In April, 2015, the son of a New Jersey pizza shop owner left the United States. His destination was an Islamic State training camp in Syria. Shortly after arriving, he allegedly emerged in a video posted to social media, beheading Kurdish fighters captured by ISIS. Now, Zulfi Hoxha may be in command of ISIS fighters in the country.
How Islamic State fighters survive the onslaught from American, Kurdish, Syrian, Russian, Iranian, and/or Turkish forces is baffling to many, but Zulfi Hoxha has managed to stay alive through it all, even after the fall of the ISIS capital at Raqqa and the subsequent collapse of the terrorist “caliphate.”
Hoxha now goes by the name Abu Hamza al-Amriki, the last being a nod to his country of origin. He’s been seen in a number of pro-ISIS jihadist propaganda videos, doing everything from encouraging “lone wolf” attacks in the United States to actually beheading enemy soldiers captured in combat. At just 26, he’s being touted as one of the most dangerous recruiting tools of the declining Islamic State.
Only a few dozen Americans have left the U.S. to join international terrorist organizations. Hoxha is significant in that he is now a major propaganda star and is featured as a senior commander of the Islamic State forces. But since the apogee of ISIS’ rise to power in 2014, the group has lost the kind of success that would attract followers like Hoxha.
Having graduated from an Atlantic City, N.J., high school in 2010, youth like Hoxha saw ISIS in control of some 34,000 square miles of territory cut out of Iraq and Syria – a territory roughly the size of Maine. In the years since, the group has lost most of that territory, along with the prestige, money, and followers that kind of success attracts. In previous years, ISIS members like Hoxha were propaganda stars on social media, but after the worldwide effort to curb ISIS recruiting, jihadists are more likely to be found on dark websites than on Twitter.
Iraqi Federal Police hold an upside-down ISIS flag after retaking streets in Mosul.
Hoxha has had minimal contact with former friends and family back in New Jersey. He sent a message to one friend shortly after leaving the United States to tell him that he had arrived in “the Safe House.” He also told his mother that he was going to be training for three months. Now he is one of just a few Americans who rose to a leadership position in the Islamic State and other jihadist organizations.
Many of the others are dead, most killed by U.S. airstrikes.
In the early days of comic strips, they were often more political cartoon than art enjoyed by adults and kids. This was until Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson released the very first comic book, 1935’s New Fun, under his new company, National Allied Publications. Through a series of mergers and buyouts, this company would eventually evolve into the comic giant, DC Comics. Before this, however, Wheeler-Nicholson served in the U.S. Army and was widely known as the “youngest major in the Army” at 27.
Just as many of the Marvel superheroes have pulled inspiration from Stan Lee’s time in the Army, many DC heroes followed Wheeler-Nicholson.
Here are six DC heroes that served in the Army. Not all of them have superpowers, but then again, neither does Batman.
6. Jonah Hex
Jonah Hex‘s story begins in the Civil War where he was a southerner fighting for the Confederacy. His conscience held him back from fighting abolitionists, with whom he agreed philosophically, and he eventually surrendered his forces.
Tried for treason and exiled to the Wild West, Hex would later be branded with the mark of the demon and be forced to walk the west as a supernatural bounty hunter. At some point, he’d also travel time (because comic logic) and fight alongside other superheroes.
He also fought alongside Yosemite Sam. Yeah, the Looney Toons’ Yosemite Sam. (Image via DC Comics)
5. Deathstroke (Slade Wilson)
DC’s greatest and deadliest assassin, Deathstroke, cut his teeth in the Special Forces before he was experimented on, giving him super-human strength, agility, senses, and healing. It’s a very similar storyline to Marvel’s Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool, even though Deathstroke came out 10 years earlier.
Contrary to how he’s portrayed in many mediums, he’s actually a completely neutral agent, only interested in fighting heroes for a price. His strict moral code prevents him from hurting innocents and he’s even been known to fight on the side of good when the price is right.
4. John Diggle
A more recent addition to DC comic continuity is John Diggle. Originally created for the CW show, Arrow, his character is a bodyguard and close friend to the eponymous Green Arrow. Fans immediately loved the character as he helped Oliver Queen deal with his tragic yet over-the-top comic backstory by sharing his time with Special Forces in Afghanistan.
Though not originally a comic book character, he was given a life in print when DC rebooted many of their series as part of the “New 52.” His comic-book origin story follows his on-screen past very closely.
3. Wonder Woman (Diana Prince of Themyscira)
Diana Prince has had a long military career. In more recent storylines, she’s portrayed as an Air Force Intelligence Officer, but she’s most recognized for her WWII-era stories as an Army nurse where she first took the name, “Diana Prince,” to enlist.
At the time, the Amazonian Princess didn’t take kindly to being relegated to being the secretary when she was literally the strongest member of the Justice Society of America (Superman and Batman hadn’t joined at this point). So, she up and left to fight in WWII where she met the sometimes-Army, sometimes-Air Force, sometimes-Navy SEAL, Steve Trevor, as fans would recognize from the 2017 film.
2. Sgt. Franklin Rock
One of the more surreal storylines in DC Comics’ history is that of Sgt. Rock. Very rarely did these comics ever deal with over-the-top action and silly, convoluted plots. Simply put, Sgt. Rock was just the story of the average soldiers of Easy Company during WWII, serving their country.
Sgt. Rock and his men were the musings of Army veteran, writer, and, eventually, executive editor, Robert Kanigher. Many events that happen during his run of Sgt. Rock are based on his real-life battles. After other writers took over his character, things took on a more outrageous, comic-book feel. Even Sgt. Rock’s service number — 409966 — is said to have belonged to Kanigher.
1. Superman (very briefly)
That’s right, every other branch: The Man of Steel himself served in the U.S. Army. Unfortunately, it only lasted for one cross-over issue and because of time travel (because comic logic).
Very long story short, Superman brought a bomb that was going to destroy modern-day Paris into space, but it flung him back in time to WWII where he met with Sgt. Rock and Easy Company (which was very grounded in reality until this point). The blast gave him amnesia (because comic logic) and he assumes the identity of Corporal Steel to fight with the Americans. They stumble upon a Nazi program to create “Ubermensch” soldiers and Superman, realizing Ubermensch roughly means “super men” in German, regains his memory and remembers he has powers.
Superman beats all the fake Nazi copies of him and, to preserve his identity, fakes his own death before heading back to the future (because comic logic).
I held on to my son until it was time for him to go. My heart felt empty as he walked through the departure gates on his way to Army Basic Combat Training (BCT.)
Although I was happy for him as he left to live his lifelong dream of serving our great nation, I felt lost with an emptiness that filled my heart. Despite the tears that streamed down my face, I was proud to see my son started his journey with strength and determination.
It’s far from easy to watch as your child embarks on a journey aimed at transforming them from civilian to soldier; where you won’t hear from them and don’t know what they’re doing.
As your child goes on this journey, you go on a journey too.
You may not have planned for this or even wanted it, and yet here you are, transitioning to becoming the parent of a soldier.
Parenting changes in unexpected ways when your child joins the army. Instead of feeling stranded in a place of sadness, let your child’s hard work, dedication, and patriotism, inspire you to be your best. Here are some ways that parenting changes when your child joins the army.
Photo by Sgt. Philip McTaggart/Released
1. You’re no longer in control.
Parenting never stops, but when your child joins the army a new set of challenges emerges. After spending 18+ years preparing them for life and protecting them, a parental shift happens.
One day they’re home with you, the next day they’re thousands of miles away with little communication.
The casual calls, endless chore reminders, and days spent together are sweet memories of another season of life.
Take a step back and realize how your role is different now. Instead of taking the wheel for them, your role may be to just be there for them, to support their decision to join the Army or to help keep them moving forward.
You may not hear from your Soldier as often as you like but that’s part of your new normal.
Instead of resisting it, lean into it. It can be truly wonderful if you let it. Just think: you raised a child with the passion, courage, and grit to do one of the most important jobs in our nation. Make sure your child knows that you have confidence in them as a soldier and defender of freedom.
Transition takes great effort and doesn’t happen overnight. Know how you are changing as a parent. Put your feelings to paper where you can look back in a few months or a year and see how far you’ve come on this incredible military parenting journey.
Photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret
2. You learn resilience.
Awful thoughts will undoubtedly run rampant through your mind. At some point, your Soldier will transition from BCT to Advanced Individual Training (AIT) or may deploy somewhere in the world.
I wasn’t as excited as my son when he deployed; he thought of it all as a big adventure while I cringed at the thought of him flying high in his helicopter over the Afghanistan Mountains.
Holding on to his enthusiasm through my range of emotions, and looking at this as an adventure was my first step to building resilience.
Embracing change and learning to adapt as a parent of a Soldier is one way to build resilience and manage your emotions. Resilience gives you the ability to cope with stressful situations (there will be some) and carry on with your life. You can’t change the fact that your child is now a Soldier, one of the few who chose to defend our country. Nor can you change where they go next. But you can learn resilience, become more confident in your ability to deal with tough emotions, and find joy in your journey.
Photo courtesy of 2nd Cavalry Regiment
3. You find new ways to enjoy the holidays.
Christmas brings with it sweet memories, family gatherings, and lots of food. It’s always a happy occasion, except for that first year my son joined the Army. He would be celebrating at his first duty station in Germany, while we all missed him terribly at home.
In subsequent years, we found new ways to celebrate. We’ve had Thanksgiving dinner, a Christmas tree, gifts, and holiday decorations in the middle of November or birthdays celebrated a month before or after the event.
Don’t forget technology, which creates new ways to enjoy your Soldier. You can engage with your loved one, whether it’s a text message, phone call, or video and open up communications in a positive way.
Is it the day that is more important or the gathering of loved ones to celebrate events? Learning to enjoy celebrations on days other than the event is a unique way to celebrate. After all, any time you can gather with your Soldier is time for celebration!
4. Oh, the places you’ll go.
That first 9 weeks of basic training seemed like forever. With over 2,000 miles between us, how would I ever see my son? As the years passed, the miles expanded as his duty stations took him to Germany, South Korea, and far-flung states.
Let the adventure begin! With passport in hand, I visited my Soldier son in every country and state he lived in. We traveled through Europe and had a grand time experiencing new places and cultures.
Keep an open mind about the places you can visit and explore with your Soldier. The best part is your child can be your tour guide as you trek off together with enthusiasm and curiosity, creating new grown-up memories.
Photo by Sgt. Philip McTaggart
5. You see your child in a different light.
When my son left for basic training, I clung to our past relationship where I was the mom and protector. Clearly that wasn’t going to work.
As time progressed, it dawned on me one day that my son is a Soldier. He spoke to me about his passion for defending our freedoms and how much it meant to him. As I slowly began to understand him as a grown man and Soldier, I began to see, appreciate, and respect this side of him.
You may not realize it but your Army Soldier is a skilled and highly-trained warrior, ready to defend our nation on a moment’s notice. That’s a lot to take in but it’s true.
No matter how much you want your child to be five years old again, they’re not. They left their childhood behind and went out into the world armed with all the loving ingredients you instilled in them. When you look at them as grown-up, you give way for a new relationship to blossom—one that includes the sweet memories of yesteryear and new adventures of today.
Throughout a successful 15-year Army career, my son’s story isn’t finished and neither is mine. Every “see ya later” hug at an airport is another building block towards mental toughness and staying ready for the changes ahead (and there will be many.)
When your child joins the Army, your parent-child relationship adapts and grows as both your lives change over the years. I wouldn’t change a thing about being the mom of my Soldier son. From the people I’ve met, to the things I’ve learned, and the places I’ve been, this army mom life has been amazing.
You control your journey or your journey controls you. Enjoy the adventure!
According to a report by FoxNews.com, the Chinese Chengdu J-10 “Firebird” fighters came within 200 yards of the P-3, with at least one of the planes making slow turns in front of the American maritime patrol aircraft. The action was considered “unsafe” by the crew.
“You don’t know what the other person is doing,” a defense official told FoxNews.com under the condition of anonymity while explaining the characterization of the incident.
Last week, Chinese J-11s pulled a “Top Gun”-style intercept on an Air Force WC-135W Constant Phoenix radiation surveillance plane — an encounter deemed “unprofessional” by American officials. Encounters like this have been frequent in recent months, and in 2001, a Navy EP-3E Aries II electronic surveillance plane collided with a Chinese J-8 “Finback” interceptor. The Chinese pilot was killed.
Military-Today.com reports that the J-10 is a single-engine fighter that was developed during the late 1980s and early 1990s to counter Russian fighters like the Su-27 Flanker and the MiG-29 Fulcrum. According to some reports, the design was based on the Israeli Aircraft Industries prototype multi-role fighter known as the Lavi, an effort by the Israelis to develop an aircraft comparable to the F-16.
The J-10 has a top speed of Mach 2.2, and can carry PL-12 and PL-8 air-to-air missiles, while also having the ability to drop bombs and fire unguided rockets. GlobalSecurity.org reports that the Chinese have at least 240 on inventory with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force. Pakistan also signed a deal to buy 36 of the J-10B multi-role fighter in 2009, according to FlightGlobal.com.
Luis Enrique Pinto Jr. joined the Army so he could do something different. But first, he had to do something extraordinary.
Just seven months ago, the 6-foot-1-inch teenager was overweight at 317 pounds and unable to pass the Army’s weight requirements.
The former high school football offensive lineman admitted his diet was full of carbohydrates, but he vowed to slim down so he could sign up.
Luis, 18, recalled being part of something bigger than himself while playing on his football team, and he craved for that again with the Army.
“I transferred that same mentality over to life after high school,” he said Aug. 14, 2019.
Initially, his recruiter, Staff Sgt. Philip Long, was skeptical, but still supported his goal.
Long, who has served as a recruiter for almost four years, said he often sees potential recruits struggle to pass requirements even when they only have a few pounds to lose.
“They never put the effort into it,” he said. “They never actually care enough and they don’t go anywhere. And then you turn around and you got someone like Luis.”
Before and after shots of Luis Enrique Pinto Jr., who lost 113 pounds in seven months in order to pass the Army’s weight requirements. Luis enlisted as a 14E, which is responsible for operating and maintaining Patriot weapon systems, and plans to report to basic training in September 2019.
Luis was born in Oakland, but later grew up in Peru and Las Vegas. He currently works as an electrician at construction sites, but recently decided he wanted to be the first in his family to serve in the U.S. military.
“You’ve got one life. I don’t want to wake up and do the same thing every single day,” he said. “There’s a whole world out there.”
Before he could sign the enlistment papers, he cracked down on his diet and stepped up his fitness to cut his weight.
Cardio was his toughest hurdle, he said. He began to do high-intensity interval training where he switched between jogs and sprints to improve his run time.
“Running wasn’t my strong suit,” he said. “Carrying all that extra weight and trying to run definitely increased my time.”
As the months dragged on, he extended his interval training. He now runs 1 mile in just six minutes and 30 seconds — about half the time he ran it when he first started.
His mother also motivated him to hit the gym, especially on those days when he felt like taking an off day.
“One thing she told me is to just show up,” he said. “Just show up and don’t worry about the workout that’s to come. You show up at the gym and once you’re there, you’re already there so might as well just get it over with.”
The near-daily workouts began to pay off and he shed pound after pound — 113 of them to be exact.
Now at 204 pounds, Luis has also seen a positive change in his attitude.
“When I was big, I was really insecure,” he said. “Now I’m walking with my head up high.”
His recruiter said Luis’ dedication to lose over 100 pounds should be an inspiration to others.
“That’s a human. He lost the equivalent of a human in seven months,” Long said.
Luis Enrique Pinto Jr. with his recruiter, Staff Sgt. Philip Long. Luis lost 113 pounds in seven months in order to pass the Army’s weight requirements. With help from his recruiter, he enlisted as a 14E, which is responsible for operating and maintaining Patriot weapon systems, and plans to report to basic training in September 2019.
With help from his recruiter, Luis was able to enlist as a 14E — responsible for operating and maintaining Patriot weapon systems, one of the world’s most advanced missile systems.
The new job also came with a ,000 bonus.
Luis plans to report to basic training in early September 2019. He started future soldier training this week to learn what to expect in the weeks ahead as well as in his Army career.
He also blew past the Occupational Physical Assessment Test, which the Army now administers to new recruits to ensure they can physically perform a certain job.
“Every event was like it was made for him; it was easy,” Long said.
Whatever the challenge Luis may face in the Army, his recruiter has no doubt he can overcome it.
“To have that heart and that drive to keep pushing forward, it’s impressive. It got him to where he can enlist in the Army,” Long said. “That mentality is going to carry him through his career and through life and he’ll be extremely successful.”
Luis said he looks forward to the extra physical training within the Army lifestyle, as he now aims to drop down to 190 pounds.
“Hitting my goal weight definitely isn’t my end goal,” he said. “There’s still way more to come. I still want to get better.”
But for now, the wardrobe the Army plans to issue him should at least accommodate his current figure.
“I pretty much use my old shirts for blankets at this point,” he said, laughing.
Military Working Dogs, or MWDs, play a huge role in the defense of the United States — and when one of them is injured, the Veterinary Medical Center Europe plays a huge role in getting them back in the fight.
Recently, while on patrol with his handler in Afghanistan, MWD Alex, assigned to the 8th MWD Detachment, 91st Military Police Battalion, Fort Drum, New York, was injured in an attack by a suicide bomber. Following care in Bagram, Afghanistan, Alex was medically evacuated to VMCE for further treatment.
Like many of their human counterparts, when an MWD is injured while deployed, they are often medically evacuated to Germany. Service members are transported to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center for care, and MWDs are transported to VMCE for comprehensive veterinary care.
According to Maj. Renee Krebs, VMCE deputy director and veterinary surgeon, when Alex arrived in Germany, he had a fractured left tibia, shrapnel wounds, and multiple other fractures below and above his shin bone.
On the day he arrived, Krebs performed surgery to stabilize Alex’s leg, “which worked pretty well,” she said. “But his other wound, particularly the one over his ankle, started to get worse and worse every day despite appropriate medical therapy and pain management.”
Maj Renee Krebs, Veterinary Medical Center Europe Deputy Director and Veterinary Surgeon, greets Alex, Military Working Dog from the 91st Military Police Battalion, 16th Military Police Brigade, prior to surgery.
(U.S. Army photo by Ashley Patoka )
Alex’s wound over his ankle was getting so bad that it would likely require up to six months of reconstructive and orthopedic surgery. And because of bone and tissue loss, he was also at a very high risk for infection.
In addition to this, Krebs said that Alex was “not using the limb as well as he had been the first week or so after surgery — it was getting more painful. And he began to develop some behavioral problems, centered on some of the things we had to do when we were treating him.”
Krebs said some of the behavioral problems included aggression and snapping when the team would move him to the table to do treatments.
“I spoke to a behaviorist about it and she thought he was having some post-traumatic stress disorder-type acute episodes,” Krebs said. “So we changed the way we were managing him, but he was still getting worse, so in the interest of allowing him to move on with his life and improve his quality of life, we went with amputation.”
Krebs said that had they not performed the amputation, it was likely that Alex would have still ended up losing his leg if they had gone with the option of three to six months’ of wound management.
“The risk was very high. It was a very guarded prognosis to begin with that he would ever have normal return of function to the leg, and I knew if I amputated his leg he would be functional as a pet or regular dog probably within a week — so it seemed like the best option for him.”
Alex was described as relatively calm by Krebs, and during his time at the VMCE, the staff learned more about him, enabling them to cater to his needs and ensure he was comfortable.
“MWDs run the gamut from very high strung, very nervous and needing to be restrained because they have so much energy and are so anxious, to being very mellow,” Krebs said. “Alex was sort of a strange combination — he was relatively calm, but there were things that you knew if you did them he was going to get angry, like touching his tail.”
At Alex’s home unit, Sgt. First Class David Harrison, kennel master for the 8th MWD detachment at Fort Drum, said Alex always felt like an old soul to him.
“[Alex has] the experience of a career soldier, and always carried himself in a way which always made trainers and handlers just believe he was focused on the mission at hand,” Harrison said. “He carries the ability to simply be a fun-loving dog who values his rapport with his handler as much as he enjoys executing his duties.”
Military Working Dog Alex is recovering well following leg amputation surgery, after suffering extensive wounds in a suicide bomber attack in Afghanistan.
(U.S. Army photo by Ashley Patoka )
Even while recovering from his injury and going through surgery, Alex was teaching those around him some important lessons.
“It’s tragic what happened,” said Spc. Landon DeFonde, MWD handler with the 8th MWD detachment at Fort Drum, who has been with Alex for his recovery in Germany. “But it just goes to show how selfless and resilient these animals are. For him to go through that blast and still be as strong as he is and kind and gentle towards people, it really amazes me that what they are capable of living through and surviving through. It definitely teaches me resiliency.”
But these lessons don’t just come when an injury happens, as the relationship between MWD and handler is one that both benefit from over the course of their pairing.
“The relationship between handlers and their partners is a relationship I’ve always found difficult to put into words,” Harrison said. “It’s a familial bond, but it almost goes deeper in some ways. The co-dependent nature of the business puts handlers in a position where they have to give more trust to their canine than most put in fellow humans. It’s not always a comfortable or easy process, but once they reach the point where they independently trust each other while working in tandem, the connection the team develops is unparalleled.”
DeFonde, who has been a MWD handler for three years, shares similar sentiments.
“It is truly incredible how selfless one can be and I think it shows the true side and caring side of humans — how much compassion and care we can show another living being — it is really special,” said DeFonde. “It is really amazing how we interact and how we can combine to create such a strong and powerful team.”
Alex will head back to the states at the end of August 2018 where he will continue his recovery. Due to his injury, his home station kennel will submit a medical disposition packet to allow Alex to retire and be adopted.
“I’ve built a bond with Alex—- not as deep as his handler’s,” DeFonde said. “But it is always hard to say goodbye. Dogs do come and go — that is part of the job, but I am just really happy I was able to come over here and help him recover and then get him back to the states and get him to see his handler.
“I’ve always heard the saying, humans don’t deserve dogs because of how kind they are, and I 100 percent agree. You could not ask for a more selfless companion.”
Mattis referenced Henry Kissinger in his statement, quoting the former secretary of state as saying: we are “faced with two problems: first, how to reduce regional chaos; second, how to create a coherent world order based on agreed-upon principles that are necessary for the operation of the entire system.”
Mattis noted that Kissinger’s generation learned they must prevent “hostile states” from achieving dominance.
“And they understood that while there is no way to guarantee peace, the surest way to prevent war is to be prepared to win one,” said Mattis.
In order to achieve that goal, Mattis said President Donald Trump has requested a $639.1 billion “topline” for the fiscal year 2018 budget, $64.6 billion of which will go towards Overseas Contingency Operations.
The budget request is $52 billion over the cap placed by the National Defense Budget Control Act, passed and signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2011.
The Fiscal Year 2018 budget has five priorities: “restoring and improving warfighter readiness, increasing capacity and lethality, reforming how the Department does business, keeping faith with Service members and their families, and supporting Overseas Contingency Operations.”
Readiness has been a major priority for the armed forces. Military leaders have warned that each of their respective services are suffering from readiness shortfalls, mostly due to a lack of funding. The Army is low on manpower, the Navy is struggling to maintain ships and aircraft, the Marine Corps is undermanned, under-trained and poorly equipped, and the Air Force is small and aging, the vice Joint Chiefs of Staff warned the committee in February.
Mattis noted that sustained warfare abroad has contributed to the readiness problem. Combined with a lack of funding, the forces have been stretched to their limits.
“I am keenly aware members of this committee understand the responsibility each of us has to ensuring our military is ready to fight today and in the future,” said Mattis’s statement. “I need your help to inform your fellow members of Congress about the reality facing our military — and the need for Congress as a whole to pass a budget on time.”
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Every Marine is a rifleman — we all know this to be true. One Marine and his rifle can deliver a world of hurt unto the bad guys. But it’s been a long time since Marines have relied on rifles alone to complete the mission.
In fact, Marines often employ guns that are a heck of a lot bigger than an M16 rifle, like the
M777 howitzer. The M16 fires a 5.56mm round. The M777 fires 155mm rounds — nearly 28 times larger. If a Marine delivers a world of hurt with a rifle, then they deliver an entire galaxy of pain with a howitzer.
But, just as with rifles, learning how to use a howitzer requires practice — the sort of practice best done at large-scale war games.
U.S. Marines with Battery B, 1st Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, fire the M777 towed 155 mm howitzer during the assault support tactics 1 exercise in support of Weapons and Tactics Instructors course 2-17 at Fire Base Burt, Calif.
(USMC photo by Lance Cpl. Clare Shaffer)
Believe it or not, it’s a lot more complicated than just pointing the howitzer at the enemy, loading it, and pulling the lanyard. The M777 weighs over 8,250 pounds and fires shells at targets up to 19 miles away with a normal HE round (other rounds have a longer range). This gun is operated by a crew of seven, each of whom play an essential role in sending rounds (very far) down range.
This howitzer has been used by American troops since 2005 and has seen plenty of action in Iraq and Afghanistan, where both soldiers and Marines have used this big gun to take out al-Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban. This British design has also been acquired by Australia, India, Saudi Arabia, and Canada. Funnily enough, British troops don’t use this big gun.
U.S. Marines with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit fire an M777 Howitzer during a fire mission in northern Syria during combat against ISIS forces.
(USMC photo by Lance Cpl. Zachery Laning)
One motivated Marine with his rifle is bad news for the enemy — now imagine what seven motivated Marines can do with a howitzer!
Check out the video below to watch Marines practice with the M777 howitzer during this year’s Saber Strike exercise in Latvia.
Top uniformed leaders of all the services urged Congress to waive the use-it-or-lose-it rules and allow them to roll over some of the increased funding slated for fiscal 2018 into 2019.
The leaders welcomed the two-year budget deal authorized by Congress early February 2018 to give the Defense Department nearly $700 billion for fiscal 2018 and $716 billion for fiscal 2019, but they said it also left them in a bind.
Because of Congress’ previous failures to reach a budget agreement for fiscal 2018, which began Oct. 1, the military has been operating at 2017 spending levels under a series of continuing resolutions. The latest CR, which expires March 23, 2018 was enacted to allow the 12 appropriations committees more time to direct the funding of the two-year budget deal.
And there’s the problem, according to Marine Corps Assistant Commandant Gen. Glenn Walters, who testified along with leaders of the Army, Navy, and Air Force.
Walters told the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on readiness and management support Feb. 14, 2018 that by the time the budget agreement was solidified, the military would have only about five months to spend the fiscal 2018 funds before fiscal 2019 begins Oct. 1.
Under current rules, money not spent by government agencies before the end of the fiscal year goes back to the Treasury.
“As you noted, we have a year’s worth of money adds in ’18 and five months to spend it,” Walters told the hearing. “It might help if the appropriators can give us some flexibility, so we can spend ’18 money in ’19 and feather in the plan” to improve readiness under a program ordered up by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran agreed.
“We’d like to have authorities to move funding around as we go, and inform Congress as we’re doing it,” he said.
Moran said the boost in funding is “so significant that we’re going to have to look at transferring that money from account to account.”
Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville said the Army would be forced into a potentially risky rush to execute contracts unless Congress eases the time limit.
“We don’t get the same type of rigor we would like to get if we had it sooner,” he said of the funding. “Certainly, we appreciate the authorizations for readiness. We just need to get it in the hands of our units so they can spend it.”
On the House side, the leadership is already moving to grant the services more time to spend the money.
Early February 2018, Rep. Mac Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told reporters that he had met with top appropriators “about making sure no artificial limitation Congress proposes prevents the Pentagon from spending money.”
Wojtek endeared himself to members of a Polish army unit in 1942 when he alerted them to the presence of a spy in their camp.
The Polish soldiers, who were released by Russia after the German invasion in 1941, were passing through the Middle East on their way back to Europe. Picking up new members on such a trip wouldn’t be unusual, but Wojtek’s case was a little different, because he was a bear.
Wojtek, whose mother is thought to have been shot by hunters, was bought by Polish soldiers while they were in Iran and eventually joined what would become the Polish II Corps’ 22nd artillery supply company in 1942.
He continued with them through Iraq and into Egypt.
To board a ship to Europe in 1943, Wojtek needed to be a soldier, so the Poles formally enlisted him as a private — with his own pay book and serial number.
Wojtek, who eventually weighed well over 400 pounds, also got double rations.
The badge of the 22nd Artillery Support Company of the 2nd Polish Corps.
“He was like a child, like a small dog. He was given milk from a bottle, like a baby. So therefore he felt that these soldiers are nearly his parents and therefore he trusted in us and was very friendly,” Wojciech Narebski, a Polish soldier who spent three years alongside Wojtek during the war, told the BBC in 2011.
They also shared a name — Wojtek is a diminutive form of the name Wojciech, which means “happy warrior.”
Now Wojtek’s story is being documented in an animation feature by Iain Harvey, an animator and the executive producer of the 1982 adaptation of Raymond Brigg’s children’s story “The Snowman,” which was nominated for an Oscar and is still shown every year at Christmas on British television.
The bear smoked, drank, and wrestled with soldiers
When he was told about Wojtek, Harvey thought the story was “pure fantasy,” he told the Times of London this week. “It’s fantastic to have a piece of magic that’s real.”
Wojtek, who eventually rose to the rank of corporal, became a mascot for his unit.
Soldiers would box and wrestle with the bear, who was also fond of smoking and drinking. “For him one bottle was nothing,” Narebski told the BBC. “He was weighing [440 pounds]. He didn’t get drunk.”
He was trained not to be a threat to people and was “very quiet, very peaceful,” Narebski said. But he didn’t get along with another bear and a monkey that were also adopted by the soldiers.
Wojtek was a source of good cheer for the unit, Narebski told the BBC. “For people who are far from families, far from their home country, from a psychological viewpoint, it was very important.”
But he was more than good company during the fighting in Italy.
A British soldier at the Battle of Monte Cassino said he was surprised to see the six-foot bear hauling artillery shells to resupply Allied forces. The company’s patch also featured Wojtek carrying a shell.
Filmmakers released a documentary about Wojtek in 2011. Harvey’s project, “A Bear Named Wojtek,” has secured funding from Poland, but he is still seeking a British partner, telling The Times that he would contact Channel 4 and the BBC as well as companies like Netflix.
Harvey’s project is being set up for release on the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day on May 8, 2020.
According to The Times, it will take 30 animators roughly a year to produce the 30-minute film, hand-drawing each scene on a tablet.
Narebski last saw Wojtek in April 1945, before the Battle of Bologna in Italy.
Once his unit was demobilized in Scotland, the bear was resettled at the Edinburgh Zoo.
A monument to Wojtek in Krakow.
Former members of his unit often visited him at the zoo, where he lived until his death in 1963 at age 21.
Narebski returned to Poland but had trouble keeping in touch with his former comrades — both human and bear — because of restrictions put in place by the Polish government.
He never forgot about Wojtek, however.
“It was very pleasant for me to think about him,” Narebski told the BBC. “I felt like he was my older brother.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
U.S. forces in southern Syria came under attack by Islamic State militants around midnight local time on April 8, joining with local partner forces to repel the assault in an hours-long fight that required multiple airstrikes and left three U.S.-backed Syrian fighters dead.
U.S. special-operations advisers were on the ground near the al-Tanf border crossing when a force of 20 to 30 fighters with the Islamic State, the terrorist group also known as ISIS or ISIL, attacked in what a U.S. Central Command spokesman called a “complex and coordinated” attempt to take the base from the coalition.
“U.S. and coalition forces were on the ground in the area as they normally are, and participated in repulsing the attack,” said Air Force Col. John J. Thomas, a spokesman for Central Command, according to the Associated Press.
“There was close-air support that was provided, there was ground support that was provided, and there was med-evac that was supported by the coalition,” Thomas added. No Americans were killed or wounded.
Marines train for attacks like this. (Official Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Joseph A. Prado)
“Clearly it was planned,” Thomas told reporters at the Pentagon. “The coalition and our partner forces had the resources to repulse that attack. A lot of them wound up being killed and the garrison remains controlled by the people in control before being attacked.”
“Ultimately the attackers were killed, defeated, or chased off,” Thomas said.
U.S. forces at al-Tanf, on Syria’s southern border with Jordan and Iraq, had initially withdrawn to avoid potential retaliatory action after the U.S. strike on an Assad regime airfield in western Syria.
The attack came from ISIS fighters disguised as U.S.-backed rebels, carrying M-16 rifles and using vehicles captured from U.S.-supported rebel groups. They struck first with a car bomb at the base entrance, which allowed some of the attackers to infiltrate the base. Many of the ISIS fighters were wearing suicide vests.
“Around 20 ISIS fighters attacked the base, and suicide bombers blew up the main gate, and clashes took place inside the base,” Tlass al-Salama, the commander of the Osoud al Sharqiya Army, part of the U.S.-backed moderate rebel alliance, told The Wall Street Journal.
Salama’s force sent reinforcements to the base, but they came under attack from other ISIS fighters.
U.S. special-operations forces and their Syrian partners who had moved out of the base quickly returned, and they initially repelled the attack on the ground in a firefight that lasted about three hours.
Coalition pilots also carried out multiple airstrikes amid the fighting, destroying ISIS vehicles and killing many of the terrorist group’s fighters.
“It was a serious fight,” a U.S. military official said April 10. “Whether or not it was a one-off, we will have to see.”
U.S. special-operations forces had been training vetted Syrian opposition troops at al-Tanf for more than a year. The Syrian opposition fighters in question were operating against ISIS in southern Syria and working with Jordan to maintain border security.
The pullback from al-Tanf to safeguard against reprisals was just one step the coalition took in the aftermath of the U.S. strike on Shayrat airfield, which was believed to be the launching point for a chemical weapons attack on a Syrian village April 4.
The coalition also reduced the number of air missions it flew, out of concern Syrian or Russian forces would attempt to shoot down U.S. aircraft. The U.S. presence in Syria has increased in recent months, as Marines and other units arrive to aid U.S.-backed fighters.
ISIS may become more active in southern Syria as U.S.-backed forces close in on Raqqa, the terrorist group’s self-proclaimed capital located in northeast Syria. Top ISIS leaders have reportedly fled the city in recent months.
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The Navy gets 14 new ships, including a carrier; the Air Force adds 56 F-35s; the Army gets 17 Apache and 11 Lakota helicopters; the Marine Corps receives 24 vertical landing F-35Bs; and the Coast Guard gets a long-needed icebreaker.
All the troops get funding for a 2.4 percent pay raise that took effect at the beginning of the year, with the possibility for more next year.
The Air Force also gets $103 million for the wing replacement program on the A-10 Thunderbolt as a start in what Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said is a plan to keep the “Warthogs” flying at least to 2030.
These are some of the highlights from the submissions of the Senate and House Defense Appropriations subcommittees in the overall 2,342-page, $1.3 trillion omnibus spending package for fiscal 2018, including nearly $700 billion for the military and $591 billion for non-defense funding.
The $700 billion includes $65.2 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations, or “war budget” funding mostly for Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.
“Overall, this is the biggest year-to-year increase in defense funding in 15 years — a $61 billion increase over FY2017 enacted levels,” the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee said in its overview.
Yet Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said it isn’t enough to completely reverse the shortfalls in readiness and modernization brought about by the budget restraints under the sequester process.
“It is not enough to fix our problems, but it’s probably the right amount to be spent this year,” he told Fox News on March 21, 2018.
The Defense Department has been promised $716 billion for fiscal 2019 under a two-year military spending plan already approved by Congress — $700 billion in 2018 and $716 billion in 2019.
All of that funding is contingent on Congress approving the $1.3 trillion omnibus package, which is still hung up on debates over health care, immigration, gun control, and the funding of Planned Parenthood.
Since failing to adopt a fiscal 2018 budget Oct. 1, 2017, the government has gone through two brief shutdowns and five continuing resolutions that kept spending at 2017 levels. The latest continuing resolution runs out at midnight March 23, 2018.
The proposed fiscal 2018 budget for the DoD includes $137.7 billion overall for personnel and the 2.4 percent pay raise; $89.2 billion for research and development, up $16 billion over 2017; $144.3 billion for procurement, up $25.4 billion over 2017; and $238 billion for operations and maintenance — about $1 billion above the Trump administration’s request.
The omnibus package would also fully fund an active-duty end strength of 1,322,500 and a reserve component end strength of 816,900 — an overall increase of 9,500.
The Missile Defense Agency would get at least a $2 billion increase over its original request to a total of $11.5 billion, mainly to counter the growing threat from North Korea.
The additional MDA funding includes $568 million to initiate the expansion of Missile Field #4 at Fort Greely, Alaska, with 20 additional Ground-Based Interceptors.
The proposed agreement calls for $23.8 billion to go to Navy shipbuilding programs, $3.4 billion above the initial budget request.
In total, the agreement funds the construction of 14 new ships: one aircraft carrier, two Virginia- class submarines, two DDG-51 destroyers, three Littoral Combat Ships, one LX(R) amphibious assault ship, one Expeditionary Fast Transport ship, one Expeditionary Sea Base, one TAO fleet oiler, one Towing, Salvage and Rescue ship (ATS), and one T-AGS oceanographic survey ship.
The agreement also fully funds advance procurement activities for Ohio-class and Virginia-class submarines. Other critical shipbuilding investments include an additional $225 million for the expansion of the submarine industrial base and $150 million to accelerate procurement of a Heavy Polar Icebreaker, according to the Senate overview.
The Army would get $348 million for 116 Stryker Double V-Hull upgrades; $300 million for Stryker lethality upgrades; $1.1 billion for the upgrade of 85 Abrams tanks; and $483 million for the upgrade of 145 Bradley Fighting Vehicles.
In addition, the Army would get $220 million for National Guard High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle recapitalization, including $120 million specifically for ambulance modernization.
The proposed bill includes a total of $44 billion for aircraft procurement programs, $9.5 billion above the amount requested by the Trump administration. The bill would provide:
• $2.9 billion for 10 conventional take-off, six carrier variant, and four vertical take-off F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, as well as additional tooling and spare engines (Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps).
• $739 million for 10 F-18 Super Hornet aircraft (Navy).
• $676 million for eight V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft (Marine Corps and Navy).
• $600 million for five MC-130J aircraft (Special Operations Command).
• $577 million for 17 AH-64 Apache helicopters (Army).
• $510 million for three KC-46A tanker aircraft (Air Force).
• $501 million for three P-8A Poseidon aircraft (Navy).
• $480 million for six C-130J aircraft (Air National Guard).
• $400 million for eight MH-60R helicopters (Navy).
• $387 million for eight CH-47 Chinook helicopters (Army and Special Operations Command).
• $343 million for four KC-130J tanker aircraft (Marine Corps).
• $250 million for two CH-53K King Stallion helicopters (Marine Corps).
• $221 million for seven UH-1Y/AH-1Z helicopters (Marine Corps).
• $207 million for two C-40 aircraft (Marine Corps).
• $130 million for two C-37B aircraft (Air Force).
• $110 million for additional RQ-7 Shadow systems (Army).
• $108 million for eight UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters (Army National Guard).
• $107 million for nine MQ-1 Grey Eagle vehicles and payloads (Army).
• $100 million for one HC-130J aircraft (Air Force).
• $90 million for 11 UH-72 Lakota helicopters (Army).
• $84 million for six MQ-8 Fire Scout vehicles (Navy).
• $40 million for two SATURN ARCH aircraft (Army).
• $29 million for one Dash 8 maritime patrol aircraft (Southern Command).