Nazi troops invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, despite the best efforts of Captain Witold Pilecki and his fellow Polish soldiers. On November 9th of that same year, Witold and Major Wlodarkiewicz founded the Tajna Armia Polska (TAP or Polish Secret Army), an underground organization that eventually became consolidated with other resistance forces into The Home Army.
Not long after the formation of organized widespread Polish Resistance, its members began hearing reports of the conditions within the newly constructed Auschwitz Concentration Camp put into operation in the Spring of 1940. Those first reports originated with prisoners released from the camp and from civilians such as railroad employees and local residents.
In order to cut through the very troubling rumors and figure out exactly what was going on there, Pilecki came up with a bold plan- become a prisoner at Auschwitz. With a little convincing, his superiors eventually agreed to allow him to go.
In order to help protect his wife and children after he was captured, he took on the alias Tomasz Serafinski, much to the chagrin of the real Tomasz Serafinski who was thought to be dead at the time (hence why his papers and identity were chosen), but was not. Later, the real Tomasz had some trouble because of Pilecki using his papers and name (more on this in the Bonus Facts below).
According to Eleonora Ostrowska, owner of an apartment Pilecki was at when he was taken, when a Nazi roundup began (lapanka, where a city block would suddenly be closed off and most of the civilians inside would be rounded up and sent to slave labor camps and sometimes even just mass-executed on the spot), a member of the resistance came to help Pilecki hide. Instead, Ostrowska said “Witold rejected those opportunities and didn’t even try to hide in my flat.” She reported that soon, a German soldier knocked at the door and Pilecki whispered to her “Report that I have fulfilled the order,” and then opened the door and was taken by the soldier along with about 2,000 other Poles in Warsaw on September 19, 1940.
It is important to note here that he didn’t really know if he’d be sent to Auschwitz at this point. As Dr. Daniel Paliwoda noted of Pilecki’s capture, “Since the AB Aktion and roundups were still going on, the Nazis could have tortured and executed him in
occupied Warsaw’s Pawiak, Mokotów, or any other Gestapo-run prison. They could have taken him to Palmiry to murder him in the forest. At the very least, they could have sent him to a forced labor colony somewhere in Germany.”
While he was willingly surrendering with the hope of being sent to Auschwitz, Pilecki lamented the behavior of his fellow countrymen during the roundup. “What really annoyed me the most was the passivity of this group of Poles. All those picked up were already showing signs of crowd psychology, the result being that our whole crowd behaved like a herd of passive sheep. A simple thought kept nagging me: stir up everyone and get this mass of people moving.”
As he had hoped (perhaps the only person to ever hope such a thing), he was sent to Auschwitz. He later described his experience upon arrival:
We gave everything away into bags, to which respective numbers were tied. Here our hair of head and body were cut off, and we were slightly sprinkled by cold water. I got a blow in my jaw with a heavy rod. I spat out my two teeth. Bleeding began. From that moment we became mere numbers – I wore the number 4859…
We were struck over the head not only by SS rifle butts, but by something far greater. Our concepts of law and order and of what was normal, all those ideas to which we had become accustomed on this Earth, were given a brutal kicking.
Pilecki also noted that one of the first indications that he observed that Auschwitz was not just a normal prison camp was the lack of food given to prisoners; in his estimate, the rations given to prisoners were “calculated in such a way that people would live for six weeks.” He also noted that a guard at the camp told him, “Whoever will live longer — it means he steals.”
Assessing the conditions inside Auschwitz was only part of Pilecki’s mission. He also took on responsibility for organizing a resistance force within the camp, the Zwiazek Organizacji Wojskowej (ZOW). The goals of ZOW included- improving inmate morale, distributing any extra food and clothing, setting up an intelligence network within the camp, training prisoners to eventually rise up against their guards and liberate Auschwitz, and getting news in and out of Auschwitz. Ensuring secrecy of the ZOW led Pilecki to create cells within the organization. He trusted the leaders of each cell to withstand interrogation by the guards, but even so each leader only knew the names of the handful of people under his command. This limited the risk to the entire organization should an informant tip off a guard or if a member was caught.
Pilecki’s first reports to the Polish government and Allied forces left the camp with released prisoners. But when releases became less common, passing reports on to the outside world depended largely on the success of prisoner escapes, such as one that occurred on June 20, 1942 where four Poles managed to dress up as members of the SS, weapons and all, and steal an SS car which they boldly drove out of the main gate of the camp.
A cobbled-together radio, built over the course of seven months as parts could be acquired, was used for a while in 1942 to transmit reports until “one of our fellow’s big mouth” resulted in the Nazis learning of the radio, forcing the group to dismantle it before they were caught red handed and executed.
Pilecki’s reports were the first to mention the use of Zyklon B gas, a poisonous hydrogen cyanide gas, and gas chambers used at the camp. He saw the first use of Zyklon B gas in early September 1941 when the Nazis used it to kill 850 Soviet POWs and Poles in Block 11 of Auschwitz I. He also learned of the gas chambers at Auschwitz II, or Auschwitz-Birkenau, from other resistance members after construction of the camp began in October 1941. ZOW also managed to keep a pretty good running log of roughly the number of inmates being brought in to the camp and the estimated number of deaths, noting at one point, “Over a thousand a day from the new transports were gassed. The corpses were burnt in the new crematoria.”
All of the reports were sent to the Polish Government in Exile in London, and they in turn forwarded the information to other Allied forces. However, on the whole, the Allies thought the reports of mass killings, starvation, brutal and systemic torture, gas chambers, medical experimentation, etc. were wildly exaggerated and questioned the reliability of Pilecki’s reports. (Note: During Pilecki’s nearly three years there, several hundred thousand people were killed at Auschwitz and, beyond the death and horrific tortures, countless others were experimented on in a variety of ways by such individuals as the “Angel of Death,” Dr. Josef Mengele. All total, it is estimated that somewhere between 1 to 1.5 million people were killed at the camp.)
Significant doubt surrounding the accuracy of his reports meant Pilecki’s plan to bring about an uprising inside Auschwitz never came to fruition. Pilecki had managed to convince his network of resistance fighters inside the camp that they could successfully take control for a short while and escape if the Allies and Polish Underground provided support. He had envisioned airdrops of weapons and possibly even Allied soldiers invading the camp. However, the Allies never had any intention of such an operation and the local Polish resistance in Warsaw refused to attack due to the large number of German troops stationed nearby.
The Nazi guards began systematically eliminating members of the ZOW resistance in 1943 and so, with his reports being ignored, Pilecki decided he needed to plead his case in person for intervention in Auschwitz.
In April of 1943, he got his chance. After handing over leadership of ZOW to his top deputies, he and two others were assigned the night shift at a bakery which was located outside the camp’s perimeter fence. At an opportune moment on the night of the 26th, they managed to overpower a guard and cut the phone lines. The three men then made a run for it out of the back of the bakery. As they ran, Pilecki stated, “Shots were fired behind us. How fast we were running, it is hard to describe. We were tearing the air into rags by quick movements of our hands.”
It should be noted that anyone caught helping an Auschwitz escapee would be killed along with the escaped prisoner, something the local populace knew well. Further, the 40 square kilometers around Auschwitz were extremely heavily patrolled and the escapees’ shaved heads, tattered clothes, and gaunt appearance would give them away in a second to anyone who saw them. Despite this, all three not only survived the initial escape, but managed to get to safety without being recaptured.
Unfortunately, Pilecki’s plan to garner support for liberating Auschwitz never materialized. After arriving at the headquarters of the Home Army on August 25, 1943 and desperately pleading his case for the Home Army to put all efforts into liberating Auschwitz, he left feeling “bitter and disappointed” when the idea was discarded as being too risky. In his final report on Auschwitz, he further vented his frustration on his superiors “cowardliness.”
After this, Pilecki continued to fight for the Home Army, as well as trying to aid ZOW in any way he could from the outside. He also played a role in the Warsaw Uprising that began in August of 1944, during which he was captured by German troops in October of that year and spent the rest of World War II as a POW.
Pilecki wrote his final version of his report on Auschwitz (later published in a book titled:The Auschwitz Volunteer: Beyond Bravery) after the war while spending time in Italy under the 2nd Polish Corps before being ordered back to Poland by General Wladyslaw Anders to gather intelligence on communist activities in Poland. You see, the invading Germans had been replaced by another occupying power- the Soviet backed Polish Committee of National Liberation. This was a puppet provisional government setup on July 22, 1944 in opposition to the Polish Government in Exile, the latter of which was supported by the majority of Polish people and the West.
During his two years at this post, he managed to, among many other things, gather documented proof that the voting results of the People’s Referendum of 1946 were heavily falsified by the communists. Unfortunately, there was little the Polish Government in Exile could do. Even when his cover was blown in July of 1946, Pilecki soldiered on and refused to leave the country, continuing his work collecting documented evidence of the many atrocities against the Polish people being committed by the Soviets and their puppet government in Poland.
For this, he was ultimately arrested on May 7, 1947 by the Ministry of Public Security. He was extensively tortured for many months after, including having his fingernails ripped off and ribs and nose broken. He later told his wife of his life in this particular prison, “Oświęcim [Auschwitz] compared with them was just a trifle.”
Finally, he was given a show trial. When fellow survivors of Auschwitz pled with then Prime Minister of Poland, Józef Cyrankiewicz (himself a survivor of Auschwitz and member of a resistance in the prison), for the release of Pilecki, instead he went the other way and wrote to the judge, telling him to throw out record of Pilecki’s time as a prisoner in Auschwitz. This was a key piece of evidence in Pilecki’s favor given one of the things he was being accused of was being a German collaborator during the war.
And so it was that as part of a crackdown by the new Polish government against former members of the Home Army resistance, Pilecki was convicted of being a German collaborator and a spy for the West, among many other charges, ultimately sentenced to death via a gunshot to his head. The sentence was carried out on May 25, 1948 by Sergeant Piotr Smietanski, “The Butcher of Mokotow Prison.” From then on, mention of Pilecki’s name and numerous heroic acts were censored in Poland, something that wasn’t changed until 1989 when the communist Polish government was overthrown.
Witold Pilecki’s last known words were reportedly, “Long live free Poland.”
You might think it strange that Pilecki frequently, quite willingly, threw himself into incredibly dangerous situations despite the fact that he had a wife and kids back home. Polish actor Marek Probosz, who studied Pilecki extensively before portraying him in The Death of Captain Pilecki, stated of this, “Human beings were the most precious thing for Pilecki, and especially those who were oppressed. He would do anything to liberate them, to help them.” Mirroring this sentiment, Pilecki’s son, Andrzej later said his father “would write that we should live worthwhile lives, to respect others and nature. He wrote to my sister to watch out for every little ladybug, to not step on it but place it instead on a leaf because everything has been created for a reason. ‘Love nature.’ He instructed us like this in his letters.” It wasn’t just his children he taught to respect life at all levels. Two years after Pilecki was executed, and at a time when his family was struggling because of it, a man approached Pilecki’s teenage son and stated, “I was in prison [as a guard] with your father. I want to help you because your father was a saint.. Under his influence, I changed my life. I do not harm anyone anymore.”
As mentioned, the real Tomasz Serafinski was not dead, as Pilecki had thought when he took his papers and assumed Tomasz’ identity to be captured. After Pilecki’s escape from Auschwitz, the real Tomasz was arrested on December 25, 1943 for having escaped from Auschwitz. He was then investigated for a few weeks, including a fair amount of pretty brutal strong arming, but was finally released on January 14, 1944 when it was determined he was not, in fact, the same individual who had escaped from Auschwitz. Afterwards, Pilecki and Tomasz actually became friends, and though Pilecki was killed, according to Jacek Pawlowicz, “That friendship is alive to this day, because Andrzej Pilecki visits their family and is very welcome there.”
In the early 2000s, certain surviving officials who were involved in Pilecki’s trial, including the prosecutor, Czeslaw Lapinski, were put up on charges for being accomplices in the murder of Witold Pilecki.
Pilecki also fought in WWI in the then newly formed Polish army. After that, he fought in the Polish-Soviet War (1919-1921).
At one point while within Auschwitz, Pilecki and his fellow ZOW members managed to cultivate typhus and infect various SS-personnel.
Picture yourself on a foot patrol in Afghanistan, one of the most dangerous countries in the world where the majority of the population hates the fact that you’re there.
Now, imagine you’re the “lead” of that foot patrol (typically the combat engineer who is looking for IEDs buried in the ground) and you spot a suspicious device ahead with a command wire sticking out of the dirt.
For most of us, it’s not a good idea to approach, especially if that wire trails off toward a nearby compound — it’s a freaking trap. But for troops serving in Afghanistan, it’s just another day at the office.
Although most IEDs are considered primitively built with limited resources, the grunts on the ground have a clever way of dealing with ’em: the combat scythe.
Famously known as an agricultural tool, ground pounders use them to conduct a “hands-on” inspection of a potential threat from up to 12-feet away. The operator will extend out the scythe and use its rounded tip to tug and drag out the device for an exam.
By deploying his trusty scythe, a troop can safely determine if that bump in the ground is indeed an IED and call for a controlled detonation of the affected area. Of course, if it’s a false alarm, then that foot patrol proceeds onward without fear.
Not every IED can be figured out with a solid poking, though. If that IED is trickier than usual, the patrol will call upon the services of Explosive Ordnance Disposal to access and, typically, blow the sh*t out of the device.
On the bright side, controlled detonations are pretty epic to watch. They’re allied forces’ way of telling the bad guys ,”Not today, f*cker.”
Our veterans have done a lot for the country over the years. They keep us safe from terror organizations and dictators who would use weapons of mass destruction for selfish politics. They took down Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. They’ve led singalongs of somewhat inappropriate songs. Wait… what?
That’s right! Recently, a video went viral on Facebook showing Vince Speranza, a World War II paratrooper, leading others along in singing the paratrooper classic, Blood on the Risers, a parody of immortal Battle Hymn of the Republic.
Blood on the Risers is probably most famous from its rendition in the award-winning HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers. This morbidly funny tune is a cautionary tale about what happens when one fails to follow proper exit procedures during an airborne jump. The grim lyrics follow a young, rookie paratrooper who, after his chute fails to deploy, plummets to his death. The extended version, however, goes on to reveal that the singer has a son who would later join the 101st Airborne Division, serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, and be killed in action.
In some ways, it’s very much like the Navy’s Friday Funnies — a way to use humor to get important safety information through to the troops. This is especially important for something so routine as hooking into a static line.
Watch the video below and feel free to join in on the singalong! Don’t worry, the Screaming Eagles have a pretty dark sense of humor — it’s all in good fun.
Saucier has said he merely wanted service mementos. But federal prosecutors said he was a disgruntled sailor who compromised national security and then obstructed the investigation by destroying a laptop and camera.
The news was announced by White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee at a briefing March 9, 2018. It is only Trump’s second pardon, after the president pardoned Joe Arpaio, an ardent Trump supporter and former Phoenix sheriff who was convicted of criminal contempt in August 2017.
The investigation began in March 2012, when Saucier’s cellphone, with pictures of the submarine still on it, was found at a waste-transfer station in Connecticut. Saucier was charged with taking photos of classified spaces, instruments, and equipment in July 2015 and pleaded guilty to one count of unauthorized possession and retention of national defense information in May 2016.
In addition to a year in jail, he was given an “other than honorable” discharge from the Navy.
Trump referenced Saucier’s case numerous times during his campaign — in one speech, Trump referred to Saucier, a 22-year-old sailor at the time the photos were taken, as “the kid who wanted some pictures of the submarine.”
Vice President Mike Pence also said during an October 2016 debate that a service member who handled classified information the way Clinton did would “absolutely” face court-martial, though The Washington Post found it was far from clear that would happen. Saucier’s lawyer also compared the six photos his client took to the 110 classified emails the FBI found were on the private email server Clinton used while she was secretary of state.
The judge in the case appeared to dismiss the comparison, as well as the argument that Saucier was being treated differently, saying “selective enforcement is really not a good argument” that didn’t “really carry much water.”
Saucier was released to house arrest at the end of summer 2017 and said later that year he thought “punishment isn’t doled out evenly” and that he hoped Trump would “make right by it.”
On March 10, 2018, hours after Huckabee said the president was “appreciative” of Saucier’s service to the country, Trump tweeted his congratulations to the former sailor, calling him “a man who has served proudly in the Navy.”
“Now you can go out and have the life you deserve!” Trump said.
Comedian Conan O’Brien tore apart the Air Force policy of allotting deployed troops a maximum of three alcoholic drinks per day at al-Udeid Air Base.
“One alcoholic beverage consists of no greater than five ounces of wine,” Conan O’Brien read from the al-Udeid Air Base rule book. “Five ounces of wine? I have that at breakfast with my cereal!”
He visited the Qatar-based forces with First Lady Michelle Obama, musicians Grace Potter and Jimmy Vivino, and comedian John Mulaney. They performed for the 11,000 troops stationed on the air base. Someone from the audience taped a portion and sent it to retired Air Force Lt. Col. Tony Carr, who posted it to his John Q. Public blog.
Portions of his performance will be aired on his TBS show later this year.
First Lady Michelle Obama met with three dozen deployed troops for an ice cream social, where she thanked each of them personally for their service. Joining Forces is an initiative of the First Lady and Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden to work in the American public and private sectors to rally around service members, veterans, and their families to support them through wellness, education, and employment opportunities throughout their lives.
In what could be a hint at what might be the focus of Michelle and Barack Obama’s post-political careers, the First Lady promised service members she would help look out for them, not only for the rest of her time as First Lady, but “for the rest of my life.”
“You all still have struggles,” she told the crowd of deployed troops. “But we’re going to keep on working to ensure that you and your families have the jobs you deserve, that the benefits that you’ve earned are waiting for you ready, and that — the support this nation owes you.”
She continued: “And that’s not just my vow to you as First Lady, but it’s my vow to you for the rest of my life. (Applause.) So it’s important for me that you know that your Commander-in-Chief and your First Lady, we’re proud of you. And we’re going to devote our lives — it will look different in different stages — but we are going to have your backs. We’re going to figure out how to use whatever platforms we have to support you.”
In the meantime, O’Brien also took over the First Lady’s Instagram account, posting photos of himself and Michelle Obama interacting with and performing for deployed troops, and even busting out fifty of his best “Team Coco” push-ups for the FLOTUS.
About 5,000 U.S. troops are sailing toward the Middle East with an F-35B detachment, marking the first time the American Joint Strike Fighters are likely to conduct real-world combat operations.
Sailors and Marines with the Essex Amphibious Ready Group and 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit left San Diego in July 2018 for a six-month deployment to the Middle East and Western Pacific. The three-ship ARG includes the amphibious assault ship Essex, amphibious transport dock Anchorage and dock landing ship Rushmore.
The 13th MEU includes an F-35B detachment from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, based out of Yuma, Arizona.
“This is the newest and most lethal aircraft that the Joint Force has, and the fact that it’s coming into the [U.S. Central Command] theater and potentially seeing some combat operations is a big deal,” Lt. Col. Jaime Macias, chief of plans at Marine Corps Forces Central Command, said in a Marine Corps news release leading up to the deployment.
ARG-MEU deployments are typically publicized by the Defense Department, but this one — the first to leave the U.S. with an F-35 attack squadron detachment — was not. Citing operational security, officials declined to explain the change in policy.
The F-35B Lightning II
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)
“The Essex Amphibious Ready Group with embarked 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit got underway from San Diego, July 10, 2018,” Lt. Tim Gorman, a U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman, said in a statement. “For reasons of operational security, we are not publicly disclosing any additional details.”
The sailors and Marines conducted a six-month-long certification process before departing. The team is ready to respond to crises that erupt during their deployment, according to aMarine Corps video about the workup.
The Marine Corps’ variant of the Lightning II stealth jet is designed for sea deployments since it can take off and land vertically.
“Throughout the training, we’ve seen this platform increase our ability to gain a foothold for our operations,” the video states. “This is the most capable aviation platform to support our riflemen on the ground.”
In addition to the F-35 detachment, the MEU also includes Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines; Combat Logistics Battalion 13; Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 166; and a command element.
This marks the second time in four months that the F-35B has deployed aboard a Navy ship. In March 2018, members of the Japan-based Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121patrolled the Pacific from aboard the amphibious assault ship Wasp.
The East Coast-based Iwo Jima ARG and 26th MEU are slated to wrap up a Middle East deployment in August 2018 as these Marines and sailors move in.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
Early on in 2019, two plaintiffs representing the National Coalition for Men sued the U.S. Government in Texas on the grounds that registering only males for the draft was unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Gray Miller ruled in their favor, saying the males-only Selective Service rules should now extend to American women within 30 days of their 18th birthday.
The Trump Administration just filed an appeal to defend the all-male draft rules.
Trump’s Justice Department called ordering women to register for Selective Service “particularly problematic,” saying it would force women to register for the draft through a judicial ruling before Congress could actually address the issue. The DoJ is essentially saying the court is legislating instead of the Congress.
The Justice Department said it’s not for a court to decide what change in policy should be adopted without any involvement by the political branches and the military.
“If the Court’s declaratory judgment is upheld, it should be left to Congress, in consultation with the Executive Branch and military officials, to determine how to revise the registration system in response,” writes Justice Department lawyer Michael Gerardi.
President Trump’s Selective Service Card.
The two men who filed the initial lawsuit argued that their chances of being sent to war were higher because women were exempt from the draft. The judge’s ruling means that women will either sign on for the draft or Congress may have to get rid of the draft altogether, something the Trump Administration says is not an option as it would compromise the country’s readiness and ability to respond to a military crisis.
When Selective Service was instituted in 1980, then-President Jimmy Carter wanted females to register, but Congress did not include mandatory registration for women. In the past, courts have upheld the all-male draft, arguing that since men were the only ones who were able to fill combat roles, then the draft was acceptably all-male. Since President Obama allowed women to serve in those roles, the door for changing Selective Service registration opened once more.
Observed on August 26, Women’s Equality Day commemorates the adoption of the 19th Amendment in 1920, guaranteeing women the right to vote. While the change to the Constitution was significant toward shaping gender equality, it highlights the complicated journey women had to gain equal rights.
“Commemorating the adoption of the 19th Amendment on Women’s Equality Day is so very significant,” said Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris, the adjutant general of Texas. Norris and Lt. Gen. Gwen Bingham recently spoke about women who paved the way for today’s equality.
For instance, Abigail Adams wrote to the Continental Congress in 1776, asking them to, “Remember the ladies,” when making critical decisions to shape the country. Later in 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott led the first women’s rights convention in New York.
The convention sparked decades of activism through the Women’s Suffrage Movement, which helped lay a foundation for the 19th Amendment and paved the way for women to serve and fight alongside men in combat today.
Staff Sgt. Amanda F. Kelley gets her Ranger tab pinned on by a family member during her Ranger School graduation at Fort Benning, Ga., Aug. 31, 2018. Kelley was the first enlisted woman to earn the Ranger tab.
(Photo by Patrick A. Albright)
Later the civil rights movement of the 1950s generated the Equal Pay Act in 1963, followed by the Civil Rights Act in 1964. And in 1972, Title IX of the Education Amendments was signed into law.
However, “women have been serving their nation through military service for far longer than we have had the right to vote,” Norris said.
During the Revolutionary War, women followed their husbands into combat out of necessity. They would often receive permission to serve in military camps as laundresses, cooks, and nurses. Some women even disguised themselves as men to serve in combat.
“One of the more famous women to do this was Deborah Samson Gannett, who enlisted in 1782 under her brother’s name and served for 17 months,” Norris said. “Wounded by musket ball fire, she cut it out of her thigh so that a doctor wouldn’t discover she was a woman.”
The Army later discovered Gannett’s gender, and she was discharged honorably. She later received a military pension for her service.
Countless examples exist of women serving in various roles to support military operations during the Civil and Spanish-American Wars and beyond.
Notably during World War I, upwards of 25,000 American women between the ages of 21 and 69 served overseas. While the most significant percentage of women served as nurses, some were lucky enough to assist as administrators, secretaries, telephone operators, and architects.
These women helped propel the passage of the 19th Amendment through their hard work and dedication to service.
Now Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris, the adjutant general of Texas, visits Soldiers at Camp Bullis, Texas, on June 21, 2018.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Scovell)
From the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act in 1948 to the day the Defense Department opened all combat career fields to women in 2016, the role of women in the Army has steadily increased.
“Women are tough,” Norris said.
“We have been proving it for a long time now, and we have a knack for forcing change,” Norris added. “As Col. Oveta Hobby, a fellow Texan and the first director of the Women’s Army Corps, put it so well: ‘Women who step up want to be measured as citizens of the nation — not as women.'”
These are exciting times, said Lt. Gen. Gwen Bingham, the Army’s outgoing assistant chief of staff for Installation Management. Women are now on the forefront, serving in military occupational specialties they haven’t seen in Army history.
“Quite frankly, the Army is not [solely] a man’s job,” she said.
After a 38-year career, Bingham is now enjoying her last days in service, as she waits for her official retirement in September. During her career, she served as the first female quartermaster general, the first woman to serve as garrison commander of Fort Lee, Virginia. She was also the first female to serve in commanding general roles at White Sands Missile Range and Tank-automotive and Armaments Command in Warren, Michigan.
“There is no way that I would’ve stayed in the Army 38 years if I didn’t feel a sense of inclusion. I will never downplay the word ‘inclusion’ — ever,” she said. “It is one thing to have a seat at the table. However, it is another to feel included in the decisions being made at the table.”
Considered to be a trailblazer by others, Bingham acknowledges the historical significance of her stepping into each position. However, recognizing the “trailblazer moniker” brings to light all the areas that women have yet to serve, she said.
“We will get there, as women continually distinguish themselves in roles that they haven’t typically [served],” she said. “The way I see it, you can choose to spotlight [trailblazers] but progress is having … more [women serving] than what we had before.”
Lt. Gen. Gwen Bingham talks with Maj. Gen. Donna Martin, Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and Fort Leonard Wood commanding general, after promoting her to major general Aug. 28, 2018.
(Photo by Michael Curtis)
Similar to Bingham, Norris is the first woman to serve as the Texas adjutant general. As the senior military officer, she is responsible for the overall health, wellbeing, training, and readiness of Texas’ soldiers, airmen, civilian employees, and volunteers.
“I am simply another individual in a long line of leaders of Texas military forces,” she said.
“The fact that I am the first woman is secondary to me. What truly matters is that we have a leader of the Texas Military Department who is ready to command and take care of those who serve. I believe I fulfill that role based on qualifications and experience, not by being a woman.”
When it comes to women’s equality, the Army is doing a great job, Norris added. Based on her experience, the military is often the leader when it comes to opening up roles for women to serve.
Managing talent will be critical to the Army’s way ahead. It is about getting the right person, to the right place, at the right time, regardless of their race or gender, she explained.
And to all the women out there that are considering the Army as a future career, “I would tell them — join! Your nation needs you,” Norris said. In 2015, Capt. Kristen
Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver became the first female soldiers to earn the Ranger tab, she noted.
“They are following a long line of powerful women who have forced change in our culture and by their actions opened doors for the generations that follow them,” she said.
“I challenge you to join and be the first one to break [a] barrier down,” Norris added. “The Army opened more doors for me than I could ever have imagined possible. It has been the honor and privilege of a lifetime to serve our state and nation, and I encourage others to do the same.”
While a leaked US intelligence report suggests North Korea now can build warheads small and light enough to fit inside its intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons experts doubt that Pyongyang can develop an operational ICBM with a reliable warhead capable of hitting the US mainland.
Reports about the intelligence community’s consensus on North Korea’s weapons capability came this week as Pyongyang and Washington exchanged war threats.
The July 28 analysis from the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, disclosed August 8 by The Washington Post, concludes that Pyongyang has “produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery, to include delivery by ICBM-class missiles.” On August 10, NBC News quoted unnamed US officials as saying the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, as well as other intelligence agencies, agreed with the assessment.
Key questions unanswered
Miniaturization technology was one of the major hurdles in Kim Jong Un’s nuclear and missile programs. If the DIA assessment holds true, the regime is now closer to achieving its ambition: striking the continental US with a nuclear-tipped ICBM.
Determined as North Korea is to become a full-fledged nuclear power, experts say several important questions about its capabilities remain.
David Albright, a former UN nuclear inspector, told VOA’s Korean service the DIA assessment appeared to have ignored “uncertainties and caveats” about the reliability of the miniaturized warhead, once it is loaded atop an ICBM, and little is known about the chances that the payload will reach its target.
Pyongyang already can miniaturize nuclear warheads and mount them on its medium-range Rodong missiles, which have been test-launched repeatedly since the early 1990s. Albright said it might be possible, but less likely, that they could do the same with an ICBM.
Difficulties only begin at launch
Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, explained that a nuclear warhead must survive the entire ICBM mission – the rigors of blastoff, possibly from a mobile launch vehicle, the flight into space and then a blazing re-entry into the atmosphere – before it can detonate above its target.
Failures can occur, Albright noted, because of the much more exacting requirements of the Hwasong-14 ICBM missile system, which has been tested only twice, and just within the past month – not enough to establish its reliability.
“Countries spend a lot of time working this problem to try to build up what they call the reliability of the warhead in a delivery system, and it just takes time,” Albright said. “I think I would be skeptical that North Korea can do it right now.”
Michael Elleman, senior fellow for missile defense at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, had similar views. But in terms of volume, he said, if a warhead can fit inside the payload bay of Pyongyang’s Scud-type short-range missile, which has a relatively narrow diameter, any of the regime’s other missiles, including the Hwasong-14, certainly could accommodate it.
Lighter warheads travel farther
It is not yet clear by how much the North Koreans can lighten their missiles’ payloads, which would extend their range.
“It is still a question mark as to whether they can threaten deep into the United States,” Elleman said.
However, he told VOA, it appears the North Koreans’ rockets could deliver a 500-kilogram warhead as far the western portions of the continental US
Further undercutting confidence in the North’s technical capabilities is a lack of clarity about the Kim regime’s mastery of atmospheric re-entry technology for the warhead, a crucial requirement for operational ICBMs.
For long-range flights, Elleman said, “the re-entry velocity, when it comes back into the Earth’s atmosphere, is much higher, and so the protection mechanisms for the re-entry vehicle [must be] more rigorous, to survive the much greater amount of heat and the vibrations as it slows down, passing through … thicker and thicker [air] as you get closer to the surface.”
Tests show ‘substantial progress’
Siegfried Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, is now a professor at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, and he has visited North Korea seven times and toured its nuclear facilities.
Hecker said in an interview with The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that making miniaturized warheads robust enough to survive the extreme conditions of ICBM flight “is very demanding and takes time, particularly because warheads contain materials such as plutonium, highly enriched uranium, high explosives and the like.”
“These are not,” he added, “your ordinary industrial materials.”
However, Hecker added in a separate interview this week, Pyongyang’s latest two missile tests, of their ICBMs, “demonstrate substantial progress, and most likely mean they will be able to master the technology in the next year or two.”
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, founded in 1945 by scientists who worked on the US Manhattan Project and built the first atomic bomb, has for 70 years published the “Doomsday Clock,” intended as a measure of how close the world is to a thermonuclear war – or to midnight, on the clock, because that could lead to a worldwide cataclysm.
The Doomsday Clock stood at three minutes to midnight in 2016. The scientists involved advanced it in late January this year, and it is now just two minutes and 30 seconds short of midnight.
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