The Midshipmen-turned-video-content-producers (who also happen to be Navy officers) just churned out the next iteration of their “Go Navy Beat Army” saga. From the minds who brought you classics, like We Give A Shipand Helm Yeah, comes their newest production: SPACE FORCE.
Naval Officer Rylan Tuohy graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis in 2016. In his time as a Mid, he produced a couple of Navy’s most appreciated Army-Navy Game traditions, the Navy spirit video. In the past, he’s had special guests like Sen. John McCain, Adm. John Richardson, Roger Staubach, and even the U.S. Navy Blue Angels appear in his annual troll on the U.S. Military Academy.
This year he’s featuring the U.S. Space Force.
The video starts as a kind of recruiting video for the newly-christened U.S. Space Force, but takes a dramatic turn in order to take a shot at the Army. We watch as a Space Force pilot wakes up from the “bad dream” of reenlisting in the Army.
Not to be outdone, Army’s own efforts at video-based smacktalk have increased dramatically over the years. Their response to Tuohy’s 2016 “We Give A Ship” video was their own wordplay-laden video, “We Don’t Give A Ship, We Give A Truck.” Even better was its response to Tuohy and Navy’s 2017 “Helm Yeah” video, a highly-produced, 10-minute short film on West Point’s Facebook Page, called “Lead From The Front.”
Filmed in 4K, the video featured then-Commandant of the U.S. Military Academy Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen, and trolled all of Navy’s athletics, their uniforms, cadets, and their fanbase. It also talked smack about the Midshipmen’s own smack-talk videos.
Lead From the Front will probably go down as the premiere video about how the Black Knights might kidnap Navy’s mascot using the full power of the U.S. Army. It was produced by then-cadet Austin Lachance (who is now an officer) and was complete with special effects, helicopters, and a soundtrack produced by the West Point Band.
There’s no word yet on how Army might respond to this year’s Space Force jab.
The U.S. Navy issued a warning to China’s Navy over Instagram this week, telling China that it doesn’t want to “play laser tag” with the U.S. Navy with their destroyer-based laser weapons.
Last month, a Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy destroyer pointed a military grade laser weapon at a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon, which is an aircraft designed specifically for various types of sea-based warfare, including anti-submarine operations. According to Defense Department reports, the P-8A was flying approximately 380 miles west of Guam when it encountered a Chinese destroyer believed to have been the Hohhot, among the latest and most advanced destroyers in China’s fleet.
The destroyer reportedly shined a laser weapon at the P-8A, though the laser caused no injuries or immediately recognizable damage. The aircraft is being inspected further for issues. Despite the low level of threat the laser posed, the U.S. Navy has been taking this attack quite seriously, recognizing it as a test, both of their weapon’s efficacy and of the American response.
While the Navy’s warning on Instagram seems almost playful, the U.S. Navy isn’t messing around when it comes to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, nor are they kidding about their laser weapons. The U.S. currently has a number of laser weapons under development, and just recently deployed one aboard the USS Dewey aimed at “dazzling” or blinding and confusing drones.
This isn’t the first time the U.S. has had reports of being engaged with Chinese lasers, nor is it the first time these two naval powers have found themselves in a staring contest over China’s claims of sovereignty throughout the region. The United States and the international community recognize China’s claimed ownership of the South China Sea as illegal, but China’s Navy has been rapidly expanding to enforce their claims in recent years.
China’s claims over the South China Sea are shown in red.
With neither China nor the U.S. backing down in the Pacific, and laser weapons becoming more commonplace by the day, it seems entirely likely that this won’t be the last round of laser tag between our two navies.
J. D. Pardo and Vincent Vargas in ‘Mayans M.C.’ (FX)
Lockdown measures have meant that almost everyone is spending nearly all their time on Twitter. Those familiar with the social media platform would know that every new day during these difficult times sees a new celebrity being canceled. One of those celebrities was Adam Driver, for his supposed Islamophobic sentiments for enlisting.
On April 20, the hashtag #adamdriverisoverparty started trending on Twitter after a 2019 interview of the actor resurfaced. In the interview, Driver spoke about how he joined the Marines after 9/11 because he felt a deep desire for retribution against an invisible and unknown enemy.
“It wasn’t against Muslims,” he said. “It was: We were attacked. I want to fight for my country against whoever that is.”
What followed was a horde of Twitter users using Driver’s comments to accuse him of being Islamophobic and launching the hashtag. “#AdamDriverIsOverParty forget that ugly Islamophobic troll stream my amy adams fancam,” said one.
‘Mayans M.C.’ actor Vincent Vargas spoke to MEA WorldWide (MEAWW) on what he thought about Driver being subjected to the cancel culture. He said, “I think right now, people are completely polarized and completely divided on opinions on everything in the world. I believe they took Adam Driver’s quotes on what he talked about, why he wanted to serve our country and turned it against him as if he [were] an Islamophobe.”
He added, “I just didn’t think it was fair to someone who [served] our country, someone who decided to join for whatever reasons that might be and then to turn around and try and damage his career because of unpopular opinions of other people. It’s a small demographic of individuals that use social media to essentially bully someone on their own opinion.”
Vargas also said that Driver’s 2019 interview might have resurfaced as people are bored of being on quarantine and stuck indoors. He added that Driver is “a brilliant actor,” and that he did not think “any kind of assumption of his character is going to ruin his career.” Vargas said, “Whatever they took out of context, that’s on them.”
He said, “For it to kind of blow-up again was kind of weird. I was almost amazed by it and kind of blown away that someone who serves in America, who [makes] the kind of entertainment that we enjoy that is mostly made in America — the land of opportunity that actors from other countries come to — was [bashed].”
Vargas believes that it’s “honorable and commendable” that Driver chose to serve in the war, whether “people believe in the [purpose of the] war or not.” He said, “[Driver] was trying to serve a greater purpose than himself.”
Vargas himself is a veteran. The actor enlisted for the military and served in both Iraq and Afghanistan between 2003 and 2007 and did three tours. At the time, Vargas enlisted partly for financial reasons. He had a child he needed to support, but also because he wanted to do his part to help. He said, “I wanted to try and do it the right way and try and do special operations.”
The actor was part of both Operation Iraqi Freedom (the United States’ invasion of Iraq from 2003 to 2011) and Operation Enduring Freedom (what the Global War on Terrorism was called by the United States government).
Vargas was sent to learn Pashtu for several months so he could communicate with the Afghani population in the hills. He said he would check on them to see how things were going as well as to establish that “we’re here looking for terrorist fighters.”
Vargas said there was an interesting dynamic between the soldiers and the civilians of those countries. He told MEAWW, “Are we there for the right reasons? That’s a question to answer, but I’m here to do [the] job that has been asked of me by the military.”
On being asked his opinions on the civilian casualties during the United States’ operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Vargas said, “I think we all know and [have] seen that there are civilian casualties in war all the time and it’s a super unfortunate thing to happen.”
He added, “It’s obviously not something I condone or support but I also know that there’s this crazy thing that happens in the fog of war and it’s unfortunate. It’s unfortunate that a lot of terrorist acts happened in our country and some civilians, innocent people, and bystanders get hurt in those as well. When you have a country at war, those things are to be expected and it’s not a good thing. It’s not something to be proud of, but it is something that we have to acknowledge exists.”
Vargas plays the role of Gilberto “Gilly” Lopez on FX’s ‘Mayans M.C.’. Crucially, he also serves as a technical advisor on the show. Vargas tells us that it is just him and Tyler Grey (of ‘SEAL Team’) who are veterans who served in active combat duty who work as actors on mainstream television today.
Vargas said, “I believe it’s kind of my place to make sure that veterans are represented in the right light and not to be bashed on for serving our country. Think about Hollywood. In the 50s and 60s, it was [run] by veterans who served in Vietnam and before that in World War 2.”
As the technical advisor, Vargas helps make sure that everything done on the show regarding law enforcement, military, and border patrol are authentic. When the writers want to include material on those aspects, Vargas, makes sure that it is something that is correct and “valid toward the truth.”
While it may seem that veteran representation in Hollywood is aplenty, veterans often lament that their on-screen counterparts are often portrayed in extremes. Veteran Chris Marvin told the New York Times that veterans were being stereotyped by what he believes has become the dominant image on television and in Hollywood today: the “broken hero,” as he puts it, “who once did incredible things but is now forever damaged and in need of help.”
“The truth is, 99 percent of us are neither heroic nor broken,” Marvin said. “We are people — people the public has invested in who have a lot of potential. And it’s time to get over the pity party.”
Marvin believed that the portrayals may color the public’s perceptions, causing people to think that veterans are more likely to be unemployed and to commit suicide than their civilian peers, which he insisted is not true.
The U.S. Army of the future needs the gear appropriate for tomorrow’s conflicts — and that means armor. Not only will that that future Army be responsible for everything it does at current, it also needs to be prepared for the unknown — situations we can’t foresee today. Who knows which country or actors will be the major threat of the coming days anyway?
The Army’s solution is the Soldier Protection System, a modular, scaleable armor that is both lightweight and adaptable to future technology and threats.
Like former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once infamously said, you go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might wish you had. Now, the Army is prepping to go to war with the Army it wants to have. Each piece of the new armor system is designed so the wearing soldier can modify and scale it up (or down) depending on the nature of their mission on any given day.
At its most minimal, the system is a 2.8 pound vest that is capable of being worn under civilian clothing. Even at such a small weight, the new armor can still stop rounds from a sidearm. At its most protective, the armor is a mix of plates and soft kevlar that can stop blasts from explosions and shell fragments from munitions like Russian artillery shells — all without compromising the soldier’s range of motion.
Pfc. Chris Lunsford, 4-14 Cavalry Regiment, 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, communicates with local children during a presence patrol in Sinjar, Iraq, on May 30, 2006.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey)
Over the course of the last 15 years of war, body armor has evolved — but usually only getting bigger and more restrictive in the process. The total weight of armor added to a soldier’s carry topped out at 27 pounds in 2016. The Soldier Protection System, from its onset, has been aimed at curbing the weight, reducing it as much as one-quarter in some areas of protection. New systems also include hearing protection and a modular face shield, all without increasing the weight carried overall.
The old system was protective, but limiting in many ways. It had none of the included ear and eye protection the Soldier Protection System has and it was not very conducive to the terrain troops had to overcome in the mountains of Afghanistan. It also wasn’t very helpful in beating the blazing heat of Iraqi deserts. The clunky armor was protective, but often impaired mobility while maneuvering and bringing small arms to bear while in the heat of the moment. When facing lightly-outfitted insurgents, and the armor could impede a soldier’s ability when running to cover.
U.S. Army Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment conduct a halt while searching mountains in Andar province, Afghanistan, for Taliban members and weapons caches June 6, 2007.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Marcus Quarterman)
Even with the new modifications, the Army’s armor doesn’t protect much against the blast-induced brain injuries so common on the battlefields of the Global War on Terror. Even firing heavy weapons at an enemy can cause traumatic brain injuries. Some studies suggest the new, lighter-weight helmet of the Soldier Protection System can help with the issues surrounding blast damage, but cannot mitigate it completely.
The recent improvements in armor design aren’t the end of the road for Army researchers. They continue to design and redesign the armor to meet the needs of today’s (and tomorrow’s) Army operations, to protect vulnerable areas not covered by even the Soldier Protection System while continuing to drop the total weight carried by U.S. troops in combat.
Service members spends countless hours stomping across the base, running in formation while yelling a repetitive song at the top of their lungs.
Military cadences, or close-order drills, date back hundreds of years as a way to keep troops aligned as they march onto the battlefield. Today, it’s primarily used to keep service members in step as they run, landing their feet at the same time to create a motivating, captivating rhythm.
Not only are these repetitive songs catchy as f*ck, but they’ll also test out your creative side as you can make up the lyrics on the spot. A good cadence call will ignite your fellow troops’ morale, helping them make it through the miles and miles of running we do each time we gear up for PT.
The cadence caller has an important job when they’re running on the left side of the formation. They need to make sure the troops are in step as you emphasize each of the word being yelled out. It’s excellent practice how to lead a pack of service members toward an objective at once, and no signal-caller wants to be seen following out of a run.
You’ll look dumb.
You can talk sh*t to other units
The military is full of competition, and we love it. On that note, we commonly run through other areas of the base that our military rivals call home. Since we can easily control what lyrics we yell during our PT sessions, we’re sometimes guilty of creating sh*t talking ones as we move in and through those areas.
No grunt wants to be seen falling out of a run in a near a POG barracks. That just looks bad.
Since we commonly yell out the cadence lyrics at the top of our lungs, this act helps expel the CO2 out of our lungs and allows us to gain endurance. The more controlled our breathing becomes, the more oxygen we can deliver to our bodies. It also helps troops take their mind off the fact they are running for miles if the troop is concerning on repeating the cadences correctly.
It’s also pretty motivating, and we use that to get us through those tough runs.
His team spotted by insurgents and forced to take cover in an abandoned compound, Marine sniper Joshua Moore went against his instinct when two grenades landed next to him, throwing one of them back at the enemy and holding off insurgent fire until help could arrive.
Moore, at the time a Lance Corporal, was later awarded the Navy Cross for his actions.
Moore was part of a scout sniper platoon during a mission in Marjah, Afghanistan, in March 2011, when insurgents targeted his team.
The Marines fell back to a nearby compound, but enemy machine gun rounds soon sliced through the air, wounding two of them. After taking cover, Moore felt two objects hit him in the back. When he turned he saw two grenades lying in the sand.
He reached down, grabbed the first grenade, and threw it back out the window where it detonated just a moment later. He went for the second but noticed it was covered in rust and was likely a dud.
The young sniper would later say that he was, “scared out of my mind, but I knew we had to do everything possible to get everyone home.” Despite the brush with death and under the continuing threat of incoming fire, Moore crawled from the building and held off the enemy until a quick reaction force arrived.
He went to the north where the enemy attack was heaviest and began aiding the wounded and returning fire. He used an M4 with an attached M203 grenade launcher to suppress fighters where he could find them.
The arrival of a quick reaction force and another sniper platoon allowed the Marines to finally gain fire superiority, evacuate the wounded and fall back to their patrol base.
Moore was meritoriously promoted to corporal less than two months after the battle and was awarded the Navy Cross in Nov. 2013.
“It’s an honor to receive an award like the Navy Cross. But to be honest, I was just doing my job,” Moore said after the ceremony.
Since then, Moore has been promoted to sergeant and assigned as an instructor at the scout sniper basic course. He told Stars and Stripes that he often shares the story of the engagement with his students, but that he avoids talking about his medal.
Former jack-of-all trades Marine Reservist Lance Cpl. David Roach spent six years learning infantry tactics, machine gunnery, bulk fuels, and heavy equipment while serving in the Marine Corps from 2002-2008.
Throughout his security career, he’s gone from a mall cop and security guard to being in charge of security personnel for hospitals, airports, and companies. Currently, he’s a global security manager focused on crisis management, disaster monitoring and open source intelligence.
He also worked with the Coast Guard, doing search and rescue missions and anti-drug interdiction out of Monterrey Bay, California. He used all of his experience for material for his books.
“In security, I’ve been shot at. I’ve had people try to stab me. I’ve gotten into lots of fights and take downs,” Roach said. “I hate going into crowded places. I’m definitely a person who enjoys being out in the wilderness.”
He also used the military family experience of his wife, Amanda, to add to the realism behind the fantasy of his characters in his five-novel Vikings series called Marauder.
“I come from a Marine family,” Amanda said. They’ve been married 11 years. “My grandmother and grandfather actually met in the Marines. She was Marine in the 1950’s. She was tough as nails. My brother and cousins are also Marines.”
Former Marine Lance Cpl. David Roach, writer of the Marauder series, uses his real-world Marine Corps and security training for his characters, as well as the experiences of his friends and family who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
(Photo by Shannon Collins)
Roach said he researched the history of Vikings, Scandinavian culture and the realities of their lives during that time period.
“I try to keep it as realistic as possible and then throw in the monsters and the Gods. That’s when it gets fun and exciting,” he said smiling. “But everything else, I try to keep as realistic and close to real life as possible so that the readers can relate.”
He said his books reflect his military experience because he doesn’t shy away from dark humor, cursing or the brutality of war. “These are not kids’ tales. They’re brutal. I’m always trying to find the historical curse words, the slang they would’ve used at the time. This is what it was like during that time. That was what real life was like,” he said. “I started going to re-enactment battles as well,” Roach said. “I got to get into a shield wall. I saw how easy it is for a shield to splinter or for weapons to bend or how quickly things could go wrong if you get flanked or if someone is careless.”
For Roach’s Civil War book, When the Drums Stop, he wrote in the footsteps of his ancestor, a low-ranking Union soldier. He drove cross-country and visited the National Civil War Museum and stopped at battlefields for inspiration.
Roach said that anyone in the military who even has an inkling of becoming a writer, whether it be for a novel or for a website should just start doing it.
“Don’t wait for somebody’s permission. Don’t wait for a publication or publisher to tell you you’re good enough because most of them will say, ‘No’ because they want to make sure you’re a sure thing before they even spend a dollar on you,” he said. “Just do it. As I take up more virtual book space, more people are finding me. More people are starting to pay attention.”
Roach started with self-publishing his first few novels but a positive review from a professor of Norse archaeology, he picked up a publisher.
“Just like with the military, if you work hard at it and have that perseverance, eventually it’s going to pan out for you,” he said.
The US Army is moving forward on next-generation concealment technology to ensure that American soldiers can hide in plain sight.
Fibrotex has built an Ultra-Light Camouflage Netting System that can be used to conceal soldier’s positions, vehicles, tanks and aircraft. The new “camouflage system will mask soldiers, vehicles and installations from state-of-the-art electro-optical sensors and radars,” the company said Nov. 8, 2018, in a press release sent to Business Insider.
Fibrotex has been awarded a contract to supply this advanced camouflage to conceal troops from night vision, thermal imaging, radar, and more.
Ultra-Light Camouflage Netting System.
Soldiers, vehicles, and other relevant systems can just about disappear in snowy, desert, urban, and woodland environments, according to the camouflage-maker.
The new program aims to replace outdated camouflage that protects soldiers in the visible spectrum but not against more advanced, high-end sensors. ULCANS “provides more persistent [infrared], thermal counter-radar performance,” Fibrotex explained.
The Army has awarded Fibrotex a 10-year indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract valued at 0 million. Full-scale production will begin in 2019 at a manufacturing facility in McCreary County, Kentucky, where the company expects to create and secure hundreds of new jobs in the coming years.
“Today, more than ever, military forces and opposition groups are using night vision sensors and thermal devices against our troops,” Eyal Malleron, the CEO of Fibrotex USA, said in a statement.
“But, by using Fibrotex’s camouflage, concealment and deception solutions, we make them undetectable again, allowing them to continue keeping us safe.”
Ultra-Light Camouflage Netting System.
Enemies can’t see in, but US soldiers can see out
The result came from roughly two years of testing at the Army’s Natick Soldier Systems Center, where new technology was tested against the Army’s most advanced sensors.
Fibrotex noted that the netting is reversible, creating the possibility for two distinctly different prints for varied environments. And while outsiders can’t see through the netting, those on the inside have an excellent view of their surroundings, as can be seen in the picture above.
The new camouflage for troops and vehicles has reportedly been tested against the best sensors in the Army, and it beat them all.
The Mobile Camouflage Solution (MCS) takes concealment to another level, as “the MCS provides concealment while the platform is moving,” the company revealed. Business Insider inquired about the secret sauce to blend in moving vehicles with changing scenery, but Fibrotex would only say that their “technology combines special materials, a unique fabric structure and a dedicated manufacturing process.”
ULCANS and its relevant variants are based on “combat-proven technologies” designed by the Israel-based Fibrotex Technologies Ltd., the parent company for Fibrotex USA, over the past two decades. The company’s products have been specifically modified to meet the needs of the Department of Defense.
“We have more than 50 years of experience, with thousands of hours in the field and a deep understanding of conventional and asymmetric warfare. The U.S. Army tested our best camouflage solutions and the camouflage repeatedly demonstrated the ability to defeat all sensors known to be operating in the battlefield and throughout the electromagnetic spectrum,” Malleron explained.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Since 2001, Lockheed Martin and US military planners have been putting together the F-35, a new aircraft that promises to revolutionize aerial combat so thoroughly as to leave it unrecognizable to the general public.
Detractors of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter have long criticized the program as taking too long and costing too much, though overruns commonly occur when developing massive, first-in-class projects like the F-35.
But perhaps the most damning criticism of the F-35 came from a 2015 assessment that F-16s, first fielded in the 1970s, had handily defeated a group of F-35s in mock dogfight tests.
According to Lt. Col. David “Chip” Berke, the only US Marine to fly both the F-22 and the F-35, the public has a lot of learning to do when assessing a jet’s capability in warfare.
“The whole concept of dogfighting is so misunderstood and taken out of context,” Berke said in an interview with Business Insider. “We need to do a better job teaching the public how to assess a jet’s capability in warfare.”
“There is some idea that when we talk about dogfighting it’s one airplane’s ability to get another airplane’s 6 and shoot it with a gun … That hasn’t happened with American planes in maybe 40 years,” Berke said.
“Everybody that’s flown a fighter in the last 25 years — we all watched ‘Top Gun,'” said Berke, referring to the 1986 film in which US Navy pilots take on Russian-made MiGs.
But planes don’t fight like that anymore, and comparing different planes’ statistics on paper and trying to calculate or simulate which plane can get behind the other is “kind of an arcane way of looking at it,” Berke said.
Unlike older planes immortalized in films, the F-35 doesn’t need to face its adversary to destroy it. The F-35 can fire “off boresight,” virtually eliminating the need to jockey for position behind an enemy.
Berke said dogfighting would teach pilots “great skill sets” but conflict within visual range “doesn’t always mean a turning fight within 100 feet of the other guy maneuvering for each other’s 6 o’clock.” Berke also made an important distinction that conflicts within visual range do not always become dogfights.
Also, “within visual range” is a tricky term.
“You could not see a guy who’s a mile away, or you could see a guy at 15 miles if you got lucky,” Berke said, adding that with today’s all-aspect weapons systems, a plane can “be effective in a visual fight from offensive, defensive, and neutral positions.”
“We need to stop judging a fighter’s ability based on wing loading and Gs,” Berke said of analysts who prize specifications on paper over pilots’ insights.
Furthermore, Berke, who has several thousand flying hours in four different airplanes, both fourth and fifth generation, stressed that pilots train to negate or avoid conflicts within visual range — and he said no plane did that better than the F-35.
“Just because I knew I could outmaneuver an enemy, my objective wouldn’t be to get in a turning fight and kill him,” Berke said.
Though it might be news to fans of “Top Gun” and the gritty, “Star Wars”-style air-to-air combat depicted in TV and films, the idea of a “dogfight” long ago faded from relevance in the world of aerial combat.
A newer, less sexy term has risen to take its place: situational awareness. And the F-35 has it in spades.
For some people, making history is not about what they’re doing but instead why they’re doing it.
On Sept. 6, 2019, six airmen from the 347th Rescue Group completed the HC-130J Combat King II’s first flight to be operated by an all-female aircrew.
While most would be excited just to make history, this crew’s “why” is less about the recognition but more about representation.
“We don’t want to be noticed for being women,” said Senior Airmen Rachel Bissonnette, 71st Rescue Squadron (RQS) loadmaster. “Any person who meets the bar can be an aircrew member. What we want is for the girls who think they can’t do it, to know that they can.”
71st Rescue Squadron (RQS) loadmasters prepare to load a container delivery system on to the ramp of an HC-130J Combat King II, at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, Sept. 6, 2019.
Capt. Sarah Edwards, 71st Rescue Squadron (RQS) pilot, prepares for takeoff in the cockpit of an HC-130J Combat King II at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, Sept. 6, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Kaylin P. Hankerson)
71st Rescue Squadron (RQS) pilots prepare for takeoff in the cockpit of an HC-130J Combat King II at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, Sept. 6, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Kaylin P. Hankerson)
Senior Airman Rachel Bissonnette, left, and Tech. Sgt. Colleen McGahuey-Ramsey, right, both 71st Rescue Squadron (RQS) loadmasters, look out the back of an HC-130J Combat King II as it flies over south Georgia, Sept. 6, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Kaylin P. Hankerson)
Tech. Sgt. Colleen McGahuey-Ramsey, 71st Rescue Squadron (RQS) loadmaster, visually confirms the target for a loadmaster-directed rescue drop, Sept. 6, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Kaylin P. Hankerson)
It was an early morning in Smoaks, South Carolina, and humidity hung in the air. A truck pulled into the Valley Forge Flag driveway, a facility whose sole purpose is flag production. Valley Forge has been producing since World War I, and their flags have seen a number of fates, from being draped across the caskets of presidents to landing on Omaha Beach to navigating the jungles of Vietnam. Some say it’s one of their flags that is planted on the cold surface of the moon.
The truck began offloading countless rolls of an off-white fabric. The delivery man called them “greige goods,” and he was on his way as soon as he was unloaded.
Rolls of fabric used in flag production at Valley Forge Flags.
(Photo courtesy of Valley Forge Flags)
The Valley Forge material handler sent the greige goods to be dyed, and when the rolls returned, some were white and others had become a deep, brilliant red. They were cut into strips, and six white strips joined seven red strips, making a total of 13 stripes arranged into one neat pile.
A seamstress approached the pile and set herself to sewing. The sewing machines in this facility were automated, and three or four machines would be running at any given time under the watchful eye of Valley Forge employees. This woman watched them carefully as they stitched the strips of cloth together; she watched as the strips became stripes, the needle pressing into the fabric and joining them together with a firm bond.
The facility floor was filled with the sound of these sewing machines as each one was pieced together, beginning to resemble an American flag.
Flag production at Valley Forge Flags.
(Photo by Tetteroo Media)
Rolls of blue cloth with embroidered stars were already waiting to join the stripes. The facility workers cut them to size and fit them next to the stripes, emplacing the final piece of the puzzle.
Another seamstress expertly sewed the fly-end of the flag, and yet another sewed on the white header. The real brass grommets were next, and soon the flags were sent for inspection. The inspector eyed them carefully as they were placed along the table in front of her. Her eye was impeccable; with pride she trimmed excess pieces of thread, and even the most minor defect would be quickly detected and remedied. When complete, she proudly placed a label on the flag indicating that she made sure this flag was of superior quality.
After being properly folded, the flags were placed into packages and taken out the large door in the side of the facility awaiting shipment to their final destination.
Flag production at Valley Forge Flags.
(Photo by Tetteroo Media)
Of these flags, one sat among the rest, heading out to somewhere in the U.S. It looked identical to the others, but its fate was quite different. It would not fly during an American summer nor would passing soldiers salute it.
It wasn’t long before that flag was sitting on the shelf at the PX in Fort Benning, Georgia. It lay there still, amidst the bustle of basic trainees, airborne students, and the throngs of other transient service members in the area.
Eventually, a hand extended from amongst the countless uniforms and took it. After an exchange at the PX checkout counter, the flag was again on the move.
That hand belonged to a man named Patrick. He was of medium height with a strong build, a quiet demeanor, rough hands, and kind eyes.
He took it home to his wife. She had just moved to the area after their wedding; Fort Benning sat on the line dividing Georgia from Alabama, and they lived in the latter in a small apartment complex. Outside, he was an Army Ranger whose country demanded the most difficult tasks of him; here, he was a husband and a friend, a young man fixated on finding happiness in the four walls of a one-bedroom apartment. And he found it, for a while.
This was the home that American flag had been brought into.
Patrick Hawkins during a training exercise in Fort Benning, Georgia.
(Photo courtesy of Luke Ryan)
Patrick had a reverence for a precious few of his own valuables. A rosary hung nearby — he lamented when people wore rosaries around their necks, saying it was improper. He cherished his wedding ring as a sign of dedication to his beloved. And he felt that the flag, though it was merely a combination of cloth and stitching, represented the things he had fought so hard for during his last three deployments to Afghanistan, the freedoms he enjoyed as he grew from a boy to a Ranger.
Patrick was, for all his calluses and no-excuses leadership, a deeply sentimental man.
He unpacked the flag, but he knew it would not hang on his wall or be displayed on a flagpole. It had a purpose closer to his heart.
He folded it properly and brought it with him to work. He presented his military ID as he passed into Fort Benning, and then drove through the brown fence onto the Ranger compound. Patrick arrived early that day, and he entered the bowels of B Company, 3rd Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment — a maze of lockers and bags neatly stowed to the side. Flags of all types were displayed above and the pictures of fallen Rangers lined the walls. Folded flag in hand, Patrick passed them by.
He heaved out a large duffel bag filled with the tools he would need to carry out a war in a far away place. It still had dust embedded into its canvas shell from the last deployment. Patrick placed the flag snugly next to his gear — his cold-weather jacket and extra boots, a laptop and hard drive filled with movies.
The bag containing the flag was loaded onto a pallet, ratcheted down, and covered in plastic sheeting to protect it from the weather. The pallet lay outside under the sun next to Patrick when he kissed his wife and embraced his parents. He was always a momma’s boy, and he hugged her for a few extra seconds; his father was career military, and their touch resonated with mutual respect as well as love.
Bagram Honor Guard members fold the American flag during a Memorial Day ceremony at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, May 29, 2017.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Benjamin Gonsier)
It seemed only moments later that Patrick and his flag stepped onto Kandahar Air Field (KAF), Afghanistan.
Upon arrival, Patrick retrieved the flag and carried it to the ready room. It was lined with small, plywood cubbyholes, a hardy wooden table in the center. Zip ties in hand, Patrick grabbed his body armor out of his cubby and placed it on the table. He carefully unfolded the flag and rolled it tightly. He zip tied it onto the outside of his armor, what he called his “kit,” and then placed it back in the wooden cubby.
The flag stayed with him as he donned his kit and grasped his rifle, as he stepped onto the MH-47 helicopter and barreled toward Taliban strongholds. It remained with him as he bolted across the Afghan countryside and dragged Taliban leadership back onto the helicopter and to American lines.
This U.S. Air Force PJ displays the American flag on his kit in Afghanistan.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Gregory Brook)
There came a moment when the stars on that flag had seen more stars in the Afghan sky than the American sky. It was rolled on Patrick’s back, and it was not properly folded — yet it could not have been in a more perfect state at a more perfect time. He was honored to carry it, and it was in carrying it that he defined why such things have value.
Then one night, Patrick stepped off the helicopter for the last time. A woman exited a small, dirt building, and his Ranger brother went to ensure that she was properly cleared and safely escorted off the battlefield. Instead, the night lit up as she exploded, a suicide vest detonating and sending Patrick’s friend careening back, severely wounded. Other Rangers were knocked off their feet. Smoke and debris hung in the air.
Patrick and the Ranger in his charge, Cody, leapt forward without regard to their own safety. The threat appeared to have been eliminated, and they sought to help their Ranger brethren who were bleeding out in the Afghan dirt.
With another step and a series of flashes, Patrick and Cody were gone. The blasts from several improvised explosive devices (IEDs) buried just beneath the surface ripped upward and tore through them both, searing through the flag strapped to Patrick’s back.
The night continued, fraught with chaos, but Patrick’s body remained still. The flag on his back, parts of it shredded and other parts covered in his blood, remained next to him.
An eternity of stillness passed in those moments of fire and shadow.
A hand appeared through the darkness. Patrick’s brothers grabbed what they could; they would not leave him in that place, even if the life had left his body. They were shaken and bleeding, but they gritted their teeth and carried him out with the flag on his back.
Patrick Hawkins’ flag, after being cleaned as well as possible, now awaits another deployment.
(Photo courtesy of Luke Ryan)
As Patrick was dragged away, the flag remained on the ground. Once it had been still for long enough, another hand extended from the darkness, picked it up, and stuffed it into a pouch on the belt of another Ranger, just as he left for the exfil helicopter.
The hand belonged to Patrick’s squad leader and mentor, Kellan. The wounded were many, and they had long since run out of litters — Kellan was using another flag to pick up the remains of another fallen soldier. In the pouch on his belt, Patrick’s flag returned to KAF. Tears mixed into the blood on its fabric, which had been stitched together those months ago in South Carolina.
Kellan would look at the flag often, sometimes in sorrow, sometimes with that familiar guilt of survival, and often in gratitude for having the opportunity to know a man like Patrick. To live together in the most extreme of circumstances.
That was not Kellan’s last deployment. He rolled up his sleeves, and he rolled up the flag. He put his kit on the hardwood table in a far away country, zip ties in hand, and secured Patrick’s flag to it. Then he stepped back into the war.
This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.
A rocket narrowly missed the US Embassy compound in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sept. 11, 2019, during the first few minutes of the 18th anniversary of 9/11.
Loudspeakers inside the office broadcast a warning that “an explosion caused by a rocket has occurred on compound,” The Associated Press reported.
No one was injured, the nearby NATO mission told the AP.
A US State Department official told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: “We can confirm there was an explosion near the US Embassy in Kabul. US mission personnel were not directly impacted by this explosion.”
Nosrat Rahimi, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of the Interior, told Gulf News that the rocket hit a wall at the defense ministry and that no one was hurt.
The news came amid heightened tensions between the US and the Taliban, the insurgent group that rules over large swathes of Afghanistan.
US and Taliban officials were due to meet at Camp David in Maryland on Sept. 8, 2019, to discuss a peace process and an end to the US military presence in Afghanistan, but President Donald Trump abruptly canceled the talks the day before.
About 14,000 US troops remain in the country, a situation that has angered Trump. Last month, the US and the Taliban reached a provisional agreement to remove several thousand troops.
Roughly four years ago, ISIS shocked the world when it took over a large swath of territory across Iraq and Syria, declaring the establishment of a new Islamic caliphate in the process.
Fast forward to 2018 and the terrorist group is a shadow of what it was even a year ago. It has lost the vast majority of the territory it previously held and the number of fighters it counted among its ranks has dwindled exponentially to below 3,000.
Nevertheless, ISIS remains a threat in the Middle East, and a new report from the Soufan Center warns it’s attempting to make a comeback by resorting to a tactic it employed back in 2013 when it was still known as Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) — the targeted assassinations of Iraqi security personnel.
“To get back to its heyday of 2014, the Islamic State first needs to get back to 2013, a year in which the terrorist group concluded one very successful campaign to free thousands of its detained members from Iraqi jails and started another campaign to assassinate and intimidate Iraqi security personnel, particularly local police officers,” the report stated.
In late June 2018, Iraq executed 12 ISIS members, which the Soufan Center says was in response to the “high-profile assassination” of eight Iraqi security personnel.
‘A weakened Islamic State is now trying to recreate that past’
With fewer numbers, ISIS will be less inclined to focus on regaining territory and more likely to ramp up attacks on Iraqi police to sow the same brand of chaos it did back in 2013, according to the Soufan Center.
A masked man in a video that Islamic State militants released in September 2014.
“A weakened Islamic State is now trying to recreate that past,” the report noted.”Targeted attacks on police and government officials have risen in several provinces as the group has stopped its military collapse and refocused on what is possible for the group now.”
The report added, “Assassinations require few people and are perfectly suited as a force multiplier for a group that has seen its forces decimated.”
‘The social fabric of Iraq remains severely frayed’
Peter Mandaville, a professor of international affairs at George Mason University who previously served as a top adviser to the State Department on ISIS, backed up the Soufan Center report.
“I think it would be difficult for ISIS to retake significant territory given the ongoing presence and vigilance of [US-led] coalition forces,” Mandaville told Business Insider, adding, “They certainly have the capacity to engage in an extended insurgency campaign using the kinds of tactics highlighted in the Soufan Center report.”
Mandaville said the situation on the ground in Iraq — that led to the rise of ISIS in the first place — has not changed significantly even though ISIS has more or less been defeated militarily.
“The social fabric of Iraq remains severely frayed, with high levels of political polarization,” Mandaville said. “Until the central government succeeds in advancing key political and security reforms, many areas of Iraq will continue to provide a permissive environment for low intensity ISIS operations.”
David Sterman of the New America Foundation, an expert on terrorism and violent extremism, expressed similar sentiments.
David Sterman, Senior Policy Analyst, New America International Security Program; Co-Author, All Jihad is Local, Volume II: ISIS in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula
Sterman told Business Insider that the threat of ISIS returning to the strategy of breeding chaos on the local level by targeting Iraq security personal is “very serious.”
“ISIS continues to show capability to conduct attacks in liberated areas, an issue seen also during the surge,” Sterman added. “Bombings in Baghdad in January 2018 illustrate this as well as the assassinations and smaller attacks discussed” in the Soufan Center report.
In short, ISIS is still in a position to create havoc, albeit in a more limited capacity, in an already troubled country that really hasn’t even begun to recover from years of conflict.
ISIS continues to operate underground across the world
From a broader standpoint, this does not necessarily mean ISIS poses a significant threat to the US.
“Even at its height, ISIS did not demonstrate a capability to direct a strike on the US homeland (as opposed to Europe),” Sterman said. “So the threat [in the US] predominantly remains homegrown and inspired. Of course that doesn’t mean the US should take its eye off of what is happening in Iraq and Syria. ISIS’s bursting onto the global scene is proof of that.”
Moreover, ISIS is also turning to Bitcoin and encrypted communications as a means of rallying its followers worldwide.
“If you look across the globe, the cohesive nature of the enterprise for ISIS has been maintained,” Russell Travers, the acting head of the National Counterterrorism Center, recently told The New York Times. “The message continues to resonate with way too many people.”
The Trump administration says there’s ‘still hard fighting ahead’ against ISIS
Speaking with reporters in late June 2018, Defense Secretary James Mattis lauded the success the US-led coalition has had against ISIS in Iraq and Syria but added that “there’s still hard fighting ahead.”
“Bear with us; there’s still hard fighting ahead,” Mattis said. “It’s been hard fighting, and again, we win every time our forces go up against them. We’ve lost no terrain to them once it’s been taken.”
Meanwhile, US troops stationed near the Iraq-Syria border have been hammering ISIS in Syria with artillery in recent weeks.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.