Two F-35A Lightning IIs and about 20 supporting Airmen arrived at Graf Ignatievo Air Base April 28 from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England.
The F-35As are participating in the first training deployment to Europe. The aircraft and total force Airmen are from the 34th Fighter Squadron, 388th Fighter Wing, and the Air Force Reserve’s 466th Fighter Squadron, 419th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.
“The United States and Bulgaria have a strong and enduring relationship,” said Lt. Gen. Richard Clark, the Third Air Force commander, during a press event after the arrival. “We routinely train through joint and combined initiatives like Operation Atlantic Resolve and in flying exercises like Thracian Eagle, Thracian Summer and Thracian Star. Our commitment to Bulgaria is but an example of our unwavering support to all allied nations.”
Similar to the aircraft’s visit to Estonia on April 25, this training deployment has been planned for some time and was conducted in close coordination with Bulgarian allies. It gives F-35A pilots the opportunity to engage in familiarization training within the European theater while reassuring allies and partners of U.S. dedication to the enduring peace and stability of the region.
U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw
“I have to say that for us, this makes us very proud,” said Maj. Gen. Tsanko Stoykov, the Bulgarian Air Force commander. “Our efforts have been appreciated and we are trusted as a reliable ally and it immensely contributes to the development of the bilateral relations between our two counties and our two air forces.”
This is the first overseas flying training deployment of the U.S. Air Force’s F-35As. The deployment provides support to bolster the security of NATO allies and partners in Europe while demonstrating the U.S. commitment to regional and global security.
“We are grateful to our Bulgarian friends for their support in making today possible,” Clark said. “Your cooperation helps prepare the F-35 for its invaluable contribution to our alliance. We look forward to many more years of our shared commitment and partnership.”
This training deployment signifies an important milestone and natural progression of the Joint Strike Fighter Program, allowing the U.S. to further demonstrate the operational capabilities of the aircraft. It also assists in refining the beddown requirements for the F-35A at RAF Lakenheath in order to enhance Europe’s ability to host the future capabilities of the Air Force and coalition team. Also, it helps to integrate with NATO’s infrastructure and enhance fifth-generation aircraft interoperability.
The aircraft and Airmen began arriving in Europe on April 15, and are scheduled to remain in Bulgaria for a brief period of time before returning to RAF Lakenheath to continue their training deployment.
The KC-135 is from 459th Air Refueling Wing, Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, and is providing refueling support for the deployment to Bulgaria.
Master Sgt. Adam Fagan and Staff Sgt. Benjamin Brudnicki earned the nation’s fourth-highest military honor during a ceremony at the Arizona base.
Both men were awarded for carrying out lifesaving rescues during raids against the Taliban.
While assigned to the 64th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron at Kandahar Airfield, Fagan was attached to a combined force of US and Afghan Special Forces for a raid in Helmand Province on March 24, 2019. As the team approached a Taliban compound in Sangin, they were attacked by small-arms fire from a fortified position as well as an improvised explosive device, according to Air Force Magazine.
Fagan was recognized for his actions under fire in helping to save an Afghan commando who was wounded.
“The heavy small-arms fire, coupled with rocket-propelled grenade blasts and multiple [IED] detonations pinned down the Afghan Special Forces team and hindered access to the critically wounded casualty,” Air Force Magazine reported. “Without hesitation and with complete disregard for his own safety, Sgt. Fagan took immediate control of the dire situation and engaged the fortified enemy position, repeatedly exposing himself to heavy fire.”
Two Bronze Stars with valor sit on a table at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, on Oct. 1, 2020. US Air Force Master Sgt. Adam Fagan and Staff Sgt. Benjamin Brudnicki, 48th Rescue Squadron pararescuemen, were presented Bronze Stars with valor for their actions in Afghanistan. Photo by Senior Airman Jacob T. Stephens.
Fagan engaged enemy forces to allow the rest of his team to reach the Afghan commando, who Fagan then treated before calling for a medical evacuation and moving the commando to the helicopter landing zone under small-arms fire and grenade attacks. He also provided cover for the helicopters to land.
“The culmination of Sgt. Fagan’s exceptionally brave actions and speed of patient delivery led to the destruction of an enemy weapons cache, the elimination of five enemy insurgents, and ultimately saved the life of a coalition partner,” the award citation states.
At the ceremony, Fagan attributed his success to his extensive training in calling in and executing medical evacuations.
“I knew what I was physically able to do, I knew I could treat that guy under fire in the dark,” he said at the ceremony.
Brudnicki was also assigned to the 64th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron at Kandahar when he was attached as a medic to a combined force of US and Afghan Special Forces on May 3, 2019, for a counterinsurgency mission in Helmand.
In a village known to be a Taliban stronghold, the commandos breached a compound and were engaged by enemy fighters.
“[Brudnicki] and his team utilized the Taliban’s own kill holes against them with decisive small-arms fire,” according to Air Force Magazine. “At distances of less than 5 feet, he engaged relentlessly with personal weapons and hand grenades, despite their cover being damaged with a rocket that failed to detonate.”
Pararescuemen and Marine force reconnaissance members board a CV-22 Osprey at a training drop zone in Djibouti to conduct free-fall jump operations as part of joint training. Photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Gregory Brook.
When a civilian was wounded in the fight, Brudnicki braved “effective enemy fire from an adjacent compound” while running through an open courtyard to rescue and stabilize the individual.
When an Afghan commando was severely wounded and pinned down, Brudnicki “rushed to join the fight and engaged the enemy’s fortified position by again crossing the open courtyard and exposing himself to grave danger,” according to the award citation. “He successfully suppressed the enemy, allowing partner force commandos to remove the casualty from the courtyard.”
Brudnicki then set up a collection point for wounded troops and created a plan to transport blood and evacuate people.
“His actions resulted in seven enemies killed in action, including a Taliban commander, and saved the lives of two coalition partners,” the citation states.
“My team leader quickly led the assault as we eliminated the enemy with small arms fire and hand grenades at room distance,” Brudnicki said in an Air Force release. “I treated multiple casualties with advanced medical interventions and helped coordinate exfiltration while my team continued to eliminate the threat.”
Pararescuemen work under the motto “that others may live.”
“It is an honor to be recognized, however, the experience and brotherhood created with my team overseas is the most valuable piece for me,” Brudnicki said. “The Air Force best utilizes its special warfare assets when putting them to work in the joint environment, and I am proud to be a part of that.”
There are three things soldiers possess in spades: courage, a dubious sense of humor and foul words. There are countless examples throughout military history mounting heroic resistance despite overwhelming odds and issuing brave or hilarious replies to surrender ultimatums. Some of these battles were won, others were lost, but the courage and the wit of these soldiers went down in history as symbols of panache.
Spartans at Thermopylae
How can one talk about military defiance without mentioning the Spartans? The battle of Thermopylae is the standard when it comes to clever use of terrain and stubborn resistance. During the Greco-Persian Wars in the fifth century B.C., Persians attempted to invade and crush Greece several times. In 480 B.C., one of these invasions would have succeeded if it hadn’t been for the Spartans. King Leonidas gathered a small force, estimated at 300 soldiers, to face the largest army to have ever walked the earth, according to the historian Herodotus.
Outnumbered thousands to one and ordered to lay down their weapons by King Xerxes’s envoys, the undaunted Spartans replied, “Come and take them.” Using the narrow channel of the Hot Gates to cancel the number of Persian soldiers, they resisted for three days. Eventually, they were surrounded and killed to the last. This heroic stand inspired the Greeks to take arms. The Spartans bought enough time for the city-states to gather an army to drive the Persian invasion back. A century later, they showed their nerve again when King Philip II of Macedonia demanded them not to resist. He threatened that the entire city of Laconia would be slaughtered if the Spartans were defeated, they only replied: “if…”
The Navy during the American Revolution
Commander John Paul Jones, often called the “Father of the American Navy”, was a man of flamboyant panache and daring. He was sometimes even called a pirate by his enemies.
He was the commander of the 42-gun USS Bonhomme Richard in 1779 during the American Revolutionary War. Commander Jones found himself facing two British ships, the 50-gun HMS Serapis and the 22-gun Countess of Scarborough. Completely outnumbered and outgunned, he still decided to brazenly engage them in battle. The Richard quickly sustained heavy damages and began to sink. According to some sources, when the British encouraged him to surrender, the commander defiantly replied, “I have not yet begun to fight.” According to others, it went more along the lines of, “I may sink, but I’ll be damned if I strike.” For the uninitiated, lowering the flag (or “striking” one’s colors), is an international sign of surrender.
No matter the words, the meaning was clear: he would fight to the end. With the dubious support of the Alliance, an allied ship that did as much damage to the enemy as to the Richard, the Countess of Scarborough was put out of service. Then, while his ship sank, Jones and his sharpshooters managed to clear the Serapis’ deck before boarding the British ship and capturing it. The Richard completely sank a day and a half later.
The French at Waterloo
A reply was made so famous by Pierre Jaques Etienne Cambronne, the word was named after him. Waterloo was one of Napoleon’s more famous defeats and led to his downfall. Yet, it was a moment of glory for one of his generals.
Surrounded on all sides and injured by shrapnel, the British repeatedly demanded his surrender, to which he replied, “the Guards die but do not surrender.” The ultimatum was given over and over again until the fed-up general replied “Merde!” (which means “sh*t” – pardon my French). In the end, he was captured by the British and the French troops were severely defeated, but his defiance against the despised British made him a celebrated figure in France and the swear word was named after him.
The man who won Waterloo isn’t routed Napoleon, it isn’t Wellington caving at four o’clock, desperate at five o’clock, it isn’t Blücher who did not fight, the man who won Waterloo is Cambronne. To strike with such a word the thunder that kills you, it is to vanquish.
101st Airborne at The Battle of the Bulge
By the winter of 1944, the tide of WWII had turned against the Germans. They were forced to retreat on both European fronts, progressively losing conquered territories. On the 16th of December, they launched the Battle of the Bulge, also known as the Ardennes Counteroffensive, in an effort take back Antwerp, the strategic Belgian port, and cut the Allied forces in two. Despite warning signs, the attack was almost a complete surprise.
On the southernmost attack road stood Bastogne, an important crossroads town on the way to the German’s objective. The German force arrived near Bastogne on the 20th of December, but it was already held by the 101st Airborne Battalion. The Germans encircled the town to lay siege to its occupants. The Americans were outnumbered five to one, lacked many basic supplies or a supply route, and had no senior management. The chaos was partially due to the 101st’s commander, Major General Maxwell Taylor, being engaged elsewhere at the time. Despite the obvious imbalance, they were not ready to give up.
On the 22nd of December, a delegation of German soldiers waving white flags presented their commander’s surrender ultimatum; the demand was not well received. Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, then in charge of the besieged American force replied simply: “NUTS!” The message was translated as “Go to Hell” to the German delegation before they were sent on their way. In the following days, the 101st sustained many casualties, but they held on until the 26th of December when elements of General Patton’s armies arrived and manage to break the encirclement. The siege ended on the 27th of December, and the 101st was nicknamed “The Battered Bastards of Bastogne.”
Julius Shoulars is 94 and resides in a cozy second-floor apartment in a Virginia Beach retirement community.
During an oral-history interview, he recounted his service in the US Navy as a coxswain during WWII with the 7th Naval Beach Battalion during the D-Day invasions. He later went island hopping in the Pacific aboard an attack transport and returned to Norfolk after serving in both theaters of war.
He started off with, “Well, I got a letter from Uncle Sam saying to report to Richmond.” It was 1943, and the Maury High School graduate reported for screening.
While seated in a room with other recruits, he recalled that, “they asked for 30 volunteers for the Navy and I raised my hand. In the Navy, you get three square meals, a clean bed to sleep in and water to take a shower each day.”
Julius Shoulars, a 94-year-old US Navy veteran, recalls his service during WWII as a coxswain who took part in the D-Day invasion and fought across the Pacific.
(US Navy photo by Max Lonzanida)
Training took him to Camp Sampson, New York and Camp Bradford, Virginia. Bradford was on the Chesapeake Bay, and he recalled mustering at the commandeered Nansemond Hotel in the Ocean View section of Norfolk.
At Bradford, “we were assigned to an experimental outfit called a Naval Beach Battalion. We were issued paratrooper boots, Army jackets, Army pants, Army helmets, and Navy underwear.”
His parents resided in Norfolk, and he visited often. With a smile, he recalled that a friend of his had joined the Army, and left his girlfriend, Ruby back in Norfolk. He was instructed not to talk to her, “but by hell I did. You had to be a fool not to.” This blossomed into a relationship that endured.
By January 1944, they crossed the Atlantic. In England, he recounted, “you know the phrase over here, over paid and over sexed. I think somebody made that up.”
An LCM landing craft, manned by the US Coast Guard, evacuating US casualties from the invasion beaches, brings them to a transport for treatment on D-Day in Normandy, France June 6, 1944.
(U.S. Coast Guard Collection in the U.S. National Archives)
At the “end of May 1944, we were transported to ships taking part in the invasion. We headed out on the 6th aboard anything that would float, even fishing boats from England.”
On the morning of June 6th, 1944 at H-hour, troops hit the “blood red” beaches of Normandy, in an operation that liberated Europe.
While crossing the English Channel, he recalled that, “some of the men were happy, some were anxious, some were sad, some were scared to death. I felt it was going to happen, and there was nothing I could do, so why cry or be joyful; just take it.”
His unit was attached to the 29th Infantry Division, who took Omaha Beach on June 6-7, 1944. Nearly a month was spent there directing landing craft, clearing obstacles, moving supplies, and clearing and burying the dead; a solemn task he recalled with tears in his eyes.
Shoulars, seated, recalls his service as a coxswain assigned to the 7th Naval Beach Battalion, which went ashore during D-Day in June 1944.
(US Navy photo by Max Lonzanida)
His unit headed stateside, and a period of leave was spent in Norfolk with his parents and girlfriend, before joining the crew of the newly commissioned USS Karnes (APA-175) on the West Coast.
He served 18 months on the Karnes, “island hopping” in the Pacific for a total of 76,750 miles. This took him to Pearl Harbor, Midway, Guam, Tinian, Okinawa, Eniwetok Atoll, Ulithi, Subic Bay and Lingayen Gulf, Philippines, among other ports of call while transporting cargo, evacuating the wounded, and transporting service members.
After the Japanese surrendered, the Karnes made its way back to San Francisco. He boarded a train back to Norfolk and was discharged. One of the first things he did was get married, and “eat a 30-cent hamburger at Doumars.”
Doumars on Monticello Avenue was where he first met Ruby. They didn’t want to get married during the war, for fear of making Ruby a widow. They got married upon his return home and spent 66 years together before she passed in 2013.
As for the friend who instructed him not to talk to her, Julius recalled that, “well, me and him never spoke again.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The US and British navies have conducted their first joint military drills in the South China Sea, where a rising China is tightening its grip.
The US Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell and the Royal Navy frigate HMS Argyll have spent the past six days training together in the South China Sea.
Their mission was to address “common maritime security priorities, enhance interoperability, and develop relationships that will benefit both navies for many years to come,” the US Navy said in a press statement Jan. 16, 2019.
“We are pleased with the opportunity to train alongside our closest ally,” Cmdr. Toby Shaughnessy, the commanding officer of the Argyll, said.
The exercise follows an earlier trilateral drill in the Philippine Sea focused on anti-submarine warfare and involving the US Navy, Royal Navy, and Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force.
Both the US and British navies have run afoul of Beijing in the contested waterway.
The guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication 1st Class Bobbie G. Attaway)
Following a freedom-of-navigation operation carried out by the USS McCampbell near the Chinese-occupied Paracel Islands on Jan. 7, 2019, Beijing accused the US of trespassing in Chinese waters.
The following day, Chinese media warned that the Chinese military had deployed “far-reaching, anti-ship ballistic missiles” capable of targeting “medium and large ships” in the South China Sea.
In September 2018, a Chinese warship challenged the destroyer USS Decatur during a FONOP in the Spratlys, nearly colliding with the American vessel and risking a potentially deadly conflict.
Earlier that same month, the Chinese military confronted the Royal Navy amphibious assault ship HMS Albion when it sailed close to the Paracel Islands.
China sharply criticized the British ship, asserting that the vessel “violated Chinese law and relevant international law and infringed on China’s sovereignty.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Wounded veteran Bryan Anderson didn’t know what swimming would be like missing three limbs. But as is his style, he learned to adapt and overcome and now enjoys hot summer days lounging by the pool and working it with the ladies #BryanStyle.
On the 72nd anniversary of the D-Day Invasion, as World War II veterans gathered to attend a ceremony on their behalf at the National WWII Memorial in Washington DC, the veteran campaign Got Your 6 rallied 125 veterans, family members, and civilian supporter volunteers to work with the National Park Service beautifying the grounds — painting benches, clearing brush, and mulching flower beds.
“There’s not a better generation of veterans who have led a resurgence of community than World War II vets,” said Bill Rausch, executive director of Got Your 6. “Seventy-two years ago today the United States lost more troops storming the beaches of Normandy than we have in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over 14 years. No generation has given more to their country, and we want to honor their legacy. That’s why we picked the World War II Memorial, but we had so many badass vets show up that we pushed them over to the Vietnam War Memorial as well.”
Marine Corps vet Matt Stiner, the White House’s associate director of Veterans and Military Affairs, kicked off the event by reading a proclamation from President Obama:
I send greetings to all those joining Got Your 6 in honoring our nation’s veterans. America endures because of the great patriots who bear the incredible burden of defending our freedom. Our veterans have been tested in ways that the rest of us may never fully understand. As you come together with a common purpose know that I am grateful for your efforts. God bless the members of our armed forces and their families, and God bless the United States of America.
The volunteers were given their beautification assignments by Park Ranger James Pierce, an Army veteran who was wounded by a suicide bomber while serving in Khost, Afghanistan. Pierce got his job through a program called Operation Guardian that places wounded vets into roles with the National Park Service.
“I just changed uniforms,” Pierce explained. “My mission is still important. A lot of people are depending on me. It gets me out of bed in the morning.”
When Hurricane Michael hit Florida as a Category 4 storm, it was a historical record — and it just happened to land a direct hit on a major U.S. Air Force base, Tyndall. Unfortunately for American warfighters and taxpayers, some of the Air Force’s most-needed and most-expensive assets were stuck in hangars damaged by the storm, leading to losses that might total hundreds of millions of dollars.
So, why did the Air Force leave these highly mobile and expensive assets in the path of a predictable, easily-tracked storm?
A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor from the 95th Fighter Squadron retracts its landing gear during takeoff at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., June 14, 2018.
(U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Isaiah J. Soliz)
Well, it’s not always as simple as people like to imagine — and commanders had to deal with a series of huge issues when the storm came barreling towards them. The numerous aircraft on base (including 55 F-22s) in their care was just one of many immediate problems.
F-22s are prized assets, but they can’t always fly. Pick your metaphor, whether it’s racehorses, racecars, boxers, or what-have-you, these are complex assets that require multiple maintenance hours for every single hour of flight. F-22’s have a readiness rate around 50 percent. You read it right — only about half of our F-22s can fly, fight, and win at any given moment.
So, while Tyndall hasn’t released their exact maintenance numbers at the time the storm was first projected to hit the base, it’s unlikely that even 30 of them were able to fly away at that moment. And the commanders had to look at the full picture — not just at their fifth-generation fighters.
A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor from the 95th Fighter Squadron retracts its landing gear during takeoff at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., June 14, 2018.
They couldn’t know exactly how strong the storm would be when it hit them, but they could clearly see it was a hurricane — and a big one. The hangars and barracks on base simply weren’t up to the task of safely housing airmen during a category-3 or -4 hurricane. Michael hit the base as a category 4, and there wasn’t a single housing structure on base that completely survived the storm. The damage was so severe that the base might be a complete loss.
So, yes, the Air Force needed to get as many F-22s flight-worthy and out as possible, but they also needed to evacuate their airmen, protect other aircraft, and get everything secured before the storm hit. That includes the massive amounts of classified materials on a base like Tyndall.
And so they juggled — and the F-22s were only one of the balls in the air.
An F-22 Raptor from Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., lands at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio for safe haven, Oct. 9, 2018. The F-22 is one of several planes taking safe haven at Wright-Patterson AFB as Hurricane Michael threatens their home station.
(U.S. Air Force Wesley Farnsworth)
The F-22s that were already flyaway-ready flew away, and parts were scavenged from some aircraft to get the others airborne. Anything that could be quickly bolted together was. That got somewhere between 37 and 52 of the 55 aircraft out.
That’s between 67 and 95 percent of the aircraft flown safely away — remember, the aircraft’s general readiness rate is 50 percent. That’s not failure, that’s a logistical and maintenance miracle.
But why didn’t they drive the other aircraft out? Or load them into C-5s with their wings removed?
U.S. Air Force maintenance Airmen from the 325th Maintenance Group prepare to marshal a 95th Fighter Squadron F-22 Raptor toward the taxiway at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., June 14, 2018.
(U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Isaiah J. Soliz)
Well, taking the wings off of an airplane is actually a really difficult, time-consuming procedure and every minute that ticked by increased the difficulty of getting pilots and maintainers out ahead of the storm. Not to mention that removing the wings is guaranteed to damage the aircraft to some degree. Then, the plane needed to be loaded onto a C-5, risking that plane and crew should anything go wrong.
All of this would be done just to protect the aircraft from possible damages suffered in a storm. After all, it wasn’t guaranteed that Michael would break through the hangars.
But maybe you could throw a tarp over the plane, load it onto a truck, and drive it out?
Well, that would require a massive convoy with specialty trucks that would take up at least three lanes of a highway (usually four) at the exact same time that millions of people are trying to use the same roads to get to safety. F-22s are 44.5 feet wide, and most highway lanes are standardized at 12 feet wide.
That means protecting the planes would’ve risked the lives of Americans. You know, the exact same Americans that the planes are designed, purchased, maintained, and piloted to protect.
So, the commanders, likely unhappy with their options, got the remaining, unflyable weapons loaded into hangars and sent the rest of their personnel away.
A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor pilot with the 95th Fighter Squadron performs a preflight inspection prior to night flying operations at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., June 11, 2018.
(U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Isaiah J. Soliz)
Zero Tyndall personnel were killed in the storm — and only 93 had to ride out the storm on base. The bulk of the F-22s and other aircraft were saved without damage — and that’s in a storm that damaged nearly every structure on the base, completely destroying some of them. Remember, this was a storm that removed some entire towns from the earth.
So, sure, the military should take a look at what could have been done better. Maybe F-22s in need of maintenance should be flown to other bases during hurricane season in order to prevent a rush evacuation. Maybe we can increase investment in structures to deal with strengthening storms and rising seas, an initiative for which the Navy has requested money.
But we can’t place all the onus on base and wing commanders. Their job is to retain as much of their warfighting power as possible, and weathering such a big storm with all of their personnel and the bulk of their assets isn’t failure, it’s an accomplishment.
Buried nearly 500 pages into the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2019 , Senate Bill 2987, is an interesting directive: “No later than February 1, 2019, the Secretary of Defense shall submit to the congressional defense committees a report setting forth a re-evaluation of the highest priority missions of the Department of Defense, and of the roles of the Armed Forces in the performance of such missions.” Despite receiving passing attention in the media, this small section of a large bill has potentially enormous long-term repercussions.
The Senate NDAA passed by a vote of 85–10 on June 19, 2018. Much of the re-evaluation that the Senate Armed Services Committee calls for in S.2987 is justified and indeed overdue. There is a glaring need to take a new look at issues such as:
Future ground vehicles that are not optimized for high-end conflict
The advantages of carrier-launched unmanned platforms over our short-legged manned Navy strike aircraft
The ways in which swarms of cheap drones can impact the United States’ ability to project power
Our overstretched special operations forces
Alongside these necessary inquiries, the requested report also asks a much bigger question: “whether the joint force would benefit from having one Armed Force dedicated primarily to low-intensity missions.” The bill tells us which Armed Force this would be: the United States Marine Corps.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Joseph Jacob)
The Trump Administration’s National Defense Strategy rightly seeks to reorient America’s military on the most difficult task it can face: deterring or winning a large-scale modern war against a peer competitor. The Senate NDAA seems guided by that same logic.
The military and its civilian overseers have picked up some bad habits from the past two decades of low-intensity operations. At least one prominent retired general questions whether the US military still knows how to fight a major war. Counterinsurgency may be “eating soup with a knife,” but it is not “the graduate level of warfare.” No matter how vexing armed anthropology and endless cups of tea may be to soldiers, the challenges of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism do not compare to those of a high-tempo, high-casualty modern war. This should be obvious to even a casual student of military history, but the post-9/11 wars have generated an enormous amount of woolly thinking among both soldiers and civilians.
There are also justifiable concerns about the viability of forcible entry from the sea, the Marine Corps’ traditional mission. Since the Falklands invasion in 1982, we have seen that modern missiles will make amphibious power projection increasingly costly. The Marine Corps has taken note and for decades now has quietly been renaming schools, vehicles, and probably marching bands “Expeditionary” instead of “Amphibious.” However, America will always be a maritime nation, and “game-changing” military technologies have a mixed record.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by LCpl. Angel D. Travis)
Yet while the Senate’s requested report is asking the Secretary of Defense many of the right questions, its one attempt at an answer should be rejected outright.
The Army and Air Force undoubtedly want to get back to preparing to fight major wars, as they should. Relegating the Marine Corps to second-tier status as a counterinsurgency and advising force, however, is not in the national interest.
Militaries have historically understood that they must prepare primarily for the most dangerous and difficult operations they could face. It is far easier to shift a trained force down the range of military operations than up. The Israelis offer the most vivid recent illustration of this truth.
America already has a tradition of early bloody noses in major wars, from Bull Runto Kasserine Pass to Task Force Smith. Unless we want an even more catastrophic shock in our next major war, we must focus all four of our military services on major combat operations and combined arms maneuver. We should not forget the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, such as they are. But it is the height of folly to turn our most expeditionary and aggressive military service into a corps of advisors and gendarmes.
Instead of continuing to throw lives and money at the intractable — and strategically less important — security problems of the developing world, perhaps we should spend more time and effort avoiding such military malpractice. Let’s hope the Department of Defense concurs.
One by one, the veterans made their inaugural trip up the steep mountainside armed with harnesses and ropes. For most of them, rock climbing was a brand new experience, yet they were scrambling up and repelling down the cliff face at Hartman Rocks in Gunnison, Colorado, with barely a semblance of a beginner’s nerves. Amid shouts of encouragement and good-humored banter, the Airmen were bonding. While they’d been strangers just the day before, they’d already become a team.
Traveling from different areas of the U.S., the eight Air Force wounded warriors, sponsored by Team Racing for Veterans’ (R4V), arrived at an adaptive sports camp in Crested Butte, Colorado, to participate in three unfamiliar sports: rock climbing, fly fishing and mountain biking. The biannual camps give wounded veterans a chance to prove to themselves they can adapt to and overcome any current limitations, from amputations to post-traumatic stress.
For those attending the camp, it was a chance to network with other wounded warriors who wanted to get out of their comfort zones, take on new challenges, and pursue a sense of normalcy.
In addition to sharing their common goals and adaptive sports experiences at the camp, the wounded warriors had a chance to get to know each other in a relaxed setting during their down time. Instead of staying in a hotel where they would be scattered throughout the building, the Airmen stayed in a large ranch-style home that was donated for the camp’s use. During some of their meals and at the close of each day, the wounded warriors could gather in a common area and talk.
Military veterans share their individual stories during dinner at an adaptive sports camp in Crested Butte, Colo. Each night of the camp ended with reflection and therapeutic conversations. | Photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.
While engaging in one such casual conversation in the living room with four other veterans, Staff Sgt. Gideon Connelly, a 175th Wing chaplain assistant with the Maryland National Guard, found himself smiling and feeling at ease. The openness he displayed was something new, because Connelly had grown up building walls around himself that no one could get through.
As a child, his experiences in the foster care system left him unwilling to depend on others. Though he was eventually taken in by his aunt and uncle, Connelly still found himself disappointed after witnessing his relatives getting robbed by other children they had adopted.
“Watching those kids grow up, how cruel and jagged they could be, it just pushed my trust in people away a lot more,” Connelly said.
“Before these guys,” he indicated the other wounded warriors, “you had no shot for me to trust you.”
Unexpectedly, the injuries that brought Connelly into the wounded warrior family were causing him to change for the better, he said.
On July 5, 2011, Staff Sgt. Gideon Connelly’s life took an abrupt turn after a motorcycle accident on the streets of Baltimore. As a result of the crash, Connelly lost his left leg below the knee, his right knee required a partial replacement, and his right arm had to be artificially restructured.
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Richard W. Rose Jr. (Ret.) and Staff Sgt. Gideon Connelly celebrate after climbing a 50-foot mountain. | Photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.
“The first couple years were hard,” he said. “It was like gut-wrenching pain in my arm when I was lifting weights, curling, or anything like that, just because there wasn’t much muscle around the metal.”
Eventually he was able to build his strength back up, but by the time the doctors could take out the hardware in his arm, bone had grown over it and become fused to the metal. Because of this, Connelly opted not to have it removed.
“I’ve adapted to it,” he said. “I’ve adapted with my leg, my knee, and the arm was another thing. I just had to get over it. Cold affects it, but you move your wrist around a little bit and keep going. I’m all about adapting and overcoming everything. I’m not going to let anything stop me from doing what I want to do.”
Three years after his injury, Connelly became involved in the world of adaptive sports and attended an AFW2 camp. Striving for more, he was also selected to represent the Air Force during the 2014 Warrior Games in shot put, discus, and the 100- and 200-meter sprints. It was at this competition that he met a group of wounded warriors and began to finally let down his guard.
Two years later, his wounded warrior family remains important to him – it is a group of people he keeps in touch with nearly every single day.
Although Connelly is busy training in pursuit of his dream of running track at the Paralympic Games, he leapt at the opportunity to try new sports at a Team R4V mountain adventure.
“Mountain biking: that was the sport that brought everybody together today,” Connelly said. He found it inspiring to watch the guys zooming down the mountain tracks on hand cycles.
“The trails are probably 20 inches wide – the same as their wheel base – and they are just flying,” he added. “Watching them struggle, but still make it up and down the hills, it was awesome! It was definitely team building and it brought us that much closer together.”
Ricky Rose Jr. knew that the sports therapy aspect of Team R4V’s camps would help him physically, but he hesitated to participate.
After being medically discharged from the Air Force as a staff sergeant, Rose thought about attending a wounded warrior camp. It was an idea that had run though his mind many times before but what always stopped him were questions: Did he deserve to go? Would he even fit into the group?
When Team R4V invited him to their fall camp, Rose decided to set those doubts aside and give it a go.
At first he was nervous, but after realizing many people in the house shared the same medical conditions he did, Rose began to feel more comfortable. He found there was relief in being surrounded by people who’d gone through tough situations — from battling cancer to being shot in Afghanistan – because they could all relate to one another.
“While each individual’s circumstances are different in the grand scheme, we’re all fighting the same demons,” Rose said. “That’s been the most beneficial part of this camp; you feel comfortable talking to somebody that you know has been there and done that.”
At the camp, much of the conversation and bonding begins over food.
With a focus on overall wellness, Team R4V cooks healthy meals for the wounded warriors each day, and encourages them to eat breakfast and dinner together. At the kitchen table, sharing a meal and talking about the day’s events, the Airmen got to know each other better. As they talked, Rose felt a sense of camaraderie return, one that he’d missed since the last day he’d hung up his Air Force uniform.
“I wasn’t expecting us to come together as a family as quickly as we did,” he said. “We all realized pretty quickly that we’re all Airmen and we’re all in this together.”
Surrounded by people who could empathize with his journey, Rose spoke about his experiences in the Air Force and the daily challenges he continues to face as a wounded warrior.
During his time in service, Rose deployed three times, once to Kuwait and twice to Iraq. Employed as a combat photographer, his objective was to document the war through the experiences of the troops with whom he was embedded – the good times, the bad times, and everything in between.
“They didn’t send us on missions where we would just sit on base all day,” he said. “They’d send us on missions where crap was going to hit the fan, or there was a really good chance of it. More times than not, we were attacked … we got blown up what seemed like almost every mission. It felt like almost every day could have been the day you died because we lost a lot of people too. War is just nasty, and I got to help show that as honestly as I could to people.”
While deployed, Rose captured thousands of images, braving firefights and mortar attacks to accomplish his job. In 2007, Rose was named one of the Air Force’s 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year, in part for his dedication in the combat zone – a place seared into his memory by the very tool he used to perform his mission.
“The hardest thing, and I didn’t know this until after a lot of therapy and a lot of different doctors, but I didn’t realize, as a photographer, how many of those images I took were just going to stay in my brain,” Rose said. “I just kind of thought I’d take a picture and then they’d go away, but they don’t.”
Even at home, he was unable to turn his mind away from the combat zone. Feeling unstable, Rose asked for help. He went to see a doctor and was ultimately diagnosed with a TBI and PTSD.
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that presents a variety of negative effects, such as flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts and memories. Military members with PTSD can become hyper-vigilant, angry and depressed. Sights and sounds, such as large crowds, random crazy noises, and sudden flashes of light – can mentally bring them back to the combat zone and trigger an unconscious response.
“PTSD is horrible,” Rose said. “Imagine never being able to feel comfortable or like everything is alright. Every day is a challenge because I don’t know how my body and mind will react to whatever happens that day. Will I see, touch, or smell something that will give me an instant flashback and turn me into a different person? Will my conversations lead to nightmares? Do I feel like killing myself today? That’s what it’s like.”
The temporary home in Colorado is quiet and isolated from outside stimuli. The intensity and focus needed to learn new sports is designed to wear the Airmen out and give them the ability to be calm.
“I haven’t really had a bad thought since I’ve been here, other than being exhausted and tired (from the day’s activity),” he laughed, adding, “I haven’t really had a trigger or nightmare or anything since I’ve been here. It’s been peaceful, very peaceful.”
The physical, mental and emotional benefits of regular exercise have been proven time and time again, which is why Team R4V staff said they provide support to veterans through a wide variety of physical activities. Rehabilitation though adaptive sports has been an idea at the forefront of the organization since its conception.
Inspired by a friend who coached the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program’s team for the Warrior Games, a Defense Department competitive adaptive sports event for injured, ill and wounded service members, Bethany Pribila, Team R4V’s founder and CEO, decided to start a non-profit organization that would enable veterans from every branch of the military to benefit through participation in sports.
Team R4V provides wounded warrior athletes with funding for races and events, but it is their own sports camps, which they host in partnership with the Crested Butte Adaptive Sports Center, that holds a special place in the heart of the organization.
At the camp’s end, Pribila reflected that everything had gone as envisioned. She had witnessed the wounded warriors supporting one another, cheering each other on, and forming lasting bonds. Though the Airmen had arrived as strangers, when they left, it was as friends and as family.
Trijicon is one of the premiere optics manufacturers for the U.S. military. Its magnified rifle optic, the Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight, is the official medium-distance engagement optic of the U.S. Marine Corps and Special Operations Forces. However, the company found itself in hot water for placing bible verses on optics sold to the military.
Founded by South African and devout Christian Glyn Bindon, Trijicon was originally founded as Armson USA in 1981. The company was the sole U.S. importer and distributor of the Armson OEG. Manufactured in South Africa, the Armson OEG was an occluded-type gunsight. It used tritium and fiber optics to illuminate its reticle. In 1985, Bindon reorganized the company as Trijicon and began manufacturing night sights for pistols. Two years later, Trijicon introduced the ACOG for use by the U.S. military.
The ACOGs were widely distributed across the military. It wasn’t until 2010 that ABC News reported on the placement of Bible verses in the serial numbers of sights sold to the U.S. military. Bindon, who was killed in a plane crash in 2003, applied the practice to all Trijicon products since the company’s founding. However, the inscription of religious passages on products sold to and used by the government was contested by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
Despite the controversy, the military did not discontinue use of Trijicon optics. “This situation is not unlike the situation with U.S. currency,” said CENTCOM spokesman, Air Force Maj. John Redfield. “Are we going to stop using money because the bills have ‘In God We Trust’ on them? As long as the sights meet the combat needs of troops, they’ll continue to be used.”
Indeed, Trijicon sights were and continue to be regarded as top-tier optics. The British Ministry of Defence and New Zealand Special Air Service also purchased Trijicon sights without knowing about the Bible verses. Similarly, both nations continued to use the sights.
On January 22, 2010, just two days after the ABC News story broke, Trijicon announced that it would halt the practice of engraving Bible verses on optics sold to the government. The company also offered to provide modification kits to remove existing engravings on sights already delivered to the military. However, Trijicon products sold to the civilian market continue Bindon’s prescribed practice of including Bible verses in the product serial number. Given the optical nature of the products, all of the Bible verses engraved on Trijicon sights reference illumination.
The controversy did not affect Trijicon’s standing as a government contractor. In 2020, Trijicon won a Marine Corps contract to supply its Variable Combat Optical Gunsight as the Corps’ new Squad Combat Optic.
Feature image: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Michael Jefferson Estillomo
US Air Force General John E. Hyten, the Commander of US Strategic Command, made a worrying admission on March 20, 2018, about the state of US defenses against hypersonic weapons: They don’t really exist.
While hypersonic weapons are still largely in either the conceptual or testing phase, Russia and China have been making headway on their respective programs.
China tested a functional hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) in November 2017, and Russia tested a hypersonic weapon only a few weeks after President Vladimir Putin boasted that he has an “invincible” hypersonic missile in early March 2018.
When asked by Republican Senator Jim Inhofe, the committee chairman, what kind of defenses the US had against such weapons, the general responded, “our defense is our deterrent capability.”
“We don’t have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us,” Hyten said.
The general said that the only “defense” the US had was the threat of nuclear retaliation, adding, “our response would be our deterrent force, which would be the Triad and the nuclear capabilities that we have to respond to such a threat.”
More specifically, Hyten said that low-yield submarine-based nuclear weapons were the primary defense.
Hyten added later in the hearing, responding to a question from Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, that the US needed to “pursue improved sensor capabilities” in order to “track, characterize, and attribute the threats wherever they come from.” Detection of ICBMs is mostly done through satellites orbiting the earth.
The General acknowledged that there are still issues, primarily due to lack of resources and aging equipment. “Right now we have a challenge with that, with our current on-orbit space architecture and our limited number of radars that we have around the world,” Hyten said.
Hypersonic weapons can be destabilizing. HGVs and hypersonic cruise missiles can travel Mach 5 and above (340 miles every 6 minutes), can maneuver to avoid ICBM defenses, and can impact a target just minutes after being detected.
The RAND Corporation published a report that predicts that hypersonic weapons will be deployed to the battlefield in the next 10 years. At that point, the primary defense against ICBMs and nuclear missiles could no longer be kinetic or proximity interception of the missiles themselves, but the Cod War-era concept of mutually assured destruction.
Ukraine has released footage of two North Korean spies exuberantly photographing fake missile designs in 2011, as part of a sting operation that eventually landed the pair in jail, as CNN reports.
Ukraine, once home to thousands of Soviet nuclear ICBMs, continues to produce missiles today as it faces a Russian-backed insurgency in the country’s east. Another Cold War remnant in Ukraine appears to be spycraft, which allowed the country to trick and capture two North Korean spies.
Authorities in Ukraine told CNN that the North Koreans sought “ballistic missiles, missile systems, missile construction, spacecraft engines, solar batteries, fast-emptying fuel tanks, mobile launch containers, powder accumulators, and military government standards,” to bring home to Pyongyang, according to CNN.
The specific plans the spies thought they were capturing showed schematics for the SS-24 Scalpel intercontinental ballistic missile, a Soviet-designed missile that can carry 10 independently targetable warheads across vast distances. Such a weapon would be a massive improvement over North Korea’s current fledgling ICBM fleet.
But the designs photographed by the North Koreans were fake, and moments after the cameras flashed, authorities broke into the room and detained them. The spies are now serving eight years in prison.