During the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese were trying to find ways to force the United States out, as they had the French. In December 1967 they figured the Marine base at Khe Sanh would be the perfect place to replicate Dien Bien Phu, their decisive victory against the French in 1954.
Well, the French didn’t have the air power of the United States Air Force and United States Marine Corps. Nor did they have cargo planes like the C-130 Hercules and the C-123 Provider.
This was one of two big game-changers in the years since Dien Bien Phu. The cargo planes France had back then were C-119 Flying Boxcars – which could haul almost 14 tons of cargo. The French had as few as nine planes in that theater.
The American C-123s could carry 12 tons, but the C-130s could carry over 22 tons – and the Americans had a lot more airlift assets. This meant a lot of supplies got to the Marines – 12,430 from just the Air Force, and another 4,661 tons via Marine helicopters.
One other big difference: The B-52 Stratofortress. Yes, BUFFs were at Khe Sanh, compared to second-hand A-26 Invaders. A B-52 could drop 51 M117 750-pound bombs on a target. The A-26 could carry 6,000 pounds of bombs – or up to 12 500-pound bombs.
That did not include the support from other planes like the F-4 Phantom and A-4 Skyhawk.
Over 20,000 sorties were flown in defense of Khe Sanh – 2,500 of which were flown by B-52s. When all was said and done, the North Vietnamese lost 15,000 personnel trying to take Khe Sanh – making the siege a costly error. The base was eventually relieved, and a lot of abandoned gear was captured.
The video below from the DOD provides an excellent outline of just how American air power caused the siege of Khe Sanh to fail.
“This is great – you can help counteract the stereotype that only big bull dykes join the Army just by being there,” the recruiter said (yes, really).
That was one of my first introductions to how much my appearance would constantly be noticed – and openly discussed by others – as a female soldier. I had signed up to do Hometown Recruiting (between initial entry training and going to your first permanent duty station, you can spend a week helping local recruiters out for a few hours every day without getting charged leave, while still having your evenings free). Instead of going back to my hometown, I’d decided to visit a friend in New York City, and the station I was assigned to apparently thought my key asset was not looking the way they apparently assumed lesbians look.
Later in my military career, people regularly told me, “You’re really pretty for being in the Army.” This baffling pseudo-compliment made me uncomfortable, and I developed a joking stock response: “What, all the pretty girls join the Air Force?” … while at the same time wondering if what they meant was that as civilians go, I’m ugly. It was further confirmation that at least initially, my appearance was a key part of how people would form opinions of me as a soldier.
Recently, an internal email from the female officer heading an Army study on how to integrate women into previously closed ground combat jobs and units to the public affairs office was leaked and much of it published by Politico. In it, she urged that public affairs personnel choose photos of “average looking women” to illustrate generic stories. I’m not thrilled with all her word choices, but I’m worried that her core message has been obscured by quibbles over terminology and the relish media outlets and pundits take in trying to turn everything into a major story. If she had wrapped her message in more obfuscating language – perhaps saying women who do not seem to be trying to conform to modern beauty norms by use of appearance-enhancing efforts instead of the shorthand pretty, maybe it wouldn’t have led to the same degree of public outcry. (I also empathize with her on a personal level: I’m not careful in how I phrase messages that are not meant to be public and certainly wouldn’t want some of them leaked!)
The heart of her argument fell much farther down in the story: compared to photos where women troops are obviously wearing makeup, photos of female soldiers with mud on their faces “sends a much different message—one of women willing to do the dirty work necessary in order to get the job done.”
This immediately resonated with me based on my own experiences. While I was deployed to Iraq, I got a few days of RR in Qatar. While there, I went shopping, bought makeup, got a massage, and drank a few (carefully rationed!) beers. Upon my return to Mosul, Bruce Willis and his band (who knew?) came to our FOB on a USO tour. On a whim, I wore the mascara from my RR – it had been nice to feel feminine for a few days.
Guys asked me about it for weeks. All the male soldiers in my unit noticed I’d worn makeup. They commented on it. It changed how they looked at me and thought about me. And they all knew me, had known me for months or years already.
So when it comes to Infantrymen who haven’t served with women before, do I think that this picture might make them think differently about women joining the combat arms than these? Yes. Yes I do.
OK, I purposefully chose extreme examples. It’s not always that cut-and-dry. When my friends and I were discussing this story on social media, we argued about whether or not women in various photos were wearing makeup (yes, really). It isn’t always easy to tell, and for many women, makeup is a fraught issue. I know women who will never be seen without makeup. While I was in Advanced Individual Training at Goodfellow Air Force, one of my suitemates got up an hour before we had to do physical fitness training to put on full makeup. Full makeup – to go run for miles – in the heat of a Texas summer. I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. (Recently reading this piece on indirect aggression among young women made me think hard about my negative reaction and wonder if I’d react the same way now that I’m a decade older…)
Part of the kerfuffle about this, to me, comes down to the problems of real versus ideal.
In my ideal world, the way I look is meaningless, whether I wear makeup doesn’t matter – I’ll be judged on how competent I am. But in the real world, I have to be aware of the fact that (in normal settings) wearing makeup “increases people’s perceptions of a woman’s likability, her competence and (provided she does not overdo it) her trustworthiness.” So I’ve worn makeup to every job interview I’ve ever gone on. Once I’ve gotten the jobs, there have days I skipped wearing makeup to the office – I can work toward making my ideal world a reality by demonstrating to my colleagues that my appearance and competence aren’t connected. But the important days, when I wanted to make a good first impression? I lived in the real world.
In my ideal world, the way people dress is unimportant. But in the real world, I wore a suit on my last job interview, too – and so did my husband, because this isn’t just about gender. (Although apparently if either of us had applied to work in the tech world, it may have benefitted us NOT to wear suits.) You meet the social norms of the world you want to inhabit, and then you can work to change it from the inside. But if you thumb your nose too heavily at the mores of the organization you want to join, you risk not getting that opportunity.
Almost all of my women veteran friends who posted about this story on social media seemed (to me) angry that the ideal world hasn’t yet materialized, pissed off that people think about women’s appearances at all, irritated that men in the military might let something as trivial as eyeliner distract from the far more important question of whether or not a woman soldier can accomplish the mission effectively. I get that.
But several of the male troops and vets that I know said they got COL Arnhart’s point and agreed with the core message on at least some level (while agreeing the wording was suboptimal). I imagine part of this is that they aren’t triggered in the same way by words like “pretty” and “ugly,” which can be tremendously emotionally charged for women – and that may give them the space to more clearly acknowledge the real world we still inhabit. (Although one of them less charitably posited, “When we see a picture featuring an attractive female soldier, it undermines the message mostly because we’re all very immature.”)
All signs currently indicate that the Army will be opening ground combat arms jobs to women (I’m not as sure about the Marines). This is a tremendous step forward for both women and the Army. COL Arnhart, who has since stepped down, was – in my take of the situation – urging a couple of colleagues to be mindful of the real world we still inhabit while setting the stage for those women, in order to slightly diminish the obstacles that will be awaiting them. Those women, by demonstrating their competence, strength, and abilities, will help accomplish the mission, regardless of how they look – and that will help drag the ideal world once step closer to reality.
Once again this year a host of beautiful women dressed in 1940s “pin-up” outfits adorn a retro-style calendar to help raise money for America’s wounded warriors. The effort was born of the inspiration these images delivered to the “Greatest Generation” fighting in the battlefields and in the air during World War II in hopes they’d do the same for the post-9/11 military.
Founder Gina Elise began Pin-Ups for Vets 11 years ago at the height of the Iraq War. She saw the horrifying wounds U.S. troops sustained while fighting the Global War On Terrorism and she felt compelled to do something for hospitalized veterans.
And she has.
Elise and her pin-ups raised more than $50,000 for medical and rehabilitation equipment at VA hospitals all over the country since she started her nonprofit.
This year, she’s back with a new calendar full of veterans in their full pin-up glory. Her retinue includes veterans from every branch of the military as well as male vets in similar classic styles.
“We shot with a DC-3, at a fire museum, at a train museum. We like to have really unique backgrounds,” Elise says. “The calendar is going to be hanging for a month. It’s going to be hanging in hospital rooms and in barracks with our deployed troops, so I want it to be very colorful and happy; something that can bring some joy when someone looks at it.”
The calendar brings more than just a visual pick-me-up as the money raised from sales also helps fund visits by the pin-up models to hospitalized veterans. And the pin-ups who do the hospital visits are often veterans themselves.
“We have 24 veterans featured in our 2017 edition,” says Elise. “Their total combined service is 162 years.”
Elise and other Pin-Ups for Vets have visited about 10,000 veterans at VA and military hospitals so far, with more on the schedule.
A Marine Corps veteran who deployed twice to Iraq, pin-up Vana Bell appreciates Elise’s vision and is enthusiastic about the organization’s cause.
“I’m comfortable in sweats, I rarely wear makeup, I wear glasses, and my hair is usually in a ponytail,” Bell says. “To see those professional shots leaves me kind of awestruck. Who’s that girl they managed to uncover?”
The annual calendar even features some veteran celebrities as well. Mark Valley and Maximilian Uriarte of “Terminal Lance” fame appeared in previous editions. And this year YouTube star, beauty expert, and Army veteran Dulce Candy is Miss August 2017.
“She’s really this incredible Army veteran that’s doing some pretty big time things, so we’re very lucky to have her,” Elise says. “She was a generator mechanic when she was in the Army. She deployed, came back, and became a superstar beauty blogger.”
During testimony before the House Armed Services Committee on March 29, Votel said U.S. forces may need to increase “all-weather fire support” — military terminology for artillery support.
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces militia coalition, made up mostly of Kurdish and Arab fighters, is leading the ground offensive to capture Raqqa away from the control of the Islamic State, also known as ISIL, ISIS and Daesh, with the help of the U.S.-led international coalition.
“We have recognized that as we continue to pursue our military objectives in Syria, we are going to need more direct all-weather fire support capability for our Syrian Democratic Force partners,” Votel told the committee. “We have not taken our eye off what our principle mission is, which is to advise and assist and enable our partners. Help our partners fight, but not fight for them.”
There are about 1,000 U.S. special operations forces, Marines, and U.S. Army Rangers in northern Syria helping train and support local militias as they work to surround and isolate Raqqa before launching the offensive to take the city.
“The Syrian Democratic Forces have almost completed the isolation phase of Raqqa operations and will, in the coming months, begin operations to seize Raqqa, dismantling a key node in ISIS’ external operations network,” Votel told the Committee.
The U.S.-led international coalition against the Islamic State on March 30 said the Islamic State’s annual revenue decreased from an estimated $1.9 billion in 2014 to $870 million last year.
The SDF on March 26 captured the Tabqa airbase as they approach to seize the Tabqa dam, the largest dam in Syria which is a key source of electricity for the region.
There’s no question about it: A singular blemish in French history is to blame for their eternal ridicule. The moment Marshal Philippe Petain surrendered (kind of) to the Germans after being the main target of the blitzkrieg was the moment people started associating “s’il vous plaît” with “surrender.”
Ridicule against Vichy France, the German puppet state, isn’t without merit — we get it. But to overlook the storied nation’s thousands of years of badassery is laughably incorrect. Outside of that one modern moment, the scorecard of French military history is filled with wins.
Author’s Note: It’s a fool’s errand to try and rank these by historical significance or how they each demonstrate French military might, so they’re listed in chronological order:
Battle of Hastings
If you want to get technical, this battle happened before the formation of France proper. Still, it’s generally agreed that France began with the Franks. Sorry, Gauls. Their legacy of military might includes (successfully) fighting off vikings, Iberians, and, occasionally, the Holy Roman Empire.
But the single landmark victory for the Franks came when Duke William the Bastard of Normandy pressed his claim over the English crown in 1066. At the Battle of Hastings, outnumbered Normans fought English forces, led by King Herald Godwinson. The Normans, led by William, pushed through English shield walls to take out the crown. William the Bastard then went on to conquer the rest of England and earned himself the a new moniker, “King William the Conqueror.”
Siege of Orleans
At the the height of English might, during the Hundred Years’ War, they finally made an effort to end the French once and for all. The city of Orleans was put under siege — and the throne was thrust into dire circumstances. All the English had to do was starve city. That was, until a young peasant girl arrived: Joan of Arc.
Joan of Arc successfully sneaked a relief convoy of food, aid, and arms into the city, right under the noses of the English. This bolstered the strength of the defenders. With food in bellies and morale on the rise, the besieged made a stand and finally pushed the English out of France.
Battle of Yorktown
This is the battle that won the Americans the Revolutionary War, so it’s most often seen as a major victory for the Americans. But the victory would have never been if it weren’t for massive support from the French.
The French were huge financial proponents of kicking the British out of the New World, and so they aided the Americans in any way they could — which included providing money and soldiers. Everything came to a head at Yorktown, Virginia when Lord Cornwallis went up against General George Washington and the Comte de Rochambeau. It was an effort of equal parts — both Washington and Rochambeau flanked Cornwallis on each side, forcing his surrender and officially relinquishing British control over the Colonies.
Most of the Napoleonic Wars
It’s kind of hard to single out one shining example of the sheer strength of the French during the Napoleonic Wars because Napoleon was such a great military leader. If you break down his win/loss ratio down into baseball statistics, like these guys have, he outshines every general in history —from Alexander the Great to modern generals.
Let’s look at the Battle of Ligny. Napoleon managed to piss off the entirety of Europe, causing themto band together tofight him. He was cornered in Prussia andhis enemies were closing in. In a last-ditch effort, he took a sizable chunk out of the Prussian military and forced them to retreat. This all happened while the English, the Russians, the Austrians, and the Germans were trying to intervene.
Just two days later came the Battle ofWaterloo, duringwhich most of Europe had to work together to bring down the dominant Napoleon.
The Battle of Verdun
Let’s go back to Philippe Petain, the guy who gave up France to the Germans, for a second. Today, many see him as a traitor, a coward, and a weakling — but these insults can’t be made with putting a huge asterisk next to them. In World War I, he was known as the “Lion of Verdun” after he oversaw and won what is known as the longest and single bloodiest battle in human history.
For almost the entirety of the year 1916, the Germans pushed everything they had into a single forest on the French/German border. It was clear within the first six days that after the Germans spent 2 million rounds, 2 million artillery shells, and deployed chemical warfare for the first time, that the French would not budge. 303 days later, the Germans finally realize that the French wouldn’t give in and gave up.
In the opening paragraph, there was a “(kind of)” next to mention of French surrender during WWII. Well, that’s because not all of France gave in — just parts of it. France was split into three: Vichy France (a powerless puppet state), the French Protectorates (which were mostly released back to their home rule), and the resistance fighters of Free France.
The Free French resistance fighters were widespread across the French territory, but were mostly centralized in the South. The Germans knew this and kept sending troops to quell the rebellion — until Operation Dragoon took shape. Aided by Allied air power, French resistance fighters were able to repel the Germans out of Free France in only four weeks and give the Allies the strong foothold they needed in the Mediterranean until the fall of fascist Italy.
The Royal Marines apparently hold unarmed combat displays to engage with the public on “Poppy Day,” the British Commonwealth version of Memorial Day. And the display the Marines put on is pretty impressive.
This 2015 demonstration was held at the Waterloo station in London and featured four Marines fighting and a few announcing, answering crowd questions, and collecting funds for Remembrance Sunday.
The Marines showed how they could sneak up on armed guards and take them out:
They displayed a masterful and nuanced way to kick someone in the chest:
This probably didn’t hurt. Especially not when his head landed off the mat and on the tile. (GIF: YouTube/Ministry of Defence)
And, of course, they choked a dude out and then took a selfie with him:
See more of the Royal Marines’ awesome moves in the video below:
The next villain of the Star Wars franchise also happens to be a military veteran.
Meet Adam Driver, the apparent villain of “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens,” set to be released in December 2015. He’s 31, a graduate of Juilliard, and you’ve seen him in the HBO series “Girls,” along with films such as “J. Edgar,” “Lincoln,” and “Inside Llewyn Davis.”
But before his acting career took off, he was U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Adam Driver. Shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the San Diego-native decided to enlist.
“I was having an argument with my stepfather, and he was like, ‘Why don’t you join the Marine Corps?’ And I was like, ‘Noooo! Well, maybe, actually … ‘” Driver told Rolling Stone. “I went and saw the recruiter, who was like, ‘Are you on the run from the cops? Because we’ve never had someone want to leave so fast.’ I was like, ‘I’m going to be a man.'”
Stationed at Camp Pendleton with 81s Platoon, Weapons Co. 1st Battalion 1st Marines, the infantry mortarman began training for an eventual deployment to the Middle East. From Military.com:
Unfortunately for the young Marine, Driver injured his sternum in a mountain biking accident before deploying. He attempted to mitigate his debilitated state by training harder than before, if for no other reason than to show off that he was okay. However, after two years of service with no time in the field, Driver was medically discharged.
He served for two years and eight months, but was unable to finish his enlistment in the Marines. Still, Driver has continued to serve the military community. He runs a non-profit called Arts in the Armed Forces, which brings contemporary theater performances to troops free of charge. For now, we can speculate on exactly what his role in Star Wars will be, and of course, be sure to check out the movie on Dec. 18.
If you hear of something getting “slimed,” you might be thinking about the green slime that has been a standby of Nickeloeon for decades. Well, if you’re talking to grunts, the word “slimed” can be something much more sinister.
To wit, when military personnel talk about something being “slimed,” it means that somebody’s used chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons and the vehicle or gear have been contaminated. Or, in the vernacular, the situation – or quite possibly, the entire world – has gone to hell in the proverbial handbasket.
Okay, state of the world aside, there is a more immediate problem. Now those vehicles and gear need to be decontaminated. The Mission Oriented Protective Posture gear, including that chemical suit, has saved your life – if you got it on in time. But you can’t stay in that hot, uncomfortable suit forever. But some chemical weapons can last a long time. Mustard gas is particularly persistent, and was used in an ISIS attack on American troops in September 2016.
The territory controlled by the ISIS is vast and spreads across wide areas of Iraq and Syria. To date ISIS has proved resilient in the face of American airstrikes, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, Iranian-backed Shia militias, battle-hardened Syrian rebels, Asad regime forces, and even other jihadist groups.
In 2014, ISIS surprised the world with a string of military victories in Iraq, even threatening the central government in Baghdad before American and Kurdish intervention. The swath of territory under their control has not shrunk by much since then.
So how can a paramilitary organization with no recognized trading partners maintain an economy, infrastructure, and sustained military campaigns on multiple fronts? By any means necessary, it appears. Some bloggers suggest Turkey is funding them, or the U.S. government, or even payday lenders. The reality is much more simple and ISIS remains one of the most well-funded paramilitary terrorist organizations ever, with an estimated net worth of $2 billion.
Here are ISIS’ 10 main sources of funding:
1. Oil Smuggling
ISIS captured oil wells all over Iraq and in Northern Syria in 2014. With refined gasoline running near $7.50 per gallon across the border in Turkey, any relief from those kinds of prices is a welcome relief, even if that cheap oil comes from a group like ISIS. The terror group controls 80,000 of Iraq’s total 3 million daily barrels of oil, but the area of oil fields under their control is the size of the UK. In Syria, ISIS controls sixty percent of total production capacity and is selling oil at a rock-bottom $25 per barrel. As of October 2015, the market price of oil was $43. Cross-border smuggling of cheap crude oil earns ISIS and estimated $1.5-3.6 million each day, maybe as high as $800 million each year.
2. Donations from Angel Investors
ISIS is a fundamentalist Sunni Islamist group. Their ideology is close to the Wahhabi brand of Islam espoused by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It shouldn’t come as a surprise there are wealthy oil magnates in the Gulf’s Sunni monarchies, like Qatar, Kuwait, and United Arab Emirates who share ISIS’ core beliefs and are willing to send money to help them. Experts believe angel investors in Qatar are sending the largest portion of individual investments. Their interests may lie more in the overthrow of the regime of Bashar al-Asad, whose government supported Shia muslims in Syria. This income source comes to the tune of $40 million over the past two years.
3. Organized Crime
Calling ISIS “thugs” isn’t just a way of demeaning those who fight, work for, or otherwise support the group. As the only form of law enforcement in the areas under its control, ISIS has a “massive” organized crime operation. It demands large sums of money from those in its territory. Anyone who wants to start a business, withdraw from their bank account, or just be alive are taxed on almost every aspect of daily life. These taxes also extend to dams, granaries, and even oil fields. These taxes can be as high as ten percent per transaction. They’ve even been known to take necklaces and earrings off of women.
4. Looting Banks and Museums
When ISIS captured Mosul in 2014, it famously looted the central bank, cashing in on a large amount of money. It also loots smaller banks as it swarms through new territory under its control. In Mosul alone, ISIS took over 12 branches. All told, experts believe $1.5 billion was captured by the terror group in the past two years. Bank robbery plays a part, but the terror organization will also loot museums and sell valuable artifacts through towns on the Turkish border with Syria. 1/3 of Iraqi archeological sites are under ISIS control and the looting of these sites for artifacts to sell on the black market is the group’s second largest income source.
5. Hostages and Kidnapping
Capturing Westerners and other foreigners is a major source of income for ISIS. Knowing full well the group will fulfill its word to brutally murder those it captures, hostages for profit earns ISIS an estimated $12 million per month, and at least $20 million in 2014. American journalists Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff were held by ISIS for ransom, but because ransoming the men would have been illegal, their families didn’t pay and the two were beheaded. France is known to have paid $14 million for four captured journalists. For locals, the price is $500 to $200,000.
6. Illegal Drugs Sex Trafficking
An Iraqi in Qatar told Newsweeknearly 4,000 women and girls from the Yazidi minority in Iraqi were forced into marriage or sold for sex. There are many more women from other minorities. Girls as young as 14 are forced to either convert to Islam and be wives or be sold into slavery. Reports of cocaine and methamphetamine use are rampant, but more reliable reports indicate ISIS grows marijuana on the outskirts of major cities for sale in Turkey. ISIS is also known to smuggle cigarettes and alcohol, all of which is strictly forbidden under their brand of Islam.
Bitcoin is not a regulated currency, and Israeli intelligence agencies acknowledged they know ISIS is using the currency for fundraising efforts in the United States.
8. Fake Foreign Aid
Unregistered charities worldwide provide ISIS with a method of laundering money from various sources and donors, turning the money into “humanitarian aid.” Fighters will coordinate dropoffs of the aid payments through international data messaging services like Kik and WhatsApp. $11 million of fake aid came to ISIS through Qatar since the start of Syrian Civil War in 2011.
9. Internet Cafes
In Raqqa, the de facto capital of ISIS territory, there were less than 20 internet cafes in the city before the rise of ISIS. Since then, the number has grown to more than 500. According to Syrian activist groupRaqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently the city is now dependent on expensive satellite internet connections controlled by the militants.
10. Fines for Breaking Sharia Law (al-Hisbah)
The terror organization charges steep fines for breaking strict Islamic laws, for everything from smoking tobacco to arriving late to the mosque for prayers. As brutal as the group’s methods are, people living under ISIS rule can now pay fines to avoid torture or execution. Even actual crimes like theft and fraud can be mitigated with payments in Syrian currency.
ISIS burns through cash, spending on military hardware, equipment, infrastructure, safe houses, mass transportation, food, and its own high-quality media center, al-Hayat (the life) and a magazine called Dabiq, not to mention tens of thousands of fighters operating in the field. No matter how much the group spends, it makes an estimated $6 million from these sources every day. There may be no limit to how much the group can expend in its effort to further its ideology.
ABOARD THE USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH, Persian Gulf — The hiss and scream of F/A-18 Super Hornets launching from the flight deck is business as usual on this city at sea, where sorties on Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria have been launched a dozen or more times a day since early February.
When aircraft loaded with AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles and 1,000-pound bombs aren’t being catapulted into flight, training and qualification flights commence.
Constant through the action is a sort of deck ballet of positioning, as the 74 aircraft based on the ship are guided onto elevators for maintenance and storage, or moved to make room for the daily C-2 Greyhound delivery of people and Amazon packages.
The routine of life aboard the carrier is perhaps the most conventional element of the unconventional war against ISIS.
American troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria, mostly special operations and advisory elements, operate in relative secrecy, with few opportunities for journalists to observe them up close.
On the carrier, by contrast, public affairs officers host three or four media visits per month, boarding them in comparatively luxurious “distinguished visitor” berthing, complete with monogrammed bathrobes, and offering them interviews with pilots and unit commanding officers.
Aboard the carrier, multiple sailors said they are on their second deployment in support of Operation Inherent Resolve — the coalition anti-ISIS fight — and compared the consistency of operations today favorably to the frenetic nature of the campaign when it first began in 2014.
With OIR about to enter its third year next month, the commander of the Bush carrier strike group said he is seeing progress in the fight.
While many strikes continue to target enemy positions in Raqqa, Syria, and Mosul, Iraq, where assaults on ISIS’s urban strongholds continue, the carrier’s fighter pilots are seeing more missions to the south, along the Euphrates River Valley. The strikes follow the path of retreating ISIS leaders, Rear Adm. Ken Whitesell said.
“Their vision of a geographic caliphate is coming to an end,” Whitesell told Military.com. “As they move and that unblinking eye stays on top of them, they will be targeted as they move down the valley.”
The number of fighter sorties launched from the carrier daily ranges from 12 to more than 20, plus several EA-18G Growler electronic warfare sorties, said Capt. Will Pennington, commanding officer of the Bush.
Pilots fly punishing eight-hour missions one to three times a week, in addition to daily training and currency flights. But the mission tempo has stayed largely steady since the carrier deployed, and the air wing has yet to be pushed to its limits, he said.
“We’re not surging to make this happen; this is a comfortable pace. We could up it and still get comfortable,” Pennington said.
The fight is proceeding carefully and deliberately from the air in large part because of the complexity of the urban ground battle. In Iraq, where a little more than half of the air wing’s sorties are tasked, the strike mission was simpler before coalition forces arrived in Mosul, he said.
“There were more targets and less complicated aerials,” Pennington said. “Now that the effort is moving forward and being successful … that operation, both from the ground and the air, needs to be carried out with much more prudence, given civilian entanglement.”
In both Mosul and Raqqa, the ground fights have been slow-moving. Coalition troops began their first assault on Mosul in October, and began a campaign to retake Raqqa the following month. Whitesell pointed optimistically to the words of Iraqi Army Chief of Staff Othman Al-Ghanmi, who predicted earlier this month that the fall of ISIS in Mosul would be complete in just three weeks.
It’s not the first time a top official has predicted victory close at hand. But the changing nature of strike targets also gives Whitesell reason to believe the end is near.
In addition to targets including enemy personnel, vehicles and improvised explosive devices, Whitesell said pilots are being tasked with destroying a key source of the militant group’s economic survival: oil wells.
While previously aircraft would target vehicles used to transport the oil, most of those are gone, thanks to the air mission, he said. “Now we get it before it comes out of the ground.”
Whitesell contrasts today’s operational picture to that of 2014, when the Bush became the first aircraft carrier to launch airstrikes on ISIS.
“ISIS had made the push out of Syria and Raqqa, way down, so they had incredible geography. So this carrier was the first striking on the Iraqi assets to stop ISIS at the gates of Baghdad and start moving them back,” he said. “Fast-forward three years to where we are. We’ve got, essentially, a noose tied around the neck of ISIS.”
On a given day, a pilot might be tasked with engaging a specific target over Iraq or Syria, or with flying to a region and remaining “on call,” to be assigned a future target, sometimes with scant notice, by a controller on the ground.
While pilots’ assignments can change at any time during the mission, they generally know the day’s mission set by the time they’re walking to their aircraft on the flight deck, said Lt. Cmdr. “Butters” Welles, a pilot with Strike Fighter Squadron 37, the “Ragin’ Bulls.” The squadron flies the F/A-18C Hornet.
Multiple pilots who spoke with Military.com asked that their full first and last names not be used, a subtle acknowledgment of online threats ISIS militants have made on various occasions against U.S. troops and their families.
Welles, who is on his fourth combat deployment, said he still feels the power of the moment when dropping ordnance on a ground target.
It’s a sense similar to other high-stress moments, whether it’s landing on the ship at night or doing something that requires intense attention,” he said. “There’s a sense of time compression, where everything sort of slows down, but you feel like it’s still moving very quickly … it’s definitely a very intense moment.”
At that point, a pilot’s day is far from done. Still ahead are a series of tanker refueling operations, a flight back to the ship, and hours of debriefs. The workday of a pilot with a strike mission can easily stretch to 12 hours or more, the work continuing long after exiting the cockpit.
But after a day in the fight, they return to the ship, where four meals are served daily, gyms and movie channels are available for free time, and routine keeps chaos at bay.
And pilots are well aware of the contrast between the reality of the island-like carrier and that of coalition troops in the gritty, drawn-out ground battles.
“It’s a very different perspective and involvement for us to be up and somewhat detached from what’s going on down on the ground,” Welles said. “So I would say it’s a sense of pride, knowing that we contributed in some way to a very difficult effort on the ground. Because once we’re complete, and we either leave to airborne refuel, or need to go home, then the people we’re talking with are still there in the fight.”
War is just as much a psychological battle as it is physical. If you’re able to convince your enemy that they have no chance of surviving before the first drop of blood is spilled, you’ve already won. No warriors in history have embodied this concept better than the Anausa or, as they’re more commonly known, the Persian Immortals.
Even their very name, “Immortal,” is a part of the mind tricks they played on their enemies. In order to keep up the image of being unkillable, they wore matching uniforms and hastily recovered their dead or wounded, fueling the illusion that none fell in battle. But that barely even scratches the surface of the psychological warfare the Persians employed to conquer 44 percent of all humanity at the height of their power in 480 B.C.
As over-the-top as the rest of the film was, this is an entirely accurate scene. The rest of the movie though? Ehhh…
(Warner Bros. Pictures)
As with many early civilizations, much of the history of Achaemenid Empire (to Empire for which the Immortals fought) has been lost to time. The history we do have comes from the Greek scholar, Herodotus. Though he opposed Persia, he kept detailed battle plans of the Immortals and those that faced them.
One such example happened to make its way into the 2006 film, 300. A Spartan at Thermopylae scoffed at a Persian envoy who said their arrows could “black out the sky” by replying, “then we’ll fight in the shade.” That wasn’t just a boast — that actually happened.
The Immortals were well aware that their arrows were inferior to Spartan steel. So, instead of making them stronger, they made more of them so that every archer could unleash them in one, rapid moment, literally blacking out the sky with arrows.
“Cats! Our only weakness!” – Some Egyptian, probably.
(Ancient History Museum)
Another example of the ferocity of the Immortals was when the Persians defeated the Egyptians at the Battle of Pelusium. The Persians knew that the Egyptians were faithful to the Egyptian Goddess of Cats, Bastet. To the Egyptians, any harm done to a cat was considered great sacrilege.
Knowing this, the Persians simply drew cats on their shields and let loose a bunch of cats onto the battlefield. This alone was enough to make many Egyptians immediately surrender. When the other Egyptians manned their catapults, the Persians would let them know that they had cats with them — and that unleashed the artillery could mean killing a few felines.
If the Immortals didn’t have enough time to prepare for an individual opponent, they’d resort to their shock-and-awe cavalry, armed with sagaris, or long axes. The lightweight ax made it easy for Immortals to twirl them over their heads and swing fast enough to make an enemy’s blood splash far enough back to intimidate their foes.
At the Battle of the Granicus in 334 B.C., Alexander II of Macedon was nearly scalped by an Immortal cavalryman named Spithridates. His ax sliced clean straight through Alexander’s helmet and was just millimeters away from being a fatal blow.
After that moment, Alexander swore to the destruction of Persia. He studied their tactics and instructed his men on how to counter their advances. This took away the Persian’s edge in battle, and Alexander, from then on, took on the moniker of “the Great.”