HERAT, Afghanistan — Officials in Afghanistan’s western province of Herat are bracing for a rise in coronavirus infections, as thousands of Afghans return from neighboring Iran every day.
The provincial Public Health Department told RFE/RL on March 12 that nearly 10,000 Afghans had entered Herat from Iran the previous day alone.
That’s a twofold increase from March 9, when local officials said about 4,800 Afghans had crossed the border from Iran in one day.
Afghanistan has so far reported only seven cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
But provincial Governor Abdul Qayum Rahimi said the situation was certain to worsen soon, creating new challenges for the war-torn country. “Increasingly high numbers of people are crossing the border from Iran and we are seriously concerned that [some of them] will bring more coronavirus to Afghanistan,” Rahimi told RFE/RL on March 10.
Tehran reported more than 1,000 new cases on March 12, raising the official number of infections in Iran to more than 10,000. But many Iranians say they distrust the figures released by the authorities and believe the Iranian government is grossly underreporting the extent of the outbreak there.
Iran is home to more than 3 million Afghans — including migrant workers and refugees as well as university and religious students.
Five of Afghanistan’s confirmed COVID-19 patients are from Herat. The other two are from the northern province of Samangan. All of the confirmed cases are Afghans who had recently returned from Iran, local officials say.
Bracing For Worse
Afghanistan has deployed small teams of medics who have been screening Afghans who cross the border from Iran into Herat Province. The medics are checking temperatures of returnees and asking if they’ve had any potential COVID-19 symptoms.
They also are asking returnees whether they’ve been exposed to an infected person, said Abdul Hakim Tamanna, the head of Heart Province’s Public Health Department. Those with high fever or other symptoms are transferred to a special ward at a hospital in the provincial capital.
“We’ve allocated a special ward with 80 beds for COVID-19 patients, both for the suspected and confirmed cases in isolated sections. But this is not enough,” said Muhammad Ibrahim Basem, who oversees the special ward. “The situation is extremely fluid and requires that at least 1,000 beds are ready,” Basem told RFE/RL on March 12.
Similar concerns are being voiced in Samangan Province, where two people tested positive earlier this week. “We’ve been prepared in advance. A hospital ward with 20 beds was prepared for potential COVID-19 patients,” Abdul Khalil Musaddiq, head of Samangan Public Health Department, said on March 10.
But Musaddiq warned that Samangan Province did not have the resources to handle an outbreak beyond the hospital’s capacity.
Health officials in Herat are calling for Afghanistan’s central government to provide equipment for laboratories in provincial regions so that more people can be tested.
Afghanistan, a country of 35 million people, currently has only one laboratory that is able to test for coronavirus. Authorities outside of the Afghan capital must send samples from suspected cases to the laboratory in Kabul for testing.
The Afghan government has allocated million to combat the outbreak. Public Health Minister Ferozuddin Feroz said another million “is in a state of reserve if the unwanted incidents escalate and get out of control.
Low Public Awareness
Provincial authorities in Herat declared an emergency when the first COVID-19 case was confirmed there on February 24. Schools, restaurants, wedding halls, and public baths have been closed and large gatherings are banned.
Officials from Herat’s provincial government told RFE/RL on March 12 that the public spaces were unlikely to reopen in the foreseeable future.
Buses and minibuses that carry a large number of passengers have also been banned as part of Herat’s effort to contain the virus.
Mosques remain open. But RFE/RL’s correspondent in Herat reports that the number of the worshipers has dwindled in recent days.
The war-ravaged country’s poor health-care services, as well as low public awareness about health and hygiene, are adding to difficulties in the battle against coronavirus.
One patient last week briefly escaped from the quarantine ward of Herat hospital, sparking concerns that he could contaminate many more people. Hospital officials said the patient was apprehended and isolated. They said those who came in contact with him have been told to take tests and exercise precautions.
Authorities also have launched an extensive coronavirus-awareness campaign through media in recent weeks.
The Education Ministry, meanwhile, has set up a special working group along with public-health authorities to assess the situation in other high-risk regions and decide whether to suspend schools.
It’s easy to forget that most Confederate officers were pardoned after the war, either en masse for rebellion or individually if they were accused of other crimes, and returned to lives of business or started new careers in politics. Relatively few of them would see combat in the American-Indian Wars. But one famous general offered his skills to America during the Spanish-American War and led all cavalry units in Cuba, including Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders and Buffalo Soldiers.
Confederate Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler during the Civil War.
And the Confederacy was trying to stand up a national military, from scratch, to defend itself. So state militia officers and former U.S. Army officers with good training saw themselves quickly promoted. Wheeler became a colonel of infantry, then the head cavalry officer for the Army of Mississippi. By the end of the war, he was a lieutenant general.
During the conflict, Wheeler made a name for himself as a fighter. At one point in 1863, he conducted a stunning raid against Union Maj. Gen. William S. Rosencrans. Rosencrans was under firm orders to hold Chattanooga, but all of his beans and bullets had to pass down 100 miles of rail and 60 miles of mountain paths. His force was nearly encircled and so low on vital supplies that soldiers were on half rations and had enough ammo for only one day of fighting.
Wheeler, front, stands with some of his subordinate cavalry officers including then-Col. Theodore Roosevelt at his left.
(U.S. National Archives)
Wheeler took advantage of this. Despite having his own shortage of battle-ready men and horses, he took on a mission to conduct a massive raid against Rosencrans. He hand-picked what men and horses were ready to fight and took them out from Oct. 1-9, 1863. They cut through the Union lines, destroyed hundreds of Union wagons, and choked off Rosencrans.
Wheeler, at left, sits in consultation with other men during the Siege of Santiago in Cuba.
While he wasn’t the only former Confederate to fight in Cuba, he does seem to be the only former Confederate general to serve as a general for the U.S. Army in combat after the war. In Cuba, he commanded all cavalry forces; even the famed Rough Riders put together by former Assistant Secretary of the Navy and future President Theodore Roosevelt.
As a Maj. Gen. of Volunteers, Wheeler led his men against Spanish troops at Las Guasimas, participated in the Battle of San Juan Hill, and then fought at the siege of Santiago in Cuba. He was even placed over the 9th and 10th cavalry regiments, Buffalo Soldier units.
He performed well enough that, despite his age, he was offered a commission in the regular Army as a brigadier general and led troops in the Philippine-American War. While he wasn’t often fighting on the front lines, the brigadier general was still competent and valuable as a battlefield leader.
A U.S. Army project took a new approach to developing robots — researchers built robots entirely from smaller robots known as “smarticles,” unlocking the principles of a potentially new locomotion technique.
Researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology and Northwestern University published their findings in the journal Science Robotics.
The research could lead to robotic systems capable of changing their shapes, modalities and functions, said Sam Stanton, program manager, complex dynamics and systems at the Army Research Office, an element of U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory, the Army’s corporate research laboratory.
“For example, as envisioned by the Army Functional Concept for Maneuver, a robotic swarm may someday be capable of moving to a river and then autonomously forming a structure to span the gap,” he said.
Five identical “smarticles” — smart active particles — interact with one another in an enclosure. By nudging each other, the group — dubbed a “supersmarticle” — can move in random ways. The research could lead to robotic systems capable of changing their shapes, modalities and functions.
The 3D-printed smarticles — short for smart active particles — can do just one thing: flap their two arms. But when five of these smarticles are confined in a circle, they begin to nudge one another, forming a robophysical system known as a “supersmarticle” that can move by itself. Adding a light or sound sensor allows the supersmarticle to move in response to the stimulus — and even be controlled well enough to navigate a maze.
The notion of making robots from smaller robots — and taking advantage of the group capabilities that arise by combining individuals — could provide mechanically based control over very small robots. Ultimately, the emergent behavior of the group could provide a new locomotion and control approach for small robots that could potentially change shapes.
“These are very rudimentary robots whose behavior is dominated by mechanics and the laws of physics,” said Dan Goldman, a Dunn Family Professor in the School of Physics at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the project’s principal investigator. “We are not looking to put sophisticated control, sensing and computation on them all. As robots become smaller and smaller, we’ll have to use mechanics and physics principles to control them because they won’t have the level of computation and sensing we would need for conventional control.”
The foundation for the research came from an unlikely source: a study of construction staples. By pouring these heavy-duty staples into a container with removable sides, former doctoral student Nick Gravish — now a faculty member at the University of California San Diego — created structures that would stand by themselves after the container’s walls were removed.
Light hits a smarticle (smart active particle) causing it to stop moving, while the other smarticles continue to flap their arms. The resulting interactions produce movement toward the stopped smarticle, providing control that doesn’t depend on computer algorithms.
Shaking the staple towers eventually caused them to collapse, but the observations led to a realization that simple entangling of mechanical objects could create structures with capabilities well beyond those of the individual components.
“Dan Goldman’s research is identifying physical principles that may prove essential for engineering emergent behavior in future robot collectives as well as new understanding of fundamental tradeoffs in system performance, responsiveness, uncertainty, resiliency and adaptivity,” Stanton said.
The researchers used a 3D printer to create battery-powered smarticles, which have motors, simple sensors and limited computing power. The devices can change their location only when they interact with other devices while enclosed by a ring.
“Even though no individual robot could move on its own, the cloud composed of multiple robots could move as it pushed itself apart and shrink as it pulled itself together,” Goldman said. “If you put a ring around the cloud of little robots, they start kicking each other around and the larger ring — what we call a supersmarticle — moves around randomly.”
The researchers noticed that if one small robot stopped moving, perhaps because its battery died, the group of smarticles would begin moving in the direction of that stalled robot. The researchers learned to control the movement by adding photo sensors to the robots that halt the arm flapping when a strong beam of light hits one of them.
Smarticles: Robots built from smaller robots work together
“If you angle the flashlight just right, you can highlight the robot you want to be inactive, and that causes the ring to lurch toward or away from it, even though no robots are programmed to move toward the light,” Goldman said. “That allowed steering of the ensemble in a very rudimentary, stochastic way.”
In future work, Goldman envisions more complex interactions that use the simple sensing and movement capabilities of the smarticles. “People have been interested in making a certain kind of swarm robots that are composed of other robots,” he said. “These structures could be reconfigured on demand to meet specific needs by tweaking their geometry.”
Swarming formations of robotic systems could be used to enhance situational awareness and mission-command capabilities for small Army units in difficult-to-maneuver environments like cities, forests, caves or other rugged terrain.
The research project also received funding from National Science Foundation.
Cinco de Mayo is a holiday celebrating (fill in the blank). No, seriously this is a quiz. We’re guessing you were likely too drunk to remember what one of your most loved holidays is actually about… aside from celebrating tequila and tacos with your favorite group of friends. This year, with Corona (not the beer) in the way, it’s looking more like “Cinco de solo”. But fear not, we’re here to ensure your celebration is just as awesome with these handy at home hacks.
Not all tacos are created equal. They come soft, hard, and even puffy (we’re being totally appropriate here). It’s time to step up your taco game and step out of your comfort zone. Considering the fact that there’s literally nothing else to spend your money on, go big and get multiple styles to create a taco spread that’ll make your homies seriously jealous.
Do the salsa
We’re not talking about the dance… although, why not? Another crucial component of your feast is getting the delicious dip just right. And you’ve got options. Tomatillo, poblano, ancho are all words you need to get familiar with if you’re going to go all in. Feeling fruity? (again, completely appropriate) Try going for a pineapple-mango combination. Whatever you do, don’t you dare cheap out on a jar of pre-made tomato sauce masquerading as salsa.
Should you cut the cheese?
Good question. Research has shown us that this is a highly debated topic that is actually dependent upon what you’re stuffing your taco with. Queso fresco, cotija, queso de Oaxaca, or your standard-issue cheddar all have variations of saltiness, creaminess, and melt factor. One could even go as bold to say “no cheese” and bank heavy on your flavor profile.
Friends don’t let friends…
Friends don’t let friends drink solo on Cinco de Mayo. Yes, this applies even to social distancing parties. In case you live under a rock, there are plenty of apps for you to connect virtually and make it work. Do us a solid and let us know how you got creative with distance drinking games.
Step up your game bro
The stocks may be down, but alcohol sales sure are solid. By now you’ve likely demolished that “emergency stash” and shifted way into the realm of stay-at-home-mom level drink making. Now is your time to shine cupcake. With your designated set of friends, take the time to get creative and conjure up some amazing cocktail recipes for everyone to tray and vote on this holiday. Try setting some ground rules and a pre-set shopping list for everyone to grab beforehand. Take turns making each other’s cocktails and vote on the best.
Make it weird
If it were normal again, this day would be full of crazy taco creations to try at restaurants all across the land. Doing something “weird” is even better when it’s in the privacy of your own home. Cue the next few suggestions: radishes, nopales, fruit, kimchi, and the dessert taco. What we’re saying is- make it a competition between friends and make your best “take”, then deliver one to each of your friends and facetime everyone at dinner time to vote on who did the best.
Whatever you do, do it with as much humor and delicious new methods as humanly possible. It’s a heavy world out there and at least for 24 glorious hours, we can all have a little fun celebrating the Mexican army’s victory over the French empire. Cheers.
At one time, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria controlled a self-proclaimed caliphate that stretched from Syria to Iraq, but now that force in Iraq has been degraded so much that the remnants are hiding in caves, deep wadis, and tunnels in the desert and hills of western Iraq’s austere terrain, the commander of Task Force Rifles told Pentagon reporters Dec. 11, 2018.
Army Col. Jonathan C. Byrom, who also serves as deputy director of Joint Operations Command Iraq, spoke via video teleconference from Baghdad.
Kurdish peshmerga and Iraqi security forces are conducting continuous clearance operations against these small pockets, the colonel said.
Checkpoints along the Iraq-Syria border have now been reopened, and Iraq’s border guard and security forces are operating along that border to prevent ISIS from crossing, he said. That includes “intense cross-border fires” by Iraqi and coalition forces in consultation and coordination with Syrian Democratic Forces, he added.
U.S. Marines with Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, attached to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force, Crisis Response-Central Command fire 120mm mortars in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve operations Sept. 18, 2018. CJTF-OIR is the military arm of the Global Coalition to defeat ISIS in designated parts of Iraq and Syria.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Gabino Perez)
Iraqi security forces are large-scale clearance operations and are hunting ISIS leadership and trying to take out the terrorist group’s media, propaganda, and financial capabilities, Byrom said.
Assistance from U.S., coalition forces
U.S. and coalition forces are advising, assisting, and enabling Iraqi forces, he said, support that includes providing them with joint fires, intelligence, aerial surveillance, and training, along with some equipment. “It’s a good partnership” that’s preventing a resurgence of ISIS and continues to degrade their numbers and effectiveness, the colonel said.
Byrom emphasized that the Iraqis are conducting their own missions and making the decisions. “They are effectively targeting ISIS and regularly conducting operations that disrupt ISIS and preventing their resurgence,” he said.
Asked how many ISIS fighters remain in Iraq, Byrom said he doesn’t focus on the number. “What we’re really focused on is the capability and whether they can translate this capability into destabilizing or resurging,” he explained.
The good news story, he said, is that ISIS attacks “are not having that much of an impact on the population.”
The NBA playoffs are heating up, and you know what that means…
Every on-base basketball court in the country now has some dude who: screams for the ball, dives at your knees, and calls a foul whenever anyone gets near him. He wears brand new Jordans, knee-high socks, and probably has some (also new) sweatbands on. He constantly wipes the bottom of his shoes with his hands. His only passes are conveniently missed shots. He calls you “chief.”
These dudes are not that guy.
They served their country—and they balled out at the highest level.
Mike Silliman was a beast for West Pointe. He took them to the NIT semifinals in 1954, 1955, and 1956. That was the equivalent of taking a team to the “Final Four” three consecutive times. He then won a gold medal with the USA Olympic basketball team in 1968. He also, perhaps, more importantly, became a captain while serving with the adjutant general corps in Korea.
The most intriguing player on our list, Bernard James, didn’t play professional OR collegiate basketball until after serving in the military. In fact, James didn’t even play high school ball.
James dropped out of high school, earned his GED, and then enlisted in the Air Force at 17. He served six years in the Air Force as a security forces specialist, and became a Staff Sergeant. He was deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom to Iraq, Qatar, and Afghanistan.
It wasn’t until he played on his intramural Air Force team (and had a surprise 5-inch growth spurt—seriously) that he realized he had a knack on the hardwood. He then played in community college before transferring to FSU, where he was eventually drafted by the Dallas Mavericks where he would spend most of his 3 year NBA career.
Tim James is a Miami hero. He played at Northwestern High School in Miami, then “the U” (The University of Miami), and was later drafted by the Miami Heat in the first round of the 1999 NBA draft. He played for 3 years in the league, and then joined the military after 9/11.
After enlistment, he served in Iraq and, according to an article by Dan Le Batard, even decided not to tell any of his fellow soldiers about his time in the NBA. Like Shakespeare said, “discretion is the greater part of valor.”
To say Bill Bradley was a renaissance man is an understatement. Bill Bradley’s achievements included: attending Princeton, attending Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, winning an Olympic gold medal in basketball, playing for the New York Knicks, winning two NBA championships, serving in the United States Air Force Reserve, becoming an NBA Hall of Famer, becoming a senator, and running for president… I pray he doesn’t DM my girl.
Don’t let the milkman look fool you– George Yardley is an NBA Hall of Famer and two-time All-American. After being drafted (to the NBA, that is) in 1950, he served in the Korean War for two years. When he got back, he played for the Fort Wayne Pistons and became the first player to score 2,000 points in a season.
Rightfully credited as one of the greatest NBA players of all-time, Elgin Baylor turned around a struggling Minnesota Lakers franchise (and set the pace for what would become one of the winningest franchises in all of sports) by leading them to the NBA finals his rookie season. During his fourth year in the purple and gold, he served as a U.S. Army Reservist, living at Fort Lewis. His duties as an army reservist prevented him from practicing or participating in weekday games—and he still posted up 38 points per game.
David “The Admiral” Robinson never achieved the rank of Admiral—but he was a Lieutenant for the Navy. His time in the Navy almost never happened as he was almost not accepted on account of “being too tall” (the Navy limit at the time, 6’8″, was two inches shorter than Robinson). In spite of this, he was accepted and balled out at the Naval Academy where he won the coveted Naismith and Wooden awards. He was a 10 time all star, 2 time NBA champion, a member of the legendary 1992 Olympic gold medal “Dream Team,” and had perhaps the most defined shoulder muscles of the 1990’s.
Army veteran Ernesto Rodriguez finished his trek from Clarksville, Tennessee, to the California coast when he walked the last few miles and onto the Santa Monica Pier.
A police motorcycle officer led the way and a crowd of supporters followed as Rodriguez strode to the end of the pier with American flags protruding from his backpack.
“I’m freaking out, I’m overwhelmed,” he told KTTV. “It’s the culmination of everything I’ve done and it’s starting to hit me. I’ve tried to stay calm pretty much up until today but I’m getting to a point where my emotions are starting to hit.”
Rodriguez, who spent 15 years in the Army, said he got the idea for the journey after hearing about a 2012 study that said there were 22 veteran suicides a day.
“I could’ve been one of those 22 back in 2011,” he told the station. “I wanted to find a way to inspire those that are having dark days like that to just keep pushing forward. So I just started walking.”
The trek began on Veterans Day 2016.
“There’s been days I’ve wanted to quit,” he said. “There’s been days that I almost died, to be quite honest. When I was out in the desert it was rough — dehydration, heat exhaustion — but there were so many people that came out. I remember something as simple as somebody driving and finding me and bringing me water or Gatorade just to make sure I wasn’t dehydrated out there.”
“I’m so grateful for the kindhearted people that helped me get through this.”
The Russian military has made a new claim about the downing of a passenger jet over the war zone in eastern Ukraine in 2014, asserting that the missile that brought Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 down was sent to Soviet Ukraine after it was made in 1986 and never returned to Russia.
Defense Ministry officials made the claim at a news conference in Moscow on Sept. 17, 2018, in an apparent attempt to discredit the findings of an international investigation that determined the system that fired the missile was brought into Ukraine from Russia before the Boeing 777 was shot down on July 17, 2014, and smuggled back into Russia afterward.
Kyiv swiftly disputed the Russian assertion, which a senior Ukrainian official called an “awkward fake,” while the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) said that it was still waiting for Russia to send documents it requested long ago and that Russia had made “factually inaccurate” claims in the past.
In a statement to RFE/RL, the Dutch government said it had “taken notice of the publications in relation to the press conference by the Russian Ministry of Defense.”
“The Netherlands has the utmost confidence in the findings and conclusions of the JIT,” the statement added. “The JIT investigation has broad support by the international community. The government is committed to full cooperation with the criminal investigation by all countries concerned as reflected in [UN Security Council] Resolution 2166.”
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Russian Service in an interview, the founder of cybersleuthing outfit Bellingcat accused Russia of “lying about the content” of videos it used as evidence, and said there was “absolutely no way to know” whether the records it cited are genuine.
All 298 passengers and crew were killed when the jet, which was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, crashed in an area held by Russia-backed separatists in the Donetsk region.
The tragedy caused an international outcry and deepened tensions between Moscow and the West following Russia’s seizure of Crimea and support for the militants in their fight against Kyiv’s forces after pro-European protests pushed Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych from power.
The JIT also found that the Buk missile came from Russia’s 53rd Antiaircraft Missile Brigade and was fired from territory held by the Russia-backed separatists.
Many of the JIT’s findings have been corroborated or supported by evidence gathered by journalists and independent investigators, such as the British-based Bellingcat.
The Russian Defense Ministry officials claimed that some of the evidence used by the JIT, including videos investigators used to track the path of the missile from Russia to Ukraine and back, was falsified. They cited alleged evidence whose authenticity and accuracy could not immediately be independently assessed.
Citing what they said were newly declassified documents, the Defense Ministry officials asserted that the missile was manufactured in Dolgoprudny, outside Moscow, in 1986 — five years before the Soviet Union fell apart — and was sent by railway to a missile brigade in the Ternopil region of western Ukraine in December of that year.
“The missile belongs to the Ukrainian armed forces and never returned to Russian territory,” said Lieutenant General Nikolai Parshin, chief of the Defense Ministry’s missile and artillery department.
In Ukraine, National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksandr Turchynov said Russia’s “statement alleging that the missile that downed MH17 had a Ukrainian footprint was yet another awkward fake [issued] by the Kremlin in order to conceal its crime, which has been proven by both the official investigation and by independent expert groups.”
Earlier, Bellingcat’s Eliot Higgins cast doubt on the allegation that video footage was doctored by investigators, writing on Twitter that the Russian Defense Ministry “should probably know we have the original version of the video they’re talking about at the moment.”
“And we’ve never published it. And the JIT has it,” Higgins added in successive tweets.
In a statement on Sept. 17, 2018, the JIT said it would “meticulously study the materials presented as soon as the Russian Federation makes the relevant documents available to the JIT as requested in May 2018″ and required under a UN Security Council resolution.”
The JIT said that it asked Russia to provide “all relevant information” about the incident back in 2014, and in May 2018 “specifically requested information concerning numbers found on several recovered missile parts.”
The investigative body said that it had “always carefully analyzed” information provided by Russia, and in doing so “has found that information from the Russian Ministry of Defense previously presented to the public and provided to the JIT was factually inaccurate on several points.”
Bellingcat’s Higgins echoed that statement, telling RFE/RL’s Russian Service that “the Russian Ministry of Defense has a long and well-established track record of lying and faking evidence.”
“So, really, there is absolutely no way to know that this information is genuine,” Higgins said. He also disputed the claim that videos were doctored, accusing the Defense Ministry of making “purposely misleading” statements about video evidence and “just lying about the content.”
The new Russian assertions follow several other attempts by Russia to lay blame for the downing of MH-17 on Ukraine, including initial suggestions — now discredited — that the jet was shot down by a Ukrainian warplane.
The 298 victims of the crash are among more than 10,300 people killed since April 2014 in the war in eastern Ukraine, where fighting persists and the Moscow-backed militants continue to hold parts of the Donestk and Luhansk provinces despite internationally-backed cease-fire and political-settlement deals known as the Minsk Accords.
So you’re thinking about joining the military. Good for you, you little patriot! Whether it’s for the experience or the benefits or maybe just the emptiness inside you that makes you want to be a hero call to serve a higher good, the military has a lot to offer.
But not all military experiences are equal. There’s a major difference between being a Marine Scout Sniper and an Air Force Linguist. Both have pros and cons, so let’s talk about some of them, starting with the culture and mission of each branch.
Keep in mind that these are broad generalizations. A Special Operations mission in any branch will differ significantly from, say, a Public Affairs perspective, which will also influence the training requirements and deployment tempos for the individual.
As a note, this article was written based on a compilation of Department of Defense publications, interviews with veterans and my own experience. It cannot cover everyone’s experience, so it’s important to do your own research and talk to veterans (not just the first recruiting officer you meet).
As an additional note, the Boot Camp descriptions here are for enlisted personnel – officers have shorter boot camps because they undergo less academic training during boot camp itself and more during additional officer training. This isn’t the only difference between being an officer and an enlisted member; from the mission to the pay to the benefits, the experiences are extremely varied — once you’ve found a branch you like, make sure you check out our article about commissioning compared to enlisting.
If you want to join the military, it’s wise to reflect on why that is and what you want your life and job to look like. This is a good place to start:
What New Marine Corps Recruits Go Through In Boot Camp
“What you’re really made of can only be revealed at the brink of exhaustion. Marine Recruit Training will take you there. Only those who possess the never-quit spirit required of every Marine will find the strength they never knew they had, the willpower they never knew they needed and the commitment to find that second wind even when it hurts to breathe to overcome the Marine boot camp requirements.”
Phase One — Weeks 1-4
Recruits transition from civilian to military life with strenuous physical training and martial arts as well as Marine Corps history and classes. They learn Marine Corps culture and values, including how to wear the uniform and handle weapons.
Phase Two — Weeks 5-9
The second phase consists of combat skills and marksmanship training. Recruits undergo gas chamber training and the Crucible.
Phase Three — Weeks 10-13
Recruits undergo specialty training such as combat water survival and defensive driving.
Physical Fitness Test:
Pull-ups or push-ups (as many as you can; you can only max out on pull-ups — with push-ups you can get a maximum score of 70 points)
Crunches or plank pose (as many crunches as possible in two minutes or holding plank pose for up to four minutes and twenty seconds)
Timed run (three mile run in 28 minutes or less for men, 31 minutes or less for women)
Combat Fitness Test:
Movement to Contact (timed 880-yard sprint)
Ammunition Lift (lift 30-pound ammo can as many times as possible overhead in set amount of time)
Maneuver Under Fire (300-yard course that combines battle-related challenges)
Deployments: The Marines remain at a 1:2 deployment-to-dwell ratio (or 1 year deployed with 2 years at home), which Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps General Robert Neller referred to as “unsustianable.” The goal is to achieve a 1:3 deployment-to-dwell ratio.
Culture: Marines are trained for combat and they are very good at that mission, which they should be proud of.
Unfortunately, the Marine Corps still struggles with health and care of its service members. A 2018 Annual Suicide Report showed the Marine Corps had the highest rate of active duty suicides, with a rate of 31.4 per 100,000 (compared to the Army with 24.8, Navy with 20.7 and Air Force with 18.5).
The Marine Corps also had the highest reporting rate of sexual assault with 5.7 percent, followed by the Army at 5.5 percent, Navy at 4.8 percent and the Air Force at 4.3 percent.
Army Basic Combat Training comes in three phases and lasts about ten weeks depending on your military occupational specialty (MOS) — in other words, your job for the Army.
During the Red Phase, you learn the basics about Army life, such as how to wear the uniform and comport yourself. You also get your ass in line with physical readiness training and formation marching. Also, as a treat, you get your introduction to Chemical Radioactive Biological and Nuclear readiness, including getting gassed proper usage of breathing masks.
During the White Phase, you receive weapons and hand-to-hand combat training. You continue your physical readiness training, including obstacle courses and rappelling from the 50-foot Warrior Tower.
During the Blue Phase, you receive advanced weapons training, including machine guns and live grenades. You embark on a multiple-day land navigation course to test your survival skills. If you pass all of your challenges, you become a fully qualified Army Soldier. Huzzah.
Deployments: The Army has maintained a high operations tempo when it comes to deployments. Current high deployment thresholds consist of 220 days deployed out of the previous 365 days, or 400 days deployed out of the previous 730 days.
In 2017, the Secretary of Defense’s standard was a 1 to 2 deploy-dwell ratio — or one year deployed with two years at home, for example — with the “red line” at 1 to 1. At the time, that ratio was at about 1 to 1.2 or 1.3, according to Army Times. It isn’t uncommon to expect 12-18 month deployments.
Culture: Like the Marine Corps, the U.S. Army has a proven history on the battlefield. Soldiers are trained to operate under a “suck it up” attitude to endure long deployments and combat as well as physical and mental stress. The Army has the second highest reported incidents of suicide and sexual assault, just behind the Marine Corps. Anyone joining the Army can expect to join a branch with a proud lineage, but it’s wise to evolve your own sense of self-care and to learn how to protect your health and the health of your battle buddies.US Air Force Recruit BOOT CAMP Documentary
Air Force BMT consists of eight and a half weeks where recruits are introduced to military life through academics and uniform wear as well as physical fitness and weapons training. Academics and certifications, such as learning the Code of Conduct and becoming CPR certified, remain peppered throughout training.
Air Force recruits will complete a Tactical Assault Course and M9 pistol training, but unlike the Army or the Marine Corps, airmen are not required to qualify on the weapon during BMT. Active duty enlisted personnel and officers will qualify on their weapon only as required by their job or deployment status.
Compared to the Marine Corps and Army and even the Navy or Coast Guard, with firefighting and water survival, the Air Force BMT is probably the least strenuous of the branch boot camps.
Physical Fitness Test:
One minute of push ups
One minute of sit-ups
Timed one and a half mile run
Note that this test is less strenuous than the Army/Navy/Marine Corps fitness tests. Soldiers and Marines are more likely to become “boots on the ground” in combat zones.
Deployments: The Air Force maintains an Air and Space Expeditionary Force (AEF) deploy-to-dwell tempo system, depending on career fields: The deployment categories are called tempo bands. Air Force officials have created five tempo bands: A through E. Tempo Band A reflects the original AEF cycle of a 1:4 dwell ration based on 120-day deployments. Bands B through E are based on 179-day deployments. Tempo band B is a 1:4 dwell ratio — or six months deployed 24 months home. Tempo band C is a 1:3 dwell, band D is a 1:2 dwell and band E, reserved for the most stressed career fields, is a 1:1 dwell, or six months out, six months in.
Culture: Other branches like to tease the “Chair Force” due to its reputation for cleaner housing and higher quality chow halls. The average Air Force mission will be less physically strenuous or dangerous than that of the Marine Corps or Army.
You might say the Air Force operates with the motto of “work smarter not harder,” and for better or for worse, this pays off. In recent reports, the Air Force had the lowest number of active duty suicides and sexual assaults. That being said, if you want to join the military to get in the fight and kick down doors in a combat zone, there are few Air Force positions available.
Boot Camp: Behind The Scenes at Recruit Training Command (Full documentary, 2019)
Recruit training or “boot camp” is about seven weeks long for the U.S. Navy. It will include physical fitness and Navy heritage, as well as seamanship and firearms training. The first two weeks are a challenging adjustment period filled with medical screenings and physical training as well as military education, including uniform wear and rank recognition.
The next four weeks include class and hands-on training environments that cover everything from firefighting and shipboard damage control to water survival and weapons training. Navy sailors aboard a ship must know how to respond to ship emergencies including flooding and fires as well as how to survive at sea. Every sailor is a qualified swimmer, able to swim 50 yards and complete a five minute prone float.
The final hurdle for Navy recruits is called Battle Stations, which includes numerous obstacles to test everything learned in the weeks prior.
Physical Readiness Test:
(Note, in 2020, the U.S. Navy will be introducing changes to the PRT)
1.5 mile run for time
Alternate per commander’s discretion: 500 yard swim for time
Alternate per commander’s discretion: Stationary cycle calorie burn in 12 minutes
Alternate per commander’s discretion: 1.5 mile treadmill; run/walk for time
(2020 alternate per commander’s discretion: 2 kilometer row machine test)
Two minutes of curl-ups
(To be replaced by forearm plank test)
Two minutes of push ups
Deployments: Deployments will depend on what type of ship and mission sailors are assigned to, but they are often around seven months and during that time, sailors might not see land for long periods of time. While at sea, there are no breaks: you stand a 6-12 hour watch, even on Sundays, although there are often “holiday routines” with modified shifts. Ship/shore rotation tends to happen after about three years, depending on the job. Some career fields have longer ship rotations and some have only shore duty stations. It’s important to research ahead of time to try to secure the best job suited for you and your capabilities.
Culture: Navy ships especially continue to operate in historical fashions, so change is slow. Segregation of ranks is still strictly enforced (junior enlisted does not mingle with senior enlisted and fraternization with officers is especially prohibited in such close quarters). While women do serve at all ranks, there is still sexism and harassment in alarming numbers (though statistically less than the Marine Corps and the Army).
U.S. Coast Guard boot camp consists of eight weeks that begin with military and physical fitness fundamentals and mature to hands-on application of Coast Guard proficiencies. Recruits learn firefighting and marksmanship as well as seamanship and water survival. Recruits must pass a three part swimming test (swim circuit) that includes a six-foot jump followed by a 100 meter swim and treading water for five minutes.
Physical Fitness Test:
One minute of push ups
One minute of sit-ups
Timed 1.5 mile run
The Coast Guard consists of about 40,000 active duty members. As such, it is a very selective branch with missions that involve everything from Search and Rescue to Maritime Protection. Coast Guardsmen “deploy” every day in their duties and units and cutters can be away from port for months at a time. Coast Guard deployments tend to be more frequent, but can be as short as a few days or as long as several months.
Not all Coast Guard assignments are on “the coast” — there are inland assignments protecting inland waterways and lakes. The Coast Guard will also deploy to combat zones to provide additional support to maritime operations or to augment the Navy throughout the world.
Once you’ve researched the differences between each branch, there is still one more major consideration that can affect your military experience: whether to enlist or commission. We go into the benefits and downsides of each right here — check them out!
Israel and the U.S. inaugurated the first American military base on Israeli soil on September 18th, which will serve dozens of soldiers operating a missile defense system.
The move comes at a time of growing Israeli concerns about archenemy Iran’s development of long-range missiles. Together with the U.S., Israel has developed a multilayered system of defenses against everything from long-range guided missile attacks from Iran to crude rockets fired from Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.
The base’s opening is largely symbolic and isn’t expected to bring operational changes. But the Israeli military says that along with other measures, it sends a message of readiness to Israel’s enemies.
“It’s a message that says Israel is better prepared. It’s a message that says Israel is improving the response to threats,” said Brig. Gen. Zvika Haimovich, the commander of Israel’s aerial defense.
The base is located within an existing Israeli air force base and will operate under Israeli military directives.
Israeli and U.S. military officials cut a ribbon at the base Monday, where the American and Israeli flags flew side by side and soldiers from both countries commingled.
Israel’s multi-tier missile defense system includes the Arrow, designed to intercept long-range ballistic missiles in the stratosphere with an eye on Iran, and Iron Dome, which defends against short-range rockets from the Gaza Strip. David’s Sling is meant to counter the type of medium-range missiles possessed by Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants.
Israel considers Iran to be its greatest threat, citing the country’s nuclear ambitions, its development of long-term missiles, hostile anti-Israel rhetoric and support for anti-Israel militant groups. Israel has grown increasingly concerned about Iran’s involvement in the civil war in neighboring Syria, where its troops are supporting President Bashar Assad.
Israel is worried that Iran and its proxy Hezbollah will establish a long-term presence in Syria near the Israeli border.
Finland’s prime minister said on Nov. 11, 2018, that GPS signals in the country were intentionally disrupted during NATO military exercises in the region over the past few weeks and the culprit could have been Russia.
Finnish air-navigation services issued a warning for air traffic on Nov. 6, 2018, due to a large-scale GPS interruption in the north of the country. Norway posted a similar warning about loss of GPS signals for pilots in its own airspace at the end of the October 2018.
The NATO exercise, called Trident Juncture, ran from Oct. 25 to Nov. 7, 2018.
“It is technically reasonably easy to interfere with the radio signal in the open space,” Prime Minister Juha Sipila told public broadcaster Yle. “It is possible that Russia has been the disrupting party in this. Russia is known to possess such capabilities.”
Sipila, who is a pilot, said the goal of such interference would be to demonstrate the culprit’s ability to do so and that the incident would be treated as a breach of Finland’s airspace.
“We will investigate, and then we will respond,” he said. “This is not a joke. It threatened the air security of ordinary people.”
Finnish military personnel in formation at the Älvdalen training grounds in Sweden, Oct. 27, 2018.
(Finnish Defence Force photo by VIlle Multanen)
Finland is not a NATO member, but it took part in Trident Juncture, which NATO officials said was the alliance’s largest exercise in decades. Forces from 31 countries — all 29 NATO members, Finland, and Sweden — participated in the exercise, which took place close to Russian borders in an area stretching from the Baltic Sea to Iceland.
The exercise involved some 50,000 troops, tens of thousands of vehicles, and dozens of ships and aircraft. While much of the activity was based in central and southern Norway, fighter jets and other military aircraft used airports in northern Norway and Finland.
Russia dismissed Finland’s suggestion that it intentionally interfered with GPS signals. “We are not aware that there could be something to do with GPS harassment in Russia,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Nov. 12, 2018.
Finland shares an 830-mile border and a fraught history with Russia. In recent years, Helsinki has moved closer to NATO but stopped short of joining the alliance, in keeping with its history of avoiding confrontation with its larger eastern neighbor.
Russia has warned Finland and Sweden, which is also a close NATO partner but not an alliance member, against joining the defense bloc.
North Korea’s state-sponsored news agency issued a rare press release on Feb. 12, in which the regime’s leader, Kim Jong-un, was said to have “expressed satisfaction” after the country’s delegation arrived back from a trip to the Winter Olympics in South Korea.
Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the propaganda outlet for the regime, claimed that Kim Jong-un said South Korea’s “specially prioritized” efforts to accommodate North Korea’s delegates were “very impressive,” according to a translation from KCNA Watch.
North Korea sent a delegation that included Kim Jong-un’s sister and head of its propaganda department, Kim Yo-jong, and the nominal head of state, Kim Yong-nam, to South Korea ahead of the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang.
After North Korea agreed in January 2017, it took several steps that, at least on the surface, appeared to be an effort to thaw its relationship with South Korea. The regime sent Kim Yo-jong there, the first time the regime’s ruling family visited the South in decades, as cameras fawned over images of her smiling with South Korean president Moon Jae-in.
During this trip, Kim Yo-jong invited Moon to visit North Korea. A potential visit by Moon would be the first meeting of Korean leaders in Pyongyang since then-South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il for an inter-Korean summit in 2007.
North Korea’s recent statement and actions are a stark departure from its usual, bellicose rhetoric, and that has prompted White House officials and foreign-policy experts to be cautious about the overtures.
Vice President Mike Pence, who reportedly floated the possibility of diplomatic engagement with North Korea, said on Feb. 12 that President Donald Trump’s campaign of “maximum pressure” would continue.
“Despite potential talks, and irrespective of if they happen w/USA or S. Korea, new strong sanctions are coming very soon and the maximum pressure campaign will only intensify until North Korea abandons its nuclear program,” Pence tweeted. “All our allies agree!”
And despite being seen cheering for the joint-Korean Winter Olympics team and having luncheons with the North Korean delegation, Moon — who has been accused of being swayed by North Korea’s “charm offensive” — has given some indication that he remains wary of North Korea’s motives.
Instead of explicitly agreeing to North Korea’s invitation to Pyongyang, Moon responded by suggesting the two countries “accomplish this by creating the right conditions,” and encouraged the North to “actively pursue” talks with the U.S.
Moon is also believed to have signaled his commitment to exerting pressure on North Korea. According to Pence on Feb. 10, “both of us reiterated to each other tonight that we will continue to stand strong and work in a coordinated way to bring maximum economic and diplomatic pressure to bear on North Korea.”
China claims to have successfully tested a new sea plane, purportedly the largest in the world, and while its primary purposes are firefighting and water rescue, this new aircraft could be used to advance the country’s ambitions in the disputed South China Sea.
The AG600 Kunlong, a domestically-built Chinese aircraft roughly the size of a Boeing 737, recently completed several on-water tests on a lake in central China, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, citing China Aviation News, reported Sept. 9, 2018. It can reportedly even land in choppy seas with its hull-like fuselage.
During the testing in Hubei province, the aircraft was put through a series of water maneuvering and low-speed flight tests, according to the Associated Press.
The aircraft made its maiden flight in December 2017 Military experts reportedly believe that the latest tests indicate the plane could soon be ready for service.
The AG600 Kunlong, powered by four turboprop engines, has a significant carrying capacity. In a rescue situation, it could carry up to 50 people, and were it to be deployed for firefighting purposes, it could carry around a dozen metric tons of water.
Experts suggest that it could be used to move troops and equipment into the disputed South China Sea, where China has built militarized outposts armed with various point defense systems, jamming technology, anti-ship cruise missiles, and surface-to-air missiles. China even landed a heavy bomber at an outpost in early 2018.
“The AG600 would be suitable for the quick transport of troops and materials, and could also provide other support such as evacuating garrisons in the South China Sea or even out to the Spratlys,” Collin Koh, a research fellow in Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University’s Maritime Security Program, told SCMP.
“Beijing will also use it to justify any further build-up in the region, saying the aircraft can be used for the common good, such as providing support to foreign vessels in the area and for search and rescue,” he added.
A Beijing-based military expert suggested that the the AG600 Kunlong, the work of China Aviation Industry General Aircraft Co., can link countless islands in the South China Sea and play a big role in law enforcement, emergency rescue, and even reconnaissance.” Ching Chang, a research fellow at Taiwan’s ROC Society for Strategic Studies, argued three years ago that the aircraft could play a role in “all the government functions that may signify its substantial governance in the South China Sea,” thus bolstering its previously discredited claims to the highly-contested region.
The South China Sea, which briefly took a back seat to the nuclear war crisis on the Korean Peninsula, has once again emerged as a hot-button issue. Not only has the Chinese military been threatening foreign ships and planes that venture too close to Chinese-occupied territories, but the Chinese military recently got into a standoff with a British amphibious assault ship that approached its South China Sea holdings.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.