Twenty-four days into the longest government shutdown in US history, the strain is being felt acutely by the US Coast Guard, as some 42,000 active-duty members are preparing to miss their first paycheck on Jan. 15, 2019.
In a Jan. 10, 2019 letter, Vice Commandant Adm. Charles Ray said that without an appropriation or funding measure, “the Coast Guard will not be able to meet the next payroll,” an extreme disruption that officials averted in late December 2018 by moving funds around.
“Let me assure you your leadership continues to do everything possible, both internal and external to the Service, to ensure we can process your pay as soon as we receive an appropriation,” Ray added. “However, I do not know when that will occur.”
(The 621st Contingency Response Wing)
The Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps are funded through the Defense Department, which got it its fiscal year 2019 budget in the fall, and none of their troops are missing a paycheck.
But the Coast Guard, while technically a military branch, is funded through the Homeland Security Department, funding for which has been held up amid a dispute between President Donald Trump and Congress over .7 billion Trump wants to start construction of a wall on the US-Mexico border.
A work-around secured funding for Coast Guard payroll on Dec. 31, 2018, paying the service’s active-duty members and reservists who drilled before funding lapsed, but service leaders have said it cannot be repeated. Civilian employees are unpaid since Dec. 21, 2018.
Active-duty members deemed essential have continued working, as have about 1,300 civilian workers. Most of the service’s 8,500 civilian employees have been furloughed, and pay and benefits for some 50,000 retired members and employees could be affected.
US Coast Guard ice-rescue team members participate in training on Lake Champlain at Coast Guard Station Burlington, Burlington, Vermont, Feb. 17, 2017.
(US Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Sarah Mattison)
In the Coast Guard’s 14th district, which covers 12.2 million square miles of the Pacific Ocean, 835 active-duty personnel and some civilians are still working from bases in Hawaii and Guam and detachments in Japan and Singapore, carrying out “essential operations” such as search-and-rescue and law enforcement, 14th district spokeswoman Chief Sara Muir told Stars and Stripes.
Between Dec. 21, 2018, and Jan. 7, 2019, the district handled 46 cases, including two major ones, Muir said. On Jan. 13, 2019, Coast Guard personnel medevaced a crew member off a fishing vessel 80 miles north of Kauai.
Other operations, like recreational-vessel safety checks and issuing or renewing licenses and other administrative work, has been curtailed. The service has said vendors who provide fuel and other services also won’t be paid until funding resumes.
As the shutdown drags on, communities around the country have mustered to support Coast Guard members and families, particularly junior members, many of whom lack savings.
Crew members from Coast Guard Station Sand Key, Florida, take part in survival swim training, Dec. 8, 2017.
(US Coast Guard photo Petty Officer 1st Class Michael De Nyse)
On Jan. 12, 2019, dozens of northern Michigan residents gathered for a silent auction and donation event, with funds raised going toward expenses like rent, medical bills, and heating for service members and their families.
“Whenever you cannot predict when you’re gonna get your next paycheck, but you know exactly when the bills are due, it causes a lot of stress,” Kenneth Arbogast, a retired Coast Guard chief petty officer, told UpNorthLive.com. “And for younger members, young families, that’s really a challenge.”
On Jan. 13, 2019, more than 600 service members, including 168 families, gathered in Alameda, California, for a giveaway organized by the East Bay Coast Guard Spouses Club, providing them with everything from fresh fruit to diapers.
“It’s worrisome. I have to put food in my family’s belly,” said Coast Guard mechanic Kyle Turcott, who is working without pay. “Ain’t no telling, we may not get paid until the first of next month,” added Nathan Knight, another service member.
The organizers said they were working on another food drive and could host another distribution event this week.
Coast Guard cutter Munro passes under the Golden Gate Bridge on its way into the Bay Area, April 6, 2017.
(US Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Adam Stanton)
On Jan. 14, 2019, Thomas Edison State University in New Jersey announced that Coast Guard students affected by the shutdown would be able to defer payments until tuition assistance was available again. The school has 135 active-duty students — 27 of whom are registered for February 2019.
In Rhode Island, Roger Williams University said that on Jan. 15, 2019, it would offer free dining-hall meals to active-duty Coast Guard members and their families from Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts.
Navy Federal Credit Union, which serves military members, veterans, and civilian Defense Department employees, has said it would offer no-interest loans up to ,000 to workers affected by the shutdown, with repayment automatically deducted from paychecks once direct-deposit resumes.
In his Jan. 10, 2019 letter, Ray also said that the Coast Guard Mutual Assistance Board had increased the interest-free loans it was offering, focusing on junior members, allowing those with dependents to get up to id=”listicle-2626058172″,000.
Crewmembers of the Coast Guard cutter Mohawk and Tactical Law Enforcement Team South on a self-propelled semi-submersible, July 3, 2018.
(US Coast Guard photo)
In Texas, Coast Guard noncommissioned officers have raised money through local chapters of the Coast Guard Petty Officers Association. In early January 2019, they brought in food to cook at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base, encouraging younger service members to take food home.
Erin Picou, whose husband is a chief petty officer with 17 years experience, said her family could cover the most important bills, but the mortgage for their house, on which they spent their savings six months ago, is less certain.
“I can’t speak for them, but I myself think my husband has worked his ass off. He needs to get a paycheck,” Picou added. “It’s hard to focus on search and rescue if you don’t know whether your kids and family are going to have a roof over their head and food on the table.”
Measures have been introduced to Congress to ensure pay for Coast Guard members. However, Ray said, “I cannot predict what course that legislation may take.”
In a Facebook post on Jan. 13, 2019, Coast Guard commandant Adm. Karl Schultz told service members the branch was continuing “228 years of military service around the globe,” including preparations for yearly ice-clearing in Antarctica, maritime-security operations in the Middle East, and drug interdictions in Central and South America.
“While our Coast Guard workforce is deployed, there are loved ones at home reviewing family finances, researching how to get support, and weighing childcare options — they are holding down the fort,” Schultz wrote.
“Please know that we are doing everything we can to support and advocate for you while your loved one stands the watch,” he added. “You have not, and will not, be forgotten.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
As the Navy advances plans for a 10-ship “ghost fleet,” leaders are assessing how much decision-making power to give large unmanned vessels that can operate without any humans aboard.
The Navy wants $400 million in fiscal 2020 to build two “large unmanned surface vessels.” Budget documents show service leaders plan to request $2.7 billion to build 10 of the ships over the next five years.
But with the programs still largely in the research and development phase, the plans raise questions about what the Navy is actually planning to buy, and how those ships would function in the real world. Not only is it unclear exactly what these future unmanned ships will look like, but also what capabilities they’ll have.
“Doing [research and development] and figuring out exactly the capabilities that we need, it’s critical,” James Geurts, the Navy’s assistant secretary for research, development and acquisition, recently told lawmakers. “…The real RD is in a lot of the guts: the autonomy, the decision-making, how are we going to control it, how are we going to do those things?”
James Geurts, the Navy’s assistant secretary for research, development and acquisition.
(US Navy photo)
The service has completed the first phase of testing on its large unmanned surface vessel, Geurts said, but much about those plans is shrouded in secrecy. Earlier in 2019, the Navy’s 132-foot-long medium-unmanned vessel named Sea Hunter sailed from California to Hawaii and back again, mostly without anyone aboard. Officials declined to talk to Military.com about the transit, citing operational security while it’s in development.
Rear Adm. Randy Crites, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for budget, told reporters March 2019 that the large unmanned surface vessels will serve “as both a sensor and a shooter.” And since they’re smaller than conventional ships, he added, the 200- to 300-foot vessels should be cheaper to produce and operate.
The Navy’s budget also requests funding for dozens of underwater drone vehicles and unmanned aircraft.
Navy leaders are pushing funding for projects like the Sea Hunter as it faces new threats at sea from more sophisticated adversaries. The service’s 2020 budget request has some in Congress questioning the decision to push an aircraft carrier into retirement early, but leaders say it’s essential to use the savings the ship’s retirement would provide on newer cutting-edge technology, such as a self-driving ghost fleet.
The unmanned prototype ship ‘Sea Hunter’ is part of the Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel program.
(U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams)
“[That] led to some tough choices,” Geurts told lawmakers. “One of those is to retire that ship early in favor [of] looking at other technologies, other larger cost-imposing strategies.”
The Navy’s future aircraft carriers will include a mix of manned and unmanned aircraft and boats that can operate on the surface or underwater as the service prepares to counter more high-tech threats at sea, leaders have said.
Geurts said he expects to see the development of large unmanned vessels pick up quickly over the next year.
“It’s less about the ship design, because you could make a lot of different ship designs autonomous,” he told reporters last week. “The capabilities you would put on there could be fairly flexible and fairly mobile, so our real emphasis, and where I think you’re going to see an acceleration versus a traditional shipbuilding program, is you’re going to focus more on the autonomy technology — the capabilities you want to strap onto the ship — and less about the ship hull form.”
The Navy is proving its ability to sail unmanned vessels with the Sea Hunter transit, Geurts said.
“We learned a lot from that,” he said.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
The Thai boys saved from a flooded cave endured dives in zero visibility lasting up to half an hour. In places, they were put into harnesses and high-lined across rocky caverns, said a leader of the U.S. contingent involved in the operation, calling it a “once in a lifetime rescue.”
Derek Anderson, a 32-year-old rescue specialist with the U.S. Air Force based in Okinawa, Japan, said the dozen boys, ranging in age from 11 to 16, and their coach, who were trapped for more than two weeks before being rescued, were “incredibly resilient.”
“What was really important was the coach and the boys all came together and discussed staying strong, having the will to live, having the will to survive,” Anderson told The Associated Press in an interview on July 11, 2018.
The scale of the challenge confronting rescuers from Thailand, Britain, Australia and other countries only truly dawned on the U.S. team after it arrived at the cave in the early hours of June 28, 2018, as rain poured down on the region in northern Thailand. The Thai government had requested U.S. assistance.
“The cave was dry when we arrived, and within an hour and half it had already filled up by 2 to 3 feet and we were being pushed out,” said Anderson, the son of missionaries, who was born in Syracuse, New York, and grew up in Ecuador.
“That was just in the very beginning of the cave and at that point we realized this problem is going to be much more complex than we thought,” he said.
Thailand’s decision to dive the boys out despite their weak condition and lack of diving experience was made when a window of opportunity was provided by relatively mild weather. A massive operation to pump water out also meant air pockets were created at crucial points of the cave, making a rescue possible.
Falling oxygen levels, risk of sickness and the imminent prospect of more rain flooding the cave complex for months meant “the long-term survivability of the boys in the cave was becoming a less and less feasible option,” Anderson said.
Divers practiced their rescue techniques in a swimming pool with local children about the same height and weight as the members of the Wild Boars soccer team trapped in the cave.
The aim, Anderson said, was to make each of the boys “tightly packaged” so divers could keep control of them and adjust their air supply as needed. The process lasted hours for each boy, and involved them getting through long passageways barely bigger than an adult body.
Buoyancy compensators that establish neutral buoyancy underwater, hooded wetsuits, bungee cords and special face masks were carried by divers to the cramped patch of dry elevated ground where the boys were huddled.
The positive pressure masks were “really crucial,” Anderson said. Their use meant that even if a boy panicked — perhaps because of getting snagged in a narrow passage — and got water inside his mask, the pressure would expel it.
The complicated operation to bring the boys out of the cave began on July 8, 2018, when four were extracted. Four more were brought out on July 9, 2018, and the operation ended July 10, 2018, with the rescue of the last four boys and their 25-year-old coach.
The 18-day ordeal riveted much of the world — from the awful news that the 13 were missing, to the first flickering video of the huddle of anxious yet smiling boys when they were found by a pair of British divers nearly 10 days later.
The group had entered the sprawling Tham Luang cave to go exploring after soccer practice on June 23, 2018, but monsoon rains filled the tight passageways, blocking their escape, and pushing them deeper inside in search of a refuge.
Initial attempts to locate the boys were twice unsuccessful because the force of cold hypothermia-inducing floodwaters rushing into narrow passages made them unpassable. Even as conditions improved, and divers began laying life-saving rope guidelines through the cave, it was perilous.
“In this type of cave diving, you have to lay line, rope, that’s your lifeline. You have to ensure when you go in you have a way out,” Anderson said. “They were making progress, but it was very little progress and they were exhausting themselves spending maybe five or six hours and covering 40 or 50 meters (yards).”
There were about a hundred people inside the cave for each rescue operation, Anderson said, and each boy was handled by dozens of people as their perilous movement through a total of nine chambers unfolded.
In some phases they were guided by two divers. In some narrow passages they were connected to only one diver. In caverns with air pockets they were “floated” through with the support of four rescuers. Some sections were completely dry but treacherously rocky or deep.
“We had to set up rope systems and high-lines to be able to safely put them in a harness and bring them across large open areas so they wouldn’t have to go all the way down,” Anderson said.
Cylinders placed at locations throughout the cave for replenishing the boys’ air supply were “jammed” with 80 percent oxygen instead of regular air because “that would plus up their oxygen saturation levels and that would be really good for them, their mental state,” he said.
“The world just needs to know that what was accomplished was a once in a lifetime rescue that I think has never been done before,” Anderson said. “We were extremely fortunate that the outcome was the way it was. It’s important to realize how complex and how many pieces of this puzzle had to come together.”
“If you lose your cool in an environment like that, there is a lot of bad repercussions,” he said.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Snipers face countless threats on the battlefield. Ambush. Exposure. Separation from friendly forces. But, one of the most dangerous is being hunted by another deadly sharpshooter.
“It becomes a game of cat and mouse,” US Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Rance, the sniper instructor team sergeant at the sniper school at Fort Benning, said in a recent interview with Business Insider. “You have to be very cautious.”
Sniper duels like those seen in “Enemy at the Gates” and that well-known scene from “Saving Private Ryan” are rare, but they do happen. During the Vietnam War, Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock battled several enemy snipers, reportedly putting a shot clean through the rifle scope and eye of a North Vietnamese Army sniper.
We asked a handful of top US Army snipers, marksman with years of experience and multiple combat deployments, how they hunt enemy sharpshooters. Here’s what they had to say.
Spc. Dane Pope-Keegan, a Scottsdale, Arizona native and sniper assigned to 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, performs reconnaissance and collects information during air assault training on July 10, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Andrew McNeil / 22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)
US snipers have been fighting insurgents in the Middle East for nearly two decades. These enemies, while dangerous, are often considered lower level threats because they lack the training that US forces have.
“Some of our lower threat level [enemies], just because they are carrying a long gun, they may not have the actual experience of a sniper,” Rance told BI. The far greater threats are from professionally trained shooters from advanced militaries like those of China, Russia, and possibly even Iran.
“As you get into the near-peer threats, adversaries that have the proper tools and training, it’s a greater challenge for us to go get them because often they are professional school-trained snipers,” he said. They know the tricks of the trade, and that makes them much more deadly.
When there is a suspected sniper holed up nearby, there are a few different options.
“The best answer might be to go around,” Army Capt. Greg Elgort, the company commander at Fort Benning, told BI. “But, if your mission requires you to go through, you have a lot of different offensive options that are available.” They don’t necessarily have to hunt the enemy down one-on-one.
Snipers regularly support larger military force elements, scouting out enemy positions and relaying critical information to other components of that larger force, which can strike with mortars, artillery or infantry assault to “root out and destroy” the enemy. The snipers can then assess damage caused by the strikes from a safe distance.
But, sometimes eliminating the threat falls squarely on the shoulders of the sniper.
A U.S. Army sniper and infantryman with the U.S. Army Sniper School poses during a video shoot at Fort Benning, Georgia, Dec. 13, 2018.
(U.S. Army Reserve photo by Capt. David Gasperson)
The hunt is a tedious and dangerous game, as Rance said. US troops must pinpoint the emplaced sniper and range them without exposing themselves to fire.
“It’s going to take patience,” First Sgt. Kevin Sipes, a veteran sniper with more than a decade of experience, explained to BI recently. “You are waiting to see who is going to make a mistake first. Basically, it is going to take a mistake for you to win that fight, or vice versa, you making a mistake and losing that fight.”
Snipers are masters at concealing themselves from the watchful eyes of the enemy, but disappearing is no easy task. There’s a million different things that go into hiding from the enemy, and a simple mistake could be fatal.
According to the story of Hathcock, the renowned Vietnam War sniper, it was reportedly the glare of the enemy’s scope that gave away his position. “As a sniper, you are looking for anomalies, anything that sticks out, going against the pattern,” Rance explained.
U.S. Army Spc. Artemio Veneracion, a native of North Hills, Calif., a sniper with Eagle Troop, 2nd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, stationed out of Vilseck, Germany, looks through the scope of an M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System (SASS), during a combined squad training exercise with the Finnish Soldiers of the Armoured Reconnaissance Platoon at the Tapa Training Area, Estonia, June 15, 2016.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Steven M. Colvin)
These fights could easily be long and drawn out.
“In a real scenario, you could be in a situation for two, three weeks, a month maybe, determining a pattern, waiting for a mistake to be made,” Sipes said. Eliminating a threat could involve taking the shot yourself or using your eyes to guide other assets as they force the enemy “into a position to effectively neutralize them.” Either way, it takes time.
And, the waiting is tough.
“Staying in a position for an extended period of time, obviously it’s difficult,” Sipes told BI. “Patience is key. It’s terrible when you’re in that situation because it’s incredibly boring and you’re not moving. I’ve come out of situations with sores on my stomach and elbows and knees from laying there for so long.”
“It’s a cool story later,” he added.
No matter how tough it gets, a sniper must maintain focus, keeping his concentration. A sniper really only gets one shot, maybe two best case scenario.
“If they were to miss,” Rance explained, “they only have a few seconds to do that second shot correction before that target, seeks cover and disappears.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Many great warriors throughout history enjoyed having rare, exquisite weapons. The fictional King Arthur had his Excalibur. The real-life Charlemagne had Joyeuse. But it was some unknown Inuit tribesman who had the rarest, most magical weapon of all – a spear made from the horn of a Narwhal, tipped by iron from a meteor.
For centuries, the horn of what we know today as the Narwhal was a pretty uncommon sight in European countries. European kings as recent as just a couple of centuries ago believed the “horns” sold to them by Viking traders were from the mythical unicorn and used them in everything from crown jewels to their drinking goblets. In reality, they were actually the tusks of a medium-sized whale; what we know today as a Narwhal. While this didn’t make the tusk any less rare, it did mean the source was less mythical and just really cold – the Narwhal preys on other sea life in the cold Arctic waters of the North.
Meanwhile, much further back in Earth’s history, a particular meteorite collided with Earth. The iron-based ball hit what we know as Cape York, Greenland today. It left a chunk of iron ore that weighed 31 metric tons embedded in the Earth’s surface. The local Inuit called it Saviksoah, or “Great Iron” and used it as a source of metal for hunting and building their communities.
Explorer Robert E. Peary with a chunk of the Saviksoah meteor.
The tusk of the now-endangered Narwhal can grow anywhere from five to ten feet in length and is a sensory organ, covered with nerves on the outer part of the tusk. So that tusk (which is actually a long, spiral tooth) doesn’t just fall out or shed naturally. For every Narwhal tusk, there’s a dead Narwhal out there somewhere. For the Inuit, they use the occasion to make hunting weapons from the tusks, and the length is ideal for making a spear.
To form an arrowhead, the natives need a source of metal, and, being unable to mine iron ore, they used the meteor as a source of the metal. Instead of using the blacksmithing techniques we all know through movies, televisions, renaissance faires, and whatnot, the Inuit had to use cold forging techniques – that means they just stamped the cold metal until it was beat into the shape they needed.
So it’s not impossible that this lance is the only example of a spear-like weapon forged from the cold iron of a million-year-old meteor then wedged atop the rare ten-foot tooth of a near-mythical Arctic whale. It’s just highly unlikely. And while people have been making weapons from the Ivory of Narwhals for decades now, know that killing one for its tusk is just as illegal as killing anything else for its ivory – only the Inuit are still allowed to hunt the creatures.
In October 2018, the Navy Trademark Licensing Office, headquartered at the Office of Naval Research (ONR), transferred more than $1 million — for the first time — to the Navy’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) program, a quality-of-life program for sailors and their families.
This money, which totaled more than $1.3 million, comes from royalties collected from the sale of licensed products using Navy trademarked logos, and goes toward community recreational programs supported by MWR.
“The trademark royalty funds have helped Navy Morale, Welfare and Recreation program staff members offer many fun and engaging activities, along with recreational leisure skills programs for Sailors and their families at installations worldwide,” said Jeffrey Potter, head of financial analysis at Commander, Navy Installations Command (CNIC) in Millington, Tennessee. “This initiative has been extremely important to CNIC fleet readiness, and we truly appreciate how this relationship has benefited quality of life programs at installations across the Navy.”
Determining what types of items can carry the Navy’s trademark is the job of Nadine Villanueva Santiago, manager of the Navy’s Trademark Licensing Office (NTLO).
“Our job is to ensure that Navy-branded consumer goods available in the marketplace are ones that instill pride in the service and admiration for the men and women who serve,” said Santiago.
Currently, the Navy trademark appears on thousands of officially licensed products — including clothing, household goods, ornaments, watches, and handmade goods. However, not every product Santiago receives makes the grade. Navy trademarks won’t be approved for alcohol, tobacco- or smoking-related items, drug paraphernalia, gambling- or lottery-related products, firearms, undergarments or products containing profanity or hateful language.
Nadine Villanueva Santiago, manager of the Navy’s Trademark Licensing Office (NTLO), headquartered at the Office of Naval Research, Arlington, Va., talks about recently received items with her team, from left, Michael Badagliacca, Stacey Marks and Hassan Sudler.
(U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams)
Since 2013, the NTLO has reviewed and tested the products that come through their office — from validating the appropriateness of an item, to reviewing factory audits for safe working conditions, to ensuring the quality of an item meets or exceeds expectations.
“If you buy an officially licensed product, you can guarantee that it’s been vetted and gone through the appropriate channels to ensure the item is of good quality and is not made in a sweatshop or factory with safety violations,” said Santiago. “Plus, you can feel good that a portion of the proceeds go back to the Navy through the MWR program.”
MWR is not the only Navy program to profit from the trademark office. The Navy Wounded Warrior-Safe Harbor program also benefits in another form. According to Santiago, product samples that are not requested to be sent back to the licensees are inventoried and transferred to the Wounded Warrior-Safe Harbor program. That program then distributes the items to warfighters enrolled in the program at Warrior Games or at medical treatment facilities.
“When we let licensees know what will be done with their samples, they typically don’t request the items back,” said Santiago.
The NTLO has more than 250 licensees. Navy licensed products are available globally including in major retailers and a variety of e-commerce websites. All officially licensed products will have a hologram or hangtag that identifies the authenticity as officially licensed merchandise.
And for Santiago, it’s these licensees — the ones that go through the proper channels — that help her office succeed in protecting the rich history and heritage of the Navy.
While the Navy has transferred more than .2 million to the MWR over the years, it should also be noted that each military service has a trademark licensing program office that manages its trademarks. As a whole, the Department of Defense trademark program offices have transferred more than million to MWR programs for support of our nation’s warfighters and families.
The 6th Marine Regiment color guard marches towards the parade field at Aisne-Marne American Memorial Cemetery in Belleau, France, May 29, 2016. The ceremony marks the 98th anniversary of the Battle of Belleau Wood and continues as a symbol of the everlasting brotherhood between the U.S. Marines and the French military. The cemetery, lined with epitaphs, marks hundreds of plots where military members from all around the world rest after giving the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Photo/Preston McDonald
I nearly died just days after arriving in Iraq. This was my first deployment and although I had never seen combat, I was a well-trained, physically fit, mentally prepared Marine. None of that mattered when a grenade landed near us. Luckily, we all walked away. That first patrol seemed like a blur at the time but years later the memory is still scarred into my brain, like a small burn on a child’s hand. It’s not about what happened that day but the reminder of what could have.
That reminder came just days after I returned home. One of my fellow Marines, a friend, was killed by a sniper’s bullet, then, another fell from a roof and died, and yet another lost his legs in an IED attack. I had survived months without a scratch but my friends who were just as well-trained were killed and injured within a week. My brain couldn’t understand the logic of what happened … because there is no logic in war.
You don’t get to pick where the bullet goes, you just have to face it. Since the founding of the United States, thousands of men and women have stared down our enemies. Many have paid the ultimate sacrifice and are still buried on the battlefields where they said their last words.
Sunrise in Section 35 of Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, Oct. 25, 2018. (U.S. Army photo by Elizabeth Fraser/ Arlington National Cemetery / released)
Today, the living reminder of the fallen remains in places like Gettysburg, Arlington National Cemetery and Aisne-Marne, France. Over 100 years before I stepped foot into Iraq, thousands of Marines patrolled the forests of Belleau Wood. They were all that stood to protect Paris, and the war effort, from a German assault. Outnumbered, isolated and low on ammunition, they fought and held the line. Their tenacity in battle earned them the name “Teufel Hunden” or “Devil Dogs” by the Germans. This is a name that Marines proudly still use today.
In battle, words matter. “Covering fire” has a completely different meaning than “take cover.” “Fix” is different from “flank” and so on. In peace, words matter even more. When we think of war in terms of winning and losing, we not only do ourselves the disservice of simplifying the chaos of battle but we negate the reminder that the fallen give us.
A Sailor assigned to Special Operations Task Force West folds an American flag during a memorial marking the anniversary of the death of Petty Officer 2nd Class Tyler Trahan, an explosive ordnance disposal technician. Trahan was killed in action April 30, 2009 in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. U.S. Navy photo/Aaron Burden
While war may have a clear victor, there are no winners on the battlefield. The gravestones, memorials and scars – both physical and invisible – that veterans carry are the reminders of that.
We are the land of the free because of the brave. Countless men and women have raised their hand to serve our country with nothing expected in return. As it’s said, “All gave some, some gave all.” The very least we can give those who paid the ultimate price is to honor their memory, acknowledge their unyielding patriotism and cherish their last great act with awe and humility, for they willingly gave their lives in service of our great nation.
Bitcoin, gaming and dating apps are now officially banned from government-issued Marine Corps phones. The ruling came down in mid-August that Marines are now no longer allowed to use gambling and dating apps, along with cryptocurrency applications or anything that attempts to override and bypass tools or download rules.
One of the reasons for the ban is because, like all things tech-related, the possibility of these phones become targets is very real. Smartphones are part of most Marines’ professional life, which means they’re full of compromising information. In turn, that makes them a very real target.
This order extends beyond unit issued phones to include personal cell phones. Marines are cautioned not to use any apps that the government has already deemed a risk, like TikTok and WeChat, which has already been banned by the Pentagon.
TikTok and WeChat
TikTok is a popular social media platform that allows users to upload short videos. Pentagon officials worry that the app could be used to spread misinformation and propaganda. The moderators of the platform are censoring content to appease the app’s owners in China.
TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is based in China. There are fears that the company might share user data with the Chinese government, either intentionally through data requests or unintentionally through surveillance software.
Like TikTok, WeChat is a Chinese owned company that’s considered a ‘super-app’ because it combines the functions of financial services, travel, food delivery, ride-sharing, social media, messaging, and more. Its popularity is due in part to the fact that the Chinese government shuts out other foreign tech companies and penalizes people who try to override the laws. WeChat is known to censor and surveil their users on behalf of the government and turn over the government’s information when “sensitive information” is discovered.
This concern over American military members using Chinese-owned apps is nothing new. In fact, concerns about these two applications have been brewing for over a year. Both Microsoft and Twitter are currently in talks to acquire TikTok, but a sale could be far off and incredibly messy. Microsoft wants to buy TikTok in the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, but so far in the history of social media, no company has ever split up a social network along regional lines.
Mobile apps like WeChat, which have so obviously been created to be the third arm of government surveillance, pose immediate risks to military members. OPSEC becomes harder and harder to control and maintain in the digital world, and users can inadvertently give away too much information.
A Lance Corporal Learns the Ultimate Lesson
Last year, during a mock training exercise in California, a Maine lance corporal took a selfie that gave up his location, which resulted in his entire artillery unit being taken out by the mock enemy force. More than ten thousand Marines were at Twentynine Palms for an air-ground combat training mission, which was the biggest training event of its kind in decades. IN addition to Marines being present, sailors and NATO forces participated in the event.
The selfie allowed the mock enemy to geo-locate the lance corporal and his unit, which resulted in his ‘death’ and the ‘death’ of the rest of his unit. While the lance corporal learned this lesson without loss of life, others might not be so fortunate, which is one of the many reasons military leaders consistently stress the need for digital OPSEC.
The Marine Corps won’t issue numbers that show just how many Marines have tried to put dating apps, games and cryptocurrency apps on their government phones. Now, any app that can be classified into these categories is blocked from the Apple Store and Google Play. The only applications Marines can access are those that the Marine Corps has determined necessary to conduct authorized activities.
As with other branches of the military, the Marine Corps has the final say in which apps can be installed on official mobile devices.
A US military commander said on Aug. 31 that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is probably still alive and hiding in the Euphrates River valley between Iraq and Syria.
“We’re looking for him every day. I don’t think he’s dead,” Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, commander of the counter-IS coalition, said in a conference call with reporters.
Townsend said he didn’t “have a clue” where Baghdadi is precisely, but he believes the reclusive extremist leader may have fled with other IS militants to the river valley region after IS lost control of its former bastions in Mosul, Tal Afar, and parts of Raqqa.
US Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve commanding general, speaks with Airmen, Marines, and coalition personnel thanking them for the many contributions in support of OIR during an all-call. USAF photo by Tech Sgt. Andy M. Kin.
“The last stand of ISIS will be in the Middle Euphrates River Valley,” Townsend said, using another well-known acronym for the extremist group. “When we find him, I think we’ll just try to kill him first. It’s probably not worth all the trouble to try and capture him.”
“I’ve seen no convincing evidence, intelligence, or open-source or other rumor or otherwise that he’s dead,” said Townsend. “There are also some indicators in intelligence channels that he’s still alive.”
Just as the Army has been saying for almost thirty years, they are finally working out the details of what will be the replacement for the current push-ups/sit-ups/2-mile-run version of the Army Physical Fitness Test. For a quick primer on what the new test will entail, read our previous article — but know that, if implemented, this new test is going to fundamentally change how the Army operates.
Obviously, the Army Combat Readiness Test (this is what they’re calling the new test) will demand new capability from troops, but it’s more than that. Everything from how the test is conducted to the way it’s graded and the overall logistical nightmares that it will bring are going to have wide-reaching ramifications.
Now, that’s not to say that the new test is a bad thing — but this one small change will ripple into the rest of life in the Army. Here’s how:
Fridays will always be run days. How else is the commander going to listen to ‘Thunderstruck’ by AC/DC?
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Steven Lopez)
New PT schedules
The current APFT makes sure that three elements of a soldier’s fitness are up to standard: upper body, core, and endurance. Morning PT schedules created by NCOs reflect these requirements. Regardless of your unit, you’ll almost always go on a long run on Mondays, work your upper body on Tuesdays, do sprints on Wednesdays, enjoy core or leg days on Thursdays, and finally, have unit “fun runs” on Fridays.
The new test will include a two-mile run, so you can expect to keep logging the “fun run” alongside the officers who want to claim they work out with their guys. The other five events required by the ACRT, however, will have to be worked into the other four days, which may mean cutting down on Monday runs.
Let’s play a game: Spot all the problems in this picture that make it unsafe…
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Hull)
A considerable amount of training
Mark my words: This new PT test is going to be the sole cause of some serious injuries to good soldiers.
Soldiers will likely blow out their backs by improperly deadlifting, toss a medicine ball on someone’s head, jack up their wrists by doing the “hand release push-up” wrong, or incur some type of injury during sprint-drag-carry mishaps — with so many technically demanding events, it’s going to be impossible to ensure that nobody gets hurt.
The fact is that deadlifts aren’t something that beginners or overly cocky soldiers can just pick up. If the powers that be insist on inserting deadlifts into the PT test and younger soldiers aren’t given the training required to do them properly, well… Expect many more visits to sick call among soldiers with bad backs.
Motrin and a bottle of water isn’t going to solve this problem, doc.
(U.S. Army photo)
How we view sick call
That being said, there is no way to mitigate the risk of injury entirely. No amount of training can eliminate the possibility ofunintentionally harming oneself. Training and the initialadjustment period will likelysee most of the accidents,but there will be soldiers years from now who bend in a way the human body isn’t meant to be bent.
The Army is fairly good at putting precautions in placeto mitigate risks,but there will need to be an overhaul in the way that aid stations see and treatsoldiers. As of rightnow, countless soldiers “suck it up” and deal with the pain instead of visiting sick call, but one can only stoically endure so much before beingtruly broken.
A major problem thatvetsruninto when theyseekhelp from the VA stems from alack of kept records. In the absence ofdocumentation specifically referencing an ailment, the VA often assertsthat a givenproblem “wasn’t military related.” Unless there’s a major change in how sick call is viewedby soldiers, the many accidents that will likely befall takers of the new ACRT will cause unaddressed problems down the line.
Supply NCOs are wizards, but you can’t expect the impossible from them all the time.
(U.S. Army photo by Cpt. Kristoffer Sibbaluca)
Logistics behind the equipment
The new test makes use of plenty of specialized equipment. To successfully administer a PT test, units will need:
Deadlift bars plus weights,
10-lbs medicine balls,
40-lbs kettle bells,
and a steady track on which to do the run.
From here, things will go one of two ways: Either the Army is going to have to shell out a load of cash to get every unit enough equipment to facilitate the test in an organized manner (and pay for somewhere to store all that equipment and someone to maintain it) or there will be a dedicated gym for every Brigade-level that contains the equipment and sends it out on request.
In either case, there will be an entirely new level of logistics involved in connecting troops with the gear.
There are some running tracks on bigger installations in the Kuwait and Afghanistan, but installing one on FOB Out-in-the-middle-of-f*ck-nowhere just won’t happen.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Angela Lorden)
PT on deployments
As it stands at this instant, PT tests are a required for active duty soldiers twice per year. There are rare exceptions, but in most cases, your commander will insist that tests be administered, even if you’re overseas. All you need is ground to do the test on.
Much to the dismay of that sergeant with muscles so big that he can’t stand at parade rest, this, too, will change. All that equipment won’t be making its way into a shipping container since the Army needs to send mission-relevant gear (and the test would be null and void without the previously-mentioned steady track anyway).
Without the need to maintain fitness standards in order to pass PT tests administered during deployments, soldiers just won’t. That negates the entire purpose of fielding a “combat-oriented” PT test — unless, you know, the Army is willing to stubbornly handle that insane logistical nightmare just to prove a point.
Which basically means the only way lower-demand MOS’s will get close to 798 points is if they spend all their time outside work doing college courses.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Raquel Villalona)
The current version of the PT test is simple. Your performance in each event gives you a certain amount of points. Max out at a perfect 300 and you’ve netted yourself 180 promotion points — which comes in handy if you’re looking to be a sergeant. It’s stupid simple math that can be easily printed out and posted in any training room.
But the new test isn’t like that at all. It’s now a “Go/No Go” system. Each event is simply measured: You can either do it or you can’t. You can either run a 2-mile in 20 minutes or you can’t (which, by today’s standards, would award just 3 points to a 17-year-old male but 85 points to a 47-year-old female). Ripping these potential 180 points out of the current promotion system means that soldiers in a lower-demand MOS will lose the easiest way to pad their points.
Sensational press accounts were just plain rabid about this man from the time he “escaped” a post-WWII “Officers'” holding camp, until the start of the Vietnam conflict. All he ever really wanted to be was a Mechanical Engineer and to serve his country honorably. Most of us would never have heard of this Commando’s successes were it not for the British desire to explain WWII in detail to the world (in terms of their victorious achievements). This man was Otto Skorzeny.
In the frantic change of the Austrian government on 12 March 1938, Skorzeny was a member of the Gymnastic Club which was trying to support the police and keep antagonistic political factions from breaking into rioting. He was a big man with a strong sense of duty, an energetic attitude, and a loud, commanding voice. It is reported that he personally prevented two armed groups from coming to blows at a critical moment. Then the war came on 1 September 1939, and he tried to get into the Luftwaffe, but, at the age of 31, was labeled “too old” to be a pilot — so he ended up in the Army.
In his regular army training regimentation, Skorzeny saw individuality and personality broken in most of the younger men by the time-honored methods heralding back to 19th century Prussia. Sent on a tour of France after its surrender as an officer-cadet (~E5) he amazed superiors by obtaining the cooperation of Dutch workers to construct a ramp that he designed for loading heavy tanks on to ships in preparation for the invasion of Britain. Later when his trucks needed new tires to complete a mission, he threatened the NCO of a supply depot with harm if he (without written authorization) didn’t get what he needed to carry out his verbal orders. He was reprimanded by a general for being aggressive and transferred to a unit in Yugoslavia.
When he was leading his first combat patrol, a larger group of enemies walked right into his area. Instead of opening fire, Skorzeny jumped up and demanded their surrender — and got it, without firing a shot. He brought in 63 prisoners, including three officers, and was promoted to 1st Lieutenant on the spot. He thought his next assignment would be in the battle for North Africa, and picked up a copy of “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” by T.E. Lawrence for reading on the train. The train stopped short and his unit was instead offloaded to participate in Operation Barbarossa and an extremely bloody Axis invasion of Russia, which began 22 June 1941.
He fought well and hard in the endless Russian forest and plains for the next six months, including during the Russian winter of 1941, when the German Army had no winter uniforms. Skorzeny developed colic, was invalided home to Vienna, and assigned as an Engineering Officer to a reserve regiment in Berlin. In the autumn of 1942, Waffen SS divisions were being converted into armored divisions, so he applied for a transfer and became the regimental Engineer of the 3rd SS Armoured Division. In mid-April 1943, he was sent to Waffen SS headquarters and informed that a technically trained officer was required for a special unit.
Why reserve 1st Lt. Skorzeny? What was going on?
The German scarface.
British commandos were causing a problem, so Hitler wanted to develop a commando team. Here was a reserve officer with combat experience, but not quite an exemplary service record. For the General Staff, Lt. Skorzeny was perfect — suitable, presentable, technically trained, and non-political. (It might be noted that Hitler’s Commando Order of 18 October 1942 clearly stated that all Allied commandos captured “should be killed immediately without trial.”)
Skorzeny was promoted to captain and told to get to work on creating a special operations unit or two. Firstly, however, he had to be introduced to the “secret” side of the German military and was introduced to Admiral Canaris of the Military Secret Service (Auslands-Abwehr). He tried to get a number of junior officers transferred to his new unit — and was turned down. LTC Schellenberg of the General Staff advised him that he needed to collect all the information he could and start a School for Espionage and Sabotage while looking for men and equipment. His new command was already penciled in to take over a mission in Iran that was going badly.
Fortunately, the platoon of men he inherited were all combat veterans. Added to their number was a platoon size group of legal specialists from the Political Intelligence Section that knew how to gather surplus equipment and personnel. Finally, he was in contact with the Director of the State Security Department who he had known in his student days in Austria. This was the source of many enlightening discussions about Reichführer Himmler, who eventually became the sabot in all Military and Political machinery.
Fighting furiously against red-tape, Skorzeny located a 19th-century hunting lodge in a tract of forest and meadowlands at Friedenthal (Valley of Peace), close to Berlin. He then requested after-action reports on the British Commando attacks perpetrated since 1940 and received a vast dossier, which had been meticulously collected, but not well-reviewed. He learned from the apparent British mistakes. Immediately he realized that all training should be conducted at night because that is when small groups can beat larger formations. Everyone was to be trained to competency on every weapon and piece of equipment the units might carry into battle. Other training included parachutes and operation (and repair) of all sizes of transportation vehicles.
On 26 July 1943, Skorzeny took an afternoon off for lunch and a quiet chat with an old university professor — and the whole world changed. Checking with his admin office in mid-afternoon, he was advised that a plane would be at the aerodrome at 1700 to take him to the Führer’s Headquarters [FHQ]. He directed his XO to gather his uniform and meet him at Tempelhofer. No one in his office knew what or why. Upon arrival, he and five other officers — all more senior than him — were led into the command center of the Wolf’s Den and lined up according to rank. All made short statements about their military careers; his was the shortest. The Führer began asking about their knowledge of Italy and their thoughts on the Axis partner. The other five spoke the “party line,” but Skorzeny stated, “I am an Austrian my Führer.”
In order to understand that comment, it should be mentioned that as a result of WWI Italy took a portion of Austria — South Tyrol — that it could not win by combat. Hitler was also Austrian and understood what Skorzeny meant. The five other Commanding Officers of Special Force units were dismissed. Hitler personally charged Skorzeny with the rescue of Mussolini who had been arrested by Italian police in preparation for Italy’s surrender to the Allies and its change of sides. The location of the Duce was unknown.
Furthermore, Hitler did not want the German Army Commander in Italy or the German Ambassador in Rome to know of the operation. Skorzeny and his force were transferred to the Luftwaffe and reported directly to General Student. While discussing the situation with General Student, Himmler showed up to dominate the conversation with a short history of Italian vacillation since the Allied invasion of Sicily, and a ranting monologue of names of reliable Italians and traitors, and how to deal with each.
During a pause in the performance, Skorzeny requested to step out and call his commandos to put them on alert status. While waiting to have his call put through, he lit a cigarette to think of the scope of the assignment. Himmler came down the hall and chewed him out for smoking and declared him possibly unfit for the job. One of Hitler’s Staff Officers who overheard the remarks assured him that this was a trait of Himmler and General Student would fix everything once the operation got rolling. So began one of the great commando stories and the start of an amazing two years that ended with Skorzeny being declared “The Most Dangerous Man in Europe.”
Skorzeny’s phone call to his Chief-of-Staff was short and terse. Fifty of his best men and officers needed to be ready not later than 0500 for extended action in Tropical Uniform, with parachute gear, six days of emergency rations, and a teletyped list of equipment. Due to the mission’s classification, he could not tell them what they would do, or where and why they would be deployed. As he thought about a short nap, he realized that he had never made out a will. That was resolved immediately. He took a shower around 0600 and met General Student at 0730 at the aerodrome.
Skorzeny and Benito Mussolini surrounded by German commandos and soldiers.
The tale of the 12 September 1943 rescue of Mussolini is one of great adventure for both Skorzeny, as a leader, and his commando team. There was even a delayed-and-failed first effort due to confusing intelligence. (The Nazi Propaganda machine created a motion picture of the event to splash across the theater screens and demonstrate Nazi invincibility when the General Staff knew they were losing.)
Because of the mission’s success, he was rewarded by being allowed to recruit from the Brandenburg Division. This was the original German Army Special Force. The Division would slip behind the enemy front line and carry out sabotage or prevent vital bridges from being destroyed. By 1943 however, the German Army was on the defensive or preparing for the next Allied invasion. These highly-skilled and qualified soldiers were being used as gap-stopping cannon fodder in Africa and Eastern Europe. The now-famous Skorzeny, as a Division Commander, began to “borrow” supplies and equipment from every depot within reach, based solely on his relationship with Hitler. While training the enlarged command, he was called upon to plan the abduction of other well-known figures who seemed to be potential or actual problems. First on the list was Marshal Pétain, the Vichy France Head of State. Skorzeny and his commandos made plans and practiced to perfection while waiting for the order to go. After over a month of waiting, they were told to stand down and returned to the Valley of Peace in time for Christmas.
Next on the list was Marshal Tito of the Yugoslavian Partisans. Skorzeny dispatch his division intelligence team to the area. A great deal of work was expended to locate Tito’s constantly shifting HQ — then in western Bosnia. Skorzeny sent his Chief of Staff to meet with the German Army Commander in the area to work out last-minute details. The liaison did not go well. Out of the blue, Skorzeny’s intel team reported that the local Army Corps was preparing their own operation against Tito, which would commence on 25 May 1944. Skorzeny realized that if his people knew about it in advance, so did Tito. The operation failed. (If you are interested in the details of this failure see KOMMANDO by James Lucas.)
Skorzeny brought his intel team home and began to train for the next problem proposed by the High Command. Off and on during the first half of 1944, he had been working with the Italian Decima Flottiglia MAS, led by Commander Junio Borghese, on special weapons for sinking ships. He received an order to report to Vice Admiral Heye who was forming up the Naval Small Battle Units (Kleinkampfverbånde) and was ordered by Himmler to assist in the training of the “K-men.” He also got involved with Luftwaffe Squadron 200, Hanna Reitsch, and the concept of piloted V-1 buzz bombs. Yet, most of his effort was spent dealing with entrenched bureaucracy. Once again, he was asked to train special pilots, but could not get any flight fuel for the effort.
The Western Front became active on 6 June 1944 and Skorzeny’s Commando Battalion 502 was put on alert. He was on his way to observe some frogmen exercises in Vienna on 20 July, when word of the attempted assassination of Hitler came. He was pulled off the train at the last station in Berlin and told to return to Berlin to deal with a military revolt. Confusion ran rampant and rumors were faster than speeding bullets. He was somehow detailed to protect the HQ of the Commender-in-Chief, Home Forces. High ranking officers were committing suicide or were being executed in the parking lot. Fear was gripping the staff at the Headquarters, and, according to Skorzeny, he took responsibility and got all the clerks back to work. Whatever he did, it raised his standing, and that of his battalion, in the eyes of Himmler and the political leadership. The Military Section D— the Counter-espionage unit — was attached to his command.
On 10 September 1944, he received a call to report to FHQ at a newly constructed Wolf’s Den in Berlin’s vicinity. After a three-day round of conferences and situation reports, he was briefed on his next mission. With Russian Armies breaking through Hungary’s defenses, the designated Hungarian head of state, Admiral Horthy, commenced secret negotiations with the Allies for surrendering. If successful, it would mean the loss of many German Army Divisions and Austria would become the next battleground.
Multiple German units were to be placed under Skorzeny’s command and he was directed to Budapest to see what could be done to prevent Hungary’s break away from the Axis camp. He was given a document that stated that he was on a personal and confidential mission for the Führer, and all political and military authorities were to assist him. It was essentially a Carte Blanche, personally signed by Hitler. The object this time was not to rescue anyone but to keep Hungary as a functioning Axis partner. Skorzeny sent in his command intel section and started quietly gathering his forces in and around Budapest. His favorite group was a battalion of cadets from the southern Austria Wiener–Neustadt Kriegsakademie. This may have been the first time he realized that he had become a legend.
Intelligence discovered that the son of Admiral Horthy was meeting with delegates from Tito’s partisan Army who was working for Russia as well. Another meeting was scheduled for the morning of October 15th. Working with great efficiency Skorzeny’s team rushed the meeting while others were fighting the Royal Hungarian Military guards. Within five minutes the son of Horthy and the Yugoslavians were captured, rolled up in carpets and loaded on a truck to the aerodrome, then flown across the border to Vienna. At 2 o’clock that afternoon a special announcement came over Hungarian radio: “Hungary has concluded a separate peace with Russia!” Orders for the German response “Operation Panzerfaust” were issued and German forces immediately took up planned positions around the Hungarian Government Citadel.
What occurred that evening and the next morning seems like a scripted scene from “Mission Impossible.” Skorzeny, with literally a handful of highly trained commandos, captured the whole Government Complex and Citadel and took the necessary steps to keep Hungary and its armed forces in the fight for the Axis. The whole action took less than thirty minutes and resulted in the death of three Hungarian soldiers and four Germans. Skorzeny was greeted by Hapsburg Archduke Frederick.
On October 18th, Skorzeny, now a LTC, escorted Admiral Horthy to meet with the Führer. He immediately returned to Budapest for joint ceremonial burial service. He would not see Admiral Horthy again until both were war-crime prisoners at the Nuremberg trials. Allied Intelligence took note of this event.
That evening, returning to Berlin with his primary commando officers, Skorzeny was given a written order to report to FHQ. After explaining details of the Hungarian Operation to Hitler, he was informed of the secret plan for December called the “Ardennes Offensive.” The big picture was to score a success in the West and work an armistice with Britain and the United States. Then Germany could send all remaining forces to fight Russia and thereby “save” Europe. His mission would be simple “just rush in to capture and hold three essential bridges, and, dressed in captured uniforms, have commando teams cause confusion behind Allied lines. All this was to be held in the strictest secrecy. Within a week, German High Command posted an order for English-speaking soldiers to be sent to LTC Skorzeny at Friedenthal for “Secret Commando Operations.”
Skorzeny, his Chief of Staff and one of his Battalion Commanders, held tight to the actual mission. Meanwhile, rumors were running wild through the collected gaggle of volunteers. Only half of about 400 English-speakers could communicate in that language. Captured American transportation equipment, which was promised, never materialized, and there was practically no ammunition for the larger U.S. guns. They only had one working Sherman tank, so a dozen Panther tanks were painted olive-drab with big white stars.
In the final phase of training, the rumor mill of the organization decided that the “real” mission would be to make a rapid dash to Paris and capture the Allied Headquarters and Eisenhower. Some of the junior officers and NCOs worked on various plans to get the organized groups to an assembly point in Paris — the Café de la Paix. Allied Intelligence and Security teams would spend the better part of December and January focused on that area.
There was a series of delays in commencing the operation and a series of final briefings at the Wolf’s Den. At some point, Hitler personally forbade Skorzeny from going behind enemy lines. This completely dismayed him. He was directed to coordinate the action by radio and stay with the 6th SS Armoured Army battle headquarters. His commando teams would operate in the battle area of the 1st SS Armoured Regiment under Colonel Peiper. At 0500 on Saturday, 16 December, the attack, known to the Allies as the Battle of the Bulge, began.
The primary mission of his battalion-sized “brigade” was to capture and protect three bridges across the River Meuse so that the Panzer Divisions could stream into Holland on their second day of the attack. When German forces failed to even make their first day goals, it became obvious to Skorzeny that making it to the Meuse wasn’t going to happen. His “brigade” was now used as a regular infantry unit.
However, he had sent half a dozen teams of English-speaking commandos in American uniforms to create confusion by changing or removing road signs and cutting phone lines between American front-line units. A rumor got out that Germans dressed like G.I.s were everywhere. The rumor took on a life of its own and a couple of hundred soldiers were arrested behind the lines, roughed-up to get information, and left in jail for a week — or more.
The outcome of Skorzeny’s last operation: German commandos disguised as American soldiers.
General Bradley was stopped numerous times by over-zealous MPs while trying to visit his front lines. General Montgomery could no get through to discuss the situation with his American counterparts. In Paris, Eisenhower became a virtual prisoner of his own Intel and MPs for five critical days of the battle. An officer resembling Ike was dressed up and driven around Paris trying to trick “Kraut Commandos” into making their move. The rumors’ results would haunt Skorzeny for decades.
The Battle of the Bulge ended in German defeat. It was supposed to impress the Allies of the German Army’sviability and hopefully lead to negotiations about a separate peace treaty on the Western Front. It was the last straw for any German commando action. The remaining German forces were thrown into the losing battles — usually in the East. All that remained was the relentless closing in of the Russian Eastern Front and the Allied Western Front until Berlin was taken.
To cover faulty intel about Skorzeny’s activities, in December the U.S. Army circulated a “Wanted Poster” describing him as a “SABOTEUR, SPY, ASSASSIN” and declared him “The Most Dangerous Man in Europe.” He was tried in Nuremberg by the “Hanging Judge” but saved by the testimony of a British Special Operations Officer who claimed that everything Skorzeny was charged with (in violation of the pre-WWI “Rules of War”) had been done by Allied commando teams against the German Army. He spent years in courtrooms and prisons until finally cleared of all charges and false accusations.
He continued to be held in a detention center because the new German government was afraid to let him go. Finally, he told the warden he had enough and escaped. Not wanted for any crime, he quickly ended up in Spain and started a new life as a Mechanical Engineer.
A number of books were written about his actions: Charles Foley’s “Commando Extraordinary” was published in 1955. Ballentine’s illustrated history, compiled by Charles Whiting, and titled “Skorzeny,” was out in 1972. (Special forces were in the news then and back in vogue.) Skorzeny also released his own memoirs “Skorzeny’s Special Missions” which was written in 1957, immediately translated in English and published in London.
Editor’s note: This article was written by LCDR Sankey Blanton USNR (retired) and submitted by Robert Adams.
Your mind is a muscle. Your patience is a muscle. Your creativity is a muscle. Your muscles are muscles. Just like muscles all these other skills and organs can be trained to become better at what they do. Let’s have a look at exactly how this works for your brain and how you can train it with meditation to become more resilient, just like your biceps get from all those curls you finish every workout with.
Trying to get enlightened real fast!
(Photo by Sgt. Elizabeth White)
This is how your brain works
When you are born, your brain is like the untainted wilderness. As you grow and learn things paths are developed in your brain to those facts and actions just like footpaths are in the woods. Over time those paths become entrenched so that they are unconscious.
When was the last time you gave your full attention to tying your shoes? It’s probably been a long time, that’s because simple actions like lacing up your boots get moved into your unconscious memory. You don’t need to think about doing it. This is a way that our brains work to save space and processing power.
This is great for things like getting dressed or signing your signature, but it becomes a problem when your habits are less desirable, like smoking or not thinking before you speak when your OIC is around.
US Army Veteran, Sean Villa, on Transcendental Meditation
Being able to break these bad habits and actively control what we remember is one of the benefits of meditation known as neuroplasticity.
That phrase: “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” comes from old people being stuck in their ways, refusing to change, obviously. That’s the opposite of neuroplasticity. Meditation teaches your brain to stay young and flexible.
Literally, the same thing that happens to your body when you train happens to your brain when you meditate. It makes you more resilient to change and adversity. Whether that adversity is an alligator that needs a beat down- physical training #happygilmore, or a newly updated browser that makes it impossible to figure out how to delete your less than desirable search history #firstworldproblems- meditation.
Don’t forget the gym just because you are training your brain like these guys.
Of the pilot studies on military members with PTSD, they all have been able to show significant results from meditation. In one study over 83% of the participants had a positive effect after just one month, some of which were even able to get off the medication they were taking to help manage their symptoms.
The practices these groups were doing did more than just manage symptoms. It allowed the service members to come to terms with what they experienced. This takes neuroplasticity to the next level.
Meditation Improves Performance at Military University
What happens many times in those with PTSD is that their mind gets stuck on loop reliving a terrible or gruesome experience. The brain digs a path so deep that it’s like you’re stuck in the Grand Canyon of your mind with no climbing tools to get up the wall and out of that undesirable place.
The meditation practices in these studies gave the participants the tools they needed to start climbing up and making their way out to forge a new less traumatic path.
Again, this is exactly the same as if you were actually stuck at the bottom of The Grand Canyon. You need the physical strength to start making your way up, if you’ve never done a pull-up that climb is going to be impossible. You need to train and acquire the physical tools to accomplish such a feat.
You don’t need to be sitting crossed legged to be doing it “right”.
Learn to be in silence: Most of us are constantly surrounded by ear clutter. And even when we finally get a chance for some silence, like in the shower, we decide to crank the Spotify Throwback Workout playlist. Many people can’t even fall asleep without some noise in the background. Start slow on your path to meditation by just picking some dedicated time where you will intentionally listen to nothing and no one. Put some earplugs in if you’re in the barracks and just learn to embrace the silence.
Use an app: What happens when you go to the gym completely unprepared with no idea what to do? Chances are you end up doing a few sets of biceps curls and waste 30 minutes on a treadmill. The equivalent can happen when meditating. Start slowly with an app like headspace or Sam Harris’ new app Waking Up. They will take you through a beginners course on meditating and help you start building that neuroplasticity toolbox.