For the first time in its history, the U.S. Navy has selected a female naval aviator to command a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Capt. Amy N. Bauernschmidt was selected for the position by the FY22 Aviation Major Command Screen Board. Naval Air Forces confirmed the selection on December 7, 2020. Although it’s unknown which of the Navy’s 11 aircraft carriers she will command, Bauernschmidt is no stranger to making history.
She graduated from the Naval Academy in 1994, the same year that women were allowed to serve on combat ships and planes. “That law absolutely changed my life,” Bauernschmidt told CBS during a 2018 interview. “We were the first class that graduated knowing and feeling honored with the privilege to be able to go serve along the rest of our comrades in combat.” After she graduated from flight school in 1996, Bauernschmidt was assigned to Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light 45 (HSL- 45) “Wolfpack” in San Diego. Her first deployment was on board the USS John Young (DD-973) in support of maritime interdiction operations in the Northern Arabian Gulf.
Over her 26-year career, she has served as an aide-de-camp to Commander, Carrier Strike Group 7, a department head with HSL-51 “Warlords” in Japan, an action officer executive assistant to the Director, J6 on the Joint Staff, and as the executive officer of HSM-70 “Spartans” before taking command of the squadron. In 2016, Bauernschmidt became the first female executive officer of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72). Her most recent command was of the USS San Diego (LPD-66).
Bauernschmidt has accumulated over 3,000 flight hours in naval aircraft. In addition to her military awards, including the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, she also earned the 2011 Admiral Jimmy Thach Award and Captain Arnold J. Isbell Trophy for tactical innovation and excellence. “For me, it is about supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States,” Bauernschmidt said in her 2018 interview. “But it’s also about these young men and women that I lead every day.” Her historic achievements have paved the way for future female sailors to continue to break barriers.
They’re surrounded, targeted by constant bombardments and slowly strangled of supplies and reinforcements for months so fighters for Daesh (aka ISIS) might reasonably have abandoned Mosul and tried to slink off into the night.
That’s what happened June 2016 in the battle to recapture Fallujah, when Daesh fighters were relatively quickly routed, and hundreds were killed by U.S. aircraft when their fleeing convoy was spotted in the dark with infrared targeting systems.
Everyone in the anti-Daesh coalition hoped for a similar retreat by demoralized terrorists that would separate them from the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians still cowering in Mosul’s byzantine old city, on the west bank of the Tigris River.
But Daesh’s fighters are not abandoning Mosul, which, with the Syrian town of Raqqa, forms the twin-capitals of the self-proclaimed Islamist “caliphate.”
They are falling back on defensive positions prepared for two years in the densely congested side streets and alleyways of the old city, gathering Iraqi civilians close as they can as “human shields” and apparently preparing for a last, desperate stand.
“The toughest and most brutal phase of this war, and probably the toughest and most brutal close quarters combat that I have experienced or even read about in my 34-year career,” Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve says.
A veteran of six combat tours, Townsend calls the fighting in Mosul “the most significant urban combat since World War II.”
The tragic byproduct has been an alarming spike in civilian casualties, including a U.S. strike against a reported ISIS truck bomb on March 17 that may have collapsed a nearby building and killed as many as 200 civilians gathered there by Daesh.
On a recent trip near the frontlines of the Battle of Mosul, Townsend found a possible explanation for Daesh’s determination to stage an apocalyptic fight to the death in the old city.
“Every movement has a well-spring or some home turf where it finds support, and in recently talking to Iraqi and coalition commanders and listening to their intelligence assessments, I heard about neighborhoods supporting ISIS that I remembered from being a brigade commander in Mosul 10 years ago, when those same neighborhoods were sources of support for Al Qaeda in Iraq,” said Townsend, speaking recently to defense reporters by phone from Baghdad.
If the Shiite-led Iraqi government fails to reach out to those and other neighborhoods and towns of disenfranchised Sunnis after the fighting stops, he noted, then Daesh’s expulsion from Mosul will likely prove a fleeting victory.
“What’s important after ISIS is defeated is that the government of Iraq has to reach out to these groups of people and make sure they feel like they have a future in the Iraqi state,” said Townsend.
A Pivotal Moment
With roughly three-quarters of Mosul recaptured and Daesh finally on the verge of losing its grip on Iraqi territory, the campaign against them is poised at an important inflection point.
Counter-insurgency experts have long understood that the actions of the Iraqi government and the various factions involved in the fighting the day after Mosul is recaptured will largely determine whether the group is defeated, or, once again, rises from the ashes of sectarian conflict.
The complex nature of the battlespace, combined with the anti-Daesh coalition’s sprawling nature, promises to complicate the transition from urban combat to whatever comes after.
The Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is weak and has struggled to cope with the demands of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the fighting in Mosul.
The territorial demands of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters to the north, and possible acts of retribution against Sunni civilians by thousands of Iranian-backed Shiite militiamen to the west of city, cast a dark shadow over the aftermath.
A continued spike in civilian deaths by U.S. and coalition air forces could further alienate the overwhelmingly Sunni population of Mosul and surrounding Nineveh Province.
And hanging over the entire anti-Daesh campaign is the question of a continued U.S. presence in Iraq after the group is expelled, and whether that engagement can be leveraged to help achieve the long-sought national reconciliation among Iraq’s feuding Kurdish, Shiite, and Sunni factions.
Perhaps no U.S. military officer of his generation better understands this difficult terrain, and the momentous challenges ahead, than retired Gen. David Petraeus, the former top U.S. commander in both Iraq and Afghanistan and at U.S. Central Command.
He is widely credited with crafting and executing the counterinsurgency doctrine that pulled Iraq back from the abyss of sectarian civil war in 2007-2008 and decimated Al Qaeda in Iraq.
“The military defeat of ISIS is only the first step. The much more challenging task is to use all elements of American and coalition power to help achieve political solutions that will avoid once again creating fertile ground for extremists, and thereby avoid the rise of ISIS 3.0,” Petraeus told [Breaking Defense] in a recent email. “Our success in that mission will determine whether the U.S. military has to do this all over again in five years.”
Sectarian Civil War
After U.S. and Iraqi military forces and the Sunni tribes of Anbar Province routed Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) beginning in 2006-7, the remnants of the terrorist insurgency eventually went underground, only to rise Phoenix-like from the fires of Syria’s civil war.
That brutal conflict pitted a minority regime of Alawites, which is an offshoot of Shiite Islam, against a majority Sunni population.
Meanwhile, after the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011, the Sunni tribes in western Iraq, which had turned against AQI in the “Anbar Awakening,” grew restive under the iron-fisted and openly sectarian rule of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who headed the Shiite-majority government in Baghdad.
A former AQI lieutenant named Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who had spent time in a U.S. detention facility in Iraq, realized that between weak Shiite-led governments in Damascus and Baghdad lay a swath of territory inhabited by millions of rebellious Sunnis.
From that strategic insight, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was born, and in one of the most improbable military offenses in history, its terrorist army captured territory in Syria and Iraq and proclaimed a “caliphate” in land stretching between its twin capitals.
When the Obama administration reluctantly deployed aircraft and troops back to Iraq to defend a Baghdad government on the verge of collapse, it wisely used that leverage to help nudge out the sectarian Maliki and encourage the more moderate Abadi.
Since then Abadi has promised to lead “national reconciliation” by reaching out to Sunnis liberated from Daesh rule, and draw them back inside the government tent. He has often struggled, however, to control a fractious coalition government with many hardline Shiite politicians with close ties to Shiite Iran.
Kenneth Pollack, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy and former senior Middle Eastern analyst for the CIA, worries about Abadi’s ability to bring the country together.
“I think Abadi is a very good man who wants what’s best for Iraq, to include a pluralist government, corruption reforms, and democracy. The problem is Abadi is not particularly good at building coalitions, and the Iraqi government is fragmented and paralyzed by this ongoing sectarian civil war,” he says. “Frankly, Nelson Mandela would have a hard time stabilizing Iraq at this point. So the United States needs to leverage the influence it has gained by helping fight ISIS to empower Abadi in his reconciliation efforts. And they must include limiting the activities of the Shiite militias.”
Reining in Militias
The key to Iraq’s future may lie with the Shiite-dominated militias called Popular Mobilization forces.
A number of these militias have direct links to Iran and they have been difficult for the Iraqi government to control. According to Human Rights Watch, Shiite militias involved in the battle of Fallujah last summer committed atrocities against Sunni civilians, including torture and summary executions.
In the operation to recapture Tikrit they reportedly burned hundreds of homes of Sunni civilians they accused of colluding with Daesh. If something similar happens after Daesh is expelled from the much bigger and more populous city of Mosul, the swamp of Sunni grievance is likely to rise once again.
Sheikh Jamal Al-Dhari is a Sunni tribal leader who has lost more than 70 family members in Iraq’s sectarian wars.
“The ‘Anbar Awakening’ showed that the way to defeat Al Qaeda is to work with the Sunni tribes, but our efforts to take part in the anti-ISIS fight have been repeatedly rebuffed by the Baghdad government,” he said in an interview.
Now Shiite-dominated Iraqi Security Forces and possibly U.S. airpower have inadvertently killed hundreds if not thousands of Sunni civilians in Mosul, he noted, and thousands of Shiite militiamen have captured Sunni majority villages to the west of the city.
“We fear that the use of excessive force will cost the lives of thousands of more civilians, creating hardships and hard feelings that will only set the stage for the next ISIS, or worse.”
To avoid Kurdish or Shiite forces fighting each other and mistreating liberated Sunni civilians, U.S. battle planners created separate corridors into the city.
“The U.S. military worked very hard to insure that neither the Peshmerga nor the Popular Mobilization forces would be involved in the close-in fight in Mosul, and that has been mostly successful,” said Michael Knights, an Iraq expert and fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies.
“But the main reason we’ve seen civilian casualties increase is that ISIS is being much more aggressive in using civilians as human shields. Their backs are now against the wall in Mosul’s old city, and they seem to be preparing for a last stand.”
When the dust of battle finally settles over Mosul, the most important decision confronting the Trump administration will be whether or not to keep a residual U.S. force inside Iraq to continue advising and assisting Iraqi Security Forces, and helping coordinate counterterrorism operations.
If the U.S. military packs up lock-stock-and-barrel and leaves once again, many experts believe it will only set the stage for “son of ISIS” to fill the vacuum.
“Only if U.S. forces remain in Iraq to secure the peace will we achieve a major military victory over ISIS,” said James Jeffrey, former U.S. ambassador to Iraq.
The U.S. can leverage that presence not only to empower Abadi’s national reconciliation agenda, he said, but also to eventually find a political resolution to the Syrian civil war.
In “On War” [ Carl von] “Clausewitz said that the art of war was using tactical victories to achieve strategic ends,” said Jeffrey.
“We need to use the victories in Mosul and Raqqa to achieve the strategic end of a stable Middle East that is not dominated either by ISIS or Iran.”
Terrorism-related deaths around the world are down for the second straight year, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace’s annual Global Terrorism Index.
“There was a 22% decrease to 25,673 deaths [in 2016] compared to the peak of terror activity in 2014 when over 32,500 people were killed,” the IEP said in a statement.
Still, as the total number of terrorism-related deaths has decreased in the last two years, the number of countries experiencing terrorism-related deaths increased in 2016.
More countries experienced at least one terrorism-related death in 2016 than in any other year since 2001, with 77 countries affected — 11 more than in 2015.
94% of all terrorism-related deaths happened in the Middle East and North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia.
Four of the five countries most affected by terrorism — Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria — recorded an improvement. Nigeria saw an 80% reduction in terrorism-related deaths, as Boko Haram has been hit hard by the Multinational Joint Task Force.
Iraq was the only country of the five most affected by terrorism to record an increase in deaths, as ISIS increased suicide attacks to make up for lost territory.
The past year also had more terrorism-related deaths in OECD countries than in any other year since 1988.
Conversely, Central America and the Caribbean experienced only 12 deaths — less than 0.4% of the total number.
There may be a reason for the low number in those regions — 99% of all terrorism-related deaths in the past 17 years have happened in countries that have an ongoing conflict or high levels of political terror.
“Although these gains are encouraging, there are still serious areas of concern. The future stability of Syria and Iraq will play a critical role in determining the impact of terrorism in the years ahead,” Steve Killelea, executive chairman of the IEP, said in the statement.
Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian ships in the Sea of Azov in contradiction to signed treaties and the Law of the Sea show that Russia cannot be counted on to keep its word, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis said at the Pentagon Nov. 28, 2018.
The secretary spoke to reporters while awaiting the arrival of Lithuanian Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis for a meeting.
Over the weekend, Russia barred the Kerch Strait at the mouth of the Sea of Azov off the Crimean Peninsula. Russian sailors opened fire and wounded at least three Ukrainian sailors in the seizure of two armored naval vessels and a tugboat.
Mattis noted that NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has condemned the action on behalf of the 29 NATO allies and called for “calm and restraint.” The NATO official also called for Russia to release the ships and sailors immediately.
“It was obviously a flagrant violation of international law, it was I think a cavalier use force that injured Ukrainian sailors,” Mattis told reporters. “It was contempt, really, for the traditional ways of settling these kinds of concerns if they had any. When you think there is a treaty between the two countries that prohibits exactly what happened, it just shows that Russia cannot be counted on now to keep its word.”
Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
During a Nov. 26, 2018 news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Stoltenberg said the alliance members “expressed their full support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.”
“We call on Russia to ensure unhindered access to Ukrainian ports and allow freedom of navigation for Ukraine in the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait,” he added. The secretary general’s statement came after an extraordinary meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission.
The incident is the latest escalation in the war between Russia and Ukraine that started when Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014. NATO’s position since the annexation has been consistent: The United States and all NATO allies condemned Russia’s aggressive actions in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine.
Stoltenberg said Russia must end its support to militant groups in eastern Ukraine and withdraw all its forces from Ukrainian territory.
The escalation is the latest in Russia’s ongoing militarization of Crimea, the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. “The Russian move poses further threats to Ukraine’s independence and undermines the stability of the broader region,” Stoltenberg said.
NATO provides support to Ukraine and its people. The United States and the other NATO allies sanctioned Russia for its moves.
The People’s Liberation Army Navy stole an American unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) conducting oceanographic research Thursday in plain view of a U.S. Navy vessel about fifty miles from Subic Bay in the Philippines.
According to a report from the Washington Examiner, the brazen heist took place in international waters as the oceanographic research vessel USNS Bowditch (T AGS 62), a Pathfinder-class ship.
The BBC reported that the vessel responsible for the heist was ASR-510, identified in Combat Fleets of the World as a Dalang III-class “rescue and salvage” ship. The Chinese vessel apparently came within 500 yards of the Bowditch, lowered a small boat and seized the littoral battlespace sensing (LBS) glider.
In a statement, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said, “Bowditch made contact with the PRC Navy ship via bridge-to-bridge radio to request the return of the UUV. The radio contact was acknowledged by the PRC Navy ship, but the request was ignored. The UUV is a sovereign immune vessel of the United States. We call upon China to return our UUV immediately, and to comply with all of its obligations under international law.”
According to a 2010 Navy release, the LBS glider can operate for up to eight months on a lithium battery. The data gathered by these gliders assist in everything from special operations to mine warfare to anti-submarine warfare.
This is not the first time the Bowditch has been involved in a maritime incident with the People’s Liberation Army Navy. Globalsecurity.org noted that a week before the 2001 EP-3 incident in which a People’s Liberation Army Navy Air Force J-8 Finback collided with a U.S. Navy electronic surveillance plane, a Chinese frigate came very close to the unarmed vessel. The Bowditch, which is manned by a civilian crew, also was involved in incidents in 2002 and 2003.
China claims ownership of the South China Sea, marking its claims with a so-called “Nine-Dash Line.” An international panel rejected Chinese claims earlier this year in a case brought by the Philippines. The Chinese boycotted the process, and have since armed a number of artificial islands in the disputed region. Shortly after the ruling was issued, Chinese forces rammed and sank a Vietnamese fishing vessel in the disputed waters.
The U.S. has been quietly amassing firepower in the Pacific during a lull in tensions with North Korea, but recent developments on an under-the-radar nuclear weapon suggest preparation for a potential tactical nuclear strike.
While the B-2 and B-52 are known as the air leg of the U.S.’s nuclear triad, as they carry nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missiles, a smaller nuclear weapon that has undergone some upgrades may lend itself to a strike on North Korea.
Not only will the B-61’s new modification make it ideal for destroying dug-in bunkers, the kind in which North Korean leader Kim Jong Un might hide during a conflict, but it has an adjustable nuclear yield that could limit harmful radioactive fallout after a nuclear attack.
Though the U.S. has plenty of nuclear weapons that can easily hit North Korea from land, air, or sea, they’re predominantly large ones meant to deter countries like Russia or China.
A 2017 paper in MIT’s International Security journal suggested that recent advances in guidance systems and nuclear weapons could allow the U.S. to destroy all of North Korea’s nuclear infrastructure while causing 100 or so deaths, versus 2 million to 3 million deaths on both sides of the 38th parallel without them.
But Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, suggested the paper was flawed.
Hanham told Business Insider that the paper’s supposition that only five sites would constitute the bulk or entirety of North Korea’s nuclear infrastructure stood without merit.
North Korea has gone to great lengths to deter nuclear or conventional strikes by spreading its nuclear infrastructure across the country. The sites are shrouded in secrecy, and the U.S. intelligence community, despite its best, concerted efforts, has been wrong about their locations before, a former State Department official told Business Insider.
Trump seems to like the idea of tactical nuke strikes and striking North Korea
Despite evidence that tactical nuclear weapons won’t solve the North Korean military quagmire, President Donald Trump’s administration has looked favorably on smaller nuclear weapons.
The B-61 bombs live in military bases spread across Europe and are much less visible than big bombers, whose movements are often publicized. For example, The Aviationist reported in October that a civilian with a handheld radio scanner intercepted B-2 and B-52 pilots over Kansas training to pull off a strike on North Korean VIP targets.
But experts and politicians have characterized the idea of a nuclear strike as destabilizing and frankly crazy. Rep. John Garamendi, a California Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, questioned the wisdom of it in an interview with Business Insider.
“Certainly, North Korea understands that the U.S. is pretty tough,” Garamendi said. “The U.S. is prepared and willing to respond to aggression by North Korea.”
He added: “But we must assume that if we were to do a bloody-nose attack, that North Korea would respond in some way. Then what?”
The 36 page indictment outlines a massive scheme to defraud the government through a series of kickbacks, money laundering, and medical malpractice.
The feds allege the conspiracy began in 2014 when Richard Cesario and John Cooper founded CCMGRX, LLC (later renamed CMGRX). The premise of the company was to market compounded prescriptions to service members, retirees, and their dependents, documents show.
Compound prescriptions are drugs which are mixed in an effort to provide a unique prescription that meets the specific needs of the patient. They are not approved by the FDA, but may be prescribed when a patient is unable to have a specific ingredient in a drug, or the drug is not available in a specific form, such as prescriptions for children who can’t swallow a pill and must have a liquid version of the medication.
Cesario and Cooper enlisted the help of three marketers, Joe Straw, Luis Rios, and Michael Kiselak, to recruit pharmacies and patients, the indictment shows.
The patients allegedly were oblivious to the scam, instead being told that they were taking part in a medical study being done by an independent non-profit organization, the Freedom From Pain Foundation. The company was operated by Cesario and Cooper, who used the company to launder the money they received from TRICARE, Justice says.
Money was allegedly paid to five different pharmacy owners and two doctors.
After paying beneficiaries for participating in the study, kickbacks were allegedly sent in the form of checks to the doctors, pharmacy owners, and marketers. The rest was pocketed by Cesario and Cooper, the feds say.
More than 30 separate counts were filed against the men, including conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud.
The indictment also outlines some of the punishment the men will face should they be found guilty, beginning with a list of properties in Texas, Florida, and Costa Rica that the men will have to turn over to the government.
Additionally, 32 vehicles, including Ferraris; Maseratis; Aston Martins, Corvettes; Mercedes-Benz; Jaguars; Porsches; Hummers; Cadillacs; BMWs and several trucks and SUVs will be seized by the government upon conviction of any single offense.
The indictment goes on to list multiple boats and recreational vehicles, bank accounts in the names of the men and family members, cash, investment accounts, firearms, jewelry, other property, and “working interest” in several oil companies, as well as a “money judgement” that could all be seized by the government in an effort to recoup the over $100 million scammed by the group.
According to the press release regarding the indictment, Cesario and Cooper, who were placed in custody earlier this year, are being held until trial. The other 10 men all made bail until their trial.
Each of the charges against the men is punishable by between 5 and 10 years, and a $250,000 fine.
The FBI and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service helped investigate and breaking up the alleged conspiracy ring.
In Iraq’s capital city of Baghdad during the 1980s, a family of six brothers and one sister — all very close in age — played in the streets and parks of their hometown, enjoying the simple things in life they had at the time. Through the decades, the times and the city had changed, and the streets and parks were not as simple.
Alsaeedy, the son of an Iraqi army reserve officer, said Iraq was a joyous place to grow up. “We played basketball, walked to school — all the children in the neighborhood were close,” he added. “There were negatives in politics, but we believed in our father, and everything was fine.”
Alsaeedy’s dream was to travel. “Everybody’s goal [in high school] was to travel the world, places like [the United Kingdom], U.S., and Europe,” Alsaeedy said. He kept that dream with him before pursuing a degree in biochemical engineering at the University of Baghdad.
“I was in my second year of college when everything happened — the troops arrived,” he said. “It was a year later when it seemed things began to settle down. We all were trying to educate ourselves on the matter, because we believed — and still do — that the U.S. forces and allies were there to transform the country and help. We felt there was not going to be any more tyranny system or sects of families taking over the country, doing whatever they felt they wanted … so we believed in the change and welcomed it.”
Trouble Finding Work
After graduating from college, Alsaeedy needed to find work, preferably in the engineering field. But it was extremely hard to come by, he said, due to the nature of the country and the fact that most employers hired only within their sects.
“I did not know exactly what to do or what I wanted to do, but I did know that I wanted to work for and with the service members,” he said. “It was not just about money or security. It was about being a part of something important to me.”
Unable to break into the U.S. contractor market, Alsaeedy’s education and skill set eventually gravitated employers to him within the private sector. In 2005, he found stability in the information technology field as a networking specialist for satellite communications.
“Then one day a man came into the shop and it changed my life forever,” he said. “He inquired about an internet network to be installed on a military base in Baghdad. I took the job. After the work was complete, they were very satisfied and needed more, so they hired me full-time. My English was very fluent, and I became a translator for them, too.”
While the years passed, Alsaeedy’s experiences and relationships grew through the ranks, and by 2007, he was a popular name among higher-ranking officials with the U.S. Air Force and the Marines in Qaim, Iraq.
Integrated Into Brotherhood
“I saw in the soldiers what very few of us [natives] see,” Alsaeedy said. “They were trustful, pleasant and respectful; they integrated me into their brotherhood.”
Insurgency propaganda said the Americans were in Iraq to destroy everything, Alsaeedy said.” But they were not,” he added. “They were building. They built infrastructure for the population and barracks for the Iraqi army. They supplied resources increasing our livelihood [and] creating jobs for husbands and fathers.”
At the end of 2007, Alsaeedy received some big news. Then-President George W. Bush allowed vetted contractors who had worked for the U.S. government for at least five years to be granted special immigrant visas for them and their families. The visa allowed them to live and work in the United States. At the end of 2009, Alsaeedy said, things started to change as U.S. troops began to withdraw.
“The protection was decreasing and so was the structure,” he said. “I knew if I stayed, my family and I were going to die soon.” In 2010, Alsaeedy met his five-year requirement to qualify for the special visa for him and his family to move to the United States.
Settling in Virginia
He settled in Norfolk, Virginia, where a new country and culture surrounded him. What he once knew as a world of war was now a life of peace and the pursuit of happiness, he said. He was immediately hired, and he worked for an oil and gas company from 2011 to 2012.
Alsaeedy said he felt grateful to the United States for the opportunities he’d received.
However, Alsaeedy said he “wanted to give them more.”
He enlisted into the U.S. Army in August 2013 as a combat engineer. Shortly thereafter, he attended basic training and advanced individual training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
Alsaeedy demonstrated his potential and quick-learning abilities, as well as outstanding physical fitness. He was afforded the opportunity to attend airborne school at Fort Benning, Georgia, upon graduation.
“I found out that I was going to be assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division,” he said. “I knew it was an honor and a prestigious unit. I remember seeing the ‘Double-A’ patch in Iraq. And to realize that I am now one of those paratroopers along with my family — I was beyond excited and humbled. However, it truly did not hit me until I came to Fort Bragg and walked through the division’s museum. That’s when I realized I was a part of something special.”
In 2014, Alsaeedy arrived full of energy to Alpha Company, 307th BEB. He was a new Panther Engineer, and he integrated just fine among his leaders and peers.
“We did a lot of training,” he said. “We went to every kind of weapons range you could think of. I learned demolitions, steel cutting, [went on] too many ruck marches, and was just very happy.”
Returning to Iraq
But Alsaeedy’s heart was holding a deep secret: there was something missing.
“My real dream was to return to Iraq,” he said. “I wanted to be an asset to the unit. I had the language, the background and culture. I knew if I ever went back, I would put myself out there to be as valuable as I could for the 307th.”
In early 2015, the 3rd BCT deployed to Southwest Asia in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. At the time, it was the newest campaign in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. There, paratroopers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division provided advice and assistance to Iraqi security forces.
In a twist of fate, Alsaeedy’s unit operated in the neighborhood where he was raised. His dream finally came true.
“It wasn’t easy at first,” Alsaeedy said while looking up with teary eyes. “But it was my leadership. They understood my situation. They supported me. It made my job and task much easier.”
Alsaeedy’s background and capabilities soon became an asset for his battalion commander all the way up to division command sergeant major and higher-ranking officials in tactical operations centers around the area of operations.
With his hard work and commitment to his leadership and the unit’s mission, Alsaeedy received the first battlefield promotion for a noncommissioned officer during the OIR campaign. He was pinned with the rank of sergeant during the fall of 2015 upon the unit’s redeployment to Fort Bragg.
His accomplishments and accolades did not stop there. “When I became an NCO, great things began to happen for me and my family,” Alsaeedy said. He attended the Warrior Leader’s Course soon after becoming a sergeant, learning technical skills and correspondence in the craft of an NCO.
Alsaeedy’s motivation and physical fitness separated him from his peers. He wanted to go to Sapper School and master his craft as an engineer. “I may have had a more advanced role during deployment, but I am still an engineer in the 307th,” he said.
Early 2016 came around, and he began training with the division’s Best Sapper Team as it prepared to compete in the U.S. Army Best Sapper competition.
To keep himself busy and find new challenges, Alsaeedy attended the two-week Fort Bragg Pre-Ranger Course, which evaluates and prepares future candidates for the U.S. Army’s Ranger School at Fort Benning.
He never went to Sapper School, though. Immediately upon graduating the Pre-Ranger Course, he was put on a bus to Ranger School. Alsaeedy went straight through the 62-day course, a course that normally has a high attrition rate.
“I have been busy, that’s for sure,” he said. “But I felt the more I accomplish as an NCO and a paratrooper, the more I am giving back to the Army.
“I am just so grateful. I cannot put into words how I feel, landing the opportunity during the mid-2000s to becoming a citizen, a soldier deployed to my hometown and a Ranger,” he continued. “My wife and child love the installation, the people, and my daughter is receiving a great education from the schools on Fort Bragg. The Army adopted me, and I am forever in debt to the most professional and perfect organization: the 82nd Airborne [Division].”
The spike in tension concerns US officials because of the massive Al Udeid military base in Qatar, where some 11,000 US personnel are stationed and from which US Central Command has run much of the war against ISIS in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
According to President Donald Trump, who has publicly backed the Saudi-led effort and criticized Qatar, relocating from Al Udeid would be no significant obstacle.
“If we ever have to leave” Al Udeid, he said, “we would have 10 countries willing to build us another one, believe me, and they will pay for it.”
Trump did try to downplay potential conflict with Doha, saying, “We are going to have a good relationship with Qatar. We are not going to have problems with the military base.” But, he said, “if we ever needed another military base, you have other countries that would gladly build it.”
When asked this week about the situation around Al Udeid, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said the US has weighed other basing options as part of what he described has standard operational planning.
“I think any time you are doing military operations, you are always thinking ahead to Plan Bs and Plan Cs … we would be remiss if we didn’t do that,” he said, according to Military Times. “In this case, we have confidence that our base in Qatar is still able to be used.”
The break between Qatar and its neighbors was a departure from the relative stability seen in that part of the Middle East. The Saudi-led bloc’s initial condemnation of Doha came days after Trump left a friendly meeting with Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia, and the US president appears to have thrown his weight behind Riyadh’s efforts — accusing Qatar of backing terrorism on several occasions, including during his remarks to CBN.
Trump has also joined with the Saudi-led coalition in rebuking Iran for what they see as Tehran’s meddling in the region. But the the conflict with Qatar appears to have strengthened Tehran’s position.
And since Al Udeid would be the jumping-off point for any anti-Iran operations in the region, deteriorating relations between Qatar and its neighbors and the US could affect their plans to contain Iran.
Despite the tensions, the US has kept up operations at Al Udeid and with Qatar.
The US and Qatari navies completed exercises in the waters east of Qatar in mid-June, running air-defense and surface-missile drills. The US also signed off on a weapons deal with Qatar less than a week after Trump spoke approvingly of Saudi-led action against Doha.
Pentagon officials have said tensions around Qatar were affecting their long-term planning ability, echoing comments made by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson prior to Trump’s first remarks supporting the blockade.
But Davis, the Pentagon spokesman, said operations there are continuing as before.
“Despite the situation going on with Qatar, we continue to have full use and access of the base there,” he told Military Times. “We are able to re-supply it, we’re able to conduct operations.”
The EC-130H Compass Call is a modified Hercules tasked with various types of signals surveillance, interdiction, and disruption. According to the U.S. Air Force official fact sheets, “the Compass Call system employs offensive counter-information and electronic attack (or EA) capabilities in support of U.S. and Coalition tactical air, surface, and special operations forces.”
The USAF EC-130H overall force is quite small, consisting of only 14 aircraft, based at Davis-Monthan AFB (DMAFB), in Tucson, Arizona and belonging to the 55th Electronic Combat Group (ECG) and its two squadrons: the 41st and 43rd Electronic Combat Squadrons (ECS). Also based at DMAFB and serving as the type training unit is the 42nd ECS that operates a lone TC-130H trainer along with some available EC-130Hs made available by the other front-line squadrons.
The role of the Compass Call is to disrupt the enemy’s ability to command and control their forces by finding, prioritizing and targeting the enemy communications. This means that the aircraft is able to detect the signals emitted by the enemy’s communication and control gear and jam them so that the communication is denied. The original mission of the EC-130H was SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses): the Compass Call were to jam the enemy’s IADS (Integrated Air Defense Systems) and to prevent interceptors from talking with the radar controllers on the ground (or aboard an Airborne Early Warning aircraft). Throughout the years, the role has evolved, making the aircraft a platform capable of targeting also the signals between UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and their control stations.
According to the official data:
The EC-130H fleet is composed of a mix of Baseline 1 and 2 aircraft. The 55th ECG recently eclipsed 10,900 combat sorties and 66,500 flight hours as they provided U.S. and Coalition forces and Joint Commanders a flexible advantage across the spectrum of conflict. COMPASS CALL’s adaptability is directly attributed to its spiral upgrade acquisition strategy guided by the Big Safari Program office and Air Force Material Command’s 661st Aeronautical Systems Squadron based in Waco, Texas. Combined efforts between these agencies ensure the EC-130H can counter new, emergent communication technology.
The Block 35 Baseline 1 EC-130H provides the Air Force with additional capabilities to jam communication, Early Warning/Acquisition radar and navigation systems through higher effective radiated power, extended frequency range and insertion of digital signal processing versus earlier EC-130Hs. Baseline 1 aircraft have the flexibility to keep pace with adversary use of emerging technology. It is highly reconfigurable and permits incorporation of clip-ins with less crew impact. It promotes enhanced crew proficiency, maintenance and sustainment with a common fleet configuration, new operator interface, increased reliability and better fault detection.
Baseline 2 has a number of upgrades to ease operator workload and improve effectiveness. Clip-in capabilities are now integrated into the operating system and, utilizing automated resource management, are able to be employed seamlessly with legacy capabilities. Improved external communications allow Compass Call crews to maintain situational awareness and connectivity in dynamic operational and tactical environments.
Delivery of Baseline-2 provides the DoD with the equivalent of a “fifth generation electronic attack capability.” A majority of the improvements found in the EC-130H Compass Call Baseline-2 are classified modifications to the mission system that enhance precision and increase attack capacity. Additionally, the system was re-designed to expand the “plug-and-play” quick reaction capability aspect, which has historically allowed the program to counter unique “one-off” high profile threats. Aircraft communication capabilities are improved with expansion of satellite communications connectivity compatible with emerging DoD architectures, increased multi-asset coordination nets and upgraded data-link terminals. Furthermore, modifications to the airframe in Baseline-2 provide improved aircraft performance and survivability.
Although it’s not clear whether this ability has already been translated into an operational capability, in 2015, a USAF EC-130H Compass Call aircraft has also been involved in demos where it attacked networks from the air: a kind of in-flight hacking capability that could be particularly useful to conduct cyberwarfare missions where the Electronic Attack aircraft injects malware by air-gapping closed networks.
With about one-third of the fleet operating in support of Operation Inherent Resolve (indeed, four EC-130Hs, teaming up with the RC-135 Rivet Joint and other EA assets, are operating over Iraq and Syria to deny the Islamic State the ability to communicate), the fact that a single EC-130H (73-1590 “Axis 43”) was recently deployed from Davis Monthan AFB to Osan Air Base, South Korea, where it arrived via Yokota, on Jan. 4, 2018, it’s pretty intriguing.
One Soldier said that a film crew brought the oryx there to shoot a movie many years ago and simply left them out in the desert. Another Soldier said that he heard that an African king had gifted them to the US. But in reality, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish introduced 95 oryx to the area in the 1950s for large game hunters. Thousands now populate the region.
But, being an non-indigenous species, the National Park Service is concerned about how the animals are affecting the local ecosystem, especially the nearby White Sands National Park. At one point, being a curious fellow, I crept up to the animal to get a better shot — but it wasn’t having any of that. It stomped its hoof and took a couple charging steps towards me, which sent me running in the other direction, much to the Soldiers’ amusement. Nor was the oryx scared of the Paladin. Even after the howitzer fired, sending a massive shockwave throughout the surrounding area, I saw it still hanging around.
Eventually, it meandered away, slowly fading into the sprawling desert landscape — and we never saw it again.
The US military and its NATO partners have been looking to reassert their presence in Europe in the wake of Russian action in Crimea.
NATO has deployed multinational units to Eastern Europe, and the US Army has been looking to boost its armor for more rotational deployments. Armored units on the continent are also expanding their training repertoire.
Soldiers from the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, from the 1st Infantry Division, arrived in Europe in September 2017, with roughly 3,300 personnel, 87 tanks, 125 Bradley fighting vehicles, and 18 Paladin self-propelled howitzers for a nine-month rotation at locations in Poland, Germany, Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria.
When they disembarked in Gdansk, Poland, it would be “the first time two armored brigades transition within the European theater sending a full complement of soldiers and equipment into Germany and Poland in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve,” Eastern Europe operations command spokesman US Army Master Sgt. Brent Williams said at the time.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Dustin D. Biven)
The unit’s rotation is also concluding with something of a first. Between April 22 and April 25, 2018, the 2nd ABCT carried out a tactical road march with over 700 vehicles on public roads between the Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels training areas in southeast Germany — the first time the exercise has been done at the brigade level in 15 years, according to the Army.
“The 7th Army Training Command, who conducts the exercise, decided to leverage the two training areas in Bavaria to connect multiple locations and units to create a more realistic training environment in Europe,” said Capt. Orlandon Howard, 2nd ABCT public-affairs officer.
The exercise was part of the Combined Resolve multinational exercise, which is taking place between April 9 and May 12, 2018, and includes personnel from 13 countries. The exercise is designed to give rotational brigades a graded culminating event in realistic and complex training environment before they return to the US.
After a maneuver live-fire drill, the brigade was ordered to conduct the march to Hohenfels, where it would start preparing for the 10-day, force-on-force portion of the exercise.
The road march required only limited recovery operations and avoided major damage to roads and towns along the route, which the release noted was a significant accomplishment in light of the size of some of the vehicles involved.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Kathleen V. Polanco)
Soldiers from the 2nd ABCT were joined by the Polish army’s 12th Mechanized Division, and a number of local residents stopped to watch the procession.
A German family waved at the soldiers while a German man held a US flag across his body. Others wore shirts or hats with US Army printed on them or with unit patches. One local man, Ralf Rosenecker, and several of his friends set up a display of three remote-controlled tanks with US flags, according to an Army release.
“Rosenecker said he was excited to see so many tanks because it had been over 15 years since such a large tactical road march was conducted on German roads,” the Army release said.
The US deployed hundreds of tanks, trucks, and other military equipment, accompanied by about 4,000 troops, to Europe at the beginning of 2017. The deployment, part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, was meant to reassure US allies in the face of what many of them perceived as Russian aggression.
At the time, NATO said the planned deployments — which included US troops to Poland and Germany, Canada, and the UK sending 1,000 troops each to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — were strictly defensive, through Russia rebuked what it saw as a armed buildup by Western countries in Eastern Europe
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Sharon Matthias)
Rotational forces have continued to cycle through Europe, carrying out training exercises with partner forces there.
In January 2018, a convoy of US Paladins traveling from Poland to exercises in southern Germany was briefly stranded, after German border police stopped the Polish contractors transporting them for violating transportation rules.
In March 2018, NATO announced its new logistics command — is meant to ensure the quick movement of troops and material across Europe in the event of conflict — will be based in the southern German city of Ulm.
The EU has also said it is devising a plan for military personnel and equipment to move quickly across Europe in a crisis, avoiding border delays and bridges and roads too weak to handle military vehicles.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Navy Corpsman Victoria Lord endured a difficult childhood in foster care before finding a home in the military. Deployed on a hospital ship during the Iraq War, Lord was profoundly moved and inspired by the strength and sacrifices of her fellow sailors.
One of Lord’s favorite tattoos is Hello Kitty wearing Navy Dress Blues.
“She kinda represents me,” explains Lord, “I put her in Blues for the Navy because they taught me so much about family.”
Lord’s story is part of a video series presented by We Are The Mighty. War Ink: 11 for 11 features 11 combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan using tattoos to tell their stories on and off the battlefield. Each week for the next 11 weeks, a different tattooed veteran will share his or her story.
Do you have a tattoo that tells the story of your war experiences? Post a photo of it at We Are The Mighty’s Facebook page with the hashtag #WeAreTheMightyInk. WATM will be teeing up the coolest and most intense ones through Veteran’s Day.