neighboring Iraq, but Palladino said it remains “a significant terrorist threat.”
“Collective action is imperative to address this shared international security challenge,” he added.
The E-4 mafia is one of the tightest groups in the military. The group consists of service members who fall between the pay grades of E-1 and E-4 and is known for (unofficially) running the military. Sure, the senior enlisted and officers give the orders and the NCOs pass those organized plans along, but it’s the mafia that gets sh*t done.
As a member of this unique club, you must follow an unwritten rule that states we don’t talk about being in the mafia or the sh*t we pull off. Since most troops obey this fundamental rule, not much information gets out about this special, underground world. Although we’re not allowed to speak about the mafia that much, it’s definitely okay to crack jokes about the lifestyle through motherf*cking memes.
Let the humorous commentary begin!
To all the current members of the E-4 Mafia: Cheers, and remember to enjoy your time in the suck.
Alaska is still considered the last frontier, even in today’s modern times. The unforgiving and extreme weather coupled with the rough terrain makes it a challenging place to live. One hundred years ago – during the Spanish Flu – it was even more deadly.
The world is very familiar with the new words in our daily vocabulary: quarantine, face mask and social distancing, thanks to COVID-19 and the current global pandemic. Just 100 years ago this was the case as well, during the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu. The big difference between then and now are the extreme advancements in technology and medical care. According to the CDC, 500 million people were positive and 50 million people died from the Spanish Flu.
In a wild place like Alaska with scarce medical care, it was a sure death sentence.
When the Spanish Flu arrived in Alaska during the spring of 1919, it wiped out villages – and fast. World War I had just ended and on May 26, 1919, the USS Unalga was patrolling around the Aleutian Islands, near Akun Island located in Seredka Bay. The crew and ship were still technically considered part of the Navy, with the war only ending shortly before that. Their role in that moment was law enforcement, inspection, mail transport and rescues. They were also a floating court and were able to give medical care to those in need.
After a full day of training, the crew was resting when they received a distress call from a newer settlement on Unalaska Island. They reported a severe outbreak of the Spanish Flu. The Coast Guard didn’t hesitate; they planned to get underway at dawn. Although they would receive another distress call from a settlement in Bristol Bay, the captain made the decision to head to Unalaska Island first.
When the crew made their way off the ship, they were shocked. It was if the entirety of the settlement had been infected with the Spanish Flu, the doctor included. They also discovered that all but one operator of the small U.S. Navy radio station had it as well. The coastie crew of the USS Unalga was their last hope of survival.
With that, the 80 coasties dove in. Pharmacist’s Mate First Class E.S. Chase, Lieutenant Junior Grade Dr. F.H. Johnson and Lieutenant E.W. Scott (a dentist), were the only men on board with advanced medical training. Despite that, they were all in. For over a week they were the only resource of support for Unalaska with nothing but cloth masks to protect themselves.
The captain made the decision to utilize the food on board to feed the entire town. At one point, they were providing up to 1,000 meals a day. The coasties even built a temporary hospital with pumping and electricity that was powered through the ship’s own power plant.
Without the proper protective equipment that today we know is critical, many of the crew fell ill themselves, including the captain. Despite this, they charged on and continued working. Although the 80 coasties fought to save everyone, they did bury 45 villagers who succumbed to the Spanish Flu.
The crew was not only caring for the ill, but for the children of those who died because the orphanage became full. Without their willingness to step forward, the children were at risk of dying from starvation, the elements and even documented feral dogs that were roaming the island. Some of the crew even made clothing for the children.
On June 3, 1919, the Coast Guard Cutter arrived to support their efforts. With both crews nursing and caring for the sick, recovery began. Due to the dedication of these coasties, the mortality rate of the village was only 12 percent. The majority of Alaska was at 90 percent mortality. At the end of the Spanish flu, around 3,000 Alaskans lost their lives, most of them natives.
Thanks to these coasties, this village was spared that fate.
There’s an old Yakov Smirnoff joke that goes something like, “in Soviet Russia, it’s freedom of speech. In America, it’s freedom after speech.” And if there was anyone who knew this first-hand, it was Smirnoff himself.
He and all other comedians who used to live under the Soviet regime could have faced jail time or death for any joke deemed “unfit.” In order for this to work, there would be absolutely no improvisation. All comedians would need to run each and every joke they planned on telling in a given year through the Ministry of Culture of the USSR.
Within the Ministry, there was an elaborate department dedicated to jokes and humor. The process of telling a timely joke without angering the committee was exhausting. Any joke that was actually funny against the communist ideology was banned. Even being remotely anti-communist meant the joke was banned.
Smirnoff told The Guardian one of his jokes that didn’t make it through and you can see how “humorous” of a place the Department of Jokes was.
“An ant falls in love and marries an elephant. They have an amazing honeymoon, a night of wild passion that is so passionate, in fact, that the elephant collapses and dies in the middle – the ant, however, is even less lucky. He is forced to spend the rest of his living days digging the elephant’s enormous grave.”
Apparently, that’s anti-communist and needed to be banned.
Because jokes were so generally unfunny, scarce, and hard to get approved, any joke that was both permitted and remotely humorous was immediately borrowed by every other Soviet comedian. Talk show hosts were heavily vetted before being allowed on air, so their works were free game and any joke they told would end up in every comedy club a week later.
This doesn’t mean that rebellious citizens didn’t tell their own jokes. Ukrainians held a deep resentment towards their Russian overlords so their jokes were more common — if not darker.
“A Soviet newspaper reports: Last night the Chernobyl Nuclear Power station fulfilled the Five Year Plan of heat energy generation… in 4 microseconds.”
The U.S. Navy Blue Angels are poised to receive new, retrofitted F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter aircraft in the next few years.
The Navy on Aug. 13, 2018 awarded Boeing Co., the F/A-18’s manufacturer, a $17 million firm-fixed price contract to configure nine F/A-18E and two F/A-18F aircraft to the standard Blue Angels’ aircraft structure. The squadron, which typically maintains 11 aircraft, currently flies the F/A-18C/D models.
While an upgrade, the new aircraft would not house the common nose cannon system used for strike operations. Like the Air Force Thunderbirds, the demonstration team uses “clean jets,” aircraft without missiles or bombs.
However, the Blue Angels’ F/A-18s are “capable of being returned to combat duty aboard an aircraft carrier within 72 hours,” if necessary, according to the team’s fact sheet.
The Blue Angels F/A-18 Hornets fly in a tight diamond formation, maintaining 18-inch wing tip to canopy separation.
Boeing will configure the aircraft at its St. Louis facility, according to the contract announcement. The fiscal 2018 budget, once appropriated, will fund the work, the announcement said. The new jets are expected to be completed in December 2021.
The Blue Angels recently announced a new roster of officers for the 2019 show season.
The squadron selected three F/A-18 demonstration pilots, an events coordinator, flight surgeon, and supply officer to replace outgoing team members, the Navy said in August 2018.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Vowing to have “very hard conversations,” Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy met with soldiers this week at Fort Hood, where at least eight service members have been found dead since March.
Most questions directed at McCarthy during a 24-minute news conference Thursday regarded Spc. Vanessa Guillen, whose remains were identified in early July. Guillen had been missing since late April.
Her family, who met with President Trump last week, has alleged Guillen was sexually harassed at Fort Hood. The case has drawn international media attention and inspired other women to recount their experiences with sexual harassment on social media.
“We must honor her memory by creating enduring change,” McCarthy said.
An independent command climate review will begin at Fort Hood at the end of August, McCarthy said. He also touted Project Inclusion, a recently announced initiative addressing sexual harassment and sexual assault, a lack of diversity, discrimination and suicide in the Army.
Depending on investigators’ findings, McCarthy said changes in leadership at Fort Hood could occur.
“If the conclusions are such that point to leaders or individuals in particular, of course, we would take the appropriate accountability,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy said he held nine sessions with soldiers of various ranks during his two-day visit to Fort Hood. His arrival came less than a week after Spc. Francisco Gilberto Hernandezvargas’ body was recovered Sunday.
Besides Guillen, other Fort Hood soldiers who have died in the past several months include Pvt. 2nd Class Gregory Morales, Pvt. Mejhor Morta, Pfc. Brandon Rosecrans, Spc. Freddy Delacruz Jr., Spc. Christopher Sawyer and Spc. Shelby Jones.
Spc. Aaron Robinson served in the same regiment as Guillen, 20, and killed her, investigators said. Robinson killed himself as law enforcement officials closed in on him. Cecily Aguilar, who allegedly helped Robinson dispose of Guillen’s body, has pleaded not guilty to three charges of tampering with evidence. Aguilar is being held without bond.
“These are very difficult things,” McCarthy said. “We’re the Army. We’re a reflection of the country, and at times, some people infiltrate our ranks. We’ve got to find them. We’ve got to root them out.”
Although McCarthy conceded sexual harassment is an issue, investigators have found no evidence so far that Guillen faced such abuse. While admitting that Fort Hood has the most cases of murder and sexual assault of any Army base, he said closing it is not under consideration.
“The anger and frustration in a case like Vanessa is necessary,” McCarthy said. “I’m angry. I’m frustrated. I’m disappointed. We’re heartbroken, but there’s still amazing contributions from men and women at this installation.”
McCarthy’s comments came on the same day that Mayra Guillen posted on Twitter that she received her sister’s belongings. “I don’t even want to open them … find things or clothes that we shared,” she tweeted.
Supporters came together Wednesday in Houston, Guillen’s hometown, to urge Congress to pass the #IamVanessaGuillen bill, which would make it easier for military members to report sexual harassment and assault.
Guillen’s family reportedly intends to be at Fort Hood on Friday afternoon. McCarthy planned to return to the Pentagon on Thursday night but said he would see whether he could adjust his schedule to meet the family. He said he has expressed his condolences in public and shared those thoughts in a letter to the family, but he has yet to meet Guillen’s relatives in person.
McCarthy referred to Guillen’s case as a “tipping point.”
“We are incredibly disappointed that we let Vanessa down and we let their family down,” McCarthy said. “We vow for the rest of our time in service in our life to prevent these types of acts.”
The USS Little Rock, a US Navy littoral-combat ship commissioned in late December 2017, finally left the port of Montreal late March 2018, more than three months after docking there for a short stop on its maiden voyage.
The Little Rock was commissioned in Buffalo, New York, on Dec. 16, 2017, but its journey to Mayport Naval Station in northeast Florida was delayed when the ship became stuck in Montreal a few days after Christmas. Unusually cold temperatures, icy conditions, and a shortage of tugboats to guide it out of port all contributed to the Little Rock staying in Canada.
The Navy said in January 2018 that the Little Rock would remain in Montreal “until wintry weather conditions improve and the ship is able to safely transit through the St. Lawrence Seaway.”
That stay lasted until 6:15 on the morning of March 31, 2018, port officials told the CBC. Navy spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Courtney Hillson confirmed the departure. “Keeping the ship in Montreal until weather conditions improved ensured the safety of the ship and crew,” Hillson told Business Insider.
The Little Rock is expected to reach Florida later in April 2018, making several stops along the way.
The decision to keep the ship at Montreal was made on Jan. 19, 2018. Hillson told Business Insider at the time that the Little Rock’s crew was carrying out routine repair work and focusing “on training, readiness, and certifications.”
(Photo via USS Little Rock Facebook)
The ship was outfitted with temporary heaters and 16 de-icers to prevent ice accumulation on the hull and its roughly 170-person crew given cold-weather clothing in response to the delay, according to the CBC.
“We greatly appreciate the support and hospitality of the city of Montreal, the Montreal Port Authority and the Canadian Coast Guard,” the Little Rock’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Todd Peters, said in a statement. “We are grateful for the opportunity to further enhance our strong partnerships.”
Canadians living near the port complained about constant noise coming from the ship’s generators. The Port of Montreal dimmed lights illuminating the ship and adjustments were made to the soundproofing around the Little Rock’s generators.
The Little Rock was the fifth Freedom-class littoral combat ship to join the US Navy. It is 389 feet long with a draft of 13.5 feet, according to the US Navy. It has a top speed of over 45 knots and displaces about 3,400 tons fully loaded. The ship is scheduled for more training and combat-systems testing in 2018, its commander said in late December 2017.
Littoral combat ships are designed to operate near shore, and their modular design is meant to enable them to perform a variety of surface missions, mainly against small, fast attack craft as well as anti-mine and anti-submarine missions.
The LCS program has struggled with accidents and been criticized for cost overruns. The Navy said in January 2018 that LCS mission modules, designed to allow the ships to perform their three mission types, will enter service in 2019, 2020, and 2021.