4 animal superpowers we want before our next deployment - We Are The Mighty
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4 animal superpowers we want before our next deployment

So, the American warfighter is one of the most technologically advantaged warriors in history.


But we could still make it better, right? No one wants a fair fight in war, and nature is full of animal superpowers that would give the U.S. a greater advantage.

Here are four that might be on the way:

1. Snow fox rangefinder

4 animal superpowers we want before our next deployment
(Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Dave Smalls)

Snow foxes have achieved internet fame recently for their “built-in compass” that makes them more successful in hunting mice under the snow or dirt when they strike at a small range of compass directions to the northeast of their position.

But it’s not exactly a built-in compass, it’s more of a range finder. This Discovery Blog article does a good job of explaining it, but the snow fox can basically sense disturbances at a fixed distance from them along a fixed direction. This allows them to much more accurately sense the exact range of the mouse from their position and attack with precision.

Is it coming?

4 animal superpowers we want before our next deployment
(Photo: U.S. Army Spc. Samuel Soza)

Troops currently can receive acoustic systems for identifying sniper locations and radar systems for artillery and mortar point of origins, both of which are always getting better.

As for targeting enemy forces that aren’t actively engaging them, soldiers still have to spot the enemy and either guess, hit them with a laser rangefinder, or compare the enemy positions to their position on a map and do the math. No magic hunting powers are on the table yet.

2. Grizzly bear time-defying nose

4 animal superpowers we want before our next deployment
(Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Terry Tollefsbol)

Bloodhounds are famous for their sense of smell, and the reputation is well-earned. Their noses are so sensitive that they can detect minute differences in scent trails that are almost 13 days old.

Grizzly bears, meanwhile, are seven times as sensitive as bloodhounds. And yeah, they can do the time-traveling nose trick as well.

Is it coming?

The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency has been backing mechanical smell breakthroughs for a while, and a major step forward came in 2013 when Honeywell created the miniature vacuum pumps necessary for mobile mass spectrometers. Basically, all the components are now there for mechanical sniffers that can detect any and all materials in the air near them, even pathogens.

There are still software limits, though. Someone will have to teach the mechanical noses what elements are present one, two, or eight days after an enemy infantry patrol passes a given point or a fuel point has been disbanded.

3. Snake thermal imaging

4 animal superpowers we want before our next deployment
(Photo: Otavio Marques/Instituto Butantan)

Some snakes that hunt small animals can see in the dark through protein channels that pick up infrared energy that enters through the snake’s “pit organs,” those little opening near their eyes that look like nostrils.

Is it coming?

4 animal superpowers we want before our next deployment
A former Navy SEAL fires an infrared round that is invisible to human sight. (YouTube: Discovery)

The short answer is maybe. Troops currently can see infrared energy through bulky optics, but there’s a possibility for contact lenses that sense infrared radiation. Because it’s tied to ultraviolet detection, it’s explained at the end of entry 4, below.

4. Jumping spider and bat eyes that see four primary colors

4 animal superpowers we want before our next deployment
(Photo: Opoterser/CC BY 3.0)

Yes. Four of them. We are told that the three primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. But that’s not exactly true. Red, yellow, and blue correspond with specific wavelengths of light that stimulate humans’ three kinds of color receptors. Human corneas filter out light in another, otherwise visible band, ultraviolet. Some bats and spiders can see this band.

Soldiers who can see UV light would have much better night vision with none of the “tunneling” of most NV goggles. They would also be able to see insects better, helping troops avoid them, and fingerprints, helping with site exploitation.

Is it coming?

Maybe. The major technology breakthroughs have already come thanks to graphene, which can be used to make “ultra-broadband” photoreceptors. Basically, sensors that can detect infrared energy, visible light, and UV rays and combine them into one final image.

Best of all, graphene is thin enough that the possibility exists to make these receptors into contact lenses. But no one has currently commissioned graphene contact lenses for the troops. Still, fingers crossed.

Articles

This is why Cossacks are Russia’s legendary fighting force

For centuries, friends and foes of Russia marveled at the fierce fighting skills of their Cossack Warriors. The Cossacks fought to defend the Russian Czar against any manner of enemies – from Ottoman Turks to Napoleon’s Grande Armée, through a World War, and even against the Bolshevik Red Army.

4 animal superpowers we want before our next deployment
The last one had admittedly mixed results.

They expanded the borders of the Russian Empire, conquering Siberia and the Caucasus regions for the Czar, all the way to the Bering Sea – capturing one-sixth of the Earth’s land area. Their martial prowess was unmatched in the region for a long time and they refused to be tied to any master. Even the name “Cossack” in the Turkic languages of the time and area meant “free,” “adventurer,” or “wanderer.”

Cossack loyalty to the Russian Czar was earned over centuries of fighting to maintain that independence. Many Czars were faced with Cossack uprisings and were forced to deal with them in their own ways, from putting down the rebellion or forcibly moving the population to another area of the Russian Empire.

From a young age, Cossacks raised their children to be elite warriors and ethnically Cossack in every way possible. Training could begin in infancy and only ever stop in an actual pitched battle.

4 animal superpowers we want before our next deployment
Keep your head down!

Eventually, the Russian nobility came to accept the Cossacks, endowing them with certain rights and privileges in the Empire for their continued service in defending Russia’s borders. And they earned those rights, too. After his Grand Armée was forced out of Russia, the Cossacks harassed them all the way back to France. It was the Cossacks who captured Paris and unseated the French Emperor.

When the Empire fell during World War I and the Czar abdicated, the Cossacks were divided between the Red and White factions of the Russian Civil War. They fought primarily for the White (anti-Communist) Russians, which earned them persecution when the Bolsheviks won the war and founded the Soviet Union.

The persecution got so bad, many Cossacks fought for Nazi Germany during WWII.

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Articles

This Army Unit Is Responsible For Blasting Crucial Gear For Soldiers Through The Pentagon Bureaucracy

4 animal superpowers we want before our next deployment
Minotaur prototype on display in the Pentagon center courtyard. Photo: US Army


The Rapid Equipping Force (REF) accepts orders to make and deliver custom gear that will help soldiers do their job better.

Anyone from a private to the Chief of Staff of the Army can place a “10-liner,” the shorthand for the unit’s request form. The REF will then evaluate the request and use existing gear or emerging technologies and concepts to build what you need. They will even work with soldiers through the entire process to make sure they get it right; they call this process co-creation.

From submission to completion, the REF can have a solution on the field within weeks instead of years by avoiding the usual Pentagon bureaucracy. They can field as quickly as 90 days according to the official Army website.

To speed up the process, the REF has strategic units around the world near combat zones to be closer to soldiers. For example, at the height of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, the REF had teams in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait according to the REF’s website.

4 animal superpowers we want before our next deployment
REF Expeditionary Lab. Photo: US Army

They also have mobile labs that can pack up in a single day and ship it anywhere in the world called REF Expeditionary Labs. According to the REF website, these labs give soldiers access to expert scientists, engineers, and equipment like:

  • 3D printers
  • Global communications suites
  • Fabrication tools
  • Microscopy
  • and more

Some of the REF projects include:

  • Ironman – a 500 round backpack for machine guns
  • Raven – a hand-launched remote control drone for field surveillance
  • Minotaur – robot technology that helps troops safely deal with explosive devices
  • PILAR – a system that locates sniper fire location on an LCD screen
  • and more

4 animal superpowers we want before our next deployment
RQ-11 Raven. Photo: Wikipedia

The REF was founded in 2002 when the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Col. Bruce Jette was looking for a solution to prevent soldiers in Afghanistan from sustaining casualties from booby traps while searching and clearing caves. He asked the Army:

  • Can robots help Soldiers clear caves?
  • Can a robotic capability be deployed within 90-days?
  • Is there an existing Army unit that can accomplish the task?

Shortly after, Jette was authorized to form the Rapid Integration of Robot Systems (RIRS) to find a solution to his questions. In less than 30 days, they found the answer and deployed it to Afghanistan. Riding on the team’s success, Jette recommended to the Army that the REF should be formed. For the past 12 years, the REF has continued to provide solutions for soldiers, and on January 30, 2014 the Army declared the REF an enduring capability according to the REF site.

The following video is an overview of the REF’s capabilities:

USArmyREF, YouTube

Articles

This is why Pakistan drives its nukes around in delivery vans

 


Pakistan is an awkward ally to the U.S., to put it mildly. The relationship hasn’t really been the same since the end of the Cold War. The U.S. routinely violates Pakistan’s airspace and strikes Pakistani nationals with drones, while the Pakistanis harbored America’s whole reason for global warfare — Osama bin Laden.

It’s a complicated relationship.

4 animal superpowers we want before our next deployment

According to the nonprofit Arms Control Association, Pakistan has at least 140 nuclear warheads and rather than secure them in fortified bunkers, Pakistan hides them in plain sight – by driving them through rush hour traffic in an unsuspecting delivery van.

4 animal superpowers we want before our next deployment

In a shocking report from the Atlantic, it seems Pakistan’s military uses civilian vehicles without “noticeable defenses” dispersed throughout the country, driving in everyday traffic. The raid on Abbottabad only increased the number of nuclear weapons driving through Pakistan like Morgan Freeman drove Miss Daisy.

When Pakistan became a nuclear power in 1998, the world kinda cringed. It wasn’t only the idea of a nuclear exchange between Pakistan and its longtime enemy, India. It was the threat of terrorists getting a nuclear weapon, parts of a nuclear weapon, or even the fissile material used in them and then sneaking it out through Pakistan’s porous borders.

The Pakistani government assures you: there is nothing to be concerned about.

“Of all the things in the world to worry about, the issue you should worry about the least is the safety of our nuclear program,” an official at the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, the Pakistani military spy agency, told The Atlantic “It is completely secure. … It is in our interest to keep our bases safe as well. You must trust us that we have maximum and impenetrable security. No one with ill intent can get near our strategic assets.”

4 animal superpowers we want before our next deployment
I mean… look at their sweet moves. (Pak Army photo)

But the United States is not the kind of country that takes chances with something like that. America already showed it can make an incursion into Pakistan to do whatever it wants (see: Raid, bin Laden). Shortly after the raid, NBC News’ Robert Windrem quoted “current and former U.S. officials” who said securing the Pakistani nukes has been a priority for the national security community since Pakistan became a nuclear state.

A former president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, told NBC that the United States seizing Pakistani nukes would lead to all-out war between the two countries.

4 animal superpowers we want before our next deployment

The 2011 Atlantic article recounts a number of militant attacks on Pakistan’s suspect 15 nuclear sites. The University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Index even showed a huge spike in terrorism-related incidents in the two years following the 2011 Atlantic article.

Between the attacks on their suspected nuclear sites and the looming threat of U.S. Navy SEALs coming to snatch them from secured locations the Pakistanis were at a loss for what to do with their nukes. That’s when they started using the delivery vans.

The number of attacks on Pakistan’s nuclear installations nearly doubled from around 1,200 in 2011 to some 2,200 in 2013. There are so many militant groups in Pakistan, the government and military are unable to track them all down. Maybe the delivery vans aren’t the craziest idea after all.

4 animal superpowers we want before our next deployment
This old Pakistani fight scene is the craziest thing.

If it comes down to it, the United States has a dedicated team of special operations assets standing by to capture Pakistan’s nuclear weapons  – if the Americans can find them.

Articles

USS Mahan has close encounter with Iranian vessel

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mahan (DDG 72) had what one report described as a “close encounter” with an Iranian vessel on April 24.


According to a report by Fox News, the Iranian vessel was a “fast attack craft” used by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy. USS Mahan was forced to change course, the crew manned weapons, fired flares, and sounded a danger signal. The Iranian vessel stayed over 1,000 yards from the Mahan, but its weapons were manned.

4 animal superpowers we want before our next deployment
USS Mahan (DDG 72). (U.S. Navy photo)

According to the 16th Edition of Combat Fleets of the World, Iran has over 100 “fast attack craft” of varying types. The most notorious of these are roughly 30 Boghammers, which can reach speeds of up to 45 knots, and are armed with .50-caliber machine guns or twin 23mm anti-aircraft guns and either a 12-round 107mm rocket launcher, a 106mm recoilless rifle, or a RPG-7. American forces destroyed at least five of these vessels during naval clashes with Iran in 1987 and 1988.

This is not the first time USS Mahan has had a close call with Iranian vessels. In January, 2017, the Mahan had to fire warning shots at similar craft that came within 900 yards. The Iranian vessels backed off.

4 animal superpowers we want before our next deployment

In March, 2017, the missile-range instrumentation vessel USNS Invincible (T AGM 24) was harassed by Iranian forces twice. In one incident, an Iranian frigate came within 150 yards of the Military Sealift Command vessel.  The second incident saw IRGC speedboats approach within 600 yards of the Invincible.

That same month, the commander of United States Central Command, Army Gen. James Votel told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Iran was the primary concern in the region.

“We are also dealing with a range of malign activities perpetrated by Iran and its proxies operating in the region,” said Votel, citing Iran’s support for terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Bashir Assad’s regime in Syria. “It is my view that Iran poses the greatest long-term threat to stability for this part of the world.”

 

Lists

6 types of enlisted ‘docs’ you’ll meet at sick call

We love our Corpsmen and medics!


They perform the tasks that the average trooper would run away from, like “bore punching” and administrating the “silver bullet.”

Like every profession in the military, medical is home to some of the most interesting personalities. Although they wear the same uniforms and earn the same badges, their individual personalities are entirely different from one another.

Related: 6 things you didn’t know about sick call

So, check out six types of enlisted ‘docs’ that you’re likely to meet at sick call.

6. The “know it all”

It’s not a bad thing for your doc to be a know-it-all, but some of them will insist on showing you just how much medical knowledge they have.

And I’m only an E-2! (Image via GIPHY)

5. The “motivator”

This is the guy or gal that shows up to work blasting their MOS and branch pride via their street clothes. They’re continually preparing themselves for advancement and may even quiz you on military history while you’re merely checking in for an appointment.

4. The “beast”

If you think you’re buff and muscular, you’re wrong. This enlisted doc hits the gym six to seven days a week, preparing himself to go special forces — and they’ll definitely let you that they’re eventually headed in that direction.

I’m a beast, b*tches! (Image via GIPHY)

3. The “old-young one”

We love this type of Corpsman or medic. This person joined the military later in life, so they have more wisdom and experience, but have next to no rank on their collars.

2. The “softy”

For all of our “sick-call commandos” out there, this is the staff member you should hope to get when you go to medical. They’ll do everything in their power to get you that light duty chit or sick-in-quarters form you want.  All you have to do is play up your pain or sickness and watch them crumble.

Also Read: Why ‘Devil Doc’ is the unofficial name of elite Navy Corpsmen

1. The Marine Corpsman

When a Corpsman spends time with the Marines and earns their Fleet Marine Force pin, they sometimes start to identify as “Devil Dogs.”

4 animal superpowers we want before our next deployment
U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Adam Zani, applies camo paint before heading out on a mission with the Marines. (Image from USMC)

MIGHTY TACTICAL

DARPA wants drone swarms to be your battle buddy in urban combat

DARPA’s OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET) program envisions future small-unit infantry forces using small unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) and/or small unmanned ground systems (UGSs) in swarms of 250 robots or more to accomplish diverse missions in complex urban environments. By leveraging and combining emerging technologies in swarm autonomy and human-swarm teaming, the program seeks to enable rapid development and deployment of breakthrough swarm capabilities.


To continue the rapid pace and further advance the technology development of OFFSET, DARPA is soliciting proposals for the second “swarm sprint.” Each of the five core “sprints” focuses on one of the key thrust areas: Swarm Tactics, Swarm Autonomy, Human-Swarm Team, Virtual Environment, and Physical Testbed. This second group of “Swarm Sprinters” will have the opportunity to work with one or both of the OFFSET Swarm Systems Integrator teams to develop and assess tactics as well as algorithms to enhance autonomy.

The focus of the second sprint is enabling improved autonomy through enhancements of platforms and/or autonomy elements, with the operational backdrop of utilizing a diverse swarm of 50 air and ground robots to isolate an urban objective within an area of two city blocks over a mission duration of 15 to 30 minutes. Swarm Sprinters will leverage existing or develop new hardware components, algorithms, and/or primitives to enable novel capabilities that specifically demonstrate the advantages of a swarm when leveraging and operating in complex urban environments.

The conclusion of the second sprint is aligned with a physical and virtual experiment, where “sprinters” will be able to more deeply integrate and demonstrate their technology developments. The sprinters will have the opportunity to work with DARPA and the Swarm Systems Integrators to further expand the capabilities relevant to operational contexts.

“As operations in urban environments continue to evolve, our warfighters need advanced capabilities to keep up with the ever-changing complexity of the urban scenario,” said Timothy Chung, program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO). “The focus on enhancing autonomy in operational contexts will further advance future swarming capabilities allowing the warfighter to outmaneuver our adversaries in these complex urban environments.”

The announcement for this second swarm sprint follows the awarding of contracts to the first cohort of OFFSET Swarm Sprinters to:

  • Lockheed Martin, Advanced Technology Laboratories
  • SoarTech, Inc.
  • Charles River Analytics, Inc.
  • University of Maryland
  • Carnegie Mellon University

Each of these inaugural sprinters will focus on generating novel tactics for a multi-faceted swarm of air and ground robots in support of the mission to isolate an urban objective, such as conducting reconnaissance, generating a semantic map of the area of operations, and/or identifying and defending against possible security risks.

Instructions for submitting a proposal to participate in the second core swarm sprint (under Amendment 2), as well as full OFFSET program details, are available on the Federal Business Opportunities website: https://go.usa.gov/xRhPC. Proposals are due at 1:00 p.m. Eastern on April 30, 2018. Please email questions to OFFSET@darpa.mil.

(More information about OFFSET and swarm sprint thrust areas is available here: https://youtu.be/c7KPBHPEMM0 and http://www.darpa.mil/work-with-us/offensive-swarm-enabled-tactics.)

Articles

Inspector General claims US Army can’t account for trillions of dollars

4 animal superpowers we want before our next deployment


In a report released earlier this summer, the Department of Defense Inspector General has determined that the Army’s finances are a world-class mess. Reportedly, the service made $2.8 trillion in adjustments to make their books balance just in one quarter of 2015 in spite of the fact that the entire defense budget for that fiscal year was $585 billion.

According to Reuters, the Army’s books are so jumbled that they may be impossible to audit – and the Army is facing a September 30, 2017 deadline to be ready for one. The harsh IG report concluded the Army “materially misstated” its financial statements for 2015.

Making the task of squaring the Army’s books harder is the fact that over 16,000 documents have vanished from the Army’s computer system. The Defense Finance and Accounting Services (DFAS), the Pentagon’s primary agency responsible for accounting services, routinely changed numbers without justification at the end of the year, something employees of that agency referred to as the “grand plug.”

“Where is the money going? Nobody knows,” DOD critic and retired analyst Franklin Spinney told Reuters.

The Army has taken issue with the IG report, claiming that the total discrepancies total just under $62.5 billion. An Army spokesman said, “Though there is a high number of adjustments, we believe the financial statement information is more accurate than implied in this report,” that and that the Army “remains committed to asserting audit readiness” and that steps are being taken to root out the problems.

Articles

These are 4 of the most underrated American military commanders ever

We’ve all heard about military leaders from American history who totally rock. Washington, Stonewall Jackson, and Ike are certainly among them.


But it’s worth noting some military commanders who didn’t get the accolades, but really should have.

Some, you may know a little bit about, and some you might never have heard of until now.

Let’s take a look at who might need some more compliments for their military prowess.

1. Raymond A. Spruance

4 animal superpowers we want before our next deployment
Raymond A. Spruance, the victor of Midway. (U.S. Navy photo)

Samuel Eliot Morison called Raymond Ames Spruance “the victor of Midway” in his “History of United States Naval Operations in World War II.”

Morison noted in that Spruance, upon reviewing the text, requested that “the victor of Midway” be changed to “who commanded a carrier task force at Midway.” Morison declined to make the change, but it shows the modest character of Spruance, who was arguably America’s best naval combat commander in the Pacific Theater.

Look at his results.

At Midway, Spruance smashed and sank four Japanese carriers. During the Battle of the Philippine Sea, his fleet pulled off the Marianas Turkey Shoot, and later sank a carrier and two oilers (American subs sank two more carriers). Here’s how thoroughly Spruance beat the Japanese: At the start of the battle, CombinedFleet.com noted the Japanese had 473 aircraft on their carriers. After the battle, WW2DB.com noted the Japanese carriers had 35 planes total among them.

In the Navy, it is an honor to have a ship named after you. When your name goes on the lead ship of a class of destroyers, it speaks volumes about how you did.

Spruance’s name was on USS Spruance (DD 963), the first of 31 Spruance-class destroyers. An Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer (DDG 111) also bears his name.

2. John Buford

Sam Elliot gave a memorable performance of this general in “Gettysburg.”

We may very well owe the fact that the Union won the Civil War to John Buford. Everything that happened at Gettysburg was due to Buford’s actions on June 30 and July 1, 1863. An excerpt from a U.S. Army training manual notes, “Buford’s deployment and delaying tactics blocked Confederate access to Gettysburg while gaining time for reinforcing Union columns to arrive on the battlefield.”

He identified the terrain that mattered, he then bought time for the Union Army to arrive, and to eventually regroup on Cemetery Ridge. The U.S. Army manual says that, “[H]is morning actions ensured that the Army of the Potomac secured the high ground. Over the next two days, General Lee’s army would shatter itself in repeated attacks upon these heights. The battle of Gettysburg very much reflected the shaping influence of Buford’s cavalry division.”

3. Ulysses S. Grant

4 animal superpowers we want before our next deployment
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Mathew B. Brady

Butcher. Drunk. Those are common perceptions of Ulysses S. Grant, but they miss the point.

If Robert E. Lee’s biggest fault was the failure to keep in mind the comparative strengths and weaknesses of the two sides in the Civil War, Grant was someone who keenly grasped them. Yes, Union troops suffered heavy casualties at battles like Cold Harbor or the Wilderness, but where other generals pulled back, Grant pressed forward.

Edward H. Bonekemper noted at the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable that in the Overland Campaign, “Grant took his aggressiveness and persistence beyond the levels he had demonstrated in the Western and Middle Theaters.” Bonekemper also expressed his belief that had Petersburg not held, Grant’s campaign would have won the war in two months.

Eventually, he broke Lee’s army, and with it, the Confederacy.

4. Daniel Callaghan

4 animal superpowers we want before our next deployment
(Photo: U.S. Navy)

Like John Buford, Callaghan really had one big moment. But what a moment it was.

Against overwhelming odds, Daniel Callaghan saved Henderson Field from a massive bombardment, making the ultimate sacrifice in doing so. Yet far too many historical accounts, like Richard Frank’s Guadalcanal (see pages 459 and 460), act as if Callaghan blundered into the fight.

On the contrary, Callaghan, by forcing a melee, bought enough time that the Japanese had to postpone having a battleship bombard Henderson Field for two critical days — enough time for American fast battleships to arrive.

Articles

How the Marines and the Navy work together on the high seas

The seven-month odyssey of a “blue-green” flotilla that saw combat in Yemen and Syria and conducted training exercises across a large swath of the globe demonstrates the enduring importance of the Navy-Marine Corps team overseas, commanders of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit said May 24.


Departing San Diego on Oct. 14, the 11th MEU and the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group reportedly supported a Jan. 29 raid in Yemen in which a Navy SEAL — Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens — was killed. They also brought artillery and infantry troops to Kuwait for later duty, providing firepower to Kurdish partners besieging Raqqa, the Syrian city that doubles as the capital for the terrorist Islamic State.

4 animal superpowers we want before our next deployment
U.S. Marines with Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369 (HMLA-369), 3d Marine Aircraft Wing, exits a CH-53E Super Stallion upon return from a deployment with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., May 12, 2017. Friends and family members welcomed home Marines from the 11th MEU’s Command Element during a homecoming ceremony. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Clare J. Shaffer/Released)

The howitzers manned by the Marines conducted more than 400 fire-support missions in Syria, firing more than 4,500 shells at ISIS targets, according to the 11th MEU.

“It was the right Marine air-ground task force to provide supportability, mobility, and lethality,” 11th MEU spokesman Maj. Craig Thomas said during a news conference May 24 at Camp Pendleton. “The Marines supported local Syrians who are fighting to rid ISIS from their country.”

Also read: Marines arrive in Syria to support assault on ISIS capital

Citing the classified nature of the Yemen operations, Thomas said he couldn’t comment on that raid.

His report card for the MEU comes during a series of debates not only about America’s policies toward Yemen and Syria but also grumbling concerns about the future of Marine expeditionary units.

Experts continue to fret about how Marine battalions will conduct their amphibious missions in an age of super-fast and precise, long-range anti-ship-air missiles, plus Pentagon budget woes that appear to prioritize submarines and destroyers over amphibious assault ships like the Makin Island.

4 animal superpowers we want before our next deployment
Sailors man the rails aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8) in 2012. | (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Dominique Pineiro/Navy)

That flagship vessel returned to San Diego on May 15. It and the fellow amphibious assault ships Somerset and Comstock combined to carry more than 4,500 sailors and Marines, spending three months in the Pacific Ocean and four months in the waters off the Middle East and Africa.

Beyond the combat operations in Syria, the group held exercises in Hawaii, Guam, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, Djibouti, Oman, and the Persian Gulf. Marines also stood ready to evacuate the embassy in the South Sudanese capital of Juba during hostilities there — the sort of mission that makes an amphibious ready group and Marine expeditionary unit “the 9-1-1 organization from the sea,” 11th MEU commander Col. Clay Tipton said.

Retired Marine Col. Mark Cancian — a senior adviser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C. — echoed Tipton’s perspective that the MEU remains a lasting example of flexible armed response from the sea.

“What makes a Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force so valuable is the ability of the Marines to mix and match capabilities,” Cancian said. “That’s what they’re doing and that’s what they should be doing.”

And that’s particularly important for Syria because how the Marines were used dovetails with President Donald Trump’s foreign policy goals — defeat the Islamic State without putting too many boots on the ground, he added.

4 animal superpowers we want before our next deployment
U.S. Marines with Fox Company, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines (BLT 2/1), 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), conduct a Table 3 combat marksmanship course of fire as a part of sustainment training on the flight deck of the USS San Diego (LPD 22). (U.S. Marine Corps photos by Gunnery Sgt. Rome M. Lazarus)

“The thing that the Marine Corps can provide that’s really needed is fire power for allies like the Kurds or Iraqis — artillery, mortars, aircraft,” Cancian said. “So far, Trump’s policy has been adamant about not using infantry, except in a limited role to protect artillery and other units that are on the ground to add firepower for allies.”

If the mission in Syria grows, Cancian could envision Marine and Navy logistical heft toting more supplies to Kurdish militias or the Free Syrian Army, perhaps even occupying an airfield and using it as a forward operating base. The Corps also could deploy more artillery observers and so called “Joint Terminal Attack Controllers” who call in airstrikes, but Cancian doubts the White House would land a large number of “boots on the ground.”

“The tough question on Syria is the same as the one in Iraq: What happens next, after ISIS is defeated? … That’s a huge fork in the road for the Trump administration, but it’s still months away,” he predicted.

Potential rivals at sea such as Russia, China, and Iran increasingly field anti-ship and surface-to-air missiles that can be fired from hundreds of miles away. Large amphibs, their hovercraft and lumbering armored troop carriers that take hours to wade ashore and unload, would be punished by precision missiles, experts contend.

4 animal superpowers we want before our next deployment
Marines assigned to the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) board an MV-22 Osprey, assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 163 (Reinforced) on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Devin M. Langer)

The Makin Island is one of the world’s largest amphibs. But it’s also considered a transitional vessel, with similar but superior high-tech “Big Deck Amphibs” like the San Diego-based America poised to share space in the piers.

The America, and up to 10 of its planned sister warships, will feature bigger fuel tanks and storage capacity along with hardened decks to support the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter, the next-generation aircraft that takes off and lands vertically. In other navies, those ships would be considered aircraft carriers — a point that has sparked questions about whether the Navy favors that capability over its traditional mission of putting Marines ashore.

“The answer, to me, is that we had better prepare to fight for command of the sea,” said James Holmes, a professor of strategy at the U.S. Naval War College and a former Navy surface warfare officer who is widely considered one of the world’s top experts on maritime battle. “As the greats of sea power tell us, you have to be able to win command of the sea if you want to use the sea to do things like conduct amphibious landings.

“So we need to be ready to do these things, but chances are there will be delays while we fight our way into the theater, reduce shore-based missile batteries and on and on. Sea power is no longer just about navies,” he added.

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Assault amphibious vehicles (AAVs) with the AAV platoon, Echo Company, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), leave the well deck of the dock landing ship USS Comstock (LSD 45). (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Melissa Wenger/Released)

Holmes believes the Marines might fret about the future of the amphibious fleet because ongoing studies have called for converting some assault ships into light aircraft carriers and replacing them with other vessels when they’re retired, but the Navy must strike the right balance.

“As far as priorities, certainly the types of ships we need to defeat our enemies and take command of the sea must take precedence,” he said, adding that it’s “a lot easier to improvise a fleet of amphibious transports than it would to improvise destroyers or nuclear-powered attack submarines.”

In a major war, like a potential Pacific-wide bout with China, the traditional mission of the amphibs likely wouldn’t end.

Holmes said Marines could be called to seize islands, much as they did in World War II. Cancian added that the Corps also might return to traditional missions like coastal artillery batteries, working alongside the Army and other services to to defend anti-ship missile batteries on the islands and shoals peppering the Pacific Ocean.

That concept is still a work in progress.

“The bottom line is that there’s no answer about the ultimate future of the ships and the marine expeditionary units, but we do know that in peacetime they’re very useful,” Cancian said. “You’re seeing in the Middle East just how useful they are.”

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

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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.”

4 animal superpowers we want before our next deployment
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.

4 animal superpowers we want before our next deployment

“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.”

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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.

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The first ‘battle’ of World War II was a Nazi war crime

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The beginning of World War II started with a brutal Nazi war crime.

On Sep. 1, 1939, German soldiers began their invasion of Poland, triggering the outbreak of World War II. The shelling of a Polish garrison at Westerplatte is commonly believed to be the first shot fired in the war, but the beginning actually happened five minutes prior, according to Deutsche Welle.

At 4:40 a.m., the town of Wieluń was bombed by the Luftwaffe as most of its 16,000 residents slept. There were no anti-aircraft, military, or economic targets of any importance, in the sleepy town just 13 miles from the German border. The target of the bombing was civilians.

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Nick Siekierski translates this article from a Polish newspaper:

Overall, 380 bombs fell on Wieluń, weighing a total of 46 tons. The first ones hit the All-Saints Hospital. 32 people died there – patients and staff. These were the first victims of the German air raids during World War II. The next target was the oldest parish church in Wieluń, St. Michael the Archangel, built in the beginning of the 14th Century. The Piarist building was the only surviving structure on the old square.

In total, as a result of the attack on Wieluń by the German air force, which lasted until 2pm, over 1200 people died. Certain sources note as many as 2,000 victims. Bombs dropped by the Stukas (Junkers Ju 87) destroyed 75% of the city. 90% of the city center was destroyed.

The people of Wieluń were the first to experience the German tactic of “blitzkrieg” (lightning) war, which was later used during the invasions of Belgium, North Africa, the Netherlands, and France. Just minutes after the bombing of the town began, the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein began its bombardment of Westerplatte.

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Two days later, Britain and France declared war on Germany, and the conflict lasted for six years at the cost of millions of lives. When it was all over in 1945, it ended with the surrender of the Nazis, and the exposure of the most shocking and brutal war crime the world had ever seen.

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This special instinct can help troops survive an ambush

In the spring of 1970, U.S. forces attempted to fracture an NVA supply line in the Vietnam jungle, as 79 soldiers from Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry came under a vicious attack and became trapped in a heavily bunkered NVA fortification — unable to escape.


With nowhere to run, the troops began taking heavy casualties.

The hellish area was covered in thick towering trees which ruled out any possibility of dropping off extra supplies or evacuating the wounded. The only way to get to the ambushed men was from the ground.

Related: These are the most terrifying Vietnam War booby traps

If these ground troops were to lose this area to the enemy, the hope of an offensive victory would have died. The men at the point of attack managed to pull their wounded brothers out of harm’s way and quickly render care. The American forces formed a secure perimeter with the men they had left.

“Human instinct tells you to stay on that ground don’t move, return fire, don’t move,” Ken Woodard of Charlie Company explains during an interview. “You can get killed.”

The men did just that, without being ordered.

They were then able to create a base of fire putting rounds down range — buying time.

Also Read: These were the terrifying dangers of being a ‘Tunnel Rat’ in Vietnam

Monitoring the radio 2.5 miles away was Alpha Troop who closely studied how Charlie Company was maneuvering and volunteered to go in as a quick reaction force.

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Alpha Troop in Vietnam (Source: John Poindexter)

Led by Capt. John B. Poindexter, the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (Alpha Troop) loaded up onto their Sherman tanks and armored personnel carriers and went in to help Charlie Company.

Not long after, the 11th ACR reached their brothers-in-arms in time and completed their rescue mission

Check out American Heroes Channel‘s video how these brave Americans reacted to being trapped by enemy fire.

(American Heroes Channel, YouTube)