Capt. Josh Powers (far left) of the 101st Airborne Division gathers the males of the village for a shura in eastern Afghanistan.
COMBAT OUTPOST YOSEF KHEL – The brief was held in the early morning in front of battalion headquarters in the shadow of a Conex box. The mission was to get the governor of Paktika Province from the capital of Sharana to a shura – a traditional Afghan meeting of regional tribal elders with government officials – at the small town of Yahya Khel 25 miles to the south. Because of the threat of small arms fire, rocket propelled grenades, and IEDs along the route, the men of the U.S. Army charged with getting the governor safely to the shura and back elected to use a convoy of four MRAPs.
Once off of the forward operating base and at Sharana’s town center the American convoy was joined by a handful of up-armored Humvees from the Afghan National Army and nearly a dozen armed pickup trucks from the Afghan Uniformed Police. The Afghan governor was placed in the second MRAP in the convoy along with the American battalion commander and his interpreter (known simply as “Chewy”).
As the convoy started its push out of Sharana, the battalion commander expressed concern to the governor that the sub-governor of Yahya Khel had heard about the shura from an unauthorized source, which in turn was an indicator of possible hostile activity along the route. The colonel’s concerns were somewhat mitigated by a stronger than usual presence of Afghan National Army troops along the roadway, and the convoy made it through the bottleneck hotspots without incident.
As the lead vehicles made it to the bazaar at Yahya Khel – the largest in the province – The colonel suggested to the governor that he lead the meeting that would take place before the shura, thereby furthering the impression that the governor was fully in charge. The governor agreed.
Once inside the confines of the combat outpost at Yahya Khel, the parties dismounted their vehicles. While the security forces set about bolstering the perimeter, the military and civilian officials made their way to the “pre-brief,” joining a handful of their peers who’d preceded them.
Inside the small room the participants sat on weathered chairs and rugs and pillows against the far wall. Sun-faded posters of Afghanistan and Harmed Karzai dotted the plaster walls. Several attendants dutifully poured milky tea into clear mugs as officials got into place.
The governor took the lead as the American colonel had suggested.
“Can somebody explain the situation to me?” he asked in Pasto. “How many of the enemy do we have?”
The sub-governor answered matter-of-factly: “The government cannot guarantee the security of the people against the Taliban.” With that, the discussion grew heated, with various officials either pointing fingers at other agencies or explaining that they couldn’t do their jobs because of improper resources. The sub-governor complained that the ANA didn’t listen to his needs. The Afghan Uniformed Police chief said one of the ANA generals told him he couldn’t have ammunition because the police force was “not for fighting.”
A U.S. Army company commander, the American military officer most keenly focused on the area around Yahya Khel, added his thoughts during a brief lull in the discussion: “The main problem is a population that is willing to work with the Taliban because many of the Taliban are from the area.” He also pointed to a lack of Afghan-generated intelligence fusion around Yahya Khel, which kept forces from seizing the initiative and proactively preventing attacks on the district center and surrounding areas.
After several displeased officials walked out in the middle of a discussion about cell phone tower security, the governor bemusedly declared the meeting over. The group shuffled out of the pre-brief room and walked down a dirt and gravel alley bordered by high walls and guard towers pockmarked with large-caliber bullet holes and RPG shrapnel. Inside an adjacent building the district elders had gathered for the shura.
With the help of an interpreter (center), First Lieutenant Marcus Smith (right) discusses the needs of the village of Mest with tribal elders. (Photo: Ward Carroll)
The elders (a misnomer of sorts as some of them appeared relatively young) crouched on the dusty concrete floor in front of the governor, who stood behind a modest table at the front of the room.
“I am here to hear your problems,” the governor pronounced. He considered the faces of those before him and asked, “Why are you so sad? You have to be happy. Afghanistan is not like it was 30 years ago. Other countries are spending money in Afghanistan. Don’t send your children to Pakistan or Iran to work. They need to stay here.”
The governor went on to outline his strategy and what he needed from the elders and their charges. He asked them to help the security forces and not work with the Taliban. He urged them to send their children to school. And, like any good politician, he reminded them of the election coming up and told them that they were a very important part of the process.
The governor finished his opening remarks by insisting that the insurgents are not as numerous as their propaganda might have indicated, and further, they were not true Muslims. “Stop an insurgent and ask him to recite one of Muhammad’s speeches,” he said.
The governor was followed by several government officials – the chief of police and the education minister – who shared a common theme: “Tell us your problems and we will work to solve them.”
But when the floor was turned over to the elders, one-by-one those who stood up emphatically said they had asked the government for help but their requests had fallen on deaf ears.
The elders’ airing of grievances was suddenly interrupted by the dull thud of an explosion in the distance followed by another and another, each sounding closer to the city than the last. There were four total. Uniformed personnel (including American forces present) hurried out of the entrance to investigate as the elders exchanged concerned glances. Governor Sameen continued the proceedings, expression underselling the potential threat the explosions might have posed to those in attendance.
The governor ended the shura with a simple sentiment: “Right people always win; wrong people always lose.”
Meanwhile, as the elders and government officials sat for a traditional post-shura lunch, the American military forces were in the tactical operations center busily trying to figure out from which direction the mortars had been fired. The TOC’s laptop computer screens showed images broadcast from high-powered cameras mounted on the roof. The cameras repeatedly moved side to side, scanning the surrounding fields and tree lines but came up empty.
On the roof gunners focused along their designated fields of fire. The American Army company commander explained that one of the enemy’s common tactics was to lob mortars into the fields to the north as a misdirection play followed by small arms fire and RPGs from the wooded grove to the southwest. Overhead a Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet awaited tasking from the radio-laden Air Force tactical air controller standing next to the Army captain.
A half hour passed without any follow-on attacks or any sign of where the original attack had emanated from. Without any coordinates to offer, the controller requested that the Super Hornet perform a “motivational pass.” The carrier-based Navy jet complied, roaring loudly overhead at about 500 feet then pulling dramatically into a climb.
The post-shura lunch concluded, and the security situation was deemed stable enough to allow the convoy to man-up and move out, back-tracking along the route it had taken a few hours earlier. In the command vehicle the colonel asked the governor if he shared his sense that the elders had done a lot of complaining about those trying to help them while letting the Taliban off the hook. The govenor pushed back a bit, pointing out the stat he had put out during his opening remarks that the Taliban were killing one elder a day – 30 a month. In return the governor pronounced the shura a qualified success.
And as the convoy snaked and bumped its way north, the insurgents re-initiated their attack on Yayha Khel, this time more brazen. They pinned down a U.S. Army dismounted patrol on the outskirts of the city with small arms fire while their mortars fell into the bazaar and closer to the observation post. Reports crackled over the radio that the walls to the city had been breached. Units in adjacent areas were put on alert and made ready to assist their comrades. A Marine Corps Cobra attack helicopter answered the call for airborne firepower, but by the time it had arrived American ground forces had pushed the insurgents back into the ether from which they’d emerged.
The enemy message associated with the timing and intensity of the attack was unmistakable: Shuras don’t mean peace.
There are a lot of choice for veterans to leverage their time in the military to get great financial services at a competitive cost. The fact that so many businesses and bank are geared towards veterans is a blessing but one institution stands out among the rest – and has for nearly a century.
The financial institution was founded in 1922 after a group of Army veterans took it upon themselves to secure their own need for auto insurance. In doing so, they provided for their fellow veterans. The USAA of today carries that tradition on, with 12.4 million members and offering auto insurance, along with insurance for homeowners and renters, retirement planning, and, of course, banking services. When other banks were teetering on the edge of failure during the financial crisis, USAA actually grew. This is an institution that is as solid as a dollar.
USAA’s original purpose is still one of its best offerings – and one of the best offerings. Even in competition with the civilian world’s best insurers, going with USAA can save its membership at least 0 on their premiums, even for high risk drivers who may have a DUI or more on their records. JD Power even gave USAA a 5/5 rating on their customer service and satisfaction records.
They also offer a car buying service that can sometimes save their members money in buying any kind of vehicle.
Everyone knows too much credit debt is not a good thing, but having a card open with a low balance enlarges your purchasing power and is actually good for your credit report. Still, it’s important to be responsible with your credit. That being said, that kind of responsibility includes deciding which card is right for you. USAA offers a few credit cards designed to fit the lives of military members, veterans, and their families. The USAA Rewards American Express Card and Reward Visa offers the best cashback bonuses a military member can find. USAA’s credit cards also offer some of the lowest interest rates and APRs found anywhere.
Easy banking services
Any bank or financial institution who says they offer the best interest rates on savings accounts may have a bridge to sell you. Most savings accounts can offer two percent at the most. While USAA doesn’t offer quite that much, its banking services are stellar. Since they have few physical locations or ATMs, the bank offers reimbursements on ATM fees and no monthly service fees. On top of that, there’s no minimum balance and their rates are still competitive. They also offer free funds transfers between accounts.
If you’re planning for retirement and want a low-risk security, you could hardly do better than some of USAA’s mutual fund offerings. USAA manages its own mutual funds and, in the face of the 2008 financial crisis, the USAA Income Fund (USAIX) posted a 19 percent return while much of the rest of the market struggled to break even or even minimize their expected losses. The reason? While USAIX invests heavily in corporate debt, the fund’s mantra is still about minimizing risk.
TV doctor pose!
Other services and support
There are a couple of life insurance options, including one for military members only if SGLI isn’t enough. On top of that, they can get great rates for health, dental, and vision insurance as well as umbrella insurance for protection against things not covered by other kinds of insurance, like legal judgements. For per month you can be protected from lawsuits up to id=”listicle-2640236181″ million. But this veteran-oriented financial institution does so much more
USAA sponsors amazing veteran-oriented events and organizations – like the Military Influencer Conference, a three-day conference of service members, veterans, and spouses who work to elevate the military veteran community. The 2019 Military Influencer Conference is sponsored by USAA and brings together the brightest stars in the military-veteran entrepreneurial community to learn and share their business-building knowledge.
Boeing Co. has unveiled a new concept for an unmanned fighter that would work autonomously alongside fourth- and fifth-generation fighter aircraft.
Dubbed the Airpower Teaming System, the drone-jet hybrid would be a multi-mission craft using artificial intelligence to conduct intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions to supply pilots with more information during a conflict, according to the company.
The aircraft, which Boeing is co-developing with the government of Australia for that country, was unveiled at the Avalon Airshow.
The jet is 38 feet long and can fly more than 2,000 nautical miles, the company said. It uses A.I. “to fly independently or in support of manned aircraft while maintaining safe distance between other aircraft,” according to its fact sheet.
Boeing intends to hold its maiden flight sometime in 2020.
The concept is similar to an ongoing U.S. military effort.
A full-scale model of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System air vehicle.
The concept is part of the service’s Air Superiority 2030 road map, which the Air Force debuted in 2016. The road map outlines next-generation air dominance, defined as advanced fighter aircraft, sensors or weapons — or all of the above — in a growing and unpredictable threat environment.
Big Russia-China war games are apparently going to be routine going forward, the Russian defense minister revealed Sept. 12, 2018.
“We have agreed to conduct such exercises on a regular basis,” General Sergei Shoigu stated Sept. 12, 2018, as he toured the Tsugol firing range in eastern Siberia where thousands of Russian and Chinese troops are training together for war. The defense minister was accompanied by Chinese General Wei Fenghe at the time of the announcement, which comes as both Russia and China confront the US.
During Sept. 12, 2018’s exercises, Russian strategic bombers launched long-range cruise missiles at a firing range while warships opened fire on targets at sea, the Associated Press reported. There are at least 300,000 Russian troops, 36,000 vehicles, and 1,000 aircraft taking part in the Vostok 2018 exercises, the largest Russian war games in decades, CNN reported, citing the Russian Ministry of Defense.
Shoigu said previously that the drills were being held on an “unprecedented scale both in territory and number of troops involved.” China deployed 900 combat vehicles and 30 aircraft, along with 3,200 troops, to the drills. Mongolia also sent troops to participate.
The strengthening of military ties between Russia and China is particularly alarming given rising tensions between each country and Washington.
China has grown bolder in the South China Sea, deploying advanced weapons platforms to the disputed waterway and challenging foreign ships and planes that fly or sail too close to territorial holdings occupied by China while Beijing argues with Washington over everything from trade to North Korea. Russia, on the other hand, has gone so far as to threaten to conduct strikes on a key US-led coalition base in Syria and fly strategic bombers near Alaska, risky moves amid deteriorating relations between Russia and the US.
Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning said Sept. 10, 2018, that the US respects Russia and China’s decision to hold military exercises, something the US also does with its allies and international partners. He added, though, that the US is watching these exercises closely.
Featured image: Russian armored personnel carriers roll during the military exercises in the Chita region, Eastern Siberia, during the Vostok 2018 exercises in Russia.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
During his 12-year NFL career, Jared Allen was a heavyweight defensive player, making his presence known on multiple teams, especially the Minnesota Vikings. It was as a Viking that Allen went on a trip that touched his heart and soul, touring with USO to visit servicemen and women deployed overseas. He even told the assembled troops as much.
“It has been one of the best experiences of my life – something that I’ll never forget,” Allen said of his time visiting troops. “We, as players, probably get more out of it than you do as soldiers and Marines.” Even though his grandfather and younger brother were Marines, the experience changed Allen, inspiring him to create his own charity to support America’s wounded.
Even after he was traded to Chicago and later Carolina, Jared Allen’s Homes for Wounded Warriors carried on no matter where Allen was playing. Even though he’s listed as one of the 50 Greatest Minnesota Vikings of all time, the uniform he wore on the field wasn’t what defined him. If you ask the man himself, he’ll tell you what he does off the field is what matters most.
“Football is what I do, it’s not who I am. The things that we do today — to impact these lives, to change people’s lives — can last forever,”he told SB Nation. “We have a great responsibility to the community that supports us, and to our veterans who allow us to do what we do.”
Former Vikings defensive end Jared Allen presents free Super Bowl LII tickets to eleven-year-old Tallon Kiminski, son of Minnesota Air National Guard member, Maj. Jodi Grayson.
(U.S. Air National Guard photos by Capt. Nathan T. Wallin)
When it comes to helping wounded veterans, Jared Allen is a godsend. On its website, the JAH4WW says, “Jared was moved by the commitment, dedication, and sacrifices that our soldiers make every day to protect our freedom. He wanted to say thank you to every soldier in the only way that Jared knows how. By embracing the conflict and making a positive life-changing difference in the lives of those who need it most, Jared and his JAH4WW will help make life for wounded vets just a little bit easier.”
Talk is big, but in practice, Jared Allen is much, much bigger than just words. Since its founding in 2009, his organization has helped raise funds to build or revamp homes for injured veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, raised tens of thousands of dollars from corporations like Wal-Mart and Proctor Gamble to provide everyday household goods for veteran families in need, and on Veterans Day, you can always find the now-retired Allen doing something to help veterans in need.
NFL player Larry Fitzgerald signs an autograph for troops from the Washington Army National Guard at Camp Ramadi, Iraq, along with Will Witherspoon from the St. Louis Rams, Jared Allen from the Minnesota Vikings, and Danny Clark from the New York Giants in 2009.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Emily Suhr)
“I knew I had to do something to serve our country,” Allen once said of the Jared Allen Homes for Wounded Warriors. “I feel the best way to do that is serve those who serve us.”
The United States military is a brotherhood and sisterhood like no other. Those who serve together form a common sense of purpose and devotion to duty. It’s a level of trust not commonly found in civilian life. Those military friendships last forever. But as life moves, and when people leave the military, they often lose touch with those friends, some of whom they would have given their life for.
Tracking down old friends, particularly if you have been out of the service many years, is not always easy. But there is one company that can help. Together We Served (TWS) is a veteran-only website, launched in 2003. It provides veterans a highly-effective means to reconnect with old service-friends by simply entering their service history on their TWS Military Service Page.
TWS built an individual website for each branch of service and, with over 1.9 million veteran members, the chances of finding people you served with is high.
The secret behind TWS’s ability to connect more veterans is the depth of its databases. Over the past 16 years, TWS has built one of the most comprehensive databases of U.S. Military training and operating units in existence. Its databases span from WW2 to present day.
Military Service Page.
Sample Together We Served Military Service Page
By creating your Military Service Page on Together We Served, you can not only find veterans who went to the same basic training as you, or served in the same units or duty stations, but also those who participated in the same combat or non-combat operations. TWS’s search engine automatically matches the service information you enter on your Military Service Page with the service information on the Military Service Pages of all other TWS members. Those members, whose entries could match yours, get listed on your Service Page. That is what enables you to make contact with those you may know. This powerful feature helps veterans remember forgotten names.
Finding key people on TWS can be very helpful, especially if you need or can provide witness account to support a potential VA claim.
Take this opportunity to reconnect with the servicemen and women you shared some of the most important times of your life with. In recognition of your service, Together We Served provides all VA veterans with a FREE one year premium membership, providing unlimited people searches, when you join TWS via the following link:
An elite group of “patriotic” students in China have been selected to begin training for new artificial intelligence weapons development program.
31 kids — all under 18 — have been recruited to participate in the “Experimental Program for Intelligent Weapons Systems” at the Beijing Institute of Technology, South China Morning Post reported Nov. 8, 2018, citing an announcement from the Beijing Institute of Technology. The program selected 27 boys and four girls from more than 5,000 applicants, the school’s website said, according to the Post.
“These kids are all exceptionally bright, but being bright is not enough,” a BIT professor who asked not to be identified told the Post.
“We are looking for other qualities such as creative thinking, willingness to fight, a persistence when facing challenges,” he said. “A passion for developing new weapons is a must … and they must also be patriots.”
According to the program’s brochure, each student will be mentored by two weapons scientists with both academic and defense backgrounds. The kids will later be tasked with choosing a specialization within the weapons sector and will be assigned to the relevant defense laboratory to hone their skills under the guidance of experts.
The institute expects students will go on to complete doctorate degrees and become leaders in the field of AI weapons technology, the Post said.
China has been outspoken about its interest in developing AI technology
And while China has largely kept the development of its AI-weapons technology opaque, Elsa B. Kania an adjunct fellow at the Center for a New American Security, predicts that China’s army will “likely leverage AI to enhance its future capabilities, including in intelligent and autonomous unmanned systems.”
But experts have repeatedly warned about the dangers of AI
Experts have repeatedly warned about the dangers AI, arguing that advanced systems which can make thousands of complex decisions every second could have “dual-use” to help or harm, depending on its design.
In February 2018, AI experts across industries outlined in a 100-page report the dangers of AI technology and how the technology could be weaponized for malicious use. Aside from using AI technology for attacks in the digital realm, the technology could be used in the physical realm to turn technology, like drones, into weapons and attack targets at the push of a button or the click of a mouse.
On October 25, 1983, the United States invaded the tiny island nation of Grenada. It was a “no-notice” invasion for the U.S. troops that deployed there. Here are eight facts about this small but potent combat operation.
1. Urgent Fury avenged the death of Grenada’s Marxist Prime Minister.
Maurice Bishop came to power after a coup in 1979. His revolutionary government banned other political parties and was led by a Marxist committee. When Bishop refused to share power four years later, he was arrested and executed.
2. The U.S. was invited to intervene.
The Governor-General of Grenada, Paul Scoon, was also arrested during the coup and held under house arrest. When Bishop was executed, Scoon understandably freaked out a little. As Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II’s appointed representative, he had little real authority, except for a constitutional provision that allowed him to appeal to other nations for help. He soon asked the U.S. to intervene. When the invasion began, Navy SEALs came to his aid.
3. It was a Coalition invasion force.
The invasion was led by the United States, of course, but other Eastern Caribbean countries were also in the invasion force. the Regional Security System was formed from the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States. Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines all assisted in the takeover of Grenada’s government. Grenada was also a member of the OECS before the 1983 coup.
4. Rangers led the way in Grenada.
The 1st and 2nd Ranger Battalions along with special operations troops and Air Force Combat Controllers captured Point Salines on Oct. 25, 1983 in a large-scale combat jump. By Nov. 3, the invasion was over and hostilities ended.
5. U.S. troops faced Cuban soldiers for the first time.
Cuban-American relations soured after Fidel Castro’s Communist takeover. Events like the 1962 Missile Crisis and Cuban support for Communist ventures abroad only exacerbated the relationship, but the two forces never engaged each other in direct combat – until Grenada. Of the 772 Cuban troops deployed there, Havana suffered 25 killed, 59 wounded, and 638 captured.
6. Only one military movie features Urgent Fury.
The story of surrounded U.S. troops on the island who called back to the States to get some artillery support was not only true, it was retold on the silver screen. In “Heartbreak Ridge” it was Gunnery Sgt. Highway’s Marines who called back. The SEALs say it was one of theirs, while others believe it was an Army officer.
7. The UH-60 saw action for the first time.
Three UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters prepare to touch down next to the Point Salines Airport runway during Operation Urgent Fury. (DoD photo)
It was a trial by fire for the UH-60, as the now-iconic Black Hawk helicopter was first introduced by the Army in 1979. Urgent Fury would be the first operation use of the aircraft against an enemy in combat. The new aircraft was “faster and quieter” than previous transports and was found to be a “more reliable platform than the UH-1.”
8. It was the first joint operation since Vietnam.
As the story of a U.S. troop calling for air support with a payphone demonstrates, the “joint” aspect of the operation did not go well. The operation was a success despite the failures of service interoperability. Failures in command and control highlighted the need for changes. The Goldwater-Nichols Act restructured the U.S. military based partly on the Grenada invasion’s “deficiencies in the planning and preparation for employment of U.S. military forces in times of crisis.”
I never went to Afghanistan. Iraq was my war, and when I think back about my deployments, there are very few things that I miss. I definitely don’t relish the sand storms or the dirt or the myriad of dangers lurking behind every piece of trash (and there is a sh#%load of trash).
Instead, I sometimes think back to those quiet moments of deployment, especially ones when I needed the rush of nicotine before stepping off on patrol or the pull of a long drag to settle down from one. Those frequent cigarette breaks with my fellow Marines were some of the most memorable moments of my life. I cherish them.
It’s been a decade since I was in the sandbox and I don’t smoke anymore, but as I unlock the door to We Are The Mighty, I have the crazy urge to light up. I’m nervous. Unlike other conflicts in our history, there isn’t a sacred place, a monument, for veterans of my generation to visit and reflect on our war and maybe even smoke a cigarette like old times. While that place may come someday, today we only have each other, and that’s why I’m nervous. I’m about to meet Staff Sgt. David Bellavia, the first and only living Medal of Honor recipient from the Iraq war.
The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest award for valor, and it often comes at a significant price. Since WWII, 60% of all medals awarded for valor are posthumous and, for those who are able to receive the medal while living, the process is often long and arduous. Many are forced to relive and describe one of the worst days of their life — over and over again. As I prepare for the interview, I want to be sensitive to all Staff Sgt. Bellavia and his platoon in the 2-2 Ramrod faced during their war. But their story is special. They fought, and Staff Sgt. Bellavia earned his honor during hand-to-hand combat while clearing houses [Official Citation] in one of the most iconic battles: Fallujah.
Fallujah is a place that almost every Iraq war veteran has heard of. Like Iwo Jima or Hue, this battle defines an entire war. As I contemplate this idea, Staff Sgt. Bellavia and his full Army escort enter my office. As I reach out to shake Staff Sgt. Bellavia’s hand, I can’t help but think I am shaking the hand of a man who is the living monument to my war.
As I meet Staff Sgt. Bellavia, thankfully, he calms my nerves. First, he’s a very humble, open guy. He introduces himself as “Dave.” A modest father of three who’s been called back to service to tour the country in the wake of his medal ceremony. Second, he’s funny — like, really funny. He cracks a joke about how hard it is to put on a uniform after fifteen years, and I can relate; there’s no way I could wear my uniform now either. This is exactly the kind of guy who I would share a cigarette with. We laugh together as the cameras turn on.
Staff Sgt. David Bellavia MOH Lincoln Memorial Visit.
Welcome to We Are The Mighty. So, we all have a crazy story of how we got in uniform… What’s yours?
DB: Sure. I joined the Army in 1999. My Army story’s a little bit crazy because my son was born with some birth defects. He’s good now, but the Army didn’t know what to do. So they put me on what’s called a “compassionate reassignment.” So right out of basic training, infantry cord, I go to a recruiting station for two and a half years, which is the worst gig because you’re not a recruiter, you’re not an infantryman. You’re just there telling the Army story, which you don’t know anything of because you don’t have an Army story. And when September 11th happened, the Army was like, “Hey, your son’s not officially healthy. You either get out or go on what’s called an ‘All Others Tour.'”
What’s an “All Other’s Tour”?
DB: So, I had a choice of basically getting out of the Army or just going for three years without my family… and I chose the Army. And so I went to Germany for three years. I didn’t see the family except for block leave, and that was really tough. But it was the best decision I made because of the relationships and the guys, it was really special.
Special? How so?
DB: Yeah. It’s always great to introduce young 18-year-old Americans to Bavarian beer.
Haha. Nice. Did you deploy from there?
DB: Yeah. I deployed to Kosovo in 2002, and then back-to-back from Kosovo to Iraq for 12 months, 2004 to 2005.
Kosovo? What was that like?
DB: It’s unbelievable. The one thing that I learned is that, for whatever reason, those kids in Kosovo could burn a DVD of a movie that is still in production. I don’t even know … they’re like, “Hey, have you seen X-Men 2?” I’m like, “It comes out in a month,” and like, “Here it is.” I’m like, “How is that possible? How do you have access to B-roll footage of a Marvel film before it’s made?” But these guys, [they] can’t figure out plumbing. [They] can’t get a mass transit system, but [they] can burn any movie within hours of Ron Howard saying, cut.” It’s done. It’s crazy.
Do you have a family history of military service?
DB: I grew up on Lake Ontario. Small little town. My dad was a dentist. I was the youngest of four kids. Every one of my brothers has like either multiple master’s degrees or like PhDs. I had two brothers who went to seminary. My grandad was in the Normandy campaign. [Not] D-Day. This was the 35 days after D-Day, but it was the hedgerows, ton of fighting. He would tell me his World War II stories at like … I’d be six years old just listening to this stuff. He’s still with us. He’s 99.
Was he your inspiration for joining the Army?
DB: The other thing was, I remember in high school, before the book came out, before there was a ‘Black Hawk Down’ movie, I watched the [bodies] being just dragged through the streets [of Mogadishu], that really affected me. I wanted to avenge that.
So before you got into the Army, what did courage mean to you?
DB: I had no idea what I was getting into. They told me 11 XRAY meant like extra special infantry. So courage to me was being able to endure rain and having wet socks because there was no thought of combat. Kosovo was the big war and no offense, but it wasn’t really much of a war. It was kind of a … when I got to Kosovo it was like, “Hey, take your helmets off. Soft cap.”
Let’s jump ahead. So you end up in 2-2 from 1st Infantry Division, The Ramrods. And now we’re at war with Iraq. What does that feel like?
DB: Well, I mean, first of all, we’re watching the invasion of Iraq in like a chow hall with a potato bar in Kosovo. And so the 1st Infantry Division had such an incredible legacy of just always being first to fight. We had our own movie. I remember watching The Big Red One movie, if I’m going to join the Army, I want to be in The Big Red One. No one questioned why Lee Marvin was like a 62-year-old squad leader in D-Day. You know what I mean? He’s got all white hair.
Yeah, he must have been passed over a few times…
DB: Do you know what I’m saying? Like, why is he here? I love that movie. I loved just all the stories of what The Big Red One stood for. And the take away was that, we were a peacekeeping, forward-deployed division in Germany and a war was happening in Afghanistan. A war was happening in Iraq, and we were going to miss out on it. And so my chain of command took it upon themselves in nine months of Kosovo to just train us for what was coming down the road. And we hated that because we were doing 15-hour patrols and presence and yet we were doing bunker drills and clearing houses and my God, all that training ended up saving our life because we were so ready when the fight initially came.
A year later, you were in Iraq outside Fallujah. And it was also your birthday?
DB: Yeah, November 10th  was my 29th birthday. And I just remember thinking … as a kid, I’d walk through a cemetery, and I would see people born and died on the same day on their tombstone. And I just thought, “Man, that’s gotta just be the worst.” I was just, “Get me to midnight. At least I can have something different on there.” There were a lot of times where you just give up.
And you were a squad leader at this point?
How did you manage the stress maybe even fear that you were about to lead your soldiers in one of the most violent battles of the Iraq war?
DB: When I was on block leave from Iraq, I ran into a crusty Vietnam guy, and he told me … I was telling him everything I was going through. I was so mad. I saw like a UPS guy, and I couldn’t understand why people were normal. They had no connection to what the hell was happening. And I was looking at this UPS guy deliver packages and be so happy, and I’m like, “What the … how is this?” … and this Vietnam guy told me, he’s like, “You still believe that you’re coming home. And once you give that up, once you just acknowledge that you have no control over this, everything is far more manageable. You can compartmentalize everything.” It was the best advice that we had is that it’s not about you… don’t worry about your own survivability, worry about your subordinates, worry about them, put all your … anything that causes stress, put that below your young guys and then if you come home, that’s a bonus.
Is that what you were thinking when you got to a house full of insurgents in Fallujah? The house where you earned the Medal of Honor?
DB: So yeah, this is basically what happened in Fallujah. So [in] Anbar Province, 82nd Airborne leaves, Marine Corps comes in. This is their fight. It’s very awkward to be receiving anything for Fallujah when so many Marines… you got Brian Chontosh, Brad Kasal, and Rafael Peralta, legends in the Marine Corps, did so many incredible things. We were there just to supplement them.
You did much more than support.
DB: Fallujah was left basically unmolested for six months, and the Marine Corps had a very difficult time breaching through. So what ended up happening is everyone was on one side from the north pushing in, and the only real clear breach lane [was ours]. We got into the city expecting everyone to be on our shoulder. And when we pushed through, it took like two days for the rest of the task force to get into the city. In that 48-hour period, we had very little support, and we were pretty much the only game in town. And it developed this really odd way of, you got to your objective, you cleared it, and then you massaged back, started the invasion again, cleared it. Uh-oh, come back, do it again. And so you’re refighting in neighborhoods that you’ve been almost four times at that point. And so we got a report that there were six to eight, possibly 10 bad guys in a little neighborhood block. And we were clearing all these different buildings out and nothing. I mean, we’d get blood, or you’d see a weapons caches, but you just missed the guys, and we finally end up in the last house, and that’s when it all went down.
And then your soldiers get trapped inside?
DB: Yeah. So I’m on one side of the house, the other guys are on the other side, and basically, these guys are shooting belt-fed machine guns through a door. We have to break contact. My two guys outside with 240 Bravos that were John J. Rambo firing those things from the shoulder. Those rounds are coming in, the PKM rounds are coming out. No one can move. If anything that night that really took the most intestinal fortitude, it was standing in that door with that SAW because, again, I don’t know how many people there are. I just know that there’s fire coming out. And I got to be honest with you, you come up with a plan, and then you’re going to execute the plan, and then you just want to stall because your legs won’t walk, your body won’t move.
So you grab a M-249 SAW and charge inside? What were you thinking? What was going through your head at this point?
DB: I remember thinking to myself, “I want to hook my finger around this trigger, not the way we’re trained to do, which is to three-second burst. But if I get hit, I want to just hold it down and just get enough fire.” And as soon as I get in that door frame, I’m looking at these guys [and] they’re not intimidated at all. The SAW was a runaway. On the range, you would break the links, point it to a safe direction. But here it’s just, “Well, I’ll just keep it on them.” I’m not hitting anything, I’m not hitting them, and I just clunk out on ammo. Those 200 rounds went like nanoseconds. It felt like far too quick. So I’m like, “could I have shot 200 rounds at like five feet and missed every single person?” I just found my body just running out of the house. And as I’m doing it, you hear, and you feel rounds everywhere, and you’re just like, “Man, that was worthless.” And so I was upset. I was angry.
And you traded the SAW for an M-4 and went back inside the house?
DB: Well, it was me, [and] Scott Lawson, who died in 2013, but he went in with me, and I had three SAW gunners. I was worried that these [insurgents] were going to run out of the house and we’re going to lose them and then they’re going to kill someone or we’re going to get killed by them down the road. So I set up the SAW gunners around the courtyard, and I was just going to run in there like an idiot and try to push them out. And again, I had no real idea how many were in there. I like my chances against wounded guys that we’ve been shooting at repeatedly. So I figured me and Lawson could at least ding them up and then the next wave of Americans could finish them off.
And you did finish them off. Five to be exact. I have one specific question. There’s a moment that I read about that. Did you smoke a cigarette during the fight?
DB: I did. I did. So, okay, understand that when you’re in [the house] … your night vision works like a cat’s eye, right? I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. I’ve never been in this building before. And after this guy jumps out of a wardrobe and I hit him five times, I was just like, “Man, I need a smoke.” I don’t have my helmet, my IBA is open, I don’t … my rifle is somewhere in the smoke. And I just am like, “You know, I need a smoke right now.”
With the enemy still in the house?
DB: I’m an infantryman. I know how to smoke at night. I’m well-rehearsed at cupping the hands and holding. And so my biggest fear was that my guys were going to come in the building and because I was just around the enemy, I was going to get popped. So I just tried to hug a wall where I knew I couldn’t be hit by anything and just have a quick smoke and that’s when this guy jumps off the roof right in front of me and breaks his leg or does something horrible to himself. But it was just, yeah, it was stress level … that’s the weird thing about that close quarter proximity. You’re super confident. “I’m Thor, I could do all of this, America.” And then you slip and fall and almost get your head blown off, and you’re like, “What am I thinking? I’m an idiot. This was a horrible idea.” And then you see fear in the [enemy’s] eyes, and you’re like, “Oh, they’re scared, I got this, everything’s great.”
That’s the most badass smoke break that I’ve ever heard of.
DB: In the moment, grab a smoke.
Let’s move into afterward. You got out of the Army. What have you been doing since you left?
DB: So I came home right during the whole political soccer ball of Iraq. So I started a group with a bunch of other Marines called Vets for Freedom, and we just went out there and said, “Hey, don’t send us to fight unless you want us to finish it. Right? I mean, we didn’t vote for this thing. We’re the ones adjudicating this fight. You want to defund it. I mean, we lost our buddies out there. This is more important than some political soccer ball.” And so in order to become apolitical, we became uber-political, and I just hated it. That’s not what we wanted to do. So I started focusing more on just veterans in normal life.
Do you think Veterans can find some kind of “normal” in civilian life?
DB: We’re not walking around with high and tights, we’re not wearing camouflage to work, but the type of men and women who served this country are special, and we’re volunteering to do it. And when we come home, we would like to make America as great as we did serving it in uniform and we want to be teachers and we want to be coaches, and we want to lead at home the way we did in battle.
What was it like taking off the uniform and leading in a different way?
DB: The first thing I learned right off the bat is that no civilian wants to know when you’re going to the bathroom. Right? Because I’m accustomed to being like, “Hey, I’m going to go to the bathroom. I’m going to go take a leak.” No civilian ever wants to hear that. So I learned some tough lessons right off the bat.
And now, as a business owner, what do you tell other veterans when you see them?
DB: When I wore the veteran thing on my sleeve, I found that I was a bigger spectacle. And so I just decided to just compartmentalize that. Let it go, move on with your life, tell them, “Oh yeah, I served too,” and most people, especially the Vietnam generation, they didn’t get any of this reflexive love. They didn’t get free tickets to Bush Gardens. They didn’t get applause when they walked through the airport. So I’ve been really appreciative of that Vietnam generation protecting us from what they went through, and also their ability to kind of do a victory lap for our generation when we come home. And these guys in the workplace, what they’ve been able to accomplish. I love that. When I find out someone’s a vet, it’s like a Christian in the Catacomb, a little wink. You do the secret handshake, and that resume goes right to the top. I want that … I don’t care what you did.
You’re also a family man now, what do you tell your kids about courage and service?
DB: I tell them that the United States Army is the greatest … we’ve been fighting bullies since 1775 right? I’ve always told my kids, “I will never … if you come home with a fat lip because you were defending someone who couldn’t defend themselves, I don’t care what the school does, I don’t care what the law does. You will defend people who can’t defend themselves. That is why we’re on this earth.” We’re there to take care of our weaker brother. We’re there to take care of our weaker sister.
You also co-wrote a best selling memoir about your experience in Fallujah called House to House. Can you tell me briefly about the book?
DB: Well, yeah I’ve been going through that for a while. When I came out, there were very few memoirs written but, I don’t know if I would’ve made that choice again because I didn’t want to write [about me]. I wanted to write about my soldiers. My soldiers were the greatest men I’ve ever met in my life. They still are. And what we did together, we weren’t SEALs, we weren’t Green Berets [or] Recon. We were just knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathers. That’s what we were, just average soldiers doing above average things because we found ourselves in those situations.
One last question. Do you still smoke?
DB: I am a recovering smoker. I do some tobacco products here and there and nicotine lozenges, a little dip. But I’m trying to beat that. But now the smoking is definitely gone. I’ve graduated.
Dave, this has truly been an honor. Anything else I missed?
DB: No, you got it.
Click HERE to read more about Staff Sgt. David Bellavia’s actions which, earned him the distinguished role as the first and only living Medal of Honor recipient of the Iraq war.
Many kids want to be a soldier when they grow up. Michael Kelsey, an 11-year-old from Marshfield, Missouri, is one of them.
But he’s a little different since he suffers from a brain tumor.
But recently, Kelsey got to live his dream for one action-packed day.
According to a release from Fort Leonard Wood, Kelsey has not allowed his health problem to keep him from trying to support who he views as real heroes. Kelsey collected various toiletry items to donate to troops. When his mother contacted the local USO to arrange the donation, the topic turned to the 11-year-old’s health.
The Fort Leonard Wood USO then moved to make the sick child’s dream come true. Soon, Kelsey was invited to the installation, which not only conducts Basic Combat Training for new soldiers, but which also hosts the United States Army Maneuver Support Center of Excellence. He arrived under the notion that he would be dropping off the items he had collected; however, once there, he was surprised.
Drill sergeants from C Company, 3rd Battalion, 10th Infantry Regiment, issued Kelsey a uniform in the Operational Camouflage Pattern. Kelsey then got rides in military vehicles, drilled with troops, and, after a meal in the dining facility, met Brig. Gen. James Bonner, commandant of the Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School.
Kelsey visited a number of units at the installation, receiving goodie bags and learning soldier skills at each visit. Col. Tracy Lanier, the base commander, and Command Sgt. Maj. Tyson Gooslby, though, provided the capstone event, naming the 11-year-old to the Honorable Order of “The Rough Riders” to salute his courage. Michael Kelsey is only the 11th individual to receive this honor.
“Thank you to all of the soldiers who helped make this happen,” Kelsey said. “Today was the best day of my life.”
While his future is uncertain due to the tumor, it is safe to say that for a day, the Army managed to win a fight against that medical condition.
Two carriers whose service overlapped by about a year and a half going head to head.
In one corner, we have USS Midway (CV 41), the first of America’s post-World War II aircraft carriers, which served for 46 years and flew everything from the F4U Corsair to the F/A-18 Hornet.
The USS Midway. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
In the other corner, the Russian Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov, which just made her first combat deployment. To borrow a phrase from the Spike network’s Deadliest Warrior: “Which is deadliest?”
The Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov (the ship previously had the names Riga, Leonid Brezhnev, and Tblisi) is a 61,000-ton ship. The Kuznetsov-class carrier can carry about 45 aircraft, including Su-33 Flankers, MiG-29 Fulcrums, and Ka-27 Helix helicopters.
The usual air group is about 15 Su-33s, to grow to 20 MiG-29KR fighters. But the Kuznetsov carries an “ace in the hole” — a dozen P-700 Granit (NATO codename: SS-N-19 Shipwreck) anti-ship missiles, with a range of 388 miles and a top speed of Mach 2.5.
For self-defense the Kuznetsov carries 6 AK-630 Gatling guns, 8 Kortik close-in defense systems (with twin 30mm Gatling guns and SA-N-11 missiles), and 24 eight-round launchers for the SA-N-9 Gauntlet short-range surface-to-air missiles.
The Midway, came in originally at 45,000 tons but grew to about 64,000 tons. At the time the Kuznetsov entered service, her normal air wing consisted of three squadrons of F/A-18 Hornet multi-role fighters (12 planes each), two squadrons of A-6 Intruders (15 planes each), a squadron of E-2C Hawkeyes (four planes), a squadron of EA-6B Prowlers (four planes), and a squadron of SH-3H Sea King anti-submarine helicopters (six helicopters). Originally equipped with 18 five-inch guns, the Midway’s self-defense armament in 1990 was a pair of Mk 29 Sea Sparrow launchers and a pair of Mark 15 Close-In Weapon Systems.
In terms of reliability, the Midway takes the edge, given her 46 years of service that saw a slew of awards, including the Presidential Unit Citation, 17 awards of the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, and a combat record that included three deployments during the Vietnam War and service during Desert Storm.
The Kuznetsov, though, has an edge when it comes to on-board weapons. The SS-N-19 battery gives it an extra anti-ship punch that the Midway just doesn’t have.
The Midway, however, has a decisive advantage when it comes to her air wing. The Kuznetsov’s maximum total of 24 multi-role fighters is dwarfed by Midway’s 36 F/A-18s and 30 A-6 Intruders.
But that doesn’t begin to outline the advantages.
While the Kuznetsov’s Su-33s would probably be the best fighters in the engagement, the American Hornets would have the advantage of support from the Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft and the EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare planes. The Midway’s Intruders, though, would provide a much stronger anti-ship punch with AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles; AGM-123 Skipper laser-guided missiles; AGM-62 Walleye television-guided missile; and GBU-10 laser-guided bombs.
Then there is the situational awareness. The EA-6B electronic warfare aircraft would be jamming the sensors on the Su-33s, while the E-2s would be able to direct the Hornets to carry out their attacks.
The Kuznetsov has no such assets available. This means the Midway’s air wing now only has more raw power, it has two uncontested force multipliers.
To paraphrase Andrew Dice Clay, “Hey, Kuznetsov! Wake up and smell the toast.”
An Army spouse has found her purpose after overcoming homelessness and creating her own organization that gives back.
When Marla Bautista was 18 years old, she was thrown out of her home by her abusive step-father with only a trash bag of clothes and a teddy bear that belonged to her deceased mother. For almost two years she lived a transient lifestyle staying in shelters, with friends and on the streets. It was the generosity of a local Catholic church that changed the trajectory of Bautista’s life.
“There were volunteers who handed out sandwich bags with hygiene items and they didn’t want anything from us. It was just ‘this is for you because you need it.’ And that was something that truly touched my heart. I promised myself that if I ever overcame that situation of homelessness that I would do the same,” she said.
Bautista and her husband, Staff Sgt. Ulisses Bautista, started serving their community as a family in 2011 and would later become The Bautista Project Inc. They began by using their own funds to distribute meals and hygiene bags for the homeless. Their nonprofit now provides basic living essentials, educational resources, support groups, veterans services and community resources for reintegration.
The impact they’ve created near their assigned duty stations has fostered an environment where the homeless can feel like they belong. With this, PCS’ing affects the Bautistas differently.
“Every time we move, we feel like we are leaving a community behind,” she said. But due to the vast amount of homeless in the U.S., there is always a new part of the community to impact.
In the state of Florida alone there are over 28,000 homeless Americans, of which 1500 are local to Hillsborough County in Tampa where the Bautistas currently reside. Although homelessness in America has decreased by 12% since 2007, according to the National Society to End Homelessness, there are still over 567,000 homeless people in the US.
The Bautistas have served the homeless population in Germany, Colorado Springs, New York and now Tampa.
Within a week of PCS’ing to south Florida, they were volunteering in a shelter.
“We have to reintegrate ourselves in that new community,” she adds.
Consistency matters. Her entire family goes out twice a month with meals and care packages, and instead of giving and going, they sit and interact with the locals in need. They get to know them and eventually build friendships.
In 2018 Bautista, with a desire to do more, began reaching out to her fellow military spouses and Facebook friends. With their help, her nonprofit has been able to provide winter jackets, gift a color printer to a shelter, create a small library of free books, raise funds to host a Christmas party at a homeless shelter getting what she calls “real gifts” for the attendees and shelter volunteers and distribute disposable masks. They also continue to collect uniforms to make belonging blankets for homeless youth in group homes or shelter setting.
The Army has been a vehicle allowing them to help in different parts of the world and Bautista’s husband shares her passion for giving to those in need, including homeless veterans. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs reports that as of January 2019 there were 37,085 homeless veterans in the U.S.
Bautista doesn’t judge any of them. “We’ve all fallen on hard times before. It just looks different for everyone,” she said.
One simple thing that she says anyone can do to start giving back is to purchase four gift cards at an essentials store or fast-food restaurants.
“That’s just and you can hand those out,” she says, adding that something this small can provide a meal for a person and the act can change their life.
To donate to The Bautista Project Inc. visit www.thebautistaprojectinc.org. You can purchase items from their Amazon Wishlist or donate directly to their nonprofit.
On May 12, 2018, two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor jets were launched from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, to intercept and visually identify two Russian Tu-95 Bear bombers flying off Alaska, north of the Aleutian Islands, in the ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone).
ADIZs may extend beyond a country’s territory to give the country more time to respond to possible hostile aircraft: in fact any aircraft flying inside these zones without authorization may be identified as a threat and treated as an enemy aircraft, leading to an interception and VID (Visual Identification) by fighter aircraft.
According to NORAD, the Russians were “intercepted and monitored by the F-22s until the bombers left the ADIZ along the Aleutian Island chain heading west,” and, as usual, remained in international airspace.
Nothing special then, considered that these close encounters occur every now and then, as reported in 2017.
What’s a bit more interesting this time is the fact that the Russian Air Force has released some details and footage about the training activities conducted by its long range bombers. During the last round of “winter period” training, five long range missions were launched involving strategic missile carriers Tu-160 and Tu-95MS, as well as long-range Tu-22M3 bombers: these flights brought the Russian aircraft over the Pacific, the Arctic Ocean, Japan, East China, Black, Barents, Norwegian, Northern, Bering and Okhotsk Seas.
On May 12, 2018 mission off Alaska, the F-22s (that were filmed while shadowing the Bear, as the clip below shows) remained with the Tu-95s for 40 minutes.
“As for the last such flight, only one pair of US Air Force F-22 fighters have escorted our aircraft. Just one, it says that a certain effect of surprise has worked. Usually, during the execution of such flights, we are escorted to five or seven aircraft, while escorts are carried out by fighters of various states. I want to note that during this flight no one intercepted anyone. US Air Force planes accompanied our aircraft in the airspace over neutral waters. The pilots acted in the air correctly. No violations were recorded,” said commander of long-range aviation Lieutenant-General Sergei Kobylash in an article published by Zvezda.
While it’s somehow hard to believe that the large strategic bombers caught someone by surprise, the video is interesting, especially the short part where you can see a pair of F-22s from the window of a Russian Bear.
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.