A male cicada infected by massospora, a parasitic fungus (in white). WVU Photo/Angie Macias
A parasitic fungus can control the minds of cicadas, leading them to act like the undead.
Researchers at West Virginia University first discovered these “zombie cicadas” last summer. They found that the bugs douse other cicadas with spores that cause the same infection, so the scientists nicknamed the cicadas “flying salt shakers of death.” But they didn’t fully understand how the psychedelic fungus — named massospora — tricks cicadas into spreading the disease to so many healthy counterparts.
The possessed cicadas reemerged in West Virginia in June, giving the researchers a chance to answer that question.
In a recent study, scientists describe how massospora manipulates male cicadas into flicking their wings in a pattern that imitates females’ mating invitations. That sham siren call then lures in unsuspecting healthy males.
When the healthy males wander over and try to mate to with their infected brethren, the parasite gains a new victim.
The fungus tweaks cicadas’ behavior against its best interest
A swarm of cicadas take over a bush near Trenton, Ohio. Pat Auckerman/The Journal/AP
The most sinister aspect of massospora is that the fungus eats away at infected cicadas genitals, butts, and abdomens, replacing them with fungal spores.
The insects’ bodies “wear away like an eraser on a pencil,” Brian Lovett, a coauthor of the new study, said in a press release.
Lovett and his team found that even though infected cicadas can lose up to one-third of their bodies to the fungus, they continue to roam, fly, and fornicate as if nothing’s wrong. That maximizes the parasite’s spread.
To make matters worse, the infection causes cicadas’ libido to skyrocket — they “try to mate with everything they encounter,” the researchers said.
“It’s very clear that the pathogen is pulling the behavioral levers of the cicada to cause it to do things which are not in the interest of the cicada, but is very much in the interest of the pathogen,” Lovett said.
He added that this type of behavioral tweak is similar to how the rabies virus modifies its hosts’ behavior.
“When you’re infected with rabies, you become aggressive, you become afraid of water and you don’t swallow,” Lovett said. “The virus is passed through saliva and all of those symptoms essentially turn you into a rabies-spreading machine where you’re more likely to bite people.”
Zombie cicadas aren’t dangerous to people
The study also pinpointed when during their life cycle the cicadas may get infected.
Baby cicadas — called nymphs — spend the first 17 years of their lives underground, feeding on plant roots. According to Matt Kasson, another study author, some nymphs could encounter the fungus as they dig their burrows.
Brian Lovett holds up a cicada infected by massospora, a parasitic fungus. WVU Photo/Angie Macias
“The fungus could more or less lay in wait inside its host for the next 17 years until something awakens it, perhaps a hormone cue,” Kasson said in the release.
Alternatively, the nymphs might also get infected in their 17th year, on their way up to the surface.Either way, these infected cicadas are harmless to humans.
“They’re very docile,” Lovett said. “You can walk right up to one, pick it up to see if it has the fungus (a white to yellowish plug on its back end) and set it back down. They’re not a major pest in any way.”
The tank is far from obsolete and the US will need a new armored vehicle to replace its 1980-vintage M1 Abrams, the Army Chief of Staff said here this afternoon. But what kind of tank, on what kind of timeline? Gen. Mark Milley made clear he was looking for a “breakthrough,” not incremental evolution – which probably means that the new tank will take a long time.
“Are we sort of at that point in history where perhaps mechanized vehicles are going the way of horse cavalry and going the way of the dinosaur?” Milley asked. “I don’t think so — but I’m skeptical enough to continue to ask that.”
“We have a good, solid tank today,” Milley said of the M1. “Having said that, we do need a new ground armored platform for our mechanized infantry and our tanks, because it’s my belief that, at least in the foreseeable future — and you can follow that out to 25 years or so — there is a role for those type of formations.”
“What are some of the technologies?” Milley said. “There’s Active Protection Systems” – electronic jammers and mini-missiles to stop incoming anti-tank weapons – “(and) there’s reduced crews with automated turrets” – as found on Russia’s new T-14 Armata, which Milley said the Army is studying closely – “but the real sort of holy grail of technologies that I’m trying to find on this thing is material, is the armor itself…. If we can discover a material that is significantly lighter in weight that gives you the same armor protection, that would be a real significant breakthrough.
“There’s a lot of research and development going into it,” Milley said. That’s true, but in all my conversations with Army and industry experts in recent years, no one believes we’re close to a “breakthrough.” Modest improvements in armor materials are in the works, but nothing that would change the fundamental calculus that makes protection heavy.
The trend, in fact, has been for everything to get heavier. The M1 tank started out in 1980 weighing about 60 tons, enough to stop most Soviet anti-tank shells and missiles of the day, but has grown to almost 70. The M2 Bradley, a heavily armed troop carrier called an Infantry Fighting Vehicle, grew from a fairly fragile 25 tons to a robust 40, with contractor BAE now proposing a 45-ton model. Some designs for a Bradley replacement, the proposed Ground Combat Vehicle, grew as heavy as 84 tons before the cash-strapped Army cancelled the program.
While the Army is now looking at lighter vehicles, the experts I’ve talked to are not counting on lighter armor. Instead, they’re contemplating trade-offs once deemed heretical, like building an air-droppable light tank to support paratroops, or having the Bradley replacement only carry half an infantry squad.
Such smaller vehicles would be lighter, as well as more maneuverable on narrow city streets – a key consideration because many Army leaders, including Milley, expect future warfare to be fought increasingly in urban settings. Mosul is a brutal but ultimately small-scale “preview” of future city fights in sprawling megacities, Milley said July 28. In Mosul – as in Fallujah in 2004 and Sadr City in 2008 – it took tanks to retake the city, working closely with regular infantry and special forces, he noted.
Lasers, Railguns, Robotics
While Milley put lighter-weight protection as priority number one, he also highlighted two other technologies that could revolutionize armored vehicle design. One is electrically-powered weapons, such as railguns – which use electromagnets to accelerate a solid metal slug to supersonic speeds – and lasers – which fire pure energy at the speed of light. “We’ve been using kinetic or powder-based munitions for five centuries,” Milley noted, but there are now major advances in alternative forms of firepower.
So far, lasers and railguns are being developed primarily as defensive weapons, able to shoot down drones or cruise missiles more quickly and cheaply than surface-to-air missiles. However, Air Force Special Operations Command plans to put a 150-kilowatt laser on its AC-130 gunships to disable enemy vehicles by silently burning through key components. It’s not too far from an offensive laser that can fit in a big airplane to one that can fit in a big ground vehicle.
The other potential breakthrough Milley mentioned was the “revolution in robotics.” The land is harder to navigate than empty sky or open sea, he emphasized, so ground robots will lag drones or unmanned ships, “but eventually we will see the introduction of wide-scale robotics.” Many of those will be small and relatively expendable scouts, designed to carry sensors or weapons ahead of the human force. Milley also wants his future tank to have enough automation not just to reduce the human crew required, but to optionally leave out the humans altogether, depending on the mission.
“Every vehicle that we develop, we probably need sure it’s dual use, so the commander on the battlefield at the time has the option of having that vehicle manned or unmanned,” Milley said. “They can flip a switch and have it be a robot.”
Building these future warbots will take a lot of thought. If you make an artificial intelligence smart enough to operate the tank some of the time, can you et the AI drive all the time and leave the human crew safe at home, where they can’t get killed or screw things up? If the humans aren’t inside the tank, do you let the AI pick targets and make the decision to kill them on its own? Pentagon policy says “never,” but if our robots have to wait for a human to say (or just think) “fire,” less scrupulous adversaries will be quicker on the draw. It’s a hornet’s nest of difficult questions that the Army – and the nation – will have to answer.
After 18 years of fighting, the Afghan war is at a deadly stalemate.
Afghanistan is divided among government forces backed by international troops, the Taliban and its militant allies, the Islamic State (IS) extremist group, and a collection of smaller foreign terrorist groups.
The United States and the Taliban signed a landmark agreement in February aimed at “bringing peace to Afghanistan.” That deal foresees a power-sharing arrangement between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and the full withdrawal of all foreign troops.
As a Taliban delegation arrived in Kabul for talks on prisoner releases and the Afghan government and the Taliban prepare to launch direct peace talks, most of the country is fiercely contested and ravaged by violence, with warring factions pursuing a “fight-and-talk” strategy.
WATCH: Some 900 Taliban members were freed from Afghanistan’s largest prison outside Kabul as part of a prisoner swap under a cease-fire deal on May 26.
The Afghan government controls the capital, Kabul, provincial capitals, major population centers, and most district centers, according to Resolute Support, the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan.
Around 30 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts are in government hands, the Taliban commands some 20 percent, and the rest of the country is contested, according to Long War Journal (LWJ), a project run by the Foundation for Defense Of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank.
The LWJ’s “living map,” based mostly on media reports, is the only publicly available source that tracks district control in Afghanistan, after Resolute Support stopped assessing territorial control and enemy-initiated attacks over the past two years.
Afghan security forces have been on the defensive since NATO’s combat mission in Afghanistan ended in 2014, losing much-needed assistance with logistics, air support, and intelligence.
Resolute Support is training, advising, and assisting the 273,000-strong Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. Additionally, the Afghan government employs around 20,000 militiamen who are part of the Afghan Local Police.
Meanwhile, a separate U.S. counterterrorism force is combating foreign terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and the IS group and also elements of the Taliban. The United States also funds and supports special Afghan paramilitary units.
The Afghan forces have a large numerical advantage: There are an estimated 60,000 full-time Taliban militants and some 90,000 seasonal fighters.
But government forces are suffering from record casualties, high attrition, and low morale. That is widely blamed on a resurgent Taliban, ineffective leadership in the armed forces, and chronic corruption.
President Ashraf Ghani said in January 2019 that about 45,000 Afghan soldiers and policemen had been killed since he took office in September 2014 — or a staggering 849 per month. In 2018, the government stopped publicizing fatalities.
“The internationally recognized and elected government doesn’t have a monopoly on the use of force nor control over the majority of the country,” says Jonathan Schroden, a security expert with the U.S.-based nonprofit research and analysis organization CNA, who has provided assessments on the security situation in Afghanistan to the U.S. military and Congress.
The Taliban, which claims to be a government in exile, “has eroded much of the government’s control but cannot do so to the point of becoming the recognized government,” Schroden says.
The result, he says, is a “strategic stalemate.”
Government forces had been in an active defensive mode since a weeklong reduction-of-violence agreement preceding the U.S.-Taliban deal. But after two devastating terrorist attacks this month that the government blamed on the Taliban, Ghani ordered government forces to go on the offensive.
The political crisis over the disputed presidential election in September also affected the government’s military posture. There were fears of civil war after Ghani’s leading challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, threatened to form a parallel government and proclaimed himself the president, a scenario that threatened the cohesion of the security forces.
The standoff was resolved after Ghani and Abdullah signed a power-sharing deal — their second after consecutive elections — on May 17.
“The government faced serious challenges for months,” says Obaid Ali, an expert on the insurgency at the Afghanistan Analysts Network, an independent think tank in Kabul. “The government didn’t have a military strategy because the leadership was focused on the internal crisis after the presidential election’s outcome and the U.S.-Taliban talks.”
Ali says the months-long political feud sank morale and complicated logistics within the security forces.
The Taliban controls more territory than at any time since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 toppled the fundamentalist group from power.
The fundamentalist militant group’s leadership fled to neighboring Pakistan, where it allegedly received sanctuary, training, and arms, an accusation Islamabad has denied. From its safe havens in Pakistan, the Taliban has waged a deadly insurgency against Afghan and international troops.
The Taliban has been following what security experts call an “outside-in” strategy that was effectively employed by other insurgencies in Afghanistan, including the mujahedin who fought Soviet and Afghan government forces in the 1980s.
From its sanctuaries in Pakistan, the Taliban captured rural areas of Afghanistan and consolidated control over larger swaths of the countryside while generating recruits and resources. In recent years, the Taliban has encroached on more populated areas with the aim of isolating and then seizing them.
The militants have twice briefly seized control of the northern city of Kunduz, the country’s fifth-most populous.
“The Taliban has so far been successful in seizing and contesting ever larger swaths of rural territory, to the point where they have now almost encircled six to eight of the country’s major cities and are able to routinely sever connections via major roads,” Schroden says.
“The major thing holding the Taliban back at this point is the government’s supremacy of the air and its superior strike forces in the form of the commandos and special police units. But those units are being worn down and the Afghan Army has been slowly failing as an institution for the past five years.”
The Taliban insurgency has been a unifying cause for some smaller foreign militant groups.
Around 20 foreign militant groups are active in Afghanistan, including Pakistani extremist groups like the Pakistani Taliban, Lashkar-e Jhangvi, Lashkar-e Taiba, Jaish-e Muhammad, and Central Asian militant groups including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the Islamic Jihad Union, and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a militant group fighting for Uyghur independence in China.
Ali says the Taliban has ties to some of these foreign militant groups. “Some of these groups operate under the Taliban umbrella,” he says. “They can’t operate in Afghanistan without the Taliban’s permission. Each of these groups has a unique relationship with the Taliban — operationally, ideologically, or economically.”
Al-Qaeda is a largely diminished force, with only several hundred fighters in Afghanistan. But it remains a crucial part of the Taliban insurgency. The two groups have been longtime partners and are co-dependent, according to experts.
According to the U.S. State Department, the “implementation of the U.S.-Taliban agreement will require extensive long-term monitoring to ensure Taliban compliance, as the group’s leadership has been reluctant to publicly break with Al-Qaeda.”
Under that deal, the Taliban committed to “preventing any group or individual, including Al-Qaeda, from using the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.”
A January report from the UN’s Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team stated that ties between Al-Qaeda and the Taliban “continue to be close and mutually beneficial, with Al-Qaeda supplying resources and training in exchange for protection.”
Afghan security forces said on May 11 that they had captured the IS group’s regional leader for South Asia, Abu Omar Khorasani, in an operation in Kabul.
This was the latest in a string of recent setbacks for the group.
In April, Afghan security forces in the southern city of Kandahar captured the leader of the IS branch in Afghanistan, Abdullah Orakzai, along with several other militants.
According to the United Nations, since October 2019, over 1,400 IS fighters and affiliates have surrendered to Afghan or U.S. forces.
The U.S. military said the IS group’s stronghold in the eastern province of Nangarhar was “dismantled” in November 2019 due to U.S. air strikes, operations by Afghan forces, and fighting between the Taliban and IS militants.
The U.S. military said around 300 IS fighters and 1,000 of their family members surrendered.
The fighters and family members who did not surrender have relocated to Pakistan or the neighboring province of Kunar, a remote, mountainous region along the border with Pakistan, it added.
The U.S. military estimates that there are between 2,000 and 2,500 IS fighters active in Afghanistan.
Ali says that the IS group has bases in a few districts of Kunar Province, and they are also likely present in parts of neighboring Nuristan Province, another remote, mountainous province. But he says recent reports that IS militants were active in northern Afghanistan are “unreliable.”
“The group has lost most of the territory it held in eastern Afghanistan,” Ali says. “The recent operations against IS have severely weakened them and most have gone underground.”
But he says the recent arrests of IS fighters and leaders in major urban areas shows that there are still IS “sleeper cells” in the country.
Most IS fighters are thought to be former members of Pakistani militant groups, especially the Pakistani Taliban.
“There are a smaller number of Afghans, Central Asians, and even fewer from other regional countries,” Ali adds.
The Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 2004. These countries don’t have much in the way of air assets. According to FlightGlobal.com, as of 2017, the three countries combined have three L-39 trainers, one L-410 transport, three C-27J transports, and 13 helicopters that operate either as search-and-rescue or training assets.
The NATO Baltic Air Policing Mission was established just after these countries joined NATO and is designed to protect their airspace. The mission usually consists of detachments of aircraft — four initially, but in recent years, as many as 16 aircraft have been sent for this mission — that operate out of airbases in Poland, Lithuania, and Estonia.
On Jan. 8, the United States ended its most recent run as part of this mission. Four F-15C Eagles from the 493rd Fighter Squadron, part of the 48th Fighter Wing, were deployed to Lithuania for four months. They worked alongside F-16AM Fighting Falcons from Belgium for this mission.
These four months proved to be fairly busy, according to the Air Force Times. Russia has been aggressive with its neighbors, most notably Ukraine. Since tensions with Ukraine have heated up, NATO routinely sends two detachments. The American detachment operated out of Šiauliai International Airport in Lithuania.
Russian Air Force Su-30 (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
While there, on at least two occasions, the American pilots intercepted Sukhoi Su-30 Flankers. These multi-role jets, assigned to the Russian Navy, flew near the airspace of the Baltic States. The U.S. Air Force F-15s were scrambled in response to intercept them. These encounters were caught on tape.
You can see these encounters on the video below. One thing you won’t see are the types of buzzing stunts that Russia has pulled on American ships and planes in the past.
The grassy hill surrounding the arena is packed full of spectators and family members. The emcee calls out a dancer’s name; there’s movement in the crowd. The competitor makes it into the arena, throws out his hoops for his sequence.
Upon the dancer’s cue, the drum starts singing. Bells on his ankles sing in time with each beat of the drum and each step he makes.
He has five minutes to convey a story, using small hoops as his medium to paint each scene, as part of the 28th Annual Heard Museum World Championship Hoop Dance Contest held in Phoenix in 2018.
“The competition opens everyone’s eyes to the Native American culture,” said Timothy Clouser, the museum’s facilities director and a Navy veteran. “I find it very fascinating how each dancer puts their own artistic expression in their dance and story they are trying to convey. Not one dance is the same.”
Brian Hammill, an Army veteran of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin and a previous World Hoop Dance champion, competed in Phoenix. He uses his dancing to help bridge the cultural gap between Native Americans and non-natives, sharing his culture everywhere he goes.
“As native people, we don’t give gifts of objects because an object goes away, but we give the gift of a song, or a dance,” Hammill said. “When you do that, if you give somebody a song, and you tell them, ‘Every time you sing this song, you tell the story,’ or ‘Every time you do this dance, you tell the story and you give it away,’ that dance will last forever. That’s how this hoop dance carries on; it’s given from one person to the next.”
Army veteran Brian Hammill of the Ho-Chunk Nation applies face paint before grand entry at the 28th Annual Heard Museum World Championship Hoop Dance Contest at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, Feb. 10, 2018.
(Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anita C. Newman)
The hoop dance is different than other Native American dances, such as powwow dancing. Powwows are inter-tribal celebrations of Native American culture. Tribal affiliation doesn’t matter, nor does what region someone is from. It doesn’t even matter if someone is native or non-native.
Powwow dancing consists of at least six categories. Men’s categories include the fancy dance, grass dance and traditional dance. Women’s categories are the fancy dance, jingle dress and traditional dance.
The hoop dance regalia is minimal compared to that of the powwow dances. Typically, a hoop dancer will wear a shirt, breechcloth, side drops, sheep skin, bells (or deer hooves) and moccasins. The colors and designs are specific to each person. The hoops are small and vary in size, typically depending on the height of the dancer. Sometimes they have designs on them, again, specific to each dancer.
“Traditionally, the hoops were made out of willow, depending on where the tribe was located,” Hammill said. “I make mine out of a very exotic wood called plastic.”
The hoop dance has different origin stories with a common thread that it originated in the Southwest. To some native nations, the hoop dance is a healing dance, Hammill said. A hoop would traditionally be passed over an afflicted person, then the dancer would break that hoop and never use it again.
“Basically, it was a way of taking away all that pain or sickness away,” Hammill said. “That’s not done in public. There is also a story of the children, the Taos Pueblo children. It is said that the children saw this ceremony taking place and began to emulate what they saw. Instead of telling the kids, ‘No, you can’t do this,’ the adults encouraged them. They began to sing songs for them. They took what was a prayer and made it something the kids could do. So, basically, the dance changed, it evolved.
“In the north, it tells of a warrior’s journey,” he continued. “As you see these hoops come together, they start to make formations. You’ll see the eagle, the butterfly, the warrior on the battlefield defending his family, the clouds in the sky.”
Each person, he explained, will see that dance in a different way, interpret the story differently. There are hundreds of hoop dance stories, but each one revolves around the sacred circle of life.
“The significance of the hoops is that it represents the circle of life. There’s no beginning and no ending,” Hammill said. “We are taught that each and every one of us — doesn’t matter who we are, where we come from, the color of our skin — we are all created equal in that sacred hoop.”
Another part of Hammill’s culture that he lives every day is the tradition of service.
“The way I was always taught is, as a native person, we are always here to serve the people,” he said.
U.S. Army veteran, Brian Hammill of the Ho-Chunk Nation, competes at the 28th Annual Heard Museum World Championship Hoop Dance Contest at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona on Feb. 10, 2018.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anita C. Newman)
“We serve them by cooking and providing food for them. We teach them, or protect them. One of the greatest things I was always taught that we do, is we put ourselves in harm’s way to protect our families and our identity. It was something I’ve always wanted to do, I felt I needed to do.”
Hammill enlisted in the Army while still in high school. He went to basic training during the summer between his junior and senior years, and went on active duty after graduation.
“It’s just something that we do,” he said. “You’ll find that throughout the United States, there are a higher percentage of native veterans per capita than any other race.”
While he was stationed in South Korea, one of his first sergeants learned that he had danced while growing up, and asked Hammill to share his culture with everyone. He performed the men’s fancy dance for his fellow soldiers.
“A lot of these soldiers weren’t exposed to different cultures, so he had me do one of my first presentations there,” he said. “I called my dad in Wisconsin, and he shipped all of my dance regalia to me. I started doing presentations for the people I was stationed with, and in different areas throughout the Korean theater. That’s where I really got the passion to share the story, and I found out how important it is.”
Hammill was introduced to the hoop dance prior to his transition out of the military in 1994. Back then, he would travel about 120 miles from Fort Polk, Louisiana, to Livingston, Texas, where he performed and danced with the Alabama-Coushatta tribe.
“A good friend of mine, Gillman Abbey, basically gave me this hoop dance,” he said. “He told me the story. He told me every time I dance, to always make sure I share the story, and give the dance.”
He said the hoop dance helped him heal from his time in service. Still brand new to hoop dancing, Hammill actually competed in the World Hoop Dance Championship for the first time about six months after he got out of the military.
“I was 24, in the adult division,” he said. “I remember I was scared because this is a huge competition. Some of the dancers I’m still dancing with today pulled me aside, said to me, ‘Hey, you’re doing good. Let me show you some different moves. Let me help you.’ I’ll never forget that because that’s what really kept me coming back. Being here, feeling that hoop and how it affects people, it keeps me coming back. It took me a long time, about 15 years, until I won my first world title. I moved to the senior division and won four more. But it’s a family. It really is something we all have in common.”
Multiple sources tell We Are The Mighty that the grounding was prompted by protests by Navy instructor pilots who were concerned over the effects of the malfunctioning oxygen system in the Goshawk. One source tells WATM that more than 100 instructors “I am safed” themselves — essentially telling the Navy they felt unsafe to fly — en masse at three air bases to force the service into coming up with a solution.
According to the Navy statement, on March 31, 94 flights were cancelled between Naval Air Stations Kingsville, Meridian and Pensacola due to operational risk management concerns raised by T-45C instructor pilots. Their concerns are over recent physiological episodes experienced in the cockpit that were caused by contamination of the aircraft’s Onboard Oxygen Generation System. Chief of Naval Air Training immediately requested the engineering experts at NAVAIR conduct in-person briefs with the pilots.
The briefs were conducted in Kingsville Monday, then Meridian and Pensacola April 4, the Navy said.
The T-45C Goshawk is a two-seat, single-engine, carrier-capable jet trainer aircraft used by the Navy and Marine Corps for intermediate and advanced jet training. The T-45 is a derivative of the British Aerospace Hawk and has been in service since 1991. The Navy currently has 197 T-45s in its inventory.
“This issue is my number one safety priority and our team of NAVAIR program managers, engineers and maintenance experts in conjunction with Type Commanders, medical and physiological experts continue to be immersed in this effort working with a sense of urgency to determine all the root causes of [physiological episodes] along multiple lines of effort,” said Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, Commander, Naval Air Forces.
The Navy says it expects to resume flight operations for the Goshawks April 10.
Cultural norms create a lot of stereotypes about the ideal warrior. We all know that warriors must be strong in both mind and body. Yet, there is still a perception that only men can fill military ranks while women, known as the “weaker sex” (except when it comes to childbirth), of course, must sit at home and wait.
Then, there’s the notion that even if a woman were a strong warrior, she couldn’t possibly also be attractive, right?
Now, a cadre of millennial beauty queens who serve or have served in the military are exploding stereotypes and breaking barriers everywhere with a wave of their scepters (or maybe their 9mms). This is because warriors and beauty queens actually have a lot in common.
Physical and mental conditioning
On deployment, MREs are more likely on the menu than yogurt, fish, vegetables, and fruit. But while MREs might nourish you enough to get the mission done, they’re not exactly packed with beautifying supernutrients.
Allison (Alli) Paganetti-Albers, Miss Rhode Island USA 2005, former Army Capt., and host of WATM’s ‘Troop Soup,’ had to be lean for competition, but was required to stay within Army height and weight standards. She was restricted from going on a diet that would jeopardize her ROTC scholarship. Her first commitment was to her Army contract, so she chose to stay within those standards and won her pageant anyway.
The toughness that comes from military training and experience translates into confidence on the runway. And the opposite is also true — pageantry helps in achieving military goals. Staying on task, thinking positive, turning off negative feelings, and pushing away fear of failure are all essential to thriving in the pageant world, and help build a strong discipline.
Teamwork and being part of something greater than one’s self
In the military, the team is everything. You depend upon the people to your left and right. The satisfaction of being part of a great military team is unmatched.
But aren’t queens just about themselves? Not really. Amazingly, the stereotype of extreme cattiness typically doesn’t exist.
“Pageants should be part of something greater than self. There’s no room to tear each other down. If you don’t feel a sense of teamwork in pageantry, you’re doing something wrong. There must be a sisterhood and collaboration,” says Alexandra Curtis, Miss Rhode Island America 2015 and Rhode Island National Guard Sgt.
Another way beauty queens are about others is how they use their platforms. Besides her work with the ALS Association, Alexandra is very much into helping young women get into politics. She was inspired by women who blazed the trail before her by combining political office with Reserve and Guard careers. And her sister queens devote time to great causes, such as helping wounded veterans, visiting with active military members, and inspiring schoolchildren.
There’s an extra sense of community responsibility among these contestants because they’re military women. They feel they have to be good role models in both careers as they represent the country first, themselves second.
Goals and obstacles
When you’re serving, the goal is accomplishing the mission. In pageantry, the goal is winning the title. But both military and pageant careers require facing down hurdles — just ask Marina Gray, Miss Maine USA 2018 and National Guard Sgt. Marina broke out of poverty and neglect when she became legally emancipated from her parents at age 16. From that moment on, she lived on her own and supported herself.
She enlisted in the Guard as a way to help pay for college. Her love of the Maine Coast helped, but her outlook was most important. She grew up religious. “The best way to beat adversity is to be optimistic. Don’t ask ‘why me?’ Think: ‘It happened to me because I could handle it’. Things happen for a reason.”
Marina felt some discrimination from her male peers, not because for being a beauty queen, but because of her gender. She dealt with it by working even harder and became a 2015 Soldier of the Year, a 2017 NCO of the year, and earned various fitness awards. “I’ve faced much adversity in my life and the way I’ve overcome all my road bumps is what I think makes me a beautiful person. I think character shines much brighter than any shade of lipstick.”
Yes, these women are gorgeous, but don’t be fooled by their beauty. They’re also about grit and determination. In their commitment to the warrior ethos and pageantry, two seemingly different careers, queens and warriors are more alike than not. They’ve tossed a couple of grenades at the notion that you cannot be beautiful and talented and strong and brave at the same time
It’s the red, white and the blue. It’s the patriotism, the pride and the spirit. It’s songs about the homeland, and it’s thanking those who serve — pledging allegiance to all it represents. It’s the recognition of the American flag, and we’re here for it!
Celebrate the U. S. of A. with us through these favorite memes.
And a S/O to our forefathers for their support:
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Photo by Tech. Sgt. Carmen Cheney
NATO Special Operations Component Command-Afghanistan.
“No foreign invader has ever won a war in Afghanistan.”
It’s one of the first things the instructor told the next rotation of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) as we began our training for our deployment to Afghanistan. While I don’t believe his point was, “It’s a fool’s errand to try and change that statistic,” over a decade later, I wonder if that is what he was trying to tell us — even then.
We were encouraged to read “Three Cups of Tea” so we could learn about building schools in Afghanistan. I read it as requested, and as I walked through each chapter, I wondered if the leadership who had highly recommended the book had actually read it themselves.
“Three Cups of Tea” shares the story of Greg Mortenson, who began working to build schools in Pakistan. When Mortenson met with village elders, he learned they first needed a bridge, not a school. It took listening, a number of projects and lots of time to make progress in this one village. The U.S. was trying to make an impact with rotating teams that were under-equipped and only in the country for nine months.
A hope was placed on the PRTs. We were supposed to change the tide in the war: Win their hearts and minds.
Although we received months of training, nowhere in our manual did it say how we actually could “win hearts and minds.” We found ourselves in a country trying to do a job without everything we needed. We were managing huge construction projects with a pencil and a laptop. There was no support from the leadership when we expressed our concerns or the challenges we were facing.
As a Civil Engineer, I was tasked to manage projects and create new ones. We were required to follow the plans from Kabul. We were told to construct two-story schoolhouses in a community where people lived in makeshift shacks and mud huts. When we expressed our concerns about how these blueprints included generators (which the Afghans didn’t have fuel for), buildings (the Afghans had no idea how to maintain), and the overall lack of planning from the local Kapisa government, we were told we needed to focus on submitting more projects.
Our words fell on deaf ears.
When we told leadership we were limited due to the new rules that prevented our office from taking on more projects, they encouraged us to have more members on our team get the training certification so their name could be on the project instead of ours. The names didn’t matter — we were still tasked with managing projects that were doomed to fail from the start.
The focus was not on winning hearts and minds. Instead, it was encapsulated in how good of a performance report could be written by the dollars spent and projects created.
The PRT had lost their way. Now, as Afghanistan falls, I want to be shocked and surprised, but I’m not.
For a long time, I stopped thinking about my deployment. It hurt too much to think of the pain I endured. For so long, I questioned if anything I did mattered. What was it all for?
To cope with my deployment, I focused on the ways the deployment changed me into the person I am today. I made three close friends that I group chat with almost daily. I learned I am more capable than I ever thought. I took the courage and strength to create a business and help others share their story. Instead of focusing on our collective failures, I am trying to find the nobility in the services we rendered while we were there. It’s difficult to process 20 years of war “ending” with the Taliban back in control… with our interpreters and those who worked for us left in a panic, trying to escape. It’s hard for me to process and not to feel anything but anger. If nothing else, when we look back at these decades, may we learn from our biggest mistake: trying to change hearts and minds when we should have been listening.
Barbara Allen relives her husband’s murder, every day. “I don’t want to be out here doing this. This is not fun for me, it’s exhausting. It’s been fourteen years of it,” she shared.
On June 7, 2005 Lt. Louis Allen and Cpt. Phillip Esposito were on an Army base in Iraq winding down after a long day. Allen’s husband had just deployed to Iraq and kissed her and their four sons goodbye 10 days earlier. He was playing the board game, Risk, with the Captain. A few minutes after they started, a claymore mine was set off outside their window. Grenades exploded shortly after the mine went off. They were both rushed to the hospital immediately but died of internal injuries the following day.
While military investigators initially thought the enemy was an insurgent who had set off a rocket or mortar, the discovery of the hand placed mine led them to other suspects. Their subsequent investigation found that the enemy – was from within.
Photo courtesy of Barbara Allen
A staff sergeant within their company was soon charged with two counts of premeditated murder during the week both men were buried by their families. The widows of the men allegedly killed by the staff sergeant were flown to Kuwait a few months later for his Article 32 hearing. Nine witnesses testified and a general court martial for murder was recommended based on the evidence presented. In early 2006, after learning of the evidence against him, the staff sergeant accused offered up a guilty plea to avoid the death penalty.
It was rejected by the military.
Two years later on December 4, 2008, the accused staff sergeant was acquitted of both murders, despite a mountain of evidence that he had “fragged” the two officers. Allen wasn’t told until months later that he had entered a guilty plea and the accused staff sergeant was discharged from the Army. Honorably.
Many witnesses testified that the accused staff sergeant had pledged to “burn” and “frag” the captain. They also shared that he was seen smiling and laughing after their deaths. A supply sergeant even testified that she gave the accused ammunition, including a claymore mine. Despite all of that – it wasn’t enough to convince the jury.
Allen requested that the Senate Committee on Armed Services look into the case. They didn’t.
“If our trial had happened when social media was a thing, I think it would have gone completely differently. It fell through a gap and we can’t get it back. If we had the court of public opinion on our side, the country on our side, he’d get the Purple Heart,” said Allen.
Photo courtesy of Barbara Allen
Allen was devastated that, in her words, the accused got away with murder and her husband was forgotten afterward. Her husband’s death was declared non-hostile, meaning the military states that he wasn’t killed by the enemy. This meant he wasn’t a candidate for the Purple Heart. She described the whole experience as hell on earth.
“Anyone who willfully kills two soldiers in a combat zone has aided and abetted the enemy. Therefore, is the enemy,” Allen said. “Even the weapon used had the words ‘front to an enemy.’ Flabbergasted, Allen asked, “What else do you have to do to be considered an enemy?” Allen didn’t understand how Ft. Hood victims could get awarded Purple Hearts, but her husband, who was murdered in a combat zone, isn’t eligible.
Allen believes that the Army must decide that they either made a mistake and charged the wrong person and her husband was killed by an insurgent enemy or they let a guilty man go. She reported that “people tended to get fired” when they helped her. Allen said they’ve gone as far as having a Medal of Honor recipient deliver the casefile to President Trump to plead for her husband to receive the Purple Heart, without success.
When asked how her boys feel about all of this, she began to cry. “This is their father, their dad, who’s been missing for their entire lives,” she said. “In the eyes of history he doesn’t exist. His future was taken already; you can’t take his legacy. The message is that any member of the military is expendable. If you die in a way that is embarrassing, we [the military] will erase you. That isn’t the military that I believe in or that he believed in.”
Allen achieved a master’s in criminal justice years after her husband was killed. She reported studying 12 other capital cases like her husband’s. She believes that if the FBI’s protocol for workplace violence had been followed by the military with the accused, her husband wouldn’t have been killed. “They deserved to be protected; nobody was trained. They believed that the uniform was a barrier to reporting,” she said.
This ruling is more than just an award to Allen and her family, she shared. “If the military said that if you willfully injure or kill another service member in a combat zone, let’s just start there, you are an enemy. Teach them about the warning signs. I can testify to what happens when you don’t. It would change things,” said Allen.
Today, Allen says she has a glimmer of hope once again. Her murdered husband’s case file for a Purple Heart is currently sitting on a desk in the Pentagon, awaiting review and the stroke of a pen.
The Sikorsky-Boeing SB1 Defiant helicopter program will miss its first scheduled flight tests due to “minor technical issues” discovered during ground power tests, officials involved in the program revealed Dec. 12, 2018. The tests were originally scheduled for 2018.
While the aircraft “has been completely built,” discoveries were made in recent weeks during Power System Test Bed (PSTB) testing, said Rich Koucheravy, Sikorsky director of business development for future vertical lift. Sikorsky is partnered with Boeing Co. on the project.
“We’re working those fixes, and our goal will be to get the PSTB back in operation shortly…within the next week or two,” Koucheravy said in a phone call with reporters. Because of the prolonged PSTB tests, the Defiant flight will be pushed back into early 2019, he said.
Randy Rotte, Boeing director of global sales and marketing for cargo helicopters and FVL, said the program must also be certified in 15 unblemished hours within PSTB — which collectively tests the aircraft as a system — before it’s cleared for first flight.
U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno is briefed about the newest invitation, the SB1 Defiant by a Boeing representative at the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Convention and exposition show in Washington, D.C., Oct. 14, 2014.
(U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Mikki L. Sprenkle)
The two officials said the unspecified, mechanical issues have not and will not impact or alter the design or configuration of the aircraft, nor should they impact the supply chain.
Program officials previously reported problems with the transmission gearbox and rotor blades.
“Those issues are behind us,” Rotte said Dec. 12, 2018.
The co-developers have been transparent with the Army with the delays, they said. “Only time will tell” if other discoveries during prolonged ground testing will dictate when the flight tests occur, Rotte said.
The news comes one year after Defiant’s competitor, the Bell Helicopter-made V-280 Valor next-generation tilt-rotor aircraft, made its first flight.
In October 2018, the head of the Army’s Future Vertical Lift effort said the service was not worried that the Sikorsky-Boeing SB1 Defiant had not conducted its first test flight yet.
A mock-up of a Bell V-280, exhibited at HeliExpo 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.
But, he added, “we have been in close communication with the Defiant team and understand where they are at and what they are doing.”
Sikorsky, part of Lockheed Martin Corp., and Boeing Co. built the SB1 Defiant, which is based on Sikorsky’s X2 coaxial design.
The Defiant was expected to conduct its first test flight in 2017, but Sikorsky-Boeing officials predicted it would instead conduct its maiden flight in late 2018 at the Sikorsky Development Flight Test Center in West Palm Beach.
Rugen at the time said it was still too early to say whether the service will lean toward the Valor’s tiltrotor or the Defiant’s coaxial rotor design.
“We want the most efficient and the most capable platform,” he said.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
If you’ve ever deployed to the Middle East, then you’ve probably experienced a few explosions here and there, heard a firefight once or twice, and smelled some pretty nasty sh*t burning nearby.
Well, that burning sh*t is either the bad guys torching tires as a signal to warn others that allied forces are in the area, or it’s the smell of a burn pit coming from a military base.
For years, troops serving on the frontlines have burned their unwanted trash, either in barrels or in large burn pits, set ablaze with diesel fuel.
Since burn pits are the primary avenue through which troops discard their waste products, plenty of items get thrown into the pits that shouldn’t be near an open flame — like the following.
1. Unspent rounds
It’s common for troops to experience a misfire when discharging their weapons for various reasons. After they clear the chamber, they either let the unspent round fall to the ground or, sometimes, they get tossed into a burn pit.
That’s a bad idea. Bullet projection is based on igniting the gunpowder inside the shell as a propellant. No one wants to get shot by a burn pit.
Just because the primer was struck and nothing happened doesn’t mean the round is dead — it’s still alive. Sort of like a zombie.
2. Human remains
This is just nasty. Who wants to smell a bad guy’s leg roasting over an open flame in the burn pit? On second thought, please don’t answer that.
Various types of batteries will explode if exposed to intense heat. No troop wants to get hit with shrapnel during a firefight, let alone get blasted by battery fragments while inside the wire.
The US Army is developing precision-guided 155mm rounds that are longer range than existing shells and able to conduct combat missions in a GPS-denied war environment.
The Precision Guidance Kit Modernization (PGK-M) is now being developed to replace the standard PGK rounds, which consist of an unguided 155 round with a GPS-fuse built into it; the concept with the original PGK, which first emerged roughly 10 years ago, was to bring a greater amount of precision to historically unguided artillery fire.
Now, Army developers with the Army’s Program Executive Office Ammunition at Picatinny Arsenal are taking the technology to a new level by improving upon the range, accuracy, and functionality of the weapon. Perhaps of greatest importance, the emerging PGK-M shell is engineered such that it can still fire with range and accuracy in a war environment where GPS guidance and navigation technology is compromised or destroyed.
The emerging ammunition will be able to fire from standard 155mm capable weapons such as an Army M777 lightweight towed howitzer and M109 howitzer.
“PGK-M will provide enhanced performance against a broad spectrum of threats. In addition, PGK-M will be interoperable with the Army’s new long-range artillery projectiles, which are currently in parallel development,” Audra Calloway, spokeswoman for the Army’s Picatinny Arsenal, told Warrior Maven.
BAE Systems is among several vendors currently developing PGK-M with the Army’s Defense Ordnance Technology Consortium. BAE developers say the kits enable munitions to make in-flight course corrections even in GPS-jammed environments.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jessica A. DuVernay)
“Our experience with munitions handling, gun launch shock, interior ballistics, and guidance and fire control uniquely positions us to integrate precision technology into the Army’s artillery platforms,” David Richards, Program Manager, Strategic Growth Initiatives for our Precision Guidance and Sensing Solutions group, BAE Systems, told Warrior Maven in a statement.
This technological step forward is quite significant for the Army, as it refines its attack technologies in a newly-emerging threat environment. The advent of vastly improved land-fired precision weaponry began about 10 years ago during the height of counterinsurgency warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan. GPS-guided 155m Excalibur rounds and the Army’s GPS and inertial measurement unit weapon, the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, burst onto the war scene as a way to give commanders more attack options.
Traditional suppressive fire, or “area weapons” as they have been historically thought of, were not particularly useful in combat against insurgents. Instead, since enemies were, by design, blended among civilians, Army attack options had little alternative but to place the highest possible premium upon precision guidance.
GMLRS, for example, was used to destroy Taliban leaders in Afghanistan, and Excalibur had its combat debut in the 2007, 2008 timeframe. With a CEP of roughly 1-meter Excalibur proved to be an invaluable attack mechanism against insurgents. Small groups of enemy fighters, when spotted by human intel or overhead ISR, could effectively be attack without hurting innocents or causing what military officials like to call “collateral damage.” PGK was initially envision as a less expensive, and also less precise, alternative to Excalibur.
The rise of near peer threats, and newer technologies commensurate with larger budgets and fortified military modernization ambitions, have created an entirely new war environment confronting the Army of today and tomorrow. Principle among these circumstances is, for example, China’s rapid development of Anti-Satellite, or ASAT weapons.This ongoing development, which has both the watchful eye and concern of US military strategists and war planners, underscores a larger and much discussed phenomenon – that of the United States military being entirely too reliant upon GPS for combat ops. GPS, used in a ubiquitous way across the Army and other military services, spans small force-tracking devices to JDAMs dropped from the air, and much more, of course including the aforementioned land weapons.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Veronica Mammina)
Advanced jamming techniques, electronic warfare and sophisticated cyberattacks have radically altered the combat equation – making GPS signals vulnerable to enemy disruption. Accordingly, there is a broad consensus among military developers, and industry innovators that far too many necessary combat technologies are reliant upon GPS systems. Weapons targeting, ship navigation, and even small handheld solider force-tracking systems all rely upon GPS signals to operate.
Accordingly, the Army and other services are now accelerating a number of technical measures and emerging technologies designed to create what’s called Position, Navigation and Timing (PNT), or GPS-like guidance, navigation and targeting, without actually needing satellites. This includes ad hoc software programmable radio networks, various kinds of wave-relay connectivity technologies and navigational technology able to help soldiers operate without GPS-enabled force tracking systems.
At the same time, the Army is working with the Air Force on an integrated strategy to protect satellite comms, harden networks, and also better facilitate joint-interoperability in a GPS-denied environment.
The Air Force Space strategy, for instance, is currently pursuing a multi-fold satellite strategy to include “dispersion,” “disaggregation” and “redundancy.” At the same time, the service has also identified the need to successfully network the force in an environment without GPS. Naturally, this is massively interwoven with air-ground coordination. Fighters, bombers and even drones want to use a wide range of secure sensors to both go after targets and operate with ground forces.
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is working with industry to test and refine an emerging radiofrequency force-tracking technology able to identify ground forces’ location without needing to rely upon GPS.
Given all this, it is by no means insignificant that the Army seeks guided rounds able to function without GPS. Should they engage in near-peer, force-on-force mechanized ground combat against a major, technologically advanced adversary, they may indeed need to launch precision attacks across wide swaths of terrain – without GPS.
Finally, by all expectations, modern warfare is expected to increasingly become more and more dispersed across wider swaths of terrain, while also more readily crossing domains, given rapid emergence of longer range weapons and sensors.
This circumstance inevitably creates the need for both precision and long-range strike. As one senior Army weapons developer with PEO Missiles and Space told Warrior Maven in an interview — Brig. Gen. Robert Rasch — …”it is about out-ranging the enemy.”