For the first time, the graduating class of the Air Force Academy will have a contingent of cadets who have committed to serve in the newest branch of the military — U.S. Space Force.
“We’re going to commission  Air Force Academy cadets directly into the Space Force” from the graduating class of about 1,000, Gen. Jay Raymond, who serves as the first chief of space operations, said Thursday.
“They will take the oath of office and they will be commissioned into the Space Force, so we are really excited to get those cadets onto the team,” Raymond said.
Saturday’s graduation ceremony has been drastically scaled back because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Vice President Mike Pence is set to address the graduating class in person at the academy’s Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, but no family members, spectators or visitors will be allowed to attend. The ceremony has been shortened to 30 minutes, according to academy officials.
Space Force, which was formally created only four months ago, is facing enormous personnel challenges ahead with decisions to be made during the pandemic.
However, “this is a historic opportunity” and “we get to start from scratch,” Raymond said Thursday in a Facebook town hall with Chief Master Sgt. Roger Towberman, his senior enlisted adviser.
“There is no checklist on how to set up an independent service,” Raymond said, adding he wants to make sure “we don’t have a huge bureaucracy” that would stifle innovation.
Raymond and Towberman said they are sticking with the timetable of a 30-day window, to start May 1, for current Air Force personnel to decide whether they want to switch to Space Force.
“I understand it’s a life-changing decision” and some may need more time, Towberman said. “If you just aren’t sure, I want you to understand we’ve got a service we’ve got to plan for.”
Those from other services can also apply to join the Space Force.
“If you’re interested, we’d love to have you,” Raymond said.
But Towberman cautioned that service members from other branches should check first with their leadership before volunteering.
In the rush to set up the new force, Raymond and Towberman said some of the fundamentals expected by the traditions of service and the culture of the U.S. military have yet to be decided for the Space Force.
Raymond said it’s yet to be decided what a Space Force honor guard would look like, and Towberman said no decisions have been made on what the rank insignia will look like for enlisted personnel, or even what the ranks will be called.
The Allied invasion of Normandy was a challenge on a grand scale. Every single aspect of the plan drew new challenges for commanders. Luckily, the greatest military minds of the day were leading the Allied forces. They came up with some ingenious solutions. For example, in the absence of securing a usable harbor, they created the Mulberry, a harbor that could be shipped and built on site to keep the flow of supplies going.
To confuse the Germans as to where the D-Day attacks would come, Operation Fortitude created an entire fake army aimed at the Pas-de-Calais. The soldiers on the invasion beaches still faced the many natural and man-made obstacles that would hinder their ability to effectively storm the beaches. One man was tasked to create overcome these obstacles and protect the assault forces.
Major General Percy Hobart, an unconventional yet very successful armored and engineering officer, created specialized vehicles designed to help amphibious forces overcome the natural and man-made obstacles common during a landing. These vehicles helped the British and Canadians during their assaults on Gold, Juneau, and Sword beaches. Collectively these vehicles were known as “Hobart’s Funnies.”
Sherman DD Tank
The most well-known of Hobart’s Funnies was the Duplex Drive Sherman Tank — or Sherman DD. This tank had a large canvas floatation screen that was erected to make the tank seaworthy and included a secondary drive mechanism that powered a propeller to drive the tank through the water. The idea was to launch these tanks a few miles from shore and have them come ashore with the infantry without the need to bring a large landing craft too close to shore. Their use on D-Day saw mixed results.
The Crocodile was a British Churchill tank that replaced the hull mounted machine gun with a flamethrower. An armored trailer behind the Croc carried fuel for the weapon. This weapon was adept at clearing German fortifications and later inspired American versions used in the Pacific.
The Crab was a Sherman tank fitted with a cylindrical flail with weighted chains. When activated, the flail cleared a tank-width path by detonating any mines in its way with the weighted chains. This tank was an improvement over previous versions as the Sherman’s engine drove the flail, rather than needing to fit a separate engine on the tank. It was also equipped with numerous ways to mark the cleared path for the following infantry or tanks.
AVRE (Armored Vehicle Royal Engineers)
The AVRE were a family of engineering vehicles designed for specific tasks. All AVRE were Churchill tanks with the main gun removed and replaced with a Petard mortar that could fire 40-pound shells against German fortifications. The British then attached various equipment for specific tasks. One tool was a Bobbin, a canvas sheet that was rolled down in front of and then under the tank to provide a path to keep it, and following tanks, from sinking into the soft ground of a beach. There were also attachments for dealing with gaps such as a fascine, a bundle of wooden poles that could be dropped into a ditch for the tank to drive over, or a small box girder bridge that could clear 30-foot gaps. For breaching, there was an attachment the British called the Double Onion, two explosives on a metal frame that could be pressed against a bunker or fortification to breach it.
ARK (Armored Ramp Carrier)
The ARK was a Churchill tank with the turret removed and folding ramps installed in both front and back. The tank could drive up to an obstacle, extend a ramp, and have other vehicles drive up it and over the obstacle. It could also drive into a gap and act as a bridge if necessary.
All of the vehicles Hobart created were assigned to the 79th Armoured Division under his command. All these designs were offered to the Americans as well, but since they did not have a specialized unit to operate the vehicles, they turned them down with the exception of the Sherman DD tanks. The 79th did not fight as a unit on D-Day but was instead assigned to support different elements making the assault. After the success of Hobart’s Funnies on D-Day, the 79th remained in action and used its special vehicles many times throughout the remainder of the war.
Oh boy, picking just one military news story and riffing on it is going to be hard this week.
Let’s see… The Coasties beat the Marines in a sniper competition. The Marines drew another skydick over Miramar. Civilians learned that the Air Force has enough money to waste hundreds of thousands on easily broken coffee mugs. A soldier got arrested in South Korea for kicking a policeman in the nads. And the Commander-in-Chief said he’d, “send in the military — not the guard — but the military,” effectively discrediting the efforts of over half a million guardsmen.
Because I can’t come up with anything funnier than reality has been this week for the military, I’ll just remind you that your Cyber Security cert is almost expired. You should probably get on that.
(Meme via Decelerate Your Life)
(Meme via Air Force Nation Humor)
(Meme via The Salty Soldier)
(Meme via Hooah My Ass Off)
(Meme via Smokepit Fairytales)
(Meme via Battle Bars)
(Meme via Pop Smoke)
(Meme via Private News Network)
(Meme via Ranger Up)
(Meme via Valhalla Wear)
(Meme via Untied Status Marin Crops)
(Meme via Army as F*ck)
(Meme via US Army WTF Moments)
13. The perfect Halloween costume doesn’t exi-
No, seriously. You should probably get your Cyber Security training done.
The Marine veteran is a gold mine of experience and practicality. Marines are realists who call it like it is — and that can be a major advantage if you have a thick skin and a sense of humor.
Just ask us about the Legend of Wagner and the thing he loves.
Note: The Marine Infantryman is a particularly elusive breed. Companionship with outsiders is rare but does occur more often in post-service life. Their namesake is “03,” which is derived from the first two numbers of their MOS. They are fiercely loyal and take care of their own.
1. You won’t find a better drinking buddy
All Marines can trace their lineage back to a common birthplace of Tun Tavern. Our cultural traditions involve copious amounts of alcohol and an occasionally shaky moral compass. When you’re the tip of the spear, party like it.
2. They’re prepared for anything
Marines have a plan for zombies, the apocalypse, and natural disasters. Personally, I have a first aid kit and a fire extinguisher in my car. It’s better to have than have-not in an emergency, even if it’s basic.
3. They pay attention to detail, all the time
Marines are very good at cleaning. It’s almost like it was drilled into them or something…
4. They are unparalleled travel companions
Marines like to show off how savvy they can be while off the grid. They have the innate ability to find the best food, lodging, and parties. Actual survival techniques may vary.
5. They want you to succeed
Veterans are a cut from a different cloth of society. Marines are honest — albeit indelicate — when stating the facts, but it comes from a good place. When people want to see you fail, they’ll do it in silence. If you need a kick in the ass to get your sh*t together, Marine buddies will provide it.
6. Marines love comedy
When life gets rough, all you can do is laugh. So, Marines laugh a lot. Rest assured that if you tell a Marine a dark joke, no judgment will be passed. However, prepare yourself for one of our own, because it’s going to change your life.
[Slays in Marine humor]
7. They’re great with animals
Our pets have better healthcare than we do. We’ll do anything to keep our little buddies healthy and happy. When shown compassion or leadership, animals have been known to join a wild pack of patrolling Marines.
8. Marines are romantic
Marines excel at two things: fighting wars and making babies. Anyone who has deployed can testify to a newfound appreciation for the opposite sex. They’re going to make the most out of every opportunity to get lost in the throes of passion.
There’s just something special about Duffle Blog articles. Most joke news sites make it completely obvious that they’re jokes and should never be taken seriously. Most rational people would read a headline like “Are Millenials killing the telegram industry?” and take the joke at face value. Then there’s satire – an art form truly mastered by the folks at DB.
Actual satire is a joke about something taken to the extreme so the audience can see the absurdity in whatever is being ridiculed. Think Stephen Colbert when he was on Comedy Central. Great satire blurs those lines so obscurely that no one can really tell the absurdity. Think Don Quixote and how people believed it was a story about how chivalrous knights were.
On a much lighter note, half of all social media users were unable to connect Wednesday, and we got a new trailer for the upcoming Avengers film. I’m not saying it’s a coincidence, but it definitely smells like the greatest viral marketing strategy for a film to date.
If you survived the “Snappening,” enjoy some memes!
An unidentified serial killer murdered five victims in Northern California between 1968 and 1969. The killer then taunted the police and terrorized the public through threatening handwritten letters he sent to the press from 1969 to 1974. In addition to these letters taking responsibility for the murders, the killer known to investigators only as “Zodiac” also delivered four cryptograms, or coded messages, to be deciphered. For 51 years, the “340 Cipher” and the identity of the Zodiac Killer have puzzled FBI agents, police detectives, investigative journalists, and cryptographers alike. On Friday, the FBI announced the 340 Cipher — aptly named for the number of symbols in the decrypted message — has been solved.
“Over the past 51 years, CRRU [Cryptanalysis and Racketeering Records Unit] has reviewed numerous proposed solutions from the public — none of which had merit,” the FBI said in a statement. “The cipher was recently solved by a team of three private citizens.”
In the midst of a golden age of amateur sleuthing and crime solving of cold cases, a new wave of inquisitive private citizens have dedicated their time to the point of obsession to uncover leads to the most infamous unsolved mysteries. A popular route that has emerged in recent years is hosting true-crime podcasts in an effort to reveal the hidden truths previously overlooked or missed. The Murder Squad podcast, for example, solved a 1980 cold case thanks to a listener’s submission of their DNA to a genealogy website.
For the 340 Cipher, however, the tireless work began 14 years ago when Virginia-based web designer David Oranchak tried to break the code. He added two team members to his passion project as recently as this year: Australian applied mathematician Sam Blake and a Belgian code-breaking software engineer named Jarl Van Eycke. Using Van Eycke’s code-breaking software called AZdecrypt, the team tested 650,000 possible solutions through trial and error. On Thursday, Dec. 3, they caught their first break, recognizing the phrases “Hope you are trying to catch me” and “or the gas chamber.”
“In Sam’s manipulation of the cipher he reads through all the symbols in a diagonal direction following this rule: first, start in the upper left corner, write out that symbol, move down one, then move over two, write out that symbol, continue until you get to an edge,” Oranchak says in his YouTube explanation video titled Let’s Crack Zodiac — Episode 5 — The 340 Is Solved! He continues, “Then jump around to the opposite edge and keep going.”
The team was stunned after making further modifications to their software that revealed the phrase “that wasn’t me on the TV show,” in reference to the Zodiac Killer’s letter sent two weeks after someone called into a Bay Area talk show in 1969. “I need help,” the caller said on the air. “I’m sick […] I don’t want to go to the gas chamber.” The timeline of events fit the solution that Oranchak and his team were pursuing.
On Dec. 5, when the team was satisfied with their results, they sent the deciphered 340 code to the FBI to confirm their findings. It read in capital letters, without punctuation, and it misspelled the word paradise: “I hope you are having lots of fun in trying to catch me that wasn’t me on the TV show which brings up a point about me I am not afraid of the gas chamber because it will send me to paradice all the sooner because I now have enough slaves to work for me where everyone else has nothing when they reach paradice so they are afraid of death I am not afraid because I know that my new life is life will be an easy one in paradice death.”
Although this is a small victory, the message didn’t divulge the true identity of Zodiac, which the killer declared was in one of the cryptograms. The Zodiac Killer remains on the loose, and the victim’s families are without closure. In order to bring awareness to cold cases and mysteries that may be decades old, bringing their stories into the spotlight once more may result in new leads in the future.
In 2007, actor Jake Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of San Francisco cartoonist and amateur detective Robert Graysmith in the 2007 movie Zodiac did just that. Graysmith, who was on staff at the San Francisco Chronicle in 1969 when the Zodiac Killer first contacted the newspaper, wrote a New York Times bestseller on the topic. Perhaps this latest news may inspire other cryptographers to decode the remaining two cryptograms in a quest to uncover the true identity of Zodiac.
Sailing saved Ronnie Simpson’s life. He was an 18 year old high school senior in Atlanta, Georgia when the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq began in March 2003. Drawn to service by the events of September 11, Ronnie joined the Marine Corps Infantry the day after the war started.
Less than a year later in March 2004, he deployed to Iraq with the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines.
“I was a .50 cal gunner on top of a Humvee,” he recalls. “Four months into my deployment, we were ambushed during a night-time convoy, and an RPG hit the ground near my Humvee. The rocket bounced up and exploded in the air one meter from me. I had broken ribs, detached retinas, a bleeding brain which created sub-retinal fluid, a traumatic brain injury (TBI), a blown-out left lung and my tongue was blown into my airway. I was temporarily knocked unconscious. Because I wasn’t breathing and was unresponsive, Marines in my truck thought I was dead. It was actually a textbook blast injury. The Corpsman in my Humvee, Doc David Segundo, was injured too but he got up, cleared my airway, and saved my life.”
Simpson, now 30 years old, spent a lot of time recovering both physically and mentally. Most of his TBI symptoms weren’t permanent (he credits the helmet technology for that). Despite having burns over 10 percent of his body, many of those scars aren’t visible.
“It fucked me up pretty good,” he says. “Unless you knew me though, you’d never know I’m hurt. I have no visible scars unless I take my shirt off. Then I have many.”
Simpson is legally blind and can’t obtain a driver’s license. Though his body healed, his mental state took much longer. He reevaluated his life and experiences through a 9,000-mile bike trek across Europe and Asia in 2009 and more than 50,000 miles at sea, both healing counterpoints to his experiences in Iraq.
“My time in theater and my travels have shaped my perspective,” Simpson says. “There’s a lot of good and beauty in this world, and I want to add to that. Our program is about helping the men and women that are coming back – the veterans – the people we should be looking out for. We in the veteran community have these experiences and while we may interpret them differently, this shared experience can bring us together. We can come together to create profound and impactful programs to help the veterans from these two wars as well as something permanent and sustainable for veterans of future conflicts.”
Sailing is the catalyst for Simpson’s initiative. Not only his love for sailing but how he changed his life and how he aims to change the lives of others.
“I joined the Marines at 18, was injured in combat at 19, my dad died four months after I got hurt, and by 20 I was medically retired,” Simpson says. “By 22 I was a lost soul. I had reached my deepest, darkest point. I’m fearful of what would have happened if I hadn’t flipped the script. I broke off an engagement, sold my house, and moved from Texas to California. That move was my re-birth as a new person.”
On the California coast, he found his calling. After living so recklessly, he became completely focused on becoming a racing sailor and making the most of his life. Seven years later, Simpson now travels the world as a professional sailor and sailing writer.
“It helped me heal,” Simpson says. “These adventures help you positively adrenalize yourself in a sustainable manner. Guys who come back from places like Fallujah have experienced adrenaline like most will never know, and again need to achieve that heightened state of existence. But where will they find it? Drugs, alcohol, or doping the pain away with pills? I can put you on the helm of a racing sailboat in the middle of the night and it will rock your world. This is a healthy way to get that fix.”
It’s not just about giving people the fix of adrenaline they were accustomed to while in combat. For Simpson and his sailing nonprofit – Coastal and Offshore Recalibration Experience, or CORE (www.medicinalmissions.com/CORE), that community of veterans is the most important result.
“Because that’s what it is: a Community,” he says. “On a sailboat you can put anyone into a job they can do, regardless of their injury. It’s a sport that doesn’t care if you have arms or legs. That’s a big part of it. Everyone has an assigned, defined role. There’s a chain of command, a defined mission, teamwork is critical and constant risk management is all part of the game. The parallels between racing sailboats and combat are incredible. When you combine that with the peacefulness and serenity of heading to sea with your brothers and sisters, it’s a powerful experience.”
Simpson and his best friend Army veteran Walter Kotecki, created a sailing program within an existing wounded-veteran nonprofit, raised $50,000 through yacht clubs and private donors, and gave a sailing experience to 30 veterans over the course of four clinics in 2012 and 2013.
“There’s always a steep learning curve when you start your own thing. We flew vets to San Francisco,” he says. “They had the whole range of injuries from PTSD to multiple amputees to blindness. We used sailing, surfing, yoga, nature walks, kayaking, art and more to help these guys look past their injuries and realize that anything is possible, no matter their injury, while re-establishing that sense of camaraderie and community that so many have lost since leaving the service.”
It was so successful and the veterans so responsive Simpson and Kotecki decided to strike out on their own earlier this year, forming CORE.
“I had a Vietnam vet hook me up with a racing sailboat and an opportunity,” says Simpson. “He passed that torch to me and told me to pay it forward. Here’s my chance to hook somebody else up. Let’s re-build that community and keep that torch going.”
CORE is seeking veterans of the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan to participate in more sailing clinics throughout California, with the first being in San Francisco in October of this year. They will be accepting applications until August 31. For 2016, CORE is planning six to eight clinics up and down the California coast.
The most ambitious plan for CORE is participating in the 2017 Transpacific Yacht Race – where they will train a full crew of combat-wounded veterans to sail from Los Angeles to Honolulu, the first time ever that such a crew would be assembled.
“Our goal is to help reduce the rate of veteran suicide in this country. Sailing is one of the tools that we use,” he says.
Simpson is now featured in a series of short films produced by Craftsman, We Are The Mighty, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), showing how IAVA empowers veterans as they transition back to civilian life.
“It’s admirable for companies like Craftsman to reach out to veterans groups to benefit the guys and girls that are coming back,” Simpson says. “I see a positive shift in awareness about issues that affect veterans, how we can improve the care of veterans, and how we can achieve a more holistic healing approach instead of pumping them full of drugs.”
Craftsman is donating $250,000 to IAVA and from May 25 – July 4, for every new follower of @Craftsman on Instagram, Craftsman will donate an additional $1 to IAVA (with a minimum donation of $5,000).
“I am honored to be part of this and stoked that a big corporation is out to make a difference of stemming the tide of 22 veterans a day,” Simpson says. “I’m excited that they believe in what we’re doing, and to work on this next mission of saving lives by reaching out to the veteran community.”
ISIS has issued a travel advisory for Europe to its fighters due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, asking fighters to suspend travel to the region for terror attacks.
The latest edition of the terror group’s newsletter, Al-Naba, calls on its fighters to “stay away from the land of the epidemic,” Homeland Security Today recently reported.
“The healthy should not enter the land of the epidemic and the afflicted should not exit from it,” the editors of the newsletter stated.
The newsletter also offered militants advice on how to avoid getting infected, including “cover the mouth when yawning and sneezing” and “wash the hands before dipping them into vessels.” There’s a full-page graphic on the back cover that cites Islamic texts for “directives to deal with epidemics.”
The terror group’s newsletter has been following the novel coronavirus pandemic closely, reporting on the spread of the virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, since the beginning of 2020.
In a February edition, ISIS said “many Muslims rushed to confirm that this epidemic is a punishment from God Almighty” for China’s oppression of the Muslim Uighur minority, but went on to warn that the “the world is interconnected” and transportation “would facilitate the transfer of diseases and epidemics.”
ISIS no longer has a self-declared caliphate, meaning it doesn’t control a large swath of territory across Iraq and Syria anymore. But it’s estimated the terror group still has as many as 20,000 fighters in the region, and a recent UN report said the group has 0 million in reserves.
In April, US President Trump ordered a review of the suspension of sanctions on Iran related to the nuclear deal.
The head of the UN nuclear watchdog said on Sept. 11 Iran was playing by the rules set out in a nuclear accord it signed with six world powers in 2015, after Washington suggested it was not adhering to the deal.
The State Department must notify Congress every 90 days of Iran’s compliance with the deal. The next deadline is October, and President Donald Trump has said he thinks, by then, the United States will declare Iran non-compliant.
Yukiya Amano, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Iran had not broken any promises and was not receiving special treatment.
“The nuclear-related commitments undertaken by Iran under the [deal] are being implemented,” he said in the text of a speech to a quarterly meeting of the IAEA’s 35-member Board of Governors.
Most sanctions on Iran were lifted 18 months ago under the deal and, despite overstepping a limit on its stocks of one chemical, it has adhered to the key limitations imposed on it.
In April, Trump ordered a review of whether a suspension of sanctions on Iran related to the nuclear deal, negotiated under President Barack Obama, was in the US national security interest. He has called it “the worst deal ever negotiated.”
The US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, traveled to Vienna last month to speak with Amano about Iran and asked if the IAEA planned to inspect Iranian military sites, something she has called for.
Iran dismissed the US demand as “merely a dream.”
Iran has been applying an Additional Protocol, which is in force in dozens of nations and gives the IAEA access to sites, including military locations, to clarify questions or inconsistencies that may arise.
“We will continue to implement the Additional Protocol in Iran… as we do in other countries,” Amano said.
In addition, the IAEA can request access to Iranian sites including military ones if it has concerns about activities or materials there that would violate the agreement, but it must show Iran the basis for those concerns.
That means new and credible information pointing to such a violation is required first, officials from the agency and major powers say. There is no indication that Washington has presented such information.
When a veteran or member of the armed forces dies, he or she is entitled to a ceremony that includes the presentation of a U.S. flag to a family member and a bugler blowing Taps. Most of the time, there is a three-volley rifle salute if requested by family members. But now, if the deceased served in the Air Force, the three-volley salute is not an option because the Air Force can no longer support riflemen for funeral services for veteran retirees.
Seven member services for retirees included six members to serve as pall-bearers, a six member flag-folding detail, and a three riflemen to fire the salute. Veteran’s funerals now only receive the services of two-member teams, who provide a flag-folding ceremony, the playing of taps, and the presentation of the flag to the next of kin.
“To me, without the 21-gun salute, it just does not make it complete a proper military burial,” veteran Wayne Wakeman told Honolulu’s KHON 2 News. “I think because of sequestration or the lack of funds or whatever excuse they’re giving, that they had to hit the veterans.”
Rose Richeson, from the Secretary of the Air Force’s Public Affairs Press Desk, told We Are The Mighty the policy of restricting the funeral honor is an Air Force-wide requirement.
“The requirement is consistent with DoD policy which require a minimum of two personnel,” Richeson said. “Any number of personnel above two that is provided in support of military funeral honors is based on local resources available.”
A three-volley salute is the correct term for what is commonly (though mistakenly) referred to as a 21-gun salute. There are often seven riflemen, totaling 21. The origin of the three-volley funeral honor lies elsewhere, according to the Tom Sherlock, an Arlington National Cemetery Historian. A 21-gun salute is reserved for Presidents of the United States or visiting heads of state.
One year ago in Norfolk, Virginia, aboard USS George H.W. Bush at the establishment ceremony for US 2nd Fleet, I directed the fleet to be ready to fight — ready to fight so that we do not have to.
The last time 2nd Fleet existed, the world looked very different than it does now: Today maritime superiority, vital to our national security, has been placed at risk by resurgent powers, namely Russia and China, seeking to supplant the US as the partner of choice around the world.
The 2nd Fleet of today has redirected its strategic focus from mainly training units to deploy to regional conflicts in the Middle East to operating high-end naval forces and developing tactics to deter potential conflicts, to include near-peer adversaries in the North Atlantic and Arctic.
Arleigh-Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham hits heavy seas in the Atlantic Ocean, deployed in the 2nd Fleet area of operations, Dec. 18, 2018.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 2nd Class Jonathan Clay)
We must be present in contested spaces — and virtual presence is not true presence. US 2nd Fleet is focused on the waters from the East Coast to the Arctic, Iceland, Norway, and approaches of the Baltic and Azores.
There has never been a question as to whether the North Atlantic or the Arctic is important, but the security environment has changed.
Sailors signal an E-2D Hawkeye ready for launch on the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, Oct. 27, 2018.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 2nd Class Thomas Gooley)
The Arctic is the only body of water on earth where there has not been a naval battle, and today we know more about the surface of the moon than we do about hydrography in the Arctic.
With waterways remaining open for longer periods, it is becoming a competitive economic and strategic space.
In my office I have a world map from the point of view of the Arctic. When you look at the world from that perspective, you realize just how close North America is to Eurasia. The Northern Passage, close to Russia, and the Northwest Passage, through North America, will provide opportunity for commercial and leisure travel.
However, the waters are dangerous, with increased risks of mishaps. Russia considers itself THE great power in the Arctic, and China is certainly interested in the hydrocarbon and fish available in those waters.
If we do not get into the Arctic with a measured and deliberate approach, the area is destined for conflict. US and Allied presence now, both naval and economic, in the Arctic, could mean a peaceful, cooperative flourishing environment.
US 2nd Fleet is a platform for partnerships; no one nation can face today’s challenges alone.
As an F-18 pilot, I have spent most of my career fulfilling combat missions into the Middle East. In contrast, my counterparts in our Allied and partner Nordic navies have continued to operate at sea in the tough conditions of the North Atlantic and the Arctic.
As the Arctic becomes increasingly navigable, we must look to our partners as experts in the arena and learn from them. We are doing exactly that. Just last week USS Gravely (DDG 107) conducted operations with a Danish ship in the Arctic waters off the coast of Greenland.
We will carry home our lessons learned from these types of operations and implement them going forward.
US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Gravely with Danish navy command and support ship HMDS Absalon off the coast of Greenland, Aug. 16, 2019.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm Specialist 2nd Class Jessica L. Dowell)
Wherever we operate, we will do so professionally.
Early this summer 2nd Fleet led exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) in the Baltic Sea. We led 18 nations, 50 ships, and nearly 10,000 personnel through two weeks of operations designed to improve integration among us.
The Baltic Sea is a contested space. During BALTOPS the Russian navy announced a simultaneous exercise in the Baltic. Russia is a Baltic nation, and as such we expected our ships and aircraft would operate alongside Russian ships and aircraft.
Each interaction was safe, professional, and in accordance with international norms; as professional mariners, we must all strive for this regardless of diplomatic or political tensions. We will continue to lead by example.
My greatest challenge in the endeavor of standing up 2nd Fleet has not been lack of money or manpower, though both present problems.
Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis speaks to a sailor aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, Feb. 1, 2019.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 3rd Class Amber Smalley)
The greatest challenge I have faced is disrupting the sense of normalcy established during years of fighting FROM the sea, rather than fighting UPON the sea. We need to take a hard look at the assets we have and ensure we are employing them appropriately and fighting as fleets rather than as small task groups or units.
We are adept at operating at the lowest monetary cost, but we can no longer afford to do so. Efficiency does not necessarily correspond to effectiveness. To be successful, we must rewire our assumptions and be willing to be uncomfortable.
In the military, we are in the business of risk management. We often conduct operations that may be considered dangerous by any account, but we weigh the risks, implement mitigation efforts, and assess advantages before moving forward. The most dangerous course of action is complacency — to continue to do things just because it is what we have always done or because there is red tape in the way of changing course.
We have made great progress in the last year, but the heaviest lifting is still to come. The most risky course of action at this point is to continue operations as usual. We are building US 2nd Fleet to be the market disrupter that changes the way we fight as a fleet — as a coalition — and in doing so, we will be ready to fight.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
With just over 5,000 employees, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) is one of the smaller federal law enforcement agencies.
However, that doesn’t mean they don’t deal with their share of vicious individuals, groups, and threats. In fact, the ATF goes after some of the most violent criminals: those who want to shoot others or blow something or someone up. Naturally, being an ATF field agent requires a great deal of mental toughness.
Carlos Baixauli, or “Box” as his friends call him, joined the ATF in 1986. He was recruited after doing undercover work for Florida’s state version of the ATF and for the Miami-Dade Police Department; his 30-year career included working on the Medellín Cartel, headed by the infamous Pablo Escobar.
Baixauli in the field as an ATF agent.
(Photo courtesy of Carlos Baixauli)
His first experience as a new agent was witnessing an atrocity on New Year’s Eve at the Du Pont Plaza in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
“The plaza was set on fire by angry union workers,” Baixauli recalled. “They wanted to send a message, and in doing so, killed 98 people and injured over 100 others.”
Baixauli was tasked with walking through the crime scene to investigate.
“People were burned into place,” he said. The scene was like something out of a nightmare. “One thing that’s always stuck with me — they were busting out of a window, and this lady was getting ready to jump. Then a burst of air came out, feeding the fire, and a giant fireball came across, and it was like everyone had been turned into the ruins of Pompeii. They were all ash.”
It didn’t take long for Baixauli to be assigned more undercover operations that put him in harm’s way, dealing with armed home invaders. With home invasions, the crime often goes unreported.
“We started coming up on homes and there would be five or six dead Colombians, Venezuelans, or some other South American nationality in the house,” Baixauli said. “The house was empty. I’m talking big homes, five, six bedrooms. But there was no furniture or accessories. These are homes that the drug cartels would set up in Florida. They are guarded by their thugs, and they are stash houses. They would start delivering drugs from these locations to other locations. The reason they would find the people dead inside is that home invaders would go rip off the dope dealers.”
His undercover role was that of a disgruntled employee of the drug cartel. Baixauli would tell the criminals that he wasn’t making enough money, that there were millions of dollars worth of drugs in these houses, and that he needed his fair share.
“They would talk to me about how they can come and rip the place off,” Baixauli said. “They would take the drugs and the money.”
An ATF Special Response Teams searches an exterior of a building in Baltimore, Md.
According to Baixauli, they were usually either a stash house or a drug house. He would meet with them four to five times before taking them to a house the ATF was in control of already.
“The violent nature of these guys,” he said, “they knew they were going into a gunfight. We were just lucky that we won.”
Sometimes his meetings as an undercover agent resulted in a brush with death.
Later in his career, Baixauli found himself amongst a rough crowd at a local hole-in-the-wall restaurant in South Beach.
“I’m sitting there, and a guy puts a gun into my side. My team is wired up and they’re outside. I had to let them know I’m at gunpoint but they needed to wait for the code word because I needed to talk my way out of the situation I was in,” Baixauli said. “The guy with the gun says, ‘Tell me where the stash house is.'”
Instead, he made a comment about the gun. “Why do you have that .45 in my side? Somebody is going to see it outside or from the bar. We have a good deal going here, and now we aren’t going to make any money.”
Baixauli kept his cool and didn’t even signal that the gun concerned him.
“If you’re going to keep the gun on me, put it in my back,” he said. “Nobody can see it then.”
He recalled the event as if reliving it. “We are moving. My team is listening. They are making a move towards the front door. ‘The cashier is going to see the gun,’ I tell the guy. The whole time I’m giving a play by play to my crew outside. Walking towards the front door, I see the cover team. Soon as I go through the door, this guy comes behind him, and he’s taken down easily.”
Baixauli with .7 million in recovered cash.
(Photo courtesy of Carlos Baixauli)
One way the ATF differentiates from other law enforcement agencies is that they try not use confidential or criminal informants (CIs).
“ATF doesn’t deal with CIs. CI always brings baggage. The best hand-to-hand is between a good guy and a bad guy. If I need a CI to introduce me to a bad guy, and we do a deal with the CI, we throw that deal away. We don’t want to deal with the baggage from the CI. As soon as we could cut the CI out, we would,” Baixauli said.
While he’s been out of the ATF since 2016, Baixauli is still concerned about current threats; he sees groups like MS-13 as a bigger threat to the U.S than even Pablo Escobar’s cartel.
“MS-13 is 10 times worse. Drugs, extortion, brutal murders, prostitution, terrorizing people — and as far as law enforcement is concerned, they are animals who have no feeling for life.” In 2017, it was reported that the group stabbed a victim 100 times, beheaded him, and ripped out his heart.
Despite the danger, Baixauli loved his job with the ATF so much that he can’t remember a day he didn’t look forward to work. “I loved it,” he said. “I just loved it.”
Few British politicians are as controversial as former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Still, it was incumbent upon foreign governments to protect her when she traveled abroad. When preparing to visit Japan for an economic summit, Thatcher received the strangest offer for protection – Japan wanted to protect the Iron Lady with a team of twenty “Karate Ladies.”
It may sound like a silly offer, but at the heart of it, the Japanese were doing their best to accommodate Thatcher on the basis of her gender. In June 1979, the British Prime Minister was due to visit Tokyo for an economic summit and Thatcher had just won the post of Prime Minister – the first woman in the United Kingdom’s history to hold the position. She beat out the male Labour candidate James Callaghan just one month prior. The Japanese public were interested in Maggie Thatcher’s status as Britain’s premier working mother.
Thatcher was not interested in attending the conference as a woman, but rather wanted to attend as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
“If other delegation leaders, for example are each being assigned 20 karate gentlemen, the Prime Minister would have no objection to this; but she does not wish to be singled out. She has not had in the past, and does not have now, any female Special Branch officers.”
Thatcher with Japanese Crown Prince Akihito.
Sir John Hunt, Thatcher’s Cabinet Secretary, raised the issue with his Japanese counterpart when discussing the Prime Minister’s security detail.
“Sir John said that Mrs. Thatcher will attend the summit as prime minister and not as a woman per se and he was sure that she would not want these ladies; press reaction in particular would be unacceptable.”
The bodyguard force was supposedly made up of 20 or so all-female bodyguards who were trained in unarmed combat, among other skills. Thatcher’s objection wasn’t to the offer of a security detail, but rather the idea of an all-female unit. They wanted to avoid the embarrassment of even getting such an offer, but the offer reached the British press anyway. Thatcher attended the 1979 summit, where no Karate Ladies were present or required.