Veterans visit their fallen brothers and sisters at cemeteries all around the globe every day. Most people pay their respects by leaving some flowers to decorate the area while others leave a personal touch. Some of the tokens left at gravesites have rich history and deep meaning.
Check out these five ways we’ve paid homage to our fallen.
1. Connection through coins
We’re not talking about command coins, even though leaving one is still respectful. We’re talking about quarters, dimes, and nickels. Each coin has a special meaning attached to them that dates back to WWII.
A penny on a headstone is a message to the fallen’s family that someone visited the grave to pay their respects.
A nickel indicates the grave was visited by another veteran who trained in boot camp with the deceased.
A dime means the veterans served together in some way.
A quarter tells the family that someone visited the site who was near the hero when he or she died.
Actor and Army Veteran Don Knotts’ gravestone. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)
2. Placing stones on the headstones
If you’ve haven’t seen “Schindler’s List,” then you need to stream it tonight after you buy a box of tissues (trust me, you’re going to need them). At the very end of the film, you’ll see a powerful moment where “Schindler’s Jews” and the actors who played them in the film place stones on his grave site.
Many Jewish military veterans continue this tradition placing stones on the graves to help keep the dead from haunting the living.
3. Sticking lit cigarettes into the ground
Go to any base, and you’ll see service members “smoking and joking” at designated areas called “smoke pits.” It’s a time where we socialize while puffing on a cigarette or enjoying a lip full of dip.
If the fallen was known for his or her tobacco use, lighting a cigarette for them to smoke is a standard practice.
4. Leaving a small bottle or two of liquor
The majority of service members drink — it’s just what we do when we bond with our military brothers and sisters. So that tradition carries on well after we get out. When we visit one of our fallen comrades at the cemetery, we commonly bring their favorite alcoholic beverage with us and leave it behind.
If we feel like it, we’ll even take a shot with them.
There’s nothing better for veterans than to get together with their military family while visiting a deceased grave site and relive the good times through story. Having a few beers and reminding the group all the funny experiences you had with the fallen can be incredibly therapeutic and bring the group closer together.
What are some unique ways you’ve paid you’re respects? Comment below.
The Cold War ended in 1991, taking the threat of global nuclear annihilation with it. For over 45 years, America and Russia endured a stalemate that spawned the arms race, the space race, land grabs, proxy wars around the globe and more.
But like a bad eighties movie remade for today’s audience, the same elements that shaped the first one are defining the Cold War part two. So far it’s the same plot. For starters, there’s the Russian land grab of Crimea, the forces placed near the Russian border and the proxy war shaping up in Syria.
In Cold War 2.0, VICE does an incredible job making sense of the events leading up to this undeclared conflict. VICE founder Shane Smith meets with Kremlin officials and American leaders, including President Obama, to figure out what’s driving the new standoff.
You can view Cold War 2.0 in its entirety on VICE.com or YouTube. Here is a quick four-minute debrief about the report.
It was an early morning in Smoaks, South Carolina, and humidity hung in the air. A truck pulled into the Valley Forge Flag driveway, a facility whose sole purpose is flag production. Valley Forge has been producing since World War I, and their flags have seen a number of fates, from being draped across the caskets of presidents to landing on Omaha Beach to navigating the jungles of Vietnam. Some say it’s one of their flags that is planted on the cold surface of the moon.
The truck began offloading countless rolls of an off-white fabric. The delivery man called them “greige goods,” and he was on his way as soon as he was unloaded.
Rolls of fabric used in flag production at Valley Forge Flags.
(Photo courtesy of Valley Forge Flags)
The Valley Forge material handler sent the greige goods to be dyed, and when the rolls returned, some were white and others had become a deep, brilliant red. They were cut into strips, and six white strips joined seven red strips, making a total of 13 stripes arranged into one neat pile.
A seamstress approached the pile and set herself to sewing. The sewing machines in this facility were automated, and three or four machines would be running at any given time under the watchful eye of Valley Forge employees. This woman watched them carefully as they stitched the strips of cloth together; she watched as the strips became stripes, the needle pressing into the fabric and joining them together with a firm bond.
The facility floor was filled with the sound of these sewing machines as each one was pieced together, beginning to resemble an American flag.
Flag production at Valley Forge Flags.
(Photo by Tetteroo Media)
Rolls of blue cloth with embroidered stars were already waiting to join the stripes. The facility workers cut them to size and fit them next to the stripes, emplacing the final piece of the puzzle.
Another seamstress expertly sewed the fly-end of the flag, and yet another sewed on the white header. The real brass grommets were next, and soon the flags were sent for inspection. The inspector eyed them carefully as they were placed along the table in front of her. Her eye was impeccable; with pride she trimmed excess pieces of thread, and even the most minor defect would be quickly detected and remedied. When complete, she proudly placed a label on the flag indicating that she made sure this flag was of superior quality.
After being properly folded, the flags were placed into packages and taken out the large door in the side of the facility awaiting shipment to their final destination.
Flag production at Valley Forge Flags.
(Photo by Tetteroo Media)
Of these flags, one sat among the rest, heading out to somewhere in the U.S. It looked identical to the others, but its fate was quite different. It would not fly during an American summer nor would passing soldiers salute it.
It wasn’t long before that flag was sitting on the shelf at the PX in Fort Benning, Georgia. It lay there still, amidst the bustle of basic trainees, airborne students, and the throngs of other transient service members in the area.
Eventually, a hand extended from amongst the countless uniforms and took it. After an exchange at the PX checkout counter, the flag was again on the move.
That hand belonged to a man named Patrick. He was of medium height with a strong build, a quiet demeanor, rough hands, and kind eyes.
He took it home to his wife. She had just moved to the area after their wedding; Fort Benning sat on the line dividing Georgia from Alabama, and they lived in the latter in a small apartment complex. Outside, he was an Army Ranger whose country demanded the most difficult tasks of him; here, he was a husband and a friend, a young man fixated on finding happiness in the four walls of a one-bedroom apartment. And he found it, for a while.
This was the home that American flag had been brought into.
Patrick Hawkins during a training exercise in Fort Benning, Georgia.
(Photo courtesy of Luke Ryan)
Patrick had a reverence for a precious few of his own valuables. A rosary hung nearby — he lamented when people wore rosaries around their necks, saying it was improper. He cherished his wedding ring as a sign of dedication to his beloved. And he felt that the flag, though it was merely a combination of cloth and stitching, represented the things he had fought so hard for during his last three deployments to Afghanistan, the freedoms he enjoyed as he grew from a boy to a Ranger.
Patrick was, for all his calluses and no-excuses leadership, a deeply sentimental man.
He unpacked the flag, but he knew it would not hang on his wall or be displayed on a flagpole. It had a purpose closer to his heart.
He folded it properly and brought it with him to work. He presented his military ID as he passed into Fort Benning, and then drove through the brown fence onto the Ranger compound. Patrick arrived early that day, and he entered the bowels of B Company, 3rd Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment — a maze of lockers and bags neatly stowed to the side. Flags of all types were displayed above and the pictures of fallen Rangers lined the walls. Folded flag in hand, Patrick passed them by.
He heaved out a large duffel bag filled with the tools he would need to carry out a war in a far away place. It still had dust embedded into its canvas shell from the last deployment. Patrick placed the flag snugly next to his gear — his cold-weather jacket and extra boots, a laptop and hard drive filled with movies.
The bag containing the flag was loaded onto a pallet, ratcheted down, and covered in plastic sheeting to protect it from the weather. The pallet lay outside under the sun next to Patrick when he kissed his wife and embraced his parents. He was always a momma’s boy, and he hugged her for a few extra seconds; his father was career military, and their touch resonated with mutual respect as well as love.
Bagram Honor Guard members fold the American flag during a Memorial Day ceremony at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, May 29, 2017.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Benjamin Gonsier)
It seemed only moments later that Patrick and his flag stepped onto Kandahar Air Field (KAF), Afghanistan.
Upon arrival, Patrick retrieved the flag and carried it to the ready room. It was lined with small, plywood cubbyholes, a hardy wooden table in the center. Zip ties in hand, Patrick grabbed his body armor out of his cubby and placed it on the table. He carefully unfolded the flag and rolled it tightly. He zip tied it onto the outside of his armor, what he called his “kit,” and then placed it back in the wooden cubby.
The flag stayed with him as he donned his kit and grasped his rifle, as he stepped onto the MH-47 helicopter and barreled toward Taliban strongholds. It remained with him as he bolted across the Afghan countryside and dragged Taliban leadership back onto the helicopter and to American lines.
This U.S. Air Force PJ displays the American flag on his kit in Afghanistan.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Gregory Brook)
There came a moment when the stars on that flag had seen more stars in the Afghan sky than the American sky. It was rolled on Patrick’s back, and it was not properly folded — yet it could not have been in a more perfect state at a more perfect time. He was honored to carry it, and it was in carrying it that he defined why such things have value.
Then one night, Patrick stepped off the helicopter for the last time. A woman exited a small, dirt building, and his Ranger brother went to ensure that she was properly cleared and safely escorted off the battlefield. Instead, the night lit up as she exploded, a suicide vest detonating and sending Patrick’s friend careening back, severely wounded. Other Rangers were knocked off their feet. Smoke and debris hung in the air.
Patrick and the Ranger in his charge, Cody, leapt forward without regard to their own safety. The threat appeared to have been eliminated, and they sought to help their Ranger brethren who were bleeding out in the Afghan dirt.
With another step and a series of flashes, Patrick and Cody were gone. The blasts from several improvised explosive devices (IEDs) buried just beneath the surface ripped upward and tore through them both, searing through the flag strapped to Patrick’s back.
The night continued, fraught with chaos, but Patrick’s body remained still. The flag on his back, parts of it shredded and other parts covered in his blood, remained next to him.
An eternity of stillness passed in those moments of fire and shadow.
A hand appeared through the darkness. Patrick’s brothers grabbed what they could; they would not leave him in that place, even if the life had left his body. They were shaken and bleeding, but they gritted their teeth and carried him out with the flag on his back.
Patrick Hawkins’ flag, after being cleaned as well as possible, now awaits another deployment.
(Photo courtesy of Luke Ryan)
As Patrick was dragged away, the flag remained on the ground. Once it had been still for long enough, another hand extended from the darkness, picked it up, and stuffed it into a pouch on the belt of another Ranger, just as he left for the exfil helicopter.
The hand belonged to Patrick’s squad leader and mentor, Kellan. The wounded were many, and they had long since run out of litters — Kellan was using another flag to pick up the remains of another fallen soldier. In the pouch on his belt, Patrick’s flag returned to KAF. Tears mixed into the blood on its fabric, which had been stitched together those months ago in South Carolina.
Kellan would look at the flag often, sometimes in sorrow, sometimes with that familiar guilt of survival, and often in gratitude for having the opportunity to know a man like Patrick. To live together in the most extreme of circumstances.
That was not Kellan’s last deployment. He rolled up his sleeves, and he rolled up the flag. He put his kit on the hardwood table in a far away country, zip ties in hand, and secured Patrick’s flag to it. Then he stepped back into the war.
This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.
“Make no mistake about it: You guys need to own the fact that we do not have the flag on our shoulders.”
Netflix takes another shot at the big-budget movie game with “Triple Frontier,” opening in select theaters March 6, 2019, and streaming March 13, 2019.
A group of Special Forces veterans find themselves at loose ends after they complete their service. They’re broke and bored. They decide to take down a South American drug lord and keep his $75 million in cash for themselves, doing some good and finally padding their bank accounts at the same time.
Writer/director J.C. Chandor has already made three outstanding movies this decade, none of which got the attention they deserved.
“Margin Call” (2011) is a thriller that unfolds over 24 hours at a financial services company during the 2008 financial crisis. “All is Lost” (2014) features one of the greatest (and nearly silent) Robert Redford performances as a sailor trying to save himself after he collides with a shipping container on the open seas. “A Most Violent Year” (2014) looks at the mechanics of big-city corruption in the early 1980s. None of those descriptions makes the movies sound like thrillers, but they’re all incredibly smart films that never let up in building tension.
That rep has allowed Chandor to recruit an all-star cast for “Triple Frontier.” Ben Affleck is done with Batman and looks happy to be back to making movies for adult men. He’s joined by Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron in the current “Star Wars” trilogy), Charlie Hunnam (“Sons of Anarchy”), Garrett Hedlund (“TRON: Legacy”) and Pedro Pascal (“Game of Thrones” and “Narcos”).
Chandor wrote the screenplay with Mark Boal, who won a pair of Oscars for “The Hurt Locker” and has collaborated with director Kathryn Bigelow on “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Detroit.” If nothing else, all of us can agree that Boal’s work provokes a wide variety of strong reactions.
We’ll have more on “Triple Frontier” as the release date approaches.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
One side effect of the end of World War II was that the United States Navy was left with a lot of extra ships lying around. In fact, the Americans found themselves with so many extra hulls, they couldn’t even give some away. Decades later, that inability to offload ships worked in our nation’s favor — especially during the Vietnam War. Some of these old ships ended up learning new tricks, like the USS Albemarle (AV 5).
During World War II, USS Albemarle served as a seaplane tender, mostly with the Atlantic Fleet. She undertook a variety of missions in the 1950s and was slated to handle the P6M Martin Seamaster flying boat when it was introduced into service. Unfortunately, the P6M never saw the light of day and, in 1962, USS Albemarle was stricken from the Naval Register of Vessels.
USS Albemarle in World War II, where she mostly served with the Atlantic Fleet.
Two years later, however, she was re-instated — but under a new name, USNS Corpus Christi Bay (T-ARVH 1). The military was facing a big problem and the former-USS Albemarle was the solution. The Vietnam War saw the first wide-scale use of helicopters in just about every facet of combat. Some served as gunships while others hauled troops. Some evacuated the wounded and others delivered supplies. Many them, however, got shot up in the process and needed repairs.
America had over 12,000 helicopters in Vietnam. With so many helicopters, transporting the damaged ones back to the United States for repairs would’ve been a logistical nightmare. So, instead of bringing helicopters to the repair facility, America brought the repair facility to the helicopters, in the form of USNS Corpus Christi Bay.
After two years of work, USS Albemarle (AV 5) became USNS Corpus Christi Bay (T-ARVH 1), a floating helicopter repair shop.
From 1966 to the end of the Vietnam War, USNS Corpus Christi Bay served as a floating repair depot for helicopters. Damaged choppers were brought in by barge, where they were fixed and returned to the front lines. USNS Corpus Christi Bay was again stricken in 1974 and scrapped, but she had served America honorably in two wars.
Learn more about her Vietnam-era service in the video below.
BTS became the first Korean music act to have a #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 when the English-language single “Dynamite” topped the charts in August. They achieved another milestone this week with “Life Goes On,” their second #1 hit and the first record sung mostly in Korean to top the American charts.
And yet, a dark cloud loomed on the horizon. All males in South Korea are required to enlist in the military and complete either 18 months (Army or Marine Corps), 20 months (Navy) or 21 months (Air Force) service. They can complete their obligation anytime after they turn 18 but must start by the time they turn 28.
BTS is so hot right now, bigger than the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC added together at their peak. They’re undisputedly the most successful Korean music group of all time. Not only does their music sell, they’re generating millions of dollars in sales of BTS-branded shirts, hats, posters, card games, pillows, mugs, dolls, phone accessories, puzzles, tote bags, candles and other merchandise too numerous to list here.
Jin (first names only, please) is the group’s oldest member at age 27 and he’s turning 28 on December 4, so the singer was faced with having to leave the group at the height of their international popularity to complete his military service. Fellow group member Suga will also turn 28 on March 9, 2021 so the crisis was real for the seven-member group.
The South Korean parliament wanted to take action but had a tight needle to thread here. How could they keep the country’s #1 cultural export going while not appearing to cater to the decadent lifestyles of international popstars?
Their solution was to pass a law that allows entertainers who have received a government medal for global cultural impact to defer their service for an extra two years until age 30. That gives Jin 730 more days to pursue his career before duty calls.
Jin has long acknowledged his commitment to service. In 2019, he told an interviewer, “As a Korean, it’s natural. And some day, when duty calls, we’ll be ready to respond and do our best.”
BTS (also known as Bangtan Sonyeondan, which translates to English as Bulletproof Boy Scouts) has one of the most devoted fan bases in music history, rivaling the devotion that the Beatles or Michael Jackson inspired at their peaks.
Those fans may not be too happy about the compromise, since athletes like soccer player Son Heung-min (now playing in the English Premier League with Tottenham Hotspur) and more than a few classical musicians have been exempted altogether from service for their contributions to South Korea’s image around the world.
Maybe BTS can keep the hot streak going and the government will grant a new waiver in two years. Or maybe Jin and Suga will complete their service and return triumphantly to their careers just like U.S. Army veteran Elvis Presley did back in 1960.
The Stryker family of wheeled armored fighting vehicles is an essential tool in the the United States Army’s arsenal — but it isn’t the first wheeled armored vehicle that saw widespread service with GIs. In World War II, there was another — and it was fast, effective, and packed a powerful punch.
That vehicle was the M8 Greyhound. It was a 6×6 vehicle that entered service in 1941, and drew upon lessons learned from German successes in 1939 and 1940. It was intended to serve as a reconnaissance vehicle and saw action with the British, Australians, and Canadians before American troops took it into battle.
A M8 Greyhound in Paris.
The M8 had a top speed of 55 miles per hour. This might not sound so speedy but, by comparison, the iconic M4 Sherman tank had a top speed of just 24 miles per hour. This seemingly small difference in speed made a huge impact when the effective range of tank guns was much shorter — and not just because the guns were smaller. In World War II, fire-control was also less advanced. Unlike today’s M1 Abrams, which can fire on the move and take out a target 3,000 yards away, a tank had to come to a complete stop before firing back then.
The M8 also packed a 37mm gun that could fire armor-piercing or high-explosive rounds and had a coaxial .30-caliber machine gun to defend against infantry. This light armored car could also add an M2 .50-caliber machine gun to defend against aircraft.
After World War II, the Greyhound was widely passed on, including to private sellers. This M8 was captured by Swedish troops in the Congo.
That said, the M8 had its weaknesses. It was lightly armored and particularly vulnerable to land mines and improvised anti-tank weapons. That didn’t stop American from producing almost 12,000 of these vehicles. After World War II, many of these went on to see action in Korea — and after that, they found homes with law enforcement and in private collections.
Learn more about the Greyhound in the video below!
US airmen assigned to the 354th Fighter Wing tested a new arctic survival kit for the F-35A Lightning II in downtown Fairbanks, Alaska, Nov. 5, 2019.
A team of airmen from the 356th Fighter Squadron, F-35 Program Integration Office, 354th Operation Support Squadron Aircrew Flight Equipment and 66th Training Squadron, Detachment 1, used a subzero chamber to replicate the extreme temperatures of interior Alaska.
The test was performed because the current arctic survival kit won’t fit in the allotted space under the seat of an F-35A. The 354th FW is expecting to receive its first F-35A in April of 2019.
“We are testing the kit that Tech. Sgt. John Williams, Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Ferguson and myself have developed over the last year in preparation for the integration of the F-35,” said Tech. Sgt. Garret Wright, 66th TS, Det. 1 Arctic Survival School noncommissioned officer in charge of operations.
US Air Force Staff Sgt. Zachary Rumke tests an F-35A Lightning II survival gear kit in Fairbanks, Alaska, Nov. 5, 2019.
Four members of the team, to include Lt. Col. James Christensen, commander of the reactivated 356th Fighter Squadron, stepped into two separate chambers, one at minus-20 and the other at minus-40, wearing standard cold-weather gear issued to pilots. Once inside the chambers, the test observers timed how long it took them to don the specialized winter gear from their survival kit.
After the gear was on, the Icemen lived up to their name and stayed in the chamber for six hours. Wright recorded their condition every 30 minutes to ensure the safety and accuracy of the test.
Approximately five hours into the test, Wright noticed the temperature on the digital thermometer didn’t seem accurate in one of the chambers. He found a mercury-based thermometer and discovered the temperature one of the chambers was at minus-65 and the other was minus-51.
“After realizing that the ambient room temperature was at minus-65 at the five-hour mark, I knew that we had accomplished far more than we originally set out to,” Wright said. “Wing leaders wanted a product that would keep pilots alive at minus-40 and although unplanned, the findings were clear that the sleep system could far surpass this goal.”
Wright holds a thermometer beside Rumke during an F-35A Lightning II survival kit test in Fairbanks, Alaska, Nov. 5, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Beaux Hebert)
After six cold hours, the Icemen stepped out of the subzero chamber and spoke with the survival, evasion, reconnaissance, and escape specialists and the AFE team to address discrepancies and better ways to utilize the equipment.
“The gear was great. There were a couple of minor tweaks that I think we could make to it to improve it but overall it was solid,” said Staff Sgt. Zachary Rumke, 66th TS, Det. 1, Artic Survival School instructor.
After the debrief, the four Icemen agreed the equipment is more than capable of withstanding the harsh temperatures of the Alaskan landscape and said they would feel safe knowing they had this gear to help them survive in one of the world’s most extreme environments.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan revealed July 12 he’s been using new rules of engagement that allow his command to deploy American and NATO forces to aid Afghan troops who are on the attack.
The new policy marks a sharp departure from previous authorities for the use of force that restricted U.S. and allied combat power to last ditch efforts to save Afghan troops from defeat.
Afghan mission commander U.S. Army Gen. John Nicholson said in a press briefing in Kabul that now U.S. and NATO forces can use airpower and other troops “so that the Afghan Army can assume the offensive against the enemy.”
“As we focused on it this year, we used our in-extremis authorities that we had at the time to help prevent a strategic defeat. … It was in a defensive, reactive kind of manner,” Nicholson said. “With the new authorities that we have now, as of June, we’re able to then provide combat enablers to assist the Afghans … taking the initiative against the enemy and their staging areas.”
The new authority comes on the heels of a stinging Pentagon report that showed special operations forces trying to help Afghan troops fight off a Taliban takeover of Kunduz in 2015 were hamstrung over rules of engagement that left them confused over when they could fight.
According to the report obtained by Reuters, commandos who radioed back for clarification of the ROEs were left hanging by superiors in the rear.
“Sadly, the only sounds audible were the sounds of crickets … though those were hard to hear over the gunfire,” one special operator said in the Pentagon report, according to Reuters.
Nicholson launched a reassessment of the Afghanistan operation, dubbed “Resolute Support Mission,” when he assumed command in February. And in June he was given new authority to help Afghan troops on offense.
In one battle, Nicholson explained he was able to sortie F-16s to strike Taliban positions outside Tarin Kowt to help Afghan forces clear roads cut off by insurgents.
“Since that operation … we’re using our new authorities so that the Afghan army can assume the offensive against the enemy in Maiwand District, Band-e-Timor area, which is a well-known staging area. So it’s offensive,” Nicholson said.
President Obama announced last week he would keep about 8,500 American troops assigned to Afghanistan to fight the continued Taliban insurgency and fight terrorist groups.
Nicholson said during his press conference that about 3,000 U.S. troops would be assigned to continue training and advising Afghan troops, with another 3,300 “enablers,” including helicopter and fixed wing aircraft crews, assigned to give the Afghans a little extra combat punch.
The force also includes about 2,150 troops dedicated to the counterterrorism mission and about 400 troops based in other countries but helping with the Resolute Support mission.
Narrator: Kim Jong Un has been the supreme leader of North Korea since December 2011, but despite how often Kim makes the news, you probably don’t know that much about him. Since its founding in 1948, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s totalitarian government has heavily restricted the information that comes in and out of the country.
However, Kim’s life is not a complete mystery. We know most of Kim’s childhood was spent hidden from the public eye in Switzerland. He’s a fan of former NBA player Dennis Rodman, married to one of North Korea’s cheerleaders, and calls his relationship with US President Donald Trump “special.” Here’s everything we know about Kim’s mysterious life and family.
Kim Jong Un is believed to have been born in the early 1980s to Kim Jong Il and Ko Yong Hui. His birth year remains unconfirmed by the North Korean government, which is a contrast to how his father and grandfather’s birthdays are celebrated as national holidays. Kim first lived with his mother in the capital city of Pyongyang with the other North Korean elite, but later, Kim was sent to live in Switzerland. Even though the Kim regime doesn’t allow North Korean citizens to leave the country, or even travel within North Korea without permission, members of its own family have enjoyed luxurious lives abroad.
In Bern, Switzerland, the family lived in apartments purchased by the North Korean government for roughly million. The Kim family’s photo album shows Kim Jong Un doing everything from visiting Disneyland Paris to skiing in the Swiss Alps, and when he wasn’t jet-setting around Europe, the future North Korean leader attended the International School of Berne, a private English-language school that costs more than ,000 a year. Known to his classmates as Pac Un, Kim Jong Un was reportedly obsessed with basketball. In Bern, Kim seemed to wear only Adidas tracksuits and Nike sneakers.
Kim’s time in Switzerland ended in 2001, when his father ordered his return to North Korea. Once he was back, Kim started attending Kim Il Sung Military University with his older brother Kim Jong Chol. Although his father, Kim Jong Il, hadn’t formally declared an heir, Kim Jong Un was widely seen as his successor. Kim Jong Il reportedly thought that his second-oldest son, Kim Jong Chol, was “effeminate” and weak. Meanwhile, his oldest son and Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, found life in North Korea oppressive.
Kim Jong Un was quickly promoted up the political and military ladder, despite lacking major military experience. The BBC reported that he was made a four-star general, deputy chairman of the power-wielding Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party, and a member of the policy-making Central Committee. In 2011, after the death of his father, Kim Jong Un became the third-generation supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
In 2012, North Korean media announced that Kim had married a woman named Ri Sol Ju. Not much is known about Ri, other than that she’s a former cheerleader and singer in North Korea’s famous “Army of Beauties.” They are believed to have three children, though their ages and gender have been kept a secret.
During the early years of Kim’s reign, it was believed that his aunt and uncle were the real decision makers. His aunt Kim Kyong Hui and her husband, Jang Song Thaek, were trusted advisers who had served on various government committees for years. However, in 2013, Kim ordered the execution of his uncle and his uncle’s inner circle. Kim’s rocky start as supreme leader continued as he pushed for North Korea to increase its nuclear arms program in 2013. In just six years, Kim Jong Un had conducted more nuclear tests than both his father and his grandfather combined.
Then, in February 2017, international condemnation towards North Korea increased when Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, was attacked at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia and later died en route to the hospital. South Korean and US officials speculated that Kim Jong Un ordered the assassination of his half-brother, and Kim Jong Nam’s death only served to heighten the world’s suspicion of North Korea’s leadership.
Donald Trump: I say to the North, do not underestimate us, and do not try us.
Narrator: Over in the US, after taking office, President Trump broke the previous administration’s “strategic patience” approach towards North Korea and demanded immediate denuclearization. Kim Jong Un responded by trying to test a nuclear missile at the same time Vice President Mike Pence was scheduled to be visiting South Korea. North Korea continued testing nuclear weapons, while Trump took to Twitter to taunt Kim. Kim responded with his own insults, and as the two leaders continued sniping at each other, odds of war between the two countries seemed to increase. But then 2018 changed everything.
That March, Kim Jong Un made a secret trip to Beijing, his first known trip outside North Korea since coming into power. Just one month later, Kim made history when he met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, becoming the first North Korean leader to set foot in South Korea in 65 years. Later that summer, Kim met with Trump in Singapore. It was the first meeting between a North Korean leader and a sitting US president. Kim went on to call his relationship with Trump “special.”
As of April 2020, it appears Kim’s health may be less than optimal, and rumors are circulating that he may have had surgery. Kim wasn’t seen at his grandfather’s birthday celebration on April 15, which is abnormal, considering it’s North Korea’s most important holiday. There’s no way to know for sure why Kim hasn’t been seen, but there are reasons to believe it’s health-related. Back in 2008, his father wasn’t seen at an important parade. It was later revealed that his father had had a stroke, so it wouldn’t be the first time a North Korean leader missed an important event due to health concerns.
Kim’s been reported to have health issues as early as 2014, when he disappeared from public view for 40 days. He returned limping and using a cane to walk. However, Kim could just be staying away from the public to protect himself from COVID-19, even though North Korea’s been saying it has zero confirmed cases of the virus in the country, something public health experts find hard to believe.
Regardless of the reason why Kim has been MIA, the mystery around his health has brought other questions to the forefront, like who will succeed him? His kids are too young, his brother seems unlikely, and though his sister, Kim Yo Jong, holds a political title, there has never been a female leader of North Korea, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.
There’s also the critical question of what could happen to North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. The US has previously made offers to help rebuild North Korea’s weak economy if its government hands over its nuclear weapons, but we’ll have to wait to find out if North Korea will take the US up on its offer.
The Pentagon is about to realize its dream of having a drone warship to hunt foreign stealth submarines.
Meet the ACTUV (Antisubmarine warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel) — a crewless,140-ton, 132-foot-long robotic ship unveiled in Portland’s Willamette River on Thursday.
“This is a big, big, deal,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work said.
“It looks like a Klingon Bird of Prey,” he added, admiring the vessel’s narrow bow.
“It’s extremely inexpensive compared to a manned system and it takes men and service women out of harms way. So why wouldn’t we want to do this?”
The ACTUV, pronounced “active,” costs $15,000 to $20,000 a day to operate, according to the Department of Defense. It was conceived in 2010 by Darpa, the Pentagon’s developmental wing responsible for testing emerging military technologies.
And those expenses are chump change compared with the operating costs of an aircraft carrier or submarine.
Staffing the ACTUV costs an estimated $684,900 a day.
“You can afford to use it in ways or think about using it in ways that would be too dangerous for a manned vessel,” Scott Littlefield, the ACTUV’s program manager, told Business Insider. “Like taking it into a minefield or taking it within range of somebody else’s weapons.”
“I don’t think we’ll ever get away from sailors on big ships,” he added, “but I could imagine a future in which we have a mixture of manned and unmanned systems working together.”
In short, ACTUV advances the US’s robotic-warfare abilities by supplementing the Navy’s manned fleet.
‘These will be everywhere’
The ACTUV’s completion comes as Russia and China, near-peer adversaries to the US, expand and update their navies.
According to NATO Vice Adm. Clive Johnstone, there is now more reported activity from Russian submarines in the North Atlantic than at any time since the Cold War. At the same time, China claims the majority of land in one of the most disputed areas on the planet: the South China Sea, which is home to $5 trillion in annual global trade.
To that end, the tit for tat over crumbs of territory in the South China Sea isn’t for nothing.
“This will operate wherever the United States Navy operates,” Work told Business Insider. “It can operate in the South China Sea. It can operate in the Baltic Sea. It can operate in the Persian Gulf. And it can operate in the middle of the Atlantic or the middle of the Pacific.”
“These will be everywhere,” he said.
The ACTUV’s sophisticated sonar system allows the unmanned vessel to hunt submarines, detect torpedoes, evaluate threats, and avoid small objects at sea — all while traversing the ocean at a top speed of 27 knots, or 31 mph.
This animation from Darpa depicts how ACTUV will hunt targets at sea:
While at sea, ACTUV will communicate information back to a military control center as well as to nearby Navy vessels and aircraft.
“There is no reason to be afraid of a ship like this,” Work said. “This is a ship that’s going to do what we tell it and nothing more.”
“The US military doesn’t really have the luxury of picking where it has to go, and the fact that the Navy has to be in all of those environments, that is what national security is all about, being able to do all of that,” Dr. Arati Prabhakar, the director of Darpa, told Business Insider.
Stand by for more testing
While ACTUV has already passed a few preliminary tests, the vessel must still undergo another two years of open-water trials with the Navy.
The Navy is slated to begin those tests in the summer 2016, in waters off San Diego.
If all goes well, the Navy hopes the vessel enters service by 2018.
Hey, I get it: When you’re preparing for deployment, the last thing you want is a honey-do list from your spouse. You have your own gear to take care of, paperwork to complete, and stuff to pack. Your spouse, on the other hand, will be at home during the months that you’re away. Can’t some of their to-do list wait until you’re gone? After all, they’ll have the whole deployment to take care of it. What’s the rush, right?
Here’s the deal: Just as you must prepare your gear and put your things in order to prepare for your deployment, your spouse has to get the house and the family ready for their own “mission.” It’s pretty much guaranteed that as soon as you walk out the door, something’s going to go wrong: the car will break down, appliances will leak, or the dog will get sick. If you don’t help your spouse prepare for those emergencies, then they won’t be fully equipped to handle their mission. You wouldn’t send troops off to train without first arranging logistics and ammo. In the same way, you have to take care of some logistical details at home before you deploy and leave your spouse as the only adult responsible for the entire household. There are several things you can review with your spouse to make everyone’s deployment go more smoothly.
Don’t skip these mission-essential pre-deployment tasks with your spouse.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Gina Randall)
There’s a reason your CO keeps hounding you to complete your Power of Attorney, Will, and other documents — they’re actually really important! Without a Power of Attorney, your spouse will basically be treated like a second-class citizen on base. They won’t be able to renew or replace an ID card if they lose it while you’re away. They can’t change the lease, buy or sell a vehicle, or handle any banking problems that might arise. If you have children, it’s important that your spouse completes a Family Care Plan so that someone is designated to take care of the kids if your spouse ends up in the hospital from a car accident. Take the time to discuss this paperwork with your spouse so they won’t struggle during unexpected deployment situations.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. April Davis)
2. Comm check
You may not know exactly what communication options you’ll have during deployment, but discuss your expectations with your spouse so you can both get on the same page. How will you handle the time difference? Will you try to call when early in the morning or in the evening? How often will you try to call, message, or video? What’s the protocol if one of you misses a call or doesn’t answer in time? Finally, make sure your spouse knows how to send a Red Cross message. If there’s a family emergency, the Red Cross can contact you even when you don’t have internet access. If your spouse knows how to get to the Red Cross website, it will take the weight off their shoulders during a major emergency.
(U.S. Army National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Leanna Litsch)
3. Discuss car maintenance
Have you ever returned from deployment only to discover that your car has a dead battery and flat tires? Save yourselves the cost and trouble with some simple preventative maintenance. If you’re typically the one responsible for vehicle maintenance, remind your spouse when to do an oil change and how often to get the tires rotated. If your vehicle will sit unused during the deployment, ask your spouse to start the engine and let it idle at least once a week. This will prevent the battery from dying. If they occasionally drive it around the block and park it in a different position, that’ll help prevent flat tires.
4. Review home maintenance
If you’re renting or living on base, just make sure your spouse knows how to contact maintenance or the landlord. If you own your home, things get more complicated. Walk through the house together and discuss areas of regular or seasonal maintenance. Air filters should get changed monthly. Gutters should be cleaned in Fall. Discuss outdoor chores, like lawn maintenance and snow removal. Your spouse should know the location of the breaker box and water shut-off valves, in case the dreaded “Deployment Curse” visits your house.
5. Adjust the household budget
You and your spouse both need to understand how the deployment will affect your family’s income, and then adjust accordingly. If you are making more money during deployment, how will you save or spend the extra? Will it go toward paying down debts? Or will you save up for a post-deployment vacation? Sometimes, deployments reduce the household budget. You might have to pay for food and Internet at your deployed location. Your spouse may decrease their work hours or register for a class. They may have additional costs for childcare or lawn maintenance. It’s better to discuss these changes and your intended budget before deployment so you aren’t both accusing each other of mismanaging money!
6. Write down your passwords
You wouldn’t send your team on a mission without clear instructions and the best equipment, right? Then don’t expect your spouse to manage the bills and your account memberships without passwords! Log into any banking or bill payment website you use, and write down your login name and password. Do the same for your gaming accounts, renewable memberships, etc. It’s likely that something will need to be suspended, renewed, or canceled during your deployment. Writing down the passwords will make it possible for your spouse to do that for you.
Having these pre-deployment conversations now may not be easy or fun, but it’s definitely important to help your spouse feel squared away before deployment. This will reduce deployment stress for both of you, help your deployment communication go smoothly, and get you both prepared for your respective, upcoming missions.
The Pentagon is considering sending an additional 1,000 conventional troops over the next few weeks into Syria, ahead of an upcoming offensive against the ISIS capital of Raqqa.
The troops would likely come from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit — currently on its way to the region — and the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, which recently made its way to Kuwait, according to a report in The Washington Post by TM Gibbons-Neff.
The proposed increase in conventional forces would follow similar deployments in recent weeks that have supplemented special operations forces, of which roughly 500 have been on the ground for some time.
A convoy of US Army Rangers riding in armored Stryker combat vehicles was seen crossing the border into Syria last week to support Kurdish military forces in Manbij. The convoy, identified by SOFREP as being from 3rd Ranger Battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment, was the most overt use of US troops in the region thus far.
The Ranger deployment was followed soon after by a contingent of US Marines from the 1st Battalion, 4th Marine regiment, which left their ships to establish a combat outpost inside Syria that is apparently within striking distance of Raqqa.
“For the base in Syria to be useful, it must be within about 20 miles of the operations US-backed forces are carrying out,” the Post wrote.
Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for OIR, told Business Insider previously that the moves into Syria were to pre-position US forces so they can provide logistical and fire support to “Syrian partnered forces” who will eventually assault Raqqa.
The Marines and Rangers will provide the “commander greater agility to expedite the destruction of ISIS in Raqqah. The exact numbers and locations of these forces are sensitive in order to protect our forces, but there will be approximately an additional 400 enabling forces deployed for a temporary period to enable our Syrian partnered forces to defeat ISIS,” Dorrian told Business Insider.
He added: “The deployment of these additional key enabling capabilities allows the Coalition to provide flexible all weather fire support, training and protection from IEDs, and additional air support to our Syrian partners.”
Meanwhile, US special operations forces, who are said to be taking a training and advisory role with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, were quietly given more latitude to call in precision airstrikes and artillery. As the AP reported in February, advisors are now able to call in airstrikes without seeking approval from an operations center in Baghdad.
Additionally, advisors were embedded at lower echelons of Iraqi security forces at the brigade and battalion level, rather than division — meaning that US forces are increasingly getting closer to direct combat.
The presence of additional US ground troops inside Syria — even miles from the frontline — would bring with it considerable risk. Combat outposts often draw rocket and mortar fire, in addition to small arms. Last March, a Marine outpost established to support the operation to retake Mosul, Iraq came under rocket attack by ISIS militants, killing Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin.
A total of nine American service members have been killed in OIR combat operations, while 33 have been wounded, according to Pentagon statistics.
There is also additional risk from the US’ partnership with Syrian Kurdish fighters known as the YPG, or People’s Protection Units. Though the Pentagon seems to believe the YPG would be the most effective force in the Raqqa fight, the unit is considered a terrorist group by Turkey.
Turkey has so far refused to compromise, insisting the US use a different Syrian rebel group, Reuters reported.
“Our soldiers will not be fighting together with people who shot us and killed our soldiers and are trying to kill us,” one senior Turkish security official, briefed on recent meetings between Turkish and U.S. strategists, told Reuters.