A major ally's decision to scrap an important military deal with the US raises the stakes in competition with China - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

A major ally’s decision to scrap an important military deal with the US raises the stakes in competition with China

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent decision to withdraw from the Visiting Forces Agreement comes after repeated threats to pull out, but his decision to ditch the pact now could undermine the ability of the US and its partners to counter China’s ambitions in the region.


The VFA, signed in 1998, gives legal status to US troops in the Philippines. Duterte, a longtime critic of ties to the US, gave formal notice of withdrawal to the US this month, triggering a 180-day period before the exit is finalized.

Duterte believes the Philippines should be more militarily independent, a spokesman said, quoting the president as saying, “It’s about time we rely on ourselves.”

The decision is “chiefly the product of Duterte’s deep, decades-long anti-US sentiment,” Prashanth Parameswaran, a senior editor at The Diplomat and a Southeast Asian security analyst, said in an email to Business Insider.

Since taking office in 2016, Duterte has “found just about any excuse he can to make threats against the alliance, be it canceling exercises or separating from the United States,” Parameswaran added.

Duterte has spurned the US since he took office and bristled at US criticism of his human-rights record. Both the US and Duterte have high approval ratings among the Philippine public, however, while a large majority there have little or no confidence in China.

Duterte has expressed affinity for President Donald Trump, but he still seeks closer relations with Beijing. Duterte has also been criticized at home as Chinese investments have been slow to arrive and as China acts assertively in the region, pursuing its claims in the South China Sea and drawing allies away from Taiwan.

“It’s a competition. China’s competing,” Chad Sbragia, deputy assistant secretary of defense for China, said Thursday at a US-China Economic and Security Review Commission hearing on Capitol Hill.

“There’s very clear recognition that China is putting pressure and using every tool within its disposal to try to draw those countries” away from cooperation with the US, Sbragia said. “That’s a condition we’re taking head on. That’s very serious for us.”

“I don’t doubt China will relish the deterioration in the US-Philippine alliance,” Parameswaran said. “Beijing has long considered US alliances a relic of the Cold War and a manifestation of US efforts to contain its regional ambitions.”

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A US Marine guides a Philippine marine in a combat life-saver drill in the Philippines, October 2, 2018.

US Marine Corps/Pfc. Christian Ayers

‘A US loss is China’s gain’

The US and the Philippines, which the US ruled as a colony during the first half of the 20th century, have a decades-long diplomatic and military relationship.

That relationship and the benefit it offers the Philippine security establishment, as well as US popularity in the Philippines, are among the reasons why Manila may not follow through on withdrawal.

Philippine officials have also hinted that the notice of withdrawal is a starting point for negotiations over the VFA, which some have said are needed “to address matters of sovereignty.” Philippine politicians have also questioned Duterte’s authority to exit the agreement.

But the US shouldn’t assume that Duterte is bluffing or looking for leverage, said Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“He has been anti-American his entire adult life and has been consistently saying he wants to sever the alliance and bring the Philippines into a strategic alignment with China,” Poling said in an email.

“That said, six months is a long time in politics. If Duterte walks this back, it won’t be because a plan to renegotiate with Washington plays out,” Poling added, “it’ll be because of internal pressure, possibly in response to whatever natural disaster, Chinese act of aggression, or terrorist act in Mindanao happens between now and then.”

The VFA allows US troops to operate on Philippine territory, including US Navy crews and Marine Corps units.

Ending the agreement would jeopardize the roughly 300 joint exercises the two countries conduct every year, complicating everything from port calls to the Mutual Defense Treaty, which commits the US to the Philippines’ defense in case of an attack. It would also be harder for the US to provide aid in response to natural disasters.

“It’s basically [changing] the protocols of how you would work together if it actually goes through,” Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said this month.

Many naval activities will be unaffected because they can be carried out without entering Philippine territory, Poling said.

“But large-scale land and air exercises will be impossible, as they were from 1990-1999,” Poling added, referring to a period when Manila’s failure to renew a mutual basing agreement led to the withdrawal of US forces — including the closure of Naval Base Subic Bay, the largest US base in the Pacific.

Gen. Felimon Santos Jr., Philippine armed forces chief of staff, has said about half of all joint military engagements would be affected by the end the VFA, Poling noted.

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has said joint exercises with the US would continue during the 180-day period, including the multinational Balikatan exercise that has taken place in the Philippines every spring for 35 years.

Once termination is final, however, the Philippines would “cease to have exercises” with the US, Lorenzana said.

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US Marines, Philippine marines, and Japan Ground Self-Defense Force members after an amphibious exercise in the Philippines, October 12, 2019.

US Marine Corps/Cpl. Harrison Rakhshani

Santos Jr. has downplayed the effects of withdrawal, saying it will make the Philippines “self-reliant” and that Manila would expand bilateral exercises it has with other in the region, including Australia and Japan.

But there are legal and logistical limits on the military activities those countries can undertake with the Philippines, which has one of the weakest militaries in the Asia-Pacific.

The erosion of the US-Philippine military relationship raises the prospect of Beijing making moves like those it made in the South China Sea in the 1990s, when it occupied Mischief Reef — first with small wooden structures and then, a few months before the VFA went into force in 1999, with fort-like structures made of concrete.

In the years since, China has expanded and reinforced its presence in the South China Sea, building military structures on man-made islands there. Mischief Reef is now Beijing’s biggest outpost in the disputed waters.

“Beijing will work to make sure that a US loss is China’s gain” and build on inroads made with Duterte, Parameswaran said.

“These gains may include those that are not in the security realm, such as tightening economic ties or helping Duterte deliver on some of his domestic political goals,” Parameswaran added. “But they will nonetheless be consequential, because the broader objective is to move Duterte’s Philippines closer to China and away from the United States.”

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Iran’s newest ballistic missile, the Bright Conqueror

Iran just unveiled a new short-range ballistic missile on Aug. 13, 2018, just a few days after test firing a variant of the missile over the Strait of Hormuz.

The Fateh-e Mobin missile is an “agile, radar-evading and tactical missile with pinpoint accuracy,” said Iranian Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Amir Hatami, according to Defense News, citing the Iranian Tasnim News Agency.


“The more intense are sanctions, pressures, smear campaigns, and psychological warfare against the great nation of Iran, the greater will become our will to enhance our defensive power in all areas,” Hatami said, according to Press TV, an Iranian news outlet.

The Fateh-e Mobin, which means “Bright Conqueror,” has a range of about 483 to 805 miles, Defense News reported.

The unveiling of Bright Conqueror came just a few days after the Iranian military test-fired a Fateh-100 Mod 3 ballistic missile from an Iranian Revolutionary Guard base in Bandar-e-Jask, according to Fox News.

Bandar-e-Jask skyline.

The anti-ship Fateh-100 Mod 3 ballistic missile flew about 100 miles over the Strait of Hormuz, landing at an Iranian test range northwest of the base, Fox News reported.

It was the first time Iran test fired a ballistic missile since March 2017, Fox News reported, but it’s unclear if the missile hit its target, Defense News reported.

The test fire also came as Iran conducted a naval exercise practicing closing the Strait of Hormuz, which Tehran has been threatening to do since President Donald Trump threatened sanctions on countries importing Iranian oil in late June 2018.

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

MIGHTY SPORTS

This year’s Wheelchair Games ‘makeover’ will really put participants to the test

The National Veterans Wheelchair Games are getting a makeover in their 39th year, with a sport that will test brute strength, leadership, skill, and a little brain power.

The team relay, which includes a “grenade toss,” and “shooting,” may feel like a return to basic training, but Troy Colón, who put together the event, said it’s just to add some military flair for the veteran-athletes.

“This is a throwback to their military days and that military camaraderie, but it is a thinking game,” he said. “Think before you act, and you may want to choose finesse over strength.”


The 39th Annual Wheelchair Games — a partnership with VA and the Paralyzed Veterans of America — takes place July 11 to 16, 2019, in Louisville, Kentucky. The Games feature a variety of competition for wheelchair veterans from VAs across the nation, as well as Puerto Rico and a team from Great Britain.

Some events include wheelchair rugby, power soccer, handcycling, and other track and field events.

The new team relay will have a military theme at this year’s Wheelchair Games, like shot put grenades. If the shot put grenade makes it to a bunker, the team gets double points.

Colón, an assistive technology professional from the Louisville VA Medical Center in Kentucky, said the team relay takes a little bit from different parts of the Games.

25 teams — made up of five athletes each — will participate in this year’s relay. Each team must have at least one quadriplegic. Once one athlete completes a station, he or she will have to wheel over to the next station in the relay.

Here’s how the relay is set up:

  • Powerlifting: This is the first station and any of the five team members can participate. The higher the weight, the more points the team receives, but they only have two minutes.
  • Shot put grenades: After powerlifting, the team makes their way to the second station. Like in a traditional shot put, the further the distance, the more points. But if the athlete gets this shot put in one of the bunkers, they will get double points for that distance.
  • Laser tag shooting: Again, speed is a factor. “I’m going to make the shooters race over,” Colón says. “They’re going to be out of breath, they’re going to be shaky. It’s about trigger control and breath control. You might be racking up points by hitting the target, but taking longer and getting points deducted there. What are you willing to risk?”
  • Sled pool: “This could be the most grueling part if the best decisions aren’t made,” Colón said. Like an adaptive version of a crossfit exercise, one person must pull a certain amount of weights from Point A to Point B. “There’s a smart way to do this,” Colón said. “Team captains should think outside the box.”
  • Rock climbing: The final leg of the relay will add the “shock and awe,” Colón said. The last person on the team will be staged and ready to go, but can’t climb until the person on the sled pull makes it up the hill to the final station.

The team with the highest overall points — not necessarily the fastest time — will win the relay.

“People are intimidated by what they can and can’t do, but just like the military, if everybody could do everything, everybody would have a patch. For the relay, it’s easier if you read the rules, and intelligently think about it. Think about the best place for all your team members,” Colón said.

“The team captain needs to read my rules very, very carefully because I purposely wrote the rules to trick people,” he added. “It’s one of those things like the military, where you’re only as good as your intel. You have to be adaptive when you are doing missions. You can’t always go by the textbook.”

However it’s played, Reese Levasseur, a Marine Corps veteran from the Palo Alto VA Medical Center, said he’s ready.

“The funny thing is, I’ve been practicing the sled pull for training at our local adaptive gym, so I’m ready for this,” he said. “It’s going to be a great experience, and being a Marine, we’re just super competitive in nature.”

But if super competitive doesn’t equal best score, he’s OK with that, too.

“Hopefully I’m not the one who screws it up too bad,” he laughed. “I’m laid back, but we’re all about enjoying ourselves out there. We hope to be top dogs, but it’s more about being together and doing things in a chair instead of sitting on a couch at home.”

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

Articles

Paul Rieckhoff wants vets to help America ‘bring the temperature down’

 


Paul Rieckhoff, IAVA CEO and founder, advocating for vets at the DNC in Philadelphia. (Photo: Ward Carroll)

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — If the 13 years of running Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America has taken an emotional and physical toll on founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff, he doesn’t show it. Watching him in action at the Democratic National Convention this week in Philadelphia is a study in determination and attention to detail. No bypassing staffer is too junior to be engaged, and no veterans issue is too trivial to be addressed.

“If you had asked me 13 years ago that if this far in the future it would still be this hard, I would have said you were full of it,” Rieckhoff says. “Everything is still too hard, from getting candidates to say the right thing to reforming the VA.”

He’s also concerned that philanthropic organizations haven’t responded to a national health problem that he compares to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.

“This is like going to the convention in 1982 and people are kind of peripherally talking about AIDS when their friends are dying,” he says. “So if we accept that 20 vets are dying a day as a base point, we’re going to walk out of these conventions and the Rockefeller Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and these other billionaire philanthropic leaders are not going to be focused on veterans issues.”

Rieckhoff spreads the blame for the lack of progress on veterans’ issues — heath care and beyond — across several camps, starting with the commander-in-chief.

“President Obama has failed to provide the country a national strategy, and as a response, you’ve gotten fragmentation,” he says. And, by his reckoning, that fragmentation has taken myriad forms, including divisions among the veteran community itself.

“Too often VSO are having tribal fights when we really should recognize that we’re all really in deep shit because our demographics are our destiny and our demographics are bad,” Rieckhoff warns.

He goes on to explain that the veteran community is about to experience a “tectonic shift” numbers-wise because the World War II generation is all but gone and the Vietnam War generation is dying fast.

“We’re going to go from 12 percent in the population to, at some point, under five percent,” he explains.

In the face of this reality, Rieckhoff says that veteran service organizations and, more broadly, veterans themselves need to unify.

“My big takeaway in the wake of these two conventions is we have to find ways to be united and focused and we have to find ways to multiply our impact,” he says. “If veterans alone are carrying water for veterans’ issues we will lose.  We’re just too small. There aren’t enough of us.”

That’s not to say that he doesn’t think veterans have individual impact potential; in fact, Rieckhoff is quick to point out that vets are in a unique position nationwide right now.

“If you’re a veteran and you walk into a Starbucks or a classroom and announce your status you’re going to get 2 minutes of ‘rock star’ respect where people will listen to you for a little while before they jump into their corners for Bernie or Trump or whoever,” he says. “But you have that opening that opportunity to try and be a leader and bring people together. That’s what veterans need to be doing right now. We can bring the temperature down. We can do it through credibility and patriotism and through our example.”

At the same time, Rieckhoff warns vets against being used as props.

“As a community, we have to be really wary about being used. If they want to throw you up on stage with someone, make sure that you’re getting out of it what you need because they’re going to get what they need,” he says. “It’s kind of like when you join the military, right? Uncle Sam’s going to get what he needs out of you. Make sure you get what you need out of Uncle Sam.”

The discussion pivots to the political sphere, and Rieckhoff is at once unflinching and bipartisan in his take on what’s in play for the military community.

“The conventions have been fascinating to watch,” he says. “I think what’s happened in the last four years is both parties realize that veterans make good populism. Last week you had Joni Ernst and a wall of veterans, this week you’ll have Seth Moulton and a wall of veterans. They know – Trump especially – that there is a huge populist undertone to everything veterans.”

But Rieckhoff fears the community may be squandering its time in the spotlight.

“We have lacked a real sharp edge of activism,” he says. “If this was 1968, vet protestors would be in the convention.”

He introduces a broader theme, saying, “It’s a very complicated psycho-social situation we’re in where our community has been asked to sacrifice over and over again, but the public has reasoned that those in the military are self-selected as people who are willing to sacrifice over and over again. You can send us on 12 tours and we’re not going to make that much of a stink.

“The bigger issue is the lack of precedent for the lack of involvement in our country in a time of war. There’s no precedent in American history for this much war with this small group of people for this long.”

That societal reality has yielded some things of concern, not the least of which, according to Rieckhoff, is the fact that there are very few veterans in positions of real power.

“None of the candidates in either party is a veteran,” he points out. “Neither chairman of the VA on either the House or Senate side was a veteran. Jeff Miller and Bernie Sanders can’t run around talking about how wonderful they were when they presided over the largest VA scandal in American history.

“Bernie Sanders used the scandal to pass the omnibus and Jeff Miller is running around with Trump, using his time on HVAC for that. That’s politics, I get that. But At the end of the day veterans are still screwed.”

Rieckhoff likens the situation to “asking a plumber to fix your television.”

IAVA founder Paul Rieckhoff at the DNC in Philadelphia. (Photo: Ward Carroll)

He uses what’s going on at the VA as an example, saying, “Bob McDonald is an army of one right now. He’s getting his legs cut out from under him by the Republican congress and Democratic leadership won’t touch him, so he’s almost out of time. He’s a good man who’s tried, but likely he’ll be out. The probability is we’ll get a new VA secretary who’ll get nominated in February or March, confirmed in March or April, and maybe he gets to work in June. So, six months into 2017, we’ll have the vision of a new VA secretary.”

Rieckhoff wants veteran leaders “who are still on the sidelines” to engage.

“There should be a coordinated and independent effort to recognize that these are trying times politically and we need to have a new call for these folks to serve,” he says. “You had the ‘Fighting Dems” in ’06 and I told Rahm Emanuel that ‘you have a political jump ball here,’ and he didn’t see it.

“The Fighting Dems wasn’t started by the party; it was started by that crew – Patrick Murphy and Tammy Duckworth and Joe Sestak. That was the first iteration. Four years later the Republicans had their own round, but there was never really a coordinated campaign by either party to recruit veterans. There was a coordinated campaign to push out veterans and to celebrate veterans, but there’s not actually a farm team.”

Rieckhoff goes further, actually recommending a ticket that a large percentage of veterans would support right out of the gate.

“If [former NYC mayor] Mike Bloomberg and [retired Admiral and former CJCS] Mike Mullen started their own party tomorrow, a third of our membership would go with them . . . probably a third of the country would go with them,” he opines.

Rieckhoff sums the landscape up as “crazier,” and, again, he believes that presents a unique opportunity for the military/veteran community.

“We’re some of the only people who can go to both conventions and understand both sides,” he says. “That’s the powerful position for us whether it’s gun control, immigration, Islamophobia, gay rights, marijuana, or whatever. We can be a unique bridge builder between both sides. The Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter movements are great examples. The veterans community is on both sides of those.”

For all of the impact potential veterans might have, Rieckhoff is also mindful of negative stereotypes that exist among the civilian populations, something he blames in large part to “media laziness.”

“The only description the media had of the Dallas shooter was that he was African-American, and he was a veteran,” he points out. “Why? Because they have to file a story quickly and those were the only two things they could verify. That accelerated media cycle perpetuates lazy reporting. And when you have a vet who fits the stereotype they run with it.”

Rieckhoff exhales and contemplates the requirement to constantly attend to the pubic’s perception of vets, and that reminds him of the accomplishments of the community and, specifically, the legacy of IAVA.

“When IAVA started in 2004 the veterans landscape was a desert,” he remembers. “Now it’s a metropolis. We are very proud of the fact that a lot of people who come through the IAVA team have gone on to do really cool stuff.”

A quick review of the current roles of IAVA alums bears this out. Vet leaders like Abdul Henderson (now on the Congressional Black Caucus), Bill Rausch (now at Got Your 6), Tom Taratino (Twitter), Matt Miller (Trump campaign), and Todd Bowers (Uber) all spent time on the IAVA staff.

“We built IAVA to be a launching pad,” Rieckhoff says. “I’d rather have Tom Taratino at Twitter changing the culture than have him at the House VA Committee talking to a bunch of other veterans for the ninetieth time.”

But in spite of the challenges, Rieckhoff is bullish on the future of the veteran community.

“In 10 years, disproportionally CEOs are going to be veterans, candidates are going to be veterans, entrepreneurs are going to be veterans,” he says. “And that’s going to be exciting to watch.”

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

6 unexpected parenting lessons from ‘Ghostbusters’

Whether it’s Halloween or just a Tuesday night in July, there’s never a bad time to watch one of the greatest movies of all time: Ghostbusters. In 1984, this sci-fi-comedy changed not only the way we thought about films, but also the way we thought about making jokes about slime. Ghostbusters made us feel funky, taught us that bustin’ can make you feel good, and most of all, that nobody ever made them like this.

But, unexpectedly, the original Ivan Reitman-directed 1984 film — starring Bill Murray, Sigourney Weaver, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Rick Moranis, Dan Ackroyd, and Annie Potts — also imparted some sneaky life-lessons, that, when looked at from a certain way, are actually parenting lessons in disguise. Yes, Ghostbusters 2 famously had a plotline involving a baby in it, but you actually don’t even need to leave the confines of the first movie to find the best-hidden parenting lessons in Ghostbusters.


Here are six lessons from Ghostbusters that will help every parent have the tools and the talent to deal with all types of ghoulish personalities your children might take on. In Ghostbusters you choose the form of the destroyer, but parents know that we’ve already chosen the form of our destroyer: it’s our kids.

Onto the list!

6. “Slow down. Chew your food.”

When Venkman mentions he wants to take some of the petty cash to take Dana to dinner, Ray tells him that the Chinese food they’re eating represents “the last of the petty cash.” Venkman responds by saying, “Slow down. Chew your food.” The parenting lesson here is obvious: Remind children to chew their food, but also, make sure you have enough money set aside for date night, otherwise, shit’s gonna get depressing.

5. “I’ve worked in the private sector — they expect results.”

In an early scene, just after the Ghostbusters lose their grant from Columbia University, Ray accuses Venkman of having no real-world experience relative to running a small business. “You’ve never been out of college,” he rants. “You don’t know what it’s like out there. I’ve worked in the private sector, they expect results.” Basically, what Ray is saying about going into business for yourself is exactly like parenting. You have no idea what it’s like until you’ve done it, and your children kind of just expect you to know what to do.

4. “If there’s a steady paycheck, I’ll believe anything you say.”

When Winston applies for a job with the Ghostbusters, Janine rattles-off several pseudo-science concepts to gauge whether or not Winston is ‘buster-material. Winston doesn’t care about any of this stuff, but he also needs the job. This is a super important lesson for parents trying to figure out their career after children turn everything upside down. Don’t be too proud to take a weird job, even if everyone you work with thinks UFO abductions are real and the theory of Atlantis is totally legit. Just make sure the conspiracy theories your co-workers enjoy are fun.

3. “What about the Twinkie?”

When thing parents realize when their kids start to speak is that their communication skills are not as good as they thought. Basically, as far as your kids are concerned, you’re speaking like Ray or Egon, using complex language they don’t understand. But, then there’s this excellent analogy from Egon: “Let’s say this Twinkie represents the normal amount of psychokinetic energy in the New York area. According to this morning’s sample, it would be a Twinkie thirty-five feet long weighing approximately six hundred pounds.”

This is great! Use food analogies to describe complex things! Everyone gets it!

2. “Don’t cross the streams!”

We all know this one. Egon tells Ray and Venkman to avoid crossing the proton streams because crossing the streams “would be bad.” The explanation doesn’t really make sense. We never really know why in the fake science of Ghostbusters that crossing the streams is bad. It doesn’t matter. Some things just need to be rules even if your children (or, in this case, Venkman) don’t understand them.

1. “When somebody asks you if you are a god, you say YES!”

You don’t always need to be literal when you’re a parent to young children. And if they are asking you questions about your own authority, it’s best to probably just default to making them think you’re all-powerful. In other words, discipline starts with the illusion that the buck stops somewhere. It’s probably a bad idea to tell your children that you are an actual god (unless you are, and in that case, hello Zul!) but, it probably doesn’t hurt to show confidence whenever possible. Ray’s mistake with Gozer wasn’t so much that he admitted he wasn’t a god, it was that he was kind of a putz about it.

Tell the truth, but if your children ask you if you are the one in charge, you say YES!!

Here’s where you can stream all versions of Ghostbusters.

This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

Articles

The journalist behind ‘Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’ loved embedding with the troops

To be clear, Paramount’s new film, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” is not a war movie; it’s a memoir about a journalist covering a war zone. Specifically, that journalist is Kim Barker, whose book, The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is the basis for Tina Fey’s new film.


“I was always more curious about what it was like to live through war than what it was like to die in it,” Barker says. “You’ve got aspects of real people in the movie and things that actually happened … but they make Tina Fey braver than I ever was.”

Barker, who is now a Metro reporter at the New York Times, was a war correspondent covering Afghanistan for the Chicago Tribune starting in 2002. Her time in the field was her first real experience with U.S. troops. Sometimes, those deployed soldiers talked to her as if she was their therapist.

“I love to embed with the troops,” Barker recalls. “But I found that they just wanted to talk to me about living, their lives back home, and how grueling this was on relationships to have deployment after deployment after deployment.”

In her time embedded with deployed troops, Barker saw the stress of fighting two wars take its toll on the U.S. military and those who served.

“It made me so grateful to all the people who were willing to share their stories and were super honest with me,” she says. “Those were the stories I really loved to tell, not going out and getting shot at — because I’m a chicken, and I’m not that reporter.”

Barker looked for stories that described the daily life of troops and everyday Afghans, the people who lived the war day in and day out for years.

“You wanted to be true to what they were telling you and not censor yourself, yet you really cared about the people that you were meeting there,” Barker adds. “Watching them adjust to going from Afghanistan to Iraq and back again… the stress that’s been put on our military fighting two fronts at the same time changed my view of my troops because I actually got to know them.”

Many of the Afghans in her circles want Western troops to stay in Afghanistan longer. While Barker admits she’s a reporter and not a Washington policy maker, she says the troops do provide stability for the coming generations of Afghan people.

Kim Barker with warlord Pacha Khan in 2003. Khan’s forces ousted the Taliban from Paktia Province during the 2001 invasion, with American backing. (Photo by Ghulam Farouq Samim)

“They [Afghans] are a bit more modern, they live in the cities,” she says. “I think their feeling is, ‘Hey, just give us enough security and enough civility here to let the next generation take over, and to let some sort of stability to come underneath democratic institutions.'”

For anyone who might be anxious to get out and do some war reporting in this environment, Barker believes it’s a great opportunity, but cautions the uninitiated against going in completely unprepared.

“There are openings to be able to sell stories,  great stories,” she says. “When I went overseas the first time I had no clue, but I had these people around me who did, and I had a newspaper that would back me. I didn’t know what I was doing and I worry about folks going into these places without any kind of safety net at all.”

“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” opens in theaters on Friday, March 4th.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

China is testing Mach 6 weapons with magnetized plasma

The Chinese military is preparing to test magnetized plasma artillery capable of firing hypervelocity rounds at speeds in excess of Mach 6, six times the speed of sound, Chinese media reports.

The power and range of such a weapon would likely offer tremendous advantages on the battlefield, assuming it actually works, which is apparently what the Chinese military is interested in finding out.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) appears to have begun soliciting vendors for magnetized plasma artillery test systems, a notice recently posted on the Chinese military’s official procurement website indicated.


The planned testing is presumably to evaluate theories presented in a PLA Academy of Armored Forces Engineering patent submitted to the National Intellectual Property Administration four years ago.

The Chinese military patent explains how the magnetized plasma could theoretically enhance the artillery’s power.

First, a magnetic field is created inside the barrel using a magnetized material coating on the exterior and an internal magnetic field generator.

Then, when the artillery is fired, the tremendous heat and pressure inside the firing tube ionizes some of the gas, turning it into plasma and forming a thin, protective magnetized plasma sheath along the inner wall of the barrel.

The developers believe the plasma will decrease friction while providing heat insulation, thus extending the power and range of the artillery piece without jeopardizing the structural integrity of the cannon or negatively affecting the overall service life of the weapon.

Magnetized plasma sounds like something straight out of science fiction, but apparently this technology is something China feels it can confidently pursue.

Chinese media claims that magnetized plasma artillery systems, provided they work as intended, could easily be installed on tanks and self-propelled guns. This weapon is more manageable than the country’s experimental electromagnetic railgun, which it has reportedly begun testing at sea.

A ZTZ-96A Main Battle Tank (MBT) attached to a brigade under the PLA 76th Group Army fires at mock targets during a live-fire training exercise in northwest China’s Gansu Province on Feb. 20, 2019.

(Chinese military/Li Zhongyuan)

Chinese media reports that this concept has already been tested on certain tanks.

Unlike the naval railgun, which is an entirely new technology, magnetized plasma artillery would be more of an upgrade to the Chinese army’s conventional cannons. Chinese military experts toldChinese media they estimate that this improvement could extend the range of a conventional 155 mm self-propelled howitzer from around 30-50 kilometers to 100 kilometers.

And the round’s initial velocity would be greater than Mach 6, just under the expected speed of an electromagnetic railgun round.

China is “on the verge of fielding some of the most modern weapon systems in the world,” a US Defense Intelligence Agency report stated in January 2019.

But China is not running this race unopposed, as the US military is determined not to be outgunned.

An M109 Paladin gun crew with B Battery, 4th Battalion, 1st Field Artillery Regiment, Division Artillery at Fort Bliss, Texas fires into the mountains of Oro Grande Range Complex, New Mexico Feb. 14, 2018.

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Gabrielle Weaver)

The US Army is currently pushing to boost the range of its artillery to outgun near-peer threats, namely China and Russia. The new Extended Range Cannon Artillery has already doubled the reach of traditional artillery pieces, firing rounds out to 62 kilometers.

The immediate goal for Long Range Precision Fires, a division of Army Futures Command, is to reach 70 kilometers; however, the Army plans to eventually develop a strategic cannon with the ability to fire rounds over 1,000 miles and shatter enemy defenses in strategic anti-access zones.

The US Army is also looking at using hypervelocity railgun rounds to extend the reach of US artillery.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time a Marine was crowned king of a voodoo island in Haiti

Marines do some pretty spectacular and/or ridiculous things while deployed. Anyone who follows Terminal Lance on Instagram can tell you that much. What Marine Warrant Officer Faustin Wirkus did was pretty spectacular, but really it was just a day in the life of a U.S. Marine. Except this time, the Marine in question ended up being proclaimed king of the island in a voodoo ceremony — and he ended up with a wife, whether he wanted to or not.


The Status of Forces Agreement is about to get *super* interesting.

At this point, half of everyone is wondering what happened and the other half is wondering if voodoo is why you so rarely see the warrant officers in your unit. Well, It was why then-Sergeant Wirkus had to stop showing up for duty. It wasn’t that Wirkus was opposed to hard work — he was a United States Marine after all, and he grew up breaking coal from slate in the Pennsylvania Coal Country.

But, Wirkus, he had an island to rule.

Best. Additional Duty. Ever.

Wirkus arrived in Haiti in 1915 with his fellow Marines. He spent much of his first year around the capital of Port-Au-Prince. Germany had been intervening in a number of Caribbean insurrections. The Haitians suddenly overthrew the American-backed dictator on the island, and Caco Rebels installed an anti-American president.

The Marines were sent in to occupy and stabilize the island while enforcing the American “Monroe Doctrine” — an intolerance toward European meddling in the Western Hemisphere. They were also protecting U.S. economic interests. Wirkus was one of many Marines sent to Haiti aboard the USS Tennessee. It was aboard that ship he first saw the island of La Gonâve.

I totally understand the appeal.

He asked a Marine NCO about the island. The reply was cryptic and short.

“If you’re lucky, you’ll never get any closer to that place than you are now. No white man has set foot on it since the days of the buccaneers. There’s a post on it now, but the men stationed there don’t usually come back — and if they do, they’re fit for nothing but the bug house… Place is full of voodoos and God knows what else.”

Luckily, he was kept in the capital during his first deployment in Haiti. He soon fell from a truck and broke his arm. After his recovery in the U.S., he was sent to Cuba, and eventually back to Haiti. It was four years later and the young Marine was now a Sergeant, but was a commissioned officer in the local Garde d’Haiti, keeping the Caco Rebels at bay in the outer edges of the island nation.

U.S. Marines in the occupation of Haiti.

He was good at it, and so, of course, he would eventually be sent to the one place everyone told him he would be lucky to never see. No, it was not Twentynine Palms, it was the mysterious island the NCO warned him about: La Gonâve.

Wirkus was extremely interested in the island. It captivated him but none of the other Marines could tell him anything about the island’s interior; none of them had ever dared to venture inland. His first assignment on the island was to assess prisoners of the Garde who were charged with “offenses against the Republic of Haiti” and “trivial voodoo offenses.”

Among them was a woman named Ti Memenne, who warned the Marine that she would see him again. Still, Wirkus sent her on to Port-Au-Prince with a recommendation for lenient treatment.

Faustin I was reincarnated as Faustin II.

“They made me a sort of king in a ceremony I thought was just a celebration of some kind. I learned later they thought I was the reincarnation of a former king of the island who had taken the name of Faustin I when he came into power. The coincidence was just good luck for me.”

Faustin II’s good luck was good luck for the locals. The 19-year U.S. occupation of Haiti did not go as smoothly or nonviolently for the rest of the country. But that good luck ran afoul of the President of Haiti, who was able to visit the island for the first time in 1928. Incidentally, he was able to visit without being murdered by the island’s inhabitants, thanks to the command decisions of Faustin Wirkus. The President was not thrilled with the King and requested he be transferred to the mainland United States.

Emperor Faustin II. Or Sergeant Fustin Wirkus. Again, depending on your belief in voodoo.

He went willingly in 1929 and left the Corps shortly after. He returned to active duty in the days before World War II and was made a Warrant Officer who served in the Navy’s pre-flight school in North Carolina. He died just months before the end of World War II and was interred in Arlington National Cemetery,

Military Life

See the Navy haul its crew’s vehicles on the USS Ronald Reagan

The United States Navy’s aircraft carriers are huge ships. This isn’t just for show; they need to be large to operate four squadrons of multi-role fighters plus other assorted planes, like EA-18G Growlers, E-2 Hawkeyes, and helicopters. But all of that space is useful for transporting other things, too. After all, we’re talking over four acres of sovereign United States territory.


Sailors direct the movement of vehicles onto an aircraft elevator of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Charles D. Gaddis IV)

For instance, when the Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) was switching homeports from Bremerton to San Diego (before being deployed to Japan as the forward-based carrier), she did a solid for all of the sailors who man her — she gave their rides a ride.

Sailors’ vehicles are parked on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Charles D. Gaddis IV)

Many sailors have vehicles. But when you’re sailing a ship, your options for vehicle transportation are limited. Sure, you can have your vehicle shipped — but you’ll have to pay a fee. Yeah, you can ask a buddy to make the road trip out to your new home port, but what if something happens along the way? Or, you could always sell your car and buy a new one, but that’s a hassle and a half — plus, you don’t want to shed that sweet Mustang, right?

Sailors direct the movement of vehicles on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Charles D. Gaddis IV)

Since it was just a short trip up the coast and since they didn’t need to operate the air wing, the sailors aboard the USS Ronald Reagan were allowed to park on the ship. Without the air wing, there’s a lot of room for helping the crew get their vehicles to the new home port.

For one brief coastal cruise, the Ronald Reagan became a $5 billion, nuclear-powered car carrier. The sailors saved money, the Navy didn’t have to pay contractors to move the vehicles, and we got some cool photos out of the deal. That’s a win-win-win all around.

MIGHTY HISTORY

At the Battle of Midway, key decisions shifted tides of war

This article was sponsored by Midway, in theaters November 8!

In 1942, a Japanese fleet of almost 100 ships, led by the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack, attempted an even more overwhelming attack that would have kicked the U.S. out of the Central Pacific and allowed the empire to threaten Washington and California. Instead, that fleet stumbled into one of the most unlikely ambushes and naval upsets in the history of warfare.

Thanks to quick and decisive action by key sailors in the fleet, the U.S. ripped victory from the jaws of almost-certain defeat.


The first big decision that saved Midway Atoll came as Pearl Harbor was still burning. Intelligence sailors like Cmdr. Edwin Layton had to figure out what Japan would do next.

Patrick Wilson as Cmdr. Edwin Layton in 2019’s ‘Midway’

(Lionsgate)

Naval intelligence knew that Japan was readying another major attack. Layton was convinced it was aimed at Midway, but Washington believed it would hit New Guinea or Australia. Layton and his peers, disgraced by the failure to predict Pearl Harbor, nevertheless pushed hard to prove that the Japanese objective “AF” was Midway.

A clever ruse where they secretly told Midway to report a water purification breakdown, then listened for whether Japan reported the breakdown as having occurred at “AF” proved that Midway was the target and allowed the Navy to concentrate valuable resources.

Next, Layton’s new boss, Adm. Chester Nimitz, agreed with his intelligence officers and prepared a task force to take on Japan. But Japanese attacks and other priorities would make that a struggle. The daring Doolittle Raid in April against Tokyo proved that American airpower was capable of striking at the heart of Japan, but it tied up two aircraft carriers.

Woody Harrelson as Adm. Chester Nimitz in 2019’s ‘Midway’

(Lionsgate)

Then, America lost a carrier at the Battle of the Coral Sea and suffered near-catastrophic damage to another, the USS Yorktown. With only two carriers ready to fight but the attack at Midway imminent, Nimitz made the gutsy decision to prepare an ambush anyway. He gave repair officers at Pearl Harbor just three days to repair the USS Yorktown even though they asked for 90.

Still, Nimitz would have only three carriers to Japan’s six at Midway, and his overall fleet would be outnumbered more than three to one.

If this under-strength U.S. fleet was spotted and destroyed, Japan would finish the victory begun at Pearl Harbor. Cities in Hawaii and the U.S. West Coast would be wide open to attack.

After a few small strikes on June 3, the Battle of Midway got properly underway in the early hours of June 4. The opening clash quickly proved how easily the base at Midway would have been steamrolled without the protection of the carriers. The 28 Marine and Navy fighters on the atoll were largely outdated and took heavy losses in the opening minutes. It quickly fell to the carrier-based fighters to beat back the Japanese attack.

But something crucial happened in this opening exchange: A PBY Catalina patrol plane spotted two of the Japanese carriers. The U.S. could go after the enemy ships while Japan still didn’t know where the U.S. fleet was. The decision to search this patch of ocean and report the sighting would change history.

American bombers and torpedo planes launched from 7 am to 9:08 and headed to the Japanese carriers in waves.

When Ensign George Gay Jr. took off that morning, it was his first time flying into combat and his first time taking off with a torpedo. But he followed his commander straight at the Japanese ships, even though no fighters were available to cover the torpedo attack.

The torpedo bombers arrived just before the dive bombers, yet the Japanese Zeros assigned to defense were able to get to Gay’s squadron. An estimated 32 Zero planes attacked the Douglas TBD Devastators, and all 15 planes of Gay’s squadron were shot down.

Gay survived his crash into the sea and was left bobbing in the middle of the Japanese fleet for hours. But the decision of the torpedo pilots to attack aggressively despite having no fighter cover and little experience drew away the squadron of Mitsubishi Zeroes guarding the Japanese carriers. This risky gambit would allow the dive bombers to be lethal.

One of the dive bomber pilots was Navy Lt. Dick Best. A faulty oxygen canister injured him before he ever saw an adversary, and then a co-pilot suffered a mechanical failure, but he kept his section of planes flying against the Japanese carriers.

Ed Skrein as Dick Best (left) and Mandy Moore as Anne Best in 2019’s ‘Midway’

(Lionsgate)

Best was forced to decrease altitude and ended up at the lead of the dive bombers right as they reached the Japanese fleet. He took his section through a series of violent maneuvers before they released their bombs over the carrier Akagi at full speed. Two bombs destroyed planes taking off, and another did serious damage to the deck. One of the hits jammed the carrier’s rudder, forcing it into a constant turn that made it useless until it sank. Another two carriers were destroyed in that attack as Gay bobbed in the ocean.

The Japanese aircraft carrier Soryu circles to avoid bombs while under attack by Army Air Force B-17 bombers from Midway Atoll on the morning of June 4, 1942. Soryu suffered from some near misses, but no direct hits during the attack.

(U.S. Air Force)

Best was injured, and mourning lost friends, but he took part in a later attack that afternoon and bombed the carrier Hiryu despite curtains of fire coming from the carrier and a nearby battleship. Hiryu was the fourth Japanese carrier lost in the battle, and it created a sea change in the war.

Japan was forced out of the Central Pacific, and America was on the warpath, all thanks to the decisions of U.S. sailors like Best, Gay, Nimitz, and Layton.

This article was sponsored by Midway, in theaters November 8!

MIGHTY TRENDING

Loud noise that woke up London residents in the night explained

Shortly before 5 a.m. on Dec. 1, 2019, residents of north London were awoken by an extremely loud “bang.” Many took to the internet to raise concern, with some Londoners believing that the noise was an explosion, or something to that effect.


People even reported their cars and homes shaking.

The city is already on high alert after a stabbing on the London Bridge left two victims dead and three injured on Nov. 29, 2019.

However, the Royal Air Force and the local police confirmed that the noise wasn’t an explosion after all — it was a sonic boom resulting from RAF Typhoon jets breaking the sound barrier.

“Typhoon aircraft from RAF Coningsby were scrambled this morning, as part of the UK’s Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) procedures, after an aircraft lost communications in UK airspace,” an RAF spokesperson said in a statement to CNN, “The aircraft was intercepted and its communications were subsequently re-established.”

You can hear the sound in videos captured by surveillance cameras across the city.

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

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MIGHTY HISTORY

The first clash of iron fleets was in 1866, and it was weird

In 1862, the Merrimack and the Monitor fought the famous naval battle at Hampton Roads where ships with iron armor fought each other for the first time. That clash is often cited as one of the moments where warfare changed overnight. Suddenly, it was clear that most cannons couldn’t penetrate iron hulls, and so every navy rushed to armor their hulls.


Just four years later, two fleets of wooden and iron-hulled boats clashed in the waters near Venice, and this first clash of iron fleets got weird, fast.

The Battle of Lissa was fought near an island of the same name in the Adriatic Sea, sometimes known as Vis, its Croatian name. A large Italian fleet of about 26 ships, including 13 ironclads, faced off against about 26 Austrian ships, but only seven Austrian ships were ironclads.

But the ironclad numbers weren’t the end of the Italian advantage. The ships that took part were powered by a mix of sail and steam. Like, each ship used both. Some ships were predominantly steam-powered but had sails to make them more efficient on long voyages, and some were sail-powered with small steam engines and paddles to help them quickly turn in combat. The ships predominantly powered by steam were generally more effective in combat, and Italy had a higher mix of those. And the Italian ships were generally larger, as well.

But most importantly, the Italian ships had larger guns and more rifled pieces. At the time, rifle-fired rounds and exploding rounds were about the only thing that could pierce iron armor. And by larger guns, we mean the largest Austrian guns were 48-pounders, and every piece of Italian naval artillery was larger.

So, the Italian ships were larger, better armed and armored, and technologically advanced. Guess the Italians won. Cool. Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.

The Austrian wooden battleship Kaiser rams an Italian ironclad in the Battle. The ship left its figurehead behind after the clash.

(Eduard Nezbeda)

Except, nope, just wait. Italy sent ships to capture the island of Lissa from an Austrian garrison on July 16, 1866. This assault was repelled, and the Italian ships returned on the night of July 19 to try again. The next morning, July 20, 1866, was rainy and the waters were covered in mist.

But the Italian fleet used the weather as a cover for their coming bombardment and landings right up until a dispatch vessel ran back to elements of the fleet with news that Austrian ships had reached the island. The Italian fleet had been split up to bombard multiple targets and land troops. They were not properly massed for a naval battle.

The Italians were unimpressed, though, and continued to focus on landing troops. With the technological and numerical advantage, it must have seemed that they could bat away any attempts at disturbing the landings.

The sun came out a couple of hours later and burned away the mist, and the Italians had to deal with a real Austrian threat. Three groups of ships, all arranged into arrowhead formations, were bearing down on them. But while this was a threat, it would have seemed like an easily countered one.

Ships are designed with long bodies to minimize resistance and to give stability, but artillery works best when it’s deployed side-by-side with all the guns firing in support of one another. So, when one group of ships charges on another, the group firing broadsides can typically fire many more cannons than the group that is charging. So, seemingly, this would work to the Italians’ advantage.

But then the Italian admiral did something completely baffling. He changed flagships as the Austrians bore down on him. He would later claim that he did this so he would be on a faster ship that could more efficiently relay orders, but the Italian ship crews didn’t know about the change and so would look to the wrong ship for direction for most of the battle.

And then the Austrians got a second break. Their headlong charge was obscured as the naval guns opened fire and began to emit those huge clouds of smoke. The Austrian commander, Rear Adm. Wilhelm von Tegetthoff, charged through the smoke with most of his ships and suddenly realized that he had unwittingly passed through the Italian line of battle.

So the Italian fleet was receiving no clear orders from what the captains thought was the flagship, was obscured by smoke, and suddenly had an enemy literally sailing through their lines. The battle quickly descended into a tight mass of ships circling and firing on one another with little real coordination. As the smoke filled the air and everyone lost sight of nearly everything, it became tough for combatants to tell who they were supposed to fight.

An illustration shows Rear Adm. Wilhelm von Tegetthoff during the Battle of Lissa.

(Anton Romako)

Von Tegetthoff, though, had issued an order that worked perfectly in this insanity. Remember, Austria’s largest guns in the battle were nearly useless for firing at armor plating. The 48-pound shells that were his most powerful projectile would still need a lucky shot to seriously damage an Italian ironclad. So, von Tegetthoff had ordered his ships to ram Italian vessels whenever the opportunity arose.

And so the spinning, chaotic, smoke-filled brawl that morning was perfect for them. It softened the impact of the Italian artillery advantage, and Austrian crews began ramming everything that looked vaguely Italian.

Yeah, the first clash of iron fleets descended into a battle of naval ramming, a tactic that had lost favor in the decades prior because rammings were hard to pull off as the ships required a lot of time and space to build up speed, but easy to avoid as the targeted vessel could pull out of the way or turn so that an otherwise lethal blow would be a glancing hit instead.

In the melee of Lissa, ships of both sides rammed each other, and gun crews fired on ships that they were locked into combat with. An Austrian battleship rammed an Italian vessel and left its figurehead, a statue of the emperor, in the enemy’s iron armor. The Austrian ship even caught fire when one of its masts broke, landed on its own smokestack, and then became overheated by the exhaust.

The Italian ship Re d’Italia sinks at the end of the Battle of Lissa.

(Carl Frederik Sørensen)

When the ships were exchanging shells, the Italians generally got the better of the exchanges as they could lob 300-pound shells from some guns. But the Austrian proficiency at ramming claimed a greater toll.

The original Italian flagship, the Re d’Italia, became the target of multiple Austrian ships looking to capture the enemy commander and his colors. Austrian gunners managed a hit that broke its steering, limiting it to forward-back maneuver. And then the Austrian flagship, the Ferdinand Max, bore down on it for a solid ram and scored a hit amidships, punching an 18-foot-wide, 7-foot-tall hole in it with a ram mounted at the waterline.

The heavy Italian ship rolled away, rolled back, and then sank in less than two minutes as sailors and marines struggled to escape the suction of the quickly sinking iron.

The fleets disentangled themselves. The Austrian forces had lost no ships, had only one badly damaged, and had suffered almost 200 casualties including 38 killed. The Italians had lost a prized ironclad and hundreds killed. Worse, a fire was spreading on another ironclad, the Palestro. Despite heroic efforts by the crew to save the ship, including flooding its powder magazines, a separate store of shells and powder was ignited.

The ship blew up like a massive bomb, sending parts of its plating and hull high in the air. Hundreds more Italian sailors died, and the wreckage sank within minutes. Italy had lost a second ironclad, and its death toll for the battle rose to 620. Not to mention, the shores of Lissa were now safe from the threatened Italian amphibious assault.

The aftereffect of Lissa was even weirder than the battle, though. The success of rams led to new ship designs that emphasized the weapon for decades, so even in World War I modern-ish battleships and many smaller vessels still carried iron rams at the waterline. And, maybe even more surprising, the Austrian success at Lissa had become moot before it was even fought.

The Austrian Empire had been decisively defeated on land at the Battle of Königgrätz by Prussian forces on July 3. Prussian forces on the continent kept pressure on Austria for the rest of July, and the war came to an end with Prussian victory.

Germanic tribes, and their Italian allies, were allowed to consolidate their peoples into new nations separate from the Austrian Empire. That empire renamed itself the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and, 48 years later, one of its archdukes was killed while riding in a car in the town of Sarajevo, less than 130 miles northeast of Lissa.

(Today, the island is part of Croatia and is known by its name in the Croatian language, Vis.)

MIGHTY TRENDING

Taking on veteran suicide, one pair of ‘Ranger panties’ at a time

Active-duty servicemembers and veterans share many common experiences which often sets us apart from civilians. We can come together over a tour-of-duty station, a shared commander or unit, or the unforgettable aspects of our training. But it’s often our dark sense of humor — stories about Jody, tales of ass-grabbing antics on and off post, and the ribbing of comrades and competing branches alike — which underpins military culture and unites the community. That’s why I was excited when I recently discovered a growing non-profit organization, Irreverent Warriors, whose mission is to bring service members and veterans together using humor and camaraderie. Their target is to improve mental health and end veteran suicide through humor.

I was intrigued.


Fortunately for me, Irreverent Warriors was organizing a very popular event that I could attend right in New York City: a Silkies Hike. The hike was designed to get veterans, active-duty soldiers, reservists, and retired servicemembers together (in Silkies shorts — also known as “ranger panties” or “Catch-Me-F**K-Me’s”) to be among friends and build new bonds. The New York City Silkies Hike was just one of five going on that day. The hikes were held throughout the country and drew hundreds of hikers.

“As of now, we have 65 hikes scheduled for 2021,” Irreverent Warriors CEO Cindy McNally said. “We doubled the number of hikes in two years!”

But the group does more than Silkies Hikes. According to McNally, the organization has put together “camping trips, Silkies Olympics, boat trips, community clean-ups, events to serve disabled and senior vets, and much more.”

And the events are strictly for the military. The purpose is to ensure that members know that everyone who participates either wears the uniform or has worn it before.

That was reassuring for me. I knew my dirty jokes and endless f-bombs would be welcomed — even encouraged. That toilet humor doesn’t always fit well with civilians, but a soldier, airman, marine, or seaman (quick chuckle) will always get it.

So I went for it, Silkies and everything.

Warriors SP at 0830 hours led by event organizer, Marc Herzog, taking point and donning the black Irreverent Warriors flag.

As if sensing my newness, Irreverent Warriors New York Area Leader Marc Herzog told me that his first social event in 2017 “was the most amazing experience ever.”

“I found my people for the first time,” he added.

Another Irreverent Warriors member, a Marine named Kevin Bunn, assured me: “Many of us shared your experience… we’re not gonna push you. I know where you were and I know what you’re going through.”

In fact, I was quite comfortable around every hiker. I knew what type of people was around me: gritty, hard-working, selfless Americans who would jump at any opportunity to help a brother or sister in uniform.

Kevin confirmed what my gut knew: “[The vets] need these events to keep them from feeling isolated,” he said. “Just one or two events gets them through the year.”

The Warriors report to formation for a photo in Times Square, NYC. (Photo courtesy of Arturo Martinez, Marine.)

I also knew they can party, as I have done many times before (probably too much). And some partying was the first thing I saw that morning.

As we mustered at the start point in Central Park, many Irreverent Warriors members cracked open beers. I’ll admit I was a bit nervous that this affair would get out of control. As a former officer, I knew the math: soldiers + booze = debauchery.

But it turned out to be everything but that.

No matter how many drinks some Warriors had, (and a few had a lot!) they knew what line not to cross. No one urinated on the street, left garbage behind, or damaged any property. With the exception of some slurring and a little stumbling, it was pure professionalism at its finest. I was impressed, a little relieved, and totally at home.

On many occasions, curious onlookers asked the Warriors about the purpose of the group. No matter who answered, the response was always the same: “We bring veterans together using humor and camaraderie to improve mental health and prevent veteran suicide.”

A small platoon-sized element poses for a picture at one of the checkpoints, Washington Square Park, NYC.

Another Warrior, “A.A. Ron,” was asked what the group meant to him: “I met a lot of vets through IW,” he replied. “Regardless of when you served, we’re the same. We’re here for each other to lift our spirits and to enjoy our lives and the lives of others lost.”

The New York City hike hit its climax at Ground Zero. As we rounded a city corner in the Financial District, we were confronted by the Freedom Tower. The direct view of the building and how it dominated the landscape captured everyone’s attention. The party atmosphere quickly dipped into a somber state. The group, whose mood had been one of partying and incessant chanting, became silent. We all felt the same way, we all knew what this meant.

As we mustered outside the Freedom tower, several Warriors took the stage to tell their stories of those lost and remembered. The message was clear: you are not alone!

After a moment of silence, a prayer, and warm hugs we gathered our belongings and carried on with the mission, as all Warriors do.

If you want to get involved or donate to support the Irreverent Warriors mission, go to their website, www.irreverentwarriors.com.

This article originally appeared on SOFREP. Follow @sofrepofficial on Twitter.