Explosive ordnance disposal technicians here are working with a custom-made, next-generation robot that will pick apart bombs and study them.
Brokk — a Frankenstein’s monster of sorts with pieces of high-tech ordnance disposal machinery, as well as large construction demolition mechanics — replaces 20-year-old “Stewie,” the previous EOD robot.
EOD techs haven’t had a chance to fully test Brokk’s capabilities yet, but anticipate a live bombing exercise in the next few months will put it to work.
But the $1.3 million upgrade has been worth it so far, according to Staff Sgt. Ryan Hoagland of the 96th Civil Engineer Squadron, who said the older robot had him operating more like a mechanic than an EOD technician.
“I don’t have to mop up hydraulic fluid right now. I’m not fixing wires that have [overheated] because of the sun or that have deteriorated over the years,” among other issues, he said during a tour here. Military.com spoke with Hoagland during a trip accompanying Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson to the base.
The one-of-a-kind, electric-powered Brokk provides smooth extraction with its control arms, operated remotely from a mobile control trailer nearby, Hoagland said.
(U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jeff Walston)
Some movements can be programmed into Brokk, which weighs around 10,000 pounds. But typically, it takes at least two airmen to operate a controller for each arm, plus another to steer the robot, he said. Technicians will watch a live video feed from cameras fastened to it.
Brokk will allow teams to dismantle bombs — often live — after a range test, in which munitions might have penetrated 30 feet or more underground.
EOD techs then collect data from the bomb, providing more information to the weapons tester on how the bomb dropped, struck its target and or detonated.
“Basically, [it’s] data to figure out what happened, and why the item didn’t perform the way it was supposed to,” Hoagland said. “We hope the test goes well. If it doesn’t, we then go in there with this and take care of it.”
The robot, made by Brokk Inc., was named after the Norse blacksmith “who forged Thor’s hammer,” according to a base press release in April 2018. Part of its arms were manufactured in conjunction with Kraft Telerobotics.
Hoagland said the service could incorporate a few more capabilities into Brokk in the future, depending on necessity.
Just as a step away from the regularly scheduled news that is probably left in better hands than the “meme guy,” did you know that former President George W. Bush had his museum debut at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington D.C. this week?
Yeah. And I mean, they’re actually pretty good. He’s got plenty of artwork that you can find around, but his most recent series has been stylized portraits of wounded Post-9/11 veterans – with the exception of the veteran’s eyes, which are drawn realistically. I’m no art critic, but I can tell that it draws you in, and you find yourself staring into the very souls of the veterans, and the rest kinda pulls you into how they feel.
I guess that goes to show you that after he got his “Presidential DD-214,” even the former commander-in-chief made a name for himself in the art world. See? Now can you all get off my back for using my GI Bill on a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree?
Anyways, here are some memes while I reevaluate my creative endeavors.
“I was confused,” said Shirron, who was a sergeant at the time. “I asked, ‘What do you mean?’ I thought there must be a mistake.”
The terrorist attacks that day — Sept. 11, 2001 — would change the course of Shirron’s career, and that of countless other troops, and have lasting implications for Fort Bragg and the military.
Almost immediately, Fort Bragg tightened security to its highest level. Training, typically a year-round affair, stopped. Instead, soldiers and airmen were readied to respond to the attacks.
The first soldiers would leave Fort Bragg in the weeks following the attacks. Since then, they have been continuously deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq as part of the Global War on Terror.
Shirron, stationed in Germany in 2001 with the 1st Infantry Division, said he didn’t fully learn what was happening until several hours after the attacks.
First, his convoy was turned around and ordered to report to the closest US military installation. When they arrived at Wurzburg, then the home of the 1st Infantry Division, they were greeted by soldiers in full body armor with loaded weapons.
The entire installation was on lockdown. Shirron and others were given space in an empty mailroom to rest and wait for orders.
Across the hall, he found about 40 soldiers gathered around a television, watching the news of the attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania
“Everything changed,” he said. “The Army gained a much greater purpose. And service became about something much greater than yourself.”
Shirron joined the Army in 1997, starting out in the Arkansas National Guard. He was a student at the University of Central Arkansas, still trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his life.
In the Army, he found the purpose he was lacking. And less than a year later, he transferred to active duty as a fires support specialist.
“I liked what it taught me, not only about myself but about what the Army was,” Shirron said of his decision.
He served at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, before transferring to Germany.
In those years before the attacks, Shirron said, Army life was very different from what it was today.
“The worst part was that every six months or year, you were going to be gone for about 30 days for training,” he said. “That’s what everyone dreaded.”
Training was less urgent and more monotonous, he said. Soldiers prepared for “Russian hordes” and other threats that didn’t seem real.
But after the attacks, training changed.
It was more focused and efficient. There was an urgency, a realism that had lacked before.
“The tempo picked up,” Shirron said. “We were grasping a new type of warfighting. Leaders understood the gravity of the situation and our methods were changing.”
Those who once dreaded month-long exercises now recognized that deployments would become part of life. They would serve for a year or more in countries they knew little about prior to the attacks.
Shirron said that prospect didn’t scare many out of the force. Instead, it created new resolve.
“Now, training was real,” he said. “Now, deployments were eminent.”
Shirron was approaching the end of a three-year enlistment when 9/11 happened. He soon would re-enlist for a six-year tour.
He said he wanted to serve his country when he joined, fueled by patriotism and a sense of duty. Things were different for those who joined in the days and weeks after the attack.
“The soldiers that came in after 9/11 — they knew immediately that they were going to fight,” Shirron said. “They joined because of 9/11. They wanted to do their part.”
Others in the military today were too young to join in the wake of 9/11.
First Lt. Andrew Scholl, a member of the brigade staff for the 82nd Airborne Division Sustainment Brigade, was in fourth grade in Proctorville, Ohio, when the first plane hit the World Trade Center.
“I can remember there were some teachers being taken out of class and talked to in private,” Scholl said. “Next thing I knew, they came in and told us our parents would be picking us up.”
Scholl’s father arrived in full uniform. He was a lieutenant colonel serving as a professor of military science at Marshall University, and he did his best to explain to his son what had happened.
“It’s hard to wrap your head around that as a fourth-grader,” Scholl said.
Soon, his father was off to meetings at the Pentagon. Two deployments would follow — one for a year and another for six months.
Scholl said he never had thought much about serving in the military.
“Teachers would ask, ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ I never really had an answer before,” he said. “But after that day, it was ‘I want to be in the Army.’ Ever since that day, it’s all I wanted to do.”
Scholl said most young soldiers today don’t remember the attacks. They don’t remember a peacetime military. And that makes their service all the more impressive.
“They were born in 1997 and were growing up,” he said. “We’re still at war. There’s no clear end in sight.”
“If anything, I think that shows what kind of people are joining today,” Scholl added. “It speaks volumes for their character.”
Shirron has deployed three times since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He served 15 months and 14 months in Iraq, and 11 months in Afghanistan.
In 2008, he attended the Army’s Warrant Officer Candidate School. He’s now assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division as a lethal targeting officer.
He said the Army has changed much over the last 16 years, but that focus is still there.
“We’ve been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan for so long,” Shirron said. “But the burden on the individual soldier is only increasing.”
Today, the military juggles old and new threats, he said. There’s increased uncertainty in the Pacific, where North Korea continues to rattle sabers. And there’s budget uncertainty hanging over much of the force.
Shirron said he often looks back at how the Army and his own career was affected by Sept. 11.
“If 9/11 hadn’t have happened, I can’t say I would be here,” he said. “The world changed that day. I’m here now because of what happened that day. And definitely the military changed that day.”
The Trump administration is trying to facilitate the release of a Pakistani doctor who was jailed for helping the CIA locate Osama Bin-Laden, The Wall Street Journal reports.
The doctor, Shakil Afridi, started a fake vaccination program to both locate bin Laden and attempt to get his DNA. The Pakistani government was particularly displeased with the U.S. for not notifying them of the Navy SEAL raid which killed bin Laden, and jailed Afridi a month after the May 2, 2011, raid. He has been held and sentenced on a series of dubiously legal charges since.
Pakistani officials reportedly want better relations with the U.S. and may even consider giving Afridi a presidential pardon.
“We are trying to accelerate the legal processes,” one official said. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster reportedly raised the matter during a late April visit to Pakistan where Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. expressed the country’s desire “to find a solution.”
Afridi’s lawyer told reporters in 2016 the best hope for his release was U.S. pressure, but that the Obama administration had not shown their support. His lawyer continued that Afridi has languished for much of his sentence in solitary confinement.
“I have no hope of meeting him, no expectation for justice,” he said.
Congress has voted every year since 2011 to withhold millions of dollars in badly needed U.S. aid to Pakistan.
Trump pledged on the five year anniversary of bin Laden’s death that he would get the doctor released “in two minutes,” which drew sharp Pakistani criticism. “Contrary to Mr. Trump’s misconception, Pakistan is not a colony of the United States of America,” Pakistan’s interior minister said in a statement after Trump’s comments. He continued that Afridi’s future would be decided “by the Pakistani courts and the government of Pakistan and not by Mr. Donald Trump, even if he becomes the president of the United States.”
On Jan. 23, 2019, Lopez told the court he met Guzman at Puente Grande in 1999. He said he resigned in late 2000, deciding to leave when the government launched a corruption probe at the prison. Guzman contacted him soon after, Lopez said, seeking help to maintain the privileges he had gotten through bribery and other inducements.
It long been suspected that Lopez aided the escape, and it is widely believed that Guzman was snuck out in a laundry cart, though others dispute that account. On the stand, Lopez denied involvement in the January 2001 escape but said a laundry cart was involved.
Senior “Chapo” Guzman lieutenant Damaso Lopez arrested in Mexico
Guzman “told me the only person responsible for that escape had been Chito, who was employed in the laundry,” Lopez testified, according to Vice reporter Keegan Hamilton.
Chito, a laundry room worker at the prison, “had taken [Guzman] inside a laundry cart that was picking up dirty laundry and transported him to the parking lot … he put him in the trunk of his car,” Lopez said.
Lopez said that Guzman revealed more about the escape months later, in the mountains of Nayarit, a state near Sinaloa in northwest Mexico.
“He told me that really the plan for his escape was spontaneous,” Lopez testified, according to Hamilton. “This was because some of his friends in the federal government had notified him that an extradition order had been issued.”
After that, Guzman offered Lopez a job, and over the next decade and a half Lopez became deeply involved in the cartel’s operations — including efforts to spring Guzman from prison in 2015.
Lopez said he met with Guzman’s wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, and his sons in mid-2014, just a few months after Guzman was recaptured.
During that meeting, he said, they discussed buying land near the high-security Altiplano federal penitentiary, west of the capital in Mexico state, where Guzman was held and that Coronel told Lopez that Guzman had asked for him to buy weapons and an armored vehicle to use in the breakout.
Emma Coronel Aispuro
It took months to dig a mile-long tunnel under the prison, and Guzman could reportedly hear the excavation in his cell — so loud that other inmates complained. (Footage from Guzman’s cell the night of the escape also picked up sounds of his henchmen smashing through the floor of his shower.)
During that time, Coronel was a major player in the plot, Lopez said, carrying messages to and from Guzman.
Coronel has never been charged with a crime, but her role as intermediary for Guzman and his associates during the 2015 escape may explain the tight restrictions the US has put on her contact with her husband while he’s been in US custody. In November 2018, as the trial was starting, the judge in the case denied a request to allow Guzman to hug her.
The audacious escape through a mile-long, ventilated tunnel on a motorcycle rigged on rails garnered international attention. Lopez added more detail to the account, saying that one of Coronel’s brothers was driving the motorcycle, which had been towed through the tunnel.
Lopez said that, like the 2001 escape, his involvement was limited. “I never knew, not even about one shovel of earth that was removed there,” he said. “His sons were doing that.”
In early 2016, Mexican newspaper Reforma reported that Mexican officials allowed a private company to connect a geolocation-monitoring bracelet to Guzman while he was at Altiplano, but Reforma was unable to find definitive answers about who authorized the device, rising concern it was part of the kingpin’s escape plan.
“Some high officials in the federal government consider that, because of the grade of precision in the digging and the excavation,” Reforma reported at the time, “the tunnel through which ‘El Chapo’ escaped could not have been constructed without the help of geolocation device.”
President Enrique Peña Nieto, accompanied by Cabinet members, holds a press conference in the Palacio Nacional announcing the capture of Joaquín Guzmán.
Lopez said the excavation was in fact aided by a GPS watch smuggled into the prison for Guzman to wear. (A Mexican official who talked to Guzman after he was recaptured in 2016 said Guzman told investigators that his henchmen dug two tunnels under the prison, the second coming after they arrived at the wrong cell.)
Guzman remained on the run for 13 years after his 2001 jailbreak, but his freedom after the second escape was short-lived. Mexican authorities caught up with him in northwest Sinaloa state in January 2016.
After his capture he was returned to Altiplano, which holds many high-profile criminals. While there, Guzman sent a message through his wife that he wanted to mount an escape again, Lopez said. To carry that out, Lopez said the Sinaloa cartel paid a million bribe to the head of Mexico’s prison system.
A new 12-page handbook released by the Navy today describes in detail when and how a sailor can complete a gender transition, down to how transgender sailors can participate in urinalysis tests and when it is appropriate to wear clothing of a preferred gender during visits to foreign ports.The guidance also contains a caution for sailors hoping to transition: they will be expected to pass the physical fitness requirements of their preferred gender immediately on transition, and are expected to take the initiative to train to those standards in advance.
As of Oct. 1, sailors were allowed to begin the process to change their official gender designation in personnel systems in accordance with a Pentagon mandate. Beginning in November, the Navy will dispatch mobile training teams to all major commands to explain the new policies and what they mean for the fleet. By July of next year, the Navy and all the other armed services will be accepting transgender applicants into ranks.
But the new guidance from the Navy makes clear that readiness will remain a top priority, even as sailors transition.
“There are no separate or distinct standards for transgender Service members,” the Navy administrative message containing the new guidances reads. “Service members and [military medical providers] must carefully consider the time required to adjust to new PRT standards as part of the medical treatment and transition planning process.”
The Navy’s physical readiness test, or PRT, has different requirements for men and women at every age group. For example, male sailors between the ages of 20 and 24 max out the PRT with 87 push-ups, a 1.5-mile run in 8 minutes, 30 seconds or less, and a 500-yard swim in six minutes, 30 seconds. Women in the same age group need to complete only 48 push-ups, a 1.5-mile run in 9 minutes, 47 seconds, and a 500-yard swim in seven minutes, 15 seconds to max out.
Meanwhile, height and weight standards also differ for male and female sailors. A male sailor who is within standards at 5′ 3″, 155 pounds and plans to transition to female must then meet standards for female sailors, which set the maximum weight for that height at 152 pounds.
Only a military medical provider can determine if a medical waiver is justified for sailors who are out of standards as they transition, the guidance states.
When and how to transition
In order to complete a gender transition while in uniform, sailors must receive an official diagnosis from a military doctor indicating that gender transition is medically necessary, according to the guidance. That diagnosis, along with a medical treatment plan, then must be reported to the appropriate unit commanding officer to for approval of the timing of medical treatment, taking into consideration when the sailor will rotate to another command, deployment and other operational schedules, and how the transition will affect career milestones. If a specific case requires immediate medical treatment, the guidance states it will be treated like any other medical emergency affecting a sailor. In these cases, the sailor may be transferred to limited duty status and “result in an unplanned loss to the command,” according to the Navadmin.
The commanding officer must respond to transition requests within 90 days, according to the new policy. The CO is allowed to take into account impact to the current mission, including “morale, welfare, and good order and discipline of the command,” when determining timeframe to respond to transition requests.
Gender transition treatment plans will differ from sailor to sailor and may include behavioral health counseling, hormone therapy, surgery, and real-life experience, the Navy’s term for for dressing and behaving in public as the preferred non-birth gender.
Sailors are allowed to begin participating in real-life experience before their gender transition is complete and their official gender has been changes in the personnel enrollment system, but must do so only in off-duty status, according to the guidance. All official unit functions, on-base or off, are considered to be on-duty status for sailors, making them off limit for real-life experience outings. And sailors deployed aboard ship face significant limitations: whether working or not, they are considered on-duty on ship at all times. While they can venture out in the clothing of their preferred gender during foreign port visits, these too are subject to restrictions and cultural sensitivities of the country in question.
“Commands need to be cognizant of host-nation laws and social norms when considering RLE in an off-duty status in foreign nations,” the guidance states. “Travel warnings, the State Department’s country-specific website, the DoD Foreign Clearance Guide, and any U.S. regional military commander directives should be reviewed and heeded.”
During transition, some missions may be off-limits for sailors. Transitioning sailors will be restricted from flying and diving ops during medical treatment and there may be limitations for sailors who have access to nuclear weapons, and chemical and biological weapons.
“The Navy’s bureau of Medicine is studying the effects of medical treatments associated with gender transition on members of the aviation and diving communities,” officials with Naval Personnel Command said in a statement.
Gender transition is only complete after a military doctor documents that the service member has completed required medical treatments and written permission from the commanding officer to change the official gender marker in the appropriate personnel administrative systems. While Defense Department guidance says no sailor may be kicked out of the service on the basis of being transgender, sailors are advised to consider the needs of the service when choosing how and when to transition. Transition should be completed during one tour of duty to avoid interrupting medical treatment and requiring additional coordination and a new transition plan, which may disrupt operational requirements at a new command. And transition during boot camp or service academy training is not advised.
“A service member is subject to separation in an entry-level status during the period of initial training … based on a medical condition that impairs the Service member’s ability to complete such training,” the guidance states.
Keeping the fleet comfortable
As a result of transgender sailors being permitted to serve openly, the entire fleet may get a little more modest.
Nudity in berthing and shower facilities is out, according to the guidance, and sailors must maintain a “minimum standard of coverage” walking through spaces, while sleeping, and while using bathrooms and washrooms, in order to show courtesy for others and maintain good order and discipline, according to the guidance.
Unit commanders are prohibited from creating exclusive berthing or bathroom facilities for transgender sailors, but are expected to use their discretion to enact appropriate policies to ensure the protection of privacy for individual sailors.
For urinalysis drug tests, which require that one sailor observe another procure the urine sample, the observer will be another of the same designated gender. But there may be adjustments to ensure the relative comfort level of the observer and the observed. These will be written into a future policy, the Navadmin states.
Though the details may be challenging, Navy officials said the service wants to make sure all qualified personnel find their place in the fleet.
“Our goal is to ensure that the mission is carried out by the most qualified and capable service members,” officials with Naval Personnel Command said in a statement. “If an individual can meet the Navy’s standards, they should be afforded the opportunity to serve.”
Rodney Smith is preparing to pack his trusty Toro lawn mower into the back of his vehicle — the one with 320,000 miles on the odometer — and hit the road again.
Smith is scheduled to begin his “Thank you for your service and sacrifice” tour on Friday, Sept. 18, in Huntsville, Alabama. During a condensed three-week window, Smith plans to cut the grass of veterans, Gold Star families, Purple Heart recipients, POWs, those missing in action and families of active-duty service members in 48 states. He intends to fly to Alaska and Hawaii to complete his mission, but those dates are undetermined.
“It’s an honor just to hear those stories firsthand and thanking them for their service,” Smith said. “A lot of them never heard a ‘thank you’ before. They have, but they need to hear it more.”
Smith, a 31-year-old social worker, started the Raising Men Lawn Care Service in 2016. The organization, which began including girls in 2018, pairs youth with veterans, the elderly, the disabled and single parents to perform outdoor chores such as cutting grass and raking leaves.
(Military Families Magazine)
According to weareraisingmen.com, 700 youths in the program have mowed a total of 15,000 lawns. Smith’s 50-state tour is a one-man job, though. He goes it alone but follows a similar pattern. He cuts one or two lawns per state, interviews the homeowner, takes a picture with him or her and asks for a photo of the person in his or her military uniform.
“There have been a lot of World War II veterans that I met,” Smith said. “Meeting them, I feel like a little kid because I get to hear the stories firsthand. They were telling me [stories] like it was yesterday.”
Smith, who never served in the military, recalled meeting a veteran who served as a former medic in Vietnam. The veteran was awarded five Purple Hearts and told Smith about soldiers dying in his arms, the sense of despair and hopelessness returning with each tragic memory. Smith gave a boy whose father was killed in Afghanistan his lawn mower on the spot.
“The feedback that I’m getting is, they did it because they loved their country,” Smith said. “They would do it again if they had to.”
While growing up, Smith hated cutting the grass in much the same way that most children dislike eating broccoli. That changed for the native New Yorker while he was a student at Alabama AM University. Smith noticed an elderly man struggling to mow his lawn one day. Smith offered to help.
“[God] was preparing me for that moment,” Smith said.
(Military Families Magazine)
Smith developed that chance encounter into the idea behind his foundation. The veterans tour will be his ninth such 50-state odyssey. He did a similar one for veterans last year, but not all of his trips support the military.
Others, for example, have benefited breast-cancer survivors and promoted increasing dialogue between police and the communities they serve.
Smith is excited to get behind the wheel of his 2012 Ford Edge again. He purchased the used vehicle in 2018, when it had only 58,000 miles. All those lonely stretches of road later, Smith still does not mind the drive because of the payoff at each stop.
“They’re everyday heroes,” Smith said of veterans. “They [gave] their all for this country. We need to appreciate them and honor them while they’re here.”
Smith will auction off each lawn mower at the end of the tour and donate the proceeds to charities supporting veterans.
The schedule of cities where Smith plans to be is posted at Raising Men Lawn Care Service. Families with military ties can sign up there by clicking on the “More Info” tab and selecting “Service Sacrifice.”
There are some things only people in the military will ever get to do. Then, there’s a smaller subsection of things only certain people in the military have the opportunity to do. And even within that subgroup lies a VIP section of people who are able to do things everyone else can’t do.
Naval aviators are in one of those VIP sections, roped off and probably getting bottle service.
Lots of people join the Navy. Some of those will be pilots. Most of those will not be able to land on an aircraft carrier. For those of us who will never do any of that, we can only imagine how it must be.
Luckily, Quora user Scott Altorfer, a former Navy Radar Intercept Officer from 1991 to 1998, was able to put the feeling into words, actions, and feelings we all can understand — because it involves our cars.
When the front bumper of your car passes your mail box, shift into neutral and apply your brakes, slowing to 31 MPH. Press your garage door opener.
When your front bumper crosses your sidewalk, turn your wheel to your right and head for the corner of your driveway. When you reach the corner, you should be at 22 MPH.
Continue your turn up the driveway, confirm the door is going up, and aim between the car in the other stall and the side of the garage. You have 5″ to spare on each side. When your bumper crosses the garage threshold, you should be at 13 MPH, and the door must be at least as high as your rear-view mirror.
Apply brakes to stop within 12″ of the back wall.
The former RIO goes on to explain how to not just land on a carrier, but also become proficient at it.
If you practiced this in a simulator hundreds of times, and then practiced in a parking lot with the obstacles painted on the ground hundreds of times, and then finally tried it on a nice day, you would be able to do it. It would always be dangerous and challenging, but if you are very skilled and practiced, it might even seem like fun. This is a good weather, day carrier landing.
Lastly, Altorfer goes on to explain the different kinds of landings naval aviators face on a carrier, and how you can simulate those kinds of landings in your personal vehicle.
Now, do it in a heavy rain and fog. That is a bad weather day carrier landing.
Now, do it at night, with only a light tied to the mail box, a light at the sidewalk, lights on the sides of the garage and the garage door, and a light at the back of the garage. All the speeds must be the same. All the distances are the same. This is a good weather, night carrier landing.
Now, do it at night, in the rain and fog. That is a bad weather, night carrier landing.
Oh, by the way, sometimes the sea makes the deck move — a lot. So, add a sloppy steering wheel, an occasionally surging engine, and unpredictably spongy brakes to the car analogy.
We really don’t recommend this. And our lawyers make us tell you we aren’t responsible for any damages if you do try it. We’re just reporting things.
A UK intelligence agency might have based part of a report on Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction on a movie starring Nicolas Cage, according to a government report released Wednesday.
The report contends that Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war was based on “flawed intelligence and assessments” that were “not challenged” when they should have been. The 2.6-million word document, known as the Iraq Inquiry, or the “Chilcot report,” is the culmination of a huge investigation that former Prime Minister Gordon Brown launched in 2009.
One volume of the inquiry focuses on the UK’s evidence of Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction. These intelligence assessments turned out to be false, as both the US and the UK discovered after the 2003 Iraq invasion turned up no such weapons.
The inquiry notes that two Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) assessments from September 2002 were called into question months later. Some within the intelligence agency, which is also known as MI6, began doubting the source of the information that was included in the assessments.
The intelligence reports stated that Iraq had “accelerated the production of chemical and biological agents.” Officials believed the source of this information was reputable.
But one of the reports mentioned glass containers that supposedly contained the chemical agents the Iraqi government was supposed to possess.
Here’s the relevant section from the Iraq Inquiry:
“In early October, questions were raised with SIS about the mention of glass containers in the 23 September 2002 report. It was pointed out that:
Glass containers were not typically used in chemical munitions; and that a popular movie (The Rock) had inaccurately depicted nerve agents being carried in glass beads or spheres.
Iraq had had difficulty in the 1980s obtaining a key precursor chemical for soman [a chemical agent].
“The questions about the use of glass containers for chemical agent and the similarity of the description to those portrayed in The Rock had been recognized by SIS. There were some precedents for the use of glass containers but the points would be pursued when further material became available.”
The movie the report refers to is the 1996 Michael Bay action thriller, “The Rock,” starring Nicholas Cage playing an FBI chemical-warfare expert. Sean Connery plays a former British spy who teams up with the FBI agent to prevent a deranged US general from launching a chemical-weapons attack on San Francisco.
The Iraq Inquiry goes on to state that intelligence officials were meant to do further reporting on the questionable intelligence contained in the September 2002 report.
By December, doubts emerged within SIS “about the reliability of the source and whether he had ‘made up all or part of'” his account.
Later that month, there were still “unresolved questions” about the source of the chemical-weapons intelligence. But the UK was under considerable pressure to produce evidence of these weapons.
Jack Straw, the former foreign secretary for the UK, was reportedly concerned about “what would happen without evidence of a clear material breach” of Iraq’s December 2002 declaration that it did not have weapons of mass destruction.
SIS eventually determined that their source was lying about the supposed chemical agents, but intelligence officials did not inform the prime minister’s office, according to the inquiry.
While chemical weapons are different from weapons of mass destruction, these intelligence reports still informed policy-makers’ opinions of the extent of Iraq’s weapons programs. And the evidence of these weapons programs was eventually used as a justification for going to war in Iraq.
David Manning, a former British diplomat, told former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair in December 2002 that there was “impatience in the US Administration and pressure for early military action” in Iraq, according to the inquiry.
“There were concerns about the risks if the inspections found nothing,” the inquiry noted. UK and US officials also worried about “the difficulties of persuading the international community to act if there were a series of ‘low level and less clear-cut acts of obstruction’ rather than the discovery of chemical or biological agents or a nuclear program.”
The inquiry states that Manning told Blair: “We should work hard over the next couple of months to build our case.”
Blair reportedly said the UK would “continue to work on securing credible evidence” that then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein “was pursuing [weapons of mass destruction] programs.”
One thing is glaringly obvious about the Coast Guard’s medium endurance cutters: they are old. Real old. According to the Sixteenth Edition of the Naval Institute Guide to Combat Fleets of the World, 15 of the Coast Guard’s 28 medium endurance cutters are over 45 years old, and only three of them were commissioned after music superstar Taylor Swift was born. You could say they are due to be replaced.
Fortunately, the Coast Guard has been working on a replacement. They call it the Heritage-class Offshore Patrol Cutter, and according to a handout WATM obtained at the 2018 SeaAirSpace expo in National Harbor, Maryland, it will be replacing all 28 of the medium-endurance cutters currently in service.
A Reliance-class medium endurance cutter. Most of these ships are over 50 years old.
These cutters, the first of which will be named USCGC Argus, will pack a 57mm gun (like the National Security Cutter and Littoral Combat Ship), as well as be able to operate a helicopter. Globalsecurity.org notes that the cutters will displace 3,200 tons and will have a top speed of at least 22 knots.
The Coast Guard currently operates 14 Reliance-class cutters, from a class of 17 built in the 1960s. Three of the vessels were decommissioned and transferred to allied navies. These vessels displace about 879 tons and have a top speed of 18 knots. Their primary armament is a 25mm Bushmaster chain gun, like that used on the M2 Bradley.
A Famous-class medium endurance cutter. These vessels can be equipped with Harpoon anti-ship missiles and a Phalanx close-in weapon system.
The other major medium endurance cutter is the Famous-class cutter. This cutter comes in at 1,200 tons, and has a 76mm OTO Melara gun as its primary armament. It has a top speed of just under 20 knots, and is also capable of carrying two quad Mk 141 launchers for Harpoon anti-ship missiles and a Mk 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapon System (CIWS).
Finally, there is the Alex Haley, an Edenton-class salvage tug acquired by the Coast Guard after the United States Navy retired the three-ship class. Two sisters were transferred to South Korea. It does remain to be seen how 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters can replace 28 older hulls, though.
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Melanie Macdonald, a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense Specialist, with 1st Marine Air Wing, poses as a zombie and hides, waiting to jump out at kids as they trick-or-treat, on Camp Foster, Okinawa, Japan, Oct. 31, 2020.
Places of anguish, death and chaos are magnets for paranormal activity. Locals living near battlefields of the past bear witness to lights and chills in the darkness. Spirits echo through time on an infinite loop imprinted on the fabric of time. Filled with ancient bones and soviet phantoms, Afghanistan itself is a nationwide graveyard. U.S. troops stationed abroad have reported experiencing unexplained phenomena on their tours in the barren wasteland.
1. The haunted Military Outpost of Observation Post Rock in Afghanistan
Afghanistan’s notorious Helmand Province is plagued with the sounds and sights of the paranormal. Before Operation Enduring Freedom, The Rock or OP Rock, was a crumbling mud-fort controlled by the Taliban. The Rock’s elevation is a defensive advantage and thus an ideal place to establish a base. While it resembles a rock, it is not one. The locals claim that rebel fighters were buried alive during a missile strike during the surge. However, some of the bones are ancient and believed to be from hundreds of years ago. Since recorded history of the site is near impossible to find without the help of expert archeologists, whom will not set foot into a warzone, we may never know the stories of the dead.
Soldiers described seeing strange lights, hearing strange static on the radio, seeing sudden temperature swings from hot to freezing, hearing lights and voices in the night, and having a creepy, uneasy feeling. Several Marines posted there said someone or something was keeping an eye on them. Several people said they heard Russian sounds in the darkness. The smell of rotten flesh is a characteristic of poltergeist hauntings. Marines stationed at the base claimed to smell decaying flesh at random times during the night.
2. The village of Najeeban is a literal ghost town
The village of Najeeban was full of anti-American sympathizers who actively aided and abetted the Taliban. In 2012, Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales allegedly suffered from a mental psychosis brought on by the anti-malarial drug mefloquine. He testified that before he went on a murder spree, he was experiencing hallucinations and flashing lights. What he failed to mention, until a year later during a sentencing agreement, was that he was also under the influence of alcohol as well. He went on a rampage, slaying 16 civilians and setting their corpses on fire. Locals abandoned the village due to the trauma, superstition and labelled one house a holy place called ‘Shrine of the Martyrs’. Now empty, it serves the dual purpose as a ‘a place where prayers can be answered’ and a piece of propaganda for insurgent recruitment.
3. Forward Operation Base Salerno
The base’s location lends itself to ghost stories already, with an ancient Afghan graveyard on its outskirts, guarded by two large watchtowers. Indeed, these towers are claimed to be haunted by the ghost of a little child, who is said to be heard or seen wandering around the buildings or the surrounding city. Civilians unfortunately are the biggest casualty in warfare — modern or ancient. For some reason the specters of children are creepier than those of adults. Perhaps it’s the loss of innocence or their willingness to cling to a world they are not ready to leave.
Even though no specifics of the mysterious ghost could be seen. She was there and then she was not. Sometimes the pitter pater of tiny foots steps would run un behind you and vanish. Toughened Marines were reportedly reduced to tears and refusing to return to the tower after the incident. Other troops heckled the Marines until the little girl came to visit them on night watch. It’s all fun and games until the spirits show up.
For more than forty years, the F-16 Fighting Falcon has served as the backbone of the U.S. Air Force’s fighter fleet, but one year before the first F-16 entered service, the team behind its development had already developed a better F-16, in the F-16XL. The fighter was so capable, in fact, that it went from being nothing more than a technology demonstrator to serving as legitimate competition for the venerable F-15E in the Air Force’s Advanced Tactical Fighter program. Ultimately, it would lose out to the F-15E based on production cost and redundancy of systems, but many still contend that the F-16XL was actually the better platform.
While that assertion may be subject to debate, there’s little debate as to whether the F-16XL could have been one of the most capable 4th generation fighters on the planet.
SCAMP: The Supersonic Cruise And Maneuver Prototype
In 1977, some three years after the first F-16 took to the skies and one year before it would enter service, its designer began work on what would come to be called the F-16 SCAMP, or the Supersonic Cruise And Maneuver Prototype. The effort wasn’t about fielding another production fighter–General Dynamics had no intention of trying to sell SCAMP once it was complete. Instead, the entire premise behind the program was to quickly (and cheaply) field a platform they could use to test the concept behind supersonic cruising, or as we’ve come to call it today, “supercruising.”
While that may sound like a capability found only on Transformers or Harleys so expensive only lawyers can buy them, the idea behind supercruising was simple, even if its execution was complex. Modern fighters like the F-16 all come equipped with afterburners they can use to dramatically increase the amount of thrust their engine produces, but it comes at a serious cost. Using the afterburner to break the sound barrier and then sustain that speed depletes an aircraft’s fuel very quickly, but if a jet could kill the afterburner at supersonic speeds and still maintain them, it would mean covering more ground at high speed, while still having enough fuel left over for a fight and the return trip home.
“I remember flying in an F-16 in afterburner while supersonic over the Yellow Sea and looking down to see a fuel-flow rate of over 50,000 lbs per hour,” F-16 and F-35 pilot Justin “Hasard” Lee explained in a piece for Sandboxx News.
“To put that into perspective, that’s similar to a fire-hose operating fully open—and that’s just a single engine. A twin-engine jet such as the F-15 or F-22 can double that. The problem is, topped off, I could only carry 7,000 pounds of fuel which was enough for me to fly at that fuel-setting for less than 10 minutes.”
In order to accomplish their goal, the F-16 design would require a pretty thorough revamp. First, the wings were modified to incorporate a cranked-arrow wing shape, creating 25% more lift while allowing for effective control at both high and low speeds. Working in conjunction with NASA (and using the company’s own funds), engineer Harry Hillaker, the same man responsible for the original F-16 design, experimented repeatedly with slightly different iterations of the wings until they came to a version they referred to as Model 400.
This new wing design, which saw a 50-degree angle near the root of the wing for supersonic performance and a 70-degree angle where the wings extended for subsonic handling, offered more than double the surface area of the F-16’s wings. Incredibly, Hillaker and his team were able to manage that without any increase in drag on the airframe–thanks to more than 3,600 hours of wind tunnel testing.
This new design wasn’t necessarily practical, with all-moving wingtips and an all-moving vertical tail meant for control that performed poorly at low speeds. The wing design also didn’t allow for any hardpoints to mount bombs or missiles.
However, impractical as it may have been for a tactical fighter, the new wing design led to a significant increase in fuel range–and that increase could be further bolstered by leveraging the massive amount of internal space these new wings offered.
The F-16 SCAMP becomes the F-16XL
Citing the promising results of the F-16 SCAMP effort, the U.S. Air Force chose to buy into the idea of an even-more capable version of the F-16. They provided Hillaker with two early F-16 airframes for conversion into a SCAMP-like design they dubbed the F-16XL. Although this new jet would be largely based on the existing F-16, the changes were dramatic, including two fuselage sections added near the front and back of the aircraft, increasing its length by some 56 inches. The cranked-arrow wings that had proven so effective in SCAMP were also added, along with a new form of wing skin made using carbon fiber that saved some 600 pounds in the design.
Those massive wings, now fully realized, gave the F-16XL a nearlydoubled fuel capacity, and the additional lift coupled with 633 square feet of underwing space to leverage allowed for the addition of an astonishing 27 hardpoints for ordnance. Remarkably, the F-16XL seemed to outperform its smaller predecessor in nearly every way, prompting the Air Force to take an interest in the idea of actually building this new iteration fighter.
“To say that Hillaker’s design team achieved its objectives is an understatement,” wrote F. Clifton Berry Jr. in 1983. Berry was an Air Force veteran and the editor-in-chief of Air Force Magazine at the time.
As Berry pointed out, an F-16XL conducting an air-to-surface mission could carry twice the payload of the standard F-16 and still fly as much as 44% further–all without external fuel tanks and while carrying a full suite of air-to-air weapons (four AMRAAMs and two AIM-9 Sidewinders) for the fighter to defend itself. If you were to equip the F-16XL with the exact same payload as an F-16A on such a mission, the F-16XL could fly nearly twice as far as its predecessor.
But it wasn’t just about extended range and added payload. The F-16XL was capable of supersonic speeds at high or low altitudes, all while carrying its mighty payload, and had no trouble climbing quickly with bombs underwing. And even despite the added wing, fuel, and ordnance loads, the aircraft still somehow managed to fly 83 knots faster than the F-16 using military power at sea level, and more than 300 knots faster on afterburner at high altitudes, even while carrying a full bomb load.
“With the heavy bomb load aboard, the F-16XL is cleared for maneuvers up to +7.2 Gs, compared with 5.58 Gs in the F-16A,” Berry wrote. “This demonstrates how the designers were able to increase the aircraft weight while maintaining structural integrity and mission performance.”
All that time in the wind tunnel clearly paid off for the F-16XL design.
The F-16XL takes on the F-15E
General Dynamics ultimately built two prototype F-16XLs for testing, but as testing progressed, it was clear that this new iteration of the F-16 design was worth more than simply demonstrating technology. In search of a useful place to put the new jet’s capabilities, the Air Force decided to enter it into the Enhanced Tactical Fighter (ETF) competition, which aimed to field a capable replacement for the F-111 Aardvark.
“The F-16XL flight-test program has conclusively demonstrated that the XL performs as predicted. This performance level represents a significant increase in mission capability for USAF,” D. Randall Kent, Vice President and Program Director for the General Dynamics F-16XL program, said at the time.
“Coupling this with the affordability and low risk of the F-16XL presents USAF with a viable way to increase mission capability while simultaneously growing to a forty-wing TAC force structure.”
Soon, the ETF program changed names to the Dual-Role Fighter program–but despite the shift in titles, the goal was the same: To field an aircraft capable of penetrating deep into enemy airspace for interdiction missions without the need for fighter escorts. The F-16XL, with its significant fuel range, good performance, and hardpoints for 27 weapons, seemed like a perfect fit for the job… But it wasn’t the only aircraft competing for the contract. Standing between the F-16XL and operational service was another highly capable platform: The F-15E Strike Eagle.
Like the F-16XL, the Strike Eagle was a modified version of an existing fighter: The F-15 Eagle. The Eagle represented America’s top-of-the-line air superiority fighter, boasting an undefeated record in dogfights that holds to this very day. Unlike the F-16XL, however, the F-15E shared the vast majority of its design with the two-seater F-15D that was already in production.
There was no doubt that the F-16XL would likely be the more expensive option, thanks to its significant design departure from the F-16 it was based on. But it also offered a great deal of capability. Its massive wings made it more stable than the F-16 it was based on, while its wind-tunnel-tested design made all that wing area serve no detriment to the fighter’s handling.
“We climbed at more than 20,000 feet per minute, leaping from 4,000 to 27,000 feet in sixty-seven seconds. Jim eased the power back while turning into the supersonic corridor and getting cleared by Edwards Control to begin a supersonic run,” F. Clifton Berry wrote after riding in the F-16XL.
“Jim applied afterburner and the aircraft accelerated smoothly from Mach 0.95 through 1.0 and to 1.2 in seconds. Even with the heavy bomb load aboard, the aircraft went supersonic without a tremble. Handling characteristics at mach 1.2 with the heavy ordnance load were remarkably similar to those of the standard F-16 without bombs.”
The F-15E, on the other hand, offered only 15 hardpoints–which it’s important to note, is still a lot. The F-15E also delivered a higher top speed (Mach 2.5 versus 2.05) and a higher service ceiling at 60,000 feet (compared to the F-16XL’s 50,000). Most importantly, however, the F-15E leveraged not one, but two engines. Because these aircraft were intended to fly deep into enemy airspace without much support, the Air Force believed it was likely that these planes would see a great deal of anti-aircraft fire. Having two engines meant one could be damaged by enemy fire, but the aircraft could still limp home on the other.
The F-16XL may have been one of the most capable fighters to never make it into production
It was likely the perceived survivability of two engines, in conjunction with the lower cost of development, that saw the F-15E win the contract. But many within the Air Force saw the F-15E’s win as bittersweet. The Strike Eagle was indeed an incredibly capable platform, but the F-16XL’s fans felt as though the fighter wasn’t meant to compete with the Strike Eagle, so much as support it–much like the F-16 and F-15 support one another today. Like the YF-23 that lost to Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor, the F-16XL has since been remembered as an aircraft that might have been better than the jet we ultimately got… with concerns about dollars and cents making the decision, rather than maximum capability.
Of course, that may not be an entirely fair assessment. The F-16XL was indeed a capable aircraft, but the F-15E has since proven itself in combat time and time again. The Strike Eagle was clearly not a bad choice, but with the F-16XL’s incredible chops in mind, there could be little doubt that the Air Force would have been better off with both of these capable fighters in their stable… if only money truly were no object.
Instead of fighting alongside the Strike Eagle as many hoped, the F-16XL program found its way to NASA, where both prototypes participated in a number of aeronautical research projects. In fact, some of the tests conducted using the F-16XL would go on to play a role in developing the supercruise capability for America’s top-tier air superiority fighter of today, the F-22 Raptor.
Despite Demi Moore’s depiction in G.I. Jane, many people may be surprised to learn that buzz cuts are not authorized for female soldiers under AR 670-1, Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia. However, more akin to Moore’s appearance, female soldiers like Captains Shaye Lynne Haver and Kristen Griest were required to sport buzz cuts to attend Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia. “When female soldiers go through training, such as Special Forces or Ranger, they shave their heads…and when they come out of the course, they’re out of regulation,” said Sgt. Maj. Brian Sanders. “As of right now, the current standard does not allow female soldiers to have their hair lower than a quarter of an inch.” However, new changes are slated to be implemented in AR 670-1 including allowing female soldiers to shave their heads outside of specialized training.
Conversely, women will also be allowed to wear long ponytails during training. The tight buns currently required can make it more difficult for women to properly wear the Army Combat Helmet and can damage the scalp. Regardless of gender, soldiers will be authorized to sport highlights that blend with uniform colors. Men will be authorized to wear clear nail polish and terminology in the regulation that may be offensive like Mohawk, Fu Manchu and dreadlocks, will be replaced with alternative words to make for more inclusive standards.
The changes are the result of a 17-soldier panel that was brought together from different commands to promote diversity and inclusion in the Army. Suggestions were made from across the service and voted on by panel members. According to the Army, the panel consisted of 10 Black women, four white women, one Hispanic woman, one Hispanic man and one Black man.
“Some people don’t like change but that’s just how the world is,” said Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston during a call with the press. “It changes over time and we need to change with it. I’m not going to go into who voted and who said what, but this panel represented our force from all walks of life, and we brought in experts.” In addition to the panel of soldiers, the Army consulted with dermatologists and psychologists to generate the new standard changes. “These things are always going to be hard, and that’s why it was really important for me to get the panel right and trust that they would represent the Army to look at things appropriately, and I think they did,” Grinston added.
The Army is also implementing smaller changes to the standards. Women will be authorized to wear earrings in the Army Combat Uniform, except in field environments where hygiene levels are lower compared to in garrison. Additionally, women will be authorized to wear lipsticks that aren’t “extreme” shades (such as blue, gold or hot pink). “We have soldiers from all walks of life, all 50 states plus the territories, and we have to represent them,” said Lt. Gen. Gary Brito, the Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel Issues. “Inclusive grooming standards help to foster our ability to recruit and retain the best talent, whether that’s a new private or an officer coming in.”
In addition to revising potentially offensive wording, the Army is clarifying the standards. Subjective phrases like “at the discretion of the commander” and “professional appearance” were deemed too subjective. They will be replaced with more specific wording like “visual representations, color swatches, and familiarity of hair styles and textures.” The revised version of AR 670-1 will come into effect on February 26, 2021.
What do you think of the new standards? As long as your haircut doesn’t look like these, you’ll probably be fine.