A legendary sergeant first class who gave his life to pull fellow soldiers out of a burning vehicle in Iraq 15 years ago has been approved by the Defense Department to receive the military’s highest combat award, a close family member said.
Kasinal White told Military.com that she’d gotten a call from the Pentagon saying a formal request had been made by the DoD to award the Medal of Honor to her brother, Alwyn Cashe.
“We’ve heard that the official request has been made,” White said Tuesday. “We’ve also heard that everyone feels it will be signed [by President Donald Trump] rather quickly. After 15 years, ‘rather quickly’ works for me.”
Cashe, 35, was in Samara, Iraq, on Oct. 17, 2005, when his Bradley Fighting Vehicle hit an improvised explosive device, puncturing a fuel tank. Drenched in fuel, Cashe nonetheless returned to the burning vehicle again and again, pulling out six soldiers.
He would die Nov. 8 from the burns he sustained in that rescue effort.
The Army posthumously awarded Cashe the Silver Star for his bravery, but obstacles surrounding witness accounts and the circumstances of the rescue stymied momentum to give him the Medal of Honor.
Since then, the lawmakers, including Reps. Stephanie Murphy, D-Florida; Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas; and Michael Waltz, R-Florida, have successfully passed legislation to waive a statutory five-year time limit from the time of the events for Cashe, clearing the way for his award.
“It’s not every day you read an extraordinary story like Alwyn Cashe’s,” Waltz said in a statement when the Senate passed the waiver in November. “His bravery in the face of danger has inspired so many already — and this is a significant step forward to properly recognize him for his heroism. I’m incredibly proud to see both sides of the aisle, in the House and the Senate, come together to honor Cashe’s legacy and award him the Medal of Honor.”
With the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden weeks away on Jan. 20, there are indicators the process could move unusually quickly, both with Trump’s approval of the medal and the actual award ceremony.
“Christmas just came, I guess,” White said. “I’m beyond ecstatic right now.”
Some ailing veterans can now use their federal health care benefits at CVS “MinuteClinics” to treat minor illnesses and injuries, under a pilot program announced April 18 by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The new program, currently limited to the Phoenix area, comes three years after the VA faced allegations of chronically long wait times at its centers, including its Phoenix facility, which treats about 120,000 veterans.
Veterans would not be bound by current restrictions under the VA’s Choice program, which limits outside care to those who have been waiting more than 30 days for an appointment or have to drive more than 40 miles to a facility. Instead, Phoenix VA nurses staffing the medical center’s help line will be able to refer veterans to MinuteClinics for government-paid care when “clinically appropriate.”
On April 19, President Donald Trump plans to sign legislation to temporarily extend the $10 billion Choice program until its money runs out, pending the administration’s plan due out by fall. That broader plan would have to be approved by Congress.
“Our number one priority is getting veterans’ access to care when and where they need it,” said Baligh Yehia, the VA’s deputy undersecretary for health for community care. “The launch of this partnership will enable VA to provide more care for veterans in their neighborhoods.”
Sen. John McCain, R- Ariz., a long-time advocate of veterans’ expanded access to private care, lauded the new initiative as an “important step forward.”
“Veterans in need of routine health care services should not have to wait in line for weeks to get an appointment when they can visit community health centers like MinuteClinic to receive timely and convenient care,” he said.
The Veterans Health Administration said it opted to go with a CVS partnership in Phoenix after VA officials there specifically pushed for the additional option. They cited the feedback of local veterans and the success of a smaller test run with CVS last year in Palo Alto, Calif.
Shulkin has said he wants to expand private-sector partnerships in part by looking at wait times and the particular medical needs of veterans in different communities. Successful implementation of his broader plan will depend on the support of key members of Congress such as McCain, who chairs the Armed Services Committee.
The VA did not indicate whether it received requests from other VA medical centers or how quickly it might expand the program elsewhere.
The current Choice program was developed after the 2014 scandal in Phoenix in which some veterans died, yet the program has often encountered long waits of its own. The bill being signed by Trump seeks to alleviate some of the problems by helping speed up VA payments and promote greater sharing of medical records. Shulkin also has said he wants to eliminate Choice’s 30-day, 40 mile restrictions, allowing the VA instead to determine when outside care is “clinically needed.”
Despite a heavy spotlight on its problems, the Phoenix facility still grapples with delays. Only 61 percent of veterans surveyed said they got an appointment for urgent primary care when they needed it, according to VA data.
Maureen McCarthy, the Phoenix VA’s chief of staff, welcomed the new CVS partnership but acknowledged a potential challenge in providing seamless coordination to avoid gaps in care. She said a veteran’s medical record will be shared electronically, with MinuteClinic providing visit summaries to the veteran’s VA primary care physician so that the VA can provide follow-up services if needed.
The VA previously experimented with a similar program last year in the smaller market of Palo Alto, a $330,000 pilot to provide urgent care at 14 MinuteClinics. CVS says it’s pleased the VA has opted to test out a larger market and says it’s ready to roll the program out nationally if successful.
CVS, the biggest player in pharmacy retail clinics, operates more than 1,100 of them in 33 states and the District of Columbia.
“We believe in the MinuteClinic model of care and are excited to offer our health care services as one potential solution for the Phoenix VA Health Care System and its patients,” said Tobias Barker, chief medical officer of CVS MinuteClinic.
Remember your first summer job? This author’s was as a door corp member, a host, at his local Waffle House. He was fine at that job and terrible as a waiter on Sunday mornings. But the NSA has a program for teens who want to make a bigger impact: Come to the NSA as an intern before college. And the benefits are better than what this author gets now.
The Gifted Talented STEM Program seeks high school students with credits for physics, calculus, and either computer science, programming, or engineering. Combine those credits with a 1200 or above on the SAT or 25 or above on the ACT, and those students can get a job at an actual spy agency.
The students work full-time over the summer for between 10 and 12 weeks. Benefits include paid time off, holiday and sick leave, housing assistance, free courses, and travel reimbursement.
If the students are really interested in the NSA for a career, they can then enroll in the Stokes Educational Scholarship Program as well. That has all the same benefits of the GT STEM Program, but they also get up to ,000 in tuition assistance, health and life insurance, and credit toward federal retirement.
In addition to the technical internships, the NSA has a language program for high school seniors with an aptitude for the Chinese, Russian, Korean, Farsi, or Arabic languages. There are also high school work-study programs where students work 20 to 32 hours a week during the school year, earning about -12 an hour.
Now, students with those great academic credentials can make real contributions to national security, but the NSA is pretty open about why they really want students to come to the agency for a few summers in a row.
It helps them poach talent away from Silicon Valley.
The NSA is part of the Department of Defense, and it’s the military’s primary arm for cyber security and defense as well as other espionage activities. It absolutely needs top-tier computer talent to do its job and to protect American service members and enable offensive activities across the globe.
But recruiting that talent is tough, especially since software and computer companies have deeper pockets and are looking for the same people. So the NSA hopes that, by allowing the students to see the meaningful impact of their work early on, those same students will come back to the agency after graduation.
In fact, all students that complete their degree on the Stokes scholarship are required to work at the NSA for 1.5 times their length of study. So, six years for the average bachelor’s degree and nine years for the average master’s program.
In August 2015, on a high-speed train in France, three American friends, two of them off-duty members of the US military, thwarted a terrorist attack after a man armed with an assault rifle and other weapons tried to open fire in the train. Four people were injured, but there were no fatalities.
The three Americans instantly became heroes and wrote a book about their ordeal, which has now inspired a movie directed by Clint Eastwood.
This all sounds like standard protocol for an incredible act of bravery like this, but it gets more interesting: Eastwood cast the three real-life friends who stopped the attack to be the leads in the movie.
“The 15:17 to Paris,” which is also the title of the book about the attack, is Eastwood’s latest based-on-a-true story movie (American Sniper, Sully), and in telling this one he has Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone, Specialist Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler reenacting their heroics (Stone sustained injuries while taking down the gunman).
The trailer was released Dec. 13 and looks beyond the acts on that August day, showing how the friends got to that moment in their lives through flashbacks of their childhood and Stone and Skarlatos’ military service.
Watch the trailer below. It’s quite inspiring. Warner Bros. will release the movie on Feb. 9.
Savannah VanHook celebrated her fourth birthday Jan. 13, 2019, by visiting Claire’s at the Fashion Place mall, Murray, Utah, with her parents to pierce her ears — something she’s been asking her mother and father for over five months. It stung, but she seemed proud of her freshly-pierced ears. The family headed to the food court when something entirely different pierced her ears: The sound of four gunshots ringing throughout the mall.
Savannah’s father, Sgt. Marshall VanHook, a recruiter with the Herriman U.S. Army Recruiting Station, recognized the sound immediately and directed his daughter and wife, Sarah, into a T-Mobile store to take cover.
Vanhook then ran toward the commotion.
“I saw the flash, and I heard the shots. I knew immediately what it was; it’s very distinctive,” recalled Vanhook. “My first response was to make sure my family was taken care of … and then it was just a matter of ‘I need to stop this before it gets to my family,’ so I took off. I ran towards where I thought the threat was at. While I was running there really were no thoughts other than ‘take care of business.'”
Vanhook ran through the mall and made his way outside in an attempt to see the shooter to get a description, he explained.
“I got out to the parking lot and it was a bit of chaos, people were running and I had no idea where they went,” he said. “I just came back and that’s where I saw the two victims.”
The two victims, an adult male and adult female, were starting to fall to the ground. He ended his search for the gunmen and jumped into action to assist saving lives.
“It was just a matter of getting to work,” said Vanhook.
A mobile phone video from a fellow shoppers captured his next actions. VanHook removed his belt and created a makeshift tourniquet above the woman’s visible gunshot wound. Keeping a calm disposition, he directed an observer to use her scarf to apply direct pressure to the leg injury while he moved on to assess the man’s condition.
Victims of shooting at Fashion Place Mall in Murray, Utah
Victims of shooting at Fashion Place Mall in Murray, Utah
Dramatic footage of two victims being treated by bystanders following a shooting at Fashion Place Mall in Murray, Utah.
Vanhook has served in the U.S. Army Reserve for nine years. Before joining the Herriman recruiting team four months ago, he served as a civil affairs specialist with the 321st Civil Affairs Brigade. There, he received first aid response training, including Combat Lifesaver in 2014.
“Because of the Army, it instilled something in me to react in danger and not to flee from it,” explained VanHook.
Combat Lifesaver Course is the next level of first aid training after Army Basic Training Course. It provides in-depth training on responding to arterial bleeding, blocked airways, trauma, chest wounds and other battlefield injuries. The course was presented as realistically as possible, making it effective and easier to apply in a real scenario, explained VanHook.
“You go over [the training] and over it. It’s just a matter of muscle memory,” he said. “There really wasn’t thought. It was action.”
Although VanHook doesn’t consider himself a hero, his leaders feel he has represented himself and the Army well.
“His actions definitely, I think, were heroic,” said Lt. Col. Carl D. Whitman, commander of the U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion (Salt Lake City). “Most people don’t normally run to the sound of the guns, if you will… but he’s a soldier and went into action as soldiers do. We’re well-trained. His training and that mindset took over.”
“A lot of folks out there may call him or other soldiers that do that a hero, but I think those of us in uniform don’t see ourselves that way, and I know he doesn’t, but definitely his actions were heroic,” Whitman said. “His actions resulted in saving a couple people’s lives.”
VanHook explained after everything that occurred, his family is doing well but it all seems surreal.
“It doesn’t feel real,” he said. “It makes me angry. I’m a little angry that something like that happened. It was my daughter’s birthday and it kind of messed it up. We had plans that night and because of the incident, it kind of got put on hold.”
He explained his wife was scared to leave the house following the shooting, but now they are working together to get back to normal life. His daughter Savannah, too young to realize the weight of the incident, he said, described the evening as “not how she wanted to spend her birthday.”
Each week during the season, Army West Point Football players wear a decal on the back of their helmet honoring an Army division the current cadets may one day serve with.
During Aug. 30, 2019’s season opener against Rice, the team honored the soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division with the red, white, and blue AA decal proudly displayed on the back of their helmets along with the American flag.
The commanding general and command sergeant major of the 82nd Airborne Division attended the game, the division’s chorus performed before the review parade and has become the norm over the last couple years soldiers from the division who are eligible to attend the U.S. Military Academy were invited to visit for the game.
This season marks the third year of the Soldier Visit Program where five to 10 West Point eligible soldiers from the honored division for home games are invited to attend the game and learn more about West Point.
Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division pose for a photo with their host cadets from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point after the Army vs. Rice football game at Michie Stadium Aug. 30, 2019, at West Point, N.Y.
(Photo by Cadet Samuel Wehrli)
The visits are structured much in the same way as an official visit for an athlete being recruited by one of West Point’s corps squad teams. The soldiers arrive the Thursday before the game and are paired with a prior-service cadet currently attending West Point who hosts them for the weekend. The soldiers stay in the barracks with their host cadet, attend classes and eat in the cadet mess hall.
They are also given a tour of both West Point and the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School and the chance to meet with leadership from both West Point and USMAPS.
They then attend the football game with the corps of cadets and are honored along with division leadership on the field during a break in the game.
The goal of the program is to introduce eligible soldiers, meaning those who are under 23 years old, unmarried and have no dependents, to the possibility of applying to attend West Point.
“I go out to the Army a lot and I’ll talk to command sergeant majors or sergeant first classes who are senior noncommissioned officers and they’ll be like, ‘I had no idea that West Point was an option as a soldier.’ It blows my mind,” Capt. David Mason, the soldiers regional commander and founder of the Soldier Visit Program, said.
As part of each year’s incoming class, West Point has available slots for 85 current active duty soldiers and 85 Reserve/National Guard soldiers. Typically, the full allotment of Reserve/National Guard soldiers are admitted, but less than 50 of the spots for active duty soldiers are filled, Mason said. There are also additional spots available for soldiers to attend the prep school for a year.
According to Capt. Brian Gaudette, an officer in the West Point Directorate of Admissions, on average 53% of prior service applicants are admitted to the academy, a much higher percentage than applicants coming directly from high school.
“They see it as more attainable,” Mason said of the soldiers’ reactions after visiting for a football game. “They learn more about USMAPS because people have this pie in the sky view of what a West Point cadet is, and that it is the all-star captain of the football team, and they’re on all-state and they do all these things. They don’t see themselves as that mold. I think it definitely opens their eyes.”
Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division talk to Command Sgt. Maj. Jack Love, West Point senior enlisted leader during their visit before the Army vs. Rice football game Aug. 30, 2019, at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
(Photo by Robert Luna)
Once the soldiers return to their division, even if they don’t end up applying to West Point, the academy still gains a benefit from them telling their friends about the program and spreading the word that West Point is an option for soldiers on active duty.
Pfc. Abdiel Leon was one of 10 soldiers from the 82nd airborne Division to visit for the Rice game. Prior to being invited on the trip, he said he had heard of the prior-service program at West Point but knew next to nothing about it. In the month since being invited, and even before arriving at West Point for the visit, he’d done enough research to compel him to go ahead and apply to the academy.
“So far, after seeing all the things that I saw and all the good opportunities and the things I could do here, I’m definitely going to go through and finish that application,” Leon said. “I never even thought about West Point. I never even thought that I would be given the opportunity. So, now that I was given the opportunity just to even come here, it has definitely changed my mind a lot.”
During the trip, the 82nd Airborne Division soldiers had the chance to spend time with prior-service cadets, meet with Command Sgt. Maj. Jack Love, the senior enlisted Leader at West Point, and attend a spirit dinner in the cadet mess hall along with going to the season opener for the Black Knights.
“I plan on staying in the Army for 20 years, and there’s no better place to try to stay in than USMA,” Sgt. Levi Aslani said of why he is interested in West Point. “The connections you make here, the opportunities you make, or are given to you, no other place compares.”
Aslani applied to West Point for the Class of 2023 and after not getting in on his first try he is taking this year to improve his application with the hope of being accepted to the prep school for the next academic year. After visiting West Point for the first time, he said his desire to attend West Point has only increased.
“I paired up with a prior service E-5 as well,” Aslani said. “He was in the boat of either staying enlisted or being an officer and he chose the officer route and he’s really reaping the benefits from it.”
The visits are a chance for the soldiers to meet with current cadets who have taken the same path as them and ask questions they couldn’t get answered elsewhere. After being invited to take part in the visit, Pfc. Mackenzie Hochstetler said she talked with officers who are West Point graduates to learn more about the academy. But it was not until she arrived at the academy that she has come to realize why it is special.
“It’s definitely a place that you see a lot of competitiveness,” Hochstetler said. “A lot of times, you don’t really see that in the regular Army, but everyone wants to be the best. I think that’s a really cool atmosphere. I think that’s really important, especially being at West Point and that reputation of being a West Point grad, I kind of understand it now. Because it’s a pretty big deal. It’s pretty prestigious.”
WASHINGTON, DC — The U.S. Army’s two senior-most leaders tag-teamed responses to questions posed by a gathering of military journalists at a press conference held on the first day of the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition here, and in the process the pair presented a mixed bag of concerns and optimism.
“Across our force, we have soldiers and civilians living and working in 52,000 buildings that are in poor or failing condition because of the $7 billion of deferred maintenance that we’ve aggregated over the last few years,” Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning said. “Since 2011 the Army’s modernization program has decreased by 33 percent. And today our modernization program is $36 billion less than the next closest service. These are the kind of tradeoffs we’ve made over the last few years to meet our responsibilities.”
“We, the U.S. Army, we don’t have to get it exactly right, but we have to get it less wrong than any potential adversary,” Gen. Mark Milley, the Army’s Chief of Staff, added. “Up until now, we have essentially mortgaged the future of readiness for modernization.”
When asked about Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s plan to grow the Army to 548,000, Milley replied, “We do all kinds of studies. We do a lot of analysis. We do a lot of rigor. I’m not going to share those numbers, but it’s not about so much numbers. It’s about capability. We need to make sure we have the most capable Army to deliver specific effects on the battlefield. . . What does it say in the defense planning guidance, etc.? Those will vary depending on the contingencies you’re looking at.”
“One of the dangers we see with this debate taking place the Army told to maintain a force structure greater than we’re planning on without any additional resources to do that,” Fanning added. “That would put us out of whack.”
Questioned on the service’s plan to retain the right talent in the face of large drawdowns and budget challenges, Fanning answered, “Right now it is bureaucratic and bureaucracies are additive by nature. Something bad happens and you create a process to prevent it from happening again and you layer that upon another one upon another one upon another one. You don’t really have a process to cull through all that and simplify it. We’re trying to squeeze all the risk out of the process. As we draw down we need to focus not only on whether we have the right people in the force, whatever size it is, but that we are opening up the institution, the bureaucracy, to doing business in a different way.”
Milley contextualized the Army’s talent requirement against the future threat, using words like “non-linear” and “non-contiguous” to describe the battlefield and “elusive” and “ambiguous” to describe the enemy.
“Leaders are going to have to be self-starters,” he said, the opening line of what turned out to be an extended monologue of sorts.
“Leaders are going to have to have massive amounts of initiative,” Milley continued. “They’re going to have to have critical thinking skills well beyond what we normally think of today in our formations. They’re going to have to have huge amounts of character so that they make the right ethical and moral choices in the absence of supervision and the intense pressure of combat.
“They’re going to have to have a level of mental and organizational agility that is not necessarily current in any army, really. I would argue that the level of endurance of these individuals is going to have to be something that we haven’t trained to on a regular basis, where individuals are going to have to be conducting small unit level operations without higher level supervision, and they’re going to have to do that day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out . . . a long time.
“Last thing is that senior leaders are going to have to implicitly trust supported leaders’ judgement because of the degraded environment we’re not going to have control of the supported environment in the true sense of the word as we think of it today; we’re not going to have push-to-talk communications back in forth cause it’s going to be degraded. So these leaders are going to have to be independent of higher day-to-day instructions. I just described to you talent management that is fundamentally different than any army undertakes today. And I’m talking about an army in the field about 15, 20 years from now. I’m not talking about next week. But that’s where we’re going to have to go. And that’ll be a high standard to meet.”
The legal community is getting geared up for what might be the first trial involving criminal activity in space as a decorated Army officer and astronaut faces accusations of identity theft after she accessed a bank account belonging to her former spouse while on the International Space Station. If formal charges are filed, it would be the first prosecution of a space crime.
(Yeah, we were hoping that the first space crime would include theft of a rocket or mounting a laser on the Moon, too. But this is the world we live in.)
The World’s First Space Crime? IN SPACE! (Real Law Review)
First, a quick rundown of the facts: Lt. Col. Anne McClain acknowledges that she used the login credentials of her former spouse, fellow Army veteran Summer Worden, to access their shared finances from the ISS. Technically, that act could constitute identity theft, but McClain says her actions were a continuation of how the couple managed finances while married.
You may know McClain’s name from the planned all-female spacewalk in March 2019 that was canceled because there was only one spacesuit that would fit the two women scheduled for the spacewalk. Fellow astronaut Nick Hague took McClain’s place on the spacewalk, and Saturday Night Live did a fake interview with McClain the same week.
When it comes to the law that pertains to McClain in space, it does get a little murky. According to attorney Devin Stone, a practicing lawyer who runs the YouTube channel LegalEagle took a look at what laws could be brought to bear on McClain if it’s deemed that she committed a crime.
Article VI of that treaty says that governments are responsible for ensuring that all activities undertaken by their representatives or nationals conform to the rules of the treaty. The treaty also charges national bodies with creating the laws necessary for controlling their nationals’ conduct in space.
And Article VIII of the same treaty says that each state that is a party to the treaty will retain jurisdiction and control of any object that state launches into space as well as any personnel it sends into space.
And, as Stone points out in the video above, the ISS is controlled by another agreement signed in 1998 that further defines criminal jurisdiction aboard the ISS. Basically, Article 22 of that agreement states that any governments that are part of the ISS program retain criminal jurisdiction of their nationals while that national is aboard the ISS.
So, those articles together mean that McClain was subject to all applicable U.S. laws while in orbit. And presenting the digital credentials of another person in order to gain access to their financial information is identity theft.
If McClain did not remove any money and only presented one set of false identifying documents—if she just logged in with Worden’s username and password, but didn’t create a false signature or present other false credentials—then the maximum punishment for each false login would be five years imprisonment.
And even then, the law allows for judges to assign a lower sentence, especially if there are mitigating factors or if the defendant has no prior criminal history.
But there are still some potential hiccups in a potential prosecution of McClain. As Stone discusses in his video, a murder investigation in Antartica was derailed after competing investigations and jurisdictional claims prevented a proper inquiry into the crime. The rules governing space jurisdiction has a strong parallel in the treaties and laws governing conduct in Antartic research stations.
Hopefully, for McClain and the Army’s reputation, no charges are filed. But if charges are filed, someone gets to become the first space lawyer to argue a space crime in space court. (Okay, it would just be normal federal court, but still.)
A Russian fighter came within 20 feet of a United States Navy maritime patrol aircraft over the Black Sea. However, unlike past encounters, this close approach doesn’t have the Navy angry.
According to a report by FoxNews.com, the Russian plane was armed with six air-to-air missiles.
Despite that, the plane’s crew described the encounter as “safe and professional,” a marked contrast to incidents such as the buzzing of USS Porter in the Black Sea earlier this year.
Last year, another P-8 had a Russian plane come within ten feet of it.
The incident comes about a month before planned Black Sea exercises that the United States will be involved in. Russia has expressed concern over the deployment of American ships to the Black Sea in the past, claiming they are a threat to Russia.
“After approaching a plane at a safe distance the Russian pilot visually identified the flying object as a U.S. surveillance plane P-8A Poseidon,” the Russian military claimed in a statement.
American military officials noted that the Russian plane approached the P-8 “slowly” during the hour-long encounter.
“While this one was considered by the flight crew to be safe and professional, this sort of close encounter certainly has the possibility to become dangerous in a hurry,” an anonymous American defense official said.
Yesterday saw a Russian Su-24 Fencer come within 70 miles of the Carl Vinson carrier strike group, prompting the South Koreans to scramble two F-16 Fighting Falcons to intercept the plane.
The Fencer has been used in many of the buzzing incidents the Navy has claimed were “unsafe and unprofessional” in recent months.
Russian aircraft have also approached Alaska a number of times in recent weeks, prompting the United States to scramble F-22 Raptor air dominance fighters on at least one occasion.
The autonomous drone would quietly travel to “great depths,” move faster than a submarine or boat, “have hardly any vulnerabilities for the enemy to exploit,” and “carry massive nuclear ordnance,” Putin said, according to a Kremlin translation of his remarks (PDF).
“It is really fantastic. […] There is simply nothing in the world capable of withstanding them,” he said, claiming Russia tested a nuclear-powered engine for the drones in December 2017. “Unmanned underwater vehicles can carry either conventional or nuclear warheads, which enables them to engage various targets, including aircraft groups, coastal fortifications and infrastructure.
“Putin did not refer to the device by name in his speech, but it appears to be the “oceanic multi-purpose Status-6 system” — also known as Kanyon or “Putin’s doomsday machine.”
Nuclear physicists say such a weapon could cause a large local tsunami, though they question its purpose and effectiveness, given the far-more-terrible destruction that nukes can inflict when detonated above-ground.
Why Putin’s ‘doomsday machine’ could be terrifying
A nuclear weapon detonated below the ocean’s surface can cause great devastation.
These underwater fireballs were roughly as energetic as the bombs dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki in August 1945. In the tests, they burst through the surface, ejecting pillars of seawater more than a mile high while rippling out powerful shockwaves.
Some warships staged near the explosions were vaporized. Others were tossed like toys in a bathtub and sank, or sustained cracked hulls, crippled engines, and other damage. Notably, the explosions roughly doubled the height of waves to nearby islands, flooding inland areas.
“A well-placed nuclear weapon of yield in the range 20 MT to 50 MT near a seacoast could certainly couple enough energy to equal the 2011 tsunami, and perhaps much more,” Rex Richardson, a physicist and nuclear-weapons researcher, told Business Insider. The 2011 event he’s referring to is the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 15,000 people in Japan.
“Taking advantage of the rising-sea-floor amplification effect, tsunami waves reaching 100 meters [328 feet] in height are possible,” Richardson said.
Richardson and other experts have also pointed out that a near-shore blast from this type of weapon could suck up tons of ocean sediment, irradiate it, and rain it upon nearby areas — generating catastrophic radioactive fallout.
“Los Angeles or San Diego would be particularly vulnerable to fallout due to the prevailing on-shore winds,” Richardson wrote, adding that he lives in San Diego.
The problem with blowing up nukes underwater
Greg Spriggs, a nuclear-weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, acknowledges that a 50-megaton weapon “could possibly induce a tsunami” and hit a shoreline with the energy equivalent to a 650-kiloton blast.
But he thinks “it would be a stupid waste of a perfectly good nuclear weapon.”
That’s because Sprigg believes it’s unlikely that even the most powerful nuclear bombs could unleash a significant tsunami after being detonated underwater.
“The energy in a large nuclear weapon is but a drop in the bucket compared to the energy of a [naturally] occurring tsunami,” Spriggs previously told Business Insider. “So, any tsunami created by a nuclear weapon couldn’t be very large.”
For example, the 2011 tsunami in Japan released about 9,320,000 megatons (MT) of TNT energy. That’s hundreds of millions of times more than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, and roughly 163,000 times greater than the Soviet Union’s test of Tsar Bomba on October 30, 1961.
Plus, Spriggs added, the energy of a blast wouldn’t all be directed toward shore — it’d radiate outward in all directions, so most of it “would be wasted going back out to sea.”
A detonation several miles from a coastline would deposit only about 1% of its energy as waves hitting the shore. That scenario may be more likely than an attack closer to the shore, assuming a US weapons-detection systems could detect an incoming Status-6 torpedo.
But even on the doorstep of a coastal city or base, Spriggs questions the purpose.
“This would produce a fraction of the damage the same 50 MT weapon could do if it were detonated above a large city,” Spriggs said. “If there is some country out there that is angry enough at the United States to use a nuclear weapon against us, why would they opt to reduce the amount of damage they impose in an attack?”
Is the Doomsday weapon real?
Putin fell short of confirming that Status-6 exists, though he did say the December 2017 tests of its power unit “enabled us to begin developing a new type of strategic weapon” to carry a huge nuclear bomb.
In a 2015 article in Foreign Policy, Jeffrey Lewis — a nuclear-policy expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies — dubbed the weapon “Putin’s doomsday machine.”
He wrote that in part because of speculation that the underwater weapon might be “salted,” or surrounded with metals like cobalt. That would dramatically extend fatal radiation levels from fallout (possibly for years or even decades), since the burst of neutrons emitted in a nuclear blast could transform those metals into long-lived, highly radioactive chemicals that sprinkle all around.
An Italian woman was in a severe car collision in Niger and staff at the local hospital realized they couldn’t treat the woman properly with the equipment they had on hand. What followed was an 18-hour odyssey that relied on medical staff from six countries and U.S. Special Operations Command Forward, a pop-up blood bank, and a doctor translating medical jargon between four languages.
It all started when an Italian woman and her male passenger were driving near Nigerien Air Base 101 in Niamey, capital of Niger. The ensuing wreck injured them both. Nigerien ambulance services moved them to the local hospital where doctors made the call that the woman needed to go to a more advanced facility.
The hospital said the woman had a liver bleed, a life-threatening condition that requires surgery. The case was referred to Italian military doctors nearby who asked the American surgeons of SOCFWD — North And West Africa for help. The ground surgical team quickly discovered that the liver bleed wasn’t the only problem.
Three doctors, U.S. Air Force Capts. Melanie Gates, left, Nick McKenzie, and Richard Thorsted, all with Special Operations Command Forward — Northwest Africa ground surgical team, gather for a photo at Nigerien Air Base 101, Niamey, Niger, on June 21, 2018. The doctors were all involved in an emergency surgery which successfully saved the life of an injured Italian woman.
(U.S. Air Force)
“Upon reviewing the CT scans, there was also evidence of free air in the abdomen, concerning for a small bowel injury,” U.S. Air Force Capt. Melanie Gates, GST emergency medical physician, told an Air Force journalist. “When the patient arrived, her skin was white and she was in serious pain with minimal responsiveness. Her vitals were much worse than previously reported.”
“First thoughts upon seeing patient … she wasn’t doing well,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Richard Thorsted, GST anesthesiologist. “She arrived to us in critical condition with a high fever.”
Italian military members, left (sand-colored uniforms), Special Operations Command Forward Northwest Africa ground surgical team members, middle (in civilian clothes), and members from the 768th EABS, right (in multi camo-patterned uniforms) gather for a photo at Nigerien Air Base 101, Niamey, Niger, on June 4, 2018. A multinational team of medical practitioners on the base saved the life of an Italian civilian injured outside by patching together a team of doctors and other medical personnel from six nations and multiple military branches.
(U.S. Air Force)
The doctors initiated two important actions as they prepared to conduct the surgery; coordination for an airlift to take the patient to Senegal once the surgery was finished, and the collection of A-positive blood to keep the patient going during surgery and airlift.
Both requests would require more work and luck than expected.
First, the major stakeholders needed to ensure the aeromedical evacuation took place included French personnel who controlled a lot of the coordination in the area, Senegalese personnel who would receive the patient into their care, Germans who would conduct the evacuation if civilian personnel could not, Americans who were performing the first surgery, and Nigerians who had originally secured the patient and whose country was hosting her first surgery.
Luckily, Italian military doctor Valantina Di Nitto spoke at least three languages and was able to pass critical patient information and medical plans of action between all the stakeholders. She created a road map for medical care, from the surgery in Niger to Senegal and, eventually, to Italy.
At the same time, base personnel needed to immediately procure five units of A-positive blood. Unfortunately, the medical personnel who knew how to draw the blood weren’t yet familiar with the equipment available on the base.
Lt. Col. Justin Tingey, 768th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron flight doctor, and Master Sgt. Melissa Cessna, 768th EABS independent duty medical technician, pose for a photo at Nigerien Air Base 101, Niamey, Niger, on June 21, 2018. The team recently set up a walking blood bank to enable life-saving surgery to an Italian woman who nearly died in a car accident outside the base. The patient is now in good condition and recovering in Italy.
(U.S. Air Force)
In a weird coincidence, U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Bryan Killings did know how to use the equipment, and he was passing through the base en route to another destination. He got a text message from his bosses while at dinner.
“My leadership told me they had a patient coming through and they needed me to assist them,” Killings said. “They said they needed A-positive blood.”
Killings rushed to the walking blood bank and trained Army and Air Force personnel on how to use the equipment, then assisted in the collection of blood from five donors.
In the operating theater, a team of Air Force doctors took the blood and got to work. The three doctors, Air Force Capts. Melanie Gates, Nick McKenzie, and Richard Thorsted, were all recent graduates of medical school.
Luckily, after completing their residency programs, all three had undergone special military training before heading to Africa that included clinical scenarios in austere conditions.
“Our training kicked in. We all knew our roles and worked well together,” Gates told Tech Sgt. Nick Wilson. “I believe our training was crucial for our development as a team and ability to handle situations like this.”
In the end, the amalgamation of civilian and military medical personnel pulled it off, and the patient is recovering Naples, Italy. She is currently in good condition.
(H/t to Tech Sgt. Nick Wilson who wrote a three-part series on this story for the Air Force. To learn more, you can read his full articles here, here, and here.)
The days following the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States were strange days for many of us. Not only here at home, where the American worldview changed literally overnight, but also in Afghanistan. For obvious reasons.
What might not be so obvious are the many ways which the United States systematically struck back against al-Qaeda and the Taliban who protected its members in Afghanistan. By now, many have heard of the U.S. Army Special Forces who assisted the Northern Alliance on horseback. The new movie 12 Strong depicts their mission.
But three days after the Green Berets and Northern Alliance leader Abdul Rashid Dostum teamed up for the fall of Mazar-e-Sharif, another joint American-Northern Alliance team was fighting to capture – and keep – the Afghan city of Herat.
According to reports from the open-source U.S. Foreign Broadcast Information Service, American air power had been conducting air strikes on the city since October 2001, destroying armored columns, tunnel complexes, and other support facilities. The city was ready by the time the joint assault took place.
American Special Forces, Northern Alliance fighters, and Shia militias moved on the city as the populace took arms against the Taliban with anything they could find. Defeated Taliban fighters fled the city within the same day.
The whole operation was overseen in Tehran by agents of the CIA working with Iranian intelligence officers. Shortly after the city fell, a Northern Alliance spokesperson said it was the first time Khan set foot in the city since it fell to the Taliban in 1995.
In 2005, an Iranian Presidential candidate alluded to the story via an interview with USA Today’s Barbara Slavin, who was able to confirm some parts of the story, while some sources alluded to further collaboration and denied other parts.