Mark Hamill confirms how Luke Skywalker returns in ‘The Rise of Skywalker’ - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY MOVIES

Mark Hamill confirms how Luke Skywalker returns in ‘The Rise of Skywalker’

Mark Hamill has just seemingly confirmed what every person who has ever seen a Star Wars movie or accidentally heard about Star Wars would have already assumed by just thinking about it for a second. Still, because figuring out the plots to Star Wars movies before they come out is more fun — and easier to do — than forecasting political elections, the following piece of information has to come with a massive warning. What Mark Hamill has said could be viewed as a spoiler that will ruin your enjoyment of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, which isn’t really even out for a half-a-year anyway. So, you’ve been warned, if you want to keep reading, this article contains some stuff that Mark Hamill said about how he’s appearing in The Rise of Skywalker. (But if you’ve ever read any kind of book or seen a movie, of any kind, you will have seen this coming by virtue of the fact that you are a person in the world.)


Ready? After Luke Skywalker faded away and joined the Force in The Last Jedi, he will reappear in The Rise of Skywalker as…a Force ghost! On June 20, 2019, the Associated Press posted a brief interview with Hamill in which he said he “hopes” that The Rise of Skywalker is his last Star Wars movie and detailed exactly how Luke will return in the film.

“The fact that I’m involved in any capacity is only because of that peculiar aspect of the Star Wars mythology where if you’re a Jedi, you get to come back and make a curtain call as a Force ghost.”

That’s right, Luke is doing exactly what everyone expected him to do, show up with a little blue aura around his body, and vaguely explain what he can’t and can’t do as a creepy spirit. Then again, who knows? Yoda was a ghost in The Last Jedi and that motherfucker was able to conjure a lightning bolt from the sky and burn down a tree, mostly just to pull a prank and make a complicated diss about Luke not being able to finish reading like six books that had been sitting on the planet for who knows how long.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZRCIjMWRLg
Star Wars: The Last Jedi Yoda’s Force Ghost Scene [1080p HD]

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So, will Luke be the kind of ghost who says ghostly things from the sidelines or the kind of ghost who takes Kylo Ren on a Dickensian adventure to show him the error of his ways? Either way, at this moment, we know Mark Hamill’s Luke isn’t the only ghost haunting the next Star Wars film; the long-dead Emperor Palpatine is back, too!

This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

Articles

Officers and enlistees confess the best and worst about each other


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Historically, the military has relied on clearly defined boundaries of acceptable interaction between the officer and enlisted ranks to maintain good order and discipline.

It is a long-standing custom that dates back hundreds of years and has proven itself effective time after time. But not everyone feels it’s a custom worth holding on to.

“I think there should not be a difference between officer and enlisted ranks,” said former Air Force officer Shannon Corbeil. “I believe we should all reach rank based on experience and accomplishment.”

On the other hand, Chase Millsap — another former officer — believes the military should maintain its course because officers bring leadership experience accomplished through higher learning and training.

Also read: 7 tips for getting away with fraternization

However, Blake Stilwell and Tim Kirkpatrick — two former enlistees — argue that the stupid partying and immatureness is what officers experienced during college.

In this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast, two former officers and enlistees confess the best and worst about dealing with each other while in active service.

Hosted By:

Blake Stilwell: Air Force veteran and managing editor

Tim Kirkpatrick: Navy veteran and Editorial Coordinator

Orvelin Valle (AKA O.V.): Navy veteran and Podcast Producer

Guests:

Chase Millsap: Army and Marine Corps infantry veteran turned Director of Impact Strategy at We Are The Mighty

Shannon Corbeil: Former Air Force intelligence officer and We Are The Mighty editor

Music licensing by Jingle Punks:

  • Goal Line
  • Heavy Drivers
MIGHTY FIT

5 back exercises that can cure ‘ILS’

Go to nearly any gym, and you can spot one or two patrons who are walking around with the terrible physical ailment known as “imaginary lat syndrome.” You know those guys whose arms are fanning out away for the rest of their body because they want you to think that they’re so jacked.

Well, it’s not fooling anybody. In fact, having ILS makes you look like a complete moron while you’re trying to show off something off you don’t have.


Thankfully, there is a proven solution if you’ve tested positive for ILS and it’s composed of targeting the lateral muscles that make up your back.

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Low cable row

First, appropriately adjust the weight, so it’s manageable, but provides a comfortable level of resistance. Using a close-grip bar, sit on the bench, facing the weight, and with a slight bend in your knees pull the resistance backward. Now, keep your straight maintaining a 90-degree angle with your hips and complete it rep when your elbows also bend to a 90-degree angle.

Make sure you squeeze those lateral muscles once you bend your elbows, then slowly release your arms back toward the weight, working on the negative aspect of the set.

Now, complete two to three more sets of 8-12 reps each.

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Straight arm pushdown

In a standing position, slide your feet about shoulder length apart and hold onto the cable rope. Pushdown the individual rope ends until it touches the outside portion of your hips while squeezing those lats before slowly bringing those rope ends back to its original position.

Now, complete two to three more sets of 8-12 reps each.

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Close-grip pull down

In a seated position, grab onto the close-grip bar, pull the bar down toward middle chest while slightly leaning backward, and squeeze those lats before slowly bringing the close-grip bar back up. Remember to keep your elbows as close to your sides as possible.

Now, complete two to three more sets of 8-12 reps each.

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Underhand pulldown

While staying in a seated position, place your hand on the bar, with a reverse grip (palms facing you), and pull the bar toward your middle chest while slightly leaning backward, and squeeze those lats before slowly bringing the bar back up.

Simple, right?

Now, complete two to three more sets of 8-12 reps each.

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Underhand barbell row

With a slight bend in your knees, place your hand on the bar, just outside of your knees and slowly lift up on the manageable weight. Before completing the first rep, make sure your back isn’t arching, and your eyes are looking forward. Now, pull up on the bar toward your navel and slowly bring the bar back toward the starting position.

This exercise can cause lower back pain if your form is off or you’re using to much weight. Make sure you check your ego at the door.

Now, complete two to three more sets of 8-12 reps each.

Articles

This video shows Taliban fighters trying to imitate SEAL Team 6

The Taliban last week released a 70-minute propaganda video, titled “Caravan of Heroes #13,” in which they imitated US special forces, the Military Times first reported.


While much of the video shows how the Taliban conducts ambushes and assaults, the first 10 minutes of it shows militants replete with tactical garb and weapons, and employing their tactics.

The video is unusual, since most Taliban videos show their fighters wearing turbans and beards, the Military Times reported.

 

Mark Hamill confirms how Luke Skywalker returns in ‘The Rise of Skywalker’
Screengrab from released Taliban video

“The Taliban want to show their supporters and potential recruits that they are a professional force capable of defeating the Afghan government and the coalition,” Bill Roggio, editor of FDD’s Long War Journal, told the Military Times.

“The Taliban has touted its “special forces” in the past, in previous videos, however this video definitely kicks it up a notch,” Roggio said.

Check out the Military Times’ compiled video here.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The most important organization for vets you may not even know about

Veterans can train for certificates and industry credentials before they leave the military – for free through the Institute for Veterans and Military Families. The Mission Continues is able to fund veteran empowerment projects and its community outreach programs. Hire Heroes USA is able to confirm it helped some 35,000 veterans get jobs. There’s one organization behind all of it: The Schultz Family Foundation.


If you’re unfamiliar with Howard Schultz, he is the billionaire former CEO and Chairman of Starbucks Coffee, among other entities, and he and his family are on a mission to unlock the potential of every single American – especially veterans. So they’ve taken it upon themselves to fund some of the most powerful, potent veterans programs in the country.

Mark Hamill confirms how Luke Skywalker returns in ‘The Rise of Skywalker’

Remember the rumor that Starbucks hated vets and the military from a couple years ago? That was false. In a big way.

The Schultz Family Foundation believes Post-9/11 veterans are returning to civilian life with an enormous store of untapped potential and a reservoir of diverse skills sets that could be the future of the country. Part of its mission is to ensure that every separating service member and their spouse can find a job if they want one. The Schultz Family Foundation makes investments in returning troops in every step of the transition process, from before they ever leave the uniform all the way to navigating post-service benefits.

Once out of uniform, the foundation supports programs and organizations that not only promote finding a job based on skills or learning new skills to get a new career, but also programs that are not typical of a post-military career. These careers include community development, supporting fellow veterans, and of course, entrepreneurship.

Mark Hamill confirms how Luke Skywalker returns in ‘The Rise of Skywalker’

Nick Sullivan is an eight-year Army veteran who works with the Schultz Family through the Mission Continues.

Whether working for or donating to causes that directly help veterans or ones that support vets in other ways, The Schultz Family Foundation has likely touched the lives of most Post-9/11 veterans who have separated from the military in the past ten years. Whether through Hire Heroes USA, the Mission Continues, Blue Star Families or Onward to Opportunity, the Schultz Family has been there for vets. Now the Schultz Family Foundation is supporting the Military Influencer Conference.

If you’re interested in starting your own business and don’t know where to begin, the Military Influencer Conferences are the perfect place to start. There, you can network with other veteran entrepreneurs while listening to the best speakers and panels the military-veteran community of entrepreneurs can muster. Visit the Military Influencer Conference website for more information.

Maybe starting your own business isn’t your thing. Veterans looking for support can visit the Schultz Family Foundation website for veterans and click on the “get help” button to join a community of thousands who did the same – and are happy they did.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This MoH recipient defeated 2 grenades to save his Marines

After graduating high school, Robert Simanek joined the Marine Corps and, soon after, set sail for Korea with 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. Serving as a rifleman at the time, Simanek carried the massive and very powerful Browning Automatic Rifle. While “in-country,” the young Marine was also tasked with being the platoon’s radioman — pulling a double-duty.


On Aug. 17, 1952, Simanek’s squad was out patrolling through various outposts slightly north of Seoul.

Unfortunately, the squad made a wrong turn, and the occupying Chinese forces were patiently waiting for the 12-man team.

Mark Hamill confirms how Luke Skywalker returns in ‘The Rise of Skywalker’
The Browning Assault Rifle

Almost immediately, the squad came under heavy enemy gunfire, causing Simanek to seek cover in a nearby trench line along with other Marines.

After sustaining a few casualties, Simanek maneuvered left and ran into two Chinese officers who were, oddly enough, just having a conversation. To his surprise, the enemy had no idea that the young Marine had spotted them. So, Simanek took them both out with a few squeezes of his trigger.

Mark Hamill confirms how Luke Skywalker returns in ‘The Rise of Skywalker’
Members of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army counting off.

Now, gaining momentum, Simanek quickly maneuvered through the enemy-infested area until two grenades landed near his feet. He kicked one of the frags away but ran out of time to relocate the second.

Boom!

The young rifleman shielded his fellow brothers by covering the exploding grenade with his own body. Somehow, the tough-as-nails Marine survived. Simanek was able to instruct the other wounded Marines nearby to head back to the rear — he’d provide cover for them. He crawled on his hands and knees prepared to fight before a rescue squad showed up, much to his relief.

The courageous Marine was medevaced from the area. A year later, Simanek was informed that we would receive the Medal of honor for his bravery and selflessness.

On Oct. 27, 1953, Simanek was awarded the precious metal by President Eisenhower.

Check out Medal Of Honor Book‘s video below for the full breakdown of this incredible story.

MIGHTY FIT

Why this Navy veteran with TBI is set to run for 12 full hours

Like many post-9/11 veterans. Amanda Burrill is all about physical fitness. She’s very conscious of what food she eats, she makes sure to get enough sleep, and she’s very, very active. She has to be — this is how she beats TBI every day of her life. Now, the Navy officer who nearly had to relearn how to walk is set to run — for her fellow veterans, that is.

As a young Navy officer on a deployment, Burrill slipped in a sewage leak and lost consciousness. Soon after, she began to have memory problems. When she went to get it checked out, she was diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury. But that didn’t deter her — she spent a total of eight years in the Navy. After leaving the service, she became an advocate for veterans suffering from TBI, but first, she became an amazing example for them to follow.


Mark Hamill confirms how Luke Skywalker returns in ‘The Rise of Skywalker’

She spent two years in surgeries, rehabs, and therapies. She spent a great deal of time studying as well, attending Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and becoming a trained chef at the famed Le Cordon Bleu. She even studied wine in Paris. Next, she started running. She runs marathons and Iron Man triathlons on top of competing in fitness competitions. Now, she’s a writer and on-air talent for the Travel Channel and uses that fame to advocate for anyone who is suffering from TBI.

But she’s not finished running. She’s just running for her fellow veterans now.

Mark Hamill confirms how Luke Skywalker returns in ‘The Rise of Skywalker’

In September, 2018, Amanda Burrill will run in the Relay for Heroes, benefiting the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. Endurance athletes from all over the world will converge on New York City’s Intrepid Sea, Air Space Museum to follow a route along the banks of New York City’s Hudson River. The goal isn’t 26.2 miles or any number of miles — the goal is to run as many miles as possible during the 12-hour race.

If you’re there, you just might see Amanda Buriill, the Navy rescue swimmer who climbed Denali after her TBI diagnosis, running for the first time since 2015.

Mark Hamill confirms how Luke Skywalker returns in ‘The Rise of Skywalker’
“We summited Denali unguided!” Burrill told WATM. “I’m an avid, record-breaking mountaineer; not despite my injuries but because of them. The mountaineering interest started while I was in brain injury rehab, as I needed a fun hobby to replace my first and true love: running.”

After her injury, Burrill’s balance and gait were poor and it affected her running ability. Doing marathons and Ironman races with busted form “messed her up,” as she says. She now has a metal shank foot, full of screws, that’s been opened lengthwise five times.

“Mountaineering is more about suffering well than having stable feet,” she says.”I WILL OUT-SUFFER ANYONE. Knowing that in my heart is pretty damn awesome.”

She is running to highlight female veterans, TBI awareness, and resiliency. From firsthand experience, she believes female vets are underserved when it comes to TBI treatment and believes self-advocacy is an essential element in furthering the cause of women getting the help they need — even if that just means receiving a diagnosis.

“I hope to raise awareness — and money — and bond with my teammates in a show of Lady Vet solidarity,” she says.

The Relay for Heroes will start on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, in New York City. The starting line can be found at West 46th Street 12th Avenue, New York, NY 10036. You can run as an individual or in 4-6 person teams. For more information or to register, visit the Relay for Heroes website. If you’re unable to run or support a runner, you can still donate to Burrill’s Relay for Heroes team here.

Humor

6 easy ways for a grunt to be accepted by POGs

The greatest divide in the U.S. Military is between grunts and the POGs. For as long as this divide has existed, the higher-ups have been trying to find ways to close this gap. To you peacemakers, we say, “good luck.”


Today, we offer insight on how an infantryman can earn respect from their rear-echelon counterparts.

Related: 6 ways for a POG to be accepted by grunts

6. Don’t act like your job is more important

Even though every other job in the military exists to support the infantry, it’s a good idea to stay humble when interacting with a POG. After all, it’s a team effort.

Mark Hamill confirms how Luke Skywalker returns in ‘The Rise of Skywalker’

5. Teach POGs how to wear their gear

If you see a POG wearing their gear all f*cked up, just pull them aside and give them a hip-pocket class on wearing it right. That is all.

Mark Hamill confirms how Luke Skywalker returns in ‘The Rise of Skywalker’
Teach them what not to bring while you’re at it. (Image via DVIDS)

4. Help a POG learn infantry tactics

It might be a headache introducing grunt concepts to a POG, but teaching them how to properly clear a room helps build friendships and better teamwork.

This one might save your life one day — and this’ll give POGs something to show their friends back home.

Mark Hamill confirms how Luke Skywalker returns in ‘The Rise of Skywalker’
Circle up and host a quick master class. (Image via U.S. Department of Defense)

3. Get a damn haircut

POGs generally always have access to haircuts. So, of course, they expect that every grunt ought to keep clean as well — even after spending several weeks in the field or in a place where the only barbers are in your platoon.

And most of the so-called “barbers” learned to cut hair from YouTube tutorial videos.

Mark Hamill confirms how Luke Skywalker returns in ‘The Rise of Skywalker’
Long hair is acceptable if you’re a part of special operations. (Image via Army Times)

2. Don’t act like your experience gives you rank

This one undoubtedly grinds a POG’s gears. Even if you have numerous deployments under your belt, respect everyone’s rank and speak to them with tact.

Just because that brand-new second lieutenant is fresh out of college and has no military experience doesn’t make them less of a Marine. Always say sh*t like, “with all due respect, sir,” before jumping directly into, “kiss my lower-enlisted ass, sir.”

That way, everyone wins!

Mark Hamill confirms how Luke Skywalker returns in ‘The Rise of Skywalker’
Even if that POG has been spending their whole career behind a desk, swallow your pride and show respect. (Image via DVIDS)

Also read: 5 reasons you should know about the hardcore Selous Scouts

1. Stop being so cool

Let’s face it, they don’t put the 0161 postal clerk on the posters in the Marine Corps recruiting office. No — they put the 0311 Infantry Riflemen and/or the 0351 Infantry Assaultmen on those posters!

Everyone knows these jobs are cool, just make sure you show some respect to everyone, including mailmen MOS.

Mark Hamill confirms how Luke Skywalker returns in ‘The Rise of Skywalker’
So cool. (Image via SOFREP)

*Bonus* Have some manners.

Make sure you thank the cook bringing you hot chow or the motor vehicle operator for the ride back to the rear. After all, without them, it’s cold MREs and long hikes.

Mark Hamill confirms how Luke Skywalker returns in ‘The Rise of Skywalker’
You know you would have preferred a ride home instead of walking through this crap. (Image from USMC)

MIGHTY CULTURE

How pilots train to survive, evade, resist, and escape behind enemy lines

Being an aircrew member in the armed forces isn’t just flying a plane, helicopter or a jet. It’s putting your own personal safety on the line to protect people from threats known and unknown.

Lastly, it’s being brave enough to answer a call that most don’t.

From as early as 1909, when the Wright brothers sold the Wright military flyer to the US Army Signal Corps, aircraft and aircrew have been a vital part to the success of military operations.

The armed forces puts a great emphasis on ensuring these pilots are safe and have the knowledge and skills to make it home safe in any situation they might endure.

This responsibility heavily lies on the shoulders of the United States Air Force’s survival, evasion, resistance, and escape (SERE) specialist, whose main job is to train aircrew and other military personnel how to survive in a variety of environments and conditions.


Mark Hamill confirms how Luke Skywalker returns in ‘The Rise of Skywalker’

Staff Sgt. David Chorpeninng, 366th Fighter Wing survival, evasion, resistance, and escape specialist, explains the differences between the illumination and smoke ends of the MK-124 marine smoke and illumination signal to Capt. Scott Hatter and Capt. Tyler Ludwig, 389th Fighter Squadron aircrew, at Saylor Creek Bombing Range, Idaho, Sept. 26, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Airman Antwain L. Hanks)

Mark Hamill confirms how Luke Skywalker returns in ‘The Rise of Skywalker’

Chorpeninng pops a M-18 smoke grenade, at Saylor Creek Bombing Range, Idaho, Sept. 26, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Airman Antwain L. Hanks)

Mark Hamill confirms how Luke Skywalker returns in ‘The Rise of Skywalker’

Chorpeninng explains to Hatter how to properly use a MK-124 marine smoke and illumination signal, at Saylor Creek Bombing Range, Idaho, Sept. 26, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Airman Antwain L. Hanks)

Mark Hamill confirms how Luke Skywalker returns in ‘The Rise of Skywalker’

Tech Sgt. Timothy Emkey, 366th Fighter Wing survival, evasion, resistance, and escape specialist, checks radio communications, at Saylor Creek Bombing Range, Idaho, Sept. 26, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Airman Antwain L. Hanks)

Mark Hamill confirms how Luke Skywalker returns in ‘The Rise of Skywalker’

Emkey demonstrates how to use the surrounding area to evade the enemy’s line of sight, at Saylor Creek Bombing Range, Idaho, Sept. 26, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Airman Antwain L. Hanks)

Aircrew are then given certain points to reach via global positioning system before they contact friendly forces to extract them from the hostile area.

Aircrew throughout history, such as Capt. Scott F. O’Grady who in 1995 was shot down and stranded in enemy territory for six days during the Bosnian War, used these skills taught by SERE to return to safety.

Mark Hamill confirms how Luke Skywalker returns in ‘The Rise of Skywalker’

Chorpeninng pops the illumination end of a MK-124 marine smoke and illumination signal, at Saylor Creek Bombing Range, Idaho, Sept. 26, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Airman Antwain L. Hanks)

Mark Hamill confirms how Luke Skywalker returns in ‘The Rise of Skywalker’

Chorpeninng pops the illumination end of a MK-124 marine smoke and illumination signal, at Saylor Creek Bombing Range, Idaho, Sept. 26, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Airman Antwain L. Hanks)

Mark Hamill confirms how Luke Skywalker returns in ‘The Rise of Skywalker’

Chorpeninng pops the illumination end of a MK-124 marine smoke and illumination signal, at Saylor Creek Bombing Range, Idaho, Sept. 26, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Airman Antwain L. Hanks)

The US Air Force’s main missions are to take care of airmen and enhance readiness. SERE accomplishes just that and will continue to with the ever changing environment these men and women might find themselves in.

“SERE is constantly adapting,” said Staff Sgt. David Chorpeninng, 366th FW SERE specialist. “We are continuously implementing new technology and tactics to increase survivability in the future.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones

Karuika asks: Who was the first person to figure out what dinosaur bones were?

From around 250 to 66 million years ago various dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Today the only dinosaurs left are birds, which are coelurosauria theropods — funny enough the same sub-group Tyrannosauruses belong to. (Think about that the next time you’re enjoying a McDinosaur sandwich or scrambling up some dinosaur eggs for breakfast.)

Beyond their avian progeny, all that mostly remains of these once dominate creatures are fossilized bones, footprints, and poop. While many dinosaurs were actually quite small, some were comparatively massive, bringing us to the question of the hour — what did people first think when they pulled huge dinosaur bones out of the earth?


To begin with, it is generally thought humans have been discovering dinosaur bones about as long as we’ve been humaning. And it appears that at least some of the giant creatures of ancient legend likely stemmed from the discovery of dinosaur bones and fossils, and the subsequent attempts of ancient peoples to explain what they were.

Mark Hamill confirms how Luke Skywalker returns in ‘The Rise of Skywalker’
Giphy

For example, 4th century BC Chinese historian Chang Qu reported the discovery of massive “dragon bones” in the region of Wuchen. At the time and indeed for many centuries after (including some still today), the Chinese felt that these bones had potent healing powers, resulting in many of them being ground down to be drunk in a special elixirs.

As for the exact medicinal purposes, in the 2nd century AD Shennong Bencaojing, it states,

Dragon bone… mainly treats heart and abdominal demonic influx, spiritual miasma, and old ghosts; it also treats cough and counterflow of qi, diarrhea and dysentery with pus and blood, vaginal discharge, hardness and binding in the abdomen, and fright epilepsy in children. Dragon teeth mainly treats epilepsy, madness, manic running about, binding qi below the heart, inability to catch one’s breath, and various kinds of spasms. It kills spiritual disrupters. Protracted taking may make the body light, enable one to communicate with the spirit light, and lengthen one’s life span.

While fossilized bones may not actually make such an effective cure-all, all things considered, the classic depictions of dragons and our modern understanding of what certain dinosaurs looked like are actually in the ballpark of accurate.

Moving over to the ancient Greeks, they are also believed to have stumbled across massive dinosaur bones and similarly assumed they came from long-dead giant creatures, in some cases seeming to think they came from giant human-like creatures.

Moving up to that better documented history, in the 16th through 19th centuries, the idea that the Earth was only about six thousand years old was firmly entrenched in the Western world, leading to these fossils creating a major puzzle for the scientists studying them. Even Meriwether Lewis of the famed Lewis and Clark expedition found a dinosaur bone in Billings Montana, but in his case, he decided it must have come from a massive fish, which was a common way they were explained away given that no creatures that then walked the earth seemed to match up.

The various ideas thrown around around during these centuries were described by Robert Plot in his 1677 Natural History of Oxfordshire:

[are] the Stones we find in the Forms of Shell-fish, be Lapides sui generis [fossils], naturally produced by some extraordinary plastic virtue, latent in the Earth or Quarries where they are found? Or, [do] they rather owe their Form and Figuration to the Shells of the Fishes they represent, brought to the places where they are now found by a Deluge, Earth-quake, or some other such means, and there being filled with Mud, Clay, and petrifying Juices, have in tract of time been turned into Stones, as we now find them, still retaining the same Shape in the whole, with the same Lineations, Sutures, Eminencies, Cavities, Orifices, Points, that they had whilst they were Shells?

Plot goes on to explain the idea behind the “plastic virtue” hypothesis was that the fossils were some form of salt crystals that had by some unknown process formed and grown in the ground and just happened to resemble bones.

Mark Hamill confirms how Luke Skywalker returns in ‘The Rise of Skywalker’

Triceratops mounted skeleton at Los Angeles Museum of Natural History.

However, Plot argues against this then popular notion stating,

Come we next to such [stones] as concern the … Members of the Body: Amongst which, I have one… that has exactly the Figure of the lowermost part of the Thigh-Bone of a Man or at least of some other Animal…a little above the Sinus, where it seems to have been broken off, shewing the marrow within of a shining Spar-like Substance of its true Colour and Figure, in the hollow of the Bone…

After comparing the bone to an elephant’s, he decided it could not have come from one of them. He instead concluded,

It remains, that (notwithstanding their extravagant Magnitude) they must have been the bones of Men or Women: Nor doth any thing hinder but they may have been so, provided it be clearly made out, that there have been Men and Women of proportionable Stature in all Ages of the World, down even to our own Days

Thus, much like is thought to have happened with certain ancient peoples, he decided some of these bones must have come from giant humans of the past. During Plot’s era, the Bible’s mention of such giants was often put put forth as evidence, such as in Numbers where it states,

The land that we have gone through as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people that we saw in it are of great size. There we saw the Nephilim… and to ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.

Though the bone Plot was describing has since been lost to history, he left detailed drawings, from which it’s thought to have come from the lower part of the femur of a Megalosaurus (literally, Great Lizard).

Mark Hamill confirms how Luke Skywalker returns in ‘The Rise of Skywalker’

Modern restoration of Megalosaurus.

But before it was called the Megalosaurus, it had a rather more humorous name. You see, in 1763 a physician called Richard Brookes studying Plot’s drawings dubbed it “Scrotum Humanum” because he thought it looked like a set of petrified testicles. (To be clear, Brookes knew it wasn’t a fossil of a giant scrotum, but nevertheless decided to name it thus because apparently men of all eras of human history can’t help but make genital jokes at every opportunity.)

While hilarious, in the 20th century, this posed a problem for the International Commission for Zoological Nomenclature when it eventually came time to formally classify the Megalosaurus as such. The problem was, of course, that Brookes had named it first.

Eventually the ICZN decided that since nobody after Brookes had called it Scrotum Humanum, even though he was the first to name it, that name could safely be deemed invalid. Thus Megalosaurus won out, which is unfortunate because discussion of the rather large Scrotum Humanum would have provided great companion jokes to ones about Uranus in science classes the world over.

Moving swiftly on, humanity continued to have little clear idea of what dinosaurs were until William Buckland’s work on the aforementioned Megalosaurus in 1824.

As for the word “dinosaur” itself, this wouldn’t be coined until 1842 when British scientist Sir Richard Owen noted that the few dinosaur fossils that had been scientifically studied at that point all shared several characteristics. For the curious, those species were the Megalosaurus, Hylaeosaurus and Iguanodon. He further concluded that the fossils could not have come from any creature that currently roamed the Earth and thus came up with a new name — dinosaur, meaning “terrible/powerful/wondrous lizards”.

Of course, it should be noted that despite being knighted for his life’s work in 1883, Owen was renowned for stealing other people’s ideas and calling them his own, in at least one case even after having previously ridiculed the person he stole the ideas from — paleontologist Gideon Mantell. In several instances, Owen would attempt to take credit for some of Mantell’s pioneering work on the Iguanodon, while downplaying Mantell’s contributions in the process.

Mark Hamill confirms how Luke Skywalker returns in ‘The Rise of Skywalker’

paleontologist Gideon Mantell.

To add insult to injury, it is speculated that the much more distinguished Owen actively worked to stop some of Mantell’s work and papers from getting published.

To further illustrate Owen’s character and rivalry with Mantell, after near financial ruin in 1838, his wife leaving him in 1839, and his daughter dying in 1840, Mantell would become crippled after a fall from a carriage on October 11, 1841. Previous to the accident, he had frequently suffered from leg and back pain, but the source of it was dismissed as likely due to the long hours of work he put in and the like. Things got worse when a coach he was on crashed, shortly before which Mantell leapt from it. In the aftermath, his former pain became extreme and he ceased to be able to use his legs properly. As he writes, “I cannot stoop, or use any exertion without producing loss of sensation and power in the limbs… and could I choose my destiny, I would gladly leave this weary pilgrimage.” He later laments in his journal, “my long probation of suffering will be terminated by a painful and lingering death.”

What does any of that have to do with Owen? To add insult to injury, after Mantell died from an opium overdose taken to help relieve some of his constant and extreme pain, several obituaries were published of Mantell, all glowing — except one…

This one was anonymously written, though analyses of the writing style and general tone left few among the local scientific community with any doubt of who had written it.

In it, Owen starts off praising Mantell, stating, “On Wednesday evening last, at the age of about 63 or 64, died the renowned geologist, Gideon Algernon Mantell…” It goes on to note how Mantell’s memoir on the Iguanodon saw him the recipient of the prestigious Royal Medal. Of course, later in the article, Owen claims Mantell’s work for which he won that medal was actually stolen from others, including himself:

The history of the fossil reptile for the discovery of which Dr. Mantell’s name will be longest recollected in science, is a remarkable instance of this. Few who have become acquainted with the Iguanodon, by the perusal of the Medals of Creation would suspect that to Covier we owe the first recognition of its reptilian character, to Clift the first perception of the resemblance of its teeth to those of the Iguano, to Conybear its name, and to Owen its true affinities among reptiles, and the correction of the error respecting its build and alleged horn…

The article then goes on to outline Dr. Mantell’s supposed various failings as a scientist such as his “reluctance to the revelation of a truth when it dispossessed him of a pretty illustration”, as well as accusing him of once again stealing people’s work:

To touch lightly on other weaknesses of this enthusiastic diffuser of geological knowledge… we must also notice that a consciousness of the intrinsic want of exact scientific, and especially anatomical, knowledge, which compelled him privately to have recourse to those possessing it… produced extreme susceptibility of any doubt expressed of the accuracy or originality of that which he advanced; and in his popular summaries of geological facts, he was too apt to forget the sources of information which he had acknowledge in his original memoirs.

It finally concludes as it started — on a compliment, “Dr. Mantell has, however, done much after his kind for the advancement of geology, and certainly more than any man living to bring it into attractive popular notice.”

It’s commonly stated from here that, out of spite, Owen also had a piece of Mantell’s deformed spine pickled and put on a shelf in the Hunterian Museum in London where Owen was the curator. However, while this was done, the examination and study of his spine was done at the behest of Mantell himself.

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British scientist Sir Richard Owen.

Thus, an autopsy was performed and an examination of Mantell’s spine showed he had a rather severe and, at least at the time, peculiar case of scoliosis. As to what was so interesting about this case, one of the physicians involved, Dr. William Adams, states, it was discovered “that the severest degree of deformity of the spine may exist internally, without the usual indications in respect of the deviation of the spinous processes externally.”

In other words, in other such cases, it was clear the spine was not straight from visual observation of the person’s back where a curve could be observed. Mantell’s spine, however, exhibited severe scoliosis, but in such a way that upon external examination methods of the day where the person was lying down or standing up, it otherwise appeared straight.

To Adam’s knowledge, such a thing had never been observed before, but if Mantell had this particular brand of scoliosis, surely many others did as well. But how to detect it. Mulling over the problem inspired Dr. Adams to come up with a method to make such a deformity visible with external examination, thus giving the world the Adam’s forward bend test which many a school student even today has no doubt recollections of being subjected to periodically.

Going back to Owen, as to why he seems to have hated Mantell so much, this isn’t fully clear, though it may have simply been Mantell’s work sometimes resulted in showing Owen’s to be incorrect in various assumptions, jealousy of a scientist he deemed inferior to himself, or it could just be that Owen was a bit of a dick. As noted by famed biologist Thomas Henry Huxley, “[I]t is astonishing with what an intense feeling of hatred Owen is regarded by the majority of his contemporaries, with Mantell as arch-hater. The truth is, [Owen] is the superior of most, and does not conceal that he knows it, and it must be confessed that he does some very ill-natured tricks now and then.”

Of course, if you steal other people’s work long enough, eventually you’ll get caught, especially when you’re one of the world’s leading scientists in your field. Owen’s misstep occurred when he was awarded the prestigious Royal Medal from the Royal Society for his supposedly pioneering discovery and analyses of belemnites, which he called the Belemnites owenii, after himself and gave no credit to anyone else for the ideas in the paper. It turns out, however, four years previous he’d attended a Geological Society get together in which an amateur scientist by the name of Chaning Pearce gave a lecture and published a paper on that very same creature…

While Owen was allowed to keep his medal even after it was revealed he’d stolen the work of Pearce, the rumors that he’d similarly “borrowed” other ideas without credit and this subsequent proof resulted in the loss of much of his former academic prestige. Things didn’t improve over the following years and Owen was eventually given the boot from the Royal Society in 1862 despite his long and rather distinguished career.

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Giphy

While he would never again do any scientific work of significance, his post plagiarist career did prove to be a huge boon for those who enjoy museums. You see, up until this point, museums were not places readily open to the public, and to get access, you usually needed to be an academic. They were places for research, not for random plebeians to gawk at things.

After losing any shred of respect from his peers, he eventually devoted his energies into his role as the superintendent of the natural history department of the British Museum. Among other things, as superintendent, he pushed for and helped develop London’s now famed Natural History Museum, London. He also instituted a number of changes such as encouraging the general public to come visit the museum at their leisure, devoted the majority of the displays for public use, had labels and descriptions added below each display explaining what each was of so anybody, not just the educated, could understand what they were looking at, etc. Many among the scientific community fought against these changes, but he did it anyway, giving us the modern idea of a museum in the process.

In any event, after Owen, Mantell’s, and their contemporaries’ work finally revealed these long extinct creatures for what they were, interest in dinosaurs exploded resulting in what has come to be known as the “Bone Wars” between rival paleontologists in the 1890s which got so heated, some paleontologists literally resorted to dynamiting mines to beat their rivals in discoveries.

The most famous such rivals were Othniel Marsh of the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale and Edward Cope of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.

While the pair started out friendly, even choosing to name species after one another, they eventually became bitter enemies, and when they weren’t doing everything in their power to find dinosaur bones as fast as possible, they were writing and giving talks insulting one another’s work, attempting to get each other’s funding canceled, stealing discoveries from one another or, when not possible, trying to destroy the other’s work. In the end, the product of this rivalry was the discovery of a whopping 142 different species of dinosaurs. (For the record, Marsh discovered 86 and Cope 56.)

Before ending, any discussion of this wild west era of dinosaur bone hunting and scholarship would be remiss without noting the unsung hero of it all — Mary Anning, who is credited with finding many of the fossils used by other scientists for “their” discoveries like of the long-extinct Ichthyosaur, Plesiosaurus (in fact finding the first complete Plesiosaurus), and the flying Pterosaur.

Anning was also noted to be popularly consulted by scientists the world over for her expertise in identifying types of dinosaurs from their bones and various insights she had on them, with many world renowned scientists actually choosing to make the journey to her little shop in person where she sold these bones in Dorset England.

Almost completely uneducated formally and having grown up relatively poor, with her father dying when she was 11, Anning’s expertise came from literally a lifetime of practice, as her family lived near the cliffs near Lyme Regis and from a little girl she helped dig out bones and sell them in their shop.

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Portrait of Mary Anning.

Without access to a formal scientific education, she eventually took to dissecting many modern animals to learn more about anatomy. She also was an insatiable reader of every scientific paper she could get her hands on related to geology, palaeontology and animals. In many cases, unable to afford to buy copies of the papers, she’d simply borrow them from others and then meticulously copy them herself, with reportedly astoundingly exact replication of technical illustrations.

On that note, Lady Harriet Silvester would describe Anning in 1824,

The extraordinary thing in this young woman is that she has made herself so thoroughly acquainted with the science that the moment she finds any bones she knows to what tribe they belong. She fixes the bones on a frame with cement and then makes drawings and has them engraved… It is certainly a wonderful instance of divine favour—that this poor, ignorant girl should be so blessed, for by reading and application she has arrived to that degree of knowledge as to be in the habit of writing and talking with professors and other clever men on the subject, and they all acknowledge that she understands more of the science than anyone else in this kingdom.

Despite finding some of the best known specimens of these creatures and risking her life on a daily basis during her hunt for fossils around the dangerous cliffs, Anning got little public credit for her discoveries owing to a number of factors including that she was a woman, from a dissenting religious sect against the Church of England, and otherwise, as noted, had no real formal education. So it was quite easy for scientists to take any ideas she had and the bones she dug up and claim all of it as their own discovery. As Anning herself would lament, “The world has used me so unkindly, I fear it has made me suspicious of everyone.”

A companion of hers, Anna Inney, would go on to state, “these men of learning have sucked her brains, and made a great deal of publishing works, of which she furnished the contents, while she derived none of the advantages.”

That said, given the esteem she was regarded among many scientists, some of them did desire she be given credit for her contributions, such as famed Swiss palaeontologist Louis Agassiz who was one of many to visit Anning’s shop and to pick her brain about various things, ultimately crediting her in his book Studies of Fossil Fish.

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Further praising her work a few years later was an article in The Bristol Mirror, stating,

This persevering female has for years gone daily in search of fossil remains of importance at every tide, for many miles under the hanging cliffs at Lyme, whose fallen masses are her immediate object, as they alone contain these valuable relics of a former world, which must be snatched at the moment of their fall, at the continual risk of being crushed by the half suspended fragments they leave behind, or be left to be destroyed by the returning tide: – to her exertions we owe nearly all the fine specimens of Ichthyosauri of the great collections …

Of the dangers of her work, Anning once wrote to a friend, Charlotte Murchison, in 1833,

Perhaps you will laugh when I say that the death of my old faithful dog has quite upset me, the cliff that fell upon him and killed him in a moment before my eyes, and close to my feet … it was but a moment between me and the same fate.

Beyond academic credit, in one lean stretch where Anning’s family was unable to find any new fossils and they had to start selling off all their worldy possessions just to eat and keep a roof over their heads, one of their best customers, Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas James Birch, decided to auction off many of the bones he’d bought from them and instead of keeping the money, gave it to Anning’s family.

Of this, in a letter to the Gideon Mantell, Birch stated the auction was,

for the benefit of the poor woman… who… in truth found almost all the fine things which have been submitted to scientific investigation … I may never again possess what I am about to part with, yet in doing it I shall have the satisfaction of knowing that the money will be well applied.

Beyond the approximately £400 this brought in (about £48,000 today), this also significantly raised the awareness among the scientific community of the family’s contributions to this particular branch of science.

Further, when she lost her life savings apparently after being swindled by a conman in 1835, the aforementioned William Buckland managed to convince the British government and the British Association for the Advancement of Science to give her a pension of £25 per year (about £3,000 today) in recognition of her work’s importance to science.

On top of this, when she was dying of breast cancer in the 1840s and couldn’t continue on in her work as before, the Geological Society provided additional financial support to make sure she was taken care of.

After her death, they also commemorated a stained-glass window in 1850 in her memory with the inscription:

This window is sacred to the memory of Mary Anning of this parish, who died 9 March AD 1847 and is erected by the vicar and some members of the Geological Society of London in commemoration of her usefulness in furthering the science of geology, as also of her benevolence of heart and integrity of life.

The president of the Geological Society, Henry De la Beche, would also write a eulogy for her, which stated in part,

I cannot close this notice of our losses by death without adverting to that of one, who though not placed among even the easier classes of society, but one who had to earn her daily bread by her labour, yet contributed by her talents and untiring researches in no small degree to our knowledge…

This was the first eulogy for a woman the society had ever published, and the first time such a eulogy had been given for a non-fellow.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

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MIGHTY SPORTS

A Super Bowl ad honors first responders with true rescue stories

There are at least 11 NFL players that would be dead now had it not been for the lifesavers that came to their rescue. An ad set to air during Super Bowl LIII pays tribute to them and the many, many like them who risk their lives to save others.


“The Team That Wouldn’t Be Here” is comprised of 11 players and a coach who share their rescue stories as they came close to death in natural disasters, car accidents, and more. One iteration of the campaign aired during the NFC and AFC Championship games, but an all-new one is set to air during the big game.

included in the campaign is a microsite, AllOurThanks.com, that houses a dozen stories, told by the NFL players who were rescued, as they offer their thanks to the first responded who saved their lives and the lives of their loved ones. The stories were directed by Peter Berg, the Emmy-nominated director of Friday Night Lights and 2013’s Lone Survivor.

“The idea of acknowledging first responders is something I believe in,” Berg told USA Today. “It’s something that I don’t think ever gets old.”

Raiders Quarterback A.J. McCarron would be dead now after a jetski accident as a child. The Packers’ Clay Matthews wouldn’t be here because of a bicycle accident. For the Texans’ Carlos Watkins, it was a car accident. The videos also feature the players family and other loved ones – as well as some of the first responders who actually rescued these players.

The website, launched by Verizon, allows anyone to give thanks to a first responder by uploading a photo along with your first name and last initial. The beautiful, heartfelt thank-yous play on a rotating ticker at the bottom of the page as the ad reads “First responders answer the call. Our job is to make sure they can get it.”

Articles

This is a perfect example of how ridiculous boot camp is

Drill sergeants say the funniest things.

“Now I don’t want anybody messin’ around. I don’t want you playin’ any grab ass.”

Grab ass? Who’s playing grab ass at boot camp? The whole idea of it is hilarious.

It’s a trap, though! Do not laugh. DO NOT LAUGH.

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Yeah, you’re screwed, little buddy. (Go90 No Sh*t There I Was screenshot)

In the first episode of We Are The Mighty’s “No Sh*t There I Was” for go90, Armin Babasoloukian, a veteran of the 82nd Airborne, shares his first day as a wide-eyed recruit in the middle of hot and sweaty Oklahoma.

Babasoloukian — aka “Babalou” — tells a story that illustrates how easy it is for trainees to fall into traps set by their drill sergeants…or just actually fall…even when they’re told specifically not to fall (common sense would suggest that you wouldn’t have to tell someone that but…boots amirite?)

A genius moment is when one of the enlistees doesn’t know the difference between an Armenian and a Kardashian.

Maybe genius isn’t the right word?

But hey, when it comes down to it, all military personnel are well aware that our great nation faces threats of all shapes and sizes, whether it’s ISIS, al Qaeda, or Kardashian.

So check out the video and let all those boot camp memories come rolling back.

Watch more No Sh*t There I Was:

Why it sucks to report to the ‘Good Idea Fairy’

A Ranger describes what being a ‘towed jumper’ is actually like

That time Linda Hamilton asked a Marine to the ball

This is a perfect example of how ridiculous boot camp is

MIGHTY HISTORY

One of the most recent soldiers killed in Afghanistan was 5 when the war started

Army Spc. Gabriel D. Conde’s short life spanned the history of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001, from the euphoria over the fleeting early successes to the current doubts about the new strategy to break what U.S. commanders routinely call a “stalemate.”

When Conde was six years old, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said the Taliban had been defeated and the Afghan people were now free “to create a better future.”


He was seven years old when then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, “We’re at a point where we clearly have moved from major combat activity to a period of stability and stabilization and reconstruction activities.”

When Conde was 12, then-President George W. Bush was at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan to declare that “the Taliban is gone from power and it’s not coming back.”

In 2009, when Conde was 13, then-President Barack Obama said he would “make the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban the top priority that it should be. This is a war that we have to win.”

He sent 30,000 more U.S. troops into Afghanistan, with a timeline for their withdrawal.

Obama wanted the withdrawal to be complete by the time he left office, but he left behind about 8,500 U.S. troops to deal with a resurgent Taliban and a new enemy — an offshoot of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria called Islamic State-Khorasan Province, or IS-K.

August 2017, when Conde was 21, President Donald Trump announced a new strategy for Afghanistan that discarded “nation building” in favor of a plan to drive the Taliban into peace talks and a negotiated settlement.

Trump acknowledged that his initial impulse was to pull U.S. troops out completely, but he agreed to boost troop levels from 8,500 to about 14,000.

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President Donald Trump

The presence of U.S. troops would now be conditions-based and not subject to artificial timelines. “We’re going to finish what we have to finish. What nobody else has been able to finish, we’re going to be able to do it,” Trump said.

Late April, 2018, the Taliban announced the start of its 16th annual spring offensive.

On May 1, 2018, when Conde was 22, he was killed by small-arms fire in the Tagab District of Kapisa province northeast of Kabul. A second U.S. soldier was wounded.

Conde, of Loveland, Colorado, served with the 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), of 25th Infantry Division, based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska. His unit was expected to return to Alaska at the end of May 2018.

Also on May 1, 2018, the Trump administration took official note of the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan by granting political asylum to former Capt. Niloofar Rahmani, the first female fixed-wing pilot in the Afghan Air Force, who had been training in the U.S.

Through her lawyer, she had successfully argued to immigration authorities that the chaos in Afghanistan, and death threats against her and her family, made it impossible for her to return.

On the same day that Rahmani won asylum and Conde was killed, the latest in a wave of suicide bombings and terror attacks devastated the Shash Darak district of central Kabul in what Afghans call the “Green Zone.”

Two suicide bombers had slipped past the estimated 14 checkpoints surrounding the district, Afghanistan’s TOLOnews reported.

The first set off a blast and the second, reportedly disguised as a cameraman, joined a pack of reporters and photographers rushing to the scene and triggered a second explosion.

At least 30 people, including nine journalists, were killed. A 10th journalist was killed on the same day in an incident in Khost province. (Short biographies of the 10 journalists can be seen here.)

Mattis put on spot over attacks

In response to May 1, 2018’s events, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Army Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, echoed what other commanders and Pentagon officials have said so many times before during America’s longest war.

They mourned the loss of a valorous soldier and the victims of the bombings. They said the strategy of increased airpower and the buildup of Afghan special forces is showing progress. They pledged to stay the course.

At a session with Pentagon reporters May 1, 2018, Mattis said the Taliban are “on their back foot.”

The recent terror attacks show that they are desperate, he said.

“We anticipated they would do their best” to disrupt upcoming elections with a wave of bombings aimed at discouraging the Afghan people from voting, Mattis said.

“The Taliban realize the danger of the people being allowed to vote,” he added. “Their goal is to destabilize the elected government. This is the normal stuff by people who can’t win at the ballot box. They turn to bombs.”

At a welcoming ceremony on May 2, 2018, for the visiting Macedonian defense minister, Mattis was challenged on how he could point to progress amid the wave of bombings and a recent series of watchdog reports on widespread and continuing corruption in Afghanistan.

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Defense Secretary Jim Mattis

“The message from this building has consistently been that the situation is turning around, that things are improving there,” Mattis was told. “How do you reconcile this difference?”

“First, I don’t know that that’s been the message from this building. I would not subscribe to that,” Mattis said. “We said last August NATO is going to hold the line. We knew there would be tough fighting going forward.

“The murder of journalists and other innocent people is a great testimony to what it is we stand for and more importantly what we stand against,” he added.

“The Afghan military is being made more capable. You’ll notice that more of the forces are special forces, advised and assisted, accompanied by NATO mentors. And these are the most effective forces,” Mattis said.

“We anticipated and are doing our best and have been successful at blocking many of these attacks on innocent people but, unfortunately, once in a while they get through because any terrorist organization that realizes it can’t win by ballots and turns to bombs — this is simply what they do. They murder innocent people,” he said.

For the long run, “We’ll stand by the Afghan people, we’ll stand by the Afghan government and the NATO mission will continue as we drive them to a political settlement,” Mattis said.

Nicholson’s two-year plan to end the ‘Forever War’

“Actions like this only strengthen our steadfast commitment to the people of Afghanistan,” Nicholson, who doubles as commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, said after the bombings May 1, 2018, and the death of Conde.

“We offer our sincere condolences to the families of those killed and wounded, and we stand with our Afghan partners in defeating those who would threaten the people of this country, whose cries for peace are being ignored,” he said.

Like many of his troops, the 60-year-old Nicholson, a West Point graduate, has served multiple tours in Afghanistan. When he was confirmed by the Senate in March 2016 to succeed Army Gen. John Campbell as commander, he would go back to Afghanistan for the sixth time.

Since 9/11, “the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan has largely defined my service” in 36 years in uniform, he told the Senate.

Nicholson is the son of Army Brig. Gen. John W. Nicholson, also a West Point graduate, and is distantly related the legendary British Brig. Gen. John Nicholson (1821-1857), who fought in the First Anglo-Afghan War.

Early on in his command, Nicholson was at the forefront on the military advisers who convinced Obama to approve the expansion of the air campaign against the Taliban and IS-K. In February 2017, he began arguing for more troops to partner with the Afghan National Defense Security Forces.

Mattis later signed off on what was essentially Nicholson’s plan. And Trump, in coordination with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, authorized it in an address to the nation in August 2017.

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Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and U.S. Army Gen. John Nicholson.
(DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley)

In a video conference from Kabul to the Pentagon in November 2017, Nicholson said it would take about two years to bring 80 percent of Afghanistan under government control and drive the Taliban into peace talks.

“Why 80 percent? Because we think that gives them [the Afghans] a critical mass where they control 80. The Taliban are driven to less than 10 percent of the population; maybe the rest is contested,” Nicholson said.

“And this, we believe, is the critical mass necessary to drive the enemy to irrelevance, meaning they’re living in these remote, outlying areas, or they reconcile — or they die, of course, is the third choice,” he said.

Nicholson’s remarks contrasted with a simultaneous report from the Pentagon’s Inspector General’s office.

In his foreword to the IG’s quarterly report, Acting IG Glenn Fine said, “During the quarter, Taliban insurgents continued to attack Afghan forces and fight for control of districts, and ISIS-K terrorists launched high-profile attacks across the country.”

Fine added, “Internal political tensions increased in Afghanistan, and corruption remained a key challenge to governance despite positive steps by Afghanistan’s Anti-Corruption Justice Center.”

Fine also said that maintaining the accuracy of future IG reports made available to the public is becoming more difficult, since key statistical measures are now being classified.

“When producing this report, we were notified that information that was previously publicly released regarding attrition, casualties, readiness, and personnel strength of Afghan forces that we had included in prior Lead IG reports was now classified,” Fine said. “In addition, we were advised that ratings of Afghan government capabilities were now classified.”

The strategy — what strategy?

In announcing the strategy for Afghanistan in August 2017, Trump made clear that he was doing so with grave misgivings.

“Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan. But nobody knows if or when that will ever happen,” he said.

The skeptics are many. “Why would anybody call this a strategy? We declared we wanted to win, but we didn’t change anything fundamentally that we’re doing,” retired Army Lt. Col. Jason Dempsey, who served two tours in Afghanistan, told Military.com.

The focus now, as it has been for years, is on building up the Afghan military into a more effective force capable of holding and administering territory retaken from the Taliban, he said, “but that army assumes the existence of a functioning government.”

“We are creating a military that assumes the existence of a state that does not exist,” said Dempsey, an adjunct senior fellow of the Military, Veterans and Society Program at the Center for a New American Security.

“What it boils down to is that we can’t decide what we want,” Dempsey said. “The only consensus we have on Afghanistan is that we don’t want to lose.”

In her analysis of the Trump administration’s strategy, Brookings Institution scholar Vanda Felbab-Brown wrote that the president basically had three options — “full military withdrawal, limited counterterrorism engagement, and staying in the country with slightly increased military deployments and intense political engagement.”

“The option the Trump administration chose — staying in Afghanistan with a somewhat enlarged military capacity — is the least bad option,” Felbab-Brown said.

“Thus, the Trump administration’s announced approach to Afghanistan is not a strategy for victory,” she said.

“Staying on militarily buys the United States hope that eventually the Taliban may make enough mistakes to seriously undermine its power,” she said. “However, that is unlikely unless Washington starts explicitly insisting on better governance and political processes in the Afghan government.”

Watchdog reports contrast with claims of progress

The goal of better governance is dependent on an Afghan military as the enabler, but the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said May 2, 2018, that the number of Afghan soldiers and police has declined sharply in the past year.

In a report, SIGAR said that the combined strength of the military and police dropped nearly 11 percent over the past year, from about 331,700 in January 2017 to about 296,400 this January, well below the total authorized strength of 334,000.

“Building up the Afghan forces is a top priority for the U.S. and our international allies, so it is worrisome to see Afghan force strength decreasing,” John Sopko, the head of SIGAR, told reporters.

At the end of January 2018, insurgents controlled or had influence over 14 percent of the Afghanistan’s 407 districts, SIGAR said, while the Afghan government controlled or influenced 56 percent. The remaining districts were contested, SIGAR said.

The report also noted the significant increase in the air campaign: “The total of 1,186 munitions dropped in the first quarter of 2018 is the highest number recorded for this period since reporting began in 2013, and is over two and a half times the amount dropped in the first quarter of 2017.”

In addition, the report indicated that Nicholson’s plan to bomb drug production centers and have the Afghan military interdict shipments in an effort to cut off Taliban funding was having little effect.

“From 2008 through March 20, 2018, over 3,520 interdiction operations resulted in the seizure of 463,342 kilograms of opium. But the sum of these seizures over nearly a decade would account for less than 0.05% of the opium produced in Afghanistan in 2017 alone,” SIGAR said.

Since 9/11, the U.S. has invested more than $850 billion in the war and efforts to bolster the Afghan government, but a recent drumbeat of reports from SIGAR and the Pentagon Inspector General’s office have highlighted widespread and continuing corruption.

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in April 2018, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, called on Army Secretary Mark Esper to justify a $50 million contract that SIGAR charged was used to buy luxury cars such as Alfa Romeos and Bentleys for Afghan officials and pay for $400,000 salaries for no-show jobs.

“Please tell me that a senator 20 years from now is not going to be sitting here and going, ‘How in the world are taxpayers paying for Alfa Romeos and Bentleys?’ ” McCaskill said.

‘We’ve kind of been going about it wrong’

As of March 2018, there were roughly 14,000 U.S. military personnel serving in Afghanistan as part of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, according to U.S. officials.

Of the 14,000, about 7,800 of these troops were assigned to NATO’s Resolute Support mission to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces.

The 7,800 number reflects an increase of 400 personnel from the deployment of the Army’s first Security Force Assistance Brigade, or SFAB, to Afghanistan.

In February 2018, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats issued a report on what those troops can be expected to accomplish this year that was at odds with the upbeat assessments of Mattis and Nicholson.

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Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats

“The overall situation in Afghanistan probably will deteriorate modestly this year in the face of persistent political instability, sustained attacks by the Taliban-led insurgency” and the “unsteady” performance of the Afghan military performance, the DNI’s report said.

Afghan troops “probably will maintain control of most major population centers with coalition force support, but the intensity and geographic scope of Taliban activities will put those centers under continued strain,” the report said.

Mattis and Nicholson have singled out the SFAB as a key component in reforming and refining the operations of the Afghan security forces.

The SFAB concept takes specially selected non-commissioned and commissioned officers, preferably with experience in Afghanistan, and assigns them the train, advise and assist role in place of conventional Brigade Combat Team units.

Before the deployment, Army 1st Sgt. Shaun Morgan, a company senior enlisted leader with the SFAB, told Stars & Stripes that there were no illusions about the difficulty of the job ahead.

“So, we’ve been kind of going about it wrong for a while, I think,” Morgan said. “Maybe this is an opportunity to get on the right foot toward getting it right.”

Previously in Afghanistan, “we couldn’t get it through our heads that we weren’t the fighters,” Morgan told Stripes in a reference to the role of U.S. troops as partners and advisers to the Afghans who were to take the lead in combat.

“I think the bosses decided maybe this is the right shot, and it just makes sense to me,” Morgan said.

The Afghans also were under no illusions on the continuing threats posed by the Taliban and other insurgents, and the risks they take to go about their daily lives.

Shah Marai Faizi, the chief photographer for Agence France-Presse in the Kabul bureau, was among the nine journalists killed in May 1, 2018’s suicide bombings in Kabul. He was the father of six, including a newborn daughter.

In 2017, Shah Marai wrote an essay titled “When Hope Is Gone” that was read in part on the Democracy Now cable program.

“Life seems to be even more difficult than under the Taliban because of the insecurity,” he wrote. “I don’t dare to take my children for a walk. I have five, and they spend their time cooped up inside the house. I have never felt life to have so little prospects, and I don’t see a way out.”

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.

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