French trawler catches a Portuguese submarine - We Are The Mighty
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French trawler catches a Portuguese submarine

French trawler catches a Portuguese submarine
Portuguese Type 214 submarine. (Photo: PN)


A French fishing trawler had a larger haul than normal, catching the NRP Tridente, a Portuguese Type 214 submarine, in its nets off the coast of Cornwall, England.  Despite the Tridente hitting the trawler as it surfaced, no casualties on either vessel were reported in the incident. The sub was in British waters as part of a NATO exercise.

The Type 214, one of two Portugal purchased from Germany, is not the first to have been caught by a trawler. In April, 2015, a similar incident off Northern Ireland involving the British trawler Karen being dragged backwards at 10 knots was initially blamed on a Russian submarine before the Royal Navy accepted responsibility for the incident. The Karen suffered substantial damage to its deck but made it back to port.

A March 2015 incident off the coast of Scotland was blamed on a Russian sub. That time, the sub not only came close to dragging the fishing boat Aquarius down as it tried to free itself from the net, it also made off with the trawler’s two-ton catch of haddock and skate, according to The Daily Mail. The Aquarius survived the close call.

The Type 214 sub displaces just over 2,000 tons when submerged. It is armed with eight 21-inch torpedo tubes that can fire IF-21 Black Shark torpedoes or Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and can reach speeds of up to 20 knots. The Type 214 also has air-independent propulsion, which enables it to re-charge its batteries without having to use diesel engines and a snorkel, albeit it does maintain that capability.

Fishing trawlers are not the only vessels that have caught subs. In 1983, the frigate USS McCloy (FF 1038) caught a Soviet Navy Victor III nuclear-powered submarine K-324 with its towed-array sonar. The submarine was disabled, forced to surface, and had to be towed to Cuba for repairs. In 2009, a Chinese submarine also got caught in a towed array cable. The AN/SQR-19 system of USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) snagged the sub’s propeller as well. While the submarine was not damaged, the John S. McCain needed to repair its towed array sonar system.

Such incidents have high stakes for the submarines. Most submarines only have a single propeller and shaft, and damage to either can leave the submarine stranded a long way from home. In this case, the Tridente was able to make it back to port.

Articles

Watch the Coast Guard rescue this downed Navy pilot

This is when inter-service rivalry goes right out the window. A downed naval aviator who had to eject from a F-5N Tiger II tactical fighter aircraft during a training exercise is rescued by the puddle pirates off the coast of Key West. The cause of the crash is still unknown.


French trawler catches a Portuguese submarine
An F-5N Tiger II assigned to the Sun Downers of Fighter Squadron Composite (VFC) 111 launches from Boca Chica Field. ( U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brian Morales)

“The watchstanders diverted a Coast Guard Air Station Miami MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew and an HC-144 Ocean Sentry airplane crew to conduct a search,” read a statement from the Coast Guard. “The helicopter crew arrived on scene at 1:15 p.m. The rescue crew hoisted the pilot from the water and brought him back to Lower Keys Medical Center in good condition.”

An MH-65 Dolphin based at Coast Guard Air Station Miami was diverted from a patrol on Aug. 9 after the Coast Guard picked up the pilot’s emergency smoke signal.

The pilot is attached to Fighter Squadron Composite 111 (VFC-111) Sundowners based at Naval Air Station Key West. The unit is a reserve squadron that simulates the enemy in combat training exercises.

When naval aviators eject over water, a few things happen. First, the parachute is separated from the pilot, because the sea currents can grab the chute and pull the pilot under. Then, there is an automatic flotation device that inflates to keep the aviator above water. Then the mask on the ejection seat, which provides oxygen and protects the pilot’s face during ejection, is separated. The pilot then deploys either signal mirrors, smoke, flares, or all three.

One more Squid safely pulled from the deep by our amazing Puddle Pirates.

Articles

Here are 6 ongoing conflicts the next POTUS will inherit

Whomever America chooses in 2016, among his or her first orders of business will be to spend a lot of time getting briefed on where the U.S. military is deployed.


Service members around the world are currently conducting airstrikes, raids, bilateral training missions, and other operations to help America and our allies. These six ongoing conflicts will certainly still be on the plate when the next president gets up to bat:

1. Iraq and Syria

French trawler catches a Portuguese submarine
U.S. Marines fire artillery to break up ISIS fighters attacking Kurdish and Peshmerga forces. (Photo: US Marine Corps Cpl. Andre Dakis)

Few people need a primer on what is going on in Iraq and Syria. ISIS holds territory and is murdering thousands of people. America’s involvement against ISIS has been slowly growing.

We’ve lost three service members there. Army Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler was killed while rescuing potential victims of an imminent massacre, Marine Staff Sgt. Louis F. Cardin was killed in a rocket attack while providing fire support for coalition fighters, and Navy SEAL Charles Keating was killed while rescuing other American advisors caught by an ISIS surprise attack.

While the Obama administration has tried to keep America’s footprint on the ground relatively small, 300 troops in Syria and approximately 4,000 in Iraq, the Navy and Air Force have been busy conducting air strikes to support both American and coalition ground forces.

2. Libya

French trawler catches a Portuguese submarine
U.S. Marines prepare to evacuate military personnel from Libya at the request of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya on Jul. 26, 2014. (Photo: US Marine Corps 1st Lt. Maida Kalic)

Of course, ISIS operations aren’t limited to Iraq and Syria. Portions of Libya’s coastal areas are controlled by the terror organization. A few dozen U.S. troops, most likely Special Forces soldiers or other operators, are deployed there to help the competing national governments fight further ISIS attacks.

America has launched airstrikes there in the past to topple ISIS leaders, but that was put on hold. According to Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, the current nominee to take over Africa Command, no more troops are currently needed in Libya but more airstrikes would be beneficial.

3. Afghanistan

French trawler catches a Portuguese submarine
Cavalry soldiers provide security in Afghanistan during a security meeting Aug. 19, 2010. (Photo: US Air Force Senior Airman Nathanael Callon)

While the U.S. officially ended combat operations in Afghanistan in 2014, approximately 9,800 troops are still deployed there. It’s an “advise and train” mission, but reports have surfaced of operators engaging in direct combat.

The Taliban is still the greatest threat in Afghanistan and most coalition missions are aimed at them. ISIS has captured ground in the east of the country, though. America flies drone missions to kill local ISIS leaders while militias provide some muscle on the ground.

4. Horn of Africa

French trawler catches a Portuguese submarine
Soldiers assigned to the East Africa Response Force train for contingency operations on May 30, 2015. (Photo: US Air Force Staff Sgt. Gregory Brook

In addition to working against ISIS in Libya, American troops supporting African forces have been engaged by Al-Shabab terrorists in Somalia and Boko Haram in Cameroon. U.S. troops have previously helped hunt Boko Haram fighters and hostages in Nigeria.

These missions are expected to continue for at least the next few years as both terror organizations have proven resilient.

5. Eastern Ukraine

French trawler catches a Portuguese submarine
US Army soldiers parachute into Ukraine during a 2011 training mission. (Photo: US Army Europe)

American troops aren’t deployed to eastern Ukraine where government troops fight Russian-backed separatists. But, the U.S. has provided training and equipment for government forces while Russia has provided materiel and troops to the separatists.

A fragile cease-fire from late 2015 has reduced, but not eliminated, fighting in the Donbass region and both sides are violating the cease-fire. Ukraine has failed to remove heavy guns and other equipment and Russia has deployed more fighters and equipment to the area. There’s no sign that this conflict will be done when the next president takes office and most signs point to it actually being worse.

6. South China Sea

French trawler catches a Portuguese submarine
U.S. Marine Corps amphibious assault vehicles head back to their landing ship during a bilateral training mission in the South China Sea. (Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Katerine Noll)

The conflict in the South China Sea is currently bloodless but has the potential to become the biggest fight on this list. Multiple nations claim territorial rights in the South China Sea, an area that controls a huge amount of sea traffic and is estimated to have large oil and natural gas reserves.

China has built islands that it may or may not hold sovereignty over and is conducting military drills in the area. Meanwhile, American Navy ships and planes are conducting freedom of navigation exercises there, sailing through contested water and flying over contested islands as a way of disputing Chinese claims.

China has conducted dangerous intercepts of these flights and is becoming more aggressive as a United Nations ruling on certain areas of the South China Sea looms. If the conflict gets more aggressive, the world’s two largest navies could end up in combat against one another.

Articles

New Call of Duty Battle Doc Pack is giving 100% of proceeds to vets

The military’s favorite game might be “Hurry Up and Wait” but our favorite games are the Call of Duty series. When troops, especially infantrymen, are told to stand by, the first thing we do is turn on our consoles. This month Activision Blizzard is raising money and awareness to an issue that awaits all of us post service: veteran employment. The Call of Duty Endowment has announced a new Battle Doc Pack with 100% of the proceeds going to fund veteran employment efforts.

Throughout the month of May on both Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War and Call of Duty: Warzone plays can by a new Operator Skin. It was created with the help of Army Veteran Combat Medic Timothy Hobbs Jr. who is also a recipient of the Endowment’s aid. He is one of the 5,800 veterans the #CODEMedicalHeroes Campaign aims to place with jobs in the medical field.

Civilians are doing their part, too

We often hear “Only veterans help veterans’ but I’m glad that this time we’re wrong. Call of Duty players, veterans and civilians, are raising $3 million by purchasing the Battle Doc Pack. $1 million can be raised by participating in an in-game Revival Challenge in Warzone. Players who revive five others while playing will unlock the Call of Duty Endowment calling card. Players have to hurry though, the Calling Card event ends this weekend on May 9th. One player commented, ‘Let’s get that revive challenge done in WZ bois time to donate that bread and give back to the vets’ on the Xbox YouTube channel.

If one million players complete the challenge, a double-XP Day will be given to all Call of Duty: Warzone players. Additionally, Activision Blizzard will donate $1 to the Endowment for each player that completes the challenge, up to $1 million.

Activision Blizzard

The pack also contains Easter eggs

The pack retails for $9.99 and 100% of all the proceeds will go to the Endowment’s mission of aiding veterans. It is available for a limited time until $2 million has been raised for the Call of Duty Endowment. Combined with the Revival Challenge, it will total $3 million if players are successful. The Pilot Company — another company putting their money where their mouth is — is donating $100,000 to the Endowment. Their contribution will change the lives of nearly 200 unemployed veterans to have a fighting chance at attaining a high-quality job. SFC Tim Hobbs, Jr. also describes other Easter eggs on the Operator Skin itself. When he helped design the pack, he also paid homage to his unit, his brothers in arms, and his service branch.

You can also track the progress the endowment is making in placing these veterans in gainful employment by following them on their social media pages.

Articles

That time the British tried to assassinate Erwin Rommel

French trawler catches a Portuguese submarine
Erwin Rommel with the 15th panzer Division. | YouTube


British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was never one to shy away from thinking big. When he saw the plans for General Claude Auchinlek’s offensive, Operation Crusader, he looked beyond its stated goals of lifting the siege of Tobruk and eliminating the Axis threat to Egypt—way beyond. He envisioned it as being a potential victory to rank with Blenheim and Waterloo; one in which the British Eighth Army would destroy the Axis forces threatening Egypt, relieve Tobruk, continue west and eject the Axis from North Africa. Then the British Army of the Nile would march east and north through the Levant to the Iranian border. But Auchinlek was grounded enough to know that if he were to have any sort of shot at victory, he had to eliminate the general who had so brilliantly led the Axis troops to the Egyptian border, Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel.

If Rommel could be assassinated, the resultant chaos in the Axis command would give the Eighth Army its best chance of success. To that end Auchinlek authorized Operation Flipper.

Operation Flipper

Operation Flipper originally had four goals:

  • Kill Rommel at his headquarters in Sidi Rafa
  • destroy the nearby Italian headquarters and its communications network
  • sabotage the Italian Intelligence Office in Appolonia and the communications network between Faidia and Lamdula
  • conduct general sabotage actions elsewhere in the Axis forces’ rear.

Leading the mission was Colonel Robert Laycock. His second in command was Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Keyes, the son of Admiral Roger Keyes the first director of Combined Operations and who would be responsible for the attack on Rommel. On November 10, 1941, Laycock’s force of six officers and 53 men boarded the submarines Torbay and Talisman and left Alexandria harbor for Beda Littoria, Cyrenaica. They arrived at their landing site on the evening of November 14. Waiting for them on the beach was guide Captain Jock Haselden and his team who had been parachuted there earlier.

Keyes got himself and all his men ashore. But as Layton and his men prepared to disembark, a squall struck. Heavy seas drove Talisman aground and only Layton and seven men reached the beach.

With the force cut in half, the plan was drastically modified. Now it would be a two-part assault; Keyes attacking Rommel’s HQ and Lt. Roy Cooke leading the attack on the Italian headquarters. Layton and a small force would defend the force’s escape route. On the evening of November 15, Keyes, Cooke, and their men headed inland, dogged by constant rain. Despite the weather, the groups managed to reach their respective launch positions the evening of November 17.

At midnight, they attacked. Keyes, leading a three-man assault team, burst into the villa identified as Rommel’s headquarters. They surprised a German officer who was killed as he struggled with Keyes. The attackers then rushed down the hall and Keyes opened a room where ten Germans were arming themselves. One of the Germans shot Keyes, killing him.

French trawler catches a Portuguese submarine
Rommel with captured British officers in Cherbourg, France, June 1940. | Gregory J. W. Urwin Collection

Failure

The mission was a failure. Only three German supply colonels and a soldier were killed at the villa. And only a fuel supply depot was destroyed. After 37 days avoiding Axis patrols, Colonel Layton and Sergeant Jack Terry reached British lines. They were the only ones; everyone else was either captured or killed. As it turned out, Rommel was not at the villa; inclement weather delayed his arrival from Rome. Operation Crusader did not achieve Churchill’s lofty goals. Though the siege was lifted, Rommel managed to save the bulk of his forces.

Rommel ordered that Lt. Colonel Keyes be buried with full military honors; sending his personal chaplain, priest Rudolf Dalmrath, to officiate. He had cypress crosses and wreaths made for the British and German dead. Rommel also instructed that photographs be taken of the ceremony and of Keyes’ grave and sent to his parents, a chivalrous act that increased British respect for him.

Laycock and Terry arrived at Eighth Army headquarters on Christmas Day. A message dispatched to Minister of State in the Middle East Oliver Lyttleton stated, “Feel it would interest C-in-C and Minister to know that Laycock arrived today at 9:20 p.m. for his Christmas dinner.” Lyttleton responded, “Please state why Laycock was one hour 20 minutes late for his Christmas dinner.”

Layton would serve with distinction, rising to the rank of major general and, in October 1943, succeed Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten as Director of Combined Operations.

Articles

Arlington National Cemetery is running out of room to bury America’s vets

Veterans of the Persian Gulf War and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan can’t expect to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery unless policies are changed — even if they were bestowed the Medal of Honor, a new report says.


There are 21 million living veterans in the U.S., but the cemetery has room for only 73,000 burials.

French trawler catches a Portuguese submarine
Soldiers of the 3rd U.S Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) prepare to move the casket of Medal of Honor recipient Leonard Keller to his final resting place in Arlington National Cemetery’s section 60. (Photo: U.S. Army)

Currently, any veteran with an honorable discharge and at least one day of active duty is eligible for interment there at Arlington. That’s a lower bar than the cemeteries managed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which require two years of active duty service. (RELATED: VA Insists On Paper Records, Slowing Payments To Private Docs But Creating Union Jobs)

Largely thanks to the one-day-minimum policy, the cemetery will be closed even to those killed in action — known as “first interments” — by 2042.

“If Arlington National Cemetery is to continue to operate under current policies, it must be expanded geographically and/or alter the iconic look and feel of the cemetery,” an Army report presented to Congress August 23 said. “If Arlington National Cemetery is to continue to operate without expansion, eligibility must change or it will close for first interments by mid-century.”

That’s only 26 years into the future, meaning veterans of recent wars, including in Iraq and Afghanistan, have little hope of burial there when they die later in life. “With current policies, Veterans of the Gulf War, Somalia, [Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom] era cannot expect to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, even if awarded the Medal of Honor,” the report says.

Between 1967 and 1980, burial at Arlington was limited to those killed in action (KIA), retired career, and medal of honor recipients. If the policy is changed to limit the cemetery to KIAs only, the cemetery will have enough space for hundreds of years.

But doing so would disenfranchise Vietnam veterans, the youngest of whom will be octogenarians around 2040 and many of whom already felt mistreated by their country.

Besides changing policy, the cemetery can consider more compact and above-ground burials, which would risk losing the “serene and ordered look … with its rows of white headstones, trees, and tasteful historical and ceremonial spaces.”

It could also expand, either by acquiring neighboring land — which is hard to come by in Arlington — or at a new site. One such expansion is already taken into account in the projections.

Follow Luke on Twitter.

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MIGHTY TRENDING

North Korea exports its citizens to be slave labor for cash

Hundreds of North Korean nationals in Europe and Russia are forced to undertake manual labour without breaks, sleep at their workplace, and send their earnings to prop up Kim Jong Un’s lavish lifestyle, BBC Panorama has reported following an undercover investigation.

An unidentified North Korean worker in Vladivostok, Russia, told the programme: “You’re treated like a dog here. You have to eat trash. You have to give up being human.”


He added that he and his fellow workers had to hand over most of their earnings back to North Korea via an intermediary, known as a “captain.”

“Some call it ‘Party Duty.’ Others call it ‘Revolutionary Duty.’ Those who can’t pay it cannot stay here,” he said. “Ten years ago it was about 15,000 Robles ($242/£170) a month, but now it’s twice as much.”

These wages, combined, can generate as much as $2 billion (£1.4 billion) a year, The Washington Post reported.

It is then used to finance Kim Jong Un’s lavish lifestyle and nuclear development programme, North Korea’s former deputy ambassador to the UK said.

Thae Yong Ho, who defected from the regime in 2016, told the BBC: “It financed the private luxury of the Kim family, the nuclear programme, and the army. That’s a fact.”

The North Korean leader recently travelled to China in a bulletproof train containing flat screen TVs and Apple products — a great show of luxury while millions of his citizens remain undernourished or lack basic access to healthcare. He also tested multiple short-range, medium-range, and intercontinental ballistic missiles in 2017.

French trawler catches a Portuguese submarine
A North Korean supervisor in Sczcecin, Poland.

North Korean slaves in Poland, are also forced to live where they work and aren’t allowed to take any breaks, the BBC reported.

A North Korean supervisor in charge of foreign workers at Szczecin, northwestern Poland, told the programme:

“Our guys are stationed in Poland only to work. They only take unpaid holidays. When there are deadlines, we work without breaks. Not like the Polish. They work eight hours a day and then go home.

“We don’t. We work as long as we have to.”

There are about 150,000 North Koreans foreign workers worldwide, many of whom are in Russia, China, and Poland. About 800 are in Poland, mostly working as welders and manual laborers.

French trawler catches a Portuguese submarine

The UN in December 2017, ordered countries to stop authorizing visas to North Korean workers and to send them home within two years.

Poland said it stopped issuing visas to North Korean workers, but that doesn’t mean the activity has stopped.

A Polish manager secretly filmed by the BBC acknowledged that he continued to employ North Korean workers, but complained that it was getting harder to get permits for them.

MIGHTY TRENDING

You should go update your (hacked?) WhatsApp

WhatsApp was hacked, and attackers installed sophisticated spyware on an unknown number of people’s smartphones.

The Facebook subsidiary, which has 1.5 billion users, said it discovered in early May that “an advanced cyber actor” infected an unknown number of devices with the malware.

The Financial Times, which first reported on the issue on May 13, 2019, said bad actors exploited a vulnerability to install the surveillance technology by calling the target through WhatsApp, giving them access to information including location data and private messages. Even if the target didn’t pick up, the malware was able to infect the phone.


The FT reported that the spyware was developed by Israel’s NSO Group, whose Pegasus software is known to have targeted human-rights activists. In a statement to the FT, the firm denied any involvement in the WhatsApp hack.

French trawler catches a Portuguese submarine

(Photo by Rachit Tank)

“This attack has all the hallmarks of a private company known to work with governments to deliver spyware that reportedly takes over the functions of mobile phone operating systems,” WhatsApp said in a statement to the FT.

“We have briefed a number of human rights organizations to share the information we can, and to work with them to notify civil society.”

In a statement sent to Business Insider, a spokesman added: “WhatsApp encourages people to upgrade to the latest version of our app, as well as keep their mobile operating system up to date, to protect against potential targeted exploits designed to compromise information stored on mobile devices. We are constantly working alongside industry partners to provide the latest security enhancements to help protect our users.”

A notice on Facebook said the issue affected Android phones, iPhones, and Windows phones. An update to resolve the issue was released on May 13, 2019, and users are being urged to update regardless of whether they have had any suspicious call activity.

Citing a source, the FT reported that the US Department of Justice was notified about the hack last week.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Operation Red Wings through the eyes of the Night Stalkers

The sun was fading behind Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush mountains the evening of June 27, 2005, as a team of four U.S. Navy SEALs walked up the ramp and into the back of U.S. Army Captain Matt Brady’s MH-47 Chinook helicopter on Bagram Air Base.

Tasked with inserting the SEAL special reconnaissance (SR) team deep into enemy territory in unforgiving terrain, Brady knew the SEALs — Lieutenant Michael Murphy, Petty Officer 2nd Class Danny Dietz, Petty Officer 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Axelson — had a difficult mission ahead. Marines in the area knew it was an extremely dangerous place filled with Taliban fighters.


Brady had no way of knowing at the time, but it would be the last time anyone at Bagram would ever see three of those four Americans alive.

French trawler catches a Portuguese submarine

The Afghanistan mountains and forest from the valley where soldiers searched for the remains of the three SEALs who were killed in action. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.

The Army’s elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) is known for having some of the most skilled aviators in the world, who fly the most elite special operators into some of the most austere environments on earth using the most advanced aircraft in the U.S. military inventory. They are famous for the roles they played in both the Battle of Mogadishu and the mission to kill Usama Bin Laden but are revered throughout the special operations community for acts of valor that often never see the light of day due to the classified nature of their work.

As a pilot in the 160th, Brady was the air mission commander for the operation. He and some of his fellow “Night Stalkers” felt the SEALs’ plan was too risky.

The mission was to capture or kill Ahmad Shah, a Taliban commander. The three-phase plan called for inserting a four-man SR team the first night, then inserting the second element of SEALs the following night to establish an isolation zone around Shah. Finally, 150 U.S. Marines would come in to establish blocking positions for the SEALs’ assault on Shah’s compound.

The Night Stalkers’ job was to insert the SEALs on a ridgeline where the terrain left few options for landing zones. The commandos would have to descend from a rope — fast-rope — while the helos hovered high above the trees. That meant if the SEALs got into trouble, extraction would potentially require the use of a hoist to pull the SEALs out, which was a time-consuming and dangerous option.

As he approached the insertion site, Brady could see lights dotting the mountains below through his night-vision goggles.

French trawler catches a Portuguese submarine

An MH-47 Chinook with 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment and a KC-130J Super Hercules with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 conduct aerial refueling during Exercise Yuma Horizon 19. Photo by Lance Cpl. Seth Rosenberg, courtesy of DVIDS.

“This was a desolate part of the Hindu Kush, and at night, you wouldn’t really expect to see much,” Brady told Coffee or Die. “Not really sure who they were, but there was more activity than I expected.”

As the pilots climbed the last 1,000 feet of elevation, the AC-130 crew providing overwatch on their destination radioed to say they had to leave their position due to a mechanical issue. Brady knew that surveillance aircraft going off station without backup was supposed to result in aborting the mission.

He asked the AC-130 crew for one final report on the four potential landing zones the Night Stalkers had identified for the mission.

“We’ve got two military-aged males, possibly armed, on the northernmost LZ,” the crew reported. “Primary and secondary zones appear to be clear of potential threats.”

Believing the gunship could make it back on station in time for the insertion, Brady made the call to continue the mission.

French trawler catches a Portuguese submarine

From left, SGT Carlos Pacheco (3/160 medic, former 3/75), SFC Marcus V. Muralles (Legend – 3/160 medic), MAJ Sam Sauer (3/160 flight surgeon), SFC L.E. Shroades (medic R/160), SGT Dan Bell (E Co/160) during during the timeframe of Operation Red Wings. Photo courtesy of Daniel Bell.

Approaching the insertion point, the pilots flared the Chinook and came into a hover. As the lead aircraft descended, it became clear the LZ was on a steep slope of the mountain, making descent difficult due to the front rotors approaching the mountainside faster than the rear of the aircraft.

“Hold your right and left; hold your front and rear,” came the internal radio traffic from the flight engineer to Brady.

There were 100-foot-tall trees on all sides of the Chinook, and they were so close the pilots had no room to sway as they descended.

“When you hear all four directions, everyone gets pretty tense,” Brady said. “It means you can’t drift any direction without crashing.”

The pilots descended to the point where the Chinook’s front rotor was just a few feet away from the mountainside with tall trees all around the aircraft. The flight crew kicked out the ropes, and the SEALs fast-roped down.

When the crew chief tried to pull the rope up, they found it was entangled below. After several tense moments of struggling to bring in the rope, they decided to cut it loose. The odds of enemy fighters hearing the echo of the dual-rotor helicopter increased every second it remained in a hover. The SEALs did their best to hide the rope and keep their presence on the ridgeline hidden from enemy fighters.

It wasn’t an ideal insertion, but the Night Stalkers had accomplished their mission. They ascended and flew back to Jalalabad to link up with another group of SEALs and standby as a quick reaction force (QRF) in case the SR team was compromised.

At Jalalabad, Brady was approached by SEAL Commander Erik Kristensen in the command operations center. Kristensen confronted him about the decision to cut the rope at the LZ and asked if the Night Stalkers would go back and retrieve it.

French trawler catches a Portuguese submarine

A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from 1-228th Aviation Regiment conducting hoist operations. Photo by Spc. Steven K. Young, courtesy of DVIDS.

“We would have to drop a man down with a hoist in that hole of an LZ,” Brady explained. “Hoisting a man at that altitude on that kind of terrain at night is a dangerous operation. Once on the ground, they’d have to pick up the rope, hook it to themselves, and get hoisted back up. Hovering for that long over the same spot would burn the LZ and likely alert the enemy to the SR team’s presence.”

Kristensen agreed with Brady’s evaluation, and after the SR team radioed that they would be laying down for the day in their hide site, Brady and Kristensen called it a night.

Walking toward the flight line, the SEAL commander quipped, “What made you want to fly such ugly helicopters?”

“They’re not much to look at, but they get the job done,” Brady fired back. “Kind of like SEALs.”

They shared a laugh as they loaded up for the flight back to Bagram.

At the Bagram operations center, Major Stephen Reich approached Brady urgently, asking why he didn’t follow abort criteria and fly back with the SR team after the AC-130 had to leave the airspace.

Brady said he estimated the AC-130 would only be off station briefly and that the crew had reported no hostile activity on the LZ. He told Reich pushing the mission back would allow Shah to continue his terrorist activities, likely leading to the death of locals and U.S. military in the area.

“Good,” Brady recalled Reich saying. “I’m glad you’re a thinking air mission commander and not simply one that takes a black-and-white view of the situation.”

With that, they retired to their rooms to rest for phase two of the operation the following night.

French trawler catches a Portuguese submarine

Some of the Night Stalkers hanging out in the B huts they slept in, enjoying much needed down time. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.

As the Night Stalkers slept, the SR team was discovered by a numerically superior force of enemy fighters. They engaged in a fierce firefight, and at some point the task force lost contact with them.

Brady’s maintenance officer woke him and said the SR team was in trouble and the Night Stalkers had orders to spin up and pull the team out.

“That’s not possible,” Brady replied, confused at how quickly the SEALs had become compromised. “They’ve got their own quick reaction force. We’re completely separate commands. It doesn’t make sense.”

But he knew and lived by the Night Stalkers’ promise to every customer: “If we put you in, we’ll stop at nothing to get you out — even if it’s technically someone else’s job.”

Brady rushed to the operations center where Chief Warrant Officer 4 Chris Eicher was telling the task force commander that they should wait until dark before sending the QRF because going in during daylight would subject them to more danger. The 160th had only lost helicopters during daylight missions at that point — they’re called Night Stalkers for a reason.

The commander explained that the ground force commander had already rejected that plan and didn’t want to wait any longer.

Brady ran over to where his platoon sergeant, Sergeant First Class Mike Russell, was sleeping and updated him on what had unfolded.

“Are you serious?” Russell replied.

Russell went to work right away getting the crews together to prep the aircraft for the mission.

French trawler catches a Portuguese submarine

Three of the 160th’s MH-47D Chinooks on the flight line in Bagram, Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.

Back in the operations center, leaders were busy trying to figure out the SEALs’ last known location and calculating how many soldiers each helicopter could fly with. They finalized plans and sent the Night Stalkers on their way.

As Brady approached the Chinook he’d be flying, he noticed the tail number: 1-4-6. The bird’s call sign was Turbine 33. Kristensen and his SEALs were waiting on the ramp, standing in a circle.

“Our plan of action is for you to get us to the high ground as close to the troops in contact as you can, and we’re going to fight our way downhill,” Brady recalled Kristensen saying.

Since the SEALs weren’t sure where exactly the compromised team was located, Kristensen believed inserting at a position of tactical advantage was the best option.

“Drop us on the high ground, and we’ll make our way to our swim buddies,” Kristensen told Brady.

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Navy SEALs operating in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. From left to right, sonar technician (surface) Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew G. Axelson, of Cupertino, California; Senior Chief information systems technician Daniel R. Healy, of Exeter, New Hampshire; quartermaster Petty Officer 2nd Class James Suh, of Deerfield Beach, Florida; hospital corpsman Petty Officer 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell; machinists mate Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric S. Patton, of Boulder City, Nevada; and Lt. Michael P. Murphy, of Patchogue, New York With the exception of Luttrell, all were killed June 28, 2005, by enemy forces while supporting Operation Red Wing. Photo courtesy of DVIDS.

As Brady climbed into Turbine 33 and started strapping in, Reich tapped his shoulder and asked what the plan was. Reich, who had been designated mission commander for phase two of the operation, felt the QRF was his responsibility.

“We argued for what seemed like 10 minutes but was actually about 30 seconds,” Brady recalled.

But Reich cut the debate short. “I don’t really care, Matt,” he told Brady, “just get your stuff and get off the airplane. This is my mission.”

Brady said he pleaded with Reich to at least let him come with and act as an extra gun and set of eyes.

“Nope, I want you to take my spot as the operations officer and monitor from here,” Reich replied.

Disappointed, Brady followed the order and got off the aircraft. As he watched the two Chinooks taxiing onto the runway, he locked eyes with Russell, his platoon sergeant.

“He had a look of competence and professionalism — like he was ready to live out the Night Stalker creed,” Brady said.

He walked back to the operations center to monitor the situation and provide support from Bagram.

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Matt Rogie, left, and Matt Brady having jovial conversation in Bagram. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.

The two Chinooks — Turbine 33 and Turbine 34 — were packed with 16 SEALs each, plus the Night Stalker pilots and crewman. Flying toward Jalalabad en route to the last known position of the SEALs, they received word from Bagram on the number of men they could have on board each aircraft and still fly at the extreme elevation. They would have to offload eight SEALs from each helicopter before continuing.

“A lot of guys really wanted to stay on the mission,” recalled Chief Warrant Officer 3 Tim Graham, one of the pilots on Turbine 34.

The plan was for the SEALs to fast-rope onto the ridgeline above the original LZ. The Night Stalkers would then circle back and pick up the remaining SEALs who offloaded at Jalalabad.

During the flight, the Night Stalkers passed two Apache gunships whose pilots asked if they wanted to slow down so they could provide surveillance and support for the operation. Not wanting to burn valuable time waiting on approval from the task force commander for the audible, the Night Stalkers continued on without the Apaches.

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Tim Graham standing by in Bagram. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.

Arriving at the insertion point on the ridgeline, Turbine 33 descended into a hover. Graham watched from Turbine 34 as Turbine 33’s ramp lowered and the crewman walked onto it to observe the landing zone below. Graham’s aircraft pulled off to the right to circle around and insert their payload of SEALs after Turbine 33 moved off to allow their entrance.

That’s when Staff Sergeant Steven Smith, the flight engineer in the rear of Turbine 34, saw a smoke trail emerge from the tree line directly toward Turbine 33. The projectile flew through the open ramp of the Chinook and exploded inside. Turbine 33’s nose dipped down, and the aircraft slid to the left, appearing to almost recover. Then the helo’s blades started hitting each other, and the aircraft rolled to the right before inverting as it descended to the mountainous terrain below.

Smith and the others in Turbine 34 watched helplessly as the Chinook full of their fellow aviators — their friends — crashed into the mountain and erupted in a ball of flames.

“Al and Kip were on the ramp when the RPG impacted,” Smith, who witnessed the horrific event, recalled. “They rode it all the way in that way.”

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Soldiers sit on the rear deck of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter while flying over southern Afghanistan Oct. 19, 2010. Photo by Cpl. Robert Thaler, courtesy of DVIDS.

Graham and his co-pilot whipped their Chinook around to look for survivors. As they were turning around, Graham saw five Black hawks performing a star-cluster evasion. Turbine 34 started taking heavy gunfire from unseen fighters below. They broke off and flew out of reach of the enemy fire.

Graham reported the situation back to Bagram. Receiving the transmission, Brady couldn’t believe it. He would have been on that bird were it not for the last minute change. He asked Graham to repeat, unable to register what he had just heard.

One of Brady’s soldiers in the operations center was asking him a question, but Brady was momentarily frozen with shock. Then the realization hit: He was now in charge.

Brady told his operations NCO to give him a minute to gather more information to get the next plan of action in place. He walked out of the operations center and found Eicher.

“Chris, Turbine 33 has just been shot down,” he told Eicher, who earned the nickname “Iceman” for his always cool demeanor.

Eicher looked at Brady and said, “Nah, they probably put down for maintenance.”

Brady persisted with the details. He and Eicher hurried back to the operations center.

The two Apaches had arrived on station, drawing heavy gunfire, but nonetheless giving Turbine 34’s crew back in the operations center a good look at the crash site.

“It didn’t look like there was any way anybody could have survived,” Graham said. “You hope they could. It just didn’t look good.”

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The crash site of Turbine 33. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.

They ascended back into orbit and remained there for an hour until the task force commander ordered them back to Jalalabad. Not wanting to leave their brothers, the SEAL team commander hatched a plan with the Night Stalkers to insert higher up on the ridgeline and fight their way down to the crash site so Turbine 34 could fly back to Jalalabad, pick up as many SEALs as he could, and fly back to reinforce the eight SEALs. The task force commander denied the request and ordered Turbine 34 back to Jalalabad. Frustrated and angry, Graham followed the order.

Smith said everyone on the Chinook was angry. One of the SEALs even drew his pistol and attempted unsuccessfully to force the Chinook to land so they could try to save their friends.

Graham made a stop at a Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP) just outside of Jalalabad. After landing, Graham saw the same five Black Hawks that had peeled off earlier parked on the runway. He didn’t think much of it at the time, but many years later he found out a new platoon leader came into their company within the 160th and was responsible for those Black Hawks.

Each of the five Black Hawks was loaded with Marines and had flown out thinking they were the QRF for the SR team. When Turbine 33 was shot down, they received orders to fly back along with Turbine 34 and the Apache gunships until the next phase of the mission was developed.

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Flight line view of U.S. Army UH-60L Black Hawk helicopters. Photo by Mark C. Olsen, courtesy of DVIDS.

After refueling, he continued on to Jalalabad and off-loaded.

“When I met him there on the ground in Jalalabad, Graham was fairly shaken to say the least,” Brady recalled.

The task force commander debriefed the men and then focused on planning their next steps.

Smith said he saw a line of armored vehicles full of troops.

“I could see a lot of vehicles with troops armed to the damn teeth,” Smith recalled. “They rolled out with a convoy and with some vengeance, and they fought their way up that mountainside, all the way up to the crash site.”

The remaining Night Stalkers prepared for a rescue operation. Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, and other Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) personnel loaded onto five Chinooks. All the men were anxious, angry, and ready to retrieve their brothers in arms.

The Chinooks took off toward the mountains once again, but as they climbed in elevation, severe weather rolled in. Thunder boomed as lightning struck all around them.

“So the enemy is one factor, but the terrain and weather are now a huge factor, and they’re starting to overtake the enemy in terms of danger to the force,” Brady said.

He said visibility got so bad that he couldn’t see the heat glow of the engines from the Chinook in front of him. The order was given to again abort the mission and return to base. It was a gut-wrenching decision for everyone on the mission, as they knew the original SEALs on the SR team were fighting for their lives and one of their own aircraft and crew was burning on the side of a mountain.

Back at Jalalabad, the commanders decided they had no choice but to wait for better weather and try again the next night.

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Troops searching for the KIA and survivors. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.

As the storm raged, the members of the task force — haunted with thoughts of their brothers on the mountain — tried to sleep.

As the next night approached, the task force went to work, planning another insertion onto the deadly ridgeline. The Night Stalkers again loaded their Chinooks with Rangers and SEALs and took off toward the mountains.

Arriving on site, the task force members fast-roped in. The extreme height of the trees made the full length of rope — approximately 90 feet — necessary. Many of the men suffered scorched hands from gripping the rope through gloves for such a long descent.

Once on the ground, they started their search for casualties, potential survivors, and sensitive equipment.

As the Night Stalkers flew back to Bagram, the JSOC ground force that had convoyed to the crash radioed to the task force that they had secured the site. There were no survivors.

The JSOC troops, along with their newly arrived reinforcements, went to work recovering those killed in action as well as sensitive equipment that could not fall into enemy hands. They then used explosives to clear out a large enough area for Chinooks to land when they came back.

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Explosives were used to chop down trees due to width of the trees being too big for chainsaws. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Matt Rogie arrived in Bagram just before the Night Stalkers came back after dropping off the recovery force. Assigned to replace Eicher as senior flight lead, he was trying to learn as much as he could before hopping into an aircraft and joining the mission.

Rogie met Eicher on the flight line when he landed after returning from the mission.

“I’m glad you’re here because I am spent,” Eicher told him.

The Night Stalkers flew back to their newly forged landing zone the following night. The weather was turning bad again as they offloaded Marines to assist with security.

“I could see the grass being blown by the rotor wash and all the remains bags being lined up in a row — 16 of them,” Rogie recalled. “There was still some smoldering from the crash site, and I could see the glow from the heat through my night vision.”

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Some of the fallen members of Turbine 33 prior to being flown out. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.

One by one, the Rangers and SEALs loaded the fallen onto the Chinooks and headed back to Bagram with their brothers. The flight back was pure silence. The loss weighed heavy on the men.

As the Night Stalkers approached Bagram they could see what looked like everyone on base standing outside, showing their respect for the fallen.

“When we landed, we just saw a row of Night Stalkers and Rangers and SEALs for as far as I could see, lined up and ready to help transport the remains off and take them to the mortuary affairs section,” Brady recalled.

When the ramp lowered, the Night Stalkers on the Chinooks stood tall and proud for their fallen brethren as task force members boarded and began solemnly moving each remains bag to the mortuary affairs building.

“All of us were pretty broken up at that point,” Rogie said.

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Pastors from the task force lead the caskets onto the C-17. Photo courtesy of Daniel Bell.

The C-17 sat on the runway with the ramp down, waiting to receive the 16 interment cases containing the fallen warriors. Brady stood next to a SEAL commander — both had to take command of their respective units when Reich and Kristensen were killed on Turbine 33. Their war-weary faces were chiseled stone as they watched the task force solemnly load 16 flag-draped internment cases into the C-17.

Brady said it seemed like the whole base turned out to give the fallen a proper sendoff. As the cases were being loaded, a SEAL ran up to the new SEAL commander and placed a written note in his hand. The note said that Marcus Luttrell was alive at a nearby village. The SEAL commander broke down and cried at the desperately needed positive news.

The fallen Night Stalkers of the 160th SOAR included:

Staff Sergeant Shamus O. Goare

Chief Warrant Officer Corey J. Goodnature

Sergeant Kip A. Jacoby

Sergeant First Class Marcus V. Muralles

Major Stephen C. Reich

Sergeant First Class Michael L. Russell

Chief Warrant Officer Chris J. Scherkenbach

Master Sergeant James W. Ponder III

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Soldiers and Sailors from the Task Force saying their final goodbyes. Photo courtesy of Daniel Bell.

The members of the task force said their final goodbyes. The C-17 closed its ramp and taxied down the runway and took flight. The fallen warriors were now on their way home.

The lone C-17 aircraft lumbered through the sky after departing Germany, a necessary stop on the way back to the United States. The back of the aircraft contained the flag-draped coffins of 16 great Americans: the fallen Night Stalkers and SEALs from Turbine 33.

Children of varying ages ran around the coffins, playing and yelling, not yet old enough to understand the sacrifices these warriors made. A Taliban high-value target (HVT) sat tucked into the corner away from them all, guarded by other soldiers.

Three war-weary escorts — one of them a SEAL and the other two Night Stalkers Daniel Bell and Chris Eicher — sat off to the sides, grimly staring off into space. They were exhausted and angry with the mistake the U.S. Air Force had made when they allowed Space-A seating to be filled on this leg of the flight home.

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The men of the task force saying their final goodbyes to the fallen before they are flown home to their final resting place. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.

The rescue operation, known as Operation Red Wings II, continued for weeks. Almost every variety of special operations troops in the U.S. military inventory participated in a coordinated effort through some of Afghanistan’s most dangerous and austere terrain during the search for their brothers — both alive and fallen.

Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell was the only survivor from the initial four-man SEAL reconnaissance element.

For the Night Stalkers of the famed 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the war on terror continued.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.


Articles

Here are 8 things you don’t miss about basic training

For anyone who’s been through it, recruit training (or boot camp or whatever your service calls it) conjures up memories of hard work, new life lessons and a real sense of accomplishment.


But while the reward at the end of the experience seems worth it when it’s over, a lot of boot camp just plain sucks.

So here are eight things you surely don’t miss about basic training.

1. Losing sleep

The days of sleeping until noon are over. Getting up at 0400 or 0500 every morning is the norm. At times, trainees only get four hours of sleep due to night training events. Eventually, recruits learn to take “power naps” during moments of downtime to make up for the lack of sleep.

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But don’t get caught. Recruits run in place during an incentive training session March 5, 2015, on Parris Island, S.C. Incentive training consists of physical exercises administered in a controlled and deliberate manner and is used to correct minor disciplinary infractions, such as falling asleep in class. (Photo by Sgt. Jennifer Schubert)

2. Eating in a hurry

During basic training, you have mere minutes to eat your food. This is where the old saying of “eat your chow in a hurry, you’ll taste it later” earns its meaning.

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U.S. Navy recruits eat lunch in the galley of the USS Triton barracks at Recruit Training Command, the Navy’s only boot camp, Oct. 31, 2012.. (U.S. Navy photo by Scott A. Thornbloom)

3. Fire Guard

You are sleeping comfortably following a long day of training when suddenly a fellow trainee wakes you up and tells you “it’s your turn for fire guard.”

It’s 0200, you walk around the barracks or sit at a desk while making sure the doors are secure and everyone is accounted for is part of military conditioning during training.

On fire guard, you must also be alert because drill sergeants could show up at any time to make sure guards are not sleeping on duty. They may even ask you some military questions or ask you to recite your general orders.

4. Running everywhere

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United States Air Force basic trainees from the 323rd Training Squadron run in formation during morning physical training at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, April 8, 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Trevor Tiernan)

Some days you may have felt like Forrest Gump because at boot camp you “just kept running” everywhere you went. “Double time” is a way of life.

5. Buffing floors

It feels like trainees should earn a special badge for the number of times they buff the floors during basic training. The sad part is those floors only stay clean for about a half day.

6. Doing push-ups

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Petty Officer 1st Class Stephen Luedecke, a company commander at Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, N.J., motivates a recruit through incentive training, July 31, 2013. (Coast Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer Donnie Brzuska)

 

Doing hundreds of push-ups every day will make you stronger. However, at some point your arms will feel like they are going to fall off.

7. The gas chamber

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Recruits of Charlie Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, break the seals on their gas masks while in the gas chamber Aug. 25, 2015, on Parris Island, S.C. (Marine Corps Photo by Sgt. Jennifer Schubert)

I don’t think anyone misses the feeling of choking, thinking your eyes are coming out of their sockets and mucus flowing out of your nose.

8. Getting yelled at all day long

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A U.S. Marine drill instructor motivates recruits with Alpha Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, as they perform knee-striking drills during the Crucible at Parris Island, S.C., Dec. 3, 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jamal D.Sutter)

After finishing boot camp, you’ll appreciate having a conversation with someone who isn’t 1 inch from your face and screaming in your ear.

Tell us what you don’t miss from basic training/boot camp in the comments section below.

Follow Alex Licea on Twitter @alexlicea82

MIGHTY CULTURE

Here are the best meme pages for each branch

It’s hard to pin down when, exactly, memes got their start. Some say they began with the original rage comics, others say the very first were painted on cave walls. Regardless, the beautiful internet memes of today allow anyone, anywhere to be a comedian. They give people a setup and a punchline — all you’ve got to do is change the text (and maybe photoshop a face on there).

When 2011 rolled around and the popularity of Facebook grew like the boot population at the off-base strip club, meme pages started cropping up, watermarks started getting slapped on, and entire brands have been built on shoddy internet graphics. Over time, people from the different branches of the U.S. Armed Forces started making memes to share their own experiences — and thus, the military meme page was born.

Initially, these pages were run by active-duty service members who were disgruntled about working conditions, but have since become mostly veteran-operated pages. If you thought the inter-service branch rivalries were rough, just wait until you take a look at the fight for the title of best military memes page.

Here’s the best each branch has to offer:


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(Air Force Memes)

Air Force — Air Force Nation & Humor

The Air Force may not be the toughest, but they’ve certainly got brains — and that’s an essential asset in the world of memes. For memes of premium quality, check out Air Force Nation Humor.

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(The Salty Soldier)

Army — The Salty Soldier

The Army has some of the best memes on the internet right now and this is one that is relevant across the board, in all branches.

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(Pop Smoke)

Marine Corps — Pop Smoke

There are plenty of great meme pages run by Marine Corps veterans, but Pop Smoke has, bar far, the best content. One of the best things about Pop Smoke is that the page’s main admin makes memes out of his own personal photos and doesn’t keep his identity a secret.

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(Decelerate Your Life)

Navy — Decelerate Your Life

A lot of the best memes on Decelerate Your Life are actually about the Coast Guard, but here’s one that’ll make you laugh — especially if you’ve been on a float before.

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(Coast Guard)

Coast Guard — Coast Guard Memes

If you didn’t think the Coast Guard itself was enough of a meme, this page just gives everyone more to laugh about.

Articles

Mysterious Air Force space plane lands after 2-year mission

An unmanned US military space plane has landed at NASA’sKennedy Space Center following a mission lasting more than two years.


The , which looks like a miniature space shuttle, touched down May 7, causing a sonic boom as it landed on a runway once used for space shuttles which have been mothballed.

The sonic boom caused dozens of nearby residents to take to Twitter, with one saying her house “shook” and her dog had “gone into a frenzy”.

Exactly what the space plane was doing during its 718 days in orbit is not entirely clear, with the US Air Force saying the orbiters “perform risk reduction, experimentation and concept-of-operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies.”

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The U.S. Air Force X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle 4 landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida May 7, 2017. Managed by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, the X-37B program is the newest and most advanced re-entry spacecraft that performs risk reduction, experimentation and concept of operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

The cost of the mission – the fourth and longest so far – is classified.

The Secure World Foundation, a non-profit group that promotes the peaceful exploration of space, says the secrecy surrounding the suggests intelligence-related hardware is being tested or evaluated aboard the craft.

At 29 feet-long and with a wingspan of 15 feet, the Boeing-built craft is about a quarter of the size of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s now-retired space shuttles.

This mission began in May 2015, when the plane set off from nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station aboard an Atlas 5 rocket built by United Launch Alliance, a partnership between Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co.

Its first mission was eight-months-long from April 2010, its second from March the following year lasted 15 months.

A third took off in December 2012 and ended after 22 months.

Another mission is scheduled later this year.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, sonic booms used to be common in the area during the 30 years of NASA’s manned space shuttle programme, with landings at the Kennedy Space Center preceded by a loud double boom.

But the last of those shuttles landed nearly six years ago.

There is also a type of rocket – SpaceX’s Falcon 9 – which produces sonic booms and these were last heard earlier this month.

But officials had refused to confirm the return date for the , so its arrival was not expected by residents.

Articles

Afghanistan is producing record numbers of opium

Afghanistan set new records for opium production in 2016 despite an $8.5 billion USD counternarcotics campaign investment by U.S agencies, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction’s (SIGAR) stated in its latest quarterly report to Congress.


The report said that opium production increased 43 percent in 2016, while poppy eradication hit a 10-year low and was “nearly imperceptible.”

It said that the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) conduct an annual survey with financial contributions from the United States and other donors.

UNODC estimated that the potential gross value of opiates was $1.56 billion USD — or the equivalent of about 7.4 percent of Afghanistan’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) — in 2015.

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Afghan contractors unload bags of fertilizer at the Nawa district government building compound in the Helmand province of Afghanistan Oct. 13, 2009. The Afghan government is distributing the fertilizer to residents to support alternatives to poppy. (DoD photo by Lance Cpl. Jeremy Harris, U.S. Marine Corps)

“The latest 2016 UNODC country survey estimates opium cultivation increased 10 percent, to 201,000 hectares, from the previous year,” the report said adding that “the southern region, which includes Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan, Zabul, and Daykundi provinces, accounted for 59 percent of total cultivation. Helmand remained the country’s largest poppy-cultivating province, followed by Badghis and Kandahar.”

“Deteriorating security conditions, a lack of political will, and the Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics’ ineffective management all contributed to the paltry eradication results in 2016,” the report said.

Poppy “cultivation remained near historically high levels compared with the past several decades.”

Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s “narcotics industry — coupled with rampant corruption and fraud — is a major source of illicit revenue,” the report said.

The “opium trade provides about 60 percent of the Taliban’s funding.”

“Since the collapse of the Taliban government, the opium trade has grown significantly and enabled the funding of insurgency operations. Taliban commanders collect extortion fees for running heroin refineries, growing poppy, and other smuggling schemes,” according to the report.

“Powerful drug networks, mainly run by close-knit families and tribes, bankroll the insurgency and launder money. There have been media reports and allegations of corrupt government officials participating in the drug trade,” it said.

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The Taliban is an Islamic extremist group that ruled Afghanistan until the U.S military intervention following the Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaeda attack in New York and Washington, D.C. that killed more than 3,000 people. The Taliban allowed al Qaeda to use Afghanistan as its training base for attacks against the U.S. and other western nations.

“Traffickers provide weapons, funding, and material support to the insurgency in exchange for protection, while insurgent leaders traffic drugs to finance their operations,” the report said.

Afghanistan “remains the world’s largest opium producer and exporter — producing an estimated 80 percent of the world’s heroin.”

John Sopko, head of SIGAR, recommended that President Donald Trump establish “a U.S counternarcotics strategy, now years overdue, to reduce the illicit commerce that provides the Taliban with the bulk of their revenue.”

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