The Pentagon’s chief war crimes prosecutor, who, for six years, has been the most public booster of the military commissions, has decided to abandon a years-long practice of briefing reporters and holding news conferences.
“This is a principled decision based on the law and the posture of these cases,” prosecutor Brig. Gen. Mark Martins said Oct. 29. “And it’s the right time.”
More restrictions may be to come. In a 2014 court filing in the Sept. 11 terror attacks case, prosecutors suggested to the judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, that he may want to impose a gag order on all lawyers in the high-profile tribunal.
They argued that lawyers offering commentary or other information outside of court could prejudice the possibility of “a fair trial by impartial members” — a jury of US military officers, yet to be chosen — in the death-penalty case against accused plot mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other alleged accomplices. No trial date has been set.
Pentagon spokesman Maj. Ben Sakrisson described Martins’ decision as part of an overall rethinking of public affairs strategy by the overseer of the war court, Convening Authority Harvey Rishikof. Throughout the Obama administration, the Pentagon regularly staged news conferences that gave the prosecutor, defense attorneys and families of terror victims a podium at the close of war court hearings.
Now, according to Sakrisson, “this is just the prosecution stepping away from engaging with the media directly. I wouldn’t characterize this change as extending to the defense teams.”
Family members and victims of terror attacks — chosen by Pentagon lottery and brought to the base as guests of the prosecution — will still be permitted to talk to reporters if they want, he said. “Going forward I expect there will be press conferences of some manner. But the final forum of participants is still under discussion.”
When Martins first started doing press conferences in a wooden shed built for $49,000 to look like a Pentagon briefing room, dozens of reporters would travel to Guantánamo. Broadcasters in particular needed the question-and-answer session because recording is forbidden at the post-Sept. 11 court.
For reporters who couldn’t make the trip to Cuba, the Pentagon would broadcast the news briefings to a viewing site at Fort Meade outside Washington, DC.
Under the Pentagon’s war court rules, the prosecutor needs explicit permission from the convening authority to speak with reporters about the hybrid military-civilian justice system set up in response to the 9/11 attacks.
Defense lawyers don’t. Many of them are civilians paid by the Pentagon, and the Manual for Military Commissions lets them talk freely with reporters about unclassified information, guided by their professional ethics.
The Pentagon “has a lot of restrictions around publishing or speaking to the press, designed to give a unitary message from the Department of Defense,” said defense attorney Jay Connell. The manual essentially waives a defense attorney’s obligation to puppet a US government talking point.
Connell, who regularly briefs reporters, represents Mohammed’s nephew, Ammar al Baluchi. He argues the rules recognize his duty “to inform the public about what’s going on in military commissions.”
For example, while Martins would recite how many legal motions were argued, how many hours of court were held, and how many pages of evidence were turned over, Connell would try to contextualize what happened in court from the defense point of view.
“So many things which happen in the military commissions relate to larger themes of secrecy, larger themes of torture, and larger themes of unfairness,” he said. “My goal in a press conference is to explain what happened that week in the larger context of Guantánamo.”
For now, soldiers record the briefings and the videos are posted on a Pentagon war court website set whose motto is Fairness * Transparency * Justice.
If the managers of media policy no longer host news conferences in the shed, Connell said, they’ll brief elsewhere. And, “if they get rid of the video recordings, then we would probably go to Facebook Live.”
Martins decided to pull the plug on press conferences soon after the Army postponed his Nov. 1 retirement until 2019. He has had the job for six years, and serves as both the chief overseer of war court cases and a case prosecutor in the Sept. 11 and USS Coledeath-penalty trials. Neither trial has a start date.
Laura Miller apologized more than once for getting emotional as she spoke at the Airborne Special Operations Museum on Monday.
But after seeing battle-hardened Special Forces soldiers dissolve into tears at the loss of their dogs, she said the love these men felt for their dogs — and of the dogs for them — can lead to tears at times.
Miller, a retired veterinarian technician who served 26 years, including 10 with caring for Special Operations Forces dogs, spoke to a crowd of several hundred about the sacrifices of military dogs — and the number of military lives they have saved.
“To see these big, strong soldiers break into tears over the loss of their dog, you realize this is a special bond,” Miller said. “There is a love that runs deeper.”
“The love for their dog and of the dog for their handler…” she paused as the emotion of the moment again caught her. “Just appreciate everything. Life is too short. The evidence of that is right here.”
She waved over to the nearby ASOM Field of honor, where more than 600 flags caught a light breeze.
In addition to the ceremony, the ASOM offered a series of concerts, exhibits, and first-person displays. Military experts offered visitors hands-on experience with military equipment from World War I through the Vietnam era.
Ron Wolfe, a retired Army sergeant, let youngsters try on his flak jacket and helmet from Vietnam, laughing when they complained about their weight and heat.
“Yeah, they can get a bit heavy,” Wolfe said. “Just wait until you had to wear them all day in the summertime.”
The ASOM K-9 Memorial honors more than 60 trained dogs who have died in service to Special Forces as well as partner groups in Great Britain and Australia. It was dedicated in 2013.
Sen. John McCain does not want President Donald Trump at his funeral.
The Arizona senator is battling brain cancer, and news about his funeral arrangements prompted at least one fellow senator, Orrin Hatch of Utah, to protest McCain’s wish to bar Trump from his farewell service. McCain reportedly prefers Vice President Mike Pence to represent the current administration in Trump’s place.
Hatch called McCain’s decision “ridiculous” according to multiple news reports, and said that he would choose differently because Trump is “a very good man.”
In July 2015, Trump said of McCain: “He’s not a war hero … he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.” And in September 2017, months after McCain’s cancer diagnosis was announced, Trump reportedly mocked the senator again.
Minutes after Tate Jolly arrived at the diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, a mortar hit the compound where an ambassador and another American had been killed and dozens more were trapped.
The Marine gunnery sergeant was one of only two U.S. troops with a small task force that rushed to respond to what quickly became clear was a coordinated attack on the U.S. State Department facility.
It was a remarkable mission. The closest military backup was hours away, which later led to fierce debate about how U.S. troops should be postured to protect Americans and diplomatic posts overseas.
“There was no one even remotely close to being able to go and get them in North Africa,” a source familiar with the operation planning said. “The nearest airplanes were hours away and the nearest ground troops a day away or further.”
The source spoke under the condition of anonymity to talk freely about the Sept. 11, 2012, incident, which remains a topic of controversy in Washington seven years later.
The scene was chaotic when the team arrived, and they quickly tried to restore order. There were nearly 30 panicked people who needed to be evacuated quickly, but the compound was under fire from multiple sides.
“Unfortunately, it was not a whole lot of offense; it was a whole lot of just holding guys off as long as they could to try and get out,” the person familiar with the mission said.
Jolly, who declined a request for an interview, would ultimately be awarded the Navy Cross for his heroism there. The soldier with him, Master Sgt. David Halbruner, received the Army‘s Distinguished Service Cross. The valor awards are exceeded only by the Medal of Honor.
Little has been known about the Jolly’s actions in Benghazi. There was no public ceremony when he received his valor award and, until recently, his name has not been publicly tied to the mission in media reports.
His hometown paper in North Carolina,the Wilkes Journal-Patriot, recently reported that the 36-year-old who’d graduated from high school about 90 miles north of Charlotte was the Marine who’d gone above and beyond to save other Americans. Jolly recently retired as a master sergeant.
According to testimony, public documents and the person familiar with his actions, Jolly was calm in the face of deadly chaos. He and Halbruner are credited with saving numerous lives that day.
With a rifle strapped to his back amid an onslaught of mortars and machine-gun fire, Jolly tended to the wounded, at one point throwing a man onto his back and shuffling him down a ladder amid a barrage of enemy fire. He helped some get back into the fight and provided vital care to others with life-threatening injuries.
Here’s how then-Gunnery Sgt. Jolly helped get other Americans to safety during a situation that caused a years-long political firestorm thousands of miles away in Washington, D.C.
A Delta Force Marine
Jolly, an infantry assault Marine, was assigned to a Delta Force detachment in Libya at the time of the Benghazi attack. It’s rare, though not unheard of, for Marines to join the elite Army special-operations teams.
The Marine had deployed to Iraq twice before joining the secretive counterterrorism force, spending about five years carrying out clandestine missions before the Benghazi attack and another five after, according to information about his career obtained by Military.com.
He racked up more than a dozen total deployments with Delta Force.
The Navy Cross Jolly received for his actions in Benghazi was his fourth valor award. He has two Bronze Stars with combat “V” devices — one of which he earned for undisclosed reasons during his time with Delta Force, and a second from a 2004-2005 deployment to Ramadi, Iraq.
Jolly also earned a Navy Commendation Medal with combat distinguishing device and a Purple Heart for injuries sustained during that deployment.
(Senior Airman Dennis Sloan)
According to his award citations, Jolly repeatedly braved enemy fire in Ramadi to help take out an enemy sniper who had ambushed a government center. He received the Navy Commendation Medal for risking his life to destroy roadside bombs when an explosive ordnance disposal team couldn’t reach his unit.
On the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Jolly was about 600 miles away from Benghazi in Tripoli — roughly the same distance between Chicago and Washington, D.C. Since Jolly and Halbruner were some of the only troops in-country, the operation was coordinated not by U.S. Africa Command, but the CIA.
Team Tripoli, made up of Jolly, Halbruner and five others, arrived in Benghazi at about 1:30 a.m. That was about four hours after the attack began, and two since Ambassador Christopher J. Stevens had last been seen alive.
The team was led by Glen Doherty, a Global Response Staff (GRS) security officer and former Navy SEAL, who was later killed. He was Team Tripoli’s medic.
The plan, according to the person familiar with the mission, was to leave the airport and head to the hospital, where they believed Stevens was being treated. When they found out Stevens had died, the first ambassador to be killed in the line of duty since 1979, the team headed to the consulate to bolster the diplomatic security personnel and GRS, a group of private military contractors who were fending off the attackers.
“It could’ve gone really, really bad,” said the source familiar with the mission. “It could’ve become 30 American hostages in North Africa. There were seven shooters going in to protect people who don’t shoot for a living.”
By the time they arrived, Sean Smith, a State Department foreign service officer, had also died. It was still dark, just after 5 a.m., according to a congressional timeline of the attack. Within minutes, the first mortar hit.
The attacks continued, with one witness estimating there were as many as 100 insurgents spotted surrounding their location in 20- or 30-man groups. It was a skilled enemy, one of the troops there later told members of Congress.
“It’s not easy … to shoot inside the city and get something on the target within two shots — that’s difficult,” the witness testified. “I would say they were definitely a trained mortar team or had been trained to do something similar to that.
“I was kind of surprised,” the service member added. “… It was unusual.”
They were there a matter of hours, but at times witnesses said the team feared they wouldn’t make it out alive. It began to “rain down on us,” one of them told lawmakers.
”I really believe that this attack was planned,” the witness said. “The accuracy with which the mortars hit us was too good for any regular revolutionaries.”
In total, six 81-millimeter mortars assaulted the annex within a minute and 13 seconds, a congressional report on the attack states. Doherty and Tyrone Woods, another former SEAL with the GRS, didn’t survive.
Dave Ubben, a State Department security agent, and Mark “Oz” Geist, another GRS member, were badly hurt. The men were defending the compound from the rooftop, determined to make it look like they had a lot more firepower than they actually did.
“There was a lot of shooting, a lot of indirect fire and explosions,” the source with knowledge of the response said. “It was just guys being really aggressive and doing a good job at making it seem like their element was bigger than it was, like they were less hurt than they were.”
Ubben — who’d testified before a federal court in 2017 that he took shrapnel to his head, nearly lost his leg, and had a grapefruit-sized piece of his arm taken off — was losing blood fast. Geist also had a serious arm injury that needed immediate attention.
Jolly and Halbruner were determined to save them. Amid the fight, they were tying tourniquets to the men’s bodies.
Ubben is alive because Jolly helped move him from the rooftop to a building where diplomatic personnel were hunkered down. Gregory Hicks, who became the acting chief of mission after Stevens died, later described how the gunny did it during a congressional hearing.
Ambassador Christopher J. Stevens.
“One guy … full of combat gear climbed up [to the roof], strapped David Ubben, who is a large man, to his back and carried him down the ladder, saved him,” Hicks said.
Jolly and Halbruner also went back out to the rooftop to recover the bodies of the fallen.
“They didn’t know whether any more mortars were going to come in. The accuracy was terribly precise,” Hicks said. “… They climbed up on the roof, and they carried Glen’s body and Tyrone’s body down.”
It was for Jolly’s “valorous actions, dedication to duty and willingness to place himself in harm’s way” to save numerous unarmed Americans’ lives that he earned the Navy Cross, according to his citation.
Bracing for the worst
That attack was traumatic for many of the civilians trapped inside one of the buildings, according to the person with knowledge of the operation. They’d lost their ambassador and another colleague, and they had no experience being caught in a life-and-death combat situation.
Once Jolly and Halbruner brought the injured men in from off the rooftop, the diplomatic staff helped treat their wounds, according to the source familiar with the situation. It gave them a mission as the onslaught continued outside.
As the sun came up, the remaining team members worried that terrorists would overtake the facility. First believed to be the work of the Benghazi-based Ansar al-Sharia group, the attack was coordinated by several networks in the region, including al-Qaida affiliates.
Throughout the night, the Americans had the advantage of night vision, the person familiar with the mission said. In the daylight, it could quickly become an even playing field.
Surprisingly though, it got quieter. They gathered inside one of the buildings and formed an evacuation plan to move the diplomatic staff to the airport and eventually out of Benghazi.
“[They had to talk about] things like, ‘What happens if they came under attack on the way out? Do you know where to go if you are separated from the group or are being shot at?'” according to the person familiar with the plans.
They prepared for the worst: that as the convoy left the compound, they’d be ambushed, everyone would panic, and the terrorists would take hostages. But they made it to the airport without issue and, by 7:31 a.m., the first plane with survivors took off for Tripoli.
“Who would’ve thought seven people could go into Benghazi and get more than 25 people out? Especially without traditional military support?” the person familiar with the mission said. “… But you can do a lot if you’re determined and have no other choice.”
The Defense Department and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later faced a host of criticism over their response to the attack. Critics called it too slow — a congressional investigation finding that despite President Barack Obama and former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta clearly ordering the military to deploy response forces, none were sent until almost eight hours after the attacks began.
President Obama and Secretary Clinton honor the Benghazi attack victims at the Transfer of Remains Ceremony held at Andrews Air Force Base on Sept. 14, 2012.
(State Department photo)
Former Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey was asked to explain why he hadn’t dispatched F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets from Italy. He told lawmakers it would’ve been “the wrong tool for the job.”
The Marine Corps, the nation’s go-to crisis-response force, has been particularly responsive in the aftermath of the attack. Since there aren’t enough amphibious ships to stage Marines everywhere they’d like to be at sea, they’ve set up land-based crisis-response forces built to respond to emergencies quickly. Those units include up to 2,200 personnel, along with aircraft and logistics capabilities.
Those units are now based in Europe, the Middle East and Central America. Those assigned to Africa and the Middle East have fielded several State Department requests to evacuate embassy personnel or shore up security when intelligence has indicated a high risk for attack.
The Marine Corps and State Department have also bolstered the number of embassy guards placed at diplomatic posts around the world, standing up dozens of new detachments that previously did not have military personnel.
It was a tragedy to see a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans killed in Benghazi but, sadly, it sometimes takes an awful situation to get the attention of those in charge of policy, the person familiar with the response said.
“It was a bad situation, but a lot of priorities changed after this tragedy that would otherwise never have gotten fixed.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Russia has accused the United States of supporting Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria, enabling them to mount counteroffensive attacks there.
The Defense Ministry made the accusation on October 4 as Russian-backed Syrian government forces and fighters backed by the United States are racing to capture territory from the IS extremist group.
As the separate campaigns are being waged within close proximity of one another, the Russian and U.S. militaries have traded charges that their troops or allies were endangered or struck by the other side’s forces.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said that a series of attacks launched by IS militants on Syrian government forces came from an area around Al-Tanf near the border with Jordan where a U.S. mission is located.
Konashenkov said the attacks took place last week near Al-Qaryatayn in the Homs Province and a highway linking the central city of Palmyra and Deir al-Zor to the east.
The spokesman said that the attackers had the precise coordinates of the Syrian government forces, which could only have been obtained through aerial reconnaissance.
“If the U.S. side views such operations as unforeseen ‘accidents,’ Russian aviation in Syria is ready to begin the complete eradication of all such ‘accidents’ in the zone under their control,” Konashenkov warned.
“The main thing preventing the final defeat of [the IS group] in Syria is not the terrorists’ military capability but the support and pandering to them by our American colleagues,” he added.
It is the latest of a series of accusations traded as Russian-backed troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the U.S.-allied, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces battle IS fighters in the eastern province of Deir al-Zor near the Iraqi border.
Moscow and Washington held a first-ever meeting between their generals last month to try to prevent accidental clashes between the two sides, but reports of deaths in continuing clashes suggested the problem was not resolved.
Russia says it has received the genome of the coronavirus from China and is working jointly with its neighbor to develop a vaccine against the illness as the number of deaths and confirmed cases continues to jump.
Chinese authorities said on January 29 that there are 5,974 confirmed cases nationwide in the country, from which 132 people have died.
Another 9,239 suspected cases of the respiratory illness are being monitored, the government’s National Health Commission said on January 29.
Dozens of cases have been confirmed outside mainland China as well, including in Europe, North America, the Middle East, and elsewhere in Asia, prompting Russia, which has no confirmed cases, to join the race to stop the illness.
“Russian and Chinese experts have begun developing a vaccine,” the Russian consulate in China’s Guangzhou Province said in a statement on its website.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has said it believes China is able to contain the coronavirus, but mounting concern over the jump in cases has prompted hundreds of foreign nationals to leave the provincial capital, Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak.
The total number of confirmed cases now surpasses that of SARS, another respiratory illness that killed more than 600 people worldwide in 2002-2003.
Symptoms of the new kind of coronavirus include fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
Authorities have sealed off access to 17 cities in Hubei Province, where the pathogen is believed to have originated and was first reported in December.
Australia plans to quarantine its 600 returning citizens for two weeks on Christmas Island, some 2,000 kilometers from the mainland.
On June 24, Practices will hold Day of Service, offering free dental work to veterans nationwide. Nearly 450 practices across 35 states will participate as part of the Healthy Mouth Movement, Aspen sites in Bluefield and Beckley in West Virginia included.
During the appointments, dentists and their teams will focus on treating the most urgent needs of the veterans by providing fillings, extractions and basic denture repair to help relieve any pain.
This marks the fourth annual event for and is the largest single-day oral health initiative targeted at veterans. Last year, dentists and their teams offered services totaling almost $2.1 million dollars, helping over 4,000 veterans receive dental care.
Of 21 million veterans, less than 10 million are enrolled for the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health benefits. For many, this includes dental care benefits and more than 1.2 million lack health insurance altogether.
A U.S. Marine was killed in a freak accident on August 4 after a tree fell on him during physical training at his California base.
Lance Cpl. Cody Haley, 20, was working out in a wooded area at Camp Pendleton with members of his unit when the incident took place. While on a run, the Marines tried to move a log they were unaware was holding up a dead tree, which fell on top of Haley and killed him, according to a source familiar with the matter.
A native of Hardin, Iowa, Haley had deployed in 2016 with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit. He was awarded the National Defense Service medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service medal, and the Sea Service Deployment ribbon, the Marine Corps said.
“We are heartbroken at the tragic loss of a member of the Marine Corps family, and we will do all we can to comfort the family, friends and colleagues of the deceased,” the Corps said in a news release to the Marine Times.
Every few years you pick up your life leaving your friends and all that has become familiar to follow the love of your life to a new duty station. PCS…
No matter how many times you move, that same excitement and crazy anxiety to start all over again appears. It is so easy to lose yourself in chaos.
The chaos of getting things settled, finding a job, or just trying to find that normal day to day for your kids!
Starting over is never easy.
Everything is so foreign no matter how much research you do. It is easy to fall into the shadow of the military world around you or just that mom-life, forgetting just who you are. Being able to establish yourself from scratch takes a lot out of you especially when you do it over and over again.
It is easy to say the last place you were was the best. But really each new place is what you make of it.
Finding yourself, or in other words, allowing yourself to bloom is key to thriving in a new place.
But the question is where do you even start? Who are you or who do you want to be?
Being a military spouse or a parent makes up just one tiny piece of that. A new duty station gives you the opportunity for improvements and new goals.
You always wanted to open up your own business, well now is your opportunity.
Take the leap and start taking college courses. Get your degree!
Find your voice again by advocating for your new community.
Just because you are putting down temporary roots does not mean you have to give up on you and what you want! There are many different programs offered at every duty station to help you thrive. From classes on networking, and job assistance to educational resources and volunteer programs. These things put into place to help you benefit yourself.
Mask your fears and try something new.
Do not hide out counting down the days until you move again.
Join the gym, or go to a playgroup with your kids.
Meet new people, you never know when you will find those lifelong friends. You should feel confident in yourself and all that you do or want to do.
Nothing should hold you back from you being exactly who you aspire to be. You only have one life so make each place you live the best.
This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.
As if you needed another reason to avoid what is widely considered the DC-area’s worst option in terms of airports, a CNN investigation revealed that one of Dulles International Airport’s security guards is a Somali man wanted for war crimes.
Yusuf Abdi Ali has lived in the area of Alexandria, Virginia for the past 20 years. He has been employed by the airport, one of an estimated 1,000 war criminals living and working in the United States.
Everyone employed by Master Security, Dulles’ security contractor, undergoes “the full, federally mandated vetting process in order to be approved for an airport badge,” the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority told ABC News. The process includes a background check by the FBI and the Transportation Security Administration. Master Security employees working at Dulles must also be licensed by the Commonwealth of Virginia, the state in which Dulles is located.
“We have verified that all of these processes were followed and approved in this instance,” MWAA said in a statement.
Ali is the subject of a lawsuit from The Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) on behalf of his alleged victims. He is accused of torturing people, burning villages, and conducting mass executions during The Somali Civil War from 1986 – 1991. Ali denies all accusations listed in the CJA lawsuit.
Yusuf Abdi Ali in a Canadian Broadcasting Company documentary about his a
Ali was a military commander under the regime of Somali dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. He fled Somalia after the fall of the regime, eventually ending up in the United States in 1996.
The suit was dismissed by a circuit court which found the case lacked jurisdictional authority. A higher ruling allowed the suit to proceed and it is now waiting for review by the Supreme Court to determine if foreigners living in the U.S. can be held accountable for crimes committed abroad.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials estimate at least 360 arrests of human rights violators in the U.S. in the past 12 years. ICE has also deported more than 780 such cases. According to CNN, they currently have 125 active investigations. Ali’s airport credentials have been revoked and he is on administrative leave pending an ongoing investigation.
The State Department has fired six employees at the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan for allegedly using or possessing prohibited drugs, a particularly troubling infraction given the years-long U.S. effort to eradicate opium production in the country.
A senior State Department official said those who were embassy employees were fired and others who were contractors were released from their contracts.
The official declined to say what led to the investigation, but the Wall Street Journal reported it was launched after a person was wandering about in a state of confusion.
A State Department official told Voice of America News on March 30 the fired workers “were found to have been using or in possession of prohibited substances.”
Opium production in Afghanistan is a major source of income for the Taliban and other insurgents.
Afghanistan is the source of more than 90 percent of the world’s heroin. Despite global efforts to stem the flow of narcotics, the United Nations says production reached near record levels in 2016.
The United States has spent more than $8 billion on drug interdiction in Afghanistan since the start of war against the Taliban in 2001.
Sun Tzu once said that he who is prudent and lies in wait for an enemy who is not, will be victorious.
To be honest, in a way, that is exactly what camouflage is all about. It is not about colors, shapes, or ninja stuff. It is about knowledge, patience, and the manipulation of anything anywhere.
All to achieve one goal: to become the environment. In this article, I am going to give you a small, bitter taste of the art of camouflage.
When I was in the Israeli Airborne SF, I served with one of the SR groups. My secondary specialty in my team was what we call in the IDF, a ‘builder.’ Basically, someone who is capable of concealing anything, from one man to an entire team or vehicles in any environment.
What is camouflage?
Back in the days, when I used to assist as an instructor for the next generation of builders, one of the first questions I asked the young soldiers in every introduction lesson was, ”What does the word ‘camouflage’ mean to you?”
The majority of the answers were split into two: hiding or disappearing.
While both might sound correct, those two words describe a long-living misconception that one experiences when he gets involved with task-oriented concealment work.
Long story short, the majority of the time camouflage begins with understanding the nature of observation.
The purpose of it is not only to hide, but to make you part of the environment, allowing you to safely observe, document, and, when necessary, respond.
Being a master of camouflage means being able to live off nature’s hand for 72 hours (or more), being just hundreds of meters away from the objective, and being able to observe the point of interest all the while.
Let’s say camouflage is the art of manipulation–the controlling of reality.
Fundamentals of Camouflage
There are three fundamental camouflage actions. These are the main principles that are found in any concealing construction.
Hiding: The action of hiding is setting a barrier that separates you physically, and often visually, from the surrounding environment and its unfolding reality.
Blending: Resembling your surroundings by combining different, like elements into a single entity. The main difference between success to failure lays in properly blending subtle details.
Disguising: In short, disguising is an action we perform to alter an existing shape or form. We do that to eliminate or create intentional target indicators, such as smell, shape, or shine. Disguising, for example, is adding vegetation to a Ghillie suit or collecting branches to conceal my hide side.
Knowledge is power. One of the keys to perfect camouflage at the tactical level is the ability to understand what kind of X or Y signatures my presence creates that will lead to my exposure.
TI, or target indicators, are about understanding what signatures my enemy creates in a specific environment. Those target indicators suggest presence, location, and distance in some cases.
There are two dimensions to consider when detecting and indicated presence. The first–and oldest–dimension is basic human sense. The other is technological.
While smelling, hearing, and touching are obvious senses, but those senses normally only come into play in short distance.
Let’s focus on ‘seeing.’
The visual sense is, by far, the most reliable sense for humans. We use it up to 80% of the time to collect information and orient ourselves. So, what kind of visual signatures could I leave that may lead to my exposure? In short:
Shape – The perfectly symmetrical shapes of tents or cars, for example, don’t exist in nature. Those, and the familiar shape of a human being, are immediate eye candy.
Silhouette – Similar to ‘shape,’ but with more focus on the background. A soldier walking on top of the hill or someone sneaking in the darkness with dark clothes against a white wall–the distinction of a foreground element from its background makes a target indicator sharp and clear.
Shine – Surface related. Radiance or brightness caused by emitted or reflected light. Anything that my skin, equipment, or fabrics may reflect. Popular examples would be the reflection of sunlight on hand watches, skin, or optics for example.
Shadow – Shadows are very attractive and easy to distinguish for human eyes, depending on a shadow’s intensity. For example, caves in open fields stand out for miles and are very easy to recognize. As a result, we never use caves for hiding, as they’re a natural draw to the eye.
Color – Let’s make it sure and simple–wearing a pink hoody to a funeral is a good way to stand out. Match your environment.
Oh boy, this is where the real challenge begins! I’m actually going to risk it and say that ghillie suits are becoming less and less relevant today due to increases in technology.
Before we will dive into all that Einstein stuff, these are the main wavelengths used by different devices to find your ass:
Infra-Red / NIR – Used in NVGs, SWIR cameras, etc. Night-vision devices, for example, use active near-infrared illumination to observe people or animals without the observer being detected.
UV – UV radiation is present in sunlight. UV-capable devices are excellent, for example, in snowy environments for picking up differences undetectable by the naked eye.
Thermal – Your body generates a temperature different from any immediate background, such as the ground in the morning or a tree in the evening. Devices tend to set clear separations between the heat or cold of different objects, resulting in pretty nice shapes that are easy to distinguish for the observer.
Radar (radio)– A radar system consists of a transmitter producing electromagnetic waves, an emitting antenna, and a receiving antenna to capture any waves that return from objects in the path of the emitted signal. A receiver and processor then determine the properties of the object. While often used to detect weather formations, ships, structures, etc., there are numerous devices that can give you an accurate position of vehicles and even humans. It’s a long story, hard to manipulate. Such devices exist already in the tactical level.
It is nearly impossible to eliminate your signature against devices who work within the wave length. The only solution is to understand what the human being sees through advanced optics and manipulate the final result.
Buckle up and get your aspirin – we’re moving into the science stuff.
The human and its environment emits different signatures that can be picked up by different technological devices that make use of different types of waves.
Cones in our eyes are the receivers for tiny visible light waves. The sun is a natural source for visible light waves and our eyes see the reflection of this sunlight off the objects around us.
The color of an object that we see is the color of light reflected. All other colors are absorbed.
Technically, we are blind to many wavelengths of light. This makes it important to use instruments that can detect different wavelengths of light to help us study the earth and the universe.
However, since visible light is part of the electromagnetic spectrum that our eyes can see, our whole world is oriented around it.
With the advancement of technology, humanity slowly cracked and understood the existence of other light waves.
We began to see those dimensions through different devices.
Since the visual camouflage has foiled many plans throughout a history of wars and conflicts, militaries around the world began researching the possibilities of using non-visible wavelengths in detecting the signature of specific objects in specific environments.
Camouflage is not about hiding and it’s definitely not only about wearing a ghillie suit or digging deeps foxholes.
It’s an involved, looping process that starts with understanding how humans detect and continues with manipulating this detection.
The old standards, such as ghillie suits, are becoming less and less relevant to the modern battle space as detection technologies advance.
New predators such as SWIR or advance thermal cameras are hard to beat unless you know the device, the interface, and the humans who use it.
As Albert Einstein once said, technology has exceeded our humanity–so get creative.