The line of cocaine the Air Force and Joint Interagency Task Force-South seized last month in the Caribbean would stretch “from the Pentagon to the center of Philadelphia.”
The Air Force’s top civilian shared that detail with reporters Wednesday when describing how the service is working harder to train pilots in the Southern hemisphere while aiding the global anti-drug war.
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said the service is looking for ways to use more assets in the Southern Command region that would be “of training benefit to our forces, but also contributing to counter drug and counter transnational crime commission.”
“The idea of all of this was to see if we could get more of a double ‘bang for your buck,’ ” James said at a Pentagon briefing.
And during a five-day training operation, they did.
Led by Air Force Lt. Gen. Chris Nowland, commander of the 12th Air Force and Air Forces Southern, the service and the Key West, Florida-based task force seized 6,100 kilograms (13,448 pounds) of cocaine between Aug. 22-26, James said.
The large-scale air operation in the Caribbean included a number of U.S. aircraft, including HC-130s, DH-8s, B-1Bs, B-52s, AWACS, JSTARS, Global Hawks, KC-135s and KC-10s, James said. Space and cyber assets “were also brought into the mix,” she said, but didn’t elaborate.
The use of airpower as well as the other partners in the interagency effort led to the seizure of as much as $500 million worth of the cocaine and the arrest of 17 drug traffickers by appropriate authorities, James said.
In March, a B-1B Lancer flew a low pass over a drug smuggling boat in the Caribbean Sea, prompting those onboard to dump 500 kilos of cocaine into the deep blue.
The secretary visited command units in April to discuss the potential for more training operations in Latin America.
Staff non-commissioned officers (SNCOs), particularly staff sergeants, are known to have a bite worse than their bark. In the military, it is necessary to have someone who can be the hammer when it calls for it. The good ones bring balance by reward and punishment to incentivize mission accomplishment. However, there are some SNCOs who are all stick and no carrot. At a time when the military retention rate exceeds expectations, it is more important now than ever to keep leaders who want to lead and phase out those that don’t.
Here are four of the best signs that we can think of that your Staff NCO has drifted into the latter:
They’re always angry
Staff Sergeant is on the warpath, again. For some reason, SNCOs are always angry. Maybe it’s all the years of seeing preventable dumb sh*t. They tend to ease up when they’ve been promoted to gunny or higher. Maybe it’s the pay jump from E6 to E7 or the change of role to company gunnery sergeant, where it’s more logistical than tactical. If your E6 gets promoted to E7 and is still a grouch, it’s time for them to start thinking about retirement.
They forgot where they came from
This is one of my biggest pet peeves. It always rubbed me the wrong way when a SNCO is committed to NJPing (Non-Judicial Punishment) a Marine for a mistake I well know they themselves have made. They took advantage of the ‘boys will be boys’ when they were young to get out of trouble but will crucify the lower enlisted at any chance. When a SNCO or officer gets in trouble, the whole command protects their own. It gets swept under the rug. Their platoons may not know the truth, but everyone at Battalion does.
When I was in operations, everyone’s records were at my fingertips. As the scheduling NCO, I had to know your record to decide what training to send you to next between major ops. I saw that they have plenty of dirt on them, too. So, when a SNCO is battling to destroy another troop’s career but that SNCO has no problem utilizing the ‘Good Ol’ Boy’ network to protect themselves, they need to GTFO.
They stay late at work on purpose
They won’t dismiss their troops, even when their counterparts in other platoons have already gone home. Just because they do not want to spend time with their family, that doesn’t mean the corporal with a brand new baby doesn’t want to spend time with his. These types of SNCOs maxed out their leave days. For some reason, they believe it’s a good thing and brag. It’s not. Go fishing or kick rocks, go relax.
It’s been over 25+ years
When your SNCO has been around since before Osama Bin Laden was on the run, it’s time to get out. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but still. Any SNCO that has been in longer than 25+ years that is angry all the time, exists only to punish and not train. They choose to be around the most amount of time possible to spread negativity, and anyone with that mentality has to go. The military is supposed to be a meritocracy, where leaders are supposed to inspire the troops and use their experience to lead the next generation of warfighters.
A SNCO exists to provide expertise and guidance to officers and facilitate training amongst the lower ranks. They’re the logistical side of the enlisted chevron to reduce bureaucracy and keep our military lethal. If a Staff Non-Commissioned Officer has lost sight of the mission over the course of 20+ years, it’s time to lead, follow, or get out of the way.
Networking, while not a new concept, has become a significant component of modern life. Commonly associated with career advancement, the evolution of online social platforms has extended networking far beyond just opportunities to further one’s career.
While networking can be important and beneficial to anyone, it may be even more so for military members, Veterans and their spouses.
Former service members are aware of the difficulties that can come from adjusting to life outside of the military. Whether it’s acclimating to a new job title and company or understanding the inner workings of today’s corporate culture, Veterans often face obstacles not well-understood by those without similar experiences.
Given this reality, it makes sense for any Veteran to start forming connections and building relationships with those who understand their unique point of view.
Here are several ways joining a Veteran network can help a service member, Veteran or their spouses.
It’s where your battle buddies hang out.
Every service member knows that there will be a transition to civilian life, but it impacts everyone differently. Your experiences while in the military, how long you served, where you served, your circumstance upon returning to civilian life – these all come together to form a unique set of circumstances.
For some Veterans, leaving the military means leaving a way of life and community behind. Their housing or homes may have been on base or provided by the military. Their food, alcohol, home furnishings, jewelry, or even their car shopping might have been on base, as well as their place of work, socializing and recreational events. The support network is built into each military installation.
There’s also a substantial difference in which attitudes and behaviors are appreciated and sought after in the military versus in the civilian community. The more conversations a member can have with those who have been through or are going through a similar situation, the more they can learn what behaviors from the military should be kept and what should be shed, what’s to be amplified and what’s to be silenced.
Humans are social, relational creatures, meaning the friendships and personal connections we create and foster matter. The difficulty transitioning to civilian life is an all-too-common story. But through the empathy and shared experiences of other Veterans in your network, this challenging transition can be made smoother.
You’ll get a better understanding of the civilian work culture.
There aren’t any first shirts, no XOs, no squad leaders, no platoon guides, or section chiefs outside the military. The daily language is practically a foreign language in corporate America and one that’s not easily understood. No one’s reporting at o’dark thirty for required PT, let alone in cadence while double timing. Instead, there’s an entire new lexicon and lingo in the civilian workplace, and mastering it soonest means connecting with new colleagues, with your new tribe, in valuable ways.
Trying to make the switch from the military to a role in a company can be one of the greatest and most critical challenges a Veteran will face. With a network of fellow Vets who have been through comparable situations, it’s likely someone has directly applicable words of wisdom or experiences to offer.
You’ll find a place to build your community and network.
Many service members spend years training and mastering their skills, and even longer using them throughout the world. Their next job and career might not take advantage of those skills. The earlier a member can connect with their future community and learn the culture, terminology and ways of dress and business practice, the better.
Within a wide network, there will be plenty of firsthand advice specific to your new role. Beyond the commonalities of military service and transition, a refined network of individuals in the same position and industry offers a valuable resource that you likely won’t find on the job.
They have access to resources and information.
Where a military member is from, where they served, and where they’re going after the military may all be different places. Building an online network means developing real relationships and local knowledge for your next chapter of life – wherever it may take you.
Having a vast network of peers available to connect with makes it easier to gain firsthand knowledge about a community that might be a potential next home. It can also provide you with actual connections in that very community, offering an invaluable support system upon arrival.
You get the opportunity to make an impact.
Joining a Veteran’s network isn’t only about gaining advice and knowledge. It’s also about giving it. You never know how your experiences might be helpful to someone else. As an advisor or mentor, or potentially even as just an acquaintance or connection, you could be an excellent guide for how someone can best succeed within a new company, school district, soccer league, church, or even a homeowner’s association.
The bonds you make during military service are unique. The unity, camaraderie and shared experience can extend beyond your service and play a role in helping yourself and fellow Veterans make the most of life outside of military duty. It just takes a little networking.
What would have happened if a Marine Expeditionary Unit found themselves up against the combined strength of the Roman Empire? Encyclopedia writer and two-time “Jeopardy!” winner James Erwin, who writes on Reddit as Prufrock451, may have the answer.
Photos: US Marine Corps and Wikimedia Commons/Jan Jerszyński
Erwin wrote a series of short stories called “Rome Sweet Rome” back in 2011 that looked at the scenario day-by-day if an MEU were suddenly transported from fighting in Kabul, Afghanistan to ancient Rome.
At first the Marines, a small detachment of Air Force maintainers, some Afghan soldiers, and a few U.S. civilians are confused about what has happened to them and where they are.
As the story wears on, day-by-day, the Marines figure out what has happened. After an accidental clash between the Marines and the Roman soldiers triggers a war, the initial battle goes as most people would expect.
The Marines annihilate the first ranks of the Romans, killing 49 men and 50 horses in the first volley.
In an interview with Popular Mechanics, historian and novelist Dr. Adrian Goldsworthy said a lack of re-supply would make the tanks, helicopters, and modern weapons of the MEU useless within days. The unit simply doesn’t carry enough ammunition and fuel to fight to fight the 330,000 men of the Roman legions in 23 B.C. without strong supply lines.
The Syrian army is determined to drive out the U.S. from any involvement in the country, state television reported Jan. 15.
Bashar al-Assad’s army objects to any form of U.S. presence in the country and will seek to put an end to it, Reuters reported, citing state media.
The U.S.-led coalition is currently training Syrian militias and plans to establish a new border force together with the Kurdish-led opposition fighters, consisting of 30,000 personnel over the next several years, according to the coalition.
The move has been criticized by the Syrian foreign ministry, branding it as a “blatant assault” on the country’s sovereignty, according to the state media.
The coalition officials said that it had recently recruited 230 cadets for the new force that it will be tasked with securing areas recently liberated from Islamic State militants, Syria’s northern border with Turkey and the eastern border with Iraq.
Half of the force will be made up of soldiers from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which currently controls a quarter of Syria’s territory along the borders with Turkey and Iraq.
Turkey objects to the creation of the border force, seeing the Kurdish militia in Syria as an extension of an active Kurdish insurgent group operating in the country.
A senior Turkish official said the training of the new border force was the reason the U.S. top diplomat stationed in the country was summoned to Ankara last week, Reuters reported. A spokesman for President Tayyip Erdogan said the new force is unacceptable.
Cpl. of Horse Craig Harrison set the world record for a sniper kill twice in November of 2009 while serving in Afghanistan. Near the end of a three-hour firefight between British forces and Taliban insurgents he spotted the machine gun team that was pouring lead onto his buddies. But his distance estimate put the two fighters 900 meters outside of the effective range of his rifle.
But he didn’t give up. He figured he would have to fire 6 feet high, and 20 inches to the left of his target to account for the drop of the bullet, the estimated wind, and the spin of the earth. Even with his weapon balanced on the firm compound wall, it was a seemingly impossible task.
Harrison took the shot. He waited six seconds for the round to hit the target. It missed. He saw the enemy react, trying to figure out where the shot came from. He fired again. This time the bullet found its mark. The gunner slumped over his weapon, dead. Harrison lined up on the other insurgent and squeezed the trigger.
Again, he watched for six seconds only to see the third shot miss and again he steadied himself and took aim. The fourth shot downed the second enemy fighter.
An Apache later used its lasers to measure the distance between the two spots and calculated it at 2,475 meters, just over 1.5 miles. The two longest sniper kills in recorded history belonged to Harrison.
Harrison later revealed his unique training regimen: “Each night I got my DVD player, put it at the end of the corridor and watched a film while lying in a firing position behind my rifle,” he told The Daily Mail. “Once I had mastered the stillness, I started balancing a ten pence piece on the end of the barrel, just to really hold myself to account.”
A handful of foreign tanks — including Russia’s — now match the power of the U.S. Army’s main battle tank, the M1 Abrams, an American general recently testified to Congress.
“I think for the very near term, the Abrams is still near the very top of its class,” said Lt. Gen. John M. Murray, deputy chief of staff for financial management, referring to the third-generation tank built by General Dynamics Corp. that entered service in 1980.
“I think we have parity,” he said during a March 22 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Airland Subcommittee. “I think there is parity out there. I don’t think we have overmatch.”
Murray’s comments came in response to a question from Sen. Dan Sullivan, a Republican from Alaska and a Marine who served in Afghanistan. He later elaborated on the topic in response to a question from Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas and chairman of the subcommittee, who asked what foreign tanks are competitive with the Abrams.
“I would say that the Israelis’ — the Merkava — would be one,” Murray said. “The [Russian] T-90 is probably pretty close. People talk about their Armata tank and that’s still, in my mind, not completely fielded. Probably the British tank [Challenger 2] is pretty close. I would not say that we have the world-class tank that we had for many, many years. I’ll be an optimist and say that we’re at parity with a lot of different nations.”
Here’s a closer look at the foreign tanks he mentioned:
Israel’s Merkava MK-IV
Israel Defense Forces’ Merkava first entered service in 1978, though the newest model, the MK-IV (Mark 4), entered production in 2004. The 65-ton tank was developed by Mantak and the IDF Ordnance Corp., and carries four crew members. It features a top speed of 40 miles per hour, a range of about 310 miles, a 120mm smoothbore gun. The IDF is moving forward with plans to add to the vehicle the Trophy Active Protection System, which is capable of destroying anti-tank missiles.
Russia’s T-90 is a third-generation tank that entered service in 1993, though an upgraded variant, the T-90A, became operational in 2004. The 46-ton tank is made by Ural Design Bureau of Transport Machine-Building (Uralvagonzavod), carries three crew members, and features a top speed of 37 miles per hour, a range of about 340 miles, a 125mm smoothbore gun, as well as an active-protection system.
Russia’s T-14 Armata
Russia has reportedly stopped buying the T-90 to develop and field the next-generation T-14 Armata tank, which is believed to still be in testing and not yet operational (see Murray’s comments above). The 50-ton tank being developed by Uralvagonzavod is designed to carry a crew of three and feature a top speed of as much as 56 miles per hour, a range of about 310 miles, a 125mm smoothbore gun and an active-protection system.
Britain’s Challenger 2
The United Kingdom’s FV4034 Challenger 2, made by the British defense giant BAE Systems Plc, entered service in 1998 to replace the Cold War-era Challenger 1. The upgraded variant weighs about 63 tons and carries a crew of four, including a commander, gunner, loader and driver. It features a top speed of 37 miles per hour, a range of 340 miles and a 120mm rifled gun.
Meanwhile, the latest variant of the U.S.-made Abrams, the M1A2, weighs about 72 tons, carries a crew of four, and features a top speed of 42 miles per hour, a range of 243 miles, and a 120mm smoothbore gun. The Army for years has talked about adding active protection to the tracked vehicle, but hasn’t yet.
Murray said the Army is “just about reaching the limits of what we can do with the Abrams, so it is time for us to start looking at a next-generation tank.” But, he added, “There is nothing on the horizon that indicates a fundamental breakthrough in technology where we can come up with a lighter tank.”
A spokesperson for General Dynamics, which makes the Abrams, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The US’s F-35, from the Joint Strike Fighter program, is the most expensive weapons system of all time and a fighter jet meant to revolutionize aerial combat, but Turkey, a US NATO ally, looks poised to let Russia destroy the program from within.
Turkey, a partner in the F-35 program, has long sought to operate the fighter jet and Russia’s S-400 surface-to-air missile-defense system at the same time.
But experts have told Business Insider that patching Russia through to NATO air defenses, and giving them a good look at the F-35, represents a shocking breakdown of military security.
On March 5, 2019, US Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the head of US forces in Europe, told a Senate Armed Services Committee that the idea was as bad as it sounds.
“My best military advice would be that we don’t then follow through with the F-35, flying it or working with an ally that’s working with Russian systems, particularly air-defense systems, with what I would say is probably one of most advanced technological capabilities,” Scaparrotti said.
“Anything that an S-400 can do that affords it the ability to better understand a capability like the F-35 is certainly not to the advantage of the coalition,” NATO Allied Air Commander Gen. Tod Wolters said in July 2018.
NATO worries about “how much, for how long, and how close” the F-35 would operate near the S-400s. “All those would have to be determined. We do know for right now it is a challenge,” he continued.
Retired US Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula told Business Insider that NATO countries “don’t want to be networking in Russian systems into your air defenses” as it could lead to “technology transfer and possible compromises of F-35 advantages to the S-400.”
Russia wouldn’t just sell Turkey the radars, batteries, and missiles and then walk away, it would actively provide them support and training. Russian eyes could then gain access to NATO’s air defenses and also take a good look at the F-35.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The F-35’s fate in Turkey’s hands?
Because NATO is an alliance formed to counter Russia, allowing Russia to learn information about its air defense would defeat the purpose it and possibly blunt the military edge of the most expensive weapons system ever built.
But the US has little choice now. Turkey has pivoted away from democracy and has frequently feuded with its NATO allies since a 2016 attempted coup prompted the country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to consolidate power.
Turkey holds millions of Syrian refugees and has helped stem the number of refugees entering Europe. Turkey has expressed fury at the White House for years over the US support of Kurds in Syria and Iraq during the fight against ISIS. Turkey brands the militant Kurdish units “terrorists.”
The F-35 holds advantages besides stealth, including a never-before-seen ability to network with other fighters, but the S-400 remains a leading threat to the fighters.
Russia, if it spotted an F-35 with its powerful counter-stealth radars, would still face a steep challenge in porting that data to a shooter somewhere that could track and fire on the F-35, but nobody in the US military wants to see Russia looped in to the F-35’s classified tactics and specifics.
While the Army Combat Fitness Test will be the largest overhaul in assessing a soldier’s physical fitness in nearly 40 years, it is just one part of the Army’s new health push, says the service’s top holistic health officer.
This month, the entire Army will begin taking the diagnostic ACFT — with all active-duty soldiers taking two tests, six months apart, and Reserve and National Guard soldiers taking it once. Then, a year later, the six-event, gender- and age-neutral test is slated to become the Army’s official physical fitness test of record.
To best prepare for the test, Army leaders encourage soldiers to take an integrated health approach to their training regimen.
Sgt. Steven J. Clough, battalion medical liaison with the 223rd Military Intelligence Battalion, performs a deadlift during an Army Combat Fitness Test in San Francisco, Calif., July 21, 2019. Clough, who serves as a master fitness trainer for the battalion and is a level three certified grader for the ACFT, has been helping prepare the battalion for the new test.
(Photo by Spc. Amy Carle)
Holistic health and fitness
The integrated approach, Holistic Health and Fitness — known as H2F — is a multifaceted strategy to not only ace the ACFT, but improve soldier individual wellness, said Col. Kevin Bigelman, director of Holistic Health and Fitness at the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training.
The well-rounded components of H2F include: physical training, proper sleep and nutrition, and mental and spiritual readiness.
These pillars are “similar to a house,” Bigelman said. Meaning that, each element of a house — the roof, walls, floor, etc. — are equally essential for its prosperity, like how each aspect of H2F is critical to combat readiness, and having success on the ACFT.
However, the gravity of H2F transcends the ACFT, which falls into the physical aspect, and has become “a culture change within the Army,” Bigelman said.
“H2F is changing the way soldiers view themselves,” he added. “It is made up of both physical and nonphysical domains, wrapping them into a single governance structure.”
The initiative, originally announced in 2017, was designed to enhance soldier lethality by rolling up various domains of health to complement each other and prepare soldiers for future warfare, he said.
(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Amy Carle)
The Army’s most important weapon system is its soldiers, he said. So, to overmatch the enemy in multi-domain operations, Soldiers must demonstrate the superior physical fitness required for combat by training properly in all aspects of holistic fitness, including the ACFT.
The ACFT will provide “a snapshot of the strength, power, agility, coordination, balance, anaerobic capacity, and aerobic capacity of a soldier,” Bigelman said. Limited in scope, “the current APFT doesn’t fully measure the total lethality of a soldier how the ACFT does.”
Due to this, soldiers should train the way they’ll be tested, Bigelman said.
“The ACFT measures all the domains of physical fitness,” said Dr. Whitfield East, a research physiologist at CIMT. “Soldiers should train based on those standards.”
California National Guard Soldiers with the 223rd Military Intelligence Battalion complete the Sprint Drag Carry event during an Army Combat Physical Fitness test
Be well rested
The best training plan is ineffective without adequate sleep, Bigelman said, adding, “You’re not going to perform as best you can, physically, on the ACFT if your sleep is incorrect.”
Neglecting sleep can take a negative toll on the body. Sleeplessness can affect performance during high-intensity workouts, like the ACFT, he said. In addition, it can affect a soldier’s mood, their hormone and stress levels, and it doesn’t let the body fully recover or repair its muscles.
Adequate sleep can improve productivity, emotional balance, brain and heart health, the immune system, and vitality, according to the National Institutes of Health.
For maximum optimization, officials encourage soldiers to get at least eight hours of sleep.
Spc. Melisa G. Flores, a paralegal specialist with the 223rd Military Intelligence Battalion, performs a leg-tuck during an Army Combat Physical Fitness test hosted at Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco, California, July 21, 2019. Flores, who has competed in the Best Warrior competition and won recognition for fitness, said the ACFT has challenged her in new ways.
(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Amy Carle)
Nutrition is a vital component of training, said Maj. Brenda Bustillos, a dietician at the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. “How we get up and feel in the morning, how we recover from exercise, how we utilize energy throughout the day” is all optimized through understanding, and implementing, proper nutrition.
Proper nutritional habits will “enhance a soldier’s ability to perform at their fullest potential,” she added.
Regarding the ACFT, soldiers “should always train to fight,” Bustillos said, and they should do more than “Eat properly the night before an ACFT.” Proper nutrition should not be viewed as a diet, but as a lifestyle choice.
That said, nourishment immediately before an ACFT is also important. “Soldiers should never start the day on an empty tank,” she said.
Spc. Melisa G. Flores, a paralegal specialist with the 223rd Military Intelligence Battalion, receives coaching from a grader about the proper form for hand-release push-ups during an Army Combat Physical Fitness test hosted at Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco, California, July 21, 2019.
(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Amy Carle)
Clear your mind
When you toe the line on test day, it’s natural to feel anxiety, East said. Before the stopwatch starts, soldiers should clear their minds, take a deep breath, and try thinking positively.
As common as anxiety is, he said, confidence is built by properly preparing for the ACFT. For example, soldiers should not start training a week before their test or else their mental fitness can be as affected as any other component of holistic health.
In addition, during the months leading up to a test date, soldiers should do mock tests to know where they stand. These small steps can be giant leaps for an individual’s mental fitness, he said.
Soldiers cannot perform “as best as they can physically” on the ACFT without implementing a holistic approach, Bigelman said.
With soldiers expected to train harder to meet readiness goals, experts are available to them, he said, noting that physical therapists, athletic trainers, and other professionals can now be found at most brigade and battalion levels to take their training to the next level.
The Navy’s youngest sub is the USS John Warner, a Virginia-class attack submarine. Commissioned in August and launched in September, it’s the most advanced and dangerous vessel in the oceans today.
The John Warner “is the most high-tech, it is the most lethal warship pound for pound that we have in our inventory,” Adm. Jonathan Greenert told CNN while he was the Chief of Naval Operations.
The 337-foot long sub carries 12 Tomahawk cruise missiles in vertical launch tubes and has four torpedo tubes that can fire Mk 60 CAPTOR mines, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, or Mk 48 heavyweight torpedoes. The submarine can carry up to 40 weapons, trading out certain missiles and torpedoes as required.
All this firepower means the USS John Warner can kill targets whether they’re underwater, on the surface, or on land.
On the night of April 1, 1980, two CIA officers flew Major John T. Carney Jr., a U.S. Air Force Combat Controller, to a small strip of road in the South Khorasan Province, Iran.
This location would live in special operations infamy forever, by its code name – Desert One.
Maj. Carney installed infrared lights, a strobe for use as landing lights, and tested the ground, which was hard-packed sand. By this time, Iranian students had held 52 American diplomats and other embassy personnel hostage for 149 days.
The U.S. military was going to get them out.
This final, very complex mission was supposed to take two nights. Colonel James Kyle, commanding officer at Desert One and planner for Eagle Claw called it “the most colossal episode of hope, despair, and tragedy I had experienced in nearly three decades of military service.”
On the first night, three Air Force C-130s would bring 6000 gallons of fuel in bladders to Desert One. Then three EC-130Es would carry 120 Delta Force operators, 12 U.S. Army Rangers, and 15 Farsi-speaking Americans and Iranians. Three MC-130E Combat Talon aircraft would also carry supplies.
All would enter Iran from the Southern coast of the Gulf of Oman. Eight Navy Sea Stallion helicopters would fly in from the USS Nimitz, refuel, and carry the Deltas to Desert Two, a location 52 miles from Tehran. All would hide during the day.
The second night commenced the rescue operation.
The CIA was supposed to bring trucks to Desert Two and drive the operators into the capital. Other troops were to cut the power to the area around the embassy as the Rangers captured the abandoned Manzariyeh Air Base. This would give arriving USAF C-141 Starlifter aircraft a suitable place to land. Maj. Carney would command the Air Force combat-control team to provide ground control to the temporary airfield.
An Army Special Forces team would hit the foreign ministry to free the top three diplomats who were held separately. Meanwhile, Delta Force would storm the embassy, kill the guards, move the hostages to the stadium across the street where the helicopters would pick everyone up, and take them to the air base where the Starlifters would take them home.
U.S. forces, fuel, and supplies were delivered as planned. Everything else was a debacle. Ranger roadblock teams securing the deserted road blew up a tanker smuggling fuel and detained a civilian bus and its passengers.
On the way to Desert One, one of the Sea Stallions had to be abandoned on the ground because of a cracked rotor blade. Its crew was picked up by one of the other Sea Stallions.
The other six ran into an intense sandstorm known as a haboob – a windy mix of suspended sand and dust, moving at up to 60 mph. One of the remaining Sea Stallions had to return to base because of the storm while the rest took an extra 90 minutes getting to Desert One, one sustaining damage to its hydraulic system.
This left five total helicopters. The mission minimum was four – U.S. Army Col. Charles Beckwith, commander of the Delta Force, requested the okay to abort this mission, which President Carter granted.
Back at Desert One, the evacuation began in haste. The extra 90 minutes on the ground expended more fuel than planned.
When one of the Sea Stallion helicopters attempted to move into a position to refuel, it blew up a cloud of dust the road collected in the previous three weeks. Unable to see properly, the RH-53 crashed into the EC-130 carrying troops and fuel, killing eight, five of the 14 Airmen in the EC-130, and three of the five Marines in the RH-53.
All five remaining helicopters were left on the ground in the subsequent evacuation (two of them are still in active service with the Iranian Navy). The bodies of all eight Airmen and Marines were found by the Iranians the next day.
The failure of communications between branches during Eagle Claw is the reason each services’ special operations commands now fall under USSOCOM. Many further changes in structure resulted after intense scrutiny, research and a Congressional Committee.
Plans for a second rescue operation continued under the code name Project Honey Badger, but ended with the election of President Ronald Reagan and the hostages’ subsequent release.
Reagan sent Carter to greet the hostages as they arrived in Germany. When asked what he would do differently during his Presidency, Carter remarked “I would have sent one more helicopter, which would have meant that we could have brought out all the hostages and also the rescue team.”
Bruce Laingen, hostage and former charge d’affaires to the embassy in Iran on the operation:
“While no day hurts more — than today and always — than the day when these brave men lost their lives in an attempt to reach us, no day makes us more proud as well, because of the way in which they stood for that cause of human freedom. For that, all of us (former hostages) will be forever grateful.”
The men who died at Desert One:
Capt. Harold L. Lewis Jr., U.S. Air Force, Capt. Lyn D. McIntosh, U.S. Air Force, Capt. Richard L. Bakke, U.S. Air Force, Capt. Charles McMillian, U.S. Air Force, Tech. Sgt. Joel C. Mayo, U.S. Air Force, Staff Sgt. Dewey Johnson, U.S. Marine Corps, Sgt. John D. Harvey, U.S. Marine Corps, Cpl. George N. Homes, U.S. Marine Corps.
Their remains were not recovered, but a memorial dedicated to their memory stands in Arlington National Cemetery.
U.S. Army leaders say the next war will be fought in mega-cities, but the service has embarked on an ambitious effort to prepare most of its combat brigades to fight, not inside, but beneath them.
Late 2017, the Army launched an accelerated effort that funnels some $572 million into training and equipping 26 of its 31 active combat brigades to fight in large-scale subterranean facilities that exist beneath dense urban areas around the world.
For this new type of warfare, infantry units will need to know how to effectively navigate, communicate, breach heavy obstacles, and attack enemy forces in underground mazes ranging from confined corridors to tunnels as wide as residential streets. Soldiers will need new equipment and training to operate in conditions such as complete darkness, bad air, and lack of cover from enemy fire in areas that challenge standard Army communications equipment.
Senior leaders have mentioned small parts of the effort in public speeches, but Army officials at Fort Benning, Georgia’s Maneuver Center of Excellence — the organization leading the subterranean effort — have been reluctant to discuss the scale of the endeavor.
(U.S. Army photo by John Lytle)
“We did recognize, in a megacity that has underground facilities — sewers and subways and some of the things we would encounter … we have to look at ourselves and say ‘ok, how does our current set of equipment and our tactics stack up?'” Col. Townley Hedrick, commandant of the Infantry School at the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Georgia, told Military.com in an interview. “What are the aspects of megacities that we have paid the least attention to lately, and every megacity has got sewers and subways and stuff that you can encounter, so let’s brush it up a little bit.”
Left unmentioned were the recent studies the Army has undertaken to shore up this effort. The Army completed a four-month review in 2017 of its outdated approach to underground combat, and published a new training manual dedicated to this environment.
“This training circular is published to provide urgently needed guidance to plan and execute training for units operating in subterranean environments, according to TC 3-20.50 “Small Unit Training in Subterranean Environments,” published in November 2017. “Though prepared through an ‘urgent’ development process, it is authorized for immediate implementation.”
A New Priority
The Army has always been aware that it might have to clear and secure underground facilities such as sewers and subway systems beneath densely-populated cities. In the past, tactics and procedures were covered in manuals on urban combat such as FM 90-10-1, “An Infantryman’s Guide to Combat in Built-up Areas,” dated 1993.
Before the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the mission for taking large, underground military complexes was given to tier-one special operations units such as Army Delta Force and the Navy‘s SEAL Team 6, as well as the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment.
But the Pentagon’s new focus on preparing to fight peer militaries such as North Korea, Russia and China changed all that.
An assessment last year estimates that there are about 10,000 large-scale underground military facilities around the world that are intended to serve as subterranean cities, an Army source, who is not cleared to talk to the press, told Military.com.
The Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group — an outfit often tasked with looking ahead to identify future threats — told U.S. military leaders that special operations forces will not be able to deal with the subterranean problem alone and that large numbers of conventional forces must be trained and equipped to fight underground, the source said.
The endeavor became an urgent priority because more than 4,800 of these underground facilities are located in North Korea, the source said.
Relations now seem to be warming between Washington and Pyongyang after the recent meeting between U.S. President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. But in addition to its underground nuclear missile facilities, North Korea has the capability to move thousands of troops through deep tunnels beneath the border into South Korea, according to the Army’s new subterranean manual.
“North Korea could accommodate the transfer of 30,000 heavily armed troops per hour,” the manual states. “North Korea had planned to construct five southern exits and the tunnel was designed for both conventional warfare and guerrilla infiltration. Among other things, North Korea built a regimental airbase into a granite mountain.”
For its part, Russia inherited a vast underground facilities program from the Soviet Union, designed to ensure the survival of government leadership and military command and control in wartime, the manual states. Underground bunkers, tunnels, secret subway lines, and other facilities still beneath Moscow, other major Russian cities, and the sites of major military commands.
More recently, U.S. and coalition forces operating in Iraq and Syria have had to deal with fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria operating in tunnel systems.
Learning to Fight Underground
To prepare combat units, the Army has activated mobile teams to train the leadership of 26 brigade combat teams on how prepare units for underground warfare and plan and execute large-scale combat operations in the subterranean environment.
The 3rd BCT, 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colorado is next in line for the training.
Army officials confirmed to Military.com that there is an approved plan to dedicate $572 million to the effort. That works out to $22 million for each BCT, according to an Army spokeswoman who did not want to be named for this article. The Army did not say where the money is coming from or when it will be given to units.
Army leaders launched the subterranean effort in 2017, tasking the AWG with developing a training program. The unit spent October-January at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, developing the tactics, techniques and procedures, or TTPs, units will need to fight in this environment.
“Everything that you can do above ground, you can do below ground; there are just tactics and techniques that are particular,” the source said, adding that tactics used in a subterranean space are much like those used in clearing buildings.
(U.S. Army photo by Erick Warren)
“The principles are exactly the same, but now do it without light, now do it in a confined space … now try to breach a door using a thermal cutting torch when you don’t have air.”
Three training teams focus on heavy breaching, TTPs and planning and a third to train the brigade leadership on intelligence priorities and how to prepare for brigade-size operations in subterranean facilities.
“The whole brigade will be learning the operation,” the source said.
Army combat units train in mock-up towns known as military operations in urban terrain, or MOUT, sites. These training centers often have sewers to deal with rain water, but are too small to use for realistic training, the source said.
The Defense Department has a half-dozen locations that feature subterranean networks. They’re located at Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Story, Virginia; Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; Camp Atterbury-Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, Indiana; Tunnel Warfare Center, China Lake, California and Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona, according to the new subterranean training manual.
Rather sending infrastructure to these locations, units will build specially designed, modular subterranean trainers, created by the AWG in 2014. The completed maze-like structure is fashioned from 15 to 20 shipping containers, or conexes, and sits above ground.
Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of Army Training and Doctrine Command, talked about these new training structures at the Association of the United States Army’s LANPAC 2018 symposium in Hawaii.
“I was just at the Asymmetric Warfare Group recently; they had built a model subterranean training center that now the Army is in the process of exporting to the combat training centers and home stations,” Townsend said.
“I was thinking to myself before I went and saw it, ‘how are we going to be able to afford to build all these underground training facilities?’ Well, they took me into one that wasn’t underground at all. It actually looked like you went underground at the entrance, but the facility was actually built above ground.But you couldn’t tell that once you went inside of it.”
Shipping containers are commonplace around the Army, so units won’t have to buy special materials to build the trainers, Hedrick said.
“Every post has old, empty conexes … and those are easily used to simulate working underground,” Hedrick said.
Training is only part of the subterranean operations effort. A good portion of the $22 million going to each BCT will be needed buy special equipment so combat units can operate safety underground.
“You can’t go more than one floor deep underground without losing comms with everybody who is up on the surface,” Townsend said. “Our capabilities need some work.”
The Army is looking at the handheld MPU-5 smart radio, made by Persistent Systems LLC, which features a new technology and relies on a “mobile ad hoc network” that will allow units to talk to each other and to the surface as well.
“It sends out a signal that combines with the one next to it, and the one next to it … it just keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger,” the source said.
Off the shelf, MPU-5s coast approximately $10,000 each.
Toxic air, or a drop in oxygen, are other challenges soldiers will be likely to face operating deep underground. The Army is evaluating off-the-shelf self-contained breathing equipment for units to purchase.
“Protective masks without a self-contained breathing apparatus provide no protection against the absence of oxygen,” the subterranean manual states. “Having breathing apparatus equipment available is the primary protection element against the absence of oxygen, in the presence of hazardous gases, or in the event of a cave-in.”
Soldiers can find themselves exposed to smoke, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, methane natural gas underground, according to the manual.
Breathing gear is expensive; some apparatus cost as much as $13,000 apiece, the source said.
Underground tunnels and facilities are often lighted, but when the lights go out, soldiers will be in total darkness. The Army announced in February 2018 that it has money in its fiscal 2019 budget to buy dual-tubed, binocular-style night vision goggles to give soldiers greater depth perception than offered by the current single-tubed Enhanced Night Vision Goggles and AN/PVS 14s.
The Enhanced Night Vision Goggle B uses a traditional infrared image intensifier similar to the PVS-14 along with a thermal camera. The system fuses the IR with the thermal capability into one display. The Army is considering equipping units trained in subterranean ops with ENVG Bs, the source said.
Units will also need special, hand-carried ballistic shields, at least two per squad, since tunnels provide little to no cover from enemy fire.
Weapon suppressors are useful to cut down on noise that’s significantly amplified in confined spaces, the manual states.
Some of the heavy equipment such as torches and large power saws needed for breaching are available in brigade engineer units, Hedrick said.
“We definitely did put some effort into trying to identify a list of normal equipment that may not work and what equipment that we might have to look at procuring,” Hedrick said.
Jason Dempsey, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for new American Security, was skeptical about the scale of the program.
Dempsey, a former Army infantry officer with two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, told Military.com that such training “wasn’t relevant” to fights in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He questions spending such a large amount of money training and equipping so many of the Army’s combat brigades in a type of combat that they might never need.
“I can totally understand taking every brigade in Korea, Alaska, some of the Hawaii units — any units on tap for first response for something going on in Korea,” said Dempsey, who served in the combat units such as the 75th Ranger Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division and the 10th Mountain Division.
“Conceptually I don’t knock it. The only reason I would question it is if it comes with a giant bill and new buys of a bunch of specialized gear. … It’s a whole new business line for folks whose business tapered off after Afghanistan.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.