On Feb. 14, 2018, a 19-year-old former student and one-time Army Junior ROTC member Nikolas Cruz sent students scrambling in terror when he opened fire on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Cruz, who killed 17 people before he was arrested, reportedly was obsessed with guns and aspired to join the military.
But he wasn’t the only JROTC student who sprang into action that day.
After 17-year-old Douglas High student, Colton Haab heard the first shots, he and his fellow JROTC members shepherded between 60 and 70 students into a JROTC classroom and shielded them with Kevlar sheets, normally used as backdrops for the military students’ civilian marksmanship training.
“We took those sheets and put them in front of everybody so they weren’t seen … behind a solid object, and the Kevlar would slow a bullet down,” Haab told CNN. “I didn’t think it was going to stop it, but it would definitely [take] it from a catastrophic to a life-saving” incident.
What was he thinking about in those uncertain moments? “I’m thinking about how I’m going to make sure everyone goes home to their parents safely,” he added. “I was destined to get home.”
This 17-year-old student said he tried to protect as many of his classmates as he could: “I’m thinking about how I’m going to make sure everyone goes home to their parents safely” https://t.co/fgMjmVH526
First established in 1973, the Broward County Public High School system’s JROTC program boasts an average enrollment of 7,650 students in 28 of its 34 schools annually, mostly in Army and Navy programs.
But, like many JROTC programs, its focus is primarily on moral and ethical character-building: According to the BCPHS JROTC site, over 90% of its four-year members attend college, even though only 5% end up joining the U.S. armed forces.
Fellow JROTC members at Douglas High described the shooter as obviously troubled with a history of behavioral issues.
“When you are in JROTC, you follow a set of rules, you live by them, and you think that you’re a good person,” former JROTC classmate Jillian Davis told the Treasure Coast Palm Beach Post. “You’d think that anyone in this community would follow and abide by these rules.”
The shooter may have failed to embrace the tenets of JROTC, but at least Haab didn’t: In interviews, he described his willingness to put himself in harm’s way to keep his classmates safe.
Women quietly broke through barriers last fall when they became the first in the Army to earn the prestigious Expert Infantryman Badge at Fort Bragg.
The badge, which was created in the 1940s, only recently opened to women when the Department of Defense struck down regulations that prevented them from serving in infantry jobs. The women earned the badge during testing with hundreds of male candidates in November — about two years after infantry jobs opened to women.
“This historic achievement is a reminder of the great things we can achieve when women are seen and treated as equals and given the same chance to contribute to their country,” U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth said in a statement. The Democrat from Illinois was among the first Army women to fly combat missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (Image from Flickr)
In 2004, Duckworth was deployed to Iraq as a Black Hawk pilot for the Illinois Army National Guard when it was struck down by a rocket-propelled grenade. She lost her legs and partial use of her right arm.
“These six incredible women prove exactly why the Department of Defense was right to allow women to serve in all military roles, an action that was long overdue,” she said. “Remember, women have served attached to infantry units for decades without being formally assigned to the unit — so even when they meet the requirements, they technically could not earn the EIB until now.”
Through a spokesman for the 82nd Airborne Division, all six women who earned the badge declined to talk about their achievement or the significance of the badge. The division did not name the women.
Division leaders declined interview requests for this story.
To earn the Expert Infantryman Badge, a soldier must successfully complete 30 tasks that prove mastery infantry skills. If a soldier makes three errors, he or she fails and must wait one year to try again.
At Fort Bragg, soldiers were tested on weapons proficiency and medical and patrol skills.
Soldiers assembled the Carl Gustav recoilless rifle, claymore mine, Javelin, and AK-47 weapons systems. Among medical tasks, they performed first aid for a suspected fracture, open head wound, open abdominal wound and burns. In the patrol lane, soldiers decontaminated themselves and equipment, identified terrain features on a map, and applied camouflage.
The testing takes place over several days, during the day and at night.
Of the 1,000 candidates who tested for the badge at Fort Bragg in November, 287 earned it. The candidates came from Fort Bragg, U.S. Army Special Operations Command, 18th Airborne Corps and units at Fort Stewart, Georgia.
Traditionally, only about 18 percent of all candidates who test for the badge earn it.
Testing for the Expert Infantryman Badge is conducted at several installations each year. Standards for the test are set by the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia.
A ‘soldier skill’
As women became eligible for infantry jobs, Command Sgt. Maj. Martin Celestine said there was never skepticism that women wouldn’t be strong enough or trained well enough to test for the badge.
“No, there was no doubt,” said Celestine, command sergeant major of the Infantry School. “I’ve deployed on multiple times and I’ve been side-by-side with women. When we talk about technical competency, it’s not about ‘man or woman.’ This is a soldier skill. We’re all one team here.”
Col. Townley Hedrick, deputy commandant for the school, said the Army’s training has set women up for success, just like the men who have been training in those jobs for decades. He said he expected women to earn the badge.
“Women are going through infantry basic training,” he said. “They’re going through operations. We expect them to go through it and earn it just like a man.”
Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, who recently left command of the 18th Airborne Corps, said the corps and overall Army readiness has been strengthened as women integrate into combat arms jobs.
“Army forces must possess the capabilities — and be prepared to fight across multiple domains and through contested areas — to deter potential adversaries, and should deterrence fail, rapidly defeat them,” he said. “As the Army shapes the future force, we will ensure that every individual has the opportunity to maximize his or her potential.”
The achievement has fueled the passion for Jakhira Blue, a 17-year-old 2017 graduate of North Johnston High School, who had been planning to enlist in the Army as airborne infantry. She will head to Fort Benning for training in March.
She knows she’ll be in the minority in infantry training since the jobs opened to women. It doesn’t matter, she said.
“It’s going to make me push myself harder,” she said. “I want to show everybody I can do it.”
U.S. officials expressed sorrow over the shoot-down of a Russian military surveillance plane off the Syrian coast and said it would not affect the U.S. campaign against Islamic State (IS) fighters.
The comments on Sept. 18, 2018, came as Russian officials said that Syrian antiaircraft forces brought down the Il-20 plane inadvertently, but also blamed Israel for conducting a fighter jet raid on Syrian forces at around the same time.
U.S. officials said U.S. forces were not involved in the incident.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement expressing sorrow for the shoot-down, which killed 15 Russian servicemen. He also criticized Iran, which has reportedly shipped sophisticated weaponry to the Hizballah fighters in Lebanon.
Israel has struck targets in both Lebanon and Syria, seeking to thwart Hizballah’s ambitions.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, meanwhile, told reporters that the shoot-down complicates relations between Syria and Russia but would have “no effect whatever” on the U.S. campaign to defeat the extremist group IS in Syria.
Mattis also said the incident was a reminder of why the United States supports the United Nations’ effort to end the seven-year civil war.
President Donald Trump also expressed concern about the downed Russian plane, calling it a “very sad thing” and “not a good situation.”
Earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Israel against conducting air raids on Syria.
And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Putin to express sorrow over the plane’s loss but insisted that Syria bore responsibility.
After Syrian forces fired missiles at Israeli jets returning from airstrikes in the country’s ISIS-held eastern side, Syria reportedly issued a stern warning to Israel through their Russian allies — more airstrikes will be met by Scud missile fire in return.
“Despite a 6-year war Syria is not weak and knows how to defend itself,” a Saturday-evening post in Lebanon’s Al-Diyar newspaper said, according to The Jerusalem Post.
At the time of the most recent airstrikes, Syria described them as an act of aggression that helped ISIS.
But Syria’s several-generations-old Scud missiles don’t pose a real military threat to Israel, which employs some of the best missile defenses in the world.
Israel has infrequently carried out airstrikes in Syria, where Iranian-aligned and anti-Israel groups like Hezbollah operate.
“When we know about an attempt to smuggle weapons to Hezbollah, we do whatever we can to prevent this from happening, provided we have sufficient information and capabilities to react,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said of Israel’s incursions into Syria, according to Russian state-run media.
Glassdoor, one of the world’s largest job and recruiting sites, recently singled out seven top employers of veterans and their families, and it’s no surprise that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) made the list, along with Booz Allen, Home Depot, Southwest Airlines, and others.
A total of 123,608 veterans — more than 30 percent of the workforce — work at VA, according to the latest federal government data. Glassdoor said veterans choose VA careers for its generous employee benefits, such as tuition assistance and loan repayment. A physician quoted in the article commended VA for its “great mission, incredible benefits (and) good work/life balance.”
Through the Transitioning Military Program, VA also has well-paying careers specifically for veterans with healthcare skills. Veterans of healthcare fields successfully work as health technicians, Intermediate Care Technicians (ICTs), mental health providers, nurses, physicians, and support staff in other healthcare occupations.
(Department of Veterans Affairs)
ICTs, for instance, are former basic medical technicians, combat medic specialists, basic hospital corpsmen or basic health services technicians applying their skills to care for fellow veterans. (Meet ICTs Ryan White, Anthony Juarez, and other VA employees.)
Choose VA today
Other benefits of a VA healthcare career include 36 to 49 days paid time off per year, depending on the leave tier, and the ability to apply military service time to a civil service pension, participate in a 401(k) with up to 5 percent in employer contributions and gain access to a range of exceptional health insurance plans for individuals and families.
Are you transitioning from the military? See if a career with VA is the right choice for you.
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The Marine Corps has punished two aviators who flew their aircraft deliberately to draw a giant penis in the skies over California’s Salton Sea.
The Oct. 23, 2018 incident resulted in the West Coast Marine Corps training squadron launching an investigation into the flight pattern of a T-34C aircraft from Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 101.
“Two Marine Corps aviators were administratively disciplined following the completion of an investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding an Oct. 23, 2018 irregular flight pattern that resulted in an obscene image,” said Maj. Josef Patterson, a spokesman for the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.
Patterson did not reveal details of the disciplinary action taken against the Marines. “The aviators retained their wings and will continue service to their country as valued members of 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing,” he said.
The flight pattern was originally spotted about 120 miles outside San Diego by @AircraftSpots, which monitors military air movements on Twitter.
Drawing phallic images seem to be a pattern in military aviation.
During the 69th’s deployment to Al Udeid Air Force Base, Qatar, between September 2017 and April 2018, penis drawings were repeatedly created by members of the unit and were captured as screengrabs for a compact disc montage that was played at the end of the deployment.
An investigation was launched after the CD was turned into Air Force officials.
The details of their punishment were not released, but the two were allowed to keep their aviator status.
The aviators were assigned to Electronic Attack Squadron 130 and flew an EA-18G Growler aircraft to draw an image of male genitalia in the sky. Witnesses captured the image on cellphone cameras and posted it on social media.
— Military.com’s Gina Harkins, Oriana Pawlyk and Hope Hodge Seck contributed to this report.
Just five days before President Trump met with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, 10 armed men staged a daring daylight raid on North Korea’s embassy in the Spanish capital of Madrid. They stole documents, computers, and maybe more, making off with the material. The men then handed the material over to the FBI.
In connection with the raid, U.S. authorities have arrested a Marine Corps veteran named Christopher Ahn in Los Angeles, where he is being held pending extradition to Spain.
U.S. Marines in Afghanistan.
The stolen material found its way back to the North Korean embassy some two weeks or so after being stolen in Spain. The arrests only came recently, weeks after the raid itself. Federal authorities say Ahn is a member of “Free Joseon,” a group dedicated to the dismantling of the Kim regime in North Korea. Ahn’s case has been sealed at the request of his lawyer, but federal authorities have also arrested Adrian Hong, the leader of the group.
Now the men who sought to aid the FBI with a trove of stolen North Korean documents and equipment of massive intelligence value are facing extradition back to Spain. Lawyers for the pair are concerned they could end up in the hands of North Korea, though the Justice Department says that scenario is unlikely.
“Extradition treaties generally provide that an individual who has been extradited to another country to face criminal charges cannot thereafter be extradited to a third country without the consent of the original country,” said a U.S. Justice Department spokesperson. The U.S. government has denied any involvement and Free Joseon has sworn that no governments knew of their raid until well after it was over.
According to the group, the assailants were actually invited into the embassy. Once inside, they began to tie up the staff members, cover their heads, and ask them questions. A woman reportedly escaped, which led to a visit from the Spanish police. Someone at the gate told the Spanish Police all was well, but then the thieves drove off, abandoning their vehicles on a side street.
Ahn, the onetime Marine, was formally charged in the raid on April 19, 2019. His fate remains uncertain, but the group’s lawyer had some stern words for the United States government.
“[I am] dismayed that the U.S. Department of Justice has decided to execute warrants against U.S. persons that derive from criminal complaints filed by the North Korean regime,” attorney Lee Wolosky said in a statement.
President Donald Trump canceled joint military exercises with South Korea as a concession to the North for the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula during his summit with Kim Jong Un in June 2018, but a White House statement released on Aug. 29, 2018, warned that, if he decides to restart the drills, the war games “will be far bigger than ever before.”
Negotiations between the US and North Korea have hit a snag. Aug. 24, 2018, the president canceled what would have been Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s fourth trip to Pyongyang after receiving a reportedly “belligerent” letter that warned that talks are “again at stake and may fall apart.”
In the White House statement, Trump put the blame for the breakdown in bilateral negotiations on China, which the president accused of providing the North with assistance that Trump characterized as “not helpful!” He suggested that China is pressuring North Korea to act out due to Beijing’s dissatisfaction with the ongoing trade spat with Washington.
A report from Vox on Aug. 29, 2018, however, suggested that North Korea may be expressing frustration with the Trump administration’s failure to make a good on a reported promise Trump made to Kim in Singapore, a promise to sign a declaration ending the Korean War.
The president explained that, despite setbacks, he considers his relationship with North Korea to be a “warm one,” adding that he sees no reason to spend “large amounts of money on joint U.S.-South Korea war games.”
He is apparently optimistic that his administration will be able to resolve disputes with both China and North Korea in an acceptable manner.
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis explained Aug.28, 2018, at the Pentagon that the US suspended several large joint exercises in 2018 to provide space for American diplomats to negotiate with their North Korean counterparts to address key issues.
He left the door open for the possibility that joint drills with South Korea could resume should conditions require such an action.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Just before the end of 2017, the Russian Navy commissioned its newest frigate, the Admiral Makarov. The ship, which will be based in Sevastopol, is an Admiral Grigorovich-class frigate, a multi-purpose ship that is certainly loaded for bear.
Each frigate in the Admiral Grigorovich class is armed with eight Club-N land-attack cruise missiles, a variant of the Kalibr missiles used to strike ISIS targets deep inside Syria. Two Kashtan CIWS air defense missile/gun systems and 24 Shtil-1 anti-aircraft missiles make up each ship’s air-defense component, as well as one A-190E gun at its bow.
The frigate boasts a range of 4850 nautical miles, a top speed of 30 knots, an endurance of 30 days, and a crew of 193.
The bulk of the Russian Navy’s current fleet are corvettes, small craft armed with long-range missiles that cannot stray too far from the coast for long. Frigates have traditionally been the backbone of most of the world’s navies, and Russia still hasn’t given up on having large surface warships like it did during the Cold War.
“Russia has realized that capabilities matter far more than platforms,” Dmitry Gorenburg, a senior research scientist at the Center for Naval Analyses, told Business Insider.
“The Russian Navy is quite able to carry out its key missions, such as coastal protection and (increasingly) conventional deterrence with cruise missiles in addition to the SLBM role in nuclear deterrence,” Gorenburg said in an email.
The Admiral Makarov will be the third Admiral Grigorovich-class frigate in the Russian Navy. Russia originally planned to have of six of the frigates in total, but recent events have put the program’s schedule in an uncertain state.
Shipbuilding problems in the Russian Navy
The Admiral Grigorovich-class frigate is essentially a thorough modernization of the Krivak IV-class frigate, a ship that was built for and exported to the Indian Navy from 1999 to 2012.
There were originally no plans for any more modernization of the Krivak series, but the Russian Navy began to have problems with the building and integration of the Admiral Gorshkov-class frigate — the ship intended to be the center of the Russian Navy’s modern frigate fleet.
“It was just taking to long to finish,” Gorenburg said. “There were issues with some of the systems — it was a kind of brand new construction — and so they realized they really needed new ships more quickly than those were going to get approved.”
Russia then turned to and modernized the Krivak IVs, which they knew could be built and fielded faster, creating a new class in the process.
Construction of the ships hit a snag when Russia illegally annexed Crimea and war broke out in Ukraine. The ships needed a specific gas turbine engine that came from a Ukrainian company, which, after the annexation and breakout of war, was prevented from selling them.
As a result, Russia announced that it would sell two of the three Grigorovich-class frigates under construction to India, who will be able to buy the engines separately themselves.
Russia maintains that it will eventually have a total of six frigates for the Black Sea Fleet, after a domestic gas turbine engine is produced.
“There are still some problems in the shipbuilding industry, but they are not as bad as five years ago,” Gorenburg said in an email. “On the whole, the Navy is going to be quite successful at building effective small ships while putting off big ships (destroyers, aircraft carriers) for the indefinite future.”
During the “Great War”, the United States of America lost over 116,000 of her troops in a span of only 19 months. While initially remaining neutral and refusing to enter into World War I when it began in 1914, that changed after repeated attacks on America’s ships. In 1917 the U.S. entered into the fray, declaring war against Germany.
It can be argued that without American’s force beside the allies, the war wouldn’t have ended in victory, but a stalemate. History has documented this impressive and vital piece of our story. So why don’t we talk about it and those incredible heroes that turned the tide for an entire world in the name of democracy?
Why don’t we discuss how more Marines were killed or wounded in the battle of Belleau Wood than their service’s entire history at that point? That battle alone claimed over 10,000 American casualties in just three weeks. It should also be known that France refused to enter into this particular battle because they felt it was too dangerous. Instead, they insisted that the Americans do it.
In September of 1918, 1.2 million American troops entered into the deadliest battle in its history. Many were undertrained and not yet battle-tested – but their sheer numbers and grit did what other armies could not in four years. It was an incredible offensive effort as the Expeditionary Forces of the United States actually caught Germany completely by surprise with their attack.
America’s troops took an area that had been held for four years in just two short days. This battle ended the war, but America lost 26,277 of their own to win it. We also had 192,000 casualties. It was this specific battle at Meuse-Argonne, or The Battle of Argonne Forest, that pushed Germany into literally pleading for an end of World War I. America brought Germany to its knees.
This war was pivotal for so many things that have occurred in the last hundred years. We need to remember those lost their lives in the name of democracy. Let us also not forget the ones that died slowly years following World War I due to the effects of the lingering bullets, “shell shock” (now called post-traumatic stress disorder), and the effects of poison gas exposure.
Those who survived through all of that though? Their personal war at home was just beginning.
When service members returned home following the end of World War I, they were celebrated with parades – if they were white. The African American men who returned home after fighting alongside their brothers’ in arms were treated with open hostility and disdain. Some were killed.
The years following the “Great War” were not kind or easy to digest but need to be remembered. They matter.
Following the war, the Great Depression and race riots wreaked havoc on the United States, leading many to question what they fought for. Not only did they question their sacrifice – but they were deeply suffering after their service for their country.
Veterans received just with an honorable discharge. Although they received monetary allotments if they had a disability through the War Risk Insurance Act, it wasn’t enough. They were also required to maintain insurance for care and paid a premium that came out of that allotment, reducing their income even more. Many were too severely disabled to work to make any extra income and the money they received from the government didn’t cover living any kind of quality life.
High unemployment, lack of quality medical care and poor housing was the “thanks for your service” that these veterans received – if they were white.
The African American veterans were often denied housing or any kind of equality – leaving them homeless and destitute. This terrible choice for America to treat these brave men in such an abominable way would go on to pave the way for the next seventy years of struggle, advocacy, and racial tension that the country had ever seen.
The government failed all of its returning servicemen.
America failed its heroes by avoiding that chapter in its history.
Our World War I veterans did fight, suffer, and die for our freedom. Let us not forget it.
Last week, I read an article on this site called, “America, Where Are You Going?” in which the author (anonymous) bemoaned recent social and political activism of his or her fellow military spouses.
I read all the way to the second page, where one line jumped out above all the rest: “However, that mutual understanding and respect that our spouses should never be publicly political seem to have fallen to the side for a few…” (emphasis added).
Dear Anonymous, I could not disagree with this sentiment more. Here is my rebuttal.
For over twenty years, I’ve served my country by making sure that my spouse’s home and family are taken care of. I make lunches and brush hair and comfort babies when they haven’t seen their daddy in too long. I make sure that if he is called to deploy, he can leave our family knowing that we are taken care of and focus on the job in front of him. I love my country. My work isn’t a sacrifice so much as it is an act of patriotism and pride.
At the same time, it is out of a deep and abiding love for my country that I recognize her flaws and errors. It is also my duty to speak up and call for change.
In 1830 the treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was signed, and my ancestors were robbed of their homeland in Mississippi. Choctaw Nation would start the trek west to Oklahoma where they would be confined to a reservation in a wholly new environment. My ancestors survived, though many others didn’t.
This story was told to me as a child. I could hear the pain in my grandmother’s voice as she retold the story her grandma told her. The early 1800s was one of many dark chapters in American history. But my Nation grew strong and built a future in Oklahoma.
Ever since then, I have been firmly grounded in the understanding that my country has deep flaws that we should all mourn. We also have the promise of freedom and the opportunity to grow that is lacking in so many places around the world. My American story goes back far beyond the first European settlers, then later was enriched by Italian and Welsh ancestors. I am rooted in this country in deep ways. This makes me both confident in the future that is possible and aware of the blemishes within.
Part of my duty as a patriot, as a military spouse, and as an American is to speak out against actions that harm our citizens and dishonor our history. Of course we can be publicly political! We’re stakeholders in this great American experiment, aren’t we? That means we get a say in how our country’s run. In fact, as military spouses who have lived in all different kinds of places, we have unique insights on how different systems work. Our perspective is tremendously valuable to the political process.
Those who suggest that spouses should never be political are likely the spouses who benefit most from the way things are now. I do not have that luxury. My Nation does not have that luxury. For us, our existence is political. If we do not speak up, we risk being erased entirely.
At the very end of the article, the author wrote: “The military is not just one entity, it is a family made up of individuals, all with different outlooks on life, political affiliations, religions, every race, and every culture imaginable.”
On this we can agree. Military spouses are no more of a monolith than any other demographic in America. I have military spouse friends who are Muslim, Jewish, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Gay, Transgender, socialists, and conservatives. All of us come into this military life with passions and beliefs, some that change and some that grow stronger. The shared experience of serving together bonds us across those differences with a strength that is rarely seen in civilian circles.
So of course: I no more speak for all military spouses than they speak for me. (I’ll add that in the original New York Times article I’m pretty sure this author referred to, that was made abundantly clear.) However, it does not mean that we do not speak at all. On the contrary, we cannot and must not remain quiet when we see injustices. We can and must stand up and say enough.
If you’re interested in political activism like me and what to know where to start, I recommend checking out the Secure Families Initiative. They host nonpartisan webinar trainings on how to be the best advocate you can be, whether that’s lobbying your elected officials or simply telling your story. It’s a super cool community of kickass military spouses!
My voice is important, my voice is unique, and my voice is mine. I am not speaking for my spouse or anyone else, but I am speaking for what I believe is best for my family, national security, and my country.
North Korea unveiled a remarkably powerful bomb in its latest nuclear test, one with the ability to level entire urban centers.
In the wake of North Korea’s sixth nuclear test, state media claimed that the rogue regime had successfully tested a staged thermonuclear weapon – a hydrogen bomb. Explosive yield estimates range are around 150 kilotons, orders of magnitude larger than any bomb the North has tested before. While the international community has been trying to figure out what to do about this alarming development, Pyongyang has been celebrating its entry into the elite thermonuclear weapons club.
When North Korea’s nuclear scientists and engineers returned home, they were given a heroes welcome in Pyongyang. Similar celebrations were held after the successful test of the Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile, on which Kim Jong Un plans to mount his newest bomb.
Officials held another celebration Saturday to honor the individuals who contributed to the development of the latest addition to North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal. During Saturday’s celebratory concert, images of North Korea’s achievements were presented on the big screen, a not uncommon pastime for the regime.
The North revealed images of the nuclear bomb tested last Sunday at the celebration this weekend.
The bomb used in the test appears to be a slight variation of the warhead North Korea presented just hours before its shocking nuclear test. The shape suggests that the device may very well be a thermonuclear weapon, with one chamber for the fission reaction and another for the fusion reaction to produce a substantial explosive yield.
In the wake of the country’s sixth nuclear test, North Korea announced that it had successfully tested a hydrogen bomb for its new ICBM, which can effectively strike parts, if not most, of the continental U.S. While it is difficult to know for certain, it would appear that the North is “locked and loaded” for intercontinental strikes if it needed to do so.
“The recent test of the H-bomb is a great victory won by the Korean people at the cost of their blood while tightening their belts in the arduous period,” young North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un said at the banquet Saturday, referring to North Korea’s success in the face of tough international sanctions and mounting pressure.
The sun was fading behind Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush mountains the evening of June 27, 2005, as a team of four U.S. Navy SEALs walked up the ramp and into the back of U.S. Army Captain Matt Brady’s MH-47 Chinook helicopter on Bagram Air Base.
Tasked with inserting the SEAL special reconnaissance (SR) team deep into enemy territory in unforgiving terrain, Brady knew the SEALs — Lieutenant Michael Murphy, Petty Officer 2nd Class Danny Dietz, Petty Officer 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Axelson — had a difficult mission ahead. Marines in the area knew it was an extremely dangerous place filled with Taliban fighters.
Brady had no way of knowing at the time, but it would be the last time anyone at Bagram would ever see three of those four Americans alive.
The Afghanistan mountains and forest from the valley where soldiers searched for the remains of the three SEALs who were killed in action. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.
The Army’s elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) is known for having some of the most skilled aviators in the world, who fly the most elite special operators into some of the most austere environments on earth using the most advanced aircraft in the U.S. military inventory. They are famous for the roles they played in both the Battle of Mogadishu and the mission to kill Usama Bin Laden but are revered throughout the special operations community for acts of valor that often never see the light of day due to the classified nature of their work.
As a pilot in the 160th, Brady was the air mission commander for the operation. He and some of his fellow “Night Stalkers” felt the SEALs’ plan was too risky.
The mission was to capture or kill Ahmad Shah, a Taliban commander. The three-phase plan called for inserting a four-man SR team the first night, then inserting the second element of SEALs the following night to establish an isolation zone around Shah. Finally, 150 U.S. Marines would come in to establish blocking positions for the SEALs’ assault on Shah’s compound.
The Night Stalkers’ job was to insert the SEALs on a ridgeline where the terrain left few options for landing zones. The commandos would have to descend from a rope — fast-rope — while the helos hovered high above the trees. That meant if the SEALs got into trouble, extraction would potentially require the use of a hoist to pull the SEALs out, which was a time-consuming and dangerous option.
As he approached the insertion site, Brady could see lights dotting the mountains below through his night-vision goggles.
An MH-47 Chinook with 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment and a KC-130J Super Hercules with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 conduct aerial refueling during Exercise Yuma Horizon 19. Photo by Lance Cpl. Seth Rosenberg, courtesy of DVIDS.
“This was a desolate part of the Hindu Kush, and at night, you wouldn’t really expect to see much,” Brady told Coffee or Die. “Not really sure who they were, but there was more activity than I expected.”
As the pilots climbed the last 1,000 feet of elevation, the AC-130 crew providing overwatch on their destination radioed to say they had to leave their position due to a mechanical issue. Brady knew that surveillance aircraft going off station without backup was supposed to result in aborting the mission.
He asked the AC-130 crew for one final report on the four potential landing zones the Night Stalkers had identified for the mission.
“We’ve got two military-aged males, possibly armed, on the northernmost LZ,” the crew reported. “Primary and secondary zones appear to be clear of potential threats.”
Believing the gunship could make it back on station in time for the insertion, Brady made the call to continue the mission.
From left, SGT Carlos Pacheco (3/160 medic, former 3/75), SFC Marcus V. Muralles (Legend – 3/160 medic), MAJ Sam Sauer (3/160 flight surgeon), SFC L.E. Shroades (medic R/160), SGT Dan Bell (E Co/160) during during the timeframe of Operation Red Wings. Photo courtesy of Daniel Bell.
Approaching the insertion point, the pilots flared the Chinook and came into a hover. As the lead aircraft descended, it became clear the LZ was on a steep slope of the mountain, making descent difficult due to the front rotors approaching the mountainside faster than the rear of the aircraft.
“Hold your right and left; hold your front and rear,” came the internal radio traffic from the flight engineer to Brady.
There were 100-foot-tall trees on all sides of the Chinook, and they were so close the pilots had no room to sway as they descended.
“When you hear all four directions, everyone gets pretty tense,” Brady said. “It means you can’t drift any direction without crashing.”
The pilots descended to the point where the Chinook’s front rotor was just a few feet away from the mountainside with tall trees all around the aircraft. The flight crew kicked out the ropes, and the SEALs fast-roped down.
When the crew chief tried to pull the rope up, they found it was entangled below. After several tense moments of struggling to bring in the rope, they decided to cut it loose. The odds of enemy fighters hearing the echo of the dual-rotor helicopter increased every second it remained in a hover. The SEALs did their best to hide the rope and keep their presence on the ridgeline hidden from enemy fighters.
It wasn’t an ideal insertion, but the Night Stalkers had accomplished their mission. They ascended and flew back to Jalalabad to link up with another group of SEALs and standby as a quick reaction force (QRF) in case the SR team was compromised.
At Jalalabad, Brady was approached by SEAL Commander Erik Kristensen in the command operations center. Kristensen confronted him about the decision to cut the rope at the LZ and asked if the Night Stalkers would go back and retrieve it.
A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from 1-228th Aviation Regiment conducting hoist operations. Photo by Spc. Steven K. Young, courtesy of DVIDS.
“We would have to drop a man down with a hoist in that hole of an LZ,” Brady explained. “Hoisting a man at that altitude on that kind of terrain at night is a dangerous operation. Once on the ground, they’d have to pick up the rope, hook it to themselves, and get hoisted back up. Hovering for that long over the same spot would burn the LZ and likely alert the enemy to the SR team’s presence.”
Kristensen agreed with Brady’s evaluation, and after the SR team radioed that they would be laying down for the day in their hide site, Brady and Kristensen called it a night.
Walking toward the flight line, the SEAL commander quipped, “What made you want to fly such ugly helicopters?”
“They’re not much to look at, but they get the job done,” Brady fired back. “Kind of like SEALs.”
They shared a laugh as they loaded up for the flight back to Bagram.
At the Bagram operations center, Major Stephen Reich approached Brady urgently, asking why he didn’t follow abort criteria and fly back with the SR team after the AC-130 had to leave the airspace.
Brady said he estimated the AC-130 would only be off station briefly and that the crew had reported no hostile activity on the LZ. He told Reich pushing the mission back would allow Shah to continue his terrorist activities, likely leading to the death of locals and U.S. military in the area.
“Good,” Brady recalled Reich saying. “I’m glad you’re a thinking air mission commander and not simply one that takes a black-and-white view of the situation.”
With that, they retired to their rooms to rest for phase two of the operation the following night.
Some of the Night Stalkers hanging out in the B huts they slept in, enjoying much needed down time. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
As the Night Stalkers slept, the SR team was discovered by a numerically superior force of enemy fighters. They engaged in a fierce firefight, and at some point the task force lost contact with them.
Brady’s maintenance officer woke him and said the SR team was in trouble and the Night Stalkers had orders to spin up and pull the team out.
“That’s not possible,” Brady replied, confused at how quickly the SEALs had become compromised. “They’ve got their own quick reaction force. We’re completely separate commands. It doesn’t make sense.”
But he knew and lived by the Night Stalkers’ promise to every customer: “If we put you in, we’ll stop at nothing to get you out — even if it’s technically someone else’s job.”
Brady rushed to the operations center where Chief Warrant Officer 4 Chris Eicher was telling the task force commander that they should wait until dark before sending the QRF because going in during daylight would subject them to more danger. The 160th had only lost helicopters during daylight missions at that point — they’re called Night Stalkers for a reason.
The commander explained that the ground force commander had already rejected that plan and didn’t want to wait any longer.
Brady ran over to where his platoon sergeant, Sergeant First Class Mike Russell, was sleeping and updated him on what had unfolded.
“Are you serious?” Russell replied.
Russell went to work right away getting the crews together to prep the aircraft for the mission.
Three of the 160th’s MH-47D Chinooks on the flight line in Bagram, Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
Back in the operations center, leaders were busy trying to figure out the SEALs’ last known location and calculating how many soldiers each helicopter could fly with. They finalized plans and sent the Night Stalkers on their way.
As Brady approached the Chinook he’d be flying, he noticed the tail number: 1-4-6. The bird’s call sign was Turbine 33. Kristensen and his SEALs were waiting on the ramp, standing in a circle.
“Our plan of action is for you to get us to the high ground as close to the troops in contact as you can, and we’re going to fight our way downhill,” Brady recalled Kristensen saying.
Since the SEALs weren’t sure where exactly the compromised team was located, Kristensen believed inserting at a position of tactical advantage was the best option.
“Drop us on the high ground, and we’ll make our way to our swim buddies,” Kristensen told Brady.
Navy SEALs operating in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. From left to right, sonar technician (surface) Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew G. Axelson, of Cupertino, California; Senior Chief information systems technician Daniel R. Healy, of Exeter, New Hampshire; quartermaster Petty Officer 2nd Class James Suh, of Deerfield Beach, Florida; hospital corpsman Petty Officer 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell; machinists mate Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric S. Patton, of Boulder City, Nevada; and Lt. Michael P. Murphy, of Patchogue, New York With the exception of Luttrell, all were killed June 28, 2005, by enemy forces while supporting Operation Red Wing. Photo courtesy of DVIDS.
As Brady climbed into Turbine 33 and started strapping in, Reich tapped his shoulder and asked what the plan was. Reich, who had been designated mission commander for phase two of the operation, felt the QRF was his responsibility.
“We argued for what seemed like 10 minutes but was actually about 30 seconds,” Brady recalled.
But Reich cut the debate short. “I don’t really care, Matt,” he told Brady, “just get your stuff and get off the airplane. This is my mission.”
Brady said he pleaded with Reich to at least let him come with and act as an extra gun and set of eyes.
“Nope, I want you to take my spot as the operations officer and monitor from here,” Reich replied.
Disappointed, Brady followed the order and got off the aircraft. As he watched the two Chinooks taxiing onto the runway, he locked eyes with Russell, his platoon sergeant.
“He had a look of competence and professionalism — like he was ready to live out the Night Stalker creed,” Brady said.
He walked back to the operations center to monitor the situation and provide support from Bagram.
Matt Rogie, left, and Matt Brady having jovial conversation in Bagram. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
The two Chinooks — Turbine 33 and Turbine 34 — were packed with 16 SEALs each, plus the Night Stalker pilots and crewman. Flying toward Jalalabad en route to the last known position of the SEALs, they received word from Bagram on the number of men they could have on board each aircraft and still fly at the extreme elevation. They would have to offload eight SEALs from each helicopter before continuing.
“A lot of guys really wanted to stay on the mission,” recalled Chief Warrant Officer 3 Tim Graham, one of the pilots on Turbine 34.
The plan was for the SEALs to fast-rope onto the ridgeline above the original LZ. The Night Stalkers would then circle back and pick up the remaining SEALs who offloaded at Jalalabad.
During the flight, the Night Stalkers passed two Apache gunships whose pilots asked if they wanted to slow down so they could provide surveillance and support for the operation. Not wanting to burn valuable time waiting on approval from the task force commander for the audible, the Night Stalkers continued on without the Apaches.
Tim Graham standing by in Bagram. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
Arriving at the insertion point on the ridgeline, Turbine 33 descended into a hover. Graham watched from Turbine 34 as Turbine 33’s ramp lowered and the crewman walked onto it to observe the landing zone below. Graham’s aircraft pulled off to the right to circle around and insert their payload of SEALs after Turbine 33 moved off to allow their entrance.
That’s when Staff Sergeant Steven Smith, the flight engineer in the rear of Turbine 34, saw a smoke trail emerge from the tree line directly toward Turbine 33. The projectile flew through the open ramp of the Chinook and exploded inside. Turbine 33’s nose dipped down, and the aircraft slid to the left, appearing to almost recover. Then the helo’s blades started hitting each other, and the aircraft rolled to the right before inverting as it descended to the mountainous terrain below.
Smith and the others in Turbine 34 watched helplessly as the Chinook full of their fellow aviators — their friends — crashed into the mountain and erupted in a ball of flames.
“Al and Kip were on the ramp when the RPG impacted,” Smith, who witnessed the horrific event, recalled. “They rode it all the way in that way.”
Soldiers sit on the rear deck of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter while flying over southern Afghanistan Oct. 19, 2010. Photo by Cpl. Robert Thaler, courtesy of DVIDS.
Graham and his co-pilot whipped their Chinook around to look for survivors. As they were turning around, Graham saw five Black hawks performing a star-cluster evasion. Turbine 34 started taking heavy gunfire from unseen fighters below. They broke off and flew out of reach of the enemy fire.
Graham reported the situation back to Bagram. Receiving the transmission, Brady couldn’t believe it. He would have been on that bird were it not for the last minute change. He asked Graham to repeat, unable to register what he had just heard.
One of Brady’s soldiers in the operations center was asking him a question, but Brady was momentarily frozen with shock. Then the realization hit: He was now in charge.
Brady told his operations NCO to give him a minute to gather more information to get the next plan of action in place. He walked out of the operations center and found Eicher.
“Chris, Turbine 33 has just been shot down,” he told Eicher, who earned the nickname “Iceman” for his always cool demeanor.
Eicher looked at Brady and said, “Nah, they probably put down for maintenance.”
Brady persisted with the details. He and Eicher hurried back to the operations center.
The two Apaches had arrived on station, drawing heavy gunfire, but nonetheless giving Turbine 34’s crew back in the operations center a good look at the crash site.
“It didn’t look like there was any way anybody could have survived,” Graham said. “You hope they could. It just didn’t look good.”
The crash site of Turbine 33. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.
They ascended back into orbit and remained there for an hour until the task force commander ordered them back to Jalalabad. Not wanting to leave their brothers, the SEAL team commander hatched a plan with the Night Stalkers to insert higher up on the ridgeline and fight their way down to the crash site so Turbine 34 could fly back to Jalalabad, pick up as many SEALs as he could, and fly back to reinforce the eight SEALs. The task force commander denied the request and ordered Turbine 34 back to Jalalabad. Frustrated and angry, Graham followed the order.
Smith said everyone on the Chinook was angry. One of the SEALs even drew his pistol and attempted unsuccessfully to force the Chinook to land so they could try to save their friends.
Graham made a stop at a Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP) just outside of Jalalabad. After landing, Graham saw the same five Black Hawks that had peeled off earlier parked on the runway. He didn’t think much of it at the time, but many years later he found out a new platoon leader came into their company within the 160th and was responsible for those Black Hawks.
Each of the five Black Hawks was loaded with Marines and had flown out thinking they were the QRF for the SR team. When Turbine 33 was shot down, they received orders to fly back along with Turbine 34 and the Apache gunships until the next phase of the mission was developed.
Flight line view of U.S. Army UH-60L Black Hawk helicopters. Photo by Mark C. Olsen, courtesy of DVIDS.
After refueling, he continued on to Jalalabad and off-loaded.
“When I met him there on the ground in Jalalabad, Graham was fairly shaken to say the least,” Brady recalled.
The task force commander debriefed the men and then focused on planning their next steps.
Smith said he saw a line of armored vehicles full of troops.
“I could see a lot of vehicles with troops armed to the damn teeth,” Smith recalled. “They rolled out with a convoy and with some vengeance, and they fought their way up that mountainside, all the way up to the crash site.”
The remaining Night Stalkers prepared for a rescue operation. Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, and other Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) personnel loaded onto five Chinooks. All the men were anxious, angry, and ready to retrieve their brothers in arms.
The Chinooks took off toward the mountains once again, but as they climbed in elevation, severe weather rolled in. Thunder boomed as lightning struck all around them.
“So the enemy is one factor, but the terrain and weather are now a huge factor, and they’re starting to overtake the enemy in terms of danger to the force,” Brady said.
He said visibility got so bad that he couldn’t see the heat glow of the engines from the Chinook in front of him. The order was given to again abort the mission and return to base. It was a gut-wrenching decision for everyone on the mission, as they knew the original SEALs on the SR team were fighting for their lives and one of their own aircraft and crew was burning on the side of a mountain.
Back at Jalalabad, the commanders decided they had no choice but to wait for better weather and try again the next night.
Troops searching for the KIA and survivors. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
As the storm raged, the members of the task force — haunted with thoughts of their brothers on the mountain — tried to sleep.
As the next night approached, the task force went to work, planning another insertion onto the deadly ridgeline. The Night Stalkers again loaded their Chinooks with Rangers and SEALs and took off toward the mountains.
Arriving on site, the task force members fast-roped in. The extreme height of the trees made the full length of rope — approximately 90 feet — necessary. Many of the men suffered scorched hands from gripping the rope through gloves for such a long descent.
Once on the ground, they started their search for casualties, potential survivors, and sensitive equipment.
As the Night Stalkers flew back to Bagram, the JSOC ground force that had convoyed to the crash radioed to the task force that they had secured the site. There were no survivors.
The JSOC troops, along with their newly arrived reinforcements, went to work recovering those killed in action as well as sensitive equipment that could not fall into enemy hands. They then used explosives to clear out a large enough area for Chinooks to land when they came back.
Explosives were used to chop down trees due to width of the trees being too big for chainsaws. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Matt Rogie arrived in Bagram just before the Night Stalkers came back after dropping off the recovery force. Assigned to replace Eicher as senior flight lead, he was trying to learn as much as he could before hopping into an aircraft and joining the mission.
Rogie met Eicher on the flight line when he landed after returning from the mission.
“I’m glad you’re here because I am spent,” Eicher told him.
The Night Stalkers flew back to their newly forged landing zone the following night. The weather was turning bad again as they offloaded Marines to assist with security.
“I could see the grass being blown by the rotor wash and all the remains bags being lined up in a row — 16 of them,” Rogie recalled. “There was still some smoldering from the crash site, and I could see the glow from the heat through my night vision.”
Some of the fallen members of Turbine 33 prior to being flown out. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.
One by one, the Rangers and SEALs loaded the fallen onto the Chinooks and headed back to Bagram with their brothers. The flight back was pure silence. The loss weighed heavy on the men.
As the Night Stalkers approached Bagram they could see what looked like everyone on base standing outside, showing their respect for the fallen.
“When we landed, we just saw a row of Night Stalkers and Rangers and SEALs for as far as I could see, lined up and ready to help transport the remains off and take them to the mortuary affairs section,” Brady recalled.
When the ramp lowered, the Night Stalkers on the Chinooks stood tall and proud for their fallen brethren as task force members boarded and began solemnly moving each remains bag to the mortuary affairs building.
“All of us were pretty broken up at that point,” Rogie said.
Pastors from the task force lead the caskets onto the C-17. Photo courtesy of Daniel Bell.
The C-17 sat on the runway with the ramp down, waiting to receive the 16 interment cases containing the fallen warriors. Brady stood next to a SEAL commander — both had to take command of their respective units when Reich and Kristensen were killed on Turbine 33. Their war-weary faces were chiseled stone as they watched the task force solemnly load 16 flag-draped internment cases into the C-17.
Brady said it seemed like the whole base turned out to give the fallen a proper sendoff. As the cases were being loaded, a SEAL ran up to the new SEAL commander and placed a written note in his hand. The note said that Marcus Luttrell was alive at a nearby village. The SEAL commander broke down and cried at the desperately needed positive news.
The fallen Night Stalkers of the 160th SOAR included:
Staff Sergeant Shamus O. Goare
Chief Warrant Officer Corey J. Goodnature
Sergeant Kip A. Jacoby
Sergeant First Class Marcus V. Muralles
Major Stephen C. Reich
Sergeant First Class Michael L. Russell
Chief Warrant Officer Chris J. Scherkenbach
Master Sergeant James W. Ponder III
Soldiers and Sailors from the Task Force saying their final goodbyes. Photo courtesy of Daniel Bell.
The members of the task force said their final goodbyes. The C-17 closed its ramp and taxied down the runway and took flight. The fallen warriors were now on their way home.
The lone C-17 aircraft lumbered through the sky after departing Germany, a necessary stop on the way back to the United States. The back of the aircraft contained the flag-draped coffins of 16 great Americans: the fallen Night Stalkers and SEALs from Turbine 33.
Children of varying ages ran around the coffins, playing and yelling, not yet old enough to understand the sacrifices these warriors made. A Taliban high-value target (HVT) sat tucked into the corner away from them all, guarded by other soldiers.
Three war-weary escorts — one of them a SEAL and the other two Night Stalkers Daniel Bell and Chris Eicher — sat off to the sides, grimly staring off into space. They were exhausted and angry with the mistake the U.S. Air Force had made when they allowed Space-A seating to be filled on this leg of the flight home.
The men of the task force saying their final goodbyes to the fallen before they are flown home to their final resting place. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
The rescue operation, known as Operation Red Wings II, continued for weeks. Almost every variety of special operations troops in the U.S. military inventory participated in a coordinated effort through some of Afghanistan’s most dangerous and austere terrain during the search for their brothers — both alive and fallen.
Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell was the only survivor from the initial four-man SEAL reconnaissance element.
For the Night Stalkers of the famed 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the war on terror continued.