The Fighting Season is a six part documentary series that captures what ending a war looks like. The film, which is out now, shows the sacrifices of the men and women who fought for the freedom and security of Afghanistan as America’s longest war drew to an end. Producer Ricky Schroder put himself in harm’s way as an embedded cameramen to deliver the best account possible.
In this edition of “At The Mighty,” Schroder discusses his motivations for filming this series and his experience with the troops in Afghanistan.
A video of the Dec. 3 raid released on YouTube by the Russian Republic of Dagestan shows some highlights of the mission that resulted in the death of the commander of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s Russian affiliate.
But of you look carefully, there’s also some seldom seen gear being used by the Russian shock troops.
The two-minute video released on YouTube showed personnel from a paramilitary arm of the Federal Security Bureau — one of the successor agencies to the Soviet KGB — during the operation that killed Rustan Aselderov.
Aselderov had been responsible for a number of attacks, including two in two days in Volgograd that left 34 people dead. According to a report by Russia Today, no Russian forces were killed or wounded in the operation.
The video also featured some interesting Russian gear.
FSB personnel used a late-model BTR (either a BTR-80A, BTR-82 or BTR-90) with a 30mm autocannon, the 2A42, that is also used on the BMP-2 and BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles. According to GlobalSecurity.org, late-model BTRs can carry an infantry section of seven or eight soldiers, and are also equipped with a 7.62 mm machine gun mounted coaxially to their main gun.
Past versions of the BTR had only been equipped with the KPV, a 14.5mm machine gun that was also used on the BRDM scout vehicle and on the ZPU series of anti-aircraft guns.
Most notable, though, was a miniature robot used to provide some suppressive fire (shown at around the 1:37 mark of the video) using what appears to be a general-purpose machine gun. The most common type of this weapon in Russian service is the PKM, which fires the 7.62x54mm Russian round also used in the Mosin-Nagant rifles and the SVD sniper rifle.
According to the website world.guns.ru, the PKM also can fire up to 650 rounds per minute. A burst of at least three seconds is shown being fired into the building occupied by Aselderov.
The robot also featured a pair of apparent RPG-22 rocket launchers, which are similar to the M72 Light Anti-tank Weapons in service with the United States and many of its allies.
According the United States Army’s OPFOR World Equipment Guide, the RPG-22 has a range of over 250 yards and can penetrate almost 400 millimeters of armor.
The Russian personnel carrying out the mission were carrying Kalashnikov-style assault rifles. While the AK-74 is the standard-issue assault rifle of the Russian military, there are variants chambered for other rounds, like the AK-101 (chambered for the 5.56mm NATO round) and the AK-103 (chambered for the 7.62x39mm round used in the AK-47).
The FSB personnel wore fatigues with a MultiCam-esque camouflage pattern, which according to Camopedia.org, has been in use since 2008.
Dennis Blair, a former director of national intelligence, on Jan. 30, defined what he called North Korea’s “kryptonite,” saying it could collapse Kim Jong Un’s government without firing a shot.
While President Donald Trump’s inner circle reportedly weighs the use of military force against North Korea, Blair, a former U.S. Navy Admiral, has suggested another method of attack that wields information, not weapons.
“The kryptonite that can weaken North Korea is information from beyond its borders,” Blair said in a written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
North Koreans have no idea how bad things are in their country, Blair said, because they’re subject to an “unrelenting barrage of government propaganda.”
North Korean citizens caught with South Korean media can be sentenced to death or sent to horrific prison camps, as control of the media and intolerance for different narratives are pillars of North Korea’s government.
But Blair said the U.S. could leverage a recent trend in North Korea: cellphones.
About one in five North Koreans own a cellphone, many of which can connect to Chinese cell towers across the Yalu River along the countries’ border, he said.
“Texts to these cellphones can provide subversive truth,” Blair said. “Cell towers can be extended; CDs and thumb drives can be smuggled in; radio and TV stations can be beamed there.”
Blair added: “The objective is to separate the Kim family from its primary support — the secret police, the army, and the propaganda ministry.”
Though outside media does get into North Korea and reaches the country’s elites, the U.S. could expand efforts to flood it with outside news. The U.S. used a similar tactic during the Cold War in setting up Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty to combat the Soviet Union and its state-controlled media.
“Kim Jong Un understands that as soon as society is open and North Korean people realize what they’re missing, Kim’s regime is unsustainable, and it’s going to be overthrown,” Sun said.
Sun said that in the past when South Korea flew balloons that dropped pamphlets and DVDs over North Korea, Kim’s government responded militarily, sensing its frailty relative to those of prosperous liberal democracies.
Blair pointed to other totalitarian states where popular uprisings have become informed and sought to take down a media-controlling dictator, concluding his testimony by saying that “once that process starts, it is hard to stop.”
Jack Taylor, the founder of Enterprise Rent-a-car who served as a fighter pilot during World War II, died last week at the age of 94 according to an announcement made by the company.
Taylor served as an F6F Hellcat pilot in the Pacific Theater during World War II, flying from the U.S.S. Essex and U.S.S. Enterprise (his company’s namesake). He was attached to Carrier Air Group 15, led by the top Navy ace of all time, Commander David McCampbell. CAG 15, which sustained more than 50 percent casualties during the war, was one of the most decorated combat units in the history of U.S. Naval Aviation. Taylor, who served as McCampbell’s wingman on several combat missions, was twice decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross. He also received the Navy Air Medal.
After the war, he worked as a sales rep for a Cadillac dealership before getting into the leasing business with a fleet of 7 cars. His breakthrough idea was renting cars at places other than airports for those who needed an extra car around the neighborhood for whatever reason. His company, Executive Leasing, eventually became Enterprise. The company is among the world’s biggest rental car brands, with annual revenues at nearly $20 billion.
Taylor also a philanthropist. Since 1982, he personally donated more than $860 million to a wide variety of organizations including Washington University and the symphony orchestra in his hometown of St. Louis.
Years later, Taylor reflected back on how well his military service had prepared him for his business success, saying, “After landing a Hellcat on the pitching deck of a carrier, or watching enemy tracer bullets stream past your canopy, somehow the risk of starting up my own company didn’t seem all that big a deal.”
In early October 2018, a US Navy destroyer sailed close to Chinese-occupied territory in the area, a freedom-of-navigation exercise meant in part to contest Beijing’s expansive claims.
During that exercise, a Chinese destroyer approached the US ship — reportedly as close as 45 feet — in what Navy officials called an “unsafe and unprofessional maneuver.”
“The tension is escalating, and that could prove to be dangerous to both sides,” a senior US official told Reuters on Sept. 30, 2018, after China canceled a meeting between its officials and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis — the second senior-level meeting called off in a week.
The encounter between the US and Chinese ships took place near the Spratly Islands, at the southern end of the South China Sea. Farther north, at Scarborough Shoal, the US, the Philippines, and China have already butted heads, and their long-standing dispute there could quickly escalate.
The Philippines took over Scarborough after its independence in 1946. But in 2012, after a stand-off with the Philippines, China took de facto control of the shoal, blocking Filipino fishermen from entering.
Map showing territory claimed by the Philippines, including internal waters, territorial sea, international treaty limits, and exclusive economic zone.
Chinese control of Scarborough — about 130 miles west of the Philippine island of Luzon and about 400 miles from China’s Hainan Island — is an ongoing concern for the Philippines and the US.
Given the shoal’s proximity to the Luzon, if “China puts air-defense missiles and surface-to-surface missiles there, like they have at other South China Sea islands, they could reach the Philippines,” Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said in late August 2018.
That would be “the most direct sort of pushback on the Philippines’ attempt to assert control over Scarborough Shoal,” said Clark, a former US Navy officer.
Beyond a challenge to Manila, a military presence on Scarborough could give China more leverage throughout the South China Sea.
Scarborough would be one point in a triangle edged by the Spratlys and the Paracel Islands, both of which already house Chinese military outposts.
While China can use shore-based assets in the air-defense identification zone it declared over the East China Sea in 2013, the eastern fringe of the South China Sea is out of range for that, Clark said.
“So their thought is, the Chinese would really like to develop Scarborough Shoal and put a radar on it so they can start enforcing an ADIZ, and that would allow them to kind of complete their argument that they have control and oversight over the South China Sea,” Clark said.
Given Scarborough’s proximity to bases in the Philippines and the country’s capital, Manila, as well as to Taiwan, a presence there would extend China’s intelligence-gathering ability and maritime-domain awareness, said Greg Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“But above and beyond the military implications … China has a political interest in establishing control over all the waters and airspace within the nine-dash line, in both peace and war,” Poling said in an email, referring to the boundary of China’s expansive claim in the South China Sea.
‘What is our red line?’
After 2012, Manila took its case to the Permanent Court for Arbitration at The Hague, which ruled in favor of the Philippines in July 2016, rejecting China’s claims and finding that Beijing had interfered with Philippine rights in its exclusive economic zone, including at Scarborough. (EEZs can extend 230 miles from a country’s coast.)
Ahead of that ruling, the US detected signs China was getting ready to reclaim land at the shoal, and then-President Barack Obama reportedly warned Chinese President Xi Jinping of serious consequences for doing so, which was followed by China withdrawing its ships from the area.
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden talk with Vice President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China and members of the Chinese delegation following their bilateral meeting in the Oval Office, Feb. 14, 2012.
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
That warning was followed by increased Pentagon activity in the region, including flying A-10 Thunderbolts, which are ground-attack aircraft, near Scarborough a month later.
Tensions between China and Philippines eased after the ruling was issued, however, as Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who took office in July 2016, pursued rapprochement.
The Philippines said in February 2017 that it expected China to try to build on the reef, which Manila called “unacceptable.” The following month, Chinese authorities removed comments by an official about building on Scarborough from state-backed media, raising questions about Beijing’s plans.
More recently, the Philippines warned China of its limits at Scarborough.
“What is our red line? Our red line is that they cannot build on Scarborough [Shoal],” Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said in May 2018.
Cayetano said the other two red lines were Chinese action against Philippine troops stationed at Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratlys and the unilateral exploration of natural resources in the area. He said China had been made aware of the Philippine position and that Beijing had its own “red line” for the area.
In July 2018, the acting chief justice of the Philippine supreme court, Antonio Carpio, said Manila should ask the US make Scarborough an “official red line,” requesting its recognition as Philippine territory under the US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty, which obligates each to come to the aid of the other in case of attack.
“Duterte himself has reportedly said that Chinese construction of a permanent facility at Scarborough would be a red line for the Philippines,” Poling said.
The Philippines’ “one real option” to try to prevent Chinese construction on Scarborough would be to invoke that defense treaty, Poling said.
President Rodrigo Duterte and President Xi Jinping shake hands prior to their bilateral meetings at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, October 2016.
It’s not clear if the treaty applies to the shoal, Poling added, “but the treaty definitely does apply to an attack on Filipino armed forces or ships anywhere in the Pacific.”
“So Manila would probably need to send Navy or Coast Guard ships to interfere with any work China attempted at Scarborough … and then call for US intervention should China use force.”
That could cause China to back off, as Obama’s warning in 2016 did, Poling said.
While China has pulled back from previous attempts to build on the shoal, “they’ve got ships floating around the area just waiting for the chance,” Clark said in late August 2018. “So I wouldn’t be surprised if China tries to restart that project in the next year to … gauge what the US reaction is and see if they can get away with it.”
That would almost certainly force the hand of the US and the Philippines.
“If China’s able to start building an island there and put systems on it, and the Philippines doesn’t resist … all bets are off,” Clark said. “China feels emboldened to say the South China Sea is essentially a Chinese area.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Saucier has said he merely wanted service mementos. But federal prosecutors said he was a disgruntled sailor who compromised national security and then obstructed the investigation by destroying a laptop and camera.
The news was announced by White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee at a briefing March 9, 2018. It is only Trump’s second pardon, after the president pardoned Joe Arpaio, an ardent Trump supporter and former Phoenix sheriff who was convicted of criminal contempt in August 2017.
The investigation began in March 2012, when Saucier’s cellphone, with pictures of the submarine still on it, was found at a waste-transfer station in Connecticut. Saucier was charged with taking photos of classified spaces, instruments, and equipment in July 2015 and pleaded guilty to one count of unauthorized possession and retention of national defense information in May 2016.
In addition to a year in jail, he was given an “other than honorable” discharge from the Navy.
Trump referenced Saucier’s case numerous times during his campaign — in one speech, Trump referred to Saucier, a 22-year-old sailor at the time the photos were taken, as “the kid who wanted some pictures of the submarine.”
Vice President Mike Pence also said during an October 2016 debate that a service member who handled classified information the way Clinton did would “absolutely” face court-martial, though The Washington Post found it was far from clear that would happen. Saucier’s lawyer also compared the six photos his client took to the 110 classified emails the FBI found were on the private email server Clinton used while she was secretary of state.
The judge in the case appeared to dismiss the comparison, as well as the argument that Saucier was being treated differently, saying “selective enforcement is really not a good argument” that didn’t “really carry much water.”
Saucier was released to house arrest at the end of summer 2017 and said later that year he thought “punishment isn’t doled out evenly” and that he hoped Trump would “make right by it.”
On March 10, 2018, hours after Huckabee said the president was “appreciative” of Saucier’s service to the country, Trump tweeted his congratulations to the former sailor, calling him “a man who has served proudly in the Navy.”
“Now you can go out and have the life you deserve!” Trump said.
The United States has slapped sanctions on a network of businesses that provide financial support to an Iranian paramilitary force that Washington says recruits and trains child soldiers for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
The new sanctions, announced on Oct. 16, 2018, are part of the United States’ economic campaign to pressure Iran over what President Donald Trump’s administration describes as its “malign” role in the Middle East, including support for militant groups.
In announcing the sanctions, the Treasury Department said in a statement that a network of some 20 corporations and financial institutions known as the Bonyad Taavon Basij was financing the Basij force, a volunteer paramilitary organization linked to the IRGC.
“This vast network provides financial infrastructure to the Basij’s efforts to recruit, train, and indoctrinate child soldiers who are coerced into combat under the IRGC’s direction,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.
The Basij is involved in violent crackdowns and serious human rights abuses within Iran, the statement said.
The militia also recruits and trains fighters for the IRGC’s elite Quds Force, including Iranian children as young as 12, who then deploy to Syria to support the government of President Bashar al-Assad, it added.
President Bashar al-Assad.
The New York-based organization Human Rights Watch has documented how the IRGC has recruited Afghan immigrant children living in Iran to fight in Syria alongside Assad’s forces.
Tehran has given Assad crucial support throughout the war in Syria, which began with a government crackdown on protesters in March 2011.
The Treasury said that the Bonyad Taavon Basij uses shell companies to mask its control over multibillion-dollar business interests in Iran’s automotive, mining, metals, and banking industries.
It sanctioned Bank Mellat, Mehr Eqtesad Bank, Mehr Eqtesad Iranian Investment Co., and five other investment firms, as well as other entities affiliated with the network.
These include Iran Tractor Manufacturing Co., the Middle East’s largest tractor manufacturer, and Mobarakeh Steel Co., the largest steelmaker in the Middle East and North Africa region, it said.
The sanctions prohibit U.S. citizens from doing business with the network or its affiliates and freeze assets they have under U.S. jurisdiction.
The decision comes after the US Supreme Court lifted two injunctions on the ban in January 2019 to allow it to go into effect. However, due to an injunction in the Maryland case of Stone v. Trump, which was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of transgender plaintiffs who are either currently serving in the armed forces or plan to enlist, the ban was never fully implemented.
March 7, 2019’s ruling gives the administration another opportunity to move forward with a policy first proposed over Tweet by the president in July 2017. The ban, which was later officially released by then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis in a 2018 memorandum, blocks anyone with a condition known as gender dysphoria from serving in the military. Mattis added that transgender individuals could remain in the military as long as they served “in their biological sex” and did not undergo gender-transition surgery.
The case in Maryland was filed days after the president ordered the Pentagon to not allow the recruitment of transgender people, The Washington Post reported.
In his order on March 7, 2019, US District Judge George Russell III ruled that “the Court is bound by the Supreme Court’s decision,” thereby revoking an earlier order he had issued to bar the administration from implementing the policy, according to The Post.
“I think it’s really disappointing that the government would take such an extreme position,” Joshua Block, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU, told INSIDER. “That the government would say that [our plaintiffs] can’t complete the enlistment process is really unfair and causes a lot of unnecessary harm to people who have been trying to do nothing else but serve their country.”
A Department of Defense spokesperson told INSIDER that there is no timeline yet for when the policy will actually be implemented.
After the Supreme Court’s January 2019 ruling, which allowed the government to enforce the ban while the policy was decided in lower courts, the Department of Justice filed a motion to stay the injunction in Stone v. Trump, asking for an “expedited ruling,”according to The Daily Beast. BuzzFeed’s Chris Geidner reported days later that the motion had been filed.
“Consistent with the Supreme Court’s recent action, we are pleased this procedural hurdle has been cleared,” Department of Justice spokeswoman Kelly Laco told INSIDER in a statement. “The Department of Defense will be able to implement personnel policies it determined necessary to best defend our nation as litigation continues.”
President Donald Trump.
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)
Judge Russell’s order was one of four issued against the transgender military ban, according to the Washington Blade. Injunctions in cases filed in California and Washington state were lifted by the Supreme Court decision.
While the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit sided with Trump on the ban, US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly’s injunction is still in place, the Blade explains.
Lawyers challenging the policy told The Washington Post that the injunction in the DC Circuit case remains for at least 21 days after the court issues its final signed ruling, and that the Court of Appeals has yet to act on that.
Block expressed similar sentiment, telling INSIDER that while March 7, 2019’s ruling is a setback, there is still that additional block on the ban that exists from that DC Circuit case.
“The government has been saying in its court files that this is the last injunction preventing them from implementing the plan, but that’s not actually correct,” he said. “Until the mandate from the DC Circuit is issued, it’s still in effect.”
In response to the Maryland court’s ruling, the Department of Defense spokesperson told INSIDER that, “the Department is pleased with the district court’s decision to stay the final injunction against the Department’s proposed policy.”
In terms of the Stone v. Trump lawsuit, Block said that the case is progressing and they are working tirelessly to prove that the ban is unconstitutional. “This is just the government trying to knock down whatever obstacles remain in the meantime,” he told INSIDER.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The Navy won’t file criminal charges stemming from the drowning death of Seaman James Derek Lovelace in SEAL training.
The San Diego County medical examiner had ruled the 21-year-old sailor’s May 6, 2016, death in a swim tank in Coronado a homicide, saying in a July 2016 autopsy report that the “actions, or inactions, of the instructors and other individuals involved were excessive and directly contributed to the death.”
Navy Cdr. Liam Hulin, director of the Naval Special Warfare Basic Training Command, reviewed the findings of a Naval Criminal Investigative Services probe and determined that Lovelace’s drowning “was not the result of a crime and will not pursue criminal charges against any personnel in connection with the death,” according to a statement issued on April 10 to The San Diego Union-Tribune.
“Our thoughts and prayers remain with the Lovelace family,” said Hulin in the statement. “No loss of life in training is an acceptable loss.”
A safety review into the incident that had been put on pause by the criminal investigation will now begin, according to the Navy.
The 21-year-old Lovelace died during Combat Swimmer Orientation, a test that takes place in the first week of Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training to assess a SEAL candidate’s swimming abilities.
Students tread water and perform what the Navy says are survival skills that include removing a swim mask, uniform, and their boots.
The county medical examiner’s autopsy report revealed that a SEAL instructor repeatedly dunked Lovelace and that the student’s drowning was exacerbated by a heart condition.
“To honor those who have fallen in combat we must provide the most realistic and operationally relevant training possible. To honor those who have fallen in training we must effectively mitigate the risks of that training,” said Capt. Jay Hennessey, Commander, Naval Special Warfare Training Center.
“[Naval Special Warfare] training has been refined over more than 50 years, informed throughout by lessons learned in combat overseas as well as in training at home. We learn not only from our successes, but also from operational and training failures, mistakes and accidents. While these tragic occasions are infrequent, they greatly impact our small close-knit force and magnify the responsibility we feel to our teammates who have paid the ultimate price.”
U.S. Navy SEALs splash into the water from a combat rubber raiding craft attached to an 11-meter rigid hull inflatble boat, during a capabilities exercise, at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek – Fort Story. (U.S. Navy Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Gary L. Johnson III.)
The medical examiner’s probe indicated that Lovelace suffered from an anomalous coronary artery, which might have contributed to sudden cardiac death during the intensive training exercise. Although Lovelace appeared conscious when pulled out of the pool, witnesses said his [skin] had turned purple, his lips blue.
Navy officials have long contended that the medical examiner’s homicide ruling meant only that Lovelace died “at the hands of another” and did not necessarily suggest a crime had been committed.
Lovelace was from Crestview, Florida. Navy officials briefed his father in Florida on April 8.
“We have maintained contact with the Lovelace family,” said Naval Special Warfare spokesman Capt. Jason Salata. “Our primary point of contact, is Seaman Lovelace’s father. He is designated as his official next of kin, as a courtesy the Navy has also reached out to Seaman Lovelace’s siblings and offered counseling and other services. As part of the prosecutorial review of this case, the father’s input was carefully considered.”
In an email to the Union-Tribune, Salata said that the criminal probe followed Pentagon protocols standard to any death that occurs in training. Led by the Navy Region Southwest’s chief trial counsel, a team of prosecutors with no ties to the SEALs reviewed the probe’s findings before they were forwarded to Naval Special Warfare’s commanders.
When asked by the Union-Tribune if any SEAL instructors would receive letters of reprimand or counseling statements for their role in the incident, Salata wrote that no other action “is being taken on anyone in connection with the case.”
Students in Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL class 279 participate in a surf passage exercise during the first phase of training at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado. Surf passage is one of many physically strenuous exercises that BUD/S class 279 will take part in during the seven weeks of first phase. (U.S. Navy photo by Kyle Gahlau)
Salata said that the Navy intends to make the probe’s findings public once criminal investigators close their case.
Lovelace was only in the first week of a student’s six-month odyssey to become a SEAL. A notoriously difficult course, only about a quarter of the candidates make it through without dropping out.
In the wake of his drowning, Naval Special Warfare Basic Training Command paused the program to review and reinforce protocols for pre-training briefs, emergency action, and all in-water instruction procedures, Navy officials told the Union-Tribune.
The Navy added instruction on the signs and symptoms of water training injures and lifesaving procedures.
Today, two additional safety observers are in the water with the class, plus two safety swimmers at the water’s edge to remove struggling students quickly. The instructor-student ratio now is one to seven; it was one to 10.
In 2016, 75 students could be in the water at one time. Now, no more than 49 can enter the pool.
He was at least the fifth SEAL student to die during training over the past three decades.
In 1988, John Joseph Tomlinson, 22, from Altoona, Pa., died of hypothermia near the end of a 5 1/2 -mile ocean swim off Coronado in the 17th week of the 25-week course.
Ten years later, Gordon Racine Jr., 25, of Houston died during a pool exercise in his first month of training.
In 2001, Lt. John Anthony Skop Jr., 29, of Buffalo, N.Y., died during a “Hell Week” swim.
Three years later, Boatswain Mate 1st Class Rob Vetter, 30, died at a Coronado hospital days after he collapsed during a conditioning run in the second week of the program.
The world’s vast oceans and seas offer seemingly endless spaces in which adversaries of the United States can maneuver undetected. The U.S. military deploys networks of manned and unmanned platforms and sensors to monitor adversary activity, but the scale of the task is daunting and hardware alone cannot meet every need in the dynamic marine environment. Sea life, however, offers a potential new advantage. Marine organisms are highly attuned to their surroundings — their survival depends on it — and a new program out of DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office aims to tap into their natural sensing capabilities to detect and signal when activities of interest occur in strategic waters such as straits and littoral regions.
The Persistent Aquatic Living Sensors (PALS) program, led by program manager Lori Adornato, will study natural and modified organisms to determine which ones could best support sensor systems that detect the movement of manned and unmanned underwater vehicles. PALS will investigate marine organisms’ responses to the presence of such vehicles, and characterize the resulting signals or behaviors so they can be captured, interpreted, and relayed by a network of hardware devices.
“The U.S. Navy’s current approach to detecting and monitoring underwater vehicles is hardware-centric and resource intensive. As a result, the capability is mostly used at the tactical level to protect high-value assets like aircraft carriers, and less so at the broader strategic level,” Adornato said. “If we can tap into the innate sensing capabilities of living organisms that are ubiquitous in the oceans, we can extend our ability to track adversary activity and do so discreetly, on a persistent basis, and with enough precision to characterize the size and type of adversary vehicles.”
Beyond sheer ubiquity, sensor systems built around living organisms would offer a number of advantages over hardware alone. Sea life adapts and responds to its environment, and it self-replicates and self-sustains. Evolution has given marine organisms the ability to sense stimuli across domains — tactile, electrical, acoustic, magnetic, chemical, and optical. Even extreme low light is not an obstacle to organisms that have evolved to hunt and evade in the dark.
However, evaluating the sensing capabilities of sea life is only one of the challenges for PALS researchers. Performer teams supporting DARPA will also have to develop hardware, software, and algorithms to translate organism behavior into actionable information and then communicate it to end users. Deployed hardware systems operating at a standoff distance of up to 500 meters must collect signals of interest from relevant species, process and distill them, and then relay them to remote end users. The complete sensing systems must also discriminate between target vehicles and other sources of stimuli, such as debris and other marine organisms, to limit the number of false positives.
Adornato is aiming to demonstrate the approach and its advantages in realistic environments to convey military utility.
“Our ideal scenario for PALS is to leverage a wide range of native marine organisms, with no need to train, house, or modify them in any way, which would open up this type of sensing to many locations,” Adornato said.
DARPA favors proposals that employ natural organisms, but proposers are able to suggest modifications. To the extent researchers do propose solutions that would tune organisms’ reporting mechanisms, the proposers will be responsible for developing appropriate environmental safeguards to support future deployment. However, at no point in the PALS program will DARPA test modified organisms outside of contained, biosecure facilities.
DARPA anticipates that PALS will be a four-year, fundamental research program requiring contributions in the areas of biology, chemistry, physics, machine learning, analytics, oceanography, mechanical and electrical engineering, and weak signals detection.
There’s always a certain tension when two servicemen meet for the first time. The nature of the tension often varies based on branch, job, and life experience. One might reasonably expect a grunt, for instance, to size up another grunt, the tension of two warriors vying for dominance. When fellow Havok Journal denizen and POG Paul and I met up to discuss life, the universe, and the peculiarities of Fort Bragg, the tension was less caveman and more tired old men trying not to pick up hepatitis at any of Fayetteville’s fine dining establishments.
As tends to happen when two writers meet, the conversation meandered around, covering everything from sports (if you think men are less emotional than women, wait til football season) to observations on military culture. Paul had one observation in particular that, try as I might, I was utterly unable to refute.
When you get down to it, there’s not a whole lot of difference between the apocryphal hipster and the GWOT vet.
Think about it for a moment. Beards- check. Tattoos- check. Insular culture that seems strange and unwelcoming to the outsider- check. Highly specific and objectively strange tastes in fashion (clothing, haircuts, etc)- check.
The only real differences are the typical veteran’s penchant for guns and hyper masculine attitude. Both communities eat some weird-ass food. Which is more strange, Mongolian Tex-Mex fusion, or dumping a bunch of MRE entrees in a pot and drowning it in Texas Pete? Both communities tend to enjoy things ironically. You can’t tell me you haven’t seen a bunch of dudes blasting Katy Perry in the motor pool, dancing, and lip-syncing their little hearts out.
I had the dubious privilege of being dragged through the Williamsburg community in Brooklyn a few months back, and I have to say, I was reminded of nothing so much as a trip to the PX on Bragg. Swap out T-shirts proclaiming one’s status as a sheepdog for highwater jeans and up the average muscle mass by about 30% and you’d hardly be able to tell the difference.
And as much as the veteran community likes to rag on hipsters for being whiny and entitled, we’re just as bad, when you get right down to it. Attack any one of our sacred cows and we come out in force, screaming and hollering and slinging mud at anyone who dares disrespect us.
And yet, despite our vast collection of similarities, the veteran community and hipster community more or less hate each other. To the hipster, the average veteran is an uncultured killer who is just a swastika away from being a Nazi. To the veteran, the average hipster is an emasculated crybaby who’s just a stubbed toe away from dissolving into tears and blaming Trump for hard surfaces.
Where does all this hate come from?
There’s a phenomenon known as the narcissism of small differences. The term was first coined by Sigmund Freud in 1917 to describe the reason why similar communities so often find themselves at each other’s throats. We’ll gloss over the psychobabble and get down to the meat of the matter: In order to preserve a sense of uniqueness, communities often become hypersensitive to the little things that separate them from other groups. By exaggerating the differences and attacking them, individuals and groups can maintain their sense of identity in the face of overwhelming similarities.
This phenomenon has been witnessed time and time again over the centuries. Ever wonder why two tribes who live a short distance away from each other and have broadly similar cultures and beliefs have so often tried to kill each other? That’s why. They get all hung up on the little things, and the next thing you know, Catholics and Protestants spend a couple centuries tearing Europe apart in war after war.
In this case, hipsters and veterans have been locked in a culture war for the last decade. Only, the veterans have won. Hipsters don’t really exist anymore, outside of a few enclaves like Williamsburg, or in the fevered ranting of veteran Internet personalities. Veteran culture has swelled and expanded, united by a common experience provided by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and empowered by the World Wide Web.
We have all but supplanted hipsters in modern society, and in the process, we’ve become the new hipsters. We have stared into the abyss, and the abyss gave us a sense of entitlement and way, way too much beard.
Sitting in the White House reading the citation for the Medal of Honor doesn’t give the real flavor of why retired Navy Master Chief Petty Officer and special warfare operator Britt K. Slabinski is receiving the award.
The nicely air conditioned room with comfortable chairs, impeccable floors, historic artwork and gilt on many surfaces isn’t right, somehow.
The dispassionate words on the award talk of Slabinski’s heroism in assaulting bunkers, rallying his men, and going back into the center of the firefight.
The White House is literally half a world away from a mountain in Afghanistan in 2002, where Slabinski — and America — lost seven good men.
When the master chief talks of the action, you realize he is reliving his time atop Takur Ghar — a 10,000-foot mountain near Ghazni, on March 4, 2002. He is remembering his decisions. He is remembering what he felt. And he is remembering his brothers who were killed.
He speaks in present tense, because in his mind’s eye. It is still happening.
‘I Was Just Doing My Job’
He believes he did nothing special. “I was just doing my job that day,” Slabinski said during an interview.
Slabinski — then a senior chief petty officer — and his men were just supposed to set up an overwatch position on the mountain to support the conventional forces in the valley below. “Now the enemy gets a vote,” he said. “We plan, we train, we rehearse and we rehearse some more for every possible contingency, but sometimes the fog and friction of war is just out of your control and a leader has to adapt.”
The team was aboard an Army MH-47 helicopter and as it was landing, well dug-in al-Qaida fighters opened up. “When we land, the ramp goes down,” he said. “I’m standing on the very back of the helicopter … and almost immediately take an RPG rocket to the side of the aircraft. It goes off, fills the aircraft full of smoke and we are getting shot up right away. There’s bullets flying through the aircraft the size of your finger [from] 12.7 machine guns that were up there.”
The pilot was able to take off, but the bird was wounded and experienced what Slabinski called “the worst turbulence you could imagine.”
Those gyrations caused Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts to fall off the ramp. The crew chief grabbed Roberts’ pack, and the weight of the SEAL pulled him off the ramp, too. But the crew chief was tethered into the aircraft and was able to get back in. Roberts fell 10 feet into the meter-deep snow.
“It happens that fast,” Slabinski said as he snapped his fingers.
He told the pilot that he had lost a man, but with the chopper’s hydraulics shot out, there was no way the bird could circle and retrieve him. “[The pilot] was flying a brick,” Slabinski said. “It was basically a controlled crash into the enemy-held valley.”
The master chief assessed the situation. “Now my mission originally was to support the overwatch, then my teammate Neil fell out, and now I have a downed helicopter I have to deal with,” he said.
Calling For Support
The first problem he dealt with was the helicopter, and he called in a second aircraft to take the crew and team to a safe place. Once there, Slabinski was able to focus his attention on Neil.
The information he received was Roberts was alive. “I knew there was a superior enemy force up there and they had heavier weapons than I had,” he said.
The enemy, the cold, the altitude — “Everything that could be stacked against us, was stacked against us going back, and I had the feeling that this was a one-way trip,” he said. “I knew though, that if I go now, there’s a chance I could rescue Neil. I knew if I tried to develop a battle plan more on my terms, it would certainly be better, but I knew Neil didn’t have that time.”
The weight was on Slabinski’s shoulders. “I remember sitting in the helicopter,” he said. “The [rotors are] turning, it’s cold, trying to sort through the tactical piece of it … and this thought keeps coming back to me: If I go now what’s the cost going to be versus the cost if I wait. If you are the leader and you have peoples’ lives that you are responsible for, the decisions don’t come easy.”
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Matthew R. Loken)
This was Slabinski’s loneliest moment. He was sitting in the chopper with a headset on and people are talking to him. He was thinking of all the tactical problems and the lives. “And this thought kept coming back to me, and it’s the first line of the Boy Scout Oath … ‘On my honor, I will do my best,'” said Slabinski, who attained the rank of Eagle Scout at his hometown troop in Northampton, Massachusetts “The only thing that is in the back of my mind is, ‘On my honor I will do my best, On my honor I will do my best, On my honor I will do my best.’
“That’s when I said, ‘I’m gonna go do this.'”
The master chief assigned his men jobs, and the pilot of the first aircraft, Army Chief Warrant Officer Al Mack, went up to Slabinski and told him he would be flying them back in the new MH-47, even though he had just survived a harrowing experience with the first helicopter.
There was no other place to land, so the team had to go right back to the place the first bird took the fire. As the chopper took off, it got quiet for Slabinski and he thought of his son, who was 6 years old at the time. “I remember saying, ‘I love you. Sorry for what’s to come. Be great,'” he said. “Then I put it in another room in my brain and went on with my duties.”
This Chinook also took fire coming in to the landing area, and as soon as the ramp went down, the team went off the back of the ramp. Two men went to the right, two to the left and the master chief and Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, an Air Force combat controller, went out together.
Slabinski and Chapman were hit by a burst of automatic weapons fire. “The burst hit John and he went down,” Slabinski said. “The bullets from the same burst went through my clothes on each side, and I jumped behind a rock.”
The belt-fed weapon kept firing at them. “I looked for John and he is lying in a very odd position, and I look to my other guys and they are engaged with another dug-in position and the two to my left are engaged there. There are enemy muzzle flashes on three sides.”
There is no cover, and Slabinski tosses two grenades at the bunker, but the position is too well dug in. He looks to his men and sees Chapman still in the same odd position and the others engaging the enemy. His M60 gunner is next to me. “I have a 40mm grenade launcher … and I have six grenades,” he said. “I’m too close to the big bunker because they won’t go off. They have to spin to arm.”
He fired at the farther bunkers and silenced those, but the big bunker remains a deadly problem. He has the M60-gunner fire on the bunker and he wants to charge to the bunker to clear it under the cover of that automatic fire. Before he could do that, a grenade flies out of the bunker and explodes right in front of the barrel of the M60, wounding the gunner.
Slabinski again assesses the situation. “The gunner is down. John hasn’t moved and my other two guys are still engaged in contact,” he said. “The plan in my head isn’t working so I have to do something different.”
(Painting by Keith Rocco)
He decided to get his small band out of direct fire. As he is doing that another SEAL was hit in the leg from the same machine gun Slabinski was trying to take out. “I sent the wounded over first and I crawled over to John, looking for some sign of life from John and didn’t get anything,” he said.
The place he chose to seek shelter from the fire was just about 30 feet away over the side of the mountain.
Slabinski called for support from an AC-130 gunship to hit the bunkers. At the same time as the aircraft was hitting the mountain he noticed shell fragments were landing around the team. Slabinski thinks at first it is the AC-130, but it is from an enemy mortar that is ranging his position.
He moves again to a more protected area and now the U.S. Army Ranger quick reaction force is coming in. The first chopper is hit and crashes on the top of the mountain. Slabinski contacted the second bird and it lands on another spit of land and the Rangers work their way to the SEAL position and attack up the mountain to secure the top.
The master chief can’t move his wounded to the top of the mountain, so he moved to a place he could secure and await medevac, which came that night.
Estimates of the number of al-Qaida fighters on the top of that mountain range between 40 and 100. They had heavy weapons galore with automatic machine guns, mortars, RPGs and recoilless rifles. It was the headquarters for al-Qaida operating against U.S. forces engaged in Operation Anaconda. The SEAL team went in to try to rescue Roberts with six men.
Footage taken by a remotely piloted vehicle and examined later showed that Chapman was not dead. The technical sergeant regained consciousness and engaged the enemy killing two of them — one in hand-to-hand combat. “I was 100 percent convinced that John was dead,” Slabinski said. “I never lost track of John.”
He never would have left the airman on that mountain, he said, if he thought for an instant that Chapman was alive.
For his actions that day, Slabinski received the Navy Cross, the nation’s second-highest award for valor. As part of then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s directive to the services to re-examine all of the valor awards beginning in 2001, the Navy recommended upgrading that award to the Medal of Honor. The master chief — who retired from the Navy in 2014 — received a call from President Donald J. Trump in March telling him of the decision.
The master chief is conflicted about the award. He believes he was just doing his job and still feels the loss of the seven men — Navy, Army and Air Force — he served with that day. “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about them,” he said. “If I could give up this medal to have them back, I would.”