10 details you should know about the Bergdahl case - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

10 details you should know about the Bergdahl case

On Oct. 16, 2017, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl pleaded guilty to Desertion and Misbehavior Before the Enemy.


Following the plea, a military judge has heard testimony from numerous witnesses who either knew Bergdahl or were involved in the search to find him. Soon the military judge is expected to issue Bergdahl’s sentence based on his actions, his time in captivity and the impact on the soldiers who spent weeks searching across Afghanistan. We are the Mighty has been in the courtroom since the plea and has heard many details that haven’t been released before.

Here’s a list of ten things you should know before the Judge issues his sentence.

10. Bergdahl was a waiver Soldier

10 details you should know about the Bergdahl case
Bowe Bergdahl.

Bergdahl entered the Army in 2008 with a waiver after being discharged from the Coast Guard nearly two years earlier. The Army has yet to confirm if his waiver was related to mental health issues, but upon his release from captivity, Bergdahl was diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder. Some symptoms of this disorder include difficulty adjusting to social situations and a distrust of others. During the pre-trial hearings, the Army did rule that despite his diagnosis, Bergdahl did understand his actions when he walked away from his post in 2009.

9. He was described as “Squared Away”

During the trial testimony, some fellow soldiers — including his former leaders — have described Bergdahl as “squared away.” Numerous witnesses have said Bergdahl was always in the designated uniform, on time and in the right place. During his free time, he even read field manuals and philosophy books. This is one of the most interesting turns in the case and begs the question: “How did Bergdahl go from a squared away soldier to a deserter?”

Also read: This is why Bowe Bergdahl says he pleaded guilty

8. He deployed late

While the rest of Bergdahl’s unit, 4th Brigade 25th ID, deployed to Afghanistan in early 2009, he stayed behind with a staph infection. After recovering, Bergdahl finally deployed as an individual augment and was with his Platoon in Afghanistan for less than two months before he walked off.  When asked by the military judge during the trial if he knew that his service in Afghanistan was important, Bergdahl responded, “At the time, it was hard for me to understand.”

7. There were some red flags

10 details you should know about the Bergdahl case
Bowe Bergdahl in a photo after his capture by Taliban insurgents. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In the days and weeks before he walked off, Bergdahl displayed some behavior that might have seemed normal until strung together by investigators, revealing that he may have planned his desertion in advance.

First, he sent his computer home, which to many other soldiers would been weird since writing emails and watching movies is a great way to pass the down time of deployment.

Second, he went to finance and asked for a cash advance before he rotated back to his outpost and subsequently walked off.

Lastly, he left all his serialized gear (weapon, night vision, etc.) at his outpost. One soldier testified that when he found the gear in a neat pile he knew Bergdahl had left on his own.

6. His outpost was “Hell on Earth”

10 details you should know about the Bergdahl case
Observation post Mest-Malak, where Bergdahl was stationed before leaving his post. (Photo from Reddit user OnlyBoweKnows.)

Bergdahl’s platoon was assigned to OP Mest, a small checkpoint in Paktika province close to the Pakistani border. OP Mest guarded a road intersection and was located literally right next to the village of Mest. The outpost was built in a dry river bed that often flooded during the spring rains. As a result of the poor weather and living conditions, many soldiers in the Platoon suffered from bad cases of dysentery. Additionally, the outpost was built over an Afghan cemetery; some soldiers even found bones as they were digging their fighting positions.

5. His platoon searched for 10 days straight

After Bergdahl was found missing, the other soldiers in his platoon took it upon themselves to find him.

In the first few hours and days, the platoon conducted a nearly constant rotation of patrols in the area to try and find Bergdahl. At one point, they stretched themselves so thin that only a Fire Team of three was left at the outpost to man the radio. Many of the soldiers describe the initial days of searching as a “complete hell.”

After 10 days, the platoon was allowed to rest and refit. Many soldiers had to buy new socks and uniforms that had literally rotted of their bodies. According to the Army lawyers, the official search for Bergdahl would last another 45 days.

4. SEAL Team 6 went after Bergdahl and the enemy killed their dog

During the first week of the search, SEAL Team 6 was ordered to find Bergdahl given their unique and specialized training in hostage recovery missions. When one of the SEALs testified at the trial, he remembered saying that “someone is going to get hurt or killed looking for this kid.” A few nights later, the SEALs raided a house where they suspected Bergdahl was being held. During the mission one of the SEALs was shot 7 times and his military working dog was killed by the enemy.

Related: Bowe Bergdahl just apologized to those hurt searching for him

3. The Afghan elections ended the search

The summer of 2009 was a critical point in the war in Afghanistan. The Afghan elections were scheduled for August and a major mission of U.S. forces was to protect the polling sites from attack and corruption. When Bergdahl walked off in late June, the timing couldn’t have been worse.

For weeks, thousands of soldiers across Afghanistan were ordered to shift their focus from counterinsurgency missions to search recovery operations to find Bergdahl. So many soldiers were flooded into the area where Bergdahl went missing that the Commanders on the ground created a second unit to coordinate the search effort.

By August, the focus shifted away from Bergdahl to the elections and the future of Afghanistan.

2. He’s been an Intel source since his return

10 details you should know about the Bergdahl case
A clip from a video released during Bergdahl’s captivity.

When Bergdahl returned to U.S. forces in 2014, he was immediately questioned about his time in captivity. During the trial, some of intelligence officers testified that Bergdahl was a “gold mine” of information.

Bergdahl’s intelligence value has been defined in two ways. First, a DOD representative of the group that runs Survival, Evasion, Resistance Escape (SERE) school stated that Bergdahl’s detailed description of his captivity will help “prepare forces in the future.” Secondly, the lead intelligence analyst who follows the Haqqani Network, the group that held Bergdahl for nearly 5 years, told the military judge that the information from the debrief helped “build [an understanding] of the capture network like it’s never been done before.”

1. His charges were reduced before he pleaded guilty

The Army initially charged Bergdahl with Desertion and Misbehavior Before the Enemy during Combat Operations in Afghanistan. However, after months of arguments by the lawyers on both sides, Bergdahl finally pleaded guilty to Desertion and Misbehavior Before the Enemy during guard duty at OP Mest and a possible convoy patrol scheduled for the following day.

While this change may seem minor, the distinction is critical during the sentencing phase of the trial. The military judge will now only consider Bergdahl’s actions for the first few hours before he was captured by the enemy instead of the nearly five years Bergdahl was missing.

Articles

Fort Bragg troops play key role in liberation of Mosul

When more than 1,700 paratroopers left Fort Bragg for Iraq late last year, they knew that the fight to free Mosul would be one of their top priorities.


It was a question of when, not if, the major city in northern Iraq would be liberated from the Islamic State, officials said.

On July 10, Iraqi leaders officially declared ISIS defeated in Mosul. But Col. J. Patrick Work, who commands the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, said the work isn’t over.

In the roughly seven months since the 2nd Brigade deployed, the unit’s numbers have swelled to more than 2,100 paratroopers deployed to Iraq.

10 details you should know about the Bergdahl case
Col. J Patrick Work (left). (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Anthony Hewitt)

It is the largest contingent among the thousands of Fort Bragg soldiers serving as part of an international coalition to defeat ISIS. That coalition is led by Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, commanding general of the 18th Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg.

On July 10, Work said the Falcon Brigade can be proud of its efforts to defeat ISIS through advising and assisting its Iraqi partners.

A few years ago, officials said the Iraqi army was largely defeated — broken, dispirited, and pushed to the gates of Baghdad. Today, it is celebrating a major victory.

“Our mission, the reason we matter, is to help the Iraqi Security Forces win,” Work said. “The fight continues, but they have dominated ISIS in Mosul. The key now is establishing a durable security that enables governance to extend its reach.”

10 details you should know about the Bergdahl case
U.S. Army Col. J Patrick Work greets residents in a recently-liberated neighborhood in west Mosul, Iraq, July 2, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Hull)

While Iraqi forces have been at the forefront of the victory, American paratroopers have played no small role in the success.

“It’s been hard, violent work every day,” Work said of fighting in Mosul. “The Iraqi Security Forces have fought doggedly to take terrain from ISIS and liberate the people of Mosul. ISIS had years to prepare its defense, and it gave nothing away. Our partners took it from them, and we’ve been helping them attack. At the same time, we are extraordinarily proud of our partners. They assume the lion’s share of the physical risk, but we attack a common enemy together. Their success is our success.”

When the brigade’s soldiers arrived in Iraq, the battle to defeat ISIS was still raging in east Mosul, Work said.

Now, that part of the city is thriving “despite being just over five months removed from intense ground combat.”

10 details you should know about the Bergdahl case
U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Erik Salo, deployed in support of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve and assigned to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, observes a sniper course led by Iraqi Federal Police partners near Mosul, Iraq, June 7, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Heidi McClintock)

Work said the brigade’s paratroopers gave invaluable support to their Iraqi counterparts, advising and assisting ground commanders and providing artillery fires, intelligence, and logistical support.

As the fight moved to west Mosul, the paratroopers moved with their Iraqi counterparts, inching closer to the embattled city.

“We helped decimate a formidable ISIS mortar and artillery force in west Mosul,” Work said. “We helped destroy ISIS infantry, logistics, and suicide car bombs so that our partners could continue to attack on the hard days. We were with the commanders calling the shots, delivering fires that helped them dominate, and we always put them first. Every day and every night.”

Townsend congratulated Iraqi forces on July 10 for their “historic victory against an evil enemy.”

10 details you should know about the Bergdahl case
Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ethan Hutchinson)

“The Iraqis prevailed in the most extended and brutal combat I have ever witnessed,” he said.

As commander of Combined Joint Task Force — Operation Inherent Resolve, Townsend is the top general overseeing the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. He’s one of several hundred 18th Airborne Corps soldiers who form the core of the anti-ISIS headquarters.

Several other Fort Bragg units, including the 1st Special Forces Command, are also deployed in support of the campaign.

Townsend spoke to members of the media via a video feed from Baghdad.

10 details you should know about the Bergdahl case
Fort Bragg paratroopers in action. (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Steven Galimore)

He said ISIS has now lost its capital in Iraq and its largest population center held anywhere in the world. That’s a decisive blow to ISIS and something for Iraqis to celebrate.

Townsend said forces also are making progress against ISIS in Syria, where partner forces working with American and coalition troops have surrounded ISIS’s capital of Raqqa.

The general said ISIS would fight hard to keep that city, much as it did in Mosul.

“Make no mistake, it is a losing cause,” he said.

Townsend said Iraqi forces have a plan in the works to continue to pursue ISIS in other parts of the country. He said he doesn’t anticipate any decrease in US troops in Iraq following the liberation of Mosul.

10 details you should know about the Bergdahl case
Iraqi security force members and Coalition advisors share information. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Hull)

American forces, including those from Fort Bragg, are expected to play a key role in those efforts.

While the city of Mosul is now firmly under the control of Iraqi forces, Work said, no one will be celebrating too long.

“A lot of hard work remains. The Iraqi Security Forces will continue to attack the remnants of ISIS, search for caches, and free the people of west Mosul,” he said. “The transition for the Iraqis to consolidate their gains is critical now. It requires detailed intelligence, organization, and logistics. Our paratroopers will continue to give our best advice, help our partners attack ISIS, and keep enabling their operations.”

The 2nd Brigade deployed seven battalions to aid in the anti-ISIS fight. Most of the soldiers are involved in providing security or advising their Iraqi counterparts.

But, Work said, all soldiers contributed to the efforts and successes of the unit.

10 details you should know about the Bergdahl case
Troops from 82nd Airborne Division speak with Iraqi Federal Police members in Mosul, Iraq, June 29, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Cpl. Rachel Diehm)

“All seven of our battalion teams have been tremendous. 37th Engineer Battalion has run a major staging base that is the hub of all logistics for a very decentralized coalition adviser network,” he said. “407th Brigade Support Battalion assists the Iraqis with advancing their own logistics while also sustaining and maintaining our adviser teams. Finally, the 2nd Battalion of the 319th Field Artillery devastated ISIS’s once-formidable mortar and artillery battery.”

Work also said the brigade has relied on junior soldiers to step up and fill important roles in the fight.

“We have a junior intelligence analyst, Spc. Cassandra Ainsworth, who is brilliant. We rely heavily on her thinking, on her analysis, and synthesis when we are making major recommendations to Iraqi generals,” he said. “We also have a junior signal soldier, Spc. Malik Turner, whom I count on daily to keep us connected securely in very austere environments. He is exceptional.”

Work said the brigade was the “right team at the right time” to help in Iraq.

10 details you should know about the Bergdahl case
US Army 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. (U.S. Army photo by Cpl. Rachel Diehm)

“There is a lot of hard work ahead, but the Falcons — some of the best trained, best equipped, and best led paratroopers in the world — helped the Iraqis win in Mosul,” he said.

With the city liberated, Work said, the soldiers’ attention will turn to securing those gains, improving the Iraqi forces, and taking the fight to ISIS forces in other parts of the country.

“The first priority is helping the Iraqis sink in their hold on west Mosul, helping them set conditions that allow the government to start delivering services and political goods,” he said. “Mosul is also a major battle in a much broader campaign to eliminate ISIS, and the fight continues. We will continue to give our best military advice, but the government of Iraq will decide the next objective. Whatever they decide, we are confident that we will continue to help them attack our common enemy.”

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle is rolling to the field

Soldiers are about to get their hands on the Army’s new Joint Light Tactical Vehicles (JLTVs), and the first unit will start receiving the trucks as 2019 begins.

These deliveries keep the program right on schedule, following an Army Systems Acquisition Review Council decision in December 2018 to move forward with fielding JLTVs to the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division. The unit, located at Fort Stewart, Ga., will start receiving its own JLTVs in January 2019, and should be fully equipped with about 500 new JLTVs by the end of March 2019.


“The JLTV program exemplifies the benefit of strong ties between the warfighter and acquisition communities,” said Dr. Bruce Jette, the assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology. “With continuous feedback from the user, our program office is able to reach the right balance of technological advancements that will provide vastly improved capability, survivability, networking power, and maneuverability.”

The new trucks represent a significant modernization success for the Army and Marine Corps, with the program on track to replace many venerable High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWV).

“I simply could not be prouder of the team that is bringing JLTV to reality,” Jette continued. “Our single focus is giving soldiers better capabilities, and our team of soldiers, Marines, and civilians worked tirelessly to deliver an affordable, generational leap ahead in light tactical vehicles.”

10 details you should know about the Bergdahl case

Joint Light Tactical Vehicles demonstrate their extreme off-road capability at the U.S. Marine Corps Transportation Demonstration Support Area at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.

(U.S. Army photo by Mr. David Vergun)

The JLTV family of vehicles is designed to restore payload and performance that were traded from light tactical vehicles to add protection in recent conflict. JLTVs will give soldiers, Marines, and their commanders more options in a protected mobility solution that is also the first vehicle purpose-built for modern battlefield networks.

“We are very excited to get these trucks into the hands of our soldiers,” said Col. Mike Adams, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team commander. “It’s an honor to be chosen as the first unit to receive such an improved capability, and I look forward to getting it into our formations.”

The JLTV program remains on schedule and on budget as it wraps up its low rate initial production phase, yet the program office’s work is far from over. As warfighter needs change, the team will continue to explore ways to refine the design and the capability it offers.

More deliveries are slated across each service in 2019. Ultimately, the Army anticipates purchasing 49,099 vehicles across its Active, Reserve, and National Guard components, and the Marine Corps more than 9,000.

The JLTV will be fielded in two variants and four mission package configurations: General Purpose, Close Combat Weapons Carrier, Heavy Guns Carrier, and a Utility vehicle.

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

Articles

This is the most awesome Delta Force recruiting video we’ve ever seen

It’s an oldie but a goodie — and it’s likely the only publicly-available video showing real-deal Delta Force operators.


Leaked during the height of the Iraq war in 2008, this video crept its way onto YouTube and caused quite a splash when it hit the net. The original footage has since been taken down, but it was added to this compilation video of all Special Forces. Rumors around the original video claimed it was put together by the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta to help recruit new members to “The Unit.”

As that Tier 1 Joint Special Operations group was tasked with fighting the top leaders of the insurgency in Iraq, veterans of the unit from the ’90s and 2000s were burning out — and suffering casualties. In fact, “No Easy Day” author and former SEAL Team 6 commando Matt Bissonnette wrote that some DEVGRU SEALS were tasked to run with Delta in Iraq because the squadrons were under manned.

So it stands to reason that Delta needed new blood. And with an assessment that matriculates only a handful who try, combined with a brutal operational tempo at the time that saw squadrons executing sometimes three raids per night for a 90 day deployment, The Unit had to get soldiers in the door.

Tactical driving? Check. Vehicle takedowns from a Little Bird? Check. Lots of breaching and A-10 CAS? Check.

There’s a lot more to the video to note (including the Delta boys tooling around Baghdad in a specially-modified Stryker vehicle Pandur 1 Armored Ground Mobility Vehicle), but this’ll just give you a taste of what’s in store.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Marine Corps’ last Prowler returns from final deployment

The last of the Marine Corps‘ remaining EA-6B Prowlers have wrapped up their final mission in the Middle East, where they supported troops taking on the Islamic State group. Now, the electronic-warfare aircraft will soon be headed to the boneyard.

More than 250 members of Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 2 are returning to North Carolina after spending seven months operating out of Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. The squadron — the last to fly the service’s decades-old electronic-warfare aircraft — is only about four months away from being deactivated.


But that didn’t slow the Death Jesters downrange, where they were tapped with supporting two campaigns simultaneously: Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and Syria, and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan.

“The mission of the Prowler is and always has been to deny, degrade and disrupt the enemy’s use of the electromagnetic spectrum,” said Capt. Robert Ryland, an electronic-countermeasures officer with VMAQ-2. Being based in Qatar, he added, allowed them to respond to missions for both operations.

Ryland declined to specify how many flight hours the crews flew throughout the deployment, due to operational security concerns. But the operational tempo remained high throughout the deployment, he said.

10 details you should know about the Bergdahl case

A U.S. Marine Corps EA-6B Prowler.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael B. Keller)

“The presence of electronic warfare is extremely important to the supported unit,” he said. “Though this is the final EA-6B deployment, the need for electronic warfare will remain high worldwide in the future.”

The Marines were called on to support not only U.S. ground troops, but coalition forces as well. From planning missions to executing them, the squadron worked with troops from several countries.

“There were a lot of people on this deployment who’ve dedicated their entire lives to this aircraft, its community and most importantly, the electronic-warfare mission,” Ryland said.

The end of an era

The Prowler has been a part of the Marine Corps’ aviation arsenal since the Vietnam era. The aircraft has been vital on the battlefield, since, including during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and now in the fight against ISIS terrorists.

Seeing the Prowler used all the way up until its sundown says a lot about its capabilities, said 1st Lt. Sam Stephenson, a spokesman for 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. Despite the aircraft’s age, Ryland said the Marines with VMAQ-2 were able to maintain high readiness throughout this final deployment.

“There’s sometimes a bit of a misconception that old equals having a hard time getting jets airborne, but that’s actually not the case with the Prowler,” he said.

Ryland credits their skilled maintainers, who’ve worked on Prowlers for a long time. Some joined VMAQ-2 when other Prowler squadrons deactivated.

Now as VMAQ-2 prepares to deactivate, too, the Marines with this squadron are on the lookout for new opportunities. Some will transition to other Marine Corps aircraft, join a different branch, or leave the military when their service time is up, Ryland said.

“Everybody has their own personal plan for what they’ll do next,” Ryland said.

Lt. Col. Greg Sand, EA-6B requirements officer with Marine Corps headquarters, told Military.com in 2017 that the Prowler’s sunset wouldn’t force anyone out of the Marine Corps.

10 details you should know about the Bergdahl case

Three EA-6B Prowlers.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. N.W. Huertas)

If Marines weren’t selected to transfer to work on another aircraft, he said they could always serve in B-billets or support their headquarters. And some with EA-6B aircrews were also transitioning to work with drone squadrons, he said.

Despite the end of the Prowlers’ era, the need for electronic-warfare capabilities on the battlefield isn’t going away. Throughout the aircraft’s sundown process, Stephenson said the Marine Corps has been building up a suite of new electronic-warfare capabilities across the Marine air-ground task force.

According to Marine Corps planning documents, that includes pods or sensors that can be affixed to other aircraft and new signals intelligence and cyber capabilities.

“This will be the new way the Marine Corps plans to transition from utilizing the Prowlers to a more distributed strategy where every platform contributes and functions as a sensor, shooter and sharer and [includes] an EW node,” Stephenson said.

Marine units heading to sea or combat are already carrying some of those capabilities, Sand said. They offer commanders a great deal of flexibility, since they can be added to fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft.

“A MAGTF commander can just walk out onto a flightline now, see the asset, and he or she owns that asset and can task that asset,” Sand said.

And Marine ground troops will still be able to call on joint forces when they need airborne electronic attack capabilities, he added.

“The Prowler in practical terms has been replaced in additional capacities by the Navy [EA-18G] Growler,” Sand said. “That’s a Super Hornet … with a pretty fierce EW capability. The Growler really is the follow-on to the Prowler.”

For now, VMAQ-2 still has a few months of work left before the Prowlers’ final flights. When the squadron does get ready to say goodbye to its beloved aircraft in March 2019, Ryland says they’ll hold a sundown ceremony at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina. Any Marine who worked with the Prowler, whether a year or decades ago, is invited to attend.

“The Prowler has been a really incredible workhorse for the Marine Corps, the United States and allied forces for many, many decades,” Ryland said. “I know the people who fly and fix these aircraft have a lot of respect for them and certainly for those who came before us.

“There is a tremendous amount of hard work and training that goes into performing the Prowler mission,” he added. “It’s a great honor, every time I get to fly in one.”

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

John Bolton still thinks the Iraq War was a good idea

Richard Painter, the former chief White House ethics lawyer for the George W. Bush administration, blasted the prospect of former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton replacing General H. R. McMaster as President Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor.


“John Bolton was, by far, the most dangerous man we had in the entire eight years of the Bush Administration,” Painter tweeted on March 16, 2018. “Hiring him as the president’s top national security advisor is an invitation to war, perhaps nuclear war.”

Painter ended his post with a blunt and stark sentence: “this must be stopped at all costs.” He also linked to an article in the Atlantic titled “Hiring John Bolton Would Be a Betrayal of Donald Trump’s Base.”

Also read: Never-before-seen photos show Bush administration officials right after 9/11

The Atlantic article describes Bolton as “perennially hawkish,” and notes that he was a big supporter of the Iraq War in 2003 and has said that he still believes that it “was correct.”

10 details you should know about the Bergdahl case
Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist James E. Foehl)

“I think decisions made after that decision were wrong, although I think the worst decision made after that was the 2011 decision to withdraw US and coalition forces,” Bolton said in 2015.

Related: VA Secretary to be next in President Trump’s crosshairs

“The people who say, ‘Oh, things would have been much better if you didn’t overthrow Saddam,’ miss the point that today’s Middle East does not flow totally and unchangeably from the decision to overthrow Saddam alone.”

Bolton has also been very hawkish on Iran, writing an article for the National Review titled “How to Get Out of the Iran Nuclear Deal.” The article was, according to Bolton, originally a gameplan for Trump that Bolton had drawn up and given to former White House Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon.

Articles

This SEAL Team 6 vet idolizes ‘Rough Rider’ Teddy Roosevelt

10 details you should know about the Bergdahl case
Official portrait of Representative Ryan Zinke (R-MT) (Photo by United States Congress)


Inter-service rivalry is very common in the military. But one Navy SEAL Team 6 vet with a long service record is openly admiring an Army hero.

According to the blog of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, Montana Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke, President Donald Trump’s nominee to serve as Secretary of the Interior, applauding the values former President Theodore Roosevelt brought to conservation and land management.

“I am an unapologetic admirer of Teddy Roosevelt and believe he had it right when he placed under federal protection millions of acres of federal lands and set aside much of it as National forests,” Zinke said during his confirmation hearing.

Zinke, who spent 23 years in the Navy, was the first SEAL to win a seat in the  House of Representatives according to law360.com. The San Diego Union-Tribune noted when his nomination was announced that he would also be the first SEAL to hold a Cabinet position. According to his official biography on his congressional web page, Zinke’s decorations include two awards of the Bronze Star for service during Operation Iraqi Freedom, which included a stint as acting commander of Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Arabian Peninsula. Among the SEALs who served under him were Marcus Luttrell (of “Lone Survivor” fame), Rob O’Neill (who claims to have killed Osama bin Laden), and Brandon Webb (founder of SOFREP.com).

Like Zinke, Teddy Roosevelt was an avid hunter and outdoorsman, according to the Theodore Roosevelt Association. Roosevelt was also a military badass, receiving the Medal of Honor for his actions on San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War.

10 details you should know about the Bergdahl case

Roosevelt, though, also had a keen interest in naval affairs before serving with the Army. Prior to becoming Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President William McKinley, the Theodore Roosevelt Association noted that he wrote a history of the War of 1812, publishing it at age 24. Roosevelt would help turn the United States Navy into the global instrument of power projection it is today.

So, yeah, while inter-service rivalry has its place, in this case, we can understand – and approve – of a SEAL admiring a soldier like Teddy Roosevelt.

MIGHTY CULTURE

US Army Sniper vs. US Marine Scout Sniper — Who’s the sharpest shooter?

The origin of the American sniper is vague, with reports dating back as early as the American Revolution. The first established peacetime sniper school within the U.S. military was the U.S. Marine Corps Scout Sniper course in Quantico, Virginia, in 1977. The U.S. Army followed suit with their sniper school at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1985. Brotherly competition between the two branches is infamous and continuous, predating the establishment of peace time training for snipers.


As far as sniper legends go, the Marine Corps has Carlos Hathcock, aka White Feather, with 93 confirmed kills during the Vietnam War. Of the Viet Cong enemies he eliminated, several were known for their brutality — including a woman known as “Apache.” According to Military.com, “‘She tortured [a Marine she had captured] all afternoon, half the next day,’ Hathcock recalls. ‘I was by the wire… He walked out, died right by the wire.’ Apache skinned the private, cut off his eyelids, removed his fingernails, and then castrated him before letting him go. Hathcock attempted to save him, but he was too late.”

On the U.S. Army’s side is Adelbert Waldron, also a legendary Vietnam War sniper, with 109 confirmed kills. After serving 12 years in the U.S. Navy, Adelbert joined the Army, starting out as a buck sergeant and deployed to the Mekong Delta area. Major General Julian Ewell, commander of the 9th Infantry Division, recalled a story about Waldron’s eagle eye: “One afternoon he was riding along the Mekong River on a Tango boat when an enemy sniper on shore pecked away at the boat. While everyone else on board strained to find the antagonist, who was firing from the shoreline over 900 meters away, Sergeant Waldron took up his sniper rifle and picked off the Viet Cong out of the top of a coconut tree with one shot.”

Coffee or Die spoke with both Army snipers and Marine Scout Snipers about their professional differences.

Black Rifle Coffee Company’s Editor in Chief, Logan Stark, started his career in the Marine Corps in May 2007. He spent four years in the service and deployed three times.

Stark passed sniper indoctrination and, later, the Scout Sniper course. He said the most difficult part of the school was the actual shooting. It wasn’t standardized, 1,000-yard shots on paper, but shots from 750 to 1,000 yards on steel. Their range was elevated, which made calculating wind calls for their shots more difficult.

“You get these swirling winds coming off of the mountains, mixing with the wind coming off of the ocean, which makes reading wind extremely difficult to do,” Stark said, adding that “suffer patiently and patiently suffer” was a saying they often clung to during training.

However, the difficult conditions are what helped them hone in on the skill set Marine Scout Snipers are expected to perfect — which is, according to Stark, being an individual who can rapidly and calmly process information and execute a decision off that assessment.

“That’s why I joined the Marine Corps, was to do stuff exactly like that,” he said. “There wasn’t a worst part — it was fun.”

While Stark never worked directly with Army snipers, he has learned through the sniper community that the major difference is “the reconnaissance element to the Marine Corps Scout Sniper program. We’re meant to be an independent unit with four guys going out on their own without any direct support.”

Phillip Velayo spent 10 and a half years in a Marine Corps Scout Sniper platoon. He passed the Scout Sniper course on his second attempt and was an instructor from 2015 to 2018. Velayo now works as the training director for Gunwerks Long Range University.

Velayo has worked with Army snipers in the past and from talking with them, he learned that the Army’s sniper school is shorter — five weeks — compared to the Marine Corps’ school, which includes a three-week indoctrination course in addition to the 79-day Scout Sniper basic course. He added that he believes Army snipers place more emphasis on marksmanship than on mission planning because the Army has designated scouts, whereas Marine Corps snipers are responsible for shooting and scouting.

Velayo presented an example: If you take a blank-slate Marine and put him through Scout Sniper school and do the same with a soldier on the Army side, he said, “I mean, you’re splitting nails at that point, but honestly, I’m going to give it to the Marine side that we hold a higher standard to marksmanship than Army guys.”

Brady Cervantes spent the better part of a decade, starting back in 2006, with the Marine Corps as a Scout Sniper, and deployed four times. Cervantes passed the Scout Sniper school on his second attempt after his first try was cut short due to family matters that pulled him out of class.

“One thing I do respect about the Army is that they have certain calibers of curriculum that we may not,” Cervantes said, regarding differences between the two sniper schools, adding that the Army possibly goes into more depth as far as mission focus for a sniper. However, he said that he believes the Marine Corps maintains the highest standard within the military’s sniper community.

Cervantes said that if you take any Marine Scout Sniper and place them in a different sniper section, their shooter-spotter dialogue is uniform so they can function seamlessly as a team. In Cervantes’ experience overseas, the Army sniper teams he was around didn’t appear to have a clear-cut dialogue between their shooters and spotters.

But at the end of the day, Cervantes said, “if you’re a brother of the bolt, you have my respect.”

Ted Giunta served in the U.S. Army’s 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment from 2003 to 2009, transferring to the sniper platoon in 2006. He deployed four times as a sniper, three of those as the sniper section leader. Since leaving the military, he has been working with the U.S. Department of Energy, specifically pertaining to nuclear transportation. He is one of the two long-gun trainers for his entire agency.

Giunta attended the U.S. Army Special Operation Target Interdiction Course (SOTIC). He believes that the Marine Scout Sniper program and the Army Sniper program are similar in how they train and evaluate their candidates. SOTIC, on the other hand, was a “gentleman’s course,” where they weren’t smoked or beaten down but evaluated on whether they could do the job or not.

Giunta said comparing Marine Scout Snipers to 75th Ranger Regiment snipers comes down to the level of financing for the unit. Because his unit and their mission set was Tier 2 and often worked with Tier 1 units, they had better access to training and equipment, which gives them the edge over Marine Scout Snipers. Giunta said the work as a sniper is an art form, and no matter what branch you are in, you make it your life.

Andrew Wiscombe served in the U.S. Army from 2005 to 2010, deploying to forward operating base (FOB) Mamuhdiyah, Iraq, from 2008 to 2009 as part of the scout sniper team.

Wiscombe said that Army snipers who belong to a dedicated sniper/recon section are comparable to Marine Scout Snipers. As far as a soldier who goes through the basic sniper school and then returns to an infantry line unit where they aren’t continually using their skills, they won’t be on the same level, he said.

The biggest difference Wiscombe is aware of relates to how they calculate shooting formulas. “I know we use meters and they use yards, so formulas will be slightly different,” he said. “The banter may be different, but the fundamentals remain the same for any sniper. At the end of the day, there is some inter-service rivalry fun and jokes, but I saw nothing but mutual respect for very proficient shooters and spotters all around.”

Jaime Koopman spent eight years in an Army sniper section, from 2008 to 2016. He has worked with Marine Scout Snipers several times in a sniper capacity; he also had two Marine Scout Sniper veterans in his section after they switched over to the Army. Koopman worked alongside the Marine Scout Sniper veterans as well as others while competing in the U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) International Sniper Competition.

Koopman’s experience with Marine Scout Snipers showed him that their training is a little different from Army snipers, but it’s comparable. “The Marine Corps Scout Sniper is an MOS for them, so the school is longer, affording them the opportunity to dive a little deeper in each subject area,” he said, “whereas an Army sniper is expected to gain the deeper knowledge outside the school house with his section.”

As far as the most recent standings from the 2019 USASOC International Sniper Competition, first and second place positions were held by U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) teams while third place was claimed by a Marine Scout Sniper team. The 2020 competition has been postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Navy wants sub-hunting planes to watch Russia and China

The US Navy is looking at a number of ways to increase its presence in the Arctic around Alaska, including deployments of the service’s advanced maritime patrol aircraft, the P-8A Poseidon, the Navy’s top civilian official said in December 2018.

Asked by Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan about the US presence in that part of the world, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Dec. 12, 2018, that the Navy was present under the sea and in the air and “looking at how we can get up there” in other capacities.


“If I had a blank check for everything, it’d be terrific, to ice-harden ships, but with the demand that we have right now, it is unaffordable,” Spencer said, adding that it would be possible to send assets up there seasonally as sea ice melts.

“You and I did go look on the coast up there for a potential strategic port,” Spencer told Sullivan. “I think the Coast Guard, in concert with the Navy, we should definitely flesh out what could possibly be done.”

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A US Navy P-8 Poseidon.

“When it comes to using Alaska in the Arctic area for training, the commandant and I have talked about this — plans to go look at doing something this summer, possibly on Adak, for training,” Spencer added, referring Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller, who was also at the hearing.

Spencer said he and Navy Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran “have talked about possible P-8 [deployments] up to Adak. There are definite training uses, and there’s definite ability to affect the National Defense Strategy with Arctic activity.”

The Navy and Marine Corps presence in Alaska is currently small, with some sailors and Marines stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, the latter personnel there as part of a reserve unit.

But as the military reorients itself toward a potential great-power conflict, focus has shifted to the Arctic, where Russian and Chinese activity has concerned US officials.

Marines have been deployed to Norway on a rotational basis since the beginning of 2017, and Oslo recently said that it would ask the US to increase their numbers and move them farther north, closer to that country’s border with Russia.

The Navy has also made moves toward higher latitudes, sending an aircraft carrier above the Arctic Circle for the first time since the early 1990s as part of NATO’s exercise Trident Juncture, which took place in October and November 2018. Navy officials have stressed that they intend to be more active in the Arctic going forward.

Neller has emphasized that his command is focusing on training for harsh conditions.

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Marines with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment disembark an Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter after a simulated raid on Indian Mountain radar system as part of Exercise Arctic Edge 18 at Fort Greely, Alaska, March 12, 2018.

(US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Brianna Gaudi)

In March 2018, Marines joined soldiers, sailors, and airmen in Alaska for Arctic Edge 2018, where they trained “to fight and win in the Arctic,” the head of Alaskan Command, Air Force Lt. Gen. Ken Wilsbach, said at the time.

A few weeks after that exercise, Neller told Sullivan during a Senate hearing that the Marines “have gotten back into the cold-weather business.” In August 2018, while traveling through Alaska with Spencer, Sullivan said that the Marine Corps was “looking at spending a lot more time in Alaska.”

Adak Island is at the western edge of the Aleutian Islands. The naval facility, which was on the northern side of the island, took up more than 76,000 acres and was an important base for submarine surveillance during the Cold War.

The airstrip there has been in commercial use since the Navy shut down military operations in 1997.

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Coast Guard commandant Adm. Karl Schultz, left, meets with Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer and Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, right, in Nome to discuss the construction of deep-draft ports in western Alaska, Aug. 13, 2018.

(US Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jetta Disco)

The Navy is currently grappling with operational and maintenance challenges brought on by more than two decades of continuous operations around the world — a situation that has been complicated by discussions of expansion and by uncertainty about its budget in the future as it builds new supercarriers and designs a new generation of ballistic missile subs that will carry nuclear warheads.

The Navy has already started returning P-8A Poseidons to Keflavikin Iceland, where it had a base from the early 1960s until 2006, when it was shuttered.

The planes have been rotating through Iceland and aren’t there permanently, though they were flying about every other day over the waters around Greenland, Iceland, and the UK — an important chokepoint for submarines in the Atlantic during the Cold War.

Returning to Alaska would present an array challenges, according to Jeffrey Barker, a deputy branch head for policy and posture on the chief of naval operation’s staff.

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US Navy crew members on board a P-8A Poseidon assigned to Patrol Squadron (VP) 16 man their workstations while assisting in search and rescue operations for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 March 16, 2014 in the Indian Ocean.

(US Navy photo)

“We want to be agile, but sustainability is key,” Barker said at the beginning of December 2018 during a Wilson Center event focused on the Arctic. “We don’t really want to do anything if we can’t sustain it, so that’s a huge part of that, and the infrastructure to that.”

“When Secretary Spencer went around Alaska, he was asked a lot of questions, and he asked us a lot of questions about how much would it cost to go back to Adak,” Barker said. “He was shocked — gobsmacked is what he said — when the report that we gave him said id=”listicle-2623753290″.3 billion.”

Barker said that Spencer clarified that he only wanted to use the facility “for a couple of weeks here and there,” and when asked about the plan after the hearing on Dec. 12, 2018, Spencer said the base was up to that task.

“The airstrip is in great shape,” he told Breaking Defense, which first reported his comments about a potential P-8 deployment. Spencer added that the Navy may have to pay to clean up one of the hangars.

But the airport, he said, “has a fuel farm up there that Air Alaska is using to fuel its planes. It has de-icing platforms that we could use for fresh water washdowns for the P-8. They have lodging up there that is supposedly coming forward to us on a rental availability, so it really isn’t a big bill.”

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

This US Navy flattop has been sailing the high seas with a Captain America battle flag and a flight deck full of a F-35 stealth fighters

A US Navy flattop deployed to the Pacific has been flying a battle flag featuring Captain America’s iconic red, white and blue shield, photos from the ship’s deployment show.


The USS America (LHA-6), the first of a new class of amphibious assault ship, chose its battle flag, also known as a house flag, just before it deployed to the Indo-Pacific late last year.

The ship, the fourth to bear the name America, went for the superhero treatment.

“The iconic Captain America symbol — the First Avenger for this first-in-class fifth-generation amphibious assault ship — was the perfect fit,” Capt. Luke Frost, the ship’s commanding officer, told Insider.

Frost said the flag choice was “bold, graphic, with a clear patriotic and easily-identifiable association with the name ‘America.'”

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U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Jonathan Berlier

In the vast Marvel Comics universe, Captain America, whose alter ego is Steve Rogers, is a patriotic supersoldier who fought the Axis Powers before being trapped in ice and revived in the modern age.

An experimental serum gave the Army soldier his power, but it is his almost-indestructible circular vibranium shield that is most representative of the character created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in the 1940s.

Captain America is more than just Rogers. Others, such as close friend and Air Force veteran Sam Wilson, aka The Falcon, have also taken up the shield and the captain’s mantle to carry on the fight. And now, a ship filled with Navy sailors and Marines have made the fictional weapon its emblem in a show of joint warfighting at its best.

The first US naval vessel to bear the name “America” was a 74-gun ship of the line, the first ordered for the Continental Navy. The name was passed on to a troop transport vessel and later to a Kitty Hawk-class aircraft carrier.

The current USS America, which was commissioned in 2014, is different from other amphibious assault ships in that it lacks a well deck and features increased space for aviation assets.

The Navy and the Marines have used the ship for “Lightning Carrier” experiments, which have involved loading the ship up with a heavy configuration of around a dozen F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters.

In photos from the amphibious assault ship’s recent deployment, a lighter configuration of the fifth-generation fighters can be seen on the America’s deck as the new battle flag flies above.

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U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Vincent E. Zline

Battle flags are a Navy tradition with a long history.”From Oliver Hazard Perry’s ‘Don’t Give Up the Ship’ flag at the Battle of Lake Erie to George Dewey’s ‘FIGHT!’ flag in the Battle of Manila and into the modern era, battle flags or ‘house flags’ have been used to motivate, rally, and inspire ship’s Sailors and Marines,” the America’s CO told Insider. “These flags express unit pride and the fighting spirit of the crew.”

In addition to its new flag, the America also features a number of other star-spangled decorations, such as the doors of the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) launcher cells, The Drive, which first reported the ship’s new flag, noted.

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

Articles

Top general says US still vulnerable to North Korean missiles

The head of the Missile Defense Agency has expressed concerns about America’s long-term ability to defend the homeland in the face of growing threats from North Korea.


The U.S. military conducted a successful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) intercept test in May. An interceptor launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California eliminated a mock long-range missile fired from the Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific. The results of the test have boosted the MDA’s confidence, but there is still much more work to be done.

The test involved a new exoatmospheric kill vehicle and a faster target, although perhaps not as fast an actual incoming ICBM.

Vice Admiral James Syring, the director of the MDA, told the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday that the recent intercept test was an “exact replica” of what the U.S. would face in the event of a North Korean missile strike.

“The scenario that we conducted was maybe more operationally realistic than not,” he explained.

Although the recent test was successful, Syring expressed concerns about the North Korean ballistic missile threat.

North Korea has tested multiple new ballistic missile systems this year. The Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile and Pukguksong-2 medium-range ballistic missile could be the technological predecessors to liquid and solid-fueled ICBM systems.

“Today, we are ahead” of the threat, Syring explained in his testimony, “We need to stay ahead.”

“I would not say we are comfortably ahead of the threat; I would say we are addressing the threat that we know today,” Syring testified. “The advancements in the last six months have caused great concern to me and others, in the advancement of and demonstration of technology of ballistic missiles from North Korea.”

North Korea does not yet have an ICBM, but it appears to be moving in that direction at an accelerated pace. While the North may still be several years from developing this kind of technology, defense officials believe that it is necessary to assume that North Korea can “range” the U.S. with a long-range ballistic missile.

In the wake of the recent test, the Department of Defense upgraded its assessment of the capabilities of the U.S. missile shield. For years, the U.S. has maintained “limited capability” to defend against North Korean missiles. The Ground-based Midcourse Defense system has “demonstrated the capability to defend the U.S. homeland from a small number of intermediate-range or intercontinental missile threats with simple countermeasures,” the Pentagon said in a recent memo, according to Reuters.

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During a test of the nation’s ballistic missile defense system on May 31, 2017, the U.S. successfully intercepted an intercontinental ballistic missile target. Photo by U.S. Missile Defense Agency

Nonetheless, the system needs improvements. “It’s just not the interceptor, the entire system,” Syring said June 7, “We are not there yet.”

“We have continued work with the redesigned kill vehicle. We have continued work with the reliability of the other components of the system to make it totally reliable,” he said. “We are not done yet.”

Some expert observers have suggested that the recent intercept test may not have been as realistic as the MDA claims, leaving something to be desired.

“I think Syring was overstating the case,” Joshua Pollack, editor of The Nonproliferation Review and senior research associate in the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, told The DCNF. “A real situation involving ICBM attack could include such unpleasant circumstances as multiple, simultaneous launches on different trajectories; decoys and chaff; intercepts in the shadow of the Earth (not illuminated by sunlight); and attacks on the [Ballistic Missile Defense] system itself by various means.”

“The intercept geometry, as depicted by MDA, in no way, shape or form resembles a [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] ICBM attack against [the continental U.S.],” Jeffrey Lewis, the director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program in the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, tweeted Wednesday. “To be fair, MDA was right to walk before trying to run. A (sic) easy test is totally fine, but Adm. Syring appears to be over-claiming a bit.”

The range of the mock ICBM was 5,800 kilometers, which would give the missile a much slower closing speed than a real North Korean ICBM covering a distance of 9,000 to 11,000 kilometers would have. Faster closing speeds, according to Laura Grego, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, “give the interceptor less time to make course corrections, and are therefore more stressing for the interceptor.”

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A North Korean propaganda poster depicting a missile firing at the United States. (Photo by Flickr)

The head-on engagement trajectory of the May test is also inconsistent with the likely conditions of a North Korean strike.

“This test approximates many aspects of an intercept against an ICBM launched from North Korea, but the target and intercept geometry would be very different in a real attack,” Lewis told TheDCNF. “The missile would be launched closer to the interceptor site, would have a significantly longer range, and (in the case of an attack on DC) moving away from the interceptor site at a much greater angle.”

“MDA is limited by the existing test infrastructure and the very high cost of tests, so we should be reasonable about how realistic MDA can make any test,” he added. “But, in exchange, MDA needs to be reasonable in making claims about what has been demonstrated.”

Other scholars, however, believe the recent intercept test was a big breakthrough.

“This is a good day for homeland missile defense and a bad day for Kim Jong-un,” Thomas Karako, the director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in response to the test.

During the June 7 congressional hearing, Syring said that in an actual combat scenario, the U.S. would fire off a salvo of interceptors to better address the threat.

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MIGHTY TRENDING

The US lost 4 H-bombs in 1966 and they’re still causing damage

Early on the morning of Jan. 16, 1966, a B-52 Stratofortress bomber took off from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina.


The bomber headed toward Europe, where it would patrol near the borders of the Soviet Union with four nuclear weapons, part of Operation Chrome Dome, a Cold War program to provide 24-hour rapid-response capabilities in case of war.

During its return to the U.S. the next day, the B-52 was to rendezvous with a KC-135 tanker for refueling over Spain. Capt. Charles Wendorf, the 29-year-old Air Force pilot at the controls of the bomber, asked his staff pilot, Maj. Larry Messinger, to take over as they approached the refueling point.

Just after 10 a.m. on Jan. 17, the planes began their approach at 31,000ft over eastern Spain. Messinger sensed something was amiss.

“We came in behind the tanker, and we were a little bit fast, and we started to overrun him a little bit,” Messinger recalled, according to American Heritage magazine.

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Side view of YB-52 bomber. (Image courtesy of USAF)

“There is a procedure they have in refueling where, if the boom operator feels that you’re getting too close and it’s a dangerous situation, he will call, ‘ breakaway, breakaway, breakaway,'” Messinger said. “There was no call for a breakaway, so we didn’t see anything dangerous about the situation, but all of a sudden, all hell seemed to break loose.”

The B-52 collided with the tanker. The belly of the KC-135 was torn open, and jet fuel spilled into the tanker and onto the bomber. Explosions ripped through both planes, consuming the tanker and killing all four men aboard. Three men in the tail of the bomber were killed, and the four other crew members ejected.

Capt. Ivens Buchanan, strapped into his ejection seat, was caught in the fireball and burned. He crashed to the ground, but survived. Wendorf’s and Lt. Richard Rooney’s parachutes opened at 14,000 feet, and they drifted out to sea where fishermen rescued them.

Messinger hit his head during ejection. “I opened my parachute. Well, I shouldn’t have done that. I should have freefalled and the parachute would open automatically at 14,000 feet,” he said. “But I opened mine anyway, because of the fact that I got hit in the head, I imagine.” He drifted eight miles out to sea, where he was also picked up by fishermen.

A Spanish fisherman 5 miles offshore at the time reported seeing the explosion and the rain of debris. He then saw five parachutes — three with surviving crew members from the bomber; two others carrying “half a man, with his guts trailing,” and a “dead man.”

Soon after, on the ground in Spain, officers at Air Force bases scrambled to pack the troops they could find — cooks, clerks, and musicians — into buses to head toward Palomares, a coastal farming village in southeast Spain.

“It was just chaos,” John Garman, then a military police officer, told The New York Times in 2016. “Wreckage was all over the village. A big part of the bomber had crashed down in the yard of the school.”

By the evening of Jan. 17, all the airmen had been accounted for and no villagers were hurt. But U.S. personnel continued their search for the four nuclear bombs the B-52 had been carrying.

Days of searching

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Eighty days after it fell into the ocean following the January 1966 midair collision between a nuclear-armed B-52G bomber and a KC-135 refueling tanker over Palomares, Spain, this B28RI nuclear bomb was recovered from 2,850 feet (869 meters) of water and lifted aboard the USS Petrel. (Image from U.S. Navy)

The bombs — each carrying 1.45 megatons of explosive power, about 100 times as much as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima — were not armed, meaning there was no chance of a nuclear detonation.

One was recovered intact, but the high-explosives in two of them, designed to detonate and trigger a nuclear blast, did explode. The blasts left house-size craters on either side of the village, scattering plutonium and contaminating crops and farmland.

“There was no talk about radiation or plutonium or anything else,” Frank B. Thompson, then a 22-year-old trombone player, told The New York Times in 2016.

Thompson and others spent days searching contaminated fields without protective equipment or even a change of clothes. “They told us it was safe, and we were dumb enough, I guess, to believe them,” he said.

The fourth bomb remained missing after days of searching, its absence embarrassing for the U.S. and potentially deadly for people in the area.

The Pentagon called on engineers at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, who crunched the available numbers in order to determine where the missing bomb may have landed. The circumstances of the crash and the multitude of variables made such an estimate difficult.

Clues pointed to a sea landing for the fourth bomb, but there was little hard data to indicate where.

An interview with the fisherman who watched five members of the bomber’s crew land at sea yielded a breakthrough.

The “dead man” was, in fact, the bomb attached to its parachute, and the “half man, with his guts trailing” was the empty parachute bag with its packing lines trailing in the air.

That information led the engineers assisting the search to recommend a new search area, bringing the total area being scoured to 27 square miles — with visibility of only 20 feet in some spots.

On Feb. 11, the Navy called in Alvin, a 22-foot-long, 8-foot-wide submersible weighting 13 tons. It had room for a pilot and two observers, carried several cameras and a grappling arm, and could dive to 6,000 feet.

Also Read: 32 times when the U.S. military screwed up with nukes

Alvin‘s primitive technology made the search a slog. There was no progress until March 1, when they spotted a track on the seabed.

Two more weeks of searching went by before they spotted the bomb — 2,550 feet below the surface, almost exactly in the spot where the fisherman had seen it enter the water. On March 24, divers in Alvin managed to attach a line to the bomb’s parachute. Just after 8 p.m., a winch on a Navy ship began to reel in the line. About an hour later, the line broke, sending the bomb back to the ocean floor.

They found it again on April 2, resting about 350 feet deeper in the same area. The Navy rigged up another retrieval plan using an unmanned recovery vehicle, but it got caught in the bomb’s parachute. On April 7, the admiral leading the search ordered his crew to lift the whole thing.

The laborious process that followed, assisted by Navy frogmen, lifted the missing nuclear bomb to the surface, bringing the 81-day saga to a close.

Alvin‘s pilots became international heroes, but little else about the incident ended so well.

‘They told us everything was safe’

U.S. soldiers plowed up 600 acres of crops in Palomares, sending it to the Savannah River nuclear complex in South Carolina for disposal.

The U.S. government paid $710,914 to settle 536 Spanish claims. The fisherman, who wanted his claim for finding the bomb, sued for $5 million and eventually won $14,566. Madrid, where protesters had chanted “Yankee assassins!” during the search, asked U.S. Strategic Air Command to stop its flights over Spain. The airborne-alert program of which Operation Chrome Dome was a part was curtailed and then ended for good in 1992.

The U.S. personnel involved in the search and Spaniards in the area have lived with the legacy of the accident in the half-century since it happened.

Despite removing soil in the immediate aftermath, tests in the 1990s revealed high levels of Americium, a product of decaying plutonium, in the village. More tests showed that 50,000 cubic meters of the soil remained radioactive. The U.S. agreed to clean up the contamination remaining in the village in 2015.

Many of the U.S. veterans who assisted the search have said they are dealing with the effects of plutonium poisoning. Linking cancers to a single exposure to radiation is impossible, and there hasn’t been any study to assess whether they have an elevated incidence of illness, but in the years since, some have been ravaged by disease.

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The mystery of why these people are smiling also persists.

Of the 40 veterans involved in the search who were identified by The Times in 2016, 21 had cancer — nine had died from it.

Many of the men have blamed the Air Force, which sent them to clean the scene with little protective gear and later fed troops the contaminated crops that Spaniards refused to eat. One military-police officer was given a plastic bag and told to pick up radioactive fragments by hand.

The Air Force also dismissed tests done at the time showing the men had high levels of plutonium contamination.

“It took me a long time to start to realize this maybe had to do with cleaning up the bombs,” said Arthur Kindler, who was a grocery supply clerk at the time of the incident.

He was so covered in plutonium during the cleanup that the Air Force made him wash off in the ocean and took his clothes. Four years later, he developed testicular cancer and a rare lung infection; he has had cancer in his lymph nodes three times since then.

“You have to understand, they told us everything was safe,” Kindler said. “We were young. We trusted them. Why would they lie?”

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