A photo released by AFRICOM reportedly shows a Russian MiG-29 Fulcrum jet flying over Libya.
The U.S. military has provided more details about an alleged Russian deployment of fighter jets to Libya, as officials in Russia continued to deny the presence of Russian military aircraft or personnel in the North African country.
The United States says Moscow deployed the jets to provide support for Russian mercenaries helping a local warlord battle Libya’s internationally recognized government.
The alleged deployment could have a big impact on the war pitting the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) of Khalifa Haftar and forces of the Government of National Accord (GNA), which is recognized by the United Nations.
The conflict has drawn in multiple regional actors, with Russia, France, Egypt, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates backing Haftar’s command.
Turkey, which deployed troops, drones, and Syrian rebel mercenaries to Libya in January, supports the government in Tripoli, alongside Qatar and Italy.
As Libya continues to be subjected to a UN arms embargo, the U.S. military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) on May 26 said it assessed Russia had recently deployed military jets to Libya via Syria to support Russian mercenaries fighting alongside the LNA. It said the jets were repainted in Syria to remove Russian Federation Air Force markings.
In a tweet on May 27, AFRICOM added that MiG-29 and Su-24 fighters bearing Russian Federation Air Force markings departed Russia “over multiple days in May.”
After the aircraft landed at the Russian military base of Hmeimim in western Syria, the MiG-29s “are repainted and emerge with no national markings.”
AFRICOM wrote in a separate tweet that the jets were flown by “Russian military personnel” and were escorted to Libya by “Russian fighters” based in Syria.
The planes first landed near Tobruk in eastern Libya to refuel, it said, adding: “At least 14 newly unmarked Russian aircraft are then delivered to Al Jufra Air Base” in central Libya, an LNA stronghold.
Meanwhile, LNA spokesman Ahmed Mismari denied that new jets had arrived, calling it “media rumors and lies,” according to Reuters.
Viktor Bondarev, the chairman of the Federation Council’s committee on defense and security, dismissed the U.S. claims as “stupidity.”
“If the warplanes are in Libya, they are Soviet, not Russian,” Bondarev said.
Vladimir Dzhabarov, first deputy head of the Federation Council’s international affairs committee, said Russia had not sent military personnel to Libya and the Russian upper house of parliament has not received a request to approve such a dispatch.
Vagner Group, a private military contractor believed to be close to the Kremlin, has been helping Haftar’s forces. A UN report earlier this month estimated the number of Russian mercenaries at between 800 and 1,200.
The Bondarev and Dzhabarov comments are the latest denials from Moscow that the Russian state is responsible for any deployments.
But U.S. Army General Stephen Townsend, commander of AFRICOM, said on May 26: “For too long, Russia has denied the full extent of its involvement in the ongoing Libyan conflict. Well, there is no denying it now. We watched as Russia flew fourth-generation jet fighters to Libya — every step of the way.”
Oil-rich Libya has been torn by civil war since a NATO-backed popular uprising ousted and killed the country’s longtime dictator, Muammar Qaddafi, in 2011.
Haftar, who controls the eastern part of the country, is seeking to capture the capital, Tripoli, from GNA forces.
But his LNA lost a string of western towns and a key air base in the past two months after Turkey stepped up military support for his rivals.
And while you might think it was cause to spool up the THAAD and drop that plane in its tracks, believe it or not, they were allowed to by a 25-year-old treaty based on an idea that was nearly four decades old at the time.
The Treaty on Open Skies was first proposed by Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1955. Cold War paranoia meant it went nowhere for 37 years. After the coup that proved the end of the Soviet Union, the treaty was eventually signed by President George H. W. Bush and ratified in 1992. But it didn’t enter into force until 2002.
The treaty allows the U.S. and Russia — as well as a number of other NATO and former Warsaw Pact countries — to make surveillance flights over each other’s territory.
According to a letter to the Senate included with the treaty, this is to “promote openness and transparency of military forces and activities.” Certain planes are equipped with four types of sensors, optical panoramic and framing cameras, video cameras with real-time display, infra-red line-scanning devices, and sideways-looking synthetic aperture radar. These suites are used to monitor military forces, and are certified by observers.
Which aircraft is used can vary. The United States uses the OC-135B Open Skies aircraft for this mission. Canada uses a modified C-130. Russia has a version of the Tu-154 airliner. The United Kingdom has used a mix of planes.
The exact number of flights a country may have varies, but the United States and Russia each get 42 such flights a year.
They can fly any sort of flight plan – as long as they give 72 hours notice prior to the arrival. The flight must be completed in 96 hours from the time that the plane arrives. The plane on the Open Skies mission also must embark observers from the host nation on board.
So that’s why a lot of people in the Virginia, Maryland, and DC area got a good look at a Russian Tu-154 — and may still see more if Putin wants another closer look.
As debate continues on the impact of President Trump’s executive order which halted the Syrian refugee program indefinitely, and placed a temporary 120-day ban on people coming from seven Muslim-majority countries that President Obama listed as “concerning” in 2015, are the ways the U.S. military has been affected.
Members of Arizona’s Air National Guard have been working with Iraqi pilots since 2012 to fly the F-16 Fighting Falcon. The program was expected to continue through at least 2020, according to a Department of Defense press release when the program began. Under Trump’s travel pause, no more Iraqi pilots will be able to enter the country.
Arizona Sen. John McCain is working to exempt Iraqi pilots from the executive order, and released a joint statement with fellow Rep. Sen. Lindsey Graham over the weekend.
“At this very moment, American troops are fighting side-by-side with our Iraqi partners to defeat ISIL. But this executive order bans Iraqi pilots from coming to military bases in Arizona to fight our common enemies,” the statement read. “Our most important allies in the fight against ISIL are the vast majority of Muslims who reject its apocalyptic ideology of hatred.”
Interpreters for US troops stuck in limbo
Many combat veterans who worked with interpreters in Iraq and Afghanistan are angry that the travel ban has compromised the safety of those who they say were instrumental in keeping them safe during combat deployments.
“Doing so would send a strong signal to those who show such immense courage to advance U.S. security interests at a risk to their own safety, as well as the many veterans and warfighters who’ve relied on the service of these individuals for their own protection and to accomplish their objectives,” the letter said.
Increased tensions with countries in the Middle East
Several allies in the Middle East sent cables to the White House on Monday, warning that the ban could be used as a propaganda tool for ISIS, and make the area more dangers for U.S. troops and coalition forces.
Qatar was the most critical of the executive order, with a senior official telling U.S. diplomats, “You could not have given our adversaries better propaganda material,” according to CBS News. He mentioned that despite the beginning decline of ISIS, “The timing of this has given the group a lifeline.”
In an interview with CBS, former CIA deputy director Mike Morell echoed the sentiments, saying, “It’s playing right into the ISIS narrative. ISIS has not said anything about this yet, but people around ISIS, who amplify its message, are talking about it, and they are saying, ‘See? We told you, this is a war against Islam.’ So this is going to be a recruitment boon for ISIS.
A fight broke out during the first session of Afghanistan’s new parliament after disagreement on the election of a speaker.
Online video showed lawmakers fighting on May 19, 2019, over the seating of businessman Mir Rahman Rahmani as the speaker of the lower house of parliament, known as the Wolesi Jirga. The body was meeting for the first time since controversial elections held last year.
Rahmani received 123 votes the previous day to defeat challenger Kamal Nasir Osuli, who had 55 votes, for the speaker’s post.
But Rahmani was one vote short of the simple majority of 124 votes in the 247-seat Wolesi Jirga that is needed to secure the speakership.
Rahmani’s supporters declared him the the new speaker and insisted he take the post.
“He has secured a majority of the votes and one vote is not an issue, so he is our new chairman,” said Nahid Farid, a lawmaker from the western city of Herat.
But opponents of Rahmani — the father of Ajmal Rahmani, a wealthy businessman known in the Afghan capital for selling bulletproof vehicles to Kabul’s elite — refused to let him sit in the speaker’s chair.
“We will never accept the new speaker and there must be a reelection with new candidates,” said Mariam Sama, a parliament deputy from Kabul.
Ramazan Bashardost, a deputy from Kabul, told Tolo News that the controversy over the new speaker could be resolved through legitimate means but lawmakers “are not willing to address the issue through legal channels.”
The results of the Oct. 20, 2018 parliamentary elections were officially finalized this month after months of technical and organizational problems.
Maybe it’s because I recently went head-to-head in a heated eighteen holes of mini golf with a Navy SEAL, or maybe it’s because Rob Riggle’s humor is so goofy and delightful, but I am really enjoying ABC’s new show Holey Moley.
“Last week billions watched as mini-golf swept the nation. Diseases were cured, families reunited, ABC executives promoted. The world came together in arms and wept in joy for the only sport that matters on earth: mini golf,” Riggle announced, and he would never lie.
Riggle joins Joe Tessitore as on-camera commentators while Jeannie Mai reports from the course, which includes holes like the “Slip ‘n’ Putt” (where one contestant literally fell on his face — like, right on his face, guys; he started bleeding) and “The Distractor” where golfers must try to get a hole-in-one while something, or someone, distracts the hell out of them.
Enter Sergeant Putton.
Putton may be wearing the Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage Pattern, but his branch is 100% “Drill Sgt.”
In an episode titled “The Thunderdome of Mini Golf,” the “Distractor” as Sgt. Putton, whose only objective was to distract the golfer enough to miss the shot.
“He’s pushing buttons. The drill instructor is pushing buttons…because that’s what they do,” observed Riggle, who would know.
Riggle’s been golfing for over twenty years and, in addition to hosting his new show, he produces an annual InVETational golf classic, raising money for Semper Fi Fund, a veteran non-profit that helps critically wounded service members and their families.
Holey Moley is on ABC Thursday nights at 8PM, sorry, 2000 hours — or you can find it on Hulu right now. Check it out and discover for yourself how satisfying it can be to watch people struggle succeed.
On December 26, 1994, millions of shoppers across North America rushed to malls in an attempt to make the most of post-Christmas sales. Across the Atlantic Ocean, at an airport in Marseille, France, a small group of men decked out from head to toe in black garb were doing a different kind of rushing — clinging to the back of a mobile staircase while barreling at high speed (or at least as fast as the truck would go) down a runway.
These weren’t ordinary men. Their target was a hulking, cream-white Airbus A300 filled with more than 160 scared and bewildered passengers and flight crew, some of whom were now resigned to accepting an imminent death.
The men on the mobile stairs planned on taking the aircraft in front of them by force, even if it meant giving up their lives in the process. Success was the only acceptable outcome of this operation. Failure would result in the massacring of innocents. Hailing from the National Gendarmerie Intervention Group (more popularly known as GIGN), these black-clad ninjas were counter-terrorists, the best France had to offer.
(The Aviation Intelligencer YouTube)
Today’s mission was a hijacked Air France airliner, wired with explosives and crammed with 166 innocent lives. A small group of hijackers, armed to the teeth, were identified as the targets of this mission. Negotiations had failed and the last-resort scenario was now in play.
Just a few days earlier, on Christmas Eve, that same aircraft sat at an airport in Algeria with flight attendants scurrying around, preparing the cabin for takeoff. The pilots and flight engineers chatted among themselves as they completed their pre-departure checklist. Labeled Air France Flight 8969, this plane would travel with 236 passengers and crew from Algiers to Paris.
Civilian airlines flying routes into Algeria were repeatedly warned, at the time, that their planes were under constant threat of missile attacks. As a result, Air France only allowed crews who volunteered for the Algiers route to fly it, as long as they knew the risks involved.
On December 24th, the threat didn’t come from a missile but rather from 4 members of the Armed Islamic Group — a Middle Eastern terrorist organization. Disguised as members of the Algerian presidential security force, they walked into the cabin of the Airbus without arousing any suspicion, though some found it quite odd that they visibly carried their weapons.
Outside the aircraft, airport personnel began to worry when the airliner sat on the apron, sealed and ready to depart for Paris, but didn’t move an inch. Already facing delay, the control tower tried to hail the cockpit — no response. Fears began to manifest and armed tactical response teams were deployed immediately.
It was hijacked.
Aboard Flight 8969, the hijackers began checking passports, likely to earmark targets for execution in the event that their demands weren’t met. Soon after, amidst terrified screams, the terrorists revealed their intention to take the aircraft and waved their guns in the air, demanding cooperation.
The hijackers wired explosives in the cockpit and the main cabin while forcing the pilots, at gunpoint, to exchange clothes with them. The airliner was surrounded outside by police and Algerian military personnel. Negotiations began, but would soon break down.
Within hours of the hijacking, two passengers were executed and their bodies were dumped outside the aircraft. Attempts to use the lead hijacker’s mother to get him to surrender peacefully further enraged the terrorist, causing a breakdown in communications. By the following day, Christmas, another passenger was executed. French government officials were outraged — the Algerian military had botched the situation and were losing innocent lives.
After releasing just over 60 passengers as a sign of good faith, the aircraft was eventually allowed to take off and continue to France, albeit to Marseille as it had burned through too much fuel to make it to Paris.
GIGN was notified and they diverted their aircraft to Marseille, which had already taken off for Spain — as close as they could get to Algeria without entering the country. Having familiarized themselves with the Air France A300 they were aboard — identical to Flight 8969 — they were ready to roll as soon as their plane touched down.
In the early hours of December 26, Flight 8969 landed and was ushered to a secluded spot at Marseille, Unbeknownst to the hijackers, they were now under surveillance by highly-trained and well-experienced GIGN snipers. Their new demands confirmed the rumors of an attack on Paris. They ordered 27 tons of fuel, instead of just the 9 they needed to make it to Paris.
They intended on turning the A300 into a flying, fuel-laden bomb, triggered using the explosives they had previously wired. When detonated over densely-populated Paris, it would kill all on the flight, scores on the ground, and wound and maim many more. GIGN wasn’t about to let this happen.
Tricking the hijackers into clearing a space in the front of the aircraft for a press conference (and forcing the passengers further towards the back of the jet), GIGN prepped the aircraft for a takedown. In the early evening of December 26, the raid began.
Airstairs (mobile staircases) began racing towards Flight 8969 loaded with GIGN commandos that were armed with submachine guns and pistols. They threw stun grenades and entered the fray.
In the chaos, one of the plane’s pilots jumped out of the cockpit window and hobbled to safety. Snipers began firing into the cockpit, aiming for a hijacker they knew had hunkered down in there. The teams that entered through the rear of the aircraft evacuated passengers. Three hijackers were immediately killed; a fourth remained in the cockpit for 20 minutes before meeting his end.
By the end of the engagement, all four hijackers were dead. 13 passengers and 3 crew were wounded. Aside from the 3 passengers who were executed, all survived. The majority of the Air France flight crew returned to the skies despite the trauma.
Military working dogs are an essential part of many missions — even sensitive ones, like the raid on the compound of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Oct. 26, 2019. They’re so important, in fact, that they occasionally hold ranks themselves, although it’s merely formal and not official, and they’re always ranked one higher than their handlers.
That “seniority” honors the dog’s role and reminds the handler to be lenient when it has a bad day.
The dog who chased after Baghdadi, leading to his death by suicide, has become a celebrity — even though the dog’s name remains classified. A photo of the dog led to confirmation of its breed (a Belgian Malinois), but little else is known about the good boy (or girl). Disclosing the dog’s name and rank could lead to information about the dog’s affiliation with Delta Force, a classified unit, The Washington Post reports. That unit is still in the field, and revealing the dog’s name could put its handler at risk, although the dog’s possible name and sex have been reported, by Newsweek and the Washington Post, respectively.
Read more to learn more about military working dogs.
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. William Chrisman, a combat tracking dog trainer, and Cpl. Ludjo, a military working dog, both with Third Law Enforcement Battalion, Third Marine Information Group, play tug of war at Camp Wilson, Marine Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California, Oct. 16, 2019.
(Sgt. Stormy Mendez / US Marine Corps)
The bond between a military working dog and its handler is vitally important to completing missions.
A handler needs to be able to read shifts and subtleties in their canine partner’s behavior to gather information about their targets or environments, and even how the dog is feeling.
For example, if the dog doesn’t feel like working, or has deficiencies with some tasks, the handler needs to be able to pick up on this and give the dog the tools, training, and motivation it needs to complete the task.
U.S. Marine Corps military working dog Allie waits inside a Humvee to go on a mission while being held by her handler, Lance Cpl. Ronnie Ramcharan at the Central Training Center, Okinawa, Japan on Aug. 25, 2019.
(Lance Cpl. Andrew R. Bray / US Marine Corps)
While the military working dog’s rank is a formality — not an official rank like human troops have — it’s meant to encourage handlers to treat their dogs with love and respect.
Handlers have to be able to communicate what their canine partners are “telling” them, and to know without a doubt that the dog will listen to him or her.
“There’s no doubt about my dog: Number one, he will protect me. Number two, he will find a bomb,” Sgt. 1st Class Regina Johnson told the Army in 2011.
Airman 1st Class Daniel Martinez, 355th Security Forces military working dog handler, participates in a simulated narcotic/bomb detection exercise with Darius, an MWD assigned to the 355 SFS, at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, Sept. 23, 2019.
(Airman 1st Class Kristine Legate / US Air Force)
Military working dogs whose units allow them to hold ranks are non-commissioned officers (NCOs).
By and large, military working dogs are treated as regular US troops would be.
Unfortunately, there was one period where military working dogs were left behind in a combat zone — in South Vietnam, during US troops’ hasty withdrawal there.
Prior to 2000, military working dogs were also euthanized after their service was finished. Military working dogs can now be adopted to civilians once their service is finished.
A U.S. Army soldier with the 10th Special Forces Group and his military working dog jump off the ramp of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment during water training over the Gulf of Mexico as part of exercise Emerald Warrior 2011 in this U.S. military handout image from March 1, 2011.
(Manuel J. Martinez/U.S. Air Force)
Cairo the dog, also a Belgian Malinois, earned accolades from former President Barack Obama for his role in killing al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 2011.
Cairo secured the perimeter of bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, and, should the al Qaeda leader have proven difficult to find, Cairo would be sent in after him.
Upon hearing that Cairo was involved in the raid, former President Barack Obama said, “I want to meet that dog,” according to an account in The New Yorker.
“If you want to meet the dog, Mr. President, I advise you to bring treats,” one member of the SEAL team jokingly advised the president.
(Department of Defense)
Military working dogs and their partners both require extensive training to keep up with the demands of their job.
Dogs and their trainers go through a 93-day training program to cement their skills and gain practice as a team in real-world scenarios, according to the Army.
Only about 50% of the dogs the military procures to become military working dogs are actually suitable for the job.
Cpl. Ramon Valenci, a dog handler with 1st Law Enforcement Battalion, assigned to 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, orders his military working dog, Red, to search for improvised explosive devices during Integrated Training Exercise (ITX) 2-17, aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., Jan. 19, 2017.
(Aaron S. Patterson / US Marine Corps)
100th Military Police Detachment, Military Working Dog (MWD) Money, conducts basic obedience drills, June 25, 2019, Panzer Kaserne, Germany. The MWDs and their handlers are trained to provide narcotics and explosives detection keeping the bases safe from threats.
(Photo by Yvonne Najera)
Callie, a search and rescue dog for the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, rides in a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter as part of her familiarization training at the Boone National Guard Center in Frankfort, Ky., Nov. 29, 2018.
(Staff Sgt. Joshua Horton / US Air National Guard)
Timo, 23d Security Forces Squadron (SFS) Military Working Dog (MWD), bites Joe Dukes, Lowndes County Sheriffs Office SWAT team lead, during a MWD capabilities demonstration, March 21, 2019, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. Timo is trained to attack on or off leash with or without command.
(Senior Airman Janiqua P. Robinson / US Air Force)
The trio shuffled into the small room with canes and walkers to record their testimonies of the first confrontations of the Cold War and how the allies prevailed without firing a shot, saving a former enemy from oppression.
The Royal Air Force Museum American Foundation celebrated the 70th anniversary of the end of Berlin Airlift at their annual “Spirit of the Battle of Britain” banquet October 2019 to honor these veterans for their contributions to the alliance between the United States and the United Kingdom.
The trio retold their stories of using soft air power to deter Soviet aggression in post-World War II Berlin, and current U.S. Air Force and RAF airmen were honored for continuing to further the partnership between the two nations.
Prior to the dinner, the trio transported family, listeners and caregivers back to 1940s Germany.
“I remember the war,” said Mercedes Wild, who was seven years old at the start of the Berlin Airlift. “They (Allied bombers) destroyed Berlin. It was a hard time for the kids in West Berlin. Berlin is a destroyed city. We will never forget the sound of the bombers.”
After WWII, the German capital was divided with Soviet Russia controlling East Berlin and British, French and American Allies responsible for the west. The city was located more than 100 miles inside the Russian controlled portion of Germany. On June 24, 1948, the Russians implemented a blockade of West Berlin to prevent food and supplies, such as coal, from entering the town. The effort attempted to break the spirit of the West Berlin people to reject democracy and embrace communism.
A C-54 Skymaster piloted by retired Col. Gail Halvorsen drops candy with attached parachutes to children during the Berlin Airlift. Halvorsen earned the nickname “Candy Bomber” for his operation Little Vittles candy drops. Note the parachutes below the tail of the C-54.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
Enter, veterans and the Berlin Airlift.
Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Gail Halvorsen, widely known as the “Candy Bomber,” described volunteering for the mission that changed his life and the lives of millions in West Berlin. Halvorsen, a 28-year-old lieutenant at the time, grew up on a farm in Utah, where helping a neighbor in need was a way of life.
“My dad was an example to me,” he said. “He had plenty to do himself, but when a neighbor, a farmer, needed help and couldn’t get enough help, my dad would drop some of the things that weren’t so important on our farm to help the next-door neighbor.”
Halvorsen saw his first aircraft flying overhead on the farm while he was working the fields. He was hooked and signed up for a non-college pilot training program. Soon he received his flight training and was flying cargo aircraft in Mobile, Alabama. When the word came of the attempts by Russia to stomp out freedom in West Berlin by starving its residents, there was no doubt of his next step.
“I volunteered to fly supplies in early,” Halvorsen recalled.
At first, the citizens of West Berlin didn’t know what to think of hearing heavy aircraft over their heads again.
“The noise of the airplanes during the airlift in the beginning I feared, because it was the same noise while bombing Berlin,” Wild said.
They would soon learn the aircraft were not carrying bombs but food and supplies to keep them alive. The logistics of flying 2.3 million tons of goods and equipment was not without risks. In total, 101 airmen from around the world perished in the Berlin Airlift.
“Two hundred meters from our house, there was the first airlift airplane crash in the night,” Wild remembered. “The next morning I went with my mother. It was destroyed. The two pilots were dead. The people were very sorry about this … They feared that the west allies would now stop the airlift.”
A hard winter already made food in short supply, Wild explained. The only meal she might get would come from school and she would sneak part of this food to her mother, who was sick. She also took care of the family chickens, whose eggs she would trade on the black market for meat or shoes. Still, none of these hardships compared to the fear of the Russians returning to West Berlin as they had done in the final days of the war.
“The normal West Berliner did not want to become Soviet,” she said. “The Soviet regime was near the same as Nazi time and they feared the Russians. They remembered the Russian soldiers.”
As Halvorsen flew food and coal into the city of Berlin, a 19-year-old RAF pilot flew gasoline into Berlin.
Then-Lt. Gail S. Halvorsen.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
“The Halifax aircraft was a converted bomber,” said Dereck Hermiston. “The bomb racks had been taken and we flew, I think it was 40 or 41, 45-gallon tanks of gasoline. They had wooden beams, and they (used them) to roll these drums up. Quite unstable, and it stank to high hell.”
The son of a WWI pilot, Hermiston was among the youngest airmen to participate in flying the airlift. Yet, even as a teenager, the reversal of roles did not escape him.
“I realized, as a British officer, that we had bombed, and bombed, and bombed Berlin with the Americans, and it was a reversal,” he said. “We were now trying to save the Berliners from what was quite an oppressive regime from the Russians. I met a few Russian officers, and they were very sure they wanted to stop Germany from growing ever again.”
There was always worry of an international incident turning the Cold War operation hot, as Hermiston told.
“We were buzzed by a Russian MiG-9 one morning,” Hermiston, very much still a kid at heart, said with a chuckle. “I think it was about 4 o’clock in the morning. It was just getting daylight. There was this great shudder, and this fighter aircraft flew underneath us … and looped around us. As he came down, I had no room to maneuver. I suppose he missed us by about 200 to 300 feet. It was enough to make the aircraft shudder. Little things like that I remember because I was frightened.”
Despite the harsh weather conditions and aero acrobatic antics of the Soviets, the Allies continued to do what was needed to feed and fuel a city. In some cases this involved evacuating Berliners in need of medical attention.
“I flew out something like 220 people in my aircraft from Berlin that were sick or were children needing operations,” Hermiston said. “My aircraft was a tanker aircraft, so they had to sit on these wooden beams that were going up the fuselage in stinking conditions. It stank of petrol oil from all the gasoline. Yet, they were all so very grateful — very, very grateful. I found the people extremely grateful.”
The British pilot was not the only person struck by the grateful nature of the people of Berlin. In a previous interview, Halvorsen recalled how he became known as the “Candy Bomber” after a trip to Berlin, seeing children line up along the fence line outside the flightline of the Templehof airport.
“I had been to other countries where the kids had chocolate,” he said, recalling that moment nearly 70 years later. “When George Washington visited his troops, he had little hard candies in his pocket for the kids. That was nothing new. But these kids had not had chocolate for a couple of years. Not one out of the 30 broke ranks and said, ‘do you got candy?’ When I realized that, it just hit me like a ton of bricks — black and white. I just could not believe that quality of character called gratitude. They were so grateful. They were thankful for their freedom. When I realized that, I thought I got to do something. I reached in my pocket, and all I had was two sticks of gum.”
Convinced that everyone deserved a treat or no one did, Halvorsen took about three more steps and the little voice came clear as a bell directing him back to the fence.
Lt. Gail Halvorsen, “The Candy Bomber,” greets children of isolated West Berlin after dropping candy bars from the air on tiny parachutes.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
“Boy, when I stopped and started back, those kids came to attention,” he said. “I pulled out two sticks of gum and broke them in half and passed it to the kids doing the translating. I couldn’t believe what I saw. The other kids didn’t push or shove or try to grab it. The kids that got half a piece of stick of gum tore off the wrapper and passed it. The kids that got a strip of paper, put it up to their noses, smelled it and their eyes got big. They were dumbfounded. They clutched it in their hands to go home and show their parents, if they had any.”
An idea came to Halvorsen — return the next day.
“I will be flying overhead, and I will drop enough chocolate for all of you,” he announced to the children. “When that translated to everybody, there was a celebration going on.”
Halvorsen made one demand of the children. They must share the candy. They agreed, but another question arose. With planes arriving every few seconds, how would the children know which one was Halvorsen’s?
“When I would fly over the farm (back home), I would wiggle the wings back and forth. So I said, ‘kids, you watch the airplane. When I come over the center of Tempelhof, if it is clear, I will wiggle the wings.’ That is how it began.”
The “Candy Bomber,” with his parachutes of chocolate, was born, and the act would soon be named operation Little Vittles.
One little girl never caught one of the treats — the 7-year-old Wild.
“I was never quick enough,” she said.
Crews unload planes at Tempelhof Airport during the Berlin Airlift.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
To make matters worse, the chickens whose eggs brought a fortune on the black market had stopped laying because of the noise from the aircraft landing every few seconds over head.
“Therefore, I decided to write a letter because I was so sad about the situation, and I cried,” she said. “My grandmother told me don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t weep, do something. I decided to write a letter.”
The letter was addressed to her “Chocolate Uncle,” and she asked him to aim his parachute for the garden with the white chickens.
No parachute ever came, despite nearly 20 tons of candy being dropped from the C-54 Skymasters flown by the Americans.
A letter from her “Chocolate Uncle” did come, with two special treats — a lollipop and peppermint-flavored stick of gum. Between the war and the blockade, the smell of peppermint was unknown to the child.
“I exchanged it on the black market, this peppermint gum, for a glass marble; I have this glass marble,” Wild said, pulling the smooth glass toy from her pocket and placing it on the table with as much pride as any seven-year-old. “This is the same glass marble.”
The lollipop was saved for a Christmas treat, but the greatest gift that day was not the candy.
“The most important was the letter; the letter changed my whole life,” she said.
Offered a chance to join an aunt in Switzerland where food and supplies were not held hostage by the Soviets, Wild turned it down with the hopes of one day meeting her “Chocolate Uncle.”
Around-the-clock supplies continued flying into Berlin as British and American pilots made three round trips a day. After nearly a year, the Soviets lifted the blockade, reopening the transportation routes on the ground.
“The Soviets gave up,” Halvorsen said. “They said we can’t compete with that. They got red-faced and backed off. The airlift was the reason they had to do that; it broke the blockade. I was proud to be a part of that.”
With the blockade lifted in May 1949, British and American aircraft continued to fly supplies into Berlin to rebuild the stocks. On Sept. 23, 1949, the last RAF aircraft landed in Berlin with supplies.
Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Gail S. Halvorsen, known commonly as the “Berlin Candy Bomber” stands in front of C-54 Skymaster.
(Photo by Bennie J. Davis III)
Time passed, and in 1970, Halvorsen returned to Germany, now as a colonel and the commander of Tempelhof. A now grown and married Wild decided now was the time to meet her “Chocolate Uncle.”
“First, we went to airport Templehof, and I took the letter with me,” Wild said. “Then I invited him to our home for dinner with the family.”
The two families have remained close all these years.
Seventy years later, these veterans of the Berlin Airlift travel the world telling the story of how the gratitude of the Berlin Airlift shaped their lives and the world.
“We must give the good spirit to the kids to have good society and future…” Wild said. “This was a very good thing that Colonel Halvorsen decided to have those candy droppings because I think he is the best ambassador for mankind–for humanity. It is not only Col. Halvorsen, but the other pilots and the people of Great Britain, South Africa, Canada and USA. The people were standing behind the airlift.”
It’s a busy week in the world of military academy sports. The Army and Navy are facing off on the soccer field this Friday, the Air Force is seeking to dominate volleyball gyms throughout the week, and much more.
This week, We Are The Mighty will be streaming the following events, so stay tuned.
Women’s Soccer — Army West Point at Navy (Friday, 10/12, 7:00PM EST)
The 2018 Star Match between the Army and Navy women’s soccer teams lies ahead this Friday night at 7 p.m. in Annapolis. A key part of the Star Series presented by USAA, the Mids will host their service academy rivals from New York in a matchup of two of the Patriot League’s top-five teams. Navy comes into the contest at the Glenn Warner Soccer Facility with a 8-4-3 record and a 4-1 mark in Patriot League play, while Army will enter at 6-3-5, 2-2-1 in league action.
Women’s Soccer — Boise State at Air Force (Friday, 10/12, 8:00PM EST)
The Air Force Academy women’s soccer team returns home to play the first of its final two home matches of the 2018 season when it plays host to Boise State, Friday, Oct. 12. The Falcons had their third straight 0-1-1 weekend, as they dropped another 0-1 match, this time to Colorado State. They followed that up with a 1-1 draw at Wyoming. They’re looking to turn their luck around this Friday.
Women’s Volleyball — Nevada at Air Force (Saturday, 10/13, 3:00PM EST)
After a short weekend on the road, the Air Force volleyball team returns to the Academy this weekend for a pair of Mountain West contests. The Falcons, who are 12-7 overall and 8-3 at home, will welcome Nevada to Cadet West Gym on Saturday, Oct. 13. Air Force holds a 5-8 series record against Nevada.
Women’s Volleyball — Bucknell at Army West Point (Saturday, 10/14, 3:00PM EST)
On Saturday, October 14, Army West Point hosts Bucknell at Gillis Field House for a Patriot League match-up. Both Army and Bucknell are currently struggling for a positive record — and Saturday’s meeting just might be the switch in momentum needed.
Men’s Soccer — Yale at Army West Point (Tuesday, 10/16, 7:00PM EST)
Yale is headed to West Point to face Army on Clinton Field. The Bulldogs are currently sitting at 4-4-2, but have to face Cornell before going up against the Black Knights on Tuesday. Both teams have been cooling off lately and are desperately seeking a win.
It’s the goal of almost every young corpsman who enters into their first unit to one day earn a Fleet Marine Force pin. Like everything else in the military, the pin is earned through plenty of hardship and many hours of studying.
The FMF pin itself has a beautiful design. It’s an extension of the Marine Corps’ Eagle, Globe, and Anchor, adorned with a wave that’s crashing onto a beach, signifying the historical sands of Iwo Jima. Two crossed rifles lie behind the globe, symbolizing the rifleman’s ethic that this program is designed to instill into sailors assigned to Marine Corps units.
(Photo by Marine Cpl. Rose A. Muth)
Before a corpsman can proudly wear the badge, each sailor has to prove themselves through a series of written tests and oral boards. These tests are stringent, but we’ve come up with a few tips to help you navigate your way into earning the beloved pin.
Sailors with the Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force listen as their senior Fleet Marine Force corpsmen instruct them on FMF knowledge at the unit’s task force aid station.
(Photo by Marine Cpl. Paul S. Martinez)
Study the manual
When a sailor checks into their first unit, they will receive a thick book full of Marine Corps knowledge that’s nearly impossible to memorize. It’s a good thing you won’t have to.
The information within the manual is divided up into three different sections: the Marine Division (infantry), Marine Logistics Group (supply), and the Marine Air Wing (pilots and sh*t).
Outside of Marine Corps history, all you have to study are the sections that apply to you — which is still a sh*tload.
Learn by doing
For many sailors, it’s tough to sit down, read from a book, and retain all the information you need to qualify. Many of us learn better by doing. Go through the channels necessary to get your hands on a few weapon systems so you can learn the disassembly and reassembly process. Do this before you go in front of the FMF board.
Have your Marines quiz you
Remember how we talked about getting your hands on those weapon systems? Nobody knows those suckers better than the Marines who use them every day. So, when you’re with your new brothers, have them put you through a crash course on their gear.
Hospital Corpsman Billy Knight get pinned with his Fleet Marine Force Warfare Specialist pin by Chief Petty Officer Garry Tossing during a ceremony at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan.
(Photo by Sgt. Justin Shemanski)
Board while on deployment
When you go before the board to earn your pin, you should know everything, inside and out. That being said, most sailors don’t pass the board on their first time up.
If you opt to be evaluated stateside, the board will expect you to know everything there is to know, since you’re not on deployment and patrolling daily. If you board while on deployment, they usually stick to the basics — you’re under enough as it is patrolling the enemies’ backyard.
Secondly, studying for your FMF is an excellent way to pass the time — and it gives you a solid goal to accomplish before you pack up and go home. Frankly speaking, getting pinned by your Marine brothers is a great way to end a stressful deployment.
When I left the military, I thought I had to give up part of who I was. In a way, I did, but I also didn’t realize the importance and value of being a veteran. I thought that leaving the service was closing a chapter and simply starting the next thing – which at the time happened to be my new role as a mom and military spouse. I didn’t see my role of being a veteran carrying any weight. Of course, I knew I was a veteran from my six years of active-duty service, but I didn’t feel welcome enough in the veteran space to even find out what it meant to serve in that role.
Our focus often goes to our new roles. You raise your hand or stand up at various events or ceremonies thanking you for your service, and that is what you think being a veteran is. But being a veteran is not something you were; it is a part of who you are. And for a long time, you can miss out on the community that you are searching for, not knowing what you are looking for. It can feel like you gave up everything about who you were, and somehow because you are no longer in the military, your story and voice don’t matter.
But you are wrong. Not only does your voice matter, but it is also needed. Just like in the male-dominated military, your unique perspective as a woman and as a veteran is important for solving problems, making changes and leaving a legacy. That hasn’t changed because you took your uniform off.
Your story does matter, and you can make a difference for other veterans if you take the first step of getting involved. In the past five years, we have started to see a change in the veteran space. More women veterans are stepping up and using their voice as a powerful tool to not only bring to light the struggles women veterans face but bringing more females into the veteran community and helping to bring change.
These are a handful of the leading organizations making change for women veterans.
Women’s Veterans Interactive
Women’s Veterans Interactive (WVI), created by Ginger Miller, addresses the unique and often unrecognized challenges facing our nation’s two million women veterans as they return to civilian life. WVI focuses on meeting women veterans at their point of need while breaking down barriers leading to homelessness. WVI holds an annual conference focused on Leadership and Diversity in which they bring together women veterans with a wide variety of speakers and topics. The conference ends with an awards dinner recognizing women veterans for the work they do.
Service Women’s Action Network
Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) is the voice of all military women. They are committed to seeing that all servicewomen receive the opportunities, protections, benefits and respect they deserve. SWAN has three areas to guide them: support, connect and advocate. Support through a network of vetted resources, connect by bringing together military women and organizations across the country to amplify the voices of servicewomen and advocate for women by building a national reputation as a force behind the policy change.
Women in Military Service for America Memorial
Women in Military Service for America Memorial is the only major national memorial honoring all women who have defended America throughout history through exhibits, memorabilia and a cataloged history of the record of over 200,000 women veterans.
Women Veterans Alliance
Women Veterans Alliance (WVA) has the vision to connect over 2 million female veterans for the purpose of sharing our gifts, talents, resources and experiences. Founder Melissa A. Washington is a Navy Veteran who saw a need to bring women veterans to equip, empower and encourage each other. Each year their “Unconference” focuses on one-on-ones, self-care, specialized breakouts and more.
Women of the Military Podcast & The Female Veterans Podcast
Women of the Military Podcast is a place of empowerment and sharing the stories of military women’s past and present with the belief that all stories matter and need to be shared. The podcast allows women to share their stories, and it can bring healing and the ability to let go. So many military women never talk about their experience and feel so alone in their struggles. The podcast brings a dynamic range of stories and experiences to help women not feel so alone. And, if you are looking for more stories of military women, check out The Female Veterans Podcast.
These are just a handful of the many women veteran organizations that have been making an impact and bringing about change to the veteran space. But there is still more work to do. Women often get pulled so far away from the military community that they don’t even realize these resources are available to them. Our voices matter.
I now see why organizations like the Veteran of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the American Legion were so popular after the previous wars ended. There is something about serving in the military that changes you and builds a bond with people who may not look like you or believe what you do, but they are still your brothers and sisters in arms.
And we need that community.
What are your favorite veteran organizations focused on helping women veterans?
As the Chairman and CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, Vince McMahon knows a thing or two about leadership, business, and being successful.
So when he offers advice, it’s a good idea to listen. McMahon did just that in a question answer session specifically for veterans in partnership with American Corporate Partners, a mentorship non-profit for vets (Disclosure: This writer went through ACP’s year-long program in 2011).
On how to keep people motivated without stifling their creativity:
“One of my expressions is to ‘treat every day like it’s your first day on the job.’ When you do that, it either confirms what was done yesterday was right—or it gives you an opportunity to take a fresh look at something. I always ask our employees not to think traditionally in a non-traditional world.”
On what veterans offer to civilian employers:
“Work ethic, leadership, communication skills and time management, as well as the ability to multi-task and work under pressure are traits I believe veterans can offer any organization. At WWE, we recruit experienced talent from a variety of industries and pride ourselves on promoting from within the company.”
On what veterans should do when they are transitioning out of the military:
“Don’t just be satisfied getting a job. Determine what it is you really want to do and be passionate about it. Be tenacious and don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”
On how to choose what to do with your life:
“My advice to anyone is to follow your heart and passion, and reach for the brass ring. You shouldn’t be afraid to try new things. This may mean working long hours in your current career field and then going into business for yourself in your spare time.
You’ll know when the time is right to make the jump in its entirety, but be totally prepared. You need a well-thought out plan of action. Obtain as much professional advice as you possibly can and don’t let your ego get in the way.”
On Sept. 14, 2012, 15 heavily armed Taliban fighters disguised in U.S. Army uniforms infiltrated Camp Bastion, a large Marine Corps and British forces base and Afghan National Army training complex. Camp Bastion could accommodate some 30,000 people, so when the Taliban split into three teams to wreak havoc on the base’s interior, things could have gone very badly for the Marines.
The infiltrators made it all the way to the flight line, where their coordinated, complex attack began by targeting the Marines’ Harrier aircraft. It would be the single biggest loss of American airpower since the Vietnam War. It would also be the first time that the maintainers and pilots of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 (VMA-211) operated as riflemen since World War II.
A video released later showed the attackers dressed for the assault.
The fighting began at 10pm local time with one Taliban team engaging the flight line personnel, another targeting the refueling area, and a third focusing on destroying aircraft using explosives and RPGs. It was an aircraft explosion that signaled the start of the attack.
Within minutes, six Harriers were burning on the tarmac, the Marine helicopter area was surrounded by fires, and the cryogenics and fuel pit areas were on fire as small arms crackled and tracers lit up the night sky. The Taliban brought everything from hand grenades to heavy machine guns and caught the Marines completely off guard.
Lt. Col. Christopher Raible’s memorial.
Marines scrambled to protective barriers as RPGs exploded around the flight line. They initially believed it was an attack of opportunity from outside the base — a random, lucky hit from rockets or mortars. But after ten explosions, one every ten seconds, it was clear that this was more than a few lucky shots. The Troops in Contact alarm began to sound. They called in the British quick reaction force, but they were on the other side of the base and the Marines would have to hold their own until they arrived.
The Marines quickly moved to don their flak jackets and retrieve their rifles. The Taliban weren’t going to stop at the aircraft. They fired RPGs at the building that housed Marine workstations while another hit a building that contained the medical section. An anti-personnel RPG killed the commander of VMA-211, Lt. Col. Christopher Raible, before he could organize a defense. Shrapnel from one of the RPGs lodged in his neck as he was leading a crew full of mechanics and maintainers out into the night as a rifle unit.
By this time, every Marine was operating as a rifleman. Weapons and ammo were doled out to anyone without one and Marines began taking up their fields of fire. The air wing was a total, confusing mess as the fuel bladders blew up, temporarily turning the night into day.
A Huey aircraft commander and two enlisted Marines were the ones who brought the weapons to the flight line area. They went to check on the entry control point and began to take fire from the cryogenics area. A Huey crew chief manned an M240 to suppress the enemy fire.
At the same time, Marines were struggling to get remaining aircraft in the air to provide close-air support. All they could muster was two Hueys and a Cobra, but the Marines managed to get them ready to fly in the midst of the confusing, intense attack. Thick smoke, burning ordnance, and enemy fire loomed as flight line Marines took up defensive positions to cover the helicopters’ takeoff.
One of the Harrier jets destroyed in the raid.
When the helicopters were airborne, things changed quickly on the ground. They told the JTAC to concentrate fire toward the enemy position in the cryogenics facility. When the southern wall of that building lit up with tracers, the AH-1 Cobra helicopter peppered the building with 20mm rounds and UH-1V Venom Hueys tore through it with 300 .50-cal rounds while a gunner on the ground hit it with 600 rounds from a GAU-17.
After the aerial hit, the British quick reaction force arrived and cleared out the infiltrating Taliban in the cryogenics facility with 40mm grenade launchers. That left four Taliban hiding in the T-walls near the flight line. As Marines on the ground attempted to converge on the remaining Taliban attackers, guns from the helicopters eliminated the last of the threat.
When the smoke cleared, two Marines, Lt. Col. Raible and Sgt. Bradley Atwell, had been killed. Allied wounded numbered 17, six Harriers were completely destroyed, and another two were damaged, along with an Air Force C-130E. Three fuel bladders and a few sunshade hangars were also destroyed. All but one of the attacking Taliban fighters were killed in action. The attack caused some 0 million in damages.
Maj. Gen. Charles M. Gurganus, left, and Maj. Gen. Gregg A. Sturdevant were forced to retire just one year after the raid.
(U.S. Marine Corps)
The story doesn’t end there. The Marine Corps wanted to know how 15 heavily armed Taliban fighters were able to get onto the base in the first place. It turned out the commander of Bastion, Maj. Gen. Charles Gurganus, reduced the number of Marines patrolling the base of 30,000 from 325 to 100 just one month before the attack, leaving the base guarded by troops from Tonga. He and Maj. Gen. Gregg Sturdevant were forced to retire in the days following the incident. Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James Amos, said the two failed to accurately assess the strength and capabilities of the enemy in the area and failed to protect their troops.
Sturdevant was the Marine aviation commander of the base and was blamed for inadequate force protection measures on the flight line area that night. The two Marines who went to check the entry control point found it unmanned before they started taking fire from the cryogenics facility. Meanwhile, the British review of the attack found that only 11 of 24 guard towers were manned that night. Both generals retired with fully pay and benefits.
Later, it would be revealed that the attackers spent months posing as poppy farmers, probing the base defenses and testing reactions from perimeter guards. They were able to map out the base, its defenses, its fuel farms, and the airfield. They were even trying to target Prince Harry, who was stationed on the base at that time.