Former Marine officer Elliot Ackerman is now an accomplished author living in Istanbul, but prior to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he considered himself a “fortunate son” of privilege who chose to serve while many of his peers did not.
“The best and the brightest didn’t show up for Vietnam. And I understand. I get that it was an unpopular war,” he told photographer Brandon Stanton for his popular Humans of New York project. “But they chose to not show up and there was a consequence for that. There were leadership failures. Standards were lowered and people were killed because of bad decisions.”
He graduated from Tufts University in 2003 and decided to join the Marine Corps as an infantry officer. He was assigned as a platoon commander in 1st Battalion, 8th Marines.
“I was a fortunate son of this country,” Ackerman told Stanton. “I went to a private school. I graduated from a great college. A lot of the guys who served under me didn’t have those advantages. They relied on me to make tough decisions in dangerous situations. And I’m glad I was there to make those decisions.”
One of those tough decisions came in Nov. 2004, during the bloody second Battle of Fallujah during the Iraq War. He and his platoon of 45 men moved across a highway in the middle of the night on Nov. 10 to establish a fighting position in what they called “the candy store.”
It was only about 150 meters away from the rest of his company.
“The guys were excited at first because the place was filled with chips and soda,” he said. “And we were starving and thirsty. But all hell broke loose when the sun came up.”
At dawn, the insurgents had figured out where they were and surrounded them, while opening fire on the platoon with everything they had. The Marines were getting razed by AK-47 and RPG fire from all sides, with every exit blocked.
“You couldn’t even poke your head out,” he said. “We were pinned down all day. And suddenly my company commander is on the radio saying that we’ve got to advance. And I’m shouting into the radio over the gunfire that we’re probably going to die if we leave the store. I’m shouting so loud and for so long that I lost my voice for four days. But he’s saying that we have no choice.”
He repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire while trying to pull wounded Marines to safety, and coordinated four separate medical evacuations, despite being wounded by shrapnel himself.
In order to get out, he ordered his men to set up explosives on a back wall. Once it blew, he and his men — with nearly half the platoon having been wounded — were able to escape, alive.
“Twenty-five guys were wounded, but everyone survived,” he said. “A lot of that was luck. And a lot of that was our platoon and how good those guys were. But I also feel that my decisions mattered that day. And if I had decided not to serve, and stayed home, it could’ve ended much worse. So no, I don’t have any regrets about going to Iraq.”
Humans of New York is featuring a number of stories from veterans on its page, in partnership with non-profit The Headstrong Project (Full disclosure: The author is a friend of the executive director).
A U.S. commander in Alaska has expressed concern about Russia’s recent military buildup in the Arctic, saying it threatens the historically peaceful region.
“What concerns me about Russia is not that they have icebreakers and not that 25 percent of their economy is based in the Arctic. It’s the offensive military capability that they are adding to their force that’s Arctic-capable,” Air Force Lieutenant General Ken Wilsbach told the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce on May 25.
“If you really want to keep the Arctic a peaceful place where heretofore it has been, then why are you building offensive capabilities?” he asked. “My question is, are the Russians taking a page out of the Chinese playbook…whereby they declare an area is now Chinese sovereign territory [and] have overwhelming military force in that area?”
On the growing threat from North Korea, he said that while Pyongyang had been test-firing missiles that have an increasing capacity to reach parts of Alaska, the United States had “strong defensive capabilities” to deal with them.
Based on reporting by AP and the Fairbanks Daily News Miner
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) demonstrated a new Android tablet app where an Air Force Joint Terminal Attack Controller — the guy on the ground who is an expert at calling in air strikes — was able to call in multiple close air support (CAS) strikes with an A-10, using only three strokes of a finger.
Conducted at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, the test was the first set of tests with U.S. Air Force aircraft. Earlier this year, the test were successfully conducted with Marine Corps Osprey aircraft. The Air Force tests used a mixture of laser and GPS-guided weapons, with a 100% success rate, all within the six minute test time frame.
The app — called Persistent Close Air Support — allows the JTAC on the ground to link directly with aircraft pilots, pick targets, and locate friendly forces for the inbound CAS. And you thought the Blue Force Tracker was awesome.
Watch DARPA’s PCAS video below:
It’s not science fiction. It’s what they do every day.
Essentially that means the Army now has an office with the authority to fast track technologies through the hulking, bloated, wasteful defense acquisition system that tried and failed three times to pick out something as simple as a new handgun.
Even vital systems can take 10 years to reach the field, which has greatly hamstrung the Army and made their tactics stale, predictable, and therefore vulnerable.
“Russia goes into the Ukraine and Russia goes into Syria [and] we realize that they’ve been watching us and learning from us and adapting. So we see some areas where we want to have a more pronounced ‘overmatch,”‘ Army Secretary Eric Fanning told Bloomberg News in an interview.
Fanning told Bloomberg’s Anthony Capaccio that the office would focus on “improvements to cyber operations, electronic warfare, survivability and GPS-enabled positioning, navigation and timing.”
As Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work said of the US armed forces in 2015, “our greatest advantage is the vibrant technological community in the United States, and the vibrant technological communities in our defense industrial base.”
“There’s no denying we have a troubled acquisition past,” Fanning told Bloomberg. “We are bringing all elements of the Army together,” he said of the Rapid Capabilities Office.
“We’re serious about keeping our edge, so we need to make changes in how we get soldiers the technology they need,” Fanning said in a US Army release. “The Army Rapid Capabilities Office is a major step forward, allowing us to prioritize cross-domain, integrated capabilities in order to confront emerging threats and advance America’s military dominance.”
Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei released an incendiary video this week, describing the “humiliation” the U.S. would experience if it were to invade Iran. The video reminds the viewer of the protracted American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and of Hezbollah’s perceived “victory” over Israel in 2006.
The video is as meaningful as any propaganda produced by any government – dubious at best. Iran has never started a war in the modern era. Its standing orders are to never launch a first strike and the success of the Iranian nuclear deal means we will likely not go to war with Iran anytime soon.
That does not keep Iran from trolling the United States more than any country, group, or individual (and we tend to remember that kind of sh*t talk).
Iran is the industrial, military, and economic Shia counterweight to Saudi Arabia, the preeminent Sunni monarchy in the Middle East. Iran considers the Middle East their backyard: sending money, weapons, and supplies to Shia Islamic groups in neighboring countries in an attempt to destabilize or undermine the Sunni (or secular) leadership there.
The Islamic Republic is currently projecting power all over the region, well beyond the borders of the old Persian Empire: they assist Houthi rebels in Yemen, fund and supply paramilitary organizations like Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in Iraq and Hezbollah in Syria and Lebanon as well as others, all fighting Sunni paramilitary organizations funded by members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, such as the al-Nusra Front. These Iranian-funded and Saudi-funded groups both fought U.S. troops during the Iraq War (though likely not side-by-side). The goal is to keep the fighting there, and not in Iran.
Those are the bare basics of the Sunni-Shia religious civil war everyone is always talking about. The promise of military support from the United States is one of the pillars of Saudi (and global oil market) security. Israel is the U.S.’ eternal ally. America has made promises in to fight ISIS in the region, alongside (but not with) Iranian-backed Iraqi militias, Syrian rebels, and Sunni-funded al-Qaeda groups. Now the Russians are sending more advisors and weapons to the Asad regime (which is also an Iranian client state). All this means we could be right back to where we started.
The nuclear deal also doesn’t rule out a military strike from Israel. Israel has long depended on security and defense guarantees from the United States and is not averse to starting wars with countries it deems a threat to their long-term survival. As an added bonus, Israel already has nuclear weapons.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government depends on a motley mixture of right-wing political parties and ultra-orthodox Jewish parties, who are convinced Iranian leaders want to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth, despite the fact that this phrase is a misquote from a bad translation.
And a surprise from Israel is not unheard of.
Much of Iran’s military hardware predates the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the resulting arms embargo. Because of that embargo, a lot of the Iranian defense industry is homegrown, which means the Iranians are not limited to arms deals with foreign powers.
They can build their own tanks, fighters, and subs. Anything not built in Iran or coming from Russia is likely aging very poorly. Overall defense spending is relatively minuscule, especially in comparison to the GCC.
Keep in mind, U.S. defense spending wouldn’t even fit on the scale above.
Iran has about a half million troops on active duty, not including the 125,000 in the Revolutionary Guard Corps. As the name suggests, the IRGC are the most devoted members of the Iranian military. All Iranian forces take men as young as 18, but the Basij Forces (meaning “Mobilization of the Oppressed”) will take a male as young as 15.
The Basij mainly acted as human minesweepers and led human wave attacks to great effect during the Iran-Iraq War.
The Iranian conventional forces have 4 branches: The Islamic Republic of Iran Army (IRIA), Navy (IRIN), Air Force (IRIAF), and Air Defense Force (IRIADF). Iran’s conventional military are considered “severely limited, relying heavily on obsolescent and low quality weaponry.”
The IRIA has a large tank force of over 1600 but as with other materiel, it’s aging rapidly. They are able to make their own tanks (the most recent based on the design of the M47M Patton), but not in significant numbers and the U.S. has effective anti-armor tactics.
The Iranian Air Force is currently inconsequential. 60 percent of it was purchased by the Shah before he was forced into exile in 1979 and then augmented by Iraqi fighter pilots fleeing to Iran during Desert Storm. It’s a mess, a mishmash of American, Russian, and Chinese planes with some homemade ones thrown in the mix.
The lack of spare parts for these planes caused the development of a robust aerospace industry in Iran, along with their own fighter planes, which the Iranians say can evade radar (good thing the U.S. Air Force created the ultimate dogfighter). With the sanctions being lifted, the government is already putting feelers out to modernize their aging air forces.
The Iranian Navy and Missile forces are the most important branches in its arsenal. If a war ever did break out, Iran’s first tactic would likely be to attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz in an attempt to wreak havoc on the world economy.
The Air Defense Forces consists of ground-based air defenses, using American, Italian, and Chinese surface-to-air missiles, built on Chinese Radar and electronic warfare technology. The deployment and number of Iranian SAM and other Air Defense forces is not entirely known, but reports range from porous to a “significant issue.”
The Iranian Navy is traditionally the smallest branch, numbering some 18,000, including some 2,600 naval Marines, and 2,600 naval aviation forces (but has not carriers) and boasts naval elements from China, North Korea, the former Soviet Union. It has no capital ships and the bulk of its warships are corvettes and destroyers, all heavily armed with anti-ship missiles.
They dp have home-built frigates, however, with up-to-date radar systems, arms, and electronic warfare equipment as well as many helicopters, either Italian, French, or Russian built. They even have some captured from the United States after the failure of Operation Eagle Claw.
The IRIN is augmented with Chinese fast attack ships, Russian Kilo submarines, some home-grown midget submarines which act as torpedo ships and mine layers. The Iranian fleets of patrol boats, missile ships, and mine layers could close the Strait of Hormuz for up to ten days under full attack by the U.S. military.
Much of Iranian military spending is on thousands of missiles for air defense or for attacking ships in neighboring waters. The Iranian surface-to-air missile defense system is also a mixture of American, Russian, and Chinese weapons systems. The SAM system is considered “unlikely to pose a significant threat to American or Israeli aircraft as a long-range air-denial weapon.” The entire system is vulnerable to Stealth-equipped aircraft and would need to be advanced ballistic missile systems like the Russian S-300 (which Iran claims to have).
Here are the four weapons that would cause the most trouble for the U.S. military:
1. Ghadir Midget Submarines
Built with North Korean designs, the oldest finished in 2007, the Ghadir submarine fleet was designed to be sonar evading and carry a heavy load of torpedoes and Shkval rocket torpedoes, which travel through the water at more than 370 mph. The Ghadir submarines are produced by Iran in Iran and are unaffected by the arms embargoes. The Ghadir class can also fire anti-ship missiles at the same time.
2. Sejjil Missiles
Sejil missiles are a homemade, two-stage missile, capable of hitting targets from 2,000 km (almost 1,250 miles). No one knows the exact humber of missiles in the Iranian arsenal, but numbers are estimated in the hundreds and thousands.
The Sejil is another weapon the Iranians produce in Iran which is unlikely to be affected by sanctions or arms embargoes. The solid fuel allows a shorter prep time prior to launch and since they are launched from mobile units, a massive first strike from an attacking country is unlikely to neutralize the Sejil threat.
3. Khalij-e Fars Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile
This is also a self-produced weapon of Iranian design. The Khalij-e Fars Missile has a 350 kilometer range and delivers a payload similar to that of the Sejil missile. The homemade mobile missile also features the quickness of a solid fuel missile on a mobile launch system, but has the added benefit of being able to hit a maneuvering target (such as an aircraft carrier) within ten meters.
Uzi Rubin, the designer of the Israel’s Arrow missile defense system calls this Iranian missile “a total game changer.”
Hezbollah is no longer just a ragtag group of terrorists bent on Israel’s destruction. They are a legitimate political party in Lebanon, with a well-trained, well-equipped and well-funded paramilitary organization. They are trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, the Islamic Republic’s special operations and unconventional warfare units, operating exclusively outside of Iran’s borders. The Quds Force was responsible for training most Shia militias to fight U.S. forces during the 2003-2011 Iraq War but also helped topple the Taliban government in Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11. They operate from North America to India and Scandinavia to Sub-Saharan Africa and answer directly to the Supreme Leader of Iran.
The United States considers the Quds Force and Hezbollah to be terror organizations. Hezbollah is currently bolstering the government forces of Bashar al-Asad in the ongoing Syrian Civil War. Their primary opponents are ISIS and its affiliates.
Supporting the Asad government means Hezbollah is also fighting the Free Syrian Army, U.S.-backed “moderate” rebel groups, the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front, and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). Hezbollah is such a capable force, they are able to project significant strength all the way into Iraq from its power base in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley.
It is important to remember that although the Iranian government’s extraterritorial forces have attacked U.S. forces and U.S. allies in the past, the Iranian state has never started an offensive war. Iranian military strategy is designed mainly for home defense and the direction of Quds Force operation is usually designed to keep potential threats to the Iranian regime fighting those forces as far away from Iran as possible.
Even a surgical strike against Iranian nuclear targets is likely to light the powder keg and trigger a greater regional war. A full-scale invasion of Iran would be necessary to forcefully curb the nuclear program. Iran is larger and more populous than Iraq and may require up to 75,000 troops to invade, could kill up to 15,000 U.S. troops and would cost $5.1 trillion. For the Iranians, troop casualties estimate from 300,000 to a million killed and up to 12 million people displaced. Even Israel’s own defense chiefs recommend against it. Only total war would keep Iran from getting the bomb if they wanted to.
A nuke is not what the Iranians were after. The regime’s best reason to obtain a nuclear weapon is to ensure the survival of the Revolutionary regime, for the government’s longevity to be more akin to North Korea’s rather than Ba’athist Iraq’s in the scope of the “Axis of Evil.” The Iran Deal gives the Ayatollah that longevity (and a lifting of greater sanctions) without having to expend the money and resources to build and secure a nuclear weapon, something it likely didn’t want to do in the first place.
Let’s face it. The world likes — and America loves — zombie movies.
The idea of having to fight across the countryside and through clustered cities, cutting down hordes of the undead with a shotgun is enticing.
That’s why zombie movies and video games do so well. The “Resident Evil” franchise released its sixth film 20 years after its first video game hit the market. That’s a two-decade run for, “Zombies, but like, monsters, too.”
But, sorry, Milla Jovovich fans. There is no way that a zombie outbreak is taking over the U.S. or any allied country while the American military is around. Here’s how the U.S. would respond to a zombie outbreak, shutting it down quickly.
First, let’s assume that an entire country was ravaged before America geared up, just for funsies. (But, really, military human intelligence collectors and signal intelligence should have given us the heads up before a single town was wiped out). And let’s assume it’s a country that emphatically said the U.S. military wasn’t welcome, and that’s why the outbreak went on as long as it did.
And, Russia has good topography for containing zombies. Because of the mountain ranges (in black, below) and the Arctic Circle (in red), there are only a few places where zombies could conceivably break out of Russia to threaten the rest of the world in large numbers.
So, small contingents of the Navy can patrol the Arctic and a few dozen companies of POGs can guard the mountain ranges, picking off the few zombies lucky enough to make it through the mountain passes.
But the western and southern breakout zones could be huge problems for American allies and the world as a whole.
The southern breakout zones would give the zombies access to Kazahkstan and maybe Mongolia. The western gives a large front that hits Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, and Finland. It also hits Belarus, but they hate America nearly as much as Russia does, so screw ’em.
So what could 632,000 ground combatants supported by the largest navy and the most advanced air force in the world possibly do against 130 million zombies?
Lol. They would kill an average of 205.7 zombies each, and it would be awesome.
The Navy would park multiple carriers in the Baltics and Barents seas. From there, they could fly strike aircraft and sensor platforms to find and target large clusters of zombies.
The Air Force would bring its own strike and ground attack planes as far east in Europe as they could hold the line. From there, A-10s and AC-130s would rain hot lead in support of ground pounders while B and F-series planes blanket the countryside with bombs.
Finally. Guilt-free carpet bombing is back.
And sure, none of these are the headshots needed to permanently put down a zombie. But a few hundred pounds of explosives will mess up a zombie’s legs pretty badly, as will 30 mike-mike through the chest. Pretty sure that will make the infantry and other ground maneuver forces’ jobs a little easier.
Speaking of which, the Marine Corps and Army are going to love the most entertaining range they’ve ever held. Think about it. What sucks most about range days? First, being put on target detail. And, second, having to shut down the range every time a turtle wanders by.
Guess what? No one is going to order a range halt because of a turtle when a bio menace is marching towards Paris. And there’s no need for a target detail when the targets can be lured with the sound of gunfire.
So, the Marines and soldiers basically get to call shots to each other as they gun down crippled zombies over a couple of thousand miles of the Russian border. If the engineers can wait to shoot zombies long enough to dig a couple of trenches and raise concertina obstacles, it’ll delay the already wounded zombies even further.
And don’t think the artillery and mortarmen are going to let a chance to practice against undead targets pass them by.
The biggest challenge is going to be making sure that all those cavalry, infantry, etc. have enough ammo. But remember, American logistics troops train to maintain operations in a contested environment. This time, they would have completely safe roads, railways, and rivers to use without fear of significant enemy resistance.
Hell, the operation could probably be catered.
So soldiers and Marines could simply mow down the oncoming hordes, talking the machine guns and interchanging barrels to prevent a meltdown. No Milla Jovovich needed (though she would probably be welcome on a USO tour or something).
Of course, the Navy SEALs can be used to clean out river deltas where zombies were washed downstream attempting a crossing, and the Green Berets can jump into zombie-held territory to try and train up survivors for resistance operations if they like.
But zombie operations are basically just the world’s easiest siege. None of the enemies can tunnel, or use weapons, or conduct coordinated military operations. Easy, peasy.
Being a Marine taught me the importance of giving back. But my last mission may be my most crucial: Instilling the same values in my son.
Two years ago, I was built like a tank. I’ve been built like that my entire life, having grown up as a wrestler in high school and college. Once, way back then, someone looked at me and said, “What the hell are you?”
I look much different now. It’s hard for me to speak for long periods of time, and I’m about half the size I used to be. Now, I’m happy to just get up and walk, which is a mental challenge all by itself. The guy I used to be has been destroyed by chemotherapy.
In late 2015, I was diagnosed with stage-four cholangiocarcinoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer that starts in the bile ducts. I don’t know how much time I have left; I may not even make it to my 55th birthday this December, but I’m happy that I can go knowing I’ve lived my life in complete service to others and to my family.
Except I have a teenage son, and there’s still so much to teach him.
I won’t be able to impart my wisdom to Mason as he grows up. That’s why I’m making sure he knows, now, the importance of living a life in service, like I have. The lessons are simple: Be humble, be open, and be helpful.
Growing up, my father was constantly working, which meant he wasn’t around a ton. He did the best he could though, and I considered him my best friend. But I didn’t have someone who could mentally challenge me. I got into wrestling in the seventh grade, and my coach became that person for me instead. He ended up being a formidable figure in my life, and I’m still in touch with him today.
You could tell immediately that this man had served in the military — through his mannerisms, his attention to detail, and his level of concentration. I thought, “This guy is incredible.” At an early age, my coach gave me advice that to this day I continue to take to heart:
“Don’t be a wise guy,” he would tell me. “Don’t be a showboat.”
Eventually, I joined the Marines, and that advice is what got me through basic training. Now, it’s something I teach Mason at every opportunity. We have a lot of big talks these days — especially now that I don’t know how long I have left to live — and I try to tell him who I was before the military.
I tell him not to be that guy.
When I enlisted in 1982, I was a very private person. In fact, you could say I was pretty closed off. But interaction with people is important, and you have to be open and outgoing. There is just something about being open to new experiences that makes life more meaningful. It also makes you not afraid to help people.
There is nothing more gratifying than helping others, and there are many avenues for doing that — not just through the military.
I joined the Marines after one year of college because I simply didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. In fact, the movie “An Officer and a Gentleman,” about a guy who joins the Navy, came out right before I signed up, and that shaped what I thought the military was going to be like.
I was wrong.
My time in the military wasn’t like a Richard Gere action-romance film. It was tough and it was terrifying, but it also made me grow into a man that started to think to myself, “What can I do to give back?” What the Marines did was laser-focus my attention and instilled in me the idea that, “Hey, you’re capable of a hell of a lot more than what you’re doing now.”
I left the service in 1988 and it haunted me for a long time. I just missed it so badly. I still say that the Marine Corps was the best job I ever had. But I can no longer regret leaving, because I have the best family God could give me, and I would never have met my wife and had Mason if I had stayed.
But here’s the thing: When you serve, the experience never truly leaves you; it always stays with you. Every time something tragic occurred, I would quietly shed a tear. When 9/11 happened, I was choked up watching the coverage on TV. I felt like I should be there — I needed to help.
So off I went to Ground Zero, wearing my old and dated fatigues from the ’80s, and was able to get my way onto the search and rescue team that pulled out the first five people. It was surreal; everyone had the same look on their face, much like how they talk about the empty thousand-yard stare of soldiers who served in Vietnam. There was a gray, pinkish powder in the air, like debris mixed with blood. And it covered everything.
My cancer, my family and I believe, has a direct correlation to my time helping on the pile. But I wouldn’t take any of it back, and Mason knows that.
And that’s because service is part of me, now. I tell Mason constantly that being in service is such a selfless act. It’s contributing to something bigger than yourself. It just requires humility and the willingness to be open to help others.
Luckily for me, Mason already has most of these traits. But he’s only 14 and has a lot of growing up ahead of him and will face situations where I won’t be there to talk to him.
And that is the one thing that kills me — figuratively, of course — feeling like I’ve let down my son by dying too soon.
He’s talking right now of going to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. I hope he does. He’s smart and creative, and good in science and math. I can see him being a biomechanical engineer or something similar.
But even if he doesn’t go into military, I just want him to be happy helping people. I tell him that if he sees someone who needs help, help them. It’s a really good feeling. I promise.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says Turkey may buy U.S. Patriot missile systems if conditions are right, but insists such a deal would be impossible if Washington forces Ankara to cancel its agreement to purchase S-400 antiaircraft missiles from Russia.
In an interview with Turkey’s NTV on Jan. 10, 2019, Cavusoglu said his NATO-member state will not accept the United States imposing conditions in regard to its deal to buy the Russian-made surface-to-air defense systems.
Meanwhile, in another sign of deteriorating relations between Ankara and Washington, Cavusoglu said a military operation Turkey was planning against U.S.-backed Kurdish militia in northern Syria did not depend on a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria.
Cavusoglu told NTV it was not realistic to expect the United States to collect all of the weapons it had supplied to Syrian Kurdish fighters who are viewed by Ankara as terrorists.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement in late December 2018 that he planned to withdraw some 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria stunned U.S. allies and led to the resignation of U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
(DOD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)
But U.S. national security adviser John Bolton told Turkish officials in Ankara on Jan. 8, 2019, that Turkey’s assurance it won’t attack the U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters was a “condition” for the withdrawal.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Bolton of making “a very serious mistake” with the demand.
“We cannot make any concessions in this regard,” said Erdogan, who vowed that “those involved in a terror corridor” in Syria “will receive the necessary punishment.”
The U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units form the backbone of the opposition Syrian Democratic Forces and have been fighting alongside U.S. troops against Islamic State militants in northeastern Turkey.
But Ankara insists those Syrian Kurdish fighters are linked to the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), a group that is banned in Turkey and has been considered a terrorist group by the United States since 1997.
Fortunately, the two pilots training with jets from the 57th Wing were able to eject safely and are currently receiving medical attention at the base’s Mike O’Callaghan Military Medical Center. The medical status of the pilots is unclear at this point. At the time of the crash, the weather was reported as cloudy with a light wind.
The cause of the crash is unknown, but a board has been convened to investigate.
A day prior to the A-10 crash, Iraqi student pilot Capt. Noor Falih Hizam Rasn crashed an F-16 in Southeastern Arizona. Unlike the A-10 incident, Rasn died immediately. The Iraqi Air Force owned the F-16, and Rasn was taking part in a US-run training program to help teach Iraqi pilots to fly military aircraft.
The training was conducted with the 162nd Wing of Arizona’s Air National Guard.
North Korean delegates scheduled to meet their counterparts from South Korea in the first dialogue between the countries in over two years will cross the contentious military demarcation line (MDL) separating the border, South Korean news outlet KBS reported Jan. 8.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry said that the North Korean officials will walk across the MDL at 9:30 a.m. local time to the Peace House at Panmunjom, or “truce village,” according to KBS. The walk from the MDL to the Peace House is roughly 250 meters, South Korean news outlet YTN reported.
The Peace House, located in the South Korean portion of Panmunjom, was previously used to hold talks with North Korea, including the prospect of reunifying families separated during the Korean War in the 1950’s.
The itinerary for the historic trip has been fully planned out, according to Reuters, and the discussion will focus around the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea next month, including the possibility of having North Korean athletes attend the event.
The MDL has seen escalated tensions in recent weeks, particularly due to several North Korean defections.
On Dec. 20, a “low ranking” soldier reportedly defected to South Korea, causing South Korean troops to fire warning shots towards North Korean border guards who approached the MDL in what appeared to be a search for their comrade.
In November, another defector crossed the border in a dramatic escape under a hail of gunfire. Video footage of the incident showed North Korean soldiers firing their weapons at the defector, and crossing the MDL in violation of the UN Armistice Agreement.
In November 2018, I completed a grueling three-day training for journalists and aid workers heading into countries with tenuous security situations and war zones.
I learned a ton during the training — what worst-case scenarios look like, how to avoid them, and, perhaps most important, how I might act when it hits the fan. But the most important thing I picked up was an easy-to-learn tactic anyone could use.
Held at a nondescript warehouse in suburban Maryland, the training was led by Global Journalist Security, an organization founded in 2011 to help people going to dangerous places acquire what it calls the “physical, digital, and emotional aspects of self-protection.”
I had some vague idea of what I was getting myself into. I’m traveling to Egypt, Nigeria, and Ethiopia over the next couple of months, and fellow journalists had recommended the course as preparation for the worst-case scenarios: kidnappings, terrorist attacks, active-shooter situations, and war zones. How a three-day course in suburban Maryland could credibly do that was anybody’s guess.
Training prepares people not to freeze or panic in worst-case scenarios
The chief trainers Paul Burton and Shane Bell, a former British Army sergeant and a former Australian Armed Forces elite commando respectively, are experts at putting people in distressed mindsets. The two have accompanied journalists and aid workers in the world’s most dangerous places, been kidnapped, and negotiated kidnapping releases. They know what they’re talking about.
Female war correspondents during World War II.
Over the course of the training, Bell, Burton, and the rest of the GJS team thrust attendees — yours truly, included — into simulations designed to trigger your adrenaline.
“You want to give people skills to stay in the moment and not freeze or go into panic mode,” Smyth told Columbia Journalism Review in 2013. “Some people will forget to yell, ‘Hey, she’s being dragged away — we have to help her!’ [The training] plants seeds, things to remember.”
I had to save a fellow aid worker from an “arterial puncture wound” that was squirting a fountain of (very real-looking) “blood” from a gaping “flesh wound.” Hooded actors interrupted PowerPoint presentations firing blanks into the class as we scrambled to find cover and escape. There was a kidnapping during which I was told to “slither like the American snake that I am.” And finally we were put through a final course across fields and hiking trails designed to mimic a war zone with grenades thrown, artillery shelling, landmines, and snipers.
My 13-year-old self thought it was pretty wicked. My 28-year-old self was shook. By the end, I was praying I would never have to use any of it, particularly after I “died” in the first active-shooter scenario.
But that scenario came before I learned the most valuable skill Burton, Bell, and company imparted upon us: tactical breathing.
U.S. Army Spc. Chad Moore, a combat medic assigned to 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Dustin Biven)
Combat troops, police officers, and first responders are trained in tactical breathing
The idea behind it is simple: When you enter high-stress situations, your sympathetic nervous system throws your body into overdrive. Adrenaline kicks in, your body starts to shake, and your mind races to solve the problem.
It doesn’t just happen in war zones. If you hate public speaking, it’s likely to happen before you get onstage. If you’re nervous about an important exam, it may kick in as the timer starts.
What Burton and Bell hammered home is that you can’t prevent this response. It’s instinctual. Your brain’s three options are fight, flight, or freeze. And while you may know enough about yourself to know how you’ll react when you have to make the big speech, you probably have no idea what your reaction will be during an active-shooter situation or in a war zone.
Usually, in that state, you aren’t thinking logically, if you are thinking at all. Flubbing the speech may not be a big deal, but if you enter that state in a war zone, it could get you killed.
Tactical breathing overrides that stress response by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, slowing down your heart rate and calming you down so you can make a rational decision.
It works like this: Breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, and exhale for four seconds. Repeat as necessary until your heart rate slows and your mind calms. Yes, it is very similar to yogic meditation breathing.
Once your mind calms, you can make a rational decision about whether it is best to keep hiding or whether you need to run, rather than flailing in panic.
A small Greek Orthodox church decimated by the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack will reopen next year as a national shrine, in grander size and form.
The south tower of the World Trade Center demolished the modest 35 ft tall St. Nicholas church when it fell on 9/11, but architect Santiago Calatrava is bringing it back with a unique design, according to the Associated Press.
St. Nicholas was the only other building besides the twin towers completely destroyed during the 9/11 terrorist attack. Now the church, being rebuilt as a national Orthodox shrine according to Calatrava’s design, will begin offering services in 2018 as The St. Nicholas National Shrine.
“What I’m trying to do as an architect is give a sense of hope,” Calatrava told AP.
The church’s design is inspired by the Hagia Sophia and the Church of the Holy Savior in Chora, two Byzantine-era shrines in Istanbul. The structure will sport an outer layer of marble mined from the same quarry that supplied the marble for the Parthenon in Athens, with the permission of Greece’s government, and will be lit up from the inside to give the appearance of a glow at night.
The Greek government, various Greek Orthodox church members, and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston provided funding for the church’s $50 million construction, as did the Italian town of Bari, as St. Nicholas is their patron saint.
“You’ll see that the dome is glowing and the front is glowing, said Jerry Dimitriou, executive director of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. “The dome area will all be illuminated like a candle.
“On one side you have water and memory, and on the other side, in the church, you have the idea of the light of the candle and the flame and the sense of hope,” Calatrava added.
The Greek Orthodox church established the original building as a church in 1919, and stubbornly refused to move during the construction of the twin towers.
“All of the buildings around it were sold,” said Olga Pavlakos, member of the parish board and descendant of some of the church’s founders. “We stood our ground. Greeks are tough people.”
The church building could not stand against the terroristic destruction of 9/11, but the church itself will continue on, intended as an icon of reflection and hope for all who wish to enter.
“It’s not only for Greek people, it’s a place for everybody,” Pavlakos said. “And that’s what we stood for before, so this is a continuation.”
NASA has announced that our next destination in the solar system is the unique, richly organic world Titan. Advancing our search for the building blocks of life, the Dragonfly mission will fly multiple sorties to sample and examine sites around Saturn’s icy moon.
Dragonfly will launch in 2026 and arrive in 2034. The rotorcraft will fly to dozens of promising locations on Titan looking for prebiotic chemical processes common on both Titan and Earth. Dragonfly marks the first time NASA will fly a multi-rotor vehicle for science on another planet; it has eight rotors and flies like a large drone. It will take advantage of Titan’s dense atmosphere — four times denser than Earth’s — to become the first vehicle ever to fly its entire science payload to new places for repeatable and targeted access to surface materials.
Titan is an analog to the very early Earth, and can provide clues to how life may have arisen on our planet. During its 2.7-year baseline mission, Dragonfly will explore diverse environments from organic dunes to the floor of an impact crater where liquid water and complex organic materials key to life once existed together for possibly tens of thousands of years. Its instruments will study how far prebiotic chemistry may have progressed. They also will investigate the moon’s atmospheric and surface properties and its subsurface ocean and liquid reservoirs. Additionally, instruments will search for chemical evidence of past or extant life.
“With the Dragonfly mission, NASA will once again do what no one else can do,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Visiting this mysterious ocean world could revolutionize what we know about life in the universe. This cutting-edge mission would have been unthinkable even just a few years ago, but we’re now ready for Dragonfly’s amazing flight.”
New Dragonfly Mission Flying Landing Sequence Animation
Dragonfly took advantage of 13 years’ worth of Cassini data to choose a calm weather period to land, along with a safe initial landing site and scientifically interesting targets. It will first land at the equatorial “Shangri-La” dune fields, which are terrestrially similar to the linear dunes in Namibia in southern Africa and offer a diverse sampling location. Dragonfly will explore this region in short flights, building up to a series of longer “leapfrog” flights of up to 5 miles (8 kilometers), stopping along the way to take samples from compelling areas with diverse geography. It will finally reach the Selk impact crater, where there is evidence of past liquid water, organics — the complex molecules that contain carbon, combined with hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen — and energy, which together make up the recipe for life. The lander will eventually fly more than 108 miles (175 kilometers) — nearly double the distance traveled to date by all the Mars rovers combined.
Sunset studies on Titan by Cassini.
“Titan is unlike any other place in the solar system, and Dragonfly is like no other mission,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for Science at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington. “It’s remarkable to think of this rotorcraft flying miles and miles across the organic sand dunes of Saturn’s largest moon, exploring the processes that shape this extraordinary environment. Dragonfly will visit a world filled with a wide variety of organic compounds, which are the building blocks of life and could teach us about the origin of life itself.”
Titan has a nitrogen-based atmosphere like Earth. Unlike Earth, Titan has clouds and rain of methane. Other organics are formed in the atmosphere and fall like light snow. The moon’s weather and surface processes have combined complex organics, energy, and water similar to those that may have sparked life on our planet.
Diameter comparison of Titan, Moon, and Earth.
Titan is larger than the planet Mercury and is the second largest moon in our solar system. As it orbits Saturn, it is about 886 million miles (1.4 billion kilometers) away from the Sun, about 10 times farther than Earth. Because it is so far from the Sun, its surface temperature is around -290 degrees Fahrenheit (-179 degrees Celsius). Its surface pressure is also 50 percent higher than Earth’s.
Dragonfly was selected as part of the agency’s New Frontiers program, which includes the New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, Juno to Jupiter, and OSIRIS-REx to the asteroid Bennu. Dragonfly is led by Principal Investigator Elizabeth Turtle, who is based at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. New Frontiers supports missions that have been identified as top solar system exploration priorities by the planetary community. The program is managed by the Planetary Missions Program Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Planetary Science Division in Washington.
“The New Frontiers program has transformed our understanding of the solar system, uncovering the inner structure and composition of Jupiter’s turbulent atmosphere, discovering the icy secrets of Pluto’s landscape, revealing mysterious objects in the Kuiper belt, and exploring a near-Earth asteroid for the building blocks of life,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division. “Now we can add Titan to the list of enigmatic worlds NASA will explore.”
This article originally appeared on NASA. Follow @NASA on Twitter.