MIGHTY TRENDING

Tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia explode on the battlefield and around the world

For decades, Azerbaijan and Armenia have feuded over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory. Internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, the region is mostly governed by the Republic of Artsakh, a de facto independent state with an ethnic Armenian majority population. Despite the formal cessation of hostilities in 1994 after a two-year war over the region, clashes between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces continue to erupt along the border.


Following a week-long series of military exercises in the disputed region at the end of May, skirmishes broke out on July 12 which left four Azerbaijani soldiers dead and several wounded on both sides. The South Caucasus neighbors blamed each other for the outbreak of violence. While Azerbaijani and Armenian government representatives threatened deadly consequences should the conflict escalate, the international community weighed in.

Turkey, a historic enemy of Armenia, expressed strong support for Azerbaijan in the conflict. Moscow, an ally to both Azerbaijan and Armenia, expressed concern over the fighting and warned that further escalation could undermine the security of the region. The United States condemned the violence and urged for the de-escalation of hostilities via direct communication links.

Hopes of a return to the ceasefire were dashed as both sides continued to exchange rocket and artillery fire along the border on July 13. Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense posted a video showing Azerbaijani artillery destroying an Armenian military base. Later in the day, both sides reported damage to civilian houses.

Hostilities escalated further on July 14 as both sides employed UAVs for aerial strikes. Armenian-made UAVs were used in combat for the first time. “[They] showed brilliant results,” said former Spokesperson for the Armenian Ministry of Defense Artsrun Hovhannisyan. “It seems high-ranking officers became victims of their strike.” Later in the day, Azerbaijan confirmed the deaths of Major General Popad Hashimov and Colonel Ilgar Mirzoev as well as five other servicemen.


Shushan

www.facebook.com

Translation: Nightly punitive actions.

On July 15, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense shared four videos of Armenian bases and vehicles being destroyed by Azerbaijani artillery fire. In response, Hovhannisyan shared a video of shelled Armenian houses and blamed Azerbaijan for attacking civilian villages. As of the writing of this article, exchanges of fire along the border between the two countries continues.

To date, Armenia has confirmed five of their soldiers killed, one as recently as July 23, and a further 36 wounded. Azerbaijan has confirmed 11 of their soldiers killed, including the aforementioned Major General and Colonel.

The outbreak of violence between the two countries has prompted protests by ethnic Azeris and Armenians around the world. On July 17, a protest outside the Armenian embassy in London turned violent. Carrying their national flags and chanting slogans, Azeris and Armenians exchanged insults before the demonstrations devolved into physical altercations, forcing the intervention of law enforcement.

On July 19, about 500 Armenians from around France congregated in Paris to protest in front of the Azerbaijani embassy. To prevent a repeat of the violence in London, the organizers did not publicize the event in advance and communicated via telephone. Without approval for the demonstration, the protesters were dispersed by police before long.

Protests have been taking place around the world and the United States is no exception. In Los Angeles, which has the highest population of Armenians outside of Armenia, a protest on July 21 near the Azerbaijan Consulate General in Brentwood turned violent. Fistfights broke out leaving demonstrators on both sides and one LAPD officer injured.

July 23 saw an escalation of violence in Europe. In Germany, an official government vehicle was set on fire outside of the Armenian Embassy in Berlin. In Ukraine, an Armenian owned coffee shop was burned down. A video of the fire surfaced online along with a narration that translates to, “This is an Armenian coffee shop in Kiev. This is a gift to Armenians from the Azerbaijanis. Accept it.” In Russia, violence has come in the form of street attacks. At least two Armenian men have been beaten by Azeris. The Russian Special Purpose Police Unit known as OMON has taken an undisclosed number of Azeris into custody for the attacks.

As the fighting in the Caucasus region spills over across the globe, the United States response remains hopeful of de-escalation and a return to a ceasefire. However, with violence surging, more experienced military veterans may need to dust off their old maps and MDMP slides from the GAAT scenario.

An overview GAAT map (US Army Combined Arms Center)

Articles

These wounded Marines hunted the Taliban in Afghanistan. Now they hunt child predators online.


The fist bump was their thing in Afghanistan, where both Marines lost legs in the same attack, and the fist bump is still their thing in the hunt for child predators under a special law enforcement program to train and hire medically retired veterans.

Cpl. Justin Gaertner and Sgt. Gabriel Martinez in their dress blues bumped fists at an event earlier this year in Florida, just as they bumped fists while recovering from their wounds.

Gaertner, 26, of Tampa, Fla., has been partnered for the last two years with retired Army Special Forces Staff Sgt. Nathan Cruz, 42, executing the computer forensics to track down sex traffickers in the ICE/HERO program.

Working out of the Tampa, Fla., Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office, Gaertner and Cruz use their newly-acquired computer skills to determine probable cause and go on raids to seize evidence hidden in computer hard drives, software programs and cell phones, much of it involving disturbing images of young children.

Martinez has just committed to training for the same job that falls under the Department of Homeland Security’s mandate in a program that began two years ago.

He was expected to start the year-long training in the fall for the program that was initially limited to U.S. Special Operations Command veterans but now is open to medically retired vets from all the services, said Tamara Spicer, an ICE spokeswoman.

Martinez and Gaertner were both wounded while on a route clearance mission outside Marjah in Afghanistan’s southwestern Helmand province on Nov. 26, 2010.

An improvised explosive device went off and “my best friend blew up right in front of me,” Gaertner said. He was wounded when he stepped on a mine while trying to clear a medevac landing zone.

STUNNED AT THE SCOPE

In phone interviews last week, Gaertner, who served five years in the Marines, and Cruz, a 15-year Army veteran, said they were both channeling the discipline and determination they brought from the military into going after child predators and pornographers. Despite their training, both admitted they were stunned at the scope of the problem.

“I don’t think we ever realized fully what we were getting into or the nature of the suspects we were going after,” Gaertner said. “We don’t really understand them. There’s no character to the people who do these crimes.

“We’ve seen schoolteachers to daycare workers to sports photographers to diplomats – there’s really no face to these crimes,” Gaertner said. “It’s been hard and it’s been a long road but luckily Nathan and I are in the same office and we have each other to fall back on.”

Cruz also said “I didn’t know what I was going to get into” at the start. “I wasn’t working, I wasn’t doing anything,” but “I heard from some SOCOM buddies about this so I thought I’d give it a shot.”

Now, as the father of three children, “I think there’s nothing better I should be doing,” Cruz said. “Kids are being victimized over and over. They need someone to get their back. We just want to put the guys that are hurting them behind bars.”

Cruz and Gaertner were part of the first HERO Corps (Human Exploitation Rescue Operations Corps) in 2013 working with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) to meet the growing backlog of sex trafficking cases.

2,300 CHILD PREDATORS

Last year, ICE seized more than 5.2 million gigabytes of data related to child exploitation and pornography and arrested more than 2,300 child predators on criminal charges.

“The HERO program, and the resulting hiring of Nathan and Justin, has paid great dividends for HSI Tampa across the board,” said Susan L. McCormick, special agent in charge of HSI Tampa. “We gained skilled employees with valuable experience and training.”

In October 2013, the first class of 17 HEROs graduated from the initial training as computer forensic analysts and in October 2014 a second class of 13 HEROs graduated. In August, ICE was expected to begin training another 50 candidates for the HERO Corps.

In May, Congress passed a bill to make the ICE/HERO program a permanent part of Homeland Security and its budget. The bill was quickly signed into law by President Obama as the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015.

The program had been partly funded by a five-year, $10 million contribution from individuals and foundations through the non-profit National Association to Protect Children.

At a Washington ceremony last month, Homeland Secretary Jeh Johnson and ICE Director Sarah Saldana swore 22 new vets into the HERO Corps designed “to allow wounded, ill or injured warriors the chance to continue serving their country on a new battlefield – the fight against child predators.”

“These heroes have all served their country with honor and distinction and, despite the traumas of war they all have endured, they have answered the call yet again,” Johnson said.

“The main thing we’re focusing on is child exploitation,” Cruz said. “I’d say maybe 80 percent of our cases are child pornography.” The average suspect might have about 1,000 images but “we’ve seen cases with more than 40,000 images. They trade them with their buddies so they can get more – that’s how it works. The more I find, the more years you’re going to get.”

RESCUING CHILDREN

Once they have zeroed in on an offender, the hardest, and most rewarding, part of the job begins – finding and rescuing those children in the images, Cruz said.

“We try to save that kid, try to see where he or she is from. That brings more satisfaction, knowing those kids are not going to be harmed anymore.”

Gaertner said that a recent case in which a suspect had 28,000 images led to the rescue of 130 children nationwide.

Cruz and Gaertner also said that part of the job was focusing on themselves and the potential effects of constantly dealing with the worst of society and the images of exploited children. “Luckily, Nathan and I are in the same office and we have each other to fall back on,” Gaertner said.

“We cannot bring work home, we were taught that during our military careers,” Cruz said. “I tell everybody that when I went to SERE school (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape), the one thing they stress the most is ‘stay in the circle.’ I stay in the circle. Work stays at work, when I go home it’s Nathan the dad.”

While partnering with Gaertner, “we talk about it all the time,” Cruz said of the potential psychological effects. “He knows what I do, I know what he does. Me and Justin, we’re lucky that we’re here together.”

— Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com

More from Military.com

This article originally appeared at Military.com Copyright 2015. Follow Military.com on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why sending B-2 bombers and F-22 fighters to South Korea could be Kim’s worst nightmare

Defense officials at the highest levels of South Korea’s government told Yonhap News on Wednesday that the US would deploy “strategic assets” to the peninsula amid tensions with North Korea.


“The US has pledged to expand the rotational deployment of its strategic assets near the Korean Peninsula,” Chung Eui-young, the chief of the National Security Office said according to Yonhap.

While “strategic assets” can refer to nuclear weapons, it can also mean nuclear-powered submarines, aircraft carriers, or stealth aircraft. Chung said the deployment could happen as early as the end of 2017.

An F/A-18F Super Hornet takes off from an aircraft carrier. Photo courtesy of US Navy

Another South Korean publication, Chosun, reported on Tuesday that a government source said the US may send an aircraft carrier, B-2 stealth bombers, and the world’s stealthiest and most lethal combat plane, the F-22 Raptor.

The talk of increased US firepower in South Korea comes after North Korea interpreted some of President Donald Trump’s tweets as a declaration of war, and announced it would try to shoot down US bombers flying anywhere near its airspace.

As it stands, the US has B-1B Lancer bombers stationed in Guam that frequently respond to North Korean missile or nuclear tests by doing flybys near its borders accompanied by advanced US, Japanese, or South Korean jets.

But the B-1B isn’t nuclear capable, nor is it stealth. The B-2, however, has both.

Photo from USAF

Although the US already has F-22 and F-35 stealth aircraft stationed nearby in Japan, placing them on the Korean Peninsula could spur further escalation of an already-tense situation.

The B-2 can carry 16 nuclear warheads as well as massive ordnance penetrators — bunker-busting bombs that would be the US’s best bet for hunting North Korea’s leadership as they hide in underground caves.

NK News recently reported that the US had to tell North Korea about the last flight of the B-1 near its borders, because Pyongyang couldn’t really track the supersonic bomber jet. If North Korea struggled with the non-stealth B-1, then it has little hope of spotting a B-2 and virtually no chance of spotting the F-22 on its radar screens.

Still, the move could backfire and destabilize the situation in North Korea, as the US’ asymmetrical advantage over North Korea’s aging forces could cause an uneasy Kim Jong Un to think he has no choice but to strike first.

“Often times when we think we’re sending very clear signals, we can’t be sure they’re being interpreted that way,” Jenny Town, the assistant director of the US-Korea Institute, told Business Insider of the US’s attempts to show its strength towards North Korea.

“In South Korea they’ve talked about trying to scare North Korea into changing their behavior,” Town said, referring to the deployment of US military assets to South Korea. But, “the way they change their behavior is not necessarily the way we want them to.”

Articles

8 American military legends who were honored as foreign knights

American military heroes typically spend a lot of time fighting in other countries. The leaders of those countries can give medals or official thanks, but sometimes they induct American warriors into their chivalric orders and turn them into knights. For American citizens the honor comes without the title of “sir” or any of the official perks, but it’s still way better than a challenge coin.


1. Gen. James Doolittle

Photo: Wikipedia

Medal of Honor recipient and leader of the Doolittle Raid, Gen. James Doolittle also has a number of honorary knighthoods including Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath from Great Britain, the Order of the Condor of Bolivia, and the Grand Order of the Crown from Belgium.

2. Adm. Chester W. Nimitz

Photo: Wikipedia

The naval hero who commanded the fleets at the battles of Midway, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and others was named to two foreign knighthoods. First, he was appointed as Knight Grand Cross of the Military Division of the Order of Bath by Great Britain, then Knight Grand-Cross in the Order of Orange Nassau by Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands.

3. Gen. “Stormin'” Norman Schwarzkopf

Photo: US Army

The rockstar general who led Desert Storm, Gen. “Stormin'” Norman Schwarzkopf was appointed as a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath by Queen Elizabeth during her visit to the United States in 1991.

4. Gen. Omar N. Bradley

Photo: US Army

Gen. Omar N. Bradley was a five-star general, World War II and Korean War commander, the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and the first Chairman of the NATO Committee. For his years of military service, Bradley was made an honorary Knight Commander of the British Empire.

5. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

Photo: US Army

General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower has way too many knighthoods to list here, but some highlights include: Knight Grand Cross of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath from Great Britain, Grand Cordon with Palm of the Order of Leopold from Belgium, and the Grand Croix of the Legion of Honor from France.

6. Gen. Douglas MacArthur

Photo: US Army Signal Corps Gaetano Faillace

Douglas MacArthur retired from the Army in 1937, but returned in 1941 after a request from President Roosevelt. Gen. MacArthur went on to become commander of occupied Japan and of United Nations Forces in Korea. For his World War II service, MacArthur was appointed as a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath of Great Britain.

7. Gen. George S. Patton

Photo: Wikipedia

A veteran of the Border War with Mexico, World War I, and World War II, Gen. George S. Patton was named to numerous orders including the Order of the British Empire, the Order of Leopold, and the Order of Adolphe of Nassau, among others.

8. President George H. W. Bush

Photo: George H.W. Bush Presidential Library

World War II naval aviator and former President George H. W. Bush was appointed a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath during a ceremony at Buckingham Palace on Nov. 30, 1993.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How the elite PJs rescue troops in the mountains of Afghanistan

US Air Force Pararescue specialists, or PJs, are one of the most elite special operators in the world.

Consisting of about 500 airmen, PJs “rescue and recover downed aircrews from hostile or otherwise unreachable areas,” according to the Air Force.

These “highly trained experts perform rescues in every type of terrain and partake in every part of the mission, from search and rescue, to combat support to providing emergency medical treatment, in order to ensure that every mission is a successful one.”

“One of the challenges [in Afghanistan] is the altitude and terrain because we are surrounded by mountains,” Maj. Jason Egger, 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron commander at Bagram Airfield, said in a Defense Department news release on the training.

“We overcome that challenge by working with the Army pilots, which gives us the capability to get to the altitude we need and insert the teams,” Egger added.

Here’s how PJs rescue troops in the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan.


US Air Force PJs on the ground during a training mission in Afghanistan on Nov. 5, 2018.

(US Air Force photo)

A CH-47 Chinook helicopter takes off during a PJ training mission in Afghanistan in November 2018.

(US Air Force photo)

After getting a call, the PJs load into an Army CH-47 Chinook, which they often use for transports in rescue missions in Afghanistan.

“Most of the central and northern Afghanistan area is very high altitude, and that’s where the CH-47s can really provide some special capability because of their ability to get to that high altitude area and insert the team,” Eggers said.

Read more about Chinooks here.

A CH-47 Chinook helicopter flies over an MRAP during a PJ training mission on Nov. 5, 2018 in Afghanistan.

(US Air Force photo)

An Air Force PJ fast-ropes down to the ground during a training mission in Afghanistan on Nov. 5, 2018.

(US Air Force photo)

At the site, PJs fast-rope down to the ground to get the troops in need.

PJs can also insert from higher altitudes, and therefore train in high altitude jumps from fixed-wing aircraft.

PJ operators perform rescues during a training mission in Afghanistan in November 2018.

(US Air Force photo)

A PJ operator helps an service member with a simulated injury during a training mission in Afghanistan in November 2018.

(US Air Force photo)

PJs provide first aid to wounded service members during a training mission in Afghanistan in November 2018. The wounds were simulated for the training’s realism.

(US Air Force photo)

PJs flying in Chinook helicopters during a training mission in Afghanistan in November 2018.

(US Air Force photo)

PJs carrying a service member with a simulated wound during a training mission in Afghanistan in November 2018.

(US Air Force photo)

PJs conduct combat arms training Nov. 1, 2018 at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.

(US Air Force photo)

But PJs also undergo intense combat arms training as well, which is needed in certain rescue scenarios.

“The PJs and the combat rescue officers have a pretty broad skill set, and it’s pretty difficult to stay sharp on all those skills,” Eggers said. “So continuing to keep them engaged through training, it keeps those skills sharp throughout the entire deployment.”

Watch the full interview with Eggers here, and the PJ training videos here, here and here.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

A Purple Heart was donated — can you help find its owner?

Sometimes things are donated because they’ve lost their value. Sometimes, they’re donated because their value isn’t understood.


MIGHTY TACTICAL

How you can watch live as Israel attempts first private moon landing

Nearly two months after its commercial launch, a private Israeli spacecraft has slipped into lunar orbit and will soon try landing on the moon’s surface.

The dishwasher-size robot, called Beresheet (a biblical reference that means “in the beginning”) could pull off the first private moon landing in history if all goes according to plan. The mission could also make Israel the fourth nation ever to have a spacecraft survive a lunar-landing attempt.

Beresheet launched aboard a SpaceX rocket on Feb. 21, 2019. Over the past six weeks, the roughly 1,300-lb robot has gradually accelerated its way toward the moon. SpaceIL, a nonprofit group based out of Tel Aviv University, researched, designed, and built the spacecraft since 2011 on a mostly private budget of about $100 million.


On April 8, 2019, mission controllers fired Beresheet’s engines to achieve an elliptical orbit around the moon. At its farthest, Beresheet moves about 290 miles (467 kilometers) above the lunar surface; at its closest, the spacecraft’s altitude is 131 miles (211 kilometers) — about twice as close as the International Space Station is to Earth.

The “Beresheet” lunar robot prior to its launch aboard a SpaceX rocket.

(SpaceIL)

During the operation, Beresheet photographed the moon’s far side, above, from about 342 miles (550 kilometers) away. (The spacecraft also took several selfies with Earth during its flight to the moon.)

Now that Beresheet is within striking distance of a lunar landing, SpaceIL is waiting for the precise moment to blast Beresheet’s thrusters one last time. The engine burn will slow down the spacecraft, cause the four-legged robot to fall out of lunar orbit, and gently touch down on the moon’s surface.

SpaceIL expects Beresheet to land on the moon sometime between 3 and 4 p.m. EDT on Thursday, April 11, 2019, according to an emailed press release. The group will also broadcast live footage of its historic lunar-landing attempt.

“This joint mission of SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) will be broadcast live via satellite for a pool feed and live streamed with access to all media,” SpaceIL said in its email, noting that the broadcast would show views from inside the spacecraft’s mission control center in Yehud, Israel.

The video feed, embedded below, should activate on Thursday afternoon.

Live – Contact Production

contactgbs.com

SpaceIL said the group would host a press conference immediately after the landing. The group also said it’d share exact timing for a landing attempt closer to the actual event.

SpaceX’s Nusantara Satu mission rockets toward space carrying a communications satellite, moon lander, and small military satellite.

(SpaceX)

Blazing a commercial path to the moon

SpaceIL got its start in 2011 on the heels of the Google Lunar XPrize, which offered more than million to the first privately funded entity to land on the moon and pull off a series of difficult tasks.

Three engineers took a stage during a space conference and announced their intentions to build and launch a lunar lander — gumption that caught the attention of South African-born billionaire Morris Kahn.

“They seemed very proud of themselves, and I thought that this was rather neat,” Kahn previously told Business Insider.

After SpaceIL’s presentation, Kahn — who at the time had a net worth to close id=”listicle-2634185632″ billion— asked the group’s leaders if they had any money.

“They said, ‘Money? Money, what’s that for?’ I said, ‘Without money, you’re not going to get anywhere,'” Kahn said. “I said to them, ‘Look, come to my office, I’ll give you 0,000 — no questions asked — and you can start.’ And that was how I innocently got involved in this tremendous project.”

The mission ultimately cost about 0 million — a fraction of the 9 million that NASA spent in the 1960s on seven similarly sized Surveyor moon landers. NASA’s sum would be roughly .5 billion today (about 0 million per mission) when adjusting for inflation.

Kahn said he’s personally invested about million in the venture. Although the lunar XPrize ended in 2018 without a winner, despite several years’ worth of extensions, SpaceIL found additional funding from private sources with Kahn’s help.

“I don’t want to be the richest man in the cemetery.” Kahn said. “I’d like to feel that I’ve used my money productively.”

He added: “I wanted to show that Israel — this little country with a population of about 6 or 8 million people — could actually do a job that was only done by three major powers in the world: Russia, China, and the United States. Could Israel innovate and actually achieve this objective with a smaller budget, and being a smaller country, and without a big space industry backing it?”

April 11, 2019, planet Earth will find out.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

British Reaper drone halts ISIS execution

A Royal Air Force Reaper MQ9A remote piloted aircraft interrupted a planned public execution that Islamic State of Iraq and Syria attempted to carry out earlier this month, giving the would-be victims of the terrorist group a chance to escape.


An MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft performs aerial maneuvers over Creech Air Force Base, Nev., June 25, 2015. The MQ-9 Reaper is an armed, multi-mission, medium-altitude, long-endurance remotely piloted aircraft that is employed primarily as an intelligence-collection asset and secondarily against dynamic execution targets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cory D. Payne/Not Reviewed)

According to a May 19, 2017 British Ministry of Defence release, the Reaper was over the Syrian village of Abu Kamal on May 9 when it noticed ISIS fighters gathering civilians in the village. When the crew saw that the ISIS fighters were removing two prisoners from a van, they chose to act.

Unable to directly target the would-be executioners due to the British rules of engagement that require the minimization of civilian casualties, the Reaper crew instead fired a single AGM-114 Hellfire missile at the roof of a building where two other ISIS terrorists were acting as sentries. The missile killed one of the tangos outright, and sent both the crowd of civilians and ISIS scrambling for cover.

The ultimate fate of the would-be victims is not known.

A line of ISIS soldiers.

AmericanMilitaryNews.com reports that such executions are becoming more common as ISIS loses ground to Iraqi and Kurdish forces. ISIS was known for a series of beheading videos released since 2014, including one earlier this month of an alleged spy for Russia. A British subject, Mohammed Emwazi, also known as “Jihadi John” was one of the more notorious executioners until he was killed by a strike carried out by American and British UAVs.

According to the RAF’s web site, the British Reaper MQ9A, which is assigned to XIII Squadron, 39 Squadron, and 54 Squadron, is usually armed with four AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and two GBU-12 laser-guided bombs. The MQ-9 is also used by the United States Air Force, the Italian Air Force, Royal Netherlands Air Force, French Air Force, and United States Customs and Border Protection.

Articles

The fascinating origin of Arlington National Cemetery

The final resting place of presidents, bandleaders, war heroes, astronauts, inventors, civil rights leaders, Pulitzer Prize winners, boxers, Supreme Court justices and sports stars, Arlington National Cemetery stands as a memorial to the melting pot of the United States. With connections to some of our nation’s most influential people and pivotal events, its history is as interesting as its denizens.


A serene image of Arlington National Cemetery in the spring. (Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Ingfbruno)

Arlington is situated on 624 acres overlooking the Potomac River directly across from Washington, D. C. Although today it is surrounded by the nation’s capital, at one time, Arlington was a bucolic estate with a neoclassical mansion, Arlington House. Still presiding over the grounds today, the mansion was built by George Washington’s (yes, that Washington) grandson and marks the beginning of the cemetery’s history.

Before she married George, Martha was married to Daniel Parke Custis. After he died and she wed the “Father” of our Country, George adopted her two surviving children. The oldest, John Parke Custis (JPC), died in 1781 while serving with the Revolutionary Army. He left behind four children, the youngest of which, George Washington Parke Custis (GWPC), was born only shortly before his father’s death.

Related: These ladies attend every funeral at Arlington so no one is buried alone

GWPC and one sister went to live with the Washington’s. When he became of age in 1802, GWPC inherited wealth and property from his deceased father (JPC), including the Arlington land. Hoping to build a home that could also serve as a memorial to his grandfather, George Washington, GWPC hired an architect and built a Greek revival mansion believed by some to be “modeled after the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens.”

The home was built in pieces, with the north wing being completed in 1802, and the south in 1804. These two stood as separate buildings until the central section connected them in 1818. During GWPC’s life, a portion of the mansion was reserved to store George Washington memorabilia, which included portraits, papers and even the tent Washington used while in command at Yorktown.

GWPC and his family lived and died on the property, where many of them were buried.

In 1831, GWPC’s only surviving child, Mary, married Robert E. Lee (yes, that Lee). The Lee’s lived on the property with the Custis’s where they raised their seven children. At her father’s death, Mary inherited Arlington. Robert E. Lee loved the property and once described it as the place “where my attachments are more strongly placed than at any other place in the world.”

Prior to the Civil War, Lee had attended West Point (graduating second in his class) and saw service for the U.S. in the Mexican War (1846-1848). A respected and well-liked officer, Lee struggled with his decision to resign his commission of 36 years in order to take command of Virginia’s confederate forces. When he did in April 1861, this choice was seen as a betrayal of the Union by many of his former friends including Brig. Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs.

As Arlington, on high ground overlooking the capital, was critical to either the defense or defeat of D.C., Union leaders were eager to control it. After Virginia seceded in May 1861, Union troops crossed en masse into Virginia and soon took command of the estate. The grounds were quickly converted into a Union camp.

American flags adorn the graves at Arlington. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

By 1862, Congress had passed a law that imposed a tax on the real property of “insurrectionists.” Mary was unable to pay the tax bill in person, and her proxy’s attempt to satisfy the debt was rebuffed. As a result, Uncle Sam seized Arlington, and at its auction, the federal government purchased the estate for $26,800 (about $607,000 today, far below market value).

Not only a good bargain, Union leaders felt that by seizing the estates of prominent Rebels, they would, in the words of Gen. William T. Sherman: “Make them so sick of war that generations would pass away before they would again appeal to it.”

In 1863, after thousands of former slaves, freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, converged on D.C., a Freedman’s Village was established on the estate “complete with new frame houses, schools, churches and farmlands on which former slaves grew food for the Union war effort.”

As one journalist described it:

One sees more than poetic justice in the fact that its rich lands, so long the domain of the great general of the rebellion, now afford labor and support to hundreds of enfranchised slaves.

As Union casualties began to mount in the spring of 1864, Gen. Meigs suggested burying some of the dead at Arlington. The first, on May 13, 1864, was Pvt. William Christman, a poor soldier whose family could not afford the cost of a burial. Soon, many other indigent soldiers were laid to rest on Arlington’s grounds, near the slave and freedman cemetery that had already been established. Realizing the efficacy of this system, Gen. Meigs urged Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton:

I recommend that  . . . the land surrounding Arlington Mansion . . . be appropriated as a National Military Cemetery, to be properly enclosed, laid out and carefully preserved for that purpose.

Serving the dual goals of paying homage to the dead and making “Arlington uninhabitable for the Lees,” Meigs had prominent Union officers buried near Mrs. Lee’s garden. He also placed a mass grave of over 2000 unknown soldiers, topped with a raised sarcophagus, close to the house.

After the war, the Lee’s tried in vain to regain Arlington. Mary wrote to a friend that the graves: “are planted up to the very door without any regard to common decency.” After Robert E. Lee’s death in 1870, Mary petitioned Congress for the return of her family home, but this proposal was soundly defeated.

Shortly after, other monuments and structures honoring the dead were erected including numerous elaborate Gilded Age tombstones and the large, red McClellan Gate at the entrance to the grounds.

The family was not done, however, and in January 1879, following six days of trial a jury determined that the requirement that Mary Lee had to pay the 1862 tax in person was unconstitutional. On appeal, the Supreme Court concurred, so the property was once again in the hands of the Lee family.

Also read: Arlington National Cemetery is running out of room to bury America’s vets

Rather than disinter graves and move monuments, however, the federal government and Mary Lee’s son, George Washington Custis Lee, agreed on a sale. On March 31, 1883, Uncle Sam purchased Arlington from the Lee family for $150,000 (about $3,638,000 today).

Today, Arlington shelters the remains of over 400,000 souls. In addition to its famous sea of somber, beautiful white headstones, Arlington also hosts numerous monuments including the Tomb of the Unknowns, the Rough Riders Monument, the Pentagon Group Burial Marker and two memorials to the Space Shuttle tragedies Challenger and Columbia.

One of the National Cemetery’s most well known gravesites is that of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy with its eternal flame. Two of his children and Jackie Kennedy are also interred there.

The eternal flame at the grave of John F. Kennedy. (Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Wknight94)

William Howard Taft is the only other U.S. President buried on the grounds, and he along with three other Chief Justices and eight associate justices represent the Supreme Court at Arlington.

Of course, war heroes abound and famous generals buried at Arlington include George C. Marshall (father of the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after WWII) and Omar N. Bradley.

Famous explorers interred at Arlington include Adm. Richard Byrd (the first man to fly over both poles) and Rear Adm. Robert Peary (another arctic explorer). John Wesley Powell (of Lake Powell fame) is also laid to rest at Arlington, as are several astronauts including Lt. Col. Virgil “Gus” Grissom and Capt. Charles “Pete” Conrad, Jr. (the third man to walk on the moon).

Other famous Americans buried at the National Cemetery include Abner Doubleday (who, in fact, had nothing to do with baseball contrary to legend), big bandleader Maj. Glenn Miller (who went missing in action on Dec. 15, 1944, so he really just has a headstone there), boxing’s Joe Louis, inventor George Westinghouse and civil rights leader Medgar Evers.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Iran’s navy is sending warships across the Atlantic

The Iranian Navy will send warships to the Atlantic Ocean, a top commander said.

Iran is looking to increase the operating range of its naval forces in the Atlantic, close to the waters of the United States, its arch enemy.

Tehran sees the presence of U.S. aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, along Iran’s coast, as a security concern and its navy has looked to counter that by showing its naval presence near U.S. waters.


The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74).

(U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Kenneth Abbate)

“The Atlantic Ocean is far and the operation of the Iranian naval flotilla might take five months,” the official IRNA news agency quoted Rear-Admiral Touraj Hassani, Iran’s naval deputy commander, as saying.

Hassani said the move was intended to “thwart Iranophobia plots” and “secure shipping routes.”

He said Sahand, a newly-built destroyer, would be one of the warships deployed.

Sahand has a flight deck for helicopters and Iran says it is equipped with antiaircraft and anti-ship guns, surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles, and also has electronic warfare capabilities.

The vessels are expected to dock in a friendly South American country such as Venezuela, Iran’s Fars news agency reported.

Hassani said in December 2018 that Iran would soon send two to three vessels on a mission to Venezuela, an ally.

Iran’s navy has extended its reach in recent years, launching vessels in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden to protect Iranian ships from Somali pirates.

Featured image: @Iran on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

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Afghan ambassador honors fallen special operators

Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States paid a special visit to Fort Bragg on Thursday to pay respects to Army special operations forces killed while fighting the Taliban and other insurgent groups.


Hamdullah Mohib, ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, joined Lt. Gen. Kenneth E. Tovo in placing a wreath at a memorial wall outside the U.S. Army Special Operations Command headquarters.

Tovo is the commanding general of USASOC.

Mohib, who served as deputy chief of staff to the president of Afghanistan before being appointed ambassador to the U.S., also spoke with soldiers who have served or will soon deploy to Afghanistan.

U.S. Special Operations Memorial Wall at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Marcus Butler, USASOC Public Affairs)

The memorial wall, located on Meadows Memorial Parade Field, lists the names of more than 1,200 special operations soldiers who have died in conflicts dating to the Korean War. More than 330 of the names have been added since the start of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

At least four U.S. soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan this year, all of them belonging to USASOC units.

The latest losses were last month, when Sgt. Joshua P. Rodgers and Sgt. Cameron H. Thomas, both part of the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, were killed in southern Nangarhar province.

Mohib, who is based in Washington, was a special guest of Maj. Gen. James B. Linder.

Linder relinquished command of the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School during a ceremony Thursday morning. He’ll next serve as commander of the Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan and Special Operations Component Command-Afghanistan.

Officials said Mohib’s presence highlighted the strong ties between Afghanistan and Army special operations.

“Since 2001, the men and women of U.S. Army Special Operations Command have been on continuous rotations in and out of Afghanistan,” Linder said. “Our soldiers have formed enduring friendships with our Afghan commandos and special forces partners. We have cemented a brotherhood through blood, sweat and sacrifice.”

Fort Bragg soldiers have historically played a key role in the 16-year war in Afghanistan. Local troops have been continuously deployed to the country since the earliest days of the war.

And last month, the Army announced that 1,500 paratroopers with the 82nd Airborne Division would soon deploy to the country.

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A third US carrier is steaming its way towards North Korea

Two U.S. aircraft carriers that are to train together in the Sea of Japan might be joined by a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier sailing from a U.S.naval base, according to a Japanese press report.


The USS Ronald Reagan and Carl Vinson are to conduct joint exercises June 1 with a convoy from Japan’s maritime self-defense forces, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported.

A Japanese government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity confirmed the drills. The newspaper reported the aim of the exercise is to deter North Korea, following repeated launches of ballistic missiles.

Japan deployed the helicopter carrier JS Hyuga from Maizuru base in Kyoto the morning of May 31.

An SH-60 Sea Hawk helicopter flies near the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter destroyer JS Hyuga. (U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Danielle A. Brandt)

The Ronald Reagan traveled separately to the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea in South Korea, by sailing through the Tsugaru Strait between the islands of Hokkaido and Honshu.

The Carl Vinson previously trained with the South Korean military in late April, and the Ronald Reagan completed a routine inspection on May 16.

The Ronald Reagan then conducted flight training near southern Japan before heading out to areas closer to North Korea from its home port of Yokosuka, according to the report.

Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) pulls into Republic of Korea (ROK) Fleet headquarters. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jermaine M. Ralliford)

A Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier traveling from Naval Base Kitsap in Washington State could join the aircraft carriers, or be stationed in another area of the Pacific, but an exercise involving all three U.S. aircraft carriers would be unprecedented, the Yomiuri reported.

Pyongyang’s Workers’ Party newspaper Rodong Sinmun stated Wednesday the state’s “highest leadership,” Kim Jong Un, can order the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile at any time and place in response to what it claims are U.S. “threats” that include joint drills with U.S. allies in the region.

MIGHTY TRENDING

South Korea’s plan to convince President Trump to visit North Korea

South Korea is reportedly preparing a lavish reception for Ivanka Trump’s visit late February 2018, the kind that would usually be reserved for a first lady or head of state.


Officials are said to be planning to roll out the red carpet ahead of the Winter Olympics — with the ultimate goal of lobbying her father, President Donald Trump, to visit North Korea on a diplomatic trip.

Seoul plans to host Ivanka Trump as if she were First Lady, South Korean newspaper The Chosun Ilbo reported on Feb. 19, 2018. She is visiting Pyeongchang on Feb. 25, 2018 for the closing ceremony of the Olympics.

Also read: These are the 3 soldiers going to the 2018 Winter Olympics

According to the newspaper, officials plan to flatter Ivanka by having South Korean President Moon Jae In accompany her to watch a skiing competition, and by getting First Lady Kim Jung Sook to show her round the country. Ivanka is a keen skier herself, and has hit the slopes at least twice since her father took office.

 

Officials reportedly also want to “lavish” her three children with presents.

Although Seoul has no diplomatic obligation to host the president’s child on such a grand level, officials are “considering exceptional measures” because of Ivanka’s influence in the White House, an unnamed South Korean government official told The Chosun Ilbo.

By comparison, Vice President Mike Pence wasn’t given such a warm welcome when he arrived in South Korea to open the Winter Olympics.

The Chosun Ilbo said: “The government apparently wants to soften her up so [Donald] Trump agrees to a mooted visit to Pyongyang by President Moon Jae In.”

Related: North and South Korea to train together at the Winter Olympics

Seoul is rolling out the red carpet for Trump “on the assumption that she is to all intents and purposes the first lady of the US rather than Trump’s reluctant wife Melania,” The Chosun Ilbo added.

South Korea has been actively pushing for peace on the Korean peninsula. Early February 2018, President Moon met with Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, and pledged to “creating the necessary conditions in the future” for him to visit the North.

The US has also expressed willingness to negotiate with Kim Jong Un, but pledged to maintain a “maximum pressure” approach until Pyongyang reached out.

It’s unclear whether Trump will meet Kim Yo Jong — who has been dubbed “the Ivanka Trump of North Korea” — during her visit. Pence skipped a dinner in order to avoid her.