'13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi' captures courage while avoiding politics - We Are The Mighty
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’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ captures courage while avoiding politics

When the trailer for 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi dropped, netizens were quick to dub it “Bayghazi,” a portmanteau of the location of the now-infamous embassy attack and the name of director Michael Bay. But the film deserves more credit than that for a number of reasons, but mostly because it manages to celebrate the human elements of an otherwise overly-politicized event.


“We all think we know Benghazi,” Bay says. “But we all only really know so much. There was a great human story in Benghazi that was never told. It’s an inspirational movie, even though it’s tragic.”

The movie is a faithful retelling of the events on the ground during that day in the Libyan port city, as written in journalist Mitchell Zuckoff’s book 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi, which he co-authored with the surviving security contractors who were on the ground. The way Zuckoff writes the story in the book lends itself to Michael Bay’s directing style.

“The book, when I read it, it was an amazing human experience,” Michael Bay says. “It’s my most realistic movie. I think it opens eyes to what they really go through. It’s a collection of 36 Americans coming together, figuring out how the hell to survive. It starts at 9:42 and we follow the waves and the adrenaline and the ebbs and flows for 13 hours.”

’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ captures courage while avoiding politics
(Paramount Pictures)

The movie is rife with commentary, damning of the military’s failure to act in support of the CIA annex in any way. Fighter planes remain motionless on flightlines while bureaucrats make late night phones calls to plan meetings, but the movie is inspirational, thanks to its exceptional cast. With the help of the real military veterans-turned CIA security contractors who were on the ground in Benghazi that night, they all deliver exceptional performances.

“There’s such a responsibility in this particular story,” says John Krasinski, who plays Jack Silva, one of the CIA contractors and former Navy SEAL. “Not only because it’s so highly politicized, but also because it’s so intense and is a story not really being told. For me, there was a great responsibility to make sure we told it right, especially since it’s about these six guys who are the definition of heroes.”

’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ captures courage while avoiding politics
(Paramount Pictures)

The real-life defenders of the Americans in Benghazi, the members of the annex security team who were on the ground, are unanimous in what they hope audiences will take away from the film: The truth.

“They got it right,” says Marc “Oz” Geist, one of the contractors at Benghazi. “When you watch the movie, you’re seeing the guys, you’re seeing the team,” Kris “Tanto” Peronto adds. “They did an excellent job. That shows a lot of work.”

’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ captures courage while avoiding politics

“You have a group of people who overcome what most would consider insurmountable odds,” Geist continues. “There are positives that comes from that. It’s not a negative thing. You’re gonna have troubles, you’re gonna have things go bad. We lost four people and that’s tragic, but that’s not the defining moment. The defining moment is that we never lost because we never quit.”

The film has all the hallmarks of its director’s signature style: slow shots of dialogue between characters contrast fast-paced action with explosions; a weak leader gets usurped when the “right thing to do” becomes apparent, even though it isn’t “by the book;” and what starts as a rescue turns out to be an epic battle for survival. Yet all of it is a faithful retelling of the Benghazi story, seconded by the guys who were there that night, right down to the funny one-liners of comic relief (called “Tantoisms” by the Benghazi team).

’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ captures courage while avoiding politics
(Paramount Pictures)

The portrayals of the team are realistic and intense. Anyone who’s ever met Navy SEALs, Marine Scout Snipers, Army Rangers, or any other special forces operators will recognize the personalities portrayed on screen by Krasinski, James Badge Dale (“Rone”), Pablo Schreiber (“Tanto”), David Denman (“Boon”), Max Martini (“Oz”), and Dominic Fumusa (“Tig”).

“It’s about the human spirit and the will to win,” the directors said. “No one ordered them to go. They volunteered and they volunteered at the drop of a hat. At a time when there’s so much crap going on in the world, you are appreciative that people like this exist.”

 

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is in theaters today. Follow the film on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

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Navy has first female applicants for SEAL officer, special boat units

More than a year after a mandate for the Pentagon opened previously closed ground combat and special operations jobs to women, officials say the Navy has its first female candidates for its most elite special warfare roles.


Two women were in boot camp as candidates for the Navy’s all-enlisted Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewman program, Naval Special Warfare Center Deputy Commander Capt. Christian Dunbar told members of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Service in June.

Another woman, who sources say is a junior in an ROTC program at an unnamed college, has applied for a spot in the SEAL officer selection process for fiscal 2018, which begins Oct. 1, and is set to complete an early step in the pipeline, special operations assessment and selection, later this summer, he said.

“That’s a three-week block of instruction,” Dunbar said. “Then the [prospective SEAL officer] will compete like everyone else, 160 [applicants] for only 100 spots.”

Related: This is how the military is integrating women

A spokesman for Naval Special Warfare Command, Capt. Jason Salata, confirmed to Military.com this week that a single female enlisted candidate remained in the training pipeline for Special Warfare Combatant Crewman, or SWCC. The accession pipeline for the job, he added, included several screening evaluations and then recruit training at the Navy’s Great Lakes, Illinois boot camp before Basic Underwater Demolition School training.

Salata also confirmed that a female midshipman is set to train with other future Naval officers in the SEAL Officer Assessment and Selection, or SOAS, course this summer.

“[SOAS] is part of the accession pipeline to become a SEAL and the performance of attendees this summer will be a factor for evaluation at the September SEAL Officer Selection Panel,” he said.

Because of operational security concerns, Salata said the Navy would not identify the candidates or provide updates on their progress in the selection pipeline. In special operations, where troops often guard their identities closely to keep a low profile on missions, public attention in the training pipeline could affect a candidate’s career.

’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ captures courage while avoiding politics
U.S. Navy special warfare combatant-craft crewmen (SWCC) from Special Boat Team 22 drive a special operations craft-riverine. SWCC are U.S. Special Operations Command maritime mobility experts. | U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Kathryn Whittenberger

It’s possible, however, that the first female member of these elite communities will come not from the outside, but from within. In October, a SWCC petty officer notified their chain-of-command that they identified as being transgender, Salata confirmed to Military.com.

According to Navy policy guidance released last fall, a sailor must receive a doctor’s diagnosis of medical necessity and command approval to begin the gender transition process, which can take a variety of different forms, from counseling and hormone therapy to surgery. Sailors must also prove they can pass the physical standards and requirements of the gender to which they are transitioning.

These first female candidates represent a major milestone for the Navy, which has previously allowed women into every career field except the SEALs and SWCC community. A successful candidate would also break ground for military special operations.

Also read: First 10 women graduate from Infantry Officer Course

Army officials said in January that a woman had graduated Ranger school and was on her way to joining the elite 75th Ranger Regiment, but no female soldier has made it through the selection process to any other Army special operations element. The Air Force and Marine Corps have also seen multiple female candidates for special operations, but have yet to announce a successful accession.

The two women now preparing to enter the Navy’s special operations training pipeline will have to overcome some of the most daunting attrition rates in any military training process

Dunbar said the SEALs, which graduate six Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL classes per year, have an average attrition rate of 73 to 75 percent, while the special boat operator community has an average attrition rate of 63 percent. The attrition rate for SEAL officers is significantly lower, though; according to the Navy’s 2015 implementation plan for women in special warfare, up to 65 percent of SEAL officer candidates successfully enter the community.

But by the time they make it to that final phase of training, candidates have already been weeded down ruthlessly. Navy officials assess prospective special warfare operators and special boat operators, ranking them by their scores on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB, physical readiness test, special operations resiliency test, and a mental toughness exam. The highest-ranking candidates are then assessed into training, based on how many spots the Navy has available at that point.

“We assess right now that, with the small cohorts of females, we don’t really know what’s going to happen as far as expected attrition,” Dunbar, the Naval Special Warfare Center deputy commander, told DACOWITS in June.

Dunbar did say, however, that Naval Special Warfare Command was considered fully ready for its first female SEALs and SWCC operators, whenever they ultimately arrived. A cadre of female staff members was in place in the training pipeline, and the command regularly held all-hands calls to discuss inclusivity and integration.

“All the barriers have been removed,” he said. “Our planning has been completed and is on track.”

Salata said the Navy had also completed a thorough review of its curriculum and policies and had evaluated facilities and support capabilities to determine any changes that might need to be made to accommodate women. As a result, he said, minor changes were made to lodging facilities and approved uniform items.

Nonetheless, Salata said, “It would be premature to speculate as to when we will see the first woman SEAL or SWCC graduate. Managing expectations is an important part of the deliberate assessment and selection process; it may take months and potentially years.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated in the third paragraph to correct the school the SEAL officer candidate attends. She is a junior in an ROTC program at an unnamed college, not the Naval Academy.

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This is why going mudding in a World War I era tank is a bad idea

The front line of WWI was a dangerous place. From bullets to bombs to poison gas, the death that could be dealt on the battlefield came from many directions.


Mother nature included.

Excessive rains made mobility difficult as troops were forced to navigate through the mud-choked battlefields, making resupply and transport nearly impossible. With both sides bogged down, tanks were thought to enable a breakthrough, but they too soon succumbed to the clutches of mud.

Known as “Mark 1,” the first tank was constructed with 105hp Daimler engine and carried two Hotchkiss six-pound (57mm) guns. The crew consisted four gunners and three drivers, and the tank maneuvered on caterpillar tracks with separate gearboxes.

Soldiers had to endure intense heat in the crew compartment, extreme noise and would sometimes be trapped for days if the tank got stuck.

After multiple design failures, the British considered canceling their tank program, but supporters kept them in the Empire’s arsenal.

Related: Why WWII soldiers nicknamed the Sherman tank ‘death trap’

New tactics breathed new life into the lumbering beasts, focusing them into mass attacks that took advantage of proper terrain.

Check out the History Channel‘s video below to see how these first tanks made an impact on the battlefields of the War To End All Wars.

(History Channel, YouTube) 
MIGHTY TRENDING

This pilot of a stricken F-16 was saved from ISIS by a quick-thinking tanker crew

An F-16 pilot flying over ISIS-held territory in 2015 suffered a malfunction of his fuel system and would have been forced to bail out if it weren’t for a KC-135 Stratotanker crew that offered to escort the jet home, the Air Force said in a press release.


The KC-135 was tasked with refueling a flight of A-10s supporting ground pounders when an F-16 came for gas and declared an emergency.

“We were in the area of responsibility and were already mated with some A-10 Thunderbolt IIs that were tasked with observing and providing close-air-support for our allies on the ground,” said Capt. Nathanial Beer, 384th Air Refueling Squadron pilot. “The lead F-16 came up first and then had a pressure disconnect after about 500 pounds of fuel. We were expecting to offload about 2,500 pounds.”

After the pilot completed his checklist, it became apparent that 80 percent of his fuel supply was trapped in the tanks and couldn’t get to the engine. The pilots would have to bail out over ISIS territory or try to make it back to allied airspace.

500 pounds of fuel is very little in an F-16, so the KC-135 flew home with the fighter and topped off its gas every 15 minutes.

“The first thought I had from reading the note from the deployed location was extreme pride for the crew in how they handled the emergency,” said Lt. Col. Eric Hallberg, 384th Air Refueling Squadron commander.

 

’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ captures courage while avoiding politics
The crew of the KC-135 poses for a photo in front of their aircraft. Photo: US Air Force courtesy photo

 

“Knowing the risks to their own safety, they put the life of the F-16 pilot first and made what could’ve been an international tragedy, a feel-good news story. I’m sure they think it was not a big deal, however, that’s because they never want the glory or fame.”

The KC-135 crew returned to their planned operation once the F-16 was safely home and were able to complete all of their scheduled missions despite the detour.

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13 signs you’re an infantryman

Here’s when you know you’re probably an infantryman in the Army or Marine Corps, better known as a grunt.


#1: Whether it’s on the ground, in a bed, or in a helicopter, you can pass out ANYWHERE.

’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ captures courage while avoiding politics

#2: You survive on this stuff, because it’s an amazing grunt power source.

’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ captures courage while avoiding politics

#3: You have eaten way more of these than you’d care to remember.

’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ captures courage while avoiding politics

#4: You wear camouflage uniforms so much, you wonder why they even issued you those dress uniforms that just sit in a wall locker.

’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ captures courage while avoiding politics
What are those things on the right? (Photo Credit: usmarineis5150.tumblr.com)

#5: The aging of your body accelerates beyond what you imagined was possible.

#6: This is “the field,” and it’s your office.

’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ captures courage while avoiding politics
Photo Credit: US Army

#7: The guys in your fire team/squad/platoon know more about you than your own family. They are also willing to do anything for you.

#8: You have probably heard some crusty old enlisted guy say “all this and a paycheck too!”

#9: Your day often starts with a “death run” or a “fun run.” It is never actually fun.

’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ captures courage while avoiding politics
Photo Credit: 26th MEU

#10: You watch “moto” videos of grunts in combat and get pumped up.

#11: A port-a-john in Iraq or Afghanistan (or anywhere really) has three purposes, not just “going #1 or #2.”

#12: If you are pumped up to deploy, you remember Iraq or Afghanistan is usually way more boring than people think, and the last time you went, your entire platoon watched “The O.C.” or some other show during free time.

#13: You really regret not wearing earplugs more.

DON’T MISS: 21 photos showing the life of an elite US Army Ranger

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This is the ‘steel rain’ the US could unleash if things get hot in North Korea

This article was originally written by Kevin Wilson for The Havok Journal. The opinions expressed are his own. 


There are many military occupational specialties that could make the argument that they’ve been underutilized in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. One could argue, for instance, that there hasn’t been much need for ADA since the initial invasions, since our enemies in both countries are, for all practical intents and purposes, little more than exceptionally lethal cavemen.

They might be hell on wheels for making bombs and guerrilla warfare, but they don’t fly without a little bit of help, usually in the form of the high explosive warhead.

The same argument could be applied to our fighter pilots, for much the same reason. If the enemy has no fighters of their own, then they’re little more than glorified close air support. Sure, they get to stay on nice bases and have shirtless volleyball games, but that’s a poor substitute for life in the danger zone.

However, there is one very particular specialty who, I would argue, has the bluest balls of them all, and that’s the crews of the Army and Marine Corps’s MLRS and HIMARS launchers.

’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ captures courage while avoiding politics
A US Marine with Fox Battery, 2nd Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, directs the loading of 227mm rockets into the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System during training. Photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Morrow.

The MLRS, or Multiple Launch Rocket System, is the single most badass artillery piece in the US arsenal, and possibly the world. Its little brother, the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, is a very close second. Nicknamed “Steel Rain,” the MLRS and HIMARS represent a quantum leap in ground-to-ground destructive capability, above and beyond anything the world has seen before and since. Sure, cannon artillery might have its place on the battlefield, but that place isn’t wiping out grid squares with a single fire mission.

And yet, for all their awesome destructive power, they’ve seen very limited use over the last decade and a half. This is a phenomenon I’ve witnessed firsthand. My unit, a HIMARS battery in the North Carolina Army National Guard, has deployed multiple times since the start of the Iraq war, and we’ve yet to fire a single rocket in anger. We spent the better part of a year staring at the Sinai desert, but no shooting rockets.

It’s to the point where the 13Ms, the MLRS and HIMARS crewmembers, were nicknamed 13 Miscellaneous. If there was a job that needed bodies, chances are, they’d get sent to do it, because the chances of them doing the jobs they were trained for were less than nil.

’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ captures courage while avoiding politics
Firing a M142 HIMARS. Photo by Sgt. Toby Cook.

Why, you ask? One could argue that the rockets were overkill, or that they were too expensive. Me, I’ve got another theory.

See, there’s this little country in Asia, you might have heard of it. You know, the one run by a fat little kid who keeps saber rattling? Starts with an N, ends with -orth Korea? Yeah, that one.

It’s no secret that the Hermit Kingdom is ratcheting up tensions in a big way. Tensions are as high as they’ve ever been, and if the manure hits the air circulator for real, it’s going to be the single greatest conventional conflict of the new millennium. Leaving aside the issue of whether or not their nukes are worth a damn, we can count on a vast wave of troops rolling over the DMZ and riding like hell for Seoul, the capital of South Korea.

And what stands in their way?

Well, aside from a whole lot of angry South Koreans, the US has a substantial troop presence over there, and with them, a whole lot of artillery. And the biggest and baddest of them are Steel Rain.

’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ captures courage while avoiding politics
A US Marine with Fox Battery, 2nd Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, guides the rotation of a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System after training on Range G-5, Camp Lejeune, N.C. Photo by Cpl. Judith Harter

Stopping that initial onslaught is going to be a lot like stopping an avalanche with fire-hoses: doable, but you’re gonna need one hell of a hose, and an awful lot of water. And brother, it’s hard to find a bigger fire-hose than the Multiple Launch Rocket System.

Now, I’m not saying I’m in favor of war in the Korean Peninsula. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s a terrible idea, but I’m also pretty sure we don’t have much of a choice in the matter. If it happens, it happens.

If North Korea steps over the line, however, I’m kinda hoping they do it in a big way, on behalf of all the 13M and 13P out there. Because, you know, it’s been a while, and we have needs that just haven’t been taken care of.

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2034: A Novel of the Next World War

Much of the current conversation about warfare in the veteran community revolves around our involvement in the Middle East which appears to be drawing to a close at the end of its second complete decade. Many veterans have been busy producing works that address the legacy of the Global War on Terrorism and how it has shaped our most recent generation of veterans. But Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis have turned their sights to the future to speculate on what might come next.

What they have produced is 2034: A Novel of the Next World War, a fast-paced thriller set in the year 2034, told from multiple perspectives as the world finds itself on the brink of a war the likes of which have not been seen since the rise of fascism in the mid-twentieth century. The novel attempts to merge present-day fact with an all too plausible future on a global scale. The effect is unsettling. It is wargames with literary flair and it wastes no time jumping into the action. 

At the beginning of the novel, two seemingly minor occurrences kick off a chain reaction of events that quickly escalate to global proportions with dire consequences. Lines are drawn. Sides are taken. The United States finds itself enmeshed in its first conflict with a near-peer adversary in decades. As the conflict continues to grow, the numbers of casualties rapidly lose meaning demonstrating the sheer scale of the war. A few hundred sailors lost at sea in one chapter becomes thirty-seven ships sunk during battle in the next chapter which then becomes ten million civilians vaporized through the use of a nuclear warhead. The reader is engulfed by the catastrophic numbers and left feeling haunted.

What is immediately appealing about this novel is that it resists over-intellectualizing the politics at play. It is accessible and unpretentious in its approach. They accomplish this through the use of a vibrant cast of characters. Each one is fully realized with impressive brevity. The reader recognizes their motivations because they are the desires any person can relate to. Sarah Hunt, a Commodore with the United States Navy, laments the premature end of her military career due to a medical board’s unfavorable decision. A disgraced Brigadier General with the Quds Force of Iran meditates on the true meaning of a soldier’s death as he considers the scars left on his body and his soul from a career spent serving a government that does not appear to appreciate his sacrifice. Their plights are relatable. They are human. It is easy for the reader to feel they understand the characters and their individual struggles more so than the global conflict that consumes them. At the same time, Ackerman and Admiral Stavridis handle the narrative with such weight of authority that it feels as if the events have already occurred in history. It is clear they are writing from an informed perspective with extensive experience to back up their vision.

’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ captures courage while avoiding politics

They portray the United States as a nation that has not learned from its mistakes. A nation that is too comfortable in its own opulence. The military is stymied by bureaucracy and betrays an over-dependence on technology to the point that these tools become obsolete through the use of cyber-attacks by the Chinese government before the halfway point of the novel. The Americans are burdened by their history and stifled by their own legacies. Readers are inundated with the names and trophies of past victories from bygone eras the country still clings to despite new threats bearing down on the nation. Many of the service members hold legitimate credentials but lack actual combat experience. The leadership is more concerned with what the public thinks rather than how to best retaliate. “Jesus! What will the country say?” exclaims the president after a large military defeat at sea which reveals her greatest fear: what others think of her. The novel makes a convincing argument that despite all the advancements of technology in the modern era it is still the men and women who control those devices that will decide the fate of our future. 

What makes this thriller so powerful is that it is written from the inside of the characters’ lives. They come from diverse backgrounds and many represent powers greater than themselves that have malicious intentions in the global theater. Yet we are drawn to them because we understand their motivations as individuals. We are invited into their interior lives and through that landscape we are offered a glimpse at their humanity. And it is through their humanity that they become fully realized on the page. Regardless of their allegiances, readers find themselves wanting each character to fulfill their desires. Admiral Stavridis and Ackerman succeed by rendering a fully engrossing picture of a reality that is subtle yet poignant and might be just beyond the horizon.

2034: A Novel of the Next World War

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This airman is a survivor — and a leader

Air Force Staff Sgt. Srun Sookmeewiriya — or “Sook,” as many people know him — may seem like a happy and carefree airman at first glance.


The 313th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron’s noncommissioned officer in charge of reports regularly puts forth an earnest effort here to keep his unit alive and running, so his dark past and his struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts come as a surprise to many.

“He’s like the morale person — that’s what everybody else refers him to,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Melissa Vela, the 313th EOSS NCO in charge of console operations. “He’s so full of energy. He’s so infectious, he makes everybody laugh.”

’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ captures courage while avoiding politics
Air Force Staff Sgt. Srun Sookmeewiriya, 313th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron noncommissioned officer in charge of reports, holds a picture of himself with his younger brother, Thana, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Feb. 16, 2017. Sookmeewiriya, who attempted to commit suicide twice, said he draws inspiration from his brother to remain resilient and encourages airmen to open up about their struggles. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joshua Magbanua)

Unknown to many of his wingmen, Sook’s current persona is possible only because he recovered from serious trauma he experienced as a young man. When Sook still lived in his native Thailand, both of his parents committed suicide. He witnessed his mother’s suicide, and he found his father’s body after his father had taken his own life and attempted to kill Sook’s younger brother, Thana.

“I saw him lying there in bed,” he recalled. “I wasn’t sure what happened. I tried to wake him up to see if he was still alive. I thought I was alone, and I didn’t know who I would go to now. My head was just spinning at that point. It was a shock.” Thana survived the gunshot wound, but was never the same, physically or mentally, Sook said.

Suicide Attempts

With his mother and father gone, Thana was the only family Sook had left. He went to a boarding school, where he said depression haunted him and other children bullied him for not having parents. This led to a suicide attempt by ingesting a large amount of over-the-counter medication. He was in a coma for two days.

Sook finished boarding school and eventually immigrated to the United States, where Thana would join him soon afterward. Sook spent his early time in the U.S. with relatives from his father’s first marriage. He would bounce from family to family because of his troubled personality, he said, and he also felt as if he was just an outsider because of his status as a “half-relative.”

“I felt like I didn’t belong, because I wasn’t a part of their family,” Sook said. “I didn’t feel any emotion when I hugged them.”

’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ captures courage while avoiding politics
Trauma can take many forms; in recent years the military is striving to raise awareness of its symptoms and provide treatment.

The feeling of being an outsider overwhelmed Sook, and he tried to kill himself again.

“I didn’t want to deal with the state I was in: not feeling welcome and not feeling like I was part of the family,” he said. “At that time as a kid, I thought that the best way was to just end it all and leave.”

Sook said he tried to hide his attempted suicide, but his relatives eventually found out and sent him to a doctor to get help. His half-sister, Kim, was especially appalled, and confronted him about what he done. She asked, “What about your brother?”

Also read: 5 things military spouses need to know about PTSD

“When she mentioned my brother, I totally thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m leaving him behind,'” Sook said. That’s when he decided to turn around and confront his issues instead of running from them. Sook described his brother as his inspiration in his fight against depression.

“He was the only family I had up to that point. It was me and him. He has been through a lot tougher things than I had. Because of the gunshot wound, he was scarred for life. He didn’t grow up normally, but he never gave up. That’s one reason why I should not and will not give up on him, because he didn’t either.”

Strength in Recovery

As part of his recovery process, Sook found strength in his faith and from Kim, who helped him get back on his feet.

“It took me a while — basically, a couple years,” he said. “I think I’m still bouncing back to this day. I think of this tragedy as a lesson, and that lesson is to not repeat the same thing that [my parents] did.”

Sook joined the Air Force as a civil engineer airman, and cross-trained to be an air mobility controller. He adopted Thana as his dependent, and eventually married and started a family. He noted that although his life still has its ups and downs, he copes by confiding in his wife. He also expressed gratitude for the support his coworkers give him continuously.

“Having a good work center in the Air Force actually helped me out a lot,” he said. “When I have other issues, they continue to help me out.”

Vela described how surprised she was when Sook opened up to her about his past, saying that she would have never guessed that an airman like Sook would have experienced so much trauma.

“I was speechless the whole time he told his story,” she recalled. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, are you OK?’ To me, I can see the strength in his words and his actions. Seeing the strength that he had to come forth and tell his story is amazing.”

Encouragement for Others

Sook shares his story occasionally with the public, hoping to encourage people suffering from depression to seek help and not to try to survive on their own. He said he emphasizes how important it is to open up to people who care, and that many people are standing by at agencies on the base ready to assist in their battle against depression.

“Don’t bottle up those issues,” he added. “If you stress out, talk it out. Find somebody who is willing to listen.”

Sook said he encourages airmen to look for a cause and to do what it takes to survive so they can continue to fight for it.

“Don’t give up. Look for what you’re fighting for,” he said. “I fight for my brother, my wife, and my kids. It’s their future and my future.”

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Remembering Black Hawk crew chief Jeremy Tomlin

Specialist Jeremy Tomlin was afraid of heights but his fear fell away when he was in a Black Hawk helicopter, his mother said April 19.


Tomlin, 22, was killed this week when the helicopter he was on crashed into a Maryland golf course during a training mission. Two other soldiers on board were critically injured.

“Jeremy loved to hunt and fish,” grandfather Ronnie Tomlin said. “Growing up, he never caused anyone trouble. All he wanted to do was play video games. He was just an average kid.”

’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ captures courage while avoiding politics
A UH-60 Black Hawk. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jasmonet Jackson)

Tomlin, the helicopter’s crew chief, grew up in the Chapel Hill, Tennessee, area. He was assigned to the 12th Aviation Battalion and stationed at Davison Airfield in Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

He started playing video games at age 3 or 4, Jenny Tomlin said.

After graduating from high school in Unionville and turning 18, he headed off. He married his high school sweetheart, Jessica, before shipping off to Germany and they spent two years there, Jenny Tomlin said.

“He loved working on those helicopters and he loved flying,” Ronnie Tomlin said. When Jeremy Tomlin spoke to his grandfather recently, he said he was interested in getting into special operations.

Tomlin was aboard a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter when it crashed in Leonardtown, Maryland, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) southeast of Washington, D.C., the Army said. The helicopter was one of three on a training mission, the Army said.

Tomlin died at the scene and two others aboard, Chief Warrant Officer Christopher Nicholas and Capt. Terikazu Onoda, were injured and taken to a Baltimore hospital, the Army said.

Related: An Army Black Hawk has crashed in southern Maryland

Nicholas was in critical condition the evening of April 19 and Onoda had been upgraded from critical to serious condition, said Col. Amanda Azubuike, director of public affairs for the Joint Force Headquarters National Capital Region and the U.S. Army Military District of Washington.

The cause of the crash is under investigation. One witness described pieces falling from the aircraft and another said it was spinning before it went down.

A memorial service for Tomlin is scheduled for April 21 at Fort Belvoir.

“He was scared of heights, but in the helicopter he felt safe,” Jenny Tomlin said. “Not a lot of people can say they died doing what they loved.”

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This Blackwater shootout in Baghdad might not have gone down like the prosecution claimed

Four contractors with the security firm formerly known as Blackwater may have come under fire before they shot and killed more than a dozen Iraqis in 2007, federal prosecutors admitted in a hearing before the United States Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.


According to a report by Circa.com, the government lawyers’ admission could result in the convictions of the contractors over the deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians being overturned by the appellate court. The contractors had claimed they opened fire in self-defense during their 2014 trial.

The incident drove a deeper wedge between the American and fledgling Iraqi governments over the perception of trigger-happy security contractors running roughshod over Iraqi civil rights. Five Blackwater contractors were involved in the incident, which took place in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square. Three were given 30-year sentences, one was given a life sentence and one had the charges dropped.

The prosecution’s main witness, Jimmy Watson, testified during the trial that there was incoming fire, according to an August 2014 report by Bloomberg News.

’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ captures courage while avoiding politics
A Blackwater contractor in Afghanistan (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

“In fact, what [Watson] thought he heard was enemy fire,” Demetra Lambros, the federal prosecutor arguing the case in front of a three-judge panel, allegedly admitted during the oral arguments. “[Watson is] very clear about it. Those first shots did not come from the convoy.”

The contractors had been sent to secure the area in Nisoor Square where an employee of the Agency for International Development was holding a meeting after an improvised explosive device, or IED, had been detonated nearby. A vehicle that approached a convoy under their protection may have reinforced the perception that they were under attack, reports say.

“So for all these years the federal government has been painting this case as cold blooded, a cold-blooded shooting,” Blackwater founder Erik Prince told Circa.com. “Here they are acknowledging, yes indeed, there is incoming fire. We’ve known that all along.”

’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ captures courage while avoiding politics
A Blackwater Security Company MD-530F helicopter aids in securing the site of a car bomb explosion in Baghdad, Iraq, on December 4, 2004, during Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. A similar bombing in 2007 lead to the incident that resulted in Blackwater contractors facing charges of manslaughter. (USAF photo)

“This could be a major boon to the defense,” Jeffrey Addicott, director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s Law School, told Circa.com. “The appellate court could throw the entire conviction out based on that alone.”

This would not be the first time that claims of an unprovoked massacre were debunked.

Eight Marines faced charges in the aftermath of a Nov. 15, 2005, firefight in Haditha, Iraq that resulted in civilian casualties. Then-Democrat Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha, a former Marine, claimed the killings were “cold-blooded murder,” according to CNN.

In the end, Reuters reported that one Marine plead guilty to negligent dereliction of duty. The Associated Press reported that the other seven Marines charges had their cases dismissed or were exonerated.

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The awesome way the Army gets 70-ton tanks across rivers

Improved Ribbon Bridges are a mobility marvel for the Army, allowing troops to move 70-ton tanks across large rivers of flowing water and take the fight to the bad dudes on the other side.


The IRB is a pontoon bridge that is put in place by multirole bridge companies. The MRBCs use small bridge erection boats to navigate the rivers and position the structure.

’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ captures courage while avoiding politics
(GIF: Gung Ho Vids)

Once the engineers and their boats are in the water, the bridge bays are launched. These are floating sections that are unfolded and propelled into position. Each MRBC is equipped with 42 of the bays and can build up to 210 meters of span.

The bridge bays can be launched by truck or helicopter. The MRBCs have their own trucks, but require support from aviation units to launch by helicopter.

’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ captures courage while avoiding politics
(GIF: Gung Ho Vids)

If there aren’t enough bays to bridge the entire river, the MRBC can use them as rafts. They position the bay on one side of the river and drop the ramp onto the bank. After the vehicles drive on, engineers lift the ramp and begin crossing the river.

’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ captures courage while avoiding politics
(Photo: Gung Ho Vids)

Once near the opposite shore, the engineers drop down a ramp against the bank and the vehicles can drive off.

’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ captures courage while avoiding politics
(Photo: Gung Ho Vids)

Of course, vehicles can cross much faster if the engineers are able to complete and position one unbroken span. In that case, tanks, fighting vehicles, and humvees can simply drive across. Humvee traffic can pass in two directions at once, but tanks and most fighting vehicles have to cross near the center, making it a one-way bridge.

’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ captures courage while avoiding politics
(Photo: Gung Ho Vids)

Watch engineers deploy the bridge and wave tanks across in the video below.

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Air Force gives F-15 major air-to-air superiority upgrade

The Air Force is reving up electronic warfare upgrades for its F-15 fighter as a way to better protect against enemy fire and electronic attacks, service officials said.


Boeing has secured a $478 million deal to continue work on a new technology called with a system called the Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System, or EPAWSS.

Also read: Navy Super Hornets hit targets hard as Mosul offensive heats up

“This allows the aircraft to identify a threat and actively prosecute that threat through avoidance, deception or jamming techniques,” Mike Gibbons, Vice President of the Boeing F-15 program, told Scout Warrior in an interview a few months ago.

 These updated EW capabilities replace the Tactical Electronic Warfare Suite, which has been used since the 1980s, not long after the F-15 first deployed. The service plans to operate the fleet until the mid-2040’s, so an overhaul of the Eagle’s electronic systems helps maintain U.S. air supremacy, the contract announcement said.

’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ captures courage while avoiding politics
US Air Force photo

Boeing won the initial contract for the EPAWSS project last year and hired BAE Systems as the primary subcontractor. 

Overall, the US Air Force is vigorously upgrading the 1980s-era F-15 fighter by giving new weapons and sensors in the hope of maintaining air-to-air superiority over the Chinese J-10 equivalent.

The multi-pronged effort not only includes the current addition of electronic warfare technology but also extends to super-fast high-speed computers, infrared search and track enemy targeting systems, increased networking ability and upgraded weapons-firing capability, Air Force and Boeing officials said.

“The Air Force plans to keep the F-15 fleet in service until the mid-2040’s.  Many of the F-15 systems date back to the 1970’s and must be upgraded if the aircraft is to remain operationally effective. Various upgrades will be complete as early as 2021 for the F-15C AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar and as late as 2032 for the various EW (electronic warfare) upgrades,” Air Force spokesman Maj. Rob Leese told Scout Warrior a few months ago.

The Air Force currently operates roughly 400 F-15C, D and E variants. A key impetus for the upgrade was well articulate in a Congressional report on the US and China in 2014. (US-China Economic and Security Review Commission —www.uscc.gov). Among other things, the report cited rapid Chinese technological progress and explained that the US margin of superiority has massively decreased since the 1980s.

As an example, the report said that in the 1980s, the US F-15 was vastly superior to the Chinese equivalent – the J-10. However, Chinese technical advances in recent years have considerably narrowed that gap to the point where the Chinese J-10 is now roughly comparable to the US F-15, the report explained.

Air Force and Boeing developers maintain that ongoing upgrades to the F-15 will ensure that this equivalence is not the case and that, instead, they will ensure the superiority of the F-15.

’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ captures courage while avoiding politics
A F-15 Eagle on the flight line in St. Louis. | Boeing photo

Among the upgrades is an ongoing effort to equip the F-15 with the fastest jet-computer processer in the world, called the Advanced Display Core Processor, or ADCPII.

“It is capable of processing 87 billion instructions per second of computing throughput, translating into faster and more reliable mission processing capability for an aircrew,” Boeing spokesman Randy Jackson told Scout Warrior.

High tech targeting and tracking technology is also being integrated onto the F-15, Gibbons added. This includes the addition of a passive long-range sensor called Infrared Search and Track, or IRST.

The technology is also being engineered into the Navy F-18 Super Hornet. The technology can detect the heat signature, often called infrared emissions, of enemy aircraft.

“The system can simultaneously track multiple targets and provide a highly effective air-to-air targeting capability, even when encountering advanced threats equipped with radar-jamming technology,” Navy officials said.

IRST also provides an alternate air-to-air targeting system in a high threat electronic attack environment, Navy, Air Force and industry developers said.

The F-15 is also being engineered for additional speed and range, along with weapons-firing ability. The weapons-carrying ability is being increased from 8 up to 16 weapons; this includes an ability to fire an AIM-9x or AIM-120 missile. In addition, upgrades to the aircraft include adding an increased ability to integrate or accommodate new emerging weapons systems as they become available. This is being done through both hardware and software-oriented “open standards” IP protocol and architecture.

The aircraft is also getting a “fly-by-wire” automated flight control system.

“Fly by wire means when the pilot provides the input – straight to a computer than then determines how to have the aircraft perform the way it wants – provides electrical signals for the more quickly and more safely move from point to point as opposed to using a mechanical controls stick,” Gibbons explained.

’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ captures courage while avoiding politics
A formation of F-15C Eagles, assigned to the 493rd Fighter Squadron, and an F-15E Strike Eagle, assigned to the 492nd Fighter Squadron, fly over Gloucestershire, England. | U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Erin Trower

Along with these weapons upgrades and other modifications, the F-15 is also getting upgrades to the pilot’s digital helmet and some radar signature reducing, or stealthy characteristics.

However, at the same time, the F-15 is not a stealthy aircraft and is expected to be used in combat environments in what is called “less contested” environments where the Air Force already has a margin of air superiority over advanced enemy air defenses.

For this reason, the F-15 will also be increasing networked so as to better support existing 5th-generation platforms such as the F-22 and F-35, Air Force officials said.

The intent of these F-15 upgrades is to effectively perform the missions assigned to the F-15 fleet, which are to support the F-22 in providing air superiority and the F-35 in providing precision attack capabilities, Leese said.

“While these upgrades will not make these aircraft equivalent to 5th generation fighters, they will allow the F-15 to support 5th generation fighters in performing their missions, and will also allow F-15s to assume missions in more permissive environments where capabilities of 5th generation fighters are not required,” Leese added.

Gibbons added that the upgrades to the F-15 will ensure that the fighter aircraft remains superior to its Chinese equivalent.

“The F-15 as a vital platform that still has a capability that cannot be matched in terms of ability to fly high, fly fast, go very far carry a lot. It is an air dominance machine,” Gibbons explained.

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A former Navy SEAL commander explains the surprising way he trained his troops to respond to failure

During his deployment in Iraq in 2006, Jocko Willink oversaw about 100 people as the commander of US Navy SEAL Team 3 Task Unit Bruiser.


In an episode of his podcast, Willink explained that he developed a habit that could annoy his troops but also serve as a real motivator.

From the podcast:

One of my direct subordinates, one of my guys that worked for me, he would call me up or pull me aside with some major problem, some issue that was going on. And he’d say, ‘Boss, we’ve got this, and that, and the other thing.’ And I’d look at him and I’d say, ‘Good.’ And finally one day he was telling me about some issue that he was having, some problem, and he said, ‘I already know what you’re going to say.’
And I said, ‘Well, what am I going to say?’
He said, ‘You’re gonna say, Good. He said, ‘That’s what you always say. When something is wrong and going bad, you always just look at me and say, Good.’

Willink wasn’t being snide or dismissive. Rather, he was forcing his troops to find a way to grow from a failure or challenge they were having difficulty overcoming.

If they didn’t get the supplies they needed, for example, he’d force them into a mindset where they could excel in spartan conditions.

It’s an approach he’s applied to his entire life, and one he teaches with his former second-in-command, Leif Babin, through their management consulting firm Echelon Front.

’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ captures courage while avoiding politics
Former Navy SEAL Task Unit Bruiser commander Jocko Willink, left, and Charlie Platoon leader Leif Babin. | Courtesy of Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

“Didn’t get promoted? Good. More time to get better,” Willink said, giving another example.

In another episode, Willink explained how one of his friends told him he was able to see this philosophy in action even when his father died. It wasn’t literally “good” that his father died, but when he was done grieving he was able to see that he was presented with an opportunity to take responsibilities in areas that he could normally rely on his father for, and to make the most of them.

The “good” approach is a way to move forward without giving into overwhelming emotions, whether on the battlefield, in the office, or in your personal life.

“That’s it,” Willink said on his podcast. “When things are going bad, don’t get all bummed out. Don’t get startled, don’t get frustrated. If you can say the word good, guess what? It means you’re still alive. It means you’re still breathing. And if you’re still breathing, well then hell, you’ve still got some fight left in you. So get up, dust off, reload, recalibrate, reengage, and go out on the attack.”

We first saw Willink’s monologue in a video produced by his collaborator Echo Charles, when Willink and Babin played it at their “Muster” leadership conference in May. You can watch it below.

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