U.S. officials now admit they are hunting al-Qaida in new Afghan provinces, after nearly a decade of referring to the group as “decimated.”
“Al Qaeda’s core leadership has been decimated,” President Obama roundly declared at his foreign policy debate with then-Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012. The U.S. Department of State even claimed al-Qaeda was “severely degraded” in its 2016 country report on terrorism.
But the U.S. military is now hunting al-Qaeda leaders in seven different provinces, indicating a high level of growth since the U.S. invasion in 2001, Commander of all U.S. forces in Afghanistan Army Gen. John Nicholson admitted to reporters yesterday.
Al-Qaeda operations have increased throughout Afghanistan since the end of U.S. combat missions in 2014. The U.S. assisted an Afghan-led operation in 2015 that destroyed the largest al-Qaeda training camp seen in the history of the Afghan war. U.S.-backed Afghan forces raided another al-Qaeda training base Sept. 19. The base was well stocked with weapons, suicide vests, and fake identification.
“The US government and the military has downplayed al Qaeda’s presence for more than six years, despite evidence that al Qaeda has remained entrenched in Afghanistan some 15 years after the 9/11 attacks,” The Long War Journal noted Saturday.
Nicholson indicated al-Qaeda is increasingly taking advantage of the security vacuum in Afghanistan in remote parts of the country. The Taliban have made unprecedented battlefield gains against the U.S.-backed Afghan Security Forces since the end of the U.S. combat mission in 2014. The Afghan forces maintain control over approximately 70 percent of the country, according to testimony by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joesph Dunford before the Senate Committee on Armed Services Thursday.
The Taliban allowed al-Qaeda to use Afghan territory in the years leading up to 9/11 to plan attacks on the U.S. Al-Qaeda recognizes the leader of the Taliban as the true leader of the Islamic world. After the U.S. killed Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour in May, al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al Zawahiri immediately swore his allegiance to the new Taliban leader.
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USA Best Selling Author Jason Kasper just released his newest book series, Shadow Strike. Enemies of My Country is his tenth book in four years since walking away from the Army to pursue writing.
In 2016 Kasper released his first book, Greatest Enemy. Despite his relative success since beginning a new journey and his quite obvious talent for story-telling – he didn’t set out to be an author. The military was always it for him. He was the young boy playing GI Joes and then a 17-year-old signing up for the Army before he’d even graduated high school.
“I enlisted in a ranger contract and went to basic and infantry training. It was towards the end of our infantry training for a job qualifier that 9/11 happened,” Kasper shared. He described a quiet and somber scene where recruits who’s families worked in the World Trade Center or lived in New York City were pulled out and then everyone else was told of the attack.
After those events, there was no slowing down. Kasper attended Airborne school and was picked up for the Ranger Regiment and assigned to 3rd Ranger Battalion. He’d deploy to Afghanistan in 2002 and took part in the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Then, he was picked up for West Point. It was a dream realized.
He completed his four years and became an Infantry Officer. He was assigned to the 82nd Airborne for three years and did another deployment to Afghanistan. Not long after that, he found himself in Special Forces Selection and eventually became a Green Beret, assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg. There were many deployments and he found himself leading a team.
“That was the high water mark of my career. I had the perfect storm of guys and missions, it couldn’t have gotten any better,” Kasper shared. Despite his happiness and success, he walked away from it all. “I got out and made the full-time transition to writing.”
Leaving after all of those years of active duty service was easier for him than you’d think, he said. But he didn’t always want to do it, it just happened. “I found it by accident at West Point where I sort of went into war withdrawal. I went from being a ranger to a rigid academic environment,” Kasper explained. To make up for what he was missing, he went all in on adrenaline sports. Skydiving and base jumping, which wasn’t legal. He started writing about his experiences.
“Those descriptions became longer and longer and I began to relieve those experiences of standing at the edge of a building and looking down. I was reliving the rush as I was writing. That’s where I kind of wanted more of that,” he said.
Jason Kasper developed a protagonist and wrote the first scene. “After that, I was completely jacked. Adrenaline was flowing and I was like ‘Man, I want more of this’. After that, I was a closet writer for about 10 years,” he said with a smile. He had one book ready to go when he began his terminal leave in November of 2016. “That day, I hit publish on Amazon.”
Despite how good it was, he was pretty terrified when it was go-time. “It was pretty daunting, I am not going to lie … I committed fully and there was no backing out,” Kasper said. “The only people who said I was crazy were people who’d never been in the military themselves… Everyone I went to war with and my command, they were and are incredibly supportive.”
The publishing house he writes for is a veteran-owned business, making the fit even smoother for Kasper. “The founder is an author and Navy veteran and he built the company from the ground up by hiring both veterans and military spouses as employees,” he explained. “Severn River Publishing has a great portfolio of mystery and thriller authors, many of which served in the armed forces or law enforcement prior to starting their writing careers.”
Four years in, he’s found his grove. His tenth book and new series starter, Enemies of My Country, is riveting, from start to finish. Kasper truly has a talent for weaving words that come alive off the page. Reviews for his new book are steller, one on his website saying “…this book slaps you with a weapon, helmet, and body armor, and screams ‘You’re coming with me!’ Buckle up and enjoy the ride.”
So, what’s it about? “David Rivers is an elite-level assassin. He’s an expert in the art of violence. Honing his skill first as a Ranger, then as a mercenary, and now as a CIA contractor conducting covert action around the world,” Kasper explained. “But in his secluded mountain home in Virginia, David Rivers lives a double life. There, Rivers is known as a caring husband to his new wife, and the doting father to his young daughter.”
It isn’t long before the character discovers a sinister plot, this time against his own country, hometown and his much-loved family. “The Enemies of My Country kicks off a ten-book series outline that will take David to the world’s most dangerous corners, as he uncovers a sinister conspiracy with global implications. The second book is in the works now, and will be released later this year,” Kasper said.
From the start of his writing and still today, Kasper gives a portion of all of his sales to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. For the new series, he matched every dollar for preorders. “We ended up getting a little over $4,000 prior to the launch,” he shared.
Although there are still those who can’t believe this Green Beret walked away with only nine years left until full retirement benefits, he’s never looked back. “I am a pretty domesticated suburban dad right now,” Kasper said with a laugh. He shared his happiness at home with his wife, child, new baby coming and his two cats. “It’s about as manly as it gets. I kind of took a hard right from the military but it’s been great.”
Despite leaving the thrill and excitement of serving, Kasper has found his new purpose and that same rush he once craved. Writing one page at a time.
To learn more about Jason Kasper and his thrillers, click here.
Politicians hold important positions of power, but their job looks boring as hell. Politicians and political writers like to spice up their stories by using military language like “ambush” while describing a heated discussion at the country club, or “the nuclear option” to explain a change in procedural rules in Congress.
The language definitely spices up the stories, but it sounds ridiculous to people who have actually been ambushed or had to contemplate a true nuclear option. Here are 13 terms that make politicians sound melodramatic.
An ambush is a surprise attack launched from a concealed position against an unsuspecting enemy. Some politicians have been ambushed like Julias Caesar or Charles Sumner. But this term gets used to describe things like Republicans proposing a law the Democrats don’t like. That’s not an ambush. It’s just the legislative process.
2. Bite the bullet
Associated with battlefield medicine before anesthetic, to “bite the bullet” is to face down adversity without showing fear or pain. The term is thought to come from battlefield wounded biting bullets to make it through surgery while fully awake. Obviously, politicians on a committee finally doing their jobs shouldn’t be equated with soldiers enduring traumatic medical treatment without anesthesia.
3. Boots on the ground
Boots on the ground has a relatively short history that the BBC investigated. Surprise, it’s a military term. It is used by politicians and most senior military to refer to troops specifically deployed in a ground combat role. “Boots on the ground” numbers don’t generally count Marines guarding embassies or Special Forces advising foreign governments.
What’s surprising is that, though the term is used so narrowly when referring to military operations, it’s used so broadly when referring to political volunteers. Any group of college students knocking on doors or putting up pamphlets can be called “boots-on-the-ground,” even if the volunteers are all wearing tennis shoes and flip-flops.
Not every “D-Day” for the military is the Normandy landings of 1944, but D-Day is still a big deal. It’s the day an operation will kick off, when after months of planning some troops will assault an enemy village or begin a bombing campaign of hostile military bases. In politics, the terms is used to describe election day. This is weird to vets for two reasons. First, D-Day is the first day of an operation, while election day is the final day of an election campaign. But worse, D-Day is when friendly and enemy troops will meet in combat, killing each other. For politicians, it’s when they get a new job or find out they better update their resume.
5. Front lines
The forward most units of a military force, pressed as close to the enemy’s army as the commander will allow, form the frontline. This is typically a physically dangerous place to be, since that means they’re generally within enemy rifle and artillery range. Contrast that with politicians “on the front lines,” who may sit next to their “enemy” and exchange nothing more lethal than passive-aggressive banter.
6. In the crosshairs
Obvious to anyone who has used a rifle scope or watched a sniper movie, someone who is in the crosshairs is in peril of being shot very soon. Political parties who are sparring in the media do not typically find their leaders, “in the enemy’s crosshairs,” as Sarah Palin wrote in a Facebook post according to the Associated Press. Political parties generally fight through press releases and tweets, significantly less dangerous than using rifles.
7. In the trenches
Politicians love to describe themselves as veterans who have spent years in the trenches. Trenches aren’t used much in modern warfare, mostly because of just how horrible trenches are even for a winning army. Trenches fill with water, bugs, and rats. They’re claustrophobic and are easily targeted by enemy artillery and bombers, so they’re a dangerous defense to stay in. Politicians spend very little time in these. When politicians say they were “in the trenches,” they’re generally referring to fundraisers at local restaurants. Oh, the horror.
8. Line of fire
The Guardian once published an article titled “General in the line of fire,” which sounds bloody and dangerous, but is actually about a bunch of attorney generals experiencing harsh criticism, not incoming rounds. The line of fire is the area where all the bullets are flying as enemies try to kill someone. Political lines of fire are just where reporters are asking a lot of hard questions.
9. Nuclear option
Putin has a nuclear option. The U.S. Senate has some control over a nuclear option. However, when Congress changed the rules for a fillibuster, that wasn’t the nuclear option. That was a change in procedural bylaws. It’s easy to tell the difference. One destroys entire cities in moments. The other makes it harder to block a presidential nominee for office.
A scorched-earth political campaign is when a politician is willing to break alliances to win. True scorched earth though, comes when an army breaches the enemy border and starts destroying everything in their path. Atlanta suffered real scorched earth when Maj. Gen. William Sherman burnt the city nearly to the ground while destroying railroads on his way to Savannah.
11. Shock and awe
Like “blitzkrieg” and “all-out war” before it, “shock and awe” is now a popular phrase for describing a political struggle where one side has engaged every asset at their disposal. However, when political fights actually reach the level of blitzkriegs or Operation Shock and Awe, that’s called a civil war. When a politician is spending a bunch of money or smearing an opponent, that’s called campaigning. Completely different things.
12. Take no prisoners
Combat soldiers frequently have to decide whether to try and take prisoners or kill anyone who doesn’t immediately surrender. Politicians, however, should never be in a situation where they decide to take no prisoners. They have an office job. They should only be deciding whether to take a phone call, or whether to take a dump.
13. The War Room/The Situation Room
James Carville and George Stephanopoulos ran President Bill Clinton’s “War Room” for the 1992 elections while Wolf Blitzer anchors the news for CNN from The Situation Room, which CNN describes as “The command center for breaking news.” First, while Clinton’s 1992 run was tumultuous, nothing going into the War Room was on par with combat operations. Second, Wolf Blitzer is not the commander of anything. He’s a photogenic TV personality. Carville was in a political strategy room. Blitzer works in a newsroom.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige said the panic that ensued during a false alarm warning of an imminent missile attack wasn’t addressed sooner because he forgot his Twitter password and couldn’t notify the public.
During a press conference on Jan. 22, Ige took some of the blame the mix-up that caused panic throughout Hawaii and made headlines worldwide, according to the Honolulu Star Advertiser.
Ige responded to the incident at the time, saying the triggering of the alert system was an “error” and was being investigated to avoid the incident from “ever happening again.”
Hawaii began testing its nuclear warning system in December, CNN reported. It is the first time since the Cold War that Hawaii brought back the system and comes amid North Korea’s increased missile testing.
Pilots assigned to the US Navy flight demonstration squadron, the Blue Angels, join their F/A-18 Hornet strike fighter over the Gulf of Mexico into the diamond formation while approaching Naval Air Station Pensacola.
On Feb. 14, 2018, a 19-year-old former student and one-time Army Junior ROTC member Nikolas Cruz sent students scrambling in terror when he opened fire on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Cruz, who killed 17 people before he was arrested, reportedly was obsessed with guns and aspired to join the military.
But he wasn’t the only JROTC student who sprang into action that day.
After 17-year-old Douglas High student, Colton Haab heard the first shots, he and his fellow JROTC members shepherded between 60 and 70 students into a JROTC classroom and shielded them with Kevlar sheets, normally used as backdrops for the military students’ civilian marksmanship training.
“We took those sheets and put them in front of everybody so they weren’t seen … behind a solid object, and the Kevlar would slow a bullet down,” Haab told CNN. “I didn’t think it was going to stop it, but it would definitely [take] it from a catastrophic to a life-saving” incident.
What was he thinking about in those uncertain moments? “I’m thinking about how I’m going to make sure everyone goes home to their parents safely,” he added. “I was destined to get home.”
This 17-year-old student said he tried to protect as many of his classmates as he could: “I’m thinking about how I’m going to make sure everyone goes home to their parents safely” https://t.co/fgMjmVH526
First established in 1973, the Broward County Public High School system’s JROTC program boasts an average enrollment of 7,650 students in 28 of its 34 schools annually, mostly in Army and Navy programs.
But, like many JROTC programs, its focus is primarily on moral and ethical character-building: According to the BCPHS JROTC site, over 90% of its four-year members attend college, even though only 5% end up joining the U.S. armed forces.
Fellow JROTC members at Douglas High described the shooter as obviously troubled with a history of behavioral issues.
“When you are in JROTC, you follow a set of rules, you live by them, and you think that you’re a good person,” former JROTC classmate Jillian Davis told the Treasure Coast Palm Beach Post. “You’d think that anyone in this community would follow and abide by these rules.”
The shooter may have failed to embrace the tenets of JROTC, but at least Haab didn’t: In interviews, he described his willingness to put himself in harm’s way to keep his classmates safe.
HSV-2 Swift came under attack off the coast of Yemen this past weekend and suffered serious damage from what appears to be multiple hits from RPG rockets. Photos released by Emirates News Agency show at least two hits from rockets that penetrated HSV-2 Swift’s bow, in addition to substantial fire damage.
According to media reports, HSV-2 Swift is being assisted by the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers USS Mason (DDG 87) and USS Nitze (DDG 94) as well as USS Ponce (AFSB(I)-15). The vessel is currently being towed away from Yemen.
HSV-2 Swift was acquired by the Navy from Incat, a shipbuilder in Tasmania, in 2003, where it served for a number of years in Pacific Command, European Command, and Southern Command until 2013, when the first Joint High-Speed Vessel, USS Spearhead (JSHV 1) replaced it. During its deployments, HSV-2 Swift primarily carried out humanitarian missions, including for relief efforts in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the 2006 Israel-Lebanon War. The vessel also took part in a number of deployments, like Southern Partnership Station while in U.S. service.
In 2013, the vessel was returned to Incom, where it was refitted and then acquired by the National Marine Dredging Company in the United Arab Emirates, where the ship was used to deliver humanitarian aid. HSV-2 Swift was on such a mission to not only deliver medical supplies but to extract wounded civilians when it was attacked this past weekend. Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, claimed to have sunk the vessel.
HSV-2 Swift displaces 955 tons of water, has a top speed of 45 knots, and has a crew of 35. The vessel can carry over 600 tons of cargo on nearly 29,000 square foot deck.
The Navy announced a deal Dec. 22 to pay International Shipbreaking a penny and the value of the ship’s scrap metal to take it away. It must make a five-month, 16,000-mile trip around South America because it can’t fit through the Panama Canal. Crosby Tugs of Golden Meadow, La., has been contracted to tow it.
A Navy spokesman confirmed to Military.com the ship would towed away on Thursday from Bremerton, Wash. The decommissioned ship will be dismantled in Brownsville, Texas.
As WATM’s Orvelin Valle previously reported, the Navy kept the Ranger on standby from 1993 to 2004 for possible reactivation until the carrier was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register, and redesigned for donation. Unfortunately, no group put up the funding or plans to have the ship converted a museum or memorial during that time.
There was some effort made to try and save the ship, to include an online petition.
“We know that saving the USS Ranger would have significantly more far-reaching economic, historic and social benefits than scrapping it,” Michael B. Shanahan, a leader of the effort to save the ship, said in a statement. “This is our last chance to stop the loss of an irreplaceable cultural and historic asset.”
Montel Williams hosts “Military Makeover with Montel” on Lifetime. The show is currently seeking nominations for veterans in need of home makeovers. Photos by Caitlyn Martin, BrandStar, courtesy of the Kristen Rose Agency.
Saying thank you for your service is not enough, according to veteran and talk show icon Montel Williams. But he does have a few ideas on other ways to show gratitude for military service.
He’s teamed up with WWE to find the next veteran for a home makeover that will be featured on Lifetime TV’s “Military Makeover with Montel.”
“We take these veterans and we literally make their home over from top to bottom,” Williams said during a phone interview. “We do, not just a facelift, but everything, from the floors, the ceilings to you name it, to make sure the veteran has what we call a forever home once we get done.”
Since 2015 the show has worked with one veteran family per quarter to makeover their home within 10 days, with 20 homes completed to date. Most episodes, Williams said, have featured families who have been in the midst of transitioning from military to civilian life. A few have featured veterans who have already left the military, but Williams adds any deserving veteran family will be considered as long as they own their own home.
He’s personally been involved in making over six homes, having taken over the show after the death of Military Makeover’s previous host Lee Ermey.
Williams said the reactions on the show have been great, not just from the service members, but from everyone in the community. The show uses volunteers and donations from local vendors to renovate the homes.
“Everybody is uplifted,” Williams said.
Hosting a home makeover show is also a good way to show appreciation for a group Williams describes as underappreciated.
“I think it’s a really good way to do more than say ‘thank you for your service,'” Williams said.
Williams is a 22-year veteran who served in the Marine Corps and Navy before starting his television career. Like many veterans, he’s come to see the phrase ‘thank you for your service’ as hollow and meaningless.
“I’ve been saying this for over a year. When people say ‘thank you for your service’ it’s lip service or a passing phrase, like you say ‘good morning’ to people when you walk by and don’t even wait for a person’s response,” he said.
In addition to his own service, Williams is a longtime veterans’ advocate. He serves on the board of directors for the Fisher House — a charity providing lodging near DOD and VA facilities for the families of those receiving care. He also works with an organization that help veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury and has an upcoming project designed for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Williams launched a new national campaign to makeover the home of a veteran. (Photo courtesy of Military Families Magazine.)
Williams said he believes the current coronavirus pandemic has put showing genuine gratitude to veterans even further from the forefront of people’s minds.
“Right now, while we’re suffering through this COVID-19 pandemic, every day of the week people applaud our first responders. When they think about people on the frontline, they think about doctors, nurses and first responders to this virus here on U.S. soil,” Williams said. “We have ships and submarines and aircraft carriers and airplanes and deployed forward bases where people don’t have the same luxury of being able to social distance. These guys are out there every single day putting their lives on the line for us.”
While not everyone has the resources of a television legend, Williams insists there are things average people can do to show their appreciation to veterans.
“You don’t have to makeover a veteran’s home to contribute to a veteran’s life,” Williams said. He said providing meals, volunteering to babysit or mowing an injured veteran’s lawn are great ways for people to show their appreciation.
“Why not go out and do a gesture, not just of being a good neighbor, but deliberately doing something to help out our veterans?” Williams asked. “Remember that there’s a military family on every block in every community across this country. Reach out and do a little bit more than just say ‘thank you for your service.'”
Another way people can show appreciation is by going to Tag A Hero and nominating a veteran for a home makeover before May 31.
Williams has joined forces with WWE star Lacey Evans, a Marine veteran, to gain awareness for the new national campaign, but they are in need of more nominations.
“Lacey Evans, who is one of their stars, has become one of our team members on Military Makeover. She convinced [WWE] to reach out to their viewers to nominate veterans in their community,” Williams said.
The application submission deadline for the latest campaign is May 31st. On July 13, Montel Williams and WWE Superstar Lacey Evans will appear on Facebook and Instagram announcing the home makeover recipient.
Round, smooth and iridescent, pearls are among the world’s most exquisite jewels; now, these gems are inspiring a U.S. Army research project to improve military armor.
By mimicking the outer coating of pearls (nacre, or as it’s more commonly known, mother of pearl), researchers at University at Buffalo, funded by the Army Research Office (ARO), created a lightweight plastic that is 14 times stronger and eight times lighter (less dense) than steel and ideal for absorbing the impact of bullets and other projectiles.
ARO is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory.
The research findings are published in the journal ACS Applied Polymer Materials, and its earlier publication in J. Phys. Chem. Lett. (see related links below)
“The material is stiff, strong and tough,” said Dr. Shenqiang Ren, professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, a member of University at Buffalo’s RENEW Institute, and the paper’s lead author. “It could be applicable to vests, helmets and other types of body armor, as well as protective armor for ships, helicopters and other vehicles.”
Round, smooth and iridescent, pearls are among the world’s most exquisite jewels; now, these gems inspire U.S. Army researchers looking to improve military armor.
The bulk of the material is a souped-up version of polyethylene (the most common plastic) called ultrahigh molecular weight polyethylene, or UHMWPE, which is used to make products like artificial hips and guitar picks.
When designing the UHMWPE, the researchers studied mother of pearl, which mollusks create by arranging a form of calcium carbonate into a structure that resembles interlocking bricks. Like mother of pearl, the researchers designed the material to have an extremely tough outer shell with a more flexible inner backing that’s capable of deforming and absorbing projectiles.
“Professor Ren’s work designing UHMWPE to dramatically improve impact strength may lead to new generations of lightweight armor that provide both protection and mobility for soldiers,” said Dr. Evan Runnerstrom, program manager, materials design, ARO. “In contrast to steel or ceramic armor, UHMWPE could also be easier to cast or mold into complex shapes, providing versatile protection for soldiers, vehicles, and other Army assets.”
A new lightweight plastic that is 14 times stronger and eight times lighter (less dense) than steel may lead to next-generation military armor.
(University at Buffalo)
This is what’s known as soft armor, in which soft yet tightly woven materials create what is essentially a very strong net capable of stopping bullets. KEVLAR is a well-known example.
The material the research team developed also has high thermal conductivity. This ability to rapidly dissipate heat further helps it to absorb the energy of bullets and other projectiles.
The team further experimented with the UHMWPE by adding silica nanoparticles, finding that tiny bits of the chemical could enhance the material’s properties and potentially create stronger armor.
“This work demonstrates that the right materials design approaches have the potential to make big impacts for Army technologies,” Runnerstrom said.
In the 1950s France, in the midst of dealing with insurgencies in its colonies in Algeria and Indochina, recognized a military need for easily transportable artillery that could quickly be deployed to the front lines. It happened upon one very novel solution: a militarized Vespa scooter with a built-in armor-piercing gun.
The Vespa 150 TAP, built by French Vespa licensee ACMA, was designed expressly to be used with the French airborne special forces, the Troupes Aéro Portées (TAP).
The Vespa TAP was designed to be airdropped into a military theater fully assembled and ready for immediate action. This high level of mobility made the TAP the perfect anti-guerilla weapon, since enemy irregulars could appear at a moment’s notice even in remote locations.
Outfitted with an M20 recoilless rifle, the TAP proved more than capable of destroying makeshift fortifications used by guerrillas in Algeria and Indochina. The M20 was designed as an anti-tank recoilless rifle that was outfitted with a high-explosive anti-tank warhead. Under ideal circumstances, the rifle could penetrate 100mm of armor from 7,000 yards away.
The M20 outfitted on the Vespa was never actually meant to be fired while the vehicle was in motion. Instead, the Vespa frame functioned as a way of transporting the artillery to the front line. Once there, the rifle would be removed from the Vespa and placed on a tripod for accurate firing.
Remarkably, aside for a slight overhaul of the engine, plus the inclusion of the rifle and ammunition mounts, the standard Vespa and the TAP were designed almost identically. The TAP had a strengthened frame and lower gearing, but besides that it drives just as any Vespa would.
About 500 total TAPs were produced throughout the 1950s.
However ingenious the TAP was, the vehicle was never used outside of the French military during engagements in Algeria and French Indochina.
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — If the 13 years of running Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America has taken an emotional and physical toll on founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff, he doesn’t show it. Watching him in action at the Democratic National Convention this week in Philadelphia is a study in determination and attention to detail. No bypassing staffer is too junior to be engaged, and no veterans issue is too trivial to be addressed.
“If you had asked me 13 years ago that if this far in the future it would still be this hard, I would have said you were full of it,” Rieckhoff says. “Everything is still too hard, from getting candidates to say the right thing to reforming the VA.”
He’s also concerned that philanthropic organizations haven’t responded to a national health problem that he compares to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.
“This is like going to the convention in 1982 and people are kind of peripherally talking about AIDS when their friends are dying,” he says. “So if we accept that 20 vets are dying a day as a base point, we’re going to walk out of these conventions and the Rockefeller Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and these other billionaire philanthropic leaders are not going to be focused on veterans issues.”
Rieckhoff spreads the blame for the lack of progress on veterans’ issues — heath care and beyond — across several camps, starting with the commander-in-chief.
“President Obama has failed to provide the country a national strategy, and as a response, you’ve gotten fragmentation,” he says. And, by his reckoning, that fragmentation has taken myriad forms, including divisions among the veteran community itself.
“Too often VSO are having tribal fights when we really should recognize that we’re all really in deep shit because our demographics are our destiny and our demographics are bad,” Rieckhoff warns.
He goes on to explain that the veteran community is about to experience a “tectonic shift” numbers-wise because the World War II generation is all but gone and the Vietnam War generation is dying fast.
“We’re going to go from 12 percent in the population to, at some point, under five percent,” he explains.
In the face of this reality, Rieckhoff says that veteran service organizations and, more broadly, veterans themselves need to unify.
“My big takeaway in the wake of these two conventions is we have to find ways to be united and focused and we have to find ways to multiply our impact,” he says. “If veterans alone are carrying water for veterans’ issues we will lose. We’re just too small. There aren’t enough of us.”
That’s not to say that he doesn’t think veterans have individual impact potential; in fact, Rieckhoff is quick to point out that vets are in a unique position nationwide right now.
“If you’re a veteran and you walk into a Starbucks or a classroom and announce your status you’re going to get 2 minutes of ‘rock star’ respect where people will listen to you for a little while before they jump into their corners for Bernie or Trump or whoever,” he says. “But you have that opening that opportunity to try and be a leader and bring people together. That’s what veterans need to be doing right now. We can bring the temperature down. We can do it through credibility and patriotism and through our example.”
At the same time, Rieckhoff warns vets against being used as props.
“As a community, we have to be really wary about being used. If they want to throw you up on stage with someone, make sure that you’re getting out of it what you need because they’re going to get what they need,” he says. “It’s kind of like when you join the military, right? Uncle Sam’s going to get what he needs out of you. Make sure you get what you need out of Uncle Sam.”
The discussion pivots to the political sphere, and Rieckhoff is at once unflinching and bipartisan in his take on what’s in play for the military community.
“The conventions have been fascinating to watch,” he says. “I think what’s happened in the last four years is both parties realize that veterans make good populism. Last week you had Joni Ernst and a wall of veterans, this week you’ll have Seth Moulton and a wall of veterans. They know – Trump especially – that there is a huge populist undertone to everything veterans.”
But Rieckhoff fears the community may be squandering its time in the spotlight.
“We have lacked a real sharp edge of activism,” he says. “If this was 1968, vet protestors would be in the convention.”
He introduces a broader theme, saying, “It’s a very complicated psycho-social situation we’re in where our community has been asked to sacrifice over and over again, but the public has reasoned that those in the military are self-selected as people who are willing to sacrifice over and over again. You can send us on 12 tours and we’re not going to make that much of a stink.
“The bigger issue is the lack of precedent for the lack of involvement in our country in a time of war. There’s no precedent in American history for this much war with this small group of people for this long.”
That societal reality has yielded some things of concern, not the least of which, according to Rieckhoff, is the fact that there are very few veterans in positions of real power.
“None of the candidates in either party is a veteran,” he points out. “Neither chairman of the VA on either the House or Senate side was a veteran. Jeff Miller and Bernie Sanders can’t run around talking about how wonderful they were when they presided over the largest VA scandal in American history.
“Bernie Sanders used the scandal to pass the omnibus and Jeff Miller is running around with Trump, using his time on HVAC for that. That’s politics, I get that. But At the end of the day veterans are still screwed.”
Rieckhoff likens the situation to “asking a plumber to fix your television.”
He uses what’s going on at the VA as an example, saying, “Bob McDonald is an army of one right now. He’s getting his legs cut out from under him by the Republican congress and Democratic leadership won’t touch him, so he’s almost out of time. He’s a good man who’s tried, but likely he’ll be out. The probability is we’ll get a new VA secretary who’ll get nominated in February or March, confirmed in March or April, and maybe he gets to work in June. So, six months into 2017, we’ll have the vision of a new VA secretary.”
Rieckhoff wants veteran leaders “who are still on the sidelines” to engage.
“There should be a coordinated and independent effort to recognize that these are trying times politically and we need to have a new call for these folks to serve,” he says. “You had the ‘Fighting Dems” in ’06 and I told Rahm Emanuel that ‘you have a political jump ball here,’ and he didn’t see it.
“The Fighting Dems wasn’t started by the party; it was started by that crew – Patrick Murphy and Tammy Duckworth and Joe Sestak. That was the first iteration. Four years later the Republicans had their own round, but there was never really a coordinated campaign by either party to recruit veterans. There was a coordinated campaign to push out veterans and to celebrate veterans, but there’s not actually a farm team.”
Rieckhoff goes further, actually recommending a ticket that a large percentage of veterans would support right out of the gate.
“If [former NYC mayor] Mike Bloomberg and [retired Admiral and former CJCS] Mike Mullen started their own party tomorrow, a third of our membership would go with them . . . probably a third of the country would go with them,” he opines.
Rieckhoff sums the landscape up as “crazier,” and, again, he believes that presents a unique opportunity for the military/veteran community.
“We’re some of the only people who can go to both conventions and understand both sides,” he says. “That’s the powerful position for us whether it’s gun control, immigration, Islamophobia, gay rights, marijuana, or whatever. We can be a unique bridge builder between both sides. The Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter movements are great examples. The veterans community is on both sides of those.”
For all of the impact potential veterans might have, Rieckhoff is also mindful of negative stereotypes that exist among the civilian populations, something he blames in large part to “media laziness.”
“The only description the media had of the Dallas shooter was that he was African-American, and he was a veteran,” he points out. “Why? Because they have to file a story quickly and those were the only two things they could verify. That accelerated media cycle perpetuates lazy reporting. And when you have a vet who fits the stereotype they run with it.”
Rieckhoff exhales and contemplates the requirement to constantly attend to the pubic’s perception of vets, and that reminds him of the accomplishments of the community and, specifically, the legacy of IAVA.
“When IAVA started in 2004 the veterans landscape was a desert,” he remembers. “Now it’s a metropolis. We are very proud of the fact that a lot of people who come through the IAVA team have gone on to do really cool stuff.”
A quick review of the current roles of IAVA alums bears this out. Vet leaders like Abdul Henderson (now on the Congressional Black Caucus), Bill Rausch (now at Got Your 6), Tom Taratino (Twitter), Matt Miller (Trump campaign), and Todd Bowers (Uber) all spent time on the IAVA staff.
“We built IAVA to be a launching pad,” Rieckhoff says. “I’d rather have Tom Taratino at Twitter changing the culture than have him at the House VA Committee talking to a bunch of other veterans for the ninetieth time.”
But in spite of the challenges, Rieckhoff is bullish on the future of the veteran community.
“In 10 years, disproportionally CEOs are going to be veterans, candidates are going to be veterans, entrepreneurs are going to be veterans,” he says. “And that’s going to be exciting to watch.”
Sgt. 1st Class Earl Plumlee, a Green Beret in the U.S. Army’s 1st Special Forces Group, was presented the Silver Star for actions in Afghanistan in 2013. California Congressman Duncan Hunter, a Marine Corps veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, doesn’t think the Silver Star is enough for Plumlee and is appealing to Army Secretary Eric Fanning to review the award.
According to the Washington Post, Rep. Hunter believes McHugh downgraded Sgt. 1st Class Plumlee’s Medal of Honor because the Special Forces NCO faced a criminal investigation for illegally selling a rifle scope online.
Plumlee was nominated for the Medal of Honor for heroism in repelling a Taliban ambush. The nomination was downgraded to the Silver Star by then-interim SECARMY John McHugh with a recommendation from the Senior Army Decorations Board. The Silver Star is two levels below the Medal of Honor, which an Inspector General report deemed appropriate.
In August 2013, a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) touched off a complex Taliban attack on Forward Operating Base (FOB) Ghazni. The FOB is home to the Ghazni Provincial Reconstruction Team and a fortified NATO base housing about 1,400 people.
The VBIED blew a hole in the perimeter wall. Insurgents dressed as Afghan National Army soldiers poured into the breach. Unfortunately for them, the other side of the wall contained the 1st Special Forces Group, including one Sgt. 1st Class Earl Plumlee.
Four operators, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Mark Colbert, Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Busic, then-Staff Sgt. Earl Plumlee, and Sgt. 1st Class Nate Abkemeier drove a truck to blast site as fast as possible. Once there, all dismounted from the truck and started returning fire.
While the others moved for cover, Plumlee walked right into Taliban attack. He hit one insurgent in the chest with a round from his sidearm and the man exploded – the fighters were all rigged with suicide vests.
The fighters had the men surrounded. Busic recalls Plumlee killed four or five insurgents then moved back to Busic’s position to clear the rest. They searched the surrounding area for anything or anyone that might be part of the attack.
Plumlee even pulled a severely wounded soldier out of harm’s way, conducted proper first-aid, and directed an Army civilian and soldier to get the wounded to a surgical center.
Four Afghan civilians, three police officers, 10 Taliban fighters, and one soldier, Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis, were killed in the attack. Ten Polish soldiers were also wounded. It could have been a lot worse. One Special Forces officer told the Army that Plumlee and the other special operators who rolled up on the attackers saved the base that day.
“It’s no exaggeration when I say they saved FOB Ghazni,” the Special Forces officer said. “If they would have arrived 10 seconds later than they did, the insurgents would have been in the more densely populated part of FOB Ghazni.”
Rep. Hunter requested that the Defense Department explain how it came to the conclusion to downgrade the award, to justify the Secretary of the Army’s authority to downgrade the award, and to determine if Plumlee’s criminal investigation was the reason for the downgrade. An Inspector General report on Hunter’s requests was obtained by Military Times.
“The review process… found that the nominee’s valorous actions did not meet the MOH criteria outlined in Army Regulation (AR) 600-8-22, “Military Awards,” dated June 24, 2013. By majority vote, the SADB recommended the SS.”
One member of the Senior Army Decorations Board told the IG that Plumlee was doing his job as an NCO and the standard to receive the Medal of Honor should be higher for someone of that rank.
“… a senior NCO, versus a private who would be seized by the moment and take extremely valorous and courageous action; there’s a difference between those two. One’s a leader. One’s a Soldier. And so when I looked at the circumstances and, although the battle was ferocious and unfortunately a couple members were killed, I just thought that it wasn’t a sufficient level for the Medal of Honor based off of the individual and the circumstances and that, I just felt there was an expectation of a leader who did a phenomenal job, that there was something more that [the nominee] needed to have done in order to, in my mind, to make a recommendation for a Medal of Honor.”
The board member specifically mentioned to the IG that even though Plumlee took out almost half of the attacking insurgents, that fact wasn’t in the eyewitness statements supporting Plumlee’s Medal of Honor award.
Plumlee was nominated for the Medal of Honor three months after the battle. His nomination was even approved both the JSOC commander and by Marine Corps General Joseph F. Dunford, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan at the time. Dunford wrote that Plumlee’s actions “clearly meet the standard” for the Medal of Honor.
For now, Plumlee’s Silver Star award will stand. At their own Silver Star ceremony, Busic and Colbert told Stars and Stripesit wasn’t about the recognition anyway.
“We don’t do our job for awards or accolades,” he said. “We just do it to serve.”