USAA announces historic $30 million donation to military families - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY SURVIVAL

USAA announces historic $30 million donation to military families

Since its founding nearly 100 years ago, USAA has spearheaded countless initiatives for the military community. Today, the veteran-forward company announced their intent to give $30 million in support of military families through their Military Family Relief Initiative, the largest one-time philanthropic contribution in their storied history.

With COVID-19 wreaking havoc on the world, the military community is not immune to the pandemic’s effects. USAA recognized the unique challenges faced by military families and made the decision to provide this money in hopes of supporting those who sacrifice so much for this country.


“Having served for nearly 32 years, I’ve seen the good and the bad,” Navy Vice Admiral James Syring (ret.), President of USAA Property and Casualty Group told WATM. “In tough times, it is really important for not only the military to step forward but other organizations. You know USAA’s mission and who we serve and what we do. This is to the heart of who we are. During these times of need is when we need to show up,” he said.

The 2019 Blue Star Families Survey revealed that financial issues remained the top stressor for military service members, spouses and veteran families. This stressor was high before the pandemic extended deployments, caused lost employment and increased isolation within the military community. As USAA watched the spread of COVID-19 and the increasingly negative impact it was having on military families, the company knew it had to act.

“This isn’t just for our members, it’s for the community. We are doing it because it’s our mission. It’s who we serve,” Syring explained.

From the Military Relief Initiative, million will be given directly to military relief societies. This includes Army Emergency Relief, Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, Air Force Aid Society, Coast Guard Mutual Assistance, Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States, We Care for America Foundation and the American Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces.

The million going directly to the relief societies will create both grants and zero interest loans for eligible service members and their families. It will target financial emergencies and costs associated with virtual schooling, among other things. The remaining million has been promised to nonprofit organizations serving veteran and military spouse employment needs, junior enlisted childcare fees, emotional support for children of service members and virtual schooling costs. To access the support, those eligible can go directly to their relief societies to begin the process.

“USAA has been a dedicated supporter of AER’s mission for many years and we are grateful to receive this latest grant, Army Lieutenant General Raymond Mason (ret.), Director of Army Emergency Relief, said. “This newly announced 2020 gift from the USAA team is another powerful demonstration of their commitment to America’s military members and their families. USAA is an incredibly generous partner and on behalf of Army families everywhere, we thank them for their support.”

USAA also wants to make it clear that they want the focus to be on the importance of supporting the military, especially during these challenging times. “We are doing this to help military families in need — that’s it. This isn’t about business or selling, it’s about doing our part to help the community that we serve,” Syring said.

The organization has also set up a donation fund for members that want to give to COVID-19 relief for military families. With every donation, USAA covers all administrative and merchant fees so that the entire donation goes to the nonprofits supporting military families.

Syring shared that USAA is creating an online platform for military families to share their stories and experiences through COVID-19. It is their hope that as those receiving help share their stories, it will open the door for more families to take that step to get help themselves. “It’s not in our nature in the military to raise a hand and say, ‘I need help.’ It’s always mission first, it’s ingrained in you.” Syring continued, “We want people to raise their hands.”

To apply for support, click here to access the web page USAA created linking those in need with their branch specific relief organizations.

Articles

Watch this close-call during an air refueling operation

It seems almost routine in some DOD videos, but aerial refueling is a very dangerous process where a lot of things can go very wrong. It’s really not very surprising that stuff can go wrong, when you think about what that procedure entails.


A B-1B Lancer assigned to the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, deployed to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, receives fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker over the Pacific Ocean March 10, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Christopher E. Quail)

What a mid-air refueling involves, for all intents and purposes, is joining two fast-moving aircraft together to pass the fuel from the tanker to the receiving plane. When it goes well, aerial refueling helps extend the reach of combat planes. It can also save an air crew when their plane has a problem.

The A-3 Skywarrior may be the most underrated airplane of the Vietnam War.

However, the fact remains that when you are passing jet fuel from a tanker to a combat plane, it gets tricky. In 1966, a B-52 and a KC-135 tanker collided over Palomares, Spain during a flight carried out as part of Operation Chrome Dome. In 1959, another B-52/KC-135 crash took place over Kentucky.

Aerial refueling is accomplished in one of two ways: The refueling boom that is primarily used by the United States Air Force due to its ability to rapidly refuel bombers, or the probe-and-drogue method, used by most other countries around the world, as well as the United States Navy and Marine Corps. The Air Force also uses the probe-and-drogue method to refuel helicopters and the V-22 Osprey.

A 71st Special Operations Squadron, CV-22 Osprey, is refueled by a 522nd Special Operations Squadron MC-130J Combat Shadow II. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman James Bell)

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

DOD & VA to hold ‘closed door’ conference on burn pits

Defense Department and Department of Veterans Affairs officials are meeting in March 2019 in Arlington, Virginia, for a two-day symposium on burn pits and airborne pollutants but, as with previous Joint VA/DoD Airborne Hazard Symposia, the meeting is closed to the public and press.

The symposium’s purpose, according to documents from the first meeting in 2012, is to “provide an opportunity to discuss what we know, what we need to know and what can be done to study and improve care” for veterans and troops who “might have suffered adverse health effects related to exposure to airborne hazards, including burn pit smoke and other pollutants.”


Attendance is tightly controlled, with Pentagon and VA officials convening to discuss topics such as a joint action plan to address potential health conditions related to exposure, the VA’s Airborne Hazards and Burn Pit Registry, monitoring deployment environments and the impact of exposures on the Veterans Benefits Administration, according to a copy of the first day’s agenda obtained by Military.com.

A soldier pushing a bulldozer into the flames of a burn pit at Balad, Iraq

(US Army photo)

Members of several veterans service organizations and advocacy groups have been invited to speak, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, American Legion, Burn Pits 360 and the Sgt. Sullivan Circle.

But those veterans’ representatives are allowed to attend only a handful of sessions on the first day, March 14, 2019, including opening remarks and segments on outreach and education, as well as a brown-bag lunch during which they can discuss concerns and issues.

All events scheduled for March 15, 2019, remain unpublished.

Neither the VA nor the DoD responded to requests for information on the event. Veterans advocates also declined to discuss the meeting or their participation, with some expressing concern that they would be prevented from receiving future invites.

Thousands of troops serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere were exposed to airborne pollutants while working and living near burn pits used to dispose of trash, medical waste and other types of refuse at area military bases.

Some have developed a chronic lung disease, constrictive bronchiolitis, while others have developed skin rashes, autoimmune disorders and various types of cancer, including glioblastoma, a brain cancer rarely seen in young adults, that they believe are related to burn pit exposure.

Veterans and advocates have pressed the VA for years to recognize these illnesses as related to burn pit exposure and want them to be considered “presumptive” conditions, a designation that would automatically qualify them for disability compensation and health services.

The VA says it lacks the scientific evidence to directly tie burn pit exposure to certain diseases but has granted service connection for several conditions associated with burn pits, deciding each claim on a case-by-case basis.

In 2011, the Institute of Medicine reviewed all available studies, reports and monitoring data on burn pit utilization and combustibles exposure and concluded that there was not enough evidence or data to draw conclusions about the long-term consequences of exposure.

A service member tosses unserviceable uniform items into a burn pit

(DoD photo)

More than 140,000 veterans have enrolled in the VA Burn Pit and Airborne Hazards Registry.

From June 2007 through Nov. 30, 2018, the VA received 11,581 claims applications for disability compensation with at least one condition related to burn pit exposure. Of those, 2,318 had a burn pit-related condition granted, according to VA Press Secretary Curt Cashour.

During the same time frame, the VA processed nearly 13.5 million claims; burn pit-related claims made up less than a tenth of a percent of those claims.

“VA encourages all veterans who feel their military service has affected their health to submit a claim, which will be adjudicated using the latest scientific and medical evidence available,” Cashour said.

The Pentagon and VA are developing a way to track environmental exposures in service members starting with the day they enlist. The Individual Longitudinal Exposure Record, or ILER, will record potential and known exposures throughout a service member’s time on active duty. A pilot program is set to begin Sept. 30, 2019.

But those who have suffered exposures in the past 30 years will need to rely on Congress to pass legislation to assist them, the Defense Department to continue researching the issues, and the VA to approve their claims.

Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America, Wounded Warrior Project, IAVA, Disabled American Veterans, the Fleet Reserve Association, the Military Order of the Purple Heart and Military Officers Association of America all have made burn pit and toxic exposure issues a top legislative priority this year.

Several lawmakers, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, have introduced legislation that would require the DoD and VA to share information on troops’ exposure to airborne chemicals and provide periodic health assessments for those who were exposed.

The meeting is to take place at the Veterans Health Administration National Conference Center in Crystal City, Virginia.

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

Articles

The Air Force’s first F-35s will be fully ready for war next month

After years of development, and having only just entered service officially with the US Air Force last year, the F-35A Lightning II will finally be declared fully combat ready next month, heralding a new age of air power for the service.


Aviation Week reports that the 34th Fighter Squadron, based at Hill AFB, Utah, will take delivery of brand new F-35As fresh from the production line in Dallas, Texas. What differentiates these latest stealth jets from the F-35As currently flown by the Air Force is that they will come with the Block 3F software upgrade.

Block 3F is the final step towards enabling the aircraft to fully utilize every air-to-surface and air-to-air weapon it was built to field in combat. Currently, the F-35s flown by the Air Force and US Marine Corps operate with a limited weapons load while Lockheed Martin and other program contractors ready the Lightning II’s software.

A Norwegian F-35A taxiing (Photo Department of Defense)

The F-35 was created as part of the Joint Strike Fighter program of the late 1990s, bringing about a dedicated multirole replacement for the F/A-18 “Legacy” Hornet, the F-16 Fighting Falcon, and the AV-8B Harrier II jumpjet operated by the Marine Corps.

By building aircraft with similar architecture – just different engines – the Department of Defense theorized that money could be saved in the long run while keeping operational readiness for the military’s entire fighter fleet at an all-time high. As such, Lockheed Martin has developed three variants of the F-35: the A model for the Air Force, the B model short takeoff/vertical landing for the Marine Corps, and the carrier-capable C model for the Navy.

The F-35 was originally designed to work in tandem with the F-22 Raptor – the Raptor serving as an air superiority fighter while the Lightning II functioning more as a swing-role “Swiss army knife” aircraft. The deployment of the Block 3F software is a huge leap towards making that goal a reality today.

A USAF F-35A departs from Luke AFB in Arizona (Photo US Air Force)

This upgrade comes in the wake of a training deployment conducted by the 34th Fighter Squadron to the United Kingdom earlier this year with F-35As that were still limited in their warfighting capabilities – most in terms of the weapons they could carry and employ. The Marine Corps has also pushed its F-35Bs out to Japan, but are also serving in a limited capacity until the new software update is rolled out.

With fears of a potential confrontation with North Korea, and with the rise of Chinese and Russian stealth fighters on the horizon, maintaining an edge with its own fifth generation fighters has become a major priority for the Air Force. According to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, the F-35s which were deployed to the UK in spring could have been sent to battle if called upon, though their pilots would not be able to access the aircraft’s full potential, with the limited software built into their aircraft at the time.

The Pentagon expects to place more than 100 F-35s in Asia within the next three to four years to counter the Chinese air force’s fielding of its own fifth generation fighters like the J-31 Gyrfalcon and the J-20 multirole fighters.

 

MIGHTY TRENDING

England makes case for a 3rd Russian agent in spy poisoning

A third Russian intelligence agent went to England to plan the nerve agent poisoning of a former Russian spy in early 2018, The Telegraph has reported, casting further doubt on the Kremlin’s claims that it had no knowledge of the attack.

The UK in early September 2018 accused two Russian men, who traveled under the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, of the attempted assassination.

British officials say they were members of the GRU, Russia’s intelligence service. President Vladimir Putin claimed the two men were civilians, and the two men even appeared on Russian TV to say they were visiting Salisbury as tourists.


UK counter terrorism police and the security services identified the third agent, and say the person visited Salisbury to prepare for the attack on Sergei Skripal before two of his colleagues arrived, The Telegraph reported on Sept. 27, 2018.

Authorities believe the third agent visited Salisbury ahead of the attack, and reported the layout of Skripal’s neighborhood and property to the two agents who later carried out the attack, the newspaper said.

Skripal and his daughter Yulia collapsed in March 2018 after being exposed to novichok, a military-grade nerve agent, which was smeared on his front door.

A British couple who lived nearby were also exposed to the same batch of nerve agent in July 2018, which led to the death of one woman.

The investigative-journalism site Bellingcat this week identified Boshirov as Col. Anatoliy Chepiga, a highly decorated officer with the GRU, Russia’s intelligence service.

Surveillance camera footage of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, the two suspects in the Skripal attack, at Salisbury train station the day before Skripal’s collapse.

Bellingcat’s findings suggest that Putin was in fact aware of the suspect’s legal identity, which would seem to disprove the Russian president’s claim that he didn’t know who Boshirov and Petrov were, that they were civilians, and that the Kremlin had no knowledge of the Skripal attack.

The findings are also in line with the British government’s claim, citing security and intelligence agencies’ investigations, that Boshirov and Petrov were officers from Russia’s intelligence services.

Prime Minister Theresa May in early September 2018 also said that authorization for the attack “almost certainly” came from senior members of the Russian government.

The Skripal poisoning caused a large diplomatic rift between the UK and Russia. London accused Moscow of being behind the attack, which the Kremlin repeatedly denied. More than 20 countries also joined the UK in expelling Russian diplomats as punishment.

The British Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, on Sept. 27, 2018, suggested that Russia was not expecting such a large international response to the attempted assassination.

Hunt told Sky News:

“They can’t have been expecting Theresa May to put together a coalition that saw 153 Russian spies expelled from capitals in 28 countries across the world.
“So they paid a very high diplomatic price — but they need to understand that it will not be a comfortable place for Russia in the world if this is the way they behave.”

Business Insider has contacted the Russian Embassy in the UK for comment.

The London Metropolitan Police, who is leading the investigation into the attack, declined to comment on The Telegraph’s report.

The force told Business Insider in a statement on Sept. 27, 2018, that international arrest warrants for Petrov and Boshirov remain active. However, Russia does not extradite its own citizens.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Air Force will double its foreign combat aviation advisors

The U.S. Air Force plans to double the number of Combat Aviation Advisors it sends to train partners on special operations missions at a time when the Defense Department’s footprint in austere environments has come under scrutiny.

Under guidance in the National Defense Strategy, Air Force Special Operations Command is preparing to grow each of its teams, developing a planned total of 352 total force integration advisors over the next few years, officials said. The CAA mission, under Special Operations Command, has about half that now.


“This is really a second line of effort for [Defense] Secretary [Jim] Mattis,” said Lt. Col. Steve Hreczkosij, deputy director of Air Advisor operations at AFSOC.

Military.com spoke with Combat Aviation Advisors here during a trip to the base in May 2018, accompanying Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson.

“This is AFSOC’s foreign internal defense force,” Hreczkosij said, referring to the U.S. mission to provide support to other governments fighting internal threats such as terrorists, lawlessness or drug activity.

The goal is to sustain five year-round advisory sites around the world by fiscal 2023, Hreczkosij said.

“That might mean five countries, that might mean five major lines of effort … but that is our resourcing strategy goal to influence five locations,” he said.

An elite unit

The expansion comes at a time when the U.S. military is operating in smaller teams in remote regions of the world such as Africa and Southeast Asia. But the move doesn’t necessarily indicate plans to work in additional countries and the idea isn’t to make the force permanent.

Still, officials know it takes time to train partners and allies, such as the Afghan National Security Forces, who are employing A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft as well as Pilatus PC-12NG planes converted into intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms.

Four A-29 Super Tucanos arrive at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Afghanistan, Jan. 15, 2016.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Sgt. Nathan Lipscomb)

While Air Combat Command and Air Mobility Command work with partner nations in similar ways, Combat Aviation Advisors are the U.S. military’s most advanced team to train foreign partners battling tough scenarios, said Lt. Col. Cheree Kochen, who is assigned to the Irregular Warfare Plans division at the Air Force Special Operations Warfare Center.

That’s why their mission is unlike the basic training Afghan and Lebanese pilots get learning how to fly the A-29 Super Tucano at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, Kochen said.

“This is the advanced flying — flying on night-vision goggles, airdrop, infiltration and exfiltration” as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, she said.

“We are authorized to get in partner nation aircraft and fly on their missions,” Hreczkosij said. “We integrate, we embed. We live in their squadron building. Our approach is an enduring and integrated approach to make sure they really embed this technique, mission or equipment into how they do business.”

The air commando unit also sets the agenda for how host nation troops should learn and equip themselves based on U.S. and host nation goals.

“We also do security force assistance, which is kind of the catch-all term for mil-to-mil partnerships,” Hreczkosij said. “We provide that last tactical mile.”

The support is “about SOF mobility, ISR advising and armed reconnaissance. We’re certainly not dropping bombs,” he said, adding, “it’s not an attacking sort of mission. It’s more of a ‘target of opportunity,’ then you can see it.”

Why not contractors?

Not all partnerships are the same. NATO special operations forces and those in more austere environments vary in training, skill level and mission set, officials said.

Countries CAA troops regularly deal with include Afghanistan, Cameroon, Uganda, Kenya, Mauritania, Mali, Tunisia, Chad, and the Philippines.

“We don’t care what type of airplane our partners are flying,” Hreczkosij said.

The unit is, however, looking to acquire more C-208s, dubbed AC-208s when equipped with Hellfire missiles, here at Hurlburt to practice on and or take as trainer aircraft to countries eager to build a force of their own.

AGM-114N Hellfire missile
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Weston A. Mohr)

The unit commonly uses PC-6, C-208 and PC-12NG ISR aircraft; C-145/M-28, BT-67 and C-308 mobility aircraft; and AT-802, AC-235, and AC-208 armed recon aircraft.

Kochen said an upcoming project includes operations in Nepal, in which advisers are taking C-145 Skytrucks retired from nearby Duke Field in Florida and giving members maintenance training before aerial operations begin.

It isn’t uncommon for contractors to have a role in host nation troops’ basic pilot training either in the U.S. or overseas, she said.

But using contractors lacks “the integrated piece. It’s why we try to partner with a ground SOF unit so we can tie the two together. Contractors don’t necessarily have those relationships with the ground SOF that we do,” Kochen said.

Hreczkosij agreed. “Contractors aren’t in the current fight, so they don’t get the current [tactics, techniques, and procedures] with other forces in the field, and they don’t always have the trust of the partner nation,” he said. “If I’m sitting across from, say, an airman in sub-Saharan Africa … and we’re both wearing a uniform, we have a common understanding.”

Without naming the region, Kochen discussed a case in which contractors were overly bullish about their training, sometimes anticipating that the foreign trainees could learn faster on an aircraft than they actually could. It’s led to a few crashes in recent years because “the country was doing tactics that were a little bit dangerous for them for their skill level,” she said.

Hreczkosij added, “There’s a place for contractors. It’s just not in this place.”

Standing on their own

AFSOC’s 6th Special Operations Squadron, along with the Reserve’s 711th Special Operations Squadron out of Duke Field, make up the only Combat Aviation Advisor mission in the Air Force.

There are 16 Air Force Specialty Codes within the mission, including instructors, pilots, maintainers, and Tactical Air Control Party airmen, among others. Team members can speak more than a dozen different languages.

While the job dates back to World War II, the unit’s true genesis dates to Vietnam, Hreczkosij said, when the 4400th Combat Crew Training Squadron was dispatched to Southeast Asia to train the Vietnamese and Cambodian air forces to leverage older aircraft in counter-insurgency and military assistance during the war.

B-26B over Vietnam.

It wasn’t until the 1990s when the Air Force would again start using air commandos as a foreign internal defense force for operations across the globe.

Both Hreczkosij and Kochen were part of the 6th SOS before moving to the Air Force Special Operations Warfare Center headquarters and have been in the mission for more than a decade.

Kochen said CAAs want to work with as many countries as they can, but are turning away work due to demand.

“We get a long list, and we can only do one-third of what we’re being asked to do,” she said.

The dwell-deployment rate, however, is on par with the Air Force’s current deployment schedule, Hreczkosij said, adding the units are not overtasked at this time.

Kochen reiterated that their work goes only so far before the foreign partner has to step in and take over. “There’s no point in sending guys over” to a country they’ve been working with for a while, such as Afghanistan, because “our guys would only be getting in their way,” she said, referring to training the Afghan Special Mission Wing on PC-12NG ISR operations.

“Thirty months later here, they are doing 15 sorties per day and night, providing a combat effect to the organic larger Afghan air force,” Hreczkosij said of the Afghan ISR unit.

“They’re able to give their guys check rides without us being there anymore,” Kochen said. “We give them a capability that we can just leave and hopefully they can just fight their own wars.

“That’s the goal. That we don’t have to send U.S. forces over there. The goal is to set up a sustaining, capable unit that can continue doing that same mission,” she said.

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

MIGHTY MOVIES

Disneyland has a ‘Star Wars’ easter egg from a movie that never got made

Figuring out all the obscure references to random deep-cut Star Wars nerd stuff at Disneyland’s new Galaxy’s Edge attraction is a fool’s errand. But, there is one deep-cut Easter egg that even the most devoted Star Wars fan would be confused about; and that’s because its a reference to a Star Wars film that was never made. Before Episode IX was called The Rise of Skywalker and directed by J.J. Abrams, that film was originally going to be directed by Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow. And, one very obvious thing from Trevorrow’s unmade Episode IX is on full-display at Galaxy’s Edge, hiding in plain sight.

On June 13, 2019, Collider published an exclusive interview with Trevorrow in which he revealed that the imposing and dangerous-looking spaceship — the First Order Tie Echelon — was in fact created for his version of Episode IX; and therefore was to be featured at Galaxy’s Edge.


First Order Tie Echelon at Disneyland.

(Disney)

“It was just a natural part of the process,” Trevorrow told Collider. “The Imagineering team asked us to develop a new ship for the park while we were designing the film. I took it pretty seriously — it’s not every day you get to be a part of something like that.” Trevorrow also said that he could absolutely not reveal what aspect of his canceled-Episode IX the Tie Echelon would have been a part of, but did say that ” It was part of an upgraded First Order fleet. An armed troop transport — the equivalent of a Blackhawk stealth helicopter. We wanted it to evoke memories of earlier ships while still being its own thing.”

A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.

(DoD photo by Gertrud Zach, U.S. Army)

As of this writing, it seems like the Tie Echelon will not be in Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. Back in 2017, a few months before the release of The Last Jedi, Trevorrow was seemingly fired by Disney from the movie, though the official announcement claimed: “Lucasfilm and Colin Trevorrow have mutually chosen to part ways on Episode IX.”

Presumably, nothing from Trevorrow’s script or design — including this ship — will be used in The Rise of Skywalker. Meaning, the only place this ship exists is the Star Wars canon is in Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

The day Russia’s White House got shelled by the Russian Army

It’s hard for Americans to imagine the U.S. Army rolling tanks up Pennsylvania Avenue to force a resistant Congress out of the Capitol Building by shelling the building. It’s not that hard for Russians, though, because all they have to do is remember that day in 1993 when the Russian Army did just that to their own parliamentary building.


Nowadays, Boris Yeltsin is remembered by many in the United States as kind of a vodka-soaked buffoon. We don’t know any better — we’re used to hardened Communist leaders pointing nukes at us. Meanwhile, the most widespread video of Yeltsin in America is the one of him dancing onstage at a concert, presumably drunk.

Yeah, that’s the one.

In Russia, his legacy looms large while inspiring extreme emotions. The provincial politician was bold enough to stand on a tank in front of the white house, Russia’s parliament, as an attempted Communist coup tried to overthrow the democratic government and rebirth the Soviet Union in 1991.

It was Boris Yeltsin that convinced Russian citizens not to throw out Mikhail Gorbachev’s democratic reforms. For that, he was Russia’s first freely-elected President. But that was one of two peaks he would experience throughout his political career.

TFW you have a few drinks before your White House presser.

Yeltsin instituted economic reform after economic reform, one he thought would turn Russia into a vibrant, thriving, open-market democracy. What happened instead was the massive sale of assets formerly controlled by a strong centrally-planned economy for pennies on the dollar. Yeltsin’s “Shock Therapy” market reforms were definitely a shock to many Russians, who saw their quality of life deteriorate before their eyes.

Just as contradictory was Yeltsin’s other peak. The first President elected by the people of Russia willfully left office, setting a precedent for all who came after him to follow. By then, however, the damage to his reputation was done. His approval rating among Russians was as low as two percent and his successor would never have the same intention of leaving power.

Raise your hand if you’re an autocrat.

But Yeltsin was a true Russian leader when tested. One such test of Yeltsin’s resolve came in October 1993, when the streets on Moscow saw the worst violence since the 1917 October Revolution that birthed the Soviet Union. Legislators and the president’s office were squaring off over the aforementioned free market reforms that were shocking Russia and the Russian people. In response to the parliamentary resistance, Yeltsin dissolved Russia’s legislative body, something the Constitution didn’t exactly allow him to do.

But the lawmakers weren’t just going to accept what they saw as a Kremlin overreach. They barricaded themselves in the white house that housed the Congress of People’s Deputies and the Supreme Soviet that made up Russia’s national legislative body. Then, they voted to impeach the President.

If you’re familiar at all with Russian leaders, you can probably guess how Yeltsin, the “vodka-soaked buffoon,” responded.

Yup.

He ordered the police to cut off all access, electricity, water, and communications to the building. When anti-Yeltsin crowds started attacking TV stations and other state institutions, he declared a state of emergency and ordered the Russian military (who until then had been a neutral party) to move on the white house itself.

Yeltsin, claiming the action would prevent Russia from slipping into a Soviet Union-like government, ordered the army to shell and secure the building, then arrest the resisting lawmakers. The Russian army obeyed the President’s orders. Soon after, Yeltsin passed a Constitutional referendum that granted the office of President much more power than before, the powers Vladimir Putin wields like a pro to this day.

Yeltsin was elected to another term in office but resigned the Presidency on New Years Eve 1999, mired in corruption allegations and failing health. He told Russia the new century should start with new leadership and left Vladimir Putin in charge. The embattled former President died in 2007 and Putin is still in charge.

Articles

This Combat Camera vet used his skills to launch a civilian career as a photojournalist

Army vet Bill Putnam holding his 4-by-5 film camera on the streets of Cleveland while covering the RNC. (Photo: Ward Carroll)


CLEVELAND, Ohio — There was a bit of irony in Bill Putnam’s first job as a civilian who’d just transitioned out of the military: He was sent back to Iraq to cover the war, the same place where he’d honed his skills as a photographer for the U.S. Army.

“I knew before I got out of the Army that I wanted to specialize in news photojournalism,” Putnam says. “I happened to meet a lot of people along the way who saw my work and told me I had the drive and talent to do it in the civilian world. It was all about reaching out to people and meeting the right people at the right time.”

Among “the right people” that Putnam ran into along the way was Michael Ware, Time magazine’s bureau chief in Baghdad.

“When I was a soldier going home from Iraq I ran into Michael,” Putnam says. “I was getting out of the military, and I told him I was willing to go back to Iraq. He wrote a letter on my behalf and that helped make it happen.”

Putnam explains: “This one was made fairly early in the morning after an all-night raid. The unit, Centurion Company, 2-1 Infantry, had been sent out with an SF team and bunch of Iraqi Army to hunt down a car bomb builder. They didn’t find him. This was early in the unit’s deployment (they were the guys who were extended in 2006 for three months during an early and not so effective ‘surge’ into northwest Baghdad). To me it says a lot, not really about that war, but just war in general, especially war down at the nasty end of the spear. Hunter, the guy pictured, just looks exhausted. War is exactly that – exhausting in every sense – but this is physical exhaustion. The kid waving the gun (it was unloaded) was actually playing with a newly-installed laser pointer.” (Photo: Bill Putnam)

After working in the war zone for nearly a year, he returned to the U.S. and freelanced his way from Washington, DC to Oregon, diversifying his portfolio and expanding his network. Eventually, he was picked up by Zuma Press Agency, and the assignments started coming in at a more regular clip.

To date, his photos have been published in The Washington Post, Boston Globe, Newsweek, Army Times, The Oregonian, Columbia Journalism Review, The New Republic, NPR.org, and digitaljournalist.org. His work also appeared in the Academy Award-nominated documentary “Operation Homecoming: Writing The Wartime Experience.”

He opened a 40-print solo exhibition of his Afghan work titled “Abu in Bermel: Faces of Battle” in February of 2011 at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa. That exhibition moved to Point Park University in Pittsburgh, Pa., in April 2011. His work has also been included in group shows at Glen Echo Photo Works in Glen Echo, Md., and Montgomery College in Rockville, Md. And in August 2013 Putnam opened a 60-image solo exhibition at Healthy Rhythm Gallery in Fairfield, Texas.

“It’s really all about hustle,” he says. “You gotta hustle to make that transition. You have to constantly be on the phone with people, you have to constantly think about new projects and what you want to do next.”

And that sort of proactive stance is what brought him to Cleveland to cover the Republican National Convention for Verify Media, a new agency that specializes in mobile device video. At the same time, Putnam has his classic 4-by-5 film camera, which he uses to capture the atmosphere surrounding the convention for Zuma.

Putnam is an imposing figure — tall and bearded — but he possesses a casual manner and calm demeanor that allow him to blend into the background — a very desirable attribute for a photojournalist. As he takes in the scene along Fourth Street, Cleveland’s famed walk lined with bars and restaurants, he’s barely noticed even though he’s a full head taller than the crush of delegates, pundits, TV personalities, protesters, and regular civilians around him.

Watching Putnam in action it’s obvious that he loves his work. He moves through the crowd with an easy gait, taking everything in, at once in the weeds and mindful of the big picture. But for all of his apparent satisfaction with his career choice, he’s quick to note that getting to where he is was a hard-fought series of rejections and missteps. He points out that — unlike the military — oft times pursuing an unorthodox civilian career is a non-linear proposition.

“When I got back from the war, I was dumbfounded that I had to find all of this on my own,” Putnam says. “I like going out and doing stuff, but to get from Point A to Point B, I had no idea how to do that.”

In the face of that reality, Putnam says, “You just do it and hope you find the right path.”

Capt. Adam Lackey, Abu Company commander and a tribal sheikh at a meeting outside Bayji, Iraq, May 6, 2006. (Photo: Bill Putnam)

For more about Putnam’s work, visit his website here.

Articles

Today’s UCMJ was born out of the summary hanging of 13 American soldiers by the US Army

In the pre-dawn darkness of December 11, 1917, thirteen American soldiers died together at the same moment, hanged in a mass execution on gallows that were immediately torn back down to lumber so other soldiers wouldn’t see them. If you serve in the military today, your life is better because of that morning, and because of the debate that followed. Samuel Ansell left the Army nearly a hundred years ago, and he might save your life one day.

The men who died on December 11 were black privates and NCOs, infantrymen who served together under white officers in the segregated 24th Infantry Regiment. Earlier that year, in the spring of 1917, they had been sent to Texas to guard army facilities as the United States went to war in Europe. Posted outside Houston, the men of the 24th collided with Jim Crow laws and the social customs that went with them. By mid-August, arguments were nearly turning into fights, and a white laborer on Camp Logan stabbed a black civilian to death in the payroll line.

On August 23, two Houston police officers saw a group of black teenagers shooting craps on a city street, and tried to arrest them for illegal gambling. The teenagers ran, and the police chased them, bursting into homes in an African-American neighborhood. A black woman named Sara Travers complained, and a pair of white policemen dragged her outside, half-dressed, to arrest her. Watching white police rough up a black woman, a soldier from the 3/24 in the city on a pass stepped forward and told them to stop. They beat him and took him to jail. Soon after, an NCO from the 2/24 approached the officers and demanded an explanation for the beating and the arrest. At that point, Officer Lee Sparks pulled his revolver out and began to beat Cpl. Charlies Baltimore over the head with it – then fired at his back as he ran away, before catching up to him and hauling him away to jail, too.

It was the moment when the arguments ended and the fighting began. Back at Camp Logan, a group of about 100 soldiers stormed an ammunition tent, loaded rifles, and went into town to find the police officers who had beaten and shot at their fellow infantrymen. They found them. At the end of a running gun battle, nineteen people were dead: Fifteen of them white, including police officers, and four black soldiers.

The courts-martial that followed were a joke, mass trials meant to placate infuriated Texas politicians. Sixty-three men were tried before the first of three courts, with single witnesses casually implicating dozens of defendants and men being convicted on the strength of testimony that had flatly misidentified them in court. For their defense, they were represented by an infantry officer with no legal training. On November 29, returning guilty verdicts by the box lot, the court sentenced 13 defendants to death. Facing local pressure, the convening authority, Maj. Gen. John Rickman, approved the verdicts and scheduled the executions – on his own authority, without seeking approval from the Army or the War Department.

The 13 men were simultaneously hanged on December 11 at 7:17 a.m. local time — one minute before sunrise — in the presence of U.S. Army officers and one local official, County Sheriff John Tobin.

It was the event that kicked off the debate about military justice during World War I: American soldiers were being killed by their own army without any kind of legal review or approval by national authorities.

Incredibly, the War Department issued a general order forbidding local commanders to put soldiers to death before the Judge Advocate General and the president had a chance to review their convictions – an obvious expectation that was only imposed for the first time in the second decade of the 20th century. Imagine serving in an army that could put you in front of the firing squad or put a noose around your neck a few days after a shoddy trial, with no one checking to make sure you hadn’t just been railroaded. That was a possible feature of military experience for the first century and a half of our history.

The War Department order was just in time. While the court-martial in Texas was delivering its sentences, drumhead courts-martial at the front in France were sentencing four other privates to death. Jeff Cook and Forest Sebastian had fallen asleep on guard duty on the front line, slumped forward against the trenches, while Olon Ledoyen and Stanley Fishback refused an order to drill. All four had even less of a trial than the soldiers of the 24th Infantry. Ledoyen and Fishback were represented in their defense by an infantry lieutenant who was pulled from the line for the job. Shrugging, he told them both to just plead guilty and hope for the best. All four trials took somewhere in the neighborhood of a few minutes, with little to no testimony, argument, or deliberation.

This is where our contemporary military justice system was born. In Washington, the Army had two top legal officers. The Judge Advocate General, Maj. Gen. Enoch Crowder, was temporarily assigned to other wartime duties, so Brig. Gen. Samuel Ansell was the acting JAG; both thought of themselves as the Army’s top legal officer. The two men had completely different reactions to the trials in Texas and France, and a totally different view of the way courts-martial were supposed to work. Their argument – the “Ansell-Crowder dispute” – kicked off a full century of debate.

To Crowder, the purpose of a court-martial was discipline and good military order, and the results of a trial could only merit objections from army lawyers if blatant unfairness screamed from the record of the proceedings. Commanders needed near-absolute latitude to deliver the punishments inflicted by courts, and the JAG office had little to no reason to interfere. If the army’s lawyers objected to the death sentences in France, Crowder warned, Pershing would believe that his authority had been undermined in a critical matter involving his command.

But to Ansell, courts-martial had to be courts. They needed standards of evidence and reasonable rules about due process, and the outcome of a military trial could become illegitimate when courts broke rules. The acting JAG and the circle of reformers around him tore into the records of the courts-martial in France – finding, for example, that Cook and Sebastian had gone four days with almost no sleep at all, but their courts-martial had taken no notice of those extenuating circumstances in delivering death sentences. “These cases were not well tried,” Ansell wrote.

President Woodrow Wilson agreed with Ansell and pardoned all four men. Sebastian died in combat soon afterward, fighting with courage, and Wilson told War Department officials that he was glad to have given a soldier a chance to redeem himself.

Then the war ended, and the argument got serious. Ansell presented a long report to Congress, detailing a series of proposals for changes in the Articles of War, the pre-UCMJ law that governed the army. He especially wanted to see the law adopt some form of mandatory post-conviction legal review, creating an appellate authority that had the direct power to overturn bad convictions. But Crowder eased him out of the office, arranging a job for Ansell at a law firm before telling him that he was done in the army. As Congress prepared to vote on Ansell’s proposed reforms, Crowder – back at his regular duties as the army JAG – gave his congressional allies a set of more modest changes. In an amendment to the pending legislation, they swapped out Ansell’s reforms for Crowder’s, and the law passed.

Even as Crowder won, though, Ansell had forced a more serious set of reforms on the army than his adversaries had wanted to see. Among the changes to the laws governing the army in 1920, Congress created boards of review for the first time. A retired JAG officer, Lawrence J. Morris, calls those boards “the first step toward a formal appellate process.” Another change required courts-martial to reach unanimous agreement to impose the death penalty, where the previous Articles of War had only required a two-thirds majority vote to put a soldier to death.

Ansell began the long effort to make courts-martial into true courts, giving soldiers some degree of due process protection. And he planted the seeds for all of the debates that have followed. After World War II, when Congress and the newly created Department of Defense decided to pursue the more serious reforms that led to the creation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the person who led the effort was a law school professor, Edmund Morgan – who had spent World War I in uniform, working for Ansell in the office of the Judge Advocate General.

Injustice led to justice. Your legal rights before the military justice system today – including your right to a trial that isn’t tainted by unlawful command influence, your right to be represented by a lawyer, and your right to appeal serious convictions to real military appellate courts – were born in a field outside Houston in 1917. Arguing over the death of soldiers, Samuel Ansell and the generation of army lawyers who served alongside him began to make military justice a far better system for everyone who followed. They were patriots who served their country with honor and left it a better place.

Chris Bray is the author of “Court-Martial: How Military Justice Has Shaped America from the Revolution to 9/11 and Beyond,” published last month by W.W. Norton.

Articles

This Iraq War vet’s debut novel is provocative and right

While deployed to Iraq in 2007, the U.S. Army’s then-Captain Matt Gallagher started a blog called Kaboom that quickly became very popular … and controversial — so controversial, in fact, that the Army shut it down.


After he separated from the military, Gallagher compiled the best of the blog into his 2010 memoir, “Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War.”  He has since written for the New York Times, The Atlantic, The Daily Beast, and Boston Review, among others. Now, with an Master’s degree from Columbia, he’s writing fiction. This week saw the debut of his first work of fiction, “Youngblood: A Novel.”

The U.S. military is preparing to withdraw from Iraq, and newly-minted lieutenant Jack Porter struggles to accept how it’s happening—through alliances with warlords who have Arab and American blood on their hands. Day after day, Jack tries to assert his leadership in the sweltering, dreary atmosphere of Ashuriyah. But his world is disrupted by the arrival of veteran Sgt. Daniel Chambers, whose aggressive style threatens to undermine the fragile peace that the troops have worked hard to establish.

Irreverent but dedicated like a modern day Candide, Jack struggles with his place in Iraq War history. He soon discovers a connection between Sgt. Chambers and and a recently killed soldier. The more the lieutenant digs into the matter, the more questions arise. The soldier and Rana, a local sheikh’s daughter, appeared to have been in love and what Jack finds implicates the increasingly popular Chambers.What follows finds Jack defying his command as Iraq falls further into chaos.

Gallagher’s storytelling is compelling and his characters are vibrant. “Youngblood” immediately immerses the reader into the Iraq War, defying genre and perspective. We equally see the war from the soldiers who fought there and the Iraqis who lived it, while Gallagher weaves a narrative that is engaging, thoughtful, and thought provoking.

Youngblood: A Novel” is on sale now.

Editor’s note: Catch Matt Gallagher’s Reddit AMA or read his recent opinion piece in the New York Times welcoming us to the “Age of Commando,” where he describes the public fascination with special operations forces in the military today.

 

MIGHTY CULTURE

This Army cold-weather ops course is nuts

More than two dozen Army Rangers with battalions from the 75th Ranger Regiment bolstered their skills in cold-weather operations during training Feb. 21 to March 6, 2019 at Fort McCoy.

The soldiers were part of the 14-day Cold-Weather Operations Course Class 19-05, which was organized by Fort McCoy’s Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security and taught by five instructors with contractor Veterans Range Solutions.


A student in the Cold-Weather Operations Course (CWOC) Class 19-05.

(Photo by Scott Farley)

The Rangers received classroom training on various subjects, such as preventing cold-weather injuries and the history of cold-weather military operations. In field training, they learned about downhill and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ahkio sled use, and setting up cold-weather shelters, such as the Arctic 10-person cold-weather tent or an improvised shelter.

Students in the Cold-Weather Operations Course (CWOC) Class 19-05.

(Photo by Joe Ernst)

“Building a shelter among other soldiers and being able to stay warm throughout the night was one of the best things I learned in this course,” said Sgt. Paul Drake with the 3rd Battalion of the 75th at Fort Benning, Ga. “This training also helped me understand extreme cold weather and how to conserve energy and effectively operate while wearing the Extended Cold Weather Clothing System (ECWCS) uniform properly.”

A student in the Cold-Weather Operations Course (CWOC) Class 19-05.

(Photo by Joe Ernst)

The Army ECWCS features more than a dozen items that are issued to soldiers, said Fort McCoy Central Issue Facility Property Book Officer Thomas Lovgren. The system includes a lightweight undershirt and underwear, midweight shirt and underwear, fleece jacket, wind jacket, soft shell jacket and trousers, extreme cold/wet-weather jacket and trousers, and extreme cold-weather parka and trousers.

Students in the Cold-Weather Operations Course (CWOC) Class 19-05.

(Photo by Joe Ernst)

“It’s a layered system that allows for protection in a variety of climate elements and temperatures,” said Lovgren, whose facility has provided ECWCS items for soldiers since the course started. “Each piece in the ECWCS fits and functions either alone or together as a system, which enables seamless integration with load-carrying equipment and body armor.”

Students in the Cold-Weather Operations Course (CWOC) Class 19-05.

(Photo by Joe Ernst)

In addition to many of the Rangers praising the course’s ECWCS training, many also praised the field training.

“Living out in the cold for seven days and sleeping in shelters makes me more competent to operate in less-than-optimal conditions,” said Sgt. Austin Strimenos with the 2nd Battalion of the 75th at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. “Other good training included becoming confident with using the Arctic tents and the heaters and stoves and learning about cold-weather injuries and treatments.

“Also, the cross-country skiing and the trail area we used were awesome,” Strimeros said.

Students in Fort McCoy Cold-Weather Operations Course (CWOC) Class 19-05 practice skiing.

(Photo by Joe Ernst)

During training, the students experienced significant snowfall and below-zero temperatures. Spc. Jose Francisco Garcia, also with the 2nd Battalion of the 75th, said the winter extremes, along with Fort McCoy’s rugged terrain, helped everyone build winter-operations skills.

“The best parts of this course is the uncomfortable setting that Fort McCoy confronts the soldiers with during this kind of weather,” Garcia said. “This makes us think critically and allows us to expand our thought process when planning for future cold-weather operations. It also helps us to understand movement planning, what rations we need, and more.”

Students in the Cold-Weather Operations Course (CWOC) Class 19-05.

(Photo by Joe Ernst)

Spc. Stephen Harbeck with the 1st Battalion of the 75th at Hunter Army Airfield, Ga., which is near Fort Stewart, said enjoyed the training, including cold-water immersion training. Cold-water immersion training is where a large hole is cut in the ice at the post’s Big Sandy Lake by CWOC staff, then a safe and planned regimen is followed to allow each participant to jump into the icy water.

“The experience of a service member being introduced to water in an extreme-cold environment is a crucial task for waterborne operations and confidence building,” said CWOC instructor Joe Ernst.

Students in the Cold-Weather Operations Course (CWOC) Class 19-05.

(Photo by Joe Ernst)

“The best things about this course are the training about fire starting, shelter building, and the cold-water immersion,” Harbeck said. “CWOC has helped me understand the advantages and disadvantages of snow and cold weather. Everything we learned has equipped me with the knowledge to operate in a cold-weather environment.”

By Army definition, units like the 75th are a large-scale special-operations force and are made up of some of the most elite soldiers in the Army. Rangers specialize in joint special operations raids and more, so gaining training to operate in a cold-weather environment adds to their skills.

Students in the Cold-Weather Operations Course (CWOC) Class 19-05.

(Photo by Joe Ernst)

“Learning about and experiencing the effects of cold weather on troops and equipment as well as learning about troop movements in the snow are skills I can share with soldiers in my unit,” said Cpl. Justin Galbraith, also with the 2nd Battalion of the 75th. “It was cold, and it snowed a lot while we were here. So … it was perfect.”

A student in the Cold-Weather Operations Course (CWOC) Class 19-05.

(Photo by Scott Farley)

Other field skills practiced in the training by the Rangers included terrain and weather analysis, risk management, developing winter fighting positions in the field, camouflage and concealment, and more.

A student in the Cold-Weather Operations Course (CWOC) Class 19-05.

(Photo by Scott Farley)

“This course has given me insight on how to conduct foot movements, survive in the elements, and more,” said Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Bowman with the 3rd Battalion of the 75th. “It’s also helped me establish the (basis) for creating new tactics, techniques, and procedures for possible upcoming deployments and training situations.”

A student in the Cold-Weather Operations Course (CWOC) Class 19-05.

(Photo by Scott Farley)

This course is the fifth of six CWOC classes being taught between December 2018 and March 2019.

“Fort McCoy is a good location for this training because of the weather and snowfall,” said Spc. Clay Cottle with the 2nd Battalion of the 75th. “We need to get more Rangers into this course.”

A student in the Cold-Weather Operations Course (CWOC) Class 19-05.

(Photo by Scott Farley)

Note: Male CWOC students are provided a command-approved modified grooming waiver during training to help prevent cold-weather injuries because of multiple days of field training.

Located in the heart of the upper Midwest, Fort McCoy is the only U.S. Army installation in Wisconsin.

Fort McCoy lives its motto, “Total Force Training Center.” The installation has provided support and facilities for the field and classroom training of more than 100,000 military personnel from all services each year since 1984.

MIGHTY TRENDING

North Korean defector shares his story publicly for first time

A North Korean defector who made a mad dash to freedom amid a hail of bullets in November 2017 says he’s lucky to be alive.

In his first television interview with a US broadcaster since his escape, Oh Chong Song told NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt that it’s a “miracle” he made it out.

Oh, a former North Korean soldier, made international headlines when he bolted through the Demilitarized Zone into South Korea, suffering multiple gunshot wounds as his comrades, hot on his heels, pumped rounds into the fleeing man.


“I was extremely terrified,” Oh told NBC, recounting his escape. “I was wearing a padded jacket and the bullet penetrated through here and came out this way. Because of that penetration wound, the muscle there was blown apart and I could feel the warmth of the blood flowing underneath me. I still ran.”

He collapsed on the South Korean side of the demilitarized zone. “I did think that I was going to die as I was lying there,” he explained. South Korean soldiers rushed to him and dragged him to cover.

Oh’s daring escape was captured on video:

North Korean Defector: Explaining The Video

www.youtube.com

“I watch this video once in a while and every time I see it, I realize the fact that I am alive is a miracle,” Oh explained. “I can’t believe it’s me in the video.” He told NBC Nightly News that he was not in his right mind as he was escaping. “I was driving at a very high speed.”

Fleeing to South Korea was an impulsive, spur-of-the-moment decision. He said that had he been caught, assuming they didn’t kill him as he fled, he “would have been either sent to a concentration camp for political prisoners or, worse, executed by firing squad.”

The US medic who treated the defector never thought the young man, who was shot five times during his escape, would even make it to the hospital.

“I remember thinking this guy is probably going to die in the next 15 minutes,” Sgt. 1st Class Gopal Singh previously told Stars and Stripes. The Black Hawk helicopter, flying as fast as the crew could go at 160 mph, needed at least 20 minutes to get to the medical center.

But Singh managed to keep him alive as Oh drifted in and out of consciousness.

“I am truly grateful to him and I hope there will be an opportunity for me to meet him. If I do, I want to thank him in person for everything.” the defector told NBC.

“It’s truly a miracle. He was fighting all the way,” Singh told reporters, saying he’d like to meet Oh. “But just knowing that he’s OK, that’s a pretty good reward.”

Doctors, who fought fiercely to keep Oh alive, also called his survival miraculous.

When the defector arrived at Ajou University Trauma Center in Suwon, just outside of Seoul, he was bleeding out and struggling to breathe. Not only did the doctors have to treat Oh for gunshot wounds, but they also had to deal with large parasites as they worked to repair his intestines, which were torn open by bullet fragments.

South Korean surgeon Lee Cook-Jong said Oh was “like a broken jar.”

“His vital signs were so unstable, he was dying of low blood pressure, he was dying of shock,” he told CNN. Oh had multiple surgeries over a period of several days. “It’s a miracle that he survived,” the doctor said.

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