The 74th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron is wrapping up a deployment that saw heavy involvement in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Upon arrival, their efforts were focused on Raqqa for approximately three months. During that time, A-10 Thunderbolt IIs participated in an urban, close air support role. Pilots focused on protecting friendly forces as they maneuvered in the city between very large buildings in which the enemy hid and used as fighting positions.
“It was a difficult location to work in and we faced some situations that we have not dealt with before we arrived here,” said Maj. Matthew Cichowski, 74th EFS assistant director of operations. “Our weapons and tactics planners have done an excellent job preparing us for the variety of tactics and locations that we use and operate in.”
Adapting the squadron to the new location and varied tactical situations fell to the squadron’s weapons tactics planners.
“When we showed up, we got thrown into this fight essentially on day one,” said Lt. Col. Craig Morash, 74th EFS commander. “The fight itself was within the urban complex of Raqqa and the pilots had to get creative to figure out ways to strike targets at the bottom of these five story buildings. There was a lot of learning as this wasn’t something we traditionally trained to when we arrived. We reached out to different communities to see what we could learn from them.”
“Everyone jumped on board trying to figure out solutions to the problems we faced even though we had long days and a mountain of work to accomplish,” Morash continued. “Our intel shop processed an unbelievable amount of expenditure reports to make sure (U. S. Air Forces Central Command) had an accurate picture of what we were doing. Our life support troops were generating equipment and doing it perfectly every single time.”
The squadron’s intelligence Airmen also provide vital key information to pilots before their missions, enabling those pilots to adapt to threats and challenges on the fly.
“We’re trained on what the capabilities of the aircraft are, which allows us to give threat perspectives to pilots with what’s going on in the area of operations and how that affects the aircraft and pilots,” said Senior Airman Jake Owens, 74th EFS intelligence analyst. “We brief pilots on possible threats they may face while flying missions and we’re also tied into the intelligence reporting, where we report targets struck to higher headquarters. There’s a lot of battle tracking and predictive analysis.”
According to the squadron’s weapons and tactics chief, one of the most difficult aspects of close air support isn’t physically dropping the bomb, it’s making sure the rest of the process has been done correctly. The pilots assigned to the 74th EFS are trained to work through that process correctly, making sure friendly positions are confirmed, any attack restrictions make sense and are adhered to, and they are flying above or are laterally deconflicted with any artillery that may be firing, and avoiding any exposure to threats like anti-aircraft fire or other aircraft.
“Positive identification is extremely important and is something that takes a large team and a long amount of time to get right,” said Capt. Eric Calvey, 74th EFS chief of weapons and tactics. “Long before we show up there are individuals who use Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance assets to get an idea of what targets to strike and make sure that what we drop on is, in fact, a hostile target. We’re the last link in the chain and there’s a large amount of work done ahead of time to prepare these targets for strike before we employ munitions on them. It’s amazing seeing the utmost care that is taken before we employ on these targets.”
Although the squadron’s deployment is coming to a close, Morash said they are still keen on supporting the ground forces, no matter where they are.
“Every single person in this squadron was and still is mission focused. They are looking at the bigger picture, seeing what solutions to problems could be and mitigating risk to ground forces every single day,” Morash said. “The way this team came together, operations and maintenance, to look after each other and to get things done made me proud to be an Airman.”
U.S. President Donald Trump on April 6 ordered the Navy to fire 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles into the airfield in west Syria from where it’s believed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime launched a deadly chemical attack on April 4 that killed and injured hundreds of men, women, and children.
Russia on April 7 condemned the U.S. bombing and said it was abandoning an agreement designed to minimize the risk of in-flight incidents, such as collisions, between Russian and U.S. aircraft flying in Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin called the strikes a violation of international law.
Russia said the U.S. bombing was carried out to distract from a March airstrike by the U.S.-led international coalition in Mosul, Iraq, where about 150 civilians died.
“The Syrian army has no chemical weapons,” Russia’s presidential press service said in a statement. “Vladimir Putin regards the U.S. strikes on Syria as an attempt to draw public attention away from the numerous civilian casualties in Iraq.”
Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Bolivia called for an immediate meeting of the United Nations Security Council.
“The U.S. opted for a show of force, for military action against a country fighting international terrorism without taking the trouble to get the facts straight,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “It is not the first time that the U.S. chooses an irresponsible approach that aggravates problems the world is facing, and threatens international security. The very presence of military personnel from the U.S. and other countries in Syria without consent from the Syrian government or a U.N. Security Council mandate is an egregious and obvious violation of international law that cannot be justified.”
Syria’s military called the U.S. bombing an “aggression” that undermined the government’s efforts to combat terrorism, which made the U.S. government a “partner” of internationally recognized terrorist organizations, such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State. The Syrian regime said there would be consequences for “those who would take such a tragic and unfounded action.”
The United States launched the Tomahawk cruise missiles — with around 60,000 pounds of explosives — within 60 seconds, targeting the al-Shayrat airfield near the city of Homs. The sea-launched missiles — which fly close to the ground to avoid radar detection — targeted planes, fuel, and other support infrastructure at the Syrian base.
Two U.S. Navy destroyers — the USS Ross and USS Porter — launched the missiles from the eastern Mediterranean Sea at about 8:40 p.m. EST, or 4:40 a.m. April 6 in Syria, the Pentagon said.
The missile strikes are the first known direct U.S. assault on the Syrian government since the country’s civil war began in 2011.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said the Assad regime or Russia carried out its first airstrikes on April 7 in Khan Sheikhoun in the Idlib province — where the alleged chemical attack occurred — after the U.S. bombing that “destroyed” the regime airfield.
Authorities are assessing the chemical attack from April 4 in Syria’s Idlib province, which officials estimate killed more than 70 people and injured another 400. The strike further solidified the United States’ fierce opposition to leaving Assad in power — a leader Obama’s government repeatedly tried to remove through various means.
Syria’s civil war has resulted in the deaths of more than a half-million people. It has been a major source of tension between Washington, D.C., Damascus, and the Russian government, which remains a staunch ally of Assad’s and has provided his regime with military support.
Assad’s regime has previously been accused of carrying out chemical attacks — a claim denied by Assad and Russia.
Russia, Assad’s biggest ally, has provided military air support for Syria’s fight against Islamic State terrorists and rebels for more than a year. A U.S.-led coalition supporting the rebels has led the charge to oust Assad and has brokered multiple unsuccessful cease-fire agreements for that purpose. U.S. military troops, however, have been scarce inside Syria’s borders — as Pentagon strategists have instead chosen to maintain strictly a training and advisory role for the rebel alliance.
Russia said the United States used the allegations of the chemical attack as an excuse to bomb the Syrian regime.
“It is obvious that the cruise missile attack was prepared in advance. Any expert understands that Washington’s decision on air strikes predates the Idlib events, which simply served as a pretext for a show of force,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said. “There is no doubt that the military action by the U.S. is an attempt to divert attention from the situation in Mosul, where the campaign carried out among others by U.S.-led coalition has resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties and an escalating humanitarian disaster.”
Allen Cone and Doug G. Ware contributed to this report.
In this image made from video provided by Korea Broadcasting System (KBS), South Korean President Moon Jae-in, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pose after signing documents in Pyongyang, North Korea Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018.
International sanctions have proven to be a sore point for North Korea.
Talks between Kim and President Donald Trump in Hanoi, Vietnam, abruptly broke down in February 2019 over disagreements over sanctions.
But North Korea’s foreign minister, Ri Yong Ho, said Pyongyang had only asked for a partial — not full — lifting of sanctions. Ri added that North Korea offered to dismantle its primary nuclear facility and to permanently halt the testing of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, but the US asked for more.
President Donald Trump meets North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Feb. 27, 2019, in Hanoi.
The North blames the South for strained relations with Trump
The site of the liaison office had been a symbol of the improving collaboration between the two Koreas, which technically remain at war.
North Korean media have been criticizing South Korea’s limited influence in improving US-North Korea relations since the failed Hanoi summit, NK News reported.
The state-run Meari news outlet said on March 22, 2019, according to NK News: “How can the South Korean authorities, which cannot do anything without the US’s approval and instruction, play the role of mediator and facilitator?”
Meari added that the Moon administration had not taken any “practical measures to fundamentally improve inter-Korean relations,” and is “walking on eggshells around its master, the US.”
Chad O’Carroll, the founder of NK News and chief executive of the Korea Risk Group, said that North Korea’s withdrawal also sent the message: “What’s the point of [inter-Korean] talks when sanctions prevent practical cooperation?”
‘Sad and unfortunate’
South Korea’s vice minister of unification, Chun Hae-sung, told reporters that the withdrawal was “sad and unfortunate,” and that Seoul will need time to figure out next steps, according to CNN.
“We regard such a withdrawal as very sad and unfortunate [and] we hope that the North will return shortly and hope that the liaison contact office will operate normally as soon as possible,” Chun said.
A statement by Seoul’s Unification Ministry also called the decision “regrettable,” but ensured that South Korea would continue staffing the office, the AP reported.
The two Koreas had been hoping to revive a joint industrial complex in Kaesong that combined the South’s capital and technical knowledge with the North’s cheap labor, the AP reported.
But a reopening would require the US to make exceptions on its stiff sanctions on Pyongyang because the factory is near the Korean DMZ.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Deploying is just one of those things every troop knows will happen eventually. There are two ways troops look at this: Either they’re gung-ho about getting into what they’ve been training to do for years or they’re scared that they’ll have to do what they’ve been training years to do for years. No judgement either way, but it’s bound to happen.
The truth is, combat only makes up a fraction of a fraction of what troops do while deployed. There are some troops who take on an unequal share of that burden when compared to the next, but everyone shares some of the same downsides of deployment.
Today’s troops have it nicer than those that came before them and some units may inherently have an easier time of things. Still, everyone has to deal with the same smell of the “open air sanitation pits” that are lovingly called “sh*t ponds.”
Yep. And the VA is still debating whether this is unhealthy or not.
Sand will get everywhere no matter how many times you sweep. Black mold will always creep into your living areas and cause everyone to go to sick call. That’s normal.
What’s not normal is the amount of lazy, disgusting Blue Falcons that decide that using Gatorade bottles as piss pots is more convenient than walking their ass to a proper latrine but get embarrassed by their disgusting lifestyle so they horde that sh*t under their bunk in some sick, twisted collection. True story.
That is, if you can get to an uncrowded USO tent to actually talk to your folks back home.
(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jonathan Carmichael)
Everyone knows they’re going to have to be away from their family, but no one really prepares you for the moments when you’re going to have to tell them you can’t talk a few days because something happened — “Comms Blackouts.” They’re totally normal and it freaks out everyone back home. it’s up to the troops to explain the situation without providing any info that would incur the wrath of the chain of command.
We’ve all heard the constant, nebulous threats. “The enemy is always listening!” “All it takes is one puzzle piece to lose the war!” Such concerns aren’t unfounded — and it leaves troops clammed up, essentially without anything interesting to talk about while deployed.
I’m just saying, we’re doing you a favor by not saluting you where there could be snipers…
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Alejandro Pena)
Other units’ officers
Every unit falls under the same overarching rules as set forth by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So, if someone’s doing something that breaks said code, any troop can (and should) step in to defuse the situation. That being said, every unit functions on their own SOPs while downrange and there’s always going to be a smart-ass butterbar who raises hell about not being saluted in a combat zone.
Don’t worry, though. This guy will probably have a a “totally legitimate” copy of all the seasons of ‘Game of Thrones’ on DVD.
(Official Marine Corps Photo by Eric S. Wilterdink)
Everything you’re going to miss out on
Being deployed is kind of like being put in a time capsule when it comes to pop culture. Any movie or television show that you would normally be catching the night of the release is going to end up on a long checklist of things to catch up on later.
To make matters worse, troops today still have an internet connection — just not a very good one. So, if some big thing happened on that show you watch, it’s going to get spoiled eventually because people assume that, after a few weeks, it’s all fair game to discuss. Meanwhile, you’re still 36 weeks away from seeing it yourself.
You’d think this isn’t comfy. But it is.
Sleep (or lack thereof)
Some doctors say that seven to nine hours of sleep are required for the human body to function. You will soon laugh in the face of said doctors. You’ll be at your physical peak and do just fine on five hours of constantly interrupted sleep.
War is very loud and missions occur at all hours of the day. What this means is just as soon as you get tucked in for the night, you’re going to hear a chopper buzz your tent while a barely-working generator keeps turning over which is then drowned out by the sounds of artillery going off. Needless to say, when the eventual IDF siren goes off, you’ll legitimately debate whether you should get out of bed or sleep through it.
Ever wonder why so many troops make stupid films while in the sandbox? Because we’re bored out of our freakin’ minds!
The fact that you’re actually working 12-hour days won’t bother you. The fact that you’re going to get an average of five hours of sleep won’t bother you. Those remaining seven hours of your day are what will drive you insane.
You could go to the gym and get to looking good for your eventual return stateside. You could pick up a hobby, like learning to play the guitar, but you’d only be kidding yourself. 75 percent of your time will be spent in the smoke pit (regardless if you smoke or not) and the other trying to watch whatever show is on at the DFAC.
“Oh, look! It seems like everyone came back from deployment!”
All that money (and nothing to spend it on)
Think of that episode of The Twilight Zone where the world’s end comes and that one dude just wants to read his books. He finally finds a library but — plot twist — he breaks his glasses and learns that life is unfair. That’s basically how it feels when troops finally get deployment money. It’ll be a lot more than usual, since combat pay and all those other incentives are awesome, but it’s not like you can really spend any of it while in Afghanistan.
If you’re married, that money you’re be making is going to be used to take care of your family. Single troops will just keep seeing their bank accounts rise until they blow it all in one weekend upon returning.
It was only a matter of time before the current climate of unrest led back to the U.S. military — and its 10 Army bases named for Confederate generals, all spread throughout the former Confederacy.
Whether to rename them continues to be a contentious political issue, but the practical-minded among us have moved on. If they are renamed, what will they be called?
So, without once using the term “Forty McFortFace,” here are a few suggestions — some entirely serious, some very not — for changing those 10 antiquated base names.
1. Fort Benning (Georgia)
This Columbus, Georgia, base was named after Confederate Gen. Henry L. Benning, who fought against the Union armies at the Second Battle of Bull Run, Antietam and Gettysburg. It was named for him in 1918, while many Civil War veterans were still alive. That doesn’t mean it needs to keep the name.
For sheer coolness factor, the base could be renamed for former NFL Wide Receiver Calvin Johnson, whose hometown is just an hour away from Columbus. Enemies would think twice if they knew they would be facing soldiers from Fort Megatron.
They both also have a lot of touchdowns. (U.S. Army photo by Ismael Ortega)
In all seriousness, though, renaming Fort Benning will likely be the easiest rechristening of this whole list, as the military’s basic paratrooper training is conducted here. The base could be named for Maj. General William C. Lee, the “Father of the U.S. Airborne,” and the first commander of the Army’s “jump school.”
Naming it “Fort William C. Lee” isn’t weird, either. Just ask the residents of Fort George G. Meade.
2. Fort Lee (Virginia)
So what to do with Fort Lee, Virginia, now that Fort William C. Lee is in Georgia? The current Fort Lee was named for Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. Even though the federal government seized his estate and turned it into Arlington National Cemetery, it still somehow thought it appropriate to name a base after him.
Robert E. Lee, history’s most undeservingly beloved loser.
A decent thing to do would be to name the base, once a training center for the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), after the WAC’s first director, Oveta Culp Hobby. As the WAC accepted women of all races, it would be a fitting rebranding effort. Gen. Douglas MacArthur did call the WACs “his best soldiers,” after all.
If that doesn’t garner enough support, renaming the installation for Lee’s famous adversary should. Situated in the greater Richmond region, renaming Fort Lee to Fort Grant would send a positive message to the people who look up to the U.S. Army. Grant owned one slave in his life, acquired from his father-in-law, and set the man free in less than a year.
3. Fort Bragg (North Carolina)
Besides being named for a Confederate general, Fort Bragg should be renamed because it’s the home of Army Special Forces, the 75th Ranger Regiment and the Air Force Combat Control School — and it’s named for American history’s worst general.
Is this who we want the home of Army Special Forces to be named for?
Lemme answer that for you: No. (U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Isaac Johnson)
There are a bevy of candidates that would be better suited for the name of such a place. “The President of the Underground Railroad,” Levi Coffin, got his start helping fugitive slaves in Greensboro, North Carolina. “Fort Coffin,” however, sounds, well … So maybe that’s a no.
Then there’s Hiram Revels, born a free man in Fayetteville, he helped organize two regiments of the then-called United States Colored Troops and served as their chaplain. Later, he became the first African American U.S. senator, representing Mississippi.
Fort Revels sounds like a name appropriate for a base in Fayettenam.
4. Fort Hood (Texas)
This Killeen, Texas-based installation is named for John Bell Hood, a Confederate who wasn’t even from Texas. Known for his bravery, all that bravado didn’t help him even slow down Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman on his way to burn down the South and everything they loved. Surely, Texans have a number of people they would prefer to honor over a Confederate. It’s Texas. TEXAS.
For starters, how about the most decorated soldier who ever lived, a World War II Medal of Honor recipient born in Kingston, Texas, who went from enlisted man to officer, then starred in the hit movie about his own life: Audie Murphy.
Fort Murphy would have much better pedigree than Fort Hood, named for a general who peaked before the Civil War was even halfway over.
5. Fort Polk (Louisiana)
What does one rename the most reviled duty station in all of the U.S. Army? Surely, we can honor someone other than a guy with no previous military experience whose Civil War claim to fame is that he died in it.
Louisiana is one of the most unique states in the Union, with a history unlike any other. But again, for sheer coolness factor, we could rename this for Union Col. Algernon Sidney Badger. Badger was from Massachusetts but served at the Battle of Mobile Bay and ended up in Louisiana. He liked it so much, he stayed there when the war was over. Plus, the symbolism of a badger killing a snake is too good to pass up.
Who wouldn’t want to be stationed at Fort Badger?
But the top candidate for Fort Polk‘s new name has to be William C.C. Claiborne, the first American governor of Louisiana. He was conciliatory toward native tribes under his jurisdiction and tried to secure clemency for the captured organizers of the largest slave revolt in U.S. history. He also negotiated for the help of the pirate Jean Lafitte for the defense of New Orleans during the War of 1812.
Fort Polk is dead. Long live Fort Claiborne.
6. Fort Gordon (Georgia)
Only in the old Confederacy could you be hailed a hero upon your return from losing a war. Besides getting that particular participant trophy, John Brown Gordon’s career can’t be discussed without mentioning how many times he was wounded in action.
This photo would be more accurate if you could see the four wounds on his head.
This installation also housed Camp Crockett, a training area for special operators and airborne troops preparing for action during the Vietnam War. It would be an easy historical nod to American legend Davy Crockett, who fought against the Indian Removal Act and later died fighting at the Alamo. If we want to stick to soldiers of the U.S. Army, Fort Gordon is notable because Alvin York, the famed conscientious objector-turned Medal of Honor recipient in World War I, was trained here.
Fort York has a nice ring to it. But Fort Flipper would be more appropriate.
Georgia was home to Henry O. Flipper, the first African American graduate of West Point. Can you imagine the level of harassment this man endured? Commissioned and sent to the frontier areas, he did his job well until he was improperly accused of embezzling quartermaster funds and court-martialed, an injustice to which the Army later admitted. President Bill Clinton would later pardon him.
7. Fort Pickett (Virginia)
Fort Pickett is a National Guard Base in Virginia named after a guy who led one of the most ill-advised infantry charges in history. Not just in American history, but all of world history. While Maj. Gen. George Pickett didn’t order the charge at Gettysburg (Robert E. Lee did, despite all advice against it), his name got slapped on it, whether he liked it or not.
Just like no one cares what they called meat on bread before the 4th Earl of Sandwich started passing them out on card night.
Pickett’s charge led to the defeat of the Confederacy at Gettysburg, a loss from which the South couldn’t recover and ultimately ended their war with loss. And we named a base after him.
A much better choice for the name of the fort would probably be Gibbon, named for Brig. Gen. John Gibbon, commander of the Union forces who stopped Pickett’s part of the infamous charge.
But since this is a base belonging to the Virginia National Guard, they might want to name it after a Virginian. Luckily, there’s no shortage of good Virginians, and two of them are giants of the U.S. Army’s history. Gen. Douglas MacArthur considered Norfolk his home, and Gen. George C. Marshall, Army chief of staff during World War II, attended the Virginia Military Institute.
Pick one, Virginia.
8. Fort A.P. Hill (Virginia)
Then, use the other one to rename Fort A.P. Hill.
Although one of the more capable commanders on the list, this Confederate general’s accomplishments include not being Stonewall Jackson, getting shot seven days before the war ended and having gonorrhea for 21 years.
9. Fort Rucker (Alabama)
Fort Rucker is named for Col. Edmund Rucker, a Confederate Army chef who designed a way for Confederate troops to live on eating grass. While that’s not even remotely true, no one outside of Fort Rucker knows that or cares to Google it. Rucker wasn’t even from Alabama, he just made a lot of money there.
The first suggestion for renaming the base goes to Gen. Oliver W. Dillard, the fifth African American flag officer in Army history, the first black intelligence general and a National Intelligence Hall of Famer. He joined during World War II and served through Korea, Vietnam and most of the Cold War.
But if time in service is what we’re looking for, look no further than Alabama’s own Sgt. Maj. Gilbert “Hashmark” Johnson. Johnson first enlisted in the Army in 1923 and was discharged as a corporal six years later. After four years as a civilian, he again enlisted, this time in the Navy. “Hashmark” was aboard the USS Wyoming when it was attacked at Pearl Harbor. Later that year, he was one of the first black men to join the United States Marine Corps.
If there’s a problem with an Army base named for a Marine, look at who it’s named for now, then look at this photo of Hashmark. (U.S. Marine Corps)
Johnson spent another 17 years in the Corps, with a total of 32 years in service. He earned the name “Hashmark” because he had more service stripes than stripes indicating his rank. Welcome to Fort Hashmark.
10. Camp Beauregard (Louisiana)
Louisiana’s National Guard runs this base, named for Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, one of the South’s most able commanders — and one who would end up arguing for racial cooperation after the Civil War’s end.
While that’s admirable, there’s a good chance he just wanted the votes of newly freed black men against Reconstruction-era radical Republicans, so let’s not go crazy about how reconstructed Beauregard was. If we’re going to choose a Louisianan with questionable motives, let’s name the camp after the aforementioned pirate Jean Lafitte.
Who wears the same facial expression as your First Sergeant.
Lafitte turned from sailor/pirate/merchant to soldier in nearly a heartbeat to help the Americans defend the port city of New Orleans from outside attack, and if that doesn’t sound like the National Guard, I don’t know what does.
William “Bill” Watts, Sr., earned numerous awards during his service, which included tours in Egypt and Korea and service as a Gulf War combat Veteran. But the reward he values most today is the one he receives as an advocate helping his fellow Gulf War Veterans with their individual challenges.
“I am in favor of Veterans helping Veterans. Quality of life begins with quality of health care,” said Watts. Watts’ work with Veterans has earned him the Congressional Veterans Commendation Award. His work includes volunteering with Veterans in his community and meeting with researchers and health professionals to make sure that the health concerns of Gulf War Veterans are recognized and addressed.
Watts (photo above) and others are now marking the 30th anniversary of their Gulf War service. Watts served in the U.S. Army from 1989 to 1996. He was in the 4/5 ADA 1st Cavalry Division, 2nd Infantry Division, 24th Infantry Division and 3rd Infantry Division.
Fishing the Everglades to reduce stress
One of Watts’ passions is helping Veterans manage their health problems by finding non-drug alternatives. As a resident of the South Florida city of Doral, he volunteers with the non-profit Fishing with America’s Finest and also serves as the group’s director of operations. Fishing with America’s Finest takes combat Veterans bass fishing in the Florida Everglades to help reduce the stress and anxiety from PTSD.
“We try to teach them to the point that they can go on fishing tournaments if they want to.” He is also a team member of Dive4Vets, a group that takes Veterans who suffer from physical and mental health issues scuba diving to help to heal. Watts is eligible for the Gulf War Registry and Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pits Registry and enrolled many years ago.
Researching the health of Gulf War Veterans
Watts understands that some Gulf War Veterans are older. They may not be comfortable with completing an online-only registry like the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry. A local Environmental Health Coordinator can help with this process.
Days after he was removed from his position as commanding officer of a Navy aircraft carrier, Capt. Brett Crozier has reportedly tested positive for the coronavirus illness he warned was spreading rampantly on his ship.
Navy officials did not immediately respond to questions about the officer’s condition.
Crozier was recently relieved of command after a letter he wrote to Navy leaders was leaked to the media. In his letter, he pleaded with Navy leaders to evacuate his carrier to help slow the spread of COVID-19 among the crew.
“Sailors do not need to die,” Crozier wrote in a letter that was later published by the San Francisco Chronicle. “If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our Sailors.”
Top Navy leaders first told reporters Wednesday that, while they wished the letter hadn’t made its way to the press, unless Crozier was found to have leaked it, he was not out of line in speaking up about the situation on the ship.
About 24 hours later, Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly reversed course and announced that Crozier had been relieved of command. That was despite Modly saying it was not known whether Crozier had, in fact, leaked the letter to the media.
Modly said Crozier had copied people outside of his chain of command when emailing the candid letter. The acting Navy secretary said the captain caused unnecessary panic on and off the ship,and, for that reason, Modly said, he lost confidence in Crozier’s ability to lead.
David Ignatius, a columnist for The Washington Post, reported this weekend that Modly told a colleague ahead of the relief that President Donald Trump wanted Crozier fired. Modly told reporters Thursday he faced no outside pressure, including from the White House, on the decision to remove Crozier from his position as the Roosevelt’s commanding officer.
Since Crozier’s letter was made public, the Navy has been working to move thousands of sailors off the carrier and into hotel rooms and other locations on Guam while the ship is cleaned and disinfected.
Modly said Thursday that 114 members of the Roosevelt’s crew had tested positive for COVID-19. As of Friday, the Navy had 372 coronavirus cases among uniformed personnel. That amounted to nearly 40% of the military’s 978 cases at the time.
In his letter, Crozier warned that the number of cases on the ship was likely to get much higher, citing tight living quarters, shared restrooms, and food that was prepared by people who’d been exposed to the virus.
COVID-19 has caused a global health crisis as cases worldwide have surged past 1 million, killing more than 65,000 people.
Leaked audio recordings said to be of Russian mercenaries in Syria capture expressions of lament and humiliation over a battle in early February 2018 involving US forces and Russian nationals.
Published by Polygraph.info — a fact-checking website produced by Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, news organizations that receive funding from the US government — the audio recordings paint a picture of Russian mercenaries essentially sent to die in an ill-conceived advance on a US-held position in Syria. Polygraph says the audio recordings are from a source close to the Kremlin.
The Pentagon has described the attack as “unprovoked” and started by forces loyal to the Syrian government that crossed over the Euphrates River, which functions as a border between US-backed troops and Russian-backed ones.
The Pentagon says that about 500 men began to fire on the position and that the US responded with air power and artillery strikes. The audio from Polygraph seems to confirm that while giving some insight into the feelings of the defeated forces.
Also apparent in the audio is displeasure with how Russia has responded to the situation. Initially, Russia denied that its citizens took part in the clash. Later, a representative said five may have died. Last week, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the fight left “several dozen wounded” and that some had died.
The audio recordings, in which voices can be heard saying 200 people died “right away,” appear to back up reports from Reuters, Bloomberg, and the Pentagon that roughly 100 — if not more — Russians died in the fight. Reuters has cited sources as saying the advance’s purpose was to test the US’s response.
Russia is thought to use military contractors in Syria rather than its military — experts speculate it’s to maintain deniability for acts of war and conceal the true cost of fighting from the Russian people. The Washington Post reported last week that US intelligence reports with intercepted communications showed that a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin told a senior Syrian official he “secured permission” from the Kremlin before the advance on the US forces.
The accounts in the audio also align with reports of how the battle went down, depicting an unprepared column of troops meeting an overwhelming air response before helicopter gunships strafed the remaining ones.
Here are the translated transcripts from Polygraph:
“The reports that are on TV about … well, you know, about Syria and the 25 people that are wounded there from the Syrian f— army and — well … to make it short, we’ve had our asses f— kicked. So one squadron f— lost 200 people … right away, another one lost 10 people … and I don’t know about the third squadron, but it got torn up pretty badly, too … So three squadrons took a beating … The Yankees attacked … first they blasted the f— out of us by artillery, and then they took four helicopters up and pushed us in a f— merry-go-round with heavy caliber machine guns … They were all shelling the holy f— out of it, and our guys didn’t have anything besides the assault rifles … nothing at all, not even mentioning shoulder-fired SAMs or anything like that … So they tore us to pieces for sure, put us through hell, and the Yankees knew for sure that the Russians were coming, that it was us, f— Russians … Our guys were going to commandeer an oil refinery, and the Yankees were holding it … We got our f— asses beat rough, my men called me … They’re there drinking now … many have gone missing … it’s a total f— up, it sucks, another takedown … Everybody, you know, treats us like pieces of s— … They beat our asses like we were little pieces of s— … but our f— government will go in reverse now, and nobody will respond or anything, and nobody will punish anyone for this … So these are our casualties.”
“Out of all vehicles, only one tank survived and one BRDM [armored reconnaissance vehicle] after the attack, all other BRDMs and tanks were destroyed in the first minutes of the fight, right away.”
“Just had a call with a guy — so they basically formed a convoy, but did not get to their f— positions by some 300 meters. One unit moved forward, the convoy remained in place, about 300 meters from the others. The others raised the American f— flag, and their artillery started f— ours really hard. Then their f— choppers flew in and started f— everybody. Ours just running around. Just got a call from a pal, so there are about 215 f— killed. They simply rolled ours out f— hard. Made their point. What the f— ours were hoping for in there?! That they will f— run away themselves? Hoped to f— scare them away? Lots of people f— so bad [they] can’t be f— ID’d. There was no foot soldiers [on the American side]; they simply f— our convoy with artillery.”
The last words of a heroic Iraqi interpreter who sacrificed himself to save American soldiers from a suicide bomber were: “Take care of my son. Take care of my wife.” US Special Forces troops are now fighting to honor that dying request.
When a suicide bomber detonated his vest during a vehicle inspection near the Syrian border in September 2007, Barakat Ali Bashar put himself between the bomber and then-Staff Sgt. Jay McBride. Bashar, a new father of only a week, was critically wounded in the attack, and he died at a military hospital in Mosul.
Bashar “had dozens of ball bearings in his body causing injuries that nobody could have survived,” McBride, a former medic, told Stars and Stripes, adding, “I owe him my life.”
Bashar, described as “kind of young and a little more western than your typical Iraqi,” served as an interpreter for US Special Forces fighting Al Qaeda in northern Iraq. After his death, his family received some financial compensation from the US government, but they remained in Iraq, a country later overrun by the Islamic State.
The family, already a target because of their Yazidi heritage, was also in danger because of Bashar’s work with the US military. They fled their home near Mount Sinjar, leaving behind their personal possessions and all evidence Bashar had served with the US Army, and headed to a refugee camp in Kurdistan, where they still live today. Bashar’s family emailed Stars and Stripes and revealed that they live in constant fear.
One of the problems encountered during the visa application process was the lack of proof that Bashar had served with the US military. The family has since obtained written proof that Bashar “was declared dead in a U.S. Army hospital and he was an interpreter who served with [U.S. forces].” They are awaiting a follow-up interview with the State Department.
McBride and other US veterans have been writing letters and petitions in support of the family’s special visa application since 2015. “Is this how you treat a family of someone who worked five years with the U.S. Army; someone who was loyal to the U.S. and Iraq; someone who gave his life serving with U.S. Army soldiers and trying to protect them?” McBride told Stars and Stripes, adding that he would happily put the family up at his house if that was an option.
Bashar “never faltered in his commitment to help American forces, even after his family was threatened and their names were placed on a list that was circulated around the region describing him as a traitor for supporting American forces,” Sgt. 1st Class Michael Swett, another Special Forces soldier, wrote in support of the family. “He believed in the American dream even more than we did. Unfortunately, [Bashar] never realized his opportunity to see the country that he sacrificed so much for.”
“We, the people of the United States of America, put this family at risk and I feel it is our duty as a civilized nation to [ensure] their safety,” Army Master Sgt. Todd West wrote in a separate letter.
Featured image: U.S. Army Pfc. Jacob Paxson and Pfc. Antonio Espiricueta, both from Company B (“Death Dealers”), 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, attached to Task Force 1st Battalion, 35th Armored Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, provide security from a street corner during a foot patrol in Tameem, Ramadi, Iraq.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis, a 10th Mountain Soldier who gave his life shielding Polish Army Lieutenant Karol Cierpica from a suicide bomber while deployed to Afghanistan in 2013, was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross by the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. James McConville, during a ceremony on Staten Island, New York June 8.
The Distinguished Service Cross is the second highest military honor that can be awarded to a member of the United States Army.
“Every generation has its heroes,” McConville said during his remarks. “Michael Ollis is one of ours.”
Robert Ollis, the father of Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis, greets Karol Cierpica, the Polish army lieutenant who Michael Ollis gave his life for on June 8, 2019 outside the Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis Veterans of Foreign War post on Staten Island, N.Y.
(Photo Credit: Sgt. Jerod Hathaway)
Staff Sgt. Ollis’s father and sister, Robert Ollis and Kimberly Loschiavo, received the award from McConville at a Veterans of Foreign War post named in Ollis’s honor.
“Through the tears, we have to tell the story of Karol and Michael,” said Robert Ollis during the ceremony. “They just locked arms and followed each other. They didn’t worry about what language or what color it was. It was two battle buddies, and that’s what Karol and Michael did. To help everyone on that FOB they possibly could.”
The Distinguished Service Cross ceremony, held in a small yard just outside the VFW post, was packed with veterans, friends and Family members who all came to honor him.
Robert Ollis, the father of Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis, talks with General James C. McConville on June 8, 2019 inside the Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis Veterans of Foreign War Post on Staten Island, N.Y.
(Photo Credit: Sgt. Jerod Hathaway)
“I was privileged to serve with Michael and Karol when I was the 101st Airborne Division commanding general in Regional Command East while they were deployed,” said McConville. “Their actions that day in August against a very determined enemy saved many, many lives.”
To close out the weekend, a 5 kilometer run will be held to commemorate the memory of Staff Sgt. Ollis and to raise money for veterans.
On Thursday, U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors intercepted a pair of Russian military planes as they entered into America’s Alaska air defense identification zone (ADIZ), just days after conducting similar intercepts of Russian bombers in the same region. This time, the Russian aircraft, which were both reportedly IL-38 maritime patrol planes, had come within 50 miles of the Alaskan island of Unimak and then proceeded to spend a full four hours in the area.
A pair of F-22s, America’s most capable air superiority fighters, intercepted the Russian planes and escorted them out of the area. Thursday’s intercept marks the fifth time American fighters had to shoo Russian bombers and other aircraft away from U.S. Air Space this month, and the ninth time this year. A number of those intercepts included Russia’s Tu-95 long range, nuclear capable, heavy payload bombers, as well as Su-35 fighter escorts.
Russian Su-35 (WikiMedia Commons)
The Su-35 is a fourth-generation fighter, meaning it lacks stealth capabilities, but is still regarded as among the most capable dogfighting platforms on the planet. The Su-35’s powerful twin engines are capable of propelling the fighter to a top speed of Mach 2.25, far faster than an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and each comes equipped with thrust vectoring nozzles that allow the aircraft to perform incredible acrobatics that most other fourth and even fifth generation fighters simply can’t.
That is to say that Russia is clearly taking these incursions into America’s backyard seriously, sending some of their most capable platforms on these missions.
America’s F-22 Raptor, however, also comes equipped with twin, thrust vectoring power plants, which in conjunction with its stealth capabilities, likely makes the F-22 the most fearsome air superiority fighter on the planet.
Are Russian bomber intercepts common for the U.S. or its allies?
The short answer is yes. The United States and Russia have a long history of staring matches in the Alaskan ADIZ, but many other nations, particularly members of NATO, often mount their own intercept flights as Russian pilots encroach on their air space as well.
USAF F-22 Raptor intercepting a Russian Tu-95 bomber near Alaska earlier this month. (NORAD)
Russia regularly conducts long-distance bomber missions all over the world, sometimes prompting an intercept response from nations that feel threatened by their bomber presence. According to the BBC, Royal Air Force intercept fighters have ushered away Russian bombers and other aircraft encroaching on their airspace no fewer than ten times since the beginning of 2019.
What is Russia trying to accomplish?
Like many military operations, these flights are motivated by multiple internal and external factors.
Training and Preparation
The primary reason behind these long-range flights, particularly for heavy payload bombers, is simply training. In order to be able to execute these long range bombing missions in the event of real war, Russian pilots conduct training flights that closely resemble how actual combat operations would unfold.
It’s worth noting that the United States conducts similar long-range training flights with its own suite of heavy payload bombers, including the non-nuclear B-1B Lancer and the nuclear capable B-52 Stratofortress. Long duration missions can be dangerous and difficult even without an enemy shooting back at you — so it’s in the best interest of nations with long range bomber capabilities to regularly conduct long range flights.
Long range missions require a great deal of logistical planning as well, as bombers are often accompanied by fighters that don’t have the same fuel range as the massive planes they escort. That means not only coordinating with escort fighters from multiple installations, but also managing support from airborne refuelers and flights of Advanced Warning and Control (AWAC) planes. Executing such a complex operation takes practice, no matter the nation conducting them.
An important part of Russia’s foreign policy is maintaining the threat they represent to diplomatic opponents (like the United States and its NATO allies). Deterrence is the ultimate goal of many military operations, and demonstrating the capability to launch long-range strikes against national opponents is meant to support that doctrine.
The concept of using a strong offense as a good defense dates back to when mankind first starting sharpening sticks to defend their territory, and is perhaps best demonstrated in a modern sense by America and Russia’s nuclear deterrent approach of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). The premise behind MAD is simple: by maintaining a variety of nuclear attack capabilities, it makes stopping a nuclear response to an attack all but impossible. In other words, if the U.S. launch nuclear weapons at Russia, Russia would be guaranteed to fire their own back at the U.S., and vice versa.
The promise that one nuclear attack would immediately result in a large-scale nuclear war is seen as deterrent enough to keep nuclear powers from engaging in such a terrible form of warfare… at least thus far.
The third, and perhaps most nefarious, reason behind these flights that prompt intercepts from U.S. or allied fighters is as a means of desensitizing military personnel and even civilian populations to the presence of Russian bombers or other aircraft on our doorstep.
Because each of these flights prompts a flurry of headlines form major media outlets, many Americans have taken to dismissing these flights as so commonplace they hardly warrant the webspace. Likewise within the military, conducting frequent intercepts of Russian aircraft can leave some pilots and commanders increasingly complacent about the threat these aircraft potentially pose.
Imagine a bear breaking into your trash can every couple of months. The first few times, you’d be pretty scared and concerned. You might even set up cameras and invest in some bear-spray you can use to deter the bears from coming back. After a few months of sporadic bear visits, that fear turns to annoyance, as you begin to feel as though the bear isn’t a threat to you, but is an inconvenience in your life.
After years of dealing with the same bear digging through your trash, you would likely stop seeing the bear as a threat to your safety and adopt a more neutral approach to rolling your eyes and swearing under your breath every time it comes lumbering up to your old trash can.
The bear itself is no less dangerous to you than it was the first time you saw it and panicked, but your perception of the bear has shifted. Now, while you’re aware that it could hurt you, you’ve also developed an understanding that it probably won’t. You may even start to ignore it from time to time. That unintentional complacency brought about through familiarization will leave you less primed to react if the bear suddenly does pose a threat to your safety.
The slight delay in your response, brought about by complacency, could be all the bear needs to do some real damage. The same can be said about Russian Tu-95 Bear bombers.
How to combat complacency with a Russian “Bear” in your yard
Complacency isn’t just a concern when it comes to Russian aircraft or curious bears. Letting your guard down is a constant concern for service members on the front lines of any conflict.
Military protocol is one powerful tool in the fight against complacency, because it mandates a threat response and outlines its proper execution. In other words, the U.S. Military doesn’t have to make any specific decisions at the onset of identifying a potential threat. Instead, they execute the tasks on their threat response checklist to gather vital information, prepare a response, and in these cases, intercept the bombers.
USAF F-22 intercepts Russian bomber (NORAD)
In this way, America can turn the potential threat of complacency into a valuable training operation, wherein U.S. personnel act as though this Russian bomber flight could be a real attack. Of course, the risk of complacency remains, but that’s why continuous training and preparation is an essential part of American defense.
Whether it’s Russian bombers or a wayward Grizzly, if you treat every interaction like it could be dangerous, you’ll be better prepared in the event that it is.
Iran says it has informed the UN nuclear agency that it has launched the process of increasing its capacity to enrich uranium in case the 2015 agreement that curbed its nuclear program collapses.
Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi, who heads the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, said on June 5, 2018, that a letter was handed to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna to inform it of the decision.
But he also said Iran will continue adhering to the 2015 nuclear deal and that the country’s nuclear activities will remain within the limits set by the accord.
In May 2018, President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the deal that set strict limits on Iran’s uranium enrichment in return for the lifting of international sanctions.
Photo by Gage Skidmore
The other signatories to the accord — Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany — said they remain committed to the deal. Iran for now also is honoring the agreement.
“If conditions allow, maybe tomorrow night at [the Natanz enrichment plant], we can announce the opening of the center for production of new centrifuges,” Salehi said, quoted by the semiofficial Fars news agency.
This “does not mean that we will start assembling the centrifuges,” he insisted.
Salehi said the move was in line with instructions from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has ordered preparations for the resumption of unlimited uranium enrichment should the nuclear deal — known by the acronym JCPOA — fall apart.
“If the JCPOA collapses…and if we decide to assemble new centrifuges, we will assemble new-generation…centrifuges. However, for the time being, we move within the framework of the JCPOA,” Salehi said.
During a visit to Paris, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Iranian plan to increase its nuclear-enrichment capacity was aimed at producing nuclear weapons to be used against Israel, its archrival.
“We are not surprised [by Iran’s announcement],” he said in a video statement. “We will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.”
Tehran insists its nuclear program is for civilian use.
The nuclear agreement allows Iran to continue 3.67 percent uranium enrichment, far below the roughly 90 percent threshold of weapons-grade.
Days after President Vladimir Putin threatened the US, a Russian state TV channel pinpointed places in the US that Russia would target in a nuclear war with its new Zircon missile, said to travel at up to nine times the speed of sound, according to Reuters.
The targets listed in Russia-1’s broadcast on Feb. 24, 2019, were the Pentagon, Camp David, Jim Creek Naval Radio Station in Washington, Fort Ritchie in Maryland, and McClellan Air Force Base in California, according to Reuters and the Russian media outlet Sputnik. The latter two have been closed for about two decades, making them odd choices, Sputnik said.
Russia-1 claimed that the Zircon missile Russia is developing could strike critical US targets less than five minutes after launch, Reuters reported. Fired from a submarine, a hypersonic weapon can cover great distance very quickly; however, Russia’s claims concerning its new weapon are impossible to verify.
Tensions have been flaring between the US and Russia since the two countries in early 2019 walked away from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a Cold War-era nuclear arms agreement that NATO and the US have accused Russia of violating. Observers have said the collapse of this bilateral pact risks escalating an arms race between the two nuclear powers.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and United States President Donald Trump.
Russia is particularly concerned about the possibility that the US will position new missiles in Europe. Washington has said it has no plans to do so, but its backing out of the treaty frees it to develop and eventually deploy these weapons to Europe if it deems such actions necessary.
Putin had claimed Russia would respond to any US move to deploy missiles closer to Europe by sending its missiles closer to the US, a threat that the US State Department dismissed as propaganda.
In his state-of-the-nation address on Feb. 20, 2019, Putin threatened to target countries housing the missiles and US decision-making centers with new weapons if the US were to take that step.
It was during that speech that the president unveiled the Zircon missile, a hypersonic weapon he said could fly at nine times the speed of sound and strike targets 620 miles away.
Putin also said Russia was ready for a “Cuban missile-style crisis” if the US wants one, adding that Russia could arm its submarines with hypersonic weapons and let them lurk off the US’s coast, Reuters reported.