By 1967, the United States was firmly committed to the war in Vietnam. That year saw 485,600 American troops in country. That’s like arming the entire population of Kansas City and moving them into another country.
So yeah, they were invested.
But from the start, the Vietnam War was unlike the previous American wars. There was no real front, the enemy could be anywhere, and most importantly, they didn’t always fight like a conventional army in the mountains, jungles, or rice paddies.
Hackworth was tasked with creating an elite commando unit from the already elite Special Forces long range reconnaissance patrol units. The mission of what he would call Tiger Force was more than just intelligence gathering. As he put it, he wanted to “out-guerrilla the guerrillas.”
In 1967, Hackworth was out of the unit, and it was assigned to Vietnam’s Central Highlands, where it conducted a six-month long terror campaign in the Song Ve Valley and as part of Operation Wheeler. The mission was so brutal and so deep in enemy territory, members of the Tiger Force did not expect to survive.
In a war where the U.S. military relied on body counts as a measure of success, Tiger Force was ready to do its part. Hackworth once noted, “You got your card punched by the numbers of bodies you counted.”
Tiger Force went into villages the Viet Cong relied on for support and shelter in the Spring and Fall of 1967 and drove the villagers out of their homes using brute force. They allegedly used some disturbing methods to achieve those ends.
The Toledo Blade’s Michael D. Sallah, Mitch Weiss, and Joe Mahr (right) won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for their eight months of investigation and reporting on the alleged war crimes committed by Tiger Force.
“Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground bunkers. Elderly farmers were shot as they toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed — their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings.”
The three journalists say the Army commandos, far from friendly areas and left without support, routinely violated the laws of armed conflict, killed unarmed civilians, dropped grenades on women and children, and covered up the incidents during the official Army investigations.
Some members of the Tiger Force today aren’t even disputing the allegations. Doyle, along with others, claims to have lost count of how many people they killed.
”I’ve seen atrocities in Vietnam that make Tiger Force look like Sunday school,” Doyle told the New York Times. “Everybody I killed, I killed to survive. They make Tiger Force out to be an atrocity. Well, that’s almost a compliment. Because nobody will understand the evil I’ve seen.”
The Army investigated the allegations for four and a half years but no charges were ever filed and the men of tiger Force became some of the most decorated in the Vietnam War. They were even awarded a Presidential Unit Citation.
For its part, the Army told the Toledo Blade that, barring any new evidence coming to light, the investigations would remain closed, even after comparing the newspaper’s information with their official records.
A Navy chief was awarded the military’s third-highest valor award on Thursday for repeatedly braving enemy fire in an area filled with improvised explosive devices to save his teammates.
Chief Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician Matthew O’Connor, a member of EOD Mobile Unit 11, received the Silver Star during a ceremony at Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego. Vice Adm. Scott Conn, commander of Third Fleet, presented O’Connor with the award.
Adversity under fire doesn’t test one’s character, it reveals it,” Conn said during the ceremony.
O’Connor, who joined the Navy in 2008, was serving as the EOD lead for a special operations task force fighting the Islamic State group in April at an undisclosed location. The team was tasked with checking into a facility where terrorists were known to be producing IEDs.
The chief and his team maneuvered into an enemy-held village, but were ambushed by eight fighters when they got to the facility.
After returning fire, O’Connor noticed a teammate on the ground, according to his award citation.
“With utter disregard for his own safety, Chief O’Connor advanced forward, carried his wounded teammate to cover, and then rendered lifesaving medical treatment while coordinating suppressive fire,” the citation states.
He again braved enemy fire to reach the team’s linguist, who was hurt. O’Connor then carried the first injured teammate to a casualty collection point, “under continuous enemy fire through difficult terrain,” his award citation states.
O’Connor then returned to the facility where the ambush started to conduct post-assault procedures, the citation adds. He then guided the rest of the task force across the area laden with IEDs to reach a vehicle pick-up point.
“By his bold initiative, undaunted courage and total dedication to duty, Chief O’Connor reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service,” the Silver Star citation says.
When we leave active duty, we go through a lot of emotional ups and downs, we have many hurdles to overcome, and most importantly, we have to repurpose ourselves.
That repurposing process is a subconscious one for the overwhelming majority of us. We fall into the civilian world and look for things we couldn’t do or have while we were in the service. You know, like drugs, experiences, traveling opportunities, and sleeping in past 0600 on a weekday. Basically, we’re just adult versions of Amish teens on Rumspringa.
After we get those things out of our system, we find ourselves so far on the other side of society that we realize we need to get back to “normality.” That normality is somewhere between the extreme lifestyle of the military and the post-DD-214 period of blowing off steam, so we think.
We should instead be repurposing ourselves to do great things like growing businesses, shaking up industries, raising the status quo. In order for us to do that, we need to not forget the greatness we came from by ending up in a “normal” life.
I’m not just talking about combat veterans or vets with spec ops training here. I’m talking about all of us, all veterans, from the most boot Airman to the grizzliest retired E-9 turned private security contractor that you can think of. If we weren’t better humans, we wouldn’t have even thought the military was an option for us in the first place.
Get out of the shadow of normalcy.
The decision to end up in normal is a mistake for us. Normal kills potential. Normal shits on passion. Normal shames greatness.
We need to stay closer to the fringe than the normals do.
Blasting normal in the crotch… after living like this there’s no way you’ll be happy being “normal.”
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Fred Gray IV/Released)
The fringe is where the magic happens
It’s not easy to stay on the fringe though… it’s demanding and exhausting out here, but it feels like home to us. You need to stay fit and capable in order to live outside of normal.
That’s why the military has fitness standards when normal people have 2.6 doctors visits a month. The fringe only seeks medical attention when something is broken from flying too close to the sun.
That’s why you need to be training. You’re training to stay strong, lean, and healthy, but even more importantly, you’re training to stay at the tip of the spear, albeit a different spear than you stood on in the military.
It doesn’t matter if your new spear is higher education, the business world, entrepreneurship, or parenthood. The best in their field are those that know how to leverage their body to produce greatness.
You’ve already been given keys to the castle of greatness through your military indoctrination. The foundation of that castle is training hard to take care of your body and make everything else in life seem easier.
Winter sucks everywhere. Sure, the bugs have finally frozen over and you can finally break out that coat you like, but it’s cold, you’re always late because your car won’t defrost in time, and no one seems to remember to tap their brakes when stopping at intersections.
But, as any optimist might tell you, things can always get worse! While it sucks for us up here in the middle of December, it’s actually the nicest time to be in Antarctica — nice by Antarctic standards anyway.
It doesn’t last, though, as the winters there begin in mid-February and don’t let up until mid-November. And don’t forget, we have brothers and sisters in the U.S. Armed Forces down there embracing the suck of the coldest temperatures on Earth.
McMurdo Station is by far the most populated location on the entire continent with a population of 250 in the winter.
(Photo by Sarah E. Marshall)
To ensure that no hostilities occur on the frozen continent, the Antarctica Treaty lists it as “the common heritage of mankind.” As such, only scientific expeditions are allowed down there. Since airmen, sailors, and coast guardsmen have the capabilities to assist in this respect, they routinely travel to scientific research facilities to help out. Their mission is, simply, keep the scientists alive and let them focus on doing their jobs.
During the winter, which, as we’d mentioned, lasts for ten months, most scientists head to more hospitable climates. Most. Not all. It’s up to the troops to help keep those who remain safe and well. Thankfully, there are only three spots on the entire barren continent that they need to keep tabs on: McMurdo Station, Palmer Station, and the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.
The ports and airstrips at Palmer Station remain active year round. In case of any emergencies, the Air Force and Navy can quickly send supplies into Palmer to have it distributed out further. At McMurdo Station, the winters are a little more intense, so the ports and airstrip are strictly for emergency use — but they manage.
Then there’re the troops with the scientists at the South Pole Station. They’re almost entirely frozen in. Thankfully, it doesn’t snow that much at the South Pole, but the wind combined with near-permanent darkness make it feel close to -100 Fahrenheit. The only real thing to do then is to bunker inside at the one bar located at the South Pole and wait for ten months inside.
To see what the winters actually look like in Antarctica, check out the video below.
A California patrolman’s radar apparently flipped out on an empty stretch of highway in March 2019, which was odd because there wasn’t another car in sight, but then an F-16 Fighting Falcon came flying low and fast past his location.
A video taken by Officer Chris Bol and shared by California Highway Patrol station in the California desert suburb of Bishop shows the F-16 making a pass — not the first, as the officer filming has his camera ready to catch the fighter flying by his Ford Explorer.
The video, first reported by Popular Mechanics, was captioned: “When the radar in your patrol car is going crazy but you don’t see any cars on the road, look up!”
When the radar in your patrol car is going crazy but you …
An F-16 can fly at speeds greater than Mach 2, more than two times the speed of sound. That means the fighter jet can hit in excess of 1,500 mph. The fighter in the video, however, was not going that fast.
These low-altitude flybys occur regularly in the area where the video was taken and are often picked up on radar. One California Highway Patrol officer at the Bishop station told Business Insider his radar once read out at more than 300 mph.
As for the video posted on March 9, 2019, Bol’s radar was going in and out, but it read 250 mph at one point. Several F-16s flew past his spot repeatedly while he was out there.
Popular Mechanics said that while the video was taken in Bishop, the aircraft in the video may have originated from the Arizona National Guard or Utah’s Hill Air Force Base, although it is hard to know for sure because there are a number of air bases nearby that use the area for training.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The Air Force has begun early testing, software development, and weapons integration for its upcoming Block 4 variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, an emerging model intended to give the multi-role fighter a new dimension of weapons and attack mission possibilities, service leaders said.
The new version, to emerge in the early 2020s, will add new long-range precision-tracking weapons such as the newly named StormBreaker weapon — previously called the Small Diameter Bomb II.
“StormBreaker™ successfully completed Developmental Testing and the Government Confidence Testing phase in early 2018. StormBreaker demonstrated all operating modes, the capability to send, receive, and process data-link messages via both link-16 and UHF, Tara Wood, an official with Raytheon’s weapons development unit, told Warrior Maven.
The Air Force and F-35 weapons integration office are also integrating a new upgraded AIM-9x air to air missile, which will enable pilots to attack enemy fighters “off-boresight,” a term which refers to an increased target envelope.
An “off-boresight” AIM-9s will give pilots an ability to target and destroy enemies behind and to the sides of the F-35, Joe Dellavedova, an official with the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Program Office, told Warrior Maven in an interview.
US Navy F-35C.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King)
“The next step for F-35 weapons integration will be to address the weapon requirements within Block 4. Integration of the Small Diameter Bomb II has already begun, and flight test is scheduled to start as early as 2019,” Capt. Emily Grabowski, Air Force Spokeswoman, told Warrior Maven in a statement a short time ago.
StormBreaker – Small Diameter Bomb II
StormBreaker, described as a key element of Block 4, is a new air-dropped weapon able to destroy moving targets in all kinds of weather conditions at ranges greater than 40-miles, Air Force and Raytheon officials said.
Wood further explained that StormBreaker detects, classifies, and tracks a wide array of targets, both moving and stationary. It also has an ability to prosecute moving targets through adverse weather conditions. StormBreaker™ is currently in Operational Test, Wood said.
GPS and laser-guided weapons such as Joint Direct Attack Munitions have been around for decades, however, they have primarily been designed for use against fixed or stationary targets. StormBreaker has already completed a series of wind tunnel tests.
While the Air Force currently uses a laser-guided bomb called the GBU-54 able to destroy moving targets, the new SDB II will be able to do this at longer ranges and in all kinds of weather conditions. In addition, the SDB II is built with a two-way, dual-band data link which enables it to change targets or adjust to different target locations while in flight, Raytheon developers told Warrior Maven.
Operational Testing will utilize the weapon in real world conditions in operationally relevant scenarios, she explained.
A key part of the SDB II is a technology called a “tri-mode” seeker — a guidance system which can direct the weapon using millimeter wave radar, uncooled imaging infrared guidance and semi-active laser technology.
Raytheon weapons developers say the tri-mode seeker provides a range of guidance and targeting options typically not used together in one system. Millimeter wave radar gives the weapon an ability to navigate through adverse weather, conditions in which other guidance systems might encounter problems reaching or pinpointing targets.
Imagining infrared guidance allows the weapon to track and hone in on heat signatures such as the temperature of an enemy vehicle. With semi-active laser technology, the weapon can be guided to an exact point using a laser designator or laser illuminator coming from the air or the ground, Raytheon officials told Warrior.
One Raytheon SDB II developer told Warrior in a previous interview that “the millimeter wave radar turns on first. Then the data link gives it a cue and tells the seeker where to open up and look. Then, the weapon can turn on its IR (infrared) which uses heat seeking technology.”
The SBD II is engineered to weigh only 208 pounds, a lighter weight than most other air dropped bombs, so that eight of them can fit on the inside of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Raytheon officials explained.
If weapons are kept in an internal weapons bay and not rested on an external weapons pod, then an aircraft can succeed in retaining its stealth properties because the shapes or contours of the weapons will not be visible to enemy radar.
About 105 pound of the SDB II is an explosive warhead which encompasses a “blast-frag” capability and a “plasma-jet” technology designed to pierce enemy armor, Raytheon officials explained.
The SDB II also has the ability to classify targets, meaning it could for example be programmed to hit only tanks in a convoy as opposed to other moving vehicles. The weapon can classify tanks, boats or wheeled targets, Raytheon officials added.s, this will no longer remain the case.
StormBreaker, which is also being integrated on the F-15E, is carried on the BRU-61, a 4 place miniature munitions rack that fits in the F-35’s internal weapons bays. The weapons will be integrated on the F/A-18E/F and F-35B for the Navy and Marine Corps before the F-35A and F-35C, developers explained.
“StormBreaker™ uses Universal Armament Interface protocol to make the weapon/aircraft interface compatible with a wide range of aircraft, including F-35,” Wood added.
Designed as part of the developmental trajectory for the emerging F-35, previous test-firings of the AIM-9X were intended to further the missile’s ability to demonstrate this “off-boresight,” attack technology. Previous test data and observers have confirmed the F-35 identified and targeted the drone with its mission systems sensors, passed the target ‘track’ information to the missile, enabled the pilot to verify targeting information using the high off-boresight capability of the helmet mounted display and launched the AIM-9X from the aircraft to engage the target drone, a statement from the F-35 JPO said.
F-35 to 2070
The current consensus among senior Pentagon weapons developers holds that, at the moment, the F-35 is the most capable 5th generation plane in the world. Maintaining this edge, however, is anticipated to quickly become more and more difficult now that both Russia and China are building 5th-gen stealth fighters.
“Block 4 is important with the national defense strategy to make sure we are modernizing the plane to keep it dominant on the battlefield. We are close to knowing the strategy for how to go after it,” Dr. Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, told a group of reporters in early 2018.
While the applied impact of Block 4 will incorporate a range of mission-expanding technologies, much of the ongoing preparation work is in the realm of software development, Roper said.
“The physical pieces of the plane are moving in a good direction. Most of what we have left to do is software. The department (DoD) has not historically been good at software development. That will take a little longer. I cannot imagine building anything for the Air Force that is not software intensive,” Roper said.
The Block 4 initiative is part of a long range trajectory planned for the F-35 described by Pentagon developers as C2D2 – Continuous Capability Development and Delivery. The idea, officials say, is to position the multi-role fighter such that it can consistently accommodate new weapons, stealth materials, sensors, and guidance technology as it becomes available
“We own today’s fight,” said Lt. Col. Tucker Hamilton, F-35 Test Director, Edwards AFB, told reporters in early 2018. However, Tucker went on to say that, in the absence of aggressive modernization, sustainment and various improvement efforts.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
The SDF is comprised of mostly Kurdish fighters and Syrian militia groups and is the primary partner for the U.S. effort against ISIS. This new offensive has taken them within 40 miles of the ISIS stronghold. U.S. and coalition aircraft are supporting the effort with airstrikes in and around Raqqa.
SDF’s strongest component, the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units), will not advance on the capital city itself. The Kurdish leadership believes Raqqa should be captured by Arab militias. Thirty thousand SDF troops moved to retake vast areas northwest of the city, but the assault on Raqqa will have to wait until the Arab militias have the strength.
BBC Middle East Correspondent Quentin Sommerville reports ISIS fighters are literally digging in for Raqqa’s defense. Earthworks and defensive structures are going up around the area. There are even rumors of an extensive network of tunnels.
Fox News reported a state of emergency was declared by ISIS in Raqqa. The city’s defenders number anywhere from three to five thousand fighters. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Russian forces are ready to coordinate with the SDF and the U.S. coalition to provide any support necessary to capture the ISIS capital.
SDF forces celebrated a string of victories against ISIS in recent months, including liberating a number of villages and 4,000 square miles of territory under ISIS control, capturing militants, and cutting off ISIS supply lines into neighboring Iraq. Raqqa fell to ISIS in 2013, the first Syrian provincial capital to fall to forces in open rebellion against the Asad regime in Damascus.
An amateur treasure hunter lowered a magnet into a Massachusetts pond to search for trinkets, but instead hoisted up five guns, including an Uzi submachine gun.
Using a strong magnet on the end of a rope, the unnamed man pulled up a loaded Uzi submachine gun from Pillings Pond in Lynnfield, 13 miles north of Boston, The Daily Item reported.
He later found a .40 caliber Glock handgun, a Colt Cobra revolver, a rusty unidentified revolver, and a semi-automatic handgun.
The man told the newspaper he had just taken up the hobby — known as “magnet fishing” — after becoming inspired by a documentary about European fishermen hunting down World War II treasures in French canals
Pillings Pond in Lynnfield.
The man called the Lynnfield Police Department upon finding the Uzi.
Officer Patrick Curran attended the pond, identified the Uzi as genuine and loaded, before asking the man to lower his magnet again to see what he could find.
The man then pulled up the four other loaded weapons.
“In my more than 35 years on the force, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Capt. Karl Johnson of Lynnfield police told the Daily Item. “It’s a little strange.”
Lt. Thomas Ryan, a spokesman for the Massachusetts State Police, told The Daily Item that a dive team and members of the Firearm Identification and Crime Scene units also attended the site.
Four of the weapons found by the amateur treasure hunter.
(Lynnfield Police Department)
He added that, due to poor visibility in the pond, no other weapons were found and that a State Police ballistics unit had take the weapons for further analysis.
The Operational Camouflage Pattern uniform has found quite the new suitor, and his name is U.S. Air Force. The Air Force has become completely smitten with the OCP and has made no secret of its affection for the green- and desert-shaded garb and intends to adopt the uniform branch-wide in the coming years.
But when that change is finally made, airmen are sure to be happy. The OCP has some clear-cut advantages over the ABU; here are five of them.
5. Color and functionality
Green is better than blue (or grey or whichever color it may be classified as) for most military operations, especially overseas operations. There are very few arenas that favor a blue-and-grey mix over the natural blending of greens and browns. Also, it comes with glorious pockets.
Nothing says military quite like a uniform. Specifically, we’re talking about the uniformity of uniforms. With the proposed dismissal of the morale shirt (final-f*cking-ly), it’ll automatically become easier for units to maintain true uniformity.
Having one uniform saves the Air Force money. Removing the uniform swaps that take place during deployments or permanent changes of duty station means buying fewer uniforms, which means saving cash. That’s a lot of funds that can now be better spent — glow belts, anyone?
So, we just got $100,000 to buy new glow belts, guys! (USAF photo by Staff Sgt. Nathanael Collon)
The ABU’s predecessor, the BDU, was the official duty uniform (one that we shared with all our brother services) for nearly three decades. The ABU lasted for less than a decade. Maybe getting back in line with our brother services will lead to a longer lifespan for this next uniform iteration.
At this spot on the western side of the Dnieper River in central Ukraine, some 30,000 Soviet soldiers died under Nazi artillery during World War II. Yet, on this hot June day, there’s nothing to suggest that this particular place was once on the deadliest front of the deadliest war in human history.
“What horrors happened here,” says my 55-year-old Ukrainian father-in-law, Valeriy Deriy, who is a Red Army veteran of the Cold War. “Can you imagine?”
We’ve hired a zodiac boat for the day, embarking from a yacht club in the riverside town of Horishni Plavni. To get to the so-called Island of Death, our captain weaves through narrow, overgrown channels that branch off the main course of the Dnieper River.
Tucked away in a dense forest on the island, there’s an old Soviet war memorial. You’d hardly notice it from the water, unless you knew what to look for. Valeriy explains that one can still find evidence of war in the surrounding woods. Old artillery pieces, bullets, rifles, and boots. That sort of stuff.
“Some people want to forget the past. But it’s impossible,” he tells me. “It’s always there.”
Between August and December 1943, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union fought the battle for the Dnieper River. It was one of World War II’s largest battles, comprising some 4 million soldiers stretched along a nearly 900-mile-long front.
After Nazi Germany’s defeat at the Battle of Kursk, the Soviets pressed their advantage and pushed the Nazis back across Ukraine. The third longest river in Europe, the Dnieper — which runs roughly north to south down the middle of Ukraine to the Black Sea — was a natural physical obstacle for the advancing Red Army.
The Nazis took to the heights on the western bank to set up their artillery, which they used to devastating effect. The Red Army crossed the river under heavy fire, improvising makeshift means to get across. Soviet losses were staggering — accounts vary, but roughly 400,000 Red Army soldiers died in the Dnieper River battle of 1943.
The Other Side
Earlier, Valeriy and I stand at a spot on the opposite, eastern bank of the Dnieper River.
“My great-grandfather said the water ran red with blood in the war,” Valeriy says as we stand on the riverbank, looking to the other side.
Valeriy explains that his great-grandfather fought in that Dnieper River battle, and he crossed the river at this very spot. Right where we’re standing. I’m left a bit speechless.
His great-grandfather couldn’t swim, Valeriy continues, but Soviet commanders would have him shot if he’d refused the crossing. So he held on to a log for flotation and kicked his way across. Somehow, he survived.
“It was October, and the water was already very cold,” Valeriy says, shaking his head. “What a nightmare.”
Today, at this spot where so many died in World War II, there’s a simple old Soviet memorial crumbling, halfway reclaimed by the forest. A dilapidated Soviet tank and artillery piece sit in the foliage, too. But that’s it. You have to rely on your imagination to appreciate what happened here.
There’s not a cloud in the sky and the hot breeze feels good on my face. On a day like this, it’s hard to appreciate what happened here about 77 years ago. I can hardly imagine the fear felt by Soviet soldiers as they stood at that same spot on the river shore, looking to the far side like lost souls about to cross the River Styx.
And then I remember what it was like to stare across no man’s land in eastern Ukraine. I remember the fear I felt under the Russian artillery and sniper shots. And I imagine, at least a little, what those Soviet soldiers must have felt.
The trench lines in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region — where Ukrainian troops have fought a war since 2014 to keep a Russian invasion force at bay — are only about five hours away by car. We could be there by dinner, if we wanted to.
True, we’re much too far from the trenches to hear the daily rumble of battle, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The war is always there.
Standing on the riverbank, Valeriy says to me: “History has been hard on Ukraine. But things will get better. We’re fighting for our democracy, just like your country did. And we’ll win it, too. Just like you did. I still have hope that my daughter and my grandchildren will see an amazing, free Ukraine.”
Still looking across the river, facing the same divide his great-grandfather once faced, Valeriy adds: “We’ll get there.”
Valeriy never served in Afghanistan. He was posted instead to East Germany and worked in signals intelligence, a specialty that paved the way for his future civilian career as a German language interpreter.
“It was an unwritten rule in the Soviet army that only one brother would have to be in Afghanistan at a time,” Valeriy explains. “And my brother went in my place.”
Valeriy’s older brother, Sergiy, was drafted into the Red Army and served in the war in Afghanistan from 1982 to 1984.
In fact, both brothers had volunteered for the war. But their mother had secretly gone to military officials and asked that only one son be allowed to go. Sergiy ultimately volunteered without Valeriy’s knowledge. It wasn’t until their mother died in December 2012 that Valeriy learned the truth.
Sergiy was a sergeant in a signals unit deployed near the Salang Tunnel in the Hindu Kush Mountains. The combat he experienced was terrible, Sergiy tells me, but he doesn’t go into much detail about the war very often. And when he does, his eyes adopt a distinctly distant look, as if he’s looking past me, in an attempt to articulate memories that no words could ever really recreate.
Today, both Deriy brothers live in the town of Horishni Plavi — it’s where my wife, Lilya, grew up.
On a warm June afternoon, our family gathers at a park by the Dnieper River to grill shashlik — Ukraine’s version of a barbecue. Both Sergiy and Valeriy are wearing NASA baseball caps, gifts from me and my wife.
It’s the first time we’ve all been together since the coronavirus lockdown was lifted on June 5, and we’re in good spirits. We make toast after toast until our legs are a little wobbly. We’ve brought along an iPhone speaker and grill the meat while we cycle through a playlist of staple rock hits — songs by bands like the Scorpions, Led Zeppelin, Metallica. That’s my in-laws’ favorite kind of music. Mine too.
We end up cooking more meat than we could ever hope to eat in a day. And we maintain a steady pace with the cognac toasts. And, as it’s prone to do, the conversation between Valeriy, Sergiy, and myself returns to the ongoing war in Ukraine’s east.
“The Russians were never our friends. Stalin invaded us, and now Putin has, too,” Sergiy says. “The only county that ever really cared about us was the United States.”
“We’ll never forget what your country has done for us,” he adds, speaking specifically about America’s delivery of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.
Then Valeriy abruptly stands.
“Please,” he says, beckoning me to shake his hand, “I want to shake the hand of a citizen of the country that put a man on the moon.”
I stand and shake my father-in-law’s hand and feel proud of my country. And I’m particularly proud that he’s proud of my county, too.
A generation ago, we would have been enemies. Our countries were poised at opposite ends of the earth, ready to unleash nuclear Armageddon to destroy one another.
Today, we are a family.
No One Forgets
Located on the east bank of the Dnieper River, roughly 190 miles southeast of Kyiv, Horishni Plavni was founded by Soviet youth volunteers in 1960 as a place to live for workers in the nearby iron-ore mines.
Originally, the city’s name was “Komsomolsk,” a reference to the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League, or “Komsomol.” The town was renamed Horishni Plavni in 2016 as part of Ukraine’s decommunization laws—a set of measures that went into effect in 2015 to curb Russia’s cultural influence.
Across the country, all Soviet-era names of settlements and roads have been changed to new Ukrainian ones. All reminders and relics of the Soviet Union have been removed or made illegal — including playing the Soviet national anthem and displays of the hammer and sickle flag.
Horishni Plavni’s main thoroughfare was once called Lenin Street. Now it’s named Heroes of the Dnieper River Street. The statue of Vladimir Lenin that once stood in the city center is gone. Only an empty pedestal remains — a common sight in Ukraine these days.
Yet you can’t totally erase the past. World War II is too deeply ingrained in Ukraine’s national psyche, and its physical environment, to ever be forgotten.
Soviet-era war memorials still stand around Horishni Plavni. At a riverside park, children play on the marble ramps of a towering, Soviet-era war memorial. In a nearby field, a row of Soviet tanks are on permanent display. Teenagers sit in the shade of the turrets and drink beer and listen to music.
Despite all their years living under Soviet propaganda, my father-in-law and uncle-in-law have a surprisingly pro-American perspective on the war.
“The Soviet Union could have never won without American help under lend-lease,” Valeriy tells me, referring to the American policy from 1941 to 1945 to provide materiel assistance to the Soviet Union’s war effort.
“And thank God the Allies landed in France,” Valeriy adds. “Otherwise Stalin would have taken over all of Europe.”
No War Ever Ends
After our shashlik picnic is over, Sergiy visits his brother’s apartment, where my wife and I are staying. He brings with him a photo album from his time in the Soviet army, including his deployment to Afghanistan in the 1980s.
I’m thrilled to have a look and listen to his stories from the war.
Sergiy recalls how his commander in Afghanistan justified the Soviet war by the need to defend the Soviet Union from U.S. nuclear missile strikes.
“We were told that America was evil, and that we were fighting in Afghanistan to defend the world from America,” Sergiy tells me. “It was all a lie, of course.”
Incredibly, Sergiy bears no ill will toward the country — my country — that was responsible for the death of many of his comrades.
“The Soviet Union did the same to America in Vietnam,” Sergiy says of America’s covert effort from 1979 to 1989 to arm and finance Afghanistan’s mujahideen fighters to fight against the Soviets. “It was the Cold War, and we were enemies. And that’s what enemies do to each other.”
Now, Sergiy has welcomed me — an American veteran of another war in Afghanistan — into his family with open arms. More than that, I’d even say that Sergiy and I share a special bond because we share a common battlefield. We remember the same places, and in some cases, the same enemies. Sometimes, as I’ve learned, former enemies actually have more in common with each other than they do with their fellow citizens who know nothing about war.
As he goes through the old photos, Sergiy’s face flashes with various contradictory emotions. Pride and pain. Nostalgia and regret. For Sergiy, war was both the worst and the best experience of his life. Therein lies that great paradox that faces all soldiers who’ve home to live in peace.
If war was so terrible, why do we sometimes miss it?
Sergiy, for his part, remembers his friends from the army fondly. But there’s a dark cloud, too, that hangs over every good memory.
“The Soviet Union lied to me. They lied to all of us,” Sergiy says as he flips through the photo album’s pages.
He pinches his lips and slowly shakes his head.
“They wasted so many lives,” he adds.
Soldiers rarely fight for the reasons dictated to them by the governments that send them to battle. Rather, once the bullets start flying, a simple sense of duty to defend one’s friends, and to not disappoint their expectations, is what inspires one to act courageously.
Yet, once soldiers are separated from their wars for a while — either by time or by distance — the moral clarity of duty may erode, leading them to question the justice of their individual actions in combat. The simple kill-or-be-killed morality of combat no longer shields them from thoughtfully considering the consequences of the things they did in war.
In many ways, life in peace is much more complicated than life in war. That was certainly true for my uncle-in-law. Although Sergiy came through the war in Afghanistan physically unscathed, he was left irrevocably jaded about Soviet communism.
In 1985, just a year after his discharge from the Soviet Army, Sergiy began law studies at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, Ukraine’s premier university.
“I felt so at peace. Finally, no war, no suffering. Only a bright future,” Sergiy recalls of his arrival in Ukraine’s capital city to begin his studies.
But it didn’t last. In April 1986, an explosion ripped through reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
The Chernobyl plant is located only about 60 miles north of Kyiv. And so, spooked by the threat of radiation, Sergiy was unsure whether he should stay in Kyiv to finish his law degree. The reborn optimism and happiness he’d felt just a year earlier, fresh from his wartime service, quickly gave way to feelings remembered from the war — dark feelings that he’d wanted to forget forever.
“When I was in Afghanistan, I always felt like death was chasing me,” Sergiy remembers. “And when I came back to Ukraine, I thought I could be free from that fixation on death. But Chernobyl happened, and here death finally caught me. A long and painful death. I remember I said to myself, ‘How ironic, death didn’t catch me in the war, but it did in civilian life.'”
Sergiy ultimately stayed in Kyiv to finish his law degree. After graduating from law school in 1991, he returned to his hometown of Horishni Plavni (then called Komsomolsk). The Soviet Union broke apart that year, further upending his world.
When Ukraine’s economy subsequently collapsed in the 1990s, Sergiy ultimately abandoned his law career and took up work as a hired hand. It was his only option to make a living. He never went back to practicing law.
My uncle-in-law, who is a devoutly religious man, has struggled with his demons from Afghanistan. And his family life has had its ups and downs. But he’s never given up hope for his country, even as Ukraine has gone through revolutions and an unfinished war to finally free itself from Russian overlordship.
“I try to stay positive, despite everything that’s happened to our country,” Sergiy says. “It would be so wrong not to believe in our future. I always have hope. It’s just a matter of time. Our future generations will be truly happy and free.”
As young men, Soviet propaganda told Valeriy and Sergiy that America was their mortal enemy. Yet, as older men, they’ve both shown the remarkable moral courage to abandon their former worldviews and embrace the promise of democracy.
Above all else, Valeriy and Sergiy now believe in the justice of freedom and democracy rather than conformity and communism. And the two Red Army veterans wholeheartedly believe that the United States is a force for good and a beacon of hope for freedom-loving people around the world.
It’s true that history hasn’t been kind to Ukraine, and my in-laws have not led easy lives.
Yet in spite of everything, their faith in America remains unbroken. And, with America’s promise lighting the way, they still extoll the justice of their own country’s democratic path, no matter its attendant hardships.
In the end, they choose to reject their Soviet past but not forget it. When the work of building a democracy gets tough, as it so often does, they look to the past to remember what they’re working so hard to achieve.
“Democracy hasn’t been easy, but I’d rather live as a free man than go back to the way things were before,” my father-in-law says.
Freedom, after all, usually means more to people who’ve experienced the alternative.
As if by fate, a weather delay in Germany allowed a group of reservists to embark on a challenging 22-and-a-half-hour mission to help save a fellow service member.
When severe weather delayed a C-17 aircrew from the 315th Airlift Wing heading home to Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina was delayed in Germany Nov. 3, 2018, the crew was asked to take on an emergency mission transporting a burn patient to Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas.
“When our mission was delayed, everyone was a little frustrated because they had to get back to their civilian jobs,” said Capt. Dennis Conner, the mission’s aircraft commander from the 701st Airlift Squadron. “Then I get a call asking if we would stay out and take a medical evacuation mission because there was a Soldier who was pretty badly burned. There was not one hesitation, the entire crew stepped up. They put their civilian lives on hold to do this; they missed work and school to get him home.”
The soldier was transported from Hungary to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, by an Air Force aeromedical evacuation team and was destined for the U.S. Army Institute for Surgical Research Burn Center at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.
C-17 Globemaster IIIs from Joint Base Charleston, S.C., return home after supporting a large formation exercise May 25, 2017.
According to the Daily News Hungary, “an American soldier was electrocuted at the Ferencváros railway station when he climbed up to a cargo train transporting combat vehicles.” The article states there was an electrical line carrying 25,000 volts above the train’s cargo, potentially causing the incident. The Hungarian National Health Service also gave details of the incident, “40 percent of the man’s body suffered second and third degree burns. What is more, he seemed to have broken his femur,” said Pál Győrfy, spokesperson for the organization.
“It was an unbelievable effort. No other country in the world would go to the extent we did to help one of our warfighters,” said Capt. Bryan Chianella, one of the 701 AS pilots on the mission. “We do what we can to take care of our own.”
During the flight, the C-17 was scheduled to do an aerial refueling so it could continue to San Antonio without stopping, said Conner.
“It was chaos,” he said. “Ten minutes before our AR, the tanker lost one of their engines and had to turn around. We did a lot of planning for this mission… We had several backup plans in place. We could only land in Boston or (Joint Base Andrews, Maryland) because if our jet broke down, he needed to be close to a burn center. Since we had strong headwinds, we didn’t have enough gas to get us to Andrews; we had to try to make it to Boston.”
“It was pretty stressful,” said Chianella. “They only had enough pain meds for our original flight time plus two hours and we landed in Boston with our emergency fuel.”
With the quick stop in Boston for fuel, the crew took off for San Antonio and landed at Lackland AFB, Texas then returned to home to Charleston with no further incidents.
“This was one of those missions where you make a difference helping a brother in arms,” said Master Sgt. Glenn Walker, the flying crew chief on the mission from the 315th Maintenance Squadron. “We all came together as a team and worked like a flawless Swiss watch,” he said.
Both Conner and Chianella also credited the crew’s teamwork in making the mission a success.
“I was very proud of the entire crew. I didn’t do anything special, the crew just did what they do and made this mission happen,” explained Connor.
The Air Force recently approved incentive pay for Airmen assigned to Turkey, just months after a military coup prompted defense officials to suspend accompanied deployments there. The Pentagon had ordered Air Force dependents out of the country in March.
According to the Air Force Times, unaccompanied tours to Turkey will be reduced from 15 months to 12 months. Airmen will be given the option to extend their tours from 12 to 24 months with an incentive pay of $300 per month.
Air Force Personnel Command says that Airmen must apply for Turkey Assignment Incentive Pay either prior to leaving their current duty station, within 30 days of arriving in Turkey, or “during their date eligible for return overseas forecast and initial vulnerable to move list windows.”
Airmen who have been in Turkey over 30 days may elect to extend their date eligible for return overseas, or DEROS, for 24 months past their current DEROS. Airmen who elect to accept Turkey Assignment Incentive Pay under these conditions will begin to collect the incentive pay on the first month of the 24 month extension, the service said.
All other Airmen who are eligible for Turkey Assignment Incentive Pay, and accept it, will serve 24 months in Turkey and will begin receiving the incentive pay upon arrival in country.
The Air Force Times reports that civilians previously assigned in Turkey will automatically have their tours reduced from 24 months to 12 months, unless an extension is approved by the U.S. Air Forces in Europe commander.
Turkey, a NATO ally, has seen civil unrest progress in recent years, with terror attacks and a failed coup in July. The country is host to a key airbase at Incirlik, which is critical to the coalition fight against Islamic State terrorists in Syria and Iraq.
The Air Force Times reports that Airmen who find that this recent change in tour requirements presents a hardship for them may request a “home-base or follow-on assignment” and that the Air Force will consider cancellation requests on a case-by-case basis.
The changes to Turkey assignments do not impact personnel assigned to the U.S. Embassy or Security Cooperation Organizations in Turkey.
An 80-year-old conflict was revisited on Sept. 17, 2019, as the Polish Embassy in the UK commemorated the anniversary of the Soviet Union’s invasion, which came two weeks after Germany invaded and started World War II.
The Russian embassy in South Africa didn’t let Poland’s tweet go without a denial.
“The USSR is often accused of invading Poland. Wrong!” the embassy tweeted. “The Nazis attacked Poland on 1 September. It was not until 17 September, with Polish government fleeing forces defeated, that the Red Army entered ‘Polish territories’ – Belarus and Ukraine occupied by Warsaw since 1920.”
The USSR and Germany had signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a neutrality agreement, just days before Germany invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939.
Germany invaded Poland from the west, the USSR invaded from the east, and the two carved up Polish territory between them, although the Soviet Union did not formally declare war.
Unbeknownst to the Polish, the USSR and Nazi Germany had secretly discussed how they would divide parts of Europe, including Poland, giving the USSR the territory it felt it had lost after the Treaty of Riga ended the Polish-Russian War in 1921.
Russia’s response to the Poland tweet takes on more significance in light of its annexation of Crimea in 2014, a move reminiscent of its invasion of Poland in 1939 — in both cases, Moscow denied or obfuscated the invasion but claimed the lands being invading belonged to it anyway.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was not invited to a commemoration of the invasion of Poland this year because of the annexation of Crimea and his increasingly authoritarian rule.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.